Harry's life had been turned upside-down numerous times in his sixteen years. First, there was his first encounter with Voldemort when he was just a year old; he went from a happy home with loving, caring parents to living a life of neglect with his hateful relatives. Then, when he turned eleven his world changed again as he discovered that he was a wizard; it was the happiest day he could remember. His life remained more or less stable for another year, but then in third year things changed once again as he found out that he had a godfather who was wanted for betraying Harry’s parents and murdering thirteen people, only to later discover that his godfather had been framed and was indeed innocent. For a few precious moments he thought his life would be better, but then that traitor Wormtail got away, and his godfather had to go into hiding again. Fourth year brought even more changes with the death of Cedric Diggory and the return of Voldemort, and Fifth year, just a few months ago, he lost Sirius in the ministry. Now, a little over a month before his sixteenth birthday, his world was once again being thrown into turmoil.
Harry supposed it was his own fault, really; after all, if he hadn't picked that night to sneak downstairs and get his school books while the Dursley's were watching the telly in the other room, he never would have been in the cupboard under the stairs, which means he would not have heard the knock on the door. If he hadn't heard the knock on the door, he wouldn't have had to hide in said closet, and he never would have heard the conversation that obviously was not meant for his ears; the conversation between his relatives-and Albus Dumbledore, Harry's trusted headmaster, and once he heard the conversation he could never unhear it, no matter how much he wanted to. But when he first hid in the closet he had no idea about this, so when he heard Dumbledore's voice he sat down on his old cot and listened.
"Shh! The boy is upstairs so you'd better be quiet if you don't want him to know you're here," Aunt Petunia snapped, "I suppose you would like the usual status report?"
"Yes please, Petunia, "Dumbledore replied cheerily, "I just need to make sure Harry is being treated in a way that will best benefit everyone. I trust he's still taking care of all the chores while he's home?"
"No," Vernon spoke up, "When we picked him up at the station this year we were ambushed by a group of your kind of people, and they threatened us if we didn't leave the miserable freak alone; said they would be checking in on him and we would never even know they were here unless we mistreated him, but if we did "abuse" him," the sarcasm was very heavy here, "then the freaks would "punish" us. Evidently, regular chores count as abuse." Harry could just imagine his uncle's red face at this point, and wanted to snicker at the memory of that wonderful meeting.
"I am very disappointed to hear that," Dumbledore’s voice was grave, and Harry eagerly anticipated the headmaster telling Vernon off, "I will make sure those that would look in on young Harry are busy elsewhere so that you may resume normal treatment of the boy; we have worked too hard to mold the boy how I need him to be and any deviation from the normal conditioning you put him through every summer could disrupt everything we have done."
Harry couldn't believe his ears; Normal treatment? Mold him? Normal conditioning? He knew; all along the headmaster knew exactly what was going on and not only did he not stop them, but he encouraged it! Harry lowered his head and closed his eyes, fighting back the burning tears and disappointment in himself; there was obviously something very wrong with him if even Dumbledore felt that he deserved the treatment he received at his relative's hands. Really, it was bad enough when Ron and Hermione told him that he was making too big of a deal about the way the Dursley's treated him; he could still hear Hermione's exasperated words on the ride home this year: "Oh, stop it Harry! I'm sure it can't be that bad; your aunt and uncle are just doing what that have to in order to make sure you grow up right! They care about you, and are only trying to build character!" And then there was Ron's agreement, "Yeah, come off it Mate! You don't like your relative's; we get it! Grow up already! Some of us have more important things to worry about!" Maybe they were right, and Harry had been making a big deal out of nothing...he was drawn out of his thoughts as Petunia spoke again.
"Well, we will put the boy to work immediately," Petunia said, and Harry could hear the satisfaction in her voice, "As soon as you leave I will have him start cleaning the house from top to bottom and he won't get any food or sleep until it is completed to my satisfaction." Dumbledore let out a heavy sigh before replying.
"I'm afraid that won't do the job anymore," he said sadly, "He has had too much time to recuperate; we have worked very hard to make sure he knew his place in...our world was different than his place in the Mug-er, that is, your world. At school he is above average, special even, destined to save the world; here, he is below you, lower than even the poorest beggar on the street. These few weeks at home without you being allowed to reinforce his inferiority to you will no doubt have erased much of the insecurities we have worked hard to cultivate. No, I don't believe giving him simple chores and making him work for his food is going to work anymore."
"Then what do you want us to do?" Vernon demanded, "We can't beat him as we did when he was younger; the second he starts to feel that we have crossed some line his freakishness comes out and protects him!"
