Harry curled up around his pillow the next morning, reluctant to get out of bed. Then it hit him: he didn’t have to. There was nothing pressing waiting for him. He could sleep in as late as he wanted.
He closed his eyes with a smile, nuzzling against the softness of his pillow and revelling in the warmth of his blankets. The twins kept their flat at a reasonable temperature, but Harry didn’t think he’d ever had blankets like these outside of Hogwarts, and he couldn’t stop himself from delighting in them.
The next time he woke up, it was to a light tapping on the door. Harry grunted a quiet sound of welcome, and the door cracked open. “How are you?” one of the twins asked. Fred, Harry thought, but they weren’t wearing their nametags anymore, so he couldn’t be sure.
“I’m okay,” Harry said honestly. He felt well-rested for what felt like the first time in forever. He almost felt, though he was hesitant to even think about it, energized. “A bit hungry. I think I slept through breakfast, though.”
“And lunch,” Fred said, smiling a little conspiratorially at him. “George and I were down at the shop for most of the morning, and we realized that you hadn’t come down, so I came to get you after we ate some sandwiches. We made two for you, and there are more ingredients if you’re still hungry after those.”
Two sandwiches? Harry thought he’d probably be able to eat both of them, but he definitely wouldn’t be hungry for anything more than them. “Thanks,” he said around a yawn. He made himself get out of bed, even though it would have been so easy to lie there for the rest of the day and just… just rest. Wallow in his sense of freedom, the kind he’d never really thought he’d have.
“No problem,” Fred said easily. “Are you going to be okay if I head down to the shop? George is down there, and Verity’s off today, and he’s kind of swarmed.”
Harry hesitated and gave the question the consideration that it really deserved. Was he okay? Did he think he’d be fine if they were both downstairs working? “I’ll be okay,” he said finally. He smiled a little at Fred. “And if I’m not, I know that I can come and get you, and neither of you will be angry with me for it.”
“Excellent!” Fred beamed at him, then backed up. “Make sure you eat your lunch, okay? You see Healer Cartwright again in two weeks, and if you haven’t started gaining weight, I think he might take it out on us.”
Harry laughed a little, mostly because he could see Healer Cartwright yelling at them both, and nodded. “I’m actually hungry for once, so I’ll definitely eat.”
Fred excused himself, then, and Harry stretched before wandering out into the living room in his pajamas. He could have gotten dressed, but he didn’t see the point. He didn’t need to go anywhere, and he liked his pajamas. He deserved the chance to lounge around in them and do nothing for the day if he wanted to.
He ate his sandwiches, which were well made if a little boring, then did his dishes and wandered back into the living room. It was quiet in the flat, though he could imagine the crowds downstairs from the sound when Fred had opened the door to go into the shop. The small roar had nearly blown him away. While Harry could have gone downstairs to play in the backroom with some of the experiments, he didn’t think he wanted to brave those kinds of crowds.
Part of him did want company, but he didn’t need it, and the twins really did need to work at the shop. They needed to work to live, after all. Harry remembered something that Locke had said, about his estate and speaking to an account manager, and sighed. He wondered if he needed to work to live, and if he didn’t, what he was going to do with the kind of money that an estate implied.
That was an awful thought, and Harry chose to set it aside.
Instead, he picked up one of his books from last year and started to read a small passage. He had a Transfigurations essay that he could be working on, though the thought of doing schoolwork made his stomach turn.
That was interesting, and Harry put down his book to focus on that feeling. Not because he wanted to feel his stomach turning, but because he knew that he probably shouldn’t ignore feelings like that. He didn’t think it was good for him. Even after only two sessions, he could almost hear Mind Healer Abbott saying that he shouldn’t ignore his feelings.
So why did the thought of going back to Hogwarts make him want to throw up?
Because it isn’t safe.
The thought came to him immediately, and Harry almost threw up anyway, even though he was trying not to. Hogwarts wasn’t safe for him. It never had been. He’d told the Wizengamot as much just yesterday, but it hadn’t really sunk in.
