Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter characters; nor do I own The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or The Horse and His Boy, both of which are books by C.S. Lewis. Nor, in fact, do I own Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the major motion picture based on Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or The NeverEnding Story, a fantasy film based on the German novel by Michael Ende. These are all referenced within the fic.

Characters: Dudley, Harry. Surprisingly, given it's me, not slash.

Warnings: Descriptive instances of abuse, general creepiness.

Author's Note: Dursleys are intentionally darker than they are in Canon. If they make your skin crawl, I'll consider this a job well done.


Hero Material

1.

The Dursley household was perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Vernon Dursley knew it was foolish, a damn bloody risk, taking that Potter freak into their home. He only did it for Petunia, who was beside herself with anxiety; Vernon himself scarcely cared a whit that Potter had nowhere to go but Petunia wanted the whole business to be over already, and 'over' meant doing whatever possible to keep that horrible freak with the purple robes and long silver beard from coming back. That meant taking Potter in without a fuss and crossing their fingers and praying to any and all Gods willing that the boy turned out to be normal.

They did what they could to ensure Potter's normalcy, of course. (Or at least his lack of freakishness. The boy would never be quite normal, that much was clear.) They told him every day that Magic isn't real, it is unnatural and loathsome and not to be revered; good little boys do not think about flying motorbikes or hovering broomsticks, and very much hoped for the best. For hoping was all they could do, really. All else would be left up to fate and chance.

Vernon was pleased to see that sometime around Potter's fifth birthday the message seemed to stick. The boy had somehow managed to turn his teacher's hair blue, and instead of being pleased with his freaky accomplishment he came home straight away after primary and confessed his transgression, begging Vernon to punish him. So Vernon did: that night he took Harry over his knee and gave him a spanking the boy would never forget ("It's for your own good, boy, and I think you know it") and Potter had actually thanked him profusely for the punishment.

"I know I'm a difficult case, sir," the boy said, lisping a bit and stumbling over the words through tears of what Vernon could only presume to be pain and gratitude. "But please, sir, I can learn, and I will learn. Thank you for trying to teach me. Please don't give up on me, sir."

Vernon didn't, and by Harry's ninth birthday the boy loathed all things strange and unnatural. With each freaky occurrence he approached Vernon on bended knee, as though the man were a priest to whom the boy could confess the worst of his sins, begging absolution in the form of a spanking or caning. He pleaded for Vernon to rid him of his unnaturalness, to cleanse him of his deviance. He had become a True Dursley, and in True Dursley fashion, Vernon and Petunia made the boy one of the family by giving him his own room and proper clothing and adequate rations.

Vernon thought that perhaps the fates had smiled upon them, and everything would be okay.

2.

The first indication that Dudley was interested in Unnatural Things came in the form of a sandlot game on the playset of his primary school's playground. Three kids (nerdy gitty speccy kids Dudley ordinarily preferred terrorising over observing) were acting out a scene from a book Dudley had never read, and when he thundered over to torture some sort of explanation out of them they scattered before he could get a word in edgewise.

The next day, he vowed to himself, he would watch them before scaring them off. Because they looked like they were having such fun, and Dudley wanted to have fun too. Or, barring that, stop them from having the fun that he wasn't having. Whichever came easier.

"Okay," the smallest girl in all of primary was saying, "I'll be Lucy, yeah, and Walter can be Edmund, okay? And Cait, you can be Susan."

"We haven't got a Peter, then," the girl playing Susan said. "The story is rubbish without Peter."

"Guys, shut it a sec," the littler girl cut it. "Look over there, that creepy kid is staring at us again."

The taller girl, Cait, gasped. "That's not just some creepy kid, that's the Dursley boy! He'll rip us limb from limb! We gotta scarper!"

Dudley, who felt vaguely ashamed without knowing why, called out, "Wait, no, don't scarper yet, I just want to find out what you're playing."

The boy, Walt, looked at him warily. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," he said shakily, as though the words were being pulled from his mouth like teeth.

"Is it fun?" Dudley said menacingly. He threw all his weight forward as he seized the front of Walt's jumper.

Walt merely stuttered, "I - I don't - it's well, you see - "

"It's loads of fun!" the smaller girl (of whom Dudley still did not know the name) piped up. "Full of magic and White Witches and Queens and lions and even Father Christmas shows up once!"

Dudley felt his breath catch in his chest. To compensate and regain his manliness, he gave Walt a violent shake. "That sounds like freak stuff. Is it freak stuff?"

