The owl arrives at breakfast time on Harry Potter's birthday. Dudley doesn't notice it at first, because he's trying to hide his baked beans under his toast. He hates baked beans. But they're part of Harry's favourite fried breakfast, so Aunt Lily made them this morning, along with eggs, rashers, sausages, and broiled mushrooms. (Dudley doesn't like mushrooms, either.) After breakfast they'll be going to pick up Harry's best friend Ron, and then they're off to a Quidditch exhibition match. Quidditch is Harry's favourite sport.
Dudley likes it too, normally, but today he's not so sure.
The owl, which taps on a window until Uncle James lets it in, carries a letter. The letter's addressed, in green ink, to Mr. H. Potter. Of course. If Fizzing Whizbees fell from the sky today, they'd be for Harry.
"Dad," Harry says, looking at the letter like it might explode, "d'you think - ?"
"Open it and see, son." Uncle James is trying to hide a smile. It's not something he's any good at, so his face twitches.
Dudley knows what it must be. There's only one kind of letter that comes on parchment with green ink. They all know what it must be, but Uncle James and Aunt Lily don't say a word as they watch Harry fumble it open. Dudley sees their glances back and forth, though, their little secret messages about how proud they are.
"Hogwarts," Harry says, really quietly. "I'm going to Hogwarts." And then he jumps up, jumps all around the kitchen, shouting "I'm going to Hogwarts!"
"Of course!" says Uncle James. His face is red, and his big grin makes him look exactly like Harry. "You're my son."
"You'll love it," Aunt Lily says when Harry finally stops his victory dance around the table. She gives him a hug. "You'll meet wonderful friends there. And learn a lot, of course. And study very hard."
Harry doesn't say oh, mum the way he usually does when Aunt Lily gets a bit, well, mum-ish. He's too busy laughing. "'Course I will."
Nobody's going to notice, now, if Dudley eats his baked beans or not. So he stops mucking about with the toast and tries to work out something to say. It takes him an awfully long time to come up with, "That's brilliant, Harry. Hogwarts and all. Really brilliant."
And it is brilliant. Dudley's heard all about Hogwarts--about the castle, and the lake with the giant squid, and learning to fly a broomstick, and everybody doing magic all day long. About the feasts, and the ghosts, and the Great Hall ceiling that looks like a sky, and the four houses where wizarding boys and girls get to be with other wizarding boys and girls. About Hogsmeade, the only all-wizarding village in Britain, without a single Muggle.
Right up until he turned eleven a couple of months ago, Dudley used to hope that he'd got magic too. That it was just a little bit stuck, like, but ready to come unstuck, and that there'd be a Hogwarts letter for him. Nobody knew he'd been hoping, so they believed him when, after the birthday breakfast he couldn't eat, he said he had a stomach-ache and didn't want to go to the zoo. Uncle James even bought ginger-beer for him, because it was nicer than Madam Hurliwick's Tummy Tamer potion. Better for a birthday.
"Thanks," Harry says, and then he and Uncle James start talking about broomsticks and how unfair it is that first-years can't have one, not even a rotten old slow coach of a Shooting Star.
Dudley doesn't want to hear about broomsticks, and he doesn't want to be glad that Harry can't have one yet, so he helps Aunt Lily clear the table. Normally he and Harry quarrel over whose turn it is, even though Aunt Lily does most of the work with a spell anyway. She gives him a funny look, but he pretends not to notice.
"Tell you what, Harry," Uncle James is saying as Dudley turns away from the sink full of plates that the sponge is furiously scrubbing itself over. "We've got a bit of time before the match. What do you say we pop over to Diagon Alley and see about getting you an owl?"
"Yeah?" It's clear from Harry's face that he's having the best birthday he can imagine. "That'd be great. And could we go and see Uncle Sirius? I want to tell him about Hogwarts."
"Good idea! We'll go there first, see if he wants to join us."
Harry and Uncle James go over to the fireplace, which is burning low on this warm morning. With his hand in the jar of Floo powder, Harry looks back and asks Dudley, "D'you want to come too?" And Uncle James smiles, not at Dudley but at Harry. He's pleased with Harry for being so nice.
"No. You go on. Flooing always makes me want to throw up." It might be better if he could do it by himself, but Uncle James has to hold his hand like a little kid. Diagon Alley isn't worth it, not when Harry's bound to spend the whole time talking about Hogwarts.
"Be back by noon, now, or we'll be late for the match," warns Aunt Lily, and then Harry and Uncle James are gone.
For a minute or two, Dudley stands there looking at the photos on the mantle--he's sure Sirius Black makes a face at him--and wondering what to do for the next few hours. Nothing sounds good. He doesn't want to read, because all the stories have magic in them. He doesn't want to play outside when he can't even ride a kiddies' toy broomstick. He doesn't want to listen to the wireless, or play one of the special "no magic required" games his aunt and uncle have bought for him, or do anything that would mean he has to talk to anyone.
