Clutching At Straws
Harry is shocked by Iris’ knowledge of the wizarding world. She explains that the odd things happening around Harry have made her believe he was a muggleborn like Jasmine.
He is even more shocked to find that Jasmine was a witch. Harry has only been in the wizarding world for one day and already thinks it is brilliant. He cannot wait to learn new spells. his wand Already feels like it is a part of him, and even the fact that the core is shared with that of Voldemort’s can’t dampen his excitement.
Ollivander has said Harry is destined for great things and he knows he has to prove himself now. The Dursleys have convinced the neighbours he is a delinquent in the making, destined to a life of crime, and only Iris and Mrs Figg know otherwise.
Being a wizard is different. No one knows him. He can be just… Harry. For a moment, he almost tells Iris that he is the Boy-Who-Lived. That he is famous. Then, he changes his mind. Being the Boy-Who-Lived is not important. It’s only a title other people gave him. He wants to go into the wizarding world and earn himself a title.
The Dursleys will never be proud of him, but Iris and Holly will be.
“Holly is a witch too,” Iris tells Harry, watching him carefully.
Harry’s eyes dart to the sleeping Holly.
Now that he thinks about it, he realises odd things happen to Holly as well. She is usually calm and does not throw tantrums, but, occasionally, when she sees Dudley hurting Harry, or she sees someone else taking something does not belong to them, glass might crack, or a branch will fall. Harry remembers one of her balls changing from green to blue. Harry had thought it was his imagination or that he was wrong. Now he knows it is magic.
He is relieved that he does not need to hide his true self from Iris and Holly. Then, a thought occurs to him.
“Does Holly know?”
Has Holly been aware of being a witch the whole time and chose not to share with Harry? He feels hurt at first, then realises she might not have been able to say because of the Statute of Secrecy. And, after all, wasn’t Harry going to do the same?
“Holly doesn’t know,” Iris assures him. She leans forward, still keeping one arm around Holly and reaches out to Harry with the other, who extends his own arm to take Iris’ hand.
“She tells you everything. I knew she would want to tell you and, well, I didn’t know how to prove it to either of you. It sounds odd to someone who has lived their whole life without magic. So, I waited until I heard you received your letter to Hogwarts.”
Harry ruminates on this a while. When Iris takes Holly up to her room, he’s still thinking about it. He finds it difficult to wrap his head around the fact that Jasmine was a witch, but then realises that he does not actually know much about Jasmine.
From what he has seen of witches and wizards in Diagon Alley, they are an odd lot. Jasmine was weird and he would never have been able to guess she was a witch.
Iris comes back alone.
“Why did Jasmine give up being a witch?”
That could be the only explanation.
“Jasmine loved being a witch. She loved school,” Iris starts to say, then sighs wearily. “Being a muggleborn in the wizarding world isn’t an easy thing.”
Harry nods. He thinks back to the blond boy who had sneered at him when he thought he had non-magical parents. He does not know the boy’s name but he seems to be the magical version of Dudley Dursleys.
“Jasmine suffered for her ambitions. Then, there was the incident with Holly’s father.”
Iris falls silent. A morose look settles over her features and she looks so… tired.
Harry has never seen Holly’s dad. She has told Harry that her dad abandoned Jasmine when she was pregnant, because he refused to believe her. Harry does not like to talk about Holly’s dad, whoever he is. It makes Holly and Iris sad. Though he suspects it is for completely different reasons.
Harry thinks Holly is sad because she imagines what her mum would have been if she had not been rejected by Holly’s dad. Iris probably thinks the same but Harry thinks there is more to Iris’ sadness.
Adult relationships are so complicated.
“At least you can talk to me about this now,” Iris tells him, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“Really?” Harry asks in a bright voice. “Thanks, Mrs Pierce.”
“Oma, child. You can call me Oma. Just like Holly does.”
Harry feels overwhelmed again.
Harry spends the rest of the month dividing his time between flicking through his schoolbooks and attending his gymnastics. His instructors are disappointed to see him go away, but Harry promises to return every summer.
He finds his books so fascinating. He finds a name for his owl in his history book, deciding to call her Hedwig.
Iris also tells Holly that she is a witch and that one day she will go to Hogwarts as well. Her first reaction was of sadness, initially, to find that Harry will be going to a school so far away, but he assures her he will send so many letters that she will not miss him.
Holly is afraid of Hedwig’s talons at first, but quickly begins to adore the snowy owl. Hedwig spends more time with Holly than she does with Harry, as she spoils her with bacon rashers every morning.
One day, when Holly has a play date with some friends, Harry is surprised when Iris ask him to come over.
When Iris leads him to the door under the stairs that connects to the cellar he is even more astonished. He and Holly have always been forbidden from this room.
It is cool down here, he realises as he carefully descends the creaking steps.
Iris turns the light on and he can see the room properly. It is better lit than Harry expects: there is a small desk in the corner and shelves and shelves of books. Looking through the titles, Harry realises they are wizarding books.
“Did these belong to Jasmine?” Harry asks, as he examines the titles.
Many seem to be about Potions, some on dark curses. There are several school books here, though the titles show they are more advanced versions of his Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1. Some go even up to Grade 7.
There are few historical texts as well. Harry looks them over in awe.
“Some of them are Jasmine’s. She didn’t want to keep them anymore, so, I kept them down here. Out of the way.”
There is an odd pause as Iris hesitates over her next words.
“Most of them belong to my son,” Iris finally admits.
Harry rapidly turns back to Iris in shock, almost twisting his ankle as he does so. She has never mentioned having a son, before. He stares at her wide-eyed, and Iris flushes as he gapes at her.
“I know you and Holly have no secrets from each other, Harry,” Iris begins to say, stepping closer to him and cupping his face. Harry looks up at her. “But I’m asking you to keep this one secret. There’s a reason I’ve never mentioned my son. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, and it… it hurts. I wasn’t a really good mother to him.”
Harry cannot imagine Iris not being a good mother. He sees the way she is with Holly. How she is with him.
“Is he dead?” Harry asks hesitantly.
“No, ,” she sighs. “But he probably thinks I am.”
Harry’s brow wrinkles in confusion.
