Flashes in his mind, memories of screams, of horrors he had seen, all tumbling and merging together like a kaleidoscope image, a kaleidoscope from Hell. Sweat clung to his skin as he twisted and turned trying to avoid the images, of friends and family and perfect strangers, all of them dead. All of them weighing on his conscience as if it was the weight of the world.
“Harry! Harry! Wake up!” His eyes jolted open, breaths coming in rapid gasps, familiar red hair, and a lanky frame hanging over him. Ron. Blue eyes softened when Harry focused on them, “Y’alright mate?” Harry nodded once, it was a lie, and they both knew it. He must have been loud for Ron to have heard him, usually the man slept like the dead. Dead. It wasn’t the right word to bring up in the Weasley household right now.
“I’ll be fine, go back to sleep, I’m going to get some hot chocolate.” Ron searched his eyes for longer than Harry was comfortable with before clambering back over to his own bed. Ron was back out as soon as he hit the bed. He envied the man such easy sleep, he couldn’t think of a time he’d ever slept that easy.
He lay in his bed for a moment, just staring at the ceiling, waiting for the panic to escape his body. It seemed to take an age, as if he was suffering the after-effects of the cruciatus. Finally, though, the shaking was at a minimum, enough he could walk without crumbling to the ground.
He made his way to the kitchen quietly, he knew the Burrow’s creaks and strains by now and he was already light, much to Molly’s disdain. He almost turned around when he realised he wasn’t the only one up, it wasn’t immediately obvious, but there in nearly pitch darkness was George, staring absently at nothing, mug of tea in his hand, but by the lack of steam coming off it, it had been ignored for a while. He just stopped at first, guilt flooding his every vein, thoughts he had awoken to but suppressed coming back to mind, paralysing him at first, and then he was turning around, feet walking before his mind was even conscious, hoping that George hadn’t known he was there.
“Don’t let my presence stop you.” His voice was dark, bitter, so un-George-like that Harry almost wanted to be sick. Him, he’d done that to his friend, because he hadn’t been good enough, fast enough, brave enough. He couldn’t face him, not when it was all his fault. But he couldn’t walk away either, not when George knew he was there. So, he worked in silence, pulling hot chocolate into a mug, stirring in milk, then hot water. The sweet scent calming his nerves and also reminding him of Remus. Everything was a reminder of someone. Finally, he sent a heating charm to George’s mug, “Thanks.” Was all he offered as Harry sat at the table, as far away as possible from the Weasley male.
The silence was almost as suffocating as the people in the day, but every time he tried to break it the words got stuck in his throat.
“No one can bare to look at me, all they can see is Fred.” Harry’s eyes flicked to George’s as he broke the silence. Shocked that the young man could even bare to talk to him.
“That’s not fair, identical twins you may be, but there’s no such thing as truly identical, and your personalities are completely different.” He hadn’t thought it when he had first met them, but by the time they left Hogwarts Fred and George were no longer the one entity that everyone else treated them as. George just snorted though, not an amused sound, an accusing, bitter, miserable sound.
“You haven’t looked me in the eye once. You’re a hypocrite.” And the words were biting, judgemental, cutting.
“I… It’s not because I see Fred when I look at you, I see my own mistakes. I can barely look at any of you.” His words were a whisper, there was nothing else allowed in this silence. George’s eyes were beacons of light in the dark, gaze sharp, penetrating with an intensity that unsettled him almost as much as his own memories.
“You didn’t kill him.” Harry shook his head, not in agreement, but argument.
“My inaction as good as did.” It was a belief that clawed at his throat, making looking at nearly anyone a difficult task. Couldn’t look at the Weasley’s without thinking of Fred, couldn’t look at his other friends for family they had lost, couldn’t look in the mirror without seeing his parents, and Sirius, couldn’t visit Teddy without thinking about Tonks and Remus. All their faces danced in his mind, as if he had never stopped using the resurrection stone. If they were spirits in the day, then they were real people at night, when it felt like he was still living the moments over, and over, and over again.
“You were… are… a child. It’s not your fault” George finally drank his tea, large gulping sips as if he was forcing it down rather than enjoying it. He was sure many others would say the same, it didn’t make it any more a lie, “Harry, please, I need just one person who can look at me without seeing Fred.”
And so, Harry looked, noting differences where everyone else saw similarities. He had to luck, could not ignore the desperation in George’s voice. Fred’s eyes were pure brown, whereas George’s had flecks of green in there, George had a larger freckle on his right cheek, just by his ear, Fred had dimples, George didn’t. Fred had been slightly taller, just an inch, but it was fitting, he had been the louder one, larger than life, while George had been the voice of reason. Fred had dreamed big, and George had put the plans in place to make them a reality. If you didn’t know them, it would be easy to say they looked the same, but really, they were nothing alike. And still, the guilt clawed at Harry, the voice in his head saying George would have been happier, better, safer without ever meeting him.
He wanted to let out a litany of apologies, but instead he cried, the guilt in his eyes as he met the desperate plea of a man who wanted to be seen as separate from his brother, especially when he was the one that remained.
“Thank you.” George’s words were so quiet Harry almost hadn’t heard them, feared he had imagined them. But they weren’t imagined, and they hung in the kitchen of the Burrow, silence descending once again around them, feeling more like a blanket than a plastic bag this time around. He sipped his hot chocolate, the taste sweeter than he could cope with but not stopping him.
“George! Harry!” Harry blinked back into awareness at Molly’s exclamation, “Have you slept at all?” Harry shrugged, he had, a little, maybe half an hour. More than some nights, less than others, and that wasn’t necessarily the worst thing.
“We’re fine, mum. I slept in the afternoon, anyway.” George’s voice was tired, yet it seemed like more than lack of sleep. She looked between them, at Harry in his pyjamas, and eyes so weary, to George, who just looked lost. They were all far from fine. She went to the kitchen, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen lately, distraction mostly, a need to over-care for her remaining sons and daughter. Some of her boys would eat anything and everything, some couldn’t stomach a bite.
She placed heaving plates in front of George and Harry, George meeting her eye, thanking her with a gaze rather than words, Harry had not looked her in the eye since the battle. Since Fred. George tucked in, sadness emanated from her son, but he was still functioning, maybe better than anyone may have predicted. He stared at walls from hours on end, would barely talk, and cried more than she could imagine, but he ate, and he slept without prompting. She wished she could say the same for Harry, he pushed his breakfast around on his plate, bits vanishing, but she never saw him actually put the fork to his lips. Bags hung under his eyes, his clothes hanging from him like an ill-fitting robe reminding her of when she first saw him, and he was wearing hand-me-down clothes.
“Harry, please eat.” He blinked up at her, and then at his plate, back to her begging face and made sure to scoop a forkful of bacon into his mouth. She almost regretted begging him when a queasy look passed over his face, she and George sharing concerned looks where Harry could not see. And still he pulled more food into his mouth. Only a quarter, enough for him to say that he had eaten, not enough to truly sustain him.
He pushed the plate away from him, no longer even pretending to eat, it was tasteless anyway. And if half an hour later he was heaving over a toilet, well it wasn’t by choice, it was just a gut reaction, food tasteless and opposed to his body. He hated it, his body rejecting all food, the worry it created in other people. The misery and lack of energy that just fed into it like a vicious cycle.
“Shit Harry, are you okay?” It was quite obvious he was not, George dropping down beside him, damp cloth on his forehead, hand on his back, rubbing up and down in soothing circles, “Have you considered going to Madame Pomfrey, mate?” Concern was dancing in his eyes.
“I’ll be fine.” He shrugged off the concern. He just needed time, “It’s like when I first go back to Hogwarts, I can only stomach light stuff, in small doses.”
“Why didn’t you tell mum!” He looked irritated, that it all could have been avoided, “She would have made sure you were getting stuff you could stomach.” The irritation turned to fond exasperation, his head shaking in disbelief.
“I didn’t want to bother her; she’s got too much to worry about as it is.” George settled against the wall in the bathroom, knocking his head against the wall in his frustration.
“Do you not think that maybe you wasting away in front of her eyes is more of a worry?” He blushed in shame; he hadn’t considered it like that.
“I just forget sometimes, I don’t really get hungry, if I don’t eat at lunch, I’ll just grab a slice of bread or some crackers when everyone has gone to bed.” He shrugged, he’d learnt long ago to suppress his hunger, and part of it now was that he didn’t feel like he deserved to eat, especially not Molly’s food, not when it was his fault she had lost a son.
George suddenly stood up, a surprising determinism on his face.
“Come on, we’re going to tell Mum now, then you can finally start eating again.” He levelled Harry with a look that broke no argument, before his face softened into someone Harry recognised from before the war. It was that glimpse, more than any of his words that had Harry pulling himself up from where he still crouched by the toilet, brushed his mouth out then followed Harry back downstairs.
