Privet Drive was quiet, stifled by the noonday heat. Only the dull hum of air-conditioning units and the occasional half-hearted twitter of birdsong broke the silence, as the residents who were not at work—the students on summer holiday and the housewives—sought sanctuary in climate-controlled living rooms. Everyone, that is, except Harry Potter.
At number 4, Privet Drive, Harry Potter was spreading cedar mulch under the shrubs. The muscles of his shoulders burned with a dull ache as he shifted each shovelful of damp wood, and a trickle of sweat collected between his shoulder blades. This was task number eight on his list for the day, and it was just after eleven o'clock. He had mulched the front yard, watered the front and rear yard, trimmed the rosebushes, washed the front windows, cleaned the front walk (Petunia had not found it satisfactorily clean when he'd used a broom, so he'd cleaned it again with a scrub brush and a pail of water), cooked a full breakfast, and weeded for flowerbeds.
He worked in the yard behind the house now; he had woken before dawn, mulching the front garden and watering the rosebushes in the blue-half light, far before the neighbors would part their curtains to crane their necks into their neighbors' business. Petunia had made it abundantly clear that the neighbors were to "see as little of him as possible". Well, he thought, she'd made sure of that in more ways than one—he'd lost at least half a stone since leaving Hogwarts less than a month before. At the beginning of the summer, Petunia had bought three pairs of shorts and three t-shirts, all identical styles in grey and black, at some bargain-basement shop, apparently realizing that her nephew attracted more attention when drowning in clothing three times his size. The pants were already beginning to slip at the hips, he noted absently. Two years ago, when he had returned from summer holiday, Oliver Wood, the Quiddich captain at the time, had taken him aside after the first practice and told him that he appreciated the dedication that Harry put into his summer conditioning, and while a Seeker ought to be small and lean, that it was possible to take these things too far. At the time, Harry had nodded blankly, pretending comprehension, only later understanding the conclusions that Wood had come to. If only Wood knew his 'conditioning' routine…
Harry had gotten into the habit of distracting himself while he worked by reviewing schoolwork. He wouldn't have admitted this to even Ron or Hermione; Ron would have been horrified, Hermione would be entirely too delighted to bear. He found it oddly soothing. For some reason, God only knew why, reviewing potions ingredients was particularly effective. Ironic, really, since he wouldn't be continuing Potions that year. Snape only took O-level students into his advanced-level potions class, and Harry had as much of a chance at making an O as Dudley had at playing Seeker for the Chudley Cannons. There was something peaceful about their structure…shrinking solution. Ingredients, chopped daisy roots, skinned shrivelfig, slicedcaterpillar, one rat spleen, dash of leech juice. He smoothed the woodchips under a holly bush. He reviewed the ingredients like a mantra. The handle of the spade shifted against the caluses of his palms, building a new blister against his right thumb. Boil-cure potion. Ingredients: dried nettles, minced; snake fang, crushed; , stewed horned slugs; porcupine quills, to be added after removing the cauldron from the fire. Another few feet… Draught of peace. Ingredients, powdered moonstone; valerian root, minced; syrup of hellbore; peppermint, dried. As he hefted the final shovelfuls of much into place, he abandoned his recitation, and he felt the beginnings of dizziness warping the edges of his vision, the familiar combination of dehydration and his ever-present hunger. He rinsed the spade before returning it to the garden shed, and dusted the woodchips and dirt from his clothing before entering the house, which was blessedly empty.
Vernon was at Grunnings; the drill company had been hit hard by the economic downturn, and Vernon seemed to have grown thicker in the past few months, enraged that the economic system had the temerity to assault his career in this manner. Petunia was at a weekly meeting of the Little Whinging Garden Club, where the object seemed less to discuss gardening than to gossip, sticking beaky noses into everyone else's business, dissecting the habits and quirks of their neighbors. Petunia looked forward to it all week. Dudley was… well, wherever Dudley went in his free time.
Dudley had undergone a transformation, apparently spurred by his unfortunate encounter with a pair of dementors the prior summer. The traumatic experience had sparked the small measure of introspection that Dudley possessed, and "Big D" had relinquished his hobby of pummeling anyone smaller than him. On the other hand, he had joined a boxing club, where he pummeled those nearly the same size as him. Dudley was still enormous, but under his still-formidable layer of fat, there lay some serious muscle. Dudley seemed to have simultaneously cooled towards his parents, determined to stay "Big D," leaving "Duddykins" behind with the cloying attentions of his parents as he quested for dominance, or manhood, or whatever he sought in the ring. Harry was unsure who was more shocked: the Dursleys or Harry himself. It might not have seemed like a tremendous transformation to anyone else, but for Dudley… it was comparable to Ron devoting himself to the study of Aristotelian ethics, or to Malfoy giving up the dark arts to take up the lute and compose lyrical ballads in iambic tetrameter. Harry could hardly object, as Dudley stayed out of the house for the most part, and generally ignored Harry when he was in the house.
