Two big, dubiously happy families.
“…and that summarizes the main part of the plan,” Lucius Malfoy concluded after expounding on it at great length. “With one gesture, I can eliminate the Boy Who Lived, cripple the Ministry, and bring our Lord back! A truly masterful plan!”
A truly idiotic plan, more likely, thought Narcissa Malfoy. As uncomfortable as she was with losing the services of one of her most loyal house elves- Dobby had been a Black elf, after all- she was not convinced that her husband could possibly bring all of his plans to fruition without a ridiculous amount of complacency, complicity, or both from the Ministry, Harry, and his harem. Ruining or ending the lives of multiple twelve-year-olds didn’t fill her with joy, either.
Of course, she didn’t say any of this. For several years now, Lucius had been coming up with grand plans to revive the Dark Lord about once every six months. All he had managed to accomplish so far was to significantly drain the family coffers and destroy a couple of priceless artifacts. But since Wizarding law made it very difficult for a woman to initiate divorce proceedings, and because the House of Black had nothing for her to fall back upon- parents dead, one sister imprisoned, another sister abandoning her to wed a Muggle- she saw no alternative but to go along without asking questions.
Draco Malfoy, of course, was much more enthusiastic. Supervising the plan would make him feel much more mature, would result in his gaining favor with the Dark Lord, and would allow him to get revenge on all those Harem girls who had bettered his grades. The bribe, er, “present” that he would be receiving in exchange for his work made him even more enthusiastic.
After answering a couple of simpering questions from Draco, Lucius let the meeting break up. Narcissa returned to her chambers for lunch and her daily exercises, during which an idea struck her.
A loud pop came from nowhere, and a small greenish figure stood before her. He was three feet tall and humanoid, dressed in a ruined once-white silk pillowcase, with huge green eyes, pointed nose, and splayed feet.
“What is it, Mistress? Dobby hopes that you are happy with the way Dobby has executed Master’s plan.”
“Couldn’t be happier,” Narcissa lied through her teeth. “But I have just a very small change that I would like for you to make, on the last day of this month.”
“Dobby will be glad to tell Master about…”
“That will not be necessary,” Narcissa quickly interjected. “This involves just going out of your way for a few minutes, to deliver a message that will help the plan go forward. I will also need your help for just a few minutes over the next few days to prepare materials. There is no need to disturb Master with such minor changes.”
Dobby had already discovered the price of notifying his Master of unexpected and unwelcome changes, so he understood this quite well and nodded his head.
“Here is what I want you to do.”
The Portkey deposited Harry inside a building somewhat like the Floo Center in Devon, but larger. There was a welcoming committee, consisting of Megan Jones and two brown-haired, smiling people, presumably her parents.
“Hello, Megan! Are these your parents?” Harry called and he dragged his trunk and broom away from the fireplace.
“Yes, they are. Harry, I’d like you to meet Fred and Samantha Jones.”
“We’ll be hosting you until the first of August, it appears,” said Fred. “Megan says you have been a good husband to her, as strange as I find the idea.”
“I’ve done my best, sir,” Harry responded. Harry waited for Fred to say not to call him “sir,” but he never did.
“Well, you’ll find that it’s not always so easy, but we manage it. Right, Samantha?”
“Right, Fred.” Looking at her more closely, Harry saw that she had rings under her eyes. He wondered what had kept her up at night.
They bundled into a brown car and drove away from the Cardiff Floo Center and into the suburbs. Once there, Harry started to feel his stomach sink again; the residential street that they were on looked a lot like Privet Drive, and little good had ever happened to him there.
“Um… could you possibly let me go to the Grangers a little earlier?” Harry nervously asked.
“Why is that, Harry?” Fred asked gruffly.
“Well, um, most of my other wives live in and around London. It would probably be a better idea to have the party somewhere in that area,” Harry explained.
“That seems like a good idea, dear,” Samantha said.
“If that’s the way you want it, Harry,” Megan added, looking at Fred.
“Alright, alright. I’ll call the Grangers tonight,” Fred agreed, just as they pulled into the driveway of one of the Houses (#337, Harry noted).
The house was smaller than 4 Privet Drive, with only one story. There were three bedrooms, one of which was maintained as a guest bedroom, and this would be where Harry would stay.
“Dinner’s at six tonight, Harry,” Samantha called as he pulled his trunk into the bedroom.
The following day, Fred and Samantha both went to work in the morning; Fred worked at a nearby garage, while Samantha was a nurse on the other side of Cardiff.
