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31 May 2006 @ 08:58 pm
Fic: Princes of Maine (1/4)  
Title: Princes of Maine
Pairing: Harry/Ron
Rating: R/NC-17 (I'm frankly not too sure which)
Word Count: ~ 30,000
Summary: Harry wakes one morning to find an abandoned baby on his doorstep. Little does he know that this is only the beginning of his most challenging adventure yet: parenthood.
Betas: shocolate and backinblack (♥!)
Author's Notes: The title is from The Cider House Rules. If you've read/seen it, you'll understand the (oblique) reference.



princes of maine
by scoradh

Harry Potter had two cartons of milk delivered to his house every morning. He didn’t ever drink more than half of one carton, but he did it for the sake of the human interaction, not the calcium. The sadly misnamed Paradise Place could take any amount of deviant behaviour into its stride, but its tattooed and gold-toothed inhabitants drew the line at not ever appearing to eat. Harry didn’t fear them -- little, since Voldemort’s dying throes, aroused that emotion in him -- but he equally didn’t care to be the subject of more of their gossip than was usual in the ad-breaks between Coronation Street and Emmerdale. He’d found that the best way to remain undetected was to not do anything worthy of detection.

Harry suspected that some of his neighbours appreciated the necessity of a milk delivery, even if they did not themselves partake of it. The corner shop was so regularly raided that the young thugs who littered the vicinity knew more about its stock levels than the parade of nervous shopkeepers. Moreover, the shop changed hands more often than an enthusiastic Morris dancer. As a result, the likelihood of finding anything edible there was as low as the sweet levels in the jars behind the counter, which if nothing else had surely gained antique value by the time Harry moved in down the street.

The milk was never delivered at the same time every day, and often did not arrive at all. The same thugs who terrorised the corner shop regarded trifling with the milkman and his van as more of the same. Harry was often moved to wonder if they had a personal grudge against the dairy industry. If he had a true craving for milk, he would have been irritated; as it was, he was mainly entertained. He always magically repaired the van’s slashed tires and smashed windscreens if he was around when it arrived. He didn’t realise that his actions were causing the milkman to wonder if he was suffering from hallucinations, and making him angry that he was having hallucinations about getting rocks thrown at him and not about exotic dancers from a country where clothes were lamentably scarce.

So it was not an urge to fetch in his milk and thus protect it from the ravages of the yobs from Paradise Place, to whom everything breakable deserved a good kicking, which caused Harry to venture downstairs at seven o’clock on a May morning. Rather, it was an inheritance from his days ‘in the field,’ when sleep was a snatched luxury that rarely involved a bed. Even now, at the grand old age of twenty-two, Harry found that he could rarely sleep though a whole night.

It was cool in the vestibule, and Harry shivered in his t-shirt and jockey shorts. Most ordinary middle-class people would have quaked at the prospect of opening their front doors on to such scenery as Paradise Place provided dressed only in their underwear. Fortunately, whatever else Harry’s life had been, ordinary was not it.

What little of the sky could be seen over the chimney stacks was dishcloth grey. A light breeze blew empty MacDonald’s cartons and cans of lager across the tiny wasteland in the middle of the Place. A faint gurgling sound came from somewhere near Harry’s bare feet. He looked down and into the chubby face of a baby in a basket.

Harry gaped in shock. The baby screwed up its face in a solemn mimicry of Harry’s expression. It tired of the game long before Harry recovered from his disbelief, and emitted a nasal snuffling that boded of greater wails to come.

Harry crouched down, the balls of his feet resting on the jazzy tiles of his hallway and his toes curling away from the cold concrete step. He extended a finger to the baby’s fat cheek. The soft give of flesh beneath his hand and the wetness of the bubble that exploded against his palm reassured him of the baby’s corporeality, if nothing else.

“Can you talk?” Harry demanded of the baby. The baby sent him a knowing look, and blew another raspberry. If it was a magical bomb, Harry decided, it was a very cunningly disguised one.

Satisfied that the baby was going to indulge in nothing more dangerous than a burp for the present, Harry bounced to his feet and scanned up and down the street through narrowed eyes. All was quiet and calm -- a rarer occurrence in Paradise Place than a royal marching band. Harry judged that it was too early for anyone to be up, and too late for anyone to still be watching television or reeling home from a pub or club.

Yet someone had to have disturbed this disconcerting peace recently. Harry touched the baby again. Its skin was warm and the morning was not. If it had been here for long, it would feel and look cold and, from what little Harry knew of babies, would be announcing its discomfort to the world in no uncertain terms.

With a sick little lurch, Harry prodded around in the baby’s basket. A fuzzy memory of his first rescue by Hagrid, and the mention of a letter from Dumbledore that Harry had never seen, dominated his brain. His efforts, which included dangling the baby from his hands while he peered underneath it, yielded nothing in the way of explanatory maternal missives. There wasn’t even an indication of the baby’s name.

The basket was white plastic, the sort women in the area used to hang out washing in their postage-stamp backyards. The baby was dressed in a snug body-garment that turned its hands and feet into stumpy flippers, with a matching hat, both in sickening shades of pink. The basket was padded with a pink blanket festooned with ducks marching in regimental lines. Harry surmised that the baby was a girl, or at the very least that its previous owners had thought so.

