Big Star About to Fall
Summary: It seemed even Aunt Petunia couldn't justify yelling at Harry for, say, dirtying Dudley's fists with his blood. Post-Philosopher's Stone AU. Not as dark as it might sound; not any darker than the HP books, in fact.
When Harry walked through the front door of Number Four Privet Drive, he was planning on tip-toeing up the stairs and locking himself in the bathroom, but his path was blocked by Aunt Petunia, who was apparently in a mood. Past her, he caught sight of Dudley sitting in front of the telly, who was busy devouring a large bowl of chocolate ice cream, but not too busy to spare a glare in Harry's direction.
"Where have you been, boy?" Aunt Petunia snapped. "I told you to be home at five, and now it's ten past—"
Aunt Petunia's mouth fell shut. She stared at Harry's face in horror, making him wonder how bad he looked.
He hadn't had a handkerchief, and he hadn't wanted to get blood all over his jumper (he'd be yelled at, and he'd have to scrub out the stains himself), so he'd simply left the bloody nose alone until he could get home and rinse it off under the bathroom faucet. He'd considered sneaking the use of the neighbour's garden hose, but had figured those gossips would tell Aunt Petunia straight away if they saw him.
His Aunt was scowling at him now. "Wh-what— have you been in a fight, you silly boy? Not only are you late, but you're going to get blood all over my carpet! Exactly who were you fighting?"
Harry couldn't stop himself; his eyes automatically went in search of his Cousin's face. Half-turning, Aunt Petunia followed his gaze, so she, too, caught the way Dudley's expression froze for a moment before he glared again at Harry, his shoulders hunching up and his arms pressing protectively against the sides of the big ice cream bowl.
When Aunt Petunia swivelled around again to face Harry, she was gaping at him. No sound was heard except the telly as Aunt Petunia glanced back and forth her son and her Nephew, like a spectator at a tennis match, before her eyes finally settled on Harry.
For a moment, it looked as if she wanted to chastise him, but her mouth snapped shut once more.
It seemed even Aunt Petunia couldn't justify yelling at Harry for, say, dirtying Dudley's fists with his blood.
Aunt Petunia stared at her son, then, uncharacteristically speechless. Her lips and hands were trembling slightly, her thin eyebrows knitting with what looked like a sort of frightened confusion, like somebody in denial of seeing a ghost. Then she seemed to snap out of it just as quickly, her skinny features rearranging themselves into a resolved expression. "Dudley, please go to your room right now," she said with an eerie sort of calm that told Harry she wasn't calm at all.
"What?" Dudley and Harry chorused, Harry just as blindsided as his Cousin.
"Go to your room, Dudley," Aunt Petunia repeated, her voice quivering. "You can come down for dinner, but you're not to go outside with your friends tomorrow, all right?"
Dudley gaped stupidly at his mother. He'd never been grounded before. Never. "But Mum, I haven't finished my ice cream—!"
"Dudley Dursley, you go to your room right now," his mother insisted, and her voice had turned unexpectedly hard; it was a tone she'd only ever used on Harry, never on her own son. Dudley had never been a sensible boy, but the harmonics of that voice must've sparked something in his reptilian brain, because he scrambled up from his chair, his piggy eyes wide, and thundered down the hallway as if working on autopilot.
Whirling around, his aunt fixed Harry with a sharp stare. "Did you threaten him with…with magic?"
"No!" Harry replied at once, itching to add that you seldom had to provoke Dudley for him to have a reason to attack you. It was true that there had been an implied (but idle) threat of magic all summer, simply because the Dursleys didn't know he wasn't allowed to use magic outside of Hogwarts and he purposefully hadn't bothered telling them of this rule, but he'd never spoken any actual threats out loud, least of all today, and he certainly hadn't used any magic or harmed them in any way. Considering the fact that the Dursleys had been threatening him quite vocally for as long as he could remember, not to mention following through on many of those threats, he hardly felt guilty about only spooking them a little.
