In which Dumbledore talks about the difference between cocoa and chocolate, and Holly is not afraid of stories about terrorists.
“It’s quite simple, really,” said Mr Dumbledore. He indicated the scarlet bird, now perching on top of a bookshelf and looking very pleased with itself. “Fawkes here is a phoenix.”
“A phoenix,” Holly repeated.
“Also known as a firebird,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Not the type of bird you will ever learn about at St. Grogory’s Primary School, but a fascinating creature all the same. Among many other things, they have the power of Apparition — instantly transporting themselves, and any passengers they might take, from one place to another.”
“Speaking of which, I hope your transportation here wasn’t too startling? I did ask him to be gentle, but it seemed like you needed help rather urgently.”
“It was… no, it was fine.” In truth, with all the magic that had happened the last two days, she’d rather expected for something much like it to happen — vanishing in a burst of flame and reappearing somewhere else — but it had taken the breath out of her for a bit.
It did help that Mr Dumbledore had been quite calm and friendly about the whole thing. He’d been waiting for them as they appeared in his study, and had listened to Holly’s somewhat breathless explanation with a look of understanding.
Now that she had calmed down a little, Holly could look around and appreciate her surroundings a little more. She had never really speculated on what a wizard’s study might look like — but if she had, she would probably have imagined something much like this. Huge and circular, with a glass ceiling, filled with star-charts, strange devices, a work-bench filled with what could only be described as “laboratory stuff” and enough books to start a small library.
There was also a large table in the middle of the room, currently occupied by the baby-girl-who-had-once-been-Dudley. Watched over by a towering Hagrid, the baby was now wearing an orange baby overall that Mr Dumbledore had made appear out of nowhere, and was happily gnawing on a biscuit.
“Well,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Let’s see about your cousin. How’s it going over there, Hagrid?”
“Oh, fine,” said Hagrid. “Think yeh’re right, Albus. Looks like some variant of an Age-Regression Charm, combined with a Sex-Change Charm. Gotta say, that’s some impressive magic, ‘specially for someone who never had a lesson in her life,” he added with a look at Holly. “Well… since the secret’s out, migh’ as well say it: Welcome ter the witchin’ world, Holly!”
“Er… thank you,” said Holly, feeling a slight blush coming on. Now that the shock was fading, and she was looking at the baby, who was making little cooing noises as she swallowed the last biscuit crumb, she couldn’t help but think that she’d changed Dudley for the better. It was almost impossible to imagine that this was the same Dudley who teased and tormented, who tried to punch her and pull her hair, who always got her into trouble with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and laughed about it afterwards. Was it really so bad that…?
No! What was she thinking? Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would kill her if she came home with a baby girl and tried to tell them that this was Dudley!
“I shouldn’t worry too much,” said Mr Dumbledore, as if he’d guessed what she was thinking about. “This sort of magic seldom lasts for very long. It takes a lot more than just a fleeting moment of fear and anger to change anyone’s sex or age permanently. Dudley will be back to himself soon enough.”
“Oh…” Holly felt the relief flow through her body, but there was a strange tinge of disappointment there too. Of course she was happy that no permanent harm had been done, but… well… it was almost depressing to think that before long, the Dudley she knew and loathed would be back, and this adorable little girl would be gone forever.
“Of course,” said Mr Dumbledore, in a mildly reproachful tone, “it wasn’t a particularly nice thing to do to your cousin.”
“Ah, bet he deserved it,” rumbled Hagrid. “Yeh know Dudley. Most spoiled brat in Little Whingin’.”
“Perhaps so, but I doubt regressing him to the state of an infant will help him grow up any.” Mr Dumbledore turned to Holly. “Generally speaking, Holly, we do not turn people into babies just because they are acting badly. For one thing, we wouldn’t be able to move for babies. For another, you are not supposed to use magic on those who have no magic themselves. “
“You mean Muggles?” said Holly.
