Just picking up the phone was one of the hardest parts. He avoided it for months, disregarding the evidence mounting before his eyes in some desperate hope that it would all go away again if he just ignored it for long enough.
When she turned the cat pink, he knew it couldn't wait any longer.
Harry's voice had deepened into a pleasant baritone in the nineteen or so years since Dudley had heard it last. He swallowed convulsively, his mouth suddenly dry.
"Hello Harry, it's... well it's me, Dudley."
"Dudley?" Harry sounded surprised.
Apart from one carefully worded Christmas card each year, the two of them had not spoken since they were teenagers. Dudley had had to search high and low for the scrap of old-fashioned parchment with Harry's number scrawled on it. It had appeared a few years back, along with a bunch of strange flowers for his father when he had been in the hospital. Dudley had put them in a vase by Vernon's bedside and lied about whom they were from. Their heavy scent had seemed to let his father sleep without pain, which was more than the endless drugs they pumped into him in those final weeks had done. Dudley had been grateful for that undeserved kindness, but he had never called the number.
"Yeah. Yeah it's me… look Harry I need your help."
There was a pause, Dudley stared unseeing at the wallpaper behind the phone, waiting for the probably well-deserved click of the receiver.
"Of course, what do you need?"
Dudley took a breath.
"It's Daisy… she has… I think she has magic."
There was silence at the end of the phone line, and then he heard his cousin let out an explosive breath.
"Is that all? Merlin Dudders, you had me scared for a minute there."
Dudley felt his temper flair as his months of tormented worrying were summarily dismissed. He struggled for a moment, sharply reminding himself that when it came to magic he didn't exactly have any other contacts.
"Well could you come around and..." He stopped unsure of what exactly he wanted Harry to do, make it all go away preferably.
"Explain things to you?" Harry finished in a kinder tone.
"Yes, and possibly do something about our cat."
"What did she do to the cat?"
"She turned it pink."
"Ahh." Dudley could hear Harry struggling not to laugh and despite himself a smile crept onto his face at the absurdity of saying those words out loud.
"So I should visit fairly soon then?"
"Preferably before my wife gets home with the kids, if you have the time that is, it's probably not the best way to introduce them to wizardry or whatever you call it."
"Right. Well then, first question, do you have a fireplace?"
Dudley had to grudgingly admit, the years had been kinder to Harry than they had been to him. Though he was still half a foot taller than his cousin, Harry had acquired some lean muscle along the way, and it had aged better than Dudley's softening bulk. His temples had become dusted with silver, and crows feet peeped around a pair of neat black glasses, but other than that he looked largely unchanged by the previous two decades. In fact he looked surprisingly normal in a pair of jeans and a faded sports jumper with 'Holyhead Harpies' written in cracked letters across the back. If you discounted the way he had just casually stepped out of their small gas fire that was.
"Sorry about that," Harry said, grimacing as he stepped forward to shake his hand. "Apparating into a block of flats is loud, and you better be really accurate."
"No that's fine," Dudley said a little weakly. He had forgotten just how unnatural that looked. The cousins stood looking awkwardly at each other for a few moments. "Tea?" He suggested and Harry nodded gratefully and followed him into the kitchen.
Dudley busied himself with the kettle to avoid looking at his cousin whilst Harry sat uncomfortably at his kitchen table. Dudley kept his back to him as he struggled to come up with something to say. The violent dislike of his childhood had long ago faded into a kind of grudging shame that he avoided thinking about if he could. He knew intellectually that his younger self had been spoilt beyond reason and deliberately encouraged in his petty cruelty. Yet guilt over his contribution to his cousin's already miserable childhood would still sometimes visit him in the quiet of the night. Now he was here, and Dudley was going to have to beg favours off of someone who probably did not have a single fond memory of him or his family. He felt a sort of ugly resentment growing at the whole situation and stamped down on it firmly. He was not his parents, he would deal with this situation rationally.
Millie picked that moment to make her entrance. She really was florescent, Dudley observed as she leapt gracefully onto the kitchen table. A sort of marker-pen pink that couldn't possibly be mistaken for paint or dye. Even her irises were pink. Harry laughed and held up a hand for her to sniff as Dudley brought the tea over.
"She really is pink isn't she? And your wife didn't see her?" He asked as Millie inspected his hand regally.
"Luckily my wife took the kids to her mothers this morning," Dudley said, grateful for the opening. "If she or the boys had seen her, believe me I would have heard about it."
"And how are you sure it was Daisy?"
Dudley looked at him, then looked pointedly at his daughter's bright pink cat. Harry laughed.
"How old is Daisy now?"
"Nine and a half."
"Really? She's manifesting early, you've got about a year and a half till her letter comes then. She should be in the same year as my youngest, Lily."
Dudley said nothing, but Harry must have seen something in his face.
"It really is a wonderful place Dudley," he said gently as Dudley stared down into his tea.
