It is an itch, gnawing and persistent, that gets him up off the couch for the first time all day. And as he stands there, blankly searching the room, he realizes that the answer is not here. But it is somewhere, and it pulls him, and so he leaves the house.
As Harry walks slowly out the door and into the frigid winter night, he knows where he is going. With a sureness he hasn’t felt since his last year in school, or even longer, he spins on the spot and disappears, landing square in the middle of Diagon Alley.
The aftermath of the war has, over the course of two years, toiled away slowly at his psyche. It comes, sometimes, in angry flashes of blood and empty, staring eyes. Most of the time, though, it lurks, and it waits, and when it sinks its teeth into him, finally, its bite is gentle. But it leaves venom so potent that it haunts him. He’s learned to live with it, almost learned to numb it, but there are still some parts that he doesn’t know how to handle. He’s talked to Hermione and Ron, talked to plenty of people, but it never helps him. Nothing ever helps him, so he’s been hiding away in his house more and more. This only works because he convinced Kingsley to put some fancy wards outside so reporters can’t get near enough to bother him. The Ministry has given up trying to recruit him. He hasn’t visited the Burrow since last Christmas. He has become, essentially, a hermit.
It doesn’t help that everything magical is a reminder. Living in Grimmauld Place, he uses his wand as infrequently as he is able, even keeps it in a box above the fireplace so he won’t be tempted to use it too often. One night outside the bars, Ron had asked for a light to look for his keys and Harry fumbled with his rarely used wandless magic, his hastily muttered Lumos accidentally catching the edge of Ron’s robes on fire. Where’s your wand, you nutter? When Harry had explained it to him, Ron had responded, as elegantly as Ron was able, Bloody weird, mate, and he’d brought out his own wand and vanished the fire and they’d dropped it. Using his magic could only remind him of Hogwarts, the happier Hogwarts, laughter in dorm rooms and sneaking out to Hogsmeade and visiting Hagrid’s hut at night. And that is arguably worse to remember than the aftermath. What his world was before the war, what Hogwarts was before Death Eaters tore it up, before the walls were stained in blood. He could never go back there, to that time. It no longer exists.
Harry sighs, shoving his hands in his pockets and willing his poison thoughts away. Harry has not been to Diagon Alley—or even outside of the house, except for small errands—for an entire year. And, for once, he feels entirely naked without his wand.
It feels odd, to have arrived here so willingly, especially because of where, specifically, he’s chosen to land. He hasn’t just Apparated to Diagon Alley, but directly in front of Weasley Wizard Wheezes, which is looking like a rather lackluster and cobwebbed time capsule. Harry’s heart still tugs painfully at the sight of it, standing there like a monument to grief. His gaze drifts to the windows above; the blinds are pulled, some of them hanging broken and crooked. George’s flat. Just George. It looks dark inside.
He imagines George is doing just as badly as he, if not worse, and that a surprise visit just before dinner is not exactly ideal, but his feet carry him to the stairway beside the store entrance anyway and he is almost to the top when he realizes that this is not a good idea. He’s never been one to listen to others, though, let alone himself, so he raps the door with tight knuckles and waits. A few moments later, after a considerable amount of loud thumping and cursing from inside the flat, the door is wrenched open.
George stands before him in the doorway, like a gangly, terrible ghost. His face is heinously pale, which makes the dark bags under his eyes pop in a way that is altogether unflattering, and he wears only a large, striped sweater and a pair of boxers with bats on them. His hair is much longer than it had been last time Harry had seen him, and it’s pulled back into a loose knot. “Harry,” he says, and it comes out breathlessly.
“George.” Harry stands there, wholly encapsulated by familiar heartache just at the sight of his friend. His eyes flick past him to investigate the flat, and he sees that whatever George had been doing to tidy up before he’d opened the door had been fruitless; it’s a righteous mess, even in the near-dark. Clothes and dirty dishes are strewn all over the living room and, if he’s not mistaken, there are at least three pairs of underwear hanging from the ceiling fan. He glances back at George, who is now leaning against the doorway staring at him, expressionless. Harry clears his throat. “I, um… came for a visit. Sorry.” He tries a smile but grimaces instead.
“Can’t say you’re the first one to try,” George says, his voice grim. He isn’t smiling at all, there’s not even a hint of the possibility, and it unsettles Harry. “Well,” he steps back to allow Harry through, “come on in, if you dare.”
The flat is impossibly more of a disaster once he’s was inside it. Not only is there so much clutter on the floor that he cannot properly see the floor, but there is a faint, musty stench present that indicates severe neglect. George shuts the door softly behind Harry and stands beside him.
“Welcome to my depression cave,” he says dryly, then pats Harry on the back and disappears into an adjacent room. The sound of a stove clicking on stirs Harry from his distracted observation of the apartment and he looks to see where George has gone: the kitchen. It looks slightly less crowded than the living room, so he walks over and pokes his head through the archway.
George is sifting through a cabinet, extracting several boxes of tea, and a small kettle sits warming atop a burner. His movements have a weary familiarity to them, as if he’s done this recently, brewed tea for an uninvited guest. Harry swallows, feeling a bit shameful. “I have Earl Grey, English Breakfast…” His voice drones tiredly as he drops the boxes one by one onto the countertop. He glances over his shoulder toward Harry, eyes almost pleading to not make him list them all.
“Uh, whichever. I don’t care,” Harry says. George nods and turns away again, pulling two bags of Chamomile from a box and dropping them on the counter. He then spins around and leans his back against it.
“So,” George says, lazily crossing his arms in front of his chest. “What brings you here, Harry? Sent by mum, I suspect?” He arches an eyebrow.
Harry steps carefully into the kitchen, dodging multiple discarded pizza boxes on the way. “Um—no,” he says, glancing up at George, whose face, for the first time since he’d gotten there, has finally registered some form of emotion. Curiosity. “I don’t know how to explain it, really…” He steps over another pizza box, then gives up navigating the mess and resolves to lean against the refrigerator directly beside the archway, across from George. “I was just tired of being alone.” It comes out of his mouth entirely of its own accord, this confession, and the next part is just as involuntary, and it catches in his throat as he says it: “Even when I’m with others, it feels very lonely. I thought you would understand that… feeling, the most, so, I came here. Sort of without meaning to, I think.” He’s rambling stupidly, now, so he clenches his jaw and stands there.
