Thanks to my Bata reader Storyseeker :)
"Come with me." There was no hiding the arrogance in the voice. It was that arrogance that allowed Dudley to predict who the mystery man grabbing his arm was. Mr Crow dragged him out of the main hall, through the dining room, and into a diamond shaped conservatory. He then threw him into the centre of the room.
Dudley spun around from the momentum of the throw, but managed to steady himself before he fell. He turned towards Mr Crow, and planted his feet firmly on the tiles of the conservatory. He glared at him from beneath the blonde hairs of his eyebrows, ignoring the chill and darkness of the room.
Mr Crow pulled out his wand and made a swiping motion across the doors and windows, the sound of a dozen locks clicking was silenced by the return swing of Mr Crow's arm. The silence was complete, only the breathing of Mr Crow and Dudley could be heard. They were alone.
"That was perhaps the most revolting thing I have ever seen!" Mr Crow slipped his wand into the breast pocket of his jacket, and sneered. "Performing magic for Muggles, for their…entertainment. You degrade your kind!"
Dudley stood to his full height, and turned around as he put on his jacket. As he straightened it, he felt for the stone. It was warm against his chest. Taking a large breath of the cold air, he faced him.
"It wasn't magic. I was good, don't you think?"
"Not magic?" Mr Crow chucked, shaking his head condescendingly. "You should take more care in choosing who you lie to, Mr Evans. Your little stunt with the piano could be felt from the gardens of this house."
Dudley wanted to frown, but masked his reaction. "Why are you here, Mr Crow?"
Crow ran two fingers across his bulb-like-head, in a gesture that was similar to brushing a lock of hair away from one's eyes, and tucking it behind an ear. "It has come to the attention of the Ministry that Lucius Malfoy may have contacted Firebrands; in an attempt to halt his trial."
"They are basically rejected Hit Wizards and Auror applicants, embittered by their own inability to become part of the solution, they have decided to become part of the problem instead."
"Pathetic." Dudley and Mr Crow said at the same time.
Mr Crow smiled.
"They are little more than mercenaries for hire, relatively new, and known only for specialising in 'Tracking Down The Untraceable', usually only wizards protected by the Ministry. Hardly a difficult 'specialisation', if one has access to the…ahh, I'm getting ahead of myself."
Dudley's blood had run cold. Mercenaries? Lucius Malfoy had sent mercenaries after him? Unbelievable.
"The wards around my house. These Firebrands, even if they find me, they won't be able to touch me or the…my family. Not while I'm inside," he said, adamantly.
Mr Crow's mouth twitched. "Not…"he paused, mid-step, and looked Dudley up and down, examining him slowly, "…exactly."
"Not exactly?" Dudley scoffed and crossed his arms. "What exactly does that mean? Are we protected or not? Don't dumb it down."
"I don't have to 'dumb it down', I appreciate that." Mr Crow smirked. "The wards protecting your house are tailored to guard your cousin. The only safeguards that you and your parents possess are at most a curtsy of Albus Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic."
"I see." Dudley reached up and smoothed his right eyebrow with his index finger. "They can break through them then?"
"No," said Mr Crow slowly. "It would take an exponential amount of magic to breakthrough or breakdown the wards. Any attempt to do so would immediately alert the Ministry."
"No home invasions then?"
Mr Crow frowned. "What I mean to say is; you lack personal protection, Mr Evans. The safety awarded to you, thus far, is due to your bloodline's proximity to Mr Potter. The Firebrand won't attack you while Potter is there. They'll get you when you're alone, away from your home and ward, or else make their own jobs far more difficult than it's worth."
"You're here tonight to guard me then?"
"Among other things, yes."
There was a silence. "Other things?"
"Albus Dumbledore promised you something that wasn't his to offer."
Dudley frowned in confusion. "And what would that be?"
He raised an eyebrow. "The records of the Department of Magical Research."
Dudley distantly remembered the night in Dumbledore's office, when Snape attacked him and the old professor stole his wand. He'd almost forgotten the discussion before the fight. "Ah."
"Vaguely… It was a…confusing time." Dudley looked down at his shiny black shoes.
"Hmm. Well, it needn't matter. He had no right to make the promise, and I'm revoking it."
"Ooo-kay," Dudley raised his eyes to Mr Crow's, curiously sensing that there was something more in what the man was saying.
"However, I am willing to make a deal with you."
Dudley did not say anything at first, as he wasn't sure where he was going with this 'deal', and the way he said it seemed odd, not sinister, just not quite…right. Dudley was becoming very aware that he was alone, and that no one would be able to hear him if he yelled.
"What kind of deal, Mr Crow?"
