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IRL And All Realities

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The doorbell rung on a Sunday afternoon, jolting Dudley from his IT textbook that he reluctantly marked his place by bending a dog ear on the top of his page. He was the only one in the house, his parents having left early that morning and he didn’t expect them back until later that evening. It was a relatively sleepy day which he’d been using to study, telly on low as he let his mind absorb the information in front him.

He hadn’t moved in hours, Dudley was too concentrated first on a documentary then his phone before finally settling into his book, slowly meddling into the settee as time ticked by. Now, he had to move. Closing his book, he left it balancing on the arm of the settee before absently stretching out the kinks that had knotted in his inactivity, before rising from his moulded cushion.

He yawned loudly as he reluctantly rose from his crosslegged position against the extra pillows, and started down the hallway as soon as he found his feet. Dudley’s eyes were misty from a late night spent trying to find the fault in his PC as he ignored Piers’ excessive text messages, while on Discord with another friend, Scott, who he’d met at secondary school. Git was a good laugh but he’d only gotten a few hours sleep before he had to wake up for breakfast.

Dudley paid little attention in where he was heading as he stumbled past the cupboard under the stairs which was piled high with cleaning products and the like. There was no second bedroom either, just a guest room that Aunt Marge had stayed in a few times since the move. No Harry. No cheeky attitude or sarcastic comments thinly guised as compliance. No screaming in the middle of the night from terrors he couldn’t fight. No magic. It left the whole house feeling…empty sometimes, when Dudley stopped to notice. It lingered in the back of his mind, like the shadows cast from candle light.

‘I’m coming,’ Dudley grunts when the doorbell rings again. ‘I’m coming.’

Nearing the door, he hesitates, his toughened fingers skimming over the security chain. Shaking his head, he silently tells himself not to be ridiculous. It was almost tradition at this point but wizards wouldn’t bother with the bell; if they even knew what it was to begin with. They’d just blast it open and Dudley would already be dead.

Dudley twisted the key to unlock the bolt, probably with more force than necessary as the glass panels rattled. His temper had cooled since he’d started truly focusing boxing and began listening to his new coach, but the embers were still there for small outbursts he couldn’t quite smoother. Thoughts of that world were enough to start the itch as irritation bubbled in his stomach, with the thoughts of his cousin being pulled from his bed in the middle of the night.

Shaking his free hand through his hair, he pulled the door towards him as he leant against the wall casually. Dudley peered out of the angle he’d created, cautious still. ‘Yeah? What -’ he stopped and nearly swallowed his tongue when his eyes finally took note of the two figures outside his door. He’d expected someone trying to flog sun-panels or a Jehovah’s Witnesses, so a salesperson.

He took in the two men standing in front of him, and barely noticed how they flinched when he flung the door further open - didn’t care when it slammed against the inside wall. Dudley straightened, standing to his full height. The one furtherest away was tall and black, wearing robes but Dudley dismissed him - the bone he wanted to pick notwithstanding, as the one in front - the one in front…

‘…Harry?’ Dudley asks, barely believing it as he stared wide-eyed at his cousin whose head was bowed, hair hanging low over his face as he presented the stance of someone who’d gone three rounds with the Hulk, and only had bruised pride to show for it.

Mum and Dad didn’t talk about Harry past hisses of way and death, vague insults of being made to move for their safety. They’d never forgiven being uprooted; Dad had had to get another job which didn’t pay half as well, and Mum had lost her place in the community. No one around them knew Harry anymore and Dudley didn’t talk to anyone who did.

‘Yeah…’ Harry responds, his expression wavering like his facial muscles were no longer used to accommodating anything beyond “bleak”. He appeared almost vulnerable, like the core that’d made him so strong had been ripped from him. ’Long time, huh, Big D?’

Dudley’s stomach sits inside him like led and his chest tightens. His cousin was sixteen-years-old now but he looked like men did when they were eighty and had seen it all, and only lived to tell about it by the skin of their teeth and found there was nothing left to say. Harry was more drawn and tired than Dudley has ever experienced from him, struggling just to keep his head lifted.

Dudley had seen Harry through almost four years of that school and everything that that had entailed. Harry’s moods had gone from one extreme to another depending on the term, but even at his worst, he’d always been…ready for it. Like even if things were down right terrible, painful and it couldn’t possibly get worse that he’d get through it because that was life, and living in the fight.