“One day I will tell you about him. Just… not today. One day, I will need to tell Holly. I’m trusting you to keep this one secret, Harry. Will you do that? For me?”
Harry does not like seeing the sadness on Iris’ face, so agrees without hesitation. There is a warm glow in his chest: no one has trusted him like this before.
Iris pulls him for a hug, which he returns. They stand like that for some time.
“Why did you bring me down here?” Harry asks, pulling away.
“I wanted you to have this,” Iris tells. She does not let go of him, just moves to the side so they are both facing the shelves again, her arm still on his shoulders. “Your relatives are not the open-minded sort, but, here, you can be yourself.”
It is as leaves Iris’ house with his new clothes and other presents that he realises that he has not even asked her son’s name. The opportunity is gone now, and Harry does not want to bring up it anymore for fear of bringing back her desolate look.
On the morning of September 1st, Harry wakes up early, too excited to go back to sleep. He has made sure to pack up all his things the night before. His clothes are nearly organised, his books are in one section, his cauldron is neatly stacked and all his ingredients are stored properly.
The Dursleys have agreed to take Harry to the train station, although only because they must take Dudley to a hospital in London to have the tail Hagrid gave him surgically removed.
Harry has told Iris this, though she still says that she will meet him at the train station.
Several hours later, Harry is standing in King’s Cross station. Uncle Vernon, in an uncharacteristically generous move, unloads his trunk and even wheels it into the station. Dudley insists on getting out as he wants a snack from the WHSmith, whilst Aunt Petunia remains in the car.
Vernon walks out laughing several minutes later with Dudley, having taunted Harry about the fact that platform 9 ¾ has not been built yet.
Harry is not worried. Iris has already told him how to get onto the platform for the Hogwarts Express, but… He does not go yet. He is still waiting for Iris and Holly. They promised to be here to see him off.
As he stands there, watching the Vernon and Dudley leave without a backward glance, he remembers that Aunt Petunia would have gone to see off his mum when Lily left for Hogwarts. It makes him sad that Aunt Petunia is still so bitter about Lily being a witch that she would rather Harry suffer at King’s Cross than see him safely on the train to school.
He watches as Vernon and Dudley get to the car. Dudley jumps suddenly, holding his enormous backside, but Vernon does not notice as he’s already getting into the car.
Dudley gives a mad look around and looking over his shoulder locks eyes with Harry. He gets a scared look and scrambles into the car, still staring at him even as Uncle Vernon drives away.
Barely a minute has passed when Iris and Holly walk in through the same doors the Dursleys exited from. Holly lets go of Iris’ hand and runs to Harry, hugging him tightly as if they have not met in ages. Harry was only at Iris’ last night because she had made him his favourite foods as a send-off he would never get from the Dursleys.
Iris hugged him too as she greeted him.
“Did you make you sure you packed everything?” she asks.
“Yes, I did… Oma,” Harry still blushes as he calls her that.
Iris smiles at him, pleased.
“You’ll write, won’t you, Harry?” Holly pleads, taking his hand with both of hers.
“All the time.” And he intends to keep his promise.
“Did you have breakfast?” Iris inquires.
“No,” he admits sheepishly. “I was too excited.”
Though it did not stop Aunt Petunia from making Harry make it for everyone. Dudley had a big surgery he needed to get through, after all.
Iris rolls her eyes in affectionate exasperation and brings out some sandwiches wrapped in cling film. Then, as they still have time before Harry has to get on the train, she leads them to a café and buys herself a coffee, hot chocolate for Holly and Harry, and bacon sandwich for all of them. Harry eats his very quickly.
Hedwig, who is already eliciting weird looks, hoots loudly, attracting more attention as she eyes the bacon. Holly sneaks the snowy owl some of her bacon, whilst Iris pretends not to look.
“You’re spoiling her,” Harry complains without any real heat.
“She’ll be flying all the way from Scotland. She’s going to need her energy,” Holly giggles.
Hedwig snaps her beak in agreement.
Harry does not truly mind, as he liked to see Holly happy.
Finally, it is time for Harry to board the train.
“Make sure you eat properly, child. No junk food. Don’t just fill up on desserts and sweets,” Iris instructs.
She has told him about the Great Hall and the variety of food offered every day.
“Yes, Oma,” Harry agrees.
“If you need anything else, just send me a letter with Hedwig,” Iris continues.
“And you pay attention in your classes. I expect you to try your best.”
“Keep practicing your gymnastics when you find a space. Hogwarts don’t have a PE system,” Iris carries on.
When all reminders are exhausted, they stop in front of the wall between Platform nine and ten.
“Go, my son. You don’t want to miss the train,” Iris says emotionally, giving him a final embrace.
“I’ll miss you Harry,” Holly says tearfully, hugging him tightly, reluctant to let him go.
“We’ll see Harry again, Holly. Sooner than you think. Hm? Come on, darling. We’re blocking the entrance.”
Holly kisses his cheek one last time and lets Iris lead her off, heedless of her tearful eyes that follow him the whole time she is walking away.
It is as another group of travellers block his view of Iris and Holly, that Harry takes the opportunity to slip through the barrier with his trolley.
Pushing his gloom to one side, he is awed by the Hogwarts Express. He moves aside with his trolley when he realises he is blocking the barrier.
Not a moment too soon as a red-headed family spills through, in twos and threes. There are quite a few of them.
Soon, he makes himself comfortable in an empty compartment near the end of the train, with Hedwig still in her cage.
It is not long before the door to his compartment opens again and the younger brother of the twins who helped Harry carry his trunk inside the train enters.
Apart from an incident or two with the annoying blond he met in Madam Malkin’s, Draco Malfoy, and the scary first year who memorised all her school books, Hermione Granger, Harry spent the rest of the uneventful train ride with his new friend, Ron Weasley. Together, the boys laugh, joke, share their food and learn about each other’s families.
… you were right about the feast, Oma. They had everything and the food is wonderful. They even had treacle tart!
I got sorted in Gryffindor with my new friend Ron. I’m so happy about that! Ron has five brothers, all older, and one younger sister, but she doesn’t start at Hogwarts until next year. All the Weasley boys have been into Gryffindor.
I almost got sorted into Slytherin. But, I met this prat on the train, Draco Malfoy. He reminded me of Dudley. I’m going to stay away from him.
