Not everyone was comfortable with Harry's sudden presence among them, yet. . . (Rated for some "dark-Luna-type" musing near the end of the chapter, accompanied by the toying-before-killing act a...
5th June 1990, 11:00 AM
Dila scowled with displeasure and slight consternation. Her father was a courageous man, yes, but sometimes he was too bold for his own good – or the good of the people around him. Now he had just hatched a crazy idea and coaxed her, Ana and Harry to accept and enact on it. He pretended to ignore her mother’s reproachful glare steadily sent his way. Well, Mum would exact her vengeance later. The girl hid a Cheshire grin on that thought, feeling a little comforted. Mmm. The joys of having parents with military background…
All the same, it was still hard for her to act on her father’s idea: that she, Ana and Harry were made to be some kind of bait to draw the vicious preteen gang they had just escaped to the trap laid by her no-less-vicious father. To achieve that goal, she and her small company had to gather around the bicycle in a clear view from the most direct way from the entrance locket, and they had to be as casual-looking as possible. It was much easier said than done, really.
“Say something, anything,” she hissed to her two companions when nearly a whole minute had passed by in tense and awkward silence. Ana just raised an eyebrow in the perfect imitation of Dila’s own favourite questioning gesture, her warm-brown eyes managing to meet Dila’s despite her sight-impairment. Harry, on the other side of the bicycle, shifted his feet and just looked down to the old, worn-out shoes he was wearing.
`It’s not the time for moping around,’ Dila grumbled to herself, glaring half-heartedly at him meanwhile. She put her hands on the front seat and handle bar of the double bicycle and leant her weight on them. Hmm. What should she do?
When no one volunteered to say or do something after another minute of tense silence, she raked her frazzled brain in a desperate attempt to find an idea. Then, praying that the conversation would not tax both parties, she chose a random idea and addressed Harry, “Were you running away from that gang when we met? Do you know them?” Inwardly, she winced at her own poor choice of topic. Well, then again, she had been busy trying to pretend that the stranger boy had been with them for years, so she could act more natural around him. Damn her Schitzotypal personality disorder.
However, the memory of the ‘local gale’ was still very fresh in her mind, distracting her, and the physical reminders of it on her back and the back of her head were yet too new to fade. And, as if noticing the special attention on them, the bruises throbbed extra enthusiastically. `ow!`
She was just in time to school her face into the mask of impassivity upon hearing Harry’s answer of her question.
“Yes, I did, and I’m beyond sorry for you, for what they did to you. They… Their leader is my cousin, Dudley. They like to bully me. I… I didn’t know that it extends to the people whom I’m being with too, though.”
She was disbelieving. Harry seemed to have been leading a cruel life but did not complain at all. Moreover, it was hard for her to connect Harry and anyone from the gang with a kinship line. It just seemed too bizarre, too far-fetched to her; or perhaps it was only to her currently-boggled mind.
But had she not led the same – or at least similar – life just about three years ago? Children could be very cruel to their peers, especially those who were weaker than they or different – odd. She had experienced it first-hand in the orphanage overseas for the first nine years of her existence in this harsh world, had she not? Three well-lived and well-used years with love pouring to her and her twin sister from the Kensington couple seemed to be very good in erasing the bad memories of her previous life. How fast mankind could forget… No, she must not forget, if only in order to appreciate this life she was leading more sincerely.
Trying to shake off her grim thoughts, she peered into the basket in front of the bicycle, at the grocery bags Harry had been carrying when they had met nearby the recreational artificial lake. “Were you buying something for your mother?” she asked absently, fingering the bags, trying to figure out what were inside without actually looking in. It was easier to address the bags than the boy. And if her suspicion about his identity was true, then he would say no…
He did. “No. My parents are dead. My aunt and uncle said they died in a carcrash when I was one year old. I’ve been living with my aunt, uncle and cousin here since then.”
