Harry sighed, watching the sun as it rose over the fields and forests of the estate, casting everything in a pale gold light. He relished these quiet moments at the beginning of the day – all alone, he could pretend that he wasn’t stuck under the thumb of his foul relatives, day and night, without respite. He could pretend that he was just another boy, just watching another sunrise.
“Up early today, Harry.”
Harry didn’t turn at the voice. “So are you. You really should be in bed still. We all know tonight’s going to be a bad one.”
“Yeah, well.” Sirius Black sat down next to Harry on the stone wall. They sat in silence for a long moment, taking in the quiet serenity that both knew could not last.
It had been 15 long years since the rainstorm which had seen the end of Lily and James; 15 long years living with the Dursleys. The manor – and indeed the kingdom – had changed a lot since then. Old King Ignatius had died rather suddenly, setting into effect a chain of dramatic events that lead to the current ruling couple, King Arthur and Queen Molly. It was hard to say who was more shocked by the succession – the members of court or the royal couple themselves. It was a fair bet to say that Princess Molly, who was a cousin of Sirius’ through marriage, never expected to inherit the crown, seeing as how she was fourth in line. Due to a series of deaths and abdications, however, she was now the ruling Monarch.
Sirius had known it was going to be a tough time with the Dursleys: he just hadn’t realized how tough. He could still remember that first day like it was yesterday…
It was still raining, the day the Dursleys arrived. Sirius kind of liked that – it was as though the very heavens were crying for Lily and James. Of course, that same rain had also been the cause of their accident, precipitating a sudden landslide which had washed the carriage off the road and down the hill.
A carriage was suddenly in sight, coming round the last bend of the meandering drive. Sirius glanced uncertainly towards Remus, who looked resigned. Next to Remus was Arabella, Harry sat solemnly in her arms. It was as though he knew what to expect. Beyond those three, the rest of the house and ground staff stood ready to receive their new masters. They had yet to replace both Peter and Marlene’s positions, the thought simply too distressing at the present.
As the carriage came to a halt, one of the footmen sprang forward immediately to open the carriage door. Fixing his face in as neutral an expression as he could manage, Sirius stepped forward to offer his hand to Lady Petunia.
Petunia was a scrawny woman, with horse-like features heavily disguised through excessive make up and fashionable clothing. Her blonde hair was scraped back into an elegant bun, bejewelled pins artistically arranged. Yet, despite all her finery, her face was set in a greedy expression as she surveyed the house, before a sneer set in as she beheld the staff. Gritting his teeth, Sirius managed a “My Lady,” before dropping her arm like a hot potato.
Following her out of the carriage was a very frail, wispy woman who had ensconced in her arms the fattest baby Sirius had ever seen. This, then, must be Dudley, Harry’s cousin.
Lastly, emerging with an arrogant grin on his face, was Lily’s brother-in-law, Sir Vernon. Sirius took one look at the pretentious, puce face with its piggy little eyes and knew that he would never like the man.
But, for Harry’s sake, he had to try.
“Sir Vernon,” he greeted through gritted teeth. “May I welcome you, Lady Petunia and Master Dudley to Godric’s Hollow.”
Vernon, however, ignored him, instead surveying the house and the surrounding grounds with a calculating look. He didn’t even spare a glance at poor Harry, who was trying to smile at the squirming Dudley.
“May I present his grace, Earl Harry Potter?” Sirius prompted, inwardly seething.
All that happened was Lord and Lady Dursley turned back to glance at the boy, various expressions of distaste etched on their faces. However, one thing did interest Petunia.
“You have a nursemaid here?” she asked, eyeing Arabella much as one eyes a vegetable at the market.
Arabella curtsied uncertainly. She wasn’t used to being talked about as though she wasn’t there, but wondered perhaps if the Dursleys were a bit nervous and still saddened by the loss of their sister. So she gave Lady Petunia a tentative smile and replied, “I am Earl Harry’s nursemaid, my lady.”
“Good,” Petunia said, sniffing disdainfully at her nephew, who was staring at her unabashed. “In that case you can take Dudley here and ensure that he is properly fed and bathed before his afternoon nap.” She made a face. “Cassandra is my lady-in-waiting and I am loath to miss her company much longer.”
Receiving Petunia’s nod, Cassandra held out Dudley for Arabella to take.
Arabella, whose arms were already full with Harry, stared at her new mistress. “But, my Lady, what about his Lordship?”
Petunia stared back at Arabella in outrage. “You dare to question me, servant?” she snapped, pulling herself up to her full height, eyes going bright with fury. “I gave my orders and I expect them to be followed!”
“Yes, my Lady, but – ”
“Are you deaf, woman?” Vernon roared suddenly. “Give the brat to one of the maids to look after, what do we care?”
There was a shocked silence that rang throughout the courtyard. Sirius couldn’t believe it – he knew the Dursleys were bad, but this?
