A/N: Oh, it's good to be back. I apologize for not updating before this but I was just so busy in Denver—I barely had time to sleep! But I'm updating now and that's all that matters, right? I'll warn you upfront that this chapter has quite a few loose ends and reads a bit, erm…clumsy, I guess. I tried a million different ways but just couldn't get this chapter to flow as smoothly as the others. Oh, well.
Anyway, about the chapter: (1) no real Harry/Draco interaction (next chapter, with lost more veela goodness!); (2) copious amounts of Dursley bashing; (3) introduction to an interesting quirk regarding Harry's visions (which will be further explained in later chapters); (4) a confrontation with Death Eaters (dun dun dun!).
I believe that covers everything. Please read and enjoy and don't forget to review!!
Silver Shades of Grey—Chapter Eight
Harry could feel Ginny's desperate touch through their soul-bond as she struggled to force some semblance of calm over him. She was sitting stiffly between Hermione and Draco, emitting near-palpable waves of frustration as Harry continued to push away her calming advances. He didn't want to be calm right now. He wanted to be furious.
Ginny made a soft sound of impatience, shoving another surge of calm at him as if to say You may not want to but you had damn well better calm down if you know what's good for you! Harry glared at her.
"Honestly, Harry. Would you please sit down," Hermione said.
"Yeah, mate. You're kind of making me dizzy," Ron remarked.
Ginny scrounged up every bit of strength she had and sent a final punch of emotion at him. Harry staggered mid-step, his anger wavering under the sudden calming weight. "Damnit, Ginny! That's enough," he snapped.
Ginny lifted a challenging eyebrow, crossing her arms over her chest. "Don't count on it, Potter," she replied. "I can do this for hours."
Harry opened his mouth to make some biting remark but thought better of it when both Ginny and Hermione narrowed their eyes warningly. Had it been just one or the other he might have been able to hold his ground, but against the pair of them he didn't stand a chance. He'd walked this road before with devastating results (namely him being subjected to hours of mind-numbing lecture beneath the weight of The Look). It really wasn't fair at all.
He had every right to be thoroughly and righteously pissed-off. He certainly didn't like the Dursleys—and, honestly, who could blame him?—but that didn't mean he wanted to see them tortured at the hands of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Having been a victim of said torture himself, Harry wouldn't wish that fate on his worst enemy. Well. Maybe his worst enemy…
Nonsense, piped his pesky inner-Dumbledore. You'd never wish such punishment on anyone. Not even your ignorant, incompetent, small-minded muggle relatives.
Harry blinked. Wow, he thought. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but you actually said something I agree with.
Yes, well. Had you been born a more sensible individual you'd recognize that everything I say has merit and therefore you should always agree with me.
Why is it you're always insulting me? Harry asked. You're my inner voice. You're supposed to be saying nice things about me.
Then perhaps you consider yourself an idiot as well.
I do not!
Then how am I able to insult you? As your inner voice I cannot, by definition, say things you do not already believe.
Harry paused. That actually made sense. But then…I am not an idiot!
I never said you were, came the irritatingly serene reply. Just that perhaps you think you are.
You know what? I'm through arguing with you. I quit.
Why am I not surprised?
"…listening to me, Harry?"
Harry frowned, recalling himself to the present. Why did that damn inner voice of his always have to have the last word? It was beyond infuriating. "What was that Hermione?"
"I said Professor Dumbledore should be back with the Order any minute, so if there's anything you want to tell us…?"
"Oh. Uh." Hermione had that look on her face, the one that said she knew he was keeping something from them and expected him to come clean. Harry fidgeted a bit. "Well—"
"Wait a second," Ron interrupted. "Why is he still here?" he asked, jabbing a finger at Draco.
Draco scowled. "I'd be more than happy to leave, Weasley."
"No." Harry grabbed Draco by the wrist, effectively forcing him to keep his seat. "He stays."
"He's as much a target of Voldemort and his goons as the rest of us," Harry replied. "And he has as much right to be here as you do."
