A/N: And now for the final chapter. I hope you enjoy this conclusion to my story and will let me know what you think. My pre-betas Mutt n Feathers, RSS, Rebecca Ripple, Manatoc Fox and Mistress_Lrigtar helped a lot with this chapter and as always, their suggestions made it better. As always, thank you to my beta, Aggiebell, whose heated comments about Petunia's attitudes towards Dudley's magic made me smile. Happy reading, everyone!
The one thing Dudley Dursley had never fully become used to during his stay with Hestia and Dedalus was the fact that people in the Wizarding world communicated and travelled via their fireplaces. It felt very strange to him to be standing near Mrs Figg's fireplace waiting for his guests instead of the front door, but Harry had said last night that it was easier for everyone to come to his house rather than venture into a Muggle neighbourhood on their own. So here he was, a hand shoved deep in his pocket, nervously clutching his wand. It felt good to hold it, even if he didn't have an inkling of what to do with it if he had to defend himself. He smiled at the ridiculous notion that he could hurt someone by levitating them or changing the colour of their clothing.
The flames in the grate suddenly turned bright green. Dudley jumped back a few feet as first Harry and then his girlfriend, Ginny, strode out and made room for three more people, two of whom came together. The reason for this was soon apparent, for the girl clutching the other held a pair of crutches and only had one foot sticking out from under her long skirt. Dudley tried hard not to stare at her.
"Aunt Petunia, Dudley, Mrs Figg, these are Morag MacDougal, Sally-Ann Perks and Vicky Frobisher," Harry said, indicating each of the new people with his hand as he spoke. "Ladies, please meet my aunt, Petunia Dursley, my cousin, Dudley Dursley, and Mrs Figg, our hostess."
"Welcome, everyone," Mrs Figg said as everyone murmured variations of 'How do you do?' "Please come to the lounge. I have set out a light lunch in there."
When everyone was settled and had a cup of tea, Mum said, "I'm not sure what Harry has told you about my son, but Dudley has recently decided that he is an untrained wizard. I'll let him tell you what he has been experimenting with in a moment. What the three of you are here for today is for us to choose one of you to be his tutor. I realize none of you have a curriculum vitae to show me—" She broke off as Vicky Frobisher and the other two witches handed her pieces of parchment.
Morag said pointedly, "Mrs Dursley, the three of us are seeking employment, which means that we are prepared to present ourselves in a fitting manner for interview. That means all three of us brought our CVs for you to look over. Also, if you are to employ one of us, we will need to have a working relationship with Dudley and you. That means you will need to speak us without condescension. All of us have passed our N.E.W.T.s with either Outstanding or Exceeds Expectations marks and are fully qualified witches. If you have a problem with the fact that we are witches, then today's visit has been a waste of our time."
"I am sorry, Miss MacDougal," Mum said stiffly and Dudley knew she was making an effort to be civil. "I realize that if Dudley is to succeed you will need to communicate with me from time to time and that my attitude has a significant part in the success of the enterprise."
Silence settled over the group and for a moment, nobody said anything.
Dudley finally broke the silence, "Mum wants me to show you what I can do, but I'll just tell you instead." He cleared his throat. "I can levitate things like pens and plates just by thinking about making them float. I can make a bed make itself. I can also change the colour of objects. Mr Diggle, Dedalus, said I was doing accidental magic and that there were commands to deliberately make my magic work. I really want to learn those commands."
"We can teach you the incantations for both of those spells, Dudley," Vicky said. "But if you really want to join the Wizarding world, you'll need to know more than just spells. Living with magic is a culture unto itself; our history, while it parallels Muggle history, is unique because it encompasses the histories of other beings. Wizards also have their own currency, medicines and leisure activities, and because Muggle electronic devices don't work in magical places, many of us have never been to the cinema, cooked with a microwave or toaster, or entertained ourselves by watching the telly. Could you, in all honesty, give up things like your microwave or your telly?"
Dudley gulped. "Is this an all or nothing sort of thing or have people managed to live as a combination of wizard and Muggle?"
"It can be done," Sally-Ann said. "Wizards do live in Muggle houses and use Muggle appliances. They just have to be careful about how much magic they use and how powerful their spells are. Some Muggle-borns I know have been successful at enchanting electronics like televisions to work in magical houses, but the reception is often limited or unsatisfactory."
"So do you think you could assimilate into our culture?" Vicky asked.
