Dudley Dursley didn't think about magic existing in the world. Much.
He knew it was out there. It was difficult not to know, since his cousin was the famous Harry Potter. After Harry's defeat of the evil Lord Voldemort the wizarding press had shown up on the Dursley's doorstep, wanting interviews with Harry's Muggle family.
Vernon Dursley practically had an apoplectic fit. Petunia Dursley had fainted. But Dudley had agreed to talk to the reporter, suggesting that they meet at a Muggle pub around the corner from Privet Drive in an hour's time. Neither of his parents had recovered by then, so his departure from the house had gone unmarked. Thankfully.
Even now, over twenty years later, Dudley didn't know what had gotten into him. It wasn't so much that he had spoken to the reporter from the Daily Prophet, it was what he had talked about. Because for the first time in his life Dudley Dursley was honest about, and acknowledged, what a colossal arse he had been to his cousin for most of his life. He had talked about being a bully, and how he had always regarded Harry as a "freak". He had even spoken of the moment when all of that had begun to change; the moment when Harry, despite years of bullying and abuse at his cousin's hands, had chosen to save that cousin's life.
Two days after the story had appeared in the Prophet Dudley had received a letter, delivered by owl and bearing no return address or postage. He recognized the handwriting, though. It was from Harry.
Dear Big "D", it had begun.
Imagine my surprise when I opened my newspaper this morning to be greeted by yet another article about me, but from a whole new perspective! What possessed you to talk to that reporter, let alone talk so honestly? I can't imagine, but I can say thank you.
I bet you're surprised now. I'm not thanking you for being a bullying arse for so many years; I'm thanking you for realizing it. It takes a bigger person to admit it than it does to behave like that, and I want you to know that I do appreciate it.
Give my greetings to your mother (whether she wants them or not).
In the years since that interview and letter Harry and Dudley had stayed in contact, somewhat sporadically. They had become, if not close, at least civil with each other. It was a civility that greatly improved after Vernon's death. The removal of his belligerent and antagonistic father had made a great many things easier for Dudley, a fact of which he was mildly ashamed. It had certainly made his relationship with Audrey and their subsequent marriage easier.
As usual just the thought of his wife made Dudley smile. She was, without a doubt, the most amazing woman he had ever known. Smart, talented, quick-witted, and an independent thinker; in short she was everything his father would have disapproved of in a wife for his son. Which was how Dudley had known she was the only woman for him.
She was a law clerk in the Inner Temple, and studying to become a solicitor herself. It had caused some pressure in their relationship until Dudley had chosen to go into business for himself once he attained his position as a master locksmith. That enabled him to be at home more while Audrey was at work or at school and the new situation had proved ideal for their daughter, Meredith. Which was fortunate, since Merry, as they called her, was quite a handful.
When they had first talked about having a family Dudley had decided to tell Audrey about how magic existed and how his cousin Harry was a wizard. He had talked it over with Harry beforehand, and his cousin had agreed that she needed to be told. It may be a small chance, Harry had said, but the possibility of you having a magical child exists. You'd be doing Audrey a disservice, and yourself no favours, if you keep this from her.
Audrey had taken it surprisingly well. After a few moments of shock and disbelief she had peppered him with questions, most of which he didn't know the answers to. Harry and Ginny came over for dinner three days later and provided the answers. It had taken until almost two o'clock in the morning before Audrey's curiosity burned itself out. Even so she was still left speechless when Harry and Ginny Disapparated from the flat, each disappearing with a graceful pirouette and a soft Pop.
But there was never any doubt in either of their minds about having a family. When Dudley had spoken to his mother about it she went pale and stammered incoherently for a few seconds.
"But. . . But. . . What if you have children and they turn out. . ." She had looked around the small bistro where they were having lunch to make sure she wasn't overheard. "You know – magical?" she whispered.
Dudley had assured his mother that such an eventuality had been considered, but they we determined anyway.
"If Aunt Lily's genes can reach out and make a child of mine magical I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," he had replied, making it clear to his mother that it didn't matter to him one way or another.
