AN: Iiiittt'ssss heeeeeere! At long last! I have heard your cries (and all ya'll's godawful naggin') and have delivered at long last! Welcome, welcome! It's been a long road, but we've made it, guys!
NOTICE: Important a/ns at the bottom. Please, read!
Chapter One: The Earl of Heorshire
"The missus would love this, sir! Very popular with the ladies lately! What say I wrap it up for you?"
"Oh, er — I'm not . . ."
In a cosy little village in West Country, one that was strangely not on conventional maps, there was a cheery bookstore that doubled as a tea shop. It was snuggled between a greengrocer and a florist, across the street from the road that led up to the manor on the hill. The words 'Bibley's Book Nook' were emboldened on a sign above the door. If someone were to look through the display windows, they would see a myriad of shelves placed seemingly haphazardly, with chairs and side-tables scattered amongst them.
"Ha! Not a fan, eh? Can't say I blame you, sir — too flashy for my tastes as well! Ah, but here's a fine one! Yes, yes — they're thinking of making it into a stage-play, you know. Flies right off the shelves when it's in! We just got them in this morning, so you're in luck!"
On that day, a humid Wednesdays in July, business was rather slow and the book area was sparsely trafficked. A few elderly customers were in at the moment, and they were in the main seating area with their tea and other purchases. The cashier was fiddling with a display case for decorative bookmarks at the till humming along to music playing from the wireless. It was all rather quiet that afternoon; peaceful, really— well, maybe more for some than others—
"Really, it's quite alright," said a remarkably tall gentleman, raising a hand for a halt. He was pinned between a shelf of how-to books, the fiction section, and an exuberant salesman waving a book in his face. "I think I have everything I need here," — he motioned to a stack of books he had tucked under one arm — "but, um, maybe you could tell me if the textbooks for Hogwarts' are in yet?"
The shop-worker's eyes lit up.
"His lordship off to school soon, then?" he asked with avid interest, stepping aside to let his customer pass. He scuttled alongside on the way to the till. "I tell you, Mr Wohsi, it seemed like all of Hindsmoor was in an uproar when the steward came down for the accounting on the earl's behalf. Mind you, none of us had known there was a new earl at all, never mind one young enough to need a steward! Haven't heard a word of anyone catching a glimpse of him and his folks in all this time either. Makes a fellow curious, you know?"
"Mmm," the aforementioned Mr Wohsi hummed, stacking his purchases at the counter. "I believe he was at school for the most part. He told me the manor was being renovated at the time, so he didn't come back for holidays either."
"So he's been a student for a while already?" the cashier chimed in, beginning to total the cost. He smiled and leaned in. "Mum's been wondering about him. Just came out of nowhere, didn't he?"
"Are you family, Mr Wohsi?" asked the sales-clerk, helping with the bagging. "I would have thought you were a new steward, only Mr Higgs is still around. Saw him yesterday with the constable."
Mr Wohsi laughed a little and scratched his cheek.
"Ah . . . not really? We don't share any blood or anything like that. I'd call myself a family friend, but — well, there's only him."
The two shop-workers shared a look.
"His lordship . . . is orphaned?" the lad at the till asked in a tiny voice, averting his eyes to the totalling.
The previously chatterbox-y man began bagging the books with undue enthusiasm.
Mr Wohsi looked between the two of them rather helplessly.
"Erm, is that a surprise? How else does a child become the Head of their House?"
If either of the other two men had an answer to that, they didn't seem to want to say it.
When the lull grew uncomfortable enough, Mr Wohsi clapped his hands together and pasted a smile on his face.
"Right! Well, what about that book-list, then? Is it out yet?"
"Ah! No, sir! Sorry!" the cashier apologised, shoving the last of the books into the bag. "They're not due for another few weeks yet."
Mr Wohsi raised his hand in a dismissive manner, but what he meant to say was interrupted by a POP!
