On the night of 28 December 2009, Dudley Dursley and his wife Violet climbed into their car to return home from celebrating the opening of his second health club with a nice dinner out together with his parents, in his semi-annual attempt to convince them that his marriage to Violet wasn't a mistake. Considering that the two of them had recently celebrated their tenth anniversary, however, he was keeping up the attempts for form's sake, having long since lost all hope that they'd ever warm up to his wife. Marigold, their ten-year-old daughter, had stayed home with a sitter. He figured – correctly – that she'd be bored listening to the adults talk all evening and would prefer watching a DVD and having some hot chocolate in her fuzzy robe and slippers over dressing up and having a Sunday roast on a Monday night.
He'd met Violet not long after his family left Little Whinging in the summer of 1997, to evade the evil wizards who were after his cousin. His mum had hated her on first glance, as Violet sported purple hair, triple-pierced ears, and a nose ring. A girl who'd spent over half her life in foster care following her single mother's drug overdose, she'd nonetheless managed to pass her GCSEs with flying colours and was taking an IT course to aid in her planned career as a sales manager. She worked for a company selling the protein bars and smoothie mixes often available at gyms, which was how he'd met her. He'd failed his A-levels, much to his parents' dismay (and he had to admit, his own relief, as he wasn't academically inclined but they'd been pushing him to go on to uni regardless), and found a job as a weightlifting instructor at a gym Violet's company served. In all honesty, he'd first asked her out just because he knew her appearance would horrify his mum, but he quickly grew to appreciate her humour and her sense of fun.
When they discovered that a night's carelessness had led to more than pleasure, he immediately offered to marry her. He often said later that it was his best decision ever. Violet encouraged him to take a business course and work his way into management at the gym. His Aunt Marge passed a couple years later and left him everything, so he used his inheritance to become an Anytime Fitness franchisee, liking the idea of owning his own business. With a bit of help from Violet in keeping the financials straight, his health club became quite successful, enough to open a second club as well as to set money aside for Marigold's secondary education.
He'd discussed it with Violet, and they'd decided to write and ask his cousin if their two families could meet in a month or so, although he certainly hadn't mentioned that to his parents over dinner. They still didn't want anything to do with their nephew, but Dudley hoped maybe he and Violet could get to be on better terms with Harry than their current 'we exchange Christmas cards' level of civility, for Marigold's sake as much as his own. His daughter deserved to have more family available, especially since Petunia still disliked his wife after all this time. She never blatantly said anything against Violet to Marigold, but his daughter was clever enough to understand that her grandmother disliked her mother. He wondered sometimes, if perhaps he and Harry could have been friends or maybe even had a brother-like relationship if his parents hadn't been so dead set against him.
The car jerked and shuddered as a strong gust of wind tried to push it into the next lane over and he pulled himself out of his musing to concentrate on the road. The weather had turned much colder than predicted and Dudley was driving just under the motorway's speed limit as the expected rain had turned to sleet and the roads were becoming slick. "Wish they'd get the gritters out here," he muttered as he peered at a number of lorries just ahead, trying to see if he'd have a prayer at passing them before his slip road came up, but he didn't think so. Not without accelerating too quickly for the rapidly deteriorating road conditions, anyway.
Brake lights suddenly flashed ahead as the wind gusted again and he saw the lorry at the back of the bunch, a petrol tanker, start to go sideways. Dudley took his foot off the accelerator, hoping to slow enough to safely steer around the impending accident, and almost made it to the verge. But just as the tanker struck the lorry ahead of it and toppled over, another car – his father's, he saw at the last second – skidded and crashed into his own, ramming them both into the overturned tanker. The resulting explosion claimed the lives of all four Dursleys as well as the driver of the tanker.
Harry Potter woke up on the morning of 29 December 2009 and kissed his sleeping wife before getting out of bed to start breakfast. It had taken a few years, but he'd finally managed to get Dobby to understand that he enjoyed cooking and that he wasn't insulting the elf's skills by doing so. The end agreement was that Harry would make breakfast on his days off plus one dinner each week. He didn't usually have Tuesdays off now that he was a senior auror, but with New Year's Eve coming up, the Head Auror had rearranged things to have as many of the experienced crew as possible on hand to deal with the inevitable overenthusiastic celebrants who imbibed enough holiday cheer to stumble out the wrong door of the Leaky Cauldron or to apparate to the wrong locations and then cast spells in the middle of London and other muggle areas.
He had tea on the table, bacon and toast plated, and was just flipping the eggs when Hermione made her way into the kitchen. "Morning, love," she said, reaching for her cup.
"Good morning to you, My Lady," he replied, giving her an exaggerated bow before plating the eggs. "Perfect timing as usual," he said, setting her plate in front of her before sitting down with his own. "Anything important on your agenda today, or is it just paper shuffling since we're in the middle of the holiday season?"
Hermione took a bite of her toast before answering. "Just paper shuffling, due to the season. I'm just happy that we managed to pass that legislation before the Wizengamot ended their session for the holidays, you know, the bill to contact muggleborns' families when they first pop up doing accidental magic. I really think we'll see far less need for the obliviation teams if the parents understand what's going on with their children and how to best handle it. Not to mention, if any of the children become targets of abuse, we'll be able to step in before anyone gets too badly hurt."
Harry just nodded, smiling. He loved seeing her enthusiastic about her work. Sometimes he wondered if things might have turned out differently, but Ron Weasley had sadly not survived the war. The final confrontation had started in Hogsmeade before moving on to Hogwarts, and the Death Eaters destroyed many buildings in their efforts to create havoc and put the opposition at a disadvantage. Fred had been too busy defending himself against Peter Pettigrew to notice the imminent collapse of the building he was next to. Ron managed to shove his brother out of the way, only to be caught and crushed under the hail of bricks and rubble. Less than a week later, Ginny all but demanded a proposal from Harry, using the excuse that planning a big society wedding would make her grief-stricken mother feel better. Harry, mourning the loss of his first friend as well as trying be there for Hermione, who'd lost her boyfriend and didn't even have the support of her parents because of the extreme measures she'd taken to protect them, told Ginny exactly what she could do with her big society wedding as well as her attempts at emotional blackmail. He then escorted Hermione to Australia intending to find her parents and restore their memories.
Things had been strained between Hermione and her parents at first, the elder Grangers being understandably upset that their own daughter had obliviated them and sent them abroad. Harry, not wanting his friend to lose her family, obtained a pensieve and showed them his memories of the results of Death Eater raids as well as the final battle. A shaken Rob and Helena Granger finally understood the enormity of what their daughter had tried to protect them from, and welcomed her back with open arms after that, and took Harry under their wings as well. The time in Australia brought the younger pair closer together, and by the time they returned to the UK to sit their NEWTs, Harry and Hermione had become a couple. After setting a record (and earning the envy of nearly every past and present member of Ravenclaw) by earning the highest recorded scores of all times in five of the seven NEWTs she'd sat, Hermione had gone to work at the Ministry, in the newly-formed Department of Muggle Relations while Harry enrolled in the auror training program.
They also realised that while magic could interfere with electronics to a small extent, it normally didn't bother them unless it was aimed at them. Hermione had actually thudded her head on her desk when it occurred to her, during a conversation with her mum about the new flat-screen televisions, that Diagon Alley managed to exist in London without causing the grid to go down on a regular basis. Research uncovered a simple reason that electronics didn't work at Hogwarts: one of Armando Dippet's predecessors as Headmaster had added a ward designed to overload any electrical device brought into the school! Apparently the man had vaguely grasped the concept that lightning was electricity, and since he knew lightning could kill, he decided electricity was far too dangerous for everyday use and the best way to keep people from trying it was to make them think it wasn't useable alongside magic.
They married in 2000, when Harry graduated from auror training, and bought a house in Crawley to be close to the Grangers. As soon as they'd bought the house, Dobby turned up and begged The Great Harry Potter Sir and his Miss Miney to hire him, which they did since it made him happy. They both loved the easy blend of muggle and magical within their home, enjoying the convenience of telephones and electric lights while still being able to floo to work each morning. Both felt they were doing some good in their respective careers and had chosen to put off trying for children until they'd gotten established, which they had done; their twin sons were born in 2002 and their daughter followed in 2004, plus Teddy Lupin regularly stayed with them on weekends. Andromeda Tonks was doing a fine job of raising her grandson and Harry had no intentions of taking Teddy away from her, but he very much enjoyed spending time with his godson.
Harry smiled as he sipped his tea. "I'm glad you'll have an easy day. I might take the kids 'round to Andi's this afternoon to visit with Teddy since I'll be working on New Year's Eve."
"He sure loved that broom you got him for Christmas," Hermione said with a smile of her own. "I just hope he doesn't try to smuggle it into Hogwarts when the new term starts." Teddy had started there in September.
"Nah, he's a Hufflepuff like his mum was," Harry said with a chuckle. "He's all about fair play. If his dorm mates can't have brooms at school until next year, he'll leave his home too. Did I tell you he and some friends started a petition for Hogwarts to officially allow more pets than just the 'cat, or owl, or toad' that's been the standard forever?"
"No, but it makes sense. There were enough people getting 'special permission' for this, that, or the other even back in our day. Lee Jordan's tarantula, Lavender had a rabbit, the rat, and I remember hearing Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis discussing a corn snake that one of the Slytherins had as well. I'm sure there were others that I didn't know about…" The ringing doorbell cut off her words. "Who on earth would pay a call this early in the morning?"
"Only one way to find out," Harry said, surreptitiously drawing his wand as he got up and headed for the door. He blinked upon seeing two police constables.
"Mr. Harry Potter?" one asked.
"Yes, I'm Harry Potter," he answered, slipping his wand back into its holster. "Is there a problem, sir?"
"I'm afraid I've some bad news, Mr. Potter. I don't know if you've seen the news this morning, but there was a multiple collision on M62 near Leeds last night. One of the victims had you listed as an emergency contact," the constable said. "You are familiar with one Dudley Dursley?"
"He's my cousin," a shaken Harry replied. "How badly was he hurt? What about his wife and child?"
