The phone rings. It was an absurd wedding gift from his father in-law, and one which much to Harry’s surprise, had actually worked when he’d plugged it into the landline. Arthur had taken to phoning him on it, just for the pure novelty of the thing—though how they’d managed to get a BT engineer out to the Burrow without causing an incident, Harry doesn’t know. He’s not sure he wants to.
“Uhm,, is this…is this the Potter residence?”
There’s a beat of silence as Harry adjusts the receiver against his ear, not quite sure he’s heard who he thinks he has. “…Dudley?”
“Dudley.” Harry repeats numbly, turning to look at Ginny who is looking at him expectantly, eyebrows raised. “Uh…Christ, Dudley, hi how did…how did you find this number?”
There’s another beat of silence and the crackle of static that might have been a sigh or simply just the line breaking up. “Hi, sorry I know you probably…sorry this was stupid. I uh, I put your name in the computer and this was the only thing that came up.”
“Oh.” Harry breathes, still trying to recover his equilibrium. Ten minutes ago he’d been using his wand to clear away dinner, he’d been getting ready to sit down and read through some reports before putting the kids to bed, and now somehow, he’s talking to his muggle cousin who he hasn’t seen since… “How, how are you?”
“Good, yea” Dudley replies, seeming to rally, “You?”
“Yea, uh, doing well…”
The conversation lasts maybe a half hour, faltering and awkward. But they’re going for a coffee at the end of the week and Harry supposes…that’s…that’s a thing that is happening.
Harry turns and looks up, and looks up some more at the looming figure blocking out the light.
“Dudley,” he says, standing up and hoping the pang of something awful doesn’t show on his face. For a moment he thought he’d been looking at Vernon. “It’s good to see you.”
Dudley gives him a look that says he clearly knows Harry is lying, but is thankful for being humored. “You too, you’re looking good…”
They pass the first few minutes with awkward pleasantries and even more awkward silences. But it’s…nice would be too strong a word, but it’s not bad either. He even manages to get a smile out of him when he calls him Big D, the other man shaking his head with a self depreciating eye roll.
“Dad died,” Dudley says after a while, and Harry feels an icy hot flash go down his spine, curdling in his gut.
“Oh,” he says, not quite sure how he’s supposed to feel about that, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Dudley snorts into his coffee. “Somehow I doubt it.” and it’s not accusing, but Harry still can’t help but feel like he should defend himself. The words they locked me in a cupboard are on the cusp of his tongue but Dudley gets there before him. “There’s a lot of things…looking back…lot of things…” and it’s not an apology, not really. “Took me a long time to realize certain things weren’t right…too long.”
Harry nods at that, because yes, it had also taken him a long time too to understand the full of extent of what had gone on in 4 Privet Drive. He still doesn’t like tight spaces.
“You realize things though, when you have kids,” Dudley carries on, shaking his head, “Like they’re just kids, how can you do that to a kid? They need you for everything.”
And Harry can relate to that too. Lily is three and Ginny is pregnant again and James already has an alarming alacrity for finding trouble and with or without magic Harry doesn’t have enough hands to deal with it all. But he loves it, and he loves them, and the thought of anyone ever treating his children the way he remembers his first eleven years of life is enough to make the electric lights over their head flicker.
“You’ve got kids?”
“Two,” Harry says, “third one on the way. You?”
“Nice. Just the one, so far.” He hands over his phone, the image of a bright young girl with dark skin and tight ringlet curls staring back at him from the grasp of Dudley’s arms. “Effie.” He smiles ruefully at Harry’s obvious surprise. “Dad wasn’t too happy about that either.”
“She’s gorgeous.” Harry says, handing the phone back and pulling out his own wallet to reveal the moving pictures inside.
Dudley flinches a bit at that, but he guffaws broadly when he spies James. “Cor, he don’t half look like you. No glasses though.”
“No,” Harry says, pushing his own glasses back up his nose. “He’s got his mother’s eyes, thankfully.”
“Actually, Harry, there was something I was hoping we could…talk about.”
And ah, there it is. “What about?”