"Mr Wohsi, sir!" a house-elf cried, startling the three men. "Master is asking for you!"
Said man inclined his head.
"Well, gentleman, that's my cue." He plucked up the bag of books and tucked it under his arm. "A good day to you both."
Before any more could be said, they were gone.
At the counter, Finn Bibley, the owner of the shop, and his nephew, Donny, shared another uncomfortable look.
"I thought you said one of the workers up top talked to the boy's mother," said Mr Bibley almost accusingly.
Donny shook his head, eyes wide.
"When did I say that?"
"Wha — Just the other day! When it was raining!"
The young man shook his head again, more decisively.
"I said no such thing! The only thing I said was Dahlia overheard her mum mention one of the workers was grumbling at the pub about wanting to meet the mother of such a strange child."
Mr Bibley's frown lightened.
"So that fellow's met the earl?" he asked, straightening some papers that had been knocked askew.
Donny shrugged, tugging at his sleeve.
"Dunno," he said. "I don't think so. Dahlia said the bloke was griping that his lordship seemed to avoid the work crews, never being in the same rooms as them for whatever reason. He sounds rather shy."
Mr Bibley harrumphed and rolled his eyes.
"More likely he's as reclusive as his ancestors. I tell you, every Lord Heorshire we've ever had 'sbeen dotty to say the least. Believe me — there are stories about them. The one before him . . . well, he was a nice enough bloke — when anyone down here saw him — but he was always on about some matter or another that went right over our heads. I was just a lad then, but no one else could make much sense of them, him and his wife."
Donny made an interested sound, leaning over the counter again.
"His lordship's parents?"
"Impossible!" Mr Bibley declared, with a definitive shake of his head. "They had to be around eighty when I saw them last. If that boy's attending Hogwarts now, he's far too young to be their child. No, I'd reckon a . . . a nephew of sorts?"
"Not a grandson?"
"You know, I would have thought so, but I never heard any hint of a child living up there before this one. Though, to be fair, those high-born types hardly care to have their children socialise outside of their own circles."
"Huh." Donny thought about it for a minute. "You know . . . mum's been thinking he was . . . well, you know — a long-lost . . . 'bachelor's son.' She figured we're only just hearing about him now is 'cause his mum wanted to wait and make sure a more legitimate heir wouldn't pop out of the woodwork. 'Why else would there be no earl for over ten years?' — that's what mum said."
Mr Bibley scoffed.
"What is this? The fifteen hundreds? That's your mother for you! Always going for the most sensational theories. No, likely as not, none of his folks knew about it, and it's only come up recently when they were looking for a place to put him. I'd say I feel bad for him, but . . . well, finding out you've inherited a lord's estate is hardly the worst option."
"That's cold-blooded," Donny admonished, looking uncomfortable again.
Mr Bibley shrugged.
"It is what it is."
Donny was quiet as he put away the shop's copy of the totalling.
"Say," he said after a bit, looking over to where his uncle was organising a new shipment. "What did you say his name was? The earl's, I mean."
Mr Bibley grunted in negation, keeping his eyes on the shelving he was doing.
"If anyone knows, they haven't told me about it. And the line of sons is strong with that family, so there've been no daughters in recent years to use their family name either. If they have any other surname outside of 'Heorshire,' no one's used it around here in generations."
Within a large and finely furnished sitting room, there was wooden bench swing more or less in the middle of the room. Now, this bench swing had no business being in this sitting room, situated between two posh sofas, clashing outrageously with the rest of the polished décor, but there it hung, all the same, attached to a supremely sturdy stand so that it could be moved wherever the owner desired. Said owner was currently sitting in this swing, feet in the air, legs propped against the backing. His hands were holding onto the arms as he swung vigorously, nearly flipping over the crossbar at the height of each arc.
