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by Resonant

Chapter 9: Modern History

"How come I always have to be the Dementor? Let Laurel be the Dementor this time."

"There weren't any girl Dementors, stupid."

"Then you do it. I want to be Hagrid."

"You can't be Hagrid because you've got red hair, and I can't be a Dementor because I'm shorter than you."

"Let me be Bill Weasley, then. Come on, Rhys, it's no fun to stagger about and point. It's dull."

Probably even first-years wouldn't have been playing this game if they'd known Harry could hear them, but students tended not to think about how sound carried in the Great Hall. It gave Harry a pang to watch them. He might still dream about the war nearly every night, but to these children, Dementors were no more real than the cowboys and Indians that Dudley and his friends used to play.

"You think that's odd?" Remus said, sitting down beside him. Michelle was with him, as usual; Harry gave her a cool sort of smile. "A few weeks ago I came upon Malik and Robinson pretending to be me and Sirius. They'd got Robinson's broomstick and enchanted it to sound like a motorbike ..." He gave Harry a sidelong grin. "It's only fear of getting caught that stops them playing Harry Potter where you can see them."

Harry buried his face in his hands. "I feel so old."

Michelle looked up from her flower press and laughed. "Take it up with Cypherus. He was a hundred and twenty on Tuesday."

Harry peered at Remus' stack of parchments, which were unusually sloppy and covered with blotches. "First-year compositions?" Remus nodded.

Harry looked at the top one. The Dark Arts, it said, in splotchy handwriting, include the spells used by Lord Voldemort and his supporters. Examples of these spells include ...

He raised his eyebrows. "So basically it's Dark if the bad guys use it."

Remus smiled. "That's about the standard level of sophistication, yes."

"The Beauchamp boy seems to have read Levi's 'Defining Darkness,' " Michelle put in. "So perhaps there's hope."

"It's not so easy a question as you'd think," Harry said. "Everyone here is suspicious of blood magic, but Dr. Bokor taught us to use it to lift curses and to protect babies against mal de ojo. But then, if the darkness is in the intention and not in the tool, then why are some curses Unforgivable?"

Remus gave him a long, unreadable look. "You don't have to answer this if you don't want to," he said. "But I've always wondered why you chose not to use Avada Kedavra against Voldemort."

"It wasn't scruples, really," Harry said. "We just didn't think it would work. It's rough to kill somebody who's so far from a normal definition of 'alive.' "

"You realize that scholars all over Europe are still debating how you managed to kill the Dark Lord with a spell that's meant for exorcising ghosts."

"Is that what we used? I don't remember the words. It was all Hermione's idea. I was just there to point the wand." Harry put the parchment back on the pile. "I remember that she told us all, Dumbledore and Sirius and Ron and everyone, to hold on with all our power to the idea that we belonged here and he didn't. That he'd stolen it all -- his body, his power, his life. That none of that was rightfully his, but all of it had been taken from others against their will."

"And what you did --"

"Was to trust them." Harry's smile didn't feel quite genuine. "That seems to be my only talent, really. To fall in with good people and trust them."

Remus lifted his hand as though to put it on Harry's shoulder. If he tried to comfort him now, when Dumbledore and Sirius and so many others were dead --

As though he could read what Harry was thinking, Remus dropped his hand.

After a moment Remus looked down at the stack of parchments. "You made a mistake when it came to Severus," he said. "As many of us did." He rubbed a finger over a deep gouge in the table. "It's the most difficult thing," he said, "seeing the difference between what's evil and what's merely unpleasant."

Down at the student table, Dunning appeared to have won his case and been permitted to play Bill Weasley: He'd used an adhesive charm to hang a fork from one ear, and Billsborough and Lamb had thrown napkins over their heads to impersonate Death Eaters. Now the three of them were loudly clashing together beams of light that emerged from their wands.

"Somebody needs to remind them that light sabers were only in the movies," Harry said. "What on earth is Binns teaching them about the war?"