Now…now there was no fight. Dudley struggled to find much life either in Harry’s numb features or his worn form. ‘What…’ Dudley stuttered as he started to burn. ‘What the fuck happened?!’ he demanded as his narrowed eyes flickered up to the man who was too old to be depending on kids. It was an accusation, and the man’s pained grimace said he’d heard it loud and clear.

‘Big D,’ Harry says placatingly. ‘Sorry to have tracked you down like this -’

‘Harry,’ Dudley interrupts as he holds onto his sense of calm by a thread. ‘Don’t be an idiot.’

‘We - I am sorry for disturbing you, Mister Dursley.’ The man steps in which only serves to anger Dudley than appease him.

‘Oh fuck off you asshat,’ Dudley spits as he squeezes his eyes shut before they open again and blaze. He half hopes to incinerate the man but he stays stubbornly solid and unburnt. ‘That isn’t what this is about. You spirited my idiot cousin away and we don’t hear shit from you until we’re told we got to move,’ he hisses with emotion that he’d kept pent up. ‘And now you’re here and you bring him back looking like that?’

He jerks a thumb in Harry’s direction and the man’s lips turn further downward. Harry’s eyes - dim with something in them looking broken - shut, in a terribly pained self-acknowledgement that yeah. I’m a horrible, horrible mess right now.

‘The Ministry fell months after Harry joined the Order and by that point it as deemed too dangerous to be going into Muggle Britain,’ the man says lowly but seriously. He’s not afraid to meet Dudley head on which was - something, he supposed. ‘Thanks to Harry’s efforts -’

‘Yeah, what else is new?’ Dudley mutters sneeringly. He knew shit about what’s happened but that sounded about right.

‘The…conflict has been resolved. However, due to recent events Harry has become a person of interest to unsavoury characters, and he needs a place to stay while they are apprehended.’

The man’s eyes flicker to Harry whose hands are picking at his threadbare sleeves. ‘We understand that this may not -’

‘Stop,’ Dudley demands through his teeth. If he didn’t want to keep his hands free he’d cross his arms if only to do something with this tension. ‘I get what you must think of us but the last time I saw Harry he’d just finished saving my life. He’s my fucking cousin, so if you need to leave him with someone, then give him to me.’

Dudley hears Harry sharp intake of breath and it only serves to increase the guilt he’d been carrying over how he’d behaved; how he’d treated Harry. He doesn’t deserve to claim Harry as blood, he knows that but he’s desperately wanted to make amends and if Harry needed somewhere to lay low, then that’s what Dudley would give him.

‘I…appreciate your co-operation but is your mother or father in?’ The man’s face is rigid as he looks over Dudley’s shoulder like his parents would just pop out of thin air. Maybe that was a thing of wizards but it wasn’t here. ‘I don’t have a lot of time and I need to speak with them about Harry’s arrangements -’

‘Maybe you should have thought about that before you took him!’ Dudley snaps defensively. He grabs hold of the plastic doorframe, vaguely hearing how it groaned under him his grip. ‘They’re not in. I’ll talk to them when they get back.’

The man’s dark eyes look at him rather pointedly. ‘I don’t think that would be wise,’ he denies. ‘Not to be rude but I’ve heard about Harry’s treatment here -‘

‘Kingsley,’ Harry hisses, a deep discomfort settling on him like an added weight to his back. And, yeah. They had that coming. That ginger lot knew what had been going well enough behind closed doors, so no doubt it was spread around if Harry, himself, didn’t mention it.

Even so.

‘A bit rich coming from you,’ Dudley comments with some bite. The man - Kingsley, looks back to him and he itches to punch the guy. His hands ache with the force of keeping them curled to his sides, with the added reminder that if someone witnesses him picking a street-fight then he’d get kicked from his gym. ‘Yeah, we were crappy to him but don’t think you’ve been any better. Harry’s good - he’s kind. He’s a bloody pushover.’

The best kind of push over. Harry had saved him after Dudley had punched him in the face and that - that made him a better person than most. At primary school too though, he’d always speak up for people who wouldn’t do it for themselves. He’d protect the little guy despite being the smallest out of everyone their age.

Harry was still small and Dudley could tell he was still good.

‘Mister Dursley -‘

‘When you took him, I thought he’d end up dying for you,’ he whispers because despite how little they had been told of the situation Mum had dropped hints about the terrorism, about “freaks targeting good, honest people”. That was enough for Dudley to get it, kind of. ‘I thought we’d get another stupid bird flying through the window with the news that, yeah, we had one more martyr in the family.’

(She hadn’t spoken about that, quite as much but it wasn’t hard to piece together. Not with Mum and Harry both unwittingly contributing to the mental gymnastics Dudley had been performing trying to work it all out.)

