Greg still had nightmares where he saw Vince fall into the flames.
He didn’t talk about them, not with Draco who had been there, nor with Blaise who hadn’t. Although Draco was less of a prick now he was trying to adjust to Muggle life, he was also still a fussy, overbearing, spoiled brat who thought Gregory Goyle was a bit of an idiot whose main purpose in life was to be bossed around.
Muggle life suited Greg well enough. No one cared about his slow wand work, or expected him to remember the names of hundreds of spells.
“So what are your qualifications, Mr Goyle?”
It had been Pansy’s idea that they sign on. She’d forged some paperwork, got them in the system. She hadn’t known though, that there would be the interviews.
“I, er, left school without any of them,” said Greg. “I was in a fire, and… after…” He hung his head down.
“I see,” the woman at the Job Centre said, a little more softly. “Well, let’s see what we can find you.”
He’d been for other interviews, been sent for other jobs. He’d kept getting lost as a hospital porter - the hospital had been worse than Hogwarts, with its ground floor, lower ground floor, upper ground floor, ground mezzanine and lower first floor; he had found himself resorting to magic a bit too much as a builder, bringing down the wrath of a particularly moody Obliviator; ditto dishwashing; and he was also rubbish at plucking chickens due to his soft spot for all types of bird.
So his hopes had not been high when he’d gone for the security job, or, as he explained to Draco and Blaise, working as bouncer outside of a nightclub in Croydon.
It was, it turned out, his perfect job.
First of all, Greg loved wearing his long black coat. It reminded him of wizarding clothes, and yet the wide shoulders made it completely Muggle. Plus, it suited him and his large frame in a way that robes never had.
Secondly, and this was not unconnected to the first point, he got attention. From women, who seemed to see him as manly and strong rather than lumbering and stupid.
Thirdly - although actually, it might have deserved to be in first place - he got respect. He had power. He got to decide who to allow in, or not, to the nightclub. He got to wield The List. He got to say what was or wasn’t a pair of trainers, unsuitable for a classy establishment like Bang Bang Titty Titty Go Go.
Greg picked at his teeth while waiting for the line to grow. It was early yet, and he had lost track of what number he was on his list of Things He Liked About His Job. He liked making lists.
The other thing he liked about his job was Dudley.
Dudley, like Greg, took up more space in a room than people felt comfortable with. He too seemed more at home outdoors, squaring up to drunken idiots. He was someone who knew how to throw his weight around.
At the same time, Dudley’s eyes would grow tight and far-away at times; he never really put his all into roughing people up when they had to chuck them out. He’d seen things, too, Greg was sure: maybe not a whole room on fire and his best friend falling to a fiery death, but he’d faced his own Dementors, however Muggles did that.
“What I want to do,” Dudley said one cold November night, after they’d been working together for a month. “Is travel.” He held his hands up to his mouth, cupping them as he tried to blow warmth into his fingers.
Greg resisted the urge to cast a warming charm: if it wasn’t for warming charms, he’d probably not bother taking his wand out with him. As it was, they were very useful when standing outside. Still, Statute of Secrecy and all that. It wasn’t worth the bother to get in trouble with the Ministry. Dudley would just have to stay cold.
“Oh, everywhere.” Dudley sighed, and then his face fell. “Anywhere that isn't home.”
“Mum and dads. They’re… not very understanding.”
Greg’s parents couldn’t understand why he would choose to live like a Muggle. Or rather, they understood that it was safer, that he was free of all that went with being associated with a Death Eater - they weren’t pleased he was still friends with Draco, but screw them: he’d already lost one friend, he didn’t want to lose another - but they didn’t understand how he could turn his back on magic.
How could he explain it to them? How could they ever understand what it had been like for him, seeing every potion turn the wrong colour, every transfiguration go wrong? To have to accept being one half of a goon squad, just to avoid being picked on by the other Slytherins?
He smiled, despite his gloomy thoughts, because he was one half of a goon squad again, wasn’t he? Maybe it really was where he was happiest, acting tough and being mean.
Dudley continued, his eyes scanning the line of spotty young men with greasy hair combed into lanky fringes, and women shivering in their finery. “I er, there’s something about me.”
“I don’t know if it changes things…”
“We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“We are? Yeah, that’s great, we are.” Dudley sighed. “I’m just tired of pretending to be who I’m not.”
