Life has changed too much since Harry had left, April thought bitterly as she laid on her bed, staring at the underside of the stairs. Admittedly, Vernon and Petunia seemed far more comfortable when he wasn't around, but all things considered that was little consolation.
The best thing that had happened since all those letters came two summers ago was that she had received an upgrade and had moved from the garden shed to Harry's old room. The cupboard under the stairs, although smaller, had the benefit of a lack of ferocious hedge-shears and of being considerably warmer than her old bedroom.
The second best thing was that the strange quill that constantly followed Harry around had gone, and they no longer had visited from that blond journalist who seemed to infuriate her parents so much.
However, with Harry out of the way, April had become Dudley's new punch bag. He delighted in chasing her around with the large stick that was part of his school (Smeltings) uniform. She had also lost the only friend that she had at No. Four Privet Drive, and was reduced to reading books in her cupboard for hours on end, wondering why the book character's lives were so mundane compared to her own.
As the daughter of Vernon and Petunia Dursley, she spent her life in the shadows (quite literally) of her enormous older brother whom they seemed to prefer. Her parents treated her as an inconvenience and reserved for her the same hostility which they delivered to her cousin. She supposed that they must have liked her once because it was not until she was six-after she had somehow managed to move Dudley from the ground to a tree in two seconds-that she was made to live in the shed.
All in all, her cousin Harry seemed far more similar to her than her brother and seemed to understand that it was not her fault that the garden shears had shredded Dudley’s hand-me-down jeans of their own accord when Petunia attempted to force them upon her. He assured her that similar, inexplicable events had happened to him, although she could hardly see that this was a good thing due to the way that such events agitated Petunia so much.
Harry was unusual in many ways, quite apart from the scar on his forehead and the way that his hair did not hold much in store for the laws of gravity. For as long as April could remember he had been followed about the house by a voluminous pink quill which scribbled incessantly on a seemingly never-ending note pad. Apparently both items also had a certain sense of disregard for gravity as they operated without any support or control. Whenever Harry left the house Petunia would follow him, trying to hold on to them to make it appear as though she was writing down her own observations of Harry. Vernon also, seemed highly annoyed by them and became increasingly angry with each flick of the quill as though it was all horrifyingly insulting.
The most bizarre thing of all was what had happened two years ago: odd letters addressed to Harry Potter began to arrive, despite Vernon's ceaseless attempts to prevent them from entering the house. On a Sunday morning, after a flood of parchment had arrived down the chimney, Vernon announced in a torrent of rage that they were leaving. April had presumed that-naturally-she would go with them to wherever they were planning to head, but after a hushed conversation between her parents, of which she could not make head nor tail, she was dropped at Mrs. Figg's house.
Petunia shoved her through the door as soon as Mrs. Figg opened it without much explanation other than a hasty "Terribly sorry, our poor little Dudders has caught a cold, we don't want her to catch anything nasty as well" which she shouted through the letterbox. To April this was a blatant lie as nothing would have pleased her parents more that for her to have caught "something nasty" and to be bed-ridden for several days. Neither had Dudley shown any signs of unhealthiness other than his enormous size which was, after all, nothing new. Mrs. Figg. however, accepted this without question and promptly unveiled a spare bed so dusty that April doubted anyone had slept in it for a century.
After two days of looking at pictures of every single cat Arabella Figg, had ever owned, the rest of April's family had returned with a pig's tail protruding from Dudley's gargantuan backside. Her father, mother and brother now seemed so afraid of Harry that they would barely spend two minutes in the same room as him at any one time.
Harry was almost as bemused as she was, but whenever she questioned him about it his eyes would glaze over and he would state blandly the same story that Petunia had given her in a voice that suggested that he had learned it by heart. Apparently he had been so annoyed with Dudley that he had set a pig on him. April felt that this story had several gaping holes, one because it must have been a very unusual pig if it had managed to attach its tail to Dudley. Whenever she voiced this opinion Harry would shrug and look away and Petunia would start a very loud conversation with Vernon about next doors' gossip and deals on drills.
Hearing Vernon's footsteps approaching April grabbed her book and opened it randomly in the hope that reading appeared to her parents as a perfectly innocent and normal thing to do:
So please oh please,
We beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install,
A lovely bookshelf on the wall...
She wondered if Dudley had ever read this book and decided not as it would most likely have found its way rapidly to the bin. The idea of living without a TV was close to blasphemy in his eyes, in fact, probably worse.
"April" Vernon said wrapping smartly on the door.
"Come in" she muttered, knowing that whatever he had to say was unlikely to be complementary. She heard him slide back the bolt and the door swung open.
"Reading again are you?" He asked in an accusing tone "Most children don't read as much as you; you're up to something."
Clearly reading was another activity that her parents found offensive perhaps, she speculated, since it shows how lacking in intelligence their son is.
"Well if I was allowed out of my cupboard, then maybe I could pursue a less suspicious pastime" April said coolly, enjoying the effect that this had on her father who looked as though his face might explode, but was unable to argue. It was not really as if she was permanently forced to live under the stairs, but she was, at that point, being punished for a peculiar incident at school the week previously and so she was restricted to her meager bedroom, even at mealtimes.
The silence was broken by Petunia bustling into the hall and calling for her son: “Dudders, get your coat, we're leaving.”
“Where exactly are you going to?” April asked Vernon, wondering whether they'd all return with the same anatomy that they departed with this time.
“We're going to collect Harry” he said, with his moustache quivering, as though even the thought of it annoyed him. “You will stay in your room until-”
“Call it a room do you?” April said in the same cool tone which seemed to set his teeth on edge.
“You will stay in this room” he continued in a louder voice “and you won't touch the TV or Dudley's new TV…”
“And how exactly would using the TV be possible from inside my room?”
