Canon: AU. Pre-GoF. Snape and Petunia do not know each other.
Rating/warnings: T for neglect, emotional abuse and mentions of caning.
AN: I'm entering this fic into the Summer 2015 Fic Fest over on Potions and Snitches. It's a response to two challenges posted there: "Neighbours" by Mellow Moon (challenge #711), and "Grounded!" by ravenhaired88 (challenge #878). Updates will be frequent as I have virtually the whole thing written already, and hope to have the last few chapters finished in the next few days.
Love Thy Neighbour
Chapter One: Moving Day
Harry stared out of the Dursleys' car window, taking in the scenery and trying not to faint. The air conditioner was on maximum, but Harry was still crammed in the back with Dudley, who was ignoring Harry and on his Game Boy.
It felt strange, thinking he would never see Privet Drive again. But not unpleasantly so. However, Harry doubted things would be any better at the new house. Since they were downsizing due to Vernon's firm going bust, he thought it might even be worse.
It had been a long journey. Harry knew the Dursleys didn't want the shame of the neighbours knowing about Grunnings, so they had elected to move about a hundred miles away—not an exaggeration—where nobody knew them.
Harry didn't expect he would make any better an impression on the new neighbours than he did on the old ones (not if the Dursleys had any say in the matter), so he wasn't too excited.
"Here we are," Vernon said with slightly forced cheer as they passed a sign saying Welcome to Hastings.
Harry took a little more interest now they were close. He caught glimpses of the sea, sparkling grey-blue in the distance. Signs pointed to the town centre, to the seafront, to the tourist attractions, but the car instead wound its way through a residential area until spotting a road sign reading Arrow Close.
Harry hadn't been to view the house with them, but he could see immediately which one it was, thanks to the removal van parked outside. There were ten white houses in a cul-de-sac, almost identical to each other, with a park up the end. Theirs, Number Nine, was the first house on the right. It had an overgrown garden, and the number was hanging off its hinges.
They stopped on the road outside and all got out. Harry's legs were a little shaky from the two-hour trip.
"You, boy," Vernon said to him, "help the removal men with the unloading—and if you break anything, there will be hell to pay. Dudders, why don't you come in and pick a bedroom?"
The bleak wallpaper in the hall and living-room was peeling, but Harry didn't get much of an opportunity to reflect on the fact that he would probably be made to redecorate the lot. He heaved furniture around for what seemed like hours, until, faint from the heat and hunger, he nearly passed out and one of the men made him sit down and drink some water while they finished off. When he was finally allowed to stop, and given nourishment (a couple of carrot sticks), he was in for a nasty shock.
Harry's bedroom at Privet Drive had been pretty small—but his new one was miniscule. There was barely room to walk around the bed, which wasn't his full-size one from his last room, but the child's one from his old cupboard. Once his trunk was moved in and Hedwig's cage set up on the window-sill—the only available surface—he could barely move.
"Don't be so ungrateful," Aunt Petunia snapped when Harry pointed out that his feet were hanging off the length of the bed. "We couldn't afford a proper third room. We're not made of money! Dudley has much less space as well and you should be thankful you get a bedroom at all."
As Harry unpacked, he wondered how anyone could have classed this as a third bedroom. After visiting the bathroom, he discovered to his humiliation, that it was almost twice the size of his own room. He figured the last owners had wanted a much bigger bathroom and had no need for a third bedroom, so had swapped them round. Judging by the musty smell, lack of carpet or proper flooring, and shelving marks, Harry's new room had simply been storage space.
Great. He was sleeping in a bathroom-turned-cupboard. One with a large patch of damp on the outside wall.
All Harry had to do to unpack was to let Hedwig out and fold up his clothes under the bed. He checked the floorboards, but none of them were loose, so he would have to risk storing any food his friends could send him in his trunk. Now seemed as good a time as any to write the requests; Hedwig looked like she wanted to stretch her wings, and the Dursleys were heavily involved with trying to console Dudley about the size of his new room.
As Harry wrote, leaning on the window-sill for lack of a desk—or table or any furniture at all—Harry wondered what Sirius would make of this new development. He knew the Dursleys were scared stiff he'd show up and do something horrible to them, but even that hadn't stopped this. Which probably meant Aunt Petunia's insistence that they couldn't afford better wasn't just an excuse.
