Warnings: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, child abuse, childhood sexual abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, rape, mutual non-consensual sex, heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, incestuous relationships, graphic description of physical trauma, self-injury, depression, suicide, character death
This story's premise was developed prior to the publication of Half-Blood Prince; it thus completely ignores any canon after OOTP. Canon for purposes of this story consists entirely of the first five books, and ignores other published or unpublished work by JKR, her interviews, etc.
Furthermore, it makes small changes to pre-existing canon in order to get several important plot points to work. For example, we must rearrange events slightly on Halloween 1981, most importantly, precisely when Minerva met Hagrid. The reader who is not closely familiar with the Harry Potter timeline may not even notice these details, but for those who are, I assure you that I am (for the most part) quite well aware when I have violated the canon timeline, and have done so only when I could not find a work-around (you are welcome to suggest one, of course!). Additionally, the calendar has been fitted as best I could to the 'real-world' calendar, including the lunar calendar, and thus certain events (again, for example, Halloween 1981) have been moved slightly relative to days of the week or dates of the year.
Some small, unimportant details (for example, the location of Snape's childhood home) may be imported from later canon, but the plot will for the most part be entirely divergent.
The plot for this story is loosely based on the Severitus challenge; I have described it elsewhere as a meta-Severitus, or "what you might think Severitus was if you'd never run across the challenge". Thus there will be a letter, some interesting parental revelations, and a few of the other standard features of Severitus fics, but it will not follow the challenge closely.
Furthermore, this is attempt to write superpowered!Harry and abusive!Dursleys in a 'realistic' way. If this is not your cup of cheese, please go elsewhere; there are plenty of lovely Harry Potter stories that do not include these themes.
As for brit-picking, my general rule is that I will make substitutions of more British words for American ones if and only if the British word is well-known to me as an American, and does not mean something different in my dialect. Thus while Harry wears trainers, he cooks on a stove, for to me a 'cooker' is at best a separate appliance unrelated to the stove and worse is rarely used as a word by itself. Furthermore, in order to make the timeline work, I have had to make several minor changes to the timing of Hogwarts terms, and thus the British reader is warned that in my universe Hogwarts functions on a semester schedule similar to my own university, in which term begins the first week of September and ends roughly the last week of May; students returned on the Hogwarts Express after fifth year on the 1st of June.
Lastly, you may notice some odd vocabulary choices, particularly in more specialized terms and in the incantations for spells (especially those readers with a better understanding of Latin). I have presumed that in a population relatively isolated from the Muggle world, such as pureblood society, some linguistic drift would occur, especially in the realm of specialized vocabulary. Thus, for example, you will see 'temblor' used where a Muggle would use 'tremor' (indeed, you may notice that Harry uses this alternate term himself); this is not an error as I am well aware that in our world 'temblor' refers specifically to an earthquake but rather an example of this postulated linguistic drift.
All that said, please enjoy the story.
It is hot here today.
Harry stared at the paper in front of him and gnawed on his quill.
I am doing well.
Did that sound too formal? He changed the period to a comma and added despite the heat. I have an old hat of Aunt Petunia's that keeps the sun off when I do chores. There. That was better. But would Uncle Vernon be upset about the mention of chores? Would he think Harry was trying to make "them" think he wasn't being treated right?
I don't mind weeding the garden, even in the heat. I like seeing Aunt Petunia's plants grow.
There: worst case scenario, Uncle Vernon would make him work indoors from now on--and Harry wasn't sure he'd care, what with how hot the summer was shaping up to be.
Do you know when we are supposed to get our OWL scores? I'm sure Hermione knows. I can't decide whether I want to get mine or not.
He chewed on the end of his quill again. Better stop there; he'd get taunted all summer about how stupid he supposedly was if he wrote more about the OWLs. Ron could read between the lines--and if he couldn't, Hermione certainly could, and he knew she'd demand to see the letter no matter whose name he put on the outside. She was living at Headquarters already; their first letter had said they couldn't say why but they were safe now.
"Boy!" The shout from the dining room made him start, a drop of ink falling from his pen and making a splotch on the paper over the word "today". Swearing under his breath, Harry carefully blotted it and re-wrote the word. "Don't use that kind of language in my house, boy." His uncle glared at him from the door.
"Sorry, Uncle Vernon."
"Make sure you tell them about Friday. I don't want any freaks ruining this for me."
Harry held back a sigh. "Yes, Uncle Vernon." He bent back to the paper.
Uncle Vernon reminded me to tell you that he has an important visitor coming Friday evening, and to please not be worried if my letter is a day late. He doesn't want Hedwig flying in the window and startling his visitor. Please don't send me any post that day using any other birds either.
Hopefully the twins wouldn't get any bright ideas.
"Well, boy? What's taking so long?"
Give my regards to everyone.
He quickly signed his name and blew on the ink. Before he could check to be sure it had dried properly, the paper was snatched out of his hand. His uncle peered at the paper, lips moving silently as he read it.
"Acceptable." The paper was tossed down in front of him. "Well?"
Silently Harry folded it and slipped it into an envelope, then wrote his own return address on the flap and Ron's name on the other side. The envelope was snatched from his hands as well.
"Where's the address?" Uncle Vernon peered at him suspiciously.
"I can't write it down." Harry kept himself from rolling his eyes. This was the sixth time they'd had this conversation--and the sixth letter he had mailed this summer. "Hedwig will know where to go without it."
"Freak bird." But the other man headed towards the garage anyway. Harry could hear him opening Hedwig's cage. "Ow! Stupid bird!" Hedwig made a noise that Harry knew meant she wanted food. "OW!"
Harry couldn't stop himself. He peered into the garage, spotting his uncle shaking his left hand and glaring at the owl, who was glaring back."Err, Uncle Vernon?" He took a hesitant step into the garage. "I think she's a bit hungry..."
The glare Vernon gave him would have rivaled the cruciatus, if looks were spells. "I spend enough feeding you, you miserable brat, now you want me to coddle your freakish owl too?"
Harry's stomach gave a low growl at the mention of food, which he prayed his uncle hadn't heard. Still--he was used to this treatment, but Hedwig was just an owl; she deserved better. "Err, well, if you let her out more often to hunt--"
His uncle's backhand caught him across the glasses and threw him into the door jam. "Do. Not. Question. Me. In my own house, boy!" Uncle Vernon turned back to the cage. "Take the bloody letter and go, you freakish bird, or you'll be dinner instead!"
