Harry Potter rested his tired head against his bedroom window at 4 Privet Drive, listening distractedly to the thick drumming of rain beating against the glass; he sighed heavily, watching his breath take hazy form on its smooth, cool surface. Although the clock next to his bed read 6am, one wouldn't know it from looking outside, as an omnipresent veil of gray stretched across the skies of Surrey, casting dark shadows over the little village. It was highly unusual to see such a storm in the middle of summer, and the fact that it had persisted for almost two days now made it all the more peculiar.
Harry had set his alarm clock to wake him up that morning, in hopes that for once, his awakening would be prompted by something other than the echoing screams of his nightmares, or the searing burn of his scar; but as usual, each had provided him with a sufficient wake-up call. Everyday since returning to Privet Drive he had had nightmares. Sometimes they were mild, jolting him from his sleep for only a few moments; but other times, they were fierce and vivid, to the point where he was afraid to close his eyes again.
Tonight, Harry dreamt that he was at Cedric's funeral, watching his mahogany casket being lowered into the ground. All around him he heard the sobs of Cedric's friends and family, and as he looked around, Harry suddenly noticed they were all glaring at him, their eyes glinting maliciously behind their tears. A face particularly clear among the crowd was Cho Chang, who stood stoically in the background, looking down upon Cedric's coffin. Suddenly, Harry felt a firm hand on his shoulder, and he looked up into Amos Diggory's tortured face.
"It should have been you, boy," Cedric's father snarled angrily. "You! Not Ced!"
Harry stumbled back, releasing himself from Mr. Diggory's tight grip, and turned to run; but he couldn't, because Cho stood right in front of him, her face stricken with sadness.
"Oh, Harry," she breathed, her voice echoing in his head. "How could you?"
He turned again, only to now find himself surrounded by Cedric's circle of loved ones, all chanting the same word: "Murderer."
At this, Harry jerked awake, and ever since he was unable to get back to sleep. He was getting used to these nightmares, one after the other, each one more vivid than the last. He had quickly come to realize he couldn't do anything about them, so instead he would just sit by his window and wait for his nerves to calm, or do a round of push-ups or sit-ups to burn off some tension. He figured he might as well put his insomnia to good use.
He got up and walked over to his desk, on top of which laid a very small stack of birthday cards, delivered just last evening. He was fifteen now, no longer the boy he once was, having grown an inch in the month since coming back to the muggle world. Thanks to puberty and those late-night rounds of exercise, his body was no longer scrawny, but slender and lean, with the first indication of muscle starting to fill in his broadening frame.
Harry grinned as he picked the cards off his desk and returned to the window. To pass the time, he read each one again, savoring the feeling of contentment that swelled in his chest as his eyes scanned the paper. The first card at the top of the stack was from Hermione, which had the number 15 emblazoned in emerald green across the cover. He opened the card.
Happy Birthday! I hope you received this card on time, as I'm currently on holiday in Switzerland with my parents and had a difficult time finding a Wizarding post office within the near vicinity. The countryside is absolutely stunning here, so much so that it's becoming extremely difficult to concentrate on my summer studies, if you can believe that?
So how are you doing? Is everything…okay? I hope you like your present. It's nothing extravagant or anything, but merely a simple reminder of how much we love and care about you, Harry. Never forget that. I'm looking forward to seeing you when we all meet up at Ron's house later this summer. Until then, Happy 15th.
All my love,
Harry glanced down at Hermione's present and smiled. Inside the card was a Wizard photograph of Ron, Himself, and Hermione, taken by Colin Creevey during their second year. He watched himself and his friends moving in the picture, hugging, making faces at the camera, and putting bunny-ears behind each other's head. Harry felt a strong wave of nostalgia hit him, remembering that day, which felt like a lifetime ago. He placed Hermione's card aside, and was now staring at Ron's, which had a moving photo of several snitches flying across a clear blue sky on the cover. The photo looked eerily similar to the one he'd seen on Uncle Vernon's computer, the one with the flying toasters. Harry flipped the card open.