"I regret to inform you, Mr. Potter, but your cousin and his wife, as well as his parents, were all killed when a petrol tanker involved in the collision exploded," said the constable. "Young Marigold Dursley wasn't with them at the time of the accident."
Harry closed his eyes for a moment, his heart breaking for a child he'd never met who just lost parents and grandparents in one fell swoop. A small part of him wondered if it would be easier or harder for the girl due to her age: would she be able to take comfort in her memories of her family, or would she miss them that much more for having memories of them? He shook his head, forcing his mind to the business at hand. "Good Lord," he said. "I've been estranged from my aunt and uncle for years, but Dudley and I reconciled enough to exchange Christmas cards. I assume I'll need to make funeral arrangements and such? I'm off work today, fortunately, so I can travel to Leeds and see about whatever needs doing."
The constable handed him a business card for a solicitor in Leeds. "Mr. Dursley used the firm of Baxter and Carruthers," he said. "You'll need to speak with Mr. Baxter, his solicitor of record. He'll be expecting your call or visit. You have my sympathies, Mr. Potter."
"Thank you," Harry said dazedly as the constables returned to their vehicle. He returned to the kitchen, his movements automatic and his mind racing.
"Who was it, Harry?" Hermione's voice cut through the fog of his thoughts.
Harry shook his head. "The police. I don't know details yet, but apparently the Dursleys were killed in a car accident on M62 last night. As surprising as it might be, Dudley and Violet had me listed as an emergency contact. I've got to go up to Leeds and speak with his solicitor, see about the funerals and all that. I feel bad for his daughter, losing everyone like that."
Hermione winced. "Ouch. I suppose she'll end up with her other grandmother? Violet's mum?"
"I've no idea – actually, if I remember correctly, Violet's mother died when she was a child and her father wasn't in the picture, so I've no idea. I'd better dress and set out, though. The sooner I get to speak with the solicitor, the quicker everything will be done."
"Good point. And I'd better get going myself, or I'll be late for work. Unless you'd rather I took the day off and came to Leeds with you?"
Harry considered. "That might be best, actually. Your presence will keep me from expressing my opinion of Vernon too bluntly."
Hermione snorted a bit at that and excused herself to go floo her office. Harry headed for the bedroom and dressed, opting for a business casual look for the day to match Hermione's outfit.
Hermione joined him in the bedroom. "I spoke to your boss as well as mine, let them know there's been a death in the family and we might need a day or two in order to handle things," she said. "And I was reminded that it's three hours at best to get to Leeds by train from here so we shouldn't arrive at the solicitor's office before eleven. He did have someone pop up to Leeds to get a copy of the accident report for you, though." She handed him a packet of papers and photographs.
"Thanks, love," he said, sitting down and looking at the report. It wasn't pretty. "Figures that Vernon did something stupid," he muttered, reading several eyewitness accounts indicating that Dudley had nearly avoided the accident altogether, only for Vernon's car to skid out of control and slam them both into the overturned tanker.
As he read the report, he could hear Hermione calling the kids down to eat, then phoning her parents.
"Mum? I know it's early… No, everyone here is fine, but yes, something happened. Harry's cousin and aunt and uncle were in a car accident last night… Up near Leeds, on M62, the constable said… I don't know… Well, that's why I'm calling, we have to go make arrangements, speak with the solicitor of record and all, so we need you to take the kids for the day… Yes, I'll drop them with you once they're done breakfast, then Harry and I will take the quick way up to Leeds." Hermione laughed lightly and added, "It can be useful, but it has its downside as well… Again, I've no idea, that's why we're going to speak with this solicitor… Yes, I will fill you in once I know… Thanks, Mum, see you in a bit." She hung up the phone.
Five-year-old Amaryllis looked up. "What's going on, Mummy?"
Hermione turned to the kids. "We just found out Daddy's cousin died in a car accident, and we have to go arrange for his funeral and possibly other things even though they weren't close, because there's no one else to do it. Once you three are done eating, I'm going to take you over to spend the day with Grandmum and Grandad, because Daddy and I don't know how long everything will take."
"Oh, okay," Amaryllis nodded.
Leonardo, the older twin, asked, "Can we bring our football?"
"You may," Hermione said, "but you have to ask Grandmum about playing with it. Remember, her garden is smaller than ours."
Sebastian, already done eating, shot up from the table and ran upstairs, calling, "I'll get the ball, Leo!"
Leonardo and Amaryllis hurried to finish their meals before Sebastian returned. Once he did, Hermione got them all into their coats and out to the car. On the drive over to the Grangers' house, the little girl asked, "Mummy, didn't Daddy's cousin have a girl? I remember her picture was on the Christmas cards. Is she gonna live with us? She can share my room."
"That's sweet of you, Ammy," Hermione said. "I don't know what will happen. She's a muggle, remember, and while Dudley knew about magic because he and Daddy grew up together, I doubt he'd have told his wife and daughter about it. She'll most likely go live with her godparents."
Amaryllis frowned. "Oh… I still wish I had a sister, though. We need another girl, Mummy, there's only two of us but there's three of them," she said, waving a hand at her brothers.
Hermione laughed, as her daughter had been less than subtle in expressing her desire for a sister over the last month or so. "Well, I'll see what I can do, but I won't make any promises," she said as they pulled up in front of the Grangers' house.
Helena opened the door when she heard the car and greeted the kids with hugs as they came into the house. She hugged Hermione as well. "How is Harry holding up?"
"All right so far, Mum," Hermione said. "Honestly, it hit him much harder when Ron was killed. He and Dudley haven't seen each other since 1997, although we've exchanged Christmas cards and such. But since he's the Dursleys' last surviving adult relative, at least as far as anyone knows, he feels obligated to take care of things as best he can." She smiled a bit. "You know Harry and his saving-people thing; he maybe can't save anyone in this instance, but he can and will do his best to see to their final wishes."
"You married a good man," Helena said. "Your father and I will be fine with the kids today, so don't feel as though you have to rush back to pick them up. If you're not here by their bedtime, they can stay overnight. You know I keep pyjamas on hand for them and they're all three still small enough to share the sofa-bed."
Hermione smiled. "We won't rush, but I doubt we'll be all that late. We're just seeing the solicitor today, to get everything organised. Well, and possibly a funeral director. Hopefully they'll have thought to leave any specific final wishes in care of said solicitor so that we'll know what to tell the funeral director, but… well, that's what we'll be finding out." Getting down on one knee, she hugged and kissed all three of her children. "Be good, and Daddy and I will see you later this evening."
"Bye, Mummy," they chorused as she stood up to leave.
Back at her own place, Hermione looked in on Harry, who was still perusing the accident report. "That looked a right mess, just from glancing at the front page," she commented as she sat on the arm of his chair. "How bad was it?"
"Five dead," Harry told her. "All four Dursleys plus the driver of the petrol tanker. About twenty other injured people, mainly cuts and bruises, although there were a couple of broken bones and at least one concussion listed in the report. It looks as though the weather set the whole thing off; from the report, the temperature dropped more than the meteorologists expected and the rain turned to sleet. The roads got icy before they were able to get the gritters out and the wind was strong enough to cause issues as well. Witnesses say it looked as if the tanker braked a little too hard and skidded, struck another lorry, and rolled over, blocking most of the lanes. And that Dudley almost made it to the verge safely, but that Vernon went into a skid and hit him, sending them both into the tanker."
"How awful," Hermione said. "I hope Dudley at least didn't know it was his father who caused his death."
Harry slid an arm around her waist. "Am I a terrible person for hoping Vernon did know he caused his own son's death? For hoping he knew, for however short a moment, knew that he did something horribly, terribly wrong that couldn't be fixed."
Hermione wrapped her arm around his shoulders. "I think it makes you human," she said. "Vernon Dursley treated you poorly enough all those years and pretty obviously felt no remorse. I don't think anyone sane could blame you for hoping his last moments were filled with guilt or whatever. It's not as if you'd caused the accident, after all."
"True enough," Harry agreed. "Although I also admit that if I'd been there, if I'd had to make a choice to save Dudley and Violet or Vernon and Petunia, Dudley and Violet would have been my pick. Partly because of their daughter, but partly also because of how Vernon and Petunia treated me growing up. They were the adults, after all. Dudley might have been beastly to me as well, but he was my age, just a kid doing what his parents taught him to do. He apologised, you know, before we all left Privet Drive that last time, and he was the one who looked us up and started the holiday card exchange, so I think he really did want to try to make things right between us."
"Perfectly understandable, all of that," Hermione said firmly. "Tell you what, we've still got a couple of hours before we can turn up at the solicitor's office. Grab your broom and we'll floo up to Hogsmeade. You can fly for an hour or so while I have a cuppa at the Three Broomsticks. That ought to settle you down and stop you from brooding, get you to where your head will be on straight before we have to handle the legal details."
Harry kissed her softly before standing up. "Thanks for the suggestion, love, you always know how to make me feel better." He headed upstairs to collect his broom as Hermione fetched their cloaks. "Floo or apparate?" he asked when he came back down.
Hermione laughed. "Apparate, unless you want to risk breaking your broom. You know perfectly well you still can't floo without falling out of the hearth at the other end nine times out of ten."
"It's not my fault the fireplaces hate me," he laughed.
She blew a raspberry at him, tossed him his cloak, and vanished with a soft crack. He laughed and followed.
At about twenty minutes after eleven, they left Hogsmeade for Leeds, apparating to a designated safe spot behind a used bookstore near the city centre and transfiguring their cloaks to more appropriate coats. Predictably, Hermione lagged a bit, peering in the shop window as they made their way to the street to figure out where to go to get to the solicitor's office.
Harry, feeling better after some time on his broom, grinned. "We can stop in on the way back, Hermione," he teased. "Business first, though."
"I know," she answered, although it didn't stop her from turning to keep looking as they passed the shop.
Five minutes later, they located the correct address and went inside. Harry approached the receptionist. "Hello, my name is Harry Potter, I'm here to see Mr. Baxter, if he's available? In regards to Dudley Dursley," he said awkwardly.
"Of course, Mr. Potter. We were told to expect you," the receptionist said. "Please have a seat while I let Mr. Baxter know you're here." She vanished into the depths of the building.
