A/N: I know that it's been a while. I'm hoping to have this finished by the end of next week. There's only one more chapter after this one. Thanks as always to my beta, J!
Chapter 52—A New Reality
Ron burst through the kitchen door of the Burrow, skidding to a stop just inside as if he just realized that they had company. The lessons that the twins had been giving him on portraying an innocent face seemed to be paying off since Mum didn't scold him for his entrance. He glanced around the room, immediately spotting his sister sitting at the table. She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. Without the use of Legilimency, he was still able to discern that she was trying to place his face. Of course, he probably wouldn't have been able to figure out where he had seen her before either if it hadn't been for the trip into the Pensieve that forever branded that particular memory into his mind.
"Do I know you?" she asked, thoughtfully. "I feel certain that I've met you before."
"Because you have, Ginny," Ron answered softly. "On the beach in Brighton." He crossed to sit next to her.
She gave a gasp. "That's right," she breathed. "But wait, weren't you there with your sister?"
"You're my only sister, Ginny. Of course, I didn't figure out that you were my sister for certain until after we got home. I was there with my best friend, Luna, for her birthday," Ron responded.
"You're my brother?" she questioned, shaking her head. "How did I not know?"
"How were you supposed to? We were both very little when you were taken," Ron reasoned. "I would have been shocked if you had known I was your brother."
She thought that over for a bit before asking, "So which one are you? I mean, obviously you're not Bill or Charlie as." Ron watched her hesitate over her choice of words, paying close attention to her expression. Confusion was the most prevalent emotion emanating out of her face. Ginny continued, "Well, I was told that Bill is in..." His sister tilted her head again, thinking. "Egypt and Charlie is in... a country that starts with an R. Russia? No, that doesn't sound right. Rwanda?"
As she dropped her head in thought, Ron just let her mumble her way through several countries that start with R before she hit upon Romania.
"Romania! That's where they said he was. Romania working with dragons, but dragons don't exist, do they?" Ginny looked up at him. "So unless you can fly super fast, you can't get back here from those countries instantaneously. Which means you're one of the others. But I don't know which one."
"I'm Ron, the one closest to you in age." He held out his hand for her to shake deliberately. "It's nice to finally meet the real youngest in the family." When she grasped his hand, it happened exactly as he expected.
The train platform was crowded as expected for the day that students were to return to Hogwarts. Families were saying their goodbyes. Ron was pushing his cart up to a compartment when he saw his sister take off down the platform toward a dark haired boy. She threw her arms around him, hugging him tight. The boy wrapped his arms around her, picking her up and twirling her. He set her down and turned her toward the Longbottoms. He watched as Ginny pulled the boy and Neville toward their family.
Number Twelve Grimmauld Place
Alice paused for a moment in the doorway to the kitchen, her eyes sweeping the room, taking in the chaos that inhabited it. Deciding that Janet was handling her godson, she made her way to her son, who was standing with a shattered butterbeer bottle at his feet. The female Auror ran her hands down from Neville's shoulders to his hands while sinking to her knees. Gripping them in hers, her eyes searched Neville's face.
"Are you okay, Neville? What's going on? What happened?" Alice threw out the questions in a rush.
"I'm okay, Mum, really," Neville answered. He shook his head slowly as if to sort the images into an order. "I introduced myself to Harry and offered him a butterbeer. He told me that we weren't old enough to drink that and then everything went kind of crazy."
Alice caught a glimpse of Sirius waving his wand in various motions over Neville's shoulder. She rose to her feet and turned to her host.
"What do you think? It's just Harry's accidental magic, right?" Alice suggested.
Sirius let out a noncommittal hmmm before answering. "Maybe." The look in his eyes let Alice know that Sirius wasn't sure about her theory more than his response. His mind was clearly working at full speed. Shrugging, she decided to believe that it was nothing more than Harry's accidental magic making its presence known.
Sirius swept his wand in a tight circle, vanishing the mess created by the butterbeer. The instant the puddle of liquid disappeared, everything in the room came to a complete and abrupt halt. The sudden silence of the room caused an awkwardness that Alice found hard to combat. Everything that had been chaotic was now back in its normal working order, looking like nothing had ever happened.
