Disclaimer: No profit being made. Obviously. I'll state it once here, and consider it forever said.
PLEASE READ: This will be a rewrite of my earlier story, much expanded. It will be a slow-building story, because I want the characters to be "in character" the whole time. That means there has to be a reason for them to act in certain ways. A foundation must be built before the walls of a house. However, this story has a complete outline, and so will be finished in its own time. It will begin far before Hogwarts, and explore Harry turning into an independent boy who can only rely on himself. Then it will go to Hogwarts for a few years, before the story once more turns completely original and expands to include the global magical community. This will explore the ramifications of a world where certain muggles find out about wizards, and all the different ways in which both parties respond. It will go into the whys of what the wizards have done, and both the positive and negative aspects of it. And most of all, it will be a lesson on humanity: that nothing in the world can truly be black and white, good and evil, positive or negative.
Prelude: Three Months after the Official End of Hostilities in the Country of Britain
A dark-haired man stood atop the highest tower of Hogwarts. He wore only a loose pair of black pants that rippled in the wind that blew harshly upon the castle from the mountains nearby. Below him, spread out in a complex network of lights and movement, the reconstruction continued as various wizards began the extensive project to restore Hogwarts to its pre-war glory. The man watched them numbly, seeing occasional faces turn upward in his direction before quickly looking away when they saw his gaze.
He heard footsteps upon the stairs, tentatively edging their way up towards the top of the tower, the walls of the round room broken down to show only open air. They paused at the last stair, before a rough throat cleared itself. The dark-haired man turned, piercing green eyes meeting frightened hazel ones as the newcomer shifted from side to side. He attempted to smile, something that came out more as a grimace, before gesturing the nervous man towards two chairs set up on the far side of the tower room where a piece of roof still remained, braced on two wooden beams. The man shuffled forward, dressed in an muggle suit and tie, not meeting his gaze, while pulling out paper and pen and sitting gingerly. For a moment they observed each other, one fidgeting and the other silent as the crumbling stone around them. Then, slowly, his gaze lowered to the small table, the hazel-eyed man spoke.
"Mr. Potter, sir, I'm not sure where to start, if this is a even a good time. Mr. Malfoy told me to come straight up..."
The dark-haired man, Mr. Potter, sat quietly and absently shook his head in the negative. His voice, when it spoke, was slightly hoarse.
"No, this is as good a time as ever. You know my reasons for this of course..."
Mr. Potter drifted off, waiting for the other man to speak. He did so, eyes looking around, anywhere but at the dark man sitting across from him.
"Yes, sir. A autobiography, to combat the bad press..."
"Call me Harry. You will soon know more about me than all but my closest friends."
The man's eyes widened, his head shaking as he met emerald eyes for the first time since coming up into the tower.
"Oh, no, sir, I mustn't! After all you've done for us, I could never..."
Harry cut him off with a swift hand gesture, before looking out over the countryside towards the white-capped mountains. A smile began to come to his lips as he spoke again, attempting to put the man at ease.
"Mr. Klaric, tell me, what is it people say about me?"
Klaric looked down, his eyes flickering across the table as if looking for some secret. He spoke tentatively, leery of riling the wizard's ire.
"They say you are a hero. That you have saved us all. "
The man shifted, his hands absently toying with a sheet of paper. When he spoke, it was slowly at first, before he gained momentum, speaking faster as he gained steam.
"They say you are dangerous, that you've done... unspeakable things. They say you should be exiled, perhaps. They say we know nothing of what you are, and that you are the only one of your kind. They say you... sacrificed innocents and enemies in obscure rituals to gain power, that you tortured Death Eaters into insanity, that you killed in cold blood, that you cannot be trusted. Some say... that you will be the next Dark Lord."
Harry Potter looked the man over, Klaric's face now flushed, his body braced to receive a blow. He spoke again, softly.
