Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all associated characters and settings remain the intellectual property of JK Rowling and her associates. We are very grateful for permission to play with them.
The title is taken from Placebo's song Nancy Boy.
The idea comes from asnowyowl's prompt to the dudley_redeemed fest on live journal.
Dudley prodded the pasta on his plate. He looked over the dinner table at his parents and it wasn't only the grease glazing his father's meal which made him nauseous. He speared a cube of the cucumber his mother had lovingly prepared for him and shakily lifted his fork to his mouth.
He felt a gentle patting on the back of his left hand and looked into Petunia's concerned face. He wasn't sure what he was so worried about, because he knew how very much she loved him. They both did. His parents had always done everything they could for him. Surely theirs was unconditional love and no matter what he told them, they would always love him. They had loved him, after all, when he had been a bully and a thief and a fat, ugly liar.
But they hadn't known the whole truth about him then. Perhaps it would be better if they didn't know now. He chewed on the tiny piece of cucumber before trying to force it down his closed, dry throat. He had decided that it was time to tell them; there was nothing to worry about. He just had to say it.
He coughed to clear his throat and then said, "Mum, Dad. I have something to say."
"Fire away, son," Vernon spluttered around his meatballs, "no formality here!"
They smiled at him. In unison.
"It's not a big deal," Dudley said. He shrugged one shoulder and stared down into his salad. "Doesn't really matter."
"Come on, Duddikins," Petunia cooed, stroking his cheek in an encouraging way. "We want to know every little thing about our precious boy. It's all important to us."
They did need to know; he did need to tell them.
"It's just ... um ... that I'm gay. That's all."
Silence. Dudley looked up to see whether it was a good silence. It wasn't. His father's face had gone purple and his lower jaw was working uselessly, paling lips failing to make the shapes of words. His mother's eyes were huge and her mouth tiny, pursed into a pucker.
Then Vernon sucked in a loud, wheezing breath and that reanimated his wife. She leapt to her feet and circled the table, checking his vital signs while smacking him between the shoulder blades.
"My son's no freak pervert!" Vernon managed to choke out.
"Oh Dudley! How could you?" Petunia didn't look at Dudley. She gazed in terror at Vernon's darkly-coloured face. "It's not funny! Take it back!"
Dudley's guts coiled in on themselves; this was all wrong.
"Look what you've done to your father! What a stupid thing to say. Tell him you were joking."
"I'm not." Dudley's mind was spinning and trying to shut down. He didn't have the control to lie. Where was the unconditional love his parents had always claimed that they had for him? This could not be happening. "So I'm gay? What does it matter?"
"Stop it, Dudley! Just stop being bloody gay! You know how your father feels about weirdoes."
Vernon spat out the word, "Unnatural!" at the same time as Dudley protested weakly, "I'm not a weirdo."
Petunia sighed happily. "There you are, Vernon. He says he's not a weirdo. It's all a silly misunderstanding. I knew we'd brought you up properly. I expect you meant that you were happy, didn't you, darling?"
"He's not a shirt-lifter, then? Not one of them?" Vernon placed one hand at his waist and raised the other limp-wristedly like a teapot. His breathing slowed down and his colouring began to settle.
Dudley had a quick decision to make. He could lie to his parents, make them happy, tell them it had all been a cruel joke; or he could tell the truth and force them to accept him and love him in spite of his being different to them.
"My name is Dudley Dursley," he said solemnly. "And I am an homosexual."
Vernon gripped his fork in a threatening manner and glared at his beloved only son. "Get out of my house," he growled.
Dudley, naturally, fled. Just before he slammed the front door he heard his father telling his mother that it was all her bloody fault for being too soft on the boy.
He stumbled, shocked, across the road to his car. Then he lay down on the back seat and closed his eyes while his world fractured. He had long known that not many people liked him, but he had truly believed that the devotion of his parents compensated for that. Only it wasn't real. He was a disappointment to them and they had withdrawn their love for him. Mummy didn't love him any more. Dudley curled himself up into an ungainly ball and sobbed.
Angus Tyler-Gibson had been the first thing which Dudley had ever wanted and not been given instantly by his parents. Tyler-Gibson was two years older than Dudley and the best boxer in the school. He was tall and broad, with thick arms and hard fists. Those hairy, muscled arms had only ever embraced Dudley once, though – when Tyler-Gibson was holding him still so that his side-kicks could thump him.
Tyler-Gibson, unfortunately, was not just straight, but also a bigot. After the beating, Dudley had been overcome by the unfairness of it all. It wasn't fair that he couldn't have what he wanted; it wasn't fair that Tyler-Gibson had snarled at him to stop watching every bloody thing he did like a fucking pansy; it wasn't fair that Dudley was receiving what he usually dished out. He tried to blame all sorts of things and people – eventually coming to the conclusion that the fault was his own bloody warped taste in crushes, just as the summer holiday started when that weird magical thing had reached deep into his unhappiness and frozen him.
When he sat up in his car and wiped his face - checking the time and realising that he should have been on his way to work ten minutes before – he couldn't decide whether to blame his parents for not loving him properly, or agree with his father that the fault lay in his own unnatural lusts.
Thank goodness he had the car. It had been an eighteenth birthday present: proof of their parental affection. Well, they couldn't take it away from him now even if that affection had dried up. So, he would at least have somewhere to sleep. He couldn't think of anywhere he could go.
There was one person who would understand of course. There was someone else who had been entitled to the Dursleys' nurturing care and who had been denied it because he had been different from them, someone Dudley could have protected, instead of assisting his parents' persecution, someone who had repaid that bullying by saving Dudley's life. Only Dudley didn't know where Harry was nor how to contact him.
He ran a couple of red lights and got to the club with enough time to get his suit on and join Desmond outside just before the doors opened.
"Cutting it fine," Desmond rumbled at him. But then he added, "Not like you. You've always been nice and conscientious."
The compliment warmed Dudley through like a mug of hot chocolate. Desmond was big and black and bald, with deep brown eyes and a muscular chest which Dudley wanted to lay his head on. Desmond was also married with six children and a penchant for poof jokes, so Dudley knew better than to try.
At the end of his shift on the door, Dudley crept back to his car's back seat and slept fitfully there in the car park until it was time for him to drive to the gym for his morning's training session.
Over lunch in a coffee shop he struggled to keep his eyes open. He couldn't keep sleeping in the car. He had a title match at the end of the month. Ed Stafford, his trainer, was canny and Dudley could tell that he already knew something was wrong. Dudley was hoping to avoid telling him exactly what that something was. After his parents' reaction, he wasn't expecting a lot of tolerance and understanding from the notoriously macho members of the boxing fraternity should any of them ever discover his sexual preferences.
He had no friends to turn to, because they had all gone off to University. He had chosen to dedicate himself to his sport instead. The nights as a bouncer paid for his days of training; his hours weren't enough to cover rent, though. If he got a day job, too, then his boxing would suffer.
He stirred his tea and chomped his way through a tuna baguette, resisting the lure of the scent of deep-frying which filled the place. Stafford would definitely bawl him out if he messed with his diet at this stage. He owed it to himself, anyway, to be as fit as he could be, after all the hours he had put in and all the sacrifices he had made.
