Silence reigned in the courtroom for what felt like a small eternity after Draco’s bombshell, then Rebecca patted Harry on the shoulder, stood, and crossed the room to Draco’s side. “Come with me,” she said, her voice quiet and firm.
“My heir has clearly taken leave of his senses,” Lucius was saying, his voice smooth and unbothered by Draco’s accusations. Harry was honestly surprised that he could fake it that well, given the way he’d responded to Harry in his second year, with Dobby. “Everyone knows that the allegations made against me during the first war have been proven false. I don’t know what Draco thinks he has to gain by making such heinous accusations, but the boy clearly needs to be taken in hand. I apologize for his disruption of the proceedings today.”
“Your son will be taken into Ministry custody until such time as his allegations are investigated,” Rebecca said, her face stony. “Or did you forget that your son was sitting on an honesty charm?”
Harry would have been worried for her, but he’d seen the way she handled herself. He wasn’t at all afraid of what Lucius would do to her.
“This is preposterous!” Lucius snapped, even as the doors opened and a pair of Aurors entered the courtroom.
“Lord Malfoy,” one of the Aurors that Harry recognized as Tonks said, “We need you to come with us. Please don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”
“I’m not going with you, you filthy—” Lucius cut off, and he took a deep breath, then he plastered a fake smile on his face. “What I mean to say is, I think there’s no need for that.”
“Unfortunately, your opinion doesn’t really matter,” Shacklebolt said. He rested his fingers on his wand. “A serious allegation has been made, and is credible enough that we must investigate. This is only going to be harder if you fight us.”
Lucius’ wand was out in a second and he was aiming at his son, and the curse that fell from his lips wasn’t one that Harry recognized. Draco flinched, but Rebecca cast a strong shield charm around them both, and the curse didn’t connect.
The two Aurors reacted, both flinging spells at Lucius. “Expelliarmus!” and “Diffindo!” were the two ones that Harry made out, but he didn’t see either of them connect.
And then he couldn’t see anything else because Fred was between him and the fight, and George was blocking the both of them with his wand out, snapping out a sharp, “Protego,” that raised a shield around them.
The duel that followed was vicious, although Harry didn’t catch much of it. He heard bits of spells, but he found, for the first time, that he wasn’t inclined to look. He didn’t want to know what was happening, and both of the twins seemed to prefer that he not know. Harry found himself almost content to stay where he was, safe behind the twins, and let the adults handle this mess.
Then, it was over, and there was silence in the courtroom that was almost as loud as the chaos that had come first. Harry relaxed a little bit as Fred stepped away from him, letting him see Lucius be hauled to his feet in chains, his wand dangling from Tonks’ fingers. Both Aurors were white-lipped, and Draco, still safe behind Rebecca, looked almost horrified.
Harry didn’t think he’d ever much like Draco, but he did hope the other boy was okay. After all, he may have just saved Harry’s life, and he’d given up his father to do it.
“Are you okay?” George asked softly as the door slammed closed behind Tonks and Shacklebolt.
Harry nodded. “I’m fine,” he said, and he honestly was. Even if things had gone worse, if Lucius had targeted him, he had little doubt that the twins would have come to his defense. And maybe they wouldn’t have succeeded, but it meant the world to Harry that they would have tried. He wondered if there was a way to express that to the Chief Warlock, but he didn’t think that there was.
After all, he hadn’t been asked for his opinion yet, and he was starting to think that Locke just didn’t care about it. That wouldn’t make him unique among adults that didn’t generally care what he had to say, but he’d started to let himself get his hopes up, and that might have been a mistake. Still… still, the twins had stood between him and the duel, and surely that would count for something, right?
Before Harry could consider that train of thought any further, Rebecca was shooing the twins back up to their podium and had settled Draco carefully next to her, on the opposite side from Harry. Draco looked a little shell shocked, like he hadn’t expected things to go the way they had.
Harry leaned around Rebecca and said, quietly and carefully, “Thank you.” He meant it, too.
Draco glanced at him, then looked down at his hands. “It wasn’t just for you,” he said, his voice choked. His hands, buried in his lap, were shaking. “But you’re welcome, Potter.”
Harry settled back in his seat and waited, quietly, to see what would happen now. Would his custody hearing be suspended? It would make sense, given the disruption that Lucius had caused. Still, he didn’t like the idea. He wanted to have this over and done with. He wanted to stay with the twins, and he wanted to know that he was going to get what he wanted.
