“I know you don’t want to go back to school, but I really think it’s necessary, even if you already have careers laid out in front of you. I just hope you know not everyone gets those opportunities, and you’re very lucky-”
“Hermione, I know.”
“I don’t think you do, Ronald.”
“I promise I do,” Ron groaned.
“Just come back to school with us,” Harry rolled his eyes, leaning back further into the couch.
“You both want to go back to school-”
“-and there’s a difference,” Hermione sighed, “yes, I understand this.”
“Ron, this will be the first year we won’t have to worry about dying on top of school work,” Harry said.
“Why are you on her side?” Ron said, turning around to stare at Harry. “What’s with you and school all of a sudden?”
Harry turned bright red and lifted Quidditch Through the Ages in front of his face.
“Well, I think Harry has an excellent point,” Hermione began again.
“-but if you don’t want to go, I’m not going to make you,” Hermione finished.
“I told you I don’t want to go!” Ron stopped and his eyes widened. “Wait, what?”
“I’m not going to tell you what to do. If you want to learn, then you’ll come to school. If you do not, then you won’t. Harry and I are going to go because it is each our own decisions. I think we’ve had enough decisions made for us these past couple of years. I think you should go, but I won’t make you.”
“Um, who are you and where is Hermione?” Ron gaped.
“I still think you should go,” Hermione said, looking over at Ron.
“There she is,” Ron shook his head and Harry laughed.
"We're going to miss you, mate," Harry said, setting his book down on his lap.
"You better," Ron looked seriously at Harry. "I don't even know what you're going to do without me there. You'll have to follow rules, and study, and basically live in the library, and also keep your clothes tidy, and-"
"Okay, Ron, I think we got it," Hermione rolled her eyes. "I'm a terrible and boring friend, and Harry's going to have an awful last year at Hogwarts because of me."
"You said it, not me," Ron said, holding up his hands.
Harry shook his head while laughing. Hermione leaned over from where she was sitting on Ron's bed to shove Harry's shoulder. Harry fell off the edge of Ron's chair with a resounding thump.
"You're fine," Hermione leaned back onto the assaulting orange of Ron's bedspread. She reached over to pull her school bag closer and started rummaging through it with occasional sounds of frustration.
"So what are you going to be doing while we're at school?" Harry asked, pulling himself back up sourly to look at Ron.
"I don't know," Ron shrugged. "I'm looking to travel to Romania a bit to go see Charlie, of course."
"On the way back I'm going to visit Fleur and Bill," Ron said.
"I'm sure you'll have a grand time there," Hermione said from behind her bag, the tips of her ears turning red.
Ron got up and flopped over on his bed to lay next to Hermione.
"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "You know I don't fancy Fleur anymore."
"Do I?" Hermione snorted.
"You should. I fancy someone much lovelier, you know," Ron grinned.
Hermione's ears turned even more red. "Wow, you fancy someone lovelier. That's nice to know."
"Wha- Hermione?" Ron sat up as Hermione started stuffing books back into her bag harshly.
"Especially considering you told me you loved me not three days ago!" Hermione huffed. "Guess that was just a whim for you, no?"
"Hermione!" Ron called as Hermione stomped out of the room in a flurry of bushy hair.
"Bloody hell," Ron said.
Ron sat back weakly on his bed, a defeated look on his face. Harry looked up from where he had been hiding behind Quidditch Through the Ages as if he had missed their entire argument. Ron shot Harry a look, and Harry shrugged.
"I don't know what's been going on with her," Ron said.
Harry didn't say anything in response.
"I mean, she's been blowing up at the slightest flick these past weeks," Ron sighed. "I don't even know how to talk to her anymore. It's like she's always angry with me."
"Well, maybe she is," Harry said, rather unhelpfully.
"Is she?" Ron stared at Harry. Harry shrugged. "Did she tell you something?"
"No, but she's not acting that way around me, so maybe something did happen. You should just ask her," Harry said.
"I'm honestly scared to," Ron said.
"Well, I'm not going to," Harry gave Ron a look.
"Oh, come on, Harry," Ron pleaded. "Couldn't you just ask her if anything was wrong? Just as friends, not anything to do with me."
"No," Harry rolled his eyes. "She would know you had asked me to. Plus, she's your girlfriend! Just talk to her. I bet she'd like it better if you talked to anyways."
"When did you become such an expert on girls?" Ron asked, smiling.
"Never," Harry grinned back. "Interesting enough, though, one of my best friends is a girl, so I've picked some things up."
"Oh," a look of realization came across Ron's face.
"Just go talk to her," Harry said, picking up his book again.
"Yeah, I'll go," Ron got up and walked to the door. "Harry?"
"You know if you want a different book to read, Hermione will give you one," Ron said pointedly.
"I know," Harry said without looking up at Ron.
"Just wanted to say that."
"Okay," Harry said. "Go talk to her."
Ron nodded to himself and walked out of the door.
