The Cupboard Under the Stairs
[AU First year] Fanfiction based on the Harry Potter seriesby J.K. Rowling. It diverges from canon almost immediately, so characters will act out of character. When Harry Potter's letter is not answered, Dumbledore dispatches his mother's old friend to see why. What he finds will change both of their lives forever. *Multichapter, complete*
Chapter 1 Return to Sender
Harry Potter had been in the cupboard under the stairs for a long time. There was nothing unusual about that in some ways. It was, after all, his bedroom. On some level, Harry was aware that if things were fair, he would sleep in a bedroom on a normal bed and not in a cupboard on a thin mattress with only a threadbare blanket. After all, his cousin Dudley had his own bedroom and his own bed. Actually, Dudley had two bedrooms. The second bedroom had nothing but broken toys, as far as Harry could tell. The only time he was allowed in there was when he was told to clean up. The Dursleys had another unused room, but it was used for Uncle Vernon's sister when she visited once a year.
There was very little in Harry's life that was fair. He did all the chores, while Dudley did none. He ate scraps, while Dudley ate second and third helpings. He wore Dudley's hand-me-downs, usually three sizes too big due to the second and third helpings, while Dudley's clothes were new until he stained and ripped them, and then they went to Harry. Harry was showered with insults, Dudley with affection. Nothing Harry ever did was right, while Dudley could do no wrong.
Things had come to a head-on Dudley's eleventh birthday, however. The Dursleys never took Harry with them anywhere. He was an embarrassment, and they never knew what he might do. That was what they told him, anyway. So, Harry always stayed with his babysitter, Mrs. Figg. Harry usually did not mind this overmuch because while Mrs. Figg's house smelled of cabbage. She had way too many cats. She was at least kind to Harry and did not act like she couldn't stand the sight of him. Unfortunately, on that fateful day, Mrs. Figg had broken her leg. She couldn't watch Harry, so the Dursleys had to settle for the second-best thing—pretending he didn't exist.
The day had been going well until Harry accidentally let a boa constrictor loose on his cousin. He had no idea how he had managed to do that. Then again, Harry usually had no idea how he managed to do the things he did that had no explanation. Whether it was shrinking sweaters, regrowing his hair overnight, turning his teacher's hair blue, or finding himself on the roof of the school, the Dursleys would never believe him when he said he didn't mean to do it. The glass had just vanished. One minute he had been talking to the snake—yes, in hindsight, talking to a snake was a rather unusual thing to do—and the next minute, the glass disappeared. The snake took off, thanking Harry in the process. It was a polite snake, at least.
Harry knew from reading books and listening to snatches of conversation that many kids were sent to their rooms as punishment for misbehavior and that some were even deprived of the occasional meal. Harry doubted that any of them were locked in their rooms for weeks and went without regular meals for as long. He didn't have any friends to ask. Dudley and his gang made sure of that by beating up anyone who tried to even talk to Harry at school. Harry knew that the Dursleys never sent Dudley to his room. They certainly never deprived him of food. They never even withheld dessert from Dudley. In his aunt and uncle's eyes, Dudley could do no wrong. Everything was always somehow Harry's fault.
About twice a day, Harry's aunt would unlock the padlock on his cupboard and let him out to wash quickly and use the toilet. She also thrust a piece of dry toast and a mug of water at him when he went back inside. She could not stop him from quenching his thirst at the sink when he was actually in the bathroom, but he only had five minutes to do everything, so there wasn't much time for that. Harry wasn't sure what excuse they had given the school for why he wasn't going, but he missed the time out of the cupboard and out of the house. Even doing chores was better than this.
Since he didn't have a calendar, Harry wasn't aware of what day it was when he was finally let out of the cupboard. He was just glad to be out and ready to make himself scarce. His aunt thrust a trowel in his hand and told him to weed the garden. That didn't bother Harry. At least he would be outside.
"Aunt Petunia, might I have something to eat first?" Harry asked as politely as he could.
As if it was a huge imposition, she glared at him and handed him a banana. Harry didn't mind that either. It was better than dried toast.
