Chapter 1: Petunia Triumphant
fanart by the lovely Hikari: http://merdesmiroirs.tumblr.com/post/34038112587
Harry Potter was four years old the first and last time that the Headmaster of Hogwarts dropped by Little Winging to check on him. It was exactly noon when a knock at the door had Mrs. Dursley rising from the table, blotting at her mouth with a napkin, and asking, "Vernon, are you expecting company?"
The largest Dursley muffled a negative reply around his mouthful of pulled pork and watched his wife exit the kitchen, walk down the front hall, and quickly peer through the peep hole in the door. She gave a terrible start and hastily reached for the doorknob, only to retract her hand as though burnt.
"Who is it, Pet?" Vernon called.
"Oh, no one," the thin woman replied, voice much higher than normal.
"If it's a solicitor tell them we aren't interested."
Petunia made for the door again and paused, ringing her hands. The doorbell rang twice, in a rather jaunty fashion, and the woman glanced back at her husband, son, and nephew who were all watching her curiously.
"Well," said Vernon, "get on with it."
Smiling in a strained manner, she opened the door by a few inches and whispered "Yes? What is it?" "Ah, Mrs. Dursley. Might I come in?" The voice drifted into the kitchen, light and exuberant, despite obviously belonging to someone of very old age.
Vernon Dursley rose from his place at the table, a bit of brown sauce at the corner of his lip, and made his way towards the door. "Who..."
In walked a man wearing the most unusual clothes to ever grace the entrance hall of Number 4, Privet Drive (although no one had given their assent to his entrance). Albus Dumbledore had chosen that day to wear puce yellow robes hemmed with purple and gold begonias, upon which landed the occasional hummingbird. He smiled lightly at everyone in the house, his eyes twinkling particularly when they landed upon the Potter heir. "I see young Harry is coming along well," he addressed Petunia, "I have dropped in on this fine Tuesday to check on the bo—"
"Yes," Petunia interrupted him, and then commanded in a terribly sweet voice, "Boys, go play upstairs while Daddy and I talk with the man."
Dudley, already too spoiled to obey his mother under any circumstances, protested immediately. "But Mummy, I'm not done eating—"
"Upstairs! If you're good we'll take you both out for ice cream later, alright Dumpling?"
"Alright." The rotund boy agreed reluctantly, and added as he trudged up the stairs, "But why do I have to play with him?"
"Dudley, be nice to your cousin. Upstairs. Now."
Confused, hungry, and curious about the flamboyant old man in the sitting room, Dudley stomped to his room and slammed the door to the best of his four year old ability.
Downstairs Petunia's face twitched into a horrible parody of a smile. "He's going through a phase," she said, eyeing the wizard as he sat on the loveseat. She stood next to her husband who appeared to be deeply offended by the old man's very presence. An awkward silence ensued, while Dumbledore surveyed his surroundings with apparent fascination, until Vernon drew himself out of his shock and said, "Who the bloody hell are you, and what are you doing in my house?"
"Ah, forgive my rudeness. I am Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the magical guardian of young Mr. Harry Potter. I couldn't trouble you for tea, could I?" he said with a pointed glance towards the kitchen where the Dursley's lunch was growing cold. "And perhaps something sweet to chew on? It has been a long journey."
Vernon did not appear to have any sort of response to the strange request, and Petunia was shooting nervous glances between her husband, Dumbledore, and the stairs. "What is it you wanted to know about Harry? We've been taking care of him. Fed him, clothed him, provided everything he could need."
"Oh, I don't doubt it," Dumbledore said with an indulgent smile. "I had actually hoped to talk to Harry himself-"
"He's afraid of strangers." Petunia hastily cut in, "And older... people." She glanced at the ghastly yellow robes he was wearing as though she were afraid of them.
"Well then, perhaps you could answer a few questions for me." Dumbledore said, gesturing for the Dursleys to sit.
"What is this, an inquisition?" Demanded Vernon angrily.
"Now, now, darling," Petunia said.
Neither of them moved. "I want to know who this man is and what he is doing in my house!"
Petunia addressed Dumbledore as though she had not heard her husband. "What do you want to know?"
The headmaster's smile hardened a bit and he asked "How is the boy doing? Has he adjusted well to living in this home?"
"He is a part of the family. Him and Dudley usually get along very well."
"He doesn't have nightmares? Have there been any behavioral problems?"
Vernon started to reply, but Petunia cut him off once again. "We are all fine. Harry is fine. He doesn't remember anything."
Dumbledore seemed to consider her words. His smile was gone, and the twinkle in his eye had become a piercing glint. Finally he asked "Can you tell me any of his interests?"
It was obviously a test, and Petunia paled at the implications. "Books." She gritted out, "He likes reading." Of course this was a lie. Petunia Dursley did not know a thing about her nephew's interests, and Harry was, in fact, unable to read. He could recognize a few letters of the alphabet (learned from the educational toys that Dudley never played with), and he didn't go to pre-school with his cousin. The Dursleys had made no attempt to educate him beyond basic communication.
"I see," Dumbledore said. "Well then, unless refreshments are forthcoming, I shall take my leave."
Petunia was more than happy to show him out, and she clutched the open door as though afraid it would accidentally close and never open again. As the headmaster exited he added with a mischievous twinkle, "Perhaps you could buy him some books for his birthday— It is coming up, isn't it?"
"Yes." Petunia said, and closed the door in his face.
The Dursleys did not take their son and nephew out for ice cream later. They did not, in fact, leave the house for the rest of the day. Dudley threw a colossal fit, and Harry was banished to the cupboard indefinitely. Petunia had a brief conversation with her husband which devolved at the end to constipated shouts of indignation. Harry could hear them through the wall of the stairs, and knew that they were talking about him. He also knew that he would not be allowed to eat at the table for some time. After all, it was a dangerous place to eat. Anyone could walk right in the front door and see him, a perfect oddity, disgracing his aunt and uncle's presence with his freakishness. Although (he did think with a bit of spite), his cousin was not anything to be respected. More like pushed down the stairs. He rolled over with a smile, pondering whether his fat cousin would fall more like a slinky or a pudding.
It was early in June, and while Petunia had already done most of the birthday shopping for her 'dear Diddums,' the boy had seen something in a commercial which he absolutely had to have, and would not be happy without. So Petunia was in town for some last minute gift gathering. A week had passed since the disruptive visit from the Man Whose Name Wasn't Spoken in the Dursley Household, and things had settled back into a modicum of normalcy. Of course, she had no intention of going out of her way to comply with the... Man's wishes. But as she strode from store to store, tired, anxious, and more than a little fearful for her families safety, it occurred to her that she might actually do something about it.
So, once she had found the deluxe toy her son wanted so dearly, she stopped at a second hand book store. It was on the way home, and she had never been to the place before. It had a large sign out front with books and a smiling child. Let them see, she thought angrily. Let them see all that we do for that ungrateful wretch.
"Can I help you?"
She was startled out of her thoughts by a young man, hunched over, quiet spoken, and peering at her through a pair of thick glasses. "No," she replied curtly, and tried to figure out where to start. Her eyes landed immediately on a desk piled high with children's books and a sign reading Half Off.
She stood looking at the books for a few minutes, hands clasped together above her navel. Anyone looking would have been concerned for her mental health, for she was gazing at the brightly colored books as though they were all written in a foreign language. At length she picked one up, sporting a blank, brown leather cover and binding. She neither opened it nor searched for a title, but picked a bit at the price sticker which read £1.06. She brought it up to the counter and said, "This'll do. It's half off," as though the man were not aware, or might try to pull one over on her, "so I'll only be paying £.53."
"Oh." He set a book down himself, and grabbed the journal to inspect it. "This wasn't suppose to be over there, but-" he added hastily, "I'll give it to you for half off."
Petunia sniffed as though the entire transaction were highly distasteful to her, and started to rummage through her purse. "I have exact change."
"Bit of a funny story, actually," he said, "this book was sold to me by the funniest guy. Really strang— told me to call him Dung, and was dressed like—" the man stopped when he noticed the woman staring at him. She looked as though he had called her funny and strange. They ended the transaction quickly, and Petunia returned home triumphant.
Chapter 2: Things Begin
July thirty-fist rolled around, hot and muggy. Windows and doors thrown open, the houses of Private Drive resembled can-can dancers displaying their insides to the street. A fan in the living room whirred away, pulling hot air in and pushing hot air out. The cupboard was dark.
That was one of the things that Harry hated most about the cupboard (when all his chores were done and laying in the shadowy grass was just a memory). No matter how hot it got, no matter how the house swelled and creaked and filled with stagnant, putrid dampness, the cupboard was dark.
It was particularly frustrating on this day, though, because Harry had been given something. After he'd finished his chores and consumed his paltry dinner of green beans and bread, Aunt Petunia had thrust it at him and said, "This is for you. It's a book for your birthday."
He'd only inspected it for a minute before he was banished for the night, and was at somewhat of a loss. Being four years old and not given any books before, he didn't know much about them. He did know, however, that it was unusual for a book not to have pictures (or words, for that matter). Indeed, it was quite blank.
So he tucked it in the crevice between his bed and the wall, and tried to fall asleep despite the sweat that ran off his back and the corners of his arms and legs.
A year passed, and nothing untoward occurred. No more birthday presents were forthcoming, but Harry managed to collect the stubs of several crayons (two blues, a green, yellow, brown, and an entire white) which Dudley left out from time to time. He used them to draw pictures in the blank book. He entertained fantasies of his art being put up on the fridge, but knew that his relatives would only be angry that he'd stolen from Dudley. And anyways, the drawings disappeared promptly after he made them. It had been slow at first, they'd vanished overnight, so he had to wonder if the pages hadn't been lost or torn out. He questioned whether he had really drawn in the book, or if he had only imagined it. Then, after a few days, the pages seemed to waken and absorb the pigment faster. Now when he sat down to draw he had to do it fast, because the wobbly strokes of color faded shortly after he laid them down.
He didn't mind. After all, he never ran out of paper. And sometimes the drawings came back.
Five year old Harry was a frugal child. He was glad for the magic paper (although once a movie on the telly had had a magic book, and his uncle had gotten really mad and shouted that there was no such thing as magic, and then turned it off), and didn't even mind that he could only draw when no one was around, because his crayons hardly wore out.
He did what he was told, and tried to do it well, and hoped that his aunt and uncle would tell him he was good. He thought that the movie about the book was wrong, and that it probably deserved his uncle's anger. He wondered why he had to sleep in the cupboard, and what made him so different from his cousin (apart from size). Harry knew that his book was magic, and wondered why his aunt would give him a magic book when she didn't even give him new clothes.
Harry was shifting from one flowerbed to another, watering can gripped in both hands, when the frail, rain coat encased form of Mrs. Figg approached. She sent a smile his way and he darted around the side of the house to enter through the back porch door.
"Aunt Petunia!" He called, "Aunt Petunia!"
The woman in question poked her pointed face towards the kitchen, lips drawn in exasperation. "Stop shouting! What?"
"Mrs. Figg's in the front yard." He said, abashed. The Dursleys sent him to stay with the old lady whenever they had to leave town, and she frightened Harry. She smelled like cabbage and cat litter. She also had the tendency to drone on about things he didn't know, and then stare at him with giant glazed eyes, as though she were conveying complex and foreign concepts to him. And then she'd smile and forget whatever they had been talking about.
On cue a knock echoed through the house. Petunia glared at him as though he had invited the lady over, and then hurried to the door. She spent a split second smoothing her hair and blouse before swinging the door open and smiling widely.
"Mrs. Figg, what's the occasion?" The words were sweet enough, but still could have been mistaken for a demand.
"Mrs. Dursley," the old lady said, peaking through the doorframe, "I was just curious about Harry. It's September and I noticed he hasn't been to school."
Petunia smiled, if possible, even wider, and thought bitterly that indeed, it was September, and sunny, and utterly inappropriate weather for a rain coat. "We're home schooling him," she said, "he's terribly shy, and doesn't do well with other children."
Mrs. Figg deflated a bit and, with one last attempt to peer into the Dursley household, replied, "I'll be off then. If you ever need any assistance..."
"I shall contact you."
"Well, alright..." Mrs. Figg eyed Number 4, before turning and shuffling back down towards Wisteria Walk.
Petunia watched her go and then pulled the door shut. She turned on her heel and made it to the kitchen in four long strides. Harry stared up at her, sensing the Copious Amount of Trouble he was about to be in. His aunt stared at him for several long moments before snapping, "What are you doing with the watering can in the house?"
But before he could reply she'd cut him off. "Go finish your chores. And stay out of the front yard."
Harry did as he was told— or tried to, at least. It was a bit difficult to finish watering the flowers in the front without leaving the back. When he completed the task as well as he could he stowed the watering can in the garage, and then settled beneath the magnolia tree behind the house. It was the safest place next to his cupboard, because it was just tall enough to be out of the reach of his relatives, and Dudley couldn't climb.
It was too late in the year for blossoms, over which Harry mourned. In the spring they did a wonderful job of hiding him from view. As far as climbing goes— he had learned right quick the first time Marge visited with her precious pedigree dogs. He was just dozing off when his aunt called him in for dinner.
There was a slight nip in the air as he entered the house, the sun was setting and twilight cast shadows across the lawn. As he stood in the back door he fancied he saw figures shifting in the shadows, sinewy and amorphous. Then he noticed the table with four place settings— he'd been subjected to eating in his cupboard for some time after the incident with the strange old man.
Petunia was busy setting platters of food on the table, and Vernon Dursley was attempting to wrench his son from the living room telly. Harry stared at the four place settings as his family settled in around him and hesitantly took a seat. The Dursleys neither spoke to him nor made eye contact, but they did pass him the potatoes and broccoli in turn. Unsure which he preferred— the solitude and dark of his cupboard, or the table where he went ignored, he ate in silence.
By contrast, Dudley couldn't seem to decide whether or not to cry over being taken from his show or greedily gobble down his dinner. He settled for a bit of both, and angrily dribbled snot down his face when Harry shot him a look.
"Vernon, I've been thinking."
Harry turned his gaze to his aunt. Her tone was hesitant, as though she really didn't want to have whatever conversation she was starting.
"What is it, dear?"
"Well, it's just that the neighbors have been voicing their concerns. About Harry." She looked at him and Harry quickly averted his eyes.
"What's he done now?" Suddenly enraged, Vernon rounded on his nephew. Harry shrunk down in his seat a little.
"You know I take care of him all day, and the neighbors have noticed that he doesn't go to school like our Diddykins."
"Well how could he?" Shouted Vernon, "They didn't leave us any papers for the boy, he may as well not even exist!"
Terrified, Harry attempted to sink out of his chair. He intended to crawl under the rim of the table and escape from the dining room. He was torn between fear and curiosity. He didn't really know what sort of papers a person needed, but apparently there were people who had his. Or didn't have his, it was really hard to tell.
Just then his uncle noticed him leaving and snapped, "Boy! Clean up your dishes."
"Yes sir," Harry replied, and hurriedly put his plate in the sink. He rinsed it off and arranged it with his flatware in the dishwasher. He was prepared to leave a second time, but his uncle wouldn't have it.
"There are still dishes on the table, honestly do you expect us to do all the work?"
"No, Uncle Vernon." He scowled. He hated doing dishes. But he had become used to it. He was just putting the salad dressings away when his aunt spoke up again.
"We have to do something soon, Vernon, or people will start to talk."
"Just tell them he's daft." The man spat, "God knows it's true."
Upset that everyone was talking over him, Dudley let out a throaty wail and cried, "Mummy, I want desert!"
Harry waited until their attention was on Dudley and slipped out. He crept along the front hall, throwing a glance back to where his relatives were consuming some sort of gleaming and aromatic pie. They were quite engrossed in it as he darted into the sitting room. On the mantle above the fireplace was a small matchbox, and he snatched it up and hid it in the waist band of his pants, which were doubled up several times to fit him. He didn't think anyone would notice the matches missing, the fireplace wasn't, after all, an actual fireplace.
He made it back to his cupboard unnoticed and lay on his cot, the matchbox clutched to his chest. He listened to the Dursleys finish eating and move to the sitting room. They watched television for some time before dragging their son upstairs with promises that he could continue the show from his bed. Harry waited for as long as he dared before sitting up and fumbling in the dark.
For weeks he'd been snatching up tea lights and stowing them in the beams beneath the stairs. He took out a match and rolled it between his fingers, examining the shape and texture of the rounded tip. He'd seen his uncle light one before, and was apprehensive. Reviewing the memory he questioned whether or not he could replicate the casual and vicious gesture that Vernon Dursley had executed so carelessly.
It took him several tries, in which he dropped one and it disappeared on the dark floor. The first one he managed to light burnt his fingertips, and he quickly put it out by smothering it with a pillow. It left an ugly smell in the air, and he could feel a ragged hole in the fabric it'd fallen on. At length he managed to light one and hold it to the white wick of a tea light. He blew out the match and set it back in the box. Then, using the incredibly bright little candle, he located the first match he'd dropped.
Once Harry had everything set up he pulled out the journal and set a hand on its cover. It was in good condition, although he got the impression that it was very old. He'd never owned anything so nice before— he knew it was leather, and the only other thing he'd ever known of leather was Uncle Vernon's wallet, which the man took an unprecedented amount of pride in.
Using the blunt end of a green crayon he wrote the letter "H," for Harry. The journal absorbed the pigment, seemed to mull over it, then scrawled across the page a series of words that he couldn't recognize. At length the green ran out and changed to blue.
Mesmerized, Harry drew another "H" and traced a finger over the resulting flurry of information. How desperately he wished to understand it. He even considered asking his cousin to teach him— he'd seen Dudley proudly presenting his parents with cards from school. They were filled with large, mysterious writing, and little drawings, and stickers. The journal had ceased its flow of words, and Harry drew a few shapes on the blank pages before tucking it away. Hiding the crayons and matches, he blew out the tea light.
Pre-school was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to him.
There was a lot of sneering and glaring from Vernon, and grimacing from Petunia, and crying from Dudley. Apparently they had acquired his paperwork, and were deeply unhappy about it. For several days his aunt dragged him by the wrist from place to place, and cursed under her breath in the car, and used her most distressingly sweet tone when talking to the people they met. It was all very new to him.
The first day that he was left there he thought he would die. The only people he'd ever really known were his relatives and Mrs. Figg (and Mrs. Figg's cats). And yet Aunt Petunia had abandoned him on the threshold without a moments hesitance. Terrified, he stood in the doorway watching other children laugh and run around and pull things off shelves and out from buckets. A girl in the corner was eating glitter.
A very tall lady with short brown hair noticed him and said "Hello, do you need something?" He stared at her and, to his horror, felt the prickling of tears. She crouched down next to him. "What class are you from?" He opened his mouth and closed it. He couldn't have answered her if he wanted to.
He jumped when someone from behind laid a hand on his shoulder. "This is Harry," came the voice of another woman. "He's the one who's starting late, Dudley's cousin."
"Oh yes," the tall lady replied. "They get to stay together," and they talked for several minutes while Harry's heart became tighter and heavier. It didn't help that the hand on his shoulder remained. He scanned the room again and locked eyes with Dudley, who was glaring at him and saying something to the children around him. Several of them turned to stare at him with wide eyes and open mouths.
The hand left his shoulder, and the tall lady smiled down at him. "Harry? My name is Mrs. Karen, and I'm your new teacher."
He simply didn't know what to say. Undeterred, indeed, in apparent understanding, Mrs. Karen explained the room to him, assigned him a desk, and then told him to play with the other children. He'd never played with other children before, and he didn't really feel like it at the moment.
He forlornly inspected a box full of wooden blocks. Despite being told to play, he couldn't quite believe it was allowed. Yes, he decided, surely it was only a nicety. Of course he wasn't actually supposed to touch anything. A girl with pigtails ran up to him, gaped, then said in a rush "Hi I'm Anne do you want to play house?"
The answer was no. Before he could say as much, the girl was pressing a big felt hat into his hands and saying "You'll be the dad, and I'll be the mom."
Two others were recruited to play the son and the pet dog (over which resulted a spectacular fight), then Harry was standing nervously next to a small plastic kitchen. Anne hummed and asked Harry what he wanted for dinner.
"We have peas," she held up a plastic representation of peas, "And chicken," a leg, "and bacon, and butter."
Was he supposed to eat the plastic? Or did those things really taste like food? "Umm," and how would they be cooked? "I'm not hungry."
"Pretend to be hungry," she insisted, and then shoved the peas, chicken, bacon, and butter into the tiny microwave. The door didn't quite shut all the way, so she held it closed and made beeping noises with her mouth.
Alarmed, Harry cut in, "That's not how you cook those!" He tried to open the little door, and the girl turned wide eyes on him.
"You don't-" Harry stammered, "Peas have to be boiled, and chicken cooked in the oven. And you only eat bacon for breakfast."
"Don't be stupid," she said, "it's just pretend."
Their "son" was building a round structure out of blocks nearby, and suddenly looked up and shouted, "I'm hungry." Their "dog" was nowhere to be found.
His heart was suddenly beating too fast. It was one thing for his uncle to call him names, and another completely for this— girl, who was a stranger, and his own age, and a member of this new room where he apparently belonged.
A bell rang and before anything more could be said or done, Mrs. Karen was calling for quiet. "Play time's over everyone, now we're going to sit in a circle for story time." All of the kids rushed to the opposite end of the room, chattering and finding seats around a blackboard. He followed them and sat near the back. Anne refused to look his way.
Dudley wasted no time establishing the pecking order. There were initial overtures of friendship made towards Harry, but his classmates soon learned that he was more trouble than he was worth.
"He eats erasers," Dudley was loudly telling anyone who would listen, "and he lives under the stairs, 'cause only real families get rooms and toys, and... and he-" Harry frowned from his corner as he watched Dudley scrunch up his face, struggling to imagine the worst possible things to say.
"What else does he eat?"
Dudley grasped onto the thread, "All kinds of gross stuff- dirt, and rocks, and bugs-" here some of the children gazed over at Harry in a mixture of disgust and awe, which quickly turned to revulsion when Dudley proclaimed "-and he eats poop! We have to be careful to flush the toilets, or he'll eat it all."
A chorus of "ews" ensued, and for the rest of the day Harry was asked whether, why, and how he went about it. The worst though was when Mrs. Karen overheared and gave a lecture on hygiene and proper eating habits.
"Harry, do you want to play with us?"
The answer was no, but at this point he wasn't sure if he wanted to offend them. "What are you playing?"
"You have to find the feathers. And whoever finds the most, wins."
Two others had been recruited, and all they needed was for Harry to join in. So much was made clear to him, and he reluctantly agreed. No timer or separate instructions were set, and he poked about the room. He looked through the bins of toys, and in the cubbies, and underneath a few floor mats. He even checked the drawers where the napkins and towels were kept.
At last the boy who'd initiated the game called for a finish, and the four of them gathered at a neutral table. The boy (Todd, Harry realized) was holding a bright blue feather between his fingers, while the others were as prizeless as himself. Nervous and disheartened, Harry gave one last half hearted look beneath the table they'd gathered around and Todd shouted in sudden, loud, frightening accusation, "Hey, that's cheating!"
Which, of course, drew the attention of most of the class. An ominous silence ensued, broken only when Dudley waddled forth and said, "Harry cheated? On what?"
"He cheated," Todd insisted, "on our game."
Thereafter the rumors that Harry ate poop were replaced with the well known fact that Harry was a cheater, and no one asked him to play with them anymore.
Kindergarten progressed much in the same manor, punctuated with lessons on the alphabet, and numbers, and colors and shapes. Dudley brought home stories of Harry's unpopularity, and of how he cheated in every game.
Harry wasn't quite sure what cheating was, or how he'd done it, but resolved that he'd avoid it at all costs. When uncle Vernon glared at him and grimaced and grumbled derogatory remarks, Harry silently compared them to his classmates opinion of him, weighing their validity.
First grade saw the rise of one of the worst alliances in history. Dudley met his intellectual, physical, and emotional match;
A heavy set boy with watery blue eyes and thick, coarse blonde hair, Piers was the kind of boy who instilled a sense of We-Have-Failed-You in his guardians, and What-did-I-do-to-Deserve-This? in his classmates.
It was several years yet before 'Harry Hunting' would be invented, but it was certainly a beginning.
Chapter 3: No Name
The Dursleys asleep, tea light lit, and journal out, Harry was too excited for words. Although, words he had, several infact. His teacher had been perplexed at his enthusiasm to learn. She'd seemed concerned even, but when he explained that he had a friend with whom he could only communicate by writing, she'd been more than happy to provide him with charts and books containing the basics. His heart had leapt when she'd suggested after school tutoring, but of course the Dursleys hadn't approved of the idea. Like they would drive all the way to the school just to pick him up after hours.
He also had a set of pencils, courtesy of the school, which made significantly better writings tools than crayons. He'd spent weeks perfecting what to write, and how to write the letters according to the rules. With one hand on the thick pages, he could almost feel a stirring of recognition.
Hello, he wrote. I am Harry Potter.
The journal gave pause, as though it were tasting the graphite. Then, as always, the words disappeared. Harry leaned closer, gripped with anticipation. He'd been waiting for so long to communicate with the journal. He'd slept countless nights with the pages pressed to his chest, warmth emanating from them when it was bitingly cold, and a cool comfort when the summer heat refused to abate. For a moment Harry was worried that pencils didn't work, but then the gray letters reappeared.
Hello Harry. I'm Tom Riddle. At "Riddle" the words changed back to crayon. I am very curious about you. I am also very proud. How old are you?
It took him awhile to sound out all of the words, but he did, at length, and then something very terrible happened. He started to cry. He had managed not to in so long, and he wiped his nose on his sleeve and covered his face and tried very hard not to make any sound. In the end he buried his face in the pillow and only let out a few painful hiccups. When the hiccups faded to the occasional sharp breath he glanced back at the journal.
He quickly located his pencil, reread the conversation, and wrote Six,in the proper way his teacher had shown him. Then for good measure, and because he could, he wrote I am six years old.
You are very good at writing for a six year old. Where did you get the crayons from?
Once again he had to take some time to understand what Tom wrote (and he savored the idea of the name- it was one thing to read "Tom Marvolo Riddle," and another to read "I am Tom Riddle.") He was a bit perplexed by the question, and then embarrassed. He wasn't accustomed to telling lies, but never before had he wanted to tell a lie so badly. Stealing was the worst thing a person could do, followed by lying.
The first time he'd told a lie had been over something stupid, a toy that belonged to Dudley. He'd taken it and hidden it under his cot, and Dudley had seen him take it. His cousin had cried fat tears and begged Vernon to retrieve it. When Vernon had rounded on Harry, asking if it were true, Harry had lied. It was more for the principle of the thing, than for the toy itself. Regardless, his uncle had found the toy, knocked Harry round the middle, then locked him in the cupboard for almost two days.
I got them from my family.
He noticed with a sense of dread that the letters were more wobbly than he'd intended. Only, unlike in the classroom where he could write the sentence over and over again, the journal responded immediately.
You are lying. Did you steal them?
Just when he thought he had his breathing under control, he started to hyperventilate again, and a tear fell on the coarse paper, staining it dark. The journal actually shivered in his hands and absorbed the liquid, and wrote in a beautiful but legible script, It's alright. I stole many things when I was young.
Harry sniffed. Despite not knowing if the journal was telling the truth or not, (who'd ever admit to stealing?) he was suddenly very relieved.
Why wouldn't you use a quill?
He didn't recognize the word. But then, there were still a lot of words he didn't know.
What is a quill?
He waited, but no more words were forthcoming. After several minutes he tried writing Hello again, but still Tom said nothing. He would have waited all night, but the brief bout of tears had exhausted him, and with the open journal on his pillow, and the pencil clutched in his hand, he fell asleep.
"Words are a gift." His teacher said, stalking between the desks and taking a hand held game from a boy who'd been playing it in his lap.
"You'll get it back at the end of class," she said, and then stood up front and wrote on the board "Language is the dress of thought."–Samuel Johnson
"Can anyone tell me what this means?"
The class was silent. Harry read the words several times over before deeply considering them. While the word "dress" inevitably conjured horrid paisley and floral images associated with his Aunt Petunia, he still understood the idea. For the first time in his life he felt like he had someone to express his thoughts to. The morning after his first real contact with Tom, despite the rather shaky introduction, he'd woken up happy. Happier, perhaps, than he'd ever been. All through breakfast and chores and school he'd been ecstatic, unable to sit still in class. The ride home had taken forever. And then he'd arrived, and the happy high had receded, replaced by a widening sense of apprehension. That night he'd sat in his cupboard, the journal in his lap, unopened, for a long time. After much deliberation he decided that he had to check eventually, and surely Tom would write back. Hehad to. It couldn't be any other way. And he'd opened to the first page, blank, and before his eyes sprung the words Hello Harry.
The bus dropped him off at the corner of Private Drive and Wisteria Walk, and Harry lagged behind his cousin. He wouldn't normally (Dudley was a dreadfully slow waddler), but Petunia was always waiting for their arrival, and heaven forbid Harry get home first. He didn't understand it, but his life was like that.
Dudley got the best of everything. Toys, parties, clothes, food. Dudley could do anything, say anything, and cry to his hearts content. Harry, on the other hand, was allowed nothing (although his relatives insisted that he was extraordinarily privileged, indeed they were constantly making sacrifices for him). He didn't have any toys, his clothes were hand-me-downs, and he wasn't entirely sure when his birthday was. He had been positively astounded to learn that his name was more than just 'Harry.' On the first day of first grade he'd been addressed as Harry Potter, and a great deal of confusion had ensued.
He didn't cry. He used to, when he was little, and Petunia or Vernon would pound on the wall of his cupboard, and sometimes Dudley would laugh at him through the door and call him a cry baby, which was utterly absurd, but he didn't cry. Not anymore. He was six years old, soon to be a second grader, and it just wasn't done. Not when he got time out for something that Dudley started, or when his relatives left him with smelly Mrs. Figg, or even when he was grounded to the cupboard with no food, and Dudley and Piers tried to shove bugs through the cracks, and talked about smoking him out.
Petunia was, as always, waiting in the doorway for them. She hugged Dudley and asked him about his day. Harry slipped inside behind them, closed the door, and headed to the kitchen for his list of after school chores. He hated chores, but found it was easier to just do them and have them done. He organized them so that he'd finish off either in the garden or an area of the house that was momentarily unoccupied, that way he usually went unnoticed. Otherwise he'd simply be assigned more.
After scrubbing out the sink and polishing the stove, he peered down the main entryway. It was yet too early for dinner, and he had the sneaking suspicion that they were going to eat out tonight. Tonight of all nights was Not a Good Night. He had plans, and an appointment to make, and he couldn't have the Dursleys sending him down the street.
Harry knew how to read. He was fairly adept at it, in fact. His relatives were upset when they'd met with his teacher and been told that while Harry was an excellent student, there was much to be desired in Dudley, both academically and behaviorally.
Dudley had many friends, but "didn't play well" with everyone, in particular his cousin whom he was "downright manipulative" towards. Harry had been physically punished after that particular Parent Teacher Meeting.
Sure that the coast was clear, he darted into his cupboard. Striking up a match, he lit a much burned down tea light and retrieved Tom Riddle's Diary.
Hello, he wrote. I might have to go later, so I won't be able to write tonight.
The diary responded immediately. Where are you going?
Mrs. Figg's, my family is eating out.
Why do you call them that?
What else would I call them?
There was a thumping on the stairs above him, and judging by the weight and gait he guessed it was Vernon. He quickly re-hid the diary, blew out the light, and laid on his bed.
The heavy footsteps came to a pause outside his door, then Vernon was glaring angrily at him and Harry did his best to pretend to be startled from a nap.
"Boy," he said in the You're up to Mischief and I Know it Voice.
Then Vernon retracted his head and grunted "We're going out to eat. Get ready to go."
Relieved, Harry slipped on his trainers and went to wait in the front entryway. It only took him a minute to get ready, but it would probably be fifteen before they actually left. If he wasn't waiting and ready the whole time, then any tardiness would be blamed on him. Things were often blamed on him, whether he was the cause or not. It was hard to believe that he wasn't just as useless and ungrateful and stupid as his relatives claimed him to be. The diary helped a lot. Tom was always full of kind things to say (and mean ones about the Dursleys), and he made a lot of sense when he talked to Harry, whereas the Dursleys had never seemed very grounded in reality.
Any hope he had that Mrs. Figg would be indisposed was dashed when he heard his aunt on the phone with her, bartering for her time. Ten minutes later they were in the car, and Harry was mentally preparing himself for the smell-sight-sound combo of the weird cat lady's house.
There were figurines lining shelves and windowsills, and in the center of the sitting room stood a massive tiered cabinet. Every surface was covered with little dolls; men and women, children, cats, teacups, and he swore he caught sight of a gnome, on occasion.
He wouldn't normally take note of these things, but they were always in different places when he visited. And while the thought of an old lady arranging her knick knacks wasn't unusual, Mrs. Figg had enough of them to open up a gift shop. And, try as he might, Harry could never catch one in the same spot it'd been in last time. It was a strange business, but, Harry supposed, it wasn't like she had a job. And she'd never shown him any pictures of grandchildren, or friends. Just cats.
The little statues unsettled him a bit, when he'd been over for several hours and it was dark outside. Every one of them had at least two eyes, most of which were painted with a gloss of some sort.
A very old and very fat cat gave a yowl near his feet, and Harry hesitantly reached down to scratch behind it's ears. The cat let out a rip-roar purr and butted its head against his legs.
"Breadsticks likes you." Mrs. Figg observed absently. She was sipping tea from a cracked cup and watching Harry.
Pondering over the moniker, he came to the conclusion that the cat was named after the amount of grease in it's fur. A cup of tea sat near him with much too much milk in it. Deeper in the house a clock ticked by the time, and Harry tried to imagine at what point in the driving/dinner/driving schedule the Dursleys were at.
Repressing a sigh he leaned into a rather lumpy cushion and willed the cat at his feet to stay at his feet. It was getting colder outside, and he'd made a very strange discovery. He'd planned on telling Tom tonight, had in fact teased the journal that morning with promises of something groundbreaking. At the moment, though, he was feeling a bit bad about it.
He half expected Mrs. Figg to start humming, just to fill the silence (she'd already shown him through all of her albums, and reintroduced each of her living feline companions). Instead she sat in silence, still.
At some point his eyes drifted shut, and the memory of yesterday replayed itself in his head.
It was cold, the first really cold day of November, and the last of the flowers had finished their run. Harry was in the back cutting down the perennials and pulling up anything that wouldn't grow back. His hands were sore from tugging on stems and leaves and roots, and he was sweating despite the cold.
His breaths left little clouds in the air and he watched them with mild fascination as he rested behind the Magnolia tree. He was leaning against it with his head tilted up when he heard a small but unmistakably clear voice.
"Cold, cold, cold."
A jolt of fear went down his spine, and he sat strait up. Not sure if he should greet whoever was in the yard or bolt for the backdoor, he listened for any sign of movement.
"So cold, cold, cold."
And frowned. He could hear the voice, but there was a strange quality to it, almost as though he were hearing it from a great distance, distorted. He waited for an indefinite amount of time before getting up and looking about. And it was the strangest thing, but there was no one around. Certainly not anyone who was particularly small, or particularly cold (aside from himself).
"Hello?" He called, wondering if perhaps the person had left very quietly. Then it occurred to him that the person might be on the other side of the fence, so he crawled behind the bushes lining the cedar wall and gazed through each hole he came along, trying to spy anyone on the other side.
He'd nearly made a circuit around the yard before the voice spoke again, quite nearby in fact, causing him to start very badly.
"Don't come any closer!"
Frozen, wide-eyed, he gazed down at a very irritated black and green snake. Then, without a second thought, he asked "Are you alright?"
"No," the snake responded, "I am very cold, and you will eat me."
He wasn't planning on eating the snake (the thought was actually quite disgusting), but he didn't say that. It wasn't everyday one had a conversation with a wild animal, and he didn't want to offend the already irate serpent. Not even by insinuating that he was utterly repulsed by the idea of eating the little guy.) "I'm not hungry," he said instead, "and I'm not really a meat eater." True only because the Dursleys didn't like to waste good meat on him. "I am pretty warm, though. If you don't mind, I could carry you around for awhile."
The snake seemed to ponder this for a moment and then, with a funny little swaying of it's head, said "I would be amicable to that."
Harry smiled and gingerly lifted the snake off the ground, awed by the sleekness and hardness of it's tiny body. Which was quite cold, and long enough to wrap around his hand twice.
"My name's Harry, what's yours?"
"No name," the snake said, and for a second Harry though that "No name" was the snake's name.
"You have to have a name," he said. "Everyone does."
"No name." The snake insisted, and then slid up his sleeve to rest around his elbow.
The doorbell rang, startling Harry from his semi-sleep.
"Ah, that will be the Dursleys. Still with us, Harry?"
He blinked groggily at old Mrs. Figg, then nodded. "Yeah."