"Ah, I can take care of that for you," Dumbledore sounded cheerful again, "I always come prepared, just in case something like this were to occur. Give me just a moment...now where did I put those...?" All was silent for a few minutes, except for the soft rustle of Dumbledore searching for whatever it was he needed, "Ah! Here we go!" There was the sound of clinking glass, and harry recognized it from his time spent in the hospital wing: Dumbledore was giving the Dursley's vials of potion. "Now, each one of these has a different purpose, and they are charmed to never be empty. This one will block his magic from reacting to anything; make sure he gets two drops of it twice a day. I am aware that he has been training physically this year as well, so this potion will cause him to become disoriented, while this one will cause him to lose control of his muscles. This potion will prevent him from being able to tell anyone the full truth of what happens here. And, finally, this potion will heal physical evidence of any beatings you must give Harry, while still letting him feel the pain he needs; this is just in case you have to send him outside or if unexpected visitors stop by." There was a thoughtful pause, then the sound of another bottle being set down. "I realize that you will still need the boy useful even with the punishment he will be given, so this potion will heal anything that is life-threatening, and I believe we have everything covered; do you have any concerns about this?"
"Yes," Vernon said, "Will you be paying us extra for this? It will take a lot more work to get him beaten down properly, not to mention we have to mess with your freaky medicines."
"But of course," Dumbledore chuckled, "Let's see, I currently give you 2500 pounds a month, correct?" There were affirmative noises from the Dursley's, "Well, since this is causing you more trouble, and you have to deal with the...special medicine, I will double your payment; that will be 5000 pounds a month. In addition, if young Dudley here is willing to assist with Harry’s…physical conditioning, I will give him 500 pounds a month. I know this takes away time that you could be spending with your friends, but are you willing to help?” Harry didn’t hear a verbal response, but Dudley must have nodded, because Dumbledore exclaimed; “Excellent! Now, I only brought the normal payment with me today, so I will send the rest of the money to you tomorrow. These expenses will, of course, come out of Harry's personal account as usual, and if you find you need more funds to properly care for him just let me know; you know how to contact me Petunia. Now, have we covered everything?"
"I believe so," Petunia replied, "All of the medicines are labeled and have instructions so we won't mix anything up, the expenses are covered, and you have plans to take care of those busy-bodies from the station. Yes, we have everything necessary so that we can take...appropriate care of the boy for the rest of the summer. Once you are gone we will begin the new...conditioning treatments."
"Excellent, excellent!" Harry could just see that irritating twinkle in the old man's eyes and it made him grit his teeth in anger, "Very well, I believe it is time I took my leave; I will see myself out. I will check in again after I send someone to collect Harry for the new school year and settle any additional financial concerns at that time. Until then, have a wonderful summer!" Harry listened as Dumbledore left and then heard his aunt and uncle return to the kitchen; they appeared to be discussing the conversation they just had with Dumbledore, but Harry could no longer make out what they were saying. Harry lay down on the cot-it was awfully cramped now as he was bigger than he was at age eleven-to think over what he had just heard and ponder his next plan of action.
Well, first he had to get away from the Dursley's; that much was abundantly clear. When Harry first started listening in on the conversation he had mostly felt disgust with himself for disappointing his mentor-what kind of freak was Harry, that Dumbledore felt the only way to keep him from being evil was for the Dursley’s to beat him down? -but the longer he listened the more that self-loathing receded to be replaced with utter contempt for Albus Dumbledore. How dare he? Harry gritted his teeth to prevent an angry growl from escaping, Dumbledore was supposed to be his protector, a friend of his parents, someone he could trust to look out for him.
Instead, he found that Albus Dumbledore was a manipulative old man who not only encouraged the Dursley's to mistreat him, but paid them to mistreat him-and with Harry's own money! Twenty-five hundred pounds was a lot of money; it translated to...500 Galleons a month; 6000 a year! Not only that, but he was doubling their pay so that the Dursley's would beat him, and he had given them potions to prevent Harry from fighting back! The last thought is what made him blanche; the thought of a professor giving someone potions to drug a student was...well, it was repulsive and Harry knew he needed to leave before his aunt and uncle had a chance to use any of the potions on him. Before he got a chance to do anything, however, the cupboard door was slammed open and Vernon Dursley reached in to grab him with one meaty hand.
"So, spying on us were you?" Vernon sneered, yanking him out of the cupboard, "Did you think I wouldn’t notice you creeping down the stairs, boy? I let it go because I was hoping you’d finally decided to take your freakishness elsewhere, but since you’re still here…”
“I’ll leave; right now!” Harry said quickly, trying to loosen Vernon’s grip on his arm, “Just let me go, and I’ll never bother you again; I swear!”
“And lose out on five thousand pounds a month?” Vernon snorted, “Not a chance! Now that the old freak set things straight, I won’t be letting you out of my house until the summer is over. Come with me boy; you're about to get what you deserve." Vernon began dragging Harry towards the kitchen.
"No! Let me go!" Harry shouted, struggling against his uncles hold, "You can't do this to me; it's child abuse! Uncle Vernon!" Vernon came to a sudden stop and backhanded Harry across the face, knocking his glasses askew and causing him to see stars.
"Shut up boy!" Vernon thundered, shoving Harry so that he crashed through the kitchen door and fell to the floor, "You've had it easy until now, but all that is about to change.” He grabbed Harry’s arm and pulled him to his feet, then pushed him down into a chair, setting a hand on each shoulder and applying pressure to keep him from getting up. Vernon motioned for Petunia, who was standing by the counter, to bring the vials over, "Give him the one to stop him from telling anyone about what happens here,” Vernon instructed, “then we’ll use the one to block his freakishness." Petunia nodded and held up a vial of green potion; Harry bided his time and waited for Petunia to get closer and then he struck out, kicking the vial from her hands. Petunia screamed in shock as the vial fell to the ground and shattered into tiny pieces, green potion splattering everywhere.
