FIC: "The Unexpected Gift" for L.C.Darius Recipient: L.C. Darius Author/Artist:irena_candy Title: The Unexpected Gift Rating: G Pairings: Millicent Bulstrode/Dudley Dursley Word Count: 4,700 Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *None..................*. Summary: Millicent Bustrode responds to a letter from a confused and desperate Muggle father. Author's/Artist's Notes: It's interesting to try and decide what kind of adults school kids grow up to be. I like to think that they did learn something. Many thanks to my beta reader for her excellent attention to detail!
In a tidy house in a very tidy suburban neighborhood, where people kept their lawns mowed and their flower beds free of weeds, Dudley Dursley was glowering at his mother, who was seated across from him at the table in their immaculate kitchen. They were having a fight, only the second one since he had married his Jennifer against his mother's wishes. He never had understood what his mum had against Jennifer; she would only say that women with red hair could never be trusted. His mother was wrong. They'd had five happy years together until Jen died of cancer and now their daughter was almost six years old.
Dudley slapped his meaty hand down on the table, making the wood tremble and the tea cups dance in their saucers. His mother winced.
"What is it with you?" Dudley demanded. "You were okay with her until this happened. She's the same now as she was before, so what's the difference?"
"It's freakish and unnatural," Petunia Dursley whispered, wiping her eyes with the corner of a cloth napkin.
"It's what she is and I won't have you being mean to her," Dudley warned his mother.
He remembered, with a sinking feeling of shame, the way that he and his gang bullied his cousin Harry when they were kids, and how his parents locked Harry under the stairs and half-starved him. These days the space under the stairs was filled with luggage, old wellies, and boxes of Christmas tree ornaments. He was not going to see it cleared out and become a spider-filled cage for his daughter.
"I wouldn't hurt her. Really. I wouldn't do anything like that." Petunia gave a loud sniff and then started to cry, the tears running down her cheeks and smearing her makeup. "She's got red hair, just like her mother. I warned you not to marry that woman. I knew something awful would happen."
Dudley picked up his cup, drank some tea, and stared at her with a set face. He was a big man, a heavy-set man. He had the same thick build as his dead father, but he was not as obese as he had been as a boy. Military service had knocked a lot of the fat off of him. After he was expelled from Smeltings, for a combination of poor grades and bullying the other boys, there wasn't much else for him to do but join the army, especially after he and his friends got into a bit of trouble with the law and the judge said it was either that or four years behind bars.
He had liked the army. There was a structure to it that he had missed all of his life. It was hell when he started, of course. That was when he learned that there were bigger, meaner, men in the world than himself. He'd had the shit beaten out of him a few times before he learned how to fit in. He often said, with a wry grin, that the army had made a man out of him. He might have chosen it as a career, but after his second stint in the service his father found a place for him at Grunnings as a junior manager, so he left his military life and took up drills.
The best thing the army did for him was give him Jennifer. She had been a clerk and he met her in the army mess. It was love at first sight. She laughed a lot and poked fun at him when he tried to bluster and shoot off his mouth. She had milky white skin and dark red hair, and he thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Sometimes it seemed like some kind of miracle that she had agreed to marry him. Now she was gone, and there was only Daisy to remind him of how wonderful she had been.
He and his mother and Daisy had been in the lounge watching telly when it happened. Daisy laughed suddenly and the color of her hair went from dark auburn to bright blue. He realized, afterwards, that it had something to do with a cartoon show that they had been watching. His mother froze in her chair with a look of horror on her face, and the next moment she had stumbled to her feet and run upstairs to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. It had taken him a few minutes to convince Daisy that her hair was prettier the way it used to be, and he watched it change back to dark red with a sigh of relief. When she was once again happily engrossed in her cartoons, he walked slowly upstairs and knocked on his mother's door.
Petunia was sitting on the side of her bed with a handkerchief clutched tightly in one hand. Her nose was red and her cheeks were wet. She looked up at him and her lips were clamped tightly together.
"Just like Lily," she whispered after a moment, and gulped.
"My sister. My sister with her red hair and her green eyes and doing unnatural things. Daisy is just like her!"
Dudley leaned against the door jamb, crossed his beefy arms across his chest, and said. "I guess it runs in the family, then."
His mother broke out into a fresh fit of weeping.
