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Vernon came home from work early one day in a great mood and insisted that they celebrate. He wanted to go out but Petunia protested that she already had a roast in the oven. He even ignored the fact that Harry was still finishing his chores for the day and still let him eat dinner. The reason for this uncharacteristic generosity was clear once he began telling Petunia and Dudley about his day.
"I won the company raffle. The holiday of a lifetime, three weeks in Las Vegas, we leave in three weeks," he said excitedly.
"Awesome!" Dudley said enthusiastically. He didn't know anything about Las Vegas but he did know there weren't any school holidays for another couple of months so he'd be missing school.
Petunia smiled, thinking about how much she would enjoy telling her friends about the international holiday, she looked approvingly at her son before her attention was caught by a much less welcome sight.
"What about the boy?" Petunia asked. "Mrs Figg left this morning to spend the next month with her daughter. I suppose we could ask Marge to take him."
Vernon scowled. "He has to come with us. My boss is planning to see us off and we did claim him as a dependent. He'll be expecting us to have two children."
"We could still leave the freak at home and invite Piers," Dudley suggested.
"Great idea, Son! I'll call Marge after dinner, see if she can take the boy," Vernon said.
Harry listened in dread. He didn't mind the idea of being left behind, the less time he spent trapped in small spaces like the car with Dudley the better, but three weeks with Aunt Marge would be a nightmare. Ripper would tear him to pieces. He still had nightmares of the day he'd spent desperately clinging to a tree branch while his vision swum in and out and the bites on his leg throbbed viciously reminding him what would happen again if his aching arms gave way or he lost the battle with his consciousness and he fell down into reach of Ripper the bulldog. One thing for certain, he'd known his laughing relatives wouldn't help him, not until they started to worry about what the neighbours might think about his screaming. His leg still hurt too, the bites had become infected in spite of his best efforts to dress the wounds and keep them clean. He didn't know why they hadn't healed. No, he didn't think he could face three weeks staying with Marge Dursley and her dogs. He started to shake and struggled to force down the food on his plate, knowing that he had to eat while he could. Heaven knew when they would let him have a full meal again. It was incredibly unfair that the one time they did they still managed to ruin it for him by telling him they were planning to send him to Aunt Marge.
"I could stay here, keep the garden tidy, I'll sleep in the shed if you don't want me in the house," he offered desperately, careful not to make it sound like his Aunt would be doing him a favour to agree.
"I'm not going to have you hanging about the house while we are in America, what would the neighbours think?" Petunia objected firmly. She wanted to be able to brag about the holiday to America without having the neighbours criticize her for leaving the freak home alone. Who knew what the wretched boy would get up to trying embarrass and humiliate them.
"Marge, I have terrific news! We've won a trip to Las Vegas. Three weeks all expenses paid, two rooms in a top hotel in the best part of town just far enough off the strip to be quiet at night, limousine to and from the motel and the airport. I need you to take in Petunia's nephew for a couple of weeks. He can't stay here alone," Vernon said carelessly, not able to stop himself from bragging, when his sister answered the phone.
Marge had thought for a moment that she was being invited to go to Las Vegas with them and her disappointment made her disagreeable, or more disagreeable than she normally was towards her only brother and resentful that he seemed to think she was at his beck and call. She might not be married or even dating but she did have a life thank you very much.
"You're not foisting that little brat off on me," she snapped.
"Marge please. His regular babysitter is away and there's no one else," Vernon said, begging as much as his inflated sense of pride would let him. "He can help around the house."
"Why would I take in the little welp. He's too small to be of any use to me, and the dogs don't like him. Good judge of character my bulldogs," Marge refused.
"He's actually quite good at chores, though I don't want you to tell him that, no need to give him a big head or a reason to start slacking off. He can mow lawns and weed and paint and clean the house, do the laundry and even cook simple meals," Vernon said encouragingly.
"No, I'm not taking him. I've always told you that you would be better off sending him to an orphanage and this is the perfect nudge to get Petunia to agree," Marge stated firmly.
Vernon sighed, he would love to be rid of the brat but he would lose the generous allowance that was being paid to them for looking after him. The allowance he hadn't admitted to his sister, or the tax department or anyone else that they received. It was this allowance that enabled them to live very comfortably, have a holiday every year and still put money aside to send Dudley to Smelting's. Without it they would have to choose between sending their precious son to Stonewall Comprehensive with the freak, or scrimping and saving to raise the school fees to send him to Vernon's Alma Mater, a decision he didn't want to have to make.