She walked him to the door, one frail hand resting on his shoulder. Vernon was waiting, pink faced in the dim lighting of the porch, and Harry shivered at the cold that swept in like a beast from the dark. As much as he wanted to be at home in his cupboard, he dreaded the ride. It would be simple for him to walk back to Number 4 (pondering it, he couldn't decide which scenario he favored less), but the Dursleys wouldn't be seen acting inhospitable in public.
Which is surely why when Mrs. Figg asked "Harry, did you bring a coat?" Uncle Vernon grimaced and, much in the manner of a pig being poked, said "You know how boys are."
The ride back was utterly silent, the Dursleys giving off a satisfied glow, and Harry tried to figure out what his uncle had meant. He understood that somehow he wasn't supposed to want a coat, but eyeing his cousin who was snuggly wrapped in layers of wool and cashmere, he couldn't help but think that Mrs. Figg saw right through the entire thing.
He woke the next morning to the sharp wrap of Aunt Petunia's knuckles, the sign that it was time to get up, get fed, and get out. The sound never failed to startle him, and he sunk down into the thin mattress, for a moment, and savored the warmth emanating from the journal. When he was still so close to dreaming, and in the utter darkness of the small room, he could almost sense a humming from the pages. And then he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and went to make breakfast.
School was miserable. The Dursleys utterly failed to see any fault in their son's abysmal markings, or the fact that he got into fights regularly, or even that he was getting fatter. Vernon simply commented that Dudley was a growing boy with strong ideals and it couldn't be helped if other children were sometimes threatened by Dudley's strong sense of leadership. Petunia called him "big boned," and tutted over how only specialty stores had the foresight to make clothes for boys like her son, and not just the wraiths of modern fashion. It was a wonder, Harry thought, that he was the one who was singled out.
"No name" was waiting just outside the backdoor, coiled up underneath a dead rosebush. Checking that the coast was clear, Harry stuck his head out the door and hissed, "Snake? Are you still here?"
"Yes," came the groggy reply.
The snake had insisted upon remaining outside, as much as it seemed to enjoy Harry's overlarge pockets. Apparently the house frightened it.
"I have to go soon, and I won't be back for awhile. Are you sure you want to stay out here?"
"Will it be safe?" The snake replied, and Harry recognized hesitance in it's little voice. He couldn't help the smile that overtook his lips, and wondered a bit at how good it felt.
"Yes," He said in what he hoped what a reassuring tone. "You can stay in my warm pockets all day, I promise that no one will try to eat you."
It wasn't that he wanted to push the snake into a situation it would be uncomfortable in (after all, who better could relate to wanting to avoid predators on the playground?) but it was like having a friend, and something inside of him desperately wanted to protect and provide for his new friend.
Harry scooped "No name" up and loosed him into a pocket before the snake could give a definitive response, just in time to turn and meet the disapproving gaze of his aunt.
"Close that door, you're letting all the cold air in," she snapped, and started to put place settings on the table.
Harry let out half a breath, coughed, and tried to calm his suddenly wild heartbeat. Filled with exhilaration and fear, he daydreamed about just how he'd hide his new friend from everyone.
The first snow of the year brought with it an air of revelation. Harry'd had little time between his school work and house work to write to Tom, and the last tea light had burnt out. Petunia hadn't seemed to notice, and didn't buy more, and Harry was at a loss. He couldn't ask her to buy more, and he couldn't find any other way to obtain them. He'd scribbled off a brief explanation to Tom, and had otherwise no time alone.
With the holidays approaching he wondered what would make appropriate gifts for a snake and a diary. The Dursleys were always so meticulous about sending proper baskets of fruits and pies and Thank You Happy Christmas cards to certain people. Harry himself had never had the need to do so, and suspected that none of the regular rules applied in his case, anyways.
So while he couldn't write to Tom, and while his little snake companion insisted it didn't understand why it should need a gift at all (but fat locusts were nice), Harry scrubbed and toiled and tried to figure just how and what he could obtain for his friends.
He thought that maybe Tom would say, Don't be silly, Harry, followed by something very nice about how his company was enough. As far as locusts go, he didn't think he'd be finding any hopping around. Thus far he'd fed his snake a couple of crickets from the loo (how they found their way into the house he'd never know), and then the spiders from his cupboard, which the snake described as "dry and sour."
Laying on his cot in the dark, he nibbled glumly on the edge of a cracker. He'd stock piled them for awhile, thinking that he'd be sharing them with the snake, and had been told off rather spectacularly. How was he supposed to know that snakes preferred bugs to crackers?
He reached over and felt the comforting scales of his friend, and gently ran his knuckles up and down. The little snake tolerated this from time to time, and while Harry liked to imagine it was like scratching a cat under the chin, he'd also been informed (haughtily) that it was a useless gesture. Regardless, he liked the texture of the scales, and absently traced around them with the tips of his nails.
It was very strange. And it made him sad, a little, when he allowed it to. As much as he wanted friends, he couldn't imagine playing with his classmates, or laughing with a family. Everywhere he went he sized up strangers, wondering what it would be like to talk with them, and be loved by them. Everywhere around him people had normal relationships with each other, relationships that made them smile and laugh and hug each other, hold hands, tell secrets. He watched them and thought, 'How could I ever be like that? Those people are not like me.'
And then he had Tom, and the snake. They were his friends, and his family. He told Tom his secrets (possibly one of the most satisfying and exciting things he'd ever done), and he taught the snake things about humans, and manners, and even how to count (although, like with gifts, "No name" had a great deal of trouble understanding the relevance of counting, and therefore gave it very little credit.)
He also spent a lot of time thinking about the journal. He'd always written it off as magic, and of course Tom was a real person. Without being able to talk to Tom every night, though, he started to see things differently. It was as though a filmy veil had been pulled off his head, and for the first time in his life he was seeing the world and it's inhabitants.
He'd grown up thinking that he inherently deserved the horrible things that the Dursleys said about him. He thought that there was something wrong with him, and naturally his parents were dead, because why would he deserve a real family? In his time alone in the dark he pondered the way the Dursleys skirted around his teachers with fake smiles and robust declarations. At some point between Tom's scorn and his teacher's hesitant concern, Harry realized that he wasn't exactly normal. The way his family treated him wasn't normal.
And writing to a book, imparting his deepest secrets to pages which sucked them up like sugared tea, wasn't normal.
These thoughts upset him. He tried not to think them. Instead he stroked little "No name," and held the humming diary, and thought about what kind of presents one gets for a snake and a book.
Chapter 4: Wolf at the Door
Harry's relatives were out for the day— downtown watching the lights and carolers. It was one of those rare occasions when Mrs. Figg didn't answer the phone, and the Dursleys were forced to leave him at home with the stern admonishment not to get into anything. They locked him in the cupboard for good measure, but Harry had figured out how to open it some time ago. All it took was a bit of creative rattling. When the Dursleys did come back, they'd go about their business for awhile, and not find it strange at all when they went to call on him and he came right out. He guessed they assumed that someone else had undone the lock.
Regardless, he took the opportunity to sit in the kitchen windowsill (something he was never allowed to do) and write to Tom. Snow was rushing towards the window in eddies, like giant arms and hands and fingers collapsing against the house. He watched the fading daylight catch on the frozen crystals and then dance away.
Do you know what snow is? Harry wrote.
Of course I know what snow is, why wouldn't I?
His heart jumped at that. He had yet to come out and ask Tom if he had been a real person (oddly enough, the tale of the Swan Princess came to mind). He thought it was a bit rude, and good manners were the foundation of good relationships (so said his teachers and Aunt Petunia).
You are real then, he wrote, and then stared at the words as they faded. They'd escaped him before he could really think about how earnestly he meant them.
The journal exuded what could only be described as silent laughter, and Harry smiled as the response appeared, letters just as neat and precise as ever. Actually, I meant to ask something. You are alone, correct?
Tom's loopy handwriting continued, Well, you told me not so long ago about the strange incident with your hair, do you remember?
Yes. Harry replied, perplexed.
I was wondering if there have been similar incidences. I have a theory about you, one that I desperately hope is true.
He paused. Tom's words would not fade until he'd responded, unlike his own which seeped into the paper (and somewhere far, far down) immediately. He understood what Tom wanted, but as he tried to grasp at the idea he found the details slipping away. And then he was second guessing what Tom meant at all. At length he set the pencil to the paper and wrote (what he thought was safe) Freakish things happen to me all the time.
The pages were a very richly texture cream, he realized, as he held them in the light of the window. The snow was so bright, but also very gray. He traced the edge of one (he had opened it that day to a page near the back, no need for starting anywhere in particular, and he thought to ask Tom if he preferred any certain page to the others).
I'm sure that is not an apt description. Please tell me some of the things that might have been perceived by others as "freakish."
He was extraordinarily reluctant to do any such thing. He wasn't allowed to talk about... well, anything, really, but particularly things that were weird, and especially things that were weird and related to him.
I promise I won't judge you. We're friends, right?
With a furtive glance about the house (a useless gesture truly, he'd be very aware when the Dursleys returned), he frowned and wrote There are bad things. I can't help it, stuff just happens to me.
Well... one time when I really didn't want to take a bath the water came out and sprayed my Aunt Petunia, instead of me. And sometimes things I really want will disappear and then show up in my cupboard, and I don't remember putting them there. And I made a friend, a few days ago, named No name, only his name isn't really No name, because he's a snake and he doesn't have a name. Could you think of a good one?
Tom's response astounded Harry— it was delayed, and then written in a jumble. The first few words were dark and heavy. A snake? Is it a real snake, or an imaginary one?
Harry frowned. A real one. That's what I wanted to tell you, by the way. I found him in the garden. He was really cold so I've been keeping him in the cupboard with us.
The journal cooled and then heated in his hands, but otherwise made no response.
He's asleep inside my other pants, Harry wrote, if you want to meet him. But I don't think he could write to you.
No. Tom replied. The simple word was elegant, contemplative. And then it was followed by Harry, tell me again what you remember of your parents.
Harry hesitated. He didn't really like to think about them, the idea that he'd ever had parents twisted his gut and made him reticent. He didn't really know how to deny Tom, though. He couldn't outright refuse, and he couldn't lie— the journal had an uncanny ability to sense lies, even ones that Harry wasn't entirely aware of telling.
I don't know, he wrote. I can't remember them, but my aunt and uncle said that they died in a car crash, and that they were lazy and good for nothing.
The words left, Tom said; A very long time ago I knew a family by the name of Potter, and they belonged to a secret and powerful community. I joined this community when I was eleven. I can't be certain Harry, a long time has passed since then, but I believe that you may be a member of that family.
His heart caught in his throat. He reread the words. He couldn't think— and then the lump in his throat hitched and the idea burst up like a bird through his mind. Like the dreams he'd had in the dead of night, like the fairytales he read in school, like the idea that he had a secret friend that no one else could ever meet. His heart beat, and the sensation changed. Was Tom real? Weren't dreams just illusions? (In the end, didn't the prince leave the princess to die?) And Tom had not yet said if it were alright.
I lived in an orphanage. I was smarter than the other children, and I too could make strange things happen. I learned very quickly how to hurt the people who hurt me, without leaving any evidence. I was three the first time I talked to a snake. Her name was Marla, and she was murdered by one of the orphanage matrons.
I was introduced to the world of magic when I was eleven. It is my home, and will be yours too, in time. I don't know how it has come about, but you are living with people whom we refer to as "muggles," or non-magic folk. The strange things we can do are inspired by magic, which we possess inherently. The magic in our blood sets us apart and above muggles. We are a superior breed of human.
Harry, you are superior to them. It is deeply wrong that you have lived life at the mercy of your relatives, if they are really even related to you.
Harry was stunned, but didn't question any of it. Instead he leaned back and took in the words, over and over, wondering if he could keep them, memorized them. He suddenly needed to read more, and weakly he wrote, What else?
The Potters were an old family, nearly as old as my own. They had old money that had compiled and multiplied in Gringotts, the Wizarding Bank, for centuries. If you do belong to them, and if you are still going by the name of Potter, then you probably aren't a bastard child. That means you should be entitled to some of that money. I do not know why you would be living with these low class muggles. You also shouldn't be able to talk to snakes, Tom was writing faster now, that is a bloodline trait which should have died with my family... unless you're somehow
And there the words stopped. Try as he might, Harry couldn't understand any of what Tom had just written, and the information upset him, suddenly, for reasons he didn't understand.
Balthamos. Tom said.
Name him Balthamos. Your snake. He'll like it.
And then there came the telltale crunching of snow and gravel from the driveway, and Harry dove from the counter, nearly tripped in the sink, clutched the journal to his chest, and slid into his cupboard just as the dark forms of his relatives appeared at the door.
Things got darker around the holidays. Of course, there was literally less daylight, but there was also a tension in the air. When walking to the house after school he eyed the shadows around buildings and hedges, a nagging dread telling him to quicken his pace, and avoid strangers. A Christmas tree went up in the living room, and Harry watched from the stairwell as Vernon fixed it into place. Then Petunia was wrapping it with endless strands of tiny white lights, and delicately draping the branches with tinsel. Dudley hung bulbs and angels near the bottom, and was tutted at when he broke a box of glass snow flakes.
Harry watched them, but didn't participate. This was a tradition of theirs, to hang fixtures of holly and pine, and ribbons and baubles about the house. A wreath went up on the front door and the perpetual aroma of cinnamon and ginger wafted from the kitchen. Dudley rattled the presents that appeared beneath the tree each day, and every year it was a new entourage of boots and mittens, caps and long scarves.
He sat on a plushly carpeted step, feeling safe (it was like a long series of soft chairs for him) and watched them interact. As he inspected the glimmering wrapped gifts beneath the tree, he couldn't help but wonder at their contents, and then feel a sting of disappointment. He still hadn't found anything to present to Tom, or No name.
Balthamos, Harry reminded himself. He had yet to properly propose the name, and slid from his spot to creep into his cupboard.
"Yessss?" Came the sleepy reply.
Harry grinned, "It's a bit early for it, but do you remember my other friend I told you about? The book named Tom?"
"Yes?" The small snake emerged from beneath Harry's pillow, a curious tilt to it's head.
Harry sat down next to it and lowered a hand in welcome. The snake wrapped around his palm and he smiled in glee. The familiarity never ceased to amaze and delight him. "I've been thinking about what I could get you for Christmas, and Tom suggested a name for you. If you like it, then maybe it can be your gift?"
"I do not understand your convention for naming things."
Harry's smile faltered a little. He thought it was a cool name, but maybe snakes really didn't understand about such things.
The snake's tongue flickered out and it slid up his arm. "However," it amended, "I suppose a name would be nice. You have a name, after all, and you are well enough."
And just like that, Harry was grinning again. "Balthamos. Do you like it?"
The snake flicked out it's tongue once more, then wrapped around his neck. "Balthamos… what a lovely sound. Yes little one, I like it."
Harry carefully removed Balthamos to his bed, explaining that he still had chores to do, and then all but skipped off to the kitchen. One good thing about the hols was that he went entirely unnoticed.
They were making cards in school, and Harry was digging through a bin of markers to find the right color. What he wanted was green, but so far all of the ones he'd tried were dried out. The table cut sharply into his side when someone knocked into him from behind.
"Watch it, freak." Dudley smirked at him and Harry glared.
He heard laughter and glanced over to where Piers was sitting surrounded by a mess of glue and construction paper. The beady eyed boy made a threatening gesture with his hands and a couple of girls sitting next to him giggled. Harry looked down and found the perfect green he needed. After testing on his wrist and finding it satisfactory he returned to his own seat.
Harry was drawing on red paper, which changed the composition of color quite a bit, but to his eyes the green marker produced a perfect, socially acceptable green, and he painstakingly traced the outline of a tree. Once finished he contemplated how to decorate it. A star at the top, and red and gold ornaments were a must. He was rather excited when he realized that he could draw convincing candy-canes, and managed to push the panicking part of his mind away. The clenching in his gut, and the pain in his side diminished as he gripped the marker, focused intently upon the details of his drawing. Then, using his best handwriting (something Tom had been coaching him on relentlessly), he wrote "Merry Christmas Tom, love Harry."
He was rather proud of it.
His head snapped up and standing in the doorway was one of the office ladies. She was there each morning to award any tardy students with a most withering glare.
"Yes?" His own voice sounded pathetic to him.
"You are scheduled for an appointment at the office." She turned and Harry hurried to follow her. The woman was tall and dressed in denim- a long skirt and vest with horribly bright little characters stitched around the collar. She walked too fast for him, and he wondered what he did to require a personal escort from the one woman in the school that could be closely compared to a jailhouse warden. She held the door open for him and he stepped into the tiny entrance of the place where no student wants to be. The room was cramped, lined with overstuffed yet sparse furniture, and a huge potted poinsettia loomed at eye level. He stared at the bright red plant, trying to tell the difference between it's leaves and flowers as Mrs. Jail Warden said something to him along the lines of him going somewhere.
She sighed as though heavily put upon, and Harry looked down in shame.
"You have an appointment with the school counselor," she said. "Mr. Silvern's office is just through that door."
He looked up as she gestured to a door on the right. Hesitantly he went to it, but before he could confirm that he was indeed to open it and enter, the woman had seated herself behind the counter and was rummaging through a stack of manila folders. He gripped the handle and turned, only to be met with a hall filled with more doors. It even connected to another hall at the end. He grimaced and stepped through- surely there would be someone he could ask for further assistance. There was no way he was asking Mrs. Jail Warden.
As he walked down the hall he passed a hand lightly over his pocket, drawing strength from the warm body within. Balthamos stirred, and Harry felt a little bit better.
He found the first open door and peered inside. A lady sat hunched over a desk near a large window, and the light coming from it made everything very white and clean looking.
"Hello?" It came out so quiet that he feared she wouldn't hear him.
That was not the case, though, as she looked up and upon catching his eye flashed a brilliant smile. "Can I help you?"
"Um," what was he here for? "I was supposed to… I have an appointment with the counselor."
"Ah," she said, and stood and led him further down the hall. She rapped smartly on a door and said to him "This is Mr. Silvern's office, he speaks with the lower grade children such as yourself."
He couldn't help but wonder at the difference in demeanor between this woman and the other office lady. Harry actually gave her a shy smile as the door opened, which she acknowledged with a friendly nod. A tall man greeted them. His clothes seemed to hang from his body, despite being well fit, and he wore thick rimmed glasses.
"You must be Mr. Potter, come in." And just like that Harry was sitting on a short couch, alone in a room with a strange older man.
He watched as Mr. Silvern flipped through a notebook, pulled out several loose pages, pulled open a desk drawer and shifted around it's contents, readjusted his glasses, and then shoved a stack of books aside to write something on a different pad of paper. Throughout all of this the man spoke slowly, as though his brain were forming the words separately from his preoccupied body.
"You were called down here today… after someone who was very concerned about you… suggested you talk to someone. This person cares a great deal… about your welfare… and-"
Harry hadn't the faintest idea what the man was talking about. In fact, he was still certain that he was in trouble for something. It was a clever tactic, telling him that this was at the behest of someone he could trust. But what had he done? He wracked his brain for any outstanding incidences. He hadn't gotten into any fights lately, nor had Dudley (it wouldn't be the first time he was blamed for some mischief his cousin got up to). Maybe he was in trouble for something academic. But he'd been turning in all of his homework, and he even participated in the group projects they did now.
There had been a brief period when he stopped doing the work required of him. Tom taught him enough about writing, and the Dursleys didn't care about his grades at all. The admonishment that his parents would expect him to do well in school meant absolutely nothing. His teacher had taken him aside and given him a very embarrassing speech about how smart he was and the wastefulness of laziness. There had also been a call to his relatives, and Vernon had (in the privacy of his own home) threatened to turn Harry out onto the streets if he didn't, at the very least, fulfill his academic obligations.
"Schooling costs a ruddy arm and leg! Ungrateful, that's what you are!"
Needless to say, that rebellion had been short lived.
"Do you know why you're here, Mr. Potter?"
Harry looked up and realized, to his horror, that the man was regarding him from over the top of his spectacles with concern.
Mr. Silvern's mouth hardened into a thin line and he turned to sit so that he was facing Harry on the couch. "We thought that there might be something you wanted to talk about. It could be anything, your school work, friends, family life."
Harry said nothing.
After a moment of silence, when it became perfectly clear that Harry wasn't going to say anything, the man asked, "How do you like school?"
Suddenly, Harry was very confused about the entire situation. And something shifted in his mind and he realized that they knew. They knew that he was different, that there was something wrong with him.
I have to lie, he thought. Without hardly knowing why, Harry smiled and said, "It's alright. I like reading the books from the library."
"Tell me about your friends."
What did this man want to know? And what was Harry supposed to tell him? Somehow Harry got the impression that Mr. Silvern was aware that Harry didn't have any friends, and the idea that this man was sitting in front of him, looking him in the eye, and trying to trick him… it made him angry. At least the Dursleys let him know when he'd done something wrong.
"They're nice, but they don't go here." I won't tell him their names, "My cousin has a lot of friends though, and I play with them outside of school."
Mr. Silvern frowned and glanced down at a sheet of paper in his lap. He adjusted his glasses again and asked, "How do you like your cousin? It must be hard living with your aunt and uncle. Not to mention there are several incidences on your record indicating that you and your cousin don't always, ah— see eye to eye."
What could he say to that? "No, sir." What did grown-ups always want to hear? "But it's alright. We always make up afterwards."
The man gave him a smile, subtle, indulgent, and said, "You know Harry, you can tell me anything. Nothing said in this room leaves this room."
So Mr. Silvern was after his secrets. Well.
"It also says here that you had a rough patch a few months ago— stopped doing your schoolwork? You weren't sick, were you? It looks like you came to school."
"No, sir. That was a misunderstanding."
Vernon wringing his giant pudgy hands and simpering at the teacher, "That was a misunderstanding, you know how boys are."
"Harry," Mr. Silvern leaned closer to him, his head bowed just slightly and his voice serious, yet lilting just so with that lowered tone, sympathy, although Harry couldn't name the strange emotion, "I know that boys your age have it hard; believe it or not, I was a boy once too! And that's why I'm here. If you have any troubles, anything that you might want to get off your chest, I'm here to listen. And help, in any way I can."
Hid heart thundered in his chest, and in that moment he wanted nothing more than to be locked safely in his cupboard, curled around his snake and the journal. "No, sir." It came out small. His hand was pressed firmly to his thigh, covering Balthamos. He needed to lie better, he had to protect his friends, no one could know—
"Do you see well?"
Harry frowned. "Huh?"
"Your eyes, I noticed that you squint from time to time." Mr. Silvern tapped his own thick frames, the motion humorous, "I believe the school gives tests once or twice a year, have you had your vision tested?"
"Well, if there's nothing else I can do for you, maybe you can talk to the school nurse about that." He stood and laid a heavy hand on Harry shoulder. "It's a short procedure," he promised, "and completely painless, I'll ask her for you. Come on."
The school nurse turned out to be the nice lady he'd spoken to earlier. She asked him to read from different posters, and cover his eyes alternatively, and informed him that he was indeed in need of glasses. He didn't get to see the Dursley's reactions (who were called by the office), but when he got home a pair of round spectacles were waiting for him on the table. They made his head feel funny, and he didn't like the rims which hovered like blinders at the corners of his vision. He wore them nonetheless.
He took to sneaking out in the middle of the night, the journal tucked between his skin and clothes, to write in the loo. Tom gave one long rant about the injustice of the situation, then vowed that one day he'd avenge Harry. Harry told him about the counselor, and the glasses, and the horrible office.
The flower you described was probably a poinsettia, Tom wrote. Muggles have a tradition of displaying them this time of year, despite their toxic nature. Magic poinsettias can grow to enormous heights, are highly poisonous, and survive off of birds and small mammals. There are stories of them devouring the occasional child.
This frightened Harry, despite fascinating him, and the Office took on a whole new aspect of terror for him.
As for the man you spoke to, you did very well in misleading him. The last thing we want is for you to be found out. It would probably be better if you left Balthamos here.
Harry replied, But I'm afraid the Dursleys might find him. He wandered off the other day, and I had to call all around the house for him.
Order him to stay put, Tom wrote, followed by I'd instruct you how to distill a poison from the sap of poinsettia, but I'm afraid it's highly traceable.
Hunched on the toilet, surrounded by sterile fluorescent light, Harry wondered why Tom would suggest such a thing. Why would you do that?
To kill your relatives, of course.
He stared at the line for an indefinite amount of time before it clicked that Tom was suggesting he murder the Dursleys. Are you crazy? I can't kill them
Of course not, Tom interrupted him. It was merely an observation. I was not suggesting you use poinsettia to kill them.
Harry sat for awhile longer, the ceramic bowl warming beneath him, and savored the feeling of the rough paper against his skin.
You need to be very careful. Tom wrote.
Something about those words made Harry uneasy (or maybe it was just the night chill), and he bid goodnight to Tom.
Despite the risk he continued to bring Balthamos with him. The little snake was more than happy to sleep in his pocket all day. No one noticed Harry occasionally slip his hand inside, or the slight displacement of fabric. He had an overlarge jumper from Dudley (too small for his cousin, but positively enormous on him), that the snake compared to a dead ewe it had lived under for several days. Harry surmised that this was a good thing, but still made faces when he thought about it.
Chapter 5: On Death and Christmas
Harry was woken Christmas morning by the thundering footsteps of Dudley racing down the stairs. Harry rolled over and, with a rather indulgent groan, covered his head with the pillow. Balthamos stirred near his neck, gave the snake equivalent of a yawn, and enquired "What was that horrible noise?"
"Dudley." Harry replied, his voice cracking from disuse.
"Is he about to be eaten?"
"No, he just does that on Christmas. And birthdays."
"Presents," Harry yawned and curled his fingers around Balthamos. "They're like… everything he needs to live, all in one place, and he gets them today."
"Even so, he shouldn't make so much noise. I'd bite him if he came close enough." The snake's reply was suitably disapproving, which made Harry smile.
He listened as his aunt and uncle stirred, moved downstairs, and loosed Dudley on the presents. He heard Vernon exclaim loudly that Santa had eaten his cookies and drunken his milk. He listened as Aunt Petunia asked the boys what they wanted for Christmas breakfast.
Harry knew that Santa wasn't real. He woke up every year when his aunt and uncle snuck downstairs to place the "Santa" presents beneath the tree. Also, they used the same two or three wrapping papers for everything.
Shortly the scent of rashers and eggnog pancakes reached his cupboard, making his mouth water. He wished that Petunia would come knock on his door, even if it meant he had to watch Dudley stuff himself with candy, surrounded by new toys. Several more minutes passed as the Dursleys ate and Harry's stomach grumbled.
"Can you tell me a story?" Anything to take his mind off of his relatives.
"A story of what?"
"Anything," he said, "do snakes have stories?"
"I have never been told any. Snakes do not talk together so much, not like humans."
Harry rolled over and set the snake on his chest. "Why not?"
Balthamos threaded through his fingers. "We just don't. Nor do we live together in families."
"Don't you get lonely?" Harry asked. It worried him that maybe Balthamos didn't want to be his family.
"No. I cannot see why you live with them. They are cruel to you. They do not keep you warm." His tongue flickered out and tasted the palm of Harry's hand.
"I keep you warm, though." Harry said, "That's why you stay with me." Even as he said it, he hoped that there was more to their friendship. He hoped that the snake thought of him as a friend.
"I like you." Balthamos said, "You are warm, and kind. And you need someone to bite the people that hurt you, because your teeth are not so very sharp."
His cupboard door banged open and Harry leapt up from his cot. Balthamos slid down his shirt and then behind him, lightning quick, but Uncle Vernon stood in the hall with a horrified expression on his face.
Then things happened very fast.
"A snake! Boy! What did you have? WHERE DID IT GO? PETUNIA! GET A KNIFE! GET A SACK!"
Terrified, Harry stood rooted to the spot. Vernon was plastered against the far wall, his face rapidly turning purple and his teeth bared.
"Potter!" He leaned forward in a great show of movement and gripped Harry by the arm, tugged him out of the cupboard, and hurled him towards the kitchen. Harry just managed to keep his balance, although his composure was utterly lost.
"There wasn't a snake!" He cried, just as his aunt came running.
"There's a snake in that cupboard, I saw it on the boy!"
Petunia made a half-squawk half-shriek noise that would have been hilarious under other circumstances, and backed away from Harry. He was utterly torn between running to protect Balthamos, and running away. Anywhere away, anywhere where he couldn't be punished.
"Petunia, get a sack!" Vernon spat at his wife. She jumped and rushed to the kitchen, and Dudley made it over to them (wearing comically large Spiderman pajamas and chocolate smears around his mouth).
"A snake? A real one?"
"Dudders, get me a knife from the kitchen, no— Get me your new bat."
A strangled noise emitted from Harry, and he unconsciously moved towards the cupboard. His uncle noticed the movement and swatted in his direction, not entirely taking his attention from the cupboard entrance. Dudley grinned and jogged to the sitting room (each footfall reverberating down the hall). "Please," Harry begged, "please, there wasn't a snake, there wasn't—"
"Don't lie to me, boy!"
"I promise, there wasn't—"
"I BLOODY WELL SAW IT WITH MY OWN EYES! YOU DIRTY, LYING, UNGRATEFUL, WRETCHED LITTLE BRAT!"
Harry was frantic by the time Petunia returned with a garbage bag, and Dudley came from the sitting room wielding a shiny new baseball bat. When Harry's eyes landed on it some hysterical part of his brain jokingly informed him that it was probably the only time his cousin would ever swing the thing.
His aunt shoved the bag into Vernon's hands and, for a moment, they all stood looking at Harry. Vernon went through several different facial expressions (furious, confused, apprehensive, then determined), rounded on him, and said, "Turn on the light."
Harry didn't move.
"I SAID TURN ON THE RUDDY LIGHT!"
"What light?" He squeaked out.
"Ooh, you are going to get it, boy." He yelled, "What light do you think I bloody well mean? THE LIGHT IN THE CUPBOARD!"
He shrank against the wall, and was going to say that there wasn't a light in the cupboard, but couldn't get anything out. Instead he slid down the wall and trembled, and opened his mouth and closed it.
Rounding on him fully, Vernon wrapped both of his hot, over-large hands around Harry's shoulders (the bag crinkling unpleasantly against Harry's ear), shook him once and then shoved him towards the dark cupboard. Harry stumbled into it, leaned down against his bed, and quietly whispered "Hide."
He couldn't remember ever saying a more important word, or writing one, except for maybe the first 'Hello,' and his knees gave out when the whispered reply met his ears.
"Vernon, I think the bulb burnt out some time ago." His aunt's shaky voice seemed to reach him from miles away, and his fingers dug into the thin blanket beneath him. He felt completely exposed with his backside to his relatives, and it seemed forever before his uncle was dragging him out again, the fabric of his shirt going taught around his neck as he was pulled.
"Go get a light bulb," Vernon snarled at him. "Now!"
Harry stumbled backwards, tripped ("On a shelf, in the garage-" his aunt helpfully supplied), and made it to the garage. The cement was like ice beneath his feet, and his trembling was compounded by the cold. He stood for several helpless moments, not really doing anything but panicking. He coughed weakly, rubbed his neck and shoulders, and gazed at the shelves lining the walls. They were filled with boxes, which were filled with all sorts of odds and ends. He swallowed and stepped toward them. He didn't even know where to start.
"Have you found them?" Petunia stuck her long neck around the door, her face paler than normal, and when her eyes locked with Harry's something altogether unpleasant passed between them.
"They're over there—" she gave a sharp nod to a particular box, and Harry, filled with dread, opened it.
"Bring it here." Petunia demanded.
Harry did so, and his aunt plunged her hand into the box and rummaged through several different packages of lights before pulling one out and ordering Harry to follow her. He set the box down and returned to the hallway.Vernon was standing, bat held at his massive side, and jerked his head at the cupboard. His aunt gave him the bulb.
"H-how do I do it?" Harry asked, and prayed it wouldn't work.
Vernon replied with an animalistic half-shout and a sadistic twitch of a muscle and fat encased arm. Holding the glass delicately, Harry shuffled into the cupboard.
"Screw it in." His uncle gritted out, and Harry found the aperture meant for the bulb. He shook horribly as he fitted the light into place, and when it flared to life he gasped and ducked out into the hall. For a second there was no noise, and everyone stared.
Illuminated, the space seemed smaller than ever. Harry solemnly viewed the dirty floorboards. His cot was small, low to the ground, and only a few inches thick. It sagged in the middle and was a dingy gray color. The rafters overhead where thick with grime and cobwebs, and as the light caught on them black spiders scurried into cracks and corners, deeper into white nests.
His aunt gave a breathy exclamation and said, "You'll clean those out as soon as— as soon as this is through with!"
The trance was broken and Vernon leaned into the small space, his upper body bent low and his feet planted firmly in the hall. He held the bat as though ready to strike a burglar, or a dangerous assailant. He poked at the bed, and then used the bat to gingerly lift it up. Dudley tried to squeeze in to see, but couldn't fit past his father. The boy whined, "I want to see the snake!"
Harry was watching them with his back against the wall, his arms pressed tightly to his chest and his teeth clenching painfully. The taste of blood filled his mouth and he fought back tears. He wouldn't give them that satisfaction, no matter what happened.
Growing bold, Vernon squeezed further into the space and knocked the bat up and down against the walls and floor. "Come out you ruddy beast." He hissed. There was no explosion. No shout of fright, no violent swinging of the bat. Each moment dragged out as Harry trembled and Petunia simpered and Dudley whined. Vernon backed out after several minutes of poking and prodding, deterred.
"Boy," He thrust the bag towards Harry, "find it and put it in here."
Harry stared at the bag as though he'd never seen anything more frightening in his life (which was a fairly accurate assessment), until his uncle shoved it into his hands and steered him forward.
Harry ducked into the space and made a show of looking around, then turned to his relatives and said "There really wasn't any snake."
"He's lying!" Dudley crowed, more out of perverse glee at labeling his cousin a liar than any great ability to sense lies.
Harry glared at him and then flinched violently when his uncle tensed up and bellowed "Fine then! You can stay in there for the rest of the day, I hope it bites you!" And then he slammed the door shut, locked it, and gave it a horrible bang for good measure.
Once his aunt and cousin had gone from the hall Harry collapsed. He buried his face in the pillow, drawing comfort from the familiar smell, and gripped the drab blanket until his knuckles turned white and sore. He listened to his own panicked breathing, heard Dudley from far off whining that he wanted to kill the snake, and closed his eyes. They burned red behind his lids. He reached up to turn off the light, disturbed to see his room in such detail.
"Don't come out. Not yet."
He let out a shuddering breath. The gleaming baseball bat swung in his mind, wielded by a pair of great fat fingers, purple and white and red with rage.
"Are you alright?" The snake's voice was tiny, coming from somewhere beneath him.
"Yes. Are you?"
"I am fine."
A ream of silence spun out, and then, "I should have bitten him."
Harry gave a choked laugh (dangerously close to a sob), and said, "No, he'd have killed you."
"I'd have been fast. The fat one is too slow for me."
"No." Harry said. "You can't ever do that. You probably wouldn't even hurt him, and he would kill you."
Then, despite all warning, Balthamos slid up into the bed and came to rest in the space between Harry's chin and shoulder. Harry put a hand over his friend. "If you hear the lock being undone, hide again."
The rest of the day passed agonizingly slow, anticipation mounting every time he heard his aunt or uncle pass by. He slept fitfully, and could do nothing to stave off the hunger which twisted his stomach into painful knots. Balthamos offered to catch spiders for him. And while Harry had never heard of the term irony, he understood the aching bitterness of their situation.
Several hours after the house had gone silent Harry turned on the light and pulled out the journal. He wondered nervously if the light shone beneath the cupboard door, and put himself on high alert for noises within the house. He sat with his blanket spread across his lap, his snake sleeping atop it, and the journal balanced against his knee.
Elegant script burst forth, What happened?
Harry was about to reply before he paused to consider the oddly appropriate response. How did you know? He wrote.
I could feel you all day, you've been a wreck. Did they injure you?
He was rather warmed by Tom's concern. No, but my uncle saw Balthamos. They almost killed him, but they couldn't find him. I'm locked in the cupboard again. I got a light.
A light bulb?
Explain how it happened to me, in detail.
Harry explained, and Tom only interrupted him at points for clarification. When the story was all told, and Tom was mulling it over, Harry wrote a (rather shaky, pitiful) Happy Christmas.
Hardly, was Tom's reply. But then, I imagine this is par for the course, for you.
What does that mean?
It means that you've never been treated very nicely. I'm surprised you don't hate them for their celebrations.
Harry didn't really know what to say to that. Then he remembered the card he'd made for Tom. It was in his bag, in the front entryway, and he'd intended to give it as a present. He slumped dejectedly and made a little Christmas tree doodle at the bottom of the page.
Harry? Are you upset?
I had a present for you, but it's not here. They'll notice if I get out before I'm done being in trouble. It was a Christmas card, and I worked really hard on it.
I'm sure it was lovely, Tom said. You can still give it to me later.
It won't be the same, Harry insisted. Christmas presents are for Christmas, not just any day of the year.
