A/N: Hello, all! So, I'm still on time here. I'd wanted to update Sunday, and it my part of the world it still is! So, I hope you enjoy.
This is in part late because I couldn't stop writing. So, it's pretty long. I hope you like it. (It's my longest, yet, I think! 16 Microsoft Word pages!)
Disclaimer: All the same apply- I don't own anything related to Harry Potter. I just wish I did.
Dudley skidded to an abrupt halt in front of the plain wooden door, bending in half and bracing his hands on his knees, panting for breath. The moment he had his breath back he pushed open the door, wincing as it squeaked, and slid into the room.
The students—less than ten of them—looked over from their transfigured desks in the makeshift classroom. Hestia was standing in the front by the blackboard, and she had a frown on her face.
Dudley grimaced as he made his way quickly to his desk on the far side of the room, near the front but by the window. Hestia's class was the absolute last one any of them wanted to be late for.
"Thank you for joining us, Dudley." She said in a slightly sarcastic voice, but then she turned her attention back to outlining the lessons they'd be doing this week.
Dudley hurriedly pulled his spiral notebook out, opening it to the last notes they'd been taking on Friday the week before, and pulling out a black pen, pulling the cap off with his teeth.
The students used a variety of different supplies in their classes: the teachers didn't really care as long they got their assignment done. Some used notebooks and lined paper with pens, other with pencils. Some used parchment, quills and ink. Dudley had tried to write with a quill once, but had quickly learned that his handwriting was illegible. Sometimes he'd use parchment, though, if it was most convenient.
He really hadn't meant to be late! It was just that he had stopped by to see his mum at her flat after breakfast, and had ended up in another shouting match with Vernon. It was the absolute worst way to start his morning, and on Monday in particular! It was a horrible way to start his entire week! But Vernon had been harping on about his mum, and he couldn't just stand there and let his dad belittle his mum that way.
He was going to talk to Sue and Hestia about helping him convince his mum to move out and get her own rooms. There were certainly enough of them in this place, ones that might need some cleaning up but that would be perfectly suitable.
"Hestia?" It was Lucy, one of his classmates. At Hestia's nod she questioned, "Is working with the younger ones in the plans for this week?"
While the teachers taught according to their specialties, they tended to stay with the same class for two to three weeks before switching to the next. Last week Hestia had started on Advanced Theory and History with the oldest class, those from fifteen to Ethan, who was the oldest at eighteen. Sue was working on Charms and Transfiguration with the ones from twelve to fourteen, and Dedalus was helping the beginners with Beginning Theory and Herbology and the way plants could be used with Potions. Defense Against the Dark Arts was taught by all three teachers at their discretion, as their specialties could all be used in Defense.
Some weeks the teachers had the oldest students help the younger ones, like in study groups, only during class time.
"No, not this week, Lucy. Maybe next week."
Lucy shrugged nonchalantly. Obviously it hadn't been that important to her.
Of course Dudley couldn't do all of those subjects, so he couldn't help with that, but he did like learning what he could, and watching the magic being preformed and practiced. He would stay in the room and work on his muggle subjects—normally if some corresponded in some way to the magical ones he'd plan his schedule that way (like Chemistry and Potions). Dedalus knew a lot about muggle subjects, and he helped Dudley with scheduling.
Last week they'd been talking about Magical Theory, for the most part. Back when Dudley had talked to his mum in late January about classes, Hestia had been talking about the magical world during various wars. It had been in general terms, but they'd had to switch to Dedalus and Potions the week after before Hestia could move onto specific instances.
The last Friday, though, Hestia had started talking about the war with the dark wizard Grindewald, and how it had compared to the muggle war World War Two. That had been particularly interesting to Dudley.
"Alright then," Dudley winced as he realized he'd completely missed Hestia's schedule for the week (he'd have to talk to Ethan later), "Can someone recap what we ended with last week?" No one raised their hands. "Okay, Colin, please."
That was something that Hestia did that the others didn't—she was much more like a real teacher, not just a supervising adult. Dedalus and Sue knew what they were talking about, but they didn't push quite as hard as Hestia did.
"Well, you were talking about how the war with Grindewald led to the one with You-Know-Who in ways no one had predicted. Like, the economy was suffering beneath the surface and no one saw it. It lasted through the fifties and affected places like Diagon Alley. And, a lot of people were lost in the war. Some were living in muggle areas and died in muggle bombing and such."
"That's right. Thank you, Colin." Hestia started walking back and forth in the front of the room a little, getting into her lecturing mode. Dudley got read to take notes.
"We are going to call You-Know-Who 'Tom' in this class for the duration of this unit. It's not as much of a mouthful, and according to Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, that is his birth name."
Dudley heard some gasps, and he understood. The snake-like, evil man he'd heard
about had once been born, like a human! And with a name like Tom, of all names!
