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One fateful morning, Petunia Dursley awoke to find a small boy laying in a basket on her front doorstep. Her screaming woke the neighbors.
Where ever Harry Potter went, strange things happened.
This was the truth as far as his Aunt and Uncle were concerned, anyway. Harry had always privately thought this ridiculous; he hadn't been there the day Aunt Petunia discovered that the freezer had been filled to the brim with ice cream. He'd been at Mrs. Figg's house.
He also hadn't been there the day the neighbor's dog had ended up in a tree. Then again, it could have been so afraid of Dudley's tank that it had climbed up there itself. Harry could sympathise. But it was still a bit odd, and he still hadn't been present, which hadn't stopped his relatives from giving him shifty eyes as the neighbor explained it all to Aunt Petunia over tea.
Harry did admit that sometimes strange things happened while he was around, like the school roof, and the teacher's wig. But they happened just as often when he was off somewhere else. Harry just assumed that strange things were a fact of life, and that obviously his relatives were so caught up in being normal that they overlooked how normal these supposedly strange things were, and blamed him for them for some inexplicable reason.
As if he could have caused all of it to happen.
"Get the mail, Dudley."
"Make Harry get it."
"Get the mail, Harry."
"Make Dudley get it."
"Poke him with your Smeltings Stick, Dudley."
Harry dodged the stick and went into the front hall, wondering how he could make Dudley's Smeltings Stick 'disappear'. As he walked slowly back to the kitchen, he sorted through the mail. A bill, a postcard from Aunt Marge, and two thick letters made of something Harry thought was probably parchment. The first was addressed to Dudley in green ink, and he flipped the second over, expecting the same, only to have his jaw drop in surprise.
It was for him.
He stared at it in shock for a moment. He never got letters. He looked from his to Dudley's. They were identical, except, where Dudley's was addressed to "The Largest Room", his was addressed to "The Cupboard Under the Stairs".
Harry continued to stare at his letter, handing Uncle Vernon his mail absently, and dropping Dudley's letter onto his plate.
"It's your letter," Harry said in response to the irritated grunt he received as his only thank you.
"What's this?" Aunt Petunia asked warmly, not turning away from the stove. "Has my Diddydums got a letter?"
Dudley grinned and nodded, before picking up the thick parchment envelope and tearing into it.
Aunt Petunia, who had turned around to watch him open it, gasped in shock and plucked the papers out of his hands. Dudley made an angry sound that sounded vaguely like "Mine!", but Aunt Petunia didn't seem to hear him. She was staring at the address on the letter as though her world had just been flipped upside down.
"Vernon, oh my...Vernon!" she cried out shrilly, looking from a curious Vernon to an angry Dudley to a bewildered Harry. Since when did Aunt Petunia take things away from Dudley? Harry shrugged and got back to unfolding his own letter under the table as Uncle Vernon looked up and saw the parchment in Aunt Petunia's hands. He took it and looked at it for a moment, before turning to stare blankly at Dudley.
"I want my letter!" Dudley demanded angrily. His parents had never done this before. "Why does Harry get to see his letter and I don't get to see mine?"
And now Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were looking at Harry, who was staring in wide eyed shock at the parchment he was reading. Aunt Petunia quickly snatched it away from him, skimming it before pushing it at Vernon and whispering, "Vernon, what do we do?"
Uncle Vernon seemed to have turned a very strange color puce. Harry watched him warily, still feeling rather shocked by what he'd just read. He'd been invited to a school. For wizards. Could it be true? Could he really be a wizard?
"The boy's gone and contaminated Dudley," Vernon said, looking outraged as he came to, in his mind, the only logical conclusion. "He's made our boy into...into...one of them!"
Aunt Petunia moaned and sank down into her chair, clutching her head with her hands. Dudley was now staring at his parents, confused and angry, wanting to know what the letter had said.
Harry had gone into shock. The way Uncle Vernon was talking, it sounded like the letter was the real thing. He was a wizard.
And so, apparently, was Dudley.
