(A/N: Hey guys, I'm back again. I'm writing this while three of the world's most judgmental cats stare me down, so you can thank them for an update actually happening today. No new warnings that I can think of, so on with the show!)

The North Wind Blows

Part 22

Harry found that he could not quite keep his expression blank as he stared into the room that his cousin had been given. Dudley looked different, tired, shoulders slumped, the impression of arrogance gone. For three weeks he had been at the manor, a number of Healers attending to the long-term effects of spell damage caused by Dumbledore's control. In that time Harry had not seen him, only heard vague updates that he was recovering, that they were lucky they'd gotten him away when they did. From what Harry could see, they'd been right, Dudley had lost considerable weight, he looked lost and unsettled, and his expression unfocused much the way that Harry's own was during an episode of dissociation. This was one more thing that Harry would never forgive Dumbledore for, one more reason that if the old man wasn't ousted in time, he would not be attending Hogwarts.

"You don't have to talk to him yet, if you're not ready," Tom's hands were folded tightly behind his back, fingers clenched around one another. It was not just Harry that was bothered by the state that Dudley was in, everyone was disturbed by the level of magic Dumbledore had poured into breaking and controlling the mind of a child. The suppression of his magic hadn't helped in the least, Dudley's magic should have been appearing for years by then, and now what would have been isolated incidents of accidental magic were daily occurrences.

"No, I want to, but I'd thought, you know, maybe, just maybe, one of us would be in an okay state of mind. I guess Dumbledore doesn't like the idea of that," Harry said and found that bitterness edged his voice towards the fringes of the darkness that had initially consumed him upon his release from the Dursley home. He was recovering, with every passing week he was making progress, but he'd started from deeper than the bottom and he wasn't anywhere close to being out of the pit yet. Draco wouldn't be setting any speed records for recovery either. Harry had wanted them all to have something in common, this wasn't it.

"He has his motivations; he's made a mistake with Dudley, leaving traceable magic on him. The Ministry is investigating him, for now it is all that we can do. To move against him too soon would be folly," Tom said but his voice was tight, the flare of old magic tingeing his eyes with red when he glanced down at Harry.

"There's no such thing as too soon. I'll kill him myself if the need arises," Harry said, voice sharp and clear, there was no hesitance in his expression and Tom was again reminded that Harry was dangerously powerful under the mask of a 9 year old.

"We're going to try to make sure that you don't have to. Now, go see your cousin, he could probably stand to interact with someone his own age," Tom said, clearing his throat awkwardly and trying to tamp down on the visceral response his magic had toward the pain that Harry had suffered. They had meant to avoid any confrontation with Dumbledore at all, but when the Healers had discovered his magical signature all over Dudley's mind and magic they'd been forced to involve the authorities. It was likely one of the most obvious breakages of the law that they were going to be able to get the man on, so they had to try, even if it was risking his wrath. In the manor they were safe at least.

Harry took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders, he gave his body a quick shake and then stepped forward, passing through the barrier that separated Dudley's room from the rest of the hall. The other boy would have been unaware of their presence if he had chosen to remain outside. The charm was part of how the Healers were monitoring Dudley for signs of lingering damage, it also protected him from the somewhat hectic back and forth that existed in the halls of the manor these days with some 6 healers coming and going on rotation and Ministry investigators stopping by for updates. Things were also busy with Lucius having pulled the right strings to see to it that Narcissa and Septimus were in the process of being divorced and that his brother would be prosecuted for the abuse that he'd doled out. Harry was very glad that Dudley didn't have to deal with all of that, he and Draco had similar charms protecting their rooms, but they at least knew what it was that they weren't seeing.

"Hey Dudley," Harry said gently, his voice pitched low as he approached slowly. The blond boy lifted his head and turned to look at Harry through glazed eyes, he stood almost robotically from the table that he had been working at, pages of crayon scribbles strewn about the surface.

"Harry? You're real, right? The real one?" Dudley said, stumbling over his words and seeming to be unsure if he should reach out or keep his hands to himself. Harry stepped in close and gently clasped the other boy's hands, giving them a squeeze and swallowing past the urge to cry. He had expected to still feel some measure of anger toward his cousin, but all of that had been released in favor of a deep and aching pity. Dudley had suffered because of Harry; Dumbledore had only harmed him because of Harry. Dumbledore needed to pay.

"Yeah, I'm real, I've been here for a couple of months now," Harry assured gently and blinked in shock when Dudley pulled him close and hugged him tight. He was used to being hugged these days, Draco often slept wrapped around him like a cat, Narcissa was a veritable fountain of hugs, his bond mates were still able to be goaded into hugs on occasion, but this was different. It was as if Dudley were trying to convey 9 years of compassion in a single embrace and Harry found that he couldn't help but hug back.

"Oh Harry, I'm so glad you're okay. I'm so sorry, I know it wasn't me, I know it's not actually my fault, but you still went through so much because of me. I wasn't strong enough to stop it," Dudley said and carefully held Harry by the shoulders, looking him up and down and breaking into tears.

"The person that cursed you, not a lot of people are strong enough to stop him. We're just kids and he's an adult, you didn't stand a chance Dudley, neither did I. I don't blame you at all," Harry said, finding the strength to speak even though all he wanted to do was cry along with Dudley. They could have grown up as friends, they could have been as close as brothers and he hoped with all of his heart that they would be able to put the past behind them sooner rather than later so that they could get to where they should be as cousins. Harry refused to let what Dumbledore had done, what his Uncle had done, have any lasting effects on his relationship with Dudley. They had ruined his past but he had no intention of letting them ruin his future. That was part of what therapy was all about.

"Sometimes I'm still scared that I'm going to wake up and be like that again. I get so afraid that he's somehow gotten into my head in a way that can't be stopped, even though the Healers tell me that they've banished anything that could be used like that," Dudley said and sat back down at the table when Harry nudged him to do so. He pulled up a second chair and grabbed some paper, he rarely colored, he preferred to study his books or spend his time working out his issues in his journal, but the Mind Healer had said that drawing was also a good outlet.

"We're going to stop him. He won't hurt any of us anymore. But I know what it feels like to worry about waking up being trapped again. It isn't really something that goes away easily, especially when you lived with it for so long. It will get better though," Harry said and marveled at the grown-up conversation that they were having while doing such a childish activity. Thanks to the Healers he knew that trauma often resulted in children acting too advanced for their age or too young, but he often wondered what it would have been like to be a regular kid, what was he supposed to be doing as a 9 year old?

(A/N: That's all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed it and will leave me a comment or a review. I hate having to beg for them, but you have no idea how much they motivate me to keep going. Not hearing from you makes it feel like no one cares about the story anymore which makes it difficult to keep working at. So yeah, I hope you'll take the time to let me know what you thought. Thanks for reading.)