The Cost of Change
By Queen of the Castle
They'd cleaned out his bank account long ago.
"If I don't see money by the end of the week, boy, you'll be out on your arse! And then who will protect you?"
Yet Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia just kept on taking from him. They were literally banking on the fact that Harry Potter needed to stay holed up in their house to avoid sudden death at the hands of a madman.
"And I mean it this time! No more of that namby-pamby ‘but I get paid tomorrow' rubbish! If you want to stay here, you'll pay your rent on time."
The summer job he had taken on didn't pay half of what Uncle Vernon asked each week, so Harry had to beg his uncle for ‘extensions' on his rent date so that he could find other ways to rummage up the money. Making a fool of himself for the mere chance of his uncle giving him a break barely affected Harry these days. After all, humiliation was just a fact of life.
"In fact, boy, of you go now! I won't have you lazing about here when you could be off making money! We don't have bottomless pockets with which we can fund your petty existence!"
He'd applied at every store or business in Little Whinging. The neighbours had also recently stopped offering him jobs, afraid both of being gossipped about and of Vernon Dursley's wrath. They had been Harry's last resort for extra money. Yet Uncle Vernon kept yelling, no matter how often Harry tried to tell him that there was no work to be had.
"No work!" Uncle Vernon had exclaimed in response. "Don't talk rubbish! Go off to London or somewhere; there'll be plenty of work there! And don't tell me you have no money, either. I've seen that little stash you keep in the corner of your cupboard. It ought to cover a bus fare there and back."
There was nothing Harry could do or say to stop Uncle Vernon shoving him into his car and driving him to the nearest bus station. He was left alone there, with nothing in his possession bar the diminutive amount of money he'd acquired for himself and the same tattered clothing he'd been wearing for years. He'd almost outgrown the rags, despite the fact that they'd originally been Dudley's, and thus had been enormous on him when he first received them. He wrapped his arms protectively around himself to shield his body from the cool breeze that was blowing around the station. The town had experienced unusually wintry weather that summer.
The one-way ticket wiped out two-thirds of his money. He'd stood motionless in front of the ticket counter for a long time contemplating whether or not he should buy a return ticket (which would have left him with only two pounds left over). Eventually he'd mustered up that miniscule amount of hidden courage that he supposed had allowed him to be sorted into Gryffindor House at school and decided he wasn't coming back. He was done caring about the horrors that awaited him once he left his relatives' home. The one time Dumbledore had taken time out during Harry's first year from his tiresome struggles against the Dark Lord to talk to him, it had been to drill into Harry's mind the fact that he was to remain at his relatives house during the holidays at all costs ("Or the Dark Lord will find you and kill you," had been left unspoken, but had been understood nevertheless). That warning had kept him there for almost exactly three years after he first found out about his wizarding background. But not anymore.
It took a long time for the bus to arrive, but Harry didn't dare sit down or try to make himself comfortable. He feared that, if he did so, he would not be able to force himself to move his unyielding limbs onto the vehicle when it pulled up. He might remain in that hellhole his relatives called home, and he couldn't afford to do that. It had never been his home, and he was tired of pretending that it ever could be.
When he climbed aboard the bus, it occurred to him that he should have attempted to bring at least some of his school things with him. But, then again, he wasn't certain he wanted to go back to school, either. It wasn't much better there, where the other students either stared fearfully at him (as if his bad luck was contagious) or taunted and beat him. The teachers all pretty much ignored his existence, not willing to purposely act hurtfully towards him, but also not willing to make themselves targets of the Dark Lord by offering him any emotion nicer than indifference.
For from the moment the Dark Lord had risen to power again in 1986, he'd been after Harry Potter's blood, laying in wait for the time in which the boy would wander into the wizarding world away from the magic by which he was protected when he was with his relatives.
And from the moment Harry had entered the wizarding world, he had been considered almost less than human for that fact.
In fact, Harry was extremely surprised that he had reached this point – that he had reached fourteen years of age (having had his uncelebrated birthday a week ago) – without one of his fellow students or their Death Eater parents dragging him from the Hogwarts grounds so they could throw him at their Lord's feet and reap the benefits of his successive capture and imminent death.
Harry felt a dull sort of sadness fill him at his inner acknowledgement that perhaps having Voldemort kill him wouldn't be so bad after all. It would, at least, be reasonably quick compared to the ongoing torture he had to withstand each and every day.
