Ch. 5: Acceptance
The week before Harry’s birthday inched forward at a terminally slow pace. Harry spent long days in the courtyard with half an ear cocked for the flap of wings when even Mr. Giles’s books couldn’t keep his attention. He wasn’t accustomed to sitting still for so long and the closer he was to leaving the less easy it was.
Talking to Mr. Giles about Sirius had helped ease Harry’s guilt over his role in the whole mess. Sirius was gone and Harry would do better to cherish his memory. But he couldn’t stop the nerves that overtook him when he thought of returning to Grimmauld Place. Unlike Mr. Giles, the others knew all of what happened that night, and while there had been no overt blame placed on him by anyone other than Snape, deep down Harry wondered what they really thought. He’d led his friends straight into danger and none of them had come out of the Department of Mysteries unscarred.
He flopped back on the bench and tried to think pleasant thoughts about the sunshine and the fact that he only had six more days until he could leave the Dursleys. He just hoped that the Order still wanted him.
The Dursleys still didn’t. Harry had given up on going in for dinner, bypassing their apartment entirely for Mr. Giles’s. The first time he’d done that, the night after he’d told him about Sirius, Mr. Giles had asked what was wrong. Now another place was always set. Everyone was happier with this arrangement, not least the Dursleys, who never said a word about it.
It was surprising then when Harry arrived at Mr. Giles’s to find three plates set at the table.
“Hi. You’re Harry,” a blond boy a few years older said before Harry could even register that he was in the kitchen by Mr. Giles helping fix dinner, a job that was normally Harry’s.
“Harry, this is Andrew,” Mr. Giles’s supplied the boy’s name. It took him a moment to see that it was the Andrew from the photographs and Harry felt all of a sudden like an interloper.
“Hi,” he sad, not knowing what to do with himself. Andrew was still staring at him like he didn’t know what to do either.
“Oh, for goodness sake! Harry, fix us a salad. Andrew, finish those onions,” Mr. Giles said impatiently, breaking the weird tension. Andrew jumped immediately and went back to his cutting board, chopping fast but sloppily. He obviously didn’t do this much which made Harry feel better. It was weird, feeling jealous for the attention of a man that barely knew him, and Harry immediately felt guilty because Sirius was gone and it still felt like his fault. He was quickly distracted however when Mr. Giles asked about his day as he always did and before he knew it, Andrew was asking about his latest book and talking about movie adaptations and somehow Harry ended up on the receiving end of a lecture on the meaninglessness of his life because he had not read some monstrosity of muggle fiction or seen any films essential to moral guidance and life on Earth.
Mr. Giles was no help, and in fact spent dinner amused by Andrew’s rants and Harry’s stunned manner. Harry would never have thought someone who looked more like an older, blonder version of Ron could sound so much like Hermione. Worse really, because Andrew never let him get a word in through dinner except a few helpless protests.
“All right, Harry, it’s clear I need to save you,” Andrew declared suddenly. Imperiously even, as if it were the most important thing in the world that Harry understand the difference between Episode One and the Original Trilogy. Harry still wasn’t sure if he was talking about a book or a film
“No I’m all right, thanks,” Harry tried staving off that tone of voice but it was too late. Andrew was already out of his seat and rooting around the living room for who-knew-what but whatever it was made Harry more nervous than ever.
“So Harry, you said it’s your birthday this Friday?” Mr. Giles asked as if Andrew were not plotting something dire for Harry in the next five minutes.
“Uh, yes,” said Harry, still trying to see what Andrew was up to over his shoulder. “What’s he doing?”
“I’ve no idea,” Mr. Giles smiled. “But not to worry. He’s knows I’ll skin him if he puts anything out of place!” He raised his voice so Andrew could clearly hear the last part.
“Yes, oh wise master!” Andrew called back.
“Is he always like this?”
“More or less.” Mr. Giles shrugged. “He’s come a long way actually.”
Harry raised his eyebrows at that, unsure quite what that meant. “Long way?”
“From Evil Mastermind,” Andrew said abruptly, having returned. “I’m all reformed now.”
Harry wasn’t sure how to interpret that. Andrew was the last thing he thought of when he thought Evil Mastermind. He retook his seat smugly at the revelation, a piece of paper at his elbow. A quick look at Mr. Giles had the older man rolling his eyes and such fond exasperation that Harry couldn’t stifle the sudden burst of laughter.
“What?” asked Andrew, his brows drawing together in confusion.