Mr Dumbledore’s eyebrows raised slightly. “Oh, so you know that word already? And here I thought I was making things less confusing for you. Yes, I mean Muggles. And you’re not supposed to use magic on Muggles, unless it’s an absolute, life-or-death emergency. There are strict rules against it… besides, it’s not fair to the Muggles.”
“But…” said Holly helplessly.
He gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Believe me, I understand. Dudley Dursley can be an extremely trying person. And all your life he has been the one with power over you… a power he’s been foolish enough to use, time and again. And then when you are suddenly the one with power over him… Well, older and wiser witches than you have lost control in similar situations. Many of them weren’t even sorry afterwards.”
“Bdumm-bdumm-bdumm-bdummmmm!” The baby girl added, strumming on her lips with a tiny hand.
Holly stifled a giggle.
“To be frank,” Mr Dumbledore continued, “I sometimes worry that witches — and wizards, for that matter — get so caught up in their own magic that they forget Muggles are people too. They have been given a special gift… an amazing gift… and end up looking down on others who don’t share that gift. That sort of thinking leads to some nasty places.”
His tone was light, but all of a sudden Holly felt ashamed. That was exactly what she’d done, wasn’t it? She remembered all too well her own words of ‘I’m a witch and you’re just a stupid Muggle.’ Words that had been immensely satisfying at the time, but now seemed stupid and nasty, even if they were said to someone like Dudley.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking down.
“It’s all right,” said Mr Dumbledore. “You are young, and you didn’t know. Both Hagrid and I have been trying to convince your aunt and uncle for years that you needed to be told about your heritage, or something like this would happen. But they wouldn’t listen to a word we said. They were convinced that if you didn’t know anything, you wouldn’t end up following in your mother’s footsteps. A foolish hope, of course, but one they kept clinging to.”
“Ma-wiwela,” the baby girl assured her, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Holly looked up again then. “So… you two really are wizards, then?”
“We are,” said Mr Dumbledore. “I’m sorry we didn’t have this talk earlier, but… let’s just say that we don’t have much of a legal standing. Your aunt and uncle don’t like us very much, and neither does much of the witching world, if I’m to be honest.”
Years with the Dursleys had taught Holly all too well that there are a lot of people who will instantly dislike or even hate anyone who is different — either because they look or dress or talk differently, or because they live their lives in ways that’s different from the norm. So she hurried to say, in the most reassuring way she could: “I like you. I think you’re the nicest people in all of Privet Drive!”
Mr Dumbledore smiled warmly. “That’s very sweet of you, Holly. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. Let’s just say we have some ideas and philosophies that just aren’t seen as very acceptable.”
“Is it because you’re bohemians, or because you’re gay, or because you aren’t in a coven?” Holly asked.
Hagrid guffawed at that, but Mr Dumbledore just looked at her in mild surprise. “All of them, I suppose,” he said. “Or I should say, those are the reasons for why the witching world doesn’t like me too much. Hagrid is a slightly more complicated case.”
” ‘M part giant,” said Hagrid gruffly.
“Part giant?” Holly gasped. “Like in the fairy-tales? Castles in the sky, Fee-fi-fo-fum, grind his bones to make my bread, and everything?!” (Though the Dursleys did not like fairy-tales, probably because there was often magic in them, school and libraries had assured that Holly still had a basic knowledge of the more common ones.)
“Well, castles in the sky, I dunno… bu’ the bread outta bones part’s pretty accurate,” said Hagrid. “Witches in general, they don’ like giants much. Got a bit of a reputation, yeh might say. But I stopped bein’ ashamed o’ me family ages ago,” said Hagrid. “Got lotsa friends now what don’ care one way or the other.”
“Oh…” Holly paused and then smiled at him. “Well, I like giants. If they’re like you…”
“Not really,” said Hagrid. “But thank you anyway.” He ruffled her hair, surprisingly gentle for such a large man.
“Years ago, when I decided to become a private investigator, I needed an assistant,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Hagrid was available and willing, and I have to say I have not regretted for a moment taking him in. And so, we both manage quite well without being in a coven.” He chuckled, then he looked at Holly again. “I wasn’t aware you knew about the covens, though. How much do you know about the witching world?”
