Harry heaved a sigh of relief as Ron took the trolley holding Hedwig's empty cage and his trunk from him and led the way through the barrier. Just pushing the awkward thing a few meters had sapped his strength a lot more than he'd bargained for. Throwing his weight at the handle had caused him to bang his newly-healed left arm and ribs painfully against it.
So much for staying pain-free for the day, he grumbled to himself as he followed Ron.
"Thanks, Ron," he said gratefully as they emerged from the barrier onto the platform at King's Cross and began looking for the Dursleys. "I'm still amazed at the things that can beat me right now."
"'s nothing, mate," Ron said. "Promise me you'll let us know when you're settled?"
Harry grinned at his friend, then shaking his head he said, "Like sister, like brother. I've promised to owl Ginny. She wants to know when I'm 'safe'."
"Good for her," Ron said, scanning the people nearby. "Do you see them?"
"Over there," Harry said, inclining his head to the left.
Harry's relatives stood a little way down the platform towards the entrance to the station. Ron pushed the trolley in their direction and soon stood in front of Uncle Vernon. Harry followed at a slower pace.
"Well, it's about time," Uncle Vernon groused. "You're lucky we've waited for you."
"Hello, Uncle Vernon. Nice to see you, too," Harry said.
His uncle blustered, "Now don't get cheeky with me, boy. I won't have you mouthing off to me every ten seconds." When Harry didn't answer right away he demanded, "What's that sling for? Some sort of prank to get me to let you off doing chores?"
Ron looked uncomfortable as Harry answered quietly, "I've had surgery on my shoulder."
Aunt Petunia took the opportunity to speak up. "We'll discuss this in the car." Her sharp eyes descended on Ron. "Well, oughtn't you be going? We're leaving."
Ron's ears turned red as he straightened up and stepped close to the Dursleys. "I think," he said slowly, "that you want to show Harry a little respect. He nearly died trying to protect people when our school got attacked this year. He's been through the wringer, and he's going to spend the summer resting."
Uncle Vernon's piggy eyes narrowed and his complexion grew horribly mottled as Ron spoke. "Now see here," he spat. "I'm not having you weirdoes telling me what I can and cannot do in my own house. That boy has been a burden to us since the moment he arrived, and he's bloody well going to earn his ke..."
Ron bumped up against Uncle Vernon, towering over him, and discreetly pulled his wand from his pocket, pointing it menacingly at the big man's stomach. "I'd be a bit more polite, if I were you," he said in a flat, emotionless tone. "Harry has a lot of friends from school, and we're going to be keeping a close watch to make sure he's okay this summer, just like we did last year. It'd be such a pity if there was a...misunderstanding."
Aunt Petunia's mouth opened and closed repeatedly, but no sound came out. Vernon looked as though he'd like nothing better than to bum rush Ron but seemed to think the better of it. Dudley was oddly quiet as the conflict played out before him.
Ron turned back to Harry and extended his hand. "Take care, Harry. And make sure to send Hedwig right away. Ginny will be waiting for her."
"I will," Harry promised. He turned, jerked his head first at Dudley, then at the trolley and walked passed Uncle Vernon towards the entrance. Halfway there he turned to see whether Dudley was actually pushing the trolley and saw Ron still standing where they'd left him. The two exchanged one last, melancholy little wave and then Ron walked back through the barrier. Sighing desolately, Harry led the way out onto the street.
The car ride back to Privet Drive seemed endless as Uncle Vernon's newest company car wove its way along the carriage way toward Little Whinging. Harry had given the letter Madam Pomfrey had written about his injuries and subsequent "surgery" to Aunt Petunia and she was now muttering her way through it.
"No strenuous pushing or pulling for six weeks... tasks to be done with his right hand only... lots of bed rest!... she even has a list of foods he's supposed to eat... keep his strength up... What does she think I am... a maidservant? I should think not!" She turned in her seat and skewered Harry with her eyes. "And just how long are you going to be a good-for-nothing lay-about in my house? Hmmm?"
Harry glared icily back at her. "Two weeks at the most," he said. "But most likely only one."
"TWO WEEKS! You're just like your lazy, no-good father! I will not wait on you hand and foot for two weeks! Do you hear me?"
"You'd wait on Dudley," Harry mumbled under his breath, resentment at her characterization of his father making his stomach turn. "And my father wasn't lazy."