“Nothing,” said Harry getting a hold of himself. Mr. Giles saved him by asking about the paper and launching another lecture on all the things Harry had to read and see as soon as possible in order to survive the rest of his life.
The thought was sobering, until Mr. Giles took the list and said, “Monty Python isn’t on here. Surely he should start with his own cultural heritage.” And then they were both
quoting jokes and whatnot, until Harry couldn’t help but laugh, and stare a bit at Mr. Giles who, while he had never seemed stodgy per say, had certainly never indicated that he was this . . . playful. It was a bit strange but good, and Harry felt something loosen in his chest that he hadn’t realized had been lodged tight. Even though he was the one listening, he was included in the circle of “he needs to see this one!” from Andrew and “No, no, you’re not telling it right. It starts like this . . .” from Giles. Harry hadn’t laughed so much in a long time and it felt good. It felt really good.
The day before his birthday, Harry expected an owl detailing his transport to 12 Grimmauld Place. He spent the day anxiously staring at the sky, looking for the telltale flap of wings that never came. Nothing came.
He was a bundle of nerves by the time he went up for dinner. He couldn’t sit still and when he tried to help Mr. Giles chop vegetables, his neighbor took away the knife before he could get started and pushed him in the direction of the living room. “Why don’t you dust the shelves,” he suggested, throwing a clean hand towel after him. Harry set to it, glad to do something useful. It didn’t hit him for the first few minutes that he was doing just what Aunt Petunia had made him do for years. He looked over at Mr. Giles, startled to find him watching with a frown that dissolved into a small smile when Harry noticed. He was worried, and while Harry had become somewhat accustomed to it over the last few weeks, it still hit him like a shock of cold water. Mr. Giles had practically taken him in when everyone else had thrown him out –
Maybe they weren’t coming. Harry stopped, hand and rag poised over a dozen dusty spines. Maybe there had been no owl because they weren’t coming for him. The Order thought he was too much of a risk, or the Weasleys thought he was too dangerous to be around, or they were going to leave him where he was safest and miserable, or –
Harry startled so badly his elbow went into the stack of books sitting on the lip of the shelf, causing them to tumble to the floor with a series of bangs. He bent to hastily pick them up, but a hand on his shoulder was soon pulling him up and pushing him into the nearest chair.
“What’s wrong?” Mr. Giles sat on the couch across from him and fixed him with a stare that demanded answers.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Harry blurted out, realizing as he said it that he hadn’t told Mr. Giles yet. From the way the older man blinked, taken off guard, it was the last thing he had expected to hear.
“Where, where are you going?” he asked.
The simple question made Harry freeze for a moment, his throat suddenly stuck. Sirius’s house, he wanted to say, but of course he couldn’t. “A school friend’s,” he finally managed. “They always have me over for the rest of the summer. After my birthday. Only . . .” He swallowed down the stupid fear. “I haven’t heard from them. They were supposed to send me a letter today. To set up travel arrangements.”
“And nothing’s arrived?” When Harry shook his head, Mr. Giles added, “Are you certain of these plans?”
“Yes, I’m certain!” Harry snapped out. “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I can leave after my birthday.” He was pacing then, all his anxiety telling him that something was wrong, that he needed to do something. He couldn’t just sit here. Voldemort was out there. He could have captured any number of people, the Weasleys, Lupin, Tonks, maybe not Mad-Eye, but anyone else. The whole Order was at risk. What if they’d been caught trying to come get him? Harry couldn’t count the ways things could have gone wrong.
“Harry, Harry,” Mr. Giles stood and stepped into his path and caught him by the shoulders. “Nothing will be accomplished by wearing a hole in my carpet. Come. Eat.” His eyes were calm as they stared into Harry’s. “That’s it,” he said approvingly when Harry took a deep breath and followed him to the kitchen.
“Is there any way to contact your friend?” Mr. Giles asked as he handed plates for Harry to set on the table as he finished up the cooking.
“No,” said Harry. Hedwig still wasn’t back, and if she was he’d probably have word by now and there wouldn’t be a problem. Mr. Giles looked like he was going to say more but he didn’t. Instead he simply put dinner on the table and let it go. Harry wasn’t hungry, his stomach twisting.
A banging on the door interrupted them, making both of them jump. “Harry Potter! Boy, open up!” Uncle Vernon bellowed through the door over the pounding of his fist. Harry and Mr. Giles were quickly on their feet, the older man beating him to the door the most irritated that Harry had ever seen him, muttering under his breath and glaring when he snatched open the door.