If he went back to Hogwarts, he was terrified that something else would go wrong. That someone else would die. Two people close to him, relatively speaking, had died in the past two years, and both were sort of his fault. Not really his fault in that he’d killed them, but they’d happened because Cedric and Sirius had been around him, which sort of made it his fault.
Mind Healer Abbott would probably disagree with his thinking, but Harry couldn’t worry about that. Not right then, not when he was trying to think about maybe going back to Hogwarts.
If he went back to Hogwarts, irrational as it was, someone else might die. And even though Dumbledore wasn’t going to be around anymore to… manipulate him? If that was what he’d done, and Harry sort of thought that maybe it had been…
But even if Dumbledore wasn’t around, Voldemort was still a threat, and he would still target those close to Harry. He was kind of a monster, after all.
Harry shuddered and put his book down, open in his lap, his hands trembling. He was going to go back to Hogwarts, because he had to, because the alternative was giving up magic, and he couldn’t do that. He loved magic too much, and he loved the twins and being their little brother and letting them take care of him, but he couldn’t just walk away from everything, and…
And… and he didn’t have to be the one to figure this out? The thought dawned slowly, like sunrise on a stormy day. He didn’t have to do this alone. He could talk to the twins about it, and maybe they wouldn’t have a solution either, but it was at least something more than moping about something that may or may not be fixable.
He could ask for help.
One day, Harry would be used to being able to do that, but today was not that day. Today it still felt strange and amazing to have the option available to him, and he was so grateful that it was that he almost cried for an entirely different reason.
Instead, he set his book aside after marking his place and stood up and stretched. He was going to make dinner for the twins, who were downstairs working hard, and while they ate, he was going to ask them what they thought about Hogwarts, and what they thought about how terrified he was to be going back.
And if nothing else, he thought it would feel good to share his fears and not have them laugh at him. Because he knew that they’d never laugh, not about this. They cared about him too much to laugh at his fears.
Part of Harry hoped that he never got used to that, because he never wanted to feel like he was taking their affections for him for granted.
George still wasn’t used to coming up from work to smell something amazing that probably wasn’t going to kill him and Fred, mostly because neither he nor Fred wanted to encourage Harry to feel like he had to do work to stay with them. That didn’t mean that he didn’t appreciate it when Harry did decide to cook, of course, because Harry was a better cook than both of them by far.
He went into the kitchen, trailed by Fred, and smiled to see dinner laid out: a soup of some kind with what looked like freshly baked bread.
“That looks amazing,” he said sincerely to Harry, who beamed at him. “What’s the occasion?”
“I wanted to,” Harry said, sounding only a little bit defensive. “I didn’t think that you expected it or anything. I hope you like it.”
Fred elbowed him, gently, more of a nudge, really. “Of course we will,” he said, and smiled for Harry. “We always appreciate it when you cook for us—”
“—but you know that we’d never expect you to,” George finished, nudging Fred back with his own elbow. Gently, of course.
“Yeah,” Harry said, nodding a little. “But I did it because I wanted to, and now you need to sit down and eat before it gets cold.” He made gestures at the table, encouraging them to sit, and so they did, if only to make Harry sit down too.
He still looked tired, and George thought he probably would for a long time. Healer Cartwright had given them some written information that they hadn’t conveyed to Harry about how the removal of the Horcrux, combined with the malnutrition he’d suffered in his youth, could affect him in the long term, and while George and Fred were both doing their best to counter those effects… well, Harry would be very tired for a long time, and he might never have the energy levels he would have without having gone through the things he had.
He forced his mind away from those thoughts, away from having to eventually have that conversation with Harry, and instead focused on the truly fantastic soup that Harry had made for them, and the fresh bread he’d made to go with it. It was a perfect dinner after a long day at the shop, and George couldn’t help himself from smiling at Harry as they ate.
But when they were finished, and Fred and he were cleaning up the dishes, Harry said, a bit hesitantly, “I was thinking about Hogwarts.”
George put the plate he was washing down in the soapy water and turned his attention immediately to Harry. Fred, too, stopped working on drying the silverware and turned around, leaning against the counter.
