Auld Lang Syne
Jo owns Harry Potter. I just play in her sandbox.
'It's the present that matters most.' Dudley Dursley learns an important lesson on the Christmas he and his daughter visit Harry Potter. [oneshot, dh spoilers
I'm baaaaaack! I know it's been forever since I've posted a story of any kind, but what can I say? Writer's block and a very annoying thing called Real Life have hindered any fic-writing capabilities I've had for the past several months. Read, review, and hopefully, enjoy.
For Druidess Sieya,
because I was going to update Guardian, but this was all I could write. Merry (belated) Christmas.
Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 42, American Edition:
Dudley gently released himself from his mother's clutches and walked toward Harry, who had to repress an urge to threaten him with magic. Then Dudley held out his large, pink hand.
"Blimey, Dudley," said Harry over Aunt Petunia's renewed sobs, "did the Dementors blow a different personality into you?"
"Dunno," muttered Dudley. "See you, Harry."
"Yeah…" said Harry, taking Dudley's hand and shaking it. "Maybe. Take care, Big D."
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
December 25th, 2016—Present
For the first time since the holiday season had begun, the streets of Godric's Hollow were crowd-free and quiet. All the shops that would usually have been lit up and bustling at this time of day were locked up tight, signs propped in their windows announcing: Sorry, we're closed.
A large, burly-looking man and the little girl who clung to his mittened hand were the only two people wandering about outside, ducking their heads against the chilly wind and heavy snow. The man paused for a moment beside a cottage, double-checking the piece of paper he held in his free hand, before he reached forward to push open the gate.
"This is it, Jo," he told the girl as they plodded up the walk to the cheery little house. "You remember what we talked about?" Jo, who was almost eleven, nodded fervently.
"I won't get my hopes up," she repeated dutifully. "I'll be quiet unless you say it's ok to talk."
"Good girl," the man said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Jo squeezed his hand, leaning into him loyally.
"It'll be all right, Daddy," she assured him quietly. "You'll see." He leaned down to plant a kiss on the top of her hat-covered head.
"What makes you think I'm worried?" he asked, forcing a chuckle for her benefit and tugging on one of her dark plaits. "Your old man's done scarier things than this!"
"I know." Jo lowered her eyes, apparently embarrassed. "But you said he might not want to see us."
"He might not," the man agreed, nodding thoughtfully. "That's nothing to do with you, though, lass. We'll see, all right?" Jo's head bobbed up and down reluctantly as they reached the front door of the cottage. "Shall I knock, then?"
"Can I?" Jo asked.
"Go right on ahead, love," her father agreed, stepping aside so his daughter could rap on the door.
He held his breath, clutching Jo's hand tighter as he heard footsteps and voices from within.
"I've got it, I've got it! It's probably Uncle George!" hollered a child's voice as the door swung open to reveal a little girl about Jo's age, with bright red hair and a freckled nose. She frowned at them, immediately retreating so that she was halfway behind the door. "Who're you?"
"Lily!" A pretty woman wearing strange green robes stomped into view, hair the exact same shade as her daughter's yanked into a messy bun. The man could see a thin, wooden stick peeking out of her pocket. "How many times have I told you to—oh!" Her frustrated expression faltered as she spotted Jo and her father, and she fell back a step, a hand flying up to try to smooth down her hair. "I'm so sorry about my daughter—can I…erm, help you?"
"I hope so," said Jo's father, nervously. "I'm sorry for bothering you on Christmas, ma'am…but is there any chance you're…" He checked the slip of paper in his hand again. "…Mrs. Ginny Potter?"
"That's me." She frowned at him. "You're not from the Prophet, are you? Because we've already told you people a thousand times we're not interested in being featured in a Christmas special—"
"Oh no, I'm not a reporter or anything," he cut in hurriedly. "I'm…" He trailed off, staring down at his feet nervously. His thought process hadn't gone past finding the Potters themselves—now that he actually had, he had no idea of how to proceed without making a complete fool out of himself.
