The quaint stone cottage was tucked in a small valley between two hills and was the only house that could be seen for miles. It seemed to be detached from the commotion of the rest of the world: a warm little reprieve; a place to call home.
Harry sighed as he approached the door. There were no lights burning through the windows—his family had gone to bed.
Work had become extremely hectic lately as a series of discoveries involving the locations of former Death Eaters seemed to all come at once. As head of the Auror Department, Harry found himself staying late nearly every night, catching up on paper work, sometimes staying well into the morning.
It wasn't that he minded his job—he liked it very much actually, but he didn't like how little he saw his family lately. Ginny understood, he knew, but he doubted that his children did. And how long would Ginny be willing to put up with her seldom home husband?
He let himself in and tiptoed to the kitchen. He was hoping that he might find some leftovers from the family's dinner that he could eat before going to bed. Instead he found his wife, standing over the stove, preparing him dinner.
"Hello, darling," she said, moving over to him and standing on tip toe to plant a kiss on his nose.
"Ginny, what are you doing up? It's after one-o-clock."
"Oh, I was taking care of some things around the house and I saw your hand switch to traveling and figured you could use a hot meal."
He didn't buy it for a minute. He could tell by the way she wouldn't meet his eyes that she had been waiting up for him. Ginny could lie unabashedly to anyone, including her own mother, but for some reason she had never been able to lie to him.
"I love you, Ginny," he said, wrapping her in his arms, breathing in the familiar flowery scent of her hair.
"I love you too, Mr. Potter," she said, playfully swatting him on the cheek before turning back to the stove.
"I went to the Muggle post office today. You got a letter from your cousin."
Harry tiredly sat down at the scrubbed wooden table and pulled the envelope toward him.
"That's odd: I usually only hear from him at Christmas time."
Ginny just shrugged as Harry undid the seal on the letter. He quickly skimmed it and began to laugh.
"Oh, Vernon's going to love this," he said gleefully.
"No," Ginny said, a broad smile stretching across her face. Somehow she had already guessed the letter's contents. "This is too perfect. Read it! Read it!"
Harry cleared his throat and began to read Dudley's childlike handwriting aloud.
How are you and your family? Laura and I thank you for the bottle of wine that you and Ginny sent last Christmas. I'm sorry we didn't write to thank you sooner.
I'm writing now because there have been some…well…strange things happening around our house lately. You see, our daughter was climbing a tree last week and she fell. She was really high up and she should have been seriously hurt, but she stopped falling a few inches from the ground as though she had been caught by an invisible net, and then she just sort of stepped down the rest of the way.
It's not the first time something like this has happened, though it's never been quite so obvious. I didn't ask you about it sooner because I wasn't sure, but Laura and I are now convinced that our daughter's a witch. Laura is thrilled. I told her all about witches and wizards, you know, when we named our daughter. I didn't know if I was allowed to tell her at first, but then Dad said something in front of her and I couldn't really get out of it.
We were wondering if you and your family would like to come for lunch this weekend and maybe help us understand some things about your world. Does everyone get to go to that school or is it just certain kids? If it's everyone, I expect we'll be getting a Hogwarts letter soon and I'd like to know a little more about the life Hermione's going to lead. It's not dangerous anymore, right? She's not going to have to deal with some evil wizard?
Please let us know if you'll be able to come. It would be good to see you anyway—it's been too long.
Ginny and Harry were laughing so hard by the time he finished that both of their eyes were tearing up.
"Vernon's going to love this," he said again.
"I know," Ginny said, wiping a tear from her cheek. "Remember how badly he freaked out when Dudley named his daughter after a witch? Imagine what he'll do now!"
Harry smiled, remembering the letter he had received from his cousin shortly after his baby Hermione had been born. Dudley had explained that the birth had been amazing, and that looking at his little girl in his wife's arms had felt so incredible that it seemed impossible for someone so perfect as his new daughter to exist. It seemed magical, he had written. So accordingly, he decided to give her a magical name. The only problem was the only witches he had ever heard mentioned were Lily (which just seemed inappropriate), Hestia, Ginny, and Hermione. He suggested Hestia and Hermione to Laura and she fell in love with the latter name. So the child of Harry's once hated cousin had been named after one of his own best friends.
"We're going, right?" Ginny asked, bouncing with so much enthusiasm she reminded Harry of a little girl.
"Yeah," he answered, scribbling off a reply. "It must be hard to not know anything really about the life she's going to lead and besides, he's right—it has been too long. I don't think we've seen them since you were pregnant with Lily." Since Lily was now seven, that had been a long time indeed.
The following Sunday, Harry found himself ushering his family into their car to very loud protests.
