A/N: I've had this sitting on my computer for a while and finally feel like I have something I sort of like, though I never quite got this to be what I wanted it to be. PLEASE NOTE: Voldemort is sort of a...non-issue. There's a reason. If something seems like it doesn't make sense...don't overthink it. Go with it. This is MEANT to be a simplified tale, so accept what it is. The story will be continued in Part 2 when I get that part cleaned up in a couple of days.
I. Dudley Dursley was sixteen months old and in possession of a fierce set of lungs.
Godric's Hollow was a loud, chaotic mess as the blonde boy screamed and a redhead frantically soothed and a black-haired man bent in solemn, sober discussion with a grey-haired man in purple robes. In the corner, a curly-headed man held another infant and bounced him up and down, trying to keep him calm even as he let out a distressed whimper now and then at his cousin's terrible squalling.
Lily Potter was near her wit's end trying to calm the miserable infant whose life had changed only an hour ago. Her own life had just shattered, but she couldn't think about that now, couldn't let herself feel the agony piercing her heart. She nearly collapsed when Albus Dumbledore brought the news, and she would have if not for James's arms around her and the baby resting in the old man's arms. The grief would have sent her to pieces, and they all knew that and gave her a job to do, something that ought to distract her.
But it wasn't working. As soon as Dudley was handed to his aunt, he began to wail. It reminded Lily more keenly of her failings, reminded her she had never made peace with her sister before going into hiding. She thought they were safe, when she thought of them at all. Her sister had made her intentions clear years ago, then again fifteen months ago when she sent back Harry's birth announcement unopened. Lily had cried then, a few tears for the childhood friend she would never get back, and then threw the damn thing away.
Petunia was her last link to her old life. Her parents were gone, as were James's now. The thought of being alone, of being an orphan…that was what had driven her to contact the sister who refused to come to her wedding. But she finally realised, as she held that envelope with her joyous news inside, that she was dead to her sister. So she wiped her eyes and tried to move on. She put away the lone picture she had kept of the two of them as children and replaced it with pictures of Harry and of James and his friends and of all them together, to remind her of happier times.
She never attempted to contact Petunia again. When tensions mounted and Harry's safety became even more threatened, she disappeared – quite literally – without informing her sister there was a madman after her, that he might attack her family to get to her. She thought an estranged Muggle sister would be of little consequence to anyone, but Petunia was her only living relative, and James had none.
Tonight Voldemort sent a message. Only the baby was spared, and Lily could not – would not – speculate at his survival. For now she could only rejoice that her nephew, the nephew she had never met, still lived and breathed and sobbed.
"Hush, my sweet," she tried to calm him, still rocking him and murmuring soft words of love and comfort. It always worked with Harry, but then again, Harry's parents had never been murdered in front of him. Yet, anyway, she thought miserably. Dudley remained inconsolable, and Lily could feel her sanity fraying bit by bit by bit.
An hour ago, she was wife to James and mother to Harry. She was friend to Sirius, Remus, and Peter, and retired member of the Order of the Phoenix. She was also hunted by a maniac so her son could be stolen and destroyed to prevent him from defeating the Dark Lord, and yet somehow, she craved the simplicity of an hour ago. She craved the life before she became the only Evans left alive and the only guardian for a little boy she had never met.
"Please, don't cry, Dudley. I know you've had an awful night, Sweetheart, but Aunt Lily is here. You're safe. Hush now, darling."
On and on she went, and eventually, Harry could no longer be placated by his godfather and burst into anxious shrieks. She bit her lip hard enough to draw blood to prevent herself from screaming right along with the babies, but Sirius must have seen her desperation and carted her son off to his nursery. His wails still echoed all the way down the stairs, but at least the sound was a bit muffled. And then a moment later, it was completely silenced, undoubtedly by magical means.
God bless you, Padfoot, she thought gratefully and cuddled the baby to her breast again. He was much bigger than Harry, despite only being a month older, and it was getting awkward and exhausting to keep rocking him and speaking to him and trying to soothe away a hurt that would never heal. "Your parents hated me," she found herself telling the child. "Loathed me. They called me a freak. Your mum said it was bad and wrong, what I am. And now she's gone. My kind killed her, right in front of you. So maybe she's right, Dudley. Maybe I am."
"Lily," James gasped from behind her, and she swivelled quickly to find her husband pale and distraught. "Oh God, Lil," he murmured.
She crumpled, and Dumbledore quickly took the baby while Lily fell into her husband's arms. "James," she sobbed in agony, chest heaving in grief. "My sister, James. My…my Tuney. She's gone, and-"
"I know, Love. I know," he soothed and stroked her back. "I'm so sorry. This isn't your fault, though. You know it isn't. Not the ridiculous fight with your sister or what happened tonight. I'm so sorry."
"Lily, you truly mustn't blame yourself," Dumbledore added. The baby had grown mysteriously quiet and peaceful in the old man's arms, but Lily no longer cared if he had used some sort of magic to spell the child into happiness, so long as he quit screaming. "It is tempting, in times such as these, to ask what we could have done differently. But a different outcome is now impossible, and we must keep our goals in mind."