"Ginny? Who's here?" a familiar voice called from inside the house. "I thought Lily said it was George…" A man appeared in the doorway, rumpled dark hair the same as ever, round glasses (minus the Scotch-tape) sliding down his nose, green eyes merry. The sleeves of his scarlet robes were rolled up past his elbows and he was holding a mug of what smelled like coffee; when he caught sight of the visitors on his porch, his smile faded a little and he shot his wife a confused glance, which she returned with a shrug.
"Are you Harry Potter?" Despite her earlier promise, Jo had spoken up, apparently unable to contain herself.
"That's enough, young lady!" her father reprimanded her sharply. "What did I say?" Jo blushed and scuffed her shoe.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"Look—" Ginny began, obviously confused, but her husband cut her off with a shake of his head, handed her his coffee mug, and bent down so that he was eyelevel with Jo.
"You're right, I'm Harry Potter," he told the girl, smiling kindly. "What's your name?" Jo's eyes cut hastily to her father, who hesitated before nodding his assent.
"Joanna Dursley," she said softly.
"Dursley?" Harry repeated, obviously startled. He scrambled back to his feet, staring at the large (and strangely familiar) man standing on his doorstep with an expression that mirrored nothing short of shock. The man rubbed the back of his thick neck awkwardly, meeting Harry's stunned gaze nervously. "Oh, bloody hell," Harry swore. "Dudley?"
"Hi, Harry," Dudley Dursley said, holding out a hand to the cousin he hadn't seen in nineteen years. "Told you I'd see you, didn't I? "
Much to his surprise, Harry grasped his hand firmly, chuckled disbelievingly, and said,
"About time, then. Come on in."
December 25th, 1997
"Do you think he's dead, Mum?"
Petunia Dursley looked up from her cross-stitch, frowning distractedly.
"Is who dead, popkin?"
"Harry, Mum. Do you think he's dead?" Dudley, the only one who bothered to read the messages Hestia Jones sent, had been worried ever since she'd told him the wizard government had been overthrown, and that Harry and some of his mates had gone missing.
The fact that it was Christmas and there was no more news—none, of any kind!—made Dudley all the more uneasy, especially after what had happened in July. He knew it was weird that he was so worried about the cousin he'd been taught to hate, but in the past few years, things had changed with Dudley. Maybe Harry was right, maybe the Dementor-things had blown a new personality into him or something, but he couldn't help feeling…well, sorry, really. A part of him wished things could have been different between him and his cousin—that he could have realized how ridiculous the way Mum and Dad acted was a lot sooner than he had done.
"I don't know," Mum said a little stiffly. "Why don't you ask that…that pen pal of yours?"
"Hestia doesn't know either," Dudley said, sighing sullenly. "Aren't you worried at all?"
"Why should I be?" his mother asked, her voice going strangely high the way it always did when he brought up Harry.
"Because he's your nephew."
"Diddy-kins." His mother peered at him with genuine concern, the grief that had been in her eyes since summer darker than ever. "Is this about your father again?"
"No." Dudley swallowed against the lump that had risen in his throat. "It's about Harry."
"I know you miss Daddy," Mum said softly. "I do, too. But worrying about Har—about…that boy won't make things better."
"We're his family!" Despite himself, Dudley's fist came crashing down on the cheap kitchen table, shaking it violently. "Why…why haven't we ever acted like it?" There were tears in his mother's eyes when she met his gaze.
"You can't begin to understand," she said softly. "It's not—it's not so simple, it's—"
"He's my age!" Dudley roared, not quite understanding where all this anger was coming from. "My age! And he's off fighting against some…some evil wizard who wants to kill him. And Hestia says he's been running from this nutter since he was eleven. We've seen firsthand the kind of people Harry's had to escape. And we didn't care, Mum—hell, you still don't! We just kept treating him like garbage and—"
"That's enough!" Mum shrieked, her voice going even higher and louder than before. Her hands shook as she set down her needle-point altogether and said, almost hysterically, "Don't talk of such things. Not on Christmas."
