First of all, I want to thank everyone who has stuck with me for the entirety of this journey. Your readership has left me humbled, and inspired me to write more, and – on the whole – helped me to become a better writer. I sincerely thank each and every one of you who has read, reviewed, and put this story and me on your favorite and alert lists. I cannot express sufficiently my gratitude.
This is the final chapter of this epic work. The main story arcs that I envisioned at the start of this story have come to a close. However, I have a few ideas and scenarios that were fun to think about and will be interesting to explore. I intend to put them to writing in a collection of one- and two-shot slices of life called "Continuing to Vent."
Feel free to send me suggestions. Some of them may or may not fit my vision. I don't promise to use all of them, but I'll see what I can do.
Godric's Hollow Secondary School and its Headmaster David Solomon are the creations of CaelumFelis, and they feature in her own completed Danny Phantom/Harry Potter crossover, "Walk Three Worlds."
It also explores Danny and Vlad's situation after "The Ultimate Enemy," but it has VERY different results. It is a very good story, and I highly recommend it. Further, I thank CaelumFelis for the permission to play with her school.
Olive is a real Kosher restaurant in London, advertised as Jewish Persian fare. You can find more about it at: www . olivekosherrestaurant .co . uk /
My goal was to embarrass the Durlseys, not the readers. As such, there is a glossary at the end of the chapter explaining all the different Middle-Eastern foods mentioned.
Disclaimer: I do not own Danny Phantom, Harry Potter, A Tale of Two Cities or Fortune 500.
At breakfast on Sunday, March 9, Professor Dumbledore said, "Professor Masters, may I ask what you have planned for the day?"
Vlad blinked. "I had nothing special in mind. I intended to begin coming up with the midterm exams and to consider which novel to have Daniel read next. Why do you ask?"
The Headmaster nodded in thought. "If you had nothing more pressing I'd like to discuss your contract."
The half-ghost raised his eyebrows. "Indeed. When did you have in mind? With all things considered, it would be best for Daniel to attend. I realize that such things between employers and employees rarely need the input of children, but whatever decision we come to will affect his more or less immediate future."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Well reasoned. Ten this morning would be perfect."
At ten, Danny and Vlad were seated in Dumbledore's office. "Care for a lemon drop?" The Headmaster smiled as both half-ghosts accepted his offer. "Very well, then. Voldemort is gone, and I can't thank you both enough for your participation.
"But you see, with him gone, the main motivation for your coming here is also gone. He no longer plagues your safety. But… Professor, as I've told you before, you are the best Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor I've had since Remus Lupin, and one of the best I've had over the course of my tenure as Headmaster.
"Your contract specifically stated your position for one year. Could I possibly prevail upon you to stay beyond that time?"
Vlad smiled, thinking of the first discussion they had in July. He keenly remembered the feeling of loss of the upper hand. Now it was clear that he truly had it back. But what should he do with it?
Sitting back, Vlad steepled his fingers. "Hmm. You're right. We had come here, primarily to be in hiding, but also to give Daniel a new start after the devastation in Amity Park. But since then, I've discovered a meaningful way to earn an income – molding young minds to my own agenda. There is something rather addicting about that concept…"
"Papá!" Danny interjected.
Vlad smirked at him. "Be that as it may, my teaching of theory, psychology, history, and background is only useful to the Wizarding audience if my class is supplemented by the practical application as provided by the DA. Considering that Harry, the undisputed leader of that club, has one more year to go… In theory, I have no problem continuing for at least one more year."
Albus frowned. "What you've said makes sense. But why is it only in theory?"
Vlad raised an eyebrow. "Because I have yet to ask the opinion of the person our staying or leaving will have the most influence on. Daniel, what are your thoughts on staying here for the upcoming year?"
Danny stared at his hands in his lap for a moment. What were his thoughts on the matter? "Well… We all know I'm never gonna get better at Charms. The best I could hope for is to figure out if I can make a power do the same thing a spell would. I guess the best I could do there is perfect a level of subterfuge." Vlad smiled. The boy's vocabulary was growing.
"But between Astronomy, Potions, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures, and History, I'm doing just fine. (Professor Binns has even made suggestions about extra research on Muggle history. Like… When I told him Papá and I were learning A Tale of Two Cities, the professor suggested certain books about the French Revolution, and stuff like that.)"
Danny sighed. "The way Papá teaches Defense, English, and math, I don't really see the need to go elsewhere to get that." Vlad's smile broadened. Daniel preferred his classes to those in Casper High. It was just one more thing to bring them closer.
Danny closed his eyes. "But you know… I've made closer friends here than… well…" He opened his eyes. "No one will ever replace Sam and Tucker. But I've had a chance to share more about myself than I ever really could before. It's… I don't know. I just… feel more comfortable here." His eyes rested on his hands for a moment, and then he looked up and smiled. "It's also amazing to hang out with ghosts on a regular basis who actually like me."
Professor Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "It seems that the Wizarding World agrees with you."
The boy shrugged. "I guess. I still kinda miss computer games and things, but the people… We've got something good going on here." He thought for a moment. "You know… I think I'd like finishing out high school here." He frowned. "I'm not sure how to list this when I'll need to fill out college applications, though."
Vlad clapped a hand across his mouth to keep from laughing. While Daniel might never be the student Jasmine was, he was looking forward to his future, now that he had the luxury to realize he had a future. And he did work hard when he was motivated.
Professor Dumbledore chuckled. "You wouldn't be the first Hogwarts alumnus who needed a reference when applying to a Muggle university."
Danny's eyes widened. "But…"
The Headmaster smiled. "Danny, there are enterprising witches and wizards who desire to combine knowledge from the Wizarding World and the Muggle World. Professor Sinistra told me how excited you were to discover wizards worked at NASA and other international space programs. That isn't exactly my area of expertise, but we certainly would not hold back a student from such a pursuit."
Danny blinked in wonder. "Really?"
"Then…" Danny turned to Vlad. "You were right. I really can have the best of both worlds."
Vlad beamed. "Ah, my little badger. If things work out as they seem to be doing, you'll have the best of many worlds."
Vlad chuckled and threw an arm around Danny. "So there you have it, Headmaster. We'll be here next year. Looking beyond that, though… It would be irresponsible of me to vacate a position without a prospective replacement."
Albus raised his eyebrows. His favorite DADA professor was about to surprise him again.
"While I hear that Harry Potter-Snape is training to be an Auror at present, I have it on good authority that his new father is trying to convince him that working as a professor would – in theory – give him less need to worry about hazard pay."
"Oh, dear." The wizard covered his mouth. The concept of Harry taking the job as DADA professor after he graduated wasn't one he considered.
Vlad smirked, suppressing the desire to roll his eyes, as the leader of the Wizarding World – once again – missed the obvious. "Indeed. Since its inception, Harry has been an effective student teacher in the club. The boy is amazing – he is patient, firm, practiced, and he has a sense of timing not to be believed. All four Heads of House have commented that the Defense Association has the potential to be emotionally volatile, and therefore can be as dangerous as Potions often is, but Harry works with everyone such that the temptation for misbehavior is minimal.
"In other words, he has experience, skills in time management, classroom management, and lesson planning, and he has patience – at least, when it comes to teaching. If you convince him that the paperwork is worth the effort, you may very well have a teacher of whom your students will be in awe for many years to come. After all, he is still the resident celebrity, and he has the most important thing that… Lockhart, was it? Didn't have: integrity."
Albus smiled. "Professor, you never cease to amaze me. With one fell swoop, you have filled many of my needs and given me a hint of how to fulfill a few desires. Now, I'll have to schedule an appointment with the Snapes to see about setting that in motion, if Harry is willing."
Vlad tightened his arm around Danny and smiled at the Headmaster. "Then I've accomplished my current goal."
Wednesday morning, a parliament of unfamiliar owls descended on the Head table in addition to the regular subscriptions and correspondence. Severus was surprised by his unexpected owl. He fed the bird a strip of bacon and relieved him of his missive.
I have further cause to celebrate – at long last, I found a full-time job! I'd like a chance to meet you in Hogsmeade for lunch this Saturday. It would give me great pleasure if both you and Vlad came.
Once again, thank you for all you have done for me – especially for making me see common sense!
Severus stroked his chin. "Interesting."
Vlad's eyes lit up. "This is good news!"
Professor Dumbledore looked up. "May I ask what?" He hadn't opened his letter on that matter, yet.
The half-ghost smiled. "Remus Lupin has found a full-time job! He hasn't given a hint to what or where it is, or for whom."
