Harry flinched away from them as soon as they landed in their flat, and Fred felt almost guilty for bringing him there without warning him. Well, mostly without. Logically, he should have assumed, but he supposed there wasn’t really any such thing as logic when Harry was as panicky as he was.
“Have you eaten anything today?” George asked, and Fred let himself relax a little bit.
Harry started, clearly not expecting to be addressed. “No,” he said, his voice fragile, quiet. There was still some hoarseness from his earlier tears, and his eyes were still rimmed red. Even impossibly more quietly, Harry whispered, “The Dursleys don’t always feed me during the summer.”
They didn’t always feed him? What the hell did that even mean? Fred cut off the thoughts, and his anger, viciously. Now wasn’t the time. “Well, we won’t have that problem here,” he said, forcing some cheer into his voice. “What are you in the mood for? We have a million options, and we can always go out and get something if you’d like.”
“I don’t want to be a bother,” Harry said. He stared down at his hands, not meeting either of their eyes.
Fred exchanged a glance with George, then they both looked back at Harry. “You’re not a bother,” George said gently. He knelt in front of Harry and reached out to carefully take his hands. “Remember, we pushed to take you from the Dursleys. We want you here with us.”
Harry looked up, finally, and Fred ached to see that his eyes were a little damp still, like he was getting ready to cry again. Then, in a voice that was barely there, he said, “Thank you.”
“So, what would you like for lunch?” Fred asked, trying to inject something a bit more lighthearted into the conversation. “We could always go out and get you some Acid Pops if you’re really not sure.”
Harry winced and shook his head. “No thank you,” he said. He didn’t even seem to realize it was a joke. “If you have it, maybe some soup?” he suggested quietly after a long silence stretched. “I don’t think that I could eat much more than that, and I’m not even sure about the soup.”
“Soup it is,” Fred said, and swept off into the kitchen. It wouldn’t take long to get some ready, especially since they’d gone the quick, cheap, easy way for a lot of their food, and had Muggle cans of it stored in their pantry. Their Mum would have a heart attack at the sight of it, but fortunately, she hadn’t come by the shop yet, nor their flat.
Fred wondered idly if that would change by the time she found out that Harry was with them, even as he stirred the soup and kept it heating evenly. Muggle soups weren’t nearly so difficult as Potions, so it wasn’t like it took all of his concentration.
By the time the soup was successfully heated, he turned to find that George had laid out three bowls. For a moment Fred was puzzled, given that he and George had already eaten before they’d taken their NEWTs at the Ministry, and there was no way his brother was hungry, but then Fred realized. George didn’t want to make Harry feel awkward by making him eat alone.
Well, that was fine. He’d made probably too much anyway, especially if Harry’s appetite was as bad as he was implying that it was. Fred ladelled the bulk of the soup into Harry’s bowl, then split what was left between himself and George. When Harry opened his mouth to protest, George tapped him on the nose with his spoon.
“Fred and I already ate lunch,” George said. “This is more of a midday snack for us than anything else. You, on the other hand, need all the fattening you can get.”
“The better to eat you up,” Fred added when Harry let out a small, protesting noise. “Come on, you’re not gonna win this one, Harry.”
Harry let out a small sigh and, instead of protesting any further, raised a small spoonful of soup to his lips. He ate it, then hunched over his bowl and took another spoonful, which he ate much more quickly. Fred watched, a little appalled, as Harry practically inhaled his soup, until he abruptly stopped, with just a bit of broth left in the bowl.
He looked at Fred, then George, then flushed and dropped his gaze. “Sorry,” he muttered.
Fred glanced down at his untouched, still-steaming soup. “It’s fine,” he said quickly. “You must have been very hungry.”
Harry just shrugged.
“Do you want more?” George offered, and made to slide his own bowl over to Harry.
Harry shook his head. “No, thank you,” he whispered. “If I eat anymore, there’s a good chance that I’ll be sick. I can’t…” He stopped talking, swallowed, and lifted one hand to toy with the bit of broth left in the bowl. “It’s hard to eat a lot after I leave the Dursleys’ care.”
They were monsters, and Fred found himself almost feeling sorry that the Aunt had been killed in Harry’s rescue. Surely, surely Azkaban, or perhaps the Muggle equivalent, awaited the surviving Uncle. It had to, or there was no justice anywhere in their world.
