Author's Note: This fic was written for H/D Fan Fair on Livejournal and what started as a completely crackish idea took over my life for a few weeks and forced me to do so much research I feel like I could walk some of these places blindfolded. I don't always love my fics, but this one I completely adore. I hope you like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. :D
THE INCREDIBLE RACE
"Good evening, lovely viewers! And welcome to the very first episode of The Incredible Race, brought to your homes and businesses via tellywizion and the WBC. I am your host, Lee Jordan. Tonight I am standing on the north bank of the Thames, waiting to meet our competitors, seven unlikely pairs who will brave blistering heat, freezing cold, and gruelling challenges in order to win One Million Galleons and the chance to call themselves the winners of The Incredible Race!
Without further ado, let's meet our stalwart contestants!"
"Hermione! Come watch this!" Ron bellowed. "It's on!"
Neville snorted a laugh. "Lee is wearing his Gryffindor scarf! What a card!"
"First up are bandmates, Allin and Jessyka, members of the wildly popular 'Ravenous Beasts'! Say hello to your fans!"
"Boooo!" yelled Ron.
"Ron, that's not nice," chastised Hermione as she placed a plate of sandwiches on the low table. "Oh my, is her hair... striped?"
"She looks like a rainbow zebra," Neville said.
"Hello, fans, friends, and family! We're going to kick arse!" The stripe-haired girl raised her fist and pumped it.
"We will win this thing!" her companion yelled, face almost completely obscured by a gigantic mop of black hair.
"Next up we have Virginia and Norton, a happy couple from Sussex."
Virginia's round face beamed from beneath a mop of reddish curls barely held down with a mauve kerchief. She waved wildly. "Pleased to be here!"
Ron snorted. "She looks soft. She'll be out on the first physical challenge."
"Don't underestimate her. You can't judge by appearances."
"I guess," said Ron dubiously and reached for a sandwich.
Norton's face filled the screen. He was a balding fellow with a missing lower tooth and a gummy smile. "Greetings, wizardfolk! We, Virginia and me, might not be athletic, but we plan to try hard and give it our all. Virgie is a tough bird and I am fair sharpish." Norton tapped his forehead gravely.
Ron snorted. "I'll bet even Malfoy can out-sharpish Norton."
Lee grinned at Norton and then moved away from the couple as the view switched to a pair of tall men.
Ron whooped, spraying bits of bread over the table.
"Honestly, Ron, the show has barely begun. Contain your excitement", Hermione warned, but her eyes were fixed on the screen and she smiled even as she absently spelled away the crumbs.
"Next we have Auror partners and I'm sure you will all recognize at least one of them. Let's have a round of applause for Harry Potter!" Harry's sheepish grin filled the screen and he gave a half-hearted wave before he reached out and dragged forward a man who looked as though he would rather be incarcerated in Azkaban than in his current location.
"Draco and I are um... pleased to be here," Harry said. "Aren't we, Malfoy? Er... Draco?"
"Thrilled," Malfoy said in a glacial tone.
Ron guffawed loudly and slapped his knee. "This is going to be bloody hysterical. I wonder if Harry drops him off a cliff somewhere in darkest Africa?"
Hermione frowned. "It's really unfair they allow us no contact until after the series is completely shown. I hope Harry is all right, although I suppose they wouldn't be showing it if anything serious had happened..."
Neville chuckled. "Judging by their expressions, it's not Harry you need worry about."
"This is the bloody stupidest thing I've ever done," Malfoy growled when Lee Jordan moved on. "Fucking Edgemont."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Come on, Malfoy, we've been over this a dozen times. Just deal with it. We can get eliminated in the first challenge and you'll be well rid of me. Then this will be over and we can go back to ignoring one another."
His eyes narrowed, however, when Lee stopped to raise his wand toward two women, one of which watched him with an unpleasant smile.
"Rita Skeeter and Gertrude Acrimony!" Lee declared. "Friends and fellow reporters for the Daily Prophet, who will be printing titbits from the race as it is shown! Pick up your copy tomorrow for exciting behind-the-scenes news!"