This tiredness wouldn't help. He had to find somewhere to sleep properly. He thought about Piers' sprawling house, with all its empty rooms and extra bathrooms. He couldn't just turn up there, though, could he? Not with Piers away.
He made a complete mess of training that afternoon, pulled his back out at work that evening and spent another uncomfortable night on the seat of his car. At the end of the next morning's training session, Ed Stafford told him they needed to have a serious talk that afternoon.
Dudley found himself fantasising about beds. The guest beds were always made up and ready at the Polkiss' house. They were soft and clean with lots of pillows. Mrs Polkiss had always liked Dudley. Well, she'd tolerated him more than most people had. Dudley knew his brain wasn't a sharp one even without the back pain and sleep deprivation. Now it was a foggy mess. He couldn't trust his own judgement any more anyway: he'd been stupid enough to think that his parents were truly fond of him. Still, he had nowhere else to go, so he went to Piers' house that lunchtime.
Mrs Polkiss looked startled when she saw him standing sheepishly on her front lawn.
"Piers isn't here," she said.
"I'm sorry, Dudley, he's in Oxford."
"At the University. I know."
"He won't be home until Christmas now." She started closing the door.
"Yeah. He said in an e-mail."
"You've heard from him?" She smiled for the first time. "How is he? What's he doing?"
Well, Dudley couldn't answer that honestly and stay on the right side of her, so instead he told her that Piers had joined some Societies, was studying hard and eating sensibly. She invited him in and offered him a cup of tea.
His thick fingers felt clumsy on the delicate bone china handle of her teacup. He could co-ordinate every muscle in his arm and fist to land a perfect punch, but something that small made him sweat.
She offered him cake and he was terribly tempted – he remembered how good her Victoria sponge was and this one looked to have home-made lemon curd in it – but he refused.
"I'm on a diet," he demurred.
"Oh, are you?" Mrs Polkiss leant forward. She was always on one diet or another. "Is it any good?"
"It's to build muscle."
She sighed and shifted back against the armchair. "Muscle weighs more than fat, you know."
"Yeah. It's for the boxing."
"You look to be in good shape. I worried about the strain on your heart when you were a child."
"Low fat, high fibre, plenty of complex carbs."
"And the exercise."
"And the exercise," he agreed. There was a pause: a silence which grew steadily less comfortable.
"I'm sorry," Mrs Polkiss said eventually. "You must have had a reason for coming here. I never asked ..."
"Oh, yeah." Dudley's throat dried. He couldn't ask. Not without Piers even being here. "Um, thank you for the tea, Mrs Polkiss. I should be heading back. I've got a training session" and a bollocking from Stafford "to be getting back to." He stood.
"You've really turned into quite a nice young man, Dudley Dursley. I despaired of you for a long time, thought you were a bad influence on my Piers, but here you are, living a healthy life and holding down a job, and you've learnt some manners. Your mother must be very proud."
Dudley blamed the sleeplessness and the sugar cravings. Why else would he have burst into tears at that moment?
Mrs Polkiss sprang to her feet in alarm, then she eased him back into the sofa and showered him with tissues and pats to the shoulder, all the while asking in a strained voice "Whatever is the matter?" over and over.
Eventually he dried up and accepted another cup of tea. He saw her slip the sugar cubes into it and pretended he hadn't. She watched him expectantly.
He inhaled one deep, wet breath, before admitting, "They've chucked me out."
A shaking hand flew to cover Mrs Polkiss' mouth. "Whatever for?" she whispered.
He realised that she was wondering what kind of beast she had allowed into her front parlour, a demon which even a doting mother could no longer love. She knew how much trouble he had caused through Smeltings and before, knew that his parents had forgiven him everything; she could not imagine anything vile enough to cause them to reject him.
He hadn't wanted to tell her, but he couldn't bear her look of terror any longer; she'd always been decent to him.
He looked at the carpet, reliving in his mind how badly wrong things had gone the last time he had admitted this to anyone – the only time he had ever done so.
Tensed ready to leave the house immediately, his cheeks colouring, he mumbled, "It's 'cos I'm gay."
"Gay, you know, queer, homo ..."
"Yes, I do know. I wasn't sure whether that was what you'd said." Mrs Polkiss took in a deep breath. "I can't believe it," she said. "That's disgusting."
His guts plummeting, Dudley forced himself to his feet.
"That a mother should be so closed-minded and reactionary. There's nothing wrong with being attracted to men, Dudley, you mustn't let them make you think that there is."
Dudley sat back down. He gazed at his best friend's mother in awe.
"You poor boy," she continued in the softest of tones. "Do you have anywhere to go?"
"I've been sleeping in my car."
"But you simply must move in with us! For as long as you like!"
"Just 'til I sort myself out," he protested weakly, trying to scramble together a little dignity.
"Your father always was a little irascible, but I'm horrified that Petunia should have rejected you like this. You poor, poor boy."
"Thanks so much, Mrs Polkiss."
"I'm going to go round and have a word with her. It's time she stood up to that brute of a husband of hers – forgive me – I can't believe that she would put some stupid notion of conformity above -"
"No! Please. Don't."
"I don't want them to know that I told you. It'll be worse if they think people know and are talking about it! Please don't tell anyone. I've changed my mind about coming out. I'm going back in the closet. It has not gone well. I don't want to do it any more. I'm ever so grateful to you for giving me somewhere to stay. Only please don't tell anybody."
"You must move your things in straight away!" She had crossed the room in her excitement and was clasping his huge hands between her tiny, bony ones.
"I didn't bring anything," he explained. "I bought, like, toothpaste and deodorant yesterday and I've been showering at the gym, but I don't have any – oh hell! What time is it? I should be training. I'll be in trouble."
"None of Piers' clothes will fit you," she was fussing, " and Mr Polkiss is even shorter."
"I've got to go. Thank you so much."
"You come straight back here after training. I'll have your bedroom ready for you. There's a nice pink one with floral curtains and a big mirror, that might suit you." As she walked him to the door, Mrs Polkiss asked, "Do you have, you know, a someone special? Will he be visiting you here?"
"Er, no. Like a boyfriend? I wish." Dudley backed down the garden path towards his car.
Mrs Polkiss looked disappointed for a moment, but only a moment, before she began bouncing on her toes and clapping in an excited manner. "Oh, oh, oh!" she said.
Dudley got into the car as she jogged towards him. He wound down the window so that he could hear her say, "I know who you'd like. We've got this lovely young chap at the tennis club. He's just your type. Adrian he's called. I'll invite him round. You'd be absolutely perfect for each other."
Dudley thanked her weakly and then drove off. Once out of their lane he put his foot down on the accelerator and drove as fast as almost-legally possibly to the gym, with one eye on the clock on the dashboard and a sensation of doom in his belly.
He dashed into the gym twenty minutes late and went straight to Ed Stafford's office. He couldn't believe he'd lost track of time like that, not when he was in trouble already. He knocked on the door.
When he opened it, Dudley was surprised to find Stafford looking not angry but concerned.
"Sit down, Dursley," the wiry grey-haired man said gently.
