Business Meeting


Story Summary:
Vernon has a surprise encounter. Dudley needs a job. Fred and George have a new business. General chaos ensues.


Vernon Dursley was miserable. His world was slowly coming apart. Grunnings Drills, where he had worked all his life, was having financial difficulties and there was talk about high level cut backs. His son Dudley had failed all his GCSEs and Smeltings School had said that he would have to leave at the end of the term. And now Inland Revenue was asking embarrassing questions about his tax returns.

That was why Vernon was sitting in the office of his accountant, Mr. Prewett. Vernon had known Mr. Prewett for more than twenty years. Mr. Prewett was everything a good accountant should be -- conservative, respectable and most of all, discreet. Not that Vernon was up to anything shady. But there were still questions he would rather not answer. About his nephew Harry, for instance. Another accountant might have pressed Vernon for details on Harry's boarding school fees. It would have been utterly impossible for Vernon to explain the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Mr. Prewett simply listened to Vernon's mumbled explanation about a special school and trust fund from his parents with a slight smile and a knowing nod.

Once the tax problem was sorted out, Vernon mentioned his worries over Dudley. Mr. Prewett was reassuring.

"My cousin had two sons like that, twins. Always in trouble. Very bright but wouldn't study. Left school early. But then the found a backer, set up a business and did very well. They're very fine young men. I've been helping them with their books ..."

Mr. Prewett glanced at the clock and suddenly became nervous. "Oh, that reminds me. I have another appointment in a few minutes," he said.

He got up at hustled Vernon towards the door with uncharacteristic haste. Suddenly there was a loud crack and two figures appeared in the office. They were red haired and wearing purple robes and green boots. Vernon and Mr. Prewett both froze. All four men stared at one another in silence. Then one of the red-headed men spoke.

"Hello, cousin. Hello, Mr. Dursley. I'm George Weasley and this is my brother Fred. We're friends of Harry. I don't suppose you remember us... I guess you do.... We're very sorry about that trick we played on Dudley."

Mr. Prewett finally found his voice. "Of course! Your nephew Harry! I needn't have worried. You know that all this has to be kept very hush-hush. I hope you don't mind seeing yourself out. I'll ring you for lunch next week."

Vernon Dursley stood in the outer office, his head swimming and his heart pounding. One of the rocks of his existence had crumbled.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The last time Arthur Weasley had been so angry with his sons, had been the day he caught Fred trying to get Ron to make an Unbreakable Vow.

"No. No. It's impossible. You are flying in the face of three hundred years of magical law and everything I've worked for all my life. You can't sell magic tricks to Muggles. I won't allow it. Old Barty Crouch sent his own son to Azkaban, I can certainly raid your store."

"But Dad," George explained yet again, "we won't be selling anything with real magic. It will all be Muggle stuff like those card tricks we showed you. You can personally check every item of stock."

"Alright then, but remember, I'll be watching you."

Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was growing beyond Fred's and George's wildest hopes. Stock was flying off the shelves and money was piling up in their Gringotts vault. And that was becoming a problem. They looked up their mother's cousin, a Muggle accountant they had not seen in years, and asked him for advice.

"You have too much idle capital," Mr.Prewett warned them. "A business has to grow or die. Your market is nearly saturated. You need to expand and diversify."

But where could they expand? Wizarding Britain was very small. Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley were the only places that could support a joke shop. They had looked into buying Zonko's, but they decided that all the wartime restrictions on Hogwarts students made it too risky.

The opportunity was quite unexpected They had always carried a small line of Muggle magic tricks. Their wholesale supplier told them he had another customer who wanted to sell his shop and retire. They paid him a visit. It was just what they were looking for. The shop was on an older street that was slowly being cleaned up. There was a pub that looked a bit like the Leaky Cauldron, a hair dresser, a health food store and an empty building with a sign announcing a new Starbucks was opening soon. The shop itself had a fascinating selection but it was shabby and the owner was tired. This was their chance.

A Gringotts Goblin found them a solicitor. He was a young Squib who must have been the only lawyer in London to have both a feather quill and a computer at his desk. They had a deal within a week.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vernon Dursley glared at Dudley with a look he had previously reserved for Harry Potter. Dudley had been caught selling drugs and expelled from school. Charges were pending. Vernon hated drugs (other than alcohol and tobacco) almost as much as he hated magic.

"You're a disgrace! I don't want you under my roof. You can stay until you find a job, then get out and stay out!" he bellowed.

