Harry Potter and the Twist of Fate

Chapter 1 – Wish Fulfillment

July 31st, 1987

It was a pure scorcher of a summer so far, with temperatures soaring well into the high 90s and nary a cloud to offer even brief moments of respite from the beastly heat. Harry didn't mind so much; it gave him the opportunity to avoid his relatives, who invariably grew surlier and nastier the hotter the day got. Though Uncle Vernon had long since gone off to work, Aunt Petunia had set up camp in the living room with a glass of iced lemonade, her battery-powered fan and her morning soaps, and Dudley was hiding in his air-conditioned room with his personal television.

Harry knew if he stayed in the house, he'd only make himself a handy target for their irritability at the heat, so when his aunt snapped at him to go outside and weed the flowerbeds, he went without protest. He stopped in the kitchen long enough to fill a battered plastic bottle with water from the tap, and then he was gone.

He wasn't permitted to wander away from the property, though he wasn't sure why. Dudley, when he could be bothered to leave the house, was allowed to go where and when he pleased. In less-than-charitable moments, Harry thought it was because his aunt and uncle knew that their portly son would never go so far away that he couldn't make it home in time for dinner.

Harry knelt in the flower bed and busily swiped at the weeds with a hand rake, uprooting the undesirable plants and tossing them to the side. Sweat plastered his hair to his face and he had to brush his bangs out of his eyes with every second weed he pulled from the soil. It was hard-going; the dryness of the air stole the very moisture from his mouth, and he had to take a break before he was even done with the first lot of plants.

He retreated to the shade and relative coolness of the porch, fanning the neck of his oversized tee to try and catch some breeze on his face. Already panting from such little exertion, he gulped down several mouthfuls of water, and then poured some over his head to try and cool off. It was only partially successful, as the arid air dried him quickly. He sighed and looked back out over the front yard. Aunt Petunia had a lot of flower beds, and he'd hadn't even finished the first one yet.

It's either this, or go back inside with Aunt Petunia and Dudders, he thought glumly, and stepped off the porch into the full force of the sun again, heading back to his work. Sometimes, he dearly wished that some unknown relative would come in and pluck him from the Dursley home, take him to a huge house with a yard and a dog and maybe some clothes that fit properly and a room that he didn't have to share with anyone, not even spiders.

While I'm at it, why don't I wish for a pony and a million pounds and my dead parents back too?

An hour later, he had refilled his water bottle half a dozen times from the hose, not willing to go back inside long enough even to use the kitchen sink. Harry plopped down in the swing on the porch, figuring he'd done enough of the garden to warrant a break. It wasn't as if Aunt Petunia were going to move from her chair anytime soon to check up on him, after all.

A low ache throbbed in the front of his head, a solid indication that he'd been in the sun too long. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the swing, splashing water over his forehead and cheeks, and wished that he'd thought to grab one of Aunt Petunia's old straw hats from the coat closet before he came out.

When Harry opened his eyes again, there was a pretty, brown-haired woman in a blue sundress coming up the driveway with a shaggy black dog trotting along beside her. Harry frowned in puzzlement, since he was sure she hadn't been there a moment ago and he saw no strange car along the road, even as he made to slip into the house hopefully unnoticed. He didn't think his aunt had any company coming over this morning, but she never allowed him anywhere near visitors, and it was better to be safe now than sorry later.

He was about to slip over the side of the porch and make his way around to the back door when he heard the woman call out to him. Inwardly, he winced. Far too late to escape. Resigned to his likely fate of being locked in his cupboard without any dinner, he turned around and pushed his broken glasses further up on his nose.

"Hello there, lad!" the woman said with a bright grin. The way her entire face lit up with warmth and laughter gave Harry the impression she was a smiling sort of person. "I'm looking for a Harry James Potter, who lives at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey," she continued, consulting a clipboard in her left hand that Harry could swear he hadn't seen a moment before. "This is 4 Privet Drive, so I must be in the right place. You wouldn't happen to be Harry James Potter, would you?"

Harry returned her smile a bit nervously. No adults ever came here looking for him and, having no experience with it, he wasn't at all sure what to do now. After a long moment of deliberation, he decided he may as well tell the truth. "Yes, ma'am," he said politely. "I'm Harry."

"Excellent, excellent Mr. Potter," the woman said with another big grin, and Harry felt bathed in the sheer warmth and friendliness radiating from her. "May I call you Harry, lad?" she asked, and he nodded. "Thank you, Harry. My name is Mrs. Cygna Black, and this mangy mutt here," she added, indicating the black dog, sitting beside her still as a statue except for the madly-waving tail, "is Padfoot." The dog barked twice, high pitched and excited, and Harry couldn't help but laugh.

"It's nice to meet you," he replied, then risked getting bitten to hold out a hand to Padfoot. The black dog bounded up the steps and began licking first his hand and then his face. Harry laughed again, deciding then and there that he liked Mrs. Black and her overly friendly dog. "He's brilliant," he said with a smile as he stood up. Padfoot gave one last lick at his cheek, then flopped down across Harry's feet with a long, deep sigh.

