Ann stood in the slightly outdated, but very clean kitchen of 18 Wisteria Walk, listening to the boisterous sounds of her family and scrubbing anything she could spot a speck on before her sharp-eyed mother-in-law arrived. Avery and Amelia could be heard arguing happily over a board game upstairs, while thunk-kachunk sounded repeatedly from the cellar where Dudley kept his exercise equipment. Only little Delilah was silent, but that was hardly unusual with her nose buried in a new book in the living room.
Ann stopped a moment, closed her eyes and took two long slow calming breaths, then went back to scrubbing. A final kachunck sounded from below and then a quick heavy step up the stairs. Dudley appeared in the cellar doorway, cocked his head and said gently, "Stop".
"Dudley, your mother…"
"Doesn't live here," he answered her firmly, crossing to her and spanning her trim waist with his huge hands.
"She might as well."
"I know". His eyes twinkled at her, "Someday I will buy you your castle, far, far, far away from my mother. I promise."
She giggled at what was an old joke between them. "You'd better shower and change before they get here".
My mother never minds if I smell," he replied grabbing a carrot from the relish tray waiting on the sideboard and munching it on his way up the stairs to do her bidding. She wondered again as she watched him go how she'd managed to catch such a handsome man. With his blond hair and broad shoulders he certainly could have caught one of the girls she'd always wished she could look like. Glancing at her reflection in the chrome of the stove she tucked an errant strand of mouse brown hair back in place and returned to her scrubbing. Another 10 minutes and she'd have to go up to change for dinner herself.
Ann was back in the kitchen, just pulling the roast out when Dudley answered the door. She could hear Vernon puffing and blowing from all the way down the hall.
"I swear," Vernon Dursley wheezed, "that walk gets longer every time I make it."
"Didn't you bring the car, Dad?" asked Dudley concernedly.
"Of course. I meant the walk from your driveway."
Petunia's voice shrilled out, "You're all skin and bones, Dudley. Doesn't that wife of yours feed you?"
"As much as I'll let her, Mother," replied Dudley, ushering his parents directly into the dining room.
Why Petunia felt her son should be fatter when he worked so hard to keep his weight down, Ann could not understand. He'd told her he'd had a weight problem as a child soon after they'd met, and unfortunately, their older two children seemed to be taking after their father somewhat in that regard, no doubt encouraged by all the sweets their grandmother ladled into them. Fortunately, Dudley encouraged enough exercise that the children were merely chubby and not incredibly fat as Dudley's childhood photos confirmed that he had been.
Taking a quick glance about to make sure that nothing had been forgotten, Ann picked up the roast, pasted a smile on her face and marched into the dining room. Her in-laws had already seated themselves and Dudley was pouring out drinks from the sideboard. The three children had scampered in and Ann was thankful to see that none of them had dirtied themselves in the last hour.
"Avery!" called Vernon, motioning his grandson to him, "Avery, my boy, come and tell your grandpapa how you liked your first year at Smeltings."
Petunia's eyes raked down Ann's dress as she sniffed and Ann wondered where she could have gotten a spot as she placed the roast at the head of the table for Dudley to carve.
"I liked it very well, Grandpapa," said Avery, marching up to his grandfather. "It's an awfully good school. I'll show you my marks after dinner. They aren't the best, but they aren't the worst either and all of my teachers were quite complimentary about my work ethic. I'd have shown you before dinner, but you were late."
"Avery!" hissed his mother quietly, ducking her head.
"That's all right. That's all right. My grandson tells it like it is. Nothing like honesty," expounded Vernon as his chair creaked under him. "We were late and I'm hungry. Take a seat, my boy, take a seat."
"Where are you sending Amelia next year?" sniffed Petunia as Dudley began to carve and the children seated themselves. That wasn't the question and Ann knew it, but Dudley answered his mother with a smile.
"She really wants to stay home and go to the local school, Mother."
"Yes, well, that's all very well, but my granddaughter should go to a good finishing school," sniffed Petunia. "If you'd had a sister, Dudley, she'd have gone to finishing school, we'd have made sure of it no matter how it stretched the budget".
Dudley's lips thinned at the insinuation. "If Amelia wanted to go to finishing school, Mother, we'd send her. She doesn't want to go."
"I know she's said that she doesn't want to go…" said Petunia, cutting into her roast and whispering, "This is a bit dry, dear," at her daughter in law, "but you know my feelings that a girl should have a proper education."
"Public schools provide a proper education, Mother."
"Well, I suppose, but I've taken the liberty of sending for literature from just a few of the finishing schools I can find left in this country, and a couple more from abroad." Simpering with false sweetness and leaning across her plate, Petunia redirected herself to her granddaughter. "You wouldn't mind taking a look at them with me, poppet, would you? We could make an afternoon of it, just you and me."
Amelia was turning red and slouching under the table, but she nodded at her grandmother, as the candles on the table guttered and went out.
Dudley's lips had completely disappeared and Ann was sure he was trying to find the words to tell his mother to back off, but it was Avery, the ever protective big brother, who found a distraction first. "Where did cousin Harry go to school, Grandmama?"
Vernon promptly began to choke on his roast beef so violently, that Avery, sitting next to him, jumped up and began to pound on his grandfather's back. Petunia sat frozen with an expression as if a large bird had just landed it's droppings on her head. Even Dudley looked shell shocked but Ann could only wonder what her son was talking about.
"Where… where… where could you possibly… have heard that… name?" demanded Vernon around his ragged breath.
"Eh, I told him, Dad. Avery asked me when he was home at Easter holidays what it had been like to grow up as an only child."
"So you told him about…"
Dudley had suddenly regained his composure, "Well, I didn't grow up as an only child, did I?"
Ann hadn't thought that Vernon's face could purple any further, but it did and Petunia would have been impossible to see in a snowstorm, her face was so white.
"Avery," said Vernon, in a quiet trembling tone quite unlike anything Ann had ever heard from him before, "kindly do not mention that name again in your Grandmother's or my presence."
"Yes, Grandfather," replied Avery in an equally subdued voice.
"As you've asked, I'll answer you, but only the one question." Vernon's voice returned only half way to normal, "That boy went to St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys. And that is all the explanation you will get from me."
Ann drew in a breath at this astounding speech and glanced at her husband, only to see him staring at his father furiously. The rest of the dinner passed with no more comment than, "pass the salt". Petunia didn't even sniff once more in her daughter in law's direction or try to arrange an afternoon with her granddaughter as she left. Ann was by nature a retiring person, and not at all inquisitive about her neighbors as Petunia was, but the evening left her with a nagging curiosity to know more about the mysterious "cousin Harry."