But when had he ever really gotten what he wanted?
“It seems that Lucius Malfoy and the rest of the Malfoy clan are most assuredly not good fits for Mr. Potter,” Locke said, drawing Harry’s attention from the downward spiral his thoughts had been taking. “And we’ve now heard from everyone involved in this case except for one person, the most important person. Mr. Potter, though you are young, I’ve had it impressed upon me that your wants should be the ones with the most weight here today, and I find that I agree. Who do you want to have custody of you?”
Harry’s breath caught in his throat. “Fred and George,” he said, without even the slightest hesitation. Once he would have said Molly, but she… she didn’t seem to care about him, so much as care about what Dumbledore had planned for him. And neither Augusta nor Lucius had ever been a real option, he thought. The twins were who he wanted to stay with, more than anyone else.
They cared about him, and they were doing their best to take care of him, and Harry felt safe with them in a way that he never had. How could he want to go to anyone else?
Alexander Locke studied the three remaining petitioners before and wondered if, perhaps, he was losing his mind. Why else would he be considering awarding custody of a teenager to two slightly older teenagers? It was preposterous!
And yet… and yet, he recalled the way that they’d moved as soon as Lucius Malfoy had revealed himself to be a threat. They hadn’t hesitated to get between the Potter boy and the fight, even though from all that he’d heard, Harry Potter would have been more than okay in the fight.
Nobody else had moved to defend him, not even Ms. Mercier, though she’d been more occupied with the Malfoy child at the time. That was another nightmare that was going to have to be dealt with, he supposed.
And what a nightmare it would be. Lucius Malfoy was so firmly entrenched within the Ministry that digging him out was going to be a nightmare, and that was even if they were able to try. The trial of Albus Dumbledore would determine whether or not Alex had the chance to try, and he hoped that he would have that chance.
But now was hardly the time to worry about that. Now was the time to worry about the boy in front of him, so pale and fragile looking, but he was so clear in what he wanted that Alex didn’t know that he could deny him that.
And Harry wanted to stay with the two other young men, which, in most cases, Alex would have thought was because he wanted to run free, but given his other options… None of the so-called character witnesses except for William Weasley had actually advocated for the person they’d been brought to speak of.
Really, the only logical thing to do in this particular circumstance seemed to be the most illogical thing to do. “With all of the things I’ve heard today taken into consideration, along with everyone’s actions during the battle we just witnessed, I feel as though I have no choice but to award permanent custody of Harry James Potter to Fred and George Weasley,” he said, the words slow. “Mr. and Mr. Weasley, please take your new ward from the courtroom, and know that Ms. Mercier will continue to follow up with you regarding the things that will be expected of you now that you have custody of Harry.”
The Weasley twins both stood, quickly, and each sketched out a bow to him. “Thank you, Chief Warlock,” one of them, Fred, said. He was smiling, though the expression was muted. “Come on, Harry, let’s get you home.”
Harry stood and also bowed to the Alex, the move clearly unpracticed, but just as clearly genuine in sincerity. “Thank you, sir,” he whispered, then hastened out of the courtroom, bracketed on either side by the twins.
He still wasn’t entirely sure that he’d made the most logical decision, but Alex did think that it was the best decision he could make for Harry. The boy had looked so relieved when he’d spoken… he didn’t think he’d ever seen a teenager with such a weight on his shoulders, except perhaps the one still safely next to Ms. Mercier.
“How could you do that?” Molly Weasley asked, her voice shrill and rising. “They’re just babies! They can’t possibly be expected to be responsible enough to take care of another child! And that boy will get them killed! He’s a target for the Dark Lord, you know!”
Alex studied her, his eyes narrowed. Her cheeks were red with temper, and her face was twisted into a fearsome scowl. “I’ve made the best choice for the child,” he said slowly, considering just what he wanted to do with her. If she kept it up, he wouldn’t have any qualms about putting her in a cell overnight for being disrespectful to an officer of the courts.
“For the child?” she shrieked. “What about my children? That boy needs to go to a different place. You call them back right now and tell them that you’ve changed your mind!”
“But I haven’t,” Alex said, his lips twitching in amusement. “And if you don’t contain yourself, Mrs. Weasley, I will hold you in contempt of this court. I expect you to maintain a respectful tone in my presence.”