The Headmaster's eyes twinkled. "That is good news, indeed."
Minerva looked to Filius, Pomona, and others whose eyes softened or brightened. "Apparently, he's sent us all the good news, and gratitude for support all these years."
Severus gave no hint of his surprise that no one besides himself, and presumably Vlad, received an invitation to lunch. Then he rolled his eyes; perhaps this was the werewolf's way of reaching out. He wanted to be friends.
Then he thought. Without the Marauders, Remus was a decent sort. Further, considering Harry, Vlad, and Daniel, they seemed to appreciate the wolf. Perhaps… Perhaps he could be friends with Lupin. He would schedule time to knock his head against the wall later.
Vlad and Severus met Remus in the Three Broomsticks. Once they found his table, they seated themselves. Vlad beamed. "Remus! Congratulations!"
The werewolf smiled. "Thank you kindly."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "So what is this full-time job you found?"
"It's a position as a teacher in a secondary school."
Vlad said, "I'm very glad for you. Every professor says that you are the yardstick of quality instruction, particularly in Defense. But how did you get it? Where did you get it?"
Remus grinned sheepishly. "My beloved Dora reminded me of many things that I already knew, but lost as a focus. First (and I really can't thank her enough for this), that for whatever else I am, I am a man first and foremost. And that my skills and knowledge don't disappear because some people choose to ignore such things."
He sighed as resignation settled on him. "The Ministry objects strongly to me having a job around wizard children. They don't care at all if I got a job teaching Muggles and Squibs."
Severus flushed in shame, and said quietly, "Of course they wouldn't: second-class citizens, all of you, as far as wizards are concerned."
Remus rejoined wryly, "The joys of being considered non-human, and a Dark creature at that."
The Potions Master widened his eyes, as this was the first time he could remember the man referring to his lycanthropy without shame, self-loathing, or acceptance of society's judgment against him for being a Dark creature. Then he closed his eyes as he painfully recalled Daniel's words.
"It wasn't until recently that such was brought to my attention. It's only been three years, but it must have been a lifetime of hardships I've unleashed against you." He squeezed his eyes shut tighter. "Can you forgive me for revealing your secret?"
Vlad blinked. That was an interesting change he didn't see coming.
Remus smiled. "Considering that you've managed to forgive me for our childhood, I'm certain that I can and will." They shook hands as if they had met for the first time.
Vlad asked, "So where do you teach? What subject are you planning on teaching?"
"In Godric's Hollow, there's a secondary school for Muggles and Squibs. The headmaster is a wizard, and he was impressed that I had taught at Hogwarts. He's managed to keep the students educated without necessarily forgetting their heritage, whatever it may be.
"Headmaster David Solomon knows I'm a werewolf, and without batting an eye, he told me that full moons are what substitute teachers were for. He asked me if I was in contact with a Potions Master, or if he could recommend someone. I was honored to be able to give him your name, Severus.
"But enough about that. Next September, I'll be starting my full curriculum. But immediately after Spring Break, I'll be teaching an after-school elective twice a week to Squib children and students with the headmaster's permission about magical plants and creatures. These students are still part of the Wizarding World, even though it is in a much more limited fashion. Not all of them can be like Argus and Arabella, in the thick of things, but that's no reason to be ignorant of their world.
"But as I said, I'll be starting my full curriculum next September. I'm going to be teaching biology and astronomy, two subjects I'm more than qualified to teach."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Not chemistry?"
Remus laughed. "The headmaster suggested I take a course in chemistry at a university. The Muggle names for many things are very different than you might imagine, Severus. Or not. I really don't know what your background is in the Muggle sciences."
Vlad smirked. "Biology and Astronomy. That's what I told the people at Wisconsin Child Welfare Services that Daniel was learning at Hogwarts: Botany, Chemistry, and Astronomy."
"Indeed. And I'm intimately knowledgeable about things involving humans and canines, of course, as well as deer, felines, and rodents. Plants are another area I've got a handle on. I may need a refresher on simply Muggle plants and creatures."
Vlad sat back. "I can certainly help you there. I have all of my college textbooks and quite a bit beyond." He looked up and noticed people at neighboring tables. "Severus, if you don't mind…"
The addressed wizard raised his eyebrows and cast Muffliato.
Vlad nodded. "Thank you for that. As I was saying… You may be an unusual creature, Remus, but I was absolutely unique for about twenty years. I had to have a crash course (but a disciplined self-directed study) on all things biology, and to relearn how my simple body chemistry interacted with the world, sometimes on a molecular level."
Remus smiled, pained. Vlad tilted his head. "If you like, I can lend you any text you care to see. Towards the middle of the summer…" He covered his mouth with a hand. "Oh, my. It just dawned on me. How would you like to come to the Ghost Zone? I have to schedule Daniel for a pediatric check-up (I've been concerned about his growth pattern, you see), and the creatures involved… well, they've studied biology for centuries."
Remus scratched his head. "I would love to. But we've studied biology for centuries, too."
"Ah, yes. But these people are probably as old as their studies. Such is the nature of ghosts."
Severus sat up. "This would be fascinating. These would be those yeti-like ghosts you said were from the Far Frozen." Lupin's eyes widened with surprise – he hadn't known what to expect to come from this conversation, but Snape's obvious familiarity with this topic left him speechless.
Severus chuckled. "Harry might get a kick out of seeing a literal royal fuss made over someone else." Vlad laughed heartily. Daniel might not be happy with the amusement to be had at his expense, but the more Vlad thought this through, the more he liked the idea.
Remus peaked his eyebrows. This was an arsenal of resources suddenly made available to him. He remembered the last time something even vaguely similar happening, James had offered…
He cleared his throat. "Speaking of Danny and Harry, this puts me in mind of another project I've undertaken." He rolled his eyes. "With the Ministry's blessing, of course. Between my correspondence with both boys, I've come to realize a real need the Wizarding Community has, and I've found a way to fill that need."
Severus tilted his head, and thought, 'I have to hear this.'
"When Harry rejoined the Wizarding World, Hagrid brought him his letter, took him to Diagon Alley, and took him shopping. While poor Hagrid was blindsided by the sheer lack of information Harry started with, the fact is that all Muggle-born or Muggle-raised students could be better acclimated to the Wizarding World if someone took the time to explain things to them.
"Danny got over a month's introduction to his subjects. But the House Ghosts and Myrtle, and to a slightly lesser degree (for not having known Danny's secrets) Harry, Ron, and Hermione, helped to bring Danny to a place where he could more or less fit in seamlessly with even the purebloods in Slytherin.
"After having listened to the student complaints, both as a student and during my year as a professor, it occurred to me that the biggest divide between Muggle-borns and purebloods (besides the historical prejudices) is the cultural difference. If someone took the time to fill in that gap, to explain a bit about how the Ministry works, the money, modes of transportation, owl post, the most common magical creatures they'd be likely to see, some everyday uses for magic once they're old enough to use magic as a convenience, some career choices and leisure activities common for witches and wizards, and the like… The students would come in far better prepared.
"The course could take two weeks, and I'd schedule those weeks perhaps in August, around the waning of the moon." He sighed again. "Professor Dumbledore is thrilled, and with the current anti-werewolf laws on the books, a two-week course for Muggle-borns and –raised children (another population the Ministry… cares less about than others) is exactly what the Ministry will allow. It's a backhanded gesture from the Ministry, but it could be an invaluable opportunity for the students involved. And Albus would pay me, as I'd be performing a service for Hogwarts students.
"Now, all that needs to be done is to find a location and venue. We're aiming for somewhere in Hogsmeade." He laughed as a thought occurred to him. "Perhaps we could renovate and reappropriate the Shrieking Shack. We'll tell the local residents that we've exorcised the evil ghosts of the past. Considering that I'm the only one who 'haunted' the shack, it would be wonderfully ironic."
Both Severus and Vlad stared incredulously. "Remus, that's brilliant," breathed Severus. "Who proposed this idea?"
Remus squared his shoulders proudly. "I did. Once Dora got me thinking of ways to use my talents by thinking 'outside the box,' certain things just clicked into place. Albus said that he never wanted to lose me, and I… well, circumventing ridiculous laws is always an interesting game and a puzzle worth figuring out, especially when staying within the confines of the reported manifest truth."
Severus smirked. "How positively Slytherin of you."
"From you, I'll take that as a compliment."
"Good – it was meant as one."