Ann finished locking up and checked for a last time on her children before heading to bed herself. She could tell from their breathing that neither Avery nor Amelia were asleep, but as both were pretending they were, she decided not to intrude. The entire family had been almost unnaturally silent the whole evening and the children had gone to bed without so much as a single protest. This might have been due to childhood survival instincts triggered by Dudley's face going as purple as his father's normally was, and staying that way for the evening.
Slipping noiselessly into their room, she observed her husband sitting on the window seat, uncharacteristically still and staring out at the night sky. Unwilling to disturb him, she stood just inside the door watching him watch nothing. After several moments he turned his face toward the door and noticing her presence, blew out a long breath as if he'd been holding it.
"You don't have to tell me," she assured him, crossing to sit on the corner of the bed nearest him and laying both hands on his knee.
The corner of his mouth quirked up and he patted her hands. "I just couldn't believe my father prating about honesty and then trotting out that old lie."
She smiled a little, trying to lighten his mood. "Then your cousin isn't criminally insane?"
The ghost of a smile disappeared from his lips. "No, he's not." Then he clutched at her hands as she started to pull away. "I'm sorry. I'm frightening you," he said moodily, "I frightened the children tonight too. My parents don't usually get to me like that. I can usually make excuses for them, say that's just how they are." His fingers played briefly with her wedding ring. "Fourteen years of marriage and I've never mentioned Harry, have I?" he asked finally looking into her eyes.
"No," she replied, trying for casualness, "not that I can recall."
His tone stayed serious. "There's a few things I need to tell you, about Harry and about me. Best to start at the beginning, I guess. Harry was left on our doorstep when we were both just a year old. His parents had been murdered and since his mother was my mother's sister, he naturally came to my parents." He paused waiting for the question in her eyes.
She decided to skip the matter of her husband's aunt and uncle's murder for the present. "He lived with you all through childhood?"
"But there are no pictures. I've been through every photo album your mother has, and believe me she has many. She's shown me picture after picture of you and told me all about every friend in those pictures. She's never mentioned a cousin."
"You'd remember if you saw him, he has a scar, on his forehead, shaped like a lightning bolt, it's quite memorable, but I don't think there are any pictures of Harry as a child."
"Because my parents can't stand him, that's why," he replied in an exasperated tone. "They never could. Didn't like his parents and didn't like him even from the first. You don't believe me," he concluded seeing the quizzical look in her eyes.
"I..." she began, but he cut her off.
"It's alright. It's not believable. Nothing I can say about Harry is. But there're a few things that it's important for you to know."
"I always believe you," Ann said quietly, leaning closer to Dudley.
Moisture sprang into his eyes. "Then believe this. I was horrible to Harry as a child." Almost jovially he added, "I was a horrible child. The nastiest little bully you've ever seen. It's why I wouldn't tolerate Avery bullying when he was little."
"You're a wonderful person."
"But I wasn't as a child!" He stood up sharply and moved away from her. Turning back he said, "I blame my parents, they taught it to me. Always adoring anything I did. You know that my parents have a four bedroom house. One room for them, two were for me, and then there was the guest bedroom. Harry slept in the cupboard under the stairs. Now that's bullying, that is."
Completely befuddled Ann said quietly, "Maybe we should just go to bed."
But Dudley shook his head. Almost pleadingly he asked, "I need to get this out, Ann. Please listen to me?"
She nodded and sat up straighter to show that she was.
"I know my parents have always told you what a wonderful child I was, but I was a complete little berk. You'd have hated me if you'd known me back then. You'd have feared me too. Most of the kids did. Harry was scared of me, but not as scared as most other kids, not nearly. I couldn't understand that at all because I picked on him more than anyone else."
"A lot of siblings don't get along," she offered.
He snorted, "This was a lot more than not getting along. I was the biggest bully in the neighborhood. Thought myself brave and fearless because I beat up on smaller children," he jeered. "I was such a coward."
Ann was having a hard time reconciling this picture to her courageous and loving husband. "You're a brave man. You have all those medals."
He shrugged. "Those I came by honestly. Someone else put me up for them at least. But that was as an adult. I was a coward as a child and a bully. But at fifteen I learned what bravery was and Harry taught it to me." He turned pale and shivered at the memory, staring off at something behind his own eyes. "We were attacked, Harry and I. Exactly what happened I won't say. But Harry got free, he could have run. If he had, even to go for help, I'd have died that night. I was so terrified, I couldn't even move. Harry saved me. He saved me and then helped me get home. And I walked in and told my parents he'd attacked me."
"How…why would you say such a thing?" asked Ann in disbelief.
"Force of habit," he shrugged. "Harry got blamed for everything back then."
Feeling completely pole axed, Ann asked hesitantly, "Did your parents ever find out the truth?"
"Oh, yes," Dudley replied easily. "The truth came out almost immediately, within minutes even. Not that my parents ever scolded me for lying about it. They were too busy fussing over me, and being furious with him."
Dudley shrugged. "Like I said, everything was Harry's fault back then. But that night changed everything for me, because I'd seen courage and I knew I didn't have any. I went back to school, bullied all the kids like I'd always done, but it was just going through the motions. I felt so dead inside and I couldn't figure out what was wrong."
"You must have figured it out eventually."
"Yeah, I did. Funny thing was, it was one of Harry's teachers that put me on to it. He came to pick Harry up the next school year after that and he made a comment to my parents about them at least not having damaged Harry the way they'd damaged me. I remember he used that exact word, 'damaged'. Couldn't figure out what he meant by it at the time, but it kept rattling around in my brain. I kept wondering if my parents had damaged me somehow, if that was what was wrong with me. And I started watching how other parents treated their kids, especially the kids I most envied… the athletes and the brains."
"But you were an athlete," she protested. "You were on the boxing team."
He snorted, "I was on the boxing team, but I wasn't an athlete. I never had the drive of an athlete. I just liked to hit things and I wasn't too bad at it."
"You must have had to keep your grades up to stay on the team."
"Oh, Ann," he smiled, "you have such faith in me. The truth is I stole the smart kids' homework and recopied it. My parents made excuses for everything I did and so I thought everything I did was all right. It wasn't. And when I finally realized that the successful kids around me were that way because their parents expected something of them, I also realized that I'd have to find somewhere where someone expected something of me. That's when I decided to join the army. I figured that there was nothing a drill instructor could do to me that I didn't deserve. And it got me out of my parents' house, though they were mortified that I'd choose to be a soldier, much less an infantryman."
She got up and stepped close to him, "You did well in the military."
He shrugged, "Pretty well."
"You saved me."
"That was just a drunk, Ann."
"You still saved me."
"And you're an incredible salesman."
A small guffaw escaped him and he slipped his arms around her. "I'll admit I'm an 'incredible' salesman when I can buy you your castle. But it's a living."
"Finish the story," she said laying her head against his chest. "What happened to your cousin?"
