Title: Great Expectations
Rating: PG-13, heavily implied slash
Fandom/Pairing: HP, HP/GeW, lots and lots of minor pairings
Disclaimer: Rowling, Bloomsbury, Scholastic and Warner Brothers own pretty much everything contained in this story, I'm enacting a bit of thievery.
Summary: Harry defies expectations, George gets what he wants, Fred and Draco play mind games. A comedy of errors…or something.
Dedication: To Heidi, on the occasion of her birthday, because she's sweet and wants Harry to be happy.
Of late it was not the headlines and the handshakes and the heartfelt murmurs of appreciation from earnest young witches that plagued Harry's mind. All of the attention, ninety-nine percent of it positive, was a nice change from The Daily Prophet's constant libel of the past, but all of that, the hubbub over him finally having done good and away with Voldemort, seemed a bit peripheral.
What everybody had failed to mention to Harry was that if Voldemort's downfall coincided with his graduation (and coincided it had, when the Dark Lord had unwisely decided to crash the ceremony, thereby thoroughly irritating Harry) all of the expectations that had lain about Harry's neck since the eve of his eleventh birthday would suddenly up and disappear in a wisp, and he would be left with no direction whatsoever.
It was evident that once one had been deemed a savior by the average populace, he was expected to fulfill that role throughout the rest of his majority, regardless of a lack of opposing forces from which to save people. All things considered, Harry had defied both Hades and high rushing water to qualify for Auror training, and as that fell neatly into the category of "Things A Savior Might Find It Worth His Time To Do," he went ahead and signed up.
Only to find out that most Auror's were privy to a decisive lack of sponteneaity or ability to think without the Ministry tightening up their brain-laces. Though he would never admit it to Snape, Harry was well aware of his slight problem with following orders blindly.
Seeing as how his every action was reported back to a bevy of published periodicals, widely circulated or otherwise, Harry felt that leaving Auror training without a clear, well-thought out plan of what to do next -- something that would mollify the public and yet achieve his aims -- would be not only foolhardy, but a bit on the dangerous side.
Unfortunately, this pragmatic approach to having landed himself in a metaphorical cauldron full of boiling doxy venom wasn't changing what his subconscious thought about the situation at all. At night, when Harry finally managed enough firewhiskey to tug him down into sleep, he saw one thing. George Weasley.
Harry, though not much for introspection, knew that Fred and George were figureheads for freedom, for doing what one needed to do for himself, for not allowing others to control them. Given all this, it wasn't George flying out of Hogwarts on his broomstick, his laughter mocking Dolores Umbridge's screams that Harry consistently saw.
It was George's face, nearly hidden by a set of bars and two panes of glass windows as Ron asked, "What's been going on?" George's eyes above a grin that matched Fred's, his out-of-place eyes, that didn't see adventure, but rather bars and an underweight boy behind them who hadn't received letters from his friends for the whole of the summer. Eyes that said, "C'mon, get out of here, come with us, who cares what mum or Dumbledore or the whole bloody wizarding world says? Just get in the bloody car."
Harry thought about going to visit the twins at the shop every morning upon waking. Every evening, he returned to his flat without having done so. He wasn't entirely sure what was stopping him, wasn't entirely sure whether he was more afraid that George's eyes would take on the same look upon seeing him, or an entirely different one.
He was afraid though, so instead of taking a Sunday to sneak a peek at the Weasley's new whizzes, Harry squandered them at the flat of two different Weasley's, Ron and the newly-christened Hermione, watching them squabble and build a life for themselves that Harry could only vaguely comprehend.
When he came home the dream was always waiting for him.
"Fred says you're avoiding them."
Hermione whapped Ron atop his head. "Fred is not a them."
"Besides which, I'm not avoiding anyone." Harry wasn't feeling particularly up to watching Hermione and Ron have a newlywed spat involving proper pronoun usage.
"Then why have you refused their last three invites to visit?"
"Maybe I have better things to be doing," Harry snapped.
Ron held up both hands. "Whoa, hey, this is the messenger you're killing here."
"Wouldn't be the first." Harry rubbed at the skin around his eyes.
"Well, no, but those messengers were evil."
"Only your word and seven and a half solid years of friendship says you're not." Harry deliberately put his hands at his side and stared in challenge at Ron.
"Stop it Ron, it's obvious Harry doesn't want to talk about his crush." Hermione tangled her fingers in Ron's.
Simultaneously, Ron and Harry asked, "Crush on who?"
"Well, it's either Fred or George," Hermione reasoned, "since that's generally the only reason Harry avoids people whom he at one time considered close friends."
Harry knew better than to protest. "Sure, Hermione. You've caught me."
"Trust me on this, Harry, Charlie's a much better guy to have a crush on. Despite the high-risk job, he's far more reliable. I can't imagine Tonks minding terribly." Ron nodded, as though having proclaimed Charlie to be the better choice, Harry could just wander off and change things that, as far as Harry was concerned, weren't even there to be changed.
"I'll get right on that."
"Ginny would've been best of course, seeing as how she managed to inheret the better parts of all of us, but I wouldn't wanna fight Luna for her, really, so I suppose you'll just have to settle."
It would've been best all around, Harry was quite sure, had he liked anything with a pair of breasts and a healthy shot of estrogen. "I don't have a crush on any of your siblings."
Something in his tone must have filtered through to Hermione. "Then what's got you pretending to be busy?"
"I guess I just haven't been feeling up to laughing."
Ron frowned. "Get out of here."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"You heard me, get out. Go see Fred and George. Now, seriously."
In a duel, Harry would beat Ron nine times out of every ten and the tenth would have to involve extreme amounts of bizarre luck and good karma on Ron's part. Which didn't change the fact that Harry had no desire to ever push things to a point where he would have to duel with Ron. Lately, he hadn't even felt up to verbal sparring.
"If I go this afternoon, will it get both of you off my arse?"
Ron repeated, "Go," with more emphasis and Hermione smiled sweetly. Harry cut his losses and left.
Fred opened the door. "Do I know you?"
Harry flushed. "Sorry I haven't been around."
"S'pose I might as well let you in, now't you've deigned to come around and all." Fred stood back from the door.
Harry stepped inside to see George almost directly behind Fred, waiting. "Hullo, Harry." He held out a hand filled to the brim. "A Bertie?"
Harry knew better than to accept unsolicited food from either of the twins. In fact, he knew better than to accept solicited food before thoroughly checking it for jinxes. He was obviously on the twins's shit list, however, and it was a well known truth that the easiest way to get off of said list was to give the twins a good laugh. Harry tentatively picked a red out of the pile and popped it in his mouth.
Fred suggested, "Have a seat, would you?"
Harry tried, really, he did. Only, no part of him would stick to anything. His feet bounced up from the ground the second they touched, his arse couldn't stay flat on the couch for more than a moment before he was shooting back up. Harry gave up after a few tries and walked around a bit, because actually, the bouncing made for a pretty good time. The twins followed him around, making fun of him in between chattering at each other about formulas and spells and, "Maybe a bit less on the height, you think?"
When Harry finally could sit, he collapsed into the overstuffed couch that was his very favorite thing among many favorite things in the twins's flat. The couch molded itself to Harry's physique (the result of an experimental but well-placed Reaction Charm) and Harry asked, "Am I forgiven?"
Fred opened his mouth to say something but George beat him to it. "Are we?"
Fred's shoulders sat higher than usual, his whole countenance one of deceptively blasé defensiveness. George, on the other hand, just stared at Harry, his eyes wondering who this kid he had at one time considered a brother had become. It was the fact that George's eyes wondered, rather than outright condemned that lead Harry to say, "The bounce needs a bit more padding to it, it jolts a bit on the landing."
Fred unfurled ever so slightly. "Come to see the new Top Secrets?"
No. Harry smiled. "What else would I visit the two of you for?"
Fred and George's flat was located on the second floor of a building. The first floor was the much-improved-from-the-original-version Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. For one thing, it was larger. Also, the twins had earned a considerable amount of galleons from the first, smaller enterprise and poured a decent amount of that back into the second location for ambience. The store was bursting with colors and rioutous wizarding photographs and a few surprises for the unwary customer perusing the wares. The twins lead Harry, not so carefully, through its aisles, causing him to trigger at least three of those "friendly surprises."
Kindly, they showed off their newest stuff, jokes that hadn't yet left the Experiment Room accessed through a password protected secret door behind the cash register, using themselves as the testing subjects. Some of the gadgets were still definitively in need of fine tuning, but there were others that made Harry laugh until his throat and lungs burned.
When he finally left, Fred and George reminded him to, "Come back, git," in the exact same tone of voice at the exact same time. Fred's eyes had their traditional spark of amusement, but George's eyes betrayed a hint of inner unease, as if unsure his invitation was being heard. The uncharacteristic vulnerability made Harry all the more determined to come back. If he couldn't make things right in his own world, he could at least try to continue doing so for everybody else.
George was leaning on the outside of the phone booth when Harry came up from the Ministry, knackered from a day's worth of training and a noticeable lack of passion for the whole process of becoming an Auror. George offered, "Buy you a drink?"
"Sure, but I'm putting down for dinner with it."
Measuring his longer strides to Harry's, George said, "I'd prefer if you'd let me pick that up as well, then."
Harry faltered. "Have you been talking to Ron?"
George frowned. "He is my brother."
"Right, I mean. What did he tell you?"
"What are you on about?"
Too tired to maintain a circular route of conversation Harry said, "Is this a date?"
George squinted. "I'm offering to pay, what else would it be?"
"Bloody hell if I would know, the last person I went on a date with was Cho and it was a perfect little disaster."
"That can happen with girls."
"I'm pretty sure I can make it happen with anybody."
"For fuck's sake, Harry. You're hungry, I want to buy you food, what's the worst thing that could possibly happen?"
"I could fall in love and then you and Fred could switch playing each other in order to sell the story 'Boy Who Lived Involved in Incestuous Sex Scandal!' to The Daily Prophet."
"While that is brilliant," George admitted, "and I'm mildly flattered that you compliment me by suggesting not only that I could pull it off but that I could envision it in the first place, as it so happens, you're not something I'm willing to share with Fred."
Harry nearly tripped. "You share everything with Fred."
"Until now, yes."
When Harry was eleven, Hagrid had given him a hug. It was the first hug anyone had ever given him. It was suffocating and too long and wonderful. The sensation of that hug ghosted through Harry's mind as he processed to what George had just confessed. "I'm starved."
"Logically, at that point the only thing to do was just Finite Incantatum the whole venture," George said.
He wasn't going to mention it, but Harry had found that when it came to the twins, logic very rarely had much to do with anything. "Naturally."
"So Fred went ahead and threw a Finite out-"
"Lemme guess," Harry interrupted, not because he had any particular gift at foresight, but George's stories tended to take on a pattern, "it didn't work?"
"We think, after some rather serious research into the situation, that it actually managed to loop the spell somehow, so that even when it had run its course, it just started back at the beginning. Actually, we'd love to figure out how because talk about a useful trick, using one spell for almost the complete opposite of its intended purpose, but so far, no luck."
Harry personally thought when they found the cause -- and he had no doubt that they would -- it would only be because the world's natural defensive barriers against increasing chaos had failed once again. "How'd you get the couch to stop talking?"
George flushed in that way he had, wherein it looked less like embarrassment and more like stealthily sheathed mischief coming to the surface. "I read to it from one of my old History textbooks. Put the bugger right to sleep. The spell ceased once its momentum was removed. We haven't figured the why of that yet either, to be honest."
"You'll have to let me in on it when you do, even if I have to sign over my kidney or something for the right of confidentiality. My curiosity won't rest until then, you arse."
"I can think of something I'd ask for before your kidney," George said. He glided on without allowing the comment to sink in, "You've barely spoken all night."
