Chapter 1 : Not a Waste of Space
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After making his way through the guest entrance and the confusing pathways, elevators and misleading staircases, he had finally found the place he was supposed to be and began looking around feverishly for some indication as to what to do next. Finally, a man in long brown robes had approached him and asked for his ticket. In reply, Dudley had only managed to stammer out something about being a guest speaker before being ushered off on another whirlwind of corridors and placed on this very chair, this chair which he felt himself nearly physically strapped to, waiting and dreading every moment that lead him closer to leaving it. Dudley had seen the look the usher had given his pressed suit. He had seen the young girl whisper to the man she was with and the glance the man tried to steal. But they were not the only ones staring and it was increasingly obvious that in attempting to do a good thing, Dudley had wasted not only his own time, but the time of the woman who had helped him in getting this far.
“Are you ready?” a voice whispered, and Dudley looked up from his stupid shoes to see exactly the woman who had been so courteous and helpful to him. She was wearing a dark red dress and he was thankful that she looked normal – or rather, that she looked like what he was used to. He gulped. “We’ll be starting soon. I know you must be nervous, but it will go by quicker than you think.”
“I shouldn’t have come,” Dudley mumbled. “I don’t even know what I’m talking about.”
“I’ve heard your speech,” she replied, taking the seat next to his. “You may not have seen a lot of it first hand, but you do know what you’re talking about and what you have to say is very important. Truly, Dudley.” She placed her hand on his knee and smiled as she squeezed it. “You’ll do wonderfully.”
She left him there and shortly after he could hear some sort of horn, like a trumpet, going off and there were people coming – he could hear their chatter and their footsteps entering the auditorium, finding their seats. Dudley could hardly stand the wait. He felt his forehead start to sweat and he dabbed at it anxiously with his handkerchief. He felt for the folded paper in his pocket containing the words for which he hardly needed a reminder, he had read them so many times. He wanted to pace, but he was rooted to the chair. He was going to have a heart attack in this chair. He had inherited every single one of his father’s health problems – obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol – and they were all going to catch up with him right now and he was actually going to have a heart attack. As the noise behind the curtain built, so did his anxiety, and finally the same strange horn sounded and there was a series of urgent hushing. Dudley’s fear of heart attack went away as he realized it was not the crowd he feared. No, there was only one person here that he was scared to face.
A voice boomed out, introducing the host of the evening, but there was so much applause that Dudley could not hear most of said introduction. He had never met this man before, a Neville Longbottom, and from his place behind the curtain, he could only hear snippets of what was happening.
“The wizard we are here to celebrate to tonight has been … and an inspirational friend to me. I have seen him … and heard of his daring deeds. In our first year at Hogwarts… until Hermione Granger put a full body bind hex on me.” The crowd laughed. “We’ve been together through… trials at the Department of Mysteries… battle of Hogwarts. But there is someone here tonight… before all of that… grew up alongside him, if not always peacefully… Please welcome, Dudley Dursley.”
The applause that followed this was slow to start and clearly confused. Nobody here knew who Dudley Dursley was. A brief wave of dread filled him, quickly diffused as Dudley’s chair seemed to literally push him into a standing position and before he knew it, he was walking on stage, shaking hands with this man called Neville Longbottom whom he had never met before, and standing at a mahogany podium. The crowd was dark except for one spot, the one area Dudley could not bring himself to look. On his own platform in the crowd was the man of the evening, the one they were all there to honour, and Dudley could not look at this man. Instead he focused on unfolding his speech, carefully pressing out the wrinkled paper on the podium before realizing there was no microphone. How would they hear him? He looked around awkwardly, not understanding, and cleared his throat. To his surprise, the noise echoed throughout the auditorium and Dudley remembered that this place was like no other he had been before.
“Most of you don’t know who I am,” he mumbled uncomfortably. He looked down at his speech, remembering what he was supposed to say, remembering the areas of the past he was supposed to gloss over and the parts he was supposed to linger on. But there were things that needed telling, and Dudley was ready to tell them. And so, he swung slightly off from his planned course. “Honestly, you are probably better off not knowing me. I wasn’t even invited here tonight; I found out about this event by accident. My mother received letter saying that her nephew would be celebrated and was invited to say a few words on his childhood. Full of shame, my mother could not bring herself to face this man tonight. But I found the letter and I wrote to take her place instead, to come here and tell you the truth about Harry Potter’s childhood and the path he struggled through to become the incredible man he is today.”
