For Your Own Good
To Know Your Place
I did not write either "The Song That Gets On Everybody's Nerves" or Five Children and It. I am happier about one of these facts than the other. I also did not write certain bits of this chapter, which are quotations or paraphrases from the first HP book. You'll find them if you look. I did, however, write the vast majority of this chapter, and I hope that you enjoy it.
Summer Saturday mornings, as far as Henry, Jeanie, and Mal were concerned, were for luxurious lying around in bed, for enjoying the softness of the sheets, the scent of fresh-cut grass blowing in through the window screens, the singing of the birds perched on the electrical wires.
Pearl had other ideas.
"Oh, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves,
"Everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves,
"Oh, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves
"And this is how it goes!"
Clash, clash, clash went two pot lids in time.
Jeanie pulled her pillow over her head, emitting a noise which seemed to be a combination of snarl and groan. What would you call that? Henry wondered idly, wiggling his toes. A snoan, or a grarl? Maybe just a Jeanie noise.
From beneath him, a small shush of fabric announced the opening of Mal's improvised bedcurtains (gauzy white for summer, rather than the thick black he used in the wintertime). "I think that new Conditional Imperturbable Charm on the grownups' bedrooms is working a little bit too well," Henry's cousin commented as Pearl continued her noisy serenade. "What were the terms they set on it again?"
"Mmm." Henry cast his mind back. "They'll only hear noises from the rest of the house if somebody's bleeding or unconscious, doing accidental magic, or lit something on fire that isn't in the fireplace."
"Is that so." Mal's tanned fingers wrapped around the side of Henry's bunk, followed a moment later by a sleep-rumpled shock of middling-brown hair and a pair of gray eyes alight with the spark of mischief. "That leaves us an awful lot of room to maneuver, if you know what I mean…"
Across the room, a pillow went flying as Jeanie sat up in a rush, her own brown curls standing out around her head like a gorgon's snakes with the accumulated static of the night. "Revenge," she breathed, crooking her own fingers into claws, her skin less tan than Mal's but still a shade or two darker than it had been two weeks ago on the last day of school. "It will be mine."
"It will be ours," Henry corrected, sliding to the bottom of his bed and clambering down in the few brief movements nearly six years of practice had instilled in him, the bunks having been installed over the Fourth of July weekend the year he and Mal were five as their joint birthday present. "We'll hold, you squirt…"
The shrieking brought Ryan Blake awake with a gasp, his mind full of another place, another name, another life. Darkness and cold, stone walls and solitude, screams and wild laughter all around him, with the worst moments of his life driving icy spears into his heart in an endless loop of 'if only I had' and 'if only I hadn't', and the knowledge that the sole escape available to him was the very thing most to be feared—
Easy, boy. The sunlight outside his white-curtained bedroom windows, the warmth of his still-sleeping wife beside him, slowed his racing heart and loosened the muscles which had tensed to the point of pain. You made your decision a long time ago, remember? Delusion, dream, or whatever this is, it's the closest thing to good you're likely to see in your lifetime. Enjoy it while it lasts and never take it for granted, because the second you do, bang goes the balloon and we're right back where we started…
The invoking of this familiar piece of logic enabled Ryan to get a full breath into his lungs and recognize the spluttering screams from the backyard for what they were. His little girl had apparently pestered her older brother and her cousins beyond what they could stand, and they were administering their own brand of summary (and summery) justice via garden hose.
"Go deal with that?" Thea murmured, waving a hand in the general direction of the noise. "'S too early, neighbors'll complain."
"Why do I have to go deal with it?" Ryan complained, but swung his legs out of bed nevertheless. "Why don't you go deal with it? Give me one good reason."
"Because you're already up. Because they're your children too. And most important of all." Thea rolled onto her side to smile up at him lazily. "Because I said so."
"Well, they're not good, but they're reasons." Ryan leaned back to kiss his wife briefly before getting to his feet. "Can there be tea?"