Vlad thought for a moment. "It occurs to me that this two-week course could benefit the parents as well as the students." He crossed his arms in amusement. "You are sharing your magic and knowledge with Muggles all over the place, with the Ministry's blessing, no less. There is just something so… satisfying about dismantling the purpose of the prejudice with nothing more than education and communication. Well done, Remus. Well done."
The werewolf blushed and smiled. "I'm glad you approve."
Vlad beamed again. "This is cause for celebration. And you have so much to celebrate."
Severus released the Privacy Spell so Madam Rosmerta could take their orders. Once she left, he recast the spell and said, "Remus – you've pulled together a life for yourself that practically bypasses the entire system."
"I've had a lot of help and encouragement from those both in and out of the system. And my Dora…" Remus sighed happily. The joy Tonks brought him on so many different levels defied description.
Vlad steepled his hands in front of his face in thought. "Remus, what kind of plans do you have for your wedding?"
Lupin blinked. "I hadn't really thought too much about it. Between the both of us, we don't have… well, we are planning something small."
Vlad frowned. "Hmm… Is your decision to keep it small a function of your desired guest list or your financial resources?"
Remus looked up sharply. "Why?" His lack of funds was a sore point – that was Dora's parents' only real objection to him as their daughter's suitor.
The half-ghost raised his hands to fend off his friend's anger. "It's not what you might imagine. If money is the only obstacle… let that be part of my wedding present to you. As of this moment, money is no longer an issue for you. Your wish list for your guest list, catering halls or other venues, bands to play, honeymoon resorts, and anything else you can imagine is all at your finger tips." Vlad raised an eyebrow. "For this function, your and Dora's wishes are my command."
Remus's eyes went wide. "Vlad… Why would you do that?"
Severus raised both eyebrows. "Yes, Vlad, why would you do that?"
Vlad sighed contentedly. "Because I can. You are my friend. It took me to bear the loss of the truest friends I've ever had to appreciate what I lost. And despite knowing my… less than savory character, you've given me nothing but support, good cheer, and good advice in all things, from teaching to handling my relationship with Daniel. I suppose you could call it a token of my gratitude and appreciation."
It took a few moments for Remus to reconnect his mouth with his brain. "You don't have to…"
"It's not a matter of 'have to'. I want to. It would make me happy to make you happy."
"I… I don't know what to say."
Vlad looked at Remus earnestly. "Say 'yes'."
Severus sat back. "That is a remarkable value you put on friendship, Vlad."
"Indeed. And I have no intention of taking such things for granted ever again."
Remus thought feverishly – if Vlad could make his dreams come true, he could attempt the return of the favor for his friends. Within a few of what would become his new social circles, he could endeavor to find ladies to give Vlad and Severus the happiness he found in Dora. It would take time, but he was determined…
Severus sighed. Vlad's magnanimity to Remus was well and good, but he was the one who overcame his fear and pride to offer the man his friendship.
Catching the dark man's expression, Vlad said, "And don't think I've forgotten my other friend. I intend to give you deep satisfaction, I think beyond your imagination." Severus raised his eyebrows. "Now that life is a bit more settled, I'll ask you again. What are your plans with Harry for Easter Break?"
Severus had no idea what Vlad had in mind. "Nothing, yet."
Vlad took on a feral smile that made a chill tingle on the backs of both of his friends and tablemates. "Then I think you'll appreciate what I've come up with." He nodded at Remus. "We'll have the Easter holiday to celebrate together, but my plan is far too close to the full moon for you to be a part of it. But I'm sure we can show you the incident via… Pensieved memories, right?"
Severus gave him a sidelong glance. "Right. What did you have in mind?"
On Monday, March 24, at 10:45 in the morning, Vernon Dursley brought his small family to King's Cross Station to wait for the arrival of Vlad Masters. Vernon and Dudley were dressed in their best suits and ties, and Petunia wore her best cocktail dress and a necklace of pearls.
Dudley asked, "Isn't this a rather odd place to meet a world-famous billionaire?"
Petunia gushed, "Not now, Popkin."
He shrugged a shoulder. "I just feel really overdressed to be in a train station."
Vernon cleared his throat and brushed down his suit jacket with his hands. "Who can know why Mr. Masters would choose to act as he does? He's famous and a billionaire. He has the power and money to do whatever he likes. I don't know that there's anyone who could tell him 'no' about anything, once he gets it in his head to do something."
'I like the way you think,' Vlad thought. That tape recorder of his had fresh batteries and he had more than enough tape for his purposes.
The Dursleys stood between Platforms 9 and 10, looking self-important. Vernon waved off a conductor who asked his business.
Once they were properly distracted, Vlad materialized with his arm around Danny's shoulders. "Ah, right on time. I have high regard for someone who takes his responsibilities seriously."
The Dursleys spun to face the American. Vernon cried, "Mr. Masters! I'm sorry – I didn't see you there. It's an honor to finally meet you, face to face. Today is a proud day for the Dursley family, and I'm glad to have this opportunity. I've been meaning to ask you: how come you chose here to meet, of all places?"
Vlad shrugged. "It helps to visit places unexpected and unannounced, or I would be mobbed by the media."
The Dursleys' faces fell, as they thought this meeting would give them their fifteen minutes of fame.
"This way, our meeting will be much more intimate."
Vernon was mollified and took note of Masters' companion. "And this…" He glanced at the short, thin boy with a mop of black hair, narrowed his eyes, and spat, "You!"
Danny raised an eyebrow at Vernon, and Vlad took umbrage. "Mr. Dursley, do you have a problem with my son?"
The large man noticed that the boy in question had no glasses or scar on his forehead. He stammered and eventually eked out, "No, not at all, Mr. Masters. I didn't realize you had a son. Right charming lad you have there. My mistake. I had him confused with…" He cleared his throat, displaying his distaste. "Someone else."
Vlad tapped his chin for a moment. "Hmm. A lithe young man with raven-colored hair, intelligent, skilled, with impeccable manners and values… Yes. It's easy to confuse my son with another young man who shares these features. Quite the charming fellow."
With that, Vlad raised an eyebrow and nodded at Danny, who released Harry's invisibility as he let go of his wrist. "You must have thought of my favorite nephew, Harry."
Harry wore a dark suit and tie that matched the set Danny wore. "Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, Dudley," Harry said politely, nodding his head at each in greeting.
Vernon temporarily lost the power of speech as his jaw dropped. Dudley shifted nervously – he was torn between wanting to hide from 'that funny stuff' and making a good impression on Mr. Masters, and he recognized they already had a strike against them because Dad yelled at Mr. Masters' son.
Petunia, on the other hand, shrieked in her anger. "You! How dare you do that…"
Vlad cleared his throat. "Madam, you are causing a scene."
Petunia quickly reined in her temper, but said, "Mr. Masters, you… you're not one of them, are you?"
He looked at both boys. "A dark-haired individual? Actually, I was. I still have pictures from my college days. It prematurely went white, but I see nothing wrong with that."
Petunia realized she couldn't mention the freak's unnaturalness in a public place, and she realized the impression they were making was deteriorating quickly. She cleared her throat and tried again. "You called him," she gestured dismissively with her head, "your favorite nephew. I know for a fact that he has no biological family left…" It felt bitter on her tongue, but she somehow felt compelled to add, "But me."
Vlad raised an elegant eyebrow at her. "First of all, Madam, the boy has a name. Such manners you have! Considering Harry's sterling character, I guess it's no credit to you, who raised him." The indignant 'O' formed by her mouth was so precious to behold, both Harry and Danny vibrated with self-controlled mirth, working hard not to laugh. "After all, he shows all the marks of good breeding. I have yet to see you behave properly towards him."
She turned red with fury, but said nothing in response.
Vlad was enjoying himself enormously. "But in answer to your question, between my son and I, we've seen fit to welcome him into our family, as my nephew and Daniel's cousin."
Vernon was still waiting to see what about him was worthy of Vlad Masters' attention, so he couldn't unleash his tongue against the freak, who the powerful billionaire had inexplicably taken a shine to.
Petunia, who realized that any opportunity for that good impression she sought to make was dead and gone, simply sneered. "I noticed that you like Harry so much, you didn't bother to adopt him as your son."
Vlad laughed darkly. "Oh, dear woman. It's not a lack of affection that stayed my hand in this matter, but a lack of opportunity. The guardianship of this treasure of a boy was already snapped up."
She screwed up her face in a harsh disbelieving glare. "By who?"
Severus pulled off Harry's Invisibility Cloak. "By me, you harridan."
Petunia opened her mouth in outrage. She had no words to put together.