A sharp breeze sprung up, ruffling Harry’s hair into even greater disarray. The baby began to whimper. Harry, although almost frozen with uncertainty, was moved with pity for it. It looked even younger than he’d been when Dumbledore abandoned him on the Dursley’s doorstep. It was the similarity between their possible fates, more than any other factor, that made Harry pick up the baby's basket and tote it inside.

Once the door closed behind them, Harry was able to drop the Muggle façade. He levitated the basket on to the kitchen table and set the kettle to boiling with another flick of his wand. The whistling of boiling water seemed to stir the baby, for it set up a tuneless burbling in time to it.

“Well,” said Harry, who in the last two years had evolved the habit of talking to himself, “I suppose we’d better find out if you’re a boy baby or a girl baby.”

He ventured towards the basket and scooped the baby out of it. With a flush of panic, he realised that he didn’t have the faintest idea how to even hold an infant. Its head lolled alarmingly in his strong-armed grip. “Okay,” said Harry, rather wildly, “okay.” Tucking the baby into one shoulder, he grabbed his wand and Transfigured a spoon into a thick woolly rug. Given his haphazard concentration, he wasn’t too surprised that the wool was silver and shone like metal.

He laid the baby on the rug and tugged off its ridiculous hat. It proved to be bald underneath, with only a fine smattering of downy hair between its skull and the world. This evidence of utter frailty made Harry feel even more tentative.

For a long while, he couldn’t find any way of unfastening the baby’s jumpsuit. Gently rolling it over once or twice didn’t reveal anything in the way of buttons or zips. Even though he was fairly sure that it wasn’t the case, Harry was beginning to contemplate whether or not babies came into the world fully dressed.

The baby flapped its stumps up and down. Well pleased with this acrobatic feat, it proceeded to do the same with its legs. It hit Harry square in the nose as he bent forward to investigate some gaping Velcro at its neck.

Eyes watering a little, Harry unwrapped the baby. It was sporting a plastic nappy underneath its jumpsuit. A few faltering investigations provided the following evidence: that the baby was female, and that it had recently answered a call of nature.

“God,” groaned Harry. His dismay was heartfelt. He could envisage nothing but fuss and trouble from this deposit on his doorstep. To think, yesterday, the worst thing he could expect to find there was a bundle of pamphlets from the more adventurous religious cults.

The baby blew another bubble, and matter-of-factly wrapped its miniscule fingers around one of Harry’s adult-sized digits. Its other hand waved in the air, curling and uncurling like an indecisive sea anemone. Harry held his breath as the baby held his finger. The baby had long eyelashes that were oversized for its face, making it look a little like Minnie Mouse. Its eyes were bright blue. Harry had seen eyes that blue before; Ron Weasley’s eyes were the very same shade.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” said Harry Potter.

::
::

Before Harry could sit down and think out a logical plan -- or even just an illogical plan -- the baby started to cry. It set about it in a determined manner that suggested it wasn’t just indulging in the exercise for its own amusement. Something Seamus had once remarked about his little sister -- “All she does is eat, shit and sleep!” he’d declared in disgust -- came back to Harry. The baby was hungry. Harry had yesterday’s milk in his fridge, but he reckoned women wouldn’t have come equipped with breasts if feeding young babies was as simple as hailing down the nearest cow.

“Okay,” he said again. In the days to come, it would be something he would say often, mostly in tones generally reserved for doom-laden prophesies of the apocalypse.

He retrieved another spoon from his cutlery drawer and Transfigured it into dummy. Dudley had been addicted to them right up until he started nursery school. Aunt Petunia had often dipped them in honey, which probably accounted for at least half of her son’s dependence. That had been yet another of the small comforts denied to Harry as a child. In some ways it had been fortunate. The legacy of the dummy had left Dudley’s teeth woefully crooked and requiring expensive dental work. Harry’s teeth grew as nature had intended, and even if they had not the Dursleys would never have paid for braces.

Harry didn’t want the baby to become addicted to dummies dipped in honey, but neither did he intend to keep the child long enough for such a craving to develop. At any rate, it kept her occupied for the time it took Harry to locate jeans and a shirt that were not actually rancid, and to perform a Shaving Charm of such rapidity that his cheeks burned. He had long since given up brushing his hair, which straggled down past his collar. Harry pushed it off his face and forgot about it.

It took far longer, and another two trips to the honey pot, before the baby was ready to travel. To solve the nappy problem, Harry dipped the baby’s lower end in a sink of lukewarm water, swishing her around a little to ensure that she got clean. The baby thought this a great joke, and blew him a bubble as a reward.

With considerable disgust Harry Vanished the soiled plastic, patted the baby dry with her blanket, and completely blanked about a replacement nappy. He’d have to buy some; but in the meantime, he compromised by swaddling the baby in a crisp tea towel. All Harry’s tea towels were crisp, because they were all unused housewarming gifts. Harry didn’t dry dishes. He’d had his fill of that when he was a child. Harry’s dishes lay in the drainer until they dried all by themselves.

Harry regarded the pink jumpsuit with distaste. “We’ll have to get you some more duds, kiddo,” he said. Unconsciously, he had already began to see the baby as a semi-permanent member of his household. In the meantime, he bundled her back into the jumpsuit and hat and fashioned a sling out of her damp blanket. He retrieved his stash of Muggle money from under the sink. It was hardly an original hiding place, but Harry’s wards were strong enough to negate any need for worry on that account.

