Two Sides of the Same Coin
A / N: This is an AU. I might borrow events from canon down the line, but on the whole this is totally an alternate universe concept. I wanted to explore a couple of ideas. One where Harry finds the wizarding world early and makes friends. I won't go into detail yet on that one as it won't happen for several chapters. The main idea there is to explore the conflict in having friends others think you shouldn't. The other idea I wanted to play with is where Harry's Slytherin side came from and a relationship with Petunia. His parents were both Gryffindor thru and thru, supposedly, even if James was a bit of a bully - that's still Gryff. I was playing with these ideas when suddenly Petunia started acting Slytherin, and I had the source of Harry's cunning and sly side. For me, this is more Slytherin than the ambition part. I can't see Crabbe & Goyle as being ambitions...
Everyone knows characters don't always behave, and what you end up with isn't always what you had planned. I started with getting Harry to Diagon Alley to meet his friend, and ended up with neighbors plotting, then Petunia hijacked their plotting with her own plotting, and suddenly Harry is learning Slytherin-ness at her knee, as it were. I kinda like it, my Petunia is somewhat shallow and brilliantly cunning all at the same time. She's a tad twisted and even a little sad, I hope you like her. ;-)
Btw - don't even ASK about ships. He's 7-8 for heavens sake!
Chapter 1 - May the best plotter win.
Everyone on Privet drive knew the Dursley's had a phobia about gossip. Well, not all gossip, just gossip about them. Petunia lived on gossip - about other people. A standing joke among the men in the neighborhood was that Vernon Dursley was afraid of 3 things: not being normal; bad gossip; and his wife's tongue. Watching the Dursley's strive for average while pretending greatness, was of unending amusement to all eager "D Watchers". Favorite moments were chuckled over and shared amongst the crowd.
The Dursley's of course, had no idea their neighbors knew so much about them. They would have been horrified if they realized exactly how much the neighbors knew about what when on inside number 4. Especially their interest in one small, dark haired, little boy named Harry Potter. Everyone agreed that he was about as un-Dursley as a person could get. Frequently heard comments over tea were usually along the lines of "If his parents weren't already dead, I swear I'd strangle them for being so foolish as to leave their child with THEM!" and the ever popular "If it were me, I'd have a list a mile long with the Dursley's at the bottom, and I'd include people I hadn't seen since third grade and random picks from the telephone directory!"
After a call to Child Protective Services accomplished nothing, indeed the case seemed to have completely disappeared and been forgotten by all the primaries involved, a few of the more imaginative neighbors came up with a plan. They would use the Dursley's fears against them and trick them into better treatment for the child. It would also have the side effect of actually being fun. They would get to gossip, stare, and make blunt comments unhindered by any normal constraints of polite behavior, as long as the script was followed. After all, the goal was to be overheard and have their scrutiny noticed by Petunia and Vernon. Propriety be damned!
Meetings were held to come up with each months focus and to script out various key phrases that would, hopefully, push the Dursley's in the right direction. It was felt an organized approach, with one dialog reinforcing another, would have the best effect. The plan almost fell through during the initial meeting when they couldn't reach a consensus on which problems should be tackled first. One group felt the physical damage was the most critical while another wanted to focus on making sure little Harry had enough to eat. The women felt he was seriously undersized and waxed long about malnutrition and possible long term effects on his health and growth while the men were worried that Dudley might manage to cause serious physical damage if he wasn't stopped soon. Thankfully someone mentioned that they could actually gossip about two topics at the same time, it might be more realistic anyway. A single topic a month and even Vernon might catch on.
After much laughter, gossip was devised, food eaten, scripts organized, teams assigned & scheduled and the obligatory argument of gin vs vodka was enjoyed by all. The new blackcurrant Vodka was the surprise, dark horse winner. The gin crowd felt including flavored variants wasn't fair whilst the vodka crowd told them to stop being sore losers just because their favorite beverage lacked imagination. As the gin drinkers settled back, someone was heard to mutter "They have to flavor it, the bloody stuff doesn't have any taste otherwise."
That next week, after the hangovers had cleared, the Dursley's never knew what hit them. Suddenly, their neighbors were blatantly staring and whispering and Petunia was overhearing and doing some plotting of her own.
"Vernon! Vernon! You aren't going to believe what I just heard!"
"Some fun news, Pet?"
"NO, not fun at all! Its" Petunia broke off mid sentence as she noticed her nephew coming out of the bathroom. She picked up a banana off the counter and handed it to the child. "Here, take this and eat it outside on the front porch while I'm talking to your Uncle."
