"I have said nothing because there is nothing I can say that would describe how I feel as perfectly as you deserve it."
Harry dragged himself into the common room, flopped down onto the couch, and groaned.
Ginny looked up from the book she was reading, set it down, came over, and sat next to him. "Professor Snape have it in for you again?" she asked quietly.
Harry simply closed his eyes and nodded. "I hate the greasy git," he mumbled.
Ginny reached over, grasped his hand, and gave it a squeeze. "What'd he do this time?" she asked.
Harry flushed. "He told," was the soft answer. He wasn't mad anymore, exactly, but he still didn't like the fact that Snape had notified the authorities about his family.
Ron and Hermione soon joined them. Ginny gave the two a questioning look. "Snape found out about the Dursleys," Ron explained.
"And the Aurors came today to talk to Harry," Hermione supplied. "Professor McGonagall told us that we'd be interviewed tomorrow."
"So they're going to talk to all of us?" Ginny asked.
Ron nodded. "Probably. Our family, Hermione, and our dorm mates, most likely."
"I hate this," Harry said softly. "I mean, I never wanted anybody to know."
"I hope they don't talk to Percy," Ron muttered. "He's gone mental."
"Yes, he has," Ginny agreed. "And he'd tell Fudge, which would be bad."
Privately, Harry agreed. The Weasleys were the closest thing Harry had to family, and all of them knew, at least to a certain extent, that the Dursleys never treated him well. It Percy told Fudge, well, he'd have more problems than he did now. Before Occlumency lessons, what happened at his so-called 'family's' house was his biggest secret. For years, he hadn't known that how they treated him wasn't normal. It had taken him starting primary school to learn that children didn't belong in cupboards.
He glanced around. There were far too many people in the Common Room to talk about what had been going on. "Not here," he said quietly. "The usual meeting place?"
Ginny, Ron, and Hermione nodded. Together, the four of them got up, left the common room, and headed to the Room of Requirement.
Harry paced back and forth in front of it for a few minutes, then stepped through the door. Inside, he found a sitting room decorated in Gryffindor colors with plush velvet sofas and chairs arranged into conversation areas. He flopped down onto the nearest couch and curled up into the corner of it. His friends followed, sitting as near to him as they could. Ginny laid a gentle hand on his back. “Are you all right, Harry?” she asked.
"No," was his short answer. "But I'll have to be the moment we leave here. I haven't a choice." Harry pulled away from Ginny's light touch and shuddered.
"You know how Harry's been taking 'Remedial Potions' all term?" Ron asked.
Ginny nodded. "From what I've heard, Neville could use the extra lessons more than Harry."
"If they were really potions lessons, you'd be right," Hermione said wryly.
"It's Occlumency," Harry said with a sigh. "Lessons to keep Voldemort from getting into my head. And Snape saw my memories of the Dursleys and reported what he saw."
The four of them sat in silence for a few moments. "Harry, if they're not sending you back to the Dursleys, where will you be going this summer?" Ginny asked finally.
"I don't know," Harry whispered. "I just hope I don't get sent to an orphanage or something," he said with a shudder.
"You won't, mate," Rom promised.
"My parents like you," Hermione offered. "I think they'd let you stay with us."
"I know our parents would let you live at the Burrow," Ginny said decisively. "I, um, overhead a conversation once with Fred and George's extendable ears--they were talking about seeing if you could just come and live with us."
"Speaking of Fred and George," Ron began. "Do you think they've been questioned? I mean, they kept sneaking glances at you, Harry, all during dinner."
"I don't know," Harry said softly. "Maybe they told Tonks about the bars."
"Bars?" Hermione looked curious.
"Summer before second year," Ron explained, "Fred, George, and me broke Harry out of his relatives' house—there were bars on his window that we pulled off." He was silent for a few minutes. "I think they're still in the shed at home, but I'm not sure."
Harry rubbed a tired hand across his eyes. "I think that was actually one of my better summers at the Dursleys. Before they knew about the Underage Magic Decree, they were so afraid that I'd curse them that they didn't lay a finger on me." He paused. "There are worse things than to be locked in a room, and they were feeding me a bit."
The small group fell into silence once again. Ginny slowly reached over and gave him a tight hug. Hermione soon followed, neither girl willing to let go. It didn't take long for Ron to join them, giving Harry, Hermione, and Ginny an awkward, embarrassed hug. "Maybe they won't bother with a guardian for me," Harry said finally. "I'll be of age in a year and a half, anyway, so I'm not sure it really matters." He disentangled himself and leaned back against the couch.
