Disclaimer: The idea is mine, and the obvious original characters also. Everything else is JK Rowling's!
It was an unremarkable day in autumn for someone who wasn’t willing to give his or her surroundings more than a passing glance. If they looked carefully they would have noticed the way that the hidden sun outlined each cloud in front of it with a glowing silver line, and that the damp ground caused the cobblestone of the old sidewalk to glitter almost prettily. Even the chilly wind redeemed itself by setting multi-coloured leaves to flit this way and that playfully through the air.
But the man who had just appeared from nowhere in the darkened alleyway noticed none of these things as he straightened his jacket and then carefully peered out from where he was hidden in the shadows. Everything looked unremarkable in his eyes. All the passersby innocently threatened him just be their being in his line of vision, the cool air causing his nose to redden the longer he kept up his watch, and all this time spent on the lookout for left over death eaters meant more time separated from his very pregnant wife.
His thoughts drifting to an unsettling vision of her trying to fix dinner and keep their two toddler-aged sons from killing each other caused him to pull out a silver pocket watch and give a sigh after glancing at it. Their source had spoken of a possible attack on one of the muggle establishments in this area around dinnertime, and it was just about that time now. This Auror had to be alert until the possibility of an attack was gone.
Or at least until someone else replaced him.
Checking to make sure that the wand up his sleeve was easily retrievable, the man tried to mask his strained face with a bored look before stepping from the alleyway. He did his best to look as unremarkable as the rest of his surroundings as he strolled along the walk.
Nothing seemed suspicious. Café’s were filled with people who hadn’t time to stop long for a bite of dinner, the unfortunate business-types who finished work at this time were striding purposefully from their offices, and there were a number of parents ushering children along—it must have been parent-teacher night.
“—he says your homework is well done but your test marks have been rubbish!” One frazzled mother pulled along a child that looked to be about seven, and the Auror wondered whether they child’s mother finished the homework herself.
“Did you like my picture, Mum?” One little girl, excitedly being pulled along by her sister while their mother was peering into her purse, “Abby says my flowers are too lumpy but…”
The Auror smiled a bit as he passed that lot, his eyes still expertly peeled for anything off.
“—didn’t say anything bad, can we get ice cream?” the boy speaking was jogging backwards before his parents, and the man passed the group of them before hearing the parents’ reply. The boy had sounded so excited though, he hoped they would take him for some.
Nearing the perimeter of his assigned area, the man’s green eyes searched until he found who he was looking for. A fellow Auror was sitting hunched forward at a bus-stop bench, his mop of red hair and matching smattering of freckles even seemed pretty unremarkable on this dreary day. But as soon as they made eye contact the redhead stretched to a standing position, winked covertly, and turned to start his way back through his assigned area.
Smiling at the sight of his best friend-turned-coworker, the man reached up a hand with which to brush his fingers through his hair while letting himself slow until he stopped completely. Trying to look nonchalant as he rested for a couple of seconds to scan his surroundings critically, the Auror wondered if his coworker working the area along the other side of his perimeter was worrying about him yet. Although unremarkable, this day was proving to be backwards: usually his brown-haired accomplice was met at the other side of the perimeter before his best friend was sought out at this end.
The three of them had gone to school together, and even though the brown-haired one had never been that close with the other two there was an undeniable bond that connected them. If they were sent on a mission they hardly ever returned empty handed.
He realized too late as he started rotating on the spot that he should have been more mindful of the people who were now trying to dodge out of his way, and despite his best efforts to keep from running into people there was one such person that was almost impossible to avoid.
At first she was all blonde hair, and then she was cute as a button, and then—since the top of her head hardly reached his waistline—he was half shuffling to the right, half leaping over her in order to keep from bowling her over.
He had one hand haphazardly reached out towards her as he regained his balance just in case he hadn’t been able to avoid her and she would topple over, but she only wavered slightly. All things considered, everything seemed in place, and he would have let her alone except that the way her eyes were almost over-widened as she repeated, “Mommy?” left an uneasy feeling in his stomach.
“Dear,” he called, now scrambling after her, “Excuse me—darling…”
Careful not to touch the small child, the man was so concentrated on maneuvering around her that he didn’t notice the man a few paces behind them calling out a name, “Anna!”
“Are you looking for your Mum and Dad, dear?” the black-haired man asked when he was finally crouched down in front of her. The girl’s light brown eyes found his with mild interest.
“We’re picking Mum up from work!” She announced readily. Unabashedly, the girl grabbed one of his hands, looked over her shoulder to make sure her Dad was coming, and then charged towards the school once more, “Dad! Harry! C’mon!”
He gripped her hand steadily and stood, but try as she might to pull him along, the man wouldn’t move. His green eyes were frozen on the large body that was rushing towards them. Though the familiar blond hair, blue eyes, and stocky build were attached to a body much smaller than the one remembered, the Auror was still shocked into inactiveness by his presence.