This person was none other than Harry Potter, known to his dependants as Earl Heorshire, and more widely acclaimed as the Boy Who Lived, defeater of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Dark wizards the world over spoke of him with loathing and concealed trepidation! He was also turning twelve-years-old within the month and was now eagerly awaiting his chaperone so he could go and play his friends.
It was a curious thing, Harry thought, pointing his toes on an upswing. Having a chaperone, that was. Having any sort of grown person looking out for him, really. He'd never had anything similar before — the Dursleys had barely qualified as guardians. The teachers at his primary school hardly counted either; they'd been content leaving Harry to his own devices even when he was so obviously being bullied. His Hogwarts professors were alright — kind even — but they didn't care for him specifically, just the students as a whole. But now, with Erised, someone was looking out for Harry and only Harry.
He was still getting used to it.
After setting up Erised with a room of his own — taking care that the lamp that was now his anchor to corporeality was secured and protected — Harry had pretty much adopted the anthropomorphism as a pseudo-relative and let all the staff know Erised was to be treated as such. Erised then took it onto himself to be Harry's . . . bodyguard? Older brother? Uncle? Well, whatever he was acting as, he did it with conviction.
"Harry?" said a muffled voice. It came from out in the hall.
"In here!" Harry called, kicking his feet in the air as he flew up.
The door swung open, revealing Erised — former magical mirror, now human-passing magical entity-within-a-vessel — with an armful of books.
"Mimsy said you wa— That's dangerous."
Erised lurched to a halt and watched on cautiously as Harry swung about like the proverbial baby on the tree— No wait, it wasn't a proverb. . . . the lyrical baby? The . . . the lullabicyle? Was that a word? (I don't think that's a word.) The nursery-rhymial? Meh, sure, let's go with that one — Erised watched warily as his charge swept through the air like the nursery-rhymial baby on the tree top, 'cause if that bough breaks, his Harry will drop.
(High-fives all around for that sick verse.)
"Watch this, watch this!" Harry cried, and when the swing shot forward again, he launched himself into the air feet-first, flipping as he went.
Erised let out a horrified screech, letting his books crash to the ground as he surged forward, arms extended.
It was all for naught though — Harry flew up, laughing as he went. Instead of crumpling on the floor in a broken mass, he soared like a kite caught in a breeze. He stayed up far too long and landed far too lightly.
"Ta-daa~!" sang Harry, his hands in the air, cheesy grin on his face.
Erised snatched him up like a suburban mother snatched up kale on sale for half-off and crushed the boy to his chest.
"You could have killed yourself!" Erised wailed, rocking Harry back and forth so vigorously, his little legs flopped around behind him. "What were you thinking?! You're not even halfway through your first century and you nearly broke yourself!"
"Mphm phmn!" Harry garbled, muffled. He turned his head to the side, freeing his face from where it had been smooshed against Erised's chest by the hand holding it there. "I'm fine! Really, Erised, I'm alright!"
"What were you thinking?!" Erised said again, pulling away and holding Harry up by his underarms like a disobedient puppy.
Harry made a face, kicking his legs to no avail.
"I was perfectly safe!" he protested. "I've always been good at levitation magic, and I spell'd the floor padded just in case, too, and —!
"And why are you so strong?!" he whined, cutting himself off. He squirmed pointedly, not even unbalancing Erised. "It's already unfair you're so weirdly tall!"
"Never mind that! And never mind your precautions — that was still an outrageously dangerous thing to do!" Erised scolded, lowering Harry to the ground again. He rested his hand on Harry's shoulder. "So many things could have gone wrong! What if you miscast or got distracted? What if you knocked your head on the ceil—?"
Harry cut off the fussing with a hard hug around the middle.
"I love you, too."
Erised hmph'd, but ducked a bit and returned the embrace.
"You reckless boy, don't you scare me like that again."
"That's not fair!" Harry complained all while relishing the warmth of contact. "You destroyed your mirror self with barely a thought; you're hardly someone to be scolding over self-endangerment!"
