Nearly ten years, come and gone, and number four Privet Drive appeared quite untouched. The garden beds were practically manicured, the windows gleamed as the sun lazily rose to the trill of the park birds. It was still obnoxiously early of course, unless you were Mr. Watts who was getting into his sleek car already. From the distance Harry could still see his anger at simply having to be awake. Vernon, oddly enough for a man so angry to begin with, was never mad about work like Mr. Watts. He seemed blissfully happy if anything it seemed for those two seconds before he opens the front door and catches an unfortunate glimpse of Harry.
But Mr. Watts was not why Harry was up like the sun was, and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were likely still sleeping. It was a Saturday, and Uncle Vernon had off work (as he was director, lucky him, unlucky Harry). It was early-June, and Harry was currently in the park down the road, right at the corner of Wisteria Walk and Privet Drive. Harry is a fast runner, you see, and his cousin was not. Harry Hunting, which was Dudley's and Dudley's gang's favorite pastime, was getting increasingly challenging. The young Dursley had taken after his father, and in Harry's words, looked like a great, giant lard.
Harry had not woken that morning to the familiar rattle of his Aunt's fist against his cupboard door, or her shrill voice. He woke to seemingly nothing but a prickling on the back of his neck. It was a lucky wake up call because not even a second later he heard the rough whisper of Piers Polkiss, one of Dudley's dullest companions. He was a rat faced, cruel boy. He had malice etched in his cheeks, Harry personally knew. "Wait till Dudley's got back. Freakshow won't know what hit him." This was met with some soft snickers. Harry's cramped little stomach dropped. It was Harry Hunting, and he couldn't run. He'd managed a very successful past schoolyear, in that he flew completely under the radar (minus the sink incident), and become singularly adept at evading Dudley's forces of evil. He hadn't been caught since, at the very last, early January. He had got a right scare from some upper years however, probably some people that Dudley would look up to. They didn't even know him. Maybe they could just tell, tell that he was a freakshow. Maybe they had heard the stories from their siblings. Harry Potter was not well loved in this community, that was for certain.
"In the kitchen drawer." Harry's fear swelled until it felt like he was a balloon about to burst. That was Dudley's voice. His mind raced to wake up. He must've got the key for the cupboard, ready to mash him to a pulp before Aunt Petunia's customary morning unlocking of Harry's cell. He didn't want to be beat up, Harry thought. He really really didn't want to be ripped apart by these cruel idiots and then- Harry despaired- make the source of his misery breakfast. The fear and anger balloon popped, and Harry violently jerked himself up in embarrassing terror that blinded him to a simple fact: he lived in a cupboard.
His little skull made a harsh cracking sound against the sloped roof, immensely painful, worse than when Aunt Petunia got a lucky swipe in with the cast iron pan, and the terror increased tenfold in response to the pain. Harry was experiencing a warranted response to the invasion of his safe (cell) cupboard, and his heart was beating in tandem with the excruciating, blackout-worthy pain in his head. And then, as Dudley opened the cupboard with his sweaty palm clenching the key excitedly, he was surprised to find it completely empty.
"Huh," he said. The boys looked at each other awkwardly.
The whole Dursley home was silent, there seemed to be only a bird chirping in the garden out front.
"Well the Jenkin kid's got new sneakers," Piers offered. "Off Wisteria." Dudley scrunched up his face real hard. If Harry was there to see he would've said he looked like a pig. Or thought it, which would be the safer option.
"Yeah," he finally said.
Harry gasped and clutched at his chest which felt much less weighted, likely because he was temporarily free of the terror of his cousin's reign. Harry had hardly blinked and he was kneeling in the park down the street, knees muddy. Disoriented by the lack of cupboard and sudden light, he stumbled his merry way to the wood bench in his peripheral. He was never in the park much, mostly due to Dudley, but also due to everyone else. No one wanted to see him about, and no one wanted him to be about. Ironically the cupboard was Harry's morbid safe haven usually, until Dudley came up with the brilliant plan to corner him. Hopefully pea brain wouldn't be inspired to try that again, but Harry was tiredly sure that his fate was simply to eventually get Hunted yet again. He daren't ask how the miracle of his appearance in the park came to be. It made sense in a sick way. The cause of his torment, of his horrid little crap life, was sometime useful too.
A freakshow doing more freakish things, and talking or even thinking about it will only make it worse. It was the first rule he was taught at the Dursleys, don't ask questions. Don't ask questions- and don't be freakish. But honestly, a freak can't control being a freak, can it? Miserably Harry succumbed to the pain, laying himself down on the bench.