"No clue," he replied, holding her tightly. "My parents got a wedding announcement from him not long after I joined up. And it was an announcement mind, not an invitation. No return address on it either. That's the last I heard of him."
"So why did you tell Avery about him?" Ann asked quizzically.
He groaned. "Trying to work up the courage to tell you, I think. To finally admit to a childhood I'm thoroughly ashamed of." He kissed her hair. "I didn't want to disillusion you."
"That child you're ashamed of isn't the man I love." She snuggled against him. "But why now?" She felt him wince.
"Erm, I have a feeling Harry might turn up this summer."
Looking up at him she asked, "What makes you think that?"
"Just a feeling," he said, stroking her hair, but his eyes seemed to have grown shutters. "I just want you to know that no matter what my parents say, you would be perfectly safe if Harry did turn up, and so would the children. I trust him."
Laying her head back over his heart, she said, "I trust you."
Holding her tightly and stroking her hair, he replied, "That's as it should be, dearest."
Ann Dursley stood in the doorway to her own dining room, watching her in laws play scrabble with her children and praying that her husband would arrive home soon. Sitting down would only invite a comment from Petunia about housework as Petunia took Ann sitting on anything as a sign of laziness. Never warm, relations between them had been further strained in the month since the disastrous dinner the night after Avery had returned from school. Vernon and Petunia seemed to prefer now to take the children out and about rather than stay in their son's home. But they also became offended if they weren't invited to dinner at least once a week, whether they accepted or not. Tonight they'd accepted and Ann rather wished they'd not. She had a soufflé in the oven, something she hadn't tried making before, and she dreaded Petunia's comments.
The doorbell startled Ann from her thoughts. Petunia looked up inquisitively and Ann said, "Probably just the postman."
"It's your turn, Grandmama," said Amelia as Ann stepped through the foyer and opened the door just wide enough to see out.
The man on the stoop wasn't over tall and had brown hair, round glasses and was casually dressed, though the light jacket he wore seemed somewhat out of place in the summer heat. She briefly wondered if he was a neighbor she hadn't met before asking, "Yes?"
"Is Dudley at home?" the man asked quietly.
"I'm expecting him shortly," she replied, never liking to admit to a stranger that her husband wasn't in. "I could take a message for him if you'd like."
"I'm his cousin," said the man. "I was hoping I could talk to him."
Immediately her eyes flew to his forehead and yes, under his bangs she could see a scar shaped like a lighting bolt. Dudley hadn't said anything further about his cousin since that one conversation, but she'd tucked that identifier away in a corner of her brain immediately just in case, as Dudley had said, he'd turn up. Slipping out the door and pulling it close behind her, she said wonderingly, "You're Cousin Harry."
He startled. "Yes," he confirmed with a bit of a bemused smile.
"I'm sorry for my manners. Petunia and Vernon are here. I rather understand you don't get on."
"Maybe I should try back another day then."
"Oh no, don't go. Dudley wants to talk to you, he told me so. It's just they can be so…" she broke off searching for a polite word for her in laws.
"Yes, quite," said Harry, obviously not needing further explanation.
Ann worried her lip for a moment, thinking. "If you could just step around to the garden," she said, pointing toward their side gate, "Dudley should be along any time now. I'll see if I can get Petunia and Vernon out of the house so you can have a bit of a talk at least." Ann thought she saw suspicion in Harry's eyes, but he nodded and followed her suggestion.
She slipped back inside and hurried down the hall to the kitchen at the back of the house, turned off the oven, opened the oven door and shut it. Then turned and headed back to the dining room.
"Who was it, dear?" asked Petunia, craning her neck from the table.
"Wrong house," replied Ann lowering her eyes and motioning Petunia to come over. "They wanted my neighbors, the Applebees." As Petunia approached her, Ann lowered her voice as well. "Petunia, I've spoiled the soufflé."
Petunia sniffed. "Only to be expected, puttering about with fancy French foods. Ann, when will you learn you'd best stick to the tried and true?"
"Could you and Vernon take the children out, I wonder? It would be a great favor to me, and I'll try to cobble together something for Dudley."
"Of course, of course," Petunia fluttered. Clapping her hands, she called, "Children get your things. Mummy says dinner's not fit to eat and we'd best get our own."
Ann reddened, but felt she was getting back a bit of her own with someone Petunia clearly didn't approve of waiting in the garden. The children boisterously suggested their favorite eateries and asked about the possibility of preferred treats while their grandparents assured them that they wouldn't let them go hungry all the way out to the car. Ann watched the car pull away and then slipped out the back through the kitchen. Rounding the corner, she realized she wasn't the only one who'd watched the elder Dursleys leave.
"Nicely done," said Harry turning towards her. "They seem to like your children, at least."
Ann reddened a bit at the compliment. "They like Dudley's children. It isn't hard to get Petunia to think I'm incompetent in the kitchen. If you'll come with me, I can at least offer you a chair."
"It could be worse," said Harry, following her. "If I brought my children over, Aunt Petunia would lock the doors and ring the house in garlic and crosses."
Ann was rather nervous at letting a stranger into her home without Dudley being present, but her husband had assured her that Cousin Harry was perfectly safe, so tamping down her nerves she led him back through the kitchen to the parlor. He took the seat next to the fireplace facing the doorway and she started to sit on the settee in front of the window, but then popped up again with another thought. Crossing to the secretary, she fumbled for her address book and a pen, which she then offered to Harry. "We don't even have you on our Christmas list. If you'd give me your address, we could at least send you a card."
Slowly, he replied, "I have a post box in London, or general delivery works for Godrick's Hollow, but neither gets checked regularly. I suppose I can give those to you if you'd like."
"Certainly," she replied, hoping she'd not made him uncomfortable. "You have two homes then? Nice to be able to live in the city and out of it."
He gave her an odd look, but wrote in the two addresses. "Both inherited. My office is in London, but the city isn't a very good place to raise children, they need more room to run."
"I didn't mean to pry," she said apologetically. "It's just that I know so little about you."
"No offense taken," he said, handing her back her book with a small smile. "I guess I'm a bit nervous myself."
"Of course," she said, glancing out the window and returning her address book to the secretary before settling herself. "I should have realized. I can find something to busy myself with while you wait, if you'd rather."
"No, I wouldn't want to run you out. Ask whatever you like."
"You said you had children?" she asked tentatively. They managed to stay on the subject of their respective children without unduly alarming each other until a car pulled up in the driveway. "That will be Dudley," said Ann, getting up on one knee to see out the window just in time to see a second car pull in next to her husband's. "Oh, no, they can't be back so soon." She fidgeted for a moment, then started for the door to head off the scene she sensed was imminent. But the slamming of the front door stopped her and suddenly Avery appeared in the parlor doorway, his hands full of bags of hamburgers.
"Mom! We brought take out!" he yelled, before catching sight of the stranger. "Oh, hello."
