Author's notes: This was written for dudley_redeemed (2010).
In the summer of 1995, Dudley Dursley's life changed.
He was curled on the ground, arms over his face as if it would hide whatever was over him. He couldn't see whatever it was, but he knew it was something. Memories, flashes or scenes, whipped through his mind. He couldn't focus on any one of them, not having the heart to do so. They were all horrible: his mother, apologizing about his toy breaking; his father, looking terrified after Harry had done something; himself, as he felt a pig's tail shoot out of his arse. His tongue felt as if it were growing, but he couldn't cry out. Something kept him from opening his mouth and screaming. His wrists froze to the bone and A silvery substance flashed by his sight, but Dudley had no time to truly focus on it. The cold receded from his body nearly as fast as it came, but he still shivered. The fears stayed at the front of his mind. He wanted to cry, but the tears refused to come. Right then, he knew that his parents would never understand what had happened, only Harry. Harry, who was suddenly supporting him as they limped home.
His wrists froze to the bone andsomething was pulling his arms away from his face. He wanted to cry, to scream, but all he could do was lie there and pray that this wasn't the end. That prayer was soon gone. Fear surfaced to the front of his mind as he saw all the horrible things that could happen. His parents could be murdered, his friends could abandon him. Harry could die.
A silvery substance flashed by his sight, but Dudley had no time to truly focus on it. The cold receded from his body nearly as fast as it came, but he still shivered. The fears stayed at the front of his mind. He wanted to cry, but the tears refused to come. Right then, he knew that his parents would never understand what had happened, only Harry.
Harry, who was suddenly supporting him as they limped home.
His friends had noticed, sure, but it had taken them a long time. Piers laughed it off, congratulating Dudley on finding out a new way to lure in the wimps. "Cry like them, bring them in," he had said not three days after finding out that Dudley had nightmares. Dennis and Malcolm laughed as well, patting him on the back.
Gordon said nothing, and just watched him. Dudley wasn't sure if he was more upset by the laughing or the staring. He suffered through it, even when he went back to school and half the student body now asked if he was still crying at the shadows and snowflakes. He hated that he had told his friends what he experienced, but Dudley thought that they would support him. They had when he told them his cousin was strange, after all.
By Christmas, Dudley stopped visiting them. His mum thought nothing of it, since Dudley still left the house every day, and his dad refused to mention anything dealing with magic. He was alone for the first time in his life and he wondered if this was how Harry felt every summer. Dudley debated sending a card to him, but ended up never doing so for lack of an owl.
The rest of the year was spent waiting for Harry and hoping his cousin was still alive.
In the summer of 1996, Dudley Dursley opened his eyes.
His mum had been cleaning in the kitchen when Albus Dumbledore came to visit. He heard the gentle murmuring of the old man's voice mixed in with his father's gruff annoyance and decided to take a look for himself. Was this the wizard who taught Harry? Was he powerful? Was he young or old? Dudley wanted to know, wanted to see with his own eyes. "…And this must be your son, Dudley." He had barely peeked around the living room door. Suddenly, he felt self-conscious in his pajamas. This man wasn't young, nor did he look overly powerful. But as soon as their eyes met, Dudley saw what made this man so great. There was a knowledge there that he couldn't understand. He felt safe in this man's presence – safer than he had ever felt before. "Shall we assume that you have invited me into your sitting room?" Dudley moved as quickly as he could out of the way, not wanting the man to force him aside. Everything was weird, he didn't understand. He could see this man and Harry speaking, but his mind refused to acknowledge what they said. He fell into step behind his parents. The next thing he knew, a couch hit his knees and he was sitting between his parents, facing the two wizards. The entire thing felt surreal. The couch moved back, a glass floated in front of his eyes, and then the same glass was poking him in the side of the head. Dudley could focus on nothing else but where the man's wand was hidden. Even as the conversation floated around him and his father shouted until the glasses disappeared, he couldn't remove his eyes from the simple stick the older man possessed. And then a troll appeared. At least, that's the only way Dudley knew how to describe the creature. He raised his feet off the floor, terrified that this was some torture device Harry brought in to use on them. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his mouth and he wished that things would just go back to normal. The sound of the old man's voice, sounding stern, brought him back to the situation at hand. "…do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He had known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you." "Us mistreat Dudders?" Dudley shuddered, trying to be as small as he could between his parents. "What do you—" Dumbledore raised a finger to stop his father. "The magic I evoked fifteen years ago means that Harry has powerful protection while he can still call this house 'home.' However miserable he has been here, however unwelcome, however badly treated, you have at least, grudgingly, allowed him houseroom. This magic will cease to operate the moment that Harry turns seventeen. In other words, at the moment he becomes a man." Dudley stopped listening, a frown on his face. He didn't notice Harry leave. He didn't notice his parents herd him upstairs to his room. He kept with his thoughts, thinking between his cousin and himself.
