"It’s time to wake up, child,” a stern voice drifted through a haze of exhausted sleep, making the boy groan in protest and press his face harder into his pillow. “Harry,” the owner of the voice persisted annoyingly, shaking his shoulder gently. “Open your eyes.”
“‘M tired,” he complained. Why was it that Dudley could laze about as long as he wanted, while he had to get up at the crack of dawn? He opened his eyes and scowled at the man seated at the edge of his bed, remembering that he had ample reason to be angry at him. “I don’t wanna get up, yet!”
“Too bad,” the man sneered, standing up and giving the child an unimpressed glare. “You may take a nap after breakfast, if you are so exhausted.”
“I don’t take naps!” Harry protested indignantly, sitting up to better convey his outrage at the horrid suggestion. “I’m not a baby!”
“Fantastic,” the man mocked, starting to walk towards the door. “Get moving, or you’ll start the day with a very sore behind.”
Harry gaped at the door for several moments in dismay, before he was able to react.
“That’s not fair,” he whispered to himself.
He dressed and washed himself in record time, scared that any tardiness would be harshly punished, and presented himself in the kitchen, a picture of humility and obedience. He was directed to the table, where a simple breakfast of toast and porridge waited.
The boy ate grudgingly, shooting dark glances at the irritating adult opposite him, which were utterly ignored. Sure, it was nice to fill his stomach with warm food in the morning, but he was too upset to really enjoy it. He pushed his half-empty bowl away and ducked his head, fighting not to cry.
“Do you want to watch the dishes scrub themselves this morning?” the man asked tersely, making Harry’s head jerk up in interest. He gave a tentative nod. “Excellent. Finish your breakfast quickly, as we don’t have time to dawdle.”
The boy wrinkled his nose in suspicion, sensing that he was being managed like a stupid child, but he did really want to see the dishes washing on their own. Sighing, he pulled his bowl closer, and resumed eating. His anticipation improved his mood and settled his stomach, so it wasn’t a struggle to finish. Like last night, with a wave of the man’s stick, a wand? the plates and cups disappeared from the table.
Eagerly, Harry skipped to the sink, whooping with amazed glee as the dishes reappeared with another soft pop. Water started filling the basin on its own, and a scrub lathered itself with dish soap, and started scrubbing the submerged dishes with vigour. When they were sparkling clean, the dishes floated up into the air, and shook themselves off, before alighting atop a drying rack above the sink.
Grinning like a little fool, the boy watched as the sink cleaned itself efficiently, the entire operation took a fraction of the time it usually took him to do the dishes by hand at the Dursleys, and with much less mess to clean up afterwards.
“That was amazing!” he enthused, jumping up and down. “How do they do that?”
“Magic,” the man smirked.
Harry looked at his father with a frown.
“Aunt Petunia says magic doesn’t exist,” he said critically.
The man snorted in derision.
“For her, it does not,” he said, something vicious burning in his black eyes. “Your aunt is not a witch.”
“And you are?” the boy scoffed, feeling offended on his aunt’s behalf.
The man’s countenance suddenly darkened with anger, and before Harry knew what was happening, he was grabbed by the arm and turned about.
“Watch your tone, boy!” he barked, smacking the child’s rear with the length of his wand, eliciting a howl of pain. “I am your father, and you will show me proper respect! Is that understood?”
Harry bobbed his head up and down frantically, clutching his searing backside with both hands and sobbing. It had only been one smack, but it hurt more than the whole spanking yesterday had, or so it felt at the moment.
“Have you got anything to say to me, Harry?” the man demanded threateningly.
“Sorry!” the boy cried desperately. “‘M sorry, father! I’ll be good, I’m sorry!”
“Better,” the man barked, not softening his harsh expression in spite of the boy’s apology. “Don’t make me remind you again as you will not like that reminder, boy.”
Harry nodded, fighting to control his sobbing and withhold his father’s scorching gaze. At last, the man heaved an exaggerated breath and released the child’s arm.
“I have work to do in the laboratory this morning,” father told him severely. “You have one minute to suggest an appropriate entertainment for yourself, before I set you an assignment of my choosing.”
The boy could feel blood draining from his face at the word ‘assignment’, it sounded an awful lot like schoolwork and that was a terrible prospect. He racked his brains for any activity, but he had no idea what would be appropriate for the man. Desperate to find anything to say, he roamed his eyes around the room.
“Outside,” he blurted out, catching sight of the blurred outline of the window. “May I go outside, father?”
Harry held his breath, while father scrutinized him with a beady stare for several long moments.
