The first time she met Petunia and Vernon Dursley she had been dating Dudley for six months almost precisely. (Almost; on the actual day she took Dudley out to try sushi for the first time. He had hated it, ordered a big plate of teriyaki chicken and rice instead, and she had teased him about being picky. Altogether, it had been a much better date.)
The car ride after leaving Privet Drive had been near dead silence for over ten minutes before the tension got so thick that she had to say something. "Your parents are…"
"My parents are horrible," Dudley said flatly.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," she protested, despite the fact that was exactly what she had been thinking.
"It's okay. I love them because they're my parents, but I don't have any illusions about them. Not anymore," he said tightly.
"Ah," she said, licking her lips nervously. There was another silence. "Well, I still think you grew up well, even if that was despite them, instead of because of them."
"There was a lot of that going around. Remind me to tell you about my cousin Harry sometime," Dudley said.
"Cousin Harry?" she repeated. It wasn't odd, exactly, that he'd never mentioned his cousin before: he didn't talk about his family much in general, and goodness knows she had cousins she hadn't spoken to in, gosh, years, she really needed to give them a call. But something in the way his lips shaped the name implied there was a story there. No, not a story, but a Story, capital letter and all.
"Later," he said, "the whole thing is a bit long, and it's getting late."
Point of fact it was only half eight – they hadn't wanted to linger at the Dursleys' any longer than politeness demanded – but she smiled and said, "Alright. Later then."
Later doesn't come until after nearly a year has passed. For the last three months they've been discussing the idea of getting married, sort of 'if we were married we could/should/would/ do this or that,' and sometime about two weeks ago 'if' turned to 'when.' At this point it seemed that all was left was for someone to pop the question. (She was planning on giving Dudley until the end of the month, not wanting to cut him off at the knees if he had some grand gesture planned, then she was asking him herself.)
She thought tonight might be the night, actually. It started with dinner at their favourite restaurant, their favourite, but by no means a fancy or particularly expensive one, which would have been innocuous enough, but then Dudley surprised her with tickets to Wicked on the West End, which had to mean something special. While he had gone with her to see a show twice before, both times on her birthday, Dudley had made no secret of the fact that he didn't really consider it his thing. Plus he had always been a little funny about magic and witches and fantasy stuff as well.
("That wouldn't have worked, you know," Dudley had said after she had told him about her pseudo-rebellious phase when she had gotten really into Wicca.
"Of course not, magic isn't real," she'd replied. Dudley had gotten a funny look on his face at that and after a moment, had changed the subject.)
By the time they got home she was feeling fairly lavished with affection and quite ready to say yes to any particular question that Dudley might ask. But when she looked over at him, he was looking small and sad and drawn in on himself. "I need to tell you about my cousin Harry."
"Well, that's not very romantic," she said.
She immediately had to clamp down on the urge to cover her mouth with her hand. But then Dudley laughed a little and she decided to chalk it up as one of those rare fortuitous bits of rudeness. She drew him over to the settee and sat him down, taking the seat next to him and his hands in hers. "Tell me about Cousin Harry."
There was a long moment of silence, like hanging on the edge of precipice, and then, taking a deep breath, he did. He told her about cupboards under the stairs and stained hand-me-down clothes, too many chores and too little food, Harry-hunting and broken glasses, bars on the windows and rows of locks, insults and neglect and things that no child should have to suffer through.
"A few days before his 17th birthday he left, and none of us ever heard from him again," Dudley concluded.
"Those foul, awful people," she said with a degree of venomousness that surprised even herself. "They should be in jail."
Dudley began to pull away from her, and at first she thought it was because they were still his parents, but then the actual reason occurred to her. "Oh, no love," she said, drawing him in to plant a kiss on his forehead. "It was something they did to you too."
"Damaged," Dudley said slowly. "That's what one of Harry's teachers said when he came to pick Harry up. That my parents had damaged me."
"They did," she told him. "They damaged you, but you picked yourself up and made yourself strong again. I'm so proud of you." He looked doubtful, but she thought that might be one of those things that a person needed to be told time and time again before they believed it. That was fine by her, she'd tell him as many times as it took, and one more for good measure.