"Look, Mum, Daisy is my little girl and I love her, okay? If she can do magic stuff, I guess that's just the way she is. I'm not going to have her bullied because of something she can't help." He paused and then added in a low voice, "I guess Harry couldn't help it either. The thing is, Daisy is going to school soon. I don't want the other kids to pick on her, and I don't want to get a lot of shirty notes from her teachers either. So, what am I going to do?"
Petunia just shook her head helplessly.
"Could we ask Harry, do you think?" he persisted. "What happened to him? Where is he?"
"I don't know," Petunia said with a sniff and a swallow. "After they finally let us come back from that awful place they sent us to, I never heard of him again. Good riddance too!"
"Oh, come on, Mum! It wasn't that bad. We had the lake, and I learned how to swim and paddle a canoe. The food was good, and Dad even relaxed for a change."
His mother managed a watery smile. "You threw a fit because there wasn't any telly."
"Well yeah, but I got over that." He went to the bed and sat down next to her. "So, what am I going to do about Daisy?"
"There's the school," she said reluctantly.
"You mean the school that Harry went to?"
"Yes. It's called Hog-something. Lily went there too." She took a deep breath. "I wrote to them once. They sent Lily a letter when she was eleven, just like the ones that came for Harry. I wrote to the school, asking if I could go with her."
Petunia looked down at her hands, which were twisting her handkerchief into tight knots. "They wrote back and said that they were sorry, but only wizards and witches could take classes there. So my sister went away without me and nothing was ever the same again."
"Where is the school, and what's the address?"
"I don't know. I wrote the name on the envelope and put a stamp on it, that's all. I was only thirteen."
* * *
"How well do you get along with Muggles?" Madam Pomfrey asked, tapping the corner of a white envelope gently against her chin.
Startled, Sister Millicent Bulstrode looked up from the large bar of chocolate that she was cutting into medicinal doses. She was a competent-looking woman, well suited to be a nursing sister. As a girl, she had been rather mannish with a square face and an aggressive chin. At twenty-eight she had matured into a stocky woman with a comfortably resolute expression. Unkind people might call her plain and dumpy.
She was the best friend of many witches and some wizards. They told her their troubles, and she did her common-sense best to help them out. No one had ever approached her in a romantic way, or even suggested a one-night stand. She lived with her parents and had settled into a routine that included her nursing work and an elderly pet crup. Somewhere along the line she had accepted the fact that she would probably be single for the rest of her life, and if she felt a little wistful about that, she never let it show.
"I don't know any Muggles," she said, resuming her chopping. "Just a few Muggle-borns, that's all."
"Then this will be good experience for you. One of our people at the Muggle post office intercepted this letter and sent it along to Headmistress by owl post." She held out the envelope.
Milly dusted the chocolate crumbs off of her hands and took it, curious. The direction on the front said HOGWORTS SCHOOL. That was all. No return address. "Can't spell, whoever they are," she said, as she pulled out the single sheet of paper and unfolded it. The message was written with blue ink, in large, rather unformed letters, as if the author hadn't been paying much attention during penmanship lessons.
My little girl does magic things and I don't know what to do about it. Can you help me? She is only five and a half. My cousin went to your school but I don't know how to find him. Or I would ask him.
It was signed Dudley Dursley in a broad sprawling hand and the address under it was on Privet Drive in a town called Little Whinging, in Surrey.
"What am I supposed to do about this?" Milly asked, looking up from the letter to the Matron.
"Go to see the man, find out what his daughter has been doing, and assure him that it is perfectly normal. Headmistress told me that she checked the book and there is a magical child named Daisy Dursley listed in it. That must be his little girl."
"He says that he has a magical cousin. Can we find out who that is?"
Madam Pomfrey rubbed her forehead. "I know who it is. Harry Potter was raised by his Dursley relatives and they did not get along together. In fact, there was evidence that he was badly mistreated by them as a child. He never had a good word to say about them so I don't think that involving him in this situation would be of any use. Although, I must say it might give Mr. Potter a good laugh."
"Well, the Ministry, then."
"No, no. Explaining to Muggles about their magical children has always been a Hogwarts prerogative." She smiled and patted her subordinate on the shoulder. "Trust me, it will be good experience for you. Put on some Muggle clothes before you go," she added, as she walked back to her office.
* * *
The doorbell rang and Dudley got up from his chair at the kitchen table, sighing with exasperation as his mother blubbered into her handkerchief.
