Well, I wasn't actually expecting to finish this today, but I'm on a roll, and I was very inspired by all the lovely reviews. Thank you guys so much!
So here's Part II, and hopefully I got the tension all right. Hoping you like it!
Dudley blinked. Instead of seeing the familiar tall, thin figure of his cousin landing before him, three figures had materialized on the lawn, all holding hands. Side-Along Apparition, Dedalus had explained to him. He barely recognized Harry under the streaks of blood and dirt marring his face, and the other boy looked just a little bit familiar – something about that red hair – but he'd never seen the girl before.
All three of them were very thin – unnaturally so – with long, messy hair, and the boys were unshaven and wearing ripped clothes, as though they hadn't eaten well or been cared for properly in months – and Dudley realized that they hadn't. There were odd tracks through the dirt on their faces, and Dudley realized after awhile that they had been left by tears – but all three were dry-eyed.
Petunia shuddered. Some might say it was the sight of her nephew, who she'd never expected to see again – and it probably was that, too – but Dudley knew his mother well enough to know it was probably the dirt. She couldn't abide to have something so filthy near her. Vernon was simply staring in disgust.
Dudley ignored them, and with some trepidation he looked at Harry. Their eyes locked, and Dudley almost gasped. The eyes were the same bright green they had always been, but they were different. Haunted, somehow, as though Harry had seen things Dudley would never understand, experienced horrors Dudley couldn't even imagine. He shuddered vicariously.
Harry opened his mouth to speak, and his voice cracked. He cleared his throat, and the girl squeezed his hand reassuringly. His girlfriend? Dudley wondered.
"Hey, Big D."
Harry's voice was hoarse and raspy. He let go of the girl's hand and moved toward Dudley. With some trepidation, Dudley walked forward to meet him. They shook hands. "Hey, Harry." He glanced back at Hestia; she nodded reassuringly.
"I remember you." That was the redhead; his voice, too, was raspy, but even less friendly than Harry's. Dudley could have sworn he saw his hand drift toward his pocket, but the girl grabbed it.
"Ron," she hissed warningly, and turned toward Dudley as well. He had let go of Harry's hand, and she reached out for his. "Hello, Dudley," she said. "I'm Hermione."
"Hi," muttered Dudley, a bit embarrassed. This was more awkward than he'd imagined that it would be. He turned to the redhead – Ron. "I remember you, too." He'd finally pinpointed it – the boy had been there when his father destroyed the Dursleys' entire living room. Dudley nearly smiled at the memory of his father's face, but then remembered his tongue and stopped smiling.
It seemed that Ron was remembering it, too, because he was now grinning broadly. Harry stepped back from Dudley and rejoined the other two. "When you came to get me with Floo Powder?" he asked. Even he was starting to smile – but it looked exhausted and weak on his face. "And Fred dropped" – He broke off suddenly.
Ron's face had turned to stone, and Hermione's eyes were welling up.
Hestia had noticed this. She walked forward and took Hermione's arm. "Fred?" she asked softly. "Fred Weasley?"
Ron's lips were pressed tightly together. He nodded.
"Heavy losses," said Dedalus – even he had sobered up. He had taken off his hat and was now twisting it between his fingers. "Heavy . . ." His voice trailed off.
Dudley felt his numb brain starting to catch up. "You mean the one who dropped the candy . . ." He, too, let his voice break off. Harry nodded. Dudley tried to start again. "He . . . ?"
"Yes," whispered Hermione, very, very quietly. "In the battle."
"Is George . . . ?" This came from Hestia again.
Ron just shook his head.
"I'll go," she said. "I want to see the Order again – it's been too long. And I want to see . . ." her voice cracked. ". . . Fred. It was lovely to meet you, Dudley. And you, too," she added carelessly to Vernon and Petunia. "We'll have to see each other again sometime soon." And with that being said, she had turned on the spot and Disapparated.
Dudley, still in shock, finally remembered the reason he'd wanted to see Harry in the first place. "Harry," he said, and then stopped, searching for the right words.
Harry turned towards him again, his green eyes overly bright, but his face composed. "Yeah?"
"I wanted to say . . ." Dudley's tongue felt too thick to get the words out. Finally, he decided to just say them. "I'm sorry."
Harry looked at him for a long time. Dudley felt like the green eyes were analyzing him, looking right through his own eyes as though to see if he was telling the truth. He tried to show his sincerity on his face.
Harry didn't say anything. He just nodded, but Dudley looked at him, and thought he could see the forgiveness he didn't deserve on the bloody face.
Hermione was now smiling, a weak, watery smile. She grabbed Harry's hand again, and said to Dudley, "Thank you."
Ron was still looking at him, but even he eventually seemed to relax. He nodded, as well, gripping Hermione's hand tighter. He hadn't let go of it.