He regretted that decision nearly immediately, as soon as she saw him Molly pulled him into a fierce hug, a kiss to the crown of his head and a stab to his guilty conscience.
“Harry dear, are you feeling better now?” And suddenly he wanted to cry again, like he was back in one of his dreams, the shaking slowly coming into his body. He couldn’t do this, couldn’t ask for more than he deserved.
“You’re over-feeding him, mum. His stomach can’t cope with how large or heavy the meals are.” Food had been scarce during the year spent looking for the Horcruxes, and if there was a lack of food Harry always made sure to take the smallest portion, he needed it least. Harry sent panicked eyes to George for fessing up, for making things an issue.
“Oh Harry, you should have said. Don’t worry, we’ll get you eating properly again in no time.” She patted his cheek with such tenderness, tenderness he didn’t deserve. Murderer, weak, destruction followed him.
“Really Molly, you don’t need to go out of your way.” Not when that look of sadness still lingered in her eyes like a shadow, or a following demon. But she just tutted at him, her answer in actions more than words.
George followed him out of the kitchen and into the garden, down to the little pond where three gnomes were fishing with miniature rods. Harry pulled his trousers up to allow his legs to settle just so in the water, not speaking to George. The other man copied Harry, settling in next to him, shoulder to shoulder so they could avoid the irritation of the gnomes.
“See, I told you it would be fine.” His voice was lighter than usual, but still not George’s. Just a touch too dark, without his smile that gave a quirk to his voice.
“I would have been fine.” He was always fine, even when he didn’t want it to be, when he wanted it all to stop, he found himself fine.
“You’re wasting away Harry.” His voice became serious, and soft, and so, so sad, “You mean so much to us Harry, we couldn’t cope with another loss, not ever, but especially not now.” There was a break in his voice, as if he was just short of tears and it fed into Harry’s own emotions, those tears he had held back when Molly coming in an unstoppable stream.
George swore under his breath, gathering Harry into an awkward hug from the side, Harry’s head burying into his chest, the fabric of his shirt quickly becoming damp.
“I just want the hurt to stop, George. Every time I think it’s going to be okay, something else falls through.” It would have been easier if George could have made promises of it getting easier, but how could he say the words when every breath felt like one too many without Fred, like he wasn’t sure how to function without a vital body part. And so, he didn’t say anything at first, his tears joining Harry’s sticking black hair to scalp with moisture.
“Does it ever get easier?” He was sure he was meant to be the one comforting right now, but George found himself questioning as well, seeking his own comfort from misery, for misery loves company.
“Yes.” Harry snorted, “No.” He paused, “Maybe. It becomes less like being repeatedly stabbed, and more like an ache. Never forgettable, but in the right company, ignorable.” His voice was rough from crying, or maybe just because he had spoken so rarely in the month since the war. He no longer sounded like the Harry George remembered, a beaten but certainly not broken boy who had been hit one too many times. But now, he just sounded lost, weary, broken. He wondered, just idly, if this was how he sounded without Fred.
“If company helps, why do you always hide?” Because it was truth, you were lucky to see Harry during the day, and when you did, he didn’t speak past a few polite words. He felt like a stranger living in their home rather than a friend who their mother had practically adopted.
“Company helps the grief, but it exacerbates the guilt.” And it all came back to the guilt with Harry, a misery he could not understand. He had gone through a period of it, but it was more tied up in the anger, in thoughts that it should have been him instead of Fred, but it had come, and it had passed, he would never accept the state of things, but there wasn’t guilt, self-blame. And yet, Dumbledore had placed the weight of the War on Harry’s shoulders and he unfairly blamed himself for each and every death. He was glad he couldn’t truly understand, he wouldn’t be strong enough he didn’t think.
Harry wasn’t strong enough either he later realised, realised late at night as he was awoken in his too-empty room to the sound of screams. He ignored them, curling over onto his side and pretending he couldn’t hear them, Ron was good at dealing with Harry’s night tremors. And as he predicted, silence soon followed. Except it wasn’t silence for long, it was padding feet and doors opening and closing, it was rummaging in a cupboard, a too sharp bang as it was let go too soon, then whimpers, and then silence. He wasn’t sure why, but the silence was off. Unnatural.
He tumbled out of bed, couldn’t quite put his finger on why something in his heart felt so wrong. Maybe it was a whisper in his ear, a voice he recognised but hadn’t heard in a month.
“Help him, Forge.” A whisper, a shadow, a ghost of a voice, and he was moving. Maybe he was hallucinating, but the lack of running tap or audible tears spurred him on, rushing with an urgency he didn’t understand to the bathroom through Lumos lighted corridors.
He knocked once, just lightly but he heard no reply.
“Harry?” A barely there whisper in the dark. Swallowed by the dark.
“Harry?” Louder, easily audible through the door. No words, but maybe a groan.
“Open up!” Maybe he hadn’t heard the groan. There was no response, and no door opening.
He started banging again, just lightly at first, then harder, and harder, and harder. Loud enough to wake Ginny down the hall, maybe enough to wake the whole house, enough for worry to grip his heart and tears to strain down his cheeks.
“What on earth are you doing George?” Ginny looked tired and irritated, but under that he could also see concern.
“Harry’s in there, but he won’t answer, and something is wrong.” He didn’t know what, but he knew it was wrong. She flung an Alohamora at the door, looking as if she wanted to make a comment about him being a Wizard, but withheld it.
She pushed the door open just slightly, stepping through, taking in the room, before stepping immediately back out, her face as ashen as Fred’s had been as he’d lain in the great hall.
“George, go get dad,” Then she paused, shaking her head, “No, Floo Bill and Fleur, Mum can’t see this.” She nodded, looking older than she should, George feeling younger than he was. He didn’t know what was wrong but knew it must be bad if Ginny looked like that, after growing up in the Weasley household and the war she was nearly unflappable.
The lounge, the fire, seemed miles away, his feet felt heavy and he was sure he might have stumbled a couple of times. ‘Shell Cottage’ felt like a prayer on his lips at the same time he wasn’t sure he’d even said it right. But he must have done because Bill was there, hair loose, pyjama pants loose and crooked as if he’d just pulled them on, he’d forgone a top altogether.
“George?” His voice was slow and tired, wiping the sleep out of his eyes even as his brows furrowed in concern, “George, what’s wrong?”
Part of him wanted to ask, what wasn’t wrong, because it all felt wrong, but he knew that wasn’t what his brother meant.
“We need Fleur, something’s wrong with Harry. I don’t know what, but he was locked in the bathroom, and Gin said to get you instead of mum and dad, and Bill, shit, I think he’s done something bad.” The sleep quickly left Bill’s eyes, they widened instead, swear words George didn’t hear, clearly on his lips.
“George, calm down, it’ll be okay, we just need to get dressed.” George nodded, not calming and feeling as if time to dress was more time than they could afford to spare. It felt like an age before Bill was stepping through, Fleur following behind them, making their way to the bathroom, with merely a pat to George’s shoulder. He followed behind, like a stalker or a phantom, there but not seen.
“It’s bad Billy… Blood… Unconscious… Shit… Just Help.” Bits and pieces of whispered conversation, her eyes darting over to George as if she didn’t want him to here. But he wasn’t a fool, he already knew things were bad, it was a feeling deep in his soul, like before the war. He’d lost Fred then.
Everything ached, his body sang with the feeling, a squealing, high pitched feeling emanating mostly from his arms, a throbbing in his head, a knock, knock, knock. He was sure it was the demon that resided there, ghosts of those he loved. They didn’t usually physically pain him though, but he should know they would change tactics eventually, when they blamed him, and he blamed him, and everything was all his fault. His mouth was dry, like his tongue was made of sandpaper, maybe it didn’t exist at all.
“’Arry? ‘Arry, are you awake?” His brows scrunched at the sound. He recognised Fleur’s voice, even if it was purely because she was the only French person he knew. He wondered what she was doing here, Ron would surely blush when he noticed she was in his room, regardless of his own happiness with Hermione, regardless of her marriage to his brother.
He tried to open his eyes, but light was agony, his head screaming in protest, angry and disagreeable. So, he just nodded, his head feeling heavier that it should, like it had been filled with lead weights. She patted his cheek, the action infused with a sadness he couldn’t see on her face as she poured a potion down his neck. Everything continued to throb, but it was in the back of his mind now rather than all he could focus on.
“Wha’ you doin’ ‘ere?” His voice was raspy, weak, foreign to him. It was only because he could feel the vibration in his throat that he knew the words were coming from him. He forced his eyes open, easier now the throbbing was reduced. Wherever he was, it wasn’t in Ron’s room, there was Chudley posters here, no mess in the corners, papers and clothes. Fleur was sat in a chair at the bedside, blue eyes dark in worry, lips set in a frown.