Mr Crow smirked. "I will grant you assess to all research projects without restriction. However, you will have to make an Unbreakable Vow." He paused, as if waiting for Dudley ask what an Unbreakable Vow was, but when he realised he didn't need to, he carried on. "You will be treated as an unspeakable, forbidden to tell a soul about the information you learn, unable to utter a word to anyone who is not approved by me, in person. And on completion of your education, you will work for me in the Department of Magical Research."
Dudley hardened his face, and narrowed his eyes distrusting. The sudden change in his expression seemed to unsettle Mr Crow, as the arrogant smirk of certainty seemed to falter. He hadn't expected the change, but neither had Dudley.
In truth, Dudley was scared. Why would Mr Crow offer such a 'deal'? The only conclusion that he could draw was that Mr Crow knew, or at least he knew something that he wasn't telling! Perhaps it was one blow too many, but something snapped inside him, and for once he didn't feel like hiding who he was. He was Nicholas Larkin! Not some little plaything that people could make decisions for.
His face became stone hard with rage, and he stepped towards Mr Crow. The man was now composed, back into his arrogant self, the initial shock of the change in Dudley's expression warring away.
Nicholas held up his right arm, holding it ready and reluctantly. Mr Crow stared at the hand, and then to him. The darkness in Nicholas' face bore through his eyes, and his voice was like the growl of a Hungarian Horntail. "I will not work for you indefinitely, and any invention I create shall belong to me in both right and patent, and you will pay me well."
Mr Crow grasped Nicholas' forearm, and Nicholas pulled the man down so close that their noses were touching. "You will tell me everything you know, and you will never tell anyone. Is. That. Clear?"
Mr Crow held his breath, and glared deeply into Nicholas eyes with what can only be described as morbid fascination and excitement.
"40 years," he replied.
In a flash, like liquid motion, Mr Crow pulled out his wand, and silver ribbons streamed out from its tip, entangling their clasped arms. The Vow came with a painful mixture of a knife slicing through flesh, and a salt-covered rope squeezing the wound closed.
Dudley stormed out, hot tears scorching his eyes and blurring his vision. He ploughed through the ballroom, also knocking people over. Smoke was tufting out of his jacket, from where the stone had begun to smoulder in his shirt.
One look at Harry and Petunia, and they knew the party was over. Petunia disappeared, trying to find Vernon; Harry tried asking what had happened, but was met with a wall of silence, as Dudley headed non-stop out of the building.
Petunia had found Vernon; he was busy talking to a group of five men drinking whiskey. She whispered something in his ear, and his face went pale, and then beetroot red. He yanked his keys from his pocket, and forced them into her hands. It was obvious that he wasn't coming with them, not now. Dudley didn't care though, as he just left, the stone burning against his chest.
The three of them left the Gunning's estate, and Dudley made Harry sit up front with Petunia, so that he was sitting on his own in the back. For the whole journey he stared at his right arm. Crow had used his rage and tricked him. He had laughed in his face and humiliated him, that arrogant laugh echoing in his ears. The man could choose not to say a thing about what he knew for the next 20 years.
He didn't speak when got to the house. He ran straight into his bedroom, throwing the door open, only for it to recoil against one of his trunks, and the edge of the door cracked into his head, opening a nasty gash in his forehead.
Blinded, he fought his way into the room, and slammed the door shut. What happened next lasted for an unfathomable amount of time. He tore apart his bedroom, everything in sight and anything he could touch. He put his fists through the plaster wall and the wardrobe, cutting open his fist, snapped the backboard of his bed into three jagged pieces, one of which flew upwards and shattered the light-bulb.
Thunderous rain showered through the now broken window, the wind blowing what was left of the curtains open, flooding the room with the orange glow of the street lamps. In an act of mercy, he tore down the last of the curtain shreds from the shattered plastic curtain-rail, and slumped himself into the corner of the room, furthest from the door, and observed his chaos. He had decimated his neatly packed trunks beyond repair.
This was too much destruction for just one person. His magic must have gone wild, as he could taste the rage of it still lingering in the air. He felt his pocket for the stone, only to find there was only a burned out hole in the soaking blazer.
Dudley's ears caught the stone faster than his eyes, even through the noise of the dying storm, as the sound of hissing steam from the rain drops battered on it. He saw it in a fist-sized hole, through the melted carpet and chard floorboards, where it had fallen and was now glowing, almost invisible under the orange haze of the lights, but looking very hot.
Other than a few books, nothing much else could be seen in the room that existed before.
Finally, Dudley crouched in a corner of the obliterated room. As the sweat pooled from his brow into the caked blood from his knuckles and forehead, with dust from the books and plaster in his hair, and dried out tears, with his last act of energy he pulled the ripped duvet cover from his beaten and bent mattress, and covered himself with it.
Dudley awoke with the sun on his face, and a deep rumbling groan. His whole body was knotted up tight and ached, curtsy of sleeping curled up in a ball on the floor. Adding injury to an already injured ego, Harry was sitting on the bare bed-frame, watching him, his expression somewhere between amusement and concern. Dudley groaned again, as he put his hands down to sit up.