For the first time, Lily wanted to scream and rail at the man. How dare he stand here and remind her she could never bring her sister back? She knew death was forever; she'd seen more than her fair share by the age of 21. She could not take back the horrid things she thought and said about her sister, she could not go back and warn her sister or send her into hiding, and she could not even hug the very last member of her family. When was the last time she told Petunia she loved her? When was the last time they looked at one another with anything but contempt?
It was all too much, and for a terrible moment, Lily considered telling the old man she could not raise this child alongside Harry. She was no better than a stranger to him, and his parents would have preferred an actual stranger over her to raise their child. Raising Petunia's son in a magical home would be the ultimate insult to her dead sister and brother-in-law. Vernon had a sister, didn't he? Perhaps she wasn't as well-suited to protect the child, but at least it wouldn't be spitting on the graves that hadn't even yet been dug.
It was on the tip of her tongue to turn down guardianship, to insist Dumbledore find someone else, and then James reached out and scooped the crying baby from the Headmaster's arms. Dudley's cries grew at first, but James was no stranger to crying babies. Harry was generally a good-natured little thing, giggly and sweet and affectionate, but he could also scream bloody murder with the right combination of sleep deprivation and irritation. James knew what he was doing and expertly tucked the boy into his arms and rocked him gently, murmuring quiet words Lily could not hear. Amazingly, his touch and his voice did something to the infant. Dudley slowly began to calm, his wails dwindling to a few hiccupping cries before finally subsiding altogether.
"That's it, Buddy," James told the baby. "We've got you now. You'll be all right. We'll take care of you."
And that was all it took. She didn't have the energy to care that James could calm him when she couldn't. All that mattered was that Dudley had finally stopped crying, that he was quiet and safe in her husband's arms. He was the last link to a sister she would never see or speak to again, and she could protect him as no one else could. She may have failed Petunia, but she could atone for that by loving her son as her own, by raising him, by protecting him for the rest of his life. It could be different for him. He could grow up around magic and live without fear, he could be a friend and brother to her Harry. They could do this. They could be a family. They had to.
II. Dudley Dursley was four years old and prone to nightmares. They started a few months after his parents were killed, but they were manageable until just recently. Six months after he moved in with the Potters, James's wife had accidentally discovered that the boys had a soothing effect on each other and went down much better if they had one another for company. Before that, they had taken a sort of tag-team approach to bedtimes, with one parent taking each child and trying in vain to calm them. Once their effect on one another was discovered, the boys were promptly moved into the same bedroom.
When the nightmares first began, Dudley was easily soothed and went right back to sleep, sometimes without waking Harry at all. But lately, his screams continued until he woke his cousin. Even after he woke from the frightening dream, he would cry his little lungs out until they had no choice but to carry him off to the other bedroom so he might allow Harry to sleep. James or Lily would sit with him, holding him close and rocking him, until he could finally be hushed enough to fall asleep in the guest bedroom and then be carried back to his own bed.
They were exhausted and overwhelmed and miserable at their inability to help the child. He was much more temperamental than Harry and didn't take well to the lack of sleep, resulting in the first ugly altercations between the boys. Just this morning, poor Harry had suffered quite the blow when his bigger cousin knocked him over and caused him to hit his head on the floor. James suspected it was more the shock than the pain that set his son to wailing, but Lily had been beside herself and insisted a Healer come see to the growing lump on their little boy's head. Just a bump, the Healer declared, but Harry had been sentenced to bed anyway as a precaution. Lily stayed with him most of the day, making sure he wasn't too rattled or in too much pain.
It was days like today that James worried most about his little family. He had not once regretted taking Dudley in after his parents were killed, and he loved the child more than he ever thought possible. He and Lily always talked about having more than one child, but they just hadn't expected it to happen like this. They wanted to wait until Voldemort was gone, and they had never expected to have two children so terribly close in age. It meant the boys shared nearly every milestone, and it was difficult to make sure neither ever felt slighted. But there was also the added weight of the Prophecy. Try as she might to treat the boys the same, there was no denying that Harry was still in danger. Lily worried about them both, but there was an added terror with Harry, and their seclusion away from the world tormented her more each day. Lately the paranoia was reaching epic heights, and every sniffle or cough from Harry had his wife near hysterics.
The bump on the head today pushed her past her limits. Harry was very much wanted by the most evil wizard in the world, and the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute threat to his life was fraying her nerves until James wasn't quite sure she could take much more. Every sniffle and every cough had her tucking the boy in bed, fretting over whether they ought to Floo St. Mungo's. Every stumble and trip and bruise sent her to tears. Poor Harry wasn't sure what to make of his mum's fussing, and James worried how Dudley must feel about the extra coddling his cousin received. He was too young to understand, and every time Lily went to Harry first or held onto him a bit too long, James wondered what it was doing to a fragile little mind that saw too much, heard too much, and felt too much. Someday, someday very soon, he might start to believe he was less important – less loved – than Harry, because he wasn't their son.
