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P.S. Sorry 'Bout All That

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Since leaving Privet Drive a few nights before his seventeenth birthday, Harry Potter had spared not one thought for the family he had left behind. Between the attack on him that night, the year spent hunting Horcruxes, the final battle, and the rebuilding of Hogwarts that followed, he simply hadn't had the energy or time to spare, even if he'd had a reason to.

In fact, the final battle and subsequent cleanup required so much of his energy and focus that usually, at the end of each day, it was all he could do to make it to his bed before falling into a deep and exhausted sleep.

Ever since the final battle, owls had been flooding what remained of the castle, coming from all corners of the wizarding world, all directed toward Harry.

Harry was of two minds about the letters. He appreciated the symbol of them; he hated the reality. On the one hand, he recognized the letters for what they were – the only way for many who had long been threatened and oppressed to celebrate the fact that they were now free. On the other, the lavish praise of his heroism, the near overwhelming gratitude for his deeds made him decidedly uncomfortable. There were so many others, almost too many to name, both dead and alive, who deserved the praise far more than he did.

There was Neville, and Ron, and Hermione, and Ginny, and all the other barely of age or not of age witches and wizards who had stayed to make a stand, most of them almost certainly facing death. There were the Aurors and the Order members and all those who had chosen to keep fighting despite never knowing from one moment to the next who could be trusted. There was Lee Jordan, and Fred, and George, and those who made sure that, even in the darkest of times, there was laughter and there was hope. There were the teachers of Hogwarts and the students of Hogwarts and the families of all those who had died.

And there was Colin Creevey, and Remus, and Tonks, and the countless others who had died, senselessly, needlessly, victims of the role Harry had been forced into.

Harry couldn't accept the praise, not when he knew he'd only been doing it all because he'd never really had another choice, not like those who had entered the fight of their own accord. Every one of those people he could name deserved the title of hero as much as or far more than he did.

He'd never thought that being a hero would be hardest after the heroic deed had been done.

The day he realized that was the day he thought of the Dursleys for the first time in over a year. He had hated his summers with them, more than he had hated almost anything else in his life. He had loathed the time spent under their roof and had consistently wanted nothing more than for it to come to an end. But the fact remained that number four Privet Drive was the one place where he'd never been a hero. His aunt, uncle, and cousin were perhaps the only three people in his life who didn't know all he'd done and had no interest in knowing.

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than he stopped himself mentally. Now, wait just a minute, Potter, he said to himself. I'm going to have to stop you there, because it sounded like you were about to reminisce about the "good old days" at Privet Drive.

With a grimace and a jolt, he realized he'd been standing idle for a good few minutes instead of attending to the task in front of him. He also realized that, while he was a part of a work crew of about fifteen people, no one had called him on it.

Biting his tongue and feeling slightly both guilty and irritated, he returned to the task at hand – shifting the rubble of Ravenclaw tower. The immense protective charms, centuries old, that had been on the castle tower, in combination with the curses used to bring it down had served to make the whole massive pile of crumbling stone rather impervious to magic. So a crew of ten to fifteen had been working for past two days to move it all by hand. They would fill wheelbarrows, which would then be moved to another site off of Hogwarts grounds for transportation elsewhere.

It was a horrible, backbreaking job, but Harry didn't mind it. The manual labor required, the ache in his shoulders and lower back, the constant layer of perspiration coating his skin from the June sun, Harry reveled grimly in all of it. As long as he was moving rocks, he was doing something, and he was equal with those around him.

He worked almost without ceasing until the sun was high in the sky and a hand on his shoulder caused him to pause. Breathing hard, he turned and squinted, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of one hand. "Yeah?" he asked.

Neville Longbottom, looking equally exhausted, said, "A bunch of us are going to get lunch. You want to come?"

"Who's going?" he asked.

"Me, Ron, Hermione, Ginny. Maybe Luna," Neville said. Harry nodded.

"Only if we go someplace where I can actually pay for my own meal," he said firmly. "I'm sick of this 'getting things for free' thing."

"Hero worship getting to be a bit much?" Neville asked sympathetically.

"And then some," Harry said darkly.

"Can't deny people their symbol," Neville reasoned.

"I'm not indifferent to that," Harry said with a sigh. "But let's make a wax model of me. It can be their symbol, and I can actually get something done." Neville looked away and smiled.

