Title: Good Babysitter
Rating: PG for mild language
Summary: Young Harry Potter has a good babysitter. But he'd rather have a mum.
Author's note: Huge thank yous to everyone who stuck with me and reviewed to encourage me to finish this story. Thank you especially, faithaccompli, for betaing and bettering the great majority of this story.
This is a repost of the story in its entirety. I've gone through and edited for style, but the content remains basically the same. Except for the notable exception of, say, the ending? Which it now has.
Traffic was horrid. Nell sighed in exasperation as the London drivers made their weekend exoduses to country homes and getaways. The Dursleys had a positive knack for wanting a child minder just when the traffic would be the worst.
At least they only wanted her to mind Harry; she wouldn't be nearly as eager to get there if she knew Dudley was waiting for her as well. She'd loved watching Harry, but on the rare occasions when the Dursleys left Dudley, it was a positive nightmare. They really didn't pay enough for that awful, spoiled little pig.
She finally arrived and rang the bell. Mrs. Dursley answered, her face pinched with tension.
"Oh, it's you," she said ungraciously. "Come on in." She held the door open only enough for Nell to slither in sideways, and Mrs. Dursley banged it shut immediately behind her.
"Thank you, Mrs. Dursley," said Nell as politely as she could. "Where's Harry?" She looked around for a sign of the cheerfully tousled black hair that always grabbed her attention first whenever she saw Harry.
But she didn't have to look far. As soon as Harry heard her voice in the hall, he came tumbling out of the cupboard to greet her. He was quite dishevelled, even for him; Nell could see a bit of spiderweb in his wild hair.
"Oh, my, Harry," she said, ruffling his hair fondly. "Don't you ever get this mop cut?"
He winced and squirmed out from under her affectionate hand, looking up at her in alarm. "You aren't going to cut it, are you?" he asked in alarm, and moved his hand up in a futile attempt to smooth it out.
Nell frowned. "Of course not, Harry. I think it looks adorable just as it is. Besides, I wouldn't do anything like that without asking your aunt." She turned to smile at Mrs. Dursley, who smiled back tightly, then turned and walked upstairs, twittering anxiously for her 'Dudders' to get himself ready. Nell watched her go with amusement.
Harry looked down and muttered something. Nell stooped closer to his level. "Sorry, Harry, didn't catch that?"
He repeated himself. "Aunt Petunia doesn't like my hair. She'd let you cut it." His eyes were wide and earnest, his tone confiding.
She frowned again, but let that pass without comment. She changed the subject. "What would you like to do tonight? I brought a video or I have some colourons."
Harry brightened up. "Oh!" he said. "I'd like to colour, please! Can I draw anything I want?"
She grinned. "If you can dream it, Harry, you can draw it for me." Harry smiled back at her and they started to move to the next room.
Vernon Dursley interrupted them in their progress to the lounge. "You're not encouraging any nonsense, are you? We don't hold with that kind of rubbish in this house, missy," he barked, his bluff, beefy face red with bad temper.
Nell shook her head and looked down. She knew what he wanted to hear, and she was perfectly willing to play along. To be honest, Mr. Dursley unnerved her with his relentless focus on normality; she wouldn't have been a bit surprised if he really led Satanic rituals every month. "Of course not!" she said, sounding shocked and trying not to giggle at her errant thought. "I wouldn't dream of it, sir; I know how you feel about the occult."
Dursley looked at her suspiciously, but after a moment relief spread across his fat face and he said, "Well, that's all right then," as he began to walk upstairs. "Mind that you don't let him get away with anything – funny," he added in an oddly constrained voice.
Nell murmured a vague sound of assent, then looked down at Harry and crossed her eyes. He barely covered his mouth in time to stop the giggle from emerging. Honestly, if Harry wasn't the sweetest thing she'd ever met, she'd quit this job for two pence and go wait tables. But she spent nearly all of her Dursley-time, as she thought of it, with Harry, and she could tolerate the uncle for his sake.
They continued into the lounge and coloured innocently as the Dursleys made a great deal of noise getting ready, Dudley threatening tantrums twice. The first was over being forced to go to the 'stupid party', and the second was about his favourite tie. Honestly, it was hard to believe he and Harry were related. She couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for Dudley, who had been spoilt beyond endurance, but she had to admit that it was easier to pity him when she wasn't near him.
Nell and Harry both breathed a bit easier once the Dursleys were out the door. They continued to colour for a few moments, and sure enough, Dudley had forgotten something. Once Nell was sure the Dursleys were gone for the evening, she tucked the book away and took out blank paper. Harry set to with a will.
When he'd finished his picture, she was breathless. No, he wasn't a particularly good artist; he was, after all, only eight. But this picture had a lovely simplicity, despite the fact that a flying motorbike was the focus of the scene.
"That's beautiful," she said appreciatively.
Harry looked uneasy. "Would you like it?" he blurted. "I'd get in trouble. Uncle Vernon would shout." He hastily handed her the sheet, and she willingly took it.
Nell pinched her lips together briefly to prevent her saying something she might regret, then nodded. "I'd love to have it, Harry. I'll put it on my 'fridge door, and then when you visit, you can see it again, how about that?"
Harry nodded. "That would be very nice, thank you," he said, almost primly. She grinned.
"Now how about that video?"
After an evening of giggles and popcorn, Harry sat snuggled against Nell on the sofa. She loved these moments, she really did, but at the same time, she wanted to hit the elder two Dursleys.
It was at an unguarded moment like this one that Harry had confessed that he really lived in the cupboard under the stairs, that his Aunt Petunia wouldn't buy him clothes, and that Dudley liked to hit him.
(Nell wanted to consult with child services to have Harry taken into care, but somehow every time she thought of it, she felt her mind oddly skipping past the thought. She came up with the flimsiest of excuses to mask her unwarranted reluctance, but she couldn't help but think of Harry's frantic alarm and panic the one time she had mentioned the possibility. She'd adopted a 'watch and wait' philosophy until she could force herself into action.)
This particular evening, warm and drowsy in a blanket on the sofa, Harry told Nell about his last haircut.
"Aunt Petunia got all worked up and decided that my hair 'just would not do', and got out the clippers. She cut it almost all off, except the fringe to cover my scar. I looked awful," Harry confided. "And then – and then – when I woke up, it was just the same. It had grown back overnight!"
Nell mentally shook her head at Harry's imagination. He'd end up a writer for sure. But she treated the story absolutely seriously. "Why do you think it did that, Harry?" she asked, her face deadpan.
"Well," considered Harry, "I think I was worried and somehow – somehow did some kind of magic or something." He looked oddly uneasy for a moment.
She nodded. "That does sound like the best explanation," she conceded, keeping her straight face.
Harry sighed happily. "Uncle Vernon locked me in the cupboard all weekend for that," he murmured sleepily. "I'm glad you're not mad." And he dropped innocently off into sleep, unaware of the bombshell he had just thrown at her.
Locked In The Cupboard. Locked In. Locked.
Nell wanted to cry.