A Pillow from the Past
It was becoming increasingly rare, over the last few weeks, that all Harry's family were asleep at once in the back of his mind. The sudden silence left him feeling slightly unnerved – it was like walking out of crowded party and suddenly finding himself in a sound-proofed room.
Those rare moments were golden, and Harry found himself experiencing one of them early one Saturday morning a month after Narcissa's rescue. He opened his eyes to find himself alone in his conscious mind. It was like being able to take a deep breath again for the first time in weeks and he intended to take full advantage of it.
Draco was still fast asleep, buried under a ridiculous number of winter blankets and eiderdowns. Harry was certain that he was going to end up suffocated one day, but Draco insisted that even suffocation was better than being cold.
Creeping around his room as quietly as he could, Harry pulled on some of his old Muggle clothes and grabbed his broom from the corner. He headed out of the castle and onto the Quidditch pitch, which was quiet and deserted at this time of the morning.
He mounted his broom and kicked off, forming lazy figure eights as his broom rose higher off the ground. For a while he just let his mind clear, enjoying the sharp chill of the February air and the bright winter sunlight. When the worries of his current situation started to encroach on the serenity, he began to work himself a bit harder, performing more complicated manoeuvres and testing his rather rusty Quidditch skills against imaginary opponents. He wished he'd brought a snitch out with him.
Half an hour later, he was sweaty and out of breath, but feeling more refreshed than he had in a long time. He lay, stomach-down, across his broom, smoothly zigzagging across the pitch as he contemplated going in and getting breakfast. He was reluctant to break the fragile shell of peace he was in but knew that if he didn't, someone else would.
As if on cue, he spotted a distant red-headed figure approaching the edge of the Quiiditch pitch, turning a pale face up to watch him. Harry sighed. Real life called.
He flew down reluctantly to land on the ground in front of Ron, reaching up to ruffle his wind-blown hair in a gesture that had become ingrained after months of living with his father in his head.
"Alright, Ron?" he asked. "I'm guessing I'm needed inside?"
"Nah, mate, you're good," Ron answered, gesturing to the lowest benches of the Hufflepuff stands they were standing next to. "Take a load off for a minute why don't you?"
Harry shrugged and followed his friend to the benches, shivering a little and tucking his hands inside the sleeves of his large Dudley-hoodie when the chilly breeze swept over his sweaty skin.
"Thought I might find you out here," Ron commented.
"S'where you always come to get away." Ron shot him a sideways glance, his eyes flicking over Harry speculatively. "They're all asleep up there, huh?"
Harry looked at him in surprise.
"You've developed this look over the last few months," Ron explained. "Sort of pinched and pained and shivery. It goes away when it's all quiet on the family front."
"Yeah," Harry said. "It's nice to have a bit of a break to be honest. You can't imagine what it's like."
Ron shuddered. "No I can't. Thank Merlin."
"So, Hermione kicked you out early this morning?"
"Nope. Just arrived. I had to open the shop this morning so I was at home - though to be honest I'm spending so much time at Hogwarts nowadays it's beginning to feel more like home here." He shrugged. "Anyway, that new kid George hired called in sick. Had to get some cover in."
They sat in silence for a while, looking out over the pitch. The House flags that decorated the stands whipped and fluttered in the wind like bright wings.
"So…" Ron leant back and stretched out his long legs in front of him. "Is it just your family you're trying to get a break from?"
Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you're spending an awful lot of time with Malfoy recently."
Something about the way he said it set the alarm bells going in Harry's mind. "What's that supposed to mean? Ron, are you jealous?"
"What? No!" Ron pulled a ghastly face. "Of The Ferret? Give me a break!"
"Well why did you ask like that then?"
"Like what? I didn't ask it like anything."
"Yes you did. All meaningful and stuff."
Ron groaned and wiped a hand over his face. "I'm screwing this up aren't I? I've never been any good at this sort of thing."
"What sort of thing? I seem to be missing a large portion of this conversation."
Ron huffed then sat forward again, resting his chin on his large hands without looked at Harry. An awkward silence reigned for a few seconds before sidling off as Ron straightened, clearly forcing himself to meet Harry's bemused gaze. "You know you can talk to me about anything, right?"
"Yes…" Harry said uncertainly. "What specific 'anything' are we referring to here?"
"You know." Ron looked like he'd rather be hip-deep in piranha infested waters that having this conversation. "Malfoy-anything."
"Malfoy-anything? Ron, I seriously have no idea what you're talking about."
"How can you not?" Ron burst out. "Everyone else does!"
"Does what, for heaven's sake?"
"You know what?" Ron threw up his hands in defeat. "Nothing. Forget I said anything."
"No! Tell me what you mean." A nasty suspicion dawned in Harry's mind. "Is this about bedroom-friends? Is this a bedroom-friends conversation?"