"There can be, if you ask for it properly."
Ryan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Please, O gracious goddess of my home and heart, would you be so kind as to make me a pot of tea, as a reward for dealing with—" An extra-loud shriek made him wince. "That," he finished, jerking his thumb towards the backyard. "Little demons that they are."
"Yes, I think I will." Thea arched her back, stretching, then slid out of bed on her own side. "But only because you said please. And only if you keep your side of the bargain."
"On my way." Ryan padded down the wood-floored hallway and into the kitchen, sliding open the glass door which led out onto the small deck built onto the back of the house. "I'm pregnant, she said," he muttered, descending the stairs towards the grass, where Henry and Mal held a dripping and furious Pearl pinioned between them as Jeanie coiled up the hose. "Come to America, she said. Bring the kid, it'll be fun, she said. And just what are you lot up to this morning?" he demanded in a louder tone, causing the three older children to jerk guiltily. "Other than making loud noises and waking up hard-working people who're trying to sleep in?"
"Daddy!" Pearl broke free and ran to him, stopping just short of flinging herself on him with a disgusted look down at her soaked self. "You saw, I didn't do anything—"
"Didn't do anything except wake us up with your stupid song, you mean," Henry interrupted his little sister. "You think you can get away with these things just because Mom and Dad can't hear you anymore—"
"You're the one who insisted on taking it out into the yard," Mal broke in. "I would've been perfectly satisfied with the bathtub."
"Too close of quarters in there." Jeanie shaped a small rectangular box with her hands. "Whoever was holding her down would have gotten wet too. Out here, I could direct the spray, so only the person we wanted to get wet got wet. And isn't that one of the cardinal rules of pranking?" She turned the innocent gaze of the knowledge-seeker onto her uncle. "Limit collateral damage wherever possible?"
Ryan began to chuckle, and then to laugh, his son and nephew and niece joining in as they realized they had successfully dodged parental wrath. Even Pearl started to giggle after a few moments, accepting the towel her father conjured her and beginning to dry herself off.
"I don't suppose it would have been possible to raise you any other way," said the man who had once been one-fourth of a truly notorious group of pranksters, herding his children towards the stairs up to the deck. "But I do feel sorry for Dumbledore and company this fall. Hogwarts isn't going to know what hit it…"
The dark ones gathered at the doorway of one particular enclosure, frustrated by what they could feel within. The creature lay in a state called 'sleep', which ought to have made him easier prey for their power, but somehow this one contravened all the ordinary rules. The defenses he had long since lost in waking returned to him each night while he slept, and the rich taste of his exhausted despair slipped away, replaced by an emptiness so profound that he might as well have been in a different world.
But the dark ones were nothing if not patient. They could hear the creature breathe, and his heart still beat, therefore he lived. He would awaken, and fall once more under their encompassing spell, and the fire of his fury at finding himself trapped would give a new spice to the feast to be had from him.
It had happened thus many times before, and would, the dark ones were sure, many times again.
Harry woke slowly, lying very still to hold on to as many of the precious details of the dream as possible. The vivid green of the soft grass under his bare feet, the glint of the morning sunlight in his eyes, the rich sound of his father's amusement as he threw back his head and laughed, all went into his vault of good memories, to be brought out and examined during boring school lessons, tedious sessions of chores with Aunt Petunia, or long and lonely hours in his cupboard.
Or at Mrs. Figg's. Rolling over, Harry reached for his glasses. Since Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia have had it set up for weeks with Mr. and Mrs. Polkiss that they're going to take Dudley and Piers to the zoo today. Which, I might like to go, but not with them. They'd think it was funny to push me into the wolf exhibit or something, and I'm not so keen to find out if magic's real that I want to try and use it to save my life!
A rap on the door startled him out of his musings. "Up!" Aunt Petunia snapped shrilly. "Now! You're to look after the bacon, and don't you dare let it burn! I want everything perfect for my Duddy's eleventh birthday!"
