For the longest time, Harry was drifting in the perfect blackness, unable to think or feel anything, as if he was under a heavy sleeping spell. Gradually, he began to emerge from the blackness, and the awareness of his mind and body returned with a vengeance. His veins seemed to be filled with molten lava, and he would have screamed in agony if he could, or maybe he was yelling his head off without noticing it? After an eternity of excruciating suffering, cool liquid filled his belly and he drifted in blackness again as the pain eased.
The searing pain was back as the child floated closer to consciousness, he whimpered in his slumber, his body tensing up and tears running down his hot cheeks. His ears picked up anxious voices floating over his head, and he thought he recognized one of the voices, but he had never heard it speak so softly before. Strong arms rocked the boy gently, and he calmed a little despite the persistent throbbing in his body. After a while, something cool filled his stomach and he began to relax as the pain faded and he was able to sleep.
Harry woke with a start and a soft moan, everything was hurting! He blinked his eyes open, trying to recall what was wrong with him. It was dark, clearly still nighttime, he rolled to his back and squinted in an effort to pierce the gloom. It was a surprise when the soft darkness began to reveal the shapes in the room. It was large, with high ceiling and far-away walls swallowed up by darkness, it was nothing like his cu- his room at the Dursleys.
The boy gasped as the memories of the last two days came crashing back to him, he remembered the vampire man who claimed to be his father, he recalled helping out in the garden and the horrible punishment he received for it. The boy winced, pushing his hand under the covers to touch his battered behind warily, but it didn’t really hurt any more than the rest of him. What had happened to him?
The movement at the side of the bed caught his eye, and he cried out in alarm, bolting up in bed and scrambling away until his back hit the frame of the bed. Harry’s mind was picturing images of terrible monsters that lived under children’s beds, but with a soft word light spilled out and revealed this monster to be a man seated at the side of the bed.
“Easy, child,” the man said in father’s stern voice, he swished his glowing wand and they were surrounded by a softly buzzing transparent globe. “How are you feeling, Harry? Are you in pain?”
Harry could see the man’s face with the clarity he had never been able to before, it was thin and angular, with sharp features and angry lines around his eyes and on his forehead. The boy opened his mouth to respond, but the memory of the punishment was so strong that the only thing that emerged was a frightened mewl. The man let out a loud sigh, and leaned forward, getting as scary as monsters that invaded his dreams.
Harry was panicking, the fear of another punishment was making his heart thump so crazily that he couldn’t catch his breath, and he was gasping. Suddenly, hands lifted him by the armpits, and set him on the edge of the bed. A hand patted him on the back, and father sternly commanded him to breathe slowly. He tried to calm down, scared out of his wits of disobeying, but it was incredibly hard.
“That’s it, breathe, everything is fine,” father was saying insistently, and the boy stared deep into his piercing eyes set in a face framed by curtains of long hair. He frowned in confusion, there was something wrong about that face, the eyes were blue and the hair was blond with curls like a girl’s. They didn’t fit his father at all, even his shirt was red instead of black, and the incongruity of his appearance was making his panic recede. This man looked different than the vampire man who had beaten him so cruelly, but there were enough similarities that he had no doubt that this was the same person.
“You look like a girl,” the boy blurted out, unable to quench his curiosity despite his fear of the man’s quick temper.
“Indeed?” father said dryly, a corner of his mouth twitched upwards in his almost smile. “A rather ugly one, I’d wager.”
Harry giggled, because it was so true! Father was nowhere close to a pretty girl.
“You may laugh, kid,” father snorted mockingly. “After all, you do make a pretty girl.”
“No!” the boy gasped in horror, he looked at himself to check that he still was a boy, but the white pyjamas he was wearing was pretty much unisex.
“Would you like to see, child?”
Harry gave a solemn nod, not entirely sure that he wanted to confirm that he inexplicably changed into a girl while sleeping. The man scooped the boy up, ignoring his yelp of surprise, and strolled briskly out of the dark room. The hallway outside was long and brightly lit, Harry looked around curiously, trying to determine what this place was.
