Play your game and walk away, your integrity don't mean shit
Crawl on me you fucking parasite, and I'm gonna take you out
I won't be the victim, but the first to cast a stone
Sedated nights to the bar room fights as metropolis takes its toll
And don't you try to stop me, it's a place you'll never know
Don't try to judge or take shots at me, I'll never let you seize control
—Trashed and Scattered, Avenged Seven Fold
I remember the first time I ever saw Harry do magic. I was five and he was four; he and I shared a room back then. They treated us like brothers, and we acted that way too, I guess. We shared toys, games and everything else until the day my father cornered Harry on his way from the loo.
I peered into the hall from the bedroom, curious as to why my father was standing over Harry like he was. It was scary, but I couldn't take my eyes away. Something told me not to look away.
I watched as my father opened Harry's trousers; that in itself wasn't anything too strange, sometimes I couldn't undo the button also. What was strange was the fact that Harry had just come from the bathroom. There was no reason for his clothes to need undoing.
Then I saw Da— my father put his hand down Harry's pants. That's when it happened, Harry's eyes went wide and Dad was flying through the air. I watched-- it seemed to go slower for me. Dad was on fire and he'd been thrown hard into the wall.
Harry was crying. I was scared. Dad was screaming and burning. Mum was nowhere to be found. I shouted, "Stop! Drop! Roll! Roll!" at the top of my lungs.
That night Harry's bed was moved from the room we shared and downstairs into the boot cupboard. When I asked why Harry was being moved, Dad said, "You're five years old already, a big boy! Big boys need their own space."
"But Harry'll be five in three days."
"He's dangerous, unnatural, freakish." Mum pursed her lips and glared at the plate she was washing. She didn't want to look at me, or at Dad either; she was ashamed, I realized years later. She was ashamed of sharing blood with him. "I don't want him sleeping in the same room as you."
That was the first night I had spent alone as far as I could remember. The shadows looked darker and menacing and I didn't know what to do. I wanted Harry, but he was locked away downstairs. If I lay still and quiet I could hear him screaming and crying in the cupboard under the stairs.
I didn't think anything more of it for a while, not for another two years to be exact. I had almost forgotten about what I saw that day.
Mum was at a school meeting, Harry was locked away in the cupboard. I was in my bedroom playing with my cars when he'd come in and lowered himself to the floor beside me.
I turned toward him, and smiled. It wasn't often that he would sit and play with me. I was lonely ever since Harry was put in the cupboard, I had no play mates — Mum never approved of any of the neighborhood kids.
"Dudley, come here."
Of course I came, bringing my toys along with me. I settled myself on his lap and leaned against him rolling the cars up and down his arms.
"You're getting to be a really big boy."
"Going to be eight soon!"
"Mmhm." He agreed and wrapped one of his massive hands around my own, guiding it and the car over his round belly and down his thigh. "I'll show you how to do big boy things. Things that your mummy can't teach you."
"Mummy can't? Why not?"
"Because there are things that girls aren't supposed to ever learn. It's bad for them." He rubbed my thigh as I squirmed about anxiously. The idea of learning something new, something secret, was so exciting at the age of seven. "Want me to teach you?" he asked, and like an idiot, I said yes.
That time it was only touching.
I didn't cry, I didn't understand what happened but I felt strange. Dirty and itchy and still giddy from having a secret.
Dad took me for ice cream after. "For being such a big boy," he said.
It happened like that more often. When Mum was out with her friends or at some function or another, Dad would slip into my room and bring a new toy or treat to dangle before me.
I let him touch me, everywhere. I tried to wiggle away when he jammed his fingers inside of me. I kicked and cried but he didn't stop. When he had finished doing what ever it was he wanted he told me that I was naughty. That if I kept it up he'd lock me in the cupboard just like Harry. I let him do everything after that.
I'd lie still and zone out. I'd think about anything but what he was doing: what show was on last night, what I was going to watch tonight, what game I would play, what snacks were on the high shelf in the pantry.
Thinking didn't work for long. As I got older I was able to focus on more than one thing at a time and I had to learn new tricks. New ways to force my mind and body to go still and limp under my father's massive body. That's when I came up with the idea to test myself.
I'd watch as many TV shows as I could in one day and while I was sprawled out on my bed, watching the ceiling, waiting for nighttime to be over, I'd recite the lines of every show, no mistakes and no breaks. I had to hear the words to make it work. Sometimes I could almost see the shows play out behind my eye lids. They washed out the image of my father's round greedy face.
I tried to keep it up when he would lie next to me or pull me into his arms, but the muttering made him angry. I wasn't being good. I wasn't paying attention. If I did a good job of watching, learning and doing what I was told he'd buy me a new toy.
The clicking of heels echoed through the coffee shop as he looked over yesterday's assignment. The clicking got louder for just a moment and then it stopped.
"Ah, excuse me?" The man seated at the table looked up at her with a startled expression. His blue eyes were large and half-hidden by shaggy blond bangs. "Uh, yeah..."
"Can..." She seemed to be gathering up her courage as she tugged on one of the twists that had escaped from behind her ear. "Can I sit here?"
"There're a bunch of other tables...."
Her face dropped and her bottom lip was suddenly caught between her teeth.
"Ah, sorry." She turned around abruptly, as if he'd offended her somehow.
"Er, Miss." His thick pink hand encircled her wrist and she turned around, looking uncertain and more than a bit embarrassed. She was probably blushing, but her skin was too dark to know for sure. "I'm no good with people. Sorry, sorry, Miss."
The moment between them was awkward but the girl put down her muffin and coffee and slid into the booth. "My name is Padma."
"I know who you are." She smiled slightly and fidgeted with her twists again. "I'm in the same class as you."
"Which class? I don't remember seeing you before," Dudley ventured as he leaned back and gulped down some of his sports drink. His mouth was dry and his throat felt tight. He never spoke to girls beyond the occasional hello. During middle school he could care less about the "fairer" sex, and in high school they weren't interested in the bullying dick of a jock he'd been.
"Advanced mathematics. I sit behind the mousey guy with the cowlick."
"Oh." It was easy to see that he had no idea who she was referring to, but it didn't really matter either. "Um, so... What major are you?"
"Biology." She smiled and Dudley's face flamed.
"You're really pretty."
