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The Apples Fall Far on the Other Side of the Fence

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The Blind Father

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number eleven, Lilac Lane, are proud to say that they are perfectly normal, thank you very much. They are the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just don’t hold with such nonsense.

Mr. Dursley is in charge of the sales department of a firm called Grunnings, which makes drills. He is a big, beefy man, tall and muscular, though quite bloated rather than fit, he has watery blue eyes and thick blond hair. Mrs. Dursley is lean and blonde with long wavy hair that cascades down her back. The Dursleys have two kids: a boy named Donovan and a younger girl called Brittany, and in their opinion there are no finer children anywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley wake up on a dull, grey Tuesday morning. Nothing about the cloudy sky outside suggests that strange and mysterious things could happen. Mr. Dursley hums as he picks up his tie for work (the red one with bright orange dots, like every Tuesday), already eager for it to be over, as they’ll be celebrating Donnie’s eleventh birthday when he gets home.

In the mean time, there are papers to be signed and drill orders to approve, so, as he makes sure everything he needs is neatly arranged inside his briefcase, Mr. Dursley mentally goes over the numbers and figures that make up his job, while Mrs. Dursley tries to cajole Donovan into eating his oatmeal, promising him there will be chocolate cake when his daddy returns. That seems to motivate the boy to eat.

At half past eight, Mr. Dursley grabs his keys from the tray by the door, pecks Mrs. Dursley on the cheek and kisses Donovan on the top of his head before saying good-bye. If he hadn’t been running numbers, prices and budgets in his head, Mr. Dursley might have noticed the smudge on the corner of Donovan’s lips that looked suspiciously like chocolate fudge, but as it is, he misses it completely. Instead he makes an off-handed comment about the weather on his way out, hoping it doesn’t rain when he gets off from work, as he doesn’t want to be stuck on traffic on Donnie’s birthday.

As Mr. Dursley busies himself getting inside his car and backs out of number eleven’s drive, he never notices how the weather seems to have suddenly shifted, as there is not a cloud to be seen in the sky.

 

Mr. Dursley’s mind is still firmly on drills when he arrives at his office at nine o’clock sharp. His very important papers are there, waiting for his signature and if the mail girl down the hall comments about how strange it is that the overcast sky seemed to have cleared in the blink of an eye, Mr. Dursley doesn’t hear from the other side of his closed door. Instead, he yells at five different people, makes several important telephone calls and shouts a bit more. He is in a very good mood by lunchtime, when he decides to stretch his legs and walks across the road to buy himself a bun from the bakery and ask if his son’s birthday cake will be ready by the time he gets off.

The weather remains amenable and no rain obstructs his drive home after he leaves his office at precisely five o’clock. When Mr. Dursley returns from work, Mrs. Dursley has already covered the living room walls with dozens of colourful balloons. Some of Donovan’s friends from school are there, playing with Donovan’s toy cars, while Brittany watches cartoons on the television.

“I’m home!” Mr. Dursley announces as he walks through the door. Donovan runs to greet him and Mr. Dursley ruffles the boy’s sandy brown hair.

“Did you have a good birthday at school?” Mr. Dursley asks as he herds his son back to the living room, making sure he blocks the boy’s view of his wife as she sneaks out of the house to fetch Donnie’s surprise birthday cake.

“Carl got me a toy robot!” Donovan exclaims, his face split by a big smile.

“A toy robot? How great is that!” Mr. Dursley replies and pats the little plump boy on his shoulders. His son is largely interested in astronomy and robotics, he loves the idea of sending rockets to space, even going as far as assuring anyone who wants to hear that one day he will work at the UK Space Agency, and he often loses himself talking about what could lie beyond the known universe. Little Donovan Dursley loves making up stories of fantastic beings from outer space, inhabiting planets much like Earth. Mr. Dursley finds it endearing, as he doesn’t think he’s got much imagination, but loves to see his son has it in spades.

