The last thing that Harry wanted to do on the morning of the custody hearing was wake up. There was a small, frightened part of him that swore that he would be just fine if he slept through it, that if he wasn’t there things would go exactly the way he wanted.
That small part of him was drowned out by the anxiety that came with literally nothing in his life ever going the way he’d intended.
He dragged himself out of bed, and found that he was awake before the twins, even. It was the work of minutes to start cooking breakfast, and Harry did it as much to distract himself as to get food ready. It wasn’t like he was hungry, anyway.
He didn’t think he’d be given a choice about eating, and he was proven right when the twins woke up and shuffled in for their breakfast. Fred muttered, “You didn’t have to cook, Harry,” as he fell almost face-first into his plate of food.
“But we’re glad you did,” George added, though he appeared to be only moderately more awake. “Where’s your plate?”
Harry only considered lying to them for the briefest of moments, then, with a sigh, he made himself a small plate, as small as he thought he could get away with, and settled at the table. “I’m not very hungry,” he said, even as he attempted to make himself eat some of his food.
Fred’s hand landed on his own. “You don’t have to be nervous, Harry,” he said. His eyes were brighter, his smile was a bit more awake. “Everything’s going to work out just fine.”
Harry couldn’t help the bitter way he laughed. “You have no idea how things normally go for me,” he muttered. But he forked another bit of egg into his mouth and forced himself to chew and swallow. He did this for one bite after another, until he’d eaten about half the food on his plate. When he looked pleadingly at the twins, they glanced at each other.
“Okay,” George finally said. “But only because we need to get moving, or we’ll be late to court.”
Harry wouldn’t mind that, but when he muttered as much, both twins shook their head. “Not if we want to keep you,” Fred said gently.
“Which you know we do,” George finished. He ruffled Harry’s hair, then added, “Now go get ready. We need to be at the Ministry soon.”
Harry sighed. He shoved away from the table and stood, then headed back to his room to get dressed. Hedwig hooted softly at him, the sound almost encouraging. He spared a smile for her, then went back out into the living room. The twins were there, already waiting for him.
The trip to the Ministry was spent in silence, and Harry found himself getting more and more nervous as they got closer to it. It was even worse once they were inside, with badges that identified them as being at the Ministry for a custody hearing, and which identified which of the twins was which. Now everyone could see it, and they were definitely looking. At least, it felt to Harry like they were looking, and he kept his head down so that they couldn’t see how nervous he was.
They were stopped outside of the courtroom by Rebecca, who was waiting with her arms crossed. “It’s going to be tough in there,” she said once they got close to her. “Locke, the acting Chief Warlock, wants this all to be settled as soon as possible, because we both think that it would be better for Harry to be placed before Dumbledore’s trial.”
Harry flinched at those words. “It’s really going to trial?” he asked, a little shocked. He’d known that things with Dumbledore were headed in an interesting direction, but he’d never imagined that they would go that far. How could they? Wasn’t Dumbledore some kind of hero? He’d thought everyone loved him!
“It is,” Rebecca said, softening her voice. She smiled at Harry, and Harry dropped his gaze so that he didn’t have to see it. “But you’ll be settled with whomever your permanent guardians are by then, and we won’t be entertaining any challenges to the ruling that Locke fully intends on handing out today unless there’s more… mistreatment.”
Harry took a deep breath. “What if I hate who I wind up with?” It was one of the things he was most afraid of. He liked the twins, a lot, and they were taking good care of him, even though he was being difficult. Not intentionally, it just seemed to be all that he was capable of.
But he didn’t know what he’d do if he went to a family he couldn’t stand. Not again. The thought of another situation like the Dursleys, even if it was more mild than their mistreatment had been…
“I believe that Locke intends to take your opinion into account,” Rebecca said, breaking Harry from his thoughts. “And the other three families are already inside, so we should join them. Locke will be here at any minute, and the last thing we want is for him to think you aren’t taking this seriously.”
“Of course,” George said. He pulled Harry into a loose hug, and Harry almost wanted to cling to the twin, to not let go. He was so frightened; he didn’t know what he’d do if the twins couldn’t keep him. “You’re going to sit with Rebecca, okay?”
Harry forced himself to nod, to let go of George’s robe. “Okay,” he mumbled. He looked down again, so that they couldn’t see the way that he was panicking. He hadn’t realized that he wouldn’t be allowed to be with them, but he supposed it made sense. He just hated it.
“We’re going to be in the room the whole time,” Rebecca murmured once the twins had gone in. “And if a recess is called, you’ll be able to speak with them then. But until Locke asks you for your opinion, Harry, you won’t be allowed to give it.”
