Harry followed George upstairs until they reached his bedroom. George opened the door and went straight to the window, through which he climbed up, and gestured for Harry to follow him before he disappeared around a corner.
They sat on the roof just above the window. Harry could see the vast field from up there. It was quiet and very peaceful. He let the summer air brush his face and calm him slightly.
"Welcome to my sanctuary," George piped up as he handed Harry a bottle of butterbeer. "Fred and I spent most of our time here thinking of ideas for the shop or just escaping from mum when we fooled around - even if it would probably end with no supper, a Howler, and a healthy dose of motherly guilt thrown in."
Harry grinned. No wonder he couldn't find them the last time he had been at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley had been fuming and looking for the twins, who apparently had just disappeared out of nowhere. Of course they had all given up and just waited for the twins to show up themselves. And by the time they did, Mrs. Weasley had forgotten all about it.
"It's great being out here where it's quiet and peaceful... Thanks for sharing this spot with me," Harry said, surprised that he couldn't even hear the gnomes hiding underneath the rose bushes.
"It's great having someone to share it with again, so thank you," George mirrored with a small, nostalgic smile. "So how are things, Harry? Are you up to anything lately?" he went on excitedly, gazing at the sky above them.
"I haven't really planned anything at the moment. I kind of just wanted to... rest for a while."
"You must be feeling the pressure, huh? Being the saviour of the wizarding world, the expectations must be coming around like crazy. Tell me, are you going to be the youngest Minister pretty soon? That's what I've been hearing lately. One idiot even said that you're going to take Stan Shunpike as your second-in-command if he didn't make it as Minister. I bet you anything it was him talking when I passed by the Leaky Cauldron."
"Yeah, no doubt it was him," said Harry. He recalled Stan after the Quidditch World Cup making the same outrageous and false comment in an effort to make an impression. "It wouldn't be the first time that I've heard of him bragging about being the next Minister. Was he trying to impress another group of veela again?"
"I don't know... he must've been," said George thoughtfully. "But he's not a man of high intelligence, is he? Still making those claims after landing himself in a lot of trouble at the Ministry."
"It was not his fault," defended Harry. "He didn't really know what he was doing at the time."
"Yeah... but he's still a stupid bloke. So, you're not planning to be a Minister, then?" George asked, genuinely grinning unlike before.
Harry stared incredulously at him. "Are you serious? Who said I would want more fame on my plate? I can hardly go out without being gawked at as if I were in a zoo."
George gave a sigh of relief. "Oh, good! I placed a bet with Angelina that you would decline if offered and instead join as Seeker on a Quidditch team. Sounds promising, huh?" A smile flashed across his face.
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why would I want to be on a Quidditch team?"
"Who doesn't? It's Quidditch!" exclaimed George, looking at Harry in disbelief. He took a sip of his drink and said casually, "I know Ginny plans to eventually join the Holyhead Harpies. Did she tell you?"
Harry shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of."
"Well, don't let me spoil the fun. It's really great and all... and I'm proud of my sister. So proud!"
"'You start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.'" Harry spoke the words thoughtfully. "That's how Ginny described growing up with you and Fred. That's how much you've influenced her... and I couldn't agree more."
George beamed at him and said, "Hmm... I admit that Fred and I were snarky, sarcastic, and relentlessly rude – but underneath our well-intentioned tormenting, we cared very deeply for our siblings more than we let on. Glad to know that our efforts were paving its way to our sister and -" George cast a patronizing look over Harry before continuing. "I can clearly see your attempts to woo the heart of our Ginny."
Harry looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger. He tried to suppress the urge to turn pink in the face. It had taken him years of frustration of wrestling with his feelings and worrying about what Ron might have thought if he acted on those affections. He realized too late that he had to deal with George as well.
Like Ron, George gave a tiny jerk of the head that Harry understood to mean, Well - if you must.
"Just don't break her heart," George advised. "Her Bat-Bogey Hex is a legend... you know that, right?"
"I'm aware of it," muttered Harry, trying to sound nonchalant, although he was afraid that Ginny might hex him one day once his secret of having a tainted soul was out.
"She doesn't say much to us," admitted George. "She's very private when it comes to her love life... probably thinks Fred and I would play a prank on her. I don't know where she got the idea that we cannot be trusted, but I personally don't blame her. It's you who should be careful now," he threatened Harry in a friendly tone. Harry took it as a cue to watch himself from then on and stay away from possible tricks from George that were reserved only for him.
"You're absolutely right, I should," concurred Harry. "I don't want to be throttled upon by a red-headed wizard."
George smirked, patting him on the back. He then said, "That's my boy," before taking another gulp of his drink.