"Vernon, please ...."

"No, Petunia, this is my final word. I've always done everything I could for the boy. The only thing I couldn't do is keep him away from your worthless nephew."

At Dudley's first court hearing, the Magistrate requested a home study report. A social worker visited a few days later.

"Er, I suppose you don't see many cases from our ... er... station in life?" Vernon began.

"More often than you expect, material wealth is often coupled with emotional neglect," came the cold reply.

The questioning was thorough and relentless. After an hour, the social worker asked, "Your neighbour mentioned that you had another boy living with you, your nephew Harry, what can you tell me about him?"

Vernon and Petunia looked at each other. What could they say? This woman was bound to know that there was no such school as St. Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. Hogwarts provided Muggle parents with the name of a school they could use for a cover story in this sort of situation. It was registered with the Muggle authorities and would reply promptly to all inquiries. Vernon didn't know this because he had thrown away Harry's Hogwarts letters without reading them.

The telephone rang. It was Mr. Prewett. Inland Revenue had more questions and he needed to meet urgently. Vernon sighed with relief. "Very important business meeting, have to run," he said.

The social worker looked at her watch. She wrote "Conclusion: s/r" (her private code for spoiled rotten) and closed her note book. If she left now, she could get her report translated into gobbledygook before the end of the day.

The court case was the least of Dudley's problems. He owed money for the last drug shipment. He had tried to explain that he had been arrested and the drugs confiscated, but it didn't seem to make any difference. His dealer had sidled up to him as he waited for the train home from Smeltings. "I know where you live, Pig Boy," he whispered. "I have friends in Little Whinging."

Dudley needed to get away. He needed a job. But where? Who would hire him?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Setting up a Muggle business was more trouble than Fred and George had realized. First, there was the problem of staffing. Wizards did not want to work in a Muggle area where they could not use magic. If they hired an ordinary Muggle, wizard law would restrict them from using their own magic. Squibs were the usual go-betweens in these situations but they were rare. Finally, they found an exception in the law which permitted them to hire a Muggle who had lived in the same household as a witch or wizard.

They sent an owl to Hogwarts asking for the names and addresses of Muggle-born class mates from the Greater London Area. Surely someone had a family member who needed a job. Professor McGonagall sent back a list of names but refused to give them addresses. "I wish you every success," she explained kindly, "but the information you are requesting is too sensitive. You Know Who will be targeting relatives of Muggle born witches and wizards and we cannot afford to take any risks."

"Well, thank you for nothing," Fred said as he scanned the list. "There are hundreds of Thomases in the telephone directory. We can't call every one of them and ask 'Excuse me, do you have any wizards in your family?'"

That evening they attended a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix. Mrs. Figg, Harry's Squib neighbour, was there. She told them about the Dursleys' troubles. "Poor Petunia is just beside herself, " she said. "Just the other day two awful young men came to the house looking for Dudley. She's begging Vernon to take her away."

The twins looked at each other and smiled. "So Ickle Duddykins needs a job?" they asked in unison.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dudley walked slowly down the street. He had no where to go. His friend Piers was still away at boarding school. Malcolm and Gordon went to Stonewall, the local comprehensive where Harry would have gone, but Dudley had learned to give Stonewall a wide berth. It was dangerous to be outside, but he could not stand to stay in the house under his father's disapproving glare.

Fred and George arrived at number four Privet Drive with Mr. Prewett while Dudley was out. They explained what they wanted to Vernon and Petunia. Only a few days ago, their proposal, their very presence in his house, would have made Vernon turn purple with mindless rage. Now, he merely listened with ashen-faced resignation.

Dudley returned to the house, winded. He had run for two blocks because he saw a strange man get out of a car. When he saw Fred and George, his heart nearly stopped. His mother calmed him down and he listened to their proposal. He accepted immediately. He hated the thought of working for freaks, but he needed to get away. Within a few days, he had moved into a small flat above the shop.

Fred and George re-decorated the shop and brought in some new stock. An official from the Improper Use of Muggle Artifacts Office inspected it and pronounced them clean. The one magical object in the store was a Sneak-o-scope which was connected to their shop in Diagon Alley. The Muggle branch of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was an instant success. It presented magic with just the right blend of light humour and dark mystery.

Dudley didn't much like life as a shop keeper. His feet hurt at the end of the day. The purple robe he had to wear was even more ridiculous than his Smeltings uniform. There was nothing to do in the evenings except watch an old black and white TV. His father had forced him to sell his new colour set to help pay his legal bill.