It was Ron's turn to look confused. "I dunno. What's a bedroom-friend? Some sort of weird Muggle slang?"
A long, awkward silence fell, broken by Ron clearing his throat and scratching his ear.
"So," Harry said eventually. "I guess this is why we've always avoided conversations like this up 'til now."
"Yeah," Ron said, looking hugely relieved at the change of subject. "Let's leave it to the girls from now on, eh?"
"You can though," Ron added after a moment.
"Talk to me about anything. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, Ron. I know that. Excruciating though it would be."
"Want some breakfast?"
"I would kill for some."
They climbed off the stands and headed back towards the castle.
"Hey, Ron," Harry said, just as they entered the main doors.
Ron grinned and shrugged.
:-What did we miss?-: Sirius's annoyingly chirpy voice said in Harry's mind. It created the beginnings of a headache just above his right eyebrow.
"Please tell me I'm not going to have to drink that," Harry said, peering down into the bubbling cauldron. It was later that day and he had made his way down to the hidden room in the dungeons where Draco and Hermione had been working on the Master of Death potion. Snape was a scowling figure standing beneath a glowing streetlamp in the battered picture on the wall.
"Oh come on, Harry," Hermione said bracingly. "It's not as bad as all that."
The potion glooped ominously. It was browny-green. It had mysterious floating lumps. It looked like at least three or four people had been forced to consume it already and their stomachs had protested violently.
"How long do I have to keep it down for?"
"It'll be a different colour once it's done," Draco said without looking up from the notebook Hermione had translated the instructions into. His blond brows were drawn together in concentration.
"A better colour?"
"If you're dissatisfied with the service you are being provided with, Mr Potter, I am sure we can cease production immediately," Snape drawled. "I, for one, would be delighted not to have to spend another moment down here in the company of your adoring minions."
:-No one's forcing you to spend time with them now, Snivelly,-: James muttered darkly in Harry's mind. :-You're only doing it because you fancy my wife.-:
"I'm not a minion," Draco protested. "I'm a hostage."
"If I were you, Mr Malfoy, I would not so readily advertise the fact that I was taken hostage by a gaggle of Gryffindor dunderheads."
"They defeated the Dark Lord!" Draco hesitated, obviously caught between his distress at having given Gryffindors a compliment and a desire to maintain his pride. "Mostly through sheer luck and bull-headedness, but still," he added.
"Purple maybe?" Harry tried, unwilling to let the matter go until he ascertained that he wouldn't be gulping down something that looked and smelled like the aftermath of a particularly nasty bout of dysentery. "I like purple. Or blue. Blue is good."
"It should be red," Hermione said, clearly taking pity on him. "A lovely bright red."
Harry peered into the cauldron and imagined what the contents would look like in 'lovely bright red'. Rather like someone had put a few small mammals into a blender, most likely. It would not be much of an improvement. "So how do we make it red?"
"We need a couple of last ingredients, I'm afraid," Hermione said, avoiding his eyes.
Harry eyed her with suspicion. "Why're you looking all shifty, Hermione?"
"She's not looking shifty," Ron said loyally, then ruined it by adding, "a bit like she's hiding something, yeah, but not 'shifty'."
"Don't try and help me, Ron," Hermione sighed. She turned to Harry. "As I was saying, there are a couple of ingredients that are of a bit of a…delicate nature."
"For Salazar's sake, Granger, you're making it sound like we need his semen or something." Draco turned to Harry. "We need a Veela hair and a piece of your earliest childhood bed."
Harry froze. "My what?"
Hermione glared at Draco, then turned her most sympathetic save-the-house-elves expression on Harry. "I'm sorry, Harry. It says it right here." She went over to the table and picked up the ancient copy of Sacrum Obitus. She brought it over to Harry, who peered over her shoulder to the page she was pointing at.
"A piece from the place where Matthew, Mark, Luke and John stand guard," he read out, "from whence the angels cluster round the child."
:-Does that make any sense to you?-: Sirius asked him dubiously. :-Because it sounds like gibberish to me.-:
:-I told you,-: Harry said, :-no one ever did nursery rhymes for me. I only know the ones I overheard from Dudley and that one's not ringing a bell.-:
"It means that we need a bit of your childhood bed," Hermione said. "It's pretty clear once you know the nursery rhyme."
Harry groaned and slumped against the wall, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands to try and ease the ache behind them. "What rhyme?"
"Matthew, Mark, Luke and John / Bless the bed that I lie on / Four corners to my bed / Four angels round my head / One to watch and one to pray / and two to bear my soul away," Hermione recited. "The angels obviously cluster round the head, so they must need a bit of your pillow." She paused, eyes apologetic. "We know there's not much left of the cot you slept in as a baby, so it would have to be the earliest bed you slept in at the Dursleys."
