The young boy looked up against the falling snow, trying to make out features of the man standing in front of him. "No," he answered, his eyes sparking in defiance. "Do I look lost?"
The burly man pursed his lips. "You're loitering," he muttered gruffly.
"I'm just sitting here."
"That's what loitering means."
The man huffed out in exasperation and said something under his breath before turning away and pushing open the creaking gate. But when he heard sudden commotion beside him, he paused and glanced over sternly. The boy had scrambled up to his feet and was in the process of shouldering his heavy backpack. He was looking up at the man with an expectant smile. "What?"
"I didn't know you lived here."
"Do I know you?"
"But I know you."
"Who do you think I am?"
Dudley opened his mouth, but then realized he didn't want to ask that question yet. So he snapped his teeth together and took another look at the ragamuffin in front of him. The boy was hopping from one foot to the next in an attempt to stay warm and his bright red coat didn't seem nearly warm enough for the night. He wore thin mittens, his long brown hair was plastered to the sides of his face, and his checkered scarf was tied around his neck tight. Despite the cold situation, he still had a bright smile on his face. "Who are you?" he asked in puzzlement.
"I'm Ted. Teddy. Teddy Lupin. I'm Harry's godson. Remember Harry?"
His jaw dropped in amazement. "Harry's who?"
"Harry's godson," Teddy repeated. "Can I come in? I'm really cold, Mr. Dursley."
"Uh… S-sure." Dudley fumbled with the latch on the gate and pushed it inwards. Teddy practically ran into the yard and up the small path towards the front door. Dudley stared after him for a beat before snapping out of it and following quickly. Harry. Now there's a name he hadn't heard in ten years… He reached around Teddy's head and rang the doorbell.
"Oh!" Teddy exclaimed. "Someone's home? I didn't know!"
"You didn't try the bell?" Dudley murmured.
The door opened to reveal a stout young woman wearing a loose grey tee, pink pajamas and a spotted apron. Her curly black hair was tied up in a messy ponytail and her large blue eyes flicked over the familiar face and the new one at her doorstep. "Oh? Hello?" she faltered. "Um…" She looked up at Dudley in befuddlement. "Who is this?"
"Hmm." He had forgotten the boy's name already. "This is…"
"Right. This is Teddy." He tilted his head pointedly at his wife. She shook her head in disbelief as she stepped back to let them through. Teddy scurried in happily, being careful to keep the mud on the tiles and not the rug. He toed off his boots while putting his backpack down by the closet.
Meanwhile, Dudley was pulled aside by Ruby. "Who is that?" she hissed into his ear.
"I'm actually not sure," he said distantly.
"I'm Harry's godson," Teddy explained yet another time.
"Harry?" Ruby frowned.
"Dudley's cousin? Harry? You know him, right?"
Obviously not. She turned to Dudley slowly. "What is this all about?" she asked. "Cousin?"
"Family stuff," Dudley sighed. "Go check on dinner, Rube. Give me a minute with him, will you?" Ruby was tempted to argue, but she didn't want to create a scene in front of a child. So she stalked away to check up on the food. Dudley then turned to Teddy. "What are you doing here?" he asked without dancing about the point.
"I wanted to find you," Teddy said importantly. "I wanted to find you and talk to you."
"And I'm guessing Harry knows nothing of this."
He shrugged. "That's okay. Do you think I could stay here tonight? I'll go back tomorrow morning. I promise."
"That's not the issue here," Dudley argued. "Did you run away?"
"Um… Not really…"
"For God's sake." He pressed a hand to his mouth as he contemplated the boy. "How old are you?"
"Look, you have to go back home. Tonight."
Teddy pouted. "But it's cold," he mumbled.
Dudley rolled his eyes in disbelief. "I didn't mean on your own. I've got to call your parents or something, don't I? You're a pain in my arse right now," he growled.
"Oh, I haven't got parents."
There was silence after.
Teddy waited for more to be said but, when he wasn't prompted with more questions, he fiddled with the ends of his scarf absently while taking in the narrow and dimly lit foyer. It was a really old house. It wasn't pretty or anything. But it smelled nice. He was really hungry. He hoped he would get something to eat.
"Would you like some dinner, Teddy?" Ruby asked quietly from the doorway, startling the other two. They hadn't noticed her walk back in.
Teddy was the first to recover. He gave her a charming smile and nodded. "Thank you. I'm starved." He hurried towards the kitchen, letting the nice lady lead the way.
