The next day, Hermione and Harry were sitting on the floor of one of the upstairs rooms, Hermione training Harry how to control his breathing under a panic situation, when the door burst open and the three Weasley boys barged in.
Harry barely had time to look toward the door when Ron had tackled him to the floor. Fred and George piled on a moment later.
"Harry! You have to say yes you could be our brother that would be so wicked!" Ron exclaimed in one breath.
"I can't breathe," came the muffled reply from under the pile of boys. The three redheads reluctantly got off of him and Harry sat up, fixing his glasses.
"Harry, seriously, in the time it took from us to run up here, we composed a list of reasons you should be in the family," Fred said. "First, we like you."
"Second, you're already around a lot, and we like it when you're around," George added matter-of-factly. A blush was creeping up Harry's face.
"You've already got the hang of the Weasley blush," Ginny said from the doorway.
Harry looked up at her worriedly. Ginny entered the room and stopped a few feet in front of him. She then broke out into a grin and launched herself at him.
"Harry you should definitely be our brother," she laughed.
"Really?" he asked in disbelief.
"Yeah!" she exclaimed, pulling away.
"Are you sure it's not going to be weird at your wedding?" Fred teased and Ginny rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, Mum's all concerned that we're secretly in love and it's going to be awkward when we get married," Ginny complained. "I guess I'm really only dating Dean because of his striking resemblance to you."
Harry grinned. "She might be right, you know. I always thought you and Cho Chang were pretty much indistinguishable. It was probably a sign."
"Don't worry, I've made it clear to Mum and Dad that we think of each other only as brother and sister, though I'm not sure Mum's going to give up hope, as disturbing as that might become in the future."
"You guys are seriously okay with that idea?" Harry asked suspiciously. Hermione shot him her "I told you so" look. He had confided to her the latter part of his conversation with Mr. Weasley the night before and she had been ecstatic about the idea.
"Of course! The question is if you're okay with the idea of being siblings with us, and don't say anything yet, because you don't really know what that feels like, and we are going to make you feel it, so prepare," Ron declared happily.
"We're going to start by giving you an annoying nickname," Fred announced. "Actually, it's sort of the one thing you lack…that and you'll be the victim of a lot more of our pranks. No more out-of-family immunity."
"So Ron's obviously ickle Ronniekins, and Ginny's Gin-Gin, so you'll be…" George trailed off thoughtfully. "Is Harry a nickname Harrison by any chance?"
Harry made a face. "No, definitely not."
"Bingo!" the twins cried.
"I said my name's not Harrison," Harry protested.
"That's where the beauty lies," Fred said wisely.
"You'll see," George promised. "Be patient and you'll see the magic of it."
"So what else would make you feel more like our brother?" Ron asked eagerly. Harry was feeling slightly overwhelmed as the four redheads stared at him, practically radiating excitement.
"Um, I don't know," he said helplessly. "Listen, you guys should really think about this. Let the novelty of the idea wear off a bit and think about what it would really be like. Especially you two," he said to Ron and Ginny. "Fred and George are moving out soon, but I'd be spending every break with you, every meal, every…thing you do with family. I would always be around. I would probably know everything that's usually private family stuff. Not to mention all the Boy Who Lived crap. You're already seeing the sort of stuff that happens around me. We had to move to Snape's house because of me."
"Not because of you," Ginny objected sternly. "Because of those psychos who were torturing you."
Harry blushed in embarrassment.
"Another brother thing: you have to be more open with us," Ginny announced. "And we'll be open with you. And then we're all there for each other. Don't worry, Hermione, you're in on it too."
Hermione nodded, giving Harry a hard look. "That's right, you be more open with me."
"Yeah, Harrison!" Fred put in.
"That's not annoying me," Harry informed him with a small laugh.
"Oh, it is, even if you don't know it yet, it's starting to build," George said confidently. Harry regarded him skeptically.
"The thing is, Harry, we sort of already treat you like a brother. You just gotta treat us like siblings by being more comfortable around us. You are not a guest. And it's okay if you don't know how to do that yet. We'll teach you," Fred promised.
"Okay," Harry said meekly.
"Well, we'll let you two get back to whatever you were doing," George announced, clapping Harry on the back. Harry was surprised to find that he hadn't flinched too much at the motion.
