#/#/#

Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions

(or: The Last Temptation of Harry Potter)

Chapter One

Sowing the Seeds

#/#/#

He opened his bedroom door cautiously and put his face against the sliver of space between it and the jamb (banging his glasses in the process), surveying the upstairs hall. There was his aunt's and uncle's bedroom door at the other end, still closed. He could hear his uncle's snoring through it, rather like you can hear fireworks if you put your head really close to them.

The early morning sun whispered in through the small window at the top of the stairs. His foreshortened view of the wall to his right meant that he was only able to see the doorknobs for the two bedrooms and the bathroom there. He listened for a sound that wasn't his uncle; otherwise the house seemed to be utterly silent. Of course, the Cold Stream Guards could have been giving a concert in the living room. There was no way of knowing.

Harry Potter opened his bedroom door enough to go through. He was dressed for running except for the fact that his trainers hung by their laces from his left hand. He crept stealthily toward Aunt Petunia's and Uncle Vernon's room and turned left to descend the stairs. So far so good. The snoring had made it impossible for him to hear anything else, but he hoped now that it would also conceal any sound he might make. Unfortunately, he knew that no amount of noise could conceal his Harry-scent...

Damn! Harry thought, halfway down the stairs. He looked down to where his new nemesis stood, waiting for him with teeth bared, a very low growl rumbling through his chest, small tail twitching back and forth ominously.

Harry narrowed his eyes, glaring at Dunkirk. This is getting old. He'd been home for almost a week, and rather than improving, his relationship with the little Yorkshire terrier had deteriorated from a high point of Dunkirk failing to sink his teeth into Harry's hand the first time he tried to pet him.

Getting out of the house to go running in the mornings had grown progressively more difficult. Harry had started to wonder what his aunt was doing with the dirt-colored dog while he and his uncle were at their jobs every day. He pictured her giving Dunkirk photos of him and rewarding the dog with love and kibble if he succeeded in thoroughly shredding the images of Harry. Dogs are creatures of conditioning, he knew. Pavlov was hardly the first to discover this.

He considered his options now. He could leap over the banister and sprint toward the kitchen and try to make it out the back door before Dunkirk reached him, or he could try leaping right over him and bolting for the front door, a mere ten feet from the foot of the stairs. What to do, what to do...

Finally he put his leg over the banister. The small dog darted down the hall to intercept him, and Harry quickly took his leg down again, dashing down the rest of the stairs, stopping to grab the knob on the front door.

But the dog was onto him already, turning and reaching him too quickly for Harry to escape. He sank his teeth into Harry's sock, right above the heel. His teeth scraped Harry's skin but did not get a purchase on his flesh. Harry lifted his foot, the tenacious dog dangling from the sock by his teeth. He shook his foot repeatedly, but the dog continued to cling.

"Geroff! Stupid animal—" he grunted, standing on one foot and continuing to swing Dunkirk through the air. The sock was stretching out of shape and slipping off his foot with each kick. The terrier hung on.

"Sodding—little—" Harry gasped as he continued to try to shake the dog. Without warning the sock finally slipped off his foot completely. The dog went flying down the hall, sock still in his mouth. He landed heavily on all four of his little stumpy legs, momentarily shaken. Harry was breathing heavily, anger roiling through him. Suddenly he had a thought; he knew what might put off Dunkirk once and for all.

He stared at the dog and concentrated on making the change—and in a second, he was standing on all fours in his own front hall, his mane tickling his back, his long tail swishing, a low rumbling purr vibrating throughout his body.

The Yorkshire terrier's eyes grew so large that Harry could actually see white around their edges. His jaw dropped, and the sock fell onto the floor. Harry gave a soft roar, hardly even a fraction as loud as Vernon Dursley's snores, and the little animal suddenly gave a soft frightened-sounding whimper and scuttled into the living room through the slightly-open door. Harry saw him disappear beneath the ottoman, his buff-colored tail still visible under the slipcover. Harry changed back to his human form, joints aching. He stood in the doorway of the living room; the dog's exposed tail was shaking vigorously. He felt somewhat ashamed of himself for a moment, scaring a little dog by appearing to become a lion...

But then Dunkirk emerged from the ottoman, and, spying Harry, ran full tilt at him again, as though nothing had changed. Harry swiftly slammed the door shut. He could hear Dunkirk on the other side, frantically scrabbling at the wood, trying to get it open again, and continuously growling. Harry stopped feeling sorry for him. If Dunkirk was going to leave him alone, it was obviously going to take more than seeing Harry change into a golden griffin just once.

Harry retrieved his sock from the floor of the hall and started to put it back on, but it was sodden with dog saliva and stretched out of shape. He plodded up to his room with the ruined sock, threw it in the rubbish and retrieved a fresh sock. He returned to the front hall and sat down on the steps to tie his trainers, grimacing. He'd let a stupid little dog (still heard attacking the living room door) get to him and he'd performed magic outside of school. He didn't think anyone would find out—he wasn't even going to have to register as an Animagus until after he finished his seventh year of school—but he still needed to exercise more restraint. If Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon had seen that, he thought, there would have been hell to pay.

As he left, he could still hear Dunkirk scratching at the living room door. He shook his head, going out into the bright summer morning, pulling the cool, still-dewy air into his lungs as his feet pounded the pavement, running toward the village. It had been a conscious decision of his to run a different route than he had with Dudley and Hermione. He used to turn left upon leaving the house; now he turned right, the spire of St. Bede's and the clock tower of his old school rising up above the houses and shops and growing larger as he neared them. He'd never really minded the quaint village of Little Whinging, just the fact that he had to live there with the Dursleys. He didn't have much to compare it to, never have been—anywhere (in the Muggle world). In the wizarding world, he hadn't been much of anywhere, either, but he'd now been to an opera and a ceilidh at the Hogsmeade town hall and to a party at a private home in Hogsmeade. He'd also been to the Ministry of Magic in London (or rather under London).

Harry started slowing down before stopping. He put his hand on the stone gateposts at the entrance to the graveyard. After a moment's hesitation, he entered. He reached Dudley's grave quickly. He stood gazing at the mound of dirt, which was still higher than the surrounding grass. Someone had scattered grass seed in the soil, and small green shoots were starting to burst through. Soon the stone (which wasn't in place yet) would be the only indication of where Dudley had been buried; the earth would be flat again, all of it covered in endless grass. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes...

Harry turned from Dudley's grave and walked up the hill where he now knew his parents were buried. He knelt by their stone and pulled some weeds from the grass that blanketed them. Shredding the weeds with his fingers, he spread the bits around the roots of the lilies he'd planted on either side of the stone. He'd put the plants in two days before. He like the idea of coming to their grave in the mornings, just sitting peacefully. He wondered whether he should talk to them, or to Dudley, but even though he was utterly alone, the idea embarrassed him. He wasn't a talking-to-dead-people sort. It annoyed him when this was done in television programs or films, largely to let the audience hear a person's thoughts. He would have felt self-conscious doing it.

After a little while, Harry patted the stone fondly and left to resume his running. When he returned to the house on Privet Drive, though his aunt and uncle hadn't seen him turn into a golden griffin, there was still hell to pay. When he opened the door, he immediately missed the peace and quiet of his uncle's snoring. His head promptly started hurting, from both the noise and the fact that he was trying to process nothing but sentence fragments.

"...could have been hurt, poor baby..."

"...your aunt in hysterics..."

"...crying and crying..."

"...piddled on my favorite chair..."

"...just a sweet little baby..."

"...door needs painting now, scratches all over..."

Harry winced as his uncle grabbed his ear and pulled him into the living room to see the deep gouges the dog had put in the paint on the inside of the door. What am I, six? he thought.

"Geroff!" he yelped, escaping from his uncle's grip. "He attacked me! I was just trying to get out!" He was momentarily surprised to find that he was taller than both of them. When did that happen? Not that it was helpful at this moment.

His Aunt Petunia stood in the doorway, cuddling Dunkirk in her arms like a baby. "He's claustrophobic! He was scared. Weren't you my little Dunkirk..." she cooed to him.

Harry rolled his eyes; his head was really throbbing now. If only they would shut up! If only—

"Aaaah!" he cried in agony, pressing his hands on either side of his head as the pain spiked. His eyes were squeezed shut; on the insides of his eyelids, he could see shadowy figures in a glen. Dappled shadows...a green cast on everything...it would have been a beautiful summer morning in a cool, leafy forest if it weren't for the torture...

