Albus Dumbledore Severus Snape
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 10/14/2004
Updated: 11/05/2004
Words: 419,861
Chapters: 24
Hits: 157,499

Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery


Story Summary:
Suddenly with a higher profile after being proved right about Voldemort's return, Harry's use of Voldemort's name around Hogwarts gains popularity. It also attracts Voldemort's attention in the form of a series of attacks, and Harry soon finds that he is shouldering a burden even greater than the prophecy--the likelihood that Sirius's fate could come to his friends, who will stop at nothing to protect him.

Chapter 03

Chapter Summary:
A confrontation on Privet Drive involving Harry, Malfoy, and Dudley pulls the Dursleys closer to the world of magic than they had imagined would ever happen.

Chapter 3

The Wizard and the Boxer

It was by now early evening, and twilight was just beginning to settle over Little Whinging as Harry walked home from Arabella Figg's house. He wondered what reaction, if any, he would get from Aunt Petunia when he walked in the door. She was bound to still be furious over what Professor Lupin had done, Harry thought. Would she still insist on him staying in his bedroom? That wasn't going to work, not if he was going to start Occlumency lessons with Professor Dumbledore next week. He decided that he would act as if her punishment had never happened, and see whether she reacted. If she tried to keep him in his room, Harry knew she would have to worry about more than a red lawn. He was sure it wasn't worth it to her.

Harry turned the corner onto Privet Drive; the Dursleys' house was six houses away. He glanced up and saw three boys on the sidewalk about three houses down, walking in his direction. He thought nothing of it until, thinking they looked vaguely familiar, he looked up again.

He couldn't believe it. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle? On Privet Drive? What in the world are they doing here? Harry asked himself, then answered it at once: they're here to see you, obviously. He quickly calculated his options. He could probably turn around and outrun them, but they could always wait in front of his home, and he'd have to get past them sooner or later. Neither he nor they could use magic, being underage, so it had to be that Malfoy intended to give Harry two bad choices: forego the use of magic and get beaten up, or use magic to defend himself and risk expulsion, as had nearly happened last year. There had to be another option, he told himself.

But, wait, I'm always being followed, aren't I? he thought. He had no specific confirmation that this was still the case, but it seemed a reasonable assumption. If it's true, then I'll be safe, but... whoever's following me won't want it known that they're doing so, and won't want to intervene openly. How far would they let him get beaten up before intervening, if at all? Harry decided he couldn't count on help that was iffy and might not even be there in the first place. He decided to play it by ear and keep his wand handy, but only to be used as a last option.

By now, they were one house away and closing, standing between Harry and four Privet Drive. He saw Malfoy smile, and say loudly, "Well, what do you know, guys, it's Harry Potter! Isn't that something!" Crabbe and Goyle snickered as usual whenever Malfoy said something obviously intended to be funny.

Harry stopped walking about ten feet away from them, his posture signaling a readiness to use his wand. "Yeah, imagine that," he said sarcastically, "finding me walking along the street where I live. You must be so surprised."

"Is this where you live? Really? We had no idea," said Malfoy, not bothering to pretend he really meant it. "We were just looking around to see what Muggle neighborhoods look like."

"Yeah, because you're so interested in Muggles," Harry retorted. "What the hell do you want, Malfoy?"

Malfoy raised his eyebrows at Harry's language, but otherwise ignored it. "Well, since we have you here, Potter, we thought we'd have a nice chat with you," he said, not troubling himself to be subtle about his intentions.

"'We'? You mean, they're actually going to speak?" taunted Harry, motioning at Crabbe and Goyle. They turned to Malfoy with questioning expressions, as if this possibility hadn't occurred to them. Malfoy rolled his eyes.

"No, didn't think so," Harry continued. "No, I always think of Crabbe and Goyle as being like those people in the Muggle TV programs who never say anything, because they'd have to pay them if they did." Seeing nothing but confused looks, Harry remembered, "But you probably don't know what TV is, it's a Muggle thing. Anyway, Malfoy, I'll be happy to have a chat. Would you like to come round the house for some tea?"

Harry fleetingly wondered what would happen if Malfoy took him up on the invitation. Aunt Petunia would throw a fit and throw them out, solving his problem, but of course he knew that wouldn't happen.

"With Muggles?" Malfoy sneered. "No thanks, here will do quite fine."

"Okay," Harry answered. "So, what shall we chat about?"

"Let's start with the slander you've been spreading around about our families," Malfoy said, smiling with anticipation. "You said all of our fathers were Death Eaters in that stupid Quibbler rag. No one believes it, of course, but you still can't say things like that. Now, you had better-"

"Oh, get off it, Malfoy," Harry interrupted him. "It's only us here, no one to impress or fool. We all know your fathers are Death Eaters, there's no point in even arguing it. The Prophet re-printed the article, so now people do believe it. So is there anything else, or was that going to be your excuse to have at me?"

"No, nothing else, except that you deserve what you're about to get," said Malfoy smugly, motioning Crabbe and Goyle forward.

They stopped after two steps when Harry whipped out his wand. "I wouldn't, if I were you," he said to Crabbe and Goyle. "I don't think Malfoy cares all that much about your health."

"Empty threat, Potter," Malfoy said loudly. "I don't think you want to be using magic, not after what happened last year. You're already skating on thin ice."

"I'm allowed to use it in self-defense, as you well know," Harry replied. "It seems to me that this qualifies. I'm quite willing to try, and find out." He hoped he wouldn't have to, though.

"But who would believe that this qualifies? It would be our word against yours, and you're already well-known as an underage magic offender," said Malfoy.

"Yes, but you're forgetting that it's different from last year," Harry pointed out. "Last year in the Prophet, I was an attention-seeking nutter. The deck was stacked against me, and I still got away. This year, the Boy Who Lived is back in favor at the Ministry, or haven't you been reading the Prophet lately? Too busy visiting your father in jail? Give it a try, I don't think you'll like what happens."

Malfoy looked indecisive and furious. Harry knew he was pushing Malfoy hard, but he thought it was to his advantage if Malfoy lost his temper. If he could provoke Malfoy into using magic first, he could legitimately defend himself, and there would be no question of charges. Using magic to defend himself against fists was more ambiguous.

