Author's Note: I was tooling around on my computer last night (a great alternative to studying, let me tell you) and I came across this story. I forgot I had written it, and now I don't know why I never decided to post it. (Possibly it had something to do with a vow made during a rather heavy bout of Post-Potter Depression… something about never reading or writing fanfiction again… so much for that!) Hooray for fluff!
Disclaimer: There is an original character (sorry) who is mine, the rest is JK's.
Dudley Dursley was thirty-three, extremely large, and kind of sweaty. He was overweight, but so greatly tall and muscular that you wouldn't look at him and think "fat," you would look at him and think "My God, he's huge!" It had been ten years since he'd last seen his only cousin. He was sweaty because he was nervous.
He hated feeling nervous. He hated feeling insecure. A man like Dudley gets used to being intimidating—shall we say, "large and in charge"—and so does not like it when the tables are turned. Especially when it's his own fault, which suggests an inner weakness or instability that can't be (loudly) blamed on someone else. In this case there was no one to shout at at all. Just himself. And he did feel like shouting quite a bit.
"I got you another drink, Duds," said Lena as she crashed down on the couch beside him. She handed him a beer. The freezing can felt good in his over-heating hands. He looked at the woman beside him as if she were some kind of alien.
The television positioned before them was the only light in the small living room except for the dim yellowish bit streaming in from the kitchen down the hall. Bathed in its fluctuating glow, Lena looked alternately shadowed and blue and silver. She'd curled her feet up beneath her in a catlike sort of way. He watched with wide eyes as she took a sip of her own drink and chuckled at something said on the sitcom currently playing—Dudley couldn't even hear the dialogue over the blood rushing in his ears.
This is a stupid idea… he thought, staring at her with his mouth open like a fish. Then he thought, this is not a good time. Then he thought, I am going to fuck this up royally.
"Lena, can I talk to you for a second?"
She looked at him sharply and her face brightened with this weird smile she had—Dudley always tried to figure out what was so weird about it and all he could ever come up with was that it was possibly sort of lopsided—one that never failed to make Dudley feel like he was filling up with helium and floating up into the sky (assuming that doing thus would feel impossibly pleasant, unlike an event that was much the same sort of thing he'd witnessed many years ago).
"Sure, Duds," she said, with that smile—oh his heart was swelling from it! "What's up?" Numbly he fumbled around beneath him and eventually beneath Lena for the remote. He found it between the cushions and turned the television off. After being momentarily plunged into darkness, he turned it back on and set it on mute. He wanted to make sure he had her full attention for this because he was pretty sure he was about to make a huge fool of himself.
"I just… I wanted to say… that is… I, look Lena. I know we've only been seeing each other for a year—"
"One year, four months, and three days," she recited in a playful chirp. Dudley gulped.
"Right. One year, and, and those other days. And it's… it's been really good."
Now Lena seemed a little concerned, but very intent on not showing it. Even sitting Dudley had to tilt his head down to look her in the eyes, he being as tall as he was and she quite tiny by comparison. The smallest of dimples appeared on her cheeks. Dudley had vaguely wondered time and again what sort of person got dimples when they frowned, but had put it to the fact that he'd never met anyone quite like Lena before.
"Don't look like that," he said, "I've got nothing bad to say, it's good! At least, I think it's good. I hope it's good. I… Christ, I have absolutely no idea what I'm saying." This was unusual. Dudley was very good at coming up with things to say most of the time. If a witty comeback was unavailable (and he was not particularly witty) blunt insults came quite easily to him. Neither of these things were very helpful to his current situation.
She laughed, a light and strangely musical sound that came often and easily. "Well take your time and think about it. We've got all night." She began to lightly stroke his arm in what she must have thought was a comforting manner, but it only served to distract Dudley further.
How could he explain? How could he possibly explain what she meant to him? Ever since he'd met her one year, four months, and three days previously no ten minutes had gone by without him thinking about her. That silly smile she had that warmed him to the bones, her pretty laugh, her pretty face and hair, and her small body that made him feel instinctively protective of her. But more than that… the way she looked at him sometimes as if she could see right through him and understood every little molecule of every little bit of everything that made up Dudley Dursley.
And the way she laughed when he was angry. Most people did not find his ire amusing. They found it intimidating. On several memorable occasions he had had people literally cowering before him, and at the time it was enjoyable. But if he was ever angry in front of Lena (certainly very rarely at Lena) she would laugh, and he would feel as frustrated and helpless as a chastised child. She made him wonder if it was worth getting angry over things at all. No one else had ever done that.
He revealed so much to her and sometimes didn't even know why. Stories from his bullying days as a child (even how he'd tortured his orphaned cousin for years) to people at the company he'd fired or demoted just because he was having a bad day. Horrible, selfish things that he might have bragged about to others but seemed unfit for Lena's ears. He told her anyway, because she listened and most importantly seemed to actually understand. She told him things too. Usually he would not understand, but he would listen all the same.
