Dudley woke up with a hangover and no idea where he was.
"You hungry?" a woman's voice asked from over his head. "I can whip up some eggs, if you are."
"Mmph?" Dudley asked, squinting against the bright light streaming in through a floor-to-ceiling window.
"Or toast, if that's more your style." The woman moved to stand in front of the window; her entire face was cast into shadow, but he could see her silhouette, and the familiar curve of her hips tugged at something in his memory. The pub. "Hello? Are you all right?"
"M'fine." Dudley pressed his palms against his eyes. "Massive headache."
He heard the woman's heels click-clack to the other side of the room and pulled his hands away from his face in time to see her rifle through her purse. "Aspirin?" she asked, turning around and shaking a small bottle of pills.
Her face was moon-pale, with eyes that slanted delicately and lips that were, if his hazy memory served, impressively adept at kissing. "Thanks," he said, struggling to sit up.
She smiled as she click-clacked back to him and teased out a pill with her finger. "One or two?"
He groaned. "Three."
She laughed and put two in his hand. "Coffee?" she asked. "I've already got some brewing in the kitchen, if you'd like. Or tea?"
Dudley swallowed the pills. "Coffee," he said. "Please."
The pub, last night, eight o'clock. She'd been dressed in red, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, and she'd been drinking whiskey. . . .
"Coming right up." She started for the kitchen. "Loo's that way, if you want a shower," she added over her shoulder.
"And by the way. I had a great time last night."
He'd never been to that pub before - Queasy Cauldrons, or something like that - and they'd looked at him funny when he'd asked for a Scotch on the rocks. . . .
"Coffee and toast," the woman said when he emerged from the shower dressed in yesterday's clothes. "It's on the table for you."
"Thanks." He sat down. The chair creaked under his weight, although he wasn't nearly as heavy as he'd been in his teenage years.
She sat down across from him with a plate of scrambled eggs and a coffee of her own. "I do hope you won't be late to work," she said, flicking her eyes toward the grandfather clock in the foyer. "I have a fireplace. You can Floo, if you need to. I don't know what time you start in the mornings."
"Oh, no." He swallowed noisily. "I have flexible hours."
The bartender had told him they didn't accept credit cards, but he also made a fuss about Dudley's cash, and that was when the woman had stepped in and paid for him. . . .
"So do I." She tapped her gold necklace knowingly, but whatever secret code she was trying to convey went over his head. "Do you work at the Ministry, then?"
"Nah." He drained his coffee cup. "Grunnings."
"I work at Grunnings. My father's the manager."
"Yeah. It's a drill company?"
"Oh. Never heard of it." She leaned forward to refill his coffee. "Do you like working with your father?"
She'd told him her name, but he couldn't remember it now, because after his Scotch she'd bought him a whiskey, only it was stronger than any whiskey he'd ever had, and almost sweet, and everything after those first few sips was blurred. . . .
He shrugged. "It's fine."
She licked her lips. "Maybe I have heard of it," she said. "Maybe I'd remember if I heard the manager's name?"
He smirked. He knew this game - she couldn't remember his name, either. "Vernon Dursley."
"Dursley," she repeated. "So tell me, Mr. Dursley, what brought you into the Leaky Cauldron last night with nothing but muggle money in your pocket?"
He swallowed his last bite of toast. "Pardon?"
"You tried to pay the bill with a piece of plastic," she said with a little smile. "Were you already drunk when you walked in?"
He shook his head. "Just exhausted. What's wrong with paying by card?"
The woman was looking at him funny. "Where did you say you worked again?"
"Grunnings. We make drills." He desperately wanted another piece of toast, but he didn't see the toaster. "Where do you work?
"The Ministry," she said, standing up and collecting his plate. "Department of Magical Transportation."
Dudley blinked. "Department of what?"
She set the breakfast dishes in the sink. "Transportation?"
"No." He was on his feet. "No, you said - that word - m-magic."
She turned to look at him, eyebrows raised. "Are you sure you're all right, Mr. Dursley?"