Harry was a step behind him and stopped short when he saw who was behind Uncle Vernon. “Professor Lupin!” he said.
“Harry! All right there?” Professor Lupin smiled warmly and stepped forward to shake Harry’s hand. He didn’t quite come in, stopping short and giving Mr. Giles a considering look.
“Oh, this is Mr. Giles. Mr. Giles, this is Professor Lupin,” Harry introduced them. In the hall Uncle Vernon stalked off, not quite taking his eye off of Lupin until he slammed his own door closed. A moment of awkward silence followed as Mr. Giles and Professor Lupin eyed each other.
“I was expecting an – a letter,” said Harry. Lupin looked fine, no more ragged than normal around the edges, and he didn’t look like the bearer of bad news either.
“We were just sitting down to dinner,” said Mr. Giles, stepping back and tacitly inviting Professor Lupin inside. There was a pause before Lupin stepped over the threshold and Harry couldn’t help but feel like two worlds were colliding. Lupin did not return Mr. Giles’s smile and the way his hand twitched near his pocket, Harry knew that his wand was a moment from being drawn at the slightest provocation.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like a word with Harry first,” he said. Mr. Giles nodded and retreated to the kitchen leaving them alone in the entryway. “Harry,” Lupin began.
“I was worried when I didn’t hear from anyone,” Harry interrupted. “I was sure something had happened.”
“No, nothing like that. It has been a bit tense lately – nothing overt, but we thought it best to come see you in person.” Lupin tried smiling again but asked before it could fully form, “Why are you not with your Aunt and Uncle?”
“I am,” Harry replied. “Just not for dinner.”
“And this Mr. Giles?”
“He’s a friend.”
Lupin frowned. “Harry –”
“Look, he’s a nice bloke that lets me come over and not be miserable with them.” Harry jerked his hand in the direction of the Dursleys. “It’s not like I’m leaving the building,” he added pointedly.
“Harry,” Lupin said again, “he could be anyone.”
“He’s a muggle,” Harry whispered the last word, aware of how well sound carried through the flat. “He’s not a . . . He’s fine.”
“You remember the reason we moved you here?” He meant the muggle attack at 4 Privet Drive, but Harry didn’t believe that Mr. Giles was a part of Voldemort’s plan. There was no way. “You can’t be this reckless.” Lupin leaned forward intently. “There’s too much –”
“I know!” Harry said, his voice rising. He was the one with a prophesy hanging over him like a sword ready to cut off his head. He was the one who’d grown up with the Dursleys because his parents were dead. He knew damn well what was at stake and what it would cost.
“Harry?” Mr. Giles called from the other room, and Harry glared at Lupin. “Everything all right?” He stood in the kitchen doorway with the same concerned look he had when Harry was upset, and it made Harry angry suddenly that Lupin had just come in and told him that he had the judgment of an idiot.
“Yes. Everything’s fine,” said Lupin.
“No,” Harry contradicted him. “No, it’s really not.” He spun abruptly and slid past Mr. Giles into the kitchen where dinner was going cold. Leaning over the back of his chair, he tried to get a grip on himself before he did something he regretted, but the best he managed was two shaky breaths. He’d been worried about them, worried sick with not knowing what was going on and being in the dark again, all summer, and now he was the one getting lectured for finding someone to talk to who didn’t hate him.
“I apologize,” he heard Lupin say, tired, resigned. “It’s been a difficult summer, you understand. I’m certain you never . . . We worry about him and then to find him here instead of his Aunt and Uncle’s . . . It was a bit of a shock. We just want him safe.”
“Yes, yes,” said Mr. Giles. He still stood between them in the doorway, blocking Lupin from view. “And I’m sure leaving him alone with his relatives was in his best interests as well.” There was a bite in his tone that made Harry look up.
“Yes,” said Lupin, responding in kind. “I know that they –”
“Are borderline abusive?” Mr. Giles interrupted. “Told me he was a criminal?”
“They are the safest place for him,” countered Lupin. “I know you don’t understand, but know that we are looking out for him. We care about him greatly, but we have no choice but to leave him with them.”
“No choice but to leave a grieving teenager with relatives who hate him, no support, and no one to blame but himself. Yes, I see how much you care about his well-being,” said Mr. Giles softly, so softly that it sent a chill down Harry’s spine. The silence that followed was thick. Harry couldn’t see Lupin, only Mr. Giles’s back rigid with tension and anger on his behalf. It was another startling moment and Harry’s hands clenched around the back of the chair reflexively, needing something to hold onto as he took another two deep breaths for another reason entirely. He looked up at the photos on the refrigerator as if he were seeing them for the first time.