"Sorry I'm late, I -"
"Sit down." He indicated a red plastic chair, then perched on the edge of his desk, facing it. As a former feather-weight who trained a lot of heavy-weights, he found it helpful to position himself where he could look down on them.
He didn't look like he wanted to be stern today, though. As Dudley sat, his trainer started to talk. "You can't go on like this, can you, Dudley? I know you're at that age where temptations arise and things happen, but this is an important match we've got at the end of the month. You do understand that, don't you?"
"You're listless and you've stopped concentrating. Now, why don't you explain what's going on and maybe I can help?"
Dudley felt his eyes begin to fill and his nose thickening; crying now would be disastrous. He was a boxer not a handbag designer. He was meant to be strong and hard. If he started to blub then he would lose any respect his trainer had for him. It was just so hard for him to deal with people being kind to him. Two in one day.
He sniffed hard. "I'm not sleeping properly, that's all. Or I wasn't, but I've sorted it out now."
"Sorted it out?" Stafford gave him a sharp look. "We're not talking drugs here, are we? Because I will not tolerate -"
"No! No, sir. It's just that I'd been sleeping in my car and I've got somewhere to stay now. I wouldn't risk my career for some downers or something. I'm serious about boxing. You know that, don't you?"
"Sleeping in your car? Why?"
Dudley didn't want to answer. He could see which direction this chat was taking and he really didn't wanted to tell anyone else that he was gay – not after his parents' reaction. Mrs Polkiss had been alright about it, but Stafford would be different. Sports professionals were unforgivingly macho, particularly boxers; Dudley was used to the locker room banter. The last thing he needed was for the rest of the club to think he'd been eyeing them up in the showers. Which he had.
"I left home. Moved out," Dudley mumbled.
"Not great timing. Apologise to your parents and move back in."
"It's alright. I've got somewhere to stay." Dudley shuffled uncomfortably to his feet. "Can I go and get changed now?"
"In a minute. I thought your parents were supporting your decision to follow a career in sport?"
Dudley sighed and sat down. He was too bloody tired to think up any feasible lies. He looked straight up at the white tiles of the false ceiling to avoid seeing his trainer's face as he said: "Please don't tell anyone else this."
"Go on," Stafford encouraged gently. "I can keep a secret."
"They kicked me out 'cos I'm gay," Dudley said in a rush.
"Ah," Stafford replied cryptically.
Dudley had to look at Stafford because he couldn't work out what his reaction meant.
"Nazis!" Stafford spat. Then his face took on some calculating lines. "Oh," he said. "Look, the thing is." He patted Dudley's knee. Dudley hadn't expected the little boxer to ever want to touch him again. "We went through all this with our Darren last year. We never kicked him out," he added hastily. "There are ways of coping and ways of making things worse. You moved in with your boyfriend?"
"No, sir, I haven't got a boyfriend." Dudley wasn't quite sure yet what was going on.
"Good, good. No sex between now and the big fight, right?"
That was going to be easy enough. Dudley had managed to go his whole life so far without sex, a few more weeks wouldn't be difficult. He nodded.
"That includes, um , with yourself."
That was a different matter! Dudley nodded again anyway, thankful he wasn't being lynched or barred.
"I tell you what, though. A night out could do you good."
"I work nights, sir."
"Yes, of course you do. A lunch date then."
"A what?" The conversation had run away without Dudley managing to jump on board.
"Next week, you should have a lunch date. With my Darren. You're just his type."
Dudley whistled in the shower after his training session; his luck was changing. He had a place to stay, his trainer was supportive and he'd even somehow managed to get set up with two different blokes. By the end of the month he might have got a home, a title and have lost his virginity. He didn't even crave cake any more.
He combed his wet hair back and checked himself out in the mirror. The clothes were grubby, of course, but he didn't think he was going to make too bad an impression on his new hosts. He sucked his gut in. One day he would look like that all the time. He just had to stay focussed.
There was a strange smell as Mrs Polkiss opened the front door. She wittered on about getting him his own key as she lead him through the hallway, her voice getting higher, the smell getting stronger. It was a sweet smell, like perfume, but it wasn't coming from her.
"Oh, yes," she said, with a nonchalance which was clearly false, "Adrian happened to drop by while you were out. Did I mention Adrian? He's one of the waiters at the Tennis club."
Dudley located the source of the smell in the sitting room. He was in his early twenties, with bleach-blond hair styled into waves, small, slim and sitting on the piano stool, legs crossed at the ankle.
"Adrian, this is Dudley."
Adrian rose and minced towards him, Dudley froze.
"Enchanté," Adrian enunciated through his nose, floating his manicured hand towards Dudley.
"Er ..." Dudley replied. He wasn't sure whether he was supposed to shake that hand or kiss it, and he didn't want to do either.
"I'll get a nice pot of tea brewing," Mrs Polkiss said and, to Dudley's horror, she then left the room!
"Aren't you a big boy?" Adrian commented, his eyes roaming over Dudley's frame and his hand still wafting in mid-air. "Lovely." He pouted. "We should go out some time. Together."
"I'm very busy," Dudley croaked. Belatedly he made a grab for the hand in front of him and gave it a quick shake. It felt like touching a girl. He didn't like it.
"Do you like musicals?" Adrian asked, practically skipping as he walked all round Dudley and sized him up. "Fabulous, aren't they? We could get tickets for something in London, maybe stay over in a hotel afterwards."
This person was a friend of the Polkisses and he was their guest, Dudley couldn't afford to insult him. The last thing he wanted to do was to go out with him, though. If he'd wanted to date someone effeminate he would have chosen a girl, and then he could still be living at home.
"I'm not allowed. Not before a big match," he managed – inordinately grateful to Stafford for reminding him of that rule this afternoon.
"I would love to watch you box," Adrian purred, stepping closer. "I love the shine of sweat on a big, muscular man."
Me, too, Dudley thought.
"Mrs P was right. You're just my type." Adrian ran his girly fingers down Dudley's forearm.
But you're not mine at all! Dudley thought desperately.
"Cat got your tongue? The strong silent sort, are you?" Adrian edged even closer and his cologne was overpowering.
Luckily Dudley was spared having to reply by Mrs Polkiss walking in with a laden tray of tea and cake. There was no way Dudley was going to be able to resist the comfort of the sugar this time.
Somehow he managed to stay vague and let Adrian do all the talking without accidentally appearing to agree to anything. Adrian was staying to supper, so Dudley pretended that his shift at the club started earlier than it actually did and escaped. He wasn't going to miss the food: stuffed full of baked goods as he was.
He didn't even have the comfort of Desmond's company, instead he had to work with Maria-Bella, and listen to her whining about her kids' fathers. At least she was more manly than Adrian.
He sank gratefully into the soft linen of a real bed that night, too tired to think. But he woke up worrying about Adrian and how he was going to escape his clutches while staying on the right side of Mrs Polkiss. He smelled bacon frying, too. Eating muesli with that in the air was going to be torture.
Bacon reminded him of Harry frying it on childhood mornings and made him feel guilty all over again. He hoped that Harry was ok. He had heard nothing from him in over a year. He had expected to have a chance to elaborate on not thinking Harry was a waste of space. It would have been a difficult conversation – Dudley wasn't really comfortable with apologising, he wasn't used to it – but it was a conversation which they certainly needed to have.