That lunch had been the start of a reconciliation, of sorts, between his mother and Harry. Petunia had apparently decided that if there was a chance of her having a magical grandchild that she better know what she might be dealing with. Harry, despite his surprise, had been more than willing to contribute to his aunt's magical orientation, even giving her a few opportunities to baby-sit her mischievous great-nephew James.
That had been nearly thirteen years ago, now. It was amazing how much of a change had been wrought in the entire family over those years. Harry and Ginny added a second son, Albus, to their family, and at almost the same time as Dudley and Audrey found out they were expecting Ginny turned out to be pregnant for the third time. The two women were all but inseparable during that time; Audrey relying on Ginny's advice and Ginny being there to calm Audrey's fears and anxieties.
Even so it had been a difficult pregnancy and an even more difficult birth. It made him break out in a cold sweat to think about that night. He had come very close to losing Audrey and his beautiful little girl. And it had meant no more children. Audrey had been devastated by that; she had grown up an only child, like Dudley, and she knew how lonely it could be. Which was how they had decided to name her Meredith and always call her Merry for short.
And she was; merry, that is. From the moment they brought her home from the hospital she had bubbled over with happiness and the joy she brought to her parents was indescribable. And she was never really alone; three days after Merry was born Harry's daughter Lily entered the world, and the two grew up as close as sisters. It hadn't been easy to keep Merry from learning about magic, especially when Lily was rather abruptly removed from the school they attended together. Merry had been heartbroken and it had pained her father greatly to not be able to tell her the truth.
"How can we tell her, Dud?" Audrey had asked. "If we tell her everything and she turns out to not be a witch she'll be even more devastated. Which problem would you rather deal with?"
Dudley had to concede that his wife had a point. They had agreed to keep all talk of magic out of the house until it might become necessary.
It was beginning to seem that it wouldn't be necessary. Merry would celebrate her eleventh birthday in two weeks time, and according to Harry most magical children started to show signs of their powers by that time. And for all that she was intelligent, thoughtful, caring, and generous Merry remained completely ordinary in that one way.
Dudley arrived back at their house after a long morning of installing new locks in a block of flats two miles away. His knees ached from the kneeling and the squatting at all of those doors and he was definitely starting to notice his age. As he inserted his key in the lock he heard the phone start to ring, and he bit back a groan. His business had grown almost beyond his capacity, and the last thing he needed was another job.
He didn't rush to get to the phone. After all, he paid extra for voicemail service, so he may as well make use of it. When the door swung open he hung his keys on the hook just inside before sitting on the settee-style bench to remove his work boots. Audrey hated the dirt and occasional bits of sawdust getting tracked onto the carpet, so this had become a regular ritual.
He walked towards the kitchen, silent in his stocking feet. Opening the refrigerator he had his usual afternoon debate: beer or a diet soda. With a sigh he reached for a can of soda. It was then that the phone rang again, shattering the quiet and causing Dudley to start. The soda can slipped from his hand and hit the floor with enough force to crack the container; diet cola started to spray over the refrigerator door.
"SHIT!" he shouted, grabbing a dishcloth and, as quick as he could, snatched up the can and deposited it in the sink. His socks grew wet from tracking through the puddle on the floor as he went to answer the phone.
"Mr. Dursley?" asked a vaguely familiar voice in response to his greeting. "This is Robert Grant, the deputy headmaster at your daughter's school."
Dudley felt his heart jump into his throat. "Has something happened? Is Meredith all right?"
"She's fine, Mr. Dursley. But there was an incident during the lunch break today, and your daughter was involved."
"Incident? What kind of incident?"
"Well," said Grant, sounding hesitant. "The only word I can think of to describe it is strange. Would it be possible for you and your wife to come to the school and meet with me today?"
Dudley glanced at his watch; it was nearly the end of the school day, but he didn't want to go down there is his current disheveled state.
"I'd need some time to clean up," he told Grant, "but I could be there in an hour. My wife isn't available right now, though."
"That's fine," said the deputy headmaster. "I'll expect you in an hour."
Dudley hung up the phone with a sigh. He quickly cleaned up the mess on the kitchen floor and hurried to take a shower.