Happy 15th, mate! Yeah, I know, where did the time go? Anyway, if you're reading this I'm assuming Errol made it safely to the muggles' house. We almost decided to use a ministry owl instead, since Mum wasn't sure whether Errol could handle such a hefty delivery, what with him being ancient and all. But he seemed awfully stubborn and determined to take on the job, so we eventually gave in.
So, do you like your present? It's a dragon's tooth; it's supposed to protect you from evil spirits, or so Charlie told me when we visited him in Romania. Percy said it was nothing but rubbish – but, I don't know, what's the harm in a little superstition, eh? You never know, right? It might come in handy someday.
How's everything going with the muggles? I hope they aren't bringing you down, but if they are, maybe this bit of news will cheer you up: Mum spoke to Dumbledore and he's agreed to let you stay over at the Burrow later this summer, in about 2 weeks time. Hermione will be here too. It's been a pretty boring summer without you guys. We've already arranged for the Knight Bus to pick you up; so, set your calendar, mate.
P.S. Enclosed is mum's usual assortment of baked goodies. Enjoy!
Harry smiled at the half-eaten mince meat pies and birthday cake on his desk. Mrs. Weasley had truly outdone herself this year. He then glanced at the calendar near his bed, the days of July all marked with red X's. This bit of news cheered him up considerably, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Summer with the Dursleys was beginning to take its toll. As usual, they completely ignored him when he returned to Privet Drive after his fourth year – but Harry didn't expect any different from them. It just reaffirmed how much they were not his family, for a true family would have noticed the lethargic demeanor in his step, the bags under his eyes -- not to mention the sadness within them. Harry reckoned if it hadn't been for the occasional owl from Hermione or Ron, he would have gone insane by now.
A sudden roar of thunder resonated across the sky. The storm had gotten considerably worse since he went to bed a couple of hours ago. Luckily he sent Errol home when he did, when there was only a light drizzle coming down. He also sent Hedwig to deliver a letter to Sirius, and he hoped she had managed to get far before the weather had taken a turn for the worse.
Harry swallowed thickly, feeling a dry, scratchy sensation in his throat, suddenly realizing how thirsty has was. He decided it was no use trying to get back to sleep and, placing his cards back on his desk, made his way downstairs to the kitchen to get a glass of water. He withdrew a plastic cup from the cabinet, and filled it up beneath the faucet. As he drank his tap water, he thought about Hogwarts' famous pumpkin juice, and how much he missed it. It was just another reminder of where his home was. After his thirst was quenched, Harry looked through the fridge for a snack. Sneaking food at night had become a necessity for Harry over the years; he simply couldn't survive on mince pies and cake alone. The funny thing though was that Aunt Petunia never said anything about it, and Harry knew she must have noticed some food missing when she opened up the fridge the next morning. Whatever the reason, Harry liked to think it was because, deep down, she still had an inkling of kindness left in her. It was a healthy illusion he willingly submitted to, just to keep his sanity intact if nothing else.
Gazing at all the various foods in the fridge, Harry noticed he really wasn't that hungry. He was just about to close the door when a loud BANG sounded from outside, followed by a flash of light, startling him.
"What the devil?" he breathed, turning toward the window to see what it was.
However, he saw nothing but the thrashing of rain against it, and he shrugged. Probably just some lightening, he thought to himself. He closed the refrigerator door, and proceeded into the entryway. As he walked toward the stairs, he heard a mild thud on the front door. He stopped, not entirely sure whether he truly heard it or not. He waited a moment and listened, but there was only silence. He furrowed his brow slightly and started to walk again, but as soon as he stepped forward, he heard it again, only this time there was no mistaking it. Then all at once, the thud quickly escalated to a loud, frantic pounding. Someone was pounding on the door! But who would be pounding on the Dursley's door at this early hour, in this kind of weather, no doubt?
Harry quickly made his way over to the door and looked through the peep hole, but it was too dark and wet to see anything clearly.
"Who's there?" Harry called from behind the door.
But no one answered, only the pounding continued. At this rate, the whole neighborhood would be awake within minutes. Harry sucked in a quick breath and, throwing caution to the wind, unlocked the front door and opened it. And before him stood...
"Potter, thank god," Draco panted, anxiously looking around as if someone were following him. "Quick, let me in."