“I’m making sure that Molly doesn’t have to bury another of her sons you foolish, foolish boy.” The bite in her voice was softened by the concern in her eyes.
“What happened? Who’s hurt?” He tried to push himself out of bed, but he still ached, his arms protesting the action. Fleur pushed him back to the bed with gentle arms.
“You don’t remember?” It was Bill’s voice, his voice was just a little fairer than the other Weasley men, not effeminate but certainly distinguishable in comparison. Harry shook his head, “It’s you that’s hurt Harry.” His eyes shuttered, “We think you tried to kill yourself, Harry.”
Harry blinked in disbelief at first, before it came flooding back. Remembering the voices in his head, his parents telling him to come home, Sirius and Cedric reminding him that it was his fault. Them pushing and screaming, and he just wanted them to stop. Wanted it all to stop, the loneliness and the guilt and the misery. But it didn’t stop, Fleur had pulled him from the brink, and all that was left was a memory of one voice that had been opposed to the others Look after Georgie, he needs someone who understands. And he had wanted to listen to that voice, the others had begged, or they had screamed and shouted, and they had overwhelmed the one voice saying to hold on, been overwhelmed by his own voice.
“Mum and dad wanted me home, they said it wouldn’t hurt anymore.” He plead his case to Bill and Fleur, begging them to understand. Their faces broke, a vase of expressions scattering into fragments of glass.
“Harry, we thought they were just dreams.” His brain told him to shrug, but it was more action than his body could manage.
“Usually they are, it all fades away into memory when Ron wakes me up. But they didn’t this time, they were all arguing. I don’t know why, because they all want the same thing, all but one, only one wants me to stay, but they drowned him out.” Look after Georgie, look after mum, please. Begging over and over, it was the only one he could hear now. The important one, the one that had got his wish.
“Him?” Then Bill frowned, “It doesn’t matter, they’re just hallucinations. You shouldn’t listen to any of them.” But Harry couldn’t really hear Bill, not with the man’s dead brother’s pleas ringing in his ears like a mantra, the other voices accepting defeat, circling him in warmth now.
“He asked me to look after George and your mum.” Then he frowned at himself, looked down at the scars faint on his wrists, practically wiped away by the power of magic, but not forgotten, “I’m doing a shit job of it.” Still he was failing, failing to die like they wanted, failing to look after George and Molly like Fred wanted, failing to exist like the Weasley’s wanted. Just failing and failing and failing.
“We would settle for you looking after yourself at this point, ‘Arry.” Her voice was coaxing, soft, wary. Look after Georgie, look after mum, please. Help yourself. He hadn’t heard the final bit until now, now when Fleur was looking at him so softly, and Bill so sad, so concerned.
“I don’t know how.” A whispered confession in the quiet of Shell Cottage. He didn’t know how to help himself when he felt like he was a log and his emotions were the grand canyon, he wasn’t dragged along, he was drowned under tidal waves, water crashing over his weary head, pulling him under and dragging him along to a precipice. Maybe he was already there, had fallen off, this madness.
“Let us help you Harry.” Bill moved away from the door, removing the physical distance as he settled next to Harry, a comforting hand on his shoulder. Part of Harry wanted to brush away the touch, shrivel under the guilt, but the guilt would never go away if he kept pushing against them. If they blamed him then they wouldn’t help, wouldn’t still be here when he had brought greater misery on top of the misery they were already experiencing.
“Why would you want to?” He needed to be sure they were doing this because they didn’t hold it against him, or they were going to pull the rug from under his knees later on.
“Because you’re family Harry, and that’s what they do, they help each other. You deserve to be happy, more than nearly anyone, you deserve happiness.” Bill placed a kiss to his forehead, a soft affectionate gesture to cement his words. To show they weren’t just empty. Harry felt he was crying too much lately, but the warmth of Bill’s arm around him, and Fleur’s hand in his surrounded him and he felt so lost and found. The guilt warring with a desire to be fixed and it came out in tears, big wet ugly ones that covered Bill’s shirt, stained his face with lines. Messy, tears.
But Bill and Fleur just held him, words present but meaningless.
“Just let it go, it’s okay, we’ve got you.” And for right now, they did, and that was okay.
“Start at the start, Harry. What’s your very first memory?” He had done as Bill and Fleur suggested, booking himself into therapy. Partly it was because of them, partly because of Fred’s plea in his dreams, coming harder that night, partly because more of the voices were in agreement. As if whilst he had been asleep, they had come to a consensus, and that consensus included no end for him. Partly it was because he felt sick the next time he faced Molly, sleeves long to hide his shame despite his shame barely showing. She had pulled him into a hug, checking his temperature to check he was fully better. She had thought he was merely ill, but George and Ginny looked at him with haunted eyes, wary and sick in their features, and he had one more reason not to look them in the eye. Which would only start the circle of hurting them more.
“I was 15 months and my mother was murdered in front of my eyes in a blaze of green light.” He could see it now. He hated this already and it was only the first session. But he had promises to keep, and so he would suffer though this in hopes it would help. For him, and the Weasleys, and all the voices in his head that now told him to look better.
The nightmares had yet to stop, but Hot Chocolate no longer felt too sickly sweet on his lips. So, night after night he found himself in the Weasley kitchen. Molly hadn’t let him leave yet, saying he would stay until she was confident, he wouldn’t waste away.
“Do you even, sleep?” Harry blinked up blearily at the voice, George framed in the doorway, eyes dark as they often were, but more relaxed slowly with time. He still tip-toed around Harry sometimes, even 3 months since that night, as if he was a skittish animal. Harry shrugged.
“Longer than I used to.” Just. Half an hour increasing to three hours. Quite significant really. It didn’t stop 3 o’clock coming around and the memories coming, the memories and the voices. He wasn’t sure it was worth it.
“Bill mentioned that you were hearing voices… that night… that one of them wanted to stay. Wanted you to look after mum and me…” George visibly paused, they both knew what question the man wanted to ask, but it was clearly difficult for George. But he steeled himself, a strangely hopeful look on his face, “Was it.” He stopped, a more confident look on his face, “It was Fred, wasn’t it?”
“It was.” There was no other answer for it, and George smiled for the first time since the final battle. An almost beautiful look, calming and gentle.
“I heard him too, he told me to help you.” Harry’s eyes flashed to George in disbelief.
“Are you being serious? It wasn’t all hallucination? I’m not mad.” George flashed him a half grin, the kind of look that wasn’t quite George, but was certainly all Weasley, a look he’d seen on Bill and Ron a hundred times.
“Maybe a little mad.” Maybe it was because the therapy was helping, maybe because there were signs of improvement in George, but suddenly Harry was laughing, a sound he was unfamiliar with, couldn’t remember the last time he had made it. And yet it felt as therapeutic as the therapy itself, a strange hope that if he could laugh just once now, then more would follow. Maybe it would be okay, “Talking of madness, is the therapy helping?”
Harry blinked at the change in topic, but George had that easier countenance about him.
“Honestly, I fucking hate it, all my secrets out in the know, reliving every shit thing that’s happened. But it’s helping, they’re reappraising the way I see it. It helps that they’re completely impartial. They’re a foreign wizard, they don’t know who I am, just the story I tell them, so I know there’s no alternative motive, the words are just what they believe.” It had been a different experience, “He wants me to see Teddy. I don’t know if I can.”
He had been stressing over this since his last session, part hope and part nausea he couldn’t get rid of. George looked at him, taking in the expression on his face, both the good and the bad.
“You can do it. I’ll come with you; you don’t have to face every hurdle alone.” He settled into a chair next to Harry, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Maybe it was because it was late and he was tired, or maybe it was because George was familiar and safe, but he leaned into the half-embrace, head on the older man’s shoulder. George carded a hand through Harry’s hair, the quiet peaceful in its warmth.
“I thought I was meant to be looking after you.” The words were still there in his head sometimes, but also, sometimes Fred and his parents were happy with him, happy that he was slowly letting the past go.
“Yes, but I’m supposed to be helping you.” It was mad, this conversation, both trying to fulfil promises to a dead man from messages they had heard after he’d died.
“Thank you.” There was arguments and words he could have come up with, hundreds and thousands, and yet it settled for a mere thank you. Because it was right for this moment, and it would look after George.
“How did you find visiting Teddy, Harry?” Harry grimaced at his therapist, a friendly American man who was more concerned with his own politics that Harry being the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Conquer. Just how he liked it.
