Disclaimer: Harry Potter, all other characters and the lovely world they live in all belong to the amazing J.K. Rowling. I'm just playing with them; I'll put them back when I'm done.
A/N: This is something that I wrote 90% of several years ago and published partially finished to another website. I've recently been cleaning up my hard drive and came across it and thought I'd finish it up and publish it here as well. It was written after HBP but before DH and therefore is not DH compliant.
Dudley Dursley wasn't sure exactly when it occurred to him that life wasn't exactly what his parents told him it was. He'd love to be able to say that he realized this early on, that he'd recognized the strange happenings that occurred within his childhood home as wrong while they were taking place, but he found it hard to tell that lie even to himself. No, Dudley Dursley spent his entire childhood and adolescence firmly agreeing with his parents that he was the most special person in the entire world and that his cousin Harry, who had been left on their doorstep as a baby, was nothing more than a freak to be ridiculed and hated. He never thought it strange that he had everything he ever wanted while his cousin made do with whatever Dudley no longer wanted. It never occurred to him how strange it was that he had two bedrooms all to himself, and one sat empty most of the time, while Harry slept in the cupboard. He never questioned the amazing freedom he had, to go where he wanted, to do whatever he wanted unencumbered by the locks or long lists of chores that kept his cousin from doing the same. No, this was just the way life was in Dudley's world, and the differences between the way the two boys were treated was nothing to be concerned about after all, because Harry was abnormal, and Dudley was, as his mother kept reminding him, the most special person in the entire world.
As a result of being the most special person in the world, Dudley was entitled to have or do anything he wanted with no reprimand or recourse for any of his actions. Everything could be explained away with a good excuse or a lie, and whatever it was that Dudley was supposed to have done wrong was either someone else's fault, or a complete exaggeration on the part of the accuser, usually his cousin. Dudley never got punished for anything, and even in situations where he knew he was at fault, he was always able to shift the blame and the subsequent punishment to Harry. This had of course started at home, with his mother and father doting on him constantly, and had, with the encouragement of his parents, continued throughout his primary schooling. Leaving home for the first time to attend Smeltings had, if anything, only served to increase his overdeveloped sense of self worth. Smeltings was full of other students just like himself; in fact, the entire school seemed to cater to them. Each child there seemed to be just as spoiled as he, not a single one of them able to look beyond their own desires to the world beyond them and it was the perfect environment for Dudley to continue to cruise through life without a care in the world.
If everything had continued according to plan, Dudley would have gone to university at his father's Alma Mater, which, like Smeltings, would have allowed him to continue in his most-favored-boy status. He would have majored in business, just like his father; then gone to work at Grunning's at an entry-level position that would allow his father to quickly nudge him through the ranks. He would have continued with life as a Dursley: grown up to be a proper Dursley man, married a girl who would become a proper Dursley woman, spawn proper Dursley children whom he would then mold into smaller versions of himself, just as his parents had done to him. This was the plan, set into motion by his parents long before he was even born, and meticulously adhered to, even with the extra burden of dealing with his freaky cousin. Dudley never questioned the plan, never thought about anything different and was perfectly happy following along with it, and would have continued to do so if it weren't for one tiny wrinkle in it that appeared shortly before his leaving Smeltings. The wrinkle seemed like a blessing at first: it came in the form of a letter from a university athletics department that had heard great things about his boxing talent. This university, much larger and more prestigious than the one his father had attended, wanted Dudley to come and join their boxing program; in fact they wanted it so much they were willing to offer him a full scholarship if he were to accept. For the first time in his life, Dudley's actions started to deviate from the master plan.
His first month at University was a wake up call for Dudley. His parents had accompanied him to the campus to get him settled into his dormitory in their usual overbearing manner. His mother had fussed over him and his room, helped him get all of his possessions unpacked and made sure he was settled in the manner that she felt he deserved. He didn't think a thing of it; after all, they had done the same thing his first term at Smeltings, along with many of the other parents. However it seemed that here, it was different. His parents had barely disappeared around the end of the hallway, waving and blowing kisses, when he heard a great burst of laughter coming from the other end of the hall, intermixed with a girl's mocking voice talking about spoiled little boys who needed their Mummy to make sure they had remembered to bring all of their socks and underclothes. Dudley's face had flushed in a mixture of rage and embarrassment when he realized they were talking about him. He looked around and realized that the majority of his dormmates had arrived by themselves, and the few whose parents did accompany them, had managed to dispatch them away quickly. Contrasted with his own mother and the way she had spent several hours coddling him, in full earshot of the rest of the dorm, he felt the first ever chink in the world that he had up until now inhabited.
