Warning – contains child neglect and a parental figure insulting/demeaning a child. If you find such content triggering, please either click back or read cautiously, mindfully.


The Shoebox

It was five-year-old Harry Potter's first day of year one at St. Gregory's Primary School in Little Whinging, and he was nervous. Not because of any normal reasons, though. He knew nobody would like him and he knew as soon as they broke for recess he would be running for his life from Dudley and Piers. The teacher had already had to separate Dudley from him and put him on the other side of the classroom so he would stop throwing spitballs at his head.

No, Harry was nervous because his teacher was doing an icebreaker activity and he didn't know what to say.

Alright, class! We're going to go around the room and I want you to tell everyone your name, one thing you like, and one thing you don't like.

Harry twirled his pencil around in his fingers as he thought, just for something to do with all the nervous tension in his body. Most kids had easy, normal, emotional responses. One kid exclaimed loudly that he liked pizza. Another kid said he liked comic books. There was a kid who was afraid of heights and another who was afraid of spiders and a third who was afraid of the dark.

Harry liked mars bars and he liked treacle tart and he liked reading. That was easy enough. But even at five, he knew he wasn't allowed to say that he didn't like being left alone in his cupboard for days on end or say to say that he didn't like being sent to his cupboard without dinner either. His entire life was one thing he didn't like after another. Being sent away from the table because Dudley got mad at him for trying to get second helpings. Being told to go to his cupboard because Dudley wouldn't let him sit down on the couch and watch the telly with them and started yelling.

What was he supposed to say? What could he say that wouldn't get him in trouble? Everything he did was always the wrong answer.

There were only five more people until it was his turn. He wasn't afraid of the dark or of spiders because his cupboard was dark and full of spiders. He'd never been up high, but he wasn't afraid of being near the stairs, so he was sure he wasn't afraid of heights either. Uncle Vernon didn't like it when he wasted electricity, especially when he was grounded to his cupboard. The spiders were his friends and in the long hours alone in the dark he liked to pretend they were his friends, and they would go on adventures together.

Most kids were listing foods they didn't like or things they were afraid of. He didn't understand how his classmates could be so picky. Harry rarely got to eat his fill, and sometimes all he got was cold soup still in the can or a cold cheese toasty that wasn't actually cooked, so he ate anything and everything he was given.

The one thing Harry was truly afraid of was going hungry locked in his cupboard. But he couldn't say that, and his heart was pounding in his throat and suddenly it was hard to breathe because now it was his turn and he didn't know what to say that wouldn't get him in trouble.

Uncle Vernon's going to be so mad. He's gonna lock me in for a week for this!

He stood up from his seat to address the class.

"Hu-Hullo. M-My name's H-Harry, Harry Potter. I like mars bars and I like treacle tart and I like reading stories! I-I don't like…I don't like…" he faltered, letting his sentence fall, unsure how to finish it. "I don't like..."

Everyone was staring at him, waiting for him to say something. Dudley was taunting him from his seat across the room, tearing apart his mechanical pencil so he could try to make a staple gun out of it.

"I don't like Dudley!" he said, with as much feeling as he could muster. He really, really didn't like Dudley. His cousin was such a bully.

"I'm telling mum and dad!" Dudley bellowed, slamming his mini stapler on his desk and attracting the teacher's attention.

"Raise your hand, Dudley!" She would no doubt learn Dudley's name first. Dudley never raised his hand. "Harry, that wasn't a very nice thing to say. Apologize to Dudley."

"Okay. I'm sorry Dudley." Harry replied, sinking back down in his chair, feeling dejected.

I'm gonna be in so much trouble. I should have just made something up. How long will Uncle Vernon ground me for this time?

Naturally, it was the first thing Dudley told Aunt Petunia when she came to pick them up after school.

"Duddykens, how was your first day, dear?" his Aunt beamed, watching her baby angel boy climb in the car.

"Mum, Harry told everyone that he hates me!" Dudley exclaimed, fake crocodile tears welling up in his eyes. "He said next time we go to the mall to get dad trousers, the crocodile's gonna eat me!"

His aunt nearly wrecked the car she was so disturbed by Dudley's words. "Harry James Potter! How dare you threaten him like that!"

"I ought to stop this car right here and let you walk home! How would you like that, boy?"

She was glaring at him through the rearview mirror, her blue eyes filled with such awful, pure hatred aimed directly at him. It was stifling and it made his chest clench and his shoulders tense up in fear.

"Well?! Answer me!" She was driving the car noticeably faster now, much faster.

He was too scared to reply, but a bad driver saved him from being even more trouble for his cowardice. Someone cut in front of her.

"Hooligans! Cutting in front of me, I'll show you."

Aunt Petunia was as bad as her word and began tailgaiting them until Harry swore she was about to hit them when suddenly they changed lanes, hurriedly, to get away, flipping his aunt off as they did so.

He hoped she'd forgotten about him, but he wasn't that lucky.

"When we get home you are going straight to your cupboard, boy! Do you hear me? No dinner tonight! You'll be lucky if I let you have breakfast tomorrow. You're such an ungrateful brat. After everything your uncle and I have done for you, and this is how you repay us?" His Aunt shrieked.