"Thank you." Padma grinned broadly and took a sip of her drink. "You're quite the looker, yourself." Dudley choked on a breath, realizing that he had spoken out loud. Padma laughed, and Dudley stared, dumbfounded.
That only made her laugh harder, and Dudley realized that she had dimples.
The first time that my father ....you know... went all the way, I was eight. It was really fucked up, you know. The whole time I was trying not to breathe or think or feel, but he kept pulling me out of my trance. He would tell me over and over again: "Daddy loves you."... "You're such a good boy."... "I love you, only you Dudley. I wish you just knew how much."... "It will only hurt a bit the first few times. After that it will feel good, promise."
Afterwards he brought me a bike. He said I was a good boy who deserved a reward. I didn't want to ride it at first. My body hurt and I couldn't even contemplate sitting, let alone riding a bike.
The next morning I went downstairs to breakfast after Dad had left. I didn't want to see him yet. I knew that if I did, I wouldn't be angry at him anymore. Because when it was daytime, he was my dad. He never did anything during the day; he would play with me, talk to me and take me places.
I love my dad...I really do. But I hate him too...
Back then, I just wanted him to stop touching me at night. It was crazy the lengths I tried to go to make him stop.
I remember that one time when I was small I heard mum say she had to lose weight or Dad wouldn't want her anymore. I wanted Dad to stop so I thought that if I ate enough, and got fat enough, he wouldn't come to me at night.
I ate until I was sick, every day for a month until my stomach got used to the triple portions. Still he came to my room. Even when I was too big to be called chubby he still came and I ate more.
I hated everyone and everything... I still do.
I hated Mum for not being able to keep my father's attention. So I made her life as miserable as mine. I hit her, threw things at her, I made impossible demands. I'd make her take me to the movies or the mall just so that I could tell my father she'd done things that he'd explicitly forbidden.
He always let me watch when he beat her. He'd make her take off her clothes... All of them, and he'd take her belt and beat her until there were more bruises than skin. Every so often he'd turn to me and stroke my cheek and ask if I thought that was enough.
When I nodded or said stop, Dad would smile and tell me I was a sweet boy. That I'd never be able to keep a wife of my own in line if I stopped just because she was crying. I would spoil her, and she wouldn't learn to be a proper wife— a proper woman.
Then he'd keep on hitting her until she couldn't move. I'd feel bad for a little while, but never enough to not do it again... She knew what he was doing to me every time she lay next to his empty side of the bed. Not once had she tried to stop it. She was just happy that he was on top of someone else.
I hated Harry because he never had to deal with Dad... I hated him because Mum preferred him to me. I hated him because he was so quiet and didn't ever cry. I hated him because we couldn't trade places. Sure he got hit some, but that was pretty much it. I'd take that any day over everything else.
Whenever Mum was on the floor crying and Dad was done, Harry would slip out of his cupboard and go to the linen closet to get towels. He'd soak them in cold water and bring them down to her. He wrapped her in the cold wet towels and gave her some pills and she'd look at him like he was the only thing in the world that was right.
I hated that, too.
It had been nearly four months since they met at the coffee shop. In that time there had been many dates. Trips to the mall, to the larger parks where they sat on the grass and talked, long walks around campus long after everyone else had retired for the night.
It was on one of these night time walks that Padma brought up a more serious topic than their usual chats and banter. "D, are you ever going to make a move?"
"Uh, what?" He sputtered nervously, his cheeks reddening.
She frowned and tipped her head to the side.
It was such an odd thing, he acted like he was interested but had never once alluded to wanting to go further than those mostly explorative kisses. "Don't you like me?"
"Of course I like you!" He reached over and took one of her dainty brown hands and folded it between his own large paws. "I like you more than any one else. You're my best friend—"
"Is that all I am?" She looked at him with an odd mixture of hurt, compassion and frustration. "Your friend?"
"No! No, I'm sorry." Dudley let out a sigh that sounded more like a moan and squeezed her hand tightly. "Please, just bear with me. Just a while longer."
"Why should I, if you're not interested?" Her tone wasn't cruel or mocking but there was a bite to it. "You won't do more than kiss me. You haven't even tried."
"I've... I've never done this," he gestured between them with one large hand and looked down at his knees.
"You're nervous because you're a virgin?"
"Erm.. Not exactly..."
"Are you gay?"
"What!? No!" He yelped, holding up his hands. "Not that there's anything wrong with it... It's just— I'm not ready! I'm not ready!"
Padma blinked, shrugged and moved closer to her boyfriend. She pressed against his side and let the warmth of his body soothe her. "Well, that's fine then. I just wanted to be sure that we were on the same page."
"We are. I more than like you... Please, believe me." No matter how hard Dudley tried, he just couldn't meet her eyes. "Please."
Padma looked up at her boyfriend questioningly. He had become so pale, his lips in such a fine line that they had all but disappeared, and his hands were damp and clammy now.
This reaction was more than just embarrassment. It was blatant fear. But what was he so afraid of? She had to find out, if she didn't it would eat at her until the end of time. No one was more curious than a Ravenclaw.
When I was nine, I decided that if Dad loved me for being a good boy, I'd be as bad as I could possibly be. I did everything I could to be a constant pain in the ass for my Mum, my teachers and my cousin.
There was no stunt too outrageous, no word too vulgar and no place that I wouldn't put on a display. I was the very worst that I could be.
In the end it backfired. My father thought I was acting up because he wasn't spending enough time with me. So there were the days in which as soon he walked through the door he would change and take me somewhere fun. Bowling alleys, movie theaters, arcades and other places. While I was there I'd take full advantage of my father's open hand; there was nothing that he wouldn't give me if he thought it would make me welcome him into my room at night.
Not that it ever did.
The crowd cheered wildly as the match had come to a crescendo. For such a large man, Dudley was surprisingly fast. He darted around his opponent's jabs and kicks for more than half of the match. When the other guy became tired and slowed down was when Dudley would strike. His blows were more than forceful; they were devastating.
After five different opponents, Dudley showed no more damage than a split lip and a few purplish bruises. The ref took his right wrist in a firm grip and lifted it high into the air announcing him the winner. The crowd roared and he couldn't keep the grin off of his face. It was all perfect: he solidified his athletic scholarship, won the chance to compete in the nationals and impressed Padma, who was cheering from her ring side seat and coaxing her sister to cheer, too.