Harry told Megan about the fencing lessons that he had had at the Bulstrodes’, and Megan was interested immediately. She had spent previous Quidditch offseasons with her aunt Gwenog, and was thus keen to learn about new ways to exercise. Glad to hear that she was interested, Harry produced the practice swords.
Harry’s first experience with teaching was a short one. It consisted of three minutes of showing Megan the rudimentary moves that he had learned, three minutes of Megan trying to copy him, and twenty-six minutes of running around the backyard swinging away at each other. This last would have lasted longer, but Harry tripped over a clump of grass and went down, giving Megan a free shot to whack at him until Harry called, “Enough! You win!”
On looking at the grass stains that they had received from the lesson, Harry and Megan pronounced it a complete success, and Harry promised to give another “lesson” the next day.
After the third such lesson, Megan asked Harry if he knew where they could start learning swordplay for real. Harry told Megan that he had learned what he had with the Bulstrodes, and that Millicent might be the best person to ask when they saw each other again on September 1st, if not before then.
Harry had not seen Fred and Samantha at the same time since he had been picked up at the Floo Center. Megan told him that both worked irregular hours to try to earn more money as best they could. Harry had gotten the idea that the Joneses didn’t have much to spare; he didn’t really know what to do about that. He didn’t know how to approach Megan or her parents about helping them out, and who would want to take charity from an eleven-year-old (who was already their son-in-law)?
Then, on the fourth evening, Fred came home late, while the kids and Samantha were watching television. Immediately, Fred growled, “Samantha, I need to talk to you right now. You hear me?” Samantha quickly got up and told the children good night.
Harry smelled alcohol when Fred had come in; he’d smelled it on Vernon’s breath any number of times, and often Petunia’s as well. He knew that the best course of action here was to go to his room as quickly as possible, and apparently Megan had developed the same instinct. Within a few seconds, the living room was dark and empty.
The following morning, Harry was up early enough to see Samantha leave for the hospital. She looked fine for the most part, but she seemed to be wearing more makeup than usual. Harry, who again had a good idea what that might mean, said nothing out of the ordinary.
After Fred had also departed for the garage, Harry talked to Megan.
“Do you know what happened last night?” Harry asked, slowly.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea. I know that something like this happens every few weeks. I think that’s a big part of why Fred was so unhappy to see you married to me,” Megan replied. “But I trust you not to hit me once we get married, unless I hit you first,” she finished with a slight return of humor.
“I won’t, Megan. I hope you can trust me. But what do we do? From my own experience, the police won’t respond to this sort of thing.”
(Harry was more right than he could have known. That very same morning, while investigating the inaction of Muggle and Magical authorities to the repeated alerts from social workers and teachers, Patricia Stoneham had stumbled over several complaints concerning domestic abuse at 4 Privet Drive, none of which had any further action indicated.)
“Gwenog is Fred’s sister, right?” Harry checked.
“Yes, she is. Fred’s a couple of years older, and he’s a Squib,” Megan replied.
“Do they ever talk to each other?”
“Not that I know of,” Megan said. “Aunt Gwenog occasionally says that she really should, but she never gets around to it. And Dad never does.”
“Maybe they need to,” said Harry. “Maybe you should write Gwenog, and tell her about last night.”
“Why not you?” Megan asked.
“Because they’re your family, and I’m just an outsider here,” Harry responded. “They’ll listen to you more than they will to me.”
“Harry, I know you’ve heard this before, but you are family now,” Megan stated. “But I will write the letter.”
The rest of the stay with the Joneses passed without further incident. If Fred and Samantha suggested anything was known of that evening’s events, they didn’t say anything.
Harry was getting increasingly worried about the lack of word from the Bulstrodes, the Grangers, or anyone else. He had never before harbored high expectations over a birthday, but now that he had heard that it would be celebrated, he was afraid that there wouldn’t be anything for him after all.
On the thirtieth, the Joneses prepared to ferry Harry and Megan to the Cardiff Floo Center when there came a knock on the door. Fred went to answer it.
In the doorway stood a brunette, athletic pretty young woman of moderate height, backed by two larger men wearing black cloaks.
“Gwen… it’s good to see you. What brings you here?” a flustered Fred said.
“Hello, Fred. It’s been a long time. May I come in?” Gwenog quickly requested.
“Certainly. Who are those guys?” Fred asked quietly as she entered.
