Harry felt like something inside him was broken, shattered to pieces, and nothing could make him whole again. Everything was all such blur to him that even his arrival at the Burrow with the Weasleys hardly registered. Ron and Ginny kept shooting worried glances without speaking.
"Welcome home, Harry!" Mr. Weasley broke the silence that took Harry momentarily by surprise. He smiled when he noticed everyone looking at him.
Mrs. Weasley cleared her throat, her eyes not leaving Harry's.
"We've all decided that you can take Percy's room as your own now, dear."
Harry gaped at her. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. They couldn't be serious.
"But, why? Percy –"
"–Agreed to this arrangement." Mr. Weasley cut him off. "He moved out already, Harry. He decided to live on his own. He was perfectly happy to give you his room."
"Come," Without giving Harry the chance to respond, Mrs. Weasley ushered him to follow her down a narrow passageway to an uneven staircase upstairs, which wound its way in a zigzag up through the house.
Harry and the others followed her. They made their way to the first floor and stood at the door to Percy's room. Molly pushed it open and let Harry inside.
"Ron gave us some ideas about what you'd prefer to have in your room," said Mrs Weasley. She nervously smiled behind Harry, who looked around the room with his mouth open in shock.
"If the Gryffindor colours are bothering you too much, let me know mate. We can always change them." Ron hurriedly assured him.
"It's perfect!" exclaimed Harry, his eyes wide in amazement. He was completely overwhelmed. He could feel his throat clench up in gratitude as he tried to hide his tears. He hadn't expected this. He had his own room now, his own bed, a desk with random books and some drawers. Glancing at the walls, Harry realized that Ron had covered nearly every inch of it with Quidditch posters.
"I'm not so sure what team you support... so I randomly selected a few of them." Ron quickly explained, but Harry was grinning widely.
Living permanently with the Weasleys was a dream come true for Harry. They had been such a family to him and he still couldn't believe it. He turned around and hugged them all. He almost lost control of his emotions as he tried to convey his gratitude.
"Welcome to our family, Harry!" Mr. Weasley piped up, trying hard to control his own emotions. "We have always thought of you as our own son and having you now under the same roof was a responsibility we would always be willing to take on in a heartbeat. You are a very good boy and you deserved to be someplace where you are loved for a change."
"Climbing four more flight of stairs aren't such a bother for you when you want to visit my room, right? You still have your stuff in there, by the way." Ron reminded Harry. "Or I can switch with Ginny. Her room is right next to yours."
Ginny glared at her brother. "Not in a million years will I switch with you!"
"Come on now, Ginny," Ron pleaded. "Harry needs his best friend."
"I don't hear Harry complaining!" she retorted. She smiled at Harry, who returned her smile with a blush and went to her room, giving Ron one last glare.
That evening, Ron helped Harry move all his belongings to his new room. Harry could hear him cursing Ginny for all the effort he had to put in climbing up and down the stairs – all because she didn't want to switch rooms. They managed to transfer all of Harry's things before they heard Mrs. Weasley calling him with the others for dinner. Harry felt a little weird, having heard it for the first time since his official arrival as part of the Weasley's household. He felt like he really belonged in this family and he was very grateful for it. He left the books he had borrowed from the library - which he badly wrapped with paper before leaving Hogwarts - under his bed and went downstairs with the others, reminding himself to read them later before going to sleep.
The dinner held in the kitchen was the most fulfilling experience in Harry's opinion. Mrs. Weasley proved, yet again, how undeniably skilled she was at cooking different kinds of food. Harry thought her cooking would surely intimidate his Aunt Petunia, and surprisingly, just a mere thought of his relative made his mood drop a few notches. He knew very well how horribly he was treated by the Dursleys and yet, here he was, undeniably missing his mother's last relative. He wondered, for a moment, where they were now before he found himself being pushed down in a chair and force-fed by Mrs. Weasley.