"See you later, Harrison."
Ron crawled over as his siblings left. "Can I help?" he asked hopefully.
"We were going to go try sitting in the cupboard again," Harry said sheepishly, "with quicker reaction time to getting the door open."
They had decided that they needed to get Harry to last as long as he could in the cupboard in silence, then if he started panicking, he would let them know right away and they would try to calm him down. If it wasn't working, they'd open the door and have him calm down in the cupboard, but with the light shining through.
He was getting better, he thought. He was lasting longer without freaking out, and was able to sometimes cut off panic attacks before they even began by reminding himself that Hermione and Ron were there, or picturing the time they had told scary stories in the dark. Though the actual incident had gone poorly, it had had an overall positive effect.
They sat in the cupboard for awhile, and when Harry's breathing quickened, Hermione walked him through controlling it and urged him to believe there was nothing in there with them and that there was nothing actually cutting off his breathing.
"I think I'm calm," Harry said in surprise after awhile. "I'm a little on edge, but I'm okay."
Hermione listened and sure enough, his breathing was normal. "Ron, the door, if you will," she said with glee.
The three crawled out into the light and Hermione hugged Harry joyfully. "You did fantastically!" she gushed.
"'Mione, I had you there the whole time calming me down," Harry pointed out, rolling his eyes.
"Harry, we're taking steps, and you've gotten past a big one! We're making progress! You should be proud! I know I am," Hermione exclaimed enthusiastically.
"You did good, mate," Ron said more soberly. "Seriously, if that was me in a spider pit…no way."
"Thanks, but seriously, you guys don't need to praise me for being able to sit in a cupboard without freaking out," Harry said insecurely. "But thank you. Both of you, but especially you, 'Mione. I can't believe you put so much work into this."
"You're welcome, Harry, and I'm glad to put my researching skills to good use," she said with a warm smile.
"Come on, let's go see if there's any of last night's dessert left. If we want any we'll have to beat Ginny and the twins to it," Ron declared and the three raced each other to the kitchen
The idea of adoption hanging in the air began with Harry feeling extremely awkward. It didn't help that Mrs. Weasley burst out into tears of joy and hugged him for nearly half an hour after Mr. Weasley informed her of the situation. Suddenly, all the attention was focused on him in a different way than it had been before, like everyone was trying exceptionally hard to make him feel like family rather than a guest. He found himself being the victim of much more teasing and pranking and was urged to retaliate. Instead of always helping Ron with whatever chore was assigned to him, he was occasionally assigned a chore of his own or paired up with one of the other Weasley children, though the need for chores had dropped dramatically after moving into Snape's manor; the house elves made sure of that. Mrs. Weasley good-naturedly confided that she was looking for something to scold him over, so he'd really feel like one of the kids, but she couldn't find anything. She told him to let loose and to not worry so much about being a good guest.
But as time went on, it began to feel a bit more natural. It seemed that Fred had been right, the Weasleys had already treated him pretty much like they treated each other. And though Molly seemed to be mothering him even more, it was more an issue of degree. She had sat Harry down for several get-to-know-each-other chats, and though they'd had the potential to be horribly awkward, they ended up not being so once they started. Molly always was able to put Harry at ease when she wanted, and Harry was more thankful than ever for that during their talks.
His conversations with Arthur were a little more bizarre, though also not as uncomfortable as he'd imagined. Once Harry established that he really did not want to talk about his uncle just yet, Arthur respected that and they talked around it. It was strange to talk about himself, but worth it to hear the anecdotes Arthur shared with him in return, about his own life, his early relationship with his wife (minus any disturbing details), and his kids. He seemed to be making a genuine effort to get to know Harry and to make sure Harry felt like he knew the Weasley family. The less he had to have Ron explain inside jokes to him at the dinner table, the more it seemed to be working.
What weirded him out most was that Ron's parents began insisting he call them by their first names. Doing so felt peculiar and he couldn't dream of it ever coming naturally, even with Ron and the twins trying their best not to snicker every time he tried it. But Mrs. Weasley, or Molly, always just gave him a hug and assured him that he'd get used to it, even hinting hopefully that one day he might call them "Mum" and "Dad".