"Tom's reign began with small instances, he crept into our society through small attacks that couldn't be traced in any way, word of dark materials being bought through illegal channels, shops being robbed of expensive, dangerous items. It wasn't reported, officials in the Ministry didn't know what to make of it at first. They were still recovering in ways the public didn't see from the war with Grindewald—they didn't think it was anything to worry about."
Dudley was taking notes hurriedly, hoping he'd be able to read his handwriting later.
"What Colin said about the many deaths was correct. Grindewald had the most influence over near Germany, but his reach soon stretched even farther than Tom ever managed, which is throughout Eastern Europe, all the way to us, and to places as far as some contacts in America."
Grindewald—farther than Tom achieved
"But as things became more serious, people started to notice. It was around this time that a sign was being seen at places of murders. The murders weren't being covered up anymore, and the public was starting to get nervous."
Hestia hit the desk with her wand, and a projector started to rise up from it, like it was growing from the wood. Dudley wasn't even surprised—not much about everyday magics stunned him anymore.
The whiteboard became a screen. Hestia was able to put pictures on the projector, or tap it with her wand to play slideshows or movies, and if she used her finger to point to something on it her hand would be projected—she'd used it a couple times before. Now she tapped it with her wand to show a picture.
Dudley thought it looked rather sinister, and a couple of kids gasped. Dudley glanced beside his seat to Sally, and saw her hands over her mouth and tears in her eyes.
"Sally?" He muttered. She glances over, lowered her hands, and gave him a wan smile.
I'm alright, she mouthed back. Dudley wasn't so sure, but he turned his attention back to Hestia as she did.
"Does anyone know what this is?"
The picture depicted a smoky, green image of a skull with a snake coming out from the mouth.
Dudley drew an approximation of this in his notebook.
Hestia looked around the room. Justin's hand was up in the air a little uncertainly. "Justin?" She called out. "Can you tell us?"
"It's called, um, the Dark Mark. It's You-Know—oh, Tom's sign. It caused a lot of terror, right?"
Hestia nodded. "Perfect. Thank you, Justin. Now one knows where it came from, but yes, this is Tom's sign. His followers, the Death Eaters, are now known to have this tattooed on their left forearms, but we didn't know this back when he was just starting to emerge."
Dark Mark: Green, smoky skull. Snake coming out of mouth.
Put above places of murders
Tattooed on follower's arms
WHO DOES THAT?
Dudley didn't see any reason to avoid writing Voldemort's real name, as long as he made sure not to say it. It was his little way of rebellion, he supposed.
"At this point," Hestia continued, "The Ministry was taking action. This was about the year 1970. He'd been around a lot longer, and causing trouble since the 40's and 50's, but he wasn't known by his new title until the 70's, and his Death Eaters weren't known about.
"I was in school in the 70's, so I wasn't in the conflict directly, but it influenced our every moment. It was growing up during a time of war, much like your generation."
1940's-50's beginning of Voldemort
1970's emerging to wizarding world
Ministry took notice
Actually took action?
"So, what I'm saying is what I've learned—I wasn't actually a part of it."
"It's still better than anything Binns would teach—and he's been around for all of it!" Colin called out to much laughter. Dudley joined in—he'd heard about the horrible History teacher at Hogwarts. It seemed to many students they considered it naptime.
"You know, Colin, I'm not sure if that's really a compliment, considering the comparison." Hestia said with a small smile.
"Aw, just take it as one." Colin advised. "It was meant that way."
"Well then, thank you."
Hestia quickly moved on. Dudley grinned to himself. She'd quickly learned that this class could easily become distracted and get her also involved in a tangent conversation. Yes it was a small class, but they were all very close to each other. It made them more likely to get distracted, somehow.
"The Ministry soon found out about a new group of Dumbledore's, called the Order of the Phoenix."
"Wasn't that kind of a secret organization?" Robert called out. "They mentioned something like that in one of the Potterwatch episodes!" Also, hadn't Ginny or one of the Weasleys mentioned that at one point too?
Hestia nodded, acknowledging the point.
"Yes, that was this time around, when Fudge, our former Minister, was denying Tom's return and discrediting Dumbledore and Harry. So, the Order had to be reformed in secret. Many of the members were new recruits who knew that something was wrong in the world. Most of the old ones had died or been put out of action in the first war.
"This was happening the summer of 1995. There was enough left of the 'old crowd', as they called themselves, to get us started. I wasn't in the Order last time—I was fresh out of school shortly before Halloween of 1981 when it ended, and I took a job with traveling. I helped from overseas a little, but I wasn't in the area.
"In those days, the Order and the Ministry worked together to help each other. Tom was never close to taking over the Ministry. He had his spies there, of course, so they had to be careful about who shared information, and how much. The officials at the Ministry who worked with the Order understood that.
"While this time around some Order members, like Kingsley Shacklebolt, were also spies for Dumbledore, eyes in the Ministry in the Auror department and such. Back then, they worked for Dumbledore with encouragement and support from the Ministry. For the most part."
1970's Ministry worked with Order of the Phoenix
Order led by Albus Dumbledore
Voldemort had spies in Ministry—but not close to taking over
Not like this time
Some old members, but more new.