Even worse, a time was soon coming that Harry's tiny bursts of accidental magic would become more and more apparent. What were they going to do the day Dudley realised he was the only one in his family without magic? What if he someday believed that was the reason Harry was treated differently?
The worries kept James awake even as Lily slept on in complete, utter exhaustion. He was awake, then, when the screams erupted from the boys' room, this time followed almost immediately by a pattering of small feet as the panicked child bolted to safety. James was already sitting up to receive the little bundle of boy when Dudley barrelled into the room, miserable tears pouring down his pale face.
"Hey, Buddy," James greeted quietly, though the tears would certainly wake Lily any second now. "Bad dream?" he asked sympathetically as Dudley clambered for him. He scooped the child up and deposited him in the bed just as Lily stirred.
"Duddy?" she asked, wiping the sleep from her eyes.
Her concerned query was met with only more sobs from the overwrought little boy.
"It's all right, little mate," James soothed, gently repositioning the boy between them and rubbing his back to calm him. "It was just a dream, Buddy."
"I-I saw Mummy!" Dudley wailed, and James felt a churning in his gut as Lily reacted as though she'd been punched. She'd never gotten over the death of her sister, and he suspected she never would. How could she? How could anyone? The mere thought of anything happening to Sirius could send James to pieces, and they weren't even real brothers. The distance between Lily and Petunia in the last years of Petunia's life made the grief – and guilt – that much worse.
"Lily," he said quietly. "You go check Harry. I'll-"
"No," she shook her head, and he recognised a spark of determination in her green eyes, a spark he hadn't seen in years now. "It's all right, Love," she told her nephew and cuddled him close. "I have you now."
"B-b-but," Dudley wailed, hiccoughing through his sobs.
"I know," Lily murmured. "I know. But it was just a dream, Love. Your mummy is safe now, where no one can hurt her. And I have you here with me. Nothing will ever hurt you here."
"I want my mum!" Dudley sobbed, and James felt himself moved to tears. Most of the time, Dudley was perfectly content to be here with them. It was rare that he expressed a desire for his parents, mostly because he probably remembered very little about them. But it was harder than he ever imagined to hear the boy cry for his mum, knowing it could never be, knowing that he would always feel that ache in his heart for the woman who would never hold him, never kiss him, never hug him again. He moved his hand to Dudley's hair and carded his fingers through the locks, needing to do something.
"I want her, too," Lily confessed softly as she took up to the task of rubbing circles on Dudley's back. "I miss her every day, Love. But you know what?" she asked him gently. "She's here, watching over you."
"She is?" Dudley sniffled.
"She is," Lily confirmed. "And your daddy, too. They both loved you so very much, and they will always be watching over you to make sure you're safe."
"But I want them here," Dudley protested pitifully.
"I know you do," Lily nodded. "But when you're sad, you can always come
and talk to me. Always, Love. You know that, right?" she asked, and the anxiety in her voice told James she knew what she had done, knew that she was hurting him even though she hated herself for doing it. "I love you, Duddy, very much," she whispered. "You're my sweet little boy, and I will always love you," she promised.
"And Unca James?" Dudley sniffled.
"Course, Buddy," James confirmed. "You're my little mate."
Dudley snuggled against his aunt and let himself be comforted. James continued to stroke his hair, and the three of them laid like that for the next half an hour until Dudley wore himself out and fell asleep between his aunt and uncle.
"Let him stay," Lily requested just as James started to pick the boy up and carry him back to his room. "Let's just let him stay here tonight."
"All right," he agreed evenly.
"This is my fault," she said after a long, heavy silence passed between them.
"Not this again," he shook his head. "What happened to your sister-"
"Not that," she cut him off. "He hasn't asked for her since he was still a baby. I was so angry with him today for hurting Harry. For an instant…God, just an instant, James…I wished…"
"I know," he stopped her to spare her from having to say it aloud. He knew she would torture herself for even thinking it, though he suspected her brief moment of resentment towards her nephew was entirely normal. Even if he was her son, she would have been angry with him for pushing Harry. It was luck Harry hadn't been hurt worse, and Dudley was quite a bit bigger and needed to be careful in the future, or little accidents might be much worse.
"I'm horrible," she lamented. "I'm just so scared for Harry, all the time, and it makes me insane. I don't want to treat them differently. I don't want Dudley to think…"
"Look at him, Lily," James suggested gently, turning her attention back to the sleeping child so content in her arms. "He adores you."
"He does now. But it's started, James, and I don't know how to do this."
"He's not our son," he shrugged. "He's going to understand that more and more as he gets older. We can't get around that. But he knows we love him, and he comes to us when he's scared. We'll get through it."
"I made him doubt it, though. Four years old, and he's scared that I don't love him like I love Harry," she shook her head in self-loathing.
"Lil, it's never going to be the same for them, and the Prophecy…it's never going to be easy."
"You're not making me feel better."