George blinks at him, his eyes slightly wider, and Harry feels for a moment like he’s overstepped some sort of boundary. How could Harry understand loneliness? He hadn’t lost a twin brother; his losses were petty. He wants to shrink away from George’s gaze, maybe even just leave and go home and never bother him again. But then, George steps across the small room and pulls Harry into a tight hug and Harry doesn’t know how to react other than to stiffly receive the embrace. Eventually, he lifts his arms and wraps them around George’s middle. It feels a little strange, since George is in his underwear, and perhaps George senses this, because he finally pulls away. His eyes are glossy with tears.
“You can stay for dinner, if you’d like,” he says quietly, and Harry does.
It’s an hour later, after they’ve tucked into an obscene amount of Chinese food and George has finally put some pants on, that he says something. They’re both sitting back against opposite couch arms, looking at one another. A lone ball of light bobs against the coffee table, something George had conjured due to the absence of lamps.
“Everyone always wants me to talk.” George takes a hard pull from his beer, frowns. His features look sharp in the gentle light of the room; his eyes are shadowed. “They come here, and they just… don’t understand. They don’t get what it’s like to look in the mirror and see the dead.” There it is. And he says it without stuttering, without his voice hitching. Harry feels that that is worse than if he were crying. He’s already where Harry is—past it, even. He’s succeeded in numbing it. His words are colored with bitter hatred instead of mourning.
Harry doesn’t say anything for a long moment, doesn’t know what he can say that won’t make George lash out. He’s heard from the others, Hermione and Ron mostly, about George and his shattered mirrors, his tearful, raging tantrums, his refusals to leave the flat. Harry doesn’t want to be another Weasley family member, coming optimistically along to encourage him out of his hole, only to send him spiraling further in. He holds his own beer in his lap, staring down at the label.
“I, um… I don't have parents,” he begins, and he instantly feels stupid, but George says nothing, only looks at him, waits. “Remus and Sirius…” He pauses, his eyes already glittering with tears, his throat tight. He hasn’t said their names in so long, and he’s so angry with his grief, so tired of it, the unrelenting weight of it all over him. “They were the closest thing I had… I can’t imagine—can’t imagine what you feel,” he finally grits out, realizing only too late that his face is now utterly streaked with tears. What a moving speech, Harry thinks, the voice in his head caustic and unforgiving. He looks up.
George has folded his legs up to his chest, his arms resting atop his knees, and he’s watching Harry. His eyes look somehow softer than before, more patient than they should be. “We don’t have to talk about it, you know,” he murmurs, and his voice is gentle, not annoyed or angry. They sit like that for a moment, Harry sniffling, and then George lifts his head up a little. Finally, he smiles. “Remember Gunhilda?”
Harry’s breath audibly catches, and he swears he sees George wink at him, but it’s so dark in the room he could be mistaken. He impatiently wipes his tears away with the back of his hand. “Do I remember Gunhilda,” Harry repeats sourly, his lips helplessly twisting into a smile of his own. Does he remember Gunhilda? Of course he does. The One-Eyed Witch. His confidante, his ticket to Hogsmeade, his hiding place, his—oh. “Of all the things to bring up,” Harry says quietly, and—Merlin—George laughs. It’s so easy, so unexpected. It’s like nothing bad has happened to him, like no time has passed at all.
“Hey,” George says, shrugging. “Got you to smile, didn’ I?”
Harry can’t say anything, can’t think of anything to say. All he can register right now, all he can hear, is his own voice in his head, muffled, whispering dissendium, dissendium, dissendium to get the statue to open as quickly as possible, and there’s George pushing him along, chuckling warmly into his hair. The image is so vivid as to be startling. It’s so fresh in his mind, even years after the fact.
George lightly knocks his foot into Harry’s, jolting him back to reality. “Didn’t mean to send you off into some wild sexual fantasy,” he remarks, tilting his head. The smile is still there, miraculously, and it almost makes Harry forget how annoyed he is. “I hadn’t meant those specific times.”
“What—what did you expect me to remember?” Harry sputtered, glaring at him. He’s vaguely aware that he’s blushing furiously but hopes that George isn’t able to see it. “I think those times are the moments that stand out the most, don’t you?”
“Oh, well, Harry Potter, you flatter me.” George’s smile morphs into something of a self-satisfied smirk, and Harry is up off the couch in an instant, standing with his hands clenched at his sides. Not solely because he is angry, necessarily, but because he doesn’t know what else to do in response. George holds up his own hands in surrender, his face sobering. “Fine, fine, sorry. Forgive me my teasing, it’s been a long time since I’ve properly riled someone up.” He gestures toward the couch. “Sit?”
Harry stews in his embarrassment, wondering why, of all the things George could have brought up, it had to be about them. He allows himself to fume for a few seconds more before he drops back down opposite George, arms crossed and face set. “If you wanna dredge up embarrassing shit, might as well mention McGonagall finding me and Seamus going at it in the second-floor bathroom, or—or when I found you snogging the absolute bloody hell out of Terrence Higgs in my third year.” It comes spilling fiercely out of him, and George is rolling back and forth on the opposite end of the couch, cackling, before he’s even finished.
“Oh my, Harry’s got quite the mouth on him!” he exclaims, sitting back up. “Got anymore juicy gossip you could impart on me, what, seven years after the fact?” He rests his cheek against his knee, looking coyly over at Harry, whose anger is slowly dissolving into amusement. He hasn’t been this happily distracted in, well, a while. George’s plan, albeit rather personal for his taste, has worked. Perhaps it has worked too well.
“No, that’s all I have for tonight,” Harry says. He’s grinning wide, wider than he has in months, and it’s truthful and it’s unafraid. George’s apartment, despite its smell and its relentless clutter, feels so safe and comfortable.
“Well, me too,” replies George, his face bright. He leans forward before Harry knows what’s happening, snatches one of his hands and holds it. “Thank you for coming here tonight, Harry.” His eyes are sincere and determined as they meet Harry’s, and Harry can only nod wordlessly. George holds his hand for a second longer, even tenderly runs his thumb along the back of it, before letting go and leaning back against the couch.