Settling the baby against his shoulder, where she proceeded to blow bubbles -- her capacity for so doing was apparently endless -- Harry prepared to Apparate to Oxford Street. He had been doubtful of the baby’s capacity for travelling in this manner. He’d been right to do so, because the moment they arrived, she threw up all over his shoulder.

“Okay,” said Harry.

::
::

Mothercare overwhelmed him, in more ways than one. There was a whole new population of people who lived there. One set wore dungarees and were gloriously, carelessly pregnant, holding hands with husbands or boyfriends and even girlfriends who looked wispy and insubstantial beside them. The other set were bent with exhaustion and what looked like religious fervour; their hair was unwashed and their clothes crumpled, but the products of their labour were invariably impeccable and ensconced in prams that were the Mercedes of infantile transport.

Harry caught a glimpse of himself in the shop window. With his impossible hair and harassed expression, he fit right in with the second group. The baby lounged in his lax embrace, spit running down her chin. One of the expectant mothers sent him a disapproving look, and Harry turned aside to dab ineffectively at the baby’s waterfall of drool.

Steeling himself, he began trekking in between racks of scaled down clothing. The sight of the tiny skirts and enormous price tags gave him pause; he had no idea how old the baby was. Did she fit in the ‘three to four months’ category, or was she closer to ‘fourteen to twenty’ months? He could hardly ask someone else how old they thought his baby was. He resolved to stalk a parent who was toting a baby of about the same size as his; but for the moment, he needed to find milk.

He spotted a cash register and trotted over, heedless of the lagoons of baby saliva that were pooling around his collarbones. The middle-aged woman at the till smiled at him, but looked as if nothing would have surprised her -- especially when it came to men and babies.

“Um,” said Harry. He racked his brains for a way of asking for help that did not encompass the words ‘I found a baby on my doorstep this morning and she seems to be hungry.’ “Do you do, like, replacement milk, here?”

“Formula?” suggested the woman. Harry shrugged helplessly. He didn’t think it was the time to be quizzed on Arithmancy, but he didn’t like to say so.

“Is she still being breast-fed?” asked the woman.

“Um, no.” Seized by the need to lie, something he’d always had a gift for, Harry embroidered his answer with, “Her mother had to go back to work. She works a lot, you know, and she isn’t always around.”

“Often happens,” the woman observed placidly. “Has Baby been used to any one particular formula?”

“No,” said Harry. “We change them around every so often, for variety.”

The woman gave him what approximated to an odd look, but it was soon smoothed away into the folds of her wrinkles. “Well, Cow and Gate is a big favourite. However, we don’t actually sell formula here. You need to try Boots, or even Tesco, I’m afraid. Will you be needing anything else?”

“Some clothes. Only … I’m not quite sure what I should be buying. She grows so quickly, and everything.” Harry arranged his face into an expression of honest bewilderment.

“Jumpsuits are always your best bet at her age.” The woman gave a sage nod. “The six months stuff is over by the door.”

“Thank you,” said Harry.

“You’re welcome. Isn’t she a wee little thing?” The woman chucked the baby under the chin, skilfully avoiding the ropes of spit abseiling down the breast of her jumpsuit. “What’s she called?”

For an infinitesimal moment, Harry was stumped. Not knowing about formula was one thing, but it would be inexcusable to forget the name of your own child. The baby raised her big blue eyes to Harry’s face.

“Sky,” said Harry quickly. “Her name is Sky.”

::
::

Harry sat in his living room. The day before it had been a sparse cubicle, which would have suggested to a casual visitor that it belonged to an aesthetic monk who had shunned all worldly pleasures. The sofa had come with the house and sported more gaping springs than the Alpine source of Evian; Harry was always meaning to fix it tomorrow. Its splodgy brown colour blended so exquisitely with the walls and carpet that it was hardly distinguishable from the rest of the décor.

Now the room boasted almost wall-to-wall shopping bags. Harry had forgotten what a thrill it was to buy things for other people. He regarded shopping for himself as something of a chore, which was why homeless people had more impressive wardrobes than he did. He supposed that his upbringing was the reason for his drastic attitude towards generosity, but he’d had to suppress it for a long while. Given its head, the results were nothing short of galactic.

Sky lay cooing in her basket. Harry, although liberal with money, had not the first idea of what a six month old baby needed. He had a sneaking suspicion that the picture books and five hundred piece puzzles were for the moment beyond her, but there was no doubt that she was kitted out in the very pink of fashion. Harry was beginning to understand why girls played with dolls. Sky had very placidly submitted to being put through her modelling paces. At no point did Harry let himself stop and wonder why he’d bought a matching mini-Burberry mac, rain hat and gumboots for an abandoned baby whom he was going to have to relinquish very soon. Harry never admitted that he could be lonely.

His first attempts at feeding Sky had not been a huge success. The milk was too hot the first time, too cold the second, and Sky wailed her disapproval at his culinary skills; after which, Harry sat down to read the instructions thoroughly. The kitchen was in a right mess afterwards, which made a stark contrast to its usual pristine, unused state. The leaflet had provided suggested times for feeding, and Harry set his wand’s alarm to them.

As for the results of feeding, Pampers were a godsend. Harry didn’t like to think what happened to the Vanished nappies. He wondered if there was a plane of reality devoted to soiled diapers, but he was quite firm in his resolution never to find out for sure.

Harry Summoned the Tommy Hilfiger pyjamas from their tissue paper wrapping and reached out for Sky again. Although he knew several spells for removing and putting on clothes, and had employed them on many occasions when his hangover was so severe as to leave his hands trembling uncontrollably, he preferred to dress Sky himself.