He pulled the front door open. "Yeah?" he asked, looking the woman on the doorstep up and down. She wasn't much to look at, but she did have a friendly expression. Her best feature was her shiny black hair, which she wore in a Dutch doll cut. Her bangs, cut straight across her forehead, just touched her level black brows. The eyes under those brows were an attractive gray with thick black lashes, but that was about all one could say for her.
She met his gaze frankly, taking in the tall bulky figure that filled the doorway. He was a very large man. He almost made her feel small, which was a new experience for her. "Are you Mr. Dursley? Did you send a letter to Hogwarts School?"
"Yeah. Yeah, that's me."
"I'm Sister Bulstrode from Hogwarts and I've come about your daughter."
"Oh, right." He sounded suddenly flustered. "Come on in."
He showed her into the lounge and then went to get his mother. Petunia was turning her handkerchief into rags, staring out the kitchen window at the neighbor's rose bushes.
"Mum, they got the letter. There's someone here from the school. It's a woman, the school nurse, I guess. You want to come and talk to her?"
Petunia looked up with a frightened expression on her face. "She's not... strange, is she?"
"No, Mum. Just an ordinary woman wearing a gray skirt and a blue jumper. She looks kind of like Mrs. Jurry down at the sweets shop."
Petunia followed her son back to the lounge and nodded awkwardly when Dudley introduced her. They all sat down, Petunia huddling back into her chair, and after a few moment's silence, Milly asked, "What was it that your daughter did, Mr. Dursley?"
"She, uh... she made her hair change color."
"That's something a lot of magical children do."
"Do they?" He shifted uneasily in his chair. "It was pretty unexpected."
"An unexpected gift," Milly said with a friendly smile.
"Yeah, I guess so. We didn't know she could do anything like that until she did it, if you know what I mean. You see, the thing is, I'm worried about Daisy going to school." He glanced at his mother, who was staring at Milly as if she expected the younger woman to start breathing fire. "My cousin did weird things too, and he caught a lot a flack when he was a kid. In fact, I was one of the people who gave him a rough time. So, I was wondering if Daisy could go to your school instead of the local one."
"Not until she's eleven, I'm afraid. Was she able to change her hair color back to normal?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah. After I convinced her that it looked better the other way."
"That's impressive. Most magical children don't have that much control at such a young age."
"So she's... she's good at it?"
"Very good, I'd say. I understand why you are worried, Mr. Dursley. Muggle-born... that is, magical children from non-magical families do sometimes have trouble in ordinary schools. Does her mother... ?"
Dudley cut her off abruptly. "Her mother's gone. She died of cancer two years ago."
"I'm sorry," Milly said simply. "It's nice that Daisy has a grandmother to help look after her." She glanced approvingly at Petunia, who looked down and plucked at the arm of the chair. "Where is Daisy? Could I see her?"
"She's having her nap, but yeah, sure. You can come upstairs and have a look at her," Dudley said, standing up. He thought that he knew why Sister Bulstrode wanted to see his daughter. She wanted to be sure that Daisy wasn't bruised or battered He resolutely kept his eyes away from his mother and led the way upstairs.
Daisy was sound asleep, snuggled down in her bed like a little red-headed angel with her Paddington Bear in her arms and the pink coverlet pulled up to her chin.
Milly tiptoed over to look at the child, a gentle smile softening her square face. "She looks so sweet," she murmured.
"Oh, she can be a little hellion sometimes," Dudley said with a proud grin. "She's got plenty of spirit. She takes after her mum."
"She's a nice little girl," Petunia said, a bit awkwardly. "She looks like her mother, but she's got green eyes like... like my sister. My sister was... she was one of you people."
Milly merely nodded. Before coming to Little Whinging she had talked to Headmistress McGonagall and gotten the whole history of the Potters and the Dursleys.
Back downstairs in the lounge, Dudley and Milly settled back into their chairs and Petunia, to Dudley's surprise, excused herself to make tea, coming back in a few minutes with a laden tray. It was what one did when guests, however unwelcome, came to the house.
"Please have a chocolate biscuit, Miss Bulstrode. I made them this morning. Dudley and Daisy both love chocolate biscuits."
Helping herself to a biscuit, Milly said, "Since Daisy's talents are developing so early, it might be better for her to go to a private school instead of being with non- magical children. They could misunderstand her, if you know what I mean."