“Don’t you dare accuse me of not caring about Harry,” Lupin growled.
“You were not here to pick up the pieces,” said Mr. Giles.
“Stop it,” said Harry, abruptly straightening and joining Mr. Giles in the doorway. The older man stepped out of his way and let him stand between them, both still angry. Both of them right. “This is pointless,” he said. Pointless and on the verge of violence, the way the two of them glared at each other as if looks could kill. “Professor, we can talk in the hall.”
Once the door was closed behind them, Lupin said, “Harry, you can’t think –”
“I know,” said Harry, gently this time. He smiled ruefully. “Blood protection.”
“I would have you with me if I could.”
“I know.” It meant a lot to hear it out loud, a balm to Harry’s nerves that had been rubbed raw by a worry.
“You’ll be with us tomorrow, in any case,” Lupin smiled but it came out forced. “We’re taking you by muggle transportation to Grimmauld Place. We’ll be here at nine. Give you an early escape, eh?
Harry smiled back, some of the tension leaving him. Lupin opened his mouth to say something, but closed it. After an uncomfortable silence he said, “Well then, I’ll see you tomorrow. Be careful.”
“I will.” They shook hands and Lupin left with another terse twist of his lips, leaving Harry on the landing, alone.
Mr. Giles was reheating dinner on the stove when Harry returned. He didn’t look up when Harry came in and leaned against the door jamb. “It’s not his fault,” he said. “They really don’t have a choice but to leave me with the Dursleys.”
“Then one of them should have stayed with you,” said Mr. Giles without looking up.
“Well, they can’t,” Harry snapped, annoyed because the whole situation was far from ideal but it was what it was and there really wasn’t much the Order could do about it. “Look, it’s complicated.”
“It always is.” Mr. Giles finally looked up and he was angry. His jaw clenched and he threw the spoon he was holding into the sink with a clatter. “You are still fifteen, and you should not have been left alone with those . . . those relatives of yours.”
“I have no choice! None of us do.” Harry said back, his voice only a shade below a yell. “I can’t explain but it’s –” safer, he almost said, “– better this way.”
Mr. Giles stared at him, a hard stare that made Harry want to duck and run, but he wouldn’t this time. “I will never believe that leaving you to deal with your godfather’s death alone was a good choice,” he bit the final word off like an epithet.
“I’m not a child! I don’t need people holding my hand!”
“Being a child has nothing to do with it. I’ve seen grief tear away the sanity of people much older than you. You were in a depression. It is not something that should be borne alone!”
“What do you know about it!?” Harry pushed himself upright. What did Mr. Giles with his happy faces on the refrigerator know about losing people who were murdered? What did he know about having a raving lunatic after him and the only place that was safe was with relatives who hated him?
Mr. Giles was quiet and in the startled second it had taken him to catch his breath he realized he had said all that aloud. Shouted it, wanting an answer that wasn’t his life, an answer that didn’t end in his death.
“I know that you shouldn’t have to do this alone,” said Mr. Giles softly. “I know that you have more choices than you think you do, Harry.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“Perhaps not,” Mr. Giles sighed and it was like all the fight and tension left the room with that breath. “But sounds like you are caught in the middle of . . . caught in the middle.”
Harry couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. Caught in the middle didn’t even begin to describe it. “You have no idea,” he said, but something in the way Mr. Giles didn’t look away, the same damn look on his face that kept taking Harry by surprise, he really wished he did. He wished he could tell him about everything. The Wizarding World, Voldemort, his parents, the prophesy. “I . . .” he trailed off, unable to say anything.
“Harry,” Mr. Giles taking a step toward him before stopping and looking away. Looking at the fridge. “Whatever is going on, you must decide for yourself what you are going to do about it. You are not helpless, and if your Professor was anything to go by, you are not alone, as much as you are kept that way.” He held up a hand before Harry could speak, “And yes, I understand it’s complicated. All the more reason for you to make the decisions yourself instead of letting events sweep you off your feet, even if it’s as simple as saying that you choose to fight this raving lunatic of yours.”
The Ministry, the DA, the last four years . . . The thought of not fighting was so foreign that he couldn’t fathom it. “I am fighting,” Harry said, his voice as small as it was when he found out the truth about his parents. “As much as they let me.” He was tired of it all already.
