This was the original ending for The Boy in the Cupboard that I wrote back in 2021.

In the real cases of Genie Wiley and Dani Lierow, they both regressed during adolescence, but readers weren't happy with that ending to this story. I ended up removing it and kept the story going, but I kind of regret deleting it entirely.

So here it is.

Dudley hefted his bag over his shoulder as he walked past shops in London. He stopped in his tracks by a light blue Ford Anglia. A group of teenagers and young adults around Dudley's age lingered outside the forever-closed Purge and Dowse, Ltd.

Dudley knew the shop with the ugly mannequin was a disguise, but as a Muggle, he couldn't see the magical hospital that was hidden behind it. He'd heard about it from Colin and Dennis, and suddenly realized that the two redheads were Colin's friends, Ron and Ginny. There had been a lot of redheaded friends in the photos he'd shared, and now Dudley heard one of them call a bushy-haired woman Hermione.

Dudley tightened his fist around his bag, blinking furiously. He still felt raw, it had been only a few months since the news that Colin had died in the war. He couldn't quite grasp that he'd never hear Colin's excited chatter and requests for Dudley to model boxing poses again.

Dudley had been used to being the only teen at the Creevey household for most of the year, ever since he was fourteen and Dennis joined Colin at Hogwarts. They'd both stayed home this past year; it wasn't safe for Muggle-borns, though Colin had snuck in for the battle. Despite Dudley's brothers staying home, it still hadn't sunk in that Colin wouldn't be coming home over the summer.

Dudley must have been staring too long, since Ron caught Dudley's eye. There was a definite haunted quality in Ron's eyes, though there seemed to be a spark of hope. The war had ended the same night Colin's life had.

Dudley glanced away. When he looked back, two more members had joined, and the group cheered "Happy birthday!"

"It's almost like you swapped bodies." Luna remarked to the two men who'd emerged from the hospital. Neville was thin and fit with short hair, while the other had rather flyaway hair and looked as if he was heading toward a weight that Dudley had once achieved.

"How come you won't use the Floo, Harry? You used to." Ron asked the larger of the pair.

Dudley glanced up. As a child, he'd only heard Harry when his biological parents told the neighbors on Privet Drive about their very disturbed nephew, after he'd escaped from the cupboard and someone had glimpsed him through the window.

Hermione hissed something Dudley couldn't make out, but he might have heard the phrase green fire.

Dudley kept turning the name Harry over in his mind. Until Ron used Harry's name, Dudley hadn't even recognized his own cousin. Harry had looked far better in Colin's photos than the skeletal child who'd been rescued from the cupboard by that wizard with the crazy eye, but he'd still been thin in most of Colin's photos.

Colin had mentioned Harry was at Hogwarts, and Dudley hoped Harry would recover from the horrors his parents put Harry through. Colin had a lot of stories of Harry heroically saving an elf and fighting off bullies with paint. He'd heard that Harry talked, with speech and sign language, and he'd clearly found a loving family, something he should have had all along.

Dudley frowned. What was Harry doing at St. Mungo's, now?

Dudley didn't realize the group had made their way over to him until they were right there. "Excuse us," Ginny told him. "That's our car."

"Sorry," Dudley moved away, vaguely thinking there was no way the whole group could fit in that Ford Anglia before reminding himself they were magic. He couldn't take his eyes off Harry.

"What are you looking at?" Ron asked angrily, moving protectively in front of Harry.

"Harry." Dudley blurted, but Harry gave no reaction as he twirled an old sock around in his hand.

Dudley almost wished they were in the boxing ring, that Harry would punch himfor the years he'd been at Number Four. For the way Dudley had sniggered and cheered as his dad beat "that freakish monster" for daring to moan with hunger.

"You're in St. Mungo's?" Dudley asked.

"You're Dudley, aren't you? Colin had a photo of you by his bed." Luna was clearly much more observant than her dreamy expression suggested. Just like some of the students Dudley had mentored and befriended at school.

Harry didn't even blink as Dudley nodded, confirming his name. Dudley was sure Harry had heard more from the cupboard than some of the kids Dudley read about, but Dudley had mostly been called embarrassing nicknames like Dinky Diddums.

"Colin is... was... my brother." Dudley felt numb. Harry began making a clicking noise with his tongue. "You're his friends from Hogwarts? I'm sorry..."

"I'm sorry for your loss," Hermione replied in kind.

Luna added rather bluntly. "We miss him terribly."

"Me too." Dudley fidgeted with the bag in his hand. "Erm, I hope you're okay, Harry. Happy Birthday."

Dudley hadn't known when Harry's birthday was until he was almost thirteen and Colin had mentioned it.

Harry looked mildly curious, peering in the bag. Ron leaned to look and laughed. "Neville's great with plants."

"Do you garden?" Neville asked Dudley with interest.

"They're for Marcus," Dudley answered, launching into a quick explanation of his buddies, who had enjoyed throwing dirt as a child and was now working as an apprentice at a landscaping company. Marcus had never spoken a word in his life. Dudley glanced at Harry, who hadn't spoken or signed yet.