"I've said it once and I'll say it again," Draco put in, "your Muggle nursery rhymes are disturbing. Verging on morbid."
"I don't understand!" Harry said in frustration. "Why do they need that? What can it possibly have to do with anything?"
:-This whole spell is about blood and family,-: Lily pointed out, :-Just like the one that was linked to my death. You needed to stay in the Dursleys' home so that their blood link to you could protect you as a child. In the same way, the pillow you sleep on trustingly as a child has a link to home and blood and family. It's another tie to this world to drag us back here.-:
:-I didn't even like the Durleys.-:
"I don't know what your family are saying," Hermione said, watching him, "but the book doesn't specify why the ingredient is necessary. Anything is possible. Professor Snape thinks it has to do with dreams. Dreams are actually like little doorways to other dimensions of time and space. They can be linked to very strong magic – particularly magic of the mind. Magi-psychology studies indicate that the younger a child is, the closer they come to the Veil between worlds in their dreams. Their minds are more uncluttered and more open to influences from other dimensions. That's why only children can see certain types of fairies without a spell, and why it was children that fairies used to steal away."
"Obviously," Draco continued, "some remnant of those dreams will remain as magical energy in a pillow you lay on a lot as a child. It will take us closer to the Veil between worlds."
:-I liked my explanation better,-: Lily said a little sulkily.
:-No one understood your explanation, Evans,-: Sirius said. :-Hermione's was a load of fairy tale waffle, but at least I got it.-:
:-Mine made perfect sense. You never read the book on Blood Magic that I did.-:
:-You're right. We didn't. Because we weren't suicidal. In fact, I remember Prongs and me making you promise not to read it either in sixth year. You clearly didn't listen to us and now see where we've ended up.-:
:-With a son who is a war hero and Master of Death, and us being resurrected to live a second life? Eat your heart out, Black.-:
:-All four of us dead and bodiless, trapped in your son's head, and him growing up in with a family who hated him and a homicidal maniac out for his blood. Great mothering skills there.-:
:-How dare you, Sirius Black! No wonder you were voted 'student most likely to end up in Azkaban.'-:
:-Great Merlin, could you be more annoying? Prongs, why did you marry such a shrew?-:
Harry whimpered and slid down the wall, clutching his head as a mental fight ensued. Sharp red-black lines of agony radiated from his temples and snaked down the rest of his body. Even his fingernails ached.
There was a sudden, blessed moment of silence in Harry's head and he hiccoughed in relief. He could have kissed Remus for his intervention in the fight. The werewolf moved protectively between Harry's consciousness and the mental presence of the other Marauders. He radiated calm. It was at times like this that Harry was reminded of the fact that Remus was the only one of the Marauders who had ever been given the chance to grow up into a mature adult. The other three, try as they might, were still essentially only a few years older than Harry himself in life experience. His parents had died at twenty-one and Sirius had spent most of his adult life in a tiny cell surrounded by Dementors.
:-You need to breathe slowly, Harry,-: Remus said gently. :-You're hyperventilating and you're going to pass out if you're not careful. Can I take over for a second?-:
Harry almost felt a sense of relief in letting go of the reigns to his body. He felt Remus take control of his limbs and his lungs. His breathing slowed and his eyes opened. Three petrified faces were staring back at him from way to far inside his personal space.
"Can you give us some room, please?" Remus asked with Harry's voice.
"Remus?" Hermione asked as she, Ron and Draco backed off a little. "You're…er…bleeding. Rather a lot."
Harry was suddenly aware of a metallic saltiness that was pouring into his mouth. Remus sniffed wetly and raised a hand to touch Harry's upper lip. It came away red.
"Your ears are bleeding too," Draco volunteered. "It's gross."
Ron passed over a handkerchief that looked reasonably clean and Remus mopped at the blood. Harry didn't know how he was remaining so calm. When he was crouched at the back of his mind like this the pain was dulled, but even then it felt like twelve people were simultaneously hammering nails at equally spaced intervals all over his skull. It would be enhanced to anyone controlling his body.
:-I am used to coping with physical pain,-: Remus assured him. :-Let me deal with it for a bit.-:
:-I'm so sorry, Harry,-: Lily whispered, sounding as close to tearful as someone without a body could. :-I don't know why I lost my temper. It was stupid.-:
:-We were all stupid,-: Sirius agreed and James gave a mental nod as well. :-It's getting close in here are we're all getting tetchy, but we can't lose our tempers if it's going to hurt Harry.-:
"What happened?" Hermione asked. Her face was white and shocked.
"Just a bit of an argument," Remus said, dabbing at Harry's left ear with the increasingly blood-soaked handkerchief. "It won't happen again."
"Too right it won't happen again!" Ron looked like he wanted to hit something, but wasn't sure what. "What if his brain had exploded?"
