- Rough Draft
- Work in Progress
- Abuse - Child
- Character Bashing
- Discussion - Child Abuse
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
- Fix It
Three things lay on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon’s sister Marge, who was vacationing on the Isle of Wight, a brown envelope that looked like a bill, and… a letter for Harry.
Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives… he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even gotten rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald-green ink. There was no stamp.
Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal, bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H.
“Hurry up, boy!” shouted Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. “What are you doing, checking for letter bombs?” He chuckled at his own joke.
Harry frowned, turning the letter back over to look at the address. Whoever had written it knew about his “bedroom” essentially being in the cupboard under the stairs. He couldn’t help remembering, too, how badly his aunt and uncle tended to react when they got letters from school about him. In fact, the last one about moving him into an advanced maths class came particularly to mind. He’d spent six bruised and bloody weeks in his cupboard after that one.
He looked toward the kitchen door, and back at the letter… and made up his mind. Taking the other two envelopes into his left hand, Harry started walking toward the kitchen with his usual shuffle. As he passed the door to his cupboard, he flicked his letter in, aiming for the blanket on his bed. The letter whipped in and slid neatly under the blanket as he pushed the cupboard’s door closed.
Mission accomplished, Harry made his way into the kitchen and handed Uncle Vernon the bill and the postcard before sitting down at the table and staring at his empty plate, forcing himself to not look toward the hall. Any chance he had to read that letter without interference depended upon his not drawing attention to it.
Uncle Vernon ripped open the bill, snorted in disgust, and flipped over the postcard.
“Marge’s ill,” he informed Aunt Petunia. “Ate a funny whelk…”
“Dad!” said Dudley suddenly. “Dad, Harry’s sitting at the table! Like he belongs here!”
Vernon frowned and glared at him. “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, his tiny eyes narrowing dangerously. “Think you’re good enough to sit at the table with the rest of us, do you?”
Harry got up abruptly. “Sorry, Uncle Vernon.”
“Just for that, no breakfast for you. You can just get started on your chores, then. Go on,” and Vernon made shooing motions at him, “out with you!”
Harry scuttled quickly out of reach of his uncle’s meaty hands and out the back door. Petunia followed him with his list, her lips pursed tightly together. “Don’t forget to water the roses before you mulch them,” she said sharply, then checked behind her before pulling the door closed. “Here,” she said, pushing an apple into his hands. “Now go.”
He stared up at her in shock. “Aunt Petunia?”
She frowned at him, taking a quick look around before glaring at him. “Well, you can hardly finish weeding if you’re going to pass out with hunger. Now go!”
Harry took the apple, shoving it into a pocket as he opened her list, heading for the garden shed. Under the cover of getting the mower out, Harry pulled the apple out and frowned at it. Aunt Petunia had never done anything like this before. Ever. He turned it over and over… there weren’t even any bite marks taken out of it.
Looking back toward the house, where he could see his aunt through the dining room window, setting a plate in front of Dudley as he ripped through his presents, the lower rumble of Uncle Vernon asking a question coming through the open window and the way Aunt Petunia smiled before answering him. Something had changed. Something vital and he wasn’t sure what it was. He frowned, then turned and got busy with the mower. The apple could wait until later.
It just added to the general weirdness of the day when Aunt Petunia called him to leave off and informed him that he’d be going with them on Dudley’s birthday visit to the zoo.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
It was close to midnight before Harry had a chance to open the letter. It was a good thing he’d found an old camping torch in the garden shed two weeks ago, and managed to salvage a couple of old batteries for it. It was just bright enough to read by, and it was probably one of the few times he was grateful for his voluminous hand me down jeans, because he’d been able to shove it all into a pocket before going in the house to wash up before dinner. Not that he got much beyond a couple of crackers and a slice of ham that was mostly gristle on that particular day. Today, though, he hadn’t had any dinner after being shoved into his cupboard, so it was a good thing the Dursleys had fed him during their lunch at the zoo. As tempting as it had been, he’d refrained from pulling out the letter and reading it then. Given Uncle Vernon’s propensity for suddenly yanking the cupboard’s door open to yell at him for whatever imagined slight he’d remembered, or to get a few more smacks in, Harry didn’t want to take a chance on being caught with it, so he’d waited. He waited until they’d finished dinner, and through the watching of their evening telly, and he’d waited through the sound of food being put away, dishes washed, and Aunt Petunia’s obsessive scrubbing down of the entire kitchen, filling the house with the smell of disinfectant. He’d waited through Dudley’s bangs and thumps on his cupboard door, through Uncle Vernon’s kicks against it, and he’d waited until long after he’d heard his aunt, uncle, and cousin thump their way up the stairs. He’d listened to all the sounds of them walking around upstairs, the creaks and pings of their mattresses as they climbed into bed, and the clicks of lights going out. He’d listened as Uncle Vernon started snoring, and the following whistle of Aunt Petunia’s sinuses as she fell asleep, and still Harry waited. He waited until he heard a thump on the floor and Dudley’s muttered, “Stupid game,” and the flump of covers signaling his cousin had turned over angrily in his bed. Harry waited, counting his breaths between the ticks of the hall clock, waiting long after Dudley had joined his parents in their nightly chorus. He waited as long as he could possibly wait, and then he waited a little more.