"So how are you and Angelina?" Harry asked, making George cough suddenly.
"Now, now... don't get started with me about my love life, young man."
They both laughed heartily.
George cleared his throat. "Actually, I want to marry her, and -" Harry opened his mouth to say something, but George held up his hand. "Believe it or not, Harry, it's not a joke."
"Well, I'm happy for you."
George gave a nod of appreciation. "It would be the best decision of my life, considering. I like it when she laughs at my stupid jokes." Drawing a deep breath, he continued, "She's my source of comfort now. Angelina kept me sane most of the time and even more so now after - you know..." He trailed off, unable to carry on, but Harry understood completely.
There was a slight silence between the two. Their eyes looked beyond the vast night sky in front of them.
"I wanted to get out what is on my mind, but -" Harry hesitated.
"- But you don't want to worry your friends?" George had somehow read his mind quickly.
Harry gave a curt nod.
"Quite understandable," George sympathized. "There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries. I used to think that way myself until Fred made me realize that I can trust the others as well, as long as I'm honest. Since then, I've noticed that people do confide in me easily. I used to think these were just coincidences - being in the right place at the right time."
"Were they?" asked Harry.
"No. I came to the conclusion that I am gifted with good looks and perfect personality traits that leave others no choice but to talk to me. Seriously, Harry, if I'd known from the start, I wouldn't have gone through so much drama in the first place."
Harry sniggered and laughed. It was a good thing he wasn't drinking his butterbeer at the time, or else he would be choking. "I find that hard to believe -" Harry muttered under his breath, but George shot him a fierce look, making him change his sentence halfway through. "I meant the drama part."
George seemed satisfied with Harry's choice of words and went on, "I know... I find it hard to believe as well that Fred and I were born for greatness." There was a slight seriousness in his demeanour before he spoke again. "Let me tell you a little secret." He paused, his eyes glinting under the moonlight. "I never talked about my problems to anybody except Fred. I confided with him so much, thinking that there was nobody else I could trust, not even my parents." He lowered his head and stared at the froth left in his almost empty butterbeer.
"Fred and I have done a lot in life together," George continued. "We knew that most of them were silly and stupid, and we proudly represented trouble at all costs, but that made it even more worth it because I had him, you see. He had my back when I needed him, and I had his in return. We helped each other and worked things out because I wouldn't be able to do half of the things I do now without him. You know what I'm trying to say, right?" He looked over at Harry, who hadn't taken a sip of his drink and was just holding it in between his hands, staring at George intently and contemplating his words.
"I know," Harry whispered.
"Ron may be the last person you'd likely confide yourself in because he's the biggest prat ever to walk this earth," George declared, making Harry chuckle. "But I know him, Harry… not because he's my brother, but I know for a fact that he would give all of his best to that one person he calls best friend."
"I've heard a lot of your adventures together," George said, looking at Harry, overly quiet beside him. He continued, "He stuck by you, you learned and fought together… solved mysteries. You guys have been through a lot; you trusted each other. Wouldn't you agree that he has already proven himself to be worthy of your trust?" he asked.
Harry felt guilty. He hadn't given Ron credit for it recently. He was always busy thinking of Ron and Hermione's own well-being without even realizing anything else. He valued their friendship to the point that he thought their camaraderie was enough to just go on in life and not give them any more to think about. He was absolutely wrong.
"To lose both an ear and a twin all in the same short space of time is more than most could tolerate. Heck, I couldn't even produce a Patronus, now that I think about it. Anyway, I'm only saying this because... I don't want you to regret it when the time comes that you lose someone important to you –" George paused, a slight break in his voice. He was unable to hold back the tears that were slowly falling from his eyes.
"I'm sorry," Harry said suddenly when silence fell between them. George lifted his head up with a sad smile.
"I think the hardest part of losing someone isn't having to say goodbye," he said in a low voice, only barely loud enough for Harry to hear. "But rather learning to live without them and always trying to fill that void… that emptiness that's left inside your heart when they go. I don't think I can ever truly get over a loss, you know… but I chose to move forward because I know that's what Fred would want me to do, I should at least honour his memory and not sit around and brood."
Harry nodded his understanding. If his surroundings could have reflected the feelings inside him, they would have been screaming in the pain and sorrow of losing the people close to him. It was unbearable. He tried not to think, but it was so terrible that he could not let it go.
"It's hard," Harry said very quietly. "I know in time it will be the small everyday occurrences that I'll remember most: the laughs, the stories, the smiles..." He trailed off.
