Arabella Figg had lived in Little Whinging for months without once glimpsing the boy. None of the other neighbors were suspicious. As far as they were concerned, the Dursleys only had one child. Dudley Dursley was a round, tow-headed toddler who was often seen screaming or kicking his figurines around the yard.
Arabella raised her concerns to Dumbledore, but they were brushed aside. Surely the boy was inside napping when Arabella passed by- no matter that such a young child should never be left alone. Arabella's attempts at questioning Mrs. Dursley were met with suspicion and hostility, which only increased Arabella's own suspicions.
Months turned into a year, still with no sight of little Harry. Arabella flooed Dumbledore, her frantic tone increasing with the frequency. Perhaps the boy preferred the backyard, Dumbledore said, or was with his uncle, even on business days.
The rest of the neighborhood remained blissfully unaware of anything suspicious. Arabella was about ready to call the muggle authorities when there was finally a sighting of another boy's face peering out the window of Number 4. The boy had pale, sunken cheeks. His black hair was a mess, and his green eyes stared unseeingly at Privet Drive.
Arabella hadn't seen it herself, but the gossip about the too-thin boy made its rounds. Mrs. Dursley spread the tale of her nephew. He'd been orphaned in a car crash that also left him with traumatic head injuries. Little Harry hated leaving home, didn't eat well, couldn't speak or toilet train. The rumors continued to flow. Arabella knew most were false- Harry's parents weren't drunks, and she knew Harry was younger than Dudley by only a month, rather than a few years like everyone else estimated.
People whispered that perhaps the boy had been disabled even before the crash. Arabella had heard Harry had been a lively, happy baby who hit every milestone on time. But he'd been hit with a killing curse as well- nobody knew the effects such a curse would have on its only survivor.
Still, the boy was old enough to attend school, even a special school suited for his needs. Yet Petunia walked only Dudley to school.
Only when Arabella brought up the prospect of the boy being disabled did Dumbledore acknowledge her worries. He'd send someone to check, he said, but was sure the boy was fine.
Alastor Moody clomped down Privet Drive under his invisibility cloak, only removing it when he stood on the stoop to Number 4.
The door was answered by a long-necked, sour faced woman, whose nose immediately scrunched up at the sight of Moody's dirty, long coat, frazzled mane of hair, the chunk missing from his nose.
He pushed past her, not one for pleasantries, especially not when something important caught his eye. The hall was immaculate, the kitchen floors gleaming through a doorway, but Moody's magical eye, currently hidden under a bowler hat, was focused on the stairs.
Even knowing the sight that would greet him when he opened the small, padlocked door, Moody had to brace himself. The cupboard was infested with spiders. Cobwebs hung from the underside of the stairs. Curled on a dirty cot mattress was Potter, wearing nothing but a soiled nappy. The boy's back showed signs of a belt, his arms were bruised. The spiders had scuttled away when the door was opened, but Potter remained motionless.
The Dursley boy said something about the monster in the closet.
Moody's remaining chunk of a nose flared at the strong mixture of cleaning chemicals used to block the stench of urine and excrement.
Potter didn't respond to his name. He didn't acknowledge Moody when he bent, somewhat awkwardly with his prosthetic leg, to lift the boy out. If he weren't in a muggle suburb, Moody would have thought the boy had been kissed by a dementor.
Potter was heavier than he'd been as a baby, but not by much. His ribs jutted out, his nappy leaked on Moody's already dirty coat. He stiffened in Moody's grip, expecting punishment.
"It got out once." the Dursley boy said. "Dad had to throw it back in."
Mrs. Dursley ranted that they'd never asked for the boy, that the freak had been dumped on the doorstep. Her tirade was cut short by a scream when Moody drew his wand, vanishing the boy's nappy and cleaning the dirty towel he'd been left to lay on. His fingers itched to curse the woman into oblivion. He'd heard rumors the boy might be impaired, and he had no doubt about it now.
"Our kind will be back." Moody scowled, bundling Potter up and storming out the door.
