19 Years Later...
His stomach jumped into his throat. He swore he heard a rattle. Turning in his seat, no one else looked particularly panicked, and the man who smelt horribly like cigarettes continued to snore. He tried to recline but the damn button still didn't work, so instead he dabbed at his head with his already soaked handkerchief and hoped his heart wouldn't race through his chest.
God, I need to get out of here.
The plane dipped, and he heard the rattle again, but before Dudley could scream the sound of the pilot's voice came through the intercom. "We are now beginning our descent. Flight attendants please prepare for landing." Another voice came on, and he assumed they were repeating the message since the words were nothing more than gibberish to him.
Almost there… just a little longer, he tried, and failed, to soothe himself. His fingers swallowed the handrests in a white-knuckled swore the first thing he'd do when touching the ground is give Clo a ring and have her cancel his return flight. He'd take a train back to London over this any day.
It was hot, so terribly hot. He could feel every inch of himself sweating like one of those pigs they'd roast on a stick. Not only was the air conditioner above him not working, but he was closed in on all sides. He was big; perhaps not as rotund as he'd been as a child, but still a fair size larger than the average man (taking after his father, it was only natural), and for reasons he didn't quite understand, they'd decided to stick him in the bloody middle seat. His legs were squished like sausages, and the ruddy bastard in front of him had reclined his seat so far back that Dudley's knees were nearly pressed into his arse. And the smell… it was best he didn't get started on that.
He sent what he considered to be an intimidating glare at the sleeping man next to him and received only a stale puff of breath in return.
Folding his thick arms and huffing to himself, he tried to think of how he'd been roped into this mess. No one had ever managed to convince him to fly before, except for his parents under the promise of innumerable gifts and an expensive holiday.
Harry isn't quite no one though, now is he? he thought to himself with a snort.
Only his cousin could get him into one of these flying boxes of doom. It was right up his alley, playing around on brooms or whatever it was he did. He never could remember. I'm sure Clo would know.
Clo was the one who'd instigated it all, pushing him from the moment they'd torn a letter from the foot of a familiar white owl eating the bacon off his plate in the kitchen. She loved everything about this magic stuff.
"Of course, you need to go! You can't just blow off his invitation, Dudley," she'd said after he tried to weakly dismiss the letter's contents.
"Can't I? He says right here I don't need to if I don't want to…" He'd pointed with some confusion to a particular squiggly line near the end. He still found it odd they used that funny old paper and actual ink.
"It's just him being polite," Clo had said with a roll of her eyes. "He'd probably be right upset if you didn't come. How many years has it been, and he's only just invited you to meet his family?"
It was true, and with her mind set and Dudley out of excuses, there wasn't much to debate. The owl had swooped by later that night, stolen half of his roast, and taken his short, scribbled reply of 'Yes' back to its sender.
Unfortunately, Clo couldn't come. Dudley had tried to argue for it, be she thought it too presumptuous to arrive unannounced. They'd only been together for just over two years, and he hadn't told Harry. Perhaps it was out of habit, or maybe if he searched hard enough, he would find there was a lingering shade of resentment and shame at still not being fully settled in his own life. It was silly, and something he would have expected from his younger self, but as they say: old habits die hard.
Clo was the best thing to ever happen to him. She was fun. She wore short hair, had a few too many tattoos, and sometimes indulged in substances and activities his parents would frown upon. It's why he hadn't told them about her either—she just wasn't the right sort in their mind.
In any case, it's not like it really mattered. Dad died the year before from his dodgy heart, and Mum… well, he knew they would never get along.
Just the thought of Clo was enough to make him smile, until it wobbled uneasily over his lips when the wheels touched none-too-gently to the tarmac below. For a heart-stopping second, he thought they'd crashed.
"Welcome to Avignon," the pilot's voice returned. "We hope you had a pleasant flight."
The man next to him jolted awake with the force of the landing and loudly belched. Dudley grimaced.
As the plane rolled to a stop, he felt his nerves begin to settle, despite a feeling of sickness lingering in his stomach. There was a beep from overhead, and everyone stood to collect their bags. He remained hunched while others disembarked, and when his turn finally came, he reached for his bag with a grunt and left with his head and shoulders ducked, trying not to bang into anything too painfully. These things just weren't made for people like him.
He breathed in deeply when he stepped off onto the firm, solid ground, finally free. Then he choked. It smelt like smoke out here too. He couldn't stomach the smell, not since Dad's smoking breaks outside the hospital where all he wanted was another fag when he could barely breath already. The memories were enough to make him quite himself.