“You’re not even the real Chief Warlock,” she snarled. She stepped around her podium and approached him, and the only thing that kept him from summoning another set of Aurors was the fact that she hadn’t yet drawn her wand. “Once Dumbledore is back in charge, he’ll fix all of this and get that little brat away from my babies!” Now she was close enough that he could practically smell her breath, and it wasn’t terribly pleasant.
Letting her continue at this point was just setting a bad precedent. Locke sighed and summoned the Aurors once more. “For the record,” he said, as two different Aurors entered the room and bracketed her, “Albus Dumbledore will be going on trial very shortly for his crimes against that same boy, so his wishes have absolutely no bearing in this court, other than to tell me which direction I should avoid going.”
Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth to protest, then seemed to notice the two Aurors on either side of her. “What’s this?” she asked, sounding genuinely confused.
“You’ve approached the bench as though you were a threat,” Alex said. “And after I told you to keep a respectful tone while in my presence. Whether or not I will remain the Chief Warlock after Dumbledore’s trial remains to be seen, but I am the Chief Warlock now, and I find you in contempt. Perhaps a night spent in Ministry holding will see your temper calmed.”
He had the small joy of seeing her jaw drop open and watching her fight the urge to struggle as two Aurors took her in hand and began escorting her from the courtroom. He didn’t comment on it, though, as that would be crass. Instead, he glanced at the silent Arthur Weasley and said, “You may pick your wife up tomorrow morning. Now I suggest all of you get your children home to enjoy what’s left of their summer. Ms. Mercier, I take it that you have the young Mr. Malfoy well in hand?”
“I do, Chief Warlock,” she said, standing and dropping into a short bow. “Come along, Mr. Malfoy. We’ll get you sorted and figure out where you’re going to go from here.”
“M-my mother,” the boy started, looking nervous. No, that wasn’t quite the word. The boy looked terrified.
“We’ll speak with her and see if she is suitable to take care of you, or if she was complicit in her husband’s plans,” Ms. Mercier said, her tone both businesslike and soothing at the same time. It was masterful, and Alex had always enjoyed watching a master work their craft.
Mr. Malfoy was in good hands with her, as was the Potter boy. If the twins had any trouble, she’d keep them in line, Alex thought.
“You okay?” George asked Harry quietly as they settled down in the living room. It had been a long day, and he knew that Harry had dealt with violence in the past, especially given the events of last year, but it had to be scary dealing with a fight breaking out in front of him like that.
Harry laughed at him, which was, admittedly, not the reaction he’d been expecting. “I’ve dealt with worse,” Harry said. “And they all had worse outcomes, anyway. At least this time no one actually got hurt, and I got to come home with you.” He shrugged, like what he’d said wasn’t a big deal.
George found that he was inclined to think it was a bit of a big deal. He glanced at Fred, who looked almost as confused as he felt. “I know that you went with Ron and Ginny and a few others to the Department of Mysteries last year, and I know that that turned out to be a disaster, but…” He stopped talking, frowning a little.
Harry blinked at him, then glanced from him to Fred. “You’re serious?” he asked, sounding genuinely confused. “I mean, you really don’t know?”
“We know about the battle last year, and that you were kidnapped at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, and that you saved Ginny, but we don’t really know the particulars of any of it,” Fred said. He sat on the couch next to Harry, and George, who’d been planning on sitting in one of the chairs, settled on the other side of Harry. “You know Mum tried to keep us out of things as much as possible.”
He wanted Harry safe between the two of them for this conversation, because he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to like the direction it went in. “Do you want to talk about all the times you were in danger?” George asked.
Harry swallowed. “I mean…” He glanced from one to the other once more. “I guess you deserve to know. After all, it’s not like you can give me back, right?” He tried out a smile, probably intending for the expression to be reassuring, but it was anything but. He looked more terrified than anything.
George wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders, carefully, so that Harry could pull away if he wanted to, or if he needed to. “That’s true. We’re pretty stuck with you, and I think Chief Warlock Locke would kill us if we tried to give you back, anyway.”
Harry’s smile softened a bit, and he glanced down at his hands. “In first year, Ron and Hermione and I went after the Stone that the Headmaster was hiding at Hogwarts, because we thought that Professor Snape was going after it. It turned out to be Quirrell, and he… he burned to death while trying to get the Stone from me.”
George’s eyes went wide and he glanced at Fred, who stared back at him, his own eyes equally wide. “Harry,” George started, not sure what he could say to that.
