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Hit The Ground Running

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Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on Harry. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, “Go - cupboard - stay - no meals,” before he collapsed into a chair, and Aunt Petunia had to run and get him a large brandy. - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 2

 

Harry lay in his dark cupboard for a very long time. When he was sure the Dursleys were all asleep, he tried the door of his cupboard, but it was locked tightly so he sat back onto his cot and waited in the dark, hungry and sleepless. He wasn’t sure how long it would be before he’d be let out again. Harry had never been accused of setting a wild animal on his cousin before. It seemed like it could take a very long time.

He was right.

The following days were a blur of gnawing hunger and restlessness. Aunt Petunia let him out morning and night to use the lavatory, but she locked him back inside his cupboard again right after. Harry knew summer break hadn’t quite started when he was first locked in. He lost track of time quickly, but the fourth day he woke to the rap of Aunt Petunia’s bony knuckles on the cupboard door, he knew he was missing school.

“Up, up! Come on,” Aunt Petunia gave him a quick push to get him moving toward the bathroom.

“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” said Harry automatically, stumbling toward the bathroom. The tiles were cold under his bare feet in the morning. Harry was very thirsty, so he used his morning and night bathroom trips to drink as much water from the tap as he could - until he was either sick or bloated with it, or Aunt Petunia hammered on the door and demanded he get out.

When he returned, inevitably, to his cramped and dark closet, Harry usually tried to go back to sleep. It had been difficult the first few days, bored and restless as he was, but Uncle Vernon’s ‘no meals’ ruling meant he had less and less energy and it was becoming easier to pass the time in a doze.

Now even just getting up made his head spin wildly.

It was almost a nice feeling, sinking down into his little cot feeling dizzy and stupid with weakness paralysing his limbs. He blinked once, twice, and relaxed into it, aware of himself only in a hazy and distant way.

Harry day-dreamed of a tall, narrow building. It was all black and white, even the sky and the pavement, and the sign outside was rusty and missing some letters. Inside was full of endless steep stairways, narrow corridors and cold overhead lights that reflected brightly from the black brick walls. At first Harry thought it was a prison, it was so cold and miserable, but as he took better notice, he realised it was an orphanage.

The shadow of a terrible premonition fell over Harry. Hadn’t Uncle Vernon threatened him with this exact fate hundreds of times? Any more funny business and we’ll pack you off to the orphanage!

Harry thought of the snake’s soft farewell hiss: Thanksss, amigo. A cool, writhing sickness settled into his gut.

Harry dragged his mind away from the thought of that awful place. He rolled over and put his face in the sheets instead.

He slept until the next knock on his door.

“Get up!” Aunt Petunia snapped through the cupboard door. The tumblers clicked. Harry breathed a huge sigh and got to his feet, slowly and dizzily.

Petunia herded him to the bathroom again, then marched him outside where the sun was already shining brightly and, with a dire look of warning, instructed him to start on the garden.

At first the sunlight was a very welcome thing: Harry had been alone in the dark for too long, and his skin had missed it. But after weeding and pruning and mowing, the sun was high and the day was hot. Waiting out the midday heat in the shade would only get him a sharp clip over the ears, so Harry’s only consolation was that he could drink from the hose as often as he wanted. He was back in the cupboard before Uncle Vernon returned home.

He fell asleep with his glasses still on and woke when he rolled over and crushed them into his face. It must have been very late, because he could hear his aunt and uncle engaged in a hissed conversation near the stairs. He could only catch snippets:

“- not even ours -”

“- dangerous nonsense -”

“-stamp it out of him!” This last ominous growl was Uncle Vernon.

Harry pulled his glasses off and rolled over. He pulled his covers over his head. It muffled most of the sound and he pretended that he couldn’t feel the dark weight of the stairs and settling old house above him.

He dreamed, prophetically, of the orphanage: tall, cold; empty. There seemed to be no children, no matron, nobody at all: just endless gleaming walls and the brightness of bleak overhead lights. He wandered up the stairs and down the narrow corridors over and over, but every door he tried seemed to be locked, and he could find no way out.

