A/N: Slightly AU, as in the Dursleys never went into hiding but rather had Hestia and Dedalus come protect them, and Harry received a few more injuries in the war. Might be a little OOC. Contains a few swear words. This little one-shot has been bothering me for two days - I can't believe I actually got it down!
The park was just as he remembered it: empty and silent, with a remarkable amount of broken playground equipment for being so near a relatively affluent neighborhood. Harry stood on the grass at the entrance, surveying the place he had spent so many long days as a child. There were no pleasant memories in this park for him, but it was the only quiet place he could think of that would truly be his own. No one would look for him here, and that was exactly what he needed.
It had been just under 24 hours ago that the battle had ended, in all its gruesome, bloody glory. Harry had of course been victorious in the eyes of the Wizarding World, but he knew better. There had been too many deaths.
Fred, Remus, and Tonks all had died in the battle. They had fought valiantly, of course, but had perished all the same. Harry had only been able to watch.
(Just like with all the others.)
Hermione was currently fighting for her life in St. Mungo's, and Harry didn't even want to think about how the Weasleys were handling the death of their brother, their son.
He knew it was impossibly selfish, but Harry couldn't help but be disappointed that no one had asked him how he felt. Ginny had been the only one who had even come close to it, and only because there had been tears in his eyes when he had truly been able to hold her for the first time in what felt like years. He hadn't been able to adequately explain his feelings, and she, like everyone else, had passed him off as being fine.
(As they always did.)
It was the logic of being lonely that brought him to the park, on a day that seemed much too bright and cheerful for Harry's mood. Harry heaved a deep sigh and began walking over to the swingset, where only two swings still remained intact. He winced at the pain that shot through his leg. It had been badly broken while he was pretending to be dead, and had been healed with a mild spell that did nothing beyond setting the bone. He knew he would have to visit Madam Pomfrey soon, but she was too busy with those more greviously injured. His wounds could wait.
(When had it ever been any different?)
Harry sighed, feeling impossibly bitter. He was being unfair – he knew those around him loved him, but all the same, it hurt. And hurting was better than feeling nothing.
Because really, what else was he supposed to feel, now? Fear didn't really exist anymore, beyond a few stray Death Eaters that Harry knew his wards would repel. He knew he would not be tortured again, so physical pain seemed out of the question.
All that was left was guilt, and that was something Harry quickly found himself drowning in.
He sank down on one of the swings, letting all his weight rest on it. Harry leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, head hanging low, and sighed deeply.
(Perhaps, one day, all will be well.)
He focused on deep, even breaths, thinking of nothing but the inhale and exhale of his breath. He couldn't think about Fred or Remus or Tonks or Snape or Hermione or his parents or –
Harry had just begun to truly calm down when a single word interrupted his thoughts.
"Harry?" The voice was incredulous, its tone deep but still vaguely child-like. Harry would know it anywhere.
He didn't raise his head. "Hey, Dudley."
The silence was long and strained, but Harry found himself unwilling to tear himself from the calm he was beginning to feel, for the first time since the war. Not even Dudley's past torment and the vulnerability Harry felt around him could budge it.
(He had survived a war. Surely he could survive a bully.)
A moment later, he heard the chains on the swing next to him clink as Dudley sat down on it. "How've you been?" He said, his voice curious.
Harry couldn't have been more shocked. He had remembered the few words of kindness that Dudley had extended to him before he left for what he had assumed would be the final time, but never had he expected a change of heart. Perhaps living in hiding had changed him.
Harry finally raised his head to look at Dudley, who was watching him. Immediately the color drained out of the other boy's face, and Harry winced again. He had forgotten.
"You look like hell," Dudley observed, blatantly staring. Harry ran a hand uncomfortably, almost ashamedly, over his face.
A new scar had been acquired: one that stretched diagonally from his left ear, all the way across his nose, to end at the corner of his forehead. It was still violently inflamed and obnoxiously ugly, and for a moment, Harry had completely failed to recall he had it.
(At least he was already used to people staring.)
"Yeah," Harry agreed softly, knowing it was true. He glanced at Dudley. "You look… thin."
That was true, too; his cousin had definitely thinned out. Rather than being generally round, he was quite tall and slender now. Dudley looked pleased with the compliment. "Hestia and Dedalus were really good cooks," he said thoughtfully, finally removing his gaze from Harry's face. "Much better than Mum."
