Dudley Dursley lived in a perfectly ordinary house on a perfectly ordinary street, just as Harry suspected he would. That's where the similarities with Privet Drive ended, however.
The house was situated halfway down a long street. Each lawn was not trimmed and watered to perfection, and not everyone owned the latest car. There were children about, walking the streets and having fun with their friends, and nosy neighbours weren't peering out through their curtains, hoping to discover the latest gossip. Several yards looked well used, filled with toys and gardening equipment, and there was a steady stream of traffic that passed through.
It was a lively area. He liked it much more than his childhood neighbourhood already.
"Are you sure you want me to come with you, Harry? I don't want to impose."
Harry glanced at the woman by his side. She was dressed simply, in a pair of jeans, sneakers and a white summer blouse that suited her nicely. Her hair was tied back securely, but for a few wisps that tickled her cheeks. On appearance alone, no one could ever guess that she was a witch. She looked like an ordinary girl.
Exactly what he expected of Hermione.
"If I thought you were imposing, I wouldn't have invited you in the first place. Stop being silly."
She frowned at him in question. "Did you even tell your cousin that you would be bringing someone along?"
Harry shrugged, careful not to drop the package held under arm. It was of decent size and wrapped in bright pink wrapping paper. "He won't mind."
He was in a similar state of dress; jeans, sneakers, and a simple button-up shirt. Together, they looked like any other muggle couple.
"Why did you invite me, anyway? I'm not exactly a fan of your... relatives."
"Honestly? You are the only girl I know who can pass as a muggle without making a fool of themselves. No point in antagonising my aunt and uncle - at least, not today."
It was the truth. He had been planning on taking Luna Lovegood, as she so enjoyed going to places with him, but the girl was hopelessly magical. Luna couldn't pass as a muggle in a million years. Luna was considered odd, even by wizarding standards. Hermione was the best girl for the job, hands down.
There were several cars parked outside, no doubt belonging to various friends. Harry wondered if any of Dudley's old gang from primary school would be there. Were they still friends? That would be an interesting encounter. He hadn't thought about Piers Polkiss in years.
"Ready?" he asked, walking up to the door. Hermione nodded.
He knocked loudly, listening to the sound coming from the backyard. They were a little late, but that was on purpose. This was going to be awkward enough without turning up first.
After waiting a few moments, the door was answered by an attractive woman. She had long, rich brown hair and bright blue eyes. She looked momentarily confused, until her eyes drifted up and found his scar.
Harry blinked. He didn't expect that.
"Oh, hello! You must be Dudley's cousin, Harry - my name is Rachel, his partner. Please, come inside."
She beamed at him before walking forward and wrapping him in a firm hug. He had to stop himself from stiffening at the sudden contact. He hadn't been expecting that either. He forgot that muggles were much more touchy feely than wizards. They remained that way for a bit, before he responded.
"Uh - sure. I mean, yes. I'm Harry. Pleased to meet you - this is Hermione, a friend of mine."
They separated and Harry watched as Rachel then hugged Hermione while exchanging pleasantries. Her reaction to his scar was curious - until he realised that Dudley probably told her about it. Most people in the wizarding world noticed it because of what it represented, but he supposed that even if it had been just a normal scar, it was rather unique.
How many people had lightning bolt scars on their foreheads, after all?
"Who is at the door, dearie?" a familiar voice called. Aunt Petunia appeared suddenly, wiping her hands with a tea towel. She froze. "Oh."
"Aunt Petunia," Harry greeted, giving her a smile for appearance-sake. He rather doubted that they ever explained that their relationship with their nephew was, at best, rocky. "Have you met Hermione? I forget."
"Harry," she returned calmly, eyeing his friend warily. "We... haven't met."
"Oh," he said, shrugging. "I'm sure you saw her around at King's Cross when you used to pick me up."
"Don't worry," he assured his aunt when she continued to look panicked. Rachael had pulled Hermione inside, leaving the pair of them alone and free to talk about more sensitive topics. "She was raised as a muggle. Her parents are dentists, you see - a very noble profession, wouldn't you say?"
Petunia nodded slowly. "Yes, yes - very... normal."
"Well, then - where is Dudley? I better go say hello."