"I'd like to give it a go," Dudley said determinedly. "I did just spend a year without the telly or my computer and it wasn't too bad, so yeah, I think I could."
"We do have the Wizarding Wireless Network," Morag said. "Its programs are a bit old-fashioned, but all the Quidditch matches are broadcast each week and there are music and news stations that play a variety of music and keep us up-to-date with what's happening in the world."
"We had a wireless at the safe house and Dedalus used to listen to the news programs," Dudley said, looking straight at Morag. "I liked the Weird Sisters' music. Do you?"
She smiled at him. "Oh, yes. They're a great group."
Mum cleared her throat. "Dudley, this isn't a social hour. I would like to continue the interview."
"Yes, Mum," Dudley said, feeling chastised. He really wanted to learn more about Morag. "I'd like to ask Morag one more question."
Mum sighed, sounding impatient. "If you must, Popkin." Dudley glared at his mother and she looked away quickly.
"I realize this has nothing to do with you being my possible tutor," he said, addressing Morag, "but what happened to your leg?"
Morag looked almost relieved to have the subject out in the open. "An Acromantula, a huge spider, attacked me during the Battle of Hogwarts. I managed to Stun it and was able to escape to safety. The damage was so extensive that Madam Pomfrey had to amputate just below the knee. I'm still in rehab, both magical and Muggle, but felt that doing some tutoring would get me back into the world a bit sooner."
"What subjects did you pass?" Dudley asked, now able to look Morag in the eyes.
She rattled off her list of qualifications before asking, "Dudley, I was told this house is a temporary home for the two of you. Do you know enough about the magical world to get to and from places without resorting to Muggle means?"
Dudley felt his face heat up. "No," he replied uncomfortably. "I don't even know how to drive a car. Why do you ask?"
"My condition and your inability to travel magically may be a problem because traveling is quite difficult for me at the moment," said Morag. "I don't travel well because of my crutches, which would mean that you would need to come to Manchester for your lessons with me."
"Do you mean to tell me that you're unwilling to go to your place of employment?" Mum asked, sounding incredulous. Out of the corner of his eye, Dudley caught Harry and Ginny exchanging knowing glances.
"Yes, Mrs Dursley," Morag stated. "It's because I am still recovering from my injury. There will probably be times when I may have to cancel lessons at the last minute because of it."
"I see," Mum said, sliding Morag's CV to the bottom of the pile, summarily dismissing her as someone she wanted to work with. Dudley had seen her do this to other people and threw a sympathetic glance at Morag. Surprisingly, Morag smiled at him and shrugged as if to say, 'I didn't think she'd like that idea." Dudley smiled back at her.
"Mrs Dursley, what are you prepared to pay per hour to have Dudley tutored? I mean, he seems to be the equivalent of a beginning first year," Vicky Frobisher asked, sounding a bit aloof.
"Minimum wage," Mum answered quickly.
"Is that in pounds or Galleons?"
"Is there a difference?"
"A big one. The goblins' exchange rate is £5 to the Galleon. If you're only going to pay £2.50 an hour—which isn't even the minimum for eighteen- to twenty-year-olds—it translates to eight Sickles and fourteen Knuts. That's much less than I want to work for, Mrs Dursley, considering how much preparation will need to go into making up Dudley's lessons."
As his mother sniffed an "I see," Dudley decided he didn't like Vicky at all. She reminded him of his least favourite teacher at Smeltings who had no patience for students who weren't mathematically inclined like he was.
He leaned over to his mum and gently tugged Sally-Ann's CV out of her hand. He scanned the page until he found what he sought. "Sally-Ann, can I call you Sally?" he asked, looking at her. When she nodded, he said, "Sally, you list two Wizarding schools on here. Why did you switch?"
Sally said, "My parents fled Britain because my father is a wizard and my mother a Muggle. They were afraid the Death Eaters would target our family because of my mother, so he applied for a job in France and we moved half-way through my fourth year at Hogwarts." She looked at Harry as she said, "I'm sorry I didn't get to see you win the Triwizard Tournament, Harry. You flew so well in the first task and saved Fleur Delacour's sister in the second that I wished I had been there for the third."
Harry looked sad as he said, "No, you don't. It wasn't much fun for anyone when I brought back the news of Voldemort's return."
"You're wrong, Harry," Sally said. "I heard about the DA and what you and my friends went through in sixth and seventh years and it doesn't seem fair that I was safe at Beauxbatons when all of you were dealing with a madman and his followers."
