Post-DH. Twenty years after leaving Hogwarts, Harry meets a person from his past that he hadn't counted on ever seeing again...
It was also the time when the famous Harry Potter could be counted on to be found there.
Even though he had left Hogwarts two decades ago, he kept returning to Diagon Alley every year around the time when the students came. Sure as anything, in the middle of August he would arrive, and for the last two weeks of the month he would take several days off work, in which he practically lived at Diagon Alley -- arriving early in the mornings and not leaving until way past midnight.
He had never really told anyone, not even his family, why he did this, but his long-time friend Ron Weasley had once offered a theory:
"Well, Harry grew up with Muggles, didn't he? I mean, Diagon Alley was his first real meeting with the wizarding world, right? And he knows that every year, there are dozens of Muggle-borns who has the same experience! I think he likes to watch over them, or something."
Wether this was true or not, was impossible for the wizarding world at large to say; but it was as good a theory as any, so most people left it at that.
This particular day saw Harry Potter sitting outside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, thoughtfully eating his chocolate ice cream while watching the myriad of people hurrying to and fro.
When it came down to it, the scene wasn't at all unlike one that you could have seen many years ago, when Harry had been thirteen and temporarily lived at the Leakey Cauldron after having run away from his nasty Muggle relatives, the Dursleys. Back then, he had spent a lot of time at this very ice cream parlour, eating ice cream and doing his Hogwarts homework -- with some kind assistance from Florean Fortescue himself.
Of course, the Harry who sat there now was no longer an awkward boy in his early teens, but a serious, successful adult wizard in his late thirties. And old Florean Fortescue himself was long gone, only the name of the ice cream parlour (which had remained unchanged out of a sort of respect for old mister Fortescue, even if the new owners weren't even related to him) serving as a reminder that he had ever been there.
Harry liked the ice cream parlour. It was a nice reminder of older, simpler times -- from before the war with Voldemort and the Death Eaters -- and it was a perfect spot for watching all the people. He had a silent agreement with the owners that he could sit at his favourite outside table for as long as he wanted, even receiving an occasional free ice cream sundae as a sort of "payment" for all the extra customers he attracted just by being there.
He liked watching the people too, especially at this time. It was about the only time in which you could see Muggles at Diagon Alley, Muggles who were accompanying their newly-discovered wizard or witch offspring as they took their first tantalizing steps into the world they would live in for the rest of their days. These people were always easy to spot in the crowd, by their clothing and the way they kept looking around at everything that was even remotely un-Muggle-like as if they had never seen it before (which, to be fair, they probably hadn't).
Somehow, it cheered Harry to see Muggles act like that in the presence of wizards. Not only was it a pleasant contrast to the Dursleys -- uncle Vernon and aunt Petunia hated and loathed anything that tasted of magic, and took pride in being the most boringly 'normal' people around (At least, that had been their attitude when he had last seen them, almost twenty years ago, and he had no reason to believe they had changed) -- but it was also somehow satisfying to note how, unlike the wizards, the Muggles usually didn't pay Harry any particular mind. To them, he was just another face in the crowd and not the Great Hero who had saved them all from the terror of Voldemort.
Of course, that was a long time ago now. But Harry was still one of the greatest celebrities of the wizarding world, and not a day went by without someone... noticing him. Harry was used to it, of course, but he still couldn't help but feel that it got a little unnerving sometimes.
It would have been nice to be able to sit at an ice cream parlor and spoil my dinner like this without worrying about it making the headlines, he thought with a grim smile. Or going an entire day without hearing --
"Hey! Isn't it Harry Potter?"
Harry, yanked out of his thoughts by the sudden voice, sighed and was just about to tell the wizard who asked that yes, he was indeed Harry Potter; but then he saw that it wasn't a wizard. No wizard would have worn a gray tweed suit like the one the man in front of him wore. This was a Muggle, probably in his late thirties or early forties, and with a rather stocky (not to say fat ) build.