“Alright, who wants cake?” Mrs. Dursley asks as she comes out of the kitchen holding the large chocolate cake Mr. Dursley bought. All the kids in the house cheer. As she walks to the living room table, she misses a toy car lying on the floor and steps on it, tumbling over and letting go of the cake.

“Jennifer!” Mr. Dursley exclaims as he rushes to catch his wife before she hits the floor, “are you okay?”

“Y — yes, I’m okay, Dudley, thank you,” Mrs. Dursley says as she steadies herself, before noticing everyone in the living room has gone speechless. Immediately realising mute children is absolutely not normal, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley look around for the cause of the kids’ silence.

“What is it?” Dudley asks. When no one answers, he and his wife let go of each other and look at the point where everyone’s stare is converging. Right on the living room table, the cake stands proud. It somehow landed there after Mrs. Dursley let go of it, completely unharmed.

“Oh, would you look at that?” Mr. Dursley says, “how lucky.” Jennifer wholeheartedly agrees and heads for the kitchen to look for a cake server.

 

Christmas arrives a week later. As the sun rises, kids from the houses in Lilac Lane take their new bicycles and roller skates out for a ride, while their mother’s discreetly size up the presents everyone else got, trying to determine if their kid got the best ones. At number eleven, Brittany Dursley shows her friend Livy her new doll, while Donnie has fun with the very expensive remote control robot Dudley bought for him. Meanwhile, Jennifer Dursley busies herself reading the morning news at the kitchen table, sipping her coffee. Dudley, for his part, stares numbly at his mug filled with steaming tea, completely lost in thought.

“You always get like this the day before, you know?” Jennifer tells him when she peeks over the newspaper to steal a glance at her husband’s pensive state.

“Hum?” Dudley asks distractedly.

“You always get all thoughtful the day before Boxing Day,” Jennifer elaborates, and of course that’s what Dudley was thinking about. Every year on Boxing Day, Dudley’s cousin Harry drops by with his family, stirring all sorts of memories from Dudley’s childhood.

“Oh? Oh, right, Harry’s coming tomorrow. Time flies, huh?” Dudley babbles, making Jennifer look at him with a fond expression.

“Whatever happened between you two, I’m sure he’s forgiven you,” she tells him, “he seems to be over it, you should too.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. It’s just … this time of the year always gets me thinking about the past,” Dudley mutters.

“I’m sure it’s normal,” Jennifer assures him.

At that moment the doorbell rings and Brittany’s voice is heard from the living room.

“Livy’s mom’s here!” she yells and Jennifer leaves Dudley alone with his thoughts in the kitchen.

 

Later that day, the Dursleys celebrate Christmas attending the dinner party Dudley’s parents host in their house, at number four, Privet Drive, a few blocks from where Dudley and Jennifer live. Dudley’s mom, Petunia, greets them at the front door with a pleased smile and ushers them all inside, where Dudley’s dad, Vernon, is sitting on the couch watching the telly.

Vernon Dursley is a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he does have a very large moustache. Petunia is thin and has nearly twice the usual amount of neck, and her greying hair is almost always tied up in a tight bun.

As soon as Donovan and Brittany sit in the living room across from their grandpa, Petunia Dursley is instantly on them, pampering them with a tray of Chorley cakes and insisting they eat them at once. Donovan and Brittany eat them while sitting very still, careful not to let crumbs fall on the couch, as they know their grandma loathes crumbs.

“So, how’s everything, Dudders?” Petunia asks Dudley as she busies herself checking on the roast turkey she’s got in the oven and Jennifer unwraps the Yorkshire pudding she cooked, “I cannot tell you how terribly sorry we are for missing Donnie’s birthday last week, you know we dropped your aunt Marge at the airport and you won’t believe the incompetence of the people working there. Mountains of paperwork, just to get a tiny dog on a crate. I swear it’s like they’re being paid to be unhelpful.”

