When Harry was eleven, Fred and George noticed that he was far too thin upon his arrival at Hogwarts. But they didn’t know the child all that well, and moved on with their lives. They also noticed that Harry didn’t get any gifts that weren’t from people he’d met at Hogwarts, but they were still a little too young to put one and one together and get two.
When Harry was twelve, Fred and George rescued him from a room with too many locks on the door and bars on the window. Ron was too young to understand that yes, it was a rescue, and it wasn’t just a fun trip to get his friend. Harry played it off like it didn’t matter.
But Fred and George were both hat stalls in their first year, Fred for his intelligence and George for his cunning, and they knew how much it mattered. When they told their parents, however, their words were brushed aside as flights of fancy in their father’s case, or ignored in favor of the more dangerous act of flying the car in their mother’s.
When Harry was thirteen, the school year after he’d saved their little sister’s life, he began to look haunted. He jumped at sudden noises and flinched away from unexpected touches. Whatever was going on in his home life with the Dursleys, it was clearly escalating. Fred and George refused to sit back and continue to watch it happening.
This time, they skipped talking to their parents and went instead to McGonagall, who frowned and told them that she would look into it.
That summer, Fred and George were horrified to see that Harry was being picked up by his Uncle once more.
When Harry was fourteen, he stopped showering around other students. He would change clothes in the bathroom, with a locked stall between him and the rest of the world. Nobody touched him anymore, because Harry didn’t allow it.
Even though they were almost certain that it would do no good, Fred and George went straight to the Headmaster. The old man looked them both straight in the eye, smiled, and told them not to worry about it. That Harry was safest with his family over the summer breaks, and that he was certain any familial difficulties would soon blow over.
Neither Fred nor George bothered to argue, because arguing with stupid and crazy didn’t tend to go well. Instead, they started to plan.
When Harry was fifteen, unfortunately, there was Umbridge, who disrupted every plan they’d made. They couldn’t tell whether Harry’s new signs of trauma, the nightmares and the way he’d gone so quiet and looked so fragile, were because of her, the Dursleys, or because of the terrible events that ended the Triwizard Tournament.
No matter the cause, it was a disaster, and one of a magnitude that neither Fred nor George could have predicted. Their plan would have to wait, at least until they could be more certain that their actions wouldn’t bring further harm to Harry.
After they left Hogwarts in an explosive rage, after they’d launched their business, and after sitting through a Ministry-proctored NEWT exam, Fred and George found themselves looking at one another with raised eyebrows.
“I do believe that it’s time, brother-mine.”
“I do believe that you’re right.”
Instead of leaving the Ministry, returning to their shop and their everyday lives, the two made their way further into the Ministry and prepared to unleash their plan. The wizarding world wouldn’t know what hit it.
The first Harry knew of any change coming to his life was when Dudley was knocked off of him by a blasting spell. His cousin hit the wall with a wet, meaty thud, leaving Harry lying on the bed, half-dressed, with his heart pounding in fright.
He sat up, slowly, his head spinning, and found himself staring at a tiny witch who could be no taller than five feet, her cherubic face set in grim lines, her shoulders shaking with the force of the breaths she drew in.
Harry pulled his shirt down, conscious of the bruises, bite marks, and scars which covered his thin frame. “Hello,” he said uncertainly.
“Mr. Potter, I am from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Children’s Services division,” she said briskly. “I’m here to execute an emergency custody order on your behalf.”
Harry froze. “...emergency custody?” he echoed weakly. Why would anyone care about him now? What had changed? He hdan’t even realized that the Ministry had a group that dealt with children.
The woman nodded. “A complaint was filed on your behalf,” she explained. “Upon further investigation, it was determined that your previous caseworker had been lax in her assigned duties, and not performed the necessary welfare checks on your home.”
Harry looked down at his knobby knees, which looked all the knobbier after a month of Dursley-sanctioned meals. “Who made the report?”
“Misters Fred and George Weasley,” she said. “And I am Rebecca Mercier, your new caseworker.”
Harry blinked at her. He heard the words, but found them difficult to process. Fred and George had done that? For him? Why had they done something when literally no one else ever had, no matter how many times Harry had tried to explain?
Rebecca’s eyes softened, and with it, her tone did. “They’re waiting outside for you,” she said carefully. “Why don’t you go to them and leave me to handle things in here?” She stepped further into the room and offered Harry her hand.
Harry didn’t take it, but did stand. He walked down the stairs on shaky legs, averting his eyes when instructed to do so. She wasn’t fast enough, though, and Harry was almost positive that he walked past his aunt’s corpse.
As Rebecca had promised, Fred and George were standing outside, both looking nervous. When they spotted Harry, their expressions changed: one to fury, the other to concern.
Harry didn’t know what to do with that, so he just stared helplessly at them both and hoped the world would start making sense again sometime soon.
George’s heart dropped when Harry left the unassuming Muggle house. He was thin, impossibly more so than usual, and looked like he wasn’t processing anything. He was probably in some kind of shock.
Beside him, Fred let out a wordless snarl of rage.
While George appreciated the sentiment behind said snarl, that wasn’t what Harry would need at the moment. He patted Fred’s arm in wordless consolation, then took a slow, small step in Harry’s general direction.
Harry’s eyes immediately snapped towards George and his hand twitched at his side. George had no doubt that Harry would have pulled his wand, had it been on him.
George raised his hands in a universal gesture of peace and surrender. “It’s okay,” he murmured, talking like he’d once heard Charlie talk to a particularly skittish dragon. The analogy seemed to be an apt one. He took another small step forward.
Harry licked his lips, his tongue darting out and disappearing. “What did you do?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
George ached for him. “What should have been done a long time ago,” he answered. “We’ve been talking to people every year that we’ve known you, every time we noticed something new, but nobody ever did anything. So, this year, we decided to take matters into our own hands.”
Harry stared at them both blankly, his green eyes dull with confusion. “I don’t—” He stopped and took a deep breath. “I don’t understand. The Headmaster said—”
“Fuck Dumbledore,” Fred snarled.
George winced when Harry jumped. “What my darling brother means to say is that the Headmaster may have had… an unrealistic expectation of what your life here really looks like.”
Harry shook his head slowly. “I told him,” he said. He swallowed.
George wanted to hug him, but he didn’t dare move. Not yet. “Well,” he said instead. “Fred and I got tired of being ignored when we talked to adults about you, so as soon as we were the adults, we decided to do what we could.”
Harry blinked at them. “What happens now?” His voice was small, and he hunched in on himself.
George couldn’t resist anymore. He took another step forward, and when Harry didn’t flinch away, he continued forward until he was close enough to pull Harry into his arms. Harry didn’t protest, didn’t pull away, and instead leaned hesitantly against George. His whole body trembled against him.
“We’re going to figure it out,” George whispered. He closed his eyes and breathed out. Harry was here, he was breathing, and the rest could be dealt with later. “Right, Fred?”
“Absolutely.” Fred’s voice softened, and he came to stand beside George. “You don’t have to worry about what happens next, Harry, because George and I are going to take care of everything. You can… you can just worry about resting a bit.”
Harry made a small, tired sound and buried his face in George’s robes. George didn’t think it was his imagination that he could feel Harry’s tears through his robes, that he could hear his breath hitching in small sobs.
He closed his eyes and held Harry closer. “We’ve got you,” he murmured. He shifted to glance at Fred, who caught on quickly and came to bracket Harry in his arms, helping to make him feel secure.
Harry let out another shuddering sob and burrowed closer to George. “You promise?” His voice was choked with tears.
“We absolutely promise,” Fred said quickly.
“We solemnly swear—” George cut off at the sound of a loud crack of Apparition. He felt Harry freeze in his arms, and immediately whispered, “It’s okay. Fred and I are here. We’ll take care of it.” Although, depending on who it was, he knew their presence might not be enough.
But George would be damned if he let Harry face whatever, or whoever, it was on his own. They were the adults, after all.
Rebecca Mercier hadn’t known what to think when the twins had shown up with a request for an emergency custody reassignment. Such things were rare, and could only be granted in cases of extreme abuse or neglect. And that was to say nothing of the subject of the request, so she’d gone immediately to her supervisor. She hadn’t expected to have a request for investigation granted, but upon reviewing the case files for the boy’s home inspections, her supervisor had uncovered a distinct lack of said inspections.
Rebecca emerged from the meeting with permission to investigate immediately, and to do anything necessary to ascertain the health of the Potter boy, up to and including utilizing fatal force. Once she had confirmed his status, she was authorized to immediately grant temporary custody to the Weasley twins, if she found such a thing necessary.
It was almost needless to say that she felt it necessary.
The difficulties began with the Aunt, who attempted to stop Rebecca from entering the house. She hadn’t hesitated to cut her down, not when she’d heard a cry of pain from the second story. Would she have preferred not to kill the Muggle? Of course! But witches and wizards who worked for the DMLE Children’s Services had to be quick with their wands in defense of their charges.
And then she’d found her charge, who looked terrified as his monster of a cousin molested him.
Him, she’d fully intended to kill, and was pleased to find that she’d succeeded. She escorted Harry, who was looking more and more fragile by the second, out of the house and to the twins, who immediately took Harry in hand, leaving Rebecca to go and gather Harry’s things and prepare her notes on the home situation.
She was in the middle of trying to find Harry’s school things, and failing, when she heard the crack of someone Apparating outside.
Rebecca dropped the few things of Harry’s that she’d managed to find and stormed outside. There was no reason for someone to be Apparating onto the Muggle street, not that didn’t have to do with her charge. The twins wouldn’t leave with Harry, not until she’d released them, and there was no one else who could be coming.
She found herself glad that she’d hurried, because she found the Weasley twins standing between Harry and a rather famous old wizard wearing brightly colored robes.
“What have the two of you done?” Dumbledore was asking.
Not for the first time, Rebecca was glad that she went to Beauxbatons, and was therefore never subjected to what the Headmaster might refer to as fashion. She stepped in front of the twins, drawing her wand in a smooth motion. “They took the proper steps and alerted the DMLE to a heinous case of child abuse.”
Dumbledore reared back like she’d slapped him. “Harry was fine with the Dursleys, miss. I don’t know what you’ve done, but you’ll need to undo it so that the wards that protect Harry can be put back in place.”
Rebecca almost pointed out that necromancy was illegal, but decided that was too cavalier. Instead, she smiled thinly. “Your definition of fine and my own are clearly quite different,” she said. “And as the representative of the DMLE, mine is the one that matters.”
“Young lady,” Dumbledore started.
Rebecca cut him off with a scowl and a flick of her wand. “Don’t call me that.” She stepped forward so that she was nose to nose with the old man. “I need to ask you to leave, at this point, as you’re interfering with an active investigation.”
Dumbledore had the gall to laugh at her. “Do you imagine that you have some kind of authority over me?” He drew his own wand. “Harry Potter is my charge. You don’t have the political capital needed to remove him from my care.”
Rebecca blinked. Political capital? What kind of game did this old man think he was playing? “We’re not here for politics,” she said flatly. “I’m here to save a child’s life.”
“Harry Potter is in no danger here,” Dumbledore responded. “It would be more dangerous by far to remove him from the care of his family.”
Rebecca closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. She wasn’t in the habit of arguing with idiots. “So your claim is that the Potter boy has always been perfectly fine with his relatives, and are willing to swear to that as his magical guardian?” She heard Harry let out a shuddering sob behind her, and realized the poor boy was probably terrified that she’d walk away. She wouldn’t, but she couldn’t focus on him at the moment. She had to worry about the snake in front of her.
Dumbledore relaxed slowly, his smile reappearing and his wand lowering. “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” he said in a tone of relief. “I’m so glad you understand me.”
“I understand that I’m placing you under arrest for negligence of a wizarding child leading to severe abuse,” Rebecca snapped. Before he could respond, she shot a hex at him, binding him and knocking him to the ground. She raised a small, localized anti-Apparition ward, so that he couldn’t get away, and rendered him unconscious with a final, “ Stupefy !”
Finally, she took a deep breath and turned back to the twins, and to Harry. Both twins were staring at her, gobsmacked, while Harry stared at the bound body of Dumbledore on the ground. He looked like he’d been hexed, given the stunned expression on his face.
“I have your things mostly packed,” she said softly to Harry, her voice gentle. He was clearly in a fragile place, and she didn’t want to risk upsetting him. “But the bulk of your school things seems to be missing. Can you tell me where they might be?”
She’d arrested Dumbledore. She’d knocked him out and tied him up in defense of Harry. Nobody had ever...
Harry’s thoughts were spiralling. He couldn't get them under control. He stared at Rebeca, his eyes wide. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t even know what he wanted to say. Maybe he was trying to thank her? That seemed reasonable…
A few minutes passed in silence, then one of the twins gripped him gently by the shoulder. “Harry,” he said. “Rebecca asked you a question.”
Harry swallowed, trying to get something into his dry throat. “I didn’t hear it,” he admitted. He looked down, shame making him avert his eyes. He felt like he was breaking apart, like he couldn’t take anything else. The hand on his shoulder, strong and friendly, seemed like it was the only thing holding him together.
“I asked if you could tell me where your school things are,” Rebecca said, her tone infinitely patient. She didn’t seem angry that she had to repeat herself.
Harry shivered. His school things? “They’re in the cupboard,” he whispered. He hated the cupboard, and didn’t want to think about it. But he’d need his things to go back to Hogwarts.
“Can you show me the cupboard?”
Rebecca had no idea what she was asking of him. Even so, Harry let out a shuddering sigh and nodded. He was so tired of being brave all the time, and showing someone the cupboard would have to be brave, but he was sure that she needed to know about it.
He grabbed onto one twin’s hand, not even sure why he was doing it but comforted by it all the same, and started grimly into the house. A sheet covered Aunt Petunia’s feet this time, and Harry averted his eyes. Uncle Vernon would be furious, and sad, and even though Harry didn’t like Uncle Vernon, he didn’t think it was fair for him to have lost both his wife and his son.
At least, Harry thought Dudley was dead. He wasn’t sad about that.
All thoughts of Uncle Vernon left his mind as he approached the cupboard under the stairs, the place he’d lived for the first decade of his life. He could feel himself growing dizzier as he got closer to it, and had to stop before he was within touching distance. He was afraid that he would faint.
“There,” he said, and pointed at it with a shaky hand.
Rebecca followed his hand, and stepped towards the cupboard.
Harry turned his back on it before she could open the door. He found himself face to face with one of the twins, the one whose hand he was currently crushing in his own. He forced himself to loosen his grip. “Sorry,” he whispered.
Fred or George, Harry didn’t know which, just smiled. “It’s okay,” the twin said. The other was just behind him. “How are you doing?” he asked.
Harry didn’t know how to answer, but he supposed his involuntary flinch when he heard Rebecca finally open the cupboard served as answer enough. “I… I can’t be in here,” he whispered, because he couldn’t.
The twin whose hand he’d crushed followed him, and sat with him on the porch, resting a comforting hand on Harry’s back while they waited for Rebecca and the other twin.
Fred wanted to follow his brother, to help him comfort Harry, but at the same time… He needed to know what was so distressing about the cupboard. He felt like Harry wouldn’t tell them of his own volition, and he just knew that it was important. That it would tell them more about Harry’s life with the Dursleys.
So he stayed, quietly, and watched as Rebecca opened the cupboard.
They’d been surprised to wind up speaking to someone as competent as Rebecca, but they were both pleased. Fred, particularly, was pleased by how bloodthirsty she seemed to be in pursuit of her goals. Harry deserved someone who was bloodthirsty on his behalf.
“Oh, Merlin’s balls!”
The exclamation, which seemed uncharacteristic for the kind woman, drew Fred from his thoughts. “What’s wrong?” He walked up to the cupboard door.
She’d emptied it, mostly. Harry’s school belongings were now scattered on the floor outside. But inside… At first, Fred wasn’t sure of the problem. He thought it was just a small cupboard. And then he spotted the cot and his heart dropped.
“They wouldn’t,” he breathed. Harry had never slept there. It had to just be a storage space, that was the only thing that made sense.
But there was a small, crudely drawn picture of a happy family on the wall that said otherwise.
Fred gritted his teeth, turned on his heel, and stalked out of the house. He stormed past Harry and George and stalked up to Dumbledore’s prone body. He studied the old man and realized that he was looking at an absolute monster.
His lips curled into a snarl and he kicked him in the ribs, as hard as he could. Because he was spelled unconscious, Dumbledore didn’t react. Fred did it again.
“Fred!” George grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him back. “Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?”
“They made him sleep in a cupboard!” Fred snarled. “How long, Harry?”
Harry, still on the steps, his eyes wet with tears, flinched back. “Until I got my first letter from Hogwarts,” he whispered.
Fred dropped to his knees in front of him, his knees cracking on the pavement. He didn’t care. He took Harry’s hands in his own and squeezed tightly. “We should have done something sooner,” he said, his voice rough with unshed tears.
Harry shook his head. “You did something now,” he breathed shakily. He used Fred’s grip on his hands to pull him slightly closer, but stopped like he’d just realized what he was doing. “It’s more than anyone else has ever done.”
Fred continued forward and dropped Harry’s hands, only to pull him close in a warm embrace. He really did feel fragile, delicate in a way that Fred just didn’t know how to deal with. But he held him close anyway, and felt his trembling ease.
Rebecca emerged from the house, Harry’s things packed and shrunk for easy movement. “I’m going to authorize the two of you to take him home,” she said, her voice frigid. “I have found these people to be absolutely unfit to ever raise a child, and as such, am awarding temporary custody to you two, Misters Fred and George Weasley. You will be expected to defend your custody of him in open court a date that is yet to be determined.”
Fred exhaled slowly, his arms tightening around Harry’s slender form. “Thank you, Rebecca,” he murmured.
“We’ll take good care of him,” George added. He took Harry’s things from her.
“Good.” Rebecca looked at Harry, then nodded. “Take him home, gentlemen, and know that I’ll be on your side when it comes to the court hearing. You were the ones who came for him, and that means a lot to me.”
It was the best they could hope for, Fred mused as he scooped Harry into his arms, ignoring the boy’s startled squeak. “I’m going to Apparate you,” Fred warmed him in a whisper. Out loud, he added, “Thank you again,” as Harry’s fingers clenched in his robes.
And then they were gone, George following behind.
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.
It took Harry a long time to wake up on his first morning with the Weasley twins. It was just that the bed was so comfortable, and he was so warm that it was hard for him to climb his way from the depths of the best sleep he thought he’d ever had. He didn’t have to worry about Dudley hurting him, or any chores, or…
Well, Harry wasn’t sure about the chore thing. Maybe the twins would let him help out around the house? He hoped so. He wanted to do something for them to prove how grateful he was that they’d taken him in, and cooking was the least of what he could do.
It was strange, because that morning was the first morning that he’d found he wanted to cook for someone. He wondered idly if it would be more fun to do when he was wanting to do it. He supposed he would find out, assuming they actually let him cook.
And then, as he climbed slowly towards awareness, he realized that he could hear… screaming? Screaming, coming from the living room. The voice was a familiar one, so Harry wasn’t exactly concerned, and he couldn’t make out the words. Who…
Oh. It was Molly.
Harry sat up and raked a hand through his wild hair, then put his glasses on. He went to the door, then paused to listen. He knew that he probably shouldn’t, that he should go and let Molly and the twins know that he was awake, but… But he wanted to know what Molly was yelling about. Was she angry that the twins had come for him?
The thought hurt in a way that he hadn’t expected. Shouldn’t she be happy? The twins had saved him from… from what would have been a pretty awful fate. She should be glad that he was okay, shouldn’t she?
“I can’t believe that you would just go against Albus’ wishes like that!” she was shouting. Harry could only make out the words because he cracked the door open ever so slightly. He could just see her through the slit in the door, and her face was red with temper. It reminded Harry of Uncle Vernon, and not in a good way. Not that there was ever a good way to be reminded of Uncle Vernon.
“And I can’t believe that you’re so brainwashed that you think it was okay to leave Harry in a place where he was clearly being abused!” one of the twins shot back.
“George, I don’t know why you think he was being hurt—”
“You don’t get to play that card,” George said, his voice getting dark. “You weren’t there, Mum, and you didn’t see what Fred and I saw. So don’t you dare tell me that Harry wasn’t being hurt, because I swear to you, on my magic, that he was being abused.”
Molly let out an angry huff. “Be that as it may, I’m sure that there was a reason that Albus wanted him left there! You might have put yourself in danger by taking in Harry, and George, I don’t want you and your brother to be hurt!”
“We were already targets, Mum!” George sounded exasperated, though Harry couldn’t see his face. “And letting a child stand in danger while adults cower behind him is a coward’s move. And neither Fred nor I are cowards.”
“Are you calling your father and I cowards?” Molly asked, and her voice went very quiet. “Is that what you think of us, George?”
“I think that you’ve been in Dumbledore’s pocket for so long you’ve forgotten to think for yourself,” George shot back. “I think that the best thing that could have happened to the two of you is Dumbledore being arrested yesterday!”
“And what do you know about that, George Weasley?” Molly’s voice rose again, in pitch and volume, until she was practically shrieking. “Did you have something to do with that? Did Harry have something to do with that? Merlin knows I wouldn’t put it past the child! He got his godfather killed, after all!”
Harry couldn't stop the strangled gasp that escaped him, the way that he fell against the door and let out a sharp, distressed noise. She was right. He’d gotten Sirius killed, and now it was his fault that Dumbledore had been arrested. Who else would get hurt because of him?
The sound drew the attention of both Molly and George, and Molly had the grace to look a little bit appalled. But George didn’t want for her to say anything. “I think you need to go,” he said coldly. He crossed the room and stood between Molly and Harry, his fingers resting casually on his wand.
“George,” he started, not wanting George to do something that he and Fred would regret, like ruining their relationship with their family over Harry, who was bringing them nothing but grief.
“No,” George said quietly. “Mum knows that what she just said is unconscionable, and she knows that she should leave, now, before she says something else that she regrets.”
Molly cleared her throat. “George is right,” she said carefully. She turned her back on Harry and moved towards the Floo. “The conversation isn’t over, but for now, George is right.” She left the flat without saying another word to Harry or to George.
Harry closed his eyes. “She hates me,” he whispered, his voice shaking.
“She doesn’t hate you,” George said immediately. “And if she does, it’s her loss. She can fuss all she wants, but Fred and I already talked about it, and we’re in this for the long haul.” His hand landed on Harry’s shoulder, and he squeezed gently. “If you want us to be, that is.”
Harry nodded. He didn’t have any words at the moment, didn’t think he could thank George without bursting into tears, and he’d already done enough of that recently. Instead, he cleared his throat and looked away.
“Let’s get you some breakfast, yeah?” George asked, changing the subject without bothering to sound like he was doing anything but. “We have eggs, and I can make you some toast, how does that sound?”
Harry tried out a smile, and found that it felt awkward on his face, but not awkward enough to take away. “That sounds good,” he said.
“And then, I thought that maybe we could head down to the lab in the back of the shop, and you could help me out with some experiments?” George was grinning brightly at him now, the expression almost painfully bright.
Harry hesitated. “I’m not exactly good with potions,” he tried. “And charms aren’t really my strong point, either.”
George dismissed the complaint with a wave of his hand. “As if anyone could learn from Snape,” he said. “And Flitwick’s good, but I bet I’m better when it comes to teaching you things relating to pranks. And besides, it’s different because it’s not for a grade. This is just for fun!”
Harry bit his lip and looked away. “If you’re sure I won’t be in the way,” he said, a bit shyly. He didn’t exactly want to be separated from both the twins at once, but he didn’t want to be in their way, either. If George really thought he could help…
“You won’t be,” George promised. He ruffled Harry’s hair, then moved towards the kitchen, humming quietly, no indication of the fight he’d had with his mother in his demeanor.
Harry followed, and hoped that George stayed that cheerful throughout the day. He didn’t think the twins were the type to lose their tempers with him, but… Well, he would just have to do his best to make sure that he didn’t upset them, that was all. He was pretty sure he could do that.
Rebecca sighed and stared at the busy shop in front of her. She’d never been in, and had, in fact, been quite proud of the fact that she’d never been near the store. Unfortunately, she had no choice but to enter it now, since Harry was in there, and she needed to talk to both Harry and his current guardians.
She stepped into the store, and winced when magic washed over her. It was a tingling sensation, there and gone in a flash, and she sighed when she looked down at herself. “Feathers?” she asked, a bit of unwitting amusement creeping into her voice. There were worse things, she supposed.
One of the twins appeared in front of her, as though summoned. “Ms. Mercier!” he exclaimed, looking a bit horrified. “If we’d known you were coming, we would have disabled—”
“It’s quite all right,” she said, and shivered as she shed the magic in a small explosion of feathers. “I’ve had worse things done to me in the course of my work.” She glanced around at the small crowd of children and young adults exploring the shop and said, “I don’t suppose that now is a good time to speak with you and your brother, is it?”
“It’s not a bad time,” the twin hedged. She thought it was Fred, but she couldn’t quite be sure. Twins had identical magical signatures, after all, and this set of twins particularly enjoyed matching one another.
“If this is too busy a time, I could always have my meeting with Harry first,” Rebecca volunteered. “And then the three of us could speak.”
Some of her colleagues, she knew, would be distressed that the twins were still working when such a vulnerable child had been placed in their care, but Rebecca understood. Harry might be their largest priority, but he wasn’t their only priority. They still had to eat, had to pay their rent, had to maintain their shop. She understood duty, and didn’t think that it made them bad guardians.
Of course, the final choice for who would ultimately be Harry’s true guardian wasn’t going to be up to her, but her opinion would likely be factored in to the decision.
“Harry’s in the back with George,” the twin in front of her, apparently Fred, said, a bit hesitantly. “I think George has him working with some of the pranks. If you want to go on through…”
Rebecca smiled at him, trying to put him at ease. “I think I will,” she said. “You return to your shop, and once I’m done speaking with Harry, we three will talk. That gives you time to prepare.”
“Right,” Fred said. He took a deep breath and visibly braced himself, then turned around and dove right back into the throng of eager and amazed shopgoers.
Rebecca made her way to the back of the shop, then opened the door after tapping on it lightly. Just as she opened it, there was an explosion of pink sparkles and blue smoke, followed by a childish giggle. When the smoke cleared, it revealed Harry sitting there with a dusting of blue powder with pink glitter.
“It didn’t work,” he called to George, looking younger than he had the last time Rebecca had seen him.
“Oh, drat,” George said, not sounding particularly surprised. He glanced at Rebecca, his smile fading ever so slightly. “Ms. Mercier,” he greeted.
When Harry noticed her, she was alarmed to see all pleasure fade from his expression. His eyes went cold, his lips pinched into a frown. “Hi,” he offered, his voice much more subdued.
“Hello Harry,” she said, keeping her voice light and calm. “I need to speak with you in private about some things, if that’s okay with you.”
Harry flinched and glanced at George. “Can’t George stay?” he asked. “Or Fred?” His fingers were knotting into fists on the metal work table, and his lips were trembling slightly. He probably didn’t even realize it, but she could hear the panic in his voice.
It didn’t sit well with her. Technically, she was supposed to have this conversation with him alone, not because the twins couldn’t hear about it, but because of Harry’s own privacy. Quietly, she said, “We would be talking about things that need to happen, and there’s a chance you might not want to talk about these things with the twins around.”
Harry swallowed hard, his eyes dropping down to the table. He nodded once. “Okay,” he said, and there was something different in his voice. Something stronger, a bit like a steel core that she hadn’t seen evidence of.
The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. It was like being in a room filled with electricity, and she had to admit that she wasn’t wild about the feeling. “If you would be more comfortable—” she started, only to stop when Harry shook his head once, sharply.
“It’s fine,” Harry said. His voice was brittle, and when he looked back at her, all the emotion was gone from his eyes. “You probably need to talk to me about the Dursleys, anyway, and I’m sure that George doesn’t want to hear that, either.”
Before she could object, explain that she didn’t need to ask him about the Dursleys at all since Vernon was telling them everything, Harry was saying, “It’ll be fine, George. I’ll be okay.”
