He was so dead! Dead like a corpse, he just hadn’t realised it yet! Harry whimpered, pulling his knees closer to his chest and hugging them tightly. It was dark here, and even more cramped than his cupboard at the Dursleys. The boy was scared of the dark, close-fitting places like that, knowing that it was only too easy to lock him in, but he desperately needed a place to hide right now, and he didn’t know any better ones here yet.
Harry huddled in the cramped space, his pulse thundered in his ears so loudly that he was sure it could be heard downstairs, too. It must have been well past breakfast time already, and any minute now father would come seeking him out. The boy didn’t want to be found any time soon, he knew he wouldn’t survive coming face to face with the man.
A soft sound of distress escaped his lips and he clamped one hand over his mouth to muffle the noise, he couldn’t believe what he had done. In all the years with the Dursleys, he had never lashed out at them with words, not to mention with blows.Well, not on purpose, Harry knew that attacking them would be the last thing he did under their roof, uncle Vernon had been very explicit about what happened to violent freaks that time Dudley landed on his arse.
Uncle Vernon didn’t punish him like his father did, with bending the boy over his knee, and walloping his bum until he was sure it would never stop hurting there, but he had his own ways of making Harry fear for his life. That day two years prior, uncle had been livid, his face had gone dark purple with rage, and he dragged the boy home by the arm, squeezing it so cruelly that he was certain the bone would snap. The man opened the cellar door, and threw the child down the stairs, as if he was no more than a sack of potatoes. The man had brought a shovel, and ordered him to dig a grave for himself in the earthen floor. Harry remembered being more frightened in that black cellar than he had been ever before or since, convinced that he was going to be buried in the small grave he’d been forced to dig. It was difficult to say which part had been worse; digging that hole or sitting in it, waiting in the dark for his uncle to return and cover him with earth.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, he berated himself as he attempted to shake this train of thought. He knew that father had a cellar as well, but he wouldn’t make Harry dig another grave, would he? No! It was father’s laboratory, he needed it, and the boy wasn’t allowed inside at all! Father would probably give him another whipping or something, and that would be a relief, except that he knew the consequences of his turning into a violent delinquent would be more than that. He almost wished he was found already, because not knowing what to expect was making his mind relive the cellar experience over and over. His eyes burned, but Harry couldn’t cry, it was a memory that made him feel all hollowed out inside.
The steps on the landing outside his room made his whirling thoughts freeze and the breath to solidify in his lungs. There was a perfunctory knock and a creak of the door opening, and Harry’s heart began to thump so hard that his chest was about to explode.
“Time to wake up, sleepyhead,” father’s voice called softly across the room. He didn’t sound as angry as Harry expected, but it just took a moment for the voice to sharpen. “Harry! Where in the blazes are you, boy?!”
The child tried to be as still and silent as possible, but he must have made a noise, as only a second later the wardrobe door was yanked open. He cried out as the light stabbed into his eyes, throwing both hands over his face to protect them. There was a beat of ominous silence, and then-
“Are you trying to reach Narnia?” father asked, sounding rather bewildered.
Harry peered at the man through his fingers, he was holding the door with one hand, while tapping the fingers of the other on the hipbone in impatience. He wasn’t holding the belt or the shovel yet, but that did little to comfort the child. He gulped nervously, raising his eyes higher with baited breath. Father furrowed his brow when the boy didn’t reply quickly enough.
“I’m afraid there’s no magical passage through your wardrobe, Harry,” he said with a weary sigh. “Why don’t you come out, now.”
The boy cringed, he had no idea what father was even talking about, but the last part was uttered in such a tone of command that he shuddered. He was shaking his head, before he had time to consider the wisdom of disobeying.
“N-no, I c-can’t-,” he stuttered anxiously, unable to explain further.
“You can, and you will,” father snapped, narrowing his eyes into slits, not appreciating the child’s reticence in the slightest. He stepped back, giving the boy space to emerge. “There’s no pressing need for you to reside in the damn closet,” the man sneered, folding his arms. “Come. Out. Now.”
The boy shook his head harder, eyes filling and his chest heaving, the world around him seemed to shrink until the only thing he could see was his uncle’s purple face telling him he wouldn’t be coming out again. The sound of movement had him burrowing deeper into the black cellar to escape the hole. He gasped out in shock at a feather light touch on his cheek, he blinked and a horror scene in his head was replaced by his father’s frowning face scrutinizing him from only a few inches away, his hand cupped around the boy’s cheek gently.
“What is wrong, Harry?” he asked very softly.
“Don’t wanna be buried alive,” the child whispered through trembling lips.
The man’s eyebrows shot up his forehead at the peculiar comment.
“I wouldn’t either,” he responded mildly. “That’s not a very pleasant prospect, is that what your dream was about, Harry?”