He sighed loudly. "I guess we'll have to take him with us then, though heaven knows he doesn't deserve to come on a holiday like this," he said slyly.
Unfortunately for him, Marge was still too angry to fall for his attempted manipulation. "Might be a good opportunity to leave him there," she said callously.
"Cant do that, without involving the officials, he'd have a return ticket, foolish woman," Vernon snapped, hanging up on his sisters outraged yelling.
"Marge won't take the little freak," Vernon announced returning to the table for another helping of dessert. "Perhaps one of your friends. The Polkiss might be willing to take him in in return for us taking Piers on holiday?"
"We can't ask them that. Think of the gossip. What reason could we give. If he was with Marge we could pretend that he was afraid of flying and didn't want to go or that he was locked up in juvenile detention but that won't work if he stays here. It would ruin our good name if they thought we were neglecting the boy," Petunia shrieked. "We've worked so hard to convince people he's a liar and a troublemaker but you know how manipulative he can be. If we left him with the Polkiss the little sneak will probably pretend to be the perfect child, and what about if he uses his freaky stuff."
"I want Piers to come. I don't want the freak to ruin our holiday," Dudley said bursting into fake tears.
"Don't worry Diddydums, Mummy won't let him ruin your holiday. Las Vegas will be so amazing you will barely notice that he's there," Petunia cooed at her son.
Harry kept his head down so nobody would see his smile. To be honest, he didn't care whether he went to Las Vegas or not now he knew he wouldn't be going to stay with Aunt Marge. Three weeks without the Dursleys sounded like a fine holiday to him even if it was right here in Little Whinging, so long as they didn't lock him in his cupboard. He began planning how he could stockpile enough food and water to survive three weeks locked up if he had to.
"I want Piers to come with us! The freak will ruin everything!" He yelled.
"Duddy darling we don't have a choice. We can't take Piers but I'm sure there will be lots of kids to make new friends at the motel. We won't let the freak spoil your holiday," Petunia said desperately trying to calm her son down and cheer him up.
Dudley continued to cry and shriek and kick as Harry finished eating and got up to begin cleaning up the kitchen as quietly as he could. Harry didn't want to draw attention by asking permission to leave the table but it was better if they found him working when they remembered his presence. He had a bit of a dilemma, if he washed the pots and pans first he'd have to refill the sink to wash the plates and glasses and he'd get in trouble for wasting detergent and hot water but taking the plates from the table before Vernon and Dudley left the table was just asking to be hurt. He worked as efficiently and silently as he could in the hope he could finish and get back into his cupboard before Dudley decided to ease his disappointment of having Harry go on holiday with him by beating him black and blue.
Dudley kept crying and screaming until Petunia and Vernon had promised to buy him three new games for his Gameboy to play on the plane, and Harry had finished all of the dishes except for Vernon's and Dudley's plates, glasses and cutlery. Vernon moved into the lounge to watch the news on the telly and Dudley went too to make sure his parents knew which games he wanted leaving Harry to finish cleaning up and take himself to bed unharmed.
Harry hurried to school next morning. His Aunt had driven Dudley to school leaving him behind because he wasn't ready to go, and she had threatened not to let him eat any dinner if he didn't finish cleaning up the kitchen before he left the house and Dudley had spilled a whole glass of juice all over the table and floor just after Vernon had left for work so it had taken longer than usual. He slid into his seat just as the teacher was calling the roll and she frowned at him. Harry just lowered his head and concentrated on his work, making sure he could get the answer right before writing down the wrong answers.
Harry escaped to the library at recess, one of the first kids let out since he didn't have a snack to eat before going out to play so on the whole he had a good morning, he forced himself to eat lunch in the lunchroom, he couldn't afford to skip it in case Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon found another reason to deny him any dinner and he was hungry. He managed to sit far enough away from Dudley to scoff down his meal before Dudley finished his own and came looking for him, unfortunately he caught up with Harry as he left the lunch room and Harry took off running, managing to get away and hide long enough to get back to the library without Dudley and his gang seeing where he'd gone.
They had science that afternoon the one class Harry was really interested in, though he knew he would never be asked to help with the experiments, if he was quiet enough he could get close enough to see what happened and listen to the explanation. Dudley and his friends lost interest as soon as the experiment was finished, sometimes even before that if the teacher took too long to get to the fun bit, and sometimes the teacher lost her temper and stopped the experiment and they were given things to write from the board instead, but she seemed in a good mood today and the experiment was messy enough to satisfy the troublemakers.