"Although it might seem like the pain will never go away, it is these very memories that will help push the sorrow away and bring back happier feelings in time," George assured him. "There are always people who are willing to help to alleviate some of the pain, Harry. You don't always have to face it alone. I am open whenever you need me, even if it's just for a change of scenery and a bottle of Firewhisky next time. You are always welcome."
Harry gave a small smile and murmured his thanks.
The silence and the stillness dragged, broken only by the soft wind moving around them.
"Don't worry," George said after a while and patted Harry's shoulder. "I will personally smack Ron's head for you, so drink up, mate!"
He raised his bottle toward the dark sky as Harry did the same and said with great pleasure, "Cheers!"
Ron and Ginny, on the other hand, were having a not-so-friendly chat in the living room. Their parents had already gone upstairs, leaving them both free to row like cats and dogs.
"I told you, Ginny, to keep yourself out of this!" Ron said hotly.
"And you expect me to just ignore it when it's about Harry?" Ginny asked incredulously. "Well, that's not gonna happen, so better luck next time, Ron! And you're being such a jerk to him, so quit doing it!"
Ron looked extremely exasperated.
"What do you want me to do, then? He is so hard to talk to; not to mention he won't say a single damn thing about whatever he's hiding and acts like it's okay for everybody else and that we're just going to sit and watch him."
"What you need to do is to control that temper of yours!" she countered. "That's one of the reasons why Harry won't talk to you."
"That's a bit cheap coming from you! And he's being such an arse!" Ron reasoned out in anger. "Mouth always shut when obviously there's something wrong!"
Ginny sighed heavily.
"Harry was brought up like that, Ron. Can't you see? He was forced to believe that no one can help him, so he keeps everything to himself. He was taught that no one cares about his problems. Even if you rub it in as much as you can that people do care about him, there's always that small voice in his brain telling him that people might not actually care," she tried to explain to Ron. "And here you are just jumping down his throat, and not even once did you pause for a minute and understand why he's like that."
"I only wanted to help," he said, calming down a little. "Is that so much to ask?"
"I know you did. Harry's got a lot on his mind, I can tell, but you have to understand that it'll be really hard to get him to talk if he already set his mind not to say anything." Ginny pointed her finger at Ron and added quickly, "Just warning you now, I don't want you to feel disappointed and start yelling at him if he tells you nothing."
"Wouldn't be the first time he'd done it," he stated as though saying nothing was Harry's expertise. "Hermione and I always had to push him to talk, and he's still not used to it. It's not that hard."
"For you, it's not, but for him it is!" Ginny pointed out.
"Still, he should trust us more, don't you think?"
She stared at the floor. "It's not really about trust anymore," she said calmly but with a hint of sadness. "Sometimes, I feel like he doesn't want us to worry about him, like he's already moved on… you know what I mean?"
"He's being selfish then, and he's pretty good at that!" Ron snarled.
"No, there's something else," she said softly. "I just don't know what it is."
"Well, screw it!" Ron stood up abruptly and made his way upstairs. "I'll confront him tomorrow and hope for the stars that he knows how to use his mouth – and that is to talk."
"Could you please stop right now and listen!" Ginny yelled, glaring at her brother's retreating back.
But Ron continued to walk upstairs until he disappeared into his bedroom.
Ron didn't sleep well that night. He just tossed and turned in his bed, still fuming. He had only just managed to fall asleep when the sun was already up and light passed through his windows, making him curse when it hit his eyes. He swung his legs around, groggily stood up, and made his way downstairs. But before he could even take one more flight of stairs going to the kitchen, he heard someone retching and crying out in agony in the bathroom right next to Harry's room.
Ron made his way to the bathroom door quickly and knocked.
"I'll be right there. Just give me a sec." It was Harry's voice and he sounded weak.
"Harry, are you okay?" Ron heard the toilet flushing and water running in the sink. "Harry?" He made a grab at the doorknob when Harry pulled it open.
"Ron," Harry said weakly. "Do you need anything?"
Ron looked at the state of him. Harry's eyes were red again, and he was breathing heavily.
"Harry, are you sick?"
Harry slowly made his way to his room, ignoring Ron's worried look.
"I just need to lie down, Ron. I'll be fine." He made a move to close the door behind him, but Ron held it open.
"I'll ask Mum for help."
"No!" Harry made to grab Ron, but he was already running upstairs to his parents' bedroom.
Harry felt himself going red in the face. It was bad enough without everyone making all this fuss.
A few minutes later, Ron came down and entered Harry's room with Mrs. Weasley behind him, a few potion bottles in her hands. They saw Harry huddled in a corner in his bed, his head in his hand. He looked up when he heard them enter.
