The Cupboard Under The Stairs
"You're not listening to me, Dumbledore! Bars! Bars were over the window!" Molly was mad enough she was having a hard time not yielding to the temptation to conjure a frying pan to smack some of the instruments scattered about the desk. "Oh, I didn't believe them at first, but when Arthur came in later! He wasn't strong enough to carry them, he had to levitate those bars! They were worse than what I've seen in the Ministry cells!"
The man before her had his head resting on long, steepled fingers. His beard was parted as though the white sea had found a jetty it could not overcome, but his eyes were sad and twinke-impaired. "Molly, as I have said many times, I am sorry, but I cannot allow it. Harry must go back to his Aunt's house every summer to renew the protections that keep him safe."
"He's damn well not safe from those Muggles! How can you think of sending him back there?! He'll just come back as skin and bones, if they let him leave the house!" She could not believe the stubbornness of the Headmaster. She had an obligation to fulfill, and she was not going to let it go any longer. "That child saved my daughter's life! I'll not thank him by abandoning him!"
"Molly, he won't be abandoned at all, he'll –"
"Don't you say that! You know it's not true! How would you like it if I locked you in a cupboard and fed you a pittance through a bloody cat flap! If you were not allowed to talk to anyone!" She knew her temper was running out of control, but the man was infuriating in his placid acceptance of a horrible situation. There was no way on this earth that she was going to turn her back on Harry Potter, even if it meant screaming at Albus Dumbledore until he went deaf. "Harry needs a loving home, people to take care of him! And he's not getting it at his so-called relatives, and you know it!"
"He's alive, Molly, and that's the most important thing. He has to spend his summer there to recharge the—"
"Don't you mollycoddle me, Dumbledore! That's a load of tripe and you know it! That boy has feelings, needs, and dreams – things that are just as important as being alive!"
"Be that as it may, he must spend enough time there to—"
She was getting nowhere fast, that much was quite apparent. She tuned out the headmaster as he droned on once more about the wards, and Harry having many enemies that would wish him harm. For whatever reason, the protections could not be charged by anything other than time, time Harry was required to spend under the roof at that house.
If her Ginny was any yardstick to go by, Harry was going to be having nightmares from the Chamber debacle, and needed to be around people that he cared for just as much as they cared for him. He needed someone in his life to act as parents, not slave drivers.
Molly was no fool, it would have been impossible to raise her willful children if she had been. She had understood during the prior summer why Harry reacted as he had without hearing the clues in what he said. Hearing him speak, hearing the uncertainty of his welcome in her home even when it was made clear, well that made everything else very clear.
She and Arthur had discussed what to do about his home life when he had brought the bars into the house. They had been appalled at the arrangement, and Arthur's discreet visit to Privet Drive had made it abundantly clear that only Harry's room had been turned into a miniature fort. Between the violently removed bars, the locks on the outside of his bedroom door, and the cat flap, they had come to an agreement: Harry needed someplace else to live.
The ensuing battle of wills between herself and Dumbledore in August had surely been heard throughout the castle. In the end, they had secured Dumbledore's agreement that Harry would spend every summer with them, as soon as a 'bare minimum' of time was spent with his relatives. The problem was, they had never had a clear concept of the minimum time, and that was before Harry saved the life of her child. She would be damned before she would agree to leave him in that house by himself ever again. He was as good as hers now, and Arthur agreed with her. It may be that only Ginny owed a Life Debt to Harry for his actions, but as far as they were concerned, the whole Weasley family owed Harry a profound debt, and they would not ignore that obligation.
Now, after an hour of the second battle of wills, it was clear that Dumbledore would not let them simply take Harry home permanently. Some type of compromise was necessary, one that would inevitably hinge on what the man thought the 'bare minimum' really was. She was in no mood to let the man prattle on about the 'big picture' and vague notions of secrecy.
"Right, what's the bare minimum of time, then?"
Dumbledore paused to look at her, his eyes giving away nothing. It was apparent to her that he was unused to being cut off so abruptly, let alone argued with in such a manner, but he was going to have to get used to it. She felt that Harry was hers now, and she would defend him just as much as she would any of her other children. To her, family came first, and when her family was threatened, niceties came last.
"I'm not sure I quite follow what you're asking, Molly."
"I'm done screaming. We're not going to agree. So I'm going to compromise. I want to know what the minimum time he has to spend in that house is." Let the man stew on that, she thought. One way or another, Harry was not going to live in that house under those conditions.
"At least six hours every day for a month. It takes both components, the presence over a period of time and the minimum time per day."
"And for the remaining eighteen hours every day, he can be someplace else?"
"Molly, you cannot regularly floo or Apparate from that location. It's not safe, and will draw exactly the wrong kind of attention to him."
She was going to resist the urge to strangle him, or at least she hoped she was going to. At times, the man was simply impossible to deal with. "If he spent those eighteen hours at the play park, Dumbledore, then he's not in the house. Does you six-hour, thirty-day requirement get fulfilled under those conditions?"
"Surely you are not suggesting that your children spend the summer in the play park? That's exactly the attention we're trying to avoid."