Harry and Dudley had been booted out of the kitchen, and were currently standing in the hall. Harry expected a fight over who would listen at the keyhole, but Dudley didn't even glance at the door. His piggy gaze was fixed on Harry, who had suddenly become very nervous.
"What did yours say?" Dudley asked, cracking his knuckles threateningly.
"I'll tell you," Harry said, thinking fast, "If you promise not to beat me up for the rest of the summer."
Dudley paused, his chubby face screwing up in thought. "Why don't I just beat you up and make you tell me?"
"Because..." Harry cast around, backing away slowly as Dudley advanced on him. "You won't know if I'm telling the truth. If you promise not to beat me up, or let any of your friends beat me up, I promise I won't lie to you."
Dudley stared at him for a moment, before nodding and saying, "Deal. Now tell me."
Harry blinked. He hadn't expected that to work, and definitely not that fast. Dudley must really want to know.
"Okay, it said I'm invited to Hogwarts School of...witchcraft and wizardry," Harry said slowly, and, noting the disbelief on his cousin's face, rushed on "There was some name with a bunch of titles, Dumle-something... and it said there was a list of supplies on the next page, and that I'd have to go to a certain place to buy it all, but I don't remember where."
Dudley was staring at him, wide-eyed. "You're pulling my leg."
"No," Harry said solemnly. "I swear. From their reaction, I don't think your parents expected you to get one." He frowned. "Me, maybe…but not you."
"You mean..." Dudley looked suddenly very shocked.
"We're wizards." Harry couldn't help but grin. The entire idea was surreal, and the look on Dudley's face was too priceless.
"D'you think we'll actually go to that school? Hog..."
"Hogwarts?" Harry supplied. "I have no idea. You're parents didn't look too thrilled." His grin faded as a few things sank in. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia might not let them go. Then there was the fact that Dudley would go too. Despite the fact that they'd been getting along surprisingly well for the past few minutes, he had been looking forward to escaping Dudley at Stonewall. Now it seemed they would be sharing a school again. If they got to go at all.
Dudley seemed to be thinking along similar lines. "But...magic isn't...I mean, Mum and Dad said it's not real! This is all some stupid joke or something. And even if we do go to this...Hogwarts, I'll have to share a school with you."
Harry shook his head and bent down to look through the keyhole. Aunt Petunia was talking to Uncle Vernon, waving the letters wildly as she whispered. Harry could only hear snatches, but he caught words like "freak" and "my baby".
Suddenly, Uncle Vernon crossed the kitchen and pulled the door open. He stared down at Dudley and Harry, who had been very obviously eavesdropping, and said, "Dudley...boy."
Harry held back a wince. He was in trouble whenever Uncle Vernon called him boy.
"Both of you, into the sitting room." He brushed past them, and Dudley followed. Harry stared after them with no small amount of misgiving, but eventually had to follow as well.
Uncle Vernon was seated in his chair, and Dudley sat on the couch. Harry remained standing near the exit, shifting unnoticeably from foot to foot.
"You both," Uncle Vernon said as he waved the letters vaguely at them. "Have been accepted at a school." He sounded as though it was taking an awful lot to force these words out.
"A school of - "
"What kind of school, Uncle Vernon?" Harry asked quickly, not wanting Dudley to reveal that they already knew.
"A school of..." Uncle Vernon glanced down at the topmost page before swallowing audibly and finishing. "A school of magic."
Dudley stared with wide eyes. Harry couldn't help it. He stared too. If Uncle Vernon, with his insistence that "There is no such thing as magic!" was taking it seriously, well Harry thought that he might have to believe it. Never mind that he'd never believed anything his Uncle had said before. This was very, very different.
Uncle Vernon glanced at the top sheet again.
"The headmaster of this school has written your Aunt and I a letter, explaining a few things. We'll be taking you to get your things tomorrow, Dudley."
Harry's insides seemed to explode. They were going! But wait, Uncle Vernon had said...
"What about me, Uncle Vernon?" Harry asked, trying to breathe calmly. If Dudley was going and he wasn't...
"We aren't paying for you," Uncle Vernon said flatly, his eyes swiveling around to lock on Harry. "From what this man says, school supplies are expensive."