Taking a step forward to speak his mind – or rather, in this case, yell loudly and insult his new masters profusely – Sirius felt a sudden vice-like clamp on his arm.
“Don’t,” Remus hissed in his ear and Sirius belatedly felt the sting of a spell hit his back. “Think of Harry!”
“I am thinking of Harry!” Sirius hissed back only to realise no sound came forth.
Remus had silenced him.
“Hannah, please take Harry and help Arabella with Master Dudley,” Remus instructed calmly into the silence. Both ladies looked at him, worried, before curtsying to Lord and Lady Dursley, Arabella handing Harry to Hannah, one of the chambermaids, and taking a squirming Dudley from Cassandra. As they left, Remus continued, “Now, my Lord and Lady, you must be tired from your journey. May I interest you in some light refreshments...?”
Remus’s polite conservation drifted away as he led the still glowering Dursleys through the house to the drawing room.
Sirius watched him go with a deadened heart. He hadn’t thought that the Dursleys could be better than what he’d imagined from what little Lily had said and he’d been right. They were worse.
How was he going to get through the next day, let alone the next seventeen years with them as his master?
‘Oh, James, Lily, I miss you. And Harry has never needed you more.’
Sirius sighed. Things hadn’t improved much since then – in fact, they had gotten worse.
Their casual dismissal of their nephew hadn’t ended with that first meeting. Lady Petunia continually fussed over her own spoilt son, stopping Arabella from paying any attention to Harry at all.
Harry instead found himself entrusted to the scullery and chamber maids who struggled to keep an eye on him in between their work. Sirius and Remus often came in from their duties to find the small noble crying because he was hungry or needed changing.
Whenever this happened, Remus often had to physically or magically restrain his friend from cursing the Dursleys. ‘After all,’ he had said, ‘if they fire us then there will be no one to care for him at all.’
So they did the best they could, bribing and begging the maids to take a few minutes off each day to check on their small master. They were quite willing at first, both because they had all been fond of James and Lily and because they felt sorry for the young Earl. But then Lady Petunia had found out and, after a round of lashings, the maids were too scared to take them up again.
Out of frustration Remus and Sirius even tried to petition the King and the Royal Council – they were, after all, the ones that were apparently so concerned about the young Earl’s welfare – but they had simply written a snooty letter in reply.
One of the worst days in Sirius’ life had been the day when Remus had to inform the Dursleys of his lycanthropy. Sirius had tried to talk him out of it, trying to persuade him that he could keep it secret, but in the end had to agree that it simply wasn’t safe. When James and Peter had been alive, the three of them had transformed into their animagus forms for the evening and kept the beast sane in a specially enchanted basement.
But, with both of them gone, Sirius was unsure of his ability to keep the werewolf-Remus contained and that could have fatal consequences for all members of the household. Not that he particularly cared about the Dursleys, but he knew that Remus would be hunted down and killed by the King’s Forces.
The resulting row had gone on for three and a half hours.
At first the Dursleys had screamed (Lady Petunia) and called for Remus to be destroyed (Lord Vernon). Remus, pale faced and shaking, had mainly remained silent, letting Sirius (for once) do most of the yelling.
With a surprising amount of tact (or extreme pig-headed stubbornness) Sirius had managed to talk the Dursleys down from execution, to deportation, to prison, to dismissal and then, finally, to their current solution.
Sirius shuddered. ‘A basement of silver... a room of pure poison,’ he thought, suddenly feeling chilly, despite the warmth of the sun on his face. ‘Poor Remus...’
Rather than try and contain the wild beast, Sirius’ monthly job was now simply to try and keep his best friend alive. The silver basement had been Petunia’s idea, something that surprised Sirius before he got to know his masters better. Vernon was brutish and violent, but at least he was upfront about it: Petunia was spiteful and calculating and held enough knowledge of the magical world from Lily to know how to punish them.
“We’ll line the basement with silver,” she had said, suddenly, causing Sirius to stare at her in horror and Remus turn even paler.
“You – you can’t!” Sirius had stuttered, horrified. “Silver’s poisonous – you’d kill him!”
“Not necessarily,” Petunia had snapped back. “Werewolves are more resilient when it comes to poisons. And if he dies... well, what loss is it?” she finished, shrugging unconcernedly.
“How dare – ”
“We accept,” Remus had said, hand clamped firmly around Sirius’ mouth. Sirius could feel him trembling and his hands were sweating in fear, but none of that showed in his best friend’s voice.
“That’s a death sentence, Remus,” he had snapped, after Remus had dragged him out of the drawing room and released him. “All that silver... they would have been kinder to take you out into the yard and chop off your head, because this?! This is nothing short of torture!”