Once he was done with the gardening, Harry went inside to find his aunt in the kitchen dying rags a putrid gray color. The smell made Harry cover his nose, while the color made him think of a sick elephant. He had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
"Your Stonewall High uniform. Dudley's old things need to be dyed," his aunt informed him grimly. Harry must have looked skeptical because she barked at him. "When I'm done, it will look like everyone else's."
Harry knew that Dudley's old clothes never fit him properly in the first place, and there was no way that he was going to be teased any less in that putrid color. He just hoped the smell went away. At least Dudley was going off to Smeltings, a boarding school, and would not be in the same classes as Harry.
The crash of the mail coming through the slot could be heard from the kitchen, and even Dudley looked up from where he was stuffing his face with a bag of crisps at the table. Aunt Petunia barked at Harry to get the mail. Relieved to get away from the smell, Harry went. There was never any mail for him, so he just picked up the pile and carried it inside, setting it on the table.
"Harry got a letter!" Dudley shouted, momentarily forgetting his crisps.
"What?" Harry cried. He was pretty sure that Dudley was putting him on, or some solicitor had somehow gotten wind that a fourth person lived in the house. The Dursleys were always careful to prevent that.
Dudley grabbed the letter off of the top of the pile and held it over his head. Harry could see that its envelope was thick yellowish paper, and there was a red seal on the back that looked like it was wax. He had seen similar things in history books. This did not look like throwaway mail. It seemed important.
"Give me that," Harry demanded, grabbing for the letter.
Dudley ran through the kitchen door and down the hall, still holding the letter over his head. Harry could hear his aunt shouting at him to leave Dudley alone, but he ignored her. He wanted that letter. Dudley might have been taller and much rounder, but Harry was quick. He caught up to Dudley and tackled him, knocking the wind out of him by sheer speed. Both boys hit the ground, and Harry grabbed the letter.
Petunia saw Harry and Dudley struggling for the letter and tried to grab Harry. He knew he was going to be in trouble, which was a shame because he had just gotten out, but all reason seemed to have left him in his desperate quest for the letter. Soon, Harry was struggling against his aunt's grasp as she pulled him off of Dudley.
"Stop this right now, you little monster!" Petunia shrieked.
Ignoring her, Harry wiggled out of her grasp and ran back toward the kitchen. The letter was still in his hand. Even though both Petunia and Dudley were chasing after him, he kept running. He decided his best chance was to open it as he ran. He barely stopped to open the door as he ran into the back garden.
"Get over here!" Petunia was still running after him, trying to get the letter. Dudley managed to get some energy and ran around her. "Get him, Dudley!"
Dudley tackled Harry and began pounding on him and then rubbing his face in the dirt. Harry struggled and kicked for all he was worth, but Dudley pinned his arms back. He knew it was over. Dudley was three of him. As he tried to catch his breath, Petunia came over and wrenched the letter out of his hand.
"Let him up, Dudley," she said grimly. "Listen to me, you little freak. You should be grateful for every day we let you live here, giving you clothing and food and a roof over your head. We don't have to, you know. Do you want us to kick you out? Is that what you want?"
Harry glared up at her, knowing he looked a mess. There was blood trickling down his chin, and he was covered in dirt and leaves. His shirt was torn, and he had grass in his hair. He wanted to tell her that he didn't care, that anywhere was better than here. He didn't, though.
"No, Aunt Petunia."
"Get into your cupboard and stay there! You better hope Vernon is in a good mood when he gets home."
Harry nodded and trudged back inside, brushing the blood off his face as he went. He had gotten a look at the front of that envelope. Not only was it addressed to him, but it had a very peculiar address.
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
This wasn't junk mail. This very important-looking letter had been addressed specifically to himself. It had his cupboard on it. Harry did not know how someone knew where he lived and where his cupboard was. No one knew that. His aunt and uncle tried to make sure that no one they knew even knew he existed. The school knew he lived with them, but he was sure they did not know about the cupboard. He had certainly never told anyone. It was too embarrassing.
