Chapter 5: Fire

Draco was remarkably obvious when he was up to no good. Harry had watched him countless times, and knew exactly what to look for. The night before, he would be more excitable than normal. Then in the morning, he would sneak out through the servants' passages and the backdoor, climb over the west wall of the courtyard, and crawl under the border hedge of the adjacent garden. It was all entirely visible from Harry's room, which faced west, and Draco had just slipped under the hedge.

Throwing on his cloak, Harry ran down the service stairs and out into the fresh air. It was easy to follow Draco's footprints in the mud, softened by yesterday's summer storm, and Harry wasted no time.

The trail led him to a barn in one of the outlying fields. Quickly, Harry shimmied up a tree at the edge of a nearby copse, using the thick greenery to hide himself from view. Draco had his wand out, something they weren't supposed to do outside lessons, and was shooting firebombs at hand-sized balls of hay. Harry watched in bemusement, why would Draco come outside just after dawn to practice spells? The answer came when finally the hay caught fire. Draco cheered and ran to the growing flame. The nearby hay quickly caught, and still Draco laughed. Ever since they had been small, the pale boy had had a fascination with fire; he had delighted in burning parchment in the library fireplace. It seemed the delight had not faded.

Harry grew alarmed when Draco left the fire to get more hay from the barn. Jumping out of the tree, he began to jog over, stopping only when a huge bale of hay, pushed by Draco, appeared in the doorway. The original fire was too close to the entrance now, licking at the bale just beginning to appear in the sunlight. Harry drew breath to shout, but before he could, the bale ignited. Draco yelped, and a split second later there was a deafening BOOM.

Harry was thrown to the ground, ears ringing and temporarily senseless. He sat up dazedly and simply stared as the fire ate up the wooden barn. Black smoke billowed into the air, and the heat was overwhelming. Then it came back to him: Draco was in there! Without stopping to consider his actions, Harry clambered to his feet and raced over. The heat was scorching, unbearable, but the roof was starting to catch and Harry knew he had little time. Shedding his cloak to use as a cover, Harry took one last breath of cleaner air and ducked into the roaring flames.

Inside was a scene that would haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life. Fire and ash in every direction, dancing around his terror-struck form. The smoke curled in his lungs and stung his streaming eyes. His skin felt like old parchment. "Draco!" he croaked, coughing. "Draco, where are you?" Squinting as he spun around, he spied the pale boy's body lying perilously close to one torched wall. Harry stumbled to his side and fell to his knees, one hand holding his cloak close while the other sought for any sign of life. Shallow breaths were gasping from Draco's open mouth, but not sooner had relief hit Harry when the roof cracked and began to cave. There was very little time.

Quickly, he spread his cloak on the dusty floor, unable to stop his wracking coughs now. He had to get Draco out, but though he wasn't particularly heavy, he was a dead weight, and Harry wasn't very strong. More of the roof tumbled down, showering sparks and ask onto them. His skin felt too tight, and Harry could barely see at all. Hurriedly, he rolled Draco onto the cloak; then, grabbing the collar in his hands, he dragged the body to the entrance as quickly as he could. More than once he tripped, and the falling embers pricked his skin painfully, but with a final effort he burst out of the doorway.

Almost immediately he could feel the clean fresh air clearing his lungs. After a few more yards up the hill he could pull no more, and Harry collapse at Draco's side. Deep coughs wrenched themselves from him until his throat was raw and his lungs screaming for deeper breaths of air. Draco was suspiciously silent. Alarmed and slightly annoyed, Harry slapped Draco twice around the face and rolled him onto his side. It seemed to work, as Draco heaved in a huge breath and began to cough violently. Relieved, Harry lay back down, feeling the soft breeze dry the hot tears on his face.

After Draco fell quiet again, there was a moment's peace, the two of them listening to the flames destroy the barn. Slowly Draco sat up, still labouring with his breathing, his eyes puffy and red. "Harry," he wheezed uncertainly, but nothing followed. His rescuer eyes him coolly, and then came voices from across the field. A look of sheer panic crossed Draco's face and he turned to Harry desperately. "Please! You can't let them find me here! Father will be furious if he knows I did this! Please Harry!" he pleaded.

The sound was so foreign to Harry – Draco Malfoy saying 'please'? – that he almost didn't believe his dulled hearing. Almost. Considering it a moment longer, he smiled tightly and nodded, pulling Draco to his feet. Cloak slung over one arm, he half-dragged the pale boy towards the copse he had hidden in before.

