In his head, Tom often referred to therapy as The Great Uselessness.
It really was just as pathetic and cliche as television sitcoms made it seem. Shrinks, varying in only their preferences of office water features and shoulder padded suits, really did ask that question.
Yes, you know the one.
"And how does that make you feel?"
Every single session. Sometimes multiple times. And always with the same objective: to figure out what kind of broken you are.
In Tom's case, the answer was "orphan."
This was truly unfortunate, given that "orphan" was an incurable affliction in the eyes of therapists. With other types of broken, you take your pills, give the right answers, and you've earned your stamp of approval. You can trick a doctor into believing you're no longer depressed, that you no longer hate your wife, that you no longer hear voices. You can't trick a doctor into believing you're no longer an orphan.
Not even if you have a foster mother that makes you go to therapy.
"Tom? I asked you a question."
From where he sat, Tom curiously reached down and pulled at the handle of one of Doctor Dumbledore's desk drawers. When it proved to be locked, he moved to the next one. And then the next one. And the next, until finally the only thing available to his reach was the cup of pens, pencils, and highlighters that sat beside the computer, keyboard pointedly removed.
He proceeded to remove the caps before spinning back around in the chair.
"I know," he said, carelessly tossing a neon yellow highlighter cap to the floor, "I just didn't want to answer it."
Doctor Dumbledore gave an insincere nod, folding his hands carefully over his lap. "Alright, then."
Every second spent in silence is a victory in therapy. It's dangerous, because it means they're recalculating, but it also means you stumped them enough that they had to. That's always a good sign.
"Should we have your sister answer it instead? She's in the waiting room, is she not?"
Tom looked up, scowling. "You want her to tell you how I'm feeling?"
The doctor's twinkling blue eyes looked positively smug. "Well, if you won't tell me, is there any reason I shouldn't ask her?"
That's another thing about shrinks: they love to challenge their patients. In a lot of ways, that's the whole point of therapy. To make you question things. Your beliefs, your feelings, your hobbies, your childhood - none of it is safe from therapists.
Those things aren't safe from people like Tom either, but he at least has the decency not to charge for it.
For the sake of being contrary, he raised his chin. "Alright, then." Folding his arms across his lap just like Doctor Dumbledore had, he coolly said, "Go get her."
Tom's initial impression of his foster family was that they were wholly unremarkable. For lack of a better word, they were one of those foster families.
No, not the kind who microwaves dinner and thinks they can profit off the financial compensation that comes with taking a ward of the crown - people who grew up with a distinct childhood bedroom, new Sunday dresses every holiday, and hugs from mummy and daddy every morning before school always assume negligence is the worst possible outcome in these situations. It's not.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are the guardians who, much like therapists, view orphans as innately broken. However, rather than financially profit from it, they take it upon themselves to feed sad bellies and clothe tragic orphan backs. Then they expect you to treat them like they're Mother Teresa for it.
The Granger family was one of those.
Upper middle class dentists, Hugo and Jean Granger checked every box on the list of an independent orphan's worst nightmares. They hovered. They actually attended parent-teacher conferences. They made him take vitamin supplements with his dinner every night. They forced him to participate in psychotherapy; not as a punishment, which would allow him to repent of his transgression, but because they were "concerned for his well being."
There was only one thing Tom could say he liked about his life with the Granger family: their daughter.
At age sixteen, Hermione was two years older than him, and yet had never referred to him as her little brother, as her parents so often did. Despite having been birthed from the two most insufferably compassionate people Tom had ever had the displeasure of knowing, she did not have a kind bone in her body. Like most people, she cared for the concepts of right and wrong and dreamed of a Utopian ideal, but unlike most people her aspirations came not from a naive sense of pity, but from an unwavering dedication to the concept of Should.
If you follow the instructions on the back of a bag of chocolate chips, you Should end up with a delicious batch of chocolate chip biscuits. If you pay close attention to a map, you Should be able to find your destination. If you drive your foster brother to therapy and sit dutifully in the waiting room during his appointment, you Should have a happy, well adjusted orphan. If Draco Malfoy makes disparaging remarks in the direction of your foster brother, you Should break that ferrety little git's nose.
