The Reason Is You
Draco crossed the dusty floorboards for the fourth time and peered out through the grimy glass window.
"They should've been here by now," he muttered, his eyes squinting as he surveyed the empty lane.
Hermione glanced up from the large book in her hands and hid a smile as she watched the pacing blond. "I'm sure everything's fine," she supplied reassuringly.
Draco sighed and turned around, perching his body on the edge of the wide windowsill and crossing his arms over his chest. "I still don't see why we couldn't go, too."
Hermione laid the heavy text down on her lap. "Someone has to stay here to watch over the house while everyone else is away."
"Weasley and Macmillan could've stayed."
"They can't skive off patrolling just because you want to see, Harry," Hermione said in exasperation, tired of dealing with the increasingly moody Slytherin.
Draco glared. "Aren't you even the tiniest bit worried that Dumbledore and Severus felt it necessary for the two of them to meet Harry themselves?"
Hermione picked up her book again. "Well, Harry is Voldemort's prime target."
"Oh, thanks. That makes me feel loads better."
Hermione flipped idly through the aged pages of her book. "From what I hear, Harry doesn't really need much protection anymore."
Draco glanced up sharply. "What have you heard?"
"Oh, I just overheard Dumbledore telling Ron's parents that apparently Harry was doing amazingly well with his training, exceeding expectations, in fact."
Draco smiled as he turned his attention back to the window. "Of course – he's Harry Potter."
Hermione pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Just don't expect him to come back the same."
Draco turned away from the window with a frown. "I don't. He was a real mess when he left and now he's spent almost two years in intensive magical training, of course he's going to be different."
"Doesn't that worry you?"
"Why should it? He'll be stronger, more confident in himself, and hopefully he's gotten over the past."
"What if he's gotten over a lot more then just, Ethan?" Hermione asked, quietly. "You were both sixteen when he left and now you're eighteen – that's a long time to be apart."
Draco shrugged. "My feelings haven't changed, why should his?"
Hermione smiled slightly. "I'm sure you're right. It's too bad you weren't able to write each other."
"I know. I was pissed off at first, but I think it was a good thing. Harry needed some space."
Hermione nodded in agreement.
Draco glanced back at the window, an impatient sigh escaping his lips as he absently pushed his blond hair off of his forehead.
"Careful," Hermione warned, glancing up. "It took you a full hour this morning to get your hair just right for Harry's return."
He shot her a withering glare. "I'll have you know that I always take an hour on my hair. Not everything I do concerns Harry."
"Is that cologne I smell?"
"Oh, shut-up." Draco turned away in annoyance.
Hermione snickered and closed her book with a bang. "You know if you were a girl I'd swear that you had been suffering from a serious case of PMS lately."
Draco pushed away from the window and paced across the small room. "I know I haven't been the most…pleasant co-worker as of late-"
"Understatement of the year," Hermione muttered.
"- but I'm just…nervous."
Hermione immediately felt sorry for teasing him. "Don't be. You have nothing to worry about."
Draco exhaled and shook his head uncertainly.
Hermione stood and walked over to look him in the eye. "Listen to me, Harry will return and he will be different, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't still care about you. You'll just have to get to know each other again, take it slow – one step at a time."
"Thanks, Ms Bloomwood." Draco smirked, trying to lighten the mood.
Hermione laughed and flopped back into her chair. "I was actually thinking about pursuing a career in counselling or therapy when this is all over."
"Merlin knows we're all going to need it," said Draco.
"Let's hope not."
"Then how are you going to make any money…" Draco trailed off, his head snapping towards the window suddenly, eyes wide.
The unmistakable sound of approaching voices was drifting up towards them.
"He's here!" Draco exclaimed in relief. "I mean…they're here."
Hermione stifled a giggle as Draco rushed from the room. "Draco!"
"What?" He stopped halfway out the door.
"You might want to do something about your hair before you go down there."
The haughty blond rolled his eyes and disappeared from view. Hermione stood up and stretched, then started laughing as the sound of Draco's footsteps retreated towards the loo and not downstairs. She continued to grin as she left the study and jogged down to meet the returning group.
The front door opened just as her foot stepped off the last stair and a tall familiar brunette cautiously walked into the foyer.
"Harry!" She shrieked and ran over to throw her arms around him.
Harry smiled and dropped the large black duffel bag that was slung over one shoulder to the ground, his arms automatically opening to hug his friend in return.
"Let me look at you." She pulled back and held him at arms length, scrutinizing him closely. "Wow, you've actually grown. I think you were thirteen the last time you had a growth spurt. And you have actual muscles!"
Harry laughed as Hermione squeezed his biceps. "It was all the physical training we had to do; sword-play, archery…it was exhausting."
"And I bet you loved every minute of it!" Hermione grinned knowingly.