Well, there is something you could give me, if you are truly intent upon it.
Harry perked up a bit at that, but wondered what he possibly had to give. Looking around his room there was very little. The garbage bag that his uncle had thrust upon him was laying in an unassuming heap by the door.
But I don't have anything. He wrote.
But you do. Tom replied, You possess something incredibly valuable.
Harry still couldn't find it in himself to contradict the journal, and he folded inwards a little. Not only were the Dursleys mad at him (and rightfully so), but now he would have to disappoint Tom.
A few drops of your blood would mean the world to me.
He stared. His blood? He thought of the shots that he'd been given at a school event, to prevent the flu. He thought of Dudley pushing him down on the playground, and the skin on his hands and knees being torn away.
A paper cut, I promise I won't hurt you. Your blood would make me much stronger, I could tell you more, teach you more, live longer.
Alright, Harry wrote, suddenly filled with the notion that Tom's existence was finite. It rather horrified him, and he wrote, You won't ever die, will you?
The page slid in his hands, slicing open his index finger. It stung just barely, and he watched in growing fascination as a bead of blood emerged, swelled with heat and life, and then fell onto the paper. It spread out, dark, then was absorbed. Wide-eyed he pressed his broken skin to the page until the bleeding stopped.
The journal was warm and he could almost see an energy to it, as though the pages and binding were made up of millions of tiny points, and they were all moving, rearranging in rapid byplays. He stuck his finger in his mouth and absently noted that it was the second time in a day that he'd tasted his own blood.
Thank you. Tom wrote. As to whether or not I can die; that is complicated. I will probably never truly die, but my strength comes and goes. I have many different levels of organization, and right now I am very weak.
I don't understand. What about when you get old? He'd seen books in the library, worn and torn with use and age.
There are many protective spells woven within my pages. They'll never rot or fall out, or tear, or burn, or take water damage.
Harry relaxed a little. How did they get there?
That is a story for another day. You should try to sleep, I'm sure you're exhausted.
Not really, Harry replied, I've been in the cupboard all day, and the night before. I'm mostly just hungry and bored.
They've given you no food?
I'm in trouble. I don't get to eat any Christmas food.
Harry was surprised to actually feel anger coming from the journal, and he stared in awe, trying to see just what it was that told him that Tom was angry. It was more of a feeling, he realized, something inside of him, as though he were experiencing the emotion. He half expected to hear the next words, and when they came he sensed them in his mind, tinged with anger.
They are vile, Harry, and never assume that their treatment of you is just. I know you do not see it now, but someday you will look back on this and wish for retribution. When you are older, when you know more about life, you will understand what they have done to you, and you will hate them for it.
He laid down, the strength going out of him, and Balthamos stirred, grumbled, and readjusted himself at Harry's side. He was torn— on the one hand Tom knew everything. The journal had yet to fail in answering a question. On the other, Harry didn't think he'd ever hate the Dursleys. At least, not in the passionate sort of way that Tom implied. Harry knew that he didn't like them, and he wished that he had a family that loved him. He knew that they were unfair to him, if not downright mean, but he just couldn't imagine himself being the same way. If he hurt them, then he was doing the same thing. He would be like them.
Frowning, Harry let the edges of the pages rest against his lips. He couldn't put his feelings and thoughts into sensible order, he just knew that he didn't want to hurt them.
He also didn't want to disappoint Tom. And Tom, it seemed, wanted him to hurt the Dursleys.
"As long as I'm in my cupboard," he whispered.
"What?" Balthamos asked through the fog of sleep.
"Nothing," Harry amended. "I'm sorry."
"Go to sleep." Balthamos ordered.
Harry smiled, and then noticed that words had appeared on the page.
Did you say something?
He reached up with a heavy arm and wrote Yes, how did you know?
Just a feeling, Tom replied.
And then an idea struck Harry. He tried to dismiss it (asking Balthamos was one thing, asking Tom was altogether another). But between the light and the softly snoring snake, and the humming diary in his hands, the idea became overwhelming, and at length he set the pencil to the page and wrote Will you tell me a story?
The emotion from the diary was strange, and he didn't have enough strength to decipher it. Anyway, Tom replied before he could ponder the implications, What sort of story?
A happy one, Harry wrote.
There was a long pause, disclaimed with I am thinking of one, and Harry's eyes began to burn looking at the page.
Very well. A fairytale, and don't interrupt me, alright?
Alright. Harry was rather excited, and vowed personally to do his best.
There once was a little boy who was very lonely. He lived a very ordinary life with an ordinary mother, an ordinary father, and ordinary friends. He was surrounded by ordinary people, and despite their general amicability the boy did not care for them.
One day he was walking home from school when he saw a gray tabby cat carrying a ribboned box in its teeth. For all of the ordinary things that happened to the boy, the sight of the tabby was extraordinary, and he watched it very closely. The cat walked with purpose, as though it had as much right to stroll down the sidewalk as anyone, and it looked both ways when it came to an intersection in the road.
As it crossed the road the cars began to move, and the Tabby didn't notice. The boy, being of a particularly kind heart, ran into the road, scooped up the cat, and just barely made it across in time.
Harry was entranced by the story, and he held the journal like a book, doing his best to keep up with the words.
When the boy reached the other side he set the cat down, who promptly stood on it's hind legs, patted itself off, and said "Good gracious, and thank you, for you have saved my life." The boy couldn't have been anymore surprised when the tabby picked up the gift box and said, "I have an urgent errand, but rest assured you shall be properly thanked at a later date." and then bounded off.
For the rest of the day the boy questioned whether or not the exchanged had taken place, and by the time he went to bed he was sure it had all been a dream. He was very surprised, therefore, to awaken the next morning and find that all of his clothes had been stuffed full of catnip. He could make nothing of his front yard, where the grass had grown to knee length, and was horrified when he found his schoolbag stuffed with mice.
That evening he was visited by a brown tabby who said to him "The cat you saved was none other than the Cat King's only son, and as thanks you will be married to him by midnight, tomorrow!"
Wait, Harry wrote, but he can't marry the cat!
You promised not to interrupt, Tom said.
May I continue?
The boy was confused and scared, but didn't know how to turn down the cat's offer, who insisted that it was a great honor, and that the Cat Prince was highly sought after. By the time the cats came to take him away the boy was entirely miserable, despite his intrigue to see the Cat Kingdom.
He was brought before the Cat King, who was a lecherous old tom cat, fat and shaggy and adorned with precious jewels. The boy tried to explain to the King and his court that he did not want to marry a cat, indeed he'd been confused and frightened by their gifts, but the cats would not listen.
Harry couldn't help it, But the cat is a prince! A boy can't marry a prince!
And why not? Tom asked.
Because, Harry wrote, but paused and realized he did not know why. He just can't.
I don't believe that is the case. Tom said. Legally it is not feasible, but that doesn't mean that a boy cannot love a prince. A human prince, that is, all cat things aside. I want you to think about that. Now, do you want to hear the rest of the story, or not?
Yes. Harry wrote, confused and a little embarrassed. He read a few more paragraphs, but drifted off at some point, the journal slumping closed in his arms and the light shining steadily over everything.
He woke the next morning to the rattling of the lock being undone. He quickly stowed the journal away and watched as Balthamos disappeared beneath the bed. His aunt gingerly swung the door open, commanded him to use the loo, and then locked him back up. He had the foresight, at the very least, to drink from the faucet while he could, and he felt faint and miserable when he listened to the lock snapping into place.
He held the journal to his chest, but didn't open it or turn on the light. Reviewing the faint memories of his fifth birthday, he came to the conclusion that his aunt had no idea what the journal was, and would take it away if she saw him writing in it.
The hunger in the pit of his stomach had since receded, leaving him tired and oddly hollow feeling. If he had the strength he'd have worried about starvation, but instead he laid on his cot, drifting in and out and listening to the inhabitants of the house.
The ugliest taste filled his mouth, and then he was horribly aware of the maggots lining his gums. He attempted to spit them out, but his muscles were sluggish, and his tongue was terribly dry. Despite his revulsion, he was primarily concerned that he might bite into one of the wriggling forms. This worry was quickly dispelled when he realized that he didn't have any teeth.
He shivered violently and felt the nausea build up in his chest, his throat, and all at once he was drowning, constricted by dark forms that held his arms at his sides. He tossed back and forth, gasping for breath, but when he opened his mouth he couldn't breath, and then he awoke. Lying face down, somehow he'd wrapped the blanket around his upper body. Harry groaned and laid still until his heart had ceased to pound.
He waited a few minutes for a reply, but none came. Fear renewed, he turned on the light and called out, "Balthamos, are you here?"
"Yesss. What is wrong?"
Harry drooped down, let out a great sigh, and reached beneath his cot. The familiar feel of scales and hard muscle met his fingertips, and he brought the snake up to lay by him.
"I had a nightmare."
"You are warm," Balthamos said, and flicked out his tongue to taste Harry's hand. "Unusually so."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"You do not smell right."
"I believe you are ill. No need to apologize."
He took another breath and noticed a strange sensation in his chest. He didn't feel warm, though. In fact, he felt rather chilly, and rearranged the blanket around him.
"You should sleep for the rest of the winter. That way you won't be hungry, or cold."
"I wish I could." He mumbled.
He really did.
The story that Tom tells Harry is "The Cat Returns," a really adorable Studio Ghibli film that I highly recommend!~
Chapter 6: Harry Hunting
He remembered very little of the days that passed after Christmas. He drifted in and out of consciousness, the darkness and hunger interspersed by the pinched face of his aunt, demanding "Up! Loo!" and then the sliver of light as the door to the cupboard closed. He was given bread on the second night, and a wedge of cheese at some point on the third day. When he fell down later that evening on the way to relieve himself, his aunt pressed the back of her hand to his forehead. He flinched, thinking for a moment that she meant to hit him, and she glared.
And then he was in the kitchen, gazing at the fridge as Petunia approached him with a giant spoonful of lurid orange liquid. What she meant to do with it didn't register until the spoon was halfway in his mouth, and he choked and sputtered. Some of it went down his shirt, most sprayed his aunt. Then she really did hit him. He was sent back to the cupboard once he'd been cleaned off and properly administered the foul tasting medicine.
Falling wearily onto his cot, Harry wondered if he was dying.
He stared into the darkness, breathing raspy breathes and listening to the house and it's inhabitants. When sleep refused to come he decided to speak to Tom. It had been a couple of days. He felt rather disoriented as he clicked on the light and set the journal onto his pillow.
Hello Harry. Are you alright? They haven't found Balthamos, have they?
No. He wrote, rubbing blearily at his eyes.
Are you still locked up?
How long until they let you out?
Until the break's over, I guess. I don't mind though, I don't have to do any chores this way.
A wave of fatigue spread over him, despite everything, and he laid down with his face against a page. Tom's handwriting danced in front of his eyes.
Are you well? There is a spell I want to teach you, it will help you…
And then Harry was gone, fast asleep again.
When he opened his eyes he was in an unfamiliar place. He wasn't frightened, though. He was warm, and there was a soft quality to his surroundings. The edges of things blurred and feathered out. Walking forward he noticed a roaring fire, a wide hearth, a long couch, armchairs…
It seemed perfectly natural to sit on the couch and stretch his legs out towards the fire. There was someone sitting next to him. Soft words were exchanged, and then a tentative hand was touching his face. They must have talked for a long time, because at some point Harry had slumped against the figure. An arm wrapped around him, and he felt safe.
When he awoke he sorted through his thoughts like cobwebs, trying desperately to remember the sensation of being held. No one had ever put their arms around him (not that he could remember).
It had felt… good. He laid very still, trying to pretend he was still there, in that place. The journal slid down a little, and he breathed across its pages.
Another day passed and there was quietude, warmth, and he realized with perfect clarity that he was starving. It gave the exclamations his cousin often made of "I'm starving!" a very different feeling. He rolled over and realized the journal was still open. brushing a hand over the page, words reappeared, and he was startled by them.
Relocating his pencil, Harry wrote, You could really teach me a spell? How?
Simply. I could write to you endlessly of magic theory, to no avail. While there is great value in understanding why something works, for the bit that I want to teach you I think we should keep things practical.
Harry frowned and wracked his brain, not wanting to disappoint Tom by conceding ignorance. We learned about theories in school. They come from hypothesis and experiments.
Yes, magic theory is the understanding of magic. However, at this point the concepts involved would mean very little to you. It would be rather like teaching a man to swim by explaining to him why water is buoyant.
Don't worry, all you have to do is say a word, and concentrate.
It sounded simple enough, but while he felt a jolt of excitement, Harry couldn't help the doubt he also felt.
You can unlock the cupboard yourself, correct?
So the issue is not getting out, but locking up after yourself, so as not to arouse the muggle's suspicion.
Harry stared at the word "muggle's" and it was foreign to him. The urge to say it aloud almost prompted him to do so. Almost, for he couldn't be convinced to break the silence of the cupboard, and a fear of waking his relatives reared behind the urge to speak aloud, ugly and overpowering.
You won't get it on the first try, and it may very well be that you unlock the door and cannot perform the spell to lock it again. If it is early in the evening, then we can start now, and hopefully you'll manage the spell by morning.
Tom seemed to expect a response, affirmation, and Harry wrote, All right.
To which the immediate reply was Obfirmo. "Ob," as in obscure, "fir," as in firm, "mo," as in moment. The spell will be easier to work if your hand is touching the door, just where the lock rests. Go get something to eat, then come back and try it.
Harry gladly obliged. He spent a moment with the handle and lock and once free waited against the wall with baited breath. Several minutes passed and when he heard no stirrings from above he crept into the kitchen. It was dark except for where a streak of orange light cut in through the window and landed on the far wall. He walked through it and stooped to the lazy-suzan where his aunt kept all of the foods which no one wanted to eat. He picked out a bag of stale crisps (an off brand and doubtlessly tasteless), and a can of smoked herring with a metal pull tab. He drank down several gulps of orange juice from the fridge and snagged an apple.
Once back in the safety of the cupboard beneath the stairs Harry's apprehension was forgotten in favor of eating. The apple tasted sweeter than any candy he'd ever had, the stale crisps heavenly. The herring went reluctantly above a beam, where it would wait for him until it was really needed. Besides, he wasn't fond of fish, and his stomach was sore from the little he'd eaten.
He sat in happy contemplation, the idea of a spell simultaneously enthralling and intimidating. Part of his mind warned him against it entirely. Magic was precisely the sort of thing his relatives wouldn't tolerate. Vernon was always grumbling under his breath about untolerable subjects- liberal politics, teenagers, the schooling system, the weather, and freakish nonsense…
Generally, Uncle Vernon didn't like anything that wasn't totally and utterly understandable. He didn't understand why the neighbors down the street had to play their music so loud, and so late at night. Therefore, he didn't like them. He didn't understand why strangers in public would coo "Aren't you a cute little boy?" at his nephew. And he didn't understand why anyone would make a movie about a magic book, then air it on television for impressionable young minds to view.
He certainly didn't understand why Harry had a snake in the cupboard. And he knew, Harry thought miserably. His uncle knew about Balthamos, despite the lengths Harry'd gone to to keep his friend a secret. What if they found out about Tom? What if they searched his cupboard again, and caught Balthamos, and found Tom, and Tom said mean things to them?
All things considered, Harry decided, doing magic was a bad idea. That didn't resolve his immediate dilemma, though. In fact, when his aunt came down in the morning to let him out, if she discovered the door unlocked then surely it would lead only to his fears being realized. They'd search his cupboard, and find the kippers, and Tom, and Balthamos.
Grinding his teeth, Harry glanced back at the journal. The open page was blank, waiting for him. He decided he would try the spell, quietly. It took him several more minutes to actually do it, and he wasn't really surprised when he sat up, placed his palm against the door, whispered "Obfirmo," and nothing happened.
He was, however, surprised by the displacement of silence it wrought. He sat listening, tense once more, for any sign of movement. Nothing happened, nothing changed, and he wrote to Tom, It didn't work.
I'd have been astounded if it had. Did you feel anything?
No, but I don't want to wake the Dursleys. They'll be angry if I wake them up.
His stomach squirmed at the thought, and he waited nervously for Tom's response.
They won't wake. Do you know what it means to concentrate on something?
Harry gave pause. He knew that a simple no would prompt Tom to explain all, but he felt that Tom wanted him to answer, would be proud if he knew without being told. Before he could formulate just the right response, the journal answered.
It means to devote all of your thoughts to a single thing, in this case the task of locking the door. You have to want it and mean it with your whole body, your whole mind. You must do away with all thoughts not related to your goal, especially thoughts which detract from it. Think not "I cannot do it," think not of failure. Imagine the lock and all of its parts, imagine the sound of it sliding into place, imagine the materials it is made of, imagine how you will feel when you know it has been done.
Then rest your hand on the door and command; Obfirmo.
Harry turned reluctantly to the door. What little he'd eaten sat heavy in his stomach, and the danger of the situation mounted in his mind. Then, mustering all his courage, he wrote, No.
An interval of startled silence followed. He despaired the trouble he'd be in come morning when they found out he'd been up in the night. He could use the excuse that he'd needed the loo, but he realized with blossoming dread that surely his aunt would see through it.
Something unpleasant was building inside of him. A tightening in his chest, followed by a shortness of breath. A loud noise like rain and static engulfed him, then a high pitched ringing. It occurred to him that he had done magic, accidentally, and now something horrible was happening.
He squinted at the page, trying to see through the noise. When he raised the pencil his hand shook, and he realized that Tom was angry.
You have nothing to lose.
But I do, Harry thought, and didn't dare to write. He didn't write anything, and Tom continued, his words dark and slanted.
You can only gain from this. Do you want your friend to die? How long do you think it will take for them to find him? You must learn quickly now if you want to survive. Violence is a terrible thing, but you can counter it. Your filthy muggle relatives have command over you because you will not take the initiative.
Lock the door.
His stomach churned unpleasantly. He dropped the book, dropped his pencil, and ran to the loo. He reached the toilet just in time to collapse over it and expel what little he'd eaten.
His mind cleared as the heaving slowed, the horrible ringing in his ears dimming to silence. He flushed the toilet and wiped at his mouth, dizzy and hot.
Somewhere upstairs a light clicked on, and someone rolled out of bed. Realizing the amount of noise he'd made, Harry crept back into the cupboard. Heart pounding and head throbbing, he pressed his hands and face against the inside of the door and whispered "Obfirmo. Obfirmo."
Heavy footsteps stumbled about overhead, the only noise and movement. Desperately he said it a little louder, "Obfirmo," and tried to recall through the rising haze of panic what Tom had instructed him to do. Concentrate. Imagine the sound of it sliding into place. He did, awfully aware of the loud, sliding click which the simple lock made, and he said "Obfirmo," and the lock slid into place.
He opened his eyes against the door, startled once he realized that he hadn't imagined the noise. And then all too soon heavy footsteps where resounding overhead. He turned off the light, hid the diary, and hissed to Balthamos, "Hide," who was already nestled in some inaccessible corner.
The floorboards of the hallway creaked and groaned as Vernon (undoubtedly Vernon) walked to the kitchen. At length Harry recognized the sound of the fridge closing, and his uncle went back up stairs.
A tingling numbness was spreading through his limbs, not unpleasant after the rapid succession of feelings he'd gone through. He was just starting to comprehend the fact that he'd done magic when the stress and relief became too much. He succumbed to the release of sleep, thoughts of Tom and his uncle swirling together.
That morning he was fed a proper breakfast. It also made him sick, due to how little he'd eaten in the past week, and was accompanied by more of the horrible orange medicine. He didn't talk to Tom, or Balthamos, feeling altogether miserable. The snake seemed to understand his misery, and laid against his chest, tongue occasionally flickering out in a concerned fashion. Break was almost over, and despite his fear of returning to school, Harry looked forward to it. By the time his relatives let him out of the cupboard, he'd be willing to take any amount of bullying from his cousin.
Dudley had always known how to hit, but lately his ineffectual punches and kicks had taken on a sharpness which Harry learned to fear. At seven years old, Dudley knew to aim for the ankles, or knees, or stomach, and instinctually put the right amount of inflection into each blow, tensing and curving to allow for the maximum effect.
When Dudley and Piers chased him, Harry ran not for fear of cutting words, but for fear of cutting blows. They called it Harry Hunting, and Harry resented the title endlessly. He suspected that it was of Piers invention, all of Dudley's ingenuity being funneled into more physical pursuits.
When Harry was finally let out again there was a great list of chores to do. He was rather weak and shaky after being sick, but cooking and cleaning actually seemed to do him good. He talked to Tom again, in the night, and explained what had happened.
I apologize for upsetting you, Tom said. But I knew that you needed encouragement, and if I hadn't pushed you the worst would have occurred. It always takes a push with magic. It'll come easier to you with more practice.
The thought of experiencing any of that again unsettled him.
All of the incidences which have occurred; your hair, the sweater, the water, they were all when you desperately wanted to preserve yourself, right?
Right. Harry agreed.
The spell for unlocking things is "Alohamora." I want you to practice locking and unlocking the door. The locking spell will be easier since you have worked it already, your brain has a path to follow. The more you do it the deeper the path sets, i.e. the easier it is to do.
Harry stumbled over the last part of Tom's instructions, finding it difficult to comprehend, and Tom clarified, i.e. is the abbreviation for "id est," Latin for "that is."
It is like walking to Mrs. Figg's house, i.e. the first time the route was unfamiliar, but after repeating it a dozen times you can imagine it intimately. That is your brain getting used to the path.
Harry was pleased and frightened by how much sense the explanation made. Regardless, he was too reluctant to upset Tom again, and practiced the two spells each night. He had trouble with both of them, and grew lethargic during the day, but by the time school started again he could perform both.
All the snow had melted by April, and the playground was littered with puddles. Slush lined the fence, mottled brown with last years leaves and pine needles and gravel. The field was a bog of mud and yellowed grass. Harry sat on a swing and watched the other children closely.
A group of girls were giggling on the jungle gym. Some of his classmates sat in the courtyard and climbed on the rocks placed therein. A gaggle of firsties surrounded the slide, which they climbed up the wrong way and ran around at dangerous speeds. Dudley, Piers, and two other unsavory looking boys approached Harry, mouths twisted into smiles and eyes alight on the swings.
Frozen in place, Harry made the split second decision to stand his ground. As soon as he ran they'd give chase, and he was currently blocked in. The field was the only area he'd have any chance at outmaneuvering them in. They'd have to get closer together, nearer to him, before he could ever make it there.
They were spread out like a pack of dogs, sensing where he'd go, and Harry desperately prayed they would turn and chase the girls off the jungle gym. Knobby knees locked firmly into place, he sent them his coldest glare.
"Why are you all alone, Potty?" Dudley leered.
His lackeys laughed as though he'd said something particularly clever, and Piers leaned in dangerously close and said, "Yeah, haven't you got any friends?"
He wanted to say something cutting and mean to them, but his jaw was clenched shut, and the vague, rising panic in his head was like a drum. It grew louder and louder, pushing out words and thoughts so that all he was left with was Run, Run, Run, Run, Run.
"Why don't you give someone else a turn on the swings," said Dudley, "no one wants Potty getting freak cooties all over them." Cue laughter, and then the meaty arm lurching forward, pink tipped fingers grabbing, intent, harmful.
He bolted, swing flying up behind him. Piers was in his line of sight first, and Harry slid around the beady-eyed boy, barely kept his footing (mud sloshing and filthy gray water sliding beneath his overlarge trainers). He didn't have to worry about Dudley, his cousin never caught him. It was the other two boys, the taller lean ones who could actually run, and Harry relied entirely on his ability to dart to the side, feint between them, and double back on a hairpin turn to stay out of their arms.
His heart beat in his throat, his eyes burned, his whole body screamed of red hot fear, blood pulsing in his ears, the shouts and screams of children becoming white noise in the peripherals of his consciousness. As soon as his foot met the thick matte of dead grass he knew he had a chance. The field spread out before him and a cold, tactical mode took over. He could give a short burst, just enough to get ahead of them (it would hurt, exhaust him), then he'd swing wide to get a good view of their positions. Ideally he needed to make it back to the building, to the front of the yard where a teacher would be on duty. He couldn't let them herd him any farther back. He could wield around them again, true, but without looking he knew that Dudley guarded the far side of the playground.
His feet slipped and he went sprawling, legs working too fast to slide to a stop, the ground rose up before him in a confusing rush. He rolled across the freezing sod as one of the boys leapt over him, the other sliding to a halt and skidding him with clumps of mud. He knew it was hopeless, but he still tried to get away.
They grabbed his arms, pulling them painfully behind his back and dragged him to the fence. Piers jogged up to them, puffs of white chugging out his mouth. Harry twisted and turned, and his arm was pulled back painfully. The sensation shot through his shoulder and he gasped. He thought to kick them, but his feet were numb with cold and he knew he didn't have that much control. Dudley finally caught up, and he was laughing, teeth bared and eyes glinting with mirth.
Despite how flabby he was, the boy hit like a ton of bricks. It was during these moments when Harry thought that he did hate his relatives. When his cousin's fist sunk into his gut he thought that, given the opportunity, he just might kill them.
His vision had been reduced to basic shapes and colors, lines, by the time that an adult came running over, shouting and blowing on a whistle. The shrill sound registered in his mind belatedly, and he fell forward as the arms holding him up loosened. He managed to catch himself before his face hit, and the sudden respite from the punches and kicks was like the silence after an ear shattering clap of thunder.
They were all sent to the office, and he had to see the nurse again. Her and the counselor, Mr. Silvern, wheedled the story out of him.
"So they just started chasing you?"
"Yes," Harry said, tired and sore and not wanting to recount the ordeal in words.
The two adults exchanged grim looks and Harry wondered if they knew that he could see them. He was relieved to find the office poisonous-plant-free, but no more compliant than ever to be there. Of course the Dursleys would be called, and he really didn't want any of this to be happening.
He was given a few band-aids for cuts he'd acquired in the fight (if it could be called that), but otherwise nothing could be done for him. Playground fights were a common occurrence, sometimes breaking out into full fledged wars. Kids scratched and hit and kicked each other all the time. It was expected that the Dursleys would take the proper disciplinary measures to ensure that their son and nephew got along. After that, there wasn't much the school could do.
He was released for the day, and he sat on a hard chair, waiting to be picked up. The Dursleys didn't like it when they had to drive to the school unnecessarily. Harry didn't like it either, and he repressed a sigh. At least, he thought, he still had Tom's company to look forward to.
Harry fully expected to be sent to the cupboard, and was therefore surprised when his aunt briskly ordered him to tidy up the kitchen.
"Because your Aunt Marge is coming over for Easter Break. You'll also need to fix the upstairs guestroom for her, as she'll be staying the weekend."
This was about the worst news he could possibly get. Aunt Marge wasn't really his Aunt, and the only consolation her presence brought him was the poorly veiled distaste his Aunt Petunia had for the woman. That, and watching Dudley squirm in her beefy, unclothed arms.
He thought that Tom would hate her even more than Uncle Vernon, because she always agreed uproariously with the treatment of Harry. If the Dursleys scowled at him and commented that he was a waste of space, eating them out of house and home, then Marge agreed in booming tones, one-upping them by suggesting methods of disposal.
Harry remembered the horrible dogs she'd brought with her, large and unfriendly to everyone but their mistress. Maybe, he thought, he could live in the Magnolia tree while Aunt Marge was visiting. For the week.
Chapter 7: Large Marge
It started at night. Touches. He'd wake to the disconcerting notion that someone had rested a hand on his shoulder, his belly, his thigh. The gentle brush of lips against his throat. Over his eyes. Fingers gripping his wrists. At first he woke to these sensations, and laid awake wondering if they were real or imaginary. The touches grew stronger, and they persisted after his waking.
He had experienced a lot of strange things in life, and while he was a little scared, and more than unsettled, he was above all else, curious. He went about his days in the usual manner; waking early to the routine and expected "Boy! Up!" and helping Petunia prepare breakfast. He performed his chores to the best of his ability (except for the weeding and clearing, which he did slowly to avoid being in the house). He hid when Dudley waddled from the sitting room to the kitchen, and generally tried to be as unassuming as possible.
But then, at night when he laid on his threadbare cot, he did not routinely fall asleep to the creaking of the house and the busy scurrying of the spiders overhead. Instead, he tried to touch whatever it was that was touching him. Laying in the dark, eyes wide open, he jerked to press his hand over his collarbone, where the unmistakable pressure of a hand was resting. He noted dully that the invisible, for-the-most-part Not Real hand was twice the size of his own.
As the nights progressed the hands became more real, in that he met individual fingers, with smooth nails, and textured palms. And then, almost a week after the touches started, they stopped. He dreamed of a pair of red eyes, sitting in the cupboard next to him. Watching, hazy but unwavering in the darkness.
He consulted the journal about it, but Tom claimed to know nothing.
You shouldn't imagine those sorts of things. Had been Tom's exacts words, and while Harry didn't altogether trust Tom's word, he did begin to doubt what he had felt. Time passed and the touches didn't come back, and he figured it was like any of the other numerous and According-to-the-Dursleys abnormal things that happened to him.
When Easter rolled around things had settled back to normal. Harry went to school, ignored his cousin, and got chased on the playground. When school let out he did his chores, then retreated to the cupboard to talk to Tom and Balthamos. His initial nervousness about the light had gone. The Dursleys didn't say anything about it, and while his cupboard was searched again, neither Bal nor Tom had been found out. His uncle had picked up the diary and shaken it in front of Harry, demanding "What is this rubbish then?" and tossed it onto the cot. Harry had been mortified, the notion planting itself in his mind that Tom could feel the pages being so carelessly tossed. It created in his mind the image of a boy in a room that was tumbling on its side. Which, in turn, made him wonder what Tom looked like.
He'd sort of built up this idea in his mind of Tom. He even had a voice for his friend. Ever since the very first time he'd seen the words across the page and understood them he'd had the notion that Tom was older than him. Dissatisfied with the vague images in his mind, Harry thought about what he did know for certain. Tom was a person. Or had been, a "very long time ago." Tom knew magic.
He still struggled with the idea of it, late at night. But then when he practiced the two spells he'd learned, and felt a peculiar rush of sensation in his fingertips, accompanied by the journal's approval… it wasn't so bad. In fact, knowing that he could come and go when he pleased (at night) gave him a sense of security he'd never known. He rather enjoyed the feeling. Tom insisted that he wasn't doing anything wrong, because different rules applied to different people, and the Dursleys didn't have the right to impose rules upon him.
None of that changed the fact that by day Harry bowed his head to them and followed their orders with murmured acquiescence. Or that when Marge arrived he held the door for her, and stumbled beneath the weight of her bags, and stood in rigid fear as her dogs sniffed him and growled.
The horrible woman spared him a glance and a sneer before cooing in her over-large and over-loud voice, "Where is my nephew? My darling Duddy boy?"
The Dursleys ushered their son into the living room and there was a great surge of hugging and exclaiming and barking. Dudley's eyes locked with Harry's over the shoulder of Aunt Marge when she swept him up off the ground.
Unable to resist, Harry stuck his tongue out at his cousin, who was obviously displeased. In retaliation the boy whined, "Auntie, where's my present? Is it bigger than last years?"
Aunt Marge laughed and set Dudley down. "Boy's got his priorities straight! And he grows bigger and handsomer every time I see him!"
Harry scowled and began the laborious process of dragging her bags up the stairs. The Dursleys didn't seem to notice the trouble it caused him, or how Marge's dogs growled at him when they noticed him touching her belongings. Dudley's second room had been cleaned up (by Harry), and he set the last of her things at the foot of the bed. The many toys and broken electronics that had previously cluttered the floor (and surely would once again when Easter break ended) where currently residing in boxes that lined both Dudley's room and the garage. Vernon's shiny company car was sitting on the driveway pad, which Harry thought the man didn't mind so much.
Harry stood at the top of the stairs and listened to the muffled voices below, his Not-Aunt's rising above his families and then dipping low in deep throated laughter. Belatedly, he noticed the dog at the bottom of the stairs, drooling chops, glinting eyes and all. He stared at it for a minute before quietly saying "I need to come down. I don't suppose you'll let me, will you?" He half expected the dog to reply, he'd grown that used to talking to his snake.
It might have been a response, Harry thought, when the dog grunted and settled onto it's hind legs. If it was, then it was something along the lines of "You just try it."
He crouched down on the uppermost stair, prepared to wait for a very long time, when his aunt came around the corner looking for him. She startled a bit at the dog, saw that it had Harry trapped at the top of the stairs, and made a timid sort of angry shooing noise at it. "Get," she said, "go on, get you…" she made a face as it gazed balefully up at her. Harry thought it was like a short fat dog and a tall skinny one sizing each other up, neither able to understand the other. She nudged it with her foot and the dog growled threateningly. Harry just prayed that it wouldn't run up the stairs.
"Marge," Petunia called, "would you like the dogs in the kitchen for dinner, or shall they eat outside?"
"Oh, they dine with us, of course." Marge replied from the dining room. "Ripper? Come here Rip, we've some nice sherry for you." The large woman called in what Harry assumed was an enticing voice, to dogs.
The bulldog at the bottom of the stairs picked itself up and trotted to the dining room, and Petunia gave Harry a look. For a moment it was rather as if they understood one another, but then his aunt snapped "Set the table, and be quick about it," all of her irritation over the situation expressed in the tone of her voice, with none of the sympathy.
Harry did as he was told, and put four place settings on the table, and three more on the floor for the dogs. He deliberately left out a setting for himself, intending to spend as much time in the cupboard as possible.
"What are you at, boy?" his uncle asked when he finished putting on the last of the cups and glasses.
"Huh?" He looked up at his uncle, who'd been in conversation with Marge. The both of them gave him shrewd looks.
"He's not put on a plate for me," Marge said, "cheeky little bastard, that's passive aggressive behavior. Too afraid to say he's displeased, so he shows it through his actions."
"No, I didn't-"
"Who do you think you are?" His uncle growled.
"I meant to eat by myself, so that-"
"You'll not be eating at all! Finish setting the table, then off with you."
"Why not let him stay?" Marge said, still squinting at Harry as though he were a particularly elusive specimen of disease. "You can't let them off when they're like this, it's as good as telling 'em that they can get away with it."
Harry looked down in shame as he set the roast on the table. He hurried back for the potatoes and pudding, and Marge continued, "Keep 'em near the mess they've made, rub their face in it, then they know they're in trouble."
He didn't dare look up at his Not-Aunt, or uncle. Vernon's wheelie voice came out flustered, and Harry prayed that his uncle would stand up to the horrible woman. "There's not much room for him, anyways…"
"Then he can eat on the floor, with the dogs."
Harry froze. Then glanced to where Marge had a meaty hand around the neck of a brown and white bulldog. It was Ripper, whose tail he'd accidentally trodden on years ago. The dog had hated him ever since, and it eyed him now maliciously, just waiting to spring.
"I'm sure that's not necessary." Vernon said, weakly. "Don't want him in here bothering us-"
"Nonsense." Marge said, and that was the end of that.
Petunia was startled again when she entered the dining room to find Harry sitting glumly on the floor, dogs slurping and growling around him. She said nothing though, and only gave a knowing look towards Marge. Harry wasn't addressed through dinner except to have a plate handed to him, and when he again caught Dudley's eye. His cousin stuck his tongue out at him, and Harry would have retaliated if it weren't for the fact that Marge was watching closely for a response. Harry cleaned up when they retired to the sitting room, and he couldn't remember a time when he was happier to be dismissed.
As soon as he was in the cupboard he locked it. He'd taken to it lately as a precaution. If anyone wanted to get in they'd have to undo the lock first, and he'd better hear them.
He clicked on the light and rummaged for a pencil.
Yes? I take it you've finished with Marjorie Dursley?
For the night. Will you teach me more magic? Something rebellious inside of him made him ask. He hadn't thought to until he sat alone with Tom and the misery and humiliation of the night caught up with him.
I would be happy to. Although I think you should first explain what happened.
What did she do to you?
Then what did she make you do?
Tom's astuteness frustrated Harry suddenly, for all it was useful and admirable. She just made me eat on the floor, he wrote.
The light burnt out overhead in a sudden surge of energy, Harry jumped and covered his ears as a split second of noise tore through the house. There was a moment of silence, followed by confused shouting. In the sitting room his uncle and cousin were exclaiming loudly, and some heavy piece of furniture was knocked over. Then the light came back on, dimming into life. He noticed the line of light beneath his door reappear, and sighed. A brown moth with tattered wings swooped around the light, hopelessly beating itself against the hot bulb. Static and the generic sound of the telly came with it, and no one came to bang on his door. To be safe he waited till late that night to talk to Tom again.
Did you do that?
You weren't hurt, were you?
No, the lights just went out is all.
They didn't suspect you?
Good. Only animals eat on the floor. Tom didn't say more about it, but Harry got the feeling that he meant much more. He thought to tell Tom about the time that Aunt Marge had brought a new game system for Dudley, and a box of dog biscuits for himself. Then thought better of it.