Harry really had nothing to say to that, so he sat silently, rocking the swing gently back and forth. Dudley, too, was silent for a moment, before apparently coming up with another question.
It was a blunt one, in a fashion that Harry deemed to be much more Dudley-esque than the previous one. "What happened to you?"
Harry sighed deeply and stared at the ground. "War," he said simply, his voice breaking even over the single syllable.
He didn't look at Dudley to see his reaction. His cousin once again surprised him, standing up and turning to face Harry.
"Would you – what I mean to say is, well – want to come back to the house?" Dudley finally said, eyeing Harry with a mixture of sadness and distaste that seemed to suit him well. "I know you might not want to, but I-"
Harry surprised himself by shrugging. He had nothing to lose, after all. "Why not?" he said softly, rising off the swing and following Dudley down the road that was so uncomfortably familiar.
He pretended not to notice the taller boy slowing down to accommodate his pronounced limp.
Just like the park, Number Four, Privet Drive was just as he remembered it: obnoxiously white, obsessively clean, and remarkably oppressive. He followed Dudley through the front door and into the kitchen, where he motioned Harry to take a seat at the table. Harry obliged, eyeing the stove he had cooked so many meals at and the cupboard in which he had lived with dislike.
(He would rather like to burn the house down.)
"Thank you for inviting me," Harry said abruptly, remembering his manners. He wasn't particularly thankful, but he was rather astonished at Dudley's hospitality.
"Yeah," his cousin said. He stared Harry down for a moment and then turned to one of the cupboards. He pulled crackers, bread, and a jar of jam from it and set them down in front of Harry. "Eat," he said. "You look like you haven't had anything in days."
Harry was surprised at his words, and he thought hard for a moment. "I guess I haven't," he finally said. "It just – ended – yesterday."
"Did you… win?" Came the tentative question.
Harry nodded quickly, and then shook his head, considering. When he finally spoke, his voice was heavy. "If you mean that Voldemort is dead, then yes."
"And you killed him?"
Harry hung his head and opened his mouth to speak just as the front door slammed open.
His whole body tensed as Uncle Vernon's obnoxious tones filled the house, ranting about something or other to Aunt Petunia, who was following him. Harry sat in perfect silence, his face turned away from the doorway, waiting for the inevitable confrontation.
(His whole body screamed flee.)
Both his aunt and uncle stopped short in the doorway, his aunt's face shocked and his uncle's furious. "WHAT IS –"
"Dad, Mum," Dudley said sharply, cutting Uncle Vernon off, "We have company."
Harry couldn't help but be impressed with Dudley's maturity. He felt foolish that he felt weaker in this situation than he had during the entire battle with Voldemort. That circumstance had threatened his life; this only damaged his emotions and possibly his sanity.
He slowly turned his head to face his aunt and uncle, trying to school his features to be emotionless. The reaction was predictable.
"What the hell happened to your face?" Uncle Vernon spat, looking at him with revulsion. "You've got another freaky scar to go with–"
"Yes," Harry said agreeably, trying his best to contain his anger. "Having a homicidal murderer slit open your face with a sword will certainly give you a freaky scar." He nearly hissed the last two words, glaring at his uncle. That little story quickly shut the large man up, and elicted a gasp from Petunia.
The room crackled with tension. Aunt Petunia literally squeaked. "You look terrible," she finally said.
Harry sighed and turned his attention back to the food he was eating. "As we've already determined," he muttered quietly. Coming here had been a mistake – first to the park, and then agreeing to come back to Number Four. He should have known something like this would happen.
(Something like this always happens.)
"Why are you here?" Vernon finally asked gruffly, staring from Harry to his son, both confusion and anger evident on his face.
"I don't know," Harry said bitterly, taking a bite of his bread and jam.
"I invited him," Dudley interjected. "Found him in the park, just thinking. Thought he could use something to eat."
Vernon looked like he wanted to yell again, but a disapproving look from Dudley shut him up. The room had been silent for a few moments too long when Aunt Petunia stepped past her husband to take a seat at the table, across from Harry. Her husband remained in the doorway, his face still beet-red.
"The war is over," she said matter-of-factly, eyeing Harry with an emotion he couldn't quite recognize.
"Yes, I know," he said emphatically, glaring at her half-heartedly. What was she trying to say?
"What happened to your hand?" Came the next question, startling Harry. Both his hands had been resting in his lap upon the finishing of his bread. Unconsciously, he had been rubbing the top of one of them.