Malfoy appeared to have made his decision. "All right... Crabbe! Goyle!-"

He was interrupted by a new voice, coming around the same corner Harry had turned on when to first saw the three Slytherins.

"What's going on? Who are you?" Harry turned and saw his cousin Dudley, no doubt coming home from a hard day's bullying, addressing Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle.

"Who are we?" Malfoy repeated. "We're the ones who'll make you regret you ever saw us if you don't get out of here, right now."

Harry knew he had to think fast. This could get bad very fast, or it could be his ticket out of the situation without having to use magic, if things went right. He just had to make sure Dudley and Malfoy disliked each other more than him.

Dudley, meanwhile, looked at Malfoy with a disbelieving expression. "You'll- make me-" he sputtered.

"Yeah, that's right," Malfoy sneered, "so get lost."

Oh, this is great, Harry thought. Malfoy's mistaking Dudley's contempt for fear. This is almost going to be fun to watch, but I still have to be careful.

Dudley looked at Harry, incredulous. "Are these your friends? Are they stupid, or what?"

"Looks that way," Harry agreed. "I guess I should introduce you. Dudley, this is Draco Malfoy, and his... associates, Victor Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. They're from my school. Guys," he said, addressing the Slytherins, "This is my cousin, Dudley."

"What are more freaks from your school doing here?" Dudley asked Harry accusingly. Turning he Malfoy, he added, "You'd better get off my block right now!"

"Freaks?" Malfoy sputtered. "Your block?" Clearly both Dudley and Malfoy thought they had all the control in this situation, and Harry wasn't quite sure which one really did. It all depended on Malfoy's willingness to use magic in defiance of Ministry rules. Harry was still in danger, but he chuckled inwardly: Malfoy was about to find himself in the very predicament in which he'd planned to place Harry.

Malfoy had recovered the power of speech. "No Muggle ape is going to tell me where I can and can't go! Look at him, he looks like Hagrid's shorter, even dumber brother!"

Harry knew Dudley hadn't understood the word 'Muggle,' but from the incredulous and angry look on his face, had understood everything else just fine. Dudley's meaty hands had already formed into fists. He looked at Harry.

"Are these your friends?" Dudley demanded.

"No, they aren't," Harry said quietly. "They're... classmates. To be honest, I don't like their attitude toward Mug-, er toward normal people. 'Muggle' is a wizard word that means normal people. They think they're better than normal people."

"We are better than Muggles! But not according to the famous Harry Potter, friend of Muggles everywhere," said Malfoy contemptuously. You like Muggles so much, Potter, why don't you stay here with them all year? Leave our kind alone!"

"Harry," said Dudley urgently and quietly, "you aren't allowed to..." he mimicked a wand-swishing motion. "Are they?"

"Nope. Same rules as me. They're in big trouble if they do," Harry said confidently.

Dudley's face broke into a wide grin. "I'm going to enjoy this," he said, moving forward.

Harry decided to give Malfoy one last chance, though he knew it was futile. "Malfoy, you'd better quit while you're ahead," he advised. "Dudley's not going to have any problems. He's a boxing champion."

"What do I care if he's good at packing boxes?" Malfoy snarled. "I guess someone has to do it, but it's not going to help him any."

Harry and Dudley, who were a foot away from each other, exchanged amazed stares. Dudley actually stopped and leaned into Harry. "Is he joking?" Dudley asked, genuinely curious.

"No," Harry answered. "I think he doesn't know what it means."

"But look at him," Dudley continued, referring to Malfoy's tall but slight build. "Does he really think he can take me? Is he that stupid?"

"He doesn't think he'll have to," Harry explained. "He thinks his friends will. He doesn't know that they can't."

Dudley chuckled, and without further delay, headed toward Crabbe and Goyle. Harry stood alertly, holding his wand to protect Dudley from any magic should it become necessary.

Dudley didn't wait for Crabbe and Goyle to come after him; he went straight for Goyle, on his left. Goyle looked anxious; he was big, but not quite as big as Dudley. He nervously looked over at Crabbe and took up a defensive posture. Crabbe moved toward Goyle, but not before Dudley reached him.

Dudley feinted with a left to the chin. Goyle reflexively reacted to that while Dudley came in with a right to the jaw. Goyle went down, yelling in alarm and pain.

Crabbe came in and grabbed Dudley, intending to wrestle him to the ground, where Dudley could be held and dealt with. But Crabbe wasn't able to get Dudley to the ground. He moved Dudley around a bit and swung him off-balance, but his lack of real fighting experience showed. Dudley spun aside and threw Crabbe off him, showing an agility Harry wouldn't have expected of him. Must be all the boxing training, Harry thought. Crabbe staggered a few steps and fell. Goyle was still on the ground, moaning and holding his jaw.

"What's wrong with you two? Get up!" yelled Malfoy, angry and slightly panicked.

Both got to their feet, Crabbe faster than Goyle. Dudley, smelling blood, advanced on Crabbe. Crabbe swung at Dudley, but it was a roundhouse swing, and Dudley could see it coming a mile away. He easily dodged it, and punched the off-balance Crabbe solidly in the stomach. Crabbe doubled over, but didn't go down.

Goyle finally got involved again, but Harry was sure that he now saw fear in Goyle's eyes. Goyle swung wildly, landing only a glancing blow against Dudley's chest. Dudley gave Goyle two quick left jabs to the chin, knocking him off balance, then connected with a right to Goyle's jaw again. Goyle went down, yelling in pain again, more loudly this time.

Dudley advanced on Crabbe again. Crabbe was just starting to straighten up from the blow to the stomach he'd taken. Dudley feinted a right to the stomach; Crabbe used both hands to cover it. Oh, boy, Harry thought, he's leaving himself wide open. Even I know you're not supposed to do that. Dudley took the obvious opportunity, and finished Crabbe off with two left jabs to the chin followed by a right to the nose. Crabbe went down with what Harry was sure was a broken nose.

Dudley advanced on a seriously panic-stricken Malfoy. "Now,' Dudley said menacingly, "you might want to think about taking back some of what you said, like the things about 'ape' and 'stupid.' I might even let you run away like the coward you are if you apologize. Whaddaya say?"

