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Chapter 24: Declarations!
Vernon came home to find Petunia sitting on the couch with a photo album lying open across her lap, a glass of wine sitting on the stand beside her. He looked over her shoulder and saw a portrait of Dudley at two, sitting tangled in gold tinsel and ribbons with a cheerful smile on his cherubic face. "Simpler days," he commented.
"I am sorry, Vernon," she said.
"You've nothing to be sorry for," he lied easily, trying to sound light. "Marge just can't understand the way we do things." His expression fell as he thought of his sister's anger and devastation. She did truly want what was best for Dudley.
"She shouldn't have to understand," Petunia maintained in a dull voice, sure that she was right but so very tired. "I don't go about questioning other parents on the way their children are raised."
Vernon walked around to sit beside her and heaved an exhausted sigh. "This is her family too, Pet. She and I were raised with all of the usual children's stories and silly myths. It can't be easy for someone who doesn't know why we're so careful to see the point in it all."
She turned away from a picture of Dudley playing in a pile of wrapping paper to look her husband in the eyes, staring into them with the fire of accusation. "Why did you go against me?" she demanded. "How could you let him buy that - that wizard," she snarled, "for Harry?"
"Pet, he was determined."
"He's a child! You could have said no."
He looked at her skeptically, wondering if she could have avoided walking out of the store with a troll doll. "How often do we say 'no' to Dudley, love? He's all we have."
She was silent, glaring. It had been a long wait, just her and the remains of the holiday. She had swept and vacuumed up the broken ornaments, tossed out the discarded wrapping paper, ribbons and boxes and made neat stacks of the opened presents on the floor and coffee table, lining up little cars where they could not be stepped on again. Dudley's new broken toys were in the cupboard under the stairs, where she wouldn't have to deal with them.
There had been far too much to think about, with the upstairs silent and the rest of her family driving away from her.
"Do you agree with her?"
"Of course not," Vernon said immediately, shocked at the suggestion. "I know why we need to stay cautious, Pet." He took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. "We're doing the right thing," he promised.
"He thinks I'm making him a freak," she revealed, covering her mouth with her free hand as she heard her voice cracking with emotion. "He says that he's not normal because of me," Petunia carried on, her voice going higher. "That everyone is talking, saying there's something wrong with us."
"Who's talking?" he demanded.
"I don't know. The children at school, their parents, his teachers - Vernon, they're saying things about our family."
This was the last thing either of them wanted. It went against the entire purpose of keeping the M-word out of their home and hushing up Harry's secret. It was well and good to keep their nephew away from funny-thinking, so that he wouldn't fall in with the wrong crowd, but their precautions weren't worth suffering rumors.
"Perhaps," he ventured, "we should be more open to compromise. Keep things a bit more subtle. For Dudley's sake."
She sighed. "He's disowned Harry already, for that little display with the sword. I might be next."
Vernon scoffed. "That fight won't last the day," he predicted surely.
"You didn't see how angry he was, Vernon."
"I know how angry Marge was," he told her, "but she still hugged me goodbye at the station. Just give them a chance to work through it, Pet."
According to the Dursleys, if you can't see and touch it, it isn't real. Harry now had his proof that magic was real, something he could not only hold in his hands but show to others so that they wouldn't have any way of denying it. Part of him wanted very badly to believe that if he could give his family proof that magic wasn't nonsense or make believe, they would stop hating it.
But as he sat on his bed staring down at it, he knew that he could never share the picture. He had waited all his life to see his parents and he wouldn't risk having the photo taken from him by anyone. It had to be kept safe and secret, no matter how much he wished he could trust someone else with it.
He hid it in his Lily Book behind the picture of his mother and her dark-eyed best friend catching fireflies, making sure that the edges couldn't be seen beneath it. Even when he left the photo album laying out in the open Aunt Tuna would often avert her eyes from it, so he knew she wouldn't go looking through it, but sometimes Dudley would flip through the pages.
