"You're not kidding, are you?" Harry asked, his amused expression turning into one of shock and horror.
Ron shook his head darkly. "Not in the slightest."
"For a whole weekend?" Harry asked incredulously.
Ron heaved a great sigh. "Yes. A whole weekend."
"At the Burrow? With no wands?"
Ron rolled his eyes at Harry. "Has something gone wrong with your short-term memory?"
Harry chose to ignore this jab. "What the hell kind of birthday present is that?" he practically shouted. Other people at the pub turned to look at him, but he chose to ignore them as well.
"It's a Mum kind of birthday present. You know what she's like lately. Any chance she has to have everyone home at the same time and she jumps for joy." Ron looked into his empty beer bottle. "I've been thinking about suggesting she get a job. Or at least a volunteer position."
"But?" Harry asked in response to Ron's uncertain tone.
"But, I'm afraid she might get offended."
Harry shrugged. "She clearly needs something to do with herself now that everyone's out of the Burrow. Honestly. A wandless weekend with her children? And me? The woman needs a hobby if that's her idea of a grand birthday present."
Ron nodded and checked his watch. "It's definitely mental. Where the hell is George? It's nearly eleven."
"Is it?" Harry checked his own watch. "Huh. Maybe he... got lucky?" He pulled a face, knowing the chances of George randomly getting laid on the way to their weekly pub meeting was highly unlikely.
"Maybe he started early and wound up too drunk to leave his flat," Ron suggested bitterly.
Harry said nothing, knowing this was the likely cause of George's absence. He put his head down on the table in a fit of drunken sleepiness, but then sat back up again a few seconds later. "I need to get to bed."
Ron heaved another sigh. "You need to stop working so hard."
"I'm not working tomorrow," Harry said defensively, though it was the first Saturday in several weeks that he hadn't volunteered to work extra hours doing paperwork at the Ministry. "I just have to get up early to see Teddy."
"Oh yeah? How is he?"
"The usual. He hasn't shut up for more than ten seconds in the past two years."
Ron chuckled. "Sounds about right. He's what, five?"
"Six and a half."
"Wow. I – Godric, has it really been that long?"
Harry nodded and pulled out his wallet. He handed Ron a few bills and pulled on his jacket, getting ready to leave. "Can I ask a somewhat stupid question?"
"Based on past experiences, most definitely."
"Clever. Look, when you said your mum invited everyone... is everyone coming?"
"As far as I know," Ron said, a smug look on his face that let Harry know he wasn't going to answer the obvious question without it being asked.
"Even Charlie?" Harry attempted a casual tone but entirely failed to make eye contact with Ron.
"All the way from Romania?"
"All the way from Romania," Ron echoed again, grinning. "It's his mum's birthday, after all. Plus you'll be there."
"Ha ha," Harry said dryly, rolling his eyes. "Well, at least I'll be prepared for it."
"For what? Seeing him?" Ron teased.
"No, for people making stupid, awkward comments all weekend. And by 'people,' I mean 'you.'"
Ron beamed proudly. "Naturally."
Harry checked his watch again and then looked back up at Ron, a desperately exasperated expression on his flushed face. "No wands? Honestly?"
"Honestly. It's what she wants." Ron stifled a yawn. "We're getting old."
"You're getting old," Harry said as he stood.
"Yes," Ron agreed, getting up and following Harry out of the pub. "So, I'll tell her you're coming?"
Harry sighed resignedly and nodded. "Yeah. Of course, I'll be there. Without a wand, no less."
"You can bring your wand," Ron explained, holding out his hand. Harry shook it warily. "She'll just confiscate it once everyone's arrived."
"That's disgusting," Harry said plainly. "See you on Monday." He waved dejectedly and headed off while Ron turned and walked home in the opposite direction.
The sun was just setting at Hogwarts and the grounds were shrouded in warm tones of blue and purple. Harry stepped outside the castle for some air, hoping to be left alone. He had been talking to people all afternoon, about those who had died, about what he had done, about what to do next. He hadn't had a moment of peace since he had been woken up in Gryffindor Tower by the sounds of Ron and Hermione's snogging session.
He wandered down by the lake, lost in vague thoughts about Fred and Colin, Tonks and Remus, and the left-behind George and Teddy. He had been trying his hardest not to think about them all day. He had coldheartedly refused to let anything anyone said about them to sink in, to bring him down. But now, alone and with nothing to distract him, his defenses were weakened. The grief was overwhelming and for the first time, he felt like it was something he couldn't handle. He had dealt with Cedric's and Sirius's and Dumbledore's deaths. Perhaps he had done so badly, but at least he hadn't been destroyed. Now, in the wake of so much tragedy, he felt he had no coping strategy strong enough.
Harry sat heavily on the shore of the lake, covered his face with his hands, and began to cry, hidden in the shadow of a huge tree. This was not how he had thought the war would end.
A while later, when the grounds were dark and he was sleepily sniffing himself into a state of calm, he heard someone approaching. He thought it might be Ron or Hermione, or maybe even Ginny, but he didn't want to see any of them. He didn't want to see anyone. He had no more words of assurance or comfort to give out; he didn't want to hear "thank you" ever again in his life.
The person settled down next to him and he looked up.
"Charlie," he said stupidly. Of all the Weasleys, Charlie was the last one he would have expected to come out to sit with him.
