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Want a little "Safe"? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Want a little "Safe"?
Eh, don't feel like writing tonight. Will get back to work tomorrow. (Stuck in a canon scene, which limits the amount of amusing improv I can do.)

Meanwhile, want a couple of the chapters of Safe? I was going to structure it like The Stand, going back and forth among characters. There's no plan to finish this, and I only got to chapter seven, but at least I can put it out there.


PART ONE:
SAFE HOUSE



Chapter 1:
DUDLEY
Memories



Dudley Dursley lost his nerve standing outside of Harry's door.

He wasn't surprised. He'd been screwing up his courage to talk to Harry since they'd picked him up at the station, and this was the farthest he'd got so far. All year at Smeltings, he'd been remembering bits and pieces of things he was meant to forget--Mr. Lewis had said he wasn't very good with the memory spells Dudley had asked for, and the memories had started leaking in by the beginning of last September--and it had occurred to him that Harry might be the only person in the world who'd have the slightest idea what he was talking about.

Well, the only person in his world, anyway.

At Smeltings, Mr. Levinson had come back to the history post, and Mr. Lewis, who'd been there to guard Dudley the year before, had disappeared. The old man who'd come to visit last year, the one who'd said Mum and Dad had inflicted "appalling damage" on Dudley, was apparently dead. Harry kept re-reading an obituary in one of their newspapers. Dudley had sneaked in last week while Harry was gone on one of his walkabouts to see what it was. There was some sort of doctor he'd met in the mad hospital, but he had no more idea how to find her than how to find the Lewises. There were a pair of people who kept coming to get them ready to leave--Dudley had tried to find the courage to ask if they might bring Lewis, but had failed, as he didn't want Mum and Dad to start asking questions about him--but they never had time for long talks. That left Harry.

He reckoned that Harry would probably help him. Harry had, after all, got in a good bit of trouble on Dudley's account, saving him from a horror he still didn't understand. That he'd done such a thing had caused the first cracks in Dudley's notions of him. Then Lewis had showed him something--the memory wasn't entirely back yet--where Harry had been a hero, and had fought an evil man in a graveyard. This had made Dudley feel about the size of the things they looked through a microscope to see in science class. He hadn't remembered it last summer, though he'd had a queasy sort of feeling even before the old man had shown up, and this year, he hadn't the faintest idea how to start talking about it.

The first night Harry had been home, Dudley had offered to let him watch television, but he hadn't been interested. Then Dudley had sat across the breakfast table from him, not eating, thinking about how he might say, "So, Harry, I've been thinking..." Only his stomach had been churning, and his palms were sweating, and Harry was ignoring him behind the newspaper where the obituary had been printed. He hadn't said anything.

It had gone on like this for several weeks now. Even when people came and told them that they'd have to leave, because of the war, he couldn't seem to bring it up. Even when Dad's daily packing and unpacking made a perfectly good opening to a conversation about how mad the whole situation was, Dudley found himself mute. Even when Dudley read the newspaper with the disconcerting moving pictures, and knew what Harry had been through, he couldn't quite say, "I'm sorry about that, mate." How was a person supposed to start talking like that, after spending most of his childhood pounding another person into the pavement?

But time was running out. He had a feeling that once they got to the safe house, Harry would be very busy with the things his sort needed him to do, and he'd probably spend time with people like him, instead of with Mum and Dad and Dudley. Also, Dudley just felt like anything that had happened at Privet Drive really ought to be taken care of before they left.

This morning, he'd woken up and realized it was the last morning, mostly because Harry had finally started to pack. He'd heard through the wall as Harry mucked about in an ill-tempered way. It was today, or it was never.

He spent the morning thinking of the things he meant to say, and finally decided that it was something he'd have to just do. He'd got two cups of tea together, taken a deep breath, and gone upstairs, meaning to say, "Hey, Harry, want some tea?" and then work into saying all of the things he meant to say, and asking the things he meant to ask.

But when he got to Harry's closed door, he heard a lot of cursing, and things smashing, and quite a lot of grumbling. He stood there for about five minutes, then set Harry's teacup down and took his downstairs. He drank it at a gulp (it was unpleasantly cold), set the teacup in Mum's dishwasher, then grabbed his bike and sped away.

He stopped for a moment in front of Mrs. Figg's house, where everything had happened, but he saw her peeking out the window at him. She gestured to someone else in the house. Dudley rode on before she could point him out. He ended up at the play park, which was deserted. A few little kids had disappeared, and now everyone was keeping them inside. Dudley had a feeling that Harry's people probably knew what happened to them, or at least had a good idea. Harry said that all of the bad things that were happening were because of their war.

Something bumped up against his leg, and he screamed before he noticed it was just one of Mrs. Figg's cats. His foot itched to kick at it, then he thought about there being a war, and his cousin being one of the good sort in it. His cousin who'd been kicked a few times, and had saved his life anyway. The urge to kick the cat went away, replaced with a kind of dull misery that he'd got used to since the night of the horror--the night that the cold, dark thing had come down, and filled his head with images of the monster that was him. It wasn't fair. He'd spent the last year trying not to do anything too bad (Piers Polkiss and some of his other friends thought he'd gone soft, and had stopped coming around) but he still felt like he was a low, creeping thing, buried in mud.

He ground his teeth, then grimaced at the cat and said, "What're you doing here? Get home."

The cat sat down and blinked at him.

"Oh, bloody... you're theirs, aren't you?"

The cat stood and batted at his trouser cuff, catching a claw and pulling at him ineffectually.

"I'm not going with you."

Claws dug a little more firmly, sinking through Dudley's sock and into his skin.