Hugging the book to his chest, he took a deep breath. The world had changed. His shadow mysteries didn't compare to something he could hold in his hands and observe the magic in without even trying. He didn't need to close his eyes and concentrate in order to make his parents smile and wave, they were brimming with magical energy and moving about all on their own. He wondered if that was because the picture held a little piece of someone magical or if it had its own enchantment.
Maybe this was why Aunt Tuna didn't want photos of him around the house. She might be afraid that one day they'd start moving.
That'd mean she already knows magic is real.
He shuddered at the thought. If his parents had been magic, then Aunt Tuna might have known all about it. The real reason for trying to keep it out of their home could be that she hated it, as she used to hate Harry.
His eyes going wide, he realized something which he hoped with all of his heart wasn't true.
She hated me for coming from magic. She hates the magic in me. No, no, no, he repeated to himself, closing his eyes tight as he tried to think of anything else.
Dudley regretted leaving his stocking full of chocolates downstairs in his retreat. He was trying to work up the nerve to go down and retrieve it in a dignified way, without having to talk to anyone. He wished he could send Harry down, since he always made less noise and was much better at sneaking, but he wasn't prepared to take back what he'd said about them not being cousins anymore.
It was much better to think of the abandoned truffles and malt balls than to consider any of that. He hadn't even dug to the bottom of the stocking yet and there might be ribbon candy waiting for him. In the rush to open his gifts he hadn't eaten much breakfast either.
All those toys stuck downstairs with them. And one box that hadn't even been opened yet. Couldn't be opened.
He guessed that they'd be getting rid of the television soon, or something that was just as crazy and unthinkable, because he had really said it all to his mother. Everything he'd been feeling for months had just come out and now, maybe they'd even take the gifts he'd already opened back to the store in revenge.
He firmed his wobbling lip, hugging Smoke defiantly. If that was what they wanted, he wasn't going to let it happen without a fight but he wouldn't be caught begging them not to do it either.
I should send Harry down to get things.
He glared at his wall fiercely.
Never talking to him again. Never.
He thought of playing armies without having any Sir Harry to fight, the dark army standing idle with no one to command them. Taking half their friends at school and having the other half stay with his ex-cousin. He wasn't sure who would have who, since even though Harry was an idiot baby all their friends liked him. He'd have to go over to Piers' house alone. And maybe he could still make Harry do things for him, like fetch snacks, but it wouldn't be the same.
The thought of not being family anymore should have felt a lot less sad, after Harry had betrayed him. But even right after, when Harry had come rushing up the stairs and Dudley heard him crying in his room, he felt a tiny stab of guilt and regret for what he had said.
Not that he was sorry enough about it to change his mind.
Let him be the sorry one, he thought vindictively. He's the one who turned on me, not the other way around.
His stomach grumbled and he huffed in frustation. He couldn't wait much longer before giving in and going downstairs to face whatever madness his parents were going to cause next.
Wish I could send him for some gingerbread.
It took a long time for Harry to remember that there were a lot more people in the world than just his aunt and uncle. Then it was even longer for him to remember why that mattered, when the Dursleys were the only family he had whether he was really a Potter or not.
He still had friends. The world had other monsters - other people who had magic just like him. He wasn't really alone. Keeping the Lily Book pressed to his heart, he remembered that Santa Claus was another person with magic, watching over him even when he was sleeping.
He could still be wrong. Aunt Tuna might not know that magic was real at all. Or she did but Uncle Vernon didn't. Or they both did but maybe they just didn't understand it. Or anything, really, that would mean they didn't hate something inside of him that made him who he was because that idea made him feel like he might sick up.
If he talked to them about magic, proved it was real, and it turned out that they knew and hated it, then hated him (again), he might be locked up and left alone with just the whispering shadows once more.
But she loved Mummy. She did. Even though Mummy was magic so maybe she can still lo- like me too.
He knew he couldn't hide forever, not even if he wore a mask once he started being a superhero and flying to the moon and working with Santa. He knew that even Batman had people find out who he was sometimes and Harry wasn't a wealthy grown-up with a Batcave to hide in or a butler to make excuses for him. So he had to assume, no matter how much it made his chest hurt and his eyes burn, that his aunt and uncle would someday find out and might not want anything to do with him afterward.
