delphi: Mod icon for the HP Beholder exchange. (HP Beholder)
[personal profile] delphi posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
Recipient: Miss_Morland
Author/Artist: ???
Title: "Love Is a Battlefield"
Rating: R
Pairings: Dudley/OC, Dudley/Firenze
Word Count: 11,575
Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View):  *[Violence, character death, angst, fluff, drunkeness, some male bs]*.
Summary: Dudley Dursley is not a common man, he has his preferences and his principles, and he lives by the rules, always. The rules, however, are his own.
Author's/Artist's Notes: Dear Miss_Morland, I much doubt that this is what you had in mind, however, I do hope you enjoy at least some bits of it.

Many thanks to T for the dedicated beta and Britpick. If it's still wrong, it's all mine.



Physicality was important to Dudley Dursley.

Having replaced childhood obesity with an athlete's muscles, and having gone from a sedentary lifestyle to that of a professional boxer, nothing mattered more to Dudley than physical strength and the mental discipline required to attain and maintain it.

He had tried to impress this on his father, but it seemed that every bit of fat he lost found a new home with Vernon.

And so Dudley was not surprised when his father died relatively young, but it still hurt. For all of his many faults, Vernon Dursley had loved his son and was fiercely proud of him.

He had also provided amply for his family, and Petunia was very well set-up. Petunia had mourned her husband properly, and then embarked on a round-the-world adventure, and was only a little disappointed when Dudley declined to go. The thought of months in intimate contact with his mother had filled him with dread, and the strength other than physical that his sport had taught him enabled him to refuse the offered trip.

They were both the better for it. Petunia, for the first time in many years, could put her own needs and wants first with a clear conscience. Dudley, for the first time ever, was completely free of parental oversight.

As he was past thirty years of age, he thought it high time indeed for that.

The war that his kinship with Harry Potter had dragged him into had changed him in many ways, or perhaps he had just grown up. In any case he had come to realise that his parents were not always right, and that people who were different from the Dursleys were not axiomatically wrong.

Take his cousin Harry, for example. Harry was the first thing Dudley had ever really defied his parents over, apart from that diet and the random tantrum, of course. They had strictly forbidden him to have anything to do with Harry, and Dudley had simply ignored the stricture. In Dudley's view, Harry had saved his life at least twice, and he was not inclined to ignore that.

They had become very good friends, and Harry and Ginny had attended many of his fights. He was a regular guest in their home, and he was a hero to their son James. Dudley was the strongest person that James knew, and Dudley was teaching him to box. James's mother had mixed feelings about it, but Harry had convinced her that it couldn't hurt, while Dudley had assured her that the mental discipline would help in all aspects of his life. In point of fact, James had benefited greatly from his cousin's tutelage, both physically and mentally.

It was no exaggeration to say that Harry and Dudley had resolved all of their differences, and that they had a great deal of respect and affection for each other. Having no siblings, Harry thought of Dudley as a brother now, and he had assumed the role of uncle to James, Albus, and Lily. Ginny had even taken to including him in holiday celebrations at the Burrow, and Dudley actually enjoyed being there. He had, however, put George Weasley in a fairly painful head-lock one Christmas as payment for the “ton-tongue toffee" incident. Even George admitted that it was fair. Ginny thought it was funny. Dudley was so strong that George couldn't even reach his wand.

And so it was inevitable that sooner or later Harry would take Dudley to Hogwarts to watch a Quidditch match. After all, Dudley knew a lot about Hogwarts and the magical world, and Harry wanted Dudley to see his favourite sport. Besides, James had made Chaser and Harry was quite proud of him...

"That thing nearly took James's head off! What the hell kind of crazy sport is this? What is that thing?"

"It's called a Bludger, Dud, and there are two of them. They make the game more challenging. The Beater missed that one, but James dodged it neatly."

"Look, he's scored a goal! Way to go, James!"

"So you like Quidditch okay, then?"

"It's very exciting, Harry, but I prefer to fight on my own two feet. I also prefer aeroplanes for flying, truth to tell. Something about careening through the sky sitting on a splinter just doesn't seem right."

"To each his own, I suppose. I think boxing lessons have made him a better Chaser; he just moved his head to the side to avoid that Bludger, rather than changing his flight path. Maybe boxing lessons should be part of Quidditch training. Would you be interested in doing some of that, Big D?"

"The gym is busy, but I can spare several hours on the weekends and a few evenings if it will help James and his team."

"Splendid, I'll set things up with the Headmistress. You'll be paid of course, and don't protest. You're a professional, and your time is valuable."

"If you say so Harry. I'm happy just to help James's team."

"You'll be on the faculty as a coach, like I am. After the match I'll introduce you around."

"That's great, Harry - LOOK OUT, JAMES!"

James gave Dudley a thumbs-up as he blazed past on his way to scoring again.

Gryffindor won handily, and Harry was so pleased about that that he scarcely noticed the bruise where Dudley had punched his shoulder in excitement.

Dudley joined Harry in the Gryffindor changing room after the match.

"Great job, James, they never laid a glove on you."

"Thanks Uncle Dudley. After dodging your punches, a Bludger is easy. Let me know if you fancy giving Quidditch a try, you'd make a great Beater, I bet."

"Thanks all the same James, I think I'll pass."

James grinned; he well knew how Dudley felt about flying.

"We'll meet you in the common room, son, I want to show Dudley around some."

"Sure thing. Thanks for coming, Uncle Dudley."

"I had a great time, glad to see you remember how to slip a punch."

Harry and Dudley left the changing room and headed to the castle, Harry pointed out the greenhouses in the distance, and the forest, and they were near the steps when Dudley stopped short.

"Is that a - 'struth..."

"A centaur, yes. His name is Firenze, he teaches divination."

"Diviwhat?"

"Divination, centaurs are powerful seers; they can read the future in the stars."

"You're winding me up, Harry."

"Not at all. Firenze!" Firenze turned at Harry's call and trotted over to Harry and Dudley.

Dudley stared, fascinated by the obvious power of the centaur.

"Firenze, this is my cousin, Dudley Dursley. He's going to help me do a bit of coaching for the Quidditch teams."

"A Muggle coaching Quidditch?"

"I coach boxing, actually. Harry thinks the training helped James to dodge those Bludger things."

Firenze considered that for a moment.

"It helped James a lot," Harry said.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Dudley Dursley," Firenze said as he extended his hand. Firenze's eyes widened slightly at the strength of Dudley's grip. Firenze was accustomed to being careful around humans, but Dudley clearly was not very delicate.

"I've never seen a centaur before; I'm pleased to meet you too."

"Centaurs have a sport similar to human boxing, but hooves are used as well as fists. Perhaps you would care to see this some time. I must be off now. Goodbye, Harry Potter, Dudley Dursley." Firenze nodded to them and cantered off.

"A real centaur... I could use a drink, Harry."

"Professor McGonagall usually has some good whisky, we'll go and have a chat with her about the boxing lessons."

"Firenze seems an okay sort; at least he didn't seem to mind me being a Muggle. I thought the horse part would be bigger, but he's not really much taller than I am."