"Fine." Dudley's knuckles whitened as he clenched his fists, trying to calm himself down. He shouldered past her, stomping through the tiny flat in Chicago, Illinois that was serving as their hideout and pulling on his coat.
"Where are you going?" Mum called after him.
"Away from you," he returned angrily.
"If your father could hear the way you—"
Dudley slammed the door to drown out the last part of her sentence.
Harry closed the door of his study softly behind Dudley, who glanced around warily. The walls were papered with pictures that moved as though they were miniature television screens and newspaper clippings with headlines that proclaimed things like, DARK LORD DEFEATED! and BOY WHO LIVED HONORS THE LATE PROFESSOR SEVERUS SNAPE and DEMENTORS NO LONGER TO GUARD AZKABAN; DEATH EATERS EXILED.
The Potter's house was a lot bigger inside than it had looked when Dudley and Jo had stood on the doorstep, and it was full to bursting with people. Dudley had been briefly introduced to Harry's other two children, James and Albus, as well as several of their numerous cousins. Ginny had insisted upon feeding Jo, who had then been dragged off to play by Lily and her cousin Hugo. Harry had suggested he and Dudley head to his study to talk, whispering that they'd be hard pressed to find some peace and quiet anywhere else.
"So." Harry's voice jerked him out of his thoughts, and Dudley turned around quickly to face his cousin. "What are you doing here, Dudley?" His tone was still pleasant, but Dudley could hear the tension in his voice—a hint of suspicion, even.
"I should've written you first, I know," Dudley said quickly, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "I didn't know if regular post would get to you and I couldn't find you in the phone book—"
"We don't have a phone," Harry explained. Dudley nodded.
"Yeah, I thought so. It was hell to get your address in the first place. I just…there's something…with Jo…" He rubbed the back of his neck, a nervous habit. "I dunno what to do. And I thought you might." Harry frowned, clearly taken aback.
"What do you mean?" he asked, sitting down in a squishy armchair and motioning for Dudley to do the same. "What's the problem?"
Dudley sat, feeling like a complete idiot.
"Damn—that wasn't how I wanted to start off," he said awkwardly. "I mean, it's not the only reason I'm here. I've been trying to get in touch with you for years and it was just that this…problem…is coming up right when I finally found your address and I—"
"It's ok," Harry cut in, and his calm smile was reassuring. "Just tell me what it is." Dudley didn't remember ever considering his cousin laid-back; he couldn't even recall a time he'd seen Harry look anything other than jumpy and half-starved. The man sitting in front of him still looked a lot like Harry and everything, but he was so…different. Far more different than Dudley had expected.
"Well, Jo's been…she's been doing things," Dudley said uncomfortably. "Things you used to do, y'know, before you knew about…all this." He waved a hand expansively. By the puzzled look on Harry's face, Dudley reckoned he wasn't explaining himself very well. "I mean, I think she's one of your kind," Dudley clarified. Harry's eyebrows shot straight up in surprise; clearly, this was not what he had been expecting.
"How old is she?" Harry asked, frowning thoughtfully.
"Nearly eleven," Dudley said with a sigh.
"And what has she been doing, exactly?"
"She struck this one little bugger who was calling her names completely dumb," Dudley said at once. "Kid hasn't been able to talk for weeks. And she turned my hair green a few months back when I wouldn't take her to the movies. Oh, and sometimes, the electricity goes haywire and stuff explodes when she gets really angry—always reminds me of the time you blew up Aunt Marge…" Harry chuckled.
"Sounds like she's a witch, all right," Harry agreed, puzzled. "What does her mother think of all this?"
"Her mother's dead," Dudley said softly. "Cancer."
"I'm so sorry," Harry relied sincerely after a beat of silence. "When…?"
"Five years ago." Dudley stared down at his shoes. "She was a witch," he added unexpectedly. "American, too."
"Wait—what?" Harry blinked perplexedly at his cousin. "You're joking!"
"Nope. I met her in Chicago—it's where Mum and I ended up when they sent us in hiding. I also went to uni there." When Harry continued to look confused, Dudley elaborated with: "University. You know, college?"
