Disclaimer: I own nothing in the Harry Potter world.
"You're a freak, Dudley!" The pretty blonde girl's scream echoed around the playground, causing everyone there to pause in shock – including Dudley. "The things you and your friends do to your cousin could only be done by sadistic, bullying freaks!"
Harry, who had been hiding in a large azalea bush, peeked through to have a good look at the event. At age 9 he'd only rarely had people stick up for him.
"Bu…But…" Dudley answered in his usual bright manner.
"No one likes you, you moron." The girl continued – Lila, Harry remembered. "They're afraid of you, but in a few years, you won't be able to get away with this sort of thing with excuses, they'll throw your fat ass in jail for the things you do, and I'll laugh myself sick. Everyone knows people like you come to a bad end."
Dudley's mind slowly realized that no one was defending him – everyone seemed to be looking at Lila with approving agreement – did they really think he was the freak, here?
"But dad says Harry is the freak, and deserves everything he gets." To Dudley's horror the girl just got angrier, and all the other kids looked rather displeased with him. Even his henchman Piers was backing away with an odd look on his face.
"Well, your parents are freaks, too, if they think that!" Her voice dropped to a hiss. "We've all heard about the cupboard he stays in – only a bunch of abusive psychopaths do things like that. No one but cruel freaks treat orphaned nephews the way you do. Do you think no one notices that Harry is thin as a skeleton and covered in bruises all the time? We all see him slaving in the yard while you and your dad lay around like beached whales."
Dudley was horrified, all the things she was pointing out were everyday, accepted things at his home, but the way she was saying it – the picture she painted of them was not a pretty thing. Were they really like that? It slowly seeped into his mind that if he had seen another family behaving the way his did ... he would consider them cruel and sadistic. Did everyone really see them as that – bullies and abusers?
Harry also felt a bit of a shock. He had learned to accept his lot in life and that no one was going to rescue him. The accompanying knowledge was that he apparently didn't deserve to be rescued, that somehow this was the way it was supposed to be. It was a huge shock to find out that anyone thought his treatment wasn't right – but the rest of the kids in the park seem to agree with her, as well. Harry felt something shift inside – the knowledge that he deserved better was settling in.
The blond girl leaned forward toward the much bigger boy, eyes narrowing in malice – a look that didn't really fit on her normally sweet face. "You know what I hope, Dudley? I hope that when he's older, Harry kills the lot of you!" There was a collective gasp from all the children, including the now pale Dudley. Lila looked smug. "That happens, you know. Abused children come back to take revenge on their tormentors. I bet after he tells the courts how you treated him, they pat him on the head and let him go after a very brief stay at a posh mental hospital." Lila put her nose in the air and finished off her tirade. "And you know what, Dudley? I'll laugh!"
With that, Lila left the field of verbal battle with her enemy in mental tatters.
Harry snuck from behind the bush and started walking away, intent on thinking over what the girl had said. He heard Dudley lumber up from behind him.
"Wait, Harry. I think we need to talk." Dudley wore a look of shocked confusion. "Let's go get an ice cream, that will help me think." They walked the few blocks to the ice cream parlor in silence. Once there, Dudley ordered a pair of sundaes and they sat in a booth across from each other, realizing they were really total strangers.
"The things Lila said…did you hear it all?" Dudley asked tentatively. Harry nodded in response. Dudley ducked his head and thought hard. How does one make up for years of bullying? One ice cream sudae certainly didn't cover it.
Dudley scooped up some ice cream to fortify himself with a little courage. He took a deep breath. "I think Lila is right. I remember, now. There are other families with kids not their own, and they're all really close. Steve – he has a cousin that lives with him, and they're like brothers."
Harry nodded, again. Dudley seemed to need to talk himself through this. As long as it meant he was heading toward not beating Harry up anymore, he was happy to let him do so.