Feeling much less faint now, Harry curled up on the wood, and felt the splintering old boards dig into his back and legs. He watched Mr. Watts get into his car and drive off as the sun gained in the sky. He fell asleep before he even realised, head throbbing even worse than before once he remembered he was in pain and his stomach giving off that familiar, hungry twinge.
Harry was having a dream, he was swimming in what looked to be like the ocean. It didn't seem to end, that's how Harry guessed. The shore wasn't far off, and he could almost make out some figures. Like people. But they were so blurry. Harry squinted to try and make them out better but the sun was so bright and the glare made it even harder. The water was so calm...
"Up! Get up, now!" The screech of his Aunt was a familiar return to reality. She rattled his door. "Up!" Harry heard the loud twist of the the lock, and knew he really had to get up. Since after school ended, and Dudley had tried to corner him in the cupboard, Harry had a stroke of luck. When Petunia woke to find the cupboard without a Potter inside it, she was alive with rage. Dudley immeadiately tried to blame it on Harry, and how he wasn't even there to begin with. But not so oddly enough, Aunt Petunia had her limit for freakish. She found this beyond preposterous, so Harry got the pleasure of seeing Dudley punished by only getting one helping of dessert that evening. And Harry's cupboard key was officially under her everwatchful beady eyes. She had somehow understood that Dudley and Harry were covorting against her, and Dudley had simply been trying to free Harry. She found herself at odds with her son for the first time, and Harry was happy to let the misunderstanding fly because he kept him safe from inescapable beat downs. At the very least he had a fighting chance (running chance), outside the cell.
"I'm up, up," Harry moaned back. Aunt Petunia loudly hurrumphed.
"I want everything perfect for my big Dudder's day, you've got a breakfast to prepare boy!" Harry rolled over as best he could in the fetal position that the cupboard allowed, and let a little scream into Vernon's raggedy old shirt that was an excuse of a pillow. Dudley's birthday- how could he have forgotten? He straightened off his mattress, managed to fully sit up, and dug into one of the wall cubbies to grab some socks. After picking a spider out of one sock, he was prepped for the day. He walked as unfreakishly as possible down the hall to the kitchen, and contained a scoff at the mountain of gifts. Dudley seemed to have gotten everything he desired, from that racing bike to a new computer. Why on Earth a tub of lard like Dudley would want a racing bike was beyond Harry. Dudley's only form of exercise was punching anyone he could get his grubby hands on.
Sometimes Harry had a little fantasy, where Dudley's parents died in a horrific drunken car crash and he was sent to live with Harry's family. And Harry's parents loved him and doted on him, and Harry had his very own little gang, but much smarter than Dudley's. And Harry would always be fast enough to catch Dudley, he knew that. And Dudley would have to squeeze into an even smaller cupboard under the stairs while Harry unveils his racing bike for his birthday. Harry liked that fantasy very much, but it sometimes hurt to think about because it was never going to happen. He was the freakshow, and he was shoved under the stairs. And now he was in the kitchen, making breakfast under threat of burns by Uncle Vernon's morning cigarettes if the eggs were too limp or the bacon lifeless. Harry privately thought that was an odd choice of words. If the bacon were alive, now that would be altogether more concerning he thought personally. That was a nice little joke he had with himself each time Uncle Vernon sweetly reminded him of his duty to the breakfast menu.
"Burnt yet, halfwit?" Uncle Vernon said by way of greeting as he ambled his way over to the kitchen table. Harry only lowered his head in careful response, which in turn lead to a wince. He had leaned a little too close to the stovetop, and the heat had fanned uncomfortably over his face. He glanced at his Uncle and by the satisfied smile on his face, knew that he had saw Harry's little mistake.
Harry was simmering the beans in a pan when Dudley waddled his way into the kitchen, his mother not far behind. He had squinty, watery blue eyes like his dad, and the limp, thin, and blonde hair of his mother. He was just as thick in the head as he was in body, too. Harry himself had a thin and sharp face, and loads of black hair that strongly set off his pale, almost milky complexion. He really was a fourth of Dudley's size, easy. His wrists, knees, and ankles were bony, almost like he had been picked to the bone of all possible slivers of fat. His large eyes didn't help his striking appearance, an unnatural green (freakish, as the Dursleys would say) framed by very broken glasses. The tape holding them together seemed to be close to giving up.
Harry put the plate of eggs and bacon onto the table and hurriedly went back for the beans and toast. "Bring me my coffee, boy!" Uncle Vernon barked, like one of his awful sister's dogs.