The blond man’s eyes were only on the girl, however, “Anna, what have I said about running ahead?”
The obvious cause of the man’s delay came in the form of a child looking to be hardly older than a year old who was in his arms and struggling to be let down.
“She belongs to you?” The Auror spoke, confused, amazed, and slightly horrified all at the same time.
“Yeah, sorry, thank you for stopping her,” the one year old was finally settled comfortably in crook of the man’s left arm, and after quickly hoisting up his loose pants with his right hand he reached it out towards the girl, leaving time only for a quick glance at the man who had halted her, “Anna—“
But he didn’t go on. The double take he awarded the Auror was slow and unmasked, his slack-jawed expression lingering somewhere between surprise and fear. After a few long, silent moments, Anna gave up pulling the stranger and finally reached for her father’s empty hand, “Daddy?”
“I thought you were dead,” he offered, not meaning to ignore his daughter.
“Nope,” was all the Auror could say while he shook his head. His mind was too busy with rushing thoughts.
“We left with that man and woman and never heard from you again,” readjusting the boy he was holding, the man never took his eyes off the Auror.
“Did they ask about me?” he tried to be bitter in order to ignore the way his stomach was dropping.
“I did,” was the immediate honest reply, and the Auror was silenced by an overwhelming wave of guilt. He had been protecting them, hadn’t he?
“How does she know my name?” The Auror changed the subject, absently pointing towards impatient Anna.
“She wasn’t calling to you,” he was stalling for time, but finally set his chin in proud defiance, “her brother’s name is Harry.”
“Harry Vernon,” the little girl giggled as her father surveyed the boy in his arms with care, “my name’s prettier! Anna. Lilian. Dursley.”
Each name was emphasized by a jump from the girl, and Harry Potter’s jaw seemed to drop lower each time her feet hit the ground. And then the guilt crippled him.
The Dursley’s had made the whole of his childhood and a portion of his adolescence completely miserable, but they had fed him, dressed him, and kept him alive long enough so that he found a better way of life. Their quick farewell had even almost been sentimental, and an understanding between the two boys had occurred just before the blond had followed his parents out the door all those years ago. The Auror had long since forgiven his cousin for his childish terrorizing, and Harry hadn’t even taken a moment to find out if his relatives had made it through everything alright. Or to let them know that he had.
“It is beautiful,” Harry finally spoke, smiling at the girl, “and so are you.”
The pride in Dudley’s eyes was unmistakably relatable, and Harry couldn’t help but teasingly tickle at the small boy, “And little Harry is dashingly handsome, just like his name-sake.”
“Harry is boring,” Anna sighed, now with her arms out and spinning on the spot, “Daddy says—Daddy knew a Harry who could fly and make magic! And Grandma ‘Tunia says there was a Lily, like Anna Lilian, Lily who could too! She used to make magic at a boy that bugged her! Like Ben down the street!”
Harry didn’t know who Ben Downthestreet was, but hearing all this stated so matter-of-factly by a girl of about four(which is probably the most honest age of all) raised his eyebrows in disbelief. Dudley wasn’t sure if he was more embarrassed or shocked, but continued to hug little Harry to him and keep an ever-watchful eye on his daughter.
“And what does your Grandpa Vernon have to say about all that?” Harry wondered, almost speechless.
“Grandpa Vernon, on the mantle?” Anna tilted her head towards her Dad questioningly, and Dudley nodded. The girl shrugged, and Harry’s confused expression met with suddenly dull eyes, “He’s in heaven taking care of Sparkle, my goldfish, until I get there.”
“What?” He had spent years believing that he didn’t care what happened to his only living relatives, especially his Uncle Vernon, but his face was screwed up with real enough concern.
“Heart attack two years ago,” Dudley explained, avoiding Harry’s gaze, “Mum lives with us now, dotes on these two, and talks nonstop of Lily. Anna likes to look at the picture we have of Grandpa Vernon on the fireplace mantle.”
“Daddy used to look just like him,” the girl giggled innocently.
“Yes, and then your Daddy realized,” Dudley had moved to ruffle her hair a bit before pausing, hoisting his pants up once more, and trying to word it so that his cousin would understand, “—that he wants to watch his grandchildren grow up.”
An unexpected scratchiness in Harry’s throat prevented him for speaking for a moment, and at first he could only nod, impressed, “You look really good, Dudley.”
Dudley nodded his thanks as he set little Harry down onto the sidewalk in front of him and kept him steadily standing by grasping his little hands out to either side of the child’s body while Anna tugged playfully at the hem of his jacket, “How have you been?”
“Good,” was the short reply, for Harry was watching Anna and Harry almost wistfully, “My eldest son is a bit younger then Anna, the next a year younger. My wife is due again next month; our first girl.”
“A baby!” Anna cried, and Harry had to laugh as he nodded.
