This work brings together a number of related ideas that have been dispersed across several of my stories, some published and others not. I have no clue where it is going. Will it be a tale of the Dark victorious like the Black Queen series? Will it have a happy ending like What Happens in Vegas? Will it descend into bleak depression like Deal with a Devil? I hope not the third one, but there is no way to predict anything right now.
It is in some ways yet another reaction to what is probably my biggest beef with the Harry Potter franchise: how in a world where every main character is a wizard, there is no mysticism or real magic in what they do. It's all point a stick, say a few rote words, and move on to the next task. There is no effort, no creativity, no individuality.
Let's fix that.
"Where'd she go?! She was right here!"
A too-thin girl slowly leaned over the edge of the rooftop and glanced down at the six boys milling around aimlessly in the narrow dead-end between two school buildings. All of them were practically vibrating with confusion, their thoughts bouncing around as they tried to figure out where the target of their 'fun' could have gone, but the biggest and meanest of them had a thread of fear running through him. Thoughts like "People don't disappear" and "She has to be here" warred with "How'd she do that?" and "Freaky..." in his head. The blond boy lifted his head higher, as though thinking she might have climbed up the walls, and she pulled back so he would not get a glimpse of her shaggy black hair or her green eyes.
"She must have jumped over the fence."
"We were right behind her, Dudley! She's not that fast!"
"You got a better idea?!" Dudley demanded. No one answered him, and even from on top of the building and out of sight she could still feel the satisfaction that flooded through him at their acceptance. Three years he had spent putting his little gang together, she knew, and even now he still feared that one of them would challenge his authority and knock him from the top. He had reason to fear this, too; Marcus had considered it several times over the last year, and the only thing that was stopping him was that he in turn was afraid that none of the other boys would back him up and instead would hold him down where Dudley could beat on him. "Let's go. We'll get back at her tomorrow."
The 'her' in question flopped onto her back with a quiet huff. She rarely expected tomorrow to be any better than today, and after hearing that she felt her doubts were once again going to be well founded. Boys were not supposed to hit girls, that was something the teachers constantly told everyone at Little Whinging Primary School, but none of those same teachers would lift a finger to defend her.
Everyone from the other children to the teachers to the principal all thought the same thing. Hazel Potter was weird, a freak, and she deserved whatever happened to her.
Hazel pushed herself upright and glared at the pockets of snow still lingering on the tiles. It was not as if it was her fault that strange things always seemed to happen to her! Like the time her Aunt Petunia told her she had to wear a black and white dress that looked like it was from the 1930s, a dress she knew her aunt had picked up for less than a pound at a charity shop. Her aunt had been so pleased with herself about that, about how ugly she knew the dress was and how Hazel did not deserve to have 'normal people money' spent on her. The next morning, Hazel had woken to find the dress had shrunk overnight so small that it would not fit even a doll, let alone her. She had spent a week locked in the cupboard under the stairs after that, even though no one ever tried to explain how she was supposed to be responsible for that.
Or the time when one of the girls in her class had been making fun of how quiet she was only to start braying like a horse. Marissa was unable to talk normally for the rest of the day and had to be taken home early by her mother. Because Hazel had been the victim, the school had called Aunt Petunia to tell her about it. Hazel's shoulder twinged at the memory of Uncle Vernon's punishment for being 'freakish' in public like that.
Even her appearance was considered 'abnormal'. Not necessarily the faded skirt or the overlarge shirt that had once been Dudley's, nor the wild black hair that Aunt Petunia insisted on cutting as short as a boy's, nor the grass-green eyes that stared out from behind ugly plastic glasses. No, it was instead the aftermath of the incident that had killed her parents. Her fingers reached up to trace the pale, puckered line crossing her throat, sloping upwards slightly as it ran from the left to the right. Whatever happened had not just stolen her parents; it also left her without a voice to call her own.
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon said her parents died in a car crash while driving drunk, but that was a lie.