By the time Sky was once more swaddled in her duck blanket and diligently sucking on one end of it, Harry felt exhausted. The big cold bed on the third floor held no charms for him. His living room, which was kept clean by self-renewing Deduster spells, had never looked so lived-in before. With Sky on his arm and surrounded by brightly coloured bags and clothes that glowed in the dusk, Harry drifted off to sleep.

::
::

If Harry had but taken it into account, he was well prepared for the broken sleep that was such a grievous consequence of procreation for most new parents. Although he was sleeping better than he had been used to, he was not sleeping longer; hence, he was almost always awake when Sky began chirruping her hunger to the world.

They got along famously well for the first three days, spending most of the time in the living room. Harry read all the children’s books he’d bought with guilty glee. The only access to books he’d had as a child had been a 1970s set of Encyclopaedia Britannica in the Dursley’s parlour. Although the Dursleys would no sooner have perused these out-of-date tomes than flown to the moon, they still did not want Harry’s hands contaminating them.

Thus, Harry had read them systematically when Dudley was away at piano lessons (before he broke twelve keys in a temper tantrum), soccer (before he flattened a portable goal, with the goalkeeper still in situ) and numerous other after-school activities that were little more than Dudley’s excuse for wanton destruction. As books went, the Encyclopaedia didn’t have much in the way of plot, or fanciful illustrations. They were fundamentally devoid of unicorns and fairies. Of course, most Muggle children were brought up thinking unicorns and fairies existed and finding out they didn’t. Harry’s education had been back-to-front. It was amusing to read Muggle fairy tales; it was equivalent to Ron writing a Muggle teen romance, complete with mobile phones and MTV.

Harry lived by his own hours. For someone whose life had been regimented for two decades, he adapted well to the shock of freedom -- by snacking instead of cooking, drinking himself to sleep and buying new clothes when everything else he owned was putrid enough to have contaminated a small African village. He was surprised and pleased to discover that babies’ internal clocks were calibrated the same way.

However, even Harry recognised the benefit of fresh air -- his stretches of time cooped up in closets and other even more insalubrious locations had instilled this appreciation in him. On the morning of the fourth day since Sky had appeared on his doorstep, Harry decided to take her for a walk.

He selected a hat for her -- anything from her vast new range of millinery far and away exceeded her original woolly cap, in Harry’s opinion -- and pulled on some runners. With Sky in the crook of his elbow, he opened the front door, and promptly stumbled over three days’ worth of milk arrayed on the stoop.

Such sudden contact with the outside world, or at least that part of it that was liquid, white, and dribbling into his socks, shocked Harry into awareness of his folly. For all he knew, someone had left Sky behind by accident and was even now frantically searching for her. He needed to alert someone of her existence or -- his suspicious mind already amending his statement -- at least conduct some inquiries of his own. Much as he disliked admitting it, covert investigation was a particular strength of his.

Harry snugged Sky’s blanket closer around her body to protect her from the bitter wind that he hadn’t realised was blowing. He didn’t willingly associate with the denizens of Paradise Place, but that didn’t mean he had no contacts there. Sighing, he went back inside to assemble the tools of his trade.

::
::

Harry fingered the Extendable Ears so often he was in danger of developing a nervous tic. He’d gone to extensive lengths to disguise them as Discman headphones; this, combined with a hooded jumper pulled low over his brow, completed his outfit. It was far from uncommon to wear headphones to such an assembly as the one Harry was currently attending, but he’d never done so before. He was so edgy that he’d even Transfigured yet another spoon into his impression of a Discman, just so there’d be something to make a bulge in his jeans pocket.

So far his usual companions had not noticed anything amiss. Then again, it would take a considerable effort to do so. These were men and, sometimes, women who prided themselves on their impassive demeanours and their ability to be completely unmoved by anything, be it armed raiders (thrice, in Harry’s experience) or the roof caving in because someone upstairs had left a bath running (only once, but it had left one or two men with an almost discernable pallor).

Mickey, who was the only one of them to not have a prefix like Old, Young, Big or Small attached to his name and was thus the focus of some respect amongst his contemporaries, shuffled his pack of grimy cards. Several people who professed themselves to be Mickey’s enemies had critiqued his handling of said cards, suggesting that there were more than four aces secreted into the stack. Mickey often felt it necessary to show them that there were no more and no less than four aces, and further that it was hardly his fault if they all ended up in his hand more often than not. Most of the time, Mickey’s enemies became his friends. The rest of the time, they became dead. It all depended on their grasp of elementary mathematics.

A long time ago, Harry had made a point of using magical means to discover just how many aces Mickey had. He was telling the truth -- there were exactly four aces in his pack. However, he had more than one pack.

Harry had an amused respect for Mickey, who reminded him of Mad-Eye Moody. Neither of them would have appreciated the comparison, which only served to amuse Harry more. Several things allowed for his amusement and prevented its replacement with eye-watering fear: they included, but were not limited to, Harry’s ability to disembowel someone with a single word, and his enormous bank account. That Harry owned a thirty percent share of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes did much to fill the dents that Harry regularly put in this bank account.

Harry wasn’t entirely certain how he’d fallen into the gaming hell. Although he was, and always would be, regarded as an outsider and posh nob by the locals, Harry’s taste for getting blink drunk in the local watering hole had done much to endear him to them. Early on in his residence in Paradise Place, the sharper of the sharks had obviously decided that he was a lamb prime for fleecing.

