The Flat Next Door
The Flat Next Door
Disclaimer: I own neither the Buffy nor the Harry Potter characters. That they decided to take a walk through my head is not my fault, I'm just trying to get them out.
Spoilers: all of Buffy, all of HP
Author's Note: This is just an idea that wouldn't let me go and I'm feeling very nervous about it because I have no idea how to write Harry. Please bear with me and anyone interested in betaing please please email me.
The New Place
It started with spray paint. The front door of the Dursleys house vandalized by a green skull and snake. When Harry had seen it he’d felt like a shadow had walked over his grave – watched and in danger. When Uncle Vernon had asked
him to paint the door back, he had without complaint. And that night he’d had another nightmare full of mirrors and veils and curses flying everywhere. He watched Sirius die again.
Next came a brick through the front window. Aunt Petunia had gone ballistic and Kingsley Shackelbolt had shown up on the front step. They were muggle attacks, he’d said. They were probably going to get worse. Uncle Vernon had yelled. Aunt Petunia had looked truly frightened for the first time in her life, and Dudley had secretly thought it was brilliant.
By the time the kitchen door had been forced, the Order had found a place in muggle London for them. As long as Harry stayed with his aunt, the magical protections would stay in place. It was time to go into hiding.
Which was why Harry now found himself lugging a box up two flights of stairs to the second floor and their temporary flat. To be fair, the Dursleys hadn’t brought much since they would be returning to Privet Drive as soon as Harry went back to Headquarters at the end of the month. The small flat was already furnished thanks to the Order so it was only everything else that needed moving in. As Harry came up the final steps, he could hear Dudley arguing again with Uncle Vernon.
“But Dad, how am I going to see Piers? We had plans for this summer!” Dudley wailed.
“Dudley, I’m sorry, but it’s too dangerous with those . . . people,” said Uncle Vernon. The two of them were standing just inside the door sorting out a box for the living room. As Harry puffed up to them, Dudley fixed him with a hateful stare.
“It’s all his fault! We should have just let the burglars take him!” Dudley spat. Harry just stared mildly back.
“I need to get in,” was all he said. “And I’ve still got letters to write,” he looked pointedly at Uncle Vernon who scowled but said nothing at the not so subtle reminder that there were people looking out for Harry.
“Dudley, move,” Uncle Vernon said gruffly. “We need to get the unpacking done. You can go visit Piers this weekend.”
Dudley grudgingly moved out of Harry’s way. The young wizard gave his cousin a triumphant smile that served to piss off Dudley more. Unfortunately there was nothing that he could do about it with the threat of letters in the air.
Harry shoved in and was maneuvering around his hefty uncle and fat cousin in the entrance way when he heard a startled “Oh my,” from the hall. From behind Dudley, Harry couldn’t see a thing beyond Uncle Vernon straightening. “Hello.”
“Hello. Vernon Dursley,” said his uncle holding out a hand Harry could only see the arm of. “And this is my son Dudley.” The lug moved forward giving Harry a partial view of a tweed jacket.
“Rupert Giles,” said the mostly invisible soft spoken man. Harry heard the rustle of sleeves as they shook hands. “It’s a pleasure. Just moving in today?”
“Yes, yes,” said Vernon. “It’s all boxes and clutter at the moment, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, I quite know what you mean. I’ve been here a year and I still haven’t unpacked everything.”
“Yes, well, we won’t be staying long. Repairs to the old house, you know,” said Vernon as if it were a great secret. “Just here temporary.”
“I see,” said the new neighbor noncommittally. “Well, welcome to the building.”
Harry couldn’t help but snort. He was sure the Dursleys wouldn’t be welcome for long. Uncle Vernon turned and glared at him. “Don’t you have boxes to fetch?” he demanded harshly.
Rolling his eyes, Harry pushed past Dudley and went back on out, not bothering to argue. He only had one left and just didn’t have the energy for another fight. Snubbing was nothing new, and he was sure that as soon as he was out of earshot, Uncle Vernon would give the juvenile delinquent speech. Even with the threat of wizards, his relatives weren’t past badmouthing him behind his back. The neighbor – about Arthur Weasley’s age with brown hair going gray – looked at Harry in surprise, then at Uncle Vernon who was beginning to purple. Undisguised loathing was reflected in his beady eyes at the faux pas created by Harry’s mere presence.