The castle is so vast and the staircases move and the portraits move as well! I have saved some Chocolate Frogs for you, Holly. I bought them on the train with some Every Flavour Beans. Be careful with those, because they mean every flavour. One of Ron’s brother’s claims to have once eaten a bogie flavoured bean …
… I share a dorm with Ron and three other boys: Dean Thomas, who is a Muggleborn, Seamus, who said he’s half and half, and Neville, who is a Pureblood.
Ron thinks Dean’s West Ham poster is weird because it doesn’t move…
… Classes are amazing. Most of them, at least. Although It’s mostly theory. I like Charms the best, so far. Professor Flitwick really knows what he’s talking about and makes it fun to learn. I thought Defence Against the Darks would be better, but the professor’s a little weird. It’s a pity, because I was really looking forward to it. Quirrell’s classroom stinks of garlic and the lads from my dorm think it’s because he’s afraid a vampire he fought against before will come back for him.
Transfiguration is hard and Professor McGonagall is really strict, making us do a lot of reading, but I like it.
I was really looking forward to Potions because I read all those books in your basement, Oma, but this professor is truly awful. I swear I really read all those books you said I should, but Snape asked me so many questions, something about asphodel and wormwood, aconite and bezoars. I’ve written them all down to look up properly later. Anyway, only this girl, Hermione Granger, knew the answers, but Snape kept picking on me.
He certainly hates me for some reason, though I don’t know why. Hagrid thinks I’m just imagining it, but I don’t think so.
Hagrid invited me for tea after classes. He lives in a hut on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Students aren’t allowed in there. Hagrid said it’s because it’s full of dangerous creatures.
… I love flying. Being on a broom is something marvellous, (a feeling of complete freedom that I can’t even describe in words.) Professor McGonagall said my dad was a brilliant flyer and he was in the Quidditch team of his House.
She was so impressed with my flying that she made me a Seeker on the Gryffindor team. According to her, I’m the youngest Seeker in a century and I even have my own broom, the latest brand, Nimbus 2000.
I have to work so hard to keep up with all my homework and go to Quidditch practice and my gymnastics.
Ron thinks gymnastics is boring, but Dean thinks it’s cool, so, when I practice, he comes with me, sometimes. I don’t know where I’m going to practice when the weather gets colder. Perhaps I’ll have to ask Professor McGonagall.
… it’s a long story, but I’ve made another friend. It’s Hermione Granger. She’s a Muggleborn and terrifying clever, and she makes me and Ron do our homework before letting us play. Ron’s been teaching me how to play chess. I’m rubbish at it, but he is amazing and even his older brother Percy, who is almost as smart as Hermione, can’t beat him.
Even Hermione can’t beat him, though she lasts the longest, but that’s only because it takes her ages to make a move. Ron thinks it will do Hermione good to lose at something, occasionally, because she’s so brilliant at all her classwork…
Harry continues to write letters to Iris and Holly throughout the year. Their letters always come back with loads of questions from Holly about everything, and admonitions to stay out of trouble, making sure he eats well, behaves in classes, does his homework and looks after himself from Iris. Like a real mum.
Iris always gives him advice when talking about his teachers, and shows how pleased she is with his progress and how she is proud of him for joining the Quidditch team at such a young age.
Harry deliberately does not tell all the other dangerous adventures that he has faced or that has happened to him over the first year – like the troll, and the three-headed dog, and the Philosopher’s Stone and one of his professor’s having Voldemort on the back of his head. He does not want Iris to worry, but he plans on telling her some of it when he is there in person.
The Dursleys have reverted back to form, no longer scared of him. Harry had hoped, when he left the Hogwarts Express, he would be able to convince the Dursleys to leave him alone with the threat of magic. After all, they do not know that he is not allowed to use magic during summer holidays.
This has not deterred them. Apparently, when they went to the private hospital to have Dudley’s tail surgically removed, they found it had already disappeared. They think Harry had used magic on Dudley, that day in the train station.
Never mind that Harry still had not any training at that point. The Dursleys are experts in their own brand of logic.
As soon as Harry steps through the front door of number 4 Privet Drive, his trunk is locked in the cupboard under the stairs and he is sent to his room with a padlock on Hedwig’s cage. She is not happy with the turn of events. Neither is Harry.
The next day, he agonizingly stumbles towards Iris’ house, having suffered from the worst beating he has ever had received. He has snuck out with a caged Hedwig after all the Dursleys left the house for the day. He cannot allow Hedwig to be locked all summer. Iris can help him get Hedwig out of her cage and keep her safe for him.
Iris opens to the door to his knock. Her welcoming smile fades as she observes Harry’s strained features. Quickly taking Hedwig’s cage from him in one hand and holding back Holly, who was rushing to greet Harry with a huge grin on her face, Iris still tries with the other to guide him to the sofa to lie down.
“Those animals,” Iris mutters angrily above him.
Harry has to stand up again, wincing tenderly, to take his t-shirt off. It hurts as it peels away from his skin. Holly gasps as she sees his bloody back when he lies back down.
Vernon has never beat him this badly before. Until last night, Harry has never thought of Vernon as the kind of person to hold back.
“Holly, go get my first aid kit, sweet,” Iris instructs her granddaughter.
Holly rushes back and Harry tilts his head slightly to watch her come back with a little green box.
“Please… Don’t cry,” Harry says comfortingly.
Despite his pleas, Holly begins to sob. Handing over the kit to Iris, she kneels on the floor next to Harry, taking his hand in both hers. Holly should not see him like this. She has experienced so much sorrow in her own life, it seems almost unfair to make her see Harry suffer. He wishes he can protect her from himself. He wishes he could stay with Iris forever.
Harry hisses and flinches every so often when Iris dabs a particularly painful wound, nonetheless, despite all her efforts, she cannot heal him properly. Harry has realised she has been using potions on his back for several years not to heal him, but only enough to ease the pain. Never fully, as it would make the Dursleys escalate their violence if they saw his wounds completely disappear. So that is what Iris does now. She heals his wounds enough to make the bleeding stop, though. She cannot remove the marks wholly.
He does not realise when he falls asleep. He just feels Holly’s small hand stroking his hair, like she has seen Iris do so many times when comforting him.