The effort everyone was putting into it amazed him. Their enthusiasm for him to join their family really threw him and he was a little unsure what to do with it. He had to admit, though, that it did rub off and, as he confided in Hermione, he was beginning to really consider the offer.
Entering the kitchen with Ron and Hermione, Harry was surprised to find Molly racing around the kitchen, whipping up what seemed to be pretty much everything they had.
"Woah, Mum, calm down. I'm not that hungry," Ron said, taken aback. He went to stick his finger in a casserole sitting on the counter, but she grabbed his finger with lightning speed and flung it away.
"What's the occasion, Mrs. Weasley?" Hermione asked as Ron glared at his mother.
"Percy. He's been writing to me and your father about moving back home and he's coming for a visit!" she exclaimed ecstatically.
Harry wasn't feeling the same happiness, wondering if Ron's parents knew how much Percy disapproved of him. It seemed he wasn't the only one less than thrilled at the news.
"Ugh, Mum, why's that git coming?" Ron complained.
"Don't talk about your brother that way, Ron," Molly reprimanded. "He's trying to make peace with us."
"Yeah right, more like trying to stir up trouble. And how do you know we can trust him anyway?" Ron asked accusingly.
"Ron, he's your brother so you can just stop the attitude and if you touch that casserole, so help me, I will glue your hands together," she snapped as she checked something in the oven that smelled heavenly.
Ron grumbled that he could still eat with his hands glued together if he used them as a shovel.
Dinner that night with Percy was a bit uncomfortable, mostly because the Weasley teens kept shooting death glares at their older brother. But Percy surprisingly just ignored them and was actually being somewhat nice. He just spoke with his parents, and a little to Hermione, ceasing his efforts to talk to his siblings after a few comments in return that had Molly yelling. Percy just ignored Harry's presence pretty much altogether, but at least he wasn't trying to turn people against him as Harry had originally feared.
By the time they were getting ready for bed, Harry was even defending Percy's motives to Fred and George, who were certain he was up to something.
Realizing he'd forgotten his school books downstairs, and feeling guilty about the mess, Harry slipped down to get it before bed. When he heard Percy and his parents talking in the kitchen, though, he couldn't help but alter his route to bring himself a bit nearer to the door.
"Percy, this is ridiculous. We want you home!" Molly exclaimed emotionally.
"And I'll come back, but only under the condition that Harry Potter is not part of this family."
Harry stopped in his tracks and looked at the closed door in horror. There was momentary silence and Harry crept closer to listen.
"That's enough, Percy. I don't want to hear any more about that," Arthur said frostily.
"No, I need to say this. You need to listen to me. Think about what's happened so far because of past entanglements between this family and Potter. His first year at Hogwarts, Ron ended up in the hospital wing having almost been killed by a giant chess piece because he was following Potter! Ginny's first year, she nearly died because someone was using her to get to Potter!"
"And Harry saved her," Molly interrupted.
"She was only in trouble because of Potter in the first place, Mum! And he could have told an adult, let them into the Chamber of Secrets instead of dragging Ron with him and nearly getting them all killed. And saving Ginny wasn't because he has any special consideration for our family. He likes putting himself in danger, coming out as the hero. Can't you see! He's desperate for attention. He's manipulative. He's put on an act, possibly fed everyone lies so he can get what he wants, including staying with us!"
Harry's lungs froze and he felt suddenly sick to his stomach. He held his breath, waiting for someone to say something. It was Arthur who spoke.
"Percy, I won't tell you again. Harry has reasons to stay and we have reasons to adopt him."
"His family was horrible! I know you kids can't appreciate what that must be like, but some people aren't as lucky," Molly scolded.
"He's lying!" Percy said in aggravation. "Trust me! I've seen every file on him in the ministry, everything about his family. They might not be the most doting of a family, but they're fine. He just knows what buttons to push to make you feel sorry for him enough to give him even more special treatment. Here, he has everyone treating him like a prince, especially you, Mum. He gets so much attention from you all, no wonder he wants to stay! It's gone to his head!"
"He's been treated like any one of your siblings since we made this decision," Arthur remained firm.
"Oh yeah, from what you've told me, it's very much the same. Private one-on-one conversations with each of you all the time. I watched Mum load his plate tonight heaps more than anyone else."