"He's very friendly for a centaur, but a lot of them don't have much use for humans. To be fair, though, humans haven't historically been very friendly to them. Centaurs come in all sizes, Dud, just like people. Firenze is maybe on the small side of average, though. Oh, and don't use phrases like 'the horse part' around centaurs, they don't like the comparison. They refer to their horselike bit as their body, and the human from the waist up bit as their torso. Arms, neck, head and all, are the same terms we use."

"Thanks Harry, I'd hate to stick my hoof in my mouth around them."

Harry groaned.

"Have you ever seen that sport he mentioned?"

"No, but I've seen them fight. It's terrifying. Centaurs are extremely powerful beings."

"I'll bet," Dudley muttered, staring after the departing Firenze. "Let's go and find that drink."

<<>>

The following Saturday afternoon found Dudley explaining the fundamentals of boxing to a group of students whose interest ran the gamut from nearly rabid to tepid at best. James had explained to them all how much his Quidditch had benefited from the training, but it was not until Dudley invited any of them to stand a few feet away and throw a Quaffle at his face that things really got exciting.

Dudley never moved his feet, and not one of them could hit his face with the ball, although a few skipped off a shoulder.

"I don't get it, how can knowing how to dodge a punch teach you to dodge something as fast as a Bludger?"

"Stand very, very still," Dudley told him, "and see if you think you could dodge these. I promise that I won't even touch you."

"It's okay, Roger, if Uncle Dudley says he won't touch you, he won't," James assured him.

The boy shrugged, he'd been dodging Bludgers since he was 6, and didn't think Dudley could hit him anyway.

A collective gasp came from the students when Dudley launched a flurry of punches that were merely a blur on their vision. The white-faced volunteer felt a bit of breeze, but he couldn't even count the punches, much less have avoided them.

"Oh," he whispered.

"Dudley is a professional, guys, and a champion," Harry told them.

"Work on the coordination drills I gave you. I'll see you all again Wednesday evening. The equipment we need will be here then and we'll set up a proper gym. Thanks for coming, and I look forward to working with you all."

There was much excited chatter among the departing students, and Harry came over and clapped Dudley on the back.

"Thanks, Dudley, you're a great coach. These kids will learn a lot from you."

Dudley shrugged. "It's what I do for a living. Thanks for asking me to do this, Harry. This is a neat place; those staircases take a bit of getting used to, though."

"Too right they do. Oh, here's Firenze."

"Greetings, Harry Potter, Dudley Dursley, I took the liberty of observing your lesson, I hope that you do not mind."

"Not at all," Harry assured him, "right, Dudley?"

"What's that? Oh, yeah, right, no bother at all."

"I have never before seen a demonstration of boxing. I did not realise that there was such skill and speed involved in it. Our own sport relies much more on power."

"Oh, there's plenty of power in those punches," Harry told him, "A good punch in the nose from Big D here will break bones in your feet." Firenze's eyebrows rose.

"Not really." Dudley's face felt hot.

"There is a centaur competition tomorrow at noon, would you be interested in attending?"

"Sure," Dudley replied, "I'd like to see that."

"I'll have to check with Ginny, but I can at least Apparate you to the gates, Dud. Professor McGonagall will have your permanent Portkey by Wednesday's lesson and then you can come and go as you please."

"Very well, I shall meet you at the gates and conduct you to the battle glade. I wish you both a good evening."

Firenze nodded and then cantered away.

"This should be interesting. I hope Ginny hasn't made plans."

"Yeah. Interesting."

<<>>

Sunday morning found Dudley waiting anxiously for Harry's arrival. The more he thought about centaurs fighting the more excited he got. What would it be like to see creatures of such power contend with one another?

The thoughts excited more than his mind, and Dudley retreated to his bathroom to deal with the problem that had arisen in his trousers.

Dudley was not particularly aroused by the nudity of either sex, his extensive time in locker rooms, steam rooms, and training rooms had long ago taken away the novelty. He was of course aware of the differences in men and women, but he had no distinct preference for either sex.

Strength was what attracted him, man or woman. A powerful physique caught his attention at once, and the foreplay with his few sexual partners, one woman and two men, had consisted of sparring of the full-contact variety.

He nearly fell in love with the woman. Adelaide, her name was. She was thick-bodied and dark-skinned and apart from her strength was so ordinary as to be nearly invisible.

As a fighter she was no match for Dudley, not really. Though to be fair, few in England were.

However she did not know the meaning of quit, and every time they fought she fought with everything she had. Every time they fucked, she did it the same way.

Petunia had had some hopes that Dudley would marry Adelaide and give her grandchildren, and in truth the idea had occurred to Dudley as well.

Adelaide had other ideas.

"You're a hell of a bloke, Dudley. Best fighter I've ever seen, and you're great in the sack. Marriage is not for me, though, and neither are kids. Any time you want a fight and a fuck, though, you bring that big cock of yours 'round, right?"

Compared to Adelaide, the men of Dudley's experience had been downright clingy, and while Dudley felt no guilt about having sex with men he didn't fancy bringing one home to mum. Besides, neither of them measured up to Adelaide in his eyes.

But it was neither of those blokes, nor even Adelaide, in his mind's eye when he spilled into his hand that morning.

It was a palomino body that rippled with strength, and white-blonde hair above piercing blue eyes and a chiselled torso.

As he cleaned up, he wondered if there was something really wrong with him. After all, Firenze was emphatically not even human. But that just didn't seem to matter to his brain or his cock, and he figured a bloke had a right to wank to whatever got the job done so long as no one was harmed.

"Dudley, ready to go?" He heard from the sitting room.

"Just having a whiz, Harry," he answered, "be right there!"

<<>>

Harry and Dudley arrived at the Hogwarts gates to find them open and Firenze waiting for them.

"Good day, Harry Potter, Dudley Dursley. It is a fine day for the contest. The chill in the air sets the blood flowing. I am glad you arrived in good time, it will spare me the need to carry the two of you."

"Are you that strong?" Dudley asked. "I'm pretty heavy."

Firenze shrugged. "Our bodies are as strong as an equine of commensurate size. Our torsos and arms are generally stronger than those of most humans, but not all." He smiled. "Our 'human parts' are not so different than your own, but the mass and strength of our bodies gives our arms a more solid base."

"That makes sense. I'm really looking forward to seeing this. Thanks for inviting me."

"My pleasure, Dudley Dursley; any friend of Harry Potter's is my friend as well. The path will be familiar to you, Harry Potter. Let us be off."

Firenze turned and trotted towards the forest, and Dudley and Harry set off after him.

"We'll just do the best we can, Dud. Firenze will wait if he gets too far ahead."

"You're out of shape, Harry. I keep telling you that you need to join me for roadwork. I know you ride a broom for a living but being fit never hurt anyone."

"Right then, let's see which one of us can catch him."

Neither of them could, as it developed. Firenze heard the footfalls behind him and merely increased his pace to maintain the distance. Harry took the early lead, but Dudley passed him in time because of his superior conditioning.

Ahead of them, Firenze slowed to a stop and turned to regard them in amusement.

"A noble effort for poor creatures with only two legs! You run well for such a large human, Dudley Dursley. Harry Potter is faster in the short run, but then of course, he is skinny."

"Are you making a joke, Firenze?" Harry asked.

"A small one. We do have a sense of humour; we simply do not display it often outside our own kind. The two of you are somewhat different than the average human."

"Thanks, I think."

A loud gong sounded.