The two girls weren't much behind their brother and were both just as startled. Ann tried to push past into the foyer, but the girls clutched at her skirt.
"Young ladies should not run into a house," scolded Petunia's voice, "nor should young gentlemen. Now I want all of you to go back to the doorway and ---" Petunia screamed nearly in Ann's ear and kept screaming.
"Mother!" called Dudley as he tore into the house with Vernon puffing as quickly as he could behind. "Mother, what's wrong?"
Ann pulled the girls with her back into the room so their father could get by. She glanced at Harry, but he didn't seem the least perturbed by his Aunt's screaming, though he flinched when a ceramic cherub on the mantle next to him suddenly shattered.
"Well," said Dudley, absorbing the situation. "Oh, Mother, do stop screaming, it's only Harry."
"How can he be here? How can he be in this house?" Petunia screeched.
"I invited him," lied Dudley, pulling himself up taller than either of his parents.
"You did WHAT?" huffed his father, just now taking in the scene himself.
"I invited him," repeated Dudley calmly. "It's just unfortunate that he happened to take up the invitation on a day you were here."
Petunia began to wail, "But we didn't even know where he was. You can't have. And he broke the cherub I got you for your first Valentine's away from home."
Dudley stepped closer to his parents and lowered his voice. "What do you expect? You're upsetting him. I think it would be best if you left and I'll call you later tonight to explain. We wouldn't want another Aunt Marge incident."
"Yes, you do that," said Vernon, purpling. "We'll take the children with us and you can call and let us know when it's safe to bring them back."
"The children are staying," said Dudley firmly. "They are perfectly safe with me. Just go."
With many, "Well, I never." "Dudley, how could you?" and "Not sure I'll ever set foot"s from the elder Durselys, Dudley managed to hustle his parents out of the house. By the time he returned to the room, Ann had managed to get both girls sat down with her.
Avery seemed to be trying to stare Harry down, though Harry was ignoring him. Not caring to be ignored, Avery marched up beside Harry's chair and said belligerently, "I'm not afraid of you."
"No reason why you should be," replied Harry mildly.
Dudley gave his son a light shove with his left hand as he offered Harry his right. Harry stood and shook with his cousin.
"I didn't break the cherub, Dudley."
"I know that," cringed Dudley. "I apologize. You finally come to my house and here I go blaming you for the first thing that goes wrong. It just seemed the fastest way to get them out of the house."
Harry cocked his head. "You know then."
Dudley sat down in the other armchair and waved Harry back to his seat. "I've suspected for a while. I only wondered if you might show up or I'd have to explain an owl dropping a letter down our chimney."
Harry smirked, "All things considered, I think you might have preferred the owl."
"No, I prefer you," said Dudley earnestly. "I never did thank you for saving my life. I've wanted to rectify that for a long time."
Harry's eyebrows rose about halfway up his forehead. "That's a better welcome than I expected."
"Not with Mother screaming fit to wake the dead."
"Now that, I expected."
Unsure how to handle this odd conversation, Ann broke in quietly, "Should I get dinner?"
"I thought dinner was cinders. That's why we went and got burgers," said Avery, holding the bags up.
"I can't stay, Ann, thank you but my wife will be expecting me at home. I just came to deliver Amelia's letter," said Harry, pulling a large parchment envelope from a pocket inside his light jacket.
Amelia immediately scrunched down against her mother's side. Still feeling baffled, Ann looked to her husband, who nodded at her. She patted Amelia and said, "It's alright, Little Light. Your father wouldn't let anything happen to you. It's just a letter." But Amelia shook her head and hugged her mother tightly.
Avery put down the bags he'd been holding, said, "I'll read it!" and made a grab for the letter, which Harry jerked out of his reach.
"It's your sister's," said Harry firmly.
Avery puffed at Harry, but then turned and asked, close to politely, "May I read your letter?"
Amelia bit her lip and nodded and Harry handed it to him. Aloud, Avery read, "'Dear Miss Dursley, We are delighted to accept you as a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.' Blimey! There's a real school for witches then?"
"Of course not, Avery!" exclaimed Ann. "Witches aren't real."
"Ann," said Dudley quietly, and he nodded.
"Oh, but… they can't. Can they?" Ann asked, staring around at faces that plainly said otherwise.
"I don't want to be a mean old witch!" wailed Amelia, holding on to her mother fit to cut off her breathing and screwing her eyes shut tight.
Dudley instantly knelt next to his daughter and started rubbing her back. "Not all witches are mean, poppet. Some are very good. Harry's a wizard and I know he's good, no matter what your Grandmother thinks."
"I don't want to go," whimpered Amelia, "I just want to stay here. I don't want to go anywhere."
"I promised you didn't have to go away to school if you didn't want to, and no one is going to make you."
"Dudley," said Harry, "she's already doing magic. She broke the cherub. She needs training. Or do you want an Aunt Marge incident?"
"I promised my daughter that she didn't have to go away to school if she didn't want to," Dudley said firmly. "It's not just your school she doesn't want to go to; she's truly frightened of going away to any school. Would you make your daughter go away to school if she was truly frightened?"
"My daughter desperately wants to go to Hogwarts. But I do take your point."
Excitedly, Avery exclaimed, "Come on, Amy. It's what we talked about, isn't it? A real school for witches?"
Ann wasn't sure which was making her more dizzy, the conversation or her current inability to take a full breath. "Avery, you haven't been teasing your sister, have you?"
"Teasing?" Avery pulled himself up taller. "No, Mother. Amy hasn't wanted anyone to know. And it doesn't happen that often, so I just kind of help make sure no one notices. Cat's out of the bag now though, eh?"
"How long has this been happening?" asked Harry.
"When I was about eight, I brought home a seed in a cup from school. Amelia wanted it to sprout and it did! I knew it couldn't grow that fast so I figured it had to be magic. Amelia was scared though."
"Avery! You should have told us immediately," exclaimed Dudley.
"And how long have you known?" Ann yelped at her husband.
Dudley cringed shame-facedly, "About two years. You remember that summer haircut my mother bought her that she hated? Except it wasn't nearly as short the next day?"
"Ye-e-e-s, she spent all evening crying over her short hair and the next morning you packed us all into the car and we spent two weeks camping and seeing the sights."
"Harry had done something similar when he was small and I wasn't about to let my mother see. Gave her a good talking to about getting it cut so short that morning too. I should have talked to Amelia then, but I thought it was a one time thing."
"I think she's up to about once every couple of months now, Dad," piped up Avery. Amelia let out another wail.
Dudley looked horrified. "Ann, I swear, if I'd known this was what was frightening her I'd have talked to both of you long before this and I'd have tracked Harry down for his advice if it'd meant beating clues out of my parents."