"So good to see you, too, Tuney. And not a moment too soon, I see." He wrapped a protective arm around Harry, and looked down at him. "Perhaps many years too late, but… better late than never, son. You are so very worth having."
Harry glowed with pleasure at the compliment, but a tear escaped each eye. His Dad's words were those he had longed to hear from his mother's sister and family since the day he showed up on their doorstep.
Danny put a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder and glared at Dudley. Dudley, the eldest and biggest of the three teenagers, wasn't quite sure what to do.
Vernon wanted to know who caused this reaction in his beloved wife. "Petunia, who is this man?"
Severus answered. "I am Severus Snape, a professor at Harry's very prestigious school. I'm the leading expert in my field. I also happened to grow up in the same neighborhood as Petunia and Lily.
"I was not fortunate enough to win Lily's hand, but I've been blessed with the opportunity to claim her son as my own."
Vernon turned purple. "Then… you're a freak, too. How dare you come and intrude upon this… family gathering?"
Vlad glared. "He is my very good friend, best friend, in fact, and favorite uncle to my son, although Remus is a close second." Severus grinned. He hadn't been a best friend to anyone in a very long time.
Vlad frowned. "So, let's see… You've managed to verbally assault my son, my favorite nephew, my best friend… I imagine you'll find something personal about me, too, so you'll insult the whole set."
Vernon was very unsettled. Vlad Masters – the Vlad Masters – had come all the way from America and singled him and his family out for an intimate appointment. He still didn't know why, and was duly flattered. But for some reason, Vlad Masters favored the boy and his teacher from that freak school.
One of those odd people showed up at his house to get his and Petunia's signatures for one of those freaks to take guardianship of the boy, and Vernon thought he was well shut of the boy, his crowd, and their unnaturalness.
But it was Vlad Masters that brought the boy back into the Dursleys' lives. Here was a world-class celebrity, conservative in his ways and politics (or so he heard – it was over in the States and had no real meaning for him). If Vlad Masters had that unnaturalness in him, Vernon would expose that, and he would be famous for uncovering the scandal.
With shrewd eyes observing the celebrity, Vernon asked, "Mr. Masters, are you a… a wizard?" Harry gasped. Severus shook his head – they were watching a master manipulator at work.
A chipper smile graced the billionaire's lips. "A wizard, Mr. Dursley? I do believe Fortune 500 said I was a wizard concerning finances and technology. But if you were referring to the amazing skill set of my best friend and my favorite nephew, unfortunately I have nothing of that sort about me. They can work a magic of sorts that I can only dream of."
Danny had to cover his mouth to stop the laughter. Papá was good, but Danny had no clue how good he was.
Sensing the fever pitch of embroiled emotions in the stew he aimed to create, Vlad clapped his hands in delight. All eyes flew to him, who looked at Harry and said, "Now pay attention, Harry. As a celebrity, you'll need to know how to accomplish certain things. Watch how this is done."
Eyeing the group, the elder half-ghost grinned. "Now that we're all here, I say it's time for lunch. Mmmm… I'm in the mood for something exotic. How about something… Persian? Yes, I know just the place. It was highly recommended to me by one of my favorite, most traditional business associates here in London."
Harry, Danny, and Severus blinked. That was an interesting way to put it, and they were already primed on what to expect, in a general way.
Vernon, who had too many shocks to his system, remembered his hatred for all things different, and while he heard that the rich and famous had a tendency to be eccentric, he was quite sure that didn't usually cover things… magical. Masters said he wasn't a wizard, but considering his taste in 'friends,' Vernon couldn't be too sure about that type of thing.
"Is it a normal place?"
Vlad grinned dangerously. Danny knew that if he were the recipient of that look, he would have flown as fast as he could as far away as he could get. "It is as normal a place as I can imagine. Normal, but not ordinary. Extraordinary and exotic, if you're not used to that type of thing. But if you're not adventurous enough to try for the ethnic, they do have a few more… I suppose you might consider them 'standard options.' Either way, I think you're in for a culinary treat."
Severus smirked. He might not know the details Vlad had on tap, but the results were guaranteed to be interesting. "So, Vlad, where are we going?"
"There's a wonderful place on Regents Park Road in Finchley called Olive."
Dudley shook his head to clear it of all this weirdness. "The Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant, not Persian."
Vlad smiled indulgently at him. "So true. But we're not going to the Olive Garden. We're going to Olive. Since it's in a different neighborhood, I've taken the liberty of hiring a limousine to take us there."
All six of Vlad's soon to be dining companions were fun to observe, as the lifestyle of the rich and famous was thrilling and new to them. Vlad had the pleasure of watching three excited teenagers play with the power windows and explore the other features to be found. Daniel would be acclimatized to such things in time, but it was still all very new for the boy.
Watching the adults with him was also interesting. Petunia and Vernon were proud of 'their Dudders,' ignoring the fact that the sixteen-year-old cringed when he was sure his mother wasn't watching. They looked pained by the fact that Harry was having as much fun as their boy was.
Severus alternately glared at the senior Dursleys for the knowledge of what they did to Harry and grinned, thinking of the fate to befall them. And the best part was that fate would be stultifyingly 'normal.'
When they arrived, Danny and the wizards noticed the word 'Kosher' on the awning. That was all the preparation they had for Vlad's presentation. They entered, and the greeter, a gentleman wearing a dark suit and a black suede yarmulka nodded at Vlad. "Mr. Masters, you reserved the upstairs for a private party at 11:30. Two families are finishing up. The room will be ready in about five minutes."
"Thank you. Very good. That will be fine." Vlad's party of seven stepped away from the doorway, allowing other patrons to enter and exit. They had the time and leisure to observe the other patrons.
Some of the men wore dress shirts and slacks, with four sets of strings playing about their waists and knitted, nylon, or suede head coverings. Some of the men had chest-length beards, knee-length black coats with belts that wrapped several times around, and tall, furry hats. Some of the men wore neatly trimmed beards, dark suits, and black fedoras, with a lock of hair wrapped around each ear.
Most of the women and girls wore neat dresses with high necks that were at least calf-length, and covered their arms below the elbow, or skirt and blouse sets that were similarly modest. Some wore their hair down, some wore their hair in braids. Some women wore hats that covered their hair. Some women wore snoods. Others wore cloths tied around their heads, with what seemed to be a wreath crowning the cloth.
Vernon scowled. "Mr. Masters, I thought you said this place was normal. All these people are…"
Vlad raised his eyebrows and a hand, and cut him off. "They are Jews, Mr. Dursley. Fascinating. You aren't just anti-magic and imagination. Apparently, you're anti-Semitic as well. How… disappointing. Unfortunately, it is rather unsurprising."
Danny frowned. Sam was Jewish, and he realized that Harry's natural uncle would have disliked her for no better reason than he hated Harry: a baseless prejudicial hatred. When they got to King's Cross Station, Danny didn't think he could form a lower opinion of Vernon. He was wrong.
When they were led to their private room, they saw that the room could have seated a much larger party. As it was, there was a table set for seven, in the middle of the light, airy room. The Dursleys sat on one side and the others sat facing them.
The waiter gave them menus, and Vlad said, "Give us a few minutes. We'll need a moment to familiarize my guests with the menu."
"Very good, sir." With that, they were left alone.
The menu was a puzzlement to everyone but Vlad. It was in English, but the Persian or other Middle-Eastern names were listed first. Danny was able to pick out what falafel * was, but the Mirza Ghasemi * threw him through a loop. The explanation of what it was didn't help, until he asked someone what an 'aubergine' was; it turned out to be eggplant.
Vernon stared at the list of salads and starters. "Look here, Mr. Masters. I can't figure out what I'm looking at."
With a genteel nod, Vlad said, "Mr. Dursley, the descriptions are right in front of you."
Blowing a frustrated breath, Vernon complained, "You said there were… more standard options."
"And so there are. There's mixed salad, olives, gherkins. The mixed pickles are a delightful potpourri of pickled vegetables. Chips, you know. Chicken soup… there are plenty of options."
Vernon thought that all of those options sounded rather light. "A proper English starter is black pudding. That's what I'd like."
Vlad sighed. "That's not on the menu, Mr. Dursley. On this bill of fare, you will find nothing with blood – the primary ingredient for black pudding – in it." He rolled his eyes in thought. "And you'll find nothing pork-based, either."
Severus, Harry, and Danny explored the menu curiously and settled on various salads with names that were generally unfamiliar to them. Petunia scanned the menu, but said nothing.
