World's Shortest Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue. ;)
Summary: Poor Harry. Every time he goes back to the Dursleys, it just seems to get worse and worse for him. This is a "summer after fifth year" story.
Rating: PG-13 for graphic violence.
Note: This tale picks up right where OOTP left off. Please, PLEASE have finished "Order of the Phoenix" before reading this. I don't want to get any angry e-mails saying "You ruined the end!!!"
Still here? Excellent! On you go. :D
Part One: The Dursleys
The flowers were wilting on Privet Drive. Waves of heat bounced off the perfectly manicured lawns, turning them brown and brittle. The residents were hunkered down inside their air-conditioned houses, sitting in front of their television sets and sipping lemonade for relief.
And yet, one lonely little figure could be seen, just outside number 4. Harry Potter gave a small grunt and shoved the lawn mower with one hand, wiping sweat off his face with the other. He tugged at his broad-brimmed work hat to position it more comfortably and trudged along. It was a sweltering day in mid-July, and Harry was spending it outside doing chores. He had been home from Hogwarts for three weeks.
Already he'd managed to irritate his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon by simply existing, and locked horns (so to speak) with his portly cousin Dudley several times. Harry winced a little as a muscle tweaked in his side. Dudley's aim was getting a lot better. Harry had always been a good ducker, a good dodger, but there was no way around Dudley now.
Between his cousin's bulky body and large, powerful fists, he had to keep clear of him as much as possible, or if it came down to it, challenge him where there was plenty of room to maneuver. Besides honing his boxing skills, Dudley had started that daft American "Atkins" diet (much to Harry's dismay and his Aunt Petunia's delight) and was now consuming dangerously amounts of meat, making him heavier than ever.
"We'll see you soon, mate. Really soon, Harry, we promise." Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger's words echoed in his head. They were all he had to hold on to. He'd refused to think about Sirius because it was too painful, so he concentrated on his living friends instead. It was really the only happy thing he had to think about, because after old Mad Eye Moody had insisted Harry be treated decently for a change and threatened Uncle Vernon on the platform a few weeks ago, a series of rather unpleasant things had happened.
The first thing occurred as soon as they got home. The car ride was stony and silent. Harry lugged his trunk inside, and Uncle Vernon had smiled at him, smiled at him, and motioned to the kitchen table. Harry sat down warily. Something was up, and knowing Uncle Vernon, it couldn't be good.
"Take some paper and pencil out of that trunk of yours."
Harry raised an eyebrow at him. "Why?"
"Just do it," Uncle Vernon snapped.
"All right, all right," Harry muttered, getting up and going over to his trunk, which he had dragged into the hallway. He pulled it open and dug around in it, pulling out what he needed. "And it's called parchment and quill, by the way," he said over his shoulder.
Harry sat down at the table again with a decent size sheet of parchment, his quill, and a pot of ink. He crossed his arms and stared at his uncle. "Well, what now?"
He received a bitter smile. "Now," Uncle Vernon said, leaning in dangerously close and making Harry lean back in his chair, "You will write exactly what I say."
Harry blinked at him. "Pardon?"
The knife was against the tip of his narrow nose before he knew what was going on, and he blinked in disbelief. The image tumbled over in his head for a few moments until he realized that yes, that was really Uncle Vernon in front of him, and yes, Uncle Vernon was indeed holding a chef's knife to his face.
Harry knew he wasn't allowed to use magic out of school, and his wand was in his trunk anyway. He swallowed hard. Nervously he dipped his quill in ink and shakily put the tip to the parchment.
And for the next half hour, he wrote what Uncle Vernon dictated: line after line of lies. "I am fine. Hope you are getting along okay." "Everything is going smoothly here. There are no problems." "They are treating me well." Harry dated each one differently as he was directed, although his hand was not steady and the corners of his eyes were getting damp with rage. He ripped the parchment into at least sixty separate notes, all of which were so bland they could be delivered to anyone who knew him, and left them on the kitchen table.
His uncle shoved him into a trot. He gloomily tromped upstairs into his room and Vernon closed the door behind him with a savage slam. Harry's insides turned over as he heard the lock click into place.