Instead, her eyes fixed on Harry where he leaned against the door jam, and she gave a plaintive chirp. Go, Hedwig. Harry thought forcefully, hoping his face would convey his message. She tilted her head one way, and then the other, as Vernon's face turned redder and redder. Finally, just as Harry was sure he was going to explode, Hedwig hopped to the door of her cage and held out a leg. Uncle Vernon thrust the letter at her, and she took it, then launched herself through the cage door and out the open garage window. They both watched her go, Uncle Vernon mumbling viciously under his breath and Harry wishing he'd figured out some way to tell her to stay--or at least some way to tell Mrs. Weasley to feed her up while she was there.
"Boy!" Vernon's angry voice startled Harry again. "Why are you just standing there? There's chores to be done!"
"Yes, Uncle Vernon." Harry turned to go, but a meaty hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"And for that bird's behavior, boy, you'd better finish them by dinnertime or there'll be no food for you. Understand me?"
Harry's anger flared but he stomped on it with skill born of five years of potions lessons with Snape. "Yes, Uncle Vernon."
"Good." His uncle smirked at him. "Here's the list."
Harry's eyes widened involuntarily as he skimmed it, and his anger flared, more strongly this time. "There's no way I can finish th--" His uncle raised his fist and Harry stopped mid-word, paling. "I mean, yes, Uncle Vernon." He resolved to figure out some way to snitch leftovers later that evening.
"That's better, boy. Now, get started."
Grabbing the old hat off its peg, Harry returned to the back yard and the weeding, pulling the hat low around his ears. So far this had been an exceedingly frustrating summer.
You knew it was too good to last, he chided himself as he trundled the old wheelbarrow over to the next flower bed. You should have known better than to let yourself care about things. He'd survived before by just not having anything Uncle Vernon could use against him. It was really Hedwig that caught him in a bind, though he didn't want to see his wand--Or Dad's cloak--go up in flames as Uncle Vernon kept threatening. But his owl--all his uncle had to do to her was lock up the garage for a week and do nothing. And if there's one thing my uncle excels at, it's doing nothing and watching someone else suffer for it.
He just wished he knew why. The last time he could remember things being this bad was...Seven? Eight? Must have been eight. Piers had just got braces. Back then Grunnings had had financial trouble, and they'd all been terrified Vernon would come home with a pink slip. But Grunnings is doing so well--he brags about it every night!
He couldn't really blame Aunt Petunia for protecting herself and Dudley, either. Wouldn't he rather his uncle took his anger out on someone else? No one liked getting beaten, or whatever. Besides, even if he wasn't allowed to use magic, he was a wizard; he healed faster than Petunia or Dudley. It made sense for him to be the one getting beaten if anyone had to.
He supposed he really should be angry at the whole thing, but what was the point? He was stuck there, and Uncle Vernon had his wand and owl hostage against good behavior. Besides, being angry took so much energy...
He moved on to the next flower bed, hands moving in a well-practiced rhythm that barely needed any conscious direction. For a few minutes he allowed himself to fantasize about Moody showing up and finding out what Uncle Vernon was doing. He'd hex the fat Muggle so hard...
...but then the daydream soured as the imaginary Moody began berating him for not being a good enough wizard. All I wanted to do was keep Hedwig safe! he argued with the imaginary man.
Harry shook his head rapidly to dispel the daydream. All I have to do is get through the summer. I'm a Gryffindor. I can do this.
It's been hot here, too. Even the twins have been lethargic. Ha! There's my word for the day! Hermione's been encouraging me to do vocabulary revision with her every day. Every day we get a new word that we have to figure out how to use in a real sentence that day. Today's word was "lethargic". Take that, Herm
The last few words were crossed out very firmly, and the writing suddenly changed to Hermione's neater script.
Ron likes to complain about the vocabulary lessons, but honestly, I think he enjoys it.
Harry suspected Ron enjoyed Hermione's attention more than the lessons.
We should get our OWLs back roughly a week before the end of July. I know how you feel, Harry; I'm terrified of reading mine! I can't decide whether I never want to get them back or whether I want it over with already!
The writing changed back to Ron's messy scrawl.
I think she's mad--I just want it over with already. A week doesn't give us much time to decide what to continue with. I overheard Professor Dumbledore saying that they would be sending the letters out the first week of August, and they needed to know by then what we would be taking for the year!
Professor Dumbledore says to tell you that he will make sure nobody sends you owls on Friday, and that if an emergency came up he would get ahold of you via "your neighbor". Oh! When Hedwig got here she looked awful hungry. Mum fed her until she wouldn't eat anymore. She said to tell you that if you're out of owl treats, she'd be happy to send you some with the next letter.
We said hello to everyone for you, and they say hi back.
Ron and Hermione
Harry slipped the letter back into its envelope and hid it back under the floorboard. Just as he did, he heard steps coming up the stairs. Quickly he stood and backed away from the bed towards his desk--he did not want her to know about his hiding spot. Not that there was anything of great importance there at the moment, but just in case there ever were...
"Here's your dinner, boy. The guests will be here in an hour. Remember, no noise!"
To his shock, the plate contained a tiny sliver of roast along with a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and a handful of limp lettuce. I guess she really wants me to be quiet. "Aunt Petunia?" he called out quietly just as he heard her footsteps start to move away. They returned.
"D'you think I could get another one of my books from my trunk?" Harry swore he had read every sentence in his transfiguration text six times. He bit his lip and waited, but after a few seconds with absolutely no response he continued. "Reading's quiet..."
"I don't have time for this, boy!" she said irritably. He heard her footsteps hurry away towards the bedroom. Shrugging--it had been worth a try--he bent and retrieved his plate before heading back to the bed. He had finished the potatoes and was trying to decide between saving the roast for last and eating it now when her footsteps returned. "Here. You can read about normal people." A mangled book was thrust through the cat flap and she hurried off again, this time down the stairs.
His mouth hung open in shock for a few seconds before he came to his wits. He thrust the roast into his mouth and chewed it while he fetched the book, turning it over to read the title. History of England, 11th edition, by Copeland and and Stout. One of Dudley's textbooks, then. He wondered why she was trusting him with it, even if the back cover had been torn off already. The inside front cover answered his questions, however, as it read "Dudley Dursley, First Form". Oh well. At least it was a book.
Absently sticking a piece of his lettuce in his mouth, he opened it to a random spot in the sixteenth century and began to read.
