His aunt was back outside the door.
"Are you up yet?" she demanded.
"Nearly," said Harry.
"Well, get a move on, I want you to look after the bacon. And don't you dare
let it burn, I want everything perfect on Duddy's birthday."
"What did you say?" his aunt snapped through the door.
Dudley's birthday — how could he have forgotten? Harry got slowly out of bed
and started looking for socks. He found a pair under his bed and, after pulling
a spider off one of them, put them on. Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard
under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.
When he was dressed he went down the hall into the kitchen. The table was almost
hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had gotten
the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing
bike. Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley
was very fat and hated exercise — unless of course it involved punching somebody.
Dudley's favorite punching bag was Harry, but he couldn't often catch him. Harry
didn't look it, but he was very fast.
Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had
always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than
he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley's, and Dudley
was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black
hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch
tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing
Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was
shaped like a bolt of lightning. He had had it as long as he could remember, and
the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had
"In the car crash when your parents died," she had said. "And don't ask questions."
Don't ask questions — that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.
Uncle Vernon entered the kitchen as Harry was turning over the bacon.
"Comb your hair!" he barked, by way of a morning greeting.
About once a week, Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted
that Harry needed a haircut. Harry must have had more haircuts than the rest of
the boys in his class put
together, but it made no difference, his hair simply grew that way -- all over
Harry was frying eggs by the time Dudley arrived in the kitchen with his mother.
Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. He had a large pink face, not much neck,
small, watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat
head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel — Harry often
said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.
Harry put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there
wasn't much room. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell.
"Thirty-six," he said, looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less
than last year."
"Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, it's here under this
big one from Mommy and Daddy."
"All right, thirty-seven then," said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who
could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast
as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.
Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger, too, because she said quickly, "And we'll
buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that, popkin? Two more
presents. Is that all right''
Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally he said slowly,
"So I'll have thirty... thirty..."
"Thirty-nine, sweetums," said Aunt Petunia.
"Oh." Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. "All right then."
Uncle Vernon chuckled. "Little tyke wants his money's worth, just like his father.
'Atta boy, Dudley!" He ruffled Dudley's hair.
At that moment the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it while Harry
and Uncle Vernon watched Dudley unwrap the racing bike, a video camera, a remote
control airplane, sixteen new computer games, and a VCR. He was ripping the paper
off a gold wristwatch when Aunt Petunia came back from the telephone looking both
angry and worried.
"Bad news, Vernon," she said. "Mrs. Figg's broken her leg. She can't take him."
She jerked her head in Harry's direction.
Dudley's mouth fell open in horror, but Harry's heart gave a leap. Every year
on Dudley's birthday, his parents took him and a friend out for the day, to adventure
parks, hamburger restaurants, or the movies. Every year, Harry was left behind with
Mrs. Figg, a mad old lady who lived two streets away. Harry hated it there. The
whole house smelled of cabbage and Mrs. Figg made him look at photographs of all
the cats she'd ever owned.
"Now what?" said Aunt Petunia, looking furiously at Harry as though he'd planned
this. Harry knew he ought to feel sorry that Mrs. Figg had broken her leg, but it
wasn't easy when he reminded himself it would be a whole year before he had to look
at Tibbles, Snowy, Mr. Paws, and Tufty again.
"We could phone Marge," Uncle Vernon suggested.
"Don't be silly, Vernon, she hates the boy."
The Dursleys often spoke about Harry like this, as though he wasn't there — or
rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn't understand them, like
"What about what's-her-name, your friend — Yvonne?"
"On vacation in Majorca," snapped Aunt Petunia.
"You could just leave me here," Harry put in hopefully (he'd be able to watch
what he wanted on television for a change and maybe even have a go on Dudley's computer).
Aunt Petunia looked as though she'd just swallowed a lemon.
"And come back and find the house in ruins?" she snarled.
"I won't blow up the house," said Harry, but they weren't listening.
"I suppose we could take him to the zoo," said Aunt Petunia slowly, "... and
leave him in the car...."
"That car's new, he's not sitting in it alone...."
Dudley began to cry loudly. In fact, he wasn't really crying — it had been years
since he'd really cried — but he knew that if he screwed up his face and wailed,
his mother would give him anything he wanted.
"Dinky Duddydnms, don't cry, Mummy won't let him spoil your special day!" she
cried, flinging her arms around him.
"I... don't... want... him... t-t-to come!" Dudley yelled between huge, pretend
sobs. "He always sp-spoils everything!" He shot Harry a nasty grin through the gap
in his mother's arms.
Just then, the doorbell rang — "Oh, good Lord, they're here!" said Aunt Petunia
frantically — and a moment later, Dudley's best friend, Piers Polkiss, walked in
with his mother. Piers was a scrawny boy with a face like a rat. He was usually
the one who held people's arms behind their backs while Dudley hit them. Dudley
stopped pretending to cry at once.