Harry doesn’t know when they fell asleep, but when he wakes up, they’ve completely switched positions and their legs are intertwined. Cautiously, he extracts himself. For a moment, he watches George sleep. His face is pressed up against the back of the couch and his eyes are fluttering, like he’s having a dream. Harry thinks about staying—wants, more than anything, to stay—but something happened last night, something that scares him. A moment in time that he’d forgotten about is now at the forefront of his mind. Or maybe he hadn’t forgotten it at all. Either way, he doesn’t quite know how to confront it. He Apparates away, home.
Three nights later, angry waves are crashing inside of Harry. They’ve come out of nowhere, they’ve rendered him ill. He’s violently trembling, folded up in his favorite armchair, and he’s sobbing so hard that the lenses of his glasses are blurry and wet and slipping down his nose. Images of mangled corpses, Voldemort’s sneering face, George’s screaming devastation, all crowd into him at once. He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there. And he can’t breathe. He’s gasping in air, but he cannot breathe. Is this how he dies? He must not die like this.
He doesn’t quite know how he made it to the fireplace, only that he’s somehow managed to get a hold of George. He knows whatever he’s saying must be garbled and desperate and shrieking, that he must look like a lunatic, crawling along the floor and weeping gibberish. But as soon as George sees him, his eyes widen and he’s holding out his hands as if to reassure.
“I’m coming,” George says, and he’s scrambling away from the fireplace, yanking clothes off the back of the couch in a desperate frenzy of movement. “Harry—hold on, I’m—I’m coming to you.” Harry can feel his body lifting, growing lighter, and lighter, until he feels nothing at all. After a moment, he realizes he’s being carried off somewhere. The creak of a stair, the curious grunts of Kreacher from around a corner. Warm hands on his back.
He opens his eyes to see George staring down at him, and then the room spins, and he has to shut them again. “I’m sorry,” Harry says quietly. He brings a hand up to rub his face, tries opening his eyes again. He’s lying on his bed, upstairs, and George is perched beside him, holding his hand. He looks bone-tired, and his hair is sticking up as if he’d been sleeping.
“Don’t be sorry,” he says. He releases Harry’s hand and nudges him over, lays down beside him. “Do you feel better?”
Sirius’s eyes rolling white, his outstretched hand, the feeling of the world closing all the way in on him. “No,” Harry whispers. He turns over on his side to face George, whose hands rest lightly against his chest. His breathing is even, healthy. Harry is mesmerized by the movement, so much that he begins to mimic it. In, out, in, out. The images in his head begin, slowly, to fade away.
Eventually, George turns his face toward him. His eyes are warm. “That’s okay,” he says.
Harry visits George for a few weeks after that. They begin to get used to each other, and soon enough, George is opening the flat door for him before Harry even appears on the street. Sometimes, Harry sleeps there for days on end. He doesn’t question why George always sleeps with him on the couch and never goes into the bedroom—why, in fact, he ignores the bedroom completely.
One night, they’re watching a black and white Muggle movie, on a VHS player Harry found in Arthur’s shed a few years back, when George pauses it. It’s very late, perhaps midnight. Harry has already been dozing off and on, but now that he sees George’s melancholy face framed by the bright light of the television, he’s wide awake.
“It’s weird,” George says finally, and his voice is a little hoarse. “That you picked this movie. He—Fred,” George squeezes his eyes shut as he corrects himself, and Harry can see that his hands are balled together in his lap. Harry reaches out, hesitantly, and touches George’s hand; it opens up again, like a flower. He leans his head back against the couch. “He had wanted to see this movie. Frankenstein.” He pronounces the name carefully, as if saying a prayer. Harry intertwines their fingers, and George lets him.
“You think he can see us?” George asks, turning to look at him. He seems shyly hopeful, and something within Harry fractures.
“Of course,” Harry says, and he chuckles at the thought. “I’m sure he’s looking down on us now, making his fun. Sitting on the edge of a cloud and teasing us. Wish I could hear.”
George smiles, lopsided and sleepy. “Why would he be making fun of us?” he murmurs, eyes shut. It is only now that Harry realizes how fast his heart is beating, and that George is still hanging onto his hand. He opens his mouth to say something but finds he does not have an answer, and it does not matter, because George has fallen asleep.
“D’you think we could clean out the bedroom?” Harry asks, pencil poised over the notepad. They have a long to-do list going: bills, fridge, bathroom, laundry, dishes... George is sitting on the couch beside him, nursing a cup of tea and looking mildly frazzled. He’s dressed in another large sweater, and his hair hangs limply around his face. He looks quite like a small, forlorn child suffering from sleep deprivation.
At the mention of the bedroom, George shakes his head resolutely. “I… I can’t,” he says, glancing over at Harry, his eyes apologetic, as if any of this is his fault.
“Could I?” Harry pushes, trying his best to sound gentle. He had finally caught a glimpse of the room when he’d gone to the bathroom the other night and he, against his better judgment, pushed the door open. It was a mess of clothes, but one of the beds was pristine, nothing littering it. Fred’s bed, a tombstone, glaring out at him from right there in the apartment. No wonder the living room looked so crowded; it was George, desperately trying not to have to step foot in the bedroom he’d shared with his twin.
“Maybe,” George says eventually, his eyes meeting Harry’s. He looks terrified.
“Alright,” George breathes. He’s trembling from head to toe, standing just outside of his bedroom. Harry stands beside him. George has been so calm up until now, Harry almost hadn’t expected this reaction. He reaches, grabs George’s hand in his, and squeezes. “You don’t have to,” Harry says softly. George squeezes back, lets out another shaky breath.
“No, no, I do.” And then he’s pushing the door, and it swings open, fast, and he gasps. “Christ,” he hisses, turning away and pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes. “Merlin, it looks the same.” He pulls his hands away and his eyes are brimming with tears, his face is paler than ever. Harry watches him helplessly for a moment, regrets how determined he’s been for the past week about getting George’s life back in shape. Has he moved too fast? Is he just as bad as the Weasleys, or maybe even worse?
“We don’t have to do this,” Harry repeats, whispering.
