Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. This story belongs to me.
A/N - First of all, thank you so much for being such wonderful, brilliant, kind readers – your reviews never fail to make my day! This story also now has over 1 million hits, which just boggles my mind - thank you for all your continuing support!
Secondly, we're finally at the trial, but I just want to make it clear that I've definitely taken a lot of liberties when it comes to the courtroom scenes. I've never seen a real trial myself – especially one with a child witness/victim who has to give evidence - so I've been forced to do a lot of research. Of course, it's been almost impossible to find any useful information about what it would be like for someone like Harry, back in 1995 (which is when this is set). Hence, liberties. I've tried to make it as realistic and plausible as possible of course, but I'm sure it's not one hundred percent accurate. For anyone with the experience to know better, please forgive me. For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy it anyway!
~Strength in Weakness~
"Apologies, Mr. Potter, but would you mind repeating that so that the members of the jury can hear you?"
Harry cleared his voice, and tried really hard not to blush. His nerves had skyrocketed overnight though, and he'd barely slept a wink as a result. Madame Pomfrey's potion had mostly cleared his lingering headache, but his head still felt oddly clouded, and the exhaustion he'd felt after his last difficult conversation with Snape certainly wasn't helping matters. He felt ragged, shaky and weak, and all he really wanted was to go back to bed, hide under the covers, and pretend none of this was real.
Except it was real. Very real.
Harry swallowed hard and tried not to squirm in his seat as he worked up the courage to speak; a task that would've been infinitely easier had he not decided to face his problems – and his relatives – head on.
In a misplaced fit of bravery –or perhaps more accurately, stupidity – Harry had decided that instead of hiding away from his relatives and giving evidence via a video link like he'd originally planned, he would rather give his evidence in person, right there in the courtroom. It was a closed session at least, so no members of the public – which unfortunately included the members of the Order – were allowed to be present for his testimony, but it was still difficult to actually be there, right in front of his Aunt and Uncle, telling a bunch of strangers some of his darkest secrets.
Harry took a deep breath and tried not to look as scared as he felt. It had felt right at the time, especially after his sucessful 'battle' with Voldemort and subsequent talk with Snape, but faced as he was now with twenty pairs of eyes all staring at him – including his Aunt and Uncle, and their terrifying lawyer – he was definitely beginning to regret that decision.
"Erm…My name's Harry James Potter," Harry finally repeated, his voice a little louder as he tried to sound calm. "I'm fifteen years old. When my parents died on 31st October 1981, I went to stay with my Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon at Number Four, Privet Drive."
"The co-defendants," Stoker added for the sake of Jury as he paced in front of the witness box. Stoker seemed as calm and indifferent as ever, but as Harry was used to similar mannerisms from Snape, he found it oddly reassuring. Especially since Snape himself wasn't allowed to be in the courtroom either.
"Excellent, Harry," Stoker reassured him. The man gave him a broad smile, and Harry tried to smile back, even though his tie felt like it was strangling him, and hands wouldn't stop shaking.
Harry took a deep, steadying breath, and tried to focus.
Stoker continued. "Now, before we talk about the events of the night of the 15th May 1996, I would like to ask you a few general questions about your life living with the Dursleys, okay?"
"Okay," Harry nodded. He kept his gaze strictly on Stoker and firmly away from his relatives.
"So, my first question then: did you enjoy living with your Aunt and Uncle, Harry?" Stoker began. They'd gone over these questions already, so Harry wasn't surprised.
Harry shook his head firmly. "No, I didn't."
"Ever? Not even when you were very small?"
Harry didn't even need to think about it. "No."
"Why is that?"
"They didn't treat me very well," Harry replied quietly. He cleared his throat. "They…er…don't like me. They never liked me."
Stoker nodded. "Now, we've already heard a little bit of your medical history, but now we'll need to hear about it from you in your own words, okay?"
"Okay," Harry replied quietly, his heart thudding in his chest.
