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27 June 2008 @ 02:02 am
Beneath Boundless Skies, Part Two  
Part one

Harry woke up to the sight of Neville Longbottom looking gravely down at him. He pushed his glasses into place, to see if it improved with focus. “What’s wrong?”

Neville held up a copy of The Prophet. It was Harry again, and today’s headline was ‘Resurrected!’

“Balls,” Harry muttered.

“If you think this is bad, you should see the pile of Owls waiting for you. It’s going to be worse than all of those proposals the other day.” Neville accepted Harry’s assertion that a full hundred had been from Romilda Vane, but was still enjoying the teasing opportunity.

Harry groaned, and took the paper. As he had feared, a series of unnamed sources all declared that he had been killed by Voldemort, and had returned from the dead to save them. He realised that even though the common room was still half-full of bunking students and some parents, they were all silent.

He looked over the top of the paper. They were all looking at him.

“I wasn’t dead,” he told them.

They looked at him, uncertain.

Harry tried to explain. “He did try to kill me, but the thing he didn’t know was that when he attacked me as a baby, he made a connection between us. That’s why I was always able to survive in the past. All he killed was that connection, and it had to go or he couldn’t be killed. Afterwards, I had to play dead so that he would think he had won, and give us a chance to defeat him, you see?”

One of the parents spoke: “You said the other morning … you said that you meant to die, and that’s why none of us died after that.”

Harry looked at her gratefully. “I was prepared to, I thought he would kill me. But as it turned out, he couldn’t. Only the connection.”

Her eyes grew sad. “You went out to meet him thinking he’d kill you?”

Harry shrugged, embarrassed. “Didn’t seem to be any choice on that. Besides,” he added hastily as he looked at her expression, “everyone else chose to fight, too, and he could have killed all of you just as easily.”

“That’s correct, Mr Potter, and well said.” Professor McGonagall was behind him with a cup of tea. She cast an appraising glance across him. “You don’t look particularly holy to me, Harry. Have you felt the presence of the divine recently?”

“Er, a few ghosts?”

She shook her head. “Quite normal, I’m sorry to report.”

“That’s a relief,” said Oliver Wood, who Harry hadn’t noticed until then. “My mother would be appalled if she had to look on you as saintly. She always thought you looked a bit disreputable.”

McGonagall tutted. “Scruffy, perhaps, but not disreputable.” She nodded at the expression of deep relief on Harry’s face. “Come on, Mr Potter, let us go and sort out your latest adventure in the Press. Mr Longbottom, Mr Wood, the two of you might turn your minds to a suitable reply to Mr Potter’s sundry correspondents.”

Harry followed Professor McGonagall to her offices. She had ceased to be formal once she had left and was using a number of novel Scottish curses to describe the Prophet’s journalists.

“I am so sorry, Harry, this latest nonsense is just going to make your life more difficult than it needs to be. I had hoped you’d be able to spend a quiet year working on your NEWTs.” She smiled indulgently. “You should have seen yourself asleep, like a baby. Neville made everyone leave the room if they wanted to talk. It was quite endearing. Sorry, I’ve made you blush.”

She had, but Harry didn’t particularly mind. “Maybe I should go abroad for a bit?” he suggested. “Travel until school starts?’

McGonagall looked serious. “I’m not sure four months will be long enough at the rate the press is going. I don’t want to alarm you, but I have had to post wards against journalists this morning, and may need to start banning cameras from the school altogether. A number of unauthorised pictures of you have appeared in the last few days, but this morning Hagrid told me that there were people in Hogsmeade offering students ten Galleons for candid shots of you.”

Harry looked confused. “People at school are sending photos to the papers?”

“Let me just say that if I read a story about how well you slept last night, I would be disappointed but not surprised.”

Harry sat down in the chair she offered him. “But that’s just here, right? It’s just the Prophet having another go.”

She shook her head. “The American Wizarding papers are very excited about the story, there are offers of substantial sums of money for an interview. I assumed you would not be interested. The continental papers are depicting you as a modest boy hero, I believe that a large number of those scented letters you received the other day came from Beauxbatons.”

“Oh,” said Harry, deflated. “Well, I can go to Africa, then. Kenya, or Botswana.”

McGonagall shook her head. “The Minister would not like you travelling to a politically unstable region.”

“New Zealand, Australia?”

Professor McGonagall raised her eyebrows. “Australia? You know that Hannah Abbott has spent the last year at Wollongong Wizarding University, don’t you? They have a technical college attached that runs a very good NEWTs programme, which she is part-way through. You could begin in their winter term and come back ahead of things when the hullabaloo dies down here.”

“How long do you think that will take?”

“I’ve never seen them hold their focus for more than six months. Say Christmas at the outside.”

“Where is Wollongong?” Harry asked, suddenly aware that he only knew the name.

“Quite near Sydney.”

“That sounds all right. And it’s only for six months, that’s nothing really …”

McGonagall gave him a long look. “Are you sure? We can hide you in the school if you’d rather stay home. It won’t be impossible.”

Harry remembered the chaos of fourth year, and then the persecution of fifth year … “You’ll have enough problems without me adding to them,” he said seriously.

McGonagall sighed. “I’ll contact the Vice Chancellor and organise your enrolment. They have a college for boarders, would you like me to arrange for you to stay there?”

Harry nodded. “It’ll be like a holiday.” That reminded him. “Kreacher – can he stay here until I get back?’

“Yes, of course. Even the elves who are terrified of him seem to regard him with esteem.”

“It might even be fun.”

McGonagall agreed. “They have an excellent Quidditch programme. I wouldn’t be surprised if more students decided to join you and Hannah.”

********************

“You have got to be joking.”

“Hold on, Ron,” Hermione held up a hand. “It’s not such a bad idea. The Australian Wizarding community really only cares about Quidditch. Harry won’t be such a target for the media there, even if he makes the school team, they’re only interested in the Leagues.”