Dudley, it seemed, had finally been fed up with the state of things and had wanted to reinstate the old power balance. Harry wondered how long it would take Dudley to realize Harry hadn't defended himself with magic. Perhaps he could bluff and say he'd forgot his wand at home (as if he'd ever leave it lying around for the Dursleys to find).
Not expecting his aunt to take him at his word (they never did), he was perplexed when she seemed to deflate. "Fine," she said tightly, sounding annoyed but resigned.
Harry stared. She believed him? "What?" he asked, blinking at her as he received his second big surprise that day.
She ignored it. "You look terrible, let's get you cleaned up," she said firmly, clapping a hand on his wrist and dragging him towards the kitchen. Harry couldn't help but notice she wasn't being as rough as usual; not gripping or pulling him as hard.
Harry sat still on a kitchen chair as Aunt Petunia cleaned his face with some wet paper towels before wiping it once more, this time with some sort of disinfectant. Harry winced as she dabbed at his nose, wincing again when she was done and he had to put his damaged glasses back on. Sighing, he wished he was allowed to at least use Oculus Reparo.
"Let's put some frozen peas on that," suggested Petunia matter-of-factly, making him realize she'd noticed him grimacing in pain. "They'll be ruined, of course, but…" she added, more to herself than to him, as she fussed about in the freezer for the peas. After she'd handed him the bag, she practically slumped into the chair opposite him, her eyes welling up.
His aunt had never really given him a reason to be kind to her before, but she looked so pitiful, sitting there with her ashen face all creased up with some sort of inner crisis, her tearful stare focused on something several miles away or something in another world (she'd probably yell at him for suggesting other worlds existed), that the rare and unfamiliar impulse struck him.
Standing up, he silently handed her a napkin from the silver napkin holder on her immaculate kitchen counter.
Aunt Petunia looked up, startled. "Thank you," she said in a small, tense voice as she took the napkin, quickly dabbing at her eyes. Harry wondered if it was merely a conditioned response, automatic manners; even so, it was one of the few times in his life she'd ever uttered the words to him.
Sighing, Harry sat down, applying the bag of frozen peas to his nose. "Why are you crying, anyway?" he finally asked, when the silence grew long and Aunt Petunia didn't seem to emerge from her near-catatonic state.
From behind the bag of peas, he couldn't see her face, but from the lost tone of her voice as she answered, maybe that was just as well. "I suppose…Dudley's basically a nice boy, isn't he? I mean, he can be a bit forceful, but boys will be boys and all that, right?"
Harry squirmed a bit on his chair; the Dursleys never asked his opinion about anything if they could help it, and the fact that Aunt Petunia was doing it now, sounding like that, and asking about her precious son no less, made everything feel even more alien and uncomfortable.
"I'm a boy and I'm not like that," Harry muttered, the peas muffling his voice further. This evening was so strange that he cared even less about being scolded than usual. "And if you want to hear how nice Dudley is, you might be asking the wrong person."
Aunt Petunia didn't answer, didn't hiss that of course he was nothing like her perfect little Duddums, that he was a wizard weirdo. In the silence, he wondered if she was so offended by his answer that she was merely scowling at him.
"I don't know why you're reacting now, anyway," Harry mumbled, shooting her his own unseen scowl through the peas. "He's been beating me up for years."
"Yesterday, I had to run out for some milk, and was walking home from the supermarket when I passed the playground down the street," Aunt Petunia said then, in this quiet, faraway little voice that sounded nothing like her. Harry slid the frozen bag off to one side to take a peek at her face; she wasn't scowling at all. "Dudley didn't see me, but I saw him," she went on, biting her lip. He noticed she was wringing the used napkin in her long, thin hands. "He was…it wasn't just him, you see, there was also that Piers Polkiss, but he was…my Dudders was hitting a boy who couldn't have been any older than eight, really hitting him," she explained haltingly, her voice dropping to a whisper now, "and when he tried to run away, Dudley made…he made Piers hold the boy's little arms so he could keep on…" Her voice trailed away, her head bowed. "The boy's little sister was watching…"
The acute sense of discomfort doubling, Harry found he was actually feeling embarrassed on her behalf now. He wanted to tell her Dudley had been doing these things for years (not usually to eight-year-olds, but still), but somehow couldn't bring himself to say it.
