Harry Potter knew something important had happened as soon as there was a knock on the door. It was half-past nine; too late for anyone to be calling on a house this far out in the country without sincere purpose. As he tentatively performed an identification charm with his ear pressed against the cherry wood door, Harry breathed quietly and thought of his scar. Though his scar had not bothered him since the defeat of Voldemort, sometimes he still had to suppress the anxiety and anticipation of pain that welled up inside him out of habit. As he observed the result of the charm he had cast, he frowned in bewilderment.

Harry turned from his position at the door to glance at Ginny, who was holding her wand in alert tension and pointing up at the bedrooms where their three children were lying asleep. She tilted her head inquiringly, and Harry made a gesture telling her it was all fine, there was no need to set protective enchantments.

Harry threw open the door with his wand still in his hand, and the warm summer air rushed in. Dudley Dursley was standing on the doorstep, clutching a wrinkled parchment envelope with emerald green ink scrawled across it. His cousin was still quite heavyset, but he had lost some weight since their last encounter at Aunt Marge's funeral four years previously. His blond mop of hair was pressed against his pink forehead with sweat and he was quaking violently. Harry had not seen Dudley this shaken up since his nasty encounter with the dementors, but was not inclined to tell him so.

"What are you doing here?" Harry asked incredulously, but Dudley did not answer. He was staring at Harry's wand with an expression somewhere between fear and the desire to vomit. Wordlessly, Dudley handed Harry the envelope, which was damp from his sweaty fingertips. As Harry glanced at the handwriting and at the familiar crest stamped to the back of the envelope, he understood. "I think you'd better come in," he said, ushering his cousin through the door.

Ginny muttered "Muffliato," and pointed her wand at the ceiling to prevent their children from overhearing. Dudley blinked in surprise as he observed this, but still seemed unable to speak. Harry stowed his wand in his pocket and led his cousin into the kitchen. Harry set a kettle to boil and lit the burner by hand; he had a feeling using magic would upset Dudley too much. He set the letter on the wooden table, and Dudley sat down heavily in one of the chairs. It groaned slightly as he did so.

The Potter kitchen was spotless except for two glasses of mead that he and Ginny had been enjoying until Dudley had arrived. It was painted a merry sunlit yellow color, and Ginny had framed moving photographs of their friends and children along the walls. A book entitled "Slow Cooking in High-Pressure Cauldrons: A Beginner's Guide" lay on the counter with a bookmark sticking out of it, and a few pungent gurdyroots sat in a brown bowl in the corner with a note propped against it signed, From the garden! Lots of love, Luna and Rolf.

Of course, Dudley could not have noticed any of this, for he was staring at the letter as if it were a ghost. There was a very awkward silence as Harry waited for the kettle to whistle, and it was only perpetuated when Ginny entered the room, her midnight blue dressing robes swishing with every step. She sat down beside Dudley, but did not speak. Harry believed this was the first time his wife and his cousin had ever met. Of course, Ginny knew all about their difficult childhood experience together, and Harry could see the look in her eyes that often preceded an excellent casting of a Bat Bogey Hex. Harry shook his head when she glanced at him in silent suggestion, but he grinned nonetheless. The thought of Ginny hexing Dudley was comical of course, but tonight was not a night of laughter for his cousin. After tonight, nothing in Dudley's life would ever be the same.

There was a slight ease in tension when the tea had finally been steeped and poured, though Dudley looked as though he could have used something a bit stronger. Harry thought of the bottle of firewhiskey sitting in the highest cabinet, and hoped he wouldn't need to open it tonight.

As the three sat at the table, Harry picked up the envelope. "Can I open it?" he asked quietly. Dudley nodded once, his watery eyes still wide and fearful.

Harry broke the wax seal and unfolded the letter within. The scrawling writing with the flared letters was familiar to him, as was the name at the bottom. Seeing Headmistress McGonagall's signature was like receiving a friendly wave. He had heard this was going to be her last year before retiring. As Harry scanned the contents of the letter, he couldn't help but smile at his memories of his old professor.

"What are you smiling for?" Dudley asked at last, looking irritated.

"Dudley, has anyone else seen this letter?"

"Well, Hannah was home when they delivered it—she was in the garden. The owl nearly gave her heart failure. But Amelia hasn't seen it. She was at school."

As much as he had liked Hannah when he had met her four years ago, she reminded Harry a little too much of Aunt Petunia. She too liked a clean household, excessive normalcy, and eavesdropping on her neighbors over the hedges. The thought of an owl taking her by surprise was distinctly amusing, and to cover up his smile, Harry spoke again.

"Dudley, before I tell you what this says, I want you to tell me what you already know. Clearly you've recognized the seal, or you wouldn't have come to see me. I want you to tell me about Amelia."

Harry knew that the only way Dudley would come to terms with the contents of this letter was if he said them aloud to himself. If Harry simply told him that Amelia was a witch, Dudley would never believe it.

Dudley took a swig from his tea and patted his forehead with a napkin. After a few minutes, he began to speak. At first, each word seemed to choke him. Then, the stories began to pour out without pause.