Hermione tugged Harry to a comfortable-looking leather sofa in the waiting area. "We might as well sit," she said. "Mr. Baxter might be in the middle of something he can't just drop. He knew we were coming, but we weren't exactly sure how long it would take to get here so we didn't set a time, after all."
They'd barely sat down, though, when the receptionist returned. "Mr. Baxter will see you now," she said. "Please follow me." She ushered them back, leading them down a corridor and into a spacious conference room.
A middle-aged man in a conservative suit sat at one end of the table, with several files arrayed in front of him. He rose as Harry and Hermione entered the room. "Mr. Potter, Geoffrey Baxter, at your service. Good to meet you, although I'm sorry it had to be under these circumstances. You have my condolences, sir."
"Thank you," Harry replied. "This is my wife, Hermione Potter. It's good to meet you as well." Handshakes were exchanged and they all took seats.
They went through the bulk of the paperwork, with Harry signing off to allow the solicitor to handle selling Dudley's business and putting the money into a trust for Marigold. Funeral expenses would be covered through the Dursleys' life insurance policies, which would also be handled through the solicitor's office. Both Dursley families leased their homes, both of which would need to be cleared out by the end of January. Mr. Baxter offered to handle that as well, but Harry declined, explaining that he'd helped a friend start up a moving and storage business and so was 'owed' a couple of reduced-rate moves.
"And now for the delicate part of this whole business," Mr. Baxter said after everything else had been dealt with. "I'm aware from Mr. Dursley that you've had little to no contact with him or his parents since 1997. I do know that he wished to reconcile with you, despite his parents' belief that you were living on the dole and would become a drain on his resources."
Harry shook his head. "They never gave up. Quite frankly, Aunt Petunia was jealous of her sister, as my father came from a reasonably wealthy family. That jealousy turned to bitterness over time, and her bitterness only increased when she discovered that despite me landing on her doorstep after my parents were killed, the money was tied up in trusts and she couldn't touch any of it. She went so far as to tell the neighbours that I was a delinquent as I was growing up." He chuckled a bit, adding, "As it happens, I ended up going into law enforcement. I'm part of a special investigations unit based in London." He handed the solicitor his muggle-friendly business card.
"Well, it's certainly good to know you're not actually on the dole," Mr. Baxter said with a smile of his own. "Before I go further, though, I must ask, would you have been open to a reconciliation with Mr. Dursley?"
"Yes," Harry replied. "Dudley first contacted me about six years ago. I have to assume he found me through the phone book or something, but he sent a Christmas card and gave his own address as well. We've been exchanging Christmas cards with a few short notes ever since. This year's card did say he hoped perhaps his daughter could meet her cousins someday."
"I'm very glad you said that, Mr. Potter," Mr. Baxter said. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley updated their wills earlier this month, when Mr. Dursley expanded his business. In the event something happened to both of them, you've been named their first choice as guardian to young Miss Dursley."
Harry and Hermione exchanged an incredulous glance. "Erm… did he say why?" Harry asked. "Mind, I'm not refusing, but this is so unexpected… he didn't even hint at anything like this in the most recent Christmas card."
Mr. Baxter shuffled through a portion of the papers in front of him. "Ah, here it is. He said he wished you to raise his daughter because he was confident that you'd treat her as your own. And that if you were unable or unwilling to raise her yourself, he wanted you to help select a family to raise her and to look in on her periodically. He believed you would make absolutely sure that she would never be mistreated in any way."
"He was right about that much," Harry muttered.
"Who is looking after Marigold right now?" Hermione asked.
"One of the Dursleys' neighbours," Mr. Baxter answered. "I understand the neighbor's teenage daughter was babysitting, and as they'd intended a rather late night, she was to spend the night. When she woke up to find them still not home, she called her mum, who called the police, who let her know the child would need care for at least a few days. I've been told the sitter's mother, as well as the sitter herself, are currently staying with the child, so that she can remain in familiar surroundings until arrangements are made for her custody."
Harry looked at Hermione. "She hasn't got anyone left," he said.
Hermione sighed. "You know how difficult it will be. I know what you're thinking, but we do have our own three to consider, not to mention, both of our jobs. Our family might be a bit much for her to take in, especially if there's a godparent or someone with whom she's already familiar, who might expect to take her in."
"There is no godparent," Mr. Baxter interjected. "Her godmother had been Miss Marjorie Dursley, Mr. Dursley's aunt, I believe. She passed on several years ago."
"Hermione, we have to!" Harry urged. "She's ten years old, there's hardly any chance she'll be adopted, and even long-term fosterage might not happen given how they're always going on about needing more people to apply to become foster parents. Do you really want to let her get shuffled from foster home to foster home every year? Dudley and I might not have been close, but he was reaching out and trying to establish some sort of relationship with me – even though his parents disapproved. We can't just let her vanish into the system."
"No, we can't," Hermione agreed. "But we can't just go collect her immediately either. We have to tell our three what's happening first, not to mention get proper accommodations set up… honestly, we might want to look into a larger house. The boys are beginning to take up more space than their room gives them, and I doubt a ten-year-old only child will be thrilled at suddenly having to share a bedroom with a five-year-old. Sure, we can put her in the guest room, but then we won't have it for, well, guests."
Harry frowned, but nodded. "We should at least introduce ourselves to her today," he said, looking stubborn. "I mean, if she'll be coming to live with us in a few days to a week, she ought to know who she'll be living with."
"Of course," Hermione agreed. "I can't even imagine how she must be feeling, especially if she doesn't know what will happen to her. We can at least reassure her on that point."
"I'll drive you over myself, as soon as you've signed the appropriate paperwork," Mr. Baxter said. He handed pens to both of them, along with a short stack of papers, and indicated where they needed to sign or initial on each one. Once they were done, he stood up with a slight smile. "Shall we? I'm sure young Miss Dursley will be glad to meet you, and to know of your plans for her."
"I hope so," Harry said, offering Hermione a hand up. He gave her a small smile and said, "I promise we'll make time to visit that bookstore next time."
She squeezed his hand and murmured, "I'll hold you to that, too."
Much like #12 Grimmauld Place had been, Dudley's house was part of a neighbourhood of row homes across from a small park. They followed Mr. Baxter up the steps, letting him knock on the door.
"Yes?" asked the matronly woman who answered.
"Albert Baxter, of Baxter and Carruthers," the solicitor introduced himself. "I've brought Mr. Dursley's cousin and his wife to meet young Miss Dursley. They've agreed to take custody of her, as per Mr. Dursley's wishes. It will be a few days yet before they can take her, of course, but they felt it best to at least introduce themselves and give her a chance to get used to the idea of moving before it happens."
The woman nodded. "Oh, of course, that's perfectly sensible. Please, come in. Oh, where are my manners? I'm Barbara Yardley, the next-door neighbour on the left. My daughter Nancy is keeping Marigold company up in her room just now."
Once inside, Harry offered Mrs. Yardley his hand. "Harry Potter, and my wife Hermione," he said. "It's good to meet you, even if the circumstances aren't the best."
Everyone shook hands and then Mrs. Yardley moved over to the stairs. "Nancy," she called. "Please bring Marigold down to meet her father's cousin."
"Coming, Mum," Nancy called back.
Footsteps sounded from above, then a sturdily built girl with blond braids and a nervous look in her blue eyes paced down the stairs, followed by a teenager sporting neon pink streaks in her dark hair.
Harry dropped to one knee so he wouldn't loom over the child. "Hello, Marigold," he said softly. "I'm Harry, your Dad's cousin. And that's my wife, Hermione. We're both very glad to meet you at last. I just wish you hadn't lost your parents for this meeting to happen." He held his arms out slightly, offering a hug without trying to force it on her. He was a stranger, after all. To his surprise, she slipped right into his arms.
"I'll be going to live with you, then?" Marigold asked as she pulled back. "That's what Mrs. Yardley said, anyway, when she came with the constable to tell me Mummy and Daddy died in a car crash along with Gran and Grandpa. She said Daddy had told her and Mr. Yardley that he wanted me to go to you if anything bad happened to him and Mummy."
Hermione smiled warmly. "We certainly would like you to come live with us," she said as Harry nodded. "It will be a few days yet, though. We have to get a room ready for you, and let our children know to expect you. I know we never sent photos with our Christmas cards and my husband isn't the best at letter-writing, so I don't know how much you know about our family, if anything."
"I know some," Marigold said. "Daddy told me he used to be mean to his cousin when they were kids, but that he was really sorry he'd been mean and hoped to make up for it someday." Her lip quivered as she teared up. "Now he can't make it up."
Harry and Hermione pulled her into a three-way hug, rubbing her back lightly as she cried. Mrs. Yardley tactfully pulled Nancy into the kitchen and Mr. Baxter followed to give them a moment.
"Maybe he thought he needed to do more to make it up," Harry said softly, "but he didn't. He apologised to me the last time we saw each other in person, and I could see he meant it. That was more than good enough in my book." Hermione handed him a tissue from her handbag, and he dabbed at Marigold's eyes once her sobs eased again. "I can only imagine how you're feeling right now, but I'm sure sad and scared are involved," he told her. "You've lost your family and now you have to go live with people you've never met and go to a new school and everything. Is there anything we can do to try to make it a little easier for you? We can do your room however you want it, colour and furniture and such. And if you have a pet, as long as it's not something like a pony, we can manage that as well." As Harry had hoped, the pony comment got a faint giggle out of her.
"I have a hamster," Marigold said. "Mummy and Daddy gave him to me for Christmas. I really can bring Skittles with me?"
"Absolutely," Hermione said. "I've got a cat called Crookshanks, but he knows better than to go after pets in cages. He's quite old and lazy now anyway, as I've had him for sixteen years and he was already fully grown when I got him."
Marigold nodded. "How many children do you have? And how old are they?"
Harry smiled. "We have three children. Leonardo and Sebastian are twins and they're seven, and our daughter Amaryllis is five. So you'll be the oldest."