"Oh yeah…" Harry shook his head rapidly. "That's right. I can't believe how out of touch I've gotten with the Muggle world sometimes. Anyways…I didn't know you'd gone to America."
"Hestia didn't tell you?" Dudley frowned.
"Well…I never asked," Harry said sheepishly. "Sorry." Dudley shrugged.
"Don't blame you." There was an awkward pause while Harry seemed to scramble for something to say.
"So…your wife. She was a witch?" he managed at last. "Your mum and dad didn't disown you?" Dudley blinked at Harry.
"Hestia didn't tell you about Dad either?" Now he looked slightly offended. "Blimey, I thought she'd at least mention that."
"What about Uncle Vernon?" Harry frowned, puzzled again, and Dudley sighed sadly.
"The evening Hestia and Dedalus took us into hiding," Dudley explained, "we were ambushed just before we started to Apparate. Apparently they'd had people watching our house, following us…" Dudley's fists clenched. "Hestia managed to get Mum and me away, but Dad and Dedalus weren't so lucky..."
"Oh, Merlin." Harry ran a hand over his face, wincing. "Blimey, Dudley, I'm so sorry."
"Yeah. Well." Dudley sighed again. "It was a long time ago."
"How's your mum?" Harry asked carefully, obviously feeling it would be impolite not to ask, though Dudley suspected Harry probably couldn't care less. Not that Dudley could blame Harry, once again. Mum and Dad had never treated him right; now that he was a parent himself, Dudley was appalled just to think of their behavior, of how they used to make their orphaned nephew sleep in a cupboard under the stairs, how they ordered him around like a servant. Dudley had been young and under his parents' influence when he'd treated Harry cruelly—not that it made up for anything, but at least he'd seen the error of his ways in time. It had to count for something.
"I haven't the faintest," Dudley responded truthfully. "I hear from her every once in awhile, but I don't go out of my way to talk to her. Jo's only met her once, when she was a baby, so obviously she doesn't remember…after the way Mum reacted to Helena—that was my wife's name—I didn't want to expose our daughter. Helena thought Jo'd probably be a witch. Apparently, she started showing signs when she was a baby." Dudley smiled ruefully. "I never noticed. Too thick, I suppose."
"You couldn't have noticed," Harry said kindly. "There are little signs, things only a witch or wizard would be able to pick out. Some kids don't even start showing magic at all until they're six or seven, and power just gets stronger with age."
"Yeah, I didn't really start catching on until she was eight or so, and lately, it's all been getting a little out of hand." Dudley grimaced. "Well, she's going to be eleven on New Year's Day. I figured that school you went to will be sending the letter this summer…and I haven't a clue how to go about preparing her. We don't talk about magic—I just don't know enough, and she was too young when her mum died to really remember much. She knows about it, but…well, very limitedly. I haven't told her I think she's a witch yet; I wanted to know for sure."
"Probably a good move." Harry smiled. "Do you want me to talk to her?"
"Would you?" Dudley asked in some relief. "Because that would bloody brilliant."
"Of course," Harry said without a second's hesitation.
"I owe you one, mate," said Dudley, grinning over at his cousin. "Thank God I found your address."
"Erm, about that." Harry shifted in his chair. "How did you find it? My address, I mean. It's just that I'm Unlisted because I tend to get a lot of…well, attention, and I didn't want to expose my family to it. I didn't want to hide my home with spells, so I have a fake address people can send—" Here, he grimaced. "—fan mail to. Only a few people know where I really live."
"Well actually," Dudley said with a rueful grin, "it was that Hagrid bloke. The one who gave me a pig's tail?"
"Hagrid?" Harry asked incredulously. "Why--?"
"He's not a hard person to find," Dudley said, with an amused snort. "When Helena and I visited London, she took me to the Leaky Cauldron a few times. I didn't know if I'd be able to see it, what with her gone and all, but I guess the charm she'd put on me still works 'cause I got in. I had a talk with the barkeep, and he promised to pass along the message to Hagrid the next time he passed through. I got an owl from him last night." Harry chuckled disbelieving, running a hand over his face.
