Thank you to everyone who has read this, and reviewed, throughout. I hope you've enjoyed this story.
The sun had come out for the first time in nearly a week, and for that, Simon was undyingly grateful. Their small garden looked all the better for it, though it would have looked better still if he'd had the chance to tidy more effectively. The shrubbery was still a bit of a mess, and a child's bike had been left leaning against the wall outside. Still, he'd managed to light the barbecue, and that in itself he felt was something.
The last few weeks had been utterly manic, and he didn't think he'd ever known anything like it. He remembered vividly taking Harry home from the hospital, and entering their home, just the two of them. There had been a strange feeling of 'what now?' and for a moment, they'd both just stood there, looking at each other. Harry's stomach rumbling had broken the silence, and Simon had laughed, instantly wrapping Harry up on the sofa to rest whilst he made dinner for them both.
The next week, he'd gone to the Dursleys, and as promised, they'd had the adoption papers drawn up. All he'd had to do was to read and to sign, and he'd left, feeling lighter than he had done in weeks, even though he had to pass the cupboard under the stairs as he left. He took more than a little delight in stepping on as many plants as he could on the way out.
Then there had been the trial. Both he and Harry had been called into court to testify against Vernon Dursley for his crimes committed against Harry. What ever protection the mysterious A. Dumbledore had offered had obviously fallen away, and Vernon had looked uncharacteristically small standing in a courtroom. Five years, but probably less if he behaved, Simon knew. It was enough though. Enough to make sure that Harry wouldn't have to see Vernon again.
He supposed that it was for the best that this had happened at the very beginning of the summer holidays. When they both returned to school in September, Harry would be in someone else's class, and he would not be teaching his own child. It also meant that they had six weeks to get used to each other before the mess of school joined their lives. It had been fun spending his days with Harry, making playdough and playing with lego, taking him on a desperately needed clothes shopping venture, or entertaining whichever well-wishers came to the door.
As soon as he'd become used to Harry's presence in the house, it had all come to a swift end, with Petunia demanding the boy's presence in their house for the two weeks they'd agreed. Harry had been pale and shaking when he left, even knowing that Uncle Vernon couldn't possibly have been there. He'd ended up visiting Mrs Figg every day, and he'd been fed and given Dudley's spare bedroom. They'd barely said a word to him, and when he threw himself back into Simon's arms at the end of two weeks, unharmed, both had felt a profound sense of relief.
It had not all been smooth sailing though. Simon had nearly lost his temper when he awoke one morning to find Harry gone. The child returned a couple of hours later, shrugging slightly and explaining that he'd 'just been in to town'. The ensuing conversation lasted a good couple of hours as well, while Simon explained that he didn't want Harry going anywhere without him, and he wasn't to leave his sight when they did leave the house.
He wasn't entirely sure that Harry understood his reasoning, but he supposed that as time went on, he would come to understand as he grew up, and grew accustomed to having a parent who cared for him.
From inside the house, he heard the doorbell go, and he ran inside to get it. "Harry, your guests are arriving," he called up the stairs.
He didn't even get to the front door before Jack walked straight through it. "I don't know why you even bother ringing the bell, to be honest with you," Simon sighed.
Light footsteps could be heard on the stairs, and a moment later, Harry appeared. "Hey, Mr Jack!" he said brightly.
"Happy Birthday!" Jack cried even more exuberantly, and picked the child up, and spun him around before letting him down again. He reached back outside the door and picked up the large parcel sitting on the floor behind him. "And here's your gift!"
"A gift, for me?" Harry asked, sounding genuinely puzzled. He looked up to Simon for guidance, and he nodded at him encouragingly.
"I'm sure you'll be getting plenty of them today," Jack assured him. "Now let's go sit down and open it before anyone else arrives."
Jack had been right, and every guest who turned up on their door that day brought a present for Harry. Many of them were toys, since most people who knew him were aware of his previous deficiency of them, and more of them were books, which Harry was always thrilled to receive. Clothes and sweets also found their way onto the pile, and Harry was awed that all this was because of him.
It was towards the end of the afternoon, when the barbecue had cooled to embers, and the children had begun to drift asleep in the arms of their parents. Simon watched Harry running around the grass with one of Mrs Stone's children, Michael, and two of his other students Andrew and Laura, of whom he approved. It warmed him to see him happily making friends and having fun, as he ought to have been doing all along.
A touch on his arm alerted him that he was not alone, and he turned to see Margaret smiling at the same scene that he observed.
"He looks so happy now, so different to the way he has done for so long," she said quietly. "I can't thank you enough for succeeding where I failed. For seeing his life, and finding a way around it. You've saved his life, Simon, and you will always have my eternal gratitude."
As women around him had been doing lately, she wrapped her arms around him, and then promptly burst into tears.
"All right, Maggie, come here," Dennis said, appearing from nowhere to rescue him. He easily took Margaret from his arms, and onto his. He mouthed a 'well done', and wandered away.
"I must admit, I wondered about your choice for the school when I first met you in September," Stephen said casually. A beer in one hand, and a casual smile on his face. "The class was a difficult one – a couple of special needs, some with serious behavioural issues, a strange family affair involving a boy being regularly hurt by his own cousin. You were a greenhorn, fresh from the teaching course, and Ruth had clearly lost her mind. I never quite understood what she saw in you then."
