The reappearance of his cousin would have been unwelcome even if Harry wasn’t already in a temper. Ever since the death of his parents, Dudley had kept his distance, which was perfectly fine. The few times the two cousins had met usually meant Dudley had some great complaint, or wanted to make one demand or another (like extra tutelage in magic, for example). After the day he’d just had, Harry was ready to chuck Dudley out of his flat. He had neither the patience nor inclination to listen to Dudley’s whining.
Ginny, seeming to sense Harry’s intentions covered his mouth with her hand before he could say anything. Dudley was too busy watching television to notice that anyone else had come in.
“You’ve obviously had a bad day, Harry. But before you fly off the handle maybe you should hear what he has to say. You might be pleasantly surprised.”
“Why? What has he been telling you?” Harry could not help the accusatory tone in his voice, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth he wanted to take them back. If she knew something she’d tell him straightaway. The hope that Ginny had not caught his words or tone was dashed when he looked at her and saw the flash of anger.
“I have no idea. I got home ten minutes before you did and found him knocking on the door. All he said was he wanted to talk to you.”
Harry groaned. He had no memory of ever having those words precede anything he liked. The last time Dudley had shown up “to talk” he had spent hours elaborating on a long list of complaints about his university. Only when Harry threatened to hex him did he change topic and start making demands for extra lessons in magic.
The few disastrous attempts Harry had made at teaching his cousin magic were enough to convince him that he could not teach Dudley anything without high risk of causing Dudley bodily harm. He was very appreciative of the fact that others had taken on this odious task. While they had all been staying at Grimmauld Place, people like Minerva McGonagall, Moody, and Kingsley had taken it upon themselves to continue Dudley’s training. Whether they were able to get any better results from Dudley, Harry didn’t know, but given the fact that most lessons ended with both teacher and student in tempers, he thought it unlikely. Though the lessons continued to this day, Harry doubted in four years that Dudley had progressed beyond learning to control his magic at the most basic level, which, as McGonagall pointed out, was the main reason he needed training in the first place.
“I think it best that you listen to what he has to say without flying off the handle,” Ginny said again. “D’you think you can do that?”
Harry looked from her back to Dudley who had continued to watch his programme. He still didn’t want to hear what Dudley had to say, but she had a point. . The quicker he heard Dudley out, the quicker he could get him to leave. Bearing this in mind, he nodded.
“Good.” Ginny busied herself with the kettle, leaving Harry to slump down in a chair and think about all of the possible complaints or demands that Dudley was likely to claim this time
“Are you making tea?” he asked stupidly when the kettle’s whistle diverted his attention from the television.
“Yes. Would you like some, Dudley?” Ginny inquired.
Dudley nodded fervently, but stopped quickly when he saw Harry sitting there. A tense moment of silence followed this exchange. Ginny tolerated this for a minute before she gave Harry a stern look and glanced quickly at Dudley. Her meaning could not have been plainer.
Sighing, Harry said, “Dudley, come in here please.”
He did as Harry asked, but Dudley seemed most reluctant to divulge the reason he had come. This struck Harry as ominous. On similar visits he had always been more than willing to enumerate his problems or complaints. Why had he now decided to clam up? This could mean nothing good.
“Are you going to sit there like a moron, or are you actually going to tell us why you’re here?” Harry demanded when he could not take the silence any longer.
Ginny rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation but said nothing.
“What makes you think I’m here for something?” Dudley questioned, attempting to look insulted, but his nerves diminished the effect somewhat. Harry raised an eyebrow, still just as skeptical as before. Dudley shrugged, “OK, OK. I did come here because I need — I need your help.” He gulped, looking like he was swallowing a mouthful of bile.
He’d been expecting it, but the fact he was right did not give Harry a sense of triumph. He looked at Ginny, who was frowning now. “What sort of mess have you got yourself into now?”
It looked for a minute as if Dudley was trying to fix an annoyed expression on his face, but instead his shoulders drooped and he stared into his tea. “It’s not really a mess.”
“Wait a minute,” Ginny spoke up, causing Dudley’s head to spring up again. Harry glowered at Dudley before turning his attention to Ginny. This was another reason that Harry so detested having his cousin around: the fact he slobbered all over Ginny. It was a disgusting behaviour that had not got any better over time despite his being threatened, punched and hexed on several different occasions. Ginny had even got him a couple of times with her famous Bat Bogey hex. It made her repeated insistence that he be nice to Dudley all the more perplexing.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at school, Dudley?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” Dudley replied evasively, squirming, increasing Harry’s suspicion.
