[Author's Note: Harry is referred to in this chapter as Harry Evans. This was standard practice in the 19th century for a "bastard" child, one whose parents were unmarried, to have their mothers name rather than their father's name due to inheritance laws]
Servants rose before the sun most of the year, and that was Harry Evans’ life for five years. The clock in the coach house would ring out at five-thirty sharp, and the four men living there would groan before rolling out of bed. By Madam Marge’s demand, Harry had not been given one of these beds, but had remained in the cupboard by the stairs. The footman in the bedroom next to Harry's cupboard knocked gently on the wall and Harry knocked back to show that he was awake before sitting up and putting on his glasses, which were too small now and were taped across the nose after Dudley had broken them.
Harry pulled a spider off of his blanket and opened the cupboard door, sitting in the doorway to fold up his pallet and push it under the shelf to keep the spiders out of it. He dressed just as tiredly as the men in his breaches, blouse, and black vest, stepping into worn leather shoes and making his way down the stairs to the stables with the two grooms.
The terrace was still quite dark so early in the morning, and Harry stretched in the morning air before taking the rear stair down to the basement. As usual, he knocked on the door for the first and second footmen, as well as the scullery maids and butler. Each hummed out that they were awake in turn, reluctant but ready to start another long day of chores.
Then it was into the kitchens. Harry, being the lowest ranking male in the staff, was responsible for cleaning the kitchen hardware – the floors, counters, stoves, fireplace, larders, pantries, cabinets, tables, and cutting boards. The scullery maid cleaned the dishes and prepared breakfast for the servants as he worked, while the footmen cleaned the shoes and lamps in the servant’s hall. The housemaids came down for water and dust pails before going upstairs to clean the fireplaces and public rooms. The servants took breakfast at seven, sitting around the table in the servant’s hall while the Housekeeper Elinor gave them their orders for the day.
“Good morning,” she greeted, sitting at the tail of the table across from the butler, Alfred. “We need to be sure the entire house is spotless this week – all hands. And the Mistress wants Mister Dudley’s gifts arranged in the dining room for breakfast.”
Harry silently groaned into his eggs, leaning on his hand. Of course! How could he have forgotten about Dudley’s birthday? At fifteen, Dudley was nearly old enough to finish school, but he was so dense that he’d been kept back. He and Harry were learning the same things, but Harry was being taught at the state schoolhouse while Dudley attended a posh academy near the castle. Today was Dudley’s birthday, and in a fortnight, he would have his sending-off for another year at school, meaning a big party and plenty of fuss.
“The footmen will bring the gifts down from the north guest room as soon as the table is set. And then you’re to clean the light wells. Maids, the staircase needs to be done today – the whole thing top to bottom and in the cracks, including the rugs and rods. Harry, the Mistress would like to see you before her breakfast.”
Harry gulped but looked down at his plate and nodded. What had he done now?
Every time that anything out of the ordinary happened, Harry was blamed. It was as though the Dursleys believed that he was cursed just because he was an orphan. But it wasn’t just little things like mail not being delivered or disappearing socks that Harry was blamed for. Ever since the zoo incident, anything at all out of the ordinary that couldn’t possibly have to do with Harry was his fault.
Once, Mistress Petunia, tired of Harry's hair being a mess all the time, had ordered it completely shaved off. Harry had been miserable all day, much to Dudley’s immense amusement and Rose’s sympathy. However, when he woke the next day, his hair was back exactly as it had been before and had never taken a cut since. In fact, every time that someone tried to cut it, it just grew longer, and now reached passed his shoulders, leaving him to braid it at the base of his neck like the kitchen girls.
Last winter, Madam Marge had tried to change the uniform to a hideous upper-button coat and wide knickerbockers that made the men look like frogs. But when she’d tried to force Harry into it, it seemed to grow smaller and smaller until it was small enough for one of Rose’s dolls, but certainly wouldn’t fit Harry. He'd been made to sleep out on the terrace for three nights because of that.
Just two months ago, Dudley had decided to beat him up and chased him down the servant’s passage. Harry had tried to take the staircase up to the terrace, but instead found himself on the roof with no memory of getting there. Madam Marge had accused him of trying to escape and forced him to clean the entire outside of the entire row of terraced houses for that “to remind him of his place”.
Harry could only imagine what Mistress Petunia was going to blame him for now as he washed the breakfast dishes with the scullery maid.
At eight o’clock, Harry climbed the three flights of stairs up to the Family Suite. However, before he could even knock on the door, he heard Mistress Petunia and Master Vernon speaking, and his own name caused him to pause and listen.
“…when he dropped Harry off. I expected him to be back here by now,” Mistress Petunia said.
“Probably forgotten all about him by now,” Master Vernon huffed out of his dressing gown. “Or dead. You did say he was a sickly fellow.”
“He was. He was always ill, according to Lily.”
Lily? Harry's mother’s name? A name that had long been forbidden in the Dursley house that had resulted in the old Housekeeper being sacked just for mentioning it?
“Darling, we haven’t heard hide nor hair of that man in ten years,” Master Vernon said. “Good riddance.”