Finally, fingers twitching, Harry reached under the mattress for the torch he’d smuggled in earlier, and under the blanket for the letter. He reached up to gently and quietly close the vent on the door. It would get hot and stuffy in his cupboard, but he couldn’t take the chance of the light from the torch being visible. Then and only then did he click the button and aim the light down at the letter and read the address again.
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
He ran a reverent finger over the parchment envelope, then studied the seal on the back. Who used waxed seals anymore?
Finally, Harry decided to open it, and as his fingers touched the thick wax of the seal, he felt something tingle under his fingers. He hesitated, running light fingertips over it as the tingle spread, something sparking up along his bones and making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. The scar on his forehead almost burned, and something in him pushed back at the tingling sparks spreading up his arms. He dropped the letter, barely aware of a voice whispering at the back of his mind, Pick it up, boy. Pick up the letter. You want to read it. You want to belong. Read the letter. Hold it in your hands. Pick it up…
Harry stared at the letter lying on his blanket nervously. “What was that?” he whispered. His fingertips tingled again, and he rubbed them absently against his blanket, frowning. He didn’t like the whispering voice calling him, “Boy.” That smacked too much of Uncle Vernon, he thought bitterly.
But he needed to read that letter.
Looking up on the shelf above his bed, he reached for the broken mug with the fading daisies painted on its side and pulled out a pencil and a Biro with hardly any ink in it. Using them as extensions, he teased the letter out of the envelope and unfolded it.
Under an elaborate letterhead proclaiming, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore,” with a bunch of daft sounding titles underneath the name, was the body of the letter.
“Dear Mr. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
Harry stared at the words, his frown deepening. What on earth was this?
He sat back against the headboard, turning off the torch to preserve the batteries as he pondered it. First, it couldn’t be an elaborate prank by the Dursleys, because they weren’t that clever, nor were any of them, least of all Uncle Vernon, capable of planning something so elaborate.
And that didn’t explain the tingle, his scar burning, or the whisper he’d heard in his head.
Something wanted Harry to hold that letter. Something wanted that tingle to move up his arms to… where?
The scar on his forehead pulsed, and he reached up to touch it, rubbing the edges of it lightly. He never liked touching the center of it, where it bulged slightly, but the edges… touching the edges was comforting. He felt the raised bumps of the bits that almost looked like letters against his fingertips and sighed. So much of his life made so little sense.
A school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Did that make him… a wizard? Did that mean… magic was real?
That would mean that… all the odd things he’d done over the last eleven years… was it… magic?
If only he could remember his parents…
Harry looked back at the letter, clicking the light back on as he studied the words written on it. He wasn’t sure what it meant about “awaiting his owl,” but he did know one thing. He needed information, but… how to find it?
There was nothing he could do right now, though. Reluctantly, he used the edges of his blanket to awkwardly refold the letter and push it back in its envelope. A grunt and the squeaking of bedsprings upstairs heralding Uncle Vernon turning over in bed made him freeze, waiting to be sure the man wasn’t getting up. He turned off the torch again, waiting. A wheezing snore, a soft complaint from Aunt Petunia, and within moments, the snoring and the whistling sinuses resumed their chorus. Letting out the breath he’d been holding, Harry carefully tucked the letter under his mattress and lay back down, his mind too full of questions to sleep easily.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Two days later, after Uncle Vernon had left for work and Dudley had gone to spend the day with Piers, Aunt Petunia came into the kitchen as he finished wiping down the table and said, “Clean up and change into some clean clothes. I’m going shopping.”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia.” Harry gave the table a final swipe, then carried the cloth to the sink to rinse it and wring it before hanging it carefully to dry. He scurried out of the kitchen to his cupboard and listened as his aunt went up the stairs.