"Now, you went to live with your Aunt and Uncle in October 1981, when you were just over a year old, it that correct?"
"You were approximately the same age as your cousin, Dudley, were you not?" Harry nodded. Stoker continued, "Did they treat you the same when you were growing up?"
"Objection," called the Dursleys' solicitor. The man seemed lazy, almost bored, but Harry knew better than to underestimate anyone who supported his Uncle, even if the man was only doing it professionally. "This line of questioning is irrelevant. I feel it is also prudent to remind members of the jury that it is not a crime to favour one child over another."
"Just despicable," Stoker added swiftly. He then turned his attention to the Judge. "Your honour, I'm attempting to show that the event that occurred in May of this year was not a one off event, but rather the culmination of a pattern of neglect and violent physical abuse that has served to ruin an innocent young boy's childhood. I move that it is therefore entirely relevant to the case at hand."
Harry shifted in his seat at the prosecutor's argument. He hated being described as an 'innocent young boy' but he knew it suited their purposes to play on that fact for the jury for now at least.
"Overruled," the Judge after a long moment's consideration. "You may continue, Mr Stoker, although do be sure to keep it brief and relevant to the case at hand."
"Thank you, my lord," Stoker turned back to Harry. "So, Harry, were you and Dudley treated the same way when you were growing up?"
"No," Harry replied quietly, although he must have been loud enough for the jury to hear him because Stoker didn't ask him to repeat it.
"In what way were your experiences at Number 4 Privet Drive different?"
"They loved him," Harry replied dully, already losing himself in the bitter memories. "They didn't love me. They would give him whatever he wanted, whenever he asked for it, but I didn't get anything of my own. Ever. Everything I had was either passed down from Dudley or from a charity box, and even that wasn't much."
Harry must have looked a little shaky and uncertain because Stoker paused his pacing and gave Harry a reassuring smile.
"You're doing really well, Harry," Stoker said, his voice softer now. "Okay, now you've mentioned that you received a lot of hand-me-downs compared to your cousin. What about your respective bedrooms? Did he have a lot of toys?"
"Well, for one, he actually had a bedroom," Harry replied. "I didn't, not until I was ten. He had his bedroom, and then a spare room to put all his toys in. When they…when I got a letter from my school confirming my place there, they got scared that someone would come and check on me, so they finally moved me up to Dudley's spare room. There was already a bed in there, but they didn't move any of his toys, and they didn't even offer to let me decorate."
"And where did you sleep before you moved into the spare bedroom?"
Harry swallowed. "In the cupboard under the stairs."
There were gasps and mutterings at Harry's answer, and eventually the judge had to intervene.
"Order," he called. "Order."
Eventually the noise died away and Stoker resumed, looking a little pleased at the horrified faces of the Jurors.
"Now, Harry," Stoker continued after a long pause. "I realise that this is a difficult subject, but you're doing really well." The man paused. "Before you turned ten, how long did you sleep in the cupboard under the stairs."
"I don't remember a time when I didn't," Harry said, running a hand through his thick, black hair. It was mortifying to be spilling his secrets in front of a bunch of strangers.
"Did you like sleeping there?"
Harry shook his head. "No. I mean, it wasn't that bad most of the time, but it was small and cold, and there were always spiders crawling on me. I never liked it, but I got used to it, and it was…it was a damn sight better than being out of the cupboard."
"And why is that?" Stoker asked gently.
"They…hurt me," Harry said, his voice breaking a little bit. "I…they hurt me all the time. Even when I did nothing wrong."
"Who hurt you, Harry?"
"My relatives," he replied. He pointed to his Aunt and Uncle with a shaky hand, "My Uncle Vernon, my Aunt Petunia and my cousin Dudley."
"Lies!" called his Uncle, standing up from his chair. Harry watched as his Uncle turned more purple with each passing second, the big vein on his temple pulsing dangerously. Harry shrank in his chair a little bit, hating the fact that the man could scare him, even now.