Harry didn't react to the sun or summer wind during what was quite possibly the first time he'd been outside since that Halloween night. Moody ignored the stares and whispers as he carried the boy to Arabella Figg's house on Wisteria Walk, where Harry kicked and grunted, panicked, as too many cats rubbed against Moody's boots.
At Hogwarts, McGonagall and Hagrid raged. "How could you?!" McGonagall demanded of Dumbledore. The headmaster's customary twinkle was gone as he observed Harry.
"I told you they were the worst sort of muggles!" Minerva jabbed a finger at Dumbledore, demanding an explanation for why he'd ignored Arabella Figg, but no answer he provided could possibly explain it.
Other questions lingered. Had no other neighbors noticed and reported it to the muggle authorities? Had Harry ever been held? Was his poor eyesight genetic, or a result of being shut in a dark cupboard? Harry couldn't tell them, and the biggest question lingered. What would become of the Boy Who Lived?
When Madame Pomfrey summoned a potion vial, Harry thrashed, violently attacking himself as if he'd done something wrong.
Hagrid sobbed, attempting to stroke Harry's hair as if taming an animal. Harry spit, curling in on himself and played with his toes. Harry was barely able to swallow healing potions and was completely unable to eat solids, even porridge. His inability to walk hinted that he'd been in the trapped in the cupboard far longer than anyone cared to think about.
It seemed unlikely the boy could recover from his years of neglect and abuse. Nobody at Hogwarts was equipped to care for him. Madame Pomfrey was, of course, quite adept at attending to ailments and injuries, but Harry needed more than the Hogwarts matron could provide.
St. Mungo's had a ward on the fourth floor. It wasn't ideal, placing a child in a ward, but it was all they could do at the moment. Even the healers had never seen such a case. Harry wasn't a victim of the Cruciatus Curse, like the Longbottoms. He hadn't been given the Dementor's Kiss. He'd simply been shut away.
For a while, Harry and the other residents gave little indication of noticing each other, possibly due to the fact that Harry frequently sought refuge in dark, tight places. The Healers did note that Alice Longbottom began humming lullabies, though she rarely looked at the spot under Harry's bed.
Harry gained weight with the aid of potions, but still struggled with chewing. As his ability to focus his eyes improved with new glasses, he watched Alice and Frank from under the bed with less and less caution as time went on. He progressed from scuttling with a healer's assistance to hobbling independently. On a daring journey across the ward, he snatched a piece of Alice's gum, shoving the still-wrapped treat into his mouth. Harry froze, spat it out, rolled on the ground.
Alice ambled over, offering a piece of unwrapped gum. Harry grabbed it.
But he didn't speak. Harry showed no indication of even knowing his own name, but bristled at the word boy. Otherwise, he was expressionless and silent. Healers concluded that, if Harry made any noise or reminded his relatives of his existence, his uncle would beat him with a belt.
Harry still hit himself, sometimes without cause, but always at a hint of magic. The healers started carrying supplies rather than using accio or Wingardium Leviosa.
When Augusta and Neville Longbottom visited over the holidays, Harry didn't respond to the other boy's shy greeting or more animated, one-sided conversation with his parents and Harry about a plant he was nursing back to health. Harry didn't correct Augusta when she told the other Longbottoms that he'd been cursed into insanity. He had been cursed, the healers said, but not just by magic.
When Neville's chocolate frog sprang onto Augusta Longbottom's vulture hat, the Healers observed Harry do something he'd never done before. His green eyes were dull behind his new glasses, but he laughed at the frog hopping on the hat.
Neville offered Harry some chocolate and gave him the card. Alice gave her son a Drooble's Gum wrapper. While Neville slipped the wrapper in his pocket, Harry stashed the card in his ever-growing hoard of potion bottles stashed under the bed, and took the stuffed vulture hat as Augusta led Neville away.
Another frequent visitor was Moody, though he often sat silently with a scowl. Harry fearlessly approached the grizzled wizard, clutching Augusta's vulture hat and holding the beak to Moody's face, as if attempting to fix his nose.