“I felt guilty. Because I’d abandoned him. He’s my Godson, and I abandoned him. George made it easier.” He was as honest as he could have been. He had gone expecting to feel guilty because Teddy was without his parents because of him, and there was some of that, but more than that, he had watched Remus’s eyes look at him and Tonks’ gift and he felt guilty for not stepping up to the promise he had made them.
“He’s with his grandmother, yes? How did she react to you?” Harry shrugged, not sure how to explain just how Andromeda had reacted.
“I think I was more bothered by her, than her me. She looks like Bellatrix and it’s the first time I’d seen her since the war. But she just hugged me, “At least you’re here now”, and then she introduced me to Teddy.” It had been a weird interaction. She had reminded him of a strange mix of Molly and Snape. Almost cold in her way of speaking but bringing him in with warmth and acceptance.
“You were only a boy when Remus and Tonks granted you custody. I imagine that Andromeda understands that, even outside of the external trauma.” Harry scrunched his eyebrows together, the thought that had been on his mind since he had seen Teddy still racing through his mind.
“I should have done more.” It was thoughts that constantly ran through his head. Should have done more in the war, more to save Sirius, more to save the Lupins and Fred, more to help George and Molly, more to look after Teddy. Just more, and more.
“We’ve talked about this Harry. There is only so much more you can give because what anyone can give is a bucket that is emptied every time you help. Your bucket was empty after the war Harry, but you’ve given it time to refill. This is fairer to both you and Teddy that you go when you are ready than have jumped straight in and been unreliable.” His therapist was calm, speaking in facts, things he could less easily argue against.
“Who’s my favourite boy!” Harry swung Teddy in his arms, where once he had meant guilt, he was now possibly Harry’s greatest joy. He loved the boy with all his heart. Teddy giggled, more likely at the action than the words, he was only seven months after all.
“I should hope it’s me.” George grinned a little more when he was around Teddy, it was temporarily like having his old friend back, as if he was finding his own self outside of Fred. He wished that George could be around Teddy all the time, if only so he would be happy more often. Because the more time Harry spent with the man, the happier Harry became.
“You’re no boy, Georgie.” They both paused for a minute. Whether it was the fondness, the undercurrent or the nickname Harry couldn’t say. The smile George offered in the end was tight, completely genuine but tight nonetheless, as if he was trying to hold back tears, “I’m sorry.” Harry couldn’t think of anything else to offer.
And those words acted as a dam. Where the smile had looked like they were holding back tears, they now streamed, and following the stream came the sobs. Harry placed Teddy in his cot, panic rising inside of him at the unexpected onslaught of emotions. He pulled George down into a hug, the Twins and Charlie took their height from Molly so it wasn’t as awkward an action as it could have been though he was still a little shorter. George let his head fall to his shoulder, tears soaking through the thin fabric of Harry’s shirt. He knew from experience that these kind of tears were cathartic, so he just held on.
“I’ve got you.” And he did, he channelled Molly Weasley in trying to imbue warmth in the hug. He felt ill equipped for this job, he was a mess himself, still five months of therapy, or maybe because he was a mess that was what made him well equipped. George did not seem to mind, holding onto Harry with a fierce desperation, a suffocating desperation.
“I don’t know who I am without him, Harry.” He still sounded as lost as those very early days and it broke Harry’s heart, because couldn’t George see, he was wonderful.
“You’ve always been your own person, you just had someone by your side. No one can ever take his place, but you can find yourself.” Harry thought he sounded a bit like his therapist, but his therapist was a wise man so maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.
“But what if I forget him?” Harry felt his heart break, it was a fear he had shared, shared when he had first lost Sirius.
“You forget some things, you forget the exact lilt to their voice, and you forgot some minor quirks, but you never forget them as a person. Grief is a landmine George, but I can tell you with certainty that you won’t forget.” And inexplicably it seemed to provide comfort, the tears slowing if just slightly.
“Your therapist… he helps you right?” Harry nodded with confusion at the question, “I think I should go too. Bill mentioned it a while ago, and I thought it was just grief, and a lot of it is, but I’m lost too.” Harry could believe that, he sounded lost a lot of the time, even six months on he sometimes waited for the end of a line that just wasn’t coming.
“Do what feels right. I think Bill’s right,” Harry allowed himself a half smile, “I’ve learnt he often is. A wise man is your brother.” And the last of the tears were swallowed by a snort.
“Don’t let Bill hear you say that, his ego would never recover.” And still they hugged though the time for comfort had come and gone. Well up until Teddy started crying that is.
“You’re here because you feel lost without your twin, right George?” The therapist was exactly as Harry had described. Attentive, calm, and yet also clinical. He didn’t pretend to be your friend, so it didn’t feel like his words were personal. George still felt like a bit of a fool being here though. People lost family members all the time and were fine, even his mum was, while definitely grieving, fine. And yet here he was losing all purpose in life.
“Yes, I don’t know who I am without him. My whole life it’s always been Fred and George.” And yet the therapist nodded as if that was understandable.
“It might surprise you that I’m not really going to talk about Fred much in these sessions.” George blinked, he thought they would talk about Fred a lot, “Your grief is natural and needs to take it’s time. Your lack of self is not natural. For that you need to separate yourself from Fred. You need to learn who George is after spending your whole life as Fred and George.” Maybe this guy was a genius.
“How did your session go, George?” George couldn’t believe he’d reached the point in his life where he compared therapy sessions with Harry Potter. And yet, it didn’t feel as strange as it could. Harry had been a friend for years, so finding comfort in him after his brother’s death wasn’t so strange. If anything, it was Harry coming to him for support rather than Ron or Hermione that was the strange part.
“Enlightening.” It was probably the best word for it, “He suggested I go back to the shop. Lee’s been running it since the war.” Harry nodded, as if he was unsurprised. The therapist sure did like pushing people out of their comfort zone.
“I’ll go with you.” He placed a hand on his arm, steady and comforting, eyes earnest, smile wan but full of warmth, “It’s easier when you’re not alone.” He felt the farthest thing from smiling, but he offered the smallest one to Harry.
The shop hadn’t changed since the last time he had seen it. His likeness, or was it Fred’s, still stood tall above the shop, tipping his hat like a proper gentleman with a cheeky grin. He couldn’t remember the last time he had grinned quite like that.
Stepping through the door was both easier and harder than he ever thought it would be. Memories barrelled at his mind, pushing him back into the past, memories of him and Fred, Fred and him, their shop. Now it was just his. Harry kept a steady pressure on his hand, calming and guiding, giving him strength, he didn’t know he would need.
“George, my man!” Lee’s voice was booming, a reminder of past Quidditch matches and Hogwarts days. Oh, how he missed those days now. He finished with the current customer before securing the till and coming around to pull George into a warm hug, hand practically beating George’s back.
“Lee. It’s good to see you.” And it honestly, genuinely was, it had only been a few months, but Lee almost felt like an old friend. Familiar still, and he acted no different despite it now being just George.
“Come to check over the empire?” His grin was easy, George’s had been too once upon a time. His grin was smaller.
“Silent partner’s got to make sure his investment is sound.” His grin was easier as he shrugged towards Harry at his side, who promptly blushed. Harry always was much happier when the attention was on someone else. George couldn’t blame him, despite the spectacle he was prone of making of himself, he was just as willing to fade into the background. The theatrics had always been Lee and Fred’s role.
“Potter was your silent partner?” Lee snorted, “I’m not that surprised to be honest.” George grinned at his friend. It was no secret to Lee that the twins had always been close to Harry.
“Aye, the only stipulation was getting our Ronniekins some nice dress robes.” It had been a small price to see their dream realised. As much as they ribbed Ron, ribbed all their brothers really, George loved them all immensely. Because they were his family.
“Ah well, I’m sure Hermione appreciated them,” He offered in response with a grin.
The shop was the easy part, people smiled at him, and chatted, and congratulated his work. It had been their shop, but it was the whole town’s too. The flat was another matter completely. It had been just theirs. Their hide out, their home, their place where they stepped out from their childhood home. It had been trashed, Death Eaters coming to ensure they were not holding Harry, Hermione or their Brother in their little home. Then the war had come, and he had not been back since.
“You don’t have to do this today as well.” Harry’s voice was almost a whisper, concern interlaced in his words.
“I want to though.” Want was probably the wrong word, but part of him felt like if he put it off now, he’d put it off forever. Harry nodded, squeezing his hand even tighter, George only just acknowledging he had not once let it go, not even during the hug with Lee. He was glad for it, glad for Harry’s unwavering presence in this difficult time.
The Weasley’s all settled in the Burrow’s kitchen, waiting for George and Harry to return from the shop. They hadn’t told anyone they were going, but Fred and George hadn’t been the only sneaks in the Weasley household and Percy of all people had heard of their plans to go. So, they had converged for lunch in order to wait for George and Harry to return.
