Disclaimer: all the settings and characters of the Harry Potter 'verse are property of J.K. Rowling; this story intends no infringement.

Chapter One

Dudley Dursley had a secret. It wasn't a very good secret. It wasn't interesting or exciting or something someone else would really want to know. But it was his, and one thing everyone knew about Dudders was that when something belonged to him, nobody better touch it.

Dud's secret sort of happened accidentally.

It was back when he was just eight and the new teacher at his primary held him during break one morning. She was a pretty young woman with very soft looking glossy hair and very soft looking dark brown eyes and very soft looking smooth white skin. Dudley wanted to go out and play on the swings (or maybe push someone off them – he hadn't decided yet), but Miss Pearce smiled at him and thanked him for sticking around, which made him puff out his chest a bit. Dud liked doing things for grown up people, because it usually meant those same people would go around doing things for him. As long as the things they wanted him to do weren't too boring or hard or something he couldn't just make the freak do for him when the adult wasn't looking, that was.

"I've noticed that you and Harry don't get along so well," Miss Pearce said. She was leaning against her teacher's desk, and she'd gestured for Dudley to take a seat at a student's desk in front of her. "Actually I've noticed that no one really gets on with Harry."

Dudley snorted. "Well, he's a freak, in't he? Who'd want to get on with that."

Miss Pearce tilted her head and looked confused. "A freak?"

"Yeah," Dud nodded.

Miss Pearce hummed. "Can you tell me what makes Harry a freak, please, Dudley?"

"Well," Dud frowned and thought a bit, trying to remember all the things Mum and Dad had said about the freak before. "He's scrawny, innit? And his hair's like a hobo's, and he's too quiet all the time like he's planning something. He's shifty. He's a layabout. He doesn't even fight back when anyone picks on him, he just runs and hides." Last night there'd been a row over the dinner the freak had burnt, and Mum had screeched and the freak'd back-talked and Dad got home and thundered a bit, and instead of the freak taking his whupping like a real boy he'd run for his cupboard and dove into the far corner where Dad couldn't reach him.

"I see," Miss Pearce said. "He's small, messy, quiet and runs rather than fights." She nodded to herself, and to Dudley. Dudley smiled, glad that she'd understood. Then she asked, "Dudley, can you tell me if you've ever been scared before?"

"Nah," Dudley boasted. "Never."

Miss Pearce grinned at him. "That's very strange," she said. "Not once? Even a little bit?" Dud shook his head, but Miss Pearce pressed him. "You've never felt your heart start thumping really fast and your hands go clammy and sweaty and your face want to hide?"

Dudley shifted uncomfortably. He was an old hand at lying, but the way Miss Pearce was staring at him made him believe she'd catch him out at it. "Maybe once," he finally admitted.

"Maybe once," Miss Pearce repeated, and gave him a soft look that got Dud to blush a bit. "Well I believe that Harry feels that way a lot. Maybe he feels that way all the time. It's not very fun, is it?"

And Dud had to grudgingly shake his head because no, it really wasn't.

"Dudley," Miss Pearce said, and she made his name sound so important that Dudley straightened up a bit. "You're a big, strong boy. You're bigger and stronger than all the other boys in class. What do you think is the best thing to do with all your strength? Do you think it's better to make others afraid, or to protect them from their fears?"

Dudley knew the answer Miss Pearce was looking for was 'protect', because grown-ups all had some weird idea that looking after one another and sharing toys was the normal thing for children to do. But really the most fun thing was to beat others into submission and lord over them and make them do as you said. Kids weren't born innocent and precocious and kind. Kids were nasty little buggers, and Dud was the nastiest of the lot.

Miss Pearce sighed, seeming to know what was going on in Dud's head. "All right, Dudley," she said. "Thank you for staying to talk with me." She smiled at him, but it wasn't so soft anymore; it was sad, instead. Like she knew what was inside Dud's head, how he felt in his chest, and that it wasn't something to be proud of like Mum and Dad were. Like Dud had disappointed her.