“But Australia!”

“We can come over and see you in a few weeks. I’ve just got to finish Dad’s tax return and sort the house out and then I’ll be off to pick them up. Of course, they’re in Queensland, but they won’t know if we spend a day with you first.”

“He’ll come back sounding like he’s had his nose broken.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ronald. Anyway, you’ll be home for Christmas, so it’s not as though you’ll have to suffer through one of their summers.”

“Though those girls on the Warriors are pretty tasty.”

“Girls are the last thing Harry’s concerned with. I hear that they have an excellent Defence against the Dark Arts programme, with a very good balance of theory and practice. Some of the best spell research has been coming out of Wollongong over the last few years, they’re really investigating the basics and how they can be modified.”

Harry interrupted: “Actually, I don’t mind there being tasty girls.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “If you’re going to take advantage of this opportunity, Harry, then it will be a term of knuckling down and studying hard. And I want you to send me details of all the next term’s coursework, you’ll be starting two months before me!”

“So you don’t mind?”

Ron patted Harry’s arm. “Mate, we just want you to be happy.”

Hermione hugged him from the other side. “You’ve had enough trouble to last you a lifetime. You should just do things for yourself for a little while, and damn what other people expect.”

“So you don’t think I should accept Witch Weekly’s thousand-Galleon offer to pose with my shirt off?”

“Have they ever seen you with your shirt off?” Ron asked, sceptically.

“Go to Australia.” Hermione told him. “We’ll visit in a few weeks. If you hate it, you can come home.”


****************


It took several days to organise the international Portkeys. Harry attended one more funeral in that time, but the scrum of photographers forced him to leave before the burial. Furious, he spent the rest of his time back inside the castle, helping to rebuild walls that had been breached during the battle. The house-elves had removed all the marks that could be blood, but the blasts of hexes remained in some places. Harry felt physical satisfaction in scrubbing them away with a brush.

At the Memorial Service on Saturday, Harry was protected on all sides by Aurors. He stood up and gave a speech. He laid a wreath. He nodded as Professor McGonagall announced a string of anonymous scholarships. He thought very hard about the fact that Luna had been right, that we do see them again, that he had seen his parents, Remus, Sirius …

Dinner that night saw many of the same faces as had been there a week before. Parents had left their children at school while they rebuilt homes, and many of the younger ones had returned. Many parents and friends chose to stay after the service, as they had after the battle. There was less joy, though. The costs of the war were all too visible now. The fifty-five names on a white marble plinth – Snape listed above Nymphadora Tonks – were too fresh in their minds.

Harry sat at the DA table this time. Charlie had come up to Hogwarts again, and sat between Harry and Ron. He brought a full bottle of the dark Romanian liquor, and when it was finished, Neville supplied something herbal and devastating. They were well into their cups when Ron groaned “Australia!” again.

Hermione shushed him, but too late.

“What about it?” asked Dean.

“Infested with Bunyips,” pronounced Luna.

“We’re going there to pick up my Mum and Dad,” Hermione attempted to cover.

Harry shrugged. “I’m moving there for the next six months. It’s supposed to be a secret, but I trust all of you. Anyway, I’m leaving in the morning, before the paper gets here.”

Everyone at the table, save Hermione, looked at him with bemusement.

Charlie broke the silence. “Bloody hell, Harry, what’s wrong with Majorca? Or Romania for that matter?”

“Oh keep quiet, it’s meant to be a secret,” Hermione snapped.

“They have a good school,” Harry shrugged. “Believe me, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m now painfully aware of how little I know about healing, packing spells, Apparition and warding, I’d be up on the dragon reserve with you until all this blew over. Anyway …” Harry smiled weakly at his friends. “It’s not the end of the world. You can come and visit, they have great beaches. And I’ll be back for Christmas.”

“That’s not so long,” Neville smiled supportively.

“It’s not so long.” Harry agreed.


*******************


Harry was still yawning when he arrived at the door of Professor McGonagall’s office. He was happy she hadn’t moved to the Headmaster’s rooms, he didn’t feel quite up to facing any of those portraits. Hermione had shrunk his trunk for him, and taught him the charm for unshrinking it before she left last night. Where she had managed to find enough of his belongings to fill a trunk, Harry did not know, but he was grateful to her, again.

He knocked. Hannah Abbott opened the door. Harry had thought she’d already left when she hadn’t appeared at the service the day before.

“Oh it’s you!” Hannah declared. “They told me there was another student joining us. I’m so pleased!”

“Another?” Harry smiled as he walked into the office with her.

“Marvellous.”

Harry would know that slow drawl anywhere. He supposed he should say something back, but he was so surprised that he simply stared.

Draco Malfoy was looking at him with a pained expression.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” he asked. “They told me someone else was coming, too. I should have known it would be you.”

Harry kept staring, but came up with some words, too. “Malfoy, what on Earth are you doing?”

Malfoy had the grace to be embarrassed. “I’m being terribly nineteenth century, Potter, and taking my disgrace to the colonies, where they tolerate that sort of thing.”

“Mr Malfoy …” Kingsley Shacklebolt’s voice rumbled from further inside McGonagall’s room.

Harry looked up to see the Minister looking at Malfoy with what he thought was pity. “You are entitled to finish your education, it is not safe for you here. We will endeavour to make it safe so that you can return, in the meantime, we can offer you this option.”

“With the boy hero. Thank you so much, Minister.”

“Mr Malfoy!” McGonagall started to snap, but was arrested by Hannah Abbott’s gentle throat clearing.

“Can I say something?” she asked.

“Yes, of course, Hannah,” McGonagall replied.