Half an hour later, Harry, who couldn't believe his luck, was sitting in the
back of the Dursleys' car with Piers and Dudley, on the way to the zoo for the first
time in his life. His aunt and uncle hadn't been able to think of anything else
to do with him, but before they'd left, Uncle Vernon had taken Harry aside.
"I'm warning you," he had said, putting his large purple face right up close
to Harry's, "I'm warning you now, boy — any funny business, anything at all — and
you'll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas."
"I'm not going to do anything," said Harry, "honestly..
But Uncle Vernon didn't believe him. No one ever did.
The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no
good telling the Dursleys he didn't make them happen.
Once, Aunt Petunia, tired of Harry coming back from the barbers looking as though
he hadn't been at all, had taken a pair of kitchen scissors and cut his hair so
short he was almost bald except for his bangs, which she left "to hide that horrible
scar." Dudley had laughed himself silly at Harry, who spent a sleepless night imagining
school the next day, where he was already laughed at for his baggy clothes and taped
glasses. Next morning, however, he had gotten up to find his hair exactly as it
had been before Aunt Petunia had sheared it off He had been given a week in his
cupboard for this, even though he had tried to explain that he couldn't explain
how it had grown back so quickly.
Another time, Aunt Petunia had been trying to force him into a revolting old
sweater of Dudley's (brown with orange puff balls) — The harder she tried to pull
it over his head, the smaller it seemed to become, until finally it might have fitted
a hand puppet, but certainly wouldn't fit Harry. Aunt Petunia had decided it must
have shrunk in the wash and, to his great relief, Harry wasn't punished.
On the other hand, he'd gotten into terrible trouble for being found on the roof
of the school kitchens. Dudley's gang had been chasing him as usual when, as much
to Harry's surprise as anyone else's, there he was sitting on the chimney. The Dursleys
had received a very angry letter from Harry's headmistress telling them Harry had
been climbing school buildings. But all he'd tried to do (as he shouted at Uncle
Vernon through the locked door of his cupboard) was jump behind the big trash cans
outside the kitchen doors. Harry supposed that the wind must have caught him in
But today, nothing was going to go wrong. It was even worth being with Dudley
and Piers to be spending the day somewhere that wasn't school, his cupboard, or
Mrs. Figg's cabbage-smelling living room.
While he drove, Uncle Vernon complained to Aunt Petunia. He liked to complain
about things: people at work, Harry, the council, Harry, the bank, and Harry were
just a few of his favorite subjects. This morning, it was motorcycles.
"... roaring along like maniacs, the young hoodlums," he said, as a motorcycle
I had a dream about a motorcycle," said Harry, remembering suddenly. "It was
Uncle Vernon nearly crashed into the car in front. He turned right around in
his seat and yelled at Harry, his face like a gigantic beet with a mustache: "MOTORCYCLES
Dudley and Piers sniggered.
I know they don't," said Harry. "It was only a dream."
But he wished he hadn't said anything. If there was one thing the Dursleys hated
even more than his asking questions, it was his talking about anything acting in
a way it shouldn't, no matter if it was in a dream or even a cartoon — they seemed
to think he might get dangerous ideas.
It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. The Dursleys
bought Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice creams at the entrance and then, because
the smiling lady in the van had asked Harry what he wanted before they could hurry
him away, they bought him a cheap lemon ice pop. It wasn't bad, either, Harry thought,
licking it as they watched a gorilla scratching its head who looked remarkably like
Dudley, except that it wasn't blond.
Harry had the best morning he'd had in a long time. He was careful to walk a
little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to
get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn't fall back on their favorite hobby
of hitting him. They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Dudley had a tantrum because
his knickerbocker glory didn't have enough ice cream on top, Uncle Vernon bought
him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first.
Harry felt, afterward, that he should have known it was all too good to last.
After lunch they went to the reptile house. It was cool and dark in there, with
lit windows all along the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes
were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Dudley and Piers wanted
to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons. Dudley quickly found
the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Uncle
Vernon's car and crushed it into a trash can — but at the moment it didn't look
in the mood. In fact, it was fast asleep.
Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening
"Make it move," he whined at his father. Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass, but
the snake didn't budge.
"Do it again," Dudley ordered. Uncle Vernon rapped the glass smartly with his
knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on.
"This is boring," Dudley moaned. He shuffled away.
Harry moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. He wouldn't
have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself — no company except stupid
people drumming their fingers on the glass trying to disturb it all day long. It
was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom, where the only visitor was Aunt Petunia
hammering on the door to wake you up; at least he got to visit the rest of the house.
The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its
head until its eyes were on a level with Harry's.
Harry stared. Then he looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They
weren't. He looked back at the snake and winked, too.
The snake jerked its head toward Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes
to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly:
"I get that all the time.
"I know," Harry murmured through the glass, though he wasn't sure the snake could
hear him. "It must be really annoying."