Well this is it...I can't tell you how satisfying it's going to be to change this stories status to complete. Of course, it's not really complete, there is still potential for more installments. I have one started. The first two chapters are done, if a little unpolished. So, review if you want it, and put me on Author Alert so you know when it's out!
Dudley Dursley sat alone on a rather pompous-looking new bench at King's Cross Station, not reading the newspaper. That wouldn't be a very notable fact; indeed, most of Dudley's time was spent not reading the newspaper, except for the fact that there was a newspaper positioned a few millimeters below the line of his eyes, being completely ignored. It was no more than cover for his annual pre-school event of people watching. And he had chosen a particularly interesting day to do it on.
Today was the 1st of September, the day where the station was rushed with a sudden influx of both ordinary and wizarding parents sending their young off to school. Dudley's own family was on its way, coming from home, while Dudley had left early from work, as was the tradition, now well established by Dustin's multiple trips. It was his fifth year, Dudley realized. Two more, after this one, and Dustin would be done. Well, maybe he'd head off to some kind of wizarding university, but as of yet, Dudley had heard nothing of the sort, and Dustin hadn't mentioned anything. Dudley didn't even know if they existed, all the wizards he knew seemed to jump straight into some kind of job training program. But of course, he was still a little young to be thinking so far ahead. No, for him, this was just another year.
But for Sarah…well for her it was special. This was her first year, and she was excited as…well, as any kid suddenly being transported from a world of the ordinary to a world of magic and delight. Even for kids who were raised in wizarding houses, magic was something that they observed, but never learned about, never practiced, and to know that they were going to be spending every waking minute thinking about and practicing magic? That was something special. With an odd mixture of fondness and disgust, Dudley remembered his first schooling, or at least, his first schooling away from home, back at good old Smeltings. Looking back, though he remembered how carefree his days were, he couldn't help but feeling that Dolores Umbridge would have fit right in with the staff. Not that it mattered. This was completely different.
A pasty white man waddled awkwardly past Dudley, jeans made for a man at least double his weight hanging around his knees, revealing almost the entirety of his white underclothes, and even some bare leg. His shirt, however, was a short, tight polo. An embarrassed child, maybe a second or third year, scurried along like an ashamed duckling. "Definitely a wizard," Dudley murmured to himself. Certainly all of those clothes had been in fashion at one point. Just not together, and not so riotously overdone. Though of course, for one who spends all their time in robes, baggy clothes would seem to make sense, and this particular gentlemen probably thought he looked just swell, despite the odd stares.
Another family passed, somber, as if they were headed to a funeral. A father delivering monologue to another man, perhaps a butler, an overly blonde mother not even acknowledging her two sulking children. Dudley took a look at them, but decided in the end that they were just normal muggles. They were standing past the entrance to Platform 9 ¾, and menservants were extremely rare in the wizarding world. They used to leave it to house elves, but now even those were becoming less common, thanks to people like Hermione.
Another family bounced along, father and mother beaming, their pure, perfectly straight smiles shining like a beacon from their rich, chocolate skin. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and Dudley couldn't help but smile as he noticed the sleeping red barn owl they towed behind them. There were two boys and a girl following them, all appeared to be school age. The girls were as jovial as their parents, but the boy was caught somewhere between the perpetual pout of adolescence and the excitement of the moment. He was enjoying himself immensely, and wished that he wasn't.
Dudley just laughed at that. He was glad that he had never had to deal with that from his own children. Kate's sunny disposition had guided Dustin through those rough, lonesome, identity-seeking years, both in person and letter, but also through genetics. Sometimes Dudley wondered what he had contributed to the two of his children, but he didn't really care in the end.