"You might be pleased to know that Amaryllis hoped you'd come live with us even before we knew that your dad wanted us to take you if anything ever happened," Hermione said. Then in a stage whisper she added, "Ammy thinks she and I need another girl in the house, so we won't be outnumbered by the boys anymore."
Marigold giggled again, then asked, "Erm… what should I call you?"
"Harry and Hermione works," Harry said. "Or Uncle Harry and Aunt Hermione, if you prefer. I know it's going to take some time to get used to, but you're part of our family now and we want you as comfortable as possible."
She nodded as Mr. Baxter returned to the sitting room.
"I'm sorry to say that we have to leave for the moment," he said kindly. "Mr. Potter, do you know when you'll be able to bring Miss Dursley into your home?"
"Would 2 January work?" Harry asked. "That gives us a few days to prepare, while hopefully not taking too much advantage of Mrs. Yardley's kindness. We can have the services that morning and then bring Marigold home with us afterward."
Mrs. Yardley had come back in as well. "I'm more than happy to care for Marigold for a few more days," she said. "And if I might suggest, by all means have the services on the second, but stay the night here so that you don't have to rush about collecting her things and packing up for the trip to… erm…"
"Crawley," Hermione put in.
"Yes, well, Crawley is quite a trip from here," Mrs. Yardley continued. "I expect none of you would want to either make that drive or sit on a train for hours immediately following the services."
Harry looked at Hermione, who nodded. "That's a good idea, and thank you for thinking of it, Mrs. Yardley," he said. "Marigold, we'll see you on the second. Will you need a travel carrier for Skittles?"
"No, I have one," she said.
"All right, then. Goodbye for now," Harry said.
"Goodbye for now," Marigold echoed.
Harry and Hermione followed Mr. Baxter out to his car, and he dropped them off at the train station. They walked back to the apparition point and popped back to Crawley.
Hermione started making a list as soon as they'd hung their cloaks up. Harry came back down from putting his broom away to find her at the kitchen table, muttering to herself and writing things down. He laughed.
Hermione looked up. "What?" she asked. "We have to clear out the guest room wardrobe, see what we have to do to get her transferred to school here, and most importantly, figure out the best way to tell her about magic and why our house is more than a bit odd."
"Oh… I hadn't thought about that part," Harry said. "But you're right, we're going to have to explain it properly." He sighed. "You know, I think I'm more pleased than ever that we do live as muggle-ish as we do. Marigold is going to have enough adjustments to make, without her new home being one without the amenities she's used to, such as the telly."
Hermione smiled. "Yes, there is that. Oh, and we have to tell our kids she's coming. I wasn't joking about Ammy wanting a sister, you know."
Harry smiled. "I know. She asked me the other day if you would ever have another baby, because she wants a sister. I told her I didn't know, because growing a baby can be tiring and you did already have three little ones to look after, so she'd have to ask you that question. Did she?"
"Not openly," Hermione laughed. "But she's been saying for a month that she wanted a sister to play with like how Leo and Bas play together. I suppose I'll have to remind her that Marigold is enough older that she'll most likely have her own friends to play with most of the time."
"That assumes she'll make friends easily," Harry reminded his wife. "She'll be starting in the middle of the year, in the last year of junior school no less. She'll be missing her friends from Leeds while trying to find a place for herself in a school where the friendship groups have been established for months if not years, not to mention everyone knowing they'll be scattering to different secondaries at the end of the year besides. It's quite possible Marigold could just decide to get along civilly with the other kids and save making new friends until next fall at her new school. Which reminds me, we'll have to look into schools for her. Is the local secondary a good one, do you know?"
Hermione shrugged. "I've never thought about it, as we know all three of ours will go to Hogwarts. I can see if Mum's heard anything one way or the other, but we can also check with the solicitor to see if her name is down for anywhere in particular. From what little we know of Violet, she had a good head on her shoulders even if she didn't have the opportunity to go on to uni right out of school."
"True enough," Harry agreed. "I think Dudley mentioned in one of his cards that Violet was doing uni on a part-time basis while helping him keep the books for the gym. He actually joked that it was a good thing one of his daughter's parents had a brain to pass along, because he certainly couldn't contribute much on that end of things." He glanced at the clock and added, "It's a bit later than I thought. Do you want to go collect the kids while I call for takeaway?"
"Yes, but only after we decide what we're getting," she said with a grin. "Pizza or Chinese?"
Harry laughed. "Chinese, definitely," he said. "You know it's the only way to please all three of the kids, short of everyone getting their own pizza. You know Leo and Bas can never agree whether to get sausage or pepperoni while Ammy pouts if she can't have mushrooms which both boys hate…"
"And I'm the only one who ever wants Hawaiian pizza and you prefer ham and all the veggies," Hermione completed for him. "Whereas everyone likes pork lo mein and egg rolls, so all we need to please everyone is to get their favourite starters. All right, you call that in while I get the kids. Oh, and add a large wonton soup as well, it's chilly enough today that I expect we'll all appreciate it."
"Will do, love," he said, kissing her as he moved to the drawer where they kept the local takeaway menus. He picked up the phone as she headed out the door.
Helena Granger welcomed her daughter into the house, then called to her grandchildren to get ready to leave. "So, what happened?" she asked Hermione.
"You're about to get a new granddaughter," Hermione replied. "It seems that Marigold hasn't got living godparents anymore, and Dudley actually requested that Harry and I take her if anything happened to him. Well, he did say that if we couldn't take her for some reason, he'd want Harry to help select someone to foster her, but you know my husband. There's no way he'd turn away a child in need, especially not one who's related to him. She'll be coming to live with us on 3 January, after the services for her parents on the second. The next-door neighbour is staying with her until then, so we'll have time to make things ready for her. Can you and Dad keep our three overnight on the second, so we don't have to drag them up to Leeds for services they're really a bit young to understand, for people they've never met?"
"Of course we can take them. And I feel for that poor child," Helena sympathized. "Do you think she'll be all right? What with your magic and all, I mean. From what little Harry's said about his relatives, they preferred to pretend magic didn't exist."
Hermione sighed. "Well, his aunt and uncle certainly felt that way, but Dudley seemed as though he'd opened his mind a little bit. We thought it best to go see Marigold and introduce ourselves, so she'll at least have some idea of who she'll be living with, and she said something about her father telling her he'd been mean to Harry when they were young and hoped to make it up to him. Still, we are going to have to explain about magic sooner than later, so she doesn't panic the first time she's in the room when we get a floo-call or something."
"So who doesn't panic, Mum?" Leonardo asked as he trotted into the kitchen, followed by Amaryllis.
"I'll tell you when you're all here," Hermione said. "Where's your brother?"
"Looking for his trainers," Leo said with laugh. "I tried to tell him to look behind the toilet, but he didn't believe me. Said it was a stupid prank and he'd not fall for it."
"But the real prank is, I hid them there," Ammy piped up, looking pleased with herself.
"Oh, for…" Hermione shook her head, smothering a grin, and walked to the foot of the stairs. Drawing her wand, she lifted it and incanted, "Accio Sebastian's trainers!" A moment later, the trainers sailed down the stairs, landing at her feet. "Bas, I've got them," she called. "Come down and put them on."
"Where were they?" her younger son asked as he trotted down the steps. Sitting on the second from the bottom, he pulled the trainers on and tied them carefully.
"Right where Leo told you to look," Hermione said dryly. "Ammy claims she hid them as a prank."
Sebastian looked disgruntled. "I can't believe I fell for it," he grumbled, getting to his feet. "I bet she and Leo planned it together. He'd have known I wouldn't believe him. Who would ever hide someone's shoes in the loo?"
Hermione gave him a quick hug. "I'm sure you'll get them back later. But come on, I've got some news for you kids and then we need to get home. Daddy's ordering Chinese for dinner."
"Really?" Sebastian perked up at that news. "Will there be steamed dumplings?"
"Of course, they're your favourite," Hermione said. "And crab rangoons for Leo, shrimp toast for me, chicken fingers for Ammy, and teriyaki beef skewers for Daddy. Wonton soup, pork lo mein, and egg rolls for everyone."
Ammy and Leo also brightened upon hearing that news. "So what do you have to tell us, Mummy?" Leo asked.
"You remember I told you this morning that Daddy's cousin was killed in a car crash?" When the kids nodded, Hermione continued. "Well, as it turns out, we have been asked to raise his daughter. Marigold is ten, and she'll be coming to live with us a couple days after New Year's."
"Yay! I get a big sister!" Amaryllis cheered. "We're gonna be even with the boys now."
Hermione tried not to laugh. "Yes, well. Daddy and I will have to explain magic and all that to Marigold, as she won't have seen it before, and might even think it doesn't exist. Also, she's likely to be very moody at first – she might not feel much like playing with anyone, or she might cry or get upset over little things – because she's just lost her parents and her grandparents all at once. Try to imagine how you'd feel if Daddy and I and Grandmum and Grandad went out to dinner and never came home, and you now have to go live with someone you've never met before."
Ammy flung herself at her mother, clinging tightly. "You won't go away like that, right, Mummy? Promise?"
"I promise to try to keep that from ever happening, sweetie," Hermione said, stroking her daughter's hair. "Daddy and I always do our best to stay safe, just like Marigold's parents. Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen. Since Daddy's an auror, he got hold of the accident report, and it said that Marigold's father was driving quite carefully and nearly avoided the crash, until someone behind him who wasn't being as careful hit his car and pushed him right into the worst of it."
"That's horrible," Leo declared.
"I agree," Hermione told him. "And we need to get going if we're going to get home before the food arrives. Say your goodbyes to Grandmum and go get yourselves into the car." She waited for the kids to make their farewells, then hugged her mother after the kids stampeded for the door. "I'll call in a day or two," she said. "Talk to you soon!"
"Good night, dear, talk to you soon," Helena replied.
Harry and Hermione spent the next two days preparing for Marigold's arrival. Hermione cleaned out the guest room's wardrobe, which had become the depository for those items of clothing that weren't needed on a regular basis but were needed just often enough to keep. Harry dropped in to give Andi and Teddy the news before heading to the Ministry to arrange for a week off following New Year's Eve, so that he could be home to help Marigold adjust. His old classmate Dean Thomas, one of Hermione's coworkers in the Department of Muggle Relations, had written and illustrated a series of pamphlets explaining magic to the families of muggleborns, so he stopped by that department on his way out to pick up the series, figuring that they'd be a good way to ease into telling Marigold about magic.