When he looked a second time, the pair of them were waving, jumping and pushing their way to the ropes.
Padma's eyes met Dudley's and the crowd disappeared. It was only the two of them in that moment.
"You did it!" She shouted pumping a fist into the air.
"I did it!" He smiled broadly at her before breaking into wild rumbling laughter.
He was happy.
In the showers, Dudley was the man of the hour. The school's other boxers grinned and congratulated him. There were copious slaps on the back and offers for drinks.
"Nah, don'cha know D here is a teetotaler! He didn't even drink at his own birthday bar crawl," one of the other heavy weights said jovially. "We'd be better off treating him to a meal."
"Nah, his honey's gonna do that!" chimed in another guy. "Put in a good word for me with the sister. Both of them are smokin'."
Dudley laughed and rubbed a towel through his hair.
"Padma says she's engaged."
"Not for me." Dudley hefted his bag onto his shoulder and gave the chatty group a wave. "Later guys, see you at practice." He obligingly waited until their goodbyes were said and slipped through the locker room door.
"So, your name's Dudley, eh?" Padma said as soon as he opened the door. She sauntered over to him and threw her arms around him. "So Dudley..."
"God, I hate that name." He wrapped an arm around her waist, dipped his head and kissed her deeply. When they broke for air he pressed his forehead against her own and grinned against her lips. "You make a great cheerleader, you know."
"Good job, son!"
Dudley's eyes flew open and he saw the man who, even after these years of freedom, was still larger than life.
It was barely louder than a breath but Padma heard it. She turned and saw a man who looked vaguely familiar to her. He was average height but very round. His face was round and pink with a few wrinkles. His hair was thinning and most of the blond was lightening to gray; his thick moustache was neatly combed and trimmed. There was something about him that niggled at her memory but she just couldn't grasp it.
"Dudley," he said warmly clapping a hand on to his son's shoulder. "You should have told me you were on your school's team."
"Yeah well... I hadn't a clue that you even knew what uni I was going to."
Padma frowned, why wouldn't his father know what school he was paying tuition for? She looked to Dudley, whose face had become pale.
"You disappeared for three years without a word." D's father's voice was a low pained rumble. "Of course I'd look for you. Would you like to talk over dinner? My treat."
"I was actually going to dinner with my girlfriend, can we take a rain check?"
For a long time I was angry.
I was angry at my father, who was like a completely different person when we were behind closed doors. I hated my mother, who was weak in every way that mattered. Eventually I hated my cousin, who had the luxury of leaving for months at a time.
But mostly I was angry at myself. I kept accepting those gifts, those bribes. I doubt it would have mattered whether I took them or not but still I felt cheap and disgusting.
I broke everything he gave me after a few weeks. I didn't want to see any of it, but I didn't want to throw it away either. If I got rid of it entirely, it would be like it never happened. I needed to know it happened, I needed to know I wasn't crazy when the sun came up.
I shoved it all into my play room.
Not too soon after I turned eleven did things change. Letters started coming, letters for Harry, letters that were written on old yellow paper with a wax seal just like the ones on the shows about pirates and kings. Mum got scared, Dad was terrified; Harry and I — we were anxious ...confused mostly.
Two days driving and one sickening boat ride later and what we were running from caught up to us. A massive man with a pink umbrella and a coat made of pockets burst into the shack.
The giant told his story and then I understood why Dad had never tried to get at Harry again. He was afraid that he'd get blown to pieces if he did. Not for the first time did I wish Harry and I could trade places.
I hated the fact that he got to leave.
I hated the pig tail more. My mother would burst into tears or dizzy spells whenever she saw it but I didn't care about that all too much. I was more worried about the fact that my father was worse than ever before.
The week I had a tail was worse than almost any other time in my life. I had been hog-tied, fucked, force to eat from a bowl like a pig at a trough and twenty tortures between.
"Daddy's little piggy."
That's what he'd moan, flicking or tugging the tail. It felt odd, attached to me but rather numb. The sensation wasn't too bad, but it made me sick anyway. I didn't want to like anything he did to me. Even though I hated it I came all over my stomach and face.
I cried for hours.
Mum came in and tried to quiet me down before my father got fed up with the noise. In the end he got up and came to my room a thick black belt in his fist.
I wasn't stupid enough to think he wouldn't hit me.
I scrambled out of the door just as he came in and ducked into the bathroom. Naked and cold, I sat on the floor with my back to the door. Mum was screaming and Dad's belt echoed through the whole house.
Padma dog-eared her page and closed the book. Reading while moving was annoying and distracting. She sat cross legged on Dudley's back, mentally tallying the push-ups. He was at seventy and going strong.
A burst of fast paced music echoed through the silence, the little phone buzzing and making noise.
"D. Your phone's ringing..."
"Yeah. It's probably a telemarketer." It was a lie, a blatant one. "I'm going to get a new number soon."
"Set 8," she informed him. "What for?"
His breath puffed unsteadily as he braced his arms. "I'm getting a new phone."
"You can afford a new phone?" She was skeptical, and with good reason. The school didn't pay that well and the hours Dudley worked around his classes and boxing were barely enough to keep him dressed and fed.
"I can't afford to keep this one."
"Why not? It's a steal, thirty-five a month."
"Shit- lost count."
"Eighty four...five... You didn't answer my question. Six."
Dudley finished the set in silence and laid on his stomach as he rested for the next one.
"I'll just do without a phone for a little while. There are pay phones in the main lobby."
"Dudley, I don't understand. There is something you aren't telling me, isn't there?" Padma placed her small hand on his damp shoulder and looked around the room. It was the basic dorm room.
There were two beds one on each side of the room, two desks, and a small TV mounted on the wall. There was a thick blue rug on the floor in the space between the beds.
On the far wall there were frames, pictures of the other occupant of the room with people who were probably friends or family. A poster from some mainstream rock band with torn jeans and pictures drawn by the girlfriend whose room he practically lived in. There was personality there, he had made his side of the room as homey as he could.
There was nothing besides the bedding that showed any kind of personalization on Dudley's side of the room. It was eerie and almost sterile in a strange way. His walls were bare, his clothes were tucked away in his closet and his miniature refrigerator was purchased second-hand and had come with the stupid frog magnets.