Dudley and his mother knew exactly what she meant.
Milly turned to Petunia and said gently, "It's perfectly normal, what your granddaughter can do, Mrs. Dursley. It's a talent, like being able to sing or do mathematics. Some people can play the piano and some people can do magic. Some people can bake great biscuits." She bit into the biscuit appreciatively and thought that Mrs. Dursley relaxed some infinitesimal amount.
Dudley cleared his throat and said, "This school that you mentioned, what kind of place would that be?"
"A special day school for magical children, one that teaches them about the magical world so they won't feel different. I talked to our Headmistress before I came here, and she reminded me that an ex-Hogwarts student, Eleanor Branston, has a school for young witches and wizards only a few miles from here, near Newlands Corner. I could take you there, if you like. You could talk to Eleanor and see what the children do in class." She looked from one to the other of them, inquiringly.
"That would be good; I'd like that," Dursley said. "Mum?"
"No." Petunia was looking frightened again. "I'll stay here. Someone has to watch Daisy."
Dudley and Milly went into the backyard where Milly linked her arm in Dudley's and pressed close to him.
"Just like walking out together," he said, throwing out his chest a bit and grinning down at her.
"Just like that, but hold on tightly and don't let go. This is going to feel funny, like there's an elephant sitting on your chest, so take a deep breath first."
Dudley clapped his big hand over hers and filled his lungs. The next thing he knew, she had turned on the spot and her arm was twisting away from him. He clutched tighter, feeling like he was being shoved through a tight elastic tunnel. Then it was over and they were standing in a green field, looking out over rolling green downs dotted with trees. There was a white picket fence next to them, with white gates and a small sign that said "Branston School" in fancy gold letters.
"Whew!" Dudley said, taking another deep breath to get the air back into his lungs. "That was something else!" He realized that they were still pressed tightly together as she gently disengaged her arm and stepped away from him.
"It's called Apparating and it is hard to get used to," Milly admitted. "It's a fast way to get from one place to another but some people don't like it and never do get used to it. They ride on brooms instead."
"Witches really do ride on brooms?" he asked. "Like at Halloween?"
"Just like that," Milly said, laughing as she led him through the gates and along the path to a white building with a cheerful red roof.
* * *
"How was your adventure with the Muggles?" Madam Pomfrey asked, when Milly came back to the hospital wing later that day.
"It was all right. Dudley Dursley is a big, awkward, sort of man, but he's obviously very attached to his daughter and wants to do what's best for her. The mother is dead, by the way. He and his daughter live with his widowed mother. She was sort of odd. It was almost as if she was scared of me."
"Did you see the little girl?"
"Oh yes, no problem there! She was napping, so I didn't talk to her but they've got her room fitted out with ruffles and bows like she was a little princess, and she's got enough toys to stock a store. She has red hair and is as cute as a button. I'm going back again, when she's awake, but I really don't think we need to worry about her. Poppy, they say that she changed her hair color and then changed it back again!"
Poppy raised her eyebrows. "Very impressive. She's a precocious little thing."
"Yes. I took Mr. Dursley to see Elly Branston, and when Daisy turns six he is going to start her at Branston School. I really think that's best. If she can control her magic already and some Muggle child upsets her... well! Anything could happen."
"I agree," Poppy said. "What did her father think of the magical kindergarten?"
"He was rather confused by all of the magic but he seemed to like Elly well enough and she was very kind to him. Treated him like one of the little kids, actually." Milly chuckled.
"If you are going back again, you should talk to the father and grandmother about dealing with a magical child. That might avoid some problems in the long run. We do get some rather maladjusted Muggle-born first years, unfortunately."
"I know, and that's what I plan to do. I want to know more about the grandmother's problems too. I feel rather sorry for her, to tell the truth."
* * *
Daisy was wide awake and full of energy on Milly's next visit. She chattered happily about her favorite television program, showed off a whole array of stuffed animals, and even gave Milly a hug before her grandmother led her off to have a cup of milk and a muffin in the kitchen. She also made her Paddington Bear walk across the room without touching him.
"I wonder," Dudley said diffidently, "if you could show me how to get to that school."
"How to get to it?" Milly said with surprise.
