So, I looked up the story to check a detail for the writing a couple days ago and my heart stopped for a second when I saw the last update date. I am so, so sorry.
I kind of changed my mind on what was going to happen in this chapter a couple of times. I was originally going to bring in some more of the characters for Harry to meet here, but then realized that it would be too much too soon for him to handle. Then I wanted this to be an HP universe chapter, but I got writers block on it (we'll see what's happening in England next update). So the end result is definitely much shorter (and possibly not as well edited) than what anyone still waiting on this deserves, but hopefully still sweet. It's mainly the "so now what" sinking in.
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ANYONE WHO HAS ME ON AUTHOR ALERT: following the posting of this chapter, I will attempt to change my username to "Veery". I have reasons.
Harry woke up and tried to stay asleep.
He didn't want to get up. His cupboard felt so much more comfortable than usual, and his body still felt so heavy. He rolled back over and tried to fall back into his dream.
Some parts of it were strange, or scary, but it still wasn't all a bad dream. There was a whole new place and being on a horse and getting to go out on Halloween. And there were people in it unlike any that Harry ever remembered knowing that said that it was alright for him to be there.
Most of all, it was something different. Something that never would have been allowed to happen at Privet Drive. Harry wanted to stay in it for as long as he could.
That was easy. It seemed so real.
There was a tapping sound.
Probably Aunt Petunia coming to wake him up
His heart sank.
I'll give it one more chance, he decided. I'll open my eyes and it will be real.
Harry opened his eyes.
It was real.
His cupboard was more comfortable than usual because it wasn't his cupboard. Instead, he was lying on a bed almost as big as Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's. He stretched out his arms and legs as wide as they could go and only felt one edge.
Blinking, he tried to look around. Everything was dark and blurry. He fumbled around the edge of the bed until he felt a table, and then his glasses on the table. He put them on. Still dark, but less blurry.
There wasn't much he could make out. He thought that the blanket on him was brown, and that there were flowers on one of the vague, large shapes that might have been a desk, but he wasn't sure. Most of the light he did have came from the lit outline of a window in the wall behind his head. The bit of light peeping around the curtains wouldn't have been enough for him to see with if he wasn't used to it. It was getting close to evening, probably.
Then he woke up enough to remember that he was in a house with strangers, and the panic set back in.
Was it alright that he had slept for so long? Aunt Petunia wouldn't have let him, but there might be some different rules here. What time was it, anyway? Probably late enough for Dedicate Moonstream to have left, which meant that he was alone with them now.
Then it clicked, and he felt an odd tingling feeling go up his back.
No one else from Privet Drive was here.
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon weren't here to tell them that he was bad like did with his teacher. Right now, they didn't know anything besides what Moonstream had said. Harry took another quick look around what he could see of the room. They probably didn't know much about him if they were letting him sleep in here until they figured out what else to do with him.
Harry didn't know how long they would let him stay or how long it would take them to figure out how to get him back to the Dursleys, but he did want them to like him at least a little bit. If he could act good enough now, maybe they didn't have to know how much trouble he was. He would still be a burden to take care of – he didn't know how to change that – but since they had decided to take him instead of being stuck with him like his Aunt and Uncle were maybe they wouldn't mind so much as long as he was good.
The only problem was, it was hard enough to be good even when he knew all the rules, let alone when he didn't
Like right now. What was he supposed to do now that he was awake? Would they want him doing things downstairs, or would they rather he stay out of sight up here? If they'd left him alone to sleep for this long it might be better to stay where he was.
Fortunately, he didn't have to wonder about it anymore when there was another tap on the door – he'd forgotten, the tapping was real too
Harry froze. The door opened anyway.
"Oh good, you're up."
It was the big, dark-skinned woman with the beads in her hair. It was hard to see her face, but the light from the open door coming in behind her was enough for him to see that the room was probably yellow, and at least as big as the second bedroom in his Aunt and Uncle's house.
"Er…." He tried to start. Another wave of panic hit him.
"Daja," she told him. To his relief, she didn't seem angry that he had forgot.
"Daja," he tried again, "What time is it?"
Harry cringed. Should he have said something else?
"It's getting close to suppertime," she said. She leaned back against the door frame. "We didn't want you to miss it, so we thought it would be a good time to get you up. How are you feeling."
"Fine," he mumbled. Did they want him up in time to eat dinner or to help make it?
She looked at him for a few more seconds. Harry wished he could make out more of her expression.
"I'm going to see if Tris will let me help with dinner. Do you remember how to get back downstairs?"
Harry didn't remember much of anything about getting to the bedroom, but he nodded anyway. He didn't want them thinking he was stupid already.
"Come down whenever you're ready,"
She was already gone by the time he thought to ask her what he should do.
"How is he?" Tris asked. She looked like she was still focusing on the pot, but Sandry knew better.
"Awake." Daja sighed and pushed back the braids that had fallen over her face, "overwhelmed, mildly terrified."
