A/N: I usually hate putting author's notes at the beginning, but this is important. I've talked with my beta, Laughableblackstorm, and we both agree that the fastest way to get chapters out to you guys is to post the un-betaed version, and then replace it with the betaed version when she is finished. I will include an author's note each chapter listing what chapters have been updated, if applicable. It is very rare that she suggests a content change, so if you choose not to go back and re-read the chapters, you should be able to still follow. If I do make any content changes, I will be sure to specify that.
Hue Maynard was confused.
Boxing was a sport of finesse, and strength- it was beautiful. It was a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity. It was a lonely, challenging sport. It was fierce, and there's never a better way to test oneself than stepping into the ring. Hue breathed boxing; he had dedicated his entire life to it. He imagined that maybe boxing was like poetry, for those who understood and loved it. Boxing made him whole.
Which was why he couldn't understand how these kids didn't treat it with respect. He couldn't wrap his brain around the fact that they didn't seem to see the artistry of a perfectly thrown uppercut, or the grace of a doge. They skipped practice, and didn't care about training. It exasperated him. It made him tired. When he had agreed to coach, he had imagined changing lives, pulling kids up by the bootstraps and showing them that they can do anything they set their mind to. So far, though, the only kid who had shown an ounce of sincere interest had been Dudley Dursley.
The kid was awful. Truly awful. When put in the ring, he just charged at his opponent in hopes of knocking him over, fists flying any which way. He had accidentally given himself a bloody nose once. During training, he was near collapse after warm up, moaning on about "his delicate health". Hue supposed he could've looked past all this and whipped him into shape, turned him into a real boxer, if it hadn't been for the fact that the kid thought he was god's gift to boxing. In Dudley's eyes, he could do no wrong. It was only after several angry phone calls from a Mr. Vernon Dursley that Hue agreed to coach the oaf- private lessons no less.
"Come on, Dursley, get into a rhythm now. Faster. This is a speed drill."
The pounding on the heavy bag ceased, and Dudley looked up, clearly agitated. "What does it even matter? Why does hitting fast count for anything when you can hit hard?"
Hue sighed. "Because, Dursley, there are people out there that can hit just as hard as you, and then what? You need to be agile and quick- not just strong. Boxing is a chess game. You have to be skilled enough and have trained hard enough to know how many different ways you can counterattack in any situation, at any moment. Now, keep going. Stop again and I'll add another set."
Dudley went back to raining blows on the bag, increasing his tempo a bit. A layer of sweat covered his body, dark stains spreading from his neck, armpits, and the small of his back. Blond hair was plastered to his head, and rivulets of moisture dripped into his eyes. Hue smiled. The kid had improved tenfold in comparison to the meaty spaz he had been before. Already he was slimming down. Granted, not much, but it was a start.
"Alright, Alright. Lay off. Hit the showers, and I'll take you out to eat."
"…Take me what?"
"Out to eat, Dursley. I'd imagine it's an activity you're pretty familiar with."
"You want to take me to dinner?"
"Yes, now go."
He decided to take the kid to Tinker and Budget, a dirty little pub right off of campus. It was smoky, sand from the shuffleboard table was strewn about the floor, and someone was hit in the head with a dart or billiard stick at least twice a night. That being said, they served food in large quantities, and the stout was fucking fantastic.
They opened the door, and the flags strung above it flapped wildly as a warm gust of air rushed out. The music was loud enough that it demanded attention, but not so loud that he had trouble directing Dudley to an empty corner table.
Before long, a young black woman waded through tables of drunken poker players to their table, a mess of curls piled on the top of her head.
"Alright? My names Fran, and I'll be serving you. What can I get you?"
"Guinness to start, for me. Water for the lad. You know what you want, Dursley?"
"Yeah. I'll take some bangers and mash. And chips."
"Forget the chips. He's not having them. -I'm putting you on a diet, Dursley, you hear?- I'll have a Sheppard's pie."
She walked away, leaving him and the kid alone.
"Why can't I have chips? I like chips."
"Because I'm putting you on a diet, like I said. You want to be a real boxer don't you?"