Fury and fear blazing in his eyes, Malfoy held out his wand. "I'm no coward, you moron, and if you step one foot closer I'll curse you so badly your mother won't recognize you!"

Dudley stopped and glanced over at Harry, whose wand was out and pointed straight at Malfoy.

"There is zero chance of that happening, Dudley. He can't do it," Harry said, never taking his eyes off Malfoy.

"You don't think I'll break the law?" Malfoy sneered. "I will, and I'll get out of it. The name Malfoy still means something."

"Yeah, it means 'evil,'" Harry rejoined. "But that's not what I meant. I mean, you can't curse him, because I'm every bit as fast with a wand as you are, probably faster. I'll have Protection Charms on him so fast nothing you do will touch him. And if you think I'm going to get in trouble for that, you really are dumb." Then, to Dudley: "Nothing he does will touch you, Dudley. That's a fact."

Dudley smiled again. "As I was saying," he said to Malfoy, "yes, you are a coward, and a dumb one at that. You're a coward because you have these losers," glancing at the prone Crabbe and Goyle, "do your fighting for you, and you're dumb because they don't even know how to fight. So this is what you get. Now, about that apology? One more chance before you end up on the pavement like them."

If Harry knew one thing about Malfoy, it was that he'd rather get beaten up than apologize, especially to a Muggle. Malfoy also wouldn't run away, finding it too humiliating. But Harry also knew that Malfoy would rather break rules than get beaten up. So, he kept his wand at full readiness.

Malfoy was in a corner, and he clearly knew it. He gave vent to his fury. "I don't think so, you filthy Muggle scum."

Dudley advanced on Malfoy. Harry prepared to cast the Protection Charm.

As Malfoy opened his mouth to curse Dudley, Harry shouted "Protego!" Or, rather, he tried to. No sound came out of his mouth.

Malfoy pointed his wand at Dudley and shouted, "Stupefy!"

The spell bounced off Dudley harmlessly. He continued to advance.

Harry struggled to speak, but couldn't make a sound. He was slightly panicked, wondering what was protecting Dudley if it wasn't him. Malfoy and Dudley, whose eyes were solely on each other, did not notice.

Malfoy tried again. "Petrificus Totalus!"

Nothing happened. Dudley was almost on top of Malfoy, who scrambled back a few steps and raised his wand. "Stupefy!" he bellowed. There was no effect.

Truly panicked now, Malfoy darted a few steps to Dudley's right, focusing on not getting immediately hit. He glanced accusingly at Harry. "Since when can you do spells silently?"

Harry had been trying to make test noises for the past few seconds so he would know when he got his voice back. It returned in the middle of Malfoy's question.

So, he thinks I did that, Harry thought. Who is doing it, anyway? Whoever's following me? It suddenly dawned on Harry that that had to be the case, and that he was Silenced so that he couldn't get in trouble by doing magic, and whoever that was had Protected Dudley. It was therefore important not to let Malfoy know that Harry hadn't Protected Dudley, as then Malfoy, and soon the Death Eaters, would know that Harry was being shadowed.

Harry thought up a quick retort. "You liked Umbridge so much, don't blame me that she didn't teach you anything. At least I did something about it." Harry liked that answer. A good comeback, and vague enough not to really answer the question. "You know, Malfoy," Harry continued, wand still at the ready, "I'm really thinking that my cousin deserves an apology. You might want to give it your most urgent consideration."

Dudley was at that moment almost within arm's reach of Malfoy, who kept moving enough to barely stay out of harm's way. "Real urgent," Dudley agreed.

Malfoy cried, "You'll pay for this, both of you!"

Dudley was finally within range. "I think you've got that backwards," he said as he raised a fist.

There was a loud popping noise, and Malfoy disappeared.

Dudley looked dumbstruck. "What happened? Where is he?" he asked, looking around.

Harry was almost equally amazed. "He Disapparated," Harry said, temporarily forgetting that the word would mean nothing to Dudley. At Dudley's blank look, Harry added, "Sorry, it's a wizard word for disappearing and reappearing somewhere else. But it's covered under the rules, too. He'll be in deep trouble for that, and for the spells he tried to do on you."

Dudley exhaled in frustration. "I'd rather he'd gotten in the same kind of trouble they got in," gesturing to Crabbe and Goyle, who were still on the ground.

"I couldn't agree more," Harry said. "Insulting people, then running away... you were right, he sure is a coward. What about them? Are they unconscious?"

"Nah, they're just pretending," Dudley said as he jostled Crabbe with his foot. Harry saw very slight signs of movement. "You see it all the time in boxing. Guy goes down, knows he's lost, he stays down and plays dead."

Harry felt that Dudley was probably referring more to beatings than to boxing; he knew that in boxing you could get up after the referee said the fight was over. He felt it best not to say anything, however; this could be a chance to form some rudimentary bond with Dudley, and the past notwithstanding, he felt he should try. Dudley had done him a good turn, even if by accident.

"Well, let's just leave them there, then," Harry suggested. "They'll crawl home somehow, I suppose. Guess we should be getting back ourselves."

Dudley grunted in agreement, and they headed off toward the Dursley home.

"Aren't you going to get in trouble, though?" Dudley asked. "You used yours too, after all, and you're not supposed to."

"We're allowed to use it in self-defense, which is why I didn't end up getting punished last year, when I drove those things away," Harry explained. "Defending non-magical people from magical attack is also allowed. I just had to be careful not to do any offensive spells. Much as I would've liked to," he added.

"Say, you were pretty good with that thing," Dudley commented, to Harry's amazement. Dudley was usually as magic-averse as his parents. "Never even saw how you did it. You that fast?"

Harry was not about to even consider telling Dudley that he hadn't actually done anything, that someone else had. He preferred that Dudley think that Harry had protected him, and explaining being followed would be too complicated anyway.

