Chapter 4 : The Morning After
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Dudley woke with the first light. He blinked frantically as he gained his bearings and remembered what had happened the night before. Somehow, the realization that he had spent the night in the woods wasn’t as terrifying as he had thought it would have been. He felt oddly at peace waking up to the chirping of morning birds and the soft dew that had settled on his eyelids.
Pleasantly surprised by his good mood, Dudley decided to go for a walk before the others woke up. He stretched and crawled out of his puffy purple sleeping bag. He was still wearing his clothes from the day before so he pulled on his trainers and ventured away from the campsite.
Diggle and Hestia seemed to be engaged in intense conversation and therefore didn’t notice Dudley’s departure. Dudley slowly and loudly made his way through the woods, stumbling over roots and rocks as he went. His mind wandered from Hazel, to Harry, to Hazel again; he pondered returning to constraints of the Venetian Potter house and he contemplated the events of the last night. Dudley was so absorbed in his own thoughts; he forgot to pay attention to where he was going. Now hopelessly lost, Dudley felt panic start to sink in.
The woods looked the same from all directions and, despite it being morning, the heavy foliage made the early light very dim. Suddenly, Dudley heard a twig snap to his right. He frantically ran in the opposite direction hoping he would find the campsite, or Hestia, or his mother, or SOMEONE!
As he tore through the forest, Dudley saw a small light shining in the distance. Relieved, he sped all the more quickly toward what he took to be a campfire. However, the more he ran in that direction, the farther away the light appeared to be. He stopped to catch his breath and regain his bearings. Dudley wasn’t just scared; he was terrified of being alone in the woods where magical… things could catch him.
Seeing no other options, Dudley began to follow the small light again. He hoped that it would lead him to his family and… ‘Friends,’ he tentatively added to himself. He smiled at the thought of seeing Hazel, Owen, and Justin again. He even resolved to get to know Nesta, and Lunet better were he given the chance.
The strange light he was following led him to the bank of a swamp. Dudley knew better than to try to follow it across the water, but some inexplicable force was goading him, pushing him, to walk into the boggy marsh.
Dudley was waste-deep in the muddy water when he suddenly felt him being dragged under the surface. He struggled but to no avail. He was sinking down into the cold dank abyss. Dudley felt something tugging at his shoulders as he descended downward; he chose to ignore it and ceased to resist the pull of the water.
He felt an odd sensation around his ankle and he was violently jerked out of the water to be left dangling upside down above the surface. Dudley frantically contorted his body to identify what force had lifted him out of the marshy lake. His eyes finally landed on the diminutive figure of Lunet Llewellyn, Owen’s magical younger sister. She had her wand trained on his wriggling figure and she wore a look of concentration and annoyance.
“You really should not be leaving the campsite alone,” she said as she flicked her wand. He felt his body being levitated towards the shore. She gave the wand another deft wave and he toppled to the ground. Dudley scrambled to his feet, determined to preserve any shred of dignity he could possibly have left. Lunet regarded this display placidly before continuing, “I wonder, how were you planning on finding the camp again? That is, if you hadn’t been thick enough to follow a hinkypunk into a lake AND get snatched up by the grindylows?”
“I’m sorry,” a bemused Dudley began. “I did what?”
“You followed a hinkypunk, that light you saw earlier, into the lake.” Lunet explained patiently. “Then, before it could eat you, a grindylow started to drag you under. That really wasn’t any better than the hinkypunk… you would have been dead either way had it not been for me,” she added smugly.
Dudley looked at the younger girl thoughtfully. Honestly, Lunet looked a little like an insane person. Her dark chestnut hair curled wildly around her pale face. Her slate eyes were caught in a livid stare yet she continued to speak in a calm tepid voice. The effect was utterly terrifying. Finally he asked, “How do we get back to camp then?”
“Well that’s the problem with wandering outside of protective charms isn’t it?” Lunet’s condescending tone reached him. “The camp is invisible, inaudible… completely and utterly undetectable by any means.”
“But you know where it is right?”
“Of course I know where it is,” Lunet assured him. “I’m not crazy and unlike someone I know, I’m also not stupid enough to wander aimlessly in the woods the morning after the ministry has fallen.” She turned on her heel and motioned for him to follow her. Dudley scampered after the small girl and couldn’t help feeling ridiculous. Here he was in the middle of the woods, at the mercy of a thirteen-year-old girl. Dudley could practically hear his buddies taunting him.