Harry shook his head. “That’s just the start, you know? Second year, Ron and I saved Ginny from the Chamber. You knew that, of course. We tried to get help from Lockhart, but it turned out that he’d never done the things he’d said he had, and he tried to Obliviate us and flee. The spell backfired, and caused a small cave in, so I had to go on by myself. There, I found Voldemort’s… spectre, I guess, and a giant basilisk, and I fought the snake. I won, but I got bitten.” Here, he stopped and held up one arm, showing off a scar that neither Fred nor George had ever questioned. “Fawkes cried for me, saving me, and I was able to destroy the thing that Voldemort was using and save Ginny’s life.”
“You don’t need to keep going,” Fred said. He leaned in to Harry and wrapped his arm around him, so that both of them were holding him. “Harry, you don’t need to tell us about all of this.”
“But I do!” Harry snapped. He hunched in on himself, staring at his folded together hands. “I need to tell you, because you deserve to know if you’re going to be keeping me! I should have told you before this, but I was too much of a coward to do it. And now I’ll tell you and you’ll tell Rebecca and you’ll send me away.”
“That’s not going to happen,” George insisted. He glanced at Fred, though he hardly needed to. He knew that his twin stood with him in this, that he always had. “We’re in this for good, Harry, no matter what you tell us.”
“Even if I tell you that it’s my fault that he’s alive again?” Harry asked, and there was so much desperation in his voice that George couldn’t help but pull him into his arms, even more tightly than before.
“It isn’t,” he whispered in his little brother’s ear, rocking him back and forth. “It absolutely isn’t, Harry, I know it isn’t.”
“We know it isn’t,” Fred agreed, wrapping himself around Harry as well, protectively.
“But you don’t know about the ritual!” Harry wailed. He was falling apart in their arms, again, and George didn’t know entirely what to do about it.
“I don’t care,” he said, rocking Harry, trying to soothe him. “We don’t. Whatever ritual it was, it couldn’t have been your fault, Harry.”
They had no idea!
Harry had known that they didn’t know everything about him, that they weren’t aware of all of the shit he’d gone through in life, but how could they just… absolve him of all responsibility when they didn’t even know about the ritual that Voldemort had done?
Because they don’t know, a small voice inside of him pointed out. They couldn’t blame him for something, rightfully or not, if they didn’t know about it.
And it wasn’t fair to keep it from the twins, even if they really were stuck with him now.
“In fourth year,” he managed to choke out around the sobs that were wracking his body. “You know that Voldemort abducted me, right? Everyone knows that now, right?”
“That’s right,” Fred said from behind him. He was practically plastered against Harry’s back, and it was so nice to feel so safe, but Harry knew that he didn’t deserve it, that he would never deserve to be so well-treated.
“He did a ritual, then,” he gasped out. “He used… he used my blood, and he brought himself back with it, and so it’s my fault that he’s back again, it’s my blood running through his veins, letting him do all the terrible things that he’s doing. How can you say it’s not my fault?” He couldn’t help but wail the last question, even though he was trying to get control of himself.
“Because it’s not your fault!” George insisted, his arms tightening around Harry. “You were a child, Harry. You’re still a child! And yes, you’ve been through some terrible things, and everyone around you keeps letting them happen, but that doesn’t ever make any of this your fault!”
Harry shuddered in both of their arms, unable to stop crying, the words hurting more than anything else ever had in his life. It had to be his fault! He couldn’t accept that it wasn’t, because if it wasn’t his fault… then why was it always him? Why had Sirius died last year?
He didn’t realize that he’d spoken out loud until Fred whispered to him, “Because a lot of powerful people have focused on you, because you have the potential to be something amazing.” Fred kissed the back of his head, holding him close still. “Because you are amazing, and some people can’t stand to see something amazing without trying to destroy it. But that doesn’t make their actions your fault, Harry, no matter how terrible they are.”
Harry sobbed again, but this time it didn’t feel like he was breaking. This time, it felt more cathartic, like he was finally coming out on the other side of something terrible, because he was certain that both Fred and George genuinely believed what Fred had said. They believed that he was amazing, that none of this was his fault, and how could Harry not let go of his own sense of guilt in the face of their genuine belief?
He curled into them, still crying, but his tears were drying, and his lips were curled into the tiniest of smiles. He had a long way to go, he knew that, but maybe, just maybe, the twins really would be the ones to help him through all of this, and maybe they’d be the family he’d always hoped that he’d have.
Maybe he’d get a chance to be truly happy.