He was able to sit alone for most of the bus ride, but at some point an elderly man strolled up and sat down right beside him.
"Good gracious, boy," the old man said as he turned to look at him, his eyes crinkling in concern when they came to rest on his cheek. "That's some bruise you have. Now just how did you manage to get that?"
Harry backed his body up against the window he was sitting beside. He was unused to people talking to him in such a kindly manner. Or in any manner that was not condescending and/or hateful, at that. But unlike the other Muggles he had come across in his life, this old man did not seem to be put off by his scrawny figure, his haunted eyes, or his overall peculiar appearance. Harry was unsure whether or not he should attempt to scare the man away from him by returning nastiness for kindness, or just simply run away.
He opted for a mid-point, standing up and trying his best to glare, then walking away as confidently as he could manage (which was especially difficult when the movement of the bus caused him to be so unsteady on his feet) to find another seat. By the time the bus reached London, Harry's alarm at the old man's treatment had subsided and the old man himself had probably forgotten all about him.
But it had just been so strange to be treated so ... normally? Was that how normal children were treated? Harry had never been normal, and the only other boy whose life he'd ever been able to observe was Dudley, who had always acted and been treated by everyone like he was a notch or ten above normal. In any case, the old man's concern had frightened him. It was unfamiliar, and that usually wasn't a particularly good sign in Harry's life. His magic had been unfamiliar to him, and look where the discovery of that had led him!
Harry hung around the bus stop until he caught himself eying the bench with the thought that it might just be comfortable enough to sleep on. He decided that that was probably a pretty good indicator that he had overstayed his time there.
Unsure of his bearings in any part of London apart from Diagon Alley, Harry set off for the Leaky Cauldron, garnering directions to the street he was seeking from a stray Muggle, who only seemed willing to tell him because he thought it would make Harry disappear from his vicinity quicker.
When he eventually found himself standing outside the decrepit little pub that he alone in the entire street full of people could actually see, he debated going inside. It might be unsafe for him to travel in an area where he'd be easily recognised without an escort. But then he reminded himself of his earlier decision that being caught by Voldemort's lot wouldn't be that bad. He couldn't let fear completely rule the undoubtedly short remainder of his life, after all. And combined with the knowledge that Diagon Alley would be his best bet for finding work, Harry pushed the door open and stepped inside.
He was, miraculously, not noticed by a single soul (or if he was, then they kept quiet about it) as he made his way through the building and out the back, then through the entranceway to Diagon Alley. Harry frantically brushed his messy hair down in front of his scar as he entered the Quidditch Supplies shop to ask for work, praying to deities he didn't even believe in that they would not recognise him. If he was recognised, it was certain that he would never get work.
They did not recognise him, but they didn't have any positions available for him either.
"Especially not for a scrawny little pipsqueak like you," the pimply sales attendant, who looked to be barely of age, hissed at him behind the back of the manager Harry had spoken to as he hurried toward the door.
His bad luck held out all day. Not a single one of the shops he visited had positions available. Were it not for the fact that he didn't hear his name being whispered once the entire time, he would have sworn that someone had recognised him and spread the news that Harry Potter was in Diagon Alley, and that he was looking for work.
When the shops began to close and he could distinguish that dusk was fast approaching, Harry finally spared a thought for where he might spend the night. He had only converted enough of his Muggle money into wizard coins to buy something small to eat. But now Gringotts was shut to the general public and Harry was all out of gold, so staying at the Leaky Cauldron was out of the question even if he thought he could have afforded it. That left him with two options: find a place to spend the night within the alley, or travel back into Muggle London – unknown territory – and find a cheap and seedy place to stay; one that wouldn't question the fact that a very ratty looking fourteen year old boy was out alone at night.
He surmised that he didn't really have enough time to search through Muggle London for an appropriately dingy place, and as for the former ... well, Harry suspected that Diagon Alley proper would have some sort of night time security, so curling up in a corner somewhere in that area like the pathetic homeless boy that he'd become probably wouldn't be the best of ideas. But he doubted anyone would question his presence in Knockturn Alley, not when he'd heard others murmuring among themselves about the people that strolled that street. People sold themselves for gold, they said, and if that was the case, Harry certainly looked the part enough to blend in.
This was all assuming, of course, that Voldemort or one of his Death Eaters didn't grab him and kill him the minute he stepped out of others' sight into the Alley.