An hour later he took the steps two at a time to the door of his daughter's school. He could hear children's voices raised in delight and laughter coming from around the side where he knew the playground was and it made him smile. He paused for a moment with his hand on the door, hoping to pick out Merry's voice from amongst the others. There were too many of them, though, so he pulled open the door and entered the calm of the entryway.
It never ceased to amaze him how different this school was to the one's he remembered, especially Smeltings. So much of his young life had been taken up with being a bully; would he even have noticed anything at his school that didn't directly affect him? Probably not, he conceded. He had been the worst kind of bully – a self-centered one.
Meredith had it easier; girls often did. But she also had her intelligence and her innate kindness to help her in relating to her peers. Dudley had had neither of those things; he had been too spoiled and coddled as a child to learn how to be kind to others and his father had made sure that he didn't want his son to grow up a swot. And although Dudley was intelligent he had made sure to keep that a somewhat closely guarded secret.
He sighed, pushing the memories out of his mind. He had changed a lot since then, and there was little point in dwelling on it. At the moment he had his daughter to think of.
He took a quick look at the school's directory and made his way to the office of the Deputy Headmaster. It was at the back of the school, overlooking the green expanse of a playing field on which some older boys were indulging in an impromptu rugby match. The sight made him grin; he had a lot of good memories of his school days as well.
When he entered the deputy head's office he was surprised to see his daughter sitting in the small anteroom. She jumped up from her chair as soon as he came in.
"Dad. . ." she began.
Dudley shook his head. "Not now, Merry. Let me speak to Mister Grant first, all right?"
Meredith looked mutinous, but she sank back into her chair with a nod. Grant emerged from the inner office, a tentative smile on his face and his right hand outstretched. Dudley shook hands with the man and followed him into the dark-paneled office.
Grant moved to a sideboard opposite the large windows. "Would you care for some tea, Mr. Dursley?" he asked.
Dudley shook his head. "No, thank you." He sat in one of the green leather chairs that faced the desk, feeling like he was, himself, eleven years old again. Grant took his time in pouring and preparing his tea before taking his seat behind the desk and folding his hands on top of the blotter.
"Mr. Dursley," he began, his voice calm and unruffled. "I want to assure you that Meredith is in no trouble and will not be penalized in any way for what happened today. I've been a teacher for long enough to recognize when a child is lying, and I believe Meredith when she says she didn't do anything."
Dudley took in the deputy head's words. "All right, I'm confused. If you believe that Meredith didn't do anything than why am I here?"
Grant was silent for a moment, taking a sip of his tea. "Because I can't not do anything," he finally replied. "The two girls that were. . . Well, attacked –"
"Attacked?!" Dudley yelped, his voice hitting a pitch he hadn't heard since he was thirteen. He pressed a hand to his forehead. "I think I will have that cup of tea," he said. "Although I wouldn't say no to something stronger."
Grant smiled. "I think I can arrange that." He crossed the room to the sideboard and it wasn't long before Dudley heard the clink of glass on glass. Grant returned to his desk, pressing a glass of whiskey into Dudley's hand. The amber liquid burned its way down his throat, and he coughed briefly before setting the glass down.
"OK, Mister Grant. Perhaps you'd best start from the beginning."
The story didn't take very long to be told. Two girls in the form above Merry's were known for their bullying of the younger girls. That afternoon at lunch they had taken it a step to far, which had resulted in. . .
"I'm sorry, but did you say –"
"Ketchup packets. At least one hundred of them," said Grant.
"And these ketchup packets mysteriously levitated, drifted in front of these she-bullies, and exploded in their faces?" Dudley had to take another sip of his whiskey; he feared that his brain would not function without the help.
"That's an excellent summation of what happened."
"And why do you think Meredith was somehow involved?" Dudley asked, getting to the heart of the matter even while his brain was still reeling.
"She was standing just behind the two girls that were attacked," Grant replied. "The only other person within ten feet." He stood up and moved towards the door. "I'd like for you to hear from her, in her own words, what happened."
