Harry Potter rubbed his head against his upper arm, trying desperately to alleviate the itch he had there, but to no avail. With a sigh, he got to his feet and moved to the bathroom sink to wash his hands. It never failed, the moment he either got his hands dirty or otherwise rendered unable to scratch, he got an itch that just couldn't be ignored.
With a liberal amount of lathering, Harry quickly scrubbed the toilet cleaner from his hands before he reached up and began furiously scratching the offending spot. As he did so, he regarded himself in the mirror and winced in remembered pain as he caught sight of the fading bruise that marred his cheek. It was the physical reminder of what happened if he dared to stand up for himself when being showered by verbal abuse from his uncle. Somehow the man had learned of what had happened at the end of the last school year and had started taunting him about it. How he had learned, Harry couldn't know for sure, but he strongly suspected that Dumbledore had sent them a letter as they hadn't forced him to leave the house all summer. And it had been the headmaster who had told him that it was imperative that he remain at number 4 Privet Drive so as to be protected by the wards. What he didn't understand was why Uncle Vernon would heed Professor Dumbledore's warning; he hadn't been particularly concerned with his safety in the past.
Unable to come up with an explanation, Harry gave his forehead a final rub before turning his attention back to the toilet. His aunt had insisted that he scrub the entire thing several times to get rid of the horrendous stench that had been lingering in the small room ever since she and Uncle Vernon had taken Dudley out for Chinese on his birthday and they had all returned with a terrible case of diarrhoea. But, naturally, they hadn't blamed it on the food they had eaten but on him, saying that he had used magic to curse them and that was why he hadn't caught it.
Harry gritted his teeth in frustration as he picked up the sponge he was using and resumed his task. The irony of the entire situation wasn't lost on him. Only several weeks ago he had faced off one of the most powerful Dark Wizards of all time and walked away from the duel while now he was down on his knees, acting like a servant to some of the most magic-blind Muggles in existence.
The instant the thought crossed his mind, he wished it hadn't as memories of Voldemort's rebirth swam to the surface of his mind. Memories of the resurrection... and of Cedric's death. Harry savagely bit his lower lip as he desperately tried to block out the image of the Hufflepuff lying motionless on the ground where he had fallen. His glazed and blank eyes staring unseeingly off into space. But it was useless. Just as they had on countless previous occasions, the memories refused to be suppressed. A tear found its way out of his emerald eyes which were now shimmering with unshed liquid.
It was his fault, all his fault that Cedric was dead. If it hadn't been for him, then the Tri-Wizard Cup would never have been turned into a portkey and Cedric wouldn't have been whisked away to be killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Furiously, Harry scrubbed the toilet bowl, trying his hardest to push the thoughts and guilt away. Wasn't it enough that he could hardly sleep at night due to the nightmares? Did he have to think about it during the day as well? At times he thought he did, that he deserved it. But at other times sense took control and reminded him how no one who knew the truth of what had transpired had blamed him. Not even Snape had uttered a nasty word and Harry knew that he could count on the Potions Master to speak his mind. Yet that didn't prevent the memories from returning. Especially when Dudley or his uncle taunted him about having murdered Cedric.
The Boy-Who-Lived growled in anger at the thought of his family. The first time Uncle Vernon had mentioned the Hufflepuff's name, he'd been too stunned to respond, but that hadn't been the case the second time. No, instead he'd given in to temptation and had defended himself. After all, he had faced Death and Darkness, why should he just stand there and take the abuse? At least that's what had gone through his head at the time. He'd been too tired from several sleepless nights and too angry at being worked harder than a house-elf to think straight. If he had, he would have known not to provoke his uncle. But it was very difficult to go from having defended himself against Voldemort to simply standing by and letting the abuse rain down upon him.
So he'd responded with some remark about magic and had been knocked to the floor before he even realized that his uncle had moved. Being hit was nothing new for Harry, but he'd never been hit that hard before. Indeed, he'd simply lain on the floor until Uncle Vernon had dragged him up because he was still too dazed by the force of the blow.
With a shake of his head, Harry gave the toilet a final swipe before getting to his feet and washing his hands once more. Putting away the cleaning supplies, he pulled the list of chores from his pocket and crossed off the one he'd just done. Next he had to clean Dudley's bike which had gotten dirty the previous day when it had fallen in the mud. Harry rolled his eyes as he went to the store room to get a bucket and several rags. What did it matter if the bike was clean or not? It wasn't like his cousin was ever going to ride it. And even if he did, it probably wouldn't support his weight for more than a few minutes anyway. For, despite Smeltings' best efforts, Dudley had hardly lost any weight over the course of the school year. He'd probably gotten food sent to him by his mother who didn't want her poor Duddleykins to starve and he'd more than gained back what he'd lost since the start of the summer as Aunt Petunia had given in to his incessant whining and stopped the diet altogether. At least for her son. Harry's rations hadn't changed any, that was when he was fed at all.
Harry had just put a squirt of liquid soap into the bucket and was about to add water when the doorbell sounded.
"That's strange," Harry muttered to himself.
At the start of the summer, the Dursleys had finally commenced leaving him alone in their 'precious' home. Not because they wanted to, but because Mrs. Figg had made some comment about it being weird that a boy of Harry's age still needed constant supervision. Not wanting anyone to think that there was anything 'abnormal' about their family, the Dursleys had decided that they could no longer get a babysitter for him. This had first resulted in him being locked in his room the whole time, but then Aunt Petunia had complained that it left so much work undone. They had considered making him do it all at night, but they didn't want people to see lights on and start questioning why someone didn't go to bed. And they hadn't wanted Harry to have free reign of the house while they were helplessly asleep.