`What!! Car crash?!` She scowled, but at the same time tried to hide it as a grimace as best as she could. So the famous Harry Potter never knew about magic… Mmh. Let the adults act on this. For once she was glad that she was not yet an adult – or considered as one.
“Oops. Sorry.” It was an honest enough apology, and it matched her outward expression rather well. She had learnt it some time ago from observing how various people reacted to a blunder.
“It’s okay. I’ve been asked that many times anyway. People at school often use a mocking tone when asking, so it’s worse than this.”
So open and off-handed…
Emotions whirled in Dila’s mind; unwelcome distraction which she shunned with all her might and distaste. In hindsight, she admitted that it was not the time for such delicate matter. She was also beginning to tire from the ordeal of talking to a stranger.
To her immense relief, Ana took over after that. “Is your cousin always like that? Do your aunt and uncle know about his behaviour?”
Harry shook his head. “No,” Dila supplied. The boy stared at her, but then his eyes widened in comprehension and remembrance, and he stammered an apology at Ana. Dila stifled a snicker for his benefit. The boy was so humbled and silent. If he continued to endear her, he would be the fastest person to make friend with her aside from Ana and her foster parents.
“You don’t seem to be the type to stutter, you know, so quit it,” Ana drawled in reply. She got a light smack on the back of her head from Dila for that, for the sake of propriety and activity. Harry, on the receiving end of the rebuke, just grinned uncertainly.
“I agree with my dear sister.” Dila mimicked her sister, rolling her eyes. She got a half-hearted pouting glare from him for the comment, which translated as: “You should have backed me up!” Good. Now he opened himself more to the sisters, less shy than before. Sadly, Dila could not do the same… yet… to him. He must also learn that she would not lend a hand on a situation if it was not dire enough in her measurement.
The conversation wound down to silence afterwards, yet the tension between them had mostly evaporated. Dila contently resumed her scrutiny of the grocery bags, while Ana was humming softly. Harry, she saw from the corner of her eye, was gazing around in a timid – and slightly wary – manner. The invisible wounds he had in his character needed much time to heal and recover, she guessed, but the recuperation seemed to progress nicely. He was a more bendable character than she was, apparently, and her earlier assumption that he was humbled and silent seemed to be wrong on some levels. Ana had been right when she had chid him. (But of course, that sister of hers did have the talent to spot one’s personality quickly and easily.)
Harry was the first to spot the oncoming gang, given how he spent his waiting time. Dila looked up reluctantly from the bags hearing his hiss and sensing the abrupt tension in the area. Where were they – Ah, there.
Five children no older than Harry were strutting towards them. The leader, a boy with straight blond hair and small blue eyes, was the largest in the group – and looked the meanest and most stupid among them. All of them, especially the leader of the gang, appeared exhausted but maliciously excited, somehow. The leader – Harry’s cousin? – showed his meaty fists at the three children and grinned in a cocky manner. It was a challenge and a threat at once.
Dila leant heavily against the bicycle, feeling the colours draining from her face on the idea of a possible hand-to-hand melee, here in the open and watched by many people. Her methods were too dirty and lethal for such a public area, as she had concluded from all her observations these three years, yet she needed to protect her twin and Harry regardless. Where were those ‘invisible’ police force? They were too unobtrusive for her peace of mind. Meh. She should have realized this before, when they had still had time.
“So you’re here, eh, Potter? Thinking of picking someone’s pocket?” the blond boy sneered aloud when they were in hearing range. Dila straightened her stance and balled her own fists. What would be, would be. But Ana rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder and squeezed it, her other hand spread before her twin sister in a blocking gesture.
“Shouldn’t it be you, ickle Diddykins?” Harry jeered back despite the silent warning. “Mummy and Daddy never know what their precious boy does outside home, do they?”