George was looking at her like she was some kind of monster, now, and Rebecca honestly couldn’t blame him. “I’ll be careful with him,” she said, instead of trying to protest her innocence. If she were George, she wouldn’t have believed herself either.
“Okay,” George said, clearly reluctant. He left the room after saying, quietly, to Harry, “If you need us, just come outside, okay? Or send Rebecca out. I’m sure she’d be willing to come and get us.”
Harry nodded, the gesture short and sharp. “What do you need to know?” he asked, once George was gone and the door had closed quietly behind him.
“We’re already getting plenty of information from Vernon,” she said quietly. She sat at the work table across from Harry, on the other stool. “What I really wanted to talk to you about was what’s going to happen next. I don’t need to ask you questions about the Dursleys, but if you need to talk to me about them, I’m willing to listen.”
Harry shook his head quickly. “I don’t need to talk about them,” he said, his voice shaking. “But thank you.” He swallowed. “What needs to happen next, then?”
“You need to be evaluated by two different types of professionals,” she said. She didn’t dare reach out and touch the hand that was closest to her, but she wanted to. She always wanted to touch the children she worked with, to comfort them, and it was only the fact that they wouldn’t see her touch as comforting that held her back.
“Evaluated?” Harry echoed, his voice steady. He didn’t look at all afraid, now. His brow was furrowed and he looked almost… angry.
She didn’t know why. “Yes. A regular Healer will need to look you over and see if your Muggle relatives did any permanent damage to you, and a Mind Healer will start working with you on any lingering traumas. You’ll likely need several visits to both.”
Harry’s face twisted, and then he looked down at the table before Rebecca could identify the emotion on it. “I didn’t know that wizards had therapists,” he whispered. His voice was shaking again. “Would they just be talking to me about stuff with the Dursleys, or about Hogwarts stuff too?”
Rebecca blinked. “Do you need to talk about things at Hogwarts?” she asked, probing and careful. If there was some impropriety going on at the school… well, she was just childish enough to be pleased to have more ammunition against Dumbledore. And, of course, anything like that would need to be dealt with swiftly.
Without speaking, Harry extended his hand to her. At first, Rebecca didn’t understand what she was looking at, but as she studied the frail hand in front of her, the words I must not tell lies, written in the boy’s own handwriting, became clear to her.
“Oh,” she breathed, not able to say anything else. It took her several tries and then, carefully, she asked, “Can you tell me who did that to you?”
Harry’s eyes darted up, sharp and assessing, and in that second, Rebecca felt as though she’d been stripped to the core, and that Harry had seen all of her, and had not found her lacking. “Madame Umbridge,” he said, dropping his gaze once more.
Rebecca breathed out, the sound more of a small sigh than the shriek of rage she wanted to let loose. “Thank you,” she said quietly, and made a quick note in her file. “I’ll see what I can do to have her brought to trial for her crimes against you.”
“Against a lot of Muggleborns, actually,” Harry corrected. He was studying the table intently, his fingers tracing the edge of a bright green stain on the table. “Not just me. But thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Rebecca said reflexively. More students affected. This had the potential to be a nightmare. All the students would need to be interviewed, and that was just to start. Who knew what else had been going on at the school while Dumbledore had been in power? The man was clearly out of his mind to allow such abuses.
“So can they help with those sorts of traumas too?” Harry asked. “I mean, the scar’s not that bad, but there are other things…” He stopped talking abruptly, and his hand went still. He probably hadn’t meant to tell her as much as he just had.
Rebecca took another deep breath. “They can help you with whatever you need help with,” she said, keeping her voice as light and gentle as she could. “Whether you need to talk about your family, or your school years. Whatever you need.”
Harry nodded. He didn’t look at her again. “Do you need to tell me anything else?” he asked. His hands were trembling, and his voice had the slightest bit of a waiver to it.
“No,” she said quietly. “Not if there’s nothing else you would like to talk to me about, not right now.”
She was supposed to tell him about the trials, about the way his future custody would be determined, but she wasn’t an idiot. The child was moments away from a magical explosion, and with the delicate emotional state he was likely in, she didn’t dare risk pushing him any further.
“Then I’d like to go upstairs to my room,” he said. He pushed away from the table and left the room before Rebecca could say anything else.
The twins practically fell in before the door closed.
“—you do to him?” they demanded.
“We were just talking about the two types of healers he’ll need to see,” she said quietly, refusing to be intimidated or irritated by their habit of finishing each other’s sentences. They’d done it numerous times when they’d been giving their initial reports, and she was starting to get used to it.
“Two types of healers?” one of them asked. George, she thought. He was wearing Fred’s nametag, but she could see just a hint of the powder on his hands that had exploded on Harry earlier.
“We don’t really…” the other, Fred, trailed off and looked away. There was a slight flush on his cheeks.
Rebecca caught on quickly. “Of course, because Harry is currently a ward of the Ministry, we’ll cover the expenses of the Healers.” She smiled and stood, taking a leaf out of Harry’s books. She just wouldn’t give them a chance to argue. She understood pride.
Instead, she handed them a piece of parchment. “These are the list of Ministry-approved Healers and Mind Healers. He’ll need to see one of each within the upcoming week, and all have available appointments. If you cannot find a suitable one, please let us know and we will make other arrangements.”
She bowed to them and, again, before they could object, swept from the shop. She was rather grateful that there wasn’t a prank on the outgoing traffic, because she could see how that would be better for advertising. Perhaps she’d suggest it to them during an upcoming conversation.
Perhaps during a meeting not at their shop. She didn’t particularly want to be pranked again.
Fred took a deep breath, staring after Ms. Mercier. Rebecca. He didn’t know which they were supposed to call her, but he supposed erring on the side of caution was for the best. At least, as long as they wanted to keep custody of Harry.
Which they did, of course. Even if this was getting more complicated than they’d thought it would be.
“But maybe it should be complicated,” George pointed out.
As always, they were on the same wavelength. “It’s not like anything’s ever been easy for Harry before,” Fred said. “Why shouldn’t this be complicated and confusing?”
“And a Mind Healer would probably be good for him,” George continued, although there was some doubt in his voice.
Neither of them had ever been to see one. Still… “I hear they work wonders,” Fred muttered. “And if he’s going to start seeing one, we should be as supportive as we can, right?”
“Right,” George agreed. He studied the stack of names, then sighed. “I guess we’ll start making plans with Verity to have some more time off. Maybe we should get another assistant.”
Fred thought over their finances, then shrugged. “It’s not a bad idea,” he said. “We can afford it, I think. And it would probably be good for Harry to have us around a bit more than we could otherwise be.”
George nodded. He glanced at Fred, then back at the list. “Speaking of, why don’t I stay down with the shop and you go up and spend some time with him? I had the morning; you should take the afternoon.”
Fred didn’t argue. “We’ll see you after the shop closes,” he replied.
He went upstairs, then into their apartment. He stood outside of Harry’s door, and hesitated before tapping lightly on it. There was no answer. Had Harry fallen asleep again?
Fred tapped again, then shrugged and opened the door. He was hit by a blast of sound, of broken sobs coming from somewhere on the bed. He didn’t hesitate to climb into the bed with Harry, to find his adopted brother in the bundle of blankets he’d hidden in, and to haul Harry into his lap.
He leaned back against the headboard and rocked back and forth, murmuring soothing things to the sobbing fifteen-year-old. He would be sixteen, soon enough, but Fred didn’t dwell too much on that. It made him want to scream, to think that nobody had probably ever comforted Harry like this. How his mother couldn’t understand the trauma…
But his anger had no place here. So he rocked Harry, and he murmured soothing things, and eventually Harry calmed down just enough to stop crying, and to sit in Fred’s arms and shake.
Well, Fred couldn’t let Harry feel ashamed of his tears, so he started a story about the time he and George had accidentally died their hair different colors, and by the end of it, he had his adopted little brother laughing quietly.
And if the sound had some hiccups from Harry’s leftover tears, well, Fred was certainly magnanimous enough not to comment on it.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
There's some victim blaming in this chapter, along with a terrible therapy appointment with a terrible therapist. Please take care of yourselves!
Harry didn’t want to go see the Healer, and he especially didn’t want to go alone. But he knew that he had to see him, and he knew that he couldn’t ask the twins to go in with him. He wasn’t a coward.
He could manage this on his own, he thought.
Harry left both Fred and George behind as he stepped into Healer Cartwright’s office. He stood awkwardly in the center of the room while the Healer, an older man with bushy grey hair and glasses, bustled around the room for a moment.
“Up on the table, if you please,” Cartwright said. He was tapping things with his wand and set a few quills up taking what looked like notes on a clipboard.
Harry hoped that they weren’t anything like the notes that Rita had taken during his fourth year. They wouldn’t be accurate if they were, and Harry thought it was probably important that these notes be accurate.
“So, Mr. Potter,” Cartwright started, his eyes only flickering to the scar once before dropping back to meet Harry’s gaze. “Have you been to see a Healer before?”
“I’ve seen Madam Pomfrey at Hogwarts,” Harry said. His voice shook a little as he said it, and he dropped his eyes. He didn’t want to hold the Healer’s gaze. He had trouble with it now, knowing that someone could be using it to peek inside his mind.
He didn’t know if he should thank Snape for that knowledge, or if he should hate the professor that much more for it.
“Poppy’s very good for what she is, but she’s not a proper Healer,” Cartwright said. He tapped something with his wand, and a flash of light almost blinded Harry. It didn’t hit him, though, so he didn’t start to panic. Not yet. “Have you seen a Muggle doctor, then?”
Harry shook his head, his shoulders coming up around his ears as he hunched in on himself. “Not that I can remember,” he said. He studied his hands in his lap and hoped that the conversation changed quickly.
“Never?” Cartwright asked, shock making him look directly at Harry once more.
Harry flinched and hunched over further. “Never,” he confirmed, his voice tiny.
“And the Ministry is encouraging you to be here today, yes?” Cartwright didn’t wait for an answer to that, just stepped closer, his wand held loosely in his hand. “Well, I’m afraid that this is likely going to be awkward for you. A first examination with a proper Healer is going to be invasive, Harry, especially for someone like you, who seems very guarded.”
Harry flinched again. He curled his arms around his stomach and tried not to fidget. “Can’t we just get this over with?” he asked, his question plaintive.
“We can start,” Cartwright acknowledged. “Do you want one of your guardians to be in here with you?” he asked, his voice a bit gentler than it had been previously. “I’m sure that they’ve both been to Healers before, so they could tell you if I’m doing anything untoward.”
Harry just shook his head. He didn’t need the twins, who were already being so kind to take him in, to know how much of a wreck he was. If at all possible, he’d rather they never saw him fall apart, but that wasn’t going to happen. Not since they both already had.
Harry flushed with shame at the memory of falling apart in Fred’s arms two days ago. He was a wreck, and sooner or later they were going to realize that he was too much of a wreck for them to bother with. He didn’t want them to realize any sooner than they had to, which meant that he had to do this on his own.
“I’m fine,” he said, his voice hoarse.
He wasn’t fine, as it turned out. By the end of the examination, he’d learned several things about himself. He was malnourished, to the point where it was affecting his magic and his bones and several other things, and there was something else wrong with his magic.
Healer Cartwright didn’t know what it was; he didn’t even seem inclined to speculate. He just asked Harry several questions that Harry knew he couldn’t answer about his scar, and about whether or not it ever hurt, or if it had ever opened up, and Harry just knew that answering those questions was a terrible idea. He couldn’t say anything about it, because what if the twins learned that he was connected to Voldemort?
They’d never keep him around.
And then there was the matter of his bruising, and the salve he was supposed to have his guardians help him apply at night. Harry didn’t think he could do it, no matter how much better it would supposedly make his bruises feel as they healed.
He trusted the twins, he really did, but he couldn’t imagine that inviting them to touch him would do any good. After all, Dudley hadn’t even needed an invitation before he’d…
It was a wretched thought, and Harry felt terrible just for thinking it.
He thanked the Healer quietly, took the potions he’d been prescribed for his malnutrition, listened carefully to the instructions for taking them, and for when to come back so that the Healer could look him over again to reassess his nutritional status and perhaps give him even more potions. It was a dizzying array of orders, and Harry hated it.
He hated it that it made him feel like there was something wrong with him, like he was broken, like the Dursleys had ruined him.
Maybe they had.
He left the Healer’s office shaking and overwhelmed, and when he found the twins sitting out there, he fought the urge to just crawl into one of their arms and stay there. He felt naked and raw, and the last thing he wanted was to go to visit with a different type of Healer.
“How was it?” George asked. His voice was light and gentle, and there was an expression of warm concern in his eyes that made Harry ache.
“It was fine,” Harry said, his voice dull. He held up the small bag the Healer had given him that contained all of his potions in a weightless, expanded pouch. “I have things I need to take,” he added. “But we can talk about that later. I have the Mind Healer next, right?”
“Right,” Fred said. He stood and pulled George to his feet. “His office is close by,” he added.
Harry nodded and let himself be led out of the Healer’s office and back into Diagon Alley, where they would find the Mind Healer.
Harry just hoped that this visit was less taxing than the visit with the first Healer, though he doubted it.
“You say that the Dursleys made a habit out of attempting to beat the magic out of you?” Mind Healer Peterson asked. Evan, Harry reminded himself. He’d asked to be called by his first name, said that it would help foster a sense of trust.
“Yes sir,” Harry said. He was seated in a comfortable chair, one that was probably designed to help him relax, but relaxation was the last thing on his mind. His hands were shaking, and he was doing his best to keep calm, but Evan was too close to him.
Harry really didn’t like that, but when he’d asked the Mind Healer to pick a different seat, or asked if he could pick a different seat, Evan had simply replied that this was the way that things were done in his office, and both seats were the most comfortable in the room.
Harry would have rathered sit on the floor than be so close to the stranger.
“And how often did they hit you?” Evan asked. He leaned further back into his chair, his frown so severe it almost hurt Harry to see it.
“Not that often,” Harry stammered. He looked down at his hands again. “My Aunt didn’t do it often at all; she’d more often tell Uncle Vernon about any problems I had during the day, and then he would hit me when he got home. Or, sometimes she’d hit me with a frying pan, but it wasn’t… it wasn’t like it was an everyday thing.” Harry swallowed.
It had been horrible enough without him exaggerating. He didn’t need to do anything to make things worse than they already were.
“And do you think that it was all because of your magic?” Evan asked. He was scribbling notes on a clipboard, not using one of the awful Quick Quotes Quills.
Harry could appreciate that, at least. “I don’t know,” he said, answering the question. “I tried not to talk about it around them, but sometimes things happened, and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t stop my nightmares or anything like that.”
Evan let out a noncommittal hum. “If you say so,” he said, doubt heavy in his voice.
It made Harry ache. “I couldn’t!” he protested.
“Come, Harry, you’ve already established yourself as something of a liar, telling me that they tried to beat the magic out of you. You made it sound like an everyday thing, when in fact it was far more minor than that.” Evan’s voice was chiding. “Surely you might be downplaying your own aggressions here, trying to make yourself look better?”
Harry’s eyes widened. “I wouldn’t,” he whispered. He wouldn’t. He didn’t have to. He hadn’t done anything to the Dursleys, he never had! It wasn’t fair of Evan to accuse him of… of goading them into treating him so badly. “I don’t even remember when it started; how could I have done anything to cause it?”
Evan made another noncommittal sound. “And I’m told that your cousin was aggressive, sexually, with you?” he asked.
Harry shuddered to hear the words spoken so plainly and he curled in on himself. “Yes,” he whispered, shame making his skin crawl. He still didn’t know why Dudley would have wanted to… with him…
“And what were you doing to make him do that?” Evan asked. He looked disapprovingly at Harry, his frown worsening. “You should know that you probably caused his death, with whatever it was that you did. And while potioning a Muggle isn’t illegal, it should certainly be frowned upon.”
“I didn’t—” Harry could feel his breathing starting to speed up, and he hid his face behind his hands so that the Mind Healer didn’t see him hyperventilating. Harry didn’t want to think about what this man would say about something like that. Maybe he’d say that Harry was clearly seeking negative attention, or…
“Please, Harry, you don’t need to lie to me,” Evan said, condescension dripping from his voice. “It’s painfully clear that you thought a certain intimacy from your cousin would help make things easier with your Aunt and Uncle. I certainly don’t blame you for making the attempt, but you must take responsibility for your own actions.”
Harry closed his eyes and tried to let the words wash over him. It should be easy; he was used to being around people that said terrible things to him. Both Snape and Umbridge came to mind, and it would seem that Evan was no different. Harry didn’t know why these words were hurting him when Umbridge and Snape never managed to hurt him as much as they probably would have liked.
Maybe it was because Evan was probably right. Harry had to have done something, otherwise why would Dudley have… Even if he hadn’t known what he was doing, Harry knew that he should be ashamed of himself. And he was. He’d done something to make Dudley hurt him, and now Dudley was dead.
And his Aunt was dead, and it was probably his fault.
Harry didn’t cry, but he only held it off by the skin of his teeth. He made it out of the office feeling more broken and defeated than he ever had before, and the last thing he wanted was to go anywhere near the twins. Who knew what he would tempt Fred and George into doing?
“Harry?” George asked, his voice light and gentle.
Harry didn’t say anything, just kept his arms curled around himself and shook his head.
“Okay,” Fred said. Harry felt the air stir near him, like Fred was going to try and touch him, and he couldn’t help but flinch away from it. Fred’s hand passed harmlessly near his head.
Harry stayed behind them as they started back to the shop and kept himself as small as he could. He wished he had his Invisibility Cloak, and wondered if the twins would be upset if he hid behind it for a while.
Not because he was worried about them, even though a small part of him was. It was just that it would be easier to hide if no one could see him, and right then, Harry desperately wanted to hide.
“We shouldn’t have done this all at once,” Fred whispered as they walked a little bit ahead of Harry. The slender boy wasn’t listening to them, he didn’t think, but he didn’t want to risk speaking too loudly. He didn’t want Harry to think that they were upset with him, because they weren’t. They were upset at the situation.
“I know,” George muttered back. He sighed. “But we had to get them out of the way. Harry had to be looked at and you know it.”
He did, that much was true, but should it have been all at once? Harry wasn’t talking to them again, and Fred hadn’t missed the way that he’d flinched away from his touch. Harry hadn’t been flinching away from them earlier, so what changed? What had they done differently?
Maybe they hadn’t done anything. It had started after the visit with the Healer, and it had gotten worse after the visit with the Mind Healer. Maybe they hadn’t been as helpful as they’d hoped?
Fred didn’t know.
He was glad when they reached the shop, which seemed to be doing just fine under Verity’s perfectly capable hand. She motioned them upstairs when Fred went to talk to her, and mouthed, “Your mother’s up there,” in between waiting on customers.
Fred stopped, then took a deep breath. He grabbed George’s hand to stop him before they went up the stairs. “Mum’s up there, Verity said.”
“Oh for—” George cut off and glanced at Harry. “One of us should go up while the other goes into the back room with Harry,” he said finally.
Fred had heard all about her encounter with Harry just yesterday, and he didn’t disagree with George’s assessment. Still…
“Your mother doesn’t scare me,” Harry said, his voice very quiet. “And if she has something to say to me, I’d rather she say it now and get it over with.”
“You don’t have to talk to her,” Fred said. He turned to look at Harry and wished that they could have this conversation somewhere a little more private. But the back room was on the other side of a sea of customers and their flat had apparently been invaded by their mother once more. There wasn’t a better place that this conversation could happen.
But Harry apparently didn’t want to have the conversation, judging by the way that he started up the stairs after slipping between Fred and George. “I don’t have to, but I want this conversation to be done with.”
Fred sighed and followed Harry up the stairs, trailed by George. As Verity had said, Molly was waiting for them in the flat, tapping her foot impatiently as she stood near the fireplace.
“Where in the world were you three?” she snapped upon sighting them. “This is why Harry shouldn’t be left with you! You can’t just take him wandering the Alley. Don’t you understand that the boy is a target and that you’re making yourselves targets too?”
“They were taking me to see Healers,” Harry said quietly. “Did you need something, Mrs. Weasley?” His voice was courteous, but Fred could hear the way that it wavered.
He wasn’t a violent person, not really, but he could have hurt his mother for the way that she was making Harry feel. For the way that she was making things worse, really, because Harry’s already fragile state was clearly getting even more so.
“You don’t need any Healers! This is beyond ridiculous, young man. You’re more than fine, and it’s time for you to give up this charade and come back to Grimmauld Place,” she snapped. She reached out to touch Harry, and seemed surprised when Harry flinched away from her touch.
George stepped between them, the motion smooth, almost like he’d planned it. “Don’t touch him,” he said to her, his voice cold.
Fred fell back and tugged Harry back with him, using the sleeve of his robe to do so. He didn’t want to set Harry off or frighten him any further, not when he was already so jumpy. Harry didn’t protest, but instead stared at George from widened eyes. He shifted slightly, and Fred was startled when Harry’s fragile hand found its way to his own. He didn’t try to hold Harry’s hand, not tightly anyway, just lightly enough that Harry knew he didn’t mind and would be able to pull away if he wanted to.
He was pleased when it made their young charge relax, even if it was just a little bit.
“Fred,” Molly started.
“I’m George,” his twin snapped. “Fred’s back there, trying to comfort Harry now that you’ve grabbed at him. You can’t take him, Mum, not while we’re his Ministry assigned guardians.”
“You’re being ludicrous!” she bit out. She crossed her arms and huffed at them, her cheeks starting to pink with temper. “Now listen here, both of you. I don’t know what you think you’re getting out of this, what kind of payout you’re taking from Harry, but it needs to stop! The boy is going to get you killed, just like—”
“Enough!” Fred snapped. He didn’t drop Harry’s hand, but did push himself between Harry and his Mum, even though George was already there. “Don’t you say that again. What’s the matter with you? Get out of our house, Mum!”
Molly’s eyes narrowed, and her fingers drifted to her wand. “The Order requires that Harry come back with me,” she said. She took a deep breath. “I know that I shouldn’t think the way I do, but you’re both my boys, and I’m so worried about you! You’ll be killed looking after that boy without the proper protections!”
“Better to die defending a child than to sacrifice him on the altar of a Headmaster’s doddering dementia,” George said. He drew his own wand before his mother could draw hers. “Now, Fred asked you to leave our flat, and I agree with him. Get out, Mum, and don’t come back until we invite you.”
Molly glanced from one of them to the other, then all the tension seemed to sag from her. “I’m just worried about you both,” she said, her voice plaintive. “And Harry, of course. We want what’s best for him!”
“No, you want what Dumbledore told you was best,” Fred said. “Mum, we’re serious. Go, and don’t come back until you’re done trying to force us to give up custody.”
Molly shook her head, then she disappeared into the Floo. In spite of their relatively easy victory, Fred knew that it wasn’t over. She’d be back, or if not her, then one of the other members of the Order. He didn’t know why the Headmaster was so determined to keep Harry in what was clearly a terrible situation, but they weren’t going to just give in and let the Order have its way.
If it kept up… “We might have to tell Rebecca about this,” Fred said.
George sighed. “Yeah,” he said, a bit glum. “Mum would be pissed if we got her arrested.”
“Y-you can’t,” Harry stammered.
Fred turned and found their charge’s eyes filling with tears. “Harry,” he breathed, and knelt in front of him. He could read the guilt on Harry’s face and hated the sight of it. “This isn’t your fault.”
“It is,” the boy whispered. He raised a hand to his face and scrubbed away the tears, but they kept coming. “You wouldn’t be fighting with your family if it weren’t for me, so it’s literally my fault!”
“It’s not,” George murmured. He stepped close, but, like Fred, didn’t attempt to touch Harry. “You can’t be blamed for the stupidity of adults, Harry. That’s not fair to you. We want to protect you, to keep you safe from anything, and that includes our own Mum, who isn’t being fair to you at all.”
Harry let out a broken sob at that, and he crumpled to the ground. Fred just barely managed to catch him, and held him close, soothing him and telling him that it wasn’t his fault, that he and George weren’t mad at him, that everything was going to be okay.
He didn’t know if it was true or not, but he was determined to do his best to make sure that Harry was okay. He glanced up at George over their sobbing charge and found the same determination mirrored in his twin’s eyes.
They were going to do everything in their power to make sure that Harry was okay, no matter what it took.
Molly tried to breathe evenly as she walked into the meeting at Headquarters, once more without the boy. Without Harry.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want what was best for Harry; of course she wanted the boy to be happy. But the problem was that she didn’t want him to be happy at the expense of her children, and Harry had already shown a remarkable disregard for the safety of others. If he cared at all about other people, he wouldn’t be flouncing about Diagon Alley in full daylight.
That was practically begging He Who Must Not Be Named to attack!
“You don’t have the boy,” Alastor said as soon as she walked in.
Snape let out a mocking snort. “I told you that he wouldn’t listen to her.” The Potions Master shook his head. “The boy thinks he doesn’t need to listen to anyone in authority. And those twins of yours aren’t any better. Of course they weren’t just going to hand him over when they probably think this is a great prank.”
“That’s not fair,” Arthur said, his voice mild. “The twins probably believe that they’re doing the right thing. It’s true that they’re wrong, that we need to bring Harry back under our control, but don’t blame my twins for this.”
“Your twins started it,” Alastor snapped. “And I don’t think that we can ignore that. We may need to disable them in order to take Harry from them.”
Molly bristled. “You’d better not,” she hissed. “My twins shouldn’t be hurt because of Harry’s foolishness! That’s the whole point of this!”
“No one should be hurt because that boy goes off half-cocked,” Snape pointed out. “But if it’s a choice between stunning your sons and taking Harry from them, and leaving them to their own devices and encouraging the Dark Lord to attack Diagon Alley, then I think we all know what we need to do.”
“You’re not sending anyone to hurt my boys!” Molly felt like she couldn’t breathe, suddenly. This felt like her worst nightmare was coming true. She still remembered the sight of that Boggart; it had haunted her dreams ever since its appearance. If her boys accidentally got themselves hurt because of Harry Potter, she would never forgive him.
“We might not have to,” Remus pointed out, speaking up for the first time. He was looking down at the table, not meeting anyone’s eyes.
“If you have an idea, Lupin,” Alastor said with an inviting gesture.
“I was good friends with Lily and James, as all of you know. As Harry knows. While he might not be willing to listen to Molly, who we can all agree might have been a bit excitable, he might be willing to listen to me. I might be able to get him to come to us without hurting the twins.”
Molly bristled at being called excitable, but she made herself relax. Honestly, if that was the worst thing that anyone could say about her, she was okay with that. “Can’t we try that first?” she asked imploringly, focusing instead on the chance that her sons might not be needlessly attacked.
Alastor nodded and scribbled something on his piece of parchment. “We’ll try that first,” he said. “The twins, from what I understand, would be difficult to take down in battle anyway. They’re quick thinkers, and we all know that Potter was training them last year.”
Molly hated to think about that, too. What had Harry been thinking, getting her children ready to fight in a war? They would never have to fight, not if she had her way.
They were her babies. And Harry, well, he was a good boy, she supposed, but he wasn’t her son. She had to put her family first. That was the way of the world, especially when war was involved.
Besides, Albus had told them all what would have to happen to Harry at the end of the war. She couldn’t afford to be attached to the boy, not knowing that he would have to die. Her heart couldn’t take it.
“We’ll be wanting to move forward with the trials of Dumbledore and Dursley soon,” Amelia said, tapping her wand against the parchment in front of her.
Rebecca didn’t sigh, but it was close. “I don’t know that Harry will be ready for that,” she said. “He’s very fragile. If you’ve seen the boy at all—”
“I was at his trial last summer for his use of the Patronus,” Amelia said, looking up. Her eyes narrowed. “He seemed to be perfectly fine then, and that was after his life had been threatened. Are you saying that you believe him to be in worse condition now?”
Rebecca hesitated. It was such a difficult conversation to have with someone who just didn’t understand…
“Ms. Mercier?” Amelia prompted when she’d waited too long.