Pulling out his phone, he checked the picture he took of the directions Clo had written out for him. He stuck out sorely in his England rugby kit as a mad rush of people shot in a blur around him. He didn't understand a lick of French. Clo had tried to learn some with him, but he wasn't any good with languages, not like her. He wasn't good with directions either, or anything that had to do with smarts, but thankfully the airport wasn't very big, and he managed to make his way outside to a waiting taxi.
"Bon-jewer Mon-see-ur," Dudley sounded out the greeting as he squeezed into the back seat.
The old man behind the wheel looked him up and down from beneath his cap and shook his head. "Let's just use English," he said in a heavily accented, raspy voice.
A hot surge of blood rushed his face. Dudley felt supremely embarrassed but managed to nod in agreement. At least I can tell her I tried.
"Where to?" the man asked, a cigarette dangling from his lip. Dudley felt his stomach squirm.
"Oh—right, umm…" Dudley looked down to his phone and zoomed in on the image. "687 Chemin de la Ginestière," he pronounced terribly.
He watched as the driver poked the address into his GPS. The screen flashed red. "Zis does not exist," the man said flatly.
Dudley sighed. Harry told me this might happen. "Okay, just a moment," Dudley said, before taking his phone and handing it to the man. "Here are some coordinates. These should work."
The man looked at him strangely but plugged them into his machine. After a pause, a dot suddenly appeared in what looked to be the middle of a field. "Are you sure?" the man insisted as he handed back the phone.
The driver shrugged, puffed on his cigarette, and took off. They hadn't made it very far before the man tried to make conversation, much to Dudley's dismay. Somehow it was even hotter in the taxi than it was on the plane, and he rested his head as close to the crack in the window as he could trying to catch a breeze.
"Who eez eet you are visiting?"
"My cousin," Dudley grunted.
"Ah, and 'as he lived 'ere long?"
They were twisting in and out of traffic, and a rising nausea made Dudley's head swim. "I don't know, I've never visited before."
He could feel the smirk on the man's wrinkled lips before he even spoke. "Per'aps he eez playing a trick on you. Une farce."
Dudley shook his head, feeling it sway back and forth like he was on a ship. No trick. That's not Harry's style. Just torture. He closed his eyes pretending to sleep and thought back to the first time he'd come and found him.
It was in a pub down in Croydon. He'd been down there with a few mates watching a match he couldn't remember, drinking a few too many pints, and enjoying his time away from home. He was the last one left, dragging out the time before he came back to his parents and their paranoia, when Harry walked in just like anyone else. To this day he still couldn't figure out how he knew he was there.
At first, he thought he was off his rocker, drank too much and was seeing things. Harry was dead. At least, that was what he thought. The last time he'd seen him, he was broken and bleeding over the walls. Harry had warned them to move, they did, and someone called not long after to say their old house had blown up. There was some sort of magic war going on. Then four years passed, and his cousin didn't reappear; it was only natural to think he'd lost.
Now here he was in front him, telling him he was about to be married and asking if he'd like to come. It was mad. Dudley didn't know what to say. He hardly had enough money of his own to pay for his tab, let alone a spontaneous trip to someplace in France. Mum and Dad would probably have died from shock if he told them. No was the only answer, but for a reason he couldn't say it, so instead he told him he would think about it. Harry simply smiled. They chatted some more about trivial things, and then Harry stood and left. Days crept by as Dudley continued to think about the offer, and before he knew it the wedding had come and gone. It was his biggest regret, not going. He knew he was Harry's only family and thought it likely he would never see him again.
But that was the thing with Harry, he learned to expect the unexpected.
The next time he saw Harry was almost a year later, he came to find him outside the gates of a non-league football match. Dudley liked to come here on Saturdays. They chatted over the lazy buzz of the crowd with some pies and a Bovril. Dudley asked about married life, and Harry smiled in a way he had never seen before. He was expecting a son.
And that was how things were. Harry would always come out and find him someplace or another. Usually, a year would go by in between, but sometimes it would grow into two. Harry apologized whenever this would happen and promised to come again in a month or two. He always did. There were letters as well, coming in with that blasted greedy owl of his, but they were stiff and formal and just not the same.
It became a routine, Dudley turning around to the sight of his friendly face. They would meet, smile, banter a bit, and chat about their lives. Harry was always the more open between the two. He loved to talk about his family. After their son came a daughter, and then another son. They were going into school and Harry couldn't have been prouder. Dudley felt a hint of pride as well, whenever Harry talked passionately about their accomplishments. He wasn't technically their uncle, but he felt like one. He asked for their birthdays, and Harry told him. He wanted to send them gifts, and on those days the owl would come sweeping by.
