The adaptation to new people and environment was not as easy as Harry had ever invisioned in his imaginings. But he was determined to see it through.
Setting Things Right
5th June 1990, 04:00 PM
Harry could not decide whether he liked the family or not, particularly Lord Kensington. The only thing he was truly sure about was that he did not want to be on the receiving end of the Lord’s murderous look, ever. He nearly believed that, if the Lord so wished, the said Lord could kill anyone with just his gaze.
He had witnessed the said look plastered on Lord Kensington’s face twice. The first had been when Harry had confessed about his cupboard, and the second… the second was now, when he and Dila, accompanied by Viniele, were back from their medical examinations in the local hospital. Ana, the Lord and the Lady Kensington had spent the meanwhile in the waiting and shopping areas of the hospital, on Dila’s persistent – albeit quiet and said in just a few sentences – coaxing. The plan was to get a late lunch after the check-ups in one of the restaurants they passed, then do some shopping for Harry’s necessities before returning to the family’s temporary lodging (wherever it was). It seemed not workable now, though, judging from Lord Kensington’s current mood.
The plan did change. After scanning over the charts and medical reports, the Lord announced curtly that he wished to go to the police station in which the Dursleys were being interrogated.
“Did you find something wrong, George?” Lady Kensington asked, greatly concerned, while Viniele was maneuvering the van out of the parking lot and to the exit locket. Her husband nodded but did not elaborate, so she turned to Dila and asked her for the explanation.
The girl’s quiet, bland answer made Harry freeze in horror. “Light concussion and bruises. Dad’s mad about those.” Why did she comply? But, on second thought, it was better that way. Neither of them wished to be on the receiving end of Lord Kensington’s formidable ire, he bet; or the Lady, probably, if her effort to pursue the knowledge was thwarted. It was good too that no one spoke about Harry’s lingering evidence of ill treatments by the Dursleys.
“How not?” her father snapped. Harry winced on his seat. Judging from the twins’ stoic reactions, though, he guessed that they had ever experienced this kind of situation before – perhaps more often than he was comfortable with. (But he did spy their hands linking together in the space between them, before Dila shoved a plastic bag atop it, covering them in a seemingly coincidental manner.)
“George,” the Lady admonished him. It was answered by a sharp, deep sigh coming from her husband – as though he were preparing to shout in the top of his lungs. Harry braced himself.
But the seemingly-inevitable explosion never came around.
Harry’s eyes were round with disbelief in their sockets. The expression was not shared with the other people in the van, though.
“How did you two get those bruises? And a concussion no less.” Seeming to be convinced that her husband would not explode into a tirade, the lady veered her attention back to Dila.
“They threw stones at us. I was behind Ana and Harry, so I was hit by most of the missiles. I think Harry got hit before he met us.”
Again, Harry was glad that at least Dila omitted what she knew about Harry’s relatives’ less-than-friendly attitude towards him, which came out as old welts and bone fractures littering his body. He had been afraid that she would retaliate to him in that way, like what Dudley would have done in her place. After all, the family were yet a bunch of strangers in his eyes. Moreover, the knowledge of the significance of all the injuries would only leak if one was willing to talk about it; and Dila had, partially.
“What?! You didn’t tell me. Why didn’t you, when I could still go back to inquire further about everything to the doctor?” Lord Kensington’s face appeared on the space between the two front seats, glaring at Dila.
“George.” Lady Kensington, admonishing. Harry stiffened, bracing himself again.
“I didn’t want you to be madder, Dad. That poor doctor was frightened enough as it was. He might’ve fainted if you went back and did or said something.” Dila, as bland as ever.
Harry was incredulous. If the Lord was like his uncle (and most other adults he knew, for that matter), Dila’s reasoning would blow his fury to a whole new level. Why did she do so? Her courage and defiance were to be admired, all the same.
Contrary to his guess, however, the van fell silent except for the droning of its machine and the softer noise of its wheels rolling on the road. He hated this quiet. He would have preferred the verbal explosion than this tension, the thick moments before a timebomb blasted.
It appeared that the twins, especially Ana, were no less uncomfortable with the situation. They picked at the hem of their trousers or played with their fingers, their faces downcast. Their mother did not attempt anything to soothe the tension, though, reading a fashion magazine bought just now with exaggerated attention.