"We need to get those ingredients," Hermione said. She reached over to grasp the least blood-covered of Harry's hands. "We need to do it soon."
"Move, Weasel," Draco said, elbowing Ron aside and moving back into Harry's field of vision. He had a bowl and a much cleaner-looking cloth in his hands. "That still you, Lupin?"
"Yes," Remus said. "I'm giving Harry a bit of a break."
"Well, don't get too comfortable. I've always wanted to try an exorcism."
In spite of his words, his hands were gentle as they grasped Harry's chin, tipped his head back and began wiping away the mess of blood with quick, efficient swipes. "Sweet Merlin, you're a mess, Potter. You look like a ghoul. Yuck – I hate blood."
"Well, this is disturbing," Snape said from the painting. "Call me when something less repellently saccharine is going on." He stalked out with a swirl of black robes.
"So how are we planning on getting these ingredients?" Remus asked, ignoring Snape's exit.
"Well, we thought we'd go to Fleur for the Veela hair," Hermione said. "I know she had her wand custom-made with her grandmother's hair inside. We're hoping she had some back-ups. Veela hair is practically impossible to buy and costs a small fortune when it is available. And she really likes Harry."
"And then I'm guessing we drop in at the Dursleys'," Ron said, looking at Harry apologetically.
"Why do we all have to go to both?" Draco asked, wiping up the last of the blood and dropping the cloth back into the bowl with a grimace. "Harry's not going to hold out much longer and it would be quicker if we split duties." His eyes flicked over Harry, Ron and Hermione. "Granger and Weasley, you get the hair, and I'll take He-Who-Now-Spurts-Blood-From-His-Ears to see his Muggle relatives."
"Hey, wait a minute," Ron protested. "Do you honestly think we're going to let you wander off alone with Harry to see his relatives?"
"Well, from what I've heard you can't be trusted to keep your temper around them, and there is no way on earth that I am accompanying you into the depths of the Weasel clan to beg your sister-in-law for her grandmother's body part. Harry has to go and see his relatives, because I doubt they'll trust anyone else enough to let them in after the war, so this is the only option." Draco smirked and examined his nails.
"I can be trusted with the Dursleys!" Ron protested.
"But we do need you to be coming along to see Bill and Fleur," Hermione pointed out, voice resigned. "They're your family after all."
"Well, why can't we all go together?"
"Because we're wasting time, Ron. Look at him. Them." Hermione waved her hand in Harry's direction. "How long do you think he's going to hold up while we argue about whose doing what job?"
Harry wished he had the energy to protest about being talked about like he wasn't there, but he couldn't bring himself to take control back from Remus quite yet and Remus apparently didn't care.
:-You get used to it when you spend a lot of time in a sick bed,-: Remus told him.
"Fine." Ron sighed and crouched down beside Harry, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Is Harry okay with this?"
"Fine," Remus said, blinking at Ron through the haze of pain. "Now we would be incredibly grateful if someone could find us a pain killing potion as quickly as possible, please."
Privet Drive hadn't changed. It was still a street of nearly identical blocky houses preceded by perfect dandelion-free front lawns, bright, soulless flower beds filled with garden-centre annuals, and dividing hedges that appeared to have been trimmed with the aid of a ruler and protractor. The cars in the drives were modern and polished, and prim net curtains hid curious residents from view as they eyed the two young men who now stood on the pavement outside number 4.
"I didn't know Muggle houses really looked like this," Draco was saying, staring at everything with wide-eyed wonder. "I thought it was just in pictures."
Harry was reminded of himself at eleven seeing Diagon Alley for the first time. It was an incredibly bizarre to think that somewhere like Privet Drive could appear strange and alien to anyone.
"How can you have lived all your life in Britain and never stepped foot in a Muggle neighbourhood?" he asked.
Draco shrugged. "They're Muggles." He tilted his head back to look at the street lamp above him. "This is really where you grew up? The Boy Who Lived, The Defeater of the Dark Lord, Harry Potter, son of Lily and James…you grew up here?"
"So what?" Harry said a little defensively.
"So? It just doesn't fit."
"No," Harry agreed. "It never really did."
"Are we going in? There are people staring at us through the windows. They look suspicious."
"Well, most of them believe I am a delinquent who went to St Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. They probably think I'm back to torch the place or something."
"St. Whatsits? Incurably criminal?" Draco's eyebrows were nearly at his hairline.
"It's a long story. Best not to ask. Come on."
Harry led the way up the front path, trying to ignore the way his heart hammered in his chest. It was ridiculous that he still felt like this after everything he had been through. In some ways, Voldemort had nothing on the Dursleys.
He rang the bell and listened to the tinny chiming sounding inside. Draco, of course, looked fascinated by this piece of technology, and Harry was glad that the other young man did not have access to a wand or he had the feeling the bell press would be a smoking piece of burning plastic by now.