Kingsley seems to have paled, his lips pursed as he looks down at Dudley. ‘Looks like you gave it your best.’ Without his consent, Kingsley breaks from Dudley’s gaze to look at Harry. Harry who seems to still be wearing clothes a size or two too big, who’s short and hurt and out in the cold.

‘…Harry?’ Kingsley says in askance instead, wrong-footed and just a bit ill.

‘It’s alright,’ Harry reassures in a way that seemed so fatigued it could be anything but.

Kingsley face sort of - crumbles and he waits for a second but nothing else is forthcoming from Harry, and he turns back to Dudley. ‘Then, Mister Dursley -‘

‘Dudley,’ he corrects.

‘…Dudley. I’ll leave Harry to you. If you have any problems -‘

‘Harry will handle it,’ Dudley cuts in viciously. This Kingsley bloke could be of the good sort, too but he doesn’t have an awful lot of patience for him. ‘Unless you’re talking about my parents. Then, sure. Leave it to me.’

Dudley deliberately misinterpreted that, but he can’t help but think it’s nothing short of what they deserve. If they wanted to be reliable then they’re much too late. Harry’s been looking after himself for years, and nothing they have ever done has helped with his parents attitude towards Harry, in fact the opposite may be true.

Harry shudders a breath. ‘I’ll…good luck, with catching them,’ he says falteringly, tiredly.

‘Keep your wand close,’ Kingsley advises as the man reaches inside his robes and pulls out a pouch. Harry takes it with a nod of thanks, fingers tangling in the long cords holding the bag closed. He allows it to hang without much care against his side.

‘Right.’ Harry’s smile is small and flat, wry as he gazes off to the side. The atmosphere is awkward and strange between the two wizards. Dudley wonders what’s happened. ‘See you when I see you, then.’ Which is as uncommitted and distrustful as his cousin gets with people whom he has a lot expectation for. Dudley had seen Harry direct dithering and vague statements towards teachers and neighbours, people who he’d recognised as fair-weathered or unbothered. As something.

‘The Portkey…’ Kingly hedges.

‘Yeah, “constant vigilance”,’ Harry’s smile fades and his voice is soft with something mourning. ‘I know.’

Enough of this.

Dudley reaches out a hand to Harry and wonders if it’s too soon, as Harry recoils from it before he focuses in. Green eyes blink at the offering for a second, head tilted in bafflement until he slowly takes it. Dudley pulls his cousin over the doorstep and into the house. ‘Wait - Mister Dursley,’ Kingsley startles forward, just a bit as Dudley goes to shut the door. ‘We did our best, you know -’

‘Well, whoopee-do.’ Dudley feels his lips curling in disgust and swallows down the crueller of what is burning his tongue like acid. He’s not even sure what Kingsley was reaching for with that, the man’d made no effort in hiding his contempt. ‘…so did we.’

Well, if this “Kingsley” was looking for something like absolution from what remained of Harry’s family, he was all out of luck.

It was difficult for Dudley to believe that they was anything but what they were, especially once Harry was gone and he started to realise how fucked up everything had been. There was no real excuse for what’d happened but he couldn’t quite grasp that his parents were - evil, or whatever. His mum had barely been married two years, had just started a family when she’d found a baby on her doorstep, a baby from a sister she’d been at odds with. That wasn’t fair. Placing that sort of responsibility on someone wasn’t fair.

Kingsley’s face stutters. ‘Mister Dursley -’

‘Thanks for reuniting us,’ Dudley says in ways of goodbye as he shuts the door. His heart is beating weirdly in his chest as he twists the key and deadbolts the door. It’d do little if the wizard wanted to get in but it was the principle of the thing.

(The words intolerant and ignorant were - true, but people were stupid when they were afraid. And he still remembers his mum’s face at breakfast the morning after Harry had left. ‘I knew it would happen, you know,’ she’d said when it was just the two of them, not long after dad had left for work. ‘They take everything.’)

‘…Big D?’ Harry says uncertainly, like the words themselves were unfamiliar when Harry had been taunting him with them since they were kids - younger. Dudley turns to him and his stomach twists when he sees how Harry is standing in the entry, dwarfed by his surroundings.

Dudley takes a breath. ‘Would you like some tea?’ he asks, feeling strange and out of place in a house only he knew.

Harry blinks. This must be twice as off for him than it was Dudley. ‘…alright,’ he agrees and allows to be led through into the kitchen though Dudley can’t help but notice how he stays just a step behind Dudley, careful not to let him out of sight or how Harry edges away from the doors.