More families streamed past, wizard and Muggle, but Dudley was beginning to get quite good at differentiating between the two. Sometime it was something incredibly subtle, like one too many hands on a watch, or a hint of movement from a newspaper trying to stop its fidgeting under the eyes of Muggle watchers. Sometime it was less so, like when the two, perhaps three year old sister of one of Dustin's friends from school snatched her mother's wand and waved it in the air, spewing leeches in every direction. Dudley wondered how it was that he had never noticed wizards before they had been pointed out to him. Ever since he had known magic existed, he had seen quite a few demonstrations, even in public, but before, his mind had always been able to explain it away.
That was the real reason; he supposed, that no one thought it odd that a small child was able to spew leeches from a piece of wood. Well, first of all they probably weren't paying proper attention, but also, the uninterested mind is more likely to dismiss evidence, or cite counter-evidence, then to reconsider an existing viewpoint, more like a lawyer than a scientist.
But anyway, that was all irrelevant, because—
"Dad!" Dudley looked up, he could have sworn he heard Dustin, and it was about time for them to be arriving—
"Dad!" Was that Sarah? No, there was another girl, about her age, chasing after her father with an overlarge suitcase under her arm.
"Dad!" Now that Dudley listened the chorus was everywhere, a hundred children seeking attention from homogenously named parents, if his family was here, there was no way he was going to be able to see them without—
"Dudley!" And as suddenly as if she had apparated, Kate was in front of him, parting the crowds like a shepherd. Dustin and Sarah stood next to her, bags slung over their shoulders, dressed in Muggle formal schooling uniforms. Kate had insisted that they buy them, so that there could be some speck of familiarity in her brain, reminding her that they were, after all, just going off to school, albeit a very bizarre one.
"How long have you been there?"
"Probably like ten minutes," exaggerated Sarah. "Well, no more like twenty seconds," she admitted, "but it was still pretty funny. We kept calling you, and you ignored us for the first little while, until Dustin started calling louder."
"At which point I looked around as confused as a cow in a bounce-house until Kate took mercy and called me by name?" finished Dudley.
"Yeah, basically," laughed Dustin.
Dudley checked his watch. It was later than he had expected. "You're late," he chided, as if it were a comeback for his mild embarrassment.
"Yeah…" sighed Dustin. "There was lots of traffic. If only they would let us borrow those new ministry cars, I heard they can…"
"Be driven by an untrained Muggle?" completed Kate. "Because that's what you'd need if you wanted me to get you here safely."
"Well no, but still…"
"My point wasn't how we should get here next time," reminded Dudley, "but that we should get going this time, so that we don't miss our train." His family agreed emphatically. So they set off down the station, chatting about their days prior to now, which were uneventful, but provided necessary small talk. Dustin fretted over which house Sarah was going to be in, but she assured him that chances were nearly certain that she would be Hufflepuff, it was the sort of thing that ran in families. Dudley wasn't so sure he agreed, even the Weasley children were beginning to diversify, some of them were going to Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. It was probably a good thing; Gryffindor was getting a bit crowded, especially with Weasleys. There was a running joke that you could tell a Gryffindor because he always wore his house colors on his head. Of course, Gryffindor colors also included gold, but that was generally ignored for the purposes of the gag.
And, much before he was mentally prepared, stood the barrier between platforms 9 and 10. It was always such an odd thing, this veil between worlds. Dudley, though welcomed and greeted by his friends on the other side, always felt like an outsider. It was a world of the unpredictable, the unknown, and if there was one Dursley gene that Dudley was grateful for, it was satisfaction with his own life. Adventure was for the young, and he supposed, for wizards. He remembered that a young James had once almost convinced him that if you aimed at the wrong section of the barrier, or didn't concentrate hard enough, you would end up on Platform 9 ½ which would take you straight to Azkaban. Fortunately, Harry had overheard a little bit of the conversation from an adjacent room and remedied the situation.
Dudley supposed that it was a symbolic barrier more than a mental one, he never really had any difficulty convincing himself that the wall was immaterial. It was only that he knew that he would be accepting the reality of the wizarding world by stepping through, the—
But his vigil of thought was interrupted by a buxom, pug-faced woman pushing straight through his family, separating them for half a second. Dudley quickly grabbed Sarah's suitcase once more, his arm found Kate's shoulder again.