Apparently Aunt Petunia had heard him for she said icily, "As far as I'm concerned he was! No steady job, just a no-good wastrel... You may have your arm in a sling, but you will still help with the chores. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, Aunt Petunia," he agreed, just to satisfy his aunt. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of his seat. He hated feeling this weak, but the train ride back to London had exhausted him and all he really wanted to do at the moment was sleep. His aunt, on the other hand, had other ideas.
"Now tell me just who will be coming for you and when," she demanded.
"Professor Dumbledore told me he will be coming himself," Harry said without opening his eyes. "He'll send an ow--write to me a day or two before he comes with the exact time he'll appear on your doorstep."
"Well, he'd better not come through the fireplace again," Uncle Vernon said vehemently, taking the exit that led to Little Whinging. "And he'd better not bring any more of those elf-whatsits like he did last summer. It let in all sorts of vermin that took us six months to get rid of!"
Harry shook his head, remembering Dumbledore's visit last August when he'd learned the terms of Sirius' will. That information, coupled with Kreacher's appearance, had been more than he'd wanted to handle; he hoped there would be no surprises like that this time around.
When Harry didn't answer right away his uncle demanded, "Well, will it be contaminating my house again?"
"I don't know," Harry said. "I was told just to expect a letter detailing his arrival time. I'm supposed to be packed and ready to go as I'll not be coming back ever again. That's all I know."
His aunt and uncle both sighed loudly, but neither made further comment as the car pulled into the drive of four Privet Drive.
Instead, Aunt Petunia got out and pointed at the front door as Uncle Vernon opened the boot. "Get your things and get them upstairs. I expect you have laundry to do, so clear out that trunk of yours and get the machine going. I'll not have you waking us at all hours because you're running the washer yourself when you can't sleep." She disappeared down the garden path, following Uncle Vernon and Dudley and leaving Harry standing next to the boot, a look of dismay on his face. There was no way he could lift the heavy trunk with only one arm without using magic.
A hand suddenly pushed him roughly aside and heaved the trunk out of the boot. "Mum made me come back to help you," Dudley grumbled by way of explanation. "She doesn't want you standing out here all night. The neighbours will talk." He grasped the side handles and started for the door. "Get that cage and shut the boot. You're not that helpless," he called over his shoulder at Harry.
Harry did what he was told and followed Dudley up to his room. Dudley placed Harry's trunk at the foot of the bed as he entered. "Thanks," Harry murmured, walking wearily to his bed and collapsing on it. He closed his eyes and struggled to get comfortable on the thin mattress, involuntarily hissing with pain when he bumped his left arm against his bedside table.
Harry breathed out slowly as the pain receded. He relaxed and felt sleep beginning to claim him when the creak of a floorboard caused him to open his eyes. Dudley was standing near the door, staring at his cousin with an unfathomable expression.
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Harry spoke. "Thanks for bringing my trunk up," he said tiredly.
"So what happened to you?" Dudley asked, ignoring Harry's thanks. "You look like you've been in some kind of brawl, from what your friend said." Harry started, wondering about Dudley's tone. Was it curiosity? Admiration? A hint of concern?
Harry slowly sat up on the bed. "Yeah, I was," he replied.
"Tell me about it. I want to hear everything," Dudley said eagerly, scooting back against the wall.
Harry eyed his cousin warily, trying to decipher his motives. Dudley's never shown interest in anything I've ever done in the Wizarding world. I've always been a target for his bullying, a convenient punching bag... Maybe that's it... Perhaps he thinks the battle was just a simple brawl instead of the life and death struggle it really was! If he's trying to understand me I suppose I should at least try to explain what happened... but I really don't want to.
Knowing Dudley wouldn't leave until he got what he wanted Š and none too keen at the prospect of being his cousin's punching bag Š Harry resignedly gave him an abbreviated accounting of the battle for Hogsmeade. Dudley listened raptly, sometimes demanding more detail than Harry was comfortable offering; this finally caused him to get up and pace the room. The bigger boy sat back, stunned, as Harry finished the story.
"I never knew you people fought with those... things," Dudley said, pointing at the wand sticking out of Harry's pocket. "That's really cool!"
Harry stared at Dudley, unsure how to take this sudden interest his cousin had in his life. "I suppose it is," he said slowly. "But casting spells with a wand is no different than maiming or killing someone with a gun. People get hurt either way."