Dudley ate a couple more scoops. "I didn't really see what we were doing, until Lila … put it the way she did. She's right, we are wrong the way we treat you." Dudley abruptly dropped his spoon. "If I were you, I would want to kill us." This seemed to shock Dudley even further; he looked oddly stricken by the thought. "Do you think you can forgive me?" He finally whispered.
Harry was stunned by Dudley's epiphany. He had accepted that he deserved better, but for Dudley to suddenly need forgiveness? "I guess I always just accepted my treatment as 'the way things are', I was as surprised by what Lila said as you. But you are right – it shouldn't be this way." Harry answered slowly. "If you really mean it, then – yes, I forgive you. However I don't think your parents are going to see it that way."
Dudley had looked overwhelmingly relieved, and then the second half of what Harry said sunk in. His parents…yes, they likely wouldn't see the light right away. Although… "You know, Harry, Mum doesn't ever hit you – and since you're busy being hit at the time – I don't think you realize how scared Mum looks when dad is going at you." Harry's mouth gaped open at this news. "I've heard her tell him to lay off, a few times. He usually does – for a while, anyway."
Harry ate at the sundae glumly – it would figure that he would get his first ice cream in ages, and the conversation would be so depressing he couldn't enjoy it.
"Maybe between the 3 of us we can bring him around. Together we should be able to outwit him." Dudley looked determined. He stood up, and for the first time in his life, didn't finish a dessert. "Come on, dad won't be home for hours, lets tackle Mum, now."
Harry perked up and nodded. "We'll have to be careful not to get her back up. Tell her the neighbor kids have noticed the abuse, and therefore the adults must know, as well. That will horrify her."
Dudley beamed at his brilliant cousin. "Perfect. Let's go"
The pair strolled down the sidewalk together, plotting. They caused a lot of people to wonder if it was a little chilly in hell that day, since they never expected Dudley Dursley, of all people, to ever treat his cousin well.
Petunia put some finishing touches on a cake she had baked. She planned the usual lavish meal, and hoped that between it and a bottle of wine, that Vernon would be in a good mood. It was getting harder and harder to get him to leave Harry alone. Any excuse seemed good enough, now to hit him. She took a deep breath; he had even swung at her a time or two when he was really drunk. He hadn't remembered it in the morning, though.
When Harry was eight, someone had called child protective services. She had actually been relived, hoping that Harry would escape, and the Dursleys could go back to being a perfect family. But then Dumbledore had appeared, and the people had wandered off, looking confused. She thought that the old Headmaster was just taking Harry away, himself.
Petunia shook her head. She had always thought of him as kindly, from Lily's description. But Albus hadn't even spoken to her. Albus had struck a deal with Vernon, instead. Vernon got a monthly payment of a substantial amount, and they kept Harry. Albus had sternly told Vernon that 'he understood that children needed discipline, but please don't get carried away, again.' Vernon had been careful, for awhile after that, but lately it had become bad, again.
She heard a door open, and close. To her shock Dudley and Harry appeared, together.
"Mum, we need to talk." Dudley looked determined. Worse, he looked angry.
Something sank in the pit of her stomach, and she abruptly sank into a chair at the kitchen table. To her shock Dudley sat as well – after he had pulled a chair out for Harry. He gave her a level look when he did that and she suddenly understood, all in an instant. Dudley had woken up to what was happening around him, and he was now firmly in Harry's corner. She had never been as proud of Dudley as she was right now. Perhaps he could make things right.
"We need to start treating Harry better, Mum, he's a member of the family – my cousin. The only cousin I'll ever have, and we've been treating him like trash. It isn't right and it's going to stop." Dudley said.
Harry had to give Dudley credit; he knew how to cut to the heart of the matter. Unsubtle, but effective. To Harry's astonishment Aunt Petunia's eyes filled with tears.
"I'm so glad you said that Dudley. I've wanted to do something for so long, but Vernon…" Petunia actually paled at having to mention him.
"You're afraid of Dad?" Dudley seemed astounded at the thought. "I know he's scary at times, but…"
"He's never been mad at you, Dudley." Harry felt that was explanation enough. It seemed to be enough – Dudley sat, mulling that over for a time.