Ron and Ginny sat on either side of Harry, while Mr. and Mrs. Weasley sat across from them. Harry noticed the table felt quite empty. George was nowhere to be found. Harry assumed he was busy running Weasley's Wizard Wheezes all by himself now that his twin, Fred, had passed on. Bill and Charlie had their own lives to live, as well. This gave Harry another jolt of sadness. He grieved at Fred's passing and even more at his funeral. He knew from then on how difficult it would be not to see him with George. Both of them, as Harry had recalled, got in a lot of trouble. One particular memory that had stuck in Harry's mind was Fred and George bewitching several snowballs to follow Professor Quirrell around and hit him in the back of the head. The thought that the twins were, of course, unaware that they were throwing snowballs in Voldemort's face, made Harry mentally chuckle at the table.
The family sat in silence, savouring each dish. Harry knew he wasn't very hungry, but couldn't help but change his mind when he saw the plate Mrs. Weasley handed to him. The look she gave him would make anyone think twice about arguing with her. He murmured his thanks and started dutifully eating.
It was awkward having Ginny beside him while the rest of her family was there. He wanted to reach out and touch her hand under the table, but he stopped himself. He decided to just shoot a quick glance her way, which Ginny returned with a smile.
"So… Harry," Arthur Weasley started, as he chopped his steak. "I hope you find yourself comfortable in your new room. Any plans for tonight?"
Harry hadn't planned anything for tonight apart from reading the books about souls, but he didn't want them knowing that. He had to make up or think of an excuse.
"I thought I could just go to sleep early, Mr. Weasley."
"What?" Ron asked him incredulously. "You slept most of the day on the train. You can't possibly be tired again. What are you, an old man?"
"Well, what do you suggest I do, then?"
"What a seventeen-year-old would usually do, perhaps," Ron said sarcastically.
Harry raised his eyebrows, totally at a loss for what Ron was trying to imply. "What is it?"
"Not sleep early, you idiot."
"Boys..." Ginny rolled her eyes, while Mr and Mrs Weasley sighed deeply.
"Did Hermione tell you about job applications?" Ron inquired Harry suddenly between gulps of his drink.
"She may have mentioned it," Harry answered wearily. He had too much on his mind to begin looking for work just yet and the new information he received from Professor Slughorn made him reluctant now to even think of applying for a job.
"She's been pestering me to start applying," snarled Ron with an irritated look on his face. "Blimey, we just had a war. We need a break, don't you think?"
"Yeah," said Harry who was not at all interested in the topic at the moment. "But knowing Hermione, I'd say start applying then if I were you."
"What are you gonna go for?" Ron curiously asked.
The career advice that they had received in their fifth year at Hogwarts with Professor McGonagall was very helpful, despite the constant contradictions and interruptions from Dolores Umbridge on one of her daily inspections at the time. Umbridge had insinuated that Harry's performance in school was not sufficient enough to qualify as an Auror. She even insisted that regardless of how much effort and training Harry was willing to take, and whether his criminal record was erased, was still dire proof that he wouldn't be employed. Harry hadn't completely lost hope but his dream of becoming an Auror now was dim due to the illness that he was going through at the moment, even if his chance of becoming one had been very high as he had just saved the Wizarding World and the Ministry was being reconstructed. He was starting to get annoyed at himself and unintentionally at Ron, who kept nagging at him.
"What are you asking me for?" Harry asked in an irritated voice.
"I thought you said you'd want to be an Auror."
"I do. And?"
"Well, I thought I'd give it a go, too, you know," responded Ron as he chewed his remaining food.
"Then do it!" Harry said forcefully. "Don't wait for me."
Ron was perplexed "Why not?"
Harry didn't respond. He was perfectly aware that he might not make it until then and it was making his heart throb painfully. He didn't want Ron to hold back just because of him. "Why not, Harry?" Ron asked again, completely oblivious to the obvious signs Harry was sending that he didn't want to continue the subject. The rest of the Weasley family stared at Ron dumbfoundedly, not understanding how he wasn't seeing Harry's increasing temper.
"Just let it go, will you?" Harry snapped back, and with that, he scooped his plate, brought it over to the sink, said his thanks to Mr and Mrs Weasley, and stalked off to his room.
