Harry thumped down into place and shook himself off. Apparating was hard! He knew he wasn't actually allowed to do it until he was seventeen but he didn't see what all the fuss was about personally. Sirius had taught him last year and he was only fourteen at the time because it was just before his birthday. He wondered idly whether they stopped you apparating because they didn't want minors capable of popping in and out as they pleased. It seemed like a pretty stupid rule, I mean at least with muggle driving it was because of safety and what not. Wizards were just plain weird he decided. So he straightened out his jeans and jacket and ducked into the bar to wait. Ron promised to show up before ten that night if he could and it was quarter too. He ordered a Butterbeer and settled himself in to a corner. The last thing he needed right now was a nosy or flirtatious witch attracting attention to him. The cuts and welts on his back ached something fierce and he really hoped Ron would get there soon. He needed his best friend. He'd come to count on Ron for medical aid this summer as Ron had accidentally stumbled upon an injury last summer when they spent the last weeks sharing a room at Grimmauld and Harry had let his extensive worry drop a little because he felt so safe. He'd been sure and perfectly secretive in school all these years as he changed behind his bed curtains like everyone else going through those awkward adolescent changes. But now they were being more easy with each other, they'd grown their muscles and stopped the spotty, horrid stages of puberty and whipped their clothes off easily in front of one another which put Harry on his guard more. But the summer, with his Godfather and the Weasley family who loved him and treated him so nicely. He'd dropped his guard and Ron had walked in on him treating a long slash down his side. All he could say was thank Merlin his best friend was a loyal and caring Weasley, yes he may have been jealous but he'd seen the error of his ways after the Triwizard tournament, he'd realised how much Harry meant to him and how much they'd been through together and now he was loyal and trustworthy to a fault. He was also fiercely protective and so Harry was to meet him once a week so Ron could make sure he was safe and bring bandages and potions to heal him when he was too hurt. There wasn't much else they could do as Dumbledore had been sternly adamant he was to return to his relatives. But this was a small comfort Ron offered and Harry loved his best friend for it. He'd persuaded Sirius to teach them how to apparate in the back garden of Grimmauld when no one else was around. They'd spent some of their fifth year perfecting it on Hogsmeade weekends when they could. Sirius had no problem teaching them this minor infraction on wizarding law as he was an illegal animagus. Apparating was wandless too so the ministry would never find out unless they splinched themselves. Which they wouldn't because they'd spent intensive hours perfecting it. Harry was pretty powerful for his age and surprised them both when he apparated from Scotland all the way to London and back after only a few days of training. Apparating was hard but it still came relatively easy to him. Ron was still having trouble apparating long distances so Harry had to come most of the way while Ron just popped over a few counties to London.
The door opened and he saw Ron slip in. He waved him over but for some reason Ron hesitated and waved him back shaking his head. Harry frowned and slipped from his seat to go into the alley beside the pub with Ron. He had his wand in hand in case it was something like an ambush or trickery. Ron would never betray him but he couldn't throw of the imperious like Harry could, Harry was working with him on that though. They needed to be extra careful now. The ministry was out to use Harry as a poster boy as Voldemort was back as of the end of last year, not that he hadn't been back before that though they just only admitted it after the ministry debacle that almost killed Sirius. But he wouldn't think of that! He shook his head forcefully to get Cedric's lifeless gaze out of his head. So with the Ministry, the Death eaters, and the public all out to either adore and fawn over him now instead of treat him like some disturbed, attention seeking freak again or use him to further their own gains. Harry was getting as paranoid as Mad Eye Moody. This in mind as soon as they were in the alley he had his best friend against the wall wand to his neck.
"What's my favourite photo?" He asked trying to be extra tricky as most people used food or colour as their safety question as the stupid ministry had advised it as the best way to be safe.
"The one where we were throwing fizzing whizbees into the lake and the giant squid was popping up to play with them because they were going mental and Hermione was actually rolling on the banking laughing herself silly" Ron replied dryly.
"Now what's my favourite memory of us doing something stupid and reckless?" Ron challenged as the wand was dropped from his throat.
"When I took you under the cloak to the kitchens and showed you how to get in obviously, you always think of your stomach" harry scoffed and they hugged but Harry winced.
"That's rather inventive of you both I must say, definitely not you bog standard safety question, be sure to throw off an imposter" A voice chuckled warmly from the shadows.
Harry's wand was up faster than they could blink.
"Show yourself" He growled protectively stepping in front of Ron.
Ron had been sneaking out of the house again for his weekly meeting with Harry when he got caught. He'd never expected someone to be coming to the Burrow at that time of night and they'd collided with an oomph causing Ron's sack of medical supplies to go rolling half way across the yard. He'd scrambled to pick them all back up and he'd been hastily stuffing them back in his sack when a large hand stilled his movements gently and offered the last roll of gauze.
"What are you doing little brother?" Charlie asked him lightly, curious with an edge of concern.