Dudley gulped and pretended to shuffle his papers before continuing. “To understand Harry’s childhood, you should understand mine first. It’s true that I had heard the name of Harry Potter before anyone else here did. It was a four letter word whispered behind my parents’ closed door; an evil they tried to pretend didn’t exist. It was not until after the night you all famously know of, the night Harry’s parents died, that I met this figure which had been only a strange outline in my mind. I was hardly old enough to comprehend all this; I was only a toddler when Harry came to our home. While many of the people in this room grew up with this famous name, in my house it was infamous. It was looked down upon.”
There was a glass of water on the podium and Dudley took this time to take a drink of it. He was coming to the point in which he had to make a serious decision about exactly how he would portray his family’s neglect and abuse of the young man that everyone in this world loved. He knew there was a very good chance that he would be hated by the end of it. He also knew that there was the delicacy of privacy which was also necessary so that Harry himself would not hate Dudley even more. Nobody needed to know the countless times Dudley had stuck Harry’s head in the toilet, or the times Pierre had held Harry’s arms back while Dudley punched him with both fists and words. He had not come all this way to humiliate his cousin. And yet, if he did not tell these things, how would anyone understand their early childhood? There was a fine line he had to be careful not to cross. He swallowed his water and glanced around the room. The silence was a baited one; everyone was anxious to hear what came next.
“I grew up a spoiled young man. For many years, two of the four bedrooms in my parents’ house were for my use. Everything I asked for, I got. No delight or luxury was spared. My parents were overgenerous to the point that I became demanding. As you can guess, nothing good came out of that. I was used to getting what I wanted, and if I didn’t get it, I threw tantrums until I was indulged. But Harry Potter… he didn’t get half the treatment I did. He got quite the reverse. My cousin had no private space of his own, only a small cupboard under the stairs where he slept and spent what little time he wasn’t being put to work or lectured. He was only given my second bedroom for appearances sake when he was sent a letter from his school addressed to his cupboard. I had never done a chore in my life; instead my parents loaded the help I should’ve given them onto my cousin. Whatever they did not feel like doing was left to him. On top of that, I was rewarded for similarly making him feel small and unwanted. My friends and I would pick on Harry and beat him up in the school yard. I can’t remember a single harsh word from my parents in my life about this. In fact, I remember more than once getting extra sweets from my father. He didn’t give them to me blatantly as a reward, but that’s what they were. My mother, Harry’s aunt and his only living blood relative, did nothing to stop this and even encouraged it. My parents were preoccupied with an idea of what normal was and stamping out every part of Harry that did not fit that idea.
“I tell you all of this in order to tell you how resilient, forgiving, and good hearted Harry Potter is. Harry has never intentionally done anything to truly harm me in his entire life. There was an incident once, at the zoo with a snake, but I was more embarrassed than hurt, so I don’t think that counts. The few taunts and teases he retaliated with were insignificant to my unforgivable insults. In fact, my cousin has been unparalleled by anyone I have ever met with his patience. If anyone here has seen his temper, I take full responsibility for sixteen years of provoking him. Indeed, the only time I have ever seen Harry Potter angry was went I taunted him about things I didn’t understand, things that turned out to be some of the darkest moments of his life. It was also when I taunted him about these things that something happened – Harry Potter did something – which changed my life.”
Dudley hesitated again, pacing himself by taking another sip of water. He took in another sweep of the room, this time allowing himself to take a brief look into the lighted area. He did not want to see the look on Harry’s face, but he looked instead to the woman on Harry’s right – Ginny. She was the one who had contacted him, welcoming him to the celebration and encouraging him to tell this unheard of aspect of Harry’s life. She was smiling at him and the sight of it made him feel a little bit better. If what Dudley was saying didn’t insult her, hopefully it wasn’t insulting Harry.
“Some of you have heard the story of how Harry was nearly expelled from school – Hogwarts. I was there and I can give a different account from what you may have heard. I was making fun of Harry that day. And not just saying he had funny glasses – glasses that he eventually grew into and rather suited him. I was hitting Harry where it burned the most, in that dark place that I knew would hurt him at the time, but only now, having lost one of my own parents, can I really understand.
