Up the Garden Path
Harry has to climb a tree to avoid Dudley and his gang. He is good at climbing trees, having had a lot of practice since it is one of the most effective methods of escaping Dudley and his friends. They might be considered bullies, but they are fools. They never look up. As long as Harry stays still, he can remain safe. So, Harry settles in for a long wait.
Dudley and his friends stay in the park for a little longer. It is quite crowded at the moment, but It is expected, as it is Saturday: the park is full of mums and dads with their children. Harry only comes here just to avoid being at home with the Dursleys. Almost anywhere is better without the Dursleys. Harry is only eight, but he knows that he is not like others. He has no parents. They died in a car crash. Only Harry survived, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had been kind enough to take him in. They had been kind enough to feed him some leftovers on the rare occasion Dudley does not eat everything. They had been kind enough to clothe him when Dudley outgrows his clothes. This happens regularly, as Dudley is almost as big as Uncle Vernon, so Harry is often left with Dudley’s cast offs.
As the Dursleys buy Dudley expensive branded clothes, and he does not wear them for long, they should be in good condition by the time they get to Harry. If only that were true. Dudley wears them out so much that Harry is left with little more than rags. Rags that he has to thank the Dursleys for providing.
Even his shoes are battered, as Dudley’s bulk wears out the soles within weeks. Harry feels he might as well walk barefoot. And they are so big on Harry’s smaller feet that he has to wear several pairs of socks.
«Mamma? Mamma? »
Harry looks at the other children with a tiny, sad smile. He knows it is hopeless wishing he did not live with the Dursleys, but that doesn’t stop him from longing that, one day, someone will come and take him away. Harry is not loved the way Dudley is loved. Harry knows he is barely tolerated.
Harry absently plays with the hole in Dudley’s ragged plaid shirt he is forced to wear. The button had broken off in a scuffle with Dudley and Piers Polkiss, and Harry has not had a chance to mend it.
Dudley was supposed to leave soon. The Dursleys had planned a trip to the seaside with Dudley. The forecast was sunny for the afternoon, but it would rain towards the evening, so they wanted to leave soon and come back before it started to rain. Harry wasn’t invited to go with them. He is never invited to go with them. He has to go to Mrs Figg’s house – the Dursleys often leave Harry with Mrs. Figg. She is a rather odd old lady who lives with her several cats. Harry does not mind going there. Mrs. Figg is always kind and lets Harry watch TV on her old box sometimes, when she is not forcing him to look through her photo album of all the cats she has ever owned. She also lets Harry eat biscuits or makes him a sandwich – the biscuits are sometimes stale, but Harry does not mind: it is more than he gets to eat at the Dursleys, so he is grateful for the food and always thanks Mrs. Figg.
«Mamma? Mamma? »
Harry winces as he leans back against the tree. His shoulders hurt where Uncle Vernon has whipped him with a belt. Uncle Vernon often punishes Harry. Though he knows the punishments are unfair, arguing against them will only lead to more punishment. He has learned this lesson quickly.
«Mamma? Mamma? »
Harry cocks his head as he sees a little girl wandering near the slide. The playground is bordered by two gates at opposite ends of each other: the tree Harry has climbed branches off over an empty section where there are no benches, but if he wants to jump back into the penned playground, he just needs to slide down the trunk a little and jump onto the Merry-Go-Round.
She has been calling out for her mum for several minutes. Harry lifts his glasses as he looks down at her. They ‘ve been falling off ever since Dudley broke them. Harry uses cello tape to repair them.
She is a very tiny girl with long, dark hair. Her skin is extremely pale, made even paler by the black dress she is wearing. Harry expects her to be crying, but she just looks around as if this is a game she is tired of playing. Harry has been hiding in the park often enough to see other children weeping at their parents if they don’t respond immediately. Harry finds it curious that the girl is not like them.
Harry shifts his gaze over the play area once more. Not because he is looking for the girl’s mother, but to see if Dudley and his gang have left. There! He spots them exiting the park at the gates leading closer to Magnolia Crescent and, from there, it is only one road to Privet Drive.
Still, Harry follows them with his eyes, making sure that they leave completely before he feels safe coming down from the tree. He should go as well and head towards Mrs Figg’s house, but he wants to make sure the girl finds her mum before he leaves.
He drops onto the next lower branch and the next, and then down the trunk and then swings down another branch, hanging above the Merry-Go-Round. He sways for a couple of seconds and then lets go of the branch, landing neatly on the Merry-Go-Round, which spins a little due to Harry’s weight.
Pushing up his glasses once more, he walks over to the ladder used to climb up the slide where the little girl standing.
« Want some help finding your mum?» Harry asks.
The girl looks up at him as she spins around. Her eyes are dark, almost black, and she stares at him innocently.
«Mamma said to wait here,» the girl tells him.
“Do you want me to wait with you?» Harry says.
The girl looks around. The park is emptying out slowly, only a few children and their parents are left.
«I’m Harry,» he says, holding out a hand for her to take.
He wonders for a second if she will talk to him. The Dursleys tell everyone that he is a hooligan and a liar. Most parents take their children and walk away when they see Harry, because they do not want children playing with a troublemaker.
Harry feels relieved when she reaches out to hold his hand.
«Holly,» she says shyly. «Harry wait wiff Holly?»
Holly gives Harry a smile, showing her small teeth.
No one has ever smiled at Harry the way Holly is smiling now. He smiles back at the little girl: he likes the way she trusts him to look after her. The Dursleys have never trusted Harry like this, ever – they do not even trust him not to burn the bacon.
Harry and Holly play in the park together as they wait for her mum. Holly is very energetic and runs everywhere, but she always stops and waits for Harry to catch up. They play on the monkey bars, but Harry is scared Holly will fall and that he won’t be able to catch her. He does not want to get into trouble with Holly’s mum for her getting hurt – he does not want Holly to get hurt.