Her silence was in all honesty only the second oddest thing about Hazel Potter, but it was the first thing on people's minds when they saw her, and in many ways it was the most debilitating. She could not talk with other children in her class, and until she had learned her letters and how to read and write when she first started school, she was left with no way to communicate even if she had anyone at home willing to listen. Stuck playing charades or writing out anything she wanted other people to know, she was intimately familiar with the feeling of being ignored because it was so much easier for teachers to ignore her than they could other kids who yelled out whatever they wanted to say.
"Miss Potter! Where are you?!"
Hazel winced at the shrill sound of Mrs. Nicholson's voice and climbed to her feet. Break must be over. Stepping to the edge, she waved her hand until the teacher glanced up. The oldest teacher still working at the school stared at her for a long moment. "The bloody hell is she doing there?" the woman asked, using language Hazel had seen her smack people's hands for using in front of her. Finally she voiced the obvious question. "How did you even get up there?"
Her shoulders slumped at the stupidity of anyone asking her a question like that.
"Right, never mind. Just get down here, you creepy little shit." Hazel ignored the insult with the ease of long practice and started looking for a ladder, but she froze in place when she heard Mrs. Nicholson's next words.
"When you come down, go to the principal's office and wait for your aunt."
The car ride back to Number 4 Privet Drive was anything but quiet, even if nobody spoke. In the back seat next to Hazel, Dudley sat with a big fat grin, his piggy little eyes watching her in anticipation of the punishment she was sure to receive. Ugly laughter echoed in his head, and his thoughts turned towards what his daddy would do to the dumb freak. In the driver's seat, Aunt Petunia was distracted by having to keep her eyes and attention on the road, but whenever she looked in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of Hazel, a terrible anger would overtake her and she would have to look forwards again. "She's not just a freak. She's an abomination. Why were we the ones who had to take her in? Should have taken her to an orphanage as soon as we found her on the front step."
Hazel had been six years old when she realized hearing other people's thoughts was not something Normal People did. It was certainly not something anyone else on Privet Drive and the nearby streets could do, otherwise the ladies in Aunt Petunia's tea group would realize they all hated one another and quit wasting their time trying to impress everyone else. She only knew for sure that it was something abnormal – something special and unique to her – when she had asked her year 1 teacher why she thought Hazel was so disturbing. The teacher gave her a nonsense answer about how all children were special and precious even as fear and the question of how she could be so easily seen through danced around her mind.
Over the next few years, Hazel had learned a number of lessons that made her ever more eager for the chance to leave Little Whinging when it came time for secondary school or, barring that, when she turned eighteen. First, the people in this town were all awful. The children thought she was weird and creepy and were happy to remind her of that if she came too close to them. The adults, the same ones who smiled and said everyone should be treated equally and everyone should be nice to each other, were more than willing to turn a blind eye whenever anything happened to the mute girl who always saw too much, always knew too much, for they had the same opinions as their children.
Second, and related to the first, people were liars. Rarely did their words match their thoughts, and many of them were quick to punish people for the same things they did. Mrs. Nicholson was a prime example of this.
And third, the Dursleys were not her family. Not really. Families were supposed to love and care for each other; they were supposed to be the one group of people she could count on no matter what. That was what all the books she had read in school told her. The Dursleys did not care for her. They hated her, Aunt Petunia even more than Uncle Vernon and Dudley, and wanted nothing to do with her. Every time they locked her in the cupboard that served as her bedroom, they wished they did not have to have her in the house at all.
The only reason they had not thrown her out already was an image of a dark figure that sometimes crossed their minds when they let her out of her cupboard or after Uncle Vernon smacked her. She did not know who this figure was, but she knew they feared him more than they hated her, if only by a little.
She did not know when or if their opinions would tilt the other way, but it seemed like as she got older, their hatred and more recently their fear of her were growing stronger and faster.