Raising her head suddenly, then, Petunia sniffed, drawing herself up. "I don't mind him roughhousing with boys his own age, mind you," she insisted, dabbing at her eyes again with the now twisted-up napkin, her back straight and stiff. "Vernon wants Dudley to take up boxing when he's older."
Harry could easily picture the great lump kitted up for boxing (although they'd have to invent a whole new weight class just for him), and the prospect of his Cousin learning to hit him faster and with more precision was not a happy one.
Aunt Petunia stood up, appearing flustered and humiliated and clearly regretting what she'd said. "I could do with a spot of tea," she said briskly, bustling with the kettle and opening several cupboards, as if she'd forgot where she kept the tea, sugar and biscuits, "and I have to get started on dinner, anyway, Vernon'll be home soon."
Getting up from his chair and putting the melting bag of peas in the sink, Harry began to slink off past the living room and down the hallway to go to his room. It appeared his aunt wanted him out of the way, and he'd gladly oblige her. Dudley's bowl of chocolate ice cream was turning into chocolate soup on the coffee table.
"Well!" snapped Aunt Petunia abruptly, bringing him to an immediate stop. "That's rather rude! I've put out a cup and biscuits for you and everything, and you just leave?"
Stunned, Harry turned around to see there was indeed a small plate of chocolate biscuits and a tea cup on the table, waiting for him. Aunt Petunia was standing by the stove with her back to him, just putting the electric kettle on. His first impulse was to make a remark about how she ought to be accustomed to rude, ungrateful children by now, but what came out was merely a surprised "Right, sorry" as he shuffled back to the table to sit down.
A steaming mug of tea followed soon after. She'd added two sugars. Usually, he got none at all. One, if he was very lucky.
It was beginning to dawn on Harry that Petunia was having genuine trouble reconciling her darling Duddykins with the boy who beat up eight-year-olds and who sent her Nephew home with a black eye and a bloody nose. Broken glasses was one thing…this seemed to be quite another. He'd never actually bled before.
As he sat there and ate and drank while Petunia began preparing dinner, taking the occasional sip from her own tea cup that she'd placed somewhere in between the accumulating dinner ingredients on the kitchen counter, Harry felt a jolt of rare enjoyment (rare in this place, anyway) as he pretended he was eating all of Dudley's biscuits and he wouldn't have any left for after dinner. It helped that he knew these were Dudley's favourites. If Harry ever got a biscuit in this house, it was usually a Custard Cream nearing or possibly past its sell by date. Dudley couldn't abide Custard Creams.
After dinner, he spent the evening lying on his bed, wondering to himself whether Aunt Petunia would ever breach the subject of Dudley's misdeeds to Uncle Vernon.
Sunday breakfast was usually a quiet affair…unless Dudley threw one of his tantrums. He was storming downstairs from his room now, heading towards the kitchen, where his mother was cooking bacon and eggs and Uncle Vernon was reading the newspaper while he waited, Harry setting the table as usual.
"Daaad! I broke my new video gaaaame! We have to go into town and buy a new one!"
There was a brusque clearing of the throat behind the newspaper, followed by a pause. "I only just bought you that game, Dudders, and money doesn't grow on trees," Uncle Vernon rumbled eventually, not looking up from his reading.
Dudley came to a screeching halt in the doorway of the kitchen. "What?"
Harry noticed Aunt Petunia sending her husband a nervous, but approving look before turning back to the stove. Something was going on. Harry went to get the cutlery from a kitchen drawer so he wouldn't look so eager about listening to the unusual conversation.