“That is acceptable, I suppose,” he finally allowed, but his voice was so strict that the boy shuddered. “You may go into the front yard, but you will not set foot beyond the gate. You are not allowed to speak to any strangers, and you will be careful. I do not want to hear of any injuries. Do you understand, Harry?”
“Yes, father,” he whispered in relief, feeling as though he had just avoided a speeding bullet.
Harry ran into the yard as soon as father opened the door for him. It was a bit chilly so early in the morning, and the wind blew strongly in his face, but the sun was strong so he didn’t care. He walked up to the gate, eager to see where he was as he hadn’t had the opportunity to look yesterday. The boy squinted in the blaze of the sun, and managed to make out a one-storey house across the narrow street. It looked old and poorly-maintained, he started walking around the perimeter of the fence and was able to pick out other buildings. Next door, on the right, there was a two-storey house very similar to his father’s. He was almost sure that he spied a pair of swings in the back garden, and he wondered if there were children living there. On the left, there was only an empty plot of land.
By the time he finished his third circuit of the property, Harry was certain he knew as much about his surroundings as it was possible to gather with his poor eyesight. This neighbourhood was much different than Privet Drive, and the boy knew what that meant, only poor folk and drunkards lived like that. Was his father poor or a drunkard? That was worrisome, uncle Vernon had always said that Harry’s father had been driving drunk, and killed himself and his wife in a car crash. His father wasn’t dead, though, so maybe he had been in prison instead, and only just came out, and that was why Harry was brought here.
Straining his eyes so much was giving him a headache, so he decided to stop his surveillance. He found a big tree in the back garden, it was a wonderful tree - gnarled and thick-limbed - ideal for climbing on, but at the moment, he only wanted to sprawl in the shade as it was getting rather hot. He sat on the grass and immediately winced as his backside gave an unpleasant twinge, but after a bit of squirming he found a reasonably comfortable position.
The boy bent forward, resting his elbows on his crossed legs and propping his chin on his hand, thinking about his earlier realisations.
If his father had come out of prison now, it was possible that he would want to keep Harry with him for good. He shook his head in dismay, staying here for two weeks would be bad enough, with how easily the man got angry with him. The boy reached a hand back to rub at the persistent sting, he didn’t want such harsh punishments on a regular basis. And if he stayed here, he would have to go to school eventually. How long would it take the man to realise that Harry was stupid, that he didn’t know how to read when even Dudley could do it?
Hot tears spilled down his cheeks as he contemplated the man’s reaction to such news, he would have to do his best to keep the truth from being discovered as long as possible, keeping his head down and memorising everything the teacher said aloud. It was going to be exhausting, he wiped the tears away angrily, that was so unfair! He just wanted to go home!
He spent several long minutes brooding about his situation, but the boy was so used to adversity that it quickly became boring. Harry needed to think creatively to survive living with his father in one piece, luckily, he had years of experience diffusing the adults’ bad mood. The boy frowned, pondering what made adults he knew happy, his aunt Petunia was best pleased with him when he did all his chores without complaining, unfortunately, father hadn’t set him any chores yet. The situation was more complicated with uncle Vernon, who never was not displeased with his nephew, but probably was happiest when he could find something to punish Harry for. He fervently hoped father wasn’t similar in that regard.
Then, there was aunt Marge, who loved criticizing him and making unfavourable comparisons with Dudley, and making suggestions about his upbringing and discipline. Harry was well-schooled to listen to it all with polite equanimity, but he was always very relieved that her suggestions were ignored. With a bitter grimace, the boy realised that aunt Marge and his father would see eye to eye on matters of discipline.
Shaking his head at that thought, Harry got to his feet and put his hands on his hips, he had been staring at that overgrown garden for a while, his irritation growing. Didn’t his father know that you had to pull the weeds out or the pretty plants would be choked to death by them? Sighing, he approached the pot of land clearly intended for growing things, and assessed it with an expert’s eye. It was a horrible mess, he could see several kinds of pretty blue flowers he hadn’t seen before, but they were so overgrown by ugly weeds that they could barely breathe! He knelt at the edge of the bed, and started pulling the sharp weeds out with his hands. His father was obviously a complete amatour in the art of gardening, and Harry was determined to help him!
Weeding was always hard work, but this time was exceptionally brutal, as these weeds seemed to be more determined to put up a fight than any he’d pulled before. He worked hard for a long time, gritting his teeth against the pain in his cut fingers. He managed to clear two long beds before he heard father calling his name from the front of the house. Jumping to his feet, Harry appraised his handiwork with satisfaction as he brushed the earth off his trousers with his palms. Wincing, he looked at his aching hands and paled, staring in horror at his bleeding fingers, father’s admonition about not getting injured ringing ominously in his mind.