“I know a bit,” said Holly. “I know that covens are large witch families with one husband, many wives and many children. And that lots of witches are lesbians…” and then she remembered something. “Oh! Lily said to tell you that she knows you let her win that duel!”
That got their attention. Both Mr Dumbledore and Hagrid looked at her with raised eyebrows.
“Lily?!” said Hagrid. “How in the name o’ Merlin did yeh…?!”
“I think,” said Mr Dumbledore gently, “that you had better explain this a little closer. Please, have a seat.”
Holly sat down in the offered chair.
“Now then,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Please, tell us the entire story. How did you talk to Lily?”
And Holly told them. About the cupboard under the stairs that had called to her for as long as she could remember, about how she had met Ronnie who told her how to open the padlock, about the wand and how she’d fallen asleep and met Lily in her dreams. Both men listened intently — even the baby-girl-who-had-been-Dudley was looking at her with curious blue eyes.
When the story was done, Mr Dumbledore stroked his auburn beard thoughtfully for a moment before speaking. “It seems that you have had one of the most unique introductions to the witching world I have heard of. But then, your situation is pretty unique in and of itself.”
“But you believe me, right?” said Holly.
“Of course,” said Mr Dumbledore. “I won’t say I’m not surprised, though. I had no idea Lily was aware I let her win that duel; I thought my loss was quite convincing.”
“How the devil… ‘scuse my French, but how the devil is she inside the wand now?” said Hagrid. “Never heard of anything like that before!”
“Lily was an extraordinary witch,” said Mr Dumbledore. “And that wand is an extraordinary wand. Speaking of which… Holly, may I see it for a moment?”
Holly nodded and held out her wand.
Mr Dumbledore gently took it and he held it up. “Yes, I would recognize this wand among thousands of others. There has never been a wand quite like it… and probably never will be. If Lily wanted to leave part of herself behind to watch over her daughter… Well, this is the wand that could help her do it.”
“So… it’s a good wand then?” said Holly, a little hesitantly. “Lily didn’t really say anything about it, only that it used to be hers and now it’s mine…”
“It’s more than a good wand,” said Mr Dumbledore. “It has a long and very interesting history. One day I’ll tell you all about it… for now, all I’ll say it this: Take good care of it.” He handed it back to Holly. “Look after your wand, and it will look after you in return. The day may come when it saves your life.”
Holly clutched the wand. “I’ll look after it,” she promised. “Do you think Lily will talk to me again?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Mr Dumbledore. Then, somewhat thoughtfully, he added: “Though I wouldn’t tell too many people about it, if I were you. It’s common enough to dream about the dead, but this is a somewhat unusual situation…”
Holly looked at the wand again. While it would have been interesting to find out more about it, there was another question that seemed a lot more important right now. “Mr Dumbledore,” she said. “How did my parents die? I know it wasn’t a car crash.”
He paused for a bit, and then he nodded. “You do deserve to know.”
One of the good things about Mr Dumbledore, Holly thought, was that unlike Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia, he didn’t get angry or blow you off if you asked him questions. He listened, and he took you seriously enough to have proper grown-up conversations with you.
“I hope you’ll forgive me if I save some of the details for when you are older,” he went on. “But the basic story is one that almost everyone in the witching world knows. In fact, you yourself are famous for your part in it.”
“Famous? Me?!” Holly blinked. “Because my parents are dead?!”
“Not exactly. It’s a pretty long story. Hagrid — would you fetch us some hot chocolate?”
“Oh!” Hagrid suddenly brightened. “Chocolate! O’ course, righ’ on it! C’mon, Dudley, yeh can help me make it!”
“Wah-dah-dah!” the baby cheered, and then squealed in delight as he picked her up in one of his enormous hands and began moving for the door.
“Hagrid is good with chocolate,” said Mr Dumbledore cheerfully as he turned back to Holly. “There’s nothing like a cup of hot chocolate for long stories. Besides, I have the feeling that some chocolate might speed up your cousin’s recovery.”