Ron looked stunned and puzzled at the same time.
Storming up the stairs, Harry overheard Ron ask his parents who had silently watched the scene unfold in front of them. "What was that about? Did I say something wrong?"
"No, you were just being a prat." Ginny chided to Ron. "Couldn't you give him a break?"
"But I was just asking –"
"Clearly he didn't want to talk about it, Ron," his mother cut him off. "Just let it go and don't go bothering him tonight," she added firmly. "Let him rest."
But Harry knew that Ron wasn't going to let him rest. He would want to find out why he got upset so suddenly. And sure enough, when everyone had finished their meal, Ron bounded upstairs and knocked on Harry's bedroom door.
"Harry, are you still awake?"
Harry opened the door but didn't say anything to Ron. Instead, he walked back to his bed and busied himself with one of his books.
"What's that you're reading?" Ron asked with interest, following Harry inside the room and sitting comfortably on a chair beside the desk.
"Nothing," was Harry's reply.
"Must be nice to read nothing, huh?" Ron said in a mocking voice.
Harry put down his book and looked at Ron. "What do you want?"
"What's with the attitude, Harry? You ran off like you're upset or something."
"I'm fine," Harry said automatically, doing his best to sound casual. "Don't worry."
"Don't give me that crap!" exclaimed Ron in an exasperated tone. "You always say you're fine when you're obviously not."
"Then stop with the stupid questions!" Harry said hotly.
Ron looked at him incredulously. "What's wrong with you? You were fine earlier and now you're acting like a total arse."
Harry gave a deep sigh. "Nothing's wrong with me. I'm sorry, but I just want to be alone right now."
"There you go again, always thinking it's best to just shut everyone out."
"What's wrong with asking to be alone?" Harry asked defensively. "The last time I checked you did the same thing when you wanted some privacy."
"Fine! Have it your way!" Ron spat at him before standing up and storming out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Harry buried his face in his pillows, trying to calm himself down. Ron could be very annoying at times and right now was not the time to piss him off. He was dealing with too much worry and pressure. He understood his friend's concern, but he just couldn't see how badly he wanted to be left alone.
A knock came at the door and Harry sighed heavily.
"What now?!" he yelled from across the room, finally losing his temper.
"Harry…" Ginny called out to him softly.
Harry immediately sat up and dashed to open the door.
"I'm sorry, Ginny," he said apologetically. "I didn't mean to shout like that. I thought you were Ron." Harry couldn't bring himself to look at her.
She brought her hand to his cheek, wanting him to look into her eyes. "I know… we heard Ron's yell all the way in the kitchen."
Harry looked embarrassed.
"I'm worried about you, Harry," she said. "I wish you could tell me what's wrong."
"I can't," he whispered and looked away.
"Why? Why is it so hard for you to open up?"
"Because…" he hesitated for a moment, his eyes full of worry. "Because I don't want to hurt you. Any of you. You're already going through too much and I don't want to add more to your concern."
"What is it that will hurt me? You told me you would tell me once you found out." Ginny reminded him of the talk they had last night and the way Harry had looked when he came down to have breakfast in the Great Hall. According to Ron, his "eyes were red and puffy" which was proof enough that he already knew something. "You did find out for sure, didn't you?" she said with an intense look as if daring him to lie.
Harry let the silence drag on for a long time but, knowing Ginny, she wouldn't let this subject drop now without knowing the truth. He glanced at her and nodded, confirming her suspicions. His heart was beating fast.
"What is it, Harry?" asked Ginny. She traced the worried lines on his handsome face with her finger, trying to ease whatever he was feeling inside.
"I'm sorry," he said sadly, turning away from her. "I can't tell you. I'm – I'm not ready. I don't expect you to understand, hell, I hardly understand, but now is not the time."
Ginny looked a bit disappointed, but she brought her hand to his and gently squeezed it. "Whenever you're ready, then..." she said. With that, she turned around and walked slowly to her room, leaving Harry in peace.
