Author's Notes: Thank-you to my BETA readers, Koorime, Chibibecca and Schlicky – you’ve all been a big help in setting my head straight while writing this ^^
For informative purposes, I wrote Blaise as a girl long before we found out, from JKR herself, that Blaise is, in fact, a boy. Please live with it.
I apologize for my absolutely terrible attempt at a Sorting Hat Song, and I thank ParanoidQ for helping me to realize it needed a little work to get it to the standard it is now at.
Obviously all recognizable characters are copyright J.K.Rowling, I do not wish to infringe on anything, I’m just writing what got stuck in my head. All other characters and the original story are copyright to myself.
By Whisper Elmwood
Fully prepared for what would likely happen at the other end, Harry Potter stepped into the fire, stating firmly, "The Burrow!" as he did so. He clung determinedly to his small suitcase, tucking his elbows in for good measure, hoping he wouldn't break his glasses, which he'd shoved in his pocket.
There was the usual flurry of movement, near misses with various grates and soot before he tumbled onto his knees, the wind knocked out of him. He looked up, still clutching the suitcase and saw two vaguely human shapes in front of him. One was topped with bright red, the other, a lot of mousy brown.
Sighing inwardly, he recognized his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
Letting go of the suitcase, he pulled out his glasses and slipped them on over his nose, so he could see the couple clearly. Completely ignoring the looks on both their faces, as well as the newspaper cutting in Ron's hands, he climbed to his feet, dusting himself off. When he was done, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked at them both pointedly.
"So, how's your holiday been?"
Ron nearly exploded.
"What the hell do you mean, 'how's you holiday been'?!" The tall red-head jumped up, brandishing the clipping in Harry's face. "What is going on?! First there's this bloody outrageous article about you and Malfoy, then there's reports of Death Eaters, where you happen to be staying and then we hear from the Aurors that you have to stay here for the rest of the holiday!"
Ron waved the clipping at him again and Harry clearly saw Draco's photograph narrowing its eyes. "Dumbledore himself wrote to mum and dad about it all! And you just stand there asking stupid bloody questions!"
Harry stood silently for a moment, wondering whether Ron had anything else to say. Eventually, Ron sputtering indignantly as he did so, he asked Hermione, "Has he been like this all week?"
Hermione nodded, a gleam in her eyes as Ron yelled, "Harry!" throwing his hands in the air in annoyance. In his turn, Harry folded his arms and looked at the red-head with a stern expression. After a pause, Ron seemed to calm down and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, looking at the floor.
Harry took a breath. "The article about me and Draco," Ron and Hermione's eyes both widened at the Slytherin's given name, "is pretty much right. We met a day or so into my holiday. No, Ron, he has not hexed me, given me any kind of potion or addled my brain. Nor is he using me as a means to join the Death Eaters in all the glory it would undoubtedly give him. Voldemort," still, after all this time, Ron flinched slightly, "tortured that ambition out of him last summer for reasons I will not get into now."
He paused a moment, looking Ron straight in the eyes, "Draco has Dumbledore's trust, as well as mine."
Ron looked ready to explode again, but Harry interrupted him. "We were sitting outside the Abbey when the first attack happened. I - was recovering from some injuries I don't want to talk about." He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up more than usual, wishing he was back in Draco's hotel room. "I had dinner with a Death Eater the same night they decided to attack me. They killed two muggles to get at me. I killed one of them in return."
Ron's blue eyes widened and Hermione let out what sounded like an involuntary gasp. "They Crucio'd me in to unconsciousness before the Aurors arrived and then Draco looked after me. We were in his hotel room when Arcadia was attacked," he fought back a smile at the thought of what they had been doing at the time; "Draco talked to Rita Skeeter and broke her Quick-Quotes-Quill when she pissed him off."
A surprised snort from Ron made him look up. "We followed two Death Eaters and witnessed them murder a man who worked with Uncle Vernon." He saw the expression on Ron's face but closed his eyes, seeing that flash of green light again. He sighed heavily and continued, "I forgot my Occlumency and had another vision, Draco threatened the Dursleys for me and now I'm here."