Dudley ignored the starters for the moment and eyed the mains. The only things he recognized immediately were the fish – salmon or sea bass, lamb chops, and rib steak. The kebab e barre * looked too weird to deal with. "I'd like a cheese burger."
Raising an eyebrow at the young man, Vlad explained, "Dudley, there's nothing dairy here. I'm sure they can prepare a burger for you, but there will be no cheese."
"But it says there's ice cream for dessert, and that's dairy!"
"No, Dudley. The only ice cream served here is made from soy or rice-based products. There is nothing in this entire establishment that would be served with actual milk. Even if you take milk in your coffee or tea, I promise you it would only be a non-dairy creamer."
Danny and the Snapes sat back, enjoying their education for this culinary experience. The Dursleys became increasingly frustrated with the unfamiliarity of everything they saw.
Vlad sat back and crossed his arms, wearing a superior smirk aimed across the table. "Forgive me, but it appears that I've embarrassed you."
He snapped his fingers and then raised one. "Aha! That's it. Perhaps it is your embarrassment at your lack of inter-cultural dining experience that explains why you've not taken Harry out to eat before."
Harry and the Dursleys jumped in shock – this was a turn in conversation none of them anticipated.
Vernon blustered, "What? No, how could you…"
Vlad frowned and cut him off again. "Then I fail to see the difficulty. I can tell from the make of your finery that a lack of money wouldn't have been a source of embarrassment." He stared off to the side for a moment. "Madam Dursley, were you worried for the table manners of your husband and son? No?"
He stroked his beard. "I truly don't understand it. You couldn't possibly be ashamed of Harry. There's no fault in him to be embarrassed about. And my sources are accurate – you've never taken Harry out to dine."
Harry's eyes widened as he realized what Uncle Vlad intended to do. He turned to Danny and mouthed, 'Is he really going to…' Danny nodded and patted Harry's hand.
Vernon cleared his throat. Enough talk about the boy – he wanted to get down to brass tacks. "Mr. Masters, in your initial letter to me, you told me that you wanted to discuss my handling of my intimate responsibilities. What about my business practice did you want to discuss?"
Vlad sneered. "You incompetent moron. Whatever gave you the idea I wanted to talk to you about your work in Grunnings? The intimate responsibilities I brought you here to discuss have to do with Harry!"
Vernon and Petunia blanched and cringed. They had no idea what to expect, but they suddenly realized that this meeting wasn't geared to be the honor they imagined it to be.
Harry trembled – he'd never seen Vlad angry before. The way he reprimanded the Slytherins sans Danny about the werewolf letters was nothing compared to this.
Danny patted his hand again, but Severus put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Now would be a capital time for the three of you to look out the window. The adults have begun the business part of this meeting. You'll know when it's over."
Dudley looked at his mother, who said stiffly, "Dudley, go join them." The three teenagers got up and once they stepped away from the table, Severus cast Muffliato.
The boys walked over to the leaded window. It served more as a light source than a portal to view the outside. After they looked at the vases and flowers, they looked at each other. Danny put an arm around Harry's shoulder. "I don't know the details Papá has up his sleeve, but I can tell you that they've had this long time coming."
Harry shrugged uncomfortably. "Maybe." He knew that the way the Dursleys treated him was wrong, and being adopted by Dad would have ended that. The idea that someone would tell them off for how wrong they were never really occurred to him.
Even Professor Dumbledore's words last summer didn't look like they would help. It was a gentle admonition, if anything. The tongue-lashing Uncle Vlad was giving them was anything but gentle. Dad let Uncle Vlad take the more active role here, but it was clear that as much as Uncle Vlad was in control, Dad was on the same page.
Dudley looked at Harry and Danny and recognized that they cared about each other like brothers. They even looked like brothers. He thought about what Mr. Masters said: 'Between my son and I, we've seen fit to welcome him into our family.' Between himself and his parents, Dudley realized that the Dursleys never made Harry feel welcome.
He watched what appeared to be silent gesticulating at the table and gulped. "I guess Mr. Masters and Mr. Snape are angry with Mum and Dad."
Danny rounded on Dudley and stepped closer, putting himself between Dudley and Harry. "No, ya think? And I'm not thrilled with what you've done to Harry either. My big sister loved me and protected me, sometimes a bit too much. You used your size and your age to bully Harry at every turn. You and your gang created 'Harry-hunting' against your younger, smaller cousin. What kind of animal are you?"
Dudley was stuck between wanting to apologize to Harry and wanting to put this kid who was even smaller than Harry in his place.
"And what do you think you're gonna do about it?" Harry raised his eyebrows. He could see Dudley wrestling with himself, and his bullying nature won out.
Danny realized that all of the Dursleys were aware of wizards and magic. They would not necessarily know about Danny and Vlad being ghosts, but showing off an unexpected power wouldn't go too far amiss.
Danny raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms (and Harry was remarkably reminded of Uncle Vlad) and said, "I do believe that last time I was tested, I could lift eight thousand pounds."
Dudley blinked and shook his head in disbelief. "So you can steal a lot of money."
Harry took a shallow, audible breath and explained, "No, Dudley. That means that Danny can bench-press four tons of weight. Dad and Uncle Vlad have seen it with their own eyes. That is several thousand kilos more than I can imagine lifting with magic. And Danny doesn't need magic to do it."
Dudley gulped. He couldn't remember an act of bullying that went so badly wrong since… since… two summers ago, when… well, he couldn't rightly say what happened, but he felt like he'd never be happy again. And the things he was forced to remember…
He sighed. "Right then." He studied one of the vases for a moment, thinking of what was going on at their table. He avoided looking at Danny and turned back to Harry. "You know, I've been thinking about the things your professor said this summer. And… I guess I always kinda knew it was wrong. But Mum and Dad…" He glanced back up at the table, and his parents seemed to be between furious and cowed.
Dudley shrugged. "I've got no good excuse. Even before Mr. Masters said all those things, I just wanted… It's far too little, far too late, but I just wanted to say I'm sorry, Harry."
Harry widened his eyes and raised his eyebrows. That was… unexpected. He looked to Danny for a cue, but Danny just covered his eyes and shook his head, muttering, "Just two seconds away from a life-time of payback."
Harry peaked his eyebrows. "You really mean that, Dud?"
Dudley looked Harry in the eye. "Yeah, I do. I kinda had in mind to take you tea in the summer when you got back, and stuff. But you're not coming back, are you?"
"No, I'm not. I'm going to be living with Professor Snape, my newly adopted father. Oddly enough, he said that his decision to become my guardian started because he couldn't believe all of you didn't want me. So he decided that he did."
Dudley looked pained. Danny threw an arm around Harry's shoulder again. "Well, we want you, Harry."
"Thanks, Danny." Harry gave Danny a warm smile. Dudley felt left out, but he had no one but himself to blame.
Dudley rubbed the back of his neck, which made Harry blink with surprise. "So, will we ever see you again?"
Harry gulped. "Probably not Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. But you? Probably, if you want to."
Dudley smiled shyly and Danny sighed, "Everyone deserves a second chance." Then he glared up at the senior Dursleys. "But they've run out of chances."
Dudley nodded. "Even I can see that. Harry, what did Mr. Masters mean when he said that you were a celebrity?"
Harry took a breath. "On the night that my parents died, the evil wizard who killed them tried to kill me, too. But something went wrong with his plans, and the spell backfired. He was out of commission for at least ten years after that."
Dudley nodded. "That's what the giant who gave me the pigtail said."
Danny jerked his head. "He did what?"
"He pointed his umbrella at me, and I sprouted a pig's tail that poked a hole in my trousers. The day we dropped Harry off at King's Cross so he could go to that fr-, um, magic school, Mum and Dad took me to a surgeon here in London to have the tail removed." Danny covered his mouth, but couldn't hide his laughter. "It's not funny! It hurt to sit down for days afterwards." Danny laughed harder.
Dudley frowned, but with all things considered, he couldn't do anything about it.
When Danny's laughter subsided, Harry continued his story. "Yeah, well… Because the evil wizard disappeared and was out of power, I became famous in the Wizarding World. While I was your favorite punching bag," Dudley cringed in remorse. "I was being touted by the public in the Wizarding World as 'the Boy Who Lived'." Harry rolled his eyes. "My parents were killed, and I somehow became famous for not dying when they did."
Dudley's face contorted in emotional pain. How many times did Mum, Dad, Aunt Marge, or Dudley himself tell Harry that it would have been better if he would have died along with his parents?
