A/N: I apologise for basically abandoning this story for so long. Thank you to the people who reviewed recently and reminded me that it still existed. This is part one of what I'm kind of thinking of as a very long epilogue. Part two should be up pretty soon. Hope you enjoy!
"I have panic attacks if I go outside."
Draco looked up from the book he'd been reading. He, Harry and Dudley were all in the living room, enjoying a peaceful evening beside the crackling fire. Harry was in an armchair near the window, idly flicking through a Quidditch magazine. Dudley and Draco were at opposite ends of the sofa, legs stretched out and entangled together. Dudley had been writing a letter to his girlfriend, Lucy, but had finished a few minutes ago and was staring thoughtfully into the fire. Draco had been deeply engrossed in a book on the history of muggle films, until Dudley's sudden announcement pulled his attention away from the invention of colour TVs.
"When I was in the safe house, people visited regularly to bring us supplies and news. Occasionally we sat outside in the garden to get some fresh air, but apart from that we never left for almost a year. The first time I left for good, I had a panic attack and almost passed out." He was still staring deep into the fire, not making eye contact, but Harry and Draco were listening intently.
"My parents didn't know how to deal with it," Dudley continued, "They just ranted about how the magic freaks had messed with my brain. Dad kept talking about wanting to sue someone and Mum was sure that once we got to Majorca I'd be fine. I don't know how they managed to be so oblivious to how much danger we could have been in. Anyway." He paused, took a deep breath and met Harry's gaze. "I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you letting me come here, and how great it was that you guys gave me time and didn't push me or ask too many questions. I know I couldn't have gone to Majorca with my parents, and if I'd had to live alone somewhere I think I'd have really struggled. It really means a lot that I've been able to stay here."
"You're welcome as long as you need, Big D," Harry said. Draco had heard him use that nickname for Dudley a few times. It seemed to be some sort of inside joke between the two of them.
Draco slid across the sofa to give Dudley a hug. He wasn't good at finding words to express himself, but the hug seemed to be enough. Dudley wrapped an arm around him and they sat like that for a while, watching the fire.
He knew how Dudley felt, or at least he was pretty sure he did. It wasn't so much about going outside for him, but more about hearing certain names or being reminded of certain memories. And ever since the beginning of sixth year he'd had this constant feeling of unease and anxiety. Sometimes it escalated to full panic, while at other times it could be pushed down and controlled so he could carry on almost like normal. But no matter how manageable it was, it never went away entirely. It was always there.
Except … it wasn't.
Realisation shot through him like a bolt of light. Right here, right now, he felt safe. Bathed in the warmth of the fire, Dudley's arm round him, listening to the gentle sound of Harry turning the pages of his magazine, he felt a bright glow in his chest. He'd had a nightmare last night, and he'd probably have another one tonight, and he still flinched at loud noises or flashes of light, but here in this moment a tentative hope was building inside him. Maybe things really could get better eventually.
"I'm glad you came to stay here," he said quietly, "I'm glad I got to meet you."
Dudley smiled and kissed him on the cheek.
"I'm glad too," he said. Disentangling himself from Draco, he got to his feet. "I'm going to head to bed. 'Night."
"Goodnight," Draco replied, snuggling sleepily into the cushions on the sofa. He knew he should go to bed too, but he didn't want to just yet. He wanted to hold onto this warm feeling a little longer.
"Not to be nosy," Harry said when the door had closed behind Dudley, "But is there something going on between you two?"
"Hmmm?" Half asleep, Draco didn't really process what Harry was talking about.
"Well I'm not exactly known for being observant," Harry admitted, "But you and my cousin have been very affectionate lately. I was just wondering…" He tailed off, and seemed to already be regretting bringing up the topic.
Fully awake again now, Draco resisted the instinctive impulse to deny everything vehemently and actually gave the question some thought. He discovered with interest that the idea of having feelings for a muggle didn't bother him even slightly. It was strange how these things could change.
"I really like him," he said eventually, "I don't know if it's romantic. I think … I think maybe it could be, if I let it. He makes me feel safe. But he loves Lucy, and I couldn't be in a relationship right now. I need to work through lots of other stuff first. It's best that we're just friends."
"Okay," was all that Harry said. He was a good listener, Draco was learning. He didn't judge.
Draco smiled. Who'd have thought it? He, Harry Potter and Dudley Dursley: three people about as different as it was possible to be. And yet here they were, living together, healing together, learning to feel safe again together. And somehow … somehow it just worked.
"How are you, Draco?" Narcissa asked politely, staring at her hands. She and Draco had not yet made eye contact, Dudley noticed. They were sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, while Dudley bustled around making lunch. Draco had asked him to be there, so he wouldn't be alone with his mother.