Harry enjoyed having someone else be the focus of events, it was a nice change, but he knew all about having to give a little in order to receive. Generally, in fact, he knew about giving a lot in order to receive. "Your stories are a bit more lively than anything I have to say."
"That's because I live with a git who can’t figure out how not to set the bloody sink on fire and you're the imminently capable Harry Potter living in his swank little flat. It's all right, we'll find something for you to tell me."
"It's not all that swank, really. I was offered some places like you wouldn't believe but they wanted publicity in exchange for my habitation and there's no point to having a home that everyone watches all day and night."
"Then why'd you pick the place you're at?"
"Oh, um." Harry looked away.
"You trading sexual favors for rent or something?"
"No! George. I mean, nothing like that."
"Well, it's really just a floor in a house you know, I think the house was originally Muggle, that I'm housing in servants quarters, or something. Anyway, the ad was run in the Prophet, which I never bloody read but I just happened to be scanning someone else's copy while riding the Ministry elevator and I saw it. I was near to accepting one of the swank places because I hadn't found anywhere that wasn't going to sell me out and I figured 'what the hell?' because the worst that happened was it was a dump or the owner flashed my name around a bit."
"The owner is this man, Allen Semperton, a life-long bachelor with life stories that sometimes make even yours pale in comparison. He's worked as a Hex Builder, a Charms Researcher for the French Ministry, fought in the Grindelwald Wars, you get the idea. When we set up the appointment, he didn’t say anything about my name, and when I showed up, he offered me tea and didn't stare at my scar. He's a bit like Remus, only older and with less personal history toward me. He made me feel like I was at home, so I stayed."
George nodded slowly. "See, that was something to say."
"That was just-"
"You," George cut him off.
"Me." Harry tried to remember the meaning of the word.
"There's a possibility," Harry stressed the "possible" aspect of the word, "that I have a tiny crush on George."
He was visiting Hermione mid-day, skipping out on an information session that was suggested but not required. He had pulled her out of her lab, despite her protests that she was in the middle of some crucially important research. Everything that Hermione did was crucially important. The firm that had hired her had outbid six other private firms throughout the world over to have the "foremost expert in the combination of arithmancical practice and herbal application in the Healing Arts" on their staff. Of course, Hermione was the foremost expert because she had invented the field after an accident that had involved Neville and the greenhouses and Vector being the closest professor around.
Hermione sat down on the stairs in front of the building and tugged him down beside her. "That's not a bad thing, Harry."
"Neither of us will ever hear the end of it from Ron," Harry said.
"Well, no, most likely not. I take it he returns your a-bit-more-than-tiny crush?"
"He took me to dinner last night. We, uh, we kinda closed the place down."
Hermione smiled. "That kind of time commitment's practically a proposal from one of the twins."
Harry laughed. "Don't expect any engraved invitations."
"Oh no, I'm keeping an eye out for owls that transform into singing munchkins."
"Right. Smart of you."
"I'm a smart girl. Which brings me to, why are you here instead of being the best Auror trainee you can possibly be?"
"You know how whenever I come to visit you you're always in the middle of something dire that you're terribly engaged in and my being here is just a bother?"
Hermione said, "Yes," but softened the bluntness of it with a hand to Harry's knee.
"I spend a lot of time hoping for something to happen to just get me out of there."
Hermione tightened her hand over his knee.
Hermione shook her head. "I have to go back and be direly crucially important now."
"You're doing that."
"What would happen if you didn't go back?"
She didn't wait for an answer. Not for the first time, Harry wished he had that kind of sense.
Harry lit out of the Ministry on Friday night, Apparating without pause to George and Fred's place. George had asked, "Dinner Friday night at my place? Fred says he's bringing someone too."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"No clue," George said, "only that it's been going on forever and he won't just tell me."
Harry frowned. "Were you secretive about me?"
George gave Harry a confused look. "With Fred?"
"Right, well, that's why I asked. I mean, what could he have to hide?"
"Beyond me, but I'd prefer if you were walking into the Lion's Den beside me. You throw a quicker AK."
"The truth comes out, you're only dating me for wandwork."
George's lips quirked. "Well, that and the imminent shaggability factor. Of course, I have no doubt the two are closely linked."
Harry was smiling at the memory of the conversation when he blinked back into being in the entry alcove of the twins's flat. "Hullo?" he called.
George answered, "In here." Harry followed the voice, only to realize that George had been using one of his prototypes and he was across the house from where the sound of his voice would have lead Harry. Harry refigured his course and found George, Fred, and Fred's somebody sitting in the living room.
Fred's somebody being none other than Draco Malfoy. The same Draco Malfoy who had insulted Molly Weasley no less than seven times to Harry's knowledge; who had provoked a fight that had gotten the three other men in the room kicked off the school Quidditch team.
Granted, it was also the same Malfoy revealed to have been working for Dumbledore via Snape since the time he was old enough to verbally communicate.
Still. The Quidditch team.
Harry said, "Um. Hello."
George said, "Took you long enough, the hall isn't that far away."
Harry worked out a, "Git."
After a considerable period of edgy, awkward silence, Fred stood up. He pulled Draco up fluently and acted as though nobody was watching them. "So. Dinner?"
"Sounds good." Malfoy looked relieved. He followed Fred out of the room, heading toward the kitchen.
As soon as they were gone, Harry asked, "Um, that's a joke, right?"
"Almost completely sure, but neither of them has done anything to give proof positive of this fact."
"You mean other than the fact that your brother Fred Weasley is pretending to date Draco Malfoy?"
George laughed. "Bloody rich, eh? I nearly fell over when Malfoy showed. I'm gonna have to think up a doozy to outdo this one."
"Just do me a favor and tell me if I figure into your grand payback scheme."
George crossed over to Harry, planting a belated hello kiss on his lips. "I'll even let you in on the planning stages."
Harry snickered. "No, really, a box of chocolates would do just fine as a declaration."
"Be careful what you wish for."
Harry recklessly disregarded the advice.
"You two just up and bloody decided that the whole blood enemies thing was getting old?" George asked as he poked investigatively at his salad greens.
"It was really only a matter of time." Fred shoveled down a sizeable lump of potatoes.
Harry caught the unsure look on Malfoy's face and decided to hit at where the structure of the whole charade might be weak. "It was either that or kill each other?"
Malfoy snickered at that. "We tried that first, Potter. As neither of us managed to definitively off the other, we decided a truce was in order."
Harry didn't miss the flicker in Malfoy's eyes at the word "truce." Malfoy was good, but then, Harry had known this, the other man had fooled everyone with the exception of two people for roughly fifteen years.
"You don't believe me," Fred addressed the comment across the table, to where George was sitting, and for all that they mattered, Harry and Malfoy might not have been in the same room.
"Should I?" George asked with the same type of singular concentration.
"I don't lie to you."
"You've been known to fib."
"Draco's not a fib."
"Draco is a Malfoy. To his kind, we're nothing but poverty-stricken blood traitors."
Harry spared a glance at Malfoy, whose facial muscles had evidently frozen into a bland semblance of calm. Malfoy took a chance at interrupting the twins with, "And to your kind, I'm patently nothing more than a spoiled little elitist brat, albeit one who is tolerated due to my idealogical disgust at the concept of genocide."
"Self-aware bugger, ain't he?" George asked the comment in Harry's general direction. Harry was staying out of it.
Fred took up answering for Harry. "Yes, he is. And tricky, clever, funny, everything I've always wanted to find in a person who wasn't related to me."
"It was funny when he showed up, but the joke is losing some of its luster, Fred," George informed him.
"It's. Not. A. Joke."
George rolled his eyes. "Okay, whatever, welcome to the family, Malfoy."
"Thanks, I'm sure, Weasley." Malfoy stabbed violently into a tomato.
Waiting a moment to see if hexes would be forthcoming, Harry asked, "So, anybody following the Falcons this season?"
Ron found it hysterical. It took several tries for him to finally wipe his eyes and say, "You, Fred Weasley, who once laced Draco Malfoy's pumpkin juice with Silence Serum so that any time he tried speaking he'd want to sick up are now dating your old test subject?" Evidently, making it through the question had been too much, because Ron collapsed back into laughter, gasping, "Good one, Fred."
Malfoy turned to Fred, "That was you?"
Fred affected his most practiced look of innocence. "George. Ron can't tell us apart."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Uh huh."
George for his part said, "All right, you've gotten a few laughs. Are we done now?"
"What would it take to make you believe?" Draco asked. "Shall I tell you about the birthmark he has on his-"
"Nice detail," George cut in, right when Harry thought things were getting interesting. "But I know him, there isn't anything he wouldn't tell you to make this go over, so really, I'm not sure there's anything you could tell me to make me believe, seeing as how, well, it isn't true."
"Can we pretend like it is for a minute, just for shits and giggles?" Hermione suggested in an attempt to break the tension that was ruining her Sunday supper. Fred threw her a look that quite clearly promised his first child would be named in her honor, regardless of biological sex.
Ron's eyes flew open in a fair approximation of being gob-smacked. "Honey, that's Malfoy you're talking about."
"Would that be the Malfoy who saved Harry from one of Voldemort's more complicated traps by delivering information to Dumbledore of which even Snape wasn't aware?" Without pause she asked, "Would you pass the pepper, please?"
Dumbly, Harry handed her the requested object. Ron spluttered. Malfoy concentrated deeply on his plate and muttered, "Thanks."
"Don't mention it." Hermione applied a coating of pepper smoothly across each of the items on her plate. "If you're going to do something, throw an apology my way for the myriad of insults you've managed to throw at me over the years. A sincere one, if you can handle it."
Malfoy's head shot up at that. "Severus's mother was Muggle. The mudblood thing was for show, something I was supposed to believe."
"Only purebloods are allowed into Slytherin," Harry countered.
"Unless you have some kind of blood tie to any of the Magical Founders. The Snape line can be traced back to Nemue, that trumps any kind of Muggle 'interference.'"
"Nemue was a spirit," Hermione said, with the air of someone finding a design flaw in a modern-day Titanic.
"No, she was human, just bloody odd." Malfoy tilted his head. "The point is, Severus is mixed and I've certainly no problem with him. I haven't any problem with you either, nor did I ever, you were just a convenient target. I mean, for such a smart girl, you didn't have the sense to realize that being friends with Potter and being head of the class made you something of a scapegoat for every mudblood hating wizard in the universe?"
"For such a smart boy, you didn't have the sense to realize that defying your parents and the most feared Dark Wizard living at the time might lead to dire consequences?" Hermione asked him with gentle aplomb.
Malfoy lifted his glass. "Touché."
Hermione inclined her head in acknowledgment. Ron stared at her in slightly disconcerted wonderment for a second before shrugging as if to suggest he knew he'd never understand all of her and rather enjoyed it that way. In spite of everything, the small action forced Harry to hide a smile in the guise of shoveling down his food.
Harry woke with a start at the touch of a hand to his back. "What?"
Mad-Eye had his wand out and ready, but Harry had recently curbed his instinct to grab at his wand and throw defensive spells upon being woken suddenly. Harry flicked his gaze away from the wand trained on him just long enough to notice that he was the only Auror candidate in the room, despite the fact that there had been six others when he was last conscious. "Sorry, Sir."
"You not getting enough shut-eye?" Moody asked.
Harry was not about to go into his sleeping habits with this man. Despite Moody's consistent -- if an off brand of -- support, Harry hadn't told anyone about the fact that he could sleep for eleven hours and wake up feeling exhausted. He didn't want to be fed Potions or to talk to Healers at Mungo's, he just wanted a morning wherein he didn't wake up anxious and nauseated and worn out. "Probably not. I'll try and take care of it."
Moody put his wand away. "Or was I just boring you?"
Harry pinned Moody with a look. "What's the likelihood?"
"With most people, I'd say nil. But you're not most people. Without repeating any overused epitaphs at you, I'd like to point out that yours is something of a unique situation."