Ginny was right. They were mere weeks into what should be Dudley’s last term at university. Not being a fully-fledged wizard he could not Apparate, and as far as Harry knew he’d never traveled by Floo powder before. This meant he must have taken a train to get here, missing at least a day from school. Dudley was the least studious person Harry knew (his appalling academic performance had given Hermione nightmares) but even he wouldn’t use a visit here as an excuse to skive off classes.
“It’s either one or the other, Dudley,” Ginny stated
“Fine. It’s no, then.”
“They chucked you out?” The knowledge that he was surprised at this news shocked Harry. It had been a miracle that any university had accepted Dudley in the first place. The fact he had managed to make it through two and a half years without getting kicked out was astounding.
“They asked me to leave.” Dudley sounded so miserable that Harry quickly stifled his desire to laugh.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ginny responded sympathetically.
“It’s hardly surprising given his abysmal grades. You can’t tell me you didn’t see this coming, Dudley,” Harry stated.
“Suppose I did,” he admitted, causing both Harry and Ginny to exchange a look. This was the baldest statement Dudley had made in a long time. “I guess mum and dad would have been disappointed in me.”
No, they would have made an excuse for his poor performance as usual, Harry thought. He decided not to say this, instead shrugging noncommittally. He didn’t feel much like discussing his aunt and uncle. A horribly disturbing thought that connected Dudley’s expulsion and his visit was starting to develop in his mind. After a respectful amount of silence Harry asked, “so what does getting chucked out of school have to do with your . . . er . . . visit?”
“Um . . . “ For the second time in the short time they’d been talking, Dudley looked like he had to work hard to prevent himself being sick. If Harry was right about the reason for this visit he was not going to help Dudley to say it. “Well . . . I was hoping that since I don’t have anywhere else to stay now that you’d . . . let me stay here.” The last four words tumbled out of his mouth so fast they were almost unintelligible.
“Oh,” Ginny breathed from Harry’s left. She apparently hadn’t seen this coming. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw her turn to watch his reaction. This is exactly what he thought Dudley was leading to, but upon learning he’d been right, he had the urge to laugh. The thought of living with Dudley again really was funny. They’d spent sixteen years praying for the day when they could part each other’s company, and now they had achieved it Dudley wanted to return to living together again.
“Well . . . what do you say, Harry?” Dudley tried to sound like he was unsure of the answer he would get, but his tone betrayed him. To Dudley it seemed his asking was mere formality.
“Not a chance in hell,” Harry said flatly. It had been one thing to stay with the Dursleys at their house on Privet Drive, but it had been far worse to stay with them at Grimmauld Place for several months and Sirius’s old house was a lot bigger than this flat. Living in such close quarters might increase Dudley’s odds of sustaining bodily harm.
Harry expected another reprimand from Ginny, but she remained silence. Perhaps she, too, realized that it was not a good idea for two people who loathed the very idea of each other to be flatmates.
“But I’ve got nowhere else to go,” Dudley whined.
“There is Privet Drive,” Ginny suggested.
“I’m not going back there,” he responded so rapidly and forcefully that both Harry and Ginny were shocked into total silence. “I can’t really go back anyway. The damage done by those Death Eaters can’t be repaired you know. Not that I would want to go back there even if it could.”
“You could rebuild, or buy new. You’ve certainly got enough money,” Harry stated.
Being Vernon and Petunia’s only child, Dudley had been their sole beneficiary. It turned out they had a lot of insurance, plus the house, and Uncle Vernon’s company Grunnings. Dudley would have been set for the rest of his life even without the impressive amount left to him from Aunt Marge’s estate (she, of course, having died before Uncle Vernon and leaving everything to him). Dudley was the last person in Harry’s life who would need to beg for a place to stay.
“I haven’t. Mum and Dad set up the money in trust. I only have a certain amount I can draw on. It’s not enough to afford to live anywhere decent.”