He took a swig from the bottle, and his smile warmed again. "Then you discover that the rest of the family's hurting him, too, and that no matter what you do, social services have no idea who he is. A mad, violent uncle, and a calculating aunt, and you've got yourself the bones of a ludicrous novel. You rise to the challenge, of course, and exceed everyone's expectations, saving the boy in the most unorthodox way I could imagine, with my limited imagination, and here, one year on, Harry's happy in his home, surrounded by friends. I can't say how impressed with you I am. I can only regret not being as good a teacher as you when I was just starting out."
He staggered slightly, and fell into a chair behind him. Simon remembered thinking almost a year ago, that if he could be as good a teacher as Stephen in ten years time, then he'd be more than happy with himself. In a rare moment of unnecessary sentiment, he told Stephen exactly that, and pressed a hand to his shoulder as he slipped into the crowd.
A few hours later once more, and Stephen had long since gone home, put into a taxi by the ever practical Jackie, and Ruth the headmistress had obligingly given the driver the fare upfront. Almost all the guests had left, including most of his family, though his mother had given Harry an extra-long hug before leaving, and had slipped him another little present which he had yet to unwrap. Jack had passed out on the sofa some time ago, and Simon promised himself not to let his brother drink himself into a stupor in front of such young children again.
"A nice end to a very long day, I imagine," Florence said from behind him. They stood for a moment looking over the garden and the fields beyond at the sunset. "Was it worth it? All the trouble you've been through?"
He reached up to run a hand through his hair, but she stopped him, and brought his arm back to his side. "I can't stop thinking sometimes, about how he'd end up living the rest of his childhood if I hadn't been here, and yet, what if I was wrong? What if I should have just given the evidence to the police and let them make of it what they will, and let Harry go to someone who is truly able to take care of him… I've got no experience with children! What if I mess this all up?"
He turned to her then, and the sheer heartbreak in his expression made her smile. "You're effectively a new parent, and you don't think that every new father goes through the same panic? Everyone worries that they're going to mess everything up, but you've proven beyond a doubt that you're more than fit for this. You risked everything to save Harry, and now he's curled up next to your drunken brother…" she smirked at her twin and her adopted nephew.
"Seeing you with Harry has made me certain that I'm doing the right thing," she added quietly, putting her had to her stomach. It had grown larger since he'd last seen her, Simon was sure. "And I'm so glad to have a big brother who's going through the same thing as me." She smiled again. "Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed yourself today, because I know Harry has. You're both going to have to come to my housewarming once I get settled."
"Housewarming?" Simon asked, confused.
"Well, seeing how happy you and Jack are living here, especially now you've got a son of your own, made me rethink my life a little…"
"You've bought a house here." He stated.
She grinned. "Just a few streets away, I'll be around every day!"
Simon pretended to groan in annoyance. "That's a lot more permanent than the place you were renting before. And what did Mum and Dad have to say about that?"
"They were practically beaming," she laughed, and Simon looked thoroughly bemused. "They've been saying how proud they are of you, and really they won't shut up about it. How their eldest son has made it through adversity and has taken in a poor orphan boy on his teachers' wage in the suburbs. They're talking about cutting Jack off to give him a bit of perspective, I thought he was going to cry!"
Simon laughed then, and put his arms around his sister.
"After Caroline and everything that came with that, I didn't think we'd ever see you happy again," she said, quite seriously. "But I'm so happy for you that you've found a new family, and a new life for yourself. All I ever wanted was for you to smile again."
They fell silent for a few minutes then, and watched the sky darken.
"I do go on, don't I?" she said quietly. "I'd better get back, or Dad'll be wondering where I am. I'll come and visit you both again before I go back to Oxford to move my things. Good bye, Simon." She pressed a kiss to his cheek, and walked gracefully to the taxi that was waiting for her in the street.
Simon stayed on the porch for a long moment, before coming back inside and closing the door against the cold. Harry was, as Flo had said, curled up against Jack on the sofa, and had burrowed under one of his cardigans for warmth.
"Come on, Harry, time for bed," he said quietly, scooping the child up and into his arms.
"Has everyone gone home now?" Harry asked sleepily.
"Yep, just us and Jack left now, and it's well past your bedtime," Simon said, as he ascended the stairs.
"Will you read me a bedtime story?" Harry asked cautiously, still expecting to be refused after these last few weeks.
"Of course," Simon told him.
After Harry had brushed his teeth and been washed and changed into pyjamas, he climbed into the little bed in the second bedroom. Simon thought idly that he should redecorate as Harry wished, and then it would truly be his very own room.
"Have you had a good birthday?" Simon asked quietly.
The smile he received dazzled him, and warmed him through. "It's been the best day I've ever had," Harry told him quietly, leaning out of bed to wrap his arms around his neck, and planting a kiss on his cheek. Simon held Harry against him for a long moment, just enjoying the feeling of having his child in his arms. He pressed a kiss to his unruly hair, and smiled down at his son. He didn't think he'd ever been so happy in his life.