Chapter 44 : Dudley's Dilemma
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A mediwitch entered and checked Ron's head and vital signs, pronouncing him doing well. She gave him potions for pain and inflammation and suggested he rest. Hermione thought that meant they should leave, and Harry went over to where the children were and told them to get ready to leave. Sirius was telling them about his adventure as Padfoot with the two thief boys. Something about the way Sirius spoke about the two young fugitives made Harry frown.
"Sirius, how old would you say those kids were?"
Sirius thought for a moment. "Uh . . . I think the little one, Roger, was about ten, maybe, and the other one was probably fourteen."
Harry's frown deepened. "One not yet school age and the other is, but not at Hogwarts. Could you sense magic about them?"
Sirius shrugged. "Uh . . . I dunno, Harry. I guess they had some, they were living in a wizarding neighborhood and the Aurors knew 'em."
"And the place where they lived, you didn't see any adults around?"
"No. Just the two boys. The older one was in charge."
"That's a shame. Those two kids became criminals so they could eat." Harry stated. "I wonder what happened to their parents? And why WCS isn't looking out for them?"
"WCS?" repeated Cory.
"Wizarding Child Services," Severus clarified.
"Who are they?"
"A group that helps take care of kids without parents or guardians or kids whose parents are abusive and hurt them," Severus explained. "They find them new families to live with."
"Only these kids slipped through the system. Sirius, could you find them again, if you had to?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, probably. But why? They're street rats."
"They're also kids who are starving. I want to bring them some food, let Child Services know about them. They shouldn't be on their own. And the older one belongs in school." Harry said determinedly.
So once they had left the hospital, Harry sent Alby and Severus back with Draco and the Malfoy children to the manor. Then he took Sirius and had Padfoot trail Roger back to his flat. Once Harry knew where they lived, he had Padfoot keep watch and went to a supermarket where he bought soup, bread, cheese, sliced meat, butter, cereal, milk, fruit, salad, and other food. He brought it back to the flat.
Padfoot was lying across the steps, but he jumped up and wagged his tail at Harry when he saw him.
"Did they come out?"
Padfoot barked a no.
Harry went up the porch steps and knocked at the door.
"Matt, somebody's at the door!"
"Don't answer it! I will."
The door was opened by a lanky fourteen year old who glared suspiciously at Harry. "Who're you and whaddaya want?"
"My name is Harry and I recently learned you stole a wallet belonging to my godson."
"We don't got it no more. Roger fed a mangy mutt and it ran off with it." Matt said defensively.
"I know. The dog is mine," Harry said. "He brought the wallet back to me."
"Then what d'you want with us?" Roger asked, peering around a corner.
"I want to know why you two are here alone. Where are your parents?"
"What d'you care?" Matt demanded, but at the same time Roger blurted, "They're dead."
Matt glared at him. "Good one, Rog! You from the WCS?"
"No. I'm just a concerned citizen." Harry said, shifting the box of groceries from his hip. "You look like you could use some food. Here." He handed the box to Matt.
Matt looked startled. "Why do you care? You aren't kin to us."
"I don't like to see kids hungry. Don't you have any relatives that can take you in?"
"Hell, no. Think we'd be here if we did?" Matt snorted. "It's just me and my kid brother, and we like it that way fine."
"What's in the box, Matt?" asked Roger eagerly, standing on tiptoe to peer inside.
"Lots of stuff," the older boy said stiffly. He turned and walked into the small kitchen and set the box on the table.
Roger began to eagerly explore what was inside, exclaiming in delight.
Harry eyed Matt. "You look old enough to be at Hogwarts. Didn't you get a letter?"
"Sure I did!" the boy said indignantly. "But I couldn't go. Didn't have the money and who woulda looked after Roger while I was gone?"
"You coulda gone, Matt!" protested the younger boy. "I woulda managed."
"Shut it, Rog! You were too little and you know it." Matt crossed his arms over his chest. "We manage all right."
"Really? That why you steal for a living?" Harry asked bluntly.
"We do what we have to."
"But what if you didn't have to?" Harry asked softly.