Holly is fearless, though, and climbs everything. She has fallen twice and Harry was able to catch her even if his back hurts when he has to stretch and once, after catching her, he stumbles and falls on his back, wincing at the contact.
Holly keeps saying sorry and Harry tells her he is fine, which is because Holly is only two and he does not want to scare her.
Laughing a little to show he isn’t hurt, he gets up and pulls back to his feet and tells her he will let her run to the top of the slide.
He lets her run first and patiently waits for her to climb each rung to the top. The ladder is only six rungs high, but the gap are big enough for her to fall through, so Harry makes sure she is safe. He is not sure where she gets her bravery from, as she fearlessly reaches the next rung.
«I won,» she shouts as she gets to the top and Harry is now on his last rung. She throws her arms up in victory and Harry laughs as he concedes defeat.
It is as her sleeves ride down her arm that Harry sees it. A bruise. He gently grabs her arm, worried she is hurt from her previous fall.
«Does it hurt?» Harry asks as he inspects it, carefully pushing the sleeve up further.
Holly shakes her head and looks at him curiously. He pulls himself down from the highest rung and kneels in the platform. The ridges on the platform dig painfully into his knees, but Harry does not pay any attention to that.
Harry freezes as he examines the bruise closely. He turns her arm over and places his hand over the bruise: it is bigger than his hand and he can clearly see finger marks, as if someone had grabbed Holly hard and dragged her away. Much like how Uncle Vernon does with Harry.
He’s only met Holly maybe twenty minutes ago, but he is already feeling protective of her. She is still a child, really. Who would hurt a child?
«Who did this?” Harry asks. He wonders if she will answer. And if she does, what her answer will be. Harry usually tells anyone who sees the bruises that he fell or that he is clumsy. Telling the truth would only mean more punishment.
Holly tugs her arm from Harry’s hand. He is afraid that she will leave, that she will not allow him to help her anymore. Instead, she throws her arms around his neck and hugs him.
Harry has a funny strange feeling in his chest. No one had ever hugged him before.
«Mamma did it,» she whispers. Then, she pulls away.
Harry wishes he could help Holly, but how, since he cannot even help himself? He realises then that he hates Holly’s mum. He hates her for harming someone innocent as Holly who does not deserve to be hurt.
Harry does not have a watch, but he knows that time is getting later and later, as he and Holly continue to play. Other parents are leaving with their children and soon it is only Harry and Holly are left in the playground.
Harry knows the Dursleys have already left and he should too. Mrs. Figg will be waiting for him.
Harry asks Holly if she knows her way home. He could walk her there and then go back to Mrs. Figg. Holly does not know though, and Harry wonders what he should do, maybe track down someone from the police or make a call from the phone box at the end of the road outside the park.
Something prevents Harry from doing that. Maybe he could take Holly with him to Mrs. Figg and she could help in some way. He decides to stay a little longer with Holly; maybe her mum will be back soon.
Feeling a bit tired, hungry and thirsty, Harry and Holly sit on the swings for a while. Holly does not complain that she is hungry or thirsty, but Harry can tell, though, as she licks her lips. The Dursleys never give Harry any pocket money like they do with Dudley, so Harry cannot get a drink from the local newsagent for himself or Holly.
When it is getting late, Harry decides that he should take Holly to Mrs. Figg and get help: she will also give them food and something to drink.
«Okay,» Holly says, when Harry informs her of his plan.
She takes his hand without hesitation and looks at him trustingly, with her small dark eyes. They leave the playground and walk towards the gate. Harry still looks around as they walk, hoping to see a distraught woman looking for her daughter.
Harry and Holly are near the corner with the phone booth when they hear a panicked call.
Harry turns to see a woman in a long green skirt that reaches her ankles and a shirt running behind them. She is on the other side of the park fence, but she is not looking in Harry and Holly’s direction.
«Oma!» Holly calls back with a great big smile.
Harry is happy to see Holly smiling, although he is confused as to who ‘Oma’ is. Harry thinks back and could swear she calls her mum ‘mamma’ instead.
At Holly’s voice, the woman turns around and sees Harry and Holly.
«Come on, Harry,» Holly says as she pulls him with her.
Harry, Holly and the woman run parallel in the park, but on opposite sides of the fence: when they reach it’s end, Harry and Holly stop and wait for ‘Oma’ to exit the gate.
The woman immediately drops to her knees, her handbag falling to the ground, and takes Holly in a tight hug which the other girl returns. Harry is forced to let go of Holly’s hand.
«Are you okay, Holly?» the woman asks, pulling back and checking Holly over.
Holly nods and points to Harry.
«Harry stay wiff me,» Holly tells the woman.
She looks at Harry with a questioning look. Harry is afraid the elder woman will think he is a troublemaker like everyone seems to.
Harry believes he has seen the woman before, but thinks she is new to the area. She is a tall and skinny woman, bony like Aunt Petunia, who is as thin as Uncle Vernon is fat. The woman has a long face with heavy eyebrows and her hair and her eyes are dark like Holly’s.
The woman is staring at Harry, studying him, which makes him a little uncomfortable.
«I didn’t want to leave Holly alone,» Harry mumbles. «I was going to take her with me to Mrs Figg. She lives on Wisteria Walk.»
The woman still stares at Harry, looking into his eyes.
She holds out her and and beckons Harry closer who cautiously steps forward. She cups his cheek gently: like Holly’s hug, this is the first time someone had touched Harry like this. He has another strange feeling in his chest.
«You have beautiful eyes,» the woman says, still not letting go of Harry.
Harry thinks this is a weird thing to say, but he has always received compliments on the colour of his eyes.
