When Harry backed over an unexpected large bulk sitting on the steps of the old, depleted building and fell backwards, the papers he carried were strewn about as his arms flailed for balance. He briefly thought, That's never happened before, but his backwards (and surely painful) flight down four creaking wooden steps to the street beyond was prevented when he was pushed upright by a meaty hand against his backside. Harry turned with gratitude blossoming on his tongue, but the words suddenly withered and scattered like last autumn's leaves.
Of all the people he might ever thought of tripping over on the old, rotting steps of the depleted-looking building that served as an extension for the Aurors' headquarters since Voldemort's defeat, Dudley Dursley never occurred to him. Never had, actually, since the day Harry turned seventeen and left the loveless house of his aunt and uncle. "Oh. This is a surprise." Harry certainly never imagined he'd see a rumpled and scruffy Dudley stinking of stale booze, his little eyes bloodshot and weary. Feeling quite awkward , Harry stiffly gathered together his papers and whirling thoughts.
"Yeah. I'll bet." Dudley's bulk, much less than Harry remembered but still very much present, shifted slightly as he reached out and over. Harry blinked in surprise at the trembling fistful of paper that Dudley silently offered.
Harry smiled. "Thanks." But the smile slipped from his face when Dudley turned away with an expression of shame and clasped his hands between his knees.
Apparently, the charms that subtlety diverted Muggle interest and attention away from the decrepit building didn't seem to work on a Muggle who was himself trying to avoid interest and attention.
Harry sat beside Dudley and made a show of arranging the papers on his lap. "Long time no see, Big D." He couldn't help but smile at the meaningless rhyme. "Never thought we'd cross paths again."
Dudley's shoulders slumped after he gave Harry's words a halfhearted shrug.
"What brings you to my side of town?"
Dudley muttered something discernible beneath Harry's hearing. After a moment, Dudley said, "I'm sorry."
"Nah, that was an accident. Wouldn't have happened if I were paying attention to where I was stepping."
A quick shake of the head. "Not the tripping. Everything else."
Harry carefully sorted the papers in their proper order. Doing so kept his hands busy as his mind whipped around in circles. Dudley's remorseful guilt was an unfamiliar uncertainty and he didn't like it. "I don't need an apology, Dudley – three years moved me beyond any hurt that's happened." Not the hurt of the last battle – Harry didn't think he'd ever completely recover from that – but the hurt of the Dursleys? Oh yes, he was quick to forget what ultimately wasn't worth the time and emotional energy. "But I don't think you meant to search me out and tell me."
"It's none of your business!"
Harry understood irritation; he knew where he stood with it. That, and the saving-people sense that Ginny often (and affectionately) accused him of was poking its head about and sniffing like a bloodhound on a hot trail. "Well, if it's none of my business, I wouldn't be finding you out here, now would I?"
Dudley's laugh was hollow. "Looking like I got dragged off the street, you mean." He scrubbed a grubby hand against his unshaven cheek. "I was supposed to get married yesterday, you know."
Actually, Harry hadn't known – it also surprised him that he actually cared, because he would have at least sent a card and some money.
"But I couldn't go through with it. Rita doesn't deserve someone like me, and it never would have worked anyway. So I called it off two weeks ago, and told my parents why. Mum cried; Dad swore at me, shouted that I get out now. Even shoved me out the door when he thought I wasn't moving fast enough." Dudley shifted his weight. Harry could feel the tension in the air, so he placed a light hand on Dudley's shoulder. Firm so that its presence was notable, but gentle so that it never felt more than comforting. He knew how to be supportive. This was something he could work with. "He called me a freak, Harry!"
Harry waited patiently for the broken tears he sensed hovering on the edge of Dudley's words. Dudley took two ragged breaths, and then spoke blandly, as if discussing the price of milk with another stranger in a grocer checking line. "Dad said he never wanted to see me again - he was ashamed that I was his son. Mum wouldn't even look at me when I left, Harry. No one answers the phone when I call. I went to see them yesterday, and I knew they were home. I could see them move the curtains to look at me, but they wouldn't answer the bell. They just simply didn't want to have anything to do with me."
Darling Dudders, Harry thought with worried affectionately. "Jeez, Dudley, you make it sound like you blew up Aunt Marge!"
Dudley's choked laugh could have easily covered a sob. "You were always supposed to be the freaky one, Harry. I was supposed to be their normal, darling Dudders. I don't freaky things; I'm not abnormal."
Harry felt Dudley's shoulders tense and so he steeled himself for a terrible confession – murder, extortion, or even a statement of how Dudley had contracted incurable leprosy.
Dudley announced, in a very small voice, "I'm gay," and then bowed his head as though he expected another ax to fall.
The ground that Harry had felt so surefooted on splintered, and suddenly looked very much like dangerously thin ice.
"Go on and say it, Harry, I'm a freak."
"I'm a freak," Harry intoned robotically.
"Shaddup. You know what I mean." Dudley's hands clenched into trembling fists. "Gay, homosexual, queer, freak! I'm a freak!"
Can't make anyone happy, Harry thought. "Look, Dudley, I'm a wizard who does magic. I wear a pointed hat on Tuesdays; my dress robes are a bright, sparkling magenta - although not by choice 'cause I didn't pick them out – for crying out loud, I fly on a broomstick!"
Dudley's silence was thoughtful, rather than pensive and tense. Harry carefully weighed his next words. "The only thing I would call you is a kettle, but only after I introduced myself as a pot." Dudley snickered half-heartedly. "No pun intended, though."
They watched the ordinary Muggles hurry along the street, ignoring the two distressed cousins; one lost to the Muggle world, the other just lost. "Look, Dudley, you stink."
"Haven't got anywhere to go. Was living with Rita before the wedding, and I'm dead to Mum and Dad."
"Then come home with me. Ginny's cooking tonight, and that's a sight better than anything I could whip up, and my godson is visiting – I think it'd do you good to meet little Teddy. Don't get wigged out with what you see, though, 'cause I think Teddy's hair is going to be green."
"You let your godson get away with green hair?" Dudley eyed Harry. "When were you old enough to have a godson?"
"When I was seventeen. And Teddy's hair is naturally green. Or blue. Or pink. Or orange."
"Teddy's still deciding what color he wants his hair to be. But give him time; he's only three years old. Oh, don't worry, Dudley. It's perfectly normal for Teddy's hair to change color and styles in a space of seconds."
Harry hooked an arm beneath Dudley's and hauled both of them to their feet. Dudley tottered dizzily for a moment. "Normal?" Dudley's skin looked chalky in the waning twilight as Harry coaxed him off the steps and down the street to a near-by Apparation point in an enclosed alley.
"The way I see it," Harry said matter-of-factly as he stuffed his papers into one of his pockets, and then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, "there's something in everyone that's not normal. It's what makes every person different and unique. We all have a bit of something that's a little freaky, a little strange, a little wonderful, a little beautiful. " All the words held the same quality of cheer and acceptance, as if they ultimately amounted to, and meant, the same thing.
They did, to Harry, because it was the oddities of life that made living worthwhile, that gave Harry a purpose to wake up each morning after Voldemort's defeat.
He waited a moment for Dudley to understand, and felt unduly proud of his cousin when Dudley followed that line of thought, his own voice holding a sense of tentative hope. "So if everyone is freaky, then no one is normal."
Harry winked. "We're all meant to be a little freaky."
Dudley's smile was breathtaking. "And that's okay, because that's normal."