ROTTEN TO THE CORE

Dudley hated his new braces. He was fifteen years old and they made him look like he was ten! Braces were not intimidating at all. When he was cornering one of the little kids at the park, muscles bulging under his shirt, eyes shining with malice… his mouth would widen, the glint of the baby blue metal off-putting to the kid's fear. Why the hell did they have to make his braces baby blue anyway? He wasn't a poof.

All of his mates took the piss out of him for it, but the worse was when he came home.

XXX

"Potter. Better stay out of my way this summer. I don't wanna see your ugly mug at all. Got it?"

"Wow Dudley, you actually lost all of that weight. I'm so proud of you." The sarcasm was so overpowering that it made Dudley's blood boil.

Flexing his muscles, he mumbled: "I'm still stronger and bigger than you, freak."

It was true, but what was astonishing was that Harry seemed thinner than the last time he had seen him. Not to mention that his cousin was very pale and looked haunted. Not that it mattered to him in the slightest, he didn't care about Potter.

"Maybe, but we both know who got the intelligence from the family tree."

"I'm not thick!"

Harry arched an eyebrow. "I've seen your end of year report. A lot of F's on it."

"Them teachers don't know what they're talking about! Shut your face!"

"Dudley… what is that on your teeth?" Harry sounded amused, and that was when Dudley realised that his cousin had seen the awful contraptions on his teeth.

Pulling his top lip over his teeth, he hissed: "Nothing. You didn't see nothing."

"Oh I think I did. I thought it was weird how you were barely showing your teeth when you were talking just now. Come on, what are you hiding? Don't make me use magic on you."

This threat caused Dudley's eyes to widen drastically. Ever so slowly, he opened his mouth, cringing as Harry snorted.

"The dentist always said your teeth were rotten. Seems as if your dental hygiene matches your personality."

Narrowing his eyes sharply, Dudley snarled: "Very funny. Least I don't have to wear stupid glasses."

"Says the person who, because of his actions, has to wear braces."

Dudley shot back with a cruel retort. "At least my parents are alive!"

Harry's amusement was wiped clean and he abruptly barged past Dudley, unable to fire back. Cedric's recent death haunted his every waking moment and being back at the Dursleys was soul destroying.

Dudley watched Potter go with triumph. He may look like a geek because of the braces, but he could still beat Potter, without the aid of magic.

XXX

"Mum, how the hell am I supposed to eat anything with metal on my teeth?"

"I made you soup, Duddykins. The dentist recommended liquids for the first couple of weeks, just to help your teeth adjust."

"I don't want soup! I'm not on my diet anymore!" Dudley slumped in his chair at the dining table, sulking. Seeing the sizzling steak on his father's plate, he pouted.

"It's not fair! Dad has steak!"

"Daddy's teeth are all grown and straight. I'm sure it won't take long for yours to become perfect. You are my perfect little angel, after all."

Across the table, Harry snorted. Vernon beamed proudly at his son and Petunia curled her slender arms around her massive son, planting a kiss on top of his gelled blond hair.

"Eat your soup, sweetiekins and you can have chocolate ice cream afterwards."

Dudley merely grunted in dissatisfaction.

XXX

"I fucking hate these braces, man. Dentist said I couldn't have fizzy drinks, smoke or eat stuff that's gonna get stuck."

"How long you got to have them in for?"

Heaving himself onto the low brick wall outside of Mrs Figg's house, Dudley sighed.

"A year at least. I'm fucked if I get hit in the mouth when I'm boxing."

"You'll have to wear a mouth shield." Taking a drag on his cigarette, Piers blew out the smoke through his nostrils. "Unlucky, Dud."

"And my wisdom teeth might come through soon as well. If I have to have them taken out… I don't want no more dentistry shit. Though," Dudley pondered. "Getting high off the anaesthetic would be hella nice. Oi, give me the fag."

"Nu-uh." Piers stubbed the cigarette out on the wall. "Dentist's orders."

Dudley growled. "Stupid bitch."

They lingered around the wall for fifteen minutes, before the curtains in the living room began to twitch. Noticing this, Piers piped up:

"I want to go corner shop, get some gum. You coming?"

"Yeah. I need to go gym later. Potter's back, driving me fucking nuts. He keeps smiling at me every time we pass each other. He's the one with the shitty life, yet he's got perfect teeth? It's bullshit."

"That is. Why's he always come back for the summer? Don't St Brutus keep their criminals during the holidays?"