«Like my mum’s,» Harry tells her, feeling shy himself.
He knows this because it is one of the few things Aunt Petunia has told him about his parents; she does not always like to look Harry in the eyes, especially not like this woman was doing.
«What’s your name, child?»
«Harry,» he says reluctantly, «Harry Potter.»
Harry does not understand why she brushes his hair back to expose his forehead, where he has received the scar in the car accident that took his parents away.
«Harry Potter,» she repeats faintly. «Thank you for looking after Holly, Harry.»
Then, seemingly coming out of a trance, she lets go of Harry and stands up, holding Holly’s hand like he’d done before.
«I’m Iris, Holly’s grandmother. Come, child. I’ll walk you home. Where do you live?»
She brushes down her skirt slightly then looks at Harry expectantly.
«4 Privet Drive,» Harry tells her. Then, before she can leave, he continues, «But I’m supposed to go to Mrs Figg’s house. The Dursleys have gone to the seaside with my cousin so I’m to stay with Mrs Figg until they come back.»
«My Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon,» Harry explains.
The woman’s nose wrinkles slightly, just the same way Aunt Petunia’s does when she hears something that disgusts her. Harry wonders why Holly’s grandmother has this reaction. All the other neighbours like Aunt Petunia, even though she is nosy: she likes to pretend to be helpful, but what she really wants to know is everyone else’s business. Everybody believes Aunt Petunia when she tells them Harry is good-for-nothing and a menace.
«Then I’ll walk you to Mrs Figg’s house.»
Feeling flustered, Harry blushes and says: «It’s okay, it’s not far.»
«Nonsense, child. Holly and I live on the next street over. It’s on our way,» the woman says brusquely.
Harry nods uncertainly and leads the way.
When they come to a newsagent, Holly stops and says: «Oma, I’m firsty.»
Iris smiles at Holly and asks her and Harry to wait outside whilst she darts inside. Holly sticks close to Harry, hugging his legs as she smiles up at him.
«Harry play wiff me in park again?»
Harry cannot resist the smile Holly gives him and agrees.
«Harry push me on swings,» Holly demands.
«Yeah,» Harry replies smiling.
Iris is back within minutes, holding two pouches of orange flavoured Capri-Suns. Handing one to Harry, she rips off the straw from the back and pierces the hole, holding it carefully as Holly drinks it thirstily.
. Harry thinks the other drink is for Iris, only giving it to him to hold until she could finish helping Holly drink hers.
«This one’s for you, boy,» Iris says to him, raising her eyebrows at him.
Harry is about to protest: no one has ever bought anything for him. However, he is thirsty and gratefully accepts, drinking it quite quickly as they walk towards Mrs Figg’s.
Holly wants to hold Harry and Iris’ hand as they walk to Wisteria Walk: Iris holds Holly’s partially drunk Capri-Sun as she listens to her babble about playing with Harry in the park.
Iris insists on walking Harry all the way to Mrs Figg’s door.
Knocking politely on the door, Harry waits for it to open.
Mrs Figg throws it wide open and her cats run out, wrapping themselves around Harry and Holly’s legs, who giggles in amusement and leans over to pet Mr. Tibbles.
«Oh, Harry, I was so worried about you. I thought that, because you didn’t come earlier, the Dursleys had changed their mind and taken you with them,» Mrs Figg exclaims.
Harry is about to explain, but Iris intervenes and says: « It’s my fault, I’m afraid.»
Harry is ushered into the kitchen. Mrs Figg tells him she has made him a sandwich. He says goodbye to Holly and Iris and heads to the kitchen to find a ham and cheese sandwich with a glass of orange juice waiting for him.
Harry hears Mrs Figg and Iris talking for a few minutes before the door closes shut.
«Oh, Harry. Aren’t you a kind boy? Waiting with that little girl. To think, abandoned in the park by her own mother,» Mrs Figg harrumphs.
Harry is pleased by the praise. He does not often get praised, not even by Mrs Figg.
Even though Holly is only two, he hopes to see her again.
Severus finishes buttoning up his collar and tucks his shirt back into his trousers, reaching for his coat frock and meticulously buttoning up each and every button.
Severus is not the kind of person to throw his clothes everywhere in a fit of passion. Not with Jasmine, at least.
She is still sleeping right now, facing away from Severus and lying on her front under the covers, with only the top of her head is visible. Her hair is more orange than red. Even if it is her natural colour, he thinks it’s atrocious.
Her eyes are green, though they are not of the same emerald green he searches for. No one can match the spirit and looks of Lily Evans. Severus pretends that he is not looking for another Lily Evans. For him, there will always be only one Lily.
Jasmine is an amusing companion. Severus has been seeing her since Easter, catching occasional weekends with her when he is off duty and spending time with her when he is free during summer holidays since school ended.
He has only four weeks left until the start of term, on 1st September, and two weeks before he has to return to Hogwarts to work on his lesson plans, complete and replenish his inventory and assist Poppy Pomfrey brew more potions for the Hospital Wing, ready for the new term.
Severus has already provided the required reading list: he does that before the end of term so that he does not get irate owls from Minerva McGonagall in the middle of his summer. Severus likes to have summer to himself without any thoughts to dunces who cannot tell one end of a cauldron from the other. How they get up and dress themselves every morning is beyond him.
He freezes as he hears a rustle under the covers as he finishes doing the last button on his cuffs. He suppresses a groan. There goes his plan to sneak out without waking Jasmine. It is not because he cares about disturbing her sleep, despite the eventful night they shared, but mostly because he is annoyed with Jasmine. Their initial attraction has waned and, after their date last night, he only stayed because she offered herself to him. Severus has needs too, but going forward he has no longer needs Jasmine.
«Were you trying to sneak away?” Her voice comes out hoarse from sleep.