Whenever Aunt Petunia told him to clean up because she was going shopping, it was because she needed him to carry whatever she was buying, usually something heavy and difficult to manage. She wanted him to clean up because she didn’t want anyone to complain to her about his smell again, but she only had herself to blame, since she rarely let him bathe more than once every couple of weeks.
Grabbing his threadbare towel and the tiny bar of soap she allowed him, Harry hurried up the stairs and into the bathroom, turning on the water and hopping in for a quick wash.
“Three minutes!” she screeched through the door.
Harry quickly soaped off and rinsed, then ran soapy hands through his hair and rinsed again, teeth chattering in the cold water. Done, he got out and dried off before picking up his clothes and scurrying back down the stairs.
Fortunately, Aunt Petunia had let him wash his clothes only a few days ago, so he still had plenty of clean things to choose from. Which was why he was astonished when he got down the stairs and found Aunt Petunia standing at the bottom with a bundle of something in her arms.
“I… I tried to shower as fast as I could, Aunt Petunia,” he stammered and she sighed, thrusting the bundle toward him.
“Put these on,” she said, and held a pair of trainers that not only looked almost new, but weren’t… huge toward him. “And these, too.”
“Aunt Petunia?” Harry stared up at her, realizing the bundle was actually clothing.
“Hurry up. I want to leave in five minutes.” She turned and walked briskly back into the kitchen.
Stunned, Harry rushed back up the stairs and into the bathroom and opened the bundle.
The clothing wasn’t new, but it was his size. Well, not quite, they were still a little loose, but more in a giving him room to grow into them sort of way, and not in a Dudley’s hand-me-downs sort of way. They weren’t new, but they weren’t threadbare, either, or even worn. More like… lived in. The jeans had washed to a comfortable softness, as had the shirt, and the trainers, while slightly worn on the edges, fit his narrow feet much better than anything of Dudley’s ever had. He finished dressing and hurried down the stairs.
Aunt Petunia looked up as he came into the kitchen and her lips thinned. “Well,” she said, getting to her feet. “Let’s look at you. Hmmmm…. not bad. You’re too thin, of course, but the clothes fit well enough. All right, let’s go.” And she led the way down the hall and out the front door.
The day only got stranger after that.
She drove to Tesco’s, which he didn’t expect, and walked them both briskly into the store. They didn’t stay, though. He followed her in, and through the store and to his shock, they walked to the back entrance and out. “Aunt Petunia, where…”
He snapped his mouth shut and followed his aunt to a bus stop, and then onto the next bus that arrived. She didn’t speak to him the entire time they rode the bus, and led him out at a stop near a train station, where she pulled a rather battered looking newsboy cap out of her bag and shoved it down over his head, neatly covering his forehead. When he looked up to ask, the fierce look in her eyes made him swallow his words. He didn’t even get to so much as look around as as she led him into the station at a quick pace, and the next thing he knew, he was seated next to his silent aunt again on a train. They changed trains four times, going in seemingly random directions, until finally, they were in London and he was trotting along after her as fast as he could as she walked briskly down Charing Cross Road. Every attempt to question her had been shot down with a brisk, “No questions!”
Petunia first led him into an optometrist’s, where his glasses were deftly plucked off his face after an intense whispered conversation with the doctor and Harry was surprised to discover they had an appointment. Her lips thinned as the optometrist fussed at her about not bringing Harry for regular visits, and again for his having entirely the wrong prescription for his eyes. “He should never have even needed glasses, Mrs. Wickersham, if you’d just brought him to a reputable eye doctor when his school first alerted you to his vision problems,” the man scolded.
Aunt Petunia’s lips primmed up as she fixed the optometrist with a steely eye. “The point is, does he need them now?” she asked sharply.
The eye doctor grimaced. “I have a po-…” and at her glare, he stopped, then sighed heavily, “ -particularly special set of… eyedrops that will solve the problem easily.”
“Thank you,” Petunia said, and Harry found himself lying back in the exam chair as the doctor dropped a strange green liquid that smelled like licorice and sweaty armpits into his eyes. It hissed when it touched his corneas and he cried out when it burned intensely for a moment.