"Stupid boy!" Vernon yelled, backhanding Harry again and then slamming his head forward so that it hit the edge of the kitchen table, "You will be cleaning all of this up by hand! But first;" Vernon shoved Harry's chair up to the table so that his chest was pressed against it and he wouldn't be able to kick out any more before pulling the boy's hands behind his back, securing them in one meaty fist. Vernon’s other hand came up to grip Harry’s hair harshly to force his head back, "Okay Petunia; the blue one that blocks his freak powers now; two drops, remember."
Petunia didn't reply, but merely gripped Harry's chin with one hand to force his mouth open; in a last ditch effort to avoid the potion Harry attempted to bite her, and Petunia was quick to slap him across the face several times, before pinching his nose. If he didn’t want to pass out from lack of air, Harry knew he would have to open his mouth; as soon as he did, Petunia poured two drops of the blue potion onto his tongue. There was no need for him to swallow the potion, as it dissolved almost immediately.
A few seconds later Harry cried out in pain as the potion began to work; he felt a harsh tug centered in his midsection, followed by a sharp pain that felt as if someone had taken a knife and stabbed him in the stomach, twisting the blade to deepen the wound. A burning sensation had Harry screaming as his vision went black, and then the pain was gone, leaving in its stead a large gaping hole that left Harry feel exposed. As his vison slowly returned, Harry tried to call on his magic, but he couldn’t feel it anymore-it was gone! Harry fought back a feeling of nausea, as he realized he would be completely at the mercy of his family for the rest of the summer. There was no escape…
Harry was so absorbed by the pain and hopelessness caused by having his magic blocked away, that he actually forgot about his relatives until his uncle dumped him out of the chair and Harry fell in the middle of the shards of broken glass. He cried out again as the sharp edges cut into his skin drawing blood, but quickly shut up when Vernon slapped him once again, before kicking him in the side.
"You will pick up every shard of glass by hand, and then you will clean the rest of this mess up," Vernon hissed, "You are not to make a single sound while you do this, is that understood?" Harry nodded mutely, "Good. When you are done here you will come find me in my office for your punishment." Vernon and Petunia then walked out of the kitchen without a backwards glance, leaving Harry behind to clean up the mess on the floor.
Cleaning up the mess in the kitchen took Harry the better part of an hour, and by the end his hands were covered with cuts and scrapes from the broken vial. Once the floor was spotless Harry considered locking himself in his room until the potion wore off-Dumbledore said to administer it twice a day, so that meant it should wear off after twelve hours-but he knew that Vernon would have no problems breaking down the door. He needed access to his magic so he could escape, but he knew it would be a long time before that happened. Scowling, Harry walked to his uncle's study and knocked on the door. When Vernon called for him to enter he did so hesitantly, and it was with even more trepidation that he closed the door behind him. Vernon pointed to a cup of tea in front of him.
"Drink that!" he barked, "I won't have you getting de-hydrated on me."
"Yes Uncle," Harry replied and picked up the cup with his eyes averted; he knew that the tea was spiked-did Vernon really think he was stupid? Now, the question was which potion had he put in the tea, and would Harry be able to just pretend to drink as he had with Umbridge last year. Harry decided he would just have to take a chance, so he closed his lips tightly and pretended to sip the tea. After his third pretend sip Harry let the teacup fall from his hands and spill on the floor. After a few seconds he looked up and saw Vernon glaring at him angrily. "I'm sorry Uncle," Harry said, "I didn't mean to-“Harry widened his eyes in feigned surprise before throwing an accusing look at his uncle, “You-you drugged the tea! I-I can't-" Vernon stood up to walk around the desk, and grabbed Harry by the throat, lifting him out of the chair and throwing him onto the floor.
“How stupid do you think I am?” Vernon demanded, “You can’t fool me, boy! I gave you the chance to cooperate, but now we’ll do it the hard way.” Harry scooted away from his uncle and got to his feet; he ran for the door, only to discover that it had locked behind him when he entered the room, and a key was needed to open it. Harry spun around, desperate to find another way out, only to have Vernon’s fist catch him in the stomach,
“Let me go!” Harry yelled, throwing his own punch at his uncle; he clipped Vernon on the cheek, and was thrown into a nearby book case in retaliation. Harry felt Vernon grab the back of his shirt, and he was thrown to the floor again; as he pulled himself to his knees, Vernon kicked him in the side, and continued to do so until Harry finally exhausted himself and curled up in the fetal position to protect himself as much as possible. Vernon kicked him over onto his back and knelt over him; Harry’s arms were trapped by Vernon’s knees, and the obese man pinched his nose, before pouring some potion in his mouth. Vernon’s free hand moved to Harry’s jaw, quickly closing his nephew’s mouth before he could spit the potion out. Harry, having no other choice, swallowed the mouthful, and Vernon climbed off him.