Hermione had gotten suspended - yes, suspended, even though she'd never even had detention - for that, and on top of that, grounded, both for fighting and for not being a good example to her little brother. She'd taken her scolding with her head down, but later she also told Tom - in confidence, of course - that she didn't regret it.
Tom could not say he enjoyed being an orphan pet project, but he could say he liked his foster sister very much.
When you enter the office of a therapist, there are approximately four seats, give or take.
The first of these seats is the armchair nearest to the door, typically placed beside a table and often pushed near a wall. This is the therapist's chair. When you first walk in, you're likely to be told to 'take a seat anywhere.' Make no mistake: they are only offering their seat because they do not expect you to take it. You may do so, and they will not rescind the offer, but you will be judged for it. Choose wisely.
The next two seats are contained in either a single loveseat or two additional armchairs, depending on the type of clients the therapist specializes in. Family and marriage counselling? Loveseat. Trauma and individual illness? Armchairs.
The final seat is the swirly desk chair, placed mostly out of sight in the back of the room. This is the therapist's real chair, because it is where they do their real work. Though it is never verbally specified, you are not supposed to sit here.
Doctor Dumbledore sat in the therapist's chair.
Tom always took the desk chair.
Hermione, ignorant to the intricacies of psychiatric etiquette, took the corner of the loveseat closest to the window. It's not as though she had a ton of options, but Tom still would have preferred Doctor Dumbledore to be the one in the crazy chair.
Hands fiddling with the hem of her plaid uniform skirt, it was obvious Hermione was not at all comfortable with having been asked to come in this session; This wasn't her therapy, and she probably saw no reason why her presence should be necessary.
Needless to say, the concept of Should was incompatible with soft sciences such as psychotherapy.
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that again?" She asked, seemingly unaware of the ongoing challenge she'd walked in on.
The doctor peered curiously over his half moon spectacles before repeating, "I asked how you think Tom is feeling."
Frowning, she hesitantly countered, "Shouldn't you be asking him that?"
"I work with families," he answered vaguely, giving her a smile that was likely meant to be encouraging. It wasn't. "I've talked with Tom, and now I'm asking what you think."
The tension in the room was palpable. There was no way she didn't feel it. The real question was not if she noticed, but if she knew. Did she know she'd just been taken hostage by a deranged doctor in a fierce battle of wills? The 'deer in the headlights' look on her face said no.
"I'm sorry, but if you're trying to tell me he did something," she began, giving Tom a wary glance, "there's nothing I can do. I'm a chaperone, not a guardian. You should talk to my parents. Or his case worker."
"I don't believe there's anything substantial to report at the moment," he answered, calmly shaking his head. "Unless of course, there's something you wish to tell me, Tom."
Tom straightened properly in his chair. "No, sir. Nothing."
The shrink gave a solemn nod.
According to the clock on the wall, there were thirteen minutes left in the session.
Silence is not something a therapist can comfortably coexist with. To them, any moment a patient is neither crying or reliving childhood trauma is an indication of failure. Silence, however, is uniquely intolerable. It hurts them.
It seemed to be hurting Hermione, too, but she only had to tolerate it for another twelve and a half minutes. Anxiously shifting in her seat, she tugged at the end of her red and gold tie just for the sake of giving her hands something to do.
Looking up, Tom caught her gaze. He offered her the smallest bit of nonverbal praise he could - a soft smile. More boldly than he had, she smiled back.
Unfortunately for her, in therapy there is one transgression more unforgivable than punitive silence: unauthorized joy. You're allowed to be happy only if your therapist says so. If you smile when you see baby animals, a therapist will take that as a testament to your improving mental health. If you laugh when someone falls down the stairs, you'll be punished with more therapy.
Doctor Dumbledore pulled out a notebook.
There is always reason to be wary when a therapist pulls out a notebook.
"There's a common saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I'm sure you've heard of it," he said, redirecting his focus back to Hermione, "that sentiment is part of what inspires me to work with families, because this session here is not only about Tom-"
That was a bold faced lie if Tom had ever heard one.
"-but about all of you, and his place within the Granger family unit. I've spoken with your parents, and I've spoken with Mrs Cole, but now I'd like to hear what you have to say, Hermione."