Harry snorted at this, angry that they considered him so low as to attack someone while they didn't have a chance to defend themselves. Or that he would do anything like that to them at all. Not that he wasn't tempted or anything, but he knew better than to give into those flights of fancy. Besides, he wasn't allowed to do magic when away from Hogwarts and no matter how much he disliked the Dursleys, he was not going to get himself expelled on account of them. Indeed, that would only result in him having to spend more time with them!
"Coming!" Harry called out as the doorbell was rung for a second time.
Quickly, he unlocked the door and opened it, suddenly becoming self-conscious of the bruise on his face as the blue eyes of the man standing on the porch were instantly drawn to it. Harry was about to ask him what he wanted when the eyes drifted up to the scar on his forehead.
"H... Ha... Harry Po... Potter?" the man stuttered in awe.
"Yes," Harry responded, shocked as he looked the man over.
There was nothing about him to suggest that he was a danger, but he would never have guessed that he was a wizard either as he was clad in the green clothes of a Muggle delivery man. Yet he had to be considering his reaction. It seemed that some wizards at least had the ability to disguise themselves correctly.
"I have a delayed delivery for you," the man-wizard declared as he reached into the bag he carried and took out a bulky letter.
"Oh," the green-eyed boy stated, wondering who could possibly be sending it to him. All his friends would have sent it directly via owl.
"Eh... yes," the man confirmed, looking extremely nervous all of a sudden. "The instructions left with it when it was originally placed into storage state that it is to be delivered to Lily Evans or, in case of her passing, to you on the 20th of July of this year. So, naturally, here I am."
"Mother?" a stunned Harry whispered hoarsely after several seconds of uncomfortable silence.
"Yes. I'm sorry."
The young wizard simply nodded as he reached for the package, desperately hoping that whatever it contained would give him another link to his parents.
"I'm afraid that I must ask you to sign this form before I can give it to you," the delivery wizard stated, bringing a clipboard with a parchment and quill attached to it before Harry. "Confirmation of delivery and all... you know."
"Huh? Oh," Harry said, before he quickly scribbled his name down and then grabbed the package.
"Good day to you," the man said, tipping his hat before he turned around and left.
"Bye," Harry responded absently as he stared at the package he held.
Whatever it contained had been intended for his mother, and yet the sender had foreseen the possibility that she may not be alive anymore. So it must have been placed into storage before her death. But why would anyone have a package delivered fourteen years or more in the future? Why didn't the sender just give it to his mother?
As he closed the door, Harry turned over the package and froze. There, written in deep purple ink on a piece of parchment that was fastened to the bulky letter, were the delivery instructions. Only, in addition to what the wizard had told him, the instructions went on to explain to whom the package was to be sent in case he too had been either dead or unreachable:
"What the bloody hell?" Harry whispered in shock as he stared at the writing.
Why would a package originally intended for his mother have his Potions Master listed as one of the alternative recipients? Was there some connection between the two that he was unaware of? He knew his father and Snape hadn't gotten along at all, but no one had ever said anything about his mother. He had automatically assumed that she would be against him too in the same way Hermione was against Malfoy even though the Slytherin was primarily his enemy. But then, why hadn't anyone told him? Especially Dumbledore. The headmaster wanted him to trust and respect the greasy teacher, and telling him that his mother had been friends with him would definitely have helped to achieve that. And, if it was true, then why did Snape still hate him so? Was his hate for his father so much greater than his friendship with his mother that he'd completely overlook the fact that he was also Lily Evans' son?
Harry shook his head in confusion. None of it made any sense whatsoever. Perhaps there was an answer in the package though. He was just beginning to open it when the antique clock his aunt had recently bought chimed three times. Gasping in surprise, he froze once more as he thought of his chores. Uncle Vernon had only agreed to letting him out of his room when home alone if he had so much to do that he couldn't possibly get into any trouble. That meant that he was given an insane amount of work each day which he couldn't finish no matter how hard he tried. This then led to his uncle accusing him of having been lazy or of having gotten into mischief and therefore he was punished.
The past few days had been no exception and his empty stomach rumbled loudly to prove it. If he didn't do at least several more chores in the next two hours, then he wouldn't be getting any food again and risk being locked in his room whenever the family went out. Never mind the fact that none of them could ever find any evidence of the so-called trouble he supposedly got involved in whenever he didn't finish his work.
With a heavy sigh, he realized that he simply couldn't afford to open the letter now because, if he did, he'd be unable to put it down until he'd completely devoured the entire thing and inspected it for any new information on his mother. He really needed to eat something soon if he didn't want to suffer any serious side-effects. Especially since he had finally started growing taller over the summer which meant that he needed more food than usual, not less.
His decision reluctantly made, Harry quickly ascended the stairs and went to his room. There, he carefully placed the package under the loose floorboard to make sure that it wasn't seen. Heading back downstairs, he mentally reviewed the list of chores he had been given and groaned as he realized how much he still had to do. Although perhaps he'd be able to simply pretend that he'd dusted as he'd done so only two days ago and Aunt Petunia wouldn't be likely to tell the difference. But that still left him with the laundry, the dishes, and the hoovering after he finished cleaning up Dudley's bike.