"What do you mean? I ain't turning myself and Rog in to no WCS people. First thing they' do was separate us, and that ain't happening. We're brothers—family—and we stay together."
"I understand that. What if I could make it so that you did stay together, with a good family? Then you could go to school like you were supposed to and you wouldn't have to nick wallets from kids to survive."
"Sounds like a fairy tale."
"It isn't." Harry said softly.
"What are you, some kind of hero or something? Who are you?"
"I told you. My name is Harry . . . Harry Potter."
Roger's jaw hit the floor. "You mean . . . the real Harry Potter?"
"No! He's putting us on!" Matt scowled. "He's not Harry Potter. He couldn't be. Harry Potter wouldn't give a cracked Knut 'bout us nobodies."
"That's where you're wrong, Matt." Harry said evenly. He pushed up his hair to show the boys his scar. "I might be famous and all, but I still care about kids like you. Enough so that I want to make sure you have food, clothes, and a decent home, people who'll look after you."
Matt didn't look convinced. "What's in it for you?"
"Nothing. Except knowing I helped you have a chance at a better life than you have now."
The boy met his eyes. "And you'll make sure they don't take Roger away from me?"
"I will. I brought you food enough for a week, that should give me time to meet with a few people I know and find you a home. Just promise me you won't leave and won't steal anything again."
Matt looked over at Roger, who looked like he was in heaven. "Well, Rog? What d'you think? Should we take the offer?"
Roger was eating a package of crisps, by the handful, his cheeks shiny with grease. "'Course we should, Matt! He's Harry Potter! He saved us all from Old Voldy-fart. He's a hero, and now he's savin' us." The little boy's eyes shone with hero worship.
"All right. It's a deal. But you better keep your end of it."
"My word of honor," Harry said solemnly. He smiled at the two boys. He would speak with Andrea Delorian, the director of WCS. She would see to it that the boys were placed with a family who wanted two boys. He shook Matt's hand. "I'll see you in a week. Enjoy the food."
"We will." Matt said, chuckling at his brother. "Say thank you to Mr. Potter," he ordered.
"Thanks, Mr. Potter!" Roger cried, grinning.
"Just call me Harry, Roger," Harry said. "Take care." Then he was gone, leaving the two to their feast.
He knelt and ruffled Padfoot's fur. For some reason the puppy had decided to remain outside when Harry talked with the two ragamuffins. "Now I feel better about leaving them there," he told the dog. "I'm going to have Andrea find them a good family. They're not bad kids, just desperate. Come on, Paddy. Let's go home."
Padfoot barked, then jumped into Harry's arms. Harry grinned and held the dog close before he Apparated back to the Lupin house, and from there to Malfoy Manor to pick up his boys.
One week later:
Harry had received a letter from Andrea Delorian saying a foster family had been found for the boys and another from Matt telling him that they were getting along fine with their new foster family. Harry was glad it had all worked out as well as it did. When he told Ginny about it, she just smiled and said his "people-saving" radar was working overtime again.
It was almost the Easter holidays, they were early this year, falling at the end of March. Harry finished grading the last batch of homework early in the week, then on Wednesday the Potters went home to Godric's Hollow to prepare for Easter. They usually spent Easter morning home and went over the Burrow for Easter dinner with the Weasleys.
While Ginny cooked and baked for Good Friday and Easter morning, Harry played peek-a-boo and butterfly baby with Indigo, lifting the baby above his head and "flying" with her all around the den. Indigo loved it, and she giggled and waved her arms at her daddy. She was two months old now, and very lively and alert.
Severus and Alby were making a puzzle on the table in the den, waiting for Ginny to finish baking the Easter sweet bread, a rich golden bread made with a dozen eggs brushed with sugar and sprinkles and shaped like a nest with colored eggs in the middle. Ginny had gotten the recipe from a neighbor, Torvah Steinfeld, who was Jewish and called it challah, making it for the Jewish holidays.
Suddenly, there came a knock on the door.
Harry went to answer it, figuring it was Remus, Neville, or one of their other friends.
