Harry Potter and the Reluctantly Paternal Uncle
A/N: Hello, all. I fear for my continued safety, posting after this long of a break. To be honest, I wasn't sure I could continue this story, but, well, I need a hobby. A story, if you will. Ten and a half months ago, my best friend, Jeremiah, was killed in a Marine training accident. It was very abrupt and very, very painful. As time progressed, my depression (which has always been an issue, abusive childhood) and my anxiety continued to worsen. It got to a point where I was basically taking any pills I could get my hands on and smoking a lot of pot. Like a three-hundred-dollar-a-month habit. It came to a head about a month ago, and I had gotten ahold of some rather powerful narcotics.
Long story short(er), I OD'd to the tune of about nine times maximum dosage. The next three days are a bit of a blur (and most of my information is from other sources) but I ended up trying to kill myself—and would have succeeded—if not for a concerned family member calling the cops on me. I spent the next five days in a group home receiving counseling and undergoing a probationary period on medication (make sure there's no adverse side-effects, adjust the dosage as needed, etc.).
As to how I'm doing now? I'm sure if you're still reading, it'd be a nice piece of closure. I had what was called an 'extreme grief reaction' when Jerms died. He was a very close friend, we talked on the phone probably five or ten times a week, just for shits and giggles when we were bored, for accountability on working out and for other random parts of our lives. He had his shit together, I was working on mine. Problem is, I tend to have very few people that I trust, and he was the only person I've ever trusted implicitly. Understandably, his loss hit me hard. The increase in 'self-medication' ended up causing my depression to worsen while lessening the symptoms of anxiety, so I essentially spent ten months trying to chase down anything I could that would help me not feel anything. Now, I'm on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, and for the first time in months, my head feels clear. Jerms'll always be in the back of my mind, but I'm able to function now.
I've recently purchased a car, I'll be going back to work soon, and I intend to get a second job to catch up on the bills I neglected while I was spending my money in more... frivolous ways. Given that my habits (and the time I spent supporting said habits) are now more in tune with not going out and getting blitzed, I can focus on other activities again. Like writing. And running. And all the things that used to be enjoyable, that are now considerably more appealing again.
I apologize for such a long hiatus. Understand I was very bad off mentally, and the fact that I even got a second chapter out was a small miracle. Hope you enjoy the third chapter. I'm setting deadlines now, and I'm taking an hour each evening to write, so you all will see a chapter every Monday from here on out, and more when I have less to do. Just assume a week between chapters, to be safe, and if you're really pumped about knowing when, well, Author Alert. ;)
This chapter has some rather chaotic interactions, and an element I'd hesitated to add to the story, but one that upon further reflection, I decided I didn't want to leave out. It fits in nicely with my lack of desire to merely rewrite the books. Hope you enjoy, next chapter should be out on Monday, Aug. 2nd.
Chapter Three: Full Immersion
The morning Harry was to catch his train was an odd and awkward affair. All throughout breakfast, he received nothing but silence and sideways glances from his aunt and cousin. Vernon read the paper while he demolished a pile of waffles, and Harry kept his gaze on his own slowly-disappearing breakfast. After his last forkful of eggs, he began to clear the table. When he took away Vernon's plate, the man grumbled his thanks, causing Petunia's strained attitude to finally snap.
"Vernon, what the hell is this about? Ever since the incident," the last word bitten off severely, "you've been acting differently toward the boy. You're forcing Dudley to repress his emotions when you know the boy clearly aggravates him, and that's not something any child should have to put up with. You're treating him... Harry... almost like he's your son."
"Isn't that what people do when they agree to take a child in?" Harry queried before he could stop himself. He immediately regretted it—Uncle Vernon, while kinder now, did not exactly encourage blatant contradiction of his wife.
"I'm beginning to question why we ever did," Petunia sniped. Vernon looked surprised that she hadn't snapped a little more, but wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Boy, get your things. Petunia, I've said it before, and I'll say it again. He is a child. He does not deserve the same childhood as I had."
Petunia's face paled a bit more. "I never said that-"
"And it's about all we've given him. Petunia, we kept him in a cupboard. We gave him clothing that was sizes too large. Yes, it was clothing, and no, we don't have money to throw to 'charity cases,' but we took him in. It's done." He rose to his feet and folded his newspaper. "You carry on about 'what the neighbors think' so much... imagine what would happen if one of them called a social worker."
