Chapter 1 : Different Dudley, New Nightmare
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A/N This is my first fic, so please let me kow what you think of it. I'm trying to keep my characters as true to canon as I can, but I want to twist the plot a bit. Also, it takes place directly after OOTP as I wrote it before the final two books were out, thus everything will be slightly AU now. Thanks everyone for reading!
I'm currently editing and re-vamping the story from the 1st chapter onward. It needed some polishing. I will finally finish this thing!
A shrill scream from the kitchen of Four Privet Drive was the first sound to meet Harry Potter’s ears on his first day of summer holidays. Harry had intended to lie-in his first morning home from school, if he could even call this wretched place his home, but instead, the high-pitched screech of his horse-faced Aunt Petunia woke him from his dreams.
He opened his sleep-heavy eyes and looked about the room to see what could possibly have been the matter, but he found that nothing was in focus. Harry fumbled across his bed and grabbed his thin-framed glasses from the bedside table. The room instantly cleared of the blind haze and he started scanning the room to see what he might have done to offend Aunt Petunia. Then again, the Dursleys rarely needed a reason to despise him.
His search was abruptly cut off by another shout; this time low and growling.
‘Get down here boy!’ Uncle Vernon’s voice rushed up the stairs to the meet the fifteen-year-old who, as of yet, did not know what he had done wrong.
Harry’s eyes darted around the room one last time and landed on Hedwig’s open golden cage.
‘Oh no,’ he muttered to himself as he grabbed a pair of jogging bottoms and ran down the stairs to try and save his owl from whatever torment the Dursley’s had surely made her suffer. He ran down the stairs jumping three at a time, ignoring the squeaking banister and forgetting to duck at the end of the staircase. WHACK!
Harry fell backwards and landed hard on his shoulder as he threw his arms around, grabbing for something to soften the fall. He looked up from the unforgiving hallway floor to see his uncle’s robust form waddling -as that was the best way to describe Vernon's movements - as quickly as it could toward him.
‘Get up off the floor you lazy ingrate!’ Vernon grunted, voice filled with the usual disgust reserved for Harry.
‘I fell down Uncle Vernon!’ Harry spat at him, anger evident in his bright green eyes, as he held the growing welt on his forehead.
‘What are you holding your head for? Worried what’s left in there might spill out?’ Vernon laughed an unusually high laugh at his own joke, unmoved by his nephew's pain.
Harry, used to his uncle’s constant jibes about his intelligence, normally would have let it go unnoticed, and not given him the satisfaction of a reaction. Though this morning, he had been rudely awakened by his screaming aunt and bashed his head on the plaster above the stairs; not exactly incentive to think straight.
‘No, I’m trying to cover my eyes so that your ugly face isn’t the first thing I have to see in the morning.’ Harry regretted this the moment it came out of his mouth. Vernon’s fat purple face darkened and he lunged forward, grabbing Harry’s ear between his sausage like fingers.
‘Now you listen to me boy. Your ruddy kind might allow that sort of ungrateful talk, but in this house you will respect me, your Aunt Petunia and your cousin Dudley. Do I make myself clear?’ Vernon growled in Harry’s face so closely that spittle rained down onto it. Wanting to escape his uncle’s sweaty clutch and putrid breath, Harry nodded quickly and pulled himself free, wiping his face. After a final glare, Harry strode into the kitchen trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his forehead and looking around for his pet owl.
He immediately spotted her, as it would have been difficult to miss really: she was perched on the butter dish in the center of the dinner table, nibbling bacon off of Aunt Petunia’s breakfast plate. His aunt looked on in disgust from behind the kitchen counter where she couldn’t be touched by the foul creature, while Dudley held his ground at the table, stuffing as much food into his mouth as he could. had the situation not been so dire, Harry might have laughed.
‘Look at what your filthy creature has done!’ Petunia shrieked through pronounced, gritted teeth. She pointed a bony finger at Hedwig and cringed as the owl dipped its head down for another strip of bacon. Vernon hobbled into the room and stood behind Petunia, his face fat and blotchy.
‘If you don’t get that ruddy beast out of our kitchen this instant, I will lock it in its cage forever!’ he threatened, opening a drawer and pulling out a padlock for Harry to see. Harry rushed forward, intending to grab Hedwig and bring her to safety, but stubbed his foot and stumbled forward. Dudley, thinking that Harry was about to nick something from his plate, took a swing at him and sent a jug of orange juice spilling toward the neatly preened owl. Not wanting to set talons in the sticky substance, Hedwig jumped across the table knocking all the trays of breakfast around the floor and finally spread her wings to set off. Harry lunged forward to stop her but he wasn’t quick enough, and she set off over Petunia’s head and out the opened kitchen window.