"So, when Hagrid brought me back to the Wizarding World, you might imagine my surprise that I went from 'zero to hero' just for existing. I've discovered that books were written about my defeat of Voldemort, and I was a household name."
Danny interrupted. "Really?"
"Yeah, and Hermione read them all. She once said that if it were her, she would have made sure to learn all about it. While I appreciate her interest, such a thing was kinda hard to do when I was forbidden to ever ask questions."
Dudley covered his eyes. The discovery of exactly HOW badly they treated Harry just got better and better.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, about this fame business… I didn't ask for it. I didn't want it. I just wanted a chance to be normal, and not a freak." Dudley winced again, keeping his eyes covered.
Danny raised his eyebrows and thought, 'That's interesting, and yet another similarity between us.'
Harry scoffed, "It was complicated and annoying." Dudley uncovered his eyes. Whatever followed couldn't possibly be his fault. After all, he never annoyed Harry about being a celebrity. "Especially when the Wizarding newspapers decided I was front page news, whether they liked me or hated me."
Dudley nodded. The tabloids were full of gossip about the stars of his favorite movies, and both good and bad news got them on the front page as well.
Harry sighed. "I guess that Uncle Vlad wanted me to pay attention – he's a celebrity, as you well know. But he intended to use his power of influence to get what he wanted. If he's going to get all kinds of attention, he can control what kind of attention he gets, based on his choices." He thought for a moment. "I don't know that I would use my fame in quite that way, but the concept is that it's a skill. It would be my choice in how to use it."
Danny blinked. "Yeah, Papá would say so, too."
Dudley thought again, and Harry cocked his head. It was an expression he wasn't used to seeing on his large cousin's face. "You've been calling Mr. Masters 'Uncle Vlad.' If you're, somehow, Danny's cousin, would that make Mr. Masters my uncle, too?"
Danny raised his eyebrows. The same logic that made him and Harry cousins, and made Danny and Draco cousins, would, in theory, make Danny and Dudley… he sighed. "Kind of. But I'd wait until you've been given permission to try it out."
Danny's jaw dropped as a thought occurred to him. "Harry, I wonder what Draco would say if he knew that, through this complicated thought process, that he would be as related to Dudley as I am, if not a bit closer?"
"Oh, my. I hadn't thought of that."
Dudley furrowed his brows. "Who's Draco?"
Danny smirked at him. "A wizard who, until recently, felt as strongly against all Muggles as your family feels against wizards. Life has gotten complicated, making the three of us natural orphans, but the choices we've made put us together with a few unexpected results."
The three of them had quite a bit to reflect on as their attention turned back to the inaudible conversation at the table.
Vlad stared the Dursleys in the eyes, and they shuddered. This wasn't some freak they could bully and blame. This was a perfectly normal, perfectly respectable businessman who was taking them to task on… that boy.
Vernon narrowed his eyes. "How would you know anything about… that boy?" He quickly figured out that Mr. Masters would not take kindly to his referring to Potter as a freak.
Vlad waved his hand in a sweeping gesture. "The project that I've been working on has me spending large amounts of time in both Scotland and England. The students in Harry's school don't spend every last minute in school. A guardian signed a permission slip for Harry to visit the Scottish countryside. I've seen the rags you've seen fit to dress him in.
"What, in the name of all that is good and holy, possessed you to neglect a boy in your care when you so obviously take care of everyone else in your family? Do you honestly believe that it's normal to indulge one child – the child, your spouse, your sister, her dog, whatever have you… at the expense of one child?"
Vernon glared daggers at Severus, who Petunia explained exemplified all that was freakish with that magical nonsense. "We never asked to take him in. We've had to deal with his unnaturalness since…"
"Ah, yes. You never asked to take in the orphaned child of Petunia's sister. I suppose the decency required for a solid Good Samaritan has escaped your sense of normalcy. Rags that are so big they practically fall off the child… It's clear to me that you can afford better. You just decided the boy wasn't worth it, so it was obviously normal to take a child and keep him in a boot cupboard for ten years when you have four spacious bedrooms. So very normal. The most natural thing in the world." Vlad narrowed his eyes. "You overgrown degenerate."
Both Petunia and Vernon gasped. Petunia said, "How would you know about the cupboard? The child is a…"
"A congenital liar?" Severus interjected. "I don't know what passes for public schools in Surrey, but there is no way you can have both boys attend the same school and have no one notice the severe inequitability between them while it is known that you are the guardians of both of them. Who did you pay off to turn a blind eye to your criminal neglect of the boy? How did you manage to convince every teacher, aid, and staff member to ignore the bullying? I know from experience that some things can slip under the radar, but only if the adults involved are predisposed to ignore the plight of the victims or favor the perpetrator."
Vernon spat, "How dare you accuse us of such things? You have no proof."
Vlad gestured grandly with his hands. "Ah, but you're wrong. Between Severus and I, we've made sure to correct the sartorial neglect you forced upon the boy. For Christmas, do you know what Harry's favorite and most meaningful present was? Not that you would know in general, as you've never given Harry a worthwhile gift.
"Of the many things he received, the one thing he most enjoyed receiving was an entirely new wardrobe: shirts, slacks, sweaters, suits for formal occasions, pajamas and underclothes that fit him. And why might such things, the dread of most children from affluent families – clothes their guardians picked out – have merited such high regard from the boy?
" I'll tell you: because the gesture made him feel normal. You couldn't be bothered. They made him feel wanted and loved. There was nothing in his past that made him feel that way. But you see… that's not all.
"Severus had no clue of the fate that befell the elephantine clothes you forced upon poor Harry. I brought the clothes, with a tip-off of what is going on, to the British authorities. They've taken DNA and other forensic samples – they know what the boy has been through.
"Photos have been taken of the cupboard, of the locks on the door, of the bars on the window, of the cat flap on the door. A cat flap! For the love of sweets, this is normal?"
Petunia sputtered, "But… but how do you have such pictures? I lost the keys months ago!"
"Private investigators and hidden cameras have done wonders… which brings me to the next item I wished to discuss: the Masons."
Vernon roared, "The boy lost me that contract!"
Vlad clucked his tongue three times. "Did he really? On Harry's twelfth birthday, you fed him a lump of cheese and toast, while you had a sumptuous feast: you, your wife, your son, Mr. and Mrs. Mason, while Harry was consigned to his bedroom, making no noise, pretending he didn't exist."
Turning purple, Vernon hissed, "How can you possibly know that?"
"I asked him. Ah, ah, ah! Before you try to wish this away as a matter of hearsay, I understand that the cold cheese sandwich was the least of the indignities you forced on poor Harry.
"Honestly. He destroyed a pudding in the kitchen. And I imagine you had him clean it up, and then restricted him from dessert for the week. That would have made sense as a normal punishment."
Vernon sneered, "What makes you think he got dessert during the week?"
Petunia covered her eyes. "Not helping, love," she murmured.
Gesticulating with his hands, Vlad growled, "But you wouldn't know normal if it smacked you across the face. No – because of the destroyed pudding and an owl scare of some sort, you put dead bolts outside his door and locked him in. You put bars on his windows. And you were set to starve him to death with nothing but a can of soup, toast, and an apple a day for the boy and his owl.
"This indignity and lack of nutrition for an adolescent boy wasn't punishment enough. No, you put a cat flap on the door to pass in a 'feed-up tray'. What kind of message were you attempting to send with that? And in your reflection on the matter, you decided all of this 'was too good for him.' Treating a boy worse than an animal is normal…how?
"And out of the goodness of your heart, I'm sure, you let him out of his room twice daily to use the bathroom, and again – upon greater reflection, you would have left him nothing but a litter box." Vlad gritted his teeth. "If you had your druthers, a twelve year old boy should have used a litter box to go to the bathroom, and you call this normal!
"And, let us thank God that he only made a mess in the kitchen. Heaven forfend he would have stumbled and dumped the pudding on your guests' heads – or your punishment of him would have been worse. Really? With your depraved indifference to human life and dignity, I really can't see how!"
Petunia and Vernon stared at each other. Petunia's face fell. "How could you possibly know all that?"
Vlad sat back and smirked. "Electronic bugs and micro-recorders are amazing things. If I remember that particular conversation, 'The boy was lucky you gave him the scraps and cupboard – the food and board – he got.' Oh, my. Your generosity knows no bounds. But you were so ridiculously wrong to say that no one would have expected you to provide the boy with better.