“I know, Sirius,” Remus had said quietly. He sounded exhausted, as though he had already gone through a full moon. “But Petunia’s right – werewolves are more resilient.” He quirked a small smile. “That’s why we’re so hard to kill.”
“Resilient, maybe, but all that silver – you’ll be ill for weeks and won’t really recover before the next full moon...” he trailed off, desperate. “They’ll be killing you, Moony. Slowly, but surely, torturous murder.”
“But I can’t leave Harry with just you!” Remus snapped back at him, suddenly fiery. And,” he added, with a choked off hysterical laugh, “who on Earth will give me a job otherwise?”
And to that, Sirius had no reply.
‘And not only do the Dursleys get away with nothing less than torture,’ Sirius thought angrily, absently glaring into the sunset, ‘they actually make him pay for the privilege!’
“Silver is expensive,” Petunia had said prissily. “If you expect to stay in our employ we need to take precautions – and it is not our fault that such precautions are costly. So we shall be taking the money out of your wages.”
“Don’t worry, Sirius.” Harry’s voice made him jump. In his dark thoughts he’d forgotten that his Godson was standing next to him. “When I’m 17 I’ll make sure the Dursleys are sent to Azkaban for the rest of their lives.”
“I don’t think you can send muggles to Azkaban,” Sirius pointed out, but grinned at the thought. He’d love to see that. “And how do you know what I’m thinking?”
Harry pulled a sad face. “Because you always think about the same thing the day before the full moon,” he told his Godfather sadly. “And as to Azkaban... well,” he said, face hardening, “I’m sure the King and Queen will make an exception when I explain to them.”
In the distance a cock crowed and Sirius sighed. “I’d better go get settled in with Remus,” he told Harry, pulling him into a one armed hug. “You be good today, pup.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “I’m 16, Sirius – don’t you think that nickname is getting a little old now?”
Sirius grinned. “Never!” he proclaimed, squeezing Harry. “In fact, I think that shall be your Marauder name when you get your form.”
“You know I’ll probably be a cat, now,” Harry teased the older man as they began walking back to the manor. “What will you do then?”
“I’m sure we can find a suitably embarrassing name. How about Kitty?”
“Shut up, you git.”
Sirius laughed, a harsh bark of a laugh that was suddenly cut off as he and Harry crossed the threshold into the manor. It made Sirius sad what the house had come to symbolise for them all. When James and Lily were alive it had been a house where laughter was common place, not shunned; it had been a place of friends and equals, even amongst the servants.
Now it was a place of torment, horror and hardship.
Sirius sadly watched his Godson disappear into the kitchen to start the day’s chores, as always feeling a surge of guilt at the life Harry led. He was sure James and Lily would be rolling in their graves had they known and, not for the first time and certainly not the last, Sirius wished he could go back in time and change history, damn the consequences.
Surely anything was better than this: the life of a slave.
As Sirius departed for
what the house had come to call the ‘Wolf Room’, Harry headed down into the
kitchen to start his chores.
The Dursleys had ‘decided’, when Harry was only five, that in order to best understand how to keep an estate he should learn from a practical point of view: in other words, be a servant.
At first the chores had been simple, but as the Dursleys spent more and more money – and consequently fired more and more servants – Harry now never stopped working from dawn until midnight. The jobs that had once been spread around 50 or so servants were now shared by just 5, excluding the personal servants employed by Vernon and Petunia (Sirius had managed to last a surprising two years as butler to Lord Vernon without strangling him before Vernon had hired a simpering snob called John Mason).
And, on the day of a full moon, this number dropped to just three.
Harry walked into the kitchen and grinned as he saw his best friend, Hermione Granger, sleeping in front of the fire, an old book clenched in her hand. Hermione was fated to be perpetually in search of knowledge – Harry had never known anyone to devour books as though they were food before he had met her.
Quite often he had to wake his fellow teenager in the morning when she fell asleep by the fire, reading, just like today. He grinned as he noted the book in her lap – it was one he had gotten her for her birthday last year.
Hermione had lived with the Dursleys for four years now. She was a muggleborn witch, like Harry’s mother had been but, unlike the late Lily Evans, she was not so lucky. Magic was a bonus if you were in the aristocracy or from a wealthy merchant family.
If you were an impoverished commoner it was a nightmare.
Magical education cost a lot of money. There were no schools so any magic had to be taught privately. This cost money – money the Granger family didn’t have. Her parents were servants in one of the old noble houses – the Malfoy family – who were nearly as stingy with their money as the Dursleys.
When Hermione had started showing magical symptoms at age 11, her parents panicked. The Malfoy family, a particularly snobby magical branch of the nobility, did not tolerate magic in their servants. They believed that magic should be something limited to the aristocracy and no one else. If they found out Hermione was a witch then they would most likely have dismissed the entire family and where would that leave them? They couldn’t afford a tutor to teach Hermione control and without control having a witch around could be a dangerous situation. They would find it next to impossible to find another employment.