“Do you think he’ll be okay going there?” Ginny’s voice was quiet with her worry. She had been nibbling at her nails all morning.
“He’ll be okay, he’s got Harry with him, hasn’t he?” Bill’s voice was confident. Him and Fleur possibly being the only one’s confident about the outcome of today’s excursion. Maybe it was because they weren’t at the Burrow all the time it allowed them to see what was going on within a little easier.
“Why would he take Harry and not one of us, one of his brothers.”
“Harry is our brother!” Came Ron’s indignant response and he and Percy shared a glare. Percy never really had warmed up to Harry, blaming him a lot during the war for the danger Ron was in. And maybe Percy had a point to an extent, Ron would have been in less danger with different friends, but they were still Blood Traitors, and they were still at risk. Harry had brought Ron danger, but he’d brought the whole family happiness.
“’Arry has always been close to the Twins, they have a history of helping him, and he has helped them in return. It is only a natural progression of that relationship, especially with how they have been helping each other since the war.” Neither Fleur nor Bill made mention of the mutual promises they had made to Fred’s spirit to help the other.
“They’re happier when they’re together.” Molly’s smile was fond as she thought of the interaction between her boys since the war. They had slowly gotten closer since that day she had found them early in the morning in the kitchen, nursing empty mugs.
“I think the therapy is helping them both a lot as well.” Bill nodded to himself, glad that he had managed to talk both men into the action. There was no shame in it, he had only told three people, but he had gone himself after Greyback’s attack. As much respect as he had for Remus he hadn’t wanted to turn out like the man, old and bitter and afraid of his own shadow, his own nature. Love and therapy had helped. As much as people liked to think it, love on its own was not a cure for deep seated issues.
“It’s hard to think that the Harry from just after the war is the same Harry as now,” Ginny’s voice was fond, though maybe not in the way one might expect, “Though I suppose I should put my dreams of marrying Harry to bed.”
She didn’t sound as disappointed as one might expect, her grin easy as Bill gave her a knowing grin.
“Oh, have you fallen for someone else?” Molly’s voice was curious, and Ginny found herself matching Bill’s grin.
“Not yet.” Molly pulled her brows together in confusion but asked no more on the subject.
He touched surfaces almost reverently, surfaces ravaged by Death Eaters, but before that they had been touched by Fred. He could see him in every corner of the tiny cramped flat. Could see him leaning against the counter with his morning coffee, eyes barely open as he waited for George to cook breakfast. Could imagine him on the couch, taking up more space than was fair, feet keep finding their way to George’s lap no matter how many times he told his twin to stop. Could remember that quirk to his lip, twitch in his eye when he was stood over a simmering cauldron that sat in the corner.
I’m still here. He wasn’t sure if he was imagining or not. Wasn’t sure it mattered when he felt warmer for a moment, like an embrace he hadn’t felt in too long. Wasn’t sure it mattered when tears streamed down his face and his voice seemed lodged in his throat. Not when he felt like he was going to choke on the memories that lived in every corner, every fibre of their trashed flat. Fred’s very last Weasley jumper was hung over a kitchen chair, and George wasn’t sure if he wanted to burn it or never let it go.
“George, you okay?” George took a second to recognise the voice, remember that Harry was still with him. Harry had let his hand go for the first time when they had turned up at the flat, letting George explore at his own pace. He was both glad for that choice as well as desperately wishing that he still had Harry within his grasp.
“He’s everywhere. But he’s not here.” George wasn’t sure how to describe the look on Harry’s face, he looked heartbroken, but not for himself. His vow of distance to allow George to explore broke, and he was pulled into an almost suffocating hug.
“I told you. You’ll never forget him.” It was the comfort George needed in this moment. A reminder that everything he was feeling was okay, natural even. He picked up the sweater he had seen discarded on the kitchen chair, Harry’s presence giving him the strength to fold it, place it in a corner for when they left. Part of him was inclined to pull it over his head, but he was trying to find his place outside of Fred, and he didn’t even want to imagine his mum’s face if she saw it.
There was just one room left now, the bedroom. He pulled Harry with him, not even attempting to face this room alone. Harry squeezed his hand, a silent reminder that he was here. Or it was silent until George opened the door.
“There’s only one bed?” Harry’s face was scrunched up adorably, confusion clearly written on his face. Laughing in this room was both the rightest and wrongest thing to do. Maybe it just felt wrong because Fred wasn’t the one laughing with him.
“Allowed the most space in this poke hole. Wasn’t the best for bringing guys home though.” George grinned despite the situation, in fact the more he laughed, the more natural it felt. All Fred had wanted to do in life was laugh and make others laugh, he certainly wouldn’t take any offense to the laughter, not when it had been George’s home too. The realisation was freeing.
“Ah, the woes of abstinence.” Harry grinned up at him, barely blinking at George’s comment. Laughter seemed to have eased George’s worries, and clearing out the meagre belongings left in his flat was done with reverence rather than misery.
Harry hadn’t expected to be returning to the Burrow in relatively high spirits. But once George had started laughing, he hadn’t stopped. The melancholy he had explored the main part of the flat with had been replaced with fond memories. He had laughed through them, Harry couldn’t blame them, with some of the antics George and Fred had gotten up to together all you could do was laugh. And yet it was the first time Harry remembered George laughing without Teddy being there. He worried he might spoil the mood, and yet he couldn’t help commenting on it.
“That’s the first time you’ve laughed when we haven’t been with Teddy.” George stopped on their walk up to the Burrow, the house emanating warmth even from here, he smiled a strange smile, a different one to the fond reminiscence that they’d just left behind.
“Maybe because you were there. When we’re with Teddy is the most time I spend with you, Harry.” Harry blinked, his throat closing from the sincerity in George’s tone and written in his face.
“I make you laugh?” George chuckled, almost proving his own point, his smile warm, the first sign Harry had seen of the man George had always been.
“You always have.” And then he pulled Harry into a hug, resting his chin on the smaller man’s head, “Thank you.” And as if it had been perfectly natural, he stepped away, both continuing on to the Burrow.
Harry and George both blinked at seeing everyone gathered together in the kitchen, or well everyone but Arthur who was still at work. A second later panic gripped through Harry, and he reached blindly for George’s hand.
“What’s happened? Is everyone okay?” His looked from eye to eye, from Percy to Ginny to Ron then Bill and finally Molly. But there was no worry or sadness on their faces, just a bit of surprise and a smile.
“Yes dear, Percy overheard about your excursion today and we wanted to make sure our George was okay.”
“You’re all congregated in the kitchen, giving poor Harry a heart attack might I add, just to make sure I’m okay? Do you not think maybe you could have just asked me?” And despite the obvious indignation, there was also laughter in the redhead’s voice, “God, I love you guys.” It was said so easily, so simply, words he didn’t need to think about and yet didn’t say nearly often enough.
He shouldn’t be here; it wasn’t his place. And yet, Molly nor Arthur would hear of anything but him joining them for Christmas.
“This is your home, Harry, and you will be here for Christmas. Invite Teddy and Andromeda as well if you wish, but you will be here.” And Harry had not dared argue with Molly after that. Not with all the other Weasley siblings smirking at him like cats that had got the canary.
And so here he was, Christmas day sat around the Weasley table with Teddy on his lap like a safety blanket. The guilt he had spent the last eight months fighting hadn’t felt so close to the forefront of his mind in months and weeks. But this didn’t feel like Christmas usually did, the absences more pronounced than ever before. The absences were felt every day, but it didn’t feel as suffocating as on the day that was meant to be full of celebration.
He remembered previous years he’d been with the Weasley’s on Christmas, the joy and pranks, but this year they just all seemed a little subdued. Mixed with Andromeda, who had lost most of her family, there was not as many high spirits as usual during Christmas.
His eyes kept flicking to Fred’s last Weasley jumper which had been framed along with his clock-hand on the wall. It seemed imbued somehow with Fred’s energy, maybe it was just the loud colours that gave way to his loud personality.
Despite the quieter mood Christmas was still as delicious as ever, Molly always went full out at Christmas, putting her all into the food, and god if it didn’t pay off.
“I do not know if it is the time, but Bill and I would like to make an announcement.” Harry looked up from Teddy at the words. A strange hope filling him at the matching smiles on the couple’s face. If he had to describe Fleur in that moment, he’d call her radiant. As if she was glowing from within. It almost seemed out of place with the prevailing mood in the room.
Molly blinked at them, a tentative smile gracing her lips.
“Of course, dear. Good news I hope?” It was said as only half a joke, but the blinding smile husband and wife sent the table assuaged any fears. Bill placed a tender kiss to Fleur’s cheek before grinning quite sloppily at the rest of the family.