She is still naked under the covers, which fall down as she turns around, exposing her bare breasts to him. She is so comfortable with her body that she doesn’t feel the urge to cover herself up again. She stretches in what she must imagine is a suggestive manner, but Severus doesn’t feel the need to go back to her.
Yes, their attraction has definitely fizzled out: he is no longer interested in seeing her again.
«I have other places to be,» Severus says, reaching for his cloak.
She looks up at him with a smile on her face. Jasmine is not unattractive. She is just… not for him. When they had first met, several months ago, she was on the arms of her colleague at some Ministry gathering or other. Lucius often drags him to this meeting in an effort to cultivate networks. Severus has to admit they do come in handy when it comes to certain hard-to-find Potion ingredients.
Jasmine had approached Severus at the bar where he was to avoid the mass of humanity: couldn’t take much more of other people before he had to retreat. It had not taken long for Severus to seduce Jasmine away from her bland colleague: so insipid, in fact, that Severus couldn’t even recall his name. Albeit She had wit, charm and intelligence, she was a Muggleborn, and a career was harder for her to achieve without the right connections: thus she is often found at various Ministry parties. She has ambitions, Severus is aware, but what they are exactly he is not sure of. Not that he cares. Jasmine will not be his concern anymore.
«There’s a gala in Cardiff next week. Tell me you’ll join me,» she says, sitting up, still not covering herself up.
He does not make the mistake of asking what the gala is for, even though it is probably some charity or other, to avoid making her think he might be interested, when he is clearly not.
«I‘m not into Ministry galas,» Severus informs her.
He is ready to leave and turns to face to go through the onerous task of breaking up with her. Even if he was still attracted to her, she is becoming too clingy and demanding for his liking, and Severus has too much going on to handle her drama.
She gets up from the bed and sashays over to him in all her glory, but Severus does not look below her face. Itch scratched: he is ready to leave her behind. Her body no longer has any influence over him.
She pouts as when he turns away from her as she attempts to kiss him.
«I have news for you,» she says, reaching out to cover herself with her nightgown when she realises he cannot be persuaded to stay.
It takes forty minutes to for Severus to leave, during which time they exchange cross words as she tries to convince him to stay together. He apparates from inside her flat, leaving her enraged and upset at their breakup. They are better off without each other. Jasmine can find herself a new mark to help her realise her ambitions, whatever they may be, perhaps at the Ministry gala in Cardiff.
Severus appears outside the gates of Malfoy Manor, furious at his last encounter with Jasmine, livid at her ploy to trap him into a marriage. Does she really thinks that telling him she is pregnant with his child will make him reconsider a relationship with her?
The wards recognise him and allow his access. He walks back to his self-contained apartment in the west wing of the Manor, avoiding the main entrance. Severus never brings his partners back here, valuing his privacy too much. Instead, he either follows them back to their homes or makes do with a hotel room.
Over the next few weeks, he is inundated with owls from Jasmine. Tearful missives begging to get back together. She only mentions the baby twice in her twenty letters, but Severus just burns the whole lot and asks Lucius to alter the wards so her letters cannot get through anymore.
Severus does not tell Lucius about Jasmine’s pregnancy tactic to ensnare him: he will only laugh at him, and Severus is no mood to listen to his jokes about that. His own parents were caught in that trap and his childhood was hell because of it. Severus is certain that Jasmine is lying because he is meticulous about contraception…
Jasmine is holding back tears as she leaves Spinner’s End. Severus has been ignoring her since they broke up and she has no idea where he is now, because he has never allowed her to see the actual location of his home. She remembers him mentioning Cokeworth where he grew up, it was a slip he made that one time when he came to her in the middle of the night slightly drunk and upset about something. She remembers him mentioning something about lilies in his drunken fumbling.
Jasmine liked Severus, grew to love him even, though he always held back. Jasmine thought there will still be time for Severus to love her back: he was worth waiting for. She had not meant of getting pregnant. Her potion had run out and she did not have time to purchase her next dose. Severus, who was usually so careful with Contraceptive Charms, applying them even if she is taking the Potion which lasts three months, always used his own protection. Until that one, fatal time.
Jasmine knew Severus has a broken heart and was in love with another witch, though she did not know who. He is a few years older than her and in Hogwarts they were in different houses with the consequence that she did not know him at all. He only came to notice her a year before they met, this past Easter, at a Ministry party in Liverpool.
He is was often seen with the Malfoys. He mastered Potions at nineteen and is the youngest professor at Hogwarts, distinguishing himself by his formidable intellect and acerbic wit. There is a heart underneath all the bluster. Jasmine wanted to be a part of his life with all of her heart. She did not get pregnant on purpose, but she thought it was the only possible way for Severus to remain with her.
However, Severus does not believe her. Her owls return to her unanswered and his wretched father refused to pass on her message.
She is all alone.
Jasmine can’t keep her job at the Ministry of Magic. The stress of her all makes her seriously ill and she is forced to take several days off. Her boss, upon finding out she is pregnant, fires her with some imaginary excuse. In her dismissal, she is cited for her poor attendance.
Being a Muggleborn in the Ministry is a difficult position, but being a pregnant, unwed Muggleborn is even worse. She has no rights.
No one is willing to help her, she has no friends to rely on and no connections to speak of.
She has tried to owl the school when her letters, sent directly to Severus who will have already returned to school by now to sort out next year’s syllabus, come back unopened, and though her letters are not coming back with the owl, she is not receiving any replies either.
Her savings run out very quickly and, unable to pay the rent, she is forced to vacate her flat.
Iris takes her in when no one else does.
Jasmine knows she would be grateful for any help. At this point, Jasmine has left the Magical World altogether, snapping her wand in a fit of pique. She has no money to replace and she does not want to anyway.