He chuckled humourlessly and carefully leaned across his sleeping nephew to kiss her on the forehead. "I'm sorry," he apologised. "I've been worried, too, but at least you know that this is there, and I know you're never going to let him hurt. We'll get through it," he repeated. "It's going to end soon. And then we'll just be a family."
Lily's voice was surprisingly vulnerable when she answered. "A happy one?"
James looked down at the little blonde child tucked close to his wife's chest, his face peaceful and angelic in sleep. "Yes," he murmured. "Always."
III. Dudley Dursley was six years old and starting Primary School in the morning. It was a year of firsts for the Potter family; they had been mysteriously liberated from Voldemort's tyranny, but the lack of any concrete proof of his demise had made James and Lily cautious about rejoining the world. The boys were a year late in starting school, but they were not the only kids at their school whose parents had educated them at home for a time while Voldemort still terrorised their world.
After much debate, Lily and James had agreed to send the boys to a mixed school that taught both Muggles and Magical children. Lily held fast, for a time, to her desire to see both boys in Muggle school, where Dudley would probably feel more at home and Harry could learn a bit more about Muggle life. She worried about Dudley, who still had little to say about his lack of magical ability. Still, she worried more about the possibility of evil in the world, and in the end, she conceded.
"We can't forget about Voldemort, Lily," her husband had insisted as their heated debate entered its third hour.
"He's gone," she argued, albeit weakly.
"I don't want to believe in prophecies, but Harry's never encountered him. Nothing ever happened. I just want him prepared, if it ever comes to it."
And that was that. Once more, Lily made her decision based on Harry's safety instead of Dudley's happiness. It seemed Dudley was always getting the short end of the stick, and it made it all the more clear to Lily why the rift ever occurred between her and her sister. Some days it felt so impossible to balance raising these two very different children without harming one of them, without one of them feeling less special or less loved. If she tried to pay extra attention to Dudley, Harry felt cheated out of his fair share of affection. If she doted on Harry, she worried that Dudley felt left out because he was different.
Laughter from the back garden tore Lily from her conflicted thoughts. She looked out the large window over her sink to see both of her boys completely covered in mud and giggling in hysterics as they played with some common object turned into fanciful toy. The worries abated a bit, and she relaxed against the counter to watch the boys play.
Harry and Dudley could not be more different. Harry was a tiny mirror image of his father – emphasis on the tiny. He hadn't hit a growth spurt yet and was a small, gangly thing. He was lean, like his father, undoubtedly thanks to his nearly endless supply of energy, but he was also on the shorter side of normal. He was completely, perfectly healthy, so Lily knew he would someday shoot up like James had. Dudley, on the other hand, inherited his father's larger stature. He was over a head taller than Harry, and quite a bit heavier. He would likely always be prone to weight problems, but Harry kept him running all the time, and Lily always made sure they were eating properly. She was certain her Dudley would turn out just fine, and probably be excellent at any sport he wanted to try. Lucky for Harry, being a Quidditch star wouldn't require a bulky build.
But it was more than just appearance that separated the boys. Harry was loud, playful, and mischievous just like his dad, though also sweet and a bit sensitive. Dudley could get roped into his cousin's schemes, but he was rarely the mastermind behind mischievous plots. He was quieter than Harry and usually preferred more sedate activities like reading books and watching the telly. Harry rarely sat still long enough for that sort of thing. Dudley was simply more serious than his cousin, and Lily would always wonder how much of that was just Dudley and how much of it was the trauma he experienced at a very young age.
At the moment, it didn't seem to matter. The boy playing outside was not the picture of tragedy he could have been. In fact, if he smiled much wider his face might crack. It seemed their differences never mattered a bit to Harry and Dudley. They were thick as thieves and didn't fight nearly as much as Lily expected. They were so close in age that they simply did everything together, and as they had grown, so had their affection for one another. She used to worry that Dudley would be too rough with Harry, due to his size, but he had become much more mindful of his smaller cousin. She worried that Harry would be careless about magic and inadvertently leave Dudley out, but her son was more sensitive than that and seemed to just understand what Lily had never explicitly explained. She caught him, from time to time, glancing over at Dudley when something magical happened, making sure he didn't feel left out, cheering him up if he seemed at all glum.
They were a family. The mantle was overflowing with the evidence of it, photos of their happy little family covering every spare inch of it. There was the four of them together in several pictures, and various combinations of child and adult, but mostly, there was Dudley and Harry playing together, Dudley and Harry laughing together, Dudley and Harry in a rare moment of quiet amusement together. They were friends and brothers, and it warmed Lily's heart to see them both so happy and carefree in their play with one another.
Dudley was not so carefree when he returned home from his first day of school. His eyes were rimmed with red, and Harry kept making jokes and acting silly in a vain effort to stop his cousin's pitiful sniffles. James had come home from work early to celebrate the occasion, and he tossed Lily a worried look as Dudley abandoned his backpack and hurried up the stairs to his room.
"I'll go," she offered, and James nodded and scooped up Harry to interrogate him about his first day.
"Dudley?" she asked as she knocked softly on the door to the room he still shared with Harry. They had offered to let the boys have their own rooms now, but both had been horrified at the idea.