"Ah!" A sting of pain travelled up his arm, as he got himself up right, and looked at his hands. They were caked in a bloody mess, shards of glass and splinters of plaster and wood embedded deep within his palms and knuckles. Dread and horror dropped over him, as he realised that they had healed right into his hands.
"Wand," he mumbled.
"What?" Harry blinked.
"Wand!" he said louder and more firmly.
Harry's expression darkened, losing all of its amusement, as he frowned and pulled out his wand from his back pocket, handing it gently to his cousin.
"Thanks," Dudley muttered. He held the wand loosely, every movement of his hands sending little electrocutions of pain throughout them, as the crap inside them poked at the flesh and nerves within. He pointed Harry's wand at his right hand, hoping to save his wand-hand first.
There were hundreds of spells that dealt with splitters, just like there were a million spells for any everyday run-of-the-mill accident (paper-cuts topping the list at over twenty thousand). The reason for this phenomenon was that wizards throughout history had always been very secretive and isolated, and so common experiences drove them to create their own individual and inventive ways of handling their problems. The downside being that, until Hogwarts, wizards never thought to share their knowledge with anyone else, other than their own families (particularly purebloods families), thus many spells, and ways of using magic, were now lost forever. Luckily, the spell Dudley knew was a simple point and shoot.
"Ah, ah! Arrrghhhhhhhhhh!" Dudley howled, as a long, thin shard of glass slowly broke from the skin in-between his knuckles, blood gushing up from the gaping wound, as the glass landed with a 'tink' on the lid of one of the disregarded and torn apart trunks.
Harry went as white as a sheet, his eyes fixated on the shard, panicky repeating the words "bloody" and "Merlin" the whole time, unable to tear his eyes away from the gore. Suddenly, he must have snapped to his senses, as he bolted from the room, running back in with toilet-rolls and towels, then running down the stairs and back up again with a bowl.
"Hot water or cold?" he screamed from the landing.
Dudley couldn't help himself, and smiled. Harry must have thought he'd opened a vein or something, there is a lot of blood Dudley thought, gent turning his hand. However, it was a whole lot worse than it looked. Plus, they had magic.
"Cold, ice cold!" Dudley looked back at his hands, and held the wand to it.
It took an hour and a half, and several bowls of water, to rid his right hand of the debris, not including breaks. However, it took a lot less for the left hand, because Dudley could move the wand more freely, albeit painfully with his right. Harry could not not watch the whole thing, his eyes super-glued to the scene in enthrallment for the majority of the gruelling ordeal.
Dudley's hands healed slowly. Impatient, he told Harry to pick out the stone from the hole in the floorboards, and take it into his own room. He then cast the healing spell that he'd used on Harry after the attack of the keys. The spell was notably weaker than it had been back then, and Dudley guessed that was to be expected, since the spell was powered by positive emotions, and he wasn't feeling anything much at all at the moment.
He dryly examined the room again, and pointed the wand at the window. "Vitreoinfigo."
Shards of glass flew through the air like bullets; Dudley slammed his back against the wall to avoid it. Each piece fixed itself together in the windowsill like a large puzzle, mending as they did, until only a clear sheet of glass was left.
A small "oh my" came from the doorway. Dudley was expecting to see Harry, but as it turned out, it was Petunia.
She was holding a large tray, with a plate stacked with bacon, toast, tomatoes, eggs, and a jug of orange juice.
"Hi," he said lamely.
"W-what was that?" Dudley could see that she was trying.
"Umm, the window was broken, so I just cast a quick spell to fix it. It's the first time I've used it on glass. I used it on a broken mirror at Hog…at school once, but it didn't make the pieces fly around the room, probably because all the broken bits were sitting at the bottom of the frame."
"Oh. That's nice, dear." Petunia lowered the tray, resting it at the foot of the door. "I made breakfast." She stood up and forced a smile, although her eyes betrayed her sadness. "Merry Christmas." She turned away.
"Wait." Dudley hesitated, surprised at himself. "Err, has dad come home yet?"
Petunia didn't turn around, her voice shaky. "No, not yet."
She began walking away again.
"Mum!" She paused, and Dudley took a deep breath. "I love you. Merry Christmas."
She stopped in mid-step, as something changed in the way she stood, and Dudley thought he saw a small smile on her thin lips, as she gave him a slight backwards. Then she walked way, out of view.
He leaned against the wall, and sighed.
Harry popped his head around the door, and then snuck back into the room. "That was a nice," he said.
Lies usually are, Dudley thought. He stood up and pointed Harry's wand at the light-bulb. He would fix it and put a new one in. Then he would repair his books, which shouldn't be as big a problem as it looked, but the trunks, however, was another story.