Harry wasn't so lucky on the walk home, Dudley, Piers and Malcolm caught up with him just outside the schoolyard and shoved him around a bit on their way out of sight of the teachers. Harry managed to break loose before he was seriously hurt and run the rest of the way home with Malcolm and Piers on his heels and arrived home bruised and panting. Unfortunately, Petunia wasn't home so Malcolm and Piers were able to drag Harry to the ground and sit on him until Dudley arrived to punch him. Petunia arrived home and scolded him for getting his clothes so filthy and dragged him in to tidy up while Dudley ate cake and chocolate biscuits before watching cartoons on the telly. All in all a pretty normal day for the orphaned boy and his relatives.
In the end in spite of Dudley's tantrums and tears and Vernon and Petunia's wishes, without Marge's assistance, they couldn't find a suitable reason to leave Harry behind and take Piers instead without setting the neighbourhood gossips against them. And as Vernon pointed out his boss might actually want to talk to the boys when he met them at the airport with their tickets and the extra ticket would be issued in the freak's name and Piers didn't look anything like the scrawny little runt, let alone enough for them to use his passport, it would be beyond embarrassing to be caught trying to sneak the wrong child onto an international flight. Vernon was sorry that Dudley had even thought of the idea of having Piers substitute for the Freak.
The Dursleys spent the next couple of weeks learning all they could about Las Vegas and planning what they wanted to do and see while they were there. Harry spent all his spare time catching up the yard work and helping with the packing. Petunia had gone to a charity shop in London and brought him a newish looking pair of pants, a cheap canvas belt and a T-shirt to wear to the airport in front of Vernon's boss and on the plane. They were still a bit big to give him room to grow into but they weren't the husky fittings that his cousin wore and the original owner obviously hadn't been such a slob as Dudley was either, so the pants looked a little worn but not stained and Harry thought they didn't look too bad once he'd tightened the belt and rolled the cuffs up.
Harry was as polite and well behaved as he could be meeting Uncle Vernon's boss but he knew it wouldn't do him any good. If he offended the man he would be punished, and if the boss praised him to Vernon instead of praising Dudley he would be punished even worse. He sat quietly on the seats trying not to draw attention as Dudley fidgeted and fussed about having to wait, having to be quiet and the fact that the television in the corner wasn't playing his favourite programs. Finally, they boarded the plane and once they were allowed to get their things out Harry pulled out Dudley's workbooks. Dudley would hopefully leave him alone if he was doing his schoolwork for him. Hopefully he could make it last through the entire flight, or at least until Dudley was distracted by his Gameboy or the inflight movie or fell asleep. There was no point doing his own school work this early it would just somehow get lost before they got home.
In the row behind them Vernon and Petunia went through the accommodation and activities package looking over the schedule and the optional extras.
"I'd bet Dudders would like to take the helicopter flight over the grand canyon," Vernon said enthusiastically.
"Yes I'm sure he would," Petunia agreed smiling. "I think he would also love the Cirque du Soleil, and the Marvel's Avengers Station."
"We could check him in for one of the kids' clubs, some of them sound like they'd be a lot of fun and then we could spend some time in the casinos or perhaps see a show or two," Vernon suggested.
"What about the freak?" Petunia asked. "We can't trust him to behave at the kids' clubs and I'm not paying good money for him to have all these adventures."
"Of course, we won't. He can stay in the motel room, or we can drop him in the park somewhere for the day, so the motel staff don't complain," Vernon planned. "We won't let him ruin our holiday."
Overhearing this Harry was content he'd be fine exploring the parks, now if only their accommodation didn't include a cupboard big enough for them to stuff him in, he might be able to enjoy some of this holiday too. He was even happier once Dudley went to sleep and he was able to finish off his cousin's homework quickly and even watch a movie in peace.
The Dursleys arrived at the motel tired and grumpy from a day of travel and Harry, even more tired after being forced to drag the carryon luggage off the plane by himself until Vernon found a trolley for their suitcases, was happy to see that not only didn't they have cupboards big enough for him to even sit in, but that he could hear noises coming through the walls from the rooms on either side. They might have been strangers and out of sight, but Petunia wouldn't let Vernon hit him too badly where they could be overheard. The American police on television were always much more unpleasant to people who hit children and she didn't know if they could make them understand that Harry was just a freak and deserved all the beatings he got for his own good. Of course what Petunia and Vernon did not know was that there was outside influences at work in Little Whinging both in the neighbourhood, at school and occasionally at the local police station and child welfare office to ensure they remained in a position to continue the treatment of their nephew and that he remained in their custody. It was almost a pity for Harry's sake that they didn't get caught beating their nephew while in Vegas where they were outside of the old meddler's protective influence.