Something clicked in his mind, and he staggered backwards. "Do you know Harry Potter?"
"Do you mean - do I know of him, or do I know him personally?"
"Do you - do you know him?" Dudley repeated stupidly. His heart was pounding.
She bit her lip. "I dated him, actually, for a little while. You're white as a ghost, did you have one too many firewhiskeys last night?"
"Are you one of them?" Dudley asked. "A - a wizard?"
"I'm a witch," she corrected. "Aren't you a wizard?"
He shook his head and began to moan.
"I'm going to throw up," he said, and then he did.
The woman made a noise of disgust and pulled a long stick from her back pocket. "Evanes - "
"NO!" Dudley roared. "DON'T USE - DON'T!"
"Okay!" The woman stowed her wand and held her hands up in surrender. "Okay. Take it easy."
Dudley wiped his mouth with a trembling hand and lowered himself to the floor. "Who are you?"
"My name is Cho Chang," she said in a noticeably patronizing voice. "I'm a witch. I went to Hogwarts with Harry Potter - years and years ago. I work for the Department of Magical Transportation - you know, Portkeys, Apparation, that sort of thing. I'm actually Head of Broom Regularity Control. Couldn't let go of Quidditch after Hogwarts, I suppose, but I'm not good enough to join the League, so I make up for it by working at the Ministry of Mag - "
"Stop." Dudley was green again. "Don't - just stop."
"Okay. Okay." Cho knelt next to him. "Do you want anything? More coffee? More aspirin?"
She waited, but he didn't elaborate further. "Who are you, then?" she asked. "And if you aren't a wizard, how did you find the Leaky Cauldron?"
"I'm Dudley Dursley," he said. "I - I'm just normal."
"I like to think I'm pretty normal, too," Cho said with a hint of sourness in her tone.
"I mean I'm not - I don't do - I'm just a human."
"You're a muggle," Cho supplied. "Which is fine. There isn't anything wrong with that."
"I know there isn't!" Dudley closed his eyes and tipped his head back. "Harry Potter's my cousin," he said a moment later.
He heard Cho suck in her breath. "Is he now."
"Yes. But I haven't seen him in years. We get his Christmas cards, that's all."
"Well, he works with me at the Ministry," Cho said. "If you want to Floo over right now and see him, I - "
"It's a form of magical transportation," she said. "It - you stand in the fireplace and throw Floo Powder, and then you shout the name of your destination, and then you - "
"You're the one who asked," but she stopped.
"Is Queasy Cauldrons just for wizards?" Dudley asked.
"Leaky. It's for wizards and squibs." Cho looked a little worried. "Muggles aren't supposed to be able to see it. Do you go in often?"
"Never before last night," he said. "I've never gone home that way before."
Cho tapped her chin with her index finger. "It could be because of your cousin," she said. "There's magic in his veins, maybe you got just a hint of it as well."
"No." He shook his head wildly. "No, no, I'm not like that, I'm just Dudley, I'm just normal."
But Cho was already pulling out her wand. "Hold this," she said, pressing it into his hand. "Just for a second."
He let her close his fist around the stick.
"Do you feel anything?"
There was a faint hum beneath his fingers.
She'd pulled him into her arms just outside the pub and kissed him hard - it had felt like they were twisting and spinning - and when she'd pulled away they were in her bedroom, and he hadn't understood how they'd gotten there but he wasn't about to complain. . . .
"Nothing," he lied, dropping the wand on the floor.
"Worth a try," Cho said, bending to retrieve it
"What time is it?" he asked
"Half past nine." She reached around to unclasp her gold necklace. "If you're late, I can send you back."
"Time Turner," she said, as if that explained everything. "Everyone who works at the Ministry has one." She held out her necklace; he recoiled. "It can't hurt you. It's just a Time Turner. Do you know what that is?"
He shook his head. "Don't tell me."
"It can send you back in time. That's all. It doesn't hurt. It isn't scary."
"I don't like it."
Cho, looking a little disappointed, put it back around her neck. "Do you regret last night?" she asked, not meeting his eye. "Knowing what you know now?"