"Fine, fine. I'm not that dense."

He dislodged the cat's claws and followed it out of the playground onto Wisteria Walk, where he found Mrs. Figg standing outside, hands on her hips. Her housecoat had, for once, been replaced by a house dress, and her tartan slippers with running shoes. "Well, get inside, Dursley," she said. "I've more to do today than send the cats after you."

He sighed and followed her. To his surprise, her living room was full of moving boxes. Her pictures had been taken down from the walls (though many remained on the mantel), and several of her cats were asleep in baskets.

"You're leaving?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, of course I'm leaving. What sort of fool do you think me? I can't very well defend my place, and the Order has use for it, I'll wager. I'll be off to a safe house."

"The same as Mum and Dad and me?"

"Good heavens, I hope not. Your mother complains that she's allergic to the cats. Allergic to cats! What is the world coming to?" She shook her head and began emptying her desk into a box. "You know you oughtn't be out and about, Dursley. The Death Eaters know the general area where you live--"

"I know all this."

"--and that charm of Lily Potter's isn't going to do for you too far from home. Wouldn't help anyone if they was to snatch you right out of that play park and leave your bicycle upturned with its wheels spinning, now would it?"

"No, I reckon not."

"You reckon not," Mrs. Figg repeated, exasperated. "Young people! You're careless, boy! Careless!"

"I'm sorry."

"Well, with all they're doing to protect you, I'd hope you would be. Now, where have I left Mr. Paws?"

"Is it this one, Ma'am?" Dudley pointed to the cat who had escorted him here.

"Does that look like a Mr. to you? That's Snowy." (The cat was a tortie with black ears, and Dudley couldn't guess why it had its name.) "Snowy, go to your basket. Mundungus promised he'd be here to get you to your nap, but it seems you'll have to calm down on your own, haven't seen hide nor hair of him all day. Go to sleep."

The cat jumped into its basket and lay down quietly, licking its paws.

"Ah, there you are, Mr. Paws!" Mrs. Figg cried, pulling a bundle of fur out from under the radiator. Dudley had thought it was a large curl of dust, and might have continued to do so if it hadn't turned to hiss at him. Mrs. Figg popped it into the last basket and cast around. "Now, where was I?"

"Can I--" Dudley started.

"--help? Why certainly, you can help, a big boy like you. They're going to help me send my things along somewhere safe, but I should make it easier for them. We should put all of these boxes in one room. Possibly the attic."

"The, er... the attic?" Dudley looked around the room full of boxes and considered manufacturing an allergy to cats.

"Yes, boy, yes, the attic."

If Dudley hadn't been starting to regain his memories, what happened next might have done him in. Even with them coming back, he nearly fainted.

As Mrs. Figg was gathering the smallest of the boxes, the whole ceiling of the room turned into a white, swirling light. A drop of light fell down from it, and turned into a wolf. The wolf spoke in a perfectly cheerful lady's voice: "Wotcher, Mrs. Figg. They say Dudley's over at your place--they're keeping an eye out--and you ought to send him home. He has things to finish there. Mum and Dad will help you in an hour or so. See you soon!" The wolf spun around and disappeared into the light, then the light disappeared.

"What the bloody hell was that?" Dudley asked.

"Patronus," Mrs. Figg said. "You saw Harry cast one, didn't you?"

"Not very well."

"Well, that's what he did, and as young Mrs. Lupin insists--speaking of utterly mad young people--you must get back to your house. Apparently, your things are more important than mine."

She looked around her chaotic living room, and Dudley was surprised to see fear on her face. He didn't think their sort were afraid of many things.

"D'you... want to come? I reckon they're going to be looking after my place, and they'd protect you there..."

"You reckon too much, boy. You should say things outright and not pretend to guess. I have plenty of protection, and I'll be leaving shortly, or weren't you listening? There are things to do. I've lived here nearly twenty years, and I have to pack everything in a day." She looked distraught. Dudley wondered if there was something he ought to do, but she turned on him and said, "Well, you heard her, didn't you? Go home! And I mean straight home, boy, no nostalgic walkabouts."

"Right. Yeah. Er... thank you for being concerned," Dudley said awkwardly. "You know, sending the cat."

She narrowed her eyes. "You're not on Polyjuice are you? I can't tell."

"I don't even know what it is."

"Hmm. Well, I suppose young Dora would have some way of knowing before she sent the Patronus."

There didn't seem any further conversation to be had, as Mrs. Figg had moved on to her mantel, where she was clearing away several layers of framed pictures of her cats.

"Well... goodbye," Dudley said. Mrs. Figg didn't answer.

Dudley left her house and walked the short distance back to Privet Drive. The fact that they'd known he was at Mrs. Figg's at all left him secure in the knowledge that his every bloody step was being monitored, so he followed directions and went straight home.

Mum's kitchen looked as it generally did, though many of her favorite things were already in the car, and others had been packed off to a storage facility, in neatly labeled boxes that had been stacked alphabetically when they'd left. Dad had asked why she needed to do such a thing, if they weren't going to be at home, and she'd said that she expected that, when Aunt Lily's charm broke, the Death Eaters would steal whatever they could get their hands on. That had been the occasion of Dad's first change of mind, as he'd gone off muttering about not giving in to common street gang hooliganism. Mum had continued packing.

She'd got skinnier than usual over the last few months, and didn't look like she was sleeping much. When Dudley came in, she barely looked up to say, "Where have you been, Diddy?"

"Out."

"Stay in."

"Yes, Mum."

"Diddy?"

"What?"

