Harry takes shallow breaths in his little cupboard, trying hard to be small and quiet as his Uncle stomps past in the hall, his steps unsteady and raging, and Harry just knows that his breath is stinking of spirits, hot and rank. His Uncle, he knows, was an angry drunk, throwing things and yelling, and Aunt Petunia is doubtlessly cowering in their room, just as he cowers in his cupboard.
No one is safe from his Uncle's drunken fury.
Finally, his Uncle stomps upstairs, and Harry lets out a tiny sigh of relief. Once his Uncle retreats upstairs he is out of the danger zone; oh, it isn't over, not by a long shot—but at least Harry himself isn't in danger of a horrid beating, with his Uncle breathing in his face with his horrible, reeking breath and yelling abuse in his face.
He listens, waiting for the cries that would signal that his Uncle, rare though it is, has turned his fury on his Aunt instead of him.
They don't come, not that night.
Dudley is spoilt and loud, Harry thinks. He is demanding, and oblivious and he sleeps like a log; no matter what, even if his own mother is being attacked brutally in the next room, he sleeps through it.
Not only that, but he looks at the abuser, the attacker, with excited, happy eyes, awaiting praise.
Harry watches his Aunt run her fingers gently along her forearm, where he knows her Mark rests, written in a sloppy hand.
Another pint, girl, it reads, and Harry wonders how his Uncle had said it. Had he been so very angry and violent back then, snarling the words as he drank himself into a drunken stupor?
Of course, he knows his Uncle's words as well, written in Aunt Petunia's graceful cursive along his Uncle's meaty wrist and the back of his palm. Get it yourself!
He wonders whether those words, his Aunt's first words to his Uncle, had been fierce and fiery, sharp and strong. They look it, written as though the writer had been furious and digging the pen into his Uncle's skin with every stroke.
If they had been, he thinks, he sees none of that fire in his Aunt now. She is quiet, and plays the doting mother to his cousin, but her eyes are sharp with carefully hidden fear, and she steps lightly around his Uncle.
She never steps in when his Uncle makes a decision; no matter how sour she is, she doesn't step in, doesn't argue, because arguing means pain, no matter how long it takes for that pain to reach them.
He can't blame her for not stepping in, not really. It's every person for themselves in the Dursley household, no matter how Dudley is oblivious to it and so stupid that he can't see the pain in his own mother and the terror that flashes in her eyes every time his father lifts his meaty fists.
It's every person for themself; that is what he knows.
That is what he knows of a family.
Sometimes he thinks to himself that his Mark is the prettiest he sees. He has seen his Aunt's, and his Uncle's, and some of the Marks of others at school, but to him, the smooth dips and curves of his Mark resonate with him and he always thinks to himself pretty whenever he traces the lines.
But he's a boy, and boys don't have pretty things, they have cool things, and so he stays quiet, never speaking of his Mark even when others ask.
He avoids showing it to his Aunt and Uncle, because he knows that it would only make them mad. His Uncle would drink, and would attack in a furious rage, and his Aunt would lash out with sour and bitter words, harsh in their age-old hurt.
His Mark rests delicately on his chest, and always hums with a low warmth that makes him shiver. Sometimes he wonders about the words, though. They are strange words, odd and different, and he thinks that is why his Aunt and Uncle hate them so much, because they are strange and not the very thing they so chase and seek—normal.
He runs his finger lightly over the elegant curves of the letters, whispering the words to himself.
When the letters start coming, his Uncle is so very angry, and his Aunt is cold, her lips pinching and her eyes burning. He thinks that she is hurting, and wants to reach out and touch her, because her hurt hurts him, nagging at his head. But the hurt is soon swallowed by a fury so old that he wonders if she even realizes that she's forgotten her true reason for feeling it, and she stands aside as his Uncle's fists fly, a glass of scotch sitting innocently on the table.
Freak, his Uncle snarls. Abomination! He howls as his fists impact with Harry's already-bruised flesh, and Harry bites back his cries and whimpers, knowing that no good would come of crying out. Any attempt to cry wolf, to show what his Uncle did, is shushed away, and no one even whispers of the Potter-boy, tiny and skinny, and the Dursley-wife, pinched and scared.
But this pain, it is something Harry has always known, even if he has learned not to cry out, to not cry wolf. After all, the boy who cried wolf was eaten in the end, and what could he change?
It is all he has ever known, and he thinks that the world is truly a cruel place to be, if all his schoolmates secretly curl over their bruises and broken bones, shuttering away pain into sharp breaths and tense muscles.
When they leave Privet Drive, his breath catches in his chest, and fear pounds in his ears. They go through forests and over bridges, and they even stay in a hotel once.
But the letters keep following, and Harry fears the head that his Uncle's fury is reaching, the puce that his face turns with every new letter.
Silently, he prays to the letter-sender. Please stop.
The letters don't stop.
And later, he thanks whatever deity watches over him that they didn't.