“That’s good,” said Holly, but and found that she meant it — even if there was a slight twinge of regret. Dudley’s disposition was so much sunnier and sweeter like this — whether it was because he was currently a baby, or because he was currently a girl, or a combination of the two, she didn’t know. This was a Dudley she could have loved… She shoved the thought away. No point in thinking about it.
“Now then,” said Mr Dumbledore. “How much did Lily tell you?”
“Not that much,” said Holly. “She said she and my Dad were killed by some man named Tom Riddle, because he wanted… something. Was he a wizard too?”
“One of the worst,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Or one of the best, depending on how you look at it. He was certainly a very powerful wizard… did things that nobody else could. Unfortunately, he also did things that nobody ever should.”
“Well… I think, before we get to the story of your parents, I need to tell you a little about Tom Riddle, who he was and why he did what he did. This is a pretty dark story, so let me know if it gets too much for you.”
“I’m not scared!” said Holly immediately.
“A lot of people in the witching world were, when he was at large,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Do you know what a terrorist is, Holly?”
“Er…” Holly thought for a moment. “It’s someone who blows up buildings, hijacks planes, and kills people?”
“That’s a little simplified, but for the purpose of the argument, it’s a good definition,” Mr Dumbledore decided. “Well, Tom Riddle was what we might call a wizard terrorist, though he himself claimed to be a revolutionary. He wanted to change the witching world, turn it into a place more to his own liking. Understandable enough, perhaps, but he decided that the best way to do that was to kill a lot of people.
“You see, like most terrorists, Riddle had a goal: He wanted to get rid of the coven system. He really hated the thought of having to start a coven.”
“But he didn’t have to kill people for that!” said Holly. “If he didn’t like the covens, couldn’t he just do what my parents did and not join one? Or you and Hagrid? Lily said you could say no to joining a coven…”
“Oh, you can,” Mr Dumbledore agreed. “But saying no comes with a price, especially for wizards. If a witch decides she doesn’t want to be in a coven… that she would rather focus on her career, or chooses a Muggle man, or is — as you say — a lesbian… nobody will mind. But a wizard who says he does not want a coven… because there are so few wizards to begin with, he’s not going to make himself very popular with that choice.
“Now, it was really this last part that Tom Riddle had a problem with. He claimed that the covens were designed to keep wizards under the thumb of witches… not to mention, they unfairly favoured witches who were in some way seen as ‘better catches.’ The rich and powerful, not to mention the beautiful. Those witches never lacked for attention or covens to join. The plain and the poor tended to get bypassed, even if they wanted a coven. And of course, there were the non-humans or half-humans, who weren’t allowed to join covens, even if they wanted to, and who had fewer rights and less privileges because of it…
“Riddle ended up with a lot of followers. Most of them were people who likewise got a bad deal of the coven system or felt unfairly treated by the witching world at large… but there were those who joined him just for the chance of some power, or because they just felt like blowing up buildings and killing people. And Riddle gave them ample opportunity to do just that.
“For more than ten years, Riddle and his followers terrorized the witching world. They had an uncanny way of showing up out of nowhere, wreak a lot of destruction, and then vanish again before anyone could do anything. And even if Riddle did stay to fight… he occasionally did, probably just to show how powerful he was… he never got hurt. People started to call him ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Die,’ because he survived things that would have killed anyone else. Up to and including having his head chopped off with a sword.”
Holly nodded slowly. She was only just starting to discover the world of magic; a few days ago she wouldn’t have thought anyone could have opened a padlock by blowing on it, or changed an eight-year-old boy to a baby girl either, so the fact that someone could survive having their head chopped off seemed reasonable… but from the way Mr Dumbledore spoke, this seemed to be a rare thing even with magic.
“It got harder and harder to find a safe place, because Riddle and his followers could turn up just about anywhere at a moment’s notice. There are spells and magical charms that can stop intruders, but normal magical protections meant nothing to Riddle. No-one ever found out just how they did it… most people agree that he was using some secret magics known only to him. The only places he could never reach were the ones that were guarded by elves or nymphs.”