They went into the nearby bathroom, and he immediately turned crimson upon realising that he desperately needed to use the loo. Harry thought he’d drop dead of mortification when he was so unsteady on his feet that the man had to help him pull down his pants and sit on the toilet. His face burned hotter than the sun throughout the embarrassing ordeal, but father didn’t comment on his weakness, and he somehow survived the two minutes it took to do his business. When he was washing his hands, the boy could at last take a look at his reflection, his shoulders sagging with relief.
“I’m not a girl at all!” he breathed, feeling much better.
“Perhaps not,” father agreed grudgingly. “You are pretty as a girl, however.”
Harry huffed indignantly, but he couldn’t truthfully refute that assertion. The boy in the mirror was awfully pretty, with round angelic face, blue eyes and a mass of blond locks on his head. He looked smaller than Harry, as well, which made him even more miniscule than usual.
“What’s wrong with me?” he asked on a whine.
Father snickered in amusement, and patted the boy on the shoulder.
“Nothing fatal. We are just incognito here, do you know what that means, Harry?”
The boy thought about it as father carried him back to his bed, he wanted to insist that he could walk on his own, but the little excursion was making him exhausted already. He yawned, before giving a small nod, his forehead creasing in confusion.
“It means we pretend to be someone else, father,” he whispered cautiously, coughing to clear his dry throat.
“Very good,” the man nodded in approval, handing the boy a glass that he filled with water from his wand. “Your name is Eliot Parker, and I am your father, Thomas. Will you remember that, child?”
Harry drank thirstily, only now realising how parched his throat was, as if he hadn’t had anything to drink in a week. He wondered why father wanted him to pretend to be this Eliot, didn’t he want Harry for a son anymore? The thought made him unexpectedly sad, the boy had always wondered what it would be like to have his own parents, and although the time with his father hadn’t been much fun, his sudden rejection was incredibly painful.
Rough fingers brushed across the boy’s cheeks, catching a few tears as the man removed the empty glass from the child’s limp hand.
“Are you hurting again, Eliot?” he asked softly, and Harry nodded miserably, remembering uncle Vernon’s often repeated opinion that the boy was a burden and a good-for-nothing.
He really shouldn’t be shocked that father didn’t want him after he’d misbehaved so atrociously, he had heard often enough from his relatives that ungrateful brats were sent to the orphanage. The boy started to sniffle at the terrible realisation that he was clearly in the dreaded institution for unwanted children, and in a moment father would go away, leaving Harry completely alone.
With a dramatic sigh, the man stood up from his chair and crouched in front of the sobbing child, his expression dire.
“Bunch over, Eliot,” he commanded darkly, but when the boy only gaped at him in bewilderment, he put one hand behind Harry’s back and the other under his knees, lifting him and placing him on the far side of the bed. He tucked the boy in under the covers, before lowering himself on the bed next to the child, his booted feet sticking out in the air. “You can’t have any more potion for pain right now,” father said softly, pulling him closer against his side. “But you can have a story, would you like that, Eliot?”
No, he wouldn’t, Harry thought bitterly, biting his lip to keep from saying it out loud. He wanted father to tell him, Harry, a story, not some Eliot who looked like a little angel. When he didn’t answer, the man squeezed him a little tighter, and started telling a story in a quiet, mesmerizing voice. He flicked his wand, and the light disappeared, leaving the boy in darkness, with a quiet story painting pictures in his head...
“Once upon a time, there lived four great friends, they were witches and wizards of incredible skill and power. They wanted to found a school of magic together, to pass on their knowledge to the next generations of witches and wizards…”
A murmur of quiet conversation roused Harry from sleep, he could hear his father speaking softly with another man. He lay very still, curiously listening to what was being said.
“-ow long are they going to keep you here?” the stranger asked in a gravelly voice, that made the boy think he was an older man.
“Normally, I’d say two more days for the last traces of my magic to be absorbed by his core,” father responded with a heavy sigh. “But the healer insists on diagnosing the muscle spasms he’s seen the boy experience, it may take a while before he runs out of all the tests he wants to perform.”
“Has he found anything?”
His father scoffed derisively.