"W-What?" Harry stammered, completely incredulous at the sight of Malfoy on the doorstep of Privet Drive. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Will you just let me in?" Draco spat impatiently, rain slapping against his sodden robes. "It's bloody pouring outside!"
But Harry didn't move, partly out of astonishment, but mostly because this was, after all, Draco Malfoy he was speaking to. "How did you get all the way out here in Little Whinging?" he inquired, his mind still spinning with confusion. "Come to think of it," he added, "how do you even know where I stay during the summer holidays?"
Draco fervently looked around himself again. "Look, I'll explain later when I don't have liters of water seeping into my shoes," he replied, a sense of urgency creeping into his voice. "Now stop being a git and let me in."
Harry blinked, and then let out a short, dry laugh as he folded his arms in front of his chest. "You're joking, right? I suggest you explain yourself now, Malfoy, because you're just seconds away from having a door slammed in your face."
"God, you're such a wanker, Potter!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "I don't have time for this," he said, starting to close the door. "See you at King's Cross in September, if you manage not to die of hypothermia by then."
"Wait, wait," Draco said hastily, pushing against the door. For fleeting moment, Harry thought he saw a pleading look flash across Draco's face, but it was instantly replaced by his usual complacent expression. "Alight, alright."
Harry raised an eyebrow expectantly.
Draco took a deep breath and sighed. "I ran away from home, okay?"
Harry blinked, still very much confused. "Why?" was all he could think of to say.
"That's none of you're business, Potter," Draco said smugly.
"That still doesn't explain why you're here – in a muggle neighborhood," Harry pointed out. He narrowed his eyes on Draco and shook his head. "Nice try, Malfoy, but I'm not in the mood for another one of your pranks, so you can go back to wherever it is you came from and tell your Slytherin mates it didn't work."
He started to shut the door again when Draco placed his hand firmly on it. "Listen, this isn't a prank, you prat," insisted Draco. "I have no place else to g-g-AHH-CHOO!"
Harry flinched, his forehead catching some of the spray from Draco's sneeze. "What do you mean," he wiped his forehead irritably, "you have no place else to go?"
Draco sniffed. "Again, can I explain when I don't look as if I've been swimming with the giant squid all afternoon?"
Harry hesitated. What was Malfoy up to? Why was he here? Aside from pranks, Harry also hadn't neglected to consider the more serious possibility that this was merely an attempt by Lucius Malfoy, Draco's Death Eater father, to somehow lure him away from the veil of protection Dumbledore had put into place. Although Harry despised the Dursleys, he knew he was protected here by some form of magic.
"What is going on down there?" Harry suddenly heard Uncle Vernon grumble from upstairs, his voice groggy with slumber.
"Nothing," Harry called back. "Just getting a glass of water."
"Well, knock off all the noise, boy, before I come down and box your ears," Uncle Vernon bellowed.
He turned back to Draco. "Okay," Harry whispered reluctantly. "I'll let you inside until the rain stops, but if you try anything – and I mean anything – at all, I won't hesitate to use magic, even if it means risking expulsion."
Draco gracefully rolled his eyes and mumbled a sound of affirmation.
Harry slowly moved aside and Draco stepped in; and as he did so, Harry could practically hear Ron's protesting voice echoing loudly in the back of his head. "You let Malfoy into the muggles' house? Are you completely mad?!?" Harry was beginning to ask himself that same question; he knew he was playing with fire here, but his curiosity was now piqued, and he wanted some answers.
"It's about time," Draco sighed emphatically, wiping his dripping blond locks, which were plastered to his forehead, out of his eyes.
"Shh, keep your voice down," Harry hissed, shutting the front door. "I can't believe I'm even doing this. Remember, Malfoy, one misstep, and you can drown outside for all I care."
"Don't get your knickers in such a twist, Potter," Draco said casually, though he did lower his voice a bit.
Harry groaned, as he finally took a good look at Malfoy, who was utterly drenched from head to toe. "Look at you; you're dripping water all over the place."
Draco shot him a look as if to say, "Duh!"