"Just. Answer. The. Question." Molly briefly wondered if Arthur had rigged the coin toss somehow to force her to deal with this situation. They both agreed that the resolution was needed, but she knew her husband avoided conflict as much as possible. Of course, once he was committed to a conflict, he nearly always won it, but he much preferred to let everyone come to the realization of what was right or wrong on their own time rather than forcing some matter or another.
"Very well: yes, that would satisfy the needs of the wards."
"Does it matter how far away the play park is?"
"Good." Ignoring his silent inquiry for her intentions, Molly turned and left the office of the headmaster, slamming the door behind her. It may have been petty of her, but it made her feel a little better – and if it was that final push to give Dumbledore a headache, then it was worth doing right.
Arthur stood waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes dancing with mirth, affection, and the deep love she had come to understand over the years. When she came to a stop next to him, he said nothing – he only picked up her hand, interlaced their fingers, and kissed her brow before walking with her back toward the infirmary. That was her husband, knowing how to handle her so well – and completely deflate her anger at the same time.
"I need Bill's time – you need to tell him to come home for a day," she told him after a moment. "We have some things to change at the house."
"Hello, Harry," Molly told him as he came to a rest next to her. All of the other kids and parents were milling about the platform, many rapidly leaving or calling out about plans to get together over the summer. She ignored them as she enveloped Harry in a hug that she thought was appropriate for her own children, and tried to ignore his freezing, his not returning the hug. Releasing him, she in turn hugged her other children, keeping them all in sight – no matter how sly her twins were trying to be in escaping for a moment.
"Gather round, you lot, we have something to discuss." Arthur's voice brought the boys together faster than she could have browbeaten them into it, whilst Ginny clung tightly to her hand and kept her face turned down. Molly could see the slight blush on her daughter's ears, and knew her cheeks must be rosy indeed. "After much discussion," Arthur told everyone in a voice loud enough to be heard yet quiet enough not to be overheard, "we've arranged for Harry to spend more time with us. That is, Harry, if you'd like to spend your summer with us, and not your relatives?"
Molly wanted to laugh at how gob-smacked Harry was for a moment, before he began nodding in a rather frenetic way. "Yes, please, I'd like that," he managed to get out right before Ron clapped him on the back hard enough to make him stagger for a moment.
"Excellent. We have a few things we need to do this afternoon, then, so we're going to take a Portkey back to the Burrow. Everyone grab your trunk, and hold on to this hoop," Arthur said, while pulling out a lengthy piece of rope tied into a large loop. When everyone was firmly holding on, Arthur tapped it with his wand, and they all vanished with a pop.
Molly sighed when she saw Harry sprawled over his trunk and Ron's, the boy clearly had no idea how to travel by magical means. It was one more thing for her to work on with her newest child, she supposed, but that could wait a bit.
"Harry," she said while motioning the others to stay near, "Professor Dumbledore told us that you absolutely have to stay for at least six hours every day in the house of your Aunt." She could almost see the happiness on his face fade when the realization that he was not truly free from the Dursleys reached him. "However, he did say that you could be as far away as you wanted the rest of the time. This requirement is only for thirty days, after which you're free of them for the rest of the year. Does that make sense?"
Harry nodded briefly, then glanced at everyone. "Yes, Mrs Weasley. I understand."
"Good," she told him with a smile. She could tell he was a little confused, but she was certain that he would be happy again in moments. "What we've done is build a long-term Portal between their house and ours. You and Ron will spend the night in your room at your Aunt's, but you'll be here the rest of the time – all of your stuff will be in Ron's room. We've explained the situation to your relatives, and they have agreed – you go there to sleep, come here when you wake up, and no one has any problems."
She could see the happiness in Harry's face, but she was a little surprised that it was less than she had expected. Perhaps he was worried about how his relatives would treat Ron, or maybe he was ashamed of how they treated him. "You should also know that we've told your relatives we'll be checking up on both of you often while you're there, Harry, so we know you're both safe."
His smile became just a little bit broader, and that made Molly's heart just a little bit warmer.
"Now, everyone, come over here by the stairs," she called out as she walked into the hallway. "Only someone magical can open this door," she said as she pointed to the cupboard. "All the coats and boots have been moved to the porch for the summer. Harry, dear, come over here and open the door for us."
Harry came over, all of her children except Percy crowding around him. With one last glance at her face, to which Molly nodded with encouragement for him, he opened the door and saw not the closet – but the hallway of Number Four, Privet Drive. She saw Ron push Harry forward, and then all of her children scrambled through the doorway, crying out in surprise for the brief vertigo she knew the Portal gave travelers. Even Percy slowly stepped through the doorway, stumbling briefly before he was standing next to the others.
Watching them from her own hallway, she saw all eight of her children looking back at her with wide eyes. "This is brilliant, Mrs Weasley!"
Harry's happiness was enough to make it all worthwhile. Molly had plans for the summer, plans to help Ginny and Harry both move on past the events of the last year, and plans to help Harry be the person she could see lurking inside his heart. Whether everything would work out was to be determined, but she knew that everything would change, just like the cupboard under the stairs. She simply hoped it was all for the better.
This is a drabble. My bunny file has been in need of dumping some content. No betas were used or harmed in this. The plot premise is up for adoption, as long as credit is given. A loose sketch of future events are available if anyone adopting it wants to borrow my ideas, or they can run with it on their own.