"When I take Daisy there, I'm going to have to drive the car, right? But you did that Apparating thing, and I don't know how to get there by road. Where is the place?"
Milly burst out laughing. "I don't know! I guess we'll have to try and find it together."
So, Dudley got out the car, and they drove off in the direction of Newlands Corner. Milly was fascinated by the car, especially by its radio and built-in CD player. It was a novelty to look out of the windows and see the scenery gliding by at armchair level too, especially since the air conditioning didn't whip her hair or clothes around.
After getting lost a few times and taking some odd detours, they wound up near the Silent Pool and Milly finally pointed out through the windshield and exclaimed, "There it is, at the end of the path going up between those two big trees."
"I don't see a thing," Dudley said, pulling the car to a halt.
"Oh dear. That's right, you wouldn't. It's charmed so that only magical folk can see it."
Dudley scratched his head. "So, how am I going to get Daisy there?"
"She'll be able to see it and if you hold her hand you'll get there just fine." She grinned at him. "Here, let's try it!" She opened her door and slid out, taking his hand when he joined her.
They walked up the gentle slope together, and for Dudley it was as if someone was painting a pathway under his feet that he could only see when he stepped on it. When they got to the top of the hill, there was the school, just as he had seen it before with its white picket fence and bright red roof. They could hear the sound of children laughing from inside.
"Okay?" Milly asked.
"Okay!" he said with a wide grin. "Sort of like camouflage school when I was in the army." He glanced at his watch. "It's getting close to lunch time. How about stopping off someplace for a bite before we go back?"
"I'd like that," Milly said, surprising herself as she realized that spending time with a Muggle wasn't all that bad.
They stopped at a pleasant little pub, where they each had a ploughman's lunch and a tall cold shandy beer. Milly remarked that the place reminded her of a London pub called The Leaky Cauldron and when Dudley said that he'd like to see it she replied that she'd be happy to take him there sometime, wondering what he would make of the brightly dressed witches, wizards, and dwarfs that wandered in and out of the place.
They were on their way back to privet Drive when Milly asked, "Does your mother have a problem with Daisy being magical?"
Dudley took his time answering, and Milly was on the verge of apologizing for the question when he said, "She did at first, but I think she's going to be all right with it. You helped a lot when you told her that magic is normal. You know about my cousin? We met some other magical people who told us he was famous, and we had to go into hiding during your war because of him."
"So that's why your mother is down on magic?"
"No, it started before that. I don't know all of it myself, but it started with her sister, my Aunt Lily. I never knew her; she and her husband got killed when I was just a kid. That's why my cousin came to live with us. Anyway, I think my mum was jealous because my grandparents made a big fuss over Aunt Lily being able to do magic, and her going off to a special school and all. She and my dad took it out on Harry. Hell, they encouraged me to take it out on him. I'm not proud of that."
"When I was in school, my friends and I made his life miserable too," Milly said.
"You knew him?" Dudley asked, surprised.
"Yes, but not very well. We were in the same year at Hogwarts, but we were in different houses."
"I know how that goes," Dudley said, as he turned the car into the driveway at No. 4 Privet Drive and shut off the engine. "When I was at Smeltings there were three houses and we were always getting into fights over one thing or another."
"You went to boarding school too?"
"Yeah, for a couple of years, but I got kicked out for being a rowdy yahoo. That's when I joined the army."
They got out of the car and walked slowly toward the back yard together. "It's been a good day," Dudley said, as they stopped by the laburnum. "I enjoyed it."
"So did I, Mr. Dursley," Milly said, smiling up at him.
"You could call me Dudley," he said gruffly, looking down at his toes.
"All right. Dudley. My name is Millicent. My friends call me Milly."
"I like that; it's a nice name. You're nice too. Maybe we could do this again some time." Then he blurted out, "Look, you will come back, won't you? I mean, you've been really great about all this, and Daisy likes you. I like you too! I want to see you again." He bent swiftly and kissed her on the cheek.
Astonished, Milly lifted her hand and touched her fingers to her cheek, where his kiss still seemed to warm her skin. She could feel herself blushing, and said in a breathless rush, "I'd like that, Dudley."
Fingers still pressed to her cheek, she turned on her heel and whirled out of his sight.
Dudley went into the house, whistling softly to himself and thinking about love at first sight for the second time around. He wondered how his mum would feel about a black-haired daughter-in-law – and a magical one at that.