"Your dad's unpacking the car again. Would you mind terribly...?"

Dudley nodded and went out to try and convince Dad not to waste his energy. It worked for the moment, but Dudley could see that it was only a temporary fix. Dad went to his computer and started to peruse his files from Grunnings. Harry's people had arranged to have him take a leave of absence to attend to a fictional family illness. His job would be held. Apparently, Dad was good at his job, and they wanted him back. Dad was furious at having to leave, and kept saying that he meant to go back. One of the witches, who seemed to know about computers, had cut his off from the net magically, so that nothing Dad did could re-connect it. He checked his e-mail every day, even though he was inevitably told that there was no network.

Dudley paced from room to room. The house had seemed too small for him for a few years now--like he was walking through a delicate, slightly miniaturized environment that he might break if he moved too fast. The pictures hadn't been taken down yet--Mum would save those for last, he was quite sure, and take them along--and he stopped and looked at each one, some of them for the first time since they'd gone up.

There he was as a baby, grinning amidst blankets; there, with his first bike, even though he looked nearly large enough to crush it. Mum had put him in a beautiful baby contest at some point. He hadn't done well, and she'd declared it absurdly biased, but she'd kept the gauzy looking picture. His first day wearing the Smeltings uniform (he remembered abruptly that Harry had been dying an old sweatshirt that day, instead of getting a new uniform ready for himself), a trip with Aunt Marge (Harry had not been invited), his first boxing championship (Harry had never seen him fight fairly).

There were no pictures on the wall that included Harry. He'd never noticed that before.

Something thudded upstairs in Harry's room, and there was another curse.

Dudley went upstairs, steeling himself again to talk to his cousin. When he reached the door, he found a cold, wet spot where he'd left the teacup. Feeling like he'd been kicked, he went into the bathroom, where he found the shards of the cup. Apparently, Harry had broken it rather than taking anything Dudley had left.

Dudley didn't blame him.

He went to his own room. Mum had lovingly packed up most of his childhood things, promising to put them back where they belonged "just as soon as this unpleasantness passes," but Dudley liked it better like this. He didn't feel like that fat boy from the pictures downstairs was hiding in the wardrobe.

He sat down at his desk, which wasn't used much, as he did most of his writing at Smeltings. For most of his life, the desk had been a catchall for sweets, gadgets, and useless things. Had Mum not regularly gone through it, there were other items it might have held, but Dudley didn't keep anything questionable at Privet Drive. Now, it only held his computer. Like Dad's, it had been disconnected from the net. He turned it on and opened up WordPerfect. He couldn't face going next door, to where Harry was cursing at his belongings, but maybe he could write it down. He wasn't very good at things like that, but it seemed easier than actually talking. He could slip it into Harry's trunk, and Harry would find it at the safe house, and then maybe they could talk.

Dear Harry, he typed, then tried to remember if it was supposed to be a comma, or one of those things where two full stops were piled on top of each other. One was friendly and one was business, and he didn't think either was exactly the kind of letter he was writing. He opted for a squiggly line: Dear Harry~

He bit his lip. It was a start. He thought about starting off with the pictures Harry wasn't in, and how Dudley sort of wished that he had been, but he didn't know if that made any sense. Or maybe he could start with "Thank you for helping me last summer," but every time he tried, it sounded like the kind of note he'd been forced to write Aunt Marge for his birthday gifts--Dear Harry, thank you for the very nice life you saved for me last year. I'm sure I will use it a lot. Love, Dudley. That didn't seem quite right.

Finally, he managed something that looked like a proper letter.

Dear Harry~
Guess we're leaving, eh? Sorry about being a right git when we were kids. I was an idiot, which I guess you know. Don't know why you saved my life anyway, but thanks.

Now that we're going somewhere else and you have important things to do, I guess you won't be worrying about where I am, but if you think I can help, I want to.

You should find this when we get wherever we're going. If you have time, maybe you could let me know if I can do something.

Your cousin,
Dudley Dursley


Dudley read it over a few times and spell-checked it, then hit print.

Unfortunately, his printer had already been packed.

He groaned. He supposed he could copy it in handwriting, and he might have started to do so, but Dad chose that moment to start bellowing downstairs that he had no intention of walking away from work for a year like a bloody layabout.

Dudley saved his work--he supposed things would have to be fixed outside Privet Drive after all--and went downstairs.

Mum had put on her traveling coat and Dad was carrying his, pacing back and forth in the living room, his cheeks alarmingly red.

"I am not going to abandon my house to these Dead Feeder people," Dad was saying. "I don't even know they exist."

"They exist," Mum said quietly. "Vernon, I'm sorry that this has come in, I hoped it never would. I tried to keep it away from us."

"Well, it bloody well got in, didn't it?" Dad said. "What did we ever do to them? They've got no quarrel with me. I think this is a trick."

"Dad, it's not," Dudley said.

"Once Potter's out of the house, why should they care about us? Not like he'd do much to look out for our interests, that's sure. No, this is definitely a trick."

"What sort of trick do you think it is?" Dudley asked, meaning it rhetorically.

Dad answered seriously. "I don't rightly know, Dudders, but people are full of tricks. All of them. Maybe they mean to steal our money. We know they can use their"--he mimed waving a wand--"to bother our computers. Maybe they mean to steal our money."

Mum and Dudley looked at one another. Mum started to say something, but Dad was off on another rant.

"Or maybe Potter's just playing a grand prank on us. Didn't you say his father liked a joke or two? Yeah, I think that's what it is. He's going to lead us off in the middle of nowhere, leave us there, and then laugh at us."