"Yes, Uncle Vernon." He carefully slide the platter of buttered toast onto the dangerously overcrowded table followed by a bowl of hot beans.
"Careful," Aunt Petunia bit out. Maybe, Harry thought, if the table wasn't drowning in Dudley's presents then I could fit more than a plate on without pissing you off. But Harry doesn't say this because he knows the Dursleys seem to exist simply to make his life miserable. Harry doled out the black coffee for Uncle Vernon, and entertained another brief fantasy where he dumps the boiling hot pot of liquid directly onto his Uncle's smug pig face. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. This was quite the task, not only because of the absurd amount but because Dudley could barely count his fingers, and those are literally attached to him. Harry watched as his cousin's face darkened. For a second he wondered if he had said that out loud, but oh no, that wasn't the problem.
"Thirty-six," he said looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less than last year."
"Darling you haven't counted Aunt Marge's, the one over here by the hall, see, it's under the big one from Mummy and Daddy."
"All right, thirty-seven then," Dudley said going red in the face. Harry sneakily grabbed a couple slices of toast from the tower he had prepared, and a strip of bacon. He saw an infamous Dudley temper tantrum coming on. However this went down, it never spelt any good for the Harry of it all, who was the veritable punching bag of this family. Wisely he made off towards the cupboard while 'mummy' and 'daddy' began damage control.
"...and we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that popkin? Two more presents, is that all right."
"So I'll have..." Dudley paused, and seemed to be thinking very hard. " I'll have thirty-seven, so I'll have..." Harry slid into his cupboard with the bread and bacon shoved unceremoniously into his mouth. Idiot, he thought to himself. Total idiot. But at least popkin will never be hungry, a traitorous voice thought. At least he's not a freak in a cupboard with spiders for friends.
Not my friends, Harry thought darkly. Just really shite roommates.
"Dinky Duddydums, don't cry, I won't let him ruin your special day!" Harry heard Petunia's voice raised desperately and he could imagine Dudders' stupid face wailing. He hadn't cried in years, but if he just faked it a bit, really milked it, he knew he would get whatever he wanted.
Harry's cell door was ripped open by Uncle Vernon's beefy arm. The fear coiled up in Harry's stomach again, but with it came that same mechanical calm. He was only looking at Harry like always, disgusted. He said over his shoulder, "He's not sitting in the car alone, it's new." This was interesting to Harry, who had never even been inside the new car. The last time Vernon had driven him anywhere was when there was a parent-teacher meeting about Harry's behavior. That was in the old car, and not a very great time. Otherwise, Harry walked streets and streets to get the bus to primary. Or close to primary, and he walked again.
But back to the point, Harry was going somewhere. On Diddydum's big day? Could be that he wasn't being coralled by tales of Mrs. Figg's imnummerable cats today? Despite himself, and the company he woud be in, Harry's heart soared in excitement.
"I... don't...w-want...him..t-t-t-to come!" Dudley cried from his mother's arms as she shushed him. Harry's hopes got higher. That second the doorbell rang, and Petunia swivelled around.
"Oh that must be them now!" She said frantically. Harry was yanked by his arm out of the cupboard and when released nearly flew into the opposite wall. Vernon roughly shut the little door and merely latched it, and his wife went to get the door. A moment later, Piers Polkiss walked in with his nasty little face and his mother. Dudley stopped pretending to cry at once.
Half an hour later, Harry, who couldn't believe his luck, was sitting in the backseat of the Dursleys' car with Piers and Dudley, on his way to a zoo for the first time in his life. His aunt and uncle had been pressed for time and couldn't think of what else to do with him. Vernon had pulled him asidde while the others sat dutifully in the car. "I'm warning you now, boy- any funny business, anything at all- and I'll starve it out of you until Christmas. Don't test me, boy." Harry nodded, eyed wide as spittle flew into his face. He felt the gravity of his Uncle's threat, because Christmas was a long time away. Long enough to kill someone without food, Harry thought, but he was only ten years old and not an expert at starving people to death. All the same, he would like food between now and Christmas.
"I'm not going to do anything," Harry promised. "honestly..." But he knew Uncle Vernon did not believe him.
No one ever did.
