31 July 1987
Harry Potter was a very odd little boy. There was nothing special about him, so far as he could see—nothing that was the good kind of special, at least—and yet he still managed to be as different from everyone else as possible. It wasn't that he didn't try to fit in, truly, he just—didn't. In general.
In the early hours of his seventh birthday, Harry sat cross-legged on his bed, tucked into the cupboard under the stairs. He'd woken up from one of his very frightening dreams, about bright green light and burning pains across his thin lightning scar, and hadn't been able to fall back to sleep. He was just lucky he hadn't woken up Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia; they weren't fond of being woken in the middle of the night, and Harry didn't fancy spending his birthday in his cupboard, no matter how much his aunt and uncle would ignore him anyway.
Harry smiled, watching a little spider crawl up the wall. He recognized it as one of the regular spiders that occupied the space with him, and had for several weeks now. He thought it might have been the one he called William, but he couldn't be sure; spiders tended to look a lot alike, even when they were your friends.
Harry scratched the side of his head, yawning, and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. So he was seven today, hm? That seemed all right. He stretched out his arms and legs before him, scrutinizing them carefully in the dim, early-morning light that was barely pouring through the cracks around the door to his cupboard. He still had his same knobbly knees, his skinny hands, arms, and legs—he straightened up a bit. Was he imagining it, or did he feel taller? Harry smiled. Well, being seven probably did that, he thought. Maybe you looked the same, but you got a little taller.
Harry sighed, still grinning to himself, and laid back on his pillow again. He was trying to remember his dream. Just last week, he'd tried again to ask Aunt Petunia if she might know anything about it—Harry had received a few hours in his cupboard, and he'd had Uncle Vernon's temper to deal with when he got home from work.
He knew he wasn't supposed to ask a lot of questions of his aunt and uncle—and Dudley was no help at all, not to mention a big bully, Harry thought with a scowl—but he had been so curious, and Aunt Petunia had seemed to be in an all right mood, so Harry had mustered all his courage and just asked her.
Aunt Petunia was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table. Dudley was watching television in the living room, and Harry had been secretly watching as well, though from a perch on the stairs, safely away from Dudley. When he'd seen that Dudley was sufficiently occupied, Harry had tiptoed down to the kitchen.
"What is it?" she'd asked, a little impatiently, clipping a coupon for honey-baked ham from the back of the paper.
"I was wondering," Harry had said, as casually as he could, "d'you know what sort of thing would cause a lot of really, really bright green light?"
Aunt Petunia had stared at him as if he were playing stupid just to annoy her. "What are you talking about?" she asked snappishly.
"Well, like, say in a car accident—"
And before Harry had known it, he was spending the next several hours in his cupboard, thinking about how not to ask stupid questions, as Aunt Petunia had told him to do.
It was interesting, Harry thought, that he really did like the color green, usually. It was only frightening when it flickered through his bad dreams—he only hated it then. But he had green eyes, and he didn't mind them. He rather liked his eyes, as a matter of fact. They were nice, the only thing visible when he would peep into the mirror that hung from the wall in the front hall. Seeing them in the little bit of reflection he could was like seeing an old friend, someone he loved very much.
Yes, he didn't think it was the color green that he disliked, so much as the fear the made his stomach hurt whenever that bright light flashed in his dream. That green was like—like seeing his old friend taken away from him, Harry thought, biting his lip.
What miserable thoughts to have on his seventh birthday!
Harry shook his head, trying to think of happier things. Usually on his birthdays, Harry liked to imagine his parents, and what he would do with them on his special day. He smiled. After all, Dudley always had such fun on his birthdays, or so it seemed—Harry only ever glimpsed the photographs when Aunt Petunia had them developed. He spent Dudley's birthdays with odd old Mrs. Figg down the street, looking at pictures of her old cats.
Harry liked to imagine that if he lived with his parents, and not Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then perhaps he and Dudley would be friends. Perhaps they would want each other at their birthday celebrations. They were very close in age, after all, and he and Dudley might have had a lot of fun together if Harry wasn't always underfoot in his aunt and uncle's house.
As it was, though, Dudley never made it into Harry's birthday imaginings. But his parents—well, they were always there, smiling and happy to see him, with endless hugs and kisses and plans for him to have all kinds of fun. And today he would be seven, he thought.
Now very excited, Harry clasped his hands over his eyes, getting ready to imagine his mother as he always saw her—a gentler, warmer version of Aunt Petunia—in his mind, their eyes were the same shape, but where Aunt Petunia had blue eyes, Mum's eyes were green, like Harry's. Soft hair—probably blond, like Aunt Petunia's, but maybe red—Harry had always liked red hair. He thought with a small grin of a pretty red-haired girl who had been in his class this past school year; she'd been very nice to him indeed despite Dudley and his gang, before she and her parents had moved back to Germany.