"Sweetheart, that's a lot of trouble to go to for a prank," Mum said, "and there are a lot of adults involved, who would have stopped it."

"Do you think so, Pet? Because, as you've said, they're not like us. They think different sorts of things than normal people do."

Mum sat down in her favorite chair and dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. "Oh, Vernon, I wish that were true. I wish it were one of their horrible pranks. I'm sorry I ever brought this business into your life. I wanted us to be normal!" She wept.

Dad stopped harrumphing and went to her. He patted her shoulders. "There, there, little Pet. None of this is your fault. You did your duty by your sister. That's an admirable thing, and there's nothing wrong with you. It's not your fault."

Dudley backed off, and slipped into the cupboard under the stairs, where his coat was hanging. He took it off the hanger and put it on, then looked around. They'd made Harry sleep here. He'd been smaller then, of course, but still, it hardly seemed sporting. No wonder Harry'd never got very big. He turned away from the cupboard and shut the door.

By the time he got back to the living room, Mum's tears were tapering off, and Dad had gone back to pacing. At some point, he'd managed to put his coat on.

"Mark my words," Dad said, "we're going to find out that they're having us leave for no reason. Or for reasons of their own. That boy wants something. After everything we've done for him, he wants more."

Right, Dudley thought angrily. He's sending us away so he can get a whole meal at the dining room table, and watch television in the living room. Maybe even a program he chooses for himself. That'd be more than you ever did for him.

Dudley blinked. He had never really felt anger at his father before, and feeling on Harry's behalf--even now--seemed wrong, like he'd be struck down as a disloyal son if he ever said anything like that out loud.

"Vernon, please," Mum said. "We have to go."

"No, we don't. This is mad! If they're out there at all, they ought to be on our side, as we tried to keep the boy from going into their war at all. Why should they be after us? No--it's something else." Dad did a few circuits of the living room, ran his hand over the mantel, then said, "Of course!"

"Of course... what?" Mum asked.

"I know what the little blighter is after. I know it now! Oh, I have your number, Potter..."

"Dad, what are you talking about?" Dudley asked.

"The house," he said. "Of course. That's what he wants, I'm sure of it."

Dudley and Mum exchanged a look. Dad had been acting increasingly odd since the old man had visited last year, but this was a few steps beyond odd.

"Vernon," Mum said, "I really don't think it's anything like that."

"I've tried to protect you from the scandals in the world, Pet," Dad said. "But there are people out there who'll take you for everything. I've heard tales of it. They trick you into signing papers, and the next thing you know, you're out on the street."

"Harry wouldn't know how to do something like that," Mum ventured.

"How do we know what they've been teaching him in that place? We saw what they did to Dudley's tongue! People who could learn to do a thing like that probably wouldn't think twice about swindling honest people out of their homes."

"Vernon, please--"

"Well, we'll just see about that," Dad said, then went to the bottom of the stairs and bellowed, "BOY!"



Chapter 2:
DUDLEY
Family Forsaken




Harry had obviously heard Dad's bellow, because the sound of things being shoved around his room stopped abruptly. This was not, however, followed by his door opening, or the sound of his feet running to comply, so Dad followed it up with, "Oi! You!" The door opened, and a moment later, Harry must have appeared at the top of the stairs, because Dad said, "You took your time! Get down here, I want a word."

The footsteps coming down the stairs had a certain deliberate slowness to them, and when Harry finally came into the living room, he quite calmly said, "Yes?"

"Sit down!" Dad bellowed. Harry looked at him coolly, as though he wasn't there, and Dad managed to blurt out, "Please!"

Dudley tried to remember if Dad had ever said such a thing to Harry before. Maybe he ought to have thought of it, as Harry sat down without any argument.

Dad glared at him and said, "I've changed my mind."

Unsurprisingly, Harry was less than stunned--by Dudley's count, it was their fourth time through the conversation. Dad declared his disbelief, Harry resignedly explained things.

That was, until Dad declared that Harry was trying to steal the house.

"Are you out of your mind?" Harry asked, his face going a pale shade of green with anger. "A plot to get this house? Are you as stupid as you look?"

"Don't you dare!" Mum started, but Dad cut her off with a wave.

Harry shook his head in disbelief. "Just in case you've forgotten, I've already got a house, my godfather left me one. So why would I want this one? All the happy memories?"

This hung in fragile silence. Harry hadn't complained--not really--about everything that hadn't been right. Every now and then, he'd snapped a bit, and he certainly knew how to give them the silent treatment, but there it was--the bald truth. He hated it here. Dudley looked down at the floor, knowing he was at least partly responsible for that. He couldn't think of a single happy day they'd allowed Harry to have in this house.

Finally, Dad brushed it off, as he'd been brushing off so many things, and returned the conversation to his disbelief in Harry's story. "You claim that this Lord Thing--"

"--Voldemort, and we've been through this about a hundred times already," Harry said, obviously frustrated. "This isn't a claim, it's fact, Dumbledore told you last year, and Kingsley and Mr. Weasley explained it all as well."

Dudley shuddered, remembering the first visit of the summer, when the older red-haired man and the tall black man had made Mum and Dad listen. They hadn't been quite as aggressive as the old man Harry called Dumbledore, but they'd been forceful enough. And they had explained everything. Only one thing was perfectly clear to Dudley--the protection was going away. He was terrified.

Harry continued, "The Order is sure Voldemort will target you, whether to torture you to try and find out where I am, or because he thinks by holding you hostage, I'd come and try to rescue you." Harry looked like he thought this was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard, and Mum and Dad looked unsure as well, but Dudley had no doubts at all. Harry hated him like poison, but he'd still rescued him. Harry would never leave them to die, no matter what he thought. And that would end up getting him killed. Harry ground his teeth, then said, "You've got to go into hiding and the Order wants to help. You're being offered serious protection, the best there is."