‘It tried to attack me!’ Petunia shrieked, wide-eyed and terrified. ‘Did you see it Vernon, it nearly pecked out my eyes,’ she sobbed into her burly husband's chest. Vernon looked up at his nephew and the look in his eyes told Harry that whatever it was he was planning, it wouldn’t be good.
‘Boy, go and get your school things from your room and bring them down here this instant!’ he ground out in a tone as though daring Harry to challenge him. Not wanting to lose control of his accidental magic, Harry turned and walked out of what seemed to him like a lowered kitchen doorway.
He walked up the creaking stairs, not bothering to avoid the ones he knew made noise, and entered the first door on the right hand side of the corridor. His small, dark room did not hold much furniture and contained even less personal belongings as he never received gifts from the Dursleys, and only received them from his friends during the school year or on his birthday. Besides, the few treasured items he got from his friends were more or less magical and were not tolerated by the Dursleys. These were kept hidden in his trunk and out of sight.
A home was meant to reflect the personalities of its inhabitants, and Harry's stark surroundings were evidence that this place had never truly been his home. Harry looked around the room once again quickly, knowing that he wouldn’t find any of his ‘school stuff’ in the open, other than Hedwig’s cage that remained on the top of his lone, shabby bureau. He slumped past his desk and leaned down at the foot of his bed to grab his school trunk which still laid unpacked from his fifth year at Hogwarts.
This was terrible. How was he supposed to do his summer assignments if his trunk was locked up again for the summer? Professor Snape would certainly show no mercy.
‘Hurry up, boy!’ Vernon shouted up the stairs, the irritation evident in his voice. ‘Don’t make me come up there.’ A hollow threat, Harry knew, but why look for more trouble.
Harry hastily opened the top of his trunk and rifled past the books on top to find the most important item inside. He reached around until he felt his fingers wrap around the slender piece of holly. He took a moment to enjoy the warm familiarity then pulled his wand out of the trunk, snapped the top back down and clicked the buckles closed before rushing over to his bedside. There he got down on his knees and pulled up the fourth floorboard from the wall to reveal a tiny hollow containing a tiny tin canister. He opened it quickly a placed his wand on top of some old birthday cards he had received from Ron and Hermione. While he could survive without his text books and invisibility cloak, Harry knew that he mustn’t risk being defenseless and without a wand. Too many life or death situations presented themselves to Harry for him to be found unprotected. Snapping the floorboard back in place, Harry grabbed one of the handles to his trunk and began dragging it forlornly to the top of the staircase, trying his hardest not to bang into any of aunt Petunia’s collectibles sitting in cabinets lined along the hallway.
Harry was sweating more than his uncle did regularly, and by the time he reached the bottom of the staircase with the heavy supplies, his T-shirt was clinging to his back. He silently wished he could use a hovering charm. Vernon stood waiting with lock and key outside the cupboard under the stairs; the cupboard in which Harry had spent the first eleven years of his life sleeping and being punished. The thought of the damp, dark space, and the dirty spider infested mattress, made Harry cringe and recall too many nasty memories as he dragged his trunk over to his uncle. Harry watched as Vernon carefully opened the trunk’s latches and slowly lifted the top to peer inside. Petunia had appeared at the doorway and was watching intently as her husband delved into her nephew’s privacy while he was forced to watch in silence. Vernon looked up at Harry with a warning glance and asked him about the trunk.
‘You haven’t set anything funny in here have you? Nothing out of the ordinary will happen if I poke around?’ he asked, not taking his eyes off the trunk’s contents.
‘Of course not,’ Harry answered reluctantly, wishing now that he had set some Filibuster Fireworks to go off if opened by anyone but him. Vernon cautiously reached into the trunk and shoved some of the books around, carefully counting the contents. Harry almost said something when his uncle’s grubby fingers pulled a shiny, silver cloak from the bottom of the trunk. Luckily, he had no clue what it was and discarded it to the side commenting on Harry’s abnormal silver dress. Just as Uncle Vernon was about to close the lid again, he spotted something that clearly piqued his interest. Putting on a smug expression, he fished out an old pair of his grey wool socks.
‘Now isn’t this interesting, Petunia?’ he said holding the socks up for her to see. She turned her nose up at them, offended by the ragged things. ‘I believe we gave these to our dear nephew several years ago at Christmas. Isn’t it touching to see that he holds them so dear as to have kept them in here all these years?’ he gloated with a smirk spreading across his face and a hand on his heart. Harry looked away, gritting his teeth.
‘And he says we never give him anything, or treat him right,’ Aunt Petunia added, now also smirking in Harry’s direction, her horsy teeth daring to jump out of her mouth.
‘I only kept that sad excuse of a gift to muffle the sound of a -’ he started to say, but then stopped abruptly, realising that he would be punished for saying the name of a magical device in the presence of his aunt and uncle.