And for maybe the first time ever, Dudley felt ashamed.

oOoOo

Later on in Dud's academic career he'd learn it was an experiment to see what happened if you took a repeating scenario, applied one change, and observed the results.

In this case, the repeating scenario was the freak getting beat on after class. Dud had his gang chase the blighter down and thump on him a bit – Dud himself hung back, sort of at the edges, for once not eager to throw a fist.

The next day, the gang went on and did the same thing only this time Dud – he, well, he stepped in. "All right now," he said, "That's enough."

Piers had his fist raised for a good punch and Malcolm was keeping the freak down and still, and they and the rest of the gang sort of looked at Dud, puzzled and incredulous. The freak didn't look at him, though; kept his messy haired head down, kept squirming under Malcolm's grip.

"Dudley?" Piers, Dud's best friend, questioned.

"Yeah," Dud nodded, "That's enough, guys. My mum wants him to be able to do chores today." He grinned nastily. "Or, more, I want him to do the chores Mum gave me today."

Malcolm nodded his dawned understanding and let the freak up, and the rest of the boys chuckled a bit, but Piers frowned at Dud. He knew that Dud's Mum would never ask Dudley to lift a finger if he didn't want to.

The gang clapped Dud on the shoulder and back as they walked off, and Piers gave him a look but shrugged at him, and the freak still wasn't moving. Dud walked over to him.

"Oy," he said, and put the point of his sneaker against the freak's side. Not a kick but a nudge. The freak winced back. "Oy," Dud said again, louder. "Come on, then, don't you want to get home?"

The freak finally looked up at him, and his green eyes were burning. "'M not doing your chores for you," he muttered. His lip was bloodied.

Dud felt this rush of – well, of rage, really. Here he was, doing the little freak the favour of calling the other lads off of him, and he was repaid with – with – "Oh, yes you will," Dudley growled, and never mind the lack of any chores to do. He would make some up, if he had to. He reached down and curled his meaty hand around the collar of the freak's hand-me-down shirt and hauled him upright. "Get walking, freak," Dud said, and shoved the freak forward.

But when they got back to Number Four, Privet Drive, Mum'd surprised Dud with the newest video game out that he'd been bugging her for, and he was so excited that he let go of the freak and forgot to bully him into doing something random, pointless and demeaning for the laugh of it. Instead he spent the rest of the afternoon and evening playing his new game and planning on telling Piers all about it the next day (both to make Piers jealous and to get Piers to want to come over), and didn't notice the freak look at him, first startled, then speculative, when he didn't get up to do any chores, or bark at the freak to do any chores for him.

The day after that was another hunt-the-freak day, and even with the lure of the new video game calling him home, Dud didn't go straight there. Piers was leading the hunt that day anyway, and Dud needed to wait for Piers to get done so they could go home together and hole up in Dud's room for hours and hours of killing-alien-fun.

Only when the gang got the freak cornered in an alley and was advancing toward him, their fists a threat his large eyes focused on, the freak looked beyond all of the rest of the gang to stare at Dudley. His eyes were huge and green and he looked kind of – panicked, beseeching, scared. And again Dudley said, not really knowing why he was saying it, just that the words were coming out, "That's enough."

The gang all turned as one to stare at him.

"What?" Malcolm said.

Dud rolled his eyes. "That's enough. This is getting boring. Come on, I got that new game at home I'd rather be playing. Let's go."

"You can go," Malcolm said, narrowing his squinty eyes at Dud. "Leave the freak. It'll come home when we're done."

Rage rolled over Dud. "What was that?" he asked, stepping forward, his hands fisting at his sides. It wasn't so much that he cared whether or not the freak got beat – but that the freak was his, his to beat, his to chase and hunt, his to push around. No one got to take over that and order him around, or think that they had the right to hurt the freak when Dud had said no. No one.

After all, one thing everyone knew about Dudders was that when something belonged to him, nobody better touch it, unless with his express permission and approval.