The two girls looked at one another questioningly (for Walt had his eyes shut tight and was whispering hollow prayers in a desperate attempt not to soil himself) as though trying to decide how best to answer a question posed by the biggest bully in all of primary. Finally Cait said, "Well, I s'pose you could call it 'freak stuff' if magic isn't your bag. But really, it isn't freaky. Right?" She looked anxiously to her shorter counterpart.

The smaller girl immediately nodded with vigour. "Oh yeah, right, yeah, definitely not freaky. Just really good. Good stuff. Um, would you like to..." she hesitated, clearly weighing the options in her mind. "Would you like to play with us? There's a part left for you. The older Pevensie brother. Peter. He...he hasn't been claimed yet."

Dudley's grip on Walt's jumper tightened until the boy was actually whimpering. Above the noise Dudley asked, "Is it a very good part?" he asked threateningly. "Because I only deserve the best parts."

"Yes!" Cait said immediately. "It's the best of all of them."

"He helps to overthrow the White Witch," the littler girl said helpfully.

"At the end of it he's crowned at the High King of Narnia," Walt somehow managed to stutter out.

Dudley dropped him. "King, huh?" he said curiously.

"Yes," the small girl said, happy she'd got Dudley to let go of Walt. "King Peter the Magnificent."

Dudley rolled the title over a few times in his mind. "And you say you play this game everyday?"

"Yes," she replied, "everyday at the interval. You...you can join us, if you'd like?"

"Fine, yeah," Dudley said gruffly.

"Safe!" Cait exclaimed. "Here, I've got the book in my rucksack over there, you can borrow it to read so you know what we're talking about when we play. I'm Cait by the way, she's Maggy, and the quivering lump at your feet is Walt."

Dudley looked menacingly at them. "Listen here, you pipsqeaks. I'll play your game, I'll be your Peter Pev-whatsit. Your king. But you can't tell anyone I'm playing with you, okay? No one. Because if anyone finds out, I swear to God, I will rearrange your faces so bad you'll be seeing with your ears. Okay?"

They quickly agreed and Dudley snatched the book from Cait's outstretched hand.

3.

Harry decided one day that he would be the perfect nephew. It meant completely reinventing himself, but what did that matter if it secured the love of his Aunt and Uncle? He knew what he had to do: start with his outer appearance, since appearance meant everything to the Dursleys, and perhaps the rest would follow.

He first got the idea for a chemical hair relax from a commercial (no doubt geared toward old ladies) on the telly late at night. He knew it would be beyond ponce to get his hair treated, but so far nothing else had worked not gels, not sprays, not even really large rollers and he didn't care anymore. He was desperate to have the smart pulled-together look his Aunt and Uncle so clearly expected of him.

It was a blinding success.

Girls in the nearby secondary - hell, girls in the nearby college! - watched him walk past in his collared shirt and jeans and smiled flirtatiously at him, despite his tender age of ten. He made sure he was always dressed smart. His shirts were always clean and pressed, never wrinkled or stained or torn, and his trousers were never ever grass-stained or messy. If he chose to play outside games or sports during interval (and he was very fond of sports) he would change into a pair of trousers brought especially for the occasion.

Dudley was his best friend; they fought and played and behaved as brothers did. The two boys were the apple of the Dursleys' eye. Never before had Vernon been prouder to have "two prospective Smeltings' Boys" in the family; never before had Petunia believed she could be vindicated through her freaky sister's delightful, magic-loathing son.

But things did not stay good forever. One day Harry walked in on Dudley reading The Horse and His Boy and suddenly life did not seem so perfect anymore.

"What is that?" Harry asked tersely, shutting the door to Dudley's room and walking over to where Dudley sat at his desk, diligently avoiding his coursework by reading fantasy novels.

Dudley said nothing, though his face burned with shame.

"What. Is. That?" Harry swiped the book from Dudley's slackened grip and read over the back cover summary with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Dudley - " he lowered his voice until it was scarcely above a whisper, "This is magic! This is - I just can't believe you would read this filth - who gave it to you? Was it one of your mates at school? They probably didn't know any better. But you do, Dudley. Come on! You know better than to read this rubbish!"

"I didn't know!" Dudley wailed. "I just didn't know! They gave it to me, and oh, Harry, aren't you ever curious? Don't you ever wonder? About - " his voice dropped several decibels - "magic?"

Harry felt the tell-tale fear at the mention of that dreaded word. Magic meant a caning, and - "No, Dudley," he said, shaking his head vehemently. "No, I don't, I just don't, and you shouldn't either. It's wrong, Dudley, it's not right to think on such things. To wonder. You gotta get it out of your head right now!"