“I’ll have you know I’m fourteen. Not thirteen years old,” Lunet shocked him out of silence, “and I could make each and everyone of those brutes you call friends cry in an instant.”
“How did you…”
“Oh, yeah right, ‘cause you’re SO quiet,” Lunet interrupted him, her voice dripping with rancor. She certainly was very abrasive for someone so small. “And PLEASE stop commenting on my height! Its rather insulting that you think I can’t hear you!”
“I didn’t say anything though,” Dudley wrinkled his brow in confusion.
“What?” Lunet swung around her face had gone several shades paler, if possible.
“I did not say any of those things…” Dudley tried again. “I was just thinking and…”
“Oh crap!” Lunet blanched and turned green. “I did it again.”
“Did what again?” Dudley asked exasperatedly. He didn’t have the energy to deal with this. Whether it was another insane magical phenomenon or just the psychotic workings of a thirteen-year-old mind.
Lunet turned pink and punched him in the gut. It didn’t hurt but she had tears welling in the corners of her eyes when she turned away. ‘Crap,’ thought Dudley, ‘I didn’t want to make her cry.’
“Well you did so shut it.” Lunet sputtered. Dudley slowly walked up to her and tentatively put an arm around her frail shoulders. He hated when people cried. Admittedly he had enjoyed bringing small children to tears in the past, but his felt wrong. There was no pleasure to be taken from seeing Lunet in such a vulnerable state.
“I keep hearing things…” Lunet shuddered. “Things I’m sure no one wants me to hear… Only I can’t help it. It’s like I can read people’s minds,” she looked up at Dudley, her eyes begging him to believe her.
Dudley was insurmountably uncomfortable. “Is that… uh… uncommon for your lot?” he began slowly, he didn’t want to make her cry again.
“I don’t know!” Lunet cried. “I only noticed it after term had ended so I haven’t been able to research it at all. Now I can’t go back to Hogwarts and the Ministry has fallen; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get my hands on a useful book!” She sobbed into his shoulder.
“Maybe we don’t need a book?” Dudley asked hopefully. This only seemed to cause Lunet more distress so he made another attempt. “Why don’t we just see what we can do to make it easier for you? Like, I don’t know… teach you to block out someone’s thoughts?”
“You mean like Occlumency?” Lunet asked him.
Dudley didn’t have the faintest idea what ‘Occlumency’ was, but the mention of it seemed to have a calming effect on Lunet. “Yes,” he said decidedly. “Exactly like Occlumency
She snorted with laughter. “You have no idea what Occlumency is.” Dudley shook his head abashedly. “Thanks for pretending anyways,” she smiled as she wiped the tears out of her eyes.
A wave of relief washed over Dudley. “Anytime,” he managed to croak out. The two started walking again side by side. Lunet was in a much better mood. It probably had felt good to tell someone about her new power; now she wouldn’t feel so isolated. Dudley felt good about helping her. He marveled at the warm, fuzzy feeling his act of kindness had left in his chest. As he smiled to himself, Dudley realized that they were still very much alone in the woods.
Dudley hoped they were still going back to camp, though he didn’t want to voice his concern out loud. He didn’t want to be called stupid again. “Don’t worry, I’m not lost yet.” Lunet answered his thoughts again. Dudley smiled, he would have to get used to that. Not to mention, pay close attention to his thoughts while he was around her…
“You’ve got that right!” Lunet chirped. “I really did not need to know what you and Justin were thinking that first day when you met my sister! There are some things a person should never have to hear!” Dudley looked down at Lunet horrified. “Teenagers have the filthiest minds!”
“I’ll keep that in mind…” Dudley sputtered. He wondered how close she needed to be to a person to read their thoughts.
“I haven’t really tested it yet,” Lunet answered breezily. “Right now I’m still trying to distinguish a person’s words from their thoughts.”
Curious, Dudley asked, “How much of this conversation do you think I’ve actually said out loud?”
Lunet screwed up her face in concentration, “Uhhh…” she started. “Probably not very much… Unless you normally talk in the third person.”
“What?” Dudley cackled. “I think in the third person?”
“Yeah, I guess you do,” Lunet started to giggle as well. “You’re the first person I’ve met who does that. It’s what made me think you were a macho beefcake loser,” seeing the bemused look of disbelief on Dudley’s face she added sheepishly, “or something.”
“Don’t people’s thoughts sound even slightly different than their voices?”