"We have arrived in good time. Come, follow me."

Firenze pushed his way through a hedge, and Harry and Dudley followed him with rather more effort.

"Centaur skin must be tougher than ours too," Dudley observed as he pulled a thorn from his arm.

"Somewhat, yes," Firenze confirmed, and he paused beside a low ring of stones, indicating that they should join him. They merged with a large crowd of centaurs already surrounding the open space.

In a moment a large, black-bodied centaur leapt into the ring.

"That is Bane. He is the herd champion."

A grey-bodied centaur followed. He was even larger than Bane.

"And that is Flint. He is very strong, but young yet, and few think that he can match Bane in battle."

Dudley noted that the centaurs hands were wrapped in leather, though their hooves were bare.

"Shouldn't the hooves be padded as well?" he asked.

"It has been tried, but the footing was compromised. This resulted in many injuries. Blows from the hooves may only be delivered to the body, never to the torso or a limb. Of course, accidents happen and there have been deaths in the ring."

Dudley nodded. "That happens with us as well."

Dudley fell silent, and Harry threw an arm around his shoulders and hugged him roughly.

Dudley had once killed an opponent in the ring. The blow was clean and fair, and it turned out that the other boxer had had an incipient aneurysm before the fight, but it still haunted Dudley. Firenze, observing them, remained silent, though he had an idea what was going on. He respected both of them for it.

Bane and Flint approached one another, and each sketched a brief bow. The gong rang again, and the battle was joined.

Dudley was shocked that they simply stood toe-to-toe, or rather hoof-to-hoof, and pounded on each other with their fists. Ponderous blows that landed at random on head, shoulder, chest, or arm. They did not attempt to evade, or even to block, and then Bane swung his body around and crashed his hip into Flint's side.

There was a loud whooshing sound as the air was driven from him, and a meaty thud as Bane's rear hooves impacted Flint's body.

Flint staggered and backed away quickly. Rather than press his advantage, Bane waited for Flint to approach him and the process was repeated. This time Flint managed to land a kick to Bane's hip, but it had small effect.

Three more times they clashed, with Bane clearly getting the better of it, though both had bloody noses and Bane a split lip. Another fierce kick drove the air from Flint's lungs.

"'Struth," muttered Dudley, "I shouldn't like to receive one of those."

"Really," agreed Harry, "but you know, Dudley, if the hooves were left out of the equation I would lay my money on you."

Dudley considered that. "Perhaps, but the hooves are there, right enough."

They certainly were, a fact emphasized when Bane delivered a kick that knocked Flint over. He withdrew and waited for Flint to regain his feet, and when he did so he bowed to Bane and dipped to one knee.

Bane trotted around the ring, his hands held high, as the spectators cheered and applauded.

"Bane remains champion," Firenze said.

"Have you ever fought, Firenze?" Harry asked.

"Aye. I was once herd champion, but I cannot best Bane. He is very strong, and has more skill than is usual with his hooves."

"Are there rules about the fists?" Dudley asked. "I mean, neither of them tried to block or slip a punch; they just stood there and took it."

"No rules as such, no. A blow from the fist may be delivered anywhere, but as the damage inflicted by the fist is minor compared to that inflicted by the hooves, there is little emphasis on that. The combatants seek an opportunity to deliver a punishing kick. No bout has ever been decided by the fist."

Before either Harry or Dudley could respond to that, Bane had trotted over to them.

"So, Firenze, bringing humans to our territory, I see."

"Yes, and congratulations on your victory, it was well fought."

"Harry Potter I know, who is this larger human?"

"This is my cousin Dudley Dursley, Bane. He is a champion boxer and Firenze thought he would enjoy the competition."

"I have heard of boxing. Tell me, Dudley Dursley, what think you of our sport?"

"Well frankly, from my perspective, the fists are not used effectively, but then again I've no hooves at all and I surely could not withstand a kick from you, or any centaur, for that matter."

"I should not think that you could withstand a blow from my fist, human."

Dudley shrugged.

"Perhaps not, but I should try and avoid being struck, and I might have a sharp reply. But I am under no illusion that I could beat you, Bane. I simply have no answer for your hooves. My compliments on your skill and power with them, I have never witnessed so forceful a blow."

Dudley was sincere in his compliment, though the disparagement of his skill rankled a little. But he was a guest, and in any case if it came to a fight Bane would likely actually kill him. Dudley was proud, but no fool.

Bane stared at Dudley, and Firenze shifted uneasily at the expression on his face. Harry felt a trickle of ice down his spine.

"A challenge, then, Dudley Dursley..."

"Oh, shite," Harry thought. "Aunt Petunia will knacker me if I get Dudley killed by a centaur."

"Contend with me. I give you my word that I will use neither my hooves nor my body, but my torso and fists alone. What rules of human boxing should I be aware of?”

"The biggest one is no blows below the belt, but you just fought, aren't you tired?"

"Battle does not tire a centaur, human."

"Dudley, this is a bad idea," Harry said. "A seriously bad idea. Firenze, help me out here."

Firenze had his own opinion on the subject, however.

"It is as you said, Harry Potter. Dudley Dursley is a professional, and thus can choose his own battles. If you require reassurance, Bane will adhere to his word. He is arrogant, but no liar."

"My thanks, former champion."

"I shall wrap your fists should you choose to accept the challenge. The decision, of course, is yours," Firenze told Dudley.

"Merlin's codpiece," Harry thought, "but Bane is a bit of a twat, and who knows, Dudley might surprise him."

"You honour me with your challenge, champion. I accept. I hope to prove a worthy opponent," Dudley said gravely, and Harry started at the tone of his voice. Dudley meant business.

"Oh, shite..."

"Hear me, centaurs! A challenge, given and accepted! Dudley Dursley, kinsman of Harry Potter, and champion boxer among humans, will contend with me!" Bane strutted to the centre of the ring of stones. "In consideration of his limitations as a human, I have agreed to fight by human rules, and I shall not use my hooves or body against him, but my fists alone!"

A susurration went through the crowd, and those who had been leaving returned.

Dudley peeled off his jumper and shirt and handed them to Harry.

"Dudley, I'm not sure this is a good idea..."

"Is Bane a liar?"

"Well, no, but he has a bit of a temper."

"And you have your wand. I'll fight as fair as this can be fought; you try and not let him kill me, right? When the Quidditch moves to interschool competition, Hogwarts will need my help."

"Dud..."

"I'll be fine, Harry."

And there was an end to it. Dudley gave his hands over to Firenze, and the golden centaur skilfully wrapped them in the leather straps. Two pairs of hardened hands met, and Dudley closely watched the corded arms of Firenze as he worked.

"You have a warrior's hands, Dudley Dursley. I bid you good fortune, and I too think that you will win this battle."

Dudley nodded to his corner man as he always had, and then his face went blank.

"Oh, shite..."

Harry discretely put his hand on his wand.

Dudley strode out to the centre of the ring and faced Bane. For an instant he made to touch fists as was human custom, but remembered in time and bowed as he had seen Flint and Bane do before. A whisper of approval went through the audience, and then Bane swung his fist like a hammer.

It met nothing, and Dudley's fist impacted Bane's ribs with an audible thud. To his credit, Bane did not stagger or pause; he simply turned to face Dudley and swung with all his might.