"Blimey, Dudley," he said, laughing a bit, "you're full of surprises, aren't you?"
"Now that you mention it," Dudley said, grinning quietly to himself, "I suppose I am."
December 25th, 2007
"We're not going. I've changed my mind!"
"I'm bloody serious, Helena—the woman's insane. She'll probably throw holy water on you and the baby."
"I mean, you remember how she was at the wedding. She didn't even stay for the whole effing ceremony!"
"What?" Dudley, who had been pacing furiously back and forth across their hotel room, paused to blink at his wife. Helena had her hands planted firmly on her hips, dark curls piled on top of her head.
"We did not just waste a day battling our way through the International Apparition Network to finally get here and decide to not go. This woman is your mother! Now, we may not get along with her, but family is family. She deserves to at least see Joanna." Helena laid a comforting hand on his arm. "It's Christmas, honey. Your mom invited us, and we're only staying for dinner. By this time tomorrow, we'll be back in Chicago." Mollified, Dudley ran a hand through his hair.
"It's going to be all right, love," Helena said softly. "I promise I won't take anything she says to heart."
"Please don't," Dudley agreed fervently. Helena smiled up at him, blue eyes bright, her hand moving up to rest on his cheek.
"Don't worry about it," she whispered. "I'm not going to leave you because of your mother, you know." Dudley snorted.
"Wouldn't be able to blame you if you did," he muttered ruefully.
"You're not like her, Dudley. You've more than proven that by marrying me."
"I used to be." Dudley sighed bitterly.
"You were a child," Helena said firmly. "We've talked about this." She had listened to Dudley rant about his family, his spoiled childhood, how he and his parents had treated his cousin, the famous Harry Potter she'd grown up hearing stories about. Helena hadn't had a guiltless childhood herself—as a half-blood witch attending Salem Academy for Young Witches and Wizards, a private boarding school in Oregon that prided itself on being almost entirely pureblood, she'd been veritably ostracized. Headstrong and hot-tempered, Helena had fought back—and most of the time, she hadn't bothered to fight fair.
Her school days were spent in detention, the headmistress's office, or causing mayhem of some sort; she'd often bullied the weaker, younger kids, desperate to have some measure of control. Like Dudley, Helena often told her husband, she had been a product of her environment.
"I know, but…" Dudley swallowed hard. "How can anything I ever do or say make up for it?" Sadly, Helena wrapped her arms around her husband, head resting on his chest.
"We're all our own worst critics, love," she whispered. "It's the present, how you choose to be at this very moment, that matters most. What you did in the past—you can never make up for it, never go back and change it. And why should you want to? Your past has made you into the man I fell in love with, the strong, good-hearted man I know you are and always will be." Dudley smiled down at her, and some of the acrimony from earlier had melted form his gaze.
"What would I do without you?" he asked softly. Helena rose on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.
"Cry into your pillow every night?" she suggested, grinning snarkily. She shrieked as he grabbed her around the waist and hauled her over his shoulder. "Dudley Dursley! I swear to Merlin, set me down this instant or I will hex you into oblivion!"
"Hmm," Dudley said, grinning and plucking something off the night table, twirling it in his free hand. "With what wand, I wonder?" Worries about his past forgotten, he laughed uproariously as his wife proceeded to curse him out in a garbled mixture of Wizarding and Muggle swears, her fists beating against his back. Now, now, dear." He nodded towards the sleep-away crib where little Joanna had sat up and was surveying her parents with big, round eyes. "Not in front of the baby!"
It had been almost an hour since Harry had taken Jo into his study. Trying not to worry himself even further, Dudley had accepted the Firewhiskey Ginny had offered and was now engaged in conversation with Harry's best mate, Ron.
"So what is it you do, exactly?" Ron said, taking a swig of his own drink. "You build houses?"