"Yeah. But my parents say that I'm a growing boy who needs to eat."
"I'm sure they don't mean bottomless chips, Dursley, don't try that with me. Besides, I'm your coach. I'm the one that's going to turn you into a proper athlete."
He pulled out a deck of cards, and shuffled absentmindedly. He hadn't really known what he was thinking when he decided to take Dudley out to eat, but it was clear that the kid could benefit from a mentor of sorts.
They watched two men argue over near the billiards table as they waited for their food to come. Hue slapped the deck of cards in front of the kid and smiled.
"You ever play noddy, Dursley?"
Dudley shook his head. "My dad says that card games are for fools that don't know how to make use of their time."
Hue laughed. "Well, I'm willing to bet your dad isn't a great player then. Every boy's got to learn at some point, though." Hue started dealing out the cards, speaking as he worked. "It's one-on-one or two-on-two, but there's got to be partners if you're doing it with four. First to thirty-one is the winner, and you usually peg the points but we can write them out just fine." Hue grabbed a drink menu and flipped it over, drawing a "t"-shaped table on the back. "You get them by runs and point-counts, and knave noddys. Pairs and flushes too. Like cribbage. You following?"
Dudley just stared dumbly, mouth slightly parted.
"Eh, that's alright. You'll learn as we play."
Their food came then, and Dudley dug in as if he had been starved, ignoring the cards Hue had dealt him. Hue resisted the urge to grimace. Onion gravy dribbled down the boy's chin, and he chewed with his mouth open. Hue shoved a napkin down Dudley's shirt.
"For Pete's sake, Dursley, quit eating like an animal."
Whatever Dudley grumbled in reply was lost in the mashed potato filling his mouth.
"Christ," Hue muttered. He took a bite of his pie and glanced at the cards in his hand. "I've got fifteen 2 and a run of four for six."
"What? My cards are one six and two nines. Do I win?"
"Not yet, we're still in announcements. Chew with your mouth closed."
Eventually, Dudley got the hang of it, or mostly did anyway, and actually did end up winning.
Hue went back to aimlessly shuffling the cards and sipping on his stout as Dudley finished his meal. "Tell me, Dursley, why do you want to be a boxer so bad?"
"Dunno." Dudley shrugged thick shoulders.
"Well do you like it?"
"It's alright. My dad really likes it."
"So it's your dad's decision then?" If he was going to mentor this kid, he was going to do it right. Also, he was curious.
"Yeah. A little, I guess. I've been doing it my whole life."
Hue raised his eyebrows at that. "You've been boxing your whole life?"
Dudley nodded in the affirmative.
"Where?" Hue couldn't help the note of incredulity that seeped into his voice.
"At home mostly. With my cousin. I've been beating him up since we we're kids."
"Dudley," Hue said, exasperated, "Beating someone up isn't boxing."
"Is too," Dudley insisted. "It's good practice. It's why I'm going to be one of the greats. My dad says so."
It was suddenly apparent that this kid needed to be coached in far more than the right way to block a left-hook.
"Dursley- listen to me, and listen good. That's wrong. Beating up your cousin is wrong. And it's wrong of your father to let it happen."
"It is not," Dudley scoffed.
"Does he ever fight back?" Hue didn't know why, but for some reason he just had to make this kid see.
"No. He's weak."
Hue started at him for a long while, not moving. He stared at Dudley until the kid began shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "Does it make you feel big, when you hit him?"
Dudley was silent.
"Does he cry?"
Dudley looked down at his plate.
"Well, does he?"
"He used to," Dudley finally mustered, voice barely above a whisper.
"What about then? Do you feel like a real boxer then, Dursley? When you give him bruises, do you feel proud? Because I sure as hell ain't proud of you. Want to know what I think? I think you're weak. I think you're small. You got to learn to treat people right. I notice it at practice too, the way you pick on the little ones. The ones without friends. Let me tell you something- if you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals, you hear?"
Dudley was very quiet, and shrank back into his seat. He pushed his plate away from him.
"Can we go now, please?" The kid's voice was tiny, and he didn't meet Hue's eyes.