“But he still takes the photographs,” she argued. “Every year, Vernon, I have a photograph taken of the boy and then leave them in the entry window – and every year, they disappear. He always comes back for them. He took the one from this year as well.”
“They’re expensive, Petunia, and he’s not worth it. He’s been nothing but trouble ever since he arrived. Marge was right. We should have sent him to an orphanage and saved ourselves the trouble.”
“And what about the money? The bank may think that was inheritance from my sister, but we both know that it was from the boy’s father.”
Father – Harry's father!? Harry knew nothing at all about his father, except that his parents hadn’t been married and that he was Chinese. What money were they talking about, and who was this mystery man? And what did he have to do with the photographs that Mistress Petunia insisted on having taken of Harry every single May?
“That money’s long spent, darling,” Master Vernon dismissed. “The only money in the bank now is the money that Marge and I have earned from the ships and the dogs. Besides, it wasn’t very much, now was it? Certainly not enough to raise him anything like how we’ve raised Dudley. Why, I’d say that we spent just about that amount on the boy, so I don’t know why you’re so worried—”
“You don’t know what these people can do, Vernon. They’re…dangerous.”
“They? – there’s only one sickly man who may or may not still be around. No one else knows he’s here – that was the whole point. Now, would you stop fussing? Dudley will be awake soon and we both know he’ll want to open his gifts immediately.”
Harry shook his head a little and took a breath to calm himself before knocking gently on the door. The valet opened it and nodded him into the room. Master Vernon was straightening his jacket in the mirror, while Mistress Petunia was in her petticoats with a dressing gown over them, her maid working on putting her hair into a complicated style with pins.
“There you are, boy,” Master Vernon hissed, turning to the door. “Took your time, did you?”
“Sorry, sir,” Harry said, dropping his head. “I was just finishing the dishes.”
“Excuses as always,” he growled before leaving the room. The valet winced before following.
“I’ll be alright, Marie,” Mistress Petunia said to her lady’s maid. “Go and help the others with Dudley’s gifts. Make sure they’re arranged properly.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Marie curtseyed before exiting, leaving Harry alone with his aunt.
“Elinor is right,” she said. “You’ve gotten taller.”
“I was able to lengthen the breaches, ma’am, so you won’t need to spend any money on them,” Harry said, hoping to avoid a complain about his cost.
Mistress Petunia looked at him in her mirror as she continued arranging her hair. “We’re taking Dudley to the shipyard. They’re launching the Coptic and conducting the sea trials on the Arabic.”
“Master Vernon must be pleased,” Harry said. “He worked very hard on both ships.”
“While we’re gone, you’re to keep Rose entertained. She has no interest in ships.”
“Shall I prepare her for Dudley’s photographs?” Harry asked hesitantly.
Mistress Petunia’s eyes were narrow as she looked at his reflection in her mirror. “I didn’t say anything about a photograph.”
“Forgive me, ma’am. I just assumed that one would be taken since it’s Mister Dudley’s birthday.”
She rose an eyebrow before looking back at herself. “We’re not doing photographs this year. Dudley’s almost a man, and it’s time for Rose’s first corset, so we’re having a portrait done instead. The artist will be here tomorrow. Have Rose pick out a light-coloured dress, one in fashion.”
“Will it need to be loose to accommodate the corset?” Harry asked.
“A bit,” she agreed, situating a decorative comb in her hair.
“Understood,” Harry said. “Is that all, ma’am?”
Mistress Petunia turned and looked at him fully, crossing her arms. “You’re to not to attend to the mail anymore. Alfred is leaving us. He’s been hired at the Castle. The First footman will take his place, the second taking the first’s place, and Sean will become the Second Footman. You will take Sean’s place and his bed. You’re getting too tall for that wee cupboard. You’ll need a proper uniform—”
“Ma’am, with all due respect,” Harry interrupted quietly. “I’m incredibly honoured, but…I’m afraid that I can’t accept a position without pay. I’m old enough now, you see, to be paid, as of next month. I was hoping to look for a position in another house, perhaps as a page—”
“No,” she said firmly. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll stay here. With pay.”
Harry rose an eyebrow in surprise. He didn’t think in his wildest dreams that the Dursleys, who had forced him to serve them like a slave for five years, would give him a salary. “I – thank you, ma’am,” he said, startled as she pulled on her skirt and adjusted it.
“Alfred leaves in October. You’ll be paid with the title then.”
“Shoes,” she said, sitting down to focus on the buttons of her blouse buttons. Harry dropped to the floor and situated her feet into the leather boots. She checked herself in the mirror one more time before looking at him in her reflection.
“You may go.” Harry bowed before stepping out of the room, Marie entering in his place. He paused for a moment, and heard her say to Marie, “if anyone calls for him, I’m to be told immediately.”
“Him, ma’am?” Marie asked in confusion.
“Harry. If anyone calls for him, tell them that he doesn’t live here and inform me at once.”
“But ma’am – why would anyone call for him? No one ever has before. Oh! Is it his parents—”
“Don’t be an idiot, Marie. His parents are dead. Just tell me if anyone comes looking for him or leaves any letters for him or – or anything, really, to do with Harry. Anything!”
“Eh – yes, ma’am,” Marie said worriedly.
But Harry had the same question – who on earth would call for him?