"If you present reasons for him to treat Harry better, he might accept it. Or he might turn on you, too." Petunia wept a bit more at that thought.
Dudley thought that over as well. "We'll give it a try, Mum. If he turns on me as well…" He looked at Petunia sternly… "We either throw him out or leave – whichever one you think is best."
"If it comes to throwing him out we would have to involve the authorities, and Albus would be called – and it would all just go away again." Petunia looked frustrated. "I'll have to think of an escape plan, just in case."
"How can this Albus person have so much influence, and if he does, why does he bother with a kid like me?" Harry was quite frustrated. Apparently this Albus had condemned him to a life of misery, why?
"I'm going to have to explain a bit about your past, and your parents, Harry. It will have to be a secret between the three of us, do you agree?" The pair was thrilled to be trusted with an adult secret. "I'll need to get a box from the attic. If the two of you would fix some sandwiches for lunch for the three of us, and we'll have the cake for dessert."
The boys perked up – plotting had stirred their appetite.
Petunia climbed to the attic slowly. Albus had visited one other time – the day after he had dropped Harry off. He had brought a box of Lily's things, and some instructions. They were not to divulge knowledge of the wizarding world to Harry, and they were not to 'coddle' him – he would be a warrior when he grew up and Albus didn't need a wimp. Albus had dropped a lump of cash into Vernon's hands that had kept him happy for years. Now she would be breaking at least one of those instructions.
Petunia clutched the box to her thin chest, feeling another bout of weeping coming on. She had loved Lily, still did, really. But she had felt Lily leaving her behind, first with that Snape boy, then the school, then marriage to a wizard took her away completely, it seemed. The abandonment she'd felt when Lily had drifted away where Petunia couldn't follow was still there whenever she thought of Lily, and when she looked at Harry. She'd known she was losing Lily when the Snape boy had said Hogwarts was only for magical children.
Petunia stilled. The Snape boy – he would be a man, now, and she remembered all too well how very obsessively he had loved Lily. If necessary, he might be one they could turn to. She grimaced – at least Harry could. She slowly walked back into the kitchen. She smiled, feeling a bit weepy, again, watching her son and nephew together. The boys were bent over the meal, working and chattering. It should have been this way from the first.
Petunia sorted through the box, pulling out the tattered photo album. The boys were boisterously eating, and slurping at the soda. She interrupted before they could start a belching contest. They were herded into the living room after the cake was done, and sat on either side of her on the sofa.
"I know what I'm about to tell you will see unbelievable, but I'm telling the truth – so hear me out." The boys looked at her warily, and nodded.
She opened the album to the middle, where she knew wizarding photos were, and sure enough there were the photos of a Quidditch match, and some of Lily doing spells. The boys gasped and looked at her wide-eyed.
"Your mom and dad were magical – a wizard and witch, Harry. Lily got her letter from the school for magic when she was eleven. She went there until she was seventeen, and met your father there. There was a war with a 'dark wizard' and they were killed. Albus left you with us, he said, because being with your mother's family protected you, somehow." Petunia stopped, her knowledge of the wizarding world was sketchy, but she hoped to be able to answer his question, somehow.
The pair gawked at her for an uncomfortable few minutes, and then Dudley burst out. "Is THAT why dad calls him a freak?" Petunia nodded glumly. "Well, that's just stupid, having magic would be a gift, not something to be mad about. Wish I was."
"You do have magic, or did. When Albus brought Harry to us, he said you had magic. Vernon insisted that he 'bind' your magic, so you wouldn't be a 'freak' as well. Vernon actually wasn't very bad toward Harry, until he started doing accidental magic – all those things you can't explain, Harry." Petunia looked tearful, again.
Dudley was speechless with rage for a full five minutes while Harry looked at the album. He finally found his voice and howled. "I was robbed of my magic? I want it back! Find a way for me to get it back!"