“I’ve seen the side of him that you probably saw during that trial,” Rebecca said, thinking back to the resolve the boy had shown when she’d asked to speak with him privately. She looked up to meet Amelia’s eyes. “And it was formidable. But I’ve also seen him at his worst, sobbing in one of the Weasley twins’ arms. I think that if you truly want what’s best for him, we’ll get the situation of his permanent custody resolved before we start the trial of Dumbledore and Dursley. And I think, if at all possible, we should avoid having him testify at either trial.”
Amelia was frowning now. “That will make it harder to get any kind of conviction,” she pointed out. When Rebecca opened her mouth to protest, she added, “I’m not saying that we should have him testify, I’m just pointing out that we might need him to.”
Rebecca dipped her head in acknowledgment. “And if that’s the case, Harry needs a proper support network behind him. He doesn’t need to be worrying that he’s going to be ripped away from the only adults who ever fought for him.”
“Then you think that the Acting Head of the Wizengamot will opt to leave him with the twins?” Amelia asked. She made a note on her paper, then went back to absentmindedly tapping her quill on it.
“I cannot pretend to know what he’ll do,” Rebecca said honestly. “But I do intend to recommend it.”
Amelia nodded, then scribbled something else. “Very well,” she said finally. “We’ll do the custody trial first, get that out of the way, and then hopefully we’ll have enough left of the summer to give Harry a bit of a break before we put him on the stand to deal with Dumbledore and Dursley. You’ve got him seeing a Mind Healer?”
“And a regular one,” Rebecca confirmed, making her own note of the new timeline. “I’ll go check in on him tomorrow. His first appointments were both today, which I’m sure was draining.”
Amelia made a sympathetic noise, then pushed back from the table. “Keep me updated, Ms. Mercier,” she said, and left the room without waiting for a response.
The day after his little breakdown, Harry found it hard to focus on much of anything. He had homework that he should do, summer projects that needed to be done, but as he stared down at his Potions text, he found that he couldn’t make the words make sense.
He reread the same page five times before closing the book and scrubbing at his eyes. He could hear movement outside of his room and knew that one of the twins had stayed upstairs with him while the other had gone down to the shop to work with Verity for a bit.
Harry respected that they were trying to give him privacy, and even appreciated it, but at the moment he would have done just about anything for some kind of distraction.
He crept out of the bedroom and found George, he thought it was George, fiddling with something on the dining room table. It didn’t look dangerous, whatever it was, but Harry had been in the magical world long enough to know that just because something didn’t appear to be dangerous didn’t mean that it was safe.
He scraped his shoe against the floor in a deliberate attempt to alert George to his presence.
George didn’t jump, but did finish fiddling with whatever it was and then put the whole thing under a stasis spell. “Hey, Harry,” he said, smiling once the experiment was put away.
“Hi,” Harry said, his voice a little hoarse. “I couldn’t really make myself work on schoolwork,” he said, a bit awkwardly.
“Probably have a lot on your mind,” George said agreeably. “And I know that I never could focus on my schoolwork when it was still the start of summer. If I was going to do a project, I needed it to be less than a week before school starting or something.”
Harry had rarely had that luxury. He always had to get his projects done as quickly as possible, or, if he was lucky, in secret when the Dursleys weren’t paying attention. He didn’t know what to say to George’s comment, so instead he settled carefully on the couch. Not carefully enough, because his bruises where Dudley had hit him protested, and he flinched as he settled.
“You okay?” George asked, his voice careful. “I haven’t seen you flinch like that before.”
Harry ducked his head. They hadn’t hurt too badly, but after the Healer had poked and prodded at them, they were more sore. He hadn’t noticed it last night, but today… Maybe that was why he’d been given the salve. “Just sore,” he said, not looking up at George. “The Healer was poking at my bruises yesterday, so they’re a little tender.”
“I didn’t realize—” George cut off. He took a deep breath. “The Healer should have given you a salve to use on those,” he said. “Do you need help applying it?”
Harry cringed back. “No,” he said quickly, his voice shaking. “Thank you,” he added. He didn’t look up at George. He didn’t have the strength.
“Okay.” George knelt in front of him. “We won’t hurt you, Harry,” he said. His voice was soft and warm, and when Harry dared to glance at him, he didn’t look at all offended by Harry’s reluctance to let him touch him. “And we’ll never make you touch us, and we’ll never touch you if you don’t want to be touched. Okay?”
Harry nodded, the gesture jerky. “Thank you,” he whispered. He wanted to believe George, he really did, but he just…
It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the twins, it was just…
The door opened with a brief burst of noise, and then Fred was in the living room, Rebecca behind him. “Hey you two,” Fred said. He glanced from Harry to George, his smile a little strained. “Rebecca wanted to update us on what was going to be happening.”
“That’s correct,” Rebecca said. She slipped further into the room and stopped at the sight of Harry. “Are you okay?” she asked, alarm clear in her voice. “I thought you were seeing the Healers yesterday.”
He couldn’t imagine how he looked, curled in on himself the way that he was, his eyes shadowed from his lack of sleep, his hands still shaking a little whenever he thought of the things that Evan had said to him. As he wondered what he could have done differently, what was wrong with him, and when he’d influence Fred and George to hurt him.
“We did,” George said. “It didn’t go so well.”
Harry flinched again. He’d tried not to tell them how he felt about the visits, but he guessed he wasn’t doing such a good job hiding it. “I didn’t like Evan,” he finally admitted, his voice quiet.
Rebecca approached the couch and Harry stiffened. “May I sit?” she asked, her voice gentle.
Harry didn’t know that he wanted her to, but he definitely didn’t want her to hover over him. He nodded once, jerkily.
She settled gingerly on the edge of the couch, as far from him as possible. “Can you tell me what you didn’t like about Evan?” she asked, her voice careful and just distant enough that Harry thought maybe he could talk to her. She didn’t sound like she’d be upset if he told her.
Still, Harry didn’t look at her. “He told me…” Harry stopped. What if she agreed with him? What if Fred and George agreed with him? Harry didn’t think he could bear that. It would be easier to just not say anything, to handle it on his own, because he was good at that.
“Harry, none of us are going to judge you,” Rebecca said.
“He wanted to know what I’d done to make Dudley attracted to me,” Harry whispered. He hunched further in on himself. “He said… he said that I shouldn’t use love potions, but I didn’t, I swear I didn’t!”
“We know that you didn’t,” George said, his answer immediate. “Harry, we know that you would never do something like that.”
“Is that all that he wanted to know?” Rebecca asked. There was a core of steel in her voice that Harry recognized as similar to the one that he drew on when he was facing down Voldemort.
Harry finally looked up at her, and found a familiar expression on her face. She looked exactly like he did when he was being stupidly heroic, whether he wanted to or not. “He wanted to know why I kept frightening the Dursleys,” he said, his voice shaking. “He thought… he seemed to think that it was all my fault, and I…” He stopped and ducked his head again. He couldn’t make himself say anything more.
“Okay,” Rebecca said, her voice gentling. “Thank you, Harry, for telling me. I’m going to make sure that Evan is no longer recommended by our department, and I’ll see if there’s anything I can do about his license without pulling you into it. But Harry, in the meantime, can you do something for me?”
Harry didn’t want to do anything right then. He nodded anyway.
“I know that Evan hurt you with his words, and what he said was both cruel and untrue. But Mind Healers, in general, aren’t like that. Most of them are kind and gentle, and I need you to give another one on the list a try. Can you do that for me?”
Harry shuddered. He didn’t want to. Evan had hurt him, and the last thing Harry wanted was to let someone else hurt him like that, but… “I can try,” he said.
“Thank you,” Rebecca said. She drew in a deep breath and glanced at the clock on the wall. “I need to be leaving now, because I’ll have to head back to the Ministry and make a report of this. What I’d originally stopped by to do was notify you that Harry’s formal custody hearings should begin soon, and you should all three prepare for that.”
“We’ll be ready,” Fred said, his voice calm. “Can you do us a favor on your way out and let Verity know that we’ll probably stay up here for the rest of the day unless she needs us?”
“I can,” Rebecca said. Harry heard the door open and close, and then he was alone with the twins.
He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t try to say anything. He just waited, wanting to know what the twins were going to say.
The silence stretched, and then one of the twins took his hand, startling him. The other twin took his other hand. Their holds were loose enough that Harry could pull away if he wanted to, but Harry didn’t want to. He hunched over their hands and tried not to cry again.
He’d done too much crying lately.
Instead, after the silence had stretched into something almost uncomfortable, he asked, “Can I cook dinner tonight?” It wasn’t because he wanted to cook, necessarily, he just needed to break the silence. And cooking was a mindless activity, and he was good at it.
He didn’t think he’d be hungry for dinner, he hadn’t been for breakfast or lunch, but that didn’t really matter.
“If you’d like,” George said.
“But you don’t have to do chores for us, or earn your keep,” Fred added.
Harry let himself smile. It was a shaky expression, one that faded quickly, but it had been genuine. “Thank you,” he said.
Fred woke suddenly, his heart pounding, and for a moment he couldn’t tell why he’d woken up. Then the sound hit him, horrible and awful, coming from Harry’s room. He stumbled out of his bed, only to see George doing the same. They stared at each other, then, as one, grabbed their wands and darted from their room.
Fred didn’t bother to knock, just burst into the room. Harry was sitting up in bed, his scar split wide open and bleeding, his green eyes completely vacant. His body was rigid, holding itself tense.
Fred could honestly say that he’d never seen anything like it before, and he didn’t think he ever wanted to see anything like it again.
George squeezed past him and approached Harry, putting his wand away as he went. “Harry,” George tried, and carefully touched Harry’s shoulder.
Harry didn’t move, and the screaming didn’t stop. It was like he couldn’t hear them, and maybe he couldn’t. Maybe this was some kind of twisted vision, and he was a Seer like Trelawney. Only, well, more real. A true Seer. Not a fraud.
Fred’s mind was going in circles, and he stopped it with some effort. Who cared what was causing it? Harry was clearly suffering, and he wanted to do something to break through the pain, but George’s gentle shaking was having no effect, and Fred wasn’t willing to try anything harsher.
The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt Harry more than he’d already been hurt.
And then the screaming stopped, and Harry blinked, and then he was crying hysterically, his hands brought up to cover his face.
George glanced back at Fred, his eyes wide and helpless, and Fred stared back, feeling much the same. Then he took a deep, bracing breath and said, “Go get the first aid kit?”
George nodded and disappeared back into the depths of their flat, and Fred stepped forward and settled gingerly on the side of the bed. He wanted to try and ask what happened, why his scar was doing what it did, but he didn’t dare. Not when Harry was already almost hysterical.
He reached out, instead, and wrapped a careful arm around Harry’s shoulders, pulling him close. He went slowly, waiting for any sign of discomfort from Harry, but the younger boy burrowed into him, though he kept his bloody and tear-streaked face away from Fred’s pajamas.
Fred was kinda grateful for that. Getting blood out of anything was a pain.
“Got the first aid kit,” George said. He came and sat on the other side of Harry, also pausing before doing so to see if Harry tensed at all. When their ward didn’t react at all, he settled more deeply on the bed and began carefully wiping the blood away from the scar.
As he did so, Harry’s tears slowed, then stopped, and he blinked at them both, his eyes still dazed. “What…” He stopped, his voice hoarse from screaming.
“We were going to ask you,” Fred said, his voice carefully neutral. He didn’t want to sound like he was blaming Harry for anything, or like he was accusing Harry of keeping a secret, but he did desperately want to know what had happened.
He’d never seen the boy’s scar split like that, and it had been horrifying.
“I don’t…” Harry blinked and shook his head, ducking away from George’s touch enough that his twin stilled. “I can’t…”
“It’s okay,” George said. He held up a bandage in front of Harry’s eyes and smiled when Harry dipped his head in a quick gesture of assent. “You don’t have to talk about it tonight.”
“But we will need you to talk about it,” Fred said, catching on, as always, to what was on his twin’s mind. “Tonight, though, you’re probably pretty shaken up.”
Harry shivered. “Yeah,” he muttered. He looked down at his hands. “I’m sorry that I woke you,” he said, anxiety making his voice shake. “I’m sure you were both tired.”
“We are, but we would much rather be woken up so that we can help you,” George said easily.
Fred agreed. “Absolutely,” he said. He smiled at Harry, then stood and stretched. “And since we’re all awake, and wound up, what do you say we wind down a bit? George makes a killer hot chocolate if you ask him nicely.”
Harry bit his lip. “I’d like that,” he said shyly, his eyes dropping again. “But it’s late, and you two must be tired, and I wouldn’t want to impose, and—”
“No imposition,” George carolled, and hopped off of the bed.
Fred would wonder how his twin had so much energy if he didn’t suspect that he’d taken a potion to help himself wake up. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t really approve, but Harry needed them. In fact, he might wind up taking one of his own before the night was through if they couldn’t get him settled.
He sat on the couch with Harry, and wrapped him up in blankets since the boy was still trembling, while George puttered around in the kitchen, humming loud and off-key. He was acting like it wasn’t the middle of the night, and Fred had to admit he loved his brother for it. Every time Harry heard him humming, he relaxed just a little bit further into the blankets, and leaned a little more closely against Fred.
By the time George served the hot chocolate, with a heaping helping of whipped cream on top, Harry’s trembling had almost ceased entirely, though he was still a bit confused, like he couldn’t understand what was going on.
“Thank you,” Harry said, accepting his with a small, shy smile.
“No problem,” George said, and handed one to Fred as well.
“You’re the best brother,” Fred said. He took a small sip, and beamed when he detected just a hint of an energy potion in there. It would help them both stay up to guard Harry’s sleep, assuming they could even get him to go back to sleep.
“I know,” George said with a silly little smile. “And since I’m the best brother, I think that I should get to pick our next experimental project.”
“You picked the last one!” Fred objected, though he didn’t really mind if George had another idea. The real point of the conversation was to distract Harry from whatever he’d seen in that dream. Merlin, Fred hoped it had only been a terrible dream.
“I did, but it was such a dud I feel the need to redeem myself,” George said with a dramatic little pout. “And this one’s a good one! You just wait, it’ll be our best product ever!”
Harry was relaxing even further between them, becoming something of a dead weight against Fred. When his hot chocolate started to slip out of his hand, George grabbed it and put it on the table.
Harry let out a small sound, but his eyes were closed, and even though he was frowning, he appeared to be asleep once more.
“What the hell are we going to do about this?” Fred asked, letting his exhaustion show. He wouldn’t do it while Harry could see, because that was the last thing that Harry needed.
“Try to get Harry to talk about it, I guess,” George said with a helpless little shrug. “Keep him here for the night, so that he at least knows that he’s safe, and in the morning, we’ll try talking to him.”
It would have to do, because Fred couldn’t imagine just letting this episode go. Something had happened to Harry’s scar, and Fred didn’t think it was ever a good sign when a curse scar started acting up.
He had the feeling they’d be going back to the Healer’s tomorrow, or maybe even to St. Mungo’s. He just hoped that one of those places could help Harry, because he didn’t deserve to suffer like that.
Harry didn’t want to wake up. He was warm and he felt safe, a combination of things that weren’t exactly common for him. For a moment, just a moment, he thought that maybe his entire life had been a terrible dream, and maybe he was really just a normal boy.
Then, as memories of last night trickled back in, he forced himself to let go of that idea. It wasn’t helpful, and it would never be true. He was just lucky that the twins had taken him in, even if after last night he was sure that it wouldn’t be long before they gave him up.
Besides, hadn’t Rebecca said something about an upcoming custody battle? They wouldn’t even have to work to get rid of him, they could just let him go to whoever wanted him.
Harry shivered at the thought and forced himself to open his eyes. He blinked, a little confused. The world was blurry without his glasses on, but he was pretty sure that he wasn’t in his room. He thought maybe he was in the living room? What was he doing there?
He made himself sit up, though his movements were sluggish. He didn’t want to wake up all the way, but he knew that he had to. He found his glasses on the coffee table and put them on after rubbing the sleep from his eyes. The blankets he was cocooned in were falling away, and with it, the last vestiges of exhaustion left him as well.
Normally, after one of the awful visions of Voldemort, he couldn’t get back to sleep. So why had he slept so well this time?
He stood and stretched, and found the twins setting the table in the kitchen for breakfast. One of them, George, Harry thought, was finishing cooking while Fred laid out the plates and the silverware, and poured juice into three cups. It was startlingly domestic.
Harry cleared his throat. “Can I help?” he asked. He was starting to accept that the twins wouldn’t make him help, but he didn’t know if the people who took him next would feel the same. And besides, he wanted to help. If there was anyone who genuinely deserved help, it was the twins.
“We’ve got it,” Fred said, turning and smiling at him. “But you can carry the juice to the table and grab a seat.”
Harry nodded and took two of the glasses. Fred followed him with the other, and by the time he was settled, George was plating up their breakfast.
Harry hoped that George didn’t give him much, since he hated it when he wasted food, but he knew that his hope was in vain. And, sure enough, he was given a plate heaping with breakfast. He’d be lucky if he was even able to make a small dent in it.
Harry sighed, picked up his plate, and forked up a bit of the eggs. He managed to eat them, but he didn’t know about eating anything else. His stomach felt like it was in knots. What had happened last night?
The meal passed in silence. Neither Fred nor George asked him about last night’s nightmare, but Harry didn’t think it was because they weren’t planning on asking him. Obviously, they were going to ask him. He thought that maybe they were trying to let him eat without stressing him out, but Harry wished that they wouldn’t do that. He just wanted to get whatever conversation they were going to have over with.
He managed another bite of his eggs, then pushed the plate away. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I’m just not hungry.”
How could he be, with the things he’d seen the night before?
“Then can we talk about what happened last night?” Fred asked, his voice curiously gentle. He reached out and, when Harry didn’t pull away, he touched Harry’s hand. “You had a dream like that when you saved our father, didn’t you?”
Harry shivered at the reminder. “Yeah,” he said. He gagged a little, but managed to keep the small amount of food that he’d eaten down. “Yeah, I did.”
“Nobody would tell us what they were,” George said. “And we didn’t see you right after you had the dream, so we had no idea they were so violent. Can you tell us about them now?”
Harry shook his head. He ducked his head so that he could avoid meeting their gaze. “I’m not supposed to talk about it,” he said, his voice very soft. “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I don’t think the Headmaster would like it if I speak about it.”
There was a beat of silence, then Fred said, “Harry, do you understand that the Headmaster might be going to Azkaban for the way that he allowed you to be treated?”
Harry’s eyes jerked up involuntarily. “I didn’t think it was that serious,” he managed through a startled gasp. “He’s the Headmaster. I thought that he was just going to get a slap on the wrist or something. Isn’t he a war hero?”
“He was keeping you in a home where you were being abused,” Fred pointed out. He squeezed Harry’s fingers. “He didn’t have your best interests at heart, Harry, is the point that I’m trying to make. The fact that he didn’t want you to talk about it implies, at least to me, that it’s something that you should talk about.”
Harry dropped his eyes once more. “I don’t know that I can,” he said. “The dreams are… they’re upsetting.” He looked up again, and knew that he looked terrified, mostly because he felt terrified. “I don’t want you to have to listen to them.”
“We’d like to be there for you,” George said. He stood up and slipped around to Harry’s side of the table, then knelt next to him. “Please, Harry, let us help you.”
Harry stared at one twin, then the other, then looked down at the plate of food in front of him once more. He’d never be able to talk about it if he was looking at them, he knew that. “Voldemort and I have a link,” he said. He reached up and touched his scar carefully. It wasn’t as sore as it normally was, probably thanks to the way that the twins had taken care of him last night. He couldn’t remember much of it, but he could remember their gentleness.
“And that link causes your dreams?” Fred asked carefully. He sounded like he was picking his way through Muggle landmines.
Maybe he was. Or at least, maybe he was doing the equivalent. “Yeah,” Harry said. “I know it does. They happen when he’s very happy, or when he’s very angry. And they always hurt.” He shivered. “Always.”
There was another beat of silence, and then a hand landed on his shoulder. When Harry didn’t protest, George wrapped him in a careful hug. “Harry, we think that maybe we need to take you back to the Healer today,” George said.
Harry opened his mouth to protest, because they didn’t have to do that. They were losing so much time at their shop, and it was a new shop so it needed them to be there, and—
“Please don’t worry about us,” Fred said quickly. He squeezed Harry’s fingers again, tight but reassuring. “It’s literally our job to take care of you, Harry, and it’s the most important thing that we can be doing right now. So please. Let us take you back to Healer Cartwright today, if he has time.”
Harry swallowed around the lump that appeared in his throat. “Okay,” he said, his voice hoarse. He wanted to go hide in his room, to pretend like he’d never had this conversation with Fred and George, but he imagined that they weren’t going to let him do that. “Okay,” he said again. “We can do that. But he’s going to be mad at me, isn’t he, for not telling him about this earlier?”
“I’m sure that he won’t,” George said soothingly. “Fred’s going to Floo him to make the appointment. Why don’t we go sit in the living room and wait until we hear what time we should go see him?”
Harry nodded and shoved away from the table. He stood, then grimaced at the sight of their mostly-full plates. “You two didn’t eat either,” he realized, guilt making his face fall. “We don’t have to do this right now. You should eat. I’ll be fine; I’ve been fine like this for two years, I don’t think it’s going to kill me or anything.”
“Just because you’ve been dealing with this for two years doesn’t mean that we’re going to let you keep suffering,” Fred said softly. He leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to Harry’s forehead, and Harry’s eyes welled with tears. No one had ever done that for him.
He turned away before either twin could see and scrubbed at his eyes. “Okay,” Harry said. He felt young, younger than he’d ever felt, and for the first time in his life, he felt like maybe he could trust those in authority to actually help him.
In the back of his mind, there was a tiny voice marveling at the idea of the twins being in any kind of authority, but Harry ignored it. He was pretty good at ignoring voices that he wasn’t fond of.
He followed George into the living room, and let himself be settled on the couch and fussed over, cocooned in blankets once more. He let George settle next to him and, hesitantly, let himself lean into George, and accept the comfort that the twin was offering.
It was nice, and terrifying, and Harry didn’t want to think about the inevitable moment when all of this would end and he was left with nothing once more, because it was surely coming.
Healer Cartwright was frowning, his bushy grey eyebrows so close together that it looked like he only had the one. “You say that it was split open and bleeding?” he asked, his face uncomfortably close to Harry’s. “How long, approximately, did this vision last?”
“We don’t really know,” one of the twins, the one who wasn’t sitting on the examination bed with Harry, answered. “We woke up when Harry was screaming, but we don’t know how long he was screaming before we woke.”
Healer Cartwright muttered something, then pulled back slightly. “This is going to hurt,” he warned, then prodded at Harry’s scar with the lit tip of his wand.
It didn’t hurt at all. In fact, Harry couldn’t feel it. He just blinked at the Healer and said, “It doesn’t hurt.” He could feel the pressure of the wand, and a vague sense of heat, but it didn’t hurt at all. It wasn’t even close to burning him.
Healer Cartwright’s frown grew more severe. “That’s not right at all,” he muttered. “You should have felt that. How long did you say that you’ve been having these visions?”
Harry shrugged, uncomfortable with the questions. He’d always had the idea that he wasn’t supposed to talk about them, and now he’d told both Fred and George and this Healer. Dumbledore was going to… but then again, Dumbledore wasn’t able to do anything at the moment, was he?
“I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me,” Healer Cartwright said, sounding almost exasperated. “I understand that this is hard for you, I really do, but I can’t figure out what’s going on with your scar if I don’t have all the details!”
Harry flinched. He didn’t want to make anyone mad at him, but this was a difficult topic for him. Still… “About two years,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “It hurt sometimes before that, when I was around Voldemort, but it started getting particularly bad around two years ago, just before Voldemort’s ritual brought him back to life.”
Healer Cartwright shivered, then his frown cleared away. “Of course,” he breathed, staring at Harry’s scar. While he might not be frowning anymore, his eyes were wide, and his mouth was slightly open. “Of course that monster would…” He shook his head, then turned his back on Harry. He cleared his throat. “I believe that I know what your scar is, Mr. Potter, and why it’s behaving the way that it is. If I’m correct, the matter can be handled with a cursebreaking ritual, which the goblins of Gringotts are more than capable of handling. It’s my recommendation that you go and see them immediately.”
“It’s that serious, then?” the twin leaning against the doorway asked. Harry thought that it was Fred, but he couldn’t be sure. He wanted to figure out how to tell them apart, but he didn’t think the twins would be willing to wear different colored ribbons or anything like that for him.
“It is,” Healer Cartwright said. He glanced at Harry’s scar once more, then he shuddered and looked away. “It’s horrible, is what it is. I can’t imagine what’s been keeping it contained all these years, and I wouldn’t want to try. But whatever it is is clearly fading, and you need to get that handled immediately.”
“And what should we tell the goblins we need to have removed?” George asked. Harry jumped a little when his hand landed on his shoulder, but he didn’t try to move away from the touch.
It was warm and solid, and Harry needed that at the moment. He leaned into it, and when he glanced at George, the twin gave him a reassuring smile.
“A Horcrux,” Healer Cartwright said, and shuddered again. “You’ll want to let his representative with the Ministry know, since they’ll likely handle the fee for the cursebreaking.”
Fred nodded and slipped out of the room, leaving the words, “I’ll handle that now,” dangling behind him.
Harry shivered and wrapped his arms around himself, wondering what a Horcrux was and what it meant that he had one hidden in his scar. “What—” he started.
Healer Cartwright shook his head. “I don’t know much about them,” he said. He tapped his wand against his lips and added, “They’re an abomination against magic, that’s what they are. And it’s not your fault that you have one, but it needs to be removed immediately, if at all possible. Let the goblins do their work, and then learn about it if you must. But I don’t think that you should.”
He left the room, then, following Fred out the door. It was a clear dismissal, so Harry stood, shakily. He didn’t like not knowing what a Horcrux was, or what it meant, and it made him uncomfortable to think that something he didn’t understand was inside of him, attached to his scar.
He knew about the link with Voldemort, of course he did, but Harry didn’t know what this new information meant. Was that why Voldemort had been able to give him the dreams last year? Was it why he’d been able to possess Harry? He didn’t like this at all. He glanced at George, wondering what the twin was thinking, and George’s expression had gone terrifyingly blank.
Harry shivered. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, miserable. This wasn’t what they’d signed up for when they’d rescued him, he knew that. He was more trouble than he was worth, and it wasn’t going to be long before they realized it. He couldn’t even blame them, not really.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” George said, his hand still on Harry’s shoulder. He squeezed, and as he did, some emotion returned to his face. He offered Harry another soothing smile, but it didn’t seem quite as real.
Harry’s heart ached. He had everything to apologize for, the twins were just too nice to say it to him. “Thanks,” he said out loud, instead of pointing it out.
Fred re-entered the room, his face almost as blank as George’s. “Rebecca’s going to meet us at the bank. She said they’ll probably handle us immediately for something as serious as a Horcrux. She wouldn’t tell me what it was, either, and said that such things are best not discussed over the Floo network.”
Harry flinched to hear that. Whatever was wrong with him was bad enough that they weren’t even willing to talk about it? He hated that. He hated the very idea of it. What was wrong with him? What had Voldemort done to him, to his scar, that was so bad?
“We should go,” he said finally, his voice hoarse. He felt like he was going to cry, but he didn’t want to break down again. The twins didn’t need to deal with him freaking out again. They’d already done more than enough.
Fred reached out and tousled his hair gently. “We should,” he agreed. “We’ll get this cursebreaking handled, and then everything’s going to be okay, Harry. We promise.”
They couldn’t promise that, and Harry knew it. Whatever was wrong with him, whatever this Horcrux was, it was bad enough that Dumbledore hadn’t even attempted to remove it. Surely the goblins couldn’t succeed where Dumbledore wouldn’t even try, right?
Still, he appreciated the attempt.
“And that’s why you need to help us talk some sense into the twins!” Mum said, her breath coming in short, frustrated pants.