Old ones had died
Dudley had actually forgotten that horrible image on the screen—the Dark Mark. He was startled when Hestia tapped her wand on the projector and it went away—but it was kind of a relief. It was a terrible image.
She set a photograph on the Projector, and tapped it with her wand to focus the image in the blown up picture. It looked like a lot of people posed for a wizarding picture. They were all pushing and shoving each other good naturedly, and many were hidden behind the ones in front.
"This is a picture that Alastor Moody gave me last summer. Actually, shortly before he died." Hestia looked sickened for a moment, and Dudley abruptly remembered their arrival to the house, Kingsley's patronus, and strong, fierce Hestia sobbing into Dedalus's shoulder.
Merlin. He'd forgotten that. How could he have forgotten that someone had died that day?
Hestia pulled herself together so fast that the students probably hadn't noticed much at all.
"This was the original Order of the Phoenix. He told me all about them, when he showed me the picture. He was one of the ones left. Even though I wasn't in the Order, I did know many of these people personally, whether from school of personal acquaintances from after school." She cleared her throat.
"Moody explained who each person was to me. Many of them died in the first war. As you can see here, Moody and Dedalus are here." She pointed, then used her finger to nudge them over. She continued to name each person, and she gave a short descrpition of each. However, she was careful not to give too many details about the many deaths.
Dudley was grateful. He didn't want to look at all those smiling, oblivious faces and know that they were blown up or hunted down or whatever else the Death Eaters did.
She did give them some details, though.
"This is Gideon Prewett. His brother isn't in this picture. His name was Fabian, and they were twins." Dudley looked at the man she was pointing to. He was tall, with a wide, slightly goofy grin to his face. He was also a redhead. He looked kind of like...
"The Prewett brothers were the elder twin brothers of Mrs. Weasley." Hestia unknowingly confirmed his suspicions. Gideon looked like another set of twins they all knew and loved.
"They were real heroes, from what I've heard." Hestia said softly. "It took five Death Eaters to bring them down." The class grew quiet for a moment, in a moment of remembrance for two heroes.
"These," Hestia pushed the figures over again, "Are Frank and Alice Longbottom."
"Neville's parents?" Someone called out with surprise prominent in their voice.
"Neville Longbottom? The boy leading the students at Hogwarts?" Another asked.
"Yeah. He's a seventh year in Gryffindor."
Hestia seemed amused and let the students answer each other, but then she took control of the discussion again. "Yes, they're Neville's parents. They were very highly talented and respected Aurors in their day. They got directly accepted into the program after school. I knew them both, though I was the slightest bit younger than them at school. They were both very incredible individuals."
She had a note of sorrow in her voice, and Dudley remembered with horror where he had hear the name Alice before. Hestia and his mum had talked about his Aunt Lily's best friend.
The one that Hestia had told Petunia, with tears in her voice, that had been tortured into insanity.
He swallowed hard. "What happened to them?" Colin asked in a subdued voice. All the students seemed that way. Dudley supposed it was one thing to hear about random strangers who died at heroes, but none of them knowing what had happened to their fellow student's parents? Their friend's parents?
"Shortly after Tom was defeated in 1981, his followers began to be picked up, slowly, to be brought to Azkaban. However, some were still free. Four or five of them tracked the Longbottoms down, thinking that Alice and Frank would know what happened to their master." Hestia took a deep breath. "They were tortured into insanity and are permanent patients in St. Mungos."
Students gasped. Someone sobbed. Hestia nodded in understanding.
"It was supposed to be safe. The war was over. And yet, terrible things were still able to happen."
After giving them a moment to process, Hestia moved on to the last people in the picture, all the way over by themselves.
It was obvious that they were friends. They were sitting on a wall of some sort, a couple of them standing, and some of them had their arms around each other.
"And here, of course, we have James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew."
She told the story, again, of Pettigrew's betrayal for those who had somehow managed not to hear it. She told the story of the Potter's bravery, and how even she wasn't sure how many times they had faced Voldemort and managed to escape the encounter and survive to tell the tale.
Besides Dorcas Meadowes, they were the only ones in the picture killed directly by Voldemort himself.
Dudley just stared at his aunt and uncle—the ones he had never known. They looked older than the pictures he's seen Hestia show his mum. This was only a few years after the ones he'd seen, but already they looked battle-weary, tired... Lily Potter's eyes finally looked more like her son's. Harry's eyes were old-looking.
And yet they still were in love. He saw the picture-James look down at Lily with adoration in his eyes. Picture-Lily took James's hand in her own without looking. Picture-Sirius threw his arm over James's shoulder with exuberance.
They were so young, and they had no idea what their lives would bring so shortly after this picture.
Dudley was grateful that Hestia quickly moved on.
He'd kept count. There had been twenty-one people in that picture—or at least, that was as close as he could estimate. Only twelve had survived the first war. And two of them are in a hospital forever, one was a traitor, and one had been wrongly imprisoned. So, only eight had been able to go on with their lives.