“Okay,” George says. He’s weeping, and he’s looking anywhere but Harry’s face. “Okay.” He moves his arms around like he doesn’t know what to do with them, and it’s only then that it occurs to Harry to hug him. George hugs back, at first weakly, and then so tight Harry feels like he can’t breathe. But he sticks it out long enough for George to stop crying, and then they’re pulling away from one another and Harry says, “Chinese?” and George smiles. Harry shuts the door.
The worst of it happens a week later, when Harry can hear objects smashing from down on the street. He bounds up the stairs to the apartment and throws the door open to see George grabbing picture frames from a box Harry’s never seen before and throwing them to the ground, one after the other, and he’s screaming. “Why did you leave? You prick!” The door to his bedroom is wide open, and Harry’s heart sinks, and he’s beginning to panic.
Harry does not know how to approach this; if soothing words will do the trick or if he must do more. Timidly, he shuts the door behind him and approaches George with his arms outstretched, as if trying to soothe a rabid bear.
“George,” he says softly, and George spins around to face him, a picture frame gripped in one hand and poised to throw. He relaxes minutely, but the look on his face remains frantic and angry.
“It should have been me,” George says fiercely, his jaw tightly set. It hits Harry like a slap to the face, and he almost forgets where he is, what he’s doing. George staggers, digs his fingers into the frame he’s holding, so hard that it cracks the glass a little.
Harry inches forward very slowly until he’s close enough to grab the frame. “George,” he says again, and his voice sounds far away.
George’s grip slackens. He brings the frame back down, drops it into Harry’s hand. “It should have been me,” he says again, this time in a whisper. His face collapses into grief, complete and utter, and he falls back into the couch. Harry sets the frame facedown on the coffee table without looking at it. He sits beside George.
“I tried to go in there without you and I lost it,” George croaks. He looks at Harry, and Harry feels a sadness so immense it could dwarf any pain he’s felt in the past year. The feeling settles itself heavily into his chest, makes itself familiar there. A new kind of hurt, a hurt for someone else. “I got so angry. With him, with myself, with V-V-Voldemort,” his voice gives out and he wipes at his face, draws in a shuddering breath. “I… I just lost my mind,” he says. Tears stream down his face. Harry wants nothing more than to draw him to his chest, hold him there until he’s well again. “I f-f-found old things I’d packed away and—and I—” He chokes on a sob and looks away, his eyes flickering.
“George,” Harry says calmly. He feels as if he is wading through so much muck, but Harry must persevere, he must comfort him. George glances back up, his eyes rimmed red and puffy. “You do not deserve to die.”
“He—he was so much smarter and—and I don’t have a bloody ear—”
Harry reaches out and grips George’s shoulders firmly. “And you’re clever and brave and still look great with a whole body part missing, okay?” He moves his hands up to cup George’s face and meets his eyes as confidently as he can. “Neither of you should have died. One of you did. Okay?”
George stares at him, tears still rolling down his cheeks, but his eyes no longer have a manic glow to them, and his breathing has almost returned to normal. “Okay,” he whispers. He reaches up to touch one of Harry’s hands. “Thank you.”
It’s at this point that Harry thinks George might… do something, because the frenzied agony from before has dissolved completely into something else, and he doesn’t know what. They’re still staring at one another, and Harry still has his hands on either side of his face, and George is still touching Harry’s hand. Harry doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, and he exists in confused limbo for only a moment before George is leaning forward and he’s—oh, he’s kissing him. And it’s just like it had been during Harry’s fifth year, all sweet and eager, but maybe a bit more… damp. Then it occurs to Harry that this is a little wrong given the circumstances and he pulls away.
“I…” he begins, but lets it trail off when he sees that George is shaking his head.
“Forgot, kissing isn’t too fun when one of you is crying,” he says hoarsely, smiling a little.
“Yeah,” Harry says. He grins, and George starts laughing and Harry laughs too until they’re both satiated and almost back to normal, and then Harry suggests they get pizza. As Harry dictates his order via Floo, he ignores the odd bubbling feeling in his stomach. It was just a kiss, he thinks. He was emotional, it was nothing. And as he finishes up and waits beside the fireplace for the order while George picks out something to watch, he smiles sadly to himself. No. No, it was not nothing.
When Hermione and Ron poke their heads through the Grimmauld fireplace for their almost daily talks, Harry says nothing about George. He doesn’t tell them that George has been in far greater spirits with each visit Harry makes to the flat. He doesn’t tell them that George has begun to hang up picture frames instead of stomping on them. And he definitely doesn’t tell them that George makes sure to touch his hand anytime they pass one another, that he gives Harry perplexingly fond looks whenever he makes a stupid joke, and that whenever Harry is not at George’s flat, he is thinking about being at George’s flat.
Instead, he claims he’s had a lot of time to think about jobs, lies and tells them that perhaps going back to teach at Hogwarts would be a good fit, or maybe something to do with Quidditch. Hermione is almost manic in her glee, tells him that she’ll speak to McGonagall, and he nods her off. Hope you’re doing well, mate, Ron says as a goodbye. Cannons game coming up, promise you’ll come with? Harry promises. It is much of the same when Mrs. Weasley pokes her head in moments later, but at least Harry doesn’t have to worry about fibbing when Teddy says hello. Children are simple.
“Those two,” George says after Harry tells him of Hermione and Ron’s last fire call. He’s shaking his head and lifting a pair of pants off the floor. In the past few days, they’ve been making surprisingly great progress in the way of cleaning the flat up, at least enough that underwear hanging from the ceiling is no longer the norm. The door to the bedroom remains tightly shut, but George seems chipper, and he’s finally getting around to that to-do list they’d drawn up. “Really got over it quite fast, didn’t they?”
Harry sighs as he stacks up dishes in his arms. “They still hurt, I imagine, but… they have each other,” he says flatly. “It’s… easier.” He hadn’t finished the sentence, it’s easier when you have someone. It sounds too cruel a thing to say to George, and a cruel thing to remind himself of, especially because he doesn’t know if what they have together counts. George, however, seems unbothered as he throws a pile of dirty clothes into a nearby hamper and dusts his hands off.
“Well, what say we go get a celebratory pint?” he says cheerily, turning to Harry. He’s wearing far more acceptable clothing than the first time Harry came over—a long-sleeve shirt rolled to the elbow and some jeans. For reasons unknown to him, Harry’s mouth goes dry at the sight. He looks away, toward the floor, then back up.
