CHAPTER TWELVE

Dudley woke with a start, and was a little bemused to find himself in the hospital wing. He relaxed when he saw Dumbledore in a nearby chair, and even more when he noticed Harry sitting up in the bed beside his. Harry seemed preoccupied, so Dudley looked back at Dumbledore.

"Er," he said, "what happened?"

"I believe," the old wizard said mildly, "that you hit your head when you fell into the Devil's Snare, and that, combined with stress and your anxiety, meant that holding the Stone induced a sort of... attack." He patted Dudley's arm, and did not say that they would be having a talk in private soon. He didn't need to.

"How's everyone else?" Dudley asked.

"Perfectly fine," Dumbledore assured him. "Mr. Weasley and Mr. Longbottom are fully recovered, and Miss Abbot and Miss Granger were completely unharmed, though Miss Abbott is a little hoarse."

Dudley sagged in relief, then looked over at his cousin. Harry caught his eye and grinned. For the first time, Dudley noticed that the table between them was piled high with sweets. Candy wrappers and cards were already scattered on Harry's bed - apparently he'd been awake for a while. "We've been in here three days now," Harry said, and offered him a Cauldron Cake. Dudley took it, then looked at Dumbledore with furrowed brows.

"What happened to the Stone?" he asked.

"Destroyed," said Dumbledore cheerfully. "Nicholas and I had a little chat, and agreed it was for the best. Harry told me all about what you've been up to - quite exciting, I must say. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've some things to see to."

After he left, Harry told Dudley everything that had happened, right down to how he got the Stone out of the Mirror of Erised, which Dudley hadn't even noticed was in the chamber at all. He was just describing how he'd burned Quirrel when their friends rushed into the room, effectively putting an end to the conversation as they chattered.

There was a visit from Hagrid - "It's - all - my - ruddy - fault!" "There, there, Hagrid, it's all right!" - and the giant gave Harry a photo album he'd filled with pictures of Harry's parents, and then they were released. Dudley and Harry made their way down to the end of term feast in silence, and found it decked out in Slytherin colors to celebrate that House's seventh House Cup victory in a row. As they entered, conversation died, so people could turn and stare at them. Sharing a glance, Harry and Dudley went to their own tables and sat quietly with their friends, and the noise returned in a dull roar. People actually stood up to stare at them, and Cedric looked at Dudley with concern.

Fortunately, that was about the time Dumbledore arrived, and the babble died away again. "Another year gone!" he said cheerfully. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are a little fuller than they were - you have the whole summer to get them nice and empty before next year starts. Now, as I understand it, the House Cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus; in fourth place, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and two points; in third, Gryffindor, with four hundred and twelve; in second, Ravenclaw, with four hundred and twenty-six; and in first place, Slytherin, with four hundred and seventy-two."

Slytherin erupted with cheers, several of the students banging their goblets enthusiastically on the table. "Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account." The room went very still, and the Slytherins' smiles faded a little. A murmur of confusion swept through the room. Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes... first, to Hannah Abbott-" She turned pink, and tried to hide behind her goblet. "-for astonishing reflexes and an even more astonishing talent for improvisation, I award Hufflepuff House thirty points."

The Hufflepuffs let out a cheer that was more startled than anything else, and Susan beamed at Hannah, who was hiding her bright face in her hands. When they died down, Dumbledore continued. "To Mr. Neville Longbottom, for outstanding courage in the face of the unknown, I award Hufflepuff House thirty points." The Hufflepuffs were beside themselves with excitement, now, and several thumped a sheepish looking Neville on the back.

Dumbledore gave Dudley a wry look over top of his glasses as the cheers died down once more. "To Mr. Dudley Dursley, for a surprising preparedness and a cool head, I award Hufflepuff House thirty points."

It wasn't enough to even pull them out of fourth place, but ninety points was ninety points, and it more than made up for their loss earlier in the year. But Dumbledore wasn't finished yet, and as everyone settled, he turned to the Gryffindor table. The Slytherins, who'd started to grin again, now watched tensely. "Now - to Mr. Ronald Weasley-" and Ron went purple in the face, "- for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor House thirty points."

The table erupted with noise, and the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws joined in, sensing a serious threat to Slytherin's victory. Percy Weasley was beside himself, practically out of his seat with excitement as he bragged to the other prefects. The noise eventually died down, and Dumbledore went on. "To Miss Hermione Granger, for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor House thirty points."