Ah, no; not a warning. Ana was smirking in amusement on Harry’s return blow. Dila, catching on her double image’s little plan, sported an identical smirk, relaxing a bit. A part of her soul cheered gleefully. She liked this game: vicious but bloodless. Now she could thank her father properly for coming up with it in the first place, and perhaps persuade her mother to be softer with whatever punishment she had come up for him.
“Never talk to me like that, scum. You think you and those sniffling girls can defeat us, don’t you?” the pig-like blond growled. “Their pretty faces can’t save them, except if they let us snog—“
He never finished the statement – thankfully. Two grim-faced men in casual attire flanked him in an instant and forced him to the side, away from Harry and the twins. “Ger’roff me!” the boy panicked. But no amount of struggling and squealing could free him from the restraining hands of the men. His lackeys were in the same fate. They were positioned so that they were lined up facing the twins and Harry – but at a good two meters distance, their hands held behind their backs each by a policeman.
`Ah. It ended too soon. Oh well. I even thought this trap didn’t work because of those people’s inattention,’ Dila groused. `The nerve of that boy… I’d fight him regardless of everything if he continued.’
Ensured that her company had the upper hand, she relaxed fully and openly scrutinised the gang one by one, smirking darkly when each boy squirmed with unease under her sharp gaze. Seeing the gang in such a helpless state was like savouring a delicious cookie. Her expression and bearing aided the air of intimidation, she hoped. In spite of her stained T- shirt and mussed hair, she made sure that she looked every inch a noble lady.
She had no chance to question them, though. Her father promptly approached them, seeing that his trap had been ‘activated’, and did that himself.
“What are your names?”
Nobody from the gang answered.
“What are your names?”
Still no answer. But now Dila could see that the boys were mortally afraid, rather than belligerent. Apparently her father realized the same thing.
“Fine.” Dad’s attention shifted to the men flanking the mortified boys. “Please treat them as the law sees fit, gentlemen. I shall be expecting your regular report on them. Please do also a further investigation of this case. I am afraid that these boys might have done more damage before this, and there are other people involved.”
“As you wish, my lord,” the ten men, all civil-garbed policemen, said in unison and saluted. The blond boy began crying and wailing. Dila stared disgustedly at him. Ana was apparently doing the same, for she heard her twin grumbling about unabashed overgrown toddlers. Harry was strangely quiet during all the proceedings, and Dila could not discern his feelings or thoughts through his blank expression. It was as though he was stunned.
He only spoke when the gang had been led away. His statement surprised both the twins and their parents. “I have to go home. My aunt and uncle must be told about this. I have things to deliver there too. I… I thank you for your kindness and help.” It was lame and reluctant, but nonetheless honest.
A feeling of longing and dread of an impending separation travelled through the bond from Ana to Dila. She was itching to bat the emotions away, but her love of her twin won the inner battle. When Ana sidled closer to Harry, she imitated her. Her parents seemed to mistake the solidarity for sincere fondness, though, judging from their thoughtful look.
“You don’t want to go,” Ana opined bluntly in a low voice. “Judging from the way you said it, you were neglected or even abused at home.” Dila nodded to the statement, supporting her sister. It was indeed true, although she had only connected all the signs to it now. (Ah, she must be much more observant after this. She could not rely on her sister’s instincts and talents forever, could she not.)
“Ana. Dila,” their father admonished them softly, but his eyes never left Harry. Hypocrite, thought Dila. (Well, but on some levels and in some situations, she could be just as hypocritical as he was, she admitted.)
On Ana’s suggestion, it was decided that Harry would be escorted home. He actually looked relieved. The twins mirrored him, but the relief they felt was for another thing entirely. They had decided, through the mental link they shared, that that each of them would try to convince their parents and Harry’s guardians to agree on adoption. Having a younger brother would be marvellous (for Ana), especially one near their age and a well-mannered, well-meaning one at that (for Dila). Life in the manor was good and fun, but there was just so much one could enjoy in the repetitive interaction with adults, books, animals and toys.