She stared at him. "But... he's... he's a freak."
"Dudley, go outside," Vernon directed. The large boy waddled past, giving his father a wide berth, in case the freakishness was contagious. He shot a terrified glance at his mother as he exited the kitchen.
When Vernon was sure Dudley had left the house, he turned back to his wife. "So you've said. But in the eyes of the law, he'd be an eleven-year-old boy who has been mistreated and neglected. You'd do well to remember that." He sighed deeply. "On a side note, if you want to do us all a favor, figure out who owns that BMW that was parked out front of the Polkiss' house last night. He's been around the neighborhood an awful lot but I never see anyone get out of the car and Piers said his parents didn't have anyone over. Dudley asked."
She nodded, color returning slowly to her face with the welcome change of subject. "I've noticed him too. Haven't called, but..." her voice trailed off.
Vernon let out another sigh, returning to the taboo subject. "Do you remember why we took him in?" Vernon asked.
She hesitated, then her shoulders slumped. "I know. And you're saying it wasn't his fault... but... you've changed..."
"Pet," he said, sitting down heavily, "I have changed. For six years, I punished a child in my home because of the actions of his father and his mother. You were not responsible for my view of these people, but you didn't help any with your constant jealousy—yes, Petunia, jealousy—whenever your sister was around. I have always given all I have for this family, and I can't protect us from those people any more than you can. But he can. And he does."
"His father—you know of his father! And my sister! How can you say..."
"What does his father have to do with it? We took him in. We are responsible for his well-being. Physical and emotional. His father was a... I don't know... I've never pretended to like James. But I know James would have defended Lily to the death, and he did. And Lily died protecting her son. And now, the 'protection' we're afforded is tied to him." He poured a cup of coffee for something to do, then set a pot of tea on for Petunia. Harry came back downstairs with his supplies (shrunken and not) while Vernon finished the coffee in silence. "I see nothing wrong with providing him with the childhood he had torn away from him."
Harry noticed his Aunt looked stricken, his cousin was missing, and Vernon was somberly regarding his wife. "I... I suppose I need to think on this," she finally said.
"Thank you," he said. He rose to his feet and kissed her on the forehead (Harry slunk back out of the room, a bit embarrassed) and she hugged him stiffly. "So you know," he murmured in a lower voice, "I've not been bewitched or any such rubbish. I will not be playing with wands or owls anytime soon. I still think it's unnatural, but I'm willing to make an exception in his case."
As he let go of her and turned to leave the room, she stopped him. "Vernon," she said, stepping closer to him, "I'm not... angry at you. I just need some time to think."
He gave her a tight smile. "I know, Pet. I've had plenty, and I have sort of sprung this on you." The front door burst open as he rose to his feet. Dudley ran inside.
"Dad! Dad! There's someone outside the house who wants to talk to you! He's got Harr-" he was cut off by a loud banging on the door. Vernon winced and strode out of the kitchen, then down the hallway to the door, fully intending to give whichever witch or wizard had shown up a piece of his mind. Moments later, he slowly backed away.
"Petunia, take Dudley and go in the back room, please." His voice was terse, and they immediately obeyed. He kept an eye on the door. "What do you want?" he asked as soon as his family was out of sight. The storm door opened to admit Harry and a cloaked, hooded figure.
"I don't believe introductions will be needed, and time is of the essence, so your compliance is key here if you don't wish to watch your family murdered," the man said calmly. "I need you to disown the boy. I could be wrong, but I believe the wards here will do some severe damage to anyone wishing to harm the boy." Almost as an afterthought, he added "it was a pain to disable the perimeter wards. Probably Dumbledore's doing."
While Vernon didn't really disapprove of people who disliked Dumbledore, he realized that the situation could get pretty bad, pretty quickly. "So it's me or you, then, isn't it?" he asked, thinking as quickly as he was capable of.
The man seemed taken aback. "What?"
"Well," Vernon said, speaking slowly and enunciating clearly, "if the wards will do severe damage to anyone who tries to harm him, then my disowning him would probably cause backlash on myself and my family. So, no."