He didn’t have any time to think about it, though, because the valet hissed for him to get downstairs, making him run down the servant stair to the dining room, where Master Vernon and Madam Marge were seated at one end of the table. The other end was completely filled with Dudley’s presents. It looked as though Dudley had gotten the model ship that he’d wanted, as well as the bicycle. Exactly why Dudley wanted a bicycle was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was just as fat at fifteen as he’d been at ten and five, and he hated exercise – unless, of course, it involved punching someone. Dudley’s favourite punching bag was Harry, but he could never catch him because Harry was very fast.
Harry stood outside of the dining room with the other footmen, awaiting orders, while Mistress Petunia came downstairs. A moment later, Dudley and Rose descended as though racing each other. Dudley passed without notice, but Rose smiled at Harry and skipped over to him. “Heyya, Harry. You’re to keep me company today. Ready for fun?”
“At your leisure, Miss Rose,” Harry smiled.
“Thirty-six!” Dudley shouted. “That’s two less than last year!”
“Darling, you haven’t counted Auntie Marge’s present, see?” Madam Marge pointed out. “It’s here under the big one from Mummy and Daddy.”
“Alright, thirty-seven then,” said Dudley going red in the face. Rose giggled and Harry bit his lip as Mistress Petunia sensed danger.
“And we’ll buy you two new presents while we’re out today. How’s that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that alright?”
Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like very hard work. Finally, he said slowly, “so I’ll have… thirty…thirty…”
“Thirty-nine, you clotpole!” Rose sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.
“Oh,” Dudley said, sitting down in front of the first parcel. “Hey! I’m not a clotpole, you tart!”
“Fooled me,” Rose muttered, joining her family.
Rose was chipper all day, chatting away in her playroom while Harry watched her and joined her in her games. It was the first time in five years he’d been allowed to be her playmate, and the first time in that long that he felt like a some-what normal twelve-year-old boy enjoying the end of his summer. It felt strange to spend Dudley’s birthday at the house instead of waiting around for a photograph. Ten years of habit was hard to break.
The next day, the family assembled in the drawing room for the painting. It was dreadfully boring, and Harry had to spend most of the time just standing next to the door, at the artist’s beck and call. He was glad when it was over, and he could get back to the kitchen to do some productive work. The rest of the staff had spent the two days cleaning all of the public rooms of the house in preparation for Dudley’s party next Friday. The house hadn’t sparkled so much since they’ve moved in, and they were rather proud of how much they’d managed to get done in such a short time even without Harry's help.
But he was looking forward to joining them in the endeavour on Wednesday morning. He woke up early just like always, roused the staff, and set about preparing the kitchen for breakfast. This morning, he had to clean the floors with sand, and he was nearly finished with it when he heard a loud clanking upstairs, followed by a pronounced masculine yelp.
Harry and the scullery maid exchanged a look before climbing the servant stair with Alfred and maids who had come down for cleaning supplies like always. Up in the hall, Sean the footman, was standing in the entry doorway, stark still.
“Sean?” Alfred asked. “What is it, lad?”
Sean turned and looked at them, horrified, before stepping back into the cloak room door. Alfred went first while the others waiting in fear.
“WHAT IN GOD’S NAME!?”
They others hurried forward curiously, peering over each other’s shoulders and backs into the Entrance Hall, and gasping at the sight before them.
The entire hall was covered in what appeared to be black soot. The little window looking out was wide open, and every photograph on the wall had been broken and shredded. It was as though some sort of mythical soot animal had gotten loose into the room.
“But we just cleaned this!” Marie complained.
“Who would do this?” Sean asked, heartbroken. “This will take days to clean!”
“After all that work,” Harry lamented, touching the soot floor with the corner of his apron. “This will get everywhere. We’ll be cleaning it off our clothes and shoes after the walls and floors – it’s even on the ceiling!”
“Alright then,” Alfred said, putting his hands on his hips. “Who left that window open?”
“No one, sir,” Marie insisted. “You were the last in here – you must have seen it!”
“The door and window were locked, same as always,” Alfred shook his head.
“Maybe…” Harry said. “Maybe the fireplace exploded?”
“The fireplace?” Sean asked, looking to the small hearth. Alfred did as well, examining it and the walls.
“Yes….yes, that seems possible. Some sort of bird in the hearth or something. Slipped down the chimney, panicked, wrecked the room, and fled through the window. Alright, Harry – run down to the police office and summon an officer, then go over to the chimney sweepers and have someone come and examine it.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry nodded, carefully crossing the room and exiting the front door.
Twenty minutes later, he returned to the house with an officer and chimney sweep he’d met on the road.
“AHA!” shouted Madam Marge as soon as she saw him, still dressed in her dressing gown. “Why, thank you, officer, for bringing us the culprit!”
“Sorry?” The officer asked in confusion.
“The boy, obviously!” she said, stranding proudly. “Go on, then – arrest him!”
“What!?” Harry yelped. “I didn’t do anything!”
“I sent Harry to fetch the officer, ma’am,” Alfred explained.
“Well, he’s clearly responsible for this mess,” Madam Marge insisted. “Look – he’s still got it on his apron!”