“Well, we’ll just have to get you used to eating again,” George said brightly. He glanced at Fred, and Fred nodded his support. Of course they would get Harry eating again. “Now, Harry, we find ourselves with an abundance of free time, since we both took a day off from the shop, so is there anything you’d like to do this afternoon?”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe read a little? Someplace quiet?”
George deflated, but Fred supposed he understood. This was a lot for Harry; he couldn’t imagine what their young friend was going through. “Okay,” Fred said. “Why don’t George and I show you the room we set aside for you? And then maybe you could read some of your school books, or we have some novels you might like—”
“My textbooks are fine,” Harry said quickly. His spoon clattered against his bowl when he dropped it, and Harry flinched, like he expected to be struck. When no such blow came, he straightened and looked around, like he was gauging the reaction in the room.
Fred was starting to get the idea that they had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into. “Then let’s show you to your room,” he said.
George grabbed Harry’s school things as they walked past them where they’d been left in the sitting room, and Fred carefully lifted Harry’s cage for his owl. Hedwig let out a soft, scolding hoot when he jostled her, but otherwise didn’t complain. Together, they escorted Harry to his new room.
It was relatively plain, but the bed was serviceable, and there was plenty of lighting in the room, due in large part to the massive window. Currently, it showed Diagon Alley bustling below them. Harry, to Fred’s surprise, flinched back from the sight.
“What’s wrong?” George asked quickly, having also noticed the flinch.
“People will see me,” Harry said quickly. “I don’t… not that I’m not grateful, because I am, but I just—”
“They can’t see in,” Fred said. He walked over and tapped the window with his wand after setting Hedwig’s perch down. The window immediately shifted to the Great Lake at Hogwarts, half of it underwater so that Harry could see the fish if he wanted. “It will show whatever you want it to, as long as you want to see outside, and there aren’t privacy wards up.”
Harry relaxed. “Thank you,” he whispered. He reached out with his hand and touched the window, his fingers shaking. “Thank you both, very much.”
“It’s our pleasure,” George said, and bowed with a low flourish. “Do you want company while you’re reading?”
Harry shook his head. “No,” he said. He looked away from them, and didn’t look back at them as they said their goodbyes and excused themselves from the room.
Once the door had closed between them, Fred sagged into George, who leaned against him in return. They both leaned back against Harry’s door. “He’s such a wreck,” Fred said, keeping his voice pitched low. “Merlin’s breath, George, are we sure that we can handle this?”
George shook his head. “I don’t know, Fred,” he replied, his voice just as low. “I have no idea. But we have to try, now that we have him.”
Fred let out a small, tired laugh. “That, brother mine, was never in any doubt.”
Harry managed to hold himself together until the door closed, until a few minutes after the twins left him alone. He had to, because he wasn’t sure if there was anyone listening on the other side. The twins had those Extendable Ears, and if they heard him, they might…
They might be angry with him. And they’d been so kind to him, already, that he couldn’t stand the thought of making them upset.
“I can’t do this,” Harry gasped out. Hedwig hooted at him from her cage, the sound sharp and alarmed, and Harry flinched to hear it. He was frightening his owl. Merlin help him, what good was he? He couldn’t even keep it together when nothing was wrong!
What kind of hero was he? How could Dumbledore expect him to save the world when he couldn’t even save himself? Did Dumbledore know about the things that Dudley had done to him over the years? Harry had thought he’d told him, but… And if he did know, then how could Dumbledore expect him to… to save anyone?
He hadn’t even been able to save Sirius.
The first sob broke free, and Harry knew there was no fighting it anymore. He just wanted to keep himself quiet enough so as not to be heard by the twins, because he didn't want to make them upset. They didn’t deserve to be upset after what they'd done, going to the Ministry for him, rescuing him from… from…
By the time he gave in to the rest of the tears that were threatening, he was curled up on his new bed, his head buried beneath a pillow so that the sound of his grief would be muffled enough so as not to travel. Hedwig was still making noise, but he could barely hear her. She must be so panicked.
What kind of a wizard was he, that he couldn’t even comfort his owl when she was so worried about him?
