Harry and Dudley regarded each other in the light of the street lamp.
"So. Can I buy you a drink?" asked Dudley, "Pub down the street's not bad."
"Pub sounds good." answered Harry.
They were silent until they got to the place. Harry kept remembering different pieces from his childhood. He shivered and tried to cast off the bad memories.
"Lager for you?" asked Dudley.
Harry nodded, "Whatever you're having." he wondered whether it was wise to have anything at all for this conversation, but he didn't think he could have it entirely sober. He wasn't on call tonight and Ginney wasn't expecting him. He hardly ever used his personal days, so if he was hung over in the morning he could owl in sick.
He found a table in the corner. When Dudley brought them back their drinks, Harry took a long grateful swallow. He noticed that Dudley had brought him a pint, but had only a half himself. Dudley followed his gaze, "Oh, I'm on call tonight."
"Ah." Harry replied. He couldn't think of anything more.
Dudley sat just staring at him. Harry reckoned it was up to him to start, "I like Phillip." he said, "He's seems really nice."
"He is." Dudley smiled, "Your wife and he seemed to get along famously."
Another uncomfortable silence. Harry took another swallow of his lager. Hell, for this conversation he probably needed a pint of firewhisky. He started to cast about for a safe topic. "So, Eleanor seems pleased." he said, guardedly, "What about you?"
Dudley gave him that sad little smile he'd been directing at Harry all night, "Thought I was going to go mad like Dad did when you got all those letters?"
"I...uh...considered it a possibility." said Harry wryly.
Dudley sighed, "Do you remember the dementors?"
Harry snorted, he was never likely to forget that. "Yeah." was all he said.
"I never got over it." Dudley shook his head and shivered a little.
Harry winced, "Dudley, I'm sorry..."
"Not the dementors, the fact that you saved me. I saw all the trouble you got into, all those letters. And I'll bet you got into trouble at school, too." he said shrewdly.
"Long time ago." said Harry, eyeing the place on his hand where the scars Umbridge had given him were still visible if you looked for them.
"You know what my worst memory was, at the time?" Dudley asked, taking a sip of his own drink, "It was listening to dad try to beat the 'freakishness' out of you, and knowing that if they knew about me, they'd turn on me too."
"Sorry?" said Harry, startled, he only remembered Dudley being entertained when he was being punished.
"It wasn't long before you went off to school. Maybe it was the time with the snake, I don't remember the exact episode. I had just figured out who my dad was ranting about, when he was going on about poofs, nancy boys and fairies." Dudley sighed, "I'd also just figured out that I was one. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I Dad found out I was one of those, I'd be under the stairs so fast my head would spin."
"But..." Harry was confused, "You never seemed...I mean I still had to keep the hell out of your way or..." he didn't want to finish. He rubbed the scars on back of his hand.
Dudley looked down at the table, "That's why I never got over it. You could've just run. Told your wizard friends that there was nothing you could have done. It would've been completely understandable. I heard what Old Lady Figg said. That there were supposed to be adults guarding you."
Harry shrugged, "It seemed like there was no choice at the time."
"I remember that big silver deer thing you conjured. What is that?" Dudley asked.
"It's a Patronus. It's like an anti-dementor. It's sort of a symbol of everything that makes you happy."
Dudley nodded, "Are they always the same? Or does everyone have a different one?"
"They're all different." Harry wondered why Dudley wanted to know.
"Well, after that night, it occurred to me that my parents were trying to turn me into a flipping sociopath." Dudley's voice was low, almost a growl. Harry thought Dudley sounded a bit like Sirius used to, when he spoke about his family. "Mum used to shout at me, when we were little, if I so much as said a kind word to you. I think it was the only thing she really ever got angry with me over." Dudley shivered, "And, of course, there was Dad...I was never brave." he spread his hands in a gesture of surrender.
Harry didn't know what to say about that, so he just grunted non commitally.
Dudley looked Harry square in the eye. "Tell me, Harry, are wizarding children just a little more, er, durable than other children?"
Harry thought of all the spills the children had taken. Of his own falls from his broom, "I think so, yeah."
"I thought so. If they weren't, Mum and Dad would have been jailed for homicide before the wizards came back for you."
Harry scoffed, "Oh, come on Dudley, it wasn't that bad."
"Really, Harry?" asked Dudley, "So you weren't ready to hex me into next week in the kitchen?"