"I've not been damaged yet," the man said, although he seemed a bit shaken by this information. To his knowledge, the Dursleys and the Potters had not been close. How did this man know of wards?
"Do you mean him any ill will?" Vernon asked sarcastically.
"For as long as the wards are up, no."
"So if I refuse, you'll just leave?"
The man laughed. "No, if you refuse, I'll kill your family. Leave the boy alive, but your family will die."
"The wards are tied to their blood. I find it unlikely that this protection would not extend to them as well, given that their continued well-being will continue to power it." Vernon was very out of his element here, but he had dealt with stressful situations at work before, and he was into his bullshit-what-you-don't-know mode. He was good at shoveling piles.
The man hesitated a beat, then his eyes narrowed. "I'm beginning to think that maybe these wards don't exist at all." Now Vernon knew the man was bluffing. So far, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Unless the man was bluffing about killing his family. Could magic sense intent?
Vernon knew his continued survival depended on the wards being intact. He wondered if the treatment the boy had received had damaged the wards in any way, or if they degraded over time. He tried to think back to the letter that Dumbledore had written all those years ago, but could not remember anything about it. Shame Petunia had burnt it... "If you came in here with any intent of causing him harm, then you're not leaving unharmed," Vernon said, advancing on the two.
The man threw Harry roughly to the floor, eliciting a cry of surprise from the boy, before kicking him in the head with a heavily booted foot. "That's it," the man snapped. "I'm through with reasoning with you." Harry, woozy and terrified, did the only thing he could think of. As the man pointed his wand at Vernon, Harry struggled to his feet behind the man and lunged at him, grabbing his leg and biting him just above the knee.
Halfway through the incantation ("Impe...") he jerked violently and growled at the boy, flinging him against the wall—and then began to writhe in pain. Red tendrils of magic emerged from the floor beneath his feet, translucent and gently glowing. The man stared at his feet, mesmerized, then before he had a chance to scream, his skin seemed to liquify and evaporate out of his robes. In a split second, all that was left of him was a wand and a steaming pile of clothing.
The tendrils then turned to Harry, brushing against his cheek, his scalp, and his leg. He seemed completely enthralled by them, not even afraid of what they had done to the intruder. A few moments passed, then the tendrils disappeared beneath the floor again.
Petunia cautiously peeked out of the back room. "Vernon?" she called, her voice shaky.
"It's alright now, Petunia, Dudley. You can come out." He was staring at Harry.
"Are you hurt?" Petunia asked, rushing up to her husband.
"I'm fine," Vernon said impatiently, rushing over to help Harry back up.
"They didn't hurt you?" she asked disbelievingly.
"They?" Vernon asked.
"Well... either of them, I suppose." She tried to look indignant, but the glare Harry shot her way seemed to keep her back from commenting further.
Vernon shook his head, as he stepped back from pulling Harry to his feet. "No, Harry actually stopped him from attacking me."
"What?" Petunia snapped.
"He bit him on the leg," Vernon said, chuckling. "After a kick to the head."
Petunia winced. "But he's so short. How'd he kick a full-grown adult in the head?"
Harry and Vernon both cracked up laughing. Aunt Petunia looked irritated. "Aunt Petunia," Harry said through his giggles, "he kicked me in the head. Then I bit him. Aunt Petunia?" he ventured again.
She folded her arms. "What?"
"He was going to try to hurt Uncle Vernon." His voice was quiet, the cheer gone from his face. "It was my mum. She protected him."
"Your mother is dead," she snapped. "Don't be silly."
"I know. The protection isn't. It healed me after I hit the wall. I felt calm the entire time, like—like she was with me." He picked up his scattered school things from the floor and put his hand on the door. "You might want to consider the fact that she's still watching." He turned and pleasantly greeted someone outside. "Hello, Headmaster." The door closed behind him.
Petunia let out a half-sob and made for the staircase, and Vernon sighed heavily. "Dad?" Dudley ventured.
"H-Harry's going to be late. You said you'd t-take him fifteen minutes ago." He looked at his father as if seeking some sort of approval.
"Thank you, Dudley. I need to go speak to this gentleman outside. Please go up and stay with your mother until I get back inside, would you?"
Dudley hesitated. "Do we really have to be nice to him now?"
"We should have always been nice to him, but civility would be a good start," Vernon admitted.
