Chapter 51 : Dudley's Choice
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After about two months, things settled down in the Potter household with Shadow and Severus no longer feared that Harry or Ginny would send her away . . . or him with them. Things were going well between himself and Alby, and also Lily and Cory. Even the Lupin boys were more well-behaved than usual. Indi was growing by leaps and bounds, and could now roll over, recognize family members, and eat some solid food. Her eyes settled into a green much like her father's, and her hair lightened a little, so it was a dark brown, though not black like Harry's or Severus'. The only problem in their little family was the ongoing drama with Dudley, Celia, and Monica.
Dudley was still trying to get Monica to welcome Celia and her magical abilities back into her heart, but so far, the more he tried, the more stubborn, uptight, and angry Monica became. At the end of July, close to Harry's birthday, Dudley brought Celia for a visit back home, hoping that if she saw her daughter, Monica would have a change of heart.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea, Dud," Harry had cautioned. "Celia's just started settling down here and feeling good about herself, are you sure you want to open up old wounds?"
"Harry, she misses her mum," Dudley had sighed. "I know she does, even if she doesn't talk about her much. I can see it in her eyes everytime I come over. She keeps hoping that Monica will change, and I can't stand to see that hope fade when I come there without her mum. Maybe now that it's been a few months, Monica will be more willing to accept her daughter back. You know the old saying, absence makes the heart grow fonder."
Harry snorted. "And sometimes more forgetful. I know you're trying your best, and so is Celia, but I just don't trust Monica not to hurt her. From everything you've said, she seems like she can be a vindictive bitch at times."
"Yes, it would seem so. She's been unreasonable where Celia's concerned, but I still want to give her one last chance to have her daughter back."
"Did she say she wanted to see Celia?"
"No, because I didn't mention it. I'm hoping that . . . once she sees Celia again, she'll remember all the good times we shared and she'll be content to be a family again. She used to adore Celia, Harry. How can she just . . . forget that?"
"Sometimes fear makes you do horrible things. Unspeakable things." Harry said. "But she's your wife and this is your daughter, Dudley. So you have to do what you think is best."
"And you don't think this is best?"
"No, but I'm not you. So it's only an opinion." Harry said. He just hoped that Celia didn't get hurt even worse a second time. But he could understand Dudley's wish to reconcile with his wife and Celia's with her mother. He would have done anything to have real parents back when he was growing up.
Monica was fixing her hair in their small bath downstairs, having had Tilly, their maid she paid once a week to clean and make tea on Fridays, set out some tea things for her and Dudley on the dining room table. There were cucumber sandwiches, green salad with olive oil and vingar, ham and cheese bites, turkey roll ups and some Queen's cakes and ginger snaps and low-fat cream cheese tarts. They had several kinds of tea as well, though Dudley only liked regular black tea and sometimes green tea with honey.
Monica was looking forward to discussing the upcoming benefit for widows and orphans with Dudley. It was to be a big affair and almost all the important people in town would be there. Petunia was chairing it, which made Monica an obvious invite and of course Dudley as well. She wouldn't allow him to back out on this one, he was going to accompany her and help her make a good showing, no matter that he complained such things were totally boring and making small talk a waste of time. Really, they had to have more of a social life, and since Celia had been shipped off to her crazy uncle, they had time to go to parties and dinners.
She had just finished fluffing her hair and applying some pretty coral colored lipstick when she heard the door open and Dudley call, "Hey, honey, I'm home. And I brought you a surprise."
Monica hurried from the bathroom, wondering what it could be. Dudley hadn't bought her anything for a long time. Maybe it was a new pair of earrings or a ticket to Bordeaux or something fun. They could use a vacation, just the two of them.
When she appeared in the foyer to greet her husband, she stiffened in shock. She hadn't expected Dudley to bring Celia with her. "Well . . . what a surprise is right!" she said, trying to put on a fake front, but her smile seemed plastered on and didn't reach her eyes.
"Hello, Mummy!" Celia said, then cautiously approached her, smiling. "Daddy said it might be good for you to have tea with me like we used to." Back when she was little, and had shown no signs of magic, Celia had tea parties nearly every day with Monica, learning how to pour, serve, and set a table as well as play with her dolls.
Monica allowed the girl to hug her, and returned the gesture woodenly. She looked over at Dudley and glared daggers at him. How could he do this to her? He didn't even give her time to prepare! "Yes, darling, of course we'll have tea," Monica said brightly. "Why don't you go o inside the dining room and sit down? Daddy and I shall be in there in a few minutes."
Celia skipped ahead of them, humming softly.
As soon as the girl was out of earshot, Monica grabbed Dudley by the arm and hissed, "What were you thinking, bringing her here? I didn't ask you to! Why did you?"