"News," Malfoy growled. "More like fabricated vitriol." Harry nodded, for once agreeing with the git. He glanced sidelong at Malfoy, who was bundled against the wind in a black cloak thrown over his Auror Robes. Their appearance on The Incredible Race was nothing more than a publicity stunt to help advertise the new Wizarding answer to Muggle television. The Ministry hoped to encourage the wizarding populace to purchase tellywizions and promote a more cohesive wizarding network of information and acceptance. Or so the Minister's argument had gone. Harry secretly suspected the old bastard just wanted to humiliate him and Malfoy after the Teak Incident.
"Next meet Edna and Flora, tea shop patrons! They met at Cuppa, a fine establishment in Diagon Alley who just happens to be sponsoring several legs of the race. Be sure to stop in for a cuppa next time you're out shopping!"
Malfoy snorted while Harry appraised Edna and Flora, who looked more like professional Muggle rugby players than "tea shop patrons". Edna raised a beefy arm and waved while Flora stared at Lee malevolently. They reminded Harry of female versions of Crabbe and Goyle.
Next up were two bubbly girls who seemed the exact opposite of Flora and Edna. They had bouncy hair and bouncy curves and actually bounced in place as Lee announced that they were "best friends forever!" after which they linked hands and squealed while bouncing.
"We are going to win this race!" one shouted and then shrieked at an ear-piercing level.
"We might be pretty, but we are tough as hard-to-remove nail varnish!" the second said and bounced.
"Kimmy and Lisa," Malfoy said dryly. "The token breast-fest."
Harry nodded. "Followed by the token beefcake."
"I thought we were the token beefcake." Malfoy's tone was sarcastic, but Harry secretly agreed that Malfoy was definitely better looking than the model-quality boys speaking to Lee.
Kimmy and Lisa squealed, bounced, and giggled louder when Brendan and Nigel, dragon tamers, were introduced. The boys smiled and lifted their hands in twin victory signs, probably causing a few dozen tellywizion viewers to feel faint. They were quite fit, Harry admitted. Brendan had short dark brown hair and Nigel was blond, although with a hint of strawberry rather than Malfoy's platinum.
"Very well!" Lee said, turning to the participants, his voice still amplified by the Sonorous Charm. "As you know, your wands have been taken and held by our staff for safekeeping, although they will be returned to you for certain challenges. However, you are required to get to your first destination without benefit of spellcasting."
The challengers looked uncertainly at one another and Harry wondered how many of them were Muggleborn. The pure-bloods, such as Malfoy, would be at a disadvantage without magic.
"Additionally, each team will have a Watcherbee that will be recording your every movement for the viewers at home, and to alert the staff in the event of cheating." He gestured to small, floating blue orbs that hovered over each team. Lee looked positively giddy when he announced, "Your first challenge will be to dive into the Thames and swim out to that boat anchored in the centre." Harry's gaze went to the middle of the river, where a large metal-hulled boat bobbed. It looked like an abandoned Muggle military cruiser.
"Your first clue is on that boat!" Lee continued. "When you find it, you will need to swim to shore on the other side of the river and make your way to the International Portkey Building. From there, you will Portkey to the designated destination and look for your next clue. At the sound of the gong, the race will begin."
"Fuck," Malfoy muttered. "We actually have to dive into that revolting water?"
Harry secretly agreed, but when a loud gonging noise rang out, he didn't hesitate, instead pelting toward the riverbank and hurling himself into the murky water without waiting to see if Malfoy followed.
When Harry surfaced, he took a deep breath and began to swim, glancing both left and right. To his left was one of the burly women, Flora, by the glare, and slightly ahead of him on the right was the dark-haired dragon tamer, Brendan.
Harry swam faster, his competitive instincts kicking in despite his earlier words regarding losing the first challenge. Maybe we won't lose too soon, he thought as he cut through the water, cursing the weight of his Auror robes. He was glad his glasses were fixed in place with a non-irritating Sticking Charm, plus he had remembered to cast an Impervious Charm to repel water.
Flora actually pulled ahead, her Capri-style Muggle sweatpants providing less resistance in the water than Harry's robes and Brendan's dragonhide boots. Panting heavily, Harry reached the boat, which had been draped with a selection of rope ladders.