"Er, yes," said Harry, glancing at the man and wondering just how a Muggle knew his name.
"Thought so," said the man with a pleased smirk. "You haven't changed much, have you? Not in appearance, anyway."
"Changed?" said Harry. "Excuse me... do we know each other?"
"We did, once," said the man. "It looks like, unlike you, I must have changed a lot, or you would have recognized me..."
Harry was just about to say that there had to be some mistake, when he noticed the shape of the man's nose. It was abnormally large and stuck up in a way that made it look a little like...
...like a pig's snout...
" DUDLEY?! " Harry yelped, shocked at seeing what he had thought to be the least likely person ever to visit Diagon Alley.
But, unlikely as it seemed; Dudley it was. "Been a while, cousin," he said in a forced casual tone.
"What the -- What are you doing here?!" said Harry, not bothering to even pretend to be casual. "I broke contact with you and your family years ago! What --"
"Relax, Harry," said Dudley, holding up his massive hands. "I'm not here to cause trouble."
"Then why --?"
"Long story," Dudley sighed. "Look, if you're not in any great hurry, maybe you'll hear me out?"
Harry just stared at him, trying to decide whether he was curious enough to take him up on it, or whether he should be childish and threaten to hit him with a Bat-Bogey hex unless he left straight away instead.
"I know I'm not your favourite person, Harry," said Dudley, his voice much softer than Harry had ever heard from him, "and I can't blame you for that. I was... I wasn't very nice to you back when we were kids..."
"That's the understatement of the year," Harry muttered, thinking of all the times Dudley had used him for a punching bag.
"All right, so I was a little git," said Dudley. "Or a large git, really, in all senses of the word. For what it's worth, I'm sorry about it. I did a lot of bad stuff in those days -- not only to you, but to, well, a lot of people. And I'm... really not proud of that. So, er, sorry," he finished lamely.
Harry could only blink in response. This didn't seem like the Dudley of old at all. The Dudley Harry had known would never have apologized for anything, unless he was being held at gunpoint... or... or there was something to gain from it.
"What do you want, Dudley?" Harry finally said.
"Just to talk," Dudley replied. "I'll understand if you don't want to, though."
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, Harry felt ashamed of himself. If Dudley really was sincere, then Harry should be a better person than snapping at him like this. Besides... a very faint memory stirred in the back of his head, of a seventeen-year-old Dudley, just about to get escorted away by Dedalus Diggle and Hestia Jones to go into hiding from Voldemort... a Dudley who had said, quite contrary to his father's words just a few minutes before: "I don't think you're a waste of space." A Dudley who, despite everything, had expressed concern for Harry.
It had shocked Harry at the time, and he had even asked whether the Dementors had blown a different personality into his cousin. But that had been the last time he'd ever seen Dudley, and what with everything else that had happened that year, it just hadn't seemed that important.
Honestly, Potter, he thought, you're almost forty years old and you're acting like a child. Hasn't your experiences taught you that people can change for the better?
"Er," he said. "Please sit, then."
"Thanks." Dudley maneuvered himself onto the chair opposite Harry.
They were silent for a short while, both of them trying to figure out a way to start this conversation.
"So," said Dudley, apparently deciding it was up to him, "It's good to see that you're doing well for yourself. I hear you're still quite the big-shot in the wizarding community. I'm glad for you... you deserve some happiness after all you went through as a kid."
You don't know half of what I went trough, Harry wanted to say. Living with you and your parents wasn't by far the worst of it. If it had been, I wouldn't have been willing to have this conversation, because you were terrible. But having the world's most evil and twisted wizard out to kill you does tend to put things into perspective.
He wanted to say that, but somehow he didn't think it appropriate.
Instead, he just shrugged. "Someone once told me fame was a fickle friend, but it seems to be pretty faithful where I'm concerned. Gets to be a bit tiring after a while, though."
