The morning dawned bright and sunny, promising another beautiful summer’s day, but the boy on the bed was anything but eager for it to start. The night had been awful, filled with nightmares about men with twisted faces pushing the child towards the gate which pulsed with ominous red magic, despite his frantic pleas not to be hurt. Harry tossed and turned, caught in the grip of the nightmare, and when he finally woke up it felt as if he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all.
He groaned, eyes roaming around the familiar room. It was weird how quickly he got used to waking up here, gone was the momentary confusion when he expected the cramped dark space of his cupboard around him. He could tell it was very early still, too early for breakfast, but the thought of closing his eyes again was unbearable. His stomach was bubbling with the emotions he wasn’t able to identify at first, but it made him feel sort of queasy. Harry squeezed the giant plushie tighter to himself, and rolled onto his back, wincing as his backside throbbed ferociously in the new position.
Harry’s eyes pricked with tears, he’d almost forgotten he’d gotten the belt mere two days ago, but his bum was determined to remind him at every opportunity. He shook his head to banish the memory of the cruel punishment and the fierce, possessive hug he’d received afterwards. The sharp twinge helped him realise what sort of bug churned in his belly, though. He was feeling angry. And betrayed.
The boy was slowly getting to know his father, and figuring out what he could expect from the man. The gnawing worry about getting fed, which had been a constant concern at the Dursleys, didn’t seem so urgent anymore, with father hardly allowing him time to become hungry. In its absence, Harry’s mind had the energy to try to be a child, learning to play and laugh, and cry. He hadn’t realised how much turmoil in his understanding of the world father caused. He was a strict man, unbending and cruel in his discipline, but the undivided attention he gave Harry made him feel like a different person, someone who wasn’t a freak.
There was a lot of fear and weariness, yes, sometimes much more than he had experienced at his aunt and uncle’s, but he was learning to recognise what sort of things would get him into trouble, and why. He knew why he had been whipped, and that helped him move past the horrible ordeal. At his relatives’, he’d often been paralysed by uncertainty, a thing that had been allowed previously, might bring the worst punishment the next time. He didn’t miss the constant stomach ache that uncertainty caused. That was what made him so upset, he had been punished, and he didn’t understand what he had done to deserve it. Father always explained why he was punishing Harry, but yesterday it had been enough that grandpa Al wanted to hurt him, and father didn’t fight for him. He swiped an angry fist across his eyes and kicked the blanket away. When did he start believing that any adult would fight for him?!
He sat up, and flung the lion toy across the room, it was too unwieldy to go very far. It fell to the floor on its side, big brown eyes seeming to question the boy’s assault.
“He’s a liar!” the boy declared, eyes flashing.
He wasn’t certain which of the two adults he meant. Grandpa Al had seemed so nice and sympathetic, disapproving even of father’s fondness of spanking, that Harry began to like him straight away. It was a bitter pill to swallow to realise that he had been duped again, that the man would hurt him for no reason, and drink tea afterwards, as if nothing had happened!
Grudgingly, he dragged the lion to the rocking chair, grimacing at the memory of father rocking him in his lap yesterday, reading another chapter of Oliver Twist. It had been nice, soothing his nerves after the horrifying experience of punishing magic, but he wasn’t in a mood to give the man any slack today. Harry picked some clothes at random, and left the room, his face a storm cloud.
The boy didn’t fancy getting caught by his father though, so he took great care not to make a noise, stepping over the squeaky step and pausing to listen at the sliding bookcase which separated the staircase from the living room. Harry emerged into the empty room with a sigh of relief, the room had that feel of sleepy abandonment that every house acquired during nighttime. He walked through the empty house with a little more spring in his step, confident that father was still ensconced in his bed upstairs. Snatching a piece of bread from the kitchen, he felt at home taking care of his needs again. Adults were unreliable at the best of times, and he had been a fool to start trusting them.
