Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling; various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books; and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made (well, lots of money is being made, but none by me) and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Harry had once thought that after the events of his eleventh birthday, nothing would ever surprise him again. But then there had been acceptance into the Weasley family, Ginny opening the Chamber of Secrets, the appearance of the godfather he didn't remember, the brilliant professor who had turned out to be a werewolf, the disastrous end to the Triwizard Tournament, the Order of the Phoenix, Grimmauld Place, Dumbledore's Army, the prophecy that had made him the Chosen One, Tom Riddle's past, the Hallows, Severus Snape's love for Lily Evans… when the last battle had been won, he had thought, surely, there could be no more surprises. Everything else must necessarily be an anticlimax.
Then he found himself holding his turquoise-haired godson under the awning of a café in London and awaiting the arrival of Dudley and his daughter.
Apparently surprises didn't stop just because you learned you were a wizard or came through the defeat of Lord Voldemort physically unscathed (unless you wanted to count the scars from last Christmas, which Harry really didn't).
"Sorry I'm late," broke into Harry's thoughts.
Dudley, who so far as Harry knew had never apologized to anyone in his entire life unless he was well-paid or afraid of imminent bodily harm, was apologizing to Harry for being all of five minutes late. The world was definitely full of new and strange things.
"That's all right." He looked at the pink bundle in the sling around Dudley's neck. "This is Mary?"
"Yeah," said Dudley with a strange combination of embarrassment and pride Harry had never expected to see on his cousin. Dudley used one enormous hand to pull the pink blanket away from Mary's head with remarkable gentleness. The baby's round face was almost as pink as the blanket, and almost impossibly tiny. Harry felt Teddy's weight in his own arms and was reminded of how fast his godson was growing to be so much bigger than Mary, and only a few months older.
"She's beautiful," Harry said reflexively, but it was more or less true. Probably Mary looked like her mother, which was good luck for her.
"Thank you." Dudley gestured at Teddy. "This is your godson?"
Harry nodded. "Teddy Lupin, meet Dudley and Mary Dursley." Teddy cooed at Mary with apparent interest.
Dudley was studying Teddy's turquoise hair with a hint of Uncle Vernon's distaste for such things. Nor was he the only one; a passing Muggle was muttering something about it being child abuse to dye the hair of such a young baby. Not wanting to prolong this sort of gaping, Harry grabbed Dudley and maneuvered them both through the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley.
Dudley was bigger and more heavily muscled than anyone else in the room, but he began to shake so visibly that Harry wondered that Mary wasn't disturbed.
"Everything's okay," Harry told Dudley awkwardly.
"Tell me again where we are?" asked Dudley, not bothering to deny that he was terrified or in shock or both.
"Diagon Alley," Harry said patiently. "It's a wizarding street that's hidden in London, just like Platform 9 ¾ is hidden in King's Cross. You have to know the gateway's there to use it."
"Why do wizards need their own streets?"
Harry shrugged. "To sell robes and cauldrons and stuff. To have somewhere where they can talk about magic without being overheard." He steered Dudley out of the Leaky Cauldron and toward Mr. Ollivander's wand shop, though he wasn't sure any longer if this was a good idea. Mr. Ollivander sometimes left Harry uneasy; he might reduce Dudley to a quivering blond pile of nerves, which Harry did not care to explain to Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia.
The shop looked abandoned, but Harry opened the door anyway. He knew that Mr. Ollivander was working here almost constantly, trying to replace the stock that had been stolen or damaged by the war. Just the day before Harry had written to Luna, of whom Mr. Ollivander was quite fond, and asked.
"Mr. Ollivander?" Harry called, trying to reduce the startling that was bound to occur when Mr. Ollivander inevitably appeared from nowhere. "It's Harry Potter."
Mr. Ollivander appeared behind the counter as suddenly as if he had Apparated. Dudley jumped; so, it must be admitted, did Harry. "Harry Potter," Mr. Ollivander repeated needlessly. "I don't know if I have a new wand that would match you, but I don't know if you need one."
Harry drew his Fawkes-feather wand for Mr. Ollivander's inspection. "It's been fixed."
Mr. Ollivander's eyebrows flew to the top of his head, but he made no comment. "And this," he said to Teddy, "Is Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks' child? A difficult customer for some wand-maker in eleven years, having had so many different forces in his past already."
"This is my cousin Dudley and his daughter Mary," Harry said, because Mr. Ollivander had given no sign that he noticed their presence.
Then Mr. Ollivander was in front of the counter and leaning close to Mary in one jerky, half-invisible movement. Dudley clenched his fists; Harry's grip tightened on his wand. It wouldn't do to have his champion-boxer cousin punch a frail old man who had spent 18 months in a dungeon. "Yes, yes, I see that she will have use for a wand as well."