"Dudley," Aunt Lily says, softly, from the kitchen doorway. "Would - would you like an owl of your own?"
"What would I do with a stupid owl?" The one thing he really feels like doing, he realises, is kicking over some chairs. Really stomping on them until they break. But they've got durability charms on them, and he'd only hurt his foot.
Aunt Lily goes back into the kitchen. Dudley sits on the stairs and thinks about his mum and dad. They died so long ago that he can't even really remember them. If they'd been wizards, they'd still be alive, because wizards don't drive cars and get hit by lorries on the motorway.
If they'd been wizards, he'd be a wizard too.
After a few minutes, Aunt Lily comes back with two glasses of lemon squash. She hands Dudley one and sits down on the step below him. "You know, my parents were Mu- didn't have magic. The letter from Hogwarts was quite a surprise. It was hard for your mum, everyone making a fuss over me."
It's a funny thing, Dudley thinks, people trying to make you feel better. Sometimes it just makes everything worse. But sometimes it helps, a little. "Did she want to go to Hogwarts, too?"
Aunt Lily smiles faintly for a second, a remembering smile, and then she says, "No, I don't think so. When I told her about it, my first Christmas home, she said it sounded boring."
How could she think that about a school where you got to learn charms and potions instead of maths and English? Unless she really liked maths or something. Dudley's dad was an accountant, so maybe she did.
"It was, sometimes," Aunt Lily says suddenly. "Boring."
"Yeah, right." His tone, Dudley knows, is one he's not supposed to take and usually gets extra chores for.
Mildly, Aunt Lily says, "Right indeed. Magic's not all chocolate frogs and Quidditch, you know. We had a lot of homework, and until I got used to quills, I always blotted my essays and had to copy them over."
"Oh." She could try a bit harder than that, Dudley thinks.
"And I missed music. Pop music, I mean. Between us, Petunia and I had all the latest. It was the one thing we agreed on. But wizarding music in those days sounded like Johnny Ray and Vera Lynn--stuff for old ladies! And the other girls didn't even know who the Beatles were."
Dudley doesn't know either, but he reckons they can't be as good as the Weird Sisters. They're the best--Harry's mad to like the Drowned Books better. Dudley's been trying to convince Aunt Lily and Uncle James to take him to the Weird Sisters concert next month. Now might be a good time to ask again, in fact. But before he can get a word out, Aunt Lily starts in with her memories again.
"Your mum and I used to watch Top of the Pops every Thursday night. In my first week at Hogwarts, Billy Preston was going to be on. I nearly cried when I found out there was no television in the whole school."
When at last there's a pause, Dudley asks, "What's Top of the Pops?"
"Oh, you poor dear." She's laughing, but she doesn't sound quite like she means it. "You've no clue about Mu- about life without magic, do you? How could you?"
For some reason this ticks Dudley off a bit. He's been going to a Muggle school since he was five, and Uncle James may have put a charm on him and Harry to stop them talking about magic with Muggles, but that doesn't make him blind and deaf. Or stupid. "I do. I know about electricity. And football. And television." He's even watched television a few times, at his friends' houses.
"Well," Aunt Lily says with a wink. "That's something. I expect the ministry's so-called Muggle experts don't know that much."
"I need to know more, though, don't I?" This is what Dudley's been thinking about--well, mostly trying not to think about--ever since his Hogwarts letter didn't come. He's glad to find he can say it without sounding like he's about to cry. "I'm going to have to live with them."
"It's not a prison sentence, Dudley. There are lots of good things about that world." Leaning close, Aunt Lily whispers, "Tell you a secret. I still miss Top of the Pops sometimes."
"Maybe it's still on." Dudley finishes the last of his lemon squash, then adds, "We could check. If we had a telly."
"Oh, very subtle." But she's smiling.
"Well, we could."
"The electricity would be a problem," Aunt Lily says, in a way that somehow doesn't sound much like no. Her forehead is crinkled up with thinking. "I don't know. But you're right, you need to know about the world outside our little wizarding enclave. How do you fancy going to London--Muggle London--next weekend? Just you and me. I haven't been since I was a girl."
"Could we eat at McDonald's?" His best mate Jason's mum takes them there sometimes, and the chips are brilliant.
"Only if we go to a record shop first." She sticks out her hand for him to shake on the bargain. "Done?"
"Done." There must be lots of shops in London that sell televisions. Dudley's sure he can steer Aunt Lily past two or three, let her get a good look at all the programmes she's missing.
He'd still rather go to Hogwarts and be a wizard. But from what he's seen of TV, that's a kind of magic too. And if he's got to be a Muggle, he might as well start with the good things.