Chapter 2 – Whispers of Worthlessness
Even Harry had to admit that if he saw himself, he probably wouldn't want to be friends with himself either. I mean, who would? He was bone-thin, scruffy, unkempt, and he didn't have a mom and dad and in their well-to-do neighborhood, such a thing may as well be against the law. Uncle Vernon always told him he looked like a walking welfare case, and Uncle Vernon hated the welfare benefit system.
"Lazy bums, the lot of them! They can't be bothered to get up and get a job. No sir, instead they want to take money from hardworking folk like me!"
Uncle Vernon liked to complain about his hair, too.
"Comb your hair!" was Uncle Vernon's usual morning greeting, and it wasn't long before he stopped telling him he'd already combed it twice.
His hair was among his most noticeable features. It didn't matter how many times he combed his hair in the morning, or how much shampoo and conditioner he used. His hair would always look like a wild, untamable mess. Its just how it grew, but nobody believed him. He must have had more haircuts from Aunt Petunia than all of his classmates put together.
His aunt would chastise him in public for not combing his hair.
"You did not, young man. Don't lie to me. Does this look brushed, to you? No, because you rushed because you wanted to beat Dudley and be first getting ready to go."
That wasn't true, he wasn't competitive with his cousin much less in being first to get in the car, but nobody listened to him. She used the same excuse when he didn't get at least a B on his tests at school.
He was the only kid in his class that didn't have a mom and dad, and everyone knew about it because Petunia was friends with Dudley's friends' moms and everyone talked.
He remembered Dudley pulling his Aunt over to meet Malcolm and his mom for Muffins with Mom day at school and beg to be allowed to go to his birthday party one year. "Come on, mum! Hurry or they'll leave!"
"I'm coming, popkin! Slow down!" his Aunt exclaimed, but let herself be dragged across the cafeteria to sit with Dudley's new friend.
"Mum, this is Malcolm!" Dudley said, plopping himself down next to his new friend. "And this is his mum!"
Aunt Petunia smiled politely. "Hello, I'm Petunia Dursley, it's a pleasure to meet you."
He dug into his muffin and didn't bother speaking up. His Aunt preferred he didn't talk, anyways. Less opportunities for him to mess up her story. He was only here because it meant she got to give him a free breakfast.
"This is my nephew, Harry Potter. His parents died driving drunk with him in a car crash on Halloween when he was a baby, and it addled his brain. I'm sorry if he's a bit rude, he's deeply disturbed. He just gets upset so easily and doesn't know what to do with himself."
His Aunt always overshared, and everyone always pitied her for putting up with him. People saw what they wanted to see, and it was easier to see the disturbed, aggressive, easily upset little boy that his Aunt and Uncle spoke of to everyone who asked about him.
Lots of people commented to his Aunt and Uncle about how skinny he was but they always had an answer for that too.
"Well, he always was a naturally underweight little tyke. He's got issues, you know? Certain foods, certain textures, it bothers him too much. He'll just spit it out and refuse to eat. He won't eat but a few different meals ever. What he does eat, he eats slowly because he watches the telly, too. Boys and their television programs!"
He wore glasses that were bent oddly and taped together at the nose from all the times Dudley had punched him in the face. Perhaps people thought he was violent and aggressive? That's certainly what his aunt and uncle told everyone.
"Oh, that's my nephew. He's deeply disturbed. He gets upset easily, and it makes him violent, so we keep him inside."
He only ever wore Dudley's old hand-me-down clothes, even his school uniforms, and he wore them until they didn't fit anymore. Often, that meant he wore the same hand-me-down school uniform for several years in a row before his aunt finally replaced it with one three sizes too big.
"Hush up, and don't be ungrateful." His aunt would chide him if he dared complain that he couldn't keep the ankles of his trousers rolled up at school because they were too long and the material wouldn't roll and stay rolled.
"You know, some children don't even get nice clothes. Did you know that? I bet you have classmates that would love to get yours to wear, instead of having to wear clothes that are too small because their parents can't buy new ones. I make sure you get Dudley's old clothes, and he has perfectly nice clothes. He's a growing boy with a healthy appetite."
Whether she meant to or not, his Aunt Petunia always knew just what to say to make him feel as small as possible. He just wanted to wear clothes that fit and looked new, like all the other kids, so they wouldn't make fun of him for it.
Everyone knew he didn't have a mum and dad, and everyone talked about it, even the teachers when they were supposed to be watching the kids at recess.
"That Potter boy's in the trees again."
"Dudley's cousin? I heard his parents died driving drunk in an accident. They killed three other people!"
"Oh that's awful! So irresponsible."
It was bad enough most kids couldn't comprehend him not having a mum and dad.
"Why don't you have a lunchbox? Didn't your mum give you a lunchbox?"
"I heard that you don't have a mum and dad. Why? Are they mad at you?"
"My mummy said I'm not allowed to play with you because your mum and dad were bad people."
Even with the few children who might otherwise have played with him, despite Dudley's gang, their parents warned them away.
Its no wonder, really, that not even his aunt and uncle had wanted him. Nobody wanted him. Nobody needed him. It was more than just being picked last in gym class or having nobody to play with at recess. No one's face lit up when he walked in from playing. Nobody asked how his day was at school. No one wanted to play with him or tell him stories. Nobody ever told him I love you and he didn't have anyone to say it to, either.
Life was lonely, growing up with the Dursley family. He could handle being hungry and he could handle sleeping in a dark, spider-infested cupboard on a lumpy, pokey mattress as old as his cousin with thin blankets that didn't keep out the winter cold. It was really hard having just the spiders to talk to, even if he deserved it. He couldn't do anything right and everybody in the world saw him for just what he was – worthless.
Well that took a dark turn. This chapter began as me working through how in the world Harry was so friendless and how nobody saw what was going on. I tried to keep everything as in character as possible. This chapter is purely Harry. Not sure how that last paragraph or two ended up working its way into the chapter, it just came out and felt right. I figure if I grew up that way, I'd feel pretty lonely. So, at least in this random, flasback-esque chapter, he's feeling pretty downtrodden.
This chapter was heavily inspired by the Dursley's many excuses and by Harry in Book 2. Its in one of the early chapters after he's rescued from his room, talking about how the most unusual thing about staying at the burrow with the Weasley family was that everybody there seemed to like him.