“It’s all right, child,” said the optometrist, a hand firmly on his wrist. “Bear with it and blink, blink, blink!”
Harry blinked furiously, and suddenly, the room came back into focus. He looked up and found Aunt Petunia frowning anxiously at him.
“I didn’t know your eyes were blue!” he blurted, and she flushed.
The optometrist chuckled, though he said nothing, and Harry was all but yanked up out of the chair. Aunt Petunia paid for his treatment then led him out of the shop at an even faster pace.
“Mrs. Wickersham?” he asked as they all but ran up the road.
“I could hardly use our real names,” Petunia said grimly as they wove through a crowd of people getting off a bus. “Vernon must never find out.”
“He’ll notice I’m not wearing glasses,” Harry pointed out.
“I’ve already taken care of that,” she said, patting her purse. “Now, come along,” she said, walking even faster.
She finally slowed enough for him to catch up with her, and when her hand came down on his shoulder, Harry looked up at her in surprise. Aunt Petunia rarely touched him voluntarily, and even then, it was usually to hurt him.
This time, though, Petunia’s hand was firm on his shoulder, her fingers weren’t digging in, and she looked resigned as she stared at a series of shops across the road from them. “Aunt Petunia?”
She looked down at him, and he saw her lips tremble for a moment before a look of determination came into her eyes. “Come along, Harry,” she said briskly and led them to the crosswalk.
He nearly stumbled in shock. She called him Harry. Aunt Petunia never called him Harry!
The world must be about to end, he thought in wonder.
They crossed the street and headed toward a tobacconist’s shop… then passed it. There was a long stretch of blank brick wall, Harry thought, then frowned as Petunia’s hand tightened on his shoulder. Was… was that a … door… forming? In the wall? With… a sign… Harry stopped in shock as the door opened and an oddly dressed man stepped out, setting the sign above it waving and squeaking. The Leaky Cauldron, read the sign when it stilled.
“Aunt… Aunt Petunia…” Harry breathed, his eyes wide.
“No questions!” Petunia snapped as she all but dragged him toward the door and then through it.
All noise from the street seemed to disappear as the door closed behind them. The dingy smoky interior made it hard to see until his eyes adjusted to the dimness. People were sitting at tables and standing at the bar, and had turned to look at them when they entered, but when they didn’t do or say anything interesting, the attention of those within returned to their own pursuits. Petunia’s grip on his shoulder tightened again, then loosened enough to guide him to the bar where the barkeeper looked up. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yes, could you please open the entrance to Diagon Alley for us?” Petunia asked politely.
“Certainly, missus,” the barkeeper said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a stick as he led the way to a side door. “Muggles?”
“Yes,” said Petunia tightly as she drew Harry close to her and followed the barkeeper out into a little bricked yard. They stood in silence as the man tapped several bricks with his stick and stepped back.
The bricks folded back on themselves and an opening appeared in the wall, much to Harry’s astonishment. It grew when he looked up at his aunt and realized she didn’t seem to be surprised at all. If anything, she looked resigned.
“There you go, missus,” the barkeeper said, stepping back and gesturing through the opening. “Th’ bank’s that big white building, right there,” and he pointed at the gleaming white marble structure further down. “You have a good day now.”
“Thank you,” Aunt Petunia said weakly, then nudged Harry. “Come along then. Davey. We have a lot to do.”
“Yes, Aunt… Marigold,” Harry said a little awkwardly, improvising on the spot. He supposed calling her “Aunt Stinkweed” would most likely destroy this odd detente they had going between them.
She blew out a huff through her nostrils, then led him into the street. “Stay close to me and do not speak!” she hissed to him softly. “We are going straight to the bank. You may hear people say your real name. Do not turn, do not acknowledge them. Just keep moving and stay with me.”
“Yes, Aunt Marigold,” Harry said, and moved as close to his aunt as he dared. “Um… Aunt Marigold… where are we?”
Petunia stopped, then sighed, looking down at him. “Diagon Alley… Davey. There is a lot I must tell you, but not here. Just… stay close to me and hold in your questions, can you do that for me?”
She didn’t look angry. She looked… tired. Desperately unhappy. And oddly young.
It suddenly occurred to Harry that his Aunt Petunia was only 34 years old.
“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” he said. The lure of answers to his questions was enough to win his cooperation. For now.
Petunia nodded. “Then let’s go to Gringotts Bank.”
* ~ * ~ * ~ *