Chapter 10 - Meeting Eliot 11 aug
The two days that followed ‘the Great Pooh Fiasco’ were fraught with endless tension for Harry, as father’s persistent headache was making him very cranky and prone to angry outbursts that invariably ended with the boy’s backside being rather tender. He walked on tiptoes around the man, never sure what could spur his easy temper. Yesterday, for instance, he had been almost late for dinner, and he ran down the stairs to avoid a reprimand. Unfortunately for him, father had just been coming out of the bathroom and saw him stumble, just a tiny bit! He had then been caught with magic, shouted at for being a reckless fool, and spanked so hard that he ate his dinner while standing.
The worst time of the day had to be breakfast though, Harry was so stressed that it was a miracle he managed to eat his allotted portion without throwing up all over the table. Father wasn’t fond of wasting food, however, and so he wasn’t allowed to leave the table without cleaning his plate. ‘Leave the table’ was only a turn of phrase in this case, as he was supposed to come right back with a book for his hour of supervised reading. The first time had been pure torture, but father didn’t tell him to read out loud, or even asked him to summarize what he’d read. The man only brought a book of his own and read alongside the boy.
Harry suspected that the reprieve was the result of father’s severe headache, and as soon as he felt better he would start asking these types of questions, but at the moment the boy was given some breathing room. Oh, his head was pounding from squinting at the blurry ants on the page for forever now, the hour was surely up already! He turned the page and sighed, squirming in discomfort on the hard chair. How could father sit so still all the time? Were his legs going numb, too? The boy started tapping his feet on the floor, just to get the feeling back in them.
“Enough,” the man snapped suddenly, looking up from his book and glaring at the child. “You’re done, go outside!”
Harry jumped to his feet immediately, his face breaking out into a toothy grin.
“Really, father?” he asked eagerly. “I may go?”
“Yes,” the man sighed. “But take the book where it belongs first, and put on a warm jumper. It’s quite chilly.”
“Okay,” the boy grabbed the Pooh book, and dashed out of the kitchen, only slowing when father’s shout reminded him that running on the stairs was forbidden. “I know!”
Harry climbed the stairs slowly, even holding the railing to be absolutely safe, his bum was feeling rather well today and he was determined to keep it that way. There was a new spell on the railing since yesterday that the boy didn’t like, it glued his fingers to the wood slowing him practically to a crawl. He was bouncing with impatience by the time he got to his room, and even the prospect of wearing his ugly yellow jumper couldn’t diminish his cheery mood.
After another snail slow descent, Harry ran out the front door, jumping up and down in joy. It had been raining buckets the last two days, and he’d been forbidden to set foot outside lest he caught a chill. The boy had never been sick from getting wet before, and he argued that point vehemently, but the only good it did him was to get a sharp slap to the seat of his trousers, and a promise of more if he even thought of setting a foot outside while it was raining. His father was getting more unreasonable by the day, fussing about his health constantly, as if the boy hadn’t taken care of himself for years and years. He wasn’t used to being babied all the time!
In any case, Harry had been stuck inside until today, he fetched his birthday ball from the porch and stared up at the sky with a frown. Dark rain clouds were hanging low in the sky, threatening rain in the afternoon, but for now he marched determinedly into the back garden. He had discovered, completely by accident, he would swear to it, that kicking the ball toward the Blood Weed plantation caused it to be thrown back. It was almost as though someone else was kicking it back to him, and the harder he kicked, the faster it sailed back.
The boy amused himself thus, chasing and kicking the ball, until he ran himself ragged and collapsed on the grass in exhaustion.
“I see I created a great toy for you in this repulsion ward,” father’s bemused voice drifted from the direction of the house, making the child startle and sit up rather abruptly. “Are you thirsty?”
Harry nodded, eyeing the man fearfully, the last time father came out to the garden, he had been whipped and ended up in hospital. His chin began to tremble and he hunched over his bent knees, trying to swallow back the overwhelming dread.
“Are you very angry?” he choked out, on the verge of crying.
The man stopped in front of him, and squatted to be on the same level with the child, he ignored the boy’s flinch when he placed a hand under his chin and tilted it upwards to look into his green eyes.
“I’m not angry at all, just… surprised,” father said with a tiny smirk. “I never thought you would use the ward as a playtoy.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Harry whispered, not quite believing he wouldn’t be punished for playing like that. He gasped when father did his hair stroking thing again, and he blinked rapidly.
“I don’t mind you playing with our wards, they have been made safe for you,” father said softly. “Just take care not to brush them with your body, alright?”
“Will it hurt?” the boy asked breathlessly.