Knowing the Dursleys as he did, Harry seriously doubted they would have set up a trust so Dudley’s stipend was not sufficient for him to live a posh life. Then again anything less than all of the money was probably not enough for him. Perhaps Uncle Vernon had not been as stupid as he so often demonstrated. He was clearly concerned his son would not act responsibly with money and had taken precautions. Harry felt an involuntary wave of admiration for his deceased uncle.
“Can’t you just ask for more? There have to be circumstances under which you can withdraw more money from the trust,” Ginny suggested.
“That might still take months though. What would I do until then?”
“What about Grimmauld Place?” Harry asked, trying to think of anyplace that was not his flat.
“You want me to stay at that freakshow house?” Dudley asked hysterically. “Where portraits shout at you if you look at them funny, that’s beyond filthy, and where you have that creepy creature lurking around every corner? No, thank you!”
“Don’t let Hermione hear you call Kreacher a creature,” Harry said, feeling amused for the first time that day. It was exactly like Dudley to come in begging for some help, and then to shun the help offered.
“The place really has gone straight down the drain since the Order stopped using it,” Ginny conceded. Dudley smiled smugly at Harry, but a minute later that was wiped off as Ginny added, “but beggars can’t be choosers. People who are asking for help shouldn’t be so quick to turn up their noses.”
This effectively shut Dudley up.
Feeling like Ginny had gained a small victory over Dudley Harry leaned back in his chair and sipped his cold tea. He was savoring the shocked look on his cousin’s face. If anyone else was in this situation he might feel bad, but Dudley had brought the whole thing on himself.
“I think Grimmauld Place is the best idea,” Ginny said after contemplating the suggestion. “Since you already meet your trainers there it would be highly convenient. And I think it would be good for Kreacher to have someone staying there full-time. He really is too old to be alone so much.”
“You sound like Hermione,” Harry replied casually. Dudley didn’t look happy, but that was just too bad. It was like Ginny said, beggars could not be choosers. It would give Dudley a place to stay and, even better, he would still be out of the way. Ginny was really a genius sometimes.
“She’s right about Kreacher, Harry.” The jubilant feeling Harry had begun to feel at the thought he would not have to live with Dudley evaporated at the annoyed look Ginny was giving him. Harry wondered if she was intentionally trying to deflate his happy feeling for she was not finished speaking. “The house is in no condition for habitation though. It’s going to require at minimum a few days before you can move in, Dudley.”
“Does that mean I can stay here during that time?” he asked hopefully.
“No,” Harry said. Even a few days in Dudley’s company would be tempting fate.
“Where am I supposed to go until then?”
“Don’t you have any friends you can stay with? What about Piers and that lot?”
“I haven’t talked to him for years, not since that summer your lot kidnapped us into that horrible house. Shacklebolt and that Arthur man appeared right out of thin air in front of us at Smeltings. That’s why I chose not to go back there, you know. Who could face them after that?”
“Oh is that why? You mean it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that you were supposed to be staying at headquarters so you wouldn’t get picked up by Death Eaters?” Harry asked sarcastically. The modicum of patience he’d had for this conversation was ebbing away as fast as his jubilation had.
“You know, Potter,” Dudley said angrily, “this hasn’t all been a laugh for me. My parents were murdered remember. You’ve got no idea what it’s like to live with that.”
Harry had a ready retort, but Dudley’s last statement pushed everything else from his mind. He was painfully aware of how self-centered Dudley was, but this was extreme even for him. How quickly he forgot the reason that Harry had lived at Privet Drive for all of those years.
“What?” Dudley asked after thirty seconds of absolute silence. He looked from Harry to Ginny and back again. “Oh, sorry,” he said after taking another thirty seconds to realize his blunder. Dudley didn’t even have the sense to break from his campaign though. He changed tactics without flinching. “Well Harry, we’ve both lost our parents to him. You know what it’s like . . . . I thought you’d understand. We’re in the same boat.”
“No, we’re not. My parents actually stayed in their hideout. The only reason they died was because they were betrayed. I told your parents what would happen if they moved out of Grimmauld Place. Lupin told them too, so did Kinglsey and Moody. They chose not to listen and — surprise, surprise — they’re dead.” His anger over Dudley’s behaviour and assumption made Harry say these words more harshly than he might otherwise have done.
Dudley jumped to his feet, fists clenched. Harry followed suit, withdrawing his wand.