He looked away from her shame-faced, and his next words came out laced with regret. "I don't know if I can be a father; I don't know if I can trust myself."
"You don't have to be, if you don't want to. Mind you, Mum will probably go spare when she hears I'm not planning on giving her any grandkids, but as my sister is about to pop out numbers 2 and 3 any day now, Mum will just have to suck it up," she assured him. She supposed, if asked, she would say she wanted kids in the future, but only in a vague hypothetical way. Dudley, on the other hand, was here now and was warm and real and solid and if it came to a choice between the two, then it wasn't even a competition. "But, for what it's worth, I think you'll make a great dad."
From the kiss she received after that, she inferred it was worth a great deal.
She and Dudley had decided to make separate toasts at their wedding reception. He went first, offering a toast to everyone who had come to the wedding. It was not the most stunning speech of the day, by any means, but it was genuine and she thought it went over better for that than it would have if she had wrote it for him as he asked. They all raised their glasses once he'd finished, and then she stood to give her own toast.
"I know Dudley just thanked you all for coming, but it bears repeating: thank you. But I want to offer a toast up to all our absent family and friends who wanted to be here celebrating with us today, but couldn't make it. And also to all those we've loved and lost along the way." There were murmurs of understanding from around the room; her grandfather, who she had been very close to, had passed away a little over a year ago. And yes, the toast was for her grandfather, but not just him because death wasn't the only you could lose someone. She placed a hand on Dudley's shoulder and squeezed it briefly, before raising her glass and saying, "Cheers."
When Dudley's parents died in a car crash, hit by a drunk driver, he gave a hysterical burst of laughter and called it cosmic irony. The funeral was held relatively quickly afterward and on a weekday, which served as a convenient excuse for why so few people attended.
That left the question of what to do with Number 4 Privet Drive. It was theirs now, outright, and coming at just the time when they'd saved up enough to start talking about getting a place of their own, but while they still had too little to actually start looking. It was certainly a nice house, a little large for just the two of them, but Dudley had, with cautious optimism, noted that it would be a good size for a growing family and she'd agreed that it would be good to remain open to possibilities. She had added on to that thought, noting that the house was in a nice neighbourhood, with good schools nearby. Of course, if they kept the place, the interior would have to be completely redone – she didn't care at all for the fussy floral look that Petunia had favoured – but if they didn't have to spend money on a house, they could afford to do some decorating. On the other hand, there was nothing saying that they couldn't sell the house and then use the proceeds to buy something else, a place that could be really theirs, not just Dudley's old childhood home. There were ghosts in those walls, she was sure, and while Dudley had been happy at the time, his memories were less than pleasant.
It was for Dudley's sake, then, that she was leaning against keeping the house, despite the hassle that going through the selling and buying process would be. She wasn't really sure which way Dudley was leaning, until the day he said in a quiet voice, "If we leave, then Harry won't have any way of finding us. If he wants to." They talked it over more, but as far as she was concerned, the matter was settled after that.
It really was a very nice house, and she enjoyed being able to fix it up exactly as she pleased. Well, almost exactly; she and Dudley finally decided that boarding up the cupboard under the stairs would be too much a waste of space.
Grace was her treasure, her pride and joy, her perfect little angel. Grace was also three years old, and, like most children that age, an unholy terror from time to time.
"Grace got into the tin of biscuits again today," she said, exasperated. Normally she counted herself the fortunate one, since she only worked part time out of the house and she could stay with little Grace all day while Dudley had to go into an office, but sometimes… "And this is after I moved the tin up to the cupboard above the refrigerator. Honestly, if I didn't know for a fact that she was doing it, I'd say it was impossible."
Dudley looked up sharply at that. "It certainly sounds impossible. Has Grace done anything else impossible like that?"
"Oh, at least half a dozen, I'm sure," she said. "I've spoken with the other mums in Grace's little play group and they say that children are always much cleverer than you expect them to be in the oddest ways."
"I suppose that makes sense," he said thoughtfully. "Still, you'll let me know if she does any other impossible things, keep me in the loop?"