Mum called Viniele, the twins’ governess and maid at once, on one of the useful but impractical (It was big!) mobile phones Dad had bought for the family and important staff. The ever-young-looking lady (who by the way had never divulged her true age to anyone) looked taken aback when she arrived, a shopping bag on one hand. No surprise there, because Mum had not informed her about Harry at all. Dila could only wish that the weird silent battle between them, which had lasted since Viniele had been hired three years ago, would end soon. It was ludicrous. Hmm. Would she fall to the same hole someday? Meh. Even donkeys did not fall into the same trap a second time; so why did humans do? Oh no, irrelevant question, at least for now.
“This is Viniele, Harry, our children’s governess,” Dad introduced Vin to the uncomfortable boy wedged between Dila and Ana. Said woman smiled and, approaching Harry, extended a hand. Seeming not to know what he had to do or say, the boy just shook her hand in a hesitant manner. He only looked up to meet her eyes when her fingertips alit softly on his left cheek. There was a deep, hidden longing in his eyes that was heartbreaking for those who perceived it.
Even Dila’s own heart twinged with an indescribable emotion.
It was what Dila was busy pondering about while they were on their way to Privet Drive Number 4. Was Harry that unaccustomed to friendly gestures? She walked by her father’s side, with her mother at his other side. Harry was walking slightly ahead with Ana, silent save when he had to give directions when they reached the intersections. The family did not talk much either, preferring not to attract any kind of attention from the occupants of the houses they were passing. Viniele had been ordered to put the bicycle back into their van, and the police force had been dissuaded – by the combined strength of Mum’s knowledge on law and Dad’s diplomacy skill – from tailing them like a squadron of guard dogs, so they were alone and totally on their own.
Privet Drive Number 4 looked no more extraordinary than the other houses in the block.
Except for the strong blood wards, that was, which Dila found only after they had nearly crossed the low hedge-and-brick fence to the house proper. Too late. She was standing within the mesh of wards now, and they had imprinted her true name in their weft. Thankfully, she was coming together with Harry, replacing Ana for a moment. (And even now, Harry was about to go into the house, the grocery bags in his hands, leaving her in the tender mercy of the silent guardians of the residence.)
More thankfully still, Dad spoke at last, probably sensing the same wards. “We wait.”
Harry’s steps faltered, and so did Ana’s and Mum’s a little behind Dad. He and the remaining females looked up in confusion at Dad, but then Mum nodded and seated herself as primly as the situation allowed on the brick wall, pulling Harry and Ana to sit at her either side. Dad did not elaborate his command further, seeming deep in thought and not to be aware of the imploring stares.
And Dila was left on her own again, on the grounds of everyone’s forgetting that she was even there – or so she assumed. Thus she took care that she was not disturbed, and started playing with the wards. She loved wards, even the lethal ones; she loved to manipulate and break them. Their delicate, complicated mesh, snapping to strength and toughness when activated or disturbed, fascinated her like nearly nothing else in the world – except water and fire, and people when she did not have to interact with them.
Faintly, she heard her mother say, “We cannot simply come in and inform the parents about their son’s arrest. It is the territory of the police. We have to wait for their representatives.” And she could even discern the meaning behind it “We need some backups for this. Self-defence does not really sit well with the law, and not especially when the doers are members of highborn society,” and scoffing to herself about the silliness of politics. But she only paid attention to the delicate tangy, dark-red threads she was carefully distorting and reweaving.
It felt like Harry, like his blood she could sense beating underneath his too-pale skin. Her fingers twitched, then her wrists, her hands, and finally her elbows and shoulders. Before long, she was already dancing within the wards, skipping lightly on the low brick and manoeuvring the anchors of the wards with her toes and heels and sides of feet, swimming in the exhilarating sea of convoluted webs.