His dad…well, Dad was just really cool. He had black hair, like Harry, but no glasses—Harry didn't like his glasses, especially because Dudley was so fond of breaking them. And Dad was strong, really strong! He could lift Harry with one arm and set him on his shoulders. Dad liked playing outside, and running around, and throwing Harry over his shoulder to dangle there.
Harry grinned even more broadly, having successfully imagined his parents. He could see them in his mind's eye; they were waving, waiting for him to come and say hello—
There was a sudden noise from the kitchen, like someone was moving plates and pans around. Harry groaned to himself, then quickly froze, waiting a moment—he exhaled in relief, Aunt Petunia didn't seem to have heard him. Sitting up again and shaking his head, Harry told himself there would be plenty of time to imagine his parents later, but Aunt Petunia would be expecting him to get breakfast set very quickly.
Still in his pajamas, Harry creaked open the cupboard. It still seemed to be very early; he wondered why Aunt Petunia was up at this hour, but perhaps it just seemed earlier than it was. He padded down the hall and pushed open the kitchen door, rubbing his eye and heading directly for the dish cupboards, which were all at his height.
Harry nearly leapt a mile into the air and seized the light fixture, he was so startled by the use of his first name.
"Oh, Harry, sweetheart!"
Now very frightened, Harry backed himself up against the cupboards, looking up into the faces of two people who looked a great deal like Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon—but for many small details. The man was not as large as Uncle Vernon, nor did he have his tremendous mustache. His face was kinder, and not as red. This Aunt Petunia was very, very pretty in Harry's opinion; her hair was a lovely reddish gold, and she had green eyes, just like his…
"Mum?" asked Harry. "Dad?"
"Of course, Harry," said Dad, smiling down at him and laughing. "Who were you expecting?"
"Uh—er—I—I mean—" Harry stammered, and Mum bent over and scooped him up into a warm hug, kissing his cheek.
"Happy birthday, baby," she said, holding him on her hip, and Harry's mouth fell open as he extended one hand to touch her lovely reddish hair.
"Thanks," he said softly.
"I can't believe you're seven," Dad said, clapping a hand to his forehead.
Harry giggled as Dad took him from Mum, slinging him over his shoulder, so that Mum could get back to cooking breakfast—Harry's favorite, he saw—sausage and eggs, as much as he wanted!
"So," Dad said, sitting Harry down at the kitchen table—Harry gazed all around in shock, for this room looked exactly like number four, Privet Drive, but…it wasn't anything like it at all. "What are you going to do today, Harry?" asked Dad.
Harry shrugged as Mum brought two hot plates full of sausage and eggs for him and Dad, then picked one up for herself. "I don't know," he said truthfully. "What should we do?"
Dad and Mum grinned at each other. "You should do whatever makes you happy," Mum told Harry, ruffling his hair and tucking a napkin into his collar as he started on his breakfast.
"Can I stay here with you?" Harry asked immediately, happily applying himself to his eggs. Dad poured him a glass of orange juice, but the look he shared with Mum now was a little uncertain. Harry frowned.
"Of—of course you can, baby," Mum told him, smoothing his hair again. "But not—not too long, all right? We want you to go out and have fun, yeah?"
Harry chewed thoughtfully on his mouthful of scrambled eggs. "Okay," he said finally. "But I want to stay as long as I can!"
Dad chuckled. "All right, son," he said, and Harry beamed. He already liked this new number four, Privet Drive a thousand times better than the old one.
All day long, Harry, Mum, and Dad played together. They did all of Harry's most favorite games, and he even learned some new ones from them, which he liked a lot. Harry told them about school, and they were very proud that he had gotten into the top reading group in his class—they had both done that too, they told him, when they were his age, and Harry had been delighted to know that he was making them proud.
It didn't seem like very long, though, until Harry noticed that the sun was going down. He looked up from his chess game with Dad to see a very sad expression on Mum's face.
"Can't—can't I stay here with you?" Harry asked a little hopelessly, and Mum smiled sadly, sitting down beside him so that he could crawl into her lap.
"No, baby," she said. "We wish we could go with you, but we can't."
"Why not?" Harry asked, feeling his throat ache, and trying very hard to be a big boy about this.
"We belong here," Dad told him, patting Harry's messy black hair. "And you belong back there."
Harry gave a great sniff, drawing his arm beneath his nose. "I don't want to go," he said.