"Sort of. It's more like I come up with the ideas for how to build them," Dudley explained. "I'm not as involved in the actual physical labor as much as I once was." He smiled as Ron continued to look a little baffled. "What about you? What do you do?"
"I'm an Auror," Ron responded at once. When Dudley blinked in some confusion, Ron hastened to add, "A dark wizard catcher. Like…like those please-men you Muggles have." Please-men? Oh, police men.
"I see," Dudley said, nodding his understanding. At almost precisely that moment, the door to Harry's study swung open, and Jo and Harry emerged, talking and laughing. Jo made an immediate beeline for her father, clambered into his lap, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Daddy! Harry says I'm a witch!" She beamed at him. "Just like Mom was!"
"Just like Mum," Dudley agreed, grinning.
"He says next year I get to go to the same school he went to!" Jo looked absolutely delighted. "So that's why we came to see him?"
"It is," Dudley said, stroking back his daughter's hair. Jo beamed.
"This is the best Christmas present," she declared, hugging him again, "in the entire world. Thank you!" Dudley glanced up to find Harry standing there, arms folded, smiling at him.
"You're welcome, Joey," Dudley murmured into her hair. "Anytime."
December 25, 2012
Jo stared down at the single tiny (and badly-wrapped) gift beneath the sparse tree, her arms folded across her thin chest.
"I don't want it," she announced.
"Joey, come on." Dudley put a hand on her shoulder, and she jerked away, recoiling from his touch as though it burned. At almost six-years-old, she was as resentful and sullen as a teenager. She hated England, where Dudley had moved them in a fit of depression and hopelessness, only wanting to return to something familiar and safe—he was lost without Helena.
Jo claimed that the other kids made fun of her American accent, and repeatedly reminded him that she missed her friends in Illinois. The fact that Dudley was currently between jobs and barely making ends meet didn't help; they were living in a horrible flat, and he'd had to sell most of their worldly possessions.
"I hate it," she informed him, stomping to the other side of the room and flinging herself onto the couch. "If Mommy were here, we'd have a real Christmas."
"Well, your mum's not here, and there's nothing I can do about it," Dudley said tightly, before reminding himself that this was a grieving child who missed her mother, that she wasn't deliberately trying to hurt him. The child psychologist he'd forced himself to bring Jo to when she'd stopped talking had told him this was normal. At the time, his daughter's unnatural silence had worried him. Now, he almost missed it.
Jo stared pointedly across the room, scowl plastered across her face, lower lip quivering. Dudley was sure she was trying to go for angry and righteous, but he could tell she was close to tears. She wasn't trying to be a brat—not really. Dudley suspected that even if there had been a hundred presents under the tree, Jo wouldn't have cared. The only thing she wanted for Christmas was her mum.
"Jo," he said, trying to soften his tone considerably, "I know you miss Mummy. I miss her, too." Carefully, he crossed the room, sitting beside her on the cracked blue leather couch. "But Father Christmas brought you a present. Don't you want to see what it is?" Wordlessly, Jo shook her head. "It's something of Mum's," Dudley added, getting slightly desperate. He'd wanted that part to be a surprise, but sometimes when it came to his daughter, he was at a loss for what to do. If Helena was here, he was sure Jo would have already opened the gift by now.
But then again, he thought miserably, if Helena was here, we'd be at home in Chicago, and this wouldn't even be an issue.
"Really?" Now Jo's curiosity was peaked. "What is it?" Dudley smiled wanly.
"Maybe you should open it and see," he suggested casually. For a moment, Jo remained where she was, hands clenched on her knees. Then, slowly, she got to her feet and padded across the room, her socks skidding a little on the cheap linoleum. Jo knelt beside the tree and picked up the small box, examining it carefully, before she slowly began to unwrap it.
Jo had always been a methodical child, even more so after her mother's death. Dudley watched as she worked a fingernail underneath the Scotch tape, peeling it off of the newspaper he'd wrapped the gift in—she never tore into things, not his lass.