Harry stared down at the dog as it continued to lay there, overheating his feet and impeding his movement. He found he didn't mind hot feet so much, as it made it much easier to close his eyes and pretend the dog was his. "I've always wanted a dog," he blurted, so suddenly he surprised even himself. "But my aunt and uncle always said I wasn't responsible enough for a fish, let alone a dog."

Mrs. Black looked thoughtful, but her smile didn't waver. "And what do you think, Harry? Do you think you could look after a dog? They do take a lot of work, you know. Feeding, bathing, taking them out for walks. Cleaning up whatever mess they leave behind. It took me months to properly housetrain Padfoot there," she added with a wink, and the dog looked sharply up at her as if offended.

Harry shook his head in the next instant. Dogs didn't get offended, he reminded himself. "I don't mind hard work, ma'am," he replied, reaching down to scratch behind Padfoot's ears. The dog gave another one of those huge, heaving sighs, replaced his head on his paws and thumped his tail against the floorboards of the porch.

"I'm sure you don't, Harry," Mrs. Black said. "I bet you're the kind of boy who does his chores straight away, cleans his room and helps out his ... aunt, you said?.. every chance he gets."

"Yes ma'am," he replied automatically, still scrubbing at Padfoot's ears. The dog, for his part, seemed very content to soak up the attention. "I'm a very hard worker, ma'am."

"What kinds of chores are you responsible for? If I may ask, that is." Mrs. Black winked conspiratorially at him. "You see, I have a little girl at home, and I'm wondering what kinds of things I should be looking at assigning her as chores in the future. Do you take out the trash, help with the washing up after meals, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, ma'am," and had he been thinking properly, not distracted by the dog and his delight in having one near, he would have stopped there. But he wasn't thinking properly, so he carried on. "I also cook breakfast and dinner, mow the lawn, do the laundry, look after the flowers when Aunt Petunia isn't feeling up to it, straighten up after company's been over, and sweep and mop the floors every morning and night."

"I see," Mrs. Black said, and there was something in her tone that made Harry look up at her with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Her smile hadn't faltered, but that didn't make the feeling go away. "That's quite a lot of work for a child your age. You must be very responsible indeed to be trusted with so many chores. I suppose you've got a nice nest egg saved up from your allowance, then?"

Harry chewed on his bottom lip, trying to figure out how to answer that one. Finally, he settled on, "No, ma'am," and left it at that. Hopefully, she'd think he spent it all on candy and comic books, like Dudley did.

The tactic seemed to work, for she changed the topic. "I like your outfit, Harry," she said, and Harry glanced down at himself in surprise. He was wearing Dudley's hand-me-downs, everything two sizes too big, and trainers that had more holes in the soles than rubber. "I understand that baggy clothes are becoming something of a fashion trend among kids your age."

"Well... these are my cousin's old clothes, ma'am," he said.

"Ahh, I see. Are you wearing them to work in the garden?"

Harry squirmed. "Err... no ma'am. When Dudley is done with them, they're handed down to me." He bit his lip, then rushed ahead to ask, "Ma'am, I don't mean to be rude, but why are you here?"

Mrs. Black smiled again, but there was something different about the smile. There wasn't any humor in it, though it did serve to make him feel slightly better. "I'm sorry, Harry," she said gently. "I guess I forgot to mention. I'm here on official business. You see, we've had a few complaints filed at the Department of Child Services, and I've been sent out to check up on you. I'm sorry if I mislead you, but I wanted to get a feel for you before I fully introduced myself." She paused and glanced up at the house. "Might your aunt be home, Harry?"

oOoOoOoOoOo

If the floor could open up and swallow Harry that very minute, he would die happy. He shuffled from room to room behind Aunt Petunia and Mrs. Black with his head down, listening to every word as Mrs. Black asked some hard, probing questions about why Harry had to sleep under the stairs when there was a perfectly good bedroom filled with nothing but junk upstairs, why he had no clothes his own size, why he appeared so scrawny and half-starved when the other boy of the house obviously enjoyed large and frequent meals, why there were no pictures of him anywhere, and why Harry had to do so many chores on killingly hot days while everyone else relaxed in the cool of indoors.

Aunt Petunia tried her best to justify it to Mrs. Black, but her responses were flustered and stammering, and Harry didn't think at all that Mrs. Black was buying a word of it. Aunt Petunia, since he'd come inside with Mrs. Black, had a perpetual look of panic on her long face, and her hands hadn't stopped fluttering around her throat and mouth throughout the entire tour. She was off-balance enough that she didn't even comment about the dog following behind Harry like a silent guardian.

"Well, Mrs. Dursley," Mrs. Black finally said as they came to a stop in the living room, and Harry noticed that she wasn't smiling anymore. She had lost that expression somewhere between the closet and the upstairs bedrooms. "It appears as though you've been wilfully neglecting Harry's health and happiness, close enough to the very point of child endangerment that I can begin a full inquiry into your actions, or rather, inactions. The last time I checked, Mrs. Dursley, Britain still frowns on child slavery in any form or permutation."

