Five-year-old Harry is struggling with the lid of the dustbin when he sees it, poking out of the bin next to theirs. It's brown and furry, and for some reason, it makes his heart thud in his throat.
He reaches out, then hesitates. You don't pluck things out of the rubbish. Aunt Petunia would get very mad if she knew. But she doesn't have to know, and if it is what he suspects . . .
Before he can chicken out, he opens the bin and pulls at the fur. It's a plush dog, old and threadbare; one ear is missing.
"Go to bed," Aunt Petunia orders when he's done the dishes.
Harry hates the cupboard, although he's resigned himself to the fact that he can't have a room like Dudley. But tonight he doesn't mind so much – he has eyes only for his new treasure. He's never had anything like it, is never allowed to even touch Dudley's toys.
Upstairs, Aunt Petunia is kissing Dudley goodnight. In his cupboard, Harry presses a kiss to his dog's dusty snout.
"Binky," he whispers into the fur. It's a nice name for a nice dog. "Your name is Binky, and you're my friend."
Hiding Binky has become second nature.
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would assume he stole him, and even if they believed him, they'd force Harry to throw him away. He fished him out of the rubbish, so that's where he belongs, they'd argue. Dudley would destroy him simply to hurt Harry.
Harry has to protect Binky, like he's been protecting Harry for two years now – from monsters, from nightmares. From loneliness. Each night, he tells him his secrets, things he wishes he could tell his real parents.
Binky is more than his friend. He's his family. Harry's got nobody else.
It's the night before Harry will leave for Hogwarts, and he's been lying awake for hours. What will await him? The things he's seen at Diagon Alley were amazing – and just a bit terrifying, however much he wants to suppress the feeling.
He sighs, clutching Binky closer. "I wish I could take you."
Of course he would never. He's too big, and he surely doesn't want the others laughing at him. No, their time is over. Harry needs no plush toy to sleep anymore.
In the morning, he stuffs Binky deep into his trunk and refuses to think about it.
Harry freezes in the sudden candlelight. It's his first night at the Burrow, and he had to get Binky out of his trunk – he was locked away with his other things at the Dursleys' all summer.
Just when he thinks he'll die with embarrassment, Ron grins sheepishly and reaches under his pillow. The bunny is self-made from red and blue patches, with no eyes, and ears that make it look a bit like an elephant.
"You can't tell anyone," Ron demands, no longer grinning, and Harry immediately shakes his head.
He falls asleep with Binky hugged tight to his chest.
Harry is lying in bed with the curtains drawn shut; from the bed next to him, he hears Neville snoring.
"It's not fair," he whispers to Binky – who shouldn't be here, not when Harry is almost fourteen. But Harry needs him even if it's silly, needs someone who'll understand just how disappointed he is. Ron and Hermione are sympathetic, but they'll never truly get it.
"Sirius shouldn't have to hide! He's innocent!" His name should be cleared, and they should be able to be a family.
This night, and some nights to follow, Binky is a very wet little dog.
Thinking of the Dementors who attacked them still makes Harry shudder. Even now, wrapped firmly into the covers, the memory makes him feel cold and miserable. The only warmth is coming from Binky. He hasn't got him out of the trunk in weeks – somehow, confiding into a plush dog seemed disrespectful towards Cedric – but tonight, Harry couldn't help himself.
What is Dudley doing to make himself feel better, he wonders. Surely, he's not cuddling a soft toy, not at fifteen. Most people aren't that strange.
But it helps, and it hurts nobody. Strange or not, isn't that all that matters?
Harry sits on his bed in the empty dorm, open trunk at his feet, Binky in hand. He's kept him hidden between bed frame and mattress for years, taking him out only at night with closed curtains.
This can't go on, though. He's got to put an end to it.
The first Occlumency lesson was horrid. Snape saw things he shouldn't have, and the thought of him seeing fifteen-year-old Harry with a plush toy . . . Maybe it's easier to keep Binky out of his mind if he lets go. Maybe Snape won't see, then.
He needs to grow up, Harry decides.