"He's underweight!" Molly exclaimed defensively.
"You adopt him, you'll play favorites with him as you've always done every time he's over. How do you think Ron's going to feel about that? Being put second to Harry Potter again? Don't you see that's his biggest insecurity? Now Potter's even encroaching on his family, stealing the spotlight even among us! It might not affect him now, but down the road, Ron's going to start resenting it, start feeling shunted aside and neglected. Even if we sorted things out and honestly treated Potter the same, which will never happen because of the way and age at which he's shown up in our lives, but even if it did, the public would only care about him, maybe you guys as the parents, but think about going out to dinner. Who will people be gawking at while Ron's right next to him? Who's going to get scads of mail from fans while Ron sits by with nothing. He deals with it all the time at school and now he'll have to deal with it at home for the rest of his life!"
There was a long silence and Harry winced. Percy had an excellent point and he wasn't sure how the Weasley parents would take it. If they dismissed it, they would be dismissing their son's feelings as second to Harry's. And what could they come back with? Ron would be more mature than that? They knew all about his and Ron's fight forth year. They had to know there might be resentment in the future.
This was awful.
"Percy, do you think this might be about something other than Harry?" Molly asked delicately.
"No! This isn't about me so don't even try to just pass this off as me overreacting," Percy snapped angrily. "Just listen to yourselves! You say he has a bad past. Are you ever going to honestly be able to treat him equally, or will you give him special treatment? Explain away his actions as the pressure he's under to fight You Know Who, or because of his background? Spend more time with him to try to make him feel wanted? From what you've told me yourself, this summer has been all about Potter. How many summers will end up being like that? If they're not, you won't be giving him the proper attention needed to help him defeat Voldemort. The world will be centering around Potter until that happens no matter how equal you try to make it."
There was more silence.
"I'm concerned about you guys. Potter's dangerous and the idea of adopting him is absurd. Even Dumbledore doesn't want you guys to have him; we'll be legally responsible for his actions and the ministry's just waiting for something to get him for, and that's not even to mention that having him live with us would put a huge target on our family with You Know Who." Percy exclaimed passionately. "Adopting him would be the worst thing you could do to our family. It would put us all in danger. Think of what could happen to Ron and Ginny if someone came for Potter. One of You Know Who's followers could use any one of us to get at Potter if you do this. Look, I know we've been fighting, but I'm sorry. I never stopped thinking of us as a family, I just was going through a strange time. I want to come back, but I can't support this."
"Percy, please don't ask us to choose between the two of you," Molly said quietly.
"Mum, please, I really want to come back home, or at least be with you here if we can't go back to the Burrow," Percy pleaded. "I miss you guys."
He heard Molly burst into tears and couldn't bear to hear the rest. Percy had played his hand well and Harry knew how things would play out from here. Swallowing back his emotions, he stumbled up the stairs almost drunkenly. He needed to pull it together. He should have braced himself for this sort of disappointment from the beginning.
For a long time, Harry sat on the edge of his bed, staring blankly at the cupboard door, cursing the dark space for causing all this in the first place. He scolded himself for feeling so upset. What did he expect? Percy was their son, part of their family from the beginning. Even aside from Percy, the points he had brought up made one thing obvious: it was always going to be a question of Harry versus the other Weasley children. If he were adopted, he would always be a problem that needed to be dealt with. Harry had known he'd be an outsider as soon as the idea had been suggested. No matter how much everyone pretended he was part of their family, he would never truly be. He knew, when it came down to it, they would choose their own over him, and after listening to Percy even for the short bit he did, he wouldn't blame them.
There was a knock on the door and Hermione poked in her head. "Hey Harry, oh sorry, were you practicing your breathing exercises?" she asked with a smile, slipping into the room.
"Yeah," Harry agreed dully.
"I'm proud of you," Hermione told him, sitting next to him on the bed. "You really tackled this thing head on. I think it might be one of the bravest things you've ever done."
"Thanks, 'Mione, but I really don't feel all that brave," he sighed. He looked at the cupboard. "I think I'm going to try it alone."
Hermione looked at him in surprise. "We're not up to that step yet," she objected warily. "You don't need to rush this. That's not what I was trying to imply..."