"…And this must be your son, Dudley."
He had barely peeked around the living room door. Suddenly, he felt self-conscious in his pajamas. This man wasn't young, nor did he look overly powerful. But as soon as their eyes met, Dudley saw what made this man so great. There was a knowledge there that he couldn't understand. He felt safe in this man's presence – safer than he had ever felt before.
"Shall we assume that you have invited me into your sitting room?"
Dudley moved as quickly as he could out of the way, not wanting the man to force him aside. Everything was weird, he didn't understand. He could see this man and Harry speaking, but his mind refused to acknowledge what they said. He fell into step behind his parents. The next thing he knew, a couch hit his knees and he was sitting between his parents, facing the two wizards.
The entire thing felt surreal. The couch moved back, a glass floated in front of his eyes, and then the same glass was poking him in the side of the head. Dudley could focus on nothing else but where the man's wand was hidden. Even as the conversation floated around him and his father shouted until the glasses disappeared, he couldn't remove his eyes from the simple stick the older man possessed.
And then a troll appeared. At least, that's the only way Dudley knew how to describe the creature. He raised his feet off the floor, terrified that this was some torture device Harry brought in to use on them. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his mouth and he wished that things would just go back to normal.
The sound of the old man's voice, sounding stern, brought him back to the situation at hand. "…do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He had known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you."
"Us mistreat Dudders?"
Dudley shuddered, trying to be as small as he could between his parents.
"What do you—"
Dumbledore raised a finger to stop his father. "The magic I evoked fifteen years ago means that Harry has powerful protection while he can still call this house 'home.' However miserable he has been here, however unwelcome, however badly treated, you have at least, grudgingly, allowed him houseroom. This magic will cease to operate the moment that Harry turns seventeen. In other words, at the moment he becomes a man."
Dudley stopped listening, a frown on his face. He didn't notice Harry leave. He didn't notice his parents herd him upstairs to his room. He kept with his thoughts, thinking between his cousin and himself.
In retrospect, Dudley could see the old wizard's truth. He didn't want to, but he could. What parent could spoil their child to the point that he was at? He had food where Harry had none. He had toys where Harry had chores. He had friends where Harry had tormentors. Dudley hated himself, mostly because he couldn't hate his parents. They let him become like this, but he had allowed himself the pleasure of beginning that process.
"I could have stopped any time…"
The thought was almost too much to think about and, for the rest of the summer, Dudley strongly ignored his inner feelings. He knew he couldn't escape them at school, but he could try at home. Harry was gone, his parents seemed back to normal, and he didn't have a bloody idea of what to do to apologize to his cousin.
Smeltings was no longer the place Dudley wanted to go to every year. The walls were too dark and the classrooms too humid. The other boys carried on with their life, thinking the news on the television was just something weird that would never touch them. Only Dudley seemed to know any different. He poked at his mashed potatoes, unsure he was really in the mood to eat anymore. What was Harry doing right now? What was going on?
Nobody sat around him much – they were too busy trying to get closer to Piers. His childhood best friend took over as leader faster than Dudley would have originally thought, but he paid his old friends no mind. What did he care if they still wanted to live in ignorance. He barely noticed when a tray dropped down next to him.
Dudley glanced up, looking through the long lashes of his blond bangs. Gordon stood there, a tentative smile on his face. Dudley couldn't remember when he had seen his friend this concerned before. He checked the table where Piers was at and, when he didn't see them looking at him, he shrugged and moved over a little.
"I thought you'd eat with them."
"Debated it, actually." Gordon sat down. He grabbed his milk carton to shake it some. "Piers has got this stick shoved up his ass lately. I figured I'd come by and give you a visit."
"You're still my friend, D." Gordon passed Dudley his roll, an old tradition they used to have. Nobody liked the school rolls but Dudley. "Anyway, I've got a question."
Dudley pried open the roll with his fingers. "What's that?"
"Your cousin… what was his name again?"
"Harry Potter. Why?"
"No reason." Gordon took a long drink, tilting his head back as he did so. He finished half the carton before putting it down and letting out a small burp. "Just asking."
Dudley smiled and passed over his milk carton. Some things, he supposed, never changed.
In the summer of 1997, Dudley Dursley realized what it meant to forgive.