He could try to make them like him as much as possible until then, so that maybe they wouldn't care about his magic, but there was still a chance that next week or next June or three years from then, they would suddenly stop being nice to him and he'd have to go back to living in the cupboard.
He told himself that was fine, even though it wasn't. There was still the rest of the world to make friends with and in a little over ten years he'd be a grown-up and could go live on his own in a treehouse in the park. He could go flying with the birds everyday and take honey from his very own beehive and all his friends would come visit him. He'd search for elves with Linda and go ghost hunting with Malcolm and they would all have so much fun that he'd never even think about his aunt and uncle.
And he'd tell Dudley everything all over again, only by then he'd be so good at magic that he'd be able to turn pumpkins into coaches without even trying. He'd spin straw into gold for him, bring their toys to life and change the sky green. Whatever it took to make him know and love magic as much as Harry did.
He wasn't going to lose his whole family just because his aunt and uncle didn't understand how beautiful and amazing the world was.
"What are you doing?" Aunt Tuna snapped when she came into the living room and saw her nephew gathering up Dudley's things.
He looked up at her with a defiance in his eyes that hadn't been there for months.
"I'm taking Dudley's presents to him."
She blinked at him, confused by the glimpse of an angry Lily flashing in her memory. "Did he ask you to do that?"
"No. But I have to do something. I'm not going to let him stop us from being cousins. We're friends whether he likes me anymore or not," he professed stubbornly, his expression wavering at the end.
She smiled at him with pride and approval. "Good boy. I know he's angry but we can't let him shut us out. Even if he isn't ready to talk to his Mummy, he should still make up with you." She sat on the couch with her hands on her knees, leaning forward to be at eye-level with him. "It was wrong of me to push your Aunt Marge like that," she admitted.
"Pushing's never okay," he echoed her own words.
"Quite right," she quietly agreed. "I felt very angry and forgot that for a moment. She was right to feel upset over having been pushed."
"She said bad things about you," Harry reminded her skeptically.
"Yes," she hedged, "however I should have remained calm and responded with words."
He narrowed his eyes. "She said bad things about my daddy before, too."
Petunia tensed at the challenge in his voice. "She did," Petunia acknowledged.
"You didn't tell her not to."
Her lips pursed. "No."
He stared into her eyes with a calm solemnity that didn't suit his age. He wanted to ask if she had a reason for not liking his father but didn't dare, in case she told him what it was. The man in the moving photograph upstairs looked happy and kind, like someone who would have wanted to play games with Harry and take him out for ice cream. He didn't want to hear what Aunt Tuna remembered of him instead.
"Dudley's going to want snacks soon," he told her, changing the subject to avoid a fight he didn't feel ready for. Maybe someday, when he had asked Santa for a million and one more photos than what he had, so that he had a stronger idea of who his daddy really was first.
"Have you spoken to him?"
"No. Can I take some gingerbread up?"
She frowned. "You're going to get crumbs in the carpet. Tell him he can come downstairs if he wants something."
Harry frowned right back at her. "Okay," he agreed after a moment, sounding sullen as he drew the 'a' out disbelievingly, the same way Dudley would have done. He took the stuffed dog, Ace, and the play swords with him as he left, some Hot Wheels cars stuffed in his pockets. He went upstairs and unloaded his cargo in front of Dudley's door, then crept back to the staircase and sat down on the top step, easing his way down as he listened for conversation.
They were both in the kitchen again, so he advanced onto the battle field and snatched Dudley's stocking, taking his own down as well to double the amount of treats he had to offer, and hurried back to the stairs with them on nimble feet. If Aunt Tuna's strategy was to starve Dudley out of his room, she'd just been foiled. He smirked at his victory before stopping at his cousin's door, having to steel himself in order to knock.
Dudley rolled his eyes. He'd heard Harry leave his room and come back, then total silence as he must have stood there like a dork for two minutes.
"Dud?" Harry called hopefully.
"Go away," Dudley snarled.