The man writhed on the ground, on the leaves. Harry couldn't see his face; he could see the wizard casting the spell; crackling light connected his wand with the victim's body. The red eyes seemed to bore right into Harry's, even though that was impossible, he wasn't really there. As the torture continued, his scar began to feel hot. He knew he was still screaming because his throat hurt, but he felt like his ears were stopped up. All he could hear were the sounds coming directly into his brain from that deceptively pleasant-looking wood.

The tall, thin wizard with the red snake-eyes lifted his wand at last, breaking the spell. The man who'd been writhing on the ground panted and tried to rise. It took some effort. When he was finally on his feet, Harry had a glimpse of his face. Then it was as though a memory charm had been placed upon him, and a split second later, he had no idea whose face he'd seen. I know him! he thought. Who—?

But now the instrument of torture was pointing at the crook of the man's left elbow.

I know him I know him I know him I know him...

"MORSMORDRE!"

Harry wrinkled up his nose at the smell of the burning flesh. It was as though he were there. The man cried out in agony as the mark was seared into his arm. The stench filled Harry's nostrils. The man's tormented howling increased in pitch as the mark became part of him. Harry's scar was still throbbing. He may still have been screaming, he didn't know.

Finally, the man was silent. He had gone down on his knees, where he remained, his breathing labored. His torturer put his hand on his shoulder, almost fondly, saying, "At last. I acknowledge you as my heir."

"Aaaaah!" Harry's scream continued. He could hear himself again. He opened his eyes and looked around. His scar hurt, but not as persistently. His uncle was cowering behind his armchair; his aunt, still clutching the writhing dog (trying desperately to escape her grip) had backed up against the table in the hall.

Harry willed himself to stop screaming, but it was difficult. The heir. I know the heir. He just didn't know who it was. Why can't I remember? he wondered. Maybe it was like the anti-Muggle magic that kept people from seeing things like the Leaky Cauldron. A Muggle might actually see it for a split second, but then his or her eyes would glide past, forgetting about it. Where do I know him from? he wondered, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Damn! The image was slipping away from him again.

He swallowed and looked uncertainly at his aunt and uncle.

"S—sorry about shutting Dunkirk in the living room. I—I have to get ready for work..."

He sprinted up the stairs to the bathroom. He slammed the door shut and leaned heavily against it, his heart thudding in his ears. I need to write to Sirius, he thought desperately. I need to tell him. And I need to remember. Remember remember remember...

He removed his sweaty running clothes and stepped into the shower. Voldemort has his heir by his side now, he thought. And it's someone I know. Is it someone I trust? All he knew was that it was someone tall, with dark hair and parchment-colored skin. Bloody hell, he thought. That only describes half the men and boys I know. At least it lets off the Weasleys and Gilderoy Lockhart and Lee Jordan. Brilliant. That really narrows it down.

While he showered he thought of some more people it couldn't be. Seamus Finnigan, Will Flitwick, Dean Thomas, Neville Longbottom. This was getting him nowhere.

He needed to send Hedwig off for the rest of the summer anyway. He couldn't risk Mrs. Figg asking questions about the snowy owl. He hadn't actually stayed with her since he'd found out he was a wizard on his eleventh birthday. After work he would be going to Mrs. Figg's house rather than returning to Privet Drive. His trunk and summer clothes had been taken over there the previous evening. After he'd hauled his trunk up to Mrs. Figg's sewing room, where he'd be sleeping on an old couch, he had stood in her living room whilst the Dursleys recounted all of the things she wasn't to let him "get away with."

"Don't you let him contradict you. Tell him who's the boss."

"Don't let him weasel out of chores. Especially cleaning up after himself."

"Don't let him watch the telly after ten o'clock at night."

"Don't let him up from the dinner table until he's cleaned his plate, including vegetables."

This from the pair who were trying to starve me two years ago, Harry thought. As the litany had continued, he had stood grimacing, his arms crossed over his chest. He had wished that he smoked, so he could have stood there with a cigarette hanging carelessly from his lip, a pack of them clearly visible under the sleeve of his T-shirt. He had also wished he still had Sandy, the garden snake, who he used to wear wrapped around his left upper arm, and maybe also a bone earring, like Bill Weasley, or a tattoo...

If he was going to be, in essence, accused of being the worst juvenile delinquent since Billy the Kid he wanted to look the part. But instead he had waited grumpily, listening to the list of things he was to be forbidden (this included puddings of any kind—fine with him; he hated Mrs. Figg's puddings). While he had listened, his gaze had wandered around the room, which was as he remembered it, which was to say, it was remarkably similar to the tents Mr. Weasley had borrowed for them to sleep in at the Quidditch World Cup. It appeared that a battalion of little old ladies armed with crochet hooks had been unleashed upon the place, for there was hardly a piece of upholstery without a complement of a dozen antimacassars or a horizontal surface completely unobscured by doilies.

When his aunt and uncle were finally done and had paid Mrs. Figg for the services she would be rendering while they were away, they had gone to the door of her odd cabbage-smelling house.

Mrs. Figg had lifted up her head and surveyed Harry critically. "I understand you're working for that Dick." It had taken him a moment to realize that she was saying his name, not dropping into uncharacteristic profanity. "Doing landscaping, eh? Well, you can help me in my garden as well. Make yourself useful. And my back's been bothering me. You can clean the cat boxes while you're staying here. Both of them. Twice a day. Cats are very fastidious. You can't expect them to just wallow in filth."

Harry had grimaced. He was glad he'd be working for Dick much of the time. This was shaping up to be far worse than when he was ten. She'd tried to get him to clean cat hair off the upholstery once, and he'd instead started to suck antimacassars into the belly of the Hoover. It was an effective way to get out of cleaning (and no accidental magic was involved), but he wasn't certain how to avoid working in her garden or cleaning the cat boxes.

Harry went to his bedroom when he was done his shower and dressed for work. He quickly wrote a note to Sirius, telling him about the waking dream, seeing Voldemort initiating his own heir. Harry stopped while he was writing, staring into space. There were two things that struck him as odd. First was that Voldemort was doing this during the day, and secondly, that they had seemed to be alone. If there were other Death Eaters present, Harry hadn't seen them. Does anyone else know who the heir is? he wondered. If I remember, will I be the only one?

He sent Hedwig off with the letter for Sirius, plus a short note for Hermione. He'd warned her and Ron that birthday greetings and subsequent letters would have to come to Mrs. Figg's by the British postal system. He didn't want her to have a fit from several owls showing up at her house on the thirty-first of July. It wouldn't be a problem for Hermione, but he remembered the time Mrs. Weasley had sent a letter by regular post to the Dursleys, covered in so many stamps that the postman had rung the doorbell so he could deliver it face-to-face and enquire exactly who would make such a mistake. Harry's Uncle Vernon had been livid, worried that the postman might think he and Harry's aunt were peculiar in some way (in any way). They aspired to be the epitome of normal, and would broach no one destroying this illusion.

He sat down to read again the most recent letter he'd received from Hermione.

Dear Harry,

I know I just wrote to you the day before yesterday, but that wasn't about what I'm actually doing on a day-to-day basis, so I wanted to write to you again. I hope you don't mind that this letter isn't quite as descriptive.

Harry grinned. The other letter had been descriptive all right, describing what she wanted to do with him the next time they had a chance to be alone. He'd written a note to her saying he was safely home but that Sandy had left him, and Hedwig had returned with that in the middle of the night. He'd found himself taking a cold shower at two in the morning after reading it.

Sirius goes running with me in the mornings, in dog form. He sits as a dog in the surgery waiting room much of the day, too. Mum and Dad will only see people who've come to them before, no one new. Sirius brought some dark magic detectors with him. None of them have gone off, but there was one fellow Sirius wouldn't let into the surgery yesterday. He growled at him and the man backed off and ran out.

I was sitting in the waiting room reading. Mum came out, wondering where her two o'clock was, and I told her what Sirius had done, hoping she wouldn't be angry. She surprised me by laughing and saying that she didn't care if he ever came back. Evidently he acted very silly when he was on laughing gas and tended to try to touch my mum in ways that only my dad should touch her. I was shocked! I mean, to think of someone making passes at my mum! Not that Mum doesn't still look nice. You know what I mean. Think of the Pensieve. Anyway, she was glad of Sirius yesterday. At dinner (he's in human form then) she asked him why he'd done it. He said he just didn't trust the man; something set off this alarm in him. Dog instinct. He apologized, but Mum told him not to. "Well spotted!" she said, laughing.