The packing and unpacking had been unbearable. Vernon had changed his mind nearly every day, telling them first that they'd move and then that they wouldn't move. Dudley had enough of it and, to make his point, he snuck into the main bedroom and put his middle weight dumbbells into the case. The swearing that came from his father's mouth after trying to lift it, and thus dropping it on his foot, was worth it. Especially when Harry gave him an amused smile. Dudley found himself returning it, wishing he could see that carefree look more often. Then the wizards came, ready to escort the Dursley family into safe hiding. They weren't nearly as frightening to him as they had been before, but Dudley watched them carefully all the same. He barely heard their questions to Harry. He barely noticed what was going on until it was almost time to leave. The wizards were herding them out the door, but Harry stayed behind. It didn't make sense. Before he could think of what he was doing, he looked to Harry and said, "I don't understand." When his mother asked what he didn't understand, he pointed to Harry and said, "Why isn't he coming with us?" The look on his cousin's face was shock, but also a tinge of regret. For what, he wasn't sure. Nothing was going to be the same, and he knew it. The conversation continued around him, but Dudley didn't want to know how much of this was the truth. How many times had he contemplated all of this? How many times last year did he sit back and wonder if the wizards had it right the whole time? Too long. He shook his head and found himself saying, "I don't think you're a waste of space." It was the last time he would see Harry, and his cousin was right. It was the only way he knew how to express the feeling coming from him. 'I love you' wasn't enough.
Then the wizards came, ready to escort the Dursley family into safe hiding. They weren't nearly as frightening to him as they had been before, but Dudley watched them carefully all the same. He barely heard their questions to Harry. He barely noticed what was going on until it was almost time to leave. The wizards were herding them out the door, but Harry stayed behind. It didn't make sense.
Before he could think of what he was doing, he looked to Harry and said, "I don't understand." When his mother asked what he didn't understand, he pointed to Harry and said, "Why isn't he coming with us?"
The look on his cousin's face was shock, but also a tinge of regret. For what, he wasn't sure. Nothing was going to be the same, and he knew it. The conversation continued around him, but Dudley didn't want to know how much of this was the truth. How many times had he contemplated all of this? How many times last year did he sit back and wonder if the wizards had it right the whole time? Too long.
He shook his head and found himself saying, "I don't think you're a waste of space."
It was the last time he would see Harry, and his cousin was right. It was the only way he knew how to express the feeling coming from him. 'I love you' wasn't enough.
The walls in the family room were too yellow. The kitchen was too small. The bed in the bedroom was too lumpy. Dudley's room didn't have enough toys he could play with (as if he were still a child). The bathroom sinks didn't give the right pressure. The television wasn't hooked in properly. The radio only gave off wizard information. No matter what part of the place Vernon and Petunia Dursley went into they had some kind of complaint.
Dudley surveyed the rooms silently, letting his parents say whatever they wanted. He thought the townhouse was more than enough for them, especially after how they treated Harry. He shoved his beefy hands in his pockets and wandered, trying to remember where everything was. His room was downstairs, his parent's upstairs. He sighed, ignoring how his parents complained about the lack of a decent car, and went to his room.
There was a radio in here, but no television. Dudley reached forward, flipping it on. Static came out through the speakers, but it was better than the silence of the room. He wished it was just a constant information center for how Harry was doing, even if his parents didn't seem to care.
A knock came to his room and it opened just enough for the witch from before to poke her head through. "Hey there, Dudley."
Dudley nodded to her, taking a seat on the bed.
"Not talkative? Got it." She just smiled softly. "Hey look, your mum's worried about your education, but don't worry. My cousin is a muggle professor. He'll come to make sure you keep up to date."
"Wait." Dudley reached a hand out, then curled his fingers into a fist and lowered his arm. "A private tutor?"
"Having him here keeps him safe, so I volunteered him." She shrugged. "He's the best. Don't worry."
Dudley nodded again, unable to say anything as she closed the door. Maybe, perhaps, with a Muggle here that liked wizards, he would learn what his cousin truly went through.
In the summer of 1998, Dudley Dursley knew what it meant to live.
His parents complained the entire trip back home. The "freak" war lasted too long. They hadn't seen the sun in months. The food was getting dull. The weird creature that lived in the house kept smashing his head into the walls. After months of hearing similar complaints, Dudley was tired of it all. He spent a long time ignoring his studies and talking to Mr. Jackson, his tutor, about the Wizarding world.
The stories he was told, the updates he was given, scared him more than anything else. Dudley quickly saw that his parents were just as scared, but they dealt with it in a different way. They insisted they would return home and never think of the magical world again. For him, however, he would do the opposite. After schooling he would find out as much as he could. He had taken the tests, he had passed them, and he had gotten into a good university. The notice was waiting for him the same day they found out the war had ended.
Going home had been the hardest thing for him to do. Dudley looked around his room, at the silly possessions he had to have before. Nothing here was important anymore. He had started packing that night, leaving only what he truly did need. He would change, he would force himself to if he had to. In two hours time, he had more than seven boxes of toys he knew he would never touch.
Not even a week later, his mum was knocking on his door. "Dudley? One of your friends is here to see you."