"Nothing at all, of course. He teaches as though history were something that stopped happening in 1946," said a familiar sneer, and Harry turned and saw Malfoy and Hermione arriving at the table.

"Nothing around here is good enough for you, is it, Malfoy?" Harry said.

"Doesn't have to be good enough for me," Malfoy said, reaching across him to get a dish of French toast. "Only has to be good enough for Dunning and Lamb and the other little Jedi."

"I'm afraid Draco's right about History of Magic classes," Michelle said. "Pedantius is still taking his students through the founding of the 1912 League of Wizards."

"That's bad."

Remus nodded. "I'm trying to make up the deficit as best I can in my classes." He frowned suddenly. "In fact," he said, "you three would make excellent guest lecturers."

Which was how Harry found himself at the head of Remus' Level 7 class listening to Mary Logan, a rather hotheaded Ravenclaw, making an impassioned plea for the restitution of the Dueling Club.

"You make a good case for your plan, Miss Logan," Remus said, looking amused. "You might consider a future as a prosecutor. However, the staff have decided that it's necessary to spend this year making certain that all the students have a good grounding in the basics. Otherwise, student duels would provide a great deal of practice for Madam Andriescu-Weasley, but very little genuine improvement for students."

The girl lifted her chin stubbornly. "You're treating us like children," she said, and there was a murmur of agreement among the students. "I'm only two years younger than Professor Potter was when he had his duel. And don't forget that our side won because it had the better duelist."

Harry shook his head at the thought that he'd been an adult when he'd faced down Voldemort. He hardly felt like one now. "Our side won," he said, "because it had the better researcher."

"And ironically, this is the very subject on which I've asked Professor Potter to lecture today," Remus said. "If the rest of you would take your seats, please."

Harry waited until the scuffling had stopped -- surely when he'd been a student he'd been able to keep his feet still? -- and then began.

"I'm sure you all know that the battle hinged on an odd accident of fate: that my wand happened to be the twin of the one used by Voldemort." He ignored their nervous squirming at the name. "By now it's well known that when two wands are brothers, there's a spell that can make it impossible for one to act against the bearer of the other. But at the time, the existence of such a spell was only a rumor. Discovering whether it was true or not fell to Hermione Granger."

"The Charms teacher with the fuzzy hair?" Jack Talos asked with ill-concealed scorn.

"Hermione Granger took eleven N.E.W.T.s," a familiar voice drawled. Harry looked up and saw Malfoy leaning against the chalkboard lazily, as though he belonged there. "That's the most ever recorded in the history of Hogwarts. Perhaps, Mr. Talos, you will do as well -- if you pay as much attention to your studies as you do to your hair."

The class chuckled. Jack's devotion to his hair was legendary; he'd even summoned a mirror and comb all the way from his parents' house in Preston when the ones his mother had packed for him didn't meet his standards. That took some skill, of course -- Jack would probably be a powerful wizard one day, if his hair loss began early enough.

"At any rate," Harry went on as Jack glared, "Hermione spent nearly a year researching everything she could find out about wands that were brothers. She got information on the Fratrium spell from --" Harry carefully kept his eyes away from Malfoy. "From a spy among Voldemort's supporters. But then there was the problem of testing it -- Ollivander wasn't going to lose customers by declaring sides, so she wasn't able to get a pair of wands to practice with. She and Ron Weasley ended up becoming wand-making experts in a matter of months so that they could create a pair themselves.

"Then," he went on, "we were up all night dueling over and over, practicing until she was certain I had the spell learned. She developed the Transauditum charm so that she could coach me from a distance when the time came. And then came my thirty minutes of drama."

Harry shook his head. "I got more fame than anyone could possibly want, and she got a permanent table at the reading room of the Wizard Museum. Even though all I did was to -- I suppose I was the occasion for other people to perform great feats of heroism."

"Harry Potter, mascot of the wizarding world," Malfoy drawled from the blackboard.