"Order!" called the Judge again. The man shot a stern glare at his relatives' lawyer. "Mr Halstead, please control your client."
Only with the combined efforts of his Uncle's lawyer and Aunt Petunia did Uncle Vernon eventually sit back down, but even then Harry could see that the man's fists were clenched tight and his vein was showing no sign that it was going anywhere.
"Are you okay, Harry?" Stoker asked quietly. Harry nodded but didn't speak.
"So your Aunt and Uncle hurt you as a child?" Stoker asked.
Harry cleared his throat. "Yes."
"How did they hurt you?"
"Uncle Vernon would hit me. Hard." Harry replied. "He would just slap me at first, when I was really little, maybe the occasional shove. It was only when I was a bit older that things…escalated."
"Go on, Harry, you're doing really well," Stoker assured him.
Harry felt bolstered by the comment, so he steadied himself and continued, "By the time I was eight or nine, he'd started beating me properly. He'd use his fists mostly, but occasionally he would push me into a wall or…strangle me a bit."
"And your Aunt Petunia?" Stoker prompted.
"She never beat me, not like he did," Harry replied. "But she would hit me sometimes. Mostly slaps, but once she got me in the head with a frying pan."
"That must have hurt."
"Yeah, it did," Harry said, rubbing his head in the spot where she'd caught him. "I was dizzy for a while too."
"And did they take you to hospital?"
Harry scoffed. "Then, or ever?"
"Either," Stoker replied. "Both."
"Then? No," Harry replied. "Ever…? Once or twice, maybe, when they had no choice."
Harry took a deep breath and tried to straighten his shoulders. He wouldn't be weak. He wouldn't be weak…
"Can you give an example of when they did take you to the hospital?"
"They sent me to school with a broken arm once," Harry said quietly, completely aware that the room was deathly silent. "It was only a hairline fracture – my Uncle had just grabbed me a little bit too hard the night before – but one of my teacher's noticed that I was in pain and they called my Aunt in so that she could take me to the local hospital to get checked out."
"Did the doctor who treated you at the hospital ask you how you were injured?" Stoker asked.
Harry nodded, swallowing hard. "Yes, but my Aunt…she told the doctor that I'd fallen out of a tree. That I'd been irresponsible and that it was all my fault." Harry paused. "I was nine. I couldn't…I couldn't…I was afraid that Uncle Vernon would do worse to me back home if I told the truth, so I just went along with it. Little boys get hurt doing stupid things all the time, so the doctor didn't bat an eyelid at my Aunt's story. He just fixed me up with a cast and sent me home."
"And what happened then, Harry?" Stoker said softly.
"Uncle Vernon…as soon as I got home, he slapped me, right across the face. Then he yelled at me for almost getting them in trouble, and locked me in my cupboard without any dinner. I…my arm still really hurt, and I banged it on the cupboard door when I fell in, but when I cried out, my Uncle…he just yelled at me some more. He told me…He told me that if I ever did anything like that again, he'd make me wish I'd died in the same car crash that killed my parents."
Tears began to prick at his eyes then, and Harry knew he wouldn't be able to stop them. Merlin, that had been a bad day. He'd always known he wasn't welcome in their home, but after that day, he'd realised without a doubt that unless something drastically changed, he was going to die there.
"Are you okay, Mr Potter?" The judge asked, his expression sympathetic.
"Yes, Sir," Harry mumbled. He flushed. "Sorry, I mean, your Honour."
"Would you like a break?" the man asked kindly.
"Erm…yes, please, your Honour." Harry felt weak asking for it, but he didn't know if he could keep talking at the moment.
"Okay, that's settled then," The Judge said. "We'll take a short break for lunch now, since it's about time for that anyway. Please be back here by two o'clock everyone."
Harry didn't feeling like eating anything, but welcomed the break at least.