Eventually, he stumbled upon the only unlocked door.

The room behind it was cramped, with the same gleaming bricks and harsh lights. There was a steel framed bed, a bare wooden desk and a closet. Outside one narrow, grimy window, it rained and rained. The street below was grim and grey and indistinct.

“You’re back again,” said a voice that surprised Harry so badly he nearly leapt out of his skin.

He turned to the voice and saw a boy about five or six years older than him. The boy was dark haired and pale skinned just like Harry, but a great deal taller. He was thin, quiet and looked very serious. “Erm,” said Harry uncertainly. “Hello.”

The boy didn’t say anything for a long few seconds. “What are you doing here?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know,” said Harry, looking around at the hard, cold place in which he’d found himself. The boy in front of him seemed a bit hard, too. “Do you live here?” Harry asked.

They boy ignored his question. He got up from the empty desk and paced a tight circle around Harry, inspecting him from all angles. “You can’t have come here by accident,” he said in a suspicious voice.

“Er.” Harry turned to follow the other boy’s movements with his eyes. He didn’t feel very comfortable with the teenager circling him like that, but he didn’t feel like he was in trouble, either. The boy didn’t make him feel like Dudley or Uncle Vernon. “I don’t know how I got here,” he said firmly, “but I’d be happy to leave you alone if you just tell me how to get back.”

The boy gave him a speculative look. He had hard eyes, like looking into coloured glass. “Tell me,” he said cautiously. “Where were you before you came here, Harry Potter?”

Harry wasn’t sure how the other boy knew his name, but he supposed if this was a dream then that sort of thing was normal. “I was in my cupboard,” he said.

“Your cupboard,” repeated the boy.

Harry nodded. He shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to say more, but the other boy’s glass-hard gaze wasn’t going anywhere until he answered. “It’s where I sleep,” he explained.

A lot of the suspicion left the boy’s face. He stopped pacing. “Lily and James Potter were killed,” he mused reflectively, “and now their son sleeps in a cupboard. How did that happen?” His gaze sharpened, narrowed.

“They died in a car crash,” said Harry in a small voice.

“A car crash.” For some reason, the boy seemed to find this funny. Harry swallowed, feeling a bit sick. “You live with muggles?”

He lived with what? “I don’t know. I’m sorry for interrupting you. I just want to get back. Can you tell me how?”

There was a long, silent pause. “Answer my questions, and I’ll take you back,” the boy decided finally. “I want to know how you got here. Are you sick?”

Harry opened his mouth to say ‘no,’ but he wasn’t really sure. Did it count as being sick if you didn’t eat? He frowned.

“Injured? Hurt?” the boy settled back into the chair. Harry felt immediately more comfortable with him there. “Were you scared or angry?”

Harry swallowed. He didn’t know how to answer those questions. If Uncle Vernon found out he’d said something to anybody - he shook his head hard. “I didn’t do any funny business,” he said.

“Of course not,” agreed the other boy blithely. “Calm down, Harry,” he said in a very soothing voice. “Here, take my hand. Good. I want you to tell me exactly what the inside of your cupboard looks like. Concentrate on how your body feels. Think about the walls, about the things touching your skin.”

Harry concentrated very hard on the idea of his cupboard: its warm darkness, its scuttling spiders and cramped space, the dust that trickled from the stairs when Dudley thundered down of a morning, the sharp rap of Aunt Petunia’s knuckles against the door...

He opened his eyes.

It was dark.

Gingerly, he reached out with one hand until he touched the familiar wall of his cupboard, cool and slightly damp. Then he sighed and fell back into the bed. He was back in his cupboard. Harry yawned hugely, rolled over, and fell back to sleep.

Curious, murmured a voice, soft and hissing in the back of his mind.

 

 

When Aunt Petunia got him up to use the lavatory the next morning, Harry could feel something different. He was still sick and dizzy, still thirsty, still photosensitive and cold, and definitely still losing weight rapidly, but his head felt different. He considered this while drinking from the tap.