In the interim I contemplated how best to help you in this situation. We'll see how much you can do, of course, but for the most part I can only teach you simple spells right now. Children aren't taught magic until they turn eleven for a reason, but there are always exceptions. In cases such as yours and my own, in which we have very old pure blood in our veins, we are often afforded more opportunities. For example, I performed feats of magic at your age which are not normally practiced until a wizard is fifteen.
The fact that you were able to perform the locking spell without a wand is indicative of similar capabilities.
Harry laid on his side and read the words, letting them comfort him. He wrote Can you teach me a spell to make them be nice?
Not that it isn't possible, Tom wrote out, slowly, but it would be much more simple to make them ignore you entirely, through various lesser spells. I understand that you believe they are your family. But sometimes Harry, that means nothing except that they can hurt you.
He read the words and what little comfort he'd taken slipped from his grasp. It was replaced with a heavy weariness, like how he felt in the mornings before school started, on the days when he knew that everything would go wrong.
I've thought of a stinging hex, to use on your cousin when he chases you. You could perform it subtly, with practice, so that he wouldn't know that you are doing it, only that it hurts to touch you.
There really are spells that are bad, then?
He was filled with the strangest notion that Tom was frowning.
There are all sorts of spells; hexes and jinxes, curses, charms... Tom said, there are spells to find things, to protect you, to hide things, and spells to hurt the people who hurt you.
Like Abra Kadabra? Harry wrote.
Tom was silent for a minute, then replied with a cautious, and yet seemingly pleased Yes. Like Abra Kadabra. However, no spell is "bad." Just as no object is bad, no inhuman thing is bad. It is intent which makes things bad. It would not be wrong of you to use a hex to defend yourself, to deter your cousin from harming you. If anything is bad, it is the muggles who think they can hurt you like they do. I wonder if, perhaps, they are aware of your status as a wizard. It would explain their treatment of you, assuming they are as inane as you have led me to believe.
They are. Harry readily agreed, and spent the rest of the night learning the shape and taste and tingle of the stinging hex. His aunt and uncle did not stir upstairs, nor did Dudley, or horrible Aunt Marge.
Three days had passed, Easter dinner gone by with little incident. Harry managed to stay out from underfoot, finding solace in solitude. However, what little relief he'd taken in his aloneness quickly turned to restlessness. He was, once again, trapped in the cupboard under the stairs. Only this time it was of his own volition. He had double the chores to do (what with the dogs making a mess of the yard), but still spent the majority of each day on his dingy, thin little cot. Tom counted it as fortuitous, and took to instructing Harry with surprising fervor. He drew charts and diagrams in the back pages, leaving them there indefinitely.
He began teaching Harry the table of elements, and times tables, and a very lovely and rule-laden type of cursive. He explained everything in simple and relevant terms, clarifying often in great understanding. Harry did not notice it, of course, but Tom always knew when something was so much of the magical world that to Harry it might have been gibberish. Tom had, initially, listed off plants and their properties in Latin terms, insistent that Harry learn the proper names of things, but Harry nearly went into fits trying to sound out, let alone understand the lilting titles.
His favorites were the stories of stars, accompanied by the strange drawings of points and lines. Tom was put off when Harry only wanted to learn stories of Orion, and Old Mother, and the dog star Sirius, as opposed to the mathematical and contextual significance of the sky. They compromised, Tom telling Harry a new story each night, while during the day (not that it mattered so much in the cupboard) he administered lessons of a more practical nature.
It was on the last day of Aunt Marge's stay that things turned sour.
It was a long held tradition that many luxuriant gifts were to be bestowed upon the Dursley progeny. Most of the gifts were received immediately, the Dursley family was not one to wait, or savor waiting. However, on the last day of Aunt Marge's visit Dudley unfailingly managed to milk a shopping trip out of her.
Harry had managed to go mostly unnoticed, aside from the horrendous first dinner, and his family, if not his Not-Aunt, had seemed more than happy to not notice him.
Until the last day. He spilt her breakfast on the floor, accidentally, because the tray he'd arranged it on was very heavy. She ate more than both Dudley and Uncle Vernon, which was a feat he didn't quite believe possible. Regardless, the breakfast had included sausages, which apparently bulldogs are not supposed to eat, because by the time the mess was half eaten and Marge noticed the large off whitish braughts all hell had broken loose. He shortly found out why when the dogs had the runs in the yard. Petunia had been entirely too upset by Harry's watch, and demanded he clean it up just as he had with all of their messes. It had taken him awhile to decide that a tea-towel was the only way to go about it, but Petunia absolutely wouldn't have it. While he was trying to figure out how to clean the yard, he'd left the fence door open and Ripper had gotten out. He had chased one of Mrs. Figg's cats all the way to the cat door of Mrs. Figg's house, and gotten magnificently stuck. Harry wasn't there to see it, but it took two hours and a pat of butter to get loose the dog. He was subjected to a very angry lecture about the delicate sensibilities of show dogs, and forced to bath the sullen and buttered bulldog.
As he was scrubbing at the greasy fur, Petunia in the back bemoaning the state of the lawn, and uncle Vernon still with Mrs. Figg and undoubtedly apologizing profusely, Ripper had turned, too quick for Harry to see, and bitten his arm. Harry cried out in fright as the dog let out a furious snarl, it's eyes locking with his. The pain in his arm wasn't so bad, it was the adrenaline shot to his heart, and the rising snarl of the dog that horrified him. Heat radiated from the beast, and he could smell it's putrefied breath leaking out from between it's sharp incisors.
He dared not run, he could sense the same readiness in the dog that lurked in the children on the playground— the tenseness and agitated flickering of the eyes that signaled high alert— and then the kitchen door banged open, Aunt Marge demanding in an angry growl, "What have you done now?"
Ripper took it as incentive to lunge, and Harry tore out of the kitchen, just barely making it to the front entrance before he felt the hot breath of the dog at his heels. He plastered himself against the door, hands fumbling with the handle, but before it opened the dog crashed into him. It's weight was more than any punch he'd ever sustained from his cousin, the feel of it's muscles and thin fur against him repulsive and terrifying, the dog let out a high pitched yelp, then slumped. Harry stared in confusion as it ceased to move, curled in an awkward angle at his feet. Its eyes stared outward, unseeing, and he knew that it was dead.
Later he would not remember making the decision, but be endlessly grateful for it. He was at the cupboard as his Not-Aunt Marge came by, stopped frozen, and said "What? What… Ripper?"
Harry had Balthamos curled around his wrist, and the diary secured firmly in his arms with the large jumper, and then he was running. He ran all the way past Wisteria Walk, not noticing the cats shoot out of his way. He didn't see the cars in the street, or his uncle staring in confusion after him. He didn't see where he was going. He only heard the furious shouts of "Boy! Murderer! He killed him, he killed him!"
He ran past street sign after street sign, then through a park, and past a public pool. His throat was dry and his sides burned, but the shouts of murder rang in his ears, and he fully expected his uncle to come barreling around a corner in his shiny new company car at any second. Surely, at any moment, the other dogs would be at his heels, Aunt Marge not far behind, shouting "That's him! He killed Ripper!"
Balthamos clung to him in silence, smelling the fear and adrenaline, understanding that predators are everywhere.
"It was only a matter of time," the snake later hissed. "You where living so close to them. A snake would never make its den in such a dangerous place."
Harry shivered and pulled the jumper closer around his shoulders. He'd ended up in a thatch of particularly thick bushes surrounding some large brick building. He was in the city, he'd no idea where, and night was falling. Street lights were clicking on, and he had nothing to write with. So instead he spoke.
"I didn't have any choice. Humans don't get to choose where they live." He buried his face in his arms, shivering. "I wish I was a snake."
He wasn't used to having Tom so close, and being unable to communicate. The journal was tucked against his stomach, beneath his clothes, where it would be safe from dirt and moisture.
"You cannot change what you are, but you can still change what you do." Balthamos offered, his patient little voice suddenly so important, so all knowing, "You have already chosen to live here. You can move your den anytime you wish."
Harry laughed and wiped his nose on a sleeve. "I can't live here forever," he replied, "it'll get too cold, and someone else owns this place."
"It seems big enough to me."
"That's because you're so small." He smiled as he curled up against the wall. "I'm sure everything seems big to you."
"Not so," said Balthamos. "There are plenty of things smaller than I."
"Like what?" Harry asked.
"The insects I eat. And the insects that those insects eat. And what those very, very small insects eat."
It wasn't really funny, but Harry laughed anyways, and tried to imagine how small things got before they were too small to eat anything smaller. His stomach rumbled and his momentary mirth dissipated. "Besides… I don't have any money. I'll starve." He'd either have to get money, or steal food. The idea was daunting; stealing from such a big world. With the Dursleys at least he knew what they'd miss or not. Out here, who knew? He could go to jail, or worse.
"Are you hungry?"
"I'll find us food." Balthamos said as he unwound himself from Harry's grasp.
"What? No, you can't."
"I won't be long."
"But I don't eat bugs like you."
"Have you ever tried to?" Balthamos asked, and Harry was a little repulsed. He was also, however, incredibly hungry.
"No, I suppose not. But they don't sound very good."
"I could catch you a mouse. They are too big for me, but-"
"Bugs sound fine," Harry hastily amended. "Just promise you won't go far?"
"I won't go far." And then he was gone through the bushes, disappeared into the grass.
Harry waited as it got darker, and colder, and he brought his knees up to his chest and closed his eyes. The diary was warm, and he thought with renewed appreciation of how much he loved his friends.
He opened his eyes and he was warm. The firelight danced back and forth, the crackle of sparks swirling upwards, and a soft hand helped him up.
"It's alright. You're safe, at least for a little while."
Harry stared in wonder at the boy before him. Older, yes, but not by too much. Young Tom Riddle smiled at him, features angular and eyes alight. There was an old fashioned crispness to his clothing that Harry fixated upon. He almost couldn't believe it, and yet he knew with the sharp insight of déjà vu where he was and how he'd gotten here. He knew, also, that he'd been here before.
"Tom." He smiled in relief, and was overcome by the urge to grasp, to touch, to hold his friend close. He didn't dare, and instead turned his gaze to where their hands hung interlocked. A dichotomy of hazy vividness imbued everything, creating a sleepy hum.
"Yes." Tom replied, and pulled Harry over to a couch.
Dully he noted the green and silver tapestries that framed the space, the gray heated flagstones beneath his feet. The couch was also green, and wonderfully inviting. As he sunk into the cushions he turned his gaze again to Tom's face. The older boy was staring at him with a strange intensity, unlike anything he'd ever experienced before.
"You'll have to go back to them, you know."
"I know," Harry replied. Their voices were contained, and yet seemed great in this space. He supposed it was because, as far as he could tell, they were the only things around.
"But until then, we talk."
He wanted to ask to stay in this place, inside the journal, or wherever they were, but he was too old to believe that something so wonderful and perfect could ever happen. Instead he said, without thinking, "I didn't mean to! I didn't mean to kill him. It just happened." He could feel the panic threaten to reemerge, but also the gentle brush of Toms thumb over his hand. He stared in wonder at the simple gesture. How could something so small feel so good? Again, he was overcome with the urge to be closer to the older boy.
He didn't really like the way Tom was looking at him, but then it seemed as if something shifted in Tom's eyes, and when he spoke Harry sat riveted.
"I killed the dog. I couldn't take the chance that it might harm you. You'd be surprised just how fragile people are." Tom's voice was soft, but rich, and just as Harry had imagined it.
"We aren't really in the journal. Not in the sense that we are within any part of it. This is a small world to which the journal leads, a space I created along with the pages. And yes, you're really here with me. This is where my mind resides, and we are the only ones who can enter this place."
"But where is the rest of you?"
Something quickened in Tom, and a smile curved his mouth and lit his eyes. "My soul is split into two pieces. I did it when I was at Hogwarts, in order to immortalize myself. Half of my mind is here, the other half, along with my body, is still somewhere in the world." He finished and Harry watched his mouth close on the words, the last syllables escaping like the sparks from the fire.
What a strange thing, he thought. And he wondered if it had hurt. Magic was different from what he had imagined. Tom seemed so excited, the words leaving him in breathy declaration, and Harry could only stare in wonder.
"I wanted to be sure that I could live long enough to achieve my goals. I wanted insurance, because I knew that I would acquire many enemies on my way to changing the world. And things must change. They have to, we simply cannot go on as we are.
"The world of magic is immeasurable- the things we can do are limited by only what we can conceive. We create material from nothing, stop wind and water from their destructive course, channel the very essence of nature into pure creative power. To heal wounds instantly, to extend our lives indefinitely, these things are all common place! Wizards do not appreciate them because they do not know what it is to live without.
"In the orphanage I knew hunger, and fear. I knew cold never ending and the cruelty of people who are starving. Muggles are thin— in mind and body. Thin of blood, and thin of soul. They are no less human than us, true, but they are so many, and they destroy. They are like a disease, breeding and multiplying endlessly, consuming everything and leaving only waste. We have the power to fix what they have destroyed, to rejuvenate mankind, to recreate the world as brighter, purer, more perfect than it is now.
"And therefore, we have the responsibility to do it." Tom frowned.
Harry leaned forward, entranced. Even if his friend was frightening, he was also very beautiful. Harry had never seen anyone quite so… well, everything. Everything about Tom was more than anyone he'd ever known. Harry wondered if all wizards were like that.
The frown that marred Tom's face twisted and he said. "I had planned this so carefully, but something strange has happened. I didn't tell anyone about this Harry, and I never planned to, but you are important. I couldn't figure it out." He flashed Harry a charming, lopsided grin. "Where you came from, or how you found me. How you could speak to snakes. But now I think I know."
Silence lapsed between them. Both just looking. Harry never really looked at other people. He snuck the occasional glance, of course, but never really looked.
Tom's hand brushed at his bangs, a single slender finger tracing along his scar. "And I wonder…"
The little smile came again. Harry couldn't tell why, but something about it seemed like it wasn't a smile at all. Both of Tom's hands where on his face now, holding it steady. He thought he felt the lightest caress, somewhere deep within his thoughts… and then space between them. Tom leaned back. "I split my soul and concealed the broken piece with the diary. I had planned on doing this either once, or seven times, depending on how it worked out."
He looked away as he continued to talk. He seemed to be drawing on old memories, although when he spoke he was no less close, no less intense. "It had never been recorded before- the process of splitting ones soul. So I had very little to go on. I was successful, of course, but I should have stopped after one."
"But you didn't?" Harry asked.
"I don't think so." Tom replied, glancing at him thoughtfully. "I had intended to remove a very small piece, that way I could remove six more while remaining relatively intact. At least half of the soul has to remain within the body, otherwise the body, missing the force that enables it to continue, deteriorates. I knew that there was a chance that the Horcrux would take my soul in halves, and decided that if that was the case then I would only make one."
More silence, Harry tried to take the information in. Tom lifted a hand and paper and ink danced from his fingertips, so quick and smooth that Harry scarcely caught the movement. "See," Tom said as he drew a circle on the paper, "if this is my soul, then it has been split in half." He drew a line down the center. "This half is the first Horcrux. The other half is the active me." He redrew the half next to the circle. "Because it does split my soul in half each time, when the second Horcrux is made—" here he drew another line, cutting the half in half. He drew consecutively smaller pieces, until there were seven in a row. He numbered them, and the last was nothing more than a sliver. "You see? By the time seven have been made, the living me would be living on less than 1/64 of a soul."
The understanding fired in Harry's brain, filling him with a vague horror. "But that would be impossible, right?"
"I don't know." The paper disappeared. "I would think so, but I am almost positive that you are one of my Horcruxes. I didn't recognize it at first, but with the addition of your blood, and the fact that you can come here, a place which I specifically designed to be accessible only to myself—
"The problem is," Tom stood and paced before the fire. "That I don't know what it would feel like, to meet another one. I don't even know if I am really half of my soul. I believe that is the case, but I cannot be sure. And I am very much inclined to believe that the piece of my soul in you is small."
He stopped and viewed Harry, his head lowered in thought, his gaze accessing. Harry guiltily savored the idea that he somehow had a piece of Tom's soul. It was a terrible thought, and worry and disgust hovered round his shoulders. He wouldn't let them in, though. Not for awhile. He had two pieces of Tom, then: the fragment inside of him, and the very real, very perfect fragment before him. His.
Tom's head snapped up, as though he were seeing something beyond Harry, and Harry turned where he sat. The boundary of their little area shimmered, the tapestries seemed to dim.
He turned back to Tom, but Tom had not spoken.
"Harry?" The voice intruded, and for all it sounded friendly and concerned, it was abrasive and unwanted in this place.
"Harry?" Dear, are you alright?
He couldn't make out the words, and suddenly there was nothing substantial to hold him upright, and he was falling, and he opened his eyes.
"Harry? What are you doing out in the cold?" Mrs. Figg asked from above.
Chapter 8: Charring Cross
"Harry? What are you doing out in the cold?"
It was dark, and little puffs of mist escaped old Mrs. Figg as she spoke. Harry started up in a great flurry, momentarily lost. He braced himself against the brick wall as the reality of downtown Surrey asserted itself crisply and quickly, like dawn after dreaming. Although, unlike with his dreams, the memory of that place (fireplace, warm sofa and green and Tom and Tom and Tom) did not slip away. Even as he stood and looked at Mrs. Figg, and felt the cold of night, and wondered where Balthamos was, he knew that Tom was still there. That place still stood, real and waiting.
"I'm fine, Mrs. Figg." He said. It didn't seem enough though. She was standing in front of the shrubbery, clutching a mottled old handbag, and gazing at him in concern.
"Really, I just... I-" Harry realized that she had seen him. She'd seen him run by, surely, and heard Aunt Marge. He swallowed, perfectly ready to make some clever and placating and safe excuse, but as he opened his mouth it didn't come. Nothing came, and he realized that on top of being utterly caught, Balthamos had yet to return.
He held the journal in a hand, at his side. "I..."
"It's alright, dear. Why don't we go back now? I'm sure your relatives will understand." She said. It brokered for no choice. He had to go with her, she had asked, and nicely, too. His helplessness frustrated him. He felt a lack of control; out in the open, all but lost, with no one of real substance to rely on (certainly not himself). Just old Mrs. Figg, who smelled funny and didn't understand him, but seemed to understand more than anyone else.
"Can we wait just a minute?" Harry asked. If lying was impossible, and the situation was out of his control, then it seemed that the only option was to tell the truth.
"I don't want to go back. Not yet." Or at least, part of the truth. He needed to stall for time. Swallowing and allowing just enough apprehension to creep into his throat, he said, "I don't want to... I think I'm going to be in big trouble." He looked down in shame and took the opportunity to furtively search their surroundings. Too dark to see anything, and the glow of streetlamps did nothing but make the shadows they stood in seem darker.
Maybe he could fall down? He could call out to Balthamos and disguise it as a hiss of pain. That would work, but he could only imagine falling if Mrs. Figg tried to bodily remove him from the shrubs. Not an option then. He could tell her that he'd lost his pet snake, and needed to look for him, but if he decided to go that route then he'd have to do so fast, and Harry really, really didn't want to.
He could run away again. Becoming increasingly aware of the malingering silence between them, Harry really thought about it. He could run, and come back... but no. It was impossible to tell how long he'd been asleep for, but Balthamos should have been back by now. He didn't want to run and leave his friend behind.
"I'm sure your relatives will understand..." Mrs. Figg reiterated, as though saying it enough would make it come true. Harry could tell that she wanted it to be true. It was the same way that teachers at school sometimes asked him, "Your guardians are helping you with this, right?" It meant that they believed it, except for some small doubtful thing inside of them that saw something wrong. So they needed convincing that everything was indeed alright. So they asked, and it was Harry's job to reassure them, to say yes, because none of them wanted to hear the other answer.
"Yeah." He replied. "I just, I'm in trouble. I didn't really do it," His voice cracked horribly at the end, and even though he wanted to fake it, the fear and anxiety and horror were all real.
"Of course not. We'll take you home and explain everything. I'm sure they'll understand." Mrs. Figg didn't even know, though. Surely she didn't know? The Dursleys wouldn't want anyone knowing what a freak he was, how bad he was.
He clenched his hands and where the pages pressed up against his fingertips there came a sudden stinging, and then hot wetness sliding down his wrist. He looked down in surprise to see blood on his hand, dripping from where he was clutching the journal. It seemed ominous, and Mrs. Figg said "Oh," like it was the most astonishing and improper thing she'd seen in some time, and Harry realized that Tom needed strength for something.
"It's nothing," he quickly lied, "just fell down earlier." And pressed his bleeding fingers inside the pages, closing the journal over his hand to hide the liquid as it was absorbed. "I must have reopened the cut." A warm pulse shot through him, and it were as though Tom was there, telling him it was alright. Harry checked himself mentally, and sure enough there it was. A foreign presence in his head (not at all unwelcome) that was like a thought, a surety, saying 'Go. Everything is fine.'
Harry sent as much apprehension and fear and pleading towards that feeling as possible, hoping that it would effectively tell Tom 'No.' Whether it did or not Harry couldn't tell, and the feeling didn't lesson. It contrasted greatly in him, the natural panic and the unnatural calm.
"It's so dark out, and cold. Dear, we really should go."
His tongue felt like a lead slug in his mouth. "Yeah. Alright." He wished to convey his reluctance to her, his thoughts screamed that she understand how desperate he was. Let alone what the Dursleys would do when he returned.
"Come on." She held out a frail hand, but Harry didn't touch it. He climbed out and walked closer to her, and she watched him carefully as though he would bolt at any second. He didn't plan on it, but her hesitancy did make him consider it.
Every step felt like a piece of himself was being left behind, dread pooling in his stomach as he imagined poor Balthamos returning to find him gone. The little snake would be so confused, and sad, and he'd only wanted to help. Harry was abandoning him, when he'd made a promise, albeit indirectly, to be there, because that's what friends do. The diary was cool in his hand again, his fingertips sticking to the page a little, and as Number 4 came into view he began to bargain for his own soul. "Could I stay with you, Mrs. Figg? Maybe if I could stay the night, then they won't be so angry in the morning."
"I don't think so, Harry." She said rather pityingly. He didn't like it, and although he'd expected nothing else, the rejection elicited a pange of despair. Before they could walk up the front drive the porch light flicked on. Curtains rustled and the door swung open, the movement of it filled with anger and the promise of swift punishment.
Petunia greeted them with a thin lipped nod and a baleful glare. She held the door open for Harry and made a noise of disagreement when Mrs. Figg followed him inside.
"Thank you, Arabella. I'm sorry he's put you to so much trouble. You won't be hearing from us again anytime soon."
Mrs. Figg didn't seem to realize that she was being dismissed, and Harry watched in mild wonder as she made her way to the sitting room and looked about. Vernon came down the stairs just in time to see her, and his bushy mustache twitched. "Found the boy, have you?" He growled.
"Oh, yes." She seemed to be startled out of some errant musing. "He was all the way down by Birchbank's," she said and sat on the loveseat. "Poor boy was passed out in a shrubbery, he's terribly upset you know."
"Thank you again," Petunia said, this time obviously exasperated, "Mrs. Figg. We can't apologize enough for the trouble he's put you to this afternoon, however there's no need for you to stay. Surely enough of your time has been wasted."
While the focus was off him, Harry inched back towards the door. He'd tucked the journal back in his shirt before entering the house, and it had gone cold. His instincts were screaming at him about a dozen different things, least of which was his own physical well being. As he sidled up to the glass pane next to the door and looked out at the lamp lit street, he heard Mrs. Figg give some feeble admonishment to his relatives. And then he saw something that made his breath hitch.
Standing across the street, just outside of the glow from the lamp, was Tom. His eyes were glowing red, and he was looking right at Harry. Then he was gone, and the journal warmed.
Footsteps approached and Aunt Petunia showed Mrs. Figg out the door. Harry thought he should probably apologize to her, but didn't get the opportunity. Petunia dragged him to the kitchen and shoved him towards a chair. Vernon joined her and the atmosphere, already tense, turned absolutely poisonous.
"Explain." Vernon gritted out.
The whole walk over Harry had been so worried about Balthamos that he hadn't thought about what to tell the Dursleys. When he didn't respond Vernon slammed a fist on the table and shouted, "Marge is devastated! Devastated! She doesn't know how you did it, but you couldn't have made it more obvious, you conniving little freak!"
Petunia stood in the doorway, thin lipped.
Vernon continued, "Did you enjoy it? I bet you did, you're just like that. Well guess what, boy?"
Harry tried to keep his resolve as his uncle leaned in and waited for a response. Harry wouldn't respond, he hadn't anything to do with the horrible things his uncle was saying.
"There are special places for people like you." Vernon leered, as though he'd only been waiting for the opportunity to send Harry off to wherever "people like him" were sent off to.
"They have special houses and schools for boys who are criminally inclined. They beat you, and don't take any nonsense!"
"Vernon," Petunia interjected, "the contract, and the neighbors." She glanced nervously at Harry.
"I'm fed up with the bloody contract! And after tonight's stunt there won't be a body in London that doesn't know that we have a freak living in our home!"
Vernon circled round the table to grab at him, and Harry practically fell out of his chair as he scrambled to get away. The large man went red in the face, as though he'd honestly expected Harry to just sit there and be caught. They both edged around the table a ways, and Harry found himself just in front of the screen door. He knew he shouldn't, that he was only delaying the inevitable. He hated how his thoughts simultaneously sped up and slowed down in these situations. His mind became perfectly clear, and all of his worries and every dilemma presented itself to him in a neat and orderly fashion. He went through each one, came up with various solutions, and then weighed the variable outcomes. And while he knew that running again was no choice at all (he'd concluded early on that the best course of action was to take his punishment quietly), emotion and fear seized control of his body. His brain had been overthrown, and he was out the door.
He stopped at the gate and looked back, panting. There was a shout from the kitchen, and then Petunia was standing on the back porch, wringing her hands and glancing nervously at the fence, as though the neighbors would be peering in on them.
"Harry," she hissed, furious. "You come in right now!"
He paused with his hand on the latch. Whatever she'd said to Vernon had kept him inside, and obviously she was more concerned about her reputation than Harry's punishment. Harry bit his lip and shook his head.
"Harry!" She took a step towards him and Harry tensed, undoing the latch. Despite all good sense he was utterly resolved. He glared at his aunt and thought, I'll do it.
She seemed to get his mental message, for she leaned back towards the house, although her expression didn't change. Pale with furry she said, "Get in the house, now." And then she went back inside.
He watched the open doorway for several long minutes, not moving. When no noise or large angry persons emerged he returned to the kitchen. He shut the door behind him, turned out the light, and locked himself in the cupboard.
Harry was surprised when, the next morning, he woke to his aunt's sharp knocking. Vernon didn't come downstairs, and no one spoke as Harry made breakfast and got ready for school. Dudley stared at him constantly, and looked like he was going to speak on a few occasions, but Petunia shushed him. It was a chilly morning, and he felt strangely on the way to school. As soon as they were alone in the halls, Dudley descended upon him.
"How did you do it?"
Harry glared at his cousin and walked faster. Their classroom wasn't too far away, and a few of their classmates gave them odd looks as they passed by.
"What's wrong, scarhead? Tell me how you killed Aunt Marge's dog."
"Leave me alone!" Harry snapped, and Dudley snickered at him.
Piers came up behind them, all ears, and asked excitedly "Who'd Harry kill?"
"My Aunt Marge's bulldog, Ripper," Dudley confided loudly, causing more people to turn and stare. "Yeah!" He added, "Right in front of her, there was blood all over the hall!"
"Ew!" A couple of girls nearby exclaimed.
"He didn't," said Piers, "there's no way. Harry's way too weak."
"He really did," Dudley insisted. "Dad don't know how, cause he didn't see it, and auntie was too traumatized! She couldn't even say what happened, it was so horrible! Then Harry ran away, and…"
Harry didn't hear the rest of the conversation because he'd pushed his way to the classroom. The bell rang and the last of his classmates filed in, several of them giving him very suspicious looks. He spent the whole day zoning in and out, desperately ignoring his peers. He'd brought the journal with him. He desperately missed having Balthamos sleeping in his pocket, and the steady warmth of the journal kept him calm, relatively speaking. He didn't dare write to Tom in class, and waited until recess. As soon as possible he sat against the school building. He was on a side where no one really played, and the teacher on duty wasn't likely to spot him.
Where is Balthamos?
At your aunt and uncle's. I found him and led him back, he should still be beneath the rosebush.
Harry let out a great sigh, and suddenly everything was all right.
What happened with your aunt?
I don't know. Harry replied. She was gone when I got back. She had to catch a plane. Do you know what that is? He added as an afterthought.
I know what an airplane is, Tom responded, amused, I was raised by muggles, remember? Most wizards do besides, since they often fly overhead. They make a considerable amount of noise. That is not pertinent, however. Right now we need to assess the danger you are in.
Immediate danger, Harry realized, as a kicked pebble hit the wall next to him. How stupid, he'd let his guard down.
"Are you seriously writing in a diary, Potty?"
"I don't believe you, Dudley," one of Dudley's friends said. "There's no way your tiny freak cousin took down a full grown bulldog."
Harry stood and held the diary close. He was backed up against the wall.
"Why would I lie about that?" Dudley snapped, "Like I'd really want to make him sound cool?"
"I don't think it's cool," Piers said, "killing innocent animals. My mum says that's an early sign that a person's crazy. Only really bad people kill their pets." He was glaring at Harry, his watery eyes cold and appraising. Like he was seeing Harry in a whole new light.
"I didn't kill him!" Harry bit out, the acerbic tone startling to himself. He didn't want to fight with them.
"Oh yeah? Then how'd he die? Dogs don't just drop dead."
But he did, Harry wanted to say. It was true, mostly. Somehow Tom had killed Ripper, and it seemed like the dog had just dropped dead. Piers and Dudley were arguing with each other, and Dudley's other friends were keeping a distance. As though they were wary.
Taking the opportunity, he ran, the adrenaline and resentment all too familiar, almost routine. When Dudley yelled "Get him!" Harry mouthed the words, hating them. He always ran, and almost always got caught, and got sent to the office every time. Every time he got sent to the office the teachers became more exasperated, and he got one more mark on his record, and the Dursleys got called one more time to come pick him up.
One of the boys grasped at his back, not quite catching the fabric, and Harry lurched forward. The journal slipped out of his hands, landing on the pavement with a loud thwack!
He scrambled to grab it and just barely managed to stay upright. He was quickly approaching an annex between two of the buildings, and he realized with dread the he'd be cornered. Just as the boy was about to pin him again Harry lunged to the side, dancing around him. He'd never really thought about how much he needed his arms to run, but as long as he held the journal his balance was precarious. Piers and an older boy were fast approaching. It didn't even occur to Harry to enter the building (it just wasn't done until the bell rang), and he doubled back to where he'd been sitting.
Just as he was rounding the corner so did Dudley. Harry only had a moment to squeeze his eyes closed in horror, the surprised and excited expression on his cousin's face burning in his mind, before… nothing? He opened his eyes. Ah, of course he hadn't collided with Dudley. He was on the school roof.
"I don't know what in the hell you were thinking!" His aunt yelled. There had been a lot of confused and angry phone calls between the school and the Dursleys, and Harry had been officially suspended for the week.
"Honestly, are you trying to make life difficult for us? After everything you've already done this week, after, after-" she couldn't seem to say it, and Harry glanced nervously to where her hands gripped the steering wheel, white knuckled. His uncle was still at work, but no doubt had been notified of his nephew's suspension.
"Violating school property, what were you thinking?" She yelled.
It wasn't really a question, and he obviously wasn't supposed to answer, but he did anyways. "I didn't! I didn't- violate anything."
"You climbed on top of the building!"
"No, I didn't," he argued, "I just… appeared up there…" he trailed off.
Petunia slammed on the breaks, craning her neck around to give him a scandalized look. The person behind them didn't like this one bit and honked at them, long and loud, passing by in a great show of harrumph. Petunia breathed in sharply through her nose and then returned to the road. Not another word passed between them until they were safely in the garage. She turned off the engine. "You climbed the building." She said firmly. "You broke school rules, they found you up there, and now you are in trouble."
"But nothing! I don't want to hear any freakish nonsense! And you won't say that sort of thing ever again!" Her voice was almost hysterical at the end, and Harry shrunk back in fear. His aunt seemed almost just as scared as he was, only she was also very angry.
Petunia Dursley took a moment to collect herself and then entered the house. She slammed the door behind her, and Harry had to let himself in. Before doing that he crept round the back to find Balthamos. Just as Tom had said the little snake was curled up beneath the rosebush. It reminded Harry of when he'd first brought Bal inside, and he let out a noise much too close to a sob when his friend wound around his hand, gentle as you please.
"Want is wrong?" The snake asked.
Harry shook his head, hissed, "Nothing." and went inside.
Predictably he was sent straight to the cupboard, and once inside he lay on his bed and hugged Balthamos to his chest. The poor snake was terribly cold, and tasted Harry's fingers and hissed in worry.
"I met your friend." Balthamos said.
Harry frowned for a moment and then remembered with a startled, "Oh!" and then, "Did you like him?"
"No. He didn't have a smell."
"What do you mean?"
"He didn't have a smell. That is all."
"So?" Harry asked. He couldn't particularly remember Tom having a smell, but that didn't bother him.
"Everything has a smell, except for shadows."
Still frowning Harry opened the journal and wrote to Tom. Balthamos says you don't have a smell. Not wanting to hurt Tom's feelings, he left out the part about not liking him as well.
Oh? I wouldn't be too concerned about it.
Tom, how did you kill that dog?
I'll tell you later. Right now we need to figure out what to do. I don't think you're safe.
Harry reluctantly agreed, although there didn't seem to be much to do. He'd never been able to do anything before— admittedly, he'd never been in this much trouble before.
It's just you and your aunt at the house?
You're going to run away. Tom pressed on before Harry could protest, We'll leave a note. You'll have to return eventually, but your uncle needs time to cool down. Since you've been suspended for the week the only people who need know you're gone are your relatives, and with the proper persuading they should be more than happy to have you gone.
Rather than be excited Harry felt glum about the prospect. It was doomed for failure, even he knew that, and running away had already gotten him nowhere— except in more trouble. He was so put off by the prospect that he nearly missed when Tom started writing again.
We should be able to pull this off, I've traveled there before. I used to hitchhike to Charring Cross during the summer and it's really not as difficult as you'd think. We'll go to Gringotts first, they should be able to tell us anything important about your family, and with any luck you'll be able to make a withdrawal. First things first, you need to leave a note…
Tom ended up writing the note, and Harry copied it onto a piece of lined paper from his book bag. It read to the effect that he was going to go stay in a place called Diagon Alley and that he would return before the end of his suspension. It sounded very grown up to him, but Tom promised that the Dursleys wouldn't notice. Harry wore his warmest clothes, pocketed the journal along with Balthamos, took an apple and some bread from the kitchen, and snuck out the back.
He had a moment of panic as he walked away from Private Drive, edging along unfamiliar roads, but Tom reassured him (after a quick consultation) that all he needed to do was find a busy street and ask to be taken to Charring Cross road. He made it sound so simple, and Harry wondered if it was too late to sneak back into the house. In the end he did what Tom said, holding out his thumb until a car pulled over. The window lowered and a very average lady leaned out.
"Are you lost?"
He forced himself to say "I need to go to Charring Cross road," and blushed. He couldn't imagine that a stranger would just do what he said, especially since he wasn't even supposed to be out.
The lady seemed very concerned (he felt like he was lying to her, although she didn't notice), she nodded her head and said "Hop in."
He climbed into the back seat and buckled himself in. He'd never ridden in anyone else's car before. It occurred to him that she could drive him anywhere and he'd be completely unable to stop her. She could kidnap him, or take him to the police, or maybe she was a horrible driver and they'd go straight off a bridge (the doors locked automatically as he thought this), and then he'd drown because he didn't know how to swim—
"You aren't running away, are you?" She asked jokingly. They're eyes met in the rearview mirror.
"No," Harry said. "I have to meet my brother there. He uh, he just got off a plane and I haven't seen him in a long time."
"Oh well, that's nice. Where is he coming from?"
"The Isle of Wight, he breeds bulldogs there. He only really comes home for the holidays, and it's my birthday this week,"
"Why don't your parents take you?"
Lying wasn't quite as difficult as he imagined it would be, and the fact that the lady who'd picked him up was a bit oblivious helped. She seemed very kind natured, and he wasn't sure if he liked how nice she was or not. After all, he wasn't used to being treated like anyone else.
"They're too busy. Dad works all day and mum has all sorts of projects to attend to. Garden parties and such. The neighbors love her, but sometimes I think she forgets about me."
"Well that's a shame, you seem like a very well mannered boy." There were a few minutes of contemplative silence until she spoke again. "You could have just taken the train, you know. It's a bit safer I believe, especially for someone as young as yourself."
Harry frowned. "I don't have any money though."
"There's plenty of public transportation that doesn't cost a thing, dear. It can take a bit longer, but you never know who might pick you up hitchhiking."
She pulled the car over and smiled back at him. "Here we are. Are you sure you're all right on your own?"