"And damned if you're getting near that ruddy owl for the entire vacation!"
Hedwig was screeching down in the kitchen, obviously not pleased that she had been left on the counter instead of being brought up to Harry's room. Harry, for his part, was furious. He walked around his small bedroom, muttering to himself and kicking at any of Dudley's broken toys he could reach.
How could he answer letters from Ron and Hermione? How could he convey to the Order that he'd been forced to scribble that nonsense at knifepoint? That undoubtedly, he was not going to be treated well? Because Harry had far too much experience with the Dursleys, and he knew one thing about his family: such unpleasant beginnings couldn't possibly lead to anything better. In fact, it usually went downhill from here.
All his Hogwarts stuff was still downstairs, and he could hear the heavy scraping sounds of Uncle Vernon dragging his trunk into his old cupboard. He now officially had no chance of doing his homework or communicating with his world. With no wand, no owl, and no way to write anything, he sat down on the bed. Unfortunately, Dudley had used it as a trampoline during the Christmas holidays, and the moment Harry sat down the whole thing collapsed underneath him, causing an enormous crash. Harry stared at the ceiling and sighed.
Aunt Petunia thought it was bad enough having "that filthy owl" in the house and didn't see fit to let Harry near her, lest he try something, so Harry wasn't allowed out of his room for the rest of the day. To compound his problems, his aunt forgot to shove any food through the slot on the door, so it was midnight before Harry finally fell asleep, arms gripped tightly around his middle, gritting his teeth against the hunger and anger welling up inside him.
It was time for drastic measures. The next morning he picked the lock on his room and came down to breakfast. That so irritated his aunt and uncle that they bodily thrown him out of the house and insisted he make himself useful round the yard. And so he could be seen that second day, mowing the lawn at high noon, drenched in sweat, still hungry since all he'd snagged to eat was a bit of toast and orange juice, and aching from a blow that Dudley had gotten off with his Smeltings stick.
This summer was looking even more dreadful than all the other summers put together. And as the days crawled by, Harry wasn't sure which was worse – working outside in the heat, or staying inside and dealing with the Dursleys.
Harry had tanned a bit after twenty days spent outside, doing hard labor as the Dursleys' de facto gardener. The result of his efforts so far was impressive, because his relatives' lawn had never looked so good. And today at four o'clock, a sense of peace had settled over number 4. Dudley was lounging about inside playing video games and Aunt Petunia had dragged Uncle Vernon to a home store to look for a new refrigerator. (Dudley had demanded a second one.)
Harry was taking a short break from pruning the rose bushes, sitting on a swing underneath a canopy that the Dursleys had installed on the side of their house, right outside the kitchen window. Uncle Vernon had been so proud of the thing when he'd first bought it that they'd actually had a small yard party to commemorate it. (Harry had only heard about the party. He'd been sent to stay with Mrs. Figg, the batty old cat-lady down the lane.) Now, because it was no longer new and special, it had fallen into disuse. It was grungy and dusty, but Harry didn't care, because it was comfortable and shaded.
Harry took off his work hat and his round glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose, and relaxed for a moment. He'd grown a few inches over the last school year, and his shoulders had broadened, although he was still rather skinny. His untidy black hair had bushed out quite a bit and he had a feeling someone would be yelling at him to get a haircut soon. He wiggled his toes in his shabby thongs, ran his slim, long fingers through his hair to shake out some of the dust, cracked his knuckles, and absently rubbed his scar, which had been throbbing for about half an hour now. Harry was so used to these flare-ups, Voldemort being back and all, that he hardly acknowledged them anymore. He tipped his head back against the side of the house and closed his eyes. A pleasant breeze blew across his face, and he sighed in contentment.
There was a creak above him, like a window being opened. Harry ignored it. Unfortunately, the noise was followed by two large, powerful arms that grabbed him by the shoulders, hoisted him up bodily through the window, and dragged him painfully over the sill.
This got Harry's attention. He cursed and flailed, his sandals went flying, and before he knew what was properly going on, he had been dumped on the kitchen floor, having been scraped over the sink. He stared dazedly up at Dudley, who was standing over him with crossed arms and an expression not unlike that of a scientist examining an insect that could just as easily be squashed as experimented on. Harry realized two things right away.
