Dudley stared at the entry for a few moments that seemed much longer before slowly closing the book and shoving it deep into his school trunk with the letters. This couldn't be right. It couldn't be. He was just tired. That had to be the case.
Somehow he managed to force himself to sleep, but the dreams that night were far from pleasant. Nightmares of the big man with the pink umbrella giving him a tail mixed with flame from a bird and capped off by the old man from the photo laughing at him…
When Dudley awoke, he felt horrible and he couldn't really focus in class.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly, frowning with concern as he took in Dudley's gaunt, exhausted face.
Dudley just nodded and left the classroom when the bell rung, though he could feel Gawlinski's eyes on him even as he walked off.
Jake noticed during lunch too.
"What's wrong, D?" he asked.
"Just something about one of my pen pals that I learned," mumbled Dudley. "I think he was having me on. I'll be all right, just a bit much you know?"
Jake nodded and muttered, "What a git. Let me know if I can help."
"Thanks." Dudley smiled and both boys continued eating their lunch. Dudley was grateful for Jake's silence since he wasn't sure how he felt or even what to do about this.
He felt so stupid and upset. All of this time, his parents had been right. Those magical people were just freaks. There was no way around it. Harry hung out with that criminal after all.
As if any wizard would want to associate with a normal person like him. As if anyone that dealt with things like dragons and alchemy would ever care about him.
Did their Headmaster get together with that Hagrid and laugh about how they both had managed to make Dudley look stupid?
He had been so confused before and this wasn't helping now. His parents and now Al…
Part of him wanted to confront the old man. To write a furious letter demanding an explanation. But the other part of him remembered how Fawkes could control fire and the fact that a wizard had given him a pig tail. If Al was Headmaster of a school that taught magic… if he could control Fawkes…
That wasn't someone Dudley wanted to rile up with an angry letter.
But he didn't like what the man had done. He had tricked Dudley. Al could have said who he was, but he hadn't. And that was just wrong.
The boy wanted to cry or scream or something. He didn't know. But he did know that he didn't want to be bothered with people like that. His old friends were jerks enough and Dudley didn't need other people like them that would drag him down.
When classes finished for the day, Dudley went to his dorm first before any of his activities and took a deep breath.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Dudley took a deep breath. He couldn't toss the letters into the rubbish here. Someone might see them and magic was supposed to be a secret. He took the letters and put them all in the History of Magic textbook. He moved everything in his trunk until he saw the bottom, where he used to hide his smuggled sweets, and he shoved the book with the letters there, covering it up. When he got home, he would get rid of it but for now, this would have to do.
He was done with these magical people.
That decided, he went to his activities.
He worked out particularly hard that day and was exhausted that evening. Dudley threw himself into preparing for the chess tournaments and his workouts and studying…
Any letters received were promptly shoved into his trunk and ignored. No reply was better than having someone try and send some curse through a letter or something to get him for not wanting to associate with them any more.
Fawkes did not take kindly to being ignored. He indignantly squawked and even pecked at Dudley but the boy determinedly ignored the bird, burying his face in a book whenever Fawkes was around. After a few minutes the phoenix…
Dudley swore that Fawkes was crying before he flamed off. Though he felt a bit guilty, Dudley pushed the feeling away. It wasn't his fault that Al had lied to him and hid the truth and Harry was going to end up just like that big man or worse. Wizards liked to target kids. Dudley knew that much first-hand.
More letters began to arrive; perhaps his pen pals were worried. The boy continued shoving them into the trunk. It was rude but he knew it was necessary. He was just concerned; at this rate he would need a bigger trunk!
Distracting himself from the letters proved easier than he had thought-he just worked out even harder and was too tired to care about much else but his daily activities and lessons.
It was finally the Saturday of the chess tournament and Dudley was, to say the least, extremely nervous. Gawlinski didn't seem concerned though, as he spoke to the chess club.
"Just do your best and, most importantly, have fun," said the man with a smile.
The girl across from Dudley smiled at him and he smiled back, shaking her hand and waiting for her to move. After a move of her pawn, she hit the clock and it was Dudley's turn. Soon he was quite absorbed in the game and rather surprised when he won.
A few more rounds went this way and Dudley was contemplating a move in his third game when he heard quiet murmuring and a few soft giggles from the crowd.
He glanced up, distracted by this, and quickly realized why there were people giggling.
There was a tall figure with long white hair and a long white beard to match, wearing a flamboyantly cut suit of plum velvet and one red sock while the other was blue. This man was looking around and watching the tournaments, specifically Dudley's game, quite intently.
The boy groaned and cradled his head as even more people noticed the man. The curious looks and laughs were distracting others besides Dudley and a few of the moderators began to murmur quietly to each other. Dudley could hear a few words from one about, "crimes against fashion…"
His opponent glanced towards the man and back at Dudley before giggling quietly and asking, "Do you know him?"
How was he supposed to answer that question?