‘Go on then!’ Vernon prodded Harry hard in the ribs, ‘What is it you’re hiding in here?’ he demanded as he poked his fingers into the bundled socks and pulled out a minute, spherical device. Harry began to warn him against it, but it was too late. A low humming sound escaped from the contraption as it began to spin wildly in Vernon’s hand, making him instantly drop it and the socks to the floor with a yelp.
The whirring noise continued to rise in volume and pitch as the small object cart-wheeled across the floor at their feet. Harry had to suppress a laugh at the look on his uncle’s face. The feeling to laugh soon evaporated as Vernon’s bewildered face became blotchier than before and darkened with rage to a shade of puce that would have made a blackberry jealous.
‘You said no funny business!’ he roared, spittle raining all over the place.
‘I’d forgotten all about it, I swear it,’ Harry explained, scrambling to pick up the tiny defense system and stuff it back into its home.
‘What was that confounded contraption?’ Vernon demanded, having calmed down slightly to a proud purple.
‘It’s a -’
‘ -sneakoscope,’ Petunia interjected, ‘It spins like mad and makes a loud humming noise whenever danger is near.’ At this she shifted her eyes around the room in alarm and looked all around behind her. ‘Are we in danger boy?’ she asked, ‘Are there Death Eaters nearby, or could it be Voldemort himself?’ She shuddered suddenly in what looked to Harry like fear, and once again covered her mouth with a pale bony hand as she looked around.
Harry stood open-mouthed, gaping at his aunt. Had he just heard her correctly, or was he imagining it? The words sneakoscope, Death Eaters and Voldemort could not have just come out of her mouth. Where could she have learned about dark Wizard alarms and the cowled minions of the Dark Lord? Last year she had reacted in the same fearful way at the mention of Voldemort, but he didn’t understand why she would be so quick to mention him.
‘What did you just say?’ Harry quietly asked his aunt, looking from her searching figure to the wide-eyed, flabbergasted expression on his uncle’s face.
‘You heard me boy, now answer me,’ Petunia’s shrill voice cut through the silence as she fixed her wandering glare onto him. ‘Have they come to get you? Is HE here?’ she repeated more urgently this time.
‘No, of course not,’ Harry answered his aunt, then watched her figure relax and relief flood her body. ‘You know they can’t get me here,’ he added, ‘I’m protected, remember?’
Vernon remained still, only opening and closing his mouth like a fish, no sound escaping as he stared in shock at his wife.
‘Oh, close your mouth Vernon. You heard the boy, we’re safe, no need to worry,’ she stated plainly, snapping almost audibly back to her regular self, and walked out of the room as though nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred in the hallway of number Four Privet Drive.
It took Vernon Dursley several minutes to return from his catatonic state, but when he did it was as though nothing had happened. He slammed the lid to the trunk shut and locked the clasps tightly, ensuring that nothing abnormal would get out. He then opened the cupboard behind him and rammed the trunk and all of its contents inside. He pushed and shoved with all his might, as Harry watched from the doorway with crossed arms. Harry started to smile slightly and laughed inwardly as beads of sweat dripped down his uncle’s forehead and his tidy grey hair became a ruffled mess. Several labour intensive minutes later the trunk was stored in it’s new summer resting place, and the cupboard door was locked with the click of a key. Vernon was tired from the immense effort of putting the darned trunk away, and was puzzled by the difficulty he had in doing so. It was almost as though the trunk was pushing back and refusing to go into the dark hiding place. Despite being tired out and slightly worse for wear, Vernon appeared particularly pleased with himself for having taken away his nephew’s few cherished items.
‘Now I’ve told Dudley to keep a close watch on you, to make sure you’re not up to any funny business around this cupboard. I’ve counted all of the items in that blasted trunk and if you even try to get your filthy hands on any of your rubbish, there will be severe consequences,’ he said shaking a fat finger warningly in Harry’s face. ‘And where has that ruddy owl of yours got to now?’
‘She’s probably out in the back garden, perched peacefully in a tree and minding her own business,’ Harry answered truthfully, wanting to get this over with so he could go on with spending his summer holidays miserably.
‘Right, that’s what you’d like us to think. The ugly thing’s surely gone off to warn your freaky friends that we’ve been terrible to you or some other dreadful lie. Petunia and I welcomed you into our home and have given you so much out of the kindness of our hearts, and in return all you offer is ungrateful disobedience at every opportunity!’ Vernon stepped closer to Harry, fixing his eyes into an accusing glare before continuing. Harry looked around for an excuse to get away, hoping that something would help to free him from the torment of his uncle’s lecture and insults. ‘After all we’ve given you, you still send that ruddy creature with letters full of lies to those freaks you call friends and that good for nothing convict of a Godfather.’