It would be easier now, Dudley realised, because he no longer felt any loyalty to his parents. It might be weird for Harry, though, finding out that the bully he'd shared a house with was gay. He'd never fancied Harry, but Harry wouldn't know that. He would wonder. Dudley had always been strong enough to make Harry do whatever he wanted him to. If he'd wanted to force himself on Harry then he could have done, probably. Not that he ever had.
Maybe not, maybe the magic would have been protection enough. They had all been a bit old fashioned-looking, the wizards Dudley had seen; would that be true of their attitudes, too? What would Harry and his friends think of Dudley? That he was unconventional like them? Or that he was an abomination who should be blasted from the face of the earth?
It would be dreadful if his sexuality made Harry reject him, too. He could really do with some family to turn to. It was looking like this free bed he'd found was going to have a high price attached to it.
Adrian was all the poofs in Desmond's jokes, like the camp comedians and pantomime dames that his father sneered at, the benders his school friends had imitated. None of them would think Dudley any different, though, if they knew his secret.
Mr Polkiss had never said much to him, just given him a polite nod and returned to reading the paper. This morning was no different. Mrs Polkiss offered some bacon and when he refused politely told him that he was a good boy.
Stafford accused him of being distracted, but he was pleased with Dudley's energy levels. At the end of a fitness session, as Dudley heaved himself over to the water bottles, he checked that they were alone and then told him that he had a little treat in store for Dudley.
It was a visit from his Darren, of course. Dudley had nearly forgotten about that little complication. Darren was due to "pop in" to drop off the sandwiches which Stafford had engineered leaving at home, on his way to the library late that morning. Library? Already Dudley had a bad feeling about this.
He was sparring with Lester (hairy back, thick arms, shoulders you could curl yourself round) when a skinny youth with a floppy fringe slunk through to Stafford's office. Dudley was a lot happier looking at Lester. Lester, of course, was straight and Darren, of course, was Stafford's son, and Dudley needed to keep his trainer happy. So sadly, giving Lester a post-fight rub-down wasn't an option and nor was avoiding Darren.
Dudley showered and made a bit of an effort with his hair, before pulling on his track suit and going to Stafford's office. Darren was the only person in there – looking a bit lost and balancing a clear plastic sandwich box on his flat palm.
He startled when Dudley walked in. He was a little taller than his father, but much thinner. The black skinny jeans he wore emphasised that. He had high, jutting cheek bones and blue eyes somewhere under his hair which were quite pretty; if only Dudley had been interested in pretty.
"Er, hi," Dudley tried.
"Yeah, I, yeah." Darren was jumpy, clearly keen to get out of the gym as soon as possible. "Don't suppose you know where my Dad is. I'm supposed to give him these. He's Ed Stafford. Sorry. Yeah."
"I'll take them for you, make sure he gets them."
Dudley held out his hand, but Darren dropped the box onto the desk.
"Thanks," he said. "I've got to go. Don't know why he can't just buy ready-made ones. He usually does. Mum insisted this time. I've got to go."
It was too easy; Dudley could just let him go. Stafford was going to ask what had happened, though, and probably keep sending the poor boy on spurious errands until Dudley asked him out.
"I think that might be about me," Dudley admitted.
"What might?" Darren was lifting up a heavy looking record bag. It looked like it might be full of books. Dudley didn't like books much, but this kid clearly did.
"Your parents making you come into the gym."
Darren looked confused and rather wary.
Dudley looked around furtively. This was a terrible place to be having this conversation: the other boxers were just a few feet away. He turned round and shut the door to the office, hoping he wasn't going to make the pretty-boy even more scared than he clearly already was.
"Your Dad's trying to set us up," Dudley explained.
Darren looked nervously at the door.
"Sorry about that. I'm not out here yet. I just told your Dad and he -" Dudley stopped talking, because Darren looked like he was having an epiphany.
"Of course!" he said as comprehension spread through him. Then he repeated himself - "Of course!" - only the second time his voice was full of exasperation. "You would be exactly the sort of GDM my father would expect me to be looking for." Darren sat down heavily in his dad's chair, resting his elbows on the desk next to the sandwich box. "Of course. I'll bet he was delighted when you outed yourself, wasn't he?"
"Well, he was alright about it." Dudley stayed standing and near the door to avoid intimidating the slight youth. He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
"At least he accepts my sexual orientation as a fait accompli unlike my mother," Darren went on. He was clearly more comfortable than he had been earlier. "She's of the Brideshead Revisited school of thought." He sighed, then looked up into Dudley's bemused face. "Waugh? Evelyn Waugh? Oh, never mind, I just mean she expects me to grow out of it and get married to a woman and have babies eventually." Dudley managed to pull a disgusted face at that, which made Darren laugh. His teeth were too even. "Dad doesn't really get it, though. Keeps trying to find me a GDM."
"Sorry, a what?"
"You know, like Crisp. Quentin Crisp? The Naked Civil Servant? Never mind. The Great Dark Man. It's what all gay men are supposedly looking for – someone butch and rugged. Crisp's depressing conclusion was that we're all bound to be disappointed because what a real man wants is a real woman, not a man. Self-flagellating nonsense in my opinion and anyway I'm looking for something far more on the classical Greek lines. A meeting of minds. An education. I don't want – no offence – some hulking great muscular brute."
"I do," Dudley said quietly.
Darren laughed again. "Brutal bear passion? Dad's got us both wrong, then." He stood up. "Look, I'm going to run away if you don't mind."
"Not at all. I mean, it was nice to meet you, but ..."
"Yeah. Good luck with everything. This is just such a completely alien environment for me. I've avoided this place for years. I was quite convinced that I was going to be queer-bashed the moment I stepped within the perimeter." Darren smiled at Dudley. "So you've been a nice surprise."
"Even though your Dad was trying to match-make us."
"Well, at least he's accepted me. I just need to work on getting him to understand a bit better." Darren laughed lightly. "Don't worry, I'll tell him you tried it on like you were meant to. I take it you're one of his trainee pugilists."
"Dudley? I'll be sure to mention what a delight Dudley is."
Dudley opened the door and held it for Darren as he left. He had no arse at all: hopeless.
He was expecting it, but his heart still sank when he smelled Adrian's cologne as he walked into The Polkiss' house. Thank goodness he had work tonight. Tomorrow night he wasn't working, though. If Mrs Polkiss found that out, she would expect him to go out with Adrian. Probably to somewhere dreadful like a musical or some kind of drag cabaret, or hand-bag shopping or something.
He needed to get away, but where could he go? He sat next to Adrian on the sofa and let him paw at his thigh – to Mrs Polkiss' obvious delight. In order to block out the inane witterings he sketched out a plan.
He thought through his options: Piers was in Oxford which was too far away from the gym. Malcolm was in London. Closer, but still too far for a comfortable daily commute. Malcolm's room in the Halls of Residence was tiny; Dudley wouldn't fit for long.
Who else could help him? Desmond might do, but he would want to know why Dudley wasn't living at home any more and Dudley didn't want him to know that. Aunt Marge could have been warned of Dudley's deviancy by now and might set the dogs on him if he showed up there. The only family he really had left, therefore, was Harry. But he didn't know how to get in touch with Harry. He didn't even know anybody who might know how to get in touch with – Yes he did!