Desperate to hide the evidence, the boy stuck his hands deep in his pockets, hoping that the fabric would soak up the blood. He ran back to the front of the house, and almost smacked right into the man coming in his direction. Long hands caught and steadied him before he could fall on his bum.
“Where have you been, boy?!” he demanded irritably, giving the boy a suspicious glare.
“I-,” Harry stammered, suddenly worried that doing chores without being told might not have been as good of an idea as he had thought. “I was j-just gardening, father.”
“Garden-,” the man growled, turning even paler than normal. “Where?!”
“In the-,” the boy waved a hand behind him. “The back...”
Cursing, father pushed past him and hurriedly strode in the direction he’d just come from. Harry jogged after him, blurting out an explanation in a worried voice.
“The weeds, father,” he called, suddenly short of breath. “You have to pull out the weeds, I wanted to help, father. I just-,”
The man came to an abrupt halt in front of the beds that Harry had worked so hard on, his hands rose to the sides of his head, his fists yanked at his black strands in dismayed horror.
“Ten months of careful cultivation,” he whispered harshly. “Completely ruined by an insolent brat.”
Harry hung his head, disappointed by the man’s negative reaction. How was he supposed to know that his father was cultivating ugly weeds on purpose? Most people hated weeds in their garden, his aunt certainly did!
“I’m sorry, father,” he said mournfully. “I just wanted to help.”
The boy’s soft voice brought the man out of his horrified contemplation of the destruction, he rounded on the child, his face a rictus of fury.
“Sorry?!” he hissed, and his voice was like a crack of the whip. “You destroyed half of my supply of Blood Weed, and you are sorry?!”
Harry opened his mouth, his lips were very dry, he tried to find the words to apologise further, but he couldn’t think of any appropriate ones. The man narrowed his eyes into slits at the boy’s silence, his hand shot out to clamp mercilessly around the child’s thin arm, making him cry out in pain.
“Nothing to say?!” he hissed icily. “Oh, you will be sorry, boy,” the man started to stalk towards the house, dragging the crying and stumbling child by the arm. “You will be very sorry!”
Harry panted as he ran, afraid that his arm would be wrenched out of its socket if he stumbled and fell, it burned like fire. In a blink of an eye, they were through the front door and stopping in the kitchen, and the boy sobbed in relief as the pain in his shoulder lessened.
The angry man yanked his belt free of his trousers with the hand that was not clutching the child, and deftly wrapped the strap around his fist, before plopping in the chair and bending the panicked boy over his lap.
“No!” Harry cried in utter terror, squirming to be let go. “Please! I’m sorry!”
The man held the boy down easily with one hand, while jerking his trousers and underwear down to his knees with the other, exposing bare flesh of his posterior. Harry’s hand flew back to cover his bum, but when the thick leather fell with a crack across his open palm, he instinctively pulled it back to the front, cradling it against his chest and whimpering.
Father prevented any possibility of escape by trapping his legs under his thigh, and with an angry growl brought the strap across the pale skin of the child’s backside. Harry screamed at the incredible pain, it felt as though his behind was being cut open by a flaming hatchet. The boy’s scream barely had time to reach a crescendo, when the ominous whistle of the belt sailing through the air could be heard again. With a crack and a scream, another band of fire was added next to the first, and then the third, the fourth and the next.
Harry couldn’t have said how long it lasted, but by the time the man pulled his clothes back into place, the boy was hoarse from screaming and his bottom felt as if it was a hot furnace. Father yanked him around until he was forced to face the furious man.
“You’ll learn to listen to me with both ears, brat, or, by Merlin, I’ll whip you every single day!” he shouted, and then spun the boy around and propelled him forward with a lash of the belt across his back. “Out of my sight!”
Harry fled, stumbling blindly from the room and sobbing as every movement of his body seemed to flare up the flames in his bottom. He didn’t know how he managed to find his room, but eventually he collapsed on his bed, rolling to his stomach and pressing his face into his pillow to muffle the sounds of his misery. The boy had never been in so much pain before, it seemed to radiate from the epicentrum on his buttocks until his whole body was pulsating with the throbbing ache.
Harry blinked, staring at the red mark across his palm that the belt had left on it. It burned, and he wondered how many angry red stripes had been left on his backside today. There was blood on his pillow, and he thought that the mark was bleeding, but upon closer inspection he realised that his fingers were still bleeding profusely. With a spike of dread, the boy flipped the pillow over to hide the stain, and stuck both hands underneath it. He knew he should run his hands under a stream of cold water to wash away the blood, but it hurt too much to move just now. And it was getting cold, so cold that the boy started to shiver.