`All because of me,` Harry mused, kicking himself mentally. He studiously looked outside the window, thanking the arrangement that he sat by the car door. He was afraid of what he would find if he looked around the inside of the van. Once was enough. He believed that the mood would not change, and if it did later, it would not be a positive one.
He could not enjoy the journey, the first car trip he ever remembered participating in without scorns directed to himself and his parents, or bullying from any passenger of the vehicle. He was tired and drowsy, and he only wanted to rest for a while…
Someone carried him; a woman, whose perfume was a nice soft lavender. Lullabies were hummed faintly, almost in an absent-minded manner, into his ear. Then he was snuggled in her lap, embraced even more warmly and securely than before. Hands – different hands from different people – caressed his untidy locks lovingly, albeit just in passing. Sounds of household activities provided a nice background on the edge of his hearing, strangely reassuring and evoking a sense of belonging, of security and acceptance. It was vastly different from what he was used to, but he could not remember what he was before this. Everything hovered on the verge of full unconsciousness. It felt so peaceful and contented, unlike… What had he escaped from?
Then he was tucked into a soft bed, flanked by two people (Adults. But why did they do that?), and he plunged into a deep sleep, unmarred by dreams. When he woke up again, he felt as if he was a reborn being; so fresh, new, and… whole, wholly different somehow, alien to himself.
It was his first thought, before reality seized him in its grip and he realised he no longer wore his baggy clothes, and soft noises of casual conversation drifted to him through the closed door from the room outside, amidst sounds of kitchenwork.
Why had Aunt Petunia not called – or rather, shrieked – for him? There was meal to make, garden to tend, fence to repaint—
“Harry? I know you’re awake. I’m sure you’re hungry. We are, at any rate. Let’s eat, then we can go shopping for your things. If you aren’t awake by the minute, I’ll put much, much chilli sauce on your belated lunch. That might teach your lazy bones to know better about taking care of themselves.”
Who was she?
He recognised her somewhere…
“I, for one, am starving. So you had better wake up or I shall introduce your head to a glass of ice water.” A calmer threat, from another voice but similar to the former; but there was no real malice in it, just as there had been no scorn in the other.
Harry blinked his eyes open, then automatically groped around for his glasses. Erh, why was the bed so big? There were three big, fluffy pillows on it as far as he knew, too – and his head was lying on one of them. The sheets felt so warm and comfortable…
Someone thrust his glasses into his searching left hand. “Now, no more excuse.” It was the second person – the second girl.
Harry put his glasses on and blinked again. Off-white ceiling welcomed his vision. Was he in a hospital? He had precipitously broken his back on one occasion after Dudley had pushed him down the stairs at school, and his uncle had grudgingly brought him to a nearby hospital to treat his injury…
“Quit fretting and let’s go, lazybones. Or I can just eat you for lunch.” No. That first annoying person could have honed up her threatening voice more… like Dudley…
Oh yes. She was Ana, and where there was Ana, there was her twin sister. That meant no Aunt Petunia, or Uncle Vernon, or Dudley, because—
Was he staying in wherever the Kensington lived? But it was impossible. He was a stranger, a grubby and penniless one at that. Surely they would not have trusted him so quickly and readily?
“Eek!” Harry bolted into a sitting position. Someone had just poured a small but potent amount of icy water down his hairline. The gales of rich, satisfied laughter his reaction generated solidified his suspicion that the culprit was Dila. Much more awake and alert now, he glared sulkily at the girl. There was no water container in sight, but she could have just hidden it somewhere. He would get back to her on that little annoyance some time… if he dared, that was. He was even surprised that he could have maintained such a train of thoughts, as if they were family. No no, he had been too close to them, and it was bad. He had to leave them before they left him.
Could he, though? He doubted it, as he was frog-marched outside the bedroom, past the vestibule, and to a corner reserved for kitchen area. A simple dining table with six chairs separated it from the rest of the central room, and it was where the twins dragged him to, dumping him into one of the chairs as if he was a naughty little boy before seating themselves at his either side.
He did not notice the familiar camaraderie that much, though, busy gaping at the view before him along the walls where the kitchen implements were set. It was what he had never even thought possible before, and especially not in an aristocratic family like this. Lord and Lady Kensington seemed to be preparing a light meal in tandem, with the occasional help from Viniele. The governess herself was busy writing something in a notebook on the part of the dining table closest to the kitchen area, sometimes scratching her temple in thought or frustration. She often consulted the noble couple about things – things Harry did not understand like loops in adoption laws in both worlds (`Worlds?`), lesson plan for next month, and updates on various living places he did not bother to count.