Sirius goes to meet the other operatives at night. We're perfectly safe because of the spells protecting the house. We can't really have all of the same spells on the surgery because it's a public place. I'm not usually in the surgery; we have a courtyard in the center of the house where I can read and get some sun. If it's cloudy, I'll go see how Mum and Dad are doing. I missed them so during the past year.

And I miss you! I had a dream about you last night. You were wearing your kilt, and only your kilt...

Harry grinned, continuing to read for a little bit. So much for this letter not being as "descriptive" as the other one. He didn't finish reading all of it (he'd just left the shower and didn't have time for another). Folding the letter, he shoved it deep into his back pocket.

He picked up another letter from his desk. Like the previous year, it had arrived not long after he'd returned home. It was from McGonagall, welcoming him back in September as a sixth-year prefect. It also informed him that Liam Quirke was to be Head Boy, and Cho Chang would be Head Girl. Harry was happy for her. They'd voted at the last prefect meeting of the year, which was attended by the staff, as they would also be voting. Hermione had wanted Katie to win, since she was from Gryffindor, and Harry hadn't told her he'd voted for Cho. He hoped his vote alone hadn't cost Katie the win. None of them found out who had won until receiving the letters. Most of the time, the six prefects from each house voted for their own (sixth-years of course voting for themselves) and the heads-of-house also generally voted for their house members, so realistically, it was the other staff who decided it. He suspected that most of the other staff would vote for Cho anyway, so his vote probably hadn't mattered; but he'd felt like doing it anyway. He certainly couldn't imagine many teachers voting for the Slytherin sixth-year girl, Regina something, let alone Eloise Midgen, from Hufflepuff.

Harry read further down the letter, to where the new fifth-year prefects were listed. Under Gryffindor were Anthony Perugia and Virginia Weasley. He smiled. McGonagall must have recovered from the Potions dungeon stunt. Ginny did have the best marks. And Harry was not at all surprised about Tony. He'd have been shocked if it were Colin Creevey, who still tended to lose his way going to lessons. And perhaps Tony would join them on the Quidditch team, and Zoey Russell, one of Ginny's roommates. Harry looked forward to getting to know some of the students in Ginny's year a little better.

Harry tucked his letter away in his desk. There was no need to take it along. He glanced around his barren room; he wouldn't be seeing it again for another year. His aunt and uncle had scrapped the idea of going to Portugal now that they had Dunkirk. Instead they were taking a cruise on a ship that allowed dogs. They would be stopping first in the Channel Islands, then the Azores, various points along the Spanish coast, through the Straits of Gibraltar and round the Mediterranean. Whenever they pulled into a port, Dunkirk would stay on board while they went ashore. Harry had a feeling Aunt Petunia wouldn't actually be going ashore very much.

He arrived in the kitchen as his uncle was tucking into his eggs. His aunt was warming Dunkirk's sausages. The small dog was already at the table, eyeing his empty plate expectantly. Harry grabbed his toast quickly, as the dog growled whenever he reached out his arm. Harry hoped Dunkirk's food would be ready soon, before he mistook one of Harry's fingers for a sausage.

They ate silently. No one mentioned the little screaming fit Harry had had in the living room. He also tried to banish the memory from his mind, but attempting this only made the memory more persistent. His aunt and uncle amazed him; it was as though by not looking at or thinking about magic, it would just disappear, not exist. He finished quickly and rose to go.

"Well," he said awkwardly. "Have a good trip." His uncle harrumphed in lieu of acknowledging Harry's words. His aunt evidently considered this to be one last opportunity to harangue him.

"You make yourself useful to Mrs. Figg. And don't forget to get yourself over here to tend our garden on the weekend. I don't want to come home and find a jungle! And whatever you do—"

"No doing what I'm not supposed to do out of school. Yes, yes. I know, I know." He couldn't even say, "I won't do magic." That would be every bit as bad as actually doing it, in their eyes. He was very glad they hadn't seen his Animagus form earlier.

"Don't you give Mrs. Figg any lip like that. And mind you send off that owl—"

"I already did. I wrote to my godfather this morning and asked him to take care of Hedwig for the rest of the summer. He can send her to me at school."

But it seemed that they'd gone back to ignoring him. Right, he thought.

"Goodbye. I'm off to work." Still nothing. Unless you counted Dunkirk turning his head and growling softly at him. Right, he thought again. He opened the door and left, still looking at them for some recognition of the fact that he was leaving. He got none before he finished closing the door. Oh, well. He probably shouldn't have expected any change, even after Dudley. Life was going on at number four Privet Drive.

#/#/#

Harry leaned back on the grass contentedly, feeling the sun warming his bare chest. He'd had a good lunch (the couple at number seven Magnolia Crescent was feeding them rather well) and he felt at peace. He liked working with Nigel, Trevor and Sam, turning the front, rear and side gardens of the house into a tropical paradise (or as close as one could come to one in Surrey).

Nigel and Trevor were brothers, twenty-two and twenty-four. Despite the fact that they were almost identical and Trevor was only two years Nigel's elder, he had an air of authority that Nigel did not. They had dark hair and eyes and brows arched so severely that they both appeared perpetually surprised. Sam was the eldest of them all, somewhere in his thirties, but taciturn and clearly not interested in being the boss. He had reddish-brown hair, brown eyes and an amazing collection of tattoos all over his chest, arms, calves—and probably areas of his body only his girlfriend Vera saw (her name was on his forearm). From things he said and Trevor and Nigel said, Harry gathered that he'd recently been in prison.

Harry hadn't actually seen Dick since he'd started work. Trevor was in charge on this job; Dick was supervising some work in nearby New Stokington. On Harry's first day, he'd reported to Trevor, who'd introduced him to the homeowners, Bobbie and Terry Galbraith. They owned several shops in London and outlying areas which sold surplus military clothing from around the world, altered by Bobbie to be more stylish for "today's look." (The design was by Bobbie; the sewing was carried out by immigrant girls in their late teens and early twenties, according to Nigel.) It felt to Harry like this had been done before, but he didn't say so to Mrs. Galbraith, who was paying him to relandscape her property, not critique her business.

Trevor had knocked on the door on that first morning, his hand on Harry's shoulder, when Bobbie Galbraith answered, wearing fatigue-colored trousers and a tailored blue blazer over a waistcoat that looked like a bullet-proof vest. She also sported high-heeled combat boots.

"'Ello, Missus. Good mornin' to ye. This 'ere's 'Arry Potter, a new lad. 'E'll be working' wif us on yer job."

She had looked him up and down appraisingly. "All right then. Terry and I have to go to London. We'll be back late."

"Very well, Missus," Trevor had answered. Harry had a hard time not mentally superimposing green skin and large protruding eyes on Trevor; as he had the same name as Neville Longbottom's toad, it was all Harry could think of every time he spoke with him.

Suddenly, Mr. Galbraith appeared, pushing past his wife and nodding at Trevor and Harry, while calling over his shoulder to her, "Come on, love! The traffic's supposed to be a bitch..."

She rushed past them, slamming the door behind her. The Galbraiths strode purposefully toward the drive and got into their expensive German car. Terry pulled on driving gloves. Harry had never seen anyone use driving gloves. The car started quickly and smoothly, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone. Harry was rather certain they were going well above the speed-limit for Magnolia Crescent.

Harry liked what Trevor had said to Bobbie. He was one of the lads now. He enjoyed working with Sam and Nigel and Trevor. They were easy-going but didn't mind hard work. They accepted him unquestioningly and didn't ask about his scar. At twelve every day, they let themselves into the Galbraiths' kitchen, where there was food left for them in the fridge, including a bottle of stout for each of them. Harry declined his and just drank water the first day. Trevor spoke to Bobbie, and after that she supplied Harry with a Coke.

"She thought you was eighteen, she did," Trevor told him with a nudge and a wink. Harry flushed at the thought of Mrs. Galbraith considering him to be an adult. She reminded him of a brunette Alicia Spinnet (except for her slightly bizarre taste in clothes).

"So," Nigel had said to Harry as they ate lunch, a wicked gleam in his eye. "Y'got yerself a bird, 'Arry?"

Harry was about to admit that he had a snowy owl when he realized Nigel meant a girlfriend. He thought of Hermione, imagining her in the courtyard of her house, sunning herself, possibly in the bikini...and felt himself flush again. Nigel laughed.

"Should I take that bright shade of crimson as a 'yes,' 'Arry?"

He laughed along with them, taking another bite of his sandwich, nodding.

"Thought y'might. Glasses aside, I rather got the impression y'might be beatin'em off wif a stick."

"Wif what stick is the question!" Trevor interjected, nudging Harry again.