Harry stifled a groan and dug out a pair of socks, removing a spider from one of them before he pulled them on. Keeping Henry Blake's answers from coming out of Harry Potter's mouth got harder and harder the older he got. Much of what Henry had to say on the subject of Dudley, or the Dursleys' quirks and foibles, would have been (and often was) met with roars of laughter or applause at 2319 Tudor Lane. At number four, Privet Drive, it was more likely to get him a few days in his cupboard or one of Uncle Vernon's tirades on Ungrateful Boys Who Didn't Know Their Place.
Only I do know my place. Harry ran his fingers through his hair half-heartedly, then shook his head, abandoning the attempt. How does "anywhere but here" sound?
With a sigh, he finished dressing and climbed out of his cupboard, heading for the kitchen.
Everything went just as Harry would have expected—the heaps of presents on the table, Dudley's incipient tantrum on discovering that he had fewer of them than last year, Aunt Petunia's hasty promise to buy him some more while they were out and Uncle Vernon's amused satisfaction with Dudley's greed—until the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it. Harry took advantage of her absence, and of Uncle Vernon's watching Dudley tear through his presents, to help himself to the last of the bacon.
"Bad news, Vernon," said Aunt Petunia as she came back looking both worried and angry. "Mrs. Figg's broken her leg. She can't take him."
Harry swallowed hastily at this unexpected news and tried to look as small and unassuming as possible.
"I suppose we could telephone your sister…" Aunt Petunia went on.
"Marge?" Uncle Vernon snorted. "Don't be ridiculous, Petunia, she hates the boy. What about your friend, what's her name, Yvonne?"
"On vacation in Majorca." Aunt Petunia looked furiously at Harry as though he'd had some part in Mrs. Figg breaking her leg. Harry repressed the urge to smile (it wouldn't be taken well) and instead let his eyes dart down the hallway towards his cupboard before returning to his aunt's face.
"You could just leave me here," he suggested. "I'll wash up from breakfast and everything."
"And come back to find the house in ruins?" snapped Aunt Petunia, her mouth puckering as though she'd bitten into a lemon.
Harry shook his head hard. "I've got a book," he said earnestly. "That's all I'll do, is wash the dishes and then read until you get back. I promise."
Aunt Petunia visibly wavered. "I suppose we could take him along," she said uncertainly, "and leave him in the car…"
"That car's brand-new!" Uncle Vernon exploded, pounding his fist on the table. "He's not sitting in it alone all day!"
Dudley burst into noisy wails, his best means of extracting anything from his parents which they were not instantly willing to give him. "I don't want him to come!" he bawled as Aunt Petunia flung her arms around him, cooing comfort. "He always spoils everything!" Through the gap in his mother's embrace, he shot Harry a nasty grin.
Harry returned a bland, noncommittal look in Dudley's general direction. He'd perfected the expression as Henry under the searching gaze of father, mother, uncle, or aunt, seeking out the culprit in the latest prank to hit 2319 Tudor Lane.
"Where did you get a book?" Uncle Vernon demanded, peering at him suspiciously. "What's it about?"
"I'll get it." Harry darted down the hall to his cupboard and returned with the battered blue volume he'd taken from the pile by the door of the school library the day before, under the sign stating "FREE BOOKS". "The librarian said they were giving them away because they were too old to stay on the shelves any longer. You can see, it's almost falling apart."
"Hmph." Uncle Vernon turned the book over in his hands once or twice. "Five Children and It," he read the title aloud. "What's It?"
"I haven't got that far yet," said Harry with perfect truth, although he knew quite well that It was a wish-granting creature known as a Psammead, and the Children of the title were going to get a thorough, but funny and un-preachy, lesson in being careful what they wished for. Reading-aloud time had long been a tradition at Tudor Lane between baths and bed.