In fact, she has no interest in anything. Even her own baby. It is Iris that takes care of Jasmine, forces her to eat and bathe. Despite her swollen belly, she is becoming gaunt. Pregnancy has been hard on her: with no money to pay for healers at St Mungo’s, she is forced to rely on the NHS in the muggle world.
«I really loved him,» Jasmine pronounces flatly.
A few days ago she has given birth to her underweight daughter. The nurses allow her to hold the baby for a while before taking her away. She has difficulty breathing with her tiny lungs.
«I know,» Iris sighs.
Jasmine does not even look at her daughter. She is too tired and, frankly, doesn’t care. The baby has ruined her life.
The nurse returns several hours later for feeding time. Iris is still there. She has not left. The baby is fussy, and Jasmine does not have the patience, or desire, to breastfeed. She wants nothing to do with the baby.
«What are you going to name the little tot?» The cheery nurse asks.
Jasmine turns her face away.
Iris gets up from her plastic chair and comes to take the baby from the cot. She gives a small squawk, but is otherwise silent.
«Her name is Holly,» Iris announces into the silence when Jasmine does not answer.
Severus likes flowers, Jasmine thinks. He said so, once, though only for Potions. He never brought her any during their brief relationship, if it could even be called that.
She cannot call her ‘the baby’ forever, so Jasmine does not argue about the name. Jasmine She is only glad Iris didn’t choose Lily. Severus especially loves lilies.
Harry thinks the relationship between Holly, her mother and grandmother is odd, though he will never say it out loud.
Holly does not live with Iris full time, but given the amount of times her mother dumps her there, she might as well.
Harry is shocked when Iris explains, on a day he comes to visit Holly but she is not there, that Jasmine, her mother, has full custody of her daughter. Although it is obvious that she does not care about Holly, she refuses to let Iris take her in full time.
Harry is no stranger to being unwanted, since it is a routine phrase in the Dursley household. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon rarely let an opportunity pass where they do not tell him. He finds it sad that Holly is unwanted by her own mother as he would give anything to have his own mother, but after seeing Jasmine, he realises that not all mothers are actually nice. He wonders if he is better off without a mother. Otherwise, he could have grown up like Dudley: foolish, fat and a bully.
Harry would not mind a mother like Iris, who is always there for Holly, waiting to take care of her when Jasmine refuses to.
Harry asks Iris about it once.
«Why doesn’t Jasmine call you mum?»
He finds it odd that Jasmine uses her mother’s name rather than call her ‘mum’.
Iris looks at Harry sadly and pulls him into a hug.
«I wish I could tell you, Harry,» Iris answers.
Harry regrets making Iris sorrowful and does not mention it again.
Ever since Harry met Holly and Iris the previous year, he has spent as much time as he can with them. That is, when he is not at school, locked in his cupboard or doing chores for the Dursleys.
Spending time with Iris and Holly also gives Harry a chance to avoid Dudley and his friends. Iris always takes the time to feed Harry, even if Holly is not there.
When Iris finds out how much the Dursleys hurt Harry, she is furious, cursing Aunt Petunia more than she curses Uncle Vernon, which he finds odd, because it is Uncle Vernon who hurts him the most. Aunt Petunia mostly uses her words, though they are almost as harsh as Uncle Vernon’s belt.
After the fury passes, Iris has a grim expression on her face and apologises to Harry for not being able to help him.
Harry tells her he understands. And he really does. How is Iris going to help Harry get away from the Dursleys when she cannot even help Holly get away from her own mother?
For Harry, it is enough for Iris to help him heal. Whatever cream she uses makes the pain go away. Almost like… magic.
Aunt Petunia does not like Jasmine much: she is skinny like Holly and often looks sick. Aunt Petunia calls her loud and vulgar and that she dresses like a woman of loose morals. With all that make-up, brightly coloured tops that exposes her bosom, tight jeans and her constant parading of different men when she picks up or drops of Holly. Aunt Petunia does not like the looks of the men that Jasmine takes with her and has warned Dudley to stay away from all of them.
Harry does not like the way they look either and knows Holly is scared of some of them. He is afraid they will hurt Holly like Jasmine does sometimes.
Harry is really happy that school is over for the summer holidays. Not that he does not enjoy school. He likes learning and reading, maths and science, though he is not allowed to do better than Dudley: that will lead to accusations of cheating. It will lead to a world of hurt.
Iris, who has seen Harry and Holly’s interest in gymnastics, signs them both up for classes at the local youth centre. As long as Harry has finished his chores, he is free to go as he please. As long as he comes home to help make the evening meal, and doesn’t stay out later than Dudley. Otherwise, they will lock him out and force him to sleep outside. On the occasions where this happens, Harry slinks back to Iris’ home, who lets him sleep in Holly’s bedroom. Holly has a bunk bed in her room, though Harry is not sure why she needs it as there is only her. If Holly is there when Harry has to stay because the Dursleys had locked him out, she always cuddles up to him as they fall asleep together.
Harry tries to protest that Iris does not have to pay for his gymnastic classes, but she tells him it is a birthday gift for him. Harry is overwhelmed by the gift. He cannot pay for those classes himself, not to mention the Dursleys, who definitely will not pay for Harry to learn gymnastics.
As a thank you for Iris, Harry makes sure he works very hard, not wanting her to think that he is taking her gift for granted. She has already done so much for him.
Harry and Holly work hard all summer to perfect their gymnastics. Harry’s instructor is also happy and impressed by his trainee progress and praises his enthusiasm. As a result of the exercise, Harry is feeling hungry all the time and ends up feeling guilty when he eats too much at Iris’ house.
He knows not everyone is well off in this part of Surrey and he thinks Iris doesn’t have that much money: her house is quite small and very sparsely decorated, with only few pictures, all of Holly.