"As if I could do anything different when it comes to you! Honestly," he murmured into Harry's hair. "You freed me from my immobile vessel and gained me a body of this world's predominant species. You kept me company during my isolation after awakening me. Most importantly, you acknowledged me as a Being with a mind of my own and readily offered me your friendship. How could I do anything but want to preserve you?"
"Aww, Erised!" Harry cooed, snuggling in. "You're going to make me blush!"
"Brat," Erised murmured. He straightened and smoothed down Harry's hair futilely. "Now what was it that you needed so urgently that you sent Mimsy for me?"
"Oh! Right!" He clasped his hand behind his back and looked up beseechingly. "The twins said Percy and their little sister, Ginny, have birthdays coming up next month, so Ron and they are going into the village they live nearby to buy presents. They invited me to come and then stay for dinner, too, so . . . ?"
"Are you . . . are you asking my permission?"
Harry ducked his head and toed the carpet with one foot.
"I mean . . . kind of? I was actually sort of wondering if you'd want to come, too? Fred said their mum would let them go without her if another adult came, and I want you to meet my other friends, too."
"Ah," said Erised, a funny but vaguely pleased look on his face. "Yes, I'll come. When are they expecting us?"
"George said to Floo whenever we can come!" said Harry, bouncing on his heels. "Let's go call them now!"
And so Erised's purchases were sent off to his room as the two of them made their way to a side room off the entrance hall where the main fireplace was located. With a quick toss of the powder and a cry of "The Burrow!" Harry had his head in the flames of the fireplace and was looking in on a rustic-looking sitting room.
It was shabby but definitely cosy, not as polished as what Harry remembered of the Dursley's sitting room, but infinitely more welcoming. There were oil lamps sitting all around the room though they were currently unlit seeing as it was the not even noon yet and the room was bright with light streaming in from the opened windows. Surrounding the fireplace was a sagging armchair and a comfortable couch, patched but plump. Sitting on a small table in the middle of the seating was what appeared to be a large wooden wireless radio set.
"Hello~?" Harry called, turning his head as much as he could to get a wider view. He caught sight of a doorway leading into what could have been a kitchen. "Fred? George . . . ? Ron?"
There was a clanking from off to his left. Harry turned to see a matronly-looking woman bustling in, drying her hands her apron.
"Hello, there!" she said, smoothing down fiery-red curls. She came to stand before the fireplace, regarding him curiously. "Are you one of the boys' friends, dearie?"
"Oh, are you Mrs Weasley, ma'am?" said Harry. "Hello! I'm Harry! Are Fred, George, or Ron in?"
"Harry —? Oh!" Mrs Weasley brightened considerably. She beamed at him. "Oh, yes, yes! The boys told me you'd be calling! They're de-gnoming the garden at the moment. Are you coming through, sweetheart?"
"I have my chaperone with me, too. Is that alright?"
Mrs Weasley assured him it was perfectly fine, and soon Harry was tumbling out of the Weasleys' fireplace, a veritable ball of soot.
"Oh, my," she tittered, brandishing her wand. "Not the best with the Floo, are we?"
As Mrs Weasley fussed over him, cleaning off the mess all over him, Erised stepped out, not a hair out of place, looking like he'd just come in from a stroll. Harry gave him an aggravated look, and he returned it with raised eyebrows and an annoyingly charming smirk.
Mrs Weasley was visibly flustered at the sight of Erised for whatever reason. Harry looked on as she turned red and stammered as Erised introduced himself. It must have been how tall he was, Harry concluded when Mrs Weasley looked doe-eyedly up at Erised who bent to kiss the air over her hand. People always gawked at Erised when they realised how high they had to look up to talk to him.
Collecting herself, Mrs Weasley showed them out into the yard where the twins and Ron were occupied.
