A Gray Life
Living with the Dursleys had given Harry an understanding that no matter what anyone said the rules were, sometimes those rules had to be broken. He had also learned that different rules applied to different people, or maybe it was that there were different consequences for breaking the rules for different people. He had never really figured that part out, only that he was automatically more likely to get in severe trouble than Dudley if anything came up, and people automatically assumed the worst of him no matter what he showed them.
Harry tried not to think about the list he had made about all the ways he was different than the other residents of Little Whinging. He tried not to think about how some things on that list, made on scrap of paper with a broken crayon his first year of school, were things that he would never, not even if he lived to be a hundred and sixty, be able to change or overcome. He would never be able to understand the weird way people said things by talking around them or why they understood that things were supposed to be done just by mentioning that they needed to be. He could pretend to look people in the face and keep his voice from going all wonky, but that only ever worked when he concentrated on it and it always got away from him when he was tired. He would never be as pale as everyone else, especially not when he had outside chores and the sun darkened his already dark skin.
He couldn’t even stop the odd things from happening around him, though he had managed to recognize the feeling he got right before something happened. He could even make some things happen when he wanted, which came a lot more naturally than keeping his voice the right tone and volume. After the first time he was seen, he was always careful to make sure that no one (especially Aunt Petunia) saw him do the tricks.
The cupboard was very dark when the door only opened for his daily bathroom visit, and the quiet got very loud with no one around.
Yes, Harry was very careful to never earn that punishment again if he could help it.
Living with the Dursleys had taught Harry that the rules were made by those who had the power, and those rules could change in an instant if those in power felt that Harry had done something wrong. He had learned that through pain and hunger and loneliness. He had paid for those lessons with blood, sweat, and (until he learned how to control himself) tears. He had learned that any kindness had to be repaid in triplicate and any transgression, tenfold. He had learned that children were even worse than adults when it came to determining how would be best to punish the mistakes he inevitably made.
So Harry knew that he should just nod along with the boy in the robe shop and not question the quasi-useful spill of information he was gaining. He knew what he should do.
“I don’t know what any of that is,” Harry said instead, and watched as the boy’s pointy face went from confused to shocked. Harry swallowed before beginning to rabble in the way that always made Aunt Petunia slap him sharply across the mouth. “I didn’t know about my parents until Hagrid showed up with my letter. My family never told me anything about magic. I barely knew that my Aunt Petunia was my mother’s sister. I didn’t even know my parents’ name until Hagrid got into an argument with Aunt Petunia about how they didn’t die in a car crash while driving blind drunk because they got saddled with me. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame them if that was true, because I’m a horrid freak just like my family has always said, but Hagrid said they were killed by a Dark Lord whose name no one is supposed to say and that Hagrid apparently can’t spell, and that’s why everyone wanted to shake my hand in the pub. So I don’t know what quid-pitch is or what’s so bad about a huffle-puffle, and I don’t know how to answer your question about what our sort is supposed to be.”
“Wha…, I mean, uh,” the pale boy stammered once Harry managed to get his mouth to stop running. Even the seamstress assistant seemed determine to focus on hemming the unadorned dark robe that was apparently the uniform of Hogwarts. The boy was staring at Harry as if he had never seen someone talk themselves into a month of cupboard time before. Harry would have given anything for the stool he was standing upon to suddenly turn carnivorous and eat him.
“Close your mouth, Draco, dear,” a woman said stiffly from beside the door. Her lips were pursed together the same way that Aunt Petunia’s did when she wanted to scream about how stupid Harry was but was restraining herself because Harry had already been embarrassing enough. Other than that tiny reminder, the woman couldn’t be any more different from Aunt Petunia. She looked a bit like an angel, and for the first time since Harry really began to understand how useless he was, he wished he had met his soulmate and could see the colors of the woman, because surely, she would be even more beautiful still. “You are not a fish.”