Bill just stared at her. Talk some sense into the twins? What was she even on about? The twins sounded like they were the only ones who didn’t need sense talked into them! When had his parents…
He supposed that it didn’t matter when they’d gotten themselves so far into Dumbledore’s pocket. He would have been too, he thought, if he’d stayed in Britain. So many people in the country were so enthralled by the man, and he really hadn’t done anything amazing since he’d defeated Grindelwald.
Still, Bill supposed that was at least worth something.
Nonetheless... “I’ll look into it, Mum, but I can’t promise that I’ll take any action,” he said. “It sounds to me like the twins are making the only responsible decision there is to be made.”
While she was still huffing over that, Bill felt something vibrating in his pocket. Since there was only one thing that it could be, he pulled out his mirror and absently cast a small privacy ward around himself. His boss, Grimblade, stared at him, his scowl especially fearsome.
“Weasley, we need you to come in for a ritual cursebreaking,” the goblin said, his voice darker than normal. “And we need you in immediately.”
Bill’s eyebrows went up, but he nodded once and disconnected from the mirror. Goblins appreciated expediency over platitudes. He lowered his privacy ward and found his mother nearly purple with the effort it was taking to contain her frustration. Unfortunately for her, she was just going to have to wait.
“I’ve been called into work for an emergency,” he said, backing up a step. “We’ll continue this conversation later.”
He left before she could respond.
When he arrived at the bank, it was to a situation of barely controlled chaos. There were several employees getting into their ritual robes, ones that he normally worked with for cursebreaking in the Egyptian tombs he preferred to work in. What could possibly have come into Britain that could require all of their expertise?
He slipped into his own ritual robes, then headed out in search of his boss. Grimblade was setting up something in the ritual room, his scowl as fierce as it had been on the mirror.
“Sir,” Bill said, catching his attention. “What’s the ritual?” It looked somewhat familiar, like one he’d led before. He hoped he wasn’t being called on to lead this one, not with so little preparation. He could do it, he just didn’t like to.
“Horcrux removal,” Grimblade said, turning to him.
Bill understood the grim expression. Horcruxes were tricky bastards, and he’d seen several in his time working in the tombs. He was normally the one who led the removal ritual. “Am I leading this one?” he asked. At least it was something he was mildly familiar with.
“No,” Grimblade said. “This one’s unique. It’s in a living person. One of our Healers will be leading the ritual. We just need you to back her up.”
Bill’s heart skipped a beat. “Oh,” he said, his voice a little weak. A Horcrux in a living person? Who could do something so horrible? And what was it doing to the person in question?
Just being around one under normal circumstances was enough to make Bill’s skin crawl. What would it have done to the person’s magic?
And then the person in question was being led in, and Bill’s heart almost broke, because of course he recognized Harry Potter. And his brother’s were with him. One was holding Harry’s hand and talking softly to him, whispering in his ear, while the other perked up when he spotted Bill.
He jogged over. “Tell me that this is going to work,” he begged.
Bill loved his brothers, all of them, but he honestly hadn’t thought the twins had the capacity to care about someone else as much as they cared about each other. Clearly, he was wrong. He’d never seen an expression of anguish quite like that on either twin’s face before.
“It’s going to be fine,” he said, and he wasn’t even lying. “There might be some lingering effects on Harry, but they’ll get the Horcrux removed and destroyed. It’s something we’ve done numerous times before, though I’ll admit, never on a living person.”
Bill couldn’t even imagine how they were going to destroy the soul shard without the use of Fiendfyre, or basilisk venom, but either would be far too dangerous a thing to use against a living person. Still, the goblins wouldn’t even be attempting the ritual if they didn’t think there was something they could do about it.
“Thanks Bill,” the twin speaking to him said.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
Then he was being called into place, and the ritual was beginning. It was very similar to the rituals they’d performed to remove the Horcruxes from other vessels, although this vessel was obviously not going to be destroyed after the soul shard was.
And what a soul shard it was, as it screamed its way from Harry’s scar, pouring from him in a cloud of black smoke and rage. Bill had never seen one like it, in all of his years working as a cursebreaker. But their leader in the ritual, Rala, the head of the goblin Healers, did not falter in the face of the shard. She continued to chant, and Bill let himself be swept up into the ritual once more, echoing her, as did every other being present except for Harry and the twins.
The shard shrieked and raged, but the magic that Rala directed gave it no quarter, and it eventually burned away to ash in the air. The ash disappeared as it fell, fading to nothing at all, and Rala stumbled even as she slammed her staff into the ground in an echoing boom that signalled the end of the ritual.
She stepped forward and looked Harry over, who was barely conscious, then turned to the twins. “Your charge will be well, with time and care. See to it that he receives both.” She bowed to them, then walked slowly from the chambers, leaning heavily against her staff.
The other wizards and goblins were slowly exiting. Bill did not. Instead, he approached the twins, and Harry. Harry was still barely conscious, and he was leaning heavily against one of his brothers. Bill would try to guess which, but he’d never been able to tell them apart.
His other brother was smoothing Harry’s bangs back from the scar, which was split open and bleeding once more. “Maybe this will go away now, yeah?” he suggested, his voice lightly teasing.
Harry laughed, the sound small and exhausted. “Maybe,” he said. He spotted Bill and cringed away, then seemed to steel himself. “Bill,” he said, his voice very small.
“Harry,” Bill replied. “I hope that this helps you, and that your recovery is swift.” He glanced at the twins, both of whom were staring at him like they were ready to fight him. Bill was many things, but he wasn’t stupid. Challenging the twins on this, even if he were so inclined, would be foolish. They were vicious when crossed, after all.
“Thank you,” Harry was saying, his voice small.
“Mum’s not going to stop trying to get the two of you to give up custody of him,” Bill said finally as the silence began to stretch out. “She asked me to step in, but I won’t be doing that. I wish you all the best, and if you do need any kind of help, know that I’m available to you.”
He smiled a little at the startled expression on his brothers’ faces, and accepted their thanks graciously. Then he said, quietly, “Now you should get him home. He’s going to need a lot of rest.”
“Of course,” one twin said quietly.
“And thanks for the warning,” the other added.
“We’ll take good care of Harry,” they said in stereo.
Bill smiled, because he believed them, and left to change out of his ritual robes. He was exhausted, and knew that he’d sleep well tonight. They’d done something very good, after all, and he always slept better when that was the case.
Rebecca took a deep breath and smoothed out her robes one more time before she made herself push open the door to the interrogation room. She would have been happier visiting Dumbledore in his cell, but this would have to do. Apparently Amelia was worried that she would make a poor decision if she wasn’t being observed.
To be fair, Amelia was probably right.
The old man brightened when she walked into the room. “Has your office finally decided to stop this ridiculous persecution?” Dumbledore asked, his eyes twinkling like he was willing to put on his benevolent grandfather persona.
Rebecca couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped her. “No,” she said. She settled across from him and stared at him in silence, holding his gaze until he dropped his own. “Did you know?” she asked, her voice as even as she could make it.
“I know many things,” Dumbledore said. He leaned back in his chair, trying to appear casual, but he still wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Did you know about the Horcrux?” she clarified, because, quite frankly, she was tired of playing games with this man.
Dumbledore sat up straight, his eyes widening. “Then you’ve found it,” he said, and Rebecca was surprised to hear a note of genuine mourning in his voice. “Ms. Mercier, I swear to you, if there was anything that I could have done for the boy, anything other than raising him to be the sacrifice we need—”
“How about checking with the goblins?” Rebecca asked. She let her fingers start drumming on the metal table between them, the only sign of her irritation that she let show. “Did you consider asking the goblins about it? They’re particularly well-versed in soul magic, and Horcruxes aren’t uncommon in the tombs of Ancient Egypt.”
“The goblins wouldn’t know anything about removing a Horcrux from a living vessel,” Dumbledore said, shaking his head. “And of course, there’s the matter of the boy’s prophecy that will need to be fulfilled. I understand that you think you’re doing what’s best for the boy, and maybe you are, but I have the greater good to worry about.”
Rebecca closed her eyes and forced herself to count backwards from ten in every language she knew. Then, quietly, she said, “My job isn’t to worry about the greater good, Dumbledore, and it’s certainly not to sacrifice a child in the name of it. The Horcrux has been removed from him.”
Horror turned Dumbledore’s face into a terrible mask. “You can’t have,” he breathed, raising a hand to his heart like it was hurting him. “Ms. Mercier, he needs that Horcrux to fulfil the prophecy!”
Rebecca shoved away from the table and stood. “I don’t believe in prophecies, Dumbledore. I never have. Too many of them fail for them to ever be considered a viable way of making our choices. And even if I were inclined to believe in prophecy, I would never follow one that demanded a child’s sacrifice.”
She turned and swept from the room without looking back. At least, if nothing else, she’d received confirmation that Dumbledore had allowed something so dark as Voldemort’s soul fragment to linger in a child in the hopes that it would help him fulfil a prophecy that no one even knew the true meaning of.
Surely that information, terrible as it was, had to be good for something in the trial that was looming against the old man.
If there was one thing that George hated, it was the way that Harry trembled as he walked, his feet stumbling drunkenly as he tried to walk, unaided, back to their flat above the shop. He couldn’t stop himself from reaching out the third time it happened, when Harry almost stumbled right into a lamppost, and catching Harry’s shoulders with his hands.
“Let us help you,” George murmured, drawing Harry close to him.
Harry tensed, but then melted into his side, like he couldn’t resist the warm affection that George was offering him. “Okay,” he mumbled, his word a little slurred. He had to be exhausted.
George wished that he and Fred had been clever enough to insist on using the Floo to get back from the bank, no matter how close to their flat it was.
He glanced at his brother, and found Fred looking at him with a similar expression of regret.
“We’ll know for next time, right?” Fred asked, slowing his steps to keep pace with Harry and George, who was now steering the younger teenager.
“How many more rituals like that do you imagine Harry will be the focus of?” George asked, a little indignant at the idea of Harry going through something like that again. The way that he’d screamed…
George didn’t think he’d ever forget that.
“I don’t know,” Fred said with an expressive, exaggerated shrug. “It seems that if something can go wrong for Harry, then it will, so I don’t want to rule anything out.”
George chuckled and ruffled Harry’s hair. “That’s true.”
“I don’t try for things to go wrong,” Harry mumbled. He tilted his head into George’s fingers like a cat seeking scritches.
George found himself wondering when the last time was that someone was just… affectionate with Harry, and because the line of thinking was starting to piss him off, he decided to stop worrying about it, and instead focus on…
“Is that Lupin outside of our shop?” he asked, his voice very tense.
Verity had taken the day off, which was fine, but that meant that the shop was closed. It wasn’t like they couldn’t afford to close occasionally, and they did, but that made it painfully obvious that someone was lingering outside of their store, since they couldn’t blend in with the crowds.
“Looks like it,” Fred said grimly.
Beside him, Harry perked up a little. “Professor,” he said tiredly as they approached.
George watched Lupin’s eyes rake over Harry and then narrow as he clearly found Harry’s condition to be wanting. “What’s the matter with the two of you?” Lupin snapped. “What have you been doing to that poor boy?”
George didn’t have to look to know that Fred was reigning in his temper with the thinnest of threads, so before Fred could do anything, he said, “Helping him, appearances to the contrary. Harry’s had a difficult day, Lupin, so if you wouldn’t mind coming back later?” The last thing Harry needed was another guilt trip when he was feeling the way that he was. The boy couldn’t even stand up straight.
“Coming back later?” Lupin gestured to Harry, like Harry’s condition was explanation enough for why he wouldn’t be doing that. “I can’t do that, and I think the two of you know it. This game stops here. It’s time for Harry to go home, where people can take proper care of him.”
Harry was drooping again, all of the energy that had made a brief appearance slowly draining away. George couldn’t imagine how exhausting it was to find out that most of the adults he cared about really had no idea what his life had been like, or were at least willing to ignore it. He tightened his arm around Harry’s shoulder and tried to pull him back, away from Lupin.
Harry wouldn’t go. “That’s not fair, Professor,” he said, his voice very soft.
There was so much exhaustion in it that George ached for him, and he spotted Fred fingering his wand, so he knew his brother felt the same.
“I don’t care about fair, Harry,” Lupin said earnestly. He took a step forward. “I know that things were never ideal with the Dursleys, but they had to have been better than this. Don’t you think that Sirius would want you to be safe?”
“Sirius would have wanted me to be both safe and happy, neither of which were possible with the Dursleys!” Harry snapped. He perked up again, but it was painfully clear that only his rage was fuelling him, his eyes dark with it. “The Dursleys weren’t safe, Lupin, and I thought that you knew that!”
“I know that they weren’t ideal,” Lupin hedged. He took an alarmed step back when Harry stepped forward. “Harry, please, you have to understand how dangerous your being on the alley is for everyone else.”
“Why is it my job to protect everyone else?” Harry asked. He sounded like his heart was breaking. “Why doesn’t anyone else have to protect me? Why are the twins the only ones who really bothered to try?” He took another step forward, his arms out like he was begging for an answer.
“I couldn’t,” Lupin started.
“You could have made a report,” Harry snapped. “Just like they did. And you wouldn’t have gotten emergency custody of me, probably, since you’re a werewolf, but you could have done something!”
“There was no guarantee who you’d end up with,” Lupin whispered. He was shaking his head as he spoke, like he was trying to deny any culpability in this.
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” Harry said, all the energy draining from him. “Tell the Order that I won’t go back to them, not unless they find a way to make me. And I can’t go back to the Dursleys, anyway, because Petunia is dead, and so is Dudley. Vernon would never take me.” He turned to George, a plea clear in his eyes. “Can we go home?”
“Of course,” George said, and swept forward to unlock the door. He ushered Harry in and followed him.
Behind him, he heard Fred saying clearly, “This needs to stop, Lupin,” before following him in.
By the time they made it upstairs, they could see that Lupin had left, and Harry was a wreck on their couch once more. It broke George’s heart to know that this was probably going to be more common than not, and he wished that he could do more to help him.
Harry tried to pull himself together, because he knew he’d been falling apart so much over the past few days, but he couldn’t make himself stop gasping for breath. He couldn’t stop the tears that wanted to escape, and so he stopped trying and instead hid his face in the arm of the couch he’d collapsed onto.
It would have been easier if he weren’t so damned tired, if his body didn’t feel like it was going to fall apart at any given moment. But it did feel like that, like he’d pushed himself too far. His head was throbbing, like it was about to split open. It had been ever since the ritual had finished, and maybe that was why he couldn’t stop crying.
“Harry,” one of the twins was whispering, “Can you sit up a little for me?”
Harry tried, but he couldn’t get himself all the way upright. He thought that maybe his body had finally just… given in to all that had happened.
“Good,” the twin breathed.
His glasses were taken from him, and something was pressed to his lips. It was cold and hard, and Harry caught the whiff of a pain relieving potion. He gulped at it, greedily, not even worried about the foul taste of it. Once he’d finished, he let himself slump over again, hiding his face in the couch once more.
Something tugged at his feet, and Harry kicked out before he could think better of it. Then he froze, guilt roaring to life within him when he heard one of the twins let out a pained grunt after his foot made contact. “Sorry,” he managed to choke out, his voice hoarse with tears.
“It’s okay,” the twin said. His words were a little muffled, and Harry fought the urge to open his eyes and see what he’d done. He’d probably broken his nose. “Just let me get your shoes off, Harry, and then you can rest, okay?”
Harry didn’t fight when the tugging started again, or when his feet were lifted up and placed on the couch so that he could curl in on himself. He just let his eyes fall closed as the tears finally stopped. They ached, like they were swollen. Maybe they were. He didn’t think he’d cried so much in years, but he couldn’t seem to make himself stop doing it.
A blanket landed over his shoulders, and he snuggled into it with a small sigh. Something soft and cool wiped at his eyes and his cheeks, and he couldn’t bring himself to protest. It felt nice, to be treated with such care, even if he was sure that he was taking advantage of their generosity.
He was going to get the twins killed, he knew that, just like he’d gotten Sirius killed. Maybe… maybe Professor Lupin was right, and maybe he should leave. But he didn’t think that he could go back to the Order, and he knew that he couldn’t go to the Dursleys. Maybe…
The unhappy thoughts followed him down into sleep, where his rest was uneasy, haunted by the image of the twins, dead, and everyone hating him because they’d been right and he’d gotten yet more people killed.
The house was full when Remus arrived, but then, he was expecting it to be. It seemed as though everyone was lingering as they awaited word of what was going on with Dumbledore, or word of when Harry would come back under their control.
Remus didn’t know anything about the former, but about the latter he could supply some news.
“He won’t come back,” he said with little introduction as he sat tiredly at the kitchen table. “And I think we need to stop trying to make him.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Molly scoffed at him. “We can’t just leave him there to get my children killed!” She crossed her arms, obstinate.
Remus hadn’t expected anything different from her. “He’s not going to get them killed,” he said, and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He was getting a headache, and he was sure that this conversation was only going to exacerbate it. “Harry, while he can be a bit reckless, has never intentionally hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”
“Of course, but that doesn’t stop the corpses from piling up around the boy,” Moody pointed out. He was leaning against the table, studying some instrument that Remus recognized from Dumbledore’s office. He had no idea what it did, but he supposed that Moody must know.
“That’s not his fault,” Remus said, as mildly as he could manage. “And anyway, I think we have to consider what we would do with him once we got him. We can’t send him back to the Dursleys.”
“Of course we could,” Molly shot back. “I know that they don’t treat him as well as he would like, but that boy needs to be with his family!”
“Molly,” Arthur started, looking a bit uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going. “I don’t really think that’s fair.”
“It’s not,” Remus said, his own voice sharp. “But it doesn’t matter, anyway. The Aunt is dead, which means there’s no way for any of the blood protections Albus put on the house to hold. If we send him back into the Muggle world, Harry would be a sitting duck.”
Moody’s curses were loud and vicious. “How did she die?” he asked, when he was done ranting.
Remus shook his head. “They didn’t say,” he replied. “And I didn’t stick around to ask. Harry looked dead on his feet, and there was a minute when he was so close to losing his temper that I genuinely thought he’d try to duel me in the middle of Diagon Alley. I thought the spectacle would be a bad idea, so I left.”
“My poor boys,” Molly was whispering, shaking her head. “I don’t know what that boy has on them, that they would do something so foolish and reckless, but we can’t let this keep going. He’s going to get my babies killed!”
She wasn’t going to stop, Remus realized. He pillowed his head on his arms on the table and let his eyes drift closed, tuning out the rest of the meeting. They weren’t going to stop, and there was nothing he could do to convince them that they should.
They were all so convinced that they knew what was best for Harry, and Remus was starting to think that none of them had any idea what would really help him.
He wasn’t sure, but he thought maybe he’d be skipping the next meeting. This didn’t seem to be about defeating Voldemort anymore, but rather about bringing a tired, frightened child back under their control, and he didn’t think he could have anything more to do with it than he already had. Not if he wanted to be able to face James and Lily and Sirius once more in the afterlife.
“Is he out?” Fred asked, collapsing into the chair closest to the couch.
George, on the floor next to Harry, a cold compress on his swollen nose, said, “I think so.” There was a wealth of exhaustion in his brother’s voice, and in his eyes.
Fred knew he looked much the same. “Are we doing the right thing here?” he asked, voicing the doubts that he knew both of them shared. They’d known that things were going to be difficult, of course they had, but this…
This was worse than either of them had ever imagined.
“I think so,” George said again. He leaned back, letting his head rest on the cushion of the couch, close to Harry’s knee. “He needs us, Fred.”
“He does,” Fred agreed. “And he’s our little brother, and we’ll do anything for family, won’t we?”
“That’s right,” George muttered. “But maybe now things can settle down a bit?”
Fred laughed tiredly at the plaintive note in George’s voice. “Maybe,” he said with a small shrug. “But probably not. We’ve got to get Harry to a different Mind Healer.” Fred could kill the one that he’d been to for saying the things that he’d said. “And then we’ve got the custody battle coming up, too, as well as the trials against Dumbledore and Dursley.”
“Fuck,” George muttered. His eyes were drifting closed. “That’s a lot of work to do, brother mine.”
“It is,” Fred agreed. “But we can handle it.”
“Yeah,” George said.
Harry waited until they’d both been silent for a long time before cracking open one eye. They seemed to be asleep, both of the twins, and they looked like they needed it. They were both clearly exhausted, and judging by the way they’d been talking, they were only going to get more exhausted as time went on.
He couldn’t stay here, and now he was sure of it.
He slipped off the couch, grabbed his glasses, and padded into the bedroom they’d been letting him use. He wrote them a quick note, apologizing for taking up so much of their time and energy and absolving them of any responsibility towards him, then gathered his things together quickly and quietly.
It was easy enough to sneak out of the flat under the cover of his Invisibility Cloak, which he barely needed since the sun had gone down an hour or so ago. Harry wasn’t sure when, honestly. He’d been so tired when they walked back from the bank that he didn’t actually know if it had been twilight or not.
He took off his cloak just before going into the Leaky Cauldron and got a room for the night. He knew that he shouldn’t, that he should go somewhere else because there was a chance he could be found here, and easily, but he couldn’t make himself go any further.
He was too tired, and he knew that if he pushed himself he would collapse.
So he got his room, then went up and hid in it, securing it as best he could. He let Hedwig out so that she wouldn’t be stuck in her cage, laid down, and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
This sleep was no easier than the nap he’d taken on the twins’ couch, but at least he knew he wasn’t causing any trouble for anyone else now. Now he was his own responsibility, and at least that was something.
I don't know if there are any anime fans in the audience, but this coming weekend, I'll be at Otakon in Washington DC, trying to sell some of my original novels. If you're there, stop by and see me at booth M10 in the Artist's Alley!
George woke up and, though he couldn’t have said how, he knew immediately that something was wrong. His first thought was that their wards had been activated, but a quick check revealed no such thing. Maybe it was because he hadn’t slept in his bed last night?
But no, that wasn’t it either. It was…
Harry wasn’t on the couch anymore.
The thought was jarring, and for a moment George wasn’t sure if that was what was wrong or not. Then his heart started to race. Had the Order kidnapped him? Had Death Eaters? “Fred!” he snapped.
Fred startled awake and looked around blearily. It was only three o’clock or so in the morning, and neither of them were at their most alert. “What?” Fred asked, his voice heavy with exhaustion. They’d had a long day yesterday, and this wasn’t a good start to the quiet one they’d planned on having today.
“Harry’s gone,” George said. He crossed the flat and tapped on Harry’s bedroom door. There was no answer, so George pushed the door open. Everything was gone, including Hedwig, which could only mean one thing. Harry was actually gone.
“Do you think he was taken?” Fred asked. He was up on his feet when George turned around, and he was fingering his wand like he meant to do someone some damage with it.
George agreed with the sentiment, but now wasn’t exactly the time. “I don’t know,” he said. He turned to their fireplace. “But I do know that we have to call Rebecca.”
Fred’s curses were drowned out by the roar of the fire as George lit it, and then they were drowned out by the fact that he’d stuck his head in and was using Rebecca’s emergency address, which she’d given them shortly after she’d given Harry to them temporarily. In case of emergencies, and Harry not being in the flat any longer was definitely an emergency.
“Mr. Weasley,” Rebecca said as she came into view, her eyes tired. Still, she didn’t seem irritated by his presence. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Harry’s disappeared,” George said. “We don’t know where he’s gone. He didn’t leave a note, and we’re honestly not sure if he left under his own power or if he was taken.”
“Was there any damage to your wards?” she asked briskly, seeming to wake up right in front of him.
“None that I could find, but I didn’t do an in-depth look, so there could be.” George hadn’t wanted to waste time. When he left the Floo, he’d do a more careful check. Or, if he was lucky, Fred had thought of it and was doing it himself.
“May I come through?” she asked.
“Of course,” George said. He pulled out of the Floo and, moments later, Rebecca was there, in a pair of cotton pajamas with ducks all over them. He fought the urge to comment and instead said, “Should we check the wards again?”
“Already doing it,” Fred said absently, his eyes vague, his wand held loosely in his hand. “I haven’t found anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something that I just can’t see. On the other hand, Bill himself set our wards, and he’s very good at what he does for Gringotts.”
“I’m going to operate under the assumption that Harry left under his own power,” Rebecca said, covering her yawn with her hand. “But, unfortunately, that doesn’t change the nature of the response we have to give. I’m going to call the Aurors, boys, so I suggest you prepare yourselves for what has the potential to be a rough conversation.”
George closed his eyes and let out a long, slow sigh. He was very, very tired, and a small part of him wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. The rest of him, the kinder part, was worried sick about Harry and needed to make sure that their younger brother was okay. What could have made him leave like that?
“What if he heard us?” Fred asked suddenly, as they waited. “When we were talking about him, what if he wasn’t asleep?”
George thought back to the conversation, how tired they’d both been during it, and immediately thought that Fred was probably right. Harry had likely heard them, and they’d both been too tired to realize it. Harry had run because he’d heard their doubts.
“Shit,” George responded, and scrubbed at his face with one tired hand. “Then we’ll just have to convince him that this isn’t at all what we’d intended, and that we really do want to keep him around.”
The Aurors arrived then, and thankfully none of them were ones that George recognized from the Order, and the search for Harry began in earnest. Fred and George answered several questions each about Harry, where he might have gone, and why they thought he’d left. When they spoke about the conversation they’d had the night before, when they’d thought that Harry was asleep, Rebecca looked at them knowingly.
Once the Aurors were off on their search, she said to them, “It’s normal to have doubts.” Her voice was gentle, her eyes kind even though there were deep shadows under them.
“Of course it is,” Fred said. He wouldn’t look at either of them. “But we might have driven him away.”
“If he was going to run away, he was going to do it eventually,” Rebecca said with a small shrug. “As long as we find him before he gets hurt, then there’s no real harm done. In fact, you might find that this incident, that deliberately hunting him down after he’s fled, makes him trust that you aren’t looking to get rid of him.”
George leaned forward and rested his forehead against the kitchen table where they were waiting for news. “We don’t want to get rid of him, but won’t this affect the custody hearing?”
“I don’t see why it would,” Rebecca replied. “Troubled kids do foolish things all the time, and Harry is very much a troubled boy. He would have run from anyone, likely, with the way he’s feeling now. And you two reported it as soon as he disappeared, which was exactly the right thing to do.”
That was something, at least. “Okay,” George said.
There was a pop downstairs, and both of the Aurors returned, one with Hedwig and Harry’s luggage, the other holding Harry’s arm. “No criminal mastermind, this one,” the larger Auror said, shaking Harry’s arm a little bit. “He was hiding in the Leaky Cauldron, for a given value of the word. He’d checked in under his own name and everything.”
George’s heart dropped in relief and he stood. “Thank you for finding him,” he said to the two Aurors.
They both dipped their heads, then glanced at Rebecca. “Do you want us to write up an official report to go in the boy’s file?”
Rebecca tapped at her lips with one finger, then nodded. “I’m afraid that it’s going to have to be written up officially. But, as long as Harry doesn’t make a habit of this, I don’t see how it should affect anything at all.” She stood up and placed both of her hands on Harry’s shoulders. “But please don’t make a habit of this, Harry. We can only take care of you if we know where you are, okay?”
Harry nodded, but he didn’t meet anyone’s gazes. It seemed like George blinked, then, and they were alone again with Harry, who was just standing there, totally silent, his arms curled around his stomach. It hurt George to see him in such a vulnerable position. Harry looked absolutely terrified, like he didn’t know what to expect from them, and that hurt too.
“What were you thinking?” Fred asked, his voice sharp. “You could have been killed! Even if the Order shouldn’t have custody of you, they’re not wrong that you’re in danger. Voldemort could have taken you, and we wouldn’t have had any idea that you were in danger! Have you lost your mind?” He advanced on Harry as he shouted, his cheeks flushed with temper.
Harry didn’t attempt to defend himself, just cringed and made himself as small as possible. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, still not looking at either of them.
“Sorry?” Fred roared. He reached out, and Harry stumbled back, his hands coming up in a warding gesture, like he expected to be hit.