Harry laughed again as he nodded, his green eyes sparkling.
Hermione suddenly clutched him to her. "I'm so glad you're happy again, Harry. I was so worried about you when you left…"
Harry patted her back a little awkwardly. "It's okay now, 'Mione. I feel a lot better."
Hermione pulled back, embarrassed, and wiped her eyes.
Harry looked away, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings with interest. "So, this is-"
Harry turned as someone banged through the door, laden down with heavy bags and boxes. "Oh, shit!" He dashed over and grabbed some of the boxes obscuring the person's vision. "Sorry 'bout that, Cody."
Hermione looked up at the stranger's face curiously. He looked to be a few years older than herself and was very tall with sun-bleached hair and a light golden tan. He had very strong cheek bones which were softened by the dimples in his cheeks when he smiled, which appeared to be often. He had clear blue eyes with a hint of green, turning them almost aqua in colour.
He and Harry set their stuff down on the floor and straightened up, Cody rubbing his back with a grimace.
"Sorry," Harry apologized sheepishly. "I kind of got anxious and ran ahead."
Cody smiled good-naturedly. "No worries, mate."
Hermione raised a brow with interest at the heavy Australian accent, and at the way Harry was smiling back at him. "Uh oh," she thought worriedly.
"Hermione, this is Cody Melnyck, my training partner," Harry introduced, drawing her attention back to reality.
"Hi, nice to meet you." She smiled in greeting, extending a hand.
Cody smiled and stepped over to shake her hand, his skin rough and calloused under her own.
"So you're an Intimus Magis, too?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm Sparky's partner in crime," he winked, shooting Harry a bright smile. "And you must be the genius that he's always talking about."
"Hardly." Hermione blushed modestly.
Cody's smile grew in amusement. "I'm gonna go back and help Julian," he said to Harry.
"Okay." Harry nodded.
"Sparky?" Hermione questioned as soon as Cody had disappeared out the door.
Harry chuckled. "I'm so used to it by now I don't even notice it anymore. It's his nick-name for me. It started right after I accidentally set his trousers on fire during practice."
Hermione would've laughed if she hadn't been dying to know what it was going on between the two boys. "Harry, just what is going on between you and Cody?"
Harry immediately stopped laughing. "He…"
Hermione inwardly groaned, her eyes flicking from Harry's flustered face to Draco standing at the bottom of the stairs. "I think I'll go see if they need any help," she excused herself and walked outside without waiting for a response.
Harry stared at Draco as the blond slowly made his way over to stand in front of him. He still had to look up slightly to see into those grey/blue eyes, apparently he wasn't the only one to have grown during their time apart.
"Welcome home," Draco said warmly.
"Thanks." Harry swallowed, taking a small step backwards.
"I missed you," Draco continued in the same warm tone.
"Ah, Harry, here you are." A strange older wizard walked through the door, levitating a ratty carpet bag behind him. He had a white moustache and a beard that was short and shaped to a point. His white hair was also short compared to most older wizards and was brushed back into a small ponytail at the nape of his neck. His brown traveling cloak was very plain and had dried mud stains along the bottom, just brushing the top of his heavy suede hiking boots.
Harry turned away from Draco and smiled in welcome relief at the diversion. "Julian, what took you so long?" he asked in a teasing tone.
Slightly hurt, Draco frowned and watched as Harry deliberately ignored him.
"I'm not used to all this traveling, dear boy," Julian Price answered back, the same kind of twinkle in his brown eyes that could often be found in Dumbledore's.
"That's no excuse," Harry reprimanded playfully.
Julian levitated his bag to the growing pile on the floor and looked around. "Where can I get a cup of tea in this place?"
Harry shrugged. "No idea, I've never been here before."
Snape and Dumbledore suddenly appeared in the doorway behind Julian. Dumbledore was smiling merrily while Snape looked ready to kill.
"Did someone mention tea?" Dumbledore asked, pleasantly.
"Yes, I think we're ready for a little sit down, don't you?" Julian answered.
"Excellent idea. Let's leave the unpacking for later and go have something to eat."
Julian smiled and walked beside Dumbledore as he headed down the hall, a scowling Snape trailing behind.
Draco immediately turned to Harry.
"When are we going to eat?" Cody moaned in mock faintness, stumbling through the door with a giggling Hermione. The two of them threw the last three bags onto the pile.
Draco glared at the interruption.
Harry laughed. "We're having tea down there." He pointed.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Cody threw an arm about Harry's shoulders and steered him down the hallway after the trio of professors.
Draco could only gape in disbelief.
Hermione walked over in concern and stood next to the stunned Slytherin as he stared after the pair.
"Who was that guy?" Draco asked.
"His name is Cody Melnyck. He's from Australia and he was Harry's training partner in Ireland."