"C'mon, I have to get you upstairs before anyone wakes up and sees you," said Harry, thinking of the aneurysm Aunt Petunia would have at the sight of dirty water all over her clean floor, let alone finding a strange boy inside her house. He cocked his head at the stairs. "Follow me."
Both boys slowly trudged up the stairs, Harry in front, trying to remain as quiet as possible, which turned out to be considerably difficult because of Draco's waterlogged attire. They reached the top of the stairs, and the resounding snores coming from down the hall told Harry his relatives were still asleep. Judging from the time on his watch, he estimated the Dursley's would be asleep for at least another hour.
"What a pitiful looking residence you've got here, Potter," said Draco in a superior tone, as he surveyed the plain hallway, with its beige carpeting and dull walls. "But then again, I suppose when compared to Weasley's lopsided shack, this must feel like Buckingham Palace."
"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry whispered warningly. "You're more than welcome to go back outside in the rain if this 'pitiful residence' isn't to your liking."
Draco scowled slightly but didn't say anything.
"Over here." He motioned Draco to follow. As he treaded quietly to his room, Harry grabbed a clean towel from the hallway cabinet, which was meticulously folded and arranged with the others according to color and size. "You can dry off with this," he whispered, his back to Draco. "Okay, Malfoy? Malfoy?"
Harry spun around, and saw that Draco had made his way down the opposite end of the hall, and was now peeking into Dudley's bedroom.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he hissed angrily as he approached Draco with two quick strides. "I thought I told you to follow me."
"Who's that oafish git?" asked Draco, ignoring Harry and nodding at Dudley's massive sleeping body.
"My cousin," he replied shortly, gently closing Dudley's door so as not to wake him.
Draco snorted. "You're related to that whale?"
He gave Harry a peculiar look. "What, no retort? Aren't you going to defend him like you always do for Weasel and Mudblood?"
"Malfoy," Harry sighed, the insults to his friends fueling his irritation and anger. "Either you shut up and follow me, or sod off."
Draco shrugged nonchalantly. "Okay, okay."
Harry turned and walked into his room, shutting the door quickly once Draco was inside.
"Here." He threw the towel at Malfoy.
"So this is famous Harry Potter's bedroom," Draco's muffled voice came from under the towel as he dried his hair. He lifted it from his head and looked around the room. "Not too impressive for the boy who lived, if you ask me."
"Enough of this, Malfoy," Harry cut in sharply. "I want to know why you're here – now."
Draco looked down at his robes. "Can I get some dry clothes, first?"
"No!" Harry snapped, his irritation having reached its peak. "Out with it, Malfoy!"
Draco opened his mouth to speak, but whatever it was he was about to say was cut off by a shrill cry from down the hall, one that could've only belonged to Aunt Petunia. She must've just woken up and seen the cascade of water from the upstairs banister.
"Dammit." Harry hurriedly grabbed Draco by his arm. "Quick! In here," he said, opening his closet door and shoving Draco inside.
"Hey! What's the big—" He promptly shut the door in Draco's face, silencing him.
"Don't make a sound or you'll be back outside before you can say 'umbrella'," Harry whispered against the door.
He could hear Aunt Petunia's frantic steps from across the hallway, rapidly approaching his room. He braced himself just as his door swung open, revealing his fuming Aunt, who was still in her nightgown and curlers.
"What is the meaning of this?" she shrieked, pointing in the direction of stairs. "What have you done to my clean floor?"
"Er…," Harry quickly searched his mind for a credible explanation. "I spilt some water?" he offered lamely. A quiet chortle escaped from the closet.
Aunt Petunia's face contorted in annoyance. "Obviously!" she spat. "What were you bloody doing downstairs? Leaving the front door open so the whole storm could get inside?"
Suddenly, her eyes grew very wide, and then she narrowed them on Harry with such cold calculation that they became nothing more than two fine points. "This better not be another one of your…tricks!" She said the last word as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.
"You know I can't do any 'tricks' outside of school," Harry reminded her calmly, trying to keep his face devoid of any deception. "I just spilt some water when I went downstairs to get a drink." He swallowed hard and grudgingly added with forced remorse, "I'm sorry."