"Ready?" asked Dudley, but the suitcase was already out from under his hand leaving him teetering off-balance, as Sarah giggled and broke into a run. And, in another second she was gone, vanishing into the wall into that indefinable trick of attention and mind-warping that is the embodiment of magic to Muggles.
"Well, wouldn't want to lose her," sighed Dustin practically, and he too started off towards the wall. Dudley had no time to prepare himself for his huge symbolic journey, which, now that he wasn't lost in the idea of it, seemed rather silly to him. He joined Dustin at an uncomfortable cantering pace, the speed of a walk without the grace of a run. The wall was rushing at him, almost of its own accord, it seemed, and now his momentum would carry him through, the suitcases pushing him more than he pulled them, and…
…he was through, into fresh pure air, or at least, as fresh and pure as it had been on the other side. And he was on the ground again, smashing a jumbled tangle of limbs underneath his chest. With a start he leapt to his feet, revealing the confused and distraught form of Percy Weasley.
After many hurried apologies and a few polite deferments on Percy's many petitions on broomstick regulation and registration, Dudley reunited with his family. They looked as if they were no more than awe-struck observers in an impossibly realistic 3-D theater. Even Dustin, after years of magical training, still seemed to be dazzled by the ordinary displays of the extraordinary going on all around him.
Dudley scanned the faces of the crowd for people he knew. There were Ron and Hermione, waving good-bye to their eldest, Ginny and Lily, standing side by side, Lily pouting mightily. Harry appeared to be having a quiet word with Albus. Down at the end of the station, if Dudley stood on his tiptoes, he could make out a tuft of turquoise hair that could only belong to Teddy Lupin, though he could barely see it, it was so closely mated to another silvery blond head of hair.
And there, a few feet away from him, was the scowling, yet slightly intimidated face of Draco Malfoy. Dudley had never seen him before, yet when he laid eyes upon him, he felt an odd surge of kinship. Both of them were the villains of Harry's childhood, malicious little bullies drunk on their own power. And both of them had learned that they were playing a much more serious game than they had expected. Dudley had gotten off easy, in comparison to Malfoy, but still, they fulfilled the same role. Malfoy, at least as far as Dudley knew, had never fully repented, but he certainly acknowledged that he had been wrong, and that was enough for Dudley.
Realizing that there was someone watching him, Malfoy looked over and caught Dudley's gaze. Dudley winked conspiratorially. Malfoy looked unsure whether to treat him with respect or disgust, and ended up with nothing but confusion. Dudley smiled, but reverted his attention to his own family.
"Dustin?" asked Dudley, the name serving as an unspoken question.
"Yep, I'm ready."
"Need any special advice, any requests?"
Dustin considered. It was a serious offer, not just a formality. "No, but I'll tell you if I think of any."
"Well…" Dudley nodded. "Onto the train." Kate gave him a tight hug, and Dudley threw in an arm. Dustin tolerated their embraces good-naturedly, maybe even returning a little bit of the affection. He was a good son.
"Sarah?" She looked up at her father, though she was now nearly at the level of his chest.
"I think I'll be alright, Daddy," she replied calmly.
"I'll be alright, Daddy," she asserted, a smile tugging on the corners of her lips.
"Letters?" he asked. "You know we're flexible on that front, you can ask Dustin."
"You write me whenever I write you, or whenever anything is on your mind, or you miss me. And I'll write you whenever I have anything interesting to say, and once a week besides that just for good measure."
Dudley smiled and ruffled her hair. "That's my girl."
"And if I forget I'm absolutely certain that Dustin will nag me like an old widow until I write."
"Only if you're in Hufflepuff," reminded Dustin from the steps of the train.
"You know I will be," shot back Sarah.