Dudley's heart fluttered. "Er, nah. He has to come back to ours. Some crap that his school laid out when he first started attending. Come on, lets move before the cat lady comes out."

They headed off down the road to the corner shop, Piers grabbing a stick of strawberry flavoured gum. He strolled up to the counter, dropping some loose change onto the surface. Dudley hovered by the door of the corner shop, stomach rumbling. He needed food before he went to the gym, and he was going to put his foot down regarding what kinds of food he would be eating.

'No liquid shit. This time, I'm eating real food.'

"I'll walk you back to yours, D."

"Right. Gimme some gum."

"D? The dentist said no."

"And I can do whatever the hell I want. Give me one!"

Eyes widening, Piers opened up the packet and allowed Dudley to grab the first stick. Slowly walking away from the corner shop, Dudley popped the gum into his mouth and began to chew, Piers copying him. As Piers smacked his gum, Dudley smirked.

"See? It's all fine, knew that silly cow didn't know what she was talking about."

He chewed with more enthusiasm and was continuing to do so, until his teeth jammed together painfully, his braces tugging so much it felt as if they were threatening to slide off his teeth. Dudley stopped dead, a road away from his house and cursed.

"Fuck, Piers. My braces… the gum…"

His best friend's mouth fell open, observing Dudley with a slack jaw. The bigger of the duo was straining to keep his mouth open, his words garbled, and every little attempt to move his mouth resulting in a grunt of pain.

"D-Do something!"

Piers shut his mouth so fast that the gum in his mouth ended up being pushed near to the back of his throat, blocking his airway. Choking, Piers bent over and coughed, trying to dislodge the gum. Dudley rolled his eyes at his friend's display.

"Fucking t-typical… Ow, god, my braces hurt so much…"

A spit on the ground occurred next to him, a wad of gum flying out of Piers's mouth. He cleared his throat and put his hand on Dudley's back, pushing him forward, his voice panicked.

"Lets go to yours. Your Mum will have to ring the dentist, look at me."

Dudley turned his head towards Piers, revealing the state of his mouth. Gum was wrapped round both sets of braces and his jaw was practically locked into place. Piers winced, hurrying his pace.

"Your Mum in?"

"Y-Yeah, always. Spying on n-neighbours… OW! BLOODY… GET THIS G-GUM OUT! IT HURTS!"

XXX

"Oh, Duddy. The orthodontist can't see you till this evening."

"This evening? The state of the NHS."

"That's the only slot they had, Vernon. Dudley's been booked in as an emergency."

Vernon harrumphed in annoyance, before giving his son a concerned look. "Does it still hurt?"

"Y-Yeah…" Dudley wiped the drool pouring out of the side of his mouth with his mother's clean handkerchief. He was sitting in his father's armchair, glass of water on the table beside him. Two hours he had been sitting still, mouth aching and stale gum messing up his braces. No liquid foods were allowed, in case he 'hurt himself', so he was stuck, watching the clock count down. Piers had left after dropping him off, claiming football practice, which Dudley knew was bullshit. Piers sucked at playing football, he always fell over the ball, though he was quick on his feet. Dudley didn't blame him for escaping from his house.

With his freaky cousin and barmy parents, his house was one of madness.

Thinking of Potter, Dudley glanced over to where his cousin was leaning against the living room doorway, silently laughing his head off. Just as his parents had been fretting over him for the last one hundred and twenty minutes, Potter had been in various stages of laughter upon seeing the state of his cousin's mouth. All noise had disappeared ages ago, but the physical shakes of a laughing fit still remained and it made Dudley's blood boil.

'If Potter takes a photo of this to show his freaky friends, I'm going to pound him.'

XXX

Petunia and Dudley arrived back home at half nine. She bundled her son into the house, fearful eyes darting from one neighbouring house to the other. The streets were dimly lit, but you could never be too careful. Little Whinging was full of nosy people and if anyone caught sight of her son… heaven forbid.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Petunia let Dudley raise his head and the reaction he received from his Dad made the youngest Dursley want the ground to swallow him up. Vernon gasped, dropping his chocolate biscuit onto the carpeted floor. But Harry's reaction caused Dudley to grit his teeth and growl. His cousin burst into laughter, waving a hand about in the air, seemingly moved on from his earlier depressive mood. Petunia steered her son over to the sofa, where he sat down, fists clenched.

Brightly coloured headgear keeping all of his teeth in place, Dudley zeroed in on his laughing cousin and hissed:

"Not a single word."