Chapter 2 : Feel How Bitter this Cold is
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I wonder if you know
How it really feels,
To be left outside alone
When it's cold out here
Midday found Harry lying flat on his back, staring at his upside-down Defence book. His eyes were glazed and unmoving, as Harry tried to still his thoughts.
The rest of Harry’s schoolbooks lay scattered across his carpet. It was lucky Aunt Petunia didn’t vacuum Harry’s room anymore; she wouldn’t have been able to if she wanted.
Harry had been completely unmoving for over an hour, but at the sound of the front door slamming he out down his book and rolled over onto his front, reaching for the untidy stacks of notes by his desk.
Although Harry would rather tame a Blast-Ended Skrewt than admit it to anyone, he was worried. He had never come across any case of wounds re-opening by magic and then closing up again. He had spent the morning scouring all the books he owned, although his hopes of finding any answers were not high. After all, he had never heard of quills that use the writer’s own blood as ink before Umbridge had given him detention, and he didn’t have a vast selection of titles. He thought his best hope would be to hope that the wounds would cease when he managed to get some Dreamless Sleep Potion – he doubted very much it was a coincidence that they had appeared the first night he’d gone without it. His mind drifted to the letter he’d scribbled to Hogwarts. He should be getting an answer any time –
The doorbell rang.
Harry sat up and stretched his aching limbs, but froze as a familiar voice drifted upstairs.
Forgetting all about his research and tired muscles, Harry jumped to his feet and bolted from the room, taking the stairs three at a time. He came to an abrupt standstill four steps from the bottom, taking in the sight of Aunt Petunia standing aside to let Dumbledore into the house.
Despite his bitter thoughts, Harry couldn’t help but feel pleased at the sight of his headmaster. Contact with someone in the wizarding world was something he was all too keen on having, and he hoped Dumbledore might have brought him the sleeping potion and, hopefully, arrangements for someone to stay at Privet Drive with him.
Petunia hastily withdrew into the kitchen after shutting the front door, leaving Harry and Dumbledore alone. There was the smallest of awkward pauses, before Dumbledore spoke.
“Harry, maybe we can go in…?”
Dumbledore gestured to the living-room doorway, and Harry noticed a hint of nervousness in his voice. He nodded numbly and followed Dumbledore into the room, closing the door behind them. The headmaster pulled out his wand and cast a sound-proofing charm around the walls and door, and turned to face Harry.
“How are you doing?” he asked softly.
Harry bit back an angry retort. What did they expect? Instead he just shrugged, studying the floor and waiting for Dumbledore to speak again.
The headmaster sat down and retrieved a bottle of purple potion from his robes. He studied Harry for a moment before handing it over.
“You look really tired, Harry. Have you been sleeping at all?”
Harry, taken aback by the gentleness in his voice, said “No,” without really thinking. Seeing concern cross Dumbledore’s face, he added awkwardly, “Not very well.”
“What about meals?” Dumbledore asked quietly.
Harry shrugged. “I just don’t get hungry.”
Dumbledore sighed wearily. “Where do the Dursleys stand on this?”
Harry flopped into a chair.
“They don’t really care. Aunt Petunia’s been a bit… funny lately. She hasn’t been cooking anything, so basically it’s up to us to feed ourselves. Not that it’s really been very different,” he added rather sourly.
Dumbledore rubbed his eyes. Harry suddenly noticed how tired he looked himself, and wondered guiltily if it was his doing.
“Harry, you need to try and eat something regularly.”
“I don’t -”
“- get hungry, I know. I’m not saying force yourself to eat a full three-course meal; just something every now and again. If you can’t face proper food, maybe junk food is the only answer. It’s better than nothing.”
Harry gave a weary smile.
“Dudley’s still on his diet. We don’t have stuff like that round the house anymore.”
“Harry, you can always ask.”
Harry stared incredulously at Dumbledore.
“I can’t just ask!” The words stumbled from his mouth before he could think about what he was saying. All his frustration and bitterness came flooding back. *He really doesn’t know me at all*
“I’m not a charity case! I’m not going to just go asking to be fed!”
“Harry.” Dumbledore leaned over and placed a hand on Harry’s arm. He flinched slightly and Dumbledore withdrew it hurriedly.
“Please calm down. Harry, no-one’s going to think less of you if you ask for help.”
“SO WHERE WAS EVERYBODY LAST YEAR?” Harry burst out, on his feet without realising it. Suddenly words failed him. He needed a way to explain, a way to show just what he was going through –
Harry blinked. Dumbledore was clutching his nose, which was suddenly pouring blood.