The problem was that strange things really did happen around Harry, and it was just no good trying to convince the Dursleys he didn't make it happen- when he himself is almost one hundred percent sure he did do it. That nifty little disappearing trick, or when Miss Brown's hair turned an alarming shade of blue. Or when all of Dudley's clothes disappeared, or when the telly shattered in midday (that had been a horrible month). Not to mention the things the Dursleys didn't notice. Like how Harry didn't actually pick weeds anymore, the garden was simply not growing any. Or how the windows never need shining, or how whenever Harry broke something, it was amazingly not-broken as soon as he looked again. Lucky for Mrs. Dursley's china- but Harry had the feeling if she knew his freakishness fixed the china, she'd rather chuck it.
But today, nothing was going wrong. Nothing was going to go wrong, Harry corrected himself.
While he drove, Vernon complained to Aunt Petunia. He liked to complain about things: the queers, Harry, the bank, Harry, brown people, and Harry were just a few of his favorite subjects. This morning, it was motorcycles.
"...roaring along like maniacs, the young hoodlums," he said, as a motorcycle overtook them. Harry silently cheered them on.
It was a very sunny afternoon and the zoo was packed with families. The Dursleys started off by buying the biggest most chocolately ice creams they could for Piers and Dudley, and then the concerned cart lady had seen Harry and hurriedly Vernon thrust a cheap lemon pop into his hands.
"Lactose intolerant," he said gruffly while handing over the notes to the woman. Harry wonderously, but still careful not to look too enthused, went ahead and licked at his ice pop. Uncle Vernon scowled at him once more for good measure. It wasn't bad at all, Harry thought, and couldn't help but wonder if it was similiar to how ice cream tastes, having never had ice cream before. He liked the soursweet lemon he decided, while looking at a hairy gorilla that had remarkable resemblance to Dudley, only it wasn't blond.
Harry was having the best morning he's had in as long as he can remember. He was careful to walk separate from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were becoming bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn't have any bright ideas and decide to sacrifice him to the lions or something. They even ate in the zoo restaurant, and Harry was allowed to finish Dudley's burger when he said it tasted like 'absolute horseshit'. Harry had now experienced two entirely new foods, and it was shaping up to be a legendary day. In fact he thought the burger tasted fantastic, or what was left of it. He even swiped some cold fries while Uncle Vernon and Dudley went to complain to staff.
Harry felt, afterward, he should've know it was too good to last. His luck is too rotten, and the Dursleys are too predictable.
After lunch, they went to the reptile house. Harry liked it, the outside had been a warm and sunny summer's day, but here it was cool and dark. A refreshing change, with only the lit windows along the walls paving the way. Beyond those windows were scaled creatures, and that one bug exhibit. All sorts of lizards and snakes were crawling about over logs and stone and little trees. Harry supposed the zoo only put the plants in there for an aesthetic, authentic look, and thought it suddenly rather sad all these animals were locked up to be stared at by a bunch of-
Harry looked at the Dursleys.
By a bunch of idiots, he thought to himself. He had been enjoying himself today, but that because he was free, which felt like a sort of unfair parallel to the zoo.
Now Dudley and Piers had come in here with one goal, they wanted to see massive, man-crushing pythons and huge, poisonous cobras. So Dudley very quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped it's body twice around Uncle Vernon's car and crushed it like a trash can, but currently- it didn't really look like it was in the mood. In fact, it looked to be fast asleep. Dudley stood with his face pressed up against the glass, staring at the glistening scaled coils.
"Make it move," he whined at his father. Vernon bustled over, and tapped the glass, but the snake didn't budge. Harry felt a very odd rush of anger, and something else, like comradery, with this dangerous reptile. Locked away and useless. Harry shook his head abruptedly to rid himself of such odd thoughts, earning a weird look from the girl with her parents near him. He ignored her.
"Do it again," Dudley ordered. Uncle Vernon smartly rapped the glass, but the snake continued to enjoy it's afternoon slumber.
"This is boring," Dudley moaned. He shuffled away. Harry watched him, and then stepped up to the glass himself. He'd seen snakes before, early when in the garden, little ones, and they only ever regarded him before he shooed them off. He wasn't sure if Britain had venomous snakes strolling around but he didn't ever feel intimidated, and he knew if Petunia saw the little things she'd kill them. Harry never wanted that. He looked intently at this snake, and when it's eyes met his suddenly, he wasn't fearful. Not only was it safely behind glass, but Harry thought he rather liked snakes. It raised it's head and body until it was level with Harry's line of sight.
And then- it winked.
Can snakes even do that? Harry was bewildered with eyes wide, he might be hallucinating. But this was just exactly something that would happen to a freakshow, he thought wrily. Harry stared. Then looked around to see if anyone was watching. They weren't. So Harry went and winked back. The snake jerked its head toward Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that quite plainly said:
"I get that all the time."