"Mr. Klaric, John, I chose you from hundreds of reporters and biographers, muggle and wizard alike, because they say you are honest, because your reputation is impeccable, and because you are not my friend. You did not fight for me; you were not here in Britain during the Blood War. That's what they are calling it now, right? Tell me, what do you see when you look at me?"
The man's eyes reluctantly turned to him, running over his naked chest. Scars rippled across its surface. Some detailed complicated patterns, waves running across flesh, while others were the telltale marks of muggle and magical wounds. Behind his back two wings rose regally, barred black and silver, their heavy feathers softly chiming with metallic clicks in the wind. The man opened and closed his mouth, unsure how to speak.
"I... sir...different. You look... different."
Harry leaned forward slightly, laying out a single hand palm up on the table. On its palm lay a single raised scar, depicting a single rune. Harry spoke, his tone calm and even.
"You described it perfectly with that one word. I am different. And people fear difference. They deserve an explanation, of sorts. They are scared, out there, some hiding behind their petty words, others hiding behind adoring praise. But all of them, scared, scared of me. Scared of what they cannot understand. Scared of what I am about to do. And you, John, will help me educate them. You will tell them my story."
Hazel eyes rose, meeting his own. Determination began to steel across their surface, the chin rising, the trembling halting in tanned skin. Klaric was a good reporter, and before him was the opportunity of a lifetime, the making or breaking of his career. If he succeeded, his name would forever be connected to one of the most well-known people in the world.
Harry smiled, leaning back. He looked down at the stack of blank paper, and over at the muggle pen grasped in the reporters hand. A smile began on his face, and he closed his eyes. He turned his mind back, across the many years and triumphs and heartbreaks, back to when it all began, when things that could've been became different. He spoke, his voice deep and distant.
"It all happened because of a single event, some ten years ago now. The beginning of everything. I was living with my Aunt and Uncle Dursley, in muggle Surrey..."
An excerpt from "Memorable Muggle Mornings: the Undercover Wizard."
"Today, at exactly six o'clock a.m., I rose and made some tea. My lovely cat, Purniskus, purred for some milk which I graciously granted her. The muggle life is so peaceful! No clattering pots spellbound whisking about the room, no hoity toity wizarding owls swooping in at all times of day. I miss cleaning spells the most, but with me alone not much mess is made. If one is careful, as I am of course! You can go complete weeks without lifting a cleaning finger, and such wonderful devices these muggles have made to clean for you! Have you ever heard of a dishwasher? Wonderful Invention! Came from America in the…"
A young black haired boy watched silently through the slats in the cupboard door as two men came stomping heavily in holding a big cardboard box between them. Emerald eyes shone sadly, before he leaned back onto his dusty mattress made of old blankets and stained sheets. Broken toys looked down on him from two small wooden shelves, and a burnt out light bulb reflected a speck of light from the small opening in the door. He made himself sit still, for his uncle has been very specific: "Stay silent, and no funny business!" and then he had slammed and bolted the cupboard door. His uncle's voice had wavered with anger, a tremor that made Harry shake, knowing what would come of it.
His family, The Dursleys, consisted of his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and their son Dudley. Aunt Petunia was his mum's sister, though she never spoke of her and had no pictures. He just called them Uncle and Aunt and sir and ma'am and Dudley, and knew enough to stay out of their way. He wasn't normal, and his uncle often just called him freak, because he was different from them. He was different because his parents had died when he was a baby, and they were taking him in from the kindness of their hearts, and sometimes he would wish really hard and things would happen. Things that normally warranted a good thrashing from his uncle and shrieks from his aunt.
Which brought his attention to the men coming back and forth outside of his door.
~A Week Earlier~
Harry quietly entered the kitchen, his steps soft. Aunt was watching her specials on the telly, and Harry knew he would get into trouble if he made any noise whatsoever. Lunch that day had been sparse in more ways than one. Not only had he gotten less to eat than his pudgy cousin, but Aunt was on another one of her health kicks. This one was triggered by a not-so-concerned comment from a fellow parent about her precious Dudders expanding waistline. While making Aunt angry, it had also brought attention to a growing problem: namely, Dudley's weight. Which was growing ever more since Dudley's birthday present of a new gaming console.