One: Dudley was bored.
Two: Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were out.
That was a recipe for disaster if he ever thought of one, for Dudley could now be even more horrid than usual. He jumped up and ran for it, ducking Dudley's massive arm, sprinted out of the kitchen barefoot and thumped down the carpeted hallway. His heart was pounding in time with Dudley's thundering footsteps behind him, and Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise at his cousin's dim-witted chuckling.
It was apparent that Dudley, not jaunting about with his idiotic friends today, and had fallen back on his primary school pastime of Harry-hunting. But his target was tough and wiry, rounding on sixteen, and not having any of it. Harry bounded up the stairs two at a time and sprinted for his room. Perhaps barricading himself would prevent a black eye. After working in the yard all day, he just was too tired to fight.
He burst into his room a half a meter ahead of his cousin, slammed the door on him, and locked it. There were several house-shaking bumps against the door as Dudley howled and tried to get in. Harry's eyes darted to his window. An escape! While Dudley was busy with the door (which was old and battered and looked like it would give way any second), Harry ran over and opened the frame.
It was a small window, but Harry could slip through easily. The jump, on the other hand, looked most unpleasant. It was about twenty feet to the ground. But a foot to his right, Harry saw a rain pipe running against the side of the house. If he could shimmy down that, he'd be safe.
There was an angry roar and another whack against the door. It would give any moment now. Harry wiggled through the window, feet first, until he was hanging by one hand, then reached over like a monkey and made a successful grab for the pipe. He shimmied down to the ground, landed gently in a flower bed, stepped off the begonias and backed onto the grass.
Above him he heard a door burst off its hinges and a few seconds later, Dudley's pudgy, enraged face appeared in his bedroom window, turning red and purple under his thick blond hair as he tried to mimic Harry's maneuver, except he was so stupid that he was trying to get out the window head first. He got his head and shoulders through, but that was about it.
Harry stood there, arms crossed, feeling quite smug. He was quickly approaching giddy, because it seemed that not only was Dudley too fat to fit, he appeared to be stuck in the window-frame. With a roar of rage, Dudley tried to wiggle, and only lodged himself in worse.
Harry made no attempt to contain himself now. This was the most hilarious thing he'd seen happen to Dudley since Fred and George had given him that Ton-Tongue Toffee two years ago. So in a fit of excitement, he pulled mad faces, cursed his cousin out loudly, and rounded off his revenge by howling with laughter until he got the hiccoughs. Most of this happened over Dudley yelling for help, but Harry was enjoying himself far too much to care.
He finally trotted away, still giggling and wiping tears of glee from his eyes, and climbed back through the open kitchen window into the house. Some possibilities had opened up to him, now. And for the next two hours, while Dudley was stuck yowling at an empty street (everyone on Privet Drive worked a perfectly normal 9 to 5 job and most of the neighbors had gone on holiday anyhow), Harry felt on top of the world. He took a cool refreshing shower, put on some clean clothes, and finally hoisted his trunk up the stairs and into his bedroom closet, all the while making sarcastic comments about Dudley's fat arse, as that was what was facing him. Dudley flailed his legs madly and called Harry something unrepeatable.
Harry just laughed it off. For once, his great lump of a cousin was out of the way and he could do whatever he liked. The first thought that struck him was to firmly paddle Dudley while he couldn't do anything, but Harry decided his time was better spent doing other things, like eating.
So he left Dudley firmly stuck in the window, and walked out of his room's now empty doorway. Uncle Vernon was not going to be pleased when he saw that door, and Harry knew he'd probably be blamed for it, but the worry blew over like a summer breeze. Delighting in his freedom, he slid down the stair banister, slipped into the kitchen and took a few gulps of a fizzy drink while he made himself a sandwich. Finally, with food in one hand and drink in the other, he ate leisurely and wandered through the cool house.
Of course, as soon as he had enough food in him to think clearly, he remembered his poor snowy owl.