"Well? Aren't you going to say anything?" Padma snapped, irritated. "Give me something to go on, here! You won't have sex with me, you haven't told me a single thing about your family — half the time I think you're just stringing me along!"
There was a tense silence before Dudley rolled on his side, dislodging Padma. His brow was wet with sweat and his face flushed from exertion. He kept his face carefully emotionless. His clear blue eyes looked through her rather than at her.
"My father works for Gunnings Drill company. Always has, always will. My mother is a home maker; the closest she ever comes to working is mending dresses for her friends." He grabbed the pulled the hem of his T-shirt up and wiped his face. "I'm kind of an only child, no brothers or sisters — mum couldn't conceive, and even if she could, they wouldn't have made it. I grew up with my cousin. We were never close and still aren't. Last time I saw him some guy was trying to kill him. Don't know if he succeeded, but I seriously doubt it."
Dudley looked at Padma for the first time since he started talking. She was so pretty with her long dark hair, warm almond-shaped eyes and smooth brown skin. The sweatshirt she wore was his and so long that it covered her completely. Her toes poked out from under the orange cloth, her toe nails were painted blue. Most likely to match the color on her fingers. Padma sat still and attentive, her chin resting on her knees. She was full of passion, curiosity and excitement. She laughed easily and was so sensual.
She deserved much better than him but he was too selfish to let her go. She made him feel normal, feel human, feel real. She was the only person who ever really knew him. She didn't know all of him though; he took care never to show her the ugliest bits of him.
The bully, the weakling and the coward were carefully locked away when she was around. It was time to lock away the liar as well.
"When you live with someone for so long you learn things about them. My cousin, he may have been scrawny as hell but he was fast. When we were little I would torment him — I was horrible to him, really. It didn't matter what I did — tried to do, rather — because he could out-run, out-think and out-play the very best when his ass was on the line."
Padma leaned forward, pressed her palm against Dudley's chest and kissed him chastely on the lips. "Thank you."
I was thirteen when I got my first taste of freedom in boxing. My chance to be rid of everything that was wrong. It was something I had never really thought about before, but I embraced it whole-heartedly.
Mr. Cross, the physical education teacher at Smeltings, had caught me fighting with one of the older boys. I had always been strong; a boy my size was pretty intimidating but normal enough. It was my speed that set me apart. Chasing Harry through back alleys, up and down stairs, and all over the oddest and most obscure places of the neighborhood had made me quick and agile. Mr. Cross watched me beat the hell out of a boy five years my senior and drafted me for the sixth form boxing league.
I wasn't old enough to compete with the older boys, but he had said if we started training now my weight would come down while my stamina and technique would grow.
I fell in love with boxing in no time.
When my gloves were laced up I felt invincible! Unbeatable! I shadow-boxed in every mirror I came across, dodging every punch my reflection threw my way. Every morning and night I did push-ups, crunches and leg lifts. I jogged home from school every day, regardless of weather. I gave up sweets and sodas, risking becoming slim and attractive for my chance at power.
I went to every practice for four months before Mum found out. She told Dad and I was tempted to beat her myself. I settled for frightening her instead. I told her if she didn't keep her mouth shut next time that I would tell Dad about how she went to the mall to shop when I was at school.
I didn't mean it, but I was scared.
I was afraid that Dad would make me quit. That he would take boxing from me. That he wouldn't want me to learn how to fight back. The weeks after he learned about boxing I had been extra-compliant. When he wanted me, I behaved just like he wanted me to, like an eager little boy. He was happy with my change in attitude, so he let boxing stay.
The next year Mr. Cross pulled me into his office and told me I had to pick up my grades if I wanted to ever get into the ring with opponents from other schools. Not only was it school policy that I be passing before I could engage in any extra-curricular activities, but there was a chance if I did well that one of the universities would want me. If I had good grades as well, they would pay my way through school.
I was never stupid, I was just lazy. If you played dumb for long enough people stopped expecting anything from you. It made it really easy to pick up my grades. Every teacher was startled by my overnight improvement.
I spent all my time making up old assignments, keeping up with the new ones, and boxing. Everything else came second. When my father came into my room at night, I thought of the universities that would take boxers.
The phone rang again.
"Just answer it, D. See what he wants," Padma called from her bed. She watched Dudley fiddle with the phone that he had yet to cancel; he'd chosen instead to wait the contract out the last two months. She continued brushing her hair in the same steady strokes. "I mean, it is your father."
With a tired puff, Dudley hefted himself off of the floor to reach for it. She was right, it was his father and Dudley knew just how persistent that man could be. With a put upon sigh, Dudley flipped open his phone and brought it to his ear.
"Hello there, son!" Vernon was loud, even over the phone. "You're a hard man to reach!"
"Er. Yeah... If I'm not in class, I'm at practice." That was mostly true. "What is it, Dad?"
"Can't I call just to speak with my son? After all, it's been three years since you disappeared and I haven't seen you."
"You saw me at last week's match," Dudley snapped, agitated.
"Come home for a weekend. We can order in and watch a few movies," Vernon offered. "We can talk and get to know each other again."
"Dudley, you've been gone for three years. It's not much that I'm asking for, just some time with my son."
"I'll have dinner with you Dad," Dudley conceded with a tired sigh, "I can't stay the weekend. Practice for the nationals is serious, miss one and you're out."
"Good! Good! I can't wait to see you." Dudley felt his stomach drop when he heard his father's hearty chuckle. With a sharp movement he snapped phone shut and shuffled over to the bed. He flopped down gracelessly, his eyes pointed toward the ceiling and unseeing.
Padma shifted closer and pulled Dudley's head into her lap. She wove her thin nimble fingers into his hair and gently combed through the shaggy blond hair. "That wasn't so bad, yes?" Dudley gave a derisive snort and rolled closer to her.
"You got off easy." She crooned, "if it was me who disappeared for three years my fathers would have hunted me down and skinned me before locking me in the house for the rest of my days."
"Fathers?" The word was muffled by her stomach but she still understood.