"Yes ma'am, thank you." He got out quickly and smiled as she waved, then drove away. He turned and looked at all the people milling about, the huge buildings and busy streets loud and unfamiliar.
"What now, Tom?" he whispered, frightened.
He was surprised to hear Tom's response, whispered in the soft sibilance of parseltongue, "Now we find the Leaky Cauldron."
Chapter 9: Like Food and Water
Hours passed and the sun starting to set when Petunia realized that she'd done nothing all day but sit about nervously. Dudley had been home for several hours and Vernon would just be getting off work. Petunia stood, smoothing her skirt with her hands. The kitchen was a disaster (last night's dishes were still in the sink!) and her son had left a trail of toys between his bedroom and the sitting room. And the dust! The weeds! Things had been so hectic lately she'd not been able to find time for spring cleaning.
Once every two or three years she anticipated a visit from her sister-in-law. Nothing against her husband, but Marjorie was more than Petunia could handle. The woman was always brimming with criticism. If she had to hear one more time about how she ought to have more room in which to raise her son, well… It wasn't a problem anymore, she suspected. Although the circumstances were less than favorable, at the very least Marjorie Dursley wouldn't be coming around for anymore holidays.
Vernon's sister had sent them several pamphlets to different institutions, even an asylum that dealt specifically with male children. While the gesture was appreciated, there was simply nothing to be done about it. Petunia had signed a magically binding contract (she shuddered as she thought of it, staring distantly as the floral wallpaper) which stated that her home would be open and available to the boy until he became of age, magically. She had mostly managed to put it out of mind— it wasn't something she wanted to think about, at all— but at times she was painfully reminded of the sacrifice.
Her life was supposed to be normal. She was supposed to grow up, marry a respectable man, and raise a respectable family. It wasn't fair. She'd only ever wanted to lead a normal life. Well, not always, if she was perfectly honest with herself. Perfect honesty was not, however, a practice that Petunia Dursley regularly employed, and therefore she let memories of jealousy and loneliness and the mystique settle under the regular layers of denial, spite, and disdain. She collected herself with a small chastisement— it didn't do to dwell on things that couldn't be changed. A cold lesson, and one learned early in life.
She briefly pondered having Harry fix up the yard while they were still alone, but decided against it. The thought of looking at him, hearing his sullen voice, was more than she could bear. Better that he kept out of sight until absolutely necessary. And Petunia had no doubt that she'd be dealing with him soon enough; her poor husband was at his wits' end. This led her to thoughts about her son, and the unhealthy environment he was being raised in. No boy should have to hear his father yelling so often— she lamented that so much of their attention was so often turned toward punishing her horrible nephew, as opposed to doting on their only son.
She really did contemplate calling on the boy (it was his fault that the household was in such disarray) as she made her way to the front hall. She noticed with a frown that the cupboard door was open a crack— it was never open a crack. She'd heard her nephew enter the house and settle in his room, and he knew better than to leave without permission. Dread mounted in her gut like indigestion as she approached the door. She swung it open and wasn't overly surprised to find it empty. Her lips pulled back in an angry, instinctive snarl, and the uncontrollable reaction felt close to a cry of despair.
On the bed was a note, which she snatched up furiously, her nails ripping through it. The space made her uneasy (she'd not forgotten, and did not doubt, that the sneaky little boy had sequestered a snake in with him at some point). Shutting the cupboard door and locking it out of habit, Petunia Dursley leaned against the wall with a pained expression.
The Leaky Cauldron was dark. It was a familiar darkness, though, much like his cupboard. The outside was a normal and modern enough brick façade, but the inside was something else. Low tables were scattered about and the interior held up by thick beams of dark wood. Low-ceilinged and low-lighted, the hearty smell of homemade ale and sheperd's pie set Harry's mouth to watering. There was an agreeable din— loud enough that his entrance went unnoticed, but not overpowering. Not completely unnoticed, actually. Harry panicked a little when the man behind the bar spotted him, sized him up, then raised a questioning brow. Harry smiled at the man reassuringly and made his way to the back of the establishment.
"Don't reply. Just do as I say," Tom hissed. Harry needn't any prompting; very little could have persuaded him to speak up as he wove his way past some downright frightening (and foul smelling) people. That, and even he knew not to talk in public to someone who wasn't there.
"There are some basic wards and charms on the brickwork. I'll open the passageway and you walk right through it. Do NOT stop and gape at it."
Harry gave the tiniest of nods, easily mistaken as the natural movement of his body. There was a general sense of agreement from Tom, though, and Harry knew that they understood each other. Specifically, Tom knew that he needed step-by-step guidance. His heart was pounding and the decision making part of his brain had left him somewhere back around Little Whinging, along with his preconceptions and rationality regarding life and his conduct as a participant of it.
Despite all warnings, Harry couldn't help but gasp when he approached the brick wall and the bricks spun out of his way. The grinding sound they created was almost musical as they rippled back and forth, until he stood in an archway bathed in sunlight.
It was beautiful. The alley was paved in cobblestones, winding slightly, and downward. Sunlight reflected off of each stone as though the path were at the bottom of a brook— the people were like water enough. Everywhere people rushed about, but not in the isolationist fashion of the commuters of downtown London. No, these people glided and skipped and strolled, dressed in flowing garments. Even the men, he noted, wore dress-like clothes. A donkey pulling a cart went by, and Harry could also hear chickens somewhere, and a music box, and a bell, and the hooting of an owl. People laughed and called to each other, the entrances of shops brimmed with colorful and moving merchandise— and everything was small.
No, that wasn't quite right. He stumbled over it and came to the word compact. The buildings where stacked just as high as the towering structures of any regular city, but they seemed to have many, many more layers. Windows and balconies protruded in the strangest of places, some overlapping each other in a mind boggling fashion. They weren't several buildings so much as two walls of long, interconnected structures that tilted and bulged and loomed magnificently.
He grinned, even as Tom angrily whispered, "Harry, walk!"
"Wow…" he replied. He wandered down the street, careful to move out of the way of people around him. He stared at the back of a man who passed briskly by— if it weren't for the broad shoulders and long strides he'd have thought that the plaited and gleaming black hair belonged to a woman!
Harry passed by an ice cream parlor, outside of which were several tables topped by bright umbrellas. The bowls of ice cream he saw looked interesting to say the least, and he almost went back when he caught sight of one with anchovies in it.
"Keep walking; there will be plenty of time for exploration later. Gringotts is at the end where Knockturn and Diagon Alley merge."
Harry happily obliged. The air seemed clearer here. His breathing came easy and there was a sweet crispness to the sunlight. Different smells reached his noes as he walked, some more pleasant than others, and all very intriguing. Harry supposed that he was out of place, what with his shabby and undress-like clothes; however, no one appeared to notice him. He had to duck out of the way, even, when two of the largest men he ever seen passed nearly over him, carrying long and impossibly heavy looking wooden beams. Harry thought they were old train tracks— until he noticed the shrunken heads hanging from them. He very nearly tripped over his own feet when he saw them, and he could've sworn that they laughed.
Gringotts came into view soon enough. He was not nearly to the building when he caught sight of it. The pillars and gables towered over even the tallest shops of the alley, winding precariously up into the sky. The white walls seemed to glow in the reflected sunlight, and, if it were possible, even more people crowded at its entrance. Harry climbed the great staircase (it was difficult to truly grasp the size of the building until he was climbing to the doors. Which were massive). They swung open to meet him and just inside stood two sentries. They were perhaps the oddest people that Harry had ever seen. Both were his height and wearing decorative red and gold uniforms. They had long ears and noses and nails, wrinkled, pudgy faces, and sharp, pointy teeth. He saw the teeth when the one he'd been openly staring at leered at him. He walked quickly past, down a long hall, and to a second set of doors.
Tom whispered very quietly in his ear. Harry knew that his friend was speaking Parseltongue because it was so much quieter than English, almost as though each word were an echo from very far off. "Through these doors is the reception hall, where the tellers reside. Find a line close to the door and wait. At your turn, request a private meeting and only tell them your name if they insist. Regardless, be polite. Goblins respond very poorly to anything less than impeccable manners. When you get the chance, you will tell them that you need to know what funds are available to you. Make it clear that you need information. I can't help you beyond here."
Harry gulped and steeled his courage (forgetting in the process half of the things Tom had just said). He ignored the inscription on the doors, pushed them open, and really did resist the urge to gape. The room seemed endless— and, indeed, when he looked upwards the chandeliers hung from chains that seemed to travel upwards indefinitely. There was a muffled quality to the noise, and only the occasional cough and the scratching of dozens of quills could be heard. It was much more somber than the bustling alley, and Harry remembered that he was supposed to be intimidated.
No one really looked his way as he went to stand in a nearby queue. He took the opportunity to inspect the people, and the Goblins who sat high up behind the counters. Everything was very ornate, and very, very large. It struck him as unusual that such tiny people would maintain such a large structure, but Harry grinned and thought 'it's magic!' which was a perfectly plausible explanation for everything. Harry stuck his hands in the pocket of his jumper, Balthamos stirred, but didn't emerge. He'd briefed the snake after leaving the Dursley household, and his friend had yawned, said "Good for you," and slept the rest of the journey.
Harry tried to listen to what the people at the counter said, but their voices where oddly muffled. They spoke and nodded, yet Harry couldn't quite catch the individual words. His turn came and he was looking up into the particularly dissatisfied face of a gender-questionable goblin.
"Um…" His response curled the lip of the teller in a fashion that reminded Harry uncomfortably of his aunt. "I'm sorry, sir, but I was told to request a private meeting?"
"Um," he fidgeted before leaning forward in a conspiratorial manner and whispering, "Harry Potter."
The goblin's expression didn't alter save for the nearly imperceptible thinning of its lips. "Do you have your key?"
"I trust you can identify yourself?"
Harry looked around, hoping rather futilely that Tom would intercede. The goblin tsked and tapped its forehead. Understanding belatedly, Harry brushed his bangs up with a hand. Multiple rows of needle teeth glinted in a grin that caught him somewhat off guard, as the goblin said, "Very good, Mr. Potter."
They must have had some undetectable form of communication, for as the teller grinned at him, an equally squat and dodgy goblin appeared at Harry's side. "Right this way," its rather oily voice commanded, and he followed at a subdued pace. There was little time to marvel at any one aspect of the building and its employees (he did in fact spot a couple of human guards), for the goblin led him through a maze of corridors and high-ceilinged chambers. The experience reminded Harry vaguely of being driven to Charring Cross by the nice lady- he was completely out of his depth.
At length he was bowed into a small, torch-lit room. The goblin offered a chair meant for someone four times Harry's size, and Harry suspected that the carved wooden chair which the goblin took for itself would be better proportioned for him.
"I am Gornuk, manager of High Profile Account Affairs."
Harry specifically squashed the urge to start out by saying 'um,' and instead held his hand out to the goblin. "I'm Harry Potter, it's nice to meet you."
When his hand was inspected rather than immediately accepted, he feared he'd made a grievous error, but Gornuk gave a funny little leer, shook Harry's hand, and said, "Indeed. Now, I assume you're interested in the Potter vaults?"
A moment of expectant silence, and the goblin twirled a pointed finger as though to say, '…and?'
"And, um, I need to know what… what funds are available to me?"
The goblin's nostrils flared.
"I don't really know," Harry rushed on, "much about anything. About my vaults," he picked up on the word, "or what's in them. And I need to know. I also need to make a withdrawal." The withdrawal request was solemn even for him, and he hoped that his seriousness was enough to assure the goblin.
"Very well. The paperwork is being summoned. In the meantime I can answer any immediate questions about your assets."
"What are assets?"
The goblin's expression was unreadable (not an unusual observation since Gornunk's face was only vaguely human). "Your assets are various, something that cannot be said for many humans. There are four vaults under the name 'Potter,' each utilized to different ends. One, for example, stores valuable artifacts, heirlooms and the like, while another is reserved specifically for currency. You do not, however, have access to those vaults until you come of age." Gornuk sneered as he said, 'of age,' though Harry couldn't guess why.
"Until then you have access only to your trust fund vault."
There was a flurry of parchment and a neat stack of documents appeared on the desk between them. Harry caught a glimpse of the ornate crest on the top page before the goblin was impatiently thumbing past it. Several long minutes of silence spun out as Gurnuk set the pages into different piles, marking some here and there with a long pheasant quill.
When the goblins took him down the dark and winding tunnels, deep into the cool, dank catacombs of Gringotts, Harry screamed. Only a little, when he was almost sure that he'd be thrown from the cart. The air going past and the screeching of the wheels on the track drowned it out (he hoped), and the goblin who rode with him made no comment. When Harry was let into the vault and iridescent mounds of gold, silver, and bronze glowed in the low lighting, he gasped. It seemed a crime to even touch the precious coins, but he did at the impatient grunt of his escort, and shoved great handfuls of them into the "complimentary coin purse" he'd been given.
Harry could have spent hours just trying to memorize the soft luminescence of the gold beneath the magical lighting, reveling in the coolness and deep silence of (his!) vault, but in reality he spent mere minutes on the landing before he was making the journey back up to the surface at the same breakneck speeds.
It was twilight when Harry exited the bank. The crowds had lessened significantly, and several shops where lighting lamps. The atmosphere was altogether restrained in comparison to earlier, and it rather startled Harry that such a change had taken place.
"It's all right," Tom said. "We'll stay at the Leaky Cauldron. You can pay for a room for the week. Tell the proprietor that your name is Jonathan Sinclair."
Harry hadn't realized just how much time he'd spent in the goblin's bank. And, although some of the shops ignited his curiosity still, he was rather exhausted. Running from Dudley and getting on the roof somehow… it all seemed impossibly far away. Surely it hadn't been that morning? Yes, he must have lost a day, perhaps beneath London with the gold and the goblins and the silence.
The bartender eyed him knowingly when he returned, although Harry'd made no greeting earlier. "A room for the night?"
"For the week, sir, please."
"Will just one bed do ya?" the bartender asked, voice gruff.
"Yes, please. Uh…" Harry set the complimentary coin purse on the counter, pulling out a handful of assorted coins.
"T'ill be a Galleon, lad. Name's Tom, by the way, and yours?"
The man did not seem to find it odd that Harry didn't know which one to give, and picked out one of the large gold coins.
Tom the bartender stared at him for a long moment before barking a good humored laugh. "Well, 'tis nice to meet you, Mr. Sinclair. Your room is on the top floor, last door on the right. Breakfast'll be served at seven, supper at six." He handed Harry a heavy iron key and bid him goodnight.
"Goodnight, Tom," Harry replied as he ascended the stairs, smiling a little at the name. He ran his hand along the banister going up— it was relatively smooth with oil and wax, though tiny dings and scores gave it a grooved texture.
"The people here seem nice," he said as he sat on the edge of a gray mattress.
"They're no different than anyone else," said Tom.
"Except for magic!" Harry happily replied, pulling his shoes off and inspecting the little room.
"Indeed. Go to sleep, Harry. We'll talk there."
Despite being in a strange place, all but alone, and still in his clothes, he readily complied. The mattress was enormous around him, the blankets larger and softer than any he'd ever owned.
"Why do you think they were interested in your scar?" Tom said.
"Dunno," Harry replied, rolling onto his stomach before the fire. "Do wizards have driver's licenses?"
"No." Tom smiled, which made Harry terribly happy.
"The way they identified you was extremely unusual, although I can't say that I'm displeased."
Gornuk, High Profile Account Affairs Manager, had informed Harry that he was an orphan, and the sole heir of the Potter estate.
"You should have asked about your guardians— I seriously doubt that the Dursleys are the ones receiving your bank statements. There's bound to be someone in charge of you magically."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"I didn't think to tell you." Tom made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Anyways, we'll find out sooner or later. Although, I do wonder why you've been left on your own. At the very least I imagine there are people out there who'd be willing to befriend you for your money. The Potters where a wealthy line when I knew them, and that doesn't appear to have changed."
Tom smirked. "Not interested?"
"You should be. There are people who would kill for what you where born with."
Harry looked away. He'd heard the expression before, but coming from Tom it sounded more like a statement. A perfectly honest, completely true statement. What had he been born with? A strange family that hated him, that looked nothing like him. He grew up with darkness, and hunger, and loneliness. Hours, weeks, years, spent listening to the innards of a house that knew fear, resentment, and vitriol like the moon knew the stars and the sun, and the uncertain Earth.
"Now, none of that," one of Tom's spider-like hands appeared in his line of sight, fingers brushing Harry's ribs through the thin cloth. They trailed up to Harry's jaw and when Tom kissed him, his eyes closed.
The older boy's lips where an impossibly soft weight, warm and flavored like honey and copper. Then they withdrew, taking in their leave the rush of blood to the head, and wonder, dizziness, a single breath.
Harry blinked up at Tom, uncertain what the kiss meant. He'd never been kissed, never even been so close to another person, or felt such warmth. As Tom gazed down at him, smiling that strange smile, Harry realized that he wanted that closeness, desperately, in the same fashion that he wanted food and water after several days without. Sitting up he moved uncertainly, wanted to but didn't ask, for another.
"You should sleep. Diagon Alley is filled with wonders, and a whole new world of possibilities has opened up for us." Tom threaded long fingers through the boy's hair. "I'll be with you."
Chapter 10: Light and Shadow
The bustle of Diagon Alley woke the boy at dawn. As Harry rolled out of bed a dream of dark hair and red eyes, and of lips smiling in close resemblance to a snarling animal seeped from his mind like water through a sieve.
No answer. Already he'd gotten used to verbal communication, and it took him several minutes of needless worrying to flip open the journal.
Good morning, Harry.
He located a pencil and wrote, Good morning, Tom. Why are you stuck in this book again?
I wouldn't say 'again.' Really, yesterday I was exerting all of my strength to watch out for you. However, I was still in the journal.
Harry frowned as he wrote, But I could have sworn you were right there next to me.
I'm not going to deem that with a response. Now, there are several things on the agenda for today: First, I would like you to ask the bartender downstairs to supply you each morning with an edition of the Daily Prophet. Normally, you would have it delivered by owl. However, without the proper charms in place, a subscription can be rather difficult to obtain without revealing your true name. Secondly, you will need to acquire some proper robes. There is a shop called Madam Malkin's that should suffice for this. Thirdly, we need to catch ourselves up with modern history. I hate to say it, but I'm a bit out of my depth. The wizarding world's political scene is, admittedly, slower than that of the Muggle world's, but it can't hurt to be up to date on laws passed and spells discovered. There are self-updating tomes dedicated to modern history. They can be a bit pricey, but if there's one area we need to invest in right now it's…
Harry stopped absorbing what Tom was writing when it started to seem more like a list of chores than a list of adventures. The shops that had really caught his interest where related to food and animals, not politics and history. Grimacing at the prospect of collecting information as opposed to exploring freely, Harry let his attention drift to the window. Dawn burst into the room, clear and blue, inviting him into a world of hidden passageways, peddlers with dodgy wares, and shop fronts filled with mysterious contraptions.
There was a sudden prickling against his palm and, startled, he returned his attention to the pages of the journal.
Harry? Tom had written.
Yes? Harry replied.
Tom seemed to smile, I understand that you're very excited to see the rest of Diagon Alley, but there are things that need to be done, for your own safety. There are several reasons why we can't have you walking around in ill-fitted Muggle clothes.
All right? What are the three things that you're going to do today?
A spark of annoyance made Harry clench his hands, but then he let it go after realizing that he couldn't play all day, and that, really, Tom was only trying to help.
Rather impetuously Harry wrote, Ask the Tom downstairs for a newspaper, get new clothes, and a book about history.
The Daily Prophet, Harry, and be sure to ask for one each morning that you are here. You'll also eat breakfast each morning, as it is provided with your room. You will buy casual robes at Madam Malkin's, then a history book from Flourish and Blotts. After that you'll return here to stow those things away. We probably shouldn't buy anymore than will fit into your bag.
Harry sighed. And you can't come with me?
Bring the diary. I'll be watching out for you, but I won't speak unless absolutely necessary. I have faith that you'll handle yourself well.
Harry was fairly certain that men no longer referred to their diaries as diaries; however, he made no comment. Tucking the journal beneath his waistband (he'd slept in yesterdays clothes, not having the foresight to bring extras with), he pulled his toothbrush out of his backpack and headed down the hall to where the only loo was. It was still fairly early and, much to his gratitude, he met no one along the way.
The bar downstairs was subdued, the smell of tea and coffee making his mouth water. A few people (all significantly more restrained than last night's lot) sat about, a few of them glancing up at him before going back to their food. Upon sitting at the bar, Harry was greeted by Tom in a friendly manner consistent with last night's interaction. He requested a paper, which the man immediately provided (and refused to take payment for), as well as an enormous plateful of every breakfast item imaginable.
"My wife reckons yer too thin," Tom said when Harry protested. "Woman's got a thing fer feeding strays."
Harry blinked up at him, in the middle of chewing a large mouthful of eggs, when the man winked in a conspiratorial manner. Harry decided that he rather liked Tom the barman. He swallowed before replying (Aunt Petunia had once hit him with a frying pan for talking with food in his mouth), "Where is your wife, sir?"
"She stays in the kitchen, mostly, but no doubt ye'll meet her 'fore the week's out."
Just then a great number of owls swooped in through an open window, alighting on various tables. Harry watched in fascination as the people they were delivering mail to accepted their respective papers and letters as casually as his relatives when they signed for packages. The birds were beautiful in the morning sunlight, and he longed to pet one of them. When he turned back to his food, Harry caught the bartender giving him a knowing look.
"Never seen an owl up close, I take it?"
The question came across as somewhat suspicious to him, but luckily the entrance bell rang, drawing the barman's attention.
Harry ate what more he could of the enormous breakfast, at a loss as to what manners the situation called for. He'd never been presented with more food than he could eat, and he was rapidly growing full. Moving grayscale images caught his attention and he inspected the Daily Prophet. The headlines made little sense to him, the pictures even less, and yet he delighted flipping through the pages and reading the curious snippets of wizarding news. One picture in particular caught his attention. A regal looking man with long blonde hair (he assumed it to be blonde, the picture showed it to be white), and pale eyes smiled benevolently at him. The caption read, "Malfoy family donates generous sum to St. Mungo's for the research of Incurable Maladies."
A derisive snort drew his attention from the swaying photo, and Harry looked up to find the barman had returned.
"It's mostly rubbish, they publish what the minis'ry tells 'em to." Tom sneered, revealing several teeth to be missing.
The sudden critical nature of the remark reminded Harry uncomfortable of his uncle, and he decided that if he was going to excuse himself now was as good a time as any. "Sir, I appreciate the food a lot, it's really good, but…"
"Run along, lad." The man's countenance softened. Harry shot him a appreciative smile and returned to the room to deposit the paper.
Tom's remark about his clothing prompted Harry to visit Madam Malkin's first. The shop was simple enough to locate, and the lady who greeted him was very kindly. She stood him on a low platform and began vociferously taking his measurements, tutting and tsking about his thinness. The overall experience made him extremely uncomfortable.
He'd always been vaguely ashamed of his hand-me-downs— they were a point of regular contention in school, where he was singled out as a loser in character alone. He knew that they were ugly and worn (he knew it better than anyone, he'd grown up in them), and he knew that he looked like a street urchin (he'd been told plenty by people who seemed to think he preferred wearing old, baggy clothes). Restrained by sheer weariness, he'd always replied to these sentiments that the huge shirts and ripped trousers were comfortable, and he didn't mind them.
At length he was fitted with two very plain outfits, two very black cloaks, and a white nightgown. Madam Malkin altered each article to fit him perfectly, warning him that the magical cotton could only expand so much to match his growth, and that he'd need to return sooner, rather than later. Harry was only too happy to awkwardly pay her and be out of the little store, for the woman, despite her kindness, had asked him an awful lot of questions, driving home the point that it really wasn't normal to be wandering the Alley in muggle clothes. She'd also taken note of the journal, inquiring offhandedly as to its nature. Harry had been unable to explain, paralyzed by her observation and recalling the last time anyone had seen it. Madam Malkin had not seemed to notice, though, and had not bothered to wait for a reply.
The walk back to the pub was enjoyable, his old clothes tucked firmly in his arms, hidden inside of the cloak he wasn't wearing. If he'd gone unnoticed yesterday, today he was full-fledged invisible. He'd learned early on that it was better not to draw attention to himself, and in the Dursley household he'd perfected the art of blending unobtrusively into the backdrop. Even at school the only time he really went noticed was when his cousin decided to confront him. A particular shop caught his attention, and he stopped in the street. A low murmuring and humid warmth combined with the outside air, promising heat and muffled quietude from within. The sign read Eeylops Owl Emporium (SellingTawny, Screech, Barn, Brown, & Snowy Owls), and he did catch the ruffling of wings from within the dark shop. He hurried back to the Leaky Cauldron, adding the owl shop to his mental list of places to visit (which currently held close to every shop in the Alley).
In the relative safety and privacy of the room, he scribbled a note to Tom, asking for an explanation about wizard currency. He felt a little foolish for not having asked earlier.
The gold ones are galleons, the silver ones are called sickles, and the little bronze pieces are called knuts. There are seventeen sickles to a galleon and twenty-nine knuts to a sickle.
Harry absorbed the information with some consideration before asking, Is it really expensive to stay here then? Or is gold not worth as much to wizards?
The galleons aren't pure gold, Tom replied. And no, it is not very expensive to stay here. A single galleon is roughly equivalent to five pounds. However, I am unsure as to whether the proprietor gave you a discount, or inflation rates have stayed low over the decades.
The last part of the statement gave Harry pause, and he deliberated whether to confront Tom now or in the evening about his mysterious age. In the end he simply wrote, What books do you want me to get?
For now A History of Magic, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. Those are the two most relevant tomes that come to mind. You can ask the current bookkeeper for similar titles, and I'll indicate anything that might be useful to us.
Harry nodded, despite the fact that Tom likely couldn't see him (but then how would he see the books? Harry wondered), and shoved the new clothes into his backpack and his money into a convenient pocket within his new robe. On his way out of the building for the second time that morning the barman gave him a little nod. Harry was genuinely torn between feelings of fondness and apprehension towards the man. While the old bartended seemed amiable enough, Harry had learned the hard way that adults aren't to be trusted (only placated and avoided), and the man's derisive outburst over breakfast cemented in Harry's mind that only a questionable kindness differentiated the man from other adults. So Harry gave a quick nod in return and hurried back out into the Alley.
The book store, Flourish & Blotts, sat between a flashy shop called Gambol & Japes, and Ollivander's, the façade of the latter store being significantly more subdued. As with the owl shop, Harry felt a strong curiosity for Ollivander's, and the sign proclaiming that it sold wands piqued that curiosity so thoroughly that he didn't quite make it into the bookstore at all.
A bell rang as he opened the door, the quality of its voice muffled and distant. Dust motes swirled in the pallid light from the shop front before ending abruptly in shadow.
"I'm coming, I'm coming…"
Harry stepped further into the shop, noting the strong yet pleasant odors of fresh cut wood, books, polish, and something unidentifiable. Harry inhaled deeply as he inspected the counter and the high shelves behind it, overflowing with parchment and obscure objects, some gleaming momentarily as he moved. The smell grew stronger as he stopped at the counter, nagging at his memory. It seemed like something old and forgotten, something with soft edges and soft colors. His eyes drifted shut as an unexpectedly pleasant sensation overcame him, a sensation of… contentment. The phenomenon was so sudden and strange that he was quite startled to open his eyes and see an old man observing him keenly from the other side of the counter.
"Well, well, Mr. Potter." The words were spoken with such calm geniality that Harry scarcely noticed their significance before the strange man was speaking again. "A bit early, but then, these things can't always be expected to come about in the customary fashion."
"I'm sorry, I don't..? Um, how did you know my name?"
The old man's smile sent a shiver down Harry spine, and, for the first time during his adventure in the Alley, he felt as though he was really meeting someone with magic. The overall impression left him rather intimidated, and wishing that he'd done as Tom had said and gone straight to Flourish & Blotts.
"This is where your mother and father bought their fist wands," the man paused, and while the effect was dramatic, Harry did not think that it was for dramatic effect, "as well as the young man standing next to you."
Harry frowned at the grim statement and looked to his side, but there was no one standing next to him. "I'm sorry, sir, but I don't—" he gasped as the journal flared hot against his skin, and he reached into his robes to withdraw it. Sparks flew from where the leather touched his hand and, unintentionally, he dropped it to the weathered wooden floor. Silence overwhelmed them, and the journal seemed to lose its sudden charge. Gingerly, Harry picked it up and tucked it back into a pocket within his new robe.
When he once more met Ollivander's gaze, Harry shrank away from the silver eyes as they bore into his own with deep consternation.
"Where did you find that book?" The man asked, breaking the silence. Harry wished he hadn't, for the gravity of his tone sent further shivers down his spine.
"It was given to me," Harry managed to say, at length, when it became apparent the old man was quite serious. Had he really seen Tom? Harry wondered. Had his friend appeared for a second? Or had the old man been able to see Tom regardless? A furious blush was creeping up his neck and he felt trapped by the dust and the wood and the unexpected revealing. However, as Harry reluctantly met the old man's silver gaze, it occurred to him that he couldn't possibly have seen Tom.
"But you're blind!" Harry blurted out.
"I remember you, boy," the man said, although he did not seem to be speaking to Harry. "I remember you well; yew, thirteen inches, phoenix feather core. Rebirth. How has this come to be?" The last bit was muttered very quietly, and then the unseeing eyes snapped back to Harry. "Do you know what he is?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Harry said, voice trembling almost imperceptibly, as he backed towards the door. Unlike with his cousin and his cousin's horrible friends, Harry wasn't sure if this man would chase after him. While all of his faculties told him No, that's not likely, he'd never before felt more helpless, more caught, more like a creature of prey.
As though sensing his inner turbulence, the old man stepped back in a gesture of submission, lowing his eyes and voice. "I'm sorry to have upset you, Mr. Potter. I mean you no harm; I am merely deeply curious about how you have come to my shop, and in such unusual company."
Was it a trick? Obviously the man didn't want him to run, but would it be better to take the chance, while he still had it? After a rather intense bout of inner conflict, helped not at all by the silent and cold journal, Harry opted to lean against the door. "Who are you?" he asked, somewhat surprised the by level of hostility in his own voice.
"You knew my parents?" The fact had not escaped Harry's notice, indeed, the brief implication simmered heatedly in his gut.
"Yes." Ollivander replied with the barest hint of a smile curving his mouth. "James Potter and Lily Evans: two very bright, and very young individuals."
"And you can see…" Harry trailed off, unable to say it, still stubbornly hopeful that the whole situation was somehow a misunderstanding.
"I can see the boy who hovers about you, not quite there. I can see his anger and fear, and I can see your concern for him." A glittering light flashed in the man's moonlike eyes, and a different sort of discomfort overtook Harry. The intensity of the gaze, the level of inspection, the open curiosity seemed inappropriate. It was rude to stare, it was invasive and inhuman, and the longer it went on the more surreal the interaction became.
"Would you like to try a wand?"
"No, sir, I don't think so," Harry replied, annoyed at the change of subject. The man— Ollivander, obviously wanted to keep him here, keep him talking, and Harry decided, perhaps dangerously, to use that fact to his advantage. "Could you tell me anything else about my parents?"
Ollivander moved to sit upon a high stool behind the counter, and Harry watched him warily, leaning, in the process, further back against the door.
"I only met each of them once," the man said slowly, contemplatively, as though drawing on memories long past.
"Your mother was a very bright witch. She was easy to fit to a wand, open and honest. Willow, ten and a quarter inches— she was exceptionally gifted with Charm work. But that I know from word of mouth only. As for your father," Ollivander's great silver eyebrows drew together, his gaze calculating, "a mahogany wand, eleven inches, and dragon heartstring. A wand for Transfigurations. He came into my shop sixteen years ago, with his parents, Ethelinda and Charlus Potter. I had heard it said, after his death, that you resembled him greatly. However, what I see most in you is your mother's kindness and silent strength of will.
"Why do you carry such a frightening burden, Harry Potter?"
"He's my friend," Harry said. My only friend, he silently added. This man seemed to think of Tom as some sort of horrible burden, but Harry had never felt more liberated, more alive than in the company of Tom Riddle, the boy who knew his secrets. "Why do you call him a burden, sir?"
"Does he not weigh upon your soul?" Ollivander parried. "Since meeting him, have you not found yourself tired, irritable, angry?"
"No," Harry immediately replied, frowning at the implications. "I've never been—" But he didn't finish the sentence. This already dangerous conversation was moving into even darker waters.
"There is light in you," Ollivander said, although it seemed more to himself, and in great astonishment. "The light in your soul survives, not underneath the darkness, but in spite of it."
Feeling the need to reassure Ollivander, even though he wasn't really sure what the old man was talking about, Harry said, "I was bad before I had him. I wasn't me." The words tumbled out, true in ways even he found startling. "I didn't… I don't think I'd have been okay without him. He protects me, and he's all I have, and I'm all he's got. You can't take him away," his voice suddenly hardened, filling him with a vague delirium— he'd never talked to anyone, let alone an adult, in such a way before. "So please, sir, don't take him away."
Ollivander stretched forward, slowly, the penetrating and calculating gaze never wavering. After what seemed an eternity, he said calmly, simply, "No, I wouldn't do that."
Harry nodded. "Can I go now?"
"Certainly," Ollivander replied, "But I do hope you'll return." He might have said more, but Harry had already left.
The brightness of the Alley blinded him for a moment, and panic reared its head. Harry's first instinct was to run back to the Leaky Cauldron, but the noise and bustle of the crowd seemed very horrible just then. Walking was entirely out of the question, and nothing caught people's attention quite like a panic-stricken boy pushing through a crowd. So Harry did the only thing he could: he darted into the bookstore.
While Flourish & Blotts was generally well lit, and significantly more perused than the wand shop, Harry was able to go unnoticed. He found a shadowy corner and crawled underneath a table. It was low enough to shield him from view, and the heavy carven quality of the wood reminded him distinctly of his cupboard. He sat for several long minutes, curled into as small a form as possible, merely breathing deeply into the soft black fabric of his clothes. The journal was warm again and he situated it against his chest, not daring to write in it, lest anyone else find out.
When his breathing slowed and his he could no longer hear his heart thumping in his ears, Harry got up to look for the books that Tom wanted. He didn't touch the spines that sat neatly lined upon the shelves, wary of the various people milling about. The few times he'd been inside of a nice store with his Aunt she'd expressly forbidden him from touching anything, and her threats remained. Instead, he went to the front counter and asked after the two titles, waiting for the books to be brought to him. The store did not appear to be organize alphabetically, or even by subject matter, but rather by some odd system based upon color, size, and age,
"Here we go," the clerk said happily, returning with A History of Magic, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. "Will that be all?"
Another book had caught Harry's eye: several stacks of Notable Magical Names of Our Time were gleaming at him, their covers sporting a picture of an old man with half-moon spectacles and twinkling blue eyes.
"I'll take one of those, too," he said, hoping that with the three books Tom wouldn't need anything else. At the moment, all Harry wanted was to be somewhere safe and alone, where no mysterious old men might somehow recognize him. After he paid for the books and walked back through the Alley, he felt the prickling sensation of eyes watching him. The feeling didn't lesson until he was in his room at the Leaky Cauldron. The noise from downstairs was abruptly silenced when he shut the door. Restless, Harry dropped the books where he stood and began to pace through the room, checking his possessions and glancing out the window nervously. After several minutes of this he drew the grimy curtains closed, sat on the bed, and pulled out the journal.
What are we going to do? he wrote.
The page sat blank save for his quickly scrawled questions, and Harry despaired for a moment at how sloppy his handwriting was, despite all of Tom's efforts to correct it. He was about to write more when Tom finally replied.
Nothing. For now, we'll keep our ground. Ollivander has no reason to be concerned for you personally, and at the very worst, he might contact someone who would in turn contact the Dursleys. The real question is his reaction to seeing me.
How did he see you? Harry asked.
I don't know. Did you hear what he said? Rebirth?
Harry frowned. Most of what Ollivander had said had been lost on him. Even now, he was only really recalling the things about his parents, about his mother.
He said I look like my dad, Harry wrote, unable to contain his own excitement. He was, therefore, rather upset when Tom's reply proved unenthusiastic.
That old fool said a lot of ridiculous things, but the fact is that he did see me, or sense me in some regard, and he was concerned about my interaction with you. It was almost as though he knew… of course, much of the magic that went into my diary was not the sort that the Ministry approved of.
It pained Harry to even think it, but he forced himself to write out the words, Maybe we should go back to Privet Drive.
That won't be necessary, Tom replied, and Harry let out a sigh of relief. Still, the idea of staying in the Alley for a few more days no longer held an appeal. He didn't lie to us, Tom continued, I sensed no deception from him. And if memory serves me, he was always pruriently curious about the lives of others, with no real concern for their affiliations.
What does that mean?
It means that we need to find out more regarding what he knows about me. Why don't you go to bed?
Harry scowled. It's still daytime, I'm not even tired.
Well, then start reading one of the books we bought.