"Miss Stephens," Harry's voice was very low, making Alice focus very hard to hear him. "When can we go home?" Harry had his head down, looking at his right foot that he was moving back and forth, worrying a hole in the kitchen tile. Alice recalled seeing that very same look and movement from her best friend back in first year. Janet ducked her head to be able to see Harry's eyes under the fringe of hair that was shielding him from everyone else.
"Harry, this is your home—" Janet started before Alice interrupted her.
After finally registering what her godson said, Alice was shocked into speaking. "Well, actually, one of your homes now. Speaking of, Sirius, we have to decide where Harry should live for the rest of the summer before he goes to Hogwarts."
"I think actually the first thing that needs to happen is true introductions to Harry and maybe explanations are in order as well," Janet suggested. "Harry, I'm sorry that we got kind of sidetracked earlier. I didn't mean to ignore you." Wrapping her arm around Harry's shoulder while she remained on her knees, she gestured toward the dark-haired male. "According to Aunt Minnie, this man is your godfather. His name is Sirius Black. He was a friend of mine during my childhood, much like Mena is yours."
"Is he a wizard like the lady said I was?" Harry whispered in her ear.
"Oh yes," Janet's eyes sparkled as she answered. "He is."
"I'm Alice Longbottom, Harry. I'm your godmother. Your parents chose Sirius and I to be your godparents as we were their best friends. This is Neville, my son, your godbrother. He's only a day older than you."
"I don't know anything about my parents," Harry replied in a low tone. "I didn't even know that my dad's name was James until he" Harry pointed to Sirius, "said so."
"Well, we can tell you all about both of them. Harry, I know this must be very unsettling for you, but know that both Sirius and I have been looking for you for years. Your parents were very dear to both of us and we'll always be there for you no matter what. Do you have any questions for us? I know that I'll answer anything you want to ask," Alice commented.
"I will as well, Harry," Sirius added.
Ron was showing Ginny her new room when she heard a loud clamour from the floor below. She startled at how much the sound carried through the house.
"Oh, that's our twin brothers, Fred and George," Ron stated. "It can be quite difficult to tell the two apart so don't feel bad if you call them by their twin's name. They're used to it."
The two were sitting on the bed, looking over the things that their mother had added for her daughter. As feet were heard climbing the stairs, Ron offered a warning.
"Just to let you know, never eat anything that the twins give you. They fancy themselves pranksters, modelling themselves after this group they call the Marauders." He rolled his eyes. "I don't know where they came up with that, but I'm just giving you fair warning."
A flame haired head popped around the doorframe.
"Hey, we resemble that remark just a bit, but we would never prank our dear wee sister on her first day home," one of the twins said.
"Oh, indeed, only starting on her second day home," the other agreed.
"How about not pranking me at all?" Ginny offered. She bolstered her courage through thoughts of Harry and how he would expect her to behave. "After all, I think I got enough of that from the boys at Harper Place," she muttered.
Both twins straightened from where they had been lounging against the doorframe. "Wait a minute. Who do we need to go take care of for pranking our baby sister? We're the only ones allowed to prank our family." Ginny caught sight of their very indignant look and didn't quite know how to take their reaction.
"There will be no pranking of Muggles," their mother informed them coolly as she joined them in the hallway. "Besides, I'm sure that Ginny more than took care of them whether she realizes it or not."
"What do you mean?" Ginny asked, unsure how of this conversation was going.
"Well, you're magical and when magical children's emotions are heightened, their magic reacts, trying to soothe them and make them feel better. If these boys made you mad, then your magic probably viewed that as a threat and responded to it as such. For instance, when Ron was three, Fred turned his teddy bear into a stuffed spider with moving parts while Ron was holding the bear. Well, of course, Ron's magic reacted. The spider exploded, showering everything in the room with white fluff. So your magic would have responded to those boys," Molly reassured her.
Ginny couldn't help but wonder if she would ever feel comfortable anywhere.
After about an hour and a half of stories and explanations, Janet could tell that Harry was wearying and could use a rest. She stood from the table at which everyone was seated in the kitchen and stretched. Glancing around the table, the floor mother was heartened to see a camaraderie building between Harry and Neville, not unlike the one between Harry and Mena. Oh, she meant Ginny now. Thinking of her charges gave Janet cause to remember the paperwork she had waiting back at Harper Place for her to complete. The young woman let out a sigh.
"What's the matter, Miss Stephens?" Harry asked.