“I already told you, mum, don’t worry about it,” Dudley placates, “Donnie loved your presents.”

Truth is, Donnie hadn’t been that thrilled with the pair of boxing gloves he got from Vernon, nor with the tennis racket Petunia got him. Donnie’s grandparents have never approved the boy’s enthusiasm for science, specially astronomy, which Vernon always calls “a bunch of gibberish for airy-fairy dimwits”, and they’ve always tried to sway his interests to activities more appropriate for a proper Dursley boy, so far without any success.

“I’m so glad to hear that,” Petunia says happily, “now go make your father company, Jennifer and I got dinner covered.”

Dudley heads back to the living room where his dad, the director of the drill company where Dudley works, bombards him with questions about drills and order forms.

“Did you remember to call Flinkman before the start of the holidays?”

“Yes, dad, I called Flinkman, everything is running smoothly, drills are flying off the shelves,” Dudley reassures him. Opposite to them Donnie and Brittany have finished the Chorley cakes on the tray, and are sitting silently on the couch staring boringly at the adults.

“Dinner is almost ready,” Petunia says emerging from the kitchen, followed by Jennifer, “while we wait, why don’t we show the children their Christmas presents, Vernon?”

“Great idea, Petunia!” Dudley’s dad agrees energetically before lifting himself off the couch and heading to the closet by the entrance, from where he produces two large boxes covered in Christmas wrapping. “Here you go,” he says, “why don’t you open them?”

Donovan and Brittany eagerly tear the wrappings open, throwing the discarded paper on the living room floor, much to Petunia’s dismay. Brittany’s eyes light up in delight when she realizes what she got, Donnie on the other hand doesn’t look so thrilled.

“A dollhouse!” Brittany shrieks in glee.

“I’m so glad you liked it, honey,” Petunia says.

“Donnie? What did you get?” Dudley asks his son.

“It’s a rugby ball,” Donnie says, disenchanted. In his lap sits a somewhat large box with the picture of a rugby ball on it. Dudley’s heart breaks a little for his son because that’s the third sports-related gift he received from his grandparents in a week and they’re not trying to be subtle anymore.

“Do you like it?” Vernon asks eagerly, apparently oblivious to his grandson’s evident let-down, but Donnie puts a smile on his face in an instant and meets Vernon’s eyes.

“Yes, grandpa, thank you,” he says very politely.

“I’m glad you do. Maybe you and Dudley could play with it during the holidays,” Vernon suggests hopeful.

The sound of a car arriving is heard outside. Petunia immediately goes to the window and discreetly peeks through the curtains.

“It’s Mr. Rifkin arriving next door,” she informs everyone, “with Christmas dinner for his son. Of course, the wife must be off somewhere working and those two poor lads must have Christmas dinner on their own. Honestly, I cannot understand how some women stand to be apart from their children, I know I never could’ve done it.”

“What does Mrs. Rifkin do?” Donnie asks curiously, though some of his disappointment can still be heard in his voice, if you look for it. The boy is busying himself with opening the box that contains his new ball, probably because it’s the polite thing to do, Dudley thinks.

“Well, I don’t know, do I? But it does seem like her job demands her to travel a lot,” Petunia replies, still peeking out the window, “and it’s Mrs. Heatherington, she didn’t take her husband’s last name. I know because I saw her last name on the post that time the postman mixed up our addresses. I don’t know why you would get married if you’re not even planning on taking your husband’s name in the first pla —”

“Oh my God!” Donnie shrieks, interrupting his grandmother’s rant. Dudley immediately turns to his son in alarm, looking for signs of damage, finding none. Instead, Donnie is looking beyond himself with elation, holding what looks like a small telescope. “I can’t believe it, I love it!”

Jennifer huffs and turns to look at Dudley in amusement. Dudley looks back at his wife with equal enjoyment. Did his parents really get Donnie a telescope and stuffed it inside the box of a rugby ball? That sounded very far from the eldest Dursleys’ kind of humour, but Dudley can’t say he’s complaining.