“Elves and nymphs!” Holly exclaimed, momentarily forgetting the tale of horror at this new piece of information. “They exist too?”
“Oh, yes,” Mr Dumbledore confirmed. “Many of the creatures that Muggles only know from fairy-tales do exist. Elves, nymphs, dwarfs, giants, centaurs… unfortunately, Riddle managed to get many of them on his side. He got most of the vampires, the werewolves, the giants, the hags, the goblins, the Veela…”
“Beautiful women who look human but turn into monstrous bird-people when they get angry,” said Mr Dumbledore. “I don’t know what Riddle offered them, but he was good at making promises to his followers. He never got any of the elves or the nymphs, though. There was nothing he could offer that they were interested in, and their protective magics were among the few things his own powers, secret or otherwise, could not penetrate. Which was why so many witches sought their protection.”
Mr Dumbledore paused for a very brief moment, as if he was remembering something. “And then there were your parents. At the time, they didn’t seem like they were in particular danger from Riddle… after all, he mainly went after the covens. And as you know, your parents weren’t in a coven.”
At that moment, the story was momentarily interrupted by Hagrid, who came back in through the door. In one enormous hand he was carrying a thrilled baby-girl-who-used-to-be-Dudley, and on the other he was balancing a tray with four steaming, pink mugs; two normal-sized, one very big, and one about half-size, with double handles. “Got the chocolate!” he said cheerfully.
“You are a treasure, Hagrid,” said Mr Dumbledore. “Sit down, and make sure Dudley is comfortable. I’m just getting to the part where Tom Riddle attacked Lily and James.”
“Already?” Hagrid blinked. “Blimey, we weren’t gone that long. how much did yeh leave out?”
“Enough to fill several books,” said Mr Dumbledore. “But I find it’s best to understand the basic story first, and then details can come later. Try the chocolate, Holly, before I continue.”
“Thank you.” Holly accepted one of the steaming mugs and blew on the hot liquid before taking a careful sip.
The taste almost exploded in her mouth. Aunt Petunia sometimes made cocoa for Dudley, and allowed Holly to have whatever was left of it after her cousin had his second cup, but this was ten times better. It was rich and sweet and creamy, and she had to stop herself from downing it all in one large gulp.
“This is the best cocoa I’ve ever tasted,” she breathed.
“Glad ter hear it,” Hagrid chuckled. “Bu’ this isn’t cocoa. It’s chocolate.”
Holly blinked. “Isn’t that the same thing?”
“Not at all,” Mr Dumbledore said. “Not a bad word about cocoa, mind you; it can be quite nice on a cold day. Even those instant synthetic powder drinks one usually gets nowadays aren’t completely without their charm. But real hot chocolate, Holly, that’s something entirely different.” His voice turned nearly poetic. “Quality dark chocolate and milk chocolate, carefully melted together in roughly equal amounts, and mixed with warm milk. That’s what we serve in this house.”
“Aye-yie-yuh!” said the baby-girl-who-had-been-Dudley. She was stretching out and trying to reach the mugs that Hagrid had placed on the table.
“Bit too hot fer yeh yet,” said Hagrid gently, pushing the mugs a little farther away.
The Dudley Holly knew would have thrown a temper tantrum or at least started whining when not immediately getting his way. The baby girl just looked at Hagrid with big, blue eyes, before sitting down and starting to suck her thumb again.
“Good things are worth waiting for,” said Mr Dumbledore. He turned back to Holly. “Now — where were we?”
“You were talking about my parents and how they weren’t in a coven.”
“Oh, yes. Well, luckily not everyone who disliked or just wanted no part of the coven system went the terrorist route. Lily and James simply decided to, as Lily put it, ‘get married, Muggle-style,’ and not bother too much about what everyone else thought.”
“And you helped them, right?” said Holly. “Lily said they’d never have been able to get married if not for you.”
