Harry wasn't an only child, but had an identical twin, who died at birth. He's been hanging around ever since.
It was a perfectly normal morning. A Tuesday, in fact, which surprised Harry later on when he considered it. Nothing ever happened on Tuesdays. The only day of the week more ignored by the masses was possibly Thursday.
Harry entered the kitchen that morning to find Aunt Petunia stirring something in a large metal tub nestled in the sink, something that was releasing some of the most noxious fumes he had ever been unfortunate enough to smell. His already cautious steps faltered, and he brought his hand up to delicately cover his nose. "Oh, God," he muttered in an aside to James. "Be glad you're no longer among the breathing."
James blinked owlishly. "It can't possibly be that bad..."
His brother ignored him, moving closer to their aunt. "Er, what's this?" he asked carefully. It wouldn't be a good thing if he mentioned the stench and it turned out to be another one of her attempts at a new recipe.
Petunia sniffed at him through her long nose, and he noticed her turn a pale shade of green almost immediately. "Your new school uniform," she replied, lifting one of what he now realized to be some of Dudley's cast-offs from the grayish water.
"Oh." Harry looked again at the near-rags. "I didn't realize they needed to be so... wet." Only the quickest of reflexes kept the word "hideous" from tumbling from his lips instead.
"Don't be stupid. I'm dying some of Dudley's old things gray for you. It'll look just like everyone else's when I'm finished." The clothing landed with a wet plop back in the tub.
James snorted, drifting closer to peer at the clothes over Harry's shoulder. "More like you'll look like an old walrus. Or maybe an elephant."
Feeling a growing sense of dread, Harry couldn't help but agree.
He slipped into his normal seat at the table just as Dudley and Uncle Vernon entered together. They both visibly flinched at the smell still filling the kitchen, but soldiered bravely on, taking their seats as well. Harry was silent as Vernon snapped open his daily newspaper and Dudley banged his Smelting stick, which never left his person, loudly on the table.
Breakfast, which none of them had much of an appetite for with that gawdawful stench thick in their nostrils, was nearly over when they heard the mail slot click and the papery flop of letters hitting the doormat. "Get the mail, Dudley," Uncle Vernon said absently, not looking up from his paper.
"Make Harry get it," his cousin whined, his watery blue eyes sullen.
"Get the mail, Harry."
"Make Dudley get it," Harry said, although without much hope.
And sure enough, Uncle Vernon snorted, still not looking up from the newspaper. "Poke him with your Smelting stick, Dudley," he ordered.
Dudley was all too eager to comply, and Harry had to dodge right quick to avoid a bruising that was really inevitable, given how much his cousin liked to swing that stupid stick around. He managed to escape into the hallway unscathed, and from there a few steps took him to the front door. There were three things waiting for him on the mat: a postcard from Aunt Marge on the Isle of Wight, a tan envelope Harry suspected was a bill, and...
A letter for him.
"James Wilhelm Potter!" he whispered, knowing the ghost could always hear him when he called /that way/.
"What? What is it?" James asked, his voice shrill with anxiety. Harry hadn't Called him since the last time Dudley's gang managed to corner him and leave him black and blue.
"Look." Harry held out the letter, and the spirit's eyes widened as he read the address on the front.
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
"What in the world...?" He couldn't believe it. His brother never got letters. It was as though beyond Mrs. Figg and his teachers at school, no adult outside of the Dursley household even knew Harry existed.
"That was my reaction." Harry peered more closely at the envelope. It was thicker and heavier than the letters he was used to, and after a moment he realized it was made of parchment. There was no stamp, and when he turned it over the flap had been sealed with an actual wax crest, a shield with four animals surrounding the letter /H/. "Who do you think it's from?"
It was a couple of seconds before James answered. "I don't know, but I don't think I like them much." At Harry's surprised glance, he gestured for the boy to turn the envelope back over. "Well, look. They know about the cupboard, but they haven't done anything about it!"
Harry frowned. "Maybe that's what the letter's about?" he ventured in an odd reversal of their normal roles. Usually the green-eyed boy was the more suspicious of the two, while James was the more trusting.
But then, when it came to his brother, James could and would do just about anything, even if it went against his nature.
"Hurry up, boy!" Uncle Vernon called, cutting off the discussion. "What are you doing, checking for letter bombs?" The twins shared a long look as the portly man chortled heartily at his own joke, before turning and heading back to the kitchen.