Donnie carefully places the telescope on the table and rushes to hug his grandfather.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” he says against Vernon’s neck. Vernon looks thoroughly dumbfounded, probably because shy little Donnie had never been so overt in his displays of affection, Dudley thinks. Donnie disentangles from his grandfather and runs to hug Petunia as well, who looks as befuddled as her husband.

"I — I’m glad you liked it,” Petunia stammers.

Donnie’s grin cannot be wiped off his face during the entire evening and Dudley couldn’t be happier for his son. He does find strange, however, the discussion in hushed voices he overhears outside his parents’ bedroom when he goes find them to say good-bye before he and his family go home.

“Maybe the people at Sainsbury’s made a mistake,” he hears Petunia say, “God knows that place is filled with incompetents.”

“But it was inside the box,” Vernon counters, “Sainsbury’s employees are not supposed to open the boxes. And how did that ruddy thing even fit in that box?”

“Well, I don’t know, evidently somebody made a mistake, a mistake that delighted Donnie.”

“All that gibberish about the space and aliens and ships, it doesn’t do the boy’s head any good. I don’t like it,” Vernon grumbles.

“Nor do I, but what can we do? Tell him somebody made a mistake and take his telescope away from him?”

“No, of course not,” Vernon snaps, “we’ll just get him a rugby ball and give it to him for no reason.”

“Yes, that sounds good,” Petunia concedes, “maybe I can get in contact with his school, ask for his PE teacher to focus a little more on him.”

“Yes, yes, you do that,” Vernon agrees enthusiastically, as his wife opens her bedroom door and Dudley jumps several steps back, trying to look as if he just got there.

“Dudley!” Petunia exclaims.

“M — mum, hey, I was just coming up to tell you we’re leaving,” Dudley mumbles.

“Come on, I’ll see you guys out,” Petunia says as she ushers Dudley downstairs.

On his way down Dudley can’t stop thinking about the conversation he just overheard. He should’ve known his parents wouldn’t get Donnie a telescope, and he definitely will sit down with them to explain Donnie’s interest in astronomy is not going away anytime soon and maybe they should tone it down a bit, even if just for a while. Still, Dudley can’t believe what a lucky mistake it was that got Donnie just the perfect Christmas present.

 

His parent’s present to Donnie is still in Dudley’s mind the following morning, making him forget all about his cousin’s impending visit. It’s not until Jennifer asks him if his planning on receiving Harry in his undershirt that Dudley remembers it’s Boxing Day, and Harry should be there any moment. All the thoughts he dwelled on the day before rush back to his mind in full force.

As he buttons up his shirt’s sleeves, Dudley reflects on his relatives’ impending visit. Dudley Dursley has everything he wants, but he also has a secret, and his greatest fear is that somebody would discover it, specially his wife and kids. He doesn’t think he could bear it if they found out about the Potters. Harry Potter and Dudley Dursley don’t really have much contact, his yearly visits with his wife and his three children every Boxing Day are the only times they see each other, and that’s because Harry and his family are as un Dursleyish as it is possible to be. Dudley Dursley shudders to think what Jennifer would say if the Potters’ secret was revealed.

 

At ten o’clock in the morning the doorbell rings and Dudley opens the door to find his cousin, wearing an amicable smile, next to his wife and kids. Harry’s black hair is as wild and unruly as it’s ever been, and both his sons have inherited that particular trait, though only the youngest one got Harry’s emerald green eyes. Harry’s daughter Lily, though, takes after his wife Ginny: both sporting bright red hair, though Lily’s long and freely flowing below her shoulders and Ginny’s shorter and made up in a neat bun.

“Hey there, welcome,” Dudley greets them as he steps aside to let the Potters in.