Ann clutched at her daughter, trying to comfort her, but making no dent in the child's terror. "Can you help?" she asked Harry.
"With magic, yes, but with fear… umm… well… hmm… Dudley do you object to me doing magic in your house?"
"No, please, by all means, be my guest."
Harry pulled his wand from inside his jacket. With a wave, he shut the curtains. "Expecto patronum." Harry's stag patronus erupted from the end of his wand and cantered over to nuzzle the crying child.
"Oooo, pretty!" cried Delilah, who'd been so quiet her mother had nearly forgotten she was there. Avery's eyes goggled and Dudley pulled his legs in close to the settee to be out of the way.
"What is it?" breathed Ann. Beside her, Amelia opened her eyes to find herself nose to nose with the glowing face.
"A patronus," explained Harry, "and it's used to chase away creatures that are incarnations of fear."
Her eyes round with wonder, and releasing her death grip on her mother, Amelia asked, "Can I make one?"
Harry chuckled, "With several years practice. My daughter Lilly thinks they're pretty too." Harry allowed the patronus to fade out and leaned forward. "Amelia, being a witch doesn't mean that you have to be mean and cruel or that you can have everything you want or that you can do everything with magic. You can still grow up to be a healer or a shopkeeper, or a writer, or anything you want to be. Magic is a lot of fun, but you still have the responsibility for how you use it. Can you guess what my job is?"
Amelia shook her head. Avery suggested, "You're a magician in a nightclub."
Harry laughed and sat back. "I'm an Auror. That is, I catch evil witches and wizards and send them to prison."
"You're a policeman!?"
"Whoa, that would set Grandmother back on her socks, wouldn't it?"
"She'd never believe it," said Harry, shaking his head.
"Which is unfortunate," said Dudley.
"How so?" inquired Harry.
Dudley snorted, "I think my mother is about to miss a very great deal because of her prejudices."
"She won't like me anymore, will she, Daddy?" asked Amelia in a small weepy voice.
"If she doesn't, you need to remember that it's her there's something wrong with, not you."
"But there is something wrong with me if I just make things happen."
"Actually, it's fairly common for young witches and wizards," said Harry. "You just need to learn to control it is all."
Amelia's lip trembled, "But I don't want to go away to school."
"And I've already said you don't have to," said Dudley picking up his daughter's hand and giving it a comforting squeeze.
"Dudley…" began Harry.
"No. Harry, I mean it. There are always alternatives. What about a tutor? Or a governess? If I have to get a second job to pay for it, I will. That school of yours probably costs a bomb anyway."
"Actually, tuition is free, you'll only need to pay for supplies," said Harry coolly.
Stubbornly, Dudley answered, "That doesn't mean I can't give my daughter a private education at home."
"Wait," interrupted Ann, mostly because she was afraid the cousins might start fighting just when they finally had a chance to mend their fences. She stuttered, casting about for a way to keep the conversation going. "A-A-Amelia can't possibly make a decision like that without knowing more about the school. This has all just got dropped in her lap. Before we sent Avery to Smeltings, we got all kinds of information about it. I don't suppose they have brochures…?"
Harry was shaking his head.
Ann continued, "Well, but we could at least talk to someone from there or something? You've been there. You said your daughter wanted to go. Do your boys go there?"
Harry's lips quirked in amusement, "James and Albus already have plans for their next year. They love Hogwarts, except for the homework."
"Well, that would be perfect then. I'd love to meet your wife. Why don't we plan a dinner? The children could talk and Amelia could have more time to make a decision."
"I'll barbeque. That way you don't have to cook, Ann," agreed Dudley hastily.
"I'm not sure that talking to James and Albus is the best way for anyone to find out about Hogwarts," said Harry worriedly.
"But it would be so good for Amelia to meet some children who go there," pleaded Ann.
"All right," acquiesced Harry, running his hand through his hair, "But I make no promises about what will happen if Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon walk in."
"I'll try to convince them to leave town for the weekend," offered Dudley. "Could you come Saturday?"
Ann slipped the potato salad out of the refrigerator just as Dudley came down the stairs. "Any luck?" she asked.
"No," said Dudley heavily, dropping into a seat at the corner table. "She won't come out and I think I'm just making things worse. Avery's still trying. It seems like he's the only one that's been able to get anywhere with her the last few days. Delilah is in her room with a pillow over her ears to shut her sister out."
Ann felt horribly guilty for not being able to comfort her daughter, but her assurances that they would love Amelia no matter what only seemed to increase the child's fear.
"I just don't see how this could have happened!" continued Dudley, slamming his hand on the small table.
"It's your mother," said Ann quietly, startled into revealing something that she'd been trying to work up the courage to tell her husband.
"What has she done now?" demanded Dudley suddenly looking rather dangerous.
"It's not so much 'now'," said Ann, spooning the potato salad into a serving bowl, "as it is 'since we moved here'. Every time we watch a show or go to a movie with magic or witches, Petunia makes nasty comments. I remember taking the girls to see Peter Pan on stage and all Petunia could talk about with the girls for weeks afterwards was how fairies were actually such nasty evil things in the old fairy tales and that they shouldn't make wishes because they might come true in the worst possible ways." Ann stopped and put her hands on the counter. With a sob in her voice she continued, "I blame myself. I've never been able to stand up to your mother."
Dudley was instantly at her side with his arms around her. "You shouldn't have to stand up to my mother. I should have stood up for you with her, not let her criticize you the way she does. You've been so good to take it all these years, I just didn't realize how much damage she was actually doing to my family. I tell you, I have a good mind to take that woman across my knee!"
Ann laughed, wiping her eyes, she couldn't help it. "Come on, help me get the food set out. They'll be here any minute." The doorbell rang. "Or right now," she grimaced.
"Kids, they're here," called Dudley as the two of them quickly headed to the door. Dudley pulled it open and ushered the large family into the house.
Harry made introductions as they assembled in the crowed hall, "This is my wife, Ginny, our sons, James and Albus, daughter Lily, and this is our niece, Rose Weasley."
"Rose will be a second year this year. We thought she might be easier for Amelia to talk to than the boys." explained Ginny, a stately red headed woman whose confident carriage Ann instantly envied, but she couldn't help but feel gratitude for the consideration.
Dudley introduced Avery and Delilah, neither of whom had made it all the way down the stairs, and explained that Amelia was still upstairs.
Avery said, "Oi," raced back upstairs and could be heard pounding on a door. "Ameila, there's a witch downstairs and she doesn't have warts at all. She's pretty even!"
Mortified, Ann tried to apologize, but Ginny waved her off and the four wizard children suddenly thundered up the stairs, Delilah following after a big-eyed glance at her mother.
"Let's let the children work it out," suggested Ginny taking Ann's arm. "I hope you don't mind them spoiling their dinners though. I know the boy's pockets at least are full of candy."