They pulled up into the driveway in front of Number 4, and Hazel barely had time to grab her backpack before Aunt Petunia opened the door and twisted her ear. "Get inside, freak, before anyone sees. In your cupboard. Now. Should lock you inside and let you starve. We'd be rid of you then. What have I told you about being… abnormal in public?!"
Hazel reached for her bag to grab her pen and pad of paper, but Aunt Petunia yanked harder on her ear. It was not as if she did whatever she did on purpose! Aunt Petunia did not really care about that, though. Intentions or accidents meant nothing when it came to her.
"She's getting worse. She'll be just like Lily at her age soon."
Like Lily? Hazel twisted in her aunt's grasp to stare up at the blonde woman. Aunt Petunia rarely thought of Hazel's mother, in fact did her best not to think of her at all, and this was the first time Hazel had heard anything about her mother being like her. The confusion and curiosity in her eyes startled Aunt Petunia, and the woman opened the cupboard door and threw Hazel and then her backpack inside. "You'll stay in there for a week. If you do anything freakish, any magic, it'll be longer!"
That word swirled around in Hazel's mind as she sat for hours in the dark and spawned countless questions to which she had no answers. Magic? What she could do, that was magic? Her mother could do magic? What else could she do, could they do? Were there other people like her out in the world?
She knew exactly when Aunt Petunia told Uncle Vernon what happened earlier that day because the wave of utter rage and terror hit her almost like a physical thing. He stomped up to the door of her cupboard. For a long moment she worried he would decide to reach inside, but in the end he decided to stay on the opposite side of the door "Maybe we should have listened to Marge. Drowned the girl when she was a baby. You are staying in this cupboard until you've learned your lesson! Do you hear me, girl? It's long past time you start acting like a regular, normal person! But she won't. She was never normal, and she'll never be normal. I won't have that in my home!"
The thoughts in Uncle Vernon's head sent shivers down Hazel's spine. She barely breathed until he finally walked away towards his and Aunt Petunia's bedroom. This was not the first time a Dursley had wanted her to die, but before it had only been Aunt Marge, Uncle Vernon's sister, who thought that. Until tonight, that was, and the very fact that he was seriously considering following her advice terrified Hazel.
Whoever that dark figure in the Dursleys' memories was, he was no longer the person they feared most. But unlike him, her they could do something about.
She had to escape this cupboard. This house. These people. Or else they might very well kill her this time.
Whenever the Dursleys locked her in her cupboard for days and days like this, they did not leave her entirely alone. She was let out to use the loo and drink a glass of water exactly twice a day. Two glasses of water a day was not enough; they knew that, and therefore Hazel did too. As the days went on, she would feel more and more sick until most days she wanted nothing more than to go back into the cupboard and sleep.
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon both thought this was the best way to 'fix' her.
Hazel looked up at the bottom of the stairs that made up the top of her cupboard and waited for silence to fill the house. Six days she had spent locked in her cupboard so far. The fear and anger the Dursleys had not decreased, though unlike that first night they were no longer considering starving or drowning her. Their minds instead had focused on all the chores they could give her to keep her too busy to cause trouble. They thought if they physically wore her out, strange things would cease to happen around her. She doubted it would work, but as the days went by and the sense of danger shrank, she was tempted to keep her head down and not rock the boat.
The downside to that idea was that she would have to let go of the questions Aunt Petunia's accidental thought had uncovered.
The house creaked, and Hazel closed her eyes and tried to focus. That was fear of the unknown talking. What she should be afraid of was what would happen in the future. The odd events – the magical events – around her were becoming stronger and stranger, and her aunt and uncle's punishments for them were getting worse in response. They had decided not to kill her this week, but would that continue to be the case in a year, or two, or five? In the worst case, was it possible for their patience to last another nine years until she turned eighteen and finally left Privet Drive behind forever?
She did not like those odds. The sooner she escaped this place, the safer she would be.