“Sorry,” he gasped out, over and over and over again, his voice rising against his will. He managed to keep it from hitting the wailing shriek that it wanted to, but it was a battle hard fought, and by the end of it, he lay on his bed, limp and shaking, his voice hoarse, his eyes swollen with tears.
He had so much to apologize for, that once he’d gotten started, it was almost impossible to stop. And the worst thing was that the people who needed to hear it most, Cedric and Sirius, never would. No matter how loudly he cried.
An awful sound, the sound of metal clattering on metal, broke through Harry’s sobbing. He’d just barely managed to focus on Hedwig’s cage when she finally broke free and flew directly to Harry, where she perched on the pillow beside him. She hooted reprovingly at him, the sound sharp and chiding.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “I don’t know what happened.” He was so tired suddenly, his eyes felt too heavy to keep open, his body felt too heavy to move. “I didn’t mean to make you worried.”
Hedwig made a softer, cooing sound, then nuzzled against Harry’s face, her soft feathers silky against his skin.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Harry whispered, even as he lost the battle to keep his eyes open. “I just… I don’t want this to be a dream, Hedwig, and I don’t want this to go wrong if it isn't. And I don’t know how to make it go well. I don’t want to make things worse for them, Hedwig, and I don’t want to go back to… to Vernon.”
Because Petunia wasn’t an option anymore. She was just one more body that could be laid at his feet, and Dudley too.
The thought followed him into an uneasy, unhappy sleep.
Rebecca made sure that Dumbledore, still unconscious, still tied up, was placed on a bed in a position that would most likely keep the old man from being too stiff when he was brought back to consciousness, and covered the two Muggles’ bodies with preservation spells. They would need to be examined once she was finished with her investigation, so that she wasn’t accused of Muggle baiting or anything similar.
And then she waited.
It wasn’t long at all before the living room door opened and a truly massive Muggle man entered. His face started turning red the moment he saw her, and he bellowed, “I won’t have you freaks in my house!” He lunged towards her, and, with a neat flick of her wand, she knocked him to the ground and bound him, much like she had Dumbledore. Unlike Dumbledore, she didn’t knock Vernon unconscious.
She had questions for him.
She tipped a drop or two of Veritaserum into the Muggle’s mouth and waited. Once his eyes had glazed over, she set up her quill and parchment, then asked, “What is your name?”
“Vernon Dursley,” he said dully. He’d stopped struggling against his bindings, thankfully, because he might have done some damage to himself had he not.
She would rather he be in good condition when she gave him to the Aurors for the crimes she was almost positive he’d committed. “How do you feel about your nephew?” she asked.
“I hate him,” Dursley said, his voice still flat. “I would rather he had never been sent to live with us, but he was, and so I made his life miserable. It was the least I could do, since we were stuck with the little freak.”
“Did you enjoy denying him the basic necessities of life?”
“Absolutely.” A ghost of a smile appeared on Dursley’s face, and Rebecca grimaced. The only way to manifest a visible emotion while on Veritaserum was to feel it incredibly strongly. To hate a child so much… But Dursley was continuing. “He was a thorn in my side from the moment he got here, all bright eyed even though his parents had just died. It was unnatural. And the things he made Dudley do to him…”
“You think that Harry made your son rape him?” Rebecca asked, the question escaping her in her shock.
“My son isn’t a pouf!” Dursley snapped. “The little thing had to have bewitched him somehow, probably trying to get pity from us when he was home for the summer or something. Like we’d do that. He’s the reason our Dudders had to go and knock up that stupid little girl from three streets over two years ago. If he hadn’t made Dudley have a taste for it, he never would have done anything to her!”
Rebecca wanted to know more about what Dudley had done to the ‘stupid little girl,’ largely in part so that she could feel more justified for having accidentally killed him in the process of saving her charge, but she refrained from asking the question. She’d learned more than enough, and any further use of Veritaserum would be an abuse of her powers.
He would likely be questioned by people with far more skill than she very soon, though, and she was sure that all of his sins, of which there were probably multitudes, would come out for all the world to hear. She didn’t think that Harry would much care for that, but unfortunately, in this instance, she didn’t think they’d be able to take his wishes entirely into account.