The Potters’ visit is always awkward, many factors concurring to make the encounter borderline painful. First of all, there’s Dudley’s guilt. When they were younger, Harry lived with Dudley and his parents at number four, Privet Drive, but the relationship between the two cousins was far from ideal. Dudley bullied Harry to the point of brutality, and even encouraged his friends to do the same. It’s been a long path for Dudley, trying to atone for his faults as a kid, and having Harry over every year is part of it.

But then of course there’s Dudley’s big secret, which is actually Harry’s secret. Harry Potter is a wizard, as well as the woman he married and the three kids he had with her, and while Dudley is no stranger to magic, there is not a drop of magical blood coursing through his veins. In fact, Dudley didn’t know magic even existed outside fairy tales and movies until his eleventh birthday, when a pack of letters in their mailbox revealed his cousin Harry was a wizard.

Neither Jennifer nor Dudley’s children know about it, but this secret is a tough one to skirt around. The Potters make up entirely fictional lives to answer Jennifer and the kids’ casual questions, lives where Harry is a police officer at a small town in Devon and Ginny is a sport writer at a local newspaper. Never mind that Harry fumbled to explain to Donnie how to report a crime or that Ginny apparently had never heard of the words Manchester United.

And then there’s Harry’s kids, Dudley cringes when he thinks about Harry’s kids. The oldest one, James, always looks like he’s trying very hard not to stand on the living room table and shout “Magic exists, you people!”, and Lily occasionally blurts out words like “wand” or “potion”, making Dudley choke on his drink.

The middle one, Albus, is the only one who seems willing to keep the charade up, or who at least looks like he’s making an effort. The boy follows the Premiership religiously and he once even engaged Dudley in a heated debate during which Albus fiercely supported Chelsea against Dudley’s adherence to Manchester United. The kid is also an avid Exeter Chiefs fan when it comes to rugby.

Occasional sports debate aside, Harry Potter’s kids never look really happy to be there when they visit the Dursleys. When they were younger they were always on edge watching their tongues, careful not to reveal anything they oughtn’t, and now that they’re teenagers they simply look thoroughly bored.

“Did you have a safe trip?” Dudley asks as the Potters settle inside his living room and regrets his question immediately. It’s a three-hour drive from Devon to Surrey, but his cousin never arrives in a car and Dudley realises he doesn’t really want to know how he got to his house. An awkward grimace crosses his cousin’s face and lets Dudley know it was probably not the best question to ask, but Harry’s face is composed again in an instant and he flashes a polite smile at Dudley.

“Yeah, safe trip,” is all Harry answers.

“Good to know,” Dudley says clapping his hands awkwardly below his waist. Luckily, at that moment Jennifer emerges from the kitchen and saves Dudley from further embarrassment.

“Hey, there, welcome!” she greets cheerfully, “I’ve got some tea on the stove, let me get you some.”

“I’ll help!” Dudley volunteers immediately, following his wife as he calls upstairs.

“Hey, Donnie, Britt, your cousins have arrived, come down and say hello!”

When Dudley returns to the living room both his kids are already there, sitting opposite to Harry’s children, all of them in nearly sepulchral silence. Dudley and Harry exchange equally pained looks.

To Jennifer’s credit, she does some notable attempts at engaging everyone in conversation, which works out rather smoothly until she hits a topic that’s firmly in dangerous territory.

“So, Lily,” she says to Harry’s daughter, “you just started school this year, right?” Dudley immediately stiffens at the question. The redhead girl looks cautious as she nods timidly.

“Boarding school, right? Donnie’s going to boarding school next year too, I don’t know how I’ll cope,” Jennifer says.

“You get used to it,” Harry assures her, “it is certainly more peaceful.”

“Hey!” James protests, but his father merely raises an eyebrow, “yeah, you’re probably right about that,” James concedes.

“And what’s your favourite subject, Lily?” Jennifer asks.

“Defence —” Lily begins but shuts up immediately, her eyes wide open in alarm.