Dudley feared it would be Piers, come to find out why he ran, but he squared his shoulders and walked downstairs anyway. Better to face his friend standing than cowering.
Except it wasn't Piers at the door, but Gordon. His friend smiled, his almost-shaved brown hair no longer hiding his face. Dudley laughed and then opened the door to further let him in.
"Hey, Dudley. You've changed." Gordon pushed at Dudley's shoulder, making him turn. "Guess you lost some weight in hiding, yeah?"
Petunia paused at his words, and then scowled at her son. "Take him upstairs. Don't dawdle in the stairway."
"Yes, mum." Dudley motioned for Gordon to follow him. "How did you know I was in hiding?"
Gordon shrugged, following him upstairs. "I know more than you think. We got into the same Uni, you know."
"Yeah. My cousin made sure we were roommates, too. Someplace off campus for Freshmen."
"How the bloody hell did you pull that off?" Dudley opened the door to his bedroom. "Does your cousin work at the school?"
"No, but she's dating someone in the administration department."
Dudley laughed, taking a seat at his desk. "Nice connections."
Gordon shrugged. "She's also a witch. And her boyfriend is very grateful to your cousin."
Dudley's eyes widened and he stared at Gordon, not sure what to say. "You…"
"Me?" Gordon sat down, letting out a sigh. "Dudley, I've known who your cousin was since we first met. My cousin was visiting me at the time, remember? That gangly bird that followed me? She was so excited at home that she explained everything to me."
"But you and I –"
"I didn't want to torture Harry." Gordon leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "But by the time you started us in on it, I already liked you as a friend. I didn't want to lose you, especially since my cousin liked your cousin so much. I always thought it'd be a good connection one day."
"That's how you knew I was in hiding."
"My cousin told me." Gordon grinned. "And let me tell you, she was thrilled when she found that out. Said it was about time Harry moved to do what needed to be done."
Dudley smiled a little. "I haven't seen him since. Does your cousin know if he's okay?"
"He's fine, Dudley." Gordon reached forward, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Harry's alive and living his life. Maybe it's time you did, too."
"Maybe," Dudley agreed. "They always say Uni is a new start. If that's the truth, then I can't wait to go."
In the fall of 1999, Dudley Dursley's life changed forever.
Gordon grunted, dropping another box outside the doors of the local help shelter. Dudley dropped another right next to him. This had been their third drop-off today and there was more than this back at the storage unit Gordon had rented for the month.
"So what made your mum think we had room for all this?" Gordon asked, brushing his shirt off. "Our place doesn't exactly have the space."
"I don't know." Dudley looked up at the shelter, taking a deep breath. "You think any of these people actually care about the boxes of utter shite we're leaving here?"
"It's better than an empty box." Gordon turned back to his truck. "Come on, Dudley. I'm starving and that leftover steak is calling my name."
"You go on ahead. I'm going to make sure this stuff gets inside. Don't want some thief going through them and all."
"Your choice." Gordon opened the truck door. "Want me to pick you up later?"
"I've got money for a taxi." Dudley waved him off. "Go on, get out of here. And don't eat my chicken!"
"No promises." Gordon laughed, shutting the door and starting the truck.
Dudley watched him leave before going into the shelter, trying not to look around. A woman at the desk nearby glanced up to see him and smiled. She came around the desk, her curls bouncing on her head, and held out a hand toward him.
"Welcome, sir. We saw you earlier drop all those boxes off. Would you like a receipt?"
"Ah, no. I'm fine." Dudley looked around, unable to help himself. "Do these boxes do much?"
"More than you think." She motioned him toward the desk. "A lot of the people here will never leave. We try to be like a halfway house, letting people stay here until they can get their feet on the ground."
"Right." Dudley hesitated, and then looked back to the girl. "I just wanted to know since I have more stuff. My aunt recently died and, well, my parents didn't want her stuff. They think I need it."
She laughed, touching his arm. "We'll be glad to take whatever you'll give us. What's your name?"
"Dudley Dursley." He smiled, stepping back. "Would you like help bringing the boxes in?"
"No, that's okay. We have men to do that."
Dudley nodded, glanced around the room one more time, and then went for the door. Once outside, he glanced back inside to watch the people in the nearest sitting area. On the farthest couch, a man sat in a worn robe. Dudley hesitated, stepping closer to the window. The man was holding a long wooden stick. It was gripped tightly in his hand and, for a moment, Dudley forgot how to breathe.
- - -
"I'm telling you, Gordon, there's a wizard in there."
"And I'm telling you that my cousin already checked the shelters around here for stray wizards." Gordon turned the stove off before turning to Dudley. "They checked for months."
"But not recently, right? Not since May, at least. It's mid-September now."
"There aren't any reports of missing wizards either. Let it go, it's probably just a bloke with a stick."