“Sting, so be careful,” father corrected, magicking a glass and filling it with water for Harry. “Are you coming inside, now?”
Eyes growing wide, the boy shook his head vehemently.
“I want to stay. Please?” he pleaded, it was going to rain again soon, and he would be trapped inside then.
“Very well,” father agreed, standing and looking at him expectantly. “Drink up.”
Harry blushed in embarrassment at having forgotten about the glass in his hands, he gulped the water down thirstily. He didn’t realise just how parched he was from all the running, and the man had to refill his glass before he was sated. Eventually, father went back to the house, leaving the boy with a stern admonition to take a break from running.
Lying on the grass and staring at the clouds became boring more quickly than the boy anticipated, and so he decided to do his surveillance of the neighbourhood. He was on his third turn of the property, when he heard someone calling to him. Harry squinted, peering in the direction of the childish voice, and saw a little person bobbing blurrily up and down as it waved both hands over its head to attract his attention.
“Hey, over there! Do you wanna play?” a familiar voice called over the fence, from the next property.
Harry ran over, beginning to smile hugely as he beheld the face he had seen in the mirror during his hospital stay.
“Hello, Eliot,” he said with a grin. “Nice to finally meet you in person. My name’s Harry.”
“You know me?” the smaller boy asked shyly.
“My father told me about you,” Harry said with a nod, it was sort of true and he wasn’t sure he was allowed to speak about being incognito in hospital.
They shook hands through the hole in the chain link fence, and Harry had to bite his lip to prevent himself from crying out in pain as his hand was engulfed in flames the moment it passed on the other side. He ducked his head to hide his pained expression, as he massaged his hand, he couldn’t imagine what stung so badly.
“Mr. Snape is your father?” Eliot asked in wide-eyed horror, clearly overwhelmed by the news. “And you live with him, now?”
Harry’s head came up so fast at the comment that he got a crick in the neck.
“No, I-,” he paused, thinking how best to explain the situation he was in. “I’m on holiday… I guess.”
“Oh,” the smaller boy mumbled sadly, looking to the ground. “I do that, too, when daddy has time for me.”
The child looked so dejected and depressed that Harry expected him to burst into tears at any moment, and from long experience with his cousin, he knew he would be blamed and punished for it. Panicking, the boy looked around for approaching adults about to catch him in the act of upsetting the little one.
“I’ve seen your swings!” he burst out, forcing as much cheer into his voice as was humanly possible. “Do you like playing on them?”
Eliot looked up and there were tears on his cheeks, Harry wanted to cry as well, because now father would be so mad! Upsetting Dudley was absolutely forbidden, with the worst punishment from uncle Vernon, and no mercy from his aunt either, he could feel himself beginning to shake with the memory of being locked in the cold and the dark.
“Are you okay, Harry?” a small and worried voice asked. “Don’t be sad.”
Harry blinked a few times, and wiped his eyes with the back of a hand.
“I’m not, I just… thought about something bad,” he admitted, ashamed to be crying without good cause.
“Me, too,” Eliot sighed, and smiled weakly. “We wouldn’t have time for sad thoughts, if we played together.”
“You’re right,” he replied, returning the smile. “I would like that very much.”
“Let’s go on the swings,” Eliot suggested, brightening considerably at finding a playmate.
Harry, however, was frowning in dismay, as he stared in the direction of the swings. As much as he loved the idea, it was completely unattainable.
“I c-can’t,” he groaned, slumping his shoulders in defeat. “I’m not allowed to leave the yard without permission.”
“Ask your daddy, then,” the boy demanded impatiently, putting his small fists on his hips.
Harry winced, he couldn’t imagine ever referring to the strict man by that word, he’d probably get the belt for that. He shook his head.
“I can’t,” he whispered, dropping his eyes in shame for his cowardice.
“I’m scared of him, too,” Eliot confessed quietly, and Harry looked at him in surprise. “Wait here.”
Before he could react, the child ran towards the house, leaving him staring dejectedly at the empty stretch of lawn where his would-be friend had been. Harry slumped to the ground and buried his face in his knees to muffle his sobs, he had been so close to gaining a friend. He should have gone, Dudley would have, without even telling his parents, except that his cousin would never ever be whipped.
“Harry!” father’s irritated voice broke the silence, making the boy cringe and look at the approaching figure with trepidation. “Where in the blazes have you gone to, now?”
The man turned a corner, and the moment he caught sight of the child huddled on the wet ground by the fence, his face twisted with anger. Harry opened his mouth to apologise for whatever he might have done without knowing it, but father had him up and bent over his hand before he could say a word.
“You are to come when I call,” he chastised, smacking the child’s rear smartly once. “At once, is that understood?”
