Chapter 1 : Blood, Parchment and Tears
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This chapter is dedicated to Jocasta, who was the first to read it.
So sorry for the rain
On your parade and
All the pain you must have gained
Because of me
- Kym Marsh
That cursed poltergeist.
The route from the headmaster’s office to Gryffindor Tower was not usually a long one. But journeys tend to take longer when Peeves is around.
After being forced to change direction twice (it wasn’t even that long a journey) due to the various Weasley's Wizard Wheezes Peeves had let loose, including a Portable Avalanche, in a fit of end-of-term spirits that not many others seemed to share, Albus Dumbledore finally reached his destination.
Albus checked he was still invisible before drawing carefully nearer.
On closer inspection, Harry seemed to not be sleeping as peacefully as he appeared. Albus’ heart sank – he had been afraid of this. Harry was twitching and jerking, and moaning softly – too softly to rouse the other boys in the dormitory, but enough. His eyes had dark shadows underneath, and a goblet that had held Dreamless Sleep Potion stood on the bedside table.
The covers had been twisted and were half-hanging off the mattress. Albus reached out and eased them out from under Harry before smoothing them into their proper place. Harry moaned into the pillow, feeling the movement. He let out a small sob in his sleep, and turned his head, and Albus saw tear streaks on his face. Without thinking, he gently reached and began softly stroking Harry’s back. The sleeping Harry didn’t appear to have any objections, and Albus doubled the stroking, wincing at feeling how thin he was. Harry sighed and moved his hand. Bile rose in Albus’ throat as he saw cruel words forever cut into the skin.
I must not tell lies.
Harry groaned and let out another sob, as though reading Albus’ mind. The headmaster drew nearer, letting his arms circle around Harry, pulling him close. Harry subconsciously turned his head, burying it in Albus’ shoulder. For a long time, they remained like that, until light began to creep into the dormitory, the other boys started to stir and Albus realised just how painful his knees’ constant contact with the wooden floor was.
When Harry woke, his mind was on (and dreading) the summer ahead, and therefore didn’t think about the faint smell of lemon sweets that had been left on his pyjamas overnight, or the silver hair Ron found on the pillow and joked about aging, or the strange dream that reminded him of being hugged as a child, even though he had no memory of any such incident. If he did, he may have been able to explain to himself the slightly happier feeling that followed him to the Hogwarts Express.
The moment the door of number four was closed, Vernon Dursley exploded. Harry and Dudley both ran for cover, leaving a horrified Aunt Petunia to deal with the situation.
Harry blocked out the sound from his ears and tried to ignore the dull pain arising in his forehead as he dragged his trunk upstairs.
Once he was safely enclosed in his bedroom, he shut the door firmly, muffling the arguing from downstairs; and let Hedwig out of her cage. She had sensed Harry’s misery of the last few days, and gave him a soft nip on the finger in comfort.
Harry began to slowly unpack his possessions, pausing every now and then to listen to the voices downstairs. He couldn’t make out the words, but he had a large suspicion his uncle’s bad temper had come from the Dursleys’ meeting with the Order.
After a while, there was a slam of the front door, and he heard footsteps down the garden path. He sighed and abandoned the rest of his possessions, digging out a couple of Defence books. If he was a weapon, he might as well play the part.
It was getting dark when he was interrupted by a soft knock on the door, and his cousin entered.
“Dudley?” Harry pushed his schoolbooks to one side. “What do you want?”
Dudley was trembling as he shuffled into Harry’s room. To his surprise, Harry noticed that he had in fact lost a considerable amount of weight since the last summer. He was still huge, but definitely not as huge as he used to be. It took a moment for Harry to notice that his cousin looked white and scared.
Dudley glanced around the room, his eyes lingering on the scattered objects Harry had ‘unpacked’ (left lying around anywhere).
“’M glad you’re back,” he mumbled.
For a long moment Harry thought he’d heard wrong.
“Well, that’s something I never thought I’d hear coming from you. Not without Hell freezing over first.” Next Draco Malfoy will write begging to be my best friend.
Dudley anxiously shifted on the spot.
“I don’t like being on my own,” he whispered, “not with Mum and Dad rowing like that.”
“They’ve been doing it a lot?”
Dudley nodded. “At least once a week. They have a big row and then Dad goes out drinking, and then they row again. It’s horrible.”
“What do they argue about?”
“Everything. Work. Chores. M-m-m…”
“Magic,” Harry supplied. Dudley nodded again, ashen-faced. Harry had an alien feeling – a very small stab of pity for his cousin. He’d heard from various people what it was like when parents split up, and it hadn’t sounded exactly appealing. He struggled to find some words of comfort for Dudley.
“It’s… probably just a phase, Dudley. It’ll be over soon.”
Dudley didn’t look like he believed Harry, but he looked better for the assurances. He gave what could almost be passed as a smile and shuffled back out Harry’s room.