To his surprise, the history textbook was actually interesting. Admittedly part of the interest was looking at all the stupid (and poorly done) drawings Dudley had made in the margins, but he was actually enjoying fitting together the Muggle version of history with what he remembered from Binns' classes. At the moment he was reading about Battle of St Mathieu on 10th August, 1512. He seemed to recall a similar battle from his History of Magic class, except that the main parties in that case had been a pair of feuding wizard clans. He wondered if they were the same battle.
A noise from downstairs almost made him lift his head, but Lord Admiral Howard won out over the curiosity. That almost sounds like owl post, Harry thought as he turned the page, but dismissed the thought. Everyone knew not to write to him today. It was probably just his aunt shaking out the napkins or something. He snorted at the nickname for the Henri Grâce à Dieu, his imagination conjuring up an image of the Slytherin side of the history classroom, including an image of Malfoy making snarky remarks. Of course, then Ron would probably deck him, and then we'd all get detention for fighting. He could practically hear Hermione now. "Ron! And you, H--"
The bellow from downstairs was unmistakable. He heard his uncle's heavy tread stomping up the stairs, and behind it, his aunt's voice. "No! Not the roast! No! Get away, you filthy beast!"
His uncle had reached his door and was flinging open the locks with so much force the door rattled. Harry got warily to his feet, book forgotten on the bed beside him. He could hear his uncle cursing at the final lock as he struggled with it, but then it turned and his uncle flung the door wide open. Vernon's face had already passed red into purple. "What did you do, freak?" he hissed. Harry took an involuntary step back as his uncle continued, spittle flying. "I told you, no owls today! They have ruined your aunt's roast! Well? Don't you have anything to say for yourself, freak?"
"Uncle Vernon, I--"
But his step back had revealed the book on his bed, and Uncle Vernon's face went even more purple. Harry began to worry that his heart would burst and his aunt would claim Harry had killed him. "Stealing Dudley's property are you now, boy?" He strode over to the bed and seized the book.
He had only time to get the one word out before Uncle Vernon noticed the torn-off back cover and howled incoherently, too angry to form words. He swung the book through the air at Harry, who tried to duck. Unfortunately, the only result was that the book hit Harry on the head instead of the shoulder, causing him to fall to his knees and see stars. As he tried to focus properly and stand up again, his uncle hit him again, this time with his left fist, over-balancing the boy. Harry sprawled at his uncle's feet, who spat at him and stalked out the door. The sound of the locks clicking back into place sounded very loud in Harry's pounding head.
Harry sat bolt upright in bed, the movement causing his already aching head to throb, staring around frantically. After a moment he relaxed--he was not, in fact, back in the Ministry, and Sirius Black had not just appeared in front of him, wand out, cruciatus curse on his lips.
That last thought made tears spring to his eyes once more. He would gladly take an angry, vengeful Sirius over none at all. Besides, I deserve any vengeance he'd mete out to me anyhow--I am the one who went and got him killed. Harry rolled over and put his chin down on his folded hands. Why couldn't Bellatrix's curse have hit him, instead? He'd rather be dead than live without...
He chastised himself for this selfishness. You know you're the one with the "power to vanquish" Voldemort, and all that. Die, and the hope of the Wizarding world dies with you. How could you be so selfish? But it didn't make him feel any better about living when Sirius was dead.
For one insane moment Harry imagined going after Voldemort immediately--well, as immediately as he could, that being when his uncle decided to unlock the door. Harry wondered if telling his uncle he was off to get himself killed would get the man to free him. Get that dying at the hands of the other business over and maybe someone else will be able to defeat him. After all, the prophecy implied that Voldemort would be able to live after killing Harry--maybe it meant he'd be properly mortal again too?
No. He owed it to his friends to at least have a plan before going. A will would probably also come in handy. And then there were a few things he really need to say to certain people before he got himself killed...
"Headmaster, do you have a minute?"
Albus Dumbledore glanced up at the doorway. "I will in just one moment, Remus." He read the last paragraph of the parchment sitting in front of him, then picked up a quill and signed at the bottom. "There." He leaned back and sighed softly. "What can I do for you, my boy? Lemon drop? Tea?"
Remus Lupin hesitantly entered the office and sat down in front of Albus's desk. "No thank you, and yes please. It's about Harry." He watched the older man pour. "One lump please."
Albus added the requested sugar and handed the cup to Remus. "How is Harry doing?"
"That's just the thing, Headmaster--"
"Albus. He's late, writing." Remus's eyes caught the brief flash of--something--across the other man's face, but it was gone before he could categorize the look.
"I thought he wrote to us to inform us that his post would be late."
"Indeed, but I assumed--we all assumed--that he meant he would be a day late, two days at the outside if he had to send Hedwig away." Remus gestured with the hand not holding the teacup. "By all our estimates, even with bad weather or one of the new ministry searches and a heavy load--and we've checked the weather plots--Hedwig should be no more than thirty hours in flight from Surrey to Headquarters. That means that we should have received word from him by Tuesday morning."
The headmaster glanced up at the calendar he kept on one wall. "It's Wednesday afternoon, Remus--"
"I know, I know, we shouldn't panic yet, but..." the younger man trailed off. He ran a hand through his hair and grimaced.
"Are you sure he hasn't simply forgotten that he did not write on Friday?"
"Even so, he should have written by Monday at the latest, and so we should have gotten his next letter by now."
"Perhaps it is late?" Albus saw the other man's expression and sighed. "No, you are right. The boy has written--what, five letters?--all exactly two days apart. It is unusual behavior, to say the least."
"Ah. Right." The headmaster paused. "Could you hand me that box with the crystal on top, the one on the third--Yes, that one." He took the item and placed both hands on the lid and stared fixedly at the crystal. After a moment, the crystal glowed bright green, pulsing quickly. Albus took his hands away, although the crystal continued to glow for a few seconds after. "The wards, including the new ones we added this summer, are functioning properly, and there have been no intrusions. I am hesitant to send someone to check on him yet, especially right now."
"That's right, the owl won't have gotten to Headquarters yet." Albus's smile returned, gaining a predatory air. "The hearing is scheduled for Friday just before tea, and if all goes well, we can hold the reading first thing Saturday morning."
Remus's troubled expression cleared momentarily, and he grinned wolfishly. "That is good news, Albus."
"However, if I send someone across the wards now--"
"--the ministry will know, and send someone of their own, and possibly derail the whole thing. Damn that Fudge. I wish we'd been able to keep him from adding his own wards."