Vernon stared at her, speechless. Harry stared at her, glanced at his Uncle, and then he slowly took the piece of fruit and walked out the front door.
Vernon gasped "Petunia! You just "
"Wait Vernon, what I heard is about US. You have to talk to Dudley tonight. I just overheard Sonja and Elizabeth talking about how Dudley is a bully, becoming the neighborhood terror! They said he's growing up to be dangerous and his violence just isn't NORMAL!" Petunia sounded horrified.
"Now Petunia, are you sure you heard right? I can't imagine them saying that to you." Vernon sputtered, grasping at straws to right his suddenly shifting world. The freak was supposed to be the abnormal one, not his son!
"They didn't say it TO me Vernon, I overheard them talking at the bakery. They were on the other side of the baguette display whispering to each other. They never even saw me. What's worse Vernon; is that Elizabeth was saying her husband was the one who told her Dudders violence wasn't normal for a young boy. She was telling Sonja that Edwin and Charles were discussing it the other night after they all had been talking about how unnaturally skinny the boy is lately."
Vernon went white. "Edwin and Charles said my son isn't normal? My Dudley? And they said that boy is unnaturally skinny? Is that why you gave him the banana? Are you sure they said 'unnaturally'?"
That afternoon, the Dursley Sr's had a long discussion about gossip, neighbors and how some minor changes could be made so that their household would appear completely normal on the outside.
While Vernon went upstairs to have a long overdue chat with his son about picking on his cousin and acceptable public behavior, Petunia relaxed back in her chair with a very satisfied smirk. She abhorred the fact that her family was being gossiped about, but she was sick of putting up with Dudley's bullying ways and Vernon's dismissal of her concerns. This gossip could play perfectly into her hands. She wasn't crazy about her nephew, although she didn't hate the boy like Vernon did. But, it would be all too easy for Dudley to go from bullying Harry to bullying other children, if he hadn't already. That would simply not be acceptable, especially if he grew to match his father in size. She could just imagine the angry parents of injured children. The things people would say THEN! Vernon might be blind to Dudley's ways, but nobody else would be, and they would act when their children were targeted. This had to be nipped in the bud. She knew her son. He would never be able to understand that his cousin was a special case. He would believe that whatever he was allowed to do to his cousin was acceptable to do to others, anywhere and everywhere.
Vernon's plan would fail, she would lay money on it. Dudley would not be able to control himself enough to have different 'at home' and 'away' behavior. Her poor Duddikins…there were just some things he wasn't quick about understanding and he had zero self control. He came by it naturally from his father, poor lad. She really shouldn't be thinking like this about her dear boy, he was such a sweet child underneath. Some of his friends were simply bad influences and Vernon wasn't one to teach restraint, he always wanted their son to have everything. Dudders would need something to cheer him up. Now, lets see, did she have the makings for his favorite chocolate cake?
Everything appeared to be going according to the neighbors plan. None of them knew that the gossip Petunia gave Vernon wasn't quite exactly as she overheard. Petunia's stories always had some additions and twists that none of the plotters would have recognized, but the mainline was still there so it tied in with what Vernon heard. It seemed Petunia had an agenda of her own and she knew best just what words would trigger her husbands paranoia.
And so it went. Dudley was instructed not to pick on Harry where anyone could see or hear. Regretfully, he wasn't bright enough to remember to hide his behavior in public. Petunia witnessed a very public incident in the playground, relayed it to Vernon with manufactured reactions by neighbors, and Dudley was punished for the first time in his life. He was ordered to leave his cousin alone, he AND his friends. Yes, Dudley would be punished for actions by his gang against his cousin. They weren't allowed to touch or speak to him unless specifically requested by Vernon, Petunia or an impartial adult, like a teacher. Infractions would be punished by taking away one of his birthday or Christmas presents. Petunia thought the number was starting to get out of hand and this was the one thing that might make him think before acting. She consoled Vernon by telling him they would spend the same amount; just buy fewer, but better quality, presents. Dudley quickly learned to ignore Harry once his birthday came around and he was short 4 presents. One for beating up Harry, one for beating another kid in the playground, and worst of all - 2 for his having Piers beat up Harry for him. He was especially horrified to realize that his present counter had been permanently reset. He would, forever after, be short 4 gifts!
For several years, Vernon had enjoyed restricting Harry's food and always fixed the boys plate himself before sending him off. This would have been a problem for Harry, except Vernon's baseline portion was so huge, the amount Harry received was actually quite appropriate for a 7 yr old child of his size. His serving only looked small in comparison to Dudley and Vernon's plates. This had worked quite well for everyone involved. Vernon believed he was causing the boy a hardship and had secretly gloated about his small size, while Harry happily left each meal pleasantly full.