"Well, not to brag, but yes, I've been told that," Harry admitted. "It's just reflexes, is all. But him," meaning Malfoy, "he thinks he's better than everyone, both wizards and non-wizards. Couldn't hardly be more wrong. By the way," he continued, hoping that Dudley would be receptive to what he was trying to do, "you need to know that not all wizards are like that. People like him are really the worst. Most are perfectly friendly and good people, and most don't have his attitude about non-magical people."

Dudley looked at Harry suspiciously. "What about the ones from a couple of years ago? The thing with my tongue?"

"Oh, them, they're harmless, they're major practical jokers. At school they were constantly giving out enchanted snacks to people. It didn't take long to learn not to accept food from them." Harry went on to explain about Fred and George's new business, and products like Skiving Snackboxes, and how they worked.

"...so they became real popular, everyone wanted a box," Harry concluded. He could see that Dudley was very intrigued by the idea.

"I can see why, sounds fantastic!" said Dudley eagerly. "Wish we could buy stuff like that. Get out of a class any time you want, make a day of it... classes are always so boring..."

"At our school too." Harry agreed.

"And it's totally safe?

"Oh, sure. I saw dozens of people use them, and there were no problems at all."

Dudley raised his eyebrows. "Dozens?"

"Well, one teacher was really unpopular," Harry explained. "People were puking left and right. She lost whole classes to those things."

Dudley laughed heartily, no doubt imagining it. Then he suddenly stopped, so Harry did too. They had almost arrived at four Privet Drive.

Dudley leaned over and spoke quietly. "Listen, do you think you could..."

Harry's eyebrows rose into his hair. "You mean, get you a box?"

Dudley nodded. "It would be so cool..."

Harry was stunned beyond words. He almost felt as though he'd been Silenced again. After a few seconds, he managed to say, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I could. But if your parents found out... they would absolutely go through the roof, with no magical help whatsoever."

Dudley grinned. "That's no problem at all. You'd be amazed at what I do that they don't know."

Bet I wouldn't, Harry thought, but of course didn't say. "OK, I'll be going to London in a few weeks to get my stuff for the start of the next term. I should be able to get a box and bring it back, so you can have it before your term starts."

"Great. Thanks," said Dudley. Harry was amazed further; he was sure that this was the first time a resident of four Privet Drive had ever thanked him for anything.

"No problem," Harry responded. "Shall we?" he asked, gesturing to the front door.

Harry and Dudley walked into the Dursley home.

No sooner had they walked in the door than Harry heard Petunia yelling, "They're here, Vernon! They're here!" She came running over and started looking Dudley over worriedly. "Are you all right, Diddykins?" She threw a dirty glance at Harry. "Is everything all right?"

Dudley started to blush. "Dudley, okay, Mum? Dudley," he muttered. He glanced over at Harry to see if he was smiling. Harry wanted to, but knew he'd better not. He just gave Dudley a sympathetic 'what-are-you-gonna-do?' look. "And of course I'm all right," Dudley continued. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"I've just been on the phone with two of the neighbors. They say they saw both of you, fighting with three other boys. And," she said, now glaring at Harry, "that two of you were holding your..." Harry knew she hated to say the word 'wand', "...things."

Harry and Dudley looked at each other, then quickly looked away so as not to burst out laughing. Harry barely managed to keep a straight face. "I did the actual fighting," Dudley said. "Not much point in him trying. He just kept an eye on them, so they couldn't use their... things." Harry nodded in agreement.

They walked into the living room. Vernon was sitting in his recliner, holding his usual after-work cocktail. He addressed Harry suspiciously. "What are you doing inviting friends to this block anyway, boy? You don't see enough of those weirdos ten months of the year?

"I didn't invite them, and they're not my friends!" Harry almost shouted. Calm down, Harry told himself. Calm down. "They are from my school, same grade as me, but they're enemies, not friends. They came here to harass me, to pound me a bit if they could."

Vernon's tone suggested that that would not be a bad thing at all in his book. "Couldn't they do that at the school?"

"No, too many teachers around," Harry answered.

"But why didn't they just use their..." Vernon thought for a few seconds. "Wait, same age as you, so they couldn't either... so you had to either defend yourself with that," meaning the wand, "and get in trouble like last year, or take the pounding."

Harry was impressed that Vernon had pieced it together. "That's exactly it," Harry agreed. "Then Dudley came along and messed up their plan. Saved my bacon," he added. Harry didn't want Vernon and Petunia thinking he wasn't grateful for Dudley's help.

"Hmpf," opined Vernon, as though he wasn't sure that he approved of what Dudley had done. "That's our Dudley, generous to a fault." Harry tried very hard not to react.

"All right, now I want to hear the whole story, what really happened," Vernon continued. "I want you," pointing at Harry, "up in your room so he can tell us what went on without being interrupted." So Dudley can lie about what happened without being contradicted if he wants to, Harry translated in his head. "So, off you go. We might have some questions for you later."

Harry turned to go, then decided on one more goodwill gesture, hoping it wouldn't be too much.

"Dudley," he said, extending his hand. "Thanks. I owe you one."

Dudley examined the hand for a second, as if checking for traps. He looked at Harry, who gave him a look that assured him that nothing was amiss. Dudley reached out and shook it.

"Wasn't like it was hard or anything," Dudley allowed.

"For you, anyway," Harry said, and headed upstairs.

As he walked into his room, he decided that he had to know what Dudley was telling Vernon and Petunia. Harry quickly unlocked his trunk and pulled out the Extendable Ears, went to the door, and deployed them. To his surprise, Dudley gave a straightforward and accurate account of the incident. Harry was particularly surprised by Dudley's answer to Vernon's question about why Harry didn't protect Dudley by using magic on Malfoy. "It's these rules they have," Harry heard Dudley say. "Harry couldn't attack him, but I could tell he really wanted to. I saw his face. It was like, 'just give me a reason.' So now, Harry tells Malfoy that anything Malfoy does, he'll block. So I started in on Malfoy."

"You believed Harry?" Vernon exclaimed. "That was taking a pretty big chance, wasn't it? He could've been lying, you could've ended up a newt or something."

"I knew he wasn't, Dad," Dudley said. "You fight for a while, and you can tell a lot from people's eyes. Harry was dead serious. I gotta say, I was surprised. With a wand in his hand, he's not afraid of anything. There's a look you see in the eyes of champion boxers, like they know they can handle anything, they have no fear. He had that look. I can't explain it, but I know it when I see it."