“Did she, now?” Mr Dumbledore actually looked surprised at this. “I’d say that’s a bit of an exaggeration. As someone who never fit in with the system myself, I’ve always tried my best to help other people who didn’t — but in the case of your parents I barely did anything. I talked to a few people, nothing more.”
“Ah, don’ yeh listen to him,” said Hagrid. “James’s family were talkin’ about disowning him if he didn’ ‘see sense’ an’ get five or six wives like everyone else. It was Albus who talked ’em out of it. An’ James who’d barely set foot in the Muggle world, didn’ have the necessary papers in order ter get married the Muggle way, an’ Albus was the one who fixed all that.”
“I really didn’t do anything they couldn’t have done for themselves,” said Mr Dumbledore. “I just happen to know a lot of people that could help make things pass a little more smoothly, that’s all. Anyway, it really has nothing to do with this story.
“As I said, at first there was no reason to believe Lily and James were in any particular danger from Tom Riddle. There was a chance he would try to sway them over to his side like he had done with so many others, but there was nothing to indicate that they would be major targets.
“But then… they had only been married for a couple of years, and you were about a year old… At the time I was doing my best to help stop Riddle. And one of the things I had managed was to get a spy in on his side. Well, this spy contacted me and said that Riddle was going to attack Lily and James. I knew they would need my help, so I immediately left for their house.
“I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I’d got the information sooner, or been a little quicker.” He sighed. “But I suppose it doesn’t really do any good pondering what might have been. Riddle got there before me.”
“And… he’d already killed my parents?” said Holly.
“Well…” Mr Dumbledore looked solemn. “That is where the story takes an unexpected turn. James was dead when I arrived, but Lily was still alive. Fighting against Riddle. At the other end of the room I saw you, lying on the floor — luckily, you were just asleep and not dead. I think you had been hit by a sleep spell, and Lily was trying to shield you. Using the very wand you are now holding in your hand, in fact.”
Holly looked at the wand again. She felt a weird sensation in her stomach, a sort of a mix between awe and regret. This wand had defended her against a wizard terrorist…
“Lily didn’t even seem surprised to see me,” Mr Dumbledore continued. “She just screamed at me to take you and get you out. Unfortunately, that moment’s distraction was all Riddle needed to send off a curse directed at you.
“To this day, I don’t truly know why he chose to use that moment’s distraction to target you instead of Lily, or even me. One would think that out of the three of us, a sleeping one-year-old would be the one posing the least threat to him. But he seemed determined that whatever else happened, you were not going to survive that night.
“But — and here is the main reason why you have become famous — the curse did not kill you. I had seen Tom Riddle cast that particular curse several times. Whoever he hit with that curse always died instantly… until he tried to curse you. In your case, the curse only graced you, and only left one mark…”
Holly lifted her hand to touch her stomach. Through her shirt she could feel the familiar form of a lightning bolt. “My scar,” she said.
Mr Dumbledore nodded. “Yes,” he said gently. “That’s no ordinary scar on your stomach. It’s the mark that a very powerful wizard tried to kill you and failed. You are the only person in living memory to survive that particular curse. That’s why the witching world gave you the name ‘The Impossible Child.’ “
There was a brief moment of silence as this sank in. Holly traced the contours of her scar through her shirt. She’d always known there was something special about that scar, but this…
“What happened to Tom Riddle?” she finally said. “And to Lil — to my Mum?” (The word still felt weird in her mouth, but somehow this seemed like a time to ignore the weird sensation and use it anyway.)
“That,” said Mr Dumbledore, “is the second reason why you are famous among witches. You see, when the curse failed to kill you, it fell back on Tom Riddle. He tried to block it, but Lily was on him, and they were both engulfed in green fire. Lily once more screamed for me to get you to safety. I knew from experience that I would not be able to put out the fire in time, and that I only had seconds to act. So I did as she said, grabbed you and Apparated out of the house. Just in time too, because just as soon as we were out…”
“The house exploded.”
“The house and everything in it. James’s body, Lily and Tom Riddle… all gone. But we lived, and without a scratch… well, apart from the mark on your stomach.”