"Amelia's locked herself in," explained Ann, "We've been trying all morning to talk her out."
"A locked door should stymie James for all of about five seconds," said Harry as the four headed for the kitchen.
"Do you need any help?" asked Ginny, noticing bowls set out on the counter.
"No, I can manage," said Ann, scrambling to take food out of the refrigerator.
"Nonsense," said Ginny, opening the refrigerator wider. "You have four extra hands here. Might as well fill them."
Gratefully Ann started handing out foodstuffs to be taken out to the yard. Grabbing the last bowl of chips for herself, she followed Ginny out still trying to apologize, "Really, I don't know why I can't seem to teach Avery any manners."
Ginny shook her head, "I have five older brothers and two sons Avery's age. Boys don't discover manners until at least a year after they discover girls."
"I have two sisters, I didn't really grow up around boys."
Ginny set her load down and caught Harry's eye. They stepped away and turned back to back. Each pulled a wand, which they gave rather complicated waves and hid again. Stepping back to the table Ginny addressed Ann, "I'm sorry, you were telling me about your family."
"Eh, Dad died when I was fourteen. So not a lot of male influence in my life until Dudley came along." Ann stuttered to a stop and then tentatively asked, "Did you just do a spell?"
"Does that bother you?" asked Ginny serenely.
Ann shrugged, "Well, I guess it's something I'll have to get used to."
"Not too much," said Ginny kindly. "Amelia won't be allowed to use magic outside of school until she's seventeen. And the Secrecy Statute restricts circumstances that magic can be used in front of muggles, though there are exceptions for parents of wizard children. With the conversations that are likely to happen in this yard today, we felt it would be better if your neighbors couldn't hear. They will hear sounds, but they won't be able to make out the words. We'll remove the enchantments when we leave of course."
"That's probably all to the good," said Dudley, turning from having thrown the meats on the grill. "Mother's spies are everywhere." He flipped open a large cooler, from which he pulled a can of diet pop. "There's beer in the house if either of you want it," he said, addressing his guests. "I'm not in a drinking mood today, or rather, I am, but I'm afraid I'd get drunk and do Mother an injury."
"Whatever you're having is fine with us," said Ginny.
Grabbing his choice out of the cooler and passing another to Ginny, Harry asked, "Why'd you buy a house so close to Aunt Petunia if she's rough on your family?"
Dudley shrugged, "I was still in the military at the time and stationed overseas. I'd decided that I wasn't going to take another tour of duty when my enlistment ran out, and we wanted to set down some roots. Couldn't afford much at the time, and with small children we particularly wanted good schools. Mum and Dad found this place for a song because it was so ill kept. You should see the pictures. Figured I was going to have to spend weeks putting the house to rights just to make it livable. But Mum had done it before we even got here. She spent a good two weeks cleaning and painting the inside. Even had her garden club over to clear out the weeds."
"That was really nice of her," said Ginny.
"Not really," replied Dudley. "It's just her way of keeping me close. "I wish my parents had had a couple more children. Then Mother might not feel she has to keep her lone chick so close, so to speak."
"How did you explain why you'd 'invited' me the other night?" asked Harry.
Dudley snorted, "I reminded her that I sell paper for a living. And even your lot need paper, right?"
Harry choked a bit as he tried to laugh through a sip of soda. "And that went over well?"
"Nope, but I'm not about to tell her the truth, am I?"
Ginny suddenly rose to her feet. "Albus Potter you get off that roof right now!"
Ann turned sharply to see Albus sitting on the roof next to Avery's window and Avery crawling out after him. Her heart crawled into her throat and stuck.
"Aww, Mom, I'd bounce," called Albus.
"You might bounce, my lad, but your cousin wouldn't!"
Albus startled, called down, "Sorry!" and crawled back in after Avery retreated.
"I'm surprised James wasn't the first one out the window," said Ginny huffily.
"James is being on his best behavior today," said Harry blandly.
Harry's eyes glittered, "I told him that if he did anything to further frighten Amelia, he could see me about his Hogsmeade permission form at Christmas."
Ginny drew a sharp breath, "Oooo, that would do it." Addressing Ann, she explained, "Third years and older at Hogwarts get to go into the local village some weekends. It's not a privilege that any student wants to loose."
Ann's heart finally felt as if it were returning to it's proper place. "Would Albus really have bounced if he'd fallen?"
"Possibly," replied Ginny. "You see, when children are young, they can't really control their magical powers, but they do use them instinctively. So when they are in danger their powers will often manifest in a way that will protect them. By the time we're adults, our powers rarely manifest without deliberate intent. But Albus shouldn't be counting on that protection. He's definitely gotten more daring since he finished his first year."
"I'll talk to him after we get home," said Harry, just as Avery, Albus and James burst out the back door and headed for the side yard, each with a mitt in their hands.
"Where are the girls?" called Ginny after them.
"Up in Amelia's room," called James, turning around but still following the other two boys. "They kicked us out and Rosie stole all my chocolate frogs."
"You can get more when we get your school things," said Ginny.
James grinned and disappeared around the side of the house, "I know!"
"They seem so normal," said Ann, and then realizing what she had said, hurriedly tried to stammer an apology.
"Thank you," said Ginny, genuinely. "A lot of wizards can't really fit in muggle society. Harry and I have tried to give our children enough 'normal' experiences that they are comfortable in either world."
"Are the two worlds so different then?" asked Ann.
"In some ways, in some ways not, take sports for example," replied Ginny. Harry looked at her and closed his lips with a laugh obviously sealed behind them. Ginny narrowed her eyes at him in silent communication but laughter twitched her lips as well and she turned back to Ann smiling. "The muggle world is mad for football and the wizarding world is mad for Quidditch. Both require dedicated athletes but only one uses magic."
Ann asked the obvious question and they were off on a full and detailed description of Quidditch (Ann becoming even more impressed with Ginny when Harry volunteered that his wife had been a professional Quidditch player) until Dudley was ready to serve.
The boys thundered through the house to fetch the girls and Ann waited nervously, wondering if her eldest daughter would still be in waterfalls of tears. When Amelia did appear, flanked by the two red-headed girls, her eyes were red but dry and she looked calmer than she had in days, though a bit mystified. Ann felt a pang of guilt and sympathy and rose to give her daughter a hug.
Lilly ran up to her father and said very seriously, "Daddy, can you give Aunt Petunia a wart on her nose?"
"That would be wrong Lilly," replied Harry seriously.
"I know. But it's wrong of her to hate witches too. Why does she hate witches, Daddy?"
"Because she wanted to be one and couldn't, Poppet."
"Really?" asked Amelia, peering big-eyed around her mother.
"You mean all this is out of JEALOUSY?" demanded Dudley.
Harry nodded, "I don't know if it's all out of jealousy, but that's certainly where it started."