The strength of his revelation forced him to his feet; he sent Adrian and a plate of scones flying. He did know somebody who might know how to find Harry. Mrs Figg.
He apologised and mumbled something about having remembered something about having to go somewhere. Adrian pouted. "I'll, erm, have to hear all about the figurines some other time," Dudley added, for politeness' sake.
"Perhaps over a cosy, candle-lit dinner?" Mrs Polkiss twittered.
Adrian brushed crumbs off himself with a sulky expression, though, and said acidly, "They were statuettes."
As a child, Dudley had thought that Mrs Figg was a mad old bat. He had – in his thoroughly nasty way – laughed at Harry for having to spend time in her cat-filled, dusty house. Then he had grown up and he had seen her as even more eccentric. He had enjoyed intimidating her with his gang as they hung around the streets looking menacing.
And then she had saved his life, or his soul, or whatever – or at least she had helped Harry to save him. Something like that; it was all a bit fogged and vague in his mind. After that, he decided that she wasn't mad, she was just part of that other world, of Harry's freakish world. Now that it was a world that had touched him now, he began to question his parents' views about it.
She was the only one who could link him to his cousin. He sat in her dusty, cat-filled sitting room and refused a piece of stale cake as he explained why he needed her to save him again. When she knelt down in front of the fireplace and shoved her face into the flames Dudley realised that he'd been right in the first place – she was simply insane.
In fact, she was so mad that she was a danger to herself and possibly others and if he had had a social conscience then Dudley would have started finding out how to get her sectioned. Instead he stood up quietly and backed out of the room.
She turned and caught him before he had managed to escape, though.
"You can sit down," she said. He marvelled that she didn't seem to be in any pain. Too far gone.
He was too scared to do anything other than obey her, so he got closer to her. As he did so, he realised that she wasn't burnt.
She registered his surprise and said, calmly, "I just got included. Didn't used to let squibs into the network, and, of course, it was all very tight round the castle. They need all hands on deck now, though, to help with the rebuilding."
The fire thing might have been magical, but Dudley was still certain that she was off her head.
"Castle?" he asked.
"After the battle," she explained.
This was all sounding a bit like one of those Saturday afternoon movies on the telly. Something with knights in it. And dragons. But that was absurd. Dragons didn't exist. Nobody could scorch their face in a fire without getting burnt either, of course.
"Look, I don't mean to be rude," Dudley said, "but do you actually know where Harry is or not?"
Mrs Figg stood up, looking puzzled. "That's what I just said. He's at Hogwarts, of course. Where else would he be? He's the figurehead, the pivot, the most important wizard in the world."
No, he was Dudley's skinny wimp of a weirdo cousin. That couldn't be right. "What about that one with the long white beard and the half-glasses?" He had accused Dudley's parents of being cruel to him; Dudley hadn't understood it at the time but it might have been a prophecy.
"Dumbledore's dead," said Mrs Figg.
"Or that bad one who was attacking everyone?"
"He Who Must Not Be Named? He's dead, too."
"Harry's godfather, the ex-con?"
"Sirius Black? He's dead."
That seemed to explain it then. Harry was the only one who was still alive, that was why he was suddenly important. Dudley was very pleased that he was alive. He hadn't appreciated how close a call that had been.
"So where is this castle?"
Dudley's heart sank. That was that, then. Scotland was a lot further away than Oxford. Harry couldn't help him either.
"Would you like to see him?" Mrs Figg asked. "Now?"
"I thought you said he was in Scotland!" She was mad; he should just go.
"Yes and he's far too valuable to leave the regeneration program, but you could go through and see him." She pointed to the fire, and when he looked at her disbelievingly, said, "I told you, it's specially rigged up for squibs, so a Muggle would be able to use it, too."
Mad, completely bonkers. Then she picked up some green powder and threw it into the flames, said, "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" and pushed him towards the fire. She was clearly certifiable; and he was even less sane than her, because he was letting her do it.
He braced himself for the pain of burning which he hoped would knock him out of this trance where he allowed strange old women to push him into lit grates. It never came, though. Instead he stumbled forward, choking on ash and landing, hard, on his knees.
He rubbed his eyes and cleared his lungs, gradually becoming aware of a smell of charcoal and cordite, and of a hard, cold texture against his lower legs.
"Did you want something particular, Dudley? It's not a great time."
The sound of Harry's tired voice filled Dudley with an automatic warmth, which was quickly doused as Dudley remembered that Harry had no reason to reciprocate it. He tried to answer, but only managed a choking fit.
He sat back on his heels and looked around him. Harry looked thinner than ever and his hair wasn't just its usual level of messy, it now had builder's dust and something sticky in it. He also looked like he was wearing a dress. They were in a large, bare room with a stone floor, soot-stains and a hole in the ceiling. Harry was leaning against what was left of the door frame, looking impatient and exhausted.
Dudley's head sang with questions, but instead of asking any of them, he stretched out his hand and said, "Hi, Harry, how are you doing?"
Wearily, Harry moved towards him. Probably warily, too. Dudley decided not to stand up, to let his cousin look down on him for once. Harry took hold of his hand briefly.
"Been a long time."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I'm very busy."
"Right. This is the castle, then?"
"Dudley, what do you want?"
"It's a bit of a mess."
"You should have seen it six months ago! But, yes, we're trying to get it patched up enough so that the next intake can actually come here in September. That's why I don't have time for this."
"What happened?" Dudley asked. He started to stand; Harry edged back from him.
"There was a battle. A big fight."
"Can't you just use magic to sort it out?"
Harry sighed. "Well, we're not using toothbrushes. It was caused by magic, so the counter spells have to be – it doesn't matter. Why did you need to see me so urgently?"
Dudley didn't know what to say. Obviously staying with Harry was going to be out of the question. He didn't think he was being offered much in the way of support and sympathy either. He decided to go with something else.
"I've got a big match coming up at the end of the month. If I win then I'll go professional. I wondered if you'd like to watch. I can get you tickets."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I've seen you thumping people before Dudley. I've been on the receiving end of it. It's not my idea of entertainment."
"I'd really like you to be there."
"I know, but you look like an evening off might do you good."
Harry shook his head. "Look, Dudley, I'm not going to sit next to your parents -"
"They're not coming. That's the thing. I just wanted some family there. They kicked me out."
Harry actually laughed out loud – the smug little bastard!
"Really?" he asked, amused. "Perfect wonderful little Duddikins? I don't believe it. What the fuck did you manage to do to make that happen?"
Dudley shrugged and clamped his jaw shut to stop all the retorts and angry words that bubbled up in him; this was not funny.
Harry looked serious for a moment. "You weren't defending me were you? Did you fall out because of – you know – me not being a waste of space?"
Dudley hesitated. At one time he would have lied, told Harry what he wanted to hear, got his own way. Harry would certainly feel like he owed Dudley if Dudley had been made homeless through sticking up for him. It was tempting.
Dudley sighed. "No," he said. "I kind of kept all that to myself. I mean, we just never talked about you." He paused. "Should I have done? Told them, I mean, like, how they were wrong with the way they treated you growing up, told them you were, you know, all right? I never saw the point."