They watched from the shelter of the trees as farm labourers circled the nearly destroyed building, wands raised. Water showered over the wreckage at a single command – apart from one man who, curiously, conjured a stream of flowers – and put out the rest of the fire. It hissed and spat like a wounded snake, until finally it sputtered out. Beside him, Draco gave a huge sigh of relief, and would have walked off had Harry not grabbed his arm.

There was a calculating gleam in Harry's bloodshot eyes as he regarded his foster brother; it unnerved Draco to see such Malfoyish behaviour in the dark-haired boy. "What?" he snapped when Harry made no move to say anything. "Sphinx got your tongue? I always knew you –" A sooty hand clapped over his mouth, silencing him. Harry smiled wickedly at Draco's outraged glare.

"Shut up!" he said, "Don't say another word, got it?" Draco tore the hand away from his mouth.

"How dare you? No one tells me what to do!" he retorted. Smirking, Harry very deliberately looked at the smoking ruin.

"I know what you've been doing, Draco. Not just the fire, but the magic too. We're not allowed to do magic outside of lessons," he said softly. At his words, Draco did not appear nearly so arrogant now; there was a flicker of ill-concealed fear in his eyes.

"So?" he said nonchalantly. Harry turned back to him, his smirk now predatory.

"So, if you don't do exactly what I'm about to tell you, I'm going to tell your mother. And your father. I will tell them everything that happened today, and they will come down on you like a Squashing Charm." Draco audibly gulped.

"What do you want?" he asked at last, and then added icily, "And it better be something I can do, or I will use a Squashing Charm on you!" Harry smirked.

"I think you'll manage. I want you to leave me alone. I mean completely alone. Don't call me names, don't trip me up in the corridors, don't send me nasty messages, don't try to stop me from playing Quidditch, don't tell your friends to be mean to me, and don't ever mention me to your father," Harry stated, calmly and evenly, but with such steel that Draco immediately got the implied threat. "Swear it to me, right now, or I go straight to the Owlery to mail your father." In the face of Harry's vow, Draco found himself nodding in agreement. Harry smirked at him, coveting his victory, and walked off through the copse.

Harry saw neither hide nor hair of Draco all through the day, though he knew he must have come home for a bath and breakfast. This was to Harry's supreme pleasure; with Draco not out of the way, he was free from one more restraint. In celebration, after his own determined attempt to rid himself of all the soot, and a bite to eat, he took his Cleansweep 4 and spent the rest of the morning flying, for once sure that there would ne no attempt to knock him off, or banish him from the area. The afternoon saw him in the library, reading about new Quidditch moves he could learn tomorrow.

Draco, for his part, spent the entire day in his room listening to the WWN. He was absolutely appalled that Harry had managed to blackmail him – a word and technique he himself had used many times – but he couldn't think of a single way to get out of it. Resigned to his promise, because after all, he owed Harry his life now, Draco spent the rest of his time sulking.

At evening meal, all was suspiciously quiet. Lucius was neither deaf nor blind. It was clear to him that his son refused to look at Harry, while Harry glanced fleetingly at Draco. Blatantly something had happened between them, an altercation of some kind which Harry had won. While the thought of Draco losing did nothing to please Lucius, Harry winning filled him with pride. The assimilation of the wretch he had rescued was working far better than he had hoped.

"One of the outlying barns burnt down this morning," Narcissa stated by way of conversation. Draco froze, and Harry's movements became suspiciously careful. They were both involved in the fire then, Lucius mused.

"Terrible, my dear," he said casually. Narcissa caught the tone, followed his gaze to their son and foster-son, and raised her shapely eyebrows.

"The expense to rebuild shall be greater if we use slate and stone," he said. Lucius nodded.

"Stone buildings cannot be burnt down, however. Have we any idea what started the blaze?" he asked. Draco was pushing his peas around the plate; Harry's cup was apparently fascinating.

"One of the labourers thought they saw children nearby," Narcissa said, a lie that only Lucius detected. The two fell silent, waiting for one of the boys to speak, but neither gave any indication that they would. Lucius was mildly surprised, but not unduly alarmed. If the tiff between them was that influential, it could serve his purpose at a later time. Smirking, Lucius nodded to his wife and continued to eat.

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