“Congratulations,” Dudley smiled, and its friendliness was so unfamiliar that Harry almost felt the need to pinch himself.
“Thanks,” he nodded, and he openly stared at the small family before him until Dudley warily asked another question.
“What are you doing here?”
“Working,” and with that reminder, Harry’s head shot up and he scanned his surroundings quickly. Everything was still unremarkable, save for familiar brown-haired man who was wandering his way ever closer to them. Catching his coworker’s eye, Harry nodded that it was okay, and watched as Neville’s tensed shoulders relaxed as he feigned window-shopping his way back to his own area.
Dudley peered over his shoulder to see who Harry had been nodding to, “What kind of work?”
“You could call it detective work, I suppose,” Harry said deliberately slow, his eyebrows raised meaningfully. Dudley looked appropriately uncomfortable at the subtle suggestion of something magical happening right before his eyes, but Harry recognized the flash of fear and hurried to quell his cousin’s worry, “No one’s here that shouldn’t be, Big D, everything’s good.”
He smiled in relief, “I haven’t been called that in years.”
“Who are you?” Anna finally spoke straight to Harry, her light brown eyes crinkled in wonder. Dudley waited to see what Harry might say, but a silent moment of calm understanding passed between them.
“I knew your Daddy a long time ago,” Harry explained vaguely, hoping the little girl would be satisfied with that answer. But he needn’t have hoped, because Anna’s bright eyes widened along with her smile as she squealed with excitement and bolted from her father’s side.
Both men watched the small girl barrel into the arms of a crouched, smiling woman. Harry noticed that the both of them shared the same light brown eyes, and something about their smiles fit together too.
“My wife, she teaches at this school,” Dudley introduced from afar as he hoisted little Harry into his arms again, “We married young—five years now.”
“Congratulations. You’ve changed a lot, Dudley,” Harry complimented, a half-smile sticking to his lips.
“You haven’t changed at all,” the other implored with a snicker, “Still saving the world, Harry?”
“Yeah,” Harry joked lightly, “One stupid cousin at a time.”
They shared a laugh, something completely welcome and alien at the same time, an odd bittersweet air to it as the last chuckles faded into the noise of the busy street. It was time for this rift in the unremarkable worlds of these two men to end. Coincidence had worked with fate to coordinate a crisscross of paths that would ease both of their minds for years to come, and neither of them knew what to say to express what they felt.
A weight lifted off of both of them that neither had been aware was there in the first place.
“I’m sorry about Uncle Vernon,” Harry said finally, and genuinely, “but it was really good to see you.”
“Yeah, thanks, you too, Harry,” Dudley replied, nodding his meaning and starting to step towards where his wife and daughter were both beckoning him.
“Bye!” Anna called from where she stood, and both her and her mother waved enthusiastically at Harry even though neither of them knew whom he was. Calling out a farewell, the Auror waved in return and then moved to walk his perimeter one more time.
“Oiy!” Harry turned once more to find Dudley stopped just a few paces away still, “I’m glad you’re not dead. Keep it that way for a while, yeah?”
A full-fledged grin overcame his features, and Harry nodded, “I will, Dudley, you too.”
It really is amazing how one remarkable event can change one’s entire outlook on life. Harry had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the twirling leaves, which reminded him of little Anna twirling in her place, and couldn’t keep the grin from his face once his shift was over and his redheaded accomplice met him and Neville in the darkened alleyway where they were to Apparate back to the Ministry of Magic.
Ron Weasley’s face was wearily drawn, and his eyes crinkled suspiciously at Harry’s smile, “Everything alright?”
“Perfect,” was the overzealous answer.
“Who was that bloke you were talking too?” Neville questioned curiously.
“Oh that?” Harry tried to look as if he wasn’t quite sure what the man was speaking of, “Just another reminder why it is that we do what we do.”
“You know, I asked myself that very thing at least twenty times during my random walking up and down that same street over and over,” Ron settled his hands in his pockets and tilted his head mockingly at Harry, “Why exactly is it that we do what we do, Harry?”
“We make it so that people don’t have to just worry about surviving,” Harry’s unfocused eyes glistened in remembrance, “We make it so that people can do what they must to live a life worth living.”
With Harry staring randomly at the wall opposite them, the other two were stunned into momentary silence. Ron broke it by unceremoniously starting a slow clap, which made Neville laugh and Harry shove them both in response.
The three of them Apparated away within seconds, and for the first time so far that day there was a break in the clouds and streams of sunlight broke through and raced to the ground below. Suddenly, the world wasn’t so unremarkable anymore.
A/N: I signed up for the challenge one day, and the next the story was written and posted. Some plot bunnies were never meant to be caged. =) Please let me know what you think! I immensely enjoyed writing this, and I would love to know if there are any aspects that could have been better! Thank you, Indigo Seas, for the Challenge that inspired this plot bunny!
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