“No, wasn’t that the whole point?” Harry was getting frustrated with the adults’ conversation, they were purposely speaking in code, and the only thing he was able to figure out was that they were in hospital, and not the orphanage. “It would be rather suspicious if I showed no concern that my son goes into convulsions with regularity, so I’ve been giving consent to everything the man comes up with.”
“And what of the boy? Will the procedure have long-lasting repercussions?”
He tensed, listening hard if he would be healthy again. Would he be so weak and achy forever now?
“There shouldn’t be, but-,” father stopped speaking abruptly, drawing in a sharp breath. “It’s rude to eavesdrop, Eliot!”
Harry jumped, his eyes flying wide open at the scolding, he cringed at the impressive glare directed his way.
“I wasn’t!” he protested quickly, pushing himself back in bed to increase the distance from the man. “I swear I wasn’t!”
Father’s face twisted with sudden anger, and the boy’s heart broke into a gallop as the man leaned over the bed imposingly.
“Do not lie to me, boy,” he spat threateningly.
“I’m not!” Harry cried, tears of terror springing into his eyes. “I’m not l-lying, father!”
“Severus, perhaps you shouldn’t-,” the older man tried to interrupt, but father raised a hand to cut him off, shooting a glare in that direction.
“Stay out of it, Albus,” he barked. “And keep in character!”
Harry was all but melded into the bed frame in terror, as the man turned back to him, his long fingers tilted the boy’s chin up, forcing him to meet the fierce blue gaze.
“Both of us know that you were listening, Eliot,” father said severely, making Harry flinch at every word. “You have one minute to tell the truth, or you will do it with a very sore bottom. Is that understood, child?”
The pulse thudded in his ears, as the seconds ticked by and the man’s angry face seemed to become even darker. The boy opened his mouth and choked out a fearful confession, he wasn’t sure how much of it was coherent as he was crying so hard.
“Alright,” father said when he got it all out, he sounded unexpectedly calm. “Spying on people is very disrespectful, and it will not happen again. Do you know what you should have done to find this all out without getting into trouble, Eliot?”
Harry shook his head, wiping his tears away with his sleeves.
“You should have asked me,” father said with all sincerity, as if he didn’t know that asking questions was the fastest way to get a punishment. “Will you do it next time, Eliot?”
Harry froze, feeling trapped and cheated, asking questions was forbidden! Father was setting him up for a punishment! The boy was suddenly lifted up into the air, and he whimpered in fear that he would be surely beaten with the belt again. Instead of putting the boy over his lap for a punishment, however, father hitched Harry onto his hip like a toddler.
“Say hello to your grandfather Al, before we go to the bathroom,” father directed dryly, smirking at the older man.
Surprised, Harry looked at the other man for the first time, he was quite old, with white hair and beard, and he had kind blue eyes twinkling behind crescent-shaped glasses. He didn’t look anything like father, and he was wearing a purple nightgown, of all things!
“Hello,” the boy whispered shyly.
“Hello, dear child,” grandfather smiled, giving him a wink. “I’m glad you’re awake, Eliot, as your daddy has been in a dour mood all the time you were sleeping.”
“Did grandfather forget to dress, father?” Harry asked quietly when they were walking to the bathroom, making father choke and advise to inquire himself later.
The bathroom was even more mortifying than last time because father insisted that after five days of sleeping [he couldn’t have slept that long, surely?], he required a proper bath. He wouldn’t have minded, except that he barely could stand without falling on his face, and the prospect of father hovering over him while he bathed was horrifying. No matter how hard he protested or pleaded that it wasn’t necessary, father was unyielding and he ended up getting a heavily assisted bath along with a stinging backside. It was wretched and embarrassing, and completely unfair!
“What happened, then?” grandfather asked back in his hospital room, tracing tear tracks on the boy’s cheek with a gnarled fingertip.
Harry shrugged dispiritedly, not at all keen on discussing the horrid experience with his grandfather. He was lying slumped on the bed, completely drained even though he had just recently woken up. He grudgingly admitted to himself that he would have drowned rather than managed bathing on his own, but father didn’t need to hit him so hard!