Dudley looked at him fearfully. "What...what am I gonna do?"

"Tell Uncle Vernon," Harry said with conviction. "Tell him, he'll fix you. He fixed me, and I was WAY worse off, wasn't I? I mean, I was making freaky things happen. At least you haven't done that, yeah? And now I don't even do it anymore. He saved me, Dudley. He showed me the way. Tell him, he'll save you."

Dudley looked, however, like he did not want to be saved. "You're not gonna tell him, are ya, Harry?" he asked, eyes tremendously wide.

Against his better judgment, Harry shook his head. "No, Dudley, I won't tell. But get rid of this book, alright? Stop mucking about with magic. It isn't right. It's just not."

"Right, okay, yeah," Dudley said, looking extremely relieved.

That evening, Harry asked for a proper and extra harsh caning in Dudley's stead. Vernon, though confused, delivered without question.

4.

Dudley moved on from novels, finding them too incriminating and too dangerous for him to have on his person. Nor could he be seen hanging about the library (whether it be the public library or the one in his primary) as Harry frequented it often for the advanced studies and research projects his teachers had him doing ever since they discovered that the bespectacled boy was above average in maths and sciences.

Dudley, of course, was middling in most subjects but it wasn't because he was dumb, really. He was actually one of the brightest boys in class. It was that the subjects didn't interest him. Not the way magic did, anyway.

So, the library being out, Dudley moved on from novels to cinema everything from the foolish whimsy of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to the fantastical adventure of The NeverEnding Story, then from cinema to his own imagination. He would lie in bed at night dreaming that he was a lowly boy from a rough beginning, overcoming hardships only to be thrown into a world full of things he'd never seen before, creatures from fairytales, evil queens and witches and overlords to vanquish. Duels with ancient spells. Weapons unused by anyone in the modern day. Oh, how he craved to be in those stories!

One day he got to thinking about Harry. Harry's humble beginning (dressed in rags, made to sleep in a broom cupboard, forced to do chores all day, and given very little to eat and drink) sounded awfully like something that might come from a storybook. And yet, Harry did not dream of magic spells or great adventures in which he alone saved the day. Harry was, in fact, extremely unimaginative and...well...normal, considering he'd slept under the stairs for the first eight years of his life.

Dudley itched to ask Harry about it. He knew his cousin was sensitive and generally tight-lipped about the subject of his cupboard, and was therefore extremely unlikely to be forthcoming if Dudley asked anything beyond a bland, "So, you slept there for a while...how was it?"

"Dark," Harry might say, which wouldn't tell Dudley anything and so he'd have to probe a little further.

"Right, but what was it like?" Dudley would press. "How did you pass the time? How did you make it through? Did you ever make up stories or anything? Pretend you were someone else, somewhere else, doing things that weren't...well...cupboard-y?"

That would likely raise Harry's suspicions, Dudley knew. His cousin was very sharp, after all. "What do you mean, Dudders?" Harry might ask warily. Or, perhaps more likely, "What's going on, what d'you want?"

And then Dudley would have to either clam up and say, nevermind, don't be fussed, it's not that important, I was just curious, or he'd have to confess that he was interested yet again in magic and 'humble beginnings' and that Harry's beginning was certainly fodder for a great fairytale...or at least a great autobiography, should he ever choose to write one. But Harry wouldn't ever write one, Dudley thought decisively - Mum and Dad would kill him, and after all Harry had done to win their love and affection there was no way he'd ever speak (or write) ill of them. And that was precisely why Harry wouldn't talk about the cupboard in detail, which meant that Dudley had no choice but to see for himself what it was like.

So one day, right around his eleventh birthday, Dudley went down to Harry's old bedroom and crawled inside. He was rather a lot bigger than Harry, both currently and of two years ago, so he imagined it must have seemed a little less cramped to a nine-year-old Harry Potter than it did an eleven-year-old Dudley Dursley. But perhaps not much less. Harry can't have been very comfortable here, Dudley reasoned.

But then again, no heroes were ever bred from being comfortable, were they?

So Dudley stayed in the tremendously dark, dank, cobwebby space for over an hour, trying to imagine what it must have felt like to call this tiny place a home and hoping that perhaps this might be enough to turn him into a dashing knight, or a dragon slayer, or a powerful king with a beautiful queen and three lovely daughters to marry off.

When Petunia finally found him, screeching that she thought he'd been kidnapped or molested or hacked to bits and what was he doing hiding in a cupboard, for goodness sake?, it was all Dudley could do to play his cards right and not to rile her up further.