“We’ll see you try to fight me now!” Vernon crowed, pulling an unresisting Harry to his feet. Harry tried to pull away, but his body refused to obey him! He attempted to scream, but all that came out was a pathetic whimper as Vernon forced him to lean over the desk, his chest pressed to the wood and his arms hanging limply at his side. “Oh, I’ve been waiting years to do this,” Vernon said behind him, and Harry hear the clink of a belt buckle, “You’ve gone far too long without any punishment, but I’ll fix that tonight. By the time I’m through with you, you’ll never think of disobeying me again.”
Harry’s breathing increased with the fearful anticipation of what was to come, and then he heard a sharp whistle, and a scream was ripped from his throat as he was hit, not with the leather of the belt, but the hard metal belt buckle. Harry’s body jerked involuntarily, and he screamed again as the next lash fell. It seemed, Harry noted absently, in some part of his brain that was not focused on his painful beating, that he could make involuntary movements and sounds, but he couldn’t direct his muscles.
“Freak!” Vernon yelled, striking Harry repeatedly with the belt, tearing his clothes and the tender skin beneath. “This is what you deserve! Do you hear me? You are worthless! Pathetic! Freak!” Harry continued to write and scream as he lost count of the lashes. At one point Vernon paused to give Harry a few drops of a different potion, and he felt the wounds partially heal, only for his uncle to resume his beating, now tearing open scabs in addition to creating new injuries.
It seemed like an eternity that the blows came down, one after the other, ripping his clothes to shreds and leaving his back a raw, bloody mess, but eventually they slowed and then stopped, and Harry could hear his uncle's ragged breathing and his own pitiful whimpers, his throat having gone raw from screaming long ago.
“That should be enough for tonight,” Vernon announced, grabbing Harry by the back of the neck and carelessly shoving him away from the desk. Harry whimpered again as he landed in the chair he had occupied earlier, and he discovered he could move again, as he leaned forward so that his back wasn’t touching the rough fabric of the chair.
“Good; the potion is wearing off,” Vernon noted, “You have ten minutes to collect yourself, then you will find your aunt and receive your list of chores. You will not be permitted to eat or sleep until they are done, do you understand?”
“Y-yes, Uncle Vernon,” Harry stammered. He watched with wide eyes as his uncle exited the office, leaving him alone. Merlin! Harry couldn’t remember every having been beaten so badly! He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to stand, let alone do chores…but if he didn’t get up, then he’d be punished again, and he was in no shape to take another beating. Harry closed his eyes, recalling everything Snape had told him about Occlumency last year, and managed to push the pain away; he couldn’t clear his mind, but he could choose not to focus on something that would only make him weak.
Once he felt that he was sufficiently prepared, Harry got to his feet and exited the study. He searched out Petunia, and found her at her desk in the parlor.
“There you are!” she snapped when she caught sight of Harry, “About time! What have you done to your clothes? You freak! You’ve gotten blood everywhere! Well, that will be your first task; you will clean up all this blood, and then you will complete everything on this list. If you haven’t finished by morning, you will stop at six a.m. to fix Vernon his breakfast, and then return to your chore list. Well? Get started!” Harry took the list Petunia thrust at him and secured it in his pocket, before heading to the kitchen and getting out the cleaning supplies. He returned to Vernon’s office first, and began the slow task of cleaning up the blood in there, before following the trail back out to the parlor.
By the time he finished cleaning up the blood, Vernon and Petunia had gone up to bed, but only after Vernon had taken all of Harry’s belongings out of the cupboard under the stairs and moved them up to Harry’s bedroom; Vernon secured the room with locks, and then informed Harry that, when he earned the privilege of sleeping, he would do so in the cupboard. Hedwig, thankfully, was safe, Harry having lent her to Fred and George.
After the Dursley’s went to bed, Harry looked at the remaining list of chores; he was to clean and dust every room on the ground floor, clean the guest bathroom, pull out the holiday dishes and wash and dry them, polish the silver, wash all the windows, and wax the kitchen floor. Harry knew he couldn’t possibly complete all this before morning, and resolved himself to a night without sleep.
By the time Vernon left for work, Harry had finished the cleaning and dusting the ground floor, cleaning the guest bathroom, and had waxed the kitchen floor. He had also finished washing and drying the holiday dishes, and he was in the process of polishing the silver. He set it aside in the formal dining room so that he could start breakfast, and was relieved when Vernon left for work without giving him another beating, although his uncle did take a few minutes to give him the magic blocking potion again. Harry washed the dishes, then resumed polishing the silver. He was just getting ready to start on the windows, when Aunt Petunia came downstairs.
“Dudley will be getting up in an hour,” Petunia informed him, “I expect you to have his breakfast ready when he gets down here. The windows can be washed later; after Dudley eats you will weed the garden. If you are finished by noon then you will eat, if not then you will have no food until tomorrow. Once you finish the garden, I will have another list of chores for you to complete before bedtime. Now, go change out of those rags!”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” Harry replied. He found an outfit that had belonged to Dudley-a pair of worn jeans and an old t-shirt-in the cupboard, and he quickly changed, wincing as he pulled the scraps of fabric away from the wounds on his back.