"Voldemort's been after you every year since we came here," Hermione pointed out. "I doubt they're going to leave you to your own devices without a fully-trained witch or wizard around to help."
Harry grimaced. Sometimes, he thought that his Aunt and Uncle were right--the world would be better off if he'd died with his parents. But only sometimes. Most of the time, he knew better, but there was always that little bit, deep within, that agreed with every rotten thing that Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had ever said to him.
Sometimes Professor Snape's comments joined them as well. His voice, however, was fainter due to the fact that, while he showed a special antipathy for Harry, the man hated everybody almost equally. It wasn't lost on Harry that Snape kept protecting him every year, either. He figured that the life debt must've been repaid quite some time ago, so there must be another reason for it.
"Tonks said that this won't make the papers, but I doubt it," he said with a bitter laugh. "Fudge will find out somehow and manage to tie it into his 'Harry Potter's lost his mind' campaign."
Hermione winced. "At least the real story of what happened last summer will already be out," she said. "It'll be harder for Fudge to get away with printing all those lies when people read the truth."
"Maybe." Harry remained unconvinced.
Ginny glanced at her watch. "It's almost curfew," she said quietly. "Let's get back to the common room."
Tiredly, Harry heaved himself off the couch and headed towards the door. Part of him hoped that his life would improve, but a larger, more cynical side doubted it. After all, part of the reason why he'd so looked forward to Hogwarts was his ten-month absence from Privet Drive. This year, however, was much, much worse than normal, and he doubted that it would ever get better.
"Freak!" Aunt Petunia yelled. "You're worse than your useless, drunken parents! How dare you burn Duddykins's breakfast!"
Five-year-old Harry backed into a corner, desperately trying to stay away from his Aunt. "I d-d-didn't mean to," little Harry stuttered.
Aunt Petunia hit him as hard as she could, sending him crashing to the floor. Harry suppressed a whimper of pain. He couldn't cry-- crying always made punishments worse. "No meals," she hissed. "Now get your stuff and start walking or you'll be late to school."
Gingerly, Harry got up, grabbed his worn rucksack out of the cupboard, and left. He winced at the throbbing in his wrist as he slid the straps over his shoulders. He started walking quickly, hoping that he'd make the mile and a half to school before the bell rang.
Seven-year-old Harry curled up against the back wall of his dark cupboard. His arm throbbed painfully. He grimaced--perhaps it was broken this time. He laid his hand over the place that hurt the most, then started stroking it, humming to himself a tune that he barely remembered.
He didn't know where he'd heard it, but the bits and snatches of song always made him feel better. Maybe his Mummy sang it to him before the accident; he didn't know. Aunt Petunia had never been one to sing songs to Dudley, and she would never have sung to him.
Slowly, the pain in his arm began to ebb and other various aches and bruises subsided. He buried his face in his arms, not noticing when the bruises that Dudley had given him stopped twinging. He wished that the teacher hadn't sent home the note about his cousin bullying him; Uncle Vernon wouldn't have hurt him and tossed him in his cupboard if she hadn't sent the note home.
It wasn't that he didn't like his cupboard—on the contrary, he did. Yes, it was dark, cramped, and full of spiders, but whilst he was in it, nobody bothered him. Most of the time, it was quiet in there with nobody ordering him about. He'd long since realized that nothing he did or didn't do would make the Dursleys love him, and if you couldn't be loved, the next best thing was to be left alone. They almost always left him alone whilst he was in the cupboard.
Harry sat up with a start and rubbed his eyes. He'd been having more nightmares about the Dursleys since Tonks and Shacklebolt had gotten copies of his memories.
"Harry?" Ron's soft voice interrupted him.
"Yeah?" Harry heard the bedclothes rustle and the soft thump of his best friend getting out of bed.
"Have another nightmare?" Ron asked. "Voldemort bothering you again?"
"Just a normal one," Harry said softly. He heard footsteps cross the small space between his and Ron's beds, and then an arm wrap itself around his shoulders. He let himself lean on his best friend for a minute before pulling back. "Didn't mean to wake you up," he muttered.
"Couldn't sleep. And you're my brother, anyway," Ron answered. "More than Percy is, any road. The twins used to help me after nightmares sometimes. 'S only fair."
"Thanks," he said, his throat tight with unshed tears.
"Budge over," Ron ordered.
Harry complied and felt the mattress sink down beside him. "Want to talk about it?" Ron's voice was surprisingly gentle.
"No," he whispered.