Fred froze. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, all the anger gone from his voice. “Harry, I wouldn’t—”
“I know,” Harry said quickly. He glanced up, then, and George saw genuine fear in his eyes. “I know that you wouldn’t.”
“Harry,” George interjected, hoping that a calmer head might avert the brewing disaster. “Can you tell me why you left? Neither of us are mad at you, we were just so very worried that something would happen to you.”
Harry drew in a breath that hitched and he covered his face with his hands. His shoulders were shaking. “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone,” he said, his voice muffled by his hands. “And you two are so tired, and it’s all my fault, and I’m so very sorry!”
George couldn’t have stopped himself from stepping forward and taking Harry into his arms if he’d tried. His little brother clung to him, his tears pouring out once more, and he wondered, a bit sadly, if there would ever be a point in Harry’s life when he didn’t have to cry anymore, because he was starting to worry that Harry was more broken than anyone had ever realized.
Harry couldn’t stop crying, and he really was trying. He hated crying, and these days, it felt like it was all that he was doing. He hated it. He tried to scrub away his tears, to make himself calm down, but he could barely even manage to breathe. He wanted to tell himself that he hadn’t had enough sleep, that he was still exhausted from the ritual which would maybe heal his scar, but the words were hollow even in his own head.
Arms curled around him and Harry collapsed into the warmth of one of the twins’ embrace. He sobbed again, the sound caught in his throat and tearing its way free. “I’m sorry,” he managed to choke out.
The other twin came up behind him and pulled them both close. They were trapping him, but Harry didn’t mind. He didn’t think that he needed to be on guard with them. They’d never done anything to hurt him, after all, even when he’d made things worse by running away in the middle of the night and then making them come for him.
Their embrace was warm and tight and, as Harry started to get control of himself as his tears slowly stopped, they didn’t let him go. That was important to Harry, though he couldn’t have said why. He just knew that he was glad that they were there, and he thought that maybe he needed them to be.
It was a strange feeling, especially since he hadn’t had anyone he could depend on. No adults, anyway, and as weird as it was to think of them that way, he knew that the twins were definitely adults. And he could trust them. They’d never done anything to prove otherwise, and now… it was weird, since they were only two years older than him, but Harry was starting to think that it was okay even if it was strange.
Because at least they cared. That had to mean something, right?
“I’m sorry,” he said again, his voice hoarse.
George, the twin in front of him, shushed him almost absently. “It’s okay,” he murmured. He pressed a kiss to Harry’s forehead, right on his healing scar, but he didn’t pull away. “We’ve got you, Harry, we promise.”
“I think I’m starting to understand that,” Harry whispered. He let himself continue to lean into the twins, let them continue to support him. It felt nice, leaning and knowing that they’d be there for him.
“Can you tell us why you ran away like that?” Fred asked. Harry was pretty sure that it was Fred. He was pulling back slightly, but he left his hands on Harry’s shoulders, where they were rubbing gently. It felt nice on Harry’s sore muscles.
“I just…” Harry took a deep breath. He forced himself to pull back from George, to sidestep out of the warmth of the twins’ embrace. “I was so tired, and it seemed to make sense at the time. I’m making trouble for the two of you, I know that I am, and I really wanted to make sure that I didn’t make anymore trouble. I thought that you were sick of me, but that you were being too kind to tell me, and I couldn’t stay and wait for the two of you to hate me like I just knew that you were going to.”
“That’s definitely the logic of an exhausted person,” George said. He was smiling at Harry. “You heard us talking, didn’t you?”
Harry didn’t see the point in denying it. “I did,” he admitted. “And you both sounded so very… tired.” He didn’t have another word for it. They both seemed exhausted. They couldn’t have had any idea what they were getting into when they got him, and Harry didn’t think it was fair for them to try and hold themselves to whatever promises they’d made to themselves. Not when they hadn’t known what they were getting into.
“Harry, brother-ours, it was late, and we’d just come from a ridiculously long ritual wherein you screamed like you were being murdered,” Fred said, moving around so that he was in front of him, next to Fred. “Of course we were tired.”
When he put it like that… “But I’m such a handful,” Harry muttered. He dropped his eyes and wouldn’t look up at either of them. “I know that you weren’t expecting me to be as much trouble as I have been, and I don’t think that it’s going to get any easier any time soon.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Fred said. He knelt in front of Harry, so that Harry had no choice but to look at him. His face was calm, if a little stern. “But Harry, just because you’re more than we signed up for—”
“—doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t sign up anyway,” George finished. “We had some idea of what we were getting into. Don’t forget that we’re the ones who notified Rebecca that something was going on.”
“And we’ve been in school with you,” Fred continued. “We know exactly what sort of adventures you’ve gotten up to, especially since our siblings have been there for most of them. So, even though we didn’t know for sure what kind of trauma you might have, we knew to expect some.”
“But I’m a wreck,” Harry protested. “I can’t stop crying. I’m acting like a baby!” He flushed at the last bit, the words coming out in more of a wail than he wanted.
“You’re a child who’s been through hell,” George said, his words fierce. “And we’re going to help you, however we can, for as long as we’re allowed. We might not be able to keep custody of you, Harry, because someone better might present themselves during the custody hearings, but we promise that we’re going to try.”
Harry drew in a shuddering breath and nodded, believing them right down to his very core. They wanted him to stay with them, even though he couldn’t imagine why. They cared about him, and they still thought of him as their little brother.
He felt his eyes welling up with tears again, and he brushed them aside. These were happy tears, yes, but that didn’t mean that he wanted to be crying again. He was tired of all the crying, and his eyes hurt. “Okay,” he managed to say, his voice rough.
“Good,” Fred said. He stood up and slung an arm around Harry’s shoulder, the gesture casual and warm. “Now, it’s very early in the morning, and I can’t imagine that you got much sleep, so let’s get you to bed. And in the morning, we can talk about potential consequences for running away, okay?”
Harry couldn’t help the soggy laugh that escaped him. “Okay,” he agreed. He let himself be led to his bedroom, where all of his things had already been put back, somehow, magically, and sat on the bed.
George and Fred watched him, and Harry fidgeted a little bit. “Before I go to sleep, do you think you could help me put ointment on my back?” Harry asked, a little nervously. It was very sore, and all the walking and crying and everything hadn’t helped it. And he’d probably hurt it a little bit during the ritual, too.
“Of course we can,” George said. “Take off your shirt, and we’ll see what we can do.”
They were gentle with his back, and Harry relaxed in stages as the cream was worked in to his back and the pain faded. When he curled up to sleep, the sky was starting to brighten, and Harry fell asleep with a small smile on his face.
When Rebecca’s alarm went off at seven thirty, she knew that she was in trouble. Not because she had any premonition about how terrible the day would be, or anything like that, but because she had trouble waking herself up. Of course she knew why she was having difficulty, considering that she’d been awake and searching for Harry earlier that morning, but that didn’t help the fact that she was having some trouble forcing herself out of bed.
She made herself get up, though, because she knew that she had work to do. She went downstairs and prepared her normal tea and toast, then settled at her kitchen table with her usual copy of The Daily Prophet. She’d only just taken a sip of tea when she read the headline of the cover article, and found that tea really did burn terribly when it came out of her nose.
Boy Who Lived Subject of Emergency Custody Reassignment!
Rebecca closed her eyes. “Fuck,” she muttered.
She wiped up her mess, finished her tea, and gave her toast to her owl. It wasn’t what she was supposed to eat, but she looked so very hopeful, and Rebecca knew that she wouldn’t be eating this morning.
Instead, she went upstairs, got dressed, and headed into the office with the air of a woman going to her execution.
She knew who had leaked the matter. Of course there were only two options: the two Aurors that had helped them locate Harry earlier in the morning. Everyone else had either known for a significant period of time, or were bound by the strictest of confidentiality agreements. The Healers physically couldn’t, and while an employee of Gringotts theoretically could, Rebecca didn’t even want to imagine what the goblins might do for such a breach.
No, it had to have been one of the Aurors, and she was intending on sending Amelia a sternly worded letter about that as soon as she had time.
But the minute she arrived at her office, she knew that she wasn’t going to have much time. There was a line out the door made up of couples who all looked hopefully at her. A few tried to get her attention, which meant that she’d been named in the article, which made this whole mess even more of a nightmare.
She ignored them and breezed through the crowds. The office receptionist was looking a bit helpless, since the entire place was jammed with people, almost none of whom Rebecca recognized. This was ridiculous, and she was almost entirely certain that they were all here to offer their services to raise the Boy Who Lived.
Never mind that some of them were old enough to be her great grandparents, and couldn’t keep up with a child like Harry, and never mind that none of them had any idea what they would be getting into with him. If Rebecca had had her way, she’d be leaving Harry with the twins without any of this nonsense, but the law was the law, and the law stated that she had to give each one of these couples who were filing petitions at least the courtesy of looking over their petition and seeing if there was any actual merit to any of them.
There was a rather fascinating process to it all, but Rebecca had the feeling that she would be ignoring most of these, regardless of the process. Only people with an already-existing relationship were going to be considered for Harry’s guardianship, or people of a similar social status. And the final decision would be up to the acting Head of the Wizengamot, which wasn’t exactly standard.
But, Harry Potter being who he was, she was just going to have to accept that interference. Besides, having it handled by the acting Chief Warlock would lend some legitimacy to the whole thing which might allow them to avoid entertaining thousands of challenges once the decision was made.
She took a deep breath, then cast a Sonorus on herself. “If you are not here to petition for guardianship of Harry Potter, please raise your wand with the tip lit!”
As she suspected, no wands were raised. She sighed, not even bothering to cancel her spell. “If you are all here to apply for guardianship, then you should know that only those with an already existing relationship with him, or those who are of a similar social status, are being considered. If you do not meet those criteria, please leave the building if you have no other business.”
Nobody left. Rebecca wasn’t stupid enough to think that these people all met one of the two requirements, but they were clearly not going to go anywhere. She cancelled the spell on herself, took a deep breath, and turned to their receptionist. “Have them fill out the forms, then send them in to me as they finish. If the next person finishes before I’ve finished with the person before them, have them form an orderly line. If they won’t listen to you, feel free to have them removed by the Aurors.”
The receptionist, a young woman by the name of Natalie, took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and visibly steeled herself. Then she nodded once, the gesture sharp, and said, “Yes ma’am. I’ll do my best to keep order out here.”
“That’s all I can ask,” she said. She headed into her office and prepared for the onslaught to begin.
The custody hearing was going to be in less than a week, so if nothing else, the chaos would only last for that long. If she was lucky, anyway.
Reporters. She hated them.
The only good thing about the day happened around noon, when a letter arrived from the Weasley twins. The letter contained a properly filled out copy of the form needed to apply for formal guardianship, and a note that said they hoped her day was going well, and that the chaos wasn’t too terrible.
She set the note aside, which turned out to be a slight mistake, since it exploded when the next couple sat down and turned all three of them, the couple and Rebecca, bright blue.
Pranksters were a pain, too.
“And you’ll say what?” Lucius asked through gritted teeth.
Draco barely looked at him. “That I always wanted to be Potter’s friend—”
The stinging curse struck Draco squarely on his cheek, and his son flinched. “Harry’s,” Lucius snarled, his patience worn thin.
“I’ve always wanted to be Harry’s friend,” Draco said quickly. “And I know how much he would benefit from your loving care, since you’ve raised me to be the man I am today.” Draco cringed as he said it, like he expected to be wrong.
Lucius didn’t know what was wrong with the foolish boy. He’d been acting like this ever since he’d found out that he was to take the Mark over the summer. He’d been hoping to get it over with, to ask his lord to give it to Draco this very week, but he thought it better not to take his son into a courtroom with a fresh Dark Mark on his arm.
“Good,” he said, instead of voicing his frustrations. “Our lord wants the boy, Draco, and this is a clean way to get him.”
“Yes sir,” Draco said. He wouldn’t meet Lucius’ eyes, and that bothered Lucius a great deal.
“Look at me when you speak!” he snapped. Another stinging curse practically leapt from his wand, and Draco flinched again as it connected.
He looked up immediately and met his father’s eyes. “Sorry, sir,” he said.
“I know that you’re disappointed about not being Marked this week,” Lucius said, carefully keeping hold of his temper, which was wanting to run away with him. “But we can’t do it before we get Potter. Once we do, and once we’ve given him to our Lord, we’ll get you Marked and everything will be fine.”
He swept from the room without waiting for his son’s response, knowing that he’d soothed the worst of Draco’s worries. Draco would be Marked, just not yet. Not until they had the boy for their Lord, and their status within the Dark Lord’s court was guaranteed.
Then Draco would be Marked, and things would continue to go as planned, without that wretched little brat, Potter, to throw any more trouble at them.
Back from Otakon, which went better than I'd feared but worse than I'd hoped. So I have a lot of extra books lying around my house, lol. I'm gonna try for another con soon to try and use up some of my stock. But it was a lot of fun, if exhausting, so I'm still kinda burned out. But I couldn't leave you all on that cliffhanger for too long, so I figured I'd post tonight.
“We made you an appointment today with the next Mind Healer on the list,” Fred said after while they finished eating a late breakfast.
Harry jumped. “When?” he asked.
“When did we make it, or when is it for?” George grinned at him, the expression wicked, like when he pulled a prank.
“Both,” Harry said, after a moment of thinking.
“We made it while you were still asleep,” Fred said. He shoved another bite of eggs in his mouth and chewed obnoxiously.
“And we made it for noon,” George added. “Which is in less than an hour. This one isn’t on Diagon Alley, so we’re going to have to Floo to him, okay?”
It wasn’t okay. The last thing that Harry wanted was to try this whole Mind Healer thing again, especially after the last one had been so… so cruel to him. Harry didn’t want to sit through another visit, didn’t want to hear about how he’d taunted the Dursleys into hurting him. He didn’t want to hear about how he was inconveniencing Fred and George, and he definitely didn’t want to think about what was coming next and worry even more about it.
He also didn’t think that he was getting out of this. “Okay,” he whispered, and ducked his head so that they wouldn’t see the unwillingness in his expression. He didn’t want to do it, but he knew that Rebecca wanted him to, and if he wanted to stay with the twins…
Well, he didn’t know if he was going to be able to stay with them, but he’d do everything in his power to make sure that he could. They’d looked for him when he’d run. They didn’t want him to go. That… it might be strange, but it meant the world to Harry.
The time between finishing breakfast and the appointment was filled with very little, though Harry managed to distract himself well enough. He did the dishes, in spite of Fred and George’s half-hearted protests, and then he did some of his summer homework. His heart wasn’t really in the homework, but it was summer work, and nobody ever really put their best effort into that anyway.
Except maybe Hermione. She always put her best effort into everything.
Then the time had come, and he stepped through the Floo, calling out the address with a shaking voice. The office he stepped into, followed by the twins, was very different from Peterson’s office. While Peterson’s office had been filled with bright, flashy colors, this room seemed almost muted. The furniture was older than Peterson’s had been, and looked well-worn, but not shabby.
Harry almost felt like this was a place that he could relax, and if he wasn’t going into another nightmare of an appointment, he might have been able to do so.
An older man came out into the reception area. His hair was brown with grey streaks, and his eyes were warm and kind. He smiled when he spotted Harry. “Mr. Potter, right? I’m Healer Abbott. I’ll be working with you today.” He didn’t extend his hand to Harry, and Harry was almost pathetically grateful.
He would have shaken it, because it was polite, but that didn’t mean that he would have liked doing it. “I’m pleased to meet you,” Harry said. He didn’t really mean that, but again, it was polite.
Healer Abbott’s smile widened ever so slightly. “I’m sure that you are,” he said. He nodded to Fred and George. “Waiting here for him?”
“If that’s okay,” Fred said. Harry thought it was Fred. It wasn’t so easy to tell them apart when they were in a public space. Harry was pretty sure that whatever it was that they were doing to confuse people, they did more of it in public.
“Of course!” The Healer nodded towards the back, then gestured with one hand. “If you’ll follow me, Mr. Potter?”
Harry didn’t want to do any such thing, but he forced himself to plod along after the Mind Healer. “What do you prefer me to call you?” Harry asked.
“Well, you can call me whatever you’re most comfortable with. Healer Abbott, Michael, Abbott, whichever makes you happier.” The Healer shrugged. “My comfort isn’t what matters here, Mr. Potter. Are you okay with that, or would you like me to call you by your first name?”
Harry shrugged. Then he reconsidered. “Harry’s fine,” he said eventually, as they entered a small office. It, too, was warmly furnished with well-loved furniture, mostly in muted browns with some small splashes of color. There were several chairs to choose from, one of them close to a corner table with several knickknacks that looked perfect for fidgeting with.
“Okay, Harry,” Healer Abbott said. His smile faded into a more serious expression. “Why don’t you take a seat? Anywhere you’d like.”
Harry hesitated again, then settled in the chair closest to the table. It was soft and comfortable, and he thought that maybe it would be easy to curl up in it if he could get to be more comfortable. He didn’t know if he’d reach that state, but it was a nice thought. “This one’s good.”
“Very good.” Healer Abbott studied the room, then eventually settled on a chair about halfway across the room from Harry. The room wasn’t large, so he wasn’t particularly far away, but it was nice. Better than the other Mind Healer, who’d settled too close to Harry.
“Ms. Mercier filled me in a little bit about your situation,” Healer Abbott said, catching Harry’s attention. “She wanted to make sure that I understood exactly where you were coming from. So I want to be very clear, Harry, and make sure that you understand that my only goal is to help you. If something I say upsets you, then I’d very much like for you to let me know so that we can discuss that. Do you think that you can do that?”
Harry swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat at the very idea. “I don’t know if I can,” he said. “I can try.” That was about the best that he could offer.
“We can make that work,” Healer Abbott said. His smile faded even more, though his expression still wasn’t exactly blank. “Thank you for being honest.”
Harry didn’t know what to say to that, so he remained quiet.
“Can we talk about what happened last night?” Healer Abbott asked. His voice was gently prompting. “I know that there are many things for us to discuss, but I’d like to start there if that’s okay.”
Harry looked down at his hands. “I don’t know what there is to talk about,” he said. “I ran away. I thought they didn’t want me, and rather than waiting for the twins to ask me to leave, or imposing on them any further, I chose to run. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did.”
“Why did you think that they didn’t want you?” Healer Abbott asked.
Harry could hear a quill scratching, but when his eyes darted up, he found that the Healer was doodling on a piece of paper, not taking any notes. Harry didn’t know how that made him feel. “They said as much,” he said, answering the Healer’s question.
“Did they?” Healer Abbott glanced up at him, then back down at his paper. “How did that make you feel?”
Well, they hadn’t said that, had they? And it wasn’t fair to make the Healer think that they had. He didn’t want Healer Abbott to get a bad impression of the twins, after all. “They didn’t say it in so many words,” Harry said lamely. And here he was, lying to the Healer and giving him a bad image of the twins. He should be ashamed. “They were just tired, and they were talking about how I was more of a handful than they’d expected, which I am. It’s not like it’s not true. But I was tired, so I took it badly, and I ran as soon as I could.”
“I see.” Healer Abbott finished what he was doodling and looked up at Harry. “Do you regret running away?”
Harry glanced back down at his hands. They were twisting in his lap, knotting the fabric of his pants. “Yes,” he said. “Because it only made things harder for them. But also no, because it proved to me that they really do want me there, even when they’re both exhausted because of things that I put them through.”
Healer Abbott nodded. “And you were all so tired because of the ritual done yesterday at Gringotts, correct?”
Rebecca really had told him things. Harry supposed that he couldn’t blame her; there was a lot of his life that should be explained, and he’d need hours just to get through all of it, and she didn’t even know all of it. “That’s right,” he muttered. He looked at the table, then picked up one of the small toys. It looked like a Snitch, but there were different bumps on it that could be pressed down, almost like a puzzle.
“So do you think that it’s your fault that you had to be at that ritual?” Healer Abbott’s voice was neutral as he asked the question, no judgment to be found.
Harry continued to fidget with the Snitch. “Yes?” he ventured, after the silence stretched uncomfortably. “I don’t know who else’s fault it would be.”
“Maybe Voldemort’s?” Healer Abbott suggested. “He’s the one that left the soul shard in you, after all. You didn’t ask for it to be there. It wasn’t your fault that it was, and it certainly wasn’t your fault that you needed to be the focus of a ritual cursebreaking.”
Harry didn’t know how to respond to those words at all, so he continued to play with the Snitch. The words hurt in a way that he couldn’t quite explain, but he thought maybe it might be a good hurt.
At the end of his session, after he’d left with Fred and George, who took him back to the flat, George asked, “Do you think that you could keep seeing Healer Abbott?”
Harry, who felt exhausted and wrung out, and wanted only to curl up in bed and take a nap, shrugged. Then, quietly, he said, “It was better than with Peterson, and I think maybe Healer Abbott helped a little bit.”
It was so hard to tell, because Harry knew that he’d shut down during the last part of the hour. He hadn’t been able to help it; Healer Abbott’s words had been too hard for him to think about, but the man hadn’t pressed. He’d let Harry play with the Snitch toy, and had gently suggested a meeting time later in the week as the end of their hour approached.
Harry had accepted, which was, he supposed, a sign that he was willing to continue working with him. “I think I could keep seeing him,” he finally said.
“We’re so glad to hear that,” Fred said. He smiled at Harry and tugged him into a gentle hug, and Harry went willingly.
“Want to go down into the back room and run some experiments with us?” George asked. “Well, with me, while Fred works the front of the shop?”
Harry really wanted to go to sleep, but he thought that maybe this was a better idea. It was probably better for him, anyway, to spend time with the twins. “That sounds nice,” he said.
He was lying, but maybe he could fake it until he really was happy to be helping them with the shop? He hoped so. It sounded like more fun than hiding in his room, anyway, and Harry thought that maybe he could handle a bit of fun.
Harry was only able to fake enjoying being in the shop for a few hours before Fred caught him stumbling in the back room. He tried to play it off, but Fred wasn’t having any of it. “You need to tell us when you’re tired,” he said, sounding exasperated. The expression on his face made it clear that that was exactly how he was feeling. “We can’t take care of you if you don’t.”
Harry flinched. “I just wanted to try and…” He stopped and sighed. “I didn’t think it was a good idea for me to be alone,” he said lamely. He hadn’t wanted to be. He’d wanted to be around people, even though he was tired.
“Then you tell us that,” Fred said, his voice gentling. “Harry, we’re here for you, to take care of you. If you want to be around people but are too tired to be down here with us, then one of us can easily stay upstairs with you. It’s not a problem.”
“But I’m putting you behind on your work,” Harry whispered. He swayed a little on his feet, unable to hold himself upright. He’d been trying, but he was still so tired… And now that he’d been caught, well, it seemed like he couldn’t make himself do much of anything anymore.
“Maybe so,” Fred said. He stepped forward and caught Harry’s arm, steadying him. “But that’s okay. George and I have plenty of things developed that we haven’t released yet, and yeah, maybe it’ll be a problem if this lasts for too long, but for now, it won’t hurt the shop or us to have a few days off to sit with you.”
Harry sighed and let himself relax, let himself look as tired as he felt. “If you’re sure,” he said, sagging a little bit.
“Very sure.” Fred kept hold of his arm and lead him, gently, up to the flat. He helped Harry settle on the couch, then asked, “Do you need a blanket or anything?”
Harry curled up into a ball, letting his head rest on the arm of the couch, and shook his head. “I think I’m okay,” he said around a yawn that he couldn’t quite swallow back.
“If that changes, let me know,” Fred murmured. “Do you want a book or anything?”
Harry shook his head. He took off his glasses, placing them on the coffee table, and let his eyes slipped closed. He was still exhausted from the ritual, and from running away, and he really needed the sleep. He knew he did, he just knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep alone.
Fortunately, Fred settled in one of the chairs, and he heard him open a book and start humming quietly to himself as he, presumably, read. It wasn’t much sound, but it was just enough to remind Harry that he wasn’t alone, that he was safe and with the twins.
He drifted off to sleep with a small smile on his face.
His next visit with Healer Cartwright was in the afternoon. Harry didn’t particularly want to go, but he also didn’t think that he could get away with not going. Especially since he’d just been through a powerful ritual that had his curse scar finally healing, a fact which he still had trouble believing.
But whenever he went to look in the mirror, it was definitely fading. Slowly, but steadily, it was disappearing, and faster than Harry had imagined that it would.
So he didn’t complain too much when, after lunch, the twins left Verity in charge of the shop once more and escorted him back to Healer Cartwright’s office.
The old man seemed almost relieved to see him again, and gestured Harry into his office while leaving the twins outside. This time, Harry was a bit more comfortable being in there, since he’d already met the man twice before, and he’d never hurt Harry.
He settled on the exam table and let the Healer start poking at him with his wand, and he only winced a little bit when the wand poked one of the bruises that was a bit more sensitive on his back.
It made Healer Cartwright stop and stare at him, his eyes narrowed. “That should be better healed than this by now,” he said. “The ritual might have made it a bit worse. Did you notice that?”
Harry shrugged. “I guess,” he said. Then, because he didn’t want the Healer worrying over nothing, he added, “But it might also be because I wasn’t using the salve on my back right away. I couldn’t reach it, and I had some trouble letting the twins help me with it.”
“Are you letting them help you with it now?” Healer Cartwright asked, still frowning at him. “Because if you’re uncomfortable with it, I can understand why, and I can give you a potion to take daily. I just thought that it would be too much on top of the other things I’ve started you on.”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t need a potion. I’m letting the twins help me with it now, and they’ve been good about it.”
“I’m glad,” Healer Cartwright murmured. He went back to testing things, poking and prodding at Harry with his wand. At one point, something that he found made his eyebrows fly up, and he murmured a quiet, “Interesting.” But he didn’t elaborate, and Harry didn’t ask him to. He figured that the Healer would explain before Harry left his office.
Finally, he was done, and he settled at his chair with a frown. “Your magic appears to be growing,” he said bluntly.
Harry didn’t understand quite what that meant. “And that’s strange?” he asked.
Healer Cartwright muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “I don’t know what they teach at that damn school these days,” while shaking his head. Then, louder, he said, “Magical cores don’t really grow, Harry. You’re born with the one that you’ll have your entire life. As you age, you gain access to more of it, but you never really get a larger core. Yours seems to be expanding.”
Harry blinked. “Why?” he asked. “Is it a bad thing? If there’s something else wrong with me, then we should probably do something soon, right?” And of course there would be something else wrong with him. Nothing else made sense, and his luck was just terrible enough that there would be two terrible things wrong that were discovered within days of each other.
“There’s probably nothing wrong with you,” Healer Cartwright said, shaking his head. “If anything, I’d wonder if the ritual cursebreaking at Gringotts didn’t remove another curse, but I don’t know if there’s a way to test for that anymore. Can you think of any reason that someone might want to bind your magic in some way?”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe the Headmaster?” he suggested, but he was doubtful. Why would he have done it? Maybe to keep Harry from lashing out and hurting the Dursleys? That was the only thing that he could think of.
“Maybe,” Healer Cartwright agreed with a small nod. “I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what it was if it was him, but I’ll make a note of it for Ms. Mercier, if you’re okay with me discussing this with her.”
Harry nodded. “That’s fine.” He shifted a bit on the table, then asked, “Is there anything else that I need to do differently? I mean, am I okay? The cursebreaking took?”
“Absolutely,” Healer Cartwright confirmed with a sharp nod. “Your scar is fading, which is indication enough that there’s no longer a curse on your scar. And your magic is growing, and stabilizing as it does. You’re still experiencing exhaustion?”
Harry nodded. “It’s awful,” he said. “I feel like I can’t stay awake. I had to go to bed after lunch yesterday.”
“That’s understandable,” Healer Cartwright said. “I’d like you to continue resting when you’re tired. Stay on your nutrient potions, and hopefully everything will be corrected by the end of summer. The exhaustion should let up in a few days, especially as your magic continues to expand. You might find yourself doing bits of accidental magic, but that’s only to be expected as you regain control of your new power.”