She blinked, confused. "I'm not sure I have anything to say."
Tom felt himself supremely pleased by that answer.
"Tom has been with your family for over a year now, hasn't he?" The shrink asked, giving her a kind smile. "I'm merely asking you to describe how things have been going - from your perspective."
"Fine, I suppose," she said gruffly, crossing her arms over her chest. When the doctor waited expectantly for her to continue, she relented, "I think he's acclimating well. He still doesn't have a lot of friends, but he went out to a movie with Ginny last week, so that's good."
Tom had not gone with Ginny. Tom went with Hermione, who insisted on bringing Ronald, who brought Ginny because she was embarrassingly besotted with Tom. Ginny may have been on his left, "accidentally" grabbing his hand as she repeatedly reached for popcorn, but Hermione'd been on his right. To Tom, this was an important distinction to be made.
Showing polite interest in her response, the shrink hummed thoughtfully before prompting, "and how has school been?"
"No incidents? Detention, difficulty in classes, arguments with peers?"
"Er, no? Not that I know of, and I'm the one who drives him." She cast Tom an expression of bemused alarm before clarifying, "he likes school. Hogwarts is great - there's nothing for him not to like about it."
"Of course, I'm sure it is." Dismissing her response, the therapist zeroed in on his patient once more. "Perspective is an interesting thing, because it is neither right nor wrong by default. Truth exists not in perspective itself, but in the commonalities between all perspectives. To be successful, we must make our decisions based on truth, not biased perception. Open, honest, clear communication is the most important thing we can have if we want to help each other succeed. So, Tom, let's practice. How does your perspective compare to that of your sister?"
Again: therapists like to make you question things, but they aren't always upfront about it. You'll tell them the sky is blue, and they'll spend the next ten minutes describing a vivid peach sunrise they saw while on vacation five years ago. Then, they'll turn to you and ask, 'What color is the sky, again?'
They like to give you the option to change your mind, but only if you agree to tell them what they want to hear.
Pretending to pick at the skin of his nails, Tom answered, "well, Doctor, it's just like she said. I think my school is great, and I like it very much."
In the six months Tom had been seeing Doctor Dumbledore, he'd never seen the man look less amused.
There were nine minutes left in the session.
Back in the privacy of her car, the first thing Hermione did was give Tom a good, reprimanding shove against his shoulder. "Any chance you'd like to tell me what on earth that was about?" She hissed.
Maybe she'd not been as oblivious as he'd previously assumed.
Choosing to avoid the conversation, Tom reached down to pull her vibrating cell phone from the cup holder. Though the locked screen preventing him from reading the text, he could still see the sender. "Why are you still talking to Viktor Krum? I thought we agreed you don't like him."
Pulling her phone from his grasp, she snapped, "Tom. Don't change the subject. What happened?"
"Really, it was-"
" ...Dennis Bishop and Amy Benson were shagging in the closet behind the gym. Someone borrowed Mister Filch's keys, locked them in from the outside, stole all the spiders Hagrid had been collecting, and shoved them under the locked door."
She groaned. "Someone? Really, Tom?!"
"You agreed that I shouldn't have had to do that whole project by myself just because they were too busy fu-"
Abruptly, she turned in her seat, reached forward and gripped his jaw so hard it hurt. "Look at me. Do you want to be taken away?"
"No one saw me!" he ground out, "Mrs Cole only suspected because-"
"Do you want to be taken away?" She asked again. "Because eventually, you're gonna get caught. Mum and dad won't be able to do anything for you if you get caught and someone presses charges."
Admittedly, she had a point. He was still young enough that he'd more likely get detention, or if he were really bad, expulsion, than any legal repercussions. But for a foster kid, those strikes rack up fast.
Still, he didn't want to admit it.
Finally, he relented, muttering, "No. I don't want to be taken away."
Hermione let go of his jaw, glaring at him even as she reached over to smooth his ruffled hair. Rubbing his aching jaw, he reminded himself that at least she didn't want him taken away, either. Otherwise she'd've said something.
Once they'd pulled out of the parking lot, Tom broke the silence with, "you know, it's just a rumor, but I heard Amy got bit on her-"
The car sharply stopped as Hermione reached over to smack him.