"Go away," Dudley mumbled and sniffled.
"I can't do that, Love. You're upset. May I come in?"
"No!" he answered irritably, but Lily didn't listen and let herself in anyway.
"Dudley, what is it, Sweetheart? Did you not like school?" she asked worriedly, slowly sinking down on his bed and placing a steadying hand on his back. He was shuddering a bit, and she suspected he was fighting very hard not to cry. "Dudley?" she prodded gently. "Did something happen at school today?"
Dudley suddenly flipped over and pulled his blanket over himself, promptly and effectively pushing her away. Stung, Lily drew back and considered for a moment. When it became clear Dudley didn't want her here, she leaned down and kissed the top of his head, then tugged the blanket to make sure it was wrapped securely around him before leaving the room.
Downstairs, Harry was chattering his dad's ear off telling him all about school. Despite her concern for Dudley, Lily stood quietly for a moment and listened to her son go. Clearly his day had gone much better than Dudley's, and he was exuberantly relating every detail of his day.
After a few minutes, Harry finally paused to take a breath. Lily seized her opportunity and stepped into the kitchen, dropping a kiss to her son's cheek. "Harry, did something happen to upset Dudley today?"
Harry's grin instantly dropped as he nodded his head. "What is it, Cub?" James asked worriedly. "Was someone mean to him?"
Harry shook his head and pointed to his backpack. Later, they would discuss the fact that both boys had dropped the bags in the hallway instead of hanging them up. For now, she picked up the backpack and unzipped it, pulling out a crinkled paper with figures painted in Harry's childish hand.
In an instant, she had deduced the problem. And it wasn't at all as she suspected.
Tears filled her eyes as she gazed down at Harry's simple portrait of his family. In clumsy, awkward scrawl, he had labelled each person in his picture: Mum, Dad, Me, Dudley.
"Lil?" James asked worriedly.
"You two have a snack," she managed to choke out.
James looked concerned, but he nodded and mussed his son's hair as he guided him to the pantry to rummage for something to eat.
Picture still in hand, Lily returned upstairs to the boys' room and found Dudley still hiding beneath his blankets. Steeling herself for tears or anger, Lily sat down on the bed and gently tugged down the comforter to reveal a tear-streaked face. "Will you show me the painting you did today, Love?" she asked softly.
Dudley only shook his head.
"Did Ms. Borden ask you to paint a picture of your family?" she tried again.
Dudley didn't answer for a long, long time, and then he burst into tears. Lily quickly gathered him into his arms, trying to ignore the fact that he was getting too big to be cuddled in her lap.
He cried for a solid ten minutes as Lily held him and combed his hair and rubbed his back and pressed her lips to his forehead as she rocked him gently back and forth. When he finally started to calm, Lily gently brushed tears off his cheek with her thumbs. "It's all right, Sweetheart," she murmured.
Dudley sniffled and shook his head. "I wish you were my mum," he confessed.
It broke her heart, and now she was holding back tears. "Oh Dudley," she whispered.
"I know you aren't really, but can't we pretend?" he asked plaintively. "And Uncle James could be my dad."
"Tell me what happened today, Dudley," she requested. "Did someone say something mean?"
"Everyone knows," he mumbled. "That I don't have a mum and dad."
"But no one said something cruel?" she asked hopefully. He shook his head, and she felt a small fraction better. His heartache was still very real, but at least he wasn't being taunted at school for living with his aunt and uncle.
"Why can't you be my mum? I don't remember my real one really. I…sometimes I pretend," he confessed. "Sometimes I pretend I'm really yours."
"You are really mine, Dudley," she countered firmly. "No matter what you call me, you are my boy and you always will be. Even when you are all grown up and wish I would just leave you alone."
"I won't," Dudley shook his head. "Not ever."
It was a sweet sentiment, and she wished it could be true. "You will," she squeezed him tight, "but that's all right. It won't matter. Because I love you forever, Dudley, just like Uncle James does. And Harry, too. We are family, Love, no matter what you call us."
"Then why can't I just call you Mum?" he persisted. "Everyone asked me questions."
Lily sighed and wished she had thought to go speak to his teacher about their special situation. She had assumed there would be other children who were raised by stepparents or grandparents or other various relatives and that it wouldn't be an issue, but obviously having to tell the other children that he had no mum and dad had been harder on Dudley than she expected. "Dudley, I want you to listen to me really well, and be my big boy, all right?" she asked.
"Yes, Aunt Lily," he nodded seriously.
"I love you just as though you were my son. I love you every bit as much as I love Harry and I don't ever want you to doubt that. But I also want you to always remember that you had a mum and dad who loved you more than anything in the whole world," she explained. "And I know it's difficult because you don't really remember them, but your mum…she was my sister. And I want to make sure that we always remember her and hold her in our hearts."
"Do you think she would be mad that I sometimes think of you as my mum and not her?"