This time Dudley ducked the blow and sent a left jab to Bane's solar plexus, followed instantly by a right cross to the ribs that brought a grunt of pain.

Something changed in Bane's eyes then, and he gathered himself to return to the fight.

Bane tried, and he honoured his word, but he was simply overmatched in a fight of this nature. He landed ponderous blows to Dudley's shoulders on occasion, but Dudley's shoulders were close kin to bowling balls.

And every time he did, he took three blows in return.

The centaurs had never seen anything like it. Bane's blows were more powerful, perhaps, but they almost never landed cleanly, and Dudley's combinations were something beyond Bane's experience. His head was repeatedly rocked by rapid punches scarcely less fierce than his own, his torso was mercilessly pounded, and his ribs ached so that it was hard to breathe.

A few minutes into the fight Bane was a mess, his eyes were swollen, and what had been a bloody nose was now a swamp. Dudley had a cut over one eye, and his upper arms were beginning to bruise, but he was breathing easily and moving lightly.

Bane reached deeply into his strength and swung, once again meeting nothing. His head rocked from a rapid series of punches.

"Enough," Bane said, backing away and dropping to one knee. "I am not shamed by this defeat. I have underestimated you, human. Perhaps there is yet more for humans and centaurs to teach one another."

Dudley bowed in return.

"You stuck to your word, Bane, and I respect that. You could have kicked me over those trees at any time, but you didn't. You're all right by me, and for what it's worth, I've never been hit so hard in my life. I could use a drink, frankly."

"That we can supply, Dudley Dursley," Bane said as he wiped the blood from his face. "Few humans can withstand our beer, but I'll wager that you can. Come and join us in our feasting, champion!"

"Thank all the spirits," thought Harry.

"There, there, is a fighter," thought Firenze.

"Damn, I'm horny," thought Dudley.

<<>>

Centaurs had a lot to learn about boxing, but they knew how to throw a party. There was an entire deer roasting in one pit and what seemed to be pheasant in another. Tables groaned under the weight of breads, cheeses, and fruits, and there was beer.

Oh, yes. There was beer indeed.

Centaur beer is extremely dark, and nearly thick, and it tastes a fair bit like oatmeal stout.

Centaur mugs are not as large as Hagrid's, but Harry still needed two hands to deal with a full one. Several centaurs watched the humans with ill-concealed amusement.

"We'd best watch ourselves with this stuff I think, Dudley."

"Likely you're right." Dudley took a cautious sip. "It's quite good, actually."

"A toast to Bane, our champion!" someone cried out.

"Bane!" the centaurs echoed, and they drank. Bane responded by walking to the centre of the gathering, raising his mug high and then draining it at a go.

The mass cheered, and Bane accepted a refill.

"To Dudley Dursley, the human with iron fists!" Bane called out.

"Dudley Dursley!" they all echoed, and Dudley stepped forward.

"Dud..." Harry cautioned, but he could see that this was just one of those things that a man had to do.

Dudley raised his mug high in acknowledgement, turned it up, and chugged it down in one.

"Now this, this is proper beer, though never before have I had to chew it!"

The centaurs applauded and cheered, and after that things got a little rowdy.

"There don't seem to be any females here, there have to be female centaurs, don't there?" Dudley asked Firenze later on. The celebration had gotten to the serious drinking stage, and the crowd had broken up into groups. Firenze stuck with Harry and Dudley.

"Aye, there are, but they never attend the contests or these feasts. We have different interests, as a rule. In truth, they cannot stand to be around us at these gatherings, and who can blame them? Male centaurs inflamed by battle and elevated by drink are very great fools who like to imagine the world revolves around their cocks."

"That's not confined to centaurs," Dudley told him, and Harry nodded in agreement. The story was as old as time, and they both knew it well.

"I saw a female centaur once," Harry said unsteadily, "she was beautiful. Long red hair, and enormous knockers. I like redheads, but Ginny's tits are kind of small. Great, mind, really great, but smallish."

Dudley took Harry's mug away from him and handed him some bread and cheese.

"Ginny might not appreciate you talking about her breasts in front of everyone, Harry."

"Why not? I said they were great, didn' I? Anyway, her - "

Dudley shoved a wad of bread into his mouth.

"Harry, shut it, right?" Harry nodded as he chewed, and Firenze chuckled.

"I know your mate, Harry Potter, and she is indeed beautiful. She has also given you fine children, you are a fortunate man. What of you, Dudley Dursley, have you a woman of your own?"

"Not exclusively, there is one woman I get on very well with, but it's more of a physical thing for us. She's a very good boxer, loves a good fight, and a good shag after." Firenze nodded.

"Aye, battle inflames the blood. There are always many foals after a centaur conflict. Although at times centaurs seek that release with their own sex, as do humans, I believe."

"You're right about that."

Dudley's eyes locked with Firenze's briefly.

"A song!" someone called out, and three centaurs, Bane among them, stepped forward. One of them took up a beat on a drum and the trio launched into "The Centaur and the Maiden", which was mostly about the maiden's astonishment, fear, and eventual delight at the size of the centaur's prick.

Every species has their delusions.

Other songs followed, and Harry and Dudley felt like they were in a country pub. A very loud and bawdy one.

"And what of our human guests? Come, friends, give us a song," Bane insisted.

"I know one, itshah goo' one, too," Harry said, rising and stumbling forward.

Something about the singing steadied him, and he rendered in an unexpectedly deep voice a quite credible version of "Three Drunken Maidens", much to the delight of his hosts.

Harry bowed. "Righ' then, let's have another song about centaur cocks!" As Harry staggered back to Dudley and Firenze, two centaurs obliged.

"Are centaur cocks really tha' big?" Harry asked Firenze. Dudley covered his face with his hands.

"See for yourself," Firenze said, directing Harry's attention to the edge of the forest.

Two centaurs in an obvious state of arousal were headed into the trees.

"Oh. Righ'. Tha's big. Not tha' mush bigger tha' Dudley's though. Why'dja thin' they call him 'Big D'?"

"Jesus Christ," Dudley moaned. "Harry, how the hell are we going to get home?"

"Can'. No' tonight. I be'er tell Ginny."

Harry stood and produced his wand, and there was a shocked silence, followed by uneasy muttering. Harry was not so drunk as to miss this, and he remembered that centaurs had small love for magic.

"S'alrigh', s'alrigh, I jus' have to le' my wife know I'm no' gonna make it home tonigh'," he explained, and as all of the centaurs knew him they accepted his assurances even as they chortled at his state of inebriation.

Even three sheets in the wind, Harry had no trouble at all producing his Patronus, and the centaurs watched the silver stag disappear into the night.

To many the sight of it brought back memories of the war, and that, combined with the abundance of food and drink began the inevitable slide into melancholy that accompanies great excitement and revelry.

"We have had no song from you, Dudley Dursley," Firenze said, and several other centaurs echoed him.

"I'm not much of a singer," Dudley protested.

"Bullshi'. Big D here shings li' an angel. Sang inna church choir forever," Harry told them.

"I should like to hear you sing, Dudley Dursley," Firenze said quietly, and something in his tone touched Dudley's heart. He had a good deal in common with centaurs, he thought. They shared a warrior ethos, valuing strength, courage, and the value of a man's word.