Harry realised later he had left his Dreamless Sleep Potion at Hogwarts. Although it hadn’t been working as well as it should, it had at least numbed him enough to get a little rest. After scribbling a note to whoever was at Hogwarts, Harry crept down into the kitchen after the Dursleys had gone to bed and made himself a hot chocolate in the hope it would relax him enough to sleep some. He finished the chapter of his Defence book and tried to run through his Occlumency exercises, without much success. Frustrated and weary, he felt himself slipping into an uncomfortable slumber.
He was walking up a tunnel – one he recognised. There were roots hanging from the ceiling and the floor was uneven with pieces of rubble and clods of earth. Every time Harry turned a corner, he thought he saw a black tail whip out of sight. He could hear padded footsteps and panting. His quarry wasn’t that far ahead, he could catch up.
Harry had a stitch in his side. Every time he sped up, so did the dog.
“Sirius? Wait. Slow down!”
Harry turned round the last corner to see Sirius, standing in front of an old archway, hung with a tattered black veil. It was fluttering a little, and Harry could see light the other side. The man in front of him was staring at it with an expression of longing.
Harry lunged at Sirius, but he’d already walked through.
“No! Come back!”
Harry leant against the wall, trying to regain his breath. Sirius' voice sounded from the other side.
“Come on, Harry… it’s no big deal… catch me… just walk through…”
Harry slowly walked forwards, pushing aside the curtain as though he’d been hypnotised. The room was a blur until he entered, and he saw where he was. He turned to run back through the veil, but it had vanished, leaving solid wall. Heart hammering, Harry turned to Sirius, who stood grinning for a moment before changing smoothly into Umbridge, whose grin became a smirk.
“Come now Harry, surely you aren’t planning on escaping? I have such an exiting evening planned for you; you don’t want to miss it, surely?”
Harry swallowed and obediently sat and took the black quill.
“That’s it, Harry.”
Harry wrote on the parchment. The words “I must not tell lies” opened in his hand and bled furiously.
“Now they’ll never heal!” Harry shouted at Umbridge. “They were just faint scars, and now they’re back to cuts!”
Umbridge smirked wider.
“Tut, tut, Harry. Where are your manners? You wouldn’t shout like that at Lord Voldemort, would you?”
“You’re not Lord Voldemort,” Harry answered. Umbridge looked like someone had offered to whip Harry for the next twenty-four hours.
“Am I not, Potter?”
Harry dropped the quill as Umbridge turned smoothly into Voldemort, who laughed cruelly at Harry’s hand bleeding.
“Get out!” he yelled. “Leave me alone!”
Voldemort pointed his wand at Harry, who picked up the quill again and began to write on the blood-spattered parchment. “I must not tell lies”. “I am an insolent brat who deserves to be starved until Christmas”. “I killed Sirius Black”.
Harry couldn’t stop writing. The words came, cut into his skin all over, always the same word.
He could feel his own blood trickling down his neck. The pain was unbearable. Voldemort was laughing at him, his voice high and cold –
Harry jerked awake, gasping for breath. There were figures surrounding him, talking. As he reached for his glasses, he gasped. Blood was smeared on his sheets.
As he stared, his half-awake mind trying to comprehend where it had come from, a pair of hands grabbed him roughly by the front of his pyjamas.
“Vernon, leave him!” cried Aunt Petunia. Harry struggled to break out of his uncle’s grasp before he suffocated.
“What in thunder do you think you’re doing, boy?” growled the purple face in front of him.
“I – wasn’t – doing - anything,” Harry gasped.
“You were screaming,” Dudley’s voice trembled.
“Dudley, get back to bed, now!” growled his father. Dudley obeyed, casting Harry a last glance before scuttling out.
“I…” began Harry, but broke off as his uncle shook him hard.
“What do you think you’re doing, waking us up at all hours, you disrespectful little –“
“Vernon, put him down, just leave it!” Petunia pleaded, but Vernon threw Harry backwards. Harry closed his eyes as he flung out his arms to stop himself falling on his face. With a last bellow (“One more sound from you, boy, and you’re history!”), Uncle Vernon stormed from Harry’s bedroom, his wife following hurriedly.
Harry came down for breakfast next day so tired he was barely aware of his surroundings. If he had been, he wouldn’t have come to the kitchen – his appetite hadn’t been the same since Sirius had died (it vanished without trace).
Vernon was apparently still in bed with a serious hangover, explaining why he had reacted so badly to Harry’s disturbance last night. Dudley had already eaten and left the house, no doubt to meet up with his gang to terrorise the younger inhabitants of Privet Drive, Wisteria Walk and Magnolia Crescent. Harry nibbled the crust of a slice of dry toast, while Aunt Petunia sat in huffy silence.
Breakfast hadn’t lasted long when Petunia stood up, staring out the open kitchen window. Harry glanced up in time for her shriek as a large tawny owl soared straight into the room, carrying an envelope and a small package.
The owl landed with a clatter next to the kitchen sink. Harry reached out to take the letter but found his arm brushed out of the way by Aunt Petunia.