Dad, to put it mildly, did not think that the tiny wizard and fragile looking witch who'd taken over their case qualified as "the best there is" when the man who protected the Prime Minister was available. (Harry referred to him as "your Prime Minister," which Dudley found confusing, seeing that he was the head of the actual government, and no one was arguing that Harry wasn't English. Oughtn't he still be Harry's Prime Minister, at least?)

Harry finally lost his patience. This was taking less and less time these days. "I've told you this over and over again, he kills Muggles for fun. Even the fogs--they're caused by dementors, and if you can't remember what they are, ask your son!"

At this unexpected evocation, Dudley took a step back and felt his hands fly up to his mouth. Dementors. That was what they'd been, he'd heard the word before, but blocked them out. Blocked out the cold. The dark. The voices inside his head. "There are... more of them?"

Harry turned on him, exasperated. "More? More than the two that attacked us, you mean? Of course there are, there are hundreds, maybe thousands by this time, seeing as they feed off fear and despair--"

Dad said something. Dudley didn't really hear it. More of them. More of those horrors, and they fed off of people being afraid of them. How could people stop being afraid of them? What kind of bloody idiot wouldn't be afraid of an invisible thing that tried to suck your soul out while it made you hear yourself whinging and bullying and begging and puling? A thing that came on you like an ice storm in the middle of summer, and pulled all the light out of the sky?

Harry was still talking to Dad, trying to make him see sense, but Dudley's mind was back at Wisteria Walk, back in that unnatural darkness, and he couldn't really make sense of the words for a few seconds. The next time he caught on, Dad was talking again, asking about his work, which had been settled for him a hundred times, and Dudley's school, which hardly mattered, given his marks. Dad was waving his hands as if none of this had ever come up before. "I don't suppose," he said, "that those things matter to a bunch of layabout wizards--"

"Don't you understand?" Harry suddenly thundered, standing up and closing in on Dad. "They will torture and kill you like they did my parents!"

Dudley woke up at this point. He heard something in Harry's voice, some bit of it that seemed close to cracking at last under Dad's relentless onslaught. Not that he'd agree with Dad to keep the peace--that would never happen--but Dudley remembered perfectly well the last time Harry's face had looked like that. It had been just before Aunt Marge had blown up like a balloon and started floating around the kitchen.

He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and said, "Dad--I'm going with these Order people."

Mum and Dad looked at him like he was crazy, but Harry looked at him with a kind of frustrated gratitude. "Dudley," he said, "for the first time in your life, you're talking sense." He looked up at the clock on the mantel. "They'll be here in about five minutes." He turned without waiting for a conclusion, and went back upstairs.

Dad growled and headed for the stairs. "I'm going to teach that boy some bloody manners if it's the last thing I do. Where does he come off, turning his back on his elders, walking away like--"

Dudley wasn't sure where the strength came from, but he took it. He was across the living room in two strides, and he caught Dad by the shoulder, pulling him away from the stairs. "Come on, Dad," he said. "You and Harry are both a little tense. Why don't you come back in with us?" Inspiration struck when he heard Mum's quiet crying. "Mum's upset, you know."

As always, this worked. Dudley had suspected for a long time that Mum's tears--while occasionally genuine--were deployed as a tactical weapon to deflect Dad's more destructive instincts. If his "little Pet" was the least bit unhappy, Dad would stop everything to change that, and Mum knew it better than anyone else. Maybe it was cynical--but Dudley thought it brought out the best in Dad, one way or another.

As it did this time. He turned aside from his rage at Harry and went back into the living room, where he sat down in the chair in front of Mum and took her hands. "Now there, Pet, don't you worry. We'll get through all of this."

"It was all supposed to be all right," Mum said. "It was supposed to be normal."

Dad squeezed her hands. They actually seemed to disappear inside his big fists, but Mum didn't seem to mind. "It'll be right as a trivet once all of this is over," he said. "I'll make sure of it. We'll have everything you want, just like I promised."

Mum looked at him steadily, and something passed between them that Dudley didn't understand. (They had not, to his eternal gratitude, chosen to share their gooier stories with him.) She nodded and said, "You've always kept your promises, Vernon. I believe you."

Dudley went to the window, mainly to avoid watching his parents when they were alone together, and looked out at Privet Drive. Everything seemed just as normal as Mum was wishing. Mrs. Anderson was tending her vegetables next door. Across the street, Mr. Green was watering his garden. Little William Davidson was riding his tricycle and chasing Amy Keller's dog, while Amy stood at her fence and cried. Mrs. Keller came out as Dudley watched, and scooped the dog out of William's way. He couldn't hear her, but he knew what she was saying anyway--it had been said to him often enough: "You nasty little boy! I'll have a word with your mother about this--see if I don't!"

Dudley wished her luck with it; he'd never heard a thing about his own misdeeds, no matter who had threatened to tell Mum and Dad about them.

He looked up at the clear evening sky, wondering if Diggle and Jones would come on broomsticks. He hadn't believed Harry that witches really flew on broomsticks until he'd seen pictures of it in Harry's newspaper. Some nearly forgotten part of himself wondered what that would be like to see. He supposed Mum would think it a nearly blasphemous use of a cleaning implement. He squinted up at the clouds for a minute, imagining that he saw a broomstick there, casting a shadow. Then even his imagination--never his strongest asset--gave up the idea, before he entertained the thought of telling anyone.