Holly’s bedroom only contains a bunk bed, a small wardrobe, a three-tier shelf and a very, very old dollhouse that is in the corner of the room. Her few toys take up half a shelf. Harry has seen inside of Iris’ bedroom which also has a bed, though hers is a single, a dressing table and a wardrobe.
There are only two rooms downstairs: the kitchen, which only seems to have the essential appliances – not the latest pots, pans and appliances Aunt Petunia insists she must have – and the front room, which only had a two seater and one seater sofa set, that looked so old that Harry imagines they must be from a second-hand furniture shop somewhere. Iris also had a really old TV, but Harry never sees her watching it, though she allows him and Holly to turn it on occasionally.
Her back garden is also quite small compared to the Dursleys’. She has no flowers or anything decorous but does seem to grow her own herbs for cooking. When Harry and Holly use the back garden to practice handstands and cartwheels and such, they always have to be careful that they do not damage Iris’ herbs.
There is only one room that Harry has not seen yet, and it’s the cellar. Iris does not have a cupboard under the stairs like the Dursleys do; instead, the door under the stairs leads to the cellar and Holly and Harry are not allowed in there as Iris told them the stairs are not stable and she does not want to either to get hurt. Harry only knows this because he once tried to get a broom to clean up the flour he spills on the floor: he tried to open the door, but it was locked, and Iris, uncharacteristically, snaps at him to not touch the door.
Harry is bemused, but follows her instructions. He has never disobeyed.
«Are you okay, Harry?» Holly asks, holding Harry’s hand as Iris makes him take his t-shirt off and tells him to lie down on his stomach on the sofa. Harry gingerly obeys. His back is sore and aching. Harry was blamed for turning their teacher’s hair blue, and Uncle Vernon wasn’t happy with him. Harry does not know why he is being blamed for it. He was nowhere near the teacher, and he did not add anything to her hair to turn it blue. Even Mrs Peterson does not blame Harry, but Dudley mentioned the incident to Aunt Petunia and she, in return, told Uncle Vernon.
Both did not hesitate to blame Harry. Odd things always happen around Harry and though he can never explain any of them, he often gets punished for them: like the time his hair grew back overnight after the horrible haircut Aunt Petunia gave him.
Uncle Vernon is particularly vicious in his punishments after an unexplainable event. Harry’s back feels like it is on fire. He knows it’s bleeding slightly.
Iris is muttering angrily as she walks around collecting bandages and other supplies to help Harry. Through the haze of pain, he can hear her cursing Petunia’s name, which confuses him, as it is Uncle Vernon using the belt on him.
«I’m fine,» Harry manages to say.
To distract him, Holly tells Harry about her day at the Nursery.
«Miss Parker had to stop this boy from putting a crayon up his nose. She said he was naughty on purpose, so she took all his crayons away from him and that he wasn’t allowed to play with them anymore. He was being very silly and he started to scream and shout when he tried to put the square block in the triangle shaped hole. Miss Parker had to take that toy away from his as well.»
«Then, this other boy was feeling really ill and when he tried to eat soil from the plant pot by dipping his banana into it he threw up his banana everywhere. Then my friend Jade said she didn’t feel well and started being sick everywhere.»
Harry winces as Iris dabs the cuts on his back, but tries to concentrates on Holly’s words.
She has been going to Nursery for a few months now and, at first, she struggled as she cried for her Oma for the entire first week. Her teachers still express their concerns, as Holly refuses to play with other children.
«You made a friend?» Harry asks with a smile that is more a grimace.
«Jade’s okay,» Holly shrugs. «She shared her grapes with me when Jack took my lunchbox.»
Harry is pleased that Holly is finally starting to come out of her shell at school.
Iris continues to clean his cuts. Harry does not know what she is rubbing on his back, as there is never any changes in the wounds, but whatever she is using is very soothing and stops his back from hurting.
«That was nice of Jade,» Harry comments as he lets Iris move along his lower back. The Dursleys do not know that Iris is aware of how they treat him. If they did, he would be in even more trouble. He is never allowed to let anyone know. «You should share something of yours with her tomorrow.»
«Maybe take an extra juice or some fruit or biscuits,» Harry suggests.
His back feels better now. His skin is still tight, but is no longer burning, so much that he’s able to move around without pain. He cautiously sits up.
«I wish me and you could stay with Oma,» Holly states, looking between Harry and Iris.
Iris freezes in the act of putting away her cotton pads.
« Me too,» Iris admits, sitting down next to Harry on the sofa and looking at both of them despondently. Holding out her arm, she beckons Holly towards her, pulling her into a hug, and carefully places her other arm around Harry’s shoulders, pulling him closer.
Harry finds himself holding back tears. Though he occasionally gets the urge to cry, he never gives into it. Crying only gets Dudley what he wants. Never Harry.
Iris has always done so much for him. She feeds him, heals him, gives him a place to sleep when the Dursleys kick him out; she gave him a hobby that keeps him occupied, made sure he understood his class work, even if he is not allowed to show how smart he really is.
Iris always says what she means and means what she says. She would not be lying if she did not want Harry to live with her full time: it would be so different from being an occasional visitor. Her kindness makes Harry’s heart hurt. One day, Harry would like to take part in the Olympics as a gymnast when he is old enough. It would make Iris proud. Show her how he appreciates her support.
Since he has begun to take gymnastics, Harry’s ability to climb trees has improved as he expertly swings himself higher and higher, from branch to branch. Having always been fast anyway, Harry finds himself even speedier and with more stamina since his gymnastics lessons.
This frustrates Dudley to no end. It amuses Harry to watch Dudley try to scale the climbing frame in gym and seeing him already at the top.
Harry is laughing as he runs towards Iris’ house. Dudley and Malcolm are chasing Harry, but he loses them when he easily vaults a six-foot wall and does a flip to the other side.