“You… you want to go out?” Harry repeats, bewildered.
George smiles. “Yes, I am willing to be seen in public with the abhorrent mess that is Harry Potter. I know… shocking.” He crosses the room and gracefully scoops the teetering stack of plates from Harry’s arms. As he walks past him, he adds over his shoulder, “transfigure yourself some cuter clothes, for Merlin’s sake.”
Harry turns to look after him, feeling distinctly embarrassed. Other than Ron, he hasn’t had to explain his weird wandless thing to anyone. He breathes in deep before calling into the kitchen, “I don’t have my wand on me.” Almost immediately, George peeks around the corner, his brows curiously furrowed.
“Why the hell not?” he asks, before disappearing again. There is a loud clanking indicative of every dish being unceremoniously dumped into the sink, and then he is back in the living room, walking toward Harry. He stops directly in front of him, looks him up and down. Harry’s heart skips once or twice, but he ignores it. “Guess I’ll have to do all the work myself, then.” He grins, producing his wand from a back pocket with a delicate flourish.
“Don’t turn me into a bloody chicken,” Harry mutters at the last second, before a white, twinkling light falls over him. He looks down to see that he’s wearing a Weird Sisters t-shirt and dark jeans. “Oh, that’s pretty good,” he says, looking back up. George is chuckling, tucking his wand back into his pants.
“Despite what you may think, I’m very skilled at this magic thing,” he says. “Now—let’s get a move-on, shall we? Beat the rush.” With that, he is pulling his coat off the rack and out the door. Harry follows, snatching his own jacket just before the door shuts behind him, musing that they’re going to the bar smack in the middle of the rush, because of course they are.
It is almost as soon as they step foot into The Leaky Cauldron that multiple voices are shouting Harry’s name. He nearly backs right up and out the door, but George’s hand is pressed warmly into the small of his back, keeping him inside. He has no idea when or how it got there and it’s making him even more flustered than he already seems to be, which is not a good start to the night.
Hermione and Ron, Luna, Dean and Seamus, even that snide fox Zabini, are huddled all in one booth near the entrance, staring at him. Hermione is the only one who seems to notice George is with him (has his hand on him), and she looks utterly perturbed. Her brows knit together, like she’s trying to solve a particularly tricky puzzle. She fixes Harry with a penetrating look as he and George approach the table, but he looks away as soon as he can greet everyone else.
Neville sits in the corner, nursing a Butterbeer, and he waves silently while the rest of his friends chatter energetically over one another.
“The Cannons game is this weekend, are you still—”
“Goodness, Harry, you have Wrackspurts all over you!”
“Potter. Pleased to see you.”
“Harry, you have to try this new drink Tom made—”
“Enough, the lot of you,” Hermione scolds, though she’s smiling as she does it. The crowd hushes, but they’re all clearly vibrating with positive energy and news they wish to share. “Here, Harry, I can move over, so you and George can sit.” Before he can say anything, she’s standing up and plopping back down next to Luna, who’s lifting her Spectrespecs slowly, staring between him and George. They both sit down, Harry beside Ron, George beside Harry. Ron, his mouth suddenly and inexplicably full of some sort of food, turns around with wide eyes.
“George?” he says thickly. Crumbs of moist bread fly out of his mouth and Hermione openly grimaces, mutters something that sounds an awful lot like oh, come on, Ronald. Harry, used to it, brushes the food off the front of his t-shirt. “I had no idea it was you, are you—mum has been a monster, you bloody—” Ron reaches around Harry to slap at George, and only succeeds in smacking Harry in the face on the way.
George laughs as he dodges Ron’s clumsy violence, but says nothing, and Harry doesn’t quite know how he’s going to explain their situation to anybody, so instead he says, rather shrilly, “round of Firewhiskeys on me?” He’s already standing again, accidentally bumping the table with his pelvis on the way, and he roughly nudges George out of the booth with his leg. Everyone is staring at him, though for Hermione it could be described as boring overanalytical holes into him. When George finally gets up and gestures grandly for him to pass, Harry darts away from the table toward the bar. Best to get piss-drunk. There is no other way he can deal with this.
“Hey, Tom,” Harry greets when the barkeep sidles over to him.
“Well, if it isn’t the illusive Harry Potter!” Tom says, smiling toothily. Harry, at this moment, regrets coming out of his hiding place. He wishes very much, actually, to maintain this new namesake of illusive and go right back home.
“Could I have a round of Firewhiskey for the table?” He jabs his thumb behind him, grinning, though he imagines he must look a touch unhinged. Tom nods, turns away, and Harry braces himself against the bar, not wanting at all to return. He’s about to shake the nervous energy out of limbs and go back anyway, despite his fear of Hermione’s unbridled wrath, when her voice comes sharply from directly beside him, making him jump.
“You’ve been lying to us, haven’t you?” she asks. He spins around to look at her, and she’s sitting on the stool next to him, her arms crossed, and her hair pinned up in a way that makes her almost, almost look identical to McGonagall.
“Not… um, no, not exactly,” he says quietly. He shifts from foot to foot and his eyes dart away and back again countless times, but she stares at him unflinchingly for the whole duration of his nervous twitching. “Maybe a little bit,” he admits, his voice even smaller than before. She huffs a sigh and finally looks away from him, toward the table. Toward George.
“Have you been… helping him?” she asks, her voice slightly softer, her eyes kind. She looks back at him.
“I guess so, yeah,” he says, reflecting on their day of tidying, the past couple weeks of venting, and quiet talking, and crying, and hopeful, tentative planning to eventually fix up the store. He sits down on the stool opposite her, twiddles his thumbs in his lap. “He’s a bit better. I’m a bit better.”
“Harry,” she says, and he looks back up. She’s smiling, and it looks wistful, a touch sad. She doesn’t say anything, and she doesn’t have to. She knows. She always knows. Abruptly, Harry stands, stumbles a bit before straightening again.
“Hermione,” he says evenly, reaching out and laying his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t worry about it.”