"Are you so certain that it would be a bad idea to restart the Dueling Club?" Malfoy said to Remus as they left the classroom.

"Are you mad?" Harry asked him before Remus could answer. "Have you forgotten what happened when you and I had our duel?"

The corners of Malfoy's mouth quirked. "Never for a moment," he said.

"I'm afraid that for the current students, a duel would be even worse," Remus said. "Very few of them are as well matched as you two were, in terms of skill."

Malfoy glared at Remus -- probably insulted to have his skill level compared with Harry's -- but he didn't respond to that part of it. "Why is it," he said instead, "that everyone assumes that the only way to do something is the way it was done when we were children? When you take fencing lessons you don't spar with someone who's as bad as you are. You spar with an expert. The students shouldn't be dueling with each other -- they should be dueling with teachers. People with enough knowledge to prevent mishaps and enough experience to actually teach the little brats something."

"Oh, like you, Malfoy?" Harry said.

Malfoy looked at him contemptuously. "Yes, like me, Potter. And like you, and 'Mione, and maybe even Weasley, if he's as good at dueling as he is at everything else."

After several months of mixed-house classes, Harry looked out over the Great Hall at dinner and noticed something odd.

"Isn't Beauchamp a Hufflepuff?" he said. "What's he doing sitting with Cabot at Ravenclaw table?"

"Cabot's not a Ravenclaw, she's a Slytherin," Hermione said.

"So's Mulhall," Ron said. "Strickland's the only one at that end of the table who's a Ravenclaw."

"Oh, those four," Malfoy said. "They've got Level 4 Defense together, and they spend all their time in the library. I don't think they've seen the sun in weeks. Sorting Hat might as well have put them in Bookworm House."

"Nothing wrong with that," Harry snapped, glancing at Hermione.

"Did I say there was?" Malfoy said. He pushed a half-eaten tangerine toward Hermione. "Want the rest of this?"

"It's nice to see the different houses socializing together," Hermione said, helping herself to a segment. She looked up, as though aware that Harry was ready to disagree with her. "They're still sleeping and revising in houses; that's enough for a good influence. And maybe the Heads will set up some activities to reinforce house identity."

Malfoy snorted. "Don't start, Draco," she said. He glared at her. "I keep telling him," she said to Harry, "that someone as young as we are can't have enough authority to make a good head of house, but he insists that he'd be better than Professor Aerie."

"She's a Ravenclaw!" Malfoy said. "I'm a sixth-generation Slytherin!"

"Nothing to be proud of," Harry said.

"Should be. Used to be."

Harry was disgusted. "I can't believe you're just thinking of your own advancement, Malfoy."

"I'm thinking," Malfoy said, "of doing something important with my position, making real changes, making things better. Not that you'd know anything about that. You never wanted to do anything with your power beyond your hobbies, your schoolwork, your little rivalries."

"Oh, yes," Harry said, stung. "Defeating Voldemort -- I only did that to get points off Slytherin."

Malfoy looked genuinely angry. "Defeated him by yourself, did you? No, you got sucked into something big by accident, didn't you. Otherwise it never would have crossed your mind to use any of those gifts of yours for anything other than Quidditch and pranks. Do you know what I could have done with your name, your fame, your power? Do you know what I would have given for that? My father would --"

Nostrils flaring, he drew himself up and took a slow, deep breath. "But it's infantile to renew a schoolboy rivalry like this. We won't speak of it again."

He turned so fast that his robe spun out around his feet as he strode away, leaving Harry rooted to the spot. Draco Malfoy was accusing him of starting out with an unfair advantage?

"Gryffindors and Slytherins," Michelle sighed. "Save us."

"Gryffindor and Slytherin men," Penelope said. "It's antlers, antlers everywhere."

When Harry crossed the threshold of the library, there was a sudden shimmer in the air, and then a large gong appeared an inch from his face. He sprang back, shaking his wand into his hand.