He felt warm from the neck up once more. Trevor and Nigel laughed knowingly, exchanging sly glances, while Sam's quiet protesting, "Now, now," went unheeded.

"Well, er, I sort of thought some girls might like me, but they didn't really, they just acted that way because...well, it's really hard to explain..."

"Oh, I see," Trevor said, and for a moment, Harry was panicked that he actually did. "It was a bet, was it?"

"Something like that."

"That's rough, 'Arry, that is," Nigel commiserated. "'Ard on a man's ego, that is."

"But your bird's not like that, is she, Harry?" Sam piped up. Harry thought for a moment about Hermione being on that potion for six months...

"No, no, Sam. Hermione's not like that."

"'Er-MY-oh-nee," Nigel sang. "My, my, she 'as quite the name. Y'done the deed yet wif 'Er-MY-oh-nee, 'Arry?"

Harry immediately turned a deep scarlet. Nigel laughed, but Trevor said, "Nige! That's none o' yer business! Leave the lad alone!"

"Aw, Trev, can't a bloke live vicariously?"

"Nige, you don' even know what that word means."

"Do so! An' I jus' used it completely correc', din' I, 'Arry?"

"Er—" Harry said with his mouth full.

"Nigel," Sam said quietly, "even if Harry's been with his bird once, he's seen more action than you have in the last three years..."

"Four," Trevor corrected, smiling.

Sam guffawed, and then all of them, even Nigel, succumbed to the contagious laughter. After they had finished eating they retired to the rear garden to sun themselves. At first, Harry had found it difficult not to think of Hermione at these times. But today, he was finding it difficult not to picture the tortured man in the wood (and yet he wished he could see his face better...) He was glad when it was time to get back to work, which was a welcome distraction.

When he'd said goodbye to the lads that evening, he walked to Mrs. Figg's house, one street over, on Arden Lane. He let himself in with the key he'd been given and called out, "Hello? Mrs. Figg? It's Harry Potter. I'm done work." There was silence for a half-minute; an orange-striped cat rubbed against his legs, and he stooped down to scratch it behind the ears, making it emit a loud purr. A door slammed upstairs and he heard Mrs. Figg running down the upstairs hall, followed by her running down the stairs toward Harry. The cat looked alarmed and fled toward the kitchen.

"Hush!" she hissed at him angrily. "What do you think you're doing, coming in here and shouting like that? Act like a civilized human, instead of one raised in a cave."

"Well, actually—" he began, then thought better of it. He'd been about to correct her, tell her it wasn't a cave so much as a cupboard under the stairs. Besides, she'd been the one who'd scared her own cat. But he said, "Yes, ma'am," to her meekly. She put her hand to her breastbone suddenly, and Harry puzzled at this. Is she all right? She had come running downstairs rather fast. Which also struck him as odd, now that he thought about it. He'd never seen her move faster than a lackadaisical shuffle. But the hand-on-chest thing suddenly seemed—forced. She didn't appear winded. Was she trying to elicit sympathy from him, or make him feel guilty for making her run? He wasn't certain. He started up the stairs, but she was in his way. He shifted to the left, and she did, too. He shifted back to the right and she moved to block him again.

"Er, after work I'm usually rather in need of a shower," he tried to explain. She stepped aside now and let him pass, but as he ascended the stairs, she followed him closely. When they reached the bathroom, Harry explained lamely, "I think I'll go in alone."

She stepped back from him, as though she'd forgotten that she'd practically been treading on his heels the whole way up the stairs. "I don't want you to forget," she said to him sharply, waving a finger in his face, "that the sewing room and the bathroom are the only rooms you're to go in up here. Understand?"

Harry looked down the hall in either direction at the closed doors, which suddenly seemed quite ominous. The sewing room, where he was staying, was the equivalent in the Dursley house of Dudley's room. Mrs. Figg's room was the same as his aunt's and uncle's. He didn't know what might be in the other two bedrooms, and now, naturally, he felt a burning need to know. He didn't remember being barred from these rooms when he was younger, but perhaps they'd simply been closed and locked and she was confident that he couldn't get into them. She probably thought Harry-the-thinly-veiled-delinquent had a large supply of lock-picks or some such thing.

It was strange to him that Mrs. Figg's house had exactly the same layout as the Dursleys, since it appeared so very different. He found himself appreciating for the first time his aunt's spare aesthetic. Their home was always neat and uncluttered, whereas Mrs. Figg's house was the polar opposite.

"I only go in the sewing room and the bathroom. Got it. I'll take my shower now—"

"Make it quick! Dinner will be ready in forty minutes. I'm not keeping it warm for you if you're late!"

"Yes, ma'am," he said again quietly, going into the bathroom.

Dinner was dry chicken, vegetables boiled to the point of being virtually dissolved, starchy boiled potatoes and lemonade without enough sugar. Moussaka seemed to be the only thing she could cook well, and she didn't seem inclined to make it that often. Harry was too hungry to care about the quality of the food. Quantity was all that mattered; he'd built up quite an appetite, working.

After dinner, Mrs. Figg retired to the living room to watch a program the Dursleys were also quite fond of: Who Wants to Look Stupid in Front of the Whole Country for the Chance to Get Stinking Rich? His aunt and uncle laughed themselves silly over this show, despite the fact that they themselves seldom knew the answers to even the simplest questions. Mrs. Figg actually seemed to know quite a lot.

"Which Dickens work features the character of Miss Havisham? Oh for mercy's sake, you yob! Great Expectations! Not the bloody Mystery of Edwin Drood! How in blazes did you get on?" Mrs. Figg's chief enjoyment seemed to come from talking to the contestants, pointing out their obvious mental shortcomings. She also liked to suggest various careers that might be appropriate for a person with sub-par intelligence, such as testing hand grenades for the army (by agreeing to be blown up).

The mention of Dickens gave Harry an idea. He'd been enjoying reading some Dickens in his Anthology of Muggle Literature, but he couldn't very well sit around Mrs. Figg's living room reading a book with that title, so he told her that he was going up to his room to read.

"Why can't you read downstairs?" she said sharply. He of course couldn't explain that he didn't want her to see a book with the word "Muggle" in the title, and she jumped to conclusions and assumed that he didn't want to go upstairs to read at all, but to "abuse" himself. Harry reddened, thinking rather angrily that all anyone thought teenage boys thought about was—Oh yeah, he remembered. That's right. That is all teenage boys think about...

He sighed in resignation, glancing around the living room. The orange-striped cat was curled in a compact circle near Mrs. Figg's feet, while a black cat with a white bib and feet washed itself next to the table with the television. Then he noticed that Mrs. Figg seemed to have quite a nice selection of books lining the shelves, which were neatly alphabetized. He found a few Dickens novels to choose from, deciding on Oliver Twist, which he'd never read. When he opened the book, he discovered that the pages had never been cut. Each stitched folio still had a creased fold facing the outer edge of the book. He could get a letter-opener from her desk, he supposed, and cut each page as he needed to read it. He knew from a teacher he'd had when he was younger that he shouldn't use something too sharp, so he'd have a nice deckled edge on each page. But somehow, he didn't feel like he wanted to go through that much work just to have something to read. He returned Oliver Twist to the shelf and selected Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. He'd rather enjoyed Tess of the D'Urbervilles (although it was a bit depressing). He started to open the Hardy, only to discover that this book also had never been read and still had uncut pages. He looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Figg.

"Another genius!" she declared sarcastically. "Monte Carlo cannot be the third-largest city in Italy! It's not in sodding Italy! There; a future auto company employee. He can sit in the cars they crash test. Those need more realism anyway..."

Harry discreetly removed a copy of Pride and Prejudice from a shelf. Pages uncut. Wuthering Heights. My Antonia. Robinson Crusoe. Shane. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Don Quixote. Anna Karenina. Middlemarch. Cry, the Beloved Country. Around the World in Eighty Days. The Old Man and the Sea. Elmer Gantry.

It didn't matter what the country of origin was or whether the book had originally been written in English or translated. None of the books had cut pages. They'd never been read. Not one.

Right, thought Harry. They're just decor. He returned to his initial choice, putting Oliver Twist next to a disdainful-looking smoke-grey cat on a doily-covered table and going to the dining room to search in Mrs. Figg's desk for a letter opener. He pulled open one drawer, which immediately squeaked loudly.

"What are you up to?" she said suddenly, calling from the living room. Harry guiltily slammed the drawer shut, startling the cream-colored cat sleeping on the dining room window sill. It blinked, gazing at him with one amber eye and one green eye. He returned to the living room doorway. "I was going to read that book," he said, pointing to where it lay on the table, under the paw of the grey cat, "but the pages weren't cut. I was hunting in the desk for a letter opener."