Harry wakes up several hours later, still lying face down on the sofa with his arm dangling off to the side. Holly is still in the floor, having fallen asleep leaning back, and Harry’s arm is wrapped around her body. Even in her sleep, she has not let go of him. He is still feeling stiff and unable to move straight away, and not just because Holly is holding his arm hostage. His back is sore rather than on fire, so it is definitely an improvement.
Iris notices that Harry is awake and makes her way over from the kitchen. She gently picks up Holly from the floor without waking her and places her on the one-seater, covering her with a shawl that is usually draped over the back of the seat.
“How are you feeling, child?” Iris asks him, as she helps Harry into a sitting position.
“I’m better, thank you,” he replies.
Once he sat up, she hands him vial she has plucked from the front pocket of her dress.
With surprise, he realises it is a Pain-Reliever. He realises that, as a muggle, Iris is not capable to brew potions for herself. Where has she bought this from?
“It’s a Pain-Relieving Potions,” Iris explains, seating herself next to Harry.
Whilst he uncorks it, she reaches to the small coffee table and pours a glass of water from the jug she has ready.
“Where did you get it?” Harry asks curiously, then drains it in one go.
He is handed a glass of water which he sips slowly to get the awful tasting potion off his taste buds.
“Where I got it isn’t important,” Iris tells him.
Harry does not question it. Not after healing him. It would be ungrateful. She has been helping for so many years that it does not matter where she gets magical items she should not have access to. He silently accepts that Iris has more knowledge about the magical world than he does, given that she has two children who have gone through Hogwarts. She is bound pick up extra knowledge even if by proxy. Iris has always been a straightforward resourceful person. She has probably been able to sneak into the Magical world for years.
“It just breaks my heart that I have to use these sorts of potions. I seem to be cursed to piece my children back together,” she murmurs into the silence.
Harry has no words for this. It is sad that Holly has to be healed as well from the hurt bestowed on her by Jasmine. He also feels the warm glow he always gets when Iris refers to him as her child.
“Come, Harry. I’ve made you something to eat,” she declares, standing up and brushing down non-existent wrinkles from her dress.
. He is still stiff, but the Pain-Reliever has kicked in. It will probably last him part way through the night. He has been through this pain before. Iris has never given him a potion before. Perhaps she only recently stocked up on it, or perhaps she didn’t give it to him because he did not know about Potions before his Hogwarts letter.
As he follows Iris into the kitchen, he realises her dress is looser on her skinny frame than usual. He silently sits down and studies her. He can see that her face is gaunt, and she looks paler than normal.
“Have you been ill?” Harry queries as she opens her fridge to bring out a plate of sandwiches.
Iris flits him a glance and answers unconcerned voice, “I’m just recovering from a touch of flu.”
Harry know Iris always plays down her health. He remembers last year when Iris spells and had dizziness and trouble breathing. She likes to pretend nothing is wrong with her. Harry and Holly had to force her to rest: he took over cooking for weeks. In the morning, Holly and Iris made do with cereal or toast. In the afternoon, Harry came over to cook something for lunch and for the evening.
When not being forced by Aunt Petunia, Harry enjoys cooking. It helps to have an appreciative audience. Both Holly and Iris enjoy eating what he makes for them. Holly always requests blueberry pancakes whenever she can get away with it.
Harry pretends to believe Iris and slowly begins to eat his sandwich as she pours him a second glass of water.
He freezes mid bite when he suddenly remembers Hedwig.
“Oma,” he gasps in flustered tones, putting his sandwich back down. “Vernon put that padlock on Hedwig’s cage. Have you got some bolt cutters so I could let her out?”
Iris, startled by Harry’s sudden panic, quickly gathers herself and reaches out to grab his arm and, gently guiding him back to his chair.
“Relax, child. I’ve already release Hedwig. When you fell asleep, I let her out from her cage. See?”
She points to Hedwig’s cage on the kitchen counter, now empty.
Relieved, he collapses back against the chair, wincing slightly at the stretched feeling his skin. It is not painful, thanks to the potion, but still uncomfortable.
“Thanks,” he sighs. “Where is she?”
“Stretching her wings,” Iris informs him.
Harry nods and goes back to eating his sandwich.
It is later, when Harry is about to leave, that he notices it. Harry decides to leave Hedwig’s cage with Iris, who has gone upstairs to fetch something. He is about to move it out of the way when he sees something shining in the kitchen bin.
Looking down, he realises it is the padlock Vernon put on Hedwig’s cage. There is something odd about it, though. Puzzled, he reaches into the bin and picks it up to figure out why seeing it bothers him. Experimentally, he pulls up the shackle. It comes up easily.
It is as he pushes the shackle back down and engages the lock mechanism that he comprehends why this bugs him: Vernon has hidden the key for the lock. If Iris has used bolt cutters, the mechanism would not work as the shackle would have been cut.
Either Iris has picked the lock somehow, or magic has been used.
Arabella Figg is in the kitchen cleaning her sink when she hears the knock on her front door. Her face briefly contorts into a frown, trying to remember if she is supposed to be expecting a visitor.
Arabella rinses her hands and grabs the hand towel hanging from the door handle under the sink to dry them off and heads to open her front door, revealing Iris on the doorway.
Wordlessly, she steps aside and allows Iris to enter her home.
“Tea?” she offers in lieu of a greeting, as she closes the door behind them and heads back to the kitchen.
“That would be wonderful,” Iris agrees, following the elderly woman.
Draping the hand towel over the back of a chair, Arabella bustles around, topping up the kettle with more water as and switches it on. Iris takes a seat at the small square dining table, pulling her cardigan tighter around herself.
Whilst the kettle is boiling, she pulls out two mugs and throws a tea bag in each, followed by two teaspoons of sugar in hers and one in Iris’, and use the remaining time to finish rinsing the sink and clear up. Just in time as the water is boiled. She fills the mugs with water, stirring to help dissolve the sugar. Grabbing the bottle of milk from the fridge she adds a dash of it to her own tea. Iris has always preferred hers without.
Neither woman speaks the whole time, though the silence is not uncomfortable. Arabella has known Iris for many years. Since the day she walked Harry to her house the first time, in fact.