"Sorry." Malfoy was sitting at the nearest table.

Harry clasped his hands together to stop them shaking. "What did you do?"

"Used the wrong character in the verb section, obviously. It was supposed to ring a bell, not conjure one." Malfoy began scrabbling through his calligromancy dictionary.

"Aren't we supposed to be getting rid of the mines, not making more?"

"Can't understand them without making them, can we?" Malfoy said.

"And you honestly expect me to believe that you're only making these for research, and have no intention of making them for any other reason?"

"Believe what you like," Malfoy said without looking up from the dictionary. "Some people have no appreciation for the scientific process."

In the common room, Harry sat reading a fourth-year calligromancy text while Malfoy badgered Hermione and Penelope into trying to find the key to Lucius' diary. They all looked up when McGonagall approached with a serious look on her face and Sofia in tow. Michelle and Madeleine glanced over from the other side of the room.

"Hermione," McGonagall said, "Sofia has a proposal which I'd like to talk with you about. No, the rest of you can stay; you're involved as well."

"What I wish," Sofia said, "iss for 'Ermione to work with me full time to develop a cure for the seizure spellss."

Malfoy stared at her. "You mean, leave the calligromancy? Sofia!"

"It iss ass I said to Minerfa," Sofia said. "I do not think you realisse how fery serious our medical situation iss. If the diseasse proceedss ass it did with Mister Filch, there iss only a fery short time before the damage will be too great to cure. I understand that the research 'Ermione iss doing iss important for long-term security, but I feel that her help iss more urgently needed in medical research."

Malfoy was so outraged that he sat up straight. "Sofia, taking 'Mione off calligromancy for medical research would be like taking resources away from a cure and putting them into treating symptoms."

"Which sometimess one must do, in order to keep the patient alife," she said stubbornly.

"Kitty, you can't. You can't take her away. We get little enough of her time as it is, and we're so close --"

"Even if thesse children die while she works on other projects?"

"If necessary, yes! Finding the solution is the only way to prevent even more of these --"

"Oh, for heaven's sake." Penelope came to stand between them. "You're acting as though Hermione's the only qualified researcher on the staff." McGonagall turned to look at her. "Michelle did her Magisterium in medicinal herbology. If Sofia needs a partner for healing research, she's the obvious choice."

"I have some medical experience as well," put in Madeleine Aerie.

Penelope nodded at her. "Meanwhile, Remus can take all of Hermione's classes but the advanced ones, and I can do the same for Draco since I have a Muggle family, and I'm sure you'd be willing to help with Harry's courses, wouldn't you, Minerva? Because the sooner they take care of those mines, the sooner we can have access to Professor Snape's books and ingredients."

Everyone blinked at her. "Wow," Harry said. "We should have thought of that, Hermione."

"You're Gryffindors," Michelle said. "You assume your own blood and tears will solve any problem. And Draco's a Slytherin, so he assumes he's entitled to anything he needs."

"A Gryffindor will jump off a cliff," Penelope said. Her tone suggested that it was a well-worn proverb. "A Slytherin will push someone else off. A Hufflepuff will call in five hundred other Hufflepuffs, and they'll carve a stairway. And a Ravenclaw -- " She winked at Madeleine Aerie, who joined in with her: "A Ravenclaw will get hold of a flying carpet."

"The thing I don't understand," Malfoy said, leaning back in the hard-backed library chair and rubbing his eyes, "is how a sigil can use a title as a direct object. Targeting the Minister of Magic -- why can it do that when it couldn't target 'that guy with the ugly glasses'?"

"Well, it's not as though the Ministry has officially declared them to be ugly glasses," Ron said.

"Hey!" Harry elbowed him.

"Not everything is about you, Potter," Malfoy sniffed.

"That's a good point, though, Ron," Hermione said. "Minister of Magic is an official title -- maybe that makes a difference."