“Then just be yourself.”
Greg was silent. Muggle or wizard, he knew that some people still had a problem with this. He didn’t - how could he with Draco as a friend? Or Blaise, for that matter, although Blaise’s only criteria for who he pulled appeared to be a pulse. Greg himself was a straight as straight could be - he’d only just recovered from a long-held crush on Hannah Abbott - but he didn’t care about who his friends fancied, or what they did with other people.
“Oh god, I shouldn’t have told you,” Dudley whispered.
“It’s fine,” Greg said, and he shrugged. “One of my best friends is gay. Plus I went to boarding school. I’ve seen it all, believe me.”
“You went to boarding school?” Dudley said. “You don’t seem the type.”
“It was for… special people,” Greg said. “Very specialised.”
“Right, my cousin went somewhere like that, up in Scotland.”
Scotland… Greg turned to look at Dudley, who was still scanning the crowd. Dudley was biting his lip; he still looked worried.
“I don’t care, you know,” Greg said, “about you being gay.”
Now Dudley turned to look at him, only for a second. His smile was fleeting, but warm. “Thanks.”
Greg moved forward to open the rope and let more people in. As he counted them in and Dudley looked imposing, he thought about what Dudley had said… a cousin. He wondered if the school in Scotland was Hogwarts, if Greg knew Dudley’s cousin. It could be possible.
“I was a shit to him,” Dudley said. “My cousin,” he added. “It was the easiest way to keep mum from looking too closely at what I was up to with Piers Polkiss.” He sighed again. “No, that’s not the whole truth. I was fucking horrible to him from the start. He came to live with us when we were both one, after his parents died in a, er, a car crash.”
“Can’t have been easy,” Greg said. “Having to share your mum with someone like that.”
“That’s the thing,” Dudley said. “It’s the other reason I hate being at home. Mum and dad were horrible to him. I mean, I was just a kid, what did I know? But they treated him like…” He bowed his head. “It wasn’t right.”
“So why don’t you leave?”
“Nowhere to go.”
“Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world?”
“Everywhere. I’d like to see the ruins of Angkor Wat, and I’d like to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. I want to see New York from the top of the Empire State building, and Paris from the Eiffel Tower. I want to walk through the markets of New Delhi, and see Table Mountain. I want to walk the Great Wall of China, and hop on the trans-Siberian Express. I want to dive off the coast of—”
“You really do want to go everywhere.”
“And the furthest I’ve got is Croydon.”
They were both silent then. Croydon was as far as either of them were likely to go.
After Christmas, Dudley missed his first shift of the year. Greg had a mobile phone, but he hated using it - his fingers were too large for the little buttons, he didn’t have anyone to call apart from work, and as for writing messages on it, it was impossible. He dug it out though, opened his address book, and clicked on ‘Dudley’. The phone rang out, and he left a message saying he had missed Dudley at work.
It was true, he had missed him. He liked working with Dudley, liked the way they shared a sense of humour, liked how Dudley didn’t know it but he was teaching Greg all about Muggles. He even liked that they shared a quiet regret about how they had treated others in the past, or what it was like to be seen as a bully and nothing else.
Dudley was back for his next shift, tight-lipped and tired-looking.
It took another week for him to say what had happened.
“I told them. I told my parents I’m gay.”
“And my mum screamed, then fainted. My dad turned purple. When mum came round, they kicked me out.”
Dudley nodded. “I’ve been sleeping on Piers’s sofa. He says I can stay as long as I like. It’s bloody uncomfortable though.”
“Not with Piers?” Greg asked, remembering that Dudley had mentioned his friend before.
Dudley laughed, surprised. “God no. That was years ago, and Piers seems to have forgotten that whole year. He’s shacked up with a bird now. Alison. Kid on the way and everything.” He looked miserable. “They won't want me there once the baby arrives.”
Greg wondered if the sofa at Buttercup Road would be more comfortable, but then he thought of Draco and his list of rules - not to mention Blaise’s constant nakedness - and decided that maybe it was a terrible idea. If only they had another bedroom though.
“Anyway,” Dudley said. “I’ve got to keep my head down, save up some money, find a place to live. I’m never even going to get close to saving up enough to travel, but maybe I can find a bit of space to call my own.”
“Yeah.” Maybe it was the best either of them could hope for.