“What about Hogwarts?” George asked. He and Fred had some thoughts about the matter, too, but this was definitely one area where any changes would have to come from Harry. They wouldn’t take Harry from the school unless he wanted to leave it, not when it probably had as many good memories as it did bad, though the good were hardly of the same scale as the bad.
“I don’t know about going back next year,” Harry said. He wasn’t looking at them, but instead was studying the table like it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to go back, but I just… I don’t feel…” He stopped talking and twisted his fingers together. His green eyes darted up to theirs, then dropped again almost immediately. “I don’t feel safe.”
George settled next to Harry at the table and laid a careful hand over those twisting fingers. “We understand,” he said, his voice soft. “You’ve been through a lot lately, and you might need more time than just two months to recover.”
Harry nodded along with him as he spoke, and his hands relaxed under George’s. “Is that… I mean, is there a way that something could… like, could I take a year off? Is that a thing that could happen?”
George glanced at Fred, who shrugged a little. “We’re not sure,” his twin said. “We could write to Headmistress McGonagall, see what she says about it, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to. I mean, you might have to stay back a year and not graduate with Ron and Hermione and all your other friends, but it’s certainly something we can discuss.”
Harry almost sagged in his seat, his shoulders drooping in what was clearly relief. “Okay,” he whispered, and he smiled at him. If the smile wobbled around the edges, neither Fred nor George said anything. “So… so what should we do? What’s the next step?”
“Why don’t we write a letter to the Headmistress and see what she thinks of the idea of you taking a year off?” George suggested. “She might have another option available to us that we haven’t thought of, and there might even be a policy in place at the school for something like this.”
Harry gave him a look that clearly spoke to his disbelief in the latter thought, but he nodded anyway. “Okay,” he said. “Should I write it?” He didn’t look thrilled with the idea of it.
That was okay, because he didn’t have to. “I think, as your guardians, Fred and I can handle that,” George said, smiling a little. “Why don’t you go find something to amuse yourself with while we get started on the letter?”
“I could finish the dishes?” Harry glanced at the pile of them, a small frown on his face.
“You could find a book to read,” Fred countered. “Or… I’m sure we have a chessboard around here, you could play with that. Set one side up to play against you; that’s always fun. Or we have a radio around here; I’m sure there’s a program you could listen to.”
Harry blinked at them, then pushed back from the table with a confused little frown on his face. “Okay,” he said, a bit hesitantly. “Thank you.”
He left the room slowly, like he was expecting to be called back, and George and Fred watched him go with small, tired smiles. “Looks like we’ve got work to do, brother-mine,” Fred said once Harry was out of the kitchen.
George nodded in agreement, stood, and stretched. “Dishes or letter?” he asked Fred, still smiling. He didn’t mind doing either, but he knew that his brother had a very definite preference.
“Ha! Dishes, definitely,” Fred said, beaming at George. “But I’ll read the letter over once you’ve finished it. Fair?”
It worked for George, who agreed with a nod of his head. “Sounds like a plan!”
He headed into their bedroom to get a quill, ink, and parchment, and smiled a little when he crossed through the living room to find Harry already arguing quietly with his chess pieces over the game that he’d just started. He settled at the kitchen table with that smile still on his face and started his letter to Headmistress McGonagall, and hoped that she would take their question well.
Harry deserved a break, a chance to rest and recover from the absolute shitshow that his life had been up until this point. And the Headmistress had always been a reasonable woman, so surely she would be reasonable about this, too. Right?
When Minerva received the letter from the twins, she couldn’t help but smile. She’d been anticipating it, of course, ever since she’d seen how exhausted Harry had looked during the trial, and ever since she’d realized just how dangerous Hogwarts had been for the young man.
She was glad to know that she’d been right, because all of her planning hadn’t been for nothing, but at the same time, she found herself sad at the idea that she’d been right. Harry should have felt safe at Hogwarts, and it was at least partially her fault that he didn’t. She didn’t know that she would ever let herself get over that.
She finished her lunch, provided to her by a smiling House Elf, and left immediately to visit the twins, and Harry. She made her way to Diagon Alley and to their shop with ease, and even let the prank on the door wash over her with a small smile.