Tomorrow, they'll infiltrate the Ministry.
Harry stares up at the canopy in his room at Grimmauld Place, imagining everything that could go wrong. They could be captured. Killed. He could lose Ron or Hermione. He's more afraid than ever before, and there's an overwhelming desire to get Binky from deep down in his trunk. He hasn't touched him since the one relapse when Sirius died.
But it's time to put away childish things; there's a war, and people depending on him.
He has to be an adult, not a child clinging to a toy he once found in a bin.
Ron's hand is sweaty in his, and Harry's heart is threatening to leap out of his throat. But they've got to tell their ex-girlfriends; they can't go on with the secrecy.
"Hermione . . . Ginny . . ." Harry has no idea how to go on. Ron squeezes his hand, then begins stuttering. He's making no sense at all, and finally, Ginny takes mercy.
"We thought you'd never tell us. Even Percy placed a bet last week."
"We're happy for you," Hermione adds with a smile, and it's as if a Hogwarts-sized rock rolls off Harry's chest.
His life after the war feels perfect.
Watching Bill's daughter Victoire play with her teddy, Harry is torn between smiling and an odd, bitter feeling that confuses him.
His mind wanders to Binky, hidden in an unused cupboard at Grimmauld Place so Ron won't find him. It's one thing to be a twelve-year-old kid, another to be 27 and an Auror.
Harry hasn't looked at him since moving in after Hogwarts, and he doesn't get why he'd want him. He doesn't need to pretend anymore that a toy is his friend, his family. He has friends and a boyfriend, he has a family now. Shouldn't they be enough?
More and more, Harry believes there's something wrong with him.
He's lying with his head on Ron's chest as he listens to his snoring, and he's wondering. What would it be like if he had Binky here, if he could hold him every night again? How would it feel if Ron read him a bedtime story? The idea alone makes him feel weirdly dizzy. There are other thoughts, too, but they're vague and he doesn't dare dig any deeper.
Why would he want any of this? It's not right. He's 30, not a little boy.
But then, was he ever?
Sometimes, Harry feels like the ungrateful freak Uncle Vernon called him.
He's not poor. Nobody's trying to kill him. He loves his job and his friends, and he's got the best boyfriend he could imagine. He's happy, he really is. Still, something is missing. There's this longing for being a child, just sometimes, to have someone – Ron – take care of him like a parent. And Binky – he wants him so badly it hurts.
It's getting worse, and he can't tell anybody about it. Ron loves him, but this is too strange.
Too freakish, Uncle Vernon's voice says in his mind.
None of them understand – Harry doesn't even understand himself. All he knows is that it's wrong, that Aunt Petunia shouldn't have died just like that.
"You said she hated you. Why would it matter so much?" Harry loves Ron more than anyone, but sometimes he wants to punch him.
Here he is: Harry Potter, 34 years old, Head Auror, 'Saviour of the Wizarding World' – crouched in a cupboard and holding on to a soft toy as if for dear life.
Only Binky knows how it had been when he was small, how he'd wished she'd one day be his mother.
After Ron opens the cupboard, there's a long silence, and Harry half wishes and half fears Ron left again at his sight: covered in dust, face buried against an old plush animal's fur. But then Ron's arms are around him, a kiss is pressed to his temple, and before Harry knows it, he's sobbing and holding on tight.
"Tell me," Ron whispers when he's calmed down. "Whatever it is, I promise it'll be all right."
He's warm and solid against him, saying just what Harry needed to hear for years. He makes Harry feel safe.
Harry breathes deeply – and tells.
"I didn't know it was that bad."
Harry told Ron everything – the cupboard, Binky, how he feels – and now he's being held even closer, with Ron petting his hair.
"You want the things you didn't have, is that it?"
Harry nods mutely.
"Well." There's a pause. "I suppose that makes sense. Why don't we try things you might like?" Ron suggests. "And," he adds, voice full of gentle warmth that makes Harry shiver, "I had a great role model for how to be a dad."
Your family is who you choose it to be, and Harry couldn't have chosen better.