“Harry didn’t do this,” Sean said. “He was asleep same as the rest of us last night. I woke him up, and his door creaks loud enough for everyone to hear it when it opens.”
“Are all the servant rooms near each other?” the officer asked.
“In three places, yes,” Alfred said. “They’ve all accounted for each other.”
“And we wouldn’t have needed the window,” Marie pointed out. “If a person did this, they came in and left through that window.”
“Very true,” the officer said. “If a servant had done it, they would have left the window closed and departed through the house.”
“Clearly, the boy opened the window to lead you astray,” Madam Marge argued. “He’s responsible! Arrest him immediately!”
“Why would I have done it?” Harry asked. “I’m going to be the one to clean it up!”
“Jealous of Dudley’s special day and our family portrait!” Marge accused. “He’s a half-breed bastard orphan – of course he’s responsible!”
“Ma’am, please,” the officer said sternly. “Your accusations are unfounded and unhelpful.”
“What on earth is going – AHHHH!” Mistress Petunia screamed, looking around her Entrance Hall. “What – who—”
“We don’t know, ma’am,” Alfred said, “but we believe a bird might have gotten loose from the chimney.”
“A bird?” the chimney sweep asked, walking over to the chimney and looking around the hearth. “Hmmm, don’t think so, sir. No feathers. But seems like it all came from the chimney, yeah.”
“Aye?” the officer asked, looking around. “Yes, he’s right. See next to the chimney – no soot. It’s just out from that. Something must have fallen down the chimney and caused a sort of splash.”
“Can’t be, governor,” the chimney sweep said from his place crouching near the hearth. “This ain’t soot.”
“Excuse me?” the officer asked as the servants frowned.
“Soot’s me job, sir,” the sweep explained. “This here – it’s too dark for ash or soot. It shimmers in the light like coal, but it’s too dark for charcoal. I’ve never seen anything like this in a fireplace – or this.” He pulled something out of the coals in the hearth, turning it in his hand.
“What is it?” the officer asked as the chimney sweep tried to clean off the lump.
“Dunno,” he admitted.
“Harry,” Alfred nodded. “Get that cleaned up.”
“Handing the culprit the weapon, eh?” Madam Marge said, grabbing Harry's arm. “I don’t think so—”
“Marge,” Mistress Petunia hissed. “Harry didn’t do this. Get that cleaned up in the cloak room – now.”
Harry nodded gratefully and accepted the item taking it into the cloak room wash closet to rinse. It took several minutes of hard cleaning before the item revealed itself to be a music box. It had been burned in several places from the smouldering embers, and as Harry tried to scrub the soot off the lock, the mechanism cracked open, filling the room with a tinkering tune.
It was hauntingly familiar, but Harry couldn’t for the life of him place where he’d heard it before.
Mistress Petunia snatched the music box out of Harry's hands and snapped it closed, holding it close to her chest and panting as if it had taken extraordinary effort to end the chime.
“What’s that, then?” the officer asked suspiciously.
“It’s alright, officer,” she said, turning shakily toward him. “It seems this was all my fault.”
“My music box,” she explained. “This fireplace is just above the one in my chambers. I attempted to destroy the music box last night. It must have fallen through the grate or through a loose brick to this fireplace and caused the damage.”
“But this ain’t soot,” the sweeper reminded them.
“Are you calling my wife a liar!?” Master Vernon demanded from the hall. “Mystery solved! I’ll have the fireplace repaired at once.”
“You’ll need to be more careful in the future, ma’am,” the officer said. “That could have started a fire.”
“Perhaps it’s simply a higher quality than you’re used to,” Madam Marge interrupted the sweeper.
Harry felt a rather sudden pain in his head, causing him to groan. The taste of iron made him touch his mouth, only to pull away his hand to see blood. He touched his wrist to his nose and found that he was bleeding rather strongly from it.
“Come here, boy,” the officer ordered. Harry tentatively passed his aunt but felt faint as he came to the door. Sean caught him as he slipped sideways. “GET AWAY FROM IT!” The officer demanded, pushing the servants out of the entry and covering his own nose. He rushed across the room and threw open the doors and window before collapsing on the stoop with the sweeper.
“What is this!?” the officer demanded.
“Silver nitrate!” the sweeper said wiping his bleeding nose. “It’s used it photographs, sir – it’s toxic. Don’t let no one touch it!”
“Harry!” Sean exclaimed as the boy collapsed into the footman’s arms. Sean lifted Harry and took him into the reception room, lying him on the sofa.
“Call a doctor!” Alfred ordered the first footman. “Everyone, wash and change at once!”
“Is this lethal!?” the officer asked.
“Dunno, sir,” the sweeper admitted while Marie ran to Harry's side with a wet rag, furiously cleaning the boy’s hands while Sean used his apron on Harry's nose, helping him tip his head back.
The officer grabbed the sweeper’s arm. “Come on. I’m taking you to hospital. I’ll be back with help!”
“Harry, stay with us,” Sean begged, but the room was spinning, and Harry felt like he was falling over in a nauseating combination. The pain in his head made him close his eyes, and unconsciousness overtook him almost at once.
“…never seen it before in me life.”
“You sure, love?”