‘Don't you talk about him!’ Harry exploded, all of a sudden unable to control his emotions, rage pouring from deep within. ‘Don't you DARE talk about my Godfather! He's my only real family, NOT you!’
The air in the hallway began the crackle and the lights began to flicker dangerously as the potential for magic rushed around the house. Petunia and Dudley walked into the hallway to see what the shouting was about and stopped dead in their tracks at the sight before them. Petunia gasped and covered her mouth with a bony hand as she looked on.
Harry stood in front of Vernon, seemingly taller than before, and his already unruly hair rushed in an unfelt wind as the shadows cast from the flickering lights danced and swirled in an increasingly quick circle around him. Harry’s eye’s narrowed and the usual sparkling emeralds darkened as he clenched his teeth and balled his hands into fists at his sides.
‘I’ve sat around for YEARS and done nothing while you insulted me, my mother, my father and all of my friends. Well, NOT anymore! They have warned you and now I am warning you, you will treat me properly and you will never, and I mean NEVER, speak of Sirius again!'
Two nearby lights on the wall exploded, littering the gathered family with shards of glass and causing them all to cry out in alarm. Harry Started toward the kitchen and the Dursleys all pressed themselves tightly against the wall to protect themselves as he passed. The instant he left the hallway and walked out the kitchen door into the backyard the wind disappeared and all the lights, save for the ones that shattered, returned to normal.
‘M-m-master,’ a tiny voice stammered from the doorway of a room bathed in shadows. ‘The others have just returned.’
The squat figure sunk back toward the doorway slightly, his fear palpable as he waited for his master’s response.
‘And ... did they bring me what I asked for?’ a second voice hissed coldly from the shadows, carrying with it the intense cold of a winter’s wind.
Shaking and stammering more than usual, the squat shape of Peter Pettigrew lowered his head to his master before delivering his news.
‘N-no m-my Lord, they were not able to penetrate the p-protection left by Lily P-p’
‘DON’T YOU SPEAK HER NAME!’ Voldemort’s chilling voice rang from the depths of the darkness, and a shadow seemed to slip away from the rest, toward the quivering servant.
Two menacing, red eyes traveled closer to the twitchy, balding man where he shook visibly.
‘You speak, Wormtail, as though you still had feelings for that filthy mudblood woman, which leads me to wonder if those feelings must extend to her son as well.’
Voldemort’s bony figure loomed over Wormtail’s cowering body as he lifted a pale, skeletal hand to punish his follower.
‘N-no please my Lord,’ Wormtail stammered, his eyes wide and terrified. ‘I am only loyal to you. I d-do not know why I used that filth’s name, and I assure you that the b-boy means nothing to me. If it weren’t for your n-needing him, I would take p-pleasure in killing him myself,’ he scrambled for words, looking up at his master with desperate eyes.
Voldemort’s cruel, pitiless laughter filled the room as he lifted his wand in Pettigrew’s direction, and said with more than a little pleasure from beneath his cowl, ‘All the same, CRUCIO!’
‘Noooooo!’ Harry woke up in a panic and sat bolt upright, throwing his hands to the searing pain in his forehead. Yelping again, he pulled his hands away quickly, feeling the white-hot sensation burning his unmarred flesh. His scar had never reacted quite like this before and he was not sure what to do. As the pain slowly ebbed away, Harry looked around him to see where he was, and why he was sitting on the cold earthen ground.
Unlike his nightmare, the scene surrounding him now was one of warmth and cheer. The sun was shining brilliantly from it’s perch in the mid-afternoon sky, where it rested untouched by the few clouds that danced though the powder blue sky. Harry scuttled backward a bit so that his back rested upon the trunk of a large oak tree in the Dursley’s back garden, and he was bathed in the cool shade offered by the outstretched branches overhead.
Listening to the cheerful chirping of the birds in their haven among the top most branches, Harry let his eyes wander over the landscape before him while he calmed himself. The back of the Dursley’s two-story townhouse was in just as pristine a condition as the front. The paint was perfect, as were the angles of the shutters. The grass in the back garden was cut evenly and trimmed along the edges of the numerous well-placed gardens that followed the walking path through the tiny property. Each of the gardens contained several bloomed specimens used as Petunia’s claim to fame. She tried so hard every year to win the blue ribbon at the garden show for their neighbourhood, but never surpassed the second place. Nonetheless, she doubled her efforts every year, hoping that she might be made president of her block’s garden club, resulting in a more splendorous botanical display each year.
A five-foot white picket fence stood guard around the Dursley residence, giving the illusion of security and privacy, when really it just allowed Harry’s aunt the opportunity to work in her garden and speak aloud so to gloat to the neighbours as she pretended they could not see her. Looking to his left he saw the next door’s dog poking his head through one of the slots and nipping at some of the brilliant purple violets nearest to him.