Hannah looked between Harry and Malfoy. “I know that the two of you hate each other. We used to talk about it all the time when I was in Hufflepuff, and we prefects actually made a rule that Draco wasn’t allowed to give you detentions, Harry, before Umbridge overturned it. I don’t expect you to get on. But I do expect you to act like reasonable people.”

She pursed her lips, and went on determinedly. “Harry, I supported you in Dumbledore’s Army. I helped you on the train the other year. I reminded people of your integrity when others were trying to tear you down. So I think I deserve a favour.

“Draco, my Mum was killed by Death Eaters at a time when your dad was a leading member of the gang, so you bloody well owe me a favour.

“I have spent the last year and a bit away from my home, away from my Dad and away from most of my friends, trying to build a new life and do well at it. It hasn’t been easy, and I have worked bloody hard to make everything as normal as it can be. I’m not having you two act like prize twonks and having all my school friends think that Hogwarts is a loony bin when I’ve just convinced them that we are all nice, normal people.”

Harry waited a moment to see if she had really finished. “So …” he ventured, “you want us to be nice and normal?”

Hannah nodded her head.

Harry looked up at Malfoy, who was looking at Hannah with disbelief. He turned his gaze to Harry. “Nice and normal …” he repeated.

“Do we know how to do that?” Harry could not help asking. He was startled when Malfoy spontaneously smiled, though the expression was hastily replaced by a scowl.

“I just want to do my exams and finish school. I’ll be quiet and unobtrusive,” he said, curtly.

“That will do,” Hannah accepted.

“Sure, I’d love to be normal,” Harry agreed.

“Good.” Hannah smiled brightly at him.

McGonagall pushed her spectacles up her nose. “Well. Since we are all sorted, then, I wish you all a good journey and the best of luck with your studies. You will always remain a part of our school community and I hope that you stay in touch. Now the Minister will escort you on the first part of your journey.”

Harry looked at Kingsley with surprise. This was a very basic job for him. Kingsley winked at him. “Breakfast in Paris, Harry. There have to be some perks to my job.”

“Do you all have everything?” McGonagall sounded anxious.

“Yes, Professor,” the three travellers chorused, falling into the cadences of students.

“Good. Mr Potter, may I borrow you for a word outside before you go?”

“Sure …” Harry followed her and closed the door behind them.

McGonagall looked up at him. “Write,” she instructed. “I’ll let you know how things progress here. I am confident that you will enjoy yourself in Wollongong, or I wouldn’t let you go.”

Harry chose his words carefully. “They’ve just had a normal school year,” he said. “And they don’t really know who I am. I think it will be good.”

She nodded, and held out a hand. “Good luck, Harry.”

Harry took it, then pulled his professor into a firm hug. “Thank you,” he whispered.

She seemed flustered, but pleased. “Thank you,” she replied. “Back we go.”

They walked back into the room. “Mr Potter is ready now,” McGonagall announced.

“Then if you will just place your hands on this mug,” said Kingsley. “One, two, thr–”


*****************


They travelled the Oskar Speck route to the Antipodes, handed on from Kingsley to an Ambassador, from him to a High Commissioner, to consulate staff, ambassadorial assistants, a translator, in one case a work-experience girl who was the only one left in the office.

The journey was smooth across the Channel, faultless on the Danube stops, a little chaotic in the Mediterranean, delayed in Syria, where the three young people ate pastries and drank thick coffee, then on to skirting the coast of the Subcontinent. In Jakarta they ate a hot curry with a translator wearing a khaki safari suit, and in Port Moresby they were fed roast pork and taro by a huge man named Eddie, who was wearing a length of printed fabric wrapped around him as a skirt. The windows of the High Commission were pitch black by then.

Then one last hop.

The air was sweet and fresh. Instead of landing inside another building they were in a field. The night was cool around them, but not cold. There was a small campfire nearby, and the smell of strong tea.

“Here we are,” said Eddie. “Jon, is that you?”

A figure detached itself from the campfire and came towards them. In the dark, Harry could see only a tall shape, with a bright smile and eyes. “It’s me,” said the figure. “’Bout time you mob showed up.”

Hannah let go of the Portkey and hugged the figure. “Hello, Jon, it’s so good to see you!”

He hugged her back. “Hannah! I’m so glad you’re back. We’ve been reading the papers, that was all a bit rough. You all right?”

“I’m fine. I brought friends.”

Eddie bid them farewell and Portkeyed home. Hannah walked towards the fire, beckoning the others to follow. In the light, Harry could see that Jon was even taller than he’d thought, with deep brown skin and weathered eyes in a young face.

“Draco Malfoy, this is Jon Walker. He’s one of our tutors at school. Jon, Draco was in my year at Hogwarts, and he had a truly awful time of the last year, so he’s come over here to catch up on his study and just get away from things.”

Jon held out a hand. “Draco,” he said in greeting.

Harry watched as Malfoy looked, surprised, from Jon to Hannah, then back. He took the offered hand. “Jon, pleased to meet you,” he said, and shook.

“Yeah, good to meet you, too, mate.” Jon grinned at him. “We might end up calling you Snowy, though, don’t be offended, it’s a culture thing.”

Draco blinked slowly. “I’ve never actually had a nickname,” he admitted. “ It won’t kill me.”

Jon laughed. “You’re all right, Snowy!”

Hannah spoke again. “And Jon, this is Harry Potter, Harry, Jon.”

Jon looked at him appraisingly. “They told me you were coming. Is all that stuff in the paper true?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know what they’ve said here.”

“That you disarmed the leader of the Death Eaters and he was killed when his own spell rebounded on him.”

Harry nodded. “Yup. That’s pretty accurate, actually.”

Jon held out his hand. “Good to meet you. Bet you’re glad to get away for a bit.”

Harry smiled. “I think I am. Is that tea?”

“Should be just ready, sit down you lot.”