Harry later pieced together his first night in the smoky underground room that was to become more familiar than his bedroom. He’d been plied with drink that may well have been drugged, but either Harry’s fading poison wards or one of the many protection spells Hermione had weaved over him had stopped any ill effects. He’d been coerced into leaving the pub to go to the gaming hell -- Harry couldn’t imagine that it had been all that difficult for his enticers -- and roped into a card game.

Harry knew the rudiments of poker and a dozen other card games. The Weasleys were remarkably proficient at them, as it was obvious that a family of their size needed to be good at activities in which they could all partake. Compared to the Weasleys, Harry was a rank amateur. Compared to the card sharps in the gaming hell, he was several steps below even that, coming in somewhere behind cockroaches. However, Harry always had one advantage on his side in any sort of gambling: inexhaustible funds.

After Harry had lost the equivalent of a thousand Galleons that first night -- worth far more in Muggle money -- in under an hour, and appeared not to care in the least, the sharps relaxed. They were quite at home in the presence of the obviously insane.

Harry would never have said he had a gambling problem. To Harry, gambling wasn’t the problem: the rest of his life was.

In the months since he’d first met Mickey and his pals, Harry had come to see them in the light of friends. Now that he had something to ask of them -- beyond trivialities like ‘Do you want to buy my queen?’ -- he realised exactly how much this was not the case. He had no idea if he could even rely on them not to pull a knife on him, much less answer his question civilly and helpfully.

When Harry had nothing to lose, he didn’t even have to wonder if he could handle a situation like the one he might be about to face. He owned a wand, which was better than having an army’s battery backing him. Now that he knew that Sky was at home waiting for him and, if the Extendable Ears were to be trusted, snuffling a little in her sleep, he recognised with cold clarity every single flaw in his defences.

“So,” said Mickey. He shifted a wad of tobacco from one cheek to the other. Tiny flecks of brown-tinted spittle sprayed from his mouth. “You dealing, Potter?”

“Yup.” Harry reached out for the cards, his every move careful in case he should dislodge the Extendable Ears. He was quite proud of how he’d turned them into a long-distance auditory device. Even Hermione would be impressed by that. He might bring it up at the next investors’ meeting at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Of course, that would require him to actually attend one of the investors’ meetings.

He concentrated on the spill of cards for a split second, steeling his nerves. “Listen, I wanted to ask you guys something.”

The silence twanged.

“You ain’t getting no extensions on your payment.” Mickey’s voice was gruff and almost hurt. Harry could understand that. In almost a year, Harry had never tarried with the readies. He’d not asked for so much as an hour’s grace. The other men regarded Harry obliquely.

“I don’t wan’em.” Harry shrugged. “I got a tricky question.”

“We knows all the tricky questions,” said Little Joe. Little Joe was six foot six. Amongst less literal-minded people, Harry would have thought his name a sly joke. As it was, Harry assumed Little Joe had a small dick. He’d never felt any desire to find concrete proof for his hypothesis. Little Joe’s face bore a network of scars as dense and incomprehensible as a London road map. They were perhaps the only remaining mementoes of those who had also been curious about the origins of Little Joe’s moniker.

“Maybe not this one.” Harry took a deep breath. “I know this man.”

“I bet you do, love,” cackled Miss Melanie. Miss Melanie was a transvestite, albeit not a very good one. Her lipstick tended to be both off-centre and garish. She might be forgiven this because her usual mirror was the side of a beer can. Under Miss Melanie’s scrutiny, Harry’s own peccadilloes stood as much chance of survival as a one-man Gay Pride parade in the Deep South. Harry assumed Miss Melanie had silenced the others on the topic, for no worse retribution than a few coarse jokes ever came his way.

“Yeah, and something kinda weird happened to him recently.” Harry kept his eyes on his cards. It was important that he only hear what the men had to say, and not see what was in their faces. “He found a baby on his doorstep.”

The fraught silence that greeted his words convinced Harry that they knew something. When one of the men had confessed that he’d got his sister pregnant, there had been laughs of disbelief and more than one crude expression of disgust. The man had soon after succumbed to Mickey’s sharp sense of justice. All the same, his announcement had at least gleaned a response.

“Fancy that.” There was as a squelching sound as Mickey’s tobacco made another perambulation around his remaining teeth. “It ain’t somefing you hears about every day, innit?”

“Well, I don’t know.” The cards were dog-eared, almost identically so. Harry supposed Mickey needed some way of telling the packs apart by touch. “I haven’t lived here forever, you know.” A volley of grunts came in assent. “Maybe it happens here, and not in other places.” He let the statement hang until it gained enough identity doubts to become a question.

“There’s a fing,” said Mickey. “I sometimes hears about that, round here. Not everywhere else. Everywhere else’s got its own way of doing fings. And we wouldn’t be telling them how to do their fings.”

“Right.” Harry nodded and at last allowed himself to look Mickey in the face. “And they shouldn’t tell you how to do things, either.”

“That’s it.” Mickey looked unaccountably relieved. Harry felt a shot of horror -- could Sky be Mickey’s daughter? The idea of caring for the scion of such a bloodline was a minefield in which Harry had not the slightest yearning to tread.

“Yeah,” said Small Paul. “Like, in other places, you beat up your kid, you get carted by Social Services.”

“And here?” Harry prompted.