Despite himself, Harry appreciated Moody's restraint. "And?"
"And perhaps that calls for something just a bit more extraordinary than sitting in these rooms, listening to me and other past-their-prime Aurors preach to you about things you've done instinctively since you were a soprano."
"You make training for one of the most exciting and honorable jobs in our world sound like a chore."
"You make it look like one."
Harry stilled. "I'll improve."
"If you of all people have to try, then you shouldn't be here. Your apathy is dangerous in this place." Moody held out a hand to stave off Harry's response. "I know it's not intentional. You're not the type. I'm telling you now though, the best of intentions will still pave a road to hell. You know you shouldn't be here, I know you shouldn't be here, nearly everyone in this program knows. But they won't kick Harry Potter out. So you're gonna have to be the brave soul who sucks things up and does what's best for everyone, yourself included."
"Because I've never done that." Harry closed his eyes briefly, upset at his loss of control, but not particularly at the words it had allowed free. "Besides, it wouldn't be for everyone. You know exactly what the Prophet and all its well meaning readers are going to do the minute I walk out of these doors with no intention of returning."
"That's their own damn problem, boy. You saved their lives. It's time to do a little bit of saving yourself."
"It doesn't work like that."
"Trust me, Harry." Moody's real eye shone old and tired and true. "It does."
Moody grabbed Harry's shoulder with his hand and squeezed tightly before turning and leaving the classroom. Harry sat there for a long time, trying to remember how to leave.
Harry startled awake from his second nightmare within -- if the clock next to his bed was to be believed -- three hours, and decided that trying to fall back asleep was a fool's errand. He threw back the covers and staggered to the washroom. He splashed some cold water over his face and toweled himself off. Coming back out to his bedroom he ruffled through the drawers to find a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt and his invisibility cloak. Having accomplished this and gotten himself "dressed," he grabbed his Firebolt, the same one Sirius had given him, albeit with several updates on it, and headed downstairs to let himself out of the house.
It was late August and the air on the ground was warm enough, but as Harry ascended it became less and less so. He drew the cloak more tightly over himself and the broom, and without allowing himself to second guess his actions, flew straight for Fred and George's flat.
He managed the flight in a little under an hour. He brought himself down in an alley and made his way, still under cover of the cloak to the shop's door. Hoping they hadn't changed the wards in the past few days as they were wont to do, Harry whispered the only passwords he had. He was in luck, the door allowed him safe passage.
He made his way through the shop, up the stairs in the back, muttered another password to access the actual flat and stepped inside. He hung his cloak on a peg by the door and set his broom upright in the corner before walking to the kitchen and taking a seat at the table. It was a few moments before a small amount of light flickering up in the room made him look around to find George standing in the doorway. "It's two in the morning, babe."
Harry nodded. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
"We did calibrate the wards to give us some warning, friendly or no."
The ones on Harry's rooms did this same thing, which only meant that he probably should have realized that. "Right. Well…sorry?"
George took the seat next to him. "For what, waking me up, or the fact that you didn't have the decency to at least settle that fine arse into my bed for all my trouble?"
"George. I don't have an arse. Let alone a fine one."
"You keep believing that, Potter. Keeps you humble."
Harry's last nightmare rose up from his chest and tore maliciously at his throat. He swallowed forcefully. "The Boy Who Lived, humble?" He raised an eyebrow.
George didn't go for it. "Why're you here?"
Harry tried for distraction, pulling his feet off the floor and up onto George's lap. "I missed you."
"You left my company all of five hours ago." He worked one of Harry's shoes off his foot, followed by the other. "I'd be flattered if I thought it was actually that simple."
"Be flattered anyway."
"Obviously you couldn't sleep."
There was no point in denying that. "Obviously."
"So maybe you have too much on your mind. Or maybe you have nightmares. Or maybe you don't feel well."
"Maybe I'm afraid of the dark," Harry joked.
George didn't laugh. "Maybe."
"Are you going to let me stay?"
"Would you have come here if you thought I could possibly say no?"
"I came to find out." It was as honest as Harry could stand to be. "Sorry."
George said, "You should be," but his smile made the words sound different.
George brought Harry to wakefulness with a gentle hand rubbing over his stomach. "Hey, you're gonna be late."
Harry caught the hand in his own. "How long do you think I could hide here?"
George started to leer, stopping when he realized Harry was in dead earnest. "Not long, babe. If that's what you decide, fine, great, but you're gonna have to face the consequences."
"A day, you think? Maybe two?"
"Give Fred and me a little credit, we can probably give you a week with pure misdirection."
Harry smiled, more for George's sake than his. "My hero."
The quirk of George's mouth was less than enthusiastic. "Understand that I wouldn't give you more than that even if I thought I could without smuggling you away from here, possibly away from the wizarding population."
The spark of anger in Harry was so dull as to almost be unrecognizable. "You can't go through life expecting everyone to be as brave as you are."
"Bugger everyone, Harry. I fell in love with you because you were braver than I was. That hasn't changed, you've just gone and forgotten it because you think the broody thing is romantic."
The spark changed instantaneously into a burst of laughter. "Shut it."
George threw the back of his hand to his forehead. "Oh, woe becometh me-"
"I'm going to kiss you with morning breath." The threat was somewhat ruined by Harry's inability to stop giggling.
"-for I beith the Kingdom's most handsome lad-"
Harry made good on his threat.
George pushed him off. "Ew!"
"Well, I did warn you."
"Bathroom. Borrow Fred's paste, it drives him crazy, he always thinks I did something to it and spends at least a week testing it for all kinds of trickery."
"Y'know, I'm not just your minion of evil-"
"No," George agreed easily, too easily, "you're also my lissome sex toy."
Seeing as how he was planning to use George's flat to burrow away in against a tide of negative attention, Harry thought it was the least he could do to offer, "We'll see what we can work out on that front."
Malfoy showed up at the apartment two days into the furor over "The Boy Who Defeated The Dark Lord Abandoning Those Who Need Him Most" had begun. Harry was still trying to figure out who, exactly, he had abandoned, when Malfoy's gilded, "Thought you might be here," passed over his ears.
Harry looked up. "Hogsmeade tunnel, Malfoy."
The plan had been for Malfoy to stay safely on his father and Voldemort's side until all was well and over. Plans, in Harry's experience, rarely ever went as they were supposed to and this one was no exception. Granted, it probably would have worked except that Harry hadn't come to the rescue in what, for all intents and purposes, was an airtight plan to lure him into Voldemort's clutches. The only reason he hadn't shown was information delivered last minute via owl, information that only one person could have gotten to them. Malfoy.
Which had left Malfoy to the tender mercies of his father and about four other Death Eaters, and that was only until Voldemort's arrival at the manner. At the moment when Voldemort did arrive, the Death Eaters had gone to greet him, foolishly leaving Malfoy alone in the room. Granted, the room was locked and warded and he was wandless, but Malfoy had taken the precaution of keying every floo to his magic signature in case of an emergency. It would only work once, but if he ever needed to immediately floo out of the Manor, he could floo into Zonko's (the owner was a member of the Order and while he did not know where his floo connected to, he knew it was of utmost importance) without a word and the floo at the Manor would prohibit anyone from following him.
The owner at Zonko's floo contacted Dumbledore immediately to point out that "a certain someone had come through the emergency system." As all this had happened within the space of a few hours, an Order meeting was being held indefinitely. Snape had immediately known what was happening and had insisted on being allowed to go get him, but Dumbledore had been anxious to keep Malfoy away from Hogwarts, at least until the school had been checked for the boy's whereabouts. Remus, not knowing who he was offering to protect had spoken up, "There's another option."
Catching on and grateful to the as-of-yet unnamed informant for the fact that he was still alive and free, Harry said, "There's a tunnel from Hogsmeade. Practically unknown."
"Obviously." Dumbledore had raised an eyebrow but let it go.
Which is how Harry ended up being the one to sneak a rather worse-for-the-wear Malfoy into the tunnel leading from the town to the school and keep him hidden there until Remus was sent to bring them out.
Present-day, perfectly-recovered Malfoy said, "If I was going to give you up Potter, you'd already have cameras flashing at you."
This was probably true, so Harry went back to his article. "Go find your boyfriend." He couldn't help voicing a little twist of facetiousness on the last word.
"Boyfriend," Malfoy repeated, his tone even and serious.
Malfoy sighed the sigh of the long-suffering and went to sniff out Fred.
Harry said, "Do this with me," feeling selfish and rather unsure of George's response. There was always Hermione and Ron, either one of whom wouldn't even blink before asking, "When?" But they weren't who Harry wanted.
George grinned, "Been hoping you'd invite me. It's gonna be killer for business. Can you imagine? The Shop That Hid The Fallen Boy Wonder. Fred and I've totally been figuring out how to rename items and put them on 'special.' Little presumptuous, I know, but if you weren't good for it I probably should be worrying about bigger things than the cash-flow being your dashing red-haired fling will bring my modest family-run business."
Harry blinked. "Er, right."
"So then, you wouldn't mind me telling you some of my thoughts on what you could do as your big coming out moment? And I do say that with emphasis on the double meaning inherent. I was thinking we could restage the Final Game in the Quidditch World Cup of 1947-"
Harry held a hand up. "I was thinking we could go on a date at Badger's Cove." Badger's Cove was the new twenty-something hang out in Diagon, a pub run by newlyweds Zach and Susan Smith (née Bones).
"For sheer flash I can hardly even give you a rating of one as far as that plan goes, but I can see how it might work sufficiently."
"And there is the benefit of getting to take my handsome paramour out and parade him about."
"Can I be your paramour if you're not cheating on someone with me?"
"Did they begin teaching French at Hogwarts after we left?"
"They're going to swarm."
"I could throw a few subtle Coughing Hexes."
"I'd prefer you sat there and were still there when I was finished round one of fending them off."
"Despite the fact that your plan is boring and has not a hint of spectacle to it, I will agree to go along with it." George's tone was almost too solemn to be trusted, but his eyes were clear and even-keel.
"When things are a little stable, we can talk all you want about screwing with the general public's heads."
"Really. Unless you decide you wanna break Vincent Crabbe out of Azkaban to parade as the shocking third member of our deliciously juicy threesome. Because there are some places I refuse to go, even for you."
"How else are we going to outwit my twit of a gene-sharing freeloader?"
"We'll figure something out that does not involve people who equated the title Death Eater with Upstanding Member of the Wizarding Community."
"You and your moral scruples." George shook his head ruefully. "I suppose I'm going to have to dig up that Incubus Spell after all."
Harry frowned. "You want to have soul-sucking sex with a sleeping woman?"
"No, dolt, I want to have conscience-sucking sex with you. Preferably while both of us are conscious. I might have to tweak it a bit."
"I'll leave you to that."
George cackled. "Dinner and drinks at six?"
"More drinks than dinner, perhaps."
"After the deluge of press. Can't have you telling my naughty secrets to the media."
Zach, who was staffing the bar when they came in, laughed. "And here I was thinking you weren't good for anything Potter."
Harry clenched George's hand. "Start a tab. Two Infernos, corner table, Smith."
"Are you kidding? With the three-ring circus you're going to drag in here? Uh uh, drinks are on me."
Harry sneered. "Noble, but I'm on a date and I'd like to be a gentleman rather than get by on my name."
"Take it while people are willing to give it, love," George said. "Once your name's gone-"
"Bring us the drinks." Harry tugged George toward the table he had indicated, tucked in the back and usually convenient for snogging. Harry was really only concerned with the fact that he would have wall on two sides of his back. He didn't want to be ambushed from behind.
Zach brought them four Infernos (Firewhiskey that had been fermented an indecently long time and, as a result, packed about three times the kick.)
It didn't take long, maybe twenty minutes, for word to spread and people were Apparating into Badger's Cove like it was the only pub in the entirety of the United Kingdom. Most of them were journalists, but there were a decent amount of spectators, out for a bit of excitement as well.