"Harry, dear." Mrs. Weasley went over to check him. "Ron told me you're ill."
"Mrs. Weasley, I'm okay," Harry reassured her while trying to move away. "Please don't worry."
Ron crossed his arms. "I heard you retching and moaning in pain in the bathroom, Harry. Don't tell me that's nothing."
Harry glared at him.
"Lie down, Harry," Mrs. Weasley ordered gently, bending down to stare closely at him. She pushed back Harry's hair and felt his forehead. "You have a slight fever, and you do look pale. Drink this." She handed him a purple potion. Harry took it and gulped down the contents.
"Try to rest," she said comfortingly. "I'll come by again to check on you." She stood up and left.
Ron closed the door behind him and stood awkwardly in front of Harry. They looked at each other silently. Ron didn't know what to say, but Harry knew perfectly well why Ron remained in his room.
"Harry," Ron started while looking at his feet.
"Are you here to ask what's wrong with me?" Harry asked with a sigh. "Because I have no intention of saying anything –" he hesitated as he remembered the talk he had with George last night about confiding with Ron. He took a deep breath and muttered, "For now."
Harry saw a flicker of hope and relief spread in Ron's face when he looked up and met his eyes.
Clearing his throat, Ron said, "That's fine." And unable to control himself, he cracked a small smile.
Surprisingly, Harry smiled back. He missed his best friend and he wanted everything to go back to the way it was before and make the most of the time he had left with him.
He coughed a little and said softly, "I don't want to sound rude, Ron, but I'd like to rest."
"Oh, um… sure," said Ron and hurried out the door.
Ginny came down for breakfast that morning expecting Harry to be up like always, but he was nowhere in sight. Mrs. Weasley was cooking breakfast, and Ginny was greeted in the kitchen by Ron, who looked like Christmas had come early.
"What's up with you?" she asked him.
Ron made a huge grin. "Oh, you know… Harry."
Eyes wide, predicting the worst, Ginny asked, "What did you do to him?"
Ron frowned at the sudden accusation. "I didn't do anything. We just talked."
"What did you tell him, Ron?" she asked sharply.
"Jeez… relax, Ginny. We're all good now."
"What do you mean? Where is he, anyway?" Ginny asked while looking around at the kitchen. "Is he still sleeping?"
"He was awake earlier, but he's probably sleeping again. He's sick." Ron informed her.
"Sick? Why would he get sick? He was fine yesterday."
"That's what I thought too," said Ron. "I heard him throwing up and in pain in the bathroom this morning."
Ginny frowned slightly. "Did he say anything else?"
Ron shook his head. "Mum gave him a potion. She'll come back to check on him."
"I'll check on him now." Ginny made to move, but Mrs. Weasley stopped her.
"Not now, dear. Let him rest. I'm making soup, and you can take it up later."
Ginny sighed, but she nodded sadly and helped her mother cook breakfast instead.
"Mum, where's George?" Ron asked suddenly.
"He left early this morning," Mrs. Weasley said gloomily. "It'll probably take weeks before George will come and visit again."
The day was already half over when Mrs Weasley decided to have Ginny check Harry's condition, bearing a cup of hot soup.
Ginny knocked gently at Harry's door, but he didn't answer. She slowly opened it and looked inside. Harry was lying in bed, shaking and sweating profusely, his back toward her.
"Harry?" She checked his forehead for any sign of fever; he was burning up.
Harry moved his head a little and looked at her.
"Ginny," he croaked and gave her a weak smile.
"You have a very high fever, Harry, and you're shivering," Ginny told him nervously while placing a blanket on top of him. "Didn't you take a Fever-Reducing potion already?"
Harry nodded and closed his eyes.
"I have to tell mum. It might take a while before you can drink another potion. I don't know why it didn't work the first time. I'll be right back." Ginny made sure that Harry was totally covered with blankets before running downstairs.
She arrived back a few moments later with her mother and Ron behind her. Mrs. Weasley also checked Harry's temperatures and confirmed that he had developed a high fever, sadly noting that he would have to wait for another hour before taking another potion.
"For the meantime, you have to eat." Mrs. Weasley gestured for Ginny to grab the soup she had set aside on the table before leaving. "We've brought you soup. Drink it while it's hot."
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said weakly before she left.
Ron propped the pillows and helped Harry in a sitting position. He slid the glasses on Harry's face and let Ginny position herself beside Harry, holding the soup.
"I can eat it by myself, Ginny," Harry said, looking slightly embarrassed.
Ginny sighed but made no move. "I don't know if you know, Harry, but you are shaking. I don't think you can even hold a spoon properly."