After the initial gossip burst, Vernon took great pleasure in adding to Harry's plate extra vegetables and salad - the things Vernon himself liked least. If he had to give the boy more food, it wasn't going to be the good stuff. He would hand the plate over with orders to eat everything or else. Like a lot of Vernon's plots and plans, this fell way short of its mark. He never considered the idea that the boy might actually like vegetables and salad and was quite glad to receive extra helpings of his favorites. Since Harry ate at the small table in the kitchen, Vernon never saw how he smiled and hummed as he cleaned his plate.
The other food restriction released had to do with eating between meals. Previously, Harry hadn't been allowed anything between meals. He was still not allowed any sweets, cookies, sugary sodas or salty snacks; but he was allowed to eat all the fruit, leftover vegetables and salad that he wanted. Pretty much anything that Vernon & Dudley weren't interested in eating. Harry was also only allowed to drink milk or water, while Dudley rarely drank things that weren't sugared or flavored. Dudley would even only drink milk with chocolate added. The end result of Vernon's 'hardship plan' had always been that, underneath it all, Harry was much healthier than Dudley. The recent changes only increased the gap.
While Vernon firmly believed he was depriving the child, Petunia was under no such delusions. She was always fully aware that Harry's diet was actually healthier than Dudley's, and knew his portions were correct for his age and size. When Vernon had started restricting the boy's food, she'd had nightmares where Child Services showed up at the door after someone complained that they were starving a child. Vernon never seemed to think about the consequences of things, but luckily he had her to keep an eye on their future. She had always paid careful attention to the boy's diet, adjusting things when Vernon wasn't around. She poured milk down Harry like they owned a cow and made sure there was plenty of fruit in the house and that he ate at least 1-2 servings a day. He was always finding slices of apples, oranges, or pears jammed into his school satchel in the morning. When he arrived home in the afternoon, he would often find a celery stick stuffed with peanut butter and wrapped in a napkin sitting on his mattress next to a small bunch of grapes and a thermos of milk. The last thing Petunia had ever wanted to deal with was the attention & gossip tied to the scandal and health problems of a malnourished child.
It was a relief not to have to hide the extra food anymore. Although Vernon still had no idea how much milk she made Harry drink. She only wished she could get Dudley to eat the same, but he resisted any of her efforts to adjust his diet by throwing fits and Vernon backed him up. At least Harry ate what she told him to when she gave it to him with no fussing. She couldn't help but notice that without Dudley's sugar highs and lows, Harry was a much more even tempered child. She couldn't stand his freakish magic and resented his intrusion in her home, but had to admit he wasn't a difficult boy to have around. His lack of cavities was a blessing. She knew Vernon would go nuts if they had to take the boy in to the dentist for fillings. She made a note to remind herself to pick up some dental floss for Harry to use. She knew, unlike Dudley, he'd use it if she ordered; healthy teeth would keep trips to the dentist to the bare minimum. Anything else and Vernon would become involved.
The neighbors began congratulating themselves as Harry's bruises disappeared and weren't replaced. He didn't seem to have gained any weight, so some of them started making specific remarks about the child being so small in comparison to others, especially Dudley. Petunia was starting to think Harry actually might have a medical condition. She knew she fed the boy but it all seemed to go nowhere! Something was using up those calories and it sure wasn't physical growth. She had been wondering for years about his size, but had thought time would take care of things since his diet was reasonable. She'd told herself some children just grew later than others. His being small had worked in her favor in the past, but no longer. In order for her plans to work, every bit of gossip she discussed with Vernon, especially those he heard himself, had to result in a visible change followed by less gossip and smiles from the neighbors, or Vernon would stop taking it seriously. That couldn't happen, not when she had finally received the perfect comments to twist around to convince Vernon that Dudley needed a better diet! Petunia had her work cut out trying to find a way to discuss Dudley's size without getting Vernon's back up over his own.
On a sunny weekend just as spring began, Vernon sent Harry outside to do some post winter cleanup and to prepare for spring planting. The neighbor across the way noticed the lad and after he was out there a bit, he decided to take advantage of a good opportunity. He left his own yard work and headed inside for the telephone, he had a great idea, but a couple more blokes would make the best impact. Beside, then he'd have someone to chuckle with afterwards. A few minutes later he was back out working in his own garden. He made a point of often stopping to stare at Harry working and to glance at his watch. Especially whenever he thought Vernon might be looking out the window. Sure enough, a half hour later he heard his name called and looked up to find two more neighbor men heading his way. He grinned. This was going to be so much fun!