Back at home, he took a quick nap before heading out for his New Year's Eve duties. Thankfully, the shift passed without any major issues and he even managed to apparate home just long enough to kiss Hermione at midnight before popping back to his post in Diagon Alley. On New Year's Day, they sat down with the children and talked about how things might change with the addition of another member to the family, trying to make them understand that while Marigold might need some extra attention at first, it didn't mean that Mummy and Daddy loved them any less.
Sebastian, who the entire family figured would eventually be in Ravenclaw, rather predictably got the idea first. "You mean like last year, Mummy, when Leo tried to jump off the swing but caught his foot in the rope and banged his head on the ground? You said he had a com… com-cushion? Anyway, his head was hurt, and it made him dizzy and sick at his stomach and you had to spend a couple of days minding him 'cause some things need time to fix as well as potions. Ammy was upset 'cause she wanted you to go to her tea party, but you told her that even though you love her lots, Leo needed you more than she did right then. And then when Leo got better, you asked Ammy to have another tea party 'cause now you could go to it."
"Yes, like that," Harry said. "And the word is 'concussion' which is a fancy medical term for hitting your head hard enough that you rattle your brain inside your skull. Now Marigold won't be physically hurt, but she's most likely going to be scared and sad and in need of extra reassurance, so it might be that Mummy or I will need to spend time with her instead of with you for a little while. But just like Mummy made it up to Ammy that time, we'll make it up to you if we need to, once Marigold is feeling better and doesn't need us quite so much."
"Are you all okay with this?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, Mummy," the kids chorused.
"All right, then, bedtime," Hermione said. "We'll be dropping you off at Grandmum's bright and early tomorrow, so we can get up to Leeds for the services, then we'll be back the next day bringing Marigold with us."
"Daddy, would you read us a story?" Ammy asked.
"Please, Dad?" Leo added. "You do brilliant voices for the characters."
Harry grinned. "I will if your Mum doesn't mind," he said.
"Hmph," Hermione fake-pouted. "Woe is me! My own children think I'm a failure at acting!" She pressed her hand to her forehead, melodramatically pretending to swoon back on the sofa.
Ammy and the twins burst out laughing. "You can act," Leo gasped out between guffaws, "but you still can't do voices."
Hermione sat up again, grinning. "Fine, I know when I can't win. Get upstairs and ready for bed, then your father will read you a story."
The trio raced for the stairs, with the twins getting into a dispute over whose turn it was to be first in the loo and to brush their teeth. Little Ammy slipped past them, unnoticed until she slammed the door with a giggle.
Harry, listening to the activity, grinned at Hermione. "I can't decide if our daughter is going to be the world's most Hufflepuffish Slytherin, or the most Slytherinish Hufflepuff. A galleon says she'll be a hat stall."
"No bet," Hermione chuckled. "I absolutely agree with you."
Harry just leaned over and gave her a soft kiss before heading up to read to the kids.
In the morning, Harry fixed sausages, eggs, and toast with marmalade for himself and the kids, while Hermione opted for her usual toast, fruit, and yogurt. After they finished eating, Hermione pulled out her wand to clean up the kitchen while Harry summoned the kids' overnight bags and carried them out to the car along with his and Hermione's. They left the kids at the Grangers' with hugs and kisses all around and set out on the road to Leeds.
Out of consideration for Marigold, Harry had requested that the funeral services for the Dursleys be kept simple. The girl stood between himself and Nancy Yardley, with Hermione on his other side and Barbara Yardley on Nancy's far side. Some small part of him noted that while most of the attendees expressing their condolences remarked on how much they would personally miss Dudley or Violet or both, Vernon and Petunia were only mentioned obliquely, if at all, in comments such as, "I imagine you'll miss your grandparents," directed at Marigold.
As Dudley and Violet had left directives that they preferred cremation, the hearses left in one direction while the mourners, most of whom were Dudley's employees at the gym, followed the limousine back to Dudley's home for a wake. Marigold excused herself from the gathering and went up to her room. Hermione followed her up and held her while she cried herself to sleep.
Downstairs playing host, Harry got to hear a number of stories which told just how well-liked his cousin had become in the community. Dudley had done everything from sponsoring a free after-school fitness program for the local secondary students, to hiring parolees – as long as they hadn't been imprisoned for violent crimes – to give them a chance at a fresh start. The more he heard, the sorrier he became that he hadn't made an effort to speak with his cousin in person, once they'd exchanged those initial cards.
Once the majority of the guests left again, he sighed and headed into the kitchen to make tea. He put the kettle on and rummaged in the cupboards, finding an open package of shortbreads. He put a handful on a plate and was just pouring his tea when Barbara Yardley poked her head in.
"The last of them have left," she told him, "and I've just been up to look in on Marigold. Your wife is sitting with her, in case of nightmares, she said. I've left a hot pot in the oven for you, it ought to be ready in about an hour, so there's supper done. My Nancy helped Marigold pack her things yesterday, so you'll only have an overnight bag and her hamster cage to deal with tomorrow."
Harry gave Mrs. Yardley a tired smile. "Thank you, so very much, for everything you and your family have done to help. I can only imagine the mess I'd have made of things trying to go it alone."
She shook her head. "Nonsense, it's what neighbours do," she said. "We've known the Dursleys since they first moved here seven years ago. Violet used to mind my Nancy after school back then, and Dudley always kept our hedges trimmed as well as his own after my husband Charles had a heart attack. Besides, we're right next door, so it was far easier for us to look after Marigold until you made your arrangements than it would have been for you to have had to pack up your own youngsters to come stay up here for the duration."
"Still, I do appreciate it," Harry said. He gave her his muggle-friendly business card and told her, "If you ever need anything, please give me a call, okay? For Marigold's sake, if nothing else."
"If you insist," Mrs. Yardley said. "And if you would, send her 'round tomorrow before you leave, so we can say goodbye?"
"Of course," Harry said with a smile.
Mrs. Yardley walked to the door. "Be well, Mr. Potter," she said, letting herself out.
Harry locked the door behind her and looked around. Fortunately, most of the people who showed up for the wake either worked for Dudley or were regulars at his gyms, so the drinking had been kept to a minimum and nearly everyone had taken their dishes into the kitchen. Clearing up went quickly enough; with Marigold sleeping upstairs, he used his wand to bag the rubbish, bringing the bags to the bins out back before loading and starting the dishwasher.
When he judged the hot pot was just about done, he called upstairs softly for Hermione to wake Marigold and bring her down for supper. Her earlier tears followed by the nap seemed to have done the girl a world of good, as she readily came down and took her place at the table. He dished up the meal while Hermione poured drinks and they all sat down to eat.
And then Marigold Dursley gave Harry one of the biggest shocks of his adult life. "I didn't ask this before, Uncle Harry, because Daddy said never to talk about it in front of anyone but him," she said. "But Daddy told me a lot about you, how you're a wizard and went to Hogwarts and saved him from dementors and then both you and Aunt Hermione saved the world from a really, really bad wizard. But he said he didn't know nearly as much as he would have liked, because Gran and Grandpa hated magic even more than they hated Mummy. Will you tell me all about Hogwarts and everything?"
Harry choked on his tea. When he finished coughing, he drew in a deep breath and asked, "What exactly do you know about me? I didn't think your father ever gave me more than a passing thought over the years."
"Well, Daddy said you're famous with the wizards because you got hit with a curse that was supposed to kill you and you survived, back when you were a baby. And since your parents d… didn't survive, you got sent to live with Gran and Grandpa," Marigold said. "Only they hated magic, so they hated you and it sounded to me like maybe they abused you. And Daddy said he bullied you for years, because he wanted to please Gran and Grandpa and the worse he treated you, the better they liked it. But then you saved his life from those dementor things and he said that's what made him grow up and realise what a horrible person he'd been. And then just before you left to go save the world from the bad wizard, he apologised to you and then later on, he searched you out and started sending Christmas cards because he hoped that maybe someday you and he might manage to become friends."
A startled – but smiling – Hermione joined the conversation as Harry tried to find his wits. "I think we both would have liked that," she said. Chuckling a bit, she added, "And here we thought we'd have to explain all about magic to you, that it really exists outside of fairy tales, I mean. Harry even picked up the pamphlets used these days to explain things to the parents and families of children who are the first witches and wizards in their families. I guess we both just assumed your family wouldn't have told you about magic and all, seeing as they weren't magical. Especially with how much your grandparents hated it."
Marigold shrugged. "Well, Gran and Grandpa hated everything," she said. "They hated Mummy because of how she looked. They hated Daddy's work because he didn't go to uni like they wanted him to. And they hated me because they think Daddy and Mummy wouldn't have got married if I hadn't been on the way. I heard Daddy tell Mummy once that he loved Gran and Grandpa because they were his parents, but that he really didn't like them all that much. We didn't see them too often, mostly for Christmas and my birthday, because Daddy didn't want to keep them from me, but he also didn't want to give them too much time with me because they always talked bad about Mummy."
"I see," Harry said, still looking absolutely gobsmacked. "Right, well, I don't like being famous because I always thought it wasn't fair that everyone remembered me and not my parents, especially since it was something my Mum did that saved me from Voldemort when I was a baby. I mean, really… I wasn't even two. What could I have done, thrown a full nappy at his face?"
That rhetorical question set Marigold giggling.
"As for the rest of it," Harry continued, "we'll be happy to tell you about Hogwarts, if you want to know. Do you like reading? If so, I'm sure Aunt Hermione will let you borrow her favourite book in the world, Hogwarts: A History."
"I do like reading," Marigold said. "Mummy liked it too, and always read me stories when I was little. Sometimes she'd even read me stories after I learned to read for myself, as a treat if I was ill or something."
"In that case, you may borrow Hogwarts: A History if you'd like," Hermione said. "However, you can't take it out of the house. One big thing to remember about magic is that it's to be kept secret. Only people with witches or wizards in their families are allowed to know about it."