His heart clenches when he sees Harry’s uneven footsteps, how his cousin - always so spry and quick, limps. His left leg doesn’t carry his weight properly, instead his knee gave way a little each time he brought that side forward.

The kitchen has the dining room attached and Dudley in passing pulls Harry out a chair - quickly, please sit down, and tries to be casual as he goes to the kettle to make them both something for the nervous thirst. Dudley had drunk a bit when he was younger, but cut that off at the head when he’d stopped being an idiot. Now, he feels like they both probably needed something stronger.

‘Make yourself at home,’ Dudley says as the kettle, partially empty, boils quickly as he handles his mum’s fine china. He listens to Harry’s scuffling feet and the sound of the chair as he pulls it up to the table.

‘Never thought I’d hear you saying that to me,’ Harry comments sardonically. Dudley can feel his gaze, heavy as it is. It’s not quite judgement, Harry never was that as he took people for how they were (whether he liked you or not, that was another matter entirely). Just daring, always poking people, Harry was.

Dudley steels himself to look back while fishing out the Earl Grey teabags from the cupboard. ‘Yeah, well.’ He fumbles awkwardly, as he lips desperately keep him from forming the apology that’s needed here. ‘People change.’

Maybe Harry hears it anyway, as his face seems to settle into something less sharp. ‘…they do,’ he agrees quietly. 

‘Milk?’ Dudley enquires even if just for something to say when the kettle stops rumbling, the lever flicking back up in another indication that it’s finished. He realises that he has no idea how his cousin takes his tea, or his food preferences in general. Shame is not a new feeling, it greets him often.

‘Yes, please.’ Dudley’s nose wrinkles but he did ask.

Tea made, he carries it over and places the teacup and saucer in front of Harry. His own is left in the centre as he scouts out the biscuits. He tries to avoid eating a lot of the sweets his mum buys, but every now and then is fine with his exercise regime.

The biscuit tin is really an old Quality Street box that had been repurposed from a Christmas long gone. Harry had never had any of those either. Dudley brings that over too and after he takes a seat, pulls open the lid. Pale gold shortbread meet his gaze. He can practically smell the sugar as he slides the tin into the middle of the table, swapping it for his teacup which he drags in front of him.

‘So…’ Dudley starts as he settles fully into his chair on the opposite side of the table from Harry’s. Honestly, he’d thought about what he’d say to his cousin if he ever returned, but that had always got him onto the whole “if,” and the uncertainty, until he stopped thinking about it. Now, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

‘So,’ Harry sighs before he tries a smile again. It isn’t quite fully formed. ‘…you’re looking good.’

You’re not, Dudley thinks but swallows it before he can say it. ‘Well, thanks,’ he replies, taking the better part of valour. A bit uncomfortably. He probably did look different to Harry. Less “clinically obese” as his GP would put, with an approving nod at his new healthy weight. 'Finally started to focus on something.’

Harry’s gaze slides from Dudley’s face to his torso and his shoulders. ‘Boxing?’

‘Yeah, well. I’m good at it.’ He hadn’t really tried, before - not until he’d joined his new gym. He’d won matches but that had little to do with skill and was mostly down to his size; his fat. And the entrance level he’d been fighting on. His new coach wouldn’t have Dudley just coasting by. ‘It’s - a hobby, I guess. It’s not what I want to do for a job or anything, but…it’s good. Helps me - to not be as much of a jerk.’

‘…seems to be working,’ Harry states in actual surprise, words strung together in that overly blunt way of his, that’d always caused so much havoc. He looks to his tea and tentatively raises it to his lips. He sips slow, carefully, before he’s lowering the cup back onto the saucer. ‘I’m - this isn’t what I was expecting.’

‘Well, I had to grow up eventually,’ Dudley says without offence. He deserves this, this scepticism. The fact that Harry had come here at all, even as a last resort, was nothing short of a miracle.

‘Still.’ Harry shrugs slightly and silence settles between them. They’d never spoken at length before - or at all. Dudley would taunt and bully, Harry would fire back quips but otherwise stick to himself. They hadn’t talked. Dudley couldn’t find where to start.

Dudley’s phone buzzes in his pocket, on reflex he pulls it out and stares uncomprehendingly at the screen.

 

Wiz Kid     now

LOL soz u sure u didn’t mix u power cables up mate?

Dudley frowns in thought as he starts to contemplate the message but mentally slaps himself when he starts thinking about his computer, because it so wasn’t a priority right now. He presses the lock button and throws the phone onto the table and tries to refocus.