"I know," Harry murmured through the glass. Though he wasn't sure the snake could hear him, he sincerely hoped so. The snakes in the garden always listened to Harry even when him told them to go away, but there was quite a bit of zoo-proof glass between the two of them. "It must be really annoying."
The snake nodded vigorously, and Harry felt a rush of satisfaction.
"Where do you come from anyway?" Harry asked. The snake jabbed it's tail at a little sign next to the glass, and Harry peered at it. "Right, of course. Oh, Brazil. Was it nice there?"
The boa constrictor jabbed a tail at the sign again.
THIS SPECIMEN WAS BRED IN THE ZOO
"Oh I see- you've never been to Brazil then." Harry offered a sympathetic look to the snake, which was doing a very good impression of a sad snake.
As the snake shook it's head defeatedly, a deafening shout from behind Harry made both of them jump. "DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S DOING!"
Dudley came waddling towards them as fast as he could, and Piers pushed Harry directly at Dudley. Who then proceeded to punch Harry in the lungs. Caught by surprise, Harry dropped to the concrete floor. What came next happened so fast no one saw how it happened- one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror. Harry sat up, still straining for air, and felt a sharp stab of pleased shock. His scar was aching too. The glass front of the boa constrictor's tank had vanished. The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out onto the floor. People throughout the reptile house started screaming and running for the exits. Harry sat, completely calm, and he watched Dudley cry and hiccup uncontrollably with his face going from red to white to green and back again. As the snake swiftly slid over his legs and past him to the exit, Harry could have sworn he heard a low hissing voice say, "Brazil here I come... thanksss friend."
Harry started at that. "Yeah, no problem." The snake hissed in a distinctly laughing sort of way.
The keeper of the reptile house was in shock.
"But the glass? Where did the glass go?" He kept saying.
The zoo director himself escorted the Dursley crew to his office, for fresh tea while he bumbled through apologies. Piers and Dudley could barely get a word out, clammy and sweaty after what Dudley calls their 'brush with death'. From Harry's viewpoint the most the snake had done was nip playfully at the two boys' feet while sliding past, but by the time they were in the car headed home this became a fight to the death. Dudley's leg was seconds from being ripped off, and Piers was being suffocated. Harry scoffed to himself, and carefully rolled his eyes out the window. But once their heroic chatter cooled down a bit, the sucker for Harry really punched in.
Piers had calmed down enough to seal Harry's fate with a:
"Harry was talking to it- weren't you, Harry?" The car was deathly silent, while Vernon sent a choking glare to the meek Harry in the backseat.
Once Piers was out of the house, that's when Uncle Vernon really started in on him. The anger seemed so great it was impeding his ability to speak. "Go- Petunia the cupboard- no meals." Petunia ran to get him a large brandy and Harry went and put himself into the cupboard, awaiting the tell tale locking click. Harry was, it seems, incredibly more hungry at the prospect of not having food for so long. Certainly- certainly he couldn't last that long.
Eventually the familiar dark comfort of the cupboard under the stairs lulled Harry into a restless sleep. He awoke at an undefinable time to low shouting, like people trying to keep their voices down but having gone temporarily deaf.
"He's- no Vernon, come to bed-" A shuffling sound followed and a thud against the wall.
"The infiltration-" He could almost hear his Uncle spit with disgust as he slurred out the words. "-of their kind-" Aunt Petunia was trying very much to soothe the drunken beast that was her husband, and if Harry had a shred of affection for her he maybe would have felt pity. But all he felt was a cold awareness of the Harry-hating drunk man outside his little door. If Vernon was drinking, it ensured Harry's pain. The large man's little sensibility vanished and Harry had suffered many a swift knock to the head, a face down push into the floor, and of course he'd heard the worrying threat of his Uncle's wide leather belt. That was bone-chilling.
He heard his Aunt's voice once more, but it was muffled and Harry lost some tension as he followed the softening sounds of his Uncle's heavy missteps and his Aunt's low tone all the way up the stairs and to the master bedroom. Harry drifted off again into an uneasy sleep, which unfortunately was very similiar to his normal sleep.
And he thought to himself, he had lived with his relatives for almost ten years. Ten miserable years, as long as he can remember, since his parents went and died in their car crash. He couldn't remember them, or if he was in that car. Sometimes, when he thought really hard about it in the long hours of his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision of a blinding green light and a burning pain on his forehead. Harry traced the outline of his scar from under his fringe.