“Personal defence,” Albus jumps in, “They teach us personal defence.”

“Impressive,” Jennifer says and Dudley lets out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.

“I hope there’s none of that at Smeltings,” Donnie intervenes, “I don’t like sports.”

“Still planning on working at UKSA?” Harry asks and Donnie nods.

“What’s UKSA?” Albus asks.

 

After a few more failed attempts at conversation, Dudley suggests Donnie shows the Potter kids some videogames in his room, hoping with all his heart that Harry’s children know what a videogame is supposed to be. When it’s only the adults left, the conversation seems only a little more manageable, but still, it’s a relief when the visit is finally over.

“Your cousin’s kids are weird,” Donnie tells his father as he unwraps a chocolate bar in the kitchen after Harry and his family are gone, “it’s like they live under a rock or something.”

“Really?” Dudley asks dismissively, “hadn’t noticed.”

“DONOVAN DURSLEY, WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT LEAVING THE TELLY ON AFTER YOU’RE DONE PLAYING?” Jennifer’s voice can be heard from Donnie’s room. Donnie gives a startled jump at the scolding.

“Oh, never mind, it’s off now. I could’ve sworn it was on, it’s not even plugged,” Jennifer says from the floor upstairs, “you’re off the hook for now, but I better not find you eating those chocolate bars before dinner!”

Dudley huffs a laugh at how well his wife knows their son, but when he turns to look at him, the chocolate bar is nowhere to be found.

 

The following morning Dudley has put all thoughts of his cousin’s visit on the back of his mind, and he does not intend to think about him or his family or their secret for the rest of the year. Thinking of Harry only brings painful memories from his childhood, some make him feel remorseful, some make him feel angry and some others make him feel downright scared.

Dudley’s never cared much for magic, as every time he’s ever come in contact with it never ended well for him. Luckily for him, Harry respected his wishes of keeping his magic a secret from Dudley’s family, even if Dudley could tell his wife and kids struggled with covering up such a fundamental part of their lives. Dudley will always be thankful to the Potters for that, as he can go to sleep every night knowing his son and daughter will never live in a world where dragons exist or people can show up unannounced blasting through other people’s fireplaces.

He could not have been more wrong.

 

Dudley Dursley wakes up on a dull, grey Friday morning. Nothing about the cloudy sky outside suggests that strange and mysterious things could happen. Dudley hums as he picks up his tie for work (the turquoise one with a silly pattern, like every Friday), already eager for it to be over.

His wife has already taken the kids to school so Dudley finds himself alone in the house as he gathers everything he needs for work, mentally going over the specifics of a particular drill order he must approve. The sound of the mail slot clicking and of letters flopping onto the doormat pull Dudley out of his musings.

There’s not much of interest in that morning’s post: bills, catalogues, account statements of his credit cards. Something stands out from the rest of the letters, though. It’s a thick and heavy envelope, apparently made of yellow parchment, and the address is written in emerald-green ink. No stamp in sight.

Mr. D. Dursley
Third Room down the Hall
11 Lilac Lane
Little Whinging
Surrey

It takes Dudley a second to realise the letter is not addressed to him, that “D. Dursley” is not him but his son, as he’s the one who sleeps in the third room down the hall. It’s most disconcerting, that the sender wrote down where Donnie sleeps, it doesn’t sit right with Dudley, a faint sense of dread cursing through his spine. Vaguely, he remembers another instance of a letter that stated clearly where the intended recipient slept, it was one of those letters his cousin got…

Instinctively, Dudley opens the letter, tearing through the purple wax seal on the front without sparing it a second glance. A piece of parchment, much like the one the envelope is made of, comes out and Dudley suddenly knows why he was just thinking of his cousin’s letters not two seconds before.

“What the …”

HOGWARTS SCHOOL
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmistress: Minerva McGonagall
(Order of Merlin, First Class)

Dear Mr. Dursley,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Filius Flitwick,
Deputy Headmaster