"Part of it dates back to the days when people thought all witches and wizards were evil," Harry explained. "I'm sure you've heard about the medieval witch burnings in school, right? At least in passing?" At Marigold's nod, he continued. "So, that's part of it. People tend to fear things they can't explain... and it is true that magic can be used for both good and bad. I can see where muggles, people without magic, would be scared of the idea that a wizard could use magic to hurt them. Still, magic is more like a tool of sorts. You can use a knife to slice a cucumber for sandwiches, or to slice up someone's face, right? Does that make the knife evil?"
Marigold shook her head. "No, of course not."
"Well, magic is the same as the knife. Only because people can see and touch a knife, they understand what it does and to a point, can defend against one if someone's trying to use it on them. But most people can't use magic and have no way to defend themselves, so it scares them," Harry said. "Oddly enough, the other reason magic has to stay secret is because of how helpful it can be. There aren't many magical people as compared to muggles, something like four thousand plus muggles to every wizard, isn't that right, Hermione?"
"Close enough," Hermione said.
Harry nodded. "Right, well, magic can do some brilliant things – mend broken bones overnight, find lost items, clean up absolutely disgusting messes, even make vegetables taste like something kids actually like without changing the nutritional content."
Hermione laughed at that last one. "As if it's only kids that don't want to eat their veg," she said. "Don't think I haven't caught you making your own beetroot taste like garlic bread."
Harry ducked his head sheepishly as Marigold giggled again. "Erm, well, my dislike of beetroot aside, the point is, there aren't enough witches and wizards in the world to go about vanishing chemical spills and healing people and finding things. It's better that muggles don't know such things are possible, otherwise there's a very real possibility that we'd be rounded up and forced to do such tasks. Now, you might think that if wizards can do these things, perhaps they should – it's for the best, right? But the problem is, people can be greedy, and the people in power, in governments, they can be greedier than most." He paused, trying to think of a good example. "All right, so I'm sure you know how there's always fighting going on in the Middle East, over religion or oil or both. Now picture if the government of one side or the other in one of those fights decided to force wizards into helping them get whatever they're after. It could happen, wizards might have a better chance at avoiding the situation to begin with, but they can't defend against guns any better than muggles can. So, now picture that this greedy Middle Eastern government has forced wizards to find where some other government stores their country's oil and gold reserves."
"And once they know where to find it, the greedy government can steal it," Marigold said, a look of growing comprehension dawning in her eyes. "Either with more forced help from the wizards, or with the army, or both."
"Exactly," Hermione agreed.
"I'll be sure to keep the secret, then," Marigold said. "Will you tell me more about Hogwarts, though?"
"Of course," Harry said.
He proceeded to tell the girl about the school, both its physical appearance and its classes, Houses, and even the ghosts. Hermione added her own commentary as well and demonstrated a bit of magic by using a Scourgify to clean the casserole dish once the remaining hot pot had been stored in the refrigerator.
"Brilliant," Marigold said. "Mummy thought the dishwasher made life easier, but that's even better."
Harry smiled. "Magic can come in handy," he admitted. "But honestly, there are plenty of things that wizards are horrible at."
"Like thinking logically," Hermione broke in with a laugh. "Even those of us who grew up without magic sometimes forget to use our brains instead of our wands."
"You mean like how it took you years to realise that magic and electronics could work near each other, since Diagon Alley is in the middle of London and has yet to fry the grid there?" Harry teased.
Hermione blew a raspberry at him. "Yes, like that," she grumped, although a smile played at the corners of her mouth. She made a show of whispering to Marigold, "Men. Be wrong once, just one time, and you'll never hear the end of it."
"Mummy always said the same thing," Marigold said.
"Well, getting back on topic," Harry said, "Despite all the facts, most wizards wouldn't believe it if you told them the Yanks sent people to the moon forty years ago. For that matter, quite a few still don't realise aeroplanes have gotten as large as they have. You know how planes leave those cloud-trails behind them sometimes? There's a bloke I know who honestly thought those cloud-trails were the result of dragons breaking wind."
"Wait, what? Dragons? They're real?" Marigold asked, looking enthralled. "Are unicorns real too? Flying horses? Do you have talking animals like in Narnia?"
Harry grinned. "Yes, yes, yes, and no," he said. "We know someone who works on a dragon reserve in Romania, actually, and unicorns live in the Forbidden Forest by Hogwarts. I saw winged horses pulling a huge flying carriage one time, but I don't recall what kind they were, if I ever knew at all. No talking animals that I'm aware of, though."
"That's too bad," Marigold said. "I always wanted to meet talking animals like Mr. and Mrs. Beaver or Reepicheep the Mouse."
Hermione smiled. "I loved the Narnia books when I was about your age," she said. "But as far as anyone knows, C. S. Lewis made them up. However, since you have a hamster, you might be interested in seeing a pygmy puff… a smaller and more colourful variant of a magical creature known as a puffskein. Have you ever seen any of the old original Star Trek series?"
Marigold thought for a moment. "Erm, is that the one with Captain Kirk and Mister Spock with the pointy ears? I've seen some. Why?"
"Because I suspect the writer of one episode might have been a wizard, or related to a wizard," Hermione said, her smile widening into a grin. "There's one episode called The Trouble With Tribbles, have you seen that one?"
"Oh, the one with the fuzzy thingummies that ate everything in sight and had babies all over the place?" Marigold asked. "And they cooed when most people petted them but screeched when they got near Klingons."
"Got it in one," Hermione said. "Those tribbles bear a distinct resemblance to puffskeins, both in looks and behaviour. Then someone decided to breed a dwarf variety of puffskein suitable for keeping as a pet, and they managed to make them quite colourful in the process."
Marigold smiled. "They sound adorable."
"They're cute enough, I suppose," Harry said. "Not quite my thing, but to each their own and all that."
They continued chatting for another hour or so before Marigold started yawning. They got her tucked in after she introduced Harry to Skittles the hamster, then settled themselves into the master bedroom as the guest room's bed wasn't large enough to accommodate them both.
In the morning, Harry woke up and headed downstairs to make tea, only to find Marigold in the sitting room doing some sort of exercises. She gave him a small smile but didn't break her routine, so he skirted around her and headed into the kitchen. About ten minutes later, she joined him.
"Morning," he said. "Tea?"
"Yes, please, Uncle Harry," she replied.
He poured a cup and slid it over to her. "What do you usually do for breakfast?" he asked. "I can fix whatever you'd like. Well, as long as there's some of it here. Can't make a fry-up if there's no eggs, after all."
Marigold smiled and added some lemon to her tea. "I usually just have fruit and yogurt, maybe some toast. Daddy said he was really, really fat when he was a kid and it took him a long time to get to a healthy weight. So fry-ups are for special treats."
"I see," Harry said as he rummaged in the refrigerator for yogurt and a container of melon chunks. He passed both to Marigold before taking a second cup of yogurt for himself. "I can understand that, especially as both your parents worked in the fitness business." He grinned a bit, adding, "Maybe you'll be a good example for the rest of us to follow. I think we eat fairly well, but we probably don't exercise as much as we ought to. What were you doing in there when I came down?"
"Tai chi, Mummy had me in classes from when I was small," she said. "Mummy said it was that or yoga because either one would help me learn to be calm and centered. I don't really remember, but I guess I tossed some pretty spectacular wobblers back then and broke some things in the process, so she wanted me to start learning something that would give me self-discipline but in a fun way."
"We'll have to look up a place near us, so you can keep on with your lessons, then," Harry said.
"What sort of lessons?" a yawning Hermione wanted to know.
"G'morning, Aunt Hermione," Marigold said as Harry poured another cup of tea. "Tai chi lessons."
Hermione took the cup and blinked. "Huh… I'm not sure what I was expecting to hear, but that wasn't it." She sipped her tea and then said, "Marigold, we're going to pack up most of what's in the house here and store it for you. Furnishings, books, cookware, things like that. Is there anything personal of your Mum's or Dad's that you might like to keep right now?"
Marigold's lip quivered, but she took a deep breath and asked in a small voice, "May I have Mummy's jewelry box and Daddy's scrapbook and his desk mug that he uses to hold his biros and stuff? Is that okay?"
"Of course, sweetheart," Harry said. "Your mum's jewelry box along with whatever's in it, plus your dad's desk mug and scrapbook. Is there anything else?"
"Just Skittles," she said.
Harry nodded. "All right, finish your breakfast and get Skittles ready for the trip to Crawley. I'll get the mug and wrap it up to bring with us. I expect the jewelry box and scrapbook will be easy enough to transport."
Marigold scooped up the last couple bites of her yogurt and melon, dropped her spoon in the sink, and plodded up the stairs. Hermione followed, to collect the jewelry box and help with the hamster if needed.
Harry found the scrapbook and mug in Dudley's tiny office and smiled. It was obviously a souvenir of some sort from before Dudley and Violet married; one side was a photo-booth type picture of a younger Dudley and Violet snuggled together, while the other side proclaimed, 'Fitness Coaches Have Great Hearts!' He dumped out the biros and wrapped the mug in a couple pages of newspaper. He peeked into the scrapbook, seeing a couple of photos from Dudley's Smeltings days when he was on the school boxing team, but the majority of it seemed to be little news clips and photos documenting the ownership of his Anytime Fitness franchise. Thinking it was brilliant that his cousin had turned his life around, from the bullying child and young teen he had been to a respected business owner and father, Harry wished once again that he'd taken more initiative when Dudley first contacted him after the war, and that they'd been able to get to know one another as adults.
He found a bag to put both items in, then headed upstairs to collect the overnight bag he and Hermione had used along with Marigold's suitcases. He loaded everything but the bag with the mug into the boot of the car; that bag went in the back seat where it wouldn't get smashed if the suitcases shifted. Heading back upstairs to check that nothing had been forgotten, he peeked into Marigold's room in time to see her loading a bag of litter and a box of food into a bag while Hermione shrank down the cage to fit in with the rest. Skittles, a particularly fluffy caramel-and-white hamster, snoozed in a little nest of rags in the travel carrier.