"We used to garden together, right, Harry?" Neville grinned at Harry, his smile slipping slightly when Harry didn't reply. "Maybe we can do it again,"

Harry slowly reached toward the bag, then stared down the street.

"Yeah, we know you're ready, Harry." Ron laughed, guiding Harry to the blue Ford.

Hermione asked Dudley if he wanted to join them. Dudley blinked, sure he hadn't heard that right, as Hermione hissed he already knows to her equally taken-aback friends. Dudley nodded slowly, agreeing he knew about magic.

Dudley was ready to turn this down. Harry wouldn't want his horrible cousin at his birthday party, having been locked up as Dudley went on seven birthday adventures to hamburger restaurants and theme parks.

Dudley opened his mouth to refuse, realized they'd taken his earlier nod as accepting the offer. Harry bumped into Dudley, almost nudging him toward the car.

Hermione climbed into the driver's seat, as the rest piled into passenger seats. The car did indeed fit more people than it should have, and soon Hermione drove them through London's streets.

They unloaded and entered a dingy pub that Dudley hadn't even noticed until he was pulled through the doorway. Harry walked past a witch eating a meal, and Ron seemed shocked he hadn't snatched any food.

The alley out back was dingy and unimpressive. Dudley looked around, wondering if this was a prank as Neville tapped his wand on the bricks. The bricks morphed into an archway leading to a crowded, cobblestoned street without any cars.

Dudley gazed around, part awed and part wishing Hermione's rapid explanations were given by Colin instead.

Ron pulled Harry into Quality Quidditch Supplies, obviously hoping his friend would show some sort of excitement. "Did you play?" Dudley asked. "I always thought I'd be a Beater."

He winced at his own words, but both Ron and Harry were completely ignoring him. Harry halfheartedly ran his fingers along the twigs of a used broom, before Ron led him back out.

An older couple with grey streaks in their red hair were waiting under a sign reading Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour. A smaller sign announced it was remembered Colin mentioning a vanished ice cream man and his boarded-up shop.

Mrs. Weasley came forward to hug not just her own children, but every member of the group. She seemed glad Harry accepted the hug, as if he'd pushed her away recently.

"Who's your friend?" she asked, looking Dudley over.

"Dudley Creevey." It felt like a lie, even though Dudley's name had been legally changed after the adoption. His days as a Dursley were over.

Dudley held out his hand, shocked when Mrs. Weasley hugged him, instead.

"Where's Professor Lupin?" Dudley asked, stupidly. He knew Mr. Black had died a few years ago, protecting Harry and Neville from a Death Eater attack.

The rest of the group glanced quickly at Harry and Neville. Harry focused on batting the sock around, faster and more furiously than before. He let out a low, long howl that caused a passing couple with a stroller to veer away.

Hermione tried to get Harry to sign or even point to the flavor he wanted. Harry vaguely poked the menu and kept playing with the sock. Sighing, Hermione ordered Harry strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice cream. Dudley had heard Harry ate like he was still starved, but seeing it was different.

Dudley lost his own appetite, remembering how he also used to stuff himself until he was sick, only he'd done it to make sure "the monster" wouldn't get any leftovers.

Dudley passed his bowl of untouched ice cream over to Harry.

Mrs. Weasley watched Harry eat with a sad smile. "How have you been, dear?"

"How's St. Mungo's treating you?" asked Mr. Weasley. Harry kept eating.

Mrs. Weasley muttered it must be better than "that order house" and Hermione brought up that a creature had changed. She said Creature like it was a name.

"If you ever wanted to come live with us again-"

Ron rolled his eyes. "You tried that, Mum. Even with some help from Dobby, it was a disaster."

Harry's hand tightened around the sock. He dropped his spoon and furiously scratched his chest with violent, upward jerks that occasionally whacked his own chin.

"I know you were angry," Mrs. Weasley said. "You had every right to be angry, but..."

Harry looked at the empty bowls, then glanced down the street.

"Right, it's your birthday." Mrs. Weasley cleared her throat. "Let's go pick out some presents, shall we?"

"For you, not ghouls and ghosts." Ginny said. Even Dudley got the inside joke.

Further down Diagon Alley, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes stood out like a firecracker among the old, almost medieval buildings.

Just like the shop, Harry lit up. He rushed through the doors, jangling a handful of coins he'd pulled from his pockets. Hermione pointed out that he didn't have to pay for his own birthday gifts.

Dudley would have been wild to get his hands on anything here, even with two bedrooms crammed full of toys at Privet Drive. He could hardly believe most of the stuff in this shop. Skivving Snackboxes, Extendable Ears, Headless Hats and more. Dudley was particularly intrigued by the Boxing Telescopes, but he placed it aside when Neville swooped in to stop Harry from eating Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder.

"Careful there, Harry." said an older Weasley brother who likely ran the shop. "We've got edible gags, but I don't think you'd want our Ton-Tongue Toffee."

Harry glanced at the older brother as if he'd put on one of the Headless Hats and was missing part of himself. Dudley frowned before he remembered twins in the photos.

Neville inspected a package of gum that supposedly screamed in agony when chewed, grimaced, and shoved it back on the shelf.