When it snowed in February, Dudley brought a flask of hot tea that they shared together under the lights of the club and the yellow of the street lights. That was the night Greg thought he saw a familiar face in the line for the club: dark messy hair and a pair of glasses. When the man got closer though, the glasses were all wrong - although Greg supposed that Potter could change them if he wanted to - and there was no tell-tale scar beneath the scruffy hair.
“That man looked just like my cousin,” Dudley said once the queue had stopped moving again. “I half expected him to have a go at me for being such a bully all those years.”
“Your cousin?” Greg hadn’t forgotten the comment about Scotland.
“Yeah, Harry.” It couldn’t be, could it? “Didn’t have his weird scar though.”
All thoughts of Harry Potter - no matter how strange and alarming - vanished with the next group of punters to walk into the club. A slight girl, with long black hair winding all the way to her waist, stopped on her way in.
“I know you, don’t I?”
“I work here four nights a week.”
“No, not from here.” When she shook her head, her earrings shook with it. They were tiny golden bells, and Greg thought he could hear their gentle tinkle through the sound of the traffic. “From school.”
Panic flooded Greg’s belly, more so than it had done at the prospect of Potter. Did she know him from school? Was she going to have a go at him, or spit on him, tell him he was useless, worthless?
Instead, she tiptoed up to reach his ear, and whispered into it: “I was in Slytherin, too. Year below you.”
Greg had been so caught up at school, he had only hazy memories of the last year or two of his time there. He imagined her in black robes, and the memory of a quiet girl with long dark plaits came to mind. “Priya?”
She stepped back, and her whole face lit in a smile. “You remember me, I knew you would.”
When she fell out of the club, giggling with her friends a few hours later, she ran away from the group and up to Greg again. “I’m so glad you’re still here,” she said, and slipped him a piece of paper before skipping back to join her group.
Greg stared after her.
“Who is she?” Dudley asked.
“Girl from school,” Greg said. His heart felt as though it was growing to double its normal size.
Why had he spent so much time mooning after Hannah Abbott? Priya. Even her name was beautiful.
The first time Greg woke up to the light brush of long black hair trailing over his skin, he wondered if he was still asleep, lost in a dream of the woman whose name he couldn't stop saying.
“My Greg,” she said, stretching out then leaning back on her elbow to look at him.
“I don't deserve this,” he said, torn between wrapping his thick hands around her tiny waist again, and running out of the door.
“Hush.” She laid a finger on his lips. “You deserve all the things. Everyone does. Do you remember how we met?”
“Outside the club?”
“No. At Hogwarts. You’d always gone around with Vince and Draco, oblivious to all us lower years. But one day you walked into a gang of Gryffindors outside the greenhouses—”
“They were angry,” Greg said, remembering, “after Dumbledore died.”
“They started pushing me around, calling me names.”
“I stopped them.”
“I knew then that you were more than a goon, Gregory Goyle.”
Greg shook his head. “It’s all I ever was. All I am.” He looked up at her. “You deserve better.”
“I’ve got better,” she said. “You’re all the better I need.”
And then she climbed on top of him, all hot limbs and urgent movements, and Greg forgot about Hogwarts or nightclubs. All he knew was brown skin, dark eyes, and a laughing pleasure he had never even imagined before.
The nights were still cool enough for the big black coats, but barely so, when Greg cleared his throat to share his news with Dudley.
“We’re moving in together,” he said. “Me and Priya.”
“That’s great!” said Dudley. “Not you, mate,” he said, to the spotty teenager in the line. “Not unless you’ve got some ID.” The teenager pulled out a laughable faked card, but Dudley pushed it back at him and stood with his arms crossed until the teenager walked away.
“There is? I’m not sure I can hear another description of what you two get up to.”
“Nothing like that. It’s just… she’s got a job. That’s why we’ve decided it’s time to get a place together.”
“I thought she already had a job?”
“She does, she did. Er, she’s got a new one. But… it’s in Edinburgh. Scotland.”
Greg didn’t imagine the little wobble of Dudley’s lip.
“I’m handing in my resignation tonight.”
“Right.” Dudley turned away.
“No trainers,” Greg said to the two men at the back of a bigger group going in. He pointed at the sign behind him.
“Fuck off,” said one of them, but he fell silent as Dudley came to stand beside Greg.
“What is it,” Dudley said after Trainers One and Two had sidled off, grumbling, “with all the idiots and chancers out tonight?”