Dudley stood and stepped forward.

"This might not be a song for a proper Englishman to sing, but fortunately there are none of those here tonight." There were a few chuckles, and Dudley cleared his throat and began to sing.

" As down the glen one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I ..."


Dudley's voice, a surprisingly fine and clear tenor, rolled over the assembled, and the poignant lyric of "The Foggy Dew" spoke to the hearts of them all.

" For slavery fled
Oh, glorious dead
When you fell in the foggy dew..."


A profound silence and more than a few tears greeted the end of the song, and Bane walked up to Dudley and silently offered his hand to him.

"A fitting song to end the night, Dudley Dursley. You are welcome among us as a brother."

Not even Harry had ever received an accolade like that. One by one the centaurs thanked Dudley for the song as they drifted away towards their beds, and soon only Dudley, Harry, and Firenze were left.

"I suppose we can sleep by the fire," Dudley said, looking around uncertainly.

"Hagrid is away. I am certain that you would be more comfortable in his house, and he will not mind you staying there. If you assist Harry Potter onto my back I will carry him. His weight is no burden, and I have carried him before."

"I like ri'in centaurs."

"Come on then." Dudley lifted Harry onto Firenze's back, but he promptly slid off the other side and wound up draped across Firenze's withers on his stomach, snoring softly.

Firenze, Dudley, and the unconscious Harry moved through the dark woods towards Hagrid's place.

"Could you teach me the art of boxing, Dudley Dursley? I have it in mind to challenge Bane again."

"Sure. You can attend the lessons, and after the kids are done I can give you some more advanced training. I guess we should use the same wrappings that you use in your sport, though the potential for injury is higher than with boxing gloves."

"I agree, and we will have access to magical healing at Hogwarts. I'll try not to harm you too badly, Dudley Dursley."

Dudley turned a sharp glance on Firenze. Well, as sharp a glance as he could manage. He was nowhere near as drunk as Harry, but he was far from sober.

"Apart from your hooves, I haven't seen anything on a centaur that scares me, and you might as well call me 'Big D'; all of my friends do."

<<>>

"How much trouble am I in?" Harry asked sheepishly when he greeted his wife.

"Not so much. You did let me know you weren't coming home last night, and I'm glad you had enough sense not to try and Apparate in that state. Besides, that was the first time I've seen a drunk Patronus, much less heard one say, "Dud beat the shite out of a centaur, and we're too drunk to Apparate home. Firenze agrees that you have great tits."

"Uh-oh."

"I hope you didn't show them naked pictures of me."

"I don't have any naked pictures of you, Gin."

"And now you know why. Why did Dudley beat up a centaur? Impressive feat, that."

"The centaurs don't know anything about boxing, and when Bane, the herd champion, asked Dud what he thought of their sport, Dud explained that he didn't think they used their fists well, so Bane challenged him. He promised not to use his hooves, and he kept his word, but Dudley really pounded him. Bane's face looked like raw liver when Dud was done."

"Oh, Bane is a bit of a twat anyhow. Go get cleaned up, you're late for practice."

"Right. You're the best wife ever, love," Harry said as he turned towards their room.

"Harry," Ginny called out.

"Yes?"

"Thanks, I'm glad you like them."

<<>>

"Where'd you get those bruises on your delts, coach?"

"Got kicked by a horse. Pay attention, Parker."

<<>>

"I wish I could have had you to help set up my gym, Harry."

Harry had used magic to install the equipment in the large dungeon room set aside for the boxing lessons.

"That might have been hard to explain, Dud. I get the punching bags, and the weights, but what is the pommel horse for?"

"It's great for balance, coordination, and upper body strength, watch."

Dudley mounted the horse and gave a demonstration. He was no Olympic gymnast, but Harry was impressed.

"More use to the Beaters than anyone else I suppose, but it's good to have a variety of exercises. Keeps the muscles guessing. Here come the kids."

The students arrived in a mass, chattering eagerly. They were from all houses, not just Gryffindor, of course. Dudley looked for Firenze, but he was nowhere in evidence.

"It's great to see you! We'll start by warming up. Always warm up properly in order to help avoid injury..."

Some of the students were disappointed that there would be no actual boxing that night, but they were soon busy enough. Dudley had clearly put a lot of thought into the training programme. He made heavy use of double-ended bags, which are a sort of ball suspended between two elastics. When struck, they fly away, only to spring back in an unpredictable manner. With a Chaser or Seeker on one side and a Beater on the other, both parties received training to their benefit.

Everyone took a turn on the weights, as Dudley was a firm believer that stronger was better, no matter the endeavour. The Beaters spent time on the heavy bags, Chasers threw medicine balls at hoops while Keepers tried to block them, and everyone had a turn on the speed bags to work on hand-eye coordination and to grow accustomed to seeing fast-moving objects.

The Beaters, and anyone else who fancied it, received tutelage on the pommel horse. Rebecca Bulstrode, Millicent's daughter and a Slytherin Beater, showed a real gift for the device. Millicent had never married, and if anyone knew who Rebecca's father was they kept shut about it. Millicent had wanted a child, not a husband.

In any case, the young Bulstrode was a cracking Beater.

"You have planned well, Dudley Dur- Big D," said Firenze in greeting. "I apologize for my tardiness; the stars were most forthcoming tonight."

"That's okay Firenze, but my time here is limited. The lesson will be over soon, you should warm up a bit before we start. What did the stars tell you?"

"Many things."

"Is Mars bright tonight?" Harry asked him, and Firenze smiled.

"Indeed he is. Very bright indeed."

"Okay guys, that's it for tonight. Give me a couple of slow laps around the room to cool down and then get to bed. Sleep is crucial for an athlete. You all did well, I'll see you Saturday."

The students cheerfully complied, and most of them stopped to thank Dudley on their way out.

Harry went over to talk with Dudley while Firenze warmed up.

"You're great with kids, Dudley. Are you sure you don't want some of your own?"

Dudley shrugged.

"Thought about it, but I'm not all that keen. Mum wants grandkids, of course, but that seems a poor reason to commit parenthood."

"True enough. Are you comfortable with your Portkey? I can stay until you finish with Firenze and take you home, if you like."

"Thanks, but I'm fine with it. Thanks again Harry; I really enjoy this, and the extra money is welcome."

"Glad you're having fun. The kids really seemed to enjoy it too."

"Great, give my love to Ginny."

"Will do. See you later, Big D."

Harry took his leave, and Dudley bolted the door securely.

"It wouldn't do for any of the kids to wander in. They aren't ready for real sparring yet, and I don't want to give them ideas."

"I brought wrappings for both of us," Firenze told Dudley.

"Thanks, these things are actually very effective at preventing injury to the hands. Bane's head is damned hard, and my knuckles were hardly swollen at all after that fight."

"A fight the herd is still talking about. Bane fought honourably, but he is beginning to chafe under the teasing."

"Sucks to get your arse beat."

"And has that happened to you, Big D?"

"Not often... but it has happened. Ready?"

"I suppose that remains to be seen."

<<>>

Patiently, Dudley explained how to avoid punches, how to counterpunch, what to look for in your opponent, and Firenze paid careful attention. He had not liked being ousted as herd champion, and longed to reclaim the title. Dudley, human though he was, represented his best chance to accomplish that.