"I can imagine," said Dudley. "Well, actually, I can't," he admitted with a slight smile. "Being famous always stood for me as the greatest thing anyone could achieve. That was really what that boxing thing back in the old days was all about. I wanted fame. I wanted respect. I think it had just dawned on me that I had neither -- not really. Oh, people in our neighbourhood knew who I was, all right, but who were they? I wanted the world to know the name of Dudley Dursley, and I thought I could achieve this by being an even greater bullying git than I already was. God, I was so stupid."
"Oh... you weren't that stupid," said Harry, quite untruthfully.
"Yes, I was. It took me years to realize it, but -- well, you remember Piers? Piers Polkiss?"
Harry nodded slowly. Piers had been Dudley's best friend all trough their childhood and teenage years; a completely loathsome boy with the face of a rat and the personality and loveability of a garden slug. Harry had always thought he and Dudley suited each other very well.
"Well," said Dudley. "It was, I think, sometime just after my twenty-second birthday. Long after Mum and Dad and I had returned to our normal lives and all. I'd got together with Piers for a few beers and a chat about old days, stuff like that... and then he said something that made me angry. Can't even remember what it was anymore, to tell you the truth. But I got really mad and lost all control over myself." He sighed again, more heavily this time. "Had to get him down to a hospital afterwards, he was in that bad shape after I got through with him. We never spoke again."
"Oh," said Harry, unsure of what to say next.
"Yeah, well, Piers was pretty much the only friend I had left at that point," said Dudley. "And now I had destroyed that. It got me thinking, really... Started to take a good, long look at myself and my life."
"So you... decided to clean up your act?" said Harry.
Dudley chuckled slightly. "Something like that," he admitted. "I'd had a few glimpses of the road I was heading down, you might say, and I didn't much like it. That was what that old wizard, Dumbledore, meant, wasn't it, when he came to pick you up that time? You know, when he told Mum and Dad that at least you had escaped the terrible damage they'd inflicted on me."
"I --" Harry had to strain his memory to recall this, but he did seem to remember that Dumbledore had said something of the sort the one time he had met the Dursleys. Now that he thought about it, had there been something like pity in the old wizard's voice at the time too? After so many years, he couldn't recall. "Oh yeah... that," he finally said.
"Well, at the time, I couldn't figure out what he meant," said Dudley. "But really... later on, I saw that he had a point. They'd let me grow up thinking I was better than anyone else, and that I could push everyone around as much as I wanted. I never thought of anyone but myself."
"I... noticed," was all Harry said.
"Thought you would. Back then, I pretty much took it for granted that I was superior to everyone else, and that it was my God-given right to have everything I wanted at all times. 'Course, all the encounters I had with the wizarding world kind of changed that..."
"It did?" said Harry, surprised. He hadn't noticed any significant changes in his cousin after Hagrid's attempt to turn him into a pig, apart from the complete terror of all things magic. No, on second thought... there were other things as well.
For his inner eye, Harry saw a fifteen-year-old Dudley, shaking and gasping after his run-in with the Dementors. He had never found out just what it was they had made Dudley seen that could have had that effect on him, but... Now that he thought about it, that had probably been the start of something.
"All right, at first it just made me realize that there were people out there who could do horrible things to me, and that you were one of them," said Dudley with a slight smirk. "But that was the first step. Seeing someone who wasn't afraid, didn't even much care, what I or my parents could do to them. That had never happened before."
Harry nodded, a little uncertainly. He hadn't thought of it like that before.
"And of course, there was that, er, trip those wizarding people took us on when I was seventeen," Dudley continued. "Possibly the strangest experience I ever had in my life. That Dedalus Diggle talked a lot about the wizarding world, and about you. Mum and Dad never took to it, of course, but... I suppose I'd started to see that just because other people were different, it didn't necessarily make them bad people."
Harry shook his head in amazement. This was about the last thing he'd thought he'd ever hear a Dursley say. It was on-par with Draco Malfoy saying 'you know, blood-purity isn't really that important; Muggle-borns are people too.'