Her punishment gave her the perfect opportunity to work through what had happened at school. One moment, she was being chased by Dudley's gang, and the next moment she was on top of the building. Other than a strange squeezing sensation, almost as if she were toothpaste being forced out a tube, it had been instant. Teleportation was yet another thing the Dursleys said was impossible, but so was everything she had ever done. What she really wanted to know was whether she could do it again. Every night when the Dursleys went to sleep, she attempted to repeat the experience.
The results so far were… less than encouraging.
Once again, Hazel imagined that squeezing sensation and pictured the kitchen of Number 4. Once again, that sensation failed to come, and she opened her eyes to find herself still in her cupboard. What am I doing wrong?, she wondered, scrubbing her eyes to wipe away the sleep dust that was trying to form. Practicing all night and trying to sleep through Aunt Petunia moving around in the house watching the telly during the day did not lend itself to much in the way of rest, and that was not helping either, she was sure. Still, she had limited time in which to figure out what she was doing. Now was no time to relax.
When I did it Friday, I was running from Dudley. Can't exactly run around in here, she thought with a look around the cramped interior of the cupboard that was not large enough for her even to stand, and I wouldn't ask Dudley to chase me even if I could. I wanted to be somewhere else, but I'm imagining where I want to go and not getting there. I know I don't want to be here, but that doesn't work either. Nor does imagining the kitchen and wanting not to be here. What else is there?!
After so many nights without making any headway, Hazel was losing her patience. How could it be so difficult to do intentionally what she did on accident without even knowing she could do it? She swept her hand out and yanked it back when it banged painfully into the wall. She was not asking for much, was she?! All she wanted was to be. In. The. Kitchen—!
The cupboard collapsed around her and squeezed all the air out of her chest. For a long second she was afraid she would suffocate, but then with a 'crack' she fell forwards onto a linoleum floor. She recognized these tiles.
Hazel would have whooped with joy if she could make such a sound. Instead she climbed to her feet and ran to the cupboard. Unlocking it was easy now that she was on this side of the door, and she pulled out the few clothes she had and stuffed them into her backpack. Her school books and notebooks she left on the cot in the cupboard with the exception of one blank pad of paper and the collection of colored pens she had collected over the years whenever she found one abandoned on the floor. These she would need if she wanted to talk to anyone she met.
She had plenty of space left in her bag, and she ran down the mental checklist she had made the first night locked in the cupboard when she had decided she could not wait until she got into secondary school or became an adult. She was leaving Privet Drive for good. Tonight.
Just because she was young did not mean she was a fool. She knew she could not run away and stay away with nothing but a few changes of clothes in a backpack. She needed something to live off of. Her next stop was therefore back in the kitchen. Cans of vegetables and meat, a jar of peanut butter, and a loaf of bread filled that extra space easily. It weighed her down, of course, but it would give her something to eat while she was planning her next move.
Her eyes fell on Aunt Petunia's purse, and she nibbled on her bottom lip. Taking food from the cabinets was one thing. Stealing money was another altogether. Stealing was something no one was supposed to do. But neither is treating 'family' like Aunt Petunia does me, she thought. Opening the purse before she lost her nerve, she pulled out a sheaf of bills and shoved them in her pocket.
There. She had clothes, food, and money. She had everything she wanted to take with her from Privet Drive.
She stopped and looked down the hall in the direction of Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's bedroom. Nearly everything, that was. She set her backpack down in the front hall and padded her way through the house in her socks, slowly opening a door to reveal her aunt and uncle lying in bed sound asleep. There was one thing Aunt Petunia still had that Hazel wanted, needed, more desperately than she has ever needed anything else before.
Aunt Petunia's thoughts were proof that Hazel's mother had abilities similar to her own. What exactly was their magic capable of? How much did Aunt Petunia know about the hows and whys? Hazel did not expect her to be a walking encyclopedia of all things magic – the idea that her aunt would go out of her way to learn about something she so clearly hated was laughable – but whatever she knew was more than Hazel did. Even a single hint would give her a direction to start looking.