He couldn't remember his parents at all, and there certainly weren't any photographs of them in the Dursley family home. Harry used to dream of some unknown relative coming to take him away, but it seemed the Dursleys were his only family. They themselves probably also dreamed of Harry being swooped away by distant family, or really just anyone, as long as they wouldn't have to see him again. Harry had no one, no one at school, no friends and no family. The Dursleys may be related to him, but this could hardly mean much, Harry was sure.
The escape of the Brazilian boa constrictor was what earned Harry's longest punishment. His Uncle was on edge since the event, which had been a good five weeks earlier. This meant more innocous bruises and cuts and the smell of hot brandy breath for Harry. The no meals/cupboard only deal didn't last more than 5 days, with monitored bathroom breaks. The Dursleys quite quickly realized that if they didn't want to cook, or clean or water the flowers and Harry was meant to, he couldn't be in his cupboard each day. So a dizzy and paper-pale Harry was thrown bread and swiss cheese and told to refill his water bottle from the outside hose. Harry wondered how they knew about his bottle, but since they let it lie so did he. The water bottle was his lifeline, during bathroom breaks he would 'wash' his hands and return to the cupboard with a full bottle of water that somehow his Aunt never saw under the folds of his ratty shirt, held in place by a stiff arm.
A merry Harry had fallen back into routine and was today, three weeks after the brilliant window incident, crouched in the front garden before the sun rose too high for outdoor work. A clever Harry never told the Dursleys how weeds simply didn't grow anymore, and would make his way out for a reprieve early mornings with his day's worth of food thrown to him by a sneering Dursley. Today it was Dudley, who pelted the bread straight for his head and hit his mark. The cheese chunk he tried to squash in his mighty fist but his face screwed up when he realized that it was too hard to mash into a pulp. So he threw that too. Harry had gotten half an old baguette, which was French according to his Uncle. Uncle Vernon didn't like Frenchmen either, so Harry didn't understand why he would buy their bread.
While Harry crouched among the hydrangeas, he absentmindedly picked off a stubbord bit of mold from the cheese and thought of the upcoming school year. For once he was really excited for secondary- Dudley had been accepted to Smeltings, a smarmy school that his father went to. Harry would be going to the local public high school, Stonewall. He would be free of Dudley, it seemed, although the rest of the students had learned to steer clear of him by now maybe he could meet some new people. And maybe he wouldn't spend his lunches hidden in the library.
It did baffle him that Dudley got into private school what with his grades. Harry remembers the first report card from primary that mattered, the one where his Aunt and Uncle realized he was smarter than darling dear Dudleykins. Which, Harry thought, in all honesty wasn't that hard. But he was in for a terrible week after that. He understood that he wouldn't only be disgusting to his classmates and his family, but he was a disgusting, dumb boy to his teachers as well. Adults generally never bode well for Harry, but he had been hopeful in the beginning. He could show, quite literally, he wasn't just a raggedy looking orphan weirdo. But teachers were no exception to the hate-Harry rule, and as Harry's grades began to drop off after that first semester they turned their noses up, up, and away.
When he got back inside he was still dry swallowing the crumbly rock bread down his parched throat, and he was met with a terrible smell. It seemed to be coming from a large metal tub in the kitchen sink. He went to have a look. The tub was full of what looked like dirty rags swimming in gray water.
"What's this?" He asked Aunt Petunia. Her face pinched up like it always did at questions, but she graciously answered.
"Your new school uniform," she said.
Harry looked in the bowl again.
"Oh," he said, "I didn't realize it had to be so wet."
"Don't be daft," Aunt Petunia snapped. "I'm dying some of Dudley's old things gray for you. It'll look just like everyone else's when it's finished."
Harry seriously doubted this, and sent her a look that said as much. She harrumphed and turned back to her morning paper. Harry tried not to visualise what he would look like on his first day at Stonewall High- like he was wearing bits of old elephant skin probably.
Dudley and Uncle Vernon came in then, noses wrinkled, because of the lovely smell of Harry's new uniform. Uncle Vernon was passed the paper from Aunt Petunia and she primly sipped her tea, and Dudley banged his Smeltings stick (which he carried everywhere) on the table for good measure. Harry stood stock still by the sink, aware that a wrong move could bring that stick down on him. After a moment's nonreaction, he deftly cracked open that morning's eggs and set to work.
As the plates of ham, eggs, and toast hit the table they all heard the click of the mail slot and flop of the letters to the doormat.
"Get the mail," Vernon said from behind his paper. Harry stepped out of the kitchen immeadiately, glad to get space between them. Three things lay on the doormat, a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sister Marge, who was vacationing on the Isle of Wight, a brown envelope that looked like a bill, and- a letter for Harry.
