Harry reread the letter in his hand for the fifth time, as he sat by his favorite oak tree. He stuffed it back into the envelope and let it flutter to the grass. He couldn't remotely guess why Dudley Dursley had written him a letter. He hadn't set a foot in the Muggle world since he finished his schooling, and that seemed ages ago.
For the past eight years he and Dumbledore had worked tirelessly against Voldemort. At long last, Voldemort had been over-powered by the two. Harry had to hand it to Voldemort, eight years was a very long time to be able to put up a considerable fight. It was all over now though, and Harry was ready to be rid of all memories of the horrible war.
Harry had deliberately avoided becoming involved in a relationship with anyone. He knew he could never live with himself if he allowed another person he loved to be murdered by Voldemort. If he could help it, history was not going to repeat itself.
Harry didn't want to admit it to himself, but he had been more than lonely during the war. He was ready to find someone to fall in love with and start a family. But even if he didn't find the girl of his dreams, he was still looking forward to spending more time with the Weasleys.
Harry hadn't seen much change in Ron or Hermione, they were still bickering... like a married couple. The only difference being, that they were actually a married couple. Ron had not become an Auror along with Harry but had taken a job at the Ministry of Magic. Hermione, on the other hand, couldn't seem to leave school, she had become a professor at Hogwarts under her maiden name, teaching Arithmancy. She was also in line to be the next Headmistress of Hogwarts, though she refused to admit it.
Harry gazed up at the sky contentedly, realizing that things were finally going to settle down a bit. He glanced sideways at the letter lying in the grass next to him, and the peaceful feeling dissolved.
What did Dudley want from him?
He stood up, brushed the grass of his robes and took out his wand.
There was only one way to find out.
Chapter One: Back to Privet Drive
The moment Harry registered the familiar sights and smells of Privet Drive, a surge of resentment welled up in his chest. He took a deep breath and looked around the living room, feeling like a foreigner.
Harry stepped toward the mantle. Shoving aside a horrid-looking vase, his gaze fell across a picture of Dudley in a white tuxedo, grinning, with one of his flabby arms around his bony bride. Harry couldn't see her face; a veil covered it. Who took pictures with her wedding veil on? Harry thought a moment and grinned broadly when he came to the conclusion that the person wasn't really that attractive or was too embarrassed to see herself in photos actually marrying Dudley.
Harry remembered receiving the invitation in the mail around his twentieth birthday. Dudley hadn't been using any level of tact when he had sent Harry a wedding announcement; he was obviously fishing for wedding presents. (Harry had thoughtfully sent him a box of sweets as a present. Even though he hadn't laced the sweets with anything, Harry happily thought of how much Dudley would worry about being cursed.) Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had given the couple the Privet Drive house as a wedding present. They were retired, living in a beach home in Majorca.
Harry turned at the creak of the stairs and silently watched his cousin meander towards the kitchen. Dudley didn't notice him until he was just steps from the pantry. He forgot to stop moving, at the sight of Harry, and the pantry door shuddered terribly as he ran into it.
"You could ring the doorbell like a NORMAL person!" Dudley huffed, winded from his walk and the surprise of seeing Harry.
Harry studied his cousin with interest. Twenty-five apparently wasn't a good age for Dudley. He looked almost in his mid-thirties. Not surprisingly, he looked just like Uncle Vernon... minus the moustache — probably still couldn't grow a full one. Of course, Uncle Vernon only had a double chin. Dudley's was quadruple. Harry raised an eyebrow. "Hello to you too."
Dudley pointed to Harry's wand, still in hand. "Put that ridiculous thing away!"
"Pardon?" said Harry calmly. "I was under the assumption that I was an invited guest in your home."
"Right," grumbled Dudley, "None of that wizard rubbish--" Dudley then struggled to form the word, "please." Harry sat down in an armchair without being offered a seat and waited for Dudley to tell him why he was here. Dudley clomped over to the sagging couch and plopped himself into it, setting off the orchestra of the couch springs in a horrible popping and screeching noise.
There was a long silence, in which the cousins sized each other up, seeing exactly what had changed in the eight-year absence. "GARDENIA!!" bellowed Dudley, "He's here!" Harry tried to conceal his smile. Dudley had married someone named Gardenia? He supposed the Dursley men had a thing for women with horrible flower names. Not that all flower names were bad. His mother's name, Lily, was lovely but… Gardenia? Petunia? Who was next — Daffodil or Marigold? Harry was willing to bet that she looked exactly like Aunt Petunia. He sat back ready to be amused by this person who actually married Dudley. He wasn't disappointed; Gardenia Dursley could only be described as entertaining to look at. She minced into the room in her neon-blue high heels, tight yellow Capri pants, which looked as if they were painted on her, a neon green tube top and an enormous frizz of teased blond hair. Bright pink blush was streaked on her bony cheeks and the many layers of makeup were visible over her bright-orange fake tan. Gardenia peered at Harry almost face to face.
