Chapter 1 : Alone
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July 30, 1991-10:49 am
I know Auntie is there. She is asking me to look at her, but I can’t pay attention just now. My stomach hurts. I don’t know what I ate that has caused this pain, but I’m nauseated. I can still smell the lingering odors of breakfast from the kitchen, and that too is making me sick. I have to hold my stomach and if I stop moving, if I stop, I’m going to throw up.
She touched me Don’t touch me That hurts Please don’t touch me It burns there and she smells like breakfast, too. Please let me be, please go away She’s too close - much too close. It’s the smell, my stomach ache and now my skin is crawling with tiny pin pricks of pain and now nothing I am doing is working I can hear her breathing too, and it is loud. I know she is still too close because I can still smell her, still feel her touch, and my stomach hurts and when a moan escapes my lips, it just makes it all worse. Too loud, too smelly, too much pain and I’m overloaded with all these sensations Why can’t she see that? Doesn’t she understand?
I’m screaming and I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m coming apart. I tried to make it stop, but now it’s too much for me I am on overload, and I can’t make the assault end and she knows she can’t help me. I want it to go away, I want her help too, but we both know it’s no use. I wish I could explain this to her. I wish all these words I can form so easily in my mind would slide down my brain into my throat and find there way through the stuffy, stinky air that surrounds me, but they don’t understand what I’m feeling and all I can do is cry and moan. I want it to end and I’m afraid I’m going to disappear this time, I just know it. I’m afraid, I’m so scared.
I’m still screaming, and I try to cover my ears, but now my uncle and cousin are in the room, and the strong scents of breakfast, of a heavy cologne and sweat are beating through my nostrils and I feel the lining in my nose burning, and still my stomach assaults me and still there are hands on me trying to touch me. I know they are trying to help, I know this, but they are only making it worse
Too much noise, too smelly, so much pain, and I fall farther away from where they all are. I can feel something foreign rising up inside my chest and I try to choke it down, because it frightens me. I try to escape the hands on my skin, try to curl up in the corner of my room to push away what feels like a fist in my chest. I don’t know what that is, but it wants out and for the life of me, I can’t hold on any longer. I can’t see anything in the room now, it hurts so much, only blurry faces just before my eyes. I can’t seem to focus or will it away, and the world turns upside down. Make it stop - the ceiling is on the floor!
Whatever is rising in my chest unleashes then, I can’t help it, and I see a brilliant flash of light that terrifies my overwrought mind. I am afraid, and my body demands release, so my mind shuts down. Slowly the room disappears, and along with it, the fear and panic and the chaos my body is experiencing. I’m simply floating now, and that’s okay.
There is no more pain, no more panic. I imagine a day, and I hope that day will come soon, when they can help me. Someday, maybe, if I am very good, someone can hold me and it won’t hurt, and I will be able to eat without feeling sick, or smell a flower and not feel dizzy. So, I float here and dream of that because really it is what I want more than anything in the world, and if I hope long enough, and I’m very good, maybe my dream will come true.
July 30, 1991 - 7:31pm
I know it is 7:31 pm because I’ve just opened my book and we are in the living room together as we are every night at just this time. I can still smell breakfast from this morning at 8:02am, but it’s not so strong now, and I can manage it, and them. Their voices and the sound of the telly buzz in my ears, but I can handle it. I don’t want to be alone.
My stomach still aches a little, but I’m trying to focus and everything is much better. I run my finger across the first page, and read the words that appear like a picture in my brain, and at 7:33pm, I turn to the next, and the next and let all those words sink into my mind as well. I love to read, and I know these books by heart. I could recite them from memory if only my voice would work, but when I open my mouth the words just won’t come out. Sometimes, I hear my voice, but it doesn’t say much, not the things I want to say anyway.