"First of all, stay out of my desk! Second of all, don't be ridiculous. I've read that many times. Of course the pages are cut. The pages on all the books are cut!"

Harry frowned. He went to the table and carefully picked up the book, lifting the cat's paw. The outer edge and top of the pages now had gold leaf, which he didn't remember from before. He rifled through the pages; they all fell in an arc of white tipped with gold, every edge neatly and cleanly machine cut. He surreptitiously pulled off the shelves some of the other titles he'd glanced at before. All of them had pages that were separate and ready to be read, many of them with silver or gold leaf on the edges.

That's odd, thought Harry. Did I do that with some spontaneous magic? He hadn't meant to.

He sat down to read the book. Immediately, the grey cat curled up in his lap, purring. Harry winced as the sharp claws kneaded his thighs, breathing a sigh of relief as the animal settled down and put its paw over its nose. After reading several chapters, he stopped. He was just finding the story too implausible, and he was also too tired to keep his eyes open any longer. Listening to the cat's purring was lulling him to sleep...

"Minsk!" Mrs. Figg shouted at some unfortunate soul making a fool of himself before the whole country, startling Harry and the cat awake. The grey cat leapt to the floor and stalked out of the room indignantly, presumably to find a quieter place to sleep. Harry was glad to be awake again; he'd been reliving seeing the tortured man in the forest...

"And you call yourself a teacher!" Mrs. Figg said accusingly. Harry didn't, so he was rather confused. It took him a moment to realize that she meant the poor man on television who evidently should have said "Minsk" to whatever question he'd just been asked. "If that's what most teachers are like these days, it would certainly explain a lot," she said, sliding her eyes over to him, hinting broadly.

Harry tried to stifle a yawn and rose to go. "I'm going upstairs. I've got work tomorrow."

"Eh? On Saturday?"

"Well, the clients want someone working on the job six days a week, so we each take different days off. I picked Wednesday, so I won't have to work on my birthday." Trevor had also had Wednesdays off, so Dick was the Wednesday boss. Harry would probably not see him unless he switched his days around.

"I didn't realize you'd be working Saturdays..."

Harry frowned at her; she seemed to think this was a good thing. When she noticed him looking at her she scowled at him.

"And when are you going to do something to my garden, I'd like to know?"

"I can do something when I get back from work. Good night."

She didn't answer, but turned back to the television. Mrs. Figg made him miss having Sandy to talk to very, very much. He'd had to explain a great many things to Sandy which most people just knew, but at least she was always civil. He smiled at the thought; snakes were actually very civilized creatures, in addition to having the Sight. Who knew?

He went up the stairs and prepared for bed. When he emerged from the bathroom after brushing his teeth, he thought one of the doors in the upstairs hall had just closed quickly. He stared at the doors for the other two bedrooms. Nah, he said to himself. I'm just tired.

But as he was dozing off, he thought, That's funny. The drawer in Mrs. Figg's desk, the one he'd opened while looking for a letter opener; he remembered for a moment what he'd seen there. How odd...

There were several bottles of ink, in various colors, high-quality parchment in a chamois color, and several beautiful quills that appeared to be from eagles' tails...

But he was very, very tired, and soon forgot about this and was fast asleep.

#/#/#

On Sunday morning, Harry was careful to be very, very quiet when going downstairs. He'd rather startled Mrs. Figg Saturday morning, coming out of her bedroom in her nightdress but no dressing gown. She hadn't expected him to be up so early. He explained about his running habit (feeling slightly guilty, as though it were a drinking habit) and she had peered at him suspiciously through slits of eyes, as if she thought the whole purpose of his getting up so early had been to purposely catch her out in her nightdress.

When he returned from running on Sunday and had showered, he went to the kitchen, prepared to scrounge up his own breakfast. The day before, he'd sat expectantly at the dining table for twenty minutes before she pushed open the swinging kitchen door and told him that the food wasn't going to march into the dining room and into his mouth. He was still getting used to being in her house.

He managed to find some slightly stale bread to toast and located the butter, but no jam or marmalade. The cream-colored cat regarded him sleepily from the top of the fridge, while the black cat wound around his legs, making him move around quite cautiously; he was constantly afraid he was going to step on it. He put his head in the fridge; there didn't seem to be any fruit juice, so he filled the kettle and put it on the stove, resigning himself to tea, if only he could find where she hid the teabags...

"What do you think you're doing?"

Harry jumped, slamming the cupboard door that had been holding open. As a result, a collection of decorative spoons on the door were rattled off their very small nails and clattered to the counter in a silvery heap. Mrs. Figg's screeched question had rattled him somewhat. The black cat sped from the room, and the cream-colored cat looked on edge, although it remained in sphinx-position on the fridge.

"Now look what you've done! Oh, don't worry about them now. We'll be late for church. What were you trying to find, anyway?"

"Tea. What do you mean, church?"

"It's in the tin on top of the fridge." It took Harry a moment to realize that she meant the tea, not the church. "You know," she went on, "that place in the village with the rather tall tower and the bells that have been making a racket all morning. Church. I don't want to miss Mr. Babcock's sermon. I suggested the topic to him: 'Why Young People Don't Think Rules Apply to Them.' I highly recommend you pay attention. I'll be asking you questions later."

As he reached for the tea tin next to the cat, Harry wondered briefly what the scriptural text could possibly be for such a sermon, but he told her, "I'm not coming to church with you." He peered into the tea tin. Oh hell, he thought. Loose tea. He grimaced and looked about in a bewildered fashion. Mrs. Figg sighed and thrust a silver-colored metal ball at him with perforations all round it. He took the proffered tea ball and used the scoop in the tea tin to fill one half of the ball after opening it. At least there won't be any tea leaves in my cup, he thought...

"You're not coming, eh?" she said menacingly, as though she were pleased at the prospect of fighting with him about it.

"No. I'm going over to Privet Drive to work in the garden. I promised my aunt I would. I did not promise her I'd go to church." Harry put the tea ball in the old brown teapot sitting in the middle of the breakfast table. He sat down to read the Sunday paper which he'd brought in, waiting for her next salvo.

"I see," was all she said, and Harry was surprised that she sounded a little hurt. He glanced at her around the page of the newspaper he was holding before his face. She seemed distracted, and, he realized, quite old. How old is she? he wondered. He suddenly felt rather ashamed of himself. Perhaps she just wanted the company, walking into the village for the service and back again, not having to sit alone in her pew box...

But he shook off this feeling. If I go today, he thought, she'll expect me to do it the rest of the summer. Better to start as we mean to go on.

When the water was hot enough, she filled the teapot and took some cream from the fridge. The black cat returned now, rubbing against her leg quite lovingly now that she had a pitcher of cream in her hand; she shooed it away. Harry was watching her but trying not to seem to be doing so. He was only about six years older than the last time he'd been in this house; why did it feel so different? Perhaps because as a ten-year-old, he didn't have the same autonomy as an almost sixteen-year-old. I'm almost sixteen, Harry thought. In just over three weeks. He suddenly felt very happy about this.

"You know," he told her while he buttered his toast, "in about three weeks, it'll be my sixteenth birthday..."

She jerked her head up, eyes wide, as though she'd forgotten something.

"Birthday!" she said suddenly. Harry frowned. What was with her?

"Yeah, my birth—"

"Stay away!"

"What?" He stared at her. She wasn't backing away from him, and he hadn't been moving toward her. What was she going on about?

"From the house. Today. Take as long as you need to in Petunia's garden. Don't come back before four o'clock."

He furrowed his brow. "Why?"

"Never you mind!" she said angrily, her voice rising in pitch. "Just stay away!"

This is getting stranger and stranger, he thought. Fine, I'll let myself into my own house when I'm done in the garden. I can watch television or play games on Dudley's computer.

Dudley's computer.

Harry grimaced; no, one thing he did not want to do was go into Dudley's room. He'd thought of it many times, having access to all of the wonderful toys and gadgets that his aunt and uncle had showered on their son but not him. As far as he knew, they hadn't changed a thing in Dudley's room, it would all be as Harry remembered it. But now...

"Did you hear me?" she demanded, pulling down the newspaper hiding his face from her. He nodded at her.

"Yes, yes. I'll stay away."

When they were done the eating and clearing up, he helped her fill the cats' food and water dishes. They left the house together, walking in opposite directions. He whistled as he approached Privet Drive; his aunt and uncle (and Dunkirk) wouldn't be at the house, he could work in the garden during the cool of the morning and decide afterward how to spend the rest of his day until four.