"These are some heavy duty potions and salves you have here" he added holding up his mother's most fierce and expensive healing balm that she'd only used twice when the twins had managed to burn themselves with an experiment and once when Bill got burned by forgetting his floo powder when he was five and dove straight into the flames. It was rather harsh stuff and not really needed in households typically.
"I-uh, what are you doing here Charlie? I don't think mum was expecting you?" Ron turned back grabbing the pot and shoving it in and closing the sack forcefully.
"Ron?" Charlie asked kindly "What's going on?" he asked softly as he saw Ron's hands were shaking.
"It's for Harry ok, I'm going to meet him so I can heal him, he's not in a good way, please I have to go! If I miss him I doubt he'll last until next week" Ron begged quietly shooting a desperate look up at the house.
"Ok, but I'm coming with you" Charlie frowned taking the sack from his brother
"I, but, well" Ron stuttered
"I was trained Ron, I had to be for Dragon handling, take me with you" Charlie sighed
Ron nodded dumbly
"Ok but we'll have to keep this outside because the moment I turn up with company he'll run like hell and I won't see him again all summer and then I won't see him at all because Charlie those bastard are killing him slowly and no one seems to care" Ron half sobbed turning away from his brother he gave the meeting point and disappeared leaving Charlie to follow in slight alarm and confusion.
Charlie was slightly amused as his brother greeted Harry. He knew they considered each other brothers, he knew his family pretty much adopted the boy as an honorary Weasley. But seeing the pair greet each other was heart warming there was so much love and history between them. He saw the keen intelligence and surprising power Harry radiated too. The last time he'd seen the boy had been over a year ago at the beginning of the Triwizard tournament. The boy was almost sixteen now and obviously filling into his manhood and growing up. Magic often reared up stronger as you reached sixteen and seventeen that was why the coming of age for wizards was at seventeen, if you had any extra power then by seventeen you'd have grown into it and you'd become fully an adult in all respects. But this Harry was a lot different from the happy go lucky if slightly beleaguered boy he'd met back then. He was willowy and rather fey like. But the frail and innocence of the boy shone through all the power and beauty he may have even in the dark moon light. He saw the flinch too and suddenly remembered why he was there. Ron said the boy was hurt.
He announced himself with a low chuckle of appreciation for the bond the boy had with his brother. It was nice to see Ron look so happy and comfortable with someone. He'd always been rather left out by his brothers for being the youngest. They'd been slightly worried he'd turn out a loner in Hogwarts a bit like Percy only not as bookish and pompous, but Harry had changed all that. For that he had all their gratitude.
He was again surprised by the boys swift reaction to threat and felt a wash of affection when he noticed Harry had subtly stepped in front of Ron protectively even though next to Ron Harry was tiny and frail looking. Ron was heads taller and much more musculature and stocky.
"Harry! It's Charlie don't hurt him" Ron whined in a panic grabbing Harry's wand away just as warning sparks started to flare up.
Then his brother turned to him.
"Sorry should have warned you not to scare him like that, his magic is a bit unstable at the moment, he's having surges and high emotion gets it out of hand quickly" He clucked fussing over the smaller boy
Charlie almost smiled at Ron's babying but Harry was squinting curiously into the dark trying to catch a good look at him.
"Damn knew I should have gone with the night vision contacts" he groused when Ron had finally handed back his wand.
"Come on let's get out of here we need to take a look at you again" Ron sighed gently taking Harry's arm and steering them both down the alley to the end and then to Charlie's surprise he was grabbed and apparated by Harry to a large open field under a lone tree a distance away but he could still see the lights of the little place they'd just left in the distance so it wasn't so much travelling as leaping a bit. Then Harry popped out a tent that magical erected itself and Harry went inside with Ron hot on his heels.
He walked in and blinked in surprise. There was low but bright clear light and a low cot, a table and chairs and some food stocks and tea making equipment. It looked like a portable rest tent for travellers. He watched in fascination as Ron lined everything up on the scrubbed table methodically like this was something he did often. He was even more surprised when harry stripped to his boxers silently and sat himself on a chair to be tended to amiably.
"Of with the glamours then Harry" Ron sighed tiredly opening the heavy duty stuff first.
Harry shot him a nervous look for the first time and Ron followed his gaze.
"You're in your pants Harry mate, I think it's ok" Ron teased gently but still shot Charlie an unidentifiable look.
Charlie turned to look at the boy. It was undeniable he'd grown into his looks this past year. His cheekbones were defined and slightly soft and feminine his brilliant verdant eyes no longer hidden by glasses and his hair falling in soft ebony tumbles to his shoulders. He was a contrast of colours that was striking, pale ivory skin that almost glowed, ebony hair and the most brilliant emerald eyes. The boy was gorgeous in a waifish and innocently pure sort of way. He was slim and toned, from Quidditch he guessed as Seekers he knew were well exercised and slight for speed and control. But then as he watched that all changed. His skin grew mottled and gashed and long welts travelled over his back and torso. Long thin streams of blood trickled from open weeping wounds and he had a large cut below a swollen black eye. His wrist was set at a slightly painful angle and worst of all a large hand print wrapped around the slim column of his throat. He looked like a torture victim.