"Mum thinks he's more trouble than he's worth," Dudley offered.
"Your parents aren't always right, Dudley," Vernon said, feeling a bit impatient. "We make mistakes too."
"Piers and Malcolm aren't going to be happy when they find out I have to be nice to him," the boy whined.
"They'll have to get used to it, I expect," Vernon said dismissively. "Go upstairs. I'll be up shortly." Dudley caught the hint and beat a hasty exit. Vernon walked outside, skirting around the robes on the floor.
"Hello, Headmaster," Vernon greeted cooly.
Dumbledore smiled graciously and offered his hand. "My name is Albus Dumbledore," the bearded wizard said, "but you can call me Albus."
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" Vernon asked, his voice tinged with irritation.
Albus sat on the front stoop and stretched his legs out. Regarding Vernon solemnly, he said "I received word a few minutes ago from another witch living in the area that there had been an attack here. Given that I am in charge of the primary legislative body in England, and Harry's residence here is known to only a few people—myself included, I nominated myself to personally ensure that he was safe."
"Your 'wards' kept him safe," Vernon said.
Albus glanced at Harry, who appeared unharmed. "So they did," he agreed. "Did you have some concern about their efficacy?"
"The wards didn't activate until that bastard had his..." Vernon gestured, trying to pantomime the word.
"Wand," Albus supplied helpfully. Vernon winced.
"Yeah—that-pointed right at my face. Harry said the man was going to attack me with it. If Harry hadn't bitten him on the leg, he would have probably done so." Vernon glared at the man. "You're the Dumbledore who wrote us that letter, aren't you?" Dumbledore nodded. "So you tell me why they didn't protect us."
"I will answer your question, but I need two pieces of information from you. I recently learned that there was a significant strengthening of the wards surrounding this home shortly after Harry's seventh birthday. Did you contract for that?" Dumbledore asked solemnly.
Vernon just stared at him disbelievingly.
"Didn't think so," the older man mused, eyes twinkling in amusement. "That would not have probably drastically changed the effect the wards would have, but warding is a very exacting art. Did anything occur here that was out of the ordinary at that same time?"
"That's when Uncle Vernon and I... started getting along," Harry supplied. "I mean, he wasn't mean before, but my stay here has always been kind of based off of something we both needed, not so much a desire for a second son." He glanced quizzically at Dumbledore, who had turned around to listen to him. "You set up these wards?"
"And you were responsible for leaving me here?"
"So anything you're about to accuse my uncle of is directly caused by that." Harry lapsed back into silence and sat down against the garden wall, staring out into the front lawn.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled all the more merrily for this bit of information. "You would be correct. So you started to get along... I suppose that could strengthen the wards..." He turned to Vernon. "It is likely you were not unprotected. The wards sense for danger, and they are wards that are blood-based, meaning that they would be more likely to protect your wife, your son, and Harry first. However, I imagine, and this is speculation, that the wards would either have transported you out of the way of the spell or intercepted it—had he managed to get the spell off."
"But you're not certain," Vernon said, although his initial annoyance was starting to seem a bit overplayed. "And I do not possess the blood required."
"If you would like, I could come take a look at the wards after Mr. Potter has been delivered to the train station," Dumbledore offered. "Perhaps key them to your blood as well?"
"Could you wear something different?" Vernon asked irritably. He'd been trying to stay quiet about it, but old habits die hard...
Dumbledore looked down at his maroon robes embroidered with golden stars. "I suppose I could... I came here in a rush, I normally have a very fetching purple suit that I wear when I meet Muggle family members..."
"That will be just fine. And I may have a few questions for you then."
"Excellent!" Dumbledore exclaimed, clapping his hands together once, and startling both Harry and Vernon. "Well, then, let's get you to the train station, shall we?" He turned to Vernon. "Be expecting a few people to come by... it's our law enforcement agency... they'll be wearing blue robes and they'll throw up a perimeter ward—no one should be able to see them outside your yard." And with that, he grabbed Harry's shoulder, spun in place, and both of them disappeared with a crack.
Vernon turned to walk back into the house, so distracted that he didn't even think to feel bad about not seeing Harry off. More concerned about his wife and son, he mounted the staircase and headed toward the second story, hoping against hope that that was actually Harry's headmaster—robes and all. He could imagine the actual headmaster would be rather irritated to discover his star pupil had been kidnapped.