Holly let out the breath she’d been holding. She suddenly realised she had forgotten about her half-finished hot chocolate, so she took a big gulp of it, put the cup down on the table and looked at Mr Dumbledore. “You saved my life.”
“I think Lily saved your life more than I did,” he answered. “Something she did… I’m still not completely sure what… caused Riddle’s lethal curse to fail and fall back on him. Unfortunately, it cost her her own life.”
Holly wasn’t certain what to say. She had often wondered about her parents. She’d known they were dead, of course — that had always just been a plain fact of life that there was nothing to be done about. But she had wondered what they were like… they had to have been better than Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. But she’d never dreamed that they would have such a dramatic story behind them. Getting married even if society itself didn’t want them to, being the targets of a magical terrorist, and then dying while protecting her. And blowing up their house, and the terrorist, in the process. And for all these years, she hadn’t known anything about it.
“It’s a lot to take in, I know,” said Mr Dumbledore gently.
“Yeah…” Holly looked down at her wand. “But… But Lily is still around, right? She’s right here. She’s not alive, but… Wait!” She blinked. “Does that mean Tom Riddle is still around somewhere too?! He had a wand, right? Maybe he’s haunting that wand!”
Mr Dumbledore looked thoughtful. “We never found his wand,” he said. “In fact, the only thing we found in the rubble that had survived the explosion completely intact was Lily’s wand. Or your wand, now. But,” he continued, “I think you might be right. Most of the witching world think that Tom Riddle is dead and gone forever; they’ve been hailing you as a sort of hero because you were the one who made his curse fail and ultimately defeat him. But I have always suspected he wasn’t completely gone. Now that I know that Lily isn’t, I’m more certain than ever that Tom Riddle is still out there somewhere.”
“Got ter be powerful reduced, though,” said Hagrid, who hadn’t spoken in a while. “Reckon he’s out there somewhere, too weak ter carry on. Summat happened to him, cause his followers lost a lotta their power after that day. Without him, they couldn’t come an’ go anywhere they liked anymore, became a lot more vulnerable. ‘Sides. A lotta them kinda came outta trances, they’d been placed under spells an’ curses to make ’em loyal followers, bu’ without Riddle ter keep the spells goin’, they broke free. Don’ reckon they could’ve done that if Riddle wasn’ at least near-death himself.”
“Aaaa-bwoeh!” said the baby-girl-who-had-been-Dudley. She had been sitting there silently and sucking her thumb for a while, but now she seemed to decide that enough was enough. She grasped for the small mug of chocolate on the table.
“All righ’,” said Hagrid. “Reckon it should be cold enough now… here yeh go.”
“Tah,” said the baby girl. She held the mug in both hands and began drinking noisily.
“What about the spy?” Holly suddenly said. “The one who told you that Tom Riddle was going to attack my parent. What happened to him?”
“Her,” Mr Dumbledore corrected. “And I wish I knew. She vanished, and I never found out what happened to her. But, as Hagrid said… Riddle’s followers were reduced. Even the ones who followed him willingly only had a fraction of the power they once had. Most of them were arrested and sent to prison shortly after. It’s not unthinkable that one of them got to the spy and killed her out of revenge.”
“That’s sad,” said Holly.
Mr Dumbledore nodded. “It is.”
All of a sudden, there was a half-choked gasp of surprise where the baby girl was drinking her chocolate.
Holly turned to see that the baby was growing rapidly. Her hair shortened, her face morphed and her belly expanded as her arms and legs grew longer. The orange baby overall thankfully expanded at the same time, and so — just seconds later — where the baby girl had been sitting, there was now the familiar form of Dudley. Wearing an oversized orange baby overall and a shocked look on his face.
“Ah,” said Mr Dumbledore calmly. “I hoped Hagrid’s chocolate would help speed up your recovery. Welcome back, Dudley. How are you feeling?”
Dudley blinked. Then he threw the empty mug down onto the floor and jumped to his feet, pointed a shaking, furious finger at Holly. “YOU!” he roared. “You turned me into a baby! A baby girl!”