He decided to take his chances, reminding himself yet again that he didn't have a very happy fate awaiting him anyway. And his luck in not being recognised (the only luck of any kind he'd had) held out, allowing him to find a little hideaway where he might stay for the night. Unfortunately, he was not yet tired, so he stood in front of his safe spot as if guarding it from any other poor person who might want shelter from the dark unknowns of the night.
"Oi, you," a male voice growled from off to his right. Harry turned his head to look back at the kid who was staring at him. He looked to be about the same age of the assistant in the Quidditch Store, but his face was far more hardened than that other boy's would probably ever be. "Get your arse down out of sight, unless you're advertisin' it."
Harry understood very well what the boy meant by that, so he shrunk back down into his little hole. The night was silent again for nearly a minute before Harry replied. "Are you, then?"
The boy's shrug was outlined against the last specks of twilight in the sky. "Gotta make a livin' somehow. The folks sure aren't gonna support me, now that I'm of age. And 'snot like there's any other jobs around these parts."
"Don't I know it," Harry muttered. He realised that he must be hiding right next to the boy's ‘post', for he gave no sign that he was planning on moving until someone offered to pay him to. He cast a look over Harry's figure.
"You could make a livin' with it, if work's what you're after. You've got that whole innocence thing goin' on, though that might be shattered quick smart after the first few goes. And you look enough like I've the description I've heard of that Potter kid to lure in the Death Eaters and their lot. They'd all like a piece of him. Any way they can get him, I hear."
Harry was more than just a little freaked out at the thought of letting the Death Eaters at him in that way, not to mention at the thought of selling himself in general. Nevertheless, he persisted in the conversation.
"So have you looked around the Muggle area?" Harry asked tentatively.
The boy snorted. "O' course. There are a good ten or so of us in this area. How dumb do you think we all are, to stay here when it isn't necessary? By night we trade our tricks, and by day we hunt for ways out. There aren't jobs around here, and any that open up are taken by the more respectable witches and wizards. We haven't got a hope, but we keep on, anyway. I, for one, can't just sit back and do this for the rest of my life!"
Harry started to say something, but he was quickly shushed as the boy turned his eyes to a potential customer.
"Lookin' for a good time?" the boy asked, and as cliché as it was, it worked. The customer, a man of about forty years of age, nodded almost eagerly and moved towards the boy.
"I want your mouth, boy," the older man croaked.
And without even moving from the places in which they stood, the boy calmly reached out and undid the lower clasps of the man's robe, while the man bucked his hips forward provocatively. He obviously wore nothing underneath, for when enough clasps were opened, his erection poked out of the folds of fabric, and the boy sunk to his knees and took it into his mouth.
Harry turned away, not watching the rest of the proceedings, though he could still hear the harsh pants escaping through the man's dry and cracking lips. A grunt signalled the man's release, and then the boy was pulling away and asking for his pay. Once he had the coins in his hand, he turned was disinterestedly from the man, who quickly went on his way.
Harry tried to wipe the disgust from his face before the boy looked back at him, but he still caught the look.
"Don't you go being prudish around here, lad. You'll cop a busted lip or worse if you look at anyone else like that. 'Sides, you might be doing this yourself in a few nights time. I'm Murray, by the way. If you decide to take it up after all, just ask for me. I'll help you get initiated."
Harry shuddered, trying not to think what was probably meant by that. He spent many hours after that trying to get to sleep, the monotony of the darkness punctuated by the occasional pervert coming along to proposition Murray. He turned down not a one, and Harry wished he could just turn off his senses – specifically sight and sound – for just one night. He did not need nor want to see and hear the spectacle those men made of themselves.
When Harry eventually gave up altogether on the luxury of sleep, he got up from his position to stroll through the streets, hoping to get as far away from Murray and his ‘business' as possible. All he really managed to achieve was to realise that Murray had under-exaggerated the number of people who lined the street waiting for someone to proposition them. Men and women and those who looked to be a combination of both stood with hips thrust provocatively at the men who were surveying them as they walked down the street. It was possible, of course, that some of them were not prostitutes at all, but rather were only homeless souls such as himself. It seemed unlikely, however, when Harry thought back on what Murray had first told him about getting himself down if he wasn't selling himself. It was very likely that in Knockturn Alley, standing up like that of a night was intended to be an indication that one was willing.
Harry, no longer able to stand watching the depths of society that he had become condemned to, wandered back out into the main part of Diagon Alley, willing by then to try his luck with any existing security.
