The Other Side of the Platform
Dudley Dursley, son of Vernon and Petunia Dursley, who lived at number four, Privet Drive, in Surrey, England, was discontent.
The fact that nearly all the attention of his parents went to that good-for-nothing delinquent cousin of his, Harry Potter, made him resentful. Why couldn't he have received an owl letter telling him that he was magical, that he could go away to a school and learn magic?
Dudley was special, too. He was the boxing champion at school, after all – which was surely not something that Harry could say. Surely he deserved a chance to stand out and be noticed, didn't he? Although to be fair, his parents doted on him constantly: they served him a good deal of mouthwatering, delicious food, allowed him to stay out late all night without any parental supervision, and sometimes he was given presents even when it wasn't a holiday. In fact, anyone not living at the Dursley's would believe that Dudley was the one who received all the attention, not Harry.
But that wasn't true. When Harry was around, his parents ignored him. The focus in the house was devoted entirely to the freak. Of course, that attention came in the form of insults and put-downs and delivering mind-numbing work, but still. His parents didn't find time to spend with him. Rather, they found ways to torment his cousin to the point where Dudley almost felt bad for him.
Even when his miserable cousin wasn't around, he knew his parents always talked about him. He would catch them speaking softly to each other when they thought he wasn't looking, and sometimes his father would step outside and smoke cigarettes after their little talks. Other times, Dudley had seen his mother tearfully looking through an old shoebox that he knew contained personal belongings of her sister.
It just wasn't fair. His parents bought him things but they didn't really think about him, for Harry Potter was always on their minds.
This was why Dudley Dursley was so rotten to his cousin every summer. These were his three months of freedom away from Smeltings, yet he had to stay at his house and steal his parents' attention. The wretch.
This summer was no exception. On one glorious, sunny day in June (which Dudley thought would have instead been better spent prowling the local neighborhood with Piers Polkiss and the rest of the gang), he had been persuaded to accompany his parents to the train station to pick up Harry.
"Dudley," his mother had said patronizingly, "if you come with us we'll... we'll buy you something. Would you like that, Duddiekins?"
And so he found himself waiting anxiously at the station between platforms nine and ten, wanting to be anywhere but there. His father checked his expensive wristwatch and straightened his collar; his mother tapped her foot impatiently and surreptitiously tried to watch everyone coming through the station all at once.
Suddenly, as if popping out from between one of the divider pillars, Harry Potter was there, looking as disheveled and haggard and careworn as ever, and he was not alone. Standing to one side of him was a tall, gangly-looking teenager who was being held tightly by a girl with brown, bushy hair. On his other side was a gorgeous young woman whom Dudley hadn't ever noticed before. Like the tall boy, she too had vibrant red hair which flowed down to her shoulders and looked shiny and soft. Dudley saw that she was holding Harry's hand. An indescribable feeling welled up somewhere in his massive chest and he felt his cheeks turning pink.
Harry Potter smiled at the three people surrounding him. Dudley scowled. A whole bunch of freaks, the lot.
"Harry," said the tall red head in a deep voice. "Take care this summer. Keep in touch."
"Me too!" chimed the shorter girl with the bushy hair. Then she leaned in and whispered something into the taller boy's ear and his ears turned nearly as red as his hair. The girl holding Harry's hand pulled him into a fierce embrace and left a fiery kiss on his lips. Somewhere in the direction over Dudley's shoulder, Uncle Vernon grunted disapprovingly. Harry beamed at his friends as he watched them walk away. That tiny display of happiness evaporated from his countenance as soon as he spotted the Dursleys. His shoulders sagged slightly as he dragged his belongings over to them.
"Uncle Vernon," greeted Harry dully, inclining his head. "Aunt Petunia. Dudley."
At that moment, as strange as it sounded, and as strange as it felt to him, Dudley couldn't help but feel jealous of Harry. It was ironic – he was envious of the skinny, underfed, abused boy who was made to do all the chores around his house and who, for the first ten years of his life, had been forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs. The difference now was that he saw that Harry had true friends, which were a commodity Dudley had never enjoyed.
The four of them fell into a thick silence as they walked briskly back to the car park. Dudley fell into step beside Harry, and he couldn't help but stare at him. Harry felt his cousin's gaze and gave Dudley a sidelong glance, as if trying to decide whether or not his cousin meant him any harm.
"Harry," said Dudley hesitantly.
Harry raised a questioning brow.
"Er, h-how was your year?" he finished lamely.
Harry's brows furrowed together. Dudley could tell his cousin was thinking furiously, as if expecting a verbal trap which would lead to some sort of humiliation. Before he could reply, Dudley interrupted awkwardly, "Never mind."
He didn't bother to look over at Harry to see what his reaction was.
The silence between the four of them continued all throughout the car ride back home, and when they arrived at Privet Drive, Harry wordlessly retrieved his case and belongings and set about dragging everything up to his room at once.
"Wait," called out Dudley as he slouched over to Harry, feeling grateful that his parents were already out of sight. "I'll help you."
Harry said nothing but he handed him a cage with a snowy white owl in it, and Dudley quickly followed him up the steps. When they reached Harry's room, Dudley stood around, wiggling his feet uncomfortably. He had wanted to say something more to Harry, but the right moment never seemed to arrive. Well, it's now or never.