As if he had read Harry's mind, Dudley continued: "I'm not my parents, Harry. I made my peace with the wizarding world a long time ago. But it wasn't until after the episode with Piers that I really... Well." He made a sort of 'fill-in-the-blanks-yourself' motion with his hand. "The bottom line of the story is, I began looking for ways to improve. I had to get out of the environment I was heading for, and to get out, I had to quit boxing."
"You quit boxing?" said Harry.
"Yeah -- probably one of my smarter moves. I know a lot of people say that boxing is an outlet for pent-up aggression, but with me it just seemed to create more aggression. Just look at Piers."
Harry nodded again.
"So, boxing out of the question, I needed to look elsewhere for a career. And I realized I wasn't ever going to get a decent job with my lousy school results."
"Couldn't uncle Vernon have taken you in at Grunnings?" said Harry, thinking about the huge company that made drills, of which his uncle was the director.
"He would have, I'm sure," said Dudley. "But I didn't want that. If I was going to change, I needed to get away from my parents. They were part of the problem, after all. I started attending some night classes, and started to actually listen to what the teachers had to say... I didn't become a genius overnight or anything, but I did manage to get some fairly good marks. Didn't tell Mum or Dad about it -- I wanted it to be something I did all on my own, y'know? For the first time in my life."
"Didn't they ever find out?" said Harry, remembering the Dursleys' uncanny ability to find out about things you didn't want them to know.
"Well, after a few months," said Dudley. "They got rather shocked about it all -- 'but Dudley, you're so perfect the way you are, you don't need to improve' -- but after a while they got used to the idea and then it was 'our son, the genius, always out to learn more.' "
Harry grimaced. Dudley caught the expression and laughed. "I know, Harry, I know. But anyway... those night classes proved to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Not just from an academic viewpoint, either..."
"Oh?" said Harry.
Dudley smiled and held up his hand. "I met a girl there," he said. And it wasn't before now that Harry noticed the expensive-looking ring he was wearing.
"You got MARRIED?! "
"Fourteen years this summer."
Harry was stunned. The very thought of Dudley marrying someone went against the rules of reality. Then again, he reminded himself, uncle Vernon was hardly better than Dudley, and he had managed to get married.
For a moment, Harry imagined Dudley's wife as a younger version of aunt Petunia -- nosy, stuck-up and fiercely against anything that was abnormal in any way -- but somehow, this didn't seem to fit with Dudley's story at all.
Perhaps this, more than any of the other things Harry had heard today, explained Dudley's complete transformation from the great bullying git to the pleasant man sitting here now...
"Er... congratulations," Harry managed to say.
"Thank you," said Dudley, and looked like he meant it. "She's really a wonderful person, Harry. I'd like to introduce you to her sometime... that is, if you want to," he added quickly.
For the first time during this conversation, Harry felt a genuine smile appear on his face. "Are you joking, Dudley?" he said. "As if I'd pass up a chance to meet the woman who managed to turn my cousin into something that might even pass for human? She has to be remarkable!"
"She is," Dudley agreed, not seeming to take offence at the 'might even pass for human' crack. "She wanted to come here today, of course, but our youngest boy came down with the flu, and one of us had to stay home with him."
"Youngest boy?" said Harry. "You have children as well?"
"Three," said Dudley proudly. "One girl and two boys. And that's the reason why I'm --"
" DAD! "
Both Harry and Dudley turned towards the sudden voice that rose over the noises of the crowd. A young girl came running towards the ice cream parlour, carrying a bundle of black cloth and grinning widely.
"Hi there, Olivia!" said Dudley, motioning for her to join them at the table. "Harry -- this is my daughter, Olivia. Olivia -- this is Harry Potter."
