Disclaimer: Harry Potter, all other characters and the lovely world they live in all belong to the amazing J.K. Rowling. I'm just playing with them; I'll put them back when I'm done.
Dudley wasn't sure why he kept watching the street where he had seen his cousin. Logic kept telling him that it was nothing but coincidence that he had seen Harry the first time and that it would require a lot more luck than Dudley had any right to expect to see him again. Nevertheless, he had moved his desk to a point where he could look out his tiny window and search the faces of the crowds passing by. He watched for weeks, his heart giving a tiny jump every time he saw black hair on the top of a tall head. Weeks stretched into months and Dudley, starting to doubt that he'd ever actually see Harry again, continued to look. He wondered again about the depth of his obsession with his cousin, and even debated asking his parents if they knew how to get in touch with him. Only his rather considerable fear of his father's reaction kept him from asking. He remembered the owls sweeping in and out of their home carrying letters, and vaguely wondered exactly how one went about getting an owl to carry a letter, and would it do him any good to find out, when he didn't even know Harry's address?
Dudley couldn't explain, even to himself, why it was so important to talk to Harry after all these years, but the urge was strong. Was it nothing more than pity, after that horrible realization in lectures, just how badly Harry had been treated by his family? Was that where this overwhelming urge to apologize came from? And how exactly was he supposed to go up to a man he hadn't seen in over six years and tell him he was sorry that he'd been an absolute git for their entire childhood? Dudley had enough difficulty dealing with his own part in this fiasco. He had terrorized the other boy for years, going out of his way to ridicule him, to hunt him down and hit him, to make trouble for him. And the worst part of it was that Dudley had done so not only with the full knowledge of his parents, but with their approval and encouragement. He supposed that as a young child it really hadn't been his fault; how is a three-year-old to know the difference between right and wrong when his parents don't teach it to him? However, he couldn't help but think that at some point he should have worked it out earlier than he had. How did he manage to get to the age of twenty before realizing how cruel he had been? And how did that scrawny little boy who had learned to be so good at running away turn into that confident man he saw on the street? What exactly happened at that magic school that he had gone too?
For months after glimpsing Harry on the street, these questions haunted Dudley. He needed nothing more than to see his cousin once more, to get a chance to talk to him. The overwhelming need to apologize for his actions over the years consumed him. So he watched, every day when he was at work, and sometimes he'd even venture down there on his days off, and get a cup of tea and sit and watch the crowds go by. Perhaps because it had been so long since the initial encounter, when Dudley first saw the flash of bright red hair and the tall man who accompanied it, he dismissed them as not being who he was looking for. But a second glance proved him wrong, and sent him scrambling out of his chair and for the door. He would not miss a second chance.
By the time he made it to the street, the couple he sought was already a full block away. Dudley hurried after them as quickly as he thought he could get away with, considering the number of people on the footpaths. Offering multiple apologies as he wound his way through the crowd, he quickly made up ground on his prey. He was close enough to see them now, and to hear the murmurs of their conversation, even though he couldn't make out the words. The girl was laughing again, and Harry was shaking his head, grinning at whatever it was that had caused her to laugh. The air of happiness surrounding them was almost tangible. With a last lunge that made the other pedestrians stare at him as though he were insane, he got close enough to make contact.
Dudley reached out and tapped Harry on the shoulder, and stopped dead in his tracks as the other man turned to face him. Dudley stood up straight, realizing that, yes, in fact he was now several inches shorter than his cousin. "Harry?"
"Yes?" Green eyes studied him in confusion. "Can I help you?" Dudley supposed that he couldn't blame Harry for not recognizing him. After all, it had been a long time since they'd seen each other, and as much as Harry had changed, Dudley had undergone an even more dramatic transformation. He had cut his weight very nearly in half while at university, and the weight that remained had been transformed from fat to muscle. All this resulted in a greatly altered physique, one which he had taken care to maintain in the intervening years,
Dudley looked back at Harry and opened his mouth, suddenly not sure what to say. A spark of recognition crossed Harry's face. "Dudley?" His voice was tinged with disbelief. "It is you. Wow. I never really expected to see you again." He paused, and Dudley struggled again to find something to say while the silence stretched just barely long enough to be uncomfortable. Harry glanced around the street, ran his hand through his hair and spoke again. "You look really good. I hardly recognized you, you've changed so much."
"You too," Dudley finally found his voice. "Look good I mean. You've grown up." Inwardly he was berating himself for his total inability to string together a sentence of more than a few words, but his brain seemed to be taking a short break, intent on making him sound like a babbling idiot. Silence stretched again. The redheaded girl attached to Harry's hand looked back and forth between them. She'd looked startled when Harry first acknowledged Dudley; she must have been somewhat aware of their past, but now her face held only an expression of curiosity.
She must have squeezed Harry's hand, because he gave a little start and looked down at her. Clearing his throat, he again broke the silence. "Dudley, this is my wife, Ginny. Ginny, my cousin, Dudley."