Jon grabbed a tea towel to pull the tall pot with a looped wire handle off the fire. Harry watched in surprise as he swung it around in great fast circles beside his body without spilling a drop.

“Settles the leaves,” Jon told him. “Right, milk? Sugar?”

“Black,” said Harry and Malfoy together.

“White and two,” said Hannah.

They sat around the fire and sipped on tea from tin mugs, using the ends of their sleeves to keep their hands warm without burning fingers.

“Potter,” Malfoy whispered, as Jon and Hannah began to chat about mutual friends. “Are you really glad to ‘get away’?”

Harry chose honesty. “Right now? Yeah. It was too much at home.”

Malfoy nodded. “Aunt Andromeda said the funeral took a lot out of you.”

“Funerals,” Harry corrected. “I was asked to attend twelve.”

Malfoy frowned. “How many did you go to?”

“Five, before it was just too stupid with all the cameras.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

Harry sipped more tea, aware that this was the longest civil conversation he had had with Malfoy since they began school. They could hear Hannah talking with Jon: “But my friend Ernie is all right, and I had a chance to catch up with my friend Neville, yes, that’s right, the snake …”

“So why Australia?” Harry asked.

“It’s the end of the Earth,” Malfoy replied. “Besides, it’s huge. You can get away from things here. It’s wide open.”

Harry snorted, but felt some sympathy. He turned back to his tea.

Jon looked across the fire at Malfoy. “Seriously, Hannah, that’s the whitest whitefella I’ve ever seen,” he said, voice carrying.

Harry waited for Malfoy to sneer, but when he turned his head, Malfoy wasn’t even listening, he was looking at the sky. “Look up,” he whispered, then glanced down to see them all looking at him. “Look up!” he repeated.

Harry did. There were more stars than he had ever seen. From horizon to horizon the sky was filled with brightness, a few constellations he recognised, many he did not, and there, high in the sky, clouds made of stars. “It’s so big …” Harry murmured.

“It’s beautiful,” said Malfoy. “Look, there’s Orion, and Scorpio, that band of cloud is the Milky Way, the dark spots are interstellar dust, and there in the distance, the Clouds of Magellan.”

“You know your stuff,” said Jon, approvingly.

“I’ve never seen the night like this,” Draco replied without looking down. “Where are we? This can’t be Wollongong, it’s too empty.”

“Nah,” said Jon. “We’re up north, near my country. Out back of Dorrigo. Not many folk up here, so you get a good view. Thought it would be a nice welcome for you two, given it’s a good night.”

“Thanks,” said Harry.

“Thank you,” Malfoy agreed. “What time is it?”

“’Bout quarter to six, sun’ll be up in less than an hour. You lot want to wait here to see it or go straight to school and organise some sleeping?”

“I’m all right to stay up,” said Hannah. “What about you, Harry?”

He shrugged. “Can manage a few more hours. Malfoy?”

“If you can do it, Potter, I can, too.”

Jon snorted with laughter. “You cannot seriously do the last names thing. It’s the end of the twentieth century, mate. Next thing you’ll be swanning about in robes!”

Harry had just been considering putting his back on, given the chill edge to the air.

“It is traditional where we come from,” Draco said lightly. “Lacking regular sun, we choose to keep up standards.”

Jon laughed. “You can relax here. It’s all a bit informal. Too hot most of the time to worry with a lot of the old stuff. More tea?”

Three cups were held out, and Jon poured from the billy.

A dark shape scuttled by.

“What the hell is that?” Malfoy asked, horrified.

“Scorpion.”

“Are they poisonous?”

“Only if they bite you.”

“Should we kill it?”

“If you want,” Jon grinned at him, “there’s good eating on one of those.”

Draco stared at him, aghast.

After a moment Jon laughed. “I’m joking. They taste like crap. But if you can get a python or a goanna, there’s a meal!”

“I am not eating snake,” Malfoy declared. “Po–Harry would never stop going on about the cannibalistic overtones.”

“Are they always like this?” Jon asked Hannah.

“Usually,” she shrugged. “And then they try to kill each other. They’ve promised me they’ve given that up, though.”

Jon made another attempt at conversation. “So, you’re going to sit in with Hannah for the rest of his term then start on your own after the June hols, yeah?”

“That’s the plan,” Harry agreed. “See how we go and then take some extra classes if we need to catch up.”

“Sounds good. I might teach some of those if you’re lucky. Mostly I get the college kids for Charms, Transfiguration and Environment.”

“We don’t do Environment,” Malfoy muttered.

“No worries,” said Jon. “See how you go, you might like it.”

Hannah apparently did, and proceeded to ask a complex question on the topic.

Harry and Malfoy returned to their tea, and the night sky.

“So McGonagall didn’t warn you about me coming, either?” Malfoy asked after a while.

“Not a word. When did you decide?”

“Yesterday.”

Malfoy appeared to think for a few minutes. “Potter,” he said tentatively, “why did you do it?”

“Do what?” Harry was tired, and there had been quite a bit of late.

“Defend me and Mum.”

Harry shrugged. “Seemed the right thing to do.”

Draco’s shoulders dropped a notch. “I tried to hand you over to the Dark Lord.”

“You stopped Crabbe from killing me,” Harry countered quietly.

“Which you promptly repaid by saving Goyle and me from fiery death.” Malfoy frowned at Harry. “I really was there to try and capture you, Potter.”

“Why?”

Malfoy looked away.

Harry let go of caution. “I think you were there because you wanted to save your parents, the same way your mother protected me because she wanted me to save you. I’ve never really liked you, Malfoy, but I do understand that.”

“You think you know everything …” Malfoy’s whisper was sullen.

“Yeah,” said Harry. “Yeah, I do, because I was seeing Riddle’s thoughts for all the last year. I saw exactly what was going on at your house. I saw exactly what was going on with you. So you’ll forgive me if I decided to stop thinking you were a would-be big-name Death Eater and started thinking of you as just another victim, same as the rest of us.”

