Harry half-dozed in a soft, lumpy chair in the Burrow's warm kitchen while Mrs Weasley fussed loudly – and the twins not-so-loudly – at him. It felt wonderful to be all right and not be an invalid any more – even though Mrs. Weasley seemed determined to treat him as one until school started. The twins had practically had a row with her this afternoon to insist that Harry be allowed to play two-a-side Quidditch with them and Ron. She'd agreed, eventually, but not without numerous injunctions and threats of "I'm warning you, if you make that boy's injuries," which had now been completely healed, "any worse…!"
Harry grinned, stifling a chuckle: the most memorable moment for him had been when Ron had shouldered past him to get the Quaffle. He'd felt so delighted at not being treated as though he was fragile that he'd had an impish impulse. Floating his broom down to the ground in a zigzag pattern, doing a most pitiful impression of a wounded dove, he'd flopped limply onto the grass, eyes closed as though in a dead faint.
"Oh, no!" Ron's voice had sounded in the air above him. Hermione had shrieked and run over to him from where she had been watching. An instant later he'd felt Ron's broom crash into the ground inches from him. "Harry! Harry!" The voice had been so urgent that he'd almost given up the charade. Instead, though, he stirred as though in his sleep, and murmured: "Chocolate…"
"What?" He could hear a smile forming in one of the twins' voices.
"What happened up there? Did you boys hit him? You should have known better, honestly!"
"I only touched him! I'm such a git, I should have know he wasn't up to it…"
Hermione's frantic voice was making him feel guilty, but he wailed, "Oh, the pain! Must have chocolate…"
"What?" He almost laughed out loud at Ron's perplexed tone.
"…mince pies… ice lollies… Cream Puffs…" his head lashed dramatically from side to side. "Cauldron Cakes…Chocolate Frogs…"
The twins burst out laughing and Harry, unable to contain himself any longer, opened his eyes. The sight of Ron and Hermione looming over him, looking down at him with big, worried eyes as big as saucers, finally sent him over the edge and he collapsed into howls of laughter. The twins were laughing now too, but it was obviously taking his two best friends a moment to adjust. He didn't know why their expression was the funniest thing he'd ever seen, but it was.
"Harry, you prat!" Ron turned beet red. "Think that's funny, do you?"
"Yeah," Harry laughed, rolling around in the grass now. It was only a moment before Ron gave in and joined him. Hermione tried to look disapproving, but her eyes twinkled with suppressed laughter. Oh, it felt good to be normal once again.
Harry sipped his hot chocolate and smiled at the memory. Think of that, don't think of the Dursleys, he thought determinedly. It was wearing on his nerves to think of going back there again next summer. He tried to calm himself down. They'll definitely have heard by now that Sirius is still free, he thought. That should stop anyone doing – anything – again. He was still uneasy, but pushed it away. He pushed himself to his feet, reluctantly leaving the warm kitchen. At some point, the twins and their mother had left the room. Perhaps Ron and Hermione would be up for a few rounds of Exploding Snap. Come to think of it, where were Ron and Hermione, anyway?
Trailing the bottoms of Ron's too-long trousers along the floor, Harry wandered through the house until he reached the rickety door that led to the back garden, where he heard voices. Pushing it open a crack, he could see the two of them sitting on a tree stump, talking earnestly. If they start to get romantic, I'm leaving, he was just thinking, when he heard his name mentioned. Never one with qualms about eavesdropping – he could recall more than one occasion when it had saved his hide – he lingered a moment at the door, listening.
"…mean all that you said at Harry's house about the Unforgivable Curses?" Hermione was asking.
"Well, no, but I had to think of something," Ron was saying sheepishly. "You saw what they did to him, Hermione!"