If the number of odd things that had already happened around Hazel were any hint, she could probably spend her whole life digging into its mysteries. She could not say for sure that she would want to do that forever, but it was far and away the most interesting thing she had come across in her life so far. It was better than learning her multiplication tables and how to use semicolons, that was for sure.
Hazel leaned over her sleeping aunt. She had only done something like this once, when she was trying to figure out why Melissa Grant hated her so much back in year 3. By 'pushing' herself into Melissa's eyes instead of just listening, she had gotten a flurry of sounds and images and a splitting headache and given Melissa another reason to hate her. The entire thing had caught her off-balance, but with Aunt Petunia asleep and plenty of time on her side, she should be able to get a better picture of what was going on.
Peeling one of her aunt's eyes open, she let herself fall into the mind behind it. Tell me about my mum. Tell me about our magic.
Images flew past her, bits and pieces of memory trying to drown her in the past.
…"I don't want you or your freak boyfriend here!" Petunia, dressed up in a fancy white gown, screaming at a woman with long red hair and Hazel's eyes…
…That same woman, now a girl not much older than Hazel herself, leaping off a swing and drifting to the ground…
…A letter with old-fashioned writing on it, addressed to Petunia Evans…
…"Lily, stop it!" Petunia shouted as cups and dishes whirled around a crying teenaged girl…
…A flower in a little girl's hand, opening and closing while she giggled…
…Hazel staring up at her, eyes cold and distrustful…
…Opening the door to get the milk only to find a basket with a black-haired girl inside…
…"Muggles are not allowed"…
…Lily holding a teacup in her hand as it shifted smoothly into a white mouse…
…"It's good you're being separated from normal people"…
…"Your sister and her husband have passed away"…
…Teenaged Petunia shoving Lily away, causing the younger girl to burst into tears…
A loud snort distracted Hazel from the onslaught of memories, and Uncle Vernon rolled onto his side and sat up. He pushed himself out of the bed before taking a couple of steps towards the loo. Hazel held her breath, hoping against hope that he would keep walking and close the door. If he did that, she could slip away and make her escape with him being none the wiser.
He scratched his belly and turned to the side, his sleepy mind filled with thoughts of finding his slippers. Seeing something out of the corner of his eye, he looked over and stared straight at Hazel. All thoughts of sleep or slippers vanished and were replaced by fear that burned into anger.
Hazel was already moving, her sock-clad feet slapping against the wooden floor. She had to run! Now! She slid through the living room and bounced off the wall, her backpack and the front door only a short distance in front of her and taunting her.
Uncle Vernon ran out of the bedroom, a cricket bat held tight in his hands.
There was no time to stop for her shoes or her coat. She ran down the hall, her backpack jumping into her hand without her having to bend down and pick it up. The front door opened outwards rather than in, a small mercy now, and a moment later she was sprinting down the snowy sidewalk towards Magnolia Crescent.
"You better run, girl! I'm going to bash your head in!" Uncle Vernon had not stopped at the doorstep. He was still after her, and while he was even less of a runner than Dudley, he was taller than her and had longer legs. She dared not look behind her to see whether he was gaining on her or falling behind. She did not have the time to spare. She needed to be away from him, away from here. Somewhere, anywhere, she did not care. As long as it was somewhere safe!
Her entire body was squeezed through a tube, and Hazel Potter vanished from Privet Drive.
I did some research into runaway youth before writing this story. The statistics are downright depressing. For example, did you know Hazel would be just one of the more than 100,000 kids who run away from home in the UK every single year? I won't include many of the major risks runaways face in this story (especially drug use and needing to trade sex for food or shelter), but some of the other things Hazel will experience are similar to those faced by real-world runaways, just with a fantasy bent.
As you can see, Hazel is very, very different from canon Harry. Most of that is because unlike canon, Hazel had it thrust in her face on a daily basis that the Dursleys did not and never would love her. That is going to do a number on anyone's psyche.
Silently Watches out.