"You're sure?" Harry asked.
"You can check and see that her name is down for Hogwarts if you wish for confirmation."
Harry nodded. The Hogwarts rolls weren't complete until soon before the admissions letters went out in the spring, but according to Andromeda they were a more reliable source than Mr. Ollivander. Still, Mr. Ollivander could usually sense a witch or wizard's magic upon first meeting; this was the result of many years spent making wands and matching them to their masters. Harry had wanted to avoid taking Dudley to Hogwarts if at all possible. Dudley was much changed from the boy he had been when he had bullied Harry so many years ago, but Harry still didn't feel like sharing Hogwarts with his cousin—especially not when Hogwarts was in such a sorry condition.
Dudley and Harry wandered outside and sat on a bench in a shadowy corner of the Alley.
"I knew it," Dudley whispered at last. "I tried to tell myself that I didn't see what I thought I saw, but growing up with you, and knowing what you turned out to be… it had to be."
"What did you see?" Harry asked, too curious to bother being respectful of Dudley's obvious distress.
"She was only a few days old. I was feeding her with a bottle, and I looked and the bottle wasn't put together right. I know what I saw. I was about to take it away from her to fix it, or get someone else to, but then it was fixed, and she was drinking." Dudley shuddered. The only other time Harry had seen Dudley look so drawn and pale had been moments after they'd both nearly died in a dementor attack. "There's no way to make it stop, is there? Mum and Dad tried it with you."
"No, there's no way to stop it."
"So when she gets one of those… letters in eleven years, she'll have to go?"
"She doesn't have to, any more than you have to put her in any other school that accepts her. She has a choice."
"That giant didn't give you a choice."
"He didn't give Uncle Vernon a choice," Harry corrected. "I wanted to go."
"Why would you want to go anywhere where they have those… dementor-things?" Dudley looked worriedly at his daughter, who was still asleep.
"They don't have dementors at the school. With the war over, those aren't around much at all. There are ways to deal with them if they turn up, like anything else." Dudley looked unconvinced, and Harry seized the opportunity to ask a question that had been niggling at the back of his mind for several years now. "What did you see when the dementors attacked us that night?"
For a moment, Harry doubted that Dudley would answer. He could hardly blame his cousin; he wasn't inclined to tell Dudley how he reacted to dementors, either. But Dudley was well aware of most of the horrors of Harry's life, and so far as Harry knew nothing remotely unpleasant had ever happened to Dudley until this past year. Dudley had always been the one inflicting unpleasantness on others. Then, though, Dudley spoke.
"I saw… I saw what I reckon you always saw when you looked at me when we were growing up." Harry almost laughed at that. He had seen an over-indulged, thoughtless, self-centered, destructive bully with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Dudley had seemed to enjoy that position, so why would the dementor… oh. Dudley was actually saying he hadn't liked what he'd seen when the dementor had forced him to look at himself.
Harry was startled enough by this revelation that he nearly missed what Dudley said next.
"I'm sorry. All those things I did… I don't know why I did them. Even the day that dementor came—"
"No big deal," Harry said, although it had been the biggest of all possible deals when he'd been five, or seven, or ten years old.
Harry waved him off. "Someone smart told me once that a lot of people are idiots when they're fifteen, and they grow out of it."
"If my parents find out about Mary, I don't know if they'll like her any better than they like you," Dudley said bluntly.
Harry looked at the little girl thoughtfully. "Uncle Vernon—I can't help you there. But Aunt Petunia—I found out some stuff about her recently. She and my Mum were really close when they were growing up."
"Until Aunt Lily went off to that school."
"Right. Because Aunt Petunia was jealous." A vein popped on Dudley's forehead, making him look like Uncle Vernon always had when he was especially angry with Harry, but Dudley didn't say anything. He wouldn't, not surrounded by magic and unsure of how to escape. That gave Harry the chance to forge ahead. "She didn't think it was fair that my Mum could live in a castle and learn to fly and make things appear and disappear with a magic wand when she couldn't. She wrote a letter to the headmaster of Hogwarts begging to be let in. I think maybe… if you broke it to her the right way that her granddaughter is going to have that chance… she wouldn't mind too much."
Dudley appeared to be thinking, of all things. The day grew more and more bizarre. "It's a long time from now," he said at last.
"Yeah," Harry agreed.
They stood up at the same time, more in sync than they had ever been before. "I have to take Mary back to her mother. She won't like Mary being outside for so long, but I had to know."
Harry nodded. "Teddy and I have to go to Hogwarts. The rebuilding party is today. The last battle kind of blew it up," he said as lightly as he could.