Uncle Vernon would have never deigned to touch the stove or spatula. Neither adults in the Dursley household would have ever let their assistant (considering they had one, and not a slave-in-all-but-name like Harry) go from such menial chores too. The difference was rather shocking, and it left Harry reeling slightly. What other surprises were waiting for him if he stayed longer around this family? He was so, so tempted to find out.
The cool rim of a glass was pressed gently to his lips. Harry’s vision snapped into focus.
“Drink.” The voice was a soft baritone, and the order was mild; a parent to a child.
There was only one other male in the company aside from him. And with that revelation, Harry’s eyes widened. He tried to take the glass from Lord Kensington, but the man persisted, and so he let himself drink from his hand, like a young or sick boy that he was not – or he thought he was not. Oddly, no one teased him. It was a surprise to him, since the twins had appeared to be intent on joking at his expense. Now they were quiet, focusing on helping their mother prepare the table, while Viniele moved to the tea table on the central room to continue her work.
On finishing the glass of cool water, Lady Kensington put a plate of fat sausages, eggs and bacon in front of him, followed by a bowl of salad, and instructed him to eat his fill. (Second or third helping was welcome if the food was still available, she said.) But, however hungry he was, he could not finish all that were on the plate and bowl. He usually ate the amount held in the plate and bowl in three days or more, not a single mealtime. His stomach ached, overstuffed.
Ana remedied it, by gently massaging the middle of his back, his sides, and midriff. Afterwards, an astonished and no-longer-overfull Harry was herded back to the bedroom by the Lord, and shown to a set of clothes spread out on the bed. (Now he could see that it was king-sized, with evidence of being slept in comfortably, and five instead of three big pillows lining its head.) “We bought these and some other things for you when we were waiting for the medical examinations, but we shall get more this evening,” said the Lord. “That depends on you, though. Are you now inclined to a large shopping?”
Harry just stood there, gaping, unaccustomed to being addressed like that and let to choose what to do. His voice had never been counted before; not at school, and certainly not among the Dursleys. Should he attempt to assimilate himself to this new idea? But then when he was thrown back to living with the Dursleys, he must—
Where was the Lord?
In the bathroom? On second inspection, he found a sliding door on one corner of the bedroom. Drifting from the door was the sound of someone preparing a bath. The Lord, then? But for what? For him? Why was he being catered to? He felt uncomfortable with the treatment, like an itch under his skin that he could not get rid of. Did the Lord and his family act nice – overly so – to him because they had something they wanted him to do or give? But what was that? He had nothing to give, and the family must be quite well off on their own, given their nobility.
When the Lord emerged from the bathroom, Harry stiffened. He answered the man’s inquiring stare with a hard, demanding one of his own, for the first time ever.
The older male sighed and smiled sadly. There was neither falsehood nor affront on his eyes and face, Harry realised. Having trusted his instinctive and mental analysis to judge characters his whole life, he trusted his feelings now, as much as he would like to do otherwise. But still, he refused to back down from his earlier opinion, and the Lord – Should he be surprised now? – acknowledged his choice with a level of respect he thought impossible.
“Take a long bath, Harry, then we shall have a talk over breakfast. Yes, all of us, because it concerns this whole company.”
Harry hesitated. His stony gaze dissolved into confusion.
“The hot water and the scented steam will help you think over everything more clearly, child. They relax the nerves, mind and soul, and you need such relaxation now. I learnt bitterly that hasty decisions only bring ruin to oneself and those related to the person.”
And indeed, those pale orbs were haunted, on closer look. It was as if Harry reminded the Lord of another boy he had lost. Was the family making up for some poor treatment to someone else in the past, then? It seemed just as bad as other ulterior motives Harry could think of.
“No, child, he is different from you. He was, anyway.”
The pain in those eyes… No, he could not stand it.
Harry fled to the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind him, forgetting to snag his new clothes on the way. His breathing was ragged, and his heart was beating rapidly, as if wanting to escape his squeezing chest. How had the Lord known? How had he, Harry, been so ruthless? Was the truth worth paining others, who had only shown him genuine courtesy so far? But he had not known that whatever message his outlook had leaked would have done that, had he? He was blameless… was he not?