Of course, the benefit was that once the twins saw who they’d pranked, they both blanched, going an almost sickly shade of white.
“Headmistress,” one of them stumbled, approaching her warily.
Minerva shook the feathers off and smiled at the twin. “Quite an excellent transfiguration,” she said with a nod. “I’ve always known you two were brilliant, and I’m pleased to see you putting your skills to good use. We could all use a little more laughter in these days.”
When both twins relaxed, Minerva allowed herself to do so as well. “Now, I’ve received your letter, and I was wondering if I might pull you away from the shop for a moment to go over Harry’s options with you and him? And also, I was wondering if I might see Harry? He looked quite… fragile, during the trial, and I’d like to see for myself that he’s doing well.”
“He is, Headmistress, and we’d be happy to take you up to him,” one twin answered. He took her by the arm and escorted her through the shop, while the other twin disappeared into the small crowd that filled the place.
Minerva was a little dismayed to see how many of her current students were still in the crowd and could only hope that the majority of them used up all of their pranks before arriving at the castle. She supposed it was a wish made in vain, but she couldn’t help it.
“We’re not encouraging Hogwarts students to buy them,” the twin escorting her said, following her gaze. “But we’re not exactly discouraging them, either. As you said, everyone needs a little joy in these days, right?”
“I did say that,” she agreed, mildly amused to have her own words quoted back to her.
The other twin reappeared at the foot of the stairs, and then Fred and George escorted her up into their flat with a small flourish. She stepped into a warmly appointed living room, where Harry was sitting on the couch, concentrating fiercely on a chess game that he seemed to be in the middle of losing.
He looked up when they entered and jumped to his feet, his green eyes wide. “Headmistress,” he stammered, his fingers knotting in his pajamas.
He still looked as fragile as he had during the trial, but she wasn’t surprised. It had only ended just two days ago. There was a lightness to him, now, that hadn’t been there before. His eyes were bright, and he had an almost smile on his face.
Minerva stepped forward, approaching him slowly. “Mr. Potter,” she started, then she stopped. She took a deep breath. “Harry. I… I owe you… several apologies, starting with my failure to follow up with you when Albus placed you with your Aunt and Uncle as a child. I thought them the worst kind of people, and still I let Albus convince me that everything was fine.”
Harry looked away from her, his shoulders slumping. “It’s okay,” he muttered, and dropped back into his seat.
It wasn’t okay, but Minerva wasn’t going to foist her guilt off on him. He wasn’t ready to hear her apologies, or maybe, more properly, he wasn’t ready to accept them. And that was okay. He didn’t need to forgive her. She was of the opinion that she had a good deal of work to do before she was worthy of his forgiveness, anyway.
Instead, she cleared her throat. “I took the liberty of making a plan for you in the event that you chose not to return to Hogwarts for the year,” she said. She settled on one of the chairs in the living room and watched as the twins settled on either side of Harry, bracketing him in warmth.
Harry relaxed around them, and she smiled to see it. It was good to see Harry in such good hands, although she would join the ranks of hundreds of others who never would have thought that the Weasley twins would be able to provide those good hands.
“What sort of plan?” Harry asked, looking a little wary.
“The sort where you take private lessons from each professor,” she said. She presented him with the schedule they’d worked out. She’d been surprised to find that all of Harry’s teachers, even the new Defense professor, were more than willing to work with Harry in this. She’d thought she’d get some pushback from Severus, at the very least, but the former Death Eater had been most eager to take up the position.
She thought it might have something to do with no longer being forced to spy on the Dark Lord to keep his position at the castle, but she couldn’t be certain.
Harry was reading the schedule with wide eyes, his lips moving soundlessly as he studied it. “Even Professor Snape?” he asked, his voice shaking. His fingers were clenching in the parchment, wrinkling it slightly.
“Even Professor Snape,” she confirmed. “I think you’ll find him much different now that his presence at Hogwarts isn’t guaranteed only by his willingness to spy on He Who Must Not Be Named.”