He looked back at his two closest friends again, the emotion in his eyes completely unhidden, "I had to leave Draco behind, even though Voldemort knows he's renounced him, even though I know Voldemort's pissed off and - "
He realised he'd clenched his fists and was surprised by the fear running through him. It was strange, he never felt fear for himself these days, but he felt it plenty for those around him, those he put in danger just by knowing them. Now he felt it for the blonde Slytherin in unchecked amounts and he knew he was helpless to do anything about it.
There was a long moment of silence. He unclenched his fists, looking straight at Ron the entire time, then grabbed his suitcase and strode from the room.
He was cornered in the hallway by Molly Weasley. She was all motherly concern and big smiles, wrapping her arms round him and ruffling his hair. Eventually, she told him he was staying in Ron's room, in the spare bed.
He thanked her, heartily, and then made his way up to Fred and George’s old room. When he opened the door, he was surprised by the amount of Chuddly Cannons posters on the walls. If anything, Ron's new room was even more vibrant than his old one. He must have had a lot more memorabilia stored away than Harry had even attempted to guess at.
He smiled to himself and made his way to the spare bed at the far side of the room. At least the bed covers on this one were a mercifully darker tone than the orange everywhere else. He dumped his suitcase on the covers and began sorting through his things.
When he was about halfway through, Ron stuck his head round the door. Harry glanced up, and then went back to unpacking his things. So far, all his new clothes, the ones Draco had bought him for his birthday, were neatly folded on the bed ready to go in the small set of drawers. His Hogwarts trunk was sitting at the end of the bed, with all his worldly possessions, (not that there were many), nestled inside. Hedwig was dozing in her cage on the dresser.
He felt Ron standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. After a moment the tall boy asked, "Where'd you get all the new clothes?"
Harry glanced up and realised Ron had gained another half inch since the beginning of the summer. Would he ever stop growing? Ron was now a full two inches taller than him, and Harry wasn't exactly short himself. He smiled slightly and then turned back to his task.
"Draco's birthday gift," he said simply.
There was a stony silence as he began placing the clothes in the drawers. Harry knew very well that Ron was silently seething. It had always been a sore point to the youngest Weasley boy how little his family had in the way of finances, and now Harry, his best friend, was being given expensive gifts by one of the richest wizards around. Of course, it didn't help that this wizard also happened to be the same one who had been taunting the Weasleys about their lack of money for the past six years. Even if he had made a point of not doing it last year, Harry mused.
"That's nice," Ron's voice was curt, a little strained. "Our gifts for you are downstairs."
Harry nodded, remembering Hermione's letter, shouldering away from the memories of the night he had received it. If he never saw Uncle Vernon again, he would be very much surprised. "Thank you," he said quietly, sitting back on his heels, looking at the suitcase without seeing it.
"Please don't hate me, Ron. I couldn't stand it if you did." He closed his eyes for a moment, not moving, listening to his best friend. If he lost him now, after all they had been through together, over something as silly as befriending Draco Malfoy, it would be too much.
"I don't hate you, Harry, I just don't understand. I mean, Malfoy! Ever since we met him we've hated him! Same goes for the slimy bastard; since day one he's been bloody horrible to us, to you." There was a second's pause, "Do I have to remind you of what he did to us all in, well, every year?"
"No." Harry climbed to his feet and looked at the tall red-head, "No, you don't. I can't explain it, Ron, not properly. He's just changed since last summer." He ran a hand through his unruly hair, trying to find the words.
"We've all changed since that summer," he looked into Ron's questioning blue eyes, "Something happened to Draco a couple of weeks before term started. Do you remember the vision I had then?"
Realization began to dawn in the clear blue eyes, "That was him? But, You- Know-Who, well, he tried to-" Ron stuttered to a halt, a look of horror on his face.
Harry nodded, "Yeah, and tortured him when he tried to fight him off. It opened his eyes, made him realise a few things. Surely you must have noticed he left everyone alone last year?"
Ron looked thoughtful for a moment, "Yeah, actually. He was a little quiet last year."
Harry took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, relieved that Ron was beginning to understand, that he wouldn't lose his best friend. He slipped the glasses back on again and looked up at the other boy. Ron was looking at him thoughtfully, his arms folded.
"This doesn't mean I'm going to start liking him, you know. I still think he's a little git with a superiority complex. But," he said the word firmly, obviously making sure Harry was listening, "for your sake, I may try to tolerate him."
Harry grinned, completely amazed by his friend’s words.