"I was just playing a game and I guess I fell asleep," he lied, knowing she wouldn't understand or appreciate the truth.

Petunia smoothed his hair. "Don't scare Mummy like that, Duddlikins, alright? I know, you're a very bright and imaginative boy, and Mummy is very very proud of you! But you have to be bright and imaginative in your room, alright, darling? No more hiding in that vile cupboard."

"You hid Harry in that vile cupboard," Dudley pointed out reasonably, and instantly Petunia's face darkened.

"Mind your cheek, young man," she said sharply.

So Dudley did. From then on, he took her advice and was 'bright and imaginative' in his own bedroom instead of Harry's former one. At night he burrowed beneath the covers of his bed and lit a torch, pretending he was the brave warrior and his stuffed animals were demons from the Underworld. Sometimes, he heard the door to his room open a crack and he froze in his game, not daring to breathe, not daring to make a sound as Harry's quiet voice enquired, "Dudley?"

Harry always left quickly after that, and never said a word to Dudley's parents about what he saw. But Dudley knew that Harry saw, because Harry received more canings that month than he had in years.

5.

When Harry received the first letter, he immediately threw it in the fire without opening it. The second, third, and fourth letters quickly followed. He had heard all about Hogwarts from Vernon and Petunia. Oh, yes, he knew what went on at that school. Hogwarts, with its loathsome freakiness and foolish wand-waving and - well, there was no way Harry belonged there.

When Harry received the fifth letter, however, he began to feel a bit panicked. What if he did belong there, he wondered? What if Vernon had failed to beat the freakishness from him and he really was like that? No amount of canings could set a boy straight if he were well and truly like that. That's what Uncle Vernon said: sometimes there was hope for you, and sometimes there wasn't. Sometimes a person can learn, and sometimes he can't.

Harry had been so desperate to learn, so desperate to be normal. But this demon inside of him invisible, unseen, hovering just below his surface, was lying in wait to expose him as the freak he really was!

He ripped the fifth letter to shreds, envelope and all, and hoped against hope that there would not be a sixth.

There was, of course, a sixth. Only it did not arrive through the post this time: it was delivered by a barn owl who squawked indignantly when Harry came at it with a broom in an attempt to get it out of the Dursleys' kitchen. Of course Vernon and Petunia and Dudley heard the racket and came down to see what the bother was about. Of course when Petunia saw the letter she went white as a sheet and just kept saying, "Vernon, Vernon, that's it, that's the letter! He's one of them "

Of course Vernon dragged Harry into the other room to give him a caning unlike any other he'd ever experienced, during which he actually cried for the first time in years and just kept gasping over and over again, "Thank you, sir, thank you, I'm sorry I've sinned, sir, I'm so grateful you were here to save me from myself and my unnaturalness -"

Except he wasn't so sure, now, that Vernon could save him. Finally there was tangible proof that he was beyond salvation; even his Uncle's firm hand was not enough to keep him in line, for the letters kept coming one by one, at first, and then later by the score. Mountains upon mountains of letters befell Harry. Vernon took the cane to him every night.

"Do you know why I'm doing this, boy?" Vernon growled over the sound of cane to flesh.

"Because it's for my own good, sir!" Harry hissed through the pain. "Thank you, sir! Thank you for deeming me worthy of your attention, thank you for not giving up on me!"

"I wish I didn't have to do this, boy. This hurts me more than it hurts you," Vernon said, and Harry actually believed he meant it. It sounded almost like Vernon was fighting back tears of his own. Somehow, that struck Harry more violently than even the cane.

"I know, sir, I believe it, sir," Harry gasped out, eyes watering afresh. He almost choked on snot and tears - a terrible indignity - but managed somehow not to. He would be strong for his uncle. He would take this like a man. "I believe you don't want to hurt me in this way, and would like nothing more than to have a normal, natural nephew who didn't need these punishments!"

Vernon grunted in agreement, and when Harry snuck a quick peek up at him he saw his uncle swipe a meaty fist roughly across his eyes. "You are a good boy, Harry," he said almost pleadingly in time with the smack of the cane to Harry's backside. "You are a good boy. You just have to try."

"I know, sir," Harry whispered. "I will try for you, Uncle. I will try."

6.

"So, are you gonna go?" Dudley asked, staring at Harry like he'd never really seen him before. The boy was thinner than he'd ever been (which was difficult because, really, Harry had always been rather scraggy), and his hair was getting messy again and his eyes were accented with blue-black bruises. Whether they were from not sleeping or from getting on Dad's bad side, Dudley didn't know. Didn't want to know. Because then he might have to confront the idea that Harry's 'punishments' went beyond a proper caning and ventured into the realm of abuse.

