Author's Note: Worst title ever. Ugh. Sorry about that. Anyway, this is how I imagine a reunion between Harry and his cousin after the war. I like to imagine them having a distant but cordial relationship and trying to get over sixteen years of the most dysfunctional family ever. Yeah, Dudley was a little *insert expletive here* but he grows up and starts to realize certain things about his parents' views on the magical world and treatment of Harry.
Sorry if anything is overdramatic or poorly written. I was touched by the response to my first chapter of "Speaking of Serpents", and since I haven't had time to write any more yet I thought I'd post something I already had written.
The man standing on the doorstep had the same messy dark hair, the same thin face, the same idiotic-looking round glasses Dudley remembered. Only the eyes were different. The deep green irises now held the tired, haunted look associated with soldiers; he looked like he'd been dragged through a war zone—and even as he thought it, Dudley realized that he'd seen the look there before. Seen it, but never wasted any more thought on it than he was accustomed to spending on the fourth, unwanted member of the family.
Twelve months and whatever he'd seen since had only deepened the darkness until it was plain even to the most unfeeling person.
The man shifted uncomfortably under his cousin's gaze.
"May I come in?" he asked quietly.
Dudley nodded stupidly and stepped aside, opening the door wider as he did so. Harry Potter stepped hesitantly over the threshold, surveying the apartment. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink, a leather jacket slung over the single chair at the small kitchen table, while a corner of the living room was devoted to a collection of CDs and a rather battered desk holding an expensive-looking computer.
The apartment's inhabitant flicked on a light switch in the living room and hastily swiped crumbs off a lumpy sofa. Harry accepted the wordless offer and dropped onto it.
"How long ago did you move out?" he asked, acutely and uncomfortably aware that despite sixteen years of residing with the Dursleys, his first and only civil conversation with his cousin had been a little over a year previous.
If Harry was uncomfortable, Dudley appeared even more so. His wide shoulders hunched, he gave a slight shrug.
"I'd finished school, and they were going on about me attending uni, and I just didn't—I told Mum and Dad I wanted a while to figure things out. Mum wasn't happy—"
He flinched, and Harry knew they were both remembering the days of Ickle Diddykins. He expected his cousin to blush, but Dudley simply continued staring morosely out the front window.
"Anyway, Mum comes over every week or so, trying to persuade me to move back for a while, but I don't want—I mean…" Dudley ran his hands through his short-cropped blonde hair. "Everything's different. Even the weather. Darker, I mean. There's a lot I don't understand, and I don't think Mum and Dad have ever—I mean, I couldn't stay."
Seeming realizing that he was standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, hands half-curled into fists at his sides, Dudley hastily strode across the room to the small kitchen table with its single wooden chair. Harry, in shock, was still mulling over his cousin's words when Dudley returned and seated himself.
"That's why I came, actually," Harry said, and his green eyes finally met Dudley's watery blue ones. "I figured you all deserved to know…the war is over. The Death—the Dark wizards are gone, and the Ministry is rounding up the dementors. It's safe to return to Privet Drive."
As he spoke, Harry wondered if the other had any real idea what this meant, what the cost had been—but he watched hope and relief wash over Dudley's face and knew that his cousin had come to understand much more than he had ever wished to. Nevertheless, after a moment he was shaking his head.
"I'm not going back," said Dudley. "I've got to move on. But Harry," after an awkward pause, "What about you?"
For a few utterly absurd seconds Harry thought Dudley was asking if he would return to Privet Drive. Then he understood.
"I'm—all right," he said. "I've got to move on too." His mind wandered back to the Burrow and everyone who awaited him there, and he added, "I've got friends. Family, almost."
Dudley shifted at these words, half in discomfort and half—perhaps—in relief.
"I'm glad," he said, and the words were so quiet that they were swallowed in the swelling silence of the small room.
Outside the sun was setting, and the sudden flood of light through the front window made hope leap again in Dudley's chest. He remembered only too well his encounter with a dementor, with the terrifying invisible thing that seemed to suck every feeling of joy away, that brought back the worst of his young life and replayed it before his eyes, as still happened sometimes in dreams. It had made him more sensitive than most to the clinging fog that had shrouded the country for the last year. That the gloom was dispelling enough to let through the full strength of the sun's rays could only mean Harry was right, and the war had been won.
Harry seemed to be following both his gaze and his train of thought, and was rubbing absently at his scar while watching the sun sink lower across the sky.
"Harry," said Dudley suddenly, surprising them both. "You fought him, didn't you? The bloke who killed your parents?"
Harry raised his head, and in the last burst of light from the sinking sun Dudley saw that the lightning bolt-shaped scar ("Ridiculous," his father had snorted often enough, glaring over the top of his newspaper. "Boy doesn't even have the courtesy to look normal.") was much less livid than he had ever seen it before.
"Yes," said Harry. "I did."
Dudley was seized by a sudden, absurd desire to ask who had won—he shut his mouth abruptly, then opened it again to ask how, what had happened, and then shut it again. Harry's life was never discussed, never something he had wanted to know about, and he knew he didn't deserve answers now. Harry, however, staring into the distance somewhere over Dudley's left shoulder, began speaking in a low voice.
By the time he finished what Dudley knew was the barest skeleton of a long and unbelievable tale, the only light came from feebly glowing orange fixture overhead. Harry seemed exhausted; despite his glasses Dudley could see the dark circles under his eyes, and one hand trembled slightly as he raised it to brush his too-long, unruly bangs out of his eyes.
"I've got to go," he said, standing abruptly and brushing off a few crisp crumbs that clung to his jeans.
Dudley rose too, and held out a beefy hand for an awkward handshake. "Thanks, Harry. I'll tell Mum and Dad…"
Harry nodded, seemingly unable to find any words. He was on the doorstep when he turned abruptly and said, "I'm getting married."
Dudley was taken aback. "Wha—wow, congratulations!" He said the words automatically as he registered what Harry had said.
His cousin seemed embarrassed, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. "I know it's young," he said, apparently misunderstanding Dudley's bewilderment. He gave a laugh devoid of bitterness. "I guess I've grown up fast."
"Blimey, Harry, I don't blame you for that," said Dudley stupidly, thinking over the story he had just heard. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "What's she like?"
Harry turned to watch the last pinkish glow of light fade into violet. For a while he couldn't find the words, and then he said, almost too quietly for Dudley to hear, "She's like the sun coming back. Like magic and phoenix song and everything worth having."
Standing in the doorway of his empty apartment and listening to these simple words float across the night air, Dudley felt for the first time ever a rush of nostalgia for the world that he'd never known, that he'd always seen as dangerous and criminal and simply…strange. The last year had proven that it was, even more so than he had ever thought. And yet…and yet…
And yet Harry had fought a war and come back and now he stood in the gathering darkness and felt at home there, simply because he knew the light would return.
"Harry," said Dudley, before closing the door.
He didn't know how to frame what he wanted to say. Didn't know how to apologize to the man standing before him. Didn't know how 'sorry' could convey what he really meant. I don't want to be them, Harry. I don't want to be my mum and dad. I don't understand how to be anything else.
What came out instead was, "Don't be a stranger."
He could have sworn he saw the black-haired man give a ghost of a smile before vanishing, with a quiet crack! into thin air.