All he could conjecture, while Petunia was herding him back into the cupboard, was that the weird dream he’d had last night had made him feel weird.

He wondered, idly, if they were going to send him to that orphanage.

The tumblers in the lock fell into place again, and Harry knew he wouldn’t be leaving until Uncle Vernon came home from work.

Why are you locked in the cupboard? asked a soft voice, making Harry jump and look wildly around.

There wasn’t anybody in the cupboard with him. Harry swallowed hard. “Where are you?”

You can’t see me, responded the voice impatiently. Why are you locked in the cupboard?

“I sort of... set a snake on my cousin Dudley,” he said miserably. It sounded awful when he said it aloud. No wonder they’d locked him away like this. Even if Dudley had probably deserved it.

Harry was hit with the oddest flood of amusement. The voice laughed and laughed. The sound filled Harry’s skull.

“Are you inside my head?” he asked in a very small voice.

The laughter slowed. Still horribly amused, the voice said one word: Yes.

Harry fell silent after that. He knew what happened to people who heard voices. They were sent to places worse than the orphanage. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon definitely wouldn’t take care of him if he was crazy.

The voice leapt upon this opportunity. That’s why you mustn’t tell them.

This made very good sense to Harry. He nodded his head.

The voice was full of questions. Did he remember his parents? Were the Dursleys his only family? Was Harry eleven yet? Did he have any memories of the car crash?

It was a novelty to Harry to have somebody so interested in him, and he told the voice everything he could. The voice was especially intent upon this last question, and uttered the words ‘car crash’ with such irony that even Harry’s ten year old understanding couldn’t miss it.

“Did you know my parents?” he asked.

There was a long, considering pause. Yes, said the voice finally. But not very well.

“So... you must have been outside me, once,” Harry said.

I was, agreed the voice. I’m part of a person.

“Part of a person?” How could you be part of a person? In Harry’s experience, limited to Dudley’s choice of television programs, people who were cut into pieces died.

The voice seemed to pick up on his image of television programs. There was a startled pause, and then and Harry had a confused flash of a memory that definitely was not his own: boys jostling for view of a tiny screen in some crowded city hall, black and white, grainy reception of women singing in long skirts and tightly-pinned hair on a stage, bright lights.

Harry wasn’t sure what to make of this. It didn’t seem like a very good television. Experimentally, he thought of the last time he’d seen the television in Dudley’s room: a huge CRT screen, bright flashing colours streaming Dudley’s gargantuan silhouette onto the wall.

The voice recoiled. Muggles, it said, injecting the word with a powerful loathing.

Harry still didn‘t know what that word meant, but he was more interested right now in this strange business of being part of a person. “How did you get cut in half? Are you a ghost?” he asked.

No, said the voice finally. What year is it?

Harry had to think about that. “Nineteen nintey-one," he said finally. “I’ll be eleven soon," he said, remembering the earlier questions.

There was a pause. How soon?

Harry had been in the cupboard for too many days to remember precisely how many. He explained this.

The voice hissed impatiently. It sounded a bit like the hiss of the boa in the zoo. The comparison did not seem to bother the voice; if anything he seemed pleased by it.

You’ll be getting your letter soon, mused the voice.

“What letter?” Harry wondered, but the voice didn’t answer. He had the distinct sense of rummaging, and occasionally one of his own memories would come to him, random and unbidden: dreams of riding a loud motorbike through the sky, a face with straight black hair and a quick smile, a blinding flash of green light, a woman with red hair. These were all strange and fuzzy, and seemed very old.

“Hey,” Harry tried again, after a few moments, “What letter?”

But no answer was forthcoming, and while the voice made its presence known rifling through his memories, it remained silent for the rest of the day.

Eventually his aunt and uncle let Harry out of the cupboard, by which time the summer holidays had well and truly started. Dudley had already broken or abandoned most of his birthday gifts, and was spending most of the summer bullying other neighbourhood children with his friends.

Harry, on the other hand, was put to work: mopping, gardening, scrubbing floors and windows. There was no end to the tasks Aunt Petunia could think up for him to undertake, and the beginning of the new school year in September shone like a beacon to him.

