A pair of teenaged boys looked up from their game of Exploding Snap as the floo flared brightly. It was not a surprise, given what day it was, but the person stepping through certainly was. Both Evan and Ron sat up straighter as Daphne Greengrass gracefully stepped out of the floo, patting off a bit of dust off her stylish, dark blue dress.
"What are you doing here?" Ron snarled, even as Evan called for his parents, who were currently in the kitchen having tea with Mrs. Weasley. It was early yet, and the party was not due to begin for a next two hours officially.
Daphne didn't answer, and instead gave the redhead a short, disdainful look as she stood there expectantly. The Potters, followed by Mrs. Weasley entered the room through the kitchen.
"Oh, you're new," Lily Potter said with a hint of surprise. "Introduce me to your friend Evan."
"Actually," Daphne said, plastering a smile onto her face, before the teenager could speak, "I'm here for Harry. It’s a pleasure
to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Potter.”
"Harry didn't say he'd invited anyone," James noted, watching her curiously.
"You never told him that he could," she retorted, her eyes flashing with anger briefly before she settled back into her pleasant demeanour, “but I thought it was obvious that he could have his own guests at a birthday party for both him and his brother.”
“Well, yes,” James said quickly, glancing toward his wife. The girl was polite, but he wasn’t delusional; he knew that her words were barbed, “of course.”
“What’s your name?” Lily asked, not at all fazed by the girl. To a certain degree she liked it, the courage the girl showed in the face of an otherwise awkward reception to her arrival. She couldn’t help but notice the wariness and disdain her son and his best friend looked at the girl with, and she was curious as to its cause.
"My name is-“
“Daphne, I told you not to come."
Everyone in the room turned to where Harry had entered. Unlike his brother who was dressed in a new outfit purchased by their mother the previous week, Harry had settled for his favourite attire, black, comfortably loose trousers and a dark purple shirt that Daphne had gifted him with during the last Christmas season.
"And you thought that this time I would listen?” she asked sweetly, as she crossed the room to him and pressed a dainty kiss to his cheek. Lily’s eyes widened as Harry’s hand went automatically to the small of her back when she moved to stand beside him. Interesting. “I just wanted to ensure you had a nice birthday for once.”
"Harry," James said, looking from one teen to the other, "an introduction please."
"This is Daphne Greengrass," Harry answered, glancing from one parent to the other. "She's my best friend -"
"And girlfriend," she finished, looking up at him with a grin that he returned easily.
The smile surprised them all; Harry tended to be a surly presence around the house. To see him pull the girl closer to his side and look down at her with tenderness was a novel sight.
"Your girlfriend," Evan asked, his tone disbelieving. "She's your girlfriend? Is that the best you could do?"
"What else would you expect from him mate," Ron added.
"Evan," James chastised, a warning tone in his voice, even as Lily approached the couple.
"It's a bit surprising, is all," she said, before offering the girl her hand. "Harry's never given us much indication that he was interested in anyone. It's a pleasure to meet you regardless, Daphne."
"Harry didn't want you to have another thing to despise him for," she answered in that same sweet tone of hers, causing Lily to look at her son in confusion. What was she talking about? Daphne turned to Harry, saying, "That shirt really suits you. I chose well."
"As if there was any doubt," he replied.
His mother's face was slightly uncomfortable as she drew their attention back to her. "Um, what do you mean Daphne?"
"It's nothing mum," he said quickly, shooting a speaking glance at the girl.
"Actually," she replied, ignoring him, "it means that Harry didn't want to tell you about us because he knew you'd be disappointed that I'm Slytherin."
"What!" Lily gasped, looking at him, "Harry?"
"They ought to be," Ron interjected angrily from across the room. "You see Evan, I told you he's no good. And now he's dating a slimy snake on top of everything?"
"Ron!" Mrs Weasley hissed, but they all could clearly see that Evan made no move to disagree with him. Indeed, his eyes simply drifted between Harry and the brunette at his side.
"This is exactly why I didn't want you here, Daphne," Harry told her.
"This has gone on too long," she responded with ease, before saying louder in a voice that carried, "I don't understand why your brother can have friends over who do nothing but insult you while you must take it without complaint.”
"It ain’t an insult if it is the truth," Ron declared, and suddenly Ms. Weasley was by his side, pulling at his ear furiously.
"Just what is going on here?" James half demanded as he watched the woman furiously start to berate her son. “Evan?”
"Nothing dad," Harry began only for Daphne to interrupt him.
"No Harry," she said, "not this time. You always do this. You’re so confident in every way except this. Stop backing down and stand up for yourself for once.”
"What's the point?" he argued back. "I told you; it won’t do any good.”
"Harry?" Lily pressed, reaching out to touch him, “what’s happening? What do we not know?”
Harry looked away from her, but Daphne did not allow the deflection.