"If Albus 'bound' your magic I'm sure there must be a way to 'unbind' it." Harry offered. Dudley was looking a bit purple. This morning Harry would have cheered if Dudley had a stroke, now he was getting fond of his cousin.
Petunia thought hard. "Give me a few days to contact an old acquaintance, hopefully he can and will, help." The Snape boy was about to get a visit. She glanced at the clock – Vernon would be home in an hour or so. "Dudley, would you let Harry have your second bedroom?" He looked surprised, then thoughtful, and nodded. "Why don't you help him move in, and I'll plot a strategy while fixing dinner. Come back down to the kitchen in an hour, and we'll plan what to say."
The pair raced, or lumbered up the stairs, and they were soon tossing broken toys into bags and boxes, and carting them to the trash. Soon the room was presentable, and Harry's things moved upstairs. Petunia got dinner fixed on autopilot. She knew any win today was likely to be temporary; she needed a long-term escape, not only from Vernon, but from Albus as well.
She sighed, Snape was not only the only wizard she really knew, but also – luckily – the only one likely to risk it all for Lily's child. The pair appeared as directed in one hour, and she told them what to say, or at least what she hoped to say to convince Vernon while the boys set the table – for four. She sighed – she may as well throw down the gauntlet now.
Vernon arrived as they placed the food, and stood next to the chairs. Vernon entered cheerfully, then stopped abruptly and frowned. "Why is the freak at the table?"
Petunia charged into battle. "Did you know that the neighbors are on the verge of calling in authorities, again? Their children confronted Dudley, and let him know the jig was up. Dudley was quite appalled at how they view us – as abusers, Vernon."
This stopped Vernon in his tracks. He had thought his neighbors looked up to him. "Bu..but.." He wasn't at all sure what to say. "That Albus fellow could…"
"Wizards aren't allowed to get rid of peoples memories every whipstitch, Vernon. And this would be the entire neighborhood. Remember he said to not let this happen again, Vernon." Petunia watched him blanch with fear with a certain amount of satisfaction. "We need to treat Harry differently – it's only for another year – he turns 10 next month, and he'll get his letter and go to the school when he's 11."
"Petunia, they're not supposed to know…" Vernon protested. He was furious - he didn't want the freak to go to a magic school, and get even more freaky.
"They know, Vernon, and Albus will just have to deal with it…if we don't attract attention… he'll never find out. Now, we've fixed your favorite meal, let's eat – we can talk later, if you still need to." Petunia took her seat, between Vernon and Harry, with Dudley across from her looking grimly approving.
Vernon ate automatically, feeling that the world had ended. Petunia defying him! Harry not only eating their food, but at the table with them. And Dudley – his son was looking at him with angry distaste. He finally threw down his napkin and announced he was going out with the boys for a drink. He just growled when they all looked relieved.
The trio cut the remaining cake up into 3 huge slabs, and took it to the living room. Harry was almost groggy from more food in one day than he ever remembered receiving. Petunia brought the box out again, as well as a pad of paper.
"I'm afraid Vernon may not give me time to set up an escape, if he gets angry." She quickly told the boys about Severus Snape, writing down the old address she remembered from childhood. "He was best friends with Lily as a child, and was in love with her at school." The boys chortled and blushed at this. "I know he would do anything for Lily – he will help you Harry." She gave them directions to the Leaky Cauldron, as well – "they will help you there, as well, if you can't find Snape." She gave Dudley her ATM card, and the PIN number "Just in case – not to buy goodies with."
The boys asked more questions, and she went through the album, page by page. She remembered more than she thought she would. She told them all the stories Lily had ever told her, hoping that they would help. She was terribly afraid that Vernon was not going bow to the ultimatum they had given.
Sure enough, just before midnight, in the middle of explaining that unicorns did exist, he returned. Petunia had never seen him so drunk or angry. The boys cringed tighter to her, and she gathered her courage.
A/N I know there are a ton of these stories out there, but I hope to make mine a little different. Some of the plot twists are several chapters away, so hang on!