"Mm-hm," she bobbed her head once in confirmation. "Baba and Papa, you'll get to meet them soon enough. I just have to convince them that my having a boyfriend isn't a bad idea. I think Baba will like you best. He's very quiet. Barely speaks at all. But he's a very good judge of character. Papa... That's where Paro gets her personality from, everything with him is big. Dramatic almost, he doesn't get upset — he gets furious. He is never sad or melancholy but rather devastated.... Its rather amusing once you get used to it."
"You love them a lot, don't you?"
"Yes, they are my parents, you know." She leaned down and pressed a kiss to Dudley's shoulder. "What are yours like? What are your parents like?"
"My mum cries for everything. My Dad... he's the kind of person who would buy you the biggest, most expensive, most perfect gift ever just so he could rub it in your face later.
"Feel the love..."
Mum was out that night, a friend of hers had knocked on the door begging for Mum to come with her to the hospital. Her water had broken and her husband wasn't home. Dad tossed Mum her car keys and she was off.
I didn't think much of it at the time. Dinner had long ago been served and polished off. Harry and I were old enough to fend for ourselves, being fifteen, and she wouldn't leave for good without Harry.
She was always a lousy actress. She claimed to love me and did all sorts of ridiculous things to make the illusion more believable to outsiders, but I knew she hated me. Harry... I don't think she loved him so much as what he stood for: her little sister that she still cried about when no one was looking or the compassion she longed for.
Harry, I know, would have left the moment he could. He wouldn't even stay for mum's sake. You can only treat someone like shit for so long, eventually she reached the limits and Harry became indifferent to her.
Harry was out in the yard or somewhere close and it was just Dad and I. I turned my eyes to the TV, trying to appear to be really interested. It didn't surprise me when I felt my father's large meaty hand on my thigh.
I knew what he wanted. It was always the same thing. He pushed me and pulled at me until I was on my back. The sofa smelled like that awful fabric freshener that mum likes so much.
I went slack under his hands and turned my face to the telly. I watched the TV while he pulled my clothes off. It was nice to pretend that this wasn't happening to me.
I don't like thinking about it. I hate that more than I actually hated doing it... Or is it rather having it done to me? I don't really know anymore...
Harry had walked in through the door, I saw his reflection in the screen. He watched for a few moments. I guess knowing and hearing what goes on is different. He looked pale, even for his standards, and left again.
I watched almost a whole prime time show before dad had come. I pushed off of the sofa as he reached out to pet me and went to go prepare for my night time jog. If I ran for long enough, my mind would clear and I wouldn't dream at night.
I refused to go jogging with come in my ass and on my thighs. If I wanted to get my whole ten miles in before late, I would have take a quick shower. I washed and was on my way out the door in twenty minutes. I jogged around the neighborhood for a while. It made me feel light, free almost. It was all up to me when I ran, direction, speed and everything else.
I had taken four laps around Magnolia Crescent and was going to start cooling down when I got a horrible chill up my spine. I thought it was nothing but a chill up my spine, but I was wrong. I don't know exactly what happened and I doubt that ever will, but all I knew was that I remembered everything. Every time I laid under my father, his eager eyes and hands, screaming and fighting only to be pinned down helplessly, my week with a pig tail, the snickers of the children at school and every time I washed sperm off of my thighs. I was an incoherent mess when the flashes of memories stopped. Harry was standing over me, a dissolving silver light gleaming behind him.
He was pale and drawn, and I could barely breathe, let alone ask him if he was alright. I knew he wasn't the one who brought all of those memories to the forefront of my mind. He couldn't have been the chill in my spine... In my soul.
Old Lady Figg, the old lady with a million cats, was somehow here too. She spoke of Dementing and orders and other things that I couldn't really place. There was chocolate shoved past my lips. I chewed slowly, feeling the warmth spread through my body and vaguely thinking about how this was blatant sabotage of my no sugar, no caffeine diet.
I stumbled behind Harry and Mrs. Figg half-blind and completely drained. Watching myself give up and lie there compliant was the worst thing. I had allowed myself to become my father's plaything.
I swore that I would fight back next time. That I would do what ever it took to make him stop. I told myself that I was old enough to fight back, to not allow it, to tell him that enough was enough.
Two days later I lay on my back, hating myself.
Padma kissed Dudley's cheek as he hovered near the door. He had been borderline-obsessed with what he would wear tonight.
"Something that looks adult... But not uncomfortable," he said as they browsed through the second-hand shop's racks. "I'll be plenty enough uncomfortable all on my own."
In the end they went back to the campus empty-handed, and Dudley wore his newest pair of black denims and a mustard button-down. He toyed nervously with his hair, dragging the blonde strands forward before slicking them back with a jerky, frustrated movement.
"You worry too much. He's your father; he's not going to do anything you." She said as she held up his jacket. "Besides, if he wants to complain about anything, tell him to shove off. You've been taking care of yourself for three years. You've been paying for your own clothes, food and schooling."
"Yeah... Yeah." He was hesitant at first but conviction made its way into his voice. "Right." He leaned down and kissed Padma lightly before leaving for the bus terminal.
The hour-long bus ride to Magnolia Crescent was its own kind of hell. The ride was too long and too short. Dudley sat at the back, not knowing if he wanted for tonight to be over or for it to never come. He asked himself a million questions: Was it too late to go back? Did he really have to do this? Is dad ready to tell me why? Will it all look different?
When the driver called the name of his stop, Dudley pulled himself together and got off of the bus.
Walking towards Privet Drive filled Dudley with a familiarity and a foreboding that he hadn't felt in the three years since he left. Nothing had changed; the same little houses were all still painted the same dull ecru and had little garden patches out front and sedans in the drive ways. It was eerie how much nothing had changed.
Sooner than he would have liked, Dudley was at the door of his childhood home. With a shaky breath he readied himself and pushed the doorbell. The chime was still just as loud and obnoxious as it always was, and Dudley didn’t know if that was a comfort or a warning.
Just as Dudley pulled his finger away from the button, Vernon threw the door open and ushered his son in. "Right on time, the delivery boy just dropped off the pies not but a few seconds ago."
Dudley walked through the house with a horrified nostalgia. Nothing had changed at all; everything was still beige and frilly and there were photos of him on every surface. The furniture was worn from use but all still the same.
"I've no idea." Vernon waved a dismissive hand and grabbed the remote from the sitting room table.
"No, not so much really. We aren't together anymore."