"Why are you so mad at me?" Dudley demanded, yanking his arm from Monica's too tight grip. "All I did was bring your daughter, whom you haven't seen in months, for a visit. What's wrong with that? Don't you miss her? Look how she's grown!"
"Humph! And what about her freaky . . . powers? Are they gone? Or does she practice them freely in your cousin's house?"
"No, they're not gone. Monica, I told you before that you can't just have magic vanish. It's there forever. And Harry teaches her how to control her accidental magic. That's all." He drew in a deep breath. "Please, Monica. Won't you just welcome her home today? It'd mean so much to her if you were glad to see her and all. You are, aren't you?"
"Maybe," she said, tight-lipped. Then she turned and walked into the dining room.
Dudley clenched his fists and longed suddenly to smack the superior smug look off her face. Why couldn't Monica see she was hurting her own child? It boggled his mind. Keeping a tight rein on his temper, he followed his wife and daughter into the dining room.
Celia thought it was wonderful to have tea again with her mother, it was almost like old times. Almost because she sensed that something was not right with her parents, her dad barely spoke to her mum except to ask her to pass the sugar or the cream, and her mum was giving her dad one of those Looks of hers, the kind that made Celia cringe. But she was determined to have a good time.
She reached for the plate of sandwiches, taking one cucumber and one of turkey and placing them neatly on her plate. Then she reached for the plate of small cakes, intending to add one or two to her plate and then start eating.
By mistake, her arm bumped her tea cup, and the delicate china cup tipped over. Teas splashed onto the spotless white table cloth and made a huge stain.
Monica pursed her lips and said angrily, "Celia! You've become downright clumsy since you've been living with those people!"
"I'm sorry, Mum. I'll . . . fix it." Celia reached for a cloth, and tried to mop up the spilled tea.
"Don't worry, Cee. It's an accident, it'll come out in the wash," Dudley said hastily, not wanting the little girl to feel guilty. He turned to Monica and said, "There's no need to yell at her. Spilling tea isn't a crime, you know. It used to happen to me on a regular basis when I was her age." He didn't bother to mention that usually his cousin Harry was made to clean it up.
"If you had your way, Dudley, she'd have the manners of a pig in a sty," Monica snapped.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dudley demanded angrily. "You saying that I don't have manners? At least I'm not cruel enough to make a child feel like an idiot for a simple spilled cup of tea."
"Oh, please, Dudley! If I don't correct her, who will? Clearly your cousin doesn't know anymore about proper behavior than you do! They probably eat sitting on the floor like cavemen!"
"That's not true! Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny use forks and knives!" Celia spoke up.
Monica spun on her. "When I want you to speak, I'll tell you. Until then, shut your mouth!"
Celia huddled back in her chair, her chin trembling and tears forming in her eyes. She hadn't meant for her mummy to get mad. "Sorry."
"Don't yell at her for telling you the truth!" Dudley cried. "Just because you don't want to hear it . . ."
"I don't need a six-year-old telling me what to do, Dudley!" Monica growled. "I can just imagine what those—those freaks told her about acceptable behavior. You're always making excuses—!"
"And you're always criticizing everything. You're worse than my mother. Nothing is ever good enough for you, is it?"
"I only want what's best for this family. Unlike you!"
"No, you want what's best for yourself! If you cared at all about this family, I wouldn't have had to give our daughter to Harry to raise!"
"That was your decision, Dudley! I had nothing to do with it. If you'd let me go and see the reverend like I wanted to—"
"And do what? Perform some ridiculous exorcism? Dunk her in holy water? She's not possessed, Monica. She's a witch."
"A witch! There's no such thing as magic and I'll not have you bringing your crazy ideas here and expecting me to believe them . . ."
"Magic is real. My cousin has it and so does Celia. Denying it won't make it go away."
"Stop it!" Celia sobbed. "Mummy, Daddy, don't fight!"
But they ignored her, their words vicious and cutting, until finally she'd had enough and the teapot and the plate of cakes levitated themselves into the air for a moment or two before crashing back down on the table.
Horrified, Celia stared at the wreckage and whimpered. "I didn't mean to! Mummy, I'm sorry! I really am!"
Monica stood, her finger leveled at Celia like an accusation. "You did that on purpose, you freaky little brat! I knew I should have listened to Reverend Peters and had you locked up somewhere they wouldn't put up with your behavior!"
"I . . . I just wanted you to stop fighting!" Celia wailed.
"Leave her alone, Monica!" Dudley warned. "She can't help it, why can't you be more understanding?"
"Understanding?" Monica laughed savagely. "Understand that my child—that I bore for nine months inside me—is some kind of freak? Is that what you want? For me to constantly worry over when the next . . . incident is going to occur? When people are going to talk about me behind my back, whisper to themselves about my unnatural girl and the weird things that happen around her? I'll not have it, Dudley! You should have told me before I married you that you had this . . . disorder in your family."