Sunny weekends were Vernon's favorite times. The ground seemed to have dried up decently and he thought he'd head over to the course and see if he could pick up a round or just a few holes. He'd set the boy to work earlier clearing the yard to get ready for the season. As he checked on him through the window, he couldn't help but notice Edwin was in his yard doing the same work as the boy. He also noticed Edwin periodically looking up and watching Harry. Vernon began to feel a bit nervous while gathering up his golf things and changing his clothes. The next time he looked out, he saw two more neighbor men arrive to chat with Edwin. The nervous flutter in his stomach grew and Vernon decided that maybe it was best if the boy came inside and took a break. He thundered down the stairs and out the door. As he crossed the yard, he saw the three men chatting, looking over to Harry and himself and then Edwin pointing to his watch and waving his arms about. The other two turned as one and GLARED at Vernon!
Even a man as dense as Vernon Dursley understood what was happening. They had been paying attention to how long the boy worked in the yard, who knows how long this had been going on, but it wasn't making the boy look bad. Oh no, this was making Vernon himself look bad. The men were talking negatively about HIM! This wasn't just women's gossip; the men really were talking as well. Petunia had been right; things truly did need to change, maybe more than he had previously thought if the men were talking. And Vernon finally became a believer. He never mentioned a thing to Petunia, but from that moment on, Vernon began to consciously try and change his overt behavior toward the boy. He would always hate him, but perhaps it wasn't necessary to display it in any way. All that seemed to do was get Vernon in trouble. Things would likely be less complicated at home if he simply treated him in the way he wanted it to appear to the neighbors. Treating him one way inside the house and another outside, well, the inside had a tendency to slip into the outside and be seen. That wouldn't do. Cool distance; that would become his byword. He would ignore the boy when he could, but otherwise, stay remote, comment only when he had a productive suggestion and let Petunia handle things. She seemed to have a knack for it. Yes, the further away from the boy he stayed, the fewer opportunities for him to look bad.
To alleviate the gossip while she prayed for a growth spurt, Petunia had taken to sending Harry outside with his lunch or after school snacks whenever the weather was slightly decent. His table in the kitchen was shifted more directly in front of the window and the curtain changed to a simple valence that wouldn't block someone peeking over the fence. Whenever neighbors were over for tea, she made certain they could see Harry getting himself a snack. He was oddly obedient and unquestioning when she asked him to make sure people saw him eating. When she had time, Petunia promised herself she would remember to think about that, but first she had to get some weight on the boy or all her plans would be for naught. She didn't remember Lily being scrawny at that age, but maybe his father had been? Perhaps she should just emphasize how much he took after his father. It's not like any of them would know if James had been a scrawny boy or not!
As spring took hold, Harry eventually hit that growth spurt, to everyone's relief, especially Petunia's. Dudley's clothes began to look ridiculous on him. If they were the proper length, they were falling off his shoulders and waist. The ones that fit the closest in girth, were laughably several inches too short in length. Even Vernon, with his new awareness of the neighbor's eyes, blushed to see him with a shirt drooping over his shoulder and a belt wrapped twice around his waist and tied because there weren't any holes that far down on the leather.
"Petunia? Do you have any plans for Saturday?"
"Nothing in particular, was there something you wanted to do?"
"Hmm, well, I was just thinking that you could take the boy and get some clothes for school. There's no reason he can't continue to wear Dudley's old things about the house and when working in the yard. But, I noticed the other day that he's looking somewhat absurd lately. I also couldn't help but see others noticing also, you know what I mean dear?" The last was said with pointed emphasis. "The boy seems to be between sizes on Dudders things, and the way he went ages without growing, he could be this way for a long time. No need to spend much on him, discount shops should be fine. Since they are only for wearing in public, I'm sure he won't wear them out. Would you be able to do that, Pet?"
Petunia stared at her husband in shock, glad she was standing behind his chair so he couldn't see her face. She couldn't believe it had been that easy, she had been prepared for this to take a few weeks. She had settled in to wait for the gossip to percolate. What a relief, she was so tired of being embarrassed to be seen with the child. People will look oddly at a teenager who isn't dressed right, but when it's a small child, they look oddly at the adult in charge. She had never been able to make Vernon see this, but then he was so rarely in public with the boy. He hadn't had to deal with old women shaking their heads and 'tsking' at him!