"It's time for me to get back to Harper Place, Harry. I have to finalize some paperwork for you and for Mena. I don't want to leave you, but I'm afraid I must. But I'm going to make sure that Sirius, your godfather knows how to find me, alright? Promise me that you'll have them owl me or come get me if you need me." Seeing Harry's downcast look, she wrapped her arms around him. She leant down to whisper in his ear. "You'll be fine. Your godparents love you. That is decidedly obvious. In fact, I imagine that they will be fighting over whom you're going to live with in a matter of minutes."
No sooner than the words had left her lips, Sirius was heard arguing with Alice over the very matter.
"Sirius, I think Harry should come home with me for now. He can get to know Neville and Evan," Alice stated very brusquely, anticipating a fight from Harry's godfather.
"Absolutely not. He should stay here with me. I can take care of him, just like James would have wanted," Sirius bellowed. Harry looked between the two of them with bewilderment in his eyes.
"But, Sirius, you're going to get to spend the whole year with him at Hogwarts. Let me have my time with him. Please?" Alice pleaded, giving Sirius the puppy dog eyes that she knew would work.
"Why don't you simply ask Harry whom he wants to live with for now?" Janet suggested calmly, resulting in two heads swivelling toward her with scowls on their faces.
Harry, uncertain of being placed in the middle of his godparents, asked, "What did you mean, Aunt Alice, that Sirius would be able to see me all year?"
"Harry, you got your invitation to Hogwarts today, right?" Sirius questioned. Seeing Harry's nod, he continued, "I'm going to be teaching a class there this year so I'll be living in the castle with you."
"Wait, Hogwarts is a castle? I'll be living there?" Harry stammered out, flabbergasted.
"Yes, Harry. Hogwarts is a boarding school. Of course for holidays, you'll be able to return home to either my house or here with Sirius. But that is entirely up to you," Alice responded.
"Well, if you're going to be with me, Sirius, where I'll see you most every day, then can I please stay with Aunt Alice until we have to leave?" Harry requested.
"Of course you can," Alice answered. Shooting a triumphant grin at Sirius, she was unsurprised when Sirius stuck his tongue out at her.
"I imagine that this has been very disconcerting for Harry," Janet offered. "If I may make a suggestion, I think it might be best if Harry was taken to his new home and allowed some time to process all that he has already discovered today. I'm sure that the both of you will be available to answer any questions that Harry might have at a later time, correct?" After getting a nod from both, she turned back to her former charge. Janet tipped his head up to meet her eyes with a quick push from her pointer finger.
Harry gave a brief nod, but still looked like he was completely lost. She cringed inside, knowing that when she left, he would be alone with strangers. However, the floor mother did not know what she could do. Legally, she had no claim on the boy whom she had loved and watched over for so long. Janet knew that Harry's transition wouldn't be an easy one, but it would have to happen sometime. She figured it might as well happen now, especially since Sirius and Alice would be able to help Harry in transitioning to the Wizarding world and Hogwarts so much better than she would.
Sensing the lingering tension, Alice tried to distract them all. "Well, boys, should we go introduce Harry to his other godbrother and his godsister? Neville, perhaps we can go to Diagon Alley tomorrow. Just you, Harry and I. What do you say?" Alice queried.
"That sounds fantastic, Mum! Thanks!" Neville answered. The trio made their way to the fireplace as Harry got a crash course in how to use the Floo. They disappeared in a flash of green.
Sirius looked over to Janet, gratitude and relief in his eyes. "Thank you for taking care of him so well all these years," he murmured. "I'll never be able to thank you enough."
"No thanks are necessary. Harry and Mena both just make you love them. Life on my floor will never be same without them there. I'm going to miss them terribly," Janet replied. "Now I need to go complete the paperwork. I probably also need to gather all of their things from their rooms. Do you know of a way that I can get Mena's, I mean, Ginny's things to her?"
"Why don't we Apparate to your place and then I can take them to the Burrow where the Weasleys live?" Sirius suggested.
"Don't you have to know where it is you're going to Apparate? You don't know Harper Place and there really isn't a good place for you to Apparate to there anyway. So if you want to come back with me, you'll have to do it the Muggle way," Janet retorted.
Sirius shrugged his shoulders and gestured toward his front door. "Lead on, my lady. I'm game if you are." He followed her out the door.