Dirk Hart, predictably of The Daily Prophet, was the first to do more than snap a few pictures, approaching the table that was obviously meant to sit only two and drawing up a chair. "Evening, Mr. Potter, I hope you won't mind a few questions."
"Actually, I'm on a date, you see." Harry motioned toward the man sitting next to him. "It's one of those things that most people, myself included, prefer to do without interruption."
Hart didn't take the hint. "Right, well, you might be aware that quite a few people are wondering why it is you seem to have abandoned your duty to protect the witches and wizards of England at such a crucial time in the rebuilding of our defenses against the Dark?"
"Since when does deciding that being an Auror isn't the career I'm cut out for equivalent with what you just accused me of?"
"Accuse is such a strong word, Mr. Potter."
Harry could think of a few that were stronger, but he sagely kept them to himself.
Another reporter, a woman with a smart hair-do and an even smarter glare said from behind Hart, "The Auror corp is our strongest defense against the Dark and always has been."
"How is it, then, that it was a not-completely-graduated student of Hogwarts who managed to defeat the largest Dark threat our world has seen in fifty years, and not one of your precious Aurors?" George asked conversationally.
Hart's eyes narrowed in on him. "I suppose you and he both think that spending his time hanging off the dick of a second-rate joke-manufacturer is a much more noble pursuit."
Harry put his foot lightly over George's. "Weasley's Wizard's Wheezes produces nothing but the finest in humorous aides, ask anyone who has ever made a purchase from the store."
A third reporter, a tiny, jumpy man standing to the other side of Hart, spoke up. "Be that as it may, Mr. Potter, having decided that being an Auror is not for you, how do you propose to help guarantee the safety of the wizarding population?"
Harry threw back a third shot of Inferno which had magically appeared (Merlin bless, Smith) on the table at some point. "Voldemort is dead, I killed him. Why do you still expect that I owe you more?"
George Apparated the both of them out of there in the second before all hell broke unequivocally loose.
Harry was glad he'd spent such an unholy amount of time custom designing the wards on his room when Hermione was able to Apparate in despite the massive amount of protections he'd put up since George and him had been forced to hole up there for a bit in order to avoid the somewhat violent backlash against Harry's comments. On the upside, it had turned out George was right, his infamy by association was boosting sales at WWW by half again what they had been.
Hermione walked to the window, pulled back the shade just enough to look outside at the veritable city of reporters and curious on-lookers parked on the lawn and then let the curtain fall back. She plopped herself into a deeply undignified position on Harry's couch and informed him, "I come bearing a message from all those you can truly consider friends at this point: we're not sure whether to hug you, stop, or kill you, stop."
George twisted his face up. "Stop?"
Harry helped him out. "Muggle joke, in reference to the bearing of messages. I'm somewhat disappointed she didn't tap it all out in Morse Code."
"Right." George drew the word out to about three more syllables than it normally contained.
"You, my dear, have the tact of a self-medicated Jarvey." Hermione's tone suggested that despite the fact that this was annoying, it was part of why she still liked Harry after all these years.
Harry sat down next to her. "I just want them to leave me alone, and I forget that the more I want that, the more I make it evident that I want it, the less likely I am to get it. You and Ron were always the strategists. I was the one who had to prove I was Gryffindor by willfully taking on all the traits that made other houses look at us as though our vaults were lacking a few galleons."
Hermione rubbed his back. "Relax. If need be, we'll hold council and figure something out. We're trying to see if this," she used her other hand to motion in the direction of the lawn, "will die out on its own."
Harry mumbled, "George is trapped in here because of something I did."
There was silence in which Harry wasn't feeling up to watching the two of them, seeing if they were communicating without speaking. Hermione said, " I have a feeling that if he really wanted to leave he would."
"Not the point," Harry said, and really, it wasn't.
Only, Hermione evidently felt, "It kind of is, love."
George, damn him, nodded. "Fred and I worked out a whole contingency plan on the off chance that you were a bad shag."
"Thank you," Harry said. "What I needed at that moment, really, was some more stress."
"I will point to my still being here in my defense and leave things at that."
Hermione hooked an arm around Harry's shoulder. "Look, just, do you have a plan?"
"Hermione, you're supposed to be canny and know me better than just about anyone in the world."
Hermione widened her eyes. "And?"
"If I had a plan, would I be hiding in my rooms?"
"Ron and I were giving you the benefit of the doubt, thinking that perhaps laying low for a bit was part of the plan."
George said, "That was part of the plan, or at least, the pre-plan. Did you miss that week?"
Hermione sighed. "It's been a busy month."
Harry squeezed her knee. "I swear I didn't plan this to bollocks you up."
"My world only mildly revolves around you, dear. Don't worry, between all of us we'll cook something up, but you have to give us something."
Harry cocked an eyebrow.
"I mean, where are you looking to go with this?"
"He told you," George said quietly. "He just wants to be left alone."
Hermione pursed her lips and George laughed. Harry thought, I wonder if Hermione still has that Witch Weekly article on how to please her man?
For the first time since all this had begun, Hedwig flew through the wards and the window and returned carrying a Daily Prophet. Harry poked at it with his wand and when it didn't explode into corrosive materials that ate his face, he opened it up to the headline: "Jaunty Jokester Announces Engagement to Slytherin Spy!"
George came around a corner, still pulling a shirt over his head. "Harry?"
"When was the last time you spoke to Fred?"
George came over and put a hand on Harry's forehead. "The same as you, remember, last night?" He slowed his words, as one does with the elderly and the befuddled.
The latter of which Harry was willing to admit to being. "Did he mention anything about getting engaged to you?"
It was at that moment that Fred's exuberant waving from the front door of their shop and Malfoy's more reserved, cool stance in the picture that accompanied the article caught George's eye and he snatched the paper up. Harry watched as George's eyes skimmed back and forth and then came to a stop. "I hope he told mum and dad before going and doing this."
"Everybody's bound to find out it's a joke."
"Eventually, but for now, the attention's off of you."
"I can't believe I owe Malfoy something else." Though, at the moment, granted, that seemed like the least of Harry's worries.
"Probably won't give you very long, maybe a few days."
"I've been compiling lists of things I'm good at," Harry said, like George hadn't been living with him for nearly a week in rooms that were too small for more than one person and didn't know everything that was going on in Harry's life.
"Is shagging at the top?"
"It's been in limbo, but I'll get right on putting it up there. Sadly, unless you're willing to support my foray into the oldest profession known to mankind, I don't think that's going to help me much."
"Have I mentioned the slight possessive streak that I seem to have in regards to you?"
"Right, so that's out of the running." Harry mimed a crossing off motion.
"What else is on the list?"
"Flying, which kinda goes along with Quidditch, the more complex levels of Transfiguration, Defense spells, obviously, Occlumency and Legilimancy, and cooking." The tips of Harry's ears warmed to dull shade of pink. "The last one's sorta thrown in there, but I am pretty good at it, what with making sure everyone in the house except me ate for all that time, so I might as well lay claim, right?"
George sat down in the seat across from Harry. "Do you like it?"
"No, braiding my hair, one patch of hair at a time."
Harry didn't even acknowledge the insert. "When I get to take part in the food, yeah. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love magic, it got me away from them and gave me to you and Ron and Hermione, not necessarily in that order, and well, obviously magic is my life. But there's something very real about cooking, very hands on and active and-" Harry broke off with a shrug.
"Probably the same way Fred and I feel when one of our contraptions actually works out."
"I wouldn't think it's quite that cool," Harry said.
"No, you wouldn't, because you're you. Everybody's always expecting something bigger and better from you so you've gotten to believing that you've always got to furnish that something. Only you don't."
"Let's say, for argument's sake, that it is that cool. Wizards don't run restaurants, they run pubs. The closest there is to a wizard run restaurant is that one place near Kent where the family opened up part of their ancestral home and offered the services of their house elves to diners to bring in a little revenue."
"Far be it from me to point out that nobody had ever killed Voldemort when you went and did that. You're poised to make a killing for the exact reason that you bring up: nobody's done it before. And honestly, you can't tell me you never wanted somewhere that wasn't a pub to take someone on a date."
"Good point, you can, but very few other witches and wizards can. The ones who are clever and aren't bigots sneak into the Muggle world. It's a very untapped market, mostly because wizards aren't raised to cook and if they are, they're raised to think of it as something they do for themselves. Even mum, who was cooking for gads of people who weren't herself all the time would never have thought of doing it on a level of a restaurant, never. It's just…I dunno, cultural, we just don't think like that."
Harry tilted his head.
"You've got the name and the money for it."
"Assuming we can clear up some of this bad press."
"Give me and Hermione a little credit, we're working on it. Besides, when push comes to shove, you did kill Voldemort, I really think that'll stand you for a bit of leftover good will. We can always milk that."
Harry asked, "But what would we call it?"
George's grin was pure, unadulterated, (sexy), evil.
Molly called what Harry (had he not been so adoringly fond of said surrogate mother figure) would have termed a Council of War. Harry kissed George and said, "If we're gonna do this, let's do it," before leaving his rooms for the first time in over a week.
They were an hour early, which had been part of the plan, as Harry wanted to help, and, admittedly, if either Molly or Arthur was going to vent their ire at his verbal "slip" of the week before, he'd prefer to have that happen before the rest of the gang descended upon them. Also, it meant that his small issue wouldn't impede the process of everyone going bananas over the whole Fred/Malfoy "marriage."
Harry followed George through the floo and then into the kitchen, where Molly was industriously putting together a big enough meal to feed Hogwarts with leftovers. She turned around to cuff Harry 'round the head with an oven mitt before pulling him into an engulfing hug. "I s'ppose Hermione's already done a bit of telling you off?"
Harry nodded his head, even though she couldn't see. She held him back a ways and craned up to kiss his forehead, not avoiding the scar but not aiming for it either, just ignoring it, like she had since he was eleven. She moved on to kiss George hello, and swat at him, "Think you could extend yourself to help out a little?"
Harry was carefully checking the soufflé Molly was too busy to look at when Arthur came home with a, "Thought I was late, where is everyone?"
Molly said, "Later. Set the table, would you?"
"Hullo, George, Harry."
Harry felt oddly like Fred as he answered in tandem with George, "Hello Dad."
Ginny got there first, sans Luna, her most current, and so far longest lasting flame. When Molly asked, Ginny rolled her eyes, "She probably flooed to the wrong place, you know how she gets all turned around. She'll get here."
Harry grinned. For all Ginny's disparaging, she was positively crazy for Luna in ways that he'd never seen in all her myriad of previous relationships. Even now she kept stealing glances in the direction of the fireplace, waiting for her other half to show.
Percy was the second to show, currently alone after his latest break up, caused mostly (as all his other break-ups had been) by the fact that he was an incurable workaholic.
Remus and Bill tumbled through next, Remus bearing aged dessert wine and Bill with wildflowers that didn't look like any type of vegetation Harry had ever seen. Bill clarified why that might be when he explained, "Picked these up while I was cracking a couple of curses out in Somalia last week, thought they were pretty."
Remus, who had only recently responded to Bill's long-term seduction-cum-reinvigorate-Remus's-post-Sirius-dating-life plan, kissed Molly and set the wine down high enough for it to be marginally out of harm's way. Bill and Remus had been working in Gringott's higher offices together since the fall of Voldemort. Goblins didn't have any particular prejudice against werewolves and they were infinitely interested in Remus's talents in Dark Arts Defense to help revise and keep current the security on all their vaults. It had only been a few months ago, however, that Remus had finally agreed to have anything to do with Bill romantically. Harry was crossing his fingers that it worked out. While Sirius's absence still caused a ghost of hurt to pull at his stomach, it had been sheer hell to watch Remus, with whom he'd steadily grown closer, linger mentally with the dead.