Vernon grunted. "You sound like you respect him."

Dudley's tone sounded like a shrug. "I'm not saying I want to go join up at his school or anything. I just know what I saw." Dudley also related to Vernon and Petunia what Harry had said afterwards, that most wizards weren't like Malfoy. The overall tone of the conversation suggested that while Vernon and Petunia's attitude about wizards and magic hadn't changed, Dudley's had, for the better.

After Dudley went up to his room, Harry kept listening. There was silence for a few minutes. Then, he heard Vernon say, "Well, what do you think?"

Petunia paused. "I think I will be very happy a year from today. Harry will be seventeen, can leave this house, and no more magical people or things will trouble this house or this family. It's bad enough we had to take in a wizard. It's worse that it's one who seems to have a target printed on his back. Dudley could have been seriously hurt."

"But Harry made sure he wasn't," Vernon mused. "I wouldn't have thought it. I guess that means he was telling the truth last year, that he really did protect Dudley from those dementor thingies?"

"I think so," Petunia answered. "I don't think any spells can do what was done to Dudley, and it's consistent with what I heard that Potter boy tell Lily about them. Poor Dudley..."

"Maybe that's what Dudley meant," Vernon said, "by that look in Harry's eyes he was talking about. If you've had to fight off things that can kill you, a blond kid with a wand and his two minions probably doesn't seem so bad."

Petunia moaned, "Oh, why did Lily have to go and become a witch? Why were we cursed with that? Why did she go and get herself killed and get us stuck with Harry so we couldn't escape that world? All we ever wanted to do was be regular, normal people. Is that too much to ask?"

Harry rolled his eyes as he listened. His parents had died, he had had to fight off death more than once, but Petunia thought of those events only in terms of how they affected her and her family. Never would it occur to her to think about the toll those events had had on Harry. He shook his head in wonder. I hope I never become like that, he thought.

"Of course it's not, Petunia," he heard Vernon say. "That's all most people want. But you know what they say, you can choose your friends, but not your relatives." He paused. "We've done the best we could. We tried to beat the magic out of him, for his own good. We failed, but we tried. And who knows, maybe it wasn't for nothing. If Dudley's right about him having courage, maybe it was because we were strict with him, and it made him find some strength that he didn't know he had. I wouldn't be surprised."

Harry was aghast. First of all, he thought 'mean' was a more apt word than 'strict' to describe how the Dursleys had been with him. Secondly, the idea that Vernon would give himself and Petunia credit for whatever courage he had struck Harry as ludicrous as well as self-serving. Can they really tell themselves that, Harry thought? Can they really believe it? He wondered how far the capacity of people to fool themselves could go.

There was another short period of silence. Then Vernon asked, "Petunia, how long until dinner?"

"Forty-five minutes. Why?"

"I thought maybe you could pop down to the bakery and get a cake." He paused. "Celebrate Dudley's victory."

Harry imagined the suspicious look on her face. "This isn't because it's his birthday, is it?" she asked, meaning Harry.

"We don't have to say it is," Vernon replied. "We just felt like having some cake, and it was on sale. There doesn't have to be another reason."

"He wouldn't even have had to help Dudley if he didn't go to that awful school in the first place," pouted Petunia.

"Very true," conceded Vernon. "But Dudley reckons Harry did the right thing by him, and that's worth something." Another pause. "You don't have to, you know," he said, referring to the cake. "Just a thought."

There was silence for another minute. Then Harry heard the jostling of items in a purse. Petunia said, "I'll see what they have left. Should be about fifteen or twenty minutes." Harry heard the front door close, the car door open and close, and the car leave.

Harry collected the Extendable Ears and lay on his bed, exhaling loudly. He then looked up to see Hedwig in her cage; he'd been so focused since he got home that he hadn't even noticed her. "Come here, Hedwig," he said, grabbing an Owl Treat and holding out his arm. Hedwig flew down, took the treat, and settled on his arm.

Harry needed to talk, and Hedwig was his only audience. "Why is it so hard for them, Hedwig? For the first time in fifteen years, they want to do some small nice thing for me, and they can't even bring themselves to admit that they're doing it? Would it be so hard for them to just say, 'Happy Birthday, Harry'? Are they afraid it would mean they were admitting they were wrong all these years of being awful to me? What is their problem?"

Hedwig looked at him in such a way as to unmistakably convey the concept of, 'I'd really like another Owl Treat.' Harry rolled his eyes. "You're such a good listener, Hedwig," he said, sarcastically but affectionately, as he reached for another Owl Treat. "I knew you'd understand."

Left to his own devices to ponder the Dursleys' attitude toward him, Harry mused and mentally drifted for awhile, petting Hedwig on and off. He heard the car return, but had no urge to deploy the Extendable Ears again. He felt he'd heard enough.

Harry went downstairs when dinner was announced. He normally said nothing during dinner, and didn't tonight, but felt the atmosphere around the table to be less oppressive than usual. Vernon talked about his job, how the company was doing so well that they might be hiring soon. "Good, honest work, beats the heck out of the dole, that's what I say!" After many such dinners, Harry was extremely familiar with Vernon's political, economic, and social opinions. Harry wasn't sure that he had any opinions at all on those topics, but he had a feeling that if he was compelled to come up with some quickly, the direct opposite of Vernon's probably wouldn't be a bad place to start. Harry imagined himself sitting at a dinner table, saying "More people on the dole, that's what I say!" He chuckled inwardly.

Petunia brought out the cake she'd bought. It looked very nice; chocolate with chocolate frosting. "And now, a little dessert," she said. She started cutting it.

Dudley said, "Oh, yeah, today's your birthday, isn't it, Harry?" Petunia and Vernon looked a bit startled, as though someone had aired a distasteful secret. Harry was surprised himself.

"Yes, it is," Harry said.

"Right, erm, so it is," Vernon said uncomfortably. "Happy Birthday."

"Thanks," Harry said.

"Well, maybe Malfoy and his pals were just wishing you a happy birthday," joked Dudley.