Harry didn’t finish the garden until after two, so Petunia refused him lunch. Once he finally finished, she sent him upstairs to clean Dudley’s bedroom, and then he washed the windows, finishing them just before Vernon got home. Vernon then instructed Harry to wash the car, while the rest of the family relaxed inside.
Harry was just finishing rinsing the soap off the driveway, when he saw a group of Dudley’s friends go up to the front door. They all sneered at Harry as they passed, calling him names, and Dudley’s best friend, Piers, pushed Harry down. Harry glared at the group of bigger boys, but chose not to say anything; Harry was too busy planning his escape. Vernon had promised Harry another beating after supper that night, and the brunet was determined to get away before then. His best bet, he decided, would be to slip away while the family was eating, and hide until the magic blocking potion wore off. He would sneak back into the house after the Dursley’s were in bed and get his belongings, then escape. He’d like to take everything with him, but Harry knew that wasn’t practical, so he decided he would take everything from his parents, his wand and the Marauder’s Map, then fly his Firebolt out the window and summon the Knight Bus…he wasn’t sure where he would go after that, but at least he would be away from the Muggles.
Harry was so busy planning his escape, that he didn’t realize his Dudley and his gang had come back outside until someone grabbed his arm.
“Got him!” Piers shouted; Harry jerked his arm away and heard a satisfying grunt as he jabbed the taller boy in the stomach. Harry pulled away and ran towards the park; there was a wooded area beyond the playground where Harry could hide until the bullies grew tired of chasing him.
“Get him men!” Dudley yelled, and Harry heard the other boys chase after him. Harry cut across a couple of yards, nearly tripped over a low garden wall, and continued running. He knew Dudley wouldn’t be too far behind-the bastard had gotten in better shape over the past two years, and now had muscle instead of fat-and his only chance at escape was to hit the tree line before his cousin caught up.
When he reached the park, Harry put on a burst of speed, ignoring the stitch in his side and the ache of his wounds from the night before-he knew he was bleeding again, but it probably didn’t show through the black shirt he was wearing. Harry was almost to the tree line; he knew the woods better than any of the other boys and soon he’d be safe. Harry cried out in pain as a blur came at him from the left, tackling him to the ground.
“Got him!” Harry didn’t recognize the voice belonging to the boy sitting on his chest, but he didn’t really care who it was; he just needed to get away! With that in mind, Harry bucked and twisted; the weight on his chest lifted, allowing Harry to roll over onto his stomach, but two pairs of hands quickly grabbed his arms and pulled him to his feet. Before he could get his balance, Harry was pushed against a tree, and then he grunted as a fist connected with his stomach, even as the harsh tree bark exacerbated the injuries from Vernon’s beating the night before.
“Good job men!” Dudley sounded like he was only slightly out of breath, and he gave Harry a nasty grin as he stopped in front of his cousin. “Hold him while I give the freak the medicine his school sent home with him.” Harry kicked and yelled as he tried to get away from the hands holding him, but he couldn’t fight against so many, and soon he had taken another dose of the magic blocking potion. “Now, let’s get out of sight. Follow me.” Harry continued to struggle as the group of boys drug him into the woods; he landed a few hits, and yelled bloody-murder, but it was no use, and soon he found himself thrown to the ground in a clearing.
“What’s the matter, Big D?” Harry spat, “Can’t take me without your lackeys to hold me down?”
“Shut it, freak!” Dudley kicked him in the side, “You think you’re so special, don’t you! Well, I’m going to show you what real men do to little freaks like you! Stand up!” Harry glared up at his cousin, slowly getting to his feet; his glasses had been knocked askew, and he took a moment to fix them as he searched for a way out. If only Dudley hadn’t brought so many of his friends with him…or if only they would get distracted. Harry only needed to distract them for a moment, then he could disappear into the woods.
“You think I can’t teach you a lesson by myself?” Dudley demanded, “You think you can take me on? Then let’s do it; come on, freak! Show us what you’re made of!”
“Are you sure?” Harry asked, pretending to be concerned, “I mean, I know you’ve never taken on anyone by yourself; you sure you don’t need your lackeys help? I’d hate for you to-Oh! Um, hi Mrs. Figg.” Harry widened his eyes and smiled at something behind Dudley, causing his cousin and his friends to spin around; Harry took the chance and pushed through the distracted boys.
Harry heard angry shouts behind him, but ignored it as he ran through the trees, his experience in the woods helping him to leave the other boys quickly behind. He didn’t slow down, however, until he came to an area where four trees grew close together, their large roots protruding from the ground and several bushes growing at the base of the trees. Without hesitation, Harry ducked under one of the roots, pushed his way through the bushes, and finally came to a stop in the large hollow beneath the trees; even if Dudley did find him here, neither him nor any of his friends were small enough to get through the roots, meaning Harry was safe for now.
Harry listened intently to the shouts that sounded in the woods, holding his breath when footsteps ran right past his hiding spot. After several minutes, the voices faded and Harry was able to relax in the knowledge that he was safe, and alone. Exhausted from being up all night and running from Dudley’s gang, Harry decided to take a nap, hoping that the rest would also make his injuries stop hurting so badly. Having used this as a hiding place in the past, Harry had stocked it with some blankets and bottled water; he quickly drank half a bottle of water, then wrapped a blanket around himself and curled up facing the small path leading out of the hollow. Within moments, Harry was fast asleep.