Dudley took a moment to catch his bearings. No parents. Like Harry… He exhaled to push away his misgivings. What was he supposed to do about this? He took off his winter clothes while thinking deeply. His wife knew nothing about that part of his family. He had been careful to keep her away from it. He saw how repulsed his parents had been by Harry. He didn't want Ruby to be like that.
When he walked into the kitchen, he found Teddy sitting on the counter with a plate on his lap and his face stuffed with lasagna. Ruby was getting a glass of water for the boy. "I'll get your plate in a second," she told her husband.
He nodded without really hearing her. Teddy. Harry's godson. What was going on? He leaned against the counter opposite the boy. "Do you live with Harry?".
"Mhm," Teddy nodded and gulped hard. "And my grandmother. I sometimes stay with my grandmother and sometimes with Harry."
"Why did you run away?"
"Won't they get worried?"
"Did you get into a fight with them?"
"No, it's not like that. It's… um… Something else…"
Ruby tsked and threw a quick look at her husband. "We should give them a call, let them know he is here, right?" She turned to the boy. "Do you know their phone number, sweetheart?"
Teddy brows knit together. "Phone number?"
Dudley realized quickly that prodding would only make even stranger things come out into the open. He cleared his throat to interject. "I don't think he-"
"Yeah, I know Harry's phone number."
He trailed off into nonsensical words.
"Good." Ruby had obviously not noticed Dudley's weak comments. "We'll make the call together, okay? I'm sure they are so worried about you, Teddy."
The boy sulked once again but didn't put a fight when she grabbed the black cordless phone off the end of the countertop. Dudley was at a loss for words when his wife and Teddy huddled together and punched in the numbers. Ruby pressed the phone to her ear to listen for ringing. "Oh, there we go," she murmured when she heard it. She tried to hand the phone off to Teddy. But he shook his head stubbornly and kept his hands on the plate sitting on his lap. She encouraged him with a few nods but he didn't stop shaking his head. "They must be so worried," she told him again. "Talk to them?"
"Harry's gonna be mad at me…"
A faint voice sounded from within the phone. Someone had picked up. Ruby sighed and decided to answer herself. "Hello?" she said. "Who am I speaking to?"
Dudley watched his wife carefully, trying to discern the other half of the conversation by what she was saying.
"I see. I hope you aren't too alarmed, but Teddy is actually at my home right-" She jumped and jerked the phone away from her ear. Loud shouting could be heard on the other end. She winced and looked at her husband for help.
Dudley was reluctant, but he took the phone from her. "Hello?" he answered brusquely.
The clamor eased up all of a sudden, leaving the other side quieter than earlier. Then a hesitant and eerily familiar voice echoed, "Hello?"
"It's Dudley," he responded. He was met with more silence. He figured that was better than all that shouting. "Your kid's at my place," he continued. "He wants to spend the night."
"What? No, don't-Look, I'm really sorry about-"
"It doesn't matter," Dudley interrupted. "Here's my address." He rattled off the house number and street name. "You can take him home."
"Thank you. He doesn't usually-"
"I said it's fine."
"I-I'll be there in a minute."
"He's alright, isn't he?"
Dudley made sure to glare at Teddy so the boy knew how much trouble he was really in. "He's alright," he answered Harry. "A little cold, but alright."
"Okay. I'll see you in a bit. Bye."
"Ah, um, wait. Sorry. Um…"
Dudley pinched the bridge of his nose as he held on and listened to Harry stammer.
"Hello? Are you still there?"
"Yes, I'm still here," he mumbled.
"Er… Sorry. Um… Who was I speaking with earlier?"
He flicked his eyes at Ruby. "That's… That was my wife," he answered.
"Oh, I see. Um… Could you apologize to her too?"
"Thanks. Okay. I'll be right over."
"Bye." This time Dudley took the initiative and ended the call. The kitchen was suddenly quiet. Both Ruby and Teddy were looking at him so intently that he started wondering if he had said something wrong over the phone. "What?" he asked them.
"You have a cousin you never told me about," Ruby said. "That's what."
"Look, he's… We… We aren't close," he tried to explain. "We were never close and we lost touch when we were really young. It's nothing to talk about, alright? He had probably forgotten all about me until right now." He waved his hand to brush the whole debacle off.
"No, he hasn't," Teddy chimed in. He didn't notice Dudley's glower because he had already turned his attention to Ruby. "Harry didn't forget Dudley, okay? Don't worry." He then proceeded to lick his fork. "It's really yummy, Mrs. Dursley."