Dudley still had his debt to worry about. He was not saving any money. His flat above the shop was rent free but it was expensive to live on take-away food. He had never learned to cook. His father insisted that the only men who cooked were freaks and faggots.

Once, he considered skimming some money from the cash register. A funny gadget above his head began to hum and George walked out of the back room a few minutes later. George's manner was friendly but Dudley had an awful suspicion that his employer knew what he had been thinking.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Harry Potter scanned the crowd at King's Cross Station. For the first time, he did not dread his return to the Dursleys. Hermione and Lupin had helped him research the bond of blood spell which Dumbledore had cast when he was an infant. It was an immensely powerful magic. They found that if the bond was reinforced with real mutual affection, it could even offer Harry some lingering protection after he came of age. "Not that there's much hope of that, " he commented ruefully.

But the Dursleys were not there. He walked around the waiting area twice and went out to the car park to look for their car. There was no sign of them. Fortunately, Hermione was still in the car park and her parents agreed to drive him to Little Whinging. Mrs. Figg told them about Dudley and explained that Vernon and Petunia had left for several weeks vacation.

"So what do I do now?" Harry asked.

"Well, Mrs. Figg has a key, you could stay in the house without them," Hermione replied.

"But Dumbledore said that the protection only exists 'while you can still call home the place where your mother's blood dwells.'"

"Harry, even your aunt isn't at the house right now, she still dwells there. She's just on vacation. You don't have to be at a place all the time to dwell there."

"You're not making sense, Hermione."

"You're not listening, Harry. You don't have to live at Privet Drive all year to get the protection. Why do the Dursleys have to be there all the time?"

Harry pondered. He could not see a flaw in Hermione's logic. The only problem was, it was too good to be true. How could he expect to get blood protection from his aunt without actually seeing her?

"Hermione, stop it. This isn't an examination question. This is my life we're talking about it. I can't take the chance. Dudley has my mother's blood too. Let's go and find him."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dudley quickly got used to having Harry around. True, he spent most of his time reading freaky books and scribbling notes about horo-something-or-others, but at least he was company. Harry was willing to help in the shop without pay. (Dudley learned that he was a silent partner in the business.) Even better, he could cook. Dudley could have bacon for breakfast again instead of last night's left-over curry.

Harry's friends came by and Dudley thought that some of them seemed almost normal. On Sunday afternoon Dean Thomas came by with a football and they went to the local park. Dudley never thought he would see the day when he would enjoy talking football with a West Ham supporter. They went to the cinema with Ron and Hermione. The film was dull (Hermione had chosen it) but Ron amused Dudley by gaping at the screen and saying, "It's almost like real magic!" over and over again between mouthfuls of popcorn. Ginny dropped in and teased Harry by flirting with Dudley.

Mrs. Weasley sent a box of home baking. Dudley nervously asked if his tongue would swell if he ate it. "Only if you take more than your fair share," Harry replied jokingly.

Dudley learned that he still had to be careful around wizards. One day, a cat walked into the shop and headed boldly for the stairs. Dudley tried to chase it out but it bounded past him. He followed it upstairs and found Harry talking to a gray-haired woman who gave Dudley a look that froze his blood.

More worrying were the oddly dressed men who were sometimes seen watching the shop. Once or twice, one of them would come into the shop and ask for Harry. Dudley was frightened out of his wits but, each time this happened, the man's face would suddenly contort in pain and he would run away.

None of the men seemed to have any interest in Dudley. He stopped worrying about his debt. No one would think of looking for him here.

The shop continued to do well. The press began to notice. Then Fred walked in to the shop with a television crew. "My brother and I look after our professional division," he told the interviewer. "We don't want to talk about that aspect of our business. Magicians guard their secrets. Our retail branch is in the capable hands of young Mr. Dursley."

He put his arm around Dudley and hauled him in front of the camera.

A few days later, George heard the Sneak-o-scope whistle. He and Fred Apparated to their Muggle shop and found Dudley pinned to the wall by two muscular goons. They stunned them, levitated them to the next alley and stuffed them each in a dustbin. Harry had been upstairs reading.

"It looks like it was just a Muggle robbery. They didn't have the Dark Mark," George said. "I don't want to bother the police. It will just upset Harry."

Over the next few days, the twins disposed of two similar attacks on Dudley with equal ease.