"Sorry, about that." Harry took another drink, embarrassed.
"You still apologize a lot." observed Dudley, "I should be apologizing to you." he looked deadly serious, "If I could apologize for Mum and Dad I would, but I can only apologize for myself. I'm sorry."
Harry felt his face go red. There didn't seem enough air in the room, suddenly, "You don't need to, it's all right," Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
He remembered, oddly, the first day he and Dudley had attended primary school. When the teacher had come to his name, he hadn't answered because he really didn't know his own name. Dudley had elbowed him in the ribs when the woman had called the third time and hissed, "She means you, Freak."
He finished up his pint in about three gulps. He was claustrophobic again, "Can we go outside?" he said quietly. He always felt better away from people, when he had one of these turns. He wished he had a calming draft on him. He could call Kreacher to bring him one. Unfortunately, Kreacher would tell Ginny, and he didn't like to worry her.
The cool air felt better on his face.
"All right, now?" asked Dudley solicitously.
"HELP! I need somebody!" sang Dudley's mobile from his pocket, another Beatles tune, "HELP! Not just anybody. Help, I need somone. He-elp"
"Oh sorry, need to take this. It's work" Harry assumed that the song must be different for different numbers. That was clever.
"This is Dudley." Dudley's voice was very business like, "Yeah? A weird one? How far? Okay, text me the address. Tell the police I'll be there in twenty minutes. Yes. Tell them that unless a delay is a clear threat, I want to take the statement before he's taken to hospital. Twenty minutes." Dudley had already turned and was halfway down the street, beckoning Harry with a jerk of his head.
"What's going on?" asked Harry jogging to keep up.
"Emergency intake." Dudley said pocketing his mobile. He looked at Harry appraisingly, "I shouldn't take you, but it's a weird one they said. You're welcome to come, if you like"
Harry looked at Dudley quizzically. "Weird?"
They'd made it to number four and Dudley was taking his car keys out. It had been a long time since Harry had ridden in a car.
"Yeah. When I started seriously looking for you a couple years ago, I told them at work to send me the weird cases. I reckoned that I might be able to contact wizards that way and one of them was sure to know how to contact you. I could at least give them my letter to give to an owl."
Dudley slid into the car, moving a stack of binders out of Harry's way, "Anyway, it's been mostly just nutters. Sometimes crack addicts, sometimes religious crazies who decide the child is 'of the devil'. A couple of times though, I'm sure it was a wizard kid...and then they just disappeared into the system. Like magic, really." He smiled lopsidedly.
"What exactly do you do, Dudley?" Harry asked, not really following.
"Oh, sorry. I'm a social worker. I do care placements." Dudley pulled the ohone from his pocket again. Looked at the little screen, "Oh good, it's closer than I thought." they pulled out of the driveway. "Anyway, when I'm on call I do emergency placements. You know, when the police have been called."
They drove in silence for a moment, then, "Damn, Harry, can you call Phillip and tell him I'm doing an intake? I forgot to call him, I don't want him to worry when he sees the car gone."
Harry caught the phone Dudley tossed him. There was a miniscule keyboard on it, "How do I use it?" he asked feeling stupid.
"Hell. Just dial the number and press the green button." Dudley rattled off a phone number, sounding stressed, "Try not to blow it up."
Harry did so and was rewarded with Phillip's voice,
"No it's me, Harry." said Harry, "Dudley asked me to call you and tell you he got a call from work. Emergency intake."
"And he asked you to call 'cause he's driving, right?" asked Phillip.
"Yeah, he must've done."
"Tell him I love him and I'm glad he listened for once. I'll see him later. Eleanor's already in bed. Little tich's all worn out." Phillip said fondly, "See you." he rang off.
"He said to tell you he loves you and he's glad you listened to him for once." repeated Harry, "And Eleanor's in bed."
They pulled up to a block of flats in one of the more run down streets. Several police vehicles and an ambulance stood outside. Dudley pulled out a card from the visor of the car, "They won't let you in without identification...Why don't you stay here until I find out if someone I know's on scene.."
Harry pulled the card out of his pocket that he used when he had to deal with muggle authorities. It was spelled to look like whatever badge the muggle in question needed to see, "It's okay, I have identification." he showed it to Dudley, who gasped.
"Do all you wizards have something like that? It looks authentic." he compared it to his own ID which is what it had taken the appearance of."