Ron gave a small smile in return and seemed to gather his thoughts, dropping his hands to his sides, "So, need any help with unpacking?"
The talk with Hermione turned out to be much easier; she had already put two and two together after Harry had turned up and given his brief recount of the past two weeks. She also happened to have a better memory than Ron, and clearly remembered Draco's strangely quiet behavior last year.
All this meant that Harry didn't have to explain too much and the three of them got down to relaxing and doing their summer homework - something Harry had neglected over the past few weeks.
On the Wednesday, Fred and George visited and, indeed, were as annoyingly secretive as Hermione had said in her letter. They would let little words slip here and there while talking, but nothing anyone other than they would understand, and no amount of wheedling from anyone at the Burrow could persuade them to come clean.
Harry eventually gave up, satisfied with the idea that he would find out at some point, as, after all, these were the Weasley Twins.
When they left, he and Ron talked late into the night as the red-head tried to figure out what they were up to, talking over the latest Quidditch results, and wondering who would be taking their DADA lessons this year. A pompous young man named Oscar Defoe had taken the class last year, but had quit due to stress in late June - Harry and Ron often toyed with the idea that he had done it simply to continue the rumor of the job being cursed.
Thursday and Friday were taken up with a visit from Charlie and his new girlfriend, Antonia Melville, a short but bubbly girl with just as many calluses and dragon burns to her name as Charlie.
On Saturday Harry and Ron practiced their Quidditch moves. Over the last year Ron had greatly improved, his confidence soaring when Harry had been reinstated to the position of Seeker. Hermione threw golf balls for Harry and he took turns with her to throw a football at Ron.
They had to keep low, but the copse behind the Burrow had grown a little since the last time they had done this, so the day was rather productive and Harry went to sleep with a smile on his face, even though Hermione had threatened to keep both boys inside all the next day to study.
He was angry.
The feeling washed through his body, traveling through his veins. He savored the feeling, allowed it to circulate his system before biting down on it and bringing his attention back to the present.
He was standing in a conservatory, his thin arms crossed over his even thinner chest, glaring at the ridiculous fountain in the center of the glass room. He was surrounded by plants of all kinds, ranging from the harmless and beautiful to the dangerously ugly. Narcissa Malfoy was sitting serenely on the edge of the ornate monstrosity.
He hated to be kept waiting. That damn boy was supposed to have returned by now, what the hell was he doing? Sneering to himself he scanned the room again.
He turned his head slightly when he heard tires crunching on gravel. Ah, good.
Turning blood red eyes on his men, he nodded, taking note of the malicious and anticipatory smiles on two of the Death Eaters’ faces. He was going to enjoy this evening's activities, though perhaps not quite so much as they would.
After a few more moments there was the sound of the front door opening. "Mother? Are you home?" The voice echoed round the entrance hall. Narcissa didn't move, she simply blinked and turned her pale eyes on her master. She trailed her fingers through the water, a slow smile caressing her lips, taking a small silvery-gold talisman from her pocket.
He turned and faced the doorway, listening to the boy's movements. It sounded like he was kicking his luggage through the doorway.
He unfolded his arms and made his way to the door. He opened it and looked at the back of Draco Malfoy's perfectly combed head. He grinned to himself, "Ahhh, Draco...."
His red eyes followed the cloak as it dropped to Draco's feet as the boy flinched. He must know why I'm here, he thought with a distinct smirk. He stood still, in the exact center of the doorway, glancing once around the hall before fixing his gaze on the hapless turn-coat before him.
Draco turned and he relished the fear in his eyes, the pale gray gone dark with undisguised emotion. With a nasty smile, he withdrew his wand from the recesses of his enveloping robes and took a step forward, locking his red cat-like eyes on the dread filled gray-blue. The blonde's legs nearly gave way as he did so.
"Draco, we have been waiting for you. I do so hate to be kept waiting," he whispered, just loud enough for Draco to hear his words in the stillness of the hall.
He had been kept waiting for far too long. Standing in that revolting conservatory for nearly half an hour had put him in a foul mood and this young Potter-worshipper was going to feel the full extent of his wrath.
He felt the anger pool through his system again, one of the only feelings he allowed himself these days and a faint smile touched upon his thin lips as he raised the wand, eyes flickering.
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