"Of…of course Vernon, I'll take him first thing. I'll make sure he has some simple things for the playground as well and we can send him off there as soon as we return. Best for him to be seen quickly in his new things before the gossip takes hold. A very, good idea, Vernon. You're so observant and proactive dear!" Petunia patted her husbands shoulder. Vernon smiled smugly and shifted proudly, rattling his evening paper as he went back to reading about those idiot sods complaining that the National Health wasn't good enough. Hmmph! Slackers the lot of them!
She walked back to the kitchen shaking her head. She couldn't believe Vernon hadn't recognized his own belt and old shirt on the child! It was a horrid outfit, but she had been going for shock value. Thank heavens Harry was an amenable child and hadn't fussed much when she forced him to wear it. He did give her a long suffering look as he headed out the door, but he had held his tongue and done as she said. Well, he should be pleased he wouldn't have to wear it again. That would be reward enough. Er, plus the new clothes…
Harry sat in the park and wondered about his life. Things were really bizarre this year. First Dudley and his gang were actually leaving him alone. It had been weeks since he'd been beaten up. He was finally able to play at school and in the park. Yesterday, one of the kids at school had actually spoken to him during recess! These last months, his family was treating him differently, better, and Harry wanted to know why. He and Aunt Petunia had always sorta gotten along, quietly on the side, as long as nobody else noticed and nothing 'freaky' happened. Now she was being more obvious about it, like not hiding the snacks she gave him.
He also got more food at meals, especially vegetables & salad's, and he noticed that Aunt Petunia often made his favorites of those. That was really something because Uncle Vernon didn't like them, especially brussel sprouts, but Aunt Petunia had told him to just keep quiet about what he liked and didn't like. He was just to keep a calm face and take his plate to the kitchen and say nothing. It was kind of disturbing to see Uncle Vernon grin at him as he filled Harry's plate with brussel sprouts. He knew his Uncle would never be happy about doing Harry a favor. But, he did as he was told. He did love brussel sprouts, they looked like tiny, cute little cabbages. He liked to imagine they were grown by leprechauns & fairies or that he was a giant eating full size cabbages. He noticed Aunt Petunia always had lots of veggies on her plate, she must like them too. Her plate was usually like his, lots of sides and a small amount of the meat or casserole. Maybe this is something he gets from his Aunt?
Harry didn't realize that for the first time in his life, he was identifying with a member of his family. Never before had he thought about a personal trait of his coming from his Aunt, of their having something in common.
Harry finished twisting his swing and picked up his feet and began to spin. Today was the most shocking. Today he had gone clothes shopping with his Aunt, and for the first time ever they bought things for him. He, Harry Potter, had NEW CLOTHES. All the way, inside out, top to bottom, everything new. Nothing that had ever been worn by anyone else; and it all fit. There weren't a lot of them, but he didn't care. They were new, they were his, and with Dudley leaving him be, they would last. The best part was when his Aunt told him they would get more school specific things next autumn when school started again. She didn't choose many nice things for school since there were only a few months left. Most of the new clothes would work for both school and the playground.
He didn't mind wearing his old stuff around the house and yard, especially since she said he didn't have to wear that horrible outfit again. The one with the big belt and the huge shirt where the collar was so big his whole collarbone showed and it kept falling off his shoulder. Dudley's stuff never fit well, but that was worse than usual, and then she sent him outside and told him not to come back until he had walked around the block twice and to the park & back. Sometimes adults just seemed completely mental.
Aunt Petunia had grinned; no she SMIRKED when she remembered that outfit on the way home and told him he didn't have to wear it again. "hmmmm" Harry mused aloud. "That was two days ago… two days after I wear that outfit outside and walk around the block, I get new clothes." He dug his toe in and came to a stop, then began twisting the swing once again. "Uncle Vernon had a funny look on his face when I came out and he looked right at the neighbors and turned red like he was embarrassed. I think I got new clothes because of that outfit."
Harry stared at the sky as his body spun, but his mind stopped on this idea. He remembered being told to make sure neighbors saw him eating. He thought about Dudley leaving him alone and the ideas spun round in his head like the sky. He kept coming back to Uncle Vernon's quick look at the neighbors the other day. Suddenly, his family's behavior clicked into place and Harry knew why.
Many years down the road, Harry will look back and say that this defining moment was when his Slytherin side woke up and stepped forward. He will also say that perhaps being Slytherin is one other thing he got from his Aunt besides a liking for brussel sprouts. And as he says this, he will smirk.
Edited version uploaded 8-19.