"About our daughter's life? I should hope so," she said indignantly. Then he looked up at her with his dopiest 'I've gone and said something stupid, haven't I?' look and she grinned in spite of herself. A few minutes later they were discussing Dudley's day at work, and she forgot about the conversation entirely.
(At least, until a few months later when Grace was throwing a tantrum and suddenly the mirror above the fireplace cracked. No matter how clever Grace was, that was either an amazing coincidence, or very much impossible.)
The fourth time Dudley brought Cousin Harry up, at least explicitly, was the evening of Grace's seventh birthday. It was just the two of them at home at the moment, as Grace had been allowed to spend the night at her grandparent's house with her older, and therefore much cooler, cousins. Dudley had sat her down and told her that he needed to tell her the full story about Cousin Harry. She was hardly surprised to learn that there was more to it; an entire childhood couldn't be relayed in a single conversation, and there had been parts to the story that Dudley had definitely been vague about. But whatever she had been imagining he was glossing over, it certainly wasn't the revelation that Cousin Harry was a wizard with magic powers. She wouldn't have believed it at all, but Dudley looked so certain when he said it, and clear-eyed too. Even still, she might have doubted it, if not for Grace, her dear little Grace, who had always been so special and had always had the tendency to attract the oddest happenings that she could never explain.
It seemed to her that when the insane thing makes more sense than any sane explanation you could ever come up with, a redefinition of sanity might be in order.
They told Grace, of course, and she was abound with curiosity. About magic, but Cousin Harry turned out, unsurprisingly, to be a subject of equal fascination. Grace had always wanted a younger sibling, and was perpetually disappointed in her parents' refusal to provide her with one – Dudley, concerned with the potential for favouritism, had insisted on only one child, and as she was quite unable to imagine loving any child as much as she did Grace, she had agreed readily. The idea that her father had a sort of brother became just as interesting a one to Grace as her mother's sister, perhaps even more so, since her aunt was a known quantity to Grace, but Cousin Harry was a mystery.
Dudley still never brought Cousin Harry up of his own volition, but he was endlessly patient with Grace's questions about the man, even when he has to answer one after another after another after another with "I don't know." It broke her heart a little to hear that, but she thought it did Dudley more good than harm, so she never intervened when Grace was asking her questions. Cousin Harry ended up becoming an imaginary friend of sorts for Grace, and even when she grew past that phase, he remained a household name.
From almost the day after Grace turned ten, there was an added tension in the household and a sense of anticipation. It was a bit silly, honestly, because Grace's birthday was toward the end of August, so they really couldn't be expecting a letter until the following June at the earliest. And as it turned out, by the time the next summer rolled around, they'd all been waiting for so long, they'd grown accustomed to the feeling, so that when it did happen, she was caught entirely by surprise.
She heard the knock at the door one early July evening, and she went to answer it, assuming it was the woman from Number 8, who had never gotten entirely used to the idea that the new woman of the house in Number 4 wasn't nearly as keen on gossip as the old one. But when she opened the door, it wasn't Mrs. Everett at all; instead she had three apparent strangers on her doorstep, two women and a man.
The woman on the left had her hair pulled back tight in a bun, was wearing square glasses, and was quite old, but the kind of old that reminded you that the word was not synonymous with incapable. The other woman on the far right of the little trio was much younger, in her thirties most like, and had vibrant red hair and a tight grip on the hand of the man standing in centre. The man was the one that had confused her for a few seconds, as her brain scrambled to connect verbal descriptions of a skinny and knobby-kneed boy to the self-confident, if apprehensive, man that stood before her now. It was the eyes that clicked for her first; Dudley had been right, even behind the wire-rim glasses, those emerald eyes were very distinctive. The man was a bit more well-built and his hair a bit tidier than Dudley's memories made him out to be, but the jet black colour of the hair was just right, and now that she was looking for it, she thought she could see hints of a scar hiding beneath his fringe.
"Oh, you must be Cousin Harry!" she said, holding the door open wide and welcoming. "Please, won't you come in?"
AN: The next story is "Uncle Harry" (Story ID: 11958198)