“Yes, yes, father,” the boy cried, clutching at his stinging backside with both hands. “Please, I’m sorry!”
“Good,” the man growled, drawing his wand and waving it over the child to dry his trousers. “Sitting in puddles isn’t very smart, you know.”
Father huffed with impatience, snatched his hand and pulled him toward the front of the house.
“Come,” he muttered darkly. “You’ve been invited to spend a day with our charming neighbours.”
“Sir?” the boy asked in confusion.
“At least it wasn’t your idea to send that harridan to harrass me,” father grumbled under his breath.
Harry had to admit he had no inkling of what father was even talking about, but as they neared the house, he could see an elderly woman with a tight bun of white hair and rectangular glasses waiting for them on the porch.
“This is my son Harry,” father introduced sourly. “Harry, say hello to Mrs. Wilkinson.”
“Hello, ma’am,” the boy whispered timidly, feeling very intimidated by the woman’s scrutiny.
“The boy’s skin and bone,” she criticized, glaring poisonously at father. “Don’t you feed him at all, boy?”
“You’re welcome to fatten him up, if you wish,” the man sneered in disgust. “I’ll pick him up before dinner.”
“Better after, at least the poor boy will go to bed with a full stomach for once,” the lady quipped.
Harry had been looking between the two adults with growing unease, understanding that he was the subject of the insulting comments. He wanted to defend his father, as he was doing the opposite of starving him, but he was wary of reminding them that he was there. They went on to argue about his unsatisfactory clothes and haircut, making the boy very self-conscious.
Father gave the lady a mocking bow as thanks for the advice, before fixing the child with a strict glare.
“If I hear any complaints about your behaviour, you’ll go to bed with a very sore behind,” he threatened severely. “Understood, Harry?”
The boy nodded, too scared to even make a noise as his hand was given over to the imposing woman’s custody.
“Now, you’ve made sure I won’t complain, you old fox,” Mrs. Wilkinson snorted with derisive laughter. “I hope he isn’t the helion you were, Severus. Come, Harry,” she added kindly to the child. “Eliot is waiting for you.”
Harry didn’t know what was happening, but suddenly his father was smirking at him, as if it all had been a grand joke. He walked in a daze beside the old woman, as she chattered amiably at him, but the boy couldn’t have said what she talked about. Eventually, they were in the yard next door, and he was instructed to join Eliot on the swings. He obeyed, wondering if he had hallucinated the last ten minutes.
“You took ages!” the boy complained, he was sitting on the swing, leaning his head on the rope in apparent boredom. “Did they argue?”
“Sorry,” Harry mumbled with a shrug, not knowing what else to say.
Eliot rolled his eyes, and suggested they see who was better on the swings. Having done this only once, Harry worried he would make a fool of himself, but he wasn’t that much worse than the younger boy. They exchanged suggestions on how to make the swing go higher, as they talked about what they liked to do. It was a completely novel experience to have another child interested in what he had to say, and Harry found himself relaxing as he confided his newly discovered love of football.
They went on to discuss their family situations, and his new friend was appalled that Harry had been left with his father whom he only just met. It was much worse than his daddy, who kept forgetting about his weekend visits with his son. Eliot had a mommy, who worked long hours at a factory, and a grandma, who was really kind, but argued incessantly with Harry’s father.
The boy felt dizzy listening to all the facts and anecdotes, and it was a relief to be called inside for lunch. Eliot’s grandma served them sandwiches with tomatoes and cucumbers, which Harry liked rather a lot. Eliot was of a different opinion, and he complained bitterly about not liking vegetables. Harry observed fearfully, expecting a strict punishment from the boy’s grandmother.
“Don’t be such a pain in the ass, Eliot,” she chastised, kissing the top of the boy’s blond head. “Eat, or there won’t be any sweets for you. Look at Harry.”
He froze with a sandwich half-way to his mouth, as their blue gazes fixed onto him. Eliot grimaced and sighed dramatically, but he lifted his sandwich and took a small bite, looking like someone who had been condemned to prolonged torture.
Sheeting rain prevented them from returning outside, and Eliot invited him upstairs to see his room. Harry fervently hoped they wouldn’t be reading any of the many books on the shelves, but the younger boy went straight to a large crate of building blocks. They sat on the carpet, and started building a fortress, arguing heatedly about how many towers were needed to make it impressive.
Unluckily, grandma brought a tray of cakes then, and caught them being rather loud. She scolded them, and put them in opposite corners of the room for five minutes, to contemplate how better to be friendly toward each other.