"Dud, I brought stuff," he said, a note of conspiracy in his voice.
"Aunt Tuna said 'no,'" Harry retorted, and that made Dudley see red. He shot up from his bed and stomped to the door, wrenching it open.
Harry was standing there holding up two red stockings victoriously. "I brought them anyway," he finished pointedly.
"And now maybe if you give me some chocolates I can tell you things that you can run back to her with, right? You can both just plot against me and pretend it's 'for my own good' for the rest of my life, right Harry?" he accused viciously.
His cousin was wide-eyed, shaking his head in denial, but Dudley went on.
"It's not like you're the one who's stupid enough to believe in Santa, right? It's not like you talk about all the things that make her angry every single day, like a re-run on the telly that's constantly on instead of new episodes, because it's all you ever seem to think about. You don't care about goblins or fairies or elves, do you, Harry?" he demanded, face red and breathing heavy in his anger.
"I do," Harry protested.
"Or dragons," he said with a wild gesture towards the stuffed animal on his bed, "or werewolves or wishes or - or that stupid, ugly little troll," he finished with a sneer. "I never should have gotten that for you. But you don't like trolls anyway, do you? Especially not barmy little wizard ones."
"I love it," he said, sounding teary. "Dud, please? I'm sorry."
"You're sorry," Dudley repeated. "You're sorry." He stood there staring at Harry incredulously, chest heaving, feeling a bit dizzy.
"Yes. I'm sorry. Aunt Marge said bad things about my Daddy and I just didn't like it when she started saying things about Aunt Tuna too."
"She was telling the truth!" Dudley screamed at the top of his lungs. "Mummy is crazy! You know that! And you sided with her anyway!"
"She looks at me like there's something wrong with me because she didn't like my parents!" Harry wailed back. "If she doesn't like yours either, what makes you think she won't start hating you?"
Dudley was stumped for a moment. He didn't even know what Harry was talking about, as his primary concern for the past month had been getting new toys. Most conversations going on around him sounded like, 'Santa, blah blah, toys, blah blah, cake, blah blah, presents.' "She's my aunt," he defended after taking time to consider the new information, "and Daddy's her brother. She has to like me."
Harry looked grim. "Aunt Tuna's my aunt, and my Mummy was her sister, but she doesn't always like me."
He stared at his lunatic cousin, wondering what sort of brain-eating virus had attacked him while he was sleeping, so that Harry could do something so stupid and then somehow make sense of it. He took his stocking, a deep frown marring his face as he weighed up all that had happened. "Do you have your stuff from downstairs?"
"Just the stocking."
"Go get the rest."
Harry didn't budge, standing there looking at him in confusion.
"If you don't do everything I tell you, I will never forgive you even a little bit," Dudley said, quietly menacing.
Harry jerked back and then scampered off to retrieve his gifts.
Dudley waited until his cousin came back with his troll and the white bear Jack, his new sweater, books and electronic game. At his gesture, Harry dropped all of it onto Dudley's bed with a befuddled look.
"You'll forgive me if I give you my stuff?"
He glared. "Mummy won't take our stuff back to the store if she can't find it," he corrected. "Hide it. All of it."
Harry perked up like a hunting dog who had caught the scent of a fox. "Hold on," he said, rushing back out of the room and then truly creeping down the steps, as silent as a mouse.
When he returned, Dudley almost forgave him completely. Harry was an idiot sometimes, he knew that, but now and then Dudley was reminded of why they were friends.
"Brilliant," he said in awe.
Harry smiled smugly.
"We have to hide it. Really well," Dudley amended, wondering if they even could.
"I've got a better idea."
Dudley cocked his head, an eyebrow raised in condescension as he waited to hear a 'better' idea than his own.
"You should open it."
That is a better idea. Go figure.
Snatching his gift from Santa out of his cousin's hands, nearly falling over at the weight of it, he wondered why he hadn't thought of it. He dragged Harry into the room with one arm and then slammed his door shut, going to sit on the floor by the window, so that the noise of ripping paper wouldn't travel into the hallway.