The fragrance of the scented steaming water drifted unheeded into his nostrils. The large tub with its milky, bubbling water lost its appeal to his eyes. Harry stood on the middle of the bathroom, unmoving and unseeing. He lost track of time, and of his own thoughts.
But, contrary to what one might believe, he was roused from his stupor by only three sharp knocks on the bathroom door.
Feeling rather faint, Harry turned around and reached out a shaking hand towards the handle of the door.
Dila was waiting outside, his clothes and a towel draped over her arms. But what attracted Harry to her was not the garments. Her face was the closed expression from early in their first encounter with each other, yet this time it was less friendly. If she was angry with him, she did not show it. Her eyes betrayed nothing other than cool politeness. Still, Harry shrank back, looked down, and mumbled a string of profuse apologies.
“You just did not know.”
The words were pronounced slowly, indifferently. He wished she had screamed at him. This silence and composed demeanour was more unnerving than Uncle Vernon’s occasional drunken rages, and he had been scared out of his wits during those.
“W-where is he?” he whispered. Dila’s gaze sharpened, boring into his skull. Harry gulped. “Where is your father?” he asked again after three times inhaling and exhaling deeply. “I… I want to apologise to him.” He forced himself to look up, to convey his sincerity and earnest wish. Apparently Dila had not anticipated him to do so, because it was only a second later that she managed to close up her expression again; a second too late. Harry had managed to glimpse pain, anger, bitter reproval, anguish and confusion in just that precious moment.
Seeming to realise that she was fighting a lost course and refusing to continue on her endeavour, she simply said in that emotionless tone she had been using, “He’s still drinking on the balcony, if Mum can’t coax him out of it by now.”
Harry’s heart plummeted to his toes. He averted his gaze once more from her hard eyes. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, weaker than before.
“You just did not know.” That again. He began to suspect that the answer had been programmed by her brained in advance. Had he just lost a good chance of finally having a better life – a family who loved him, who he could love in return, and a steady, secure home to live in? Oddly enough, a pit of emptiness, of loss, opened up in his chest on that thought. So, all this time, he had been bonding himself unconsciously to this bunch of strangers?
Were they really strangers, though? He had spent a good amount of time with them, and they were going through a rough time together, what with Dudley’s gang and the uncovering of the Dursleys’ treatment on him. The family had always been open to and around him, as if he was a part of them, in front of whom they did not have to wear their public masks. He had known many of their weaknesses until now, and they did nothing harmful to him so far, in the most vulnerable period of his life barring his first year as a toddler under the Dursleys’ roof.
Could he make it up to them? Would he? Would they let him?
“Would you please show me to him?”
“Take a bath, then change into these. That was his order to you, I believe? He told me to relate it again to you, in case you needed a reminder.”
Harry nodded numbly. He took the clothes from her and excused himself before sliding the door shut before him. The water, strangely, had not cooled off. The steam was still there, too, and the fragrance of fruits and flowers was just as strong. His mind and heart was not in the oddity now, though, so he let it go without much consideration.
Ten minutes later, he was standing on the bedroom’s door, uncertain to what he should do. He was unaccustomed to proper bathing, so he had done it just as he would have when using the gardening hose (the only means of cleaning himself and his clothes permitted by his aunt and uncle), and it had taken just as much time. The central room was empty, and so was the kitchen area. The other doors were closed, and there was no noise around whatsoever. The dining table was empty and clean, and the chairs were drawn into it, unused. Was he abandoned there – wherever that was? The notion was horrifying, and he baulked from it, just as—
“Lord.” A blurted greeting escaped his lips. The glass door opposite the – locked (but with the key still attached, now he noticed) front door had slid open, allowing a tall, lean but strong male figure to pass. Harry sketched an awkward, wobbly bow, not knowing what else to do.
“Who told you to bow to me, child?”
Harry shook his head, staring at a point on the man’s torso.
“I am sorry, Harry, for instilling the wrong impression in you so far.”
Harry looked up so fast, he went off balance and flailed for a moment to right himself up. His eyes were two round emeralds on his thin face, radiating surprise, disbelief and confusion.
The Lord beckoned him over and held him loosely in one arm, saying, “We had no time to talk, and I assumed too much. It has been years since last I had to deal with boys, especially boys like you. I forgot what I had learnt.”
They shared a smile. There was peace and understanding between them for now. And this time, Harry’s respect for the man was genuine.