He yelled this as loud as he could, and then listened. With the house devoid of Uncle Vernon bellowing about drills and Aunt Petunia screeching about Mrs. Next-Door, it was easy to ignore Dudley and hear better.
There was a faint cooing noise coming from up above him. The attic! Of course! He climbed the stairs, left his drink at the top, finished the last crumb of his sandwich, wiped off his hands and ran for the trap ceiling on the second floor.
"Don't you let her out!" he heard Dudley yelling from his bedroom. "I'll tell Dad and he'll knock the stuffing out of you! That thing is so vile ..."
"Nobody asked your bloody opinion!" Harry roared back, jumping up and swiping at the cord that hung down from the ceiling. "Hang on, Hedwig, I'm coming!"
He jumped high enough to grab the cord and firm yank brought down the collapsible staircase. Harry dashed up the wooden steps into the dark attic. Hedwig was in her cage in one corner, hooting feebly. She looked like she'd been on a lot of long journeys, and Harry realized she had. The Order was, after all, in London, and she'd probably delivered quite a few of the little lies he'd written in the past three weeks. He ran over and opened the cage, which Uncle Vernon had closed with a bit of twine. Hedwig came flapping out and settled herself on Harry's shoulder, looking a bit wobbly. He rubbed her beak gently.
"Poor girl," he murmured. "Let's get you something to eat, eh? I think I have some owl treats in my trunk."
Hedwig hooted softly. Harry picked up her cage and threaded his way back down the collapsible staircase, Hedwig still on his shoulder. She fluffed her feathers experimentally. But just as Harry had reached the second-floor landing outside his bedroom, he heard a funny buzzing in his ears. It was the buzz of silence. Dudley, for some reason or another, had gone completely quiet.
A silent Dudley was not good. Hedwig squeezed his shoulder slightly with her talons, and Harry felt himself tense up as he walked slowly back to his room. He stood in front of his empty doorway and stared. The window over his bed was empty. No Dudley. It occurred to him that perhaps his fat cousin had finally squished himself all the way through, fallen headfirst onto the lawn outside and was dead as a doornail ... but that was too much to hope for.
A fist the size of a softball flew out of nowhere and caught Harry in the eye, causing him to stumble back and let off a hefty curse. Hedwig shrieked as she was knocked off his shoulder. She flapped about and finally perched on the downstairs chandelier, terrified for her wizard and screeching uselessly.
Harry wondered fleetingly how Dudley had gotten out of the window frame, but his train of thought was derailed by Dudley charging out from where he'd been hiding just to the left of the door and punching Harry again, this time in the stomach.
Harry didn't need a punch to the stomach – he'd just eaten. Winded, now slightly nauseous, and altogether incensed, he pulled back on the continent somewhere and punched Dudley in the face. Dudley screamed in pain. Pulling up his fat, powerful leg, he kicked Harry in the right hip, sending him careening into the nearest wall.
Harry stumbled up, shook off the blow, limped forward, and threw all of his weight into a punch that he delivered to Dudley's midsection. It was a bit like fighting with a fearsome pudding. His bony fist sank into the gloopy fat of Dudley's belly and didn't seem to reach any organs at all.
That didn't mean Dudley appreciated this. He reached out, grabbed Harry's neck, and squeezed. Harry, desperate and gagging, fell to his knees and grabbed something that felt rather Snitch-like. He heard a high-pitched squeal and a small suck-in of air, and finally looked at his hand with a grim smile. His cousin had him around the neck, but he'd just caught Dudley by the balls.
Both were panting and in pain. Hedwig was making an impressive amount of noise. Tyres squealed outside. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were home, and they'd walk in at any moment. Harry and Dudley looked at each other.
"Well?" said Harry. His voice was a bit tight, due to his cousin's massive hands around his throat and the pain in his hip, which had begun to throb its way through his haze of adrenaline.
"Well what?" said Dudley. His voice was a bit shaky, for obvious reasons.
"I say we call it a draw and let go."
It took Dudley a moment to think about this. Hmm. Strangle my cousin, or retain my ability to bear children? Harry could almost see the lonely gear creaking in Dudley's fat head. Finally the nod came.