Harry nodded and took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. The twins weren’t the Dursleys. He wouldn’t be punished for anything that might accidentally happen, he didn’t think. In fact, knowing the twins, they’d probably be more entertained than not by it.
“Anything else?” he asked. He slipped off of the table. He wanted to go back to the twins, back to the shop. He was tired again, and as the Healer said, he should probably rest. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with his dislike of being alone with strange men for any length of time.
Healer Cartwright didn’t protest Harry’s standing. “Not at the moment, no,” he said. “But I’d like to see you again in a week, just to confirm that everything is still settling properly.”
“Of course.” Harry headed for the door. “Thank you, Healer Cartwright.” He ducked out before the old man could respond.
The twins were waiting in the waiting room, their voices low in conversation. As Harry approached, it became clear that they were talking about a sweet that could make students sprout Dragon Pox, likely in an effort to expand on their Skiving Snackboxes. Harry was reluctant to interrupt them, but his presence distracted them anyway.
“What’s the word?” George asked, smiling at Harry.
Harry couldn’t help smiling back. “He’s not surprised that I’m so tired all the time, and wants me to continue to sleep as much as I feel like I need to. My magic is expanding, potentially because there may have been another curse on me that we didn’t notice at first that was disrupted by the ritual, and he wants to see me in a week to make sure that I’m still recovering.”
“Excellent,” Fred said, beaming at him. “Well done, you. Nutrition potions?”
“I’m supposed to stay on them,” Harry reported obediently. “And continue using the bruise salve as needed. He offered me a potion, but I didn’t want another one.”
“Very good. To the shop, then?” George suggested.
“That sounds good,” Harry said. He covered a yawn with one hand, and smiled a bit sheepishly. “Maybe for you two, anyway. I think I’ll take another nap.”
“Do you want one of us to stay with you?” Fred asked, his voice going serious. His eyes were warm as he watched Harry, waiting for his answer.
Harry thought about lying, then decided that he’d better not. “If you can,” he said honestly. He felt strange admitting it, but he didn’t regret it.
And it was worth it, because George immediately chirped, “My turn to stay with Harry,” while beaming at Fred.
“Of course, brother mine,” Fred agreed, nodding. “Then let’s get Harry back to the flat so that he can nap and so that I can maybe give Verity a small break.”
“Sometimes I think she’s superhuman,” George said as they left Healer Cartwright’s office. “I don’t know how she works the way she does, as often as she does.”
“She’s an angel,” Fred said, nodding wisely. “And we pay her very well.”
Hermione stared up at the shop in front of her, not entirely certain that she approved of it. A joke shop, of all things, when everything was as terrible as it was? She knew that the twins were pranksters, but this was a little extreme, even for them.
“So, they want us to convince Harry to come in with us,” Ron said, shifting nervously.
Hermione shot him a small glare. “I was there, Ron,” she reminded him. “I know what the Order is asking of us.” And, honestly, she thought it was for the best. Not that she didn’t like the twins… well, okay, she didn’t like the twins. She didn’t think they were anywhere near responsible enough to take care of a pet, much less Harry.
Her opinion didn’t improve upon stepping into the joke shop. Getting hit with a minor prank that turned all her clothing green and silver didn’t help, nor did watching one of the twins cavorting in front of a display, attempting to sell product to a crowd of eager onlookers.
“Come to see Harry?” The voice was unexpected and almost right in her ear, and Hermione couldn’t help the way she jumped as she spun around. The other twin was behind her and Ron, looking terribly pleased with himself.
“If he’s up for it,” Ron agreed. “Professor Lupin said he seemed pretty tired when he dropped by.”
“And so he is,” the twin said, practically carolling the words. “He’s upstairs resting, sent me out, actually, so that he could be on his own, but if you two promise that you’ll leave when he’s ready for you to, and if you swear that you won’t pressure him into anything, then you can go up.”
Hermione blinked. “Pressure him into anything?” she echoed, offended.
The smile dropped off of the twin’s face. “I’m not an idiot, Hermione,” he said, almost gently. “We all understand that the Order wants Harry back, even if we’re not entirely sure why. My mother has tried, Lupin has tried, and now here you are. I’m asking you, politely, not to attempt to convince him to go back with you, because he’s not in a great place right now.”
Hermione didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t want to make a promise, because she would feel obligated to keep her word if she did so. At the same time, she didn’t want to upset Harry. So instead she sniffed and said, quietly, “We’ll see.”
The twin studied her, then nodded once. “If he asks you to leave, you will leave immediately.” This wasn’t a question, and Hermione didn’t want to know what the twins would do to them if they found out that they hadn’t honored that rule.
“We will,” Ron said, nodding along with his brother. “Promise.”
“Good.” He gestured towards the stairs at the back. “In that case, enjoy your visit, and be nice to Harry, please.”
Hermione was so eager to see Harry that she almost took the stairs two at a time. Harry was tired, Professor Lupin had said, and now the twin had told them that Harry was in a bad place. What did that even mean? She didn’t want to find out, but at the same time, she did. She wanted to be there for her friend, no matter how stupid she thought he was for leaving the protection of the Dursleys.
The door at the top of the stairs opened under Ron’s hand, and Hermione followed him into the flat. The door opened into a wide, bright room, with a comfortable looking couch and several large chairs. It took Hermione a minute, but she finally spotted Harry half-buried in a nest of thick blankets, curled up on the couch. He was reading, but his eyes were half-closed, like he’d either just woken up or just gone to sleep.
And, like Professor Lupin had said, he looked terrible. “Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, unable to help herself as she rushed to his side.
Harry jumped, his book falling to his lap, and he stared at Hermione like he’d never seen her before. “Mione,” he said, a bit uncertainly. He glanced past her, at Ron, and said, just as hesitantly, “Ron.”
“Mate, you look like shite,” Ron said, as bluntly as ever.
“Ron!” Hermione protested. “You just look tired, I wouldn’t say that you look that bad,” she said, trying to be soothing.
Harry laughed at her. “Thanks, Hermione,” he said. He closed his book after marking his place, then struggled to sit up a little bit. Hermione wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to, but by the time she opened her mouth to say it, he was upright, though still leaning against the arm of the couch. “What brings you two here?” he asked. There was a wariness in his voice that made her almost feel guilty for what she’d been asked to do.
“Can’t we be here to just visit?” Ron asked. He sat down on the couch after nudging Harry’s feet out of the way.
Harry smiled at him, but there was still something in his eyes that said he didn’t think that was the case. And it hurt, because Hermione knew that he was right. “You can be,” was all that he said.
“Well, that’s what we’re here for,” Hermione said firmly. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You do look like you’re not sleeping well, though. Nightmares?”
Harry shook his head. Then, he shook it again. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “I had a terrible vision a few days back, and Fred and George were really fantastic about it.” He ducked his head, his cheeks turning pink. “It turns out that there was… my scar, it was what was causing it, and the goblins did a ritual, and…” Harry trailed off, but he lifted his fringe of bangs, revealing the fact that his scar was slowly starting to fade away.
Hermione couldn’t help the gasp that she let out. “Harry, that’s wonderful,” she breathed. She reached out, but didn’t actually touch the scar.
“It really is,” Ron agreed. He looked disturbed, but didn’t elaborate on why he was feeling that way.
Hermione made a mental note to ask him later, when they were on their own, when his answer wouldn’t upset Harry. She could understand why the twin had been so insistent that they not upset Harry. For all that he seemed to be in good spirits, it was pretty clear that he was unsteady, and Hermione didn’t want to be the one to upset whatever balance he’d found.
So, quietly, she asked, “So what do you do with all your free time here?” She tried to smile for Harry.
Her expression must have worked well enough, because Harry almost beamed at her. “Read,” he said, nodding at the book. “Fred and George let me help out in the lab a little bit, either coming up with ideas or testing the inventions. It’s more fun than you’d think. But now, I’m supposed to be resting whenever I feel tired, which is pretty frequently.”
“Sounds boring, mate,” Ron said. He leaned back on the couch, spreading out a little. “If I didn’t have to deal with Mum, I’d be out flying all the time, running wild.”
Ron wasn’t looking, so he didn’t see, but Hermione couldn’t help but notice the way that Harry flinched when Molly’s name came up. There was more going on here than she understood, and Hermione hated to be uninformed about anything, especially when she was being asked to do something.
“Harry needs to rest,” Hermione pointed out. “But maybe when he’s feeling better, you two could go flying somewhere?”
Harry brightened. “And what will you be doing?” he asked, his eyes almost twinkling.
“I,” she said, with great dignity, “Will be staying with both feet firmly on the ground, as is proper for any sane witch or wizard.” She sniffed with mock haughtiness, and was rewarded with a soft, but genuine, laugh from Harry.
Later, after a surprisingly quiet dinner with Harry and the twins, after she and Ron had returned to Grimmauld Place and together reported that they were unable to sway Harry to return, not that either of them had tried, Hermione cornered Ron in his room, which felt empty without Harry.
“When Harry was talking about his scar,” she started, not quite sure where she was going with her question.
“The goblins knew how to remove it,” Ron said, his voice soft, his eyes distant.
“And that means something?” she asked, prodding him.
Ron glanced at her, frowning. Then, softly, he continued, “If they knew how to remove it, and could do it in a single ritual, then are we really supposed to believe that the Headmaster couldn’t have done anything about it?” There was a strange amount of horror in Ron’s voice as he asked the question, and Hermione didn’t understand it for a moment.
Then it occurred to her what Ron was really saying. “He wanted Harry for a spy,” she breathed. She drew in a shaky breath. She knew how much that scar hurt Harry, and to think of a man that she so admired using Harry in such a way, without his knowledge or consent, was heinous.
“Do you think the Order knows?” she asked finally, her voice still hushed with the horror of the idea.
Ron looked away, his discomfort clearly worsening. “I don’t think they’d care if they did,” he said. He swallowed. “They didn’t seem to care that no one was working too hard to get Sirius a trial, did they? Dumbledore said it couldn’t be done, and that was it. And Harry was stuck with the Dursleys because of it, and Hermione, you don’t know half the things Harry would say in his nightmares.” Ron shuddered, his voice getting choked, like he was fighting tears.
Hermione didn’t hesitate to hug him and pull him close. “But he’s safe now,” she whispered, comforting herself with that truth.
Maybe the twins weren’t the best possible guardians for Harry, but she was starting to think that that didn’t matter. They were good enough and, more importantly, they’d cared enough to do something, and maybe that was all Harry needed.
“You have to be kidding me,” Locke muttered, staring at the stack of petitions in front of him. “Ms. Mercier, please, tell me that you’re kidding me.”
“I wish that I could say that I was,” she said, hiding a smile behind her hand. “Unfortunately, everyone in that pile genuinely believes that they would be the best family to take in our unfortunate Mr. Potter.”
Locke groaned and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. It was only through a fair amount of familiarity with the feeling this case was causing that Rebecca knew it meant that he had a small headache. “And they’ll probably all want to file an appeal if we don’t allow them their day in court.”
“Probably,” Rebecca agreed, nodding. “But, I don’t think that it’s practical to let them all have their say. Harry deserves to have some stability in his life before we begin Dumbledore’s trial.”
“And Dursley’s,” Locke pointed out, humming in agreement. As he spoke, he was moving through the stack of petitions smoothly, each one thus far being stamped with a simple “REJECTED” in unmissable bright red ink. “No, I think that you’re right. We can’t possibly allow for the child’s life to be so disrupted by having so many people attempting to gain custody of him.”
“And there is precedent for not allowing everyone to appeal the decision,” Rebecca said, sliding her folder forward across the desk. It was an old case, one from the 1500s, but she’d noticed that British wizards tended to respect the age of something, like having happened years ago made it a more valid precedent.
She didn’t understand it, but she supposed that at least in this instance it would work in her favor.
“Is there?” Locke opened the folder and studied it.
Rebecca already knew what it contained, of course. She’d started looking as soon as she’d finished her part of dealing with the massive group of people who’d come to petition for Harry’s custody. She’d known that she would find something, and she had.
It was a case of a royal child who’d been found to be magical, and the royal family had wanted nothing to do with the child, so she’d been given into the care of the Ministry. Like now, hundreds of people had come forward, attempting to claim that they were suitable, and like now, the Chief Warlock had only agreed to hear from a handful of families in person. When those families who were denied had objected, a law had been passed that allowed a Chief Warlock to declare a custody assignment non-disputable without evidence of unsuitability.
In other words, Harry Potter couldn’t be removed from his new home, wherever that should turn out to be, without further abuse, if the acting Chief Warlock should choose to invoke this law.
“This is excellent work, Rebecca,” Locke said. He closed the folder and cleared his throat. “I think it’s a good idea to make use of this law.”
“Thank you,” Rebecca said. She took the folder back when it was handed to her, and continued to wait patiently, so that she could notify all families at once of the results of their petitions.
It seemed to take a small eternity before Locke reached one that he approved of, and when he did, he handed it to her without comment. Augusta Longbottom was the name on the form. Rebecca didn’t recall seeing the venerable old witch in her office, but that didn’t mean that she hadn’t submitted her form via owl, the way that the Weasley twins had.
Moments after that, Locke leaned back in his chair. “How are we feeling about the Malfoys these days?” he asked, tapping a piece of parchment with his wand.
Rebecca frowned. “Not particularly good,” she said slowly, considering. “Most genuinely believe Lucius Malfoy to be innocent of all the crimes he was accused of, and though some claimed he was at the battle within the Department of Mysteries, he was not caught, and he had a verified alibi, from what I understand.”
Locke let out what could only be described as a disgusted sniff, then he handed her a second petition. Rebecca wasn’t surprised to see that it was from the Malfoy family. “Is that the best idea?” she asked, a bit hesitantly. She wasn’t in the habit of questioning the acting Chief Warlock, no matter how bad an idea she thought something was.
“No,” Locke said with an honest shrug. “And to be honest, I doubt that I’ll award them custody unless there are very mitigating circumstances. But I can’t reject his petition and accept Lady Longbottom’s, not without being accused of an unfair bias. That would give Malfoy cause to make trouble, and I’d rather this go as smoothly as possible.”
Rebecca didn’t entirely agree with that, but she nodded her head in agreement anyway. She could appreciate not making waves, especially not when Harry was the one who would have to deal with the consequences.
What felt like an eternity passed in silence, then Locke held two separate petitions apart, frowning down at them. “Rebecca,” he started, sounding a bit uncertain. “Why are there two different petitions from the Weasley family?”
Rebecca couldn’t help the quiet laugh that escaped her. There was nothing funny about the situation, but she could certainly understand why Locke found it to be strange. “Arthur and Molly Weasley are currently feuding with their twin children, Fred and George Weasley, regarding custody of the boy.”
“I’m reluctant to allow the boy to live in such an unstable environment,” Locke murmured, studying the two petitions. “But the older Weasleys cite the close relationship their son shares with the boy, so I feel as though they deserve to be heard.”
He picked up the rejection stamp and Rebecca’s heart stopped. “The twins were the ones to report the abuse,” she said quickly. “They’ve been caring for Harry this entire time, and they’ve demonstrated great capability to continue to do so, in spite of their youth. I think that rejecting them based on their feud with their parents is unfair. Furthermore, at Harry’s age, I believe that his preferences should be taken into account, and I think that his preference will be to stay with the twins, unless I am very much mistaken.”
Locke stared at her from under raised eyebrows. “I see,” he said. He put the stamp down and studied her. “You intend to push for them, don’t you?”
“I would never dream of attempting to sway the Court,” Rebecca said honestly. “I’d just like to see the twins get their fair chance.”
Locke studied her for a moment longer, then nodded once, sharply. “These four, then. The Malfoys, the Longbottoms, and the two sets of Weasleys. You’ll notify them of the hearing and what they’re expected to provide?”
“That is my job,” Rebecca said with a sharp nod. “Thank you, sir. I’ll handle all of the notifications.” She stood, bowed to the Chief Warlock, and exited the room.
George took a deep breath as he walked into Gringotts. It was always a risk, bothering his brother while he was at work, but the letter he clutched in his hand from Rebecca made it worth it. He headed straight for his brother’s desk, which was so rarely occupied, and made sure to be incredibly polite to every goblin whose path he crossed. They’d saved Harry, after all, and he owed them his gratitude.
He found his brother poring over what looked like an ancient scroll, a cup of tea in his hand. The tea had no steam, indicating that his brother had forgotten he’d even been holding it. They might joke that Percy was a bit of a nerd, but Bill was very easily his equal. He was just far less stuck up about it.
He cleared his throat, and was rewarded with the sight of his brother jumping and sloshing cold tea all over his robe, but fortunately not on the scroll.
Bill stared at him from narrowed eyes. “Twin,” he said, clearly not intending to guess which one of them he was.
George couldn’t blame him. Even if Bill had guessed correctly, he probably would have told him that he was Fred. “George,” he supplied, instead of lying. “I need a favor from you, and I know that it’s a lot to ask.”
Bill set his scroll down and leaned back in his chair. “More than doing a cursebreaking on your ward?” he asked, his lips twitching a little.
“That was done in the course of your employment,” George said, waving a hand. “No, I need you to…” He swallowed. He’d volunteered to do this because he genuinely thought that Bill would help them, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t terrifying to ask for this. “Harry’s custody hearing is tomorrow. We’re supposed to bring a character witness, and even though you’d basically be going against Mum and Dad, I was wondering if you’d be willing.”
Bill hummed softly, clearly considering. “You and Mum can’t come to an agreement, can you?” he asked, looking down at his pocketwatch.
George knew that he was studying the family hands, and not the time. “We can’t,” he said. He took a deep breath. “I don’t think…” He stopped.
“You don’t think?” Bill asked, leadingly.
“I don’t think that Mum really has Harry’s best interests at heart,” George rushed out. He winced as he said it. “I mean, I don’t think that she intends him harm, I just think that she’s too caught up in what Dumbledore wanted for Harry to give Harry what he actually needs. And no one thinks that Dumbledore’s intentions for Harry were good, judging by some of the things we’ve found.”
“Such as?” Bill asked. He was still considering, that much was clear.
George swallowed. He probably wasn’t supposed to say anything yet, but… “He knew about the scar,” he said, as vaguely as possible.
Bill’s eyes snapped to meet his own. “No,” he breathed, looking horrified.
George nodded. “Rebecca said, and she’s Harry’s caseworker, so she’d know.”
“Merlin’s beard,” Bill muttered. He shook his head and then nodded. “Right, okay. Harry seems to want to stay with you, and you and Fred have been doing good work with him. So yes, George, I’ll take off work tomorrow and go to court for you.”
George let out a small sigh of relief, feeling like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. “Thank you, Bill,” he breathed with a shaky laugh.
Bill smiled at him, the expression almost gentle. “You and Fred, you’ve both grown up really well,” he said, and George’s chest tightened. “I think you’ve got your priorities in order, and I think your priority in all of this has been Harry. So how could I not say something to the courts on your behalf?”
George blinked rapidly, surprised by the support. His chest was tightening further, and he felt almost like he was about to cry. “Thank you,” he said again, the words choked. He took a step back. “I’ll let you get back to work!”
He fled before he could actually cry in front of his brother. He was grateful for the support, and for the kind words, but he wasn’t planning to cry in front of Bill. That was just childish, and that was the opposite of what he wanted to portray.
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.
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.
The next few days were gloriously quiet for Harry. He spent them curled up on the couch with one of the twins, or occasionally down in the labs. He didn’t do that too often, in honor of Healer Cartwright’s suggestion that he rest whenever he felt like it, but he made himself go downstairs occasionally.
Not necessarily because he wanted to be around people, but because he thought that maybe if he didn’t make himself spend time around them, he would get too used to being alone, and that didn’t feel like a good idea. It would be too easy for him to stop spending time with others and to become something of a hermit, he thought.
And then, before Harry knew it almost, it was time for the trials of Uncle Vernon and Dumbledore, and he was more than a little frightened of what was to come.
“Want to go get some lunch?” Fred asked, his voice soft.
Harry didn’t particularly want to eat anything. He hadn’t had much at all earlier for breakfast, because his stomach felt like it was tied up in knots. Tomorrow, he’d be back in the courtroom. Tomorrow, he’d watch as Vernon and Dumbledore were… or at least, he’d watch as they started. He didn’t know how long the trials would take, and Rebecca hadn’t been able to give him much of an idea when she’d come by yesterday.
She hadn’t been willing to talk about Malfoy or Neville, either, and that had been frustrating. He wished he knew if something was being done for them. He hoped it was.
“I’m not hungry,” he said finally, answering Fred. “So not really.”
“And if I tell you that we’re going to go visit Healer Abbott after lunch? Would that help or hurt?” Fred sounded genuinely curious, like he didn’t know the answer.
Harry did. “That wouldn’t help,” he said quickly. He didn’t want to see the Mind Healer again. He’d thought that he was getting out of it, when they hadn’t actually gone back to him like they were supposed to, but maybe that was because he’d had the custody hearing instead. “Do I have to go back?” he asked, a little plaintively.
“You know that you do,” Fred said, smiling a little. “You were a little better after you spoke to him, you know. Not a lot, and I know that it’s going to take you some time to get all the way there, but you were more at ease once you’d talked to him, and George and I would like to see that continue for you.”
Harry looked away from the hope in Fred’s eyes. “I’m not crazy,” he muttered. “And… and the first Mind Healer… he…”
“Healer Abbott wasn’t like that, was he?” Fred asked. His tone was light, almost coaxing. “He was kind to you, wasn’t he?”
He had been, that much was true. Harry sighed, the sound soft and filled with surrender. “He was,” he muttered. “And he did help. I guess.” He’d made Harry think about things that he didn’t like to think about, and he’d made some things make sense.
Maybe he’d continue to help, Harry didn’t know. But he supposed that it was probably a good idea to at least give it a shot, right?
“Okay, good,” Fred said. He tugged Harry into a loose hug. “And if I ask you to come eat something small with me before we head out? Maybe some soup?”
Harry sighed again, his shoulders slumping as he leaned into Fred. “Okay,” he muttered. “But I reserve the right to not enjoy wherever you take me.”
“That’s certainly your right,” Fred agreed, nodding. He stepped back. “But if you do enjoy where we go, you must let us test one of our pranks on you. Deal?”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “Deal,” he said, unable to help himself from laughing a little. He didn’t think he’d be able to enjoy any kind of food at the moment, but he’d at least try because Fred was trying so hard. And he already tested some of the products, because he knew that it was good for him to remember how to laugh, even if it was hard sometimes.
“Excellent!” Fred carrolled. He waited until Harry had his shoes on, then he towed Harry out of the flat and into the shop proper. It was the middle of the week, but there was still a fair amount of business in the shop. That didn’t deter Fred from darting up to George and saying, brightly, “Harry and I are going for lunch, and then we’ll be continuing on to our ultimate destination. Hold down the fort for us?”
George beamed back at him. “I’m glad you got him to agree to eat!” he said, and tugged Harry into a quick hug. “Verity and I have this here. Have fun eating lunch, and enjoy your next stop!”
Harry didn’t think that was possible, but he appreciated the sentiment. He leaned into George’s hug, then followed Fred out of the shop. They continued walking, Fred’s arm looped through his, and eventually, Harry was surprised to find, they left Diagon Alley, and they entered the Muggle world.
“Rebecca suggested this, if we were looking for someplace low key to take you,” Fred said nonchalantly as they walked, arm in arm, through London. “And George and I thought it was a great idea, but we thought maybe you might prefer it with just one of us, since together we’re… well, irrepressible, and we’re worse when we’re together.” He sounded almost apologetic as he said that.
Harry couldn’t let that stand. “I don’t mind the two of you together,” he said, leaning into Fred. He knew what they probably looked like, since they were so close in age, but he didn’t mind. He knew the truth, and so did Fred, and they’d probably never see any of the Muggles they were walking near again anyway. “I like that you keep reminding me how to laugh.” He really did, too. He didn’t like being startled all the time, but he liked laughing, and there was always a lot of that with the twins.
“Well, that’s definitely something we excel at,” Fred said agreeably. He turned abruptly into a small cafe and asked, “Is here good? Rebecca said the food was decent.”
Harry still didn’t think he’d be able to eat much, although he was glad that he wouldn’t have to try and eat while people stared at the famous Boy Who Lived. “It’s fine,” he said, and followed Fred into the cafe. He really didn’t know if he’d be able to keep anything down, but he’d promised he would try, and he wasn’t in the habit of breaking promises.
He held true to what he’d thought earlier and got a small bowl of soup that came with a nice chunk of bread for dunking. He ate most of it, more of it than he thought he would, and he did finish his entire piece of bread.
Fred watched him finish the bread, almost beaming at him, and Harry realized that he’d probably lost the bet. He was okay with that, but then, he never would have agreed to be pranked if he hadn’t been prepared to go through with it. He watched as Fred finished his small feast of a soup, a sandwich, and crisps, then sighed as their plates and bowls were taken away.
“I guess it’s time to go to see Healer Abbott,” he muttered, his small joy leaving him. He didn’t want to go. He knew that the Mind Healer had helped him, of course he had, and he knew that Abbott would probably help him with what was to come tomorrow, but that didn’t mean that he wanted to go see him. It was exhausting and stressful, and Harry felt like he was already stressed enough.
“Just about,” Fred agreed. “I don’t want to force you to do it, Harry, but you know…” He took a deep breath and said with a grimace, “That’s part of what being your guardian is, making you do things you don’t want to do because they’re good for you. Like eating your vegetables.” He sounded almost like he was quoting someone.
Probably Rebecca. Harry smiled a little. “I know,” he said. “And I’m not mad that you’re making me go; I’m just… not looking forward to it, that’s all. But I also know that it’s probably a good idea to go, so let’s get it over with.”
He stood up and held his hand out to Fred, his hand shaking a bit. Not because he thought Fred wouldn’t take it, or anything. He didn’t know why it was trembling, really. But it eased when Fred took his hand and led him out of the cafe, and by the time they’d made it to their Apparition point, he was as relaxed as he could be about seeing Healer Abbott again.
Healer Abbott didn’t seem upset that Harry hadn’t come to see him between their first meeting and now. Instead, he just smiled and welcomed Harry back, his eyes as gentle as they had been the first time they’d met.
“How are you doing, now that you know for sure that you’re going to stay with the twins?” Healer Abbott asked, once they’d settled into the same seats they’d been in before.
Harry swallowed. “Good,” he said, his voice small. “Better. It's good that I have somewhere permanent. And I’m glad that I got to stay with the twins. I didn’t think that any of the other options were really a good fit for me.”
Healer Abbott nodded along as Harry spoke. “I’m glad that you’re happy with where you’re staying,” he said. “And have you felt the urge to run away again?”
Harry shook his head. “No,” he said, and laughed a little. “I’ve been really tired lately, still, actually. I think it’s still from the ritual, but I’m not entirely sure. And, even though I don’t want to, I’ve been making myself go out and help them with the shop when they need it. Because it’s good for me to be around people, right?”
Healer Abbott hesitated, glancing at Harry. “It is,” he said slowly. “But you shouldn’t force yourself to do it if you don’t want to. You can give yourself a break, Harry.” This was said gently, like he wasn’t sure how Harry would take what he was saying.
To be honest, Harry didn’t know how to take it at all. “What do you mean?” he asked. He frowned. “I thought people were supposed to want to socialize with other people.”
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to socialize, either. It was just that these days it felt more like a chore than anything else, and Harry knew that it wasn’t supposed to feel like that. He didn’t think it was, anyway. People were supposed to like being around other people, weren’t they?
“There’s not really a “supposed to” in there,” Healer Abbott said, drawing the words out, like he was considering what he wanted to say. “You’re allowed to feel however you want to feel about socializing with other people, and if you need a break from it, or you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. It might be healthier for you, in the short term at least, to give yourself the chance to decide if you want to be around other people.”
Harry blinked. “I don’t understand,” he said, his voice a little small. “I don’t… I hate it when people stare at me, and in the wizarding world, people are always staring. But it shouldn’t matter, right? I mean, the staring, that’s all part of being a public figure, right? And there’s nothing that I can do about that. So if I want to be around others, then I have to put up with the staring, right?”