It wasn't much of a wait before his uncle came home. Harry had been dreading the man's arrival. His uncle was bigger than Dudley in every sense. He rarely hit Harry, preferring instead to hide him away and deprive him of food. That way, it was easier to pretend he didn't exist. Harry often thought that Vernon was almost afraid to touch him, so he supposed that he got off easy in that respect. He might be deprived of food and kindness, but he wasn't beaten regularly to go along with it. It was more often that he was cuffed, shoved, or grabbed by the hair and dragged. At least he couldn't be dragged now because he was already in the cupboard.
Petunia must have accosted Vernon the minute he came in the door because he could hear a fierce discussion from the "lounge," the Dursleys' pretentious word for their front room. It got loud at intervals, and Harry could hear the words "freak," "cupboard," "nonsense," and then, very loudly, Vernon yelling, "put a stop to it." Harry decided this did not bode well for his chances.
Surprisingly though, nothing happened. Not only did Vernon not open the cupboard door and drag him out, but no one yelled at Harry through the door either. No one spoke to Harry at all that day. They, unfortunately, did not remember to let him out for his bathroom break. Harry was getting desperate enough to start banging on the door later when he realized that the door was not locked. He quietly opened it, snuck out to the downstairs bathroom, and snuck back in. The Dursleys were nowhere in sight. Later that night, he waited until after everyone would be asleep and made himself a sandwich.
The next day, Harry was still in the cupboard. Harry heard the mail come, and it seemed to be more than usual. He heard Dudley shout that Harry had a letter again. Harry had three letters this time.
"They're the same, mum. Those same freaky letters as before. They've got Harry's cupboard on them!" Dudley shouted.
"Shh! Be quiet, Dudley," Petunia demanded.
"Give those to me. Those are mine!" Harry yelled, banging on his cupboard door.
"Be quiet. Be quiet in there, or I'll tell Vernon."
"I don't care. It's mine. Give it to me!"
"They are going in the fire with the other one," Petunia told him.
"No!" Harry yelled.
Unfortunately, someone had remembered to lock the cupboard this morning, and he wasn't able to do much more than rattle the door. He shrieked in frustration and sat down on his thin mattress.
"You're better off!" Petunia yelled through the door.
Harry didn't bother to ask her what she meant. He felt bitterly despondent with the whole situation. He was tired of being locked in the cupboard, most of the time when he didn't deserve it. Harry wanted to know who was trying so hard to reach him and why.
The next day was Saturday. Vernon nailed the mail slot shut. There was a pile of letters on the doorstep, most of them apparently for Harry. He could hear the furious discussion about it. For the first time in his life, Dudley was sent to his room to get him out of the way while his parents discussed what to do about it. The family was in crisis. Harry was at the center of it. Of course, Harry was still in the cupboard.
"Why don't you just let me open it?" He yelled through the cupboard door. "Then we will know who it's from!"
"We are not letting you open it! I will have none of this freaky business in my family." Vernon yelled back. He then stormed out of the house.
"Please. Please, Aunt Petunia!" Harry begged, hoping that his aunt would be reasonable. He was not sure why he hoped so. His aunt was only infinitesimally more sensible than her husband.
"No! You would have been better off if you had just died with your parents," she told him bitterly, storming up the stairs.
Rarely did Harry cry, but with that remark, the entire situation got the best of him. He sat down in his cupboard and resorted to the comfort of darkness, tears, and spiders.
Far away, in a castle in Scotland, Albus Dumbledore was sitting at his desk in the high tower of his office doing something he rarely did—staring off into space. For days now, the wizened wizard had feared that something was wrong. As each day passed, he was becoming more and more sure of it. He was beginning to wonder if he had not made a terrible mistake.
Wards had alerted Dumbledore that a visitor was requesting admission to his office. This did not come as a surprise. He had requested this visitor's presence some twenty minutes before, and the man was nothing if not prompt. At the summons, the door opened to reveal a tall, thin, dour man in head-to-toe black. Even his long, greasy hair was black. His sallow skin and grim expression, along with the severe wardrobe, had fooled many. Severus Snape had an acidic tongue to go with them. He was nonetheless one of Dumbledore's most loyal and trusted deputies.
"Severus! Thank you for coming. I realize that you are busy."
"Of course, Headmaster," the man bowed his head a quarter of an inch without sitting down. "What seems to be the trouble?"