Hue was suddenly exhausted. "Yeah, Dursley. We can go."
Dudley Dursley was confused.
He didn't talk the whole ride back from Tinker and Budget. Coach Maynard had to be mistaken. Dudley wasn't violent, just boisterous. He just wasn't a wimp, that's all.
He climbed the staircase to his dormitory slowly, brow still crinkled in thought. The worn wood creaked under his weight. He was puffing and red-faced by the time he reached the top. The worst part about being in Caxton House was the climb to the dorms, by far.
"Dursley! You're late to curfew!"
Dudley looked up to meet the house captain's disapproving stare. He scowled. Barnabus Polmear was a right pain in the arse. He had always been an uppity little snot, but now that he had been made captain it was ten times worse.
"I was with Maynard, I'm cleared," he said.
Barnabus huffed. "Tonight aside, I've been meaning to have a word with you about your behavior, specifically your treatment of Mark Evans. Fagging has been a long tradition at Smeltings, but you've been acting like Evans is a slave."
"Dursley, you punched him in the stomach for complaining about carrying your books!"
"He was asking for it. He cheeked me," Dudley replied, though he seemed less convinced.
"Some lower year boys from Wolsey House saw you tripping Archie Fogarty."
"Wolsey are a bunch of twats anyhow. They're just mad they lost on sports day. I'm going to bed, Polmear."
He roughly shoved past the boy and stomped heavily to his dormitories, ignoring Barnabus's shrill commands behind him.
He wasn't a bully. He wasn't.
He went to his bed and pulled his curtains tight around him. Was it wrong, how he treated people? How he treated Harry? That's just the way it was. The way it had always been. Coach Maynard just didn't know how things worked. He hadn't met Harry, he didn't understand how awful he was. How much Harry deserved it.
Two beds over, he could hear Duncan Chittock wanking. Did he think he was being quiet?
"Oi, Chittock, save it for the showers!" someone hollered. Dudley groaned and rolled over, burying his head beneath his pillow.
Dudley didn't know what to think, nor did he want to think, so he just decided to push it from his mind. He wouldn't see Harry until Christmas hols anyway.
He went through the defensive sequences Coach Maynard had given him. Jab, cross, hook with your lead hand, cross. Hook. Jab. He was sweaty. Cross, double jab. Coach Maynard was behind him. Hook. He looked back to see coach give him a blank look. When he turned towards the punching bag again, it was a faceless person. He tried to say something, but his voice came out in a thick accent. A pair of glasses was in his hand. The school janitor led him onto a beach. A wave crashed over his legs, and he was awake.
He felt like a bully.
He didn't know why but he really, really did.
Dudley put on his orange knickerbockers slowly. Why was Harry a freak again? He remembered his dad explaining it to him once, but now the reasoning just wouldn't come to him. He made his bed before buttoning up his tailcoat, the maroon fabric stifling him despite the cool morning air.
There had to be a reason, though. His dad was a good man; his parents were good people. They wouldn't just hate Harry for no reason. He grabbed his Smeltings stick and made his way into the Caxton commons.
He wished he could talk to Piers about this- he knew Harry, and knew his parents. He would be able to tell Dudley why Harry was abnormal. Then he could go back to hating his cousin and everything would be how it should be.
Except for Piers was in Burghley house, and Dudley wouldn't see him until maths. Lost in thought, he wasn't looking where he was going, and nearly plowed over a lower year on his way to the center couch. His immediate reaction was to tell the kid to watch it, but then he looked down and met Mark Evans's fearful eyes.
He knew he was a bit meaner to Evans than the rest of the boys were with their fags. Hell, many of the boy's got on well with theirs, and some of the fags thought it an honor to serve the uppers. He didn't protect Evans or look after him like some of the other nancies in his year thought he should, but none of that justified how utterly scared Evans looked of Dudley right now.
In his haste to avoid running into Dudley, he had swerved to the side, sending his straw boater toppling. Dudley felt the top of his bare head with his hand as Evans swooped down to pick his up.