Malfoy’s frown deepened at the word ‘victim’. “God you’re a prat, Potter.”

“Shut up, Malfoy.”

“Piss off, Potter.”

Jon’s voice rang out across the campfire. “Seriously, you can’t do that here. I realise that you don’t distinguish between being British and being wankers where you come from, but here we do.”

Hannah was glaring at them fiercely.

“If you’re gunna have a fight, you do it using first names and with fists, so there’s no hard feelings afterwards,” Jon instructed. “There should be beer involved. Don’t you two know anything?”

Harry smiled wryly.

“We’ve had a very sheltered education,” Draco announced. “But you’ll find we’re brilliant at Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

Hannah relaxed a little, Harry did, too.

“How are you at flying?” Jon asked. They looked at him, unsure. “Sun’s coming up,” he said, gesturing to the faint glow in the east. “Thought you might like to fly some of the way down to school.”

Harry felt a broad grin spread out over his face. One of the only indulgences he had allowed himself in the last week was a new Firebolt.

“Don’t have a broom,” Malfoy muttered.

“Nah, it’s OK, mate, I packed spares,” Jon pulled four twigs from his pocket and prepared to charm them back to their original forms.

“I’ve got mine with me,” Harry said quickly.

Jon put a twig away. “Good-oh. So, you up to it?”


*****************


They were between the mountains and the sea when the sun blazed over the horizon, an altogether more vigorous proposition than the mellow autumn sunrises Harry was used to. He looked down. Behind them, the low mountain range the plateau stretched on for miles. Their tiny shadows below darted across grasslands and shrublands, in the distance there was forest, and a network of roads.

“It’s so empty!” he yelled across at Jon.

Jon grinned back at him. “You think this is empty, you ought to see the Outback! Anyway, there’s people, they just live on the edges mostly.”

Jon pointed towards the coast and, sure enough, there were towns scattered down it. Harry bent down into his broom and dipped towards the earth for a better view.

His peripheral vision flagged movement, and there was Malfoy, speeding down on the same trajectory. It was like Quidditch, except the usual glare on the other boy was missing. Harry flew back up, until he was close to Jon again. “Which way are we headed?”

Jon pointed to the south-east. “We’ll fly to that bay, then I’ll Apparate us closer.”

Malfoy had drawn level again. Harry checked he had been listening. “Race?” he suggested.

There was a split-second of grin on Malfoy’s face before he kicked forward through the air without waiting for a start call.

Harry sped after him. After the first mile or two of pure speed, the warmth of the early light proved irresistible and Malfoy began to add the odd barrel roll to his flight. Not to be outdone, Harry looped him, at which point Malfoy sped forwards again while Harry was upside down.

Harry could hear a strange sound, and was surprised to realise it was Malfoy laughing. The trees were far below them now, the sea stretching out ahead, the sky empty save for a lone eagle on a lazy hunt. Although it was a little off their path, Harry tilted his broom in its direction and, after a moment, Draco followed. The eagle ignored them, spiralling down in search of rabbits or late bandicoots.

As they flew closer they realised the bird was some three times the size it had appeared, with a wingspan of at least eight feet. They passed above it, leaving some distance between them, a strange dance of respect for their fellow traveller.

The rest of the flight was, technically, still a race, but it was a race where each urged the other to go a little faster and was not dispirited when they did. They arrived at the bay fifteen minutes before Jon and Hannah, sweaty and a little out of breath, but both wearing smiles.

“That was … good,” admitted Malfoy. “I haven’t flown in a year.”

“Me neither,” Harry confessed. “Well, one dragon.”

Malfoy snorted. “Merlin’s balls, Potter, you don’t even do it intentionally, do you?” He shook his head at Harry and went on in what sounded like an accent. “Sorry to hear you’ve been living in terror, Malfoy, actually, I defeated the chap who was planning to kill all your family, so you can stop worrying. So good to get back on a broom again – bit different to the old wild dragon.”

Harry looked at him. “Malfoy, is that supposed to be me?”

“Uncanny, isn’t it?”

“That’s unbelievably bad.”

“Oh shut up Potter.”

“Don’t let Jon hear you say that,” Harry laughed.

“Do you think he was serious about the alcohol and personal violence, or do you think it was an ironic post-colonial comment?”

Harry looked at him blankly.

Malfoy sighed. “You always did make it too easy, Potter.”

“That was a joke,” Harry said, astonished.

“Well done.”

“You made a joke to, and not about, me.”

Malfoy looked out to sea. “I came here to get away,” he muttered. “Maybe one of the things I came here to get away from was the way I used to be.”

It was some time before Harry spoke. “You weren’t wholly bad, Draco. You were loyal to your friends and family, and that’s something.”

“Piss off, Harry,” said Draco, but it lacked its usual venom.


***********************


Jon Apparated the three students most of the remaining distance, arriving in a cliff-top park, where one small dog was patrolling the swings.

“Right,” he said. “We’re nearly there. If you look down the coast, see that town, that’s Muggle Wollongong, there’s good beaches and good shops there if you want Muggle stuff. See behind, all that bush, that’s the National Park, you don’t go there without a local till you know your way about – too much stuff that’ll kill ya round here, and I don’t want to have to tell the Poms one of you trod on a snake.” His grin grew wider at the glance Harry and Malfoy exchanged. Hannah rolled her eyes.

“Now you can Apparate onto school grounds here, and we’ve got Floo and there’s a train to and from the Muggle line, morning and night, but if you want to see the uni at its best, you’ve gotta fly in. Smack a Disillusionment on if it’s after about 10am or you might scare some of the bushwalkers. Right, you ready?”

“As we’ll ever be,” Malfoy replied, and Harry nodded agreement.