"You want to know why Harry never has any friends here? It’s because your son and his friends go out of their way every term to insult him and anyone he hangs around with. And, unlike Harry, we don’t put up with it. It’s well worth the detentions we get for putting them in their place, regardless of the fact that we’re always the ones who end up punished even though they start it.”
“What?” Lily gasped, her temper flaring as she turned to stare at Evan who twitched uncomfortably beneath her gaze. “Is this true Evan? You insult your brother? You allow your friends to demean him?”
“It’s not like that mom,” Evan began, although his voice was feeble to everyone’s ears. “They start it sometimes.”
“Do you really think we have nothing better to do than waste our times exchanging words with you?” she sniffed.
“Harry,” James said, coming over to him as his wife stalked to where their elder son was. “You never said anything to us? Why?”
“Because you would have sided with Evan,” Harry replied softly, meeting his gaze. “Like you always have.”
“We never,” he protested. “Harry-“
“You grounded Harry last Christmas for hexing Weasley," Daphne interrupted. "Did you ever ask him why, or were you just too worried that it was one more sign that he was falling even more deeply into the clutches of Slytherin? Harry did it because Weasley had gone into his room without permission and told him that he didn't deserve to have a brother like Evan because he was nothing but a rotten, evil Slytherin who was bound to end up as the next Dark Lord. But you didn’t even give him a chance to explain."
"Daphne," Harry said, even as he heard a startled gasp from Mrs Weasley before she started to tug with even more fury on her son’s ear, “that’s enough.”
"No," she interrupted him, "I'm tired of this. I am tired of you feeling unwelcomed in your own home.” She redirected her attention to Harry’s parents who were now staring at her with mixed expressions. “Whether you realise it or not, you favour Evan, and that is not at all fair to Harry.?"
"We don't," Harry's mom began, but, like always, once she had gotten an idea in her head, Daphne didn't care who she was speaking to. She spoke over his mother as if she had not even said anything.
"Why don't you ask Harry why this is the first time he's ever had someone over here? Have you ever given him the idea that any of his friends would be welcomed in this house? No. You allow Evan to bring his Gryffindor friends here all the time to visit or even spend the holidays while knowing that Harry doesn't get along with them. You slap the label of 'guest' onto them and expect Harry to treat them with respect. Well what happens when they don't respect them? Isn't this Harry's home? Why should he feel like he has to stay trapped in his room just to not be insulted or to risk you two yelling at him for ill-treating those hypocrites?”
By now Mrs. Weasley was furiously whispering to a red-faced Ron whose expression was torn between glaring at her and trying to wheedle his way out of what Daphne was saying.
"And you," she added, twisting to where Evan was just standing there staring. "Harry is your brother, your blood brother, and for all that you Potters have gone modern I'm pretty certain you've been taught to protect your family. And what do you do? You become friends with someone who despises your brother. You stand there and let him insult Slytherins, label us as future Death Eaters without a single word of protest. Is it that your prejudice against Slytherins is just so strong or do you just despise Harry as a brother?"
"I-I don't hate him," Evan responded woodenly.
"But neither do you like him. He's a Potter in Slytherin whose ruining your reputation by virtue of that fact. Or were you joking when you said you wished that he would just start calling himself a Black last term?"
"Evan!" James hissed, even as Lily's eyes roved from one's son's face to the next. The girl was telling the truth; it was plainly obvious and her heart ached because of it. How could she have missed this rift between her two sons?
"I'm tired of Harry coming back to school every year defeated because of you. I'm tired of you walking away from him or blatantly ignoring him when he tries to talk to you. I'm tired of him staying quiet in every class we share with Gryffindor because you glare at him and let the others insult him when he answers something correctly. And I'm tired of you doing not a single damn thing when people say that he's using dark magic to beat Granger in exams. He's bloody brilliant, and you Gryffindors are just too prejudiced to see it. Granger wasn't the only one assigned a Time Turner in our third year you know, but she certainly was the only one to give it up after the year ended."
"Don't insult Hermione you bloody snake," Ron snapped, only to be hushed by a rebuke by his mother.
"I'm a proud Slytherin," Daphne said, lifting her chin in that haughty way that Harry loved, "and it's a pride that I've been trying to instil in Harry for years now. We are the house of cunning, resourcefulness and ambition, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Anyway, I've had absolutely enough of this dreadful conversation. Harry, let's go," she finished, tugging on his arm. “I’ve done what I’ve come to. I won’t stay here a minute longer.
"Where are we going?" he asked, not even glancing at his parents as he started to follow her to the floo.
"My manor. Blaise and I planned a proper birthday celebration for you. He'll be spending a few days with my family, Mrs. Potter," she added with a backward glance at the woman. "And since you have absolutely no issue with Evan disappearing to the Weasleys whenever he wants, you shouldn't have a problem with this, right?"