“That’s enough.” Ginny got to her feet too, and she also had her wand out. “Dudley, sit down. You, come with me.” She grabbed Harry’s hand and dragged him from the room.
“Why’d you pull me out of there?” Harry demanded, putting his wand back in his pocket as Ginny closed the bedroom door.
“Because you were being a complete prat. I can’t believe you, of all people, could be so callous about his parent’s deaths. He’s clearly still upset about it and you just trounced all over his feelings.”
“Dudley hasn’t got feelings for anyone but himself,” Harry said automatically, but without conviction. Now he was away from Dudley he was starting to feel an all-too-familiar queasiness. It was because of an escape and a defeated Imperius Curse on Ron’s part that Voldemort had gone after the Dursleys in the first place. If he, Ron and Hermione hadn’t gone to Little Hangleton that day, they would still be alive.
“Oh Harry, grow up,” Ginny sighed. She sat down on the edge of the bed looking very tired. “Haven’t you taken any time to think about why Dudley’s done the things he’s done? The money, the university, the magic?”
“Dudley’s not that deep a person, Ginny. He only does what pleases him. I’m surprised you haven’t realized that yet.”
“I don’t think so. I think, despite how he’s acting tonight, he’s really upset over the death of his parents. Do you really think he would have continued trying to learn magic, or worked so hard to get into university if this weren’t something his parents wanted? And as for the money thing, I’m sure his parents would have left him with enough money to support himself. But didn’t they buy him a lot of things? Don’t you think its likely he’s spending a lot of that money to buy things hoping that will help remember his parents.”
“That won’t work. What a stupid idea.”
“Of course it is. But it’s all he knew. And think of this too,” Ginny continued. “How hard has it been for you to deal with the loss of your parents even though you didn’t really know them? How much worse do you think it would be if you had not only known them, but relied on them for nearly everything?”
Harry’s immediate thought was that he wouldn’t have relied on his parents like Dudley did. First off, his mum and dad, thankfully, weren’t like the Durlseys and probably wouldn’t have raised him to be as spoiled as Dudley. But . . . loathe though Harry was to admit it, what Ginny said made sense. Even more disturbing was the fact that he now felt a little sorry for Dudley and reluctantly guilty about what he’d said.
“I didn’t think you had it in you to be so inconsiderate, Harry,” Ginny said, disappointment evident in her voice.
“Was I the one who barged in and started making demands?” Harry asked furiously. He couldn’t stop himself from pacing around the room. This was too much. To have overreacted was one thing, but inconsiderate? He, Harry, may have been a little rash in his comments, but it wasn’t like he had shown up at someone’s house unannounced and started acting like he owned the place.
“So his methods were terrible. I still would have thought you could stop being pig-headed long enough to appreciate that he came to you.”
“It wasn’t out of loyalty or because we’re family.” Harry traced quotations around the last word. “You heard him! He only came here because he’s got nowhere else to go. Why are you pushing this so much?”
For the second time that night Harry couldn’t keep the accusatory note out of his voice. For years Ginny had stated she thought that Harry and Dudley should try to be nicer to each other. She’d never been this direct about it before. It was quite disconcerting.
“I’m just trying to get you to stop acting like a git,” Ginny sighed. “I’ll never understand you, Harry. You’ve spent years envying my family and saying how much you’d love you have your own family, yet you push your only family member away at every opportunity.”
“You would too if you had a cousin like Dudley. Listen Gin, I know this is hard for you to understand because you come from the perfect family, but not every family can be as close as yours.”
“My family is far from perfect. Remember Percy? You just don’t want to put in the effort to make things work. I’m surprised that you don’t want to take even a little time to see if what he’s been through has changed Dudley. What you’ve been through has certainly changed you.” Ginny paused for a moment before continuing, ”Was al that talk about wishing you had a family just that — talk?”
“I don’t consider Dudley Durlsey family. He’s a relation, yes, but not family. You, Ron and Hermione are my family.”
“Well, here’s your chance to change that. I know you’ll be really upset if you don’t take the chance to develop a relationship with him. Let him stay, at least for a few days. Maybe you’ll be surprised at how much he’s changed.”