He looked back down, and now there was motion at the corner of Wisteria Walk. A flash of a purple top hat, the swirl of a cloak, and yes--there they were. Dedalus Diggle and Hestia Jones, coming to save the day. Diggle was about five feet tall and had a habit of bowing to Harry. Jones was somewhat more formidable, which said more about him than about her. At the moment, Diggle was apparently telling a hilarious story, as he was gesticulating wildly and she was laughing.

Probably a Muggle joke, Dudley thought sourly. The sort of thing Dad tells about Japanese golfers.

He'd never heard one of Harry's sort tell such a joke, but he was quite sure the jokes existed, and were told on a regular basis by someone.

They turned up the walk at Number Four, and Dudley had said, "Er, Mum... Dad..." when the doorbell rang.

Harry was quicker to answer this summons than he had been to answer Dad's, which was just as well, as Mum and Dad seemed to be frozen to the sofa, and did not go to answer the door. Harry opened it, and Dudley saw the sweep of Diggle's top hat as he said, "Harry Potter! An honor, as ever!"

Mum took a deep breath and sighed it out, then stood up, Dad following her.

"Thanks, Dedalus," Harry said. "It's really good of you to do this... They're right through here, my aunt and uncle and cousin..."

Diggle strode into the room, looking incongruously happy for someone who was about to completely uproot their lives. "Good to see you, Harry Potter's relatives!" he said.

Dudley took a few steps closer to Mum, who looked like was about to faint.

Diggle looked around, pleased. "I see you are packed and ready! Excellent! The plan, as Harry has told you, is a simple one." He pulled out a huge gold pocket watch that oughtn't have fit in his pocket at all. "We shall be leaving before Harry does. Due to the danger of using magic in your house--Harry being still underage, it could provide the Ministry with an excuse to arrest him--we shall be driving, say, ten miles or so, before Disapparating to the safe location we have picked out for you. You know how to drive, I take it?"

Only this, in the whole rapid speech, seemed to reach Dad, whose jaw dropped. "Know how to--!" He ground his teeth. "Of course I ruddy well know how to drive!"

"Very clever of you, sir, very clever," Diggle said, looking madly impressed at this skill. "I personally would be utterly bamboozled by all those buttons and knobs."

Dad just shook his head and muttered, "Can't even drive."

Diggle turned to Harry and started going on cheerfully about a change in plan--Dudley didn't follow it--but was interrupted by his watch shouting, "Hurry up!" This actually seemed to surprise Harry more than it surprised Dudley. Many of Dudley's friends had alarms on their watches, and it was one of the more normal things he'd seen wizards do.

Diggle consulted the time and declared that, for some magically based reason, they had to hurry.

It was here that Dudley noticed, for the first time, something odd in what was being planned. Something that hadn't occurred to him. They were talking about Harry's departure as something separate from the rest of the family. Dudley thought back on the other conversations. Maybe they'd all assumed it from the start.

Diggle finished speaking to Harry, then turned, bright-eyed, and said, as though they were about to embark on a fabulous holiday cruise, "Well, are we all packed and ready to go?"

Since it was obvious that they were packed, no one could think of anything to say. Dudley saw Jones's eyes going back and forth among them, then they softened at what could only be the most ludicrously wrong conclusion anyone could reach--that Harry meant to have a tearful goodbye. "Perhaps we should wait outside in the hall, Dedalus," she said.

Harry rolled his eyes. "There's no need."

Mum and Dad proceeded to prove this by brusquely bidding Harry farewell and asking Dudley if he was ready. Dad actually grabbed his luggage and headed for the door.

No one seemed inclined to the one glaring thing that had finally entered Dudley's consciousness. He looked up and said, "I don't understand."

"What don't you understand, popkin?" Mum asked.

Dudley pointed at Harry. "Why isn't he coming with us?"

Everyone froze. Dudley had spent a lot of time at the bottom of his classes, and he knew the feeling well. He'd asked a question that everyone else knew the answer to, and they were trying to figure out how not to call him an idiot. Usually he just pretended that he really knew the answer and made a joke of it, but not this time. Not when it mattered.

"What?" Dad asked.

"Why isn't he coming too?" Dudley asked.

"Well, he--he doesn't want to." Dad narrowed his eyes suspiciously in Harry's direction. "You don't want to, do you?"

"Not in the slightest," Harry said, with great finality.

"There you are," Dad said. "Now, come on, we're off." He made it out of the room this time, and might even have gone outside. No one followed him, though, so he leaned back into the living room, his face red. "What now?"

"But where's he going to go?" Dudley asked Jones.

Mum and Dad gave each other a guarded look, and Dudley realized that they'd known all along, even as he talked about how hard it would be to get along with Harry cooped up in a safe house for however long it took, that Harry was leaving them. He also realized that they had never even asked where Harry was going.

Jones looked at them incredulously. "But... surely you know where your nephew is going?"

Dad gave her a look of supreme irritation, like she was an underling who'd questioned his management. "Certainly we know. He's off with some of your lot, isn't he? Right, Dudley, let's get in the car, you heard the man, we're in a hurry." He turned his back on her and headed for the front door again.

Dudley thought this might be a mistake, as Jones looked like her head might explode, or she might start throwing curses around for fun. "Off with some of our lot?"

Dad turned, unconcerned.

Harry, on the other hand, looked mortified. "It's fine," he muttered. "It doesn't matter, honestly."

Jones's jaw dropped. "Doesn't matter? Don't these people realize what you've been through? What danger you are in? The unique position you hold in the hearts of the anti-Voldemort movement?"