When Harry recieved a gift from Santa, he tore it open with the same heart-pounding eagerness Dudley showed when attacking gifts.
When Dudley was faced with a box supposedly from Santa, he sat before it and paused to wonder what was inside, as Harry normally would.
"Do you believe in him now?" Harry asked, kneeling down beside him and peering into his eyes with anticipation.
"Course not," he denied with less scorn than he would usually have for such a suggestion. "It's from Aunt Marge. She wanted me to believe in him."
Harry frowned but kept quiet. He wasn't going to walk into another argument so soon, when he hadn't even been officially forgiven yet.
Briefly, Dudley thought of elves and magical sleigh bells that only children who believed could hear. He knew there was no such thing as Santa but in that moment, faced with his first gift 'from Santa,' he doubted.
Maybe he really had been on the naughty list all his life.
Then what about Harry? Why hasn't he had something all these years? Even this year, when Mummy and Daddy decided he was good enough, Santa didn't come for him.
Resolved once more that the fat man in the sleigh was a lie, he tore into the present as he would any other gift, ribbon and wrapping flying through the air.
Harry leaned forward eagerly as Dudley opened the plain cardboard box he'd revealed.
"Dud," he said faintly, "who else besides Santa would know about this?"
"Aunt Tuna hides it all in the basement."
Dudley straightened up, looking down upon his confiscated books as a king might examine his kingdom. "Not anymore," he decreed. He didn't even like to read but that wasn't the point - these things were his and he'd get rid of them when and how he wanted to.
"Hide them under the mattress," he instructed, pushing the box towards his cousin. "And be quick. There's something I have to do."
"What is it?" Harry asked, already following orders.
"I'm making a declaration of war."
Harry looked up at the hard tone in Dudley's voice. "Real war?" he asked hesitantly.
"Definitely," Dudley said with a nod, confidently striding out into the hall.
Harry began stuffing the books under the mattress with double speed, wishing he knew how to use magic to make it go faster.
Stopping at the top of the stairs, Dudley took a deep breath and steeled himself. He wasn't as angry with Harry anymore but that didn't change his mind about the rest of what he'd said. He was finished with being weird. On his next birthday, there would be a party and candles would be lit on the cake whether he believed in wishes or not.
"Magic!" he yelled. "Magic, magic, MAGIC! GOBLIN! Fairy! Elf! Magic, magic, magic!"
The footsteps came running from the kitchen and his parents stood at the bottom of the stairs looking up at him, searching all around them for something, like Dudley wasn't the one yelling.
"Elf!" he hollered at them, and they looked behind themselves as though they were expecting to see one.
"Witch, warlock, wizard, sorceror," he sneered at them. "Hobgoblin, vampire, werewolf."
Vernon was nonplussed but Petunia began to scowl. "Dudley, stop that," she berated.
"Fairy," he retorted. "Magic wand," he taunted. "Magic broomstick, magic tricks, magic hat."
"Son, that's enough," Vernon said placatingly. He didn't look angry, just exasperated. Beside him, Petunia was glaring balefully.
"No, it isn't," he said. "I haven't been able to say any of it for months because of her. Magic! Magic, magic, magic!"
Stamping his foot, he looked down on them silently before turning and making a retreat back to his room at a swift pace, not running away but still leaving the scene with thoughts of escape on his mind. He didn't want to be standing there when the steam in his mother's head finally made her whistle blow.
Harry was standing in his doorway gaping at him in shock, so Dudley shoved him into the room on his way inside. Quickly closing the door, he recruited Harry's help in pushing the toybox behind it. They could live off from chocolates until New Year's Eve if they had to.
"Well," Vernon spoke quietly, "that was enlightening."
"He's gone mad."
"He's gone rebellious. I wouldn't be surprised if he's up there building a catapult," he said dryly.
She sighed. "What on earth are we going to do?"
"Bit late to take him back to the stork," he mused.
"Sorry, Pet." He wasn't sure if she was more offended at the joke or his mention of the fabled bird. His excuse of, "Just a slip of the tongue," handily covered both.