"I know. I just think I can do it." He really did. The idea of being in the cupboard didn't seem so upsetting right now. Maybe because he was so occupied with what had just happened that he wanted anything to take his mind off of it, or that after the emotional upset he'd just gone through, he just didn't think he could muster up the energy to be afraid of the cupboard.
Whatever the reason behind it, Harry's determined look seemed to convince Hermione.
"Okay," she agreed hesitantly. "But I'll be right outside the door the whole time and we won't lock it."
Harry nodded and ignored Hermione's worried look as he marched into the dark cupboard and shut the door behind him, once again realizing how strange a situation this all was.
He was nervous at first, not having seen the cupboard in the light before closing himself in, but he viciously told himself to shut up, that he needed to face reality and stop being some scared little kid. He determinedly walked around the edge, trailing his slightly shaking hand along and scoffing at himself that he should have known all along it would be empty.
Plopping down in the middle of the cupboard, he let his mind drift, trying not to think about how much he'd ended up looking forward to being adopted by the Weasleys.
After a while, there was a hesitant knock at the door. Harry almost reluctantly rose to his feet and groped his way to the handle. He felt tired in a way that was different and somehow worse than the exhaustion he'd felt during his "training" with Bowen and Stone.
"You're not breathing abnormally at all!" Hermione exclaimed when Harry opened the door. She threw her arms around his neck in delight. "I can't believe it, Harry, you did it! I mean, it's expected that you'll have some relapses, but don't worry if you do, we'll get through it and now that you've done it, it'll be easier in the future! I am so proud of you! You must be so happy!"
Harry plastered on a smile and agreed with her, but really, even after all they'd been through to cure this claustrophobia, as Hermione hugged him joyfully, he couldn't really bring himself to care.
Harry couldn't sleep that night. His room felt too hot and ironically, too big. It suddenly felt weird sleeping without Ron's gentle snores in the next bed, but of course with such a big house, there had been no need for shared rooms. His sheets were bugging him for some reason and he eventually just kicked them all down in irritation before realizing he was too cold that way and reluctantly pulled them back up.
When were they going to tell him? How would they do it? Maybe they weren't planning on telling him at all. Maybe they just wouldn't bring it up and hope he forgot. Well, he knew that if they didn't bring it up, he certainly wasn't going to, they had to know that. Maybe that's what they were counting on. The whole thing would just go unsaid and Harry would go back to school and possibly never see Ron's parents again. After all, Dumbledore wouldn't be letting Harry back in their care, and would probably go back to training him to be some sort of soldier. Too many people were dying and the part of the Order that was on Dumbledore's side would want a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort as soon as possible before a full-out war could start. And realistically, he didn't feel prepared. It looked like he was probably going to die, maybe before he even graduated.
Harry groaned and flung the covers off himself, stepping into his slippers and pulling on his bathrobe. He hated when his thoughts went along this route and always kicked himself for letting it go too far, but sometimes it just couldn't be helped.
Trudging downstairs, lost in his thoughts, he didn't hear the soft crying coming from the kitchen until he saw the glow coming from the open door, the only light in the house at this hour. It was Mrs. Weasley, he could tell. And he knew why she was upset, of course. The prospect of breaking the news to Harry must have been making her feel terrible.
Feeling a rush of sadistic satisfaction, he turned to go back upstairs. He didn't care if she was feeling bad about it. She and her stupid husband were the ones abandoning him.
He only made it a few steps.
Standing there, he looked guiltily to the kitchen door. He knew he couldn't really feel okay with Molly being distressed. She was the closest thing he had to a mother, even if she didn't feel the same way about him. The thought of her crying was too painful to dismiss, especially when he could make it easier on her.
Making sure all emotions were safely pushed down and out of view, he reluctantly descended the rest of the steps and peeked into the kitchen.
Sure enough, Molly was sitting at the table sniffling while Arthur rubbed her back. Harry shifted his weight between his feet uncomfortably for a few moments before timidly making his presence known.
"Mrs. Weasley?" he called quietly. No need to call her by her first name anymore.
The couple looked up at him in surprise and Molly wiped her eyes quickly with a napkin.