Harry stood transfixed in the doorway, reciting his mantra that no matter how hard things got for him, he was going to make it, even if he felt like his life was already falling apart. He had endured so much pain and suffering. He had known hardship and loss, but he wanted to move forward and grow stronger. He never wanted to forget the harsh lessons life had taught him or the people who truly cared for him, the people who died for him. His will to live had always been so much stronger than his fear of death.
He thought that he had been given a chance in life. Yes, he had survived the war, but it was over. Try as he might, it would always come to an end. With a deep sigh, Harry once again understood that he was not supposed to survive no matter the circumstances. It was his very own harsh reality.
Harry woke early the next day to make breakfast. He was part of the Weasley family now and this was the least that he could do for them. His attitude last night had been unacceptable and he wanted to make up for it. He hoped that it was enough for now.
He was greeted by the sight of multi-coloured and mismatched chairs surrounding a large wooden table when he entered the kitchen. There were several magical cookbooks neatly stacked on top of the mantelpiece, but Harry didn't need them; cooking breakfast had been one of his chores at the Dursleys. Instead, he eagerly gathered his ingredients, placed a pan on the stove and started with cooking some eggs, hoping that Mrs Weasley wouldn't mind him using the kitchen.
By the time Mrs. Weasley walked in, Harry had already set the table with plates and goblets, all laden with assorted food and drink for breakfast.
Molly Weasley stopped in her tracks and looked around with wide eyes until she spotted Harry scrubbing the sink.
Harry turned and greeted her. "Good morning, Mrs. Weasley."
She was speechless. No one had ever done something like this before.
"Did you do all this?" she asked, looking incredulously at the table.
Harry nodded nervously. "I didn't mean to use your kitchen, I just thought I'd –" but he didn't get the chance to finish his sentence before he felt two arms wrap around him.
"So nice of you, dear," she told him in between hugs. "Thank you!"
At that moment, Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen, wearing long green robes. He stopped and blinked when he saw Molly and Harry.
"Look what Harry did, Arthur." Molly excitedly showed him the breakfast on the table.
"I must say I'm impressed, Harry! Not many young lads would care to wake up early and do what you did," remarked Mr. Weasley as he sat in a kitchen chair. Harry beamed at him.
"I guess that time I lived with the Dursleys, I kind of got used to it, Mr. Weasley."
"You have a talent, and that I'm sure." Mrs. Weasley expressed in her sweet, motherly voice. "Now, why don't you sit down while I call Ron and Ginny."
A few minutes later, Ron came trudging down the stairs while yawning widely. He immediately saw Harry helping himself to some pancakes. He lowered his head, avoiding eye contact as he made his way to sit beside him. He stared at all the food in front of him.
"What's the occasion? Are we celebrating something?" Ron asked his mother.
"No, dear. Harry made all these this morning."
Ron raised his eyebrows at Harry but averted his eyes before Harry could look at him. He made no comment, just silently settled himself with some bacon, eggs and muffin and started eating. Harry was certain that Ron still hadn't forgotten their argument last night.
"Oh, George will come by for dinner in two days' time," Mrs Weasley informed them.
"Is he staying for a while?" Arthur asked her.
"I would want him to…" she said hopefully. "But, you know George, he's been really busy lately managing the shop. He hasn't got time for anything else now."
Arthur squeezed her shoulders and gently saying "Without the shop to get his mind off things, he'd probably lose himself thinking about his twin brother all the time. I remember when he was at his worst. He'd been deeply depressed for several days and no words could bring him comfort. He had only managed to move on a bit when he started to visit the shop again. Thinking of making Fred proud of him as he managed the shop alone helped him to move forward despite the circumstances."
Molly nodded, understanding George's feelings at the moment. She and the rest of her family ate breakfast quietly.
Arthur had already left for work and Molly was outside feeding the chickens when Ginny came downstairs and into the kitchen. Harry thought she looked beautiful in the morning with her hair up and still in her pyjamas, but today he noticed that she looked downcast. She saw him looking when she sat down across from him and quickly gave him a smile, but then the dejected expression returned. Was it because of last night? Harry wondered.