"Just Ruby will do."
"Ruby? I like that name."
"Why, thank you. You're a little charmer, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I know." Teddy shrugged nonchalantly. "My grandmother says that all the time. And you know what else?"
Ruby indulged him. "What else?" she prompted.
"I'm pretty cute, huh?"
She laughed heartily. "Oh dear!"
He was smug. "I know that too. My grandmother says that all the time too. She says I take after my mother." Then he grew somber. "My mother died," he murmured. "So did my father. That's why I stay with my grandmother and Harry."
Ruby became serious as well. "I am very sorry to hear that," she said sincerely. "Harry sounded very excited on the phone. I'm sure he was scared. You shouldn't run away like that."
"But, but I just wanted to see Dudley." He hazarded a look at the burly man who was growing more and more morose. "I wanted to see Harry's family."
"Ah…" She didn't know what to say. She felt an unpleasant churn in her chest. That sounded sad coming from a child. "Well…" She tried to brighten the mood. "I am looking forward to seeing more of Dudley's family too."
"I'm your family!" Teddy declared. "I know I'm a handful. Sometimes I'm an armful. But I'm really nice. I swear. And, and do you have babies? I'm great with babies. I make a good older brother. Ask the Weasleys. I babysit all the time. Do you have babies?"
Ruby was starting to like this boisterous boy more and more. "Not yet," she said. Then she leaned in conspiringly. "But in a few more months we will."
Teddy let out a theatrical gasp. "Really?" he gushed. "Oh my goodness! Can I come visit? I'll be really gentle. I'll be really quiet too. I know new babies like to be quiet. I can be quiet. Can I visit then?"
"You may visit but you have to tell your grandmother first, okay?"
Their conversation was interrupted by the doorbell.
"Oh!" Teddy squeaked. "That's Harry."
Ruby frowned. "Already?"
Dudley wasn't going to question it. He reluctantly pushed off the counter and dragged his feet as he made his way into the foyer. He had never imagined a reunion. He had made Harry's life miserable enough. He needed to prepare himself before opening the door. He took a careful breath. He had to get this over with. He pushed down the guilt gnawing in his stomach as he opened the door.
Harry stared up at Dudley. Dudley stared back. Neither could believe how long it had been. So much seemed to have changed.
Yet, some things stayed the same.
Harry still had the same shock of black hair and slim, awkward stature. And Dudley still stood at an impressive height of over six feet with a heavyset jaw and surly expression. They were transported back ten years, when the Dursleys had left Harry alone in the house before fleeing whatever danger lurked in that strange, magical world.
"Hello," Harry mumbled.
Dudley stepped back. "Come in." He let his cousin through and closed the door behind him. "His things are here." He gestured at the trail of boots, scarf, coat, and backpack left in the foyer.
Harry held his relief back when he recognized Teddy's things. He quickly stooped down to gather up the mess left by his godson. "I'm so sorry about this," he sighed. "Is he-"
He looked up sharply. Not a moment too soon, because Teddy came barreling down the hall towards him. He was knocked back by the force of the hug. He wrapped his arms around the boy without wasting a moment. He had been so scared. "Please don't do that again," he whispered urgently into Teddy's ear. "I thought something awful had happened."
"Don't be silly," Teddy clicked his tongue. "I left you a note. Didn't you get it?" He pushed up off of his godfather and pulled him upright so he was sitting up again. "I left it on the kitchen table. Didn't you get it?"
"I couldn't even read it, Teddy," Harry said helplessly. "You know no one can read what you write, don't you?"
Teddy huffed and puffed. "Now you're being very mean," he frowned.
Harry pulled him near and hugged him again. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I love you."
"Look who I found!"
He looked up over Teddy's shoulder at Dudley once again. "Yeah. I saw. Is that what you wrote in your note?" he asked quietly.
"I see." Harry untangled himself from Teddy and got up to his feet again. He looked embarrassed as all hell. "Thanks for calling me," he told Dudley. "We didn't know what to do or where to look next."
"It's fine," Dudley replied. Many unpleasant memories were resurfacing. This was the first time he had seen Harry look so genuine. A quiet cough broke into his thoughts and he looked at his wife. "Oh, right." He gestured to her. "That's Ruby."
Harry was already smiling sheepishly at her. "I'm sorry about earlier on the phone," he said. "I was… um… a little wound up."
"Understandably so," she answered. "Do you want to come in for a bit, Harry? Teddy was just eating some food."