“Mother, did you hear—”
“Draco Aurelius,” she interrupted.
The boy’s teeth clicked with how quickly he shut his mouth. The woman glided across the shop as if she was a cloud being moved by a breeze. She lifted a delicate seeming hand towards her son. Harry dropped his gaze to the other boy’s knees, determined to give him a bit of privacy to receive his punishment instead of eagerly watching as Dudley would have.
Yet there wasn’t the expected sound of a slap. Curiosity won out against desire to be respectful, and Harry risked sneaking a peek at the pair. Unfortunately, both of them were now staring at him, visibly upset. Harry dropped his gaze again hastily and tried to ignore the sour taste suddenly on his tongue that was making his stomach queasy.
The sound of the shop door slamming open drew Harry’s eyes back up. The blonde had moved close enough that she filled most of Harry’s vision. His stomach clenched threateningly when he realized that she had her hand raised towards him. Over her slight shoulder, he could see Hagrid looming in the now-open doorway. He looked just as enraged as he had last night while arguing with Uncle Vernon.
“Don’ touch him,” Hagrid boomed, making Harry curl into himself. “Don’ yeh dare touch him. He doesn’ need anythin’ from any o’ yer sort.”
“Oh, really,” the woman questioned, “and what sort would that be, Mr. Hagrid?” She had only turned slightly towards the potential threat, and Harry could see that her perfect features had morphed into a mask of polite indifference. Her aristocratic nose had scrunched slightly, as if she was smelling something slightly unpleasant, but that was the only indication that she might be upset. Even her tone was perfectly even. “You do realize, of course, that you have no authority in this situation?”
“I know that Dumbledore would fight yeh,” Hagrid vowed. The blonde raised her chin, looking the giant in the eye despite their differences in height. For a moment, Harry had the mental image of another woman superimposed over her, and both were snarling like wolves defending their den.
“He’s welcomed to try,” she declared before turning entirely towards Harry. Her raised hand gently cupped his chin. With equally gentle care, she turned his face towards hers. Her eyes seemed to see every secret he had ever had, and Harry found himself wishing he could see the colors that came with true love, because he was betting those eyes would be just as beautiful as the rest of her. “You have the look of your grandmother in your face. Aunt Dorea would have so pleased that her Black genes managed to shine through despite how much Potter there is in you.”
“You knew my grandmother?” Harry asked. The woman smiled and ran her hand over his cheek. He couldn’t help leaning into the comforting touch.
“I knew your father and godfather as well,” she whispered loudly. Her lips pursed for a moment as she looked at his eyes for a moment. “I knew your mother as well, though we were never as close as I was with my cousins. You have her eyes as much as you have your father and grandmother’s face.”
“You’re related to me?” Harry felt his eyes prickling as he realized that as nice as this woman was, she must have hated him already to have never visited or checked up on him. As if sensing the spiraling of his thoughts, she shushed him gently.
“Yes, darling, I am related to you,” she agreed, “but I was told that you were being raised abroad with relatives who loved and wanted you.”
“But I live in Surrey,” Harry said, confused, “and the Dursleys never wanted me. I was left on their doorstep like the milk.”
“Well, I’m your cousin Narcissa,” she replied in a tight voice, “and I will always want you. Family is precious, and children even more so. They should never feel unloved, not even for a moment. Would you like to come home with me and my son?”
“You want me?” Harry asked, feeling shocked down to his very core. He threw his arms around her neck and hugged with all his meager worth. “I do! I do want to go home with you! And I promise that I won’t take up much space at all. And I’ll learn all your rules, and I’ll be as good as I am able, which isn’t very much, as Aunt Petunia could tell you, but I’ll try really hard, because you’re perfect and beautiful and kind.”
“I’m sure that you’re already perfect,” Narcissa argued as she hugged him back just as tightly. “I know that your parents would certainly be proud of you exactly as you are.”
If a few tears escaped both of them, well, then no one said anything about it.