But for the elder Durselys, particularly Vernon, his son's changed behaviour was proof of the contagion of Harry's freakishness, and Vernon was determined to deal out twice the punishment that Dudley ever had. Dudley had been spurred by boredom, and Harry had been a convenient target; Vernon was driven by true hatred. Vernon had stripped the spare bedroom of everything but the bed, had outfitted the windows with a set of reinforced bars, and had installed an extra padlock or three on the door. Two days after Harry arrived, after Harry twice awoke the family with screaming nightmares, Vernon had added soundproofing to the door.
Harry showered quickly, deliberately avoiding his reflection in the mirror as he undressed, at least until he removed his glasses and everything dissolved, blessedly, into a blur. The mirror only gave the sense of a pale, small shape. He had the sense sometimes that the reason that Petunia fed him so little was so he would shrink, take up less space, be less of a burden. Sometimes it seemed like a good idea to him. He tried to make himself as invisible as possible; he sometimes wished that he could curl himself into the smallest possible ball, shrink himself until he became insubstantial and could slip between the space of two floorboards, and vanish so completely that no one would ever miss him.
He didn't look into the mirror with glasses on because he knew he'd look like hell, but he didn't need to see it. He imagined that he looked exactly as bad as he felt.. His body was a map of bruises, but Vernon hadn't broken any bones yet—to Harry's slight surprise. On his left side, a long bruise faded to yellow over the flesh that stretched over his now-visible ribcage; a livid purple band braceleted his right bicep, the fingers from Vernon's meaty hand printed into his flesh; assorted smaller bruises in various states of healing marked his torso, elbows, knees, anywhere that he'd been pushed or thrown to the ground. The marks on his back were worse, layers of tracks left by Vernon's leather belt: the welts from the leather end, and the gouges from the buckle end. He couldn't see them, but he felt them with every shovelful of mulch that he hefted, every floor that he scrubbed.
In the shower, he scrubbed the dirt from his hands and face, ruthlessly. He washed the sweat from the rest of his body with slightly more care, to avoid re-opening Sometimes, Harry fantasized about fighting back. Sometimes he thought of his wand, hidden beneath a loose board in the spare bedroom. How it would feel to wrap his hand around the polished holly wood, to press the tip against Vernon's fleshy throat, and tell him that if he ever laid a hand on Harry again, he'd blow him to bits so small that they wouldn't need a coffin. Or sometimes, late at night, he just thought about grabbing his wand and his trunk, summoning the Knight Bus Two steps down Privet Drive, wand arm out, simple as that. But he squashed these thoughts. Pathetic, he thought, to wish for revenge or rescue. Pathetic and self-pitying. What a useless waste of time. He didn't need or deserve pity, his own or anyone else's. It was all right. All of it was right. He didn't deserve sleep. He didn't deserve rest. He didn't deserve comfort. He deserved every bit of the pain that Vernon delivered, though not for the reasons Vernon thought.
On his better nights, he slept for five or six hours. The weight of exhaustion in his limbs bore him down into sleep at night, but he dreamed eventually, and when he dreamed, he woke on the floor, screaming. He dreamed of the living and the dead. He dreamed of the Weasleys, the whole family gathered around the kitchen table at the Burrow, all that red hair like a conflagration in the candle light, and as he rounded the table, he saw all their eyes wide and blank, all of them dead. And Hermione was there, suddenly, hair wild and eyes rimmed with red, and she said "what did you do Harry? Where were you? They're dead, and it's your fault, it's your fault, you were supposed to save them—" and then a flash of green and she was suddenly on the ground, and he was screaming, where was his wand? Or he dreamed that he was in the Department on Mysteries again, and Sirius fell forward, breaking back into the real world out of the shifting veils of that arch. Harry caught him as he fell, but his body crumpled in his arms, and as the last breaths wheezed from his godfather's shredded lungs, his eyes were fixed on Harry's, with terrible accusation in every bone of his face. "How could you, Harry? Your father, your mother, all those lives, all for you. Your… fault…" and Harry was left clutching a rotting armload of rag and bones. Or Cedric, his once-affable face frozen in the permanent shock of betrayal.