"I haven't had so much fun since we got rid of old Umbridge," Fred laughed.

Dudley looked at them in awe. Freaks like Harry had their uses.

~ ~ ~ ~

Voldemort surveyed his followers with disdain. "So, Potter is no longer at his aunt's house, his aunt is no longer in the country and yet you cannot reach him."

"My lord, he is living with his cousin who still carries his mother's blood."

"True, but a cousin's blood has been diluted. The protection should be weaker."

"It seemed so at first, my lord, but the protection is growing stronger every day. We cannot tell why."

"Then we shall find out. If you cannot bring me Harry Potter, bring me his cousin."

The plan was carefully worked out. Black, Greyback and Voldemort himself would lead attacks in widely separated areas of the country to draw away the Order of the Phoenix. Rosier and Jugson would lead the kidnap gang. They would rush the shop at closing time and drag Dudley to a waiting Portkey.

"Surely you can manage to capture one fat Muggle child," Voldemort said. "And on your way out, set the shop on fire, the Weasleys are disgracing the name of wizard with their antics."

In another part of London, another dark lord was also addressing his followers in slightly less refined language.

"OK, you ****heads let's go over this again. First, Joey and Mikey go to a joke shop to do a simple shakedown and they end up in a dustbin. Not a mark on either of them. No explanation. Right?"

"Right, Big Jim."

"Next, I tell Petey to take a knife with him. He ends up on a school roof, the knife is gone but he has a great big carrot in his belt. No explanation. Right?"

"Right, Big Jim."

"Now I'm getting f***ing desperate. A mate from Surrey asks me to collect a simple little debt for him and you guys keep messing it up. So I tell Timmy he can take a gun with him. That is crazy. What kind of a guy needs a gun to shakedown a fat schoolboy? But I'm desperate. I need results. And what results do I get? Timmy is tied up in a ladies' toilet, his gun is gone ... vanished ... no trace ... but he's holding a bunch of daffodils. And still no explanation?"

"Not a thing."

"So, what happened?"

"I was so careful, boss," Timmy whimpered, as Jim struck him in the face. "I watched the shop for an hour before I went in. The fat kid was alone. The skinny kid with glasses had gone out. There's no back door. So, I went in and pulled my gun. Then I heard this popping sound and two big guys with red hair were standing behind me. That's the last I remember."

"He's telling the truth, boss," Joey added. "I was on lookout. No one went into the shop after Timmy."

"So, what is it with these Weasleys? Are they real f***ing wizards? Can they turn people into toads and appear out of thin air?"

Big Jim gave his orders. The whole gang would come. They would rush the shop and drag Dudley to a waiting car. On their way out, they would torch the shop.

"We're going to teach those Weasleys a lesson."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Men in robes were not an unfamiliar sight in the Blue Dragon. The area was home to a wide variety of mystics and eccentrics. These men were different. They were hard men, as hard as the group that was sitting in the far corner. The other customers look down at their drinks as they passed by. Most of the regulars decided to make it an early night. Big Jim's gang and the Death Eaters eyed each other across the empty pub.

Big Jim moved first. At his signal, his men rushed into Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes and grabbed the terrified Dudley. The Death Eaters met them at the door to the shop.

"Give us the boy, Muggle," Jugson said to Big Jim.

"Step aside, you crazies."

Jugson drew his wand.

"Oh, look boys, a pointy stick," Big Jim said. "Getting all high and mighty, eh?"

Big Jim drew his gun. Jugson flicked his wand and repeated the incantation to transfigure steel into silk. In a moment the gun would be a bunch of coloured ribbons and Big Jim and his gang would be frozen with fear. The Dark Lord had explained the technique to him. "When you attack a Muggle for the first time, always begin, if possible by a simple transfiguration spell. Muggles will sometimes withstand a hex or a curse, but the mere sight of a solid object changing form before their eyes never fails to inspire irrational panic."

The Death Eaters smiled and waited. Nothing happened. The gun remained as hard and black as the look on Big Jim's face. The spell had failed because the gun was plastic and not steel, a new model that Big Jim had sMuggled in from Austria at great expense.

"Move, you freak."

Big Jim's fist slammed into Jugson's stomach and he went down. Rosier knocked Big Jim over with a stunning spell. The rest of Big Jim's gang drew their guns.

The Death Eaters dived for cover. They had never faced Muggles armed with guns before. They knew that, in theory, a sufficiently powerful shield charm would stop a bullet, but no wizard had ever wanted to put that theory to the test.