"Looks like we're just about ready to go," he said. "Marigold, Mrs. Yardley would like you to drop by so she and her family can say their goodbyes before we leave."
"It's a long trip, so better hit the loo before we walk out the door," Hermione advised.
"Nag, nag, nag," Harry teased. "Yes, dear."
Marigold started to giggle at the banter, then suddenly burst into tears. Harry and Hermione quickly scooped her into a three-way hug.
"I can't even s-s-say goodbye to m-my friends," she sobbed. "I'm just g-going to d-d-disappear!"
Harry rubbed her back gently. "Shh… we'll figure out some way of letting you say your goodbyes," he said. "We'll need your records for school in Crawley, so how about I bring you up to collect them in person once term starts? I'm sure under the circumstances you'll be allowed to visit your classroom – and if you can't visit the class for some reason, we'll wait for school to let out for the day so you can see your friends, even give them our address and phone number if you like."
Marigold sniffled. "Really?" she hiccupped.
"Really," Hermione said. "We might not be able to make everything all better, but we will do our best to help you adjust. Giving you a chance to see your friends and tell them goodbye is the least we can do."
"Thank you," Marigold said, giving each of them a hug before hurrying to the loo. They heard her blowing her nose before the toilet flushed. She popped back in, her face freshly washed. "Would one of you bring Skittles and his things downstairs while I go say goodbye to Mrs. Yardley? He ought to stay inside until the last moment, so he doesn't get too cold."
"Of course," Hermione said, picking up the bag and the travel carrier. She followed Marigold down the stairs and collected everyone's coats.
Marigold put hers on and hurried out the door and up the steps of the house next door, vanishing inside after a moment. Hearing the plumbing upstairs in operation once again, Hermione followed her own advice and visited the loo before pulling on her own coat. Harry came down a minute or two later.
"What took you so long?" Hermione asked.
Harry smiled. "I decided to surprise Marigold. I shrunk all her bedroom furniture to take with us, so she can sleep in her own bed tonight instead of a strange one. I thought she might appreciate that."
Hermione smiled softly and tugged him in for a heartfelt kiss. "Have I told you today how much I love you, Harry Potter? You are so sweet and thoughtful, and I am the luckiest witch in the world."
"And here I thought I was the luckiest wizard," he replied, returning her kiss with interest. "We're ready to leave once Marigold comes back from next door?"
"Yes," Hermione said, just in time for the girl to open the door.
"Are we ready to go?" Marigold asked.
Harry chuckled. "We are. I expect you'll want Skittles in the back seat with you?" He picked up the carrier and handed it to her. "Also, there are some CDs in the car, you're welcome to look through and pick the music if you'd like. Although I think half of them are Ammy's, so there's likely a lot of Disney music."
Marigold smiled. "I like Disney films. Sometimes we'd watch Fantasia and Daddy would laugh at Mickey Mouse the Sorcerer's Apprentice, 'cause he said wizards ride brooms and wouldn't use them to carry water."
Both Potters laughed as they headed out to the car and got settled in for the trip. "Well, your dad was right about that," Hermione said. "Plenty of wizards and witches ride brooms. Your Uncle Harry is one of them."
"What about you, Aunt Hermione?"
"Not if I can avoid it," Hermione said, "although I do know how. I'm terrified of heights."
"But if you'd ever care for a ride, just ask and I'll be happy to take you up with me," Harry added.
Marigold nodded. "Maybe sometime," she said. She wiggled around a little in the seat so that she was leaning into the corner formed by the seat back and the door and closed her eyes as they turned onto the motorway.
When they arrived in Crawley, the Grangers' car was parked out front. Rob came out to help with the bags as Helena tried to keep the Potter children from mobbing Marigold.
"Bas, Leo, Ammy, honestly! Your cousin isn't going to vanish," she said. "Give the poor girl a chance to get inside, take off her coat, and settle in before you pounce."
"Sorry, Grandmum," the boys chorused, not looking at all sorry.
Ammy pouted for a moment, then decided to be helpful. "I can put coats away," she offered, smiling when Hermione nodded and handed over her coat.
Harry and Rob came in with the bags just as the boys noticed Skittles.
"Cool, you got a hamster," Leo said. "Does it do any tricks or anything?"
Marigold shook her head shyly. "No, at least not yet. I only just got him for Christmas. His name's Skittles."
Bas gave her a friendly smile. "He's cute. Mum's got a cat, but Crookshanks is real old and sleeps most of the time now."
Harry slipped upstairs, returning a few minutes later. "Right, kids, it's been a long trip. How about you let Marigold go get Skittles settled into his proper cage and get herself freshened up so we can have tea?" He placed a gentle hand on Marigold's shoulder, guiding her to the stairs. "Come on, I'll show you your room, along with everyone else's, so you don't go into the wrong one by mistake."
"Probably a good idea," she agreed. A quick tour of the upstairs with a pause at the loo ended in her new room. She took one look at her bed and other furniture from home, including the assembled hamster cage waiting for Skittles, and nearly dropped the carrier as she flung her arms around Harry. "Oh, Uncle Harry, it's my stuff… it's all my stuff! How did you do it?"
He grinned and tapped her lightly on the nose. "Magic, m'dear, magic."
She giggled. "Right, I should have known. Seriously, thank you." She gave him one more squeeze before coaxing Skittles out of the carrier and into his cage.
They headed back downstairs, where Hermione took charge of the introductions; the Grangers telling Marigold they'd be honoured if she chose to call them Grandmum and Granddad but if she wasn't comfortable with that, Aunt Helena and Uncle Rob worked as well. Bas and Leo, just getting to the 'girls are icky' stage, greeted their cousin politely enough, but aside from asking if she played any sports, didn't say much.
Ammy, on the other hand, smiled up at her cousin. "I'm so glad you came to live with us… I mean, I'm sorry you had to, but I'm glad you're here all the same. I always wanted a sister. Will you be my sister?"
Marigold smiled back. "I always wanted a sister, too," she confided. "But Mummy and Daddy couldn't afford another baby when I was still small, and then by the time they thought they could afford it, Mummy said she didn't want to start all over again with nappies and midnight feedings. I think I'd like to be your sister."
"Good!" Ammy said, hugging Marigold. "I like your hair a lot. I wish mine was like it."
"You do?" Marigold sounded surprised. "But it's so boring. I mean, the colour is all right, but it's so straight and just hangs there."
"I guess, but it's so straight and silky-looking," Ammy said. "My hair tangles all the time and it hurts when Mummy has to untangle it." She giggled, adding, "Mummy said once that there was no hope for her children when it came to hair, between hers and Daddy's, there was no way we'd get hair we could brush easily."
Marigold laughed. "Still, I like your curls. They're really pretty." The two girls continued chatting all through tea and then moved into the sitting room afterwards along with everyone else.
By late February, Marigold had settled into life with the Potters. As Harry had predicted, she didn't make any close friends at school, but was on friendly terms with her classmates and exchanged occasional phone calls with her friends in Leeds. True to his word, he found a nearby gym that offered tai chi classes and got her enrolled, plus she saw a counselor once a week to help her adjust. On days when it was warm enough to play out in the garden, she coached Ammy in some football moves and they played two-on-two, boys against girls. After the third time they trounced the twins, Bas and Leo grudgingly admitted Marigold wasn't bad to have around, for a girl.
March started out blustery and wet. As much as Marigold looked forward to her birthday the next day, she was also dreading it, as it would be the first she'd celebrate without her parents. Already grumpy, she came in from school and went up to her room to work on an essay for history.
Bas and Leo, unable to play outside due to the weather, started kicking their football around in the hallway. She called for them to please stop as she was doing homework, but they ignored her. After the ball thudded against her door for the third or fourth time, Marigold had enough. Yanking the door open, she started to scold the boys for disturbing her, when the ball sailed over her head and smacked the shelf where she had her father's mug on display.
"Nooooo!" she shrieked as the ball smashed into the shelf. The shelf teetered and the mug crashed to the floor, smashing to pieces. She turned back to the boys, fury in her eyes – and the window at the end of the hall shattered. She burst into tears and slammed her door shut once more, flinging herself onto her bed as she cried.
Hermione pounded up the stairs when Marigold shrieked. She looked at the shattered glass and the guilty-looking twins and sighed. Drawing her wand, she checked to make sure none of the neighbours saw the incident and then performed a reparo spell to fix it. She turned and fixed the boys with a gimlet stare. "All right, what happened?"
"We were kinda playing footie," Leo confessed. "Marigold wanted us to stop, but we didn't. When she opened her door, I'd just kicked the ball and it went into her room and I think it broke something, 'cause she screeched."
Hermione nodded. "So, that scared you and you had a bit of accidental magic that broke the window?"
Leo shook his head. "That wasn't me, I thought it was Bas."
"Huh?" Bas said. "It wasn't me, I thought it was you!"
"Well, I know it wasn't Ammy, because she's been helping Dobby in the kitchen," Hermione said. "Off to your room, you two, you're there until dinner. And you don't get your football back until Saturday, you know better than to play with it in the house. If you wanted to play footie that badly, you could have put on your macks and wellies and played in the garden."
"Yes, Mum," the twins chorused. They slunk off to their room in embarrassed silence.
Hermione tapped on Marigold's door, hardly believing the conclusion she'd come to, but needing to know for certain. "Marigold? It's Aunt Hermione. May I come in?" On hearing a tear-choked affirmative, she pushed the door open carefully and stepped inside, moving to the bed and gathering the sobbing girl into her arms. "Shh, it's all right," she soothed. "It's all right."
"I'm so sorry, Aunt Hermione… I don't know what happened," Marigold said, her breath hitching as she tried to calm down. "I was just… I was already in a bad mood when the boys started kicking their ball and it kept slamming into my door while I was doing homework. So I opened the door to tell them off and the ball came flying in here and broke my mug, the one with Mummy and Daddy's picture on it." She gestured towards the smashed mug on the floor. "I really tried not to lose my temper but I did and when I screamed, the window broke, but I don't know how that happened."
"Okay, first things first," Hermione said. She drew her wand again, casting another reparo and Marigold's mug returned to its unbroken state. "Remember, magic is quite handy at times."