Harry’s face hardened as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes to think about what had just happened. This was not good, not good at all. He had let Voldemort into his mind again, without any resistance whatsoever, and in the middle of the garden at midday no less! Who knew what the monster could have claimed as his own while he roamed through the intricate pathways that were Harry’s private thoughts and feelings. Why was he so weak?
Twisting his fingers in the grass at his side in frustration, Harry pulled hard and removed a clump of grass before sending it sailing over the fence for the dog to inspect it. And what had that dream meant? Why was Voldemort so concerned with Wormtail’s feelings for his mother? Everyone knew how much he had despised her even when he had still been friends with the other Marauders. And why would Voldemort try and get Harry during the summer while he resided within the walls that offered him the protection of his mother’s love? It didn’t make sense at all.
Harry tried his best to remember all the sinister details of his invasive dream, so that he could later relay it to Dumbledore or one of the other members of the Order. He suddenly realised that at some point this summer he would be removed from the care of his aunt and uncle and returned to the dark Black Manor that served as Headquarters for the Order of The Phoenix.
Harry sighed and closed his eyes trying not to think of his late Godfather, his image almost constantly tugging at the back of his mind and serving as a constant reminder of what he had lost. Harry was still being tormented in his dreams by the death of Sirius Black almost every night, despite his efforts to clear his mind. Harry understood the importance of Dumbledore’s warnings about Occlumency. Although he was not able to practice the art during the summer, he could practice clearing his mind in order to prevent Voldemort from entering his mind during the late hours of the night, and learning valuable information about the Order. This was the first time in a month that Voldemort had broken through the barriers set by Harry for his thoughts, but that he thought was still far too often.
Pulling a strand of his unruly black hair out of his eyes, Harry brought his mind back to the present, where he could contemplate his new dilemma. He had used magic once again outside of Hogwarts and thus broke the decree for the use of magic of underage witches and wizards. He would surely be expelled this time and no matter what help Dumbledore offered it most certainly would not be enough to keep him out of Azkaban. Considering the trial he underwent last year, and the anger he saw in Fudge’s eyes, Harry would have bet all the galleons in his Gringott’s vault that the Minister would be out for blood.
A thought suddenly struck him. He hadn’t used his wand and it had been accidental magic; perhaps the Ministry had not even caught wind of the incident. No Muggles, other than the Dursley’s who already knew about his being a wizard would be the wiser, and as far as he could tell no one had been injured and the wizarding world was left uncompromised.
Harry lay back on the soft grass and thought about what happened, running a hand through his hair and again checking to see if his scar had returned to what he thought of as normal. In the Dursley’s hallway he had simply lost control of his magic as he did every summer away from Hogwarts. Yet this time was different somehow, and Harry could sense that he had changed for a moment in front of his family. The Dursley’s had never before looked so afraid. Their fear is not what bothered Harry so much, but rather what it was they feared; he had seen the look of utter terror in his cousin’s eyes as they watched the room become cast in shadows, and not once did his family members remove their eyes from him. He wondered what exactly had happened to him to strike such fear into people that he knew had quite a strong resolve when it came to him.
Pushing his thoughts aside, he propped himself up on his elbows as Aunt Petunia came strolling out the kitchen door in a summer dress and pearls, an iced beverage in one hand and pruning shears in the other. It was time for the afternoon show Harry liked to think of as ‘I’m better than you are’, starring Petunia Dursley. His thoughts were abruptly cut short as his aunt shouted over one of her perfectly pruned rose bushes at him.
‘Get up off your lazy arse and clean up the mess you made. You might think you can get away with whatever you want, but you are sadly mistaken.’ Lowering her voice to such a whisper that he had to lean over the shrub to hear her, she continued. ‘You are only safe while you are under my supervision. It is my blood that keeps HIM away, so don’t you forget your place,’ she hissed. ‘Now go do the dishes. You slept through lunch so I put a plate of food on your bed,’ she added from over her shoulder as she pulled several stubborn weeds from their strongholds in a flower bed.
The weeks went by slowly in Privet Drive, and Harry still had not heard from either of his best friends, so he decided that it was time to send Hedwig on a flight. He walked over to his desk to pull out some spare parchment, and realised angrily that all of his school supplies were still locked up in the cupboard under the stairs. He would have to get them out soon or else the rest of the summer would be even more bleak than usual.