Harry face closed off completely and he busied himself with folding the wash. "Go where?" he said, as if he didn't know.

Dudley felt a rush of annoyance. "You know. To that school. For witches and wiz - "

"Shhh!" Harry hissed, and in one fluid motion leapt over the laundry basket and clapped a hand to Dudley's mouth. "Don't just, just don't talk about that, okay?"

Harry's calloused hand smelled like detergent and fabric softener, with a touch of earthy scent of dirt and sweat from when he had tended to the flowerbeds just an hour prior. Dudley breathed it in, trying to imagine what hours of yardwork in the hot sun might feel like, wondering if that was what made Harry hero material.

Or, perhaps Harry had been hero material from the very beginning. Yes, of course. Of course it would be Harry. Of course it would be Harry, because Harry had the right story: dead parents, a funny scar, a broom cupboard, all of it. Dudley wasn't right for the part at all. He was too overweight to fight dragons and not bright enough to solve Sphinx riddles and both of his parents were alive, so of course it wouldn't have been him Dudley knew that.

So why did he feel like this?

His own hands, dangling limply at his sides, involuntarily flexed aggressively and curled into fists, and before Dudley knew it he had grabbed Harry by the front of his white tee and was pinning him to the cold brick wall of the laundry room. "It should be me," he said gruffly, face a hair's breadth away from Harry's.

"Yes, I know," Harry replied, not even struggling. He even had a hero's braveness - the only indication that he was uncomfortable came in the wariness of his overbright emerald green stare. "I know, Dudley, yeah, it should be you."

For some reason it sent Dudley over the edge. "Don't just say things, you bloody git," he hollered, giving Harry a rough shake for good measure; he heard his cousin's teeth knock together. "Don't talk to me like I'm - " He felt flushed and small and hot. And dangerous. So irrationally dangerous. "Just just don't! Don't! Okay?!"

"I'm not," Harry insisted. He looked Dudley right in the eyes, like the brave knight staring down the dragon, and Dudley realised then how he must appear. He let go of Harry's shirt as if it had burned him, turning as quickly as he could and scurrying from the room.

7.

When Petunia found the worn copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in Dudley's pants drawer, her first inclination was to blame Harry. Harry was, after all, the freak of the family. It was perfectly conceivable that he had poisoned her ickle Duddlikins with his freakiness. But something told her not to write it off, not to dismiss it as Harry's problem and instead to talk to Vernon about it and confess her fears. She remembered the cupboard incident, after all, and how predisposed Dudley was to asking questions about things he by all rights shouldn't ask about.

Vernon said, "He just needs a firm hand, Pet. After all, he didn't get a letter, so there is hope for him yet. Smeltings' will do him a world of good."

"And if it doesn't?" she asked fearfully. She clutched his beefy arm in desperation. "Vernon, he cannot go through life with these unnatural inclinations we can't allow it!"

Vernon looked troubled. "I would hate to have to punish him. Our own son, Petunia...I can't take a cane to our own son..."

"I agree," she said hurriedly. "But suppose he doesn't recover? We can't have another one in the family! Suppose he just keeps succumbing to temptation and - " she broke off, the idea too heartbreaking to consider. "Vernon, is there nothing we can do?"

"Well..." Vernon sighed. "I suppose one caning can't hurt."

"It really is in his best interest, don't you think?" Petunia said. Her usually shrill voice had softened into a caress. "And it's just the one. And you can go gently on him. And we'll make it up to him in ice cream and biscuits and all the toys he can carry. We just we must do this. This is necessary."

Vernon did not look convinced, but he loved his Petunia and she got what she wanted. Always.

8.

When Vernon's cane struck his backside, Dudley imagined he was a poor abused boy in another world one filled with untold mysteries and magic spells and poisoned candy apples that put the eater into a deep sleep that remarkably resembled death. He imagined he would soon be rescued, taken away like Harry had been. Or that he would run away to apprentice under a magician, somewhere, and find his way out of this terrible place by teaching himself to disappear.

9.

When the Sorting Hat's overlarge brim fell over Harry's eyes and submerged the boy in darkness, he imagined he was on the receiving end of Vernon's cane - that Vernon was here, striking him and grunting with the effort, trying desperately to save Harry from all this unnaturalness and sin and bring him back into all that was Good and Natural and Pure.

10.

"Thank you, Dad, thank you for trying to teach me - don't give up on me, sir "

11.

"SLYTHERIN!"

12.

The Dursley household was perfectly normal, thank you very much.