“Fleur is pregnant! We’re going to have a baby.” Melancholy moods were replaced by excitement. Molly squealed in delight, rushing to give first Bill and then Fleur massive hugs. Harry doubted the child would survive with how tightly Molly was wrapping the French woman in a hug, her squeals turning to tears, a mix of pure joy and the sadness of the first Christmas without one of her sons. Well the first where there was no chance of return, it was known for Charlie or Bill to miss the odd year if on assignment.
After Molly had descended on them the rest of the Weasley’s gathered around, there was a shocking amount of back beating for Bill. Harry didn’t think he’d ever understand ‘man-hugs’, they seemed distinctly less comfortable than those he received from his female friends. But Bill was grinning like an idiot nonetheless, clearly glad about this development within his little family.
The news seemed to break some kind of barrier, the mood lightening, a sense of hope descending upon the household. They had lost so much, but they would grow again, a new generation but that same love that underpinned the Weasley family. They no longer avoided talking about Fred or Tonks or Remus, or anyone they had lost in the war, there came fond remembering.
“Remember that year that Ron ended up missing Christmas day because of that prank me and Freddie pulled?” George was grinning at his younger brother, who was scowling without any real malice at George.
“I’m sure I’d remember if I hadn’t been passed out!” Harry looked between the two brothers, wondering just what prank the brothers could have pulled for this to occur.
“How old were you?” It must have been before he’d known them, because he’d, if not being present for, heard about each of their Christmases since. George grinned at him,
“I think we were seven and Ronniekins was 5. It was only meant to knock him out for an hour, but we substituted some ingredients because they were cheaper, and it knocked him out for the whole day.” George was clearly trying not to let out a laugh at the memory, and Harry thought it was the first time George had grinned while in the presence of the family. Then again, he couldn’t say for definite for saying he never spent as much time as he should in a group with the Weasleys.
“No wonder you’re such a genius now, if you were doing things like that at seven.” He couldn’t deny he was the tiniest bit impressed, and George blushed at the compliment, cheeks lighting up.
“You think I’m a genius?” His tone had that same of voice that Harry’s had had earlier in the month when he had asked if he made George laugh. For a moment he forgot the other Weasley’s were there, caught in the strange intensity of the moment.
“Of course, I do, I’ve thought so since I was like twelve.” And he was being sincere, chaotic as the twins might have been there was undeniable genius in their actions too. It wouldn’t be just anyone that created the pranks that they did. He and Fred had shown him there was more to life than just achieving well in school. If possible, George flushed brighter, a strangely pleased smile passing over his face.
“Are you two ever going to get a room?” Harry blinked as his attention was drawn to Ginny who was both grinning and rolling her eyes in what looked like fond exasperation.
“What?” It was the most fitting response. What on earth did she mean by that, he and George were just friends, weren’t they? Their closeness a side effect of them understanding to an extent the trauma they each felt. Except the look on not only Ginny’s face showed the others didn’t see it that way.
“Ginny! Leave them alone.” Molly must have noticed either his or George’s discomfort for she chastised her daughter for the comment, but it didn’t stop the looks sent between the Weasley siblings, and it didn’t stop Harry from suddenly being hyper-aware of George’s every move.
“Something is bothering you, Harry?” It must have been written all over his face for his therapist to pull on it straight away. Usually he eased into things, asking about whatever ‘homework’ he had given or just a general catch up. But that conversation hadn’t left his mind, and he’d been avoiding George in the five days between Christmas and his latest session.
“I’ve been avoiding George since his sister, who is also my ex, insinuated there was more than friendship between us.” The therapist nodded.
“Why are you avoiding him? Is it because his sister was completely wrong? Or because you wish there was a semblance of truth to her comments?” Harry ran a hand through his hair, growing it out nor age had led to it behaving any better.
“I don’t know. George is a great guy. I’ve told you about the shop, right? And all the pranks he came up with, with his brother. But the pranks never came from a malicious point of view, they just want to make people laugh, and it’s so rare, it’s beautiful.” The therapist grinned.
“You’ve mentioned George and his shop a few times I must admit.” A knowing glint was in his eyes, “Is it just because you’d never considered anything more, or is there some other issue holding you back?” Harry blushed.
“Both? I’d never really considered my sexuality. My childhood was taken up by the war, and when it was over there was the fallout to deal with, still dealing with. And then I just listed all these things that make George just an amazing guy, and it would be foolish to think he’d want anything to do with a man with as many issues as I have.” His therapist drew his eyebrows together, in thought or disapproval Harry wasn’t sure. Likely, it was a mix of both. He took a moment to choose his words.
“I can’t guess to George’s own feelings, but I think you know him enough to know that he wouldn’t look down on you for what you have faced. Hasn’t he helped support you through your journey?” Harry paused, the therapist always did have the best arguments, and this one he couldn’t argue against. He hadn’t made any false claims, just points based off George’s own behaviour.
“He’s ignoring me” George couldn’t keep the frustration out of his voice as he collapsed into the chair opposite the therapist. There was a glint in the man’s eye that gave George the impression that he wasn’t the first to talk about the situation.
“Because of your sister?” Well that confirmed it. Harry had spoken about Christmas with the therapist. It was frustrating to know this man knew what was going on in Harry’s head but because of oaths he would not relay any of that to George. He just nodded with a glare at the therapist’s question, “You are not happy about his avoidance?” George almost growled, nails scraping against forearm to stem his annoyance.
“Of course, I’m not, because it will have nothing to do with what either of us feel, it will be his doubts coming back! He doesn’t deserve that, not because Ginny can’t keep her opinions to herself.” The therapist nodded, face carefully blank.
“If it’s your family that got you into this current situation, maybe it is worth calling upon them to help the ease the situation as well.” George considered it, it was a plan that would end up very, very well, or very, very badly. But it could also end very, very badly if Harry was left to ruminate too long.
In the end, he called upon Andromeda. It could be called almost cruel to use his affection for Teddy against him, but it was a fool proof plan. The older woman had given him a disapproving look at first until he had further explained himself.
“Don’t hurt him anymore.” Was all she said on the matter, and it felt like both an easy and unattainable goal. He hoped he was up to the challenge.
He listened from the next room as Harry arrived, whatever worries he ever had he left them at home when coming to visit Teddy. He heard as what he assumed was Harry scooped the young boy into his arms, soft words between him and Andromeda before Harry was being pushed through to the room, Harry still facing away from him to glare at Andromeda for her deceit.
“You better let me actually look after him once this is sorted.” He heard her laugh, an almost raspy sound, partly from her heritage, partly because her Muggle-Born husband had tempted her towards cigarettes.
“Of course, Harry. I’m not a total monster.” Harry, despite his clear discomfort, offered her a small laugh in response, before the door shut, leaving the dark-haired man at George’s mercy. He couldn’t deny it wasn’t something he’d thought about before, if only briefly, but he wished it was under different circumstances.
Harry didn’t turn around at first, leaning his head against the door. George suddenly felt terrible about his plan. He thought Fred had been the thick-headed one, but apparently it was one trait they shared.
“You’ve been avoiding me.” He kept the accusation out of his voice, he had none, he was just worried and maybe a little hurt.
Harry turned around, emerald eyes swimming with emotions George wasn’t astute enough to identify.
“You deserve better.” He pulled his eyebrows together, as if annoyed with his own words, “That and I’m scared.” His second sentence was so quiet that George wasn’t sure he’d even heard it. But he knew better, and the sentence broke his heart.
“You’re scared of me?” He couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice this time. Harry had never been scared, even wary, of him or Fred. Except for just after the war which had been less to do with George himself and Harry’s own misplaced guilt.
“Not of you. You’re pretty harmless, George.” He grinned despite himself, assuaging some of George’s worry, “I’m scared of getting too close and losing you. Everyone I’ve loved always have and I just can’t, not again.”
Whatever parts of George’s heart that had been back together promptly crumbled, Harry always did such a good job of keeping himself together, but underneath it all, despite half a year of therapy, he was still emotionally broken. And though it hurt George every time it became obvious, he wasn’t surprised, he would be a fool to think that six months could make up for just under eighteen years of trauma. He couldn’t keep his distance, he pulled Harry into a hug, the man not even fighting it, talking his response into hair rather than face to face.
“Oh, Harry, you’ve lost too much. But not everyone leaves, you’ve loved Ron and Hermione since you came to Hogwarts, and they’re still here. And no matter what other feelings do or don’t develop you already cared for me, and I’m still here, and I’m not planning to change that until I’m old and grey. Mum and dad love you like one of their own. You’re never alone Harry.” His words were almost a whisper, it wasn’t a promise he could make loudly. His heart choked as he felt the tears soaking through his jumper, just hanging on to the younger man even tighter. He was so strong, stronger than George could ever hope to be, to have faced all that Harry had faced and be even partially as sane as Harry was. Because, despite Harry’s own thoughts, he was keeping it together magnificently.