"Now, Remus, is that any way to talk about our illustrious Minister?" Remus blinked. That tone was almost worthy of Snape. "We shall simply have to hope that Harry can hang on until Saturday noon. By then this should all have been settled."
"Isn't there anything we can do?"
"I don't know Remus." The headmaster felt all of his one hundred and fifty-six years weighing on him with that question. "I don't know."
Harry was busy staring at his ceiling, watching the reflection from the neighbor's car top move across it. Surely they must have noticed by now that I haven't sent a letter! He had been sure someone would come for him by Wednesday. Or is it only Tuesday? He counted on his fingers, concentrating. No, he was certain it was Wednesday. Well, pretty sure anyway.
He licked dry lips, then forced himself to stop. His aunt had shoved a glass of water through the flap the day before, but he couldn't be sure when he would get more. He suspected she had done it without his uncle's knowledge, remembering Uncle Vernon's angry words to him on Friday.
He had worked out from his uncle's rant that for some reason a small pack of owls had descended on the Dursley home just before dinner on Friday previous, gaining entry through a front window left open for the cleaning detergent smells to dissipate through.. His aunt and uncle had been furious and had attempted to chase them out of the house, at which point they had taken revenge by, ah, soiling his aunt's table--and the food on it.
Luckily for Harry, his uncle had been able to convince the important visitor that the Dursley's stove had had a bit of a malfunction, and had been able to put off the dinner until the next Friday with a visit to a restaurant that night. However, the man's last words--floating clearly up the stairs to Harry's bedroom--had sealed his fate. "I can accept excuses once," the man had said, "but not twice. You must prove to me that you are the man for the job."
Harry had known then that he was doomed. Sure enough, no sooner had the visitor left than Uncle Vernon had stomped upstairs and screamed at Harry. "You'll not get anything more from us, boy!" had been his parting words, even as he threw a bucket at Harry's head. Harry had sighed resignedly, recognizing the words--and smelly, stained bucket--that meant being locked in with no meals for a while.
At first Harry had been glad to get off with nothing more than a few days without food. But as the next day, and the day after, had worn on, he had come to realize that his uncle hadn't just meant food--he had meant water, too. That was when Harry had started to panic.
On Sunday, Uncle Vernon had taken Dudley--somewhere, Harry had only caught a few words, something about games. Harry had been startled when his aunt's hand shoved a large glass of water through the cat flap not two minutes after his uncle had left. By then, he had been smart enough to ration it out, making it last until Monday afternoon. But the one she had given him Tuesday had been smaller, and he was so thirsty--
Quit wallowing in self-pity, Potter.
Harry's mental voice had begun sounding more and more like Snape as the weekend wore on. Now it came complete with greasy hair and nose. He found himself wondering when it would begin swishing its robes as it walked.
He rolled on his side and curled up into a ball. Surely the Order would notice his silence. They would come for him. He just had to be strong.
Harry lay on his side, contemplating his future. Rescue was looking increasingly less likely as time wore on. He might have been able to escape if he'd done so immediately, but he'd been sure Aunt Petunia wouldn't let him die. Now he'd been so long without food and enough water that, again, the chances of successfully managing it were grim.
He'd already tried deliberately summoning his magic, hoping to get someone to send him an owl with a warning at least, because then he could use the owl to write the Order. He'd managed to set his desk on fire--it was now cracked and blackened slightly on top, and his sheet smelled like smoke where he'd used it to put the fire out. His attempts at wandless alohomora spells had failed, as had his attempts to blow the door up. He'd tried aguamenti but had only managed to scald his mouth with the steam he'd produced. Since it seemed all he could manage was heat, he'd briefly thought about setting the door on fire, but he was rather worried the Dursleys would leave him to burn alive, and he wasn't quite that desperate. Yet.
Could he even die that way? What about the prophecy? What would happen to it then? He couldn't quite see any way to interpret roasting himself alive as "at the hands of the other", but that didn't necessarily mean he'd survive. Maybe it would invalidate the whole prophecy? In which case, finding some way to off myself might be the best thing I could possibly do for the Order.
He thought longingly of being dead, with no prophecies hanging over him or murderous Dark Lords wanting him worse than dead. Just Dumbledore's vaunted "next adventure"--and if he were really lucky, his parents...and Sirius.
On the other hand, what if he did survive? What if he survived as a burnt-up useless husk, barely clinging to life until Voldemort showed up to finally off him? That would suck even harder.
He decided he wasn't quite desperate enough to set himself on fire. Yet.
He tried to crack one eye open, but the world swirled around him even worse than before, and he closed it again. Still, he had gotten what he wanted from the brief peek: it was just past six o'clock in the evening on Friday, and his uncle's guest was due any time now.
Maybe after he leaves Vernon will let me drink again. Even the thought was bleary and wavery in his head. He wanted food, too, but water--water was what he wanted most. By now he was certain the Order wasn't coming for him. What did I do wrong? a small voice cried in the cupboard in the back of his mind, but most of him just wished that either his uncle would hurry up and give him water, or that he would hurry up and die. The smells from downstairs were the worst, he thought. He could smell the roasted ham...and the lemonade...
Outside, a car pulled up. Harry heard the engine turn off, and the Dursley's front door open.
"Mr. Volkens. What a pleasure." That was his uncle. The car door slammed. "You met my wife, Petunia."
"Do please come in." His aunt now. "And you recall our son, Dudley Dursley."
"Pleased to see you, Mr. Volkens."
"Such a charming home, Mrs. Dursley." The front door closed. "Thank you, Dudley."
"Dinner will be on the table shortly, Mr. Volkens. Please, have a seat while I take the roast out of the oven."
Harry heard his aunt moving in the kitchen, and the smells increased dramatically. His mouth tried to water and failed. He prayed to anyone that would listen that this would be the end of his torment. Please, just one glass of water. One plate of food. Or just give me my wand. He would take having it snapped for underage magic over this kind of torment any day.
"Dudley, run up and wash, dear. May I get you something to drink, Mr. Volkens?"
The word intensified Harry's need even more. Please...give me something to drink...Or just my wand, I can conjure the bloody water. He did his best to tune out the sounds and smells from downstairs--no need to torment himself further.
Something clattered on the floor near the cat flap. Harry's head came up.
On the floor was sitting a plate heaped with roast and potatoes. Next to it was a glass filled with sweet, clear water.