"You're taking him there?" Dudley asked as they walked back toward the gateway to the Muggle world.
"His grandmother will probably meet us. This is the first time she let anyone take Teddy anywhere without her. It's hard for her. But it's also hard for her to go somewhere where there's loads of people since Teddy's mum died." Harry cringed inwardly as he considered that his plans almost forced Andromeda to come to the site of her daughter's death. But Andromeda had agreed to it, and these past several weeks had taught him that
Andromeda did not allow herself to be forced into much of anything.
They reached the gateway and Harry gestured Dudley through. Dudley turned at the last moment. "Maybe I could let you know how it goes when Mum finds out about Mary?"
"I'd like that," Harry told him. He thought that he just might be telling the truth, too.
Harry and Teddy traveled from Diagon Alley to Hogwarts by a combination of Apparition and Floo Powder. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Harry's stomach as the school arose before them. His meeting with Dudley had gone better than anyone could possibly expect a meeting with Dudley to go. Parts of it had even been something like pleasant.
The day couldn't possibly keep going this well. All through the war, very good things had always happened in tandem with very bad things. And he was, after all, revisiting the scene of the final battle. This was where Teddy's parents had died.
"I hope you can love it here someday, even though this is where your parents were killed," Harry whispered to Teddy. "I think they'd want you to love it, but I know that what someone who died on you would have wanted doesn't always make a difference."
Teddy was looking off in the other direction, and when his hair changed from turquoise to tomato-red, Harry knew why. The sinking feeling in his stomach got worse.
"You'd better help me out here," he ordered Teddy before he followed his godson's gaze.
Ginny looked beautiful. But then, she always did.
"Ron and Hermione are waiting for you down by the potions room," Ginny said in a perfectly neutral sort of way.
"Thank you," said Harry, irritated because he didn't think he sounded at all neutral.
"Sure." Ginny continued on her way, her long soft hair swinging behind her in a way that Harry was sure was designed to taunt him.
"I'm sorry I said what I said the other day."
Ginny no longer looked remotely neutral. "I'm sorry for what I did." Her words came out in a rush. "I was insulted when you said that, but you had a point, and I won't—well I'll try not to lose my temper like that anymore. Not because you or anyone else told me to, but because that's not the kind of person I want to be."
"It's not the kind of person you are," said Harry.
"I don't know what kind of person I am half the time."
Harry couldn't argue with that. He knew the feeling. "Do you think you might be the kind of person who would go out with me even though I've been a prat?"
Her brown eyes blazed with delight. "Definitely."
"Thank Merlin," said Harry with real relief.
"Like you had to ask," Ginny returned. "I can't remember a time when I didn't want—well, we both know you've never been as enthusiastic about the idea as I have."
"That isn't true. All last year, I would take out the Marauder's Map and stare at your name. I'd think about what you were doing, and how your life could be anything you wanted it to be when all my life could be about was Voldemort. I'd think about you playing Quidditch and I'd want to be flying with you, or at least cheering you on. I'd think about you starting a—well, I'd think of you and I'd want to be part of whatever you were doing."
"That can be arranged. We have time now." With a last beautiful smile, Ginny went on her way, saying something about helping Neville, Luna, and Professor Sprout repair a greenhouse and reminding Harry to go find Ron and Hermione in the dungeons.
"Why are we down here?" Harry asked Ron and Hermione by way of greeting as he reached the otherwise-deserted potions classroom.
Hermione, who had been sitting cross-legged on the floor laughing at something Ron had said, jumped up and gave Harry a kiss on the cheek.
"The heads of house did the assignments. Professor McGonagall asked us to work down here because she wanted people she was sure wouldn't try to do anything to jinx the Slytherin parts of the castle," said Hermione.
"Which proves she doesn't know us very well after all those years in her house," said Ron with a wink and mock-regret. Harry grinned. He was more pleased than he cared to admit by their assignment. The walls were covered with Dark symbols and decorations in praise of Lord Voldemort. Cleaning them would be difficult work, but it wouldn't be the emotional upheaval of reassembling the battered Great Hall or the corridors that had been littered with bodies.
After Teddy was settled in a cleverly conjured playpen and magical cleaning supplies had been sorted and mixed, they set to work restoring the walls to their previous state of unbroken dullness. They tried every charm they knew, but the most effective tactic seemed to be soap, water, and a strong arm.
"Wherever Snape is, he's having a laugh," grumbled Ron, and Harry had to agree. Still, there was something peaceful about being at Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione when nothing more dangerous than sore arms was in their immediate future. It almost made him want to rethink his decision to forgo his seventh year of school and join the Auror program.
"I've been thinking," he told his two best friends.