“Here, we takes care of our own.” Mickey’s voice was fierce.

Some primeval instinct glued Harry’s mouth shut. He dealt the hand, perhaps not with the greatest flair, but certainly not so poorly as to arouse comment. As the game progressed, the tension in the room dissipated. The throat-clearing, nose-blowing and lip-sucking of deep concentration resumed. Another two hands ensued before the breaks in the games yielded more fruitful conversation than ‘Want another beer?’

Baby Fox was one man whose nickname needed no explanation or fearful ponderings. He had a chubby face that could have come fresh from a nursery, and his hair was bright red. More than any other Weasley, he reminded Harry of Ginny -- every redhead he met did, to some extent. The Weasley men had sharp to chiselled faces, amongst which Ginny’s feminine visage stood out like a marshmallow among machetes. Besides that, all her brothers except the twins shared a more auburn than red shade in their hair; because of all the time he spent in the sun, Charlie’s was almost strawberry blonde.

Baby Fox was a man who laughed a lot. Harry often had the uncharitable thought that this was more to show off his teeth, which encompassed every shade of gold, black and brown imaginable, but missed white entirely, than from any well-cultivated sense of the ridiculous in life. He always giggled as a prelude to anything he said. He proceeded to do so now.

“I hear what’s the word on poor Lily White,” he said. Harry’s heart jumped at the mention of his mother’s name.

“Ah, poor Lily,” said Mickey, almost reflexively.

“What’s up with poor Lily?” asked Miss Melanie. Their eyes didn’t swivel in Harry’s direction, but it was a close-run thing. Harry hadn’t felt the focus of so much attention in years.

“Norm put in her the hospital again,” said Baby Fox. “Broke all her teeth off, and she had a bunch of stitches in her head. Nearly lost her eye too, from what’s I hears.”

“Jesus,” swore Small Paul.

Harry understood their distaste. These were men who lived, ate and breathed violence every day of their lives. It stood to reason that they put limits on how and when it was to be used.

Domestic violence was familiar to them. They cuffed their children, their wives and their dogs. They spoke approvingly of giving their women a few good ‘slaps’ or ‘smacks’ when they were ‘out of line.’ Yet there was never any doubt in their minds that they dealt in blows for a reason. It might be a twisted and immoral reason; it might be impenetrable to anyone outside their small, iconoclastic community; but it was a reason all the same.

More than that, they received it in turn and as their due. Baby Fox had proudly sported a shiner from his woman for the fortnight it took to fade. Small Paul’s girlfriend was not averse to laying about him with a rolling pin. Even Mickey had once accompanied his wife to the accident and emergency, both covered in blood from wounds they had inflicted on each other.

Harry knew a little about Norm. Norm worked on a merchant skipper and was away for months at a time. Norm did not come to the gaming hell. Norm did not drink. Norm was ‘high and mighty,’ and seemed to have a single-minded faith in God. It was the personal opinion of the card sharps that this was a one-way devotion, because Norm had a face only a mother could love. God’s will was a poor reason for violence in their eyes, probably because they never used it themselves. There were some depths to which even the scum of society would not stoop. God’s will was an even poorer reason for hospitalising your wife on a regular basis, especially one who was a ‘harmless crittur’ and had once been a looker. In fact, Harry had wondered if Mickey hadn’t been in love with Poor Lily White once.

“She ... lost the baby, too,” added Baby Fox.

“Ah, no,” said Miss Melanie feelingly.

“Still, and all,” said Mickey, clearly weighing each word with great deliberation, “it’d be an awful place for a bairn, yeah? Anywhere Norm is.”

He looked Harry right in the eye. Harry noted the way none of them had used the word ‘miscarriage,’ although they all knew it. He thought about life with the Dursleys, who had never hit him -- physically, anyway.

“I dunno Norm,” said Harry, “but I don’t think I’d leave a kid with him. If I could help it.”

Later, Harry realised that this was the point where he formally took responsibility for Sky. It didn’t take him long to puzzle out why Sky had been left with him, and not with the vast network of associates who would be only too eager to do Mickey a favour. Harry’s isolation was probably not as important as his money. Anyone under Mickey’s protection was safe. No, Harry had the cash to make Sky’s life far better than anything else she might have had -- although they might have revised this opinion had they seen the current state of squalor in Harry’s house.

“Okay,” said Harry. “We playing?”

There was a chorus of assent.

It wasn’t until long after that Harry realised that they might have been trying to do him a favour, too.

::
::

Harry balanced Sky against his chest with one hand and executed a series of complicated loops with his wand. The bare walls of the bedroom that Harry had designated as Sky’s suddenly exploded with colour. Sky blew a bubble of approval as the colours coalesced into a detailed mural. It featured one of Harry’s favourite pictures from Jewel and the Unicorn. Jewel was an insipid girl who reminded Harry strongly of Malfoy, and he didn’t include her in the mural; but he approved of the unicorn.

It had taken a week’s study to invent a spell that would transfer the picture from book to wall. Harry was glad of the esoteric Dark Arts books he’d picked up from various of the Death Eater mansions. He’d left behind the obviously armed and dangerous ones, but his cobbled-together collection was positively mild and probably only needed to be classed as ‘Dim Arts.’ Several of the spells had proved quite adaptable in terms of interior decorating.