Dudley frowned. "Fine, think what you want."
"I will. Eat or I'll toss it at you." Gordon put two bowls of soup on the table.
"Toss away. I have a quiz next week to study for." Dudley pushed his chair in and left their kitchen-dining room combination.
"He isn't a wizard," Gordon called to him. "I bet you a week's worth of dishes he isn't!"
Dudley paused, and then went to the counter. "I'm going back tomorrow, then."
"You've got class."
"Excused absence. Volunteer services or whatever." Dudley grabbed the truck keys, jingling them at Gordon. "Hope you don't mind."
"Fill her with gas when you're done."
- - -
He sat in the truck for at least half an hour outside of the shelter, debating whether or not he was doing the right thing. What if this man really was just a bum with a stick? Could he have seen what he wanted to see instead of what was really there? Did it really matter in the end?
Dudley opened the door and stepped out, forcing himself to just relax and step inside. There was something familiar about that man – the need to confirm it was the only thing pushing him forward. He waited for a few cars to pass him before crossing the street. The woman behind the desk was the same as yesterday and she waved at him cheerfully. Before he could change his mind, he opened the door and stepped inside.
"Welcome back!" The girl came to meet him. "Do you have more stuff for us?"
"Yeah, in the back of that truck." He motioned toward Gordon's truck. "Can I ask a question?"
"I don't see why not."
"Right, good." Dudley glanced around. "Do you mind if I, well… I'd like to take a look at the place."
She frowned, stepping closer to him. "That's not really allowed, you see. It—"
"Please." Dudley stuffed his hands in his pockets, trying to hide the fact that he was nervous. "When I left yesterday, I thought I saw someone I recognized. I just want to see if it was really him."
Her face softened and a smile came over her. "Then go find him. If we can get somebody out of this place and into the world again, then I'll be happy."
"Thank you." Dudley stepped away from her and into the room. A quick look around just told him that the wizard wasn't in the room. A man walked in from a glass door and Dudley figured outside was the next best place to go.
He ignored the looks from the various men and women, keeping his eyes on the door. He knew that though he was younger, he was dressed better. One stupid move and they'd probably jump him for his shirt. Dudley kept his hands in his pockets until he reached the door. The stares were making him feel uncomfortable and he was just glad to push open the door and leave.
Outside wasn't any better, but at least he didn't have the walls pressing in on him. Dudley took a deep breath before scanning the area. The first sweep didn't show him anything, but then he caught a movement behind one of the trees. He stepped closer, smiling a little when he saw a wand sticking out of a hood. There was no mistaking a handle like that.
There was no other explanation except that this man was a wizard. Why the man was here, Dudley didn't know – but he did know that he couldn't just leave him. He squared his shoulders and approached the man.
"Excuse me, sir?"
The man turned and Dudley was a little shocked to see his vacant hazel eyes. Still, he pressed on.
"My name is Dudley and from your wand…"
There was a flicker in those eyes, but he couldn't tell of what. Dudley couldn't bring himself to finish his sentence, feeling a little foolish at just randomly approaching an unknown wizard. What was he going to say? 'Hello, my name is Dudley and my cousin is Harry Potter.' If he were interested in snagging a wizarding wife, it would be the perfect pick-up line.
Dudley took a deep breath and held out his hand. "I know you don't belong here. My place isn't much better, but… I can help you."
For a long while, Dudley thought he was going to stand there with his hand held out forever. Just when he was about to pull back, a shaking hand emerged from within the hooded cloak and took his. Dudley smiled warmly and his heart twisted just a little. For the first time, someone trusted him with their life.
"Let's get to my place and get you looked at."
- - -
Gordon was not happy when Dudley walked through the door with the still unknown wizard behind him. Still, he wisely kept his mouth closed as Dudley got the man situated with the bathroom and how the shower worked. Dudley was thankful for that small token – he'd rather be lectured while the other man couldn't hear them. He closed the door to the bathroom softly before making his way to the kitchen where Gordon sat, a cup of some brown liquid in hand. Dudley hoped it wasn't liquor.
"What's for dinner?" he asked, trying to act casual.
Gordon ignored the question, plowing right to the point. "Are you kidding, Dudley? We can barely afford the two of us, let alone a third. I still don't think he's a wizard, either."
"You weren't there." Dudley grabbed a bottle of water before sitting as well. "I mentioned a wand and his eyes lit up. I couldn't just leave him."
"He could have been a Death Eater."
"His arm is clean. I would have noticed tattoos."
Gordon shook his head. "Do you even know his name? Where he comes from? What school he went to?"
"Enough." Dudley glanced down the hall, hearing the water shut off. He had hoped the man wouldn't take a short shower, but he could understand the feeling of imposing on someone. He'd probably take a short one if their positions were switched. "We should contact your cousin, let her come take him back to his family."