Harry looked down. "Er--no, they don't. They think I'm a waste of space, actually, but I'm used to--

"I don't think you're a waste of space," Dudley interrupted him. It hadn't been anything he'd tried to say in any of the conversations they'd never got around to having, but... waste of space? Did Harry really think that, after the dementors?

Apparently, he did, because his eyes nearly got as wide as his glasses. He blinked a few times, then said, "Well... er... thanks, Dudley."

"You saved my life," Dudley reminded him.
"Not really. It was your soul the dementor would have taken..." Harry stopped talking, and looked at Dudley, and for the first time in years, Dudley felt like he was actually being seen.

Then Mum burst into one of her crying fits. He knew she was on edge, and he knew she didn't want to leave her house or her flower beds, but couldn't she at least try to see the big picture? This time, to Dudley's eternal embarrassment, directed toward how wonderful Dudley was for thanking Harry--something she'd never done.

Jones wasn't Dad, and wasn't impressed by the tears. "But he hasn't said thank you at all! He only said he didn't think Harry was a waste of space!"

Harry was still looking at Dudley, still seeing him, and he grinned. "Yeah, but coming from Dudley, that's like 'I love you.'"

Dudley nodded, though not very much. He didn't want anyone but Harry to see it.

Dad, annoyed with all of this, grabbed his luggage and went for the car, brooking no dissent this time. Diggle and Jones gave Harry a sincere, tearful sort of goodbye, which seemed to embarrass Harry to no end, then followed Dad, leaving Mum and Dudley alone with Harry. The last of the Evanses.

Dudley swallowed hard, then held up his hand for Harry to shake. He didn't want to part on bad terms.

Harry looked at the proffered hand, bemused, and said, "Blimey, Dudley, did the dementors blow a different personality into you?"

Dudley, who'd had occasion to wonder such a thing himself, shrugged and said, "Dunno. See you, Harry." He couldn't make himself say any of the other things, and Harry actually seemed grateful for that.

Harry shook his hand. "Yeah... maybe," he said, and Dudley realized that Harry had no idea if he'd ever be back. There was no time to think about this, though. Harry smiled--a real smile--and said, "Take care, Big D."

Something was burning behind Dudley's eyes--whether it was fear for Harry's future or shame at his own past, he didn't know, but he knew if he returned the smile, he'd actually end up crying, and he'd be damned if he did that. He made the corners of his mouth go up just a touch, then left before he said anything that betrayed him. Mum stayed behind to say her own goodbyes. Dudley hoped that she'd say something nice, maybe about her sister, but if she did, he never found out about it.

He went to the car and sat in the back seat beside Diggle (Jones was riding in the passenger seat, probably to give directions). A moment later, Mum came out and sat on Diggle's other side. She clasped her handbag tightly and closed her eyes, not looking back as Dad pulled the car onto the street. Dudley was the only one looking back at Number Four, Privet Drive, as they drove away. He saw a curtain twitch upstairs, and imagined Harry watching them leave. Somewhere above them, a crow flew between the clouds, seeming to urge them along.

Then they were away, following Jones's seemingly haphazard directions through the streets of Little Whinging, entering Greater Whinging through the twisted suburban streets five minutes after they left the house.

"Pull over here," Jones said, indicating a corner where a woman with bright pink hair was canoodling with an older man. Several other people were in the park behind them, including Kingsley Shacklebolt, the person Dad had wanted protecting them. Oddly, Dad didn't seem to notice this. Dudley wondered if Jones had done something to him. Come to think of it, he hadn't had much to say since they'd left.

Mum, on the other hand, sat forward, looking at the couple. "That's that teacher from Smeltings!" she announced, and Dudley stretched his neck to see. He couldn't quite be sure. "What's he doing to that girl?"

"She's his wife," Diggle said perkily as the car pulled to a stop. "Just two weeks ago tomorrow."

"He looks younger than he did then," Mum said, "but he's still old enough to be that child's father."

"He looks older than he is," Jones said, "and I urge you strongly not to mention anything of that sort to him." Perhaps it was an accident that her wand was turned toward Mum as she said this, but Dudley didn't think so. She rolled down the window and said, "Wonder if you have the time?" she asked the couple.

The man looked out over his wife's shoulder, and sure enough, it was Mr. Lewis, who had helped him with everything last year. He smiled fondly and checked a wristwatch that might or might not have told him something useful. "Getting close to full dark," he said. "Five minutes or so, I'd say."

"Sounds about right," Jones said. "Well, have a safe evening."

Lewis looked into the car and smiled at Dudley. Dudley waved to him. He raised an eyebrow, then said, "Have a safe trip."

Jones rolled up the window, and ordered Dad to drive to High Street in Greater Whinging. They drove past several shops, then Jones directed them down a seedy looking side street, through a wire fence, and into the municipal dump as full dark finally fell. She directed them to particularly large pile of rubbish, then said, "All right. We're here. They should be arriving to collect your nephew right now, and getting ready to set off--"

"The charm will break," Dad said vaguely, and Dudley's suspicions that he'd been tampered with were heightened.

"Just so," Diggle said.

"Will we feel anything?"

"I shouldn't think so, no," Diggle said. "Now, you'll need to stay in the car. Hestia and I have been practicing all month, and we can Disapparate easily carrying a car of this size. We've brought along Arabella Figg to make sure that nothing happens to a non-magical person inside. You should be fine." He gave a wide smile that Dudley didn't find remotely reassuring.