Harry stared at his teacup as he said, "I'm glad you and your family were safe. Everyone who stayed behind suffered in one way or another at the hands of the Death Eaters."
"Thank you, Harry," she said. "Unfortunately, I sometimes feel cheated out of being able to do my part for my school and country by not participating in the battle."
"Actually, you shouldn't feel that way, Sally," Ginny said, entering the conversation for the first time. "Wizarding Britain needs every one of its citizens who went abroad before the war to come back to help like you have. You never know what a tutoring job like this will lead to; because so many of the Muggle-born children weren't allowed to go to school last year, there's a need for qualified witches and wizards to help them catch up so they can enter Hogwarts with their correct year and age groups."
Sally smiled. "Thanks, Ginny. I feel less left-out now," she said.
Mum cleared her throat. "Miss Perks, are you willing to take the hourly rate I can afford to pay, even if it is below what you expected to be paid?" she asked. Sally nodded. "And are you willing to come to wherever Dudley is living to teach him about the Wizarding world as well as the fundamentals of magical living?" When Sally answered affirmatively, she said, "I have made my decision. If Dudley agrees to work with the tutor of my choosing, I will send her an owl with the details of her employment, which will start Monday morning at eight o'clock. Are the three of you agreeable?"
The three girls murmured their agreement as Dudley slid Sally's CV onto the top of the other two documents. He hoped his mother wanted Sally to be his tutor for he liked her attitude and thought the two of them would get along rather well in a student/teacher relationship. Not long after this, the girls and Harry and Ginny left to go back to Harry's house, leaving Dudley sitting in the lounge with his mum.
"Who have you chosen, Mum?" he asked.
"I'll be truthful, Dudley. I didn't like Miss Frobisher one bit," (Dudley had to agree with her) "and I liked Miss MacDougal, but I think she has too many medical problems to be a reliable tutor for you, so we're left with Miss Perks. What did you think of her?"
"I liked her," Dudley said at once. "I liked that she was honest about her feelings towards Harry's war and that she came back to England to help with the recovery efforts. I think I could work with her easily."
"Then I'll call Harry and have him send my note of employment to Miss Perks," Mum said, standing up.
Dudley smiled to himself as she hurried to their room to write Sally her letter of employment.
Later that night, when he was sure his mother was fast asleep, Dudley found his torch and searched through his mum's papers until he found Morag's CV. He smiled to himself as he made note of her address and the name of her home and tucked the piece of paper into his wallet. As he crawled back into bed, he hoped that Mrs Figg would let him make a Floo call to her just to chat. He had liked Morag instantly, not as a tutor, but as someone he could easily fancy.
The first thing Sally asked Dudley on Monday morning was, "Is that wand your own?" and when he shook his head, she said, "It's time you have a proper wand and for that, we need to go to Diagon Alley. I've asked Harry and Ginny to meet us at the Leaky Cauldron in twenty minutes. Go get changed into something other than that ratty old shirt."
By the time Dudley was ready, Sally had wangled two twenty-pound notes out of her employer, invited her to come with them—and had been declined—and was standing by the fireplace tapping her foot impatiently. "You do know how to use the Floo Network?" she asked.
"I do, but you go first so I can copy what you do," Dudley said and as Sally disappeared, he hoped he wouldn't get lost.
The Leaky Cauldron was packed with people when he arrived and began searching for Sally. He spotted her at a table with his cousin and his girlfriend and lumbered over to them.
"I see you have passed your first test," Sally said, smiling at him as he sat down. "You managed to get to the right destination without needing a search party."
"You did better than I did," Harry commented. "I ended up in a Knockturn Alley shop full of skulls, cursed objects and a very scary proprietor."
"The difference between your successes," Ginny said thoughtfully, "is that you, Harry, were twelve at the time and Dudley here is six years older than you were and didn't have my entire family shouting instructions at him before he stepped into the fire."
"Is that what happened?" Dudley asked. Harry nodded, looking sheepish. "Really, it wasn't that hard. You'll have to tell me that story sometime." Dudley looked around. "What is this place? A pub?"
"It is," answered Sally, "but we're not here to sample the wares this morning." She stood up and gestured for Dudley, Harry and Ginny to follow her out the back door.
Dudley stopped just inside the entrance to Diagon Alley and turned to Harry and Ginny. "If you'd told me this was here seven years ago, I would have laughed at you," he said. "Now, I think I can fully appreciate what's here."