“You ungrateful little… damn good of us to…”
“Damn good of you to what? Force me to live in a cupboard?” she enquired sweetly “Of yes, very good of you.”
Vernon looked as though he might smash something and a look of deep loathing was clear on his purple face.
"Vernon?" Petunia calls from the door "Vernon, are you coming?"
April's father slammed the cupboard door in her face as loudly as possible and she heard the bolt being drawn across.
"I'm warning you, anything funny and I'll make sure..." he muttered through the wood.
"Vernon, it's twenty to seven."
She listened to them leaving and starting up the car and then laid down on her bed again, thinking of the long hour of boredom ahead and wondering whether she would actually see Harry this summer.
Last summer, having not seen Harry since he left for his school St Brutus' (An institution for incurable criminals, so Vernon said) she had been looking forward to talking to him again. However, she had seen very little of him over the holiday, partially due to the excessive amount of housework Petunia had given him (incidentally when April had offered to help Harry had seemed almost jealous of the unnatural abilities of the hoover and Vernon had shut her in the cupboard). The main reason for their determined separation, however, was that after the day which had the potential to be 'the biggest day' in Vernon's career, Harry had been locked in his room. April's parents had also paid a very confused looking man to put bars on his windows, all because of an unfortunate event with a cream pudding.
Shortly after this event, she woke up at one in the morning to hear Vernon yelling that Harry had somehow got away with his filthy little friends. True enough, his odd trunk with which she had to share her cupboard had gone as had the bars on his window leaving her to wonder just how “incurably criminal” his friends were.
Violent, escape artists maybe, she had thought to herself at the time, at least he had friends. She had taken Harry's place as the suspicious school freak, and although she was far from stupid, the teachers made it plain that they did not appreciate her very much. In fact, ever since that time when her lunch box had attempted to eat one girl's hand, they had regarded her with similar dislike to that of her parents and she sometimes heard them muttering among themselves that she was just like “that Potter boy”.
She couldn't help feeling glad that she would be finished with primary school after the next week. It felt a little unfair that Dudley's, and now Harry's, holidays had already begun, but this was a fairly small injustice compared with some of the other comparisons between her and my brother. Maybe it's because they both went to a boarding school, she thought, discarding her book having read the same line four times over.
If she could only escape from the cupboard she could do anything she wanted for an hour or so. Although her life had never been as exciting or fun-filled as the lives of her peers, at that particular moment her position in the world felt abysmally unfair. It had never been clear why her parents were so desperately biased towards her brother and why he got everything and anything he could possibly want. The most she ever got from them was a fifty pence piece every birthday and Christmas. She kicked the door in frustration and, to her great surprise, it swung open.
She paused in confusion before going through it – she had indisputably heard Vernon pull the bolt across so how could it have opened?
She walked through to the lounge and reclined across the sofa that was normally inhabited by Dudley, feeling the incredible sensation of freedom. For the first time in her life she was free to watch what she wanted to watch on the television. She was free to sit there, on the sofa, instead of perching on an armrest. she could walk around without Vernon breathing obscenities at her under his breath. She was free to roam the house at her leisure, entitled to things that Dudley had been entitled to since birth. The house seemed somehow unfriendly in its unnatural cleanliness and she hopped about on tiptoes as though the picture frames would glare down on her in disapproval if she made too much noise.
She padded over to the television and felt a strange glow of excitement as she caressed the button on the top; one touch was all it would take to bring the grey box to life, one touch. One touch was all it took to break all the rules that her parents had ever bestowed upon her. One touch was all it took to fill up the emptiness of the lounge with two-dimensional stories, lives and people.
She pressed down and the TV jumped with a buzz. There was a group of American, glossy-hair, sparkly-smiles, teenage girls who were shopping their way down the framed, high street. They were wearing sunglasses so you can't see if their plastic smiles reached their eyes, but they posed in shop changing rooms and pouted at their reflections in the shop windows as though they were simply Barbie dolls. April felt strangely sickened and as they turn a corner and parade into the next store she found herself wishing for something else. Flick. The screen jumped and the image slid sideways as though being pushed over to make room for the next channel. April had not touched anything. A grim-faced old man was shuffling his papers as he sat in front of a screen showing a hollow-cheeked ex-celebrity holding a bottle. Flick. Two farmers were arguing over a pint as they leaned against the bar of a smoky pub. Flick. Three colourful, animated shapes chase each other around the screen squeaking in unbearably high voices. Flick. The screen kept changing as though the remote control was inside her head. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time; she was certain that TVs were not meant to obey thoughts. Flick. Back to the news reader this time there was a screaming man with unkempt hair and sunken, menacing eyes behind him.
It shouldn't have been able to happen, she panicked. Dudley had to use the remote, Vernon had to use the remote, Petunia had to use the remote, Harry ... well ... Harry wasn't allowed to use the remote, or the TV, or anything. She went over and turned the TV off and was slightly relieved by the buzzing sound of it whirring back to sleep. The flicking screens seemed more and more unnatural the more she thought about it.
She crossed the room and headed for the fridge and helped myself to one of Dudley's chocolate bars. He wouldn't notice that it was missing, April decided, she was not even sure if he could count.
She had never had a whole chocolate bar to herself before and she had expected it to be the best culinary experience available, but the truth was that after barely two squares the chocolate seemed to stick her mouth together, and it tasted too cloyingly sticky to be enjoyable.
She threw herself down into Dudley's chair with a combination of desperate anger and disappointment. Her joy and her liberty had been short-lived; the TV was not only alarming, but it also failed to provide the happiness it promised. The chocolate was not as special as she had presumed it would be when she was forbidden to eat it.
And not a single person on the TV had been tailed by a harassed, house-proud busybody, an enormous thirteen-year-old boy, or a flamboyant, emerald green quill.