Harry chuckled as he accepted a piece of cake from Petunia, who he thanked. "Don't think so," he said. "They forgot to bring any presents, anyway."

"Did you get presents?" Dudley asked.

"Yeah, a bunch, this morning," Harry said. Seeing Petunia's dark look, Harry added, "You know, I'm really sorry about those owls, there wasn't anything I could do. It's hard to make an owl leave if it doesn't want to." Petunia looked angry but didn't say anything. At Dudley and Vernon's blank looks, Harry briefly explained what happened when the owls delivered his presents.

"Bloody owls," muttered Vernon.

"You must have a lot of friends, then?" Dudley asked

"Yeah, I do," Harry said. He paused thoughtfully. "I'm pretty lucky, actually."

"Speaking of friends, what's happening with your friends, Dudley?" Petunia asked brightly. "Anything new?"

It was abundantly clear that Petunia had asked the question in order to deliberately steer the conversation away from Harry's friends and his world. Harry was annoyed for just a second, then he realized that he was at the table with the Dursleys, on his birthday, eating cake and talking. Compared to what was normal, that was quite amazing in itself.

The conversation drifted around the more usual topics as they ate their cake. Petunia offered everyone seconds, including Harry, and everyone accepted.

Near the end of the second piece, during a conversational lull, Dudley said, "Hey, Harry..."

Harry looked up.

"When you're back at school, the next time you see Malfoy... tell him I said 'hello,'" said Dudley, grinning evilly.

Harry burst out laughing. Dudley started laughing too. Vernon looked concerned; Petunia, positively alarmed. "I'd be very happy to," said Harry between laughs.

"I'm really not sure that's a good idea," said Petunia. "Didn't you say he threatened both of you? Do you really want him coming after you?" she asked Dudley.

"He's going to come after me, for sure," Harry answered, "but I can defend myself if I have to. He's not going to come after Dudley."

"Can you be sure of that?" Petunia demanded.

"There are serious laws about this kind of thing," Harry responded. "He's already in trouble for what he's done today. He could get expelled from school. At the very least he'll get a warning. He'll be up on three charges: use of magic as an underage wizard, Disapparating without a license and underage, and use of magic against a Muggle, er, sorry, non-magical person. All of those are against the law."

"But won't he say that he was just defending himself? Look at what Dudley did to his friends, after all." Harry realized that, at least to some extent, Petunia knew what she was talking about.

"If he claimed that he was just defending himself, he'd be laughed at. First, he came to Privet Drive, looking for me. It'll be obvious that he was looking for revenge, since I helped send his father to prison. Secondly, he-"

All three Dursleys said "What?" simultaneously. "His father's in prison? You helped catch him? How in the world...?" asked Dudley.

"Well, it's a pretty long story, too long to tell here, but here's the very short version. You remember that really bad wizard Voldemort who gave me this scar?" The Dursleys all nodded. "A month ago, his helpers tried to trap me in a part of the Ministry of Magic, in London. A lot of my friends came to help me, and they caught some of his helpers. Malfoy's dad is one of those who got caught; he's one of Voldemort's most prominent assistants. Now he's in jail, so Malfoy'd like to take it out of my hide. But like I said, I can take care of myself."

"Now, let me get this straight," said Petunia with wide eyes. "Voldemort's the one who, in addition to killing my sister and her husband, killed dozens of people."

"Yes," Harry said.

"Both wizards and ordinary people," she continued.

"Mostly wizards, but yes," he said.

"And this Malfoy's father is one of his chief lieutenants."


"Are you CRAZY??" she screamed at Harry. "You will, under NO circumstances, EVER so much as mention Dudley's name to him again! If he asks about Dudley, you will say that he was killed in a traffic accident! Is that CLEAR??"

"Mum!" Dudley said indignantly. "I'm not going to let this riffraff push me around! You should have heard how he talked to me, not even knowing who I was! He acted like some kind of king or something! I'm not going to take that!"

"You didn't, Dudley," his father interjected. "You stood up for yourself, and we're proud of you. But what your mother is saying is just not to wave a red flag in the face of an angry bull. Let's not go out of our way to stir up people who kill."

"And not just who kill," continued Petunia, who Harry could see was still in quite a state, "but think about why they kill. Tell us why they bother to kill ordinary people, Harry."

He could tell she knew the answer, but he gave it anyway. "For fun," he said solemnly.

"Yes, that is exactly what James told my sister. They kill ordinary people FOR FUN," she shouted. "And if they become more powerful, and can violate the wizards' laws with some impunity-and I know they did before-and they're trying to think of what non-magical people they'd like to kill FOR FUN, don't you think it's possible that the boy who humiliated the son of one of their most important leaders will spring to mind?

"Even though I'm Harry's cousin?" Dudley asked, surprised.

"Unfortunately, Dudley, that would make them want to all the more." To Dudley's surprised look, Harry continued: "See, Voldemort almost died when he tried to kill me. That's why I'm so famous in my world. No one had ever survived a killing curse before."

"Hold on a second," said Petunia, all of her normal revulsion about things magical gone in the face of a possible threat to Dudley. "How did you survive, anyway? If that curse always kills?"

"I only found that out a couple of years ago myself," said Harry. 'For a long time, no one knew. Voldemort came to my parents' house not especially intending to kill my mother, just my father and me. He killed my father, and came for me. My mother stood between him and me. Even though she knew he would kill her, she wouldn't move. He killed her, but in giving her life for mine, she activated an extremely rare magic. If you give your life for someone you love, it gives them magical protection against the person who killed you. The more you loved them, the stronger the protection is. The protection my mother gave me was strong enough to stop the most deadly curse there is, done by the most powerful dark wizard in centuries." Harry paused, feeling emotion rise up. "She literally gave her life to protect me. She was incredibly brave."

Petunia spoke to Harry is a surprisingly gentle voice, gentler than he'd ever heard her use. "I think that most mothers would like to think that they would do the same thing in that situation," she said, her eyes flicking over to Dudley for an instant as she spoke.

Harry nodded. "Probably. But very few are put in a position to do it. Unfortunately, mine was. It's not easy, knowing she had to die so I could live."