"Oh. No, no, please don't bother," Harry rushed. "You've been so-"
"Let the kid eat," Dudley said under his breath before he could stop himself. He pretended not to notice the look his wife was giving him.
"I'll finish really fast," Teddy promised. He grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him forward. "Come on. I was eating in the kitchen. We can all talk in the kitchen."
A minute later, everyone was situated around the small dining table at the corner of the kitchen that opened into the living room. Ruby was flicking on the lights in the house so it wouldn't seem so drab. Harry had yet to stop apologizing. Teddy was sitting on his godfather's lap and eating his lasagna with gusto. Dudley sat opposite them, slouched in the chair that was a little too small for him. He kept his eyes on his guests, being careful to hide his emotions.
Harry kept a tight hold on Teddy, just to assure himself that he hadn't truly lost the boy. Teddy squirmed and looked behind him to smile at Harry. "Aren't you happy I found Dudley?" he wanted to know. Harry should have known. Teddy was always trying to do one thing or another to make him 'happy', whether it be trying to cook breakfast or do laundry in the bathtub. How was he supposed to keep track of the little ruffian? He nodded because he didn't know what else to do.
Ruby came back into the kitchen and sat down on the last empty chair while staring at Dudley's cousin intently. "Do you live around here?" she wanted to know.
"Yes. Not far from here," Harry answered vaguely.
"It's a shame you haven't visited until now," she added. "Teddy's already made plans to come over later. I hope you don't mind."
Of course Teddy would do something like that. Harry smiled in defeat. "You don't have to be so accommodating," he assured her.
"Nonsense. Dudley's family is my family too, right?" she said with ease. Harry didn't tell her that he hadn't technically been Dudley's family in a long time. "What do you do for work?" she pressed on.
"Harry catches bad guys," Teddy announced proudly.
He pinched the boy to keep him quiet. But Ruby was already smiling wondrously. "My, my, I wouldn't have pictured you to be a police officer," she confessed. "Impressive."
Harry shrugged. "What about you?" he asked so the focus would be off of him.
"Oh, I work with computers. Pretty boring stuff if you aren't into it."
He glanced at Dudley. "And you?"
Dudley nodded towards his wife. "Same thing."
Harry hid his amusement. Somehow he couldn't picture Dudley sitting behind a desk, typing away at a computer. But to each their own, he supposed. "Is that how you met?"
Ruby laughed. "Yes. We met in college," she said. "You wouldn't think it, huh?"
"Not really," he murmured honestly.
"Are you married, Harry?"
He looked down at hand, which was purely reflexive action because he obviously knew the answer. "Yes. Met her in school too," he smiled.
"I also hear Teddy stays with you, hmm?" Ruby winked at the boy when he looked up upon hearing his name. "He was telling me how he could be quite an armful at times."
Harry chuckled. "Yes, I… Hmm, he can be." He squeezed Teddy again. "I have a few of my own."
"A few?" the Dursleys exclaimed in unison.
Teddy put his fork down. "Three plus one is four," he said, holding up four fingers. "I make four."
Ruby shook her head in disbelief. "Goodness, how do you do it?" she was eager to know. "You're so young."
Harry's brows furrowed for a second. "Young?" he echoed.
Dudley tsked. Why did Ruby have to be so nosy? "He's our age," he mumbled.
She gaped. "Oh…" She had somehow been under the impression that Harry was much younger. Perhaps it was the way he interacted with Teddy. They seemed more like brothers than father and son. "It's just that you look really young."
Harry didn't know how to respond to that, so he kept quiet. Unfortunately, that caused a long silence to ensue. Teddy kept eating obliviously, occasionally lifting his head up to smile at Ruby and Dudley. Meanwhile, Ruby was giving Dudley the death stare, which he was quite used to after being with her for so long. She couldn't understand how cousins of the same age couldn't be close to each other. Her family seemed to be vastly different from the one her husband had grown up in. This cousin of his wasn't even mentioned when they were making that guest list for the wedding.
Harry picked at a loose thread on Teddy's shirt. "How are your parents?" he asked Dudley.
Teddy set his fork down a second time. "All done!" he declared. "That was super yummy, Ruby."
"Thanks, love," Ruby beamed. "I'm glad." She got up from the table to gather up the plate and utensils. "Let's go wash up, shall we? I'll show you the nursery we're painting."
"Oh, cool!" Teddy hopped off of Harry's lap before the latter could protest.