Flora was halfway up when her foot slipped on a rung and sent her plunging back into the drink. Brendan was just ahead of Harry, climbing fast. Harry kept his feet planted in the centre of each rung and pulled himself up carefully before levering himself over the railing and onto the deck. He risked a glance back at the river to find Malfoy just reaching out for the ladder Harry had climbed. Harry gave him a grin and turned around, ignoring the rest of the competitors.
Brendan was wrenching at a hatch, into which he disappeared. Harry raced over and leaped down the metal steps behind him, nearly bowling him over at the bottom.
"I'm going this way," Brendan said and ran down the rust-streaked corridor. Harry hesitated, heard footsteps on the steps above him, and hurried in the opposite direction, not wanting to be crushed by a determined Flora. Several metal doors opened off the corridor and Harry tugged open the first one, wondering where the hell they would have hidden the clues, and what they were even searching for.
He was checking the fourth tiny room when someone jostled him and he turned to see one of the bouncy girls smiling at him. Her brunette hair was dripping wet and her sodden clothing left little to the imagination. "Hi, Auror Potter," she said in a voice that seemed a trifle seductive.
Harry blushed. "Hello."
"You obviously checked back there already. I'll help you search. Maybe we can make an alliance."
As Harry considered how best to turn her down, someone bellowed his name.
"Potter! Get your arse up here!"
"Partner," he said with an apologetic smile. "See you later, um...?"
"Kimmy," she finished.
"Bye, Kimmy," Harry said and ran back toward the exit hatch. Malfoy was standing at the top, holding a fuchsia and black envelope. The clue! Harry took the steps two at a time and grinned at Malfoy. "Where did you find it?"
Shouts rang out around them.
"The control room, obviously. Where else would it be?" Malfoy tucked the envelope away in his robes and hurried toward the opposite railing. "Let's go."
Harry admired the vision Malfoy made as he dove into the water, but nearby movement speared him on. Virginia was waving a fuchsia envelope at Norton, who had just made it over the first railing, panting hard. Harry hoped Norton wouldn't have heart failure before the first challenge ended.
Assuming the staff would be watching for medical emergencies via the Watcherbees, although the one assigned to his team seemed to be following Malfoy, Harry dove into the water.
"And it's the Auror team of Harry and Draco first into the water after finding their initial clue!" Lee Jordan's voice boomed out and the image onscreen disclosed Harry joining Malfoy in the river, closely followed by the older couple and then the dragon tamers.
"Yeah! Go, Harry!" Ron shouted.
"You notice Malfoy was the first one to the clue?" Neville asked.
"Lucky guess," Ron grumbled.
"He got high marks in Arithmancy," Hermione pointed out.
"Whose side are you on?"
"Harry's, and since Draco is his partner, we have to cheer for them both."
Ron sighed explosively and shrugged. "I guess. But I'm only cheering to keep him from dragging Harry down with him. Go, Harry!"
Harry climbed out of the river, following his wet partner. Malfoy set off at a jog and thrust the envelope at Harry. It had obviously been spelled to resist water, since it was dry when Harry opened it up.
"It says we have to Portkey to Arizona, United States. Where the hell is that?"
Harry struggled to keep up, winded from the swim and feeling every ounce of his wet robes. Footsteps pounded along behind them, but he didn't bother to look back and see which of their competitors followed.
"I dunno, somewhere by California. What do we do when we get there?" Harry tried not to admire the way Malfoy ran, but some people were clumsy runners and others were grace personified. Malfoy's running style resembled that of a cheetah, effortless-looking and ground-eating. Harry felt like a stampeding warthog next to him.
"Look for the next clue, obviously."
It was too bad Malfoy was a git.
Despite their heavy, wet robes, they reached the International Portkey office first. It didn't hurt that they knew precisely where it was, even when having to navigate Muggle backstreets to get there. The few Muggles they dodged stared after them in surprise, but probably just as much due to the running as their strange clothing.
They raced into the building and Malfoy halted at the board to scan for the proper room. "USA, USA," he muttered.
"There!" Harry said. "Fourth floor!"
They took the stairs to the fourth storey and found only a short line to purchase tickets for US destinations.
"You have the cash, Potter?"
Harry nodded and opened his wet pouch. They had been provided with enough Galleons to see them through the first leg of the race, if they were frugal. Several people stared at them and Harry tried to ignore the fact that they were dripping wet and smelled of river water.