Harry was across the bedroom in seconds. He wavered on his feet as the floor beneath him seemed to roll, but managed to stay upright until he got to the glass. He fell on it and gulped the whole thing down, ignoring the cramps from his parched stomach. Thirst briefly slaked, he turned to the roast, but what was lying next to the plate stopped him cold.
It was eleven inches of holly and phoenix feather.
Something odd is going on here.
Perhaps Aunt Petunia had taken pity on him, although it would be like Uncle Vernon to give him his wand in hopes that he would perform underaged magic. Making Harry choose between dying of thirst or getting his wand snapped would be just his style. His eyes darted around the room and fixed on his bed frame. Carefully Harry tucked the wand along the metal of the bed frame, hidden against the mattress. Then he returned to devour the food.
"Get my coat!" The roar from downstairs froze him with meat halfway to his mouth. "I warned you, Dursley. And then you pull some sort of prank on me? You will be lucky if you have a job tomorrow!"
Oh, shite. Harry listened as Uncle Vernon sputtered at the man, but then the door slammed. A car engine turned over outside, and roared off into the night. The stairs shook as his uncle's heavy tread pounded up them. Bloody hell. Briefly he considered going for his wand and breaking out the window, but then his uncle was turning the locks and it was too late.
"What the hell is going on, boy?"
Harry backed away from the door. It swung open and knocked over the glass, which rolled over under the bed. Uncle Vernon looked down and spotted the plate of food. He turned from red to purple, and appeared to be having difficulty speaking, advancing on Harry with a murderous look on his face. "So it was you, you worthless freak. I should have thrown you out when I had the chance."
Harry was backed into the corner now, and Vernon was looming over him. "You're worse than your worthless father, you ungrateful brat!" The first fist caught him on the forearm. "You should have died with your freak parents!" The second hit his shoulder and slammed his head into the wall. "I should kill you now and do the world a favor!" Another blow. He knew his uncle was still screaming but he couldn't make out the words somehow. And then there was just pain.
Remus and Minerva McGonagall both came to their feet as the Headmaster entered the office. He had dark smudges under his eyes, but the eyes themselves were twinkling brightly and he was smiling madly.
"You were able to obtain it, then?" Minerva managed to speak first.
Albus held out a scroll to her. "The debate went until nearly midnight, but it is here. Once we start, they cannot do anything to stop us."
Remus peered at the scroll. "Any idea how long this will take, Albus?" His voice was worried.
"I have no idea, Remus, but as soon as we reach the relevant sections I will floo someone to check on the boy." The headmaster's twinkle diminished slightly. "There has been no word?"
Remus shook his head slightly. Minerva looked over at him, then at the Headmaster. "What is this all about, Albus?"
"Harry has not written since Wednesday last." Remus's voice was flat. "Moreover, Pigwidgeon came back last night--with our letter still attached."
"And you have not checked on him?" She stared at Dumbledore. "I thought he was to write every three days, or someone would go."
"He wrote to us to tell us that his uncle had a dinner engagement Friday last and he would likely be late writing," Dumbledore explained. "Further, the Ministry announced its plan to intercept random owls on Wednesday. Thus we did not begin to worry until Monday, by which time plans were in motion."
"He had better be all right, Albus." McGonagall's stare was icy.
"I pray he is all right, too, but we could not let this slip away from us."
"The sooner we begin to read, the sooner we can do something," Remus broke into their argument.
"You are quite right, Remus, as usual." Albus sounded relieved. Minerva merely nodded, her mouth compressed into a line. "Shall I begin, or would one of you prefer to do the honors? Remus?"
"I...I don't think..." Remus's voice broke.
"No, you are quite right. I should not have asked. Minerva?"
"Very well, Albus, I will begin." She gave the older man one last stare, then unrolled the parchment in her hand and began to read. "We, James Horatio Potter and Lily Evans Potter, do hereby make, publish, and declare this to be our Last Will and Testament, on this third of July the Year of the Muggle Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-One.
"Should our son, Harry James Potter, or any future children that we may have, be under age at the time of our deaths, we do request and authorize Sirius Orion Black to be their sole legal guardian." Remus made a muffled sound that might almost have been a sob. "In the event that Sirius Orion Black is not available, has died, or is otherwise deemed unacceptable, we declare Harry James Potter and any future children that we may have to be wards of Albus Dumbledore." The headmaster leaned back with a relieved sigh. "Should Albus Dumbledore be unavailable, dead, or otherwise deemed unacceptable, we declare Harry James Potter and any future children that we may have to be wards of Arthur Weasley or whomever Arthur Weasley's heir may be if Arthur Weasley is unavailable, dead, or otherwise deemed unacceptable." She paused, causing both Albus and Remus's eyes to flicker up to her face, which had gone quite pale but for two bright red spots on her cheeks. Sounding as if she wished the words were hexes, she continued, "Under no circumstances whatsoever is our son, or any future children we may have, to go to, live with, or associate with Vernon Dursley, Petunia Dursley, or any of their issuance, unless of his own choosing after he is of age."
No sooner had she finished the sentence than an unholy caterwauling burst forth from the corner of the room, causing Minerva to jump like a startled cat. But what made her nearly drop the scroll was the look on Albus Dumbledore's face. She had seen the headmaster angry, appalled, irritated, and even worried. This was the first time she had ever seen him appear frightened.
Even as she recognized the expression on his face, he was up from his chair and crossing to the fireplace with two long strides. Grabbing a generous handful of floo powder out of a tin, he knelt and threw it down. "Auror Headquarters!"
Shacklebolt's head appeared after a second, expression changing as the wailing alarm penetrated. "Headmaster! Wh--"
Dumbledore cut him off. "Zulu! I repeat, Zulu! Zulu!"
Shacklebolt's face went pasty, and his head disappeared without another word.
Slowly, leaning heavily on the mantle, Albus hoisted himself back up and turned to face the other two. Minerva was staring at him with an expression somewhere between worry and frustration. Remus was in the corner rummaging around. "It's the box with the crystal," Albus said, but Remus was already turning around with the box in his hand.
"Why is the crystal red, Headmaster?" the werewolf asked, but instead of answering immediately, Albus took the box from him and waved his wand over it. Everyone gave a sigh of relief as the horrible noise shut off, although the crystal continued to glow a bloody red, pulsing regularly. Albus set the box down carefully on his desk, staring at it as he sunk back down into his chair.
"Headmaster?" Minerva's voice was concerned.