Coming out the back door, they were faced with a large garden surrounded by a fence and a hedge, as well as gnarled trees, making it look like something out of a book of fairy-tales. It was overgrown, filled with weeds and grass in desperate need of a good trimming, but everything was a bright, healthy green. A large pond was situated off to one side, filled with reeds and lily-pads. Over the hedges were stretches of fields and hills that appeared to lead up to an orchard of sorts.
"They're over here," said Mrs Weasley, pointing to where the backyard met the front.
As she said, the three brothers were de-gnoming the yard, and at that moment they were doing so near a tidy little chicken coop and what appeared to be a garage. They plucked little humanoid creatures from holes in the ground, swung the buggers around like they were performing a gymnastic ribbon routine, and then chucked the things over the hedge so far that they might have landed in next week. The gnomes went cursing and snarling as they were tossed out.
It had to be the most bizarre thing Harry had ever witnessed, and he'd seen trolls learning ballet.
Thankfully, freeing Harry from his stupefaction, Mrs Weasley released the boys from their chore on the grounds of entertaining their guests. She bustled them off to wash up, shooing them mid-cheer at seeing Harry there and told them they could finish up the next day.
Not ten minutes later, the three were bounding out the door again, Fred and George catching Harry by the arms and pulling him forward between them.
"You lot be good for Mr Wohsi!" Mrs Weasley called after them, but her sons just made vague sounds of agreement without looking back, too eager to get away.
The walk into the village was punctuated with the twins talking Harry's ear off about their latest hi-jinks and Ron interjecting when he could. Apparently, even at home, they didn't hold back from their escapades. They didn't quite know what to make of Erised, who merely followed along without a word since being introduced, but that didn't dampen them for long. As George explained the minute details of a prank they played on Percy, they trotted pass a bakery, and Fred grinned and waved at a girl in a newspaper shop.
"Where is this place anyway?" asked Harry, taking in the sights. Ottery St Catchpole was notably more muggle than Hindsmoor — predominantly so, actually. He wondered how the wizards in the neighbourhood kept from outing themselves. "Where we'll look for gifts, I mean."
"It's this neat shop the Fawcetts just opened!" said Ron, pointing as they turned a corner. "Fred and George got a look at it when Mum made them help carry the groceries, and it has loads of wicked cool stuff!"
The shop in question was named Curious Curios, and it appeared to be something between a junk shop and an antique store. True to its name, it had a wide variety of merchandise, all interesting if not just outright strange.
"You said you know the owners?" Harry asked Ron as they poked at some off-brand boardgames, weighing a 'toy' morning-star flail in one hand.
George was digging through a bin of gently used china dolls (presumably for their sister, but who knows — Percy could easily be the type that was secretly into some freaky shite), and Fred was looking at some sensually-posed hippopotamus figurines. Meanwhile, Erised was examining a vase in the shape of a large nose, the mouth of the vase moulded as one fleshy nostril.
"Hm? Oh, yeah!" said Ron, looking up from where he had been fiddling with a chess piece shaped like a pineapple. "The Fawcetts live down near the Diggorys — Mum buys cabbages from Mrs Fawcett sometimes. Pretty sure they have a daughter in Fred'n George's year."
"Huh. . . ."
For whatever reason, Harry hadn't really thought wizards would be doing things like opening antique stores or selling vegetables for a living — which was stupid, because why wouldn't they? All of Diagon was run by witches and wizards. Still, he'd never really comprehended that people with magic would do things as mundane as . . . working in retail. Not that there was anything wrong with that! When he was younger, he'd expected to follow a similar career path at some point in the future — but now that magic was part of his reality, shopkeeping . . . it felt . . . flat.
But who was Harry to judge? Since learning about magic, he'd more or less been living a fairytale adventure. Hell, he basically was Cinderella save for the fact he'd been rescued not by a prince but by a kindly giant. It made sense that not everyone shared his perspectives. And — now that he was thinking on it — wasn't a shop filled with mystical wares run by a witch a trope as well? Wizardry and witchery were usually considered two distinctly different things in the fables, but it wasn't too far off, in reality, was it?
