Of the numerous people – still more of the numerous Witches and Wizards – whom Dudley Dursley never though to see standing at his door during the summer hols, the Malfoy boy was somewhere near to being joint first. He’d met the lad, certainly; boy was a contemporary of Al’s, after all. But this was unexpected. On the other hand, the pointy wee bugger could only have turned up had Harry or Al or perhaps Millie sent him, after giving him very careful instruction on how to get from one place to the next (even more than Al, who could sit in a lane of the M4 and read and not notice the traffic, young Malfoy was not precisely on the same plane as others. Could get himself lost in the loo, really: no sense of direction at all).
‘Du- – Mr Dursley?’
And he, thought Dudley, was becoming almost as useless, letting the lad stand there at gaze.
‘Right, in you come, Scorpius. Tea? Elspeth has taken Harriet to the shops, if you wanted either of them. If not, it’s just as well, Harriet’d talk the hind leg off a mule, asking you for a day to day account of your first year. She and Lils … sooner they’re on the Express, the better.’
‘Er. Yes. To the tea, I mean. And it was you I came to see. Actually.’
‘Through here, then. I’ll let you be Mother. Slice of lemon for me – you know damned well Elspeth’ll not let me touch sugar. And for God’s sake, lad, go back to calling me “Dudley”, or “Uncle Dudley”, as you did when you were small. Seething mass of sprogs you lot were, one great teeming family, and everyone’s parents everyone else’s courtesy aunts and uncles. Charming, if tiresome once in a way. In any event…. Bin the “Mister Dursley” business. Now. How was your first year at Hogwarts, then?’
‘That’s … actually, that’s why I wished to talk with you.’
‘Ah.’ Dudley remembered James’ first year. That was doubtless why who it was had sent the boy, had sent him here. ‘Taking Muggle Studies, are you? Right. That is a television, commonly called the telly or –’
‘Oh. No, no. I mean, yes, I am taking Muggle Studies, Father insisted, but that’s not why I need to talk with you, actually.’
‘Isn’t it? Go on, then.’
‘Al … Al says not to worry about it.’
Dudley kept his countenance. Al and Scorp had been thick as thieves from the cradle, to the amusement of Harry and of Aster, and the considerable annoyance of Ginny and Malfoy. And he’d wondered…. Al’s favourite cricketer was Stuart Broad, after all, and Scorpius thought that diving fellow – Daley, wasn’t it? – hung the moon.
On the other hand, there were at least a good dozen Wizards who counted as young Malfoy’s honorary uncles and aunts who could explain that sort of thing to the lad, and Dudley was the last person to be asked about it.
‘Well. I mean. Al’s dad and Father are perfectly civil, nowadays, actually. But. At school. Grandm’ma and Aunt Andromeda won’t talk about it, nor will Teddy, and Harry bangs on about how what’s past is past, and. Al says it doesn’t matter, and my House are too bloody nice about it, and even Jamie isn’t a complete shit about it –. Oh. I am – I apologise, sir –’
‘I’ve heard the term. Used it m’self.’ Dudley winked, massively. ‘Even of Jamie, once, when he was being a complete … wanker.’
‘Er. Yes. It’s just that … everyone else, actually. They say the most appalling things, actually, at school.’
‘About you and Al?’
Scorpius was innocently perplexed. ‘Why should they say anything about Al? No, it’s all about me. Well, my family. Not Grandm’ma, so much, but my late grandfather. And. And about Father. How they were cruel and vicious and criminal and actually tried to kill Harry. And – worse.’
‘Ah.’ This was some enlightenment, but not a great deal. Why in buggery did the boy come to him? Dudley was no Wizard.
‘And I finally realised that no one but you would tell me the truth. I, I know you mayn’t have seen much of it, and only heard about it, but you haven’t any reason to lie to me, or to smile like Harry does and say it’s all in the past and never mattered. And you are Harry’s cousin, you grew up with him, and Aunt Elspeth comes from a Slytherin family, and, actually, I thought you’d know, and you’d tell it straight.’
So that was the way of it, then. And Dudley had certainly heard it all, and kept his own counsel, and seen it from the touchline and not in the scrum. And he had certainly grown up with Harry. Yes, he had most assuredly grown up with Harry….
‘Hmm. All right. I don’t in fact know it all, but I did have – another perspective. Right, then. I shall tell you a story. Have a biscuit – one of us may as well do.’
Dudley thought, hard; cleared his throat; and began.
‘Harry Potter’s parents were dead. They’d been killed by a raving loony who went about calling himself a lord, had collected a gang of followers, and had tried to take over the country. Harry survived the, ah, Killing Curse – there was a prophecy involved – and eventually put paid to Screaming Lord Verminous. Just as the prophecy said.