Marigold looked at her mug in awe, then flung herself at Hermione, hugging fiercely. "Oh, thank you, thank you, Aunt Hermione!"
Hermione smiled. "You're welcome, sweetie." She heard the pop of apparation from across the hall; Harry was home from work. "Harry? Could you come in here, please?"
"Sure, what do you need, love?" he asked, stepping into Marigold's room.
"I think Marigold may have done accidental magic a little while ago," Hermione said.
Two pairs of surprised eyes turned to look at her. "What?"
"The boys were annoying her, kicking their football in the hall while she was doing homework," Hermione explained. "She said she'd already been in a foul mood and went to tell them off, only for the ball to bounce in here and break her special mug – and then the hall window broke. Neither of the boys did that and Ammy was in the kitchen with Dobby so she didn't do it either. Which leaves Marigold. Shall we let her hold our wands and see if she gets a response?
Harry looked stunned. "That's… probably a good idea, actually." He drew his wand and held it out to Marigold, handle towards her. "Take it with your dominant hand," he said, "and tell us what you feel, if anything. The saying is, 'the wand chooses the wizard,' so you'll almost never get really good results using someone else's wand, but… well, just take it and see."
Marigold, looking nervous, gingerly took the wand and gasped as Harry's hair suddenly turned orange.
Hermione laughed and changed it back to black. "All right, try mine now." She held it out, handle first, to Marigold.
The girl gave Harry's wand back and took Hermione's, careful that it wasn't pointing at either of the Potters this time. However, that ended up with the wand aimed at Skittles as he ran in his exercise wheel – and he turned purple! "Oh! Oh goodness… but how…?"
Harry grinned and restored the hamster's proper colour as Hermione took her wand back. "Well, it seems you're a muggleborn witch. I never would have thought any child of Dudley's would have magic. Or more accurately, I never thought a descendant of Vernon Dursley would have magic."
Marigold just looked awed. "I know a little part of me always wanted to be able to go to Hogwarts, but I never really thought… you're sure I'm magic? Really, really sure?"
"Absolutely," Harry said, and hugged her tightly. Letting go once more, he brushed a stray lock of hair that had escaped her braids back from her face. "Why don't you go wash your face and come down with us? I know you prefer getting your homework done right away, but I also think a bit of a break would do you good right about now. Get a drink, maybe a bit of a snack, and relax for a while so you can get back to that homework with a clear mind, okay? I'll clear up the mess the twins' ball left."
"Okay," Marigold said. "I don't know if I could think about my essay right now anyway." She gave him one more quick hug before exiting the room.
Hermione paused to give Harry a kiss before following. "And there's just one more reason to love you," she murmured. "You've brilliant parenting skills."
Harry returned the kiss with interest. "All I do is think what Vernon and Petunia would have done, and do the opposite," he said with a grin.
Hermione laughed as she followed Marigold downstairs.
Harry straightened the shelf that had been knocked halfway off its brackets and picked up all the bits and bobs that had hit the floor when the ball struck. Fortunately, the now-repaired mug had been the only casualty, as Marigold mostly kept paperback books on that shelf. He picked up the Chronicles of Narnia, the Anne of Green Gables series, the Underland Chronicles, and two newer-looking books titled The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and replaced them on the shelf in what he hoped was the correct order. He put the mug back in place and then noticed that Dudley's scrapbook had also landed on the floor, but he wasn't sure where it belonged. He picked it up and decided to just leave it on her desk, when an unsealed envelope with his name and address scrawled on it and a piece of stationery sticking out fell from somewhere inside.
Setting the book down, he picked up the envelope and opened it.
28 December 2009
Okay, this has to be the strangest thing I've ever written, but if what I think is gonna happen, happens, I'm gonna need help. You see, I think maybe Marigold might be a witch. God, I hope Mum and Dad never see this… Mum hated my wife from the first time we dated, and I know that if I'm right about Marigold, she'll blame Violet for it somehow. Anyway, like I said, I'm not entirely sure, but when she was little, y'know, tantrum age, stuff used to happen when she tossed a wobbler. Lights would blow out, things would rattle and fall off shelves, stuff like that. Nothing so drastic as when you turned Miss Carr's hair blue that time or when you ended up on the school roof, but it happened frequently enough that I'm not so sure it was coincidence, y'know? I mean, maybe it was, but if it wasn't, she'll have to go to your school, right?
So I remember your lot is big on secrecy, but I told Violet and Marigold about magic, at least as much as I could, but not that I think Marigold might be a witch. I didn't want to get her hopes up in case I'm wrong. But I wanted to make sure that if she is a witch, she won't be totally gobsmacked when her letter to Hogwarts shows up. Thing is, I don't know much and I know it. I did make sure they knew to keep it to themselves, but it's getting close to Marigold's 11th birthday and I really want her to know someone with magic in case she does get that letter. And honestly, even if I'm wrong, I think Marigold would like to meet her cousins. That's why I'm writing this, even though you probably got my Christmas card a couple weeks back, to ask if you might be willing to meet up sometime soon. We'd be glad to have you and your family up here, although it'll be a bit cramped, or we can make the trip down to you if that's more convenient, or even make plans to meet somewhere in the middle. Neutral ground, right? Neither of us gets the advantage that way.
I totally understand if you'd rather not see me. I was beastly to you when we were kids. Still, even if you don't want to meet up, can I ask you to look after Marigold if she does turn out to be a witch? I know I have no right to expect anything from you, but I do trust that you wouldn't take any anger you might still have against me out on her. I'd feel a lot better sending her off to Hogwarts if I knew you would be there for her if she needed it. And I really do hope that someday
The letter cut off abruptly; Harry guessed that something had interrupted Dudley as he was writing, and he didn't get back to finish the letter before going out on the night of the car crash that killed him. And now he understood why Dudley had named him as Marigold's guardian in his will and asked that if he wasn't able to take physical custody of her, that he at least oversee her placement elsewhere. He stuck the incomplete letter in his pocket and headed downstairs.
He walked in on an animated conversation between Hermione, Marigold, and Ammy as they enjoyed tea and freshly baked gingersnaps.
"…get your acceptance letter a day or so after your birthday, as long as your birthday falls between 1 September and 15 June," Hermione said. "Summer birthdays all get their letters between 21 June and 1 July regardless of when their birthday is, just so they'll have time to get their replies in by 31 July so Hogwarts can make up its rolls for the coming school term."
Marigold nodded. "So, since tomorrow's my birthday, I'll probably get my letter by Monday?"
"Most likely," Harry said. "We can probably plan a trip to Diagon Alley for the following weekend, as long as no emergencies come up to pull me into work.
"Can I come too?" Ammy wanted to know. "I like to see the owls at Eyelops."
"We'll make it a family outing," Hermione promised. "All of you may come along. But since we'll be shopping for Marigold's wand and possibly her schoolbooks, she decides which shops we visit. If you want to go to Eyelops while we're in the Alley, you'll have to ask her.
Ammy immediately turned pleading puppydog eyes on her cousin. "Please can we go to Eyelops when we go to Diagon Alley?" she begged.
"Sure," Marigold said. "I've never seen owls for sale before. They're really beautiful birds, though, aren't they?"
The conversation continued all the way through dinner and Marigold had to stay up an hour past her usual bedtime to finish her history essay for school the next day.
Her Hogwarts letter arrived as expected, hand delivered by new Herbology teacher Neville Longbottom. He jokingly confessed that over half of Hogwarts staff had snarfed their morning tea when Deputy Headmistress Sprout announced that a letter was going to Harry and Hermione Potter's home.
The family made several trips to Diagon Alley over the next five months, making sure to get Marigold as much general information about the wizarding world as possible. Finally, 1 September arrived, and they gathered on Platform 9-3/4 with Andromeda Tonks to see her and Teddy off. Skittles would remain home with Ammy looking after him, while a tawny owl named Finnick snoozed in a travel cage for the trip.
"You've got a book or two out for the trip, right?" Hermione asked as Harry levitated their trunks into a compartment. "And some money in case you want something off the trolley?"
"Yes, Aunt Hermione," Teddy and Marigold chorused.
"Make sure you write tonight and let us know where you get Sorted," Harry said with a smile. "And remember, if you end up where you could do equally well in two different Houses, your opinion as to where you want to go will be considered."
"Try for Hufflepuff, we're the best," Teddy put in impishly. "Everyone underestimates us."
"Hufflepuff is for hard workers, right?" Marigold asked. "Mummy and Daddy always said to find what I enjoyed doing, then work hard to be good at that."
"Now that certainly sounds like a 'Puff to me," Andromeda said.
Harry laughed. "Well, we're all but certain Leo will be in Gryffindor when it comes the boys' turn to go, and Bas is most likely a Ravenclaw. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Ammy ends up in Slytherin, so if you do go to the 'Puffs, that would be pretty neat. All four houses in the same family. Of course, we'd never know which quidditch team to root for…" He oofed as a laughing Hermione backhanded him lightly in the stomach.
"Honestly, Harry," she huffed. "Do you ever NOT think about quidditch?"
"You mean there's other things to think about?" he asked in his best innocent voice, making everyone laugh. Even Hermione.
The warning whistle tooted, so the family swarmed Marigold and Teddy with hugs and handshakes and cries of, "We'll miss you! Write often!" Teddy escaped first and hopped up on the steps of the train, holding out a hand for Marigold. She took it and swung aboard, Finnick's cage in hand.
"Goodbye," they called. "See you at Christmas!" They made their way into the compartment Harry stowed their trunks in and sat down, waving out the window as the whistle blew one last time and the train lurched forward, gaining speed as it left the platform behind.
"Whatever else happens, I'll make you proud, Mummy and Daddy, and that's a promise," she whispered as she sat back down, softly enough that Teddy didn't hear her. "I'm gonna make you proud."
On the platform, Harry wrapped an arm around Hermione, waving as the Express pulled out of the station. "She's off," he murmured to himself. "Dud, wherever you are, thank you for trusting me with Marigold. I hope you know I'm doing my best for your girl. We're going to miss her, but I know she's going to make us all proud."