He glanced back up at the pair of them, looking between him and the box with nearly identical expressions of worry. "It means the wards are down." He looked back down at the box, but to his disappointment it was still strobing red. "Harry is unprotected."
He swam back up to consciousness with the thought that this time it did, indeed, feel rather like swimming. He had always rather thought that was a cliché. Then the pain penetrated, and he could not help moaning a bit. Opening his eyes, he became aware of two things: first, that it was daylight, and secondly, that he was on his bed at the Dursleys. A third thought penetrated: someone had been vomiting. By the strength of the smell, Harry thought it might have been himself.
He attempted to find his glasses, but moving his arm hurt too much. On the other hand, it wasn't like there was anything to see. In fact, he decided, he would rather not see what he looked like just then, thank you, especially if the smell of vomit was indeed his own fault.
He closed his eyes, and went back to drifting.
Some time later--he thought it was later, but it could have been only a few seconds--he felt something change. Frowning a bit, he opened his eyes again, but could not put a finger on what it had been. It had felt almost like a wind blowing through the room, but he was sure his window and door were closed. He forced himself to slowly move his hand towards where he had hidden his wand the night before. The pain forced his breath out between his teeth, and he felt at least one wound re-open, but there was the familiar, smooth wood under his fingers. His thumb and forefinger didn't seem to want to grasp it properly, but working slowly he was able to use his middle and ring fingers to pull it up onto the bed with him.
He had almost managed to work his hand closed around the wand when he heard a sound that made him fling up his head, causing sparks to appear for one endless second.
Pop. Pop. There was no mistaking those pops: someone, or someones rather, had just apparated onto the front lawn.
Now he knew what the odd sensation had been: the wards dropping. He was sure by now that the Order had forgotten him--which left only one group that could possibly be.
Shite. Where can I hide? He was altogether too exposed on the bed--if they walked in on him like this, he would be dead as soon as they could raise their wands. He didn't think he could possibly make it to the wardrobe, even if he could fit inside. Behind the desk? No, not enough room. The front door opened, and he knew he was out of time. He grasped his wand as best he could and rolled off the far side of the bed, against the wall, pulling the sheet he had been lying on off after himself. He felt something give in his side, and blacked out for another endless second--but from here he had a clear view of bottom of the door. He shoved the glass, which was still under the bed, out of his way with the tip of his wand and cursed silently as it rolled across the floor to stop on the far side of the door. He could have used that as a weapon.
Someone stepped on the creaky sixth stair and muttered a curse. The voice was masculine, and sounded almost familiar. Harry ran down the list of Death Eaters he had met in his head. Malfoy? No... He just couldn't remember any of their voices well enough to decide who it was.
Then the same voice began whispering, and the locks began turning, and Harry gripped his wand even more tightly, ignoring the red haze around the edge of his vision. The door would swing towards him--there it went--and then he just had to wait for someone to decide it was safe and step inside--
"Oh, Merlin," a feminine voice whispered. "There's fresh blood on the bed--and look, the desk is scorched. They beat us to him."
"Bloody hell," the masculine voice said from the hallway, cracking halfway through. "We'll search anyway. We need to be absolutely sure he's missing before we go back." There was a pause. "God but I don't want to be the one to have to tell him."
Harry frowned. He hadn't thought the Death Eaters had many active women in their ranks, except for Bellatrix, and he wouldn't have thought they'd be so distressed over someone murdering him before they could. But he wasn't willing to take chances--there, a foot!
"Ow!" The owner of the foot had found his glass, and tripped over it, before he could aim his wand. And suddenly, with a rush of hope that left him lightheaded, Harry knew to whom that voice belonged.
"Tonks?" His voice was weak, but by the pair of indrawn breaths, he knew he'd been heard.
Two pairs of feet hurried into the room. "Harry?" Now he recognized the other one as Shacklebolt, even as Tonks's "Thank Merlin!" overlapped with his query.
"Over h--" his voice went out halfway through. "Bed." he managed to croak. He tried to clear his throat, but the feet were coming the right direction and he lay still instead.
And then there was a face, no two faces, peering over at him. He felt hands touching his shoulder and couldn't stop the yelp of pain that escaped, just as he couldn't stop the automatic jerk away from the hands that cracked his head against the wall and sent him back down into darkness.
"Harry is unprotected."
Minerva's face went white. Remus's eyes went yellow. His fists clenched, and Albus's hand went to his wand. But then the werewolf's fists unclenched, and his eyes slowly reverted to a dark amber. "If..." the younger man's voice failed briefly. "Where will the aurors take him?"
"They have emergency port-keys for the hospital wing, where they will take him whether or not Harry is injured. I am certain they will find him quickly, but--would you run over and ask Poppy to prepare anyway?" Albus placed his hands on his desk and began to lever himself up. "Minerva and I will meet you there."
Remus was out of the room before he had finished the sentence.
Minerva came around the desk and took his elbow, helping him up. Once up, he gently shook her off, smiling at her to soften what could have been an insult. She met his eyes, and he could read in them the worry that filled her, the sick fear of what could be happening to Harry now. "He will be all right, Minerva," he told her softly. "Harry is a strong boy."
She bit her lip, but was silent.
Albus thought the walk to the hospital wing had never been so long.
Shacklebolt swore softly but fervently as Harry flinched away from his soft touch, head hitting the wall, green eyes going vacant and fluttering shut. "Harry? Can you hear me?"
Tonks was already fumbling her emergency port-key from her pocket. She climbed onto the thin bed, ignoring the blood and vomit that instantly soaked the knees of her robe, and touched the Muggle pen to Harry's cheek. "I'll go--you secure the premises. Mickey mouse!" She saw Shacklebolt nod even as the emergency port-key whisked her away.
She reached the hospital wing and fell a foot or so onto the stone and half onto a hospital bed, barely avoiding landing on Harry. "Pomfrey!" Ignoring her bruised leg where she had hit it, she bent over Harry, turning him onto his side and lifting his head a little as he began vomiting. "Pomfrey!"
"Right here, Miss Tonks." The voice from behind her had never sounded so welcome. "Is that--" Tonks moved aside as much as she could, keeping her hold on Harry's head. Pomfrey gasped. Setting down the tray of potions she had been carrying, she waved her wand and Harry's vomiting stopped. "Help me get him into a bed."