“Positive! But the way she reacted – I’ve only ever seen her act like that about her sister.”
Flinching, Harry slowly opened his eyes and swallowed, looking around. He was in the Elinor’s office, lying on the couch. Sean and Marie were standing by the fireplace, whispering with each other.
“Aye! She’s been antsy ever since yesterday,” Marie said.
“What happened yesterday?” Sean inquired.
“The portrait – I figure she felt guilty about not having Harry in it. He is her nephew, after all.”
“Yeah, but the mistress hated her sister – everyone knows that,” Sean said, scratching the back of his head. “Why would she have her music box?”
“I’m telling you, I’ve never seen that before. And I looked at her fireplace – no loose bricks or grates at all. That box didn’t fall through from above.”
“Ghosts,” Marie suggested. “Has to be. Her sister’s haunting her for treating Harry badly.”
“She’s late,” Harry groaned.
“Hey, lad!” Sean yelped as they both rushed to Harry's sides as he sat up slowly, gripping his head. “How you feel, mate?”
“Like I just got kicked by a horse or two,” Harry admitted.
“Well, the doctor said that you’re alright, but you have to take it easy today,” Marie said.
“Is everyone else okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Sean explained. “The sweeper’s okay, too. The coppers are having firemen clean the entry so that no one else gets hurt. They’re looking for the photographer – he’s the chief suspect, but we can’t figure out why he would do this.”
“Photographs are expensive,” Harry pointed out. “Maybe he was upset at losing the business.”
“The Mistress was awfully upset about losing her photographs,” Marie informed him. “Master Dursley’s even filing an insurance claim about it. Those cabinet cards were three pounds each. That’s more than a month’s wages for me and Sean!”
“Yeah, but that silver nitrate stuff can’t be cheap,” Sean argued, “and you saw the state of that room. It was all over the place! Must have cost a fortune.”
“I wonder if they wanted to hurt them,” Harry worried.
“Them – more like us,” Marie said. “It’s us that would have to clean it up – could have killed us.”
“You know just as well as I that Marge would have made Harry clean that even if he’d had blood coming from his eyeballs,” Sean said bitterly. “She hates him. Who knows – maybe she did it to try to kill you?”
“She wouldn’t do that!” Harry gasped. “She doesn’t like me but she’s my aunt. She wouldn’t hurt me.”
“You’re too naïve,” Marie criticized. “That good heart of yours is going to get you in trouble.”
“Probably,” Sean said, pushing Harry back down to the couch. “But for now, you should rest. You gave us a right good scare there, lad.”
“Sorry,” Harry muttered.
At eight the next morning, Harry took his post as usual in the hall, waiting outside of the dining room just in case Mistress Petunia had any sudden orders. Master Vernon came down first, as usual, and ignored the servants, as usual. Madam Marge came next after changing from her ride, glaring at them like always. Mistress Petunia followed, but unlike every other day, she stopped at the bottom of the stairs.
“Are you recovered?” she asked quietly, but her voice carried across the large hall to Harry, who nodded.
“Yes, Mistress. I’m sorry for the expense of the doctor. It won’t happen again.”
“Be sure that it doesn’t,” Mistress Petunia said, approaching her nephew-servant. “You cost enough to keep as is, ward. It wouldn’t be untoward for me to hold off on promoting you until you can pay it back.”
Harry bit his tongue to keep from replying. Naturally – naturally – she’d found some way around what she’d offered before. She’d rather carve off her own feet with a dull spoon than treat me like a normal human being, he thought to himself. I’ll never see a pence of salary if she can stop it.
“Ma’am,” Alfred said, offering a tray. “The mail? Shall I put it on the table for you?”
“Yes,” she said, turning toward the dining room. Alfred gave Harry a comforting smile before handing him one of the letters, much to his surprise. Even more surprising, the letter was addressed to him.
Who on earth would write to Harry the half-bred bastard orphan? He had no friends, no relatives, and no prospects. Nonetheless, the letter clearly read:
Mr. H. Evans
4 Privet Drive
The letter was an old type of long sheet folded over and sealed rather than situated into an envelope. The paper was flecked and thick like handmade paper. The address was written with bright purple ink that was likely very expensive and very beautifully scripted. On the other side, the wax seal showed a coat of arms with a boar’s head.
“What is that!?” Mistress Petunia demanded, watching Harry and Alfred. She returned down the length of the hall to where they stood and snatched the letter from Harry's hand. Master Vernon and Madam Marge quickly joined to see what had happened.
Mistress Petunia’s hands were shaking as she read the address line, and she gasped as she turned it around and saw the seal.
“What is it, poppet?” Master Vernon asked, taking the letter to examine, his sister leaning over his shoulder to get a look. “No stamp.”
“Who would want to write such an old letter to this useless brat?” Madam Marge asked.
Mistress Petunia snatched it back and glared at Harry as though he’d sent it rather than received it. “No one. No one could possibly want anything to do with him. Alfred, any other letters are to be brought directly to me. Is that clear?”
“Yes, mistress,” Alfred said dejectedly. The Dursley gave Harry a last nasty look before returning to the dining room, leaving Harry to close his eyes and shake his head at their pettiness.