For the first few years he sent them some money taped to cards he picked up from a store around the corner, but then he remembered magic folk didn't use their kind of money and his gifts were rather useless. He felt quite silly about that. Afterwards, he set his sights or corrupting them with all the things he liked. That was what Uncles were for, wasn't it? He sent them magazines on boxing, rugby, and racing, thinking Harry would get quite a kick out of that. He did.
It was all so normal, and that is how he found himself telling Clo everything about his mysterious cousin Harry when they started dating. He talked about their childhood, how horrible he'd been, how Harry would disappear for ten months of the year and how he wished it were for twelve. At some point, somehow, he wasn't quite sure, he let slip about the magic. It was an accident, but he didn't regret it, because even then he knew she was the one.
The gentle banking of the car as it rounded a corner roused Dudley from the shallow slumber he'd fallen into. Looking around outside, he could hear the driver humming to himself as the taxi rolled down a fairly deserted road. They stopped at a gravel shoulder, and the man turned around with an annoying smile.
"Zis eez your stop?"
Dudley glanced over at the GPS, where the small icon of the car sat next to the point on the map. "It is," he said with a nod. Looking into the driver's laughing eyes and the open fields on his either side, a sliver of doubt wormed its way into his head.
He took his bag, paid the man, and left the car before he second guessed himself any further. Harry wouldn't lie, and Clo would never get it wrong, he told himself.
The taxi lingered for a minute or so, as if waiting for him to come crawling back and ask to be taken to where he was really supposed to go. But Dudley never did, and eventually it peeled away out of sight.
The fields around him were purple, rolling and swaying in the wind like the waves of the ocean. It was beautiful. Breathing in, he found that it smelled even better. The smoke was washed away in a single breeze, replaced by whatever soft, soothing scent came off the flowers in the fields. It smelled like a candle Clo liked to burn in their bedroom, but he couldn't remember the name.
Walking forwards, a path seemed to emerge through the field where it hadn't existed before. Dudley felt very strange all of a sudden as he was drawn down its length without intending to be. He continued further and further into this place in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly the field broke and the top of a house built from ancient rock poked in the distance.
It was the strangest house he had ever seen, like it was built from a ruin. The stone arched into something that resembled an old church and behind it grew a belltower which nestled at the base of a rising hill. There was so much green. It was shocking for someone so used to the lifeless grey of his West London flat. Vines grew up the walls, and shrubs and short trees were cut handsomely along the yard.
Of course, this is where he lives, Dudley laughed to himself and shook his head. All that was missing was a pair of monks wandering around. He tried to take pictures but found that his phone strangely wouldn't turn on. Stupid thing probably ran out of battery.
He stopped in front of a small garden, which sat just to the left of the robust oak door at the front of the house. There was only one type of flower inside, a delicate pink one with many petals. Dudley thought it was strange the way they were lined perfectly into rows, with some spaces empty and not quite filling the area lined by rocks.
I guess they haven't got around to planting them all yet.
He bent down to one in particular and ran a finger down its head and to its stem. Maybe he would pick up some flowers for Clo when he got back home…
"That's Annabelle," a voice called softly from over his shoulder.
Dudley turned to see Harry standing in the space of the now opened front door. His cousins face was twisted into a painful frown.
"Uh, sorry," he said quickly, withdrawing his finger in a flash.
Harry blinked, his eyes clearing like a lens coming into focus. "No, no, it's alright," he said with a smile. "Feel free to touch them. They all have names."
Names? Harry had never mentioned his love for gardening before.
"Thanks," Dudley grinned sheepishly in return. "But I think I'd like to come inside. Still feel a bit funny from the flight."
"Of course!" Harry exclaimed. "Come in. I can take your bag if you like."
"With magic, yes," Harry replied. "Unless you're not comfortable with that—because I can just carry it for you."
"No." Dudley said quickly, and Harry quirked his lip. "You can use your… magic."
Harry nodded and pulled from his pocket a long, thin stick. Dudley watched with guarded interest as he took his bag, tapped it with the wand, and it vanished in a blue flash.
A shiver ran down Dudley's spine. He wasn't used to this sort of stuff.
"It'll be waiting in your room," Harry said, while leading him into the house.
Inside was cozy, and not anything like the cold, barren interior he'd been expecting given the structure of the house. The floors were wooden, and light streamed in from large arched windows that weren't apparent from the outside. A fireplace was set into one of the walls, though he wasn't sure how much use it would be getting in the heat of mid-July.