Lily had to take a deep breath before she could answer. Honestly, she did worry sometimes that her sister would hate her for raising her boy. Petunia had been jealous of her for so many years, and now she had usurped Petunia's most important role, the thing that most defined her. But Petunia truly did love Dudley more than anything, and she had to believe that no matter what, Petunia would want Dudley happy. "No, Love," she shook her head. "I don't think she would be mad at all. She loved you. And that means that all she ever cared about was you."
"Does it make you mad?" Dudley asked uncertainly. "You have a real son, and-"
"Stop," Lily cut him off. "I don't ever want to hear you say that again. I will never, ever be mad at you for something like that. All right?"
"All right," he agreed quietly.
"We're your family, Dudley," she reminded him. "Next time, you just tell all the kids that your aunt and uncle couldn't be more proud to call you theirs."
Dudley cuddled into her side, and Lily closed her eyes and imagined her
sister. Thank you, Petunia, she thought silently. Thank you for giving me your beautiful boy. We're doing our best. I hope you know how wonderful he is.
Late that night, when the boys were sleeping and James was downstairs playing Wizard's Chess with Sirius, Lily crept to the attic and pulled out an old box of hidden away treasures. She hunted for close to an hour before finding the picture she wanted, the single snapshot she had from her sister's wedding day. That was before their parents died, before Petunia could truly excommunicate her sister. She hadn't been pleased by Lily's appearance, but Lily wanted so desperately to be there.
The next morning, a picture of Petunia and Vernon on their wedding day had joined the dozens of photographs on the mantle.
IV. Dudley Dursley was nine years old, and now, so was his cousin. As it turned out, nine was a very special birthday for Harry. It was the year James finally convinced Lily their son was old enough for a real broom, one to play Quidditch with, a quick one for him to practise his Seeking on. James had once hoped his little one would follow in his footsteps and play Chaser, but the moment he saw the boy with a Snitch, he knew his son was destined for greatness. Lily had been worried about buying him a real racing broom, but there was no denying his natural talent. Even on his child's broom, he was always performing miraculous stunts and pushing it to top speeds. He had clearly outgrown the safety broom, as much as Lily hated to admit it.
And so, as promised, Harry received his first Nimbus on his ninth birthday. The month before, Dudley had his own birthday and received a mountain of wonderful presents. There were books and toys and even a computer, since they knew Harry was getting a special present in a few weeks. They had enlisted the help of another Muggleborn friend to help them set it up in his bedroom, and Lily had done a few complicated charms to keep it from frying up in the presence of so much magic.
James couldn't be more excited about giving his son his first real broom. Flying had been their special thing since Harry was a toddler on his little baby broom from Sirius. That was Dad and Harry time, always, and he could spend hours in the garden giving Harry pointers and beaming with pride as he flew. He was already anxious for the day Harry joined the House team, and he couldn't help watching his boy without dreaming of the many Quidditch matches he would watch over the next few years.
James was so excited that he didn't really think about how Dudley must feel as Harry opened his new present and whooped in delight. He was so excited that he spent three hours playing with Harry in the garden without thinking about Dudley alone in his room. He was so excited that when they came in for birthday dinner with flushed cheeks and identical grins and found Dudley reading quietly on the sofa, he felt like the world's biggest arse. Lily gave her husband an obvious look of reproach, but Dudley asked his cousin all the polite questions about his new broom. Harry answered them all, never noticing the envy practically dripping from Dudley's face.
James's nephew picked at dinner, even though it was one of his favourites. He even turned down a piece of cake and asked instead to go to his room. Lily shot James a look, and he dutifully took off after his nephew. "Dud?" he asked as he knocked on the door.
"Come in," Dudley answered listlessly.
"All right, Buddy?" he asked, clapping his nephew on the shoulder.
Dudley just shrugged. It made James feel like utter rubbish, and even though he knew there was nothing he could ever do to fully ease Dudley's worries, he should have paid more attention to how the boy was faring today. The boys were surprisingly wonderful together, and magic was rarely an issue between them. But there was no denying that growing up without magic in an entirely magical household was difficult for Dudley. Lily was Muggleborn, but she'd spent the better part of the last two decades around magic and wasn't at all up to date on the Muggle world. Dudley was the odd one out, and James had sworn to make sure the boy never felt less special for it.
Today, he got so wrapped up in the excitement that he forgot all about that vow. "I think I owe you an apology, Buddy," he said sadly. "I may have gotten a bit too excited about the new broom."
"It's okay," Dudley answered quietly.
"No, it isn't," James shook his head and eased himself down to the bed. Dudley flipped over to face the wall, turning his eyes from his uncle. Now James officially felt like an evil git, and he had no idea how to make it right. "Hey," he murmured. "Will you please look at me, Buddy?"
"It's okay, Uncle James. I just want to be alone now."
"I want to talk to you," James countered, refusing to give up. Dudley wanted to sulk right now, and James understood that; he could brood with the best of them. But if he left Dudley alone, the boy would come up with all the worst ideas and wallow in his self-pity.
"You gave me lots of presents for my birthday. I got stuff that Harry didn't get."