As he was still in the middle of giving testimony, he was taken back to the same room he'd spent most of the day before in. It was as bland and cramped as ever, but thankfully it showed no sign of the battle of minds between him, Voldemort and Snape that had occurred less than twenty four hours ago.
Harry could almost pretend it hadn't happened. Almost.
When Harry entered the room, James, the court-aide, was waiting for Harry inside, as well as a dour-looking Snape and his muggle social worker, Bernadette, but even once they were all sat down and settled, no-one said much, perhaps recognising that Harry needed a break from speaking himself. Harry wasn't sure if their silence was helping or not, but he appreciated the effort.
About ten minutes into the slightly oppressive silence, Snape did give Harry a pointed look, nodding down to Harry's limp looking ham and cheese canteen sandwich that he'd picked up for Harry's lunch, but when Harry only managed another couple of small bites, the man didn't push it.
"According to Stoker, you're doing well, Potter," Snape said instead. Of course the Professor hadn't actually seen Harry's testimony himself, but the reassurance helped all the same. "Just keep calm and remember that you are the victim here. You are not the one on trial."
It would have been reassuring, Harry supposed, had it not reminded him that he would be facing a cross-examination soon. Snape had told him time and time again that he was not alone, but when he was back on that witness stand, he knew he would feel more alone than ever.
The nerves bubbled away in his stomach, and Harry fought the urge to be sick. He just wanted it over now. Even with the uncertainty of his future without the Dursleys, he just wanted them out of his life.
"You'll be fine, Potter," Snape told him sternly, clearly reading something on Harry's face that he wasn't happy with.
"I know," Harry muttered. Snape didn't immediately press him on his obvious lie, and for that at least, Harry was grateful. He had enough to worry about without adding arguing with Snape to the mix.
"I'll be fine," Harry said.
Now if only he could actually believe that, maybe then everything would be okay.
All too soon though, the call came for Harry to return to the witness stand. Harry stood woodenly and made his way back to the courtroom with barely a glance back at a concerned looking Snape, James and Bernadette.
As he took his place on the witness stand, the judge offered him a warm smile, which Harry did his best to return.
"Okay, Mr Potter?"
"Yes, your Honour," Harry replied respectfully, trying once again to hide his nervousness.
"If you need another break, don't hesitate to let me know."
"I will, Sir."
"Right," The judge smiled, then nodded down to Stoker, who stood up ready to resume. "Let's get started then, shall we?"
"Okay, Harry," Mr Stoker began. "Let's talk a little bit more about your life at the Dursleys…"
As Stoker gently guided him through his testimony, Harry did his best to answer the man's probing questions with as much honesty composure as he could muster. Even so, it was really starting to wear him down. Especially since he could feel his Aunt Petunia glaring daggers at him from only a few feet away.
"You are safe now", Snape had told him only a week or so ago. "No matter what happens, you are safe."
He was safe. He wasn't going back to the Dursleys no matter what happened with the trial. He was safe.
Harry squared his shoulders and stared right back at his aunt, his expression showing nothing but determination to see this through, and…pity. He pitied her, and her bitter life.
"Okay, Harry, you're doing really well," Stoker continued, pulling Harry's attention back to him. "Now, we're going to be moving on to the events of the 15th of May 1996, okay?"
Harry nodded and swallowed hard.
"Can you tell me what happened, in your own words?"
Harry cleared his throat. "My Professor and I – that is, Professor Snape and I – were in the neighbourhood on school business, when he took ill. We…I…didn't know what to do, so as my Aunt and Uncle's house was close by, we decided to take up shelter there until help could arrive. My Aunt and Uncle…they weren't happy to see me, but after the Professor spoke to them, they agreed to let us stay there briefly, at least until help could arrive. Then, just to make sure we didn't cause any trouble, they locked us both in my room while they went out for the afternoon."
Harry paused as he tried to gather his thoughts. He and Snape had gone over their story a hundred times, but it still felt wrong to be bending the truth as much as they were. Harry knew he had no choice – he could hardly admit that he and Snape had been on the run from an evil Wizard – but it still felt a little off.
