So many years had passed since he had last walked on these steps. The house looked basically the same although it was now blue and there were a lot more flowers in the garden beds. He stood motionless on the front step for several moments before sighing deeply, swallowing hard and raising his hand to the knocker.
He rapped twice, startling himself with the loud, echoing sound.
“Coming.” He heard a pleasant woman’s voice from deep inside the house and heard the sounds of someone approaching. The pleasant voice confused him briefly; it wasn’t what he had anticipated. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head to banish the fear that was rising in him. Dueling voices rang in his head. His first voice said, ‘Stupid, you’re not eleven anymore. Get a grip.’ His second voice said, ‘Why are you even here?’ That voice was answered by a third voice which sounded a lot like Hermione’s. ‘You said you would handle this for me.’ He shook his head again to clear the crazy people out of it and then the door opened.
“Hello, may I help you?”
Harry hadn’t been prepared for this attractive brunette woman. He had expected his aunt.
“Ah yes, I’m sorry, I…” he actually took a step back to peer at the number on the house, as if he could possibly have walked up the wrong path. A large brass 4 stared back at him. His mocking internal voice rang through his head again, ‘Stupid, of course this is the place, how could you ever forget.’
“Umm, my name is Harry Potter; I was looking for my aunt and uncle, the Dursleys.”
A sudden look of horror and sympathy came over the woman’s face. “Oh my, no, I’m sorry, hang on…Dudley! Dudley, please come.”
Harry heard noises from inside the house and then suddenly found himself face to face with his cousin Dudley. It was not really what Harry had expected. Dudley looked mostly the same but still different. He was still a large man but he had not returned to the fat of his childhood. He still looked as big and powerful as he had as a teen bully. It had been ten years since he and Dudley had shaken hands and Harry had left number four, Privet Drive forever. Dudley looked older, which Harry had expected, and friendlier, which Harry had not expected.
“Harry! I wondered if we would see you. Come in and meet my wife.”
Dudley extended his hand and Harry gripped it in his own, mostly on auto-pilot due to his shock at this greeting. Dudley pulled Harry over the stoop and into the house, clasping Harry’s shoulder in a large hand.
“You look the same. Is that a wizard thing? That’s actually good to know.”
The brunette had backed further into the house and now put her hand onto Dudley’s arm. In a hushed voice, she said, “Dudley, he doesn’t know about your parents.”
Harry looked back and forth at the two of them, blinking. Suddenly, her words gelled with her response at the door and his stomach clenched.
“Dudley, what’s happened to Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia?”
Dudley dropped his eyes and his lips pursed together before he looked Harry squarely in the face and said, “They were traveling in the fjords a couple of years ago. Their car went into the water. They were both killed.”
Harry did not know what to say. He had no real sorrow in him at this news; these people had abused and neglected him for too many years, even as they provided unwilling, unknowing protection. He had, however, developed a slightly different take on his aunt and uncle since receiving Snape’s final message so long ago and although it had never prompted him to make overtures to them, in the intervening years, it had given him a perspective that he had never expected he would have. He also felt a strange sense of loss at the link to his mother but, given his mission here, perhaps that link was not really broken after all.
“It’s OK, old man; I certainly wouldn’t expect you to be sad, given what you put up with here. That’s why I didn’t try to find you when it happened.”
Harry looked quizzically at Dudley then found himself mimicking Dudley’s actions and clasped his cousin’s shoulder in his own hand.
“I am sorry for your loss though, Big D. Believe me, I would never minimize the loss of someone’s parents, no matter who they were.”
To Harry’s shock, this response caused Dudley to pull Harry against his chest and hug him. Dudley delivered three bone-jarring thumps to Harry’s back and then gave him a little shake. “Good man! I do appreciate that.” Dudley released him and turned back towards the woman who watched them silently. “Harry, let me introduce my wife, Esther.”
Harry had known there must be a wife; it reconciled with the reason that he was back here after all this time. However, even though logically there wouldn’t be too many other people that this woman could have been, it was still slightly off-putting to realize that this friendly, pretty woman married his bully cousin. His feeling of being off-kilter continued to grow. He turned and extended his hand again.
“Esther, very nice to meet you.”
“Harry, it is very nice to finally meet you.”
Harry was startled again and the feeling was starting to frustrate him. He had not expected her to even know that he existed. Why would Dudley have mentioned him? There wasn’t anything to relay that was even remotely positive. Then a thought occurred to him. He had not expected them to know he was coming and yet Dudley had said that he wondered if he would see him. He had also not expected Dudley to ever mention him to his wife and yet for some reason he had. The only explanation was that they were already aware of the issue that had brought him, at Hermione’s request, back to number four, Privet Drive. It seemed that his thought process was transparently making its way across his face because Dudley cleared his throat and said, “I presume you’re here about Ivy.”