She scooped some soup and brought it over to Harry's mouth, and he reluctantly took it.
Ron couldn't help but grin at the sight of them.
"You better heal fast, mate, or else Ginny will take advantage of you."
Ginny glared at him. "Don't you have better things to do?"
"What? I'm standing guard just in case Harry needs my help," said Ron petulantly.
Harry smiled at him. "I'm okay, Ron. Don't worry about me."
"Admit it, you just want to be alone with Ginny," Ron said while smirking at his best friend.
"Can I have your permission, then?" asked Harry, looking hopeful at Ron who looked back as though silently saying, 'You better keep your hands off my sister or else.'
"Fine," he said, sounding exasperated. He turned around and walked out the door, taking as long as possible.
Harry and Ginny stared at the closed door for a few minutes, then looked at each other awkwardly.
"I don't know how you can handle my brother," said Ginny, scooping some more soup from the bowl. "I can't stand him. He's so irritating."
"He gets on my nerves sometimes," Harry said truthfully.
"He gets on everyone's nerves," she corrected him. She brought the spoon to Harry's mouth, and he gladly took it now that Ron wasn't there to make fun of him.
"But I'm grateful for him for being my best friend, though," he said after gulping down the soup. "I can't imagine my life without someone as annoying as him. It'd be so boring."
"I do have to admit that he's a good person if you don't count his pettiness," she said as though it were the last thing to ever cross her mind. She even looked quite surprised at what she'd said.
"He is," Harry replied shortly.
"He's pretty adamant in knowing what your problem is." Ginny looked at him nervously, but he showed no expression that he had heard, so she continued, "Please don't push him or us away, because you are not alone in this."
Harry couldn't help but feel really empty, and having Ginny tell him that he was not alone - that he had friends who supported him and were willing to help him out no matter what it took - was the best feeling and one that he didn't want to disappear.
They were silent for a moment. Then Ginny looked up at Harry, her voice quivering when she spoke, "I'm scared to think that I may lose you one day. I don't know why or how... but I can feel it. I may not have the slightest idea of what is happening to you, but I don't want to just give up. There is always hope, no matter how bad it gets, and I need you, Harry. I want you to stay with me."
Harry felt his heart ache. He wanted to say that everything was going to be okay, even to himself; he knew, however, that it was a lie. He would trade his life for anything just to be with her, to make her happy.
"Harry." Ginny grabbed his hand and looked straight at him. "Please promise me you'll tell me what's wrong before it's too late. Don't pretend that there's nothing wrong when there is. It's alright to not be alright sometimes."
Harry wanted so badly to tell her now, and he wanted this time to be the right moment to reveal all the aches and pains he was feeling. He opened his mouth, ready to say what he had been keeping hidden for weeks, but a knock came at the door, and the opportunity was lost.
Ginny sighed and opened the door. It was Mrs. Weasley.
"Ginny, could you tell Harry I prepared a cool bath for him? It'll help bring down his fever." Clearly Mrs. Weasley was thinking that she had to resort to Muggle treatments if the potion wasn't working.
Ginny nodded silently.
Ron returned to Harry's room a few minutes later, only to find it empty. He went across to grab the half-eaten bowl of soup at the desk, as it would be no use to Harry now that it was cold. He was about to leave when his eyes caught some random pieces of paper with Harry's handwriting on it sticking in between the pages of different books. Curious, Ron pulled one paper and read:
internal pain, confusion, mental breakdown, antisocial behaviour
Startled as to why Harry had written it, Ron seized the book in which the paper had been placed. He opened it.
The page contained various ailments and afflictions. It had several pieces of information on how each of them affected the body, its symptoms, and how it could lead to death, but none of it specified the treatments.
Why would Harry read something like this? Ron thought. He flipped the book to read the cover: The Soul. He scanned the rest of the books lying on the desk and read each cover. Souls and Its Mysteries. Soul: The Introduction.
Ron stared at all the books in front of him. Everything is all about souls, he said to himself. But why the sudden interest in it? He was well aware that they couldn't have gotten assignments at Hogwarts for the summer since they hadn't come back for their seventh and final year. They only went back to Hogwarts for the war. We didn't get any homework, Ron thought in total bewilderment.
He racked his brain trying to make sense of everything when he suddenly heard Ginny come out of her room, and she knocked on the bathroom door across from hers.
"Harry, just checking in. Are you alright in there?"
"Yeah," Harry answered. "I'm fine. I'll be out soon."
Ron walked hurriedly out of Harry's room and confronted Ginny before she went back to her room.
To be continued...
A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!
Beta read by KVeronicaP, FatCatsAndUnicorns, janie-ohio, Scaehime
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