Harry turned in the warm cocoon of his comforter, huffing, fading awake. He shuffled out of bed, yawned, and missed his perfect sleep. Still muzzy, he considered the cracked bathroom door, scratching his itchy stubble. The emptied bed pushed at his calves, in want of a Ginny. He figured it was as good a time as any to greet the day.
Ignoring his fuzzy teeth, the wizard decided to check downstairs for breakfast things, figuring he could clean himself up once he’d planned out a bit more of his morning. Rather that than stare at his ceiling, whole gloomy house to himself.
Stepping into the hall, Grimmauld Place enjoyed a deep blue hush, with all the curtains drawn in the bedroom and the hallway. He paused a moment, squinting, running his hands through his nest of black curls, confused by a groan from the far guest room. A hoarse squeak—ancient bedsprings—like someone rolling over in bed.
What…, he wondered. Then, a toilet flushed. A door clicked closed.
Harry nearly jumped out of his slippers, startling him and the small figure that drifted out of his guest bathroom, opposite a different guest room, both rooms surrounding his own.
He stared: Did someone break in? Is that a ghost?
“Don’t do that! You scared me!,” scolded the kid-shaped shadow. “And I’m not a ghost. What kind of proper ghost uses toilets?”
Harry stumbled back, “Uhm!?,” before recognizing the familiar mop of hair. Little Laney, short for her age, unlike her siblings, shook her head at him and trotted across to her room.
She slowed short of popping inside, and hand hung from the doorknob, she chirped, “Well? Have you ever heard of a ghost in a toilet? Not ever, I bet.”
“I have. Her name was Myrtle,” he replied, gobsmacked. He’d forgotten—he had family over. “Sorry for, uh, scaring you. You can go back to bed.”
“Alright, but! Can you tell me why?”
“Why was Myrtle in a toilet?,” she asked with round, hazel eyes. “That’s a funny place to spend all of eternity.”
“Oh, she died there,” he answered, then paused, hearing how morbid that was. “No, see, a monster—.”
He shut up at her quiet gasp, and wondered, maybe, sleepily, if he should’ve lied. Laney didn’t seem too worried, though, after the word “monster,” as she only blinked, processing what he said, her face lighting up at the idea. Monsters must be a great wonder to a kid.
After a second, she breathed a, “Thanks,” and ducked inside, waving goodbye. Her door shut silently behind her.
Somebody snored, another somebody rolled over again; someone coughed. Harry tiptoed down the stairs, trying not to wake any of them.
Cool morning started in the parlor he padded through, and found him rubbing the sleep from his eye. Floorboards creaked and carpets bunched under the soft scuff of his slippers, tripping him on a wrinkle. He yelped, catching himself on the doorway to the kitchen, and swore softly at a crisp packet crushed under his foot.
Leftover chicken tikka, bright candy wrappers, and cleaned pints of rainbow sherbet decorated the kitchen table. Harry hadn’t enough food for a five-person dinner—since Snape had vanished before anyone could kick off their shoes. The young wizard tried to play host, offering to cook, help everyone move in, when Grace pushed Freddy to order takeaway, asked for directions to the store, and stocked up on party supplies.
“Let’s break night!,” Freddy shouted, barreling through the front door, big arms piled high with styrofoam platters leaking sauces in the plastic bags.
They were slumped over, stuffed, by eight that evening, sniffling bodies littering the chaise lounges.
He looked a ways off to the dining room table. Ornate dark wood, curse-stripped and stained, likely generations old and the place of countless cold dinners. To let Sirius’s life tell it, it wasn’t the altar for the honorable cold pizza now presiding with congealed orange grease, ordered at their midnight revival. This wasn’t his godfather’s time.
The night had gone magically. Without electricity, there wasn’t a television for them all to gather around. Harry thought to buy one to replace theirs that broke, so he could enjoy family room time like he’d seen at the Dursley’s. But for now, after the attacks, they had no telly, no games, and no family photos to sift through with gentle eyes.
So they told stories.
Harry learned that Freddy used to front an all-black metal band in London. One night, a fight broke out after some idiot spat out slur seconds before a few front teeth. The singer had hit one man with a bottle and, worried he’d cracked his skull, hid in the drummer’s van for hours, sobbing drunkenly into the shag carpet. He was sure he’d go to jail. The man ended up fine, and returned a few months later to apologize, but that wasn’t the point of the tale.
“Chris, the mad bastard, kept a python in his van! Free-roam! Now, it smelled bad in there, but all that time I thought it were him! But naw, a six-foot python lived and pooped under some crusty yellow y-fronts. Yeah, a nasty man, that Christian, and he never calls on the holidays. I hope he’s gone bald.”
“Wait,” Harry cut in, “that’s not how you met one of your snakes, is it?”
“Yes, indeed! Baby Charlotte was my first ever—well, the first one I ever rescued. Love her dearly, she’s the nicest girl I know, not like these lot.”