Vernon spoke up. "But then, why is it you who's famous? Why not her?"

"I think it should be her, too. She deserves it. Me? I didn't do anything. I was just a baby. But they didn't know why I had survived, so she couldn't be recognized for what she had done. I was the one who survived, and to their eyes, caused Voldemort's disappearance. My name became a symbol of victory over Voldemort. Even my scar became famous. People recognize me in public because of it. So I never did anything to deserve being famous, but life's strange like that sometimes."

After a short silence, Petunia said, "And so now that Voldemort's back, he and his friends may come after you."

Harry almost chuckled. "They already have," he said. "He's tried to kill me twice, and so have his supporters. Whoever kills me gets big points with him, so they're lining up for the chance."

Vernon looked at him sternly. "You almost sound like you don't care," he observed, "or take it very seriously."

Harry met Vernon's eyes. "I do care. I don't know... I guess it's what's called gallows humor. When you've looked death in the face as many times as I have, you get kind of a different perspective on it. But I think another reason I'm not petrified all the time is that my school's headmaster, Albus Dumbledore," he said, glancing at Petunia with the understanding that she at least knew who he was talking about, "is an extremely powerful wizard and has me very well protected. So, generally, it's not like I could die any second. I'm mostly okay as long as I don't do anything stupid."

"You mean like sticking a finger in the eye of the son of a powerful wizard who has a grudge against you?" Petunia asked tartly.

"Well, that's a good point," Harry admitted, "so let's get back to Dudley's situation. I honestly think it's highly unlikely, very highly unlikely, that anyone's going to come after him. First, as I said, Malfoy's father's in jail. Second, avenging something like this would be way, way down their list of priorities. Third, Malfoy's in trouble himself, and will end up in jail soon if he doesn't step very carefully. He's still in school, too, so he can't really come here then, either. All in all, I think Dudley's got a better chance of being knocked off by a drunk driver than by Malfoy or his dad's crowd."

"Even if that's true," Petunia said, "The current situation could change, the dark wizards could become more powerful, and they would have more time and opportunity for acts of vengeance. Are you saying that's impossible?"

Harry was impressed by her grasp of the situation. "No," he was forced to admit. "It could happen."

"And so," she pressed him, "what do you think is the best thing to do in this situation, Harry?" She appeared surprisingly calm, but he was fairly sure she wasn't.

Harry frowned. "Sorry, Dudley, but really, she's right. For sure, I shouldn't taunt him by reminding him of you, fun as that would be, and the really safe thing to do is what she suggested, tell him you died somehow. He'll laugh over it and forget that you ever existed, which would be a good thing."

Dudley frowned as well. "I really don't like the sound of that. It's too much like running away. I don't run away from cowards who threaten me."

Vernon turned to face his son. "Look, Dud, I know how you feel, and that's a good attitude. I'd feel that way if I were you. But there are times when we don't want to do something, but we do it because the people who care about us will be happier. So, the question is, would you rather gloat in the face of someone you've already beaten, or would you rather save your mother hours of worry?"

Harry was amazed that Vernon was able to put it that way, so that even Dudley could get past his pride. Dudley sighed. "Oh, all right," he said.

Vernon slapped Dudley's arm. "Attaboy," he said. "I know it's not easy, but it's the right thing to do."

"I'm still not happy about the danger he's in now, even if you say it's very little," Petunia said to Harry. "Tell me something: When Dudley turned that corner and you saw him, why didn't you tell him to turn around and go away so he wouldn't be involved?"

Harry smiled; Dudley laughed out loud. "That's easy," Harry said. "Dudley, what would you have done if I'd told you to turn around and go away?"

"I would've asked who you thought you were telling me what to do, and gone ahead," Dudley answered.

Harry glanced at Petunia. "And anyway, he spoke before I saw him; my back was to him. It was way too late."

"I didn't exactly know that his life was so dangerous," Dudley admitted, "but I would've done the same thing anyway. Malfoy told me to go away, and well, there was absolutely no way I was going to do that."

Petunia looked at Dudley imploringly. "I wish you would try to change that attitude when it comes to things or people that Harry's involved with," she half-scolded, half-pleaded. "Your life could be at stake. I've already lost one family member to that world. I don't want to lose any more."

Dudley stared ahead and nodded, not saying anything. Harry wondered if the realistic thought of his death had taken the edge off of Dudley's naturally aggressive attitude. After a pause, he asked Harry, "How many times has your life been in danger, anyway? I mean, like if you take one wrong step or lower your guard you'd snuff it?"

It was an interesting question; Harry had never thought of it like that. "Hang on, let me think," he said. He started using his fingers to count as he recollected.

Vernon was taken aback. "If you have to count them because there's been so many, that's really not a good sign," he commented.

"You're not wrong," muttered Harry as he counted. Finishing, he said, "I count seven," he said. "Oh, wait, eight if you count the dementors from last year."

"You're bloody right I'd count them," exclaimed Dudley. "Those things were horrible. You mean you've had to deal with worse than them?"

"Well, Voldemort was worse, but most of the others were not so much worse as different," Harry explained. "Dementors give you this feeling of hopelessness; they make you relive your worst memories." Harry saw Dudley give an involuntary shudder. "Other things that have almost killed me, like the basilisk or the giant spider, don't do that, but they'll kill you just as quick."

"Giant spider!?" Dudley was goggle-eyed.

"I think that's enough of this sort of talk for now," said Petunia.

Either Vernon didn't hear her or ignored her. "Giant spiders and basilisks? Is that the sort of thing your school lets roam around the grounds?"

"Of course not," Harry said. "The spider was someplace students aren't supposed to go. If I'd known it was there I wouldn't have gone. The basilisk nobody knew was there, it was living under the school for years. Those are very unusual cases."

"Which seem to happen to you very frequently," Vernon pointed out.

"My friends have mentioned that too," agreed Harry. "Usually I don't go looking for trouble, though, it just finds me. Because I represent a huge turning point in recent wizard history, I end up being involved in all sorts of stuff that doesn't happen to most wizards. It's been a very weird life."

"Told you all along you'd have been better off not going to that place," Vernon said.