And a lot of the time they didn't talk. Sometimes there just wasn't anything to say. Truth be told, Lena and Dudley had very little in common. He was an extremely conservative man who could act serious or old far beyond his years or as easily upset as a young child. Though you couldn't exactly call him evil he was definitely mean most of the time and to most people. He was stubborn, and he clung to his own beliefs and ideas to the point of paranoia, as steadfast as a stone wall. Lena was his direct opposite. She could care about anything and everything. She liked new ideas, and she loved to learn. Her smiles were so frequent… almost anything could be funny to her. She was kind and gentle and good, and often went out of her way to aid others.
Before Lena no one had ever made Dudley feel like maybe he was a good person, or that maybe he could at least try to be one. Before her he had never cared enough about anyone to want to try.
"Things are going really well at work…" he blundered on. The man who always has something to say, stumbling through his words… "I'll be CEO within the year. We'll always have lots of money, don't you see?" He paused to take a deep breath. Lena had turned her body to face him entirely, waiting patiently for him to finish. The television light flickered on the left half of her face. "And, well, my parents like you a whole lot, and I just adore your mother. It should work."
"What I'm trying to say is this:" he said finally, "I want to marry you Lena. I think we should get married."
Belatedly, and with a terrible sinking feeling in his great stomach, he realized he'd left the diamond engagement ring he'd bought in his jacket pocket, and his jacket was hanging on a hook by the door all the way down the hall. He stood up sharply, fiercely annoyed that he had made such a mistake and hoping to retrieve the ring as quickly as possible. More than anything he wanted to show Lena how much she meant to him, and so he'd gone out and got the shiniest and most jewel-bedecked ring he could find.
To his further frustration, Lena did not look pleased. She had not yet said a word, but seemed frozen on the couch, lost in deep thoughts. Dudley wondered if she was angry because he hadn't shown her a ring. Maybe she thought he didn't have one. Stupid, stupid…
"I was afraid you were going to say that soon," said Lena sadly. Now she looked nervous. She probably wants to say no, Dudley decided, but she's so nice she doesn't even know how to. How did I ever think someone like her would want to spend her life with someone like me?
"I don't know quite how to say this, Dudley…" she began, obviously steeling herself. Dudley tried to prepare himself too. It wasn't working. What could you do when you were about to lose the only thing in your life that made you truly happy?
"…so I'm just going to say it."
Dudley tried very hard to keep control over his emotions, something that Lena had helped him with over the course of their relationship. He did not want to get angry, because it might make Lena sad. Or worse: amused. If Lena laughed at him now he didn't know what he'd do. So he said as calmly as he could (as his face was flushing bright red, though it was impossible to tell in the limited light), "It's okay, Lena, I understand—" Then he stopped.
He stopped because at the same time Lena had said, "Dudley, I'm a witch."
"What?" He sputtered.
"I know this is going to sound completely mad…" she explained in an apologetic tone, "But it's true. I am a witch. And I don't mean religiously. I mean, seriously, a magical person."
If Dudley had found words hard to grasp at moments before, it was nothing compared to this. It's not that he couldn't find the right words—he couldn't find words at all. Any concept of the English language he had previously possessed seemed to have leaked out of his ears, leaving him almost completely mute. Almost, because his mouth opened and he managed an unintelligible "Oroauuuh…" sort of noise.
Lena was smiling sadly. Obviously she thought that Dudley did not believe her.
"I've always wanted to tell you," she said, filling what would have otherwise been an extremely awkward silence. "Since I met you, I sort of thought 'I will have to tell this muggle'—that's what we call you non-magic people—'I will have to tell him what I really am someday.' Only I've been putting it off and putting it off because I wanted to be sure I really wanted to spend my life with you… well, and I guess I was scared. I mean, I figured you wouldn't believe me. Of course you don't believe me. I should—"
"I do," said Dudley hoarsely, having managed to grasp at a few useable words. Slowly it all came back to him, and he said, "I do believe you." He was still standing because he'd gotten up to retrieve the ring. Now he forgot it all over again and sat back down heavily, further away from Lena than he'd been originally.
"That's insane," Lena pointed out. She was probably not actually as calm as she seemed. "How can you possibly believe me?"
"You called me a what's-it," Dudley mumbled, staring at his feet. "A muggle. I've heard that before."
"Where?" wondered Lena. She looked both intrigued and relieved. She was taking the fact that Dudley had not immediately walked out on her as a good sign.
He took a deep breath, and paused before he told the story. His eyes never left the floor. It had always been remarkably easy to open up to Lena but now it was as if he was dealing with a whole new person—someone he had an immediate dislike to at that. "Remember I told you about my cousin?"
"Yes," Lena asserted eagerly, "That poor boy you bullied for so long. But you stopped when you were eleven. Realized you were being horrible."
"Yeah, well… that's not quite how it happened…" said Dudley. "I didn't stop bullying him because I wanted to. I did it because… because… I was afraid of him."
"He was a wizard," said Lena, awed. Dudley nodded, not surprised she had figured it out. Lena had always been quite smarter than him. "You should have told me!" she cried.
Dudley argued, "And sound completely mad?" In his incredulity he accidentally looked at her. He was very surprised that she looked exactly the same as she always had. Stranger still, his feelings for her seemed to have not changed in the slightest. He wasn't sure if this was a relief or not.