Arabella places the mugs on the dining table and then fetches a plate of cherry scones from breadbin, that she has baked herself.
Iris acknowledges her tea with a simple “Thank you” but keeps her eyes fixed on the table, staring unseeingly at the worn wood. Her mind is elsewhere.
Arabella breaks the silence. “How bad was he?”
Iris only gets this look about her after healing Harry from the tender care of Vernon Dursley. It is usually worse after a visit from Vernon’s vicious sister, Marge: the last time this had occurred, her ferocious dog had bitten Harry’s leg and chased him up a tree. He was nine at the time. Harry’s leg is still scarred from that bite. Arabella thanks their lucky stars that Marge only occasionally visits her brother in Surrey. Usually, Vernon and his family travels to her house in Canterbury, while Harry stays with Arabella.
Iris raises her eyes to meet the other woman’s eyes. Then takes a deep breath, releasing it slowly. She pulls the mug towards herself with both hands, seeming to need the warmth.
“Vernon whipped him till he bled.”
Arabella gasps. It truly is the worst beating. Vernon is usually more controlled than that. If beating an innocent child can be called control…
She hears the cold fury in her voice as Iris explains the reason why. She can understand it well enough. How Harry has grown into a kind-hearted, sweet boy is beyond her. All his life he has known only violence and neglect, but Arabella firmly believes that he would still be tender-hearted, even if had not found a family with Iris and Holly. She has seen how devoted he is to Holly, considering her no less than a blood sister.
Arabella takes a sip of her hot tea to help swallow the anger she was feeling towards Vernon and Petunia Dursley.
“Do you need more potions?” Arabella she asks as Iris gathers herself, who shakes her head.
“I have enough for now.”
“Is he back at the Dursleys?”
“I healed him and he left a few hours later. He needed to get back before his family,” Iris spat out the names with great venom, “got home.”
“Can’t you poison Petunia and Vernon?” Arabella questions, only partially jesting.
“I would love to.”
They fall silent again. Iris takes a mouthful of her tea.
“It’s my fault,” she murmurs, slamming her mug down. Her tea sloshing over the top.
Arabella does not flinch; she has seen Iris’ temper before. She calmly pushed the kitchen roll on its holder towards the woman.
Absently, Iris breaks off a piece and dabs at the spill.
“It isn’t,” Arabella disagrees calmly, taking another sip of her tea.
“I shouldn’t have interfered,” Iris continues, ignoring the other’s words. “I should have let Vernon take his son to the hospital for his surgery.”
“If not for this, then Vernon would have found another excuse,” Arabella argues.
“You’ve been holding back from going to Dumbledore because of me,” Iris quarrels, not in the mood to let what she feels is a transgression of hers slip through her fingers. “If I wasn’t in the area, you could have gone to him, he would have taken Harry away from here, somewhere he wouldn’t be suffering right now.”
“I already tried to speak to Dumbledore,” Arabella admits.
Iris looks at her in astonishment.
“After you came from healing Harry for the first time. I wrote to Albus. Told him about the bruises, about the chores, about how they like to show their love.”
“Then why is he still here?” Iris gaped at her.
“He asked for proof. He had promised Petunia he would not interfere. He asked for incontrovertible proof. Harry doesn’t come to me. He comes to you. I couldn’t give him proof without exposing you.”
Iris stares at Arabella in dismay.
“You protected me? Why didn’t you protect Harry?”
Arabella flinches at the unintended accusation.
“Albus Dumbledore has not stepped foot on Privet Drive since the night he left Harry off with Petunia. If he did, he would have found you here,” she replies in a quiet voice.
“Harry said the Dursleys gave him a bedroom after the first letter. They were afraid of being watched,” Iris says.
Arabella lets out a huff of breath.
“They were,” she responds self-deprecatingly. “Just not closely enough.”
“Would Dumbledore really not get him out of here?” Iris questions.
“I wish I could give him proof.”
“Harry will never reveal his suffering to anyone else. It took too long for him to trust me enough to heal him,” Iris admits.
Silence falls again in the kitchen.
“I’m a monster, Arabella. I’ve condemned one child to protect another,” Iris utters forlornly, pushing her half-drunk mug away and pressing her palms against her forehead.
“If that’s true for you, Iris, then it’s true for me as well,” Arabella says in a firm voice.
She knows this.. Ignoring Harry’s abuse at Vernon and Petunia’s hands makes them just as ruthless, both accomplices.
A guilt the size of the Knight Bus weighs on Arabella’s heart every time Harry comes to see her, even if It is not as often as he visits Iris. When Arabella broke her leg last year, she was unable to look after Harry on the fated trip to the zoo. She was still getting used to her crutches. After Harry was finally let out, still recovering from whatever miserable punishment his aunt and uncle had inflicted on him, the dear boy still came to Arabella’s to help her cook every other day.
Petunia certainly taught him well: Harry is a very good cook, even better than Arabella. She knows that Harry prefers Iris over her. She doesn’t hold it against him, however much that realization may pain her. Like Harry, she has a reputation in the area. She is a loner, the crazy cat lady.
Besides, Arabella would still prefer the presence of her cats over ninety-nine percent of Privet Drive residents. Bunch of busybodies. Criminals, the lot of them, judging Harry on the word of the waspish Petunia. Blind. All of them, if they cannot see that Dudley is the budding delinquent.
“What should I do, Arabella?” Iris inquiries, despondently.
“Just… Be there for him,” Arabella replies simply.
Iris does not respond to that.
“There’s something I need to tell you, ,” she admits, pulling her hands from her head.
Arabella listens with growing misery as Iris describes her ill health.
“Why did you do that, Harry?”
Harry is lying on is worn mattress, staring up at the ceiling, and is surprised when he sees Dudley standing in his doorway.
He frowns at Dudley. What is he being blamed for now? Harry knows whatever Dudley will be accusing him for will be believed instantly by his parents, there is no point in arguing that. But knowing what he is being accused of, also helps him gauge how bad his punishment might be.
Harry watches Dudley warily, swinging his legs over the side and sitting up. He is ready to bolt if he needs to, even if Dudley is blocking the way.