"Two Portkeys to Phoenix," Malfoy demanded when they reached the counter. Harry heard running footsteps and turned to see the dragon tamers entering the back of the line. He wondered if the others would catch up before the first Portkey activated, which would be in - he glanced at the clock on the wall - ten minutes.
With tickets purchased, Harry and Malfoy joined the group standing next to what appeared to be a red handrail. Several people were already touching it. Harry watched as Brendan and Nigel purchased their passes and rushed over.
Nigel grinned at Harry. "Made it."
Harry nodded and smiled back. He stuck out his hand. "I'm Harry Potter."
Nigel's smile widened and he took Harry's hand. "I know."
Behind Harry, Malfoy snorted. "Everyone knows."
One of the tea shop girls was the next to arrive. She jostled a couple of protesting people out of line, but they said nothing when she glared them down.
"Portkey 28 now departing for the United States of America, arriving in Boston, Dallas, Phoenix, and San Diego. Please place your right hand on the red railing now and do not let go." The attendant's friendly voice was loud and clear.
Harry turned around and put his hand on the railing. He faced Malfoy's back and watched as a water droplet shook free from Malfoy's pale hair and dripped onto his Auror robe.
"Portkey 28 will depart in five... four... three... two... one..."
Harry felt a familiar wrench and the swirling sensation seemed to last forever. Cross-Atlantic Portkey travel was never fun.
Several people staggered when the Portkey appeared in a circular grey room ringed with travellers. "We have arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. If this is your destination, please depart through the green archway. If you plan to continue on to Dallas, Phoenix, or San Diego, please remain where you are."
Three people staggered toward the green archway and four others joined their group.
"This is so cool!" Nigel said behind Harry. "I've never been out of Europe!"
They appeared in Dallas in what looked like an underground cavern and from there jumped one last time to Phoenix. The Portkey Terminal was enormous and white, with a high overhead ceiling festooned with skylights. Two Watcherbees suddenly winked into existence and floated closer. Apparently the spells took some time to reorient after their subjects' Portkeyed.
Harry, Draco, and the dragon tamers left the Portkey group and filed into another room, as instructed. Floor-to-ceiling windows gave them a view of a bright blue sky and greyish tarmac covered with Muggle airplanes. As Harry watched, a speeding plane left the ground and shot into the sky.
"Wow!" exclaimed Nigel as he rushed to the window to watch it.
Brendan chuckled. "He doesn't get out much."
Malfoy was already at the desk where a perky girl in a blue t-shirt and Muggle jeans smiled at him. "Welcome to Phoenix. Do you need assistance with travel arrangements or accommodations?" she asked.
"Travel," Malfoy replied. "We need to get to the Great Canyon."
She frowned. "The Great Canyon? Do you mean the Grand Canyon?"
"Great, Grand, whichever. We need to get there as fast as possible. Is there a Floo Network here?"
She blinked at him. "A what?"
Brendan said, "They don't have a Floo Network in the United States. There aren't enough large fireplaces."
The girl burst out laughing. "Fireplaces? In Phoenix? Oh honey, you are from another country aren't you?"
Malfoy sighed. "Then how do you get from place to place without Apparition? Do you have brooms for rent?"
She shook her head. "You don't want to fly to the Grand Canyon. You'd be burnt to a crisp. It's a hundred and fourteen degrees out there today."
"One hundred and fourteen what?"
"Degrees, Malfoy," Harry said. "That's um... about 45 Celsius."
Malfoy looked horrified. The girl nodded. "Honestly, the best transportation is Muggle. The cars all have air conditioning, as do the buses and cabs."
"Cars," Harry repeated. He looked at the dragon tamers. "Can either of you drive?"
Brendan and Nigel shook their heads. Harry sighed. It was a certainty that Malfoy couldn't; and Harry had never learned. "I suppose we've no choice. Where do find a Muggle bus?"
The girl pointed. "Go through that door there and walk to the small building across the way. Don't worry about being spotted by Muggles - there're Charms up to prevent that. Opal can help you once you get there."
"Thank you," Harry said and the four of them headed for the indicated exit. A wave of heat hit them the moment the door opened and the brightness was blinding. Harry lifted a hand to shade his eyes. It was hard to breathe - the air seemed to bake his lungs.