Lying down on his bed, Harry stared up at his ceiling and thought of how he might get some parchment from his trunk. Maybe he could bribe his cousin for help. Although Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon acted as though his “tantrum” as they were now reffering to it, did not occur, Dudley had begun to act strangely. He had become almost rebellious toward his parents and less hostile toward Harry. He rarely insulted his cousin and over the past two weeks had even let him watch the television in his room three times. Harry thought it more than a little strange that his oversized cousin could show such a lack of hostility, but didn’t dare question it, taking full advantage instead.
Perhaps he could approach Dudley while no one was around and ask him not to tell his parents what he had planned, and if that failed he could always offer him a week’s worth of his puddings. Dudley, still on his mother’s dreadful diet, would surely be unable to turn that down. There, it was decided. He simply needed to wait for a time when Dudley was all alone, and then he could propose the trade.
Picking up some of his oversized, second hand clothes off the ground, Harry quickly tossed Hedwig some owl treats before heading downstairs for supper. Not in a rush this time, Harry avoided the creaking stairs and was sure to avoid cracking his head at the bottom of the staircase. He stopped and inspected where he had hit his head those weeks before and was shocked to see how much lower the plaster arch seemed to him than the previous summer. Surely he had grown taller over the year but he didn’t think it had been that much.
Thinking about his height and looking over at the newly installed light fixtures in the hallway as he passed them, Harry strode into the kitchen to find the three Dursley’s already sitting at the dinner table enjoying their meal. It was no surprise to him that they had started eating without him, but what shocked him was that Dudley and his parents were having a bit of a row; something almost unheard of.
‘But son, you can’t always have everything you want, there are others to think about,’ Uncle Vernon was explaining to his hippo of a son. Harry found this an interesting and foreign concept.
‘You see mum, it’s already begun! You’re forgetting all about me, and soon you won’t even love me any more,’ Dudley said in a hurt voice to his mother, who rolled her eyes and placed her hands on the table next to her untouched dinner plate.
‘Of course we’re not going to stop loving you Duddikins,’ she preened in what she must have thought was a sweet tone, ‘We just can’t go spending the lot of our money on every little thing you ask for.’
Harry made his way around his aunt’s chair and sat down in his regular seat to serve himself. As he reached out to spoon some roast potatoes onto his plate, Aunt Petunia’s pale hand reached out and grasped his wrist, stopping him. Harry stared at her in surprise. In all the years he had lived with his aunt she had probably only touched him intentionally a handful of times.
‘You can have my plate,’ she said, ‘I’m not feeling all that well and there is no sense in wasting a perfectly nice plate of food,’ she ended, sliding her dinner in front of her nephew.
‘Not again tonight Petunia,’ Vernon asked sounding slightly distressed. ‘That’s three times this week already, and it’s only Thursday.’ Uncle Vernon shook his head then flattened his neatly parted grey hair to his head nervously. Had Harry looked at his cousin then, he might have recognised an unmistakably mischievous glint in his eyes, though he still would have been unprepared for his next question.
‘So,’ Dudley started, directing his comment at Harry, who had just taken a bite of steak and peas from his aunt’s plate of cold food, ‘tell me again Harry, what was it that my Aunt Lily did for a living?’
Aunt Petunia stared at Dudley through wide eyes as though he had just uttered a disgusting swear word. Harry choked on a pea and began coughing madly to try and clear his airway of the piece of meat he had swallowed unintentionally. With tears in his eyes he looked up to see the disbelieving looks on his aunt and uncle’s faces as they looked on at their son. Harry gulped down some water from his glass, and stared at Dudley for a moment trying to understand what he had meant.
Dudley broke the awkward silence and started to speak to Harry once again. ‘Well, my mum and dad never speak of her and Uncle James, so I figured who better to ask than their own son. Was she a magic teacher or a magic cop or a magic secretary- ?’ he continued on as though this was a completely normal conversation for them to be having.
‘DUDLEY! What do you think you are doing?’ Uncle Vernon thundered, steak sauce dribbling down his chin and blending in with his face’s usual blotchiness.
Aunt Petunia looked paler than usual and as though she might faint. Harry took this opportunity, thinking it would be the perfect chance to get Dudley away from his parents for the trade he had in mind. He knew it was a slim chance, but it might have been his only one.
‘Maybe we could go for a walk down to the park or around Magnolia Crescent?” Harry suggested standing up and putting his plate of unfinished dinner on the countertop.
‘Oh no you don’t!’ Uncle Vernon shouted, spraying the dinner table with wine and steak sauce.
‘I think that'd be brilliant,’ Dudley said defiantly,following Harry to the kitchen door. They both walked into the dim light of the setting sun, and Harry could see Uncle Vernon fanning Aunt Petunia from where she lay on the floor, until Dudley’s large form blocked them from sight.