To be honest, Harry wasn't entirely sure himself why he wanted Draco to stay. He could take the logical (an easy) way out and claim it had everything to do with his impossibly altruistic personality, his so-called "hero complex"—that pesky itch to dive headlong into the fray without even a cursory thought as to the consequences. He could claim it was beyond his basic nature to turn away a lost soul in need. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he had actually enjoyed spending time with Draco; enjoyed their witty, sarcastic banter. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he saw potential in Draco, a glimpse of the living, breathing human being that lurked beneath his icy Malfoy exterior. No, it was definitely the hero-complex.
"So are you going to come clean?" Hermione asked. "Or do I need to start guessing?"
Crap. Harry cleared his throat, fidgeted a bit more. He ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair and offered a guilty smile. "Actually…"
Hermione sighed, a sound conveying equal parts disappointment and annoyance. "This wasn't the first, was it?"
Harry ducked his head. "Well…no."
"What?" Ginny shot straight up in her chair, a look of utter shock plastered across her face. "That's not possible," she said. "If you'd had a vision I would have known about it."
"I've been shielding them," Harry replied.
"Shielding them?" Hermione repeated. "How is that possible? You can't shield something you don't know is coming."
"But that's the thing," Harry said. "I do know they're coming. I've been getting this, this feeling before they hit me."
Hermione leaned forward, a concerned frown tugging at her mouth. "What sort of feeling?"
Harry shrugged. "Sort of like a needle being jammed through my brain, I guess. Or sometimes this weird pinching in my eye."
"And how long has this been happening?"
"A few months, maybe."
"And how often do the visions occur?"
"One or two a month."
"And why haven't you told us?"
"Because I didn't want to worry you."
Hermione sighed again. "Harry, this is exactly the sort of thing you need to tell us," she said. "What if this had been another of Voldemort's tricks? He's as aware of this connection as you are and he wouldn't hesitate for a second to use it against you. What if you had woken up one morning completely brain-dead?"
Harry smiled. "Stop being so dramatic, Hermione. As you can see I'm not brain-dead and this isn't one of Voldy's tricks."
"How do you know that?" Ginny asked. "How do you know he's not just working out the kinks of some new torture method?"
"I don't know," Harry replied. "I just do. Whatever this is it isn't Voldemort. Maybe it's some obscure form of Occulmency."
Hermione perked up at that. "That may not be so farfetched an idea. I'll need to do some research to be certain, of course, but you may be on to something."
Ginny snickered. "By George I think she's got it!"
Hermione glared, turning her attention back to Harry. "I do have a question though," she said. "Not to be insulting here but…you're rubbish at shields."
"Oh sure," Harry replied dryly. "Not insulting at all."
"She has a point," Ron agreed.
"Gee thanks, Ron. Glad to know I can count on you."
Ron offered a cheeky grin. "Anytime, mate."
Ginny reached out a soothing touch through their soul-bond, touching Harry's knee with a gentle hand. "It's a fair question," she said. "You've said yourself that you're absolute rubbish at shielding. You can't even put a cork in your anger half the time. How in the world did you manage to shield your visions?"
Good questions, Harry thought. "I wish I could tell you. I really do. But I have no idea how I do it. I just…do."
"So what happened this afternoon?" Hermione asked.
"Who knows?" Harry shrugged. "Maybe Snape's right and I really am hopeless at Occlumency."
"Now you know that's not true…"
Draco watched the interaction between Harry and his friends with an odd mix of interest and confusion. He had no idea what they were talking about—Visions? And what the hell does Voldemort have to do with it?—but he was nonetheless intrigued. And not just about the conversation.
Harry had surprised him by including him, by putting himself between his friends and his adversary. And to his utter mortification Draco was actually…moved. The very word made him want to cringe. Simpering first-year Hufflepuffs with perfect braids and perfect dimples were moved. Little nancy boys still clutching their mother's skirts were moved. A Malfoy was certainly never moved. Such silly, pointless emotion was an unallowable weakness—and Lucius had never been shy when it came to ripping such emotions out of his only son.