Harry raised his hand and stared at it, then turned it so Petunia's cautious gaze could see the scars. I must not tell lies. "No one believed me," he said softly, returning his hand back to his lap.
This whole situation was confusing the hell out of him. What were Aunt Petunia and Dudley going on about, asking him questions about a war they clearly didn't care about? At least Uncle Vernon was acting like his normal self, being regularly angry, irritated, and loud. Particularly when around Harry.
Harry had to focus to return back to the conversation. "Were you telling the truth?" Dudley had asked. He had now taken the seat next to his mother.
"Of course I was," Harry said softly. He didn't particularly like to remember fourth year – that had been one of his loneliest, and one of the most trying. It had given him the scar on his arm from the graveyard, the one that now seemed like nothing compared to his face and the new ones on his arms.
"Did your – did your… friends… survive?" Petunia said softly, looking revolted at asking the question. Freaky people couldn't be friends, could they? Harry nearly snorted. None of this made any sense.
Harry's head dropped onto his hands without bidding. His voice broke over the words. "M-Most of them," he whispered. He watched the faces of his cousin and aunt blanch slightly.
Harry was almost relieved when things returned to normal with Uncle Vernon's rude interjection. "Now, boy," he said quietly, his voice just as menacing, "It's a nice story and all, but I want to know what you are doing here and what you want with my family–"
In seconds, Harry had Uncle Vernon backed into the wall, his wand pressed into the man's throat. "I suggest you not press me," he said dangerously. "I'm not sure you realize how quickly, how easily, I could kill you. You know nothing about me." Harry's breathing was heavy. "Ask anyone, Uncle Vernon. I'm a bona fide war hero now. Hell, I could even be tried as a murderer, except that my spells killed the bad guys. All for the Greater Good, right? Who gives a shit about scars or deaths?"
Harry suddenly realized that for the first time, he was truly expressing his emotions about the war in general, while standing and snarling in his aunt's kitchen, no less.
He backed away from the fear in his uncle's eyes and slumped back down into the chair. "I did not come here to make peace," he said softly, sadly. "I don't know why I came here at all."
He rose quietly. "Thanks for the food, Dudley," Harry said quietly. "I owe you one." He turned to the door, increasingly embarrassed by his limp.
Harry had nearly reached it when Aunt Petunia's voice stopped him. He turned around to glance at her. "I – I never knew," she whispered. "Is that what – Lily –"
"My parents were murdered by the same person I killed yesterday," Harry said solemnly, trying to keep the weight out of his voice. He had already said too much, stayed too long. He shouldn't have come in the first place.
(You're a killer, his mind whispered.)
Petunia had gone deathly silent, so Uncle Vernon picked up the slack. "Why can't magic fix – that?" He said, gesturing at Harry's face and leg. He said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Harry stared at him for a long moment. "Magic can't fix everything," he responded, his voice hard. "Even I know that. I'm not eleven, anymore."
He turned to go again, and was stopped a final time by Petunia, who had nearly ran around the kitchen to place a hand on his shoulder.
"Harry," she said, looking awkward. "Your – your – parents w-would have been proud of you, you know. You are most definitely their son."
He nodded awkwardly, not sure if a thank-you was necessary. "Where are you going?" Dudley asked from across the room. Harry looked at him for a long moment.
"I'm not particularly fond of the first 18 years of my life," he said, running his hand down his new scar again. "I'm going to try and find out if there's something… more."
It was Uncle Vernon that surprised him this time, and Harry nearly fell over at his words. "My grandfather was a war hero," he said, in a voice surprisingly soft, for him. "A… a warrior, like… like you. The war hurt him badly. He learned to live again."
Harry nodded once, taking in what he said. "Learn to live again. I'll work on that, yeah. Thanks."
Harry had almost reached the door for the third time when once last statement was spoken. "I'm glad you're not dead, Harry," Dudley said sincerely. "And if anything, that scar just makes you look like a bad-ass."
Harry laughed out loud, for what felt like the first time since the war. Perhaps it was. "Not a bad thing to be," he said. "Thanks, Big D." He took the final step out the door and closed it behind him, leaving his aunt, uncle and cousin to think about all he had said.
(Maybe they had understood, after all.)
Maybe, eventually, he could possibly learn to live again. He would go back to his friends and his adopted family and his girlfriend and make them listen, make them ask the right questions about his feelings and his emotions that he needed to say out loud. He would make them understand, and then they could cry and grieve together.
Living again, Harry decided, didn't sound so bad after all.