The house was well furnished and decorated for the occasion. Balloons and streamers hung from doorways and the ceiling, while party hats and various other knickknacks were placed around two tables. Children's laughter sounded from the backyard, and Harry spied a few older kids amongst them as he entered the kitchen, seven and eight year olds playing with the younger ones. The food was almost ready, the delicious aroma making Harry's mouth water.
Harry felt strangely excited.
He hadn't been to many birthday parties before - particularly muggle parties. All he could remember from his youth were the mountains of presents Dudley used to receive and that one time Harry accompanied his relatives to the zoo. Now that he thought about it, setting that snake free was one of his fonder memories from before Hogwarts.
He doubted Dudley felt the same way. He wondered if that snake ever made it to Brazil. He didn't think so, but stranger things had happened.
Harry tried not to smile but failed miserably. Vernon's name for him used to make him apprehensive, but now all it did was make him rather amused. He turned to face his uncle, giving him a quick once over with his eyes. Vernon was dressed sharply, in a pair of light pants and light blue polo that fit remarkably well considering his size.
"Uncle Vernon, how are you?"
Vernon looked like he wanted to throw out one of his customary insults - his favourite, Harry knew, was about his untidy hair - but knew not to be his usual hostile self in front of other regular folk. Instead, he took a quick sip from the can of beer he was holding, his moustache twitching. "Fine."
And that was that.
Harry quickly found a pile of presents and added his own to the mix before slipping outside, giving Hermione a wink as she was roped into helping prepare the food. She looked rather flustered, which was incredibly amusing. He knew Hermione could prepare meals with magic, but he wasn't sure how good she was at doing it the normal way. Knowing Hermione, she would be fine.
Dudley was easy to spot, talking with a group of friends. Piers Polkiss was in attendance, after all - though Harry didn't recognise the others. It looked like the rest of Dudley's gang was absent.
"Harry! Over here!"
Dudley introduced him to the ones he hadn't met and they all shook hands. Most of them worked with Dudley in construction, while a few only knew the Dursleys because their children attended the same daycare as Lily. Dudley looked a bit nervous when they asked him a few questions but he handled it easily enough, explaining that he worked for the government. That had made them a little twitchy, especially when he told them he couldn't go into too many details.
Piers eyed him warily but for an entirely different reason, unsure if he should extend his hand. Harry stared at him for a moment, before reaching out.
"Polkiss." Harry acknowledged, nodding. Piers slowly shook his hand.
And then Dudley showed him his niece. She was playing with the other kids, but she was very easy to spot. Her long red hair was very familiar and Harry almost expected her to have large green eyes like his own. Instead, she had crystal clear blue eyes, big and round and filled with youthful energy.
"Lily, come over here."
She skipped over with a grin, dressed in a cute light blue dress.
Harry unconsciously smiled as he watched father and daughter hug. Truth be told, it made him want to have a kid of his own to spoil.
"I want you to meet someone," Dudley explained, turning her towards Harry. "This is Uncle Harry - we grew up together. Say hello."
She gazed up at him shyly, trying to hide her face behind her hands. She looked absolutely adorable.
"Hello," she mumbled. Harry knelt down and pat her on the head, giving her a large smile.
"Hey there - your name is Lily?"
She lowered her hands, still shy but not wanting to hide from the nice man. She nodded cutely.
"That's a pretty name. My mum was called Lily as well."
She beamed at him and he pulled her into a quick hug, feeling a bit choked up.
Get it together, man, he scolded, releasing her and sending her off to play. Dudley looked happier than he'd ever seen him, before giving him a serious look. Harry frowned, standing.
"What is it?"
Dudley struggled for a moment, before sighing. "She's one of you."
Harry looked dumfounded while Dudley just rolled his eyes.
"She has - you know."
Harry gazed out after his niece. She was playing with a boy who was a little older than her, helping him collect rocks from the garden. Another child joined in, until several of them were working together. It was such an innocent picture, something normal kids did in their childhood... something Harry rarely experienced. All of a sudden, Harry remembered that Dudley had invited him for more than just the party. He'd mentioned a favour.
"Do your parents know?" Harry questioned, feeling strange. "Have you told them?"
"Not yet - that's what I need help with."
Harry licked his lips. His mouth was strangely dry. "Does Rachel know?"