"Right you are, sorry," Petunia rebuked, not buying Harry's feigned apologize. "Now get downstairs and clean it up before your Uncle and Dudley wake up. I want to see my reflection in that floor again!"
Harry mentally suppressed the impulse to tell his Aunt off. After what he went through last term, having faced the Dark Lord himself, the Dursleys were nothing more than an inconvenience now, and Harry often chuckled to himself when remembering how intimidated he used to be around them; however, given the current circumstances, he didn't want to complicate matters. He already had enough to worry about with Malfoy in the house.
"Fine," he said simply, casually walking past his Aunt and leaving her somewhat flabbergasted at his willing compliance in his wake.
As Harry walked downstairs, he let out a small sigh of relief when he heard Aunt Petunia shut his bedroom door and follow him down the stairs.
"The mop is in your old room," she said tersely.
Harry knew that – hell, that's where they had always kept it, even when he was still living in the cupboard. His relatives just enjoyed making these snide comments, as if to remind him that he was nothing more than some moldy fungus that had sprouted from under a rock. But Harry's mind was elsewhere as he took the mop from the cupboard and proceeded to clean the entryway.
As he mopped, several probing questions dashed through Harry's head. Why is Malfoy here? How did he get here? And how does he know where I stay during the summer? The only logical explanation that he kept coming back to was that this was merely another attempt by Voldemort to get to him, this time by using Draco as the device. In that case, he could be in great danger even at this very moment. Maybe Voldemort was on his way right now.
Harry quickened his pace, the mere thought of his arch nemesis roaming freely and unattended in his room making him cringe with discomfort. He's probably searching every square inch at this every moment, Harry thought to himself, rummaging through my desk or looking for my Hogwarts trunk. Suddenly, Harry froze, remembering the loose floorboard under his bed, which held the majority of his most cherished magical possessions, his wand and invisibility cloak being just some of them.
Becoming highly restless now, Harry surveyed his work hastily; looking satisfactory, he tossed the mop back into the cupboard without a second thought and made a dash for the stairs. "Done!" he declared loudly to his Aunt who was in the kitchen making breakfast. He didn't wait for a response as he climbed the stairs two at a time, rushing to get back to his room.
Harry practically tripped over himself as he opened his door. Once inside, he found Draco not in the closet, but on the opposite side of the room, shifting through his dresser. "What – are – you – doing?" Harry huffed angrily, trying to catch his breath.
"Tighty-whities, Potter?" Draco chuckled amusingly, holding up a pair of Harry's briefs by his fingertips. "I prefer boxers myself."
"Give me that!" Harry walked briskly over to Draco and snatched his underwear back, his face going hot with anger and embarrassment. He shoved Draco away from his dresser and threw his underwear back inside. "You were supposed to stay where you were; suppose if someone came in and saw you."
"I was only looking for some dry clothes," Draco scoffed indignantly. "My skin is turning purple from being in these wet robes for so long."
Harry sighed impatiently. "Here," he said, opening his dresser and grabbing the nearest sweat shirt and pants he could see and throwing them at Draco. "You can put those on."
Draco shot him a dubious look. "Uh, Potter?" He unfolded the sweat shirt and held it out in front of him; it was easily ten sizes too big. "I said clothes, not bed sheets."
"Tough, Malfoy, but that's all you're getting."
Harry wasn't about to let Malfoy wear any of the clothes that actually fit him – no, Dudley's hand-me-downs would do just fine for his archrival.
Draco sighed and grunted in annoyance. "Well, then where's the bathroom," he asked. "I need someplace to change."
"Oh no." Harry shook his head. "I'm not letting you out of this room. I may not know what you're playing at yet, Malfoy, but don't think for a second I'm going to let you out of my sight. You can change right here."
"No!" Draco snapped abruptly, and again Harry saw the same pleading look flicker across his features, before it instantly disappeared once again. "I'm flattered Potter, really I am," Draco drawled sarcastically, immediately recovering with his patented smirk in place, "but you're not my type."
Maybe he just imagined it, Harry thought to himself, but that was the second time he saw that pleading look in Draco's eyes. Besides, since when did Malfoy have qualms about changing in front of people? For goodness sakes, he's was a Quidditch player; he dressed out all the time for practices and matches. Something was obviously not right here.