"Why do you say that?" Sally asked.
"I wasn't ready to accept there was a parallel world to the one I lived in," Dudley explained. "Harry can tell you what a coward I was when it came to all things magical when I was eleven."
"It didn't help that Hagrid gave him a pig's tail the first time they met," Harry said dryly.
"I deserved that," Dudley mumbled as he felt his ears heat up.
Harry looked sheepish as he explained, "Actually, your parents were the ones Hagrid thought needed the tails, but you were a much easier target."
Dudley chuckled. "They still are in some ways," he said. "Now where are we going first?"
"I need to exchange the money your mum gave me into Galleons," Sally said. She led the way through the crowded street, strolling so that Dudley could take everything in. As they walked, Harry and Ginny told him anecdotes about how the Wizarding street had changed from better to worse and back again over the years.
"It's not quite back to what it once was," Harry commented, "but it sure looks better than it did back in May: I like it so much better now that those 'Undesirable Number One' posters with my picture on them have disappeared."
"And the shops dedicated to the Dark Arts," Sally added with a shudder. "Hermione told me about those."
They reached Gringotts and Dudley was shocked when Harry and Ginny said they would wait outside. "Why aren't you going in?" he asked.
Harry's ears turned red as he explained, "I'm not very popular with the goblins right now. Hermione, Ron and I erm… sort of… stole a dragon and blasted our way out of the bank in May." He said the last very quietly and so fast that Dudley almost didn't catch it.
"Is that what you were up to while I was stuck in the safe house?" Dudley asked. "I missed out on a lot!"
"Come on, Dudley," Sally said, tugging at his sleeve. "Harry can tell you the story later if he wants. Right now, you need to learn how to deal with the goblins."
Fifteen minutes later, Dudley nearly sprinted out of the bank. It wasn't that he was scared of the shrewd little beings, it was just that he hadn't expected to be interrogated or taken advantage of quite so readily. Thank goodness Sally had known what the exchange rate was so that he hadn't been overcharged. As it was, he now clutched a bag filled with six gold Galleons and some silver and bronze coins, too.
"Those little buggers wanted half my money!" he burst out to Harry and Ginny and was dismayed when they started laughing.
"You'll need to be politer to them the next time you go in there by yourself," Sally scolded as she came up behind him.
"What'd he do?" Harry asked.
"Lost his temper," Sally said. "That's all I'll say." She looked at her watch. "I think Ollivander's should be open by now."
Harry's eyebrows shot into his fringe. "Mr Ollivander is back in business so soon? I thought he wanted to recover a bit more," he said to Sally.
"It's so close to the reopening of Hogwarts that he's opening in the mornings three days a week so that the first years can get their wands," she explained. "My youngest sister bought her wand from him yesterday."
They made good progress down the crooked, cobblestoned street, finally stopping in front of a shop with boarded up windows and a sign on the door that said "OPEN." They entered and Dudley heard Ginny gasp, "Oh my!"
"There's not much here," Harry told Dudley in a whisper. "There must have been two thousand wands lining the walls of this shop when I bought my wand eight years ago. Now look at it!"
The shelves lining the walls of the shop were completely barren, except for one lonely shelf that held maybe twenty wands. A stooped and wizened old man came into the showroom from the back, his face lighting up when he saw who his customers were.
"Harry, my boy! It's so good to see you!" he exclaimed, coming up to Dudley's cousin and shaking his hand. He greeted Ginny and Sally in a similar manner. "Are you here to pick out a new wand, Harry?" he asked.
Harry shook his head and handed his wand to the old man who inspected it with interest. "Remarkable, remarkable," he murmured. "You repaired it with… the other one?" Harry nodded. "And does it work correctly for you?"
"Never better," Harry replied, taking back his wand and exchanging a significant look with the wandmaker that Dudley didn't understand.
"Erm, Mr Ollivander, I've brought Dudley to get his first wand," Sally said. "Might you have a wand that will choose him?"
"Oh, I hope so," Mr Ollivander said, wringing his hands. "I've only managed to make a few wands over the summer and so many people need one after what the Death Eaters did to those poor people they threw into Azkaban."
He bustled over to the shelf, pulled out several boxes and brought them over to where Dudley was standing. He handed him a wand—stating that it was oak and dragon heartstring, ten inches, and rather rigid—and told him to give it a swish. Absolutely nothing happened.
"Oh, I like a mystery man," Mr Ollivander chortled.