"Nice to meet you, mister Potter," said the girl. She was about ten or eleven, Harry would guess, with brown eyes and hair. She had inherited her father's solid build, it seemed, but while she could certainly stand to lose a few pounds, she was nowhere near as fat as he had been at that age. "You're Dad's wizard cousin, aren't you?"
"Er, yes, that's right," said Harry.
"He's told me a bit about you," said the girl. "Not as much as I wanted to know, but some, and that's better than nothing, isn't it? He said we might get to meet you after we got here, at the very least, he said, we'd find someone who knew your address, because you're apparently very famous, but he wouldn't tell me why!" All this came in one breath.
"Thank you, Olivia," said Dudley. "Sit down -- we have time for some ice cream before we do anything else."
"Really?!" Olivia's eyes sparkled.
"Long as we don't tell Mum." Dudley winked.
"Deal." Olivia pulled up a chair and sat down beside her father, placing the black cloth on the table.
Harry looked at it... and suddenly, he understood. Hogwarts school robes had not changed in design since he attended the school. "Dudley!" he exclaimed, torn between shock and amusement. "That's why you're here, in Diagon Alley! You went and got yourself a witch for a daughter, didn't you?!"
Dudley nodded, somewhat sheepishly. "You could have knocked me down with a feather when I found out."
"Mum didn't believe it when this bloke came around and gave me a letter that said I was a witch and was accepted into magic school," said Olivia. "She thought it was a joke or something. But Dad, once he'd gotten over the shock, said that it was no joke, because he'd known about magic, and that's when he told us about you, mister Potter! And Mum was still convinced it was a big joke, but then this wizard bloke started doing all kinds of magic and finally she had to accept it as being true, and after some discussion both she and Dad said I could go!" Again, all this was said in a single breath -- the girl seemed to have a talent for this.
"I, er, never told my family about you before that," said Dudley. "I knew you people liked to live in secrecy, and I'd never dreamed... I mean, I should have realized earlier, of course, with all the weird things Olivia made happen over the years, but... it never occurred to me that she might be a witch. Why should it? I came from the non-magical part of the family, after all."
"But -- you're okay with her being a witch, then?" said Harry.
Dudley smiled weakly. "Well, all right, maybe this wasn't the life I had envisioned for Olivia, but since she does have magical powers... there's nothing much to do about it. The wizard from school said it was impossible to remove them, and trying to suppress them would just lead to disaster. So -- might as well make sure she learns how to handle them properly, eh?"
"And Dad said I should never tell Granny and Granddad about my magic," Olivia shot in.
"He's probably right, if they are like I remember them..." said Harry.
"They are," said Dudley. "So the official story is that Olivia is going to attend a high-class boarding school."
"...good idea," said Harry.
Dudley nodded and turned to his daughter. "Olivia, why don't you go and buy the ice creams? I'm not sure what flavours they have here, but... take anything that looks good."
Harry was about to tell him that this wasn't necessary -- generally, someone would come down to the tables to hear what they wanted... but something told him that Dudley had something to tell him that he'd rather that she did not hear. So he held his tongue while Olivia slid down from her chair and walked off.
Dudley turned to him, eyes grave. "I haven't... I haven't told her about our childhood," he said. "As far as she knows, you're just a wizard who happens to be my cousin..."
"I see. And you'd like her to keep believing that?" said Harry.
"Er, well, that wasn't what I wanted to talk to you about. If you want to, to tell her how things really were, I, I won't stop you." Dudley spoke quickly, nervously. "I understand it if you're still angry with me, but I did have a, a favour to ask you, concerning her."
"What's that?" said Harry, frowning. His first instinct had been right after all; Dudley did want something.
"I wanted to ask you to, you know, help her a little with adjusting," said Dudley.
"Adjust? She seemed pretty well-adjusted to me. I don't think I've ever heard anyone being able to talk for so long without breathing before, but apart from that..." Harry looked at Dudley, who seemed to grow even more flustered.