Dudley felt his father's hand on his shoulder, pulling him back. "So, boy," he said, glaring at Harry, "we won't be having any more trouble from your lot anymore, will we? You won't be coming back."
He said the last as a statement, not a question, and Dudley felt a flood of embarrassment well up inside him at his father. He tugged free of Vernon's grip, and looked at Harry again, whose eyes were colder than Dudley had ever seen them. Ron snarled, and pulled out his wand, and Hermione didn't stop him this time. In contrast to Harry's, her eyes were burning with rage – Dudley could almost feel the heat of the flames. Ron seemed to notice this and put his wand away. Apparently, this girl was a force to be reckoned with.
"It's fine," said Harry quietly, but Hermione didn't calm down. She didn't move, but Dudley felt sure that he did not want to see what she would do if she did.
Harry had not looked away from Vernon. Finally he spoke, and his voice was as icy as his eyes.
"Do you know what I've seen?" he asked. "Any of you? Have you ever seen a friend die right in front of your eyes and known you could do nothing to stop it? Have you ever lost a family member – someone you actually cared about," he added, glaring at Petunia, contempt hardening his face. This was a side of Harry Dudley had never seen. "Have you ever had to stare death in the face, not being able to turn away, knowing it was the only thing left for you?" Ron's and Hermione's faces filled with pain, and they both closed in tighter around Harry. Dudley felt ice feel his veins. He had had to do that? Had actually almost . . . died?
"Have you ever felt alone in the world?" Harry continued. "Alone, with nothing and no one there for you? Have you ever had to watch people die – die for you – and not be able to save them?"
Shame filled Dudley. How had Harry deserved this? How had he been so brave – been able to grow up into a good person – with only Dudley and his parents as role models? He wanted to apologize, once again, wanted to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness, but Harry was still talking.
"No," he said, quiet, deadly. "You never have. You know nothing. You understand nothing."
He paused, drew his wand, and twirled it between his fingers absently. Dudley flinched – years of habit did not die easily – but Harry was not looking at him. He was still staring at Vernon and Petunia.
"I'm of age," he said. "Seventeen. I'm an adult now. No Trace. I could do anything to you, and the Ministry wouldn't catch me."
"Not," interrupted Hermione, "that they would punish him if they did. The Minister is a close friend of ours. He knows what you've done. And Harry's just saved our whole world – and yours, too, even if you don't know it. They'll probably give him a medal. They'd never punish him for this."
"Hermione!" interjected Ron, surprised, "are you speaking in favor of breaking the law?"
But the look she gave him silenced him, and Dudley cowered. "And even if he didn't," she continued, just as deadly as Harry's voice had sounded earlier, "I'm more than capable of doing it myself."
Ron's face looked frightened for a fleeting instant, before it was replaced by the same glare as all the others. Finally, Harry interrupted.
"But she doesn't need to," he said. "I don't need to."
Dudley cast a glance at his parents – they seemed to have shrunk, pure terror on their faces, and on his mother's, mixed with the terror – recognition?
"I won't see you again," continued Harry. "I won't bother you again, won't darken your doorstep one more time. You can continue your perfect, normal lives with no more interference from our lot."
Dedalus hadn't said anything in awhile, Dudley realized, but as he turned around he saw the small man gazing at Harry in awe.
"Petunia," said Harry, turning to face her. "I know the story."
She tried to squeak out a "I don't know what you're talking about" but her face was rapidly darkening from pale with fear to burning red.
"I know about Severus," continued Harry. "I know you didn't think my mother was a freak. I know you were . . ." he paused and let the word hang on the air . . . "jealous.
"What I don't know, though, is why you never forgave her. Or me." His eyes were burning now, in contrast to the ice they had been before. "Why you never spoke about her, even after she died. Why you never cared."
His gaze pierced her for a few more seconds, but then he turned away, and his face and voice were calmer, politer. "Dudley," he said, "if you really want to, you're free to keep in contact. Shall I get in touch with you in a few days?"
Still speechless, Dudley nodded. No one had ever talked to his parents like that. But he couldn't deny . . . he swallowed . . . he couldn't deny that they deserved it.
"All right," Harry said. "I'll send you a message. Come on, you two." He took Ron and Hermione's hands.
"It was nice to meet you, Dudley," said Hermione quietly, and then she turned on the spot and with a loud CRACK, the three vanished.
Dudley's parents were still riveted to the spot, pale with fear. Even Vernon couldn't say a word.
Finally, Petunia's eyes focused on the point where the three had disappeared. She pressed a shaking hand to her lips. "Lily," she whispered.
Dudley took a deep breath. That had been scary. But then he realized . . . Harry had promised to get in touch with him. Harry had forgiven him!
He felt a smile spreading over his face. Turning to Dedalus, he asked, "So . . . can we go home?"
"Yes," Dedalus responded, with the same exuberant smile as before, as though the scene had not just happened. "Yes, you can."