Maybe he wouldn't say anything. There was no point Sirius deciding to pay them a visit, and risk getting himself caught, just because Harry had a tiny damp bedroom. Get over yourself, Harry told himself. It's still better than the cupboard.
He finished his letters to Ron and Hermione explaining the diet situation, sent them off with Hedwig. The window was small and could only be opened a little way, so Hedwig had to duck through. She made a hoot that clearly expressed her derision of the exit option.
"Sorry, Hedwig," Harry said. "I wish there was more room as well."
When she left, Harry really looked out of his window for the first time. Movement caught his eye after she was out of sight; someone was weeding in the opposite house's front garden, long dark hair falling over their face. Harry wondered idly what the neighbours would be like, and if there was any point trying to make a good impression before the Dursleys had a chance to prejudice them against him with their lies.
Admittedly, the summer—and future summers—would pass a lot less painfully if Harry had someone to talk to. This was a chance for a whole new start. And right now, the Dursleys were engrossed in moving in. He would never get a better chance.
Harry slipped out of the house unnoticed, and wandered up and down the road, wondering where to begin. The opposite neighbour had gone inside, but a couple of others were in their gardens. A small child stared at him shyly from behind Number Four's fence, and an old lady outside Number Eight was clipping her hedge. As if feeling Harry's presence, she turned and gave him a warm smile.
"Hello, dear," she said brightly, pushing her sunglasses further up her nose.
"Hi," Harry said awkwardly. He'd never been very good at introducing himself.
"Did you just move into Number Nine?"
Harry nodded, then added, "I'm Harry."
"Jane Halliwell. Welcome to the neighbourhood."
"There's no need to be shy," she said astutely, "we're quite a friendly bunch." Harry smiled. "Well, except for Number Ten—he's a little … strange. I wouldn't bother him if I were you. But the rest of us are very pleasant. You're welcome to come in. I have brownies in the oven."
Harry's stomach audibly growled, and he went scarlet as she chuckled. "I think that's a yes. Come on, round the side here."
His mouth watered; the last meal he had had that had consisted of more than salad or crackers was nearly a week ago. "That's very kind of you, um …
"Oh, just Jane is fine, lovie. Come on in, you look as if you could do with something to eat."
He followed her into the shade of her kitchen, heartily accepted the delicious brownies hot from the oven and the glass of water, and tried to answer all her eager questions. Where had they moved from? Were they settling in okay? How old was he? Would his parents like to come over for a cuppa when everything was sorted out?
"Um, actually," Harry replied to that one, "my parents are dead. I live with my aunt and uncle."
Jane was a senior Mrs Weasley, he thought as she declared her sympathy with tears in her eyes and offered him another brownie. He wasn't normally inclined to play the pity card, but to get one over on the Dursleys, he was willing to give it a go.
"I don't even remember my mum and dad," he said mournfully, causing Jane's eyes to well up again. "I was only a baby when they died. And my aunt and uncle never wanted me around. They don't understand me at all. The last place we lived, they spread all sorts of lies about me to the neighbours so I never had any friends either."
Jane wiped her eyes on her oven gloves. "Oh, you poor thing. That's simply horrible. What sort of lies?"
"They told everyone I'm a criminal," Harry said. "Actually I'm sure they'll start doing it again once they get settled in, they're not ones for changing their habits."
"What awful people! Don't you worry, pet, I'll make sure to get the record straight with everyone before they get a chance. Criminal, indeed … why, that's criminal! A sweet young man like you?"
"Could you be subtle about it?" Harry asked eagerly; this was going like a dream. "Only, if they find out I've been saying this stuff, I'll be in big trouble."
"I understand, Harry. Don't fret. We look after our own around here. None of us will breathe a word."
"Thank you. Really. I'm so grateful. Also," Harry said, "you might want to warn the kids around here about my cousin. He's kind of a bully."
"So I will."
Harry returned to the new house before the Dursleys could miss him, pockets full of baked goods and feeling much happier. He slipped unnoticed back inside and up to his bedroom, where he ate one more brownie (wow, Jane was a good cook) and stored the rest in his trunk.
Maybe this summer wouldn't be so bad after all.