And only nine were alive now—two of those nine still in a hospital, and one still a traitor.
Out of twenty-one, there were only six functioning and living their lives. And only about half of that were involved with the Order of the Phoenix. It was totally depressing to think about.
Hestia had moved on. Dudley quickly pulled his attention to the subject. She'd be giving them a test soon, and he needed to take notes.
"Now, Tom didn't just fight with his human Death Eaters." Hestia told the class. Dudley blinked. That was news to him. "Not last time, and not this time either, though we're still unsure as to extent of his support this time around.
"Does anyone know any dark creatures who supported Tom in the first war?"
A hand timidly went up. It was Robert.
"Yes?" Hestia nodded at him.
"Um, the Dementors, for sure. They joined him this time too."
"Correct, thank you, Robert. Anyone else? Another one?"
"The Giants!" Someone called out.
"Yes, correct Colin, but hand, next time."
"Sorry." But he didn't look very sorry, just proud to have answered the question.
"So Tom had both the Dementors and Giants on his side, and he recruited some other dark creatures. Does anyone know what?"
"Um... werewolves?" Someone asked.
"Correct. While werewolves themselves are not evil, the Ministry was never very kind to them. They were promised freedom and who-knows-what-else if they joined Tom. Many did."
Dark Creatures That Sided with Voldemort:
Dudley tried to picture kind, soft-spoken Remus as a vicious killer for Voldemort, someone labeled as a 'dark creature', and couldn't. He was gentle. He had friends, family, and as good of a life as he could have in this war.
Dudley could imagine what some of the enemy werewolves would be like. He hoped like hell that he'd never meet one.
"Now, who knows the proper way to defend oneself from Dementors? And who knows about the most recent—before the Ministry was overthrown—piece of werewolf legislation?"
Hands went up, and the lesson went on.
Later Hestia discussed the war from the Aurors' points of view, and what the world was like leading directly up to Halloween of 1981. Apparently, the dreaded Unforgivable Curses had been legalized for the Aurors' use, against the Death Eaters near the end of the war. Dudley wasn't sure what he thought about that.
"It was good, right?" A girl asked. "After all, they were the bad guys, and the Aurors needed to be able to protect themselves and the community. And if they needed to use force, wasn't that better than being beaten?"
"Force doesn't necessitate the Unforgivables, though!" Someone else debated. Hestia was leaning back against her desk, watching with intense interest. "We saw them preformed by that Moody imposter—they're evil curses. There are other spells that can do similar, and that the Aurors should have used instead."
The class got heated then, people taking sides and having opinions. Dudley didn't feel he could relate as well. He didn't know the particulars of the curses, and hadn't learned about them like these people had. It was still a fascinating debate, though.
"Okay, enough of that." Hestia finally broke in. "We can return to this later, if you all want. But for now, who can tell me what was left over from the war cleanup in 1981 that clearly impacted how events spiraled out of control in 1995?"
And they were off.
Dudley knocked on the door, nervous despite himself. He hoped that she'd say yes. After all, he wasn't sure what he'd do if she didn't!
"Coming! Coming!" The door opened wide, showing Sue with yarn tangled around her arms. "Ah, Dudley! Do come in."
"Ah... thanks." Dudley followed the woman into her rooms, looking around curiously in spite of his nerves.
Sue lived in a small set of rooms. From what he could see from the entryway, there was a tiny kitchenette and a living room, and a door leading to what he would assume was a bedroom.
"Sit, sit." Sue encouraged him, gesturing to a soft, worn looking couch in a paisley print. When Dudley sat, though, it was very comfortable.
"All right there, Sue?" Dudley asked.
Sue was a kind woman, and seemed to mother the kids to some extent. She was always around with a smile and a cookie, though Merlin help any child who interrupted her cooking.
Right now, though, she was looking a tad ridiculous, trying to find the end of the skein of yarn, to roll it back into a ball.
"Oh, this is just infuriating!" She exclaimed. "I had taken out the arm of a sweater I was knitting, because it didn't match the other one, not at all! And now it's just tangled..." She trailed off, then sighed. "Now where did I put it?"
What did that mean? And then to Dudley's complete bewilderment, she started rummaging on the coffee table, looking under patterns and books and yarn in a rainbow of other colors.
"Ah-ha!" She exclaimed, and straightened up holding her wand triumphantly. Dudley smiled, seeing her so pleased. But his face quickly morphed into one of shock, when she twirled her wand in a spiral, said something in Latin, and her yarn untangled and rolled itself into a ball!
Wow. And he'd said nothing about magic would shock him now. Who was he kidding?
Sue let out a sigh of relief, sticking her wand back into the bun of hair on her head, and gently tossing the yarn to its brethren.
"That's better. Now, Dudley. Can I get you some tea?"
"No, I'm fine, Sue. Thanks, though."
Sue nodded, sitting down near Dudley in an armchair made from a leathery, red material. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I have a request... no. More like a favor. See, it's like this..."