"You're becoming a young man, Dudley, and you need to learn the value of a pound and the value of property, so unless you start treating your things with respect, you won't get any new ones until your birthday," continued Uncle Vernon, the newspaper still held in front of his face like a shield, as if he couldn't look his son in the face while admonishing him.
"But Dad…!" Dudley complained.
Harry had been mistaken. Uncle Vernon wasn't afraid to look at his son after all, because next, he slapped the newspaper down on the breakfast table, his face even redder than usual, his expression wretched with the unaccustomed anger directed at his beloved Dudley. "No buts, Dudley! Do you know any other children who's got so many broken toys they've needed an entire extra bedroom to store them, and now the attic?"
"Dad!" he objected, in a scandalized and befuddled tone that clearly begged the question: But you've been fine with that for years, why are you suddenly giving me a scolding about it now? His porcine face took on a calculating look, then, and Harry knew he was going to try his usual method of manipulation through acting as if he was younger and more scared or worried than he really was: "Dad, you're not having trouble at work, are you?" he wheedled, his eyes going big and concerned. "Is that why you have to save money?"
This was apparently the utterly wrong thing to say, though. "What? No, work's going fine, never better— in fact, we just got a new deal with—" Uncle Vernon protested indignantly, his voice rising in volume, his face turning purple now, his moustache twitching, "You're completely missing the point, son! It's not that we can't afford these things, because we can, and I like buying you gifts, I do," he insisted, his gaze flickering towards his wife for a second before refocusing sternly on his son, "but you have to understand that Daddy works very hard every day, and to see you throwing all his hard-earned money away like that— well, it makes you seem a bit ungrateful, now that I've thought about it."
Dudley shrank back. "Dad, you're scaring me," he whined, laying it on thick.
Uncle Vernon rose from his seat like some sort of underground troll bursting through the earth, his hammy fists clenching. His voice was surprisingly quiet when he spoke, however: "You're getting too old for that, son." It seemed Dudley had laid it on too thick.
Now Harry was sure Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had had a little talk together about Dudley.
"This has got to do with him, hasn't it?" Dudley demanded then, narrowing his eyes at Harry.
Uncle Vernon harrumphed uncomfortably. "Among other things, Dudley, only among other things."
Even as he spoke to his father, Dudley went on scowling at Harry. "What other things?"
Again, Uncle Vernon glanced at Aunt Petunia for support, who nodded. "I think it's time we had a little talk about money and about fighting fair, Dudders," he said, walking around the kitchen table to lead his son out of the room.
Dudley followed, the scowl on his face deepening and being joined by a pout. On the way out, he paused to give Harry's shin a sulky little kick.
Neither Aunt Petunia nor Uncle Vernon commented on this petty act of revenge.
Some things never changed, thought Harry, as he went to get the tea cups. Dudley might be getting a harder time of it, but that didn't mean Harry was going to suddenly be treated like a king. Oh well, he thought, grinning to himself as he snuck a piece of bacon (which Aunt Petunia chose to ignore, for some reason), at least it was going to be hilarious to get to watch Dudley being forced to exercise what little self-restraint he had.
Author's notes: And then Dudley was forced to diet. Ohohohoh. Uh, anyway. I actually love the Dursleys. I consider them one of the best parts of the HP books, even if they reek of Roald Dahl rip-off. They're petty, narrow-minded, selfish people, but fun to read about, and fun to write about, especially Aunt Petunia's issues with the magical world.
I also appreciate Harry's character a lot more in the books than in the movies. He's got a nice, dry, kind of dark sense of humour, even as a child.
Since it was established in Order of the Phoenix that Dudley beat up ten-year-olds at fifteen, I don't think it's much of a stretch to have him beating up eight-year-olds at eleven/twelve.
Title stolen from the lyrics of the song Farewell Transmission by the band named Songs: Ohia.
Mama, here comes midnight
With the dead moon in its jaw
Must be the big star about to fall