His bird-thin Aunt had then decided, for the betterment of the entire household (i.e. Uncle and Dudley) that the new eating regimen be implemented right away. Greens, greens, more greens, and some silly white chalky stuff called tofu. Harry shuddered with disgust. He could bear the low-fat milk and sugar supplements, but not that sometimes soggy, sometimes stiff, tofu! He knew it wouldn't last any longer than it did the last few times, but he was still hungry enough to attempt to sneak a snack. He knew it could mean trouble, but he was hungry! He had been this desperate a few times before, and hadn't yet been caught. He always made sure Uncle was at work and Aunt busy and Dudley gone. Checklist complete, he tip-toed over to the Fridge.
It was just as Harry was reaching in to grab a tub of leftovers that trouble spoke up. Literally.
"Freak! What do you think you're doing?"
It was Dudley. His cousin had squeezed into the kitchen just as silently as Harry, but spoke up in his anger at seeing his freak of a cousin trying to sneak of bite of his food. No matter that Dudley had had the same plan as his cousin, but Dudley thought to himself, 'that ungrateful snit didn't deserve a whit more than he was given!'
Harry gawked, startled, his voice stuttering and shaking as he backed away from the refrigerator. "I'm, uh, just... cleaning up. You know, tidying the fridge. Throwing out the old stuff."
Harry groaned mentally. If that wasn't the lamest excuse ever. He quickly tried to slide past the large Dudley and back to the refuge of his cupboard when Dudley lashed out and grabbed him much faster than he would have given his cousin credit for. Harry squeaked, bracing himself for a bruising fist, when he felt his foot catch underneath the kitchen table. He frantically tried to push away, but Dudley began to pull him closer, and down he went, his hand outstretched to catch him. The angle was all wrong, and his wrist bent with a toe curling sensation of pain, and Harry let out a surprised and painful yell. Then his knees both hit the ground, Dudley falling on top of him, and the pain was like stars behind his eyes, red and yellow and orange, and a panic built up like a pressure in his chest, before popping with an audible shattering noise. His ears began to ring, and Dudley was suddenly scrambling off him, yelling himself, pushing Harry painfully back onto his hurt wrist.
"What's going on in here? Dudley!"
Aunt Petunia let out a scream. Harry sat up and realized the ringing noise he was hearing was actually the smoke detector, blaring from the kitchen ceiling. He looked around blearily, seeing his horrified Aunt hurrying over to a shaken Dudley, huddled in a corner, wide eyes locked on the appliances that were currently belching smoke.
Every appliance in the kitchen had been fried, even the microwave and the electric toaster. Uncle had been furious, his pudgy face red and his eyes bulging. He had been expecting to purchase a new car soon, and fixing the damage was going to set him back by at least a year. His Uncle hadn't even touched him since the accident, not even the littlest spanking, and he had no idea what was going to happen. Uncle wasn't known to not punish any little offense, not to mention one that had done so much damage. Harry had at least expected a beating and to be locked in his cupboard. This calm rage his Uncle was displaying currently was foreign to Harry.
Dudley had also been avoiding him, no longer pushing him around or speaking sharp insults. He had avoided him in the hallway, and didn't meet his eyes at the dinner table. He had even flinched when Harry accidentally bumped into him while serving breakfast, which caused Uncle to pale and his hands to shake. Harry had cringed, expecting retaliation, only to slowly relax as none came. He was confused, this behavior new to him. He began to feel on edge, startling easily, creeping more silently than ever about the house as he cleaned. What was going on?
The men from the electronics store left the house with a cheerful farewell several hours later, and his Uncle came over and unlatched his cupboard door and dragged him out by the arm.
"Go clean the Kitchen, and be quick about it!"