‘Sorry, a friend’s been trying to help me with a problem I’ve been having,’ he explains when he finds Harry examines his phone with an intensity it doesn’t deserve.

‘Oh?’ Harry says noncommittally. ‘Anyone I’d know?’

‘Fuck no.’ Dudley snorts much to Harry’s shock if his loosened jaw says anything. ‘I mean, I tried but. Like I said, I had to grow up eventually.’

‘And they didn’t?’ Harry guesses with that intuition of his. Or from simply knowing them, really it could be a little of both. It wasn’t like any of Dudley’s friends at the time had made a good impression on Harry.

‘Yeah,’ Dudley agrees. Among other things. His old friends had been a whole lot of trouble, and he was probably really fucking lucky to have moved when he did. It saved him from more than just wizards.

‘What problem?’ Harry asks after a moment.

‘Sorry?’

‘What problem’s your friend helping you with?’ Harry elaborates.

‘Oh,’ Dudley relaxes even if he is confused with Harry’s interest. ‘Oh, well I started building myself a computer over the summer hols but I can’t get it to start. Scott’s good with computers, he was in my IT class. Er, in secondary school. It was my elective.’

‘IT?’

‘You know -’ Dudley was about to begin but it dawns him then, that Harry probably wouldn’t. ‘Remember, it was called ICT in primary?’

Harry blinks. ‘Huh…yeah, it’s - been awhile,’ he laments as he turns the cup in its saucer seeming to barely register the screeching noise it produces. ‘Honestly, I…haven’t been gone for…well. Even just looking at the house, things seems to have changed.’

‘Technology’s been advancing quickly,’ Dudley states in the knowledge of how quickly something will become outdated and need replacements or updates. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so exciting.

‘…I suppose it has.’ Harry’s agreement is disconnected, eyes glancing back to Dudley’s phone which was a model Dudley now realises Harry wouldn’t have been able to recognise.

‘…you’ve been out of the loop for too long,’ Dudley announces to try and keep at bay the melancholy. ‘Well, I can help you with that, reintroducing you to the internet’s gonna be fun. Getting you in co-op once I get you into gaming will be even better.’

‘…your parents,’ Harry starts haltering, seeming to take whatever Dudley babbles as par for the course. Dudley allows the topic to be shunted off to the side, understanding that it wasn’t quite the right time.  ‘I don’t know how long I’ll need to stay but, things were left on a… well.’

‘You can stay,’ Dudley says though he knows Mum and Dad will be less than thrilled to see Harry again. He’d put his foot down. ’I said I’d take care of it and I will, but…’

‘But, why am I back?’ Harry finishes with a dry grin.

‘Yeah.’ Dudley nods. ‘Mind telling me about that?’

Though Harry had prompted this, he still tenses but Dudley can be patient and absently drinks his tea. ‘Mum and Dad won’t be back till later. Dad had this function for work. So…’ he says when Harry pauses for a bit too long, hoping that’d help.

‘Ah, right.’ Harry nods and seems to steel himself. ‘Do you…remember that tournament I was in?’ he asks as his hands tighten around his cup. And yeah, that tournament had caused nothing but grief. He still remembered Harry’s nightmares, his voice clear and tormented as he called out for someone. 

‘Yeah, sort of.’ Dudley didn’t really want to give an definite response because they didn’t really talk, magic was a no-go. Saying the word “magic” would get Harry a bollocking. In all honesty, Dudley knew very little about Harry’s life bar whispers and conclusions he’d made himself.

‘…the Triwizard Tournament is this contest with the three biggest schools in Europe. I got entered by someone trying to kill me. It’s…dangerous, and had a age limit so it caused a huge fuss but I still had to compete,’ Harry explained, obviously hearing Dudley’s uncertainty but Dudley’s stuck on the trying to kill me part. ‘In the last trial, I was tied in first with Cedric…’

Dudley recognises that name and when Harry pauses to take a breath, he knows that this can’t be good. ‘We got, er…transported to a graveyard.’

‘…a graveyard?’ Dudley says.

A dark smile tilts Harry’s lips and he briefly looks up at Dudley. ‘The tournament had been used as a - a ploy. Wormtail was there, with Voldemort. Cedric was - killed and I…I was used to bring Voldemort back.’

‘Hold on,’ Dudley holds up his hands. He needed a second, something had gotten lost in translation. ‘I thought that that Volde-mort guy was the one who…you know.’ He taps his own bare forehead, unable to say anymore.