Hermione buried her face in her arms, shaking, and Dudley suspected she had burst into tears. The table was a mess - Gryffindor was now tied with Slytherin, and it wouldn't take much to push them into victory. Dumbledore smiled, and said, "Finally - to Mr. Harry Potter, I award Gryffindor House thirty points."

Someone standing outside the Great Hall might ahve thought some sort of explosion had taken place, so loud was the noise issuing from the Gryffindor table. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw joined in with a roar of enthusiasm, and the Slytherins looked utterly devastated. "Which means," Dumbledore called finally, "we need a little change of decoration." He clapped his hands, and in an instant, the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold. The huge Slytherin serpent vanished, to be replaced by a towering Gryffindor lion. Professor Snape shook Professor McGonagall's hand with a horrible, forced smile, while Professor Sprout beamed down at her House with pride, not forgetting what they had done.

Exam results came in, and the six compared results. Hermione, of course, had the best grades, and Hannah, Harry, and Ron all got decent marks. Dudley and Neville seemed to have just barely scraped by, but they did almost as well as Hermione on the written exams. And then there was a flurry of packing and last minute scrambling about, and as the others went to hunt down Neville's missing toad, Dudley took himself up to Dumbledore's office for their last meeting of the year.

When he arrived, the Headmaster was not yet there, so Dudley contented himself with a little harmless poking around. The scarlet bird, who by now he knew was a phoenix named Fawkes, greeted him with a quiet chirrup, and allowed him to gently scratch its neck. "See you next year, Fawkes," he said, smiling, then turned as the door opened and Dumbledore stepped inside.

"Well," the Headmaster said cheerfully. "How did you like your first year?"

Dudley grinned. "It was stressful, sir, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I expect you want to know why I didn't tell you what we were up to?"

The wizard waved a hand, smiling. "Water under the bridge - I suspected, in any case." They took their usual seats at the desk, and he said, "Now that you've had time to sort through your memories, I would like you to tell me what you know of the coming year."

"Just the one?" Dudley asked, surprised, and added, "Aren't there rules against time travelers doing that?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "My dear boy, I rather suspect your case is unique," he pointed out. "And yes, just the one. We might as well take this a year at a time."

Humming thoughtfully, Dudley closed his eyes and brought up what he knew. "I know very little, because I learned it all secondhand and many years after the fact," he admitted.

"I think any information will be useful," Dumbledore assured him.

"Well - something called the Chamber of Secrets opens," Dudley said finally, opening his eyes. "There'll be trouble with the Ministry because of it. And of course Harry gets involved again. But I don't know much else."

To his astonishment, Dumbledore went cold and still. "Any deaths?" he asked.

"Not that I know of," Dudley replied, and they discussed it further, but he didn't know anything else. Finally, Dumbledore let him go, and Dudley did so gladly. At the door, however, he paused, and looked back at the Headmaster.

"Sir?" he said. "I know there are - protections of some kind on Harry, that are tied to my mother. Since we've moved, have the protections moved too?"

Dumbledore, once again all smiles, nodded. "You've nothing to worry about there, Dudley," he said gently. "Enjoy your summer."

Neville's toad was found lurking in the toilets, and notes were passed around to all students warning them not to use magic over the holidays. "I always hope they'll forget to give us these," said Fred Weasley sadly, and Hermione was inclined to agree.

"How are we supposed to practice?" she complained to her friends.

"Wave a stick, I suppose," Hannah suggested.

And before long they were boarding the Hogwarts Express, all piling into one compartment and chatting about everything and everything, making plans to visit each other during the summer. They threw Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans at each other as they sped past Muggle towns, a stack of candy for the winner. They stuffed their robes into their trunks and tugged on jackets and coats as they neared their destination, and grew quiet as the train pulled into King's Cross Station.

They collected their luggage and shuffled towards the gate, where a wizened old guard let them through in twos and threes so they didn't attract attention by all bursting out of a solid wall at once and terrifying the Muggles.

Some of the other students called out to the six as they passed, waving cheerfully, and finally, it was their turn to pass through. Dudley and Hannah were last, and to their surprise, found al their families huddled together. There were the Weasleys, already fussing over Ron, and the Grangers and Petunia stood near them, chatting amiably with Ms. Abbott and Neville's gran. Petunia smiled at Harry and Dudley a little nervously as they stepped up to her, and she rested a hand on each of their shoulders, as if she wasn't sure quite what to do with them.

"Ready to go?" she asked.

Harry and Dudley looked at each other, then at their friends, before grinning.

"Yeah," said Dudley, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I think we are."