Heavy footsteps sounded in the hall and the door opened to reveal Dudley Dursley. Harry blinked in surprise. He knew that the Dursleys had moved back into Privet Drive after coming out of hiding during the war, but for some reason he hadn't expected Dudley to still be with his parents.
"Hey, Big D," he said, staring up at his cousin. Dudley was as massive as ever, but now all fat had melted away into muscle. Hermione had once told Harry about golems – massive clay men brought to life by a magical spell written on pieces of parchment and baked into their heads. Golems were hugely strong and completely lacking in creativity and imagination. Dudley looked remarkably like the faded picture that had accompanied the chapter in the ancient book Hermione had forced Harry to pretend to read.
Dudley stared at him, mouth half open in surprise. He took half a step forward and then seemed to think the better of it. "What are you doing here? I thought you were never coming back."
"I never said that," Harry protested.
"You want to come back?"
"Well – no. Look." Harry was very aware of the curious eyes on his back as he hovered in the doorway. "Could we come in?"
Draco sidled back into view, having ducked away from the sheer size of Dudley with a healthy amount of Slytherin survival instinct. "Hello."
"Is he one of you?" Dudley asked Harry. "Because Mum and Dad wouldn't want him in the house. You know that."
"One of him?" Draco asked, bemused. "What? A Gryffindor? A half-blood? An idiot?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "He's a wizard, Dudley. And if you don't let us in, I'll encourage him to start turning Aunt Petunia's pansies into frogs."
:-Oh, please let him,-: James begged, glowering at Dudley through Harry's eyes.
"Christ, all right," Dudley said hastily. "Get in here."
"Why would I do that?" Draco asked, following them into the house. "The frog thing? Why not chocolate? Or bunnies?"
"Bunnies?" Harry said. "Really?"
Dudley led them into the lounge, then stood there awkwardly, massive hands twisting into his t-shirt.
"Where's Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon?" Harry asked, relieved to have missed them so far.
"Out. At some work picnic thing," Dudley said. "They'll be back in an hour or so."
:-Petunia's lucky she's not here,-: Lily muttered. :-She'll be less lucky once I get a body back. I've seen how she treated you.-:
"We'll be out of your hair by then," Harry said, mentally elbowing his mother to the back of his mind. :-Be quiet, Mum. You all promised no interfering or even talking while we were here.-:
Dudley looked relieved. "So why're you here?"
"Why are you here?" Harry asked back. "Still living with Mummy and Daddy?"
Dudley bristled. "I'll be going to uni in September. Sport science. Focus on wrestling. I'm just staying here until then."
"Oh." Harry wasn't really sure what to do with that. "Well. Congratulations, I guess."
Another long silence.
:-Well, this is awkward,-: Sirius commented. :-It's like my family reunions. But with less hexing, burning people off the family tree and general loss of life.-:
"Can I turn on the telly-vision?" Draco begged out of the corner of his mouth. "I want to see a real one working."
Harry elbowed him hard in the side. "No. Shut up."
"So. What about you?" Dudley said, looking like he'd rather down a jar of Tabasco sauce than hear the answer to his question.
"Teaching. I'm a teacher. At my old school."
"What? Really? You? You're so…"
"Yeah well." Harry shrugged.
"He defeated the Dark Lord," Draco piped up, a weird note in his voice that Harry couldn't identify. "He's the hero of the Wizarding world."
Dudley blinked at him. "You're joking, right?"
"Don't you know?"
Harry sighed and poked Draco in the arm. "Put a sock in it, yeah? He doesn't want to hear it. Look, Dudders, I'm just here to pick up something, and then we'll be on our way."
"Er…" Harry ducked his head, suddenly embarrassed. "Do you know if my old bed is still around? The one from my cupboard?"
Dudley's eyes flicked towards Draco and he looked more than a little nervous. He cleared his throat. "How should I know?"
"I need something from it. My pillow."
"What, really? Um. I guess you can look."
"Thanks." Harry hesitated, then turned and walked back into the hall. He stood for a few seconds in front of the cupboard under the stairs, then reached out to open it. In his absence Aunt Petunia had started to fill up the cupboard with other things. A vacuum cleaner, a shoe rack, a tool box and a number of other miscellaneous items were just in front of the door, but underneath them, Harry could still see the rickety little camp bed on which he had slept for most of his childhood.
A sudden wave of emotion swept over him and it took him a few seconds to realise that it had not originated from himself but from the four others in his head. Fury, protectiveness, guilt, desire for vengeance all warred inside him and his consciousness was shoved violently to the back of his head as first Lily, then James, then Remus, then Sirius fell into control of his shuddering body.