“I guess they do. People sound more… ethereal when they’re thinking”
“Hmmm… that’s interesting.” ‘And strange’ Dudley added to himself.
“You said that it was interesting and you thought that it was strange,” Lunet said confidently. “And, while I agree with you, I must ask that we terminate this conversation.”
“Why?” Dudley asked.
“Because we’re here.” Lunet gestured towards the empty clearing before them. It looked vaguely familiar but there was no trace of anyone ever camping there. Lunet, hearing the confusion of his thoughts, explained, “You can’t see it because of the protective spells I told you about.”
“Oh… that makes sense,” Dudley concluded.
“And now we wait for someone to come looking for us,”
As if on cue, Hestia materialized about five meters to their left. When she saw the two of them, she breathed a sigh of relief and pulled them back into the camp. Once inside the invisible bubble that shielded the camp from the outside world, all hell broke lose.
Vernon was in the middle of a spectacularly animated tirade with Diggle. Dudley overheard his father accuse the wizard of “selling his son to the devil’s people” in exchange for “tarot cards” and “toad stools.” Vernon was so absorbed in his argument; he didn’t even notice his son’s reappearance.
Petunia, on the other hand, was at her son’s side in mere seconds. He petted his head, tears cascading down her cheeks as she marveled at his return. His mother, concerned with his wet clothing, demanded that Hestia “make herself useful” by fetching some suitable attire for her “ickle Diddykins.” Out of the corner of his eye, Dudley saw Lunet and the other teens smirking at his discomfort. He could hardly escape his mother’s coddling; she was a force of nature, even more terrifying than Vernon, when she wanted to be.
Finally, Dudley was dry enough and fed enough to escape his mother’s stifling care. He made his way over to his peers wondering what they were discussing. Lunet, who was standing with the older kids, took notice of Dudley’s desire to join in the conversation and budged a bit to let him into the circle.
They were all wondering when they would be allowed to return to the Potter house. Last night, Diggle had promised them they could return the next morning yet, they hadn’t seen any sign of this promise being kept. Diggle was still deep in conversation with Hestia, just as he had been since everyone went to bed the night before.
Finally, Nesta got tired of waiting and marched up to the two aurors demanding they give her news. The two bewildered adults blinked at Nesta before mumbling something about precautionary procedure. Nesta became livid; she shouted at the wizard who was laughably shorter than her. Dudley watched in astonishment as she fearlessly took on a magical person. She was either really brave or really, really, stupid.
Diggle, now blushing profusely, slowly ambled up to the group of eavesdropping teenagers. He shuffled his feet as he explained that he hadn’t visited the Potter house yet; he apologized and disappeared with a crack.
Nesta stomped back over. “Well, it’s about time someone made him do something!” she huffed. She still looked terrifying; Dudley made a mental note not to EVER get on Nesta’s bad side.
By mid-afternoon, Diggle had returned with a wide grin on his face. The safe house was still ‘safe’. He would start sorting out a portkey for their immediate return.
Dudley walked along the perimeter of the campsite, being careful not to step outside the protective charms. He was thinking about his conversation this morning with Lunet, how terrified she was at this newfound power. ‘That must have been how Harry felt when he found out he could talk to snakes,’ Dudley thought. ‘He’s not only different form normal people. Harry’s weird for a magical person as well.’ Dudley was so deep in thought he didn’t notice when Hazel appeared at his side. She exhaled softly, catching his attention
“Oh, hey Hazel,” Dudley began awkwardly. “Been a bit of a crazy morning, hasn’t it?”
“Yes,” she agreed serenely. “It certainly has.” Dudley gazed down into her cream heart-shaped face. She looked so small and vulnerable; the top of her tousled honey-colored head didn’t even reach his shoulders. Dudley felt an overwhelming urge to gather her up in his arms and protect her from the world. He knew she could take care of herself, but for some reason, he never wanted Hazel to need to. Her warm chocolate eyes were staring at him quizzically. She had asked him a question.
“Uh… Er… Um…” Dudley started, unsure of what to say. Hazel watched him struggle before she started to giggle. Relieved, Dudley chuckled along with her. He felt a pang of anger. Now Hazel thought he was stupid! He knew he shouldn’t care what she thought of him but for some reason he couldn’t get the petite blond out of his mind.
“I asked you where you went this morning,” Hazel told him. “Only you weren’t really listening. Perhaps you don’t get very good reception up there?”