Dudley looks nervously over his shoulder as if he expects his parents to be right behind him. They aren’t. They are both out, Vernon at work and Petunia at some friend’s house – exchanging gossip, no doubt.
Dudley drops his voice to a whisper, “Take the tail away?”
“Oh,” Harry says. He has already been punished for this. “It wasn’t me.”
Dudley does not look like he believes him any more than Vernon did.
Harry reasons the spell might have worn off. Hagrid isn’t a fully trained wizard, having been expelled before he could complete his seven years of training. It would not be unimaginable that his spell would not be permanent.
“I didn’t want Dad to punish you for that,” Dudley admits. “I didn’t expect him to.”
Harry looks at Dudley like he’s an assignment he is trying to wrap his head around.
“You’ve egged your dad on far lesser stuff than that,” he snaps.
Dudley flushes and Harry is stunned to see it, because he seems to be ashamed rather than angry.
“I’m sorry,” his cousin exclaims before thundering down the stairs.
Harry stares at the space where Dudley was standing for a long time. It is not until he hears the door slam shut behind him that Harry untenses.
What was all that about? He thinks, feeling thoroughly confused.
It is the day of Harry’s birthday, and he has to clean the house from top to bottom. Vernon is expecting some important clients and it is in his uncle’s, and Harry’s, best interest that everything goes well.
Harry, who has not had a single letter from his friends, is miserable. Even Iris is surprised that he has not received any correspondence.
On entering his bedroom on the eve of his birthday and seeing a bizarre looking creature jumping on his bed, Harry knows in his bones that this birthday will be worse than any other.
“I’m sorry, Hedwig,” Harry whispers to his owl through the bars of the window.
Hedwig flies in circles outside his window and, with a sad bark in his direction, flies off.
Dudley pushes a plate of grapes, an apple and banana with a packet of Space Raiders (pickled onion) through the cat flap.
Harry briefly wonders what Dudley did to the food, but he is too hungry to care. Food is food. He has been locked in his room for over a week and is only given one cold can of soup a day. He is only allowed to go out to use the toilet once in the morning.
Whether Dudley is sneaking food because he has grown a conscience or because he’s dipped in the toilet, is something Harry tries not to think about it.
Dudley has been secretly giving him extra food since he has been locked up, and hands him a bottle of water as well.
Without his schoolbooks, Harry can only do some stretches to pass the time. Much to his chagrin, he has not been able to practice his gymnastics much since he has come back from Hogwarts.
Harry is woken from his strange dream by a loud noise outside the window.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he grabs his glasses and puts them on. As he focuses on what he sees, a huge grin splits his face.
Ron and his brothers are outside his window in a flying car.
Harry sends off Hedwig with a letter to Iris and Holly.
He knows they must be so worried. He doesn’t want them to.
Ron chooses to lag behind with Harry when Iris calls his name. She and Holly have been waiting, disappointed, as they had thought he has already boarded the Hogwarts Express.
Harry introduces Ron, and quickly explains that they were late leaving the Burrow, so they only have a few minutes. Holly has not let go of Harry since she ran up to him and Iris gives them both an extra tight hug. Handing him some extra packages – the birthday presents they had not been able to give him and a bag which contains a lunch she had made for him – Iris is understanding and drags a protesting Holly away, urging Harry to get onto the train.
Harry watches them walk away and Holly gives him a forlorn wave as she looks back at him. He and Ron wheel around their trolleys and head towards the barrier, running at full speed only to crash their trolleys, attracting a lot of muttering and attention.
Harry is happy he told Hedwig to fly ahead to Hogwarts earlier this morning; her cage was still at Iris’ and he did not want her to get hurt.
He and Ron load up their trolleys again, and some kind passers-by hand him his wrapped presents. Ron pushes against the barrier and the two boys exchange looks of horror as the clock chimes eleven.
They have missed the train.
Later, in Snape’s office, Harry wishes he did not listen to Ron’s brilliant idea of flying his father’s car to Hogwarts.
… I never thought there could be anyone more incompetent than Quirrell, but Lockhart doesn’t even have to try to look inept.
All my other classes are going so much better, but Snape seems to be worse. Hermione always checked my essays last year and she said there was nothing wrong with them, nonetheless Snape always marks me down for them.
I got my summer homework back and there is so much red ink on it that I can barely read my original essay. I’d like you to take a look at it, Oma, so I’ve included it with the letter. You’ll see how unfair he is. None of the other professors have had a problem with my homework.
Fred and George said I don’t have to worry about Potions following fifth year because I can drop it after then. I’m thinking of playing Quidditch as a professional, so I don’t think I’ll need to keep going with Potions after that. Besides, like you once told me, end of year exams are for teachers and it’s the qualifications that actually matter, So, as long as I pass my OWLS and my NEWTS, then it should be okay. I’ll continue study potions independently, but if Snape is going to red ink all my essays for no reason, then there’s no point in trying.
Sorry, I complained too much, didn’t I ?
I’m sorry I couldn't come back for Christmas, but you know the Dursleys won’t allow it. I missed you both last year as well. Maybe next year you could come to Hogwarts? Third years are allowed to visit Hogsmeade village, so I was thinking we can all explore it together?
Thank you both for my presents. I love the calligraphy set, and the fountain pen is so much better than using a quill and ink. I should have done that last year.
Hermione said she’s going to borrow Hedwig to ask her parents to send her some fountain pens too. She hopes my handwriting will improve if I keep practicing with that.
This year, I received another hand knit jumper from Mrs Weasley. It’s brilliant!
Hermione and Ron said hi to you both. Ron also said he hopes you liked the Liquorice Wand and Ice Mice he sent you, Holly.
Classes are going as usual. There’s isn’t much new. Lockhart’s still a prat.
Thanks for the advice on picking electives for next year, Oma. I tried asking Percy but he wasn’t very helpful. I’ve decided to go for Arithmancy, Care of Magical Creatures and Ancient Runes. I am sure it will be difficult, but I know you’ve got loads of books on them and you said I could borrow them. Plus, Hermione will help. She didn’t even need to think about it. She’s signed up for everything, of course, though I don’t know how she’ll manage every class.
