It was a clear and windless day in May when Dudley Dursley kissed his wife Patricia on the cheek goodbye. Today, he wasn't wearing any of the smart suits he always wore when he worked at Grunnings, the company at which he'd inherited the director's position from his father, Vernon Dursley, after Vernon's near-fatal heart attack had forced him into early retirement. It was Saturday, and he was wearing slacks and a short-sleeved shirt.
"Reckon there's nothing for it, Pat," he grunted, his brow furrowed in consternation. "I've got to try and talk to him again."
"Will he listen?" Pat asked, but she looked like she knew the answer already. Dudley did, too. But he had to try. He patted his wife's arm and strode out of the kitchen, out the hall and down the drive to his BMW.
In many respects, Dudley was like his father. He'd inherited his father's work ethic and thirst for respect. He was, like Vernon, tall, but, these days, far more streamlined. Part of this was genes from his mother Petunia, he supposed, but mostly it was that his father's heart attack had been a wake-up call. As a teenager, Dudley had been overweight; grotesquely overweight, as a matter of fact. Some of this extra weight had still been hanging on, on that terrible night when Vernon had had to go to the hospital. Dudley had understood, waiting to hear if his father would live or not, that he had to stop mistreating his body the way he had been, and that was that.
So these days, at the age of forty, he was tall and thin and healthy. He had a beautiful wife – god, but he loved that woman – and a wonderful son (young Vernon was starting secondary school in the fall and Dudley hoped fervently that there would be no owls delivering letters to their house before then). His career was going strong, as evidenced by the powerful German car he was now stepping into. He was, in short, happy with his life.
There was just one cloud on Dudley Dursley's sky – Harry.
That was another way he was unlike his father, Dudley reflected as he pulled out of the driveway and set his course for Harry's apartment. Vernon Dursley still never spoke of his nephew, still could not accept that Harry was a wizard. Dudley sighed and absent-mindedly patted his fashionable haircut (he had vowed to bring Grunnings into the 21st century, and succeeded), thinking of all the times he'd tormented his cousin as a child. Then, after Harry started going to Hogwarts, he'd been afraid of him. There'd never been a time to, well … connect.
It was a classic case of monkey see, monkey do. Vernon mistreated Harry, so what else could Dudley do? As far as he knew, that was the way of things. It was only as he grew up that Dudley realized how foolish he'd been. He cared for Harry, these days, but Harry had never really returned those feelings, and Dudley suspected darkly that he never would.
It was a fifteen-minute drive to the apartment building where his cousin lived these days. He parked his car, got out, locked it carefully and pocketed the keys. Then he turned to the looming building. It was a blocky thing, very ugly, but the rent was cheap and Harry hadn't had much money ever since Ginny left him, taking the kids with her.
Dudley sighed, thinking of the wary way that James, Albus and Lily had looked at him on the few occasions they'd met. It was obvious that Harry had told them about him, and from their looks it was obvious that he'd probably had nothing good to say.
Dudley entered the dingy lobby of the building, glanced once at the stainless steel doors of the elevator and chose the stairs instead. He climbed them limberly up to the fourth floor, where Harry's flat was. He stepped out into the corridor, turned to his left and walked five doors down to the door marked POTTER, fishing the spare key out of his pocket as he went, and unlocking the door.
The hall was gloomy, unlit, but Dudley could make out the white and brown rectangles of piled-up envelopes on the hall floor. It looked like Harry hadn't checked his mail for at least a week. Dudley called into the gloom: "Harry, you home?"
As if Harry would actually have gone out. After a few seconds, there was a stirring from the bedroom and a thick voice, the voice of Dudley's cousin, grunted: "Yeah." Dudley sighed, gathered up the post and dumped it on the tiny table in the miniscule kitchen. Then, he walked into the bedroom, which was lit only by the light of a television set blaring out a game show. Harry lay on the bed, not even turning his head when Dudley entered. The curtains were drawn.
Dudley was no psychologist by any means, but he'd often wondered what had made Harry what he was today. Probably it was the childhood abuse – the starving, the deprivation – Dudley felt a sting of guilt when he considered the excess he himself had lived in, of which he had shared none with Harry. And then the wizarding; graduating from Hogwarts and being able to do magic whenever he wanted. Was it really that strange, the way it had turned out? The way Harry showed absolutely no self-restraint?
Dudley looked at his cousin, lying on the bed, his dull eyes fixed on the TV screen. Harry was obese, dangerously so. His hair was greasy and looked like he hadn't showered for a month. He was wearing nothing but a huge pair of underwear.
Dudley decided to leap right into it. "Harry, when's the last time you left bed?" he asked, his voice gentle.