Dudley's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. He wouldn't have thought his father would give up his cook, maid and gloryhole for anything. "Why not?"
"I came home from work and found that she had cleared her closet and our joint account."
'Hell. I never thought she'd have the balls,' was what Dudley wanted to say, but all that came out was a hoarse, "Really?"
Vernon rubbed a thick hand through his graying hair and nodded abruptly. He flipped through the channels until pay-per-view's countdown along with the names of two world class fighters flashed across the screen.
They were going to watch a boxing match, then? Dudley felt his muscles relax for the first time that day. Boxing— this was something he could talk about. This wouldn't lead into any awkward conversations or situations.
"Good riddance to bad rubbish. Marge was right after all, I should have never married her." The older man continued his tirade. "But I've always been a soft touch with the ladies. It’s improper for a pregnant woman not to be married, her parents would have been disgraced…"
"Wait. What?" Dudley bolted upright. "You married mum just because she was pregnant with me?"
"Of course! A man has to take responsibility for his actions!"
"What the hell? You couldn't have just paid child support, or... If you didn't love m-"
"I love you, Dudley. I always have." Vernon clapped a heavy hand on his son's shoulder and looked into the boy's eyes. "I still do. Your mother... She was a mistake. But she did something right!" Vernon's beady little eyes gleamed with what could only be described as a greed-fueled madness. "She gave me you, Dudley."
Dudley watched, horrified, as his father came closer to him. Thick lips parted, ready to seal them selves over Dudley's own. He acted without thinking and threw his fist the way he never had in the ring. All of his power and all of his fear flew behind it, making the blow critical.
Vernon flopped to the side, just a moment away from unconscious.
"No. Not anymore." Dudley stood there for a moment wild eyed and filled with a heady mix of adrenaline, anger and fear. "I'm not a kid anymore. I can fight back."
It was on the spur of the moment that Dudley decided to rip all of his pictures from the walls and mantle. He tossed them, frames and all, into the fireplace. He made his way through the house to then den and pulled every photo album and snapshot down. With brusque movements, he collected every picture of himself in the house and tossed it all onto the growing mound in the sitting room's fireplace.
When Dudley had removed all the pictures he could find, he searched the kitchen cabinets until he had found matches and non-stick cooking spray. Starting the fire took a bit of work but every ounce of effort was worth it.
Once the pile of photographs were curling in on themselves, blackening and smoldering, Dudley made his way to the door. Pausing for a moment in the hall to snatch the paper with his cell number up and delete his number from the phone.
With an annoyed grunt Dudley realized that this would be the second time he left this house with the intention to never return.
"Old man, please." I pleaded from the other side of the desk. "I can't get a P.O. Box without any documents, and my parents can't know about this."
"They can't know about you applying for college? And scholarships?" He leaned forward with his fingers laced the way he did when telling off one of the other guys for not sticking to their work out schedules. "If anything, most parents would be ecstatic that you're taking the initiative."
"Look. Its... Just please."
Mr. Cross glanced at his watch and nodded. "Three times in five minutes, Dursley. To be honest, I didn't think you knew the word please."
"I know a lot more than people think." My face must have been flaming red. He swept his hair out of his face and just stared at me. For the first time I realized just how young I was. Don't get me wrong here, Mr. Cross wasn't old — he was in his late twenties. And he looked a bit like the lead in that stupid movie Zoolander, now that I think of it.
But the point is that I had so much at stake and it all rested on his decision. Although it seemed worlds away, at eighteen we weren't really that far apart in age.
"I daresay you do." Mr. Cross nodded sharply and pulled a pen from the cup on his desk. "Alright, Dursley. You can use my address. I won't open anything and I won't bring the mail to you either, this arrangement doesn't come without strings."
My stomach dropped. Was Cross like Dad? Was...that what he wanted? I had to know so I asked as plainly as I could, "How do I get it? What do you want me to do?"
"You'll pick up your mail after practice and for an hour you'll help my partner with his studio. I'm utterly tired of being roped into doing handy work! I'm an athlete, not a construction worker."
I laughed; it was more in relief than anything else.
The time flew by after that. I must have filled out two dozen applications and written a zillion essays for every scholarship under the sun. While I waited for acceptance or award letters to arrive I helped Jeremy, Mr. Cross' partner, build his studio.
I learned how to remodel a room, from flooring and electrical to plumbing and painting. I hadn't expected to have so much fun doing it.
Jeremy was a complete nutter, and I mean that in the best way possible. He didn't believe in instruction manuals, or institutions of higher learning. He always told me, go with what feels right and you'll know it's right.
He was an artist, a sculptor. He made things out of clay and, on the off occasions that he felt like it, welded metal. I used sit on a milk crate in the corner and watch him turn mud or rusted piles of shit into beautiful animals or delicate mythical creatures.
Jeremy was thirty-three, just a few years older than Mr. Cross, and fairly well known in the art world. He was always clean-shaven, with clay under his nails, slurry smudged on his arms and face. His skin was so dark that sometimes he looked blue, but his teeth were blindingly white. The letters started coming in May. I got five acceptances and nine scholarships; most of them were small but two were for the duration of my schooling.
In the end, one more acceptance letter came in along with a hand written letter.
The letter was from the Head of Elite Athletes - a private sports club that sponsored athletes. The Head chairman knew Jeremy, and had heard from him that I was an excellent boxer. He offered to lay down the money for me to attend St. Mathias University, provided that I maintained a 3.5 and joined the boxing club that he sponsored.
The next day I cut class, broke into Jeremy's studio and cried for the better part of an hour. I cleaned up before he came in, but I guess my eyes were still puffy enough to guess that I'd been crying.
I thanked him over and over again, I couldn't explain exactly what it meant to me — or thank him enough.
"Don't thank me, kid. Just do good for yourself." He clapped a hand on my shoulder, and I started blubbering all over again. It was humiliating, and I just wanted the tears to stop. They didn't, not until I was so tired I could barely stand.
I ended up spending the night. I called Dad and lied about wanting to hang out with Piers. I wasn't surprised that he believed me. Dad and I rarely ever spoke about anything other than TV shows or sports; there was no way that he would know that I hadn't so much as spoken to Piers since I was fourteen.
