This one-shot is set a few years before Harry starts Hogwarts. Warning for mentions child abuse.
Scowling, Petunia walked out of 3C's classroom door. Alan Saunders, the father of Talitha from Dudley's class, was waiting in the corridor outside.
"Good evening Petunia," he beamed, "Delightful to see you here,"
Petunia did not have time to chit-chat. Unfortunately, Mr Saunders was a school governor, so she had to oblige his cheeriness.
"It's a pleasure, Alan, although I'm afraid I must be going," Petunia said hurriedly.
"Dudley and Harry getting bored in the playground?" Alan grimaced sympathetically, "Tali's probably out there too. Our appointment's at six, but the traffic was quicker than I anticipated,"
Petunia shuffled, keen both to leave and to not look as if she wanted to.
"What did Mrs Garcia have to say about your boys?" Alan asked.
The cheek of it. To ask a mother who'd just exited a parents' evening appointment about what was said in the meeting. Dudley's academic progress was Petunia and Vernon's business alone.
"Dudley is progressing excellently, thank you," she replied, bristling, "I must be off, Mr Saunders. Good evening,"
Petunia marched away down the corridor, shoes clomping on the floor as she fumed about Dudley's teacher. Her name was Mrs Garcia, and although Petunia had liked her when they had met at last year's Summer fete, now she knew that Garcia was nosey, a gossip, and determined to cause trouble. The same should have been the giveaway- Garcia was Spanish, Petunia reckoned. That explained it, didn't it- Spaniards were always sticking their noses into other people's business.
Reaching the end of the corridor, Petunia pushed open the door into the school playground. A dozen children were darting about, playing while they waited for their parents to finish their appointments with teachers. A grubby-looking girl was twirling one end of a skipping rope for her friend. The other end of the rope was tied to the climbing frame (Petunia had a beautiful photo of Dudley sitting on top of that climbing frame, eating an ice-cream. Such a photogenic child), and the grubby girl was chanting a rhyme as her friend skipped:
"My mate Billy had a ten-foot willy,
And he showed it to the girl next door.
She thought it was a snake,
And hit it with a rake,
And now it's only four foot four!"
Petunia winced. She should have known that that scruffy child would have such a vocabulary. She'll have to remind Dudders to stay away from pupils like that. Petunia couldn't see her son in the playground, and glanced around for him. Dudley's bonniness and angelic hair made him easy to spot from a distance. He was boisterous too, and Petunia could usually hear his joyful yelps and giggles.
"You're Dudley's mum, aren't you?" said a voice. Petunia looked down to see the bedraggled girl standing beside her, pointing to the far end of the playground.
"He's chasin' again. See, by the goalposts," the girl said. Petunia grimaced at the child's dropped "G". It was rare to hear an accent like that in Little Whingeing. This scallywag must be a traveller. That would explain the state of her clothes. Petunia shifted away from the urchin and looked over to the goalposts. Beside them was an old tree with knarled branches. Dudley was standing on the ground, throwing sticks upwards into the tree at-
Petunia's mouth twisted into a frown. Harry.
She stamped over to them, powered by indignation.
"Get down at once!" Petunia shouted. Dudley glanced around.
"Harry climbed up there, Mummy," Dudley called back, "He knows we're not allowed but he climbed anyway. I was making him get down,"
Even amongst her fury, Petunia felt a flicker of pride. Dudley was far more patient with Harry than the boy deserved.
"Come here, you disobedient toe-rag!" she snarled at Harry.
Wordlessly, the boy lowered himself onto the branch beneath him, then the one below, and again, and then he leapt onto the ground.
"What do you think you're doing?" Petunia gasped, "Get those twigs out of your hair,"
She shook Harry by his shoulder. Of all the infuriating aspects of the boy's personality and appearance, his hair was the worst. Permanently unkept and unruly, it gave Harry the appearance that he had just woken up, or of being a mop. He was constantly getting fluff, cobwebs and loose threads from his clothes caught in his hair.
"Both of you, back to the car, now," Petunia ordered, jabbing Harry in the back.
"What did Mrs Garcia say about me?" Dudley asked, pulling on Petunia's arm. Dear boy, so eager to please his teacher.
Petunia allowed herself a moment to bend down and caress her son's face. "I'm so proud- she said you are a delight. I'll tell you more once your father's home. You're our baby angel, aren't you?"
In fact, Garcia had said that Dudley was idle, bullish and significantly behind his expected levels in almost all subjects. This, Petunia knew, was poppycock. Her son wasn't lazy- Dudley understood that his father went to work every day to bring home money for the family, and that one day Dudley would be expected to do the same. Computer games had given Dudders exemplary concentration skills. He could focus on Zombie Battle Rodeo for hours, and the game improved his reflexes too. As for attainment, well, it was ridiculous to set expected levels for all children. Typical government interference in education. They were children, not cattle. They didn't need constant testing and comparing. What counted as "attainment" for a seven-year-old anyway? Dudley's birthday was in June, so he was one of the youngest in his class. He wouldn't be eight for another three months, so it was ludicrous to expect him to be working on the same level as the students who would turn nine in September. Petunia knew that her son was fiercely intelligent and talented, and the school were trying to box him in to becoming a boffin-brained exam-machine. Perhaps she and Vernon should have sent Dudley to prep school instead.
But worse than that, was what Garcia had said about Harry. Petunia unlocked the car and ushered the boys in. Dudley sat in the passenger seat in his Britax Boulevard G4.1 car-seat. Harry climbed into the back and sat on the cushion Vernon had put there for him to sit on, to keep him high enough to get the seatbelt around and stop him slouching. The boy was small enough without hunching up or sinking down.
Then, Petunia rounded on Harry. "What have you been telling your teacher about our family?"