And Dudley struck a chord deep within Firenze. He embodied so many things that Firenze prized. Strength, pride, honour, the desire to share his knowledge and the gift to do so well.

"We'll start at half-speed, and I'll be the aggressor. From my fight with Bane it seems like the first thing to work on is not getting hit and being able to counter effectively. Ready?"

Firenze stepped back and bowed, and they began.

"Just move your head. No need to use more energy than needed. It's okay to take a glancing blow now and then. If the punch is straight on, lean back, it takes the force out of it..."

They began to sweat, and Firenze quickly took in Dudley's coaching.

"Great, Firenze, I barely touched you. Let's take a short break and have some water. Got to stay hydrated."

"It is most generous of you to assist me, Big D."

Dudley shrugged.

"Glad to help out. I'm still amazed that centaurs are real, truth to tell."

"Real enough. We aren't so very different from humans, frankly, although we like to insist that we are. We have similar strengths and weaknesses, similar desires. I will not hide from you that I long to regain my championship. It has been a... loss, I suppose I would say."

"Then let's get back to work. I can't help you with your hooves, but maybe you can learn enough with your fists to give you an edge. Okay, full speed now. I won't press too hard, but it is going to hurt some."

"Some pain is worth enduring. Let us begin."

"The biggest mistakes that Bane made were trying to end it with one blow and not bothering to avoid blows. You can't take but so much, no matter how strong you are, and several lighter blows in rapid succession can be more effective than a single heavy blow. It unbalances you and makes you vulnerable."

Firenze tried a jab, and it scored, but Dudley countered with a rapid flurry that had Firenze reeling a bit.

"So I see," Firenze said, shaking his head.

"Let me show you what to do when that happens, this is called 'clinching'. If your opponent has you off-balance and is pressing you hard, just grab him, like this."

Dudley threw his arms about Firenze's shoulders and leaned his weight on him.

Firenze felt a shock go through him.

"I didn't need to do this when I fought Bane," Dudley explained, his mouth so close to Firenze's ear that he could feel Dudley's breath, "and in any case it would not have been very effective because he is so much heavier than I am. If your opponent is smaller, or even just close in size, then this can tire them out. Do you see?"

"I do."

"Now, in my boxing it is not permitted to strike your opponent as the clinch is broken, and the official will not allow the clinch to continue for more than a moment. However," Dudley said as he stepped back, "your sport has no such rules that I am aware of, and it is simplicity itself to slip in a nice uppercut as you separate."

"I understand."

"See if you can make me need to clinch."

The fight was joined again, and Dudley was impressed with how quickly Firenze picked up on things. Dudley was holding back, but only a little, and every blow that either one of them landed fuelled the fire that was growing inside them.

Firenze landed a fair combination, and Dudley reacted instinctively. His countering flurry had Firenze reeling, and he threw his arms around Dudley and held on.

"Am I doing it right?" Firenze asked, panting heavily.

"Nearly," Dudley replied, and their lips met.

This was no tentative kiss of first love. This was the kiss of two gladiators who had heated one another's blood, and it too was a battle of sorts. For the moment Dudley had no thought at all that Firenze was other than human. He was strong, and he was kissing Dudley with a purpose, obviously just as aroused as Dudley was.

"You're sure?" Firenze asked when the kiss ended.

"See for yourself," Dudley answered, and he guided Firenze's hand to his crotch.

"Sure enough," admitted Firenze, and he slipped his hand into Dudley's trunks. "I am pleased to meet you, Big D," he said with a smile as he stroked Dudley.

"Likewise, I'm sure. God, that feels good."

"It does."

Both of them were breathing heavily now from something other than fighting, though the exertion was little less. Dudley's fingers kneaded Firenze's shoulders, but when he slid a hand down his belly he encountered only warm hide.

"That is not where it is."

"Right. I forgot for a moment."

Dudley was in danger of forgetting his own name just then, the heat of Firenze's body had him sweating harder than the sparring had, and the feel of Firenze's hand on his cock already had him perilously close to coming.

"Wait, I want more than that," Dudley said, grasping Firenze's wrist and pulling his hand away. He stepped back and pulled off his trunks, and they stood in frank appraisal of one another.

Then Dudley walked over to the pommel horse and rested his forearms on it, leaning over with his feet well apart.

Firenze could take a hint.

<<>>

Smallish centaur he might be, but the body that covered Dudley's was massive by comparison, and for the first time in many years Dudley felt small. He was surrounded, pinned, nearly overwhelmed by the heat and power of the body above him and by the exquisite fullness that bordered on pain.

<<>>

Firenze was careful, uncertain in the beginning. For the first time in many years he felt huge, too big, too awkward, and for a moment he worried because Dudley was so small beneath him.

But Dudley was by no means fragile, and Firenze could feel the strength of the man, the strength that had literally been beaten into his hide only a short time before. He was able to give himself over completely to Dudley, and both of them were greater for it.

<<>>

Gryffindor took the house cup, and no one cheered louder than Dudley. Harry and Madam Hooch had already compiled the roster for the interschool team, and Dudley had scheduled another evening of practice just for them.

"Are you sure you can spare this much time, Dudley? I mean, it's great for the team, Hogwarts has an excellent chance to win the whole thing this year and you've been a big part of that. I just don't want it to compromise your business."

"No worries, Harry. I've taken on a new trainer at the gym, and she's really good. I love it when she wipes the smirk off some gym rat's face. But I'll not deny I'm busy." He shrugged. "Better than being bored, and anyway, this is fun for me."

"How is Firenze doing with his training?"

"Just great, he's a fast learner, and he's getting better. He can take Bane now, I think."

"Can he take you? Apart from the hooves, I mean."

"Please."

"Didn't think so," Harry said with a laugh. "Coming to the party?"

"I'll be along, yes. I want to talk with Firenze about the new training schedule first, though."

"Right then, see you in the common room. Watch out for Peeves, excitement like this always gets him wound up."

"Shite."

Dudley loathed Peeves.

"Ah, come on Dud, he's not much worse then you used to be." Dudley snorted.

"I suppose you're right. Sorry about all that stuff, Harry."

"It's all kind of funny now, and I did set that snake on you that time."

"That's right... saaayy..." Dudley stepped forward and Harry turned and ran, waving over his shoulder.

"Later, Big D!"

Dudley walked over to Firenze, who was waiting a discrete distance away.

"I have issued my challenge, Dudley. Bane and I will contend this Sunday noon."

"I'll be there," Dudley promised. "I've added a class on Friday evenings for the interschool team. We can get a workout in after that to keep you sharp."

"I have much to thank you for."

"Save that for when you win. Frankly, I'd say we're even."

"Aye. Enjoy your nephew's victory. I look forward to Friday evening."

"Me too," Dudley said quietly as he watched Firenze trot away.

<<>>

Friday evening found the interschool Quidditch team assembled in the gym.

"Right, you lot are supposed to be the best, so we're going to up the ante a bit. Grab some gloves and headgear and pair off." The kids excitedly ran to the equipment storage.

"Who do you think James will pair with?" Harry asked.

"Rebecca. James can't keep his eyes off of her when she's on the horse."

"I've noticed that, but wouldn't that mean he would be reluctant to hit her?"

Dudley shrugged.

