Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey April-May 1988
Harry Potter was much smarter than the average eight year old. This wasn't because he read a lot of books, it was because he understood people. Understanding people's motivations and actions would usually be quite the feat for an eight year old but Harry learned to read people because it was essential for his survival. Being able to tell what mood his aunt, uncle and cousin were in could mean the difference between being locked in his cupboard for a week without food or an impossibly long list of chores. He also knew that his uncle was a lot smarter than he looked. Uncle Vernon would never hit him in a way that would leave marks and he had somehow managed to convince all of Harry's neighbors and teachers that an eight year old was the freaking anti-Christ, so that no one would ever offer Harry any help. Ironically, it was from his uncle who hated him so much that Harry learned the most about people and how to manipulate them.
Harry never held any illusions that he could make his family like him. In fact, his aunt told him this. Frequently. He also knew that normal children, even unwanted nephews thrust upon "respectable British citizens" after the death of their "deadbeat parents," didn't usually sleep in cupboards when they lived in a four bedroom house with three other people. Harry also observed that his aunt and uncle were lying about his parents, about what kind of people they were and how they died. He didn't notice it at first but the rants and tangents his aunt and uncle went off on often held discrepancies. The last and most important thing Harry discovered, was that he was a freak. Not a freak like his aunt insisted, but a freak in rather useful ways. How else could he survive a week without food, talk to garden snakes, grow back his hair overnight, or disappear and reappear on the school roof?
Even knowing these things Harry was stuck. Every escape from the Dursleys he had thought up wouldn't work, led to possibly worse results, or posed too great of a risk. This was until one day when an opportunity presented itself at school. That day there was a substitute teacher whose opinion of Harry had not been soiled by the lies his uncle spread about him. Harry wasn't going to tell on his family to the teacher. He suspected his uncle could talk, or if it came down to it bribe, his way out of trouble if it was just Harry's word against his and Harry would be much worse off. No, the opportunity was a trivia quiz, more specifically the prize for winning this quiz: a disposable camera (along with some other irrelevant treats.) Normally Harry kept his head down in school and never called attention to himself. He made sure his worked scored lower than Dudley, who really was as stupid as the beached baby whale he resembled, because doing better than "precious Duddykins" would earn his aunt's wrath. But he needed that camera.
Harry was not extraordinarily book smart, mainly because he wasn't allowed to have them at home but he was smarter than most of his classmates (really when no one will be your friend and your cousin's favorite game is Harry Hunting there wasn't much else to do but pay attention in class). That being said, Harry easily won the trivia quiz and the camera.
When he got home Dudley threw a pathetic blubbering fit to Aunt Petunia. Naturally, she was furious. She took away Harry's prizes (except for the camera which Harry had hidden in his extremely baggy clothes in anticipation for the scene Dudley would cause) and whacked Harry heavily on the head with a wooden spoon. Even though the wound smarted badly Harry was nearly smiling. That would leave a bruise. His aunt then threw Harry into his cupboard shouting that he could forget about eating that weekend. Once in his cupboard Harry shoved his threadbare blanket against the door crack so the camera flash would not be seen and began taking photos of his living arrangements. He felt his head to see that a lump had formed where he was hit and he took a picture of that too. That night he went to sleep smiling even though his stomach was empty. The tables would soon be turning in the Dursley house.
Over the next month Harry documented and took photos of the abuse he suffered. His torn up hands and sunburnt skin after pulling weeds without gloves, more bruises and bumps he suffered from his cousin and sometimes aunt, burns from cooking, and even a dog bite he got from Aunt Marge's prized pet Ripper. Finally the film ran out and he was ready. He snuck money from Dudley's room who would hardly notice and few pounds missing, he went to the store after school to get the film developed (he had to walk home while Dudley rode with Aunt Petunia) and ordered two copies. The next day he went back and got them storing the negatives in case he would need more. When he got home he hid one of the copies in under a loose floorboard he had discovered when he had to clean Dudley's spare bedroom, hid the other in his cupboard and stowed the negatives in his desk at school when he went the next day.
The following night at supper he sat down at the table after serving his relatives, photos stashed in his baggy clothing.
"What do you think you're doing, Boy!?" barked Vernon.
Smiling Harry addressed his uncle who was the smartest and most reasonable of the bunch, "I think it's time we had a talk" he said casually and produced the photos, "You see, I don't think the police would approve of what they see here" Harry spread the pictures his uncles face reddening at each photo. Vernon glanced sharply at Petunia who he had told never to leave marks on the boy, Petunia paled.