“I won’t waste anyone’s time by expressing my regret because forgiveness is not what I came here for, nor is it what I deserve. Instead I will tell you what Harry Potter did. Something was wrong in the air – later I would learn that this was because of something called Dementors. Your understanding of them is surely better than mine, so I won’t go into detail about my feelings. In short, Harry did a spell that saved my life. I could feel all happiness leaving me, but soon it became more than that. I could not see them, but there was a creature on me and…” Dudley sighed. “It was a dark moment that I don’t like to think about. But Harry Potter made that go away. Something happened and, as per usual, I didn’t understand it at the time. But eventually I asked questions and in the months following I had a small idea of what Harry did for me that day. Now, years later, I understand exactly what I owe to him. He saved my life and my soul.”
Dudley shifted from foot to foot, taking another sip of water. There was not a single sound from the audience. Not even a small bit of applause for Harry’s action. Dudley felt they all must hate him or what he was trying to say.
“We left the house I grew up in several years ago now, but I still remember the look on Harry’s face as we were packing to go. I didn’t expect him to feel any sort of sadness or nostalgia at our separation. I imagine he felt relieved. My father expected him to feel guilty because in his mind, Harry had brought this on us all. But even then, I wasn’t sure that was true. I was confused and trying to figure out how someone so horrible, someone I had been raised to believe was cold hearted and selfish, could have done something so substantial as to save my life. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but Harry said something that stuck with me. He said something about being a waste of space. Those were his exact words – waste of space. I think it was that moment when I began to have any idea of how small my family had made my cousin feel. Raised to hate him and still young enough to accept my parents’ word as truth, I had never questioned their treatment of him and his indifference to it as we grew up together. But this idea that he was a waste of space… upset me. It didn’t hit me how much it upset me until days and weeks later. By then, it was too late. Too late to find him – there was a war going on, he was in hiding, and I had no way to say I was sorry.
“I have not seen or spoken to my cousin since the day we moved, over a decade ago. Since then, I remember every time his birthday comes around and how many years passed when it was ignored. At Christmas, all I can think about is how lonely he must have been for so long. How angry. I have wanted to express my regret and my gratitude to him, without knowing how. The only comfort I have taken in the last eleven years is knowing that the last time I saw him, I told him that I didn’t think he was a waste of space. I didn’t fully comprehend what I meant when I was saying it, and I don’t think he fully got it either. But now that we are older, I hope he can see what I was trying to say, what I should have said.
“Harry Potter is a remarkable individual for more reasons than anyone in this room knows. You know about his bravery and the sacrifices he has made to keep all of us safe. Personally, I’m still learning all of these things. Repeatedly, he has done what was necessary for the safety of everyone, not himself. He has put himself in danger so that the rest of us would not. In fact, he has walked to his own death and come back to life so that he could do what none of the rest of us could do. But for my part, the most remarkable thing about Harry is his morality and sense of justice. I have had a personal hand in and been witness to the relentless attempts to break his spirit by a group of people who should have been his family. Instead, we were his captors. I have seen an abused boy grow into a selfless, thoughtful man. He has held onto a generosity and a kindness that I could never hope to achieve myself – me, who has been deprived of nothing, who has been handed everything in life.”
Dudley finally made himself look straight ahead, straight into the lighted platform where Harry and his closest friends were seated. Ginny was crying. Smiling, and crying. The redheaded man on Harry’s other side had his arm around a bushy haired woman, and the two of them looked grave but not angry. The woman had one of her hands clasped over her mouth. Finally, Dudley looked into the eyes of Harry Potter for the first time in eleven years. He could not tell what those eyes said – the distance was too far to read any expression, but there didn’t appear to be anger there. Not at the surface, at least.
“Harry Potter is my hero. I have not been a good, generous, brave, or kind man. I have not given up anything in my life for the benefit of another. Instead, I have taken more than I deserved and disregarded anyone who was left in need. I have used the worst parts of one man’s memory to harm him. I can’t believe what he has grown up to become. Ten years ago today, he came back from the dead to finish a task he did not ask for, but was determined to do. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to round up the rest of that evil man’s followers and keep your world – and mine – secure.
“It brings me so much shame to think of that way I treated a man who could do these things and so much happiness to see you all here in support of him. This man has taught me the fruitlessness of hatred and the necessity of generosity. I can only hope it’s not too late for me to abandon the nonsensical lessons of my parents and instead learn from his principles of courage, responsibility, and humility.”
Dudley folded up the abandoned pages of his speech with shaking hands and hesitated. He did not know how to end this. The room was so deathly quiet, he was sure they could all hear the stickiness in his throat.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, feeling stupid. Again, the clapping was slow to begin, but this time there was more confidence in it. Dudley looked around to see more than one person standing. Harry himself was clapping, but seemed preoccupied. The other people around him were standing, but he looked dumbfounded. Embarrassed and unsure what this meant, Dudley hurried off stage.