‘But when Harry was an infant and an orphan, he was sent to live with his mum’s family, who were as thorough a lot of Muggles as existed in the British Isles, the Republic of Ireland included. And possibly in all of Europe as well. The dangerous nutter who’d killed Harry’s parents had vanished. Most thought he was gone for good. He wasn’t. But it was years before he showed himself again; and in the meantime, his followers still waited his return and held to their dotty beliefs.
‘At this time, there was a family of three, a father and a mother and their ever so precious only son, who was pampered and cosseted and spoilt to the squishiest degree of rottenness. He became a bully, a prat, and frankly an utter shit, to use the term properly.
‘Now, the mother of that family wasn’t, really, so bad, in her way. She was a howling snob, certainly, with a look of perpetual disdain in those years, and she went about in a swivet that she’d, just possibly, married beneath her, for all her pushing husband’s pompousness and airs and success, such as that was. But, then, she’d not been an only child, and sister-love and sister-rivalry are things no man can quite understand. The sister who’d married for love, to a gallant and valiant Wizard … why, this other sister – the mum of the spoilt little bugger – loved and missed and resented, all at once. And that played into her disdain for the Potters and Harry and all his acquaintance.
‘Yet in the end, from whatever motive, the old girl did, however grudgingly, however reluctantly, protect Harry Potter at the last. Even from Lord Mouldy Vole (silly bastard).
‘The husband was a nasty piece of work. He wished desperately to be out of the top drawer, and have people fawn on him, and all that sort of thing, because he was always haunted by the feeling that he was not quite quite. And he loathed Harry Potter – had killed him had he dared, or been able – and he taught his son to plague and torment Harry.
‘That was no problem to the little bully. Cosseted to within an inch of his life, praised for bloody breathing, catered to, and brought up to look down on others, and Harry specially. They sent the little sod off to boarding school, and he fell in with a lot as bad as he, not that he’d not been a terror from his childhood. He liked hurting Harry, when he could, although he wasn’t half so successful at it as he meant to be. And he really didn’t like the Weasleys – partly because Fred and George really were appalling to him, partly because he resented Ron, partly because they took Harry’s part … and partly, I think, because he secretly wanted to be the one to be Harry’s friend, beneath it all. But there’s no blinking the fact: a goodish big part of him hated and resented Harry, and his ghastly old dad encouraged that in him.
‘That lasted until Harry saved him from a fate … a fate I shan’t talk about.’ Dudley was sweating. ‘In any event. Harry did save him. And the woman I mentioned did protect Harry, however she felt about it – mostly, I think, to protect her own precious ickle son, but she did it. And the spoilt brat actually clasped hands with Harry at the last, and damn me if he and his mum didn’t end by being forgiven by Harry in the moment of victory. The ghastly brat actually turned out to be a half-decent fellow, in the end, and he and Harry are by way of being on surprisingly decent terms now, taking one thing with another – and he’s really rather fond of Al, and of you, of course. So you see, it is all in the past, because Harry saved everyone and forgave almost everyone – bar the formerly-spoilt brat’s father, I think, but you want to ask Harry about that. I do know that your lot are fairly accepting of the man who’d been the little terror, and even of his mother, although there are plenty of ’em left who’d string the old man up by his heels or by his neck. And quite right, too.’
Scorpius’ face was white and shocked, and his eyes were dull. He had after all been sorted Hufflepuff, and his loyalties were tender.
‘Oh. So. So it really was like that, actually.’
‘I’m afraid so,’ said Dudley. ‘They really were villains of various shades, and Harry really was the hero – and forgiving with it.’
Scorpius rose to go. ‘Th- – thank you. I did ask. And I know it can’t have been pleasant for you. Apparently what everyone says about them at school…. Thank you for telling me the truth about my family.’
Dudley simply looked at him. ‘Never said a word about the Malfoys, m’boy. And I don’t really think they talk much at Hogwarts about the Dursleys.’
‘I’m not the man to tell you about what your family were to Harry or what they did in the War; I told you my story, lad, the Dursley story. Vernon was the old sod who peacocked about and hated Harry; Mum was the resentful sister who kept him safe. And God knows I was the sneaking little bully Harry saved when he’d every reason not to do. Sit down, boy, before your knees give out, and drink your cuppa. And what I say is, If Harry says it’s past, it’s past, and just you tell those chattering fools that if Harry can forgive his Muggle relations, it’s damned well his choice to forgive the Malfoys, and he has done, and if they question his judgement they can take it up with him.’
Scorpius was past speaking, his eyes wide and round.
‘Have another biscuit, do. And then we can get on to your revisions for Muggle Studies,’ smiled Dudley. He knew, from all the Old Slytherin Bulstrodes in his wife’s family, precisely what reason Scorpius, Hufflepuff or no, must have given to have been allowed to call upon Dudley – actually. ‘Now, that over there is a wireless set….’
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
– Philip Larkin, ‘This Be the Verse’