"So what's he doing here?"
"I haven't the faintest."
Draco finally turned to look at her, his eyes silently pleading. "They're not…he's not…"
Hermione slowly shook her head. "I'm not sure."
"But it looked that way, didn't it? Did he say anything to you? He barely said two words to me and pretty much ignored me like he wanted me to know that he didn't want to have anything to do with me."
Hermione silently cursed Harry for being so insensitive. "He only told me that they were training partners."
Draco looked back up the hallway where the two had disappeared from view. "I never even considered the possibility that he might meet someone new. I can't believe…I just…I don't understand…he…"
"Look." Hermione interrupted his stunned rambling. "We don't even know anything for sure yet, let's just go in there and observe Cody and Harry's interactions."
"Alright," Draco said distractedly. He turned and headed for the kitchen.
Hermione crossed her fingers behind her back and said a little prayer before following.
Draco entered the small kitchen and silently took in the seating arrangements at a glance. The cramped table held the headmaster at one end with Julian Price to his left, Harry was sandwiched between Julian and Cody, and Snape was furthest away from the chatty headmaster and his old friend.
Hermione walked in behind him and glanced uncertainly at the last remaining chair.
"You take it," Draco offered.
Dumbledore glanced up from his conversation. "Harry, why don't you conjure up another chair for Mr Malfoy and demonstrate some of that wandless magic you've been working on."
"Sorry, sir." Harry shook his head. "We're not allowed to use it unless strictly necessary."
Julian smiled and nodded approvingly at his student.
"Hey, no problem," Cody spoke up with a grin. "Sparky can share my chair." With that he grabbed Harry around his middle and hauled him over onto his lap.
Harry laughed and squirmed in protest, blushing slightly.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Problem solved. Have a seat, Draco."
Draco fumed. "No thanks, I think I've lost my appetite. I'll just be going-"
"I'm sorry, Mr Malfoy, but we have some rather important things to discuss and I would like you to stay."
Draco's lips thinned as he stoically took up Harry's vacated chair, keeping his eyes averted from the cozy couple beside him.
"Alright, down to business," the headmaster began. "There are a few things we need to apprise Harry and Cody of before we start. As you know, we have quite a few Order headquarters spread around the country, this one is of course Remus Lupin's old home when he wasn't among society or doing work for the Order."
Draco risked a glance at Harry out of the corner of his eye, but the brunette's intent expression didn't even waver.
"The group currently using this home, which we have named Moony House, have been put into pairs for their Order duties. Miss Granger and Mr Malfoy are a team, Ron Weasley and Ernie Macmillan, and now Mr Potter and Mr Melnyck. We only station about three to five pairs at any one location for safety. Also, professor Snape and Mr Malfoy are often absent performing additional duties for us."
Harry's eyes flicked to Draco.
"Pairs are sent out to patrol suspicious areas that might contain Death Eaters or their supporters. Mr Weasley and Mr Macmillan are out patrolling at this moment and should return shortly. We also have an insider contact that relays important information to us at different intervals. His code name is Laszlo and you will both meet him at some point. Both professor Snape and Mr Malfoy are carefully monitored by Voldemort, he is very suspicious about how a lot of his vital information is leaking out and we like to encourage this in order to keep the heat off of Laszlo. I think that's about it. Any questions?"
"Are you sure you can trust this double agent?" Cody asked.
"Quite sure, he is extremely reliable and hasn't led us astray yet. Anything else?"
Harry shook his head.
"Excellent." Dumbledore brightened, the serious mood lifting. "Now, I think we need to hear the story on how Mr Potter's new name came to be Sparky."
Harry and Cody burst out laughing.
"Shall I?" Cody asked Harry.
"If you must," Harry said, his face turning red even as he laughed.
"Well," Cody began. "We were practising an exercise in teamwork in which Harry was supposed to ignite one of my arrows with fire and then I shoot it at the target – only, he set my trousers on fire instead! Let me tell you, I was never so scared in all my life, that fire was little too close to home if you know what I mean."
Draco ground his teeth as everyone laughed.
"Then he had to tear them off and was running around in his underwear…" Harry choked out, dissolving into laughter again.
Draco pushed back from the table and stood up. "If that's all, sir, I think I'll go get some work done."
Dumbledore nodded dismissively.
Draco stalked out of the kitchen and fled up to his room.
He stared out the window, wondering how what was supposed to be such a wonderful day could turn out so horribly, horribly wrong.
A/N - Just to head off any complaints; yes, this story's chapters are going to be shorter than Walk Away, but I will be updating more frequently. This story will also be shorter in length than Walk Away was, as well. And don't worry, all questions you might have about what the hell is going on so far will be answered in due time...hee hee. Hope you like it.