He shut off the spigot and dressed in clean clothing, attempting to flatten his damp hair into some semblance of order. Downstairs, Harry opened the refrigerator, and found that Petunia had left him a meal: three anaemic-looking carrots, half a slice of meatloaf, and a small wedge of cheese that was just beginning to cultivate a rind of blueish mold. She reserved a separate Tupperware container for Harry, where she threw whatever leftovers were unfit for Dursley consumption. Sometimes it had food. Sometimes it was left pointedly empty, in the blue-white gleam of the otherwise fully-stocked refrigerator. Harry ate slowly, making the most of each bite, then drank three glasses of water to fill the rest of the space in his stomach. Then he filled a bucket with warm soapy water and began scrubbing the floor on hands and knees. At six, Petunia and Vernon rolled into the drive nearly simultaneously. Vernon found Harry in the living room, where he was dusting Petunia's collection of ceramic ducks. Vernon looked slightly to Harry's left when he spoke to—or at—him, as if the very sight caused him angina (which it likely did). He gritted out each word through clenched teeth, chopping each phrase off, violently. "Bring. In. The. Groceries. Now, you ungrateful. Whelp." Vernon was already an unpleasant shade of puce, which did not bode well for Harry. Harry stood by the front door, while Petunia inspected the front gardens her posture like that of a child's toy come to life: she leaned forward, hands on bony hips, while her head bobbled on her skinny neck and her beady eyes swung back and forth across the shrubbery. Hefting a sack of potatoes with one arm and cradled a plum tart with the other, Harry turned to see Mrs. Figg tottering unsteadily off the sidewalk into the road in a motion which might have been called a run, were she a decade and a half younger. Her housecoat flapped wildly, and her face wore an unmistakable look of panic. What the Hell?, Harry thought. "Mr. Tibbles!" Arabella Figg cried, hands outstretched, as Petunia and Vernon swiveled their heads in tandem. Then he saw the orange cat prancing into the street, at precisely the same time that he saw the car that was two dozen yards from the pair, and everything shifted to slow motion. The plum cake was plummeting towards the pavement, and Harry was halfway across the road before the tires began squealing. His hand closed around her arm, but the car was so close, it was too close. He was suddenly hyperaware of how fragile her arm seemed through the sleeve of her housecoat, aware of the tang of burnt rubber in the summer air, aware of Mrs. Figg's wide eyes turned to him, her mouth gone slack, aware of the panicked beating of his heart, and more than anything he was aware that the car was moving too quickly and he was moving too slowly. Ohgod.
And then they found themselves on the opposite sidewalk as the car slid to a stop behind them. Mrs. Figg blinked at him twice, mouth slack. A pair of carpet slippers rested in the center of the road, directly between two black skidmarks, while Mr. Tibbles wrapped himself around Mrs. Figg's bare ankles and feet. I must have used wandless apparition, he thought. Harry could see the wheels turning in the older woman's head, and she suddenly embraced him unsteadily. "Oh, Harry!" she exclaimed "You moved so quickly!" why is she talking so loudly?, he wondered.. The motorist was clambering out of his car, and Harry suddenly remembered the Dursleys. Across the road, Petunia had gone white. Vernon was slowly flushing to a shade of purple that Harry had never seen before in his life. Suddenly the pulse of adrenaline set in and Harry's hands began shaking uncontrollably.
Before Mrs. Figg had time to even return her bare feet to her house slippers, Vernon had manhandled Harry through the front door, over Mrs. Figg's quavering protests leaving Petunia to briefly deal with the neighbors and the sedan's driver. Vernon took a grip on the back of Harry's shirt with a fist the size and color of a small ham, curses—freakishlittlesonofa deviant filthyparents abnormal myreputation howdare freakish-frothing incoherently from between clenched jaws, his thick moustache quivering with rage, as they ascended the stairs, where he literally threw Harry into the room; his trainers left the floor before he went skidding across the floorboards. Finally regaining some control over his tongue, the man sprayed spittle across the room as he gritted out, "Before this night ends, you'll wish that you were never born, you freak."
Oh, God. Harry thought. This will not end well.
A/N: oh no! what's going to happen to Harry? I guess this was more of an extended prologue… next chapter will have more action (ie violence).
Also, just realized that Harry pulled an Edward Cullen, rescuing Mrs. Figg from that out-of-control car. Haha.
Also, part II: just realized that the Dudders transformation I threw in there was totally pointless. I might go back and delete it. Hrrrrm. I'll probs have to go back and edit this, since it's way too late at night for me to be doing this. I ought to just wait till tomorrow and the publish, but I'm not very good with that whole "delayed gratification" thing.
Also! Review! 3