Harry had become adept at Transfiguration during the struggle with Voldemort. He was nowhere near Hermione’s standards, but then again, who was? He was satisfied with his first foray into soft furnishings. They had produced a thick blue carpet and curtains of palest yellow. He was determined that Sky should realise there were more colours in the world’s palette than pink or any derivatives thereof. He was less proud of the crib, which was little more than a glorified box on hinges, but he thought that the thick blankets, pillows and innumerable teddy bears would prove sufficient distraction for her.

“And the finishing touch,” murmured Harry. He breathed a command, and the room was filled with sparkling lights. He smiled and pressed his chin to Sky’s head as they spiralled up to the ceiling, coming to rest in a perfect copy of the Dogstar constellation.

Sky was yawning, her eyes puckering with effort. Harry lay her in the crib and spelled it to rock gently. A Muggle music box hovered in the air beside it, emitting a twinkly tune that even Harry found soothing. Harry made sure the Extendable Ears were firmly tucked into both the end of the crib and his ear and made his way to his own bedroom.

It was cold and unwelcoming after Sky’s warm haven, but Harry had things to do. He seated himself on an upturned orange crate at his makeshift desk and Summoned some parchment and quills. He arrayed four sheets in front of him. He wrote a letter each month to Hermione, Ron, Remus, Neville, Seamus and Dean, who shared a flat. He wrote the same thing to all of them. He kept the missives short and charmless, and he never replied to any letters he received from them. Of late, even these had started to trickle off.

Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Two years ago, he couldn’t imagine feeling anything but relieved that he was finally free. Free from their love, yes, but also from their expectations, hopes, and the sense of responsibility they foisted upon him. At the age of twenty, fresh from saving the world (again), Harry was deadly tired of responsibility.

Sky had changed all this. Harry still didn’t want the responsibility that returning to his old life would entail. Least of all did he want to make the apologies needed, simply because he wasn’t sorry. Yet, he had to admit that he had not once considered simply abandoning Sky to her fate. There was clearly still a diseased part of his mind that clamoured for the responsibility that went with loving and trying to protect and saving others. He was determined that she would be the very last, however.

That was why he wrote the letters. He wanted no drama or passionate pleas for his return (although he’d got both, anyway). He hadn’t dropped out of his life in the wizarding world. From the outset, even before the war had fully ended, he had made his intentions plain. He wrote with military regularity and coldness because he wanted to deny his friends and public even the luxury of worry.

In theory, it had worked. Harry had even expected to miss his friends. He didn’t expect to wake up in the middle of the night with something to tell Ron, or look up with a smile to share a thought with Ginny. He didn’t think he would read things and automatically make a note of them because Hermione and Remus would find them interesting. He had defended himself from the frontal attack, but all the shots were from behind.

Laboriously -- because except for this practice, Harry hardly ever had a reason to write anything -- Harry began his letters.

Dear, he wrote -- he would fill in the names later.

I am doing fine. The weather’s good. Say hello to (here again, he would fill in names. He did not reply to letters, but he still read them. Tonks for Remus, of course. Hermione was dating Anthony Goldstein. Neville was still single, although Seamus suggested he was dangling after Ginny again. Seamus and Dean both had a string of conquests to their name, although none of them could trump the regard they had for each other. Harry would look up the relevant names later. Ron, who wrote faithfully, every week, at least three pages, sometimes as many as thirty, Ron seemed to have no significant other, and not one of the others had mentioned anything.) I hope you are well. Please don’t worry about me. I will be back.

Harry


After all, Harry thought, it wasn’t a lie if you believed it.

::
::

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

::
::
 
 
Current Location: Main Street, Atlantis
Current Mood: irateirate
Current Music: Where does the good go (Tegan and Sarah)
 
 
 
Loyaulte Me Lieshocolate on May 31st, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)
A completely believable lost!Harry.

I want to pick him up and squish him.

Especially new-mother!Harry!!!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Knitting patternsscoradh on May 31st, 2006 02:25 pm (UTC)
Tsk! Don't you know only Ron can pick Harry up and squish him?!
filigree10filigree10 on May 31st, 2006 02:59 pm (UTC)
I like this Harry: you make him very believably lost. Great story so far!

One small thing: you have "Norm worked on a merchant skipper"; shouldn't that be either "worked as a merchant skipper" or "worked on a merchant ship"?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Armageddonscoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

I was under the impression that 'skipper' was a type of ship. I am not completely au fait with nautical terms, so I looked it up and you're right -- it means the person in charge of the ship, not the ship itself.

Possibly I should have looked it up before posting this in public ...
pale pubescent beastwildestranger on May 31st, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC)
Just thought to tell you that I'm reading this and loving it so far. More comments later!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Rolfscoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Seeing that wine icon under my fics is always faintly reassuring. ♥
painless_j: DDsymbols I Love You by randomxinsanitypainless_j on May 31st, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC)
I just began reading it, but I have to stop at paragraph 3 to tell you that I'm falling in love with your fic again. Magician!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: I aen't dedscoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, paragraph three?! [blows on fingers] I so feel entitled to a wand now. Alas, my keyboard will have to suffice. ♥ ++

hee, magician.
Insufferable, man.: h/rcynicalpirate on May 31st, 2006 04:07 pm (UTC)
I am so very excited to read this, and will do so when I have more time.