There’s a scratching noise and it sounds like someone is rubbing sand paper across my ear drum, and I know someone has settled onto the cactus couch. That’s what I call it in my head. I don’t like to sit on that couch, I always sit in the corner, on the floor, because the fabric on the furniture, and especially on that couch, prick my skin and it feels like the cactus plant at the zoo. The cactus plant looked innocent enough to me, and it wasn’t smelly like the other plants there, and I like the color green. I didn’t know the tiny points were so sharp Those points that sliced my hand felt like a razor against my skin, and I screamed and screamed and then we had to go home because I couldn’t stop screaming it hurt so much.
I think my cousin was upset with me that day. It was his birthday after all, and I’d ruined it. We didn’t even have a chance to see the reptiles and I’d wanted to very much. I felt very bad for touching that cactus, I still feel bad for that, but I know he has forgiven me for it. He is always nice to me, always plays as I like to play, quietly. He takes care of me too, defends me from the other children who sometimes come over. He never lets them tease me, and if they make me cry, he whollops them good and they are very sorry after that. He never picks on me, and he won’t allow anyone else to either.
Those memories and the noise of the fabric against someone’s bum have made me anxious, and I move a little faster, rocking a little more to strengthen my hold on the comfort to keep focus on my reading and on the words I like reading. I feel the sickness coming back, but it fades as I move, and soon I’m better. I’ve managed it, as I always try so hard to do and my world stays in place, and I know I’m not going to lose hold.
The air in the room seems to shift and I feel the hair on my neck stand up. I know it is 7:59pm, before I hear the words “Harry, it’s time for bed.”
I close my book and cautiously rise to my feet, carefully replace the book in its exact place on the shelf, all the while keeping my eyes focused to the right side of the room so I won’t become dizzy. I see through the open window, out to the street and the fading sunlight of a late summer evening, and the other children on the street dispersing their games to go to bed, too.
My aunt is speaking to me now, and I wonder how long she has been giving me these directions, “Harry, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, and wash your face. You need to change into the pajamas I’ve left on your bed. When you finish, you can go to bed, and we’ll come up to tell you goodnight so you can sleep.”
Maybe that seems funny, but I need those instructions. I’m not sure why I can’t figure out when to brush my teeth, or wash my face or eat, it just has been that way as long as I can remember. The words are always the same each night, this is a routine I understand. I wish I could do it on my own, but I just can’t.
I walk up the stairs very carefully, and my feet have memorized the way to go. I still can’t look straight ahead or at the door to the bathroom directly, because when I move the world seems to tilt. I have to keep my vision focused off to the right or it will feel like world is swaying and then I’ll fall over. I make my way to the bathroom, still staring to the right, but I see it in my mind anyway, and isn’t that the same thing? I brush my teeth, and wash my face, and when I leave the bathroom, I walk across the hall and I find my bed clothes just where my aunt told me they would be and I change. They are soft and still warm from the dryer, and I run my hands over the fabric, because it doesn’t bother me and I like the way it feels.
I lie in bed for several minutes, and I know it is 8:16pm, when the door to my room opens, and I hear the creak of the floor boards underneath the carpet, and I know my aunt and uncle are there to tell me goodnight without really seeing them enter. I know because I can smell the face cream my aunt wears, and the musky odor that marks my uncle. These scents are familiar to me, and tonight, blissfully, they do not offend me.
I wait, and feel her fingers run softly through my hair, her nails lightly grazing my scalp and I lean into that. It is the only touch I can bear for too long, “It’s time to sleep Harry. I love you.” I can’t tell her, but I love her, too and I hope she knows that somehow.
She steps away, and I feel his hand now, and he repeats the touch, and this time it is a little stronger, but just as pleasing to me, “Close your eyes. That’s it. I’ll see you in the morning.” I am content, and I hear myself sigh as I turn on my side.