Dudley appeared taken aback by those words. "Yeah, I guess so..." he replied in a rather unconvincing tone. Harry squirmed inwardly, suspecting that Dudley was enthralled with wands in the same way he'd been thrilled with the air rifle he once used to shoot squirrels. He saw the wands as toys and didn't really grasp the consequences of their misuse.
Harry rubbed his sore shoulder and glanced at the clock on his bedside table. He needed to take one of the pain potions Madam Pomfrey had sent with him. He fumbled in his pocket for his key, walked over to the trunk and unlocked it. He shoved aside some laundry and pulled out a small vial of pain potion, which he struggled to uncork. Dudley suddenly grew impatient with Harry's fumbling.
"Oh for crying out loud, give it here," he said, snatching the vial from Harry's hands and uncorking it before handing it back. "I don't see how all of your people can regard you as such a bloody hero if you're going to let a little thing like shoulder pain you down."
Irritation welled up inside Harry, but he shoved it aside. "Thanks," he said stiffly before downing the potion. A blissful numbness enveloped Harry's shoulder, and suddenly Dudley's barb didn't matter.
Dudley studied his cousin for a moment. "That stuff works quick, huh?" he asked. Harry nodded, a slight smile gracing his lips as he moved back to the bed. "I sure could use some stuff like that after a few rounds in the ring at Smeltings," Dudley said.
Harry eased back onto the bed and lay down. He and Dudley gazed at each other for a moment. "So," Dudley said. "Let's see this scar you've picked up."
Harry blinked dazedly. Was this just a side-effect of the potion? This was the weirdest experience he'd ever had on Privet Drive.
"Why?" he asked.
"I dunno," Dudley replied. "Might be something to see a real wizarding combat scar."
"Why not?" Dudley replied, sounding irked.
"I have to take my sling off and I can't move my arm very well."
"Oi, don't be such a baby. I'll help you," Dudley said, coming to stand in front of Harry.
"I'm just not in the mood Big D," Harry shot back.
For an instant, anger flared in Dudley's eyes. Then he suddenly began to unbutton his shirt. "Want to see my scar?" he asked tossing off his long-sleeve shirt without waiting for a reply. Harry was surprised to see that Dudley had trimmed up a bit and grown more muscular over the past year.
Dudley then rolled up the sleeve of his undershirt to reveal a nasty looking ridge of puckered pink flesh running from his upper right arm to his shoulder. "Got it sparring in the ring one day," he said as though showing off a trophy. "Took a right hook that knocked me into one of the ring posts. The padding had slipped and a bolt head was sticking out. Took seven stitches to get it closed up."
Dudley rolled his eyes. "I thought Mum would faint when she saw it after I got home." Putting his shirt back on, he turned to face Harry. "So c'mon, let's see it... Unless this is just some gimmick you've cooked up to fool Mum and Dad."
There was no way Harry could let that challenge go. Slowly, stiffly he sat up and began removing his shirt, but couldn't move his bad arm properly to get it off. Dudley heaved a loud sigh, walked over and gently helped him. The shirt came off, and Dudley stared at the ropey pink scar that ran across Harry's left shoulder and halfway down his bicep.
"Wicked," Dudley said in an awe-struck voice. Once again, Harry felt irritated at being treated like an object in a museum. He certainly hadn't asked for any of the events that led up getting the scar.
"So," Dudley said as Harry began to get dressed. "This, uh, Whatshername from your school. Does she want you to do rehabilitation exercises like the coaches do at Smeltings?"
Harry felt the pain potion kick in a bit more and couldn't resist cracking a grin. "Yeah, she does."
"So what's she want you to do?" Dudley said.
Harry wandered back over to his trunk, buttoning his shirt as he went. "I've got an instruction sheet to remind me what I'm supposed to do every morning." He rummaged in his trunk for the bag containing the post and handed the instruction sheet to Dudley. As Dudley scanned it Harry removed the set of rubber bands and the post and looked around for a suitable place to adhere it to the floor. As the post automatically enlarged, Harry selected the right spot and anchored it in place.
"These look right," Dudley said, handing the paper back. "She knows what she's doing for you."
"How do you know?" Harry asked curiously.
"My dorm mate dislocated his shoulder skiing over the Christmas hols and had to do nearly the same exercises as these until the end of term. I sort of became his unofficial trainer," Dudley explained.
After a moment of silence Dudley coughed and then shot a tough look at Harry.
"If you want, I can get you whipped back into shape," he said.