"Well," he said, jerking his head slightly toward the castle, "you can try to pay where we're going, but the House Elves'll think they did something to offend you." At Harry's puzzled frown, Neville explained, "We're just going down to the kitchens, but we're trying to keep that relatively quiet. You're not the only one suffering from an overabundance of gratitude." The tone of Neville's voice made Harry smile, as it was one he recognized all too well.

"Lead the way, then," he said with a sweeping gesture.

Ten minutes later, Harry sat in the wonderfully cool Hogwarts kitchen, surrounded by five of the few people who had no image of him that he had to live up to. It was a blissful feeling, and he was able to enjoy himself with them as he'd scarcely been able to in the month since the battle, or indeed in the past year.

They were seated on couches by the fire, a plate of sandwiches within easy reach, all laughing and groaning at a particularly bad joke that Ron had once heard from Fred when a sharp rapping came from the doorway. Harry turned to see Kingsley standing at the threshold, an envelope in his hands.

"Sorry to interrupt," he said, looking to Harry, "but I have a letter you'll want to see, Harry." Harry nodded.

"Lavender send it along?" he asked. Ever since a week past the battle, when Harry had finally tired of being drowned in letters every morning, all his mail had been rerouted through Mungo's, where a recovering Lavender Brown, grateful for something to do besides lie weakly in her hospital bed, had been put in charge of reading Harry's letters and sifting out the important ones. Now, all that was sent to the castle for Harry were the few letters he'd actually want, the slightly larger number of letters Lavender wasn't sure about, or the occasional letter she thought was too hilarious for him to miss.

"No, actually," Kingsley said, descending the stone steps into the kitchen. "This wasn't delivered by owl." Harry arched an eyebrow, puzzled.

"Then . . .?"

"It got to me through a variety of channels that I won't detail for you, but they originate in Surrey with a Mrs. Arabella Figg." Harry exchanged a bemused look with his companions.

"Why's Mrs. Figg writing to me?" Harry asked, holding out a hand for the letter.

"She isn't," Kingsley said cryptically, handing the letter over to him before exiting with a deep nod of his head. Harry opened the letter, and, upon reading it a few times through to grasp its meaning and significance, raised his free hand to his chin in complete bewilderment.

"Who's it from?" Ron said, asking the question for all of them. Without looking up from the paper, Harry shook his head slightly before answering, frowning.

"My cousin."


Dear Harry,

I'm writing because you weren't on the train. I wanted to let you know that we are back at Privet Drive, in case you needed to know that.

I just wanted to let you know.

Dudley


Dear Dudley,

I'm sorry I inconvenienced Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia by not letting them know that I would be staying at Hogwarts. I won't be back to Surrey anytime soon, so tell them they don't need to worry. They're more than welcome to forget they have a nephew now.

Harry


No, I wasn't writing for Mum and Dad. They didn't even go to the station. I doubt they even remember you were supposed to come home two days ago. I mean, they do, but they're pretending that they don't. I mean, I don't think they've thought that much about it, expect for being glad that you're not here, but they're not wondering why you're not, unless they're only pretending not to.

Mum and Dad don't care. This is me writing.

Dudley


Why are exactly are you writing to me?

Harry


Mr. Diggle and Ms. Jones let us come back to Privet Drive about a month ago. They said it was safe now, that the man who wanted to kill you was gone.

Dudley


Dudley, why are you writing to me?


You didn't come home on the train.


Dudley,

You're right. I didn't come home on the train. I hope you didn't go all the way to Kings' Cross to pick me up. I don't need to travel by train anymore, and there's a lot for me to do here just now. I don't think I'll be back in Surrey anytime soon.

How'd you know how to get these letters to me?

Harry


Harry,

Mr. Diggle told me to give any letters to Mrs. Figg and let her take care of it. Why? Was that wrong?

Dudley

PS - When Mr. Diggle said the man who wanted to kill you was gone, did he mean dead?


Dudley,

No, that was probably the best thing to do. Have you been bothering Mrs. Figg with all these?

Harry

PS - Yes. He's dead. And his name was Tom Riddle, or Voldemort.


Harry,

Just the first. Since then, I've just been asking your owl to wait. This is a different owl than you used to have, isn't it? What happened to the white one?

Dudley

PS - Did you kill him? Tom Riddle?


Dudley,

She died.

Harry

PS - Yes, I killed him. Well, kind of.


Harry,

I'm sorry. I know she meant a lot to you.

Dudley

PS - What do you mean, kind of?


Dudley,

Do your parents know you're owling me?