Dudley is as big as he is dumb and by the time he gets on the other side of the wall Harry will already be inside Iris’ house.
He knocks on the door, bouncing on his toes. He actually has good news to tell Iris. She will be so pleased.
He knows as soon as Iris opens the door that something is wrong. Her eyes are red, like she has been crying.
«Is everything okay? Did something happen to Holly?» he asks uncertainly, feeling panicked and alarmed.
Did Holly’s mum hurt Holly very badly? She had done that, once, a few months ago. Jasmine had yanked on Holly’s arm so hard she had broken her wrist. Harry knows she lied and told the doctors Holly hurt herself practicing her gymnastics.
Jasmine did not visit Holly once during the six weeks she dumped her with Iris, whilst Holly’s arm was in cast. Harry had been distraught that day as he was not allowed to visit Holly in the hospital to see she was okay. Iris assured him Holly was well, but Harry is still angry at Jasmine for hurting the little girl.
There is an odd rattling sound and Harry startles as he feels Iris place a hand on shoulder.
The rattling stops when Iris says, «Holly’s fine.»
«What happened?» Harry asks anxiously as Iris pulls him inside.
«It’s Holly’s mum, Harry,» Iris tells him sadly.
She has barely closed the door behind Harry when Holly gets up from the sofa and runs to him, throwing her arms around his chest. Harry automatically pulls her close. Harry is short for his age and Holly is tall for hers. They are almost the same height.
Harry does not feel any less anxious.
«Mamma’s gone,» Holly cries.
“What?” Harry queries astonished.
Gone where? Has she finally abandoned Holly for good? Has Iris finally got full custody? Harry cannot feel sad about Jasmine being gone. The only good thing Jasmine has done is have Holly. As far as Harry is concerned, being out of Holly’s life will only be good for her, so that she cannot hurt her daughter.
Iris carefully picks Holly up and takes her back to the sofa. Holly clings back to Harry as soon as he is seated next to her, while Iris sits in the single seater as she watches them both carefully.
«Jasmine and Holden passed away last night. There was a house fire. Neither made it out,» Iris tells him in a low quiet.
«Oh,» Harry says smartly.
He is upset for Holly’s sake, but still thinks she is better off without Jasmine. If there was a part of Jasmine that cared for Holly, then Harry never saw it.
He is happy that Holly gets to live with Iris full time now: it will be better for her, and Harry can see her regularly.
Iris gives Harry a knowing look as Holly lays down with her head in his lap. Sometimes, Harry feels Iris can read his mind. He swears he can feel a tickle in his brain when this happens.
Harry has not spent much time with Jasmine before her death, becaus Iris has always preferred him to be nowhere around if Jasmine came to visit. Harry did not mind staying away if that was what Iris wanted, though he has had to stop himself from hiding Holly away with him.
Harry feels Holly’s tears seep through his jeans.
Jasmine might have been a bad mum, but she was still Holly’s mother. It’s clear that Holly prefers Iris over Jasmine, but that does not mean she will not miss her.
Harry decides to be sad over the loss of life in general, even if he is not upset at the loss of Jasmine’s life.
Harry has kept this since the day he found out Holly’s mum had died. He decides to give it to Holly today because it is her birthday. It will mean more.
«Here,» Harry says to Holly, holding handing over the small box. It is wrapped up, quite badly, in a newspaper he saved before Uncle Vernon threw it away.
Holly does not care how badly it is wrapped up. Instead, she rips it apart with an eagerness that make Harry smile.
Harry has carefully cut out a piece of cardboard to display the pendant he has found in his aunt’s attic. It was in a jewellery box labelled “Lily”. Aunt Petunia has sent Harry to fetch new pillows she stores up there, needing to replace her own. Harry had opened the box and found this pendant at the top: he did not have any hesitation to filch it and place it in his pocket. He has looked at it before going to sleep every night. He swears he felt it warm up.
Holly has been melancholy since Jasmine died and Harry thought he might gift her this pendant.
Holly smiles widely as she shows it off to Iris.
«Looks, Oma. Isn’t it pretty?»
Iris is already leaning forward and taking the pendant from Holly, gasping as she looks at it.
«Harry, where did you get this? Do you – Where did you get the money for? This must have been expensive,» she says. Harry gets the feeling she was about to say something different.
“I found it in the attic. Aunt Petunia sent me up there for something and I found my mum’s jewellery box. When I opened it, I found this on top. Aunt Petunia doesn’t know I took it, otherwise she would make me give it back. Please, let Holly keep it.”
“Harry,” Iris says, exasperated.
Holly, knowing how little he knew about his mum, told Harry, “You should keep this. It’s your mamma’s.”
“I want you to have it,” Harry insists stubbornly.
Holly looks uncertainly at Iris, who glances at Harry with a smile.
“If you want to, Harry,” Iris relents. Then, imposing a condition, looks at Holly and tells her, “But – if Harry asks for this back, then you will give it to him.”
Iris gives Holly a strict look, who nods and then holds still as she fastens the pendant around her neck.
Smiling widely, Holly throws her arms around Harry’s neck and kisses his cheek in thanks. He laughs, happy they accepted his gift.
They sit down for their meal and Holly’s cake. Harry notices Iris’ gaze on Holly’s pendant the rest of the evening. He is as happy to have found it as he is to know Holly will be wearing it. He might have liked to keep it for himself, yet he can’t help but think it is a girly thing.
A chain of gold. The pendant is made with emerald-coloured stones, matching Harry’s eyes, that cup the golden lily.
After the snake incident at the zoo, Harry endures his worst punishment. Beaten severely, he is thrown in his cupboard for days with barely any food.