The books where still in a haphazard pile at the door, and Harry glanced at them with little interest. Not only where the titles completely uninviting, but he'd only ever read fairytales.
Those books are for you, not me.
Don't be foolish. Tom replied, Those books are just as important to you, if not even more so. There is a great deal to learn about our world, and I'm afraid that up to this point I've taught you very little of it. You'll be attending Hogwarts before long, and you cannot enter into the school as a Muggleborn. If at all possible, we'll pass you off as an orphaned pureblood, and in order to do that you will need to be fully educated on the history of the magic world.
Well, Harry wrote, floundering, do I have to learn it all right now?
Yes. Unless, that is, you are interested in exploring the rest of the Alley today?
The command left Harry feeling sullen and cheated, but as he paced around the small room, fidgeting uselessly with his hands, he decided that reading wasn't such a bad outlet after all.
He curled up on the bed with the one book he'd chosen himself, opened to a random page, and started reading about someone named Gellert Grindelwald.
Chapter 11: Fondness: a Gift and a Sign
The hours flew past and drew night over the Alley in a quick gesture, startling its inhabitants into retreating indoors with frowns and exclamations of the late time.
Had the situation been very different, Harry would have fallen asleep with the sudden revelation of night. As it was, he sat doggedly re-reading page after page about a boy named Harry Potter, who had, apparently, saved the wizarding society as an infant. At first he'd thought it merely a coincidence: that the tale of the hero Harry Potter was, in fact, referring to someone with the same name as him. As he read on, however, and looked through the other books from Flourish & Blotts, he came to the incongruous realization that there was no other orphaned boy named Harry Potter... or at least, not another one with a lightning bolt scar, and parents by the names of James and Lily. Only one of the three texts held anymore information about his parents other than their names, and Harry tentatively relished the small paragraph.
Auror James Potter and his wife, Lilly Potter, née Evans, were instrumental individuals in the fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. They were among the first to rally against You-Know-Who's forces, and were rumored to be participating in several underground groups that fought outside of the Ministry. Close friends of Albus Dumbledore, James and Lilly Potter strongly supported the Light Arts, and gave their lives in defense of their son, Harry Potter, who would go on to defeat You-Know-Who.
While Harry found all of this information difficult to assimilate with what he'd been told of his own existence (despite Tom's evaluation of his worth, Harry still could not yet fully reconcile the idea with all the the things he'd grown up being told by his aunt and uncle), what made it all very difficult to understand was each author's insistence that he had "defeated" someone whose name he was supposed to know. When he worked out that defeated probably meant killed, he became even more concerned, and considered not sharing this information with Tom at all.
Harry sat on the bed with his back against the wall, watching the journal lie unassumingly upon the blankets, trying to decide between reading more, sleeping, telling Tom, and pacing restlessly through the room. He did not move; he feared that any sudden movement would draw Tom's sleepy attention, and despite the fact that Harry knew he should share what he'd learned, it seemed very likely to him that doing so would ruin their friendship.
It was entirely possible that he'd killed someone. Harry didn't actually believe that he had, not only because the tomes claimed that he'd done so at the mere age of one, but because he rather hoped that he'd remember doing such a thing. Indeed, the books were vague about all of the specifics; he couldn't know who the person he'd killed was, or even how he'd killed him. Perhaps that was the real reason why the Dursleys hated him. He'd killed someone, and then the magic world had left him to the only people who would take him... and it was true that he caused trouble all of the time...
These dark thoughts nearly overwhelmed him, but Harry remembered the tone of reverence with which each author spoke of him. He grabbed the book with the old man on the cover again, flipped to the middle of the text, the part where the pages were already getting used to opening to, and re-read (yet again) the bit about him defeating "You-Know-Who." It was written almost like a fairy-tale, and his orphaning was even treated as a happily-ever-after— with a lot of nonsense about stocks rising and dragons laying more eggs.
The more Harry thought about it, the more difficult he found it to imagine people celebrating over something he'd done, especially something so horrible. Sleep was preferable to thought; however, Harry knew that laying down in the dark would only make him more restless than he already was. More than anything he needed answers. Normally in such an instance he'd ask Tom, but he couldn't bring himself to divulge such information to his friend. It was one thing to imagine the Dursley's reactions, which ultimately could be tolerated, and another entirely to imagine Tom's. Harry feared that the older boy would abandon him if there turned out to be any truth behind the odd stories. Which, in turn, lead him back to the books, and the hopeless task of figuring it all out for himself.
When he started to turn the pages with more force than necessary, and to dig his fingers harshly into the bedding, Balthamos wriggled out from under a pillow. "Is something the matter?"
It occurred to Harry just then that he'd rather ignored his friend as of late, and that most of their interactions had consisted of Balthamos asking after his well being. Harry felt a little bad for it but, more than anything, he was deeply frightened that the snake would grow weary of their one-sided friendship.
"No," Harry replied. "Are you doing all right? Have you been able to find enough to eat around here?"
Balthamos flicked out his tongue and, after a brief pause, answered, "Yes. There are many things to eat here."
Harry smiled. "I'm glad." He couldn't think of anything else to say, and was spared from it when the snake slipped into a fold of the coverlet and went back to sleep. Harry watched the still fabric for several long seconds before agitation took hold again, stronger than before. Now he felt the need to talk to someone quite desperately. He had the journal in his lap again and was writing to Tom before he could fully stop himself.
And here fear reasserted itself firmly in his gut, bleeding upwards to still his arms and wrists and fingers. He spent so long deliberating that he was sure Tom would prompt him for a response, but the other boy waited coolly, and Harry plunged ahead again, deciding to simply tell his friend what he'd discovered, and hope that the consequences were not too dire.
The books we got said I'm someone famous. There was a war, and I —he hesitated to write "killed"— defeated some Dark wizard. I can't figure out his name, though. All the books just call him, "You-Know-Who." And he killed my parents, and a bunch of other people, so the Dursleys were lying about them dying in a car crash after all. The book said that he gave me my scar, so that's why the goblins at the bank used it to know who I am.
Give me more of your blood, Tom replied, and then continued his simple response with, Sleep with the books against your skin, so as to bring them to me.
Harry searched the words for any sort of comfort or reassurance, but found none other than their lack of direct reprisal. He tried to sense the nature of the emotion behind them, as he'd done before without thought; however, he could only feel his own uncertainty. Curling a hand around the pages, he tensed as they slid with a life of their own against his palm, drawing warmth and wetness in thin red lines. He watched as his blood once more stained the pages, only to disappear like the ink. He flexed his hand when it stopped, relieved to find that the minute cuts disappeared immediately. In their place was a soothing warmth, much like the heat radiated by the flagstones before the fire in Tom's world.
Then Harry gathered the three books to his skin and laid down with them; the covers seemed to scratch uncomfortably, and he could not get used to the feel of the binding of one book, which was much too heavy in his opinion. Balthamos readjusted himself at Harry's side, and did not comment on the books if he found them odd. Harry sighed in an overly dramatic manner, attempting to catch the snake's attention, so that he might start up another conversation that would prove that his doubts were empty conjurations. Balthamos, however, said nothing.
Not wanting to have yet another thing to mull over, Harry forcibly set aside his concerns to focus upon falling asleep. For all that the large bed was luxurious, it was not his bed, and yet, some hours later, when thick clouds obscured the stars and cast shadows over the buildings of the Alley, he did sleep. When he appeared in the cozy little world with Slytherin banners and armchairs, and ancient rugs and bookcases reminiscent of the Hogwart's library, he remained asleep, curled up on the hearth with the books in his arms.
There came an inquisitive knock, gentle at first, then louder, as though the person on the other side of the door became impatient. Harry sat up, momentarily confused about were he was. The knocking continued and he rolled out of bed, scrambling to avoid the books that fell towards his feet. He hesitated at the door- he was wearing the white nightgown from Madam Malkin's and nothing else.
He waited for the next knock to finish before cracking the door open. "Yes?"
"Morning, Mr. Sinclair," Tom greeted jovially. He was carrying a tray will steaming bowls and a copy of the Daily Prophet.
Harry took a moment to recognize that Sinclair was the alias he'd taken for himself, then blushed and mumbled a quick thank you.
"Not a problem, lad. Breakfes' was just gettin' over, an I figured you'd be wantin' summat to eat."
"What time is it?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't realize-"
The old bartender waved him off with a chuckle and said, "No need ter apologize, jus' bring the tray back down when yer done."
Harry thanked him again, then set the tray on the bed. The door closed with a soft sigh of wood on wood, and Harry rummaged through the blankets, looking for Tom's journal. Somehow during the night it had ended up beneath his pillow, and he simply held it in his hand for a moment, for all appearances gazing contemplatively at the leather cover. In reality, he was determining whether or nor he had the courage to talk to Tom yet. He couldn't remember meeting Tom in the night, and silently hoped that his friend had not read the incriminating texts.
He smoothed the blankets down and set the journal next to the tray. He wasn't really hungry— in want of a distraction, more like, and so he set to eating the breakfast that the barman had so thoughtfully provided for him. And, although he knew that the food came with the room, he couldn't help but feel strange about being fed such lovely meals each day; he was supposed to be the one doing the serving.
One of the steaming bowls, he was delighted to find, contained an unusual mixture of oatmeal, honey, and pecans, which tasted nearly good enough to induce him to forget about his troubles. There was also a small bowl of sliced fruit, and a cup of very strong tea, which he didn't drink. Sitting hunched over the edge of the bed, Harry used the fruit wedges to scrape up the last of the oatmeal.
He dressed for the day, making sure that the journal was hidden deep within an inner pocket. Glancing out the window he surmised that rain was inevitable. There was a great sense of pressure from the giant black clouds, interrupted only by the vague din of voices from below. He took an extra minute to visit the loo and dump the tea down the sink ("What a rude little boy!" The mirror scolded him), then carried the tray down to the bar. When the barman received it, Harry almost told him that there was a rude mirror upstairs, but decided against it, lest the mirror tattle on him in turn.
Tom the bartender was busy, and Harry slipped into the Alley without talking to him or his wife, who had glanced at him in a meaningful manner from a table she was serving.
The first shop that he came upon was Eeylop's Owl Emporium, it's doors opened invitingly despite the threatening weather. It was quiet inside, and all muted with dust. Heavy drapes covered the windows, and perches of all shapes and sizes stood about with sleeping owls upon them. Harry carefully wound his way through them, admiring the majestic birds. As before, his fingers twitched with the urge to touch them, to explore the spotted feathers and shiny little hooked beaks. He was just reaching out to stroke the back of a large brown owl when a man's voice stopped him.
"You don't want to touch that one. Lady's got a nasty temper."
The boy retracted his hand and looked around, after a moment spotting the source of the voice. Sitting at a desk in a rather shadowy corner was the shop keeper.
"If you're looking for one to pet, I'd suggest one of the spotty ones, over here."
Harry cautiously approached the desk, then at the man's nod, stroked the back of a smaller, spotted owl. The bird swiveled it's head towards him, yellow eyes blinking curiously, but otherwise ignored the gentle touch.
"Are you looking for one to buy, or just looking?" The man inquired.
Giving the owl a last, reluctant pat, Harry turned to the man and replied, "Just looking. I don't really have anywhere to keep an owl right now." In truth, it was the last of the reasons that he couldn't buy one of the birds, but it was the only reason that didn't sound incriminating. Harry watched for the man's response, and was pleased that it was a mostly positive one.
"That very smart of you," The man said. "While owls are mainly independent creatures, most people don't take proper care of them. They're intelligent birds, owls are, and aren't meant to be treated just as messengers."
A slight gleam entered the man's eye, and he continued to talk about the quiet birds in such a way that Harry got the feeling that the man had given the diatribe many times, and to a less than interested audience. Harry didn't mind, though, and listened patiently for several minutes, soaking up the information. He watched the birds in the shop as the man spoke, and noticed that many of them were watching him, and breathing silently, and shifting their heads slowly. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he saw these movements and began to sense a greater depth to the place. The way the shop keeper spoke about the owls, he made them seem like people with their own lives and personalities. The concept wasn't entirely foreign to him, indeed he found himself comparing the birds to Balthamos, who most certainly was his own person.
"Here," The man said, extending his hand. "You can feed them."
Harry reached out his own hand, and the man dropped into it several small pellets. He nodded at Harry, who in turn offered them to the spotted owl he'd patted earlier. The bird nimbly snatched several of the pellets up, and the fact that it didn't even hesitate filled Harry with a wonderful sensation of acceptance. He looked up to find the store owner smiling in understanding. The man cocked his head to the other owls, and Harry cautiously approached the nearest ones. The majority of them were sleeping, but a few watched him quietly with their large eyes, and accepted the treats from him readily. When his hands were empty Harry returned to the counter and, to his surprise, the man filled his hands again with the pellets. Neither of them spoke as Harry made his way around the store, feeding the owls that were interested.
He paused when he came to the brown owl that he'd initially approached, the man's warning still ringing clear. The owl adjusted it's wings and seemed to glare at him. Not sure what to do, Harry glanced to the man. A single shaft of light was hitting the owner's face, illuminating his eyes and making them appear to be bright hazel, rather like the eyes of one of his birds. The man nodded. Harry turned back to the sultry barn owl and, carefully, held out the handful of treats.
A moment of hestance, and then the bird snatched a bite, and another. Harry sighed in relief. The pellets were gone and he wiped his hands on the robe he was wearing, walked to the back of the store and thanked the man.
"They're so pretty, and quiet," he said.
"You like them, then?" The man enquired.
"Yeah," Harry replied. "They're not really like regular pets. I bet it's nice in here with them all the time."
"Indeed. Feel free to drop in next time you're in the Alley. They'll remember you, you know. And when you decide you're ready, I'm sure one of them will be happy to go home with you."
"Yeah," Harry replied again, with less enthusiasm. Home. The Dursleys. Even if they did decide to let him keep a pet, Harry didn't think he could subject another living creature to that environment.
Not wanting the store keeper to catch onto his thoughts, Harry gave a week smile, said goodbye, and left.
The rest of the day went by slowly. He bought an ice-cream, looked around the bookstore again, solidly avoided Ollivander's, and ended up exploring the sub-alleys that wound between the shops and behind Gringotts.
He was avoiding Tom. Plain and simple, Harry was worried about what his friend would say. The older boy (spirit? ghost? book? ...trick?) wasn't like normal people, but still, surely, had his breaking point. It seemed that it was only a matter of time before people realized that Harry wasn't worth the trouble, or wasn't who they thought he was. People turned on him, and this was such a confusing and monumental thing, that surely it would do it for Tom. So Harry ended up sitting on the steps in front of the bank, watching the people come and go until the sun began to set.
Of course he was glad to be gone from the Dursleys, but Harry had never expected such conflict beyond the restraints of his relatives home. For some reason he'd expected everything to be just...
Harry roughly carded his fingers through his own hair, frustrated suddenly, terribly, when he realized that he'd expected to be happy. For some silly reason he had wanted that for himself, had thought that leaving would somehow fix things. That he would always have Tom, his friend, that they would... what? Be together forever? Him and Tom, who didn't even have a body? Who was smart, and strong, and fearless?
Harry met eyes with a passing stranger and quickly looked away. He stood and hopped down the steps, deciding abruptly to return to the inn. The people passing around him seemed upsetting now. Rather than reveling in his anonymity, now Harry frowned minutely, acutely aware of the smiling and laughing people who clasped hands with one another, talking animatedly, walking in time together, glowingly oblivious.
The barman was busy when Harry got in, and he took the opportunity to slip upstairs unnoticed. He used the locking spell on his room, drawing some comfort from the spark of magic that jumped from his fingers to the door. After pacing around the room once, examinging everything without really seeing any of it, he slumped onto the bed, layed on his side and held the journal against his chest, searching for the spark of warmth he now associated with objects which were imbued with magic.
The journal gave off the same pleasing hum as always. When the window showed the sky to be a rather brilliant dark periwinkle, Harry found a pencil and wrote to Tom.
He wrote the greeting, waited for several minutes with no response, and tried again.
Hello? Tom? Are you there?
Waited for at least ten more minutes, and then did get upset. His thoughts wanted to go to the darkest of places, but rather than letting them, he dressed for the night, turned out the light, and curled up in bed, squeezing his eyes shut and refusing to think about any of it. As a result, he wasn't aware of falling asleep, only the hands that touched his hair, face, then arms, pulling him up rather forcefully. Stumbling into wakefullness, Harry yawned at Tom as the older boy held him firmly, staring at him inquisitively with lips drawn into a white line.
"Wake up, Harry."
"I am awake," the boy mumbled, trying to pull his arms away.
"Obviously." Tom drawled, releasing Harry's arms and circling around him. "You," Tom said, "somehow, inexplicably, survived the killing curse."
"Uh," Harry said, upset but not startled by Tom's unfriendly tone of voice. "That's what those books said."
"It isn't possible." Tom's eyes shown brightly, reflecting the firelight. He splayed a hand on Harry's chest, pushing him back until his legs hit the couch and he was forced to sit. Then Tom parted the boy's hair, tracing the lightning-bolt scar once before tapping it none too gently.
"No one has ever survived."
Harry grimaced and reached up a hand to smooth the spot. Tom turned away, paced before the fire, his steps lacking their usual lightness and elegance.
"A dark lord attacked you and killed your parents, a man whose named was so feared that even now, six years later, it is not revealed in print. He cast the killing curse on you, and yet instead of killing you, he was defeated, and you escaped with nothing but a measly scar."
Harry sat in silence, too scared to say anything. There was nothing to say.
Turning sharply and coming to a stop in front of Harry, Tom bowed his head, hands clasped behind his back, and said, "We have been very foolish."
Harry sat tensley, waiting for more.
"You're famous in this world, Harry, everyone knows your name. Your name," Tom stressed, "is in Notable Magical Names of our Times. And we've been wandering around Diagon Alley, you were seen! Ollivander recognized you!" Tom was shouting now, and Harry drew back until he was sitting with his back pressed against the cushions and his whole body tensed, although Tom didn't seem to notice.
"Surely that is why he was so concerned— not for me, but for you. If he were to tell anyone that you are here, now, with me—"
"But you said he wouldn't," Harry interrupted, voice timid.
Tom was jostled out of his tirade, his eyes shifting and his hands falling to his sides. "I did not have all of the facts. This changes everything."
They stared tensly at one another, Harry nervous and Tom impassive.
"Are you mad at me?" Harry asked after an unbearable stretch of quiet, which in reality was only a few seconds.
Tom jutted his chin out and narrowed his eyes, then just as quickly relaxed and sat down next to Harry. "No," he said, "of course not. You didn't intentionally cause any of this to happen. If anything your parents are at fault, the frontlines of a warzone are no place to have a child."
This response immediately calmed Harry, but then affronted him. He opened his mouth to defend his parents, but couldn't formulate the right words. Tom, however, seemed to understand what he meant to say.
"It's true, Harry. The way it sounds, they were right in the thick of whatever conflict was going on. This dark lord," something about the way the older boy said "dark lord" was odd, but Harry couldn't place it, "obviously was very dangerous. He obviously would have risen to power if not for... if whatever happened with you and him haden't happened. Your parents chose to fight for Dumbledore, a power-hungry mad man, and have a child in the midst of a war in which they were clearly at risk."
Harry sat listening to this, frozen with anxiety, his throat closed up with emotion. He stared at his lap where his hands where clasped tightly together. Just when tears threatened to come, Tom's hands wrapped around his, sending a cold jolt down his spine. The other boy sat beside him, and Harry felt his breath as he spoke.
"They were young and they were foolish, Ollivander said it himself. They got in over their heads, and, unfortunately, you ended up suffering for their poor choices.
"I know how these things work, Harry. I was raised in a time of war, and more than a few of the children where I lived were orphaned for the same reason."
Harry finally looked up at Tom's gentle and reassuring tone. The kindness was back in Tom's face, flooding Harry with relief. He pulled his hands away, only to wrap them around the older boy's neck, pressing himself as close as he could. Tom froze, neither resisting nor yielding to the embrace. After a minute the position became uncomfortable and Harry awkwardly sat back.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry."
"What for?" Tom said rather stiffly.
"For..." hugging you? Had that even been a hug? "For making you mad."
"I'm not mad." Tom said, and then carefully pulled Harry onto his lap, setting the boy's gangly legs to the side and pressing a kiss to the boy's jaw. "I am merely concerned about our situation," his words were said softly next to Harry ear.
The boy shivered, a tingling sensation gathering in his chest and writhing awkwardly, like a snake wrapping around him and squeezing.
"These are complications I could not have possibly predicted," he murmured as though to himself, "that down the road I would have you, and that the magic would act so strangely."
The words ceased to make sense, and Harry rested his head in the crook of Tom's neck, warmed at last by the fire, exhaustion overtaking him.
"Hm?" Came his sleepy reply.
"You can go to sleep. But I'm going to be looking around in your memories while you do so."
"Will it hurt?" Everything was going fuzzy, and although he spoke to Tom, Harry wasn't entirely aware of what he was saying.
"No, though it will feel strange. You might dream strange things."
And then he was gone.
Chapter 12: A Late Encounter
Harry woke up in the morning with a multitude of thoughts and emotions which did not seem to belong to him, and yet surely stemmed from his own mind. If the content of his dreams that night were particularly strange, he did not recall them. Although, it seemed that he did dream vividly, and at one point held a long conversation. In response he lied very still, trying to recall what conversation had taken place in the night. It would not come to him. It seemed that the light from the window, dim and weak, cut through his thoughts, leaving only gossamer remnants- vague and fragmented emotions that were impossible to trace.
A movement from the corner of his eye drew his attention: Balthamos, emerging from what might have been a mouse-hole in the wall, which up to that point Harry had not noticed. The snake seemed oddly pleased, and the boy smiled when he noticed the lump in his friend's middle.
"Breakfast?" He asked, dangling a hand down the side of the bed.
Balthamos made his way to the hand, somewhat slower than usual, and answered with a satisfied hiss, "A nest of baby mice. Tiny and fur-less."
Harry almost withdrew his invitation, but remained still at the last moment, more or less pleased when the snake wound around his hand. "Gross." He replied, deciding to refrain in the future from asking the snake about what it ate.
"Gross?" Balthamos said, "What is gross?"
"Gross is... Gross is when something is... you know, gross. Eating baby mice is gross."
"Well then, eating your human food is gross," but Balthamos said it in the wrong manner completely, not comprehending the word. The snake uttered it like a fact of which it wasn't sure, making Harry smile, despite himself.
"Are you going to sleep now, then?" Harry asked.
Balthmos merely nodded, slipping between the sheets and the pillow.
"I have to get dressed," Harry said, hopping up and pulling off his nightclothes. He put on the same outfit he'd worn the day before, already used to the weight of the simple black cloak.
Harry opened the journal and found a neatly written greeting waiting for him.
Harry, Tom had written, I have discovered several interesting and disturbing things in your mind. We need to discuss them as soon as possible, however I do not want to waste energy talking to you outside of the diary. And yet, these are things that I wish to discuss with you face to face, so I will wait until you sleep once more.
It is imperative, that is to say of the utmost importance, that no one know your name, or see your scar. If you must go out today, then brush your hair to cover your forehead, and make sure that it is not revealed. I do not wish for you to talk to anyone... although, we may have to deal with Ollivander, sooner, rather than later. If confronted, you will continue to give your name as "Jonathan Sinclair."
You may take breakfast in the room again, I do not want you interacting with the barman anymore than necessary.
Keep me with you at all times.
The words seemed extreme, but as Harry re-read them and contemplated what he'd learned (and tried to fathom what Tom might have learned) he decided that they were fair. After all, he didn't really want to be recognized for committing murder, or being some kind of hero. As far as he was concerned, being recognized for small reasons was bad enough.
Alright, he wrote in reply. He contemplated what next to say while waiting for the word to fade. A small amount of uneasiness still threatened his resolve, but as he remembered how the older boy had held him the night before, his worries diminished, and he told himself silently that everything was fine.
Harry watched the page for a minute, then closed the journal and slipped it into his robes, so that it rested in an inner pocket. The sense of connectedness was back; a sense of closeness, and company. For, although he knew that he was physically alone in the room, Harry did notfeel alone. A humming emitted from the journal, not audibly, but something he felt in his mind. Tom's presence had flickered over the past few days, ranging between nearly corporal and non-existent, and now it was steady and reassuring. Harry had no doubt that if he did get into trouble, Tom would be able to help him.
He paused for a split second at the door, a small grin gracing his features, because he knew, incorrigibly, that Tom was on his side.
Harry stopped in at Eeylops first, and the owner (who formally introduced himself as Gregory Eeylop the fourth,) greeted him happily, if quietly. However, despite the pleasant company of the owls, and the soft-spoken shop owner, Harry found his limbs restless and his thoughts straying. He ended up saying a short goodbye and wandering down the alley. He ventured into the shops he had yet to explore, in an attempt to distract himself, and to make the time pass. Luckily no one stopped him, or tried to get a better look at his face, and at the end of the day he found himself once more sitting outside of Gringotts, licking a rapidly melting ice cream, and watching the curious men and women come and go.
So far the only people who had recognized him were the goblins and Ollivander. Harry didn't think the goblins would tell anyone, they didn't seem terribly concerned with humans, unless money was involved. As for Ollivander... The boy heaved a sigh. He was a little afraid of the man. Harry honestly couldn't tell if he would get into trouble or not if he went back into the wand shop. Suppose he did, and Ollivander put a spell on him to keep him from escaping, and took him... wherever? The wizard police, maybe? On the other hand, Tom had said so himself that they might have to go back. Harry knew that they would, that he should, but decided that he wouldn't until Tom specifically said to. Harry told himself that he wouldn't have to worry about it that way, and maybe Tom would forget all about the whole thing.
When he returned to the Leaky Cauldron a hearty dinner was waiting for him. He ate as much of it as he could (which wasn't much, he still wasn't used to being fed regularly), then retired to his room, eager to see Tom once more. He curled up under the covers, the journal in his arms, and tried to sleep. His mind raced. He could feel his own pulse in his ears. The stars twinkled brightly through the window. He turned over so as not to see them, but found his new position too uncomfortable and turned back. He counted the stars he could see, named the few constellations he recognized, then squeezed his eyes shut and wondered why tonight of all nights he would have trouble falling asleep.
After what seemed like hours he rolled out of bed, thirsty and wide awake.
The halls of the Inn were silent, and he felt rather proud of himself as he slipped out of his room, utterly silent himself. Reaching the loo he paused at its door, recalling how it squeaked when opened, and the mirror which had told him off the other morning, and had since greeted him with snide comments about his scruffy appearance.
After a moment of deliberation he changed his mind and headed the other way. He'd get a drink from the kitchen, where they had cups anyways. The lights were out downstairs. Moonlight illuminated the tables. The light came in, but the noise stayed out. He could see glimpses of London outside, eerily silent, like the people's voices in Gringotts had been muffled. He stood a moment watching cars go by like phantoms, then turned and made his way into the kitchen. It was darker in the back, and he had to feel his way around, hoping for a light switch, but recalling only candles and oil-lamps.
Just as he realized that he'd need to find and light a candle one flared into life behind him, throwing light over the room and bringing it's foreign contours to life.
"What'er ye doin' outta bed this late, lad?"
Harry spun, heart in his throat, and stuttered, "I-I was, I was, I was just-"
"Ye're not in trouble, s'calm down," Tom said, placing a heavy hand on the boy's shoulder. "Still hungry? Ye didn't eat much at supper time."
"No, sir. I was just getting some water."
"No, sir." Harry replied.
"Ech, thar's no need ta be callin' me 'sir' all the time. Everyone calls me Tom or Mr. Tom, if that pleases ye. Come on now," Tom pulled out a chair from a small wooden table that appeared to be used for cutting up meat and vegetables, "Have a sit down. I'll get ye somethin' ta drink."
"Thank you," Harry said quietly, still expecting to be in trouble. Whenever he got caught out of bed at the Dursley's a firm punishment followed. They didn't like the idea of him wandering through the house at night, unsupervised.
A steaming mug of milk was set down in front of him, and Harry blinked out of his thoughts before accepting it with a cautious thank you. The milk was shortly followed by a small plate of biscuits, and Tom the bartender pulled up a chair from the other side of the room.
"So," he said as he sat opposite the boy, "ye couldn't sleep."
Harry swallowed down a gulp of milk and shook his head.
"Well, why not?" Tom asked bluntly.
"I dunno, sir. Mr. Tom, I mean."
"Well," Tom said, leaning forward with an arm on the table, "Why dont'cha start out by telling me why ya came here."
Harry looked up, hoping to find clarification in old Tom's face. The man's expression was open, honest, and no-nonsense. Harry didn't even consider lying to him, and instead looked down at his hands in silence.
"Now I've seen a lotter people in my day," Tom said, "all sorts a folk come in through here, and beggin' yer pardon, lad, but I know a runaway when I see one."
Harry felt his cheeks go hot. He didn't say anything, though, and suddenly wished he'd worn his cloak with the journal in the pocket. Wished, rather, that he had stayed up in the room, fallen asleep, and spent the night with his friend.
"I didn't say nuthin' cause ye seemed to know what ye were doin'. But ye looked awful concerned when ye came in this evening. Is summat the matter?"
"No, sir. I just... I wasn't hungry." He said, for lack of anything else to say. There was a moment of silence as the bartender waited for him to continue, but Harry stared resolutely at the mug in his hands.
Nudging the plate closer to the boy, Tom said, "I understand if ye got secrets, lad, I don't need ta know them, but if there's anythin' ye want teh get off yer chest, or anything I can help ye with, I'll lend an ear or a hand." There was anther moment of silence before he continued softly, "What brought ye here?"
Harry swallowed heavily before replying, "I had to talk to the goblins."
"And ye're family couldn't come with ye? Never mind the fact that it don't take near a week to deal with them, though I know they can be ornery at best."
Harry took a sip of the warm milk, for fortification, but it gave him none.
Tom waited patiently, however, and at length Harry responded, "Why would you let me stay here if you knew I had run away?"
Leaning back in his chair, Tom pulled out a pipe from his vest, lit it with the tip of his wand, and began to draw heavily from it. The sweet smell of tobacco filled the room, and Harry relaxed a little. Tom nodded at the biscuits, and waited until the boy had started to nibble on one before speaking.
"Diagon Alley's a pretty safe place, and I'd not let a child staying 'ere fall ta any harm. However," he paused, his teeth clicking against the pipe as he let out a few puffs of white smoke, "a few years back a girl not much older than ye came by. She was lookin' fer a place ta stay. Runaway from home like ye, and I reckoned 'twas no business a mine ta be harborin' a runaway. So I found out who her parents were an sent her back."
Harry finished off the first biscuit and hesitantly took another. Some sweet herbs flavored the milk and he found himself calming considerably.
"Well, a few weeks later I heard from the local grape vine that that little girl was killed, by her own parents, the same night that I sent her outta here." Old Tom took a pouch of tobacco out of his pocket and gingerly tucked a few more leaves into his pipe. "Since then I don't turn anyone away, fer any reason. Funny how death'll do that to ya.
"So. Is yer situation somethin' like that?"
Harry nodded, shocked by the story. He didn't really think his situation was like that, but when he thought about how angry his aunt and uncle had been before he left, and how angry they'd be when he returned, he really wondered. They'd never hurt him near enough to kill him, but they seemed to hate him more and more as he got older, and he was only seven. How bad would it be when he was ten? Or older, when he was a teenager?
"I thought so."
"They'd never kill me," Harry quickly clarified, "just..."
"Hurt'cha real bad, would they?"
"No," Harry said, feeling the strangest desire to actually defend the Dursleys. "No, they just... needed some time away from me. I'm their nephew, and they don't like me much, that's all."
The bartender seemed to contemplate this for a few minutes.
Harry felt a strange sinking feeling in his gut. A part of him wanted to tell Tom every mean thing the Dursleys had ever done to him, but at the same time he couldn't imagine uttering any of those things out loud. He didn't want to complain about his life, especially when the man seemed to think that it was bad enough to get him killed, because it wasn't. Sure things were bad sometimes, but he was alive. The Dursleys would never kill him, it would be terrible for their reputation.
"The Leaky Cauldron'll always be open to ye, if ye ever need a place ta stay, and I'll not charge ye in the future for a room an bed."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but the bartender stopped him with a stern look. "I'm quite serious, lad. It's no trouble ta me, and my wife always likes havin' kids like yerself around. Not ta mention she wasn't too happy ta learn that ye were all by yer lonesome. So ye can stay here as long as ye need, an we'll watch out for ye."
Harry nodded, this time because there were five different things he wanted to say, but his jaw had become tense enough to make his teeth hurt.
"Now off ta bed with ye, it's gettin on two in the mornin', an I'll not have ye sleepin' till noon."
"Yes, sir." He managed to say quietly.
"Mr. Tom, lad, an take the milk an biscuits with ye."
Harry nodded mutely, took the plate and mug in his hands, and shuffled up to bed.
Sleep came shortly, and when he woke he was confused to find Tom curiously prodding at his cheek.
"Hey," Harry said.
Tom brushed the pad of his thumb under Harry's eye, bringing it back to his mouth, and Harry realized belatedly that his face was covered in tears.
"You were crying in your sleep."
"Oh," Harry said, frowning and wiping at his face. "Weird."
"What took you so long?" Tom asked.
The older boy didn't know? "I couldn't sleep." He was about to tell Tom about his encounter with the barman, but didn't. For some reason he got the feeling that his friend wouldn't like to know that he'd said so much to the man, even though he hadn't revealed who his relatives were. Harry trusted the barman, and he didn't want to argue about it.
"Huh. Well, we can get you potions for that if it becomes a problem. Or I could teach you to meditate, no doubt we'll have plenty of time for that when we return to Little Whinging."
Harry made a non-committal sound and sat up. They were both lounging before the fire, on the thick patterned rug. Now, though, Harry felt that a bit more composure was necessary, so he sat himself up on the couch and folded his hands in his lap. Tom took this in stride and sat next to him, leaning forward with his arms set on his thighs.
"Do you recall meeting Albus Dumbledore when you were three?" Tom asked.
The question took Harry off guard, and in reviewing it he realized that he'd had no idea what Tom would ask about, but he'd been worrying about it all day. "Who?"
Tom looked him in the eye, and something in his gaze unsettled Harry. The older boy had a small frown tugging at his mouth.
"He was an old man," Tom elaborated, "wearing hideous yellow robes. Your aunt sent you and Dudley upstairs when Dumbledore requested to speak with you."
Harry recalled none of it.
"Well," Tom said, "you were very little."
After a minute passed Harry asked, "What else did you find?"
"I've suspected it for a few months now- Mrs. Fig uses her cats to spy on you, no doubt she's working for Dumbledore. He has widened his grasp considerably since my school days with him."
"You went to school with him?"
"He was the transfiguration teacher."
Harry frowned and thought about that. He desperately wanted to ask Tom about his life; when he lived, what he did, why he created the journal, and where the other parts of him might be. The thought burned in Harry, firing off more and more curious questions, so that he wondered why he hadn't thought of them earlier. Tom's seated figure loomed beside him, full of power and mystery.
"Do you want to ask me something?" Tom inquired, voice and eyes steady.
"How did you kill my aunt Marge's dog?"
Tom lifted his chin, and Harry sensed that the older boy wasn't expecting the question. Harry himself felt surprised by it.
But then Tom smiled, revealing straight teeth that gleamed in the firelight."Like this," Tom said, holding out an arm and then convulsing his fingers into a tight fist. "You saw me before, when I stood under the street lamp. I was able to create a solid body, just for a second. I did the same thing with my hand, inside the dog's heart."
Tom continued to smile, and Harry wondered why the older boy would be smiling at all. Recalling the terrible mass of heated flesh as it slammed into him, slavering and snarling, Harry imagined what it would be like to reach inside of the bulldog. He shuddered and looked down at his hands.
"You get these thoughts," Tom said, "that are unpleasant. You let yourself become weighted with them, and it hinders you."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, voice subdued.
"The day before yesterday you spent an unnecessary amount of time indulging in self pity. Moping. Then yesterday you avoided these thoughts completely, letting them fester in the back of your mind, so that when night came you were restless and unhappy."
A growing basin of doubt formed in Harry, spreading out and making him feel numb. Not an hour ago he'd reprimanded himself for wanting to confide in the old barman. He had felt ashamed for wanting it, because it was self indulgent.
"You'll be much happier when you free yourself of these thoughts."
"How do I do that?" Harry asked.
The edge of Tom's lip twitched, as though he suddenly smiled without meaning to. He reached out again, this time bringing his hand to rest on Harry's shoulder. "By cultivating positive thoughts. You have to avoid self pity, because it defeats you in the stead of your enemies."
"You want me to... think happy thoughts?" Harry said, feeling silly and off-balance. And very tired once more.
"Essentially, yes." Tom replied, sliding his hand down to both of Harry's hands, and holding them gently. "In order to be magically strong, one must be healthy in mind, body, and spirit. There isn't much we can do about your poor physical health, but we can improve your mental health by keeping you happy and mentally occupied with learning."
Harry yawned widely, quickly freeing his hands to cover his mouth. Tom didn't look amused.