"I know, Buddy, but you don't have to pretend with me. I know it isn't the same. I couldn't work that gadget we got you if my life depended on it."
"I'm different," Dudley said firmly. "You don't have to pretend I'm not. I'm not…I'm not special like Harry. I just want to be sad for a while."
James's heart lurched, and he couldn't help reaching out to place a hand on his nephew's back. "Dudley, you know better than that. You know your Aunt Lily and I think you are every bit as wonderful and special as Harry."
"But I'm not magic," Dudley protested. "And I used to think I could be, but I'm not a stupid kid anymore. I'm not ever going to be like you and Harry and Aunt Lily."
"You won't," James agreed, "but you are incredibly special. Sometimes it's hard," he admitted. "Sometimes I don't know what to say or what to do. I've never lived without magic, so I don't know what it's like. But it doesn't mean I don't want to try. And it doesn't mean that you are less than Harry. Not in any way, Buddy," he insisted.
Dudley shrugged and refused to look at his uncle. James sat for a moment, rubbing slow circles on his nephew's back, wishing he was better at all of this. Truth be told, it was harder with Dudley than it was Harry. Harry was so much like him, with amazing bits of Lily interspersed, but Dudley…Dudley was just more of a mystery to him. And it wasn't solely the magic problem. Dudley was just an entirely different creature, and James loved him desperately, but sometimes he felt completely in over his head raising the boy. Of course Dudley had picked up bits of their personalities along the way, but he still had bits of his parents, as well. James had never claimed to know Petunia well, and he knew Vernon even less. Unlike Lily, he didn't have a bond with Petunia, not nearly enough to forge the connection with Dudley.
He always believed love would be enough. At the moment, it seemed woefully lacking. So instead of saying anything, he just sat with his nephew and mused over the last eight years with him. There was so much he loved about this kid. He was funny, in an unexpected way. Harry was sarcastic and a magnet for mischief, while Dudley's humour was a bit more subdued. Still, he cracked James up when he least expected it. And Dudley was also a sweet child. When the boys were little, it was Dudley who always wanted a cuddle. Harry was affectionate, but he rarely sat still. Dudley would curl up on the couch next to his uncle and read with him, or just sit while James read the paper or worked. Dudley was just his buddy, and he always would be. Now to make him understand.
"Listen, Dudley," he said quietly. "Our family is not our family without you. You belong with us, and I know it isn't always easy. But we love you so much, and a new broom doesn't change that."
"I just…I want to be special. Like Harry," Dudley admitted, the vulnerability in his voice crushing James. Sometimes it seemed nothing they did would ever convince Dudley he was a part of this family as much as Harry was. Somewhere along the line, Dudley had become his other son. Maybe they'd never go to Ollivander's together, or play Quidditch, or whisper the secrets of Hogwarts, but that hadn't mattered in years. What mattered was the time they spent together, talking something out or having a laugh or making a giant mess of things in the kitchen. What mattered was the pride James felt every time he looked at this boy and how he couldn't imagine a world without this kid right here next to him.
"You are special, Dud," he insisted. "Who always looks out for Harry for us? You never let the other kids bully him, and you keep him from some of his more…reckless…ideas."
"Yeah, I guess," Dudley shrugged.
"You've always kept him safe, Buddy. You're his protector."
"That's just one thing."
"There are a million things, Dud. You make us laugh. You're smart. You're great at that rugby game, and I can't wait to see you play a match. You know, I think you ought to teach me how it goes. Then we could try it together, yeah?"
"Really?" Dudley asked uncertainly.
"Sure, mate. Just us boys. How does that sound?"
"Yeah," Dudley agreed quietly. "That sounds…good. Really good."
"Will you look at me now?"
Dudley sat up and smiled sheepishly at his uncle. "Sorry," he apologised.
"No need to be sorry, Buddy. I got wrapped up in the new broom today, and I acted like an idiot."
"Aunt Lily says you are an idiot," Dudley teased.
"Cheeky bugger," James accused, cuffing him lightly on the arm, then pulled him into a crushing hug. He mussed the boy's hair, then sobered once more and kissed his nephew on the forehead. "Look, Dudley, things aren't going to get easier for us. In two years, Harry's off to Hogwarts. Everything will change. But you're mine, understand? You're mine, and that doesn't change."
Dudley nodded, but there was a hint of hesitation. "I wish I could fly like you and Harry."
"Me too, Buddy. But you're a little more breakable than Harry, and I prefer to keep you all in one piece."
"That's a good idea."
"I love you, Dud."
"Yeah, I know. Love you, too."
V. Dudley Dursley was seventeen years old, and his cousin was finally home. It had been nearly a year since Harry walked out the door, refusing to tell his parents and his cousin where he was going, refusing to let them in on his secret mission. Lily watched her baby boy walk out the front door, heard the familiar crack of Apparition, then collapsed to her knees and sobbed.
James was first to her side, and then Dudley. And the three of them knelt at the door and cried without shame. For days, Dudley was her rock, her only consolation. He sat beside her and steadied her as they listened to the Wireless. He cooked the meals, he made the distraught parents eat, he forced them to go to bed and stop watching the sky for news. And then, after two solid weeks without a word from Harry, it became terribly clear the war was here and Harry wouldn't be home until it was over.