“I don’t get it,” Sean admitted to Harry as they scrubbed the breakfast pots in the kitchen. “They treat you like trash, make you serve them, accuse you of every little mishap in the house, and then act all overprotective about people wanting to contact you?”
“That’s not what I would call overprotective,” Harry argued. “It’s more like possessive or territorial.”
“But why?” Sean asked. “If they hate you that much, why not just get rid of you?”
“She said something about money the other day,” Harry said. “I wonder if I’m to inherit something from my father and they want in on it.”
“What – they think you’ll just hand over your inheritance?” Sean laughed. “You get a pence, you get the hell out of here.”
“She didn’t even care about the seal,” Harry recalled. “It’s like she was furious about the mere idea of someone contacting me.”
“Or maybe,” Marie said, entering and leaning on the counter next to them, “she’s worried about someone specific contacting you.”
“What do you know?” Sean challenged.
“She’s muttering about ‘him’. I think it’s that mystery man again – the one who brought you here.”
“Brought me and forgot me,” Harry said, pushing the large pot out of the sink and onto the counter. “Maybe she knows who dirtied the Entry.”
“Maybe it’s the same person,” Sean suggested.
The bell rang for tea in the drawing room, so Harry wiped his hands and set about making the tray. The parlour maid soon joined him. “Mind giving me a hand? Dudley’s Gang is here.”
“Lovely,” Harry said sarcastically, putting the small set back and grabbing the tea tower. The maid boiled water and set the tea distiller in while Harry arranged the tower, and then they both made their way up to the drawing room. Petunia and the mothers were giggling by the fireplace with Rose over some blue fabric.
Lounging around the chairs by the window was Dudley and his gang. Piers, Dennis, Malcolm, and Gordon were all big and stupid, but as Dudley was the biggest and stupidest of the lot, he was the leader. Gordon and Malcolm were fine on their own. They came from modest homes and knew not to mess with the staff. Dennis was usually quiet but was the one who usually held the kids that Dudley beat up. But Piers Polkiss was a spoiled rich brat who thought breaking things and teasing the maids and footmen was the most amusing sport a young man could enjoy. Even worse, he was barely older than Harry but a full foot taller. His father worked with Master Vernon at White Star.
“…so we’ll be missing school for two weeks,” he was telling the others. “The Arabic is the first steel-hulled passenger ship, you know. I’ll definitely be in the papers for being aboard on the maiden voyage.”
“Yeah, but what’s the point?” Malcolm asked. “You’re not allowed in the dining saloon or smoking room because you’re a kid.”
“Yeah, sounds pretty boring,” Dennis shrugged.
“How would you know, half-wit?” Piers sneered. “You’ve never even been on a ship before!”
“Snacks!” Gordon cheered, nodding to Harry, who set the tower on the table before turning back to help with the tea.
Piers had other ideas, though, grabbing Harry by the waistband of his apron. “Oh, look at you with your cute little apron!” he chortled. “Still down at Stonewell High, Evans?”
“They stuff people’s heads down the toilet at Stonewell,” Dudley teased. “Want to come and practice?”
“No thanks,” Harry snapped, pulling himself free of Piers’ grip. “The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it – it might get sick.”
He hurried back over to the tea cart before Dudley could riddle out what he’d said, but Piers followed, leaning on the cart and towering over Harry. “You know, with a bursary, you could afford to go to Smeltings with us, despite your – ahem – modest upbringing.”
“Why on earth would I want to go there?” Harry asked, pushing him off to continue working. “You look like sun-dried turnips in those horrible uniforms, and the only thing you learn is how to hit people with those stupid canes. But hey – at least you look just so cute in your bloody boater hats.”
Piers’ lip curled at Harry's teasing tone but followed him back with the tray. “You’d better watch who you piss off, Evans. I just might marry Rose, and then you’ll work for me.”
“Rose would rather chew off her own arm than marry the likes of you, rat-face,” Harry said, pouring the tea while the other boys whistled at his rebelliousness.
“At least I actually will get married,” Piers growled. “Who would want a girly little thing like you? You might as well start preparing yourself for the whorehouse.”
“Know something about male prostitutes, do you, Piers?” Harry taunted. “Sounds like you’re getting excited at the thought.”
“Yeah, you’re awfully interested in him, Piers,” Malcolm grinned. “Something we don’t know?”
“Shut it, prat!” Piers snarled, sitting down heavily while Harry rolled his eyes and returned the empty kettle to the cart.
“You still don’t have a date to the party, Piers,” Gordon pointed out. “Maybe you should ask Harry!”
They erupted into laughter at Piers’ expense while the servants left the room with a bow to the ladies. However, they’d hardly put the cart back in the morning room when Mistress Petunia called for Harry from the doorway.
“Ma’am?” Harry asked quietly.
“You’re to gather your things,” she said stiffly. “That cupboard is too small. I want you to sleep in Elinor’s office from now on. She’s putting up a curtain.”
“I – thank you, ma’am,” Harry said in surprise. “But wouldn’t it be better if I just wait until Alfred leaves to move into Sean’s old room?”
“No,” she said. “I don’t want you in the coach house anymore.”
And with that, she turned and went back to the ladies, leaving Harry rather confused.