His Uncle snarled venomously at him before stomping into the living room.
Harry trudged over to the kitchen, looking over the dust and boxes and slowly began cleaning, favoring his sore left wrist. The cabinets were fixed from the smoke damage, and a nice new stove and dishwasher were gleaming in their spots. He moved the boxes they had come in over to the side while he swept the floor and counters, then carefully peeked out into the living room at his Uncle.
"Sir, I'm finished."
Harry spoke carefully. His Uncle looked up, then an odd smile spread across his face. He stomped into the kitchen, looked around, and grabbed the box the dishwasher had come in and put it by the back door.
"Well, freak, I bet you've been wondering why you haven't been punished yet for the little stunt you pulled the other day. Your Aunt and I have had a long talk, and we've had enough of you and your freakiness! We've found a women in the country who wants someone to clean her house for her, and help look after her animals. She's going to pay us a nice monthly stipend for the labor. You can stay there until you are old enough to leave. We will tell people that another wealthier relative of ours has come forward to take over your care. You will not tell anyone otherwise, do you understand me?"
Harry shrank down from his Uncle, the warning in his voice unmistakable. He began to nod his head while his thoughts swam in turmoil. A small part of him rejoiced at escaping the clutches of his Uncle, but the larger part was afraid of leaving the only life he had ever known. His uncle seemed satisfied with his meek response, his flushed face returning to its normal color. The large man straightened, tightening his hand around a set of keys in his fist. He spoke again, gesturing towards the large stove box Harry had drug over by the door.
"It's better for everyone if no one see's you leave. We best make it quick, the lady wants you as soon as possible. Get in that box over there, hurry up!"
"But, sir, my stuff..."
Harry began to argue, before drifting off as his uncle's face began to flush in anger again, the color rising up under his buttoned collar. He looked down at the floor, shuffling over towards the box. Uncle Vernon spoke behind him as he hesitated.
"The woman will supply anything you need!"
His uncle gestured roughly to the box again, a tight, eager expression coming over his face.
Harry hesitated only a second more, sparing a brief thought for the few possessions he had collected in his cupboard. Broken toys, select pieces of junk that were ignored by Dudley and his relatives. Nothing Harry could really value, but it was all he had.
"Hurry up boy, before I whip you first!"
Uncle Vernon snapped out the last bit and kicked his foot towards Harry, who quickly scampered into the large cardboard box. His breath sounded loud in the enclosed area, and he felt the world close in on him. It was like his cupboard, but not, a tight suffocating feeling coming over him. His breath sped up as he heard his Uncle taping up the top of the box, and he lay on the floor, curling up in a tight ball. He clasped his hands together, his palms sweaty, and screwed his eyes shut. Somehow, not being able to see the darkness made it more bearable.
He felt the box being lifted onto a hand cart his Uncle had retrieved from the garage. The sudden movement sent him sprawling back towards the back of the box, and he heard his Uncle grunt at the shift in weight. He tried to hold himself still as the movement continued, focusing his thoughts on where he might be going. Maybe this new woman would be nice, and have cookies like Mrs. Figg across the street. He might even get a room of his own! The chores couldn't be much worse than the ones he did already, and he had always loved animals.
He felt himself begin to calm as he built a picture in his mind. Everything was going to be fine. The box came to a sudden halt, and Harry felt his stomach drop as a voice sounded outside.
"Hi Mr. Dursley! You get a new dishwasher? I heard that new model over at Blake's was very nice. You need any help?"
The voice came from the right, where their neighbor at Number Five lived. He waited, breath harsh, as his Uncle nervously replied.
"Hmh, umph, well, a little help getting this into the boot would be nice, it's heavier than I expected! Put some old beaten-in pots in here to carry them over to the dump." His Uncle's voice wavered, and Harry could hear him rub his palms against his trousers. He heard footsteps coming closer, and tried to brace himself against the sides of the stiff cardboard.