"No doubt he'd rather snog her, but that takes more nerve than he has right now. He'll get to touch her though, and no one can kid him about it."

"First crushes. Brutal things. Still, we all had to go through it. I just hope he doesn't hurt her."

"I wouldn't worry too much about that, Harry..."

Dudley was correct, there was no need to worry about James hurting Rebecca.

"Are you okay, Potter?"

"Yeah, sure," gasped James. He was doubled over and fighting for breath, having caught a punch square in the breadbasket. "But I'm glad you're on my side, Bulstrode."

"I really am, you know. Come on, you should get some water."

James looked up at her and Rebecca smiled at him.

"He's doomed," Harry said to Dudley.

"Totally. But he could do worse."

Apart from James getting the wind knocked out of him and a pair of bloody noses the sparring ended without injury. And the kids had a lot of fun and felt a bit more grown-up, which had been the main point of the sparring.

"Confidence is key. This was a great idea, Dudley; I'm sure James has more confidence in Rebecca as a Beater now he's felt what the Bludgers get."

"That's the plan. These are good kids, Harry. They never get on to me about having no magic, not even the Slytherins."

"Things have changed for the better since the war, for all of us."

"Sure have. Mum's coming home tomorrow."

"Oh. Well, tell her I said welcome back, right?"

"I'm going to miss missing mum."

"I imagine so. It might be time to get your own place, Dud. I know you worry about her, but she's been off on her own for months now and she's done all right."

"Likely you're right. We'll see how it goes. Well, here comes Firenze. I want to give him a good tuneup before the fight this Sunday."

"Sorry I'll miss it, but I can't get out of Molly's birthday party."

"Too right you can't. Give my love to George."

"Right. Later, Diddikins."

Dudley flipped him off and turned to greet Firenze.

"Greetings, Dudley. I am prepared to learn..."

He was prepared, and he did learn.

<<>>

"Welcome home, mum!" Dudley greeted his mother as she came down the gangway. "You look marvellous!"

She did, she had some colour in her cheeks and a smile on her face. In point of fact, she looked years younger.

"Dudley, darling!" Petunia threw her arms around her son. "Let’s go home; the ship line will deliver my luggage."

Dudley escorted his mother to the car and drove them home while she regaled him with stories of her trip.

"I’ve had a marvellous time, Dudley, but I’m glad to be home. The house looks well-kept."

"Thanks, mum." Dudley opened the car door for her and walked with her to the door of their house, which he also opened for her.

"Such a gentleman, thank you, dear."

Dudley expected her to make a tour of inspection, but she walked straight into the sitting room, poured herself a brandy, kicked off her shoes, sat on the sofa and put her feet up on the table.

Dudley goggled.

"Fix yourself a drink and sit, son. We need to have a talk."

"Here it comes," thought Dudley, and he made the drink a stiff one.

"I had a lot of time to think on my trip, and I came to realise a few things."

Dudley sipped his drink and waited in silence.

"I want you to know that this will always be your home, son, but it really is time for you to be out on your own. I’ve been selfish, I was afraid of losing you, and afraid to be on my own. There is a big world out there, and I want you to see it. Go and live your life, Dudley. I’ll be fine, and I’ll be here for you any time you need me."

"I don’t know what to say, mum."

"You don’t need to say anything, just give me the rest of this day and let me fix your favourite dinner for you. Mind, I’m not throwing you out; take the time to find a nice place of your own. Harry might be able to help you with that; he knows a lot of people."

"Harry?"

"Yes, Harry. I have fences to mend with my nephew as well. He’s all that’s left of Lily. I blamed him for her death, along with her husband, but it was really that evil wizard. Harry saved our lives, didn’t he, Dudley?"

"Yes, mum. He did that."

"Well then," she tossed off her drink and stood up. "I’ll get started on dinner and I’ll make you a shopping list." She paused on her way to the kitchen to kiss Dudley on the cheek. "You’re a fine son, Diddy, and a fine man. I’m very proud of you." Petunia continued to the kitchen, humming a song she must have heard on her trip.

"Bite my arm off…"

Dudley finished his drink, poured another, kicked off his shoes and put his feet on the table. He smiled.

<<>>

Dudley made his way to the battle glade after Portkeying to Hogwarts. The path was familiar now, as he often visited with the centaurs. He felt quite at home among them. He had also met several female centaurs, including the one Harry had mentioned.

Harry was right, she was beautiful.

The foals loved playing with Dudley; he was big and strong enough that they didn't have to worry about hurting him, and kind and patient enough that the females did not fear that he would hurt them.

Several of the females had made plain their interest, and Dudley was a bit intrigued.

But to this point he was a one-centaur man. Still, the flirting was pleasant.

Dudley arrived at the glade to find Firenze pacing restlessly.

"Relax," he advised, "no use burning energy before the fight." Firenze chuffed, and stamped his feet.

"No doubt you are right, but the memory of our last fight weighs heavily."

"No you don't, Firenze, the last fight means less than shite. No bout that is past means anything, won or lost. The only fight is the present one. Let's get your hands wrapped."

Dudley's presence, advice, and attitude calmed Firenze. He drew strength from Dudley's touch as he skilfully applied the wraps.

"You are a true friend, Dudley Dursley."

"As are you, you spavined nag. Now what's the plan?"

"Dance like a unicorn..." Firenze began.

"Punch like Big D," Dudley finished. "Give him a proper hiding, Firenze."

The gong sounded, and Bane entered the ring. Dudley gave Firenze a short, sharp punch to the belly and smiled at the tightened muscles he encountered.

"You're ready. It's your time."

Firenze entered the ring, the combatants exchanged bows, and the fight was on.

It was immediately apparent that Bane had learned something from his fight with Dudley. He did not stand flathoofed and trade blows with Firenze. He gave ground at need, and appeared to be seeking an opening.

And he landed the first blow, a ringing thing to Firenze's upper arm that had to hurt.

However, that did not stop Firenze from countering with a vicious combination that had Bane shaking his head to clear it.

A murmur ran through the crowd, and expectations rose.

The fight dragged on, and blood flowed. Both Firenze and Bane were breathing heavily. It was apparent that Dudley's training had given the edge to Firenze when it came to fists, but in this battle hooves were also used, and Bane was brilliant with them.

He was also undeniably the more powerful of the two.

Centaur bouts had no rounds, they started and then only ended when one combatant yielded or could not continue.

Neither Bane nor Firenze showed any inclination to yield, and it looked very much like one or the other of them was going to be seriously injured, if not killed outright.

Dudley was worried to the point of fear. Had this been conducted under his rules he would have thrown in the towel simply to stop it. The fight had been magnificent, but had now reached the point of folly. It would come down to a stumble, a misplaced hoof, a soft bit of soil.

And it happened, Firenze stumbled, and the kick that Bane landed sent him reeling back. Bane waited for him to recover, to continue or not continue, as was centaur custom in these fights. For once Dudley thought this custom made perfect sense, and he was willing Firenze to bend his knee and end this. The crowd had grown quiet.

Firenze stood straight, shook his head, and advanced. Bane responded with a powerful blow that skipped off Firenze's shoulder and collided with his head, and Firenze swayed, but kept his feet. He lunged forward and wrapped his arms about Bane, leaning on him with all of his weight.

Surprised, Bane sought to back away, pushing at Firenze with his arms.