Harry narrowed his eyes slightly. "Fine, you can change in there," he said warily, pointing absently to the closet.
Draco seized the opportunity at once and, ignoring the look Harry was giving him, sauntered back into the closet to change. In the meantime, Harry made his way over to his bed and sat down, trying to figure out what to do. He immediately thought of Dumbledore – yes, Dumbledore would know what to make of this, Harry thought to himself. But how could he contact him? He had already sent Hedwig out last night to deliver a letter to Sirius. It normally took her about a week or so to return whenever he sent her to him, and that was in relatively clear weather. There was no telling how long her journey would take in this raging storm. Without Hedwig, he was pretty much cut off from the Wizarding World; he couldn't even contact Ron or Hermione. A wave of dread suddenly came over Harry at the realization that he might be stuck with Malfoy until Hedwig's return. But a week with Malfoy would not only be unbearable torture, but also dangerous.
While Draco changed, Harry took the opportunity to hide whatever items of value he had left lying around his room inside the loose floorboard beneath his bed. He wasn't taking any chances where Draco's integrity was concerned. He got off his bed and looked out his window, hoping the storm would've eased up a bit, but the dark sky above and the thick watery veil rushing down his window told him he was out of luck.
Just then, the closet door clicked opened, and Draco emerged with an appalled look on his face. Despite himself, Harry couldn't help choking down a laugh at the sight of Malfoy in Dudley's old clothes. The stretched collar hung loosely around Draco's neck, exposing a good portion of his bare collarbone, while the wide sleeves and pant legs spilled profusely over his hands and feet, completely concealing them. It was almost like looking into the past, as Harry remembered having to wear those exact same clothes during all those countless winters inside his cupboard under the stairs.
Draco glared at Harry, who was finding it increasingly difficult not to laugh out loud right then and there. If only Ron were here to see this.
"One word, Potter," he drawled in a threatening tone.
Harry held up his hands innocently. "I didn't say anything."
"Is this what those filthy muggles normally wear?" asked Draco, disgust evident on his face as he lifted his arms horizontally, the dangling flaps of excess fabric looking almost like a pair of wings.
"Stop stalling, Malfoy," Harry said seriously, the cheeky remark from Draco having snapped him back to the issue at hand. "You're all dry now, so spill it: What are you doing here?"
"I already told you; I ran away from home."
Harry shrugged. "Big deal. What does that have to do with me? Why didn't you just ask one of your oversized goons for help? I'm sure Crabbe or Goyle would've been delighted to take in your sorry arse."
"I couldn't stay with them, you moron."
"Because," Draco explained in an exasperated tone, "I needed a place where I knew they wouldn't look for me."
"What's that suppose to mean? Who's 'they'?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Let's just say things are a bit…complicated right now at Malfoy manor, okay Potter? All I'm asking for is a place to crash for a few days until things calm down, and until I can figure out what to do."
Harry's head was beginning to hurt. He was getting nowhere with this; every question he asked only led to more unanswered questions.
"You don't get it, do you, Malfoy? You're father is a Death Eater," said Harry, enunciating the last three words for emphasis. "This isn't like some bloody sleepover. I despise you, your father, and everything you both stand for. Why in Merlin's name should I risk my well-being for you?"
The defensive retorts Harry expected in return never came, although he could see Draco gritting his teeth in a struggle to maintain his composure. Finally, he said in an even voice, "Believe me, the feeling is quite mutual, and if there was any other person I could go to, I would; but unfortunately, you're all I've got."
"You're making this all sound as if it's a matter of life and death," Harry said uncertainly.
Draco chuckled lightly. "If only it were that simple, Potter." He let out a weary sigh. "Look, you needn't be worried about your 'well-being' – this is strictly a personal matter, I assure you. Besides, I'm wandless anyway."
"Why should I believe one word of what you're saying?"
"You shouldn't," Draco idly admitted, taking Harry a bit by surprise. "I know I wouldn't if I was you." He paused for a moment, and then looked Harry right in eye. "But I guess that's why I'm not you."