"I am not entirely certain at this time. It might be nothing. It might be a security breach."
"A security breach?" Snape's attention was guaranteed. "What is it, Headmaster?"
"Potter? What about him?"
"He has not responded to the letter."
Snape scoffed. "Is that all? That could be anything, Headmaster. His muggle relatives have probably just taken the boy on holiday or something. Maybe the brat got a better offer."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at Snape and then eyed him over his half-moon spectacles. "I would rather be certain, Severus."
"I thought you had him under surveillance." Snape was clearly irritated, but Dumbledore knew that he took the safety of the Potter boy seriously. It was not something to be left to chance.
"Ah," Dumbledore steepled his long, thin fingers and looked down at them. "I have contacted the squib who has been watching him in the neighborhood. She was to report in if anything was out of the ordinary."
"What?" Snape's exclamation was close to a shout. "That is your surveillance, Albus? You have a squib in the neighborhood? How much contact does she have with the boy? What is her training? How often does she report in?"
"Now, Severus," Dumbledore held up a hand to forestall further complaint. "My arrangement with Petunia Dursley was very clear. We were not to interfere with their raising of Harry."
"Interfere. Indeed. Petunia Evans was a harridan from the time she was a child. You left Potter with her?" Snape asked this as if he did not quite believe it.
"She is his only living blood relative, Severus. His mother died to save his life. I used that sacrifice to erect powerful wards around the property, to protect him from Voldemort's followers. You remember what it was like. I had little time to decide what to do. Harry had to be hidden. He had to be kept safe." Dumbledore explained.
"What keeps him safe from Petunia?"
Before Dumbledore could respond, the wards alerted to another requesting entrance. Dumbledore sighed. "Come in, Minerva."
"Albus!" Minerva McGonagall practically shouted his name as she came storming into the office. Snape grimaced at the Gryffindor Head of House's volume or her lack of decorum. "What do you plan to do about Potter?"
"We were just discussing that, Minerva," Dumbledore told her calmly.
"I have sent a dozen letters, Albus! I just checked the roster. A dozen!" Her cheeks were red, and her voice was livid.
"A dozen?" Snape inquired. "Why?"
"When a letter gets no response and is not opened, more are sent. This only happens when the recipient has been prevented somehow from receiving the letters."
"What do you mean prevented?" Snape demanded. "In other words, it is not just sitting unopened in a pile of post?"
"No, Severus. Someone is actively preventing Mr. Potter from getting his Hogwarts letter."
At this revelation, Snape turned to Dumbledore and glared.
"I told you, Albus, they are the worst sort of muggles."
"What do you mean?" Snape asked her.
"I watched them, Severus. I watched them for an entire day while I waited for Harry to arrive. Their son was always shouting for sweets and hitting his mother. He was clearly spoiled." Snape snorted. Dumbledore took this to mean he was imagining Harry Potter growing up just as spoiled. "I had a bad feeling about them, Albus."
"Maybe something went wrong with the way the letter was addressed," Severus suggested.
"They are magically addressed, Severus," Minerva scoffed. "It is a very old charm."
"I am not telling you how to do your job, Minerva," Snape told her. "I am just looking into it as Albus is asking me to. Do you have a record of the addresses?"
"Well, yes, I suppose I do." Dumbledore thought she looked a bit embarrassed not to have thought of that. "Honestly, Albus, I never check it."
Minerva summoned the list of names and turned to Potter, H. and then gasped.
"What is it, Minerva?" Dumbledore asked gravely.
"The letter! Harry's letter is addressed to 'The Cupboard under the Stairs!' for Merlin's sake." She handed the list to Snape, who looked at it in disgust and then gave it to Dumbledore.
"Severus," Dumbledore began.
"Yes," Snape cut him off. "I am going to go to Surrey and get to the bottom of this." He left the room in a billowing of robes.
"Do you think that someone should go with him?" Minerva demanded.
Dumbledore considered this. "No. I should not like to be the Dursleys now, but Severus will not do anything rash."
As Minerva looked at the door Severus had just rushed out of, Dumbledore wasn't sure she believed him.