"No point at all." Harry shook his head. Then he smiled. "I would have liked to have seen their faces. Vernon's would have gone purple. But, no." He shook his head again. "No point, not like they were ever going to change their minds."
Dudley coughed. Was he really going to do that whole 'coming out' thing again? He'd had mixed results so far. "Not about you being a freak. That's a given." He tried a cheeky grin. To his contained delight, Harry returned it. "It's about ..." his voice gave out. He coughed. He tried again: "It's about me being a freak. A weirdo, actually. That's what he called me."
"Did he go purple?" Harry's expression was caught somewhere between sympathy and amusement.
Dudley nodded. He couldn't find it the least bit funny, not yet.
"What's so weird about you then? I thought you were Mr Perfectly Conventional."
Dudley shook his head. "I'm disgusting apparently."
"Never bothered them before."
"Depraved and immoral and unnatural – and I just realised that I have no idea where you stand on sexuality. I don't want to risk getting zapped with some kind of bollock-removing spell or -"
"Sexuality?" Harry stared at him open-mouthed. "Tell me you're into terrapins or corpses or something, 'cos -"
"Ew! I know I've not been a model citizen, but that's seriously fucked -"
"But you're the most macho bloke I've ever known. You are all that is wrong with masculinity. You can't be -"
"You're aggressive and bullying -"
"I'm not – not any more. Well, I hope not. I'm trying. Harry, look, I'm not great with words ..." I wish Darren was here to do this for me "... but, you know, sorry. I should have started with that. I really am. There's stuff I could have, should have done, said – loads of stuff I never should have done and said, I mean ..." but strangely, he couldn't speak any more. He couldn't see either. His eyes were all blurry and wet. "Sorry," he choked out.
The shape which was Harry moved towards him. He felt an awkward pat on his arm. "It's ok, Dud. You just went along with what your parents told you. You weren't to know."
There was a deep silence for a while. Dudley sniffed. Harry scuffed a boot against the floor.
"What time is it?" Dudley asked. "I have to work tonight."
"What are you doing now?"
"Nightclub bouncer. How do I get back through the fireplace?"
"Give it a minute. When you're up to it, I'll Side-along you." He twisted his lips at Dudley's confusion. "It's like that beaming up thing on Star Trek."
"You'll feel sick."
"Look, Dudley, you could help us out, actually. If you're up for it."
"I don't know any wand stuff or anything. There can't be anything I can do that you can't."
Harry stepped back and folded his arms. "D'you wanna help? Get the school fixed up?"
Dudley shrugged. "Why not?"
"Most Wizarding businesses, you see, they're small-scale family-run things. And there are materials we need in bulk. Only to buy from Muggle businesses, we need a Muggle bank account, phone number, that sort of thing. We could pay you."
"Sounds like an insult." I'm a Muggle Faggot.
"There's other stuff, too. Like, Dean started smoking when he was in hiding and he can't always get out to buy cigarettes. Hermione wants a calculator. That sort of thing." Harry asked, "You up for it?"
"Sure. I mean, I'd do it as a favour, only I really do need money. I've been living in my car. Found a place to stay, but it's only short-term." He paused. "So, like, I'd be your sort of agent in the normal world?"
"That sort of thing. You ready to split into a million atoms and fly through space?"
"Dunno. Does it hurt?"
"Little bit." He held out one arm. "So, Dudley, you really into boys or did I get that wrong?"
Dudley shrugged. "Prefer men."
Harry chuckled. "Wish I'd seen Vernon's face. Where are we headed?"
The wizards needed a Muggle address to operate through. They paid for a bedsit and Dudley moved into it. It all took a couple of weeks, and by the time his agency was up and running, it was nearly time for the big fight.
To begin with, Dudley only did business with Harry, but then Harry started bringing other magic people with him, and soon all sorts were appearing without warning in Dudley's home at all times of day and night. His parents would have been horrified if they had known. Dudley was fairly unnerved by it all himself.
Harry turned up one Sunday lunchtime as Dudley was doing sit-ups - building up a sweat, red-faced and panting. He wasn't at the gym because Ed Stafford didn't work Sundays. He was wearing an old pair of sweatpants he'd bought in a charity shop. He knew he should just muster the courage to face Privet Drive and collect some of his belongings. Instead he was buying second-hand clothes.
The crack of Apparition warned him that he wasn't alone any more. Harry had another lad with him: a slim blond with curly hair which he was attempting to hide his face behind.
"We're taking the afternoon off," Harry announced. "Going to the pub. You coming?"
"Huh?" Dudley replied.
"Well, you've been really helpful. You're part of the team now. You should meet the rest of us, hang out with us!"
"No offence, Harry, but this would be a Magic pub, right? Full of weird wizarding types?" Dudley shook his head. "I don't know."
"What if I promise you won't get hexed?"
"It's not that. I'm just not comfortable. I'd rather not."
Harry looked sly. "You might find it's worth your while." He looked sideways at his mate. "This is Justin."
Dudley's heart sank; he was being set up again. With another pretty boy. "Pleased to meet you, Justin," he mumbled politely.
"And you, Dudley," Justin replied. He looked out shyly from under his fringe and wiped his hands nervously down his sides. "Everyone else is Flooing or Apparating there, but we thought you might prefer Public Transport. So we'll take you."
Dudley's concern must have shown clearly on his face because Harry laughed. "It's ok. Justin's Muggle-born, too. He won't embarrass you. Grab your railcard. Let's go!"
Dudley sighed, admitting defeat. "I might get changed."
"Ok. I could ..." Harry pulled out his wand.
"You could put that bloody thing away and wait on the landing!" Dudley growled.
All the way in to London on the train, Harry kept finding reasons to leave Dudley and Justin alone together. Justin was alright – dreadfully posh but alright. Dudley was used to posh, he'd been at a fee paying school himself; he'd never met anyone of Justin's calibre of posh before, though. He was a wizard, too, of course, and Dudley didn't trust wizards. This had nothing to do with prejudice any more and everything to do with a swollen tongue and a pig's tail.
They were on the Underground train before Justin started properly flirting.
"You were quite a sight this morning."
"Sorry. I would have cleaned up if I'd known I was getting guests."
"I'm not complaining. Quite the opposite." Justin lowered his lashes. "You're chest is impressively muscular."
"I'm a boxer. I work on upper body strength."
"I think muscles are really sexy."
So do I.
"So do I," Dudley said out loud. "I like big, beefy, sweaty, hairy men."
"Oh!" Justin looked down at his own body. "I see."
Justin licked his lips and cleared his throat. He took a moment to collect himself and Dudley let him, looking over at the map of the Underground above the empty seat opposite.
"Nothing to be sorry for. My mistake."
Dudley looked at him. "Not my interfering cousin's mistake?"
Justin laughed. "It's all this being a saviour, I think. It's gone to his head. He's decided he can sort out everybody's lives. He wants to pair us all off."
Dudley grinned. "Don't suppose you could lend me some porn? I left all my DVDs at home when I moved out." He paused for a moment – thoughtful. "I wonder whether Mum's found them yet."
Justin snorted. "Sure, I'll lend you some. But I think you should retrieve your own."