On the mantle were rows of photographs, the majority of which held pictures of his niece and nephews. They moved just as they did in the ones Harry had sent him over the years. Lilou waved to him from one of the frames, her hair golden as an angel but with Harry's green eyes. She was Dudley's favorite from the letters and the stories. He desperately wanted a girl himself. He loved the boys dearly as well, Charles and Adrien. They were nearly twins, despite Charles being older by four years. They had their father's coloring, but the rest was their mother: with silky hair, soft blue eyes, and delicate features.
Dudley felt his eyes stop on one picture in particular. It was a boy he had never seen before. He stood next to Harry, smiling proudly, with a strange, jeweled broach pinned to his chest and a graduation cap on his head. There was another where he stood happily with the children. He was older than all the rest but looked like Harry more than any of them. He had the same messy hair and round glasses, but his eyes were a cutting blue. It must be some distant cousin, Dudley thought.
"Finally, there you are! It has been years I've been bothering Harry to meet you."
Standing in front of Dudley, having just come from the kitchen, was Harry's wife, Fleur. It was not a stretch when he considered her to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. In the photographs Harry had sent he'd felt himself get tongue-tied at the sight of her, but that was nothing compared to now. It was made even worse by her coming up and kissing him on both cheeks.
"Bonner-jour," he tried, feeling his face flush. She laughed and it sounded like bells, and Dudley knew Clo would be killing herself with laughter at his expense.
"It hasn't been years," he could hear Harry grumble under his breath from the side.
Fleur placed her hands on her hips and looked at him dryly. "'Arry, it has been at least twelve. The kids have been begging to meet leur Oncle Dudley aussi." Her face then lit into a brilliant smile. "I am going to finish making the refreshments. Lilou is in the other room, I think she has waited long enough, non?"
Harry nodded and kissed his wife softly.
Before leaving, Fleur turned back to Dudley. "If there is anything you need, simply ask me or 'Arry and we will get it for you. It is wonderful to finally meet his family."
Dudley then looked over to Harry, who nodded his head in the direction of a sliding door which led to a covered patio outside. They stopped at its threshold before going through.
"Do you still have the paper I sent you?" he asked very seriously. It was something about Harry he would never get used to; despite him and his wife looking no older than they did in their twenties, his eyes were so much older. Sometimes it was like a switch was flicked, and he changed from his easy going self to a man who was haunted by his own shadow.
"I destroyed it like you asked," Dudley said. He remembered the odd request, and how clear Harry had been in his letter. It must have been very important to him for some reason. "Well, actually Clo did—after she copied it down and I took a picture so I wouldn't forget."
"Clo?" Harry asked with a twinkle in his eye. The switch had been flicked back, and he was relaxed again.
Dudley swallowed awkwardly. "Clo is my girlfriend. Clover, actually, but she doesn't like her full name."
Harry laughed. "I have a friend, Tonks, who feels the same way. Is she new?"
"Not really—it's been a couple years. We started dating around the time Dad got really sick… He died, by the way."
"I know," said Harry softly. "I was at the funeral."
"You were?" Dudley asked, surprised.
All Harry did was nod. "I'm sorry I didn't invite, Clo. She would have been more than welcome to come. I'd offer to go bring her myself, but technically I'm not supposed to leave France."
"Why not?" Harry had never mentioned this before.
"It's a long story," he said with a shake of the head. "Maybe I'll tell you one of these nights. It's never really stopped me from going out and doing what I like, but I generally need to be careful unless I get special permission."
"I can wait," Dudley said easily. It sounded like a conversation that needed some good whiskey to go with it.
"Thanks, D." Harry looked to him gratefully, before something shifted in his eye. "Now, I'm sorry about this, but I really can't control her…"
He slid open the door to the patio, and immediately a golden blur shot into Dudley's arms. It squealed as he picked it up and lifted it effortlessly into the air. As he did, it felt like his heart was singing.
"Look at you, my little angel, you're all grown up."
The flushed and shining face of Lilou peered down at him through golden lashes. He set her to the ground, and she grabbed his hand and pulled him into the other room to where a chess set sat on top of a table.
"Uncle Dudley, will you play Wizards Chess with me?" she asked in sugary sweet voice. She took a seat behind the white pieces at one end of the board.
"Er—umm… I'm no good, really." He looked over to Harry for some help.
"She's been obsessed with the game ever since she joined the Chess Club this last year," he said as he looked over to his daughter teasingly.
"I'm not obsessed, Papa," she said with a roll of the eyes. "I just want to get good enough to beat Uncle Ron."