Harry

PS - It's kind of a long story. Technically, he killed himself, but I helped.


Harry,

Mum and Dad have been trying harder than usual to pretend you don't exist.

Dudley

PS - Like Perseus and Medusa?


Dudley,

Somehow, I'm not surprised. But you didn't answer my question.

Harry

PS - How the hell do you know who Perseus and Medusa are?


Harry,

No, Mum and Dad don't know. And I'm not sure what they'd do if they found out.

Dudley

PS - I read about them in a book that Mr. Diggle had. And you didn't answer my question, either.


Dudley,

I imagine your parents would be utterly horrified and think I'd possessed you somehow.

Harry

PS - Yeah, it was kinda like Medusa, only a lot harder than holding up a mirror as a distraction.


Harry,

I think you're right about Mum and Dad. Except that they wouldn't want to stop pretending like you don't exist long enough to be mad at you for possessing me. Which you're not. I don't think. Are you?

Dudley

PS - You were in the book about Medusa, too, you know.


Dudley,

Might be fun to watch them work through that. And of course I'm not possessing you. Wouldn't be worth the trouble it'd take to get through your thick skull.

Harry

PS - I didn't know I was in a book about Medusa, actually.


Harry,

They'd end up ignoring it, I think. They're still ignoring the house, after all. And at least my thick skull's good for something, unlike yours.

Dudley

PS - The book's not about Medusa. She was just in it, and so were you. Now stop avoiding my question.


Dudley,

You haven't gotten any better at insults since you accused me of being scared of my pillow, have you? And what do you mean, ignoring the house?

Harry

PS - In order for me to avoid a question, Dud, you have to have asked one.


Harry,

The house has changed somehow. It looks exactly like it did, but it's not the same house.

Dudley

PS - I did ask a question. I asked about the book you were in. Stop treating me like I'm stupid – I'm not anymore.


Dudley,

Can you try and describe how the house has changed?

Harry

PS - Yes. I know I'm in a book. I'm actually in more than one. Which one do you mean?


Harry,

The house is different . I don't know how, it just is. It's too much like it was before. I know that doesn't make sense, but it is. Except your room, which is completely different than it was. I don't know any other way to say it.

Dudley

PS - The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts . And I know you're in more than one. I think I've read them all.


Dudley,

Okay. Let me check into it.

Harry

PS - I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that you read one book – now you're telling me it was more like ten? Clearly, you have gained in intelligence. Well done.


Harry,

You can do that?

Dudley

PS - I was shut up in a house with only my parents, a couple wizards who didn't know what to do with us, and no electricity for almost a year, and I wanted to know what was going on. I didn't have a lot of choices.


Dudley,

Almost the entire British wizarding world sees me as their savior. However wrong that view is, they're all pretty much going to do anything I ask for a while.

Harry

PS - I'm impressed. Seems like the past year was good for you, after all.


Harry,

So do you know what happened to the house?

Dudley

PS - Are the books about you telling the truth?


Dudley,

Yeah, I found out. Voldemort's Death Eaters destroyed it, and members of the Order rebuilt it. It's too perfect because it's brand new, and it feels completely different because it is.

Harry

PS - Probably not. Which part do you mean?


Harry,

Is that why your room is so different?

Dudley

PS - I mean the part about you and your mum and how you got your scar. Is that true?


Dudley,

I imagine my room is different because people like Dedalus Diggle couldn't bear to leave it as cluttered and impersonal as it was before. What, is there a Hogwarts banner on the wall or something?

Harry

PS - I've never actually read the books about myself, so I don't know how true they are. I imagine, though, that they've romanticized everything, embellished what they weren't sure of, and left out the most important things because they didn't know about them. It is true that when I was a year old, Voldemort tried to kill me, but he couldn't because my mother died to protect me. That's the simplest version.


Harry,

Your room is a lot cleaner than it was, and there are moving pictures on the walls, and it's not a Hogwarts banner, but it says Gryffindor. I'm pretty sure Mum and Dad don't know about your room.

Dudley

PS - Why did he want to kill you?


Dudley,

I think you're right about your mother – I'm pretty sure moving pictures and a Gryffindor banner is stuff even she wouldn't be able to ignore. Though, can I ask what you were doing in my room? Trying to take it back?

Harry

PS - Simply speaking, there was a prophecy foretelling his downfall at the hands of another wizard. He thought it meant me and so he tried to kill me to keep the prophecy from coming true.


Harry,

I was actually hoping you'd have some wizard books that I could read.