So why now? Why be moved by Harry Potter of all people? It had to be the grief, he decided. A string of sleepless nights and little-to-no food was certain to cause devastating results for anyone—and for him it just happened to be a random surge of pointless emotion. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he had enjoyed Harry's company; enjoyed their sarcastic banter. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he'd glimpsed the real Harry—the living, breathing human being smothered beneath that irritating hero-complex. No, it was definitely the grief.
"I get visions of Voldemort."
Draco blinked, looked up. Harry was sitting beside him, eyes closed, chair tipped back on its legs. The others had wandered off to talk with Dumbledore and the Minister—And when the hell had they come in?—leaving them alone. "What?"
Harry opened his eyes, those piercing green eyes eliciting a strange twist in Draco's belly. "Because of this," he said, touching his scar, "I have a connection to Voldemort."
Draco frowned. Why is he telling me this? "I don't understand."
"You looked confused," Harry shrugged. "I thought I'd clear the air."
Feeling no less confused Draco asked, "Why?"
Harry's lips twitched amusedly. "Why not?"
"We need you over here, Mr. Potter."
"Got to go." Harry stood, that discreet smile still on his face. "Duty calls."
"Keep a lid on it, Scrimy. I'm coming," Harry called back.
The plan was simple enough (or so Scrimgeour insisted). A quick in and out retrieval mission. No muss. No fuss. Of course, the Minister was an idiot. Despite his best efforts—and against his better judgment—Harry had tried to explain the Dursleys' obsessive hatred of all things magical…and was naturally ignored. "We are saving their lives," Scrimgeour had argued with a sour expression. "I hardly doubt they will turn us away, Mr. Potter."
Harry knew better, of course. The Dursleys would not come quietly—especially when the orders came from the mouth of their wizard of a nephew. But apparently a prerequisite for work at the Ministry was the uncanny ability to dismiss common reason. Harry was overruled and generally ignored for the rest of the morning while the others formulated their plan. He'd almost forgotten how much fun it was to sit in on one of these meetings, the de facto symbol of the Order of the Phoenix, and be given absolutely no respect whatsoever (from the Ministry officials, at any rate). It made a person all warm and fuzzy with confidence.
"Would you stop sulking, already?" Ginny frowned, pulling her fiery hair into a ponytail. "You're starting to bum me out."
Harry looked up from tying his shoes, an irritated look on his face. "Forgive me for thinking this is a horrible idea," he replied snidely. "I am the last person in the world the Dursleys want to see." And they're the last people I want to see, he added to himself.
Ginny sensed his thoughts and softened a bit. "We all know this is hard for you," she said, lacing up her boots. "But do you honestly think they'd respond any better to some wand-wielding stranger showing up at their doorstep and demanding they leave?"
The image of Vernon Dursley turning several shades of purple as he spluttered his outrage brought a fleeting smile to Harry's face. But the image was quickly washed away by memories of hateful words and long nights spent locked up and starving in his tiny cupboard under the stairs. He hated how Vernon could still make him feel like an inadequate child (even after months of being away from that oppressive household). He hated that Vernon still had this hold over him, this invisible hand still wrapped around his throat. He hated that the mere mention of Vernon's name still evoked a cold fear in his belly. Harry wanted nothing more than to be rid of his family and their enduring control over him.
Some might say it was silly of him to fear a man who could never really hurt him. Harry was a wizard, wasn't he? What need had he to fear a mere muggle? But years of verbal and psychological abuse had taken their toll. He had spent most his life being insulted and belittled, told every day how worthless and pathetic he was—and he had the emotional scars to prove it. For all his stubborn defiance of them, Harry had always harbored a tiny voice at the back of his mind; a voice that whispered, Maybe they're right. Maybe I am just a freak.