“You follow me, or you won’t be able to make it through the first time,” Jon instructed.

“I’ll come and find you if you get lost,” Hannah assured them. “They like to believe that it’s all so tough and frontier here. But they have three-ply toilet paper, we made do with two.”

They kicked off from the ground and Jon led them out over the water again. Harry looked back at the grey-green bush behind them; it stretched for miles. The ocean in front of him fairly dazzled now, and Harry could feel his cheeks starting to grow red in the intense light. He felt a moment of sympathy for Malfoy and his inappropriate colouring.

Malfoy chose that moment to swoop past, whooping.

They stayed close to the cliffs of the coast, dropping below their level when they passed a hamlet of beach shacks, then swung in westwards, back over the coastal hills and towards what seemed, from the air, to be a deeply forested valley.

Jon took a sudden turn to the left and down, and Hannah followed him at the precise point. Harry and Malfoy did likewise, and the valley below them resolved into an extensive complex of low buildings, parks, and no less then four full-sized Quidditch pitches.

Jon led them straight to one of the outermost buildings, a four-sided timber structure with a central courtyard. “Here’s your digs,” he announced. I’ll leave you with Hannah to get yourselves sorted, then I’ll be back later on today to walk you through the last of your paperwork and show you round. Try and get a nap in after you’ve unpacked, it helps with the time shift.”

“Thank you,” Draco said politely, returning his broom.

“Cheers, Jon.” Hannah did likewise. “I’ll sort these two out.”

“We’ll see you later, then,” Harry said, shaking their guide’s hand.

“Yeah, OK, seeyasarvo,” Jon shook back, then walked away with a wave.

Hannah recognised the expression on her countrymen’s faces. “I will see you this afternoon, in Australian,” she explained. “I spent several months thinking it was an indigenous word, or possibly Japanese. Come on, let’s settle you two in.”

The building they walked into had wide verandahs and eaves, with windows looking out in every direction. To Harry, it looked like a pleasant Muggle holiday home. Hannah did nothing to dispel that impression.

“These two rooms at the front are magic-free, that’s where we have the computers and the telly, so no going in there if you’re under any sort of spell, that includes Invisibility Cloaks.”

“Telly?” Malfoy pronounced the word like a virus.

“Television, moving pictures for Muggles. Do not get between an Australian and their sport, Draco, it is more than your life is worth.” She led them down a long hallway.

“Right, this is my room here, twenty-four, I share with Sharon, we have the peonies on our door if you need to find me and forget the number. More rooms, more rooms, down this hall we have the library on the left, then the common room, courtyard access on the right, more rooms, more rooms.”

They were onto the second side of the building now, and Harry could see the courtyard through the large internal windows. “Is that a pool?”

“Oh yes,” Hannah replied. “And there’s a spa, too. The waterfall has a slide. Only quiet swimming after eleven, it heats automatically when it gets cold.”

Even Malfoy seemed impressed at this. “Where are our dorms?” he asked. “And do you have school houses here?”

Hannah chose the safe question. “Not here. They do at Murray Downs, that’s the big school down in Victoria, sort of a would-be Hogwarts, but they don’t have a university attached, which is why I chose to come here. I thought I could see about doing research outside the Ministry after school.”

“And four Quidditch pitches!” Malfoy’s voice held a note of excitement.

“Should have known you’d notice them first. Right,” Hannah turned in that direction. “This side looks out onto the forest, your room is down here.” She was opening a door marked thirteen by the time the missing plurals were noticed.

“Room?” Harry squeaked.

Hannah walked straight inside, the two boys followed her, protests already forming. She shushed them. “It’s the only spare one. And it’s not that bad, you have to share common areas, but there are two bedrooms, you even have the nicest bathroom. Sharon and I were going to swap to here, but she said I should let Draco have it when I rang her yesterday.”

It was, indeed, not that bad. A large sitting room with a wood fire looked out onto the forest through sliding glass doors, with a small kitchen off to one side. Harry walked in and opened doors, two bedrooms, each with a sofa, a desk, a basin and a private loo, and beside the kitchen a decent-sized shared bathroom.

“We could swap with someone else, one of us go to their room,” he suggested.

Hannah frowned slightly. “Yeah, you could, but it’s a pretty big favour. You might want to tough it out for a few weeks until somebody owes you something.”

“I could pay,” Malfoy offered.

Hannah shook her head. “Won’t work here. They’ll drink your money in beer without question, but offer to pay for a favour and they’ll never forgive you.”

“That’s absurd.”

“It’s cultural.”

Harry pushed his hair back from his face. “OK, look, we can cope without killing each other for a few days. We have separate rooms, there are house common rooms, we can go outside. We do not need to spend more than a few minutes in each other’s company. It will be fine. Let’s just unpack for now and get some sleep.”

Malfoy held Harry’s gaze for a long minute. “All right,” he said. He looked quickly at the two bedrooms, then went to the slightly larger. “I’ll have this one.”

“Fine. Good. Thanks, Hannah, I’m going to unpack and get some sleep.”

She gave him a brief hug. “I’m glad you’re here, it’s going to be fun! Have a good nap.”

As Harry went in through his door, he could hear her offering to help Draco settle in. He didn’t stay to see whether the offer was taken up.

Harry rested his broom against the corner of his bed and pulled his tiny trunk from his mokeskin pouch. He Enlarged it, and reached in for his toothbrush and toothpaste. A quick cleaning later he felt at least half-human, and pulled off his travel-worn clothes. There was a pile of towels and flannels on the end of his bed, he popped one towel on the floor in front of his basin and proceeded to wash himself down.

Harry had just dried himself off and tucked the towel around his hips when Malfoy burst into his room without knocking. With a monumental effort at civility, Harry did not lunge for his wand.

Malfoy stared at him.

“Yes?” Harry prompted.