“I’m a good deal fuckin’ nicer that some thing what eats rats,” Zed complained with her legs draped over the couch’s arm, kneeing Freddy.
“You eat people, stupid, that’s worse,” he grinned, slapping a chocolate out of her hand.
Even Zed, who relaxed after eating, sluggishly shared half a tale about her former cellmate, Peggy.
“—mind you, I never asked, but anyway. She’s got no choice now, with feds on all four corners, and she’s sweatin’ now , yeah? So, she looks at her partner, scared out of her mind, and thinks to stuff it up her—.”
“N—stop right there!,” Grace snapped, a rigid finger at her tight lips. “Ducky, time for bed, go.”
“But!,” the girl protested, hanging on every word with cheeks pink with melted sherbet.
“Mum, just let her listen, it ain’t bad. So, she stuffs it up her arsehole—.”
“No!,” screamed Freddy, Harry, and Grace, to the woman’s wild cackle.
Harry usually woke around dawn, if he slept through the night. Without company, he made his rounds, aimless until he bothered not to be. He spent so many mornings poking at this or that lump in the rugs, turning mattresses, breaking into cupboards. Bored, and then irritated, and then apathetic, then bored again.
And before, when he wandered the house and opened every curtain on a new torn portrait, another cursed mirror—every time he unburied the next bitter bit of the Black curiosities, he felt scooped out. He felt shriveled, tooled, like the stuffed elf heads, carrying taut skin and stuffing about on his neck, green glass eyes ornamental at best. They bobbled in his head, shaken loose by his trying to think of something to do.
And then he’d put himself to work eventually, eyes knocking around for tiny tasks, each dull roll in his skull a thought going nowhere:
I should visit Hermione—oh, she’s busy.
Maybe me and Ron could—damn, he’s got work.
And that’s right, Luna’s on a safari—George has his shop—Mr. and Mrs. Wealsey wouldn’t miss me—there’s no one—maybe I’ll just stay in.
It was nice to have a chore now, and to do it while everybody slept. He rolled up his shirt sleeves to take on the mess, stopping short when he heard a clatter in the pantry closet.
“Ow! Hijo de gran puta, no me fuckin’ jodas, you ugly little shit!”
Something squealed, followed by the hollow thunk of a pot hitting a tiny skull. Harry knew that sound and that a Doxy just met its maker. More rummaging later and, “No!,” the papery cascade of falling boxes. Harry crept close enough to peek into the pantry around its open door.
Grace crouched in her emerald green nightgown, waving a saucepan, batting away falling baking powders and corn starch.
“Where the shit’re the oats!?, ” she grunted at the bottom shelf.
His mother squinted up at him, clearly half asleep. The satin scarf she slept in wrapped askew, tufts of salt-and-pepper curls sticking out at all angles. Her lids hung nearly closed, lashes on her cheekbones, a deep groove in her brow like to plant vegetables in. Her tattoo of a wounded sparrow wiggled while she dug through the wreckage, groggy and frustrated.
“Ma’am?,” Harry continued, fighting the lift at the corners of his mouth. He crouched down beside her and spoke, chin between his knees.
“Can I help you?”
“Breakfast,” she mumbled, showing him the pot. He nodded his understanding, and she pointed at a dead Doxy. “Mouse bit me.”
“Yeah, okay, but well. It’s five in the morning though, is the thing,” he explained patiently, then, at her incredulous snort, chuffed, smile winning over his face.
“It really is, so it’s a bit early for breakfast, if I’m being quite honest, and even still, I can help make it. I’d probably have a better time finding the, uh,” he tried to remember while helping his mother stand.
“Oats,” she said, like she just remembered herself, and promptly ventured back into the pantry, hand stayed gripping his. “C’mere, New Years. Yo necesito eso y también grab me la lechera y todo la shitty, um, canela.”
What the hell is she saying?, Harry thought, happily mystified.
He almost spent his day alone. In a different world, he was puttering around his lonely house, maybe spending an afternoon in Sirius’s room. Instead, he rooted through strange smelly packets, tins of tea, and boxes of dry cereal with his mum.
“ Grab that.” Grace pointed at a shelf out of reach, which held jars sealed with wax and cloth.
Harry didn’t touch those, sure he felt some of them curse him when he passed underneath. He didn’t know who sealed those jars, or what they held, only that he’d rather not disturb their timeless slumber. Of course, Grace wanted the middle most one, which was murky green under the coat of cobwebs and grime.
“Wait, what do you think that is?,” he choked, panicked.
“ Voy a usarlo hoy,” she kept on muttering, shuffling past him, out the pantry, “ y cuando gano un chipito de chavo, la comprarás de nuevo .”
“What does that mean? ”
“Mhm, it’s old. I’ll use the last of it now.”
Harry stood, digging for his wand, refusing to go near the thing. Hoping she wouldn’t remember asking, he waited for her to pass back into the cooking area, and hustled out after her, empty-handed. While she had her back turned fiddling with the stove knobs, he reached into the cupboard over the breadbox, and grabbed the tin of instant oats.