‘That’s the one,’ Harry confirms as he unwraps a hand away from his tea long enough to self-consciously touch his own head. He unsettles his fringe long enough for Dudley to glimpse the scar he’d grown up so silently intrigued by.

That answer does not help his confusion, however. ‘But…Mum said that he was - dead,’ Dudley stutters. He was already on edge since this wasn’t a good subject to be on. He was waiting for when he overstep that line of Harry’s temper.

‘He was defeated, not killed,’ Harry corrects before he huffs a sigh. There is fatigue in ever line of his slumped over body. His eyes flicker shut for a moment and he appears to be rebalancing himself before he starts over. He frees his hands, sliding his drink further away and pushes his hair back; out of his face, in an effort to energise.

‘Sorry, I…forget how little you’d know with how much of my life seems to be - broadcasted, I just, sort of expect people to at this point,’ Harry says in exhaustion as his hair falls back around his face. It was a lot longer than it had been before he’d left; less messy with the added weight from its length.

‘So, Voldemort…?’

Harry rubs his hands along his face. ‘The thing you have to understand about the Wizarding World, or at least in Britain is that it’s…well, racist. Blood is really important there. Being a Pureblood, or - that is, being born from magical parents and not muggles - non-magicals, is really important. Voldemort wanted to get rid of “dirty blood”.’

‘…er, this is starting to feel very “aryan race”,’ Dudley comments uncomfortably.

‘Yeah,’ Harry snorts because he’d at least been around for primary school. ‘He started a war. A lot of people were dying, from both sides, when a prophecy was made. It said that there was a child that could defeat the Dark Lord, born from parents that had stood against him. My parents and the Longbottom’s - who fit that really loose description, went into hiding.’

The inclusion of a prophecy made Dudley think of the Lord Of Thing Rings, but Dudley nodded his understanding anyway. ‘If you were in hiding then what happened?’

Harry rolled his shoulders as his gaze slumped to his cooling tea. ‘The spell my parents used to hide in their cottage was a Charm that made their location undetectable,’ Harry says. ‘It made Godric’s Hollow vanish for everyone who wasn’t told where it was.’

‘Okay…?’ Dudley prompts because that just leads to more questions.

‘The Charm, the way it works - you need a Secret Keeper to remember where it is; who can share the location. My dad’s friend, Peter, got chosen.’ Harry takes a breath. ‘Unfortunately, Peter was the “Wormtail” I mentioned early. He was a Death Eater - er, on Voldemort’s side. He sold us out. So, Voldemort went to Godric’s Hollow while he sent others to - dispose of the Longbottom’s.’

Harry swallows while his finger follows a circular coffee stain printed into the table. ‘You might’ve picked up on this, though - Aunt Petunia won’t know, but…I remember that night.’ Dudley’s breath hitches and he feels his spine straighten like he’d just been given an electrical shock. ‘My dad went down first. He didn’t have his wand on him. Why would he? He felt save. His friend was meant to be protecting us. He…told mum to take me and run. She tried to barricade the nursery, but…’

Harry kisses his teeth and struggles to swallow. ‘Her last words were pleading for my life.’

‘Harry,’ Dudley gasps in shock, feeling very unequipped on how to handle this . He - he wasn’t good at comfort, even now, when he’d tried so hard to get better. ‘Harry -'

‘Then - after Voldemort killed her too, he turned his wand on me.’ Harry’s fingers lightly part his fringe. He doesn’t seem to notice, or maybe he’s ignoring Dudley’s attempts at saying, it was fine. No, you don’t have to go into this part. You don’t have to relive this. ‘I got the scar when his Curse rebounded back onto him. The - Killing Curse isn’t… but, my mum’s death acted as a sacrifice, maybe, and I lived.’

‘It’s ironic. If he’d shown any of us mercy…but then I guess that was beyond him at that point,’ Harry utters to himself. ‘Sorry, anyway, the spell rebounds and he’s defeated.’

‘I…that doesn’t really,’ Dudley stutters as he makes vague gestures with his hands.

‘His body died that night but he’d already thought of a counter measure, to make sure that he…couldn’t die so easily.’ Harry’s lips sneer and it tells Dudley how repugnant Harry finds it. ‘It ensures the second war.’

‘So, what was the counter measure?’

Harry’s eyes sharpen and it’s…almost like before he left. ‘Why do you think murder is so awful, Big D?’ Harry questions like he wasn’t repressing fury just by having to ask. ‘In magic, it’s because you’re taking something precious; you’re stealing someone’s fate. You literally mark your soul doing it.’