“I won’t be going to school with Dudley,” he explained to the voice while he was watering plants in the hot sun. Dudley was going to an expensive private school, and Harry would attend the local public high school. “He won’t have a chance to say things about me to the kids at Stonewall.” To tell the other kids Harry was a freak.

I see, said the voice. And then, after a considering pause, You’re not going to Stonewall. You’re going to Hogwarts.

Harry was silent. He didn’t want to contradict the voice, but he was pretty sure he was going to Stonewall.

The voice heaved a sigh. There was a bit of that uncomfortable rummaging in Harry’s mind, and then it threw up a memory for him, of running away from Dudley’s gang and ending up on the roof. Then another, of his Aunt’s dismay at his hair growing back overnight. Then, much more recently, the hiss of the snake at the zoo: Thanksss, amigo.

“So?” Harry muttered mutinously. He knew those things didn’t happen to other people. Harry didn’t need the voices in his head telling him he was a freak, too!

You’re not a freak, it said impatiently. You’re special. You’re better than they are.

Harry thought that if he was so much better than the Dursleys, they wouldn’t have locked him in a cupboard off and on for the last ten years.

The voice made a noise, a kind of growling wish for patience that shook the walls of Harry’s skull and made his scar ache. You’re a wizard. Only a half-blood, but still a wizard. Your parents were magic. You’re magic.

Harry wasn’t sure about that. “If they were magic,” he said slowly, “how did they die in a car crash?”

The voice was silent for a long moment on this point. Then, finally, it said, I suppose you’ll have to find out eventually. They didn’t die in a car crash.

“Boy!” yelled Petunia from the window, and with her angry gesture Harry realised he was on the verge of flooding her flower beds.

He quickly turned the hose off and went to put everything back in the shed. Inside the cool darkness of the Dursleys shed, he said, “Do you know how they died?”

Me. Said the voice. I killed them.

Harry froze. He didn‘t want to believe it, but a magical curse seemed to explain his hazy memories of that night a great deal better. “You did?”

The voice said nothing, and all Harry could feel from it was a kind of distant coolness.

He licked his lips, setting his gardening tools down gently. “It was... it was an accident, though, right?”

No, said the voice, unapologetic.

Harry felt like he was going to cry.

The voice was totally silent, and after a few gulping, gasping sobs, Harry pulled himself together. He couldn’t let Aunt Petunia see him crying, or he’d get the belt for sure.

Harry went mechanically through his chores that day, and didn’t talk to the voice in his head. The voice didn’t talk to him, either. They coexisted in uncertain silence, which Harry did not break until he was locked back in his cupboard for the night.

“Why did you kill them?” he asked finally. He didn’t have a lot of love for the parents he could barely remember, but the knowledge that he might never have been left with the Dursleys made him feel bitter and resentful

The voice was there, he could feel it paying attention in his head, but it didn’t answer him for a few moments. We were at war, it said finally. We were on different sides.

A war. Harry frowned.

Do you know what a prophecy is?

Harry scrunched up his face. He knew, sort of. “It’s when somebody tells the future?”

I suppose that’s enough for a ten year old to be going on with, said the voice, snorting softly. There is a whole branch of magic dedicated to telling the future, it told him. There was a prophecy that said your parents, their ...family, would kill me if I didn’t kill them first.

Harry thought about that. He turned the idea over in his head. He knew that when people killed each other on the news, it was always okay if it was in self-defence.

Harry’s scar hurt. He rubbed his forehead. “Did you have to let them leave me with the Dursleys?” he asked plaintively.

He felt a ripple of amusement from the voice. He sighed. “What were you fighting about, anyway?”

Politics, said the voice drily. Harry scrunched up his nose. Muggles, the voice added thoughtfully. Old magic. How much control the Ministry of Magic should have over the wizards and witches in Great Britain.

That sounded pretty complicated to Harry. He thought about it. “What about the muggles?” The voice had explained what this word meant, and Harry liked the way it sounded: fat and undignified, like his relatives.