The bill was greeted by disgust from their uncle, and tossed aside once he'd done a cursory skim-through. The postcard was read much more carefully; Harry was the only member of his family Vernon wasn't utterly devoted to. "Marge's ill," he told his wife with a hint of concern. "Ate a funny whelk..."
"Dad!" Dudley said suddenly, and Harry looked up from the envelope he was opening to find his cousin staring at him. "Dad, Harry's got something!"
The boy cursed silently. Bloody hell, why hadn't he waited until he got to his cupboard to satisfy his blasted curiosity?
The letter was promptly snatched out of his hand. "Hey, that's mine!" Harry protested, grabbing for the stolen envelope held just out of his reach.
Uncle Vernon sneered. "Who'd be writing to /you/?" He finished opening the letter with one hand and glanced at it.
Both Harry and his brother watched with great interest as the man's face went green, then a strange grayish-white. "P-P-Petunia!"
"Give me it!" Dudley made a grab for the letter as his mother rounded the table, but Vernon successfully kept it away from him. Aunt Petunia took it instead, and read through it, turning the same pasty color as her husband. For a moment Harry thought she was going to faint, and indeed she swayed a bit, grasping tightly onto the table, but finally she righted herself with an odd choking sound.
"Vernon! Oh my goodness- Vernon!"
They were silent for a long minute, seemingly having forgotten the two boys were still in the room. Dudley, shocked that for the first time in his life his parents weren't doing as he'd told them, broke the silence by smacking his father upside the head with his Smelting stick. "I want to read that letter!" he demanded.
"I want to read it, as it's /mine/," Harry muttered, feeling more angry than he'd ever been before. It was rare enough that he'd ever had anything of his own, and now his family was taking it from him!
"Get out, both of you," Vernon said quietly, his voice shaking. Harry wanted to argue further, but something in the way his uncle's voice trembled so told him it wouldn't be a good idea. He left quickly, and only a moment later heard Vernon shouting harshly at Dudley to get out.
His cousin had never been as good at judging people as Harry was.
Harry waited in his cupboard, knowing James would listen in on the conversation and tell him later what it had been about.
"First they were acting really paranoid," James said, 'pacing' within the confines of the cupboard. "They were wondering if someone was watching the house, to know where you slept. Then they argued about whether or not they should send a reply."
Harry lay on his cot, his arms behind his head as he stared at the ceiling. "Was there anything else?" he asked, trying to put the few puzzle pieces he had together to form even a semi-coherent picture.
The ghost nodded, dropping to sit cross-legged about an inch off the floor. "And that's the weird part. Uncle said, and I quote, 'I'm not having one in the house, Petunia! Didn't we swear when we took him in we'd stamp out that dangerous nonsense?'"
The dark-haired boy sat up, frowning. "One what? What aren't they telling me? Just what was in that letter that scared them so much?"
James could only shrug. "I don't know, but I have a feeling it's important, whatever it is."
Harry nodded in silent agreement.
It was later that evening, when Uncle Vernon came home from work, that the large man squeezed his mass into Harry's cupboard. "Where's my letter?" Harry instantly demanded, sitting up and nearly passing through James, who had been sitting on the edge of the cot. "Who's writing to me?"
"No one," Vernon answered shortly, his face flushing at the obvious lie. "It was addressed to you by mistake. I have burned it."
"It was not a mistake," Harry corrected logically, his green eyes intent on his uncle. "It had my cupboard on it."
"SILENCE!" Uncle Vernon stopped to catch his breath, visibly calming himself. After a moment he even forced a painful-looking smile. "Er- yes, Harry- about this cupboard. Your aunt and I have been thinking... you're really getting a bit big for it..."
James snorted. "Getting a bit big? You've been too big for this thing since you were six."
Harry sent him an annoyed glance as Vernon continued. "We think it might be nice if you moved into Dudley's second bedroom."
The twins exchanged looks. "Why?" Harry asked suspiciously. The Dursleys never did anything nice for him if they had any other choice.
His uncle puffed himself up self-righteously. "Don't ask questions! Take this stuff upstairs, now!" With those orders given, he backed himself laboriously out of the cramped cupboard.
"I don't believe it..." James stared after their uncle, his jaw slack. "They're actually doing something right by you..."
"Somehow I don't think it's by choice." Harry began to gather his few belongings, mostly old schoolwork and worn bits of clothing.
"Well, look at it this way. At least you're out of the cupboard!" James practically beamed, as though it had been all his doing, and Harry snorted.
"Personally... I'd rather have the letter."