Dudley

PS - Was the prophecy about you?


Dudley,

And did you find some?

Harry

PS - Prophecies aren't that simple. This one came true because Voldemort made it come true.


Harry,

I did. But it didn't look like you'd ever read them. Is that because of what the Order people did?

Dudley

PS - But it still came true? You faced him again, and you won?


Dudley,

Depends. What books were you looking at?

I can't believe you're reading my old textbooks.

Harry

PS - Technically, it was more like the seventh time I'd faced him, and I certainly couldn't have done it on my own. But yes. We won.


Harry,

I looked at most of the ones that were there but the most interesting were the magic history books.

Dudley

PS - I can't believe you did all that.


Dudley,

Now I know you're a Muggle. History of Magic stops being interesting fifteen minutes into the first lesson.

Harry

PS - I really didn't do all that much. About half of it was just luck, and the rest of the time, I had no real idea what I was doing. The kids who were actually at Hogwarts this past year really faced a lot more than I did.


Harry,

How can you not find your history interesting?

Dudley

PS - You weren't at school?


Dudley,

You wouldn't either if you'd had my teacher.

Harry

PS - No. Ron, Hermione, and I were making sure Voldemort could be defeated during the final battle.


Harry,

Why? What was wrong with your teacher?

Dudley

PS - There was an actual battle? It wasn't just you and him?


Dudley,

Well, for one thing, he was a ghost. But mainly, he was just incredibly boring.

Harry

PS - Yeah. There was an actual battle. It was far from being just me and him, though that's what it came down to in the end.


Harry,

One of your teachers was an actual ghost? I'd like to see that!

Dudley

PS - You didn't lose your friends, did you?


Dudley,

And this from the kid who used to back out of the room with his hands over his bottom if a full grown wizard came near him!

Harry

PS - We lost too many, and a lot of them were my friends. But my best friends survived, to answer the question I know you were asking.


Harry,

My first meeting with a wizard ended with me with a pig's tail, the second with me choking on my tongue. The third, I almost died, and the fourth, I got hit in the head with a drink! I say I had good reason to be scared.

Dudley

PS - I'm sorry.


Dudley,

The first time, you got off easy. Hagrid meant to turn you into a pig. The toffee was a prank, you brought it on yourself, and if your parents hadn't been so thick, it wouldn't have been half as bad as it was for you. The third wasn't wizards, it was dementors, and you would have lost your soul, not died, and magic actually helped you there. And the fourth – well, that was just Dumbledore.

Harry

PS - I doubt you have any idea what you're apologizing for, but thanks.


Harry,

Losing my soul is better than dying?

Dudley

PS - No, I don't really. But I'd like to.


Dudley,

No, it's not. That one was just a correction.

Harry

PS - You mean that?


Harry,

Okay. Having a tail is better than being a pig, the toffee thing is actually kind of funny now, and I think things are better because the dementor thing happened. I'm still not sure about the drink thing, but I guess I can't say that magic's all that bad.

Dudley

PS - Yeah, I really do. I think it's why I wrote you in the first place.


Dear Dudley,

I'll be the first to tell you that I'm rubbish at explaining things, especially things I only just started to maybe understand myself. But if you don't mind sitting and listening to me try to work it out coherently, then I'm willing to.

It's funny, but when I left Privet Drive last year, I didn't think there would ever be any reason for me to go back. I thought the only family worth having was the one I was going to. Thanks for proving me wrong, Dud.

Harry

PS - Your birthday's on Tuesday. If you wanted to get lunch and maybe talk, I imagine I could be in the area of your house around noon.


It had been several years since Mr. and Mrs. Dursley had been able to say that they were perfectly normal, and nothing rankled Vernon more than that. This past year had been the worst. He'd been forcibly removed from his own home, made to live in a house with two of them – who'd made no attempt to hide or curb their abnormalities – and forbidden to have contact with anyone besides his wife, son, and guards, all on account of his nephew.

He'd always loathed the boy, but it had been brought to a whole new level this year.

And what was worse was the fact that, far from joining him in his anger and irritation, Petunia and Dudley had actually seemed concerned for him! Worried about what might have happened to him! Petunia had spent most of her time troubled and distant, and Dudley hadn't complained about the lack of computer or television much past the first few months.