Hermione placed a comforting hand on his arm, brushing a few locks of unruly hair away from his eyes. "You know you're not," she said with a knowing look. "You can't let them keep pushing you down, Harry. They can't hurt you anymore."
"And if they try we'll just turn them into toads," Ron remarked with a puckish grin.
"And feed them to Pig," Ginny added, tugging at the cuff of her fishnet sleeve.
Harry smiled. "That might just be the sweetest thing I've ever heard."
Ginny flung an arm over his shoulder, planting a kiss on his cheek. "Never say we don't know how to treat you right."
"Okay, people!" Kingsley Shacklebolt clapped his hands together to draw everyone's attention. At Gawain Robards request, he had assembled a small team of Aurors for the mission at hand. He and Tonks would accompany the Foursome inside Number 4 Privet Drive to collect the Dursleys while Savage, Dawlish, Williamson and Proudfoot set up a perimeter around the house. If all went as planned the Dursleys would be tucked safely in their rooms at Grimmauld Place long before Pettigrew arrived to fetch them. "Let's pair up and head out!"
Harry sidled up to Hermione while Ginny tucked her arm firmly through Ron's. They would apparate in pairs—just in case. "He we go," he murmured, an anxious twist in his belly as a familiar sense of wooziness overcame him. I hate apparating…
The late morning sun was nearly at its peak, surrounded by a cloudless blue sky. Rays of pale sunlight bathed the street in warmth; wisps of sweet summer air rustled the trees and grass. Harry stumbled at bit, catching himself on Hermione's arm. I really hate apparating.
Number 4 Privet Drive looked how it had always looked: neat, tidy, perfectly square and perfectly normal. Boring, really. The flower bed and hydrangea bushes were wilting, clearly in need of a green thumb—And not a single person in that house has one, Harry thought somewhat bitterly. The gardens had always been his responsibility. The lawn was impeccable and the house itself looked freshly painted.
Harry eyed the stone pathway with building resentment. He remembered laying each and every one of those stones because, according to Uncle Vernon, an immaculate lawn was not to be walked on. My ass, Harry frowned, taking a deliberate step onto that flawless green lawn. It felt good. Really good. Those crisp, dewy blades of grass bending and snapping beneath his booted feet.
"Only you would feel this gleeful and defiant for walking across a yard," Ginny said behind him.
Harry looked back at her, ignoring the curious stares of Kingsley and his Aurors. "Try spending seventeen years being shoved off this walkway by you bully of a cousin and then slapped around for every blade of grass of you bent. You'd be defiant too," he said.
Kingsley bristled, a dark look shadowing his handsome face. "They struck you?"
"On good days that's all they did," Harry replied, remembering days spent hungry and locked in the cupboard. "Remind me to show you my old room," he said dryly. "It's a quaint little space under the stairs."
Tonks made a quiet sound at the back of her throat and looked suddenly torn between wrapping Harry up in her arms and hexing the Dursleys to within an inch of their lives. Harry shrugged, offering a bland smile as if to say, Yes, it sucks, but it's over and done with so let's just move on. Tonks settled for setting a comforting hand on his shoulder and ruffling his hair with a wink (and Harry loved her for it).
"The perimeter is secure, sir," Proudfoot reported.
Kingsley nodded, a frown marring his features as he turned away from Harry. "Set up your positions, then. We shouldn't be more than a half hour."
"Very good, sir."
Proudfoot, Dawlish, Williamson and Savage vanished with an effortless disillusionment charm. Kingsley and Tonks drew their wands. "Let's move."
Harry felt sweet, absurd elation as all six of them tromped across the yard. It was a small, petty victory…but a victory nonetheless.
And then the front door flew open, and there stood Vernon Dursley red-faced and swollen with anger. "Damn fools!" he bellowed. "There's a reason we have a—" His face pinched with a look of utter disgust. "It's you," he sneered, beady eyes staring hard at Harry. "You're no longer welcome here, freak."