Harry took a deep breath and nodded, forcing himself to pull his shoulders back and act like the mature young man he knew he could be. He cloaked himself in the same heroic attitude he used whenever he felt threatened, the one that had served him so well for so long at Hogwarts, and kept his chin up as he walked into the courtroom with Rebecca.
His composure almost slipped when he spotted Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy sitting at one of the four podiums, but he managed to hold it together, and even managed to ignore Draco Malfoy’s hissed, “Potter!” that was no doubt an attempt to either get his attention or get him in trouble.
The other three groups at the podiums weren’t surprises, not really. Lady Longbottom was a bit of one, but Harry had known that Molly Weasley would be there, and of course the twins were there as well. Neville, Ron, and Bill Weasley of all people were in the audience, though Rebecca didn’t steer him towards any of the others.
Instead, she settled them in the front row, as close to behind Fred and George as she could get them.
Harry had just enough time to take a deep breath and let it out in an attempt to relax when the doors flew open and an older man stalked through, a fearsome scowl on his face, his brows drawn tightly together. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?” Chief Warlock Locke asked, a bit rhetorically.
Harry steeled himself for what was to come and hoped, in a way that he tried not to hope since Sirius had been unable to take him from the Dursleys after third year, that this time, things really would work out okay, and he’d be allowed to stay with the twins.
If Rebecca had been given her choice, they wouldn’t even be at the court for this particular trial. It was painfully clear to her that the only people who really cared about Harry in all of this were the twins. After all, according to her research, the older Weasleys had had plenty of time to report Harry’s mistreatment and, for whatever reason, had never done so.
Neither Lucius Malfoy nor Augusta Longbottom likely had a strong case for wanting custody of Harry, either.
No, the only people who should walk out of the room with custody of Harry were the twins, in her opinion.
Still, she was here to listen, and, if asked, she would give an honest opinion of the four candidates to take custody of Harry after listening to each of their arguments. She would at least attempt to listen to their arguments without bias.
Locke cleared his throat. “Lord Malfoy, let’s begin with your petition,” he said, tapping one of the four folders in front of him.
Lord Malfoy stood and smoothed imaginary wrinkles from his robes. “Thank you, Chief Warlock,” he said, his voice smooth. “Of course, my petition hinges on the fact that both Mr. Potter and my child are of the same age at Hogwarts, and both will occupy a similar status within our world once they come of age. Like the Malfoys, the Potter line is a noble one, and as such, the soon-to-be Lord Potter will need instruction in the art of being noble which certain petitioners would be unable to provide.” This last bit was said with a sneer.
Beside her, Harry bristled, his lips curling into an almost snarl. Rebecca touched his arm carefully, ready to pull away the second he indicated her touch was unwelcome, but he didn’t flinch from her, and instead relaxed ever so slightly. “Steady,” she murmured to him, and he slumped further into his seat.
“Were I to be given custody of the Potter boy, I would swear to raise him in a manner befitting a future Lord of our society. I would teach him to manage the vast estate he stands to inherit, and I would do everything in my power to make sure that he has all the knowledge necessary to lead a fulfilling life.” Lord Malfoy bowed to the Chief Warlock, then seated himself once more.
The words were very pretty, but Rebecca found that she didn’t trust them. She knew too much of Malfoy’s reputation to believe that he genuinely had Harry’s best interests at heart, and she found herself hoping that Locke knew that as well.
“Thank you, Lord Malfoy,” Locke said, giving no indication as to his thoughts. He tapped the next folder. “Lady Longbottom?”
Augusta Longbottom stood. She cleared her throat, then said, “Like Lord Malfoy, I too have a child in Hogwarts of Harry’s age. Unlike Lord Malfoy, my grandson Neville is actually friends with Harry. I am also of the proper social ranking to make sure that Harry is raised to be the Lord we all know that he will be, and I have always been known as a force for the Light, unlike certain other parties.” The look she shot Lord Malfoy made it clear who she was speaking of.
“Unlike other people in the room, I have not been given the opportunity to know about Harry’s mistreatment at the hands of his Muggle family, and can assure the court that I would have acted upon such information as soon as I had it. I would never allow a child to be mistreated under my care, as my grandson will attest later on in the course of this hearing.” She sat down without saying anything further.
Harry snorted softly, distracting Rebecca. She glanced at him and took note of the positively bitter expression on his face, of the way that he crossed his arms and leaned back as far as he could, distancing himself from Lady Longbottom. He clearly disagreed with something that she’d said, but Rebecca knew she wouldn’t get a chance to ask him about it until a little later in the day.
Instead, she focused her attention on Molly Weasley, who was certain to be next.
Sure enough, Locke thanked Lady Longbottom and gestured for Molly to stand. “Mrs. Weasley?” he invited.