The wards reformed and changed and reformed again around her, as if she was the spider that wove the net to capture flies. She added voice to her dance, imitating the faint trains of melodies she heard from the threads pooling around her flesh, strengthening them just so that she could have more time and satisfaction disassembling them in the end. They had been erected by someone vaguely familiar, as she sensed by the true name embedded within them. But it must not be a family friend, or she would have recognised it right away. (She had stolen away to playing with the wards around many of such family friends during her family’s visits to their abodes.) The entity was not of Harry’s blood, though, she knew. (The wards would have been stronger and she would have hesitated slightly about playing with them, otherwise.)
The arrival of the awaited police representatives put a stop on her play, unfortunately. She had just completed the circle around the house, still singing alongside the now-changed-and-nearly-collapsed wards, and was now dancing near her family and Harry.
And speaking about Harry, the boy was looking at her oddly, with gaping mouth. But many people had reacted thus to her, sometimes including her parents and elder brother. She needed not worry.
There were four of them, two men and two women, driving two ‘silent’ police cars. They greeted the family with a salute, and shook Harry’s hand with a kind smile on their faces. Dila quickly retreated somewhere behind Ana. Four was too many for her. And it was just after she had been having such fun…
They trooped to the house, Harry and the two policemen on the lead. They were bidden in by an anxious Petunia Dursley, who said that Vernon, her husband, was at work. She guided them to the living-room and bade them to sit on the couches while she made tea for them all (an offer which they refused politely). She was being polite and cooperative, except when she snapped at Harry to “go to Dudley’s second bedroom and don’t come out unless I tell you so.” Mum requested that he be present in the living-room, though, so she – reluctantly – capitulated.
The horse-faced woman stole a wary, distrustful glance at Dila oftentimes. She suspected their hostess had been keenly watching her ward dance from her windows. (The sharp blue eyes seemed to be practised in spying, and the jutting mouth ready to open for gossips.) She smiled serenely back at Mrs. Dursley.
The woman looked away. Typical. She never knew what was wrong with her smile. Nobody ever told her. (Hmm. Perhaps she should ask Harry later? After all, he had been watching the silent interaction, and now cringed and similarly looked away.)
The situation only got messy when, after ten minutes of polite conversation, one of the policewomen informed Mrs. Dursley, as gently as possible, that her son was presently being interrogated in the local police station for bullying three other children, including Harry. The horse-faced woman exploded verbally (as well as in tears), unwittingly screaming bits of information in her ranting, which was swiftly written down in a notebook by the policewoman who had previously delivered the news to her. Upon realising it, she attempted to seize the notebook, but was held back by the two policemen.
Too much drama. Dila crept away from the living-room to the stairs and seated herself on the second step from the landing. She watched the two policemen half-dragging the wailing Petunia Dursley out of the living-room, trying to muster sympathy but failing. And next, she saw Ana and Harry emerging from the said room, aiming at where she sat. She raised her eyebrows at Harry and sent Ana an inquiring thought through their bond. Her bafflement and curiosity peaked when the remaining two policewomen came after them. Interested, she stood up and brushed imaginary dust from her trousers.
Harry directed them to the cupboard under the stairs, though, instead of the said flight of stairs like Dila had predicted. “Oh. Do you store your things there?” She remarked, trying to rationalize the happening. (Wow, she thought to herself. Then how many were his things? It was rather odd, as he wore horrible hand-me-downs.)
Harry’s cheeks went crimson. Refusing to say anything or look at anyone, he raised a pair of trembling hands and opened both doors of the cupboard, all without a word. He retreated to the staircase, then, and sat on the spot Dila had occupied beforehand.
The policewomen dithered before the cupboard, seeming to be unable to decide if they should retreat to the living-room or look inside. But Ana had already trailed after Harry, leaving them before they could leave her there, and seated herself beside him. Dila sensed shock and pain through their bond, although Ana’s facial look was impassive. Dila, though, was quite curious now. She peeked into the small space, snaking her body in between the policewomen.
The cupboard was illuminated by a small, cheap neon lamp hanging from the ceiling. It was stuffed with disused things, but also with the barest hints of a child’s room – like broken toys and laid-out crumpled blankets.