It took several trips back and forth between the shelf and Dudley before something happened. Mr Ollivander had just handed him a twelve-inch rowan and dragon heartstring wand when Dudley felt a sudden warmth in his fingers and gold sparks issued from the tip of the wand.
"You've been chosen!" cried Mr Ollivander happily and indeed he did look happy.
Dudley gently and not with a little awe, put the wand back in its box as the old wizard began clearing away the other wands he'd brought out. "How much do I owe you?" he asked.
"Three Galleons," answered Mr Ollivander. "Take good care of it and your wand will take good care of you."
They left after Dudley paid and spent the rest of the morning gathering supplies from the apothecary, the bookseller, the cauldron maker and, for Ginny, school and dress robes from a shop called Madam Malkin's. Sally and Dudley parted company with Harry and Ginny at the Leaky Cauldron.
"Thanks for coming with us," Dudley said. "Your stories of this place make me want to come back and explore it some more."
"Not today, though, Dudley," Sally said. "I think we should go back to Mrs Figg's and start experimenting with that new wand of yours."
Later, after dinner, Dudley asked Mrs Figg if he could make a fire call to Harry. She handed him her tin of Floo Powder saying, "Don't take too long."
"I won't," he promised as he knelt on the hearth rug. "What time do you want me home in case Harry invites me over?" He sincerely hoped Harry would because he had something important to discuss with him. It would be the first time they ever held a face-to-face conversation alone.
"Nine o'clock," replied Mrs Figg.
Dudley had never fire called Harry's house before, so he was quite surprised when his head entered the flames of a fireplace that opened into a large and cheery kitchen, its white walls reflecting the last of the evening sun that set a row of copper pots gleaming. He was further startled by the tiny elderly creature that greeted him.
"Master is in the library. Kreacher will get him," the garden gnome-like being croaked, and before Dudley could say anything else, it had popped out of existence.
Dudley shifted uncomfortably on the hearth rug as the stones dug into his knees. It was several minutes before Harry came clattering down a set of stairs into the kitchen.
"Hey, Dudley, I wasn't expecting to see you in my fire. What's up?" Harry asked.
"Erm, can I come over?" Dudley asked. "My knees are killing me."
"Just a second. I need to open the Floo completely," Harry said. He seemed a bit reluctant.
Dudley withdrew his head and waited to the count of thirty and then tried again, this time walking completely into Harry's kitchen at the end of his ride. "Nice place you've got here," he commented as Harry led him upstairs and into what looked like the front parlour. "What was that garden gnome-like thing that took my call?"
"Garden gno— Oh! That's my house-elf, Kreacher. He's sort of like my butler," Harry answered, gesturing towards a couple of chairs.
Dudley sat, too startled to comment. Harry has a butler? Brilliant!
Silence stretched between them as Harry strode over to a small liquor cabinet and poured a brown and faintly smoking liquid into two glasses. He handed one to Dudley. "Firewhisky. A Wizarding delicacy. Cheers." He raised his glass and took a sip. Dudley did the same, his eyes watering as the fiery liquid burned its way down his throat.
"Erm, Harry," Dudley began when he could speak again, "Mum told me the night she wrote to you that she's apologized for all the awful things she did to you when you were living with us. It's, erm… my turn to do that now."
Harry looked surprised, but said nothing.
"Harry, I'm… I'm sorry that I used you as my personal punching bag and laughed at you and deliberately got you in trouble with Mum and Dad when we were younger. I know you can't forgive me for bullying you the way I did, but I'm hoping that now that we're of age we can at least be on speaking terms."
Harry stared into his glass as he answered, "You're right that I can't forgive and forget what it was like to watch Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon indulge your every whim while I was left out of everything or what it felt like every time you punched or taunted me. However, I think the biggest lesson I learned from my year on the run is that I can't let the negative aspects of the past dictate what my future will be. I spent too many years dealing with a prophecy and the madman who believed it to let what you and your parents did to me dictate how I act as an adult towards you. That said, if Ginny hadn't been here when I received your mum's letter, we wouldn't be sitting here because I wouldn't have bothered writing back to her. I probably would have thrown the letter away, but she convinced me that family is more important than hanging on to bad memories." He sighed and finally looked up at Dudley. "So if you want to bury the hatchet and try to be proper cousins, I'm not guaranteeing that we can ever be best mates, but at least I promise to not slam the Floo shut every time you call me."