Dudley simply nodded.
"How'd she take it?"
"She was freaked out at first," he admitted, lowering his voice so no one else could overhear. "Lily made all her toys dance around the room. Near scared Rachel half to death. Near scared me half to death. She thought our house was haunted. It took me a few hours to calm her down and explain that... our family had a history of such things."
"And she accepted that?" Harry asked sceptically.
Dudley shrugged. "Not completely, but it isn't the only thing Lily has done. Seeing is believing, yeah? I told her about you - that you could show her and explain."
Harry took a deep breath.
"I need a drink."
He was nursing his sixth can of beer when Hermione finally got away, sitting down next to him at a small garden bench he had claimed for himself. Rachel was calling the kids in and Harry could smell the delicious aroma of food wafting from the house.
"Are you okay?" she asked, eyeing the empty cans at his feet.
"I'm fine. Dudley just threw me a curveball, that's all."
He explained what he'd been told, that his niece was magical. Hermione looked delighted, beaming happily.
"That's wonderful - oh Harry, you must be so proud."
"You forget," Harry grunted, finishing his last can with a big mouthful. He then crushed it in his fist. "My relatives can't stand magic. This is going to be a disaster."
Hermione bit her lip, looking worried. "They wouldn't - surely they - even they would treat-"
"Her like family?" he cut in bitterly. He wasn't sure who was more surprised by his tone, Hermione or himself. "Like they treated me?"
His gut twisted at the thought. He wasn't worried about Dudley. He clearly loved his daughter and wouldn't treat her any differently. It was his aunt and uncle he was afraid of. Would they shun her like they shunned him? Lock her in a cupboard under the stairs and treat her like a house-elf? Harry knew he was being silly - she didn't even live with them - but he couldn't help but let his imagination run away with him.
"They better not!" Hermione said hotly. "Harry, you have to do something!"
He nodded, standing. "Let's go get something to eat. I'll talk to them later."
It turned out to be much later. He couldn't exactly confront the issue while there were so many muggles about, so after eating an early dinner, out the cake came and many other desserts. After that came presents - Harry's drew alarmed looks from his relatives until she opened it, revealing nothing extraordinary, just a few pretty dolls - then party games - he couldn't remember the last time he had seen pass the parcel - until suddenly, the sky was beginning to darken. Eventually, it was time.
Harry watched at Dudley and Rachel waved off the last of their guests before turning to his aunt and uncle.
"We need to talk." he said bluntly.
Vernon looked like he wanted to scoff, but after seeing how serious Harry looked, merely nodded instead.
Dudley entered the room, Lily fast asleep in his great big arms. He set her down on the couch, covering her in a blanket before facing his parents. Petunia glanced between them, surprised.
"What's going on?" she asked, frowning. Rachel seemed to realise what was about to happen and stood beside her fiancé, gripping his hand tightly. She looked slightly unsure, probably not fully understanding the tension that suddenly filled the room. Hermione was seated, nursing a glass of water - and even though she knew a little about his family history - she was looking extremely uneasy.
"Mum, dad," Dudley began, taking a deep breath. Harry felt nervous, sick to his stomach - he couldn't fathom how Dudley was feeling right now. "There is something I need to tell you - about Lily."
Vernon and Petunia looked bewildered.
"What is it, son?" Vernon asked.
Dudley appeared tongue-tied and it took him a few moments to choke out, "She's a witch."
Nobody dared move, nor make a sound. Vernon and Petunia stood perfectly still, staring at their son without emotion.
It was Petunia that finally spoke, disbelief colouring her voice.
"She - She's like Harry. She has magic."
Vernon spluttered incoherently. "What is this nonsense? There is no way-"
"It's true," Rachel spoke up, drawing everyone's attention. She flushed slightly but continued, "She has done things - things that are impossible. Dudley explained to me about his aunt, about his cousin..."
Harry blinked. Petunia was glaring at him. "What?"
"What did you-" she began, face twisted into a snarl. Even Vernon looked surprised at the sudden change, stepping away from her on reflex.
"I didn't do anything," Harry snapped, feeling like he was eleven again and being scolded. It wasn't pleasant. "What are you blaming me for?"