"Right then," Harry wheezed. "Three, two, one."
And they both let go. Dudley backed away, one hand over his privates, and Harry staggered back, trying to keep the weight off his right leg, massaging his neck, and taking in a few gulps of air. He was at the top of the staircase, seeing stars and cursing mentally because he was sure Dudley had dislocated his leg with that kick, hoping against hope that his idiot cousin would hear his parents coming in and not try anything else.
There was a sudden movement to his left. All Harry would be able to recall of this later would be the terrible blow to his ear where Dudley had punched him, knocking his head into the wall. He caught only part of Dudley saying, "Rule number one in boxing! Never let your guard down!"
The other bits of it, with Dudley punching him in the ribs twice, bursting his nose, slamming him, arm first, into the banister and finally throwing him down the stairs would only be remembered by Hedwig, who watched the whole horrible thing from her perch on the chandelier.
Harry tumbled down the stairs like a rag doll, limbs flailing in every direction, a bit of a stunned look on his face, and hit the downstairs landing on his back with a sickening thud. Blood started to dribble from his nose and his big green eyes fluttered shut.
Dudley, feeling triumphant at getting out of that window (he'd exhaled enough to wiggle himself out backwards) and kicking his cousin around, gave another kick to the first thing he saw: a half-full soda can that had been left at the top of the stairs. It bounced down the staircase, dribbling on the carpet all the way, and finally came to rest on poor Harry, where it poured the rest of its contents onto the crotch of his ill-fitting jeans and rolled off onto the floor.
The door opened and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia walked in. Uncle Vernon stared. Aunt Petunia screamed. Harry was, after all, their responsibility. They both looked up and saw Dudley, who quickly rearranged the rather demonic expression on his face into a mask of shock.
"Diddydums, what happened?" Petunia shrieked.
"He fell!" Dudley yelled. "He just, er, lost his balance and fell!"
Uncle Vernon was squatting over Harry, observing the boy's nosebleed and sneering in disgust at his apparent loss of bladder control. Petunia looked down at him too, her face pale and drawn. In all honesty, even to her dull-around-Dudley eyes, Harry did not look like he'd just fallen. He looked like he'd been beaten senseless.
"Vernon, he's bleeding! What are we going to do?"
Mr. Dursley fixed his wife with a grim stare. "Well, Petunia, nobody likes the boy, but ... we can't have a death on our hands. Get a blanket."
"Get a blanket!"
Petunia was petrified, but she did as her husband asked. She went and grabbed an old, ragged blanket from the bottom of the linen closet and came hurrying back. Dudley was peering down at Harry. She shooed him aside and handed the blanket to Vernon, who wrapped his nephew in it and picked him up.
"Can't have blood on the carpet," Vernon said stiffly. "You two stay here."
And he carried Harry through the door. Hedwig seized her chance for escape and flew through the doorway noiselessly after Vernon, settling herself down in a tree next to the house. She kept her amber eyes on the proceedings as he put Harry (none too gently) into his shiny car, waddled around to the driver's side and got in. Moments later the car roared to life and took off at an alarming speed, spewing gravel down Privet Drive. Petunia and Dudley stared out the window.
Petunia was in shock. Of course she didn't like her sister's son, not even a bit, but to see him bleeding on her floor made a lump rise in her throat. She made sure her precious boy didn't see it. She didn't want to upset Dudley any more than was necessary.
Dudley was doing a good impression of shock while trying to think up the rest of his cover story. As big of a git as he was, he at least had some sense of self-preservation. He was quite sure his parents would do nothing if they found out, since they hated Harry as much as he did. But a sudden squirmy feeling in his massive belly accompanied the most unpleasant thought that if any wizards discovered what really happened to his cousin, something very magical and very terrible would befall him. He started to sweat.
And Hedwig swooped along after the car as it headed for the nearest city, staying as low as she dared. Dusk fell, but she could just make out the bundle of blankets in the back seat, although she was concentrating on the black sedan so thoroughly that she was almost seen by a crowd of Muggles and narrowly missed hitting a few lampposts.
Where, she thought angrily, where was that miserable bastard going with her boy?
To be continued ...