Vernon had hoped that, upon their return to their home two months ago – which he noted with disdain directed at his captors, hadn't been touched – that his wife, son, and life would all return to normal, but he'd had no such luck. If anything, Petunia had gotten worse when she'd realized that there was no sign or word from him long past when he was normally home. Dudley had spent most of his time shut up in his room, doing God knows what, and had hardly been seen by his family.

He woke the morning of Dudley's birthday in a bad mood, which was frankly predictable, as he'd spent most of the past year in one. But it hadn't been made any better by a knock on the door shortly before they were going to sit down to lunch.

Grumbling loudly all the way from the kitchen to the front door he wrenched it open, fully prepared to give whoever it was a good lecture about how proper callers did not come around at mealtimes, but the sight of his nephew, leaning casually against the doorframe, chased all coherent thought from his mind.

"Hello," the boy said in the extremely irritating way people have of being polite when they know it's going to be irritating.

"You!" Vernon roared furiously, the past eleven months of anger boiling up in him just at the sight of the boy.

The boy merely nodded once and said, "Uncle Vernon."

"If you think, for one moment," Vernon thundered, "that I am going to let you through my door –"

"I wouldn't step through that door or under that roof again for all the gold in Gringotts," his nephew said in a sharp, hard voice, standing straight in front of him, looking him directly in the eye. Looking into those piercing green eyes for perhaps the first time, Vernon felt a flicker of real fear. For a single, brief moment, he forgot that he was looking at his nephew, someone he had always thought of – when he had spared a thought for him at all – as a young, unimportant boy, an irritation and an inconvenience in his life. For that brief moment, he was looking into the eyes of a man, a hardened and powerful warrior who knew more and had seen more than Vernon could possibly imagine.

The moment passed quickly, as soon as his nephew began to speak again, but it left him badly shaken.

"As it happens," he was saying, the casual tone back, but darkened still with just a hint of an edge. "I'm not here for you." And before Vernon could do more than wonder what he meant, he had raised his voice and called, "Dud! You coming?"

Vernon thought nothing could have shocked him more than hearing those words from his nephew. But that was before he turned to see his son coming from the kitchen, heading resolutely toward the front door.

Vernon stared at his son in stunned silence. Dudley stood before him and said, softly but firmly, "'Scuse me, Dad," before squeezing past Vernon to smile hesitantly at his cousin. The other boy returned his smile with a grin and clapped him on the shoulder. Then, without a single look back from either boy, they began to move away from the house.

It was almost too much for Vernon. Standing frozen with disbelief, and wanting nothing more than to collapse in a chair with a cold compress and a large brandy until things started making sense again, he waited for his wife to step in, to insist or demand that her "Diddykins" come back in the house and eat his birthday lunch and forget about whatever foolish idea had taken hold of him.

But she didn't. She just stood in the kitchen doorway, watching her son and her nephew with a hand pressed to her mouth, tears in her eyes.

This time, it was too much for him. "What the devil is going on?" he thundered, and everything seemed to freeze as three pairs of eyes snapped to him, red-faced and heaving. Petunia looked startled, Dudley looked a bit troubled, and his nephew looked mildly amused.

"Well, it's like this," his nephew said easily and nonchalantly while Vernon continued to swell with rage. "Your son, showing signs of growth and intelligence that I have yet to see from anyone else in this household, spent the past year making an attempt to understand what was happening, why it was happening, and what implications it had on the world beyond himself. I know this because he contacted me and showed me that I did have a reason to come back to Surrey now that I no longer need the protection of this house. That's the complicated answer. The simple answer is that Dudley and I are going out to lunch. Good afternoon."

And he turned once more, leaving Vernon sputtering incoherently in the doorway. They had almost made it to the edge of the porch when he found his voice once more. "I forbid it!" he shouted, causing both boys to turn. His nephew looked incredulous and amused, but Dudley looked disbelieving and angry. "It is your birthday!" Vernon thundered at Dudley. "And you will spend it with family!"

He expected that to be the end of the matter, but the surprises of the day were not yet done. Dudley turned to face his father, set his shoulders, and, in a voice colder and more final than any he had ever used, said, "I am."

They were gone before he had recovered from the shock. And by the time he had come to his senses enough to try and storm after them, his wife was at his side, a hand on his arm, saying, "Let them go, Vernon." When he stared at her in disbelief, she merely gave him a sad smile and said, "They're right. They both are."

It was shortly after this that Vernon did retire to the sitting room of Number Four Privet Drive with a cold compress and a large brandy.

Things were never quite the same for the Dursleys after that. But whether it was a change for the better or the worse depended entirely upon who was asked.