Dudley blinked. Was she making fun of his size? Or was she flirting? He decided to put these questions off for later opting instead to answer her. “I went for a walk and kind of fell into a lake.” Hazel’s eyes were glittering with mirth. “Lunet did some magical thing-y to pull me out.”
“Well, I guess that explains why you were all wet this morning!” Hazel let out another tinkling laugh. “Owen thought you must have bothered his sister. Apparently she likes to ‘hex’ people.”
Dudley and Hazel slipped into a pattern of pleasant banter as they ambled along enjoying each other’s company. Finally, they had traced the circumference of the camp and found themselves, once again, where they had started. Dudley knew Hazel could only ever think of him as a friend. He was far to brutish and cruel for someone as perfect and innocent as she. But being around her made him want to be a better person. He wanted to be good enough for her, but he knew he would have to be content with admiring her from a distance.
Nesta stalked over to the two friends determinedly, her long tangled brown hair tied into a plait which swung manically in time with her frustrated gait. Dudley gulped; she terrified him. Finally, Nesta reached the party, shook her head, and began to rant.
“That idiot Diggle still hasn’t arranged a portkey for us!” She began shrilly. “It’s not that hard either! All he has to do is wave his magic wand and say ‘portus’! He doesn’t even need the ministry’s permission, now that it’s down the gutter!”
Hazel sighed and started to calm Nesta. “Shhhh… I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for the delay. We just need to be patient.”
“Patient?” Nesta exclaimed. “We’ve been patient ALL MORNING! I’m sick and tired of hiding but ‘we have to.’ If it’s so damn important for us to hide, why are we in the middle of the woods where any random hiker can stumble upon us?”
Dudley, remembering how lost he got that morning, felt like mentioning that ‘any random hiker’ could not possibly discover this camp. However, he held his tongue and let Hazel handle Nesta. ‘Geez these Llewellyn girls are crazy’ he thought. Then he quickly glanced around to make sure Lunet was nowhere near him. He breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted her on the other side of the camp conversing with her parents. Both Lunet and Nesta could go from calm collected individuals to raving lunatics in a blink of an eye. He hoped to God Owen, his roommate, wouldn’t prove to be the same way.
He started to back away from the two girls when Hazel shot him an angry look that clearly said, “Don’t you DARE leave me alone with her!” He remained rooted to the spot, but didn’t make any sound throughout the entire ordeal of soothing Nesta.
Hazel must have said something right because Nesta was soon smiling peacefully; the two started chattering happily about their ‘real lives’. Dudley now felt secure enough to contribute to the conversation, mentioning how much he missed television and video games. However, he was careful with what he said around the elder Llewellyn, not wanting to set her off again.
Finally, after another hour of standing around in the woods, Dedalus the Inept announced that he had arranged their portkey. Everyone gathered around, including Vernon who wore a look of complete and utter confusion upon his face, and they were off.
They landed with a thud on the living room floor in a tangle of limbs. Dudley sat up to see Justin getting chewed out by Nesta. Apparently he had ‘accidentally’ groped her during the landing. Dudley chuckled to himself, not at all envying Justin at that moment. Lunet was also watching the scene amusedly. When he asked her what she thought was so funny, she smirked.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Nesta actually likes Justin though she’ll never admit it.”
“Really,” Dudley raised his eyebrows as he turned back to the squabbling pair. “That is interesting.”
“But like I said,” Lunet began again. “She’ll never admit it. Not even to herself.”
“Hmm…” Dudley was contemplating this when he noticed his father still hadn’t had a random outburst since that morning. “Lunet?” he asked.
“Your father has been confounded by Hestia.” Hearing the confusion in his thoughts she continued. “He was making things difficult for everyone, so she decided it was better to just deal with him later.” She shrugged. “I have to say I agree, he is quite obnoxious.”
“Will he be okay?”
“Oh yes, don’t worry,” was Lunet’s serene reply. “She can set him right anytime she wants.”
Satisfied, Dudley stood up and made his way towards the kitchen where he had seen Hazel escape to earlier. He hoped to talk with her again before another chaotic dinner with all of the houses’ inhabitants.
He found her sitting alone at the scrubbed kitchen table, deep in thought. Dudley slid into the chair across from hers. She looked up into his eyes and smiled. “Hey.”
The two then talked for hours until they were both called to dinner by their parents.
A/N: Hey guys! So, same story as the last few chapters: I haven't edited this because I'm taking advantage of the queue. I just wanted to thank all of my readers. You guys are awesome!
P.S. You could leave a review... It'd make me smile...
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