No longer amused, Harry glared at both adults briefly before stomping down the stairs. He paused long enough just past the landing below to catch “St. Brutus’s . . .” drift down.
Once the flat had been unpacked, Harry discovered the double edged sword of being ignored by the Dursleys. One the one hand, his aunt and uncle no longer made him do chores all day and they fed him decently. (Harry took a great pleasure in asking for seconds while Dudley was force fed another diet.) However, without chores to fill the day, Harry was bored. There were no books to read as he owned none and the few the Dursleys owned had remained at the house. Under the new truce, Harry was allowed to watch the telly if no one else was, but Dudley, separated from his friends, had made camp at one end of the couch and Harry had no desire to join him.
Left in his room, the smallest of the three in their flat, Harry’s activities were limited to writing letters to his friends, doing his schoolwork, or rereading Quidditch Through the Ages. After three days of getting a start on homework, leafing through memorized pages, and catching up with his friends, Harry was utterly bored. And boredom only led to thinking. And thinking led to thinking of Sirius.
Thinking of Sirius hurt. It hurt like burning shame until the guilt and anger threatened to smother him. Sometimes Harry wanted to bang his head into the wall for his own stupidity in falling for Voldemort’s trap. Sometimes he actually did and then Uncle Vernon would yell at him and he could yell back. But the pain in his head didn’t make the pain in his heart any less.
The muggle attacks three days into the holiday had helped ironically, by giving him a focus other than himself to hate for a few days. However, now that that had passed, Harry was back to oscillating between making Dudley squirm and sitting in his room desperately trying to stop thinking about his godfather. Harry was getting tired of it, running from his thoughts. When he couldn’t run any longer, he opened himself to the self loathing, mercilessly going over again and again how he had been an utter idiot and gotten Sirius killed for no reason. He never cried.
Over that first week, Harry found himself spending more and more time in the courtyard behind their building. High walls closed it off from the street but there was grass and a few trees to sit under in the sweltering heat. It actually wasn’t that bad; the sunshine felt good on his skin and it got him out of the oppressing glares of his cousin and aunt. In some ways the sun and sky and grass helped clear his mind, the brightness banishing the dark shadow of the Veil in his mind.
The days passed slowly. Harry made his daily escape soon after breakfast, only to return briefly for lunch and then trod up slowly in time for dinner. Aunt Petunia had made it quite clear that she was not responsible for him going hungry if he was late. The second evening, Harry met their neighbor on the stairs. As Harry had passed, Mr. Giles smiled absently, his eyes burning into Harry’s back. When he’d looked over his shoulder however, the man had simply given another polite smile.
Harry kept seeing him on the stairs before dinner – when Mr. Giles was returning from work, if his briefcase was anything to go by – and each time, something in the man’s manner bothered Harry. It wasn’t as if the man actually did
anything odd or strange, he simply didn’t seem to care that Harry was there. It was as if Harry was nothing more than one of the fixtures lighting the stairwell.
It wasn’t until a few days later that Harry realized that that was exactly what bothered him. Mr. Giles didn’t stare like a wizard or frown disapprovingly like the old neighbors on Privet Drive. He didn’t see an insane dangerous wizard or an incurable criminal delinquent or a neglected child. To him Harry was simply a teenager going home to dinner. And while Harry once would have felt relief at the lack of judgment, he now only saw a stupid mindless man who couldn’t see the truth that was spitting in his face. Mr. Giles thought Harry was innocent. He wasn’t. He’d wanted to kill Bellatrix Lestrange; he’d as good as killed Sirius. Death stalked him, within and without, and beware to those who dared cross his path.
That night, Harry scowled at the man as he passed. Mr. Giles just glanced at him dumbly before heading off to his door without a second thought.
“And what’s wrong with you!” demanded Aunt Petunia when Harry stormed to the table. “Don’t think you can bring your nasty attitude to the table, threats or no threats!” she went on before he had a chance to reply.
“Never stopped you from bringing yours,” Harry bit back with a glare.
“Don’t you talk back to your Aunt like that!” snapped Uncle Vernon shaking a beefy finger at Harry. “As long as we’re forced to accommodate
you, you will show some respect when you open your mouth!”
“In other words, shut up!” Harry shouted back. “Right. I’m just the freak! Shut up and act like I don’t exist! That’s what you want!”
“Yes, that’s what I want!” shouted Uncle Vernon, his face beginning to purple in anger. “Now, shut up and sit down or get out! Go crying to those freaks of yours, and let them put up with you!”