"It's Molly, sweetheart. Come in," she said gesturing him over. He took a few steps forward so he was technically in the kitchen but didn't want to get any closer. He needed space if he was going to remain in control of himself.
"Um, I think I know why you're upset and I wanted to tell you that you shouldn't be," he said awkwardly. Arthur raised an eyebrow and Molly looked confused.
"Harry, I don't think you know why…" Arthur started but Harry cut him off.
"I heard your conversation with Percy earlier. It's not a big deal, you know. I mean, I kind of saw it coming anyway. I'm not upset about it so you don't need to be."
"Harry, I know you don't like him, but Percy's my son," Molly said slowly.
"I know; of course," Harry jumped in rapidly, looking at his feet. "That's why I understand. So you don't need to worry about telling me or feeling weird about it, because really, I didn't even care about the whole adoption thing and family's really important so I think you made the right choice." He felt his throat closing up slightly and his eyes begin to moisten dangerously, so he nodded conclusively and hurriedly turned toward the door.
There was the sound of the chair scooting back. "Harry, wait."
Harry took a deep breath and turned back. "It's okay, really, you don't have to explain…"
"Molly's upset because Percy is most likely not going to speak to us for awhile."
Harry stared at him.
"Harry, dear, I could never choose between my sons," Molly explained.
Harry stared at her.
Arthur smiled fondly and walked over to the stunned teen. He put an arm over Harry's shoulders and led him to the table. "Percy left when we told him we had no intention to stop our attempts to adopt you. I love my son, but all we can do now is hope that he'll eventually come back on his own, without the ridiculous ultimatums," Arthur explained. "It's just upsetting to have fights on this scale with your child."
Harry plopped heavily into the chair next to Molly and looked between the couple in shock. There was a long moment of silence.
Molly let out a teary laugh and pulled Harry into an awkward side-hug, kissing his forehead before releasing him. "Harry, of course we still want to adopt you."
"But I thought Percy said you couldn't," he said breathlessly.
"Percy doesn't make the decisions in this family," Arthur said with a sigh.
"You still want to…" Harry trailed off, stunned. He looked at Arthur with a questioning gaze.
"Of course," he assured him.
"Oh," Harry said lamely. To his horror, tears were suddenly welling up in his eyes and slipping down his cheeks. "Sorry," he apologized quickly as he ducked his head and rapidly wiped at his face with his hands.
"Harry, talk to us," Arthur urged him.
"I just…I thought you changed your mind," he admitted. "I can't believe you didn't."
"We would never change our minds about this," Molly scolded gently, taking his hand from the table and giving it a quick kiss. Harry frowned and tried to calm himself down before speaking next.
"But didn't you listen to Percy?" he asked tentatively. "He made really good points. He's right about Ron especially. I know what it's like to be shunted aside from living with the Dursleys and I don't want to be the one to make anyone else feel unimportant. He was right, this whole summer's been about me and that's really not fair at all. And I'd put everyone in danger and I do get into lots of trouble at school it's not your job to deal with that. I mean, if you think about it, adopting me could destroy your family! Even aside from all the hard feelings that might start coming up, who knows what Voldemort might do in order to get to me. I know you feel bad because you already mentioned the idea to me and don't want to back out, but you don't have to be worried about my feelings because I understand, I really do. Adoption's seriously unnecessary. It's not like it'll make a difference that much anyway once I become a legal adult." Harry was poised to continue, but realized he'd run out of steam and figured he had made his point well enough. He shut his mouth and bravely awaited the response.
There was a long silence while the Weasley parents struggled to find the best way to reply and Harry tried not to fidget.
"Harry," Arthur finally spoke, "what do you think would have happened if, say, Fred had been the Boy Who Lived? That would have certainly created lots of the same sort of drama. Ron and his other siblings would have been jealous a lot of the time, especially in public. We'd have had to treat Fred differently at many times because of what he'd be up against. It would put our family in a lot of real danger. Do you think we would have sent him off to live with someone else?"
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Well of course not, but that's completely different."
"Why is it different, Harry?" Molly coaxed.
"Because he's your kid," Harry huffed in slight annoyance at being forced to state the obvious in an already awkward conversation.
"Fred is our son, yes. And so are you, even if it's not yet official," Molly said gently, taking his hand and squeezing it gently.