But the cool of the morning wasn't so cool; he was already getting quite warm just walking the few blocks to his house. When he was not quite there, he decided that it had been a mistake to wear jeans instead of shorts, so he turned on his heel and headed back to Mrs. Figg's house. She'd said not to return until four, but she wouldn't be there, he reasoned. She'd never know.

He let himself in and immediately froze; music was floating down from the second floor into the entrance hall. Someone's broken into the house! he thought. To listen to the radio? his brain rationally answered. He lowered the umbrella he'd picked up from the rack near the front door. He was being ridiculous. It was probably a clock radio. Mrs. Figg had probably forgotten she'd set it for this time. Or else one of the cats had walked on the "on" button. The orange striped cat was trying to rub against his legs again; he'd already pegged him as the "greeter" cat. He ignored him this time.

He still carried the umbrella as he walked up the stairs toward the music, but carrying it more like a closed umbrella and less like an instrument of war. He realized that the music was coming from one of the off-limit rooms on the second floor. Now what do I do? he wondered, grimacing. Finally, he came to the conclusion that he should change into his shorts and leave. The music would eventually stop. There was no reason to go into that middle room, the one that was the guest room at his house.

He forced himself to go to the sewing room and change, to ignore the music emanating from behind the closed door. But when he emerged and was about to descend the stairs, he heard an mistakably human sound from behind the door of the forbidden room where the music was playing.

"Ow!" was all he heard, after a muffled bang. Someone had walked into something and been injured; an intruder had broken into the house. Evidently people did engage in breaking and entering for the purpose of listening to radios. Harry hefted the umbrella in his right hand; he'd been preparing to return it to the rack downstairs, but now he approached the closed door, wishing it were his wand, his heart beating loudly and painfully.

He stared at the knob. He slowly reached his hand out and tested it. It wouldn't budge. The door was locked. He slowly removed his hand again. Concentrate, he thought. You can do this... He closed his eyes, focusing all of his energy on the door. It's a simple enough spell. Dumbledore does things without his wand. It's just an unlocking spell. He opened his eyes again and held his hand in the air hovering about three inches above the doorknob. "Alohomora!" he said forcefully, his eyes boring into the door.

It worked. The door swung open, more slowly than when he'd used a wand to perform the same spell, but it did open. Harry immediately saw who had barked his shin and said "ow." He stood with his jaw dropped, blinking in disbelief. The other person was equally shocked, staring at him open-mouthed and speechless.

Harry walked into the room, still holding the umbrella a bit like a weapon. They circled each other, still no less shocked. Finally, Harry lowered the umbrella and swallowed, his brain trying to process the ramifications of this surprising discovery. The other person finally found his ability to speak again.

"Potter!"

Harry shook his head and stared. "Malfoy..."

"What are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here? What are you doing in Mrs. Figg's house? She's a Muggle! I thought you were going to be with your old nanny! Did Dumbledore set this up?" Malfoy's face was a parade of perplexed expressions.

"Nanny Bella is my old nurse. Mrs. Figg? Who's Mrs. Figg?"

Nanny Bella. Mrs. Figg. Harry wracked his brain. Bella. Figg. Arabella. Arabella Figg. Something Dumbledore had said over a year ago, about the old crowd...

He looked at Draco Malfoy. "Your Nanny Bella and my Mrs. Figg are the same person."

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Come again?"

"You heard me. It has to be. It would explain so much. Why Dumbledore would have let the Dursleys use her to baby-sit me, especially when I was little. She's not a Muggle; she's a witch!"

"You never knew she was a witch?" Malfoy was disdainful.

"I didn't even know I was a wizard until my eleventh birthday, Malfoy. And until a few days ago, the last time I saw Mrs. Figg was when I was ten. I didn't even know the wizarding world existed the last time I saw her."

Malfoy sat on the bed, frowning darkly. "Yeah, well, speaking of birthdays, today's mine. Whoopee. Happy birthday to me." He reminded Harry of Eeyore.

"Really? The seventh of July is your birthday? That's the seventh month and seventh day."

"Born the seventh hour, too. My mum wasn't happy. She's always complained I kept her up all night before I deigned to be born. I used to feel guilty about that. I think I've decided to get over it now." He smiled ruefully. "So how long have you been here, Potter?"

"Since Friday. The Dursleys have gone on a cruise. During the day I've been at work, though."

"Work?" Malfoy seemed oddly interested. Harry would have expected him to feel that work was beneath him.

"Yeah, you know. The manual labor you think is so demeaning."

Malfoy grimaced. "Who cares about demeaning at this point? I'm broke, Potter. I need some money. Even Muggle money. I could always exchange it at Gringotts."

"Are you saying you want me to help you get a job?"

"Well, the cat's out of the bag now, isn't it? I know you're here, you know I'm here. And we got off track. There are a few questions we haven't been asking ourselves, such as, why has that old bat been making me stay in this room morning, noon and night since the end of term? Why didn't she tell you I was here, and why didn't she tell me you were here? What's the point? And what's the point of not telling you she's a witch?"

"Well, I reckon the point when I was younger was that Dumbledore didn't want my head turned. Because of the whole—you know—"

Malfoy nodded. "Right. The fame thing. And she watched over you, I reckon. Made sure you were all right."

"I reckon. She could have been a bit pleasanter about it. I suppose it was her cover, but still..."

"So are you telling me that she's lived in this house for years? In the Muggle world?" He still seemed like he couldn't quite believe it.

"Right. I used to see her every day when I was walking to school. She used to carry this basket with a couple of her cats in it..." Suddenly Harry had a memory flash; he was walking to school, small thin frame bending under the weight of his schoolbooks in his rucksack, and she was always about thirty feet behind, it seemed, also walking into the village, and always appearing remarkably unperturbed when Dudley and his gang came upon him and started roughing him up. He'd never felt particularly protected while walking to school, considering that she ignored the bullies. But now, he realized, she had been protecting him from a threat of a different sort.

"Did you say cats?" Malfoy said nervously, putting his head round the door jamb, examining the upstairs hall with trepidation.

"Yeah, Malfoy. Deadly little kitty cats with nasty sharp claws and killer purrs." Harry shook his head over him. "It's one thing to not be a cat person, it's another to be afraid of cats. They're not that big or anything. They're actually quite nice. Oddly enough, they don't seem to like her very much, but I can't say that I blame them."

He came back into the room. "Doesn't matter." He surveyed Harry now, taking in his clothes. "What were you going to do today?"

"Work in my aunt's garden. I told Mrs. Figg I'd promised to do that, but not go to church. Speaking of which—" he checked his watch; it was only eleven. "Good. She probably won't be back until one. The service should be about an hour, then some socializing with the other church ladies, and after that she'll have to walk back from the village."

"Did you say church? She goes to church?"

"Well, it would be strange if she didn't, around here. At her age. My aunt and uncle only ever went and took us at Christmas and Easter, but all the old women around here are regulars. Everyone would probably wonder why she didn't if she didn't. I reckon that's also part of her cover."

Malfoy shook his head in disbelief again. "I can't believe I'm spending the summer in the same house with you."

"You can't believe it? At least you knew she was a witch!" Suddenly, he remembered seeing the ink and parchment and quills in her desk. And there were the pages of the books in the living room... He hadn't changed them, he realized now, she had. He hit his head with his hand.

Malfoy stared at him. "What?"

"Oh—nothing. Just feeling like a stupid prat for not working it out before."

"Don't let me stop you if you're feeling stupid. Go right ahead."

"Thanks loads, Malfoy."

"Any time."

They looked at each other a bit awkwardly, the radio blaring still. Harry switched it off. "Well, there's not much point to you staying up here anymore, is there? You might as well come downstairs. I think we need to talk to Mrs. Figg when she gets back. I can work in Aunt Petunia's garden some other time."

Malfoy nodded, following Harry down the stairs and into the living room. Mrs. Figg had apparently already given Malfoy some breakfast in his room. At least she's not letting him starve, Harry thought. But why keep us separate? Why keep me in the dark about her being a witch?

They hung about in the living room, waiting for her to return. The grey cat curled up on Harry again (he was mentally calling this one the lap cat). Malfoy seemed disturbed about the black cat until he saw that it wasn't going to try to sit on him. They watched bits of television programs for a maximum of thirty seconds each. Harry let Malfoy hold the remote control; he was fascinated, changing the station almost as soon as Harry could start to work out what each program or advertisement was. Malfoy has a new toy, he realized. He'd never seen a television before.