Those were the dark days, the days when Dudley raged at his helplessness and hurtled things in his anger. He broke vases and frames and once even a beloved gift from Harry, which caused him to weep bitterly for hours until James pieced it back together with a spell. The reality of war he could not fight tore him apart as nothing had done since he was nine years old and so afraid of being different. Dudley felt far away, on those days, filled with bitterness towards a world that relegated him to the sidelines while Harry received all the glory and the fame and all the danger and all the scars.
But even in the darkness, Lily rejoiced. She had done something right. Dudley's hurt was not about jealousy, but love. He did not envy Harry's power or fame; he wanted to protect him, as he always had. He wanted to stand beside his brother in battle, and instead he was locked away in a house with only his aunt and uncle and the wireless for company. Dudley had always looked out for his smaller cousin, protecting him from schoolyard bullies and keeping him from harm, and now he was useless, now he could only wait and pray. And pray he did. They all did. Together. And it was a balm on Lily's heart, a tiny piece of comfort during the worst time of her life. At the end of all things, the boys she raised loved each other, would die for each other. There was a beauty in the pain, and she had to believe it meant something, that something so precious and wonderful would not be ripped apart by death.
It was an unseasonably bleak, rainy day in May when Harry staggered in covered in dirt and blood and grime. Lily was the first to spot him, and she cried in disbelief and opened her arms as her boy nearly collapsed.
He was home. He was finally, finally home.
They didn't talk about the war that night. They didn't talk about Harry's victory. Dudley coaxed his cousin into the bathroom, ordered him to take a shower, and sat outside the bathroom to make sure he was all right. When Harry emerged, haggard and painfully thin but wearing the most beautiful smile Lily had ever seen, she knew there would be no talk of battles or long, cold nights. There would be no talk of death, though she could feel it seeping off of her son. He had seen it, he had felt it, but he was home.
"You look good, Dud," Harry told his cousin as they all sat awkwardly at the kitchen table.
"You look like shite," Dudley returned.
The boys laughed together, and Lily had never heard a more beautiful sound. They spent the night pretending they'd never been apart, and as their laughter rang through the house and James's arms went around her waist, she could almost believe it was true.
Harry fell asleep at nine o'clock on the sofa. Dudley draped a blanket over his cousin's sleeping form, and Lily leaned into her husband. "Our boys," she whispered.
"Yeah," he murmured and kissed the top of her head. "Our little boys."
"Not so little," she countered, wondering what Harry would see in his dreams tonight and wishing she could take it all away.
"I still remember the first time I held them both."
"Me too," she breathed, thinking first of her own baby, her own sweet son. How beautiful he had been, in those first hours of his life, his hair so soft and fine, his cheeks so wonderfully plump and flush. That tiny little boy grew up to save them all, but that hardly mattered to her now. He was here with her, breathing and whole, and it was all she had ever wanted from the moment she first felt the tiny voice of life inside of her.
Dudley tucked the blanket more securely around his cousin, and Lily managed a watery smile as she remembered the first time she'd held her nephew. It was an entirely different experience, and she recalled wanting to give him back, wanting someone else to take him. What a mistake that would have been, what a hole it would have left in her heart. That squalling, miserable baby had grown into a man capable of incredible love, and as proud as she was of Harry, she was equally proud of Dudley. He had stayed home this year, like Harry requested, looking out for his aunt and uncle and never complaining, no matter how scared and angry he felt. He grew up so different from the rest of his family, but he never let the differences define him. He grew into his own man, and when it came down to it, he put his family first and stood beside them through the darkest days of their lives.
"Night, Aunt Lil," her nephew smiled. "Night, Uncle James."
"Night, Buddy," James sighed in contentment.
"Goodnight, Love," Lily murmured, watching as he disappeared up the stairs to his room. And as he went, Lily felt a presence sweep through her, one she hadn't felt in many, many years. "James," she whispered.
"I'm so proud of them. So proud of them both."
"Me too, Love."
"Do you think…would Petunia hate me?" she asked quietly. "She never would have wanted Dudley around magic. Now it's changed his whole life, and…I just want her to be as proud as I am."
"She would be, Lily," her husband murmured, his voice heavy with emotion. "How could she not?"
"I didn't do anything she would have wanted. I raised him around magic. I exposed him to this whole world that she never wanted to be a part of. I don't know," she shook her head. "He's such a special boy. I just wish I could talk to her."
James was quiet for a long moment as he stroked his fingers through her hair. "At the end of the day, Lil, you were both mothers," he murmured after a while. "Petunia protected Dudley with her life, just as you would protect Harry. She knew how precious these boys were. She'd be so proud of the way you've raised him, and I think you know, in your heart, she'd have done the same for Harry."
Lily gazed once more at her sleeping son and felt the overwhelming love squeezing her heart. "Yes," she agreed softly. "Yes, she would."
TBC in Part 2