"But why do we have to go?" ten year old James whined. "I don't even know these people."
"Yes you do," Ginny said, pushing him into the car. "Remember? The Dursleys came to visit when you were three."
"I was three, mum. Of course I don't remember."
"Well, Hermione's about to turn eleven and if Dudley's right about her, she'll likely be going off to Hogwarts with you. It will be good to meet one of your classmates who isn't a Weasley."
The Weasley brothers had definitely taken after their parents as far as children went. Between the five of them, they had eighteen children, Charlie being responsible for six of them. The family had once sat down and figured out how many Weasleys would be at Hogwarts at one time and the number had been terrifying: Fourteen, plus the three Potters. Harry didn't envy the Hogwarts staff.
James huffed as Harry backed the car out of the driveway but stopped arguing. He knew it was pointless to argue with his mother. As always, Al just remained quiet during the drive while Lily chattered on about unrelated things.
Every now and then Harry snatched a glance at his children through the rear view mirror and couldn't help but smile. James had the brilliant red hair of a Weasley, as well as a smattering of freckles spattered across his nose and cheeks, but he was definitely a Potter. His face was nearly identical to that of Harry's and his father's, and his hair, though red, never seemed to lie flat. His eyes were sparkling and inquisitive, and Harry knew already that James took after his namesake as far as mischief was concerned.
Al on the other hand looked almost exactly like Harry, minus the scar. Harry pitied him a bit. Like his other children, Al would grow up in the shadow of his famous father, but it would be far worse for him if he kept on looking so much like his dad. He even had the same glasses (which Ginny insisted on when they found out Al needed glasses, despite Harry's protests).
Lily was a person all her own. She had red hair like the Weasleys, but it was of a darker, more auburn hue. Her eyes were soft and brown, like Ginny's and James', but her face took features from both her mother and father. He reminded Harry a bit of what Ginny had been like as a child, but was far more rambunctious. He couldn't picture his Lily ever squealing and running out of a room because the boy she fancied was there. Then again, he couldn't picture Lily fancying a boy at all without imagining himself hanging the kid upside down and shaking him until he ran away crying.
Lily had her mother's spark and vivacity, but she was also at times a quiet, thoughtful child.
"I think we're lost, Harry," Ginny said about an hour into the drive.
"We're not lost, dear" Harry insisted.
"I don't understand why you didn't just have their house hooked up to the Floo. You need to start taking advantage of your connections at the Ministry.
"I told you it would be too much of a hassle since they don't know that Hermione's a witch yet. They're pure Muggle to the Ministry, and since they're not immediately related to anyone magical, they're not technically supposed to even know about magic."
Ginny rolled her eyes affectionately. "You could have just gone to Kingsley. He would have put everything through. We would have been there an hour ago. Instead, we're driving around lost--"
"We're not lost, dear," Harry repeated stubbornly, though in truth he didn't even know what town he was in.
"Here," Ginny said, pulling a piece of parchment out of the glove compartment. She pointed her wand at it and said "Dudley and Laura Dursley's house."
"Turn right in one quarter kilometer," the map said aloud. "The house will be the third on the right. It is two stories, blue with white shutters, has a yellow Saab in the driveway, and Laura and Hermione Dursley are currently outside playing with their three year old golden retriever, Diggle."
"See, I told you we weren't lost," Harry said smugly, relieved that he wouldn't be found out.
A few minutes later, the family pulled into the driveway to be greeted by a happily barking dog, and two smiling women.
"Harry," Laura said, hugging him as if they were old friends. In fact, they had only met a handful of times. She went on to hug the rest of the Potters, wiping a spot from James' nose, which seemed to thoroughly annoy him.
Harry liked Laura very much. She was blonde with a round, slightly pudgy face and a friendly smile. There was something about her that made everyone she spoke to feel loved.
Harry turned to the little girl who was standing shyly behind her mother.
"Hello, Hermione," he said, crouching down so they'd be at eye level. "I heard you've been having some interesting things happening to you lately.
Hermione nodded and seemed to be struggling with herself, getting up the courage to speak.
"Are you really magic?" she asked, looking afraid and hopeful at the same time. Harry smiled.
"I am," he answered. "We all are." He gestured at his family. "And from what I've heard, you are too."
"Cool," she said, now looking with awe at Harry's children.
"Come on in," Laura said, leading the way toward the house. "Dudley's inside."
They entered into a small living room and were greeted by the smiling face of Dudley Dursley. He was still quite heavy, but his features had softened and he had grown into a more jovial disposition.
"Harry," he said happily, shaking his hand. He too hugged Ginny and the children, who all looked extremely awkward. Dudley didn't seem to notice.