Ginny soothed Harry's building anger with a gentle stroke of their soul-bond, her hand warm against his arm. "Easy," she whispered. "Ignorant muggle, remember?"
Harry smiled at that. Ignorant, indeed. Walking forward, enjoying Vernon's clear displeasure at having his lawn "defiled," he said, "Hello, Uncle Vernon. Sorry to interrupt your lunch but I'm afraid you'll need to come with us."
Vernon stiffened. He may have been an ignorant, bull-headed muggle but he wasn't an idiot, not when it came to threats against his family. He had witnessed enough acts of magic to understand its danger—especially when Harry was involved. "What's happened?"
Harry stepped past his uncle into the house. Petunia rose to her feet as he stepped into the living room, a look of wavering distaste and worry on her face as she clutched the morning paper to her chest. "You need to pack a bag," Harry said to her. "Is Dudley home?"
"Upstairs," she replied. "What's happening?"
They fought him of course—argued and yelled and threatened—but in the end they did as he instructed (likely because of the dark looks and wands Kingsley and Tonks were aiming at them), disappearing up the steps. Dudley came waddling down the stairs a few minutes later, whining and complaining about some pointless computer game and lugging an overstuffed duffel bag. Petunia followed at his heels spouting promises of sweets and petting his hair, her own bag dragging behind her.
Harry swallowed the urge to roll his eyes. Not a damn thing had changed. Vernon was still a fountain of prejudice and anger; a bully through and through. Petunia still brimmed with jealousy and spite; still blamed the wizarding world for stealing Lily away from her. And Dudley, well. His pork chop of a cousin was still whiny and insolent; still spoiled and catered to. Harry wondered idly if Petunia still wiped his ass, too.
Seeing Harry and his friends loitering about the living room, Dudley adopted a petulant frown, arms crossed over his portly chest. "What're they doing here?"
"Hey there, Big D," Harry replied with efficient cheek. "How's the diet coming?"
Dudley bristled. "You're not allowed here anymore, freak," he said, taking a step forward.
Kingsley and Tonks were there in an instant, wands aimed at his chest, something cold and deadly in their eyes. Here were those seldom seen Auror persona's coming out to play. "Not another step," Kingsley warned. "I'd hate to have to harm you considering we're here to save your worthless life."
Dudley froze in sudden horror. "It isn't those, those things again, is it?"
Harry felt himself soften, just a bit. Ignorant muggle, he told himself. "No," he replied. "No Dementors this time."
The ends of Kingsley and Tonks's wands suddenly burst into light just as Williamson apparated into the room. "We have company, sir. Death Eaters."
Kingsley swore. "Get them out of here, Tonks!" he ordered before apparating out with Williamson.
"You heard the man!" she snapped. "Ginny, grab their things. Ron. Hermione. Harry. Grab a Dursley and apparate back to headquarters."
Ginny was gone a moment later. Ron and Hermione took hold of Vernon and Petunia (ignoring their outraged protests) and vanished with a pop! Harry whirled around to snatch his cousin and leave but—"Where the hell's Dudley!"
A curse slammed into the front door, a wide crack opening down its middle. Tonks cast a rapid succession of strengthening spells at both the door and the windows, her eyes eerily calm as she looked back over her shoulder. "I'll find him, Harry," she said. "Just get out of here."
A low boom! shook the house, windows exploding inward. Harry felt shards rip through his clothes as he dove for the floor. Tonks landed beside him, shielding him from the shower of glass. "You okay?"
Harry nodded. "Fine."
"Good. Then get the hell out of here."
"I have to find Dudley."
"Damnit, Harry," she snapped. "Get out of here! I'll find him."
With a deafening crack! the front door flew off its hinges, shattering into a thousand tiny pieces. Five hooded figures glided into the hall, wands drawn and at the ready. Tonks muttered a string of obscenities as she scrambled behind the couch, hauling Harry along beside her. The sounds of raised voices and clashing curses could be heard from the front lawn, explosions of color lighting up the room.
