It is with a gasping, clawing, burning that Harry Potter wakes, panicked and confused and terribly tired. He wakes to darkness, disoriented from the abrupt departure from pure white. White floor, white tracks, white benches, white beard on a man made of Light magic, given way to a darkness that brings with it sensations that are so familiar they are practically branded into the grey matter of his brain. The hard springs under his rear, the scratchy blanket twisted in his grasping fingers, the smell of dust and lemon scented floor cleaner not quite managing to drown the more concerning scents of sweat and old blood and the ozone of his magic as it reacts to his fear.
After long minutes (hours?) of trying to steady his breathing, Harry untangles his fingers from the blanket that’s over his legs and reaches a trembling hand straight up, grabbing hold of a string that he knew would be there even as he prays that he’s wrong. A sharp tug and the light bulb above his head flickers weakly on, casting the confines of the cupboard (because yes, he’s in his childhood prison) in a dim light that highlights just how miserable the space truly is. After affirming his suspicions, Harry tugs again, deciding that darkness is far preferable for one to panic into. And panic he does.
This had to be hell, right? He was dead after all, or at least he should be. Harry had gone into the Forbidden Forest, intentionally stood in front of Voldemort’s wand and embraced a Killing Curse right to the heart. Even now his chest feels bruised, and with wide eyes Harry yanks off his shirt and stares at his chest, unintentionally casting a wandless Lumos in his haste. There, right over his heart, is another fucking lightning bolt. As of now it’s a jagged slash, not bleeding but looking as though it only just stopped doing so, and it rests in the center of a watercolor mess of purple and blue bruises that cover nearly his entire chest.
Once Harry has managed to process this (while also trying not to pass out from his rapid, shallow breathing) he notices another curious sight. His bare chest is not quite what he remembers it to be, thin but toned from years of Quidditch and months of dueling with Ron and Hermione in and around their tent. His chest right now is that of a child, a thin, short, malnourished child, pale from years locked in the dark. He pulls the shirt back over his head and stares at his hands, scarred from years of cooking and gardening much too young, but not nearly as scarred as they should be. And tiny. These are not the hands of a man, not that Harry ever really felt like one honestly, but regardless, he ought to look like one.
He abandons his scrutiny and uses those (tiny, so small) hands to grab at his hair, tipping forward to press his forehead against his drawn-up knobbly knees. He screws his eyes shut and tries desperately to assess, to breathe. As the nausea fades, as his hands slowly release the tight hold on his messy locks, Harry decides his first course of action should be to leave the cupboard, assuming he can. He needs to find out if this is real, or if he is in some sort of hellish afterlife. He reaches over to the door and tries the handle, huffing in frustration as it seems to be locked from the outside, which is nothing new. He’s just about to try a wandless Alohamora, something he perfected on the run while his wand was broken, but he freezes with his hand an inch from the handle when he hears a door open upstairs.
Harry’s breathing comes quick and shallow once more, heart thudding like he’s prey before a predator. Footsteps overhead, and then a soft thump, thump, thump, Harry’s eyes following the sound down the underside of the stairs, watching as a spider scuttles away from the final step as the person reaches the main floor. The steps come down the hall and stop right outside the door. And though he half expects it, Harry nearly goes into cardiac arrest when a sharp knock rattles the cupboard door.
“Up, boy! Breakfast won’t cook itself, and you mind the bacon well. Vernon is still furious about that stunt of yours at the zoo and he won’t be forgiving.”
It’s Aunt Petunia. The lock rattles as she, presumably, unlocks the padlock, and Harry hears her move off once she’s done, likely to start the coffee if his memory proves true. His eyes are wide and it takes long enough for him to gather his wits that eventually Petunia comes back, opens the cupboard door and yanks Harry out by the hair. He’s so shocked that he simply lets her when she snatches his glasses off the shelf above his bed, puts them into his hand and shoves him in the direction of the kitchen. Harry has always done his best work under pressure (though this is the strangest thing to ever happen to him, which is saying a lot) and so he puts on his glasses, which are held together with tape in a way they haven’t been for years, and goes about the once-familiar routine of making the Dursley’s their typical breakfast, enough food to feed the entire Weasley clan just for the three Dursley’s. Not Harry though. Never Harry.
Luckily for him, cooking is something he can do on auto-pilot. He zones out as he fries up bacon and eggs, trying hard to hold onto his magic as his fear threatens to undo him. So far he cannot disprove this being hell, but he remembers his accidental Lumos from earlier and he can actively feel his magic writhing under his skin in reaction to his emotional state. A true hell would lack magic, he thinks. Magic has always been something of a salvation to him.
Despite his distraction, Harry manages to get the breakfast cooked and onto the table in no time. He isn’t actually a child after all, and cooking is something he’s managed to become excellent at over the years. Aunt Petunia eyes the perfect bacon with some suspicion, but as she doesn’t have anything to criticize she sends him back to his cupboard with nothing more than a sniff of disdain.