The boy took a bite and stepped into the hallway, deciding that an hour or two of climbing sounded perfect, whatever the stupid man might think on the subject. He pushed down the handle, and snatched his fingers away with a pained hiss a moment later. Eyes blurring with tears, he shook out the hand that seemed to have been doused in hot water, it wouldn’t open for him. The boy was locked in!
Between one second and the next, he was transported into a place he knew all too well, the musty smell of the cellar choking him. With a scream of terror, Harry launched himself at the door, kicking and pounding it with his fists.
“Let me out! Let me fucking out!” he screamed as he assaulted the piece of wood barring his way repeatedly. He needed out, how long had he been here this time? He didn’t remember.
In his distress, he didn’t hear the door down the hall slamming open, nor the angry demands for him to stop. He yelled as an arm came around his chest, and dragged him away from the door. He fought, limbs flailing wildly in desperation not to be pulled downstairs again, sure some monster of the dark had a hold of him. His hands were caught and held at his sides by cruel manacles, as the monster was shouting in his ear.
“Enough, stop it, Harry!” his name shifted something in the boy’s mind, and the dark nightmare crumbled around him. He wasn’t in that terrible place, this was his father’s house, and Harry started sobbing in relief.
“Let me out,” he pleaded, tears running down his cheeks in rivulets.
“No, I don’t think I will,” father said in his sternest voice, his narrowed eyes scrutinizing him in a way that made the boy shiver. “Are you calmed down enough that I can stop restraining you?”
“Y-yes, sir,” the boy whispered in a scratchy voice, although his insides tied themselves into knots with dread.
The man released his hands, and he pulled them close to his chest, wincing at his sore knuckles.
“Come,” the man called, turning on his heels and heading for the open doorway.
Harry stood frozen for a moment, hardly able to draw breath into his constricted lungs, the anger of a few minutes before was completely gone, replaced by a choking feeling in his chest. He only moved when father looked back at him with a severe expression.
His feet dragged, stopping altogether at the threshold of the room he had been forbidden to enter at the very beginning, his panicked gaze flitted around father’s study until it returned to the formidable man, who was holding the door open for him.
“I’m not allowed here,” the boy said tremulously, his heart breaking into a gallop at the man’s ploy to get him in trouble.
“How very obedient of you,” father scoffed wryly. “You have my permission to enter, Harry.”
Hunching his shoulders around his ears, he stepped into the room, taking care to keep his eyes firmly fixed on the floor, it was the same aged wood as in the living room. A click of the door closing made him flinch, and he came to a halt in front of the sprawling desk that took up most of the width of the room.
“Give me your hands,” the man said, much closer than Harry expected him to be.
His head jerked up, his eyes growing wide at the sight his father presented, perched on the edge of the desk like some great bird of prey, his expression grim and his hand outstretched in expectation.
“Why?!” he croaked, cradling his sore hands to his chest protectively. He eyed father’s wand warily, he didn’t want any more magic used on himself.
“Because I said so!” the man snapped, his eyes flashing with anger. He snatched the boy’s left hand and pulled it close, but as he raised the wand, Harry tested the grip, trying to pull free. “Stop this foolishness, boy,” father’s fingers dug deeper into his wrist. “You’re overdue for a hard spanking, if you think it appropriate to defy me thus, whatever Albus’s thoughts on the matter!”
Harry listened to father’s angry rant with rising unease, wide eyes tracking the wand warily. It slashed through the air with angry, jerky movements, making him cringe every time he felt the wind of its passing on his fingers. He had been afraid of the man cursing his hands off, but a smacking with the rigid thing seemed more likely just now.
“The other one!” Father snapped, letting go of the hand he had been holding, and Harry gasped in surprise that none of his dark imaginings became reality. In actual fact, his knuckles were much less sore than a minute ago, wide green eyes flitted around the hard panes of the man’s face, questioning. “What did you expect me to do, idiot child? Cut off your fingers?!”