Halfway up the stairs, he smelled something burning and cursed fluently as he dashed back downstairs to pull the smoking tea kettle from the stove. As he rapidly moved dishes from the soapy water to the empty side of the sink, the tea kettle began to burn through the oven mitt he had placed it on. Cursing, he plunged the offending dish into the sink (mitt still attached) and turned off the stove top. He'd made it to the staircase again when the doorbell rang.
"FOR GOD'S SAKE!"
"Harry, we're actually about five minutes early," Dumbledore said as the two began to walk from the apparition point toward the platforms. "As I said before, I expect your aunt and uncle will receive a house call from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement very soon, and I'd like to be there when they arrive to help smooth things over since it was I who called them." He unshrunk Harry's possessions and loaded them onto a cart.
Harry nodded his thanks and began to push the cart toward the barrier. "Thank you, sir."
"Harry, when I left you with them, I had only your best interests in mind," Dumbledore pleaded.
"Yes," Harry said, giving the headmaster a shrewd look, "but you discounted theirs in the process." He disappeared through the barrier, leaving behind a rather shocked and guilty-looking man. Before Dumbledore had a chance to recover, Harry poked his head back through. "What House were you in at Hogwarts?" he asked.
"Gryffindor," Dumbledore replied.
"Thanks," Harry said, a resolute look crossing his face. His head vanished through the barrier again.
Dumbledore shook his head as if to clear it, schooled his features into a more neutral expression, and walked back toward the apparition point. "Definitely a Ravenclaw," he muttered in disappointment, waving his wand over his robes and transfiguring them into the suit he so favored. With a crack, he disapparated.
Back at the house, five Ministry officials were questioning Vernon and Petunia. Rather, one was doing the interrogation, one was calmly standing by, and three were making a nuisance of themselves, examining every Muggle oddity in the house under the pretense of investigation.
Vernon had managed to maintain the pretense of civility, while a shaken Petunia had excused herself to clean the kitchen.
Amelia Bones, the Department head of the aforementioned DMLE was trying to keep her temper. It was proving frustrating. "Sit down," she snapped at one of the younger Aurors. He complied. "Don't touch anything," she snapped at another, who hesitantly turned off the television and guiltily walked over to sit beside his partner in crime.
Before she could continue, a knock on the door was hastily answered by the third Auror, and he was greeted by Dumbledore. He escorted the wizard back into the room.
"Amelia," Dumbledore said, nodding. "Vernon," he added, as he took a seat next to the man.
"I got what happened here," Amelia said. "Between this and Barty's disappearing act, this is turning out to be quite an exciting day. You have anything you'd like to add? Mr. Dursley here gave me the basics."
"Barty?" Dumbledore asked. "As in Bartemius Crouch?" Hopefully, he added "senior?"
"Yes. The Department of International Magical Cooperation owled me an hour ago to say that he hadn't shown up for work today. As per policy, we sent a pair of Aurors to his home. When they arrived at his home, his elf was there but no one else was home. The elf had apparently been confunded. The elf led them to an upstairs bathroom. It was completely wrecked. No spell residue, no scorch marks, but blood all over the floor and the walls. They said it looked like someone tried to clean up after themselves, but we were able to get a viable sample."
"Have you been there yet?" Dumbledore inquired.
"Not yet, I'm going there after we finish here—that's it! Dawlish, I told you not to touch anything!" (The Auror in question was dismantling the TV remote.) "You, Perkins and Wadsworth get your asses over to the Crouch Manor! Shacklebolt, you stay here." The sheepish trio of Aurors went out through the back door and disapparated from the garden.
"They're all fresh from Academy, Madame Bones," Auror Shacklebolt intoned. "Give 'em a couple of months to get used to not being new."
She smiled tiredly at him. "I think a verbal warning's in order."
"Maybe with a silencing charm this time," she added, glancing over at Vernon. He and Dumbledore were talking quietly. "Albus," she said, "that wand. Kingsley ran diagnostics." The Auror nodded his confirmation. "There's an unlocking charm and another unidentifiable partial, but nothing aside from the two. That spell covers approximately the last ten years." She gave her fellow Order member and protege a hard look. "We're relatively sure it's Barty Jr's."