“It’s…it’s about Effie…”
And when he’s done talking Harry just wants to lean back and laugh and laugh and laugh, because of course Vernon Dursley’s granddaughter is a witch, of course she is. But he doesn’t, because Dudley is doing the one thing he can think of to try and help his child, and Harry can’t fault him for that.
They keep in touch after that. Christmas cards, postcards—gifts for the kids on birthdays. The year Effie turns eleven—the same as James—Harry drops a casually long thought out text into the familial void.
“Diagon A this weekend, if you’re up for it?”
The text comes back quickly, a little too quickly for the way Dudders pecks at his phone whenever Harry has seen him typing. “Snds gd, 1st pint on u ;-) - Big D" and a string of beer emojis and winking faces.
It’ll be painfully awkward, it always is. But it’s something.
Chapter 2: Departure
The continuation of Dial Tone, Dudley takes Effie to her first day of school.
Thank you to everyone who has liked and commented on Dial Tone, and blew my feed up asking for more Cursed Child AU stuff. I may make these into small drabble things whenever the mood takes me. It's fun to dabble in flash fiction again :)
"And you've got your wand," Dudley asks again, for the umpteenth time since they left the house this morning. He wishes Kelly was here, but the relief work in Nepal is ongoing and he knows it's selfish to think he needs her here more. They'd at least managed a grainy Skype call on Dudley's beat up old laptop the night before, but he knew it wasn't the same. "And your hat?"
"Yes, Dad." Effie says, already nose deep in one of her new books. She's got new glasses on too, sleek silver rimmed ones you'd never find on the NHS, but then Granny Petunia had insisted on paying the cost. "Did you know the ceiling in the Great Hall is spelled to look like the outside sky?"
"No, I didn't" Dudley replies, grip tightening on the steering wheel until his knuckles turn white. He feels like he doesn't know anything anymore. Maths homework he could deal with, even spelling had been manageable thanks to his own mother's zeal for correctness when it came to the written word. But all of this was beyond him, it would always be beyond him. He doesn't like it, but he has to deal with it, so he loosens his grip, flexing his fingers as they make the turn around the roundabout that will lead them toward London. "Tell me something more."
They've covered over half of A Revised History of Hogwarts by H. Jean Granger by the time they reach the gridlock that is inner London, but they've still got plenty of time before they're supposed to be at the train station so Dudley isn't too worried. He's a nervous wreck inside but he isn't worried. It's a strange sensation, but he's relieved to know he's not alone in it. Harry had texted him somewhere between Luton and St Albans, and he'd taken a peak at it while stopped at a set of red lights, a string of expletives about cats and carriers and a picture of an arm that looked like it had been used as a scratching post. It was oddly reassuring to know that even magic users had to resort to the oven glove-towel method sometimes.
"Daaaddy?" Effie wheedles from the back.
"Whaaaaatie?" he drawls back lightly, hoping she's not about to tell him she needs to use the bathroom again.
"What house do you think I'll be sorted into?"
Dudley frowns, partly from the question but also from concentration as he waits for a chance to maneuver between lanes. He's just realized they're supposed to be farther on the left. He should have been paying better attention, stupid. "I don't know baby," he replies lightly, the sound of the indicator ticking out the silence between them as he thinks. "What house do you want to be sorted into?"
"I want to be with James," she says simply.
"Well," Dudley says slowly, waving gratefully to the driver who lets him cut in front and finally clicking the indicator off, "you might end up with him, or you might not. That doesn't mean you won't still be friends."
"But what if I don't...what if nobody likes me..."
"Baby," he starts again, softening his voice even more, trying to remember the breathing techniques numerous counselors had tried to instill over the years that had all seemed pointless until Effie, "you're going to be fine. You're going to learn so many new things, and...and your Uncle Harry was telling me all the new things they have. They've got Wi-fi and everything, you can Skype me or your mum whenever you want..." he half turns in a panic, peering at her over his shoulder, "you've got your phone, right?"