Ron and Hermione showed, with Hermione apologizing all over the place, "The lab fired in at the last possible moment, of course, I swear they know what they're doing, and I had to drop in because obviously I'm the only one who knows what the hell is going on in that bloody excuse for a workplace," she rolled her eyes and stayed out of the way, since it had long ago been determined that Hermione was merely a force for disaster when set down in a kitchen.
Luna found her way in a few moments before the perpetually late Charlie and Nymphadora, each of them with one twin strapped to their chests. Fred and Malfoy showed up last, which wasn't the usual order of things, but, as George pointed out, "Really, too good an opportunity to pass up making a big ol' entrance on."
Molly, unflappable as ever, kissed Malfoy's cheek and said, "You look like you haven't eaten in a week, wash up and sit down."
It was hard to say whose eyes got the widest, Malfoy's or the entirety of the rest of the Weasley clan, born or brought in. Malfoy was evidently a fan of gift horses, though, and refused to look this one in the mouth, heading off to find an open sink. Fred followed silently, which was either a blessing or a curse, depending on what exactly it heralded.
Ginny was the one to open up with, "Mum doesn't believe it, does she?"
Luna and Hermione got similar, dangerously pensive looks on their faces. Remus shrugged. "Either way, it was awfully nice of them, wouldn't you say? Harry?"
Harry looked in the direction that Fred and Malfoy had disappeared, wishing there would come a time when he would stop mattering so much and people wouldn't have to do things to fish him out of his own messes. "Yeah. Nice."
George snorted. "I don’t think you need to be thanking my brother for his attention grabbing stunts. Really, neither one of us needs encouraging in that arena."
Charlie had some retort that signaled his agreement to that, taking the attention off Harry. Harry laughed when the rest of them laughed and allowed himself to think, "I'm part of this. Deserve it or not, part of this."
Harry's sense of fair play, as well as that of self-preservation, kicked in about half-way through dinner, when Fred asked Ginny to pass the butter and spent far too long spreading some over a piece of bread. Malfoy's eyes had narrowed to unreadable slits -- not that Malfoy was ever the most openly emotional person, but there was something in the sheer blankness of his expression that suggested danger -- and Harry thought, well, never any time like the present. "I'm opening up a restaurant."
Fred dropped the small container of whatever he'd been busy mixing into the butter. George gave him a look that Harry clearly read as, amateur. Malfoy became very busy cutting into his meat.
"Like Muggles?" Luna asked. "That's pretty crazy."
Harry figured that was probably the best endorsement of the plan he was ever going to get. "Look who I'm dating."
George preened. Remus snorted. "As though any of us at the table could talk. I didn't know you liked cooking. I thought…um-" Remus flushed.
Harry saved him. "Sometimes it’s all about what you haven't been told to do." Because really, it wasn't that he didn't like Defense, he did, it was just that, after nearly nineteen years of being ordered around, explicitly or implicitly, he thought he deserved to do something that nobody had told him to.
Malfoy made a noise that sounded suspiciously like agreement. Molly said, "Well, that's nice, then. What kinds of food will you be dishing up, dear?"
"Well, I hadn't really gotten that far in the plans-"
Nymphadora cut Harry off, "You should do Sunday brunches, with kippers! Y'know Rosie?" She asked Charlie, who nodded. "Muggle-born, her parents run a restaurant, and it has brunches. Oh! Chocolate-chip flat cakes. And scones."
To everbody's surprise, Percy was actually paying attention. He often tuned out anything that didn't directly affect the Ministry or politics. "You should see if you can get the space from that dress shop that just went out near the Ministry. You could probably make a killing on lunch hour if the food is better than the other rubbish offered 'round there. Particularly if you served something warm. Most of the winter all we get is sandwiches, soup only if we're willing to Apparate out and then back in. Pain for all involved."
Harry nodded. "All right."
"I could do a write up for you," Luna said.
The Quibbler, as weird a paper as it was, had never really dropped in circulation since the interview with Harry Potter had spiked its sales nearly four years previous. This might have had something to do with the fact that Harry was most often willing to give Luna and her father exclusives that he wouldn't allow anybody else. Harry said, "Any good press at this moment, Lu."
Luna, for all her flights of fancy, tended to be pretty canny underneath everything. "They'll come anyway. They love to hate you because they love to have any emotion toward you, so long as it ends up connecting. You're giving credence to their reactions. You stop, they will. Trust me, you could serve burnt cockroaches -- not that I'm making menu suggestions here -- they'd come. Repeatedly."
George asked, "What if we dipped the cockroaches in chocolate? Is that a menu suggestion?"
Luna stuck her tongue out at George. Fred said, "We could use it as a front for the shop's testing stage, much easier than having to keep self-testing."
Harry took the high road and ignored Fred. Bill asked, "Got a catchy name for it?"
"Catchy might be an overstatement."
The quiet of Harry's response evidently caught the attention of everyone and there was suddenly a stillness at the table that hadn't been there since Malfoy had mentioned having Severus Snape as his best man. Ginny prompted, "Harry?"
"Lily's Lair," Harry breathed.
Remus said, "That'll work just fine."
Harry consciously sucked in a breath upon waking, hoping that he hadn't already screamed or moaned or done something to startle the man whose arm was still loosely slung over Harry's waist. After a second, Harry gingerly slid from under the arm, and made his way silently into the kitchen so as not to wake George.
He got lost on his way to the kitchen, forgetting that George had asked to go back to his place for the night. Harry had been hesitant, with the press still having an uncanny awareness of where he was and the fact that having him and the Malfoy-Weasley Duo in one apartment was nearly as good as sending a red bulls-eye up over the flat in the style of Morsemordre, but George had looked so damn pleased to be standing next to Fred that it was beyond Harry to deny them more time together.
When he managed to arrive at his destination, he almost turned back at the sight of Malfoy's too-blond head bent over some papers. Before he could turn though, Malfoy said, "I promise not to start any fights, Potter," without looking up.
Harry tightened his jaw. "You ward the room?" Harry hadn't felt anything, but Malfoy shouldn’t have been able to hear his approach and unless he had a second pair of eyes, he most certainly couldn't see Harry.
Malfoy deigned to meet Harry's eyes. "My dad, he was something of a psycho, but he had nothing on my mother. She used to play a game with me…Muggles have Hide 'n Go Seek, yes?"
Harry nodded, cautiously slipping into the seat across from Malfoy.
"Mother loved that game. If I was it, and I found her, then there were always prizes, the same for if she couldn't find me. If she found me, though, or if I couldn't find her, well, the idea was to teach me how to be a proper servant of Voldemort, someone who was neither seen nor heard and yet saw and heard everything. Failure was not looked upon lightly."
Harry's stomach curled at Malfoy's light tone of voice. Vernon and Dudley had been bigger than him and Petunia had wielded her own brand of neglectful cruelty, but they hadn't used magic that far surpassed his to overpower him. The second Narcissa heard her son's approach she could have Apparated, wherein her child would have been stuck even knowing she was coming. Harry tried not to consider just how finely tuned Malfoy's instincts must be. "Nightmare, then?"
Malfoy looked as though he was trying for a flippant smile and failing. "You have to fall asleep to get to that point. You?"
Harry stood to pour himself a glass of water. "Probably heard something. I'm a light sleeper."
"Uh huh. Don't ask leading questions that give your position away, Potter. It makes you seem less of a force to be reckoned with."
"Don't be presumptuous. Makes you seem like a prick."
"Honestly, like either of us thinks my reputation as being anything other than that can be salvaged at this point."
Harry winced instinctively, glad that he was facing the other way.
"Severus told me things," Malfoy said softly. "Things he shouldn't have told me and he'd hate me for admitting that he's the reason I know, so if you could keep from mentioning it, I'd owe you one. He's pretty much the only person I've ever had worth calling family."
Harry turned back to Malfoy, his voice flat. "What sorts of 'things'?"
"You looked in his Pensieve, Potter. Things that were as hurtful to you as that was to him. Things that he thought I could keep with me when every day you got to be the world's golden boy and I got to live out my existence hoping to all that was good that neither side caught me at a bad time. I'm not saying he should've done it, but I was safe and he knew it."
Memories cascaded over Harry, one by one, things he knew Snape had seen while training him, things he thought Snape might have seen. "Why are you telling me this?"
"You should tell your Weasley about the nightmares. You should talk to him and let him know why it is that you sneak out nearly every night and then try to find your way back to him before he notices. But if you're not going to, then it might make it easier for you to sit here with me, knowing that I already know."
"Fine advice, Malfoy. Have you told 'your Weasley' about why you sit up at night until your mind won’t relay the commands necessary to sit up straight anymore?" The question was cold and with a deliberate twist on the words being quoted back.
To Harry's extreme disconcertion, Malfoy smiled. "You think he would let something like this go without being told what was going on? 'Sides, I got enough of silence and secrets and plain out lies during the first seventeen years of my life. I'm ready for something new now."
One look at the sparkle of mischief in Malfoy's eyes and Harry knew he'd been played, but it just didn't matter. No way was a Malfoy going to be better than him at being in love, particularly when Harry still didn't believe this Malfoy's claim that he was in said state. Harry walked back to the bedroom, not bothering to be quiet when opening and shutting the door. He climbed back in and curled himself around George, who muttered, "Har?"
"Go back to sleep now, we'll talk in the morning."
"Yeah." Or at least, it will be.
George was already up and about when Harry awoke. Harry yawned and made a list in his head, shower, breakfast, talk. The order got somewhat mashed together when George climbed into the shower with him halfway through and kissed him. "'Morning."
"Kind of, nearly noon."
Harry finished scrubbing and turned the spray off, reaching for the towel and drying them both. "How's the shop?"
"Busy. If I get struck down before your very eyes for saying this, I apologize, but Malfoy makes one hell of a cute shop clerk."
Harry's breath felt sharp at the thought of Malfoy getting up early to help out despite having been up later than Harry had been. "He's working for you?"
"Not permanently, no. According to Fred he's interested in starting up an organization that would run things like summer camps for wizarding students all over, sort of a get-people-cooperating-early-on scheme."
Harry pulled on his pants. "Doesn’t it kind of freak you out?"
"Do-gooder Malfoy?" George threw Harry his shirt. "Makes me wanna keep an eye on him, at the very least. Still, cute. If Fred's shagging him, I don't really have to wonder why."
Harry shied away from thinking about that. "Look, about last night-"
"If you're thinking about backing out of telling me why you can't sleep for more than about four hours uninterrupted, you're going to have to think again, because I'm an arse when sleep-deprived."
"It's mostly things you know about. Dursleys, Cedric, Sirius, Voldemort." Harry waved a hand negligently. "I'm working through it."
"Your subconscious disagrees."
"I'll have a talk with it."
"Have a bloody talk with me, Harry."
George's tone made Harry freeze.
"For fuck's sake, love." George wrapped his arms around Harry's waist, tugging him close. "Trust me to listen."
"It's not the listening that's a problem." Harry said. Then, softly, "You always listen."
"Please. You- If you leave me, I don't want to have to blame myself. Give me that, okay?"
"Harry. I've waited for nearly four years to have you the way I wanted you. There isn't shit you could say to make me leave now."
Harry frowned. "I was fourteen four years ago."
"Yeah, well, I was sixteen, it's not exactly a bloody crime."
"It was more 'why would you have even looked' than an accusation."
George carded his hand through Harry's hair. "I looked because you gave my brother and I the money we needed for something we had been planning since we knew we were good at being funny."
"I didn't want that money-"
"I know, Har. I know you didn't. But there were a million things you could've done with it. And you did the one thing that changed our world. You gave something to us that was everything because we were everything to you, our family was. So I looked. Long and hard and then I kept looking. I had given up thinking you were ever gonna look back when you up and did."
"Four years," Harry repeated, consciously aware of the inanity of the statement and unable to stop himself.