Harry wasn’t sure how long he slept for, but the hollow was completely dark when he finally awoke. He felt more refreshed, but winced as he stretched, irritating the numerous wounds he had received from his uncle and cousin. Harry finished off the bottle of water he had opened earlier, then drank another half bottle of water, before crawling out of the hollow; he stayed hidden in the bushes as he looked around, and saw that it was full dark. The question, he thought, was whether it was late enough for the Dursley’s to be in bed yet; he didn’t want to go back to the house too early and get another beating. Then again, if he stayed away too long they might contact Dumbledore, and then Harry would really be in trouble.
With a sigh, Harry moved out of the bushes and slowly began walking towards the park; he would be able to see some houses from the edge of the woods, and if he saw a lot of lights still on then he would know to wait a while longer.
It only took Harry a few minutes to make it to the park, and the lights in the houses across the street were all off. He figured it should be safe enough to return to his relatives’ house, and so he casually walked down the street, staying in shadows when possible, but being careful to act as if he wasn’t worried about being seen.
When he turned down Privet Drive, Harry saw that Mrs. Figg had her porch light on, and so did the neighbor’s across the street at Number 5. The Dursley house was dark, except for a glowing blue light in Dudley’s room, which Harry knew would be the Telly. With any luck, Dudley would have the volume loud enough to mask any sounds Harry might make while breaking in.
Harry wasted no time in crossing the street and slipping into the backyard, where a large tree grew close to his old bedroom; Harry had used it to sneak out of the house quite a few times the previous summer, as he was chafing under Dumbledore’s restrictions. He had no trouble climbing the tree, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the window was unlocked. Harry quietly pushed the window open, then crawled through; he had just pulled his legs through the window, when the light came on to reveal a smirking Vernon standing in front of the door.
“Not so smart now, are you freak?” Harry’s eyes widened and he turned back to the window, but Vernon was faster; he kicked Harry in the side, knocking the wind out of him-and likely cracking a rib or two-then pulled the boy’s arms behind his back and bound them tightly with rope. Once Harry was bound, he gave him a few drops of healing potion (“Can’t have you being useless.”), then grabbed Harry by his hair and dragged him out into the hallway.
“Dudley!” He called, opening Dudley’s bedroom door, “The freak came back; since he cost you some of your allowance by escaping on your watch, I thought I’d let you take care of his punishment. Just don’t kill him, and make sure the neighbors don’t hear him scream. When you’re done, throw him in his cupboard; he won’t eat again until you allow it.”
“Yes, dad,” Dudley agreed, glaring at Harry, “Don’t worry; I’ll teach the freak a lesson.”
“Good man, Dudley,” Vernon said proudly, yanking Harry to his feet and then throwing him into the room, “When I get home from work tomorrow, I’ll let you borrow the car to go see that film you were talking about.” Dudley nodded his thanks, then turned his beady eyes onto Harry once the door was closed.
“I’m going to enjoy this, freak,” Dudley growled, “I got in trouble with Dad because of you!”
“Oh, did poor little Duddikins disappoint Mummy and Daddy?” Harry mocked as he maneuvered himself onto his knees, before standing up, “Poor Dudders! What, did they take away your second helping of dessert? Or-“ Harry gasped in pain as Dudley, his face red with anger, punched him in the jaw, following it up with a jab to the stomach.
“Shut it, freak!” Dudley punched him in the stomach again, “I’ll teach you to talk to me like that!” The next punch knocked Harry to the ground, and then a hit to the side of his head had him seeing stars. He barely registered as Dudley tied his feet together, muttering something the whole time, but his eyes widened as a wad of cloth was shoved into his mouth, being held in place by some duct tape.
Harry began struggling in his bonds as he heard something heavy fall to the ground, then Dudley began dragging him over to the corned. A kick to the stomach had Harry feeling too weak to fight as Dudley untied his hands only to re-bind them in front of him, before leaving his room for a moment. Dudley quickly returned, along with Vernon, and Harry soon found himself being lifted off the ground; with Vernon holding Harry, Dudley was able to attach the rope around the brunet’s wrists to something and, as soon as he was secure, Vernon let go. Harry cried out behind his gag as his arms were stretched painfully above his head, his bindings preventing him from falling to the ground. Tilting his head back, Harry saw that he was hanging from the hook that normally held Dudley’s punching bag; his bonds were short enough that he couldn’t touch the floor, and his fruitless struggles simply caused his body to sway.
“Looks like you’ll be of some use for once freak,” Vernon laughed, “I’ve been meaning to get Dudley a new punching bag, but I think you’ll be a fine substitute. He’s yours for the rest of the summer son; just make sure to store him in the cupboard when you’re done, and I’ll help you hang him back up whenever you need to practice.” Harry didn’t hear Dudley’s reply, but it didn’t really matter what his cousin said; Harry knew what was coming, and there was no way around it.