Harry's heart sank. He wasn't going. All because the Dursleys hated him too much to spare a bit of money.
"I could...I could earn it," Harry offered quietly, feeling very desperate. "I could work for the neighbors in the summer, get a job when I'm old enough, I'm sure I could earn money when I get to school somehow. I'd pay you back in full, I promise."
Uncle Vernon snorted at him. "A likely story."
Harry's spirits sank further. "I swear, Uncle Vernon. What..." And now he had to swallow what little pride the Dursleys had ever let him have, because he didn't see any other way of going. "Whatever it takes, sir. Please."
Uncle Vernon looked at him again, and stared back at the letter. He shook his head and Harry felt like he would cry.
Harry blinked. Fine? Was he serious? He looked carefully up at Uncle Vernon, who had a look on his face like he'd swallowed something unpleasant.
"I'll pay your way, but only if you promise I'll get every pound back."
Harry nodded vigorously, fighting down a whoop of joy. He was going! He was going to a school of magic and he'd learn...magic! He felt positively gleeful, and he had to fight very hard to keep his face a blank slate of gratitude.
"Thank you very much, Uncle Vernon."
"You'd better not fall back on your word, boy," Uncle Vernon said, his beady little eyes boring into Harry. "And if I find out you're wasting my money..."
"I won't sir, I promise," Harry needed to get out of this room, get someplace where he could muffle the gleeful whooping that he could feel pushing at the back of his throat.
"Good. Now get out of my sight."
Harry turned around, catching Dudley's eye as he left. His cousin had the oddest look on his face, almost as if he couldn't decide if he were happy or angry that Harry was going.
But Harry didn't care. He was going to learn magic. So was Dudley, but that didn't matter. It would still be amazing, and who knew? Maybe he could convince Dudley that the best thing for both of them would be to just ignore each other. He'd been able to persuade his cousin before.
The next day found Harry crammed into the backseat of the car with Dudley. Uncle Vernon was driving them to London to get their new school supplies. Aunt Petunia had opted to stay home; apparently, she was still in shock over the entire affair. Uncle Vernon hadn't been able to convince her to come, but not for lack of trying.
Harry had watched his fruitless attempt through the kitchen window that morning as he trimmed the hedges. Uncle Vernon had talked a lot, and waved around the parchment that he'd been holding the day before in the sitting room. The letter from the Headmaster of their new school. Harry had wondered vaguely what it said at the time, but soon decided he didn't really care. It was good enough that it made his uncle willing to let them go, willing to pay for Harry, and rendered his aunt unable to object. She had just sunk down at the table and snapped something at Uncle Vernon when he shoved the paper into her hands.
And now they were in London, searching for the place indicated in the directions. "The Leaky Cauldron". Surprisingly, Dudley spotted it first, pointing it out between a burger joint and a bookstore. Harry had the feeling he'd been paying more attention to the burger joint and that spotting the place had been a lucky coincidence.
When they'd made their way inside, Harry realized that the Leaky Cauldron was a pub. Why the school would send them to a pub was beyond him, and apparently beyond Uncle Vernon too, because he muttered something that sounded like, "Bloody mad lot," and marched up to the bartender, slamming the parchment down on the bar and demanding answers.
The man behind the bar was only too happy to assist them, leading them out into a dingy alleyway behind the pub and pulling out a stick. Harry looked at him curiously for a moment before realizing with a thrill that this was a wand.
After opening the wall magically (Uncle Vernon's eyes looked as though they were about to pop out of his head. Dudley just looked awed.), he ushered them in, saying, "Welcome to Diagon Alley."
After following the directions on the parchment to a bank called Gringotts (Uncle Vernon took one look at the creatures inside and made Harry change the money by himself), they went to a robe shop, a bookstore, and an apothecary (which had smelled so badly that Harry was once again forced to go inside on his own). Harry did what he normally did when forced to go on shopping trips with the Dursleys; he kept his head down and made himself as unobtrusive as possible. Uncle Vernon bought him the bare minimum, and Dudley got whatever struck his fancy. At the wand shop, the man, Ollivander, seemed far more interested in Harry than Dudley, but Uncle Vernon forced him and his cryptic words to pay attention to Dudley and find him a proper wand.