His touch lingers on my head, and soon I feel my eyes closing on their own. I’m already drifting off, still enjoying that touch, and their words so familiar to me, like a safety blanket, and I am no longer anxious. I can hear the street lamp outside my window humming, and a sprinkler system turn on down the street. The neighbor’s dog barks and then stops, and I hear the footsteps of my cousin as he enters his room down the hall, and switches on his stereo very quietly just as he does every night. My aunt and uncle are still next to me, they are waiting for me to settle and for sleep to take hold. Everything is as it should be in the world and to me this is normal, manageable. It is the way it always has been every night I can remember of my life, and that is what I think on as I drift off into the safety of my dreams.
July 31, 1991- 3:41 pm
A trunk was packed and standing next to the front door of #4 Privet Drive. The entire world of Harry Potter, standing expectantly at the door for a journey. Petunia stared grimly at the trunk with a mixture of extreme sadness and hope. This was to be the most difficult day of her life.
Forcing herself to turn away, she checked in on her nephew, who was as usual, at this time of day, sitting quietly on the floor of the living room facing the wall, a book open in his lap, rocking gently back and forth. He was anxious, she could tell, but she had worked hard all day to keep his routine as normal as possible, hoping that the structure would help him in some way cope with what was to come.
She took a deep breath before approaching him, knowing he would be able to sense her anxiety, and that was not at all what she wanted. He was so sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood, and it would not help him to feel it now. She succeeded by forcing the picture of his departure out her head, and instead focused on the one task she dearly wanted to accomplish with him today, the one task that she needed from him more than anything.
Kneeling down beside him, she settled on the floor and watched him for a few moments. He did not look up, and by all appearances it looked as though he had hadn’t noticed her or was trying to ignore her. Petunia thought perhaps it was a combination of the two.
Petunia held out her hand, “Harry, please close the book, set it aside and come to me.”
It was a simple instruction, and obediently Harry closed the book and laid it aside, but did not move towards her immediately. She watched his face closely as he continued to rock, studying it for any sign of distress, but his expression remained the same, seemingly distant. Petunia knew it was his body that reflected what he was feeling, his face and eyes generally holding only a peaceful countenance, unless he was in extreme pain or fear as he had been yesterday.
After what seemed like several minutes, Harry lifted his arm, and tentatively laid his hand in her palm, his eyes focused away from her. Petunia smiled at this, proud of the strength he was displaying for doing something that she knew he was repelled by. Touch was difficult for him, it almost seemed to pain him, and yet she knew that the child craved it, longed for it just as she did. It was not his choice to be so isolated, it was his curse.
The tiny hand remained in her palm, and she gently wrapped her fingers around it. He was trembling now, and she hesitated to continue, but she knew this would be her last chance, and with that in mind, she slid her arm around his shoulders with a practiced, deliberate motion and stopped there, allowing Harry to adjust to the closeness. She could feel the heat radiating off his body, his back stiff with fear, his constant rocking stilled, and she waited patiently, unwilling to move too quickly and break the connection.
When she thought it was time, she carefully lifted him to her lap, and gently, ever so gently, nudged him to lay against her shoulder, surprised and relieved when he accepted it. She began to rock him gently, because she knew this motion soothed him, and he for once did not move away. He was not comfortable, in fact his body was stiff and tensed, his breathing loud and harsh in her ear, but he had allowed it, and for a few moments she relished that contact. Her eyes filled with tears, it was enough, it was more than he’d ever been able to give before.
All too soon he squirmed away, returning to his favorite spot on the floor, still trembling from the short contact with his aunt. Petunia stared at him sadly, “It’s okay, Harry. I am very proud of you.” She reached out to run her hands through his hair, a touch he generally accepted, but apparently he’d had enough today, shrinking away from her fingers and shaking his head back and forth frantically. “Okay, Harry. It’s over. You’re okay,” she said softly.