Sandry, who hadn't been quite so capable at resisting the urge to eavesdrop, added "his accent is adorable though, whatever it is."
"'Whatever it is' is a little more important than you three like to think," Briar grumbled. He was perched on the kitchen stool, finished the potato and vegetable slicing duty that Tris had given him to let him work some of his frustration out with knives. "How exactly are we supposed to make sense of where he came from if the whole temple couldn't figure it out again?"
"It wasn't the whole temple," Daja reminded him, Just the people that found out. And I think we've got time. From what Moonstream said, he'll be here until we do."
Briar groaned. "Why did we agree to this again?"
"Would you have really said no?"
Briar shot a wary look at Tris. "What?"
Sandry felt the little tug in the web-threads she had all around the house from out in the hall. She almost said something, but changed her mind at the last second. There was no way that Tris hadn't already noticed too.
"If we hadn't been there to say yes," Tris went on, still sounding much too casual, "and she was only asking you, would you have really said no? Told her with him sitting right there that you didn't want him, and that she would have to take him somewhere else?"
"I still think this was a terrible idea even with you three," Briar muttered mutinously. Tris stopped what she was doing and stared at him, waiting.
Briar glared. "You know I wouldn't have. And it's not about not wanting him."
Finally, even Briar in the mood he was in couldn't fail to notice the little shuffling sound from the doorway. Slowly, reluctantly, and already knowing what to expect, he turned to look.
Harry was still wearing those dreadful, bizarre-looking clothes from earlier – and once again, Sandry felt herself fighting the urge to just start tugging away threads with her power until it at least fit – but he had taken off the thick, outer layer and was left with just a thinner white shirt with sleeves down to his elbows on top. He hovered in the doorway like he was ready to bolt at any moment, but he was staring at Briar.
Briar's glare at Tris doubled. You knew he was there, didn't you?
Briar recovered well enough, loudly reminding them all of the injury Moonstream said he had on his arm and bustling him off to look at it. The boy shrank back a bit when Briar came towards him, but allowed himself to be led off without any resistance.
Sandry took a quick peek after them. Briar and Harry sat on the same sofa Moonstream had taken earlier. Briar was rolling up the boy's oversized sleeve to get a look as Daja went to fetch his kit for him, using an amount of care that that seemed totally out of place with his gruff attitude.
She smiled, and then walked back down the hall into the kitchen. As much as she wanted to see if he was alright herself, she didn't want him to feel overwhelmed
She was just about to help start cleaning up a bit when she felt the twinge of surprise from Briar.
"What is it?" she heard Daja ask, distantly. Sandry slipped in behind her eyes to see for herself.
Briar had gotten the bandages off and was still holding onto the boy's arm, frowning. Daja was looking over his shoulder. At first Sandry thought they were surprised at how thin his arm was (it was what she was frowning at) but then Daja found the right angle to see in the dim light and she gasped.
The injury on his arm looked like it had already been healing for a while, but Sandry knew better to judge how long he'd had it by that. She could feel traces of Rosethorn coming from the bandages. The patch of skin just under his shoulder looked mostly brown and wrinkled, but she could see pink under where it had cracked. There were spots that looked as if they'd blistered and burst and running though the center was a thick scabbed line. It looked almost like…
A burn, Briar told her. He gently lifted the arm a little higher to get a better look. It's like a burn, but it was bleeding in the middle when he got it. Burns shouldn't do that.
Friction burn? Tris asked. She had set down the ladle she was using and was heading for the kitchen door
Not unless someone threw a rug at him.
Harry was glancing up at Briar and Daja. He looked confused. They were slipping up, Sandry realized. The four of them had plenty of practice keeping their expressions neutral when they talked to each other, but they were starting to let it show.
Nervously, he fidgeted and tugged down on the front of his hair with one hand.
"Dinner's ready," said Tris, poking her head out into the sitting room.
Sandry beamed a smile. It felt a bit forced.
"Have a seat," she told Harry encouragingly. He scrambled to do as he was told a bit more quickly that most children would have, settling in next to Tris and across from her.
Daja had found a table for the dining room that was small enough to be comfortable, but large enough to fit more than just the four of them. As glad as she was for it now, it wasn't making this any easier. Most mealtimes in Daja's house could pass by in a companionable silence, with all of them absorbed in whatever they had been working on. This time, their welcome little intruder was leaving Sandry at a loss for words.
This was his first meal with them, and Sandry found herself anxious for it to go well. This would be his first real impression of them. She didn't want to make him regret wanting to stay here.
Harry certainly wasn't giving her much too work with. Aside from a barely audible "Thank you" when Tris served him, he didn't make a sound. Now he was just looking at the candle on the table like he'd never seen one before.