Draco's words hung in the air for a moment, as both boys simply stared at each other. After about a minute, Harry awkwardly looked away.
"How did you get here, anyway?" he said in a change-of-subject sort of voice.
"The Knight Bus," Draco answered. "I didn't want to come here by broom – too much of a risk at being seen by muggles in this area."
"As if the Knight Bus is anymore discreet," Harry countered, the loud BANG and flash of light making sense now. "You're a member of one of the richest wizarding families in Great Britain; someone on that bus was bound to recognize who you were. No doubt they're with the ministry right now, giving them an eyewitness account."
"Relax, Potter." Draco waved his hand casually. He walked over to his wet robes, reached into a pocket, and withdrew a small vial. "Trust me," he said, gingerly tossing it to Harry. "No one recognized me."
Harry uncorked the empty vial, and the potent stench of overcooked cabbage immediately engulfed his senses, making him wrinkle his nose in disgust. "Polyjuice potion?"
Draco smirked. "Don't look so surprised," he said smugly. "I didn't get top marks in potions simply because I'm a Slytherin, as you and all those other whiny Gryffindors so adamantly purport."
Harry was about to ask Draco how he got the ingredients for the potion, remembering how tough some of them were to get when he, Ron, and Hermione had made it back in their second year, but ultimately figured Lucious Malfoy, given his affiliations, probably had a vast collection of potion ingredients, no doubt far more rare and dangerous than the ones needed for Polyjuice potion.
"That still doesn't explain how you know where I stay during the summer holidays."
"Blimey, you really are a dense git, aren't you?" said Draco, letting out a mirthless laugh. "Everyone knows where you stay during the summer holidays. It's in nearly every book ever written on you or the Dark Lord." He shook his head disparagingly, resentful of the fact that such fame was being wasted on someone who didn't even realize it. "Haven't you ever read Modern Magical History or Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century?"
Harry shook his head blankly, though both titles did sound awfully familiar.
"Open your eyes, Potter. 4 Privet Drive is one of the biggest Wizarding-tourist attractions in the entire UK. It's practically a bloody landmark! It didn't exactly require pulling teeth to find out where you live. Witches and Wizards from all over the world come to visit this place every year. Hell, the Knight Bus even offers special discount tours on Boxing Day."
"But how's that possible?" Harry asked, completely dumbstruck. "I've never seen any magical people near here before."
"Are you sure about that?"
Harry thought back, and before he even tried to piece together a possible explanation, it all suddenly clicked. He started to remember all those peculiar encounters he had had as a child, when complete strangers would stop him in the street to bow or shake his hand. He even remembered this one time, when an old woman in green had waved to him – on a bus!
Harry shut his eyes, mentally trying to absorb all these various revelations. Could it be? To think, the house where he had spent his early youth, with its neat hedges and tidy gardens…the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen, had been a Mecca for the wizarding world for the past fifteen years.
"I know – sickening, isn't it?" Draco remarked, taking note of Harry's shocked, yet at the same time horrified expression. "The prices they charge on those tours is scandalous."
"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry said curtly. "This isn't funny." He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head dejectedly. "All this time Privet Drive has been a tourist attraction?"
Even repeating it out loud didn't help Harry grasp this newly acquired information any better. Why hadn't anyone ever told him this before? Surely Hermione and Ron must have known? Now that he thought about it, in all the years he knew Ron and Hermione, he didn't recall ever giving either of them the Dursley's complete address – and yet, Ron never had any trouble ever finding him, the incident three years ago with the Ford Anglia immediately coming to mind. Suddenly, Harry remembered where he had heard of those two book titles; he had heard of them from…Hermione, when he first met her on the Hogwarts Express nearly five years ago. He even recalled the exact conversation:
"Are you really? I know all about you, of course – I got a few extra books for background reading, and you're inModern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
Harry slowly made his way over to his desk chair and sat down. It was simply too much to take in all at once.
"It's no big deal, Potter," Draco shrugged indifferently.
