Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine. All hail J.K. Rowling.

Chapter One

To look at them, the Dursleys were a completely normal, if thick-waisted, family. They were all tall and fair, the wife as thin as the husband was fat, and the little son more resembling a pig than either of his parents. The only discrepancy to them was their dark human shadow.

Harry Potter had the smudged and haunted eyes of an insomniac. His hair was a rumpled, wild mass of soot black that fell in locks over his face, covering his glasses and green eyes. Once a year his Aunt Petunia would take shears to Harry's head and crop his hair close to his skull. Harry's hair grew out quickly, however, and was back to normal within a month.

He had lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousin since the age of one, his parents having been killed in an auto accident. Aunt Petunia was his mother's sister, Uncle Vernon her husband, and Dudley their son. They resented having the care of Harry, thinking he was no more than an unmanageable bundle on their already over-burdened lives.

To minimize the presence of the non-Dursley entity within their household, they shut Harry in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry would remember, years later, crying in his parody of a room. Vernon had burst in and stamped over to Harry, picked him up by his shoulders, and shook him hard enough that his teeth rattled and he saw lights for hours afterwards, even when he closed his eyes. Harry had been four.

Vernon couldn't do the same thing when Harry was eleven because, under grown as he was, Harry was still too big for the cupboard to accommodate another person; much less Vernon and his paunch. That was one of the things that made Harry's eleventh birthday the happiest of his life so far.

The other things were that his bully of a cousin Dudley was sent to Smeltings, the same school Vernon had gone to; that Harry got to go to Stonewall High where the kids at least ignored him instead of beating him up; and that he met his first (and best) friend.

Ron Weasley was freckled in the true tradition of red-heads, with easily burnt fair skin and a friendly smile. He didn't go to Stonewall High with Harry, saying, "My family's Catholic. Private school for us, the whole lot. Six boys and one girl; six siblings in all for me."

Harry's eyes had widened. He imagined living with six Dudleys and shuddered. Still, maybe brothers and sisters were different from cousins….

They had met in a park two days before school began for Harry. Ron had been playing chess against one of the old guys who hung around. Ron had been winning, and Harry was curious to see how the game would end. When Ron had finally gotten the old guy into checkmate, Ron had looked up with warm eyes to smile at Harry. "Fancy a go?" he'd asked.

Harry laughed self-consciously. No one his own age had ever invited him to JOIN in anything. "Uh… I wouldn't be any good at it," he said. He felt his face turning red, probably as red as a tomato.

Ron shrugged. "Doesn't matter. You just have to learn, s'all. You're probably not as bad as you think you are." Then he'd introduced himself.

Since then they'd met nearly every weekend for five years, and Harry had a standing invitation to join the Weasleys for dinner, lunch, or breakfast. Mrs. Weasley adored him, mothering him wildly with food and hugs. The rest of the family seemed to adopt Harry as one of their own; and Harry discovered that, surprisingly, Weasley siblings were not anywhere near as horrible as Dudley, even when they all ganged up on him.

Harry was escaping to the Weasleys the morning his aunt and uncle had gone to pick up his cousin from the train station. It was early June and Dudley had just finished his fifth year at Smeltings. Harry wasn't looking forward to a summer of Dudley's bullying – especially since Dudley had joined a gang the previous year.

In the Weasleys' comfortable kitchen, Mrs. Weasley was pushing a plate laden with pancakes and syrup to Harry, beaming fondly at the boy who looked painfully undernourished. "Eat up, dear," she encouraged. "There's plenty more for seconds. You were telling me of your birthday plans yesterday?"

Harry blushed. "Oh, I don't have any, Mrs. Weasley," he said. "It's not very important anyway."

"Pish!" Mrs. Weasley flapped her hands as if waving the idea of 'not very important' away. "You'll be turning sixteen! It certainly is important!"

Ron, sitting next to Harry with his own stack of pancakes, snickered lightly and glanced apologetically to his friend. He was just starting to devour his breakfast when the twins – Fred'n'George – popped up behind him, one at each shoulder.

"Ickle Ronniekins!" they exclaimed together. "Just the brother we were wanting to see." At eighteen the twins were identical. Tall, marked with the Weasley red, and miraculously tanned, they were the family's practical jokesters and maniacal inventors. They'd moved out of the house after graduation the year before, but still frequently popped up at 'The Burrow' – Mr. Weasley's affectionate term for the old family house.

Ron turned to give his brothers a suspicious look. He chewed and asked, "What do you want me for?"

"Oh, nothing troublesome," Fred (or was it George?) assured.

"Yeah," George (Fred?) quickly added. "Just a small task."

"Such as…?" Ron had long ago learned not to trust whenever his brothers said 'nothing' and 'just'.

"We just need you to-"

"Go over to the special effects store in town and let Flitwick know that-"

"We won't be able to work for him this summer."

Harry's neck was getting whiplash from looking between Fred and George so quickly. It was always interesting watching them talk because they switched in the middle of sentences, one beginning and the other ending.

"Why can't you go yourselves?" Ron asked.

The twins shrugged exaggeratedly, palms up and fingers wide. "The jobs we did get-"

"start early in the morning. In fifteen minutes-"

"actually. We wanted to be sure-"

"old Flitwick got the message-"

"that we couldn't come. Since you've-"

"got nothing to do-"

"we thought you wouldn't mind."

Ron exchanged a look with Harry. Harry barely twitched his eyebrow, but Ron knew how to read the other boy. He said to his brothers, "Yeah, sure, nothing else to do today. Me'n'Harry'll take care of it."

Fred beamed and clapped Ron on the shoulder. George mirrored his twin's action on Harry. "A lad couldn't ask for better little brothers," they chorused, and dashed out the door on their way to their new job – the one they'd be late to if they didn't run.

XXX

Ron and Harry set out to walk to Filius Flitwick's special effects studio after they'd finished eating. It was a fifteen minute walk on normal days, but Harry was stumbling slowly along with a dazed look on his face. Ron looked over at Harry in concern, asking, "Alright there?"

Harry breathed out a long, long breath, and blinked as if in shock. "They… they called me their little brother."

"Well, I understand why that would make you look as if the world were ending," Ron joked. "I AM their little brother and it's typically hell."

"No," Harry shook his head. He turned to Ron. "No… I mean… Oh God, I don't know what I mean." He ducked his head down shyly and said with a voice that was almost a whisper, "They called me their brother."

Ron's eyes softened. He casually looped an arm over Harry's shoulders, difficult given their vastly differing heights. There were times when Harry seemed a hundred instead of his fifteen years with an ancient light in his jaded eyes and a bleak outlook on life. Then he said or did something so endearingly vulnerable that he was all of five. "Well, you are you know," Ron told Harry.

They walked the rest of the way in companionable silence.


A/N: This'll be my brain-dead story arc, which I'll write in when I need to fluff up my brain. Sirius'll pop up in later chapters, have no fear, but don't expect frequent updates (as if anyone expects those from me!).