"Yes, but.." Hermione seemed to hesitate. "Going to their house in the middle of the night and setting insects on them was bad enough. But to threaten them with Unforgivables…"
"It's not as though they didn't deserve it," Ron said with feeling. "And I meant it, too. If they so much as lay a finger on Harry again, they won't know what hit them, I mean it." He took a deep breath. "You didn't see him lying there, Hermione, his bloody cousin holding him down, and that bastard just hitting him and hitting him, even though he'd already fainted, and that bitch just watching. You think it was frightening to see him at Quidditch this afternoon? That's nothing compared to what it looked like, believe me."
Wait a minute, wait a minute. Ron and Hermione had gone to the Dursleys' in the middle of the night and threatened them with Unforgivables? Harry wasn't sure whether to be indignant or elated.
"I know," Hermione said, seeming uncomfortable, "but…the twins said you didn't mean it, that you were just being protective, but…"
So the twins were there too? They'd done that for him? Unbidden, a big grin began to spread across his face.
"..but I was frightened of you for a minute there," she said. Her natural bossiness seemed to have disappeared; she sounded curiously vulnerable, seeking reassurance.
"Oh, Hermione," Ron smiled weakly, "don't be. I was just so angry. You saw what they did to him. I'd never do that to anyone, but if someone decides to hurt you or Harry, I'm not responsible for the consequences."
"Oh?" she said. She was smiling now, but she hid her face, and Ron seemed unsure of whether or not she was disapproving.
"Hermione, you know when I told him that if he touched Harry again, he'd have me to deal with? I did mean that. How d'you think I feel knowing he's got to go back there next summer without us to look after him? I don't want us to have to rescue him – I just want them to bloody well leave him alone until he's of age and can come and live with us! I had to bloody well scare them, and it – well – it seemed like a good idea at the time," he finished, a bit sheepishly now.
"It certainly was," Hermione said, a touch admiringly. "I can't really approve of something like that, but I can tell you I think it worked."
"You think so?" Ron was the one seeking reassurance now.
"Well, I know if I'd been abusing my nephew, and a big redheaded wizard Apparated into my back garden…"
"We took the Knight Bus, though…"
She ignored him. "…hexed me, and then held me at wandpoint saying," Hermione jumped up, pointing her wand at an imaginary prone figure, "'If you ever lay a finger on Harry again, you'll have ME to deal with, and you know the Unforgivable Curses? Well, that's what I'll be using on you if you so much as look at him wrong,' I know I'd be quaking in my boots."
Ron was blushing furiously now, eyes glued to the tree-trunk; Harry just stood there, glowing. His friends had done that for him? Ron had actually threatened Uncle Vernon with the Unforgivables? He felt ready to burst with a nameless emotion. He stood there, feeling wonderful, until he noticed that Ron and Hermione had moved on to other subjects. He pushed the door open and joined them in the garden.
"Fred, you been working on something without telling me?"
"What? You know I haven't, ya git."
George just looked at his twin. "Nothing like, say, replicating our twinfield?"
"What? Didn't know you could even do that."
"Then would you mind telling me what that is?"
"What what is?"
Fred joined his twin at the window of their room and followed where he was pointing into the back garden. Harry, Ron and Hermione sat on a tree-trunk, chatting amiably. But he could see what George meant at once: around them pulsed a soft field of energy, just discernible in the night air.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Fred wondered.
"You mean it's not a prototype?"
"Heavens, no!" Fred shorted. "I'd never work something like that out without your help!"
George looked at them again. "P'r'aps they come by it naturally."
Fred stared at the aura. "P'r'aps."
"Oh, shit—" George lunged for their experimental cauldron before it could explode, but just missed. The resulting explosion put all thoughts of the trio out of their mind.
Author's Note: I'm now done with With a Little Help from my Friends. However, in my mind, it's not finished, thanks to a comment from Padfoot2304 (waves), I now have a sequel written where I explore the effects of this link around the time of the final battle - from the PoV of Snape, of all people. (Don't ask me; he wormed his way into it.) Question: Should I go on and post it as part of this story, or as a separate one? Love and thanks to everyone who encouraged me to go on with this. Sarah