"Harry, do you want to know a secret?" Mum asked, and Harry, his eyes now smarting, looked up at her and nodded. "You will always, always be able to find us," she told him. "You just have to look for us. When you really need us, we're with you. And even when you're not thinking about us, we're still with you."
"I think about you a lot," Harry insisted, his chin quivering.
"We know," Dad said, smiling at him. "We can tell, because we think about you all the time, too."
"Really?" Harry asked, and Mum nodded, hugging him tighter and kissing the top of his head.
"We'll always be there when you need us most, Harry," she said. "Whether you can see us or not, we're there."
Harry rubbed his eye with his fist, swallowing a painful lump in his throat, and was quiet for several minutes. He didn't want Mum and Dad to think he wasn't being brave.
"You know what, I think we should give Harry his present," Mum said, and Harry's heart leapt.
"A—a present?" he stammered, and Mum smiled and nodded eagerly at him. "For me?"
Dad laughed, reaching behind the sofa. "All for you," he said, producing a large box decorated with stripes of scarlet and gold. It shimmered with tiny stars, and Harry beamed. Then, he noticed there were holes poked in it.
"Open it, Harry," Mum said, nudging him, and nervously, Harry lifted the lid aside. Curled in the box, wearing a large, forest-green ribbon around her neck, was a small tabby kitten. She was fast asleep and had lovely silvery lines around her closed eyes, unlike any other cat Harry had ever seen. She was very special, he could tell.
"Wow," he said softly.
"This is someone very important—she's going to be a great friend of yours," Dad said, and he sounded very serious. "She's very friendly, if you're good to her."
"I will be," Harry said, amazed by this lovely little cat.
"We know," Mum said, kissing him. She glanced out the window. The sun was nearly set, so she replaced the lid on the box. "It's time, Harry," she said.
Harry sighed, taking the box very gently, so as not to disturb his friend. "I can come and visit again, right?" he asked, walking to the cupboard under the stairs.
"Anytime you want," Mum told him. "Just look for us, baby," she said, and Harry smiled and nodded, kneeling down and placing the box beneath his bed. He hurried and hugged both Mum and Dad around the waist.
"I love you," Harry said.
"We love you too," Dad told him. "Be good."
Harry grinned as he went to sit on his little bed in the cupboard. "I'm very good," he said, and Mum laughed as Dad put an arm around her. "Bye!" Harry called, closing the door. And his parents both waved as a sudden, overwhelming exhaustion overtook Harry, and he lay down to sleep.
"Up!" screeched a loud, familiar voice. Harry sighed. What a wonderful dream, he thought. Much better than that dreadful one with all the green light. His parents had been in it, he remembered vaguely…he'd been cuddled by his mother, he thought happily, and played games with his father! He sighed again, smiling and tugging the bedclothes around himself.
Then he sat bolt upright. His cat! Was she—? He reached into the tiny space beneath his bed, but he found no box…oh…perhaps it really was just a dream, he thought sadly.
"Harry, for heaven's sake, get out of bed this instant!" said Aunt Petunia, and Harry stretched, sitting up and pushing open the door of his cupboard.
It was his birthday, still, he realized with a jolt as he walked into his kitchen and saw Aunt Petunia tear the thirtieth of July from the calendar on the wall. Harry smiled to himself as he started pulling dishes from the cupboards and cutlery from the drawers. Carrying all of this carefully to the breakfast table, Harry was too focused on keeping a tight hold to notice that he was being watched.
Aunt Petunia hummed to herself at the stove as she flipped pancakes—Dudley came fumbling down the stairs, asking loudly if she would make waffles instead—and Uncle Vernon, dressed in his most important suit (the one that usually meant he was going to fire someone, Harry had learned), came downstairs as well, straightening his tie as he pecked Aunt Petunia on the cheek.
Not one of the Dursleys—nor Harry himself, for that matter—noticed that a gray tabby cat with silvery markings around her eyes was sitting on the back fence in their garden, her sharp eyes fixed on Harry, just as they had been on every thirty-first of July for the last six years.
So I was watching Prisoner of Azkaban and thought rather sadly of Harry's "memory" of his parents. I decided that SEVEN would be a really significant birthday...XD This little story is based loosely on Coraline (y'know, without the horrifying button eyes), and it was written for astronauts' "Books, Books, Books!" challenge. I *had* to include the cat, since the one in Coraline is so awesome, I thought Minerva was perfect, and she would want to go and check on li'l Harry every now and then. So much fun to write. Definitely made me feel for poor little Harry. And remember, Harry's never seen his parents before, so he's made them up based on what he wishes Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were like...kind of... :) Anywho. Hope you like!