Merlin. He hoped she'd agree.
Dudley waited nervously at the bottom of the stairs. He seemed to spend a lot of his time nervous, these days.
He knew that every Saturday morning Sally would go to the Library to do her homework with her friends (though they were all technically home schooled—so how did that work).
He knew that because she'd once said he was welcome whenever he wanted.
Dudley didn't want to study right now, but he did want to talk to Sally as soon as possible, and he knew that he wouldn't be this confident for long, if he put it off. And that was really saying something, as he was NOT feeling confident at all, right now.
He heard the staircase moving. This one rotated between two landings on the third floor. It lead down to the second. Quite conveniently, it didn't change on a whim but moved depending on who needed it.
Just a little longer... just another moment...
Yes. It was Sally-Anne and Penny, on their way to meet with their other friends in the Library.
"Sally!" He called out to her as she and Penny reached the second floor, where he was.
"Oh hey, Dudley. Is everything okay?" She walked closer to him, looking concerned. He supposed he must look a sight, all nervous and tense. And his hair had been getting kind of long, lately, and his fingers had been running through it for the last ten minutes.
He hoped he didn't look too horrid.
"Yeah, everything's great, actually, Sally. I was wondering if I could have a word?" He looked apologetically at Penny, but she only shrugged with a wide smile.
"I'll wait in the Library, then, shall I Sally?"
"Please, Penny. Tell them I'll be down in a bit."
Penny nodded and walked away, humming to herself. Dudley and Sally looked after her, soon losing sight of her as her voice drifted away.
"Are you sure you're okay, Dudley?" Sally asked softly, touching his cheek softly with one hand. "You looked awfully worked up."
"Yes, it's just... I'm a little... look. Today's February seventh, right?"
"Right." Sally said a little uncertainly, looking at Dudley with confusion, and her sweet concern (even if he didn't need it, right then, it was still nice to see).
"So next week, on Saturday, seven days from now, will be the fourteenth, right?"
Sally looked like she was catching on now. She started smiling a little, and she was looking at Dudley with affection in her eyes (probably aimed at his stuttering and inability to simply ask her!).
"Yes, Dudley, it is."
"And the fourteenth of February is Valentine's Day, isn't it?"
Sally looked like she was close to laughing now, but she held back. Dudley was glad. He wasn't sure what he'd do if she laughed at him.
"It is, Dudley."
"Good. So, Sally, would you like to spend the day with me next Saturday? On a... date?" He winced. Merlin. He'd completely screwed that up!
But Sally just smiled blindingly up at him. "Yes, Dudley. I'd like that."
He sighed with relief. He'd known that she'd say yes (his ego wouldn't even consider how nervous he'd been mere moments ago about being refused) but it was still good to hear it.
He smiled back at her. "Great! How about I meet you at ten near the Conservatory? We're not spending the day there, but I'll take you to where we'll be."
"Wow, Dudley," She teased him lightly, "Already got the day planned?"
He blushed. He couldn't help it. "Well, yes. At least, some of it."
Her smile was soft, now. "I'm looking forward to it. Thank you for asking, Dudley."
He leaned forward and gave her a light kiss, pulling back after a little bit to leave her smiling dazedly up at him.
"Me too." Then he gave her one last smile and a peck on the cheek, and walked away to find Ethan.
The bloke owed him a galleon. The jerk had thought Sally would end up asking Dudley, because he wouldn't be able to get the words out. The nerve!
Dudley had done just fine on his own.
He was waiting right inside the door to the conservatory at 9:55 Saturday morning of February fourteenth, Valentine's Day.
Five minutes until Sally would get there.
He paced. Looked at his watch.
Four minutes and forty-five seconds.
Checked his pocket to make sure he hadn't lost the key.
Four minutes left.
Turned and kicked a pot holding some kind of shrub, letting out some tension.
Three minutes and thirty seconds until Sally would show up.
He hoped Sue had gotten the last minute details done this morning.
Should he have offered to help? What if she forgot what he had wanted?
Paced some more.
He spun to pace back towards the door, only to freeze, surprised.
Sally was standing uncertainly by the door, looking around. She was early!
Her eyes met his, and she relaxed, smiling at him.
"Dudley!" She cried, and he walked over to her.
"Hello, Sally." He bent down and gave her a lingering kiss, smiling into her lips. "It's good to see you." She'd been busy the last couple of days, and of course he'd been preparing for today. He hadn't seen her at all outside of class.
He backed up, looking at her. She was wearing a pair of jeans, as he'd told her to be casual and comfortable, but they were soft-washed, light ones that fit her perfectly. She was wearing a light, pink blouse with a white unbuttoned sweater over it.
She was a vision, with the light from the rare, sunny February day coming in through the glass ceiling.
"Wow. Just, wow, Sally."
A pink blush spread across her cheeks, looking very pretty. "Thank you, Dudley. You look very handsome." Dudley wasn't wearing anything special, but he had made en effort to look nice. He'd picked out a clean pair of dark jeans with a light green button down shirt, unbuttoned at the collar and with the sleeves rolled up a couple of times.