Harry turned and walked past a Pranksters Hall of Fame, including a poltergeist named Peeves. Dudley was sure he had passed another member, Lee Jordan, in the store just a minute before.

The board had a drearier section labeled Sadly Departed Pranksters, which listed Moony, Padfoot, Prongs and Fred. Despite never having met them, Dudley recognized them all in the moving photographs.

"We've all lost a lot of loved ones. Harry took it hard." Luna said as she stood beside Dudley to gaze at the board. Dudley nodded mutely.

It wasn't fair. Harry had lost his parents, his childhood, and now the war had taken even more from him. With all that, it really wasn't a shock he seemed to have regressed from Colin's stories.

Luna kept looking at the board. "I thought we'd lost Harry, too."

Harry passed Ginny, who was looking at cards in a Muggle Magic display, and stopped at an area of products that looked to be meant for younger children.

He prodded various products. A toy Hogwarts Express whistled and blew multicolored steam. A toy spider tap-danced. A pink snake twirled like a ballerina.

He twisted the crank of a Ghost-in-the-Box, and a ghost of a grey lady popped out. Next time, a fat friar emerged. Harry smiled for the first time since Dudley had spotted him.

"I see you found our ghost gifts, Harry." George strolled up again.

Over the next half hour, Harry tried out more joke products,. Ginny convinced him to stroke a Pygmy Puff, but he kept twisting that crank, grinning as ghosts- including one with an almost-severed head- popped out and made various sounds. Harry occasionally tried to cram small objects inside the box.

The rest of the group had gathered gifts for Harry; cards, gum, the train, a tiny figure on a broomstick and owl that really flew.

Harry jangled his money as Dudley pulled out his wallet. He was about to offer to pay for the Ghost-in-the-Box when he realized he didn't have the odd coins Harry had.

George insisted that Harry and Neville didn't pay there, and Ron muttered that he was George's brother and still had to pay.

They wandered down the alley some more and Ron asked Harry if he'd like to go to the zoo to look at snakes. Harry grunted a negative, and they piled back into the Ford Anglia, which expanded to fit the two Weasley parents.

The trip back wasn't long, but that Ghost-in-the-Box was driving Dudley barmy. He could tell it annoyed several other occupants as well, but nobody told Harry to stop. Before Hermione had even parked outside Purge and Dowse, Ltd, Harry was out of the car, rushing towards the ugly dummy in the window. Neville whispered to it, and they both disappeared.

Dudley blinked, standing exactly where he'd been a mere hour or two ago. The rest of the group headed toward the hospital, and Luna glanced back curiously to see if Dudley would follow.

St. Mungo's was even stranger than Diagon Alley. Dudley had no idea that wizards and witches could be injured in so many bizarre ways. He wondered how many people were in here from the war.

Harry lived in what appeared to be a permanent ward, but it was hardly the depressing, clinical area Dudley was expecting. Easels stood, though likely the paints had been locked away. Games lined a shelf, and Dudley saw a camera much like Colin's sitting on the nightstand of one of the beds. Moving photos of Harry and his friends were tacked on the wall. Colin was mugging for the camera in one and Dudley blinked a stinging sensation from his eyes.

Harry rushed past the other residents, diving beside his bed. The gaunt ghost covered in blood popped out of his box; surely that toy wasn't really for toddlers?

Harry had the oddest collection of cards, bottles and brushes, a dog collar, a stuffed vulture hat, and the spider and snake from the store.

A wispy, thin woman ambled over with a communication book like some teens Dudley had mentored. She tapped different words in the book. Cake. Boy. Man, then went to a large birthday cake being set out by magic doctors.

"Did you help bake that, Mum?" Neville asked, handing over a large pack of non-screaming gum. "You baked us a cake?! It's Harry's birthday today, and mine was yesterday."

Neville's mum flipped through her book, tapped more words. Neville said, "Of course I brought gum."

Neville's mum unwrapped a piece, popped it into her mouth, and gave Neville the wrapper.

Harry watched as the magic nurses cut the cake with magic and floated slices to everyone. Dudley watched Harry devour his slice, not sure if he was overcompensating for his starvation or eating out of grief. Harry stared down at his empty plate, but didn't steal anyone else's.

Ginny shuffled the new cards, dealing everyone into a game; even Frank, who sat mumbling in his chair, and Harry, who stayed by his bed with his ghosts. She played their turns for them, keeping a running commentary as if they were playing.

Ron said something about an exploding snap, and Dudley's cards exploded from his hand.

"Harry!" Ron exclaimed, though he was grinning.

Harry sniggered as an inexplicable wind blew Dudley's cards away when he tried to pick them up. His chuckle turned into a full-on laugh, and soon Hermione, Luna, the Weasleys, and Neville were all laughing as Dudley chased his cards around the closed ward. Dudley laughed, too.

The cards slid to a stop near Harry, and when Dudley bent to grab them, a ghost popped up in his face. He stumbled back in shock as Harry cracked up all over again.

Harry was still chuckling when visiting hours ended a minute later, and he leaned into the hugs his friends and family gave him before they left.