Jones picked it up. "There's no need to worry. This has been done before. Dedalus and I were able to move as much as an estate car, carrying five people and luggage. You have nothing at all to worry about. We'll simply lock the car, and each of us will hold a bumper. You'll feel a moment of... we'll say pinching, and then we'll be safe."

"Pinching?" Dudley repeated. "Where are we to be pinched?"

"Not you," Diggle said. "The space around you. Nothing to worry about, we do it every day. You may be a bit ill when we come out of it, but it's nothing to trouble yourself about; beginning wizards are often disoriented as well."

Jones and Diggle got out of the car, locking the doors behind them. Jones went to the rear; Dudley could see her as she grasped the bumper. She didn't look at all concerned.

Until the pile of rubbish beside them burst into flame.

Something streaked down from the sky, and Dudley had time to register a white, laughing face before Mum screamed. The car jolted and flipped onto its side. Dudley was thrown into the door. Mum fell over onto Dudley. Dad, who looked like he was starting to come around, hit the driver's door with great force.

"I'll hold them back, Hestia!" Dedalus yelled. "You get the car out of here!"

Someone physically hit the car, and Dudley looked up at the window that had been across from him. A horror stood there--a grizzled, filthy old man, whose teeth were sharpened to points. He pulled down his sleeve and punched the window. It held, but Mum screamed again.

Bright green light hit the ground, blowing a hole in it.

Jones had climbed on top of the car, and was spreading herself over it, holding on to every available surface, leaving only her wand free. It shot out streams of light. Something hit her and knocked her off the car.

"Hestia!" Diggle yelled.

"I'm all right, but we need to do it as we practiced. I can't take it alone!"

Diggle yelled something incoherent, and the dump was filled with a bright, purple light. People on brooms were knocked away with abandon, scattered onto the rubbish heaps. Diggle ran for the front of the tipped car. Hestia ran for the back. Dudley saw the sky fill with green light, then a great iron fist closed around him, and he knew nothing until he woke up in an unfamiliar room, where a plump blond woman smiled at him kindly and asked if he was feeling better now.

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Comments
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: April 3rd, 2013 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, I was glad to get to read this.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2013 07:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I felt bad just having it sit on my computer.
mirandabeth From: mirandabeth Date: April 3rd, 2013 08:26 am (UTC) (Link)
What a totally unexpected treat! I've been following and really enjoying your HG fics (chronic lurker, as usual), but I don't know those books very well, and this just made my day. I adore your Dudley! He's exactly like I'd expect him to be if we'd ever spent any time in his head.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2013 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd wanted to spend a little time in Dudley's head. I just loved that JKR really did have him grow up a little!
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2013 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, this has been written for a long time. After running out of steam on so many fics, I decided to write first and post later. Sure 'nuff, I ran out of steam. But I thought the escape from Privet Drive was contained enough to post independently.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 3rd, 2013 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fern, this is amazing! this is so intense and wonderful. I love your Dudley- his growing self awareness of his own shortcomings and Harry's unjust treatment is perfectly portrayed. I love that little comment about how he felt as though he'd been kicked, when he saw what became of the cup of tea he left for Harry. It's such a human (selfish) response to feel miffed; but Dudley's ability to think outside of himself and think that he'd have done the same in Harry's place is a marker of how far he has grown.

I also adore how Petunia and Vernon have those moments of tenderness with each other- and how Petunia knows how to manipulate Vernon into showing his 'better self'. Brilliant.

And the cliffhanger of chapter two!

If I write anymore it will be incohate squeeing. This is wonderful. I'm so, so excited to see you writing for the Potterverse again :)

Smoltenica
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not exactly writing so much as posting something already written.

I think Petunia knows her husband very well, and knows exactly what will work on him.
etain_antrim From: etain_antrim Date: April 3rd, 2013 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's such a treat to get a bit of your Potterverse! Love this, love Dudley's growing awareness of himself, and especially love seeing a bit of Remus and Dora. Thank you!,
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 3rd, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, it wouldn't be me without a little Remus and Dora! :D
malinbe From: malinbe Date: April 4th, 2013 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, thank you SO MUCH for this. I missed your writing, I never really got into HG.

It was a lovely insight into Dudley's mind, and at the most interesting time, too. I teared up a bit!
From: severely_lupine Date: April 4th, 2013 05:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Nice! I'd be interested in reading whatever you did manage to write of it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 4th, 2013 04:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seconded!
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 9th, 2013 11:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Fantastic!

I thought you'd broken me of my fanfic habit when you moved to a book I hadn't read, but this is great! Now I want a whole Dudley fic! Haha.

And I think I recognized that crow from The Stand ;)

Thanks ~ Karen
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 6th, 2015 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Are there any more chapters of this? I just read your entire Teddy Lupin series and all the challenges you've written (Dating back to 2007). And I need more T_T it's so amazing and I love the world you've built
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 7th, 2015 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Alas, everything else I did on this (other than the kind of random stories -- a Creevey story, a challenge ficlet called "neighbors") got lost in a computer crash.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 7th, 2015 04:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, bummer!!! That must have really sucked wow. Thanks for letting me know though :)
tec4 From: tec4 Date: December 16th, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Excellent

Did you post all of what you did? I'd love to read it!
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 8th, 2017 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Chapters 3-7 Please

You said you got to Chapter 7 of Safe, but I only see 1 & 2 posted. Could you post Chapters 3-7 pretty please!!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 8th, 2017 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Chapters 3-7 Please

Quite unfortunately, the computer I'd written it on died, and I was practicing poor saving techniques -- I only had these two chapters because I'd posted them on the private setting, needing to correct a few things.

I've been toying around on and off with structure ideas for how to do this story, but I've never come up with anything good.
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