"If he's a wizard and out here, he probably doesn't have any family left."
Dudley pursed his lips, but said nothing more. He had heard the bathroom door open and the soft footsteps coming toward them. The last thing he wanted to do was argue in front of someone he was trying to help. Holding back the urge to throw something at his friend, he turned and held out the water bottle to the wizard.
"I figure you're probably thirsty. Go ahead, have it."
"Thank you." The voice was soft. Dudley doubted he had used it in quite some time.
"No problem. Have a seat." He kicked out their last mismatched chair at the table. "Hungry?"
The wizard sat down, pulling his grimy cloak further around his shoulders. "Water is fine, thanks."
Gordon shot Dudley a look before leaning forward. "Not that I don't believe you, but you're a wizard?"
The man nodded, slowly drinking the water.
"Then what's your name?"
He was silent for a long moment, even after he finished half the bottle. "George Weasley."
Gordon's eyes widened and he straightened. "Wait, what? The George Weasley of Wheezes?"
George flinched a little, but he did nod. "The one and only."
"God, I … My cousin talks about your jokes all the time! I'm sorry I've been rude before. It's fantastic to meet you."
Dudley rolled his eyes. "I told you. I guess you have to do a week's worth of dishes. Such a shame."
"Shut up, Dud."
Dudley laughed and stood. "Don't think so. Come on, George. We have a spare bedroom you can use for now. We'll move the stuff out of it later."
- - -
A few nights later, Dudley met Gordon in the hallway outside of George's room. The two stared at each other as the crying and screaming continued beyond the wood. Dudley wanted to go in, but he wasn't sure if he would be welcomed. Most people were embarrassed when strangers saw them in a weaker state. But, the longer they stood there, the less he could take.
"I'm going in."
"Dudley, wait." Gordon held out a hand. "He could be out of control."
"What do you mean?"
"His magic." Gordon glanced to the door. "When a wizard is having a nightmare, chances are that his magic is haywire. You could get hurt."
"Harry mostly had visions."
Dudley frowned. "Then you stay out here. I can't bear to hear him do this anymore."
He reached for the handle and, before Gordon could stop him, Dudley opened the door. No objects came flying at him, but there was a feeling of dread coming from the room. He stepped inside and headed straight for the bed. George tossed back and forth, murmuring for a while before screaming again. Dudley couldn't make sense from what he was saying, though he wasn't sure he wanted to.
"George?" He put a knee on the bed so he could lean over the distressed wizard. "George, wake up."
"No!" George bolted up, nearly smacking his head on Dudley's. His eyes scanned the dark room and, for a moment, Dudley thought he might run.
"George, it's okay…" Dudley reached toward him, though he hesitated at actually touching. "I'm right here. You're okay."
Dudley was already at a loss for what to say with the screaming. The crying that came next just made him nervous. He pulled George against him, letting his fingers move as gently as they could through the grimy ginger hair. At the door, Gordon gave Dudley a small smile and left. The door shut softly behind him, but it was a long time before Dudley (and George) got to sleep.
- - -
For a week, Dudley found himself comforting George long after night fell. Every night, he would go earlier and earlier than the last night. Tonight, he was debating just going to George first rather than attempt his own bed. The only time anyone got sleep was when they were in the same bed.
Dudley was still debating with himself when he stepped into his room. George sitting calmly on his bed was not the sight he expected. A little confused, Dudley glanced around the room before focusing on him again.
"What are you doing in here?" he asked, then shook his head. "Sorry, no. That was rude. Is something wrong?"
"No, not really." George glanced to his hands. "I just figured you'd like to sleep in your own bed. It's more comfortable than the one I have. Not that I'm ungrateful…"
Dudley slowly sat next to George. The bed sagged under his weight and their knees touched. "Okay…"
"If you don't mind me intruding." George forced a smile on his face. Dudley could see it in his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Dudley let a hand slide over George's back. "I don't mind. A little confused, but I don't mind."
"It's embarrassing, really. Ever since I was a kid, I'd have really bad nightmares if I slept alone too long." George smiled, his eyes staring off somewhere past his feet. "Fred used to sleep next to me at least once a week. Just to keep them away."
"Like he's protecting you?"
George shook his head. "No. It's like I have to be strong and protect him. But he's not here anymore. At least on the streets, most of them slept in groups to stay warm. There's nothing like that here."
Dudley held him tighter. "There's me."
"Why would you want to? I gave you a tongue the length of England."
"You knew who I was?" Dudley wasn't sure why he was so surprised – it was hard to mistake him.
"It took a while, but I do. And I'm sorry Fred and I tricked you."
Dudley shrugged. "I deserved it. I was always cruel to Harry."