But the tall bluff man standing on the porch, holding the hand of a plump seven-year-old girl with light brown curls and large hazel eyes dressed in a lavender dress with a straw hat with purple orchids, was not one of his friends. The man had blond hair and a round face, he had broad shoulders and a bit of a pot belly. He gave Harry an awkward smile, cleared his throat and said, "Err . . . long time no see, Harry."
Harry stared at the newcomer, trying to place where he was from, for he seemed awfully familiar. "Hello. Do I know you?"
The man's blue eyes widened. "Don't you recognize me? I know it's been a few years and I've lost a couple stone, but I don't think I've changed that much."
Harry blinked. The man looked to be about his age . . .Then he caught sight of the medallion the beefy man was wearing. A medallion with an HP and a lightning bolt on it, that was given only to family members who . . . were Muggles, so they could travel between the wizarding world and their own. Then he knew. "Dudley? Is it really you?"
Dudley nodded. "You're looking good, Harry. I would have called, but you don't have a phone, and I never was good at writing." He gave Harry a sheepish smile. "Or calling one of those owls." He looked at Indigo in Harry's arms. "Looks like I finally got a little niece. How many do you have now?"
"Three. I became guardian to a little boy over the summer. His name is Severus and he's six. Alby's turned five, and this is Indigo, who's two months." Harry smiled down at the brown-haired girl. "And this must be my niece . . . Celia, right? Last time I saw her was during her baptism."
Dudley beamed proudly at his daughter. "Celia Amaranth, say hello to your uncle Harry."
Though the two were cousins, both had decided it was easier if they had their children refer to each other as uncles. After all, both men had grown up together, like brothers. After the war, Harry had made his peace with Dudley, though Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia refused to acknowledge him or his family. Harry sometimes wondered what Petunia would think if she learned her sister was back from the dead and a small child again. Petunia would most likely pass out cold.
Celia gazed up at her dark-haired uncle and gave him a shy smile. "Hello, Uncle Harry. The baby is so cute!"
Harry chuckled. "She sure is. That's what saves her from being a brat." He tickled Indi under the chin, making her squeal. "Come on in, don't stand out on the porch." Harry stepped back inside.
Celia and Dudley followed him inside and Harry shut the door. He was shocked Dudley had shown up out of the blue. Despite their truce, Dudley was still very much a Muggle. He had married a Muggle, a high society girl, one Monica Mason, and she, like Petunia and Vernon, preferred to act like magic didn't exist. She thought Harry was "a little weird" and "out there" and discouraged Dudley from visiting his "freaky cousin". She was rich, pretty, and hoity-toity. She didn't care much for Harry and the feeling was mutual.
"Ginny!" he called. "Come and see who dropped in."
Ginny appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, still wearing her apron dusted with flour and sugar. "Who's here, Harry? I just took the loaves of bread out of the oven to cool . . .oh my goodness! It's your cousin . . . Donald, right?"
"Dudley," Dudley corrected. "Sorry I just showed up out of nowhere, but I . . . well, I have a problem and I really need to talk with Harry. This is Celia, my daughter."
Ginny smiled at Celia. "Hello, Celia. You look almost the same age as Severus, my oldest. Speaking of the boys . . . Sev, Alby, we have guests! Come and say hello."
Once Severus and Alby had been introduced, and they had all had tea and some of Ginny's delicious sweet bread, Harry encouraged the boys to show Celia around while the grown-ups talked. Severus and Alby promptly took Celia out into the backyard, where there was a little picnic table and a swingset, as well as a croquet game. Harry sensed instinctively that Dudley had come here to discuss a rather touchy subject and would rather do so without the children listening.
When the children were safely out of earshot, Harry handed Indigo to Ginny to rock to sleep and turned to his cousin. "So, Dud, what brings you here? I know it's Easter, but we've never really gotten together for the holidays. Was there something you needed? A question answered about magic?"