"Are you… are you afraid of me then?" Lena asked quietly. She looked as if she very much wanted to reach out and touch him but was holding herself back lest he give an unwelcome reaction.
Dudley thought about this very hard for a few moments. Watching Dudley think very hard about anything was always an almost painful experience, except to Lena who thought it was cute. Now she held her breath and waited for his answer.
He changed the subject.
"So that's why you never wanted to tell me about your job? You'd always say you worked for the government… my dad thought you were some kind of secret agent or something, and that you couldn't tell us anything… he disapproved, let me tell you. He doesn't like the government much these days and thought you were spying. I was happy when you finally told me you were a secretary because he and Mum found that really acceptable. …but I guess that was a lie?"
"No, no!" Lena said quickly. "I am a secretary. Personal secretary to the head of the Auror Department, actually. Er… aurors are, I guess, sort of like police. They catch bad wizards. But really, I just take notes, organize appointments… do some filing… it's quite a normal job."
"Normal…" Dudley repeated, disbelieving.
"Dudley," she persisted, scooting closer toward him and looking desperately up into his eyes. "Are you afraid of me?"
"YES!" he shouted, quite angrily at that. She flinched and he felt very sorry. He tried to stay calm. "I am," he said. "Magic… it's weird. It's not normal. If… if there's magic then I'm… not as strong as I think I am. I hate feeling weak. If you've got magic you're stronger than me. Even you," he said directly to her, "are stronger than I am." He felt himself getting angry again. "I hate that. Even bloody Harry, who was always a wuss, is stronger than me."
"Your cousin?" she asked quietly.
He nodded. "Harry bloody Potter. You might have heard of him, he's apparently some kind of celebrity among those, that is, you people…"
Now it was Lena's turn to be at a loss for words. "You have got to be kidding me," she gasped when she was able to speak again.
Dudley frowned. "Why would I be kidding? I hate all this. I'm not going to joke about it."
Lena shook her head, staring up at the man she loved half in wonder and half in horror. Was it possible that for eleven years this man had beaten up on Harry Potter?
"He is a celebrity," she agreed numbly. "He, erm, well he sort of saved the world."
Dudley was oddly non-plussed with this news. So she tried again, saying, "He's also my boss."
"He's in charge of those orer things is he?" asked Dudley. He was dejected that his hated cousin seemed to have a position at least as important as his own, maybe even more important.
"I have to think about this," said Lena, biting her lip. "I mean… Harry is your cousin? It just… I mean… My mum! She adores Harry! She's always asking him around to dinner, trying to get us together of course, before you and I got serious. If she knew—"
"If your mum knew?" Dudley cried, his normally deep and rumbly voice actually cracking as it reached higher decibels in his astonishment. "What about my parents? They hate magic! Why do you think we all treated Harry like we did? How the flying fuck am I supposed to explain this to them? I mean, they like you, but they won't ever accept this. They don't love you like I do, for Christ's sake!"
"You… you still love me, then?" Lena asked quietly.
Dudley took a deep breath and counted to ten. It was a trick he employed sometimes at Lena's urging. It did make him feel better, oddly. Lena was watching him anxiously and he was immediately touched that she was worried about him, just like always. She was still kind, she was still beautiful. Even if she was weird now she was still Lena.
"Yes," he replied, "I do."
Lena nodded as if she had expected this, although relief was coursing warmly through her veins. She scooted closer to him and said earnestly, "Then here's what we're going to do. I won't tell Mum you made her hero's childhood a living hell, and you won't tell your parents about me."
"Good idea," Dudley agreed tiredly. The thought of keeping secrets from his parents was strange: it had never been necessary before. But his mind was too cluttered already to come up with a different solution. If he knew his parents, there wasn't likely to be one.
"You grow used to keeping secrets when you're a witch pretending to be a muggle," Lena added, as if reading his mind. Dudley took a moment to gaze around the flat. It was a small area, not cluttered but not particularly tidy. It had normal things in it like a stereo system and the television. He wondered now what strange things it might be hiding.
"Why do you live as a, er, muggle, anyway?" he asked Lena. He found he was honestly curious about the answer, just as he was always honestly curious to learn new things about her.
She shrugged her narrow shoulders, an apologetic smile on her lips. "Close to work. Cheap rent."
"You work in London?" asked Dudley, perplexed. She nodded, looked as if she were about to explain, and then bit her lip as she thought better of it. Clearly Dudley had enough to think about already.
He stood up sharply, or as sharply as someone as massive as he could, and moved toward the door. He did not touch her or look at her before doing so. "I need to go home," he said, "I have to think about all this."
She nodded but he didn't see because his back was turned. He also didn't see the way her expression had fallen, the out-of-place dimples shadowed on her cheeks and her eyes full of sorrow. He did not see this, and so it was entirely of his own accord that he turned back around to face her and asked abruptly, "Do you still want to get married?"
Lena was so surprised she let out a quick, startled laughed before replying, "Yes."
"Good, me too," said Dudley. As he closed the door behind him he thought that, ultimately, that had gone a lot better than he'd expected.