It hadn't been deliberate, Harry knew. As soon as they realised what was going on, his family tried to clamp down on their emotions and huddle together at the back of his mind, but by then the damage was already done.
As his awareness returned, Harry realised his knees had given way and he was slumped back half on the flood and half on someone's lap. A blurry voice was saying, "…swear we can't take you out in public anymore, Potter. You're an embarrassment to man and beast. Why must you go and bleed everywhere? You'd better hope I remember that blood stain removable charm my mother once taught me…"
In spite of the words, the tone of Draco's voice was low and soothing, and there were fingers massaging Harry's temples, easing the throbbing ache there. Another shadow fell over them and Harry blinked his eyes open to see Dudley's massive shape crouch down and hold out a damp dish cloth. A bowl of water was dwarfed in his other hand.
One of the hands moved from his temple and took the cloth, wiping at Harry's face and ears.
"I hope you realise how gross this is," Draco told him, giving him a frown when he saw Harry's eyes were open. "No one should have to mop up this much blood two days running. Even when the Dark Lord was living in our house it was usually only a couple of times a week."
"Sorry," Harry said, voice breaking on the first syllable. He could feel waves of apology coming from the Marauders, but no one was speaking for fear of setting him off again.
"What's wrong with him?" Dudley asked. "Why're his ears and nose bleeding like that?"
"He's ill," Draco said shortly. "That's why we need the pillow. For a potion that will help to fix him."
Harry saw Dudley flinch at the word 'potion', but he didn't back away. "I thought he looked a bit worse off than usual. Though he always was a scrawny, pale little thing."
Draco's lips pinched and the hand holding the cloth visibly tightened. "And you don't think that might have been because you kept him locked in a cupboard and worked him like a house elf and didn't feed him properly?" he snapped. "You know, The Prophet always told stories, but I didn't think any of them were true until now. I thought even Muggles should have realised how valuable it was to have Harry Potter living in their home. Harry sodding Potter! And you kept him in a cupboard. Now I know that Muggles are barbarians, no matter what Potter would have me believe."
Harry pushed Draco's hands away and struggled to sit up. His head swam and purple spots danced in front of his eyes. "No all of them," he said, and wondered if he was speaking slurred or just hearing his voice that way. "Like wizards. Just people. Bad 'n good."
"Shut up and drink this," Draco said, pushing a vial into his hand.
Harry recognised pain potion and wondered why Draco had been carrying it around. He gulped it down and the pain lessened as his vision started to clear. He let out a rather unmanly squeak of surprise when Dudley's face appeared in front of him and ingrained childhood instinct that had been triggered by being in this house again had him flinching back before he thought about what he was doing. Dudley's face flinched in response and he backed up. "Sorry."
"Can you just get my pillow, please," Harry said. Right now, he would have given most of the contents of his vault to be gone from here.
Dudley frowned, then nudged him aside and began pulling things from the cupboard. His large frame filled all available space, so Harry couldn't see was he was doing. Eventually, he pulled back, holding up something in his hand. It was only a pillow in the loosest sense. It had originally been a cushion that matched the lounge suite that Petunia had replaced when Harry was about three or four years old. He wasn't sure what he had been using before then. It was worn and a little stained, flattened by years of Harry's head sleeping on it.
Harry took it from Dudley and, as he did, something dropped from the folds of the cover and bounced on the carpeted floor. It was a battered and broken little plastic knight.
"That was mine," Dudley said, voice odd.
"It was broken. You threw it away," Harry said, picking it up and holding it tightly. "Finders keepers."
"But I threw it in the bin."
"Who do you think emptied the bloody bin? Fairies?"
"Let's go," Harry said to Draco, standing up. His head had started to clear and all he wanted to do was leave.
Draco appeared to be vibrating with some sort of emotion. His fists were clenching and unclenching, mouth tight, eyes blazing. Harry ushered him towards the door.
Harry turned back to look at Dudley who was standing near the cupboard staring at the stuff strewn at his feet.
"Can I have a word? Alone?" he shot Draco a nervous look, and Harry couldn't blame him.
"All right," Harry said, remembering Dudley's awkward thanks on the day they went into hiding. He sort of felt like he owed him. "But if you try anything I'll hex you an elephant's trunk. And if you think that the pig's tail was hard to explain..."
"Fine," Dudley said, taking a small step back.
"Not fine," Draco said, grabbing Harry's arm and tugging. "Let's go."
Harry shook him off. "I'll be out in a minute, Draco. Wait for me in the garden."
"But, Potter. Harry…"
"The garden, Malfoy. Kindly try to remember that you're my hostage and should be doing what I say."
Draco glowered, then sighed and stomped back out into the garden, slamming the front door behind him.
Harry turned back to see Dudley staring at him. "Yeah. I broke him out of prison."