She put out her hand and Dudley shook it, both of them murmuring the appropriate niceties. He looked up at Harry. "Your wife? You got married?"
Harry nodded and the smile was back. "Yep, best thing I ever did. It'll be three years in September."
The girl, Ginny, beamed up at Harry, who looked positively besotted as he looked down at her again. Dudley was once again struck by a wave of jealousy. "Wow. Congratulations, you look really happy."
"I am." Silence stretched again, and Dudley once again began to question his decision to seek Harry out. He noticed Ginny nudging Harry in the ribs and a short exchange of looks between them. Forcing his gaze from Ginny to Dudley, Harry spoke again, looking almost as if he had to force the words out. "How are your parents?" Dudley was impressed: even though it looked as if it had been painful for Harry to ask, he had managed to do so with just a hint of a grimace on his face.
Knowing that Harry was asking only out of obligation, Dudley decided that instead of the socially acceptable platitudes, he'd be honest. "As horrid as ever. They are still rude and loud and overbearing and obnoxious." Dudley stifled a laugh at the look on Harry's face. "Dad's been rowing with the neighbors and making a complete prat of himself, and Mum's driving me mad telling me to find a girl and get married. I'll have to tell her that you've done just that - she'll have kittens." He chuckled, imagining the look on his mother's face if he mentioned Harry to her.
"Horrid?" Harry gaped at him for a moment, then his eyes narrowed: Dudley wondered if it was suspicion or anger. "What's the matter? Did they not buy you a new car or something?"
Dudley hung his head. "I wouldn't accept it even if they tried." He tried to keep the hurt out of his voice, knowing that Harry had every right to hate him, and that this was going to be his one opportunity to convince the other man to give him a chance to prove himself. "I've changed a lot since we last talked. I'm not my father and I don't want to be."
"You can't be serious. When we were growing up, that's all you ever wanted, to be just like him."
Dudley sighed. In all honesty he had expected this and was surprised that Harry had even continued this conversation once he realized who he was "Don't judge me by my parents, Harry. You've obviously grown up, please don't doubt that I have done the same." He ran his hand through his short hair, unconsciously mirroring Harry's actions from a few minutes before. He looked down at his feet, avoiding Harry's eyes and the condemnation he was afraid of finding there.
Harry's gaze upon him was tangible. "You've changed from the Dudley I remember."
Dudley shoved his hands in the pockets of his trousers and raised his head, becoming even more uncomfortable. "Listen, this isn't the best place to have this conversation. Can we go get a cup of tea or something?
Harry glanced at his watch and shook his head. "We've got an appointment in about five minutes that we've got to get to. Maybe some other time." His voice trailed off on the last word of his statement.
Dudley's heart sank. He was being refused, which was not totally unexpected. "Oh. That's all right."
Ginny spoke up. "We'll be finished in about an hour. Would you be able to meet then? Maybe then we could get dinner." Harry gave her a quick glance, with an expression that Dudley couldn't read, but then he looked up at Dudley and nodded. Ginny grinned. "Good. We can meet here and decide where to go from there."
Dudley looked around. They were standing in front of a large shop front. The name over the windows read Purge and Dowse, Ltd., and signs on the doors announced that it was closed for refurbishment. "An hour, you said?" Harry nodded. "Well, then, I suppose I'll see you then."
Harry hesitated a moment, then held out his hand for Dudley to take. "One hour. And it really was good to see you, Dudders." The serious expression on his face only echoed the sincerity in his voice. Harry wrapped his arm around Ginny's waist as they stood hesitantly; they seemed to be waiting for Dudley to turn and walk away first. Taking the hint, he started walking the familiar path back to his shop. A few steps away, he turned around to glance again at Harry and his wife, but they were gone.
An hour later, Dudley was waiting, leaning against the locked doors of Purge and Dowse, searching the faces of the crowd around him. He'd gone back to his office, and spent part of the intervening hour trying to finish his daily paperwork, without much success. Finally knowing that he'd have to do it all again the next day since his mind truly wasn't on his work, he closed up his computer for the day and headed out, arriving a few minutes early at the shopfront to wait for Harry and his wife. The faces around him surged, none of them familiar, and he was starting to wonder if they would show up when a voice at his elbow startled him. "Hey Dudley." The Potters had appeared next to him, apparently out of nowhere. Dudley looked up, they were both laughing at some private joke, brilliant smiles on their faces.
"Hey, where did you come from, and how did you get here without me seeing you?" He pushed off the door and stood up, looking from one to the other, confused.
A teasing grin appeared on Harry's face. "Magic." He glanced at his wife, who was wearing a similar grin. Well, she wasn't shocked, so that answered that question: she was as well versed in this whole wizarding thing as Harry was.