He was suddenly elevated and felt himself fall over again as he was pushed forward roughly into the back of the car. He managed to withhold a yelp of surprise and sudden pain, as pressure was put on his still tender wrist. Then there was a sudden slam and the grey light his eyes were just beginning to get used to turned completely black. He almost yelled in fright, but pressed his face against his hands instead. He hoped he would be getting out of here soon. The air was hot and stuffy, making the space seem even smaller.
He heard some muffled voices, and then the car engine started, a low hum that vibrated under his body as he lay once more curled on his side. It suddenly jerked backwards, and he began to count in his mind. One, Two, Three, Four... trying to focus on anything except his situation, cramped and alone. Never once did he think his Uncle was lying, or consider the legality and oddity of simply giving a child away.
When the car suddenly braked and came to a halt, Harry had been drifting off to sleep. He heard the trunk open, and dim light once more filtered through to his eyes. He felt his heart jump in excitement, and he felt the box being lifted out of the trunk.
He was in no way prepared for a sudden drop and the pain of hitting hard pavement. The box tumbled, he rolling inside it, and this time he did let out a yell as stars burst behind his eyes. He was now upside down in the taped box, and he tapped on the side, questioning.
He dizzily listened to another slam, the trunk being closed, but instead of an answer or the box being opened he instead heard tires squeal, the car leaving quickly. He beat on the side of the box, his soft calls soon turning into frenzied yells.
"Uncle Vernon! Come back! Come back! I'm sorry! I'll never do it again! Uncle Vernon! Come back!"
He scratched and pulled at the cardboard and beat at the top, but it was completely sealed shut. He pushed upwards, straining, and felt a slight give. He pushed harder, encouraged, his mind racing.
Where was he? What happened? He heard vague honking noises, like cars on a street. That had to mean there where people nearby. He kept up his yelling, his voice turning hoarse. He continued to pry at the cardboard with his fingers, and was only softly whispering his pleas to be let out when he heard sounds outside.
"Hey, look, some new boxes!"
His heart began to race again, and he frantically shook the box back and forth, trying to attract attention.
"Hey, stop it!"
"Guys come back, we don't gotta go scruffing through boxes anymore!"
"But we might get something good, and something extra can't hurt!"
The last voice was very close, and in excitement Harry rammed the side of the box and beat the sides, his voice low and muffled. The voices sounded young, but surely they could help get him out!
"There something in here!"
"Yeah I heard it!"
"Maybe it's a dog!"
"Can't we keep it? If it's a dog? Please?"
Tearing sounds came from the top of the box, and sudden light blinded Harry who quickly ducked down and covered his head. His eyes burned from the onslaught, but his lungs gratefully sucked in the fresh air. Excited voices rang from above, seeming to come from every direction.
"Let me see!"
"It's a kid!"
"No, He's little though…."
He wanted to protest that statement, but it only came out as a croak. The sound seemed to silence the voices for a second, before a timid voice slowly whispered.
"What should we do?"
"Get out of the way, let me see!"
An older voice. Harry slowly cracked open his eyes, and squinted up at several dark blobs as they took shape, now peering at him over his head. He cleared his throat, before trying to speak again.
He paused, uncertain, before asking quietly, his throat painfully dry.
"Where... where am I?"
An excerpt from "Memorable Muggle Mornings: the Undercover Wizard."
"It was as I was taking my customary walk about town that I first came across a small stray cat. It was quite pathetic looking, with not a hint of Kneazle anywhere about it. Stunted looking with a crooked tail and dusty grey fur matted all over it, I couldn't help but be revolted and charmed at the same time by its rustic and muggleish appearance. Not a thing magical about it, not even a twinkle in its eye. Of course I had wondered how muggles take care or nonmagical pets, and decided to immediately take it home and start putting it to rights again. However, I would never have expected the trouble one small pathetic looking stray could get into."