"You must have!" she shrieked, lowing her voice when Dudley hissed at her to be quiet, Lily was sleeping. "How else did she get infected-"
"Infected?" Hermione squawked, flying from her chair. She looked offended at the very thought of what Petunia was implying and her manners went right out the window. "It isn't a disease you stupid woman-"
"Now see here!" Vernon bellowed, facing Hermione. "Don't you talk to my wife like that, missy!"
"It skipped a generation," Harry attempted to explain calmly, though his voice was definitely harsh. "Your sister was a witch, but you weren't. It missed Dudley but his daughter has magic. It isn't all that uncommon."
But that was the wrong thing to say.
She advanced on Harry angrily and Harry had to fight the urge to draw his wand, she looked so enraged. "How dare you - you nasty little boy. I know you've done something, I know it!"
"How could I have?" he asked angrily. "I haven't even been around. Do you think I cast a spell from the other side of the country, just to mess with you?"
Dudley was watching everything with a pained expression, while his partner looked around at the growing argument in shock.
"-how you treated Harry-" Hermione was saying, her hair tumbling from her hair tie and giving her a mad look.
"-we vowed to stamp out that unnaturalness when we took him in-" Vernon countered, spittle flying from his mouth. "It was for the best of everyone-"
"-just like that Snape boy must have done something to my sister! He just comes in and steals her away-"
"-you can't just make someone magical, are you mad?" Harry shouted, losing his cool completely. "You are born with it, don't be stupid!"
"Then why did it skip me? It isn't fair!"
The room went silent.
For once in their lives, Vernon and Harry adopted the same look. They boggled at Petunia in disbelief, while she covered her mouth in horror. Hermione looked confused, as did Dudley and Rachel.
"P-Petunia?" Vernon questioned slowly.
Harry stared at her, eyes wide, only now realising what she had said before. "Stole her away? What..."
And then he remembered Snape's memories, the memories he had given Harry moments before his death. The memories he hadn't thought about since that day, for they were too sad and painful, full of regrets...
His aunt was jealous. Had always been jealous. Hadn't she written to Dumbledore, requesting entry to Hogwarts? Hadn't she been hurt when he politely declined?
"Hermione, can you take Rachel and Lily into the kitchen? I need to speak to my aunt, uncle and cousin alone."
Hermione hesitated, glancing at him in askance. He nodded seriously, face set. After the three of them left, Harry pulled out his wand. Vernon flinched, but he needn't have worried. Harry pointed it at the door and it sealed with a loud squelch.
"You wanted to be a witch," he began, staring at his aunt. She stepped back as if struck. "You even wrote to Dumbledore, didn't you?"
"How do you know that?" she asked, sounding defeated. Vernon was looking at his wife with wonder, while Dudley just looked confused. "There is no way - unless he told - ?"
It was too complicated to explain, so he nodded. A small lie. There was no harm in letting her think that Professor Dumbledore had told him. Telling her Snape had left him his memories would just confuse everyone.
"It was always about Lily," she whispered softly. "Our parents - they were delighted with having a witch in the family. What good could I do, next to her? I got good grades at school. I wasn't the top student, but I did well enough. And yet Lily could turn a chair into a dog. There was no contest."
She sounded drained, like all the fight had been sucked right out of her. Harry struggled to remain composed, because he saw a lot of himself in that expression she wore.
Old insecurities rose from the back of his mind, where he thought he'd hidden them forever. Why was Dudley allowed an ice cream for being good while all he got was nothing? Why did Dudley get presents on his birthday when he didn't even get a card?
...why did they love Dudley and not love him?
"Why did she get these powers, while I was nothing but a normal girl?" she asked aloud, unknowingly mirroring Harry's thoughts. "That boy - that Snape - for the longest time, I blamed him, but-" she sighed tiredly.
"Petunia?" Vernon questioned softly while Dudley said, "Mum?"
"Like I said," Harry spoke up softly, no longer angry. He just felt tired. "You're born with it. You can't make someone magic - it just happens."
Petunia looked close to tears as she stared at her nephew. "H-Harry-"
He remembered the look on her face vividly. It was the same indecisive look she gave him as the Dursleys were forced to flee Privet Drive after his sixth year.
"If I hear you've mistreated Lily," he stated flatly, ignoring her as best he could. "You'll have to answer to me. Understand?"