She recoiled as though stung or slapped. She must have witnessed Harry’s living space. It was a fact less human than what she had experienced in her previous life, even if combined with Ana’s.
And she did not want to be made a witness in the court. She hated those proceedings, with people assuming to act like gods.
When she came back to where her twin and Harry sat, Ana had an arm around Harry’s shoulders, while Harry himself was looking down at his shoes, his elbows propped on his knees. Her parents were also there, watching the little tableau bemusedly.
Then, one of the policewomen came and knelt in front of Harry, gently tilting his chin up with the tip of her index finger. And, apparently having witnessed the inside of the cupboard for herself, she asked him, “Do you really sleep in the cupboard, Harry?” After a brief – gulping – pause and a fleeting glance at the two other adults standing nearby, she added, “There is no shame in confessing anything to us. The ones who should be ashamed are your relatives. They have been treating you poorly, haven’t they? Your aunt told us so, indirectly.” Her tone was subtly forceful, but Dila could not care less about it in the present. Her mind still reeled from the fact and its implications, and she could not pay attention to what Harry might be experiencing now.
A single tear rolled down Harry’s right cheek. It seemed to be more than enough.
Dad looked murderous. Mum was gobsmacked. Ana buried her face in her hands and shook. Dila braced herself on the first pole of the stairs’ railing bar, then widened her connection to her sister. Emotions poured forth as if deluge after deluge in a storm, or a spring flash flood. It was just well that she had braced herself on something solid and upright, or she would fall and not get up again for some time.
They were recogniseable, but untouchable, and Dila would recoil from them if she could. It was Ana’s curse, to feel the emotions and surface thoughts of the people around her without any effort. And this time she had been too lax in regard to her mental defences against it. Dila wanted to fault her, but found she could not do it, for an inexplicable reason.
The policewomen had apparently been working industriously when the family was immobilized in a sort of stupor, because then they said to Harry and Mum and Dad that a photograph of Harry’s current condition was required for evidence. The poor, poor boy was quite reluctant. Fortunately, the twins’ still-a-little-dazed foster mother at last managed to coax him into consenting. She then took another photograph; for family album, presumably, although Dila could not fathom her reason of doing so, except if she intended to record Harry’s life before his adoption, something she had not been able to do in the twins’ case.
Did her parents intend to adopt Harry? It was not a pleasant thought to be had, and yet it was not entirely unwelcome. She could suffer his presence in the family if only he remained humbled and more or less silent, and free from the slave-like life he was leading. (And perhaps someday he might gain a place in her heart? – No, the notion was too terrifying even to contemplate.)
Since the clothes and other items in Harry’s possession were not fit for even casual events, Mum and Dad asked him to bring nothing, saying that they would go shopping later together to provide him with the necessities. The boy stuttered feebly, trying to refuse, but Mum and Dad were adamant about it, and Ana supported them fully. (Dila only nodded her agreement, and her parents did not expect more from her.) When asked if those things held a special sentimental value to him, he confessed that they did not, and that was the end of the argument. The items were packed, but then they were given to the policewomen to be later used as evidence. The only thing Harry brought with him was an old baby blanket which was frayed and looked dirty. It was the blanket he had been wrapped in when he had been found about nine years ago on the doorstep of the house, he said.
The family left after that, taking Harry with them. The policewomen stayed, since they wished to investigate everything in and around the house. The grocery bags were left perched on the tea table in the living-room, abandoned, just like everything else in Privet Drive Number 4. But before they left the vicinity, Dila circled the house once more, bringing down the wards slowly but surely, giving them a respectful farewell and a sincere gratitude for the challenge they had posed, dancing and singing without words to their dying tunes.
– She would not know until much later that, at the same time, a racket exploded in a place deep within Scotland’s cocoon of mountains, coming from the many odd trinkets set on an eccentric headmaster’s small tables.