“It’s the letter,” Marie informed him from the hall. “It said the Coach House specifically.”
Harry gasped in realization – yes, of course! But why on earth would it say that? Sean’s letters from his mother never specified the Coach House. Why would they? The mailman delivered the letters to the front door regardless of where in the house they were to go. Whoever had sent that letter knew where Harry slept.
Elinor’s office was more luxury than Harry had experienced in years. The couch was soft and smooth. The fireplace kept the room comfortably warm all night, and Harry awoke to a knock on the door rather than being the one to do the knocking. It was glorious, even despite the rain outside.
But other than that, it was business as usual. He still cleaned the kitchen and helped prepare both breakfasts, and he still stood idly in the Hall while the family took their morning meal. But once again, for the second day in a row, Alfred passed him a letter, though more discreetly this time.
This time, Harry hid the letter at once, hoping that he’d been quick enough that Madam Marge wouldn’t notice once Alfred moved out of her way. A moment later, he heard a ruckus in the dining room about the letter and saw Uncle Vernon storm across the room to the fireplace to destroy it.
Harry helped the others take the dishes down, and as soon as he had a moment, he slipped into Elinor’s office to look at it. Once again, it named him, only this time, it was localized to “Housekeeper’s Office”, showing once more that the sender knew exactly where Harry slept.
“Well?” Sean asked, slipping into the room with him to look. “What’s it say?”
“I can’t,” Harry said nervously, handing it over. “You read it.”
“Let’s hope it’s money,” Sean said, breaking the seal and unfolding the paper. He frowned at it, looking closely, then looking up at Harry.
“What does it say?” Harry asked hurriedly.
“Nothing,” Sean said, showing him. “It’s blank.”
“What!?” Harry asked, reaching for it.
But before he could take the paper back, the door opened, and Sean hid it behind his back. Madam Marge glared at the two of them suspiciously. “And what are you two up to? Having a tea party?”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Sean said, passing her and returning to his chores. Harry swallowed and looked up at her.
“This place is too good for you,” she sneered, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him across the hall, where the maids were working on the laundry. She threw him into the room, where he landed hard on the stone floor. “You’ll do the laundry today and from now on. Change all the sheets in the house and do the curtains. I don’t want to see you upstairs anymore. And you’ll sleep in here.”
“Why?” Harry asked. “I didn’t do anything!”
“Because bastard half-bred orphans like you don’t deserve cushiony couches, you little leach!” she shrieked viciously.
“Madam, how am I to do the laundry when it’s pouring rain outside?” Harry challenged.
“Well, I suppose you’ll just have to dry the sheets by hand then in here,” she sneered.
“That’ll take all day and the floor will be soaked—”
“Then you’ll just have to clean that up too unless you want to sleep on wet stones.” She laughed in amusement as she left the room. One of the maids hurried over to Harry sympathetically, but he just rolled his eyes. She’d purposefully made his life hell for so long that it didn’t even bother him anymore.
Master Vernon was furious when he learned that three more letters had arrived for Harry the next morning, and he very nearly destroyed the table when he finally opened one to find it blank just like the one Sean had opened. Madam Marge forced Harry to sleep in the kitchen that night.
But the Dursleys were all quite content on Sunday morning by the look of them through the open windows from the terrace. Harry could hear them talking as he pinned up the sheets to properly dry since the rain had finally cleared up.
“Sunday,” Master Vernon said happily, taking his seat at the head of the table. “What a beautiful day, Sunday. A godly day, to be sure.”
“Indeed,” Madam Marge nodded sternly. “No bloody post on Sunday, is there?”
She and her brother laughed in an over exuberant manner while Harry shook his head and fussed with the folds of the sheet on the line.
However, he’d barely turned away to grab another sheet when he heard a soft hoot. Harry looked back toward the dining room and saw a large owl perched on the step. It stared at him, then flew off, leaving behind a little pile of five fresh letters. Harry tilted his head in confusion. Had the owl delivered the letters!?
He didn’t have time to think about it, though, because Mistress Petunia shoved the door open and collected the letters hastily, tearing them to pieces right there on the step in frustration.
“ALFRED!” Master Vernon bellowed. “GET THE POSTMASTER HERE IMMEDIATELY!”
“But, sir, what about church?”
“TO HELL WITH IT! I WANT ANSWERS ABOUT THOSE DAMNED LETTERS!”
“You!” Madam Marge howled, storming toward Harry.
“Not again,” he whispered. She grabbed him by the arm hard enough to surely bruise him and dragged him roughly down the stairs, making him trip over her skirt. The whole way down the narrow servant’s passage, she yanked and pulled him after her clear to the mudroom. She kicked the door open to the alley well and Harry finally began to rebel. “NO! Please! I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!”
“The hell you didn’t!” Marge barked, wrenching open the vault door and pushing Harry toward it, but he resisted, putting his hands on either side of the narrow frame.
“I swear! I have nothing to do with the letters! Please! Not the cellar!”
“Get in there!” she yapped, kicking him into the filthy little stone coal cellar.
He launched himself at the door, but she’d already shut it. “NO! PLEASE! LET ME OUT!”