After a few moments Dudley came back to stand in front of Harry, and the evil glint in those watery blue eyes filled him with dread. He was determined not to show it however, so Harry merely glared at the boy in front of him, before turning his head to the side in an obvious dismissal. He wanted to grin when he heard Dudley growl in annoyance, but then the first blow landed on his side, followed by another on his back and three to his face. After that, Harry soon lost count of the number of times he was struck, and instead found himself praying for blessed darkness.
Sometime later, Harry awoke in his cupboard, his limbs still bound and the gag still firmly in place. He carefully moved, only to scream into his gag at the burning pain he felt; he had numerous knew bruises, and likely a few broken ribs as well, not to mention his left eye was swollen shut. At this rate, Harry knew he would be dead by the end of the week.
Harry’s thoughts were interrupted as the cupboard door was yanked open, and Aunt Petunia’s thin face appeared in the scant light.
“If you fight me, you will get a strapping you’ll never forget, understand?” Harry nodded once, and Petunia reached in to untie his gag, before pressing a vial of familiar potion against his lips. Harry swallowed it automatically, then reluctantly allowed Petunia to replace the gag. “You’re to stay in here until Vernon gets home; I have some people coming over, so don’t you dare make a sound!” Harry shook his head fearfully, and closed his eyes in relief when the door was shut; with Harry bound as he was, Petunia didn’t even bother sliding the bolt to lock him in.
A little while later, Harry heard the doorbell ring, and then the living room was full of the sound of women gossiping. Knowing that Petunia would be less likely to hear him moving around with company to distract her, Harry began to work on getting free; first he loosened the gag, and he was soon able to spit the wad of cloth out. He worked his jaw for a few minutes, then began trying to free his wrists. It took far longer than Harry was comfortable with, but he was eventually able to get enough slack to slip one hand free of the rope, and then he used his free hand and his teeth the loosen the knot around his other wrist. The rope around his ankles was quickly untied, and then Harry focused on slowly moving his limbs, both to get the blood circulating again and to get used to the pain from his numerous injuries.
Once he was free from his bindings, Harry lay down on his cot and began trying to come up with an escape plan. It would have to be before Vernon came home, he knew, and before Dudley came back to the house; he could fight off Petunia if he had to, but there was no way he would be able to fight either his uncle or cousin. If only Petunia would take her friends outside, or even to the kitchen, then Harry could sneak upstairs, grab the important stuff and climb out the window. As if reading his mind, Harry heard Petunia offer to show her friends the garden, which “I just finished getting in order yesterday”, followed by the sound of feminine voices retreating. Harry waited only a few seconds, then quickly opened the cupboard door and made his way upstairs.
Instead of going straight to the room where his stuff was, Harry first detoured into Vernon and Petunia’s bedroom, where he saw four potions vials lined up on the bedside table. Harry picked up the disorienting and muscle weakening potions and dumped them on the floor, then looked at the two remaining potions; one, he knew, would heal his injuries, while the other would simply glamour them to look healed. Unfortunately, both were the same shade of dark blue, so he was unable to tell which was the actual healing potion. Not wanting to waste any more time, Harry decided to just take a sip of each, then he pocketed the vials and left the room.
A few minutes later found Harry in his old bedroom kneeling in front of his trunk. It had only taken him seconds to open it-the key had been hidden under a loose floorboard-and he was about to start looking for his invisibility cloak, when something caught his eye. It was a pair of mismatched socks, one sock red with flying golden snitches and the other gold with red brooms; the socks had been a gift from Dobby, and Harry nearly slapped himself for not thinking about the little elf sooner.
“Dobby!” Harry whispered; seconds passed and nothing happened, so he tried again; “Dobby, I need you!” Somehow sensing the need to be quiet, Dobby suddenly appeared in front of Harry, and without the loud Crack! that usually heralded his arrival. Before Dobby could say anything, Harry covered the elf’s mouth and quickly explained.
“We have to be quiet Dobby; if anyone finds you here we’re both dead, but I need your help. Please, set up a ward so that no one can hear us or sense any magic in this house; can you do that?” Dobby quickly nodded his head, his ears flapping back and forth, and Harry removed his hand. Dobby snapped twice, and only then did he speak.
“Dobby is helping Harry Potter sir!” the elf squeaked, his green eyes wide, “Harry Potter sir is hurt! Dobby will be telling Dumble-”
“No!” Harry interrupted, “I can’t-you can’t tell Dumbledore. I’ll explain later why later, but first I need to get away from here Dobby; someone gave my relatives a potion to block my magic, and I need to go somewhere safe until the potion wears off, but I don’t want anyone to recognize me. I don’t know who I can trust, other than you, so you can’t tell anyone else yet, okay Dobby?”
"The great Harry Potter trusts...me?" Dobby whispered in disbelief, his green eyes welling up in tears, "Oh, Dobby is so happy! Dobby can help Harry Potter sir hide until he is better! Dobby just needs to get something!" Dobby popped out, leaving Harry startled and a little uneasy as he didn't know where the little house elf had gone, but Dobby returned after only a few moments, holding a black leather collar in his hands.
"What is that?" Harry asked warily, and Dobby grinned.