“I see.” Healer Abbott’s face relaxed, like he understood something fundamental about Harry. “It’s not being around people you don’t like, it’s the attention that they pay you when you’re there. If, for instance, you were to go out into the Muggle world, into a crowded location, that wouldn’t bother you because nobody would take special note of you. Is that correct?”
Harry nodded. “Going out to eat with Fred was a lot easier since we were out at a Muggle restaurant,” he agreed. “It’s the attention I don’t like, you’re right.”
“Then, in that case, what I think you should do is go on outings to the Muggle world when you want to be around people for now. Don’t force yourself to be out amongst the wizarding public if you don’t want to. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from it, especially given all that you’re going through right now.”
Harry swallowed at the reminder of what had happened already with the custody hearing, and what was to come with the trials for Uncle Vernon and Dumbledore. “The trials start tomorrow,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. He couldn’t have forced out anything louder if he’d tried.
“I think the entire wizarding world is aware,” Healer Abbott said, a small smile on his face. “How are you taking that?”
Harry shook his head. “Not well,” he muttered. “I don’t…” He stopped and looked down at his hands. Then, he grabbed the snitch from the visit before and started fiddling with it, playing with the puzzle as he considered what he wanted to say. “I don’t understand why they all care now,” he said finally, his voice small.
Healer Abbott sighed, the sound soft and sad. “I think that many people didn’t understand that something was wrong in the first place,” he said. “It’s hard to worry about a boy who gives the appearance of being perfectly fine. Which is not to say that it was your fault that no one cared, of course, because it certainly wasn’t. I think that the Headmaster was simply very good at making you appear to be perfectly okay.”
Harry swallowed and studied the toy in his hands. He kept pressing the buttons, but he wasn’t any closer to solving whatever puzzle it was. If it was a puzzle. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through tomorrow,” he said finally, as the silence stretched. “I got Aunt Petunia and Dudley killed. Vernon’s going to be furious with me.”
“You didn’t get them killed,” Healer Abbott said immediately. “Their actions are why they’re dead, not because of anything that you did. Do you think that you can say that to me? That you aren’t responsible for the deaths of Petunia and Dudley Dursley?”
Harry looked up at him, his eyes wide. “I’m… I’m not…” He stopped and shook his head. “But I am!” he cried, frustrated. “If I hadn’t been there, then I never would have made Dudley do the things that he did to me, and Petunia never would have been killed by Rebecca when she was trying to get to me, so it really is all my fault!”
“You didn’t make your cousin assault you,” Healer Abbott said, his voice firm. “Can you say that to me? That you didn’t make Dudley assault you?”
Harry swallowed again. “I didn’t… I didn’t make Dudley assault me.” The words came out weak and fragile, and Harry wasn’t entirely sure that he believed them, but at least he could say them.
“Very good,” Healer Abbott said, his voice going soft and soothing. “I’m so proud of you for doing that, Harry. And, even though I know it was hard, I’m going to ask you to do that a few times a day for the next week, okay? Just to practice saying the words.”
Harry shivered at the very idea, but he nodded obediently. “Yes sir,” he said, his words still soft.
“And for tomorrow, I know that you’re very stressed about it, so I was wondering if it would help if I went with you and your guardians and sat with you for the duration of the trial?”
Harry wasn’t sure about that. “I don’t want to take you away from your other patients,” he said, his words slow. “And I don’t… I don’t know…” He didn’t know how much it would help, since he still wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about the whole concept of Mind Healing.
“I have to be there anyway, Harry,” Healer Abbott said. “I might be called upon to testify regarding the damage that either your Uncle or Dumbledore did to you. So would you like me to sit with you tomorrow?”
Harry could have cried at the very idea that Healer Abbott might have to talk about their sessions. “I guess,” he said finally, his voice shaking. “You won’t… I mean, what would you tell them? Would you be specific about me?”
“Not at all,” Healer Abbott said, his words soft and soothing. “I would speak very generally about you and your circumstances. The trials will be closed, so there won’t be any press allowed in, and members of the Wizengamot would never be so crass as to discuss a victim to the public, no matter how great the pressure to do so. All who testify will be bound with an oath as well, so that they can’t speak to the press. Your secrets will be as safe as they can be.”
Harry didn’t know that he believed that, but he nodded anyway. “Okay,” he said, his voice still small.
He didn’t speak for the last few minutes of the session, but he didn’t think that Healer Abbott minded. When he released Harry, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow at the trials, Harry,” and his voice was still gentle, like Harry was broken.
Harry only nodded, and practically fled to the safety of Fred. He was very glad when they were back at the flat and he could hide in his rooms, and he hoped that he could pull himself together before tomorrow, because he knew that he was an absolute wreck.
Ron and Hermione walked together behind his parents into the Ministry, and Ron was more than a little nervous as they followed a similar path to the one they’d followed less than a week ago, when Harry’s custody trial had happened. He didn’t particularly want to go back there, to the place where his Mum had gotten in so much trouble and where Lucius Malfoy had snapped and tried to kill his son in open court.
Still, apparently the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had asked to speak with the two of them, and even though Mum hated the very idea of it and made no secret of it, she had no choice but to allow the conversation to take place, in the place of Madam Bones’ choosing.
Ron relaxed a little as they finally broke off from the other path and went in a completely different direction from where the courtroom was. The office they went to was quiet, and the only person waiting inside was a tiny woman whose desk identified her as the unit secretary.
She smiled at the sight of them. “Mr. Weasley, Mrs. Weasley, Mr. Weasley, and Ms. Granger, Madam Bones is waiting for you in her office.” She gestured to an open door, one that had Amelia Bones’ name on it.
Ron went in, followed by Hermione and his parents. There were four seats open for them, and Madam Bones herself was seated behind a large, imposing desk. She cleared her throat as she looked up at them. “Thank you all for coming,” she said.
“We aren’t exactly pleased about this,” Mum said, her voice stiff and irritable. “What did you need to speak with us about?”
“I didn’t need to speak to you at all, Mrs. Weasley,” Madam Bones said, her voice chilling just a touch. “I needed to speak with your son, and with Ms. Granger, and you refused us the right to speak with your son without your presence.”
“Molly is just nervous about Ron potentially getting into trouble,” Dad said, his voice soft and tired. Ron didn’t look at him, because he didn’t want to see just how tired he was.
He didn’t know everything about what was going on between his parents, but Dad seemed more and more frustrated with Mum, and he wasn’t sure, but Ron thought that something would have to give sooner rather than later, because Dad could lose his job if Mum kept up like this.
Ron shoved the thought aside.
“What did you need to talk to Hermione and me about?” he asked, instead choosing to focus on the conversation ahead of him.
“As you may or may not be aware, the trials of Headmaster Dumbledore and Vernon Dursley will start tomorrow,” Madam Bones said, focusing on the two of them. “Mr. Potter and his circumstances will be discussed widely during this trial, and as his two closest friends, there is a limited chance that you might be called upon to offer testimony about certain events in Mr. Potter’s life.”
Ron swallowed and glanced at Hermione. She was a little pale, but she was nodding along. “That makes sense,” she said. “I’d be happy to help.”
“So would I,” Ron said. He didn’t want to talk in public about things that he knew about Harry, but if it would help him… Well, Ron had a long way to go before he would forgive himself for letting himself ignore how Harry came back to Hogwarts each year, the condition that he was in.
“Absolutely not,” Mum said, her voice short and sharp. “My son isn’t going to say anything in court against Headmaster Dumbledore, since this entire trial is just a ridiculous farce anyway!” She sat back in her chair with a huff, her arms crossed.
Madam Bones studied her, then sighed. “Mrs. Weasley, I understand that, for whatever reason, you are reluctant to acknowledge that we have uncovered significant evidence of crimes committed by Albus Dumbledore, specifically relating to Mr. Potter. I don’t know where your blind spot comes from, but I can assure you, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement does not try a sitting Chief Warlock on a whim. I fully anticipate that, with the evidence we intend to present, your son’s testimony will not be necessary. But if it is, then I can assure you, objections or no, your son will testify.”
“Then why in the world did you bring us here if you were just going to force him to do it anyway?” Mum’s voice was getting shriller, and Ron winced because he recognized the signs of an approaching fit of temper that he didn’t particularly want to witness.
“It was a courtesy, Mrs. Weasley,” Madam Bones said, her voice particularly frosty. “Ms. Granger’s parents were also notified, as a courtesy, and they didn’t have nearly the difficulty that you seem to be having with this.”
“My parents understand that Harry’s been mistreated and that we have a duty to do something to help him, Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione said, her voice soft and certain. “I know that you’re loyal to the Headmaster, but that shouldn’t mean that you let Harry suffer for it.”
Mum said nothing else, just kept her arms crossed and her face stubbornly averted.
“Will we be able to sit with Harry during the trials?” Ron asked, resolving to ignore his mother unless he wasn’t given another option. She was being ridiculous. Ron didn’t even know why she was so invested in Dumbledore and following his orders, but he was unwilling to entertain this any longer.
“I don’t see why not,” Madam Bones said, a small smile softening her face. “He’d probably appreciate having some friendly faces with him.”
Ron nodded in agreement and he glanced at Hermione again. She was smiling at him. “I think it’s a great idea, Ron,” she said, and leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Ron flushed; he couldn’t help it. He smiled a little goofily at her, and when they were dismissed, even though Mum was still in a terrible mood, even though they had the stress of the trial looming over them tomorrow, he was happy.
Harry was finally someplace where he could maybe be okay eventually, and he and Hermione seemed to be on a path that he couldn’t even begin to object to, mostly because it made him so genuinely happy.
Harry tossed in his bed, tangling himself up in the blanket. He shifted again, twisting angrily, trying to get comfortable. It wasn’t working. First he was too hot, but then, when he fought his way free of his sheet, he was quickly too cold. He closed his eyes, which were dry and aching and exhausted, but they wouldn’t stay closed.
He couldn’t sleep, and it was all because of what was coming tomorrow.
He sat up and stared dully ahead of himself before he finally reached out and put his glasses on. Sleep wasn’t going to happen. He was too nervous about the trials, about the things that people were going to be saying about him, about…
His breath hitched and he fought back the urge to cry. He wasn’t doing this. Not again. He couldn’t. He was so tired of crying all the time, and yet, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. His breath hitched again and he took his glasses off to angrily wipe at his tears. It didn’t do any good. They were coming again, and he was crying again, like a baby.
He hated the way he cried these days.
He got out of bed and went into the kitchen, his breath still hitching in small sobs. He got a glass of water and drank it slowly, trying to calm himself down. It wasn’t working.
Thinking about the trial, about the things that people were going to know about him, about how they’d all know about how Dudley had used him, how he’d let Uncle treat him, how he’d been used like a pawn by Dumbledore…
There were people out there who’d once looked up to him. How would they see him now, when they knew how weak he was?
He sobbed again, covering his mouth with his hand. He couldn’t do this.
He left the kitchen, abandoning the half-empty glass of water, and went into the living room. He glanced longingly at the twins’ door, which was closed. They were probably sleeping soundly. He should go back to his room before he disturbed them.
But didn’t they want him to tell them when he was upset? Hadn’t they both insisted that he wasn’t a bother at different times, even in the middle of the night? Would they mind if he woke them up because he couldn’t sleep?
He wanted to, suddenly, more than anything else. He thought maybe he could stand this if he wasn’t alone, but… but what if they got mad at him?
Still, the urge was a powerful one, and he found himself crossing the room on feet that wanted to turn back with every step he took. He stood outside of their door for what felt like forever, his breath hitching still with sobs, his eyesight blurry because of the tears that kept falling from his eyes.
Finally, with a shaking hand, he knocked on the door.
He could hear something, mumbled voices on the other side, and then a few minutes later, the door swung open and he found himself facing a bleary-eyed George. “What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice rough with sleep.
“I can’t—” Harry cut off, unable to get the words out. His breath hitched again, and he tried desperately to suppress the sob that wanted to force its way out of his throat.
“Can’t sleep?” George asked, blinking a little. He was waking up as Harry watched, and when Fred joined them in the doorway, he was wide awake as well.
Harry caught a glimpse of their bedroom as they stepped through, the twin beds rumpled and messy, like they’d never been made a day in their lives. Maybe they hadn’t. He didn’t think the twins liked to make beds, and neat and tidy didn’t really seem like their thing.
“Can’t sleep,” Harry managed to confirm. “Sorry I woke you, I just—”
“Needed company,” George said, wrapping an arm around him and towing him towards the couch easily, like he hadn’t just been woken from a dead sleep for what felt like the thousandth time to Harry.
“Well, let’s get some hot chocolate and see what we can do about that,” Fred said cheerfully, like it wasn’t after midnight, like they didn’t have to be up in six hours to get ready for two trials that were going to stress all three of them out.
Harry really didn’t understand how he could have gotten so lucky, but he was finally starting to believe that it didn’t matter how it had happened, it just had, and it was okay to be happy about that.
Being woken up in the middle of the night by his brother was never pleasant, but George was starting to think that it was going to be more their new normal than not. He didn’t like it, but he was more than willing to do it because he knew that Harry hated it to. He would never turn his brother away when he looked as desperate as he had the night before.
Harry had eventually dropped off to sleep, though it had taken him a long time, and by the time he had, they’d had to be up in three hours. Still, George and Fred both reasoned that they could let him sleep, and George had made himself get up and start fixing breakfast before Harry woke up and got it into his head to do so.
If George had ever had a chance to be alone with Dursley in an alley where no one would ever suspect him of doing anything, he probably would have killed the man himself for the things he’d put Harry through. His almost pathological need to prove himself useful to Fred and George was just one of the many things that George thought Dursley should answer for.
“I’m not hungry,” Harry mumbled when he did wake up, after sitting down at the table.
George had known that was going to be his response, and today of all days, he didn’t have it in him to make Harry try to eat. “Okay,” he said, his voice gentle. He handed Harry a nutrient potion and watched carefully as he took it.
He worried about how thin Harry was, how tired he still was all the time. He thought that perhaps the lack of eating was contributing to the lack of energy, but he couldn’t imagine how he would begin to fix that. He supposed that would be a question for Healer Cartwright at their next visit.
Harry couldn’t seem to make himself eat, which George could understand, but the nutrient potion that he took didn’t seem to be helping him quite enough. There was something they would have to do about that, he knew and understood, but it was one more thing that would have to wait because of the trials.
Merlin, he hoped that they were over sooner rather than later. Harry didn’t deserve to have this nonsense dragged out any longer than it had been.
While he and Fred ate quickly, Harry let his head rest on the table, his eyes slipping closed again. George was glad that he could get a little extra rest, even though he hated that Harry had to be so exhausted because of all of this.
Harry needed to recover, not go gallivanting around at all of these trials. Didn’t anyone at the Ministry care about the damage the Horcrux and its removal had done to Harry? Didn’t they care about the way that his magic was growing in leaps and bounds, unfettered by whatever binding had been placed on him?
George got that Dursley and Dumbledore were important, but didn’t Harry deserve a break from all of this?
“When do we have to leave?” Harry asked, his voice still soft and hoarse from a lack of sleep.
George checked the time. “Soon,” he said, and glanced at Fred. “We’re gonna go get dressed, okay. You should get dressed too, so that we can be there on time.”
In the privacy of their room, as they dressed, Fred asked, quietly, “Do you think he’s up for this?”
George sat on his bed as he put on his socks and glanced at Fred, sitting on his own bed, half-dressed. “No,” he said honestly, tiredly. “I think we’ll be lucky if we can make it through today without a breakdown, if I’m being honest. We’re damned lucky that Healer Abbott is accompanying us for this.”
“Hopefully they won’t make him testify like Rebecca said they might,” Fred muttered. He looked positively murderous at the thought, and George couldn’t blame him. Harry would hate having his secrets spilled to the rest of the world, and both Fred and George understood that.
That it would help Harry in the long run wouldn’t help Harry process it now, and he wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of it happening. Hopefully they wouldn’t need Abbott for the first matter, Dursley. Hopefully that would be as cut and dry as George expected it would be.
There was a tap on the door, then, drawing his attention. “You two have been in there an awfully long time for just getting dressed,” Harry called to them, a small hint of levity in his voice. “You two should know that letting loose pranks in the Wizengamot is probably a good way to get yourselves charged with some kind of crime!”
Fred brightened and glanced at George, but George shook his head. “He’s right,” he said, and stood up. He finished pulling on his socks and then started on his shoes, then wondered why he’d stood at all. He sat down to finish.
“Nobody would believe me if I told them what a spoilsport you are,” Fred grumbled, but he was grinning as he did it. He finished getting dressed as well and swept out of their room, and George caught a glimpse of him wrapping an arm around Harry’s shoulders as the door swung closed.
They would get Harry through this. They could absolutely do this. And once the trials were over, hopefully sooner rather than later, they would be able to get Harry to settle down and get the rest that he deserved, and so badly needed, even though he was trying so hard to pretend like he didn’t need it.
He was getting better about it, and hopefully by the end of summer, he would realize that he didn’t need to pretend about anything at all. Though… Geoge wasn’t sure what exactly would happen at the end of summer, because he didn’t know how he felt about the idea of Harry going back to Hogwarts, with or without Dumbledore’s presence.
That, however, was a problem for another day. Today, they had to get through the trials, and they could do that. Harry needed them to be able to do that.
George left his room after taking a deep, bracing breath and smiled at his little brother. They could absolutely do this.
Fred was starting to hate the Ministry. The physical place, that was, not the actual governing body. Although, come to think of it, he wasn’t wild about the governing body, either.
But it was the place, particularly the courtroom, that was stressing his little brother out so much. As it filled with members of the Wizengamot, and with a handful of other involved parties, Fred could see that Harry was getting more and more tense. Even Hermione and Ron coming to sit with them didn’t seem to help.
By the time Mind Healer Abbott arrived and sat with them, Fred found himself worried that Harry was going to have a very public breakdown, and he could see by Ron’s expression that his other little brother was noticing it as well.
Healer Abbott nodded to Fred, George, Ron, and Hermione, then he said to Harry, “I thought this might be helpful.” He handed Harry something that looked like a Snitch.
Harry’s eyes narrowed, and Fred thought he might chuck it at the Mind Healer, but instead he muttered, “Thank you.” He began to fiddle with it, his shoulders gradually slumping as he started to relax. As he relaxed, so too did Ron and Hermione.
“Thank you,” Fred said, a bit more graciously than Harry had managed.
Healer Abbott just smiled at him. “It’s no problem,” he said easily.
Before Fred could say anything else, Chief Warlock Locke was banging his gavel and calling the courtroom to order. As things quieted, Locke said, “We have a great deal of business before us today, and I intend to finish with as much of it as we possibly can before the day is out. That being said, let us proceed with the trial of one Vernon Dursley, who stands accused of the gross abuse of a minor left in the care of his family, amongst other, more serious charges.”
Locke paused and Vernon Dursley was brought out. Fred remembered him only vaguely from the terrifying night when they’d rescued Harry from the horrible room with the bars on the window, and he thought the man had greatly changed. He’d lost a great deal of weight and appeared to be a shrunken, wasted skeleton of a man. His eyes, though, when he looked up towards Harry, burned with fury.
“This is your fault, freak,” he snarled. One of the Aurors holding him shook him roughly, his eyes distant and grim, and Dursley subsided.
Locke glared down at the monster of a man. “How do you plead?”
“I never did anything wrong!” Dursley bit out. “And if I did, it wouldn’t be for you freaks to judge me! I’m a good, normal person, who wanted to live a normal life with my normal wife and my normal son, and now they’re dead because of that freak! If anyone should be on trial here, it’s him!” Dursley flung an arm out to point at Harry, but the other Auror guarding him caught it and forced it back down.
“I suppose that’s a not guilty plea, then,” Locke muttered. He leaned forward, almost looming over Dursley. “You truly don’t see anything wrong with beating a child until his arm is broken multiple times?” he asked.
Dursley’s lips curled into a grotesque grin. “Little freak had it coming,” he said. “Never tried to hurt my Dudders again, did he? Even saved his life that one time, if we’re supposed to believe his story. Hard to do, him being a freak and all. All we ever tried to do was beat the freak out of him, so that he could be decent and normal. How does he repay us?” Dursley surged against the two Aurors, but they didn’t move, and eventually he subsided, his face still an alarming shade of almost-purple. “Gets my wife and son killed! That’s how!”
“Mr. Dursley, you aren’t even sitting on the honesty hex,” Locke said, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “I find myself hesitant to put you there, given the venom you’ve so willingly spewed in the presence of our esteemed court. I call for an immediate verdict, given what we’ve heard and the confrontational nature of the accused.”
Fred had never seen votes given so fast. Well, he’d never imagined he would see it. He’d never been in court before, not like this, and he sort of hoped he never would have to be again after all this was over. There was a bit of back and forth over sentencing, but most of it was communicated via charmed parchment, he thought, so he didn’t really know what they were discussing.
Hermione whispered, “I don’t know that that’s quite fair. He doesn’t even have a defense lawyer!” She looked appalled, and then she flinched after she spoke and looked guiltily at Harry, who didn’t seem to have heard. He was too busy staring at Dursley, his eyes wide.
“Who could defend him when he’s spouting off like that?” Ron asked with a shrug.
Fred agreed with his little brother and opened his mouth to say so, but before he could, the gavel banged once more.
Locke finished marking some things down, then he cleared his throat and glanced up at Dursley. “Vernon Dursley, you are found guilty of abuse of a wizarding child that should have resulted in his death. Looking at his medical records, it truly is by the grace of magic itself that it did not. We of the court do not feel as though a term in Azkaban would make you rethink your ways, and we believe you to be a threat to the sovereignty of the magical community. We of the Wizengamot sentence you to death, Vernon Dursley, to be carried out in a week’s time.”
Dursley went white, but Fred couldn’t worry about him because Harry was shaking beside him, his eyes wide and wounded.
“Th-they can’t,” Harry was whispering over and over again, shaking his head back and forth. His eyes were filling with tears, and Fred got between him and the rest of the court, hoping that blocking his view would help. “He doesn’t deserve…. does he?”
Fred shrugged, wishing that he had a way to reassure his little brother. “I think he does,” he said. He smoothed Harry’s hair back from his face. “What he did to you, brother-mine, was beyond the pale. It was monstrous. You didn’t deserve so much of what he did to you, so why shouldn’t he deserve death?”
“Fred’s right,” George chimed in. “Maybe you think that he doesn’t deserve to die, and maybe he doesn’t, but he knows too much about us, and now that his family is gone, he’ll hate us more than ever. He’ll become a genuine threat, Harry, and he can’t have so many of his memories taken; it would be even more cruel than death. That means he has to be killed. It’s the only option.”
Harry didn’t think the twins were right, but he couldn’t quite figure out where their logic was wrong. It had to be, though, because Uncle Vernon… he was going to die, and how would that fix anything? What good would it do?
Vernon would die with the satisfaction of having been right, with the knowledge that wizards were every bit as awful as he’d always thought, and Harry hated even the idea of that. And he hated the small place inside of him that wanted Vernon to die, because then he knew for sure that he’d finally be safe. What kind of monster did that make him?
“I can tell that you’re conflicted about this,” Healer Abbott said, drawing Harry’s attention. “That’s okay, Harry. You don’t have to be entirely okay with Vernon’s death. Not now, and not ever. But I don’t want you to feel guilty if the permanence of the solution makes you feel safe.” The Healer’s voice was gentle and steady.
It was soothing. But… “But doesn’t that make me as bad as him?” Harry asked, unable to stop himself. “For being relieved that he’s going to… to die?”
“No,” Healer Abbott said firmly, no doubt in his voice.
A roar of sound and gasps from Hermione and Ron both distracted Harry, drawing his attention. He saw Vernon on his knees, and half of the Wizengamot was on their feet, shouting words that Harry couldn’t make out in the chaos.
“Order!” Locke was bellowing, slamming his gavel down with great force. “I will have order or I’ll silence the lot of you, don’t think I won’t!”
The din began to fade, and Locke took a deep breath. “Let’s have him in the chair, then, to verify what Dursley just said.”
Vernon’s guards hauled him to his feet and dragged him to a chair that looked similar to the one that Bill and the others had sat in just the other day, when they’d spoken of where Harry should wind up. Vernon, though, was strapped into it so that he couldn’t get away. He did try, but he couldn’t leave the seat.
“Tell me what Dumbleore has to do with the way you treated your nephew over the years?” Locke’s voice was cold as he spoke, and Harry found himself shivering to hear it.
Then the words registered for him. What did Dumbledore have to do with the way he’d been treated? Harry didn’t think he wanted to know.
“It’s going to be okay, Harry,” George said, his voice grim. His eyes, too, were riveted to the spectacle before them.
“He said that we could do whatever we wanted with the boy, as long as we didn’t kill him. Said that the boy would be more useful if he knew how worthless he was. We were just doing what Dumbledore wanted!”
Locke let out a sigh as Harry’s heart broke just a little bit more. “And Dumbledore’s trial begins right after yours, you utter monster,” he said coldly. “The sentence stands. Remove Dursley from the courtroom.”
Vernon was hauled out unceremoniously, like he was a piece of garbage. Harry watched as he went, mourning for a reason he couldn’t begin to explain and happy in a way that disgusted him. He closed his eyes and let himself burrow into Fred, who was the closer of the two twins.
Fred said nothing, just wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders and pulled him close. “We’ve got you,” Fred murmured to him.
George rubbed Harry’s shoulders. “We’ll get you through this, brother-ours.”
The thing that still surprised Harry even now, weeks after being in the twins’ custody, was how much he trusted those promises. The twins would get him through this, and they’d probably even manage to make him laugh a bit while they did.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice a little hoarse. He offered them both a weak smile, and braced himself for the start of Dumbledore’s trial. He was afraid that it might be worse, but there was nothing to do but face it bravely, with his brothers and friends at his side.
Albus resisted the urge to hum as he was led into the courtroom. He wasn’t at all nervous about what was coming, and in fact found this demonstration of the Ministry’s power to be more amusing than anything else. Who were they to judge him, after all?
He didn’t even bother to pay attention to the charges against him as they were read out loud in a seemingly endless litany. Charges of malicious child endangerment, of allowing a minor within his care to come to harm, of organizing events that would lead him to harm… they were all ridiculous.
It was like no one understood that Albus was simply serving the greater good! Oh, for the days when people believed in the greater good, and they weren’t all selfish and determined to live good lives.
If Harry could only have understood that…
Well, no matter. The boy didn’t understand, but he could still be brought to act in the proper way. He could still see reason and sacrifice himself for the good of the entire Wizarding World. The twins wouldn’t have managed to undo all of Albus’ hard work in the short period of time that they'd had custody of him, and as soon as Albus had handled these ridiculous charges, he’d have the boy back under his control.
“Albus Dumbledore, do you have anything to say for yourself?” Locke asked, sounding utterly exasperated.
Albsu wondered how many times he’d asked that to sound so frustrated, and decided that it didn’t matter. He was the one being put upon by these ridiculous charges, and he should be able to answer at his own convenience. Locke had a lot of nerve, getting angry at him while sitting in his chair. Albus didn’t like to think of himself as possessive, but he found it quite upsetting to see someone else doing his job, and for such a ridiculous reason as putting him on trial…
Well, no matter. He had the chance to explain himself now, and surely once he’d done that, all of this nonsense would be at an end.
“If I’ve done wrong, and I’m not saying that I have, then I’ve done it in the name of the greater good,” he said, speaking slowly and clearly. Not because he thought that Locke was stupid, but because many members of the Wizengamot were. It was all the inbreeding. A shame, really.
Locke sighed at him, as though he was disappointed. “And would you care to elaborate further on this ‘greater good’ that you were working towards?”
Albus would really rather not, but he could see that Locke wouldn’t be satisfied with that. A pity that he’d chosen to pit himself against Albus; the man could have been a truly impressive ally. “I don’t know that this courtroom is secure enough to speak of the things that I know,” he said, like he was deliberating the matter. Truly, it wasn’t, and there were likely several Death Eaters in the audience.