Vernon fired up at once. "We would never treat her badly. She is-"
Vernon flinched as Harry calmly stared him in the face. Vernon then gathered himself and nodded briskly, glaring at his nephew as if daring him to say otherwise.
On one hand, Harry was extremely relieved. No one ever deserved to go through what he had gone through with the Dursleys, growing up amongst a family that held no love for you. Lily would grow up with a loving mother and father, and - if Vernon was to be believed - with equally loving grandparents. They wouldn't treat her poorly for something she couldn't control.
But on the other hand...
Harry turned away, unsealing the door. "Thank you for inviting me. I'll write to you soon, Dud. I can help explain it better to Rachel. We can talk about..."
He waved his hand vaguely.
Dudley nodded, gazing at his cousin sadly. "Sure thing, Harry."
...on the other hand, it hurt. Knowing this family would love and support her, because she was family, when Harry had been family too, and...
Harry left the room and said his goodbyes to Rachel, gesturing at Hermione to follow. She looked worried, eyes glued to him as they exited the house and walked down the street. Harry didn't even realise they were holding hands until she was readying them to apparate. They were in a small park, behind a few wide trees that covered them from any prying eyes.
"Are you okay, Harry?" she asked softly, gazing up at him with tears in her eyes. He blinked at her in surprise, about to issue his usual 'I'm fine' but-
"Not really," he admitted truthfully. He grunted when she hugged him as tightly as she could. "But I will be."
They stayed that way for a moment longer, before Harry gently pushed her away.
They vanished without making a sound.
Hogsmeade was dark when they arrived, the only activity coming from the various bars and pubs. They walked past Zonko's in silence, enjoying the cool evening air as they approached his home. He tapped the door knob twice with his wand and the door swung open quietly.
"Would you like some tea?"
Hermione smiled softly. "Sure."
It didn't take long, and soon enough they were seated on opposite sides of his desk, sipping piping hot earl grey. She was rather particular about her tea - unlike Harry - and only added lemon and not milk.
"I don't know how you drink it like that," she muttered, as he poured his milk. Harry rolled his eyes before drawing her attention away from the stressful last half-hour.
"So, I have some information for Ron - about that mysterious wand."
Hermione perked up noticeably, excited. "Have you found something?"
Harry took a carefully measured mouthful. "Nope."
She sagged, deflated. "Harry..."
He couldn't help but grin at the irritated look on her face. Harry knew how much Hermione loved a good mystery. Their school days had been filled with them.
"Mundungus has asked around, but no one remembers ever selling Trilly a wand. In saying that, they aren't exactly going to admit it, are they? Bad for business, that - backfiring wands. He doesn't seem to think they are lying, though."
"Ron hasn't had much luck either," Hermione admitted solemnly. "Are there other people you could ask?"
"Already have. Same results."
He'd even asked Alberforth if he'd heard anything about it. People tended to talk when plied with mead, but so far the brother of his late mentor hadn't heard a peep from his more shady patrons. Blaise hadn't heard anything either.
"What about any of Trilly's cases?" he asked, suddenly. "Did Ron get the case files?" Hermione nodded. "Is there anything unusual in any of them? Any threats? Strange occurrences?"
"He wasn't working on anything special - he busted a few warlocks for possession of banned substances a few days before his death, but that's all. They have been under watch ever since, they couldn't have given him the wand. The only case he worked recently that was a bit strange was with that boy dying in that terrible accident, over in Kent - did you hear about it?"
"Ron told me about it..." he trailed off, looking up at the ceiling quietly. Hermione noticed this, looking at him inquisitively. "A permanent sticking charm failed, if I recall..."
"That should be impossible; I couldn't believe it when Ron told me. If the spell was cast wrong, they wouldn't have stuck in the first place. It has everyone baffled, honestly." Hermione looked terribly vexed at this point, annoyed that she couldn't work out what had gone wrong. That didn't happen often.
"...something isn't right here," Harry murmured. "That's two freak accidents in a row - wait a second," he suddenly jumped up, sloshing tea down his front. Hermione looked at him in alarm. "Three freak accidents in a row - what are the chances?"