Sue had also helped trim his hair a little. He liked it a little longer, but he didn't want it as shaggy. Sue had done perfectly.
Sally now ran her fingers a little timidly through his hair, but as he closed his eyes at the nice feeling, she smiled and her movements became more confident.
"I like the haircut." She said simply, reclaiming her hand. Dudley opened his eyes and smiled back.
"Yes. Any hint of where we're going?"
"I can tell you it's in the house."
"That's not saying much, Dudley! We're not allowed out." But despite her mock glare and reprimanding tone, Dudley could see the corners of her mouth twitching. She was amused.
Dudley led Sally to a room on the third floor, towards the back of the house, but in the main wing. He had found it some weeks ago, and had asked Sue for help fixing it up. They—but mostly she, due to the magical needs the room had—really had done an amazing job on it.
The room wasn't too big, but the whole back wall was glass, looking out over trees coated with snow, and the wilderness behind the house. The room had forest green walls and plush, off white carpeting that was like clouds beneath their feet.
Before Dudley had commandeered the room it had been used for storage, with dirty carpeting and boxes and broken furniture littering it. Sue had helped clean and restore it with magic. While there might have been a room somewhere easier to clean, Dudley had been drawn to the windows of this room. He had known that he wanted to spend the day with Sally here.
He stopped in front of the closed door, stopping Sally by squeezing her hand held in his.
"We stopping here?" Sally looked around curiously, obviously growing intrigued when she didn't see anything that stood out as 'Valentine's Day'.
Dudley hoped she wouldn't be disappointed. He didn't like the whole pink, frilly, rose petal and cupid clichés of the holiday. He thought Sally felt the same way. He hoped he was right.
"Ye-yeah. Can you, uh, close your eyes?" At her questioning look, "It's a surprise. I just want you to, well..."
She giggled and complied with a wide grin. "Ready!" She announced.
Well, this was it.
He opened the door and took her hand again. "Slowly," he warned her, not wanting her to trip moving from the wood floor of the hallway to the different texture flooring of the room.
She moved with him, and he reached back to softly shut the door behind them. Dudley was enthused to see that she didn't look anything but excited. She seemed to trust him to lead her while her eyes were closed. That meant a great deal to him, particularly with all the hardships in her life.
"All right, Sally. You can open your eyes."
She did so. Slowly she turned around, taking in the room around them. Dudley had a fire roaring in the room. In front of the grand fireplace was a blue blanket laid out like a picnic blanket. On it was a wicker basket with a tall handle, covered with a cloth napkin. Inside was a charm allowing Sue to stuff it full with more delicacies and treats than should actually fit. Dudley had helped her to cook and bake all the day before.
There was a loveseat on one side of the room, and on a small table was an old record player that Dudley and Sue had fixed, and a whole collection of records that had been in one of the numerous boxes.
And Dudley had asked Petunia for dancing lessons. He'd worked hard, and his mum was proud of his quick learning.
Sally looked teary-eyed at the room. "You fixed up this room and did all this, just for me? For today?"
"Yeah," Dudley said, but then admitted, "Plus, it could be a bit of a get away for us, you know, in the future when we want to be able to get away and just talk, and not have friends all over us. I mean, I love our friends! But sometimes, what I mean is—"
Thankfully Sally cut him off with a quick kiss. "Thank you, Dudley. This is so sweet. However did you do it?"
He led her over to the loveseat, sitting down and telling her about finding the room, and then begging Sue for assistance. Between his grunt work and her wand they had made quick work of cleaning. Sally was impressed.
"That's amazing. Really. It's the best Valentine's Day I could hope for."
"I'm glad. I mean, I can't take you out. You know, to dinner, or a movie, or anything. This isn't a normal teenage relationship." He shrugged sheepishly. He wished he could take her out.
"Oh, Dudley. I don't care about any of that. We can't do much about that, and at least we're alive and safe here. And I love just spending time with you, talking, or hanging out with our friends."
"Good." And it was. Good, that is.
Dudley's stomach grumbled right then, and he blushed.
"Hungry?" Sally teased him kindly.
"Um, yeah. See, I didn't really eat much breakfast."
The truth was that he hadn't eaten at all. He was too nervous.
"How about you show me what you have stashed away in that basket then?" She asked with a sly smile. Dudley grinned at her. She was perfect.
Dudley and Sally had spent all of Valentine's Day until dinner in that room. They'd played some chess against each other (Sally had been teaching him chess and then wizards chess for a few weeks) and slowly eaten their way through the picnic basket. They'd talked more about their childhoods, getting to know each other. They'd stayed away from depressing subjects, sharing birthday parties, class projects, family vacations, and more.
Sally had been truly impressed with his dancing. They'd laid on the blanket together, listening to music for close to an hour.
It had been a perfect day.