Harry looked up at her, his eyes suddenly sharp, and for a moment Minerva was staring at The Boy Who Lived, a true hero in every sense of the word, a leader that they could all follow if they chose to place him in that role.
Minerva made the decision, then and there, that she would never place him in that role if it was within her power. “That’s for me to worry about,” she said, in answer to his unasked question. “Your only job this year is to concentrate on recovering so that you can return for your final year at Hogwarts. And when you’re ready, Harry, Hogwarts will be waiting to welcome you home.”
The sharp, hard look disappeared from Harry’s eyes, to be replaced with a teary sort of wonder. He sniffled a little, and nodded once before hiding his face in one of the twins’ robes. The twin wrapped Harry in his arms and pulled him close, soothing his little brother.
“Thank you, Headmistress,” the other twin said, standing. “Harry’s a bit overtired still, and as you can see, it’s easy to overwhelm him. We’ll work out the details of the weekly visits from the professors later?”
“That sounds wonderful,” Minerva said with a nod. “Please, feel free to owl me with any questions, concerns, or scheduling conflicts.” She stood and left, smiling, certain that she’d done the right thing, and hopeful that Harry would continue to recover, and that he would eventually reach his full potential without the machinations of Albus Dumbledore.
George held Harry close while Fred puttered around the flat, getting them all glasses of water. He wanted to walk the Headmistress out, but she was gone before he could even offer, so he shrugged and got the water instead before settling back down on the couch.
Harry cuddled up against him as well, but he did take the water when Fred offered it, and sipped it obediently. “Thanks,” he said, his voice a little hoarse.
“You’re welcome,” Fred said easily. He hugged Harry close, then said to George, “What would you think about closing up the shop early today?”
George studied him, frowning a little. “We couldn’t leave Verity in charge?”
“We could,” he said slowly. “But I think she needed to leave early today, and I don’t want to stay inside. It’s such a beautiful day outside…” He glanced meaningfully at the bright sunlight that filtered in through the windows. “And Harry could use some sun, I’m sure.”
“I’m okay,” Harry said immediately, predictably.
“No, Fred’s right,” George agreed immediately, also predictably. “You’re thinking the park?”
“I am thinking the park,” Fred agreed. “Particularly, I know Harry hasn’t been on his broom all summer, and that’s practically a sin, don’t you think?”
“There’s a park where I could fly?” Harry asked, his voice brightening. He pulled back from both of them and shifted in his seat, almost vibrating in excitement. “I mean, I don’t need to, I’d be fine to stay inside, but if you both want to go out…”
“I think we could make that happen,” George said cheerfully. “Maybe take a few sandwiches along, have a picnic dinner under the stars?”
Harry beamed at both of them. “I could make some sandwiches,” he said, already standing.
“You could dig out your broom while George and I make the sandwiches,” Fred interrupted, standing as well. “We’ve got this, Harry. If there’s one thing we can’t mess up, it’s sandwiches.”
Harry glanced from one of them to the other, like he was making sure they didn’t mind cooking, then he nodded rapidly and disappeared into the room, leaving the twins to prepare a picnic dinner.
Well, leaving Fred to make one, since George immediately disappeared into the shop to inform Verity, of course, as though Fred didn’t know he was just skiving off his brotherly duties.
That was fine. He’d make George do the dishes, then. He’d probably think that was a fair trade.
Later that night, curled up in his bed, wonderfully exhausted from playing with the twins on broomsticks, and stuffed from the fantastic sandwiches they’d made from them, Harry smiled at Hedwig, who was hooting softly at him from her perch.
“Things are going to be okay, girl,” he whispered to his owl, who hooted back at him. “I just know it.”
It was going to take some time, Harry knew that, but he knew that he was going to get there. How could he not? He had two fantastic older brothers supporting him, and great friends who would help him too, when he needed them.
And maybe things with Voldemort weren’t resolved, and maybe the Dark Lord wouldn’t let go of the prophecy, but Harry found it hard to worry about. If Voldemort came for him, the twins would be there, and Harry knew that they’d support him through anything.
When he finally fell asleep that night, he was smiling, and his dreams that night were so bright and hopeful it was almost blinding.