When light appeared on the horizon, Harry exhaled a sigh of relief. He had, at least, managed to make it through the night in one piece, physically if not mentally. He would have a whole day to scout out jobs in Muggle London, and then hopefully he could also find a place to stay so that he wouldn't have to return to that god-forsaken alleyway.
It took another two or three hours before people began appearing in the streets, signifying that the shops would soon be reopening. Harry took this as a queue to take off, and he exited into Muggle London via the Leaky Cauldron.
The Muggle streets nearby were littered with shops, and load on Harry's shoulder seemed to lighten considerably at the sight of them. He knew what Murray said might be true for him, but Harry didn't look half as much like a hardened thug as most of those he'd seen in Knockturn. If there was a job opening anywhere, he saw no reason why he would not be very carefully considered for it, especially if he played the lost little boy act that Murray had thought would make him a successful whore.
Don't think of that, he reminded himself. He would not have to resort to that, because there was certainly the possibility of a job in one of those many shops.
His optimism was fading fast by midday, when he decided that if he left lunch any longer, he would no longer even be able to enquire about employment over the sound of his stomach growling. A simple sandwich wiped out nearly half of his remaining funds, which caused Harry to panic a little. He'd be able to afford little more than one more meal before he ran out of money. His hopes of staying in an actual building, no matter how run-down, were wiped.
The need to acquire a job as soon as possible was becoming more deadly serious by the second
Harry had to stop again later that afternoon – having had no success – because he was starving again. He was in the middle of a growth spurt, and he needed far more food than he was currently eating. Just as he'd expected, a second sandwich withdrew all but a few pounds from his pocket. He decided that he could afford a chocolate bar or two with that, which would probably keep him going for tomorrow. After that, though ...
Harry found himself back outside the Leaky Cauldron as day drifted into night. He didn't want to stay the night in Knockturn Alley again, but perhaps he could manage a second night in Diagon Alley without being caught.
Most of the previous night had been spent in Knockturn Alley, after all. A wizard patrolling the main street of Diagon Alley had scared him into the less legitimate portion early after he'd settled down to try to sleep, and he'd been too worried about of being caught to attempt to sneak back out there later on. So his night had been filled once again with the guttural noises of people making their living.
Looking at his reflection in a shop window in the morning, Harry remarked that the dark hollows had yet to really start to show beneath his eyes despite the utter lack of rest he'd been experiencing. But he knew that to hope for the same occurrence the next day would be akin to praying for a miracle, and Harry had stopped believing in those sometime during the precious night.
It was with a heavy heart that he continued further away from Diagon Alley into Muggle London. He knew that, despite his hopes the day before, Murray had known what he was talking about. There really wasn't anything on offer in this area of London, and Harry wasn't foolish enough to delude himself into thinking that it would be any different if he travelled to a different area.
His last money was spent, as planned, on two chocolate bars, and for several hours after that Harry felt much better about life in general. Chocolate had a way of doing that. But as night approached for the first time since his journey to London, Harry was feeling very hungry and even more helpless. If he continued on like this, he would starve to death within the week.
He didn't even attempt to avoid Knockturn that night, resigning himself to learn from his previous mistake. It was safer there, anyway, as contrary as that might seem to most decent witches and wizards. A little noise of a night was a small price to pay for not being caught and delivered to either the authorities or to Voldemort, after all. For all that he tried to convince himself the opposite, he really wouldn't like to be thrown at the latter's feet.
He wanted to live.
That thought might have been what subconsciously delayed him from finding a place to hide for the night, leaving him instead standing of to one side of the street long enough for a man to approach him.
"Looking for some company?" the man drawled, and though this was one of the usual lines used by the prostitutes themselves, the way in which he said it made it very obvious that he was buying, not selling.
Harry gave him a once-over, noticing that his hair was the exact same shade of blonde as that of one of the boys at school who took the most pleasure in harassing him. Come to that, Harry thought he might have seen the man about the school occasionally. That undoubtedly meant that he was a school governor, which in turn undoubtedly meant that he was a Death Eater (the Dark Lord controlled the school government to the extent that he could force them to do anything but actually replace Headmaster Dumbledore).
But more importantly than any of that, Harry noted, was the fact that this man's clothes, stance and overall aura simply screamed money. He could really use some of that right about now.
"Sure," he replied, forcing a shy smile.
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