It was a confused and lost Harry who looked around him when he was helped out of the large box. There were buildings taller than houses to either side of him, and trash was littered all over the ground. Not a patch of grass or suburban houses in sight. The smell was strong, and found himself having to resist the urge to cover his nose. He'd never seen the likes of it this town... no, city! This was London? Seemed to be a very dirty place. He felt a shudder wrack through him as he looked down at the box he had been cramped inside, stacked next to several large black trash bags and an ever larger pile of heaped aluminum trash cans.
This came from a sandy haired boy with a kind face and a smattering of freckles across his cheeks. He was the one who had told him he was in downtown London, in a back alley that usually was only frequented by homeless people, looking for food or valuables that might be in the trash that was sometimes dumped in the vicinity. The boy seemed to be the leader of the group that had found him. All the others hovered around the freckled boy and looked to him for cues on how to respond to finding a small boy trapped inside a taped up box.
"I'm alright. Does a lady live near here? I'm supposed to be going to help a lady. With her animals and stuff." Harry said, hope fluttering his his stomach. Perhaps this was just a mistake, a lousy joke played on him by his Uncle.
"What, and you're supposed to be delivered in a appliance box?"
The comment practically dripped in sarcasm and came from a mean faced boy who looked older than the all the others. He was tall and had short dark hair cropped almost military style. He stood with his arms crossed and eyes narrowed in Harry's direction. It was hate at first sight.
Sandy Hair only rolled his eyes at the attitude. "Stop that, Mike. Do you know her name?"
He turned back to him and asked. Harry began to shake his head and speak, but the boy named Mike interrupted again.
"You're so stupid, you don't actually believe you were going to some woman did you? You were probably dumped here like most other people, probably for being so stupid…"
"Mike! I said stop it." Sandy Hair growled. Then, he turned to Harry with pity in his eyes.
"My name is Kerr, I'm seventeen. That bully over there is Mike, he's sixteen."
Kerr glared at the scowling boy then turned and pointed at a small boy who looked about ten years old and had yellowish blond hair. The boy smiled brightly at Harry and waved a little.
"That's Tiny, he's the youngest of our gang at only eleven years old."
He then turned and pointed at the last boy who had his hands in his pockets and was looking at the ground. He would not look up and meet Harry's eyes, and shifted uneasily back and forth, as if urgent to move on.
"And that over there is Rick, he doesn't talk a lot. We think he's fifteen or sixteen but he doesn't really know. What is your name?"
Before Harry could answer he quickly asked again.
"And how old are you?"
Harry answered softly, feeling outnumbered by the boys and very intimidated by their appearance and especially Mikes attitude. What did he have against him, anyway?
"I turned eight last month."
Harry felt like crawling back into the box as the other boy winced.
"And your name, baby?" Mike spit out with a sneer. The boy's eyes were narrowed on him, suspicion lit in their depths.
"Harry. " He mumbled quickly, looking away. He hated confrontation!
"What'd you call me? You little…"
"Stop it!" Kerr ordered sternly.
Kerr glared at Mike and turned a kind eye back on Harry. Tiny was looking at him in open curiosity, tinged with a bit of mirth. Rick had finally looked up to meet his eyes, before looking down quickly again.
Kerr spoke up. "He said his name was Harry."
At that Tiny sniggered and Mike just smirked and replied.
"He doesn't look hairy to me. They should've named him Skinny."
Kerr glared at him again and then sighed, throwing his hands in the air. He then bent down in front of Harry.
"Look, whoever dropped you off here, we can help you find them..."
Rick shuffled uneasily. Mike grumbled under his breath.
"…. Or you can come and stay with..."
" He is not staying with us! He is too little!"
Kerr and Mike turned to the source of the comment. This came oddly enough from the silent Rick. Rick had brown hair that he had kept hidden under a baseball cap, which he had just pulled off and was twisting anxiously in his hands. Rick continued, seeing Kerr's obstinate look.