"Didn't seem like such a wonderful place for you," he said into his cup. "Especially those final years."
Harry's eyes flickered for a moment.
"I was a… special case. Most people don't go through school with a terrorist and his followers out for their blood, it tends to make things…. exiting. Most students have a fairly uneventful time there."
"And the war?"
"Long over" Harry sighed, running his hands through his hair. "Though not without great cost. The Wizarding World is a lot different than in was twenty years ago Dudders, she would be safe at Hogwarts.
Harry let out a low chuckle, Dudley didn't get the joke.
"Long dead. Most of his followers are dead too, the ones who aren't are either in prison or gone to ground so hard even the worms can't find them. Every few years I get the pleasure of digging one up and dragging them out into the light."
Harrys' eyes had gone dark. Dudley felt a chill, for a moment he saw the teenager who had come back that place each year angrier and more scared. He shuddered and wondered for the hundredth time that day whether this was the right thing to do. Then Harry blinked it away again and shot him a quick apologetic smile.
"What colour was your cat before?" He said.
"Uh, black, with blue eyes."
Dudley watched in fascination as Harry laid a figure on Millie's little pink nose. Like ink dripped into a pool of water, darkness spread across her fur, restoring her to approximately her original colour. He whispered something under his breath and her eyes glowed for a second, then settled back to their normal blue. She gave him an offended look, and stalked off to clean her more usually coloured fur. Dudley let out a breath he hadn't even known he'd been holding.
"That maybe the first nice piece of magic I've ever seen," he commented lightly.
Harry looked at him sharply, then his eyes grew thoughtful. "You know thinking back you might be right, it's a wonder you didn't try hide Daisy away like your parents did me."
Dudley felt a twang of conscience at that. He shrugged, "I thought about it believe me, but it didn't seem to work on you." He hesitated a moment, "Besides it's been happening more frequently these last few months. I think she's starting to figure it out, I'm not sure Millie was entirely an accident."
"It's impressive if she has. Most wizarding kids don't manage to do that kind of magic deliberately, and they have at least some idea what they are doing. None of mine did."
"Impressive or not I'm not going to be able to hide it from my family much longer, especially if she's doing it on purpose," Dudley said heavily. "Frankly I'd rather stay as far away from your world as I possibly can but she's forcing my hand here."
Harry nodded. "That's fair I suppose. So how do you want to break it to them?"
If Daisy was disappointed at her normal coloured cat when she got home, then she hid it well. She did complain though about giving up her next weekend to spend it at 'dad's weird cousin's place' in the countryside where they probably wouldn't even have wifi. Her brothers backed her vigorously but they got nowhere.
Dudley knew he had a week to sit down with his wife and clue her in on the whole situation; and he knew that he really shouldn't have waited until twenty minutes before they had to go before bringing it up. They were in their bedroom, failing to pack lightly when he finally bit the bullet.
"Mmm?" She replied digging through her wardrobe. "How rural is this place love? Like 'charmingly picturesque' or 'wellingtons are compulsory?"
"I don't know, I've never been- look I need to talk to you about something."
"Should I bring wellies for everybody?"
"Sorry, sorry," she said emerging from the wardrobe, "You needed to talk to me about something?"
"Yeah, um, well…" He trailed off. The words 'Harry is a wizard' and 'magic is real' and 'Daisy needs to go to witching school' floated in the front of his mind, mocking him with their absurdity as they had been all week. He had played out the conversation with himself a dozen different ways and he still hadn't come up with a way not to sound either certifiable or the latest initiate into a cult. His lovely logical wife was not going to believe a word he said unless the evidence was in front of her eyes, and probably not even then. If he started trying to explain it now he'd never get her up to Harry's house. He refocused on her puzzled face.
"Maybe it's better if Harry explains" he said, chickening out once again. "I don't think I could do a good job of it to be honest."
"Hah! I knew we weren't just going for a visit. I barely knew you had a cousin before this week." She said struggling to zip the case closed. "Your mother goes all tight lipped when he's mentioned, I figured he didn't turn out too well."
"Not in her eyes anyway, my parents raised him, but we were never close," Dudley said uncomfortably. "Truth be told I was a massive asshole to him throughout our childhood, and my parents weren't much better. It's a wonder he's willing to help me out at all."
"Help with what? You really are being very cryptic about the whole thing love. I'm happy to help you reconnect with your family but that's obviously not why we are going up there."
"You're just going to have to trust me on this darling," Dudley said. "You're not going to believe me on this without some fairly substantial evidence, so let me take you to where there is some."
"You are beginning to make me cross Dud," she said peevishly as she tugged the zip. She looked kind of adorable when she did that, like a barbie having a bad day. Though it was probably not the best time to mention that to her. He crossed over the room and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"I know." He said dropping a kiss onto her shoulder. "I'm sorry, for all of this, thank you for going along with it."