Harry barely resisted rolling his eyes in anger. "You don't really think that," he muttered. "You know it'll never really be like that. You've known your kids since they were born. You've known me since I was twelve and it's not like I'm around all that much."
"It will be different with you, yes, but not in the sense that we'll care any less," Arthur said gently. "You've probably already seen how we have slightly different relationships with each of our children. This summer, when you're all together, we treat you differently, yes, but only to the same degree as we treat our children differently from each other. You seem to think we've been ignoring our children, but we have individual conversations with them as much as they'll allow. But even though we'll never have the same relationship with any one of you that we do with another, that doesn't mean there are different degrees to which we care about you all."
"Arthur and I wish more than anything that we could turn back time and insist Dumbledore leave you with us so we could have been there through your childhood, Harry dear, but missing out on those years simply means we know you a little less, and doesn't mean we care for you less. And we've done a pretty good job of lessening that gap of knowledge this summer. You probably now know Arthur's and my backgrounds as much as any of the others, and when you're ready to open up about what you went through at the Dursleys, we'll be right here."
Harry shifted in his chair self-consciously at that.
"We're still working on feeling like a family, and it'll take time, but there is no doubt in my mind that we can do it and our decision has never wavered since we made it and will never waver, no matter what happens," Arthur assured him. "Ron and the others may have some issues once an awhile, just as you'll have issues that will pop up about them. Once you live as Fred and George's prank victim for awhile, it seems a whole lot less funny, Ron's temper causes drama and Ginny's stubbornness can be trying at times. But you'll get past it and they'll get past it because we're family and that always comes out on top. After some possible initial drama, Ron will move past it all, more quickly than you'd think, as will the others. We've talked to Ron about all of this, and trust me, he still wants us to adopt you just as much as we want it."
Harry nodded, a little stunned by everything.
"If you decide that you don't want to be adopted legally into the family, that's okay; I know it's a huge decision. But, we want you to know that it won't change anything except our ability to keep you away from Dumbledore and the Dursleys. We will always be here for you Harry. You will always have a home with us," Arthur assured him.
There was a long silence while Harry let everything sink in.
Finally, he cleared his throat and his face went slightly pink as he got up the nerve to speak.
"Well," he said quietly, "if you're sure…" He trailed off with a nervous glance up at the couple.
Molly burst back into tears, this time a different feeling behind them, and grabbed Harry into her arms, almost pulling him out of his chair.
"We're definitely sure."
The next day Harry sat nervously in a small ministry office, Arthur and Molly at his side as they all looked over the paperwork in front of them. Harry winced every time they came across a particularly serious sounding passage that outlined how big a responsibility the adoption was, and kept sneaking worried glances at the couple to see if he could find any trace of regret on their faces.
When he had accompanied the couple on their visit with the Dursleys, he had been wrought with worry while the pair of redheads spoke with his scowling aunt and uncle. The Dursleys had immediately barked orders at him to get everyone something to drink, but Arthur put a hand on Harry's shoulder to keep him from standing. Arthur had explained the situation calmly while Molly sat next to Harry and attempted to radiate comfort. Harry had fidgeted and winced as the Dursleys made venomous comments about what a nasty boy Harry truly was and what a burden they were taking on. Instead of showing any sign of reluctance to continue what Vernon Dursley had spontaneously decided to dub "the transaction", as if he were ridding himself of a piece of property, Molly just kept a comforting arm around him while her husband made sure Harry's uncle signed every dotted line.
"There's a no return policy on this one," Vernon joked viciously as Arthur clicked his ratty briefcase shut.
Arthur stood, looking somehow more impressive than Harry had ever seen him. "You have no idea what you're giving up."
In that moment, Arthur Weasley was Harry Potter's hero.
The red-haired man had then pushed his glasses up into place on his nose, and told his wife and Harry to come along. He had quickly asked Molly to put her wand away, since any hexes would just attract attention to their location and the adoption wasn't legal yet.
But it would be very soon.
The door opened and the caseworker came through with a smile, shutting the door for privacy and taking a seat behind his desk.
"All right, now that I've spoken with everyone and you appear to be done with those forms, all you have to do is sign."
