Chapter Five

"Because it is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it."

Harry burst out of the bathroom immediately, gaping at the ridiculous scene before him in alarm, and simply stood there for a moment or two, eyes wide. Dudley himself was inching toward the wall, mouth open in horror as the buffalo snorted in surprise and stared down at Dudley in what appeared to be a menacing manner. As Dudley gave a small, pig-like squeak of terror, Harry seemed to come to himself… and promptly exploded into laughter.

"HARRY!" shrieked Dudley as the buffalo looked between Harry and Dudley and came running in Dudley's direction, apparently finding Harry the more threatening of the two. Dudley squeaked again and ducked out of the way, his ears still ringing with Harry's laughing. "HARRY, DO SOMETHING!"

"I'm sorry," Harry gasped, clutching his stomach, face contorted. "It's just… Professor Flitwick… and…"

"TELL ME LATER!" Dudley yelled, pressed up against the wall, frozen in terror. "I'M—GOING—TO—BE—EATEN—BY—A—BUFFALO!"

Harry only laughed harder. "Buffalos are herbivores, Dud," he said, breathing deeply, still clutching the stitch in his side. "It's not going to hurt you."

"HARRY, I JUST DID MAGIC!" he shrieked, hands clamped over his bottom out of habit. Harry's laughs stopped abruptly. "GET RID OF IT!"

Harry leapt forward, grabbed his fallen wand, and pointed it at the buffalo, which was now crashing into furniture as it tried to run from the boys now together. "EVANESCO!" he bellowed, and with no fanfare whatsoever, the buffalo was gone, leaving Dudley against the wall, staring in shock into the empty space left behind.

"What did you say?" Harry asked quietly, now eyeing the wand furtively. Dudley didn't answer. "Dudley, what did you say?"

"I don't want it to come back," Dudley muttered, now blushing furiously.

Harry's tense frame relaxed ever so slightly. "It's not going to if you aren't holding the wand, Dudley. Which spell was it?"

"The one that woman… McGonagall… used," Dudley mumbled, not meeting Harry's eyes. "Desodio."

"Desodio? Oh—Defodio. Oh, of course…" Harry seemed lost in his own world for a moment. "Flitwick—that was my Charms teacher—he said something about buffalos appearing if you say 's' instead of 'f'. You must have mixed up the letters."

Dudley was still breathing hard, but he tentatively let his arms fall to the side, leaning his head against the wall now. "I just did magic," he repeated in a whisper to himself. "I did magic…"

Harry sat on the now-battered bed slowly, transfixed. "We can't tell anyone about this, Dudley," he said quietly. "No one. Not until we understand how it happened. All right?"

Dudley nodded, at a loss for words, and met Harry's eyes fearfully. "What now?" he asked softly.

Harry sighed heavily. "We stay in the castle," he said finally, and again, as though formulating a plan on the spot: "We stay in the castle and tell no one about this, we can't have you subjected to research if word gets out when you need to be protected. It's the first day of term… I'll put out a story that I'm staying for my last year of Hogwarts. It'll make sense because I only finished Auror training last week. You've broken up with Mafalda, so no one will be suspicious if you don't return to Godric's Hollow."

"But… where will I stay?" asked Dudley, blinking. "We can't keep using this room… right? They'll find out."

To Dudley's great surprise, Harry smiled. "Simple," he said easily. "The Room of Requirement."

-

It was strange, twiddling a wand between his fingers so carelessly and marveling that he could do magic, draw things out of midair and destroy in the blink of an eye and create. But he wasn't a wizard—he knew he wasn't a wizard from the way even the simplest spells were weak and the Room of Requirement wouldn't do his bidding. Harry had made comfortable provisions, and yet… something was wrong, something was amiss, something was off.

Andromeda had become his tutor, teaching him to cast what feeble a Patronus he could. Even with no dementor present, it was difficult—too difficult—he could not manage. Harry was in the castle as well, finishing his seventh year as a cover: "It makes sense because I only just finished my Auror training," Harry explained, and Dudley nodded, despite knowing nothing of which Harry spoke.

But life at Hogwarts was not without its perks. In spite of his lingering fear, it was somewhat fascinating to read about the history of magic in the books left by Andromeda; he ate at the Hog's Head for two meals of three. All that was really missing was a friend—but—

"DUDDYKINS!"

Apparently, his social life was covered as well in the form of a four-year-old orphan wizard inordinately fond of teddy bears.

"Hello, Teddy," said Dudley rather uncomfortably; he'd never been that relaxed around the more innocent children, even as one himself. Teddy Lupin, it seemed, was Andromeda's grandson, Harry's godson, and equally new to the castle: Andromeda had only just begun her first year of work as a professor. "How was your day?"

"Good!" exclaimed Teddy enthusiastically, and he was off, raving about his latest escapades around the floor of the castle to which he was confined. Dudley listened only halfheartedly, letting his mind wander until—"And Mummy took me to the kitchens, and you should see the elves and the food and the—it's amazing!"

Dudley started. "Elves?" he asked somewhat cautiously. Harry hadn't mentioned anything about other magical creatures before. "Elves… here?"

Teddy nodded, evidently thrilled. "And they're all really nice, they give me whatever I ask for, but I try not to be greedy because Daddy tells me not to."

Dudley smiled weakly. "That's great, Teddy," he said encouragingly. "Any chance you want to go again with me and Mummy sometime?"

A smile broke out on Teddy's face, and Dudley couldn't help but wonder whether this could have been Harry under the care of Lily and James.

Lily and James—the names sounded foreign to him even now. He hadn't known the names of his aunt and uncle until Harry had learned that he was a wizard; after a fair amount of prying, Petunia had told Dudley that they'd met once, when Dudley was a child, but he held no recollection of it whatsoever. His parents had always insisted that Harry's parents had been awful, but if what Harry—and everyone else in this world—said was true…

And what had even become of Harry? He'd gone from a quiet, vulnerable boy to such a leader in the blink of the eye; even when he came of age, Harry hadn't been nearly this assertive. Dudley was happy for his cousin—self-confidence had never hurt anyone—but it was still strange to meet such an entirely new person. Besides, he felt the occasional twinge of guilt that such changes had only taken place when Dudley had left Harry's life… but that couldn't be true; he'd only seen Harry over the summers for years and hardly was a blip on his cousin's radar.

"Duddy?"

As he tore himself from his thoughts, Dudley couldn't help but think: he had to know.