“Can you still speak Parseltongue?” Malfoy blurted out.

“No, why?”

“Snake.”

Harry followed him out into the kitchen, and there, curled up in a patch of sun on the benchtop was a huge dappled snake. It ignored them.

“Go and get Hannah,” Harry suggested.

“You go! I don’t want to come back and find the snake is hiding somewhere else!”

“I’m not dressed. You go, I’ll keep an eye on the snake.”

Malfoy accepted the logic of this suggestion. He set off at a trot.

He was back quickly, with Hannah in tow and a tall, slim girl with thick brown hair. “Betty!” the girl exclaimed, pushing past Harry to pick up the snake. “You naughty girl, I’ve been looking for you for days!”

Harry and Malfoy stared at her.

“Hello,” she addressed herself to Harry. “Going for a swim?”

“Er …” Harry found himself tongue-tied when addressed by a girl with a seven-foot python draped across her shoulders.

“Sorry about the Betster, she’s usually quite good, but it’s been a hot autumn. I’m Sharon, Hannah’s friend.” She put out a hand, alas, with a python head wrapped around the arm above it.

“Harry,” he said, shaking her fingers quickly. “And you’ve met Ma– Draco.”

“Hi Draco, sorry for the fright. She’s just a carpet python, harmless unless you tread on her, and even then it’s just like a dog bite. But you should look before you sit down. And Hannah’s told you to shake out your shoes before you put them on, yeah? Some of the spiders are a bit nasty.”

Malfoy ignored Sharon’s second comment and reached past Harry to tentatively pat the snake’s head. “Her name’s Betty?”

Sharon grinned. “Betty Windsor, she’s a queen among snakes.”

Malfoy smiled at her. “I’ll keep an eye out for her.”

“She gets out at least once a month,” Hannah intoned ruefully. “Someone who shall remain Sharon forgets to put the lid on her tank.”

“She likes to make new friends.” Sharon grinned at the two boys.

“They need to get some sleep, and so do I. Come on.” Hannah led her friend away, and Malfoy closed the door behind them.

“A pet snake?” Harry was astonished.

“They do things differently here,” Malfoy reminded him.

“I thought all the snakes were deadly.”

“Maybe they have varying degrees of deadly?”

“Maybe. OK, see you later.”

“P–Harry,” Malfoy stopped him.

“What?”

“You’ll wear clothes out here normally, yeah?”

Harry sighed. “Yes, Draco, unless I’m saving you from another snake.” Even though he was too tired to turn his head, Harry knew Draco was making rude hand gestures at him.

He was about to slide into bed when it occurred to him that things were not quite right. He put his glasses back on and picked up his wand. A few moments later the bed linens were scarlet and gold. He took his glasses off again, dropped his towel, and slipped into a dreamless sleep.


***********************


Jon gave them until two to sleep, and bought hot chocolate for everyone before he took them on their orientation tour of the University.

He began by supplying brochures and pointing out that everyone got lost. “But you can always get back to where you’re meant to be by the colour coding on the signposts. The college areas have red, the residential areas green, so if you want to come back here, look for a red and green arrow.”

He walked them around their school buildings, each discipline separated from the others and close to the university faculties. “It can be a bit of a hike, so it’s OK to Apparate around the place, just be careful, splinching means piss-taking.”

“Um …” Malfoy looked embarrassed.

“We haven’t got our licenses,” Harry explained. “We were at war all last year.”

Jon was apologetic. “Should have thought of that, I’ll sort something out for the two of you this week. We can practice after class this week, too.”

He explained about the tutoring system, how each of the residential buildings – co-ops – had several third- and fourth-year university students to help the younger students academically, and with any basic mentoring they might need. He showed them the shops, where everything from Thai food to Quidditch supplies could be obtained, and then on to the Quidditch pitches themselves.

They were huge, beautiful, with student dressing rooms and lockers and scratch teams and development classes. Leaflets on the noticeboards even offered classes from senior players and coaches. Harry and Malfoy stood, transfixed, watching the teams overhead, running drills and throwing Quaffles.

Harry and Malfoy both sighed.

“You two can probably sign on to the development team, you know,” Hannah suggested. “It’s too late this term for you to join any of the proper teams, but they often have scratch games against the uni teams, so it’s actually a harder level of play.”

“Can we …” Malfoy looked embarrassed. “Can we look in the broom shop?” he managed in a rush.

“Yeah, get in there,” Jon conceded.

Harry followed Malfoy in, and was impressed at the range on offer. In addition to the traditional Cleansweeps and Firebolts, they offered a series of customised brooms, and an Australian marque, the Min Min.

Malfoy was asking the shop assistant about one of these. “It doesn’t look as fast as the Firebolt, so why does it have so many extra bracing points?”

“We call it the Drop Bear,” the assistant told him. “It’s a bit ambling in a straight line, but it’s death from above when you need to win in a dive, and pulls out on a pin. Lovely stuff – best for Catchers. Whadda you play?”

“Seeker.”

“Firebolt for you, really, it’s the best on the market and the designers know it. Got your optimum combination of speed and movement, plus it’s a reliable and strong build. We’ve got some nice paint and fitting customisations if you’re looking for something beyond the standard.”

Harry watched as the assistant showed Malfoy a broom with silver fittings and green stripes down its shaft. He couldn’t help smiling a little at the tender way in which Malfoy held it.

“You may as well buy it,” he said, even though he hadn’t intended to speak.

Malfoy looked up at him sharply. “Forgot you were about. No, thanks, I’ll hold off for now.”

Harry frowned. He paused for a moment to make sure he used the right name. “Draco, are you having problems with money?”

“What? No, don’t be absurd.”

“Then you should buy it,” Harry insisted. “It’ll cheer you up.”

Malfoy hesitated. “You have a Firebolt,” he admitted. “Don’t want to be copying.”