Spells and bullets flew across the narrow street and into the shop. Harry heard the noise and ran down stairs. Dudley was hiding behind a counter. Harry cast a shield charm that gave Dudley a few seconds to get upstairs. Harry bolted the door and followed him.

Rosier transfigured Joey's gun into a banana. Joey sank to the ground, gibbering with fear and disbelief. Rosier smirked with satisfaction and then had to dive to avoid a bullet from Timmy. None of the other gangsters had seen the spell and they were still fighting.

Someone set fire to the shop. The battle spilled out into the street and the ground floor filled with smoke. Harry and Dudley were trapped upstairs. The stairway was burning and the street below was filled with Death Eaters and gangsters Harry mounted his Firebolt and held out his wand. "Get on behind me and hold on," he told a terrified Dudley.

"Reducto!" Harry shouted.

Harry's spell blasted away the wall and part of the roof. The timbers of the shop exploded in flame. He and Dudley flew out under cover of the smoke.

Aurors and police arrived at exactly the same time, at opposite ends of the street. The Aurors ignored Jim's gang, who rushed past them to the waiting get away cars. The Death Eaters blasted their way past the police with their wands and reached the Portkey.

Aurors and police faced each other across the empty street. Later that evening the Minister of Magic paid an urgent visit to the Muggle Prime Minister to sort things out and concoct a cover story.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vernon and Petunia had just returned from their holiday and were watching the late news.

"In other news, a gun battle erupted on a normally quiet London street. Official sources state that the incident was the result of a territorial dispute between two rival gangs of drug dealers. However, details have come to light which suggests possible terrorist involvement. The battle caused a fire which destroyed Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, a popular local gift shop. Police report that two teenaged boys who were living above the shop are missing and not accounted for."

The screen showed a picture of the smoking ruin of the Weasleys' shop. Petunia screamed.

Harry and Dudley stopped to rest. Harry had landed the Firebolt in the next alley. They had run until they were exhausted and then walked aimlessly. They were lost.

"Look Harry, there's a night bus."

"The Knight Bus? I thought only wizards could see that?"

"No, you prat, look! The night buses are buses that run after the Tube stops."

Dudley pointed to a red double-decker. They ran to catch it and found that they had just enough change for the fare back to Little Whinging.

By two a.m. they were back at Privet Drive. The Dursleys were still awake Vernon looked at his son, sank back in his chair and buried his head in his hands. Petunia tried to wrap her bony arms around both boys at once.

A few days later, Harry got up from the biggest and best meal he had ever had with the Dursleys. Tomorrow was his birthday and he would leave for The Burrow at midnight. He went upstairs to pack.

Harry's trunk had been destroyed in the fire but he didn't mind. Uncle Vernon had insisted on buying him a complete new wardrobe. He owned a suit for the first time in his life, three pairs of jeans and a selection of fashionable shirts. Moody and Shacklebolt had escorted him to Diagon Alley so he could replace his wizard's robes and books. Luckily, he had loaned his invisibility cloak and the Marauders' Map to Lupin a few days before. There was only one thing that he would really miss.

He saw a small package on his bed. It contained some photographs and a note. Harry read, "Dear Harry, your mother gave these to me before she died. I've been saving them for you. Happy Birthday. Love, Aunt Petunia."

Vernon found Dudley a job in the Grunnings warehouse. "I won't need any magic tricks to know if you're up to no good, boy," he growled.

Sometime later, Dudley also received an unexpected letter.

"Dear Mr. Dursley, Hit Wizards from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement have tracked down the gang that attacked you and your former drug supplier. Their memories have been modified to remove all recollection of their dealings with you. This was an exceptional measure taken to protect Harry and the secrecy of the magical world. If you make a similar foolish mistake in future, you will be on your own. Yours truly, Arthur Weasley."

Fred examined the cheque for the insurance proceeds and passed it to George. Their accountant cousin and the Squib solicitor had done their best. It would cover most of their loss.

"Shall we take it to Gringotts or ...? " Fred asked.

The brothers looked at each other and considered their options. Since they had started their new venture they had face gangsters, Death Eaters, Muggle insurance adjusters and their parents saying, "I told you so."

"Definitely Gringotts," George replied.

The goblins charged a stiff commission for cashing a Muggle cheque but Fred and George wanted to stay well clear of the Muggle world.