Between the two of them they succeeded in hoisting the small frame into the nearest bed, but the movement caused the boy to stir and moan. Tonks bit her lip as she realized there was now fresh blood on the clean white bed-sheets--and her hands. A sound from the corridor caused her to whirl around, just as Remus Lupin skidded into the hospital wing.
"Not. Now." The medi-witch was bent over Harry's prone form, casting steadily. "Crushed kneecap, numerous cervical fractures..." she muttered.
"Pomfrey, Harry--" Lupin gasped. "The wards--"
Tonks realized she was blocking his view and stepped aside. "He's here, Lupin. He's--" She stopped, realizing she had no idea how she was planning to finish that sentence. But Lupin was no longer listening to her--he had gone absolutely white, and was staring at Harry's prone form as if it were the second coming of Merlin.
Lupin walked forward as if in a trance, stopping when he drew even with Tonks. "Will he...is he..."
"I do not know yet, Mr. Lupin," Madame Pomfrey answered between spells. "I will need some specialized potions. Does anyone know where Severus is?"
"I shall fetch him, Poppy." Tonks and Lupin turned as one to see Dumbledore standing in the entrance to the hospital wing, Minerva McGonagall behind him. The transfiguration professor spotted Harry's body on the bed, and looked at the same time relieved and horrified. "Do you know who did this?" Albus sounded as angry as she'd ever heard him.
It took several seconds of silence for Tonks to realize the question was for her. "No, sir. He was like this when we arrived. Well," she amended, "he was conscious when we got there--he hit his head when Shacklebolt reached for him." She frowned. "Not very hard, though--he must have had an injury there before."
"Will he live?" Albus's voice was quiet but taut.
"If you fetch Severus immediately," Pomfrey snapped. "Then you'll need to go to St Mungo's--I daren't move him, it's not in any way safe, we'll have to bring a trauma team here--"
Albus turned to go. "I shall fetch them at once, Madame. Severus is at Headquarters; I shall have him here within the half-hour." He paused. "Minerva, or perhaps Miss Tonks, will you come with me? I shall not have time for Molly's questions, of which I am certain there will be many."
McGonagall glanced at the stains on Tonks' knees. "I will come with you, Albus." She followed him out.
"Miss Tonks, I need some assistance." Pomfrey sounded tense.
"Tell me what to do." Tonks ducked around Lupin, who was still standing transfixed, back to Harry's bedside.
Severus Snape was planning to scream at the next person to bother him. Or perhaps hex them, if he could get away with it. Definitely if whoever-it-was brought up the Potter boy.
Not that the blasted boy hadn't been the topic of discussion all summer. If someone wasn't reading aloud a nauseatingly-boring letter from the boy, they were discussing writing one to him, or worse yet, talking about how horribly sad the blighted boy must be over his accursed mutt.
Good riddance to bad rubbish was Severus's opinion, not that anyone wanted to hear it.
But now the urchin hadn't written for a week and everyone was in an uproar. Molly was the worst--she was absolutely convinced that the Dark Lord had the boy and was doing Terrible Things to her Precious Harry. It was enough to make Severus gag. For one thing, if the Dark Lord did have the boy, he would never have kept it secret for this long, and assuredly would have summoned Severus by now, and secondly, as of Albus's report last night, there had been no intrusions or disruptions in the warding.
No, the boy was just too conceited and spoiled to remember to write, that was all. Probably hadn't even thought of how the Order might worry about him. Severus scowled at the potion in front of him. Work, blast you.
If only he were at Hogwarts. There he could lock the doors and only have to deal with the thrice-damned Headmaster, and maybe a few others if Albus decided to force him to attend meals. But no. "We need this potion to stay secure," the headmaster had said, "and even I cannot assure that anymore in a Hogwarts-provided laboratory."
Severus contented himself for a moment with enumerating all the things the Ministry, the Dark Lord, and the Headmaster could do to themselves, the more painful and less anatomically possible the better. ...by a rabid hamster, he finished, picking up the next ingredient as the potion before him let off a sudden pulse of light.
Quickly he slid in the pickled rose nudibranch slices and held his breath. But instead of turning bright blue, the potion turned a sickly orange and began to bubble. A quick evanesco cleared out the cauldron before the potion could explode. Again.
Damn the war and its bloody perpetual demand for potions.
He took a deep breath and checked his pocket watch. It was nearly ten in the morning--perhaps if he went upstairs the kitchen would finally be clear and he could get some toast and jam. He hated eating with the others. Molly would probably still be there, though--she barely left the kitchen anymore. He supposed he could endure Molly's nattering about precious Potter if it got him some of her pancakes.
He was halfway up the stairs when he heard a commotion going on above. Snarling, he banished his hopes of food. Whatever was going on, it had half the members of the Order in an uproar, and three-quarters of them would be glad to take whatever-it-was out on their resident Death Eater--even if he was on their side--if he poked his nose in now. He stalked back to his work station and picked up his notes. Maybe if I added some of the nudibranch brine as well?
"Severus." He spun to find Albus standing in the door to the lab, looking haggard. Trying to conceal his surprise, and his distaste for being surprised, he glowered at the older man.
"Please come with me, Severus." He had never heard the Headmaster sound so urgent, nor so pleading.
"Hogwarts. It is an emergency, I am afraid."
"No, Severus. Now. We can send someone back if you need something here."
"Very well, old man." He glared at the Headmaster just for appearances, and followed him upstairs. Together they ducked around a knot of people shouting at--McGonagall? What on earth could the old cat have done?--and to the floo. He took powder from the tin Albus held out, then threw it into the fireplace. "Hogwarts, Headmaster's Office!"
He stepped out of the flames into the Headmaster's office, with the room's owner close behind him. "Now. What is this about?"
"Walk with me while we talk, please." The headmaster led the way out of the office and down the stairs. "We successfully retrieved Mr. Potter, but there have been...complications."
"With Potter involved, surely this does not surprise you."
Albus looked at him, a hint of reproach in his expression--and was that guilt? Severus's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "He has been severely injured, Severus. Poppy has all but demanded your assistance."
Severus contented himself with raising an eyebrow at the old man. "What are the nature of the injuries?"
"I am afraid I do not know. Poppy and Nymphadora were working to stabilize him when I left to retrieve you." Albus paused. "From what I saw, he did appear to be severely beaten."
Severus mentally rephrased that in his mind as 'Potter had a bloody nose'. Maybe a broken bone. Nothing worth hauling him away from his research, especially with both Albus and the Dark Lord breathing down his neck with regards to his latest efforts. He supposed she might be out of the right variety of blood replenishing potion. The boy went through it like Ravenclaws through books--it seemed the boy could not get out of bed without injuring himself. How much feverfew did he have left?