She pulled out one of her emergency Portkeys, which were designed to take recalcitrant parents to Auror holding, and put one of them on Dursley. She returned to the bedroom where she’d left Dumbledore and put the next one on him, then waited. Once Dumbledore had disappeared from the bed, and once she’d verified that Dursley had been taken as well, she left the house with a sharp crack.
Her supervisor was probably going to be furious with her, because Rebecca knew that she’d likely overstepped her authority the minute she’d stunned the leader of the Wizengamot, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Her decision had been a valid one; Dumbledore had been the boy’s Guardian in Magic, and he hadn’t seemed particularly inclined to agree with Harry’s change in custody. Therefore, she’d been well within her rights to detain him the way that she had.
She was only doing what she had to in order to protect a vulnerable member of their society, no matter what anybody else seemed to think of the Potter boy. Her supervisor would just have to deal with it.
If he’d wanted a different outcome, he should have sent a more politically inclined agent.
George hesitated, glancing at Fred. “Should we disturb him for dinner, do you think?” he asked, glancing at the pizza they’d gone out for.
Fred frowned. “He didn’t eat much lunch, and he’s awfully skinny right now. I don’t think we should leave him in there while we eat, that’s for sure.”
George nodded and headed off to their guest room. Well, it had been a guest room. He was pretty sure it was going to be Harry’s room now, at least for the time being, until somebody more suitable could be found for Harry, if there even was anybody out there who could take care of him.
They hadn’t expected Harry to stay hidden away for most of the afternoon, but they weren’t angry that he had. They were just worried about him, because he’d been so very fragile when they’d taken him from the Dursleys. George had known that Harry’s situation with them hadn’t been good, but he’d never imagined…
Well, it didn’t matter. Whether or not Harry stayed with them until he reached his age of majority, he wasn’t going to be going back to the Dursleys. Rebecca had made that much incredibly clear. And he would be with them at least until the custody hearing, which would hopefully give them a little time to get their little brother in better shape.
But all of that was a matter for another time, when there wasn’t pizza getting cold on the kitchen table.
George tapped on the door. “Harry,” he called gently. When nobody answered, he tapped again, a little bit louder. When Harry still didn’t answer, he opened the door and slipped into the darkened room.
It was quiet, very quiet, and when George flicked on the light, he found Harry curled up in his new bed, his face streaked with tears, his glasses askew on his face. George swallowed at the sight. Harry had been crying, and he and Fred hadn’t realized.
Merlin, they were already fucking up this whole guardian thing, weren’t they?
“Harry,” he said a second time, still gently, hoping to wake Harry without startling him.
It wasn’t meant to be, apparently. Harry jerked awake, his wand in hand and pointed right at George before he’d even blinked the sleep from his eyes. He reached up and adjusted his glasses, then blinked blearily at George. “What time is it?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
George didn’t know if it was from the earlier crying or from sleep, but either way, it made him ache for Harry. “It’s dinner time,” he replied. He didn’t have the exact time, but he could get it, he supposed. “Fred and I went out and got a pizza for us all to share. You didn’t eat much of your lunch, so we’d really like it if you could eat dinner with us.”
Harry got off the bed, stumbling a bit as he did so. He flinched when George reached out to steady him, but allowed the touch. “Thank you,” he whispered. He offered George a wavering smile, then ducked away from him and left the room.
George took a moment to steady himself, because the look in Harry’s eyes was breaking his heart. Could he and Fred really do this, keep him and take care of him? Should they give custody up to someone else, someone more equipped?
Obviously Dumbledore was wrong, and the Dursleys never should have been left with any kind of wizarding child, or potentially any child given what they’d done to their own spawn, but what if he and Fred messed up with Harry too? Were they really mature enough to handle this?
He forced the doubts back with a deep breath, then took another for good measure. Maybe they weren’t the best choices, but they were the ones who’d been willing to go against Dumbledore, and that had to mean something. Besides, Harry was their little brother. He was family. And if there was one thing that was always true about Weasleys, they were always loyal to family.
Except for Percy, but George was pretty sure he’d been adopted anyway, even though Mum never would admit it.
He plastered a smile on his face and headed out to the kitchen. They could do this. And if not, well, George was always a fan of the faking it till he made it school of life. And that hadn’t failed them yet.