"Yes," he said with force.
Cho snapped her head around to glare at him. "No need to be rude."
"It's actually quite prejudiced of you, hating magical people so much. Are you jealous? Is that the problem?"
He laughed. "Jealous? No, not at all."
"What is it, then?"
Dudley shrugged. "My mum hated magic. Dad, too."
She waited, but he said nothing more. "That's it?" she asked. "You regret all the fun we had last night because you think your parents would disapprove?"
He considered it for a moment. "I s'pose, yeah."
"Doesn't that seem stupid to you?"
He shrugged again. "A bit, yeah."
"A bit." Cho sighed, but there was a smile on her face. "I'll show you out, then."
Dudley heaved himself to his feet and started for the door.
"Not that way," Cho said, and he stopped. "This way."
She was pointing at the giant fireplace.
"No," he said.
She smirked. "Yes."
"Not the Foo."
"Floo. And yes." She took his hand and tugged. "Come on."
"I don't want to."
"I can change your mind," she whispered.
She'd kissed him so hard he'd forgotten who he was, and they fell on the bed in a tangled mess of dizziness and laughter, and it was the first time he'd laughed in ages because Grunnings was going under and Dad was about to lose his job and Mum was sleeping in the guest room and the word "divorce" was flying around, and he hadn't told his parents that he couldn't make rent this month or that he was this close to writing Harry and asking for help - none of that mattered, because this woman was making him laugh, and he didn't remember her name but he was going to remember her smile. . . .
"I'll make sure nothing bad happens," Cho promised.
He gave in.
He kept his eyes closed as she positioned him in the fireplace. "Just say Ministry of Magic," she said. "Try it. Take a practice round."
"Ministry of M-magic," he whispered.
"Confidently. Magic. It's only a word, Dudley. It can't hurt you."
"Ministry of Magic."
"Good!" He felt her lips graze his cheek. "Okay. Do it for real this time. Take this," and she put a handful of powder in his hand, "and throw it at your feet, and then say 'Ministry of Magic.'"
"Okay." He opened his eyes. "Okay."
"I'll be right behind you."
She stepped back.
He cleared his throat. "Okay." With a grunt, he threw the Floo Powder at the bottom of the fireplace. "Ministry of Magic!" he yelled, and then his body was being sucked up into the flue - he expected to come out on top like a reverse Santa Claus, but he didn't, something sucked him to the left, the right, up, right again, down, left, left, a third left, a fourth - he was going in bloody circles - he was going to be sick again -
He hit the ground chest-first.
He looked up.
"Dudley, is that you?"
"Hiya, Harry," Dudley said with a weak grin as he pulled himself to his feet.
"What are you doing here?" his cousin asked. "The auror office got a call from the Department of Magical Transportation saying there was a muggle in the Floo Network - they were thinking kidnapping, or a hostage situation - but I didn't expect - what are you doing here?"
"Erm." Dudley shuffled his feet. "Well. It's a long story, actually. I was coming home from work, and I stopped to buy a drink at Queasy Cauldrons, but - oof!"
He was slammed from behind as Cho Chang tumbled out of the fireplace. "You made it, Mr. Dursley," she said. "Not too traumatizing, I hope?"
"Cho?" Harry said.
She looked up. "Harry."
"You know Dudley? And Dudley, how do you know - what the hell's Queasy Cauldrons?"
"He means the Leaky Cauldron," Cho said.
"It's a pub," Dudley explained. "For wizards."
Harry blinked. "Dudley - you just said wizard. And you didn't even cry."
"I know," he said with the grin of a man who's immensely proud of himself. "And I held a wand, too."
She had kissed him so hard that he'd laughed, and even in his drunken haze he'd thanked God for the pub that didn't take credit cards.
Quidditch League, Round 10
Word Count: 2,267
Prompt: Department of Magical Transportation
[Disney Competition: Bolt - write about a muggle who marries (or dates) a witch or wizard.]
[One of Every Letter Challenge: Q]