"Prison? But he…you…"
"What's going on?" Dudley said, wringing his hands. "You're breaking people out of prison, you're taking hostages, you look like you're about to keel over any minute. My God, Potter, is the war back on?"
Harry thought about Crouch, who, last he'd heard, had taken control of most of Azkaban's Dementors by force, turning his previous jailors against their keepers. He was targeting Muggle-borns and half-bloods and swearing vengeance for Voldemort's death. "Let's just say we haven't quite stamped out the last of Voldemort's cronies and leave it at that," he suggested.
"So we're going to have to go back into hiding again?" Dudley looked vaguely sick at the thought.
"No! No, it's nothing as bad as that. The Ministry is on to it. I'm sure it'll all be fine. I'm not involved. Not like I was before. You'll be safe." He hoped it was true.
Dudley kicked at the vacuum cleaner with one foot, then glanced back into the cupboard. "If you say so."
"Was that all?" Harry asked, readying himself to go.
He turned back, waiting impatiently.
"What we did to you when you were a kid…" Dudley looked up at him, big face contorted. "It wasn't right. If you were ever to go to someone – authorities, I mean – if you described what we did…well…they'd call it…you know…"
Harry stared at him, completely wrong-footed.
"Oh, don't look at me like that! You know what I mean. Locking a little kid in a cupboard, not feeding him enough, making him work until he's sick, beating him up –"
"You were a kid yourself," Harry interrupted. "You didn't know it was wrong."
They locked gazes, caught in the past and unsure how to proceed when their whole relationship was spiked with bitterness and pitfalls.
"I didn't. Not until I got older. We had this bloke from social services come into school to give us a talk at assembly. And the things he was saying to look out for. Signs of…you know…"
Harry shifted from foot to foot, glancing over his shoulder at the front door, longing to be gone.
"My parents weren't kids," Dudley added quietly. "They weren't kids when they did that to you."
"I'm not going to tell on them if that's what you're worried about," Harry said. "It's in the past and I've got more than enough on my plate at the present. Besides – they were scared. Of my magic, I mean."
"And that's an excuse, is it? I looked it up, you know. What would happen if you came forward and told people."
"Dudley." Harry took a step forward, looking up into Dudley's watery blue eyes which peered out from his large worried face. "Do you want me to tell someone? Because that's what it sounds like."
"No! Of course not. It's my Mum and Dad. I just don't know why you wouldn't."
Dudley was a bully – or had been one for many years, even if it looked like things were changing now. He was huge and ineffectual and spoiled and not probably not very bright, but right now, at this moment, Harry could see he was trying to do something right.
He reached a hand up – way up – and placed it on Dudley's shoulder. "Like I said - it's in the past. And trust me – nothing your Mum and Dad did was even a patch on what I went through during the war. I'm not going to go tattling on them, but don't expect me to come make nice with them either. I never planned on coming back here. I'm only here because I have to be. So," he shrugged. "I guess I'm saying goodbye. And I'm glad you haven't turned out to be quite as vile as I always assumed you would."
Dudley hitched a laugh, and Harry was disturbed to hear it sounded a bit tearful.
"Anyway," he said, taking a step back. "Things to do, potions to make, blood to clean from my ears - must be off."
"Hey, wait up." Dudley straightened and held up a hand to stop him. Grabbing a pen and an empty envelope off the hall table, he scrawled a something in large, messy script. "You got email?"
"Er…" Harry thought Hermione might have one, though he had never really considered using it. He didn't have anyone to write to. "Sometimes?"
"Keep in touch. Let me know you're not dead or whatever." He passed Harry the envelope.
"Bye then," Dudley said.
Harry clutched the cushion and the little knight in one hand and nodded towards the jumble of mess Dudley had pulled from the cupboard. "Better clean that up or your mum'll flip."
Another half laugh. "Yeah."
Harry was immensely relieved to step out the front door and into the garden. The relief disappeared when he noticed the frogs. They were everywhere – hopping in and out of the flowerbeds, crouching under the terracotta garden gnomes, making a break for the shelter under the hedge. Draco stood in the centre of the lawn contriving to look innocent.
"Please tell me you didn't," Harry said tiredly.
"You were the one that suggested it."
"It was an idle threat, Malfoy! You don't really just come into someone's home and turn all their pansies into frogs! What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with you? Making nice with people like that."
"My Aunt Bellatrix is family, and you don't see me cosying up with her."
"You should know. You tried to kill her. All I did was turn your Aunt's pansies into frogs. You cast an Unforgivable curse at mine."
"Oh like you hadn't been tempted to do the same at some point."
:-We all have,-: Sirius agreed, :-Particularly those of us who were murdered by her.-: He was the first one of Harry's family to speak since the cupboard incident. There was a brief pause as they all waited for the pain to come, but apparently everything was back to normal.
"What the hell?"
They turned to see Dudley standing in the doorway and staring at them both in horror.