Holly instinctively cowered. “I didn’t mean to!” she defended herself. And felt a pang of regret that the adorable baby girl was gone. This had been such a pleasant visit too… well, all right, not pleasant. It hadn’t been pleasant to hear about her parents’ deaths or Tom Riddle. But it had been fascinating to learn about everything, and there was so much more she wanted to know. Not to mention — having a long talk with Mr Dumbledore and Hagrid, and being treated like someone worth talking seriously to, had made her feel quite grown-up. But with Dudley back and screaming his head off, it looked like the talk was over.
“You’re a freak! You’re a bigger freak than I ever knew! Mum and Dad are going to kill you!” Dudley raged, clearly back to his old loathable self again, even if he seemed far less intimidating dressed in a baby overall. “They’re going to kill you! And I’m going to watch, and I’m going to LAUGH!”
“I don’ think that’ll happen,” said Hagrid firmly.
But Dudley wasn’t listening. “And — and — and you two!” He glared madly at both Hagrid and Mr Dumbledore, so angry that he was shaking and stammering. “You’re — you’re even bigger freaks! I’m going to tell Mum and Dad everything, and, and they’ll call the police, and you’ll be thrown in jail! And — and — and — Holly’s going to do all my homework for the next year!”
“What? No, I’m not!”
“We had a deal!” Dudley screamed, oblivious to what he’d just ruined for her. “You said you would do it! You owe it to me!”
“You said you wouldn’t make a deal!” Holly raised her voice to a near-scream. “I don’t owe you anything!”
“You turned me into a baby!!”
“You deserved it!”
“Excuse me. If I might say something?” Mr Dumbledore’s voice was quiet, but something about it made both Holly and Dudley stop screaming and turn to look at him. “Thank you. I get that you’re upset, Dudley. But this isn’t getting us anywhere productive. So, I suggest that instead of wasting a lot of time screaming at one another, we sit down and make a deal.”
“A deal?” Holly and Dudley chorused.
“Yes. Dudley — this bullying of your cousin has got to stop. It’s unacceptable.”
“Mum and Dad don’t think I’m doing anything wrong!” said Dudley, perhaps a little too hurriedly.
“This is, unfortunately, true. But while I could never make them listen to me, I did hold out hope that you might be more reasonable. While it’s a good thing to honour our parents, I’ve learned long ago that you don’t have to follow them in everything.”
Holly had to bite her lip not to laugh out loud at the idea of Dudley being reasonable.
“I’d also ask you to consider,” Mr Dumbledore continued, “Not only is it a risky business to bully an untrained witch… magic might flare up and do worse than just turn you into a baby for a little while… but it’s also an appalling way to treat a family member.”
Dudley looked at him, and then for some reason looked down. “She’s just my stupid freak cousin,” he said in a low, sullen voice. “She’s not family.”
“Liked yeh better as a baby girl,” Hagrid muttered.
Mr Dumbledore, however, didn’t change his tone at all. “Well, then,” he said. “If familial bonds won’t make you treat your cousin better, what will?”
There was a clear struggle on Dudley’s face. But once again, his greed won. “I’ll leave her alone if she does all my homework for a year. No, for two years. Three years!”
Mr Dumbledore shook his head. “I’m sorry, but that is unacceptable. You’re asking too much and giving too little in return. Besides, you really should do your own homework, Dudley. It may not be fun, but you’ll be glad later on that you put in the work.”
Dudley snorted. “Yeah, right. “
“You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to,” said Mr Dumbledore. “But it’s true. Nevertheless, I think I have a better offer. Please, have a seat.”
Dudley looked suspiciously at him. “If Mum and Dad find out I’m gone, they won’t stop looking for me!” he warned.
“Oh. I would say your father’s afternoon nap will last for a while yet, as will your mother’s television shows,” said Mr Dumbledore cheerily. “We’ll have you both back home safe and sound before either of them begin to worry. Now, let me tell you my suggestion…”