"Well they're never going to see those," Vernon sneered cruelly, "Give them here boy or you won't eat or see daylight for a week!" He made a grab at the photos but Harry evaded him.
"Ah, ah, ah," Harry tutted, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Vernon gave Harry an assessing look. Harry had hardly ever talked back since he had learned better and was acting completely different than the meek broken boy he usually pretended to be around them. Even though Vernon had a fierce temper and severe hatred for Harry he was, after all, a business man.
"Why not boy?" he spat "Without them you have nothing, no one would ever believe you,"
"Because," Harry said smirking "These aren't my only copies." Vernon's eyes narrowed trying to read him. Harry could tell that Vernon was completely re-evaluating everything he knew about Harry Potter.
His aunt who had been blessedly silent so far spoke up, "We will just beat the location out of you, you freak. Then lock you up in your cupboard for a few days, you heal freakishly fast no one will ever know!"
Vernon shot Petunia a sharp look which caused her to flinch. She knew better than to interrupt him. He turned back to evaluate Harry, "Well boy, why shouldn't we do that?" He glared daggers at Harry, his eyes holding the promise that he could do just that without remorse.
Harry would have usually pretended to be intimidated by these looks but now he held Vernon's gaze and tilted his head smirking, "Because I would never tell you." As his uncle stared him down Harry could tell that his uncle believed it, "The school would get suspicious the longer I'm gone and the first day you let me out I would go straight to the police. Anything else you did to me would just be further proof. And if the police get involved…" Harry gave a mock worried face, "Oh no, what would the neighbors think?" he said playing right into Petunia's biggest fear.
Dudley who was watching the exchange like a television show, (most likely not understanding half of what was happening) got upset with being ignored for over five minutes punched Harry in the arm. Normally his parents would encourage this behavior or begin fawning over how tough and strong he would be when he was all grown up, now however Vernon pulled him away from Harry, "Stop it, boy." Shocked at being addressed by Harry's moniker Dudley began bawling and whining. Harry who had not stopped staring at Vernon had smirked pointedly after Dudley had hit him.
"Vernon what on earth-?" Petunia said fawning and cooing at the blubbering Dudley.
"Out. Get out," He said sharply, "And take Dudley with you" Petunia looked shocked by this but she was beginning to get disturbed by Harry's behavior. She obeyed Vernon ushering Dudley out of the room promising to take him for ice cream. "Well boy, what do you want?" Vernon was in his businessman mode that Harry had heard when he had clients over.
"Well, I'm not unreasonable," Harry said, "I just have a few requests. You see, I have no desire to go to foster care or an orphanage and you, I'm sure, have no desire to lose your job, get precious Duddykins taken away, or even go to jail," after a few seconds Vernon nodded reluctantly ceding the point. "All I want is the guest bedroom, regular meals, clothes that fit, and I will do the same amount of chores as Dudley and if you want me to do more I would like to be paid. But ultimately what I want, is to be left alone. If you stay out of my way I will stay out of yours."
Vernon thought hard evaluating his options. He knew if those photos got to the police he could lose Dudley and his job, the thought of going to prison with all the riff-raff was enough to make him shudder. He could try to bribe his way out with the police but that would almost undoubtedly fail. He could also throw Petunia under the bus because he hardly ever hit the boy and try to get custody of Dudley, but he loved his wife and he would probably lose his job and reputation in the fall out. It would also make it look like he couldn't control his wife (he had old-fashioned views about women). Really, he didn't have much of a choice.
"You can't have the guest room we need that for company. You can use Dudley's spare bedroom. You will buy secondhand clothes with the money you make doing the yard work and that is my final offer." Vernon bluffed. Really if the boy persisted he would have to give him what he wanted.
Harry had known his uncle would make a counter offer so he had made higher demands than he thought he needed and was actually a little surprised by the offer. He could tell that he could get more out of Vernon but decided to let him feel like he had more control than he really did. He knew people liked to feel like they had some control.
"Agreed," Harry said offering his hand, "However I will be keeping the photos in case you forget our bargain." Vernon reached out and shook Harry's hand.
Vernon had gained a grudging respect for the boy over this exchange, 'He would make a fine business man' he thought 'if he wasn't a freak like his parents.' He still hated the boy and the freakishness he represented but now he would, at least, show more caution around him.