"Why would it?" Malfoy demanded. "If Circe Stormlaw had been Minister of Magic for fifteen minutes, and Potter had been known as 'Ugly Glasses' since he was ten -- Hey! What did you do that for?" He rubbed his arm where Harry had poked him, looking shocked and aggrieved.

"Well, people don't just one day decide to start calling Circe Stormlaw 'Minister,' as though it were some sort of nickname," Ron said. "They have --"

"A ceremony," Harry said. "A little bit of -- of official magic."

"A ceremony's just words," Malfoy said.

"So's a spell," Ron pointed out.

Hermione had her eyes almost shut. "Names are attached to a Muggle child at a christening or something of that sort -- I'm sure wizard families must have something similar --"

"Naming charms," Malfoy and Ron said at the same time.

"Right. And titles are assigned at a ceremony. Knighthoods and Orders of Merlin ... wizarding certifications when we leave school ..."

"And the title of Headmaster? How is that assigned?" Harry asked.

"By the Sorting Hat, of course," Hermione said. "Have you still not read --"

Harry sat up suddenly. "The Sorting Hat," he said. "That's how they're catching us all to tap us."

Hermione frowned. "I don't see --"

"I do," Malfoy said. "The Sorting is a magical ceremony that binds us all to Hogwarts through our Houses. So all they'd have to do is put one mine somewhere that uses 'everyone who has been Sorted' as a direct object."

He sat up suddenly, eyes shining. "Do you know what this means? Potter, what you did against Voldemort? Pulling power from a whole circle of wizards? We could pull magic from everyone who has ever gone to Hogwarts -- can you imagine the power? They wouldn't even have to be in the same place. We could designate ourselves the Order of the Serpent or something, and everybody who joined could be named and protected in a single symbol, can you imagine?"

He beamed around the library, as though imagining that it all belonged to him. "This is the biggest step forward in half a century. And Slytherins invented it."

"There are two vital bits of information you will need to know about the Cruciatus curse." Harry had to admit that Malfoy had a certain natural sense of theater. He had the full attention of Remus' Level 7 class from the moment he took his place at the front of the room. Even Jack Talos was riveted.

"The first is that it does not kill. It continues to have its effect on the victim until the counter-spell is issued, but it does not kill."

There was a pause while Malfoy summoned a glass of water and drank it.

"The second important point about the Cruciatus curse is that the sufferer himself almost never issues the counter-spell, even though there's nothing in the curse to prevent this. My guess is that the pain of the curse itself is sufficient to drive the antidote out of the sufferer's mind." His usually expressive voice was flat.

"I saw the Death Eater Gregory Goyle suffer under the Cruciatus curse for a period of several weeks," he went on. There was a quiet gasp in the classroom. "The wizard who issues the curse can of course control its severity. During periods when his sentence was lightened, Goyle could form words. But the seven syllables of the counter-spell were at all times beyond him."

The class was silent with horror. Harry, too, felt cold with it. How could Malfoy talk so calmly about something so awful?

Finally, there came a timid voice from the back of the classroom. "Professor Malfoy?"

"Yes, Miss Galbraith?"

"Why was he cursed to begin with?"

"He was accused," Malfoy said, "of being a spy for Albus Dumbledore."

"Malfoy, why did you leave the Death Eaters?" Harry asked as they approached the staff common room after Remus' class.

"Because they were pathetic." Malfoy nodded to the Snape statue, which nodded solemnly in return, and swept into the empty room. "Ah, you wanted to hear that I saw the error of my evil ways and turned to the good, eh, Potter? But really it was Gregory, and not the way you think."

"What way, then?"

"I had thought they were ... bigger somehow, these people who'd managed to rise above petty rules and reach out their hands to grasp the power that was there for the taking. But here they were, giggling like naughty schoolboys kicking a puppy."

Harry remembered Peter Pettigrew's cravenness. "Most of the Death Eaters I've met have reminded me of my cousin Dudley," he said.