So, with many tears, the day after Hermione’s twelfth birthday they had given her a bag, some savings and sent her on her way to find a job.
Hermione didn’t often say too much about her parents. Harry knew that she understood why they had to cut their ties with her, but it still hurt her deep down, so he tried to avoid asking her about it.
How Hermione had come to be with the Dursleys actually started with the final member of their household: Sirius’ second cousin, Nymphadora Tonks. Her mother Andromeda, like Sirius, had been disgraced and disinherited from the family, this time because she married a commoner and had so been forced to find work in the nearby capital. Luckily Andromeda had been well tutored in magical studies so was able to set up a small potion brewing business, whilst her husband, Ted Tonks, gathered the ingredients for her.
When Nymphadora had been born, it was immediately apparent that she had inherited not only her mothers’ magical talents but quite a bit more – she was but three hours old before her hair had changed from the downy black of birth to a bright blue.
“I don’t know what we shall do with her,” Andromeda had written wearily to Sirius one day, shortly after the girl had turned eleven. “She changes her look so often now – and I know it is out of boredom – but it scares people and we are losing more and more money. One woman even called her devil child last week! She needs to be taught so much more than I have time for – her control over her magic is minimal as it is! But with Ted spending so much time away, collecting ingredients... I don’t know what to do!”
But she had tried her best, teaching Tonks (as, by the age of thirteen, she had insisted everyone call her (although Andromeda compromised by calling her Dora)) scraps of information in between stirring cauldrons and chopping up ingredients and selling potions to the customers the trickled in.
And so they struggled along until, one day, eight years ago on her sixteenth birthday, Tonks had decided that enough was enough: she loved her parents dearly, but even though she had better control over her metamorphmagi abilities now, the shop had never fully recovered from those earlier years. She couldn’t hamper her parents any longer: it was time for her to find something for herself. So, hair her favourite pink colour, she packed a bag, said her goodbyes to her parents and set off.
Unfortunately, determined though she was to earn her own keep, she hadn’t quite thought exactly how or where she was going to do this. Not many people were willing to take on an estranged member of the aristocracy, with few connections, even less money, a magic wand and pink hair to boot.
In fact, she was so utterly rejected for the first week (even after toning her hair down to a respectable mousy brown) that she almost gave up.
That was when she remembered her mother’s cousin, Sirius Black.
She had never met her cousin. Aside from the nobility, no one could afford time off work for travelling. But everything her mother had said – and the few rather sneaky looks at letters he sent them every now and then – had led her to believe that she would get on really well with him.
Not, of course, to mention that he worked in a big estate that would surely not turn away an extra helping hand if it came calling?
So, with renewed vigour, she made her way across the city and fields to Godric's Hollow with her plans made. She would stay and work with Sirius until she found something else that took her fancy.
And she had been at Godric’s Hollow ever since. Although repulsed by the awful Dursleys, she found good friends in Sirius and Remus, and, after only two days, felt a sense of determination to help poor eight-year-old Harry Potter against his abysmal relatives.
The Durselys, whilst none too thrilled about having yet another magical employee, did not dismiss her (although Petunia was constantly snapping at her to do something about her once-again-pink hair) and chose instead to send her out on long distance business trips around the country.
It was on one of these trips that she had come across a homeless, desperate Hermione and recognised the signs of uncontrolled magic as she fended off two attackers. Gaining the young girls trust enough to get her to come back with Tonks to Godric’s Hollow took the better part of a week and earned her a lashing from the Dursleys for tardiness, but she didn’t mind. Watching the younger girl hungrily read any book that was pushed her way and excel in performing spells was all worth it. Not to mention that Harry finally had someone his own age to talk to.
Shaking his head to rouse himself from the memories, Harry called softly, “Hermione, wake up.”
Hermione groaned and shifted a little so that the book fell out of her lap. “What?”
“It’s morning – come on, it’s a full moon day today,” Harry said, crouching down. “We’d better get to it.”
“Wh – oh, Harry,” Hermione yawned, before smiling at him. “I fell asleep in front of the fire reading.”
“Really? I never would have guessed,” Harry teased, taking her outstretched hand and pulling her to her feet.
“They already in there?” Hermione asked, as she shot a spell at the table. Ingredients and cutlery all immediately sprang to life, preparing the mornings bread.
“Yeah,” Harry said, quietly. He hated this time of the month. Sirius, Remus, Hermione and Tonks – they were his only family – and once a month he was faced with the gut clenching worry that he was going to lose one of them forever.
Hermione gave him a one armed hug, before stretching out. “I’ll go collect the eggs. Will you feed the pigs?”
Hermione looked at him. “It won’t always be like this, Harry,” she said, quietly. “One day, soon, everything will get better.”
How wrong she was.