Harry picked it up, staring at it dully in shock, his heart was going a million miles a minute. No one, ever, not in his whole life, had ever written him a letter. Who would? He had no friends or family to speak of, and he wasn't in the habit of actually borrowing book from the library so no rude letters from them. Harry knew better than to bring a book around Dudley, who would probably like a round of the classic game rip-and-tear. But yet, here this was in his hands, addressed to him so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard Under The Stairs
4 Privet Drive
The envelope was very thick and heavy, and made of a yellowish parchment, the address written in emerald green ink. There was no stamp, and Harry flipped it over. No, nothing. No indication of where he was being written to from. Nothing but a large wax emblem. It was purple, and a coat of arms Harry had never seen before. Granted he hadn't seen many coats of arms. It had a lion, an eagle, a badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H.
"Hurry up, boy!" shouted Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. "What are you doing, checking for letter bombs?" Harry grimaced at the joke, which he could hear his Uncle chuckling over from the hall.
Harry went back to the kitchen with his letter safely tucked in the elastic waist of his pants, and for once was greatful for the baggy nature of his clothes. Dudley would have a fantastic morning ripping away something that theoretically was Harry's. He handed Uncle Vernon the postcard and the bill to which he hummed.
"Marge's ill," he informed Aunt Petunia. "Ate a funny whelk..." Satisfaction hit Harry. Karma may yet exist, he thought to himself.
It was a whole day before he could open the letter safely. He managed to slide it under the cupboard door and straightened up fast when his Aunt shrilly called him to get to vacuuming. After pealing the potatoes and boiling for tomorrow, he tucked in to his pocketed potato and the handful of salt he shook into his palm- which made it taste even better.
The clomping of Dudley's evening tantrum was almostly comforting on the stairs above his head. He droned out the house sounds after remembering the mysterious letter in there with him. Shaking hands carefully pulled out the letter, and it read:
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmaster: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Surpreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wixen)
Dear Mr. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1st. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
Harry felt like stones had dropped into his stomach instead of potato bits. His scar hurt, like someone had burned him. He hissed and clapped a hand to his forehead. A sudden bout of surprising tears roll down his cheeks, as pitiful as him.
How could it be true? He was nothing, no one. No one would come for the boy under the stairs, where his parents left him. When every harsh blow, when each and every day, taught him that Harry Potter was exactly where he belonged.
With each word he let himself acknowledge, his sniffling grew in momentum. He wanted to stop, but the feeling of embarrassment and shame only made him hiccup harder. He laid there, way into the night, shivering with a sticky wet face, holding hiccups in, with one shaky hand that dutifully wiped his streaky eyes with each sob. The heart of him ached, and he didn't dream that night. Even his mind knew not to entertain any of it was real.
Alone in the cupboard, he supposed, there wasn't much sense in not giving in to the tears, if only for a little while. No one could see him, and how their joke hit its mark. Harry did feel crazy for having hope, and more trapped than ever in a bleak life. But his little mind couldn't even bear to think of the future. He'd never seen much beyond the fists of his Uncle and cousin, or the knife-sharp words of his Aunt. That's all there ever was.
Tomorrow was a day like any other in the Dursley household.
That is, until Harry went to fetch the mail again. There were five letters today, all that same yellowish parchment. Harry supposed he had to give the prank credit, but he shifted uncomfortably by the door. What exactly would he say to his Aunt and Uncle? Sorry to waste your time, Harry thought. Just wasting paper because I'm what the hoodlums call a loser.
"Boy! Mail!" Vernon barked. Harry morosely shuffled into the kitchen, awkwardly passing the stack of letters to his Uncle, who outright laughed after grabbing them away.
"Who on earth would be writing you?" He guffawed. Harry felt he wasn't really meant to answer that, and he did agree with his Uncle. Who would? Harry shot a look at Dudley. Well, maybe it was him who set up the joke on Harry for being a freakshow cousin, but the oaf was disinterestedly shovelling bacon into his mouth. Harry know, was curious.
Who would write him?
So busy in his thoughts, Harry missed his Uncle's face turn red as a stoplight and then whiter than a sheet.
"P-P-Petunia!" He gasped like a dying man. Dudley looked up interested. Aunt Petunia came over and plucked one of the letters from the stack next to a shellshocked Vernon.