Harry sighed. "Turn them back, Malfoy. Wait a minute – is that my wand? Did you pick my pocket?"
"How else do you think I did this?"
"You're the worst hostage ever. You have a wand, you have your freedom, and you choose to stick around and turn flowers into amphibians instead."
"Well I get free food and board as your hostage. And ample opportunity to annoy the hell out of Gryffindors. Plus you're not a very good hostage-taker either. I could have made a break for it any time."
:-He has a point,-: James said. :-Giving your hostage lots of opportunities to kill you in your sleep and nick your wand from you, and force you to listen to them complain about your brand of shampoo really goes against every rules in the Hostage Takers Handbook.-:
:-Not helping, Dad,-: Harry told him.
"Turn them back so we can get out of here, Draco," he said out loud. "And make sure the Muggles don't see you do it."
Draco sighed and began surreptitiously flick his wand in the direction of the escaping frogs. The fact that they re-sprouted as pansies wherever the frogs had happened to hop to was something Harry couldn't be bothered to deal with right now.
"I never figured you for a shirt-lifter," Dudley said from where he was trying to hide his impressive bulk behind Harry's skinny frame.
Harry resisted the urge to hex someone. Just.
Draco was spending the evening with his mother in Grimmauld Place, so it was just Harry, Ron and Hermione huddled round the fire in Harry's quarters after dinner that night. The Wizarding wireless played in the background as the three of them held out slices of bread towards the flames to toast. Geoffrey snuffled along the hearth mat sucking up dropped crumbs and generally getting closer to the fire than was probably sensible for a sentient chocolate gateaux.
"Feels like we've gone back in time," Ron commented, feeding a corner of burnt crust to Geoffrey. "The three of us, sitting in front of the fire. We just need Neville in the background complaining about potions homework and a couple of Gryffindor banners and it'd be perfect."
James chucked quietly in Harry's head. :-Frank Longbottom used to complain about his potions homework as well. Like father like son. Him and old Douglas used to be driven crazy by our Marauder antics.-:
:-Yes,-: Remus said, voice reminiscent. :-Do you remember their faces that time we flooded the common room?-:
:-Do you remember Minnie's face that time we flooded the common room?-: Sirius added, radiating wicked delight.
:-And now Frank and Alice…-: Lily trailed off, unwilling to put that particular tragedy into words on a night like this.
"Have you thought about how you're going to persuade Alex and Daniel to help you with the ritual?" Hermione asked, dipping her toast into the little pot of cheese sauce they had procured from the kitchen.
Harry shrugged. "I guess I just come out and tell them what I need. They're good boys. They'll do it."
"Like you went with Dumbledore when he needed you to," Ron nodded.
Harry was a little uncomfortable with that comparison. He'd loved Dumbledore like a grandfather, but looking back from an older viewpoint, he wondered how the old man had thought it okay to bring a teenage boy on a trip to find a Horcrux, forcing him to battle with Inferi and aid and abet the murder of his favourite professor. As a teacher himself now, he could not imagine doing such a thing – not even to his most annoying students.
It took a certain kind of person, he thought, to lead a war with the detachment that Dumbledore had. It had been necessary, but Harry had come to realise that he would never be able to do the same thing himself. If he were to find out that Teddy was the chosen one today, he would pack up everything he owned and take that little boy with him to the other side of the world, far away from anything that might ever try to force a child into war.
:-And that's why I named you godfather,-: said Remus warmly.
"I will tell Alex and Daniel the whole truth," Harry said out loud. "I won't lie to them about anything. And there won't be any danger to them, will there?" It was about the twelfth time he was directing the question at Hermione and she answered as patiently as she had every time.
"Not at all. If anything goes wrong, it will only be you and your family who are affected. The boys will be fine. They'll just be acting as conduits for their family lines. You know I would never condone anything that might hurt them, Harry."
He knew. This was Hermione who could not even bear to see a house elf carrying out the duties for which they were designed.
:-You make us proud, Harry,-: James said, sounding more serious than he ever usually did. :-You've grown into a better man than any of us ever imagined.-:
Harry ducked his head and smiled, unable to contain the fountain of warmth that erupted in his chest at hearing the words that every orphaned child longs for.
"So now that we've got the ingredients, how long until we can do the ceremony?" Ron asked.
"About a month," Hermione told him. "I was thinking we could do it on the first day of the Easter holidays. That way we have time to deal with everything without our jobs getting in the way.
"You reckon you can hold out for a month, mate?" Ron asked Harry, reaching out to ruffle his hair with brotherly fondness.
"I guess we'll soon find out."
The fire crackled and spat out sparks, and outside the wind howled and whistled through the turrets and courtyards of the castle. In the dungeons far below, a cauldron bubbled and simmered, and the potion within started to blush red.