Although… there didn’t seem to be much of an audience, did there? Was his trial a private one? Should he not have been informed of that? His entire strategy would have changed… And… He peered into the Wizengamot, studying the faces staring down at him, and realized that one in particular was missing. What had happened to Lucius Malfoy?
“I can assure you, Dumbledore, this courtroom is as secure as we could make it,” Locke said dryly. He had the nerve to be smirking at him, like he was amused by Albus.
Albus sighed. “In that case, I feel as though I should inform you of the prophecy that lingers over Mr. Potter. He must defeat the Dark Lord, for he is the only one who can. I always knew that Voldemort would return, you see, and that Harry Potter would be the one to defeat him for good, thanks to the prophecy that Professor Trelawney related to me during her interview. There were… are, really, certain things that Harry must do in order to fulfil the prophecy, and it is my duty to help him in those endeavors.”
There were mutterings rising up from the Wizengamot, but to Albus’ confusion, they didn’t seem to be mutterings of understanding. Rather, if he was judging the expressions of certain members correctly, they seemed to be enraged. That made no sense! They were all frightened of Voldemort; didn’t they want him gone?
“You mean to say that you’ve known for years that He Who Must Not Be Named would rise again and you did nothing to prevent it?” Locke asked. It sounded like his teeth were gritted.
“I worked in the shadows to make sure that, when he did inevitably rise once more, all the pieces were where they needed to be in order to stop him. And, to be clear, only I know where all of the pieces are.” Albus nodded to himself. That should explain everything to these fools. If they wanted Voldemort gone, they would have to release him so that he could continue doing his job.
He hated to resort to such measures, but, well, the greater good must always prevail, even over his own wishes.
Locke leaned back for a moment and wrote something down on a piece of parchment. He was, doubtlessly, conferring with the Wizengamot about releasing Albus and dropping all of these ridiculous charges so that he could go on about his work. It was the only smart thing to do.
Instead, a secondary chair floated in from the shadows and an Unspeakable appeared in the courtroom, smooth and silent, like he hadn’t just Apparated through the wards. His cloak was long and black, and, predictably, his face was obscured through magic.
Albus resented the fact that he’d never been able to bring an Unspeakable over to his side. The things he could have done with such a researcher…
“Unspeakable Croaker, we find ourselves woefully uneducated in the matter of prophecy. Tell us about the Hall of Prophecies, if you would be so kind.” Locke smiled at the Unspeakable, his expression friendly.
Croaker cleared his throat. “The Hall of Prophecy contains hundreds of prophecies, both fulfilled and unfulfilled.” He tipped his head in a certain direction, and Albus followed the gesture to see Harry and his friends sitting in the witnesses area. “At least, it did contain them. It was destroyed during the battle there before summer.”
“And how many of the prophecies had been fulfilled?” Locke asked.
Croaker laughed. “Only a handful,” he said with a shrug. “If there were thousands of prophecies there, then I would estimate that less than one hundred had ever come true. Most of them were unfulfillable, since their subjects were long since dead. To be honest, the boy and his friends probably did us a bit of a favor, getting rid of all the old ones.”
“So, Unspeakable Croaker, in your opinion, is trying to make a prophecy come true a valid reason to criminally abuse a young child?” Locke was scribbling something on his paper, and Albus burned to know what it was.
How dare this man sit in judgment of him? How dare he imply that Albus was wrong to do everything he could to undo his mistakes with Tom Riddle? He’d only been doing what he had to for the greater good of everyone? Why couldn’t they see that?
“Of course not!” Croaker sounded utterly scandalized. “Prophecies come true on their own, or they don’t come true at all. I’ve never heard of any subject of prophecy needing help to fulfil their own destiny. Such is the nature of prophecies. In fact, by attempting to force one to come true, one might inadvertently nullify it.”
Albus took a deep breath. “I did what I had to, in order to keep the most people alive.” He was horrified to realize that the words didn’t come out. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t make himself be heard.
Locke’s grin, when he looked in Albus’ direction, was particularly vicious. “I forgot to mention, Albus. You’ve been judged a threat to potential witnesses. In order to keep you from intimidating or otherwise manipulating them, you’ll only be able to speak when we don’t have a witness in the witness’ seat.”
Albus glared at him, but there was little else he could do. He shouldn’t even do that, because he knew that he was undermining the image that he’d worked so carefully to build, so he forced himself to put on a blank expression. He certainly couldn’t manage his usual grandfatherly amusement that was his preferred expression.
“Thank you, Croaker,” Locke said, dismissing the Unspeakable. “Next, we’d like to speak to Harry Potter, the subject of this alleged prophecy.”
Albus sighed. If they were talking to Harry, and not giving him a chance to speak…
He could hardly believe it, but it looked as though he might not be getting out of this as easily as he’d thought. He might have to do something so crass as to arrange a jailbreak for himself. Fortunately, he had a number of loyal soldiers who would be more than happy to help him with it, if need be.
The very last thing that Harry wanted to do was get up on that stand where everyone in the courtroom could see him, where they would all hear whatever he had to say. He didn’t want this to be happening, but at the same time… At the same time he thought about all the things that the Headmaster maybe could have stopped, about Cedric and Sirius and everything else, everyone else who’d died since Voldemort had risen again, and he knew that this was as much his duty as stopping Voldemort was.
And that was absolutely his duty, no matter what anyone said. He understood that prophecies didn’t always come true, but he was pretty sure that Voldemort himself didn’t care about that. He wouldn’t stop until Harry had fulfilled the prophecy, or until he had failed and Voldemort killed him.
So, with his head held as high as he could, and after glancing at Fred and George just to make absolutely sure that their support of him was unwavering, Harry settled into the second witness box and tried to ignore Dumbledore, who seemed to be attempting to get his attention.
“Now Harry,” the Chief Warlock began. “I want to make it absolutely clear that you aren’t on trial. Nothing you say can, in any way, get you into trouble. Do you understand that?”
Harry swallowed. “Yes sir,” he said. He glanced around, wondering if there would be attorneys involved in this at all. There hadn’t been for Uncle Vernon, but that didn’t mean that things wouldn’t be different with someone like Albus Dumbledore on trial.
“Then, Harry, could you please tell the Wizengamot how you were treated during Albus Dumbledore’s tenure as your guardian?”
Harry blinked at him. “I didn’t know he was my guardian,” he said. Had Dumbledore been his guardian? He supposed it made sense, since he was the one who placed Harry with the Dursleys. But… he’d never checked up on him or anything, had he? Aside from having Mrs. Figg watch out for him, that was. At least, Harry was pretty sure that had been the reason for her presence.
“He never checked in on you with the Dursleys?”
Harry shook his head. Then, in all fairness, he said, “I think he was getting reports from Mrs. Figg, our neighbor, who looked after me sometimes when the Dursleys couldn’t leave me alone in the house while they were on vacations.”
The Chief Warlock looked away, scratching something on his parchment. Several other members of the Wizengamot were also scribbling. Harry was pretty sure that that was how they communicated during a trial, which seemed strange to him. This whole thing seemed very strange. Why didn’t Dumbledore have some kind of defense?
The Chief Warlock waited a moment, then asked, “Did you ever attempt to inform the Headmaster about how your family treated you when you were with them over the summers?”
Harry nodded. “I tried,” he said. He swallowed. “The Headmaster thought I was safest there, I guess. I told him how much I didn’t want to go back and asked if I could stay at Hogwarts over the summer, but he wouldn’t let me. And the Weasleys took me for a few weeks some summers, but never for the whole thing.”
Dumbledore jerked in his chair, and the Chief Warlock waved his hand at him. “You didn’t think to investigate the boy’s situation when he spoke to you?”
“There were wards at his house that couldn’t be transferred to anyone but his Aunt,” Dumbledore said, his voice sharp. “They provided him a protection that no other house could match. It’s, quite frankly, a miracle that the boy hasn’t been kidnapped from the home of the Weasley twins. Surely you understand how important—” His voice cut out as the Chief Warlock waved a hand once more.
“You could have checked up on the boy,” Locke said, practically growling. “Dumbledore, are you sure that you don’t want some kind of representation? I assure you, you more than have the funds to provide for it. And your representation would be permitted to speak when you aren’t.”
Dumbledore didn’t attempt to speak, but did scowl and shake his head.
That answered that; he’d refused representation. Harry couldn’t imagine how arrogant he was to have refused some kind of representation. Why would he do that? Did he really think that he wasn’t going to get in any trouble? Maybe he was right; maybe nothing would happen to him, and all of this would have been for nothing.
Harry shivered at the very idea. He hated having to be up here, but it wouldn’t be so bad as long as some good came of it. If it was for nothing, then… He dropped his gaze and hoped that his time on the stand would be over soon enough.
“Did Dumbledore ever instruct you in the management of your estate?”
Harry blinked at Locke. “No?” He didn’t know what Locke was talking about. “I didn’t… I have a vault, sir. I don’t have an estate. Do I?”
Locke visibly ground his teeth. He scrawled something on his parchment, and spent several more minutes writing back and forth. “Harry, it is the advice of the Wizengamot that you request a full accounting of your vaults from your account manager at Gringotts, sooner rather than later. There may be additional things that Dumbledore needs to be charged with.”
Dumbledore attempted to say something, but again, he was unable to. This time, Chief Warlock Locke didn’t invite him to say anything, and instead continued to scribble things on his parchment. Eventually, with a sigh, he said, “The Wizengamot has asked that I make an inquiry regarding your years at Hogwarts. They would like to know if you were kept safe there, while directly under Dumbledore’s care?”
Harry laughed at the question; he couldn’t help it. “Safe?” he echoed, incredulous. “You want to know if I was kept safe at Hogwarts?”
“I need you to answer the question, Harry,” the Chief Warlock said, his voice going very soft. “As honestly as you can, please.”
Harry couldn’t quite stop laughing, but he really did try. “My first year, the Headmaster stored the Philosopher’s Stone at Hogwarts, and I went through a maze to try and save it from Voldemort, who was possessing Quirrell. I burned him to death accidentally when I touched him. My second year, we had a basilisk loose in the school, being controlled by… by Voldemort’s ghost, I guess. I don’t know what you’d call that thing. My third year, there were dementors everywhere, and that was actually on the Ministry, but whatever. My fourth year, there was that damned tournament, the one that I never entered and that I begged to get out of, and nobody cared and I had to out-fly a dragon, and I got kidnapped, and our Defense professor who was supposed to be a good friend of his was an escaped Death Eater and nobody noticed, even when he demonstrated the Unforgiveables in class! And last year, last year…” He touched his hand, then held it out, even though he wasn’t sure if the Wizengamot could even see what it said. “Last year, a Ministry employee who was our Defense professor made me write lines with a Blood Quill and now I have a permanent scar there, all because I wouldn’t say that I’d lied about Voldemort coming back from the dead.”
He blinked away the tears that were trying to blur his eyes and looked down and away. “So no, Chief Warlock, I wasn’t ever safe at Hogwarts, but that wasn’t always the Headmaster’s fault.”
“What does it say?” the Chief Warlock asked. His voice was very soft, and very careful. “Your scar? The one from the Blood Quill?”
“It says that I must not tell lies,” Harry answered. He didn’t look back up. He didn’t think that he could. If he did, he was certain that he’d burst into tears, and he couldn’t let himself do that in front of so many people.
Silence reigned in the courtroom, and Harry fought the urge to fidget. He just stared at his hands in his lap and waited for the next question. But none came, and then George was in front of him, kneeling. “Let’s go sit down,” he said, his voice gentle. “They don’t need you to answer anymore questions right now.”
Harry had missed when that had been said, but he supposed that was understandable. He was pretty shaky, and he wasn’t sure about standing up. But George helped him, and supported him as they walked back to their seats. Ron and Hermione were giving him soft, warm smiles that made him ache, and he hid his face in George’s shoulder once he’d settled between him and Fred again.
The courtroom stayed silent, and when Harry glanced up, the Wizengamot were all writing furiously to one another.
He wondered what this meant for the trial, and decided that he didn’t have the energy to worry about it at the moment. Instead, he buried his face in George’s shoulder again and waited for the trial to resume.
Minerva, sitting in the back of the courtroom, took a deep breath as Harry was escorted off of the stand by one of the Weasley twins. She didn’t know which one; she couldn’t read their nametag, and she didn’t trust them to be wearing the right one, anyway.
Her stomach ached with a combination of horror and guilt. When she’d heard that Albus had been arrested, she was ashamed to admit that she’d been furious at the indignity of it. Albus was a good man, a great one, a man who only had the best of intentions for the world around him. He’d worked tirelessly for years to help as many people as he could, and Minerva had genuinely believed in his vision.
How could she not? Albus was so bright that he shone, and he drew everyone around him into the light.
She’d come to the trial sure that she was going to see Albus vindicated, sure that her student had been making up nonsense, that he was exaggerating. She didn’t dislike Harry, of course, she didn’t dislike any of her students, but she did believe him to be a bit of an attention seeker. How else could he always get into so much trouble?
It had just never occurred to her that… that he wasn’t really getting into trouble on his own, and that it was their jobs, as the adults…
It had occurred to her for every one of her other students. She never would have imagined letting one of them deal with Umbridge without her, and yet… and yet that’s what she’d done. Albus had assured her that everything had been fine, and she’d just… listened, even when she’d seen the evidence of the children treating their own injuries with things that would never quite do the trick. Treating injuries from a Blood Quill was the work of full Healers, after all, not the work for Murtlap Essence, which she’d seen them using.
And Moody… she’d known he was a problem. She’d gone to Albus, she’d told him about the incident with transforming Malfoy into a ferret, and Albus… he’d said it was fine, that he would talk to the professor, but why hadn’t she ever followed up?
Why hadn’t she ever checked on Harry after he’d been placed with the Dursleys, knowing what terrible people they were?
How many students had been tortured while she’d looked the other way?
Albus might have been the one on trial in this very moment, but Minerva wasn’t so sure that she deserved to escape this judgment. She was at least as at fault, and would not argue her innocence if she found herself brought before the Wizengamot because of all of this.
And if she was not, if she was able to maintain her position as Headmistress of Hogwarts, she vowed that she would do better. She would make the school as safe as she could, genuinely safe, for all students, not just those that Albus didn’t have plans for.
If Harry came back to the school, she would absolutely make sure that his next year was a peaceful one. She wasn’t so sure, however, looking at the way that Harry took shelter with the Weasley twins, that he would be up for returning.
Perhaps there was something she could do for him in the event that he didn’t, if he needed time to recover, which she could certainly understand. Maybe there was something that could be worked out with the professors to give Harry the time he would likely need to heal from all of this.
She made a mental note to start working on it, not because she didn’t want Harry to come back, but because she wanted him to have the option to heal, and as much as she wanted Hogwarts to be a place where he could heal, she didn’t know that he would be ready to return within the month that he had before school started. She would find options, and if it became necessary, she would make sure that she could present them to him.
It was the least she could do, considering her own culpability in this absolute disaster.
Harry couldn’t help but be embarrassed when he finally made himself pull away from George. He hadn’t meant to break down like that in front of everyone, and yet, he had. He felt like all he did anymore was have breakdowns and cry hysterically and make wild accusations, and even though he felt safer than he ever had, he couldn’t seem to stop himself from these fits of borderline hysteria.
At least it had happened in front of his Mind Healer, so that the man would have some idea of what he was stuck dealing with.
George rubbed his shoulder when he pulled back and gave him a gentle, soothing look. “It’s fine, Harry,” he said, like he could read Harry’s mind.
Harry didn’t think he was a Legilimens, but he supposed he never knew, right? “It’s embarrassing,” he muttered. He rubbed his eyes, which hurt, and turned his attention back to the court case in front of him.
“It’s natural to be upset,” Hermione offered softly, even as she watched as the Wizengamot scribbled to each other. “You’ve been through a lot, Harry; there’s nothing wrong with letting yourself take comfort from the twins.”
Harry flushed and muttered a quiet, “Thanks.” He really hoped that the subject would be dropped now, and fortunately, it was.
But only because the next person was being called to the stand. Harry didn’t understand why Dumbledore wasn’t getting the chance to speak for himself, but if Chief Warlock Locke really thought he was going to try intimidating the witnesses, then maybe that was why? It didn’t seem fair, though, that he wasn’t going to get a chance to defend himself.
Harry hoped that he was wrong, and that he would have a chance. Not because he wanted Dumbledore to get off, but because he wanted this to be fair, and he didn’t see how else it could be.
The next person settled on the stand, and Harry watched as Healer Cartwright settled onto the stand with great familiarity. He supposed that the crotchety old man was familiar enough with the process if he was commonly used by the Ministry to deal with victims of child abuse.
Victims of child abuse. Harry hated thinking about himself that way. But… he was, wasn’t he? As strange as it was, he was a victim. Him, the hero. He… didn’t like the way that made him feel, so instead he watched as Cartwright told the Wizengamot all about his injuries, about the nutrition potions and the way that he trembled when people touched him. As he told them about the Horcrux, which still made Harry shake to think about it.
He hated that everyone knew all those things about him now, hated the expressions of sympathy that members of the Wizengamot were casting in his general direction. He wished that he could tell them that he didn’t want their pity, but instead he kept his mouth stubbornly closed.
“Harry, do you want to step outside for a bit?” Mind Healer Abbott asked. He was watching Harry carefully; Harry could feel the weight of his gaze on him.
“No,” Harry answered. It would be better to know, he thought, than to wonder for the rest of his life what had been said about him.
“If you change your mind,” the Mind Healer murmured, but returned his attention to the trial taking place.
Once Healer Cartwright left the stand, Dumbledore was allowed to speak. “You can’t have removed the Horcrux,” was the very first thing he said, and he sounded utterly appalled as he said it. “You shouldn’t even know about it! I have reason to believe that the Horcrux is the key to the prophecy, and by removing it, you could all have—”
“So you did know that it was there,” Locke interrupted sharply. “Albus, have you lost your mind? I genuinely find myself wondering why else you would even consider leaving something so dark in a child. What were you thinking?”
“That it was worth it to leave it there if it would allow Harry to fulfil his destiny and defeat the Dark Lord!” Dumbledore snapped back. “What would you have done, Locke, if the choice was before you to sacrifice one for the good of many? Surely you can see—”
“I can see that if such a choice were to be made, then it should be made by more than one man, and it shouldn’t involve the sacrifice of a child!” Locke roared back. He slammed his gavel down and Dumbledore started to mouth something else, but no noise came out. “If we’re willing to sacrifice children just for a chance at a prophecy that may never have come true, then how are we any better than that monster out there?” He gestured at the nebulous out there with an all-encompassing sweep of his arm. “Next witness.”
Harry watched, startled and confused, as several of his teachers went up to the stand next, including Snape and Madame Pomfrey, all of whom reported bringing their concerns to Dumbledore about his home situation. Snape, surprisingly enough, seemed to have known Aunt Petunia and had been incredibly concerned that her hatred of magic would transfer to hating Harry, and he was apparently grieved to see that he was correct.
Harry didn’t even know what to do with that knowledge. Snape had known his Aunt? Did that mean that he’d known his mother? He felt like nothing made sense anymore, and just when he thought he started to understand what was going on, the sands shifted and he was lost again.
Harry hated it.
“You okay?” Fred asked him when a recess was called for lunch.
Harry was definitely not, so he shook his head, but didn’t say anything else. He was glad when they left the wizarding world for lunch again, because the entire Ministry seemed filled with people who wanted to know what was happening with the trial, and Harry wasn’t at all interested in fielding questions from people about it.
Hermione and Ron joined him, and distracted him throughout the short meal, but Harry found that he couldn’t be distracted too much. He didn’t want to go back to the courtroom. He didn’t want to listen to any more of the trial, but he also didn’t think that he had much of a choice.
When the meal was over, he sighed and let himself be escorted back, and found himself hoping that everything ended soon. He was tired of all of this, and wanted to start to move on. He didn’t think he could until everything had been resolved, but once it had…
He felt like there would be a huge weight lifted from his shoulders, and he was pretty sure that he was looking forward to that, no matter which way the trial went.
Fred had initially thought that the trial would take longer than the first day, but as the day wore on, and Dumbledore’s defense increasingly began to break down, he realized that it was going to be over far faster than he’d anticipated. That was good for Harry, but he hoped that the public didn’t take it as a sign that something was wrong with the trial.
On the other hand, in Fred’s eyes, everything was wrong with it, and Fred hated that Dumbledore was getting to do this, getting to air all of Harry’s secrets to the public before he was taken away to Azkaban forever. Because, Merlin help him, that had better be how this turned out. He didn’t want to know what he’d do to the Headmaster if he somehow weathered this storm.
But it didn’t seem that he was going to, judging by the way that the Wizengamot was steadily growing more and more grim, and by the way that Dumbledore hadn’t been allowed to speak at all between the final few witnesses.
In fact, there was very little discussion between the members of the Wizengamot at all, and when Locke finally put his quill down, it was with a grim expression of satisfaction. “Albus Dumbledore, we of the Wizengamot find you guilty on all counts. Have you anything to say for yourself before we sentence you?”
Dumbledore, finally freed to speak, sighed at them all, like he was disappointed in them. “I understand that you’re all doing as you must, but surely you can understand that I’ve only done the same. The Potter boy, while significant in that he is the focus of a prophecy, is insignificant in the scheme of things. His death could be used to serve the greater good, and could allow us to defeat Voldemort far more quickly than we might otherwise. It’s a necessary evil, but I don’t deny that it was evil. I regret that none of you seem to understand how necessary what I’ve done was, and hope that you don’t curse yourselves too much when Voldemort’s reign continues without the prophecy to stop him.”
Locke nodded along as Dumbledore spoke, and started to scribble once he was done, his gaze intent on his parchment. He waved a hand as he did so, and Dumbledore could no longer speak once more.
“What will they do to him?” Harry asked, his voice shaking.
Fred hated that his brother was so nervous again, that he was literally trembling because of all of this. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. He’d be surprised if they let him live, honestly, because of the kind of flight risk that he was, but he didn’t want to say that to Harry, not when he was still reeling from Dursley’s sentence.
“Probably something permanent,” George offered, and Fred shot his twin a dirty look. “What? I’m not going to lie. He’s too dangerous to let him just go to Azkaban. If Sirius could escape, then Dumbledore probably could too.”
That was a fair point, and Fred tipped his head towards his brother in acknowledgment.
Then Locke was speaking again, his voice filled with a curious sort of satisfaction. “Albus Dumbledore, we of the Wizengamot sentence you to having your magic stripped from you. Your wand will be snapped, and you will spend the rest of your life, whatever it may be, in Azkaban for your crimes.”
Dumbledore’s eyes widened as the temperature in the room dropped and Dementors surged in, followed by two Aurors. He tried to protest, but no sound came from his lips, and he was hauled off unceremoniously in silence, struggling and trying to protest the entire way.
Locke banged his gavel and said, calmly, “We’re adjourned.”
Beside him, Harry was staring with wide eyes after the Dementors, trembling a little, his skin pale and clammy. Fred, who’d been prepared for such an eventuality even if he’d hoped Harry wouldn’t have to deal with it, pulled a piece of chocolate out of his pocket and offered it to Harry. “Let’s get you out of here so that you can rest,” he said, once Harry had taken it.
It was a sign of how shaken Harry was that he didn’t even protest the order, and that he took the chocolate and ate it quietly as they left the courtroom, and then the Ministry, hopefully for the last time in a while.
Once they were outside, Ron and Hermione backed off a few steps. “We’ll come visit in a few days, okay?” Ron asked, watching Harry with quiet eyes.
Harry nodded, his motions still jerky, his eyes still a little wide. “That would be nice,” he said, a little more quietly than normal.
“See you soon, then,” Hermione said, and smiled at the twins before taking Ron’s hand and walking off.
“Let’s get you home, yeah?” George asked, and wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders, tugging him close.
Harry leaned into the touch. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I think I could use a nap.” He didn’t smile as he said it, but Fred couldn’t blame him. He was still trembling, after all.
“Let’s make that happen for you, then,” he said, and smiled at Harry. Home would make everything better, and now that the trial was over, they could really focus on getting Harry fully well again.
Of course, how they were going to do that when Harry had less than a month to go until Hogwarts started… but that was a problem for another day. Not one for today, when Harry could finally start to rest and really recover, now that the trials were all over and he was safe with them.
Fred wasn’t in the habit of borrowing trouble early, after all. He was much better at making it than borrowing it, anyway.
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.
Just a short epilogue to go, everyone! I'll post that on Friday. Thank you all for sticking with this story; it's been a joy to write!
Harry took a deep breath before stepping into the Great Hall. He didn’t know if he was ready for this, but he wanted to come back to Hogwarts for his last year. He wanted to know what it was like to be in the school with no Voldemort to threaten him.
He’d hoped that Voldemort would leave him alone a little over a year ago, when he’d made the decision not to come back for his sixth year, to focus on healing and recovering from the mental and physical wounds his life had dealt to him.
Unfortunately, Voldemort hadn’t been inclined to let him live his life, and he’d come for Harry numerous times during his year away from the school. It had interfered with his education, with the professors who came to visit him during their free time to make sure that he was keeping up with his classmates, and it interfered with his recovery, interrupting visits with both Healer Carmichael and Mind Healer Abbott.
During one such battle, Harry had finally killed the Dark Lord, and with information forced out of an emaciated, nearly-dead Dumbledore, his other Horcruxes had all been destroyed before he could rise again.
Harry had won, and the rest of his year had been spent in peace, finally getting the chance the recover the way he’d wanted to.
It had been a difficult process, one that still wasn’t quite over. Both Healers would visit him at Hogwarts at least twice per month, but with Mind Healer Abbott, it would likely be once a week until Harry had settled in once more. But for all of that, Harry was ready to come back to Hogwarts, which had been his first true home.
So, with a deep breath, he stepped into the Great Hall for the first time in over a year.
A hush fell over the student body, and Harry closed his eyes and tried to swallow the grimace that he knew was on his face. He opened his eyes slowly when the sound started, and found his fellow students applauding him thunderously, on their feet for him. Harry flushed and fought the urge to turn and disappear back into the castle.
Ron appeared at his side and escorted him to the Gryffindor table, grinning as he did so. “Let them have this,” he said to Harry, his voice low and warm. “It’s fine. Let them get it out of their system, and everything will go back to as normal as it can around here.”
Harry took a deep breath, forced himself to relax, and tried out a smile. He could let them have their moment if they wanted it. He’d already had his, after all. And Ron was right, once they had it out of their systems, things would be so much quieter.
So he smiled and nodded to the people still applauding, and once he took his own seat, they began to quiet down, just like Ron had predicted.
Headmistress McGonagall tapped her fork against her goblet for a few seconds, calling for their attention and silencing the last few students who’d still been applauding wildly. “There’s not much I can say to top Mr. Potter’s reappearance within our walls,” she said cheerfully. “So, Mr. Potter, welcome home, and with that, let’s begin the feast!”
Their food appeared on the tables, and Harry relaxed more as the students were distracted by it, and by each other, and by the end of the feast, Harry felt as close to normal as he ever did once more.
Hogwarts would always be his first home, and to come back to it like this, knowing that the year was going to finally be one where he wasn’t in danger and didn’t have to worry about being manipulated into anything, knowing that he could call on the twins if he needed any help and they would come running, was a powerful thing.
He was home, and he was happy. There was nothing more he needed, and if he did need it, he knew that the twins would take care of it for him.
Hey everyone! Sorry I was a day late, I was on a muscle relaxer and a painkiller last night trying to take care of a pesky back spasm.
You may notice that this story now is part of a series. That would be because this is not the end of this series. There will, eventually, be two follow up one-shot pieces dealing with Neville and Draco. I don't know when I'll get them written, but with my track record, it's going to take me a while.
If anyone is interested in checking out my original work in the meantime, you can find links to my stories on Tumblr here:
You can find my more fannishly-oriented Tumblr here:
I don't update either terribly frequently, but you can always send me asks and whatnot there.
Thank you all, and I hope you enjoyed the story!