The boy flinched, remembering uncle Vernon making that very threat, if he was caught stealing from them one more time. He gave up his right hand for father’s inspection, hanging his head in shame for believing he would be cursed, when grandpa Al wasn’t there to talk him into it. No, his father had never used his magic in that way, it was grandpa’s wand that was doing the hurting. Father would spank or belt him, if he disapproved of something he did…
OH! His heart jumped into his throat as he remembered the piece of bread he’d pilfered from father’s kitchen. He had been so fixated on what happened yesterday, so angry at the man for allowing it that he hadn’t been thinking straight at all!
“Well, at least you haven’t broken anything,” father growled in annoyance. “What possessed you to assault the door like that?!”
“I just wanted out,” Harry mumbled evasively, pulling his hand back and examining his healed knuckles. “It wouldn’t open for me.”
“Oh, I see. And what gave you the idea you should be allowed outside at all hours of day and night?" Father continued in a voice that was getting more frosty with every word. "Why, I seem to recall telling you in very firm terms that you were to remain in your room at night. Are you so eager to test my patience, boy? Perhaps, I’ve let you get away with too much lately.”
Harry’s face went chalky white at the reminder, his hands falling back to cover his posterior. It had been on the very first evening, after the disastrous tour of the house, that father led the sobbing child into his bedroom, warning that if he put a toe out of it before 7 the next morning, he’d not sit comfortably for a week. The boy hadn’t even risked visiting the toilet at night after that, the only time he left his bedroom after bedtime was when his hand had been broken, and he fully expected a whipping then. He bit his lip, father hadn’t punished him on that occasion, but it had been the exception, hadn’t it? And he didn’t have as good a reason for disobeying now.
“No,” he whispered, ducking his head and blinking furiously. He should have known he couldn’t evade his father, not when he forgot to be quiet, anyway. He swallowed hard, why did he have to keep getting so confused all the time? Was he really touched in the mind, as uncle Vernon claimed?
The man observed the wretched child for a silent moment, folding his arms in consideration.
“Sneaking out after hours, shouting, cursing and attacking my furniture like a thing possessed,” he enumerated with a slight sneer. “It’s a hefty list of misdeeds to have committed before breakfast. I admit I didn’t expect such disruptive behaviour from you. I suggest you explain yourself, Harry, while I’m still in the mood to listen.”
The boy slumped his shoulders, dropping his hands at his sides in defeat, he didn’t realise he’d been swearing as well. At least, father didn’t know about the stealing yet, he felt sick with dread thinking about the punishment in store for him. Harry pressed his lips into an angry line, adults couldn’t be trusted, so why had this betrayal felt so much worse than all the others? Even now, with the punishment imminent, he couldn’t make himself stop thinking about it. The ball of resentment in his gut made him want to punch the stupid man’s grim face, his fingers curled into fists at his sides. What right did he have to demand answers from him?
“Nothing to say?!” father mocked, with menace dripping from every syllable. “I can guess well enough why you would be sneaking out at 5 in the morning, after I’d forbidden that blasted hobby of yours!” He growled angrily, rising from his perch and rounding the desk to rummage in a drawer.
“Bend over the desk, boy,” the man ordered harshly, retrieving a long wooden ruler from the top drawer. “If you require a sharper lesson in obedience, I’ll oblige you.”
Harry’s head snapped up suddenly, red-rimmed eyes blazing with fury, meeting the adult’s fearsome countenance with a scowl of his own.
“I hate you!” he screamed venomously, his rage so strong that he was shaking with the intensity of the emotion. “You’re a filthy liar, and I hate you!”
Clearly taken aback by the child’s outburst, the man paused in his approach, his eyebrows climbing up his forehead, and his head cocking to one side, as if he was trying to understand the accusation. Oddly enough, the anger marring his face a few moments prior was gone, replaced by a calculating frown, but Harry’s eyes rounded with terror, unable to perceive the difference in his state of upset, and he spun around and ran for the door.
No, no, no! What had he done?! His heart was going to burst, but he needed to get away, before… before... he didn’t really know what would happen, but the echo of the cellar was so strong in his mind that he had to flee. The sound of a key turning in the lock froze him in his tracks, his breath catching in his throat and vision blurring. He raised his fists to pound on the door, but he was so wrung out already that he didn’t fight when strong hands caught his wrists, and pulled them away firmly.