“Are you sure you want me to do that?” Harry dared him, his tone dangerously close to a sneer. Uncle Vernon’s fear of magic was the only thing that kept Harry from being locked up, and sure enough, the threat in Harry’s question caused his uncle to pale. He opened his mouth twice to say something, but ended by not saying anything at all. Aunt Petunia and Dudley stared at Harry fearfully. No one moved until Harry scowled at his plate.
He hated this. His life. He hated them, and some part of him hated that he’d baited Uncle Vernon and gotten away with it. It left him feeling cold and empty because in the end, the people who cared about him existed here only as a threat.
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon quietly broke the uncomfortable silence. Their over-cheerfulness sounded harsh in the tension of the room. Harry felt his uncle’s eyes darting to him, but otherwise he was ignored. Sinking into himself, Harry fiercely ignored them back.
The next day, the flat door was locked. A note on the door explained that the Dursleys had been invited out to dinner last minute and they hadn’t been able to find Harry in time. That was of course untrue since Aunt Petunia knew he spent time in the garden. Not that he would have gone with them had they asked. Still, it was just like them, and oddly ironic, that he was locked out and left to starve.
With a sigh, Harry let his head fall against the door with a dull thud. Now what? He was just so tired of all the petty hatred and of trying to fight back against his relatives. It never did any good. They continued to make his life miserable any way they could. No matter how many times Harry had won before, now he felt nothing but exhausted by it all. Like Voldemort, his relatives were a fate he couldn’t escape from unscathed.
Harry closed his eyes and ignored the footsteps of his neighbor behind him. He closed his eyes and willed away the shame that burned up his neck and over his cheeks at being caught locked out like this. He listened as Mr. Giles fumbled for his key, heard the lock turn, the door open, and as he was about to move, a mild voice ask, “Are you all right?”
Harry froze. “Fine,” he said shortly.
Mr. Giles made a sound of acknowledgment but Harry could feel his eyes crawling over him, feeling suddenly like a bug under inspection. He turned and gave his neighbor a glare Snape would have been proud of.
Mr. Giles looked away as if embarrassed to be caught staring but nevertheless stammered, “Of course, it’s none of my business, but you don’t look particularly fine.”
“Well, I am,” snapped Harry. He didn’t say "go away," though he thought it loud enough in his head that it should have been heard. It worked, and Mr. Giles disappeared into his flat without another word. Irrationally, Harry almost wished he hadn’t given up so easily, then immediately chastised himself for wanting someone to care just how far from fine he was. People did care; the letters from his friends and Professor Lupin were full of concern for him. He had the bloody Order of the Phoenix threaten his relatives for him. But Harry, locked out for the evening, only felt the emptiness like he had last night, because here he was, alone. He gently pulled the note off the door and stared at it. He wondered if the loneliness would ever go away.
He was still staring at the stupid piece of paper when the door next door opened again. Harry glanced up and saw Mr. Giles taking out his trash bin to the chute on the far wall. He stopped when he saw Harry. Feeling stupid and embarrassed for still being out on the landing like an idiot, Harry waved the note. “I got locked out. They forgot to leave the key.” It was a lie but it felt better than admitting it had been done on purpose.
Mr. Giles blinked at him, his eyes focusing on the note while Harry blushed and looked away. He heard his neighbor continue to the chute, the flap open and the rubbish slide away. “I’m afraid your uncle never told me your name,” he said.
“Harry.” He looked up, not sure where this was going. Mr. Giles, no longer uncertain or embarrassed, smiled.
“Well then, Harry. I was just going to fix dinner, if you’d care to join me?” He nodded to his door, and Harry, surprised by the offer nodded. Then he stopped, a thousand warning bells going off in his head about Death Eaters, trustworthy impostors, tricks and traps, and just the plain cruelty he expected from his relatives and their friends. But the wards encompassed the whole building, and Mr. Giles had never talked to the Dursleys beyond that first day.
“I’m not a criminal,” he said, this at least he wanted to set straight now. “I know Uncle Vernon told you I was, but I’m not and I don’t go to St. Brutus’s either.”
Mr. Giles looked confused for a moment then said, “Goodness, I’d forgotten all about that. You’re still welcome for dinner, of course.” When Harry didn’t move, he added, “I don’t bite.” And with that startling reassurance, Harry went into the flat next door.