Harry looked up, squinting through the cloud of dust filtering through the room. There, cowering between the television and the fireplace, was Dudley. Thank god!
"Potter's here," said one of the Death Eaters. "Find him."
Tonks shot to her feet with a wicked grin. "Peek-a-boo," she chirped. "Stupefy!"
Four of the Death Eaters dodged the spell. One fell to the floor in a lifeless heap. Dudley made a strangled noise, pressing further into his corner—and drawing the Death Eaters' sharp attention. Harry swore, shifting his wand from right hand to left. Tonks was going to kill him.
The living room floor exploded outward in a shower of nasty splinters and debris. The Death Eaters spun away, shielding their faces. Tonks fell to the floor, her eyes wide and panicked as she looked up at Harry. "Don't!"
But it was too late. Harry was already scrambling across the room on all fours. A crucio arced past him, searing across the top of his shoulder and blasting into the wall. Dudley whimpered softly.
Tonks fired off a levicorpus, drawing the Death Eaters' attention back to her. "Get him out of here, Harry!" she yelled. "I'll be right behind you."
Harry hesitated for half a second—What if she needs my help?—before shoving his hero-complex aside and grabbing Dudley by the arm. He needs it more. "Hold on, Big D."
"Oh, thank god!"
Strong hands hauled them both to their feet. Harry wavered a bit, willing away the nausea souring his belly. He really, really hated apparating.
There was a loud pop! and a sudden gasp. Harry looked up, for a moment frozen in fear. A tall, black-robed figure stood not two feet away, an unconscious Tonks in his arms. But then the hood was pushed back and Snape stood before them pale and tense. "Stunner."
Remus stepped forward, summoning a chair. "Set her down."
"Did anyone see you?" Harry asked.
Snape shook his head tersely. "They were rather preoccupied running for their lives," he said with an ugly curl of his lips (his own personal version of a grin).
"What the hell is going on?" Vernon demanded loudly.
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. He'd forgotten about the Dursleys. "I'm sor—"
Vernon struck him hard across the cheek, the clap! of hand-on-cheek echoing off the walls, followed by a stunned silence.
It was obvious from the way Harry shrank away, the way he didn't even try to defend himself, that this was not the first time Vernon had struck him—and that enraged everyone in the room (even Snape). But Harry never gave them the chance to voice their outrage; holding up a hand, palm outward.
"I apologize for the inconvenience, Uncle Vernon, but your lives were in danger."
"Because of you," Vernon sneered.
"Yes, because of me," Harry replied softly, looking away. Always because of me. "For precautionary reasons you'll stay here tonight," he said. "I'll have someone escort you to Aunt Marge's in the morning." Picking up their bags he motioned toward the stairs. "I'll show you to your rooms."
The other watched him struggle to drag their bags up the staircase, no one daring to interfere. Harry wanted to handle this in his own way, and for now they'd let him. But every person in that room planned to give Vernon Dursley a good, firm talking to of their own.
"Why doesn't he just levitate their bags?"
Ron frowned, shifting away from Draco. "The Dursleys hate magic," he replied stiffly.
"He's trying to be accommodating," Hermione explained.
"Because if he gives in to the amount of anger he's got bottled up right now," Ginny said, "the Dursleys will wish Voldemort had gotten to them first."
Vernon's harsh, accusatory voice drifted down from the first floor and everyone else seemed to tense all at once—several of them itching to put their wands to good use.
Draco sneered, a soft glow emanating from his skin. He appriciated more than anyone what Harry must've gone through as a child. "It may have been better for all of us if he had."
A/N: Did it read clumsy to anyone else? I don't know. This chapter just seemed very out-of-sync to me. But anyway. Do you hate me for letting Vernon hit Harry? I didn't want to, but it fit with the relationship between them so I let it go. Harry's sudden ability to sense and shield his visions will be further explained in later chapters and there will be more Harry/Draco interaction next chapter.
I hope you enjoyed! Please review!