"I'm fine. How are you?"
It was the second time she'd been to visit since Christmas. Dudley hadn't been present the first time, but apparently it had been just as painfully awkward. Whatever warmth the two of them had found between each other on Christmas Day, it had dissipated instantly with the coming of the New Year. Dudley's heart ached for them both. They seemed to want so desperately to reach out to one another, but they didn't know how, and he didn't know how to help. It had been months since he'd had contact with his own parents, and he wasn't sure he'd know how to talk to them now.
Family was complicated.
"I'm very well." Narcissa paused for a moment, then sighed and let her mask drop. She reached across the table and took Draco's hand. "You're so pale, darling. Are you sleeping enough?"
"No," Draco said bluntly. He still wouldn't meet her eyes, but he didn't pull his hand away. She seemed to take this as encouragement.
"I find Dreamless Sleep Potion very helpful on occasion. Shall I buy you some?"
"I already have some."
They fell silent again. Dudley realised he'd been listening to their conversation a bit too intently, and focused on the tomatoes he was chopping. For several minutes, the slice of his knife was the only sound in the room.
Suddenly, Draco stood up.
"I think you should go."
Without waiting for her response, he walked out of the room. Dudley and Narcissa listened to his footsteps on the stairs, then the slam of his bedroom door. In the hallway, Mrs Black started screaming.
They exchanged a glance. Dudley smiled sympathetically. She tried to smile back, but she just looked sad.
"You want to do what?"
"I want to live with Harry's cousin."
"In the muggle world?"
"With no magic?"
"No magic whatsoever?"
Harry watched the conversation with amusement. It was rare to see Kingsley Shacklebolt utterly baffled but Draco seemed to be managing it quite successfully.
"Look," Draco said patiently, "I'm really grateful that you didn't send me to Azkaban. But you know I'm not dangerous, especially not without a wand, and right now I'm just adding unnecessary complications to Harry's life when he's already so busy. I'm really trying to overcome my prejudiced beliefs, and I think I could learn a lot from living around muggles. And it's not like people could complain that I'm not being punished properly. As far as a lot of witches and wizards are concerned, living without magic would be almost as bad as Azkaban."
Kingsley looked at Harry.
"What do you think about this plan?"
"I think it's a great idea. I mean, I'm happy to have Draco and Dudley staying with me as long as necessary, but it's not a very good long-term solution. There's still a lot of hatred around, and I think if people see a muggle and a former Death Eater trying to learn from each other that could send a great message about tolerance." The last bit had been something Hermione came up with; her latest project was the media and trying to counter the divisions in Wizarding society through education and positive news stories. It was a big undertaking, but Harry was sure that if anyone could do it then it was Hermione. The editor of the Daily Prophet was terrified of her already, and she'd somehow persuaded Luna to let her help turn the Quibbler into one of the most respected news sources in the country. No one had expected the two of them to be able to work together for more than a week before something blew up, but they had surprised everyone by somehow managing to find common ground in this particular venture. They made an astonishingly good team.
"Well, in that case I suppose I can't see any reason against it. We'll still have to monitor your whereabouts, of course, but if all goes well I can't see why I wouldn't be able to return your wand to you in a year or so."
"Thank you very much, Minister."
As they left the Ministry, Harry glanced at Draco. He was hardly recognisable as the scared, broken young man who had left with Harry six months ago. But neither had he returned to the arrogant bully Harry had loathed for so many years. He seemed tentative, but gaining confidence, and his smiles, though rare, appeared genuine for the first time in what was probably a very long time.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Draco shrugged. "Not really. I'm terrified, actually. I'm sure that I should do it, though. Does that count?"
Harry smiled. "It's close enough."
"What the hell is a microwave?"
Dudley stuck his head out from his bedroom, where he was unpacking boxes. He looked amused. Draco glared at him. He'd offered to make dinner, so Dudley had chucked him a couple of packets which he said were called 'ready meals' and told him just to follow the instructions on the back. That had seemed simple enough, until he realised he didn't actually know what the instructions meant. He'd been rereading them for the last ten minutes in the hope that he'd missed some really obvious clue, before he'd finally had to admit defeat.
"Sometimes I forget how clueless you are about muggle stuff," Dudley said, coming into the kitchen.
"I'm not that clueless!" Draco protested, "I've been reading loads about muggle history and politics and stuff and Hermione's been lending me some muggle literature. I'm reading Pride and Prejudice at the moment."
"I mean normal muggle stuff. Telephones and microwaves and how to catch a bus when you can't just wave your hand and have it appear. I guess I forgot because most of the witches and wizards I lived with last year were Muggle-borns, so it was them who had to teach me stuff about the Wizarding World."