"Of course it's a big deal," Harry insisted, his incredulity slowly giving way to anger. "This whole time I thought Privet Drive was completely secluded and clandestine from the wizarding world, when in fact it's been open and accessible to the public all along. If its whereabouts are so common knowledge, then how come Voldemort hasn't been able to walk right up to the front door and get a hold of me?"
"Oh, c'mon – even you must know you're protected here?"
"I don't know what I know anymore."
"Well, Dumbledore may be a muggle-lover, but he's no idiot, that's for sure," assessed Draco. "He obviously has set up some powerful magic to keep danger away from here. Why do you think I came here to begin with?"
Harry narrowed his eyes, taking the opportunity to put the focus back on Draco. "Good question, Malfoy. Exactly why did you come here?"
Draco rolled his eyes dramatically. "I thought we already went over this."
"You conveniently neglected to mention who you're running from, or why you're running at all."
"And I already told – it's personal."
"Okay, then suppose things at your house never 'calm down'," said Harry, using air quotations for the last two words. "What then? Are you going to stay here the entire summer – because you can just forget it. I put up with you enough at school, not to mention there's no way I'd be able to hide you from the Dursleys for that long, especially without magic."
"Just let me worry about that," Draco drawled in an uninterested voice. He held up a finger. "One week, tops. That's all I'm asking."
Harry paused to think. Although practically every fiber of his being was telling him this was a bad idea, he still couldn't help considering the possibility of letting Draco stay. Sure, he was extremely smug and annoying, not to mention wildly dishonest, but he was still the son of Voldemort's most trusted servant, and there was no doubt in Harry's mind that Draco must have acquired some useful information over the years, but whether directly or indirectly, Harry couldn't say. But regardless, it was information that could prove helpful against the Dark side, if only Harry could coerce it out of Draco. Then, assuming he was telling the truth, there was the whole unanswered question of exactly why Draco ran away in the first place. He wasn't too concerned for his safety. If Draco had intended to do him harm, he could have easily done so by now, and he trusted the protection Dumbledore had instilled here. But Harry was also quick to remind himself that despite all the protection in place, Voldemort still managed to get to him twice – though never at Privet Drive, and that maybe this was his next attempt. But the idea of actually taking some initiative to inform himself, rather than just sitting around waiting for others to, was far too appealing to pass up. He had made up his mind; he had to take that chance.
"Okay, you can stay," said Harry flatly. "But only on a couple conditions."
"One: no magic."
Draco chuckled lightly. "Contrary to what you might think of me, Potter, I'm in no hurry to get expelled anymore than you are. Besides, I already told you I don't have my wand with me."
"Two: you do not step foot out of this room without me knowing. If I'm going to keep you hidden from the Dursleys for a week, I can't have you poking your head out the door whenever you feel like it."
"Three," Harry continued. "You do not touch anything in this room, unless I say you can, or if the item in question belongs to you. In other words, don't touch anything!"
"Four: you stay only a week. After that, you're on your own."
"No buts, Malfoy," Harry interrupted. "You're no longer in the wizarding world, and believe me, you chose the worst kind of muggles to serve as your first glimpse into the muggle world. So you either agree to these terms, or don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Draco put his hands to his hips. "But what if I have to use the bathroom?"
Harry stopped. He hadn't really thought about that, or come to think of it, how he was going to sneak food up to Draco. As much as he despised him, he couldn't let him starve, and he certainly wasn't about to let him wet himself all over his room. Harry cleared his throat nervously. "All questions will be answered on a need to know basis."
Draco looked incredulous.
"So, do we have a deal?" Harry asked, holding out his hand.
Draco scowled slightly, but shook it. "Deal."
"Alright then," said Harry. He glanced down at his watch: 8am. "I need to go downstairs for breakfast, otherwise they might suspect something." He knew the Dursleys wouldn't even notice if he was there or not, but nevertheless, he didn't want anything to seem out of the ordinary. "Remember, don't touch anything or go anywhere outside the confines of this room. I'll try to bring back what I can."
Harry walked over to his door.
"Tell the chef I'd like some Belgian waffles with a pinch of marmalade and jam – oh, and some freshly squeezed orange juice," Draco ordered from behind him.
Harry sighed as he opened the door. This was going to be one long week.