As soon as Ron left, Harry set down his book and sighed. Ron was right. If he wanted to read something else, he could. And he knew Hermione would be ecstatic to help. She knew the things he liked, and she would undoubtedly know what he would like to read. He just couldn't bring himself to ask her, and he didn't even know why. There shouldn't be any reason why he wouldn't want to ask her. It wasn't that he couldn't stop reading Quidditch Through the Ages. It was good. But not good enough to read twenty-seven times in a row and still be enjoyable.
Harry groaned and threw the book onto Ron's bed. Soon enough he'd be at Hogwarts, and then he would be able to peruse the library until something jumped out at him.
Harry pushed himself up and started walking down the winding stairs of the Burrow. When he passed Ginny's room, he leaned into the door, trying to hear if Hermione and Ron were talking in there. All he could hear was the indistinct murmur of voices, but it sounded similar to Ron and Hermione, so Harry smiled a little before continuing down the stairs.
Mrs. Weasley was setting the table for dinner when Harry walked into the kitchen.
"Oh, hello, dear," she said, smiling warmly at him.
"Need any help?" Harry smiled back.
"You're too kind," she said and handed him the silverware to put on the table.
It wasn't long before the table was set, dinner was ready, and the Weasley family had settled in around the table. With Bill, Fleur, Charlie, and Percy all back to their lives, the table had considerably more room around it. Frankly, Harry found it to be odd in an uncomfortable way. But everyone was trying to settle back into their lives after the war, thus the missing faces. And then there was the gaping hole that Fred had left. That was the only hole that really mattered. The others were all well and rebuilding and would probably be around for brunch this Sunday, just as they always were. But Fred... Fred was gone.
Harry swallowed harshly and looked back down at his plate while the Weasleys chattered around him. Even with the sadness and emptiness in the air, the Weasley table was as loud and hectic as ever. Harry felt on the outside of it all, the same he had been feeling since he had come to stay at the Weasleys after the Ministry had finished putting his face on every media surface imaginable.
Harry shook his head, trying to clear out the haze of memories from right after the war had ended. It was almost the start of term, and then he would finally have other things to worry about.
"Alright there, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked.
Harry nodded without saying anything and looked up to meet George's eyes. He understood. Harry was the one who didn't understand. He had never had any siblings, much less a twin. And he didn't know what it was like to lose something like that. And yet, this was his adopted family. These were his brothers and sisters, and losing them felt like losing a sibling, even if he hadn't grown up with them his whole life. And it was all Harry's fault. Not just Fred's death, but all of the others who had died. He could have saved all of them if he had just gone to die sooner. If he had just stepped forward when Voldemort first asked for him. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. But it could have.
Harry got up from the table without saying anything and went to wash his dish. The rest of the table went quiet when he got up, but no one said anything to him.
Harry didn't hear Ginny's footsteps approaching him over his furious scrubbing of his dish until she spoke.
"You can use magic to do that," she said, stepping up to stand beside him. She smiled gently and put her hands over his.
Harry looked down at her freckled hands over his dark ones for a moment before pulling away quickly. They hadn't talked about their relationship at all since the war. Harry didn't want to think about it, but Ginny obviously wanted to be with him. A sick feeling filled Harry's stomach at the thought of leaving her behind, but a sicker feeling filled him when he thought about kissing her again.
Ginny caught the plate in Harry's hand before it could fall and break, but she took her hands away.
"I'm going to head up to bed," Harry said without looking at her.
She nodded and Harry could feel her eyes following his back all the way up the stairs until he was out of sight.
Harry flopped over onto Ron's bed. It was all too much sometimes. Too many faces all the time. People trying to help him when they couldn't even help themselves.
That was why Harry was even here in the first place. After the Battle of Hogwarts, he had wanted nothing more than to disappear into the Muggle world until everyone had forgotten his name. But Mrs. Weasley had pulled him with her after the Battle and taken him back to the Burrow without asking him. Harry supposed that was mothers were supposed to do: take care of their children even when they didn't want to be taken care of. Harry's mother was dead, though, and as much as he loved Mrs. Weasley and looked up to her as a motherly figure, she still wasn't his mother. The same way Sirius was never his father.
So Harry had gone home with the Weasleys, and the guilt of what had happened to Fred had kept him here since then.
Hermione had arrived only days after the Battle, looking for Ron. No, she hadn't wanted Harry. She had wanted to speak only to Ron. Harry still didn't know what they had said and done during those weeks.
Then he had been sent to stay at the Ministry for two weeks while they interviewed him and walked him around like a peacock on a leash.
And when he had come back, none of the Weasley brothers had time to talk to him, he had avoided Ginny, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were working too hard, and Ron and Hermione were missing in action. Subsequently, Harry had spent the majority of this summer alone.
Harry rolled over onto his side. He was trying so hard to constantly act like nothing had changed. He had fought Voldemort before, had nearly died before, but then he had still been the same old Harry. But now that it was all over, he felt... different. He didn't feel like Harry anymore.
It was all he could do to act like everything was okay and to not completely shut down.
Harry rolled over onto his other side and closed his eyes tightly, not bothering to take off his glasses.
Just once, it would be nice to collapse into the oblivion of grief.