Effie rolls her eyes at the question, pulling the slip of silver from inside her jacket pocket. It looks like a normal smart phone, a cheap one, but modern enough to pass in the (he wants to say Real World, but knows that's not right) Muggle world. It had been a gift from Harry, more for Dudley than for Effie, a means to keep in touch that felt normal...and less conspicuous than an owl showing up at his work like that one time Effie had fallen out of a tree at the Burrow and the older Mrs. Weasley had wanted to notify him she was all right...that had been...interesting to explain to his boss. Now everyone at work thinks he's into falconry or is raising birds of prey or something. He doesn't care enough to dissuade them of the notion.
"Well," he carries on, "even if you are sad or lonely, you can always call me okay or your mum? You go to the room Uncle Harry told you about, and you ask the..." he flounders for the word and Effie pipes up for him.
"You ask the gargoyle for the password and you Skype me. Or your Skype mummy. And if it's all too much we'll come get you."
Do wizards do homeschooling, is that a thing? Could they hire someone...
"You can't come get me," Effie says, and there too is a note of sadness and trepidation he hadn't been expecting. She'd been so happy and excited that day they went to Diagon Alley to pick up her things and spend time with Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny. She'd been bouncing off the walls the night before too, announcing proudly that she was going to be the best witch ever while Duddley had all but duct taped her to the bed to make her go to sleep. Now it seems the reality of the situation is setting in, and the threat of tears is imminent. "It's for magic users only, Muggles aren't allowed."
Dudley grunts at that, turning back to face the road as the light turns green and they make the turning toward King's Cross Station. "Just watch them bloody stop me."
"Aunt Ginny!" Effie yells, launching herself from the car as soon as her door is open. Dudley smiles as the redheaded woman bends down to pick her up, swinging his daughter around with ease.
"All right?" Harry says, appearing beside him. He looks the same as he always does, dark hair sticking out at all ends, plaid flannel shirt hanging out of his jeans—scruffy, is the word that comes to mind, but in that fashionable just rolled out of bed sort of way people spend money on to achieve. Duddley is pretty certain Harry does no such thing, and in fact just rolls out of bed. The fact that he is apparently world renowned and the head of the magical police or whatever, doesn't seem to register with him, or if it does, he doesn't deem it important enough to get a haircut.
"Yea, all right." Dudley agrees, moving towards the back of the car to get Effie's things. "You?"
"Yea, fine, fine." Harry says, following him around. He's brought a trolley with him, which is good because Dudley isn't sure he'll be able to lift this thing more than once. "Few tears this morning, but we're all set now."
"Ginny or James?"
Dudley grins at Harry's wry laugh. "Where are your lot then?"
"Pestering Ron and Hermione."
"Oh?" Dudley frowns, "I didn't think their lot were old enough."
"They're not. They came anyway, for moral support."
"Oh, that's nice."
"Yea." Harry agrees, nodding absently. "It's nice to have family there you can rely on."
The pause hangs between them, and it takes over a decade's worth of therapy for Dudley not to read accusation into the tone or statement of those words. Harry seems to have realized what he's said too, and opens his mouth to say something else but is cut short by Dudley moving to take the cart from him, clapping a giant hand over his scruffy shoulder as they push off to join up with the others. "No, you're right. It is nice."
Chapter 3: Therapy
Because this has been requested several times now and I finally got around to it. Dudley and his therapy sessions.
Across the room the water dispenser glugged loudly to itself, the rising air bubbles mirroring the feeling bubbling over in the pit of Dudley’s stomach. Therapy waiting rooms, he has decided, are designed by sadists. Or perhaps it’s just all the ones he’s ever gone to see. But there was something infinitely maddening about those bland beige walls with the colorful posters pinned to flaking corkboard, and the rickety tick of the clock above the reception desk counting out the seconds.
It doesn’t help that he’s just out of work and his shirt collar is too tight, even with his tie rammed in his pocket. He never feels comfortable in his suit. It makes him look like his dad.
Which he supposes is partly why he’s here. Partly.
With a sigh he pulls out his phone again, swiping up and looking at the string of messages on his phone between himself, Kelly and Effie. She’s smiling, in the selfie she’d sent, surrounded by what appears to be a good mix of friends her age. He’s glad of that. He’s so glad she has friends. It makes some of the tension in his chest more manageable to bear.