♥ you.
Insufferable, man.: h/rcynicalpirate on June 1st, 2006 04:19 am (UTC)
Class. Stretching this out to fit in with revision, so I'll be back in an hour to read part two. ♥

You've got such a wonderful insight into people and their interactions and what makes them tick, you know. It reminds me of something Marian Keyes (sorry, I know you don't like her) said once about emotional landscapes - yours are always beautifully vivid and recognisable.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Narniascoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC)
YOU ARE UP AT FOUR AM REVISING? Did no one tell you sleep is more important?! Even I was in bed at that time!

Hee, thanks. I can accede to her wisdom so long as I don't have to suffer through one more of her books. I always see things pretty clearly, I guess -- the trick is getting the description to stop.

Actually, that's more of a reference to the stripey couch ... people, I've no idea where that comes from.
Fred: younginnocentfredgreddy_freddy on June 1st, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
3 am, actually, and not revising because I NEVER DO, all I do is doss about and read porn. Which is irrelevant because that comment was clearly left at ELEVEN NINETEEN AM, you crazy moose.

*pats you* I think coming up with such brilliance turns you temporarily insane.

This is CP. CANNOT be ARSED for log-in.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on June 1st, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
AW THAT PICTURE IS SO CUTE!

It says two twenty four on your thing now. Methinks we are on US Standard Time here.

Turning? Oh, no, I'm already completely circumnavigated.

[kidnaps redheaded freckle child]
Fred: slyfredgreddy_freddy on June 1st, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
UST? Hoho.

Well, actually, more like USST. But anyway.

I KNOW, HE IS ADORABLE.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Harry/Ronscoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:04 pm (UTC)
Love you too, babes!

So I'm stealing your icon ...
letmypidgeonsgoletmypidgeonsgo on May 31st, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC)
yay, i cant read fast enough!

soooo many laugh-out-loud hysterical bits with harry's thoughts on the baby, especially referring to her as "it"

one thing, though: you may want to make clear what a 'dummy' is. for american readers it calls up images of a ventriloquist's dummy (i swear that's what i pictured baby dudley sucking on for a good 2 sentences!), & even though i'm familiar with a lot of british terms, i didnt understand what you were talking about until i had finished (& reread) the entire paragraph
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Matildascoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
Phew, I'm glad the baby thing worked. I mean, I couldn't much help writing it that way, but people's reactions are another matter entirely.


i swear that's what i pictured baby dudley sucking on for a good 2 sentences


Okay, now that's laugh-out-loud funny! But what's the American equivalent?
letmypidgeonsgo: ron/harryletmypidgeonsgo on June 1st, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
hmm, i've heard it referred to by an endless number of cutesy names, but i believe the most universal american term is pacifier

i dont think i've commented on all the parts yet but i loved the whole story & i will get around to more specific commenting soon, i promise!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Knitting patternsscoradh on June 1st, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
Gosh. That sounds like a nuclear missile. Or an ocean. How cunning.

No worries! That I know people are reading it is comfort enough.
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Knitting patternsscoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I imagine Harry and Homer Wells would have had a bit in common.
this is not a thalia: Fandom: Come for the Pornthalialunacy on December 16th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
I keep running across you in my re-organization/rereads of my lj mems. I've refrained from commenting but I CAN'T HELP IT, THIS IS LIKE THE FIFTH TIME. YOU ARE EVERYWHERE. :B
(Deleted comment)
this is not a thaliathalialunacy on May 12th, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC)
lol too true. *high fives*
the naughty librarianflaminiag on May 31st, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
Your descriptions are simply lovely! I feel like I am sitting in the room with Harry and Sky(what a great name!) I can't wait to read the next part!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Doctor?scoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
I feel like I am sitting in the room with Harry and Sky



What a great compliment! Thank you.
Kerryblaze: Harry/Ron Neck Kisskerryblaze on May 31st, 2006 06:12 pm (UTC)
What can I say? Your writing is beautiful. Honestly, this is top quality stuff. I actually feel guilty, because I should be paying for this!!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: boykissscoradh on June 1st, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)
[blink] Wow.

Well, donations are always welcome (chocolate for preference)!
muchspork on June 2nd, 2006 02:19 am (UTC)
note to scoradh and other talented fanfic writers in general: PLS TO STOP HAVING BURSTS OF CREATIVE GENIUS WHEN I HAVE EXAMS AND CANNOT POSSIBLY STOP TO ENJOY MYSELF.

*bookmarks*
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Japan waterscoradh on June 2nd, 2006 04:50 am (UTC)
My gravest apologies. When one's own exams are over, one becomes exceedingly selfish in that regard ...
muchspork on June 2nd, 2006 05:37 am (UTC)
hmph. one really should take the time to think of others.
xanthophyllippa on June 4th, 2006 10:00 am (UTC)
Wow. I love this already - your dry wit and wry metaphor are so barkingly funny, in the best possible way. *hustles off to read parts 2-4*
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Les Sylphidesscoradh on June 5th, 2006 10:47 am (UTC)
Why, thank you! I hope you like the other parts just as well.
xanthophyllippa on June 7th, 2006 11:56 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. Very much so.
Narcissa Malfoynarcissa_malfoy on November 4th, 2006 12:12 am (UTC)
This seems to be the beginning of a wonderful fic. However, I feel forced to mention that honey should never ever be given to babies, as it can cause infant botulism, which can cause death or severe brain damage. This is not as widely known phenomena as I had previously thought, just recently there was a case in the papers about a woman who had been advised by her friends and family to give her son honey to help with his teething. Sadly, her child became very ill.

So, this is in no way meant as criticism, it's just a fact that as many as possible should be aware of.