"Hmph," said Uncle Vernon again, and handed the book back over to Harry. The doorbell rang, and Dudley stopped crying at once, while Aunt Petunia hurried off to answer it, since it was hardly likely to be anyone but Piers Polkiss and one or both of his parents. Harry waited, his book held between his hands, trying very hard to look as though this answer meant nothing to him.
Finally Uncle Vernon let out a great, grumbling sigh. "No point in spoiling Dudley's special day," he said grudgingly, then turned his beady gaze on Harry. "But I'm warning you, boy. Any funny business, anything at all out of place when we get back, and you'll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas."
"I'm not going to do anything," said Harry quickly. "Except the dishes, I mean."
"Are you trying to be smart with me, boy?" Uncle Vernon barked. "Answer me!"
"No." Harry bit down hard on several follow-on remarks he could have made and instead concentrated on looking meek and helpful, a boy who knew his place. Uncle Vernon snorted but said nothing else, getting to his feet instead to greet Mrs. Polkiss as Aunt Petunia led her and Piers into the kitchen.
Half an hour later, Harry, who couldn't believe his luck, watched the Dursleys' car out of sight down Privet Drive. He'd been left alone in the house for the first time in his life.
"The first time in this life, anyway," he said aloud, just because he could, and laughed at how mad the words sounded. Trotting back into the kitchen, he started running hot water into the sink. The faster he got the dishes done, the faster he could go exploring, and satisfy all the curiosity he'd always had about the corners of the house from which he was normally debarred.
Once the kitchen was spotless, Harry tiptoed upstairs, peering into his aunt and uncle's bedroom and the guest room merely as a matter of form. Dudley's two bedrooms, the one where he slept and the one where he kept everything that wouldn't fit in his first bedroom, were far more interesting objectives. Recalling the lessons Henry had received in the fine art of sneaking around, Harry touched nothing unless he was certain he could replace it in exactly the same way again, and used a cloth to shield his hand from touching anything directly, although he doubted any of the Dursleys would have the same advantages his father and his uncle did in (he smirked to himself) sniffing out miscreants.
Exploring in forbidden territory, however exciting it had started out being, palled quickly when there was no one to share it with, and sooner rather than later Harry was curling up in one of the armchairs in the living room with his book. He flipped it open to page fourteen, where he had left off the night before, and began to read.
Then Anthea cried out, "I'm not afraid. Let me dig," and fell on her knees and began to scratch like a dog does when he has suddenly remembered where it was that he buried his bone.
"Oh, I felt fur," she cried, half laughing and half crying. "I did indeed! I did!" when suddenly a dry husky voice in the sand made them all jump back, and their hearts jumped nearly as fast as they did.
"Let me alone," it said…
"And now everyone heard the voice and looked at the others to see if they had heard it too," Jeanie read aloud from an overhanging limb of one of the trees which shaded the backyard of the brick house on Tudor Lane. Mal was lying sprawled in a patch of shade with his eyes half-shut, his fingers moving lazily in a pattern Henry thought probably indicated him working out a tricky passage in one of the new songs he was learning. In the garden, Pearl was picking beans from one of the tripods on which they grew, with Firefly ribboning through her legs, purring loudly enough that Henry could hear it as a low undertone to Jeanie's voice.
"'But we want to see you,' said Robert bravely," Jeanie went on. "'I wish you'd come out,' said Anthea, also taking courage."
"And that's what does it," said Mal without moving. "She had to out-and-out wish for it. It's always about the wording."
"Just like spells." Henry pretended to wrap his hand around the grip of a wand, and swirled it through a complicated and entirely imaginary spellcasting motion. "You get what you ask for, no more, no less…"
"Do you mind?" Jeanie asked pointedly from above. "Or should I just read it to myself?"
"So sorry." Mal opened his eyes to smile up at his sister. "Carry on, we're listening."