"Hrmph. I suppose there might be hope then." When uncomprehending eyes asked the question, Dudley continued, "That she might accept Amelia someday then. She does love you Little Light, she might well be proud to have a witch granddaughter. Especially if you can do something she'll see as useful, like giving her a greener lawn than any of her neighbors."
Amelia sniffed and Ann patted her back. Rose said, "And if she still doesn't like you anymore, you can always give her a wart on the end of her nose yourself."
"Rose!" scolded Ginny.
"Really, Aunt Ginny, she sounds just horrible. But I wouldn't give her a wart. I'm not stuck being her family."
"Get your plates children, said Ginny sternly. "And no more talk about giving anyone warts."
"How can we not talk about warts when we're supposed to be discussing Hogwarts?" asked James with false innocence. The meal was laced with comments about warthogs and hoggy warts and moved on to toad warts and how warts grow. But the conversation stayed light and even Amelia laughed a little.
The children had finished and wandered off again when the doorbell rang and Dudley went to answer it. Dudley returned to the table absolutely livid. Quietly, he said, "Harry, there are some gentlemen out front who want to speak to you."
Harry didn't say anything but got up and followed Dudley back through the house. Ginny grimly trailed her husband and mystified, Ann followed Ginny. Through the front door, Ann could see two police officers on the front stoop. Taking Ginny's arm, she pulled the red haired woman through the parlor to the open front window, from which Ann knew they'd have a better view than from behind their husbands.
"Is there a problem, Sergeant?" asked Harry calmly, addressing the more senior of the constables.
"Mother," hissed Dudley, beside him, looking off into the air and clearly trying to keep his temper behind his teeth.
"I'll need to see your ID, sir," replied the Sergeant, looking very much as though he were hardened for a battle ahead.
"Certainly," said Harry pulling out his wallet and opening it for the constables.
The Sergeant took one glance and his whole demeanor changed. But he examined Harry's identification thoroughly before saying contritely, "Sorry to interrupt your evening, Inspector."
Startled, Dudley glanced down at the badge that Ann could just barely see the rim of glinting in the sunlight.
"I'm sure you're only doing your duty, Constable. Now may I know what this is about?" asked Harry putting away his wallet.
"We had a report of a mad person at this address. Naturally, we'll have a talk with the reporting person about filing false police reports," said the Sergeant grimly.
Harry cocked his head, "In all fairness to my Aunt, we haven't spoken since I was seventeen and she has no idea what I do for a living."
The younger Constable piped up, "A bit of a wild one in your youth, Inspector?"
Dudley replied, "Harry spoke his mind. My parents didn't think that was appropriate behavior for a dependent nephew."
The Sergeant threw his junior a disapproving look. "We can chalk this up to a misunderstanding if you want, Inspector, but we will have to give the lady a stiff talking to. I don't want any repeats."
"Understandably," replied Harry.
The Constables touched their caps and headed for their car. Harry and Dudley slipped back inside and their wives joined them in the hall. "I didn't know you could do deliberate magic without a wand, Harry," said Dudley as they traipsed back to the yard.
Harry laughed, "I didn't. It's real, Dudley. Here take a look." Harry took out his wallet again and handed it to his cousin across the table as he retook his seat.
"Chief Inspector, Ministry of Defense Police, Criminal Investigations Department," read Dudley.
"It's just enough authority to let me stick my nose where it's not wanted, and get the answers I need without having to resort to hexes."
"Blimey! How'd you get this?"
Harry cringed. "With a lot of hard work. You remember when Kingsley Shacklebolt was guarding the Prime Minister?"
Dudley nodded, "And Mum and Dad and me all ended up in protective custody with a couple of wizards for guards. I can tell you, Mum and Dad loved that year."
"It wasn't any fun for me either, or for anybody else in the wizarding world. Not a great year to be a muggle in Britain for that matter. But during that time the Prime Minister had quite a few chances to talk to Kingsly, who incidentally became the Minister of Magic after Voldemort was killed."
"Alright, I follow you so far," said Dudley. Ann was glad he did because she didn't.
"The Prime Minister expressed the feeling that it was ridiculous that the only point of contact between the British Government and the Ministry of Magic was himself and that that connection only functioned one way, that is, the Minister of Magic would call if he felt there was cause. The Prime Minister insisted that there should at least be some point of contact within the law enforcement community and Kingsly came to agree."
"So where do you come in?"
After Voldemort died, I got taken in as an Auror. The Aurors had been decimated, as had the Office of Magical Law Enforcement. But Kingsly wanted to keep his promise to the Prime Minister, so he asked me if I would do it. It took a bit of working out, but the Prime Minister got me placed with the Ministry of Defense, reporting only to the High Commissioner. He knows what I am, but no one else in the Ministry does."
"Sounds like you were busy."
"Those first few years were hell. I was nominally in charge of what was left of the Aurors, but they were training me at the same time. We were doing our best to mop up those of Voldemort's supporters that had gotten away. Then I had muggle Constabulary classes on top of that." Taking his wife's hand, Harry said tenderly, "I was lucky Ginny was willing to wait for me."
"I kept busy myself, if you recall."
"Which was why I wasn't sure you'd wait."
"Someone had to keep you from getting a swelled head."
"I thought that was Hermoine's job."
"It was. I just helped out occasionally." Ginny dimpled at her husband then glanced around. "Sorry. While the children are out of earshot… Dudley, Ann, we asked Proffessor McGonagel about your idea of keeping Amelia home for her education. Proffessor McGonagel was our head of house while we were at Hogwarts. She's retired from teaching now, but she's written three books on the education of young witches and wizards and she's considered one of the foremost experts in the field."
"And…?" asked Ann tentatively.
"And she didn't think it was a good idea," said Ginny, reaching across the table and laying her hand over Ann's. "She thinks that Amelia needs to be with other children who can do magic or she'll never see her abilities as normal."
Ann gasped. Dudley pounced, "Of course she's normal!"
Harry said, "Proffessor McGonagel has seen a few students who've been traumatized over magic in Muggle homes over the years."
"Yourself among them?" snapped Dudley.
"You said it, I didn't," replied Harry finishing his drink and rising to get another.
Dudley deflated. "All right then, what does your expert recommend?"
Ginny continued, "She thinks that you should send Amelia for a semester. Tell her that she can come home after that if she really can't stand it. Then buy her her own owl so she can write you often and always have a note ready to send back by return owl."
"What about a cell phone?" asked Ann quickly.
"There's no cell tower near the castle," replied Harry. "And they put a spell on to block satellite phones a few years ago. I don't think there's even a land line closer than Hogsmeade, and I'm not sure there's one there."
Ann and Dudley exchanged glances. "I think that might be hard on our modern girl," Dudley said. As if for punctuation, the phone rang. "I'll get it," said Dudley rising and hurrying inside.