He smelled gas.
The young man yipped, throwing the oats on the table. Grappling his wand from the loose folds of his sleep pants, he spelled off the stove and threw open the windows. Sunlight and bird song spilled into the kitchen, breaking open the dark. Grace staggered back from the burners and shielded her eyes with her handy silver saucepan.
“Wha…,” she grumbled.
“Mum! What’re ya up to at the crack of bloody dawn! Why do I smell gas!?”
Harry gasped and sighed, relieved. Zed stalked in, t-shirt slouching off of her hitching shoulders, hair a deep sea terror, fanning in spiky, dark tentacles off of her head. Someone else to corale the rogue sleepwalker. She glared at the young wizard, who gestured to Grace but remained glowered at, and took the prize of that scorn while much affronted.
She looked an awful lot like Snape when she scowled. He felt attacked.
“How’s this my fault when I just got here!?,” he defended.
“‘Cause you’re the conscious one, you numpty,” Zed retorted, grabbing their mother by the arm. “Mum, the hell?”
“Kids gotta eat ‘fore school.”
“What kids, what school? It’s summer. It’s Sunday!”
“It—!,” but this, Grace couldn’t quite compute. The fifty-two year old stopped, taking in her thirty-five year old child, and sure enough couldn’t manage a rebuttal.
“All but one kid’s at least twenty, woman. Go to bed.”
Grace frowned, eyes fully closed now, going as she was guided back out the kitchen. Then another sleepy thought struck her like lightning, and she gasped, scandalized, and dug in her slippered heels. Zed tried to push her along and sighed, exasperated, when Grace flung out her arms to brace, spiderlike, in the doorway.
“New Years! Freddy! Dile que cocinar algo para tu hermanito, porfa, or he’ll shrink. Look, he’s too skinny! He’ll disappear!”
“You’re actin’ just like Nan used to, you know. You’re gettin’ old,” Zed groused. Glancing back to glare at Harry again—he threw up his hands in tired defeat—she pried the older woman off the exit and marshaled her through the parlor.
Grace’s head fell back on her daughter’s shoulder, and Harry leaned in, seeing her lips move in Zed’s ear. Harry’s older sister rolled her eyes.
“What’s going on?,” he probed.
She gagged at him, gathering her dozing mother in a loose—not quite a hug. A cage of scarred, ropey arms, more like.
“She says to eat ‘before the bus arrives’,” Zed said, grimacing. “Blech. I ran down here for this shit, thinkin’ she’d blow us all to absolute hell. Everyone’s to bed! You too! You go to sleep, too!”
“But I was—.” Harry tried to explain he’d been cleaning up the mess.
“Then stay, but I don’t wanna hear shit else ‘till noon.” She laid into him with that scowl until he agreed, picking at his fingers, “Alright, alright, quiet until noon, got it.”
“Why’re you up for anyway?”
He wondered what kind of answer made sense, and simply shrugged. He wasn’t up for anything. He was up, and found something to do, and wanted to do it before lying down again.
He looked at the crowded table, and all the leftovers from celebrating, and then remembered. Everyone else in the house was only here because of losses. While their own house underwent repairs, they came here, and with stubborn joy, threw Harry a homecoming party of sorts, while they hadn’t a whole home to give.
They cheered up. They regrouped. They pulled him in, making his house theirs in only an evening, quick as a blink. They woke up for something, his family did: Laney for the bathroom; Grace for the kids; Zed, sensing doom. He was just...awake.
“I’m going grocery shopping,” Harry said, unaccountably red-faced. “I’ll cook breakfast.”
“You can cook?,” Zed called back sceptically.
“I have cooked. I mean, you all can rest while I, erm. Yeah.”
“Hm—Mum, quit it. No, you don’t , it’s Sunday. You don’t work on—oi, you! Don’t make eggs. Mum and Fox are allergic. Other than that, make whatever. If you wait for Fox to wake up, he’ll probably drive you.”
Huh, he thought. She’s nicer in the morning.
Harry nodded, heart pounding, chest so full he could hardly breathe. He needed to shower and wait for the supermarkets to open, and adjust his food budget, and finally clean. He could manage a meal. He did it all the time.
I do it all the time, he repeated to himself, thinking of his mornings with Ginny, then the Dursleys, then quickly back to Ginny again. He always woke up early, Harry did, and forgot why when he was alone.
I make breakfast, because I can and because I want to. It’s why I’m up.
“Okay. G—.” He swallowed and tried again. “I’ll be back soon, but you might be asleep.”
Zed and Grace were already out of sight from the kitchen, still bickering.
“No, Harry’s cooking,” he heard croaked.
“Thank you, baby,” floated in Grace’s yawn. The sun rose fully, streaming onto the cold pizza on the tabletop, and the first honks of traffic started in the street.