"Thank you." Jeanie found her place and continued. "'Oh, well—if that's your wish,' the voice said, and the sand stirred and spun and scattered, and something brown and furry and fat came rolling out into the hole, and the sand fell off it, and it sat there yawning and rubbing the ends of its eyes with its hands. 'I believe I must have dropped asleep,' it said, stretching itself…"
Petunia walked into the house and cast a quick, fearful glance around. Nothing appeared to be out of place, and Dudley had certainly had a far more enjoyable day at the zoo with only his friend along, not his cousin, but she couldn't help but worry…
She moved into the living room and breathed a sigh of relief. Harry was curled up in one of the armchairs, sound asleep, the blue book he'd had at breakfast tucked under one of his arms. For one instant, she thought of her sister, who had seldom gone anywhere without a book, though in later years the books had been likely to come to life in more than a metaphorical sense.
But that won't happen now. With a little sniff, she pushed that fear away. After all the pains we've taken, after everything we've done, it just won't happen…
Harry's eyes shot open, and for one solitary instant Petunia had the wild notion that he did not recognize her. Then he blinked once or twice, sat up, and smiled. "I hope Dudley had a good time," he said. "It was quiet here. Does anything need to come inside from the car?"
"Yes, Dudley's extra presents." Petunia motioned Harry to his feet. "You can take them up to his bedroom, and be careful not to drop them, either."
"I won't." Harry paused in the hall to open his cupboard door and set his book inside, then hurried out the car, dodging Dudley's punch along the way.
Not much like his father. Petunia pressed her lips together in satisfaction, remembering the arrogant boy her sister had imperfectly tamed. He would have been hitting back a long time ago. Although…
A new and disquieting thought had just occurred to her. There had been a report on a morning show a few weeks ago about repressions, how certain people could appear entirely normal for long periods of time and then suddenly snap and become incurably violent.
There have been those little…eruptions along the way. Petunia swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. What if he's only repressed his magic, and it comes bursting out of him one of these days? Eleven years old, he's about to turn eleven, and that's when it always seems to happen…
"I wish we had never taken the wretched boy in the first place." The words slipped out of her in a virulent hiss, startling but impossible to take back. "His father had friends, didn't he? Lily had friends, I know she was always bragging about them, how clever they were—why couldn't one of them have taken the child? Taken him before he ever got to us, before we ever even had to know that he existed? I wish they had!" Fisting her hands, she stared at the uncaring sky. "I wish they had!"
Harry, straightening with his arms full of presents, jerked once. Something had run through him rather like receiving an electrical shock.
Strange. He glanced all around. Dudley was halfway up the path already, Uncle Vernon was still closing the driver's door, and he could see Aunt Petunia just inside the front door, staring upwards as if she thought it was going to rain. Maybe something magical. Or maybe I just imagined it.
Nudging the door shut with his hip, he started for the house. He'd be wanted to help get dinner ready.
The ending of school came and went without incident, and the summer holidays started, freeing Harry to spend as much time as possible out of the house, away from Dudley and his gang, who were only too happy to help Dudley out with his favorite game of Harry Hunting. While Harry knew some lovely tricks from his other life which could conceivably have helped him win this game more often, his certainty that anything which happened to Dudley or the other boys would surely be blamed on him left him unable to use most of them, though the evasion techniques had come in handy a time or two.
Mostly, Harry wandered the neighborhood, musing about the unheard-of luxury of life without Dudley. Whether or not his dreams had any connection to reality, he certainly wouldn't be going to Smeltings in the fall as Dudley and Piers would, and he had a sneaking suspicion that the other members of Dudley's gang wouldn't bother with him if Dudley wasn't there to egg them on.
I'd prefer Hogwarts, but if that doesn't turn out to be true, Stonewall High might not be so bad. As he so often had, he unfolded the sheet of paper listing the writing classes on it. The hardest thing for any author is supposed to be coming up with the world, and I've got one all ready to go. He grinned to himself. Runs in the family, even. The Townhouse where my dad's mysteries are set is the same one where he grew up, and a lot of the characters in his books are based on people he knew then, only he's changed enough things about them that they don't know themselves. And he says some of them have even read his books, and when he gets fan letters from them, the character they hate most is always the one he based on them!