“Mr. Dursley?” Dudley locked his phone reflexively, looking up to find Dr. Pax smiling at him from her doorway, “are you ready?”
Standing up with a grunt, Dudley slips his phone away and follows her. At least her actual room is better than the waiting room. There’s no clock for one thing, and the walls are a deep-sea-blue that makes him think of the dress Kelly had worn on their first date. It had been partly why he’d decided to stick with Pax as a therapist, even after they’d moved to the other side of town and had to drive forty minutes out his way to get here. He wasn’t sure that was a good reason to keep a therapist, but at the rate Dudley had gone through therapists in his late twenties, any reason to come back was a good one.
“Take a seat,” Dr. Pax tells him, still smiling in that benignly pleasant way she has that makes Dudley think of his favorite teacher at school. The one who have moved him to the front of the class when she’d realized he couldn’t read the board. “And how are we doing today?”
The sofa creaks under his weight, and Dudley tries not to think of it as criticism from the world at large.
“Well,” he says, clasping his meaty hands together and offering her a congenial smile, the kind that Kelly referred to as his “salesman smile”, “still here.”
“Hmm, that good, eh?” Pax says, sitting down opposite Dudley and arranging her brightly colored skirts before settling her notepad over her knees. Today is a yellow day it seems, striped with vibrant oranges and dark geometric shapes that look like the parts of a puzzle box. When she smiles at him it’s all teeth, a flash of white against dark skin. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind.”
Dudley lets out an explosive sigh, working his hands reflexively together as he gets his thoughts in order. He never likes coming here, it makes him angry, to think of all these thing and pin them down. It reminds him of Aunt Marge’s bug collection that she’d kept on her living room walls. He’d found the spread of their colorful wings entirely beautiful. Until he’d seen the gleam of the silver pins holding them in place. It had struck him as insidious, even as a child. He’d thumped Billy Hopkins in the playground the following week for pulling the wings off a moth in the playground, bloodied his nose. He’d been seven.
One day, maybe, he’ll be able to tell Dr. Pax that.
“Work is fine. We made our quota on time for the month. Grunnings is still going, just as strong as ever. Dad would be proud.”
He tries to say it like he means it, but he knows nothing would have made his father proud. Even if he’d done everything his father had ever wanted, in the end there still would have been something to pick at.
Vernon Dudley was the type of person who was only ever happy when others were miserable at his expense. It had taken Dudley a long time to realize it. It’d be even longer before he could come to terms with it.
“And Effie’s doing well at school.”
“Oh, good,” Dr. Pax smiles, eye crinkling kindly.
Effie had been the subject of many of Dudley’s talks, his joy and elation, and also his profound terror that he would never be good enough. He wasn’t sure all the therapy in the world could reassure him of that.
“Yea,” he nods, emboldened by talking about his daughter’s successes, even if he has to fudge the truth a little. In his dark, selfish moments he wishes he could bring her home, enroll her in the local comp. and be done with it. And even if that were possible, he knows deep in his heart he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t tear her out of that world any more than he could have denied her being a part of it. To do so would be to deny who she was, and Dudley couldn’t imagine a world like that.
“Top her classes,” he carried on, feeling himself grinning like an idiot. He was so proud of her it hurt. “And seems to have lots of friends. More than I ever had at least.”
“That’s good,” Dr. Pax said, “I know you were worried about that. How does that make you feel?”
“For you or her?” Dr. Pax says, and Dudley gives her a wry look at her not so gentle reminder that they’re supposed to be talking about him and not his daughter off in a Scottish boarding school out of family tradition.
“Both,” he admits, looking down at the clasp of his hands. “I’m glad she’s not like me.”
He presses his thumbs together until the skin turns white.
“I’m glad she’s not a bully. It means I’ve done something right, doesn’t it? That she’s not like me?”
“Are you still like that?” Pax challenges him, and Dudley feels the world inside his head tilt at the anger it causes.