I don’t think muggles should be in charge of wizards. I don’t think wizards should ever be raised without knowledge of their own world. Sometimes, for varying reasons, muggles have to learn about the Wizarding World - your world. They have magical children, or they live with a witch or wizard. The voice didn’t sound very happy about this at all, and Harry only had to remember that he was laying locked in a cupboard to figure out why.

Exactly, said the voice, pleased and surprised at his swift understanding. Muggles are weak and powerless, and they have a weak understanding to match. You are an excellent example, he added thoughtfully, of why we need to maintain much better control over these muggles.

Harry was silent. He wasn’t sure what he could say to that. Somewhere outside his cupboard, a clock was ticking in the silent house.

This is complicated, he said then. Are you sure you want me to keep going?

Harry nodded vehemently. “If I’m going to be a wizard,” he whispered, “I think I should know.”

A very long time ago, a group of witches and wizards got together and created what we now call the Ministry of Magic. Its original purpose was to maintain the International Statute of Secrecy.

“What’s that?”

It’s an agreement between wizards and witches across the world to keep our magic secret from the muggles. Muggles in the middle ages used to know about us. Have you heard of the Spanish Inquisition?

Harry swallowed. “A little,” he said, but what he’d heard was enough.

The history books they will give you at school will tell you that a witch or wizard could perform a fire proofing charm, or mix a potion, and avoid being burned alive. Some of them, said the voice with emphasis, could. Tell me, do you know any fire proofing charms yet?

Harry shook his head.

Neither did most of the magical children in the middle ages, the voice continued. Neither do many adult wizards. There have always been many, many more muggles than magical folk, and it can be dangerous for us if they find out - and it also scares them to know how much more powerful we are, he added in a sneer. We risk our magic by breeding with them, and we risk our whole community by letting them know we even exist.

Harry nodded. He could see that, if he thought about it, in Uncle Vernon’s endless admonishments: “No funny business!”

He hadn’t realised before how much he scared his relatives.

Yes, said the voice. Much of the muggles’ history has been corrupted, both intentionally and unintentionally, to make witchcraft seem like a quaint old superstition.

“And now they don’t believe in magic at all,” said Harry, marvelling at the genius of it. “So people are doing magic right under their noses and - and-”

Yes.

“That’s brilliant.”

Yes, agreed the voice again. Harry got a vague idea that it was smiling. He liked that. We created the Ministry of Magic for the protection of the International Statute of Secrecy. However, their purpose has been... changed.

“What do they do now?”

A lot of things. They decided, for various reasons, good and bad, that certain types of magic were worse than others, and now they decide what kinds of magic a wizard can perform. They decide what you get taught in school. They catch and judge criminals. They decide what’s criminal.

“It sounds like they do a lot. It must be a lot of work.”

A lot of busywork, yes, agreed the voice drily. Part of why we were fighting was that I, and people like me, don’t believe that this is the role of the Ministry of Magic. Who are they to tell us what kind of magic we can practice?

Harry frowned. “I don’t know," he said, but he wasn't sure if the question really needed a response.

They make muggles seem childish and harmless, and they ban useful magic from witches and wizards. And then when muggles do learn of our world, when they don’t bother to learn about our traditions or our culture - when they make demands - when they complain that our rituals seem strange to them - when they say this is immoral or that seems wrong - he sounded agitated and out of breath, and Harry’s head throbbed gently in time with his words - the Ministry races to abase itself before them. They enforce their insanity against our people. They can't give in fast enough. 

“Why?” Harry asked, pressing the heel of his hand to his closed eyes.

Because any one of those muggles could expose us. So the Ministry scampers like frightened rats under the floorboards, cowers for their approval - and slights the very people it should protect. We, who are naturally superior beings!  The voice thundered now. Its rage seemed to vibrate down his bones and burn through his skull.

It hurt. “Are you angry with me?” Harry asked in a weak voice.

No, he said, and somehow Harry wasn't sure he was telling the truth. But the pain stopped abruptly. I’m angry for you.