Malcolm started to say something back, but he hadn't got the word out before Dud was punching him in the jaw, then in the gut. Dud wasn't the biggest kid in class for nothing.

The rest of the gang ringed around Dud and Malcolm, and Malcolm tried to hit back, but Dud hit him again harder, in the shoulder this time, pushing him back, and then again in the face. Malcolm wasn't good at fighting someone who was fighting back. Dud dropped him, and he stayed still, and the rest of the gang stared back and forth between Dud's angered face and Malcolm's defeated one.

"Anyone else?" Dud asked, belligerent.

No one stepped forward.

"All right," Dud said. "I'm going home, then. Coming, Piers?"

Piers looked hesitant, but he was Dudley's best friend, so he nodded and stepped forward, and together they started to walk toward Dud's house. After a while they could hear the freak's footfalls behind them.

oOoOo

After that no one hunted the freak anymore, or beat on him. No one talked to him, either. Or touched him or went near him. He was still a freak, after all, and like Dud had said to Miss Pearce, who wanted to get on with something like that.

Dud mostly ignored the freak at school, and the freak seemed happy with that – sitting by himself in the corner, colouring in a book or drawing something or reading. Miss Pearce looked happy with that too; she beamed at Dud, as if he had something to do with the freak not getting picked on anymore, and looked proud of him.

And when, one morning before school, an older kid tried to push the freak around and Dud caught him at it, it seemed almost natural to step up, grab the freak's shoulder, and pull him away. Dud didn't even say anything, he just stared really hard at the older kid as they walked away, and the older kid shrank back. The freak shook beneath Dud's grip, and ran to the classroom as soon as Dud let him go.

That was at school. At home it was still the same.

Dud and the freak would get back at around the same time every afternoon, and Mum would give Dud his after school snack and let him watch the telly, or go play games in his room, and would give the freak his list of chores to have done before dinner.

The freak and Mum would work on dinner together, and it would be on the table by the time Dad got home. Mum would call Dud down for the meal, usually just as the freak had finished setting the table, and they would all eat together as a family. The freak usually ate in his cupboard.

Dad and Mum liked to sit together in the living room then, sometimes drinking tea or coffee, Dad with a newspaper and the telly on, and Mum telling Dad the neighbourhood's latest gossip. They usually liked for Dud to sit with them for a little while and maybe tell them about his day at school. The freak stayed in his cupboard for all of this too.

After a few hours, everyone would go to bed. Mum and Dad to their room and Dudley to his big room. His small room was just for junk and broken things, and whatever he wasn't really interested in anymore. Dud's bed was big and comfortable with half a dozen pillows and a soft mattress and flannel sheets and thick comforters. Dud almost always slept well in his bed, it was so nice.

Dud sometimes woke up hungry in the middle of the night. Mum said it was because he was a growing boy, and was getting bigger every day; Dad laughed and slapped him on the back. He'd go down to the kitchen whenever this happened and root around in the icebox for a while, finding leftovers or things he could turn into a sandwich.

One night after he'd been and gone to the kitchen, he got a thirst for some apple juice. He didn't usually like to make more than one trip a night – he was too lazy, really – but his throat was all dry and uncomfortable and achy, so he sighed and rolled out of his bed and trundled down the steps. But he stopped at the kitchen doorway, because there was already someone in there.

The freak was sitting in front of the opened fridge, staring into it, with a strange expression on his face. It was some mix of longing and fear. The freak startled at the sound of Dudley entering the kitchen, jumped a bit, scrambled to his feet, and twisted his head to stare at Dud.

"Um," the freak said, stupidly.

Dud glared. "What are you doing?"

The freak looked away, shrugging. "Just – looking."

Dudley rolled his eyes. This was why the freak was a freak. Honestly. Who just looked at food? Food was for eating.