This took up a surprising amount of time, and before they knew it, the front door was opening and they heard her step in the hall. The grey cat leapt down from Harry's lap and hid behind the chair where he'd been sitting. Harry put his finger to his lips and crept behind the armchair himself.

"Draco!" she called up the stairs. "I'm back!"

"In here," he drawled just loud enough to be heard through the door. She opened the door to the living room and entered quickly.

"Draco! What are you doing down here? Were you watching the television? Could the neighbors have heard? I was going to let you come down for a bit for your birthday, but now I think I've changed my mind! Get back upstairs this instant!"

"Why should I? So I can spend my sixteenth birthday cooped up too? What's the point?"

"The point is to keep you safe. What other people don't know, they can't divulge to dark wizards who put Imperius on them."

"If that's your worry," Harry said, standing up and letting her see him, "I can put it to rest as far as I'm concerned. I'm rather good at resisting Imperius, not to brag..."

"H-H-Harry! I—I told you to stay away until later..."

"Hello there, Arabella Figg. That is your real name, isn't it?" He frowned at her with his arms crossed. Quite suddenly, she really looked her age, and quite addled and flustered, too. He refused to let her intimidate him ever again. He knew her secret now.

Her mouth worked but no sound came out. She sank into a chair, defeated. She said softly, "Oh, Albus won't be happy..."

"This is because of Dumbledore?" Malfoy practically squeaked, getting to his feet.

"Oh, hush up, Draco!" she snapped at him, sounding more like her old self. "And sit down, the pair of you. It's long and complicated..."

So Harry sat and she told the two of them about the job Dumbledore had entrusted to her: to watch over them, two of the three people in the prophecy. First, she'd managed to land the nanny job at Malfoy Manor when Draco was a baby. (She'd been in Slytherin when she was in school; somehow, Harry was not surprised.) At the same time, she'd established residency in Little Whinging, with Dumbledore's help, and she'd gone round to the Dursleys to offer her services as a baby-sitter, so cheaply that it of course appealed to them. She wasn't called upon to baby-sit for Harry terribly often, which was a good thing as she needed to spend a great deal of time Apparating back and forth between her Surrey house and Malfoy Manor. There was the matter of establishing herself as part of the Little Whinging community, being seen at St. Bede's every Sunday, and, not least, gossiping with the neighbors. It was hard work to do that at the same time as working as a nanny for such demanding employers as the Malfoys. They spent almost no time with their son.

When the Dursleys did hire her to baby-sit Harry, she sometimes needed to take care of both boys at the same time. She would tell the Malfoys that she was going to take Draco to her sister's house; they were fine with this. If they wanted him underfoot all the time, they wouldn't have hired a nanny. She would strap him to her and fly on her broomstick at night to Surrey. After Harry and Draco had played together all day, she had put very subtle memory charms on them, so they wouldn't remember anything but seeing her. This was starting to get more complicated when they were four or so; they were far more self-aware at this point, and she dreaded one of them saying something to their families about the other boy they'd been playing with.

"We played together?" Malfoy said incredulously.

"You were best mates. Not that you remembered from one time to the next. Memory charms. Important precaution. But you know how small children are; they meet each other, and they seem to think, Right. I'm four and you're four, I'm a boy and you're a boy, so let's be friends for life..."

"Friends for life?" Harry choked out.

"Oh, you know what I mean. Children at that age are completely indiscriminate."

"Good word for it," Malfoy grumbled, glaring at Harry as though it were his fault Malfoy didn't remember any of this.

"Could you—" Harry started, but paused, uncertain.

"What?" she said sharply to him.

"Well—would it be possible at this point to somehow lift the memory charms? To let us remember? There's no point now, surely, to having us block those memories." Even if they included Malfoy, he thought it might be nice to have some pleasant childhood memories.

She grimaced. "It's not an easy thing. I'll look it up and get back to you."

"In the meantime," Malfoy broke in, "I'd like to live a life outside of that ruddy room now, please. Now that I don't have to hide from Potter."

"Malfoy has a point," Harry conceded.

"It wasn't just Harry I didn't want to know about you. And is that what you always call each other? Potter and Malfoy?"

They met each other's eye and shrugged. "We always have done," Harry said feebly.

"No you haven't. You used to call each other Harry and Draco. Never mind. It'll come back to you if I can remember what I did with that book on memory charms..." Suddenly this made Harry laugh, and in a moment Malfoy caught on and also laughed. Mrs. Figg seemed bewildered. "What? What's so funny?"

"You need a remembering charm to help you find the book on memory charms!" Harry crowed delightedly, still laughing. Slowly, she cracked a smile and then joined them in their laughter. Harry realized he'd never seen her laugh before (jeering at people on television didn't count, he felt). He felt like he would never stop. Malfoy held his middle, doubling over helplessly. Just when Harry thought his life couldn't get any stranger, it did...

#/#/#

That evening they had a small sixteenth-birthday party for Draco Malfoy. Harry had managed to convince Mrs. Figg to get Indian take-away, and they had a nice curry and some violently-red tandoori chicken. It turned out that the moussaka Harry had enjoyed when he was younger had come from the Greek take-away establishment that had preceded the Indian business in the same location. Mrs. Figg confessed that she couldn't cook to save her life. This was hardly news to the boys.

They'd also talked about the changes there could be in life at Mrs. Figg's house, now that there weren't any secrets about who was staying there anymore. Harry was going to phone Hermione, tell her all about Mrs. Figg being Malfoy's nanny, and ask her to send Hedwig back. He was also going to ask permission to talk to Hermione on the phone occasionally, something he never would have dared ask Mrs. Figg before. It turned out that he couldn't use Mrs. Figg's fireplace to talk to Ron, however, because her fireplace had been taken off the Floo network as a security precaution, as had the Weasleys' fireplaces. But with Hedwig, he could at least write to Ron now without having to rely on the regular post. (He didn't think the Royal Post knew where the Burrow was anyway.) And he graciously told Malfoy he could use Hedwig to write to Ginny. Mrs. Figg still seemed nervous while they discussed these things, and mumbled something about talking to Dumbledore.

After the meal, Mrs. Figg poured herself a glass of brandy and offered some to the boys. Harry declined, remembering the watered-down whiskey Snape had given him; that had been bad enough, despite how weak it was. Malfoy accepted, but it was his birthday, Harry rationalized (and he remembered the hip flask he'd carried at the ceilidh).

She asked them how school was going, and they each told their versions of it, interrupting and contradicting each other until she shut them up with, "Enough! Quiet already! I've had enough of you sniping at each other. I changed your nappies, the pair of you! And when you were wee lads, you got on famously! I don't want to hear one more angry word from you!" She, apparently, still had that privilege.

Malfoy made a face. "Did you have to mention nappies...?"

Harry found himself agreeing about this. He was ready to make a concession. "He did finally thank me for the Quidditch Cup."

"And Potter thanked me for the House Cup," Malfoy said grudgingly.

She sighed. "Perhaps I shouldn't have put those memory charms on you. Perhaps it would have been better these past five years for you to remember that you were once friends. Wait a minute..."

She went to her desk against the wall between the dining room and kitchen; opening a deep lower drawer, she withdrew a large photo album and put it on the table so they could all see it. She opened it in the middle and turned several pages before she found what she sought.

"There. Look at that and tell me you don't look like best mates there."

It was a picture of two small, thin boys at the seaside. There were brightly-striped cabanas behind them, and their black and blond hair fluttered in the sea breeze. They were next to a large sand castle they'd apparently built together, a confused pile of dun-colored towers and steps and slightly-crooked walls. Each boy had his arm around the other's shoulders, each was holding a pail with a shovel in his free hand, squinting against the sun while gulls wheeled in the painfully blue sky. Harry felt like he could almost hear the crashing waves, and although he had never thought he had been to the seaside at any time in his life, he almost felt the memories coming back, almost felt like he could smell the salty sea...

Malfoy was turning the pages, finding more pictures of the two of them. They seemed like the best of friends, all right. Both of their faces were much rounder in the pictures; they hadn't yet lost their baby fat. They were also both painfully pale. Harry's eyes were very green; they weren't obscured by his glasses yet. It was so strange, seeing the photos, events he didn't know he'd experienced laid out before him, a part of his childhood he'd never suspected.

"Of course, when Draco was old enough for tutors, Lucius Malfoy fired me. Dumbledore didn't see that coming; he'd thought I'd be able to watch over him and keep him from being a pawn of his father's..." Mrs. Figg grimaced regretfully at Malfoy. "I did try, Draco. We tried. We never wanted you to—"

"To get this?" he asked, quietly pulling back his sleeve, showing the Mark on his arm. He covered it up again and she nodded.