"To be honest, Scotland Yard and Child Protective Services were very interested in the series of tapes regarding your normalcy regarding your handling of one Harry James Potter. Between the tapes, the photos, the ratty oversized clothes, the broken toys from the cupboard… You are ashamed of Harry? Hmm, interesting, that.
"While the Mason incident happened years ago, the joyous way you relish having delivered such punishment unrepentantly clearly shows a pattern of ongoing emotional abuse and neglect bad enough to be physical abuse."
A siren was heard outside the window. Vlad looked at his watch. "Ah. It's noon. There is quite the party going on. There are people from the media and press to record this historic appointment of ours."
Vernon's face fell. A mere half an hour ago, the mention of the press to record this landmark lunch would have thrilled him to no end. Now… the media would show up just in time for him to be publicly shamed and humiliated.
Vlad put a finger to his lips as if in thought. "Oh, yes. I remember. There's one more thing to mention before our guests arrive. I'll make it known that VladCo, DALV, and every other Masters Incorporated subsidiary will drop all accounts – internationally – with Grunnings and its international subsidiaries and outlets for the duration of your natural life."
Vernon stood up. "You can't do that! The Masters Corporation is Grunnings' largest set of accounts!"
"Hmm. Is it? That really is too bad. But I've seen what your managerial skills have accomplished. If you can't manage to properly finance a family of four, horrifically neglecting a young child living in your house, squandering any resource that could have been used for his betterment, how can you be expected to manage hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of the fine drills used for constructing my very detail-oriented technology? You are a disgrace to the title manager, guardian, and human. I have no use for you or your business. And I will have no problem letting the world know what a freak of nature you are for treating the boy in such an unnatural fashion."
At least six police officers entered the dining room. Severus silently lifted the Privacy Spell. "Mr. Vernon Dursley and Mrs. Petunia Dursley, you are hereby under arrest for the abuse and criminal neglect of Harry James Potter-Snape. Come quietly, and we won't cuff you in front of the children."
The boys stood staring at the sight of police officers surrounding the senior Dursleys. Petunia cried out, "But Dudley! What will become of my baby?"
Severus raised his eyebrows in curiosity. He had no idea what Vlad had in mind.
Very nonchalantly, Vlad said, "He'll have lunch with the rest of us – unlike some people, I believe all children deserve proper nutrition. Afterwards, we'll deposit him with his Aunt Marjorie. Let us hope that he will be treated better there than Harry was ever treated at the hands of any adult bearing the name Dursley."
A sea of cameras and microphones waited at the foot of the stairs for the Dursleys and the police to descend. The boys saw the flash of cameras from the top of the stairs when Severus called, "Come away from there." He steered the three boys back to the table, and they sat quietly until the roar of the media died down. The drop in noise level signaled that the circus had left the restaurant.
Harry, Danny, and Dudley were shocked. This was something that happened on television, not in real life, to people you know. Dudley looked between Vlad and Severus and gulped. "Mr. M-masters, I heard what you said, but what will happen to me? Aunt Marge will be there, but does she know? What does she know? Are… my parents ever coming back?"
Vlad was impressed with the cogent questions asked. "These are discerning questions, Dudley. After lunch, we'll give her a call, then we'll visit your home to collect a few belongings. You won't be able to take much, as your house is officially a crime scene, but I'm sure some spare changes of clothes won't…"
"That's okay," Dudley said quickly. "I have some things at Aunt Marge's house."
"Very good – then we'll drop you off directly afterwards."
Harry and Danny were curious to know if that was all Vlad had coming to Dudley. Harry was ready to forgive him, but Danny wasn't, and Vlad was known to carry grudges.
The waiter came in to take their drink and appetizer orders. Dudley chose the chicken soup. Once the waiter left, Harry and Danny's curiosity was settled once Dudley asked, "So… Mr. Masters, once I'm at Aunt Marge's, will I see you again?"
"I really don't know. Perhaps in time. I'm a very busy man, and between getting back to the States for business purposes, sightseeing with Daniel, other things involving Harry and the professor… I suppose it's possible, but probably not this summer."
Harry could almost smell the wood smoke burning as Dudley made a few calculations. It was hard for him to see what Dudley ultimately wanted, but it was going to be interesting to watch him try to get it.
"Well… could you, maybe, bring Harry and Danny to visit?"
Severus decided that he was impressed. It wasn't clear whether the Muggle was truly repentant in his behavior towards Harry, but it was more than obvious that he wanted the honor of the world-renown celebrity visiting him. Severus nudged Harry and whispered, "This is how, as an adult, you deflect those who would exploit your fame. Pay attention."
Vlad looked thoughtful. "Perhaps if either Daniel or Harry wish to meet you, I'm sure a meeting could be arranged. But considering that your Aunt Marge is quite content to allow her bulldog Ripper to use those she considers 'undersized boys' as chew toys, I can safely assure you that none of the four of us will darken your aunt's door until she has that vicious beast put down."
Danny looked to Harry in fear and disbelief, and Harry nodded. "It's what she's always said and done. I was once in a tree until well after midnight, until Aunt Marge finally called off Ripper. Everyone else thought it was a laugh."
Danny stared at Dudley and made a face of disgust. What kind of a deranged person gets pleasure out of this type of thing?
Dudley cringed. He thought of that time that Harry mentioned, or when Ripper was, on the whole, treated better than Harry was. At the time, he thought it was funny. But now, looking back on it, he could see this from Danny's perspective, and wow…
Then he groaned. Aunt Marge loved her dogs, and Ripper was her favorite. There was no way she was going to part with that animal for the pleasure of seeing Harry and/or Danny, regardless of the fact that would mean passing up a chance to see the great Vlad Masters. But considering that Mr. Masters had his parents arrested, she might not be all that interested in meeting him. And… Aunt Marge would be saddled with him… Isn't that how Mum and Dad called having to take in Harry?
Dudley never stopped to realize how badly Harry felt at being made to feel like an imposition on them. Aunt Marge always doted on Dudley, true, but then she left. Would she like him as much once he couldn't go home?
He figured out that he'd have to give up the twenty-pound notes for allowing her to kiss him. That was a given. Mr. Masters made it clear that after this outing, spending time with Dudley was an imposition on Mr. Masters. The billionaire clearly liked Harry and was willing to build his schedule around him, but Dudley was barely worth an afterthought.
It wasn't fair, but then again… How was Mr. Masters' proposed treatment of himself different than all of the Dursleys' treatment of Harry? Well… For one, even if Mr. Masters barely tolerated him, he would make sure Dudley's most basic needs were met.
Actually, Mr. Masters might be cold and distant to him, but he made sure that Dudley would be placed with his aunt who loved him, and who would (hopefully) willingly provide for him. Dudley closed his eyes as he realized that he, as a virtual orphan, would be treated FAR better than Harry ever was.
Mr. Masters cleared his throat. Oh, right – he was waiting for a response. "I… understand, Mr. Masters."
Harry thought that Dudley's forlorn look might mean that he had a quick lesson in humility. But he did apologize before, and Harry did forgive him. "Listen – Dudley, if you like, I can write you."
Dudley gave a mirthless laugh. It was odd – years and years ago, the Dursleys mocked Harry about people wanting to write him. Now it seemed like a very attractive option. It wasn't because Mr. Masters would care, or out of a hope that Mr. Snape would look less forbidding. It was just that Dudley's sense of normal just flew out the window, and Harry offered to serve as an anchor.
"I'd like that, Harry. I'll write back. And… maybe I can write you, too, Danny. I don't really know you yet, but… I'm on my school's boxing team. If you can bench-press as much as you said you can, we might have something to talk about. Where do you go to school, anyway?"
Dudley gulped. "But…" He looked confusedly at Vlad. "But Mr. Masters said you aren't… a wizard." The word, especially as it referred to people in the real world (characters in movies didn't count), was foreign. Mum and Dad didn't like it, and they never allowed Harry to say it.
Danny shrugged. "No. Papá said he wasn't magical. He said nothing about me." Dudley looked pained as he realized that Danny was right. "But you're right. I'm as Muggle as you are. But for his own reasons, the evil wizard Voldemort targeted me, and Headmaster Dumbledore said that Papá and I would be safer in Hogwarts."
"Indeed, Mr. Dursley." Severus studied Dudley intensely. This is the boy who unabashedly bullied Harry for as long as Harry lived in the Dursley household. But for some reason, Harry decided to give him a second chance. The professor raised an eyebrow.
Then it occurred to him – every person at this table was afforded at least a second chance. Between Dumbledore and Harry, Severus was granted a chance to redeem himself.