"We have enough trouble with Tiny. This kid is too little to pull his own weight, and he can't be seen much on the street 'cause he'll just get toted off by Child Services like Jenney did."
After that Rick crossed his arms and stuck his lip out stubbornly. Kerr looked at the stubborn Rick then over at Mike, before finally looking at Harry.
Kerr spoke up with a sigh.
"He's right, and you'll be better off with the 'Services anyway, and who knows you might even get a nice foster family…"
"Phsssh whatever, don't go giving him any silver lining. We all know that won't happen!" Mike quickly interjected, looking over at Tiny. Tiny frowned and looked down. Apparently the boy had learned that fact the hard way.
At that Harry spoke up quickly, "I can help!"
"And how will you do that, Skinny? You don't even know what we do!" Mike asked sarcastically.
"I can run very fast! And climb trees and get into small places…" Kerr, who was slowly shaking his head, interrupted Harry.
"We aren't exactly thieves or anything, mugging people and all that. We just deliver messages and spy on people and sometimes we make distractions for them. In return we get food and shelter. I guess running could come in handy, but I doubt you could run any faster than Tiny there, with you being so little. Problem is, a really little kid could get into trouble we can't get them out of, or get taken by 'Services which might make them do another sweep of this area."
At that Kerr shook his head again decidedly. Rick and Mike nodded, though Tiny looked a bit disappointed. The boy would have loved another boy close to his own age.
"We will take you home, or to someplace the police will pick you up."
Kerr looked earnestly at him, but Harry didn't like the thought of returning to the Dursleys, or of going to some family called "Foster" who was just as mean and bad. He spoke up, doing his best to keep his voice from wavering, but there was still a slight tremor at the edges.
"Please? Can I at least try? And if I mess up then you can send me away, and I'll tell them that I got lost and never mention you or your friends."
Both Rick and Mike looked like they didn't like the idea at all, and Tiny just shrugged his shoulders. Kerr looked skeptical. Harry then blurted out quickly before they could start talking about turning him into the police again.
"I'll race you, and if I win you will let me stay!"
At that Mike laughed and said,
"We will, will we? Yeah right!"
Kerr said, and immediately Mike and Rick started bickering.
"What are you thinking?"
Kerr frowned at the two of them before replying.
"Look, I don't think he can do it. But if by some miracle he does, then he will come in handy. And also, Mike, if I remember right you couldn't of been much older than him when we met. You turned out fine. " Kerr spoke the last with finality, before turning to Harry.
He nodded towards Rick. "You can race Rick. He's faster than Tiny and me. Mike is the fastest, so you two will follow him for as long as you can, we will see if you can keep up."
Kerr then turned and gave the Mike a hard stare, which the boy responded to by crossing his arms and smirking back.
"And Mike… don't try anything. Lead them the long way to Mr. Steel, and Tiny and me will meet you there. I expect young Harry here to not be seriously damaged."
At that Kerr smiled at Harry with some encouragement.
Harry shook out his arms and froze for a second, before nodding an affirmative. Before he'd even finished Mike shot off with Rick on his tail. Harry blinked, and then ran after them.
Harry was tired. His legs felt numb and his arm was hurting fiercely. Mike had immediately rounded the corner then bolted across the street, and a cab had almost hit Harry when he followed. The driver slammed on his horn and cursed him loudly, but as much as it scared Harry, he was also determined not to fail. Things got worse from there. They'd dashed through alleys almost too small to pass through, climbed over dumpsters and at one point Mike had knocked over a bunch of plastic crates that Harry and Rick had to push through. It hadn't been easy and it felt like he'd been running for hours. Mike was nowhere in sight, and Harry was seconds behind Rick who had just turned a corner.
As Harry ran around the corner he stopped in amazement. It was a dead end! For a minute Harry just stared before he heard a banging overhead and looked up to see Mike and Rick grinning down at him before their heads disappeared over the roof. He could hear them snickering. Then he saw the small black ladder to his left and immediately ran over and began climbing. He felt almost sick with defeat. Was this even worth it? Did he want to join these, these, cruel boys? Could he even hope to catch up?