Suddenly forgetting their argument, Harry asked Ron, "Could I borrow Pigwidgeon today?"
Ron frowned at him. "Why?" he demanded while pretending to look busy eating his breakfast.
"I just need to send a letter," said Harry quietly.
"Yeah, obviously," Ron muttered sarcastically. He cleared his throat and asked, "To who?"
Harry sighed. What's with all the questions? he said to himself.
"To someone," he said simply.
Ron cast him a dark look and rolled his eyes. "Right." He turned his attention back to his food.
"So… Is that a 'yes'?" Harry asked, unsure of what Ron meant.
"Because I said 'no'." Ron shot back with a glare at Harry.
Ginny gave him a nasty look, which Ron ignored completely.
Harry sighed in frustration. He had learned in the past not to annoy Ron because he would be sure not to help out and would only make things worse. On top of that, Ron undoubtedly knew how to hold a grudge, unless he made the first move. However, Harry wasn't going to do that. Ron needed to grow up. He was sick and tired of him acting this way.
"Look, Ron –"
"No, Harry! You look here," Ron cut him off angrily, his ears turning red. "I bloody know what you're trying to do. I'm not stupid!"
"What I do is none of your business!" said Harry, his temper rising.
"It sure is!"
"Give him a break, Ron!" Ginny snapped, looking daggers at him.
"No. He needs to know what hiding something does to a person. I assure you, Ginny, it's not good!"
"I'm sure Harry must have a reason why he couldn't tell you," she tried to argue desperately, but deep down, she agreed with her brother.
Ron snorted. "Oh yeah, like he doesn't trust me, or you, or any of us!" he said angrily, his words piercing Harry like scalding knives.
Harry sat perfectly still. His head was lowered and he stared at his almost-empty plate. He felt a hard knot in the pit of his stomach as sadness filled him. I trust them, he told himself. I trust them so much that I don't want to hurt them.
Ron couldn't take Harry's silence anymore. He slammed his fist on the table with frustration, stood up and walked out of the kitchen.
The tension between Harry and Ron didn't subside over the next two days. Ron was being totally stubborn while Harry remained shut in his room each day after his morning routine of cooking them breakfast. He was considering getting a new owl now, but just the thought made him feel terrible. He missed Hedwig a lot. She was the only one who was always there for him; he felt like they had a bond and buying a new owl was pointless when he knew he himself wouldn't be alive for long.
Oddly enough, he hadn't had any chest pains recently. He felt completely healthy. Usually, his insides would burn twice a day for a few minutes. Maybe what he had felt before wasn't necessarily about his tainted soul. Maybe it was just a fluke or misguided information and he was just getting worked up over nothing. However, the books he'd borrowed from the library weren't exactly helping his paranoia. There were no mentions of healing charm or potions for the soul; most of them simply described the importance of having one, some philosophical views and their meanings. He badly needed to talk to Professor Slughorn again, but he had no other choice but to wait for Ron to calm down.
Ginny was also quiet most of the time as she helped her mother with the chores. She couldn't help but wonder how long she had to wait for Harry to speak up. She didn't want to start nagging him if it would only result in an argument. She wanted to avoid that if she could. But as days passed, she was starting to feel that maybe Ron was right. Maybe Harry really was having a hard time trusting them completely. She didn't want to give in to that idea, of course, but it was beginning to work its way into her mind.
Much to Molly's delight, the day of George Weasley's visit came much sooner than expected.
"Oh George, dear," Molly embraced her son tightly, giving him the once-over. "How's my handsome boy?" His freckles didn't totally hide his solemn expression when he showed up at the kitchen's fireplace that afternoon, but he plastered a huge grin on his face to cover it up.
"I'm as well as ever, mum."
Molly smiled. "Your dad will be home in a minute. Anything you'd like for dinner, dear?"
George shook his head. "No, any food will do."
She squeezed his shoulder and went to prepare for dinner.
George spotted Harry sitting watching them from the kitchen sipping his tea. Ginny was helping her mother, while Ron was nowhere to be found.