Charlie was left gaping as Ron sighed in defeat.
"Ok Harry drinks the bone potion first then" Ron sighed in resignation.
He filled a bowl with tepid water and gave Harry a sympathetic smile as he added a few drops of disinfectant and a potion to seal wounds free of germs. It stung like a son of a bitch and had made his eyes water a few times in the past.
"Oh man not that again" Harry moaned playfully half joking but his eyes held the shine of remembered and expected pain.
"Sorry mate" Ron sighed and gently soaked a cloth in the water before approaching Harry's back with practised ease.
"Big breath now" he muttered as Harry tensed and then he began wiping gently at the horrible belt and whip marks.
"Used the cane again I see" He murmured tracing a deep slash with as much care as he could.
Harry sucked in a breath and nodded tightly
"You sure you don't want me to knock you out till I get this done mate, I have a sleeping draught" Ron offered softly as he came across the indent of the belt buckle that had torn the skin slightly and was bubbled up with blood.
"Uhm" Harry squeaked as he went over a particularly vicious slash
"I...would you mind?" He asked in defeat shoulders slumping "It hurts so much" He sighed letting his head rest in his arms "Haven't slept for two days, so tired" he mumbled
"Here" Ron commanded frowning "I wish you'd tell me these things you know! Lie on the cot and take this I'll finish you up and stay a couple hours so you can sleep" He berated gently
Harry gave him a grateful but weary smile and nodded in relief
Charlie waited until he was sure Harry was actually out before he asked anything, he didn't want to scare the boy who looked like a battered and abused twelve year old at the moment instead of a young man.
"What's going on Ron?" he asked as he joined his brother over the sleeping boy to help wash the wounds and apply the healing salves expertly and gently.
"His uncle hates magic, hates Harry, says Harry is a burden and a waste of space better off dead. His family hate all things magical and Harry has to go back there every summer and be their slave. They treat him worse than a house elf Charlie! They don't feed him, they don't let him shower or get clean, they time him in the bathroom and only let him out once a day! He takes a stash of food back with him every time I patch him back up, but look at him! It's getting worse! It used to only be bruises and a few belt marks! He's been hiding it for years though, all the time he's been at Hogwarts he hid it from everyone. He lived in the bloody cupboard under the stairs until his letter came and they got scared he was being watched and they moved him to the bedroom. But that's not much better, there are locks on the door and a cat flap to push food through and bars on the window, unless their using him for chores they keep him in there. It's horrible Charlie and this is getting worse and worse, I'm scared he won't turn up one day and I'll find out they killed him" He sobbed tiredly tenderly soothing over a rather vicious cut.
Charlie was shocked at the emotional outburst, he'd expected something but not all that! He had a feeling his little brother had been feeling the pressure of this a long time at was near breaking point himself, after all how many times can you patch up someone you love like a brother and have him return in an even worse state the next time before you crack.
"Why won't he tell anyone?" He asked softly using his wand to heal some of the more brutal wounds perfectly. The kids may not be able to use magic for underage concerns but he was allowed to!
"Dumbledore knows" Ron sighed heavily "The letter was addressed to his cupboard and he even admitted to Harry last year after he saved Sirius in the ministry that he knew his family didn't treat him too well but he still couldn't live with Sirius because his family were where the wards are" Ron explained brokenly
"But look at him Charlie; he doesn't trust anyone any more. He thought when people realised Voldemort was back and Sirius was free he'd have somewhere safer t go, an adult to rely on for once, and Dumbledore just broke all that hope and trust to pieces. He just coldly told him tough it out, be a man about it, stop whining like a spoilt kid everyone had to suffer in War time and he was being a childish and selfish expecting adults to fuss over him instead of fighting where it mattered....well more or less in those honey coated 'I care about you I'm your loving sweet old man' sort of way" Ron sneered
"I've never seen Harry cry before that night. He was trying to be brave about it. Said Dumbledore was right and everyone had more important worries than him right now. He shouldn't fuss he'd handle it. But he was scared and lonely and he needed an adult to stick up for him for once, a parent who cared and would stand up for his rights to be loved and cared about like we always rely on mum and dad to do for us" he sniffed a little and gave Charlie a small smile.
"It's really not fair how people treat him, and they always get away with it because he's got no big bossy over protective mum or dad to fight for him like we do. All he's got is a friend to patch him up in secret and a Godfather who has absolutely no idea and loves him so much he's likely to get himself thrown back in Azkaban he finds out. As much as he loves Sirius he knows he's hot headed and he'll scream the place down and the last thing he needs is for the whole world knowing that their 'precious saviour' is abused and broken" Ron sighed bitterly
Charlie looked at his brother in shock. He'd never known he could be so eloquent and passionate about anything except food and Quidditch.
"Well I'll see what I can do to help. I've come back on leave from the reserve for a while for the War. I'm here to join the Order so you'll have me to help from now on ok"
"Well if Harry will let you yeah" Ron sighed tiredly