"Ann, I must say, you seem to be taking all of this very easily," said Harry.
Ann looked down at her wedding ring and twisted it on her finger. "I think my Grandmother may have been a witch." She looked through her eyelashes at the witch and wizard sitting across from her. "My father used to call her 'The Old Witch' and there were some things that happened…well, they might have been magical." She added quickly, "I don't think my father was a wizard though."
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other and then Ginny asked, "What was her name?"
"There is, or was, a wizarding family named Vance, but I don't know of a Marigold Vance," said Ginny. "We could see if we could find something out for you though."
"Oh could you? She died in the same car accident as my father. I never got to know her very well and I'd like to know more about her. It would certainly explain where Amelia's powers came from, wouldn't it?"
Harry looked up sharply, "You said she and your father died when you were 14? And you're about 3 years younger than Dudley?"
"How could you know that?"
Harry shrugged, "Good guess. A lot of wizards died the year Dudley and I were 17. And if she was a witch, it's a safe bet that she didn't die in a car crash."
Dudley stepped out the back door. "I've pulled the phones out of the wall. I don't want to talk to her right now." Sitting down heavily at the table, he said, "Really, Harry, I don't know when I've been so embarrassed. She's being simply horrible about you."
Harry shrugged, "No more so than usual."
Dudley grimaced, "Have I apologized yet for being a complete berk when we were childen?"
Harry smiled. "Not yet."
"Then I apologize. And I think I owe you several dozen more."
Harry's eyebrows rose under his bangs. "That's the second time you've apologized to me for something. If you keep that up, I think you're going to make me uncomfortable."
"I suppose I'll have to space them out then," said Dudley with a trace of returning good humor. A car could be heard pulling up quickly out front. "Oh no," said Dudley, recognizing the sound of his parent's engine. "I am not answering the door."
"Won't she come around back when you don't open it?" asked Harry.
"She might," admitted Dudley.
Ann rose from the table and started through the house just as the pounding began.
"Ann, don't!" called Dudley, but Ann ignored him. For once Ann knew exactly what she wanted to say to her mother in law. A real smile bubbled through her lips.
"Dudley Dursley, you open this door! You can not hang up on your mother!" shouted Petunia, still pounding.
"Petunia!" shouted Ann welcomingly as she jerked the door wide. "Oh, Petunia, how could you never have told me about Cousin Harry?" She grabbed Petunia into a hug and kept one arm around the flabbergasted woman as she started to pull her into the house. "He's such a gem!"
At this Petunia's feet seemed to grow roots on the threshold.
Ann continued, "And his wife, Ginny, is absolutely the most interesting and generous person I've ever known. Oh I just know that our children are going to be fast friends!"
"You can not be serious!" exclaimed Petunia. Lowering her voice, she continued, "Do you know what those people are?"
"Of course I know, Petunia," replied Ann, all innocence. "Isn't it fascinating?"
"You can't mean to let my grandchildren play with those… those…"
"But they've been playing all afternoon, Petunia. Of course I was a bit concerned when the boys started to climb out on the roof, but boys will be boys and other than that, they haven't given me a bad turn the whole time. They're lovely children. Really, you must come in and meet them all." Ann gave another shove through the doorway just as Petunia tore herself from her daughter in law's grasp.
Sprinting back to the car, whose motor she'd left running and door she'd left open, as if for just such a quick get away, Petunia called back over her shoulder, "You tell my son to call me when he comes to his senses!" Petunia fell into the driver's seat and sped away without so much as buckling her seatbelt.
Dudley's laughter sounded heartily from the foyer.
"I was only trying to be nice," said Ann as she skipped toward her husband.
"Oh, Ann, that was perfect!" said Dudley. He picked her up and kissed her.
Screaming suddenly erupted from the stairwell and both parents were at Amelia's side, reassuring her, before she collapsed into sobs on her mother's shoulder.
"Harry," said Dudley, heavily, "would you accompany me to my mother's house? Perhaps you can keep me from killing her."
"No, Dudley," Ann said anxiously, laying a restraining hand on his arm. And then a sudden calm settled on her, almost like magic but more like the calm in the eye of a storm. She knew it wouldn't last, but for the first time in her life she knew exactly what to do. "No, we're not going to talk to her at all until after Amelia leaves for Hogwarts."
"But Daddy said I didn't have to go!" wailed Amelia.
Transferring her hand to her daughter's chin, Ann said gently, "Little Light, of course you have to go. You're a witch, and you have to learn how to be a good witch. We will help you all we can, but you have to become what you were born to be and we can't teach you what you need to know. You have to go." She caught and held her husband's gaze. "Your father and I will tell your Grandmother where you've gone right after you leave. That will give her plenty of time to adjust before you come home on holiday. And if she can't, then she's just not going to be a part of this family, because we won't give you up and we won't put up with her putting you down."
Dudley nodded. "Your mother's right, Little Light. If you can't stand Hogwarts, we'll find another solution at Christmas. Right now, you need to be away from your Grandmother while she learns better manners."
"She says mean things to Mommy," sniffled Amelia.
"That's my fault," replied Dudley staunchly. "I shouldn't have ever allowed it and it will change while you're at school."
"I still don't want to go," sobbed Amelia. "You promised I didn't have to go."
Tears threatened at the corner of Dudley's eyes as he pulled his daughter up so that he could see hers. "I won't break my promise. It's your decision. If you won't go, I won't make you. But I don't see how things are going to work out if you don't. Things can't just stay the same, no matter how much we want them to. You have magic, you have to learn to use it." He smiled at her. "I can't wait to see what kind of wand you get, or buy you your first broom. Think I'd be too heavy to ride behind you someday?"
That got a little laugh from Amelia.
"We love you, Little Light. You are going to be a fantastic witch someday," said Ann. Amelia wrapped her arms around her mother and buried her head in her mother's shoulder.
Harry stepped forward and laid a hand on Dudley's arm. "If you want me, I'll go with you to see your mother the day after the Hogwarts train pulls out."
Dudley nodded. "She'll try to lock us out, but I have a key. I don't suppose there are any witch's games Amelia can try to get her more in the spirit?"
"Not here, but maybe my house? Next weekend?" offered Harry.
"Absolutely," replied Dudley.
"We'll be off then," said Ginny.
"No need to rush," said Ann.
"It's time," said Ginny, calling the children. "But we will see you next weekend. We'll send you an owl about arrangements."
Amelia threw herself at Rose as she passed. "You'll be there too, won't you?"
Rose assured her that she'd ask her mother. Avery whispered a request for chocolate frogs to James as he passed. The wizarding family gathered in the backyard. Harry and Ginny waved their wands to remove the protective enchantments they'd placed earlier and then all 6 disappeared.
"Oi," said Avery. "Wish I was going to Hogwarts."