"Harry and Dudley can chat for a bit," she added for the benefit of the men. She took Teddy's hand and set the dirty dishes in the sink before pulling him out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
Both men were tense for a moment. They hadn't been expecting that. Harry shifted in his seat uncomfortably while Dudley glared at a spot on the table. They had nothing to talk about. Everything had happened so long ago. All of that was best left forgotten.
"Nursery?" Harry asked quietly.
Dudley nodded once. "Ruby's expecting."
Harry couldn't stand the awkwardness between them. He sat forward, clasping his hands in front of him on top of the table. "I'm sorry I never tried to contact you, Dudley," he wavered. "I know I should have at least checked up on you and your parents. I just… I thought that…"
"It's fine," Dudley answered. It had happened so long ago… "I'm glad you're alright."
"Were you worried?"
Harry wasn't met with an answer. But he could guess. Dudley had seemed concerned enough the last time they met. He should have at least called the Dursleys once the dust settled. Truth be told, he hadn't even been thinking about them, at least not until many months later. Dudley must have wondered about him for a long time. "Everything turned out fine," he said for his cousin's sake. "No one's after me anymore."
"But who was after you? No one told me anything. I had to move across the country and no one even told me why."
He wasn't sure how far to go with this. "It's a long story," he mumbled. "The, um… The man who murdered my parents, he wanted to get to me too. But he isn't around anymore. That night, when I turned seventeen, we were worried that maybe he would try and hurt you guys. That's why you had to leave."
"I guessed as much." Dudley sat back and folded his arms against his chest. "That night, what did that woman mean? She said we didn't know what you had been through. What did she mean?"
Harry would rather not talk about that. He shook his head. "Don't worry about it."
"Did something bad happen?"
How could he explain this? "My world, it's different from yours," he started off. "When some things happen in my world, it doesn't affect anything in your world. So that's why you didn't know about all the stuff in my life. It's not your fault."
"But it's not a different world, is it?" Dudley disputed calmly. "You're still my cousin, aren't you? You're still in my world, aren't you? You knew everything that was happening in my life. Why didn't I know about you? Why does it have to be a secret?"
"Because some people can't understand what it's like," Harry attempted to reason it out. "Some people would rather not know."
"You saved my life."
"I… It's not… You weren't going to die… It's not that simple."
"I don't hate you. You know that, right?"
Harry was blushing fiercely by then. "I know that, Dudley."
"You know I'm sorry for all the awful things I did, don't you?"
He exhaled in dismay. "I know that. Of course I know. Look, could we not talk about this?" he asked.
A minute of silence later, Ruby and Teddy were heard walking down the stairs. Harry got out of his chair as they traipsed through the doorway. The boy was beaming happily. "I saw the baby's room. It's all yellow and green. I think it's really nice," he said.
"That's good, buddy," Harry responded with an equally cheery intonation. "So are you ready to go now?"
"Go put on your shoes and coat, okay?"
"Okay!" Teddy hopped off towards the front door.
Harry buttoned up his coat as he followed his godson. "Thank you for having us, Ruby," he said. "It was nice."
Dudley hung back with his hands in his pockets and his usual somber expression on. He watched the guests bundle up. Harry helped Teddy with the backpack and wrapped the scarf with care. Once his mittens were on, Teddy grabbed Harry's hand.
"I'd love to meet your family next time," Ruby extended an open invitation with ease.
"I'll let Ginny know," Harry promised her. "Congratulations on your child, by the way."
"Thank you. I could always use some tips, hmm?"
He laughed. "Of course. I'm not the one you should be talking to, though. I have no idea how my wife does it."
Ruby knelt down to pat Teddy's cheek. "It was great meeting you. I'm sure we'll be great friends, right?"
"Yup, yup," Teddy agreed.
Harry nodded once at Dudley. "Thanks for the chat," he said mildly.
Dudley nodded back in acknowledgement. "I'll see you later."
Harry paused for a moment as another memory was brought to mind. "Yeah. Take care, Big D."
Dudley nearly smiled.
As they closed the small gate behind them, the Dursleys were standing by the front door, seeing them off. Teddy waved at them until he couldn't see them anymore. Then he turned forward and leaned against Harry, sighing deeply. "That was nice," he said aloud.
"Scaring the crap out of me was nice? You duffer," Harry muttered under his breath. Teddy snickered. "I'm tying you to your chair from now on. That way I'll always know what you're up to."
"I wasn't up to anything at all! You big fat meanie."
"Right, right. I'm the big fat meanie."
"Yes, you are," Teddy announced. "And you're welcome."
He was met with a defeated harrumph.