Jeremy shoved a pair of sweat pants and a wrapped-up tooth brush at me and shoved me into the guestroom. I collapsed onto the queen size bed in the guest room and just passed out. It was the best sleep I ever had. I didn't wake up once during the night and I even dreamed.
I woke up the next morning refreshed and to the smell of frying bacon. I cleaned up and made my way downstairs to the kitchen. I heard voices so I stopped before I reached the kitchen door. Jeremy was talking about coffee and Mr. Cross was just humming. After a few moments of silence, I walked into the room.
I hadn't meant to walk in on such a private moment but I did. Mr. Cross was standing at the sink, his hands in sudsy water, and Jeremy was pressed against his back. One of his hands was on Mr. Cross' face and they were kissing. After a few seconds they broke apart.
Jeremy smiled at me and said good morning before he seated himself in front of a bowl of cereal with a heaping side of bacon and eggs.
Mr. Cross turned on the tap and nodded towards the table. "Go have a seat. I'll get breakfast to you in a second."
I slid into the chair besides Jeremy. He smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. "Better now?" I nodded stiffly and scrubbed at my cheeks as if it would wipe away the redness in my face or at the very least provide a reason for my flush.
"Good. Good..." The hand on my shoulder moved and smoothed the hair on the back of my neck. "But I have to ask, what was yesterday about? I understand you want to go to college but you seemed..." He stopped speaking but I heard the implied desperate.
"I don't want my Dad to pay for it," I muttered, "I want to make a clean break — completely. Wake up somewhere new and with no obligations to anyone but myself. I want it so bad..."
Mr. Cross put a plate in front of me. I was mildly surprised to see a spinach and cheese omelet with a side of melon and some odd wafer-like things. It wasn't like I didn't eat like this every day; I just found it odd that Mr. Cross made it himself. All my life I had been told men don't cook (for some reason Dad believed Harry to be the exception to this rule), but I had just been handed what I can honestly say was one of the best omelets I ever had.
"Oh come on Gabriel, or Gabrielle rather. You've got the boy eating like a dame on a diet! Where's the bacon!" Jeremy teased Mr. Cross good-naturedly. Mr. Cross rolled his eyes and looked through the paper on the table. Mr. Cross gave as good as he got, pausing only once to scold me about my elbows being on the table.
I stared into my plate feeling more comfortable and warm then I ever did at Privet Drive. I blinked and suddenly two rashers of bacon were hidden behind my cantaloupe. Jeremy winked, Mr. Cross pretended not to notice, and I felt right at home.
Home. It's funny how home was at the table of a couple that was for all intents and purposes perfect strangers instead of the place I lived growing up.
The place I left that July without a word.
I signed up to start college in the summer. I would take classes year-round and live on campus as well — a sacrifice I was more than willing to make.
I walked up to my room and pulled my money stash from the old shoe in my closet. I had already saved up close to two thousand. Honestly, it hadn't taken long to get that much. Dad is very compliant after he's spent a load or three.
I tucked the money into the lining of my suitcase and carefully started packing. I folded everything as small as possible knowing that this bag and my book bag were all that I would be able to take with me. Clothes, toiletries, documents and a laptop later, I was ready to go.
I walked from Privet Drive to the central bus terminal dragging a suitcase behind me, and there I laid down enough for a one way ticket.
He walked through the quad and past the athletics building all the way to the girls' dorms. He went through the process of signing in mechanically and as soon as he was past security he ran up the stairs to the third floor. He knocked frantically on the door There was a decent amount of noise coming through the door, but it petered off and the door eased open to reveal Padma and a few other girls who he had never seen on campus before.
"D--?" Padma murmured in surprise. "Wh-"
He didn't give her a chance to say more just ducked down and took possession of her mouth. There was something different about this kiss. It was primal, uplifting and more than a little manic.
Padma pulled away breathlessly, her large lovely eyes trained on the man standing in her door way. "D... I —"
"Get rid of your friends for a little bit. Please..." He placed a hand on her hip and curled his fingers into her flesh and leaned forward. "I-"
He didn't have to say the words, Padma knew. He had never looked so animated. — No, no that was the wrong word — He had never looked so liberated before. She could feel the heat pouring off of his body and the excited tremors.
"Guys, out now." Padma snapped to the girls in the room, who all looked up and shared knowing looks. The girls snatched up their things and jammed into their shoes while grumbling and rolling their eyes. They milled out of the room chatting and blatantly ogling Dudley.
As soon as they were out of the room Dudley came in and started undoing the buttons of his shirt. A large grin was spread across his face and his eyes seemed glassy and huge.
When Padma came closer, Dudley dipped his head to kiss her once more. It was urgent and pressing, and left Padma panting and leaning into his sculpted body.
"Padma, I— I— let's...."
He couldn't find the words, but that was alright. Padma wrapped her hands around his arm, led him to her bed. She sat down too, took his other hand and pulled him onto her.
"I'm so glad," she whispered into his ear as they learned exactly how their bodies fit together.
"I can't believe it!"
"Can't believe what, Ron?" Hermione said from across the table.
"Padma's getting married," he said through a mouthful of toast. "And I would have never thought... It never seemed as serious in her letters."
"I didn't know the two of you kept in contact." Harry put his mug on the table and went to go peer over Ron's shoulder. "No fucking way."
"What the hell, guys?" Hermione snapped before snatching the ivory and pink invite from Ron's long fingers. "You're invited to the wedding of Padma Patil and Dudley Dursley. Please come and celebrate our special day with — holy shit. Like your cousin, Dudley Dursley?"
"Seems like it."
"Are you going to go?" Ron asked.
"It's not a matter of if I was going to go or not. You always take Hermione to the plus one things. Besides, I wasn't sent an invite."
"Don't be stupid, I have a plus two on my invite."
"Padma knows about the three of us?" Hermione pressed, a bit nervous. "Who —?"
"Don't worry she didn't tell her sister. I've told no one else. Hell, I didn't even tell her, she guessed."
The three chuckled. And breakfast continued on as it usually did.
Dudley stood in one of the rooms off of the main cathedral. He watched as people entered and found space to sit on her side of the hall. The side reserved for the bride's family and friends was packed. There were people smiling, seated shoulder to shoulder and chatting excitedly with each other.