The boy looked away to avoid the old man’s concerned gaze, he watched the little girl on the furthest bed being fed by her fussy mother. It was amazing how well his eyes worked today, normally at that distance, he’d only be able to see a colourful blur, but right now he had no trouble at all. The girl was maybe three-years-old, and her whole face was covered with long hair like on a spaniel, and she was growling every time her mother took too long putting a spoon in her mouth.
“What happened to her?” he asked in horrified fascination.
“Oh?” grandfather mused, looking across the room and nodding genially to the hassled mother. “It looks like a partial Animagus transformation, a powerful little witch you have there, madam.”
Harry goggled as the woman grinned proudly, patting her daughter on the face and thanking grandfather for the compliment. Wasn’t she worried at all that her child would stay half-dog forever?
“Will she be alright?” he whispered in concern.
“Oh, yes,” grandfather assured him happily. “And I’d wager that by the time she goes to Hogwarts, she will have perfected her transformation into a pretty spaniel.”
The woman slumped a little at the words, as if she was already exhausted by that future perfecting, but the boy was too busy trying to remember what father had told him about Hogwarts yesterday to worry about the girl anymore.
“Still sulking, I see,” father scolded sharply a few minutes later, when he returned with a tray of breakfast for the boy.
“Just tired,” Harry sighed morosely, suddenly recalling how wretched he was feeling.
“Well, well,” father sneered, sitting in the chair next to the bed and giving the boy a shrewd look. “If you are too exhausted to eat, Eliot, then I predict a lengthy recovery, with many assisted baths, and perhaps a bedpan as well.”
The boy’s eyes popped wide open in horror, and he was sitting upright even before he was aware of the fact that he had moved.
“I can eat!” he exclaimed.
“Fantastic,” the man smirked as he placed a tray with a plate heaped high with pancakes across Harry’s lap.
The boy ate ravenously, his stomach abruptly realising that it had been fasting for five whole days, and by the time he finished, Harry practically collapsed in complete exhaustion. The doctor coming to see him woke the boy a while later.
“Good to see you awake, Eliot,” the doc- healer Loyd greeted him warmly. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” Harry said sleepily, before his jaw cracked in a huge yawn. “That’s annoying.”
“I bet it is,” the healer commiserated with a smile, he started waving his wand over the boy’s body, his face screwing up in concentration. “Does anything hurt at all?”
Harry shot a furtive glance at father, who was standing nearby with his arms folded, observing silently.
“The healer doesn’t mean your bottom, Eliot,” the man drawled, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. “Does anything else hurt?”
“Mr. Parker, you shouldn’t have!” healer Loyd exclaimed in dismay, turning to glare at father.
“And why not?” father asked icily. “It is my prerogative as his father, I believe the aurors have already confirmed this to you, healer.”
“But he is ill! Surely-,”
“I should abdicate my parental responsibilities until he’s discharged, then?”
Harry ducked his head, pressing his hands against his ears in an attempt to not hear the adults’ argument. His cheeks were burning in humiliation at being discussed like that, and his heart was pounding in his chest as his mind dredged up the worst moments of uncle Vernon’s yelling, his fat face turning purple in fury and spitle flying in all directions.
He must have lost a span of time because the next thing he knew was that father was sitting beside him, tilting his chin up to look him in the eyes.
“Why are you crying, child?” he asked very softly.
The boy sniffled, only now realising that he was doing it.
“Please, don’t yell at me, father,” he pleaded in a shaky whisper.
“I wasn’t yelling at you, Eliot, don’t worry,” father responded patiently, before throwing a murderous glare at the hovering healer. “Are you hurting anywhere?”
The boy shook his head, he felt fine, even his bum didn’t sting in the slightest.
“‘M just tired,” he mumbled, suddenly too weary to hold his head up anymore.
Father raised his eyebrows at the other man in question.
“Let him rest,” the healer said decisively. “We’ll start Rejuvenation Drafts with lunch…”
The boy didn’t catch more of the adults’ conversation as his eyes closed at that point, and he drifted off. He would bitterly regret his ill-timed nap later because, as it turned out, that had been the time to run [or at least hide]!