She rolls her eyes and pushes his hands away, then hops off the stool. “Fine,” she says, smirking, “just odd, to see you spending all this time with your schoolboy fling, and keeping it a secret, no less,” and with that, she pats his shoulder and walks off to the table. Ron and George are both peering at him from across the bar, though George looks a bit smug and Ron, well, Ron just looks confused. Harry’s heart stutters momentarily, then starts back up at double speed. He’d forgotten that he told her about fooling around with George back in school, and his whispers of don’t tell Ron, ‘Mione, or I swear… roil about in his head.
After a moment, Harry follows her lead, albeit red-faced and self conscious, and drops down next to George. He leans in toward Harry’s ear and whispers, “what was that about?” and Harry must consciously remind himself to breathe enough so that he is able to verbally respond with, “nothing.” George lingers by his ear for just a beat too long and then he’s turning away, muttering to Ron about Quidditch, and Luna and Zabini are talking animatedly to one another, which is weird, and Neville is still, happily, nursing his drink while talking to Dean and Seamus (who both look painfully bored) about plants, and Hermione is staring at him now, and she’s absolutely grinning. Harry flushes. He’s about to escape to the bathroom, maybe to throw up his nerves and then hide for the next century, when Tom arrives at the table, laying out Firewhiskey for everyone.
Harry reaches for his as soon as it hits the table and knocks it back into his mouth like his life depends on it. Hermione bites her lip as if to keep from laughing and pulls her own glass toward her.
“Harry, have you heard?” Neville is saying from the end of the booth, but it comes to Harry as if through water. “Luna’s got a job at Hogwarts! Hermione and Ron said you…” The voice trails away and now he’s half listening. His head is growing steadily fuzzy, and he gestures vaguely toward Tom, indicating for him to bring more Firewhiskey to the table. “…what do you think you’d teach? Maybe that’s a dumb question.”
Harry turns back around to look at Neville, smiling stupidly. He slowly becomes aware, as he opens his mouth to speak, that a hand is resting lightly on his knee, and he chooses to ignore it, to pretend he has no idea whose hand it could be. A mystery hand, perhaps, that belongs to no one and is just a sentient, severed appendage looking for a bit of fun. “Not a dumb question. Defense, yeah, maybe Quidditch,” he responds quickly, and he knows he sounds deranged, but at least he got the answer out without vomiting all over the table.
Tom, ever the quick-footed, arrives with a second round of drinks, though everyone except Harry himself is still sipping their first.
“You know, Potter, I like your tenacity,” says Zabini abruptly, and he lifts his drink high into the air. “I toast Potter’s determination to get plastered.” He knocks back his drink in one gulp and slams the glass back down on the table. The table titters with quiet laughter and muttering. Luna giggles, lifts her glass slightly less high than Zabini had.
“To Harry,” she says sweetly, and, quite impressively, downs her drink in one go, as well.
Both Hermione and Ron lift their drinks and nod to him with equally fond smiles, Neville shrugs and takes a hearty sip that only drains half of the glass, and George is beaming at him, Harry can see without even having to look right at him. But he does, he turns to meet his eye, and George lifts his drink minutely, tilts his head just a touch to the side. “To Harry,” he says, just above a whisper, his eyes dark. He tips the drink into his mouth, licks his lips afterward. Harry, the alcohol already settling pleasantly into him, nods and smiles.
“Thanks, pal,” he says far too enthusiastically, and slaps George on the shoulder, startling him into laughter. Harry turns away, fully aware that George is still staring at him, and pulls his second Firewhiskey toward him. He usually isn’t one for numbing his feelings with alcohol, but this situation is beginning to morph into something he is utterly unsure of. It’s been slowly mutating for the past month. Be honest, he thinks, the voice in his head mockingly singsong, it’s been going on since fifth year. At this invasive and unexpected thought, he takes a big sip of his drink.
Someone is saying his name again, and he turns to meet the eyes of Blaise Zabini, who looks surprisingly kind. “Sorry for being a prick at school,” he says with a grin. “And I’m sorry Draco isn’t here. Wish I could witness just one more of your lovers’ spats.”
“Hey, me and Dr-Draco—Malfoy—never did anything romantic,” Harry says disjointedly, jabbing a finger at Zabini, who’s smirking at him as if his point is being proven. Harry is slowly tilting into a dangerous territory of drunkenness. He’d said Draco unthinkingly for the first time in… ever. “Why isn’t he here, anyway? Bloody everyone else is.” This causes an eruption of laughter all around him, and he frowns. “What?” he demands, looking around. His gaze finally lands on George, who’s smiling at him. His eyes are rather shiny in this light—really shiny, and pretty. And that hand, that mystery hand, is still resting on his knee, all warmth and familiarity.
“Only joking, Potter,” Zabini says eventually, his smile amiable. He throws a hand over Luna’s shoulders. “Draco’s actually working with Muggles, somewhere in France. Fancy that.”
“Fancy that,” Harry repeats, his voice distant.
“Bullshit!” Ron exclaims, and then he and Zabini are talking about Malfoy’s weird Muggle job, and Harry tunes out, gazing down into his whiskey. He feels displaced, outside of it all, even with someone as outlandish as Zabini here.
Hermione clears her throat. She seems, as always, startlingly sober, despite the Firewhiskey. Her second drink has remained untouched, and Harry eyes it with the greedy stare of a man far too overwhelmed for his own good. “George,” Hermione says, her voice polite.
“Hermione,” George says back in a matching tone, grinning. “How have you been, my dear?”
“Me?” Hermione scoffs, and her smile seems to falter. “I’m fine, George, how are you?” Her eyes sparkle in the light, like she’s about to cry, and Harry almost wants to hop out of the booth and hug her, but this is George’s conversation, so he just watches. The whiskey is catching up to him very quickly; he does not entirely have faith he would be able to stand up without knocking the table completely over. He’d forgotten how much of a tragic lightweight he was.
The hand is squeezing Harry’s knee now, and then it’s pulling away, slowly. But in his tipsy boldness, Harry reaches out and swiftly grabs it back, holds it. “I’m… I’m okay. A lot better,” George says, and Harry glances over at him to see that he’s smiling.