But he was beat to the punch.
Harry slammed his chest shut with much more force than Dudley thought was necessary, and then he quickly turned around so that he was face to face with his cousin.
"Why," he asked exasperatedly, "are you being... being so nice to me?"
Dudley shifted his weight from one foot to the other, staring at the floor. He mumbled, "Idunno."
"What was that?"
"I don't know!" burst Dudley, a hint of belligerence underscoring his words. "What's it to you?"
"Well what's it to you? You're the one going out of the way to talk to me!"
"I, I-" he struggled to think of what to say. He just wanted to yell at his freak of a cousin for having friends and being magical, but he held back, and instead he said in a quiet whisper, "Can you show me some of your magic?"
Harry's face lost some of his color and he stood there in front of him, looking very stiff. Dudley wondered if he had said something wrong, and began to apologize when Harry cut him off abruptly.
"Don't be stupid," he spat. Dudley was taken aback. What had he said? Harry went on facetiously, "Nice try, it was real clever of you. I almostdidn't see it coming."
"Don't play dumb with me!" shouted Harry. "You know I'll get expelled if I do anything."
Harry glared at him and then he went back to unpacking. Dudley fidgeted with his hands as he watched his cousin warily, half-expecting another outburst.
"What was that?" he came back sharply. His emerald green eyes seemed to burn holes through the back of his skull and Dudley diverted his gaze to the floor once more.
"I said," he repeated in a louder voice, "I'm sorry."
He could feel those piercing green eyes blasting him full on with x-ray vision, ripping him apart and piecing him back together again. After what seemed like an eternity, Harry sighed and turned away. Feeling brave, Dudley stole a furtive glance in his direction and saw that Harry was staring vacantly out the window across the back lawn. Summoning up even more courage, he took a step forward, and then another and another until he was standing beside Harry, pretending to look out the window but he was secretly keeping a close watch on his cousin, searching his face for any emotions but not being able to find any at first glance.
Not knowing any other way to break awkward silences, Dudley cleared his throat and then looked expectantly over at Harry. He didn't move and his eyes stared blankly out the window.
"Er," he began, unsure if Harry was listening to him. "I know I've been mean to you before-"
"Uh, yeah. That's right. But-"
Dudley frowned. Harry still hadn't moved at all and the fact that his cousin was refusing to make eye contact with him was quickly becoming annoying.
"Hey," he interjected a little too strongly. "Why don't you look at me when I'm talking to you?"
Harry's head swiveled around slowly to regard the larger boy. He sighed and Dudley got the feeling that Harry didn't want him around much longer. Hastily, he continued on, "I mean, what I meant to say was..." He took a deep, steadying breath. "I just wanted to say that I'm jealous of you."
Harry froze in place and Dudley felt himself fall under his cousin's scrutinizing gaze once more. He shivered – those green eyes seemed to see right through him. Harry didn't say anything, and Dudley was put on the spot again.
"Earlier," he began. "At the station, I saw the people who you were with... and, and I realized something."
He paused a moment to swallow to try and force the lump back down his throat. He was only partially successful.
"Those people... they're your friends, aren't they, Harry?"
"Obviously," he replied coldly.
"No, no!" he sputtered quickly, trying to recover. "What I meant was, of course they're your friends! Why wouldn't you have any-" Harry glared at him and Dudley frantically steered the conversation in another direction "-but what I really meant was that I could just see how much they all care for you. And that's what made me jealous. Of you."
Neither of them said anything for a long moment as they stood there, looking at each other. After a moment Harry turned to look back out the window, but this time Dudley felt as if his cousin was simply in deep thought, rather than pointedly trying to ignore him.
"Thank you," he said, after some deliberation. Then he added dryly, "I don't suppose this now becomes another reason for you to torment me, is it?"
"No," said Dudley softly, shaking his head. "It does not."
"Then where exactly does that leave us?"
There was no hint of a threat in his voice, nor were there any noticeable traces of apprehension or sarcasm; all Dudley could detect was an honest, curious desire to know the truth, and that is what he decided to give him.
"I s'pose it leaves us at an understanding," he explained, after some thought.
"At least a better one than we had before, right?" responded Harry dryly.
"Right," came Dudley's prompt answer. Then, suddenly, "I-I'm sorry."
"For?" Harry's raised eyebrow and questioning stare were back.
"For... for – you know, being rotten to you and all-"
The other boy snorted and looked down at the floor. Dudley stopped speaking; he could see that Harry was thinking of what to say next.
"You know," Harry said at length, "if you had said that to me a year ago, I might've spat in your face and said you were too late for apologizing. But now? Things are different." He nodded, finally reaching his conclusion. "Apology accepted."
Dudley smiled at Harry.
I dug this story out from my incomplete works folder and dusted it off tonight (as well as finished it, obviously). I'm not really sure where the idea for this story originated – although I think that I was trying to write something quick with a character that doesn't get used in fan fiction very often. And so, late on August 8, 2006, I wrote 90 of what you see here, was unhappy with it, and shelved it. I never intended this story to see the light of day, but I guess when I re-read it tonight, it just struck me in a certain way and I felt it was good enough to publish. While I'm sure canon-Dudley would never behave this way, I think this fits nicely into the niche of "What-If" stories that are out there.