The cool evening air was welcomed as it brushed across Harry’s face, and Dudley too seemed to enjoy it as he ran a hand through his lengthening brown locks. The sun was just setting for the night and the houses beyond Wisteria Walk were splashed eerily in a crimson light. The faint outline of the moon had already snuck halfway up into the evening sky and faint specks of shimmering light were quickly breaking through the velvety blue above. Harry was feeling particularly wary, as he knew how very sensitive the situation was. He needed something from Dudley, and he still hadn't the foggiest idea of what his cousin was playing at.
Harry and Dudley fell into step as they walked down to the end of Privet Drive in silence, neither one knowing exactly what to say, and neither of them wanting to speak first. It had been extremely awkward for Harry to ask Dudley to go for a walk. It was the first time Harry had elected to do anything voluntarily with his cousin in fifteen and a half years. Although Harry knew why he wanted to talk to Dudley, he wasn’t sure why his cousin had been so willing to talk to him. Did he really want to know about Harry’s parents or was he simply using whatever saved up material he had to enrage his parents in an act of rebellion? It seemed like a good idea to ask Dudley on this walk, but, where did he go from here? Harry dug his hands into his pockets and took a deep breath before turning to Dudley and starting.
‘So, were you really interested in what my mum did, or were you just taking the Mick, or maybe trying to start a row with your parents?’ he said cautiously, hoping that he wouldn’t get a fist to the side of his head.
‘You’re half right Harry, I was trying to get a rise out of mum and dad, but I s'pose I am curious what she did. Her and Uncle James,’ Dudley responded with a shrug, kicking an empty soda can onto someone’s garden. ‘I’m not going soft or nothing but after everythin that's happened round here, well ...’ he said looking at Harry with a perfectly straight face.
Harry sighed. In for a penny, in for a pound.
‘Well what do you want to know about them Dudley? There’s not much I can say that won’t involve the magical world,’ he said cautiously, looking around to make sure there was no one around who could overhear them. The street was clear and the sun had completely sunk behind the homes ahead. Magnolia Crescent was now bathed in the eerie yellow glow of street lamps and the little light offered from the glittering sky above.
‘I know you idiot, I wasn’t just born yesterday,’ Dudley’s voice answered him with indignation, something Harry thought Dudley incapable of expressing.
‘All right, well, where to begin? My mum was what the wizarding world calls an Auror. That’s someone who catches dark wizards and witches and sends them off to the wizarding prison Azkaban. I guess it’s equal to what the Muggle world calls federal agents, and from what I’ve heard my mum was a darn good one!’ Harry said with a rush of pride.
The thought of his mum apprehending dark wizards all over Britain made him feel that he could most definitely be a great Auror as well, no matter what that Hag Umbridge said.
For the next half-hour Harry spoke of all he could think of about his parents from what he had learned from Professor Lupin and Sirius and Hagrid, while Dudley listened intently, sometimes with wide eyes. The two boys continued to walk down the deserted streets as Harry told his tale and only stopped briefly to do up their jumpers when a cool air swept by. When he was done telling his cousin all that he knew about his parents they had already reached the park at the end of Magnolia Crescent and were sitting on an old vandalised park bench near the side of the road. Harry would not describe the experience as comfortable, like time spent with his friends, but it wasn't exactly unpleasant either. If anything, this was an entirely foreign feeling, and Harry half-expected the real Dudley to re-emerge at any moment.
Harry looked up at his cousin and saw that he was staring determinedly at the corner of Magnolia Crescent and Wisteria Walk, a dark look behind his eyes.
‘What are looking at Dud, is there something in the bushes or something?’
‘Don’t you remember it Harry, it was only just last summer?’ Dudley said quietly, pointing a sausage like finger at the edge of the road where a white metal fence sat undisturbed near the curb. Leaves rustled in the wind and litter whirled by in front of the lonely fence. The broken street lamp above did not contribute to the leering shadows on the road but remained dark, never having been repaired since that night eleven months before.
Realising what his cousin meant, Harry shuddered at the thought of the foul creatures that had attacked them last summer in plain sight of a Muggle residence, and pulled his shirt around himself tighter to warm up. Is this what had brought about the change in his cousin? Perhaps Dudley's terrifying experience had lead him to seek out information about the magical world. He had given little thought to how the Demetor attack might have impacted his cousin, and now he wondered if there might yet be some good to come from the otherwise horrible incident.
‘You mean the Dementors don’t you?’ Harry asked quietly, not wanting to worsen the feelings Dudley might be remembering; the cold emptiness, and the thought that he would never be cheerful again.
‘Yeah,’ Dudley said nodding his fat head, ‘and you said that your mum had to work with those things every time she brought a prisoner to Abzakan. She must’ve been brave,’ he grunted, attempting a smile at Harry before shivering.