"Sorry," Harry said, cowed.
"It's early in the morning, you should sleep."
"Yeah," Harry replied, yawning again. When he lowered his hands he gazed at them in his lap, so close to Tom's, where only a moment ago they had been held.
He wasn't sure what he wanted. There still seemed like so much to ask, and yet he had gone for years without questioning his friend. And then there was the experience of falling asleep in Tom's arms, hearing the older boy's slow heartbeat, and smelling the dryness of books and fire. His eyes drooped shut, and he wished that Tom would somehow understand what he wanted, the same way that he somehow understood all of the things that Harry had been feeling over the past few days.
"Is there something you want, Harry?"
The boy nodded, wanting to say his thoughts, but unable to.
"Well?" Tom asked, raising his brows.
Harry leaned into Tom's shoulder, squeezing his eyes shut. Dumbledore had been to his house. Mrs. Figg was spying on him. Tom grinned when he talked about killing Ripper, and Piers had leered when he said "I don't think it's cool, killing innocent animals. My mum says that's an early sign that a person's crazy."
Tom snaked an arm around him, holding Harry against his side. "Everything will be fine," he said. "I'll protect you, from Dumbledore and from the Dursleys."
"Yeah," Harry said again, voice small and quiet.
When Harry awoke in the morning there was an owl at the window, tapping at the glass to be let in.
The owl ruffled its wings impatiently, and Harry stood in shock as it tapped at the window again. He felt hesitant about going anywhere near it, however the owl became more insistent with its tapping, obviously aware that he was awake. Harry sidled over to the window with a gulp and wedged it open. Ducking inside with a haughty ruffle of its feathers, the owl clicked its beak and stuck out a leg expectantly. A yellow envelope was tied there, sealed in plain red wax.
Harry sent a furtive and desperate glance towards Tom's journal, as though to receive confirmation from Tom, but there was no sign from his friend. Steeling himself, he untied the letter. The owl waited on the windowsill as he read:
Dear Mr P,
My apologies for frightening you the other day. Rest assured no harm will come to you from my quarter. To the contrary, I owe you something of a debt, and am inclined towards protecting you and yours, or (at the very least) ensuring that no harm comes to you. No doubt you have many questions about this world and your place in it, and in the spirit of perseverance I invite you to visit me (at any time you please). I shall enlighten you in whatever realms I can.
Your humble Friend,
Harry reread the letter several times before understanding what all of the words meant, and then transcribed the gist of the message to Tom. A clicking noise caught his attention while he was waiting for a reply, and he realized that the owl who had delivered the letter was still waiting at the open window.
"Shoo," he said to it, rather hoping that it wouldn't take offense and bite him. "Go on," he said when the owl gave him a flat, unamused stare, "I got your letter, you can leave now."
The owl shifted from one foot to the other and closed its eyes as if to sleep. Frowning, Harry returned his attention to the journal.
It sounds risky, Tom wrote. I don't trust him in the least. However, I still hold that Ollivander himself is intrinsically harmless. The only real threat he poses is his ability to reveal us, and that threat remains whether or not we pursue further contact with him.
A thought occurred to Harry, and he wrote it down: Would you want to talk to him if we went?
Yes, Tom wrote, but not like this. He has already seen my diary, but he does not know the full significance of it, and he never will. I'll speak to him through you if he attempts to confront me directly.
That didn't sound very pleasant. Harry would have expressed his displeasure at the thought, but Tom, as always, seemed to know exactly what he was thinking.
We really should go see him, Harry. Ollivander exists at the heart of wizarding Britain. He knows every witch and wizard raised in this country. He is in the unique position of dealing with people of every sort, those classified as light and those who identify as dark; the opportunity for us to gather information from someone like him may not come again.
Harry agreed with a slight nod and a sigh. He knew it was the right thing to do, but that didn't change the fact that he really didn't want to do it. So many adventures to be had in this new world, and he was beset with task after horrible task. Even though he knew that he couldn't delay anything by it, he flopped onto the bed face-first, curling his legs up for warmth.
Harry waited until the sun was well in the sky and the Leaky Cauldron was bustling with patrons before heading out. Not even the bartender noticed him in the crowd as he slipped into the backyard, and entered Diagon Alley. The journal, along with the letter written by Ollivander, was tucked in his robe, and his bangs were firmly covering his scar.
A bell rang somewhere in the back and, as when last he entered Ollivander's, the subtle fragrances of old paper and wood polish embraced him in a warm rush. There was no bustling or calling this time— instead Ollivander poked his head around the corner, squinted his eyes, and greeted them with a pleased smile.
"Well, I almost hadn't dared to hope that you would come."
And as before, the journal warmed, but this time the heat was bearable.
"And you brought your friend, good." The wand maker said, coming around the counter briskly.
For a moment Harry thought the man meant to apprehend him, and a sudden jolt of panic shot through him, but Ollivander merely flipped the "OPEN" sign to "CLOSED" and then headed through a door that lead deeper into the shop. A call came from the open door when Harry remained rooted in place.
"Well come on, lad, the tea will get cold."
Carefully making his way to the back Harry took in the seemingly ancient nature of the shop. There was a timeless quality to the wooden structure, the same sort that the Leaky Cauldron possessed, something to do with the heavy wooden beams overhead, or perhaps the worn quality of the walnut colored floorboards. Then again, it might have been the way that the light from outside shone through the grimy windows, illuminating patches here and there, and yet from outside it was impossible to see into the structure.
"I think you'll like this blend, it's a red tea imported from Africa, very mild and sweet." The wandmaker was sitting in a heavy armchair, pouring the tea into matching white mugs. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing to the davenport beside him.
Harry complied, sitting gingerly on the edge of his seat and accepting the tea when it was handed to him. Ollivander nodded to the sugar bowl and Harry, deciding to drink the tea for the sake of being polite, spooned one of the cubes in. He braced himself for the first sip, half expecting to fall over in convulsions.
Ollivander watched the boy, an indulgent smile curving his lips and alighting his moon like eyes when Harry braced himself, took a sip, and then seemed to open up all at once. Harry drained the cup empty, and, seeming to realize what he'd done, set it down and fidgeted.
The wandmaker chuckled and refilled the mug. "Drink up," he said, "tea is always better when shared with company."
"Thank you, sir." Harry said.
Ollivander nodded and served Harry a dish of steaming coffee cake. "Now, we've met already, but for formalities sake, my name is Garrick Ollivander, and I am the proprietor of Ollivander's Wand Shop here in Diagon Alley."
Harry swallowed before answering, "My name's Harry Potter. I'm seven."
Ollivander grasped the boy's hand between his own gnarly fingers and shook it gently. "Well met, Mr. Potter, well met. Now, would I be correct in assuming that the boy with you is named Tom Marvolo Riddle?"
Harry paused. Then the faintest of whispers came at his ear, almost too quietly for him to hear, "Yes."
"Yes," Harry replied. "How did you know?"
"I had a feeling..." the wandmaker said, "and my feelings are usually right."
Harry didn't understand. He figured that probably Ollivander had a very specific way of knowing, but chose not to explain. Secrecy, adults were always keeping secrets. But then, so was he. His magic was a secret, Tom and Balthamos were secrets... although none too well kept.
"You mistrust me," Ollivander said. "Understandable, entirely understandable my boy. After all, we are so very different, you and I, and why then would I etherize myself before you? Well, let me try."
The wandmaker paused to drink his tea, seeming to gather his thoughts. Then he looked directly at Harry, one gnarly finger held up to his pale eye. "These eyes do not see so well," he passed the finger before his eyes, but continued to stare straight ahead. "At least, not the world that you see. Magic, however, is highly palpable. Magic is in all things, animate and inanimate, even the things that we do not call magical. It flows, it pulses, it dances. It is, at times, quick and hot, and sometimes lethargic and cold. Each person has a unique sort of dance about them, a signature, if you will. The same way that each face is unique, each voice distinct, and with our highly developed abilities for recognition, we can remember even the slightest of differences between people, and identify them even after long periods of time.
"There are of course those signatures that stand out, that strike us as particularly beautiful, or particularly strange, and we remember them all the better. Yes, not much has changed in fifty years, Tom Riddle; still lighting up the room."
Harry could feel Tom's presence at his side, a robust warmth pressing against him in a protective manner. He longed to lean into it, but there wasn't enough substance for him to effectively manage such a thing. "So you can see magic everywhere? Does it look like normal stuff, just... brighter?"
"I can't say," Ollivander responded, "I have never been able to see "normal stuff," as you put it. But light... I suppose. When I was younger there was darkness, I didn't start to see things clearly until I was just a bit older than you are, now."
Harry found himself a bit startled when he realized that they were holding a conversation about the wandmaker, rather than himself. He'd been expecting an interrogation, not a pleasant chat about magic.
Ollivander smiled. "I can see in your energy that you are somewhat surprised, and... ah, taken off-guard. I suppose you thought I wasn't going to be so polite? Tie you up? Take you to the aurors, perhaps?"
Harry frowned, "Aurors?"
"Ministry hounds, and self proclaimed keeper's of the peace, although they have always very diplomatically avoided anything that would do this country any real good."
"You mean like wizard police?" Harry asked.
"Indeed, although I haven't heard that term used in decades," Ollivander mused, "not since my mother was alive. She was a muggleborn, and she called them that."
Ollivander clarified when Harry didn't seem to understand, and went on to explain the class system of the wizarding world, glossing over some of the deeper subtleties, but sparing no detail for its grimness.
"Being pureblood, does it really make a difference then?" Harry asked.
"It can," Ollivanded said carefully, "in that a pureblood is raised in this world, and taught magic from an early age, whereas muggleborns experience a form of culture shock for awhile. And in that money and name mean a lot to wizards. Without the gold or the family behind them, muggleborns must rely on magical merit alone. As for the potency of a person's magic, no one can tell you more truthfully that blood status no longer makes a difference.
"Long ago it meant something. To have powerful magical blood, but the blood lines have become so diluted and mixed that, these days, there is little difference from one wizard, or witch, to the next. In fact, many of the more powerful people I've served in recent years have been halfblood or less."
Tom seemed to bristle at this, and Harry instinctively spread his hand against the seat beside him, where Tom would be sitting if he had a body. Ollivander watched this happen, his eyes squinting again as though to zero in on the spot.
"Is it a lost cause," the wandmaker asked, "to inquire how the two of you met?"
"Tell him nothing," Tom hissed.
"But—" Harry was cut off by a mounting sense of unease, and he glanced quickly towards Mr. Ollivander.
The wandmaker was staring intently at him, a keen interest swirling like storm clouds in his eyes. "Fascinating," he said, "you can communicate so effectively, it is almost as if..."
Harry did not know what Ollivander was about to say, but feared that it would displease Tom, and so interrupted the man.
"Sir, in your letter you wrote that you owed me some kind of debt. What did you mean by that?"
If the wandmaker was offended by the sudden change of topic, he showed no sign of it. Rather, he sipped his tea and gathered his thoughts before replying. "Your parents were very brave people."
Something tightened in Harry's gut, and he realized that it was the same feeling of sudden hope, fear, and a wretched disbelief that had assaulted him when he read his parents names in the books from Flourish & Blotts, and when he'd first met Ollivander and the man had told him about James and Lily.
"And bitterly devoted to the protection of others, the both of them. It wasn't until you were born that they went into hiding. Before you came along they were right in the thick of it."
Right in the thick of it.
Tom saying: If anything your parents are at fault, the frontlines of a warzone are no place to have a child. The way it sounds, they were right in the thick of whatever conflict was going on...
So it was really true.
"There was a period of time, when things were going particularly poorly— when attacks were common and frequent— and rioting broke out in the Alley. Your parents happened to be here on one of these occasions, and they fought outside the front of this shop. They held their position here, fighting off the Dark Lord's forces. If they hadn't been here, defending against the Death Eaters, I'd likely have been put out of business."
Tom's presence seemed to curl and stretch at Harry's side, and the boy, despite the vague horror that Ollivander's words provoked, found himself burning with curiosity.
The term 'Death Eater' rang in his ears, simultaneously beautiful and horrid, and he longed to say it aloud, wished to ask the wandmaker what it meant, but couldn't bring himself to utter the words. Even in his head they seemed wrong, like a curse.
"How is it, Harry Potter, that no one has told you these things?" Ollivander said, and the look of genuine concern on his face, the deep furrow of his brow sent a sudden warning to the boy with the messy hair and dirty glasses.
Harry swallowed and looked down. His tea should have gone cold by now, but hadn't. The cup was still pleasantly warm, the tea still steaming and giving off a sweet aroma. There came a sudden pressure at his arm, the squeezing of a hand, distinct with the sharp press of fingers and nails, and yet there was no hand.
"I think I should go." he said, glancing out the window. It had begun to rain at some point, and the cloud coverage made it seem later than it actually was.
"If you must," Ollivander said, a sad but understanding furrow to his brow, "although, there was something I wanted to give you first." Having said that, the old man rose to his feet, gesturing for the boy to follow.
For a moment Harry thought that he meant a wand, and his mind raced with the possibilities— but Ollivander proceeded deeper into the shop, away from the front where the wands in boxes were kept. Harry followed him cautiously through a door and down a hall, surprised to find that the store turned into a very cozy house. He was standing in a low-ceilinged kitchen that was clean, if a little cluttered, and sorely in need of modernization.
The wandmaker gestured for him to have a seat at a small, rough-hewn wooden table before proceeding to dig through the cupboards.
As Harry sat he contemplated how horrified his aunt would be by the space. There were absolutely no electric appliances. Dried things hung from the ceiling, the pots and pans were giant, black, and heavy looking, and from what he could glimpse, it appeared as though the perishables, meats and vegetables included, were stored in the cupboards.
"Ah— here we are," the old man said, pulling down a bundle of cheesecloth. He set it on the table and gingerly unwrapped the whitish fabric to reveal a round tin.
Harry leaned forward, not realizing that he did so, curious about the relatively unassuming object.
Ollivander deftly pried the tin open, set the two pieces down, and removed something wrapped up in a handkerchief. "This," he said, revealing a smooth, gray stone, "is a looking stone."
The oval stone had a small hole near the top, and the old man peered through the hole, to the boy, before handing it over fondly.
"This stone came to me many years ago, when I was first learning to see, and it helped me to tell my visions from reality. I think you might have more use of it now."
Harry took the stone, holding it as though it were made of glass. It felt heavy and warm in his hand. He glanced up at Ollivander, silently asking permission, and Ollivander made a 'go on' gesture with his head.
Carefully, Harry raised the stone to his eye, peering through the tiny hole.
He looked at the cupboards, the counters, the floor. He looked at the wooden furniture and, finally, at Ollivander. The wandmaker was smiling indulgently.
Nothing was out of the ordinary, and Harry wondered if he was doing it wrong or if the stone simply didn't work for him.
"The looking stone reveals the true nature of things. Through it you can see the world, free of illusions. My kitchen and I should appear perfectly ordinary— there is nothing hidden here."
Harry lowered the stone from his eye, the possibilities rushing through his mind. He wondered what he might see outside of the wandmaker's shop. "Thank you," he said, his tone earnest. But if Ollivander said, 'you're welcome,' he did not hear. "Thank you," he said again, marveling at the deep sense of gratitude welling inside of him, filling his chest and spilling up into his throat and mouth.
Harry realized he had never said the words before and meant them. Up to this point in his life, every 'thank you' had been said grudgingly. Thank yous had been nearly punishments. Unbearable "pleasantries" he'd been forced to partake in by his Aunt. 'Thank you' was a phrase to ground out in lieu of an angry outburst, or to be muttered quietly, because it had to be said, and to say it loudly with confidence would be a lie, and one of the first lessons he'd been taught was Do Not Lie. Lies are punishable by days in the dark.
His lips trembled and his eyes felt hot. He reached up with the sleeve of his robe to cover them. And he wanted to say 'thank you' again, but was already afraid and embarrassed by his outburst. It wasn't normal to cry when given a gift.
A warm hand settled on his shoulder and, for brief second, he leaned into it. When the reassuring weight did not lift, Harry realized that it wasn't Tom's hand, but the hand of Ollivander, and he immediately ducked out from under it.
'Thank you,' still lingered just against his teeth, but what came bursting out was, "Sorry. Sorry."
"Mr. Potter?" Ollivander said.
Harry glanced up at him through the fringe of his bangs, not trusting himself to answer.
Briefly, horribly, Harry thought that Ollivander did understand. But, then, he realized that that was simply impossible. The old wandmaker couldn't know what he was feeling, what he had gone through. Even with his eerie level of perception, he couldn't know. And so Harry felt a strange mixture of sadness and relief; sadness that Ollivander— that no one, save Tom, understood— and relief that he was spared the embarrassment of someone else knowing.
"I should go now," he said, turning to leave.
Ollivander followed him to the front of the store and bid him farewell. "I do look forward to seeing you again, young Mr. Potter."
Not sure of what else to say, Harry replied, "Thank you, sir."
Out in the street Harry did not use the stone. He longed to, and yet a fear that the looking stone might get lost, or be taken from him, kept the stone in his pocket. He held his hand over it. It was warm and smooth in a way that reminded him of Balthamos, and he wondered what his friend was up to.
Chapter fourteen is in the works and should be posted soon.
Chapter 14: Return to Privet Drive
All up to date as of August 15, 2012
The sun rose on the last day of Harry's stay at the Inn, cutting through the grimy curtains and warming his face. He opened his eyes and counted the days. Sunday. Already the week had passed, and tomorrow his suspension would be up. Today he would return to the Dursleys, and suffer whatever punishment they had in mind for him. Thinking of it made Harry feel nauseous— he'd avoided thinking of his imminent return until the last day, allowing himself to be happy and free of worry. Now he rolled over onto his side and gave a low groan, pulling the thin sheet up to cover his eyes.
He blinked, certain he had heard Tom's voice. And, sure enough, there was the vaguest sense of pressure on the bed beside him, as of someone sitting there very lightly. Harry peeked out from under the sheet and grinned widely to find that his friend was indeed with him.
"Is this a dream?" He asked.
"No," Tom said patiently, indulgently, a small smile curling the edge of his lip.
Harry reached out a hand, fingers hovering just before the nearly solid apparition of Tom Riddle. How dearly he wanted to touch and to be held again, now more than ever.
Tom inclined his head, just barely, and Harry closed the gap between his enquiring fingers and Tom's arm. And they went right through, as though he had broken a cobweb, the minute resistence practically imagined.
Tom's smile grew wider and he explained, "I can be here longer, like this, than if I were solid."
They sat there in the sunlight for some minutes more, Tom waiting for Harry to reinitiate the conversation, and Harry waiting for something good to say. There were, of course, so many things he wanted to ask, even still, and some of them he didn't understand. There were confused and hurt and difficult things all tangled up in his head, about his parents, and the Dursleys, and Ollivander, and Tom. These things were mere shadows, however, in comparison to the bright happiness he felt simply being in Tom's presence.
"Will you be like this when I go back to the Dursleys?" He asked at last.
Tom's smile faded. "Perhaps, every once in awhile, at night. It will be harder to see me though."
"Harry," Tom said, not smiling at all, "when you go back, you'll have to be more careful than ever, to hide my diary. Something like what happened to Balthamos can't possibly happen to me. He is just a snake; I am a human soul. Despite the fact that I am infinitely more powerful than your idiot muggle gaurdians, they could destroy me in the form I take now."
Harry looked away, biting his lip as he did so. "Actually, I was kind of hoping that you would..." protect me from them, he thought, but couldn't say. He didn't even know precisely what he wanted Tom to do.
"Harry," Tom said, so that Harry did look him in the eye, "I need you to protect me. At any cost. I love you and care for you— I brought you here, didn't I? I told you the truth when everyone, Dumbledore, your family, everyone else, has lied to you. And one day I will return, and avenge you for every slight injustice you have ever been made to suffer. But right now I need you to do everything in your power to protect me."
Harry nodded, torn between disappointent and fierce pride. "I will," he said firmly, "I will protect you, especially from them."
"Good," Tom said, the little smile realighting on his face. "And in the meanwhile I can still give you advice on how to deal with your relatives. We'll return tonight— the latest we can, and hopefully you'll only have to talk to them in the morning before you leave for school. They won't dare do anything to you then..."
Harry spent his last day in the alley saying goodbye to all of the people he'd met; Eeylop and his owls, Tom the bartender and his wife (whom technically Harry hadn't met, but she came out of the kitchen and gave him a stifling iron grip hug and insisted on packing him a lunch), the goblin in charge of his accounts, and Ollivander ("Good luck, Mr. Potter," he'd said). Harry spoke with the wandmaker only briefly, and was reminded that he had yet to use to Looking Stone properly.
So, while he was packing the few garments of clothing and books he'd aquired into his bag, he fetched the stone from the pocket of yesterday's robe, held it to his eye, and was, once more, disappointed. Everything looked exactly the same. No secrets revealed, no illusions broken.
He held the stone in his palm, examining it from all angles, then tucked it into a sock at the bottom of his bag. Tom Riddle's diary was tucked in next to it, and Balthamos wrapped around Harry's arm. The snake was not as little as it had been at the begining of their journey, Harry realized with interest.
"Balthamos, you've gotten bigger." He said.
"Have I?" The snake responded.
"Yes," said Harry, and then, "you won't have to eat mice all the time now, will you?"
"I don't think so," said the little snake.
"Did you have any fun adventures while we were here?"
"Adventures?" asked Balthamos.
"Y'know, did anything interesting happen to you?"
"Interesting... well..." the snake's expressionless little face seemed to be pondering very deeply before it replied, "There were many people here, and the ones who caught sight of me all seemed very frightened. Not like you. They smelled like fear... and I cleared out many mouse holes. And I thought I saw some mice wearing clothes, like you humans do. They also smelled like fear."
"I think most people are afraid of snakes."
"But I have no poison," Balthmaos said.
"Maybe they don't know that," Harry reasoned, but in truth he simply wasn't sure how to explain the many irrational fears that people held. "I just wish my relatives were more afraid of you."
"Do we have to go back?" For the first time the little snake's voice sounded very full of emotion. "I did not like it there..."
"We have to go back," Harry said sadly, "I hate it there too."
"But why?" Balthamos asked.
"Because," said Harry, "because... we just have to. Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do, in order to survive. That's just the way it is."
The ride back was long and quiet. Tom told him which cars were safe to ride in, and Harry ended up at the end of Wisteria Walk around midnight, tired and disoriented and terribly apprehensive. The front door was locked, and he knocked very quietly. A part of him hoped that no one would come to the door, despite knowing that he had to be let in. Then the notion occured to him that perhaps the Dursleys would never let him back in, and he would be an orphan on the streets, and have to beg for food. He wrung the edge of his robe in his hands.
A light flicked on in the front room and in seconds there came the sound of the lock turning. Then the door was wrenched open and Aunt Petunia stood for a moment looking anxious and angry and a little constipated in her nightclothes.
Neither of them said anything. Then his aunt stepped aside, stifly gesturing with her neck that he step inside, with a 'before the neighbors see you' look on her face.
Harry was almost to his cupboard, the familiar little door making him feel simultaneously releaved and dreadful, when the sound of Uncle Vernon's heavy tread came from above. Harry looked to his aunt and she met his frightened stare with a tense look of her own. The air seemed suddenly heavy and charged, the way it felt just before a fight.
Vernon came slowly down the stairs, using the banister for support, grumbling and breathing loudly. He stopped at the bottom to catch his breath, and gradually found Harry with his beady, sleepy eyes. There was a stripey redness to his complexion that usually only appeared when he was experiencing high levels of stress at work.
"Well," said Vernon. "Well." And then he glared at Harry with all of his might, as though he were looking at something disgusting that had just broken into his house, or perhaps been found growing under the sink. He was flexing his hands again and again, as though he did not know he was doing it. "So you've come crawling back."
"Vernon—" Petunia hissed, "not so loud, you'll wake Dudley." She glanced nervously up at the ceiling.
Vernon breathed very audibly through his nose before saying between his teeth, "Sitting room. Now."
Harry walked ahead of them, the hairs on his neck standing up as he walked past his uncle, but he made it all the way to the loveseat and sat carefully on its edge. His aunt hurried to close the curtains, while his uncle sat heavily on the sofa, leaning forward with his sausage like hands on his knees.
Petunia stood in front of the window and there was a moment of silence before Vernon said in an explosive hiss, "Do you have any idea what you've put us though? The stress? Well? Do you?"
Harry sat very still, looking at the ground, and felt his face heating up, despite his relative innocence.
"Boy— look at me when I'm talking to you—" Harry looked up, "Well, do you?"
"...No," said Harry.
"Hah," said Vernon, and Petunia covered her mouth and shook her head.
"We've done everything for you— put a roof over your head when we didn't have to, mind you! Fed you, clothed you, put you through school! When God knows your own parents wouldn't have done as much—"
"Vernon!" Petunia warned hastily, as though she did not want him to say whatever he meant to say next.
Vernon Dursley took a deep breath and then continued in a lower tone. "Would you rather be living on the streets?"
Harry shook his head.
"Well then, why do you continuously act out? How many times has your school called me, to tell me that you have caused... some sort of problem? And how many times have I driven there, or has Petunia stopped in the middle of making dinner to come pick you up? Well? And everything you do, every drop of water you consume, every scrap of food, is paid for out of my pocket!
"And now, now we have to worry about whether or not you're out gallavanting about, stealing from people and—"
"I haven't stolen from anyone!"
"HAVEN'T YOU?" Vernon bellowed.
Petunia was making desperate shushing noises at her husband, but neither Vernon nor Harry paid her any attention.
"No, I haven't!" Harry shouted.
"Then what have you been eating for the past week? We didn't give you those clothes, WHO DID YOU STEAL THEM FROM?"
Petunia shot a very nervous glance towards Harry, and then moved to the stairs, from the top of which a sleepy Dudley was observing the scene below. "Wussgoing on?"
"Nothing Diddykins," Petunia said, "let's go back to bed, all right?"
"When did Harry come back?"
"Just now, dear, and your father is dealing with him."
"WELL?" Vernon demanded, still glaring furiously at Harry.
"I... they... someone gave these to me," Harry said, wondering why it hadn't occurred to him to wear his old clothes back. How was he going to explain that he had bought the new ones with gold from a magical shop that his invisible friend had led him to?
"A liar and a thief! And a wasteful brat!" Vernon scoffed. He stood up and a bolt of panic shot through Harry, but Vernon merely paced and gestured angrily.
"How can we trust that you won't run off at any time, eh? Will we have to tell your teachers to keep an eye on you? Or perhaps we'll actually have to send you to St. Brutus's? Is that what we'll have to do? WELL?"
"No." Harry said, because what else could he say?
"That's where boy's like you get sent, though. They don't get kept amongst honest people."
"I'm not a..." liar, but he was, wasn't he? "...thief." He replied weakly.
"You might as well be!" Vernon said, "You take and take from us and give nothing in return. Not a thank you or consideration for us! And the legal trouble we could be in for keeping you!"
Petunia came back down and was looking more anxious than ever, staring at Harry's new clothes with something like resigned grief.
"One more toe out of line— One more! And that's it. This is your last chance to shape up, or we'll enroll you in correctional facilities." Vernon finished with a hefty expulsion of air, deflating into the sofa and massaging his eyes with one meaty hand.
Petunia stood watching him, and when a minute of silence passed she jerked her head at Harry. "Cupboard, now. And don't think for a second that being up this late will excuse you from going to school. And you'll have triple chores for the month—"
"—Six months." Vernon corrected her.
"Six months," Petunia amended with a sniff, "and dispose of those horrible clothes. I'll make sure you do, tomorrow." And then she locked him in.
The cupboard was eerily dark after sleeping for so long at the Inn, where candlelight, lamplight, and streetlight shone in through every crack. A new nest of spiders had settled in, and Harry made sure to sweep them off of his cot and blanket before lying down. He didn't dare turn on the light.
Balthamos flicked his tongue against Harry's wrist, in what appeared to be a concerned manner. A floorboard above creaked, and the familiar smells of number four, Privet Drive lulled Harry into an uncomfortable sleep.
School practically became a retreat. Dudley's cronies were just as eager to single Harry out as ever, but Dudley himself seemed apprehensive— likely because his parents were giving Harry a wide berth. In the mornings and afternoons Harry did his chores, quickly and efficiently, before being locked back up beneath the stairs. His aunt and uncle glared openly at him whenever he entered a room, and left the more difficult responsibilities that had before fallen unto them to their nephew.
As a result, Harry fell into his cot each evening, exhausted and aching. He didn't have the strength to cause any troubles, even if he wanted to. And while he was at school he carefully gaurded his person, using the downtime to rest. The faculty members were starting to watch him, as though he were hiding something from them. Likely, Harry thought, his uncle had called the school and told them to keep an eye on him.
No one spoke to him. He wasn't called on in class, and he didn't volunteer answers. He ate lunch at an abandoned table in the back of the cafeteria and spent his recess hour in the library, reading or pretending to read, sometimes whispering quietly to Balthamos if the snake was with him.
And day by day, Harry grew tired and sad, because he had almost gotten used to being looked at in the eye, and spoken kindly to, in Diagon Alley. Now that he was back in his normal life he felt the sting of his difference more than ever. Whereas before he had accepted that he was not like his peers, now he knew what it was like to be normal.
To go unnoticed, but to be accepted. To walk amongst people and be one of them. To be smiled at.
At night Tom sat on the edge of Harry's cot and ran ghostly fingers through his hair, reddish brown eyes glowing in the dim light.
"Why me?" Harry asked, sitting before the fire and tugging at the fibers of the carpet beneath him. "What is it about me that makes me so... different?"
Tom was lounging on one of the squashy sofas, writing on a scroll of parchment. "It's your blood," he said, without looking up from the scroll. "Somewhere deep inside of them they sense their own inferiority to you, and they do the only thing they can, which is to hurt you."
Harry frowned. He didn't think the Dursleys were inferior to him. To the contrary, they had always treated him so poorly, while treating each other with such love and care, that Harry couldn't imagine placing himself above them.
The scratching of Tom's quill stopped and he turned his head, just slightly, to look at Harry. There was a very serious expression on his face. "Muggles have always been that way, Harry. They've burned witches and wizards for as long as they've been in command of fire. Why else would they kill us, rather than learn from us, but out of fear?"
"I don't know..." Harry said, trying to come up with some other reason.
"What I want to know," Tom said, "is why you are so set upon defending them. If the laws still permitted it I've no doubt they would burn you. I can see it in your uncle, ever time he's near you. Oh the things he would do if the laws still permitted it. And your aunt is no better. But it isn't fear that inspires her loathing; no. With her, it is jealousy."
Harry didn't understand. And yet, he did. After all, how many times had jealousy for Dudley filled him with rage? How well he knew the sensation of anger inspired by wanting the things that others possessed. So it made sense, that they would be angry at him, that they would hate him for having something that they wanted. But then Harry thought that the Dursleys couldn't really want magic. They seemed much too ordinary for such a thing. They would have been very offended indeed if they could have seen half of the people and things in Diagon Alley. So maybe he didn't understand...
"But I'm not really better than them," Harry started, not entirely sure how he would finish such a statement.
"Oh, but you are." Tom said, sitting up fully and gesturing for Harry to come closer.
Harry sat down next to the older boy, heart and arms and feet heavy. Tom took his chin in hand and looked into his eyes, as though searching specifically for the bits of Harry that were better. Harry held his gaze, hoping that Tom would find them, whatever they were.
"We have always been their betters, and they know it. The same way that a beast fears a man in the woods, that a slave fears his master in the home; muggles cringe away from the very mention of us. And we would be the superior race if they didn't outweigh us a million to one. Under different circumstances they could very well be extinct. And so our shared history is littered with their crimes against us, but you do not hear of wizards killing muggles. You do not hear of the oppressed slaying the oppressors en masse."
Tom's gaze burned fiercely, he had yet to drop his hand from Harry's chin or look away. And Harry sat, transfixed, horrified that once again talk of the Dursleys had lead to talk of killing, of murder.
Tom dropped his eyes and rubbed his thumb contemplatively across Harry's cheek. "You are so innocent," he said, softly, "I'm sure I was never such a way at your age. Come here."
Harry quickly moved closer to the older boy, wrapping his arms around Tom's lean waist and burrying his head in Tom's neck.
If the older boy hesitated to receive the embrace, it was only for a fraction of a second, and Harry didn't notice. "You have to make yourself cold to them," Tom said, rubbing a hand languidly up and down Harry's back. "You have to take the things they say and do to you and release them, let their slights against you fall away like rain against a window. And all the while you sit on the other side, watching them fall ineffectually before you. You must be calm, and wait. Our time will come."
So that's me, all caught up. Updates will be sporadic (as usual) from here on out, but I want to once again assure everyone that I fully intend to finish this story. At this rate it'll take several years, but it will be done. I think the story is about a fifth of the way through, maybe less... so obviously I decided for my first real fanfic I was just going to go all out xD
Also, if anyone missed it, I posted a story called "Somnolence" that is mostly finished (I couldn't help myself, and I was starting to get frustrated, so it's a sort of indulgent, letting off steam kind of fic).
Thank you so much to everyone who's been following this story for ages! I would never have been able to come this far if it weren't for all the interest that this story has received! You can repay me for this magnificent fic by writing some of your own! the HP/TR fandom is still abysmally small. Actually, please send me recs! I need them! Tom Riddle stories, and ones about Snape too.
Chapter 15: Lessons
fanart by the lovely Hikari: http://merdesmiroirs.tumblr.com/post/34038112587
Over the next few weeks Harry found himself exhausted. He did nearly all of the upkeep around the house, including the more labor intensive yard work that had before fallen to his uncle. He was fed scraps between his tasks and then banished back to the cupboard at the end of the day.
His relatives had taken the robes and books that he'd purchased in the alley and disposed of them, although they'd not noticed the Looking Stone, hidden inside the lining of his thin cot. And Harry must have grown while he was gone, or else he'd simply not noticed before, because his toes now reached the end of the bed. Laying on his side in the night, he contemplated how the little bed and the cupboard itself seemed to shrink each year.
Harry was so overburdened that he'd fallen asleep in class on three separate occasions. Thinking about it, he brought his arms up around his head and pulled the pillow closer, shrinking in on himself.
He'd paid another visit to the school counselor, Mr. Silvern, at the request of his teacher. The man had questioned him for nearly an hour about his eating and sleeping habits, as well as his "budding interests in extracurricular activities," as though he were supposed to have such a thing. It hadn't occurred to Harry to tell about his newfound interest in magic, or the hours that he spent talking to Tom about astrology or arithmetic, or his more recent interest in owl keeping.
The encounter left Harry feeling rather paranoid, as the amount of lying he'd had to do was astronomical. And while he was proud that he could lie effectively when necessary, he nevertheless resented being forced to lie at all. He watched his feet in the halls, dreadful of meeting the stares of any one of the faculty members. They seemed to keep their own silent tabs on him, and he suspected that the counselor was telling them things that weren't true.
More than their suspicious stares, though, Harry was worried about the threat that his uncle Vernon had made on the night that Harry had returned. The only fate he could imagine that was worse than continuing on in his current school was being sent away to a special school for violent and criminal boys. Harry imagined a very strict institution, where all of his personal possessions would be taken away, including the journal, and where pets wouldn't be allowed, and where he would be surrounded by bullies, instead of just having to deal with Dudley's gang.
As a result, Harry kept his head down as much as possible. He struggled long into each night to complete his school work, and didn't complain when Dudley called him names. Some part of him wanted the Dursleys to acknowledge how well he was behaving, but Harry knew that it was a lost cause. The only time they'd ever noticed his behavior was when it bothered them, or else Dudley was trying to get him into trouble.
As for his cousin, the pig like boy had, as of late, been giving Harry a wide berth. Dudley glared suspiciously at him when their eyes met, but didn't start any fights. Harry was glad for it, although he didn't expect the armistice to last very long; he'd likely given his cousin a fright when he'd disappeared, only to reappear on the school roof. Not only that, but neither of them knew anyone who'd actually run away on their own terms before, and the fact that Harry had simply left and returned after a week had sparked a tiny flame of respect in Dudley's watery little eyes.
The only reprieve Harry had from the grueling hours of school and housework was in his dreams. He'd visited Tom a few times since his return, but had been so tired that the older boy had insisted that he sleep instead.
"Dreaming is an integral part of remaining healthy and strong," Tom had said, "and too much sleep deprivation can lead to illness."
When Harry asked why dreams were so important, Tom had stroked his fingers through the boys hair, coaxing his eyes to close, and then talked about dreams and memory, and their connection to the brain. He talked until Harry slept, and it was that memory that the boy clung to as he served the Dursleys and as he sat in his classroom each day, surrounded by people who disliked him.
Several weeks passed in this fashion, and Harry grew used to the horrible routine. He used the unlocking spell at night to sneak into the kitchen and eat the foods that no one would miss, and he hid some of them in his cot for times of emergency.