He is under restriction and not allowed to leave the house. Just as he finds it hard to move, he also misses whatever magical disinfectant or lotion Iris uses to sooth his back after every Uncle Vernon’s punishment.
Harry has no idea who is so desperate to contact him. He has no idea who would send him so many letters with an owl, or whatever other method that turns Uncle Vernon into a crazed maniac.
Aunt Petunia forces Uncle Vernon to give Harry Dudley’s second bedroom, which does not please him at all, judging by the biggest tantrum yet. Harry is happy to have a bigger room, even if he is forced to share it with most of Dudley’s broken and useless toys. He is more curious about who is sending him those letters.
Harry is surprised that he hasn’t been punished for it. This would definitely count as a bizarre occurrence that the Dursleys would usually punish him for.
After days of being forced to flee Privet Drive with the Dursleys to escape the letters, they find themselves in a dilapidated hut on the rocks during a dark and stormy night.
There he meets Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys for Hogwarts.
“Harry – yer a wizard,” Hagrid tells him.
Harry does not look back as Hagrid takes him away the next morning to the world his parents were from.
Harry returns to the Dursleys, who made their own way back from the middle of nowhere. They are so scared of Harry that they leave him alone.
Harry heads towards Iris’ house, anxious and uneasy. It is killing him that he is not able to share this huge piece of news with the two people who he cares more than anyone. Not that they might believe him. Even Harry is still struggling with that.
He is a wizard; a famous one.
There is a whole world out there that most people do not know exists. Non -magical people were called muggles and the magical world was protected by the Statute of Secrecy.
Harry thinks the most fantastical thing of all is finding out that his parents did not die in a car accident. They were murdered. They Dursleys lied to him. Aunt Petunia lied to him about her own sister.
Harry will go to a school far away in Scotland, never worrying about money ever again. He has a mountain of gold sitting in a vault, in the deep dark tunnels somewhere underneath London, In a bank run by goblins.
Now, he has to lie to Iris and Holly, tell them he is going to a school for the gifted. How will he able to speak to them when he is away at school? Hagrid told him muggle stuff like electronics won’t work in Hogwarts. They have no phones.
Wizards use owls to send letters. Hagrid has bought him a snowy owl as a birthday gift, even though He must name her still. But he can’t send an owl to Iris and Holly. They are muggles.
He has to find a way to keep in contact. There must be some way. It is so frustrating to find out something so big and not be able to share it with people who mean so much to him. They are more his family than the Dursleys.
Harry realises he is now standing in front of Iris’ door. He knocks in a subdued manner, almost hoping she won’t open the door, If only, to delay the moment he has to lie to them for a little longer.
His wishes are ignored.
Iris opens the door and greets Harry with a warm smile and pulls him inside.
“Holly and I were wondering when you would be back,” Iris gestures him in. “We didn’t realise the Dursleys would take you with them on their holiday.”
Harry opens his mouth to say they did not go on holiday, but then realises it is better to let them think that instead of the truth. That they were fleeing from hundreds of letters from a magical school called Hogwarts.
“Harry,” Holly yells as she sees him. She runs over before he can greet her back and is tackled around the middle as she hugs him tightly. “I thought you were gone forever. The Dursleys never take you anywhere and I wanted to give you your birthday present and we got you cake.”
“Let him in, you silly child,” Iris admonishes.
They are still standing in the doorway. Holly untangles herself from Harry and allows him to enter the house properly. Iris closes the door behind Harry and leads him to the kitchen.
There, on the small round dining table, Harry sees a treacle tart, his favourite dessert, and some presents wrapped up for him. This birthday might be his best yet. If only he could tell Iris and Holly about the magical world…
Harry smiles and decides to celebrate his birthday with them. It is only the day after and he still has not decided on what to tell them.
Iris cuts him a slice of treacle tart and Holly impatiently urges him to open his presents. Harry is surprised to find several new clothes, all in his size. It is practically a new wardrobe. He now has several new t-shirts and collared shirts, dress pants and new jeans. Even new trainers and smart black shoes.
“Oma said it because you’re going to big school this year and you should have some smart clothes to make a good impression,” Holly tells him excitedly.
“All this must have been really expensive,” Harry stutters.
Harry recognises some of the clothes as the brands his aunt and uncle bought for Dudley. None of it was cheap.
He has a completely new uniform to wear at Hogwarts and has purposely bought extra school shirts and trousers, so he does not have to wear Dudley’s cast offs.
“When you receive a gift like this, child,” Iris starts in a gentle chiding voice, “you should simply say thank you and accept it.”
“Thank you,” Harry repeats and hugs Iris as tightly as Holly does to him.
Iris gently pats his back as she embraces him too.
“You’re welcome, son.”
Harry finds he has to stop his breath from hitching. It is the first time she, or anyone, has called him son.
Later, after they have consumed whatever food Iris has made, and the table has been cleared away, that Harry and Iris are sitting on the sofas. The TV is on as they watched the Disney film, Oliver and Company.
Holly has fallen asleep in Iris’ lap as Iris strokes her hair soothingly.
“Thank you again for the clothes, Mrs Pierce,” Harry says. The clothes are packed away in a bag and he will store them safely in his school trunk. The Dursleys might be cowed now, but Harry is sure that they will not stay subdued for long.
“Don’t mention it, child. You deserve new clothes. I’ve been wanting to buy you some for a while. I was just afraid your aunt and uncle would take them for you and punish, wrongly, for having them in the first place if I did.”
Harry flushed. She is probably right.
“Besides, I know you won’t need to hide them at your new school. Your aunt and uncle are hardly going to come to you at Hogwarts to snatch them away from you.”
Harry’s head spins so fast that his glasses almost fly off.
“You know about Hogwarts?” Harry yelps.
Holly stirs at his loud voice.
Iris gives him what he can only class as a smirk. He has never seen that expression on her face before.