"You know, Harry," Ron began conversationally. "If we tell Bill and Charlie that the Dursleys have been abusing you, they'll take care of them for us."
Harry could almost feel Ron's grin. "They don't really even know me," he protested weakly.
"Doesn't matter," Ron dismissed it. "Your surname isn't Weasley, but you're one of us, anyway."
Harry digested that for a few minutes. "Let's talk about something else," he suggested. "You and 'Mione have been fighting more lately." He grinned. "Do you fancy her now or something?"
Ron groaned. "Ha-rry," he said. "Okay, maybe. I don't know. But she's pretty and smart and--"
Harry chuckled. "Yep, you've got it bad."
The two of them talked for what seemed hours, sharing everything they could think of. Harry even managed to open up a bit and let Ron see some of the secrets he'd been assiduously guarding. Finally, around three am, Harry started to nod off. Ron slipped off the bed, crossed the room, and climbed into his own. Sleepily, Harry wondered how he'd ever done without his friends--especially friends like Ron.
Harry's steps dragged as he made his way to McGonagall's office. She'd accosted him that morning during breakfast and asked him to meet her during his free period, which he was loath to do. Eventually, however, he reached her office, so he knocked softly on the door.
"Come in," Professor McGonagall said.
Harry opened the door, went in, and stood uncomfortably in front of her desk. "You asked me to come see you, Professor?" he asked.
"Sit down, Harry." Her voice was gentle.
Slowly, he sat down and examined the stone floor. "Am I in trouble, Professor?" he asked, trying to avoid any other possible explanation. After all, being asked to meet one's Head of House was usually not a good sign.
"No, you're not, Harry," she said quietly. He heard her opening the tin on her desk. "Have a biscuit."
Tentatively, he reached out and took one, then bit into it. "Thank you, ma'am," he said.
"I know the last few days have probably been difficult for you, Harry," McGonagall said. "I just wanted to know if there's anything you need to talk about."
Harry shook his head. "I-I didn't say anything," he choked out. "I couldn't."
Professor McGonagall nodded in understanding. "The pensieve, then," she said. "Harry, I meant what I said first year--your House is your family. I'm sorry I didn't pay attention enough before, but you can come to me if you need anything."
Harry could feel his face turning red. "Yes, Professor," he murmured. "I thought people knew--my first Hogwarts letter was addressed to the Cupboard Under the Stairs."
"Another case of my not paying attention," she replied. "I've long since stopped watching as the enchanted quill addresses the letters. I'm afraid we've failed you badly, child. Have another biscuit, the chocolate ones are quite good."
He took another obediently. "What will happen now?" Harry asked quietly. "Where will I go this summer, back to the Dursleys?" Despite everything that had happened, a large part of him still didn't believe that he wouldn't be going back there.
"I don't know yet," she said. "But neither Professor Snape nor I will allow you to be sent back to those horrible Muggles."
At Harry's look of patent disbelief, she continued. "He hides it well, but he does care about the welfare of the students, Harry. I promise that you won't go back there ever again."
"Does Sirius know?"
"The Headmaster is taking care of that, Mr. Potter," was her soft reply. "I'm afraid that he's the only one who can keep your godfather from doing something... foolish."
"Thank you," he murmured.
"I'm afraid we didn't notice that anything was amiss," she admitted. "You seemed to have problems any other child your age would have, so we simply didn't look further." Wordlessly, Professor McGonagall offered him the biscuit tin again. "I was focusing on my other orphans because I thought they needed me more. I'm sorry, Harry."
Tears pricked his eyes, but he wouldn't let himself cry; he hadn't allowed himself to cry in years because it never did any good. "It's all right," he muttered. "Nothing can change it, anyway."
"Are there any questions, anything you want to know?" was her next question.
Harry shook his head. "No, Professor." He finished his second biscuit.
"You can come to me at any time, Harry," she said. "Even if it's just a nightmare." Professor McGonagall smiled. "Now, I believe you have some Transfiguration homework due tomorrow. If you need anything, I expect you to come find me. Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," he answered, then stood to leave. "Thank you, Professor."
She got up, came around to his side of the desk, and laid her hand on his shoulder. "Your parents would be very proud of you, Harry," she said, then gave him a rare smile.
Harry nodded, his throat tight, as he left and headed back to Gryffindor Tower. He wasn't sure what to think of his Head of House anymore, either. After all, she'd told him to keep his head down with Umbridge, but now she was helping Professor Snape to make sure he didn't have to return to Privet Drive. Perhaps Ron was right; he wasn't as alone as he'd thought.