Harry watched his mother's face flit with a variety of expressions but it was his father who spoke up. "Go ahead Harry," he said in a slightly strained voice, "I think there are some things we need to handle here anyway. Go have fun with your friend."
"Girlfriend," she corrected before throwing in a handful of powder into the flame and shouting, "Greengrass Manor."
Harry didn't say a word to his family before following her through. He truly had nothing to say.
In hindsight he was extremely grateful for what Daphne had done for him; whereas he had been perfectly prepared to leave things as they were, she was a fiery storm who had shaken his family to the core, exposing issues he was now certain they had not even been aware of. He wasn't stupid enough to expect anything to be different than it had been, when, feeling that he had ought to go back home, he had stepped through the floo with ardent reassurances that, should he find the situation less than ideal, he should just return to Greengrass manor. He hoped that that would not be necessary, but, if he was completely honest with himself, he would admit that he would not be removing the chain that doubled as an emergency portkey from around his neck anytime soon.
The house was quiet when he stepped through the floo, and that in itself was a new change. It was the middle of the day, and Weasley and Evan usually laid claim to the living room around that time, either playing around with Wizarding games or else watching one show or another on his mom's telly. Harry's brows furrowed as he recalled Ron's sneering comment one time that he was so evil he couldn't even see the appeal of television. The real truth was that Harry simply found the shows they watched particularly dull. Shaking his head from the thought, Harry headed for the kitchen, determined to collect enough rations until dinnertime before disappearing into his room. He was surprised to find his mother there, tea in hand, reading through the Daily Prophet.
She looked up as he entered, and he saw the surprise mirrored in her face.
"Harry," she said, setting down her cup, "you came home."
He shrugged, not knowing what to say. He couldn't even remember the last time his mother and him had had anything resembling a real conversation.
"D-did you have fun?"
"I did," he responded, moving to the cupboard and wondering if there were any cauldron cakes left.
"I'm glad. Look Harry-"
"Daphne was pretty rude," he interrupted, "I know that."
"She spoke the truth," his mother answered, surprising him.
He turned, staring at her. "What?"
"You father and I had a long conversation after you left, both with your brother and Ron. We owe you an apology Harry."
"I shouldn't have hexed him," he answered with a shrug.
"You shouldn't have," she agreed, "but neither should we have put you into a situation where you had to do that. We stopped listening to you," she continued, "we just thought that it was some sort of rivalry between you and Ron and we never looked further, never asked you about what was happening. We just thought you'd reached that teenage phase where you just wanted to be alone. We never realised that you weren't comfortable in your own home."
"There's a lot of things we didn't realise," she said, ignoring him. "We didn't realise that we really weren't treating you the
same. When you first got sorted into Slytherin, James and I made a promise that you'd never be made to feel unwelcomed. Now I realise that never should have been a conversation in the first place. All we were doing was continuing that prejudice against Slytherin, the very same prejudice I had hated when I was in Hogwarts."
"My best friend growing up was sorted into Slytherin when we got to Hogwarts," she explained, "and for many years I did my best to continue our friendship. It didn't work out in the end, and I let that affect me, something which should never have happened. I owe you an apology for that and so many other things, Harry."
"It's okay," he said softly, because truly, what else could he say. He didn't like seeing his mother like this. She looked so sad and ashamed and he hated that he was the cause of it.
"It's not okay," she told him, "and we're going to do better for you from now on, your dad and I."
"The house's quiet," he stated, not sure what to say to that.
"James is out with Sirius and Remus. Your brother is in his room."
"Ron," his mother said, with a hint of strain in her tone, "is not allowed in this house for the foreseeable future."
"What?" Harry gasped.
"Did you really think we would let him back here knowing now what he's been saying and doing to you? He didn't deny anything; neither did your brother. He's grounded for the rest of the summer."
"That isn't necessary."
"It is!" she snapped. "He is your brother. For him to treat you that way in school, and to allow Ron to speak to you that way...
We never realised, but he knew what was going on and he should have said something against it. Somewhere along the lines your father and I screwed up if he feels like there is ever a choice between friends and family and it is a mistake we are going to try to rectify from now."
"He'll just hate me more," he whispered.
"He'll sort out his priorities way before up, or else he can enjoy looking at the walls of his room every holiday until he reaches
"We failed you Harry," she finished, "we failed you so much that you sought out a next family. We failed you so much that you never even told us that you had a girlfriend, but we're going to make a change in that from now on. You are our son, Harry, and I am so sorry that you've felt like an outsider for so long. We can't change that fact, but we want to move forward from this point."
"I want that too," he admitted, "I want that so much."
"Then we will work towards that," she told him, with a small smile, before standing and offering her arms.
It was an embrace he willingly went into, and he allowed himself to become hopeful, that maybe, indeed, this was the start of something new for him, and for his family.