Harry snorted. “That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

“Oh go fuck yourself, Harry.” Somehow, Malfoy managed to make Harry’s Christian name sound more impersonal than his surname.

“Just buy the bloody broom. It’s green, mine’s not. You’re not copying, you’re just scared I’ll wipe the pitch with you on the same broom.”

Malfoy bought the broom. Jon and Hannah walked between the two boys through the rest of the orientation, which consisted of the student centre, the administration buildings, and an introduction to their Year Supervisor.

Bruce Widdington was the sort of man who would have been an Auror back in England, Harry decided. Square and bluff and with about four minutes to make their acquaintance. “If you have any small problems, you see Jon or Amanda, she’s in your co-op, too. For big problems, come to me and we’ll see what we can do. We expect at least a ninety per cent attendance rate unless you have a note from the Healers, or there’s a big game on.”

Harry waited for the traditions of the school to be explained to him, but there was nothing forthcoming. Widdington seemed to sense they wanted more. He reached into his desk. “And all our students have free passes to home games for the Warriors, here you go, lads, next one is Sunday arvo.”

“That,” said Malfoy as they walked back to the co-op, “was different.”

“Finest traditions of modern educational administration,” Jon said, grinning. “Anyway, that’s pretty much it. Any questions?”

“Where are the house-elves?” Malfoy asked.

Jon laughed. “Hannah asked the same thing when she came here, we don’t have any. You can either cook in your kitchen or eat out. There’s a laundry in the back of the co-op, or you can drop things off at the big laundry on Mawson Street. Cleaner comes round once a week to dust and hoover, and that’s it.”

Malfoy looked at him in horror. “Can we import our own?”

Harry’s ears pricked up. He had had a very uncomfortable conversation with Kreacher before leaving, and was starting to feel he had made the wrong decision leaving the elf behind.

“You could, but from November through to March it’s just too hot for them here. That’s why we make do without, it’s too cruel to the little buggers.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes, but held his tongue.

“Anything else?” Jon asked.

“Where can we find our classes timetable?” Harry asked.

Hannah pulled two sheets from her pocket. “You’ll be with me for the next month until the end of this term, then you’ll choose your own electives for next term.”

“Sorry for making you miss classes on your first day back,” Harry apologised.

Hannah giggled. “Silly, it’s Monday. No classes on Monday, what’s the point of going to school in Australia if not for the long weekends?”

Harry glanced down at the timetable, to find she was right. He grinned. “In that case, thanks for giving up the afternoon, and you, Jon.”

“Good-oh. Leave you two to fart-arse about and might see you at the ARQ game tonight.”

“ARQ?” Harry had never heard the term.

“Aussie Rules Quidditch, do not ask,” Hannah told him. “Yes, they’ll be there,” she assured Jon. “And I’ll explain the rules to you two while we watch. It’s moderately stupid, but they love it here.”

“Witches in tight shorts,” laughed Jon. “What’s not to love?”

Harry and Malfoy made their way through the co-op back to their room. “Potter,” Malfoy whispered, making sure no one could overhear them. “Do you know how to cook?”

“Yes, Malfoy.”

“Thank Merlin.”




Part three
 
 
Current Location: still sofa
Current Mood: still achey
Current Music: still Wimbeldon
 
 
 
★★ C. Gabriel Wright ★★: actions: writinggabe_speaks on June 27th, 2008 08:17 am (UTC)
Harry and Malfoy made their way through the co-op back to their room. “Potter,” Malfoy whispered, making sure no one could overhear them. “Do you know how to cook?”

“Yes, Malfoy.”

“Thank Merlin.”


and that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up quite nicely, i think. Clapping 4
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 29th, 2008 10:16 am (UTC)
Heh, I like to think that Malfoy is a complete demon when it comes to bossing around tradesmen, though.
Drooling Fan Girldroolfangrrl on January 30th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
hey i like your stuff just wanted to say about the stars that they can't see Orion from Australia, it's a norther constellation

http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/the_universe/images/starmaps/map_6_large_jpg_image.html
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 31st, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
Cheers miss! And while Orion is certainly not as dominant in the sky in Australia as it is in the Northern Hemisphere, and you are right that you can't see it through winter, it is quite visible through summer: http://www.hubbletelescope.btinternet.co.uk/directions.shtml

Quite a lot of the constellations that I grew up with appear in the Southern sky, just arranged oddly and at surprising times of year!
Drooling Fan Girldroolfangrrl on January 31st, 2009 12:31 am (UTC)
Ah! Thanks then, and sorry, it just seemed odd that you would have those other things so well researched and not that, my bad then...

p.s. it's been a year, think you're going to write part four of that one fic?
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 31st, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
I really am. Life has just been far more chaotic than I was expecting. I was hoping to knock it over this month, but am on the last day and have to pack to go abroad. But I will be writing a bit more on the plane tomorrow! It is still coming together, just very slooooooowly ... Sorry!
orpheneritusorpheneritus on November 13th, 2009 01:08 pm (UTC)
I think if I had to go to Wollongong to escape, I might have to pursue the alternate option of killing myself! Very amusing I'm enjoying your relaxed take on us Aussie which for the most part, especially outside of the major cities, it true. We're a bit 'help yourself' oriented ^^.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 15th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)
Australians always say that, but I think it is because you have been to Dapto, as well as Wollongong. I loved the geography of Wollongong, with its beach and cliff edges, even the fire plume from the steelworks: it's oddly lovely.

Though I have to confess, I wouldn't move there ;-)
Loyaulte Me Lieshocolate on June 12th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
The Australian Wizarding community really only cares about Quidditch.

Joy.

“So you don’t think I should accept Witch Weekly’s thousand-Galleon offer to pose with my shirt off?”

“Have they ever seen you with your shirt off?” Ron asked, sceptically.


JOY.