A knock on the door startled her, and she stood quickly, brushing the tears from her cheeks. It was time, and she had to be strong now, there was no one else. Vernon, she knew, had wanted to be here. They’d discussed this day a thousand times, and always he’d promised to be here, but this morning, when he’d sat at breakfast, his eyes glued on Harry, she could see his promises crumbling in the face of the reality of the situation. He couldn’t bear it, and as much as he had been a strength during the last ten years, as much as he had supported her, had loved Harry, and helped her face some dark days in raising the boy, when it came down to it, he simply could not watch this. She didn’t blame him for it, but now she was alone to face it. Taking a deep breath, and gathering the little courage she had left, she opened the door.
It was a surprise and a relief to see the almost unrecognizable, but still faintly familiar face when that door opened, as though her prayers had been answered. How long had she worried about turning Harry over to a complete stranger? How many images had flashed in her mind of someone taking hold of his hand and leading him out of the safety of their home into the unknown? It had terrified her, reduced her to a quivering, sobbing mass at just the imagining, and to open that door now and see a man she knew beyond it, made her cry out in relief at the
sight of him, “Remus, my god Thank you, thank you for coming.”
Remus immediately moved in to embrace her, and she held onto him, shaking and trembling in his arms, “Petunia, don’t cry,” he said softly, moving them inside and shutting the door behind, “You know we’ll take care of him. Please don’t.”
She bit her lip and swallowed back the sobs that threatened to choke her, “I just...I didn’t know who would come, and I’m so relieved that it’s you. I wasn’t sure...”
“Shh,” he said squeezing her should lightly, “I know how hard this is for you. You’re doing the right thing Petunia. You know that don’t you? It is best for him.”
Petunia nodded stiffly, fixing a brave smile on her face that she truly didn’t feel. “We couldn’t give you anymore information on the pick up beyond the date and time,” he continued, “If the letter had been intercepted, it would have put you all in danger.”
“If it hadn’t been today’s date, I don’t think I would have understood at all,” Petunia explained, “There was nothing else in the letter, not even who it was from.”
“It s better this way,” Remus said again, “This is what we’ve always planned.”
“Yes, I know,” Petunia said softly, feeling the weight of that knowledge pounding down on her now as she’d never experienced it before, her heart beating wildly in her chest with anticipation. Everything felt so surreal, like a dream, standing next to a man, a friend of her sister’s that she had almost forgotten about, looking like a ghost of the person he had been all those year’s ago. He was older, appeared even older than she was, his hair already streaked with gray, his face lined and pale with worry or illness, she did not know which.
“I know I look poorly,” he said as if he’d read her thoughts, “I’m afraid I haven’t held up well, but you look the same Petunia, just as young as you were all those years ago.”
Out of anyone else’s mouth, it would have sounded like a poor attempt at flattery, but coming from Remus, she knew it was heartfelt and she smiled at that.
His face became serious, and she suddenly remembered why he was here, “We can’t stay, Petunia. Dumbledore is expecting us and we have a long way to travel before we reach Hogwarts. We need to leave.”
Petunia nodded, and lead him to the living room, feeling as though she weren’t inhabiting her body anymore, as though she were watching all of this happening from some corner of the room, “He’s in here,” she told him, “I don’t know if he understands. I tried to tell him, tried to explain, but I don’t know...”
Remus glanced around the room. It was warm and comfortable, the furnishings simple, the
shelves filled with books and photographs of a family. Gazing at the photos told him all he
needed to know about the Dursleys, Petunia, Vernon, their son Dudley and the conspicuously dark haired child surrounded by his light haired family. Harry was loved, had been loved. In each picture he was surrounded by the three, their animated, smiling faces conveying a happiness, a protectiveness, of the somber child they posed next to. Remus in one glance around the room could see the progress of Harry’s life, from a child barely two years old, to the eleven year old he’d become just this day.
Seeing those pictures sparked a pain deep inside his chest he thought buried long ago. In truth, he still clung to the idea of seeing three different people in those photographs. Remus imagined Lily and James, and a dark haired, laughing little boy he’d only known briefly as a small baby. The pictures should have been of those three people, but all that remained was Harry, a Harry that did not smile, who appeared distant and conveyed none of the happiness of the Harry he remembered.