The end of the school year was drawing near, and the weather reflected it on the days when it wasn't pouring rain. Harry had never cared before, but now he appreciated the rain, as there were no cats to be seen about the neighborhood. He had little to reflect upon during the long hours of chores and yard work that he performed other than his conversations with Tom and his experiences in the alley.
The Dursleys hadn't yet sent him to stay with Mrs. Figg, and Harry was sorely dreading the next time it would happen. He didn't know who this Dumbledore person was, but he sounded frightening (despite his silly name), and to know that this strange and potentially dangerous wizard had been spying on him since he was an infant made Harry feel very uneasy. His mind conjured up images of an evil villain, tall and skeletal, with a pointed hat, a long, sharp wand, and glowing red eyes. He wondered what sorts of evil magic Dumbledore had at his disposal.
This worry plagued him every time he looked down the street, or thought that his relatives might be going away. He wondered if he could convince them that he was old enough to watch after himself. The thought gave him no hope, though; after the events of the last few months, Harry doubted they'd ever let him go completely unsupervised again.
Tom listened patiently to these thoughts, and when Harry visited him in the night the older boy did his best to put Harry at ease.
"You want to be alert around the muggles, of course, but don't worry too much about Dumbledore." Tom said.
It was the second time Tom had used the odd word, and Harry couldn't decide if he liked it or not. In a way it brought him comfort because it separated him further from his relatives, but was it worth it to hear the tone of disgust in Tom's voice?
"The old man isn't anything like what you're imagining. Well, perhaps he is, on the inside, but to those he favors he adopts a disgustingly benign facade, enhanced by his ridiculous choice of wardrobe." Tom said, idly inspecting his nails while Harry sat nearby, filling in a chart of the night sky.
"He knew from the beginning that I saw through him, and as a result he treated me differently. Coldly and with suspicion- likely not many people ever saw through him, let alone an eleven year old boy. I watched him don mawkish smiles and mannerisms, performing for those around him, using little tricks of flattery and indulgence to gain their trust and affection. Unfortunately, that's what makes him so powerful. Dumbledore is a very talented wizard- likely a genius, but instead of devoting his energies to study or practice as any self respecting wizard would, he networks."
Harry listened quietly. Tom often gave such diatribes, he was actually a very good teacher, however he usually spoke calmly, and on more mundane subjects. He very rarely spoke with the inflamed passion that he was currently exuding. And while Harry felt somewhat inclined to shrink away from the anger in Tom's voice, he was simultaneously drawn in. Tom's eyes glinted in the firelight, wide and earnest, his elegant hands gesturing as he spoke, occasionally to brush a stray lock of hair from his face.
"He could have been running for minister for magic, or publishing tomes on his research, or even working as an Unspeakable, but instead he accepted a measly position as a professor, teaching students who would never fully grasp nor understand the magnitude of his accomplishments in Transfiguration. It didn't make sense to me at first, but I gradually came to understand what motivated him to occupy such a low post: he had the opportunity to learn about every witch and wizard who would later become the leaders of our society.
"As my peers sat around me, thinking of their deepest fears and desires, he stood at the front of the class, dipping into their minds and skillfully stealing their secrets. He manipulated them, picked those amongst them that were the most inclined towards his beliefs, and favored them above the rest, setting a standard for his good graces.
"I've no doubt that many prominent men in the ministry of today are former students of his, secretly bound to him by loyalty rooted in fondness. What they don't know is that it's all a ploy with him. The old man doesn't actually care for any of them, despite what he would have them believe." Tom finished with a sneer.
Harry watched the older boy's face very closely, delighted to have the opportunity to observe every little twitch and grimace, every time his eyes lit up or his teeth flashed, lips stretching and contracting. Tom Riddle spoke with an earnestness infused in his face, as though he meant to very thoroughly convince his audience.
"Have you finished filling that out?" Tom asked, referring to the chart in Harry's lap.
"Oh- yes," Harry said, filling in the last of the blanks.
"Fantastic, then we'll move on to poisonous plants." Tom moved across the room, completely on a new track, to pull several books off of the wall. He set them before Harry along with a new scroll of parchment and more ink.
Tom always provided Harry with the necessary materials for whatever lesson he was teaching. This usually meant books and parchment, but Tom had on a few occasions summoned diagrams, models, and even a few very convincing replicas of the creatures or objects he was teaching about.
Harry had always accepted the process as belonging to the dreamspace, it made a certain sort of sense, after all. For a moment, though, he held the little jar of black ink in his hand, watching the thick dark liquid roll around. He wondered what would happen if he poured it across his lap, or over the carpet. Surely Tom would simply banish the ink or send it back into the jar. And would Tom be mad? Would he care if the mess was easily remedied? Or would he be upset that Harry had so rudely wasted an object that Tom himself had brought into existence? And did the ink actually even exist for that matter?
Tom had never really punished him for anything. Not like the Dursleys, who punished him constantly for things that he often didn't even do, or like Harry's teachers, who punished him for being different, in their own well meaning ways, or even the children that Harry had grown up around, who shunned and tormented him for things that he couldn't control. Perhaps this is what it actually meant to have a friend.
Harry was brought back to reality by a sharp tap on the top of his head. Standing before him with a quizzical expression, Tom asked, "What is going on in that pretty little skull of yours?"
"N- nothing," Harry stammered, feeling his face heat up, although for what reason he wasn't entirely certain.
"Nothing? Really? So it was the contemplation of nothing that had you so lost in thought that you didn't hear me call your name twice?"
Harry looked away. He hadn't meant to lie, but he'd been taken out of his thoughts so suddenly...
"Now I'm curious, you have to tell me." Tom said, his tone very patient. It seemed that he would get the answer no matter what, and this implied persistency reminded Harry of his original thought of upsetting Tom, just to see what would happen.
"Well, I was thinking..." Harry said, scrambling to put his thoughts into some semblance of spoken order, "I was thinking about how, how you're my friend, because," you've never punished me sounded silly, even to Harry, and he blanched inwardly, trying to find better words, "you... you've, you know, you understand me. You know that I'm not... not like how everyone thinks I am." He finished, his voice trailing off into nothing. Somehow Harry had never really contemplated the subject before. Sure, he'd been frustrated, and angry, and lonely, but somehow he'd never really put words to his experiences with his peers and the adults in his life. Doing so for the first time made him realize just how sad and pathetic it really was.
Harry could feel his words hanging in the air between himself and Tom, who had yet to respond. He desperately wanted to know how Tom was reacting to the confession- some deep and dark part of Harry was resigned to the notion that he'd just inadvertently convinced his only real friend that he was worthless. Hoping and pretending to know that that wasn't true, Harry chanced peeking up through the fringe of his bangs.
Tom sat still, quietly composed, with a curious tilt to his head and a glimmer in his eyes. At length he quirked his lips and said, "That's a very interesting sentiment, Harry."
The boy exhaled a great gust of breath. "Well... it's true." He said.
"Naturally," Tom replied, "even when you do lie, you tend to be so bad at it that you inadvertently give away the truth."
"Only around you," Harry mumbled, somehow feeling as though he had to defend his ability to lie.
"Is that so?" Tom asked, and then said, "So should I take that to mean that you're always too flustered while in my presence to lie properly?"
"No! I mean, I don't really lie at all, only to grown-ups, when I have to. I never mean to lie to you, Tom. Never."
"Good," Tom said, a self satisfied smirk blossoming across his mouth, almost more of a smile than anything.
Harry wondered at that— and at the feeling of joy that welled up in his chest at the notion that he had said or done something to inspire his friend to actually smile. He wanted to tell Tom how happy it made him, but it seemed an odd thing to do.
"Back to the matter at hand," Tom said, moving on and the moment lost. His dark bangs obscuring his eyes as he leaned forward, adjusting the parchment and setting a particular book before Harry.
It was an old and moldy tome, with half faded gilt lettering on the cover that read RARE and COMMON Poisonous Plants and their Preservation.
"This is a good one to start with, there are fairly detailed illustrations- I trust you remember enough about the basic structure of plants to take adequate notes?"
"Yes," Harry said, recalling lessons he'd had with Tom on plant anatomy. "But why poisonous plants?"
"Because they're the ones that can accidently get you killed," Tom said, scratching something down on his own sheaf of parchment. "And I'll not have you making such an easily avoidable mistake. In both Potions and Herbology you'll have to handle a variety of dangerous flora and it is simply best to be well equipped. Besides, this is valuable general knowledge to possess."
Harry frowned. "Well, it can't be that dangerous, if I'm learning it in school-"
"Hogwarts... does not adhere to the strict safety codes that muggle schools do. And it is not at all uncommon for students to be grievously injured. There was an actual death when I attended. And to say nothing of Quidditch."
"Quidditch?" Harry asked, the funny word rolling off of his tongue in a pleasant manner.
Tom glared, his lips drawn into a long pale line, signaling the end of that line of discussion. "As I was saying, being able to identify poisonous plants is a valuable skill, not only in the academic world but in real world situations. We'll start with commonly used plants and species native to the United Kingdom. I'll be teaching you not only how to identify these plants but how to handle them safely, particularly for use in potions..."
The next spell that Tom taught to Harry was Silencio. This spell was much more difficult than the simple locking and unlocking spells that Harry had learned, and very different from the stinging hex, which he had yet to use.
"This is because Silencio is continually affecting different elements- Alohamora affects the lock, and is done. Silencio affects the person or object it is cast upon, then continues to affect the target, as well as the environment that the target moves through. The spell can only hold for as long as the caster is channeling magic into it; if your concentration breaks, then sound will slip out. And of course, when you become more practiced in magic you will be able to cast a Silencio powerful enough to hold without being attended to. For now it is a good spell to practice, as it demonstrates for us your limits- and continued practice with this spell will push your limits and allow us to track your progress."
Harry huffed, sitting down on the edge of his cot. It was the middle of the night and he was tired, and had not yet been able to successfully cast the silencing charm. "It's too hard, Tom. I can't do it."
"Of course you can," Tom said promptly, "now try again."
Harry had been practicing for hours, and his hands where hot and sweating. Tom said that this was because the magic in his body built up there, trying to get out, and that that was what the use of a wand was for. But, because Harry did not have a wand, his body had to learn to channel the magic by force of will.
"Silencio," Harry said, curling his hand in the air in the manner that Tom had shown him. "Silencio."
There was a moment of quiet, and then a high pitched ringing filled Harry's ears. He breathed out and shuffled his feat, listening for the silence that Tom wanted. He heard his breath and the scuffle of his toes on the floorboards. "It's no use," Harry said, falling over sideways in defeat. "And I'm tired."
"You will continue to try until you get it right-" Tom said, and with less patience than before.
"Then I'll continue tomorrow night," Harry whined, pulling his blanket over his shoulders.
"Harry-" Tom hissed, eyes flashing red for a brief moment in the dark.
The older boy's hand shot out, gripping Harry's shoulder for a brief, startling second. Tom's hand was so solid and hot that is sent a jolt through Harry, a strange sensation of mingled panic and pleasure, so that he was simultaneously relieved and disappointed when the hand lost its solidity and faded to a mere shadow in the darkness.
Harry let out a long breath, feeling his heart kicking against his ribs. No one ever touched him, except for the Dursleys, and that was only ever to do harm. He couldn't even remember the last time someone had laid a hand on him outside of the dreamspace. In fact, the discrepancy between his reaction to Tom's touch in the dreams and his reaction in real life caused some distress in Harry. Surely he was used enough to the older boy by now— so why had this been so different? Was it because Tom was angry? Or did it have to do with being touched by Tom's ghostly form?
Harry reluctantly met Tom's gaze which was glowing steadily at his side. The older boy seemed displeased, and although Harry could not see his other features, he imagined that Tom's arms were probably crossed.
"All right," Harry said, sitting up again.
"Don't- you're obviously exhausted. And it is a difficult spell. I only hope that you will try harder tomorrow."
"I will," Harry said, now feeling very bad for disappointing Tom.
"But you still have this energy," Tom said, referring the the burning and tingling in Harry's palms and fingertips. "Let me relieve you of it, or else sleep will be difficult."
Then he took each of Harry's hands in turn between his own, which where solid once more, and pressed his mouth to each palm. Harry flinch on the first one, when there came a strong, drawing pressure accompanied by a sharp pinprick sensation. As Harry watched Tom grow solid, kneeling with his mouth at his hand, the smell and taste of blood filled the cupboard.
Harry's eyes drooped closed, and his head swam, and it seemed that he was surrounded by whispering voices and smoothing hands and a great warmth, then complete darkness.
Tom drew blood again from Harry, in the following weeks, when he thought that Harry was strong enough. Each time was the same, and although the boy became accustomed to it, he did not like it. He was happy enough to help his friend, of course, but afterwards he was tired, and the actual process did not cease to be unpleasant. Tom, however, always seemed rejuvenated afterwards, and on the nights that he took blood he would walk through the house, touching and moving things, and sometimes he even brought food to Harry from the neighbors.
"They won't miss it, you see, and if you eat it at night then the Dursleys," (said contemptuously, like a dirty word,) "need not ever know. Also, you need more iron in your diet."
This was all very good and well; Harry felt that there was more of a purpose to his days and nights, and he didn't go hungry very often anymore, however; he worried what might happen if anyone else ever noticed Tom in his corporeal form.
The older boy couldn't sustain himself solidly for very long. He traveled invisibly from place to place, materializing at the moment when he wished to touch something. As a result, Harry was left alone more often than usual, for while Tom was out no amount of writing in the journal could prompt a response. And when he returned he would write a few sentences to Harry, usually to the effect that he was present and unharmed. He didn't write very much about where he went or what he did, and preferred, more often than not, to only interact with Harry through writing or through the dreams, so as to conserve his energy.
"When will you be strong enough to be solid all of the time?" Harry asked one night.
Tom stopped his writing- a long scroll of strange symbols and equations- and spent a moment formulating an answer. "That's difficult to say," he replied at last, "It may be several years. The magic you will have to perform will be very complex; not only will you need to be much more technically skilled, but we will need a safe place to do it, as well as some time to recuperate afterwards. And something tells me that Dumbledore will be keeping a very close watch over you, once you are at Hogwarts.
"It will have to be done over the summer, probably, although Halloween or the winter solstice would be better. If we do it in the winter, then you will have to be here, but we will otherwise be spending the winter hols at Hogwarts."
Harry nodded, not fully understanding what Tom had said. Although, it sort of made sense- Halloween was supposed to be a holiday for witches and wizards, right?
"You'll understand when the time comes. For now, focus on your spell work."
Progress was slow in that area. Tom continued to coach Harry with the silencing charm, which the boy had managed to perform after a full two weeks of trying and failing. The result was a feeble quiet, one that only muffled the faintest of sounds, and only for a minute or two.
"It will come," Tom encouraged him. "You may not be able to perform the spell yet, but your magic is being exercised all the while, and soon enough you will have mastery over this spell, as you do with the others, and it will be a new, more challenging spell that you're working with."
The end of the school year approached, and with it came heat, and humid rain, and greenery all throughout Little Whinging. Harry spent more and more time outside, watering and weeding the flower beds, and it was on one warm Saturday afternoon, amidst the Hydrangeas, that Harry stumbled upon Breadsticks, Mrs. Figg's mangy tomcat, dead and stiff with little worms gathered around his maw and eyes.
Things will get more interesting soon, the story is just in a transitionish phase right now. Thank you so much to all of the people who continue to read and review :)
I have a cold right now, and it's rainy, and my tea collection is bigger than it's ever been, so I'm writing more than usual. Which is good news for everyone :)
Chapter 16: Enemy Territory
The worms moved as he watched them, and already there was a sheen of grease and dirt hardening the old cat’s fur. No wounds marred it’s body— no bites nor punctures, and there was no sign in the nearby terrain to suggest that the cat had been attacked or in distress.
As Harry stood, transfixed equally by disgust and curiosity, Balthamos squirmed in the pocket of his jumper. The little snake poked his head out with his tongue flickering rapidly.
“I smell death,” he said.
“Yeah,” Harry responded, softly, pointing. Balthamos followed his finger and made to slither out, but Harry stopped him. “Don’t. It might not be safe. And besides, he’s… it’s… too big for you to eat.”
“Danger?” Balthamos asked.
“Probably not,” Harry said, “I just have a bad feeling, s’all.”
Then, under the sensation of being watched, Harry went back inside the house, down the hall, and into his cupboard. He sat in the dark and contemplated what he'd seen.
Although he had no evidence of it whatsoever, Harry couldn’t help but suspect that Tom had been the one whom Breadsticks had last come into contact with. After all, it was a bit odd, wasn’t it— that just after finding out that Mrs. Figg’s cats where actually spying on him, that her favorite one should die?
If Tom had killed the cat… Harry didn’t know what to think. He would feel very bad if that were the case. But if Tom hadn’t, then Harry didn’t want to accuse him of it. He didn’t want to hurt Tom’s feelings. But Tom had killed Ripper, and hadn’t seemed to feel bad about it, at the time. But that was different, Harry thought. After all, Tom had killed Ripper to save Harry.
The best course of action would be to just ask Tom. He’d tell the truth, either way, and if he hadn’t killed Breadsticks, then maybe he’d seen what had. And then again, perhaps the cat had simply died of old age. The photo album filled with pictures of deceased cats that Mrs. Figg kept came to mind, and Harry shook his head in an attempt to dispel it.
Just when Harry had got up the courage to ask Tom, Aunt Petunia’s sharp rap startled him out of his thoughts. Hesitantly, he opened the door to the cupboard and looked out. Aunt Petunia glared at him, peering around him into the darkness. She made a vaguely disapproving noise in her throat and said, “No slacking off, there’s work to do.”
He would ask later, then. Only, later came and went, and it was nightfall, and then it was morning, and when Harry saw Tom again they spoke of the things which Tom was teaching Harry, and there didn’t seem a right moment to ask, and so Harry determined to ask later, when there was a perfect opportunity to do so. Days passed, and then weeks, and it no longer seemed proper to approach Tom with the subject, not after so long. At some point the corpse disappeared, and Harry managed to forget that he had ever seen it. The flowers bloomed and school let out , and with summer came vacation, and Harry’s eighth birthday.
“We’re going to the coast,” Vernon announced over supper on the thirtieth of July. “We’ll leave early tomorrow, so make sure to pack your things tonight, Dudley.”
Petunia tittered and there was an extra bounce in her step as she rose to fetch the pudding. “I’ll help you, Diddykins. We wouldn’t want to forget anything important! I bought you new swim trunks, you're going to look so adorable.”
Dudley looked up from his plate and scrunched his face up at his mother. “Boys don’t look adorable, mum!”
“Oh!” She smiled indulgently, “Well, then you’ll look very handsome, darling.”
Dudley was about to protest once more, but Petunia served him his desert and the large boy lost interest in the conversation.
“We’ll be staying in a company condo just for the occasion,” Vernon said, looking very proud of himself. There was a healthy red tinge to his cheeks, and he was taking even larger bites of the pudding than normal.
Petunia gave a wistful little sigh and smiled happily at her son and husband. Her eyes moved across the table to Harry and narrowed, the happiness draining from her expression.
“You’ll be staying down the street, of course.” She said directly to Harry.
He looked away, embarrassed. Harry knew that he wouldn’t be going with them. Of course. That doesn’t change the fact that, for a moment, he had imagined what it would be like.
“Oh, but Mrs. Figg might be busy—”
“Not to worry, Pet,” Vernon said, a bit of food in his mustache. “I’ve already contacted her and she’s agreed to take the boy over night.”
“Oh good. It would be terrible if our plans were ruined by such a tiny detail.” For a moment a pained expression crossed Harry’s aunt’s face, as though it were truly tragic that such a tiny detail held such a prominent role in her life.
“Hmf,” Vernon said into his food, as though agreeing.
Harry didn’t serve himself any desert, and instead took his dish to the sink and washed it slowly. He didn’t want to be sent away to Mrs. Figg’s house, for a variety of reasons. He tried to concentrate on the least of them, which was that he felt very awkward to suddenly be reminded of the old lady and her dead cat. He wondered if she would somehow divine that he had something to do with it.
It took Harry a very long time to fall asleep that night, and when he eventually did it was out of sheer exhaustion.
Tom was sitting on the green couch reading a book whose cover was black with age.
Harry sighed and went to sit before him, on the thick carpet by the fire. Tom read for several more minutes while Harry watched the flames, then marked his page and set the book aside.
“I heard what they said.” Tom said simply.
Harry sighed and slumped over.
“You should sit up straight. Bad posture sticks with you over time, and can be a hindrance to your magic.”
Harry didn’t want to respond, or sit up straight, but Tom gazed flatly at him, waiting, and after about thirty seconds of the older boy’s unblinking stare Harry became uncomfortable. He sat up and grumbled, “I don’t see how posture has anything to do with it.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Don’t be obtuse, Harry. Now come sit next to me and tell me about aconite.”
Harry hung his head for a moment, not sure what it meant to be obtuse, but certain that it wasn’t good. When he sat next to Tom he sat very straight, and he took a deep breath to steady himself before reciting what he could remember about aconite, which was more commonly known as monkshood.
“And which parts are poisonous?” Tom asked.
“All of them,” Harry said, and then added, proud of himself for remembering “and the poison can be absorbed through the skin, and if there’s cuts on the skin, it can kill you.”
“And what is it used for?”
“Ummm, potions for pain relief, aaaaaand the Calming Draught?”
“Yes, and why is that?”
Harry thought for a long moment before answering, so as to be sure that he said the right thing. “Because it slows down your heart. And when your heart slows down, you get really calm, just like how it speeds up when you’re scared.”
Tom lowered the book once more to observe Harry directly. At first he looked irritated, but then Harry realized that the expression on Tom’s face was one of amusement.
“Yes,” he said, teeth flashing, “that is certainly one way of putting it.”
“Did I get it wrong?” Harry asked.
“No,” Tom said indulgently, “although I realize there are still more gaps in your education I need to fill. You see, when you ingest a thing it starts degrading in your body immediately. That is— your body begins to absorb it, but it can’t absorb all of the parts at once, so it breaks them down into smaller pieces and absorbs the smallest ones as quickly as it can. Some things are absorbed in your mouth, some in your stomach, and most in your intestines… you do know basic anatomy, right?”
“Yes,” Harry said. He was proud that he had learned about the different body parts already.
“Well, when a thing is absorbed, it is absorbed into your blood, and all of your blood travels throughout your body and passes through your lungs and heart, which filter your blood, and this is how the effects of potions and poisons and anything else you ingest take place.”
Harry nodded to show he understood.
“How the poison of plants in the aconitum family work is by slowing down the respiratory process, which is closely linked to the heart. This in turn slows the heart in its beating, which causes a person to become docile. Aconite also reduces fevers, and is commonly used in pepper-up potion. As that’s one of the first potions you’ll be learning to brew, it’s important that you know how to properly handle the plant.”
Tom spent another hour quizzing Harry before breaking off abruptly and holding up a hand for silence.
Harry stopped mid sentence, in the process of explaining where hemlock grew and what non-toxic plants it resembled.
Tom continued to hold him in silence without explanation for a full minute before taking Harry’s hands very seriously into his own and saying, “Happy birthday, Harry.”
Astonished, Harry looked around the room for a clock. As he looked, Tom indicated with a dip of his head one of the bookshelves, atop which a little grandfather clock materialized before Harry’s gaze and began to chime midnight.
“I’m afraid I have nothing to give you.”
“That’s all right,” Harry said quickly, feeling rather awkward about it. “It’s not like anyone has ever gotten me anything, anyways.”
“Someday I’ll change that,” Tom said, his eyes glowing as they tended to do when he was very serious.
The sight made Harry smile, and he realized a curious thing. There was nothing he wanted more than to receive a gift from someone who actually cared. Tom could get him anything, anything at all, and it would be the best present in the world, simply because Tom loved him, and wanted to give him presents.
“And it will be better than the rubbish your filthy muggle guardians have handed off to you in the past, that I can guarantee.”
“You could get me a coat hanger and it would be perfect,” Harry said, inching closer to the older boy.
Tom took the hint and pulled Harry the rest of the way, wrapping one of his long arms around Harry’s shoulders so that the boy’s head could rest against his.
The fire crackled, and the comforting smells of wood and very old furnishings lulled Harry into a drowse. As he began to drift off worries about Mrs. Figg, and her cats, and spending the night somewhere else (which he had never done before), entered his mind.
“Tom?” His voice came out thick with sleep.
“Umm, I’m going to stay at Mrs. Figg’s for a couple days… will you be there?”
“I’ll be around,” Tom said, shifting his position before resettling deeper into the couch. “And of course, if you find yourself in trouble, just call and I’ll be at your side in an instant.”
Harry looked up at the older boy. “Promise?”
Tom raised one slender eyebrow, as though to say, ‘honestly?’ but then, seeing Harry’s expectant expression, became somewhat grave. “I promise, Harry. If you’re ever in danger, I will save you.”
Harry smiled and closed his eyes. It occurred to him to ask about the cat, but he didn’t want to risk upsetting Tom now, of all times. Instead he turned his head into Tom’s shoulder and said, “I love you.”
Tom went very still, and then wrapped both of his arms around Harry in a bone crushing hug. He pressed a kiss to the top of the boy’s head and said, “Go to sleep, Harry.”
The next day Harry woke and believed it was a normal day for about five seconds. Then he groaned and tried to go back to sleep. The stairs above echoed his groan with squeaks and moans of protest, signaling that his relatives were up. When aunt Petunia passed his door she banged on it once, hard, which would have startled Harry very badly if he hadn’t awoken moments before. He rolled off of his cot and pulled on a different pair of pants, secured them with a long belt, and selected one of the shirts that he hadn’t worn too many times since it’s last wash.
When he entered the kitchen he found that the ingredients for an omelette had been laid out beside the stove, and he reluctantly found a pan and began cooking.
The two roundest Dursleys meandered into the kitchen when the smell of cooking wafted throughout the house. Dudley was yawning and looking expectantly toward the stove, while Vernon had a paper in his hands and was scoffing at what he read.
Harry portioned the food onto three plates and set them on the table, despite the fact that this aunt was not in the room, and then proceeded to make his own breakfast.
“Petunia!” Vernon called over his massive shoulder. “Dear, breakfast!” No response came, and after waiting with his head cocked the man grunted and glared at Harry. “Go fetch your aunt before her food goes cold.”
Harry moved the pan with his own half cooked egg onto a cool burner, irritated that it wouldn’t be cooked properly, and dashed out of the kitchen. He checked the living room before taking the stairs two at a time. Petunia was in Dudley's room, packing an enormous luggage case full of her son's clothes and toys.
“Um,” he said, lingering in the doorway. “Breakfast’s ready.”
“All right.” Petunia responded, and there was a moment of strained anxiety between them. This often happened when Harry was alone with his aunt, and he tried to avoid such instances at all costs.
Aunt Petunia went back to her task. Harry took this as a dismissal and ran back down the stairs, coming to a skidding halt before the entrance to the kitchen, and forcing himself to walk. Uncle Vernon glared at him.
Harry went back to the stove and put the pan back on the hot burner. The eggs appeared to be fine and resumed cooking. He added salt and pepper and checked on the bacon which he had cooking on a lower temperature in another pan. It had about five more minutes, same as the eggs, and Harry inwardly congratulated himself on timing it right.
However, by the time that his own breakfast had finished cooking, and he made himself a plate and cleaned up the initial mess, aunt Petunia’s breakfast had gone cold, and she had just entered the kitchen.
She eyed her plate, where the eggs were starting to ooze and the bacon was looking decidedly wilted, and then eyed Harry’s, which was steaming invitingly.
“Boy,” Vernon grunted over his paper, “switch plates with your aunt.”
“Do it or you’ll be sorry!” Vernon snarled, his temper escalating at an alarming rate.
Harry was so startled that he almost dropped the plate he was holding. With a knot in his stomach and great reluctance, Harry set his own plate before his aunt and took the lukewarm food for himself.
As he sat down to eat he felt eyes watching him . Looking up over his first bite Harry found that Dudley was staring very fixedly at his food. A sinking feeling came over Harry then, and he knew what was coming before it happened.
“Daddy, can I have Harry’s food?”
Vernon’s mustache twitched and he looked between his son and his nephew. “Still hungry, are you Dudders?”
“Yeah.” A bit of drool was shining at the corner of Dudley’s mouth.
“Boy,” Vernon said, jerking his head at the stove.
Harry sighed and stood up to make another serving for his cousin. By the time he got to eat his own food it would be completely cold.
He cooked another omelette and the last of the rashers, and when they were finished went to the table to grab Dudley’s plate. He noticed that the bacon from his own plate, which he had yet to eat, was gone. His cousin was eyeing him expectantly. Harry gritted his teeth and served his cousin, setting the plate down rather harder than necessary. Both his aunt and his uncle glared this time, and Harry apologized under his breath, feeling as though he were the subject of great injustice. He sat down to eat his cold eggs.
“You’ll be staying at Figg’s for two days,’ Petunia said, blotting at her mouth, “and I don’t want to hear that you’ve gotten into any trouble while there. If you do… if you do…” she seemed to be having trouble coming up with a punishment threatening enough.
“I’ll beat the living snot out of you.” Vernon finished, calmly turning a page of his paper. “I’ve no doubt you could do with a good beating. Maybe you’ll finally learn some respect.”
Harry looked at his plate and pretended that he was sitting by himself, eating a warm breakfast that consisted of more than just eggs. He imagined bacon and sausage, and muffins and kippers, beans on toast and hot cereal with blueberries and cream—
“Boy, are you listening?” Vernon spit, his face turning blotchy.
Harry looked him in the eye for a second before nodding and looking down again.
“Then clear off your plate and clean up this mess. We’re leaving shortly and I want the house spotless for when we come back.”
“Yes, uncle Vernon,” Harry said, voice flat.
A little later they were climbing into Vernon's company car as the man himself locked the front door. The windows were all locked as well, the curtains closed, and the back gate reinforced (not that it would really keep out anyone who wanted in that bad, Harry thought.) Vernon waved and smiled lubriciously at Mr. Number 5 and his wife, who were watching curiously from their front porch.
Then he drove Harry down the lane and dropped him off, waiting only long enough to see Mrs. Figg open her door. Harry stood for a moment with Mrs. Figg, watching the Dursleys drive away.
"Well come in then, dear." She said, holding the door open wider.
Harry entered the house and was once again assaulted by the very powerful odor of boiled cabbage and cats, made worse by the warm weather.
"Where can I..?" Harry indicated his schoolbag, which was slung over his shoulder.
"Oh, I've made up the guest room for you," said Mrs. Figg, ambling down the hall.
She led him into a small room he'd never been in before. The floor was covered in braided rugs of all colors and sizes, while the walls were lined with shelves upon which sat hundreds of figurines. Harry honestly hadn't thought she'd had more than what he'd seen in the living room. In the middle of the room sat what Harry assumed was a bed, except that it was completely covered in multi-colored blankets and quilts.
"You can set your things in here," The old lady said, indicating an ancient looking dresser and pulling out an empty drawer.
"I'll only be for a couple of nights," Harry said lamely, but Mrs. Figg just smiled and waited for him to unpack.
Harry set his bag down on a chair by the bed and quickly pulled out the clothes he'd brought with him and then, under the watchful eye of Mrs. Figg, zipped it back up. At the bottom of the bag, wrapped in a pillowcase, was the Looking Stone, Balthamos, and Tom Riddle's diary. Technically Harry no longer needed the diary around to talk to his friend, but it still gave him comfort to have it near. And a small part of him would have felt bad leaving it all alone in the Dursley's house.
When Harry had finished Mrs. Figg led him into the living room and served him a cup of tea (with too much milk) and immediately began telling him about her cats.
"And poor Mr. Breadsticks has been missing for awhile now," she said, sighing and slowly stirring her tea. "He dissapeared in june, the poor dear, I've no idea what happened to him" She pulled out the album she reseved specifically for pictures of cats that were no longer living and turned to a page which she had dedicated to the tabby. "See?" She said, holding the heavy album towards Harry.
Harry gingerly took it into his lap and pretended to be interested in the pictures within. "Er, yeah, I remember him."
"He was fond of you," Said Mrs. Figg, sighing again. "The poor dear."
"Well, he could turn up," said Harry carefully, trying to sound casual, "you never know. He could just be off somewhere, doing... whatever it is cats do."
"Oh, I don't think so," said Mrs. Figg sadly, taking the album back and smoothing the page down with her hand. "The others were quite sad for awhile after he stopped showing up. They knew."
This made Harry very nervous. "Er, they knew he... died?"
"Oh yes." said Mrs. Figg, "They always know."
Just as Mrs. Figg said this, a white cat with gray spots jumped up next to her and began to purr loudly. Mrs. Figg scratched behind the cat's ears and seemed to become lost in thought. "There, there, Pixy. There, there..."
Harry sipped his tea and wondered just how much the cats could really communicate with Mrs. Figg. Could they talk? Or maybe Mrs. Figg could speak cat language, just like Harry could speak the language of snakes. While he was pondering this, Harry looked around the room with a different eye than he ever had before. So this was the house of someone who knew about the magical world. He tried to spy anything that looked like it might belong in Diagon Ally. While all of the things in Mrs. Figg's house were different from anything in the Dursley's house (and much dustier), there wasn't necessarily anything to indicate that someone magical lived here.
The desire to simply ask Mrs. Figg about the magical world suddenly gripped Harry, and he spent the rest of the evening internally struggling to resist doing something that he knew was very foolish.
Harry missed the people in Diagon Ally. Not anyone in particular (just recalling the spooky Mr. Ollivander made him slightly nervous), but rather the common geniality that they all shared. Harry missed the excitement and intrigue of the strange shops, and the pleasant hum of magic and movement that flowed through the ally like an invisible river. He also missed waking up in a soft, warm bed to a breakfast that was already cooked for him. And, although he'd resisted allowing himself to do so, Harry thought about the small mountain of gold, the "fortune," which, apparently, was really, truly his own, waiting in the dark catacombs for... how long? Years, surely. At least since his parents were alive. But then, what Tom had said, the goblins had confirmed; family money. Old money. Some of it, Harry thought with excited wonder, could have belonged to great-great-grandparents that he never knew he had.
When Harry began to drift off, lost in thoughts of gold and goblins, and people dressed in medieval clothing (who looked like what Harry tentatively imagined his parents to look like) began to swim in his head, Mrs. Figg sent him off to bed.
"Goodnight, Harry. If you need anything I'll be just down the hall."
Harry nodded and allowed himself to be shepherded into bed. When he was alone he waited to hear Mrs. Figg do the same. When the lights went out and the house fell silent, Harry went to the window and pulled aside the ancient lace curtains, allowing the streetlight in. A cat glanced up at him from the yard below, then looked away in disinterest. Uneasy, Harry dropped the curtains and spent a minute searching the room for any unwanted night guests.
Once certain that he was alone, Harry pulled out the diary and tucked it under the covers with himself and Balthamos. The diary warmed, causing a wave of drowsiness to pull him into quick, deep sleep.
Tom was there, waiting for him like always. Neither spoke as Harry curled himself up on the couch next to the older boy, his head resting in Tom's lap as Tom read from a small book. He merely adjusted his arms so that one was resting on the arm of the couch while the other draped over Harry's thin shoulders, his finger's absently running through the boy's hair.
Harry let out a contented sigh and closed his eyes. He didn't feel like doing anything tonight, and Tom silently understood that. One of the many wonderful things about the bond they shared was that Tom not only knew when Harry was scared, or angry, or just being stubborn, but he knew when Harry was genuinely upset, or exhausted, or too overwhelmed to concentrate on anything trivial.
"It's not an ordinary life you live, Harry Potter." Tom said, softly, his fingers threading thoughtfully through Harry's hair.
Harry sighed in response, uncertain of what to say.
"Most would have found themselves incapable of enduring the neglect and subtle emotional abuse which you have quietly withstood for so long."
"Only 'cause I have you," Harry said, his words muffled by Tom's cloak.
Tom chuckled. "Somehow, I think you would have managed without me."
"No," Harry insisted, frowning, "I'd be completely alone without you. I wouldn't know what to do. I wouldn't even know about magic!"
Harry looked up to find Tom staring down at him, that strangely intense expression on his face again. Harry couldn't understand what it meant, but he wasn't surprised when Tom leant over him and pressed him into a warm, silent kiss. To have the older boy so near felt very good, so Harry waited for Tom to finish kissing him, despite the fact that it was strange.
Tom pulled away. Harry sighed, and his friend's hands resumed their caressing, passing over his shoulders and back, sending shivers throughout Harry's body. Some memory came to him then, something strange from a long time ago, but before he could fully grasp it, it was gone, smoothed away by Tom's elegant, spidery fingers.
Just before Harry could fall asleep, he asked, "When can we go to Diagon Ally again?"
"Soon," Tom said, "before the summer is out. However, we may have to work on your relatives, a bit, beforehand."
Harry didn't like the way that Tom said this last part, but he was now too sleepy to enquire further. The last thing he saw was the little book which Tom was reading over him. On the pages were what looked like lines of poetry...
I'm sorry for how boring all of the recent chapters have been, but I promise, they're building up to exciting happenings.
Also, any guesses on what sort of poetry Tom might read?