“No more pounding!” the man’s strict admonition sounded straight into his ear, and Harry started to cry, his muscles going soft as jelly.
He would have crumpled to the floor, but father supported him easily. He must have turned the boy around at some point, because Harry found himself sobbing noisily into the man’s black shirt. He couldn’t restrain himself as the rage morthed into crushing disappointment and grief. Unlike on other occasions, being held like that didn’t seem to calm his spiking panic any.
“‘M sorry,” he sobbed, his throat seeming to be filled with shards of glass. “‘M sorry, didn’t mean it, won’t say it again, ‘m sorry!”
The child repeated the same message until he became quite hoarse, and father held him in silence, patting his back gently every now and again. He waited until the boy was too exhausted to continue before he spoke.
“I think you did mean those things,” he said seriously, holding the child tighter against his chest when he tried to protest. “I think you are very cross with me right now, and that’s why you chose to disobey me and go outside.”
With a defeated sigh, the boy bobbed his head in a slight affirmative.
“Would you tell me why you are angry with me, Harry?” father asked in his very softest voice, loosening his hold so the boy could step away if he wanted to.
Harry whimpered softly, father only spoke like that very rarely, when he wasn’t angry and wanted the boy to know that. It was like a stab to the heart to hear it now, because he’d begun trusting that voice, but it was as much a lie as all the rest. A hand on his back made him flinch, and he stepped out of reach, managing a weak glare.
“You let him hurt me,” he croaked in a scratchy voice, his throat aching. “It hurt and hurt, and you didn’t tell him to stop!”
The man sat back on his heels in surprise, his face losing all expression for a few moments, as if he didn’t know what to say.
“You mean Albus, and that wretched spell,” father said with a heavy sigh. “I thought you took it too much in stride, yesterday,” he shook his head, groaning a bit as he pulled himself to his feet. “I and grandpa did what we thought necessary to provide you with protection which you wouldn’t otherwise have. I don’t intend to apologise for fulfilling my obligation towards you, Harry.”
The man looked at the angry child with an implacable expression, and he knew that there was nothing he could say to make father understand how he was feeling. The boy averted his eyes, choosing to glare at the floor, rather than the man who had been holding him so patiently through his breakdown.
“You said it’s your job to protect me,” he whispered, needing to reiterate the source of his disappointment.
“And so I do,” father said with some exasperation. “I protect you when I hold your hand on the street, but also as I strap your bottom. It’s not always possible to keep you safe without causing pain.”
“Aunt Petunia never used to do that,” Harry mumbled sadly, not entirely sure whether he meant no hitting or general lack of interest in his well-being, the latter somehow felt more upsetting.
Sighing, father ran his hands through his hair, for once it didn’t hang in sleek curtains to his shoulders, but was as ill-behaved as the boy’s, as if he’d spent a good portion of the night pulling at it.
“I’m well aware of her shortcomings,” he said with a grimace. “I know it must be very confusing to be dumped with me, who has such different expectations of you than your relatives used to. I’m a different person and a stricter parent, and you must learn to accept that, Harry. You may be angry with me for the decisions I make on your behalf, but if your temper leads you out of bounds, you will be strictly admonished. I have been as patient with you as I can, but I’ll not tolerate direct defiance.”
Unwilling, but not really able to help himself, Harry’s eyes were first drawn to father’s empty hands, and then to the top of the desk where the ruler still lay. He swallowed hard, it wasn’t really unexpected that father would discipline him for his disobedience. He didn’t even have the energy to feel angry about it, he wished he could just return to bed and forget about the last thirty minutes.
“Do you have to do it, sir?” he asked softly.
Father raised an eyebrow, folding his arms.
“Tell me truthfully, Harry,” he asked calmly. “Were you going to climb that infernal tree?”
The boy averted his eyes, he didn’t think it would do him any good to lie, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit to anything out loud. There was a minute of loaded silence, and then he heard the man sigh loudly.
“Yes, I do, son,” father answered.