"No, that's issued by the Ministry. You need a security clearance to get one." replied Harry as Dudley gave it back, "I'm an Auror." at Dudley's blank look, Harry tried again, "Like wizard police."
"Will you get into trouble for using it? Off duty, I mean?"
Harry grimaced, "Strictly speaking, Aurors are never off duty. If there's a wizard involved or there might be a wizard involved, I'm within my jursdiction."
Dudley nodded and got out of the car.
A uniformed officer approached them and asked for their ID. A crowd had gathered, attracted by the show. Another uniformed woman came to talk to them, Harry thought the uniform was that of a paramedic rather than a police officer.
"Glad you got here, Dudley." she said, she sounded harrassed "Who've you got with you?" she nodded at Harry.
"Oh, this is Harry..." Dudley hesitated not being accustomed to making up stories on the spot.
Harry was though, "I'm training." he held out his hand. Now if he made any blatant gaffes, Dudley could better cover for him.
"Oh, well." she turned back to Dudley, "Well, the police were called because his mother was heard screaming at him for an hour and then noises in their flat like furniture being broken. The police had to break in. The mother was found to be completly disoriented. She told the police that her child had killed her boyfriend."
"Did he?" asked Dudley slowly.
The woman scoffed, "Hardly. The child is no more than four or five and the boyfriend is nowhere to be found."
"Does the child have injuries?" asked Dudley, pulling out his phone and typing rapidly on the keyboard with his thumbs.
The woman sighed, "We can't tell. He's hiding in a closet and we're afraid of making it worse if we try to pull him out."
"Have they cleared out the mother, then?"
"Oh, aye." the paramedic grinned a little maliciously, "We're taking her to hospital."
"Thanks. C'mon Harry."
As soon as they entered the flat, Harry felt it. Magic. Diffuse and chaotic, but strong. It felt like the first outburst of magic that a child might have, under the force of fear or pain, "It's one of ours all right." Harry said quietly to Dudley, "We're lucky the flat isn't blown up."
The flat was depressingly squalid, but not from magic. Dishes were piled in the sink and Harry noticed a cockroach scurry across the kitchen counter. A smell of gone off food, undone laundry and sour liquor pervaded the place.
Another paramedic stood in the doorway of the bedroom, "Back here." he called, "In there."
Dudley and Harry stared into the closet, piled high with junk and clothing. "Maybe you should go." Harry told the paramedic, "It's probably better with fewer of us."
The paramedic nodded, happy to leave it with them.
Dudley crouched on the floor, "Hello?"
A sniff was their answer.
"Can you come out? I'd like to talk to you." said Dudley gently, "I can't even see you in there."
"Are you cops? Mummy said the cops were coming to take me away." a tiny voice asked.
"No. We're not cops. You're mummy's gone to hospital and we need to arrange for someone to look after you." Dudley replied.
"I din't mean to do it." the child sniffed.
"Do what?" Harry crouched down beside Dudley, trying to sound reassuring.
"David said..." whatever "David" said was lost in the child's tears.
A few dishes fell off the counter.
"All right, calm down, now." Harry said in the voice he used on his own children when they were small, "We're not here to hurt you, we just need to know what happened."
"Are you hurt anywhere?" asked Dudley,
Harry looked about the room to be sure no muggles were about and began levitating the rubbish in the closet to the side. If this had been a wizard's home he would have just vanished it, but he erred on the side of caution here.
He stopped when he heard approaching footsteps.
"Mr. Barton?" called a voice, "It's Ms Granger. The office told me you might need help with this one."
Startled, Harry turned. Hermione stood there in her muggle business suit, complete with briefcase.
"Harry!" she gasped, "Oh no. It's not something more than we thought, is it?"
"No, it's nothing like that." when Harry thought of it, it was no coincidence that Hermione would turn up, she was only one of three or four people in the office of Wizard Child Protection who handled muggleborn cases.
Dudley stared at Hermione for a long moment, "You know each other, Ms Granger?" he shook his head and looked at Harry, "I was right. She's turned up on two other weird cases in the last couple years. Wizard right under my nose and I never saw it."
Hermione looked alarmed, her wand was in her hand, "Obl-"
Harry caught her hand, "It's ok...It's Dudley. My cousin."
"What? But your cousin's surname was Dursley." she said confused.
"Which I haven't gone by since I got married. Now could we please get back to the problem at hand?" Dudley said with some exasperation.