Dudley is starting to feel cold, like someone is brushing their fingers down his spine.  ‘Mark it?’

‘Killing someone in cold blood splinters your soul, you leave something with them,’ Harry states. ‘As you’ve damn someone, you yourself will be damned. In…Dark Magic, some can use that to deliberately split their soul. Voldemort did to anchor himself to life.’

‘You - you can do that?’ Disgust stirs with fear, He’s not religious though he’s spent most of his childhood being forced to church on Sunday. The knowledge of that though is - it’s repulsive. ‘Is that a - a common thing? Because -’

‘It’s Dark Magic!’ Harry snaps with a snarl. Dudley can feel the hairs on his neck stand up and he doesn’t need to guess what’s causing it. ‘That knowledge is all but unknown because it’s forbidden!’

Ah. Temper like a roaring fire or a burning lion, Dudley had not missed this as he raises his hands. ‘I - Harry, I wasn’t trying to imply anything,’ he says because he may not know how his cousin takes his tea, he knows that his cousin wouldn’t do that. ‘The amount I know about…magic, is about the same as you know about technology.’ He holds up his phone and ignores how his screen lights up at the motion. Harry had stared at it in confusion when he’d seen it because the last he’d acknowledge a mobile, flip phones were far more common in the area. Or it was with the people they were around, as hard-to-do as a lot of them were.

The fire is quick to burn out but it still leaves rubble in its wake. ‘Sorry,’ Harry whispers.

‘No, it’s fine,’ Dudley is quick to reassure. He hates how tired Harry is, his cousin had always had energy to spare even if it was only put into wit and sarcasm. ‘This has been…really real for you. I get that.’

A slow, plained smile draws itself with a shaky hand upon Harry’s lips, but it doesn’t meet his eyes which remain brittle. ‘Okay - okay, so. He splits his soul seven times and seals it into seven containers.’

Dudley swallows. ‘Right.’

‘So on that night, when the Killing Curse rebounds and destroys his body, Voldemort’s safe guard keeps his soul tied here but everyone thinks been offed by a baby.’ The derision on Harry’s face was so strong Dudley could almost taste it. ‘Fast forward eleven years of racial tensions and shitty leadership from the Ministry, I return to Wizard Britain and so has Voldemort. His attempts don’t stick then until the tournament was a success. Sometimes, I think we never stood a chance. Cedric’s feet had barely touched the ground when he was killed.’

Dudley closes his eyes. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s not your fault,’ Harry says like he doesn’t remember scream shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about, at Dudley in a playground he’d long grown out of after jeers and taunts of calling for your boyfriend, freak? ‘I was taken out afterwards. It was…insultingly easy for Wormtail to down me. They…’

‘It’s…okay. Take your time.’ Dudley doesn’t really…know what to do with this. Harry - Harry had never allowed himself to become emotional around them before, and Dudley hadn’t even known someone who’d suffered something like a car accident. This was beyond him.

‘My blood. They used my blood in the ceremony to bring him back. It…created a body for him,’ Harry says. And - that sounded cultish, like something he’d heard of in the news. Only this had had real results other than peoples’ deaths.

‘That’s why you were such a mess.’ Dudley didn’t remember the hols very well - not the time surrounding getting attacked by those things but, he recalled bits and pieces. Like how Harry had walked around the house like a zombie, prone to outbursts once confronted. Like an agitated bear with a thorn in its paw.

‘No one believed me. Our Minster at the time - Fudge, he said I was delusional. An attention seeking boy. The next edition of the Daily Prophet was speculating if the Killing Curse didn’t…mess me up. Said I was obviously disturbed…’

‘What?’ Dudley gasps. Surely it wasn’t that hard to believe. They lived in a magical world with magic.

Harry huffs a laugh at his reaction. ‘That’s how Privet Drive got a visit from those Dementors. People were trying to shut me up. But…you got caught up in that, sorry.’

‘The…Dementors?’ The word sounded like something one of his old friends would call someone with a learning disability.

‘The - the creatures that attacked you,’ Harry explains uneasily because Dudley’s mind had been muddled and he hadn’t been able to explain to his parents, what’d happened. That it hadn’t been Harry - or his fault, before they were blaming him while Dudley was still trying to find his voice.

Dudley’s mouth falls open. ‘Is…that why you left?’

‘No.’ Harry shakes his head. ‘With the Ministry denying Voldemort’s return the Dark - his side, were in a good position to cause chaos and grow stronger. It was…absolute hell.’ Harry’s gaze has lost it’s focus. With chills running through his body, Dudley wonders what it is Harry’s sees.