When he reached the top and raced over to the other side he saw that someone had rigged some boards at an incline between the building he was at and another roof. It was a steep slope and Harry could already see the boys ahead climbing down a ladder on the other building. He only thought for a second before he jumped onto the boards and rushed down the wobbly surface. His legs were trembling even more when he started down the other ladder, and his wrist seemed made up of pure pain. It was only when he reached the bottom that he realized he had no idea which direction the others had went.
For the first time since he had destroyed the Dursleys kitchen he felt tears run down his face. This was it, he had lost. They would just abandon him here, in the middle of London, even more lost than he had been before. Strong emotion surged up as Harry acknowledged the truth. The Dursleys had abandoned him on purpose. Planned it, even! And now, with another home almost within his grasp, acceptance waiting just out of reach, he wasn't wanted. Harry just wanted to win this race! Prove he could be more than just a freak, more than a useless waste of space. Harry wanted to belong! Harry leaned against the railing with a sob, and felt a breeze whip through his hair, when suddenly a loud popping noise caused him to whip his eyes open again.
What he saw shocked him. He was on the ground! Only a pace ahead of him Mike and Rick had their heads together laughing, and right across the street was a small store called "Steel's Custom Furniture". Steel! That was the name the boys had mentioned earlier. This must be that place! Without a second thought to how he could have gotten there he snuck around the boys and took off towards the store.
"Hey!" Mike shouted. He had glimpsed Harry as he darted between people crossing the street.
Rick heard his yell and turned around, eyes wide. "That's him!"
Mike grabbed a hold of Rick's sleeve, giving him a hard tug.
Harry heard the shouts behind him and ran as fast as he could, throwing himself forward with all he had. He jerked open the store door just as a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved him out of the way. As he fell to his knees he was greeted with the sight of Kerr and Tiny standing beside a frail stooped man with white hair. Kerr smiled triumphantly at him. Rick and Mike panted at Harry's sides, angry.
Mike glared daggers at the young boy.
"He cheated!" He exclaimed. "There is no way he could have beaten me here! It's impossible!"
The old man looked between the two of them contemplatively.
"Yes, it is quite impossible that he cheated. A lost boy left in London somehow found his way to my shop all by himself? Quite impossible. He must have followed you, and raced forward when he saw the sign." The old man spoke chuckling to himself before motioning Harry forward.
"I am Mr. Steel, and these boys here are the steel wings that bear me in flight!"
Kerr rolled his eyes at the older mans fancy words. Harry just stared. Was this guy crazy? Just what had he gotten himself into? Kerr smiled at Harry and spoke.
"Don't mind the old man's poetry. We are his delivery boys. His "Unofficial" ones."
Rick looked even more nervous at that, but Tiny puffed out his chest in pride. Kerr grinned and gave Harry a playful shove.
"If you do as well as you did today, you might just get to wear our name as well. We call ourselves the Steel Wings. It comes from a poem of the same name."
Mike rolled his eyes, before mumbling sullenly as he looked Harry over one more time in disgust. "Which I've never bothered to read."
Rick spoke up finally, a petulant tone in his voice.
"And how is this fair? He's still little! And who is going to teach him anything?"
Mr. Steel spoke kindly, waving his cane towards a door, gesturing them to come inside.
"All in time, all in time. Take my new feather up to the loft; give him some food… put him up in Tiny's room I suppose. Let him sleep until morning. I've got good work for my wings tonight."
Mr. Steel smiled. Harry felt a smile coming over his face, relief echoing through his body. He knew to the depths of his soul that his life had just taken a drastic turn from what it might have been before. As he followed the boys of the stairs, his legs trembling from exertion, he couldn't help but wonder if it would be for the better, or the worse. Once he smelled the food, he made up his mind. This was most definitely better!