Perhaps it was a misplaced jealousy, but he couldn’t help but wish for what might have been. In his heart he knew that neither James nor Lily would have felt as he was right now. They would have been grateful, eternally thankful that Petunia and her family had so obviously embraced their child, taken him in and cared for him as they had. Still, it did not alleve his sadness, this just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
Remus had been so focused on the pictures he hadn’t at first noticed the small dark haired figure, sitting cross legged on the floor. Squeezing Petunia’s arm reassuringly, he then crossed the room softly, so as not to startle the boy, and knelt down beside him. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but this had certainly not been it. Harry continued to rock back and forth, ignoring him all together, and Remus looked back at Petunia uncertainly. She nodded encouragingly, and he held out his hand, “Harry, I’m Remus,” he said, eyes fixed on the back of the boy’s bobbing head, “I’m here to take you to your new school. Your aunt told you about Hogwarts didn’t she? It is where your parents went to school and we have been waiting for a long time for you to join us. Can you take my hand?”
Harry continued to rock, ignoring the request it seemed, and Remus started to reach out to him, “Wait,” Petunia said softly from behind him, “Give him a minute. Just wait.”
Remus pulled back, but kept his arm outstretched, surprised when a few moments late, Harry’s smaller hand reached out blindly to take his. Remus smiled back at Petunia, who nodded back at him, and he helped Harry to his feet. For the first time, Remus saw his face, and he marveled at the child’s beauty. His eyes the color of Lily’s, underneath the fringe of dark unruly hair, and pale skin, he was an honest replica of the those two amazing people, James and Lily, a combination of them both, and he was overtaken by an honest desire to reach out and press the boy to his chest, and hold him, but he knew this would be unwelcome.
Petunia moved forward then, pulling an envelope from her pocket and holding it out to Remus with a shaky hand, and an expression of utter disbelief in her eyes. She wasn’t going to handle this for long, and he knew that they needed to leave now for all their sakes. It wouldn’t do to have a scene here, and time was of the essence.
“I’ve written down everything, his schedules, routines, his eating habits, as much about the..the tantrums..as I can. I tried to write down what I thought sparked them, but sometimes it is hard to tell, it could be the smallest thing. If I think of anything else, I send it in the post. Please tell Dumbledore to remember that he isn’t disobedient. He is a sweet child, he doesn’t do it because he is spoiled or stubborn. Please tell him, please be patient with him,” she was pleading now.
Remus accepted the letter and placed it in his jacket, “We will, Petunia. This is the right thing for Harry. Trust me, Petunia, we will protect him with our lives.”
He moved toward the door then, took the handle of the trunk with one hand, his other lightly guiding Harry to follow behind him. Petunia opened the door, and Remus watched as she tried to reach out and run her hands threw the child’s hair, but Harry pulled away, his eyes staring off at some point beyond his aunt, his face showing neither fear, nor concern that he was being taken from the only family he’d ever known, and one he would most likely never see again.
“We’re going to go for a walk, Harry,” Remus said gently leading Harry down the sidewalk, “It is a beautiful day.” He didn’t dare turn back to look at Petunia, knowing the pain that he would see reflected in her face. It was time to go, and to leave this behind now, for Petunia’s sake.
Beside him, Harry seemed oblivious to what had just transpired, blissfully ignorant of him and his aunt who stood crying at the doorway. What Remus didn’t know was that inside Harry felt everything, that even though his face seemed peaceful, and he followed obligingly behind a complete stranger, he was pushing away the anxiety sitting on his chest like a giant elephant with every ounce of determination in his soul. It was Harry, not Petunia, or Vernon or Remus who felt everything, and understood everything. He’d just been taken from his safe place, from people who loved him. He was alone now, and no one could hear him cry inside.
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