Harry tucked in his shirt as best he could and stared at his cousin. He really wants to help, he marvelled. I'll believe it when I see it. To Dudley he remarked, "I dunno. Won't your parents think it strange if you help me?"
Dudley smirked conspiratorially. "I won't tell if you won't," he said. Harry hesitated, and Dudley smirked again. "Better think it over, Potter. You look like you can use all the help you can get, especially if you're going to do any more... what is it, duelling?"
Sensing that Harry was still nervous about Vernon and Petunia's reactions, Dudley's face softened just a bit. "Look, as long as we wait until Dad leaves, Mum won't bother us until she's ready for breakfast. Also, if you're not too sore you should do the exercises before bed, too. You'll build up your strength faster."
Harry fitted the sling over his elbow and managed to pass the strap over his good shoulder, but had trouble threading the end through the loops of the buckle one-handed. He looked up as Dudley took the end from him saying, "Let me do this; Robert always needed help with this part."
"Thanks, Dudley," Harry said tiredly when his cousin finished. He lay down on his bed as Uncle Vernon's voice rattled the windows from downstairs.
"Boy! Get down here and help with dinner!"
I don't want to, Harry thought, although knew that making the effort to go downstairs would keep peace in the family. He pushed himself upright as Hedwig flew into the room. She squawked loudly when she saw Dudley and quickly landed on top of her cage. Dudley backed up towards the door, more to give her flying room than anything else.
"It's all right, Hedwig," Harry murmured softly to his owl. "Dudley and I have been talking, is all. No harm done. Could you take a note to Ginny, please?"
Hedwig bobbed her head and waited for Harry to write his note as the summons from downstairs was repeated, this time in angrier tones.
Dudley glanced over his shoulder into the hallway. "I'll be back," he said and disappeared down the stairs. A moment later, Harry heard loud voices from downstairs.
"Dad, I don't think he's going to be up to this tonight," Dudley was saying.
"What on earth are you talking about? That freak can at least come downstairs and set the table."
Dudley said something Harry couldn't hear, and then added in a louder voice, "He's hurt his shoulder badly, just like Robert did over Christmas. You push him too hard and it'll undo what the surgeons fixed and he'll never use his arm again. You want him to get well and leave, you'd better let him rest. I'm serious, Dad."
"I don't know what Potter's done to you to make you defend him like this, but I'll have none of it! You go up there and drag his sorry hide down here before I do it for him!"
"Knock it off, Dad!"
Aunt Petunia sounded angry as she said, "Dudley, do as you're told and go get your cousin. Your father and I will decide what happens around here."
Harry finished his message and attached it to Hedwig's leg as Dudley came stomping loudly up the stairs. As she took off, he met Dudley at the door.
Dudley merely shrugged his shoulders and grunted. "I tried," he said before ambling down the hall to his room.
"Thanks," Harry said to his retreating back. "I'd better go down before Uncle Vernon comes up."
Harry slowly descended the steps. I can't wait to get out of here! he thought, entering the kitchen. He glanced at his uncle and nearly said something defiant he would surely regret later.
"Set the table. You look fit enough to do that," Aunt Petunia snapped from where she stood at the counter tossing a salad. "You're part of this family."
Yeah, right. Harry thought, glancing at his sling. Silently, he gathered the plates and cutlery Aunt Petunia had lain out on the counter and began setting the table.
End of Chapter 1
A/N: I hope you have enjoyed this first chapter. I realize that Dudley seems a bit out of character here, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the two years he has had to ponder what the Dementors made him see and decide for himself whether his parents' approach to Harry is the best way to deal with him. Therefore, I had him start by reaching out and finding some sort of common ground. Harry's injuries from the battle in New Year, New Hope are the easiest for Dudley to understand and make a good place to start. His prejudices against Harry run unfortunately deep and he remains the same shallow hulk of a boy his parents have fostered.
This story would not have been made possible without the ideas, suggestions and prodding of several people. First, I want to thank my pre-beta GhostWriter who originally prodded me into writing this sequel and who has been invaluable in helping me with Dudley's characterization. The nastier characters of the HP universe have always given me trouble and I appreciate GhostWriter's helpful suggestions for keeping Dudley in character. Second, I thank Aggiebell for her quick beta on this chapter so that the story could be posted prior to Deathly Hallows coming out. Finally, I hope that you will find the time to leave me a review or two to let me know what you think of this chapter.