"George," Harry set his cup on the table, going over to him and giving him a brotherly hug. "How are you?
"Doing alright. You?" George asked as Harry settled himself back into his chair.
"Okay, I guess," he replied. "How are things at the shop?"
"Still booming," George told him. "Not that I'm complaining, of course."
Harry could see a flicker of sadness hiding behind his eyes.
"Are you settling in nicely in Percy's room, Harry?" George eyed him curiously.
"Yeah, everything's great."
George nodded his satisfaction and smiled at him.
"I remember when Fred and I turned Percy's bedroom walls pink because he wouldn't stop blushing when he had his first girlfriend."
"It annoyed him so much that he never spoke about his relationship to anyone ever again. Fred and I were devastated, of course. We ended up changing the colour to an even brighter pink to match his rage."
"Those are the things that make life more enjoyable, you know. It was annoying for Percy, but who cares, really. It was fun for us." George proudly stated, casting a grin at Harry.
Now that George had mentioned Percy, Harry wondered how he was doing. The last time he had seen him was at the battle of Hogwarts, and that was over two weeks ago. "Have you talked to Percy lately?"
"Oh yes, I was the one who suggested he should give you his room or I would turn it back to pink," George said matter-of-factly.
"And he just agreed?"
"I was expecting him to put up a fight so that I could jinx his room again, but no… he agreed like a good little dog. He said it was about time to move out anyway and start his so-called new life. He decided to come back and work in the Ministry when Cornelius Fudge stepped down as the Minister..."
That's true in its essence, thought Harry. Percy had finally realized just how corrupt the Ministry was and accepted that he had been wrong the whole time in believing that Voldemort wasn't back. He had reconciled with his family and fought alongside his brother, Fred, who sadly passed on when the battle took place at Hogwarts. Percy was totally grief-stricken after that.
"Kingsley Shacklebolt replaced Fudge as the acting Minister for Magic," said George knowingly. "Mind you, I was glad the wizarding world acted upon a decision to vote for someone worthy to be the next Minister."
At that moment, Mr. Weasley arrived home, smiling widely when he saw George.
"Son!" he greeted. "So good to see you!"
George walked over to him and gave him a warm hug.
"Me too, Dad."
Ron quickly bounded down the stairs when he heard George's voice in the kitchen.
"George!" he delightedly exclaimed, rushing forward to hug his older brother. "We weren't expecting you until dinnertime."
"What can I say, I missed my Ickle Ronnie-kins, that's why." George patted Ron's head and messed up his hair. "You're as tall as me now." He shook his head fondly.
They sat on kitchen chairs and chatted until Molly announced that dinner was ready. It was a hearty meal and everyone enjoyed their time at the table, except Ron, who kept shooting angry scowls at Harry. Harry was also silent for the majority of the time. George found this odd, but Ginny gave him a knowing look.
When everybody had finished their food, Molly looked hopefully at George. "Are you staying longer, dear?"
"Yeah, only for tonight and then I have to leave early tomorrow."
"Oh good," she smiled sweetly. "I've washed and put new sheets on your bed."
The night dragged by and Harry found himself staring out of his window blankly. He heard a knock and quickly opened the door.
"Is Ron with you? I've brought butterbeer." George lifted the bottles in his hands to show Harry. "Thought maybe you guys could join me in my secret sanctuary."
"Sure, I could join you," said Harry, and lowering his voice he added, "But I don't think Ron would want to be near me."
"Why not?" Seeing the glum look on Harry's face, George quirked his eyebrows. "Did you guys have a lovers' quarrel?"
Harry didn't respond, which was the only answer George needed.
"Well, whatever it is, it can't be that bad," said George consolingly. "A nice, long, heart-to-heart talk should do it, don't you think?"
"That's the thing… I was kind of the one trying to prevent that from happening," Harry said truthfully.
"And why's that?" George waited, but Harry remained silent with an emotionless look.
"Come on, then." He nudged Harry. "Let's have a little chat, shall we?"
To be continued...
A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!
Beta-read by janie-ohio, MaraScarlett, KVeronicaP
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