Paradigm shift aside, it was a cool enough shop despite how off-beat it was, and they did end up picking up a few odds and ends. Harry didn't really know what he was going to do with a rune set in the shape of acorns, but he picked up a leather-bound copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People for Percy and a pretty music box that played Paganini's Caprice No. 24 for the sister.
As they assembled at the till the lady who was manning the station looked up from her book. She was a frumpy creature with a bored look on her face.
"Found things to your —? Oh! Hel-lo there, lads!" Her face shifted into something more friendly at seeing the Weasleys. "Fancy see you here! Out with your mum again?"
This was, apparently, Mrs Fawcett, the Weasleys' cabbage supplier. Harry had thought her just on the boring side of unattractive, but a cheery smile transformed her into warm and pleasant-faced — the sort of older lady you'd imagine baking loads of biscuits for her grandchildren's visit. She chattered gaily as she packed up their purchases ("Sarah's told me about your antics! I can only imagine what you're buying this for . . ."; "You must tell your mother I'll be by! I've been eyeing those tomatoes of hers since they budded!"), throwing in a few sweets she had on the counter with a wink.
"Oh, and Sarah's always out it seems," she said, tossing a look to the entrance as she straightened their bags. "I keep meaning to send her over with a tart or cake, but she's always out gadding with her friends wherever. Have you lot seen her today?"
George shook his head, sucking on one of the massive gobstoppers they'd been given.
"I think I saw her pass by with some friends in the morning," said Fred, accepting a bag as it was handed to him, "They were going in the direction of the Lovegoods. I heard one of them mention Cedric."
Mrs Fawcett rolled her eyes, handing over another bag, this time to Harry.
"That Diggory boy again!" she sighed. "That girl, I swear. Her sister was never this boy-mad! That Diggory boy is all she and her little friends ever talk about these days. . . ."
Bidding Mrs Fawcett farewell, the Weasley boys immediately set to showing Harry and Erised to their favourite spots around the village.
There was a deli Ron really liked that was always generous with their portions — they visited there for lunch when they passed by. When they were walking off their meal, Fred pointed out a fountain he was fond of where birds roosted and were easily terrorised — he showed Harry a trick with his slingshot that had all the birds swooping up and away in a massive swarm. Eventually, when they were finally meandering back to the Burrow, George showed off a spectacularly lovely creek tucked behind an outcropping of boulders and trees.
"This is where we find most of the frogs we sneak into the house," said George, rolling up the hems of his trousers and wading in. "Mum's been keeping the pond in the back frog-free for a while now, so we've had to outsource."
George snatched up a frog that was swimming by and tossed it to Fred.
"That's why there's always frog slime on the floors no matter how often Mum Banishes them!" Ron complained, ducking under a frog flying over his head.
"Did you really think we'd be stopped by a small matter like an empty yard-pond?" said Fred, catching the frogs deftly and dropping them into a bag he pulled from his pocket.
"That and Mum never said to stop," added George, lobbing one to Harry. "She just told us off for making a mess."
"In my experience," said Erised from where he sat on a grassy edge, wiggling his toes in the water, "the demand to cease and desist is usually implied when someone is berating you for something."
Harry sent a look at him.
"In your experience?" he said pointedly, dropping his frog in Fred's bag as well. "Oh, yes, I imagine you have loads of experience in being told off."
"I'm with Harry, Mr Wohsi," said Fred. "You don't really seem like the type to earn a scolding. We, on the other hand, are old hands at it."
"And we accept only blatant and explicit direction when it comes to correcting our mischief-making, sir!" added George, flicking Ron with water. "To do otherwise would be to accept defeat!"