"Come on," he said, leading them into a bright and cheerful kitchen. "Lunch will be ready soon."
The adults all took seats around the table while Hermione began asking Harry's children all sorts of questions. They had soon been ushered upstairs by Laura to play together and get to know one another.
"They're beautiful children," Laura said, rejoining them at the table. "Al looks just like you, Harry."
"I can't believe how old Hermione's gotten," Ginny added. "I was half expecting to find her still three years old."
They spent a few minutes catching up on seven years of little more than Christmas cards, and Harry actually found himself enjoying the company of his cousin.
There was a knock at the door and Laura rose to answer it while Harry, Ginny and Dudley remained seated at the kitchen table. Harry was just about to ask Dudley if he knew what happened to Mrs. Figg when he heard something that almost made his heart stop.
"Vernon, Petunuia! What a lovely surprise!" Laura's voice drifted in through the kitchen. "It looks like we're having a bit of an impromptu reunion today, you know. You're nephew stopped in for lunch."
Their reaction was drowned out by the sudden rushing of blood to Harry's ears. His face grew warm and he could feel his hands shaking. He hadn't seen his aunt and uncle in over fifteen years, and was not prepared for, nor did we want a reunion now.
He suddenly felt like a small boy again, afraid of what his aunt and uncle might do to him if they arrived home before he finished his chores. He felt as though he had just performed accidental magic, and though he didn't know what it was, he knew the punishment he'd get for it. He stood up suddenly.
"Come on, Ginny," he said. "We're leaving. Sorry Dudley. We'll have to do this again some other time."
Ginny remained seated despite Harry's imploring look.
"Please don't leave on their account, Harry," Dudley hurriedly whispered. "Please stay. I'll get rid of them if I can."
"Harry, you don't have to be afraid of them any more," Ginny whispered, taking his hand.
Harry suddenly became very aware that he was not an eleven year old boy incapable of standing up for himself or protecting himself. He had realized that as a teenager as well, but at that time he had still been indebted to them in a way. He still had to live in their house.
But now he was thirty four years old. He was an experienced Auror, had fought in a war and was now the youngest head of the Auror Department in history. Not only that, but he was a father himself. He could handle the Dursleys.
He sat back down and tried to regain control of himself as he heard Petunia's voice drift into the kitchen. He kept Ginny's hand clasped in his under the table.
"Vernon, we drove all this way. The least we can do is say hello. You don't have to speak to him. We'll just say hello to Hermione and Duddy and then we'll go."
Harry could hear Vernon grumbling as footsteps drew nearer to the kitchen. As Petunia came through the door, followed by a very purple faced Vernon, the first thought that went through Harry's mind was that they were old. Petunia had gone almost completely gray, and Vernon looked every bit the part of a crotchety old man.
"Hello Harry," Petunia said weakly. Harry mumbled back and half raised his hand in an awkward salute. Vernon didn't speak. He wouldn't meet Harry's eyes.
Ginny coughed pointedly beside him.
"Oh," Harry said. "This is my wife Ginny."
"It's nice to meet you," Petunia said. Vernon just grumbled again but was looking at Ginny. Though he wouldn't meet Harry's eyes, he didn't seem to have a problem looking at Ginny. Harry suddenly felt very protective of his wife.
"Mione, come on down," Laura shouted from the next room, her voice betraying how blissfully unaware she was of the situation unfolding or the circumstances surrounding it. Harry envied her. "Grandma and Grandpa Dursley are here."
"H-h-how long have you been married?" Petunia stammered awkwardly.
"Thirteen years," Ginny answered bluntly as the sound of four children's footsteps came pounding down the stairs.
Petunia looked terrified as James entered the room, followed by Al and Lily. Both she and Vernon stared at the three of them, but especially at Albus. Harry stood up, feeling more protective now than he had of Ginny. He didn't even want his children in the presence of these awful people. He walked over to them and knelt down.
"Why don't you three go back on upstairs." They looked at him curiously but didn't move.
"He…He looks just like you did when you were a little boy," Petunia stuttered. Harry gave her what he hoped was an evil look. He didn't want her speaking to his children.
"Well we wouldn't know would we?" Ginny said from her seat at the table, suddenly fierce. "It's not like we have any pictures from the first eleven years of his life." Everyone in the room except for Harry and Dudley looked shocked at Ginny's pronouncement: Vernon and Petunia that she had said it, and everyone else for the statement's implications.
"What's he doing here anyway?" Vernon asked his son, apparently finding his voice. His vein was throbbing familiarly and his face was growing even purpler. "I didn't know you still talked to this freak."
Petunia jumped, Ginny made a sound like an angry cat and the children looked back and forth between Harry and Vernon, wide eyed with confusion and anticipation.