With a glance at the sun, he started back towards Privet Drive. Aunt Petunia and Dudley had been in London most of the day to buy Dudley's uniform for Smeltings, which had meant a day at Mrs. Figg's for Harry. This hadn't been so bad as it usually was, especially since Harry had his story-work to keep him busy, but he'd needed a few minutes out in the fresh air to make sure he'd be able to keep a straight face. He'd seen a few pictures of Uncle Vernon in the Smeltings uniform, and just the thought of Dudley got up in the same way was already making him smile.
"Say it again," gasped Pearl, tears of laughter rolling down her face. "Oh, s-s-say it again!"
"Maroon tail coat," said Henry carefully, sketching this garment in the air with his hands. His mother helpfully drew her wand and filled in the outline with the proper color and shape. "Orange knickerbockers." These, too, appeared. Aunt Gigi had a hand over her mouth, Uncle John was shaking his head and chuckling, and Jeanie had her face buried in her sleeve. Mal looked as cool as any cucumber, but Henry had seen the telltale quivers at the corners of his cousin's eyes. "And a flat little boater hat, the straw kind with the ribbon."
"Now, does the ribbon match the tail coat?" inquired Henry's dad, in the voice of one wishing to get a necessary point clear. "Or the knickerbockers?"
"Both. It's striped." Henry nodded, repressing a grin of his own as this detail appeared on the midair sketch. "And then there's the stick. Knobbly sort of thing, supposed to be used for…I don't know. What they really get used for is hitting each other."
"And to top it all off…" Thea added Dudley's fat face and blonde hair between hat and coat, and ballooned the formerly slim figure into grotesque proportions. "Is that about right, Henry?"
"That's what I saw." Henry took a step back, looked over the form of his dream cousin, and burst into the guffaws he'd had to contain earlier that evening at Privet Drive. Pearl was rolling on the floor, barely able to get her breath, and Mal finally cracked and began to snicker.
From across the room, Ryan caught Henry's eye, and nodded towards the hallway. When Henry had his breath back, he followed his father, stepping out of easy earshot of the merry group in the main room.
"I just wanted to remind you," Ryan said quietly, looking down at Henry. "It's getting pretty close to the time when that letter ought to be coming. You remember what to do, right?"
"Hide it," Henry recited. "Keep it safe. Don't open it."
"Good, and then?"
"Go outside early the next morning." Henry glanced back towards where his family had begun adding even more ridiculous embellishments to Dudley's uniform. "Why do I even have to have that life anyway?" he asked, wincing at how petulant his voice sounded, but he'd begun and he might as well finish. "I wish I didn't."
"Yeah, you and a lot of other people, kid." His father reached over and ruffled his hair. "But hey, at least we've got this place too, right?"
"We do." Henry looked up at his dad and smiled. "And that makes up for a lot."
Harry almost missed the click of the mail slot and the flop of letters on the doormat the next morning at Privet Drive, as Dudley was busy banging his Smelting stick on the table. He recognized it in time, though, to be already out of his chair before Uncle Vernon had said more than "Get the mail."
Three things lay on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sister Marge, who was vacationing on the Isle of Wight, a brown envelope that looked like a bill, and—
Picking up the third thing and staring at it, Harry felt a smile bigger than any he'd ever experienced in either life spreading over his face.
The letter in his hand was addressed in bright green ink to "Mr. H. Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey".
Thanks to Project Gutenberg for making available the text of E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, which seemed like a good candidate for a book that might well be in Harry's school library and battered enough to be given away, but didn't have a title which would immediately clue in the Dursleys that Harry shouldn't have it.
Apologies for the wait for this chapter. I've been dealing with a feverish cold. Next time, we really and truly get Harry's response to his Hogwarts letter, and who comes out to deal with it. What, if anything, will they wish about this whole messy situation? Stay tuned to find out!