“It still doesn’t change the fact I don’t deserve you.” And despite his words George felt hope bloom in his chest, the chest that Harry’s head rested against. He’d only known Harry to be interested in girls, maybe with faint signs of interest in guys, but never overt. Then again, he had not had much of a chance to explore his sexuality either.
“Harry, with all due respect, surely it’s up to me whether you are what I want or not. I know you don’t see it Harry, but you’re pretty amazing. I am almost constantly in awe of the things you face with your sense of self in-tact. It would have been almost easy for you to follow in the same path as Voldebore and yet you’re one of the kindest, warmest, friendliest, loving people I know. You’ve already done great things and I have no doubt you’ll go on to more wonderful things in your adulthood, and they’ll be wonderful because they’ll be your choice.” He had pulled away from the hug so he could look Harry in the eyes, his hands framing delicate cheeks, eyes still shining from tears that had not long fell. Maybe new ones were forming in their stead.
“You really believe that?” A small smile, full of hope as well as fresh tears falling down his cheeks, caught by George’s large hands that still rested there.
“With all my heart, Harry.” His face softened; his gaze completely focused on George. He leant in slightly and George could feel his heart start to race, he bit his lip as if second guessing his own thoughts.
“Kiss me, George?” He could have said a hundred different things in that moment, one’s that increased the mood, one’s that completely destroyed it. But he settled for no words, taking a second to check this was what Harry truly wanted, maybe he was just taking the moment to admire just how green Harry’s eyes were.
A second later he bridged that small gap, allowing his lips to descend on Harry’s. He melted. A hand sliding from cheek to card through unruly curls, lips warm, soft but slightly chapped, Harry sighing against his lips. Harry had practically gasped before melting into George, arms coming around the red-head’s neck, body pulling impossibly closer. It was everything George hadn’t dared to hope for.
George wouldn’t have minded been a vampire in that moment, purely if it meant he wouldn’t have to pull away to do something as mundane as breathe. Or maybe it was worth it for that dazed look of wonder in Harry’s eyes as a grin creeped onto his face. He honestly couldn’t help himself, he dipped back towards Harry’s lips, just a short peck this time, a small sign of affection.
“I’m sorry for avoiding you.” Harry looked somewhere between ashamed and sheepish, George stroked a cheek down the younger man’s face, a soft smile on his face.
“Talk to me in future Harry. I can try and help make things feel better.” The soft smile was still on Harry’s face, but there was an undercurrent of seriousness in his response.
“I can’t promise. But I’ll try.” And then, to seal his promise he leant up and stole another kiss.
“I want to open a bakery.” Harry almost laughed at the way George blinked at him for saying that. Getting better for Harry had slowly meant getting bored, and as much as he loved spending lazy days on the worn but comfortable couch at the Burrow (Especially if George was there with one of his arms to curl up under) he was slowly becoming aware of the fact that he was doing nothing with his life. While part of him felt like he was entitled to some break, it had been 9 months since the war, and he was doing nothing with his life.
“A bakery? Why a bakery? Can you even bake?” Harry huffed and crossed his arms at the final question. He had spent his childhood cooking and baking, and he had grown good at it. He would have preferred to have actually been able to eat the things he made, but that was a discussion he’d already had with his therapist.
“Tell mum she can have a night off tonight. I’ll give you ‘can you even bake?’” He stuck his nose up at George, but the grin on his face said that he was here for the challenge.
“Hmm, she’ll like that. As long as you don’t give us all food poisoning.” Harry punched George in the arm softly, before replacing his hand with his lips, pressing a soft kiss to George’s forearm.
“I never poisoned the Dursley’s and I had reason to. I think you’ll be fine.” George’s teasing softened at the mention of the Dursley’s, his face softening into that look whenever something that had hurt Harry came up. His protectiveness, indignation at Harry’s past wrongs were just one of the reasons he loved the man.
Fuck. It had only been 2 months since their first kiss and Harry loved him. Maybe it wasn’t so surprising, they had been friends for years before that and they had built a foundation of care and support between each of them before they’d started… dating.
“Harry? Harry you okay? You look like you’re a million miles away.” There was humour in the redhead’s tone, freckles twitching as he withheld laughter. And maybe Harry had been miles away, but he was also right here. He smiled brilliantly up at George.
“I just…” It felt almost silly to say it now, his smile melding with a blush, “I love you, George.” He couldn’t think of anything else in life he had felt with such sincerity. And any doubt he had was broken by the blinking surprise on George’s face that was soon replaced by a grin that almost blinded Harry with his warmth.
“Well you’re in luck, because I love you too.” And then he leaned in, to kiss Harry’s nose, and a flood of warmth, and hope and positivity buoyed through Harry. He’d never expected of all the people in the world he’d end up with George, but he couldn’t imagine anyone else by his side either.
And if, later that evening as he prepared dinner for the Weasley family, there was a spring in his step, well then, he thought he was allowed just this little bit of joy.
“Man Harry, where did you learn to cook like this?” Ron was tucking into the meal with the gusto he tucked into every meal. George couldn’t blame him, his early doubt fading away from the very first bite of the chicken Harry had prepared. He’d hate to say it, but he was inclined to say Harry’s cooking was better than his mum’s. Or maybe that was just the bias of love talking.
“A bakery? Harry, love, I think you should open a whole damn restaurant.” He grinned over at Harry, who was blushing, whether it was at the complement or the term of endearment he couldn’t be sure. Maybe it was both.
“What’s this about a bakery?” Came his mum’s question, all eyes turning to a heavily blushing Harry. He gripped his partner’s hand under the table, knowing that he wasn’t a fan of being the centre of attention.
“I’ve been thinking about the future lately. And I’d really like to open a bakery. I want to have it on the border of Wizarding London so one half is a muggle bakery, and the other half is a wizarding bakery.” Hermione grinned at Harry from Ron’s side, looking as if the only thing stopping her from pulling Harry into a hug was the fact they were in the middle of lunch.
“Oh Harry! That’s wonderful! You’re baking is amazing, and you love it. Oh, I can already imagine it!” Harry grinned at Hermione’s enthusiasm.
An enthusiasm that was matched by the Weasley family as soon as dessert, a fancy French pastry, was served.
“Mon dieu ‘arry, it is like being back ‘ome. My mama would be jealous.” Between the way Fleur was licking her spoon and the fact she was so heavily pregnant, the woman looked like a positive glutton. Maybe they all did when they reached for seconds. Man, George was going to be jealous of the whole wizarding world when they got to share in these delights. But though he ducked his head, and blushed just so, George could see in the light of his eyes, a light that had been missing for so long, that Harry was delighted by the praise and condonement of his dream.
George blinked as he heard a light tapping at his bedroom door, pulling him out of a dream that was already slipping away from his consciousness. He blinked over to his doorway that was pushed open just slightly, a strip of light slipping into his room from a Lumos lit wand.
“Harry?” Harry looked smaller than usual shivering in the light of his wand, a few tears dripping down his face, worry laced through George as he tumbled out of bed to reach Harry.
“I had a nightmare. And I didn’t want to wake Ron, and you said to come talk to you when things were troubling you, but I’m sure you didn’t mean in the middle of the night, but I just didn’t want to be alone, they were blaming me again, and I thought I was passed it. I thought I was getting better, and I know they’re lying but I can’t get it to go away.” George felt his heart breaking for Harry as he pulled him into a hug, practically suffocating the young man in his desire to comfort the young man.
“It’s okay Harry, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” And those few tears spilled out into sobs, them rocking in the doorway, the Lumos fading from Harry’s wand as he lost control of his emotions.
Even as George’s heart wept for his boyfriend, a tiny selfish part of him was warmed from the inside out at the trust the man was showing in him. There would have been a time not so long ago that he would have let himself weep alone in his room under silencing charms to avoid disturbing Ron, a time where he had loved many but trusted very few the way other people did.
He walked them slowly over to his bed, laying them down with Harry in his arms. Maybe he couldn’t take away the dreams Harry had already had, but maybe he could keep anymore away for tonight. And maybe, just maybe he enjoyed having someone in his arms as he slept, letting him feel just a little less alone too.
Harry woke early as he often did, and yet despite remembering he had a nightmare last night, he felt surprisingly well rested. And warmer than usual, the reason for which became quickly obvious, a freckled, strong arm was wrapped around his torso, pulling his back in towards a broad chest. Harry let himself relax, a feeling of safety settling around him like a blanket. Maybe he could drop off for a little longer.