‘What did that have to do with you?’ Harry had been fourteen, for goodness sake.

His voice seems to startle Harry away from where ever it was that Harry had gone to, but he responds with a dull voice. ‘The Light were losing traction and supporters. There were attacks, people were going missing,’ he lists drolly so unlike the Harry Dudley had known, who’d have been ablaze with sympathy and fury for those responsible.

‘The night I left, it was to receive training with Mad Eye, a…wizard policeman.’

‘You were fourteen!’ Dudley feels the need to repeat.

Harry barely twitched but met his temper coolly. ‘It hadn’t mattered. There was an impending war. Children would be in the line of fire anyway - heck, they already had been.’

‘You -'

‘Dumbledore was desperate. People were dying. The Light was losing. He was concerned that if he didn’t act quickly enough there’d be no chance of recovery.’ The skin under his eyes clench and his mouth pulls further downward. ‘My “childhood” officially ended with my induction into the Order.’

The thing that was depressing - and not just the whole thing - was that it was like Harry was just dictating facts. ‘What did they do to you?’ he whispers.

Harry’s grin then is caustic and gestures to himself in a self-deprecating manner. '…I spent a year in isolation, to train. Didn’t get much news from the outside; I think Dumbledore was scared I’d do something stupid, if I’d known how far things were deteriorating stuck beating the crap out of practice dummies.’

‘Isolation?’ Dudley repeats. ‘What about those friends of yours?’ There’d been a girl he’d heard about more than he’d seen, but there were a whole bunch of gingers that seemed to be looking out for Harry.

‘What about them?’

Okay. So, something was wrong there.

‘What happened, Harry?’

Instead of answering, Harry reaches out for his tea and with a trembling hand, lifts it to his mouth. He spent a while nervously sipping. It was just as well that he drunk so much, as when he lowered the cup again, the cold liquid sloshed around the sides with the degree that he’d tilted it.

‘I got a few messages from them at the beginning,’ Harry says slowly. ‘But it got…complicated the more months that went by and I was still in training. When I was eventually deemed ready to be let loose, a lot of the people we’d known were - dead. They couldn’t understand why I hadn’t come sooner and at the Battle of Hogwarts, the image of me swinging around Gryffindor’s sword after getting hit with another Killing Curse…well, that’d been enough for them.’

‘…I don’t understand,’ Dudley finally admits in utter confusion.

Harry might’ve tried to smile. ‘I let them down,’ he replies. ‘And then I scared them.’

Dudley leant forward as he stabbed the table with his index finger. ‘Let me get this straight, you defeat this megalomanic for them during a war, a fucking war - the second at that - and they get all shifty about how you do it?’ Dudley’s jaw may be hanging but he thought little of it.

‘Dumbledore hadn’t been too impressed either,’ Harry comments. ‘Looked at me like I’d run him through the sword and not, well. I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested. I think…that if Kingsley hadn’t been appointed Minister, that I might’ve been.’

Dudley can feel himself gapping proper now. ‘What sort of bullshit -’

Harry laughs like he hadn’t just told Dudley how’d basically won a war and was nearly arrested for it. ‘It’s a different world, Big D. Physical violence isn’t…seen in a good light.’

‘Is…’ Dudley’s not sure how to phrase this, but he figures that honesty will be best. ‘Is that why you’re back? Because they don’t…’

‘…no,’ Harry replies eventually and not at all that certain either. ‘A lot of the Death Eaters escaped from the battle. The Order brought me here to - get me out of the way, I suppose. Kingsley…feels like he owes me but I know he doesn’t approve either. They don’t - trust me.’

Looking at Harry, used and pushed off to the side and deserving of so much better, Dudley wants to fix things. ‘I’m sorry,’ Dudley says.

‘What?’ Harry blinks, looking up from the table to meet Dudley in the eyes, in a fashion that felt new to both of them. New but not bad.

‘I’m sorry. I - I know they’re just words and that they don’t really make anything better, but I am. It shouldn’t have taken a near death experience, and you to leave for me to get over myself,’ he apologises and tries not to feel embarrassed by it. Talking about feelings and admitting when you’ve done wrong - there was nothing to feel embarrassed by. ’I want, I mean. What I want doesn’t really matter, but I think it’d be…nice, if we could -’

‘Dudley,’ Harry addresses clearly and Dudley feels his heart give one big thump. Harry hadn’t called him by his name since “Big D” had come into play. ‘I’d like that too.’