“Not likely,” Harry said quietly. It was the very last thing he wanted to do. He had lived with Dudley a lot longer than Ginny had. The likelihood that his cousin had become a tolerable human being was less than nil. The stern look on Ginny’s face wasn’t going away though. If he gave in at least she wouldn’t be able to go on about what he hadn’t done. Harry sighed heavily. “Fine, he can stay. But —“ he was keen to stress this point —“ the first sign he’s pulling anything Dudleyish he’s out.”
“It’s your house,” Ginny said, looking pleased at Harry’s change of heart. “I don’t think you’ll regret this.”
Following Ginny back to the kitchen Harry added this latest thing to his growing list of questions. He still had not talked to her about her odd behaviour leading up to Christmas. As things had been good these last weeks since Ron and Hermione had left and there was a chance it would just set her off again he wasn’t about to bring it up. He might be a little stubborn sometimes, but he wasn’t stupid. Only a fool would chance turning calm into a storm. All the same, practically demanding that Dudley be allowed to stay was worth of quite a lot of concern.
“I guess it’s safe to assume you forgot it was your turn to make dinner?” Ginny asked as they reentered the kitchen. Rather than sounding annoyed she now sounded amused.
Given everything that had occurred that day the thought of dinner had been driven completely from Harry’s mind. The excitement of capturing Yaxley and then the subsequent altercation with Tougas had taken centre stage.
“Yeah, I — sorry,” he said, recalling why he had been in such a bad mood even before seeing Dudley. Ginny watched him intently for a second.
“I’ll forgive it this time,” she replied with a small smile. “We’ve got a ton of food anyway. Mum keeps sending stuff over.” She gestured toward the fridge. “It’s like she thinks we can’t cook for ourselves or something.”
With a few waves of her wand, Ginny had Mrs. Weasley’s casserole, steaming hot, in the middle of the table. Dudley was staring at the dish as though he’d never seen food before. Harry assumed that though he’d been learning magic for several years, his day-to-day exposure to it was still quite limited.
“Since you got out of making dinner, you’ll at least get the plates?” Ginny asked Harry.
“OK.” He raised his own wand and used it to have three plates, glasses and sets of cutlery fly out of the cupboards and drawer and land in their appropriate locations on the table.
“So cool,” Dudley said under his breath.
“You could do it too if you just practiced more,” Harry stated, piling some of the casserole on his plate. It was not until he smelled the wonderful aroma of Mrs. Weasley’s cooking that he realized how hungry he was. Mrs. Weasley was still the best cook he knew. It was just too bad her fabulous talent hadn’t been passed on to Ron or Ginny. Ron tended to burn anything he touched, so it was safer — and kinder on the taste buds — for him to remain a consumer rather than a producer of food. Ginny wasn’t a bad cook, she just didn’t have her mother’s culinary brilliance. He’d never told her that though. Ginny was a dangerous witch to anger; Harry would rather not have any of his body parts altered, thank you.
“So, Harry, feel like talking about your bad day?” Ginny asked after several minutes in which only the sound of cutlery scraping against plates could be heard.
At first he debated about going into details of his day, especially with Dudley there, but being reminded of it for the second time made him feel a little ill. He was still unsure of what was going to happen about his outburst at Tougas.
“What an ass —“ Dudley started to say after Harry had finished his story, but Ginny cut across him.
“You probably shouldn’t have lost your temper with him, but Moody’s reasonable. I bet you nothing will happen. I mean you did get Yaxley, thank God. Maybe now the Abbots can have some peace.”
Harry wished he could share her certainty. He spent the rest of the meal contemplating his fate the next day. Tomorrow night he might be unemployed. It was a gut-wrenching thought. To have put in so much work for three years just to have it all end over such a stupid man was intolerable.
“So . . . er . . . “ Dudley hesitated as they all stood up from dinner. “Can I say then?” He was looking nervously at Harry. He had purposely avoided giving Dudley an answer while they ate dinner. The longer he could avoid acknowledging his already made decision, the better.
“Yeah, you can stay,” he said slowly.
Dudley looked flabbergasted at Harry’s response. Like with Ginny, Harry was determined to make Dudley understand that he was not going to put up with any crap.
“Yeah, I got it.” Dudley was smiling like a Cheshire cat as he responded to Harry’s list of conditions. “But you won’t regret it, Harry.”
This was the second time he’d been told this in the last hour. Harry did not share Dudley and Ginny’s optimism. Knowing Dudley as he did, Harry was quite sure he’d come to regret this decision very much.