Harry wasn't an only child, but had an identical twin, who died at birth. He's been hanging around ever since.
It had been worth it.
That was the only conclusion he could reach, later on that night. Even if he hadn't a clue on how it had happened, even though he'd been locked in his cupboard for the rest of the day with no meals. The look on Dudley's face was just... beautiful. Simply beautiful.
Not to mention that having a snake talk to you was just plain /wicked/.
James had told him once they were home that all he'd heard in the snake house was Harry pretending to be a broken tea kettle, even though Harry swore up and down that he'd been speaking the Queen's English all the while. His brother hadn't heard anything coming from the snake, either, but even Harry wasn't sure he hadn't just imagined that part.
"Are they asleep yet?" he whispered to the darkness.
James stuck his head through the wall, the slight glow he always gave off illuminating the inside of the small cupboard. "Not yet," he answered. "Uncle Vernon and the porker are, but Aunt Petunia's sitting in the living room with the last of Uncle's brandy."
Harry was astonished. "She's /drinking/?!" Their aunt accepted it when her husband drank, dismissing it as his right as the man of the house, but she believed with her entire being that anyone else caught with alcohol was destined for fire and brimstone.
James nodded. "Yeah. And..." He chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. "She looks worried."
The ten-year-old frowned. "Why would she be worried? I mean, Dudley's fine. The snake didn't do anything but scare him."
"Pity, that," his brother commented, pouting. "Why didn't you ask it to bite him?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "I kind of had other things on my mind at the time," he said dryly. He sighed as his stomach growled loudly in the confined space. "Tell me when she goes to bed?" he pleaded wearily.
James stared at him with an oddly frustrated look, one Harry was all too familiar with after ten years of being its cause. The ghost was fiercely protective of him, claiming that as the older sibling he needed to look out for his baby twin brother, but there was rarely anything he could actually do.
Except make sure that Harry could do what he needed to do to survive, without being caught at it. He nodded silently, and withdrew back out into the hallway to keep watch.
It seemed like forever before Harry was again let out of the cupboard; certainly, it was the longest punishment he'd ever endured, though he still wasn't sure why he was being punished. It wasn't as though he had any clue how the zoo fiasco had happened.
By then the summer holidays were well underway. Dudley had already broken his brand-new video camera, crashed his remote control airplane and, on his first ride on his racing bike, knocked down poor Mrs. Figg as she crossed Privet Drive on her crutches. Personally, Harry was surprised, though not at the news his cousin was breaking his new toys.
Didn't Dudley realize riding a bicycle was generally considered /exercise/?
One day in July, while Uncle Vernon was at work, Aunt Petunia took Dudley to London to buy his Smeltings uniform. Harry stayed with Mrs. Figg for the duration, and found it wasn't nearly as unpleasant as usual. Apparently her broken leg had been caused by a nasty stumble over one of her multitude of cats. Understandably, she didn't seem as fond of her cats as she had been, and didn't force Harry to go through the usual ritual of paging through the photo albums she kept about her pets. In fact, she let him watch her old black and white telly, and even gave him a bit of stale chocolate cake to snack on.
James had his usual wonderful time. He claimed Mrs. Figg's cats could see him, though Harry had never seen proof they were staring at anything more than the wall.
That evening, Dudley paraded around the living room for the family in his brand-new uniform. Smeltings' boys wore maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat straw hats called boaters. They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting each other while the teachers weren't looking. This was supposed to be good training for later life, and Harry had a sneaking suspicion that by the time Dudley actually went to school, he'd already be very well trained. After all, he would have had plenty of practice hitting Harry.
As he looked at Dudley in his new knickerbockers, Uncle Vernon said gruffly that it was the proudest moment of his life. Aunt Petunia burst into noisy tears and said she couldn't believe it was her Ickle Dudleykins, he looked so handsome and grown-up.
Harry didn't trust himself to speak. He thought two of his ribs might already have cracked from the effort of trying not to laugh.
James, of course, was under no such constraints, leading Harry to form the opinion that his brother was related to a hyena, not to him.
All in all, Harry's days that summer were mostly occupied by avoiding Dudley and his gang, who could almost constantly be found at 4 Privet Drive. He wasn't always successful, and all too often came home with nasty bruises that James fumed impotently over. James spent that summer coming up with ever more implausible escape plans that somehow always ended up with being adopted by the royal family and running around Windsor Palace. Harry would lay back in his cupboard and shoot holes in each plan with a kind of masochistic pleasure. Admittedly, a couple of them had merit, but even so the more logical of the twins couldn't see a way to get around the flaws even in those few.
Eventually, Harry learned that spending a great deal of time outside kept him mostly away from Dudley and Co., which resulted in quite possibly the most enjoyable summer of his recollection.
That was, of course, until the letter came.