Peering through the dingy window, Harry was reconsidering Ron, Hermione, and Ginny’s offers to come along to this meeting. At the time, it had seemed like a good idea to come alone, but now he wasn’t so sure. He was debating forgetting the whole thing and just going home, when his eyes settled upon the man he was supposed to be meeting.
He was sitting in a corner booth, glancing around nervously and fiddling with a cup of something. It wouldn’t be right to just stand him up, not after Harry had agreed to come.
With a deep sigh, Harry pushed open the door, surreptitiously ensuring that his wand was safely stowed in an inside pocket, away from prying eyes, but easily accessible if necessary. Not that he believed he had anything to fear from the man awaiting him, but it was a habit he was finding hard to shake, a remnant from his months spent on the run. He walked slowly across the room. The man he was meeting was staring blankly into his mug at this point and didn’t notice his approach.
Harry cleared his throat, “Hey Big D. Sorry I’m late.”
Dudley nearly knocked over his cup at the sound of his cousin’s voice.
“H-Harry, you’re here. I wasn’t sure if you would actually come.”
“Yeah, well, I said I was coming, right?” Harry replied, sliding into the booth across from Dudley. “So, was there something you wanted?” Harry attempted to keep a light tone to his voice, but was only partially successful. He had been through too much in the last year and a half. He was an adult now, out from under the thumb of his aunt and uncle, midway through Auror training. He had helped to end a war and was now working on rebuilding the world he belonged in. He had found a new family and had friends and a girlfriend who loved him and supported him unconditionally. He was through being pushed around by his relatives.
Dudley shrank back at his tone. As he opened his mouth to speak, the waitress approached their table.
“Can I get you something?”
Harry smiled at her, “A cappuccino would be lovely, thanks.”
“Sure thing, love,” she responded, scribbling something on a pad before leaving to fetch his drink.
“Why don’t you talk to me like that?” Dudley asked, softly
Harry looked at him in confusion. “Why don’t I tell you my drink order?”
“You know what I mean,” he replied, obstinately. “You were nice to her, smiling and everything. You don’t ever talk to me that way.”
“Yeah…” Harry started slowly, “well, she didn’t lock me in a closet and torment me for half of my life.”
Dudley didn’t have a response, and the two of them fell into an uncomfortable silence. The waitress returned with Harry’s drink and he flashed her another smile, but his expression hardened as he turned back to his cousin.
“Look, the only reason I agreed to come here today was a sense of curiosity. I was glad to hear that you all made it through the war, and were back on Privet Drive, but I never really wanted or expected to hear from any of you again,” he stopped for a moment to take a sip of his drink before continuing. “But Dedalus said you wanted to talk to me and that I should give you a chance. Well, here it is.”
Dudley continued fiddling with his mug, but didn’t say anything. Harry could feel himself growing more and more annoyed as each second passed in silence. Finally, just as Harry was about to slide out of the booth, Dudley began to speak, though he kept his eyes focused firmly on his mug. “They took us to a string of houses out in the country, wouldn’t even tell us where we were, just said that we were safe and shouldn’t go outside if we could avoid it. We had to move quite a lot, though no one ever really told us why. No matter where we were, Dedalus would come by to check on us a couple times a week, bring us things we needed. Hestia came by, too, and some others, but mostly it was Dedalus. Mum and Dad didn’t like him much, but I did. He was nice. He told me stories about you and your parents. He told me about the things you did, and about how you were fighting a war. I didn’t even know there was a war. I didn’t realize you were going through so much.”
“Would it have mattered?” Harry scoffed. “You knew what I was going through at your house. Living in a tiny cupboard under the stairs, never having any proper clothes or toys. Never once having anything even close to a friend.”
Dudley looked up at him. “I-I didn’t realize how important you were. How many important things you were doing.”
Harry bit back the urge to deny being important. He was sick of the special treatment and attention he had been receiving of late, but didn’t want to rehash that discussion, especially with Dudley of all people. “What does importance have to do with anything? No one deserves to have the kind of childhood I had, regardless of who they are or what they end up doing.”