Uncle Vernon seemed to have decided that if his son was going to be a wizard, then he was going to be a damn good one. Much better than Harry anyway. So when the store clerks sometimes seemed to brush past Dudley when they realized Harry was there, Uncle Vernon wasn't pleased, and he made this clear. He also made it clear that he was the man with the funny coins, as he called them, and that he was only going to be dishing this strange money out if the clerks did things to his satisfaction.
Harry didn't really mind his uncle's insistence that everyone pay attention to Dudley. He was used to it. And aside from that, it was very strange, the way people looked at him when they heard his name. He didn't know why they did it, and frankly, it unnerved him a little.
When they'd finished, both boys were loaded down with bags and oddly shaped packages, Harry more so than Dudley, because even though Dudley had gotten much, much more than him, he was still forced to carry most of it. But once again, this was normal. What wasn't normal was the way people were looking at him as he passed them by, following Uncle Vernon and Dudley back to the exit. Harry sped up, keeping close to his uncle, and feeling absurdly happy that he was with him. Even if Uncle Vernon disliked him, which Harry had no delusions about at all, the man had spent the entire day making sure that no one bothered Harry, if only because he felt Dudley was worth more attention.
By the time they got home, Dudley had whacked him round the head with his wand several times. Harry felt it would be prudent to keep quiet about the fact that you were supposed to use the wand for magic, not as a new Smelting Stick. He didn't want to see Dudley's attempts at magic. Harry would probably be turned into a toad by accident. He knew Dudley wouldn't be able to do anything on purpose.
Harry had spent most of the ride home pressed against the car door in a vain attempt to avoid Dudley. He also looked through a few of his books, and thought they were absolutely fascinating. Dudley had gotten the standard books as well, along with a few extra. Harry had been surprised until he saw the titles. "1001 Hexes, Jinxes and Curses" was the book Dudley had abandoned next to his seat. Harry was almost positive that his cousin would never look at this book again, but decided to wait a week or so before he rescued it, just in case.
When they got into the house, Aunt Petunia was waiting for them in the sitting room, thin-lipped and looking as though she'd spent the entire time they'd been gone sucking on a lemon.
"Mum, look what I got!" Dudley ran over and showed his mother a teacup he'd gotten from a joke shop in Diagon Alley. "Isn't it cool?"
Aunt Petunia appeared bewildered, but examined it anyway and said, "Well yes, darling, it's a lovely teacup – Aaahhh!"
She dropped the teacup as it began to wriggle and watched in horror as a rat appeared where the teacup had once been. Dudley laughed uproariously, and Harry quickly left the room, recognizing the look on his aunt's face. He felt odd, though. He'd never seen that look directed at anyone but himself before today.
As he stuffed himself and his new things into the cupboard and proceeded to unwrap and pack them all in his trunk, he thought about his aunt's expression. For a second, he could have sworn she'd looked hateful. And if it had been anyone but Dudley she'd been looking at, he would have believed it too.
Harry shook his head and wondered why he cared. Even if it his aunt suddenly hated Dudley, it was none of his concern. Even so, it was unsettling, he thought as he admired his new robes and placed them neatly into his trunk. Aunt Petunia hating Dudley. It didn't seem possible… and it probably wasn't. Harry was just making something out of nothing.
He closed his trunk and put it under his cot. It caused a slight bulge in the bottom, but it wouldn't fit anywhere else. Harry sighed and shifted, trying to ignore the new bump. He would never have imagined that he would suddenly have so much stuff that his cupboard would become uncomfortable.
He couldn't help but grin at the idea. The thought that followed was even better though, and it made him cover his mouth to stifle the happy laughter that threatened to remind the Dursleys of his presence. Soon he wouldn't even have to worry about his cupboard being uncomfortable. Soon he'd be at a new school, learning magic.
The very idea was mind-boggling, and Harry lay grinning in his cupboard until morning, mind happily boggled.