"But... I... You..." Aunt Petunia spluttered, and her face turned from white and pinched to a sickly ash-green at Mrs. Black's words. She reached out to grasp the chair and leaned heavily on it. For a second, Harry was certain she was going to faint.

"Not to mention," Mrs. Black breezed on, ignoring his aunt's half-intelligible interruption, "it also seems that you've been grossly neglectful of your own son, ignoring proper dietary nutrition and health concerns. I do not have the power to set an inquiry into the welfare of your son on my own authority, Mrs. Dursley, but you may be absolutely certain that I will be passing along a few choice recommendations to my colleagues in Muggle Child Services who do have such authority."

"You..." wheezed Aunt Petunia, and she sat down very suddenly when Mrs. Black said the word: "Muggle? You're one of them, aren't you? You're not actually from Child Services," she hissed.

"Oh no, Mrs. Dursley," Mrs. Black said with a very sharp smile. "I am from Child Services. The Department of Magical Child Services. We've had quite a lot of complaints about your treatment of your nephew from wizards and witches who've been keeping an eye on them. Or did you think, dear, that the wizarding community would entrust you with the Boy-Who-Lived and leave you to it without anyone looking in on him from time to time?"

"Take him then!" Petunia suddenly shrieked, surging out of her chair to toe off with Mrs. Black. Harry shrunk back; he'd seen Petunia in this kind of rage only once before, and that had resulted in a near hit with a cast iron frying pan. The color flooded back into her face, turning her cheeks an unflattering shade of purple, and spittle flew from her mouth. "I never asked for the freak to be dumped on my doorstep! Take him and his abnormalities and be done with it!"

For her part, Mrs. Black seemed completely unfazed by his aunt's behaviour. "You may be very certain we shall do just that, Mrs. Dursley," she said calmly. Padfoot moved forward to stand beside Harry, watching Petunia intently. The dog bared his teeth and growled low in his throat.

Petunia spared one frightened look at the dog, but she sounded like she'd been saving up years for this one single outburst, and not even a hostile animal could dissuade her from continuing. "My dratted sister and that... that husband of hers had the nerve to get themselves blown up and saddle me with that unnatural boy! I never wanted him in the first place. Wizards. Turning teacups into rats and with pockets full of frog-spawn . Foist him off on another unsuspecting woman if you like! Just take him from my house and get him out of my sight before he sets the house in ruins with his 'accidental magic'!" Petunia's mouth twisted sourly as she spoke the last two words.

A long silence fell afterwards, and it was almost like everyone was afraid to move. Petunia stood with her hands fisted in the throw on the back of the chair, cheeks red and eyes bright with anger. Mrs. Black and the dog looked at each other, and looked back at Petunia. Harry edged around to stand in sight of his aunt, swallowed hard, and spoke.

"You... you told me my parents died in a car crash," he said.

Petunia laughed, a short bray of sound that had nothing to do with humor. "Of course I told you that," she snarled. "What was I supposed to say, that she'd gone off and gotten herself killed by one of her own lot? Witchcraft has no place in this household, boy, no matter what you turned out to be."

"Witchcraft?" Harry gasped. "Mum was a witch?!"

Aunt Petunia opened her mouth, no doubt to say something nasty and cruel, when Mrs. Black cut her off with a stern look. Aunt Petunia glowered at her, but Padfoot took another, menacing step forward, and the low growl rose in pitch. Aunt Petunia backed off with a cautious look at the dog, and Mrs. Black turned to Harry. "There'll be time for all those explanations later, dear," she said gently. "Why don't you go collect your things, dear? Your aunt and I have some paperwork to finish up."

And so it was that Harry Potter found himself with a small bag full of Dudley's cast-offs, the few toys he had salvaged and repaired from his cousin's piles of broken things, and the single, well-worn copy of The Secret Seven his favourite school teacher had given him the end of last school year, being ushered out the doorstep.

He didn't know what Mrs. Black said to Aunt Petunia while he was packing his meagre belongings, but she looked quite ill and worried. She didn't say a word as Harry shuffled past, just eyed him the way she'd been eying him for years: like something to scrape from the bottom of a shoe.

Mrs. Black and her dog were waiting for him near the front door. The smile had returned in full force, and she held a hand out towards him. "Are you ready, Harry?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am," he said, and stepped through the door back out into the heat. Mrs. Black followed behind him, the dog silent once again beside her. It wasn't until they were halfway down the street that he realized today was his seventh birthday.

"Wicked," he whispered to himself with a wondering smile he couldn't contain.

"Did you say something, dear?" Mrs. Black asked.

"No ma'am," he replied, but kept grinning as they walked.

This was undoubtedly the best birthday present he'd ever gotten.

oOoOoOoOoOo

Author's Note: Thanks for all your positive reviews of the story thus far. They are greatly, greatly appreciated. I do apologize for the lateness of this update, but there have been some further issues with my computer, and then the holidays were upon my family. This update isn't as long as I would have liked, and I'm not at all sure I like the ending, but this is what I have written. So it is said, so shall it be done. :)

Comments, criticisms and constructivity are always welcome in my inbox.