Tris had made stew for dinner. Sandry knew that Daja would be annoyed at her if she admitted it, but she thought it tasted much better than anything that the cook that the readhead had chased off ever made. Harry sat and stared at it in consternation for a moment, but when he saw the others digging in with their spoons he did the same. His eyes widened. After another quick look around he shoved another spoonful with potato and vegetable along with the mouthful he was still chewing.
"So," Sandry blurted out, "you're six?"
The room had been dead silent when she had spoken. The boy jumped, then with a mouth still full of stew gave an almost frantic nod.
Sandry internally winced.
The table went quiet again. At least, it did to Harry.
Try relaxing a bit. You seem a little tense and it's making him nervous.
You wanted this, you make it work.
Briar always had been a little less tactful than Daja.
Even Sandry had to admit that this was getting awkward. Surely, she had dealt with more delicate situations than this.
But every one that she could think of that happened outside of her Winding Circle family – which this boy was part of, now – was something that she could use her power and her politics to help her fix. Even saving Gudrunny hadn't taken more than ordering her husband to be dragged away and hiring a maid.
She looked at Harry carefully. He was fiddling with his hair again, pulling down on the messy locks framing his face to pull it down flat against his forehead. It sprang back up as soon as it slipped out from his fingers.
What did they look like to him? Moonstream had told them that he didn't know about magic, but she knew that the four of them were strange enough even without their powers. Was he feeling relief at being able to escape from wherever he was before? Terror, at being left alone with these strangers?
This boy was theirs now, at least until they managed to sort out where he came from. If they were going to do right by him, they would have to work out which one it was.
Sandry thought back. The only real similarity between this and her brief stay in Winding Circle's dormitories was being around new people. The closest experience that she had to compare it to was going to Discipline Cottage, but even that wasn't close to what this boy would have to worry about. Sandry had had Lark and the knowledge of her own importance as the Duke's niece to let her feel safe. The others would be able to understand better, but the only one that could really relate would be…
Don't pity me, Tris chimed in. Sheknew Sandry well enough to guess where her thoughts where going.
Briar reached over to lightly nudged Harry. "Don't mind the Duchess over there. She means well. She just doesn't know how to read us common folk sometimes."
Harry looked up at him, startled. "It's okay if she doesn't know how to read."
The silence after that was more stunned than awkward.
Harry clapped his hands over his mouth as soon as he noticed the looks on their faces. His eyes jumped from person to person, and as everyone simply watched him back his eyes gained a glaze and his breath hitched faster in his chest.
Finally, Sandry knew what to do.
"Harry," she said, leaning further across the table to be on eye level and stretching a hand to brush across his cheek, "Harry, look at me."
Gaze faltering, Harry looked up.
"Did you understand what Briar said?"
Harry shook his head miserably. There was something in the way that he sat hunched into himself that reminded her of Briar and Tris when they first came to Discipline. The sight made her chest ache.
"Why are you upset?"
That was clearly not what he was expecting . He sat up a little straighter in his seat and floundered, mouth opening and closing several times he tried to come up with something to say.
"I'll be quiet," he finally whispered, and something seemed very, very wrong with that.
"Don't," she told him. Harry's head jerked back up, "it was nice to finally hear you talk."
His went huge with shock and amazement. "Really?"
"Yes," she told him, "Do any of us look angry?"
Harry's gaze darted between her and the others. Sandry kept her eyes on him and hoped that everyone else was behaving themselves.
The awe in his face only got bigger when she smiled at him, and she felt a rush of warmth.
"And just so you know," she said, attempting to lighten the mood and ignore that her eyes were on the verge of tearing up too, "I do know how to read."
Harry flushed a little bit, but since he wasn't cringing Sandry decided to take it as a victory.
There was a choked sound from her right.
"Don't you dare," she said, without turning. Harry looked confused again.
Briar did make a valiant effort, but then Tris just cackled and he lost it.
Sandry turned to them with a haughty look. "It's not that funny."
That just made them laugh harder. Tris muttered something to Briar, and the only bit Sandry could make out sounded suspiciously like read.
Sandry rolled her eyes. Honestly, they were acting more like children than Harry was. She turned to Daja for support only to see the corners of her mouth twitching.
The last bit of tension in the room seemed to drain out as soon as their eyes met. Then the image of Briar and Harry staring at each other just after he had spoken – Briar's face taken-aback, Harry's blank – flashed into her mind.
Sandry and Daja's mouths both simultaneously morphed into full grins. Sandry giggled.
And it was all worth it when the bewildered expression on Harry's face slowly morphed into that first, tiny, tentative smile.
Annnd the chapter ends with one big gigglefest. (Iregretnothing).
I just want to apologize for any possible inaccuracies that I might have here in regards to the house. Will of the Empress is sadly limited in its descriptions. I'll be combing it through later, but I left the layout stuff till the last minute and at the moment I really just want to get this posted. I'm also sorry if I've missed something editing. My Dad was also supposed to come pick me up so I can watch my brother and sister for the day like 15 minutes ago, and I'm trying to get it up before he gets here.