School continued as normal. So did the weekends, for the most part, as they moved towards the end of February. Sally and Dudley escaped to 'their room', sometimes, but being surrounded by their friends was comforting as well, when hearing reports about the war.
But the safe house continued to be apart from the war, in a way. They hadn't received any more visitors. Patronus messages were infrequent, and owls were only sent with the utmost care and necessity. The kids, while careful and always slightly on edge, felt as normal as they could.
That is, until the last Saturday in February.
"Dudley! Come on!"
"What's with him?" Dudley was talking to Sally, but he looked after his best friend with wide eyes. Ethan was almost skipping as he ran ahead of them, doubled back, and started forward again.
"Merlin, Ethan, I'm coming! Calm down."
His words didn't seem to make much of a difference. Dudley sighed. Sally was giggling next to him.
"Wow, Dudley. You're becoming one of us."
Dudley looked at her questioningly. "What does that mean?"
"You say 'Merlin' instead of 'God', or some other Muggle phrase. You're spending too much time with us!" As she said it Dudley saw a twinkle in her eyes that said she was teasing him.
He decided to tease her back.
"Oh, really? Maybe I should go back to my room, then. I mean, if I'm spending too much time with you guys I should isolate myself, right?" He grinned at her, but before she could answer Ethan was there, a hand on Dudley's arm holding him in place.
"No! You can't go! I told you were had a surprise!"
"Mate, I was kidding. You know, a joke?"
"Oh, right. Sorry." He grinned sheepishly and led the way down the hallway again.
Dudley looked at Sally who was rolling her eyes. "Really. What is up with him?"
"He's just excited."
"About the surprise you have for me?"
Sally let him think about that as they walked in silence. Even with how much had changed since the summer, the idea of someone being excited about giving something to someone else was still a little... odd to Dudley. It was just unlike anything in his earlier life.
He suspected that Harry would enjoy giving something to someone else. Maybe Dudley should try it sometime. He had enjoyed giving Sally presents, and his mum, at Christmas time.
He'd given Sally flowers on Valentine's Day. Pretty ones that he'd picked in the conservatory. Sue had charmed them to last longer.
Sally was watching him with a contemplative expression. Dudley had told her an awful lot about his life and upbringing since they'd been together. (It was official, them being together. On Valentine's Day he'd asked her, stuttering all the while, to be his girlfriend. He had a girlfriend. How neat was that?) So he knew that she was probably guessing what he was thinking. She'd been getting pretty good at that.
She gave him a soft smile, looking away when he caught her eye. She looked kind of proud of him.
He looked down at her left wrist. She was wearing the charm bracelet he'd given her. Hestia had helped him get it. The only charms right now were a small sunflower to match her necklace, and a small 'S' that he'd made her.
"Where are we going, Ethan?" Dudley hoped the third time would be a charm. Maybe his friend would answer this time.
Dudley wasn't so lucky. "You'll see," was the only answer. Dudley sighed but resigned himself to his 'surprise'. He followed Ethan, shaking his head, with a giggling Sally next to him, who was giving him sympathetic looks through her snickering.
They eventually went, to Dudley's surprise, to the basement. Since it was still really early in the morning—only seven am, and Dudley didn't know why he was even awake at this time—there was no one else there. In fact, Dedalus was giving dueling lessons in a cleared out dining room today, so no one would be coming down at any point. Probably.
Dudley wasn't going to go to the lessons. He wouldn't be able to do the spells and participate anyway, and this wasn't for fun. These dueling sessions were for the kids to learn to defend themselves.
They weren't mandatory, but everyone went. Which is why Dudley was planning on spending his day alone. When Ethan had shaken him out of a deep sleep and led him to an awake Sally in the hallway, he started suspecting that he wouldn't be as alone as he'd thought.
But why were Ethan and Sally going to miss the lessons?
He asked them that on their way down the stairs to the basement.
"Ethan and I are some of the oldest students here," Sally explained, "And we normally end up helping more than learning. Even me, though I'm still a bit behind. They won't miss us if we're not there for once, and we don't really need to be there."
"I'm really okay by myself, though," Dudley reassured them. "I've done it before."
"But that's not why we're here!" Ethan exclaimed, jumping down the last step ahead of Sally and Dudley. "We have a—"
"A surprise. I know." Dudley said dully. But he shot Ethan a look. Even if his friend was being infuriating, he knew Ethan meant well.
"Yeah, yeah." Ethan hurried away towards a long, wrapped package by a wall. Dudley shot Sally a look.
"It's a gift." She explained.
"But, but why? I mean, it's not my birthday, or a holiday." It was one thing to give presents on those occasions, but his parents had been the only ones to give him gifts other times. And the Dudley that had demanded those presents wasn't one Dudley wanted to be associated with anymore.
"Dudley," Sally said quietly, "Friends don't have to have reasons to give each other presents."
"We want to, Dud." Ethan had calmed down some. He seemed to understand how monumental this moment was to Dudley. He was walking over with the package in his arms, but he let Dudley think.
Not Piers, or Dennis, or any of his other friends would ever have done something like that. But, did real friends do those things often? Give something for no reason at all?