He opened the door and beckoned. Dudley heard the scrape of a chair on the floor as Meredith came to her feet, and then her shoes clicking on the worn linoleum of the anteroom floor. She entered the deputy head's office with her head down and slid into the chair beside her father without looking up. Now that he knew what had happened Dudley could clearly see the ketchup stain on the collar of his daughter's shirt. So obviously she had been close when the incident occurred. Beyond that, however, was a mystery. Might as well tackle it head on, he thought to himself.
"So," he began, taking care to keep his voice as neutral as possible. "I hear something odd happened during lunch today."
Meredith looked up and met her father's eyes for a brief moment, before returning her gaze to the floor. She started picking at a loose thread in the hem of her skirt, something Dudley recognized as a sure sign of nerves. He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a small squeeze.
"You're not in trouble, Merry. I just want to know what happened, in your own words."
"I don't know what happened!" she exclaimed, looking up at her father. "I walked up behind Penelope and Julia because I wanted some ketchup for my chips. I heard them talking about what they were planning to do to one of the younger girls after school, and. . ." Her voice trailed off.
Meredith blushed. "That's the last thing I remember. I was so mad, Dad. Mad like seeing red, as Grandmum says. The next thing I knew I was getting splattered with ketchup and the two of them were covered in it."
Dudley glanced at Grant, who nodded in confirmation of what Meredith said. She went on. "I never touched any of the ketchup, Dad, I swear. It was like magic!"
When he heard the word magic Dudley felt as if his brain was filling with static, like a badly tuned radio. Memories came flooding back; memories of strange things that had happened around Harry when they were younger. Things that always seemed to happen when Harry had gotten angry enough to "see red".
He stood up suddenly, startling the deputy headmaster. "I'm sorry, Mr. Grant, but I've just remembered an appointment that I must be at. I'll call you within the next two days and set up a time when we can talk about this further, if need be."
Grant, bemused by the sudden change, could do little but nod in agreement and extend his hand. Dudley took it, gave a brief shake, and then turned to his daughter. "We need to go, Meredith," he said, trying to keep the crazy, almost panicked, feeling from showing in his voice. Meredith stood and preceded her father from the room.
As soon as they arrived home Meredith went off to her room to do her homework. And probably sulk in expectation of some sort of punishment. But Dudley had no intention of punishing her for something that, if his hunch was correct, she had no control over.
He locked the door of his and Audrey's bedroom and moved to the closet. The item he was seeking was tucked away, at the back of the uppermost shelf, behind a box of handbags that his wife rarely, if ever used. It was the ideal hiding place.
It looked like an ordinary cell phone; nondescript, black, the essence of basic. But it was anything but basic or ordinary.
Harry had given the phone to his cousin shortly after Meredith was born. "If you ever need me right away, for something magical, this will reach me no matter where I am," Harry had said. Dudley had never needed the phone until this moment. He only hoped he could remember the number that Harry had told him to dial.
Even as that thought crossed his mind the number came back to him, so suddenly that he wondered if Harry hadn't planted it through some sort of spell. But that wasn't important right then; what was important was Meredith.
He quickly dialed 6-2-4-4-2. There was a strange ringing on the other end before a voice picked up.
"Ministry of Magic. How may I direct your call?"
Dudley was speechless for a moment. Ministry of Magic?
"Harry Potter please," he said into the receiver. "In the Auror Division."
"Please hold while I reach your party."
There was a click, and then music started to play. Dudley grinned; it was nice to know that some things weren't so different between the magical world and the ordinary one.
"Harry?" Dudley felt almost weak with relief on hearing his cousin's voice.
"Dudley?" Harry asked, surprised. "This is a first; I didn't think you'd ever use that phone."
"Well, you said it was for urgent things, and I think I've just hit urgent."
September 1, 2019
Dear Mum and Dad,
I've arrived, safe and sound. This place is amazing! Lily and I were placed in separate classes, but we promised we'd stay friends, no matter what. I can't write much; it's late and the Head of House says we'll need our sleep, so I'll say good-bye for now. I promise I'll write more later this week, but I wanted you to see my new signature.