Of course he’s not, he wants to spit, of course he’s not, he never was like that to begin with, it wasn’t him, not really, it was his parents it was Aunt Marge and her fat wheezing dogs, it was Billy Hopkins pulling the wings off of butterflies at break time. It was his mother feeding him over and over again so she didn’t have to feed herself. It was his father looming over him, glowering, beady eyes gleaming, threatening.
What are you crying for? What are you, weak?
“I’m…” Dudley says, forcing himself to unclench his hands and take a breath, letting it go and feeling the rage deflate with it, “trying.”
“Good,” Dr. Pax says, soft and soothing as she offers him a box of tissues and it’s only then Dudley realizes he’s crying. “That’s really good.”
It’s just gone seven when Dudley opens the door to the pub and spies Harry by their usual table, slouched like a bloody teenager with his back to the wall of the booth, eyes trained on his phone as he traces over the screen with a look of bored immersion.
He doesn’t look like your standard punter in the Kings Arms. For one thing no one in the Kings Arms would be caught wearing black skinny jeans under a baggy hoody that was closer to a robe than a sweatshirt, but it looks young and hipsterish and Harry pulls that look off well—which makes Dudley wonder if the whole hipster movement wasn’t started by magical folk trying to blend in with the muggles and only somewhat managing it. It wouldn’t surprise him.
“Harry,” he greets, sliding into the empty seat across the table, pleased to find a cool drink waiting for him. Even if it’s just a rock shandy. “How you doin?”
“All right, Big Dee,” Harry smiles, pulling out of his slouch like a puppet pulled up by a string. Even at thirty he’s all long gangly limbs. A small part of Dudley still burns with envy, but he’s learning to let it go. “I was just about to call out the search party.”
“Ach, I’m only a wee bit late,” Dudley says, looking at the clock over the bar wall, even though he knows it runs fast so Bertie behind the bar could close up early.
“Everything all right?” Harry asks, taking a sip from his own drink—also rock shandy, in solidarity with Dudley giving up the booze. Which Dudley appreciates more than he’s likely said. He’d been worried that they’d lose this, when he’d decided to try and be healthier. It’s a relief to know that even awkward as these meetings can be, they meant more than just an opportunity for a pint.
“Yea, fine,” Dudley waves him away, “my session ran long is all. We got to talking about Dad.”
Opposite him, Harry pulls a face in sympathy. He’s never asked, if his cousin goes to therapy, and wonders if wizards even have an equivalent. They probably do, he thinks. What kind of advanced magical society wouldn’t have something like that?
“Sounds rough,” Harry commiserates, and its then Dudley notices the fresh scarring along the length of his left hand.
“Here, what happened to you?”
“What? Oh,” Harry looks at his hand like he’d forgotten all about it. “Nothing, just had a bit of an incident down Covent Garden. With a dog.”
“Bloody great big dog,” Dudley mutters into his pint glass, and Harry gives him a wry look in return.
“Yea, almost as big as a horse. With wings, and a lion’s tail.”
“Got an owl from Effie this morning,” his cousin says, stretching his arms up over his head and causing his back to pop with an alarming sound, “she says your phone needs recharged.”
“Oh, right, yea,” Dudley puts his drink down, and fishes his phone out of his pocket, handing it over.
It’s always slightly nerve-wracking to watch Harry do magic in public, even as subtle as he is with his wand hidden up his sleeve. It makes Dudley feel like they’re doing a shady deal as he takes his phone back and slips it back into his pocket. It feels vaguely alive against his leg, and he tries not to think about it too hard. It’s better for his anxiety that way.
“Speaking of work,” he says slowly, absently dragging his finger through a puddle of condensation and making abstract shapes with it, “I’ve been thinking.”
“Maybe for you,” Dudley shoots back darkly, but not unamused at the friendly jab. It almost feels like they’re good friends, like this. “I’ve been thinking of quitting Grunnings.”
“Oh?” Harry asks, sitting up with renewed interest, not just politely interested but fully focused on Dudley in the moment. He knows how serious this is, and Dudley nods, taking a sip from his rock shandy and letting the zing fizzle on his tongue before setting it aside, ready to talk.
“It’s time for a change…”