Dudley decided to give it a try. He shrugged to his friends.
"Alright, then. Thank you, I guess."
"Dudley," Ethan sighed, "You have to open it first."
Dudley grinned, the prospect of getting a present just hitting him. "Okay!" He slowly unwrapped the long parcel, getting suspicious as to its shape, but unsure... not sure what it could mean...
"A—a broomstick?" He asked dumbly. It was obviously a broomstick. With a dark brown handle and neatly trimmed twigs it could be nothing else. The engraving on the handle declared it some kind of comet. Dudley was a broomstick appreciator, but couldn't pretend to know anything about the models.
"Yeah." Ethan said simply. Dudley just continued to look at him dumbly. Was it a joke? Dudley couldn't ride a broomstick! Ethan knew that!
"Ethan!" Sally hissed. Ethan jumped.
"Oh, right! No, dud. You can ride this one!"
"What? I mean... how is that possible?" It made no sense. If there was a broomstick that muggles could ride, wouldn't Hestia have known? Or Dedalus, or anyone?
"We—that is, me, Sally, Hestia, Ded and Sue—have been working on this broomstick in our free time. We've been discecting the spells on it, adding some, and charming it, and all. Now, it won't work all the time. We're still working on that, and we will get it sometime. However, for now it will work in the basement. We made it so that the broom will work off the magic in the air instead of the rider's magic. And the basement is completely saturated will magic, from building the house over it, and from making the Quidditch pitch down here."
"So... it will work for me?" Dudley would think about all that later. For now, the only part he understood was that he could ride a broom.
Sally laughed. "Yes, Dudley. You can ride it."
They wasted no time. Dudley needed plenty of help, mounting and taking off, steering, accelerating, landing, all of it. Luckily he had two of the best flyers in the Manor with him.
And learning was fun. It was flying, it was amazing, it was like nothing he'd ever experienced...
It was magic. This was the only magic thing he'd really wanted to be able to do. And his friends had known that and made it possible.
"Whoooppeee!" Dudley shouted, spinning a circle around a hysterically laughing Sally. Ethan came up next to him, grinning wildly.
"Race ya!" He yelled, and without waiting took off towards the goals.
Dudley had gotten the hang of this, now. They'd been flying for hours and hours. They'd missed both breakfast and lunch, but Dudley couldn't find it in himself to care. He was having too much fun.
"You're on!" He shouted, zooming after his friend.
Sally was gaining her breath when Dudley and Ethan finished their race, Ethan winning by a thread.
"Do you think we should be finding food soon?" She asked them. Dudley was impressed that both Ethan and Sally had been able to wait so long to eat. Flying was a novelty for Dudley, but not them.
"Yeah, sorry I've kept you down here for so long." Dudley said. "It's just... this has been... Thank you." It wasn't enough, but there were no words for what he wanted to say. They seemed to understand.
"We were happy to do it, Dudley. And we'll make it work for when we get to leave hiding. We wanted you to have it, to be able to fly yourself."
"Besides," Ethan added with a wicked grin, "Flying best with friends. It was no fun not being able to fly with my best friend!"
Dudley grinned back at him. They were just about to land their brooms when something happened that froze them all in the air.
A loud voice was heard. It was Dedalus's. And he wasn't in the basement. He was projecting his voice all over the house, like he had told them he could and would do...
In case of an extreme emergency.
"ATTENTION HOUSEHOLD. THIS IS DEDALUS. EVERYONE MUST COME TO THE OLD BALLROOM IMMEDIATELY."
The three of them exchanged horrified looks. That room had been converted into a safe room, in the safe house. It was layered with enchantment upon enchantment. It was also the meeting point in case of anything going wrong.
They landed hurriedly, leaving their broomsticks on the floor and sprinting for the stairs to get them the fastest way to the ballroom on the main floor. They picked up stray kids coming from bedrooms and playrooms and libraries, all running in the same direction as fast as their legs could take them.
"ATTENTION, THIS IS A REPEAT," Dedalus said, though there was no way anyone could have missed his first announcement, "EVERYONE TO THE BALLROOM STRAIGHT AWAY.
"A SAFEHOUSE HAS BEEN ATTACKED."
So, what do you think? Fluff, fun, but the end...
Well, from my perspective, we've been ignoring the war for too long. It gave them a reprieve, but it's back. No one and nothing is able to ignore it. Our favorite heroes, after all, are out risking their lives.
So, Thank you for reading, and please review. I'd like to thank my sister, Lollypops101 for her help with Valentine's Day. Both Vitzy and lyaser53 were great help with talking about broomsticks and such (it was you two, right? It's hard to keep track of PMs, sometimes, so I hope so, and sorry if not). I had to figure out how to make a muggle fly- Not the easiest thing! :)
Again, thank you to all my anonymous reviewers. I'm not going to reply individually, but it really means a lot to me that you review, even if I can't send a message back. So, thank you and please continue.
Till next time, friends!