"This is crazy," Nigel said. "How can people live here?"
Malfoy had already set off across the blistering pavement to a nondescript white building a short distance away. The heat was oppressive and Harry unbuttoned his Auror robes halfway to their destination. Warmth radiated upward and when Harry glanced out toward a Muggle plane taxiing away from the terminal, heat waves made it ripple in his vision.
Malfoy reached the door and gripped the metal handle before snatching his hand away with a yelp.
"What is it?" Harry asked, concerned.
"It's bloody scalding!" Malfoy snapped. He lifted a corner of his robe and used it to turn the handle and open the door. A bell-like chime sounded. Cool air rushed out and bathed them in a welcome chill. They all hurried inside to escape the heat.
"Hello!" called a girl who entered from a doorway just beyond a nondescript countertop. "Do you need ground transportation?" She had short, spiky brown hair, bleached blond at the tips. A name tag pinned to her t-shirt read OPAL.
Harry nodded. "We need to get to the Grand Canyon."
"Oh, tourists, then? You'll want to get out of those robes, I think. We have a large selection of Muggle-wear that's more suited to the weather here." She gestured to one wall, which was filled to the ceiling with Muggle items. Nigel hurried over to examine them while Brendan stayed near Harry. Opal continued, "Do you need a rental car, taxi, limousine, or bus?"
After haggling over prices and reviewing their limited funds, it was decided that a Muggle bus would be their best option. A cab was too expensive and a limousine was outrageous. Harry exchanged some Galleons for Muggle money - dollars, which was perplexing even to Harry - and then purchased some clothing to keep from roasting in the Arizona sun. Harry purchased a backpack into which he stuffed his and Malfoy's Auror robes, wishing he had his wand in order to shrink them down.
Harry was first out of the dressing room with his new Muggle attire. He felt very exposed, but the expression on Opal's face was openly approving. He was sure he would be glad for his bare legs and arms once they returned to the oppressive heat outside the building.
Nigel was next out and he stared at Harry in a way that reminded him uncomfortably of Opal's expression. Harry's attention shifted away from Nigel immediately when a curtain was thrust aside and Malfoy stepped out. His face was like a thundercloud.
"You can't be serious," he snapped, the very picture of pure-blooded rage.
Harry stared. He couldn't help it. Malfoy wore a black shirt of some stretchy material that hugged his every curve. The letters ADIDAS were emblazoned in white across one pectoral muscle. Harry willed his gaze not to travel lower, but it disobeyed, sliding down nearly-visible abdominals to Malfoy's hips and thighs, displayed prominently - along with a not-insubstantial package - beneath the clinging shorts that seemed painted to his flesh. His knees and calves were bare and he wore white trainers with purple lettering. Malfoy looked surprisingly sexy in Muggle gear. Not sexy, Harry revised quickly. Passable. Just passable. Fuck.
"Oh, you look simply gorgeous!" Opal said, openly gushing at Malfoy. Harry suddenly found her annoying.
"All right," Harry said. "We need to get out of here before the others arrive. Where do we find this Muggle bus?"
Opal gestured toward another door. "Go through there and follow the yellow line back to the terminal. The bus stop is clearly marked. You'll have to purchase your tickets at the kiosk. Enjoy your visit to the Grand Canyon!"
Harry shouldered the backpack and grinned at Malfoy. "Come on, we may as well get this over with."
The door they had entered through opened to disclose several other competitors: Allyn and Jessyka, Kimmy and Lisa, and Edna and Flora. Harry wondered where Rita Skeeter and her evil partner had gone. Probably stayed behind to sabotage Virginia and Norton. Harry and the others didn't wait around to exchange greetings. They pushed through the door and back into the oven-like heat where they jogged across the hot tarmac to the welcome shade of a concrete overhang. GREYHOUND read a large sign.
Harry and Brendan purchased tickets. Apparently they could only travel as far as Flagstaff before they needed to transfer to another bus destined for the Grand Canyon. Harry was horrified to discover that the journey would take several hours. The thought of being trapped on a bus with Draco Malfoy and a large quantity of Muggles nearly made Harry turn around and throw the race.
Only the determined expression on Malfoy's face kept him moving.