And so they farmed for frogs. It had to be the most ridiculous thing Harry had ever done, and he loved every minute of it. It was actually amazing how many frogs lived in that pond — Fred's bag was filled in no time, and then they somehow devolved into throwing frogs at each other, getting absolutely soaked to the bone. By the time Erised said it was time to head back, all five of them — Erised, too — were dripping, slooshing horrors, mud smeared on their clothes, water-weeds threaded through their hair.
Harry had never seen Erised less put-together. Granted, Erised hadn't had many chances to be anything but poised when he'd been a self-aware mirror, and he'd only been living in his current body for a couple of months now, but there was something to be said about a nearly seven-foot-tall man drenched through from head to toe, grinning and snickering under his breath. He looked like a hungry kelpie colt that'd just took a nibble of a drug addict.
"Mum'll be awful cross if we drip water all over," said Ron when the Burrow was in sight again, finally realising that maybe wallowing in a creek and making a muddy mess of oneself wasn't the best idea. "Say, Mr Wohsi, can you clean us off?"
Erised stilled, his grin frozen.
He and Harry exchanged wide-eyed looks.
"What?" said George, catching the exchange. "That isn't an 'Oh, I forgot my wand at home!' look."
"And if you were trying to be subtle," said Fred, brows raised, "you failed completely on that front."
Another panicked exchange.
"Guys, what —?"
Another panicked exchange.
"Guys!" cried Ron, sounding exasperated. "Come on! What's the big deal? Is Mr Wohsi a Squib or something?"
"That's fine with us, you know?" said Fred, crossing his arms and tilting his head.
George nodded, a frown on his face.
"Yeah! What d'you take us for? Malfoys?"
Truth be told, they had no idea what exactly Erised was. Well, they were pretty certain that he was something of an amalgamation of Quirrellmort and all the things that had been consumed by the mirror, but there wasn't exactly a definitive name for a creature like that. In appearance, he was like any other human being. Harry had looked up djinn after he had figured out how Erised's lamp worked, but beyond the superficial aspect of being an entity 'bound' to a vessel, Erised shared no similarities to them. They had no way of observing his insides, but for all intents and purposes, he was a model of an adult wizard. They hesitated to call him as such, though, because, well . . .
They were ninety-nine percent certain he wasn't incapable of some sort of magic, but they had no idea if he would be able to wield a wand like a wizard. They hadn't dared to let him handle one for fear of the possible backlash — Harry wasn't trained enough to do damage control, and Erised, for all the knowledge he'd accumulated over however many centuries and what was left over from Quirrellmort, didn't have any practical experience in doing so.
For the time being, Erised was effectively a Squib.
But should they tell the Weasleys that? It was quite possible they'd figure something out and Erised would wield some sort of focus in the future, so saying so now would end up being a blatant lie that they'd be called out on. But why else would a wizard of Erised's apparent age be without a wand or training? They'd already blown the left-the-wand-at-home card by panicking.
Harry looked at Erised, hopefully with his indecision apparent. Should they just . . . tell the truth?
"It's your decision," said Erised after a pause, reading Harry's look correctly. He shrugged. "Ultimately, you are the one who will have to deal with any potential pitfalls."
"Here, what's with all this cloak'n dagger?" asked Fred, looking more and more curious. "This is starting to sound mighty shifty. . . ."
Harry girded himself up. It would be fine — the Weasleys were an alright lot, they weren't prone to tattling to authority figures (was Erised really something that needed reporting to the authorities anyway? It wasn't like it was a crime to shape-shift or whatever it was that'd happened), and something told Harry the three would get a kick out of the entire situation — the twins at the very least.
"Alright, lads," Harry said finally, leaning in conspiratorially, prompting the three brothers to do the same. "Have I got tale for you. . . ."
It was a giddy, whispery lot that wandered back to the door of the Burrow, still water-logged but no longing sopping. Truthfully, they barely remembered they were drenched through, too lost in speculative conversation. The reality of it was slapped in their faces again when Mrs Weasley met them at the entrance and immediately set to scolding them.