‘Azkaban,’ Harry corrected him, ‘But my Godfather was even braver. He spent twelve years of his life in a small cell in the prison, under constant guard from the things.’ Immediately after saying this to his cousin, he wished he hadn’t; he really wasn’t in the mood to discuss Sirius, not yet.
‘You had a proper fit last time you talked about him,’ Dudley said carefully, and Harry caught the trepidation in his question, most likely due to his most recent tantrum. ‘If he’s so much better than us why don’t you go live with him?’ Harry imagined the question was meant to sound as unprovoking as possible, but it fell quite short.
Harry looked up at the sky and blinked a few times in an attempt to clear the unshed tears from his eyes before answering. He would not cry in front of his cousin. The stars twinkled brightly in the heavens like diamonds cast into a dark chasm, and Harry noticed something that he never had before. A peculiar grouping of stars seemed to be shining more brightly than the others, as though five wands were stationed above casting Lumos, and Harry smiled as he realised what he was looking up at.
‘There, right there Dud, do you see it?’ he asked, leaning closer to his cousin and pointing toward the twinkling constellation. ‘That is why I don’t live with my Godfather. It’s called Sirius, the dog constellation.’
Dudley looked on in confusion for a moment, then understood what Harry meant.
‘You mean he’s-’
‘Yeah,’ Harry said quickly, cutting him off before he could say it, ‘At the hands of the same people who have taken away everyone else from me, so if you don’t mind I’d rather not discuss it,’ he said quietly, surreptitiously wiping away a couple of tears and standing up. ‘Now you’ve heard all about my family, so what’s going on with you Dud?’ he asked staring at his cousin, who stood up slowly using the bench for support, and started walking toward home. ‘What is it your parents have done that have made you punish them and suddenly be civil to me?’
Dudley whirled around and pointed a finger in Harry’s face, making him stagger backward over the curb in surprise and fall onto the grass.
‘I don’t really want to talk about it, and I never said that we were mates or anything’ he spat. ‘Just 'cause I’m talking to you don’t mean that we’ll be best pals now and do everything together,’ Dudley continued backing away from Harry a bit so that he could stand himself up again. ‘I just figure that if we have to live together, we can talk a bit ya know.’
‘All right,’ Harry said through gritted teeth as he brushed the grass off his clothes, and tried to calm himself after his fall. How could Dudley be such an oaf. He just sat there and listened to him tell all about his parents’ lives and then turns around and decides that he doesn’t want to be Harry’s friend. He'd expected this, and as usual, Dudley didn't disappoint. ‘I don’t expect you to be my mate,’ Harry continued as he walked up beside Dudley, hearing him huff as he trudged slowly back to his home, ‘I just thought that maybe every now and again we could help each other out.’
Harry decided this would probably be his only chance to ask Dudley for help with his school supplies. After all, tomorrow he might be over whatever it was he was fighting with the Dursley’s for, and go back to hating him. ‘So Dud, I was thinking-’
‘I’m glad you feel that way Harry,’ Dudley interrupted him, ‘because I was hopin’ you might help me out with somethin’.’ He looked up at Harry and began to smile the phoniest smile Harry had ever seen, making Harry narrow his eyes warily.
‘Well it depends,’ Harry said slowly, ‘on what it is you need help with, and if you’ll do me a favor in return.’
‘I’ll do anything you ask, 'specially if mum and dad won’t like it,’ Dudley said, turning quickly to face Harry, causing his many chins to wobble. ‘Just please Harry, help me to get as small as you!’
Harry stopped and stared at his cousin, unsure how to reply. He hadn’t expected such a request and he was almost certain that it was an impossible feat. ‘How do you expect me to help you?’ Harry asked his cousin incredulously, looking him up and down and wondering what had brought on this sudden idea.
Dudley's desperation was quickly replaced by what Harry recognized to be the warning signs of anger. ‘Well, I don't know! Why do you think I'm asking you? Do you think I wanted to have to ask you, of all people for help?'
Not wanting to blow his chance at getting his things back, Harry decided to tread forward carefully. ‘To tell you the truth Dud, I don’t really know how to help you. I don't do many exercises outside of playing Quidditch at school. I think I just have a quick metabolism.’ Harry watched as his cousin’s face darkened and he started to turn away from him. He was going to lose his chance to get his parchment. ‘But, I don’t see why I couldn’t start running and showing you a few things.’
Harry let out a sigh of relief as Dudley’s massive form turned back toward him and his face had a hesitant grin rolling from one chunky cheek to the other. As they walked back down Privet Drive, Harry told Dudley all the details he had worked out to get his parchment, and just as he had hoped, his cousin agreed immediately to help him out.
Walking down the silent and ever curving road in the shadows cast by the overhead street lamps, and plotting back and forth, any on-looking stranger would not have thought the pair to have expressed years of hatred and loathing, but instead might mistake them for friends.
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