"I've forgotten my hat," he pronounced dully. He felt as if that was all he could articulate right now.
The smaller boy nodded quickly. "I'll run and fetch that for you, is it on the hook?" he asked, eyes darting nervously to Dudley's smelting stick.
Dudley followed Evans eyes and stared at the knobby cane as if he had never seen it before. He looked back at his fag. "No, no. I can get it. I'll see you in the dining hall, Evans."
"I- are you sure?"
"Yeah. Yeah," Dudley replied. He turned around and made his way back upstairs.
The next four hours passed quicker than usual, and he was in maths before he knew it. Dudley's brain felt as if someone had filled it with a thick liquid, like pond scum.
"Hey! Hey Big D!"
He turned to Piers with a relieved half-smile. Piers would set him right again.
"Did you hear about that bloke from Wolsey who locked Polmear in the closet? Apparently he was in there all through breakfast and halfway through first period before someone found him," Piers said.
"Serves him right. The fucker reamed me out last night for missing curfew." Dudley sat down next to his friend and chewed his thumbnail thoughtfully. "Hey, Piers?"
"Do you remember my cousin Harry?"
"Potter?" Piers laughed. "Oh yeah. The little twerp was hysterical." Piers shook his head fondly.
"Why'd we mess with him again?"
Piers looked like he didn't understand the question. "For the hell of it, why else?" His eyes quickly grew animated. "He was so weird. Do you remember when we made him eat that dead worm? Or when Malcolm poured rootbeer all over his head?"
Dudley laughed uncomfortably. He was supposed to think this was funny, right? "Yeah, those were the days." Dudley spit out the fingernail he had chewed off. It wasn't like they had even done anything bad, either, just a few harmless pranks. Besides, Piers had even said he wasn't normal. "Why was the freak so weird again?"
"I dunno. He just was. He was so quiet and was always reading and was so dirty. What's up with you, Big D? You're not going soft, are you?"
Another forced laugh. "Hell no, you kidding me?" Dudley put another fingernail in his mouth and gnawed on it as the teacher started her lesson. He took notes haphazardly, but spent most of his time looking out the window on to the greens. School was for pansies anyway.
That night, though, staring into the canopy above his bed, Dudley tried to think. Piers had said that Harry was weird because he was so quiet and dirty, but wasn't that kind of his parent's fault? They were always telling him to shut up. And it wasn't like a kid in primary school knew how to do laundry. But his parents were good people- they were probably just saying that because Harry didn't have anything worthwhile to say, and didn't deserve new clothes. Yeah, that sounded right. It was weird that he read so much, too, like Piers said. What little kid read books when they could've been playing? Freaky kids, that's who. But then he thought about how he made sure all the other kids stayed away from Harry and wasn't so sure anymore.
He had a weird feeling in his chest. It was kind of tight, and twangy. It curled tight around the base of his throat. Guilt, his mind supplied, and he felt ashamed that the emotion was so foreign to him.
He decided that he should maybe talk to Coach Maynard about all of this. Coach usually knew what he was talking about, more than piers did at least. Yeah. He'd do that. And maybe he'd give Harry a call sometime before hols. Maybe.
A/N 2: Hey all! Thanks for sticking with this chapter, it's pretty rough and it's pretty short. I only read over it once before I decided to post, but I am trying to pick up my updating speed, so ta-da. Originally, I was going to include the phone conversation, but I decided that Dudley needs a little more time for character growth before we throw that his way.
Thank you all so much for your kind reviews. I've got such a solid group of regular reviewers (SeveralSunlightDays and herpderp14, you rock my socks), and I'm also incredibly lucky to get a few surprises in there too. Shockingly, I haven't gotten one flame yet! You all need to be more honest ;)
I've got the entire end mapped out and several benchmarks planned out, but I've still got a little wriggle room, so if you guys are dying to see something happen, let me know and I'll take it into consideration if it fits!
Also, "Finding" is a working title, so when I finally decide to change it, I'll probably put "previously entitled Finding" in the summary (which is also subject to change). So if an alert for a story you never subscribed to pops up in your inbox, it's probably me.