"Not having met your illustrious cousin, I'll just have to assume you're agreeing with me."

Harry nodded. "But Goyle. The puppy. Did you kill him to --"

"Don't start thinking it was an act of mercy," Malfoy snapped. "There was nothing I could do for him. But I took a certain pride in taking their toy away from them."

"It was a bit of a risk, wasn't it, performing unauthorized magic right there in the camp?"

"Oh, I didn't kill him with a curse, Potter. I killed him with a knife."

Harry blinked at him.

"I'm not even sure he knew who I was at that point," Malfoy went on blandly. "But he fought me as best he could."

He stood for a long time looking up at the filled-in window. Harry watched his hair swing back to reveal the two silver rings in his earlobe. "It's surprisingly difficult to cut through human muscle," he said at last. "Like cutting into a tire. And blood is inconveniently slippery."

Harry stared. Malfoy was looking at the stones with a crooked smile. "He was very stupid, Gregory, but rather brave. And very loyal. I killed him for myself, but you could say I became a spy for him."

Malfoy's eyes came back to Harry's, and his expression sharpened. "Well, well," he said, lengthening the words out absurdly. "Looks like I'll have to write this day down in my memory book: The day I said something Harry Potter didn't disapprove of." He took a step closer, reached a cupped hand for Harry's face. "Don't you think such altruism deserves a reward?"

They hadn't touched since Christmas. Harry missed the sheer physical pleasure of it, and he missed simple human touch even more. But it had been a relief to be free of the mixed emotions -- the shame, the fear of discovery, the fear of saying something wrong or doing something wrong or feeling something wrong. The tedious necessity of pruning back the emotions that wanted to grow out of any physical contact, even when it was as meaningless as this.

When Malfoy's hand brushed his cheek, it all came flooding back, all the intensity, all the ambivalence, all the fear. All the need.

"Not here," he said stiffly, and walked to his rooms as quickly as he could without looking back to see if Malfoy would follow.

Malfoy followed Harry into the room with a smile that started out wicked and then turned quizzical. After regarding Harry for a few moments, he reached out and drew two fingers very softly down the side of his face and across his mouth.

Harry felt his mouth twist at this parody of tenderness. And real tenderness, he thought, would be even worse. At such a time, in such a place, two storeys down from an infirmary full of children sleeping off a curse no one knew how to cure! And with such a person! Harry couldn't bear it. He took Malfoy by the upper arms and pushed him down on the couch, then leaned over him, one hand on the couch back, the other tugging at his clothes.

Malfoy's robe today was a showy swallowtail style, buttoned tightly to the waist and then open over narrow trousers. Harry hauled on the robe, and Malfoy murmured a spell that opened all the fastenings at once, leaving him bare from throat to crotch.

Harry laughed harshly. "If you're trying not to get the reputation for being easy, Malfoy, that's really not the way to go about it."

He himself still favored student-style robes worn loose over shirt and trousers, so it was easy to shake off the robe. He unknotted his tie and started on the shirt buttons, but Malfoy brushed his hands away and murmured the spell again, and Harry felt cool fingers on his suddenly bare chest. His robe, shirt, and tie were now hanging neatly on a hanger on the outside of his wardrobe door, and his glasses were on the end table.

"I can see that my magical education has some gaps in it," he said, and then, "Oh!" as Malfoy nibbled at his collarbone. Malfoy's hair brushed his neck, and he stroked it back so he could see Malfoy's pink tongue working its way toward his nipple. Malfoy glanced up and gave Harry a sweet, heavy-lidded smile that made his stomach contract. What the hell had he gotten himself into?

He pushed Malfoy's head away and dropped to his knees in front of him, nuzzling at his cock through the opened trousers, already taking the head into his mouth even as his hands pulled the gap wider.

"Ah!" Malfoy's hands were on his face, trying to make him slow down, but he was having none of it.