“Then don’t let anyone take that choice away from you,” said Mr. Giles intently, more serious than Harry had ever seen him. “Go in with your eyes open and on your terms.”
“It’s not that easy,” Harry snapped back. Considering what he knew was staring back at him, the thought was terrifying. He was caught between the Order trying to protect him and everything that he did getting someone killed in the process. And in the end? Harry didn’t want to die. He wished people would stop dieing altogether and that Voldemort would just go away and stop ruining his life.
“No,” said Mr. Giles. “No, it’s not easy. And you have to fight to keep your choices yours, even amongst your friends, otherwise you are just a pawn. You can’t let them take that from you. You must take control of your destiny.”
Ultimately, Harry knew, he wouldn’t be the pawn, even if was still the sacrifice. But Harry couldn’t say that, couldn’t say any of what he wanted to because there was no way a muggle, even one like Mr. Giles, would understand that prophesies were real and that they ruled Harry’s life. So instead Harry swallowed down the lump in his throat and nodded.
Harry slept fitfully that night, anticipation for tomorrow’s reunion with his friends and the Order keeping him a mess of nerves. He also kept thinking about choices. His own, his friends’, Dumbledore’s. He’d been kept in the dark about so much, for his own protection and innocence, but now that he had lost Sirius, that had to change. He couldn’t lose anyone else.
Up early, Harry packed his trunk before heading over to say goodbye to Mr. Giles. His neighbor offered him breakfast, their last time together, it seemed, would be like the first, over food.
“I got you something,” said Mr. Giles, nodding to the plainly wrapped package by Harry’s elbow. “Happy birthday.”
“You didn’t have to,” Harry protested.
“I wanted to.” Mr. Giles smiled and Harry was stuck by just how lucky he’d ended up this summer to have met him. From the heft of it, it was a book, two in fact, Harry found when he opened it, the second wrapped it yet more paper. “Open that one later,” said Mr. Giles. Curious, Harry nevertheless set it aside and picked up the first book. It was Henry V
. “I think you’ll like that one,” said Mr. Giles with a smile, and since he hadn’t steered Harry wrong yet, he didn’t doubt it.
“Thank you,” said Harry. He fingered the binding; it was a nice copy. “Thanks for everything.” He didn’t know if thanks could quite cover what Mr. Giles had done for him this summer. Seeing him, welcoming him, being a friend outside of his crazy life.
Mr. Giles nodded and smiled. “It’s been my pleasure. If you ever need anything . . .”
“I know,” Harry smiled back, the familiar mantra welcome now. He hoped this wasn’t goodbye forever, even though he knew it probably was. It was getting closer to nine. The Order would be here soon to take him back to his life.
By mutual agreement, neither one of them said any more about it. They finished their toast and eggs and Harry helped clean up. At five to nine, Mr. Giles walked him to the door.
“Well, I guess this is it,” said Harry.
“Take care of yourself, Harry,” said Mr. Giles.
Perhaps there was more to say, but they didn’t need to. Harry left and went to get his things just as Lupin arrived on the landing. A few minutes later he was on his way to Grimmauld Place, safe in knowledge that should he need it, he had a place to come back to.
At 12 Grimmauld Place, Harry was welcomed back with open arms and no recriminations. His friends were happy to see him, the Weasleys were happy to see him, the Order was happy to see him. It was a bit much all in all, and almost made him feel even guiltier that everyone here was willing to risk everything for him. It didn’t help that there were reminders of Sirius wherever he looked, evidence of what happened when he screwed up.
So it wasn’t till much later that Harry had a chance to open the second book that Mr. Giles had given him. It was a paperback with a black cover with an ax on the front underneath the title: The Revised Slayer’s Handbook, edited by Andrew Wells
. There was an inscription on the first page.Harry,
Have faith in yourself and your friends. You are not alone, and if you should need anything, call me and you shall have it.
Rupert Giles, Head Watcher, International Watcher’s Council
A little bewildered, Harry flipped to the Table of Contents where he found three highlighted chapters, 50 Ways to Contact the Council in an Emergency
, Prophesies and What They’re Not
, and Why We Fight: Words of Wisdom from the Scoobies
As he read of a world just as hidden as the Wizarding World, about what Mr. Giles really did, about girls and power and how to get goo out of his clothing, Harry understood that when Mr. Giles had said anything, he meant anything. His friendship had already kept him sane during the long month with the Dursleys, and now he meant to keep Harry alive by whatever means Harry would accept.
Like his friends. Like the Order. He wasn’t in this fight alone. And for the first time, Harry believed it.