Their visit to the bar seems to have lifted George’s spirits even more, and when they arrive back in his flat, he dances about, still in his coat. “Oh, good plan, Harry,” he breathes, eyes dreamy as he twirls and twirls. George seems to be a fair bit tipsy himself, though perhaps is better at maintaining it than Harry is. Harry shuts the door behind him and leans back against it, watching.
“It was your plan,” Harry says dully, stripping off his jacket and throwing it onto a hook. It misses and falls to the floor.
“Right, right,” George says, hopping onto the couch and spreading out, long limbs dangling. “Good plan, George.” He grins over at Harry and Harry, having sneakily finished Hermione’s drink when they were all getting up to leave, begins laughing hysterically. It’s sudden and gut-wrenching and totally unstoppable. Very quickly, he is sprawled out on the floor, his head leaned back against the door, and he finds he cannot stop laughing. It bubbles out of him endlessly, as if it’s been building up for all his life. George sits up and peers at him. “Alright there?”
Harry reaches up and wipes a tear from his eye, still guffawing like a maniac. “Y-Yeah, I’m s-so alright,” he manages around giggles. “Oh, Merlin.” George is still looking over at him from the couch, and if Harry wasn’t so drunk and hysterical, he might have noticed the tiny change in George’s face.
“Why don’t you come over here?” George asks gently. “Or is the floor just too comfy?”
Harry’s laughter begins slowly to fade, and he reaches up, clutching at the door handle. “Give me a sec,” Harry says, before attempting to hitch himself up to standing and failing spectacularly. He lands on his ass, which immediately send him back into a fit.
“Okay, you nut case,” George says, heaving himself up off the couch and walking over to him. It happens in slow motion, and when Harry looks up at George, there are almost two of him. This would be funny if it wasn’t so monumentally upsetting. Harry’s laughter dies in his throat and all of a sudden, his lower lip is quivering, his eyes are burning. George’s amusement turns very quickly to dismay. “What? What’s wrong?” He crouches down beside Harry and touches his shoulder.
“I just want you to be happy,” Harry whispers unthinkingly, gazing up at George. That’s all he’s wanted for the past month. He’s forgotten about his own agonies completely, in the quest to help George. He hasn’t had a waking nightmare since that night, weeks ago, and it’s all thanks to—George’s eyes. He’s truly never noticed George’s pretty brown eyes before tonight and, right now, there’s nothing else he cares more about. It’s like George knows this, because he’s barely blinking. In fact, he’s getting closer, so Harry can get a really good look at—oh.
“Why is it,” George whispers, his eyes now flicking from Harry’s eyes, to his lips, and all around, “anytime I want to kiss you, one of us is completely fucked up?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Harry says absently. “I’m… I’m pretty self-aware right now, though. Pretty… un-fucked.”
“You are?” George asks, leaning back slightly and grinning. He’s still so close to him, though, and he can just barely register that George is sitting on his knees instead of crouching, now, and his arms are on either side of Harry. The pleasantly drunk, floaty feeling Harry had been experiencing up until now has, very quickly, melted away.
“Absolutely. I want to kiss you,” Harry says, and his voice is so sure and clear and, if someone were to look upon the scene right then, they would be convinced that he’s sober. He’s certain of it. “I really, really want to—”
George leans in, so quickly Harry stops talking, and he presses his forehead against Harry’s, closes his eyes. It’s a long moment and, while Harry likes it, he wants to kiss him, he hadn’t lied. It’s that itch again, the itch from over a month ago, where he craved, suddenly, to see George. He knows exactly what it had been, now. And Harry is about to tell him so, when George tilts his face forward and captures Harry’s lips in a somehow still unexpected and delicate kiss, and it’s not wet this time, but it’s still sweet. So, so sweet.
They hold the kiss for what seems like forever in Harry’s head, and then George is pulling away, and it was far too short a time upon reflection. Harry deftly reaches to the back of George’s neck and hauls him forward again, and their lips crash together. It feels so familiar, so normal. He gets lost, for a moment, in this kiss. They’re stumbling through the corridors instead, slamming into pillars and giggling into each other’s mouths. They’re young and they’re stupid, Merlin, are they stupid.
They’d run into each other in the hall; Harry hadn’t been able to sleep, had taken to walking around half underneath his Cloak, just in case Filch came around the corner. It was risky already, with Umbridge lurking, but he found he did not care. His bed had become something cursed, his head even more so.
“I recognize that leg,” a voice said ten minutes into his aimless walking, and Harry had spun around to see George step out from behind a hump-backed statue, grinning.
“Hi, George,” Harry said, shy in his exhaustion. His eyes automatically searched for another, and found no one else. It was strange, to see George here without his brother. Strange, but not unwelcome. He pulled the rest of the cloak off himself and held it limply in one hand. “What are you doing out here?”
“Should ask you the same question,” George said, strolling toward him. He was wearing a ridiculous set of Christmas pajamas and pink, fluffy slippers. “I can’t be up to no good, considering you have my map.”
“Your map?” Harry repeated, smiling despite himself. “You gave it to me!”
George stopped right in front of him, hands in his pockets. “Can’t take even a little ribbing, huh?” he remarked, chuckling. Harry laughed, looking away. He could tell he was blushing already, wanted to throw the cloak right back over himself and say, ‘Alright, catch you later!’ because who ever wants to really, truly confront the fact that they have a massive crush on their best friend’s brother?
A noise came from around the corner before Harry could flee, though, and George instantly reached out to take his hand, eyes wide. “C’mon, can’t risk it.” He dragged Harry away, toward the One-Eyed Witch. “Dissendium,” he muttered, and the hump slid effortlessly open. He helped Harry in, then followed, and the hump slid shut again behind them.
“Lumos,” whispered Harry, and his wand tip brightened enough that they could see.
He and George were stuffed into a small tunnel, and the sound of clacking footsteps was fading in from out in the hall. Harry felt rather claustrophobic, opened his mouth to say something about it, but George slammed his palm again his lips, shaking his head.
“Moment longer,” he whispered.
The clacking paused for only a moment before it started up again and then quickly abated. Harry could feel his heart wildly beating, worried that somehow George could feel it too. He mumbled something against George’s hand.
“Huh?” George said, feigning confusion as he cupped his other hand to his ear. “What was that?”