The trousers, with typical pureblood affectation, fastened not with buttons or zips but with laces. They unlaced right back to the inseam, and he smiled around his mouthful -- he couldn't think of any reason for that except to let his fingers do this while his mouth did that.

Malfoy fought this assault for a few seconds more, then melted, his drawling clever mouth reduced to crying "Ah! Ah!" until Harry couldn't help getting his own cock in his other hand and keeping time, giving them both all he had.

Malfoy withstood about four minutes of it before he came. Harry rested his forehead at the fragrant juncture of hip and thigh and lasted about another thirty seconds.

He wasn't terribly careful where he aimed, and Malfoy stiffened when he felt him coming. His hands, which had still been weakly stroking Harry's head, suddenly fisted in his hair and pulled him up. "I would -- I was going to --" Annoyance fought with postcoital laziness on his face, and he leaned forward for a kiss that would probably have been as rough as his earlier touch had been gentle, if Harry had allowed it.

When Harry evaded his mouth, both expressions gave way to anger. Malfoy stood suddenly. "What is wrong with you?"

"Going to tell me you didn't get what you came for, Malfoy?"

"Oh, for -- fine." Malfoy flicked his wand, and Harry found himself completely dressed again. He looked down. Hands clean, floor clean, couch clean, Malfoy once again immaculate in gray over gray with his hair caught up at the crown with a silver clasp. "There. It never happened. Happy now? Oh, wait," and he tapped his wand on Harry's mouth, which suddenly tasted of nothing at all.

"Malfoy --" His lips were numb. Malfoy had been a little overzealous with the cleaning charm. Harry got up off his knees and sat down heavily on the couch. "I can't do this."

"I had the impression that you weren't doing it. That's what you're telling yourself, isn't it?"

"I don't know what the hell you want from me."

Malfoy studied him for a moment. "No," he said finally, "you don't, do you? And you're determined to prevent me from enlightening you." He was rolling his wand between two fingers. It was such an elegant gesture that Harry wondered if he'd practiced it in the mirror. He stared at Malfoy's fingers.

"So that's it, then," Malfoy said. "You want to split up."

Harry looked up at his face. "Split what up?" he said. "I want to quit doing things that end up with you pissed at me and me ashamed of myself."

All expression left Malfoy's face as fast as the taste of him had left Harry's mouth. "Right," he said, and walked out the door without another word.

Harry slumped down to lie on his face. The couch didn't even smell of Malfoy any more. He closed his eyes, not tired enough to sleep but too empty to do anything else.

He tried to call something pleasant to mind, but instead found himself remembering the day McGonagall's letter had arrived in Florida.

He and Sunday had had a stretch of beach to themselves, and they'd been lying in the sun, feet just touching, when Spielberg had dropped the heavy envelope on Harry's belly.

When he saw the handwriting, Harry had felt a curious mix of fear and relief, like a renegade who finally, after years on the run, sees the law inescapably closing in on him. Real life had come back to claim him at last.

He could feel Sunday's eyes on him as he broke the seal and read the short message. "My old school," Harry told him, handing over the letter.

"Y'don't look so happy about it," Sunday said.

"Of course I'm happy," Harry said.

Sunday raised his eyebrows, but didn't call him on it. He looked out over the ocean, and Harry looked, too. Somewhere in that direction were the shoes of Harry Potter, ready for him to give up this long barefoot vacation and step back into them.

"So," Sunday broke the silence. "Y'want me to come with you?"

"No!" He turned, shocked -- and then, realizing how rude that had sounded, reached for Sunday's hand. "I mean, you've got responsibilities here ..."

"Seelih's always been better'n me with the political stuff. Takes after Mama." Harry had never heard Sunday come this close to arguing about anything. Mostly he was almost Zen in his willingness to let the universe do whatever it chose.

"You could all come and visit," Harry offered. "When I've got settled."

Sunday gave him a long look, and then he turned and looked out over the water. "Never been to England." After a while he added, "I hear it's nice."

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