When George woke up, he smiled softly to realise Harry was still with him and surprisingly still asleep. He knew Harry didn’t sleep nearly as much as he should and was always the first one up, down in the kitchen sitting with a cup of tea until everyone else slowly trickled down, providing breakfast as people came until mum came to usher him out and to relax.
But here he was, still sleeping peacefully despite it being gone ten in the morning. He stretched his back just slightly where he could, popping some of the stiff muscles, before placing a kiss to Harry’s forehead, guessing this would be a good way to wake up.
He let his kisses trail down, going from forehead to brow, to nose, a kiss to each cheek, then dropping down to the chin before coming back up to claim one on the lips. He kept it just as a quick kiss, smiling a little soppily as Harry’s eyes fluttered slowly open.
“Mornin’.” His voice was deeper than usual, full of the roughness of sleep. He’d never seen Harry like this, “Wha’ time is it?” George thought the slight slur was more adorable than the raspiness. Maybe just everything about Harry was adorable.
“Still early.” Harry narrowed his eyes just slightly.
“By my standard or your standard?” George shrugged, leaning in for another kiss. A kiss that he deepened just slightly, Harry going with the flow with him, moving lips in partnership. Maybe it was because he was always a little horny when he woke, maybe it was because it was the first time he had Harry in his bed, but he soon moved the gentle kiss into something a little more.
He rolled them slightly to the side, pushing Harry onto his back and straddling over him, swiping a tongue over his lips. Except Harry didn’t open his mouth, he scrunched his brows in confusion. And while George was most certainly appreciating the experience, he could feel no answering hardness in Harry. George pulled away, not wanting to push Harry into something he wasn’t ready for.
“Too much?” He let the slight distance cool his hormones, willing away his erection unsuccessfully, getting the impression that it wouldn’t be seen to this morning.
“No, it was fine.” George almost snorted. Fine. Wasn’t exactly the blazing review that George could have hoped for.
“Harry, love, making out is meant to be enjoyable not just fine.” Maybe Harry wasn’t as gay as he thought he was. Maybe it was just George.
“You didn’t need to stop; you were enjoying it.” He shrugged, turning his head to the side to avoid looking at George. His libido was finally killed, and he rolled over back to his side of the bed, leaning on his elbow so be could look at Harry.
“Harry a wiser man than me once told me…”
“Bill?” George grinned with a nod, despite the conversation.
“Bill once told me that when it comes to sex that consent isn’t enough, you should wait for enthusiasm. A sign that your partner wants it as much as you. And right now; you don’t Harry, and that’s okay.” Harry looked at George with a little hope in his eyes but also worry.
“What if I’m never ‘enthusiastic’ George? What if I say that as much as I love you, in a way that’s different to the way I love anyone else, Ron and ‘Mione, your mum and dad, that your body just never came into it.” George took a minute to consider what he was going to respond. Knowing that what he was going to say could not only make or break their young relationship but also Harry’s emotional strength.
“I’d say that it’s okay. I don’t know if you’re asexual like our Charlie, or if it’s just because you haven’t had time to explore your sexuality with the shit show your life has been. But I’ll be here by your side, I know it’s only been a couple of months, but I love you Harry, and that means a lot more to me than sex does, we’ll keep to whatever makes you comfortable.” Harry let out a breath of what could only be relief.
“I don’t doubt your words George, but it’s easy to say it’s enough now, but will it 6 months from now? A year from now?” He looked afraid of the answer.
“I won’t give you empty promises, that’s not fair to you. But I will promise you that it ever does become not enough I’ll let you know. I won’t let it come between us as friends, and even if six months or six years down the line this doesn’t work for us anymore, I promise you’ll still be my very best friend.” He placed a gentle kiss to Harry’s nose, pulling him into his arms. He had to have faith it would all be okay.
Harry woke with a start, though for once it wasn’t from his own nightmares. No, this time it was George moaning in his sleep, tears leaking out of his eyes, pulling Harry closer unconsciously in his sleep.
“Fred. Fred. Fred.” It was a whispered mantra in his sleep. Harry shook George just slightly, trying to pull his boyfriend out of the dream. He wasn’t surprised over the dream; they’d been coming with increasing frequency as George’s birthday descended upon them. Technically it was his birthday now, even if it was the middle of the night. He didn’t think George would feel much like celebrating.
Harry shook George gently, not wanting him to remain within the dreams that invaded his mind. He knew now that they were not pleasant memories, just increasingly horrifying imaginings of how Fred met his end. When those familiar brown eyes flickered into awareness, they were visibly moist. Harry got grief, knew it like the back of his hand, but he knew he would never truly understand George’s grief. It was one thing to lose family, those close to you, but to lose your twin, lose someone who was with you for nearly every moment of your life. It didn’t bare thinking about.
“George.” It was just a name, an expression of sympathy whispered in the dark. He wrapped an arm over the taller man’s body, pulling him in as tight as possible to his body, knowing that empty words would provide no real comfort. George buried his head into the crook of Harry’s shoulder, body shaking desperately despite no chill.
“It’s all wrong. All so wrong. He was the better twin; it should have been me.” Harry hung on a little tighter, the defeated words piercing his heart. He didn’t want to think of a world without George, however broken they might both be.
“It should have been neither. None of it should have happened. It’s all so fucked up. But neither of you was better than the other, you were your own people, you have your own strengths and weaknesses, so did he. You were people, not a set of people.” He placed a gentle kiss to George’s nose, somehow the action becoming a sign of affection between the pair.
He rolled out of bed, reaching underneath the bed to where he kept a bag full of some spare clothes, and for now George’s birthday present. It may have been early on the day, but he pulled the present out now, hoping his gift would bring his boyfriend some comfort. He pushed the wrapped gift into George’s hand, who took it with a look of confusion on his face.
“Harry, I don’t quite feel like celebrating.” He grimaced at the package. Harry nodded; his tone soft.
“I don’t imagine you do. I imagine it will be a good few years until you can properly celebrate your birthday again but accept this. No one’s going to ask you to celebrate, but we’re not going to let you ignore your birthday either.” He pushed the gift further into George’s hand, and with furrowed brows George tentatively removed the paper. He pulled out the book inside with curious eyes despite himself and Harry tried to hide a smile. Even when miserable George couldn’t change his very nature.
He inspected the book that fell out of the package, touching it with his wand when it had no obvious cover, and when that revealed no new information he opened the book, his face going carefully blank as his eyes took in the images on the first page.
“Fred.” His eyes softened, tears swimming as he ran a finger down the page. And then his actions were almost desperate scanning through page after page, taking in all the images. Pictures of him and pictures of Fred, pictures of them together and with the family and with friends. All the memories he had and more, compiled in this one book. Fred’s whole life compiled in this one book.
“I, I don’t know how you managed this. Thank you.” He hadn’t looked away from the book, and Harry felt his risk had payed off just slightly. He seemed to revere the gift rather than letting him upset him too badly.
“I just talked to people. I wanted something that whenever you were scared you would forget him; you could realise that he’s right there. But also, something that shows that you aren’t one in the same, that you are each your own person.” George looked at him in surprise. Reaching out a hand to Harry to pull him back into the bed and into his arms.
Harry grinned, a deep sense of pride filling him as he looked up at the store front. It was opening day, and no one knew it was his shop, he was in the back, hidden away. The queue outside was because of his marketing, because they were excited about a new shop, not because it was Harry Potter’s shop. He’d polyjuiced himself for the opening, wanting to keep himself in the background, wanting to be the baker but not the one that ran the store front.
He had been more than surprised when Luna had applied for the front of house position, but out of all the applicants she had been the easy decision, she was just so good at making people feel peaceful, such was her dreamy disposition. And that’s what he wanted from his café, somewhere people could come and relax, enjoy some cake and tea while forgetting all the issues they had.
He beamed over at George, front of the queue, looking over the menu curiously as if he hadn’t seen it a hundred times already. Having said that, the other Weasley’s weren’t far behind in the queue, Molly looking ready to cry as she looked between Harry and the store front.
“I’d like to thank you all for coming to the opening of my little shop. Baking has always been a passion of mine, and I can think of nothing I want to do more with my life that to share that with other people with the hope of making people happy, make their days a little easier.” He cut the ribbon, pride and his heartbeat pumping in his ears from exhilaration. He didn’t think he’d ever live to see his dream realised. Didn’t think he’d live.
But he had lived, a little broken, issues that would likely last for years, but he was alive. Alive and in love, and with his own family. None of it was quite how he expected, but as George wrapped his arms around him, sneaking into the back, whispered how proud he was of Harry, Harry decided he could live like this. There may be things he wished he could change, but he knew he could not, but with George at his side, and Teddy on his hip, he thought he could live a happy and fulfilling life.