In anger, he turned to the only way he knew to deal with the mocking voices: he'd show them. After all, his fists had always served him well in the past; he'd just do to these people the same thing he'd done his entire life to those who dared to mock him. He didn't have trouble finding the source of the laughter, but once he saw the gathering of students, he realized that fighting wasn't an option for dealing with this. In the past, he'd always had his group of friends to back him up, and it was usually just dealing with one, or at the most, two people. Here, the situation was reversed. He found himself alone, staring at a mixed group of eight boys and girls around his own age, his fellow students, lounging in the room next door with the door open. Most of them looked away as he looked in; only two met his eyes. One, a tall boy with dark hair and broad shoulders had a challenging look in his dark eyes as he stared at Dudley. A few other boys also looked more than capable of sticking up for themselves and their friends if necessary. He realized in a flash that going into that room with fists swinging was a bad idea, so instead he just stopped and stared, trying to force a threatening look onto his face past the hurt that he was feeling. A curly haired girl, who was the only other person in the room to look at him, smirked at him and appeared to be trying to keep from laughing out loud. His attempt at intimidating them with a look didn't work the way it always had in the past, so without another word, he turned and walked away. Laughter rang out behind him again and he could have sworn he heard someone call out a goodbye to "Dinky Duddydums" as he left. Would his mother ever stop calling him that?
Dudley didn't know what to make of this turn of events. He had never been heckled or teased by anyone. Well, after his cousin Harry started at that freak school of his, he would make teasing comments to Dudley, but somehow that wasn't the same thing. Harry was his family, and for the longest time, he was also Dudley's victim. Harry had reason to hate him, and as angry as Dudley used to get over Harry's comments, he knew that it was the only way that the other boy had of striking at Dudley, and he had never let the comments bother him. However this was different; these people had no reason to make fun of him, he had never met them before in his life. A more sensitive soul than Dudley would have drawn the parallels between the way his new schoolmates treated him and the way that he and the gang of boys that he gathered around him had treated his schoolmates from nursery school right through to leaving Smeltings. However, Dudley never made this connection. He always had a reason for bullying his fellow students; these people had no reason for treating him this way. He was angry with them for making fun of him and angry with his mother for giving them the ammunition to use.
Life got no better after that first day. The curly haired girl kept popping up when he least expected it. She shared three subjects with him, and always seemed to be surrounded by a circle of friends as he passed between lectures. Likewise, she would pop up almost every time he ventured from his room for meals. Even his roommate, a small brown haired boy who had hardly said three words to Dudley since the start of term, could be seen in the group of people clustered around her in the dining hall. His course work was no better. Dudley had never been an exceptional student; quite the contrary: his grades were consistently near the bottom of the class, but he had never worried about it. His self-centered, bullying ways and poor work ethic that had served him so well in the past did nothing to endear him to his lecturers and they had no problems in letting him know.
By the end of two weeks, Dudley was starting to think he had made a mistake by accepting the scholarship. His dormmates had grown tired of teasing him about his mother and had moved on to his weight, his hair, and even his study habits. He had tried to retaliate in the first week, only to realize that his responses only egged them on further. They were much subtler than he had ever been, but their taunts affected him to the point where he was almost starting to empathize with his own victims over the years. The only thing that kept him going was his new boxing coach and the gym that was open to his disposal.
By the time three weeks had passed, Dudley was spending almost as much time in the gym working out as he did in class, and was sure that he had made a mistake by trying something new. The teasing hadn't increased; in fact, for most of the other students, as their work load picked up, they backed off a little, but the curly headed girl who had been the first one to throw taunts his way seemed to have no intention of easing up. He was just starting to recognize something of himself in her, and tried desperately not to let her see how deeply her words cut into him.
One month into the university term found him struggling in his subjects, incredibly lonely, and absolutely miserable. He had been called into a meeting with his boxing coach earlier that day and told that if his results didn't improve soon, he was going to be kicked out the program and his scholarship revoked. He had tried to wheedle his way around this with no success. The thought of losing the one thing he cared about at this university hit him hard, and he finally sat quietly and nodded when the conditions of his continued participation in the boxing program were laid out for him. He must attend all of his lectures regularly and maintain at least a passing mark in each of them. He would have access to a tutor if necessary, but he was going to have to put forth a fair amount of effort just to pull out passing marks.