"So I'm perfectly capable of being ridiculously stubborn when I choose."
Harry weighed his options. Tired of letting fear control the interactions between them, Harry asked, "Have any food in this place?"
"We can probably rustle something up."
"Brunch, then. I talk better with my face full."
George's smile was suggestive, but he helpfully kept silent.
Harry started talking while he was still chopping onions. There was a small portion of his brain that suggested this might be dangerous, given the emotional content of the discussion expected to ensue, but the familiar motion was soothing, so he ignored the wiggle of warning. "I think that if Dudley hadn't been there it would've been okay, kinda."
George sat down at the table. "Why?"
"Well, it's not like you're born knowing that you're supposed to receive love. I was barely a year old when Dumbledore gave me to the Dursleys. If Dudley hadn't been around for constant comparison of how I was treated I probably would've just figured that was the way it was supposed to be."
"Okay." George sounded doubtful, but as though he was willing to let it go.
"I've never liked nights, really. Days weren't necessarily fun. Usually there were a million chores to get done, far more than I ever could and there was never enough food. When I came to Hogwarts at first, I used to stick food in my pockets for later, just in case they decided to stop feeding me. Vernon would do that all the time. Either my hair wasn't laying neat enough or I hadn't polished the car just right or he just needed someone to hate and I was a convenient target that way but food was always the first thing to go."
"What made nights worse?"
"The cupboard was always crazy cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer. Under the stairs isn’t one of those areas anybody thinks to put a vent in, y'know, and there really isn't any possibility for air circulation. I think that's partly why there were always so many bugs in there with me. I don’t even wanna think about the bacteria count. I got sick all the time as a kid. Usually they were just colds and they would leave me in the cupboard until they cleared up, which took forever without much food or a controlled temperature. There was this one time, though. Must've been a flu, is all I can think. I was puking all over the cupboard and they still left me in there for two days. I'm pretty sure I passed out, because I woke up in the hospital. They probably thought I was dying and didn't want the trouble of a body to explain."
"They might not've been so far off," George said, with that deceptively gentle bent of his voice that Harry had come to recognize as controlled anger.
"Anyway, they actually fed me after that, at least until I was well and then it took forever for Vernon to forget how much they'd spent on hospital bills. That was a bad time. They let Dudley go to town on me. That was how it always was. Vernon and Petunia never touched me, but Dudley, man. Even at five that kid packed a punch. Granted, I was roughly half his size, but I think it would've been a force to be reckoned with regardless."
"We should've made Dad leave the little shit to his own recovery."
"I wouldn't lessen your father's compassion for all the revenge in this world." Harry cracked three eggs on the side of a bowl and gently whisked them.
"And you honestly didn't know anything about magic or who you were?"
"Or who my parents were. Nothing. Not until Hagrid." Harry poured the eggs into a skillet, spreading them out evenly. "It should've been nice, all that positive attention, and in a way it was. It meant Ron and Hermione and Dumbledore, but I was always more comfortable with Snape in a lot of ways. He was a known quantity, someone that I could always expect to tell me exactly what he was thinking and that was what I was used to."
"And then things started going pear-shaped by way of us anyway, with the parseltongue and the Sirius debacle and-"
"I started doing this thing," Harry said. "Because it got to be too much, all the things I could blame myself for, my parents and Cedric and then Sirius and it was just overwhelming so I pushed the blame onto everyone else, anyone else. It should've been Voldemort but it was always Dumbledore or Snape or…for fuck's sake, I think at one point it was Neville. I was so blind inside myself. Purposely."
"I think you still are. In a different way."
Harry cut a small slice in the center of the eggs and allowed the uncooked portion to drain through, underneath where it would heat and solidify. "I spent so long absolving myself of any blame that now I'm afraid to release even a bit of it. As though I might make the wrong choice on which bit to let go of. Part of me still believes what they're saying. That I do owe them my protection. I owe it to them for all those who were lost in a war that was largely about a prophecy concerning me."
"It was a war about a megalomaniacal psycho trying to take ultimate power, Harry. You just got caught up in the action. See the difference?"
Harry flipped the heat off and removed the pan from the burner. He slid the onion-cheese mixture he'd prepared from the counter into the center of the eggs and folded the omelet over, sliding it onto a plate. He sat down next to George. "Want any?"
"Not really hungry, it’s all yours."
Harry cut neatly into the omelet. "Seeing the difference is one thing. Relaying it to my brain in a way that makes any sort of sense is a completely different thing. Sometimes I think that I was with the Dursleys too long, that there's damage there that can't be repaired."
"Or maybe you just need some help and haven’t had the balls to ask for it until now."
"We're gonna fix this. Even if it takes the rest of our lives."
It was daunting, the prospect of changing something Harry had come to think of as intrinsic to his nature. Despite that, most of what Harry heard in that statement was, "the rest of our lives." Wizards had very long lives.
The space that Percy had recommended for the restaurant wasn't perfect, but it had gads of potential, most of which Harry could see straight off and the rest of which George pointed out to him. Neville was dating a Beauxbatons alum who worked in the sale and reconditioning of specifically magical spaces. Ginny, who was still rather close with Neville despite their break up of two years previous, had mentioned what Harry was trying to do and he had suggested that Audrienne might be of some help.
In fact, Audrienne was of immense help. She had tons of resources for the refitting of interiors and knew how to get the best price on a space that would need work done and tended to be brilliantly practical about all the ideas that Fred and George were always spewing at Harry, therefore making it so that they could actually be implemented.
When she not-so-gently suggested, "Perhaps Neville could decorate with some flora?" Harry readily agreed, both out of a sense of obligation and the fact that Neville could make a crypt look good given some seeds, a bit of direct sunlight and a watering can. If truly need be, Neville's abilities with anything green (or red or purple, so long as it was plant-life) was good enough that he could forego the last two items on that list.
Nearly a month after the contracts that gave Harry ownership of the space had gone through, when a kitchen had been built and the dust was beginning to settle, Fred asked, "Draco and I were wondering, because really, we think having the reception at Malfoy Manor is a bad move as far as wanting people to be comfortable goes and the Burrow's straight out, since I'm not all about seeing my childhood home fall down around my ears due to overcrowding, so we thought that perhaps you wouldn't mind if we held it at your restaurant? Maybe as a grand-opening scheme? I mean, you have to admit, that's some pretty amazing free press."
Harry paused in the middle of studying what types of wards were reasonable for public places. "Look, Fred. It's not that I don't deeply appreciate what you and Malfoy did in drawing the vultures off of me, but the joke really has come to its conclusion. It's not really even very funny anymore, truth be told."
Fred's jaw dropped. "You still don’t believe us."
Harry blinked and said, "Malfoy," honestly expecting that would be enough to clear everything up. When it obviously failed, he tried, "You."
"Right, I'm aware of both partners in the situation, seeing as how I'm about to legally join the rest of my years to another living being. Harry, you've been in our flat. Draco and I are shagging, we live together!"
"It's been well-planned, I'll give you that, but all of your best jokes are, Fred. And besides, George and I can well understand the benefits of a temporary shag arrangement with Malfoy. He's quite fit." Harry wondered where he had last put the supply of pipe-cleaners he kept for whenever he needed to scrub out his brain.
Fred eyed Harry as though trying to determine when, exactly, he'd gone crazy.
"You're losing your touch, you've used that one on me before. When you tried to convince me that your Mum was starting a new magazine called Older and Wiser. You almost had me that time," Harry added as a consolation.
Fred put his hands flat on the table holding all of Harry's ward books. "All right. Let's just pretend that I'm telling the truth. Just for a second here. And with that, let's say that at my wedding, I want a reception, and that this seems like a very nice place to hold it. Now, even if I don't actually get married, you have my word as a Weasley, a Gryffindor, and a friend that I will manage a large party, for which you will get paid and that will generate good word of mouth for this place. Can we make a deal based on that?"
There were a lot of things Harry was willing to doubt. Fred's word, when sworn on any of those three things, was not one of them. "Did you have a date in mind?"
"Tell me if I'm being presumptuous, and -- Merlin forbid -- jaunty, like my wayward twin, here."
Harry fixed George with a look. "If the words 'sleeping' and 'with' and 'Slytherin by specific name' are going to follow that statement, then I have things that need doing. Now."
"But Durmstrang students are fair game, right?"
Rather than deign to respond to that, Harry turned back to the menu he was attempting to construct.
"I was thinking we could get a place together."
Harry was jolted into illiteracy. "Er."
"Okay, well, not overwhelming happiness that I suggested it, but not sheer terror, I can work with that."
"Give me a second here." Harry held up a hand. "Like, a flat?"
"Or a house. Cottage. Houseboat. I'm not particular."
Harry breathed in through his nose. George said, "Just tell me what you're thinking. Coherent or no, just talk."
"I'm thinking that right now you have downtime, time away from my issues and if we do that you won't. I'm thinking that we're over at each other's places all the time anyway and really, this is far more logical. I'm thinking that the Dursley's were always trying to get rid of me and Ron was always waiting for space of his own and I can't remember a time when anybody was actually desirous of co-habitation with me. I'm thinking things that seem too good to be true usually are."
"See, the good news is that I already mashed the whole we'll-see-each-other-all-the-damn-time issue out in my head and came up with the fact that really, we won't, because I work at a little shop in Diagon while you will be running a restaurant east of the Ministry and so the only time we'll actually be seeing each other would be evenings and mornings, assuming we don't miss each other. Instead of being the overdose that I think we were both worried about it'll allow us the luxury of meeting up occasionally rather than the never that I'm fearing otherwise."
Harry rocked slightly. "Excellent points all."
"And as far as the second worry goes," George leaned in and pulled Harry up from his sitting position, flush against George. "I can't help it that we're both related to blithering idiots."
Harry touched his forehead to George's. "I think I should mention that I'm pretty much completely in love with you. In case I freak out and can't tell you later, just so you know."
"Pretty much, huh?" George stole a kiss. "That means my work here is almost done."
"Have any plans for when it's finished?"
"Sitting back and reaping what I've sown, is there anything else to do at that point?"
Harry knew the question could be mere words, that words had a power of their own that humans, Muggle or magically-inclined were hard put upon to resist. He chose to believe that George's words had a different type of power, one imbued of truth, and asked, "So, did you have an area in mind?"
"Mm," George said solemnly. "Somewhere with you in it."
Harry found his way to the London branch of Gringott's and timidly tapped the shoulder of the first goblin he saw. "Pardon me, I'm looking for Remus Lupin."
The goblin eyed him coldly. "Mr. Lupin is not available at this time."
Harry had been warned to expect this and held up the piece of parchment that had been Remus's formal invite to meet him for lunch. "He said to give this to you."
The goblin took it from Harry and read it over. Harry suspected Remus had placed a Charm or some other type of magical signifier to denote the parchment as valid. After a few seconds, the goblin nodded. "This way."
Harry followed the goblin to a room behind the main transactions hall, where he was told to, "Wait."
A few minutes later Remus came out, from where Harry wasn't entirely sure, since he hadn't noticed any doors, and hugged Harry. "Have any problems?"
"Not once I gave them the note, no."
Remus asked, "Cauldron?" by which he meant The Leaky Cauldron.
They walked down the street and got themselves a table, shouting their order at Tom over the lunchtime din. Remus said, "Have you gotten your invite?"
Harry asked, "To the wedding?" even though, really, what else would Remus have been talking about?
"Quite something, aren't they?"
Harry couldn’t decide whether Remus was asking about Fred and Malfoy or the invitations they had sent out, which sang the words on the card to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas." Harry had been slightly taken aback by that choice, previously believing it to be a Muggle carol, but evidently some extremely intoxicated Muggle-born had performed it one year at a rousing good wizarding party and it had become a favorite ever since. Either way, the answer was, "Yes."
"At first I thought Fred was just trying to get at Ron, but I'm starting to suspect the whole thing is a publicity ploy for you."