"But there's lots of good things about it too," Harry protested. "I don't mean being famous, I'd rather not have that. But I have good friends, and the Weasleys, the red-haired ones, think of me as part of their family. I wouldn't give that up for anything."

With an air of ending the discussion, Petunia said, "Well, if I have anything to say about it, nothing more like this will happen on Privet Drive, at least."

"No argument from me there," agreed Harry. "That was really good cake, by the way." Dudley and Vernon quickly agreed.

"Let's see what's on the telly," Vernon said. Dudley followed him into the living room. Harry got up to go to his room. Before he could, he heard Petunia say "Harry," quietly enough that Vernon and Dudley couldn't hear her.


"When you go to your room, if your owl is still there, close your window. I don't want her going out."

"But Aunt Petunia, she-" Harry started to protest, but she cut him off.

"Just for tonight," she said, and Harry was surprised to hear it sound more like a request than an order. He nodded and went upstairs.

Hedwig was indeed still there, so he went over to the window and closed it. Hedwig saw and let out an annoyed hoot.

"Sorry, Hedwig, it's just for tonight."

He lay back on the bed, confused and full of cake. He had given the Dursleys far more information about the magical world than they ever would have tolerated before, and Dudley had gone from treating him as a freak and an annoyance to a respected equal, just like that. Was he really that impressed with what I did this afternoon? Harry asked himself. Dudley had seemed positively intrigued by hearing about Harry's danger-laden life. Vernon was treating Harry better because, Harry assumed, of Dudley's endorsement of Harry's actions after the confrontation with Malfoy. Petunia, on the other hand... her tolerance had to be due to the fact that their ignorance of the situation in the magical world could have led to life-threatening consequences for Dudley. Harry now kicked himself for having been willing to use Dudley to rub Malfoy's nose in today's events; he was just so used to dealing with Malfoy that it never occurred to him that Dudley could be in any danger. It wasn't as though he liked the Dursleys, but he didn't want any harm coming to them, either, especially because of him. Enough people ended up in danger, or dead, because of their connection to him.

After contemplating the evening's events for a while, Harry got out the Omni-view and watched some Quidditch. It reminded him of how pleased he would be to be playing again this year. A half-hour later, he put it down and picked up the new book from Hermione. He had read a little last night, but now that he knew he was going to be teaching, it seemed far more immediate and relevant. He also realized that despite the nasty shock and great anxiety he'd gotten when he learned he'd be made a teacher, he hadn't thought about it for the past few hours, since he'd run into Malfoy. Nothing like a new crisis to make you forget about the old one, he thought.

An hour or so later, there was a knock on his door. Harry said "Come in," and Petunia walked in, wearing her nightclothes and holding a letter.

Obviously uncomfortable, Petunia said, "I need to use your owl. I need to send this to Professor Dumbledore."

This is almost too much, Harry thought. What's she going to do next, send away for a Kwikspell course? "You want to use owl post?" he asked incredulously.

Petunia sighed impatiently and gave him a 'don't be stupid' look. "No, I don't want to, but I have to if I want him to get this promptly. I know how to send things to the school through the post, it just takes too long. This is important, or I wouldn't be doing it."

Harry was slightly abashed; this was obvious now that she mentioned it. "Sorry, I was just surprised. Sure, I'll send it, no problem." He reached for the envelope.

She hung onto it. "How should I address it?"

"You don't even have to; she'll know where to deliver it, no matter where he is," explained Harry. "But you can put his name on the outside. A lot of people do."

Petunia produced a pen and prepared to write on the envelope. "His first name is Albus," he said helpfully.

"Who would name their child 'Albus,'" Petunia muttered as she wrote his name on the envelope. He refrained from comment. She sealed the envelope and handed it to Harry.

He took it, walked over to the cage, and took out Hedwig. "Got a bit of a special delivery for you, Hedwig," he said to the owl. He tied the letter to her leg and opened the window. "See you soon," he said as she flew outside.

"I asked him to respond to you, not me. I don't need an owl flying at me while I'm cooking or doing laundry," Petunia said with the air of one who did not want to lower herself.

"I understand," Harry said. "I'll give it to you when I get it."

Petunia nodded, but did not leave. She stared at Harry for a moment, then suddenly said, "How could you agree to use Dudley to taunt that boy? How could you endanger him like that? Dudley couldn't know what he was getting into, but you should have! What were you thinking?"

Harry looked glum and nodded. This was the first time Petunia had ever yelled at him for something he actually deserved it for. "I wasn't thinking, is the truth," he admitted. "It just never occurred to me. I'm just so used to dealing with Malfoy that I didn't stop to think of the fact that he could come after Dudley when I'm not around to help out, or his dad's friends could in the future. But I would never deliberately endanger Dudley, or anyone in this house." He hoped she would believe him.

She looked at him as though not knowing what to believe, and was silent for a minute. Finally she said, "It seems as though there's a lot that you don't intend for to happen that happens anyway." Harry said nothing. Petunia paused for a few seconds, and said, "Dudley's my only child. If anything were to happen to him..."

"I'll do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't," Harry promised. "So will Professor Dumbledore. I assume this is what the letter was about?"

She nodded. "He gave you to us, he put us in this danger. The least he can do is make sure we don't suffer because of it."

"He will," Harry assured her. "He's the most powerful wizard in the world, even more powerful than Voldemort. And he's a very kind person. He'll help."

"And you'll be more careful about what you say in the future," she said. It was more a statement than a question.

"I will," he said quietly. She nodded and left.

Harry shook his head at himself again. He still thought the chances of anything happening to Dudley were extremely low, but he knew she had a right to be concerned. He wondered what Dumbledore would do.

He suddenly felt very tired. He put away the book, got into bed and turned off the light. Thoughts jumbled in his head.

He was going to be a teacher. Malfoy had appeared on Privet Drive. Dudley wanted a Skiving Snackbox. The Dursleys had given him birthday cake and asked him questions about the magical world. Aunt Petunia had sent a letter by owl post.

It had been a strange, strange day.

Author notes: In Chapter 4: Concerned that Dudley may now be a target of Death Eaters, Petunia summons Dumbledore to 4 Privet Drive.