“Oh, they’re just bodyguards, one hired by the family and one by the League. I really don’t think they’re necessary, and they won’t be hearing any of our conversation, I assure you,” Gwenog quietly confided. “But they insisted on coming with me to, I quote, ‘an area filled with Muggles that we do not trust.’ Honestly.”
“Megan, Harry, please join us,” Fred called as Samantha emerged from her room. “You too, dear.”
“This seems like a family matter. I’ll go wait with the bodyguards. I’m sure they’ve got some great stories,” Harry said, backing away from the rest.
“Harry, as we keep telling you, you’re family now. I think this is a story that you need to hear. I think we all need to hear it.”
For most of the next hour, Fred slowly told his story. He hadn’t been able to tolerate growing up as a Squib in a Magical household, knowing that he would be consigned to the lowliest of jobs in the Magical world. At sixteen, right after Gwenog had told the family about another Quidditch win that she had brought about for Gryffindor, he announced that “I’m leaving. There’s no place for me here. I’ve got to go make my way in the Muggle world, and I’ll do it on my own.”
Like many Magical teenagers, he had developed a passion for finding out how mechanical things like gears and motors worked. As a result, he had gotten hired as a gofer at the garage shortly after he enrolled in secondary school, and quickly became known as a skilled mechanic. One day, he had met Samantha at a club, and they were engaged and then married over the following year. Fred was able to sustain them until she was certified as an SEN, and shortly afterward she gave birth to Megan.
But the old doubts came back after Megan was born. Within a year of her birth, Megan was giving unmistakable signs that she was magical. Samantha continued to advance at the hospital, and was soon earning more than Fred was because the garage was old and had been overtaken by more modern competitors. Fred had taken to going out with the boys and drinking every so often when the frustration got to be too much. Then, he started to yell at Samantha, and then to hit her. He was always sorry about it, and each time he managed to keep his anger under control for a month or two, but it kept coming back.
At the end of the story, Fred broke down and cried. “I love you, Samantha, and I love Megan. I don’t want to lose either of you. But I don’t want to come crawling back to a world that has no place for me.”
Gwenog let him cry for a minute or so. Then she put her arm around her brother’s shoulders. “Fred, I admire you. I really do. It took a lot of guts to head out on your own, and I understand your being too proud to accept our help. I wouldn’t either. But there does come a time when we all need help, and that time has come for you- for us. I’m sorry that I never visited you before, or that I never wrote you. I told myself that I was too busy, but I really was afraid of what you would say about me.”
“What would I say, Gwen? I admired your ability to play Quidditch, and to make yourself popular. I knew you’d have a bright future.”
“But I never intended to leave you behind. If you wanted help, you should have asked,” Gwenog replied.
“I didn’t want to be a leech on you,” Fred mumbled.
“You’re not a leech, Fred,” Samantha said quietly. “You’ve done a good job of supporting me and our daughter. I wish you didn’t have as much of a temper as you do, but you’re a good man.”
“And every man needs help sometimes. I think I can arrange for a few favors- certainly nothing compared to things that are done for me, just because I play a game- that will make your life a lot easier,” Gwenog pledged. “Megan, I want to thank you for letting me know there was a problem here.”
“It was really Harry’s doing. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t prepared to do anything about it,” Megan modestly demurred.
“I saw my parents like this,” Harry said, shocking Gwenog, “but Mr. and Mrs. Jones weren’t anywhere near as bad,” he hurriedly amended. “I figure that I have a duty to help people out when I can.”
“Harry, you have removed any doubt, from my mind anyway, that you will make a good husband for Megan and the others. I hope you never change,” Samantha said, voice shaky with emotion.
Gwenog and her bodyguards left not long thereafter, promising to send the things Fred needed, in exchange for Fred joining AA and avoiding the pubs from now on. Harry promised the Joneses that he would never say anything about what had happened. “I’m sure all of my wives have secrets, because they all have families. I really hope things work out for you, so that there’s no need to ever say anything,” Harry said.
The trip to the Cardiff Floo Center was uneventful. Harry soon tumbled out of a familiar fireplace in London, feeling profoundly sick to his stomach; he was back in the Ministry of Magic, and the Grangers were waiting for him. They drove him to their house southwest of London, near the dental practice where the adult Grangers worked.
“Are you ready for the party tomorrow, Harry?” Hermione eagerly asked.
“I’m ready, Hermione, but I need to get some rest first. It’s been kind of a busy day,” Harry stated, pulling his trunk toward the Grangers’ spare room.