The healers were pleased at Harry's progress, as small as it might seem to outsiders. He wasn't progressing as much as the Hogwarts staff had hoped. At this rate, he wouldn't attend Hogwarts, would likely be disabled for life. He seemed mostly inattentive when Alice showed him books, only sparing a glance at the moving pictures. He let Neville hug him on another visit.
Still, the healers wanted more for him. It was sad enough that the Longbottoms were in the ward, but a child needed a family. Harry needed someone to take him outside to play, to read him stories and tuck him in.
Who would adopt an almost nine-year-old still in nappies, who didn't speak and couldn't sleep through the night? This wasn't just any child. The word would spread about the Boy Who Lived, the Prophet would have a field day popping the public image of the young hero. Former Death Eaters would see an easy target. Anyone would be overcome by pity for the once renowned hero, the way they were for the Longbottoms.
Harry was familiar with Neville, and Neville was kind to Harry, but Augusta could hardly take care of Harry's physical needs at her age. The Weasleys were a loving bunch, but couldn't give Harry the attention he needed.
Harry needed a family, but who could be trusted to care for the boy who'd lived through so much?
Sirius figured he'd finally snapped. His sanity had lasted longer than the other inmates'- he'd been languishing in his dank cell for years without completely cracking- but there was no way Dumbledore would really visit him in Azkaban. Dumbledore's bright robes and silver beard were too much of a contrast to the rotting interior of the prison.
The vision of Dumbledore seemed to be not all there. The light was gone from his eyes, and he murmured about making sure nobody else had been wrongfully condemned. Those words confirmed he was a hallucination. Everyone believed Sirius to be a double-crosser, a murderer, a madman.
The vision left and the dementors returned, leaving Sirius to relive that night at Godric's Hollow, finding the Potter house destroyed and watching the traitorous rat escape.
He shifted into his dog form as much as possible, but changed back when human guards unexpectedly came for him. His new cell was only just big enough to stand in and allowed no room for pacing. Spikes surrounded him along with the bars. The air lacked the dementor's chill, but Sirius was convinced he was hallucinating Council of Magic seated around his cylindrical cell. Dumbledore and Moody stood out in the crowd.
He wasn't actually getting a trial, was he? His demands to know why he'd been denied one before had been ignored, actively taunted by some.
Sirius felt like he was floating, observing the trial from above his caged body, watching himself disclose his own animagus form as he told of Pettigrew's betrayal as the Potters' Secret-Keeper. They waived the punishment for being an unregistered animagus, citing that Sirius had already served time. The phrases wrongful imprisonment, cleared of all charges and immediate release rattled in Sirius' brain.
It didn't truly sink in until he was in a sterile hospital bed rather than his moldy prison mattress, surrounded by healers in lime green robes with nary a trace of a dark-cloaked dementor. He was fed lots of chocolate and potions, and grew less gaunt.
Sirius' innocence took the wizarding world by a storm. Two days after his release, Pettigrew was captured, having been discovered living as a rat with the Weasleys. Unlike Sirius, the traitor deserved to rot in Azkaban.
"Where's Harry?" Sirius rasped, still unaccustomed to using his voice.
The healers exchanged an uneasy glance, didn't answer as they gathered vials of calming draughts. Sirius shouted his questions. Where was Harry? Who had he been living with?
The more he heard, the more he wished he hadn't. Harry was here, in St. Mungo's. Sirius surged up, ready to sniff his godson out if he had to, but the healers had to explain. Sirius knew the fate had befallen Frank and Alice Longbottom thanks to his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange, but why were the healers telling him?
Harry was in the same ward. One healer said he hadn't been given the chance to progress since he was a baby. He'd been found in conditions barely above Sirius' cell in Azkaban. He couldn't feed himself, didn't talk, hardly made noise.
Sirius' face grew paler than it had been in Azkaban. Hearing about Harry's horrific treatment immediately became his new worst memory.