Dudley relaxed and took another sip of his Firewhisky. "I can live with that," he said with a small smile. Harry smiled lopsidedly back at him.
"How'd the lessons go this afternoon?" asked Harry, changing the subject.
"They went all right. I learned how to unlock a door, cancel a spell and make the tip of my wand glow. I didn't do too well with my potion, though. Mrs Figg didn't like the black smoke that came out of my pot, er cauldron, very much," Dudley reported sheepishly. "Tomorrow I start Transfiguration and something called Herbology."
"All the basics. Think you'll catch on fast?"
"Yeah, I will now that I have my wand. I like everything Sally's teaching me so far."
"How does Aunt Petunia feel about all this?"
"That's the other thing I came to talk to you about, Harry," Dudley said. "I tried to show her what Sally had taught me and she ignored me. All she wanted to talk about was finding us a place to live—one far away from Dad—that would allow wizards and Muggles to live together. She's worried I'll get in trouble for doing magic in front of her."
"That won't happen, Dudley," Harry said. "I spoke to the powers that be in the Improper Use of Magic Office about you and Aunt Petunia and they won't send the hit-wizards round to your house every time you start learning new spells around Aunt Petunia."
Feeling quite relieved but still a bit nettled, Dudley said, "I appreciate that. I'll tell Mum." He waited a few seconds and then tried again. "Harry, when my wand chose me today, it suddenly felt as if I really belonged to something, like I wasn't an outsider any more. Was it like that with you?"
Harry sipped his drink, looking thoughtful. "Everything was so new and I knew I was going back to your house, so it wasn't until I walked into Hogwarts that I really felt I belonged there," he said. "Why do you ask?"
Dudley swirled the liquid in his glass, but did not drink. "Don't laugh, Harry. I'm serious…" He took a deep breath and said, "Until today, I've always felt that I had no direction in my life because people kept telling me I couldn't do the things I wanted. Mum and Dad punished you for the magic I did as a kid because they were trying to 'cure' me of it, Smeltings initially didn't want me because of all the reports of bullying in my school files, the Smeltings matron said I couldn't eat what I wanted because they didn't make school uniforms big enough for me and now Dad doesn't want to be around me because I've chosen to learn magic. When my wand chose me today it was as if it was telling me that if I learn to use the powers I was born with, I can be anything I want to be. Can someone like me choose a Muggle career and still be a wizard?"
Harry smiled. "I don't see why not. No one should dictate what job you do; that's not what I fought Voldemort and the Death Eaters for. I hope Sally will be teaching you History of Magic because, as dull as the Hogwarts History ghost made his subject, I'm just beginning to understand why it's wrong to prevent others from living freely in a free society. You know, like Hitler did."
When Harry finished, Dudley said, "I'm glad you think that way, Harry, so I don't think you'll react the way Mum and Dad did when I told them I want to be an auto mechanic and now one whose business will be open to not only Muggles but to wizards and witches like you and Hermione who just might own cars some day."
"I take it you didn't like going to Smeltings," Harry said.
Dudley shook his head. "I hated it there. Every lesson was geared towards preparing us for our exams and tracking us towards university. I've never wanted to go to university, but I would have gone just to please Mum and Dad."
"So now what are you going to do?" Harry asked, looking curious.
"I found a vocational school that will teach me to repair cars in general and then specialize in specific brands like Aston Martin and Jaguar, but I think I'll wait to apply until I have a handle on this magic stuff," Dudley said.
"What does Morag thing of your plans?" Harry asked, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards.
Startled, Dudley stared at Harry. "Who told you I'd talked to her?" he demanded.
"Morag sent Ginny a rather long letter asking about you asking what sort of family you came from, whether Ginny thought your mum might object to you two going out, that sort of thing," Harry answered.
Dudley could feel the blood draining from his face. "What… what did she tell her?"
"That the only obstacle the two of you would have to overcome was your parents. Other than that, I think she said the two of you might be good for each other," Harry said, grinning.
Dudley flopped back in his chair. "That's good. I'll thank Ginny the next time I see her." He sat up, a thought just occurring to him, and fishing in his pocket for his last few Galleons and the few pound notes he'd managed to save, he handed them to Harry. "Would you have time to get me an owl? I want to get to know Morag better, but talking to her while kneeling isn't very fun. I think we could say a lot more to each other if I could write to her."
"Is Aunt Petunia all right with your getting a girlfriend and an owl?"
"She'll have to be if I'm to be part of the Wizarding world," Dudley said determinedly.