Harry must have found that very funny, since he let out a deep belly laugh.
Suddenly very shy, Lilou blushed and looked to her father and whispered something to him in French. Harry chuckled.
"She wants to know if you'll start sending money to her on her birthday again," Harry explained. "She used to like going into town and buying sweets with it."
Dudley shot up straight, feeling a rush of satisfaction that his gifts weren't so useless after all. "Oh, yeah, of course—" he dug around in his pocket "—I think I've got a few Euros left that I exchanged…"
Lilou's eyes narrowed dangerously, and an alarmed expression came over Harry's face.
"Why don't we wait on that," he said hastily. He turned to his daughter. "How about you go into the village with Uncle Dudley tomorrow, and you can pick something out. Your brothers can come too."
She made a face at the last part, but the promise of candy was too much to dismay her.
"Can you go outside and get them now? Tell them Uncle Dudley is here, and that Maman is bringing out some lemonade."
Lilou nodded dutifully and hurried outside.
Harry let out a deep sigh and collapsed into the cushions of a couch nearby. He looked over to Dudley and flicked his gaze down to his chest. "The boys will love that shirt," he commented.
"Actually, I bought a kit for each of them. Hopefully they fit. They're in my bag."
"Mon Dieu, they will be over the moon with such a gift." Fleur came into the room with a floating silver tray carrying two pitchers in front of her. A glass of water poured itself in front of Dudley, and he grabbed it with some trepidation. "'Arry was pulling his hair out for years with how much they love this rugby. That was until he realized how much it helped with their Quidditch."
"They really are similar games—at least for the Chasers. I use it to teach kids at school," Harry said.
"And you are…" Dudley still couldn't quite remember.
"The flying coach at Beauxbatons," Harry said with a grin. "Best job in the world. I help out with Quidditch a little, too."
Beauxbatons. That's the French school. Dudley reminded himself. Now what's the other one…
"'Arry is being entirely too modest," Fleur interrupted. She smiled proudly at her husband who wrapped his arm around her. "He is, perhaps, the most sought after Quidditch coach in all of Europe."
"Do the kids miss you much? With you there and them at Hoggywoggy."
"Hogwarts," Harry corrected with a laugh. "Charles is the one out there, and I suppose he does. Adrien is joining him in September. The stories they've heard over the years were too much for them to pass up on. Lilou is at Beauxbatons, so my guess is she's sick of me at this point."
"That is not true." Fleur slapped him lightly on the shoulder. "She is daddy's little girl. She adores you."
"And what about you?" Fleur asked Dudley after a pause.
"What about me?" He wasn't sure what they wanted to know.
"Are you still teaching kids how to beat each other up?" Harry asked cheekily.
"Yeah, the boxing's been good. The gym is getting pretty popular."
"Dudley also has a secret girlfriend," Harry turned and told Fleur in a conspiring whisper.
Fleur's eyes drank in the gossip. "I thought you were the only one with secrets."
Dudley laughed but it quickly turned into a drawn-out yawn. "I'm sorry," he said. "Do you mind if I pop off for a quick kip? I just need a bit of rest."
"No, of course not. Be my guest!" Fleur said pleasantly. "I am not partial to flying myself, either. It is the first bedroom up the stairs and to the right."
"I can't promise the kids won't go and wake you up if you take too long," Harry called after him, much to Dudley's amusement.
He traced his way back through the house, up the stairs and through the door to his right, just as he was told. It opened into a very spacious room, overlooking the front of the house, its garden, and the path back down to the road.
Sitting on a desk, waiting for him, was his bag. He took out the England kits and set them to the side to give to Charles and Adrien when he came back down. He walked to the adjoining room and splashed his face clean, before taking off his shoes and falling into the bed, which felt like it had been sewn from clouds.
He closed his eyes and thought of how thankful he was Clo convinced him to come. It was perfect: the weather, this house, and everything about Harry's family. He was happy for his cousin and the life he lived, he realized. There was no jealousy. This is what a family should be, not whatever he had grown up in. Though he didn't have one of his own yet, he could imagine himself and Clo living like this, loving like this.
Lavender, that's what it is…
He finally remembered the flower. And as its scent carried him into the soothing arms of sleep, he could only think of how for himself and for Harry, all was well.
That's it, the final chapter. One Epilogue wasn't enough, so I just had to go ahead and make two. Thanks to all of you who've stuck it through until the very end, I hope you enjoyed. Please feel free to leave any thoughts you might have, your reviews are always appreciated.
Hopefully I'll see you soon with my next story.