Draco sighed and sat down at the kitchen table, watching as Dudley put the packets into a terrifyingly complicated looking contraption and pushed some buttons on the front.
"You're right," he said, "I feel like I know nothing. Was it really naïve for me to think I could come and live in the Muggle World and just pick everything up as I go along? I mean, we've only been here four hours and I'm failing already."
Dudley came and sat down opposite him.
"You're not failing," he said gently, "These things just take time. The Muggle-borns told me lots of stories about when they first arrived at Hogwarts, how overwhelming it was, how they thought they'd never get used to all the spells and magic and all the parts of the Wizarding World they didn't understand. Every single one of them mentioned how they thought they'd end up having to give up and go home, but every single one of them got the hang of it much faster than they expected. You'll get there."
"I guess," Draco said, not convinced. He'd been so excited about this before. He'd looked through the photos of the flat a thousand times, and memorised a street map of the surrounding area, and been counting down to the day they could move in. Suddenly, though, he just felt very lost. He'd thought it wouldn't be very different to living at Grimmauld Place without his wand. Not being able to do magic was hard, but it was something he'd learned to live with. This was different. Muggles had a whole other kind of magic that he couldn't even begin to understand, one made up of flashing screens and buttons and complicated rules and systems that everyone just seemed to know.
The microwave beeped. Dudley got up.
"Anyway," he said, as he took out their food, which seemed to be cooked already, "Tomorrow I'll take you all round the flat and show you how everything works. And after that I'll get my computer set up and show you how to use the internet. Once you know how to Google things, you'll be able to do anything."
'What do you want on your pizza, Harry?'
'Sure. Just the usual for you and Lucy, Dudley?'
Dudley looked up from where he was sorting through a pile of DVDs, trying to choose one for them to watch. 'Yep. Thanks, Draco.'
Harry watched in amusement as Draco opened up Dudley's laptop and navigated quickly to the Pizza Hut website. It was bizarre watching Draco use muggle technology, and especially with such ease. Almost as weird as it was to see Draco in jeans and a Beatles t-shirt. Harry hadn't thought he'd take well to a completely muggle existence, but he looked more relaxed than Harry had ever seen him.
Dudley and Lucy began to bicker over which movie to watch. Lucy wanted Lord of the Rings. Harry didn't bother finding out what Dudley wanted; Lucy would absolutely get her way in the end. Dudley was already smiling softly at her as she lectured him at length about all the reasons that fantasy was better than any other genre, gesticulating wildly as she did so. He was clearly smitten.
'Alright, pizzas should be here in about forty minutes.' Draco closed the laptop and glanced at the DVD in Lucy's hand. 'Oh no, not Lord of the Rings again. The dwarves aren't even close to being accurate. And don't get me started on those ridiculous talking trees!' He ducked as Lucy tossed a cushion at his head.
'Don't insult Lord of the Rings!' she said, grabbing another pillow and glaring threateningly, 'It's a classic. Anyway, you can't talk. You watched the Sound of Music five times last week.'
'Six. And you can't make me ashamed of my love of my musicals. Best thing muggles ever came up with, if you ask me.'
This time it was Dudley who threw a cushion at him.
'If it hadn't been for muggles we wouldn't watching any movie, so sit down and shut up. What do you think, Harry? Lord of the Rings or something else?'
Harry shook his head vehemently. 'Don't get me involved in your argument,' he said, 'I'm just here for the pizza.'
Dudley awoke to the sound of Draco screaming. Sighing, he got out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown. It was the third time this week.
'Draco. Draco, you need to wake up.' Dudley pushed open Draco's bedroom door and crouched by his bed. Draco was lying very still, curled tightly into a ball. He whimpered softly, then let out another ear-splitting scream.
'Please don't hurt me.' Draco's tortured whisper broke Dudley's heart.
'Draco, it's not real. No one's going to hurt you. I'm here.'
Draco's eyes snapped open. He sat up, stared wildly at Dudley for a moment, then burst into tears. Dudley sat down on the bed and drew him into a hug.
'It's all gonna be okay.'
'I thought it was getting better,' Draco said, brushing tears from his cheeks, 'I thought living in the muggle world would help. They'd almost stopped, and then suddenly they just started again, even worse than ever.'
'Do you want me to call Harry and ask him for some Dreamless Sleep potion?' Dudley offered, 'I know you're supposed to live completely without magic, but I'm sure they could make an exception for this.'
Draco shook his head. 'I can't. I don't want to get too dependent on the potion. I can't afford to risk getting addicted to it.'
'We have to do something, though,' Dudley said, 'You're not sleeping properly. You look exhausted all the time. You can't just carry on like this.'
Draco shrugged. 'I have to. There's no other choice.'
An idea dawned on Dudley. 'Actually,' he said, 'I think there might be.'