"Maybe, but you're sorry now." George lay back on the bed, pulling Dudley's larger frame with him. "I don't think you'd do any of that anymore. Now get some sleep."
Dudley just smiled and closed his eyes, glad for the comfort of the warm body next to him.
- - -
"You two seem cozy in the mornings," Gordon said around his cup. "George seems more relaxed, but so do you."
"What are you implying?" Dudley pushed his cereal around, unable to actually look at his best friend. "I'm just helping him sleep."
"By cuddling? Come on, Dud. You like him."
"Shut up, Gordon." Dudley scowled into his bowl of mush. "Even if I did, you think George would like me back? He's a wizard, I'm a Muggle."
"Like he cares about that. There are a lot of half-bloods—"
"That isn't what I meant." Dudley glanced up. "How can I face him after all I've done to his kind? To Harry."
"You face him here all the time. Relax, Dudley, he doesn't hate you. Didn't he tell you that?"
Dudley frowned, and then stood to take his bowl to the sink. "He can't like me, either. He'll go back as soon as they find him and then we'll never see him again."
"Who says he'll go back? You're being paranoid."
Dudley ignored him. Instead, he went down the hall back toward his room. Halfway there, something bounced against his ankle. It looked like an ear on a string. Dudley checked his own ears to make sure they were still there before following the bouncing ear. It got stuck at his door for a moment before being pulled completely under.
"George?" Dudley pushed open his door. "Did you see an ear bounce in here?"
George looked up from his trunk and shook his head.
"Huh." Dudley closed the door behind him. "All right, maybe I'm just seeing things." He opened his dresser to grab some clothes for the day.
"Hm?" He worked at pulling off his nightshirt. He froze as a hand pressed against his back.
"I could never hate you." The hand slid to Dudley's side and George pressed against his back. "You saved my life."
The feel of George's breath on his neck was slowly driving Dudley insane. "George, I—"
"Let me finish." George moved until his chin was propped on Dudley's shoulder. "I learned not to take things for granted. I already lost the one man I thought I couldn't live without. I don't want to lose the one I know I can't."
Dudley shifted a bit so he could turn and face George. "I just took you from the shelter."
"You did more than that."
Dudley closed his eyes. "It doesn't matter. I want what I can't have. It's always been like that."
A hand went through Dudley's hair and he almost forgot to breathe. Out of all of his various (and short) relationships, nothing had his heart beating faster than this. He took a shuttering breath. "George…"
"Let me at least give you one thing you want."
Dudley couldn't argue. George had already moved in and kissed him. The wall hit Dudley's back and George pressed against his front as the kiss deepened. The only thing he could think to do was return it, hoping that it wasn't as horrible as he thought it was. He had never liked kissing before. From the feel of George's wandering hands, Dudley didn't think that he was half bad this time. He gently put his hand on the wizard's waist, keeping them close.
George's hand moved between them and slipped into Dudley's boxers. He moaned, pressing into the hand almost immediately. George's hands moved easily; it didn't take long for Dudley to grow hard under the calloused palm. He pulled away from the kiss with a gasp, tilting his head back so he wouldn't be tempted to continue it. Lips soon descended on his neck and it took all of his concentration to simply keep standing.
The hand moved faster. Dudley held onto George, his legs spreading a little to try and help him keep standing. He had done this for himself several times, but this was different. The feel of another's hand and another's lips was enough to drive him over the edge. The fact that it was George's hands and George's lips just pushed it faster. With a cry, Dudley arched into George and released in his hand.
Instead of stopping (as Dudley usually did after finishing with himself), George's fingers continued to lazily trail across his now softened member. Dudley didn't have the breath to tell him to stop. He turned his head and accepted the kiss that came. A grin spread across his face and he just held tighter to George.
"You have to go to school," George murmured against his lips. "We can continue this when you get back."
Dudley groaned, letting his head fall back to the wall. "I'm not going to be able to concentrate now."
George grinned and pulled away. "Is that my fault?" He grabbed his wand and spelled them both clean.
Dudley shivered at the feeling. "Just a little."
"Get dressed." George sat on the edge of the bed. "I'll be waiting here for you."
- - -
The morning routine was rarely interrupted. Said interruptions came from Gordon waking up late and rushing out the door. Most of those had stopped once George rigged his alarm to dance across the room, but there were still the occasional days. When Gordon wasn't running late, George would cook the three of them breakfast. With some creative planning, they made sure it would be a meal to help Dudley slim down without making him feel as if he were starving. It had only been a few weeks, but Dudley had already lost some of his weight.
After breakfast, Gordon and Dudley would dress for the day while George read the Muggle newspaper. He hadn't received an owl since he left the wizarding world, but he assured Dudley and Gordon that it didn't bother him. The Weasley family all thought he was travelling across the world.