Acting as if he hadn't heard her, Harry gazed out of the car window.
"I asked you a question!" Petunia barked.
"I haven't told her anything," the boy murmured. He often mumbled or whispered like that. Indecisive; lacking in conviction. It was disconcerting. Petunia often felt as if Harry was muttering behind her back, which unnerved her.
"Then why," Petunia demanded, unable to restrain her voice, "Did you teacher want to report us to social services?!"
"Signs of neglect," Garcia had said, "I don't want to insinuate anything, but…" Petunia had been too appalled to concentrate on the rest of the conversation. This was Dudley's parents' evening- Harry was in the same class but Petunia hadn't made an appointment to talk about him. But Garcia had steered the conversation around to Harry. Petunia only remembered disparate phrases of what the teacher had said next: "Expected difficulties after his parental tragedy…. a bright young man but it's as if he's afraid to be noticed….now allowed on school trips even though his cousin is?…I'm afraid to say Dudley can be rather nasty...Dudley said Harry cooks and cleans at home… far beyond the domestic chores a child his age should be doing…does he have time to play?...noticed he's had splinters a few times, though he doesn't seem to realise….wanted to hear your perspective, if there's anything I've misconstrued…social services are there to help not punish…but as a childcare professional myself, I have to admit that it does seem like cruelty".
Petunia was flabbergasted. Cruelty? How could it be cruelty? Cruelty was violence, and Petunia had never inflicted that on the boy. Vernon may have given him a clip round the ear from time to time, but that's how a child like Harry was best disciplined. It wasn't violence. Petunia and Vernon had never given Harry beatings or burns. They'd never thrown him around. They'd never starved him or denied him clothes or baths or shelter. He had a toothbrush and soap, and medicine when he needed it. Petunia even drove him to school every day. They'd kept him away from dangerous people and places. They'd never done unmentionable interfering things to him in the night. If that was what Garcia was insinuating, then it was her who needed investigating by social services. Who on Earth would imply such things about a family like Petunia's? Garcia was suggesting Petunia and Vernon are cruel because of what they didn't do. Preposterous! How could it be cruelty to not buy the boy games consoles or take him on family outings? Harry wouldn't enjoy days out, surly little creature that he was. If he was dragged along to the beach or the arcade, he'd ruin the day for Dudley, so Petunia and Vernon would have to shut him in his cupboard as punishment. Leaving Harry at home was, therefore, a kindness. They were sparing him from the consequences of his inevitable bad behaviour. It was for the boy's own good. Petunia and Vernon were trying to mould him into a more decent person than his delinquent father and Petunia's gadabout sister had been. Having taken the boy in, unexpected and unwanted, Petunia and her husband's treatment of him had been above and beyond what should have been expected.
Always alert to what was going on around him, Dudley piped up, "What's social services?"
"Nothing you need to worry about, popkin," Petunia promised, "Harry, I am waiting for an answer,"
"Didn't say anything," he whispered.
"Look at me when you're speaking to me!" Petunia snapped. She looked up into the rear-view mirror to see the boy fidgeting in his seat.
"How?" he whispered. Idiot boy thought that just because he was sitting behind her, he couldn't look her in the face.
"Look here," Petunia ordered, tapping the rear-view mirror.
"Oh," Harry mumbled. His eyes flicked up to meet Petunia's in the mirror.
"After everything Vernon and I have done for you, you've told made-up tales to your teacher," Petunia accused.
"I didn't say anything," the boy repeated.
"Nonsense. You are a liar. I'll have contact the school. I've a good mind to ask for Garcia to be removed," Petunia fumed.
"But I like Mrs Garcia!" Dudley protested.
"She's overstepped a boundary," Petunia glowered, "I'll be speaking to your father about this,"
"You said you'd tell Dad about me!" Dudley exclaimed.
"I will, sweetums, of course," Petunia assured him, "But I can't have that teacher believing she has any right to take the lies of one attention-seeking ragamuffin against your father and I's good name,"
When Dudley looked nervous, Petunia added consolingly, "Don't fret. You won't be in any trouble, Diddums. Now put your seatbelt on and let's get home to tell Daddy about all the lovely work you've done this term,"
Vernon could fix this. Vernon could stop Garcia contacting the local authority. There was nobody better at writing letters of complaint than Vernon Dursley. Her sister's brat had ruined enough of Petunia's perfect family without having them investigated as some sort of abusers. They had never been cruel to the boy, Petunia told herself as she reversed out of the school carpark. They hadn't.
Beside her, Dudley gazed longingly at the car's radio. He liked to have music on in the car to pretend he was a racing driver, like in his favourite video game. But Mum seemed furious today, more furious than she normally was at Harry. Dudley want to ask her to put the radio on, but he didn't want to ask either. He felt puzzled and uncomfortable. It must be Harry's fault, Dudley decided. Yeah. Harry had said bad stuff about Mummy and Daddy to Mrs Garcia, and now Mummy was cross. Daddy would be cross too. Dudley felt scared. He didn't like it when Daddy was cross. Stupid Harry, ruining everything as usual. Dudley wished Mummy had taken longer talking to Mrs Garcia, then he'd have had had more time to throw sticks at Harry in the tree. He'd have to throw some more at him later to make up for it. And then he'd have to hit him for making Mummy and Daddy angry. And then Dudley would kick Harry for making him feel scared. And then a Chinese burn for making Dudley not want to ask Mummy to put the radio on. At least Mrs Garcia said nice things about him at parents' evening, Dudley conceded proudly. Mummy and Daddy would probably buy him a present for being so good and so clever. Dudley liked presents.
They drove back home in silence. On the steering wheel, Mum's fingers had turned white.