Harry yanked George’s hand away from his mouth and said, in what he’d intended to be a joking tone, perhaps to throw him off the scent, “you know, if you wanted to get The Boy Who Lived alone in a tight space, all you had to do was ask,” but instead, it came out almost angry, like Harry was challenging him.
George’s eyes flickered in the wandlight, his crooked grin vanishing, and Harry really realized, then, how close together they were in that tunnel. He was about to suggest that they leave, because he was getting quite flustered, when George leaned slightly forward and kissed him. It was long and warm and something Harry hadn’t really known he’d needed. After a while, George muttered turn that bloody light off against Harry’s lips and he did. When they finally resurfaced from the statue, the two of them looked far more messy-haired and bright-faced than they’d been before they’d hidden away.
Out in the hallway, George had bent down to kiss Harry again, one more time, and when he pulled away, he said with a smile, “let me know if you have trouble sleeping again. I’m very good at being distracting.” And so, Harry had, up until the twins left. Because sneaking about with George in the middle of the night, running into shit and cackling like madmen with no cares, was the closest Harry had ever felt to being normal.
“Harry?” George is sitting in front of him, older and still with that same youthful, wicked glint in his eyes. Harry’s breathless and grinning and he feels almost delusional with how hard the memory took him, just then.
“Gunhilda,” he says quietly. He reaches out and shoves George’s shoulder lightly. Then, his grin fades a little. “Why did we ever stop?”
George sits back. “I didn’t think you’d want to, after I’d gone,” he says, shrugging. “I thought, maybe, you’d just thought of it as a casual, wild, Hogwarts thing.”
Harry runs a hand through his hair, laughing softly. “Absolutely not,” he whispers. He scoots forward and he touches a hand to George’s jaw. “I think…” he hesitates, the words looming just there at the back of his throat, frightening in their truth. George searches his eyes, doesn’t say anything. “I think I fell in love with you.” It comes out in a desperate tumble, and as soon as it’s spoken, he wonders how he’s never said it before. How he’s gone so long with never saying it, never truly realizing it, because it already feels so familiar to say.
George looks briefly, happily distressed, a chaotic wave of emotions crossing his face before finally, he settles on nothing and instead, kisses Harry again. When he pulls away, he says, “me too,” and he’s smiling. Harry doesn’t ever want him to stop.
The moment they Apparate onto the front lawn, Molly is already rushing out of the door, tripping over her own feet and grinning from ear to ear. She collides with George in under five seconds, nearly knocking him down, and she hugs the life out of him. “I missed you,” she whispers, and promptly begins to sob. George pats her back uncertainly, looking petrified, and Harry’s just starting to inch away when Molly turns on him, casting George to the side so quickly he stumbles and laughs. “And you!” She’s grabbing him up into a choking hug too, and he makes eye contact with George from over her shoulder. George shrugs, flashes him a cocky grin that seems to say, your problem, now.
Once Molly has squeezed the life out of them, she permits them to enter the Burrow. “Be warned,” she says, shooting them both a sharp look in turn. “Those kids in there are going to tackle you both to the ground.” She holds the door open for them, sporting an impish grin that could put George to shame, and, as always, she’s right.
A chorus of ‘George!’ and ‘Harry!’ are sounding from every possible angle, and within seconds, the both of them are on the ground, being pummeled with hugs and hearty slaps on the back and a lot of accidental shouting directly into the ear. It takes approximately ten minutes for the crowd to calm down, but then Ginny and Charlie are dragging George to the kitchen, both chattering away at warp speed, and Harry finds himself alone on the floor.
“Mate,” he hears from beside him, and he looks up to see that Ron and Hermione, Harry’s very best friends, are staring down at him. Harry stands, collides into them as if magnetized to their forms, and they hug for a long while. When Harry pulls away, Hermione is shaking her head.
“I knew it,” she says, all self-satisfied and certain, and Harry can’t help but laugh, and shrug. “Ever since you told me back in the Gryffindor common room—‘Mione, can I tell you a secret?” She smiles fondly. “You had this big, dumb grin on your face the whole time.”
“I didn’t know, apparently.” He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “Emotional range of a teaspoon, and all that.”
“Well, I’m glad you got on with it. Once Hermione told me, all your antics at the bar made mountains of sense. Dunno how I didn’t see it before,” Ron says. Hermione rolls her eyes from over his shoulder, and Harry chuckles.
Harry feels inexplicably whole again, at the Burrow. He has his missing pieces, and they all have theirs. George has his. But sitting around the dinner table, laughing and sharing stories, it feels wrong that he’s missed out on so much. Like he’s been depriving himself of something essential. He hopes he can catch up, soak up as much as he can. He’s excited to try.
“Hey.” A voice breaks Harry out of his reverie. He’s been sitting in the window for the past half hour, staring out at the land and the moon. George sits down beside him, tucking his feet up. “Noticed you’ve been brooding extra hard tonight.”
Harry smiles sheepishly. “It’s just strange to be back,” he murmurs. He reaches out to seek George’s hand, squeezes it tight when he finds it.
“I know,” George says, just as quiet. “It’s hard. But we have to take steps. Like the bedroom.” They’d cleaned out the bedroom just the other night, after much crying and deliberation. George had not thrown anything, though, so they considered it to be a success, especially because they’d managed to get that damn bed out of there.
“Like the bedroom,” Harry repeats.
George is watching Harry, and Harry is watching him, and he’s finding it increasingly difficult to keep from leaping forward and kissing him right there at the top of the stairs, in full view of the living room.
“You know,” George says after a minute. “There’s a tiny broom closet upstairs, if you want to relive our youthful escapades.” He leans forward, wiggling his eyebrows, then says in a conspiratorial whisper, “if Umbridge didn’t find us, these daft fools won’t.”
Harry is up and off the window before George even finishes his sentence, and they run up the stairs all noise and fury. Just outside of the closet door, they kiss, long and hard and giggling. “Gunhilda, here we come,” George mutters against Harry’s mouth, before swinging the door open and then yanking it shut after them. Someone starts slamming their fists against the door and yelling before they can even get their pants off.
Harry buries his face into George’s neck and laughs. He feels infinite, he feels weightless. And when George chuckles too, and lifts Harry’s face toward his, and kisses him again, soft and lovely—Harry feels utterly free.