Harry hoped not. Desperately. "I've stopped trying to guess. All I know is that practically the entire isle is coming to my place for the reception of a marriage that can't possibly be actually taking place."
"The hors d'oevres had better be damn good," Remus said encouragingly.
Tom came with their food and they were silent for a few moments, cutting and lifting and chewing. Remus swallowed and said, "Bill says that Charlie says that Ginny says that Fred says that George told him you two are looking for a place together."
"Amazingly, that information seems not to have been distorted, despite its journey."
"Oh, well, actually Bill told me that you and George were looking into buying a small region of Iran and setting yourselves up as Shahs, but I've gotten quite good at extrapolating the important bits."
Harry hid a smile at the flourish of pride in Remus's voice. It sounded so very similar to contented ease, something Harry had rarely heard from Remus, even more rarely since his fifth year. It was one of his very favorite sounds. "Excellent interpretation. We are. Um, looking for a place."
"Allow me to make a suggestion?"
Remus and Arthur were the two closest things Harry had to a father. Arthur took that role on without hesitation and with a certain amount of ease that was reassuring to them both. Remus, on the other hand, was always careful of overstepping his bounds. It was sweet and heartbreaking and once Harry had gotten past what he referred to as his "teen witch" period, he'd never denied Remus the rights he was constantly checking to make sure he actually had. "'Course. In fact, please."
"Tear down number 12 and build something more to your liking in its place."
Harry frowned. Sirius had left the entirety of what he owned to Harry. As most of his possessions and savings had been taken from him at the time of his incarceration, this had mostly consisted of 12 Grimmauld Place and anything in it. Harry had left it to rot out of consideration for Remus, who sometimes needed a place to stay and who, Harry thought, was not quite ready to let go of the last thing he had by which to remember Sirius. "Really?"
"Dear Merlin, yes. It's not doing anyone any good as it is and he'd be positively thrilled to see someone dashing it to the ground. He'd probably prefer a good razing, but there are the neighbors to consider, so we'll have to forego that. The location is perfect, practically seconds from London proper, close to the Ministry and near enough to the shop and, selfishly, not so far from Gringotts."
Harry smiled. "I'll need to talk to George."
"Somehow, I expected you'd say that. If the two of you decide to go ahead with it, Audrienne could probably help you with the logistics."
"Ah, you've met the real estate wonder woman, then?"
"Neville came to make a withdrawal when he was last around, introduced me to her. Knew that one was going to end up with a spitfire."
Harry laughed. "She intimidates me. I can't imagine how she managed to get him to stay in a room with her long enough to talk."
Remus grinned. "Still waters, Harry."
Looking at the man across from him, Harry couldn't agree more.
George listened to Harry's summarized recounting of his lunch hour with a poker face that could have won him millions. "I dunno, Har."
"Tell me what your doubts are, because I don't really know where to start with mine," Harry said.
George pulled Harry onto the couch in Harry's living room where they were currently hiding out. Between Fred and Malfoy, having a private conversation at George's place was a little like trying to have an intimate date at a Danzig concert. George grabbed at Harry's feet and swung them up into his lap where he divested Harry of his shoes the old-fashioned way, with his hands rather than his wand, and ran one hand up the length of Harry's legs to rest on a thigh. "Well, first off, I think we'd both have to go to number 12. Both to say goodbye and to find out if we can really live in that space, different surroundings or not. And despite the fact that I'm more than willing to let you win the 'issue-ridden' competition between the two of us, I'm not entirely sure that I'm up for that."
Harry linked his fingers through the hand lying on his thigh. "If you ever find me denying how much you went through to see that arshole through to his end, toss me out on my ear, all right? We don't have to do this if you think you can't. There's plenty of places all over this isle that I'm sure have open property."
"I can. It's not that I can't, because I can. Only, let's say I do, right? And then we tear down and build up. It's a house, right? Rather permanent, wouldn't you say? Not that I'm not for you having a place forever and always, I am, but this would be your place, it's in your spot of inheritance, so this house that we would build, it would really need to be you building it."
Harry wasn't terribly impressed by this deal. "We're not moving in together simply to have you moving into my territory or vice versa. If we wanted that I could take up at your flat."
"Think about it, though. If I'm built into the house and then you decide that we're not working out, of course you keep the house but there are all these mementos of my inhabitation, of the fact that the house was built with my cohabitation in mind. Then what would you do?"
"Realize that I was bloody insane for kicking you out and figure out how to win you back," Harry said, as though this were the only possible outcome to that situation.
"I never thought I'd be the one to say this, but I'm being serious here."
Harry nodded. "I know, I know you are, but I don’t want to go into this believing that it's going to fail. I spent seven years thinking I was buggered in the end, that Voldemort was eventually going to get the best of me, but he didn't and it's given me something of a new outlook. Of course I'm terrified that you're going to wake up one morning and think, 'good lord, what am I doing with this mess of a human being?' but I'm pretty sure that if that day comes, I'm going to attach myself to your leg and make it so difficult for you to leave that you'll eventually give up and say, 'well, all right, at least he's good in bed.'"
George narrowed his eyes. "You've been peaking at my strategics manuals, have you?"
"I only borrowed the less clever ideas," Harry said in his defense.
George extricated his hand and tugged on Harry's legs so that Harry lay face up over George's lap. "Well, in that case."
Harry grinned. "Were those your main concerns?"
There was a glint of mischief in George's expression as he said, "The rest are logistical."
Harry could only imagine. "Are you willing to try, then, if I am?"
"There's very little that I am not willing to do at your side and this is not one of the things that falls into that category."
Harry took that as a yes and pulled himself up into a perfect kissing position.
The house was cold. Harry shivered, mostly from the temperature. Mostly. "On the upside, at least Snape was finally able to figure out a way to remove the portrait."
Harry hadn't been there for the epic Removing of Mrs. Black From The Ancestral Black Home, but he'd heard stories, none of them particularly cheery. Still, it just went to prove that sometimes having someone thoroughly versed in Dark Arts and not all that finicky about actually using them can come in handy.
George, who had been there during the process, winced. "Yeah."
Harry took George's obvious discomfort as an excuse to take George's hand, really for his own comfort more than George's. "Wanna actually go in?"
George's fingers stiffened in Harry's. Harry said, "We don't have to, we can forget about this."
When George spoke, it was in a tone that Harry had never heard before, which was saying something. He had heard George sad and determined and mischievous and in pain and amused, but this was something else. "In fourth year, y'know, when Ginny came and he took her and you got her back, I made myself two promises. The first was that I would never let him take anything else of mine. The second was that you would be included in the first. I almost failed with Percy, I wasn't paying enough attention, didn't care enough, and Perce, damn his ambitious little soul, he wasn't helping. But we got him back, just like you brought back Ginny, bleeding and scarred and a bit confused, but alive and still part of us. If I don't walk into this place, if I don't laugh at its self-importance and at the terror and madness that still clings to its very frame and then leave all of that behind, then I'll be breaking my promise."
Harry digested all this. "C'mon, I have a thought."
"I admit one moment of weakness to you and you add to it by going and saying things that you know are bound to scare me. What kind of boyfriend are you?"
"The kind who behaves in front of your mum and nowhere else?"
George followed as Harry made his way into the house proper, past the kitchen, up the stairs, into the living room, thankfully doxy-free. Harry turned to George. "This is where we start."
George lifted an eyebrow. "Start?"
"Reclaiming this space." Harry leaned in to kiss George.
George pulled back. "Okay, um, maybe you're learning a little too well from my twin."
"It's not a joke." Harry steeled his voice. "And what's more, it's a bit borrowed from Remus."
"Please tell me he didn't fill you in on his sexual escapades with your godfather, how the bloody hell where you ever supposed to make it to adulthood with all your faculties intact? I swear."
"He was a bit more tactful than you make it sound and he only told me because I needed to hear that Sirius hadn't died completely miserable. You know how he was that last year, being kept inside by the people who were supposed to help him when he'd been locked up for twelve by people who had no intention to do anything near helping him."
George hooked his hand around the back of Harry's neck. "All right, I didn't mean to criticize, really. What'd my might-as-well-be-brother-in-law tell you?"
"That he wanted to make this place somewhere that Sirius felt loved, since he'd never felt that way growing up. So they would, I mean, when they were left alone for those long periods of time, just, pick different rooms and, well, y'know."
The corner of George's mouth quirked. "Got it."
"Fast, ye are."
"I can be," George offered.
"Maybe this time," Harry said.
"We have to do more than one room. I was thinking three. It's a fairly sizeable house, after all."
"Not to be the sensible one, and if you tell anyone I put forth any logic in these proceedings I'll tie you to a chair and force you to watch pensieves filled with Fred and Malfoy's memories of afternoon trysts, but we are planning on building another house entirely. We could just have a go here or in a bedroom or something and figure our, er, essence will spread itself out evenly."
Harry gave this some thought. "That would save us time and a certain amount of crawling skin."
"My point exactly. Which one makes it least likely that we'll never be able to shag again, do you think?"
Harry laid the house out in his head as though it were a puzzle and quickly began subtracting pieces. "The room Kingsley used to crash in when he'd arrive really late to meetings?"
George led the way, his gait every bit the soldier off to do his duty on the front. Harry tried to work up the energy to be offended. He gave up with the thought, oh well, there will just have to be a hell of a lot of christening sex in the new place.
The world was still spinning slightly and Harry hadn't yet started the post-nightmare cycle of trying to determine what was real and what wasn't when George pushed Harry flat onto his back, pressed his hands, shockingly and yet somehow reassuringly cool onto Harry's stomach, and said, "Just breathe for a bit."
So Harry did, because really, seemed like as good an idea as any and, confused as Harry was, the idea that George would never lead him astray was forcefully present. When every inanimate object in the room once again looked to be singular and Harry remembered that the Dursley's couldn't have killed Sirius for a myriad of reasons, Harry said, "Sorry."
"Not what I want to hear." George's hands slid away as George laid down next to Harry, practically on top of him.
Harry was silent then, not exactly sure what was expected of him. George sighed. "Tell me about the nightmare."
"Oh." Harry took a deep breath in, counting the seconds before he released it. One, two, three, four, five. "Sirius came for me, like, at the Dursley's, when I was a kid, he came to rescue me. But he was all like he was when he got out of Azkaban, weak and stuff, and then Vernon became Bellatrix Lestrange and y'know was all," Harry waved his arms, "with her wand, only it wasn't like in the Ministry, there wasn't a veil, she was torturing him, like with the Longbottoms. I was trying to stop her but she threw one on me and that's when I woke up. I always wake up right when I'm being the least useful. I suspect my subconscious knows when to give up."
"He would've saved you from them, if he could've." George ignored Harry's suppositions.
"You would've saved him from Bellatrix, if you could've."
"Would've been better if I hadn't lead him to the duel that caused his death, though, really. I mean, when you think about it."
George's fingers found one of Harry's arms and tightened around it. "I have thought about it, love. Probably not as much as you, but a decent amount. I even-"
"This is…not for public consumption."
"Right. Remus, he got drunk one night, after an Order meeting. This was the summer after your fifth year. Fred and I'd hung around mostly because number 12, for all its myriad other faults was a brilliant place to test out our contraptions. Mum had been worried about Remus and had asked if we'd check in on him before we left, so we did and I mean, three sheets to the wind in the middle of a hurricane, if you get my drift."
George released Harry's arm and rubbed at his eyes. "Remus talks when he's drunk. Not like when he's sober, he says things that otherwise he'd just keep inside, maybe forever. I mean, maybe he tells Bill, but I dunno."
Harry turned onto his side, facing George. "What'd he say?"
"He just talked about his friends leaving him and I mean, it was all of them, James and Lily and Frank and Alice and even Peter, but he left Sirius for last and he was just railing at him. It was scary, I'd never seen Remus like that. I'm not sure I'd ever seen an adult figure like that."