"The first time it…happened…we thought it was a freak accident. I mean, people can lift large loads with adrenaline, right? But how do you explain a six-year-old lifting a car with her bare hands just to rescue a cat? And then, when she was ten, we took her to the museum. We were looking at the dioramas, and then suddenly all the animals had come to life. Amelia had her face pressed up against the glass, and a saber-toothed tiger was roaring at her from the other side. There were other strange things, and we always told her to hide it. We had to be normal, especially around Mum and Dad. You know what they're like," he said, pausing at this to look at Harry's face. Harry pressed his lips together and ran a hand through his black hair, imagining what would happen if his aunt and uncle ever found out about Amelia. He almost felt pity for Dudley now. It was easy for him to imagine Dudley helping Amelia conceal her identity as a witch from her grandparents, who would never understand or welcome her. Would they treat her as they had treated Harry? Would Dudley lose the constant doting love of his parents?

Amelia would probably be an outcast to them if they knew. She wouldn't be able to send them messages via owl from Hogwarts or bring them sweets from Honeydukes for Christmas. They would retreat with fear and confusion. Harry disliked this thought, and attempted to push it from his mind. He turned his attention back to Dudley, who had begun to speak again.

"But anyway, weird things just kept happening over the years. And the letter came this morning, and I just thought it looked just like the letters you got when you were her age. And then I knew she must be a…" Dudley left this sentence dangling in the air, and Harry took a deep breath.

"Dudley, I know this is going to be hard, but I need you to say it out loud. You've got to accept it—she is going to need your support," Harry said firmly. Dudley drained his cup of tea in response. There was a long silence, and Harry stared at Ginny while he waited. She was looking at Dudley with sympathy, but her hand was still holding her wand under the table. The quiet was quite oppressive, save a few high-pitched mutterings from two Cornish pixies who were attempting to peek through the kitchen window from outside. Harry turned to them and gave them a nasty look, and they leapt from the windowsill with squeals of laughter that he hoped Dudley could not hear.

Luckily, Dudley picked that exact moment to utter the words, "My daughter…can do magic. She's a witch."

He looked oddly crazed as the statement escaped his lips, as if he wished he could take it back. But Harry merely smiled and poured Dudley another cup of tea.

"Do you want to read the letter from Hogwarts?" Harry asked, and Dudley accepted it into his large beefy hands although his expression was still hesitant. When Dudley had finished reading, his eyebrows had knotted.

"It says they're going to send someone over tomorrow afternoon to explain Hogwarts and the wizarding world to you and your family. They'll talk to Amelia and make sure she wants to come. And they'll give her a list of schoolbooks to buy."

Dudley looked terrified. "We can't do this alone. We're not like…like you," he said, glancing between Ginny and Harry. This time, it was Ginny who spoke up.

"You're in luck," she said. "Our son, James, is going to start at Hogwarts this year too. He got his letter yesterday. We can come with you to buy supplies in Diagon Alley."

Dudley seemed to recoil from this suggestion at first. After so many years of being fearful of "their lot," he was now being thrown into the midst of the wizarding world, asked to support his daughter and rely on his strange and abnormal relative. Harry understood this, and put a hand on Dudley's solid left shoulder in support. "We're here to help," he said softly.

For the first time since Dudley's statement of "I don't think you're a waste of space," on the day Harry had left Number 4 Privet Drive for the last time, a wordless understanding passed between the cousins.

Dudley then nodded and said, "All right. I'll er…call you after they come tomorrow to explain everything so we can set up a date to go shopping."

Ginny looked rather excited; she loved answering the telephone that they had installed in the living room since she had grown up without one. She had even invited Mr. Weasley over to investigate it one afternoon before Lily had been born, and he had been thoroughly thrilled. In fact, Harry had needed to interfere, for Mr. Weasely had tried to disassemble it to see how it worked.

When Dudley had finished his cup of tea, he walked to the door with Harry and Ginny at his side. There were no more words exchanged, but just before Harry made to close the door behind his cousin, Dudley turned around and said, "Harry."

Harry paused, watching the rotund blond man on his porch. "Yeah?"

"Thank you," he said gruffly. "For everything."

"Right," said Harry stiffly, unsure of what to say. He had never known Dudley to have said "thank you" before, and this had caught him completely off guard. "Er…see you soon. Good luck tomorrow," he said. Then Harry closed the door, and he and Ginny stood there in the hallway, marveling at the events that had just taken place.

"Do I sense the beginning of a new friendship?" Ginny asked with a devious smile.

"We'll have to see," sighed Harry. "Although I'm nervous to see what Dudley thinks of Diagon Alley. He'll probably hate me more when it's all said and done."

"I want to take him to see Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," laughed Ginny as they returned to the kitchen to put away the dishes.

"I don't think Dudley will appreciate knowing that George now sells a line of pink umbrellas that give people pig's tails," laughed Harry.

He and Ginny continued talking as they cleaned the kitchen, and when they finally retired for the night, Harry still lay awake, wondering what it would really be like to share his world with Dudley Dursely.