"The only sure fire way to be disappointed is to go in with absolute expectations," reminded Kate, punctuating the sentence with a kiss on either of Sarah's cheeks. Sarah rolled her eyes, but returned the hug when it was offered.
"Bye, Dad," she said, suddenly sounding like a little girl no more. She hugged him tightly. "I'll make you proud." The conductor's voice blasted over the crowd, making the final boarding call.
"You always do," replied Dudley returning the hug.
And just like that, she was gone, on the train, waving goodbye, lost in the crowd of faces, like one stalk of grass in a plain. The train was already chugging away happily before Dudley could even comprehend what had happened. A whoosh of hot air vapor blasted across the platform as the last cars lurched past.
"Darn steam," sighed Dudley, wiping away a silent tear. "Always makes my eyes act up."
Kate just smiled and hugged him around his broad chest. "That's my man," she cooed, resting her head on his shoulder as they watched their children depart for a whole new and entirely unique set of adventures.
Sarah bounded up the steps, her mind entirely bifurcated into two warring factions, one longing for a last day of childhood innocence with her parents, her brother, just a little bit more delay, the other half already forgetting them entirely, ready to explore this new world. She gave an occasional odd stutter-step of excitement as she strode down the aisle, attempting nonchalance. Fortunately, the density of students hid this little idiosyncrasy. Dustin had offered for her to sit with him as she was ascending the stairs, but she had kindly denied his offer. After all, she was going to have to make her own friends eventually, and as the compartments only seated four, bringing a little sister along probably wouldn't endear Dustin to his friends, as kind as they all seemed. No, she would find her own way.
And there it was, right in front of her. Albus was surreptitiously sliding the door to his compartment closed, despite the two empty seats within. Probably hiding from his undeserved fame, and unwanted familial visits. But Sarah wasn't family, she was much too close for that.
So it was with a start and a sigh of relief that Albus and Rose looked up into Sarah's face as she abruptly withdrew the door shielding the two of them from the hall.
"It's just you…" laughed Albus.
"Just me?" asked Sarah, cocking an eyebrow in mock offense.
Albus and Rose looked at each other, but Rose explained, "We were just certain that Victoire or Dominique or one of those other infinite cousins of ours would certainly come and dote on us, and honestly, I think we'll have enough attention as it is. Or at least Albus will," she corrected herself. Though Ron and Hermione were close to Harry in fame, their children had not inherited this genetic renown. There were just too many Weasleys for the public to keep track.
"Agreed," replied Sarah. "Then this seat isn't taken?"
"Well…" Albus hesitated. "James said he'd be by later, but he only takes one seat, so go for it." Rose rolled her eyes. She had never engaged in the same level of James worship as Albus. Or any level for that matter. She quickly diverted herself by diving into a pocket on the front of her suitcase.
Sarah plopped herself down in the seat next to Albus, comfortable around familial friends. "So what do you guys have planned for the train ride?"
Albus looked around, surprised he had been asked to plan ahead. "I dunno," he said. "I'm planning on loading up on sweets once the cart comes by, but until then…talk I guess. Catch up with any friends who come along."
Sarah nodded congenially. "That sounds like a good plan. Any topics in particular?" Albus looked lost, but Rose was more than prepared.
"Well," she interjected, withdrawing the searched for object from her suitcase, and spreading the huge cover story across Albus and Sarah's laps. Sarah barely had time to register a burnt-out wasteland, like an atomic crater in the middle of a city, before Rose whipped the newspaper back to stare at the story. After a moment, she paused, looked up over the edge of the paper, and asked pointedly, "What do the two of you think of the Glasgow Fiendfyre?"
Thank you so much to all my readers and reviewers, I just have two final requests.
1. Review one last time! Say whatever is on your mind, what you thought of the story, and what you think about a sequel.
2. Put me on Author Alert, if you want the sequel. Or if you're lazy and have a good memory, you can check in next Thursday.