"Then these two incidents are connected," he surmised. He turned to Kingsley. "These wards, did they leave behind any organic residue?"
"None," the Auror said regretfully. "I checked when we arrived."
"What the ruddy hell is going on here?" Vernon burst out, finally pushed to the edge of exhaustion, confusion and indignation.
Dumbledore turned to him. "A man is missing. His son, presumed dead for several years, was possibly still alive, as the wand lying in your hallway belongs to him. They're running tests on blood found in the missing man's apartment. If it turns out to be his, we can assume he is dead and his son is responsible. If that is the case, then that-" he gestured toward the pile of robes "-would indicate that his son, too, is now dead. His son was a known supporter of Voldemort."
"So, if his son was presumed dead... why don't you just dig up his grave and check the body? There should be something left that you can test." Vernon raised his eyebrows.
Amelia looked shocked. "He's right! If we get the test results from Crouch's place back and they're conclusive, and there's no body in the grave, then..."
"Then we have our man," Kingsley said. "I think we've taken up enough of the Dursleys' time today." He nodded respectfully toward Vernon, shocking the man slightly. "And I'd like to get to Crouch's before those three trained monkeys manage to muck up any evidence."
Amelia laughed and stood. She stuck out her hand for Vernon to shake it, and he did so hesitantly. "Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Dursley. I'll let Albus here get to work examining the wards on your home, and hopefully," she glanced at Albus "we won't be seeing each other again."
"Ah," was all Vernon managed. The two officers disapparated, leaving him and Albus alone in the living room amongst an awkward silence.
"Vernon," Dumbledore began slowly. "I know your home has been invaded quite regularly this morning. I assure you that I can put up other wards sufficient to keep that from happening again. Or modify the existing wards to the same end."
"We'll need access for owls," Vernon admitted grumpily.
Albus brightened. "Of course!"
"And an Ogden's order form," he said, pressing his advantage.
Albus rummaged through his various pockets before pulling out a folded piece of parchment. "I happen to have one right here."
"You carry a copy on you?" Vernon said, surprised.
"Magical alcohol doesn't hurt your kidneys or liver," Dumbledore calmly explained. "A lot of the work I do comes with its fair share of stress, and I do it, for lack of other reasons, because so few wizards are competent when it comes to administration. When I get home at the end of the night, I like to relax."
Vernon squinted at him suspiciously, while admitting to himself that perhaps wizards were more similar to non-magical folk than he had expected. He'd made similar excuses to his doctor in the past.
"I'm a regular customer," Albus said bluntly. Vernon laughed before he could help himself. "I carry it on me, because, honestly," he said, "I carry everything on my person. There's a foot stool in my right hip pocket."
"Really?" Vernon asked.
Albus dug an umbrella, a large ring of keys, a handful of wrapped lemon candies and finally a foot stool from his pocket. "Really."
Although it pained him to say it, Vernon admitted "that is kind of neat."
"Freakish, unnatural, but neat," Albus cheerily agreed. Vernon's cheeks colored. Just ever so slightly, because he didn't approve of embarrassment. Or irony. "So, yes, here you are. I have the original at my office, so I can just copy it later."
"Which office?" Vernon asked, feeling a slight amount of trepidation about a school for children run by a possible alcoholic.
"My... home... office," Albus lied somewhat awkwardly.
"I'm going to go work on your wards," the older man hastily interjected. He gave Vernon a significant look. "You know, the ones that can save your life?" He then hastily beat an exit toward the front door.
Vernon found Petunia in the kitchen, tossing the kettle in the trash can. "I'll replace that," he offered. She shrugged. "I'm really sorry..." he tried again.
"Vernon," Petunia said, her voice slightly higher than normal, which was bad, because on a good day her grating screech tended to cause migraines... "sit down and have a drink with me."
He stared at her hand, which held a half-drunk glass of firewhisky, and at the open bottle on the counter. "But you said..."
"Forget what I said," she snapped.
"Right," he amended, grabbing the bottle and tipping it back. Moments later, he belched flame, startling Petunia and igniting his eyebrows.
On the bright side, he mused as he frantically splashed dirty water from the sink onto his face, Petunia hadn't giggled like that in years.