Dudley saw it coming, though no one else did, and his breath caught in his throat.

Firenze loosed his hold, and as Bane broke free his momentum carried him back a step.

And Firenze hit him on the point of his chin with all of the strength he had left.

It was enough. Bane's knees buckled and he hit the ground with a thud.

There was a momentary silence, and then the earth trembled with the stamping of hooves, and trees shook from the full-throated roar of all of the centaurs.

Someone poured a bucket of water over Bane, and he opened his eyes, blinking and looking around. Firenze stepped back and waited.

Bane tried to stand, but could not.

"Well struck, champion," he said through swollen lips, "I cede the battle."

More cheers erupted, and two centaurs helped Bane to his feet. The mass of centaurs swept both Bane and Firenze off to the celebration, and Dudley followed after, letting the relief flood through him.

Fortunately the centaur's dislike of magic did not extend to healing potions, and in an hour or so both Bane and Firenze could move about with ease, though Bane's face was still swollen and hoof prints stood out livid on Firenze's body.

"But for you I had lost that fight," Firenze said to Dudley after the obligatory toasting was done.

"It was a hell of a thing. You're going to have to change the rules now, though. There aren't enough centaurs for you to be killing each other."

"You speak truly, Dudley Dursley," Bane said. "But that is for another day. Today, tonight, we salute our new champion. I must find Ronan, I am... unsettled."

Bane left them.

"And you, Firenze? Are you unsettled?"

"Intensely so."

It was a measure of Dudley's acceptance by the centaurs that none thought it the least bit remarkable when he and Firenze retreated into the woods.

For Dudley, this was a time to give, and he did.

What they had was not love in the usual sense. They both knew the limitations of their relationship. But they were both strong, both passionate, both beings who appreciated strength, and striving, and perseverance.

And they strove to persevere.

<<>>

"Suppose he does some kind of spell on me? Turns me into a toad, or blows me up and floats me away?"

"Mum, Harry's not like that. I told you he was thrilled that you wanted to meet Ginny and the kids."

"But..."

"Relax, mum, take a chill pill."

"Don't you take the mickey with me, young man."

"You're all right, mum."

The banter did relax her a bit, but Petunia was still nervous when Dudley rang Harry's doorbell.

"Aunt Petunia! It's so grand to have you here! Come in, come in. Ginny, this is my Aunt Petunia. Aunt Petunia, my wife Ginevra."

"Pleased to meet you, Aunt Petunia," Ginny said, and she hugged Petunia.

"Oh, you're so lovely," Petunia said softly, tears springing to her eyes. Harry coughed and ran his sleeve across his face.

"Come and meet the kids, Aunt Petunia." Harry took her by the hand and led her into the sitting room where the younger Potters were arranged in order of age, awaiting their aunt.

"This is James, our eldest," Ginny said, "Dudley has been giving him boxing lessons."

"Hello, Aunt Petunia," James said. James had heard tales of Harry's time with the Dursleys, and he had a few reservations.

"I've brought you something," Petunia said. "I remember that your father used to like them." The package of toffees raised his Great Aunt a good deal in James's estimation.

"What do we say, James?"

"Oh! Right, thank you Aunt Petunia."

"You're most welcome, James. You must tell me what your favourite cake is, so that I can make one for you."

"Mum's a positively brilliant baker, James," Dudley assured him.

"And this is Albus Severus," Ginny continued.

"I recall the names. From what Dudley has told me you should bear them with pride, young man. I hope you like lemon sherbets."

"My favourite! Thanks, Aunt Petunia."

"And this - this is Lily," Harry said softly.

"Oh my Lord... you are the very image of your grandmother, child."

Petunia dropped to her knees and embraced Lily. She then produced a small box from her purse.

"My sister, Lily, gave this to me, and I want you to have it now."

She opened the box, and on a velvet cushion sat an enamelled monarch butterfly with shining emerald eyes.

"It's so pretty," Lily breathed.

"Go ahead, pick it up, dear."

Lily did, and the reflections from the pin made it look alive.

"Now just toss it gently into the air."

Lily glanced at her father, who nodded for her to do so, and Lily tossed the butterfly upwards.

Much to Lily's delight, it fluttered a slow circle around her head, and then lit on her shoulder and was still.

"It will never fall off, so you needn't worry about losing it. There is magic that binds it to you; it won't work for anyone else now."

"Thank you, Aunt Petunia; it's marvellous!"

"You're most welcome, it suits you perfectly. Harry, there are some other things that were hers that should go to you now. You and your family must come to dinner soon, and we can go through them."

"Thank you Aunt Petunia, we'd love to."

"Thank you Harry, and I'm sorry for how I treated you, I was just -"

"I know, Aunt Petunia, but it's all come right in the end, hasn't it?"

Harry embraced his aunt and Petunia cried on his shoulder.

"Are you sad, Aunt Petunia?"

"Not any longer, dear Lily."

<<>>

The stroke that took Petunia Dursley was as massive as it was sudden.

She was sitting in Harry's garden waiting for lunch, and when Lily brought it to her she found her there, smiling, but dead.

Lily was shattered, and it was Dudley who put her back together.

"Lily, hers was a good ending, and you know that we all will die, right?"

"Yes, but it's so not fair!"

"Maybe not, but see it from her end. She had 10 years with you and your brothers, with Harry and Ginny. She made up for her mistakes, she conquered her fears, and she died sitting in the sun in a garden, waiting for the only person she ever loved as much as she loved her sister to bring her lunch. Not bad if you ask me."

"I was too late!"

"No, Lily. You were just in time."


<<>>

"Sorry abou' yer mum, Dudley," Hagrid said awkwardly.

"Thanks, Hagrid."

Dudley and Hagrid had become friends. They kept running across each other when Dudley came to Hogwarts to coach, and Harry had gotten tired of them avoiding each other.

"Grow the hell up, both of you," Harry had said. "So you gave him a tail once, big deal. You two are more alike than you are different."

Harry was right, and Dudley visited regularly, sometimes with Firenze. Hagrid found nothing at all odd with their relationship.

"I'm right sorry abou' that tail business, too, Dudley. I shouldn'a done that."

"I expect I had it coming. Anyhow, that's all behind me now."

"Merlin... 'ave some more ale an' stop tryin' ter be funny."

<<>>

"You're giving me the gym?" Adelaide asked.

"Not exactly. I'll maintain title to minimize the tax hit, but it's yours to run. Change it how you like. I'll take 10 percent a year as my cut. I'm done, Addy. I've simply lost my taste for it, I guess."

"Lost your taste for me?"

"Not just yet."

<<>>

"And so here we are, Dudley Dursley. Two old warriors easing their bones in the sun."

"We've earned it."

"Aye. Do you ever wish that you had had children? Someone to carry on the name, as you humans say?"

"I've had children in plenty, and they carry on more important things than a name. Harry's kids, their kids, all of the kids at Hogwarts, the foals here with the herd. There is enough of me carrying on."

"That's the truth and no mistake. Whoever thought a centaur would be named Dudley?"

"He looks like you. I'm glad you finally decided to breed."

"I think Sabine preferred you, in truth."

"I couldn't give her a foal. I suppose she had to settle for second best."

"And is that what you did?"

Dudley reached over and took Firenze's hand.

"No."


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