"I'm sorry?" she asked, perplexed. "Harry, you aren't making any sense-"
"The boy - the boy who died! He had a brother, went to Hogwarts with us, a few years down, in Hufflepuff. Ron told me. They had that memorial for him a few years ago, when he died - remember that? It was in the Daily Prophet."
"Of course I remember. They were related? But what..." she gazed at Harry, and he nodded as the pieces fell into place for her. "He drowned, didn't he?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, but it wasn't just any drowning."
"That's right - he drowned in the bath!" she exclaimed, also jumping to her feet, but not before placing her tea on the desk gently. "You don't think these are all connected, do you? I mean, what is the common theme?"
"All three deaths are freak accidents," Harry began quickly, excited. "And we know they've all visited that house. The two boys lived there, and Trilly went there after the second accident. But what about the parents? Or the other Ministry wizards who were dispatched to the crime scene? They are fine, as far as I know."
"They didn't find anything out of the ordinary, either," Hermione added, wracking her brain furiously. "They didn't detect any dark magic and no dark items were recovered. This doesn't make any sense, Harry."
They both stared at each other, thinking hard.
"We still don't know where Trilly got that wand," Harry said slowly. "If we could just find out where he got it..."
Hermione suddenly gasped. "What if... Harry, what if he found that wand at the house where those boys died?"
"It's possible - but why would he take it? Why wasn't it in his notes? Trilly was never the dodgy sort, to steal something from a crime scene isn't like him."
But what if? Now that the idea had been voiced by Hermione, it didn't want to leave his mind. Harry fixed them both another cup of tea as they both mulled over the possibility.
"If the wand was there, then who did it belong to?" Hermione asked, nursing her second cup. She watched as Harry removed the stain on his shirt and continued when he had finished cleaning himself. "No one ever reported a missing wand and the younger brother was too young to own one himself, so... maybe it belonged to the other boy, the one who drowned. I can't remember his name..."
"Aren't wizards normally buried with their wands?" Harry asked, recalling several of the funerals he had attended after the war. They had all been buried with their wands, though they had died fighting.
"Not always. Sometimes wands are passed down."
Harry remembered Neville, using his father's wand - and Ron, who hadn't had his own wand until third year, after breaking his old one.
"And even though all three deaths were accidents, one didn't even involve magic," Harry groused. "He drowned."
They were going in circles.
"Well now," said a snide voice, causing Hermione to shriek in surprise. Harry nearly spilled his tea for the second time, but managed to save it. He looked around wildly. "Maybe if you two are finished, you could let a wizard sleep in peace."
Phineas Nigellus Black glared at them from his portrait.
"Oh! Professor Black - what are you doing here?" Hermione asked earnestly. "Did Harry move you from Grimmauld Place?"
"He watches the office for me," Harry explained, grinning when Phineas grumbled about being reduced to such a common purpose. "Where have you been, anyway? I hardly ever see you in the frame."
"I appear only at night. You have your assistant to keep an eye on things during the day, Potter." Phineas declared pompously, glancing to the side. "I came across a little early, hoping to sleep undisturbed - I should have known better."
"Why not sleep at Hogwarts?"
"Headmistress McGonagall is busy scolding a group of troublemakers," he explained, looking extremely annoyed. "They set off dungbombs in the middle of dinner." He was clearly unimpressed by such childish behaviour.
The serious atmosphere of their previous discussion had vanished, and Harry watched as Hermione checked the time on her small muggle watch. Harry carefully set his cup of tea aside.
"I better go."
"I'll keep looking into the wand," Harry mentioned as he showed her to the fireplace. He quickly lit the fire with a flick of his wand as Hermione dipped her hand into the pot of Floo Powder on the mantle. "Tell Ron what we discussed; he might want to go talk to the parents if he can get time. I think I'll try to track down some of the older brother's friends. If he owned a second wand, they might know something about it."
He hoped they knew something about it. Because if they didn't, they were back to square one.
Syaoran: Sorry about the long ass wait. I've been away for awhile and then after that, the chapter was complete on DLP but I just hadn't got around to posting it on here. I'm lazy like that.
This chapter is much more serious than normal and... yeah. It was a bit of a struggle to write, really. Back to whacky jobs and whatever in the next chapter, and probably the continuation of the missing wand saga.