Harry watched in fascination as Molly and Arthur scrawled their signatures on the documents in turn.
When the papers were in his hands and everyone's eyes on him, Harry shakily held the pen over the line but hesitated.
"Harry, it's okay, we really want this," Arthur assured him quietly.
With that final push, Harry held his breath and signed.
"Congratulations. You're a family," the caseworker announced gathering the papers and finalizing them with the slam of a stamp.
"Hurry! Come on now, we're late as usual!" Molly called in a harassed tone over her shoulder as she and Arthur led the way through the crowded train station.
"Yeah, hurry up there, Ronniekins! Harrison!" George yelled over his shoulder.
The two boys glared at their backs. Harry had yet to lose it about the nickname, but it had for some inexplicable reason begun to severely grate on his nerves.
Harry and Ron ran after Ginny and Hermione through the barrier to the platform. The train whistle blew but Molly still made them all stop while she and Arthur both said their goodbyes to them individually.
When it was only Harry left and the others were throwing their things on the train, Molly hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek. "You be careful, okay?"
He nodded, his mind already speeding to the return trip on this train. He finally had someone who would be happy to greet him upon his return.
Arthur also gave him a quick hug. "Listen, Harry, Dumbledore has no say over you anymore, okay? Anything he wants you to do has to be run through us and don't hesitate to contact us about it, alright? We'll come straighten it out every time."
"Okay," Harry said, trying to hide that he was feeling deliriously happy.
"Now, you're to write to us every week, no exceptions, and tell us everything."
"Yeah, alright," he said with a goofy grin.
"Harrison!" George yelled from the train. "Move it! They're going to pull out!"
Harry quickly hugged the two before he could change his mind, ignoring the looks they exchanged at Harry finally initiating a display of affection, and hurried toward the train as the final whistle blew. He jumped on board and joined his friends, no, siblings, in waving goodbye to their parents.
"Let's go find a cabin," Ron said, pulling Harry along after him.
"You have a nice train ride, Harrison," Fred cooed.
Harry whirled around. "My name's not Harrison!" he yelled in infuriation.
The group all stilled, big grins blossoming on the faces of each of the Weasleys.
"There it is," George said contently. "Success at last."
"Success in annoying the crap out of me?" Harry asked with a glare.
"Yeah! Feel that? It's sibling love," Fred confided.
"We're a family," Ginny announced happily.
"Good luck," Ron muttered, throwing his arm over Harry's shoulders and pulling him along. "You're going to need it."
"Harry got slowly out of bed and started looking for socks. He found a pair under his bed and, after pulling a spider off one of them, put them on. Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept."
-p. 19 HP and the Sorcerer's Stone (paperback edition)
Some notes about phobias: A phobia is a strong persistent fear of an object or situation. This fear is excessive and unreasonable, and the sufferer often knows this logically. However, when they are presented with the object of their fear, that rationality goes out the window and the fear takes over. The most common phobia is "agoraphobia" which is the fear of being outside. This fear is generally known as a social phobia and most often stems from the person having unexpected panic attacks in public and beginning to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful of having them in public, and therefore begin to remain indoors. Phobias such as claustrophobia are called "specific phobias". As I said in the chapter before, the causes of these phobias can stem from a traumatic event of any degree, or can appear for no obvious reason.
The treatments used in this fic are both real and of my own imagination. "Flooding" someone with the stimuli they're afraid of (or forcing them to experience it all at once) does sometimes work, but is not recommended because it can make things worse in many cases and in almost all cases will severely damage any trust between the sufferer and the person subjecting them to the flooding. Hermione's treatment plan, of gradually exposing Harry to dark, closed spaces, is a safer method, though obviously, because she tried to push a little too hard at the beginning, had some rocky moments along the way. The whole bit about telling scary stories in the dark and Hermione's theories surrounding its effectiveness are purely from my own imagination and I have no idea if it would help or not.
Phobias are one of the most common mental illnesses, and many people will experience a phobia over their lifetime, though often the phobia will not persist more than a few years.
If anyone has any questions about terms I used in this fic or anything else about phobias, just pop a message on my Yahoo!Group and I'll answer it to the best of my ability.
I hope you all enjoyed the fic as much as I enjoyed writing it.