Rum thing, being thirty, Dudley thought – very quietly and very much to himself. Then again, it was a rum old world, wasn’t it. He was healthier – in all senses – than he’d ever been, mind, although he was beginning to suspect he’d want specs soon enough: he couldn’t always any longer distinguish, at a distance, the dread form of Aunt Marge from the kindlier tweediness of his wife’s cousin Millicent Bulstrode (unless of course he first saw Susan Bones, Millie’s partner, flitting about like a Small Tortoiseshell in a bush of Buddleia). Yet it wasn’t the shocking number of candles on the cake that his lady wife Elspeth wouldn’t allow (Elspeth was a born matron, which was in large measure why Dudley was a healthier man, in all senses, than he’d ever been) that caused his unwonted introspection. True enough, his Mum hadn’t aged too noticeably, merely remaining scraggy, and Elspeth hadn’t aged at all, and they – he as well, he supposed – were Squibs; but Vernon was beginning to crack up rather badly by now. Harriet – his and Elspeth’s blessèd if sometimes mischievous daughter – was as magical as her godfather and namesake, of course, as the Hogwarts register had shown by putting her down for the place the day she’d been born: he’d like to live long enough to see her grow up and into her own adulthood. Death was natural, yes, but cruel all the same, though there was less of it about thanks to Harriet’s godfather. What really alarmed Dudley, when it came to it, however, was the feeling that even if he lived longer than the common or garden Muggle, if not so long as a Wizard – and, speaking of ageless Squibs, wasn’t that old Mrs Figg arriving by Lady Cab from Milford station? Oh, dear, it was, bless the woman, but he really didn’t welcome a Kneazle for his birthday, and why couldn’t there have been leaves on the line when one wanted them – the fact was, he’d wasted a good two decades of his life, or very nearly, in being a complete berk, and he’d quite like them back. Oh, well, bugger it, and heigh-ho, he’d best go on making up for it now, however long an innings he had before him.
‘My dear Mrs Figg! How kind of you to come, do let me take the cat carrier! Elspeth, dear, Arabella has very kindly come to see us....’ Rum thing, redemption, and bloody hard graft, thought Dudley, wryly cheerful, and realising that, all the same, he’d not give it over for anything. ’S like what Cousin Harry always says: it mayn’t be easy, but it’s right. Across the room, in a gap in the birthday crush, Harry caught his eye, and grinned.