This morning, halfway through breakfast, the tap of an owl came to the kitchen window. Gordon went to retrieve it, since it was most likely from his cousin, but the owl simply flew past him. George's face drained of all color when it landed in front of him, holding out its leg.
"Who's it from?" Dudley asked, resting a hand on George's arm.
George's hands were shaking as he reached out to take the envelope. "I don't know." The bird shook out its wings before taking flight. George didn't even wince when it scratched his arm and knocked some of his eggs on the floor.
Gordon shut the window behind the bird. "I never liked that way of delivering messages…"
"George?" Dudley leaned a bit, trying to get a look at the letter.
"Harry's going to be bonded. I'm invited to his party."
Dudley leaned back. "Are you going to go?"
"I don't know." George folded the invitation up. "He said he knew I was away and would understand."
George looked up at Gordon. "But I miss them."
Dudley felt his heart drop to his stomach. There would be no way the Weasleys would accept him. Not after what he did to Harry. "You should go see them."
Dudley put on a smile and stood. "You should. I'm going to get dressed and go. I have to be in early." He rested a hand on George's shoulder briefly before going to his room, thinking the entire way.
Just how long would George have stayed in this family anyway?
- - -
"Hm?" He turned to face George, halfway finished with folding his laundry. "Something wrong?"
George shook his head and picked up a stray shirt. "Nothing. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to Harry's party this weekend."
Dudley gave him a smile, picking up a pile of folded clothes to put away. "I'm glad. They probably miss you a lot."
"I sent him back an owl letting him know I was coming." George hesitated. "I told him I was bringing my boyfriend."
Dudley turned, his eyes wide. "You told him what?"
"Is that okay? I mean, I know you haven't seen him in a while."
Dudley sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. "He'll never forgive me. How could he after all I've ever done to him?"
"Harry's a more forgiving person than you think," George told him softly. "There are several people he's contacted personally that have done him wrong. He's made amends with each of them."
George hesitated. "Give him time. He's actually afraid you'll shut the door in his face."
"He's afraid of what?"
"Give him time," George repeated. "Now come on, you have class in the morning and not enough time to stay up and worry. It's bedtime."
"Bed, Dudley." George grabbed the rest of the laundry and tossed it back into the basket. "I'll fold this tomorrow. Right now, you need to sleep."
"You're right." Dudley smiled, shifting so he could relax on the bed. "But you're staying."
George toward the door, then back at the bed. "You don't… mind?"
"As long as you don't mind the fact that I'm twice your size."
"But getting smaller each day." George sighed, settling down next to him. "Not that I care."
"Yes, but I do. Now go to sleep before you keep me up any more."
George laughed, sliding his arms around Dudley. "That's the point, though."
- - -
Dudley felt uncomfortable standing with the obviously close-knit group of people. As soon as they had seen George, he had been shoved off to the side of the room. Granted, he looked like most of them (George had lent him a wizarding robe, modified so it would fit), but now it was more of a curse than a blessing. Nobody had noticed him, which he was happy about, but he was also unhappy about it as well. He wanted Harry both to see him and not see him.
It was slowly driving him insane.
He stood near the wall, watching the party silently. He had lost track of George nearly an hour ago in the mess of people. There were plenty of red heads, but none of them had been the one wizard he had befriended. The drink in his hand constantly changed flavor and it had stopped surprising him after the fifth sip. At the moment, it was a nice mix of cherry and orange.
There was a sudden pop next to him. "You look bored."
Dudley jumped, whirling to give George a hard glare. "I nearly had a heart attack."
"No you didn't." George placed a sloppy kiss to the side of Dudley's head. "I think Ronnie did something with the punch."
"How many have you had?" Dudley shifted so George could lean easier on him.
"Don't 'member." George grinned, sliding a hand down Dudley's front. "Mum wants to meet you."
"Maybe when you're sober." Flushing, Dudley grabbed George's wrist and pulled it away from his waist.
Dudley sighed and went to move George's hands completely away from him. An achingly familiar voice stopped him.
This wasn't exactly how he wanted to meet his cousin, but it was what he had. Dudley turned to Harry and tried not to look as nervous as he felt. "Hey, Harry."
Harry's expression went from shocked to smiling as soon as he saw George. "You're the guy that brought him back?"
Dudley flushed. "He came back on his own."
"Yes, but with you." He looked around and then motioned toward the stairs. "Come on. We have a lot to catch up on."
George turned Dudley's head toward him, giving him a kiss. "Good luck," he murmured, completely sober. The sneaky bastard had done it all on purpose.
Dudley had no choice but to detangle himself from George and follow his cousin upstairs. He was nervous, he wasn't sure what was going to happen after this, but he was oddly fine with that. He had a loving partner, a mending relationship with his cousin, and a new life waiting.