Harry leaned back, trying to avoid the smell of cigarette smoke and hairspray. "That's your cousin, Duddy-doll?" she asked in a voice that sounded like nails on a chalkboard. "Lucky for me, I married the handsome man of the family." She giggled and perched herself on Dudley's knee, caressing one of his chins.
"Lucky you?" muttered Harry to himself.
Gardenia popped her gum and batted her goopy, blue mascara-slathered eyelashes. "Hasn't got much fashion sense, has he?" Harry glanced quickly from the yellow capri pants to his emerald green robes.
Dudley snorted with laughter, "No, my pet-ums, he hasn't."
Harry gave Dudley a winning smile. "You know what, Dudley? " he said in an overly nice voice. "I'm thinking that your fireplace over there is looking… really shall we say... dull? What do you say I just blow it up, for old times' sake?" he said, picking up his wand out of his lap. Dudley looked panicked and his watery blue eyes bulged, making him look exceptionally like Uncle Vernon.
"Now, uh, no need to do any of that ma— stuff," he sputtered, clutching the couch arm rather forcefully.
"Let's get to the point," said Harry, coolly waving his wand.
The coffee table slid across the floor, stopping abruptly in front of his chair. Harry plunked his boots along the top of it without bothering to see if there was any mud on them.
Dudley attempted to clear his throat but a feeble noise came from him. Harry was pleased. It was enjoyable to make him squirm after all those years of Harry-hunting.
"Gardenia and I have a little girl," began Dudley, still attempting to regain his composure.
Harry glanced at Gardenia, who was twirling a strand of hair around her finger looking oblivious to everything. Harry was sure the strand would break at any second, from all the dye.
Dudley mopped his forehead with his sleeve. "Well, um, what the problem is, is that she isn't a normal child."
"Neither were you Dudley, get to the point. I'm not here to offer psychological analysis," said Harry.
"She's one of your kind," Dudley spat sharply. "We can't have her living under our roof."
"How on earth would you know that?" said Harry sitting up, surprised.
"Mummy and Dad told me she has all the signs," said Dudley firmly, obviously convinced.
"Oh, there's a reliable source," scoffed Harry. "Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon know nothing about anything of that nature, nor will they ever care to know."
Gardenia spoke up again, looking very confused, "Well, what else could the little brat be?"
Harry couldn't believe his ears.
Actually, he could — they were Dursleys after all...
He glared at them. "You're willing to take a shot in the dark and guess that she is a witch? This is your child!" Harry shouted, becoming more infuriated by the moment.
Dudley paused and continued on as if Harry hadn't said anything, "She's your kind and we can't handle the little monster anymore," he said as if he was merely chatting about the weather.
Gardenia continued, "Petunia and Vernon won't even let us come visit with her and Duddy-kins absolutely needs to see his mummy."
"Pardon me while I savor this moment of irony," said Harry flatly. "The impossible has happened to you. Your own child is something you were taught to despise. You two idiots are responsible for this child, and instead of dealing with your problems, you want to pass the kid off to me and forget she ever existed."
"Right!" said Dudley, pleased that Harry was catching on.
"You bloody scum…" said Harry, gritting his teeth and clutching his wand.
Gardenia's gum popped loudly. "We have our other child to think of now! Dudley Jr. could possibly be hurt in one of her jealous rages — the little wench!"
Gardenia smirked at Harry, and then pranced out of the room again.
"She wouldn't be jealous or have rages if you two knew how to raise a child!" replied Harry hotly.
Dudley squirmed uncomfortably and the couch gave many creaks of protest. "You don't understand how impossible she is! If you don't take her, we're going to put her in an orphanage. Dad has it all worked out."
"Oh, but I do understand how she feels," replied Harry, "I had to be treated like the black sheep for eleven years and I know how your family is, Dudley, don't act like it is her fault!"
Gardenia returned to the room after a moment and displayed a rather porky-looking baby swaddled head to toe in a bunny outfit. "This is Dudley Jr.," she said, coddling the child, which belched loudly.
Harry raised an eyebrow, he had seen cuter Christmas turkeys. "That's great, where's the little girl?"
"At Mrs. Figg's," replied Dudley. "She takes care of her all day, so we don't have to see her until bedtime."
"Oh really?" Harry said in a sarcastic tone. "Does she sleep in the cupboard, too?"
Dudley frowned and scratched his head. "Come on, Harry, what kind of parents do you think we are?" he said crossly.
Gardenia nodded, "Only sometimes, when we think the little rat is going to hurt our baby puddin'..." Dudley elbowed her in the ribs to shut up. Harry stood up and raised his wand. Dudley cowered into the back of the couch and Gardenia gave a loud squeak as she clopped out of the room very quickly with the baby.
Harry took a deep breath, and lowered his wand. He wasn't going to let them make him do anything rash. "I have to think about all this," said Harry harshly, and he watched his cousin flinch at the sound of his voice. "If anything happens to that little girl before I make up my mind... I will personally see to it that your entire house is blown up," he said with a flicking gesture of his wand.
Dudley trembled again. "You're a nutter. I always knew it," he braved saying.
With one last disgusted look at Dudley, Harry Disapparated.