“Harry has been like a son to my family for years,” Molly said, her voice choked up. “We’ve done our best to take care of him when he comes to us, and there were signs that I missed, but I would never have knowingly allowed him to stay with people who were abusing him! We’re a good family, and yes, we’re poor, and we don’t have a title, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to raise a child. My son is Harry’s best friend, and my daughter is a friend to him as well. And we’re adults, unlike Fred and George.”
Locke cleared his throat. “Fred and George Weasley are of age, and are recognized as legal adults,” he said mildly. He was frowning at her.
Rebecca thought that perhaps Molly had just ruined her chances with that. At least Lady Longbottom and Lord Malfoy had attempted to be subtle in their digs against the others looking to get custody of Harry. They were playing a game that Rebecca recognized, and as much as she hated it, she knew that it was a game that all nobles played.
Politics had no part in a child’s custody, but she wasn’t naive enough to think that they wouldn’t play a part anyway.
Molly flushed, her cheeks going ruddy with what Rebecca thought might be shame. Then she spoke, and Rebecca realized that it was anger. “They might be considered legal adults, but they’re still my babies, and that boy shouldn’t be staying with them,” she hissed. She took a deep breath, then, and sat down. Her cheeks were still red with temper, making it clear that she wanted to say more, but didn’t think it was a good idea.
“Fred and George Weasley?” Locke said, sounding almost bored. But Rebecca wasn’t fooled by that. His eyes were sharp, and he wore an expression of genuine displeasure. Rebecca didn’t think he cared for any of the three who’d spoken thus far.
It was George who stood, still wearing his name tag, likely in deference to how hard it was to tell them apart. She would venture that he was even wearing the correct tag, since this was such a solemn occasion, though she wouldn’t bet on that.
“We’ve had custody of Harry since Ms. Mercier pulled him from his previous guardians,” George said, stumbling a little over his words. “We’re the ones who reported his mistreatment, and we’ve been doing everything we can to give Harry a safe and stable environment in which to recover. We’ve taken him to see a Healer and two Mind Healers, and we think that Harry likes staying with us, which we think is important. We know that we have a long road ahead of us with him, because we know that he’s…” George hesitated, then shrugged. “I don’t have another word than damaged. He’s not broken, he’s just traumatized, and Fred and I are willing to do whatever we can to help our little brother through this. We’re not old, and we don’t have a title, but we care about him, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that he’s okay in the future. If that means that he doesn’t stay with us, we’ll be sad, but we would accept that.”
He sat down with a soft exhale, his shoulders hunched. Rebecca could see the nervousness in his eyes, and she could see it in the way his back curved as well. She watched as Fred wrapped an arm around his brother’s shoulders and whispered something softly, and whatever it was made George laugh softly and perk up a little bit.
She was trying to be unbiased, really she was, but they were the only ones who seemed to genuinely care about Harry’s welfare, and it was almost impossible for her to discount that.
Locke cleared his throat, then, drawing her attention. Rebecca couldn’t be sure, but something in him appeared to have thawed a little, and she found herself hoping that he was finding himself in agreement with her, that the twins really were the best choice for Harry in spite of their youth.
“We’ll hear from the first of the four character witnesses, then. Mr. William Weasley, please step forward.”
Bill settled at the chair in the center of the courtroom, the one that would encourage honesty until he actually lied, then would compel it. He wasn’t worried about that at all. Instead, he kept his eyes on the twins, and on Harry. Harry looked genuinely terrified, his green eyes wide and his skin ashen. He hoped that what he had to say would help ease the fear on his face.
“Tell me about what you’ve observed with your brothers and Mr. Potter,” Locke said.
Bill cleared his throat. “I was there at the bank during the ritual cursebreaking performed on Harry,” he said, his voice clear and carrying. “Harry was terrified, as anyone with sense should be. He flinched away from everyone except for the twins, and they were incredibly careful with him. They looked after him during the ritual, and after, their only thoughts were of him and his own comfort.”
“Your brothers are young, and rumor says that they’re rather mischievous as well. Do you believe them to be proper caregivers for a young man?”
Bill took his time to consider the question. “I wouldn’t have said yes to that before they had custody of Harry,” he said slowly. “My brothers are pranksters, it’s true, and the only thing they’ve ever seemed devoted to, other than each other, was that. But since Harry has been under their care, I’ve seen them changing. They’ve grown and matured as they take care of him, and maybe they aren’t perfect, but I think they genuinely love Harry, and I find that to be more important than perfection.”
“Thank you for your input,” Locke said. He gestured for Bill to leave the chair, and Bill did, going to sit by his brothers once more.
“Thanks,” Fred whispered to him.
“We appreciate it,” George added.