"Doesn't matter," mumbled Dudley, making a move in the game. But he kept glancing upwards too. He knew that man, after all. And there was absolutely no reason for him to be there except for Dudley. And from the way those blue eyes glanced towards him, it was obvious that Albus Dumbledore knew that Dudley realized it.
He tried to not let himself get distracted, but Dudley couldn't help it. It was harder to think about chess when the fact that the Headmaster of a magical school was watching him. He had wanted to meet Al, yeah, but that was when he had thought that Al was a kid like himself. Not this old guy that could be his grandfather and was a bloody Headmaster!
Needless to say, Dudley didn't win this match. After shaking the winner's hand, he went back towards where the others from his school were sitting. He could see Jake talking to a woman that must be his mother and a few others doing the same to people who must have been their relatives.
It made him feel a bit lonely.
Gawlinski patted him on the shoulder, "You did good."
"Thanks," said Dudley, smiling slightly and watching other games for a few seconds before glancing back towards where Albus Dumbledore placidly sat.
The man seemed to know that Dudley was looking at him because he turned and their eyes met. The man smiled and beckoned at Dudley.
If he didn't go the man would probably give him a tail or something. Or he might hurt other people here; Dudley had seen how wizards targeted people who didn't do anything. Taking a deep breath, Dudley muttered, "I'll be right back."
Gawlinski glanced at him and frowned, "Where are you going?"
Dudley indicated Albus Dumbledore, who smiled and began making his way towards them.
"Oh," said Gawlinski, looking very surprised and Dudley could see some people glancing at him curiously now, obviously wondering about him and Al. The boy wanted to groan but he just nodded at Gawlinski and walked towards the old man, meeting him at the doorway.
He could hear quiet murmurs behind him and it took all his self-control to not shout.
"That's D's granddad?"
"Well, they got the same eyes… and the guy's hair's white, maybe they had the same hair?"
"What the heck is he wearing?"
"Poor guy… I'd be so embarrassed if my granddad dressed like that… I wouldn't want to be seen with him…"
Dudley closed the door and sat on the steps outside, surprised that Albus Dumbledore joined him in doing so. The two were quiet for a few seconds, the spring sun shining outside. It was a lovely day.
What could he say to not get the man to hurt him but leave him alone at the same time?
"This event inspires me to suggest such an activity at my school," said Albus Dumbledore finally, nearly making Dudley jump out of his skin.
He shrugged, not looking at the old man next to him, staying silent.
Albus Dumbledore sighed, "I understand that you are upset at me, Dudley. But you should not take your anger out on me by ignoring your cousin and his friends. They did you no wrong."
"How do you know about that?" asked Dudley with surprise, turning to look at the wizard despite himself.
"Your cousin is one of the most well-known students at my school," explained the man, blue eyes twinkling. "As a result, when something happens to him, others notice and gossip about it. Unfortunately, the Hogwarts rumor mill has its uses at times and so I have not stepped in to stop it. However, it can be quite annoying to the subjects behind some of the whispers. I believe they state that your cousin has been quite depressed ever since you have stopped replying."
Dudley shrugged, glancing away again.
"Fawkes has missed you very much as well, if the state of my room is anything to go by," continued the man.
"Just leave me alone," said Dudley, suddenly angry as he glowered at the old man. "You're the one that lied about-"
"I never lied to you about who I was," said Albus Dumbledore.
"Bullocks!" shouted Dudley.
"I never corrected your presumption, this is true," said Albus Dumbledore. "But I did not-"
"Then you dissimulated!" This was said with anger, Dudley's voice shaking. "You knew what I thought and you allowed it anyway!"
Albus Dumbledore looked surprised and slightly flustered. "I must admit, I am surprised you know that word and used it properly."
"You don't have vocabulary lessons at your school?" Dudley asked before shaking his head, "And don't change the subject!"
"We do not have vocabulary lessons," said the man. "And yes. I did do that and I see that it was wrong. But your anger should be directed at myself. Not at your cousin."
"What do you care?" demanded Dudley, hands clenched and anger rising in him like a snake from the grass. "If you care about Harry so much that you came all the way out here instead of working, where were you before? Why didn't you or some other freak take him-"
"Magic does not make one a freak." Albus Dumbledore's eyes flashed and his tone was dangerous. "I would ask that you do not refer to us as such."
"Oh yeah, you'd ask," snapped Dudley. "Ask and if I don't listen you'll just do something to me or to someone else like that other man did! You… you abnormal people are all the same!" With that the boy went to stand up and go back inside, but a hand grabbed his arm.
Dudley tried to yank it away but Albus Dumbledore was stronger than he looked.
"Let me go," said the boy.
"You can go once I have had my say."
"Y-You-once y-I don't care what you've got to say!" Dudley shouted. "You lied to me for ages! How can I trust you? Any of you?! You're all the same, probably had a good laugh at the stupid normal kid for actually thinking you were friends!" He wrenched his arm away.
"I never thought that," said Albus Dumbledore quietly. "Nor have I told anyone that we were in communication with the other. Pray tell what you mean by doing something to you?"