"Nah. Serve her right."
"Perhaps ... I don't know ... we could watch them together?"
Dudley nodded, picturing it: the two of them laying back on his bed, watching hot blokes shagging each other and tugging themselves off at the same time. He'd need to get a telly and a DVD player first. He really should go home and collect his stuff. Home? Why was he really still calling it that?
Harry walked back down the aisle towards them.
"Next stop," he said. Then he wandered off again.
"He's really a big deal, then? A saviour?" Dudley asked.
"Good gracious, yes! Do you not know?"
"Bits and pieces. Not really," Dudley admitted.
Justin spent the rest of the journey filling Dudley in on Harry's exploits. Dudley looked over at the familiar shape of his runt cousin and tried hard to believe it all.
The two wizards stopped walking outside a dingy-looking pub. Dudley didn't like the look of it at all. He'd always been a big bloke and he was quite confident that he could handle himself in some pretty rough dives, but this was beyond even his comfort zone.
"Really?" he asked. For a wizard pub, it hardly sparkled with fairy dust.
He eyed a gap-toothed, filthy old man dressed in rags who left through the paint-chipped front door.
"Absolutely!" Harry replied, adding, "Afternoon 'Dung."
"Mr Potter, sir," the tramp mumbled.
Inside it wasn't exactly Dudley's kind of place either. The wood beams were actually real wood, not nice, clean decorative additions. There was smoke from open fires and pipes. No music. No juke box. No carpet, even.
The people were friendly enough, though. Dudley had to keep reminding himself that they were magical and he'd needed to keep his wits about him. He was just getting a round in (with some weird coins Harry had given him) when Ron's bird dashed over.
Ron was actually ok, Dudley had decided. At first he'd been wary, because he looked a bit like those two who had magicked that toffee. Also, he was defensive about Harry. That was probably a good thing; Harry seemed to spend all his time looking after others and he needed a mate who looked out for him. It meant that Ron had some issues with Dudley, of course, about him having bullied Harry when they were younger.
He didn't know the girlfriend that well. She seemed to be clever - which he found intimidating – and a bit bossy. She flew across the pub to him. (Not literally, though maybe she could do that.) Ron was several people behind her. When he noticed what she was doing, he broke away from the man he had been talking to and followed her as quickly as he could.
Dudley's gaze didn't follow him, though. It was stuck on the man Ron had been talking to. He was a redhead, but Dudley quite liked that these days. At one time he had found it peculiar almost to the point of nauseating. His father had always sneered at 'gingers'. Freaks of nature, Vernon had called him. Just like Harry. Dudley didn't think Wizards were freaks any more. Just like queers. There was nothing wrong with red hair, Dudley had concluded, any more than there was anything wrong with him. In fact, he was drawn to it now. Anything the Dursleys hated, Dudley wanted to love.
The hair wasn't the most noticeable thing about the man, at least not to Dudley. That would be his arms: thick with knotted muscles and covered in beautiful tattoos. Didn't even know I had a tatt kink. Dudley wanted those arms to encircle him and squeeze – making everything feel safe. He wanted to lay his head against that broad chest. And then he wanted to ...
"Dudley!" the bushy-haired witch screeched.
He managed to greet her back, without making it too obvious that he had forgotten her name.
"So good to see you again. Actually, I've been wanting to talk to you about something."
Just then Ron caught up with her and started gabbling something about, "Not interfering in people's lives, Hermione."
Dudley wasn't listening, he was taking in the expanse of a strong back as the man turned away from them, letting his eyes slide down to assess a sweetly square arse.
"Just trying to cheer Dennis up," said a squeaky voice. "Can't see what's so wrong with that."
"Just leave the poor guys in peace."
"You don't mind, do you Dudley?"
"Hmm?" He pulled his sight-line to her face. He felt dizzy.
"You don't mind meeting Dennis, do you?"
"He's absolutely lovely and he's lost his brother -"
"Colin died! He didn't wander off like a pet cat -"
"It's quite clear what I mean, Ron. So he's been a bit down, but I think you two would be perfect together -"
"Dudley doesn't want to meet anyone, do you, Dudley?"
"Well, yes, I do -" He wanted to meet that bear of a man who had been absorbed by the crowd.
"See!" Hermione said triumphantly. "Dennis is just over here. You are just his type."
Ron shook his head in exasperation and Dudley realised that he'd just agreed to something from which Ron had been trying to protect him.
How bad could it be? In fact it might even be good. That angel with the arms might even be Dennis.
Dudley allowed himself to be dragged off to a table on the other side of the pub. A black witch and a blonde one had their backs to him and he couldn't see round them until he was pretty close. Then the blonde (who seemed to be wearing jewellery made out of vegetables) stood up and Dudley's heart sank.
The only man on the table was a short, skinny lad of about fifteen or sixteen years old.
"Dennis!" Hermione called out and he turned to show them his very pale, miserable face.
He looked absolutely devastated and Dudley finally absorbed what Ron had said about him. His brother had just been killed. A lot of people had been, from what Justin and Mrs Figg had been saying. Dudley suddenly felt very small for feeling so sorry for himself. He had lost his home, but nobody had died. Mummy and Daddy don't love me any more, he thought. He tried to make that feel like less than bereavement, but he couldn't.
He certainly couldn't face raising the expectations of this poor, unhappy twink, only to let him down again. He backed away like the coward he had always been and pushed his way out of the pub.
Wednesday night was the big match. Like it mattered. There was evil in world, and there were heroes and folk had died. There was nothing Dudley could do which would change any of that, so he spent his Sunday afternoon with a punch bag in the gym until they kicked him out to lock up. Then he stood on the door of a meaningless nightclub and spent his time avoiding vomit and trouble.
After a poor night's sleep, Dudley turned up at the gym with all his motivation sucked out of him. Luckily, Stafford mistook his languor for nerves.
"Three days," he said. "Three days' intensive training and you'll walk it."
"I thought you were going to lose it for a while, after your parents kicked you out. You've impressed me, though, Dursley. You're going to do this is spite of them. In fact, you're stronger without their support."
Mummy and Daddy don't love me.
"You don't need them."
They don't need me.
"We'll show them, on Wednesday, we'll show them what a fucking man you really are."
Not that it matters much.
"They tried to molly-coddle and manipulate you, but you didn't let them, did you? You're a champion, Dudley, with or without them. Your parents will be expecting you to have fallen apart, but you haven't because you are a winner."
And won't they hate that?
Dudley straightened his back. His Mum had always done everything for him, she thought he couldn't look after himself but he didn't need her. Nothing would be a sweeter revenge than his success without their help.
He might not be able to defeat a Dark Wizard, or bring anybody's brother back to life, or rebuild a school, or stop half the Wizarding community from Apparating into his bedsit – but the one thing he could do was piss his parents off.
He trained like a mad thing, ate exactly what he was told to, slept whenever possible and – to make their annoyance total – told Harry to bring as many Magical Types as he could to watch the big match.
His opponent was almost as tall as him, a couple of years older and a few inches wider, with scarred olive skin, and distractingly thick arms. He had a swirling tattoo of abstract black shapes decorating one shoulder. Dudley tried not to think about the redhead in the Wizard pub. He tried not to think about sex at all. He focussed on victory.