"No, no, not like that. Just, you know, introduce her properly to wizards and, and, magic. So that the culture shock doesn't prove too great when she's off on her own for the first time. That wizard they sent down to us... well, he did his best, but he very clearly had no idea how we, er, non-wizards..."
" Muggles. Get used to the word, Big D. You'll probably be hearing it a lot."
"Yes, well, he had no idea how we live. He couldn't really envision a life without magic, so he couldn't explain very well what a life with magic was like, not so we understood properly."
"Oh." Harry paused. "And since I grew up with Muggles, I'd be more capable of explaining, is that what you mean?"
Dudley nodded. "More or less. I, er, could pay you for it, of course."
For one brief moment, Harry felt a twinge of the old resentment flare up in him, and considered telling Dudley no, that he'd long since passed on his chance to let his family have any sort of easy entrance to the wizarding world. But this only lasted for a moment, because he knew that Dudley wasn't asking for himself, but for his daughter. And whatever Dudley might have done to Harry, it wouldn't be right to punish Olivia for it.
Hadn't that been one of Dumbledore's most prominent beliefs? That you shouldn't punish or reward people based on their birth status or family, but judge them for who they are? The wizarding world was notorious for forgetting or ignoring it whenever he tried to tell them that... and for that matter, uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had been no better.
But it seemed like Dudley had learned something during these twenty years... and then it wouldn't do at all for Harry to show himself as too petty.
Seems like I'm still Dumbledore's man, through and trough, Harry thought with some satisfaction as he said. "You don't have to pay me for anything, Dudley. Of course I'll help."
"Really?" Dudley looked both relieved and pleasantly surprised at once.
You were actually expecting me to take payment, Harry thought, or flat out refuse. You're still convinced, deep down, that I still hate you... but... I don't really think I do. Not any more. There's been so much hostility between us over the years, but... if you really have changed, I think I can live with that.
Oh, I don't think we can ever be friends, Dudley.
But maybe we can... not be enemies.
He didn't say this out loud, of course. Instead, he just said: "Really. Besides, you still owe me that visit with your family. How about we go through the most basic questions you have now, and then I can stop by your home sometime later this week for a more thorough explanation of everything? Maybe I can even bring the wife and children?"
"Wife and -- Oh, of course!" said Dudley. "I've just been talking about myself here, and completely forgot to ask -- of course, you have a wife and children as well!"
"Yeah, and what's more -- my two sons are already at Hogwarts, and my daughter will be starting next year. I'm sure they'll be happy to help Olivia with any questions she might have, that I wouldn't be able to answer."
"That would be... brilliant," said Dudley, "And you'll have to tell us more about your life too... I mean, what you do nowadays, and..."
"There'll be time for that story too," said Harry. "No worries."
And secretly, he wondered just what Dudley would say when he heard the entire story of Voldemort and Harry's role as the saviour of the wizarding world... He'd have to find out just what old Dedalus Diggle had told him all those years ago, and how much of it had been true.
Somehow, he got the feeling that being civil with his cousin might prove to be much more satisfying than he'd thought to begin with.
Author's Notes: I was reading another HP fanfic in which an adult Dudley had turned into a complete uncle Vernon-clone, had married an aunt Petunia-clone, and had a daughter that turned out to be a witch... and Dudley's reaction was pretty much a carbon copy of Vernon's as well. (In case you're curious, the daughter ended up being adopted by her uncle Harry and aunt Ginny.)
This caused me to think: What if Dudley had a witch for a daughter... and actually proved to handle it better than Vernon ever did? This caused me to think a bit over what might happen for Dudley to grow up to be a better man than his father... and the rest of the story practically wrote itself.
I wrote the fic before Deathly Hallows came out, but I've revised it slightly in order to fit with the canon of that book... There wasn't such a lot I had to change, really, just a few lines about the beginning of Dudley's attitude-change at the age of seventeen and Harry's line about his children.
I think this particular story will remain a one-shot, though, so no nagging at me for more stories of Olivia Dursley, okay?