“Shut it, brat!” she hissed, closing the heavy steel outer door. Harry pounded on the door as hard as he could, but it made no difference. It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t his fault that the letters kept coming!
Finally, Harry looked around at the pitch-black vault. It was so dark, he couldn’t even see his own hands, and the smell of the coal was dizzying and made him gag.
But the worst thing about the vault was how quiet it was. The only sound was Harry's breathing, and it felt like he’d been buried alive. Growing frightened, he pushed on the door harder, yanking at the handle, desperately trying to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. He was growing rather panicked when the handle quite forcefully turned.
Harry scrambled it open and went through it – but something was terribly wrong. He hadn’t stepped into the vault hall or the alley well.
In fact, he didn’t know where he’d arrived.
He wiped his eyes and looked around at the steel structure. This definitely wasn’t anywhere in the house. He should have arrived in sunlight and stone, not cold steel. There were exits on either side of him, so Harry picked the one that had pale orange light and approached it.
A massive steel face appeared before him, with glowing eyes and an open mouth.
Harry screamed in fright and turned away from it, covering his ears as he heard a metallic cry of pain around him. A hissing and wave of steam came from the direction of the face, and, on instinct, Harry ran the other direction and screamed again as black arms grabbed his own.
“HEY, hey! Easy lad!” Harry looked up at the blackened man, who knelt down to his level and smiled with sharp white teeth. “It’s okay, easy, lad. Hey – did you get lost?” Harry nodded and the man stood up, putting a protective hand around Harry's shoulder. “It’s okay. Right this way. I’ll lead you out. No need to be afraid.”
Without really paying attention, Harry followed the man through steel corridors until they came to a brightly lit corridor, and that was when he realized that he was on a ship. It hadn’t been a face that he’d seen, it must have been a boiler.
The man with him seemed to be part of what Master Vernon called the ‘black crew’ – firemen, coal-shovelling stokers who fed the boilers to fuel the ship. This one seemed strangely familiar, as though Harry had met him before. He looked a little like the chimney sweeper that he’d met, actually—
“Oy, who is this?” an officer in a white uniform asked, approaching the fireman and Harry.
“Found him in the boiler room – must have gotten turned around looking for the church service.”
“Oh, dear,” the officer said softly, kneeling down to look at Harry, who wiped his eyes again. “Oh, you poor lad. You must have been very frightened down there.”
“I – I don’t know – how I got here,” Harry sobbed, shaking and trying to stop the tears. “I don’t know how – I got on a – a ship.”
“You don’t know how you came aboard?” the officer asked gently.
“I didn’t! I was – at home! I – I just want to – go home!”
“There there, lad,” the officer said, taking Harry into his arms to offer the boy his shoulder. “There there, pip pip. It’s alright now. We’ll figure out what happened and get you home. We’re still in the harbour – are you from Belfast?” Harry nodded. “Well, you’re home. We just need to get you to your house. It'll be alright.” He rubbed Harry's back soothingly before taking his hand and walking up to the bridge.
The officer explained to the captain that Harry had just appeared in the boiler room with no memory of getting there, and the captain ordered the ship turned around back to port, delaying the sea trials. A policeman came aboard and spoke to Harry, and worriedly concluded that he must have been kidnapped. He was very kind as he guided Harry into a carriage and to the station, where a constable gave him a cup of sweet tea. The officer from Wednesday brought up the Entrance Hall dirtying, and the Chief Constable announced his theory that Harry had been targeted and kidnapped.
It was noon when Mistress Dursley arrived at the station, seeming rather strangely distraught and very pale as the Chief Constable explained his suspicion. “Do you know anyone who would want to harm your nephew, ma’am?” he asked.
Mistress Dursley breathed very quickly before nodding. “Well…his father had enemies. I knew that when I took him in, but I just assumed that they wouldn’t come all the way across the sea for him.”
“What kind of enemies?” the Constable asked as Harry listened intently.
“Debts,” she said simply. “He had debts from China, where his parents were from.”
“Probably wanted to sell the boy for profit,” the inspector suggested.
“Aye, that’s likely,” the Chief Constable agreed. “We’ll post an officer on your street to keep an eye out for suspicious characters. I suggest that you keep your nephew indoors. He’s had quite a shake-up.”
“Thank you,” Mistress Dursley said, taking Harry's hand – the first time he ever remembered her doing so – and leaving the station. She kept hold of him all the way down the street to the house.
Rose burst from the house the moment that they arrived, streaming tears, and threw herself at Harry, clinging to him fiercely. “HARRY! Thank goodness!”
“Where was he?” Madam Marge demanded. “Run off, did he?”
“I’ll take care of him, ma’am,” Alfred offered.
“Thank you, Alfred, yes – that’ll do fine. Come on, Rose.”
“This way, lad,” Alfred said, gently guiding Harry down the stairs to the servant’s passage. Nearly the entire household was there, cheering in relief that Harry had been found. Alfred led him down the hall, into Elinor’s office. Harry was so exhausted that he barely took off his shoes and vest before curling up on the couch and falling asleep.
All he could think as he drifted into dreams was ‘how did I end up on that ship? And who was that familiar man? Is he really the same man? Why does he keep disguising himself in soot, then? What does he want from me?’