"And once I wasn't able to influence your upbringing, it seemed even luckier that we kept you from remembering Harry. I always thought Albus knew best. That was another reason I thought you two shouldn't know you were in the same house. I reckoned you'd be trying to kill each other. Even though my brother wrote to me and said you were perhaps starting to get along. I just wish I could have talked to him on the day of the ceilidh." Harry remembered that "Arabella" had been the operative disguised as Ian Lucas' wife Mary (using Polyjuice Potion). He looked uncertainly at Malfoy, who still did not know the extent of Dumbledore's underground operation. Harry still didn't know the full extent of the operation. "I'm just glad he saw those Death Eaters through the pub wall and—"

"What?" Harry interrupted her. She gazed back at him.

"What's wrong?"

"You said your brother saw Death Eaters through the wall. Mad Eye Moody is your brother?"

Malfoy's jaw dropped. "I just cannot get away from that family..."

She nodded. "Aye. Alastor's my brother." She chuckled, appearing for a moment, Harry thought, like the worst Muggle stereotype of a wicked old witch. "Who do you think first called him 'Mad Eye?' Isn't that what evil little sisters are for?"

Harry shook his head, incredulous. Mrs. Figg took another drink of the brandy, moving it around her mouth slowly before swallowing and gazing into the distance thoughtfully.

"Half-brother, he is, actually. Our dad was Cameron Moody. Lived in Edinburgh. He fell in love with a married woman, and a Muggle, no less. She was twice his age, if you can believe it. Oh, dad was a charmer. She never got a divorce; when they learned she was pregnant, they ran off together to the Isle of Skye. There Alastor was born on New Year's Day, 1897. Almost a hundred years ago, now. She was already almost forty, and they didn't have any more babies; none that lived, at any rate. Alastor's never said precisely, just hinted that they tried to have more and couldn't manage it. To all intents and purposes, Morag Fraser lived as dad's wife, even called herself Morag Moody. When Alastor was a few years old, they moved to a village in Yorkshire with a small wizarding community, hidden from the surrounding Muggles. They told everyone they were married. Alastor lived there until he went to Hogwarts. And then..."

"What?"

"He went to Hogwarts with her."

Harry and Malfoy looked at each other, perplexed. "Who?" Malfoy demanded.

"Cathy Marvolo."

"Oh," Harry said, swallowing. From the name 'Marvolo' he assumed he knew who she was.

"Who?" Malfoy said again.

"Tom Riddle's mother," Harry informed him. Mrs. Figg didn't correct him, so he knew he was right. Malfoy was still blank. "Tom Marvolo Riddle was Voldemort's real name." Malfoy's eyes opened wide. Mrs. Figg continued.

"Alastor was in love with her, in fact. But Cathy had met this Muggle in her village, Little Hangleton. After she finished at Hogwarts, she spent years pursuing him, but never told him she was a witch. They married in 1926, and in 1927, he was born. I was born the same year, was in the same year at Hogwarts with him. With Voldemort."

Malfoy swallowed; now she had said the name. Harry remembered Malfoy saying the name in wizard court, and wondered how difficult that had been for him. "But," Malfoy said in a musing voice, "wasn't your mum almost seventy by then? And a Muggle?"

"I told you; Alastor and I are half-siblings. His mum died in 1924. She was in her sixties. Perfectly normal Muggle life span for those times. I'm not sure of the cause of death. Dad mourned her a couple of years before meeting a witch called Amelia Chesterton—my mum—and married her and they had me. Alastor was a bit scandalized, he told me when I was almost done Hogwarts. My mum was five years younger than him! And Dad expected him to call her mum, too! Which he never did; Alastor called her Amelia, and that was fine with her..."

"So," Harry said breathlessly, "you were in school with Voldemort. Tom Riddle, I mean. And Hagrid. And you—did you know Myrtle? Before she was killed? Do you remember when the Chamber of Secrets was opened?"

Mrs. Figg waved her hand at him. "Stop, stop. I don't have the strength tonight. All in good time. Yes, I remember all that. Let's leave that for some other time, shall we? You have work tomorrow, and I need my beauty sleep." She actually cracked a smile, and Harry could see a slight resemblance then, between her and her brother. Not the way Moody was now, but the way he remembered him from Dumbledore's Pensieve. And she and her brother had both been in Slytherin, Moody at the same time as the witch who was at that time the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin, and who became Tom Riddle's mother, and Mrs. Figg with Tom Riddle himself...

#/#/#

Harry hadn't exactly been prepared to give Malfoy a birthday gift of any kind, so he said he'd vouch for him to Trevor, if he really wanted a job. Mrs. Figg had seemed nervous about allowing this, but she didn't say anything. So it was that Draco Malfoy accompanied him to Magnolia Crescent in the morning. Trevor eyed Malfoy suspiciously when Harry showed up with the pale blond boy. He pulled a phone out of his back pocket and punched the small buttons quickly.

"Oi, Dick! Trev 'ere. It's our 'Arry, it is. Brought a mate round, lookin' for work. Dunno. Lessee..." He nodded at Malfoy. "You there. What you call y'self?"

He hesitated for a second. "Draco Malfoy."

Trevor said the name into the small phone. Malfoy leaned over to Harry and whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "What is he talking to?"

"A phone. Surely you've heard of telephones."

"I thought they had curly cords, and were attached to walls in houses..."

"Not anymore. Well, people still have those, too. But they have these also now."

Malfoy frowned, staring at Trevor listening to Dick. Dick seemed to be talking quite a lot. Trevor was grunting every few seconds and nodding. (Harry had seen his aunt and uncle doing this, nodding while on the phone. It seemed pointless, and yet it also seemed to be something that humans could not help doing.) It was strange for Harry, not seeing Dick. In the previous year he'd become so accustomed to seeing Sirius, for instance, when he called him from Snape's office. Of course, you couldn't very well carry a fireplace in your back pocket...

"Right," Trevor said suddenly into the phone after not talking for quite a while. Both Harry and Malfoy had been shifting their feet restlessly, waiting for the verdict.

Trevor folded up the phone and put it back in his pocket. "'Ere's 'ow it is. Dick knows I don' much like trainin' anyone new. No offense, lad, that's just me. 'E's the one 'oo trained up our 'Arry proper, las' summer. So we're going to switch off. I'll be supervisin' the job over in New Stokington, an' Dick'll be the boss 'ere. 'E should show up soon. Mebbe you can get 'im started, eh?" he said to Harry.

Harry nodded and gestured for Malfoy to follow him, to get gloves and tools. Malfoy was more than a little awkward. His arms were thin and singularly lacking muscle. He had a scholar's pallor and seemed more likely to burn and become lobster red than to tan. But Harry soon found that if there was one thing Malfoy had in abundance, it was determination. Harry watched him digging, sweat dripping off his brow, a scowl on his face as he put his foot on the spade, willing it to cut through the hard soil, gritting his teeth as he worked. Malfoy engaged in manual labor, Harry thought. Now I've seen everything.

Finally, Dick's dirty blue Renault pulled into the Galbraiths' driveway. Harry stood up from where he'd been patting soil around the roots of a rubber plant. He smiled and waved at Dick, who nodded at him, turning to Trevor, who was waiting to talk to him. Dick was as brown as ever, with the same snapping blue eyes, the white hair brushed back from his brow, the deep smile lines around his mouth and eyes.

When he was done with Trevor, he strode over to Harry, his hand out. "Good to see you again, Harry." After grasping his hand he turned to Draco Malfoy, who started to put his hand out too before freezing, staring in clear disbelief at the older man.

"You!" was all he could say, his mouth hanging open.

Harry frowned at him. Malfoy thought he knew Dick. But Dick was smiling and nodding at Malfoy, grasping his hand.

"Hello again, Draco."

He does know Malfoy, Harry thought in amazement. But how—?

Harry leaned in, peering at the deeply tanned face and twinkling blue eyes, mentally superimposing facial hair on the clean-shaven face, lengthening the hair, adding half-moon spectacles...

Harry's eyes suddenly opened wide, and his voice caught as he said the word softly, still unsure, not completely convinced he wasn't insane.

"Aberforth?"

#/#/#

Note: It was through reading Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler that I first learned of books with uncut pages. I highly recommend this book, plus the beautiful Invisible Cities and two of Calvino's novellas: The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount.

#/#/#

Please be a responsible reader and review.