"I wish it were that easy." Dudley sighed. "It concerns Monica and Celia. You know how Monica is, Harry. How she was raised to have the best of everything. How she thinks God intended her to have the perfect family. When Celia was born, she was convinced she had the perfect child. Nothing was good enough for her little girl. I'm sure you know what that's like, with one of your own. I . . . I felt the same way, but I didn't want Monica spoiling her like Mum had done to me."
"Go on." Harry encouraged when Dudley paused.
"Well, for awhile things were brilliant. Until a few months ago when . . . when Celia began doing accidental magic, like you used to. One day she made her doll dance a jig across the floor. Another time she made the dog's dish float across the room. It scared Monica to death. None of us ever thought Celia would . . . would inherit magic, even though Mum was Aunt Lily's sister. We all just assumed it would never happen. I mean, I'm about as magical as a rock and there's no trace of magic in Monica's family. So when it happened . . . Monica had hysterics."
Harry was not surprised. Monica Dursley was not the kind of person who had a lot of imagination, or was accepting of things that were different. "Did you tell Monica that sometimes Muggles can have a magical child? It happened with our grandparents."
Dudley looked very uncomfortable. "I tried. But Monica is . . . well she's . . .very traditional. She wouldn't even let Celia read fairy tales, said they were nonsense. She thought . . . she thought Celia was possessed by demons. And no matter what I said, she was convinced Celia was evil. Monica insisted we send her to be exorcized and wouldn't listen to a word I said when I told her Celia wasn't evil, just a witch, the same as Aunt Lily. She threatened to send Celia to an asylum if she didn't stop acting out."
"An asylum?" Harry repeated, horrified. "But that's crazy! She's not insane, she's a witch!"
"Try telling my wife that. Monica believes what she wants to. I'm afraid she might . . . go over my head and ship Celia off without me knowing it. She has a lot of money and people listen to her. I couldn't bear if Celia was taken from me." Dudley said sadly. "But at the same time . . . I love Monica too. It's not her fault she is scared of anything unnatural. I don't want either of them to get hurt. But . . . what do I do?"
"Have you tried explaining that magic is a part of Celia, and is no more evil than a pool of water?"
"Yes, but Monica refuses to listen. Anything unusual and she flies off the handle. She feels that Celia betrayed her somehow by having magic. She's become very . . .short with the girl, always picking on her and saying mean things when Celia loses control."
"And what about your parents? What do they think?"
Dudley sighed. "They used to dote on Celia too, she's their only granddaughter. Until they found out she was a witch. And they handled that about as well as they ever did you when you were growing up. At the time, I didn't really think about what we did to you as being right or wrong, but now I do and we were terrible to treat you like that. I . . . I don't want Celia to go through that, it's cruel. I'm ashamed we ever treated you like that, Harry. I don't want her to fear the magic or fear Monica's disapproval. I want her to grow up proud and strong. But she can't do that with me. You and I know she had no choice, that the magic goes where it will. But Monica thinks Celia can get rid of it somehow and when she can't . . . I'm afraid Monica might hurt her."
"Has she ever done so before?"
"Only an occasional smack for being cheeky. But now . . ." Dudley shook his head. "Will you help me, Harry? You know what it's like to have magic, how to deal in a Muggle world. You could teach her. Just until she was school age. And she would be around family and get used to magic being used correctly. I'd come visit as often as I could. I'd even pay you. I'd never ask this if I . . . if I had another alternative, Harry. I don't want to impose."
Harry was shocked at Dudley's request. But the more he considered it, the more it made sense. After all, he was her relation, and he had a duty to teach her how to use her power correctly. The last thing he would ever wish was for a child to live the life he had growing up. He turned to Ginny. "Gin? What do you think? Can we do it?"
"Of course we can. And she is your niece, you have to help her."
"All right, if you don't mind . . ." He turned back to Dudley. "Does Celia know?"
"No. I didn't want to tell her because it could have gone either way. But I'll tell her tonight, before I leave." He looked anguished. "I never wanted this, to be separated from my daughter. But I have no choice."
"We'll take good care of her."
"I know that." He rose to his feet, his face pensive. "I need to find Celia and tell her."
Then he made his way towards the back door. He just hoped she was old enough to understand.
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