“And be glad I don’t put you over my knee for a slippering as well,” she reprimanded. “Bickering like a married couple, shame on you, boys.”
Harry shook in fear for his entire stay in the corner, terrified that he had given Mrs. Wilkinson a reason to complain about him to his father. He didn’t dare object to Eliot’s mad ideas afterwards, even when the fortress ended up collapsing half-way through the construction.
The younger boy collapsed in a fit of giggles on the floor, and Harry stared at him in utter bewilderment.
“Aren’t you sad that it got ruined?” he asked in confusion.
“No, silly!” Eliot laughed, his blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “That’s the best part!”
Harry looked at the demolition site in doubt, the whole floor was littered with small pieces of the fortress, making a terrible mess, and adults hated messes.
“We probably should clean it up, before grandma sees,” Eliot echoed his thoughts.
Shuddering at the imminent punishment, the boy started picking the small pieces up and throwing them back into the crate, it was his usual job at the Dursleys to clean up any messes his cousin left behind. It was a great surprise when Eliot knelt beside him to help.
“Let’s go play ball in the garden,” he suggested when they finished. “It isn’t raining anymore!”
Playing football with a friend was harder and more exhilarating than kicking it into the wards, there was a lot of yelling, and triumphant jumping up and down when one of them scored a goal. Initially, Harry tried to keep his expressions of joy silent, but when nobody came yelling at them to be quiet, he joined in with enthusiasm.
It was 8 : 5 for Eliot, when Harry’s trainer slipped on the wet grass, and he fell hard to the side. He whimpered as hot pain exploded in his left shoulder, the one that had been tender since their escape from hospital, the boy curled into a ball and tried to suppress a building sob.
“Harry! Harry, are you alright?” Eliot cried, dropping to his knees beside the other boy in a panic. “I’m gonna call grandma!”
“No!” Harry panted painfully. “Don’t tell, Eliot. Please.”
“But you’re hurt!” the younger boy sobbed, clearly frightened by the request. “Grandma can help!”
“No,” he insisted, gritting his teeth and sitting up despite the pain. “She would tell my father.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Eliot asked in a scared voice.
“He’ll beat me,” Harry whispered, averting his eyes. “Please, don’t tell her. I’ll be okay.”
There was no mention of telling the adults after that, they sat on the grass until the boy was ready to stand, and then they wiped their faces carefully until all traces of tears were gone. Both boys jumped, when a female voice called Eliot’s name.
“Mommy!” the younger boy called, running to the house. Harry followed more slowly, very carefully keeping his left hand still.
In the kitchen, a young woman with long blond curls was swinging Eliot in the air, making him giggle like a madman. Harry paused, staring at this display of motherly affection with a deep longing.
“And who’s that?” the woman asked kindly, when she caught sight of him.
“I’m Harry,” he whispered, suddenly embarrassed that he had been staring.
“He’s Severus’s boy, if you can believe it!” Mrs. Wilkinson explained with a snort.
“That bad-tempered ogre’s? No!” she burst out laughing.
The adults went on in that vein for some time, fortunately leaving the children out of the conversation. Harry exchanged anxious glances with Eliot, feeling very uncomfortable about the women making fun of his father. He ate his dinner without enthusiasm, and was genuinely relieved when father picked him up soon after.
Harry was sent upstairs straight away, as it was well past his bedtime already, and he was glad he could escape his father’s intimidating presence, before the man noticed that something was wrong. He soaked in the bath for much longer than he normally would have dared, as warm water soothed some of the pain in his shoulder. There was a large bruise, and he couldn’t lift his arm without crying.
Putting on his pyjamas was pure torture, but he eventually managed to put himself to bed. The boy tossed and turned for hours, trying to find a comfortable enough position to sleep in, but his shoulder seemed to hurt more with every passing moment. He started to cry, it got so bad that a whipping from his father began to look like a fair price for a healing.
Gasping for breath, Harry dragged himself to his feet, cradling his arm to his chest carefully, he was very afraid of going to his father, but there was no choice anymore, it just hurt too much. The landing was dark and silent as he stepped out of his room, but the pulse in his ears thundered so loudly that he barely noticed.
He was half-way down the staircase, when he heard faint voices coming from behind the sliding bookshelf downstairs. Harry froze in place, frightened that he would be punished for eavesdropping again, but unable to turn back with his shoulder blazing like that. He stood undecided for some time, when he heard his relatives’ name drifting on the air. Almost in a trance, Harry went the rest of the way down, desperate to hear about his aunt and uncle. The last step creaked loudly as he put his weight on it, and the conversation in the living room paused mid-word.
“That boy!” father shouted angrily.
With a gasp of horror, Harry bolted.