"It's not a disorder, Monica. Or a disease! It's called magic and no one, least of all me, expected to have a child of mine inherit it. But it's done and all we can do is accept it."
"I have worked too hard to get where I am in my design firm to risk throwing it all away on a spiteful child who creates havoc merely by wishing it!" Monica shouted.
"But I didn't mean to, Mummy!" Celia sobbed. She knew she had made a big mistake by losing control and now her mummy would never forgive her.
"Shut up, you little viper!" Monica whirled upon the cowering child, the source of all her misery, and drew her hand back to strike the little girl.
But Dudley grabbed her wrist and snarled, "Don't you dare! She's done nothing to deserve you hitting her!"
"Nothing? Nothing but turn our lives upside down, worse than any daytime drama on the telly!" Monica cried bitterly. "I don't even know her anymore."
"And I sure as hell don't know you, Monica!" Dudley cried, releasing his wife's wrist. "You've changed since I first married you, become someone who's cold and hard and . . . heartless. I thought we could work things out, I thought maybe we could talk and start over, but you don't want that, do you? You want things your way or no way at all, and you can't stand your own daughter. What kind of mother are you?"
"I'm a mother who's lost a child!" she spat, stabbing Dudley in the chest with one manicured finger. "That . . . freak there is not the little girl I knew! She's something else now, something I don't even have a name for."
"You sanctimonious bitch! Celia will always be your child, even if you deny it from the rooftops. We created something precious and special and it's your loss that you can't see it. Well, I'm through making excuses for you, Monica. You and my parents. You're all narrowminded bigots and I can't stomach the sight of you any longer."
"What . . . are you saying?" Monica sputtered.
"I'm saying I'm not giving you anymore chances to hurt Celia. I'm tired of you calling her names and trying to convince her that she's evil. She's a little girl with a stupid mother and I've had it with your cruelty. I'm taking Celia and filing for divorce . . . and sole custody. You can talk to my barrister in the morning."
"Divorce? You want to divorce me?" Monica's voice was shrill.
"Yes. After what you did tonight, it's clear to me that you'll never change. And I won't have Celia live Harry's life. Hope you have a good time designing dresses and whatever!"
"You wouldn't dare leave me!" Monica yelled. "Your mother would have a fit!"
"Good. Then you can commiserate," Dudley growled. He bent and picked up his daughter. "Come on, Cee. Let's go home."
"This is your home!" Monica shrieked.
"Not anymore," Dudley fired back. "Now we have a new home . . . in Godric's Hollow. Goodbye, Monica." Then he slammed out of the house, put Celia in the backseat of the car, and drove off, the tires squealing.
After a few minutes, he slowed down, not wanting to get a ticket. "You all right, princess?" he called back to Celia.
"I'm . . . sorry, Daddy! You don't . . . have to leave Mummy. I'll . . . just stay with U-Uncle Harry," Celia cried wretchedly.
"No, Cee. You don't have to do that anymore. Your uncle and I talked and I can get a place right up the street. You can live with me and when I go to work, you can go over Uncle Harry's or something. Just remember, honey, I love you."
"What about Mummy?"
"Mummy's got her own life now. I know you'll miss her, Cee, but she's not good for you. And I won't let her hurt you."
"If I hadn't spilled the tea . . ."
"Celia, none of this is your fault. Don't ever think that. Your mum and I have been having problems for a long time. I kept hoping she'd change, but . . . I guess I was stupid. Some people never do. And I don't want to live with her anymore. I'd much rather live with you."
"But what about Grandma and Grandpa? Won't they be mad?"
"Probably. But I'm through worrying about them too. From now on it's just you and me, Cee. And Uncle Harry and his family."
Celia nodded, too confused for the moment to say anything. A part of her was glad she didn't have to see Monica anymore. But a part of her was also saddened by the fact that her mother didn't love her and would never accept her. She curled up in the backseat and wept silently while Dudley drove back to Godric's Hollow.
By the time they reached Harry's house, Celia was sound asleep, with faint tear tracks on her cheeks. Dudley carried her into the house and put her in the room she shared with Indi.
"Dudley? What happened? You look like you've been ambushed or something?" Harry asked.
"I'll tell you in a bit. Just let me put Cee down, she's exhausted." Dudley said.
He came into the living room a moment later.
"I take it your visit didn't go well?" Harry asked sympathetically.
"No. I've left Monica, Harry. For good. Do you know of a place I can stay?"
Slowly, Harry nodded. "I . . . I'm sorry to hear that, Dud. But maybe it was for the best. And I think there might be a house you could rent on the market right now. If you don't mind it being in a wizarding neighborhood."
"Anything's fine with me," Dudley said. "Beggars can't be choosers. And Celia is all that matters now." He began to talk, filling his cousin in on all that had happened, while Harry listened quietly.
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