He started crying instantly. "But I didn't say it, Aunt Petunia! I promise, I didn't! I really didn't say it!"

He'd only just been ungrounded for distracting Dudley while he was driving the remote-control tank he got for his birthday and making him hit the neighbor's dog with it.

"Don't lie to me, boy." His Aunt replied. "Your nothing but a liar. You're just as worthless as your father was. Apologize to me and your cousin right this instant!"

"Y-y-Yes Aunt Petunia. I'm so-sorry Aunt P-Petunia, I'm sorry D-Dudley." He was crying and sniffling and hiccupping now, dreading another week in the cupboard and being fed small meals on a small plate through a cat-flap they'd installed on the cupboard door so long ago he couldn't remember not having it.

"Stop crying! There's nothing to be crying about. You're pathetic."

He sniffled and wiped his nose and face with his uniform sleeve. "Ye-Yes, Aunt Pet-Petunia."

If anyone asked, it was for the skittish, fearful cat they didn't really own. That's where they said her food and water and litterbox and bed were, so she could run and hide there when people knocked on the door to come and visit.

When they got home, he'd barely had time to take off his shoes and go to the bathroom when his Aunt pulled him roughly by the arm and shoved him bodily into his cupboard, locking the door behind him. The only reason he'd been lucky enough to get to go to the bathroom first was because his aunt had to go, too, after being stuck in the car line reading for so long.

He was still sniffling and shaking, tears falling silently down his cheeks, when his uncle came home a few hours later. He wouldn't be helping set the table tonight, instead he would be subjected to waiting, smelling the delicious food his aunt was cooking and knowing he wouldn't be getting any of it. He tried to distract himself by listening to the television program his cousin was watching in the sitting room.

Hunger gnawed at his stomach, painfully, and he was ravenous by the time his Aunt Petunia had finished with the dishes and walked right past his cupboard. He wouldn't be getting anything to eat tonight, and he couldn't risk sneaking anything to eat or drink from his stash. He would have to wait until after Dudley went to bed and then wait even longer until after his Aunt and Uncle finished talking and watching late night television programs.

"I told you, we're better off without riffraff like that lot. Just call Child Services and tell them you want to give him up and be done with it." Uncle Vernon suggested, and not for the first time, after Aunt Petunia finished telling him all about Dudley's wildly exaggerated accusations.

"We can't, then the neighbors would talk." Aunt Petunia was always quick to shoot the idea down but not out of any concern for him or his welfare. Nobody liked him. He always hoped that one day she would come to a sudden, out-of-character, heart-stopping realization and say she didn't want him to get hurt in care. Uncle Vernon liked to taunt him about that, too.

He didn't know how long it was before his aunt and uncle stopped talking and finally turned the telly off and went to bed. This was the longest part of being grounded to his cupboard, he thought. At least when everyone was awake, he could distract himself from his growling tummy by listening to what his relatives were doing or listening to the telly without risking turning the light on. But now that he could safely turn the light on, he couldn't concentrate on reading a book or telling himself a story because he was so ravenously hungry.

Come on, you worthless brat, just wait a bit! If they hear plastic crackling they'll just ground you even longer!

He wasn't allowed to steal. The only reason he got away with having food and water stored in here to begin with was because he pilfered empty water bottles from the trash bin, filled them up in the bathroom when nobody was looking, and asked for snacks he wasn't really hungry for so he could hide them away.

He waited until he heard his uncle's snoring before he hurried and darted up from his mattress, tore the dirty laundry he purposely kept covering his shoebox, pulled the lid off and tossed it aside, and grabbed the first thing he saw – a granola bar.

He stuffed it in his mouth and ate as quickly as he could possibly chew and swallow. He would've eaten the entire contents of the shoebox, but he had to make it last. He could only steal and store away so many snacks in a day – granola bars, fruit snacks, and apples. He'd learned the hard way not to steal fresh-baked cookies or other things not in a package, because then the ants would get to it before he did.

He opened his water, winced and froze, waiting, when it crackled loudly. Did anyone hear that?

When no one came barreling down the steps to yell at him, he relaxed and gulped down the entire water bottle. Water helped fill him up, and he was thirsty anyways. It was worth having to go pee in the bucket in the corner of his cupboard later in the night.

He curled up on his mattress, wrapping Dudley's old toddler bed bedding around him snuggling into it, warm, and wondering if maybe this was what a hug felt like. He dozed off watching the spiders knit a web in one of the high corners of his cupboard.

"That's a beautiful web you're knitting, Alastair."He said. He didn't really know which spider it was, he just pretended he did. He had names for a whole family of spiders and their friends and their families.

"Is your family moving into that web, now?" he asked. "Sorry you lost your old one. Do you like your new corner?"

He fell asleep talking to the spiders and fantasizing that maybe he was a spider, too, and he'd just moved into the cupboard and could they be friends?


Author's Note:

This is just a series of oneshots. No real plot line, just one-shots of potential backstory for Harry as I think of them. This is also, partly, I admit, to address my own childhood. I mean I wasn't starved or made to sleep in a cupboard or any of that, but I will admit that anything and everything out of character or not canon about Aunt Petunia is based strongly off of how my mom treated me growing up.