He was still musing on the possible potions for which he might be asked and their components--and his stocks thereof--when the pair reached the hospital wing. Albus entered first, holding the door for Severus, who stalked in, glaring indiscriminately around. Lupin was standing a few feet away from the foot of a bed, hands clenching and relaxing rhythmically. Madame Pomfrey and Auror Tonks were standing beside the bed, working on someone--Severus assumed it was the Potter boy.
"The other side now--Careful, don't touch the--"
As Pomfrey and Tonks circled the bed, Severus got his first good look at the boy on the bed. He felt the blood drain from his face. One part of his brain catalogued obvious injuries and blood loss, but the other part simply stared, unable to believe that Madame Pomfrey had been working on the boy long enough for Albus to fetch him. He had seen victims less injured after Death Eater revels--except that Potter was supposedly still alive.
"Poppy." He recognized the voice as his own after a second. "I was told--"
"Severus!" she cut him off, looking up from where she was working on one pale shoulder, expression relieved. "Thank Merlin you got here this fast--now the boy has a chance--I'm going to need some blood replenishing and heart stabilization potions, compatible tuned rehydration and renourishment potions, and then a nerve regenerator--"
As she continued listing potions and their relative urgencies, Severus could not help feeling a twinge of pride. He was important, needed. Once again, he would be the one to save their Golden Boy.
Albus stood near the darkened windows of the hospital wing, just outside a set of shimmering wards. Inside, white-robed figures stood over a form draped with white linens. Already they were stained with blood, despite the medi-witch casting nearly continuous cleansing spells on the cut they'd opened in Potter's neck.
"Here's another one," one of the figures said, dropping a white sliver into a metal pan with a clink.
Albus's eyes closed as he struggled to control his stomach, knowing the slivers piling up in the pan were chips of bone threatening the boy's very life. He had never felt so helpless in his life, and it was not a feeling he enjoyed. Inside the sterile wards, Harry Potter fought for his life, and there was nothing he could do.
"How are you holding up, Albus?"
He turned around at the sound of his Deputy Headmistress's voice. "As well as can be expected, Minerva." He turned back to his vigil, and McGonagall joined him, standing at his side.
"How is he?"
As though the question had been a jinx, one of the spelled orbs they'd lined up at the head of Potter's bed started strobing and making a soft wailing. A sudden flurry of activity and rushed spells caused Albus to clench his fists and swallow. His breathing increased as several minutes passed with neither the wailing nor urgent spellcasting ceasing. Suddenly all of the healers stood back, and one of them hit the boy's body with a spell like a thunderbolt. Still the wailing continued.
"Come on, Potter," said a voice from one of the figures that he recognized as belonging to Poppy. "Don't do this to us now." Gesturing to another one of the figures, she continued, "Cast it again."
A white bolt of light hit Potter's back, causing the body under the sheet to twitch, but the orb continued wailing softly. "Again."
"Poppy--if he hasn't responded--"
"What part of 'again' did you misunderstand?" she snapped. "Do it again! We'll cast together!"
This time the bolt was as large around as Albus's arm, and Harry's body jumped convulsively when it hit. He felt Minerva clutch his arm, and unclenched a fist enough to place his hand over hers. Both of them let out a breath they had not realized they had been holding when the orb cheeped and went back to glowing a greenish yellow.
"Thank Merlin," one of the figures said quietly. "Think we'd better use the potion?"
Albus tuned out the technical discussion that ensued and turned to Minerva, who was still clutching his arm. "It has been...difficult to tell."
"I see," she replied softly, as if afraid to breathe.
After watching the trauma healers turn Potter over and pour a potion down his throat, then turn him back and resume working, Albus said thoughtfully, "I have never been so glad of my decision to hire Poppy in my life."
"I admit, when you first hired her, I had my doubts as to how well a Healer who had spent years working war trauma cases would adjust to being nurse to a school full of children," Minerva told him, "but now--"
She seemed unable to complete the thought, but Albus nodded anyhow. "She wanted to get away from all that," he responded quietly, "and thought a school full of new, young witches and wizards would be the perfect place." He took a deep breath. "I have never had the courage to ask her if she regrets the decision now that..."
"I actually came up here to show you something," Minerva said after a minute of watching the healers work.
"Oh?" Albus's reply was distracted and distant.
She tugged on his arm, pulling him over to one of the windows. Pulling the curtain aside just a crack, she said, "Look."
Reluctantly, the older wizard tore his eyes off Harry and glanced out the window. He then took a better look, disbelieving what his eyes had shown him. "What--?"
"I think they're here to wish Mr Potter well," Minerva told him quietly. "They don't seem aggressive at all--just standing there, holding candles and singing." Now that she mentioned it, he could hear a faint edge of melody through the glass.
He stood staring out the window at the sea of candles below him, each one wavering in the light night-time breeze. As his eyes adjusted, he could see the candlelit figures filled the space below him to the edge of the Forest and around both sides of the castle. "Sweet Merlin," he breathed. Minerva said nothing.
When he finally turned back to watch Harry and the healers working on him, Minerva remained at his side--and behind her, he imagined he felt the weight of thousands of others standing the same vigil with him.
Author's Notes: I know I said I'd upload on the weekends, but I guess I lied. A reviewer was kind enough to point out some plot-holes, and so I've made a couple of modifications to this chapter to try to plug them (hence the new upload). One of them is just a sentence; the other is a good-sized chunk added near the beginning of the chapter.
Some people may still feel Harry is OOC. First, I'd like to say that Harry is supposed to be slightly "off" here; hopefully I've thrown you enough clues for you to figure out why, but if I haven't, it'll become clear sometime around chapter 6. If we get there (or you go to my website and read that far) and you still feel confused, let me know and I'll see if I can fix it. However, some people feel that Harry wouldn't be affected as deeply by what I'm describing as I write him being; I'd just like to say that I've been in a similar situation to the one I'm putting Harry in, and it really can change a person quite a bit. If you still don't buy it, that's fine; maybe this isn't the story for you.
There are a couple of references dropped into this chapter; if you don't recognize something I recommend reading its wikipedia page. However, Copeland is someone who used to be a good friend and Stout is one of my ancestors. Anything else that doesn't have a wikipedia page is the product of my fertile imagination.