“I dunno,” said Greg. “Students?”
They both snorted. Students, or as they called them, bloody students, were another topic they agreed on.
“The only thing I like about my life here is chatting to you, you know,” said Greg. “I’m going to miss this.”
“Yeah. Yeah, me too.”
“Isn’t the baby due soon?”
Dudley had mentioned how pissed off Alison was growing with him as a houseguest, how he’d been trying to take up less and less space. But he and Greg were incapable of that, and Greg had considered offering him a place to stay more than once. Until now though, it had been an impossible idea.
“Are you trying to remind me of all the shit things in my life at once?”
“No, it’s not that at all. It’s just that with me leaving… I was wondering, do you want my room? Rent’s cheap. Housemates are… well, you’ll cope. But it’s more than a sofa.”
“Your room, if you want it.”
Dudley, Greg decided, would be best man at his wedding. Once he got up the courage to ask Priya, of course. And if she said yes. Sod Draco. Dudley was more of a friend than Draco had ever been.
Three Years Later
Dudley’s skin was tanned, and his frame was lighter than it had been when he and Greg had worked together.
“It’s so good to see you,” Dudley said, and Greg nodded. Everything in his life had changed since those days, but he still counted Dudley as a true friend.
“You finally got to see the world, then?”
“I saw it all,” Dudley said. “Everything, just like I wanted.”
“And was it worth it?”
“Yep. And I want to go back, see more. I’m already saving up for my next trip.”
“Of course you are.”
The living room at 124, Buttercup Road looked exactly as Greg remembered it, right down to the little row of succulents on the mantelpiece.
“Blaise’s room still look like a rainforest?”
Dudley nodded. “And the plants have spread. Dick-- er, Draco’s got this whole set of shelves and plants now, covering his windows, and Harry’s got all sorts growing in the garden.
Did Dudley mean his cousin? Was his cousin—
Before Dudley could answer, the sound of the front door opening made both Greg and Dudley look up. Greg was not entirely surprised to see Draco walk in alongside Harry Potter.
“Your cousin?” Greg said.
“Yeah, do you remember me mentioning him?”
Greg remembered the thud of loud music, the smell of stale beer and cigarettes belching out of the club. He remembered the bloody cheek of students, and yes he also remembered about Dudley’s cousin. “Yeah. Hi, Potter.”
“You knew who Dudley’s cousin was,” Draco said. “All along?”
Greg could practically hear the icicles forming on Draco’s words.
“And? It’s not like it matters.”
“It’s not like it matters?” Draco’s voice rose up a couple of notches. “You do know Dudley ended up giving his room to his cousin, right? Imagine walking in and finding out Harry sodding Potter was your new housemate!”
He looked like he might pop a vein. Draco was always prone to these dramatics. Greg shrugged, then frowned and turned to Dudley.
“I thought you still lived here?”
Potter started to laugh, and when Draco turned to him with an affronted glare, Potter managed to do what he hadn’t before, and completely shocked Greg by sweeping Draco into his arms, and planting a huge kiss on his lips. And, Greg noticed, a hand on his arse.
“Yep,” said Dudley, as Harry and Draco snogged in the doorway. “They are together, and they never bloody stop. Thank god for silencing charms.”
“You know about silencing charms?”
“I live in a house of wizards. Wizards who enjoy sex, a lot.”
“And if you still lived here, I bet you and the lovely Ms Priya would also be using silencing charms.”
Greg blushed but grinned. “Yep. Lucky for you we’re all the way up in Edinburgh.” He paused, then decided he might as well ask the question he’d travelled down to London to ask. “I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. Will you be my best man?”
Dudley’s smile was all the answer Greg needed.
Draco, with his ridiculously sharp hearing, interrupted. “Best man? You’re asking that stupid Muggle, not me?”
Unexpectedly, it was Harry who answered. “Oh don’t be such a fusspot. Sit down and I’ll make you a cup of tea. Countdown is nearly on.”
To Greg’s surprise, Draco did as he was told.
Greg thought of Priya, and their warm little house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Even the bad guys could find love, apparently. She’d been saying it for years, but seeing Draco waiting for a cup of tea made by the Chosen one, Greg could finally believe it.
The house shook as a tube train passed beneath it, and Greg smiled at the room filled with friends new and old. Life was good.