"About how he kept trying to get out and how he couldn't just stay where he was safe and how really, he was never happy after Azkaban unless he was doing something that sparked an intensity of emotion in him. You and Peter and Remus were evidently his emotional loci in those final years, in different ways, obviously, but, Harry, if it hadn't been you, it would've been something else. That was what Remus was so mad about. That Sirius couldn't stand to just stay, to just wait things out, to just live. It always had to be something more. And that wasn't your fault. It was Sirius's and all the people who put him away without trial and left him there without reprieve. Not yours. Your involvement was," George bit his lip, thinking, "cosmetic, at best."
Harry said softly, "But I was still involved."
"Forgive yourself that," George pleaded, "Remus has, and Sirius was everything he had to lose pretty much. It shouldn't be that big a thing to take one step further."
"Maybe," Harry was willing to admit, "but it is."
"Okay." George reached down to straighten the covers that had gotten twisted with Harry's nocturnal flailings.
"Okay?" Harry was smart enough to know that he wasn't getting off that easily.
"There's always the next time you have a nightmare to chip away some more at your insistence of guilt. I just have to bide my time."
Harry closed his eyes, pretty sure that was the most reassuring thing anyone had ever threatened him with.
The wedding itself was to take place in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Harry wasn't entirely sure how the two of them had managed to convince Dumbledore to allow that. In fact, he wasn't entirely sure that the arrangement didn't signify Dumbledore's complicity in the whole farce. Harry wouldn't have put it past him, even just a little bit.
George was giving Harry difficulty the morning of, being unwilling to stand still so that Harry could get all the ties on the dress robes that Fred and Draco had picked out for the groom's party done up. Harry laid a Petrificus on George and muttered, "I swear to all things magical, they picked these just to make my life difficult. They're probably watching all of this from somewhere, laughing, the gits."
Harry did up the last of the ties and released George. George said, "I was thinking, as a way of one-upping them that we could have all our groom's men dress in Muggle bondage get up."
"Before I begin listing my objections to stated plan, how in the world did you find out about Muggle bondage get up?"
"You think Knockturn was the only place Fred and I used to sneak as kids?"
Harry buried his head in his hands. "I had no idea the corruption went so deep."
George shook his head ruefully. "Naïve, naïve boy. Now, you said there were objections?"
"Do you really wanna see Hagrid in leather and chains?"
George shuddered but continued on, undeterred. "See, this is your problem, Harry. You consider your own comfort before the discomfort of others. We must cure you of this."
"Can it wait until after we've managed to get ourselves to this afternoon's performance of Fred Weasley's Greatest Hits?"
George lit up at the reminder of where they were headed. "I'm gonna watch Snape's face the whole time. I can't believe he actually agreed to take part but I bet he's three-fourths the fun of whatever the punchline is on this one."
Harry had noticed that when it came to Snape, he often found himself pitying the man whenever put up against people with a sense of humor. "I'll be attempting to shield your twin from an untimely death while you get your jollies."
"Of course you will," George said, as though there were no other possible activity of which Harry could partake. "You're Harry Potter."
Harry snorted. "Fuck you too."
"I would, but I'm not sure I can find my cock amidst all these buttons. You'll just have to wait until later."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Listen, remember, I have to step out as soon as, well, assuming there is a recessional, as soon as that starts."
"Yes, I know, without you there is no food, with no food, there is no merriment, with no merriment we shall never be able to convince Snape to once again reject the lure of the Dark and not kill us all." George added, "Not that anyone has expectations, or anything."
Harry bit the inside of his cheek. Hard. "Right."
George sidled up to him. "Seriously, love. No pressure. You're brilliant in the kitchen." George paused, "With the cooking, as well. And I'm gonna be here whether things go perfectly, as they will, or disastrously, as they won't, at least not on your part. I'm not making any promises for the Fred-Malfoy contingent of this day."
Harry kissed him. "Finish getting dressed, we're gonna be late."
"You think Fred won’t be?"
Harry pushed him away. "Be the bigger man."
Harry hummed loudly. "Not listening!"
Malfoy said, "Till death do us part" with solemn eyes and his hand still held in Fred's and Fred repeated, "Till death do us part." Fred was smiling, but it wasn't the kind of smile that indicated this being the punchline. Harry still kind of thought it was, just not the one everyone -- he -- had been expecting.
Dumbledore, now a reinstated member of the Wizengamot, was officiating, and he declared it acceptable for the newlyweds to kiss. Never one to take an opportunity like that for granted, Fred dipped Malfoy in the manner of great sweeping melodrama and went to. Malfoy leaned in and puckered up.
Next to Harry, Molly was making little sounds of happiness and Arthur was attempting to close his mouth. On his other side, Hermione rolled her eyes. "Leave it to Fred."
Harry thought maybe he'd been stolen from the universe he knew as his own and plunked right down into one that closely resembled it until he saw Fred's side of the processional, George, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Ron and Ginny all lined up in a row, every one of them eyeing the floorshow as if any moment now, something green and slimy was going to crawl out of their brother and Malfoy and eat the rest of the wedding guests.
Even Snape was frowning slightly, but Harry thought that might be more in disapproval of the couple's antics than surprise at the recent proceedings.
Harry wanted more than anything to wait and boggle over this turn of events with George, but there were well over two hundred people in the Great Hall and most of them would be heading Lair-wards in moments. Harry said, "See you in a bit," to Hermione and jogged for the closest Apparition spot.
Once at the restaurant, it was mainly a matter of giving everything one last look-see to make sure none of the Cooling or Preservation Charms had failed since he'd set everything out much earlier that morning. He worked to keep himself from fixing things that didn't need fixing, about three seconds from a nerves-related breakdown when George Apparated in no more than two feet behind Harry and warned, "The hordes are about to descend."
"Better than this waiting." Harry turned to look at George. "That wasn't supposed to happen, right?"
"Malfoy and my twin actually tying the metaphorical knot? Well, no, not so far as anyone could tell."
"Weasley-Malfoy," Harry said, weakly.
"I don't really think I can go about calling him that, what with it having my last name attached to it and all. I might have to throw in and refer to him as Draco." George's mouth twisted up at the thought. He reached to steal an hors d'oévre.
Harry smacked his hand. "Don't even think about it."
"If you feel that strongly about it, I'm sure I could think up a perfectly suitable nickname. Something like Evil Ferret, Effy for short, because four syllables is just too much for one person, wouldn't you agree?"
Harry stored that one away. He couldn't imagine it not coming in useful. "Entirely."
More quietly, George said, "He does seem to love Fred, yes?"
Harry wasn't entirely sure whether it was confirmation or persuasion that George required so he craned his face a bit in order to kiss the line of George's jaw and said, "He rather does." He hoped it wasn't blatant that he could have used some reassuring himself.
Remus came through the front door then, looking sincerely apologetic and saying, "You have all of two seconds."
Harry nodded. "Right then." George went to pick at a tray again. Harry grabbed both his wrists and kept them. George didn't put up much of a fight.
Even with the magical expansions that Audrienne and Harry had worked on together toward the purpose of fitting all two-hundred plus guests into the mid-sized restaurant, there was still overflow. Luckily, it wasn't much and Harry was able to compensate with a few waves of his wand.
Harry had Charmed the trays to be self-refilling, so that he wouldn't have to be running around trying to make sure there was food available all by himself. He was hiding in a corner with Ron, anxiously watching people munch -- most particularly Luna, who planned on doing a review of the event -- when Malfoy found them.
Malfoy-Weasley, né Malfoy.
He was silent for a bit, seemingly unsure of himself in the way that he slowly nibbled at the hand-fried crisp he was holding. Harry remembered seeing him in that state once before, when Dumbledore had been explaining Draco's part in the War effort. It was as though he wanted to say things, to be part of things, and thoroughly expected to be mocked and then thrown out. Harry thought, It's his wedding day, he should be the center of everyone's positive attention. Somehow, when Fred wasn't attached to the thought, it seemed more real. "Draco."
Draco startled. "Potter?"
Harry said, "Malfoy-Weasley's kind of a pain in the arse, really."
"You believe us then?"
Ron still looked doubtful. Harry didn't exactly blame him. "Well, until further notification."
This seemed good enough for Draco, who smiled. "Right." He held up the crisp. "Oh, I came to tell you. The food's really quite good. And also, if Fred pulls anything unexpected I'll pay for any damages incurred. I tried to quell all thoughts of mayhem, but I seriously doubt I was successful."
Harry sighed, hoping none of the damages were to people. "That's generous of you, I appreciate it."
Draco popped the last of the crisp into his mouth. "I'm off to go stuff myself some more then."
Ron waited until Draco had gone a safe distance to say, "Doesn't seem real, does it? I feel like I've missed something essential that would clarify the whole joke."
"I think maybe we all did miss something. It just didn't have the result of making things funny." Harry considered how many nights he had spent stalking the same flat as Draco and gave recognition to the fact that perhaps he had missed more than anyone else.
"Hermione knew. Hermione and mum. Don't know why I didn’t believe them. They’re always bloody right." Ron sounded faintly of frustration and heavily of fondness.
"It's your duty as son and husband not to believe them. Who would they have to doubt them if you gave up?"
"Mum would have five other sons. Hermione'd pretty much be left out in the cold, though, so I suppose I'd best keep to being more dense than the Forbidden Forest."
Harry grinned. "There's the Ron I know and love."
Ron smirked. George pulled up and joined the conversation with, "Are we planning evil? I'm in dire need of a little evil."
Harry hated to disappoint him. He pulled George down for a quick kiss in order to break the bad news lightly.
Even with magic the clean up took hours and there were tons of leftovers because Harry had, "Planned for a small country, rather than a large wedding," in the mocking words of George.
For all that, though, the party had been a success, with only minor damage incurred from Fred's loosing nearly a hundred doves into the place partway through in celebration of his wedding and intense state of inebriation.
Fred and Draco were off to Figi for the honeymoon, more because Fred had liked the name of the place than due to any particular desire to go there, so George and Harry had the run of the twins's flat for a little over a week. The new and improved number twelve was well on its way to being finished, but until it actually was, they were living in Harry's cramped space or George's shared one, and it was a nice change of pace not to have to worry about either of those issues.
When they had settled in for the evening, George methodically working his way through a tub of ice cream, Harry reading up on Quidditch gear, George said, "I don't think I thought I'd ever give him to anybody else."
Harry set the scores aside. "But did you think you'd ever give yourself to someone else?"
"Maybe a little more than the other." George was nothing if not honest in the areas that mattered.
Harry stole the spoon and a scoop of George's ice cream. "I wanna say something you don't know now. Something that will make you feel better and make me feel like I'm finally keeping my half the bargain in this relationship. But I think you know it all."
George shook his head. "Not all of it, but I do know it isn't about halves. Just two people."
Harry gave the spoon back to George, who accepted it gracefully. Harry was quiet until the thought, "There's something to be said for doing something you didn't know you could do," came to him.
George dug the spoon into a particularly recalcitrant spot of ice cream. "Doesn't make it any easier."
"Or more fun," Harry agreed, "but at least it gives it value."
"You scared about this restaurant thing?"
Harry allowed for the change in subjects. "More than ever, I think."
"But people loved it. Word of mouth is going to bowl some poor, hearing sensitive person over."
"Doesn't mean I can't be scar-" Harry stopped. "Oh, okay, I get it. So mostly you just want me to let you eat yourself into a coma and then wake up and go on and on."
"I want you here while I do it," George specified. "Otherwise it's no good."
"I can do that." Harry leaned in to kiss George. His mouth was so cold that there was no taste, nearly no feel to the kiss. All the same, it felt sweet. "The being here."
"Then I can do this," George said.
Harry thought, uh huh, sure we can, and took the ice cream away from George in order to replace it with something better.