He did not want to stay for the rest. He could not bear to hear about all the fantastic things Harry had achieved. His conscience would not allow him to celebrate with these people. He had said what he thought needed telling, the aspect of Harry’s life that made him truly a hero. He did not deserve to stay for the rest. Furthermore, he felt out of place and stupid for being there. He had thought some part of him would feel better after telling the truth, but he could not honestly say it did. He was relieved, yes, but admitting the truth certainly did not make it go away. He found his way out of the auditorium and asked the same man in brown robes – an event worker, he supposed – for the way out.
He stopped. He had not heard that voice in several years. It sounded different now, and yet the same. He turned around and raised his eyes to meet his cousin’s.
For a moment, there seemed to be absolutely nothing to say. The man in the brown robe moved away as Harry stepped forward, studying Dudley with some confusion on his face. Harry looked taller now, but perhaps it was just how he was standing. His raven hair was the same, unruly and yet suiting. He had different glasses – round, still, but slightly different. More grown up. Dudley felt like a child in his presence.
“I’m sorry about your father,” Harry said eventually. “I heard what happened.”
“You don’t owe him that,” Dudley muttered, shuffling slightly. He chewed on his lip and inspected his brightly shined shoes.
They were silent again, for some time. Dudley felt bad for keeping Harry from his own ceremony and was about to say so when Harry spoke again.
“I appreciate what you said back there, Dudley,” he said gently. “I can’t believe you actually came here just to say it.”
Dudley shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s the least I could do. Mum wouldn’t; someone should.”
“It’s a big deal, Dudley. I hope you know that. It means a lot to me,” Harry insisted. “And I want you to know something in return.”
Dudley swallowed, ready for the worst.
“I’ve forgiven you a long time ago for all of that,” Harry said simply. “You’re not the only person I’ve met through all this mess that acted a certain way because they were raised to do it. Believe me, there are people in the war who have done much worse – or tried to – simply because they were never shown another way.”
“That doesn’t change what I did,” Dudley replied.
“No, but you know what you did was wrong. The most important part is that you want to do better. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve done some pretty awful things myself, despite what everyone here seems to think,” Harry admitted. “You move on. You do better.”
Dudley was dumbfounded. “Why are you being nice to me?” he blurted out. “Why are you the one comforting me?”
“We may not be mates, but we’re still cousins. I can give second chances,” Harry said.
Dudley nodded. He put his hand out and Harry shook it gladly. They stared at each other in silent peace and Dudley finally felt that coming all this way, making the painful, self-incriminating speech was worth it. “Tell Ginny that I said thank you for all of her help. She had a big hand in my coming today,” he said.
“Sure. And listen, if you want to keep in touch,” Harry replied, suddenly shuffling through his pockets and pulling out a card, “this is where you can reach me by Muggle post. I don’t keep a phone, we don’t use them. But if you send a letter to this address, it will reach me.” He handed Dudley the card. “Maybe we could go for a butter beer or something else you’ve never heard of sometime. Broaden your horizons a bit.”
Dudley tapped helplessly at his pockets, but the only paper he had was his speech. He pulled it out but had nothing to write with. He said this to Harry, who laughed.
“I’ll find you when I need to. Our post system is a little smarter than yours,” he explained. “Anyway, I’ve got to get back now. It’s my party after all, I suppose.”
Dudley smiled. “Yeah, of course.”
Harry gave a quick nod and a small salute as he took his first steps back toward the auditorium. “See you later, Big D.”
Dudley watched Harry until he was around the corner and out of sight. And then he was alone again. He thought about what had transpired; still surprised by the fact Harry would speak to him let alone ask to keep in touch. Dudley was not sure that was what he wanted. Contact was one thing, but regular correspondence? Visits? Friendship, even? He had crossed too many hurdles that day, coming to this place he had never dared to even think about in his childhood and addressing past demons in front of a crowd of people. The rest would have to wait for another day.
Satisfied, Dudley turned to leave, only to realize he still did not know the way out. He looked around for the man who had helped him moments before, but he was nowhere to be found.
“Harry?” Dudley called half-heartedly. “Harry, how do I get out?”
But Harry’s form did not reappear from around the corner; he was too far to hear. So Dudley was left to fend for himself. He turned in circles, but there were already three different paths to take, and who knew how many twists and turns after that? It had been a nightmare finding his way here, how was he ever to find his way back?
“Where do I go?” he asked , even though there was no one there to answer.
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