"Why would you want to do a thing like that?" Ron asked. Hermione smiled, letting Harry know that he had her attention as well.
"I didn't want to. It just happened."
"Oh. Go on, then."
"I don't want to go back to school. Not full time, not part time. Tomorrow I'm telling Kingsley I'm ready for the Auror program."
Ron and Hermione caught one another's eye with a chuckle.
"What?" Harry wanted to know.
"We've been thinking about that, too, these last couple of days," Hermione said.
"The Auror program?" Harry asked, allowing himself to hope that they wouldn't have to go their separate ways just yet even though he knew what Hermione's answer would be. The last time they'd discussed their plans for the future, Hermione had referred to the war as an "interruption" in their education. Hermione had fought the war bravely and brilliantly, but she hadn't done it because she felt called to spend the rest of her life keeping Dark magic in its place.
"I have to come back properly," said Hermione, confirming Harry's thought. "I would never feel right for the rest of my life if I didn't have my NEWTS."
"I know you wouldn't," Harry said, admiration temporarily overwhelming sadness. "Ron?" he asked. "Are you coming back too?" Ron had never been a terribly serious student, but he was under a spell of Hermione's that had nothing to do with the magic taught at Hogwarts.
Ron's loud laugh bounced off of the dungeon walls. "Good one, mate. No." He sobered quickly. "My brother—George—well, don't spread this around, but you've probably noticed his magic isn't what it's supposed to be right now. It's one of those things that happens when you have a bad enough shock. He can't run the shop by himself. I've been away from my family for a year. It's my turn to do something to help. Maybe I can join you with the Aurors in a couple of years when everyone's more on their feet?"
"That would be brilliant," Harry said as he concentrated on scrubbing an especially stubborn stain off of the wall.
"We'll still see each other all the time," said Hermione, and even though it wasn't quite true Harry appreciated her saying it.
"Especially if we're still here trying to get these walls clean when September first comes," Ron added. "Snape must've had a secret will that said we had to do this. He planned it, I'm telling—"
Before their eyes, the stain vanished. "I don't think anyone planned for you to clean the walls like a Muggle," Andromeda said as she entered the classroom and reached for Teddy. Teddy snuggled happily into his grandmother's arms, flickering his hair from ginger to brown in greeting.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked from the suddenly-clean wall to Andromeda and back again. "We tried every spell we knew!" they protested in unison.
"Tonks did say her mother was really good at this kind of thing," Hermione remembered aloud. "Teach us?"
Andromeda demonstrated her spell again while they were all watching. True to form, Hermione picked it up almost instantly and began practicing happily, more amused than annoyed by Ron's commentary.
"Are you going to stay?" Harry asked Andromeda. She gave him a slightly haughty look, but by now Harry had learned that that was something she did when she was nervous.
"I'll stay long enough for Teddy to show off for everyone who wants to meet him," she conceded.
"Oh, for the whole day, then," Harry teased. There were hundreds of witches and wizards working today. Most of them had known Remus or Tonks, and the rest would be fascinated by the infant Metamorphmagus.
"Probably," Andromeda admitted.
"Do you want me to help run interference?" Harry didn't want to forgo any time with Ron and Hermione, especially knowing that they would be in very different places when the summer ended, but Teddy was his godson and his responsibility.
"Stay with your friends. We'll come get you if we need you, and we'll check in before we leave."
As Harry watched Andromeda and Teddy head out of the classroom, he thought that it was nice that they would see him before they left Hogwarts. It was nice, too, that he would hear from newly-tolerable Dudley and Mary. Best of all was the knowledge that Ron and Hermione—
A wet sponge, no longer useful in light of Andromeda's impromptu charms lesson, hit Harry on the side of his face.
He caught it before it hit the floor and hurled it back, because a water fight with Ron was really a perfectly good way to spend an afternoon at Hogwarts in the first summer after the death of Lord Voldemort.
Author's Note: Thank you for playing with me!
I have a few more Potter-related thoughts rattling around my brain and my hard drive, so there may be another fic in my future. If there is, though, it will not make an attempt at canon-compliance. There's too much in canon that I don't like—such as most of my favorite characters, you know, DYING!
This fic actually came from a very malicious place. I developed an irrational, retroactive hate for the Weasley family when Ms. Rowling announced that Tonks (who I liked) and Remus (who I adored) died to make up for Arthur living. I resented the fact that most of the surviving characters were Weasleys to begin with or became Weasleys by marriage while almost everyone else was killed off. So I decided Andromeda could be a non-Weasley force in Harry's life.
Yes, I understand that this is ridiculous. Not quite as ridiculous as my managing to use the name "Sirius" 264 times (yes, I counted) in a fic that takes place two years after his death… but ridiculous.
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