He goes without argument. He needs time and space to bloody think. A plan, perhaps. To...to do what? Harry sits in his cupboard once more, in the dark. Making plans was never one of his strengths. Usually he just goes right into things and, as previously stated, does his best work on the fly. That isn’t to say he’s not clever, he rather is honestly. But there’s quite a difference between his quick processing in a tight spot and strategy. Harry is a fighter and a survivor, all fast strikes and venom and reflexes, a warrior more than anything else. He always left strategy to Ron and planning to Hermione. His heart aches fiercely at the thought, desperately wishing they were there with him.
That thought tastes a lot like deja vu. He thinks that a similar thought had been the last one he’d had in the whiteness of the King’s Cross Limbo. Dumbledore had laid out his options, to either move on or go back to the fight. Harry had detested both ideas. What he wanted, wished for so much that it had felt a lot like yearning, was to go back to a simpler time. A time when it was just Harry and Ron and Hermione, sitting in front of the common room fire. Hermione lecturing him about leaving his Potions essay too late while Ron made hilarious faces at Harry behind her back, only for Hermione to spin around and catch Ron with two Bertie Bots Beans in his nose and a stricken look on his face at being caught. And Harry would laugh at his misfortune, which would cause Ron to snort, thus shooting the beans out of his nose, which would crack Hermione’s stern mask and she would join them in their unrestrained laughter.
Such moments were long gone from his grasp, even before he’d gone into the Forest. The war had aged them far too early, and he knew that, even if he turned out to actually be a child once more (plausible but unlikely), he would never be able to return to those carefree times. He wasn’t the same boy he had been then, eyes full of delight and hope as he’d walked through Hogwarts stone corridors.
Harry spent that entire day trying to make a plan. He was set to tending the garden for most of the day, which was perfect because it gave him the time he needed to work out a vague idea of what he needed to do, including escape from the Dursley’s and a trip to Gringott’s, though there wasn’t much else to be decided yet. Maybe he could coax Tom to let him rent a room at the Leaky Cauldron? He certainly didn’t want to stay here. Uncle Vernon had been at work today and so hadn’t been able to find fault with Harry, but he would eventually. And he favored his belt to ease his frustration. Harry wasn’t actually a helpless child anymore but he wasn’t sure how much of his magic returned here with him. Was it the magic of a child, or his adult magic? There was a large difference and he wanted to test that on his own sans the threat of bodily harm, though his few bits of wandless magic thus far had been promising.
Every single half-formed plan he’d made crumbles to dust that night.
Harry was sitting miserably on his cot sometime in the middle of the night, mulishly poking at the new bruising around his right eye. Uncle Vernon had come home in a particularly foul mood and had spent dinner insulting everything about Harry as a person. When Harry didn’t react other than to blandly ask his Uncle if he’d like a refill of his brandy, Vernon had steadily got more and more furious until he’d snapped, lashing out a quick fist to Harry’s face and then sending him to his cupboard. In pain and mortified that he was once more allowing himself to be pummeled by his piece-of-shit family, Harry had gone without argument, sorely tempted to test his magic on his relatives despite his previous resolve. He tried to look on the bright side. First; the earlier theatrics had made the Dursley’s forget to lock him into the cupboard, which was a relief to Harry as he didn’t fancy the trapped feeling of that potential situation even if he knew, logically, he wasn’t in danger at this particular point in time. Second; his uncle had had to grab him and spin him around earlier to hit him. As such, his glasses had slipped off before his eye had met Vernon’s pudgy fist, thus saving his glasses from shattering and potentially blinding him.
Harry was jolted from his pouting and frankly alarming revenge fantasies by the sound of the deadbolt on the front door giving a foreboding thunk. His immediate impulse was to leap out and confront whatever or whoever this was, but the likelihood this potential assailant would think to check for a person in a boot cupboard was slim, so as he heard the front door creak slowly open he placed his feet on the floor and readied himself to jump into action if needed. The sound of the door clicking shut once more had him holding his breath, and the light footsteps of this intruder came down the hall.
And they stopped right outside the cupboard, just like Aunt Petunia had done this morning. But he knew this wasn’t Petunia, as she was sleeping upstairs with her family.
The lack of lock on the cupboard this night was suddenly both a blessing and a curse. It meant that this intruder could get to him much quicker, but as Harry was...well Harry, and so he did not wait. He shoved open the door and lunged, slamming into a warm body. His momentum carried he and this mystery assailant straight down to the floor, and Harry had a hand twisted in the front of the person’s shirt and a fist drawn back before he caught sight of the face under his assault and froze in shock.
Laid out on the floor, eyes wide and fearful, was Hermione Granger.