When Jo had finally pulled the smooth wooden box from the paper, she took the time to run a finger along the golden hinge at the back, turn it over to see if there was anything on the bottom, before she opened it. Dudley waited, watching her carefully, unsure if he'd made the right decision.
Inside, he knew, was a necklace, a tiny winged golden ball that dangled off a thin chain. You could open the little ball—a Snitch, Dudley thought it was called—and put a picture in it, like a locket. It was Helena's favorite necklace; she had been a Seeker, had loved to play Quidditch. She'd tried to explain the rules of the game to Dudley once, but he'd never really understood. Boxing was the only sport that could hold his interest for long.
Jo warily withdrew the necklace, examining it in the minimal sunlight that filtered in through the blinds. Dudley knew how much she'd loved it, how she'd played with it when she was a baby and even when she grew older, admiring the way it shone when it hit the light.
"Open it," Dudley advised quietly. Jo stole a glance at him, then gently pried apart the two halves of the Snitch. Inside was a minute photograph of her mother, who smiled and waved for the camera, her eyes warm and her smile bright. After a moment or two, Jo closed the Snitch, then fumblingly clasped the chain around her neck; the golden ball containing Helena's picture rested on her chest, just above her heart.
Then, without a word, Jo walked back across the room, climbed onto her father's lap, and for the first time since her mother had died, kissed Dudley on the cheek, her arms locked firmly around his neck.
"Merry Christmas, Jo," Dudley whispered into her hair. She didn't respond, but she didn't need to. The way she buried her face in his shoulder was answer enough.
Harry invited them to stay for Christmas dinner, but Dudley knew the Potters probably had enough relatives to manage without he and Jo adding to it. Besides, he didn't want to wear out his welcome.
"We should get going," he told Harry, standing and taking Jo's hand. "Really. We just wanted to drop in; we've taken up too much of your time."
"You haven't!" Harry insisted, but Dudley wouldn't be talked around.
"We'll catch up later," he assured his cousin before withdrawing a piece of paper from his pocket. "That's our address if you want to get in touch or anything." Harry nodded, pocketing the paper.
"We should have a drink sometime," he said, walking them to the door. "Soon."
"Yeah," Dudley said, smiling slowly. "Yeah, I'd like that."
"Can we come back and visit?" Jo asked eagerly, and both Dudley and Harry chuckled. Now that she knew she was a witch, Dudley was certain her appetite to learn more about magic would be insatiable.
"Anytime," Harry said, patting her shoulder. "You should tell your dad to buy you an owl. That way, if you ever have a question, you can write to me right away."
"Maybe for your birthday," Dudley said with a laugh when Jo looked at him excitedly. "We'll see." He turned, shaking Harry's hand again. "Thank you for everything," he told him. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
"It was no trouble," Harry said sincerely. "We'll talk soon, all right?" Dudley nodded his assent as he and Jo walked out onto the porch.
"And Harry?" he added, meeting Harry's gaze and taking a deep breath. "For what it's worth…I'm sorry." Harry held Dudley's gaze, a curious expression on his face. Despite the unexpectedly pleasant nature of their whole visit, despite the fact that Harry had been so gracious and kind, Dudley knew that there were years and years of wrongdoing and hurt to make up for still. The fact that Harry wanted to see him again at all was almost surprising.
"I know," Harry said softly after a moment. "Merry Christmas, Big D."
Dudley bit his lip, wishing there was more he could say, more he could do.
"Merry Christmas, Harry," he finally replied. "Take care." Harry smiled at him, genuinely smiled, and clapped a hand on Dudley's shoulder.
It wasn't much, Dudley thought as he took Jo's hand again and they set off back the way they had came, but it was something. And besides, as a very wise woman had once said, he couldn't change the past. It was the present that was important, it was the fact that he'd had the strength to face his cousin at all, that he'd apologized, that he had learned over the years how to be a man that really counted.
Dudley Dursley smiled to himself, squeezing his daughter's hand, closing his eyes as he felt the cold bite of the wind on his face. Out of all the Christmases he'd ever had, this was the one that mattered most.