"I hope you're not jumping into this too fast, Dudley," Harry said. "Don't get me wrong; I like your plans, but are you trying to do too much all at once?"
"I had an entire year to think about what I want to do with my life, Harry, so I don't think I'm taking on too much at all. For once in my life, I'm not letting others do everything for me and that's a good thing, I think," Dudley said.
Harry pocketed the money and both wizards stood up. "I'll get you that owl, Dudley, and send it to you with a letter of introduction in a day or two," Harry said.
Dudley stuck out his hand and they shook. "Thanks, Harry, for talking to me tonight. I know I took you away from something, and I appreciate you helping me join the Wizarding world." He looked at his watch. "Nearly nine. Mrs Figg said she'd keep her Floo open until then."
"Can't have you getting out at the wrong grate because the one you want is closed," Harry chuckled and led the way down to his own fireplace.
Epilogue: Six Years Later
A sleek green Aston Martin pulled into the car park of a London repair shop and a stylishly dressed young man stepped out, followed by his wife, who carried a baby carrier. Dudley put down his wrench, pulled his wand to Scourgify his hands and walked out to greet his visitors.
"Hello, Harry. Good to see you, Ginny," he greeted them. "Is this the little tyke?"
"Yes, Dudley, meet James Sirius Potter," Ginny said, holding up the carrier so that Dudley could meet the newborn.
Dudley studied the sleeping child and then looked at his cousin. "He looks like Ginny," he commented, gazing at the boy's mop of ginger hair. "I thought he'd look like you."
Harry laughed. "Maybe the next one will," he said. "How's business?" he added as Dudley led them inside the office.
"Couldn't be better," Dudley answered. "Morag is happy with the number of new customers our new website is bringing in and is bugging me to become a certified BMW mechanic. The more brands I'm certified to repair, the more money we can bring in. You going to leave your Aston for an oil change?"
"Yes, but this morning the engine started missing and I was wondering if you could check it out," Harry said.
"Let me see when I can squeeze you in," Dudley said, flicking his wand in the direction of his desk. His appointment diary flew towards him and he plucked it neatly out of the air. "Hmmm, can you leave it? I have two oil changes in front of you and this sounds as if it could be a serious problem."
"I'll take Ginny to lunch," Harry said. "Call me when you know something."
"Will do." Dudley wrote Harry's name in the book, making it official. "How's Sally doing?" he asked, changing the subject. "She still tutoring rich blokes' midgets?"
"She's making quite the pile of Galleons with the client list she has now," Ginny said. "And the children aren't just from rich families any more. She's got quite a few middle income families now."
Dudley smiled. "She's a good teacher. I just wish Mum had warmed up to her more."
"Have you seen your parents lately?" Harry asked. "It's been a year since they got back together."
"Not since the wedding and that was six months ago," Dudley told him, shaking his head. "I know she and Dad are still getting along, Mum sent me a letter last month, but they want no contact with us 'paranormal' people."
"I guess Uncle Vernon hasn't changed, then," Harry said, sounding rueful.
"Nope, and I don't think he ever will. Like a lot of people, he's afraid of what he doesn't understand. It's taken a long time, but I understand that now," Dudley sighed and levitated his appointment diary back to his desk.
Ginny said, "That's too bad. He's missing out on a lot not letting you and Morag into his life."
Dudley shrugged. "It's the way he is and Mum just follows along because she's afraid of what she knows."
The three of them stood together in the uncomfortable silence this subject always brought about. Finally, Harry looked at his watch. "We need to get going if we don't want to wait for a table, Ginny," he said. Turning to Dudley, he asked, "You'll call me when you have a diagnosis?"
"Yeah, I will, Harry. Do I need to cancel any spells?" Dudley asked.
Harry shook his head. "I'll do it." He flicked his wand at the car, sending his spell through the open office window.
"Have a good time at lunch." Dudley held the door for Ginny and the three of them walked out to the car park. Harry lifted a bag of baby supplies out of the boot and then handed Dudley his keys.
"See you later, Big D," he teased.
"See you later, Inspector," Dudley teased back. And as he watched his cousin and his family walk away, he wondered if he himself would ever be as satisfied with his life as Harry seemed to be.
Probably, he thought. All I have to do is reach for my next goal. He smiled to himself, thinking about the two goals he'd reached already: passing his N.E.W.T.s with Sally's help and marrying Morag. He was indeed well on his way to being contented with his life.