"Don't dad," Dudley said nervously.
"Why's he here?" Vernon asked again.
Laura moved over toward her husband and placed her hand on his shoulder. It seemed to give him courage. He looked at Harry, as though for permission, and Harry nodded.
"Because I asked them to come and explain some things to me. You see…Hermione's a witch." Dudley's face went from apprehensive to challenging, as though daring his father to say something cruel about his only daughter.
"Go on upstairs, now," Harry whispered firmly. The look on his face didn't allow his children to disobey. They immediately left the kitchen.
"No," Vernon whispered, and then louder, "No! Our granddaughter's a freak! This is your fault boy." He lunged toward Harry.
As one Harry, Ginny, and Dudley rose. Before Dudley or Harry could speak, however, Ginny was bearing down on Vernon with her wand raised threateningly. It was worth it, all of it, to see his four hundred pound uncle cowering before his five foot wife.
"You listen to me, Vernon Dursley," she began in a hiss, but her voice rose as she spoke until she was shouting. Vernon whimpered. "You are done threatening my husband. He could kill you or worse in a heartbeat, but he won't because he's too good of a man and that's in spite of what you did to him, not because of it. What you did to him when he was a child is unforgivable—neglecting him, starving him, locking him in his bedroom cupboard, and I don't even know how badly you hurt him physically because he's still too ashamed to talk about it. Why did you even take him, if you hated him so much? Why? My family and I had a hard time convincing him that he was worthy of love from anyone because of what you did to him. You were all he had left after his parents died and you abused him, you belittled him, you made him feel as though he wasn't human. But still, he's a better man than you'll ever be. He has so much love in him he died to save us. He actually walked knowingly to his own death and came back, but you think he's worthless—you think he's a freak. But you're the worthless one Vernon, you're the freak. I swear on the lives of my children if you ever so much as say an unfriendly word to Hermione I will make sure I do to you what Harry should have done years ago."
Harry moved toward his wife, who still had her wand pointing directly into Vernon's face. He didn't think she even realized there had been angry sparks flying out of it as she spoke. He took her elbow gently.
"Come on, Ginny," he said quietly, leading her away from his uncle. "Sorry Dudley. We'll have to do this at my house next time."
They left the kitchen and Harry found his children standing by the door, looking shocked at what they'd heard. Lily looked as though she might cry. Harry sighed.
"Come on, guys," he said sadly. "We're leaving."
They filed out of the house obediently.
They were halfway across the lawn when Harry heard the door of the house slam and turned to see Petunia running out after them. He ushered his family toward the car and walked back to meet her.
She looked at him for a moment, ringing her hands before she spoke.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said, "for everything."
Harry just looked at her blankly.
"I know it's not enough…"
"You're damn right it's not enough," he said, keeping his voice low for the sake of his children. He began walking toward the car again but turned back. There was something he wanted to ask.
"You took me," he said. "You hated me and who I came from, but you took me. I know all about you and my mum and Snape, so I know that much at least but…" he hesitated. "I know how you treated me as a child, as if I didn't exist, but what about when I was a baby? You would have had to watch me, and feed me, and change me. What about when I cried? I know Vernon wouldn't have put up with me crying, even then. You must have at least sort of taken care of me or I would have died. You must have at least sort of been a mother to me then."
"You…you didn't cry," she said after a moment. It wasn't the answer Harry had been expecting. "Never. Not once. I fed you and I changed you, but I never had to comfort you because you never cried. Vernon said it was unnatural. I didn't know what to think…"
"So that's why you hated me?" Harry asked, disbelieving comprehension dawning over him. "Because I didn't need you?"
"No, that's not it really." She seemed to be struggling for the right words, but Harry didn't let her finish.
He turned away, disgusted. He saw his daughter getting back out of the car and walking toward him.
"Get back in the car, Lily," he spat. She squeaked and ran back toward the car.
"Lily," Petunia said quietly. "It's a beautiful name. Your little girl will have a lot to do to live up to her namesake."
Harry turned back again to find tears flowing down his aunt's face. He walked back toward her. He had to remind himself that it was nothing more than jealousy that drove his aunt to be the kind of person she had become.
"Hermione will be treated no differently than she was before today," he said, rather than asked.
"No, Harry, of course not." Her voice was strong, and Harry believed her.
He offered her a very small smile before turning back to his family; the family he should have had all his life. And he realized as they looked at him worriedly from the car that it had been worth it. The first eleven years, and everything that followed had been worth it, just to see his family waiting for him, with undeniable expressions of love and concern etched on each of their faces.
AN: This is a three part story of which this is the first. Next up, Harry's kids react to what they overheard. Please let me know what you think!