“Hey -” he began, but broke off when he saw the envelope addressed to Mrs Petunia Dursley (The Kitchen, Number Four Privet Drive). She held it with trembling fingers. Harry remembered the Howler she’d received last summer and didn’t bother telling her this one was benign.
“Who’s that from?” he demanded. Petunia ignored him and, realising this envelope wasn’t going to blow up in her face, she slit it open, glaring at Harry as she did so.
There was a letter and a second envelope enclosed. Petunia glanced at the envelope before unfolding the letter. Her eyes narrowed as she read down the page. At one point, they seemed to soften slightly, but at the end of it Harry was sure it had been a trick of the light – now she looked furious.
“How dare …” she hissed, stuffing it back into the envelope. For a moment she glared at it, but then her anger seemed to fade a little. She took a couple of deep breaths before looking at the second letter crumpled in her hand.
“That’s for you.” Harry dropped his knife in time to catch the letter flung at his face. It was the usual parchment, addressed to him in a hand he vaguely recognised, although it wasn’t Ron’s, Hermione’s or Hagrid's.
His aunt had gone back to ignoring him, washing the dishes rather vigorously. Harry suspected the crockery they’d use later would be somewhat chipped. The package the owl had brought lay forgotten on the bench. Feeling it would be a good idea to leave, he slipped off his chair and grabbed the package before racing up the stairs to his room.
Once he’d sat down on the bed, he inserted a thumb and ripped the envelope open. The writing was narrow, italic script. Harry stared blankly for a minute before registering where he’d seen that writing. He pulled the letter open properly in a rush.
How are you coping?
I know I’m probably the last person you want to talk to now Harry, so I’ll try and keep this short (forgive me if I do not succeed). But there are some things that I need to say.
I know I cannot ever understand what you are going through Harry, but I am trying. I realise you must be hurting, and I also know you must be mad at me, and I’m sorry a hundred times over. I know that doesn’t make it all better but how I wish it did.
I don’t think I can ever make this up to you Harry, but I’m trying. I’ve enclosed a Muggle device that Arthur Weasley recommended. It is enchanted to work within the Hogwarts boundaries. I have the other. If you want something or have any problems, the number’s at the bottom of this letter. I believe you can use it as a way of keeping in contact easily with your friends as well.
There is another item in this package. Keep this on you AT ALL TIMES. It will immediately inform us if you are in danger or need some sort of assistance.
I was unable to inform you sooner, but I am arranging for one of us to come and stay with you the time you spend at Privet Drive. I am hoping it will be in the next few days, but I am afraid I cannot promise anything. Keep in touch with the Muggle device. If you have any preferences on who you would like to come, let me know. Quite a few people volunteered, but there is a war going on, and I’m afraid to say the Ministry is insisting on an inquiry about the events of last week. Don’t worry Harry, I have insisted that you and your friends be kept out, and the Ministry have for once agreed.
We’ll have you out of Privet Drive soon, Harry. This time I PROMISE.
Sometime we will need to speak. We have a lot of things that need to be discussed, none of which are fit for letter-writing. I just want you to know that I haven’t forgotten you. You are currently the Order’s number one priority, and I am personally seeing to arrangements for the rest of your summer. As yet I don’t know where that might be – I shall explain the situation when I see you.
There is so much more I want to say, but I cannot express it into words. I hope next time we see each other I will be able to.
I will see you soon, Harry.
Harry opened the package. Inside was what looked like an ordinary Muggle mobile phone and a thin chain. Dangling from it was a small, spherical green jewel, glowing faintly. Harry examined it carefully, and then slipped the chain around his neck. The jewel glowed brighter.
Harry re-read the letter, frowning. Part of him wanted to just forgive his headmaster and have done with it, but another part – a larger one – was still fuming silently over the recent events. Harry wondered glumly if he would ever feel like trusting Dumbledore again.
Although, Harry thought, re-reading the letter for the sixth time later that day, someone coming to Privet Drive with him was definitely an upside. Probably the best idea Dumbledore had ever had regarding him. Harry mused over the contents of the letter, studied and fiddled with the mobile, figuring out how to work it, for the rest of the day.
The next night was as bad as the first one. Harry awoke in a feverish sweat after a vivid nightmare, shaking. Uncle Vernon was out again, so he fortunately didn’t have to deal with him, but his aunt yelled at him to shut up from the next room, not even bothering to get up. Harry had to admit this was a huge improvement on the last night.
Giving up on all thought of sleep, Harry slid out of bed to get his books, but as he did so he had a strange sense of déjà vu as his eyes fell upon his bedclothes.
Trying hard not to panic, Harry searched for a few minutes before realising where the blood was seeping from. Even as he stared, the wound began to close, leaving no evidence that it had opened again. As Harry shakily picked up his schoolbooks and tried to immerse himself in them, the mental image of his own hand swam over his mind.
Deep cuts, weeping blood, spelling the words, I must not tell lies.