Vlad… Daniel gave him a second chance; the elder half-ghost was still villainous - he just used that value set more judiciously.
Daniel… Severus wasn't precisely sure the boy did anything wrong, but this Clockwork character gave him a chance to redeem himself from one unethical choice that could have snowballed and led him down a dark road.
Harry hadn't done anything wrong, but he was granted yet another chance to live. (The boy seemed to have nine lives, but Severus was determined not to let him use up any more.)
And now, Dudley Dursley was being granted forgiveness by the boy who was mercilessly bullied by him. Severus inwardly cringed. If Harry could forgive not only Severus, but Dudley, it stood to reason that Severus really could forgive James and Sirius. Honestly – it was a boyhood series of trials, tribulation, and torment, and Harry had to deal with his cousin and his gang for far longer than Severus had to put up with the Marauders.
As the adult, Severus should have set a good example for Harry. But it seemed that the two dark-haired boys beside him set the standard for the adults around them. Severus felt shamed, chastened, and humbled.
The waiter came back, delivering their drinks and appetizers, and took the orders for their entrées. Vlad confidently ordered Kebab e barre. * Danny tried a chicken shishlik. * Severus ordered Ghormeh sabzi, * and Harry tried the Choresht bademjoon. *
Dudley stuck with the rib steak.
After they ordered and started to eat, Severus decided it was time to shift gears. "So, Vlad… You mentioned a trip to the States over the summer. What did you intend to do there?"
Vlad smiled. "We have several stops to make. I'll have to take a tour of the factories, outlets, and business headquarters. I've been following the news, and operating long distance has been working well, but seeing things first-hand does wonders for productivity.
"Then, we'll stop by Amity Park. Daniel has a few friends he's been writing to who would like a visit. Personally, Ida Manson will be one of my favorite acquaintances to visit."
When Dudley heard the name, he thought, 'I wonder if Ms. Manson has any connection to Isaac Manson. I remember when Dad made a comment about selling drills to the Mansons' family business for the cellophane machines. He was proud of that account, and we all went out to eat… without Harry.' The more he thought about the past, the more he realized that Harry really was left out of everything good.
Again, at the time, Dudley thought it was funny. Now… It was just painful to think about.
Vlad continued, "I wonder how that diamond-encrusted scooter basket worked out."
Danny smirked. "She loves it. It casts rainbows in every room she enters, and… well, Sam's parents have had their 'attitude of gratitude' adjusted. Grandma Ida uses it with pride, and thinks of us with love."
Vlad nodded. "Then I'll mark it as a job well done. Further, Daniel needs to take college entry exams."
Vlad smirked. "That's right. You will take your SATs – they are required in the top schools associated with astronomy. True, the undergraduate experience will likely involve a bit more on the liberal arts side, but all of that involves critical thinking and problem solving. And it will give you an insight into character development. There are some characters you can't afford to lose track of."
Danny sighed. He hated when Vlad made sense, as there was no arguing with him about these things.
"Further, we'll get tickets for a few Green Bay Packers games. I already have season tickets from now until 2010, when I'll renew them for another fifteen years, but I need to extend that to include a place in my box for you and a few friends. Without the danger presented by Voldemort, I don't see why a few weekend excursions would pose a problem. And next Christmas Break, depending on the phase of the moon, I'll bring Remus, Dora, and Draco with the four of us to my box for at least one game."
Harry worked it out quickly. Apparently, regardless of Remus's disposition, Uncle Vlad was planning to procure the best, most expensive seats in the stadium for both Snapes as well as both Masters. "Thanks, Uncle Vlad."
Dudley squirmed. He didn't like being left out, but how many tantrums did he throw about Harry, loudly complaining against his cousin's inclusion in any vacation arrangement? Aunt Marge might think of something, but… Dudley sighed.
Vlad continued, "Regardless of what we do and where we go, we will be back for the Lupin and Weasley weddings. A little wish fulfillment can go a long way.
"But enough about me. What are your plans, Severus?"
Professor Snape thought for a moment. "Both weddings are high on our priority list, but Headmaster Dumbledore wants to start the summer holidays with a trip to Godric's Hollow. It's geared to be a significantly emotional destination."
Dudley asked, "Where is Godric's Hollow? Why is it so important?"
Harry looked down for a moment. "It's a village in the West Country, not far from Cornwall. It's where I was born, and where my parents are buried. Professor Dumbledore said that while those two facts alone make the trip worthwhile, my father's family has even longer history there. He said we'll discuss all kinds of things while we're there."
Dudley sat quietly, thinking. "Harry? Mr. Snape… could I come with you?"
Both wizards shared a glance. What was this? Harry asked, "Um… Dudley, why do you want to go?"
The blond closed his eyes for a moment or two. He opened them and took a deep breath. "For as long as I can remember, you've always lived with us. Yeah, we treated you worse than an unloved…" He couldn't think of anyone that stereotypically was treated as badly as they treated Harry. "Which was wrong on all counts, but… the idea that you had parents, real parents, was never really real to me. Forever, I've heard you call my parents Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. But I've never had a chance to even think about… Aunt Lily and Uncle James. Those are their names, right?"
Harry raised both eyebrows. "Yes."
Dudley scratched his head. He had a little under two years to think about this since those demento-thingies made him think of just how miserable Harry must have felt, and this is the first time he verbalized some of those thoughts. "I know you felt cheated out of your family since forever, but when your… Professor Dumbledore came to get you last summer and mentioned that my parents mistreated me, it made me think of a few things. You never got to ask about your parents, and I kind of realized… I was cheated out of knowing about them, too." Severus raised an eyebrow at this.
"I mean, the only way I even know their names is that – once, while you were doing yard-work, I snuck into your room and saw your photo album."
Harry felt betrayed, and his sense of privacy was violated. "You did what?"
Dudley raised a hand. "I probably shouldn't have, but… I dunno. I just looked. I promise! I saw a picture of what looked like a grown-up version of you, and a prettier, red-haired version of Mum. On the back, it said, 'James and Lily Potter,' and it gave the date, and I realized that these were real people.
"Mum, Dad, and Aunt Marge didn't say anything about their names, or anything useful at all about them, even to me, even when you weren't around. Only… you know…" He looked up, embarrassed, at Mr. Snape and Mr. Masters. "That they were freaks and lay-about drunks. But the people in your pictures didn't look… like that."
Dudley took a breath. "I want to go to Godric's Hollow with you. I'd like… You know, I've had friends who visited cemeteries. Not just knocking about on Halloween but to visit grandparents' graves. Not like it made much of an impression.
"But you know… Mum and Dad never made mention of a cemetery. I knew your parents were dead – we heard all about the car crash that never happened. But… I dunno. I guess if I saw their graves, it would… make it real. I kinda… want to know more about Aunt Lily and Uncle James. I know that Aunt Lily was Mum's sister. I just never really got why Dad's sister was so loved and Mum's sister wasn't mentioned.
"It's weird. When mention was made of her at all, it was always 'your Mum,' and never 'my Mum's sister.' I just… I dunno. But I'd like to visit your parents, if you'll let me come."
There was silence at the table for a few minutes. Harry was sure that this was more conversation that he'd ever heard from Dudley… well, ever. Even Danny was impressed.
Harry found himself nodding. "Sure, Dudley. If you'd like to come, I'd…" He swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat. "That might be nice."
Severus narrowed his eyes at the Muggle. "You're saying that you are interested in being family to Harry?"
Dudley squirmed, shrugging one shoulder and then the other. "Yeah. It's like, fifteen years late in coming, but… like you said, Mr. Snape, it's better late than never. I'd like to actually know more about my natural cousin than how fast he can run."
Harry stared at the boy. This was a side of Dudley he'd never seen before. He closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "I guess I'd like to get to know you, too. I meant what I said about writing you before, but… I think I might like to know the new you." Dudley flashed a shy smile at him.
Vlad rolled his eyes. He supposed one more in his Packers box wouldn't hurt…
Falafel – fried balls made primarily of ground chickpeas. Olive spices theirs with coriander and dried herbs.
Mirza Ghasemi – barbequed eggplant mashed into a garlic, egg, and tomato sauce
Kebab e barre – skewers of tender lamb shoulder pieces
Chicken shishlik – succulent chicken thigh
Ghormeh sabzi – a rice dish with fresh herb sauce, with kidney beans, sun-dried lime, and can be served with or without lamb
Choresht bademjoon – a rice dish with eggplant in a mildly peppery tomato sauce, and can be served with or without diced lamb