"Vernon, oh lord have mercy-" They stared at each other, seeming to forget Harry and Dudley entirely. Dudley grew impatient of this suspense and lunged forward for one of the letters, but Petunia was faster. She swooped them all up. Harry frankly didn't understand why they were so worked up over a prank letter to magic school. In fact it seemed like the weird, cruel sort of thing they'd like to do to Harry.
Dudley, unused to being ignored, smartly rapped his father with his Smelting stick. But Vernon merely waved him off half heartedly.
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia says in a weak voice, "look at the address- how could they possibly know where he sleeps? Are they watching the house?" She shivered. "We'll put him upstairs in the spare-"
"Don't be absurd, Pet," Uncle spat. "They know where the house is! What difference would it make? Watching- spying on us-" Harry's Aunt let out a sound of distress and put a shaking hand to her heart.
"Dear Lord, Vernon. What in heaven's name will we do?"
"We'll ignore it," he said finally. "If they don't get an answer... yes, that's best..." Harry's interest was now peaked. From the conversation that had just occurred, these Hogwarts people were seemingly real. Harry still wasn't totally sure about the magic school bit, but from his Aunt and Uncle's reaction they seemed like dangerous people.
Why would they be interested in him?
You can do freaky things, Harry thought to himself. You can make things move without touching, move places without moving, make things disappear. Like that glass...
Well, Harry thought, that doesn't mean it's... magic! Magic isn't, well... it isn't real.
"I want to read that letter," Dudley said loudly.
"Get out, both of you," Vernon croaked. When neither little boy moved he roared:
"OUT!" Taking both Harry and Dudley by the scruff of their necks and throwing them into the hall. He slammed the kitchen door shut behind them.
Next morning at breakfast Harry was sat down with the rest of them instead of hovering over the sink. Everyone was rather quiet. Dudley was in shock after throwing a temper tantrum yesterday did not result in him receiving the letter. Harry remained dutifully question-free. He had already read it anyhow. He had taken to tracing the shopping list that was attached to the cover letter, with no small amount of disbelief and awe in his cupboard. He wondered what a pewter cauldron was meant to look like.
When the mail arrived, Harry naturally stood but Vernon held out a hand in front of his chest.
"Dudley, get the mail."
"Make Harry do it!"
"Pet, get the mail," and Aunt Petunia stood with a pinched face to fetch the mail. She came back looking even more ill.
"Nothing today," she said. Harry narrowed his eyes. She was definitely lying. They all heard the mail slot, like they did every morning. Dudley was thankfully too thick to notice, he only continued mutinously stabbing at his beans.
Uncle Vernon did not go to work that day. He stayed home, and nailed up the mail slot. And that's when things got really ridiculous. Letters would be found in fireplace, in the bathrooms, littering the yard over the next couple days. Aunt Petunia went to pour out her milk and out came a very crumpled- but dry- envelope. Uncle Vernon had not returned to work by Saturday- instead spent his days making angry, explicit calls to the post office and the dairy.
"Who on earth wants to talk to you this badly?" Dudley asked Harry in amazement. But by Sunday even for Dudley this series of odd events had reached its peak, when a horde of owls came to flock the house and- get this- all of them had brought letters.
"Mum," Dudley whined. "Piers and Malcolm are meant to go sports with me." Petunia fretfully pet her boy's head. That really just meant finding a small child and beating it for milk money, Harry grimaced to himself.
"Not now, Dinky Diddlydums. It's not safe out there." Vernon sat in his armchair with his mustache aggressively twitching. Harry had yet to say anything about the letter matter at all, which seemed like a good move. But his stupid, crazy mind was stupidly hoping it wasn't some terrible trick on him and the Dursleys. Maybe he was being whisked away to a school with pewter cauldrons...
"We said we wouldn't have one in the house," Vernon suddenly spoke up. "Won't stand for it!" Petunia whimpered and Dudley squirmed in her grasp. Harry heard a couple owls hoot from outside the window.
Then came a loud sound, sort of like a rock hitting a metal pole. It happened a couple of times before the inhabitants of the number four realized what was happening.
Someone was knocking at their door.
"It better not be the neighbors!" Petunia said frantically. "Owls! Oh! Look at us," she bemoaned.
But when Mrs. Dursley carefully opened the door there was no neighbor they recognized. Instead a towering beast of a man stood in the frame. Petunia staggered back. Harry thought all these shocks must be getting to her.
The man bent down to look into the hall.
"Don't reckon you could invite me, could you? I'd also need a tube, if you've got one of those nifty things." The beastly man with a beard as big as a bush stepped inside the foyer without further introduction. "Now," the gruff voice said, "where's Harry Potter?"