"My floors!" she cried, startling them into a staggered halt. "What is this?! How did you even get so wet?!"
A mop came flying in and set to cleaning the floors as Mrs Weasley brandished her wand and syphoned the water off of them.
"Oh, you three!" she muttered, taking care not to damage any clothing with the drawing force of her spell. "Didn't I say specifically to be good?!"
"If it helps, madam," said Erised with an incline of the head, a sheepish look on his face, "they gave me no trouble whatsoever. It was an oversight on my part — I should have known better than to let us anywhere near a creek."
Mrs Weasley said something, all frazzled again, but Harry's attention was diverted by a pair of girls racing down from the stairs.
A blonde girl was in the front. She did a little pirouette when she landed, hair swirling, and smacked her comrade full in the mouth, sending the other tumbling back, gagging and coughing. It appeared she half-swallowed some of it.
"Goodness!" Mrs Weasley exclaimed. "Ginny, are you —? No, you lot don't move!" she snapped at her sons. "Purgandium!"
What dried dirt was encrusted on them after she had pulled the moisture from them dislodged from their clothing and shot back out the door. As this happened, Mrs Weasley bustled over to check on the wheezing girl.
"Good lord, Ginny! Are you alright?" she asked, rubbing the girl's back.
"Ye-heh-urgh!" coughed the girl now identified as Ginny Weasley. Her eyes were squeezed shut and tears were on her cheeks. She hacked a few more times and shook her head. "Yeah! I-I'm fine!"
"I'm terribly sorry," said the blonde girl, peering down at her victim with a vaguely sorrowful look. "I didn't know you were allergic to my hair. I'll take care to keep it at a proper distance from you in the future."
No longer a dirty mess, Harry stepped up curiously to get a better look at the red-headed girl sitting on the bottom steps of the stairs. When she stepped on the hem of her skirt as she made to stand up and unbalanced herself instead, he offered a hand. He hauled her up when she took his hand without a thought.
"Hello," he said, smiling tentatively. "You must be Ginny."
She brushed the hair from her eyes and looked up.
"Yeah, hi! Who —?" Her words screeched to halt as her eyes bugged and her mouth fell open. "Y-y-you. . . ."
Harry felt his brow crease and his smile shrink.
"Me?" His eyes flickered to the nearest Weasley brother for some sort of cue.
Ginny's face flushed red at an alarming rate, clashing with her bright hair and making her look like a woolly tomato. Her jaw flapped uselessly as she gaped at him, a little 'Eek!' escaping her every few seconds. All the while, her grip on his hand had not lessened, and Harry wondered if it would be rude to extricate himself on grounds of being freaked out.
When he had just about decided to damn his manners, she squeaked, "You're Harry Potter!"
This realisation must have been too much for her, because she immediately flung herself around, latched onto her friend, and fled back up the stairs as if he was chasing her with a chainsaw.
Even the other Weasleys were struck dumb by this turn of events. The slamming of what was no doubt Ginny's bedroom door echoed for a minute in their silence.
"Right," Harry said eventually, blinking rapidly. He pasted a smile to his face and turned to Mrs Weasley. "So . . . Dinner?"
AN1: Alright, guys, here's the sitch: I want to devote more time to writing and updating my stories. I love writing and sharing my stories; writing is my passion. However, I have been really bad at achieving this goal recently because I no longer have a regular job and I have to spend the majority of my day picking up money where I can. You can imagine how much worse I can become compared to the past where I was updating irregularly because of how demanding my work was. If you want to lend me a hand every once and a while, consider dropping me a tip on ko-fi — my username is VJKendall.
AN2: If you haven't heard, I'm on Tumblr now under the username hi-pot-and-news. Follow me the heck of it, for writeblr reblogs, for rants, and for original poetry, all squeezed in during the free minutes I have during the day. There might be a few fan-art pieces for various fandoms from time to time, too.
ALSO: If you want to commission a fic from me, hit me up on Tumblr.