He stepped up next to the freak, and reached past him into the fridge. There was the Tupperware container that still had some leftovers from dinner in it, a piece of roast chicken and some mashed potatoes. He grabbed it and thrust it at the freak. "There you go," he said. Then he got out the apple juice and poured himself a glass and sat at the kitchen table drinking it, staring at the freak who was staring at the Tupperware container without even taking the lid off.

Dud heaved a great exasperated sigh. It was like he had to do everything for the little freak, like the freak was a baby or something. He reached over, took the container from the freak's hands, opened it up, and placed it back in front of the kid.

"Eat."

The freak looked at Dud with huge, shocked eyes; but it didn't last long. He bent his head down and reached his hand out and scooped up a fingerful of mashed potatoes and stuck them in his mouth. His eyes fluttered closed, like it was the first time he'd eaten in days. Dud rolled his eyes. It was like the freak had never heard of cutlery before. Well, he'd done enough for him already, he wasn't about to fetch and carry a fork for the idiot.

Dud sat there drinking his juice, and the freak sat there eating his leftovers, and when they were both done they put the dishes in the sink for the morning's wash-up, and then Dud went up his room and the freak went to his cupboard under the stairs, and they both slept without dreams.

oOoOo

About a week or so later, Dud realized he was keeping track of all the times the freak ate. It was something subconscious to start with, after that night they'd both been awake in the kitchen. But after a while it got more and more purposeful, more and more curious, as Dud figured out that the freak really didn't eat all that often – or more like – that the freak didn't really get food that often.

It was easy to dismiss when the freak never ate with Dud and his parents. Some mornings he sat down with them, if Mum gave the okay, but every dinner he got banished to his cupboard, and Mum never seemed to pack a lunch for him the way she did for Dud.

Dud didn't have much experience with hunger. But once or twice he'd felt it, and it was the worst thing he could remember, being really hungry, all achy and tight through the middle with neediness scraping at every nerve, that longing to be full.

Even noticing it didn't mean Dud did anything about it, though. That was something up to his Mum, and to the freak himself.

He did take to tapping, once, on the cupboard door on his way to the kitchen for late night snacks.

oOoOo

The next year they had another new teacher.

Teachers didn't usually put together that Dud and the freak were related – mostly because they looked nothing alike – until the parent-teacher conferences rolled around. This was when they realized that Dud and the freak had the same adults listed as coming to talk.

Mister Edwin (Dud didn't like him like he'd liked Miss Pearce; Mister Edwin was stale, and forbidding; stern) held them after class the week before parent-teacher conferences and looked between them shrewdly. The freak sidled a bit behind Dud.

"You two live together?" Mister Edwin asked.

Dud looked around reflexively to make sure that no one who didn't already know had overheard. It wasn't a secret, exactly, that the freak lived in his house – but it wasn't something Dud wanted well-known, either. "That's right," Dud finally said. "Our mums were sisters." He could feel the freak shifting behind him.

"I see," Mister Edwin said, and tapped his fingers against his mouth. "I must say, I'm surprised. I would not have guessed a familial relationship."

Dud bristled, taking offense to the idea that he and the freak were – were – some sort of family. You couldn't be family to a freak. Before he could say anything, the freak beat him to it.

Voice shy, trembling and hesitant, the freak said, "Dudley – he takes care of me, like a brother."

Dud startled. No, that couldn't be true – that wasn't what he was doing at all – he wasn't the brother to a freak

And yet Mister Edwin's face looked approving, and the freak behind him seemed steadier, and there was even this weird sensation in Dud's chest, sort of proud and warm.

"Yeah," Dud said, after a beat. He puffed his chest out. "That's me. Big brother D." As soon as he said it, he became it, some strange primitive naming ritual.

Dud was a big brother. And the freak was – eurgh – his little brother. That was his secret, that was how it happened; it wasn't a good secret. No one except his mum and dad would even care about it, and maybe his Aunt Marge. It wasn't interesting or fun, it wasn't exciting in the least.

It just was, and the rest of Dudley's life rearranged around it, realigned into new configurations that made no sense unless you knew that he was a big brother, and Harry Potter was his little brother.