The sports hall was as full as it could be. Ed Stafford had told him that there were management companies there, looking to take the winner into the Professional game. Darren was there, too, he said, and Darren had never watched a boxing match before. Ed seemed to think that was significant, and Dudley didn't have the heart to tell him that it didn't mean what he thought it did.
When the referee sent them to their corners before starting the fight, Dudley took a moment to sweep his eyes over the crowd. There was a large section of the oddly dressed and enthusiastic shouting his name. Harry was central, surrounded by gingers, including the one that he had dreamed of seeing without believing he would.
Pulling his mind back to the business in hand, he started to hop from one foot to the other, listening to Ed, his heartbeat accelerating as the important moment became imminent. He saw the Polkisses then, Adrian on one side of them, Piers on the other. Adrian gave a fey little wave, which Dudley couldn't have returned had he wanted to. Luckily. He looked down at his feet.
The bell rang; he sprang forward, fists raised over his chest the way he had been taught. He pulled his shoulder back and then he saw them: Vernon and Petunia Dursley. He swung forwards and smashed his fist into his opponent's jaw.
The fight itself disappeared into a well-trained blur. He didn't feel the knocks he took nor the ones he gave out. He could have been fighting inside a dark, empty cave for all the notice he took of the crowd. The opposition stopped being a body and became a series of target areas instead. He didn't even tally up his points, or check the clock. He just did what he knew how to do. And did it well.
All of a sudden, the referee was holding up his arm and the roar of the crowd washed over him like daylight or fresh air. He was the winner! Euphoria made him high, made him oblivious to the sweat and blood soaking him and to the aches and bruises. He saw the crowd go wild though. It was like a drug – like love and acceptance and friendship.
The Magical people danced about: an indistinguishable mass of noise and movement. It looked like one of them had let off some kind of firework. Dudley turned round to see Ed Stafford, and when he did, the delight on his trainer's face made Dudley bound over and lift him into the air. As they left the hall together, Dudley caught a glimpse of a bewildered-looking Piers, with a swooning Adrian in his arms. Dudley gave his best mate a wave and Piers grinned back.
The changing room was deafeningly quiet. Dudley realised how thirsty he was. He and Stafford looked at each other.
"You did it. Congratulations."
"We did it," Dudley replied. "You made me the boxer I am." It was only when he spoke that he realised his lip was split.
Stafford handed him a damp square of cotton wool. He checked over his torso and face, doing a bit of preliminary patching up. There was a knock on the door.
"You ok?" Stafford asked. "I should go out and talk to those scouts. Next step – Professional."
As he left, Stafford let in a group of Dudley's supporters. Magic and Muggle mixed happily. Dudley noticed Justin and Darren glancing at each other with interest. One by one they approached him and congratulated him. Hermione gave him a kiss on the cheek and he let her. Just this once.
Through the throng, Dudley thought he spotted the man from the pub, then he lost him again.
"Good match, Big D!"
"Piers! You're s'posed to be in Oxford."
"Wouldn't miss this." Piers clapped him on the shoulder.
Dudley winced. Bruised shoulder as well, then. "How's studying?"
Piers whispered, "Wouldn't know mate, too busy getting stoned and laid. How's being gay?"
Dudley examined Piers' face. "Ok," he replied, carefully.
"Mum told me. Bit of a shock." Piers shrugged. "You should have said."
"I didn't know how -"
"How I'd react? Fair enough. I'm not really bothered. Actually, there's this boy in our Halls you might like."
"Is he pretty?"
"I s'pose so. Slim, longish hair. Likes ballet."
"Not my type," Dudley said firmly.
"Fair enough," Piers said with another shrug. "He's a twat actually. But come and visit anyway."
"Yeah," Dudley said as Ron stepped forwards. The ginger guy with the arms was just behind him. Dudley didn't hear what Ron said because he was lost in the blue eyes which looked straight into his own, until " ... don't think you've met my brother, Charlie."
Charlie stepped forward, a little smile playing round his mouth. "We meet at last, Dudley," he said.
Dudley's mouth flapped about and he croaked.
"Get the man a drink, Ron," Charlie said, in a voice full of calm authority which made Dudley feel warm and protected.
"What?" Ron asked.
"The champ here doesn't have a drink. He's the man of the moment. You should sort that out." As Ron moved away, Charlie got closer. "So that's boxing?" he asked.
Dudley nodded, his nostrils full of the man's musk.
Charlie nodded. "I liked it. It was ..." he licked his lips. "Hot."
Dudley had never worried that his boxing shorts were too tight before.
Charlie looked straight at Dudley's lips; Dudley braced himself. Crowded room or not, snogging this guy would be a fitting way to come out to his fellow boxers. It would be worth getting beaten up for.
"Looks sore," Charlie commented, dashing Dudley's hopes. He slid a wand out of his sleeve and whispered something.
Dudley felt a tingle like pins and needles on his lip, then it was healed. He ran his tongue across it.
"Th – th – thanks," he spluttered.
Charlie leaned over so that his mouth was over Dudley's ear. "Purely self-interested, I assure you."
The moment was shattered by a scream and then Petunia shrieked, "You get away from him!" She bustled over and Charlie moved back. "I don't want your sort going anywhere near my Dudley!"
"That's actually homophobic, Mrs Dursley," Piers said. "That's illegal, that is."
Petunia looked shocked to see him there and fluttered her hands nervously over her hair. Behind her, Vernon was puffing his way into the room.
Harry called out clearly from the other side of the room, "Dudley can choose his own friends, Petunia."
"That's Aunt Petunia to you!" she snapped. "What are you even doing here?" She asked Dudley, "What are these people doing here?"
"I invited them," Dudley replied. "I never invited you."
"Good match, son, well fought." Vernon clasped his hand, which still had the protective bandage wrapped round it.
"Thanks," Dudley muttered.
His dad gave him a reassuring wink. "Come home, Dud. We miss you. We – you tell him, Petunia."
"We love you, Duddikins!" She started messing with his hair.
"I don't know." Dudley's eyes got damp. I'm not crying here, not in front of everyone. Not in front of him.
"It doesn't matter about your little problem. We don't have to mention it. We love you," his mother cooed.
Anger welled up in him. "You love me?" he asked.
"Yes, of course we do."
"Do you love me now?" he asked. The fury gave him a courage which he would not have found otherwise and he grasped Charlie's stubbled chin and brought their mouths together.
There were shocked gasps, titters and supportive cheers in the room, but the only reaction Dudley took any notice of was Charlie's. He made a little surprised noise, followed by an appreciative "Mmmm." Then he kissed Dudley back and hugged him tight. Dudley felt safe, home and horny as hell.
After a few seconds, Dudley pulled back to see his Mum's horrified expression. She was looking round to judge everyone else's reaction.
"Still love me, Mum?" Dudley asked. "I'm not the one with the problem, you are. And I don't think that I can just move back to your house and ignore it."
"Disgusting, ungrateful boy!" Vernon spluttered, going purple again, Petunia was the only one who cared.
"Shall we take this somewhere a little less public?" Charlie asked into Dudley's ear.
Dudley, naturally, agreed.