Ron wanted to do Care of Magical Creatures and Divination and wishes I had signed up for those lessons with. He thinks Divination will be an easy class, so he’s a little upset that we’re not taking those together. Hermione has convinced him to take Muggle Studies as well, that way he can take Magical Creatures with both me and Hermione and Muggle Studies with her. Besides, Muggle Studies will be a doddle with me and Hermione helping him with his homework.
Harry purposely kept his letters vague, not wanting to worry Iris and Holly about the threats from the Heir of Slytherin.
He does not tell them that Hermione has been Petrified by some unknown monster, nor that three quarters of the school think he is the Hair of Slytherin.
When he returns back to Surrey at the end of the year, he does not tell them about fighting the Basilisk, or about his encounter with Lucius Malfoy who is pissed at Harry for freeing his House-Elf.
The Dursleys have not forgotten or forgiven for his escape from his bedroom the previous year. Vernon takes great pleasure in reminding Harry of this.
They still lock up Harry’s trunk and wand in the cupboard under the stairs when he returns to Privet Drive. Fred and George have taught Harry to pick the lock and he takes the first opportunity to utilise his new skills when the Dursleys are away from home.
Instead of keeping his homework in his bedroom, Harry sneaks it out to Iris. He can do them there and Iris can help him structuring his essays better. Harry thinks this will not make a difference to any of Snape’s assigned essay, but he is sure his other professors will appreciate the effort.
Dudley is still curiously nice to him. Harry is also shocked to see how much weight his cousin has lost. Apparently, this is because Dudley has found a new passion in boxing whilst at school and during summer he will keep up with it at the local youth gym.
Harry feels ambivalent about this: on one hand, Dudley seems to have turned over a new leaf; on the other hand, if he goes back to his bullying ways, he will be able to punch with more power and accuracy.
Vernon seems to be particularly proud of this. Harry just keeps his mouth shut and gets on with the chores. He needs to keep his cool and somehow get Vernon or Petunia to sign his permission slip for Hogsmeade. He wishes he could get Iris to sign it instead, but she is not his parent or guardian, no matter how much Harry wishes she was.
Harry watches Iris carefully. She seems to be in worse health than last year. Harry is concerned and he tries to ask Iris about it, but she keep deflecting. He discerns that Holly does not know much either, despite living with her all year round; still, he tries to ask her about Iris’ eating and sleeping habits.
Harry has put a lot of effort into learning about healing over the last two years at Hogwarts. What Harry has not told Iris and Holly is that, although he is practicing his gymnastics at school, he has also been practicing some acrobatics... on his broom.
The first time he had tried this during his first Quidditch practice, his teammates thought he was trying to kill himself. Oliver Wood especially seemed to regret letting him onto the team, thinking McGonagall was mistaken in Harry’s flying skills: eventually, he proved them wrong when he demonstrated some simple manoeuvres on the broom, such as doing a somersault or a backflip, though he made sure he was only a few feet off the ground when he showed those.
As Harry continued to practice and grew more confident in his skills on his Nimbus broom, Oliver allowed him to practice the same manoeuvres slightly higher.
His first match might not have gone well when Quirrell was jinxing his broom and he had nearly swallowed the snitch, and in his second he had to be even more careful as Snape was refereeing the game.
Last year he had been able to show off his skills some more, but not as much as he would have liked.
The point is that Harry had learned a lot about healing spells and potions because he needed them whenever he got hurt practicing his broomstick stunts. He wishes Iris would tell him what was wrong with her: maybe he could do some research and find some magical help for her.
She has done so much for him. He desires he could do something in return.
“I know you’re a witch,” Harry says softly, having decided to tackle this subject at least, since Iris is so reticent about her health. She freezes in the act of peeling potatoes.
Harry is standing next to her, chopping up the onions and carrots.
She looks like she is going to deny it before her shoulders slump.
“What gave me away?” she finally asks.
Harry darts a quick glance at Holly, who is in the front sitting in front of the TV, watching a rerun of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon.
He keeps his voice low.
“A few things. I know you have a lot of knowledge, which might have been from the books you have downstairs, but there are other things as well: like, I started to notice how you cut certain things as Potions ingredients. The door to the cell has no lock, but Holly can’t open it when she tries while you can even without turning the key. Some of the potions you have knowledge of and seem to be able to get when you shouldn’t.
“Then, last year, I saw the padlock from Hedwig’s cage. You didn’t cut it off with bolt cutters, did you? It was in one piece. You used magic, didn’t you?”
Iris gave him a side- long glance and there a smile twisted her lips.
“Very clever, Harry,” she shakes her head ruefully.
He is glad she is not mad at him for figuring it out.
“Were you ever going to tell me?”
Her answer is quick.
Then, she sighs and puts down the potato and the peeler, so she can turn to face Harry completely. He does the same, giving Iris his full attention.
“I know I should have told you the same day I said I know you got your letter from Hogwarts, but please, believe me, Harry,” she cups his face and looks at him gravely, “it was not my intention to hide it from you. It was to protect Holly. One day, she will get her letter to Hogwarts and, to be honest, that day scares me.”
“Like Jasmine, I left the Magical world for a reason. It is cruel to people it thinks don’t fit in. But Holly… she deserves her chance. Perhaps, by the time she gets to Hogwarts, they will have progressed in their thinking.”
She lets go of Harry and picks up her potato and peeler again to continue where she left off.
Harry turns back to the chopping board, picks up his knife and begins slicing again. Giving Holly another glance to make sure she is not paying attention, he drops his voice to little more than a whisper and says, “Jasmine wasn’t your daughter, was she? Holly’s dad, he’s your son, isn’t he?”
Iris is startled. The potato slips from her hand and the peelers drops to the counter with a clangour.
Harry is alarmed to notice the fear in Iris’ eyes. She clutches the counter top tightly, and sways as if she is about to swoon. He has never seen her frightened like this, and regrets putting that dread there, bringing the whole thing up.
“I won’t tell her,” Harry promises hastily. Throwing down the knife, he reaches for her, but she raises a hand to ward him off. He is hurt, and Iris must notice, as she touches his shoulder comfortingly.
“I’m sorry,” Harry says miserably as he guides her to a chair and fetches a glass of water.
Iris takes a moment to gather herself and Harry gives her space by taking over peeling the potatoes, though he can’t help but glance back at her every so often to make sure she is okay.