Of course, Harry quickly realised that there might also be a downside to thin walls between them and the neighbours. When Dudley objected to Harry sleeping in the second bed in his room Vernon ordered him to sleep in the bath before Dudley had even begun properly yelling about it. Harry just huffed and went to grab the extra blankets and a pillow. The bath was cold and hard but it was cheap plastic instead of the old fashioned cast iron they had back in Privet Drive and with the blankets it wasn't much worse than the floor of his cupboard except for the fact that his aunt and uncle shook him awake with their hand roughly over his mouth and made him get up and leave the room every time they wanted to use the loo or shower.
Spencer sighed as he entered the school next morning, it was Monday morning, he had a whole week of boredom and torment to look forward to, and he was already tired from the weekend, his mother had had a bad Sunday and he would've liked nothing better than to stay home and sleep but the school had an attendance requirement and a tough stance on truancy. He reminded himself that he only had a semester and a half before he met all of the mandatory requirements to graduate.
Caltech had offered him early entry, it didn't matter to them whether he had actually graduated high school, his test scores already proved he had the knowledge required to finish school and once he had his first degree his lack of a high school diploma wouldn't matter. Spencer was sorely tempted but the uncertainty of his mother's health held him back. If she became worse and he had to leave Caltech to look after before getting a degree, then having his high school diploma would be necessary for him to get a job and to get into college classes at UNLV. He didn't really mind too much, eleven was too young to leave home after all and he had no illusions that he could convince his mother to move to California with him. She would never cope with the change in location and being surrounded by unfamiliar things and people, not to mention that a change in doctor could be a disaster, it had taken far too long to find one she trusted. He wasn't absolutely sure that he'd manage to go to Caltech next year either though that was his dream. He'd been accepted and they were prepared for him to be an unaccompanied minor on campus but he was worried about leaving his mother, she wasn't able to cope on her own a lot of the time now. She needed someone there to make her take her medication morning and night and if they didn't manage to get her to take it then they'd need to help with cooking and cleaning and personal care until her medication levels stabilized and his mom was able to do it all again.
It was only in the mornings when he had to walk voluntarily into the school and face his bullies each day and when they inevitably caught him a couple of times each week that he regretted the choice he felt he had to make to stay at school and finish the year. Not for the first time he cursed his father for leaving. If William Reid still lived with him then Spencer could already be getting ready to go to Caltech next semester knowing his mother would be properly looked after and he would have the support he needed too. Instead he'd been forced to give up the rest of his childhood and take on the responsibilities of an adult without any support, to care for his mother and to try to hide the severity of her illness from the rest of the world to prevent some interfering do-gooder from calling child services and having him taken away from her. He loved his mother and he hated himself for resenting her illness but sometimes he just longed to be a normal kid who when he had a bad day at school could take his troubles home and have his parents look after him for a change. To have a hot dinner ready and a quiet evening reading, doing homework, watching television or even playing a game with his parents instead of all the arguing that had been nearly constant before his father has walked out on them or the constant terror that someone would realise that his mother wasn't capable of looking after a child and he'd be taken way from her.
He didn't know how his mother was going to take him leaving to go to college, or who he could trust enough to look after her during the week when her illness was out of her control and she wasn't capable of looking after herself. He hoped she wouldn't feel that he was abandoning her too, like her husband had, and that he could find someone he trusted to visit and let him know that everything was okay or when he needed to come home and help out. part of him doubted that he was doing the right thing by going to Caltech, even though on her good days his mother supported his dream of going and encouraged him to live for himself. She would hate herself if she realized that she was the reason he hadn't followed his ambitions, and if he stayed what was there for him. Most of his bullies would be going to UNLV, and they'd poison the rest of the students against him just like they'd done in high school.
Spencer was looking forward to going to Caltech for more than getting away from the bullies. He was eager for the stimulation of new classes and ideas and being able to learn at a faster pace than high school among a class of students who were also interested in chemistry and learning. He was hopeful in a school full of students with above average intelligence and scholastic achievement he might finally be able to make a real friend. Someone who wouldn't make fun of his learning, or use him to do their homework, but would have things in common and just enjoy the things he did and want to spend time with him. In spite of how busy he was looking after his Mom and how much he loved her and she loved him, Spencer was lonely. He always had been though it wasn't quite so bad before his father had left them.