"It is a magic collar," he said excitedly, "The collar is letting you be your animagus form even if you is not knowing how; it is keeping you that way until you is being able to use your magic again. Dobby can take Harry Potter to a safe place once he is using the collar!"
"That's brilliant!" Harry smiled, "But what about my stuff? I won't need any of my things while I'm in animal form, but I can't leave them here."
"Dobby is being shrinking them and turning them into a charm until Harry Potter is needing them," Dobby offered, "Is Harry Potter wanting to use the collar?" Harry was silent for a moment as he thought about it. He wasn’t sure if he really wanted to transform into his animagus form as he didn't know what it was-what if he turned out to be a helpless bunny or something? -but he couldn’t think any other options, so he sighed and nodded.
"Okay," he agreed, "I'll use the collar; how does it work?"
"Harry Potter is just putting the collar on and the magic is changing him,” Dobby said, "When nasty potion is out of Harry Potter's body he is being able to change back. Dobby is to be taking Harry Potter somewhere safe, and is checking on Harry Potter in two days if he is not calling for Dobby by then."
"Sounds good," Harry nodded, "I just have to write a few letters; can you make sure they get delivered? I loaned Hedwig to the Weasley twins.” Dobby readily agreed, so Harry quickly wrote out several letters; Ron, Hermione, the twins, Neville, and Dumbledore each got a letter and, after a moment of hesitation, Harry penned a final letter. “This last letter,” Harry began, “I need you to make sure that Hedwig delivers it; you can tell the twins, just don’t let them know who the letter is for, okay?”
“Yes sir, Harry Potter sir,” Dobby agreed, accepting the handful of letters, “Dobby is making sure all of the letters is being delivered. Is Harry Potter ready?” Harry took a deep breath, then nodded.
“Okay, I’m ready,” he said, “Can you go ahead and shrink my trunk? And after I transform I want a mirror, so I can see what I look like." Dobby agreed and quickly shrunk Harry's belongings, turning them into a charm that was attached to the collar. Taking a deep breath Harry thanked Dobby for his help and then let the house elf fasten the collar around his neck. For a few seconds nothing happened, then Harry felt a tingling sensation throughout his body, followed by a painful twisting sensation that made him close his eyes and cry out in pain; the pain wasn’t quite as bad as what he had felt when his magic had been locked away, but he was still on the verge of blacking out when the pain finally began to recede before vanishing completely.
Hearing Dobby gasp Harry opened his eyes and lifted his head slowly; looking down he noticed that he was a largish-type animal, with four legs and a tail that lashed out behind him. Dobby snapped, causing a mirror to appear, and Harry stared at his appearance, very pleased with what he saw. His animagus form was a large, black jungle cat-a panther, perhaps? -and he still had the same emerald eyes and-he noticed with disgust-a small white marking in the shape of a lightning bolt on his forehead; on closer inspection Harry saw that, barely visible against his already black fur, were even darker black stripes.
"Harry Potter sir is black a tiger," Dobby said excitedly, "They is being very rare-Harry Potter is being even more powerful than Dobby thought! Dobby is proud to serve Harry Potter!" Harry tilted his head, eying the elf curiously, but as he was unable to ask the questions swimming through his mind he butted Dobby with his head and walked to the door-or attempted to anyway; it took him some time to coordinate walking on four legs, but once he realized his tail played a big part in helping him balance it got easier.
When he saw that Harry was comfortable in his animal form, Dobby placed a hand on his collar and apparated them to a forest.
"This place is being far away from the bad people who hurt Harry Potter," Dobby informed him, "Harry Potter is being careful; there is being wizards close by, but they is not looking for Harry Potter so Harry Potter is being safe." Harry butted his head against Dobby in thanks and then bound further into the forest, quickly leaving the small house elf behind.
Once he felt like he was far enough away from the spot where he and Dobby had entered the forest, Harry slowed down and began looking for a suitable place to spend the night. His feline senses were able to detect other predators in the forest so Harry figured that his best bet would be to find a tall tree with sturdy branches. As Harry stalked through the trees he noticed that the pain in his back was slowly increasing and he realized that the potion must only offer temporary relief; either that or the potion didn't work on his animagus form.
As he pondered this, Harry slowly became aware of the sound of running water and followed it to a stream; after verifying that there was no immediate danger near the stream, the black tiger crouched down to drink, keeping his senses open. Nearby Harry heard the sound of another animal, and determined that it was probably a deer; he was disturbed to realize that he was hungry, and the predatory instincts of his current form were making it hard for him to resist chasing after the animal and turning it into supper. Instead, Harry drank as much water as he could and then climbed a nearby oak tree which he decided would make a good place to sleep. He climbed up to the highest branch that was still sturdy enough to hold him, and surveyed the land below; there didn't seem to be much in the way of human habitation, but to the north of him Harry saw a large manor with what appeared to be albino turkeys in the front yard. The house was far enough away that Harry felt safe and yet close enough so that, after he rested, he would be able to see who lived there-if it was someone he knew maybe they would be able to help him.
Having satisfied himself that he would be safe for the time being, Harry lay down on a large branch and was quickly asleep.