“Life shouldn’t be this hard, child,” Iris pronounces in a despondent voice that Harry does not like to hear from her. “Unfortunately, it is. I’ve tried to protect my family as best I could, but that doesn’t stop me from questioning myself all the time. Am I doing the right thing? Have I made things worse? What could I have done differently?
“Jasmine deserved better than how … my son… treated her. Holly deserves better than how Jasmine treated her. You deserve better than Petunia and Vernon. You and Holly deserve better than me,” Iris confesses.
“No, don’t say that,” Harry denies instantly, still keeping his voice down. He drops the potato and peeler and goes to kneel before her, taking her hands in his own. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me and Holly. If it wasn’t for you, I would think all people are like the Dursleys. You showed me there are kind people out there, you’ve always been there for Holly, when Jasmine wasn’t. You’ve been there for her when he wasn’t. I don’t need to know who he is. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the one who’s lost out by rejecting Holly. I promise you I won’t ever say anything to Holly. I trust you.”
He squeezes her hands to emphasise his point.
“Oh, Harry,” Iris says tearfully. She pulls him in for a hug and Harry awkwardly hugs her back. “I hope you’ll still say that when you’ll find out the truth; because, one day, you will.”
The words are whispered into his hair, and he can feel her tears fall on his scalp.
“There’s nothing you could do that will drive me away,” Harry assures.
Her arms tighten around him.
After the rage and adrenaline fades away, Harry is left in a cold panic. He has used accidental magic and is trying to outrun the letter he knows he will receive from the Ministry of Magic.
He is on his way to Iris’ house, the only place he can go this late. Aunt Marge is floating away somewhere, Uncle Vernon is in a rage and Aunt Petunia is practically catatonic.
Dudley has purposely got in the way of Uncle Vernon choking Harry, under the guise of helping him when Ripper, Aunt Marge’s bulldog, had latched onto Vernon’s leg. Harry had grabbed his trunk and left, but not before extracting his wand and threatening Vernon with it.
Harry is about to turn down Magnolia Crescent when he hears a growl in the dark alley to his left. When blue eyes blink at him in the dark, he is startled and falls, throwing out his arms.
That is how he accidentally summons the Knight Bus.
Harry ends up spending the rest of the month in Diagon Alley, in a rented room at the Leaky Cauldron. He cannot believe his luck at not being in trouble, especially given last year’s warning, but he has no intention of poking that particular dragon.
Hedwig, who was staying with Iris, is already waiting for Harry in his room. He debates sending a letter now, even if it is so late. It was still early evening when Aunt Marge was blown up and Iris usually goes to bed late.
Harry decides to err on the side of caution and pens a quick letter to Iris, explaining what happened and reassuring her that he is safe. He invites them to visit him in Diagon Alley if they are able to, though, knowing how Iris is trying to stay away from the Wizarding World, he is not hopeful that she will accept the invitation.
Dudley has been having second thoughts from the moment he stepped outside his house to Mrs Pierce’s.
However, he cannot deny his concern and needs to make sure Harry is okay. Mrs Pierce will be able to tell him. Dudley has seen Harry with the little girl – Hallie, or Holly, or something like that. He has seen them in the park together, sometimes with the old woman. And during Christmas when Dudley was home for the holidays, he has seen Harry’s owl, Hedwig, flying to the house.
Gathering his courage, Dudley knocks on Mrs Pierce’s door.
It is opened just as he is debating leaving, believing no one is home given how long it is before it is unlocked. He frowns as no one is there. There is a slight fear. Did it open by magic? Mrs Pierce might be witch. It could be possible, though Harry has been coming here for years before he found out he was a wizard.
“What do you want?” A little, rude voice asks him.
Dudley directs his gaze downwards. Before he can answer, Mrs Pierce comes up behind her granddaughter. Her gaze is warm, at least until her eyes light on Dudley; then, her whole demeanour turns cool.
“Do you know if Harry is all right?” Dudley blurts out, before his courage fails.
Iris and Holly are already there, waiting for them at King’s Cross when the Ministry cars drop Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys off at the train station.
Holly spots him first and gives him a hug. She has been worried, Harry knows this from the letters Iris has been sending him. This is the second summer in which an incident that cuts Harry’s return to Surrey short. If it weren’t for Holly and Iris, Harry would try to stop returning to Privet Drive. He knows it would make Madam Pomfrey happy if he could get away from the Dursleys, but he always refuses to talk about his family.
Harry hugs Holly back, picking her up with a wide grin.
“You left before we could give you your presents again, Harry,” Holly reproaches him, wrapping her tiny legs around his waist.
“I know, I can’t express how sorry I am.” Harry kisses her cheeks apologetically.
“I’ll forgive you if you send me lots of Chocolate Frogs and Ice Mice,” Holly bargains.
Everyone laughs at Holly’s negotiating skills.
“Deal,” Harry agrees. Then, turning back to the Weasleys and his friends, he introduces Iris and Holly to them all, though Ron has already met them both last year.
They move towards the barrier, Mr and Mrs Weasley subtly questioning Iris. Fred and George take charge of entertaining Holly, who is greatly amused by their antics, and equal parts fascinated by Hermione’s new cat, Crookshanks.
Harry hears Iris telling them Holly’s mum is a witch, and therefore knows about the Magical world. It is the same assumption Harry had made since the beginning and Iris only continues with it. He can’t begrudge her for holding back the truth. He has promised not to tell, but at least it alleviates Mr and Mrs Weasley’s fear that Harry has broken the Statute of Secrecy.
Iris hands over a bag fully of Harry’s presents and lunch for the train, as has become tradition. After hugging everyone goodbye, the Weasleys, Harry and Hermione take turns pushing through the barrier.
Mr Weasley pulls Harry aside to warn him about Sirius Black and he is touched the elder wizard does this. Harry promises that he will not go looking for Black, but makes a mental note to search the library for the reason why the convict would go after him, other than being a minion of Voldemort and wanting to kill Harry for defeating his master.
Once on the train, Harry and his friends settle in, across from facing the sleeping professor. Harry buys enough Chocolate Frogs and Ice Mice to keep Holly happy for some time.
He ends up needing some chocolate for himself, after having an encounter with a Dementor for the first time.