There was, again, a pause, as if Harry hadn't heard him, then came the thick voice in reply: "Dunno."
"Do you even know what day it is?" Dudley asked, his voice now tinged with exasperation.
Again, the pause, then the reply: "Nah."
Dudley strode across the room. As he passed between the TV set and Harry, he saw Harry's head move, trying to see past him to the screen. "Look," Dudley said. "I think you probably ought to get up." He pulled the curtains, letting in sunlight that was dazzling after the cave-like darkness of the apartment.
As the light burst into the room, Harry made a noise sounding something like an enraged pig. "What the hell are you doing, you wanker?" he shrieked furiously. He waved his hand vaguely in Dudley's direction and Dudley saw the wand clutched in his meaty fist. The next moment, the curtains closed with irresistible force, pulling his hands with them, and no matter how hard Dudley pulled he couldn't get them to open again.
That was the problem – Harry had learned magic, and then he had become dependent on magic. In the end, he hardly did anything without magic anymore. He hardly left bed when he could just magic the house clean, magic food into his lap, magic everything right. When he finally lost his job, it had become too much for Ginny, and she'd left with the kids.
Dudley whirled around and felt himself overtaken with anger of his own.
"What the hell are YOU doing?" he shouted in reply to Harry. "You're lying there, all day long, watching TV! How long since you left the flat? How long since you got out of bed?"
Harry's fat lip was curled up in a sneer of fury. "None of your business," he growled.
"It is my business," Dudley said ferociously. "You're my cousin. You need to get up out of bed! You need exercise! You can't just magic that fat away!"
"Go to hell!" Harry shouted. Then he lay back, panting, obviously exhausted by all this yelling.
Dudley stared at him with pity and sadness – but he felt hope. He was hurt that his cousin was speaking to him this way, but he knew that Harry was being defensive. Maybe he would be able to make some sort of breakthrough after all. He took a few deep breaths and then said: "Look, Harry. Harry?"
Harry grunted sourly. His eyes were fixed on the TV again.
"Look, I care for you. I only want what's best for you."
"Well, it's none of your business, is it?" Harry exclaimed, very annoyed, turning to Dudley. "I can take care of myself!" He looked back at the TV.
"Can you, though? Look at yourself," Dudley replied gently. "I want to help, Harry."
"Want to help? Then get out."
"But—" Dudley began, but Harry interrupted him.
"Get out," he said again. He turned to Dudley with an expression that said he couldn't believe Dudley was still there, was he deaf or something? "Get – out," he repeated for a third time, speaking slowly, emphasizing both words with badly hidden impatience.
Dudley felt the anger come back. He probably shouldn't shout, but he couldn't help himself. "No!" he roared. (Like his father, he had a good roaring voice.) "I won't get out! You're lying here, and – and killing yourself!" And suddenly, Dudley came upon the root of the problem: "Don't you remember what happened to dad?"
That was it. Harry's weight reminded Dudley of his father's, and the strain it had put on Vernon's old heart. And it reminded him of himself as an obese teenager, and of the fear he still felt sometimes, when he woke up in the small hours of the morning, that perhaps the damage was already done and death was rushing towards him, inexorable, unhindered by all the diets in the world.
Harry was exceedingly calm. He looked straight into Dudley's face and said, in a cold voice: "I'm glad that Vernon got what he deserved. Pity he didn't make it all the way."
Dudley paused, mouth working, eyes staring. For a moment he was frozen in place, disbelief etched on his features, but then he felt a great wordless rage come over him, and he bellowed like an enraged bull. His father was a great man! He'd teach Harry not to say things like that about his dad! He saw red, and all conscious thought melted away as he lunged at his spiteful bastard cousin.
Harry's body was in bad shape, but the instincts and reflexes which had helped him survive numerous attacks on his life in his youth were still as sharp as ever. He saw Dudley stiffen with murderous rage, heard the roar like a wounded animal, and his fingers tightened on his wand. As Dudley started towards him, the distance between them only a few feet, Harry felt the darkness deep inside him course outwards, up his wand arm and into his hand. And, satisfying the urge that had plagued him all his life, finally scratching the itch, Harry gave in to the impulse and embraced the evil. Full of power, he raised his wand, all exhaustion forgotten, pointed it straight at his horrible tormentor cousin, and shouted: "AVADA KEDAVRA!"
Dudley only had time to take a single step before the green light hit him with a great rushing sound and the life left him. He collapsed on the floor, dead.
Harry lay back again, a great feeling of contentment coming over him. He smiled. His Muggle neighbours would've heard the shouting. One or two might call the police. Before long, the Ministry would hear about this and come for him. Then it was off to Azkaban and the Dementors' Kiss, and, finally, after all this time, after all this wait, sweet nothingness.