Dudley stared at him in shock for a moment, and then nodded. "Fair enough." He didn't doubt for a moment that Harry was telling the complete truth, but he wasn't sure why it caught him by surprise so much. He'd been so wrapped up in his own feelings towards his cousin that he'd pushed the thought of his cousin being a wizard to the back of his mind. He supposed that having Harry just mention it so causally gave him a bit of a shock. He also knew without a doubt that this was something of a test. The last time that Harry had mentioned magic to him, it had been the night that they had the run-in with those Dementor things, and that night had been a certifiable disaster. There had never been an instance in their shared past where Harry had mentioned magic and Dudley had calmly accepted it as if it was not a big thing. Well, no time like the present to show Harry just how much he had changed. Laughing inwardly at himself and the fear he had shown as a child, he smiled at Harry and Ginny. "So, dinner? Any thoughts on where to go?"
Harry gave him a quizzical look. "That wasn't the reaction I was expecting. No scared expression, no mumbled comments about freaks. You are Dudley Dursley, right?"
Dudley looked at Harry for a moment in confusion before realizing that he was being teased, and responded in kind. "Well, I'm a bit old to go running off to my mummy screaming about the bad wizard who scared me."
"It never stopped you before."
Dudley laughed. "I deserved that. I was quite the whingy little brat, wasn't I?"
"Those are not exactly the words I would have chosen." Harry was chuckling now as well.
Ginny spoke up. "I seem to remember a few other choice phrases you used to describe Dudley."
Harry blushed. "Are you trying to get me in trouble?"
"Is it working?" Her eyes sparkled with merriment.
As far as breaking the tension between them went, it did work. The three of them found a small pub a few blocks away and enjoyed a dinner that stretched on for several hours. Dudley found that he quite enjoyed catching up with his cousin, although so much of what he learned had his head spinning. He told them of his time at university and his plans for continuing his education. He heard all about Ginny's family, and they all managed to survive an awkward moment when the subject came up of the last meeting Dudley had with Ginny's brothers. He was amazed to find that the pranksters responsible for the horrible incident when his tongue had grown uncontrollably, had managed to make a rather spectacular living selling similar items as jokes.
He learned that Harry had become something called an Auror after leaving that school he went to, and that an Auror was something similar to a Muggle policeman. This was rather shocking to Dudley, as Harry had never been one to abide by rules much as a child. He would never have guessed that law enforcement would have been Harry's first career choice. When he mentioned this, it sent Ginny into fits of laughter, letting him know that this wasn't the first time it had been mentioned to Harry.
Harry shot Ginny a sideways look and she managed, with great effort, to stifle her laughter. Harry continued on to tell Dudley that he was, in fact, currently on a leave of absence from his job, and that he was in the middle of an extended tryout for the English National Quidditch Team.
Dudley's confusion at the mention of the word Quidditch must have shown on his face, because Harry and Ginny both launched into an extremely energetic explanation of a game played on flying broomsticks that involved magic balls that flew by themselves and others that apparently tried to kill you as part of the game. Dudley was amazed; he had rarely seen Harry this animated, his love for the game evident in the way that his gestures became wider and his eyes sparkled. The couple went on to regale Dudley with stories of various matches they had played in their time together at school. Dudley learned that Ginny had been a year behind Harry, and that her next oldest brother was one of Harry's best friends.
The conversation flowed throughout the meal, but never delved into serious topics, instead focusing on sharing stories and catching up on all that had transpired since they had last spent time together. They didn't speak again of the Dursleys, but Dudley did explain about his desire to return to school, and about the deal he had made with his father to make that happen. He kept looking for an opportunity to move the conversation to more serious subjects, but it seemed that every time the subject matter started to turn serious, one of his dinner companions would make an apparently innocent change in the subject matter. Dudley didn't think much of this the first few times the conversation veered from the direction he was trying so hard to take it, but soon came to realize that it was a deliberate action on the part of the other two. Apparently, there were some things that Harry wasn't willing to discuss with Dudley. If he was being perfectly honest with himself, there was plenty of things that he wouldn't have trusted the other man enough to discuss if the situation was reversed.
They talked late into the evening, until they could no longer ignore the pointed looks of the waitstaff and the huge yawns that Ginny couldn't manage to stifle. As they made their way outside, Dudley couldn't help but think how much progress they had made in the course of one meal. There was still a lot of tension between them; there was simply too much bad history that existed to be eliminated in one evening, but he couldn't help but hope that the first steps had been made towards a tentative friendship. As he made vague noises about trying to get together again, Dudley handed Harry a scrap of paper upon which was written his telephone number. Realizing that he had no way of contacting Harry, and that any further interaction between them would have to be initiated by Harry, he headed towards his tiny flat, wondering if this was the beginning of something, or merely a sidestep in the life that his cousin had obviously carved out for himself.
Author's note: Thanks again to everyone who reviewed, and to the PhoenixSong staff for making this the story of the week. I'm just beside myself that you all like this story so much! Special thanks to Pumpkin Juice for betaing for me, even with all she has going on in her own life.