Dudley ducked his head again. “It’s just…I thought…after our talk last year, maybe…” he trailed off.
“What? You thought admitting I wasn’t a waste of space was the same as an apology? That shaking my hand would make me forget all of the crap you put me through?” Harry could feel his temper rising, and he didn’t want to create a scene. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, forcing himself to take a couple deep breaths and calm down. Replacing his glasses, he continued in a more even tone. “What do you want, Dudley? Do you want me to say that everything is ok? That we can just forget the sixteen years we lived together and start over? Because we can’t.” Shaking his head, Harry started to get up from his seat.
“I-I’m sorry.” Dudley said softly.
Harry sank back down. Never, in all the years he lived with the Dursleys had he ever heard Dudley utter those words. It was enough to shock him into silence, into staying for another moment.
“I know I was horrible to you, and I know it doesn’t fix anything, but for what it’s worth, I am sorry. I just thought…maybe…” he trailed off. “We’re family after all.”
Family. Harry thought for a moment about all of the people in his life who were closer to family than any of the Dursleys. Ron and Hermione who had stood beside him through so much, the Weasleys , who had welcomed him into their home and their lives, Ginny, the woman he loved, his dormmates, the D.A., the members of the Order, his father’s best friends. But then he thought about his mum. Wasn’t Dudley her relative, too? If Dudley was willing, did he owe it to her to try again?
“Family…right,” Harry responded dully.
“It’s not as if I think that we’ll be best friends or anything,” Dudley continued in a bit of an obstinate tone, “I’m not stupid, but I thought we might try to at least keep in touch. You know, write letters, send Christmas cards?”
“Christmas cards?” Harry smirked, “What would your parents say if you started receiving post from me?”
“Well,” Dudley responded, his face screwed up in thought, “I don’t think Mum would mind too much. I overheard her asking Hestia once if she had heard anything about how you were and what you were up to. As for Dad, well, he’ll just have to get used to it, I suppose.”
Harry nearly laughed out loud. He supposed that after all the things he had experienced and learned over the last eighteen months, he should stop being surprised by people’s capacity for change, but he had never expected it from his cousin.
“Bloody hell, Dudley, maybe you really are a different person.”
Dudley shrugged, but looked a little pleased, “I guess a year in hiding can do that to a person.”
Harry noticed that he had been gripping his wand under his coat, and quickly released it, replacing his hands on the table. Yeah, a year in hiding could definitely change a person.
He felt a twinge of guilt. As horrible as his relatives had always been to him, he never meant to tear them away from their lives. “I suppose there are things I’m sorry for, too. I wasn’t exactly the best cousin either.”
Dudley didn’t respond and the conversation lulled into silence once again, but this time, it was less uncomfortable. Harry’s mind was racing. He expected all ties with the Dursleys had been cut the moment he left Privet Drive for the last time, but looking at his cousin, he couldn’t help but think how much a role family played in your life. Yet, it always came back to choice, and Dudley was sitting across from him, trying to make different choices than the ones his parents had made
Glancing at his watch, Harry realized that he had been gone longer than planned. If he didn’t get back soon, someone would almost certainly come looking for him, and that was a scene he’d like to avoid. He moved to pull out his wallet to pay for his drink. “Look, Dudley, I’ve got to get going, but this was…” he trailed off, searching for the right word to finish the sentiment, but coming up empty.
Dudley nodded, a slight smile on his face, and Harry was certain he wouldn’t have known how to finish that sentence either. “It’s on me. I reckon I owe you one.”
Harry gaped at him for a moment, then found himself speaking “I’ve never been one for letter writing,” he began, “but if you’re willing to give it a try, I suppose I am as well.” He was suddenly greeted with a humourous image of a postal worker attempting to deliver mail to the Burrow or Grimmauld Place. I suppose I could look into a post office box. “I’ll send something along as soon as I figure out the best way to reach me,” he lowered his voice, “you know, without an owl.”
As the two men both got to their feet, Dudley once again offered his hand to his cousin, and Harry, once again accepted it. It wasn’t much, but maybe it could be a start.