*Did I do that?*
Harry stared at his hands, balled into fists. The anger had evaporated, leaving him suddenly afraid. He’d just punched a teacher.
“Vernon!” Petunia hissed, pulling the door open.
“For heaven’s sake woman, what is it?”
“Vernon – there’s one of THEM here – in the living room -”
He roared, stormed into the hall and hammered on the living room door.
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE? COME OUT HERE OR -”
The door clicked open. Vernon blinked. He knew he’d only hit the door, yet the freak in front of him was sporting a bloody nose. He glared into the room and saw his nephew looking pale and frightened – with balled fists.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?” Vernon was torn between beating down Harry for using violence, or congratulating him on showing one of those abnormal people what happened if they thought they could just saunter in whenever they pleased. He settled for yelling.
“WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
The man held up a hand and Vernon fell silent.
“By nabe ith… hag on…” He drew out his wand, and Vernon and Petunia backed into the wall, but he merely touched it to his battered nose, making the blood disappear. He touched it gingerly and returned his wand to his pocket.
“That’s better. Sorry; my name’s Albus Dumbledore. I’m Harry’s headmaster.” He held out a hand, but neither of the Dursleys took it, so he dropped it.
“I daresay Petunia remembers me,” Dumbledore said quietly, eyeing her.
“You’ve met?” Vernon asked rudely.
“Indeed we have.” Petunia seemed to shrink into the wall, but found her voice even so.
“W-we haven’t d-done anything to the boy. If you’re going to take him, go on. We’ve no business with you.”
Dumbledore surveyed her sadly with blue eyes that seemed to x-ray her. “I see.” He turned back to Vernon.
“It seems I have outstayed my welcome.”
Harry’s insides clenched nervously as Dumbledore turned his gaze to him.
“Professor, I – I know I shouldn’t – I didn’t mean -”
Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to say “Sorry”.
“Don’t worry about it, Harry.” Dumbledore smiled wearily at him and pulled out a package from his pocket and handed it to him without a word of explanation. “Do you still have the other things I gave you?”
“Good. Keep them with you all the time, Harry. Keep in touch.”
Dumbledore started to move towards the door, but Vernon stepped in the way.
“Wait. You’re not taking the boy?”
Harry’s insides froze over. He stared at Dumbledore, not trusting himself to speak.
“Not now.” Dumbledore turned to look at him again. “I’m sorry, Harry, but at the moment it is too risky.” He kept his gaze upon him, and Harry could sense he was trying to communicate soundlessly about their last conversation. He nodded silently, an awkward lump restricting his breathing.
“You can’t just leave him with us again! The boy’s crazy; he’s waking us up all hours; he’s a bloody lunatic! He’s a danger to my family and you will NOT leave him here!”
Harry felt himself cringe with embarrassment. Dumbledore glared at Vernon as if he were contemplating hitting him.
“Mr Dursley, I hate to inconvenience you,” he said in a voice that, while polite, showed that he didn’t mean it at all, “but your nephew currently has nowhere else to stay and I ask that you let him continue to reside here until arrangements can be made. I can assure you that he is not a danger to your family and if you truly believe so, you might want to start to consider a course of Shock Spells at St. Mungo's – although I’m not entirely sure they open it to Muggles,” he added as an afterthought.
Vernon looked as if he might explode with anger, but Petunia laid a hand on his arm.
“Vernon, please be reasonable. Remember last summer? He won’t be here for long, it will be alright.” She turned to Dumbledore.
“The boy can stay, Headmaster.”
Harry’s mouth fell open, but no-one noticed. Dumbledore nodded at Petunia in acknowledgement and looked back to Harry.
“I’ll see you soon, Harry. Take care.”
Harry nodded, speechless. Dumbledore made a motion as if he were about to grip Harry’s shoulder, but thought better of it. He nodded to the Dursleys and, with a last small smile at Harry, left the house. Vernon started to growl at Harry, but Petunia grabbed him and half-pulled him upstairs, where they began to argue. Harry was left in the hall.
It was the sound of the door closing.
The dull thud and click of the lock, and the footsteps back down the gravel path.
Harry felt alone.
Left outside in the bitter wind.
Hearing the click of the door; shutting him out.
Although it had been afternoon when Dumbledore had left, it was late evening before Harry moved. He just stood in the hall, unmoving, his hand pressed up on the glass pane of the door, hoping to hear the gravel footsteps returning.
But none came.
Harry admitted defeat and made his way slowly upstairs to his room.
Dumbledore had left him again.
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