Well that explained the "Masterpiece Theater" mode… Al really was an old man. Dudley had never expected him to show up in person, to be like this or anything. He cradled his head, trying to repress the shudder of fear that went through him and failing.
"Dudley," said Al quietly, standing as well and placing a hand that was obviously meant to be comforting on his shoulder. His voice was full of concern and he held on despite Dudley trying to shove him away. "What do you mean? What happened? When did you meet a wizard that wasn't Harry?"
"With that stupid letter!" shouted Dudley. "That giant, that Hagrid! He… He…" Dudley trailed off in realization. The big man had said Dumbledore sent him. Had done all that...
"Hagrid did something to you?"
"You sent him." Dudley fought harder to shove the man away and it was all that Albus Dumbledore could do to not fall on the steps. "You did it! You sent him, you did all of that, you're the one who-!"
"Enough!" Albus Dumbledore held up his hand. "Enough. Yes, I sent Hagrid, Dudley, but he was not to use magic on anyone. He is not allowed to use magic though an exception was made to allow him to travel. I sent him because your parents are very hard to reason with, and you know this is true."
Dudley said nothing, opting to clench his hands.
"What did Hagrid do to you?"
"Don't you know?" snapped Dudley.
"I do not," said Albus Dumbledore, closing his eyes with obvious exhaustion. "Contrary to popular belief, I am not all knowing."
"He…" Dudley looked downwards, shaking as he remembered the massive man with the pink umbrella. "He gave me a pig's tail when my dad said that he wasn't going to pay for Harry to go to school."
"But he removed it," said Albus Dumbledore quietly. "You do not have a tail…"
"He didn't take it off," said Dudley dully. "We had to get a doctor to operate on it. Some private clinic. It cost a lot of money." He looked at the old man, who looked completely stunned, and continued. "Harry still talks to him. The last letter I read said he had a dragon and that was illegal. But you let that guy around people so you probably don't even care."
"Do you think so little of me?" Albus Dumbledore frowned when Dudley just nodded. "Why?"
"Why? Because you're a liar," snapped Dudley. "You lied to me and you're doing it now."
"How am I-"
"'Cause you said you're worried about Harry but that's rubbish because if you were that worried about him, if he was that famous, how come nobody came for him in ten years?" Dudley glared at the old man. "You might be smart but if you think that nobody can see through rubbish like that, then you're… you're… not as smart!"
Saying that a wizard was stupid was a bad idea, Dudley was sure, and yeah, Al had been smarter than him in his letters (though now Dudley knew why at least), but he knew some things.
Albus Dumbledore looked as if Dudley had hit him and he closed his eyes, sighing. "Sometimes some things must be done for the greater good, Dudley."
"That's stupid," muttered Dudley.
"I beg your pardon?" asked Albus Dumbledore, looking at Dudley.
"I said it's stupid!" shouted Dudley, angry. "All that rubbish about letting bad things happen for big pictures. People did it for wars and stuff and you're doing it now! That's just stupid!"
"And what would you do differently?"
"You protect people you care about," said Dudley. "You take care of them and then they take care of other people they care about and it'll spread."
"Is that why you picked on your cousin?" The man's voice was cool.
Dudley glared more, "I was stupid and wrong. And like you can talk, at least I don't send people to pick on kids and twist guns and abandon people and lie. You might call me a bully but the real bad guy here is you."
They were quiet for a bit and Dudley turned to go back inside.
"Dudley," said Albus Dumbledore quietly, making the boy pause. "I am truly sorry."
"I wish I could believe you," said Dudley.
"Let me prove it, then," challenged Albus Dumbledore.
The boy looked the old man up and down, and took a deep breath, thinking. "Okay. But no more secrets. Promise."
"Dudley, there are some things that I am sure that I may overlook-"
"Fine, no more keeping quiet on purpose then," said Dudley.
"I daresay I can promise that," said the old man.
"Okay." Dudley paused, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. "What do you want me to call you? Professor? Mr. Dumbledore?"
"Truth be told, I would prefer that you continue to call me Al. No one has ever shortened my name in that manner before and I must admit, I have grown rather fond of it." The old man said this with a slight smile as he rubbed his beard and his eyes twinkled.
Dudley managed a slight smile. "All right then, Al." He paused a brief second, "And that man… that Hagrid…"
"I will ensure my students are safe from dragons and speak with him about what he did to you," said Al. "No child should be punished for their parents' mistakes and you have my heartfelt apologies for what happened."
The boy nodded, not sure whether or not to believe the old man, but he'd try his best to do so. Not sure what to do or say now, Dudley cast his eyes around the area… and paused, glancing at Al's socks. "How come your socks don't match?" This was asked with a furrowed brow.
"Fawkes," said Al with a sigh. "He has been quite devious due to being upset at me."
A simple glance at the socks had Dudley imagining the phoenix taking the socks and he couldn't help but laugh. Perhaps the laugh was infectious because soon Al had joined in.
Part of Dudley was still upset about everything but the other part of him was glad that he had at least had an ally in Fawkes.