Bill was being entirely honest when he said, “It’s my pleasure.” He found, against anything he’d ever expected, he was really hoping that the twins came out on top of this battle. Harry deserved to be able to stay with them, because he didn’t think Harry would be happy anywhere else.
“Chief Warlock,” Lucius Malfoy interrupted, before the next person could be called to sit in the chair. “What’s this about a ritual cursebreaking done on the boy?” He was frowning, glancing down at a piece of parchment on his table. “We haven’t been informed of that.”
Locke glanced at Malfoy, then snorted. “And you’ll be informed of it if you are granted custody of Mr. Potter, along with all of his other medical information. Until then, the court requests that you hold your tongue. I’d like to get out of here before dinner time, Lord Malfoy.”
“Mr. Ronald Weasley,” the acting Chief Warlock called.
Ron stood up, his palms sweaty and his knees shaking. He went to sit in the chair that Bill had just vacated and shivered as the charms on the chair slid into place around him. He couldn’t lie even if he wanted to, up here, and that was fine, because Ron didn’t want to lie. He just hoped that Mum could forgive him for what he was going to say.
“Tell me about your parents and Mr. Potter,” Locke said, echoing his first question to Bill.
Ron sighed. “I don’t think they’re right for Harry,” he whispered. He glanced at Mum and found her white-lipped with fury, her eyes wide with shock. “Mum’s been trying to get custody of Harry since he was given to Fred and George, and she didn’t seem to care that he’d been placed there legally. And we had to rescue Harry in our second year, from the Dursleys. We told her about it, we did, and she either didn’t care or didn’t want to do anything, because Harry just had to keep going back there.”
“Rescue him?” Locke asked.
Ron nodded. “We took him from their house that summer. He was locked in his room with bars on the windows, and I didn’t really understand it then, but I think that’s when Fred and George really realized that something was wrong. But Harry’s had an awful time of it, and no one seems to care about that, so I’m glad that they reported the Dursleys for what they were doing to him.”
Chief Warlock Locke let out a small sound of consideration. “Do you think that your parents knew how badly the Dursleys were treating Mr. Potter, aside from the incident in the summer before his second year?”
Ron nodded. The charms compelled a little bit more than that, so he said, “I know that they did, because Dad joined Professor Lupin in warning the Dursleys off after Harry’s godfather died. Before, Harry was sort of using his godfather to scare the Dursleys into leaving him alone, but I think that Dad and Lupin made that impossible.”
“Thank you, Mr. Weasley,” Locke said, and dismissed him from the chair.
Ron almost fled, although he could tell from the expression on his Mum’s face that he was in for at least a scolding when he got home. That was fine. He could take at least that much, if it would give Harry a shot at happiness.
Neville sat in the chair, his heart feeling like it was going to pound out of his chest. He liked Harry a lot, and he couldn’t imagine subjecting Harry to his family. When asked about it, he closed his eyes so that he didn’t have to see Gran’s face.
“My family probably wouldn’t hurt Harry, since we already know how magical he is,” he said, his voice shaking. That was all he’d meant to say, but the spells on the chair pulled more out of him without his consent. “But they’re not very warm or nurturing, and as much as I love them, I think that Harry would be happier elsewhere, where he’ll get the care that he needs.” He forced himself to open his eyes, to glance at his Gran as he added, “I don’t think my family thinks very highly of Mind Healers.”
He knew that she didn’t, because he’d asked to go to one and been turned down. He’d thought it would help with his confidence issues, but Gran had thought it a waste of money and time. Harry needed one more than Neville ever had, so he knew that his Gran wasn’t a good fit for him.
“Thank you, Mr. Longbottom,” Locke said, and dismissed him from the chair. There was something gentle in the way that he spoke, and as Neville looked, he caught a glance from the Chief Warlock to the woman sitting by Harry, whose hand was resting gently on Harry’s shoulder.
She nodded, but Neville didn’t exactly know what that meant. He supposed he’d find out eventually. Either that, or maybe it wouldn’t matter.
“Mr. Malfoy, tell me about Mr. Potter and your parents,” the Chief Warlock told him.
Draco couldn’t stop the slightly hysterical laugh that escaped him, and he didn’t try. He didn’t even look at his father as he said, “If you want Potter to live, which I’m guessing the court does, then you won’t let him anywhere near my father.” His voice shook as he said it, and he bowed his head under the strength of the honesty curses.
“Draco!” his father snapped.
“Be silent!” Chief Warlock Locke snapped. “Elaborate, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco would have been powerless to resist the honesty curse, even if he wanted to. He didn’t want to. “My father intends to give Harry Potter to Voldemort as soon as he can, in order to regain his favor. And he’s going to force me to join the Dark Lord, whether I want to or not. And I very much don’t want to serve that monster.”
He lifted his head just in time to watch chaos erupt in the courtroom.