The boy shrugged, it felt so real a minute ago, even though he was aware that uncle Vernon wasn’t anywhere near. His breath caught, when father’s hand moved from his cheek to his arm, slowly but firmly pulling him out of the wardrobe. He was so stressed that it was almost an out of body experience when the man’s arms enfolded him, one hand patting his back, the other holding the back of his head.
“Some dreams we have can be very frightening, but they aren’t real,” he murmured in Harry’s ear, his voice so calm and soothing that gradually he stopped shaking. “You are awake now, and safe with me. The house won’t collapse on top of us, I promise, and even if it did, our magic would protect us. You have nothing to fear, little dunderhead.”
Harry didn’t really believe it, but his body must have done a little, as it got much easier to breathe. He hadn’t considered that his freaky abilities could keep him from dying, but it made sense after what happened yesterday. Except, he knew from experience that magic didn’t stop you from starving, and he wished he didn’t have this new horrid image in his head of being trapped under the earth until he died from lack of food and water. His empty stomach grumbled unhappily at the thought.
“Alright,” father said briskly, rising to his feet at the noise and turning the boy around by the shoulders. Harry tensed, expecting an assault on his sore bottom, but the man merely waved a hand at the contents of the wardrobe. “That’s enough tardying, boy. What would you like to wear today?”
Harry didn’t know how he managed to get through the motions of washing and dressing without incurring father’s wrath, as his mind was stubbornly preoccupied by thoughts of the cellar. He remembered blisters on his palms from turning the hard earth, the bone-chilling cold inside the hole, he recalled the pungent stench of urine and fear. He shook his head, trying to concentrate on the food in front of him rather than phantom impressions from the past, but it was incredibly hard.
“I can’t eat this,” the boy whispered, he had never been allowed food after he’d been bad, and seeing the bowl of cereal and a plate of strawberries set before him was making him queasy.
“I won’t repeat the same lecture at every mealtime, child,” father said, sounding very cross. He shivered under the unforgiving glare. “Eating is not a whim, but a necessity, and so you will eat what I serve you without complaint, or you’ll do it with a much sorer posterior. Do I make myself clear, Harry?”
The boy’s eyes flitted over the man’s stern face fretfully, knowing that he deserved to be punished anyway, so maybe it would unknot his stomach to get it over with now. He stepped from one foot to the other, his backside throbbed so much already that he hadn’t been able to sit in the chair. Harry dropped his gaze to the food in defeat, he was weak and craven, and much too sore to dare defying the man. He put a spoonful of cereal in his mouth, and hoped that his stomach could cope with it.
“You may do your reading in your room today,” father instructed sharply. “When I see you next, you had better be over your sulk, as I have no more patience for it.”
Upstairs, in his room, the boy lay on his side, staring at the jar full of light and reflecting on his feelings. He didn’t bother pretending to read, preferring to concentrate on banishing his darkest thoughts to the back of his head where they couldn’t plague his waking hours. For weeks after the cellar, Harry had been barely able to function, he’d be doing chores one moment, and the next he’d freeze, suddenly convinced that he was back in the grave until a stinging slap to his cheek reminded him of his surroundings.
Today was the closest he got to those torturous days in a long while, he could barely remember the morning he’d just had, his mind only barely retained disjointed scenes. Even now, lying on a comfortable bed in bright daylight, he shivered from the chill of the grave. He thought he had only blinked, but when he opened his eyes again, father was sitting on the bed beside him. He was stroking the boy’s hair, and looking at him with a pinched expression that he didn’t recognise.
“Are you well, Harry?” the man asked in his very softest voice.
“No,” the child choked out with difficulty. “I don’t think I am, father.”
“Could you tell me what is wrong, so I can help?” father queried.
“It’s so cold and dark here,” Harry whimpered with a shiver, his eyes roaming frantically around the rough contours of the grave.
Father murmured something he couldn’t make out, and he thought it got a little warmer for a moment, but the man left then, leaving the child alone in the dark. The stabbing pain in his chest made it hard to breathe, and he panted, terrified that the air was running out. Fingers on his chin made him flinch, but he managed to inhale a gust of air at least.
“Open your mouth, Harry,” father’s voice encouraged him. “I have a potion, it’ll help you feel better.”
A part of him didn’t want to obey, but a larger part knew that father’s medicine worked like magic, and he needed help to escape this bad memory. He opened his mouth, and swallowed the liquid that tasted like dirty socks. Harry grimaced in disgust, but almost immediately the sinister surroundings began to dissipate and soften. His heartbeat slowed, and he yawned.
“Good boy,” a voice whispered, and a warm something briefly touched his forehead. He thought it must have been his father, as nobody else ever kissed him like that, but his eyelids were so heavy all of a sudden that he couldn’t see. “Sleep now, and when you wake, you’ll feel better, son.”
Harry wanted to protest that he was too big to take a nap during the day, but it required too much effort to bother saying that. He sighed contentedly as father did his stroking thing, and let himself drift away.