"Professor Snape was upstairs, resting, when my Uncle and Aunt came home."
"And where were you?"
"After a few tries, I'd managed to pick the lock on my door, so I was downstairs, trying to get some food. I thought I'd have enough time to get something to eat before they came home, but I was wrong. I was in the hallway, just on my way back upstairs, when they walked through the front door."
Harry clenched his fists in an effort to stop them shaking, even though he knew no one could see.
"What happened then, Harry?" Stoker prompted gently.
"I knew they wouldn't be happy to see me out of my room," Harry replied quietly. "I knew that my Uncle in particular would be angry. I was scared of what he would do, especially since Professor Snape was in no condition to protect me."
"What did you do then, Harry?"
"I panicked," Harry admitted. "I was scared, so I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the first thing I could find to defend myself with. A kitchen knife."
"So you picked up the knife for self-defence?" asked Stoker.
"Yes," Harry said. "I didn't want to use it, but I knew I might have to. I was…scared that he'd kill me this time."
"Did you Uncle seem scared of you?"
"No," Harry replied with a shake of his head. "He looked surprised that I had a knife, but mostly he looked…angry. He smelt of alcohol and I knew my Aunt Petunia must have taken him to the pub. She probably meant to calm him down, but alcohol tends to have the opposite effect with my Uncle."
"And then, Harry?"
"My Aunt yelled at me, then they both accused me of stealing from them. They were coming closer and closer, and I still had the knife, but I took a step back, and then…"
Harry trailed off, the memory still too raw to put into words.
"Yes, Harry?" prompted Stoker gently.
"Uncle Vernon came at me," he replied roughly. "He knocked the knife to the floor before I could even think about using it. Then he…they he punched me. First in the face, then in the chest. I...he was too strong. I panicked. He was gripping me so hard that I knew I'd have bruises, but eventually I managed to pull free long enough to swing my fist at him."
"Yes," Harry said shakily. "In self-defence. I caught him in the head and managed to get free of him completely. I thought it was over, but then…my Aunt…she hit me with the frying pan."
Harry swallowed, biting back tears. He remembered her crazed eyes as she'd raised the frying pan again. His mother's sister, his only remaining blood-relative, had been trying to kill him.
"I was dazed, so when she raised the frying pan again, I couldn't do anything to stop her. She…hit me in the shoulder. It…she broke it. It hurt so much that I…er…I lost consciousness after that. I was told later that I nearly died. That if help hadn't come in time, I would have."
"Do you believe that your Aunt and Uncle would have killed you, Harry, if help hadn't arrived at that precise moment?"
"Yes," Harry replied quietly but firmly. "Yes, I do."
The silence that followed Harry's statement was so stark and charged that it was as if a silencing charm had been cast on the room, but Harry could only feel relief. He'd got through it. He'd said what he'd needed to say…
"Mr Stoker, do you have any further questions for Mr Potter?" the judge asked finally.
"No, your Honour."
"Then please be seated." The judge turned to his relatives' solicitor. "Mr Halstead. You may begin your cross-examination."
Halstead nodded in acknowledgment, but took his time standing up, making one more note on his pad before getting to his feet. The man straightened his tie, placing a comforting hand on Aunt Petunia's shoulder, and then shot Harry the type of slimy smile that a predator would make before going in for the kill.
Harry swallowed hard. He had a sinking feeling that the worst part of his testimony wasn't over. Not by a long shot.
A/N- So, how was it? I've found, over the course of writing this chapter, that I don't actually like writing courtroom scenes, especially when I'm not at all confident with the actual procedures involved in this type of trial. As I said at the start of this chapter, I'm sorry if this part of the story doesn't quite ring true. I've done my best, but I know it's not perfect - any feedback would be greatly appreciated! Until then however, and as always, thanks for reading!