The hard wood pews on his side were completely empty. He couldn't invite Mr. Cross and Jeremy because there was a law that stated magic was supposed to be kept a secret. He didn't know where his mother had fled to, not that he'd have invited her anyway, and it was best to just not think of Vernon.
"So, nervous yet?"
A heavy hand fell on Dudley's shoulder. He turned around and smiled at Tavid Patil. "Nah, I'm too happy to be nervous."
"Don't forget to smile for the cameras today. And don't eat anything with spinach or else you'll never live it down if your face is plastered across the society pages with something between your teeth."
"Why are there so many camera men, anyway?" Dudley asked Mr. Patil (well, both of Padma's parents were called Mr. Patil).
"Padma and Paro have a few high profile friends from school." He pointed to a blonde woman in a bright yellow dress and an elaborate updo decorated with little white flowers. "That is Luna Lovegood who owns The Quibbler, it's the newspaper of the Wizarding World."
"Alright," the groom said softly and licked his lips. He would have to learn all of these things quickly, they were Padma's friends after all. "Who's next?"
"That is Neville Longbottom. He's a war hero and only heir of the Longbottom family, and he owns the largest cooperative nursery in the UK. He's a Pureblood but a kind one. On his arm is his lady, Hannah Abbot, she's a baker— made the wedding cake."
"Over there is Su Li, she's an author. Very, very well known, and over there is Dean Thomas. He's a world class painter, his portraits go for hundreds of thousands. He's the only one who's ever been allowed to paint or sketch the trio."
"The who?" This was all a bit much. His soon-to-be wife rubbed elbows with the elite of her society, and he had no clue who anyone was.
All of the sudden the press went wild and pictures were being snapped like crazy, some guests were craning their necks over the crowd to try and catch a glimpse.
"Here they come now! I wasn't expecting them to come; from what I understand, Parvati never got along with Granger and... Regardless, they're the three top dogs of society, war heroes, humanitarians and everything else under the sun. The woman is Hermione Granger, she's head of interspecies relations and everyone says she's a shoo-in for the Minister of Magic."
"But she doesn't look any older than I am."
"She's only a few months older than you, she's twenty-six."
"And she's next in line for Minister?"
"Greatest mind of her age!" Tavid turned his attention to the red head. "That is Ronald Weasley, his whole family is a success story, really. Rags to riches, the lot of them. He owns and manages the Chudley Cannons— number one in the league for three years and counting. I know he and Padma talk every now and again.
"And last but not ever least—"
"Oh, so you've heard of him?"
"That's my fucking cousin!"
Tavid gave Dudley a look that was halfway between dumbfounded and astonished. "You're related!?"
"Yeah, our mums were sisters. We grew up together for the most part."
"Why didn't you tell us he was coming?" Tavid, ever the gossiping socialite, was no doubt tallying the number of people that he could brag to later.
"I wasn't expecting him to. I didn't even send an invite. I didn't even think he would have come if I had."
Dudley watched, transfixed, as Harry greeted several people and had even kissed the little blonde with the flowers in her hair. He turned to the other two he came with, said something to them and made his way to the desolate side of the cathedral and sat in the center of the front row alone.
“It's almost show time, Dudley!”
“Yeah…” He cracked a small smile too. “I’m gonna get married today.”
“That you are.”
The wedding went off with out a hitch, and the newly married couple radiated joy.
When the bride came in dressed in white, she was lovely and everyone was awed. When Dudley stumbled over his vows Padma became teary-eyed.
The reception seemed to be flying by in a whirlwind. Dudley had his first dance with his wife. They moved gracefully and steadily across the floor in a dance that exuded romance and affection.
Dudley had just heard a toast from Parvati, the maid of honor, which extolled Padma’s virtues and beauty and how genuinely pleased she was that her twin had found the perfect mate. Mr. Patil and Mr. Patil danced with their daughter and cheerfully conspired to find an ideal man for Parvati, who absolutely refused to settle down.
While Padma had left his side to talk to an elderly uncle, Dudley managed to push past the crowd and stand at his cousin’s side. He lifted a flute of champagne from a passing waitress’s tray and took a sip to wet his throat.
“I’m surprised you came.”
Harry’s fingers were clenched tightly around the stem of the class. He kept his eyes straight ahead and watched the two he came with circle the dance floor. “Should I not have?”
“I’m glad you came.” Might as well be honest, Dudley thought, a small smile playing across his lips. “It was nice to have someone on my side of the room. Looked a bit pathetic before you showed up.”
“Yeah, well, here I am to save the day.”
“You always did have a hero complex.”
Harry turned toward his cousin. “I do not have a hero complex!” A few of the surrounding people snorted into their cups or out right laughed. “Shut up, Neville, you’re just as bad!”
“Yeah sure, whatever you say, Harry,” the man replied before escorting his partner to the dance floor.
“Well then…” Dudley drawled, hiding his smirk behind the rim of the glass. “Glad to know that even after all this time you're still the same four-eyed whiner you always were.”
“I never whined.”
“You never got stuck up trees either, huh?”
“It was just that one time.”
“I had to climb up and get you down, remember.”
“Well the choices were pretty clear; climb up the tree or let that Terrence beat my face in.” Harry leaned back, peered at Dudley over the tops of his glasses and smirked. “Whatever did happen to him? After that day he pretended not to see me.”
“Hm, right. I wonder.”
“That hero complex, I think it’s hereditary. Starts with small outbreaks, then it just gets out of control. So you better watch it, Duds.”
“Hereditary, hm? So if Padma and I have kids…”
“If you have kids… you know that they’ll probably be like me.” And that was when the light banter disappeared and that elephant that they never spoke of made its appearance. Change is never easy, but it's twice as hard to change the ideas you have been raised on. Dudley let out a huff of air and shook his head. “I’d get the poor kid a wig, no need to suffer with that unfortunate hair of yours.”
“You know what I mean.”
It was kind of hard not to. After all, it was the only differentiating trait about them. It was the only thing that had protected Harry from shame, pain and self-loathing. Dudley would cry in relief if his children had it too, because it would keep them safe.
“I’m not my mother and I’m certainly not my father.”
“That’s good to know.” Harry gave his empty flute to a passing server and clapped his cousin firmly on the shoulder. “Congrats on the marriage, Dudley.”