That night saw Dudley hit the lowest point he'd ever encountered in his young, sheltered life. He was furious with his classmates, with his coach, with the unfair system that punished people like him, although he wouldn't be able to say how, if pressed. He should have never come here, he should have followed his father's footsteps and then he wouldn't have to deal with this; he could just move forward with his life the way he always planned, before this horrible place had lured him in with their scholarship offers. Screw it all, he didn't need this. His parents would love to have him back home and at the start of next term he could head to his father's old school, just as they had planned from the time he was a very small child. He didn't need this kind of stress in his life, he was special, hadn't his mother always told him that? He stormed around his room, gathering up his belongings and throwing them into his trunk. He'd call his parents and they would be more than happy to come and get him and those in this university who seemed intent on making his life miserable would just have to find a new target for their maliciousness. Halfway through this frantic packing session, his roommate walked in, took note of the situation, let out some sort of strangled squeak and left the room as quickly as he entered, the door remaining open behind him. Within seconds he heard laughter from the next room, along with a voice insisting that someone owed them ten pounds, because they had been sure that the ignorant whale of a mummy's boy would be flunking out before the end of term, and good riddance to him. Dudley stopped dead in the middle of his packing, feeling like he'd been hit in the head with something large and heavy, and felt the anger and resentment building in him. How dare they make those kind of assumptions about him; he had as much right to be here as they did. He finally felt a bit of a desire to prove himself and show that they were wrong, that he wasn't going to fail. A fierce determination grew deep within him and he reached for his trunk to unpack.
The rest of the term saw Dudley struggling, fighting not only his own tendency to slack off on anything that wasn't important to him, but also the attitudes of those around him, both teachers and classmates, who seemed to expect him to fail. He managed to eke out a tentative friendship with a few other students that occupied the fringes of campus life with him, and with the help of his tutor started making progress in his classes. Stung by the comments about his still considerable weight, he cracked down on his diet, following it more closely than he had since his first year of boxing at Smeltings. That, combined with the time he spent in the gym, started to make a noticeable difference in his appearance. His course work continued to be an issue: at the time he made the commitment to succeed, he had been so far behind it seemed impossible to salvage decent results. Still, by the time the Christmas holidays rolled around, and with them the end of the term, he had managed to squeak by.
Dudley had been looking forward to Christmas at home with his family since the first week of term. His parents had informed him that his Aunt Marge would be joining them, and Dudley was looking forward to seeing them as well as his friends. What he hadn't counted on was the fact that he had somehow, inexplicably, changed during his time at university. He wasn't sure what to make of this the first night he was home, when, for the first time in his life he looked upon his mother's fussing and simpering over him as an intrusion rather than a means to be able to manipulate her into giving him the things he wanted, whether it be toys, food or money. Even worse was the time he spent with the gang of boys he had grown up with, vandalizing the neighborhood and bullying anyone foolish enough to get in their way. Somehow now, long nights spent at the town centre or the cinema harassing the other patrons no longer appealed to him. Between his mother overwhelming him at every turn and his friends trying to get him to continue to be the same person he had been before he had felt the sting of that sort of harassment turned upon him, Dudley for the first time felt out of place in the home that used to be his sanctuary.
It wasn't until Christmas dinner that it finally hit Dudley that his lifelong ambition to grow up to be exactly like his father was no longer appealing to him. He had felt a bit off-kilter all day. He had been unexpectedly overwhelmed by the sheer number of gifts thrust upon him that morning and a full day of listening to his father and Aunt Marge criticize everything from the state of the local government, to the audacity of teenagers these days, to the family down the street who dared to allow their daughter to socialize with the sort of people rarely seen on Privet Drive. Since Dudley had been very small, he had wanted nothing more than to grow up to be exactly like his father, a sentiment encouraged by his mother. But he now realized exactly what that would entail, as he saw the man for who he was for the first time. He remembered their treatment of his cousin, who had walked out of their life eighteen months ago and hadn't been heard from since. He knew first hand of the intolerance directed towards anyone who dared to be little different, to show any sort of individuality. As his father became louder and more boorish with every successive glass of wine consumed, the realization sank deeper and deeper into Dudley that this was not what he wanted for the rest of his life, and the thought scared him.