"Harry," Charlie whispered his greeting, staring stubbornly out at the lake. "I wanted some fresh air," he said, his quiet voice trembling slightly. "It's miserable in there." He covered his eyes with a hand and coughed slightly, though Harry still heard the sob.
Harry sat there silently as Charlie fell apart, unsure what to do or say. He felt strangely removed from the situation now that he was watching someone else's grief. He wished he knew how he was supposed to handle this. Should he really hug Charlie? Charlie may have been Ron's older brother, but in the end, Harry barely knew him.
He put a tentative hand on Charlie's shoulder and Charlie sniffed loudly and then hiccoughed.
"Sorry," he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat and took a deep, shaky breath. "I didn't think that was going to happen."
"It's no problem," Harry said, squeezing Charlie's shoulder. "I was just doing the same thing."
Charlie uncovered his eyes, wiped them thoroughly with the back of his hands, and turned to face Harry, whose hand fell limply off his shoulder.
"How are you feeling?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but no words came out. He didn't know what to say.
Charlie nodded, understanding this silence. "Me, too."
"How did you know I was out here?" Harry finally asked after another few minutes of quiet.
"I saw you leave."
"Oh. I didn't think anyone was watching me."
"You're hard to miss, mate. You don't blend in too well."
Harry nodded and glanced back up at the castle. "Do you reckon we should go back in?"
"No. I reckon we should stay out here and let everyone else deal with things for a while. Do you want a smoke?" he asked, reaching inside his robes and producing a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
Harry shook his head and watched as Charlie lit one and began smoking. Then, turning to look out at the dark lake again, he said, "I... I'm sorry about Fred."
Charlie exhaled a small cloud of smoke and said nothing.
"You have no faith in me," George said in mock offense. "How big of a drunkard do you think I am?"
Harry frowned slightly, not sure how to respond. Truth be told, he sometimes thought George was straddling a fine line between alcoholism and an only-slightly-less-problematic drinking problem.
"Don't answer that," George added, seeing Harry's worried concentration.
"It's better not to," Harry assured him. "Anyway, if you weren't here, where were you?"
George eyed Harry suspiciously from where he sat on the couch in his flat. Harry was still loitering by the door, unsure if he wanted to stay and make himself comfortable or bolt as soon as George confessed his whereabouts on Friday night.
"Maybe you don't deserve to know."
"I – what?"
George smiled slyly. "It's a secret."
"Um... sure." Harry quickly gave up on the conversation. He didn't know what George wanted him to say, and he was pretty sure he didn't really care. He had no control over George and if George didn't want to tell him what had happened on Friday, then so be it. "How was the rest of your weekend?"
George pondered this question for a moment and then shrugged in a bored sort of way. "Sexy."
Harry sighed. He was pretty sure George was already drunk, even though it was only seven o'clock and the shop had only been closed for an hour.
"Interesting. Anyway, I'm going to go home and eat. I just stopped by to make sure you hadn't drowned in your own vomit."
"Harsh words," George said in a light tone that didn't fool Harry.
"That's how big of a drunkard I think you are," Harry said flatly as he opened the door. "I'll be interested to see how you fair next weekend."
"Why?" George sat up straight and turned to look at Harry. "What's next weekend?"
"Your mum's birthday."
George's expression was blank. "So?"
Harry closed the door and stepped over to the couch. "You haven't heard?"
"Heard what?" George asked, looking genuinely worried.
"You didn't get an invitation?"
"Invitation to what, dammit?"
Harry considered George's panicked face for a moment, wondering if he should draw out the torture. "There's going to be a party of sorts," he said, deciding against it when he caught sight of the half-empty wine bottle near George's feet. "At the Burrow, next weekend. Everyone's going."
"Oh." George relaxed. "I forgot about that. You made it sound like something much more important."
"I take it you didn't read the fine print of the invite?"
George shrugged. "Probably not."
"No one's allowed a wand. And I doubt she'll let you be plastered the whole time," he added, though he had no proof of this. Alcohol was a common coping mechanism in the Weasley family; it just so happened that George was the only one who took it to extremes.
George glanced sideways at Harry. "No wands?" he asked in a tone that suggested he thought he must have misheard.
"No wands," Harry confirmed.
"Bloody fucking hell. Now what's the point of that?"
"No idea," Harry admitted. "Anyway, I'm starving. I'll see you next weekend, I suppose."
Harry looked around the empty flat, concerned by its size. "So," he said slowly, "when you said it was 'small'..."
"I really meant it," Charlie said, winking. "It's definitely only meant for one person."
"Are you sure it wasn't meant for one house elf?" Harry asked, taking a step into the flat and trying to imagine where furniture would go. The room they were standing in was clearly supposed to be used as a sort of kitchen-dining room-living room hybrid, but Harry wasn't convinced there would be enough room for both a table and a sofa.
Charlie walked around Harry to stand in the middle of the room. "It'll do for now. It's not like I'm planning on making this a permanent home."
Harry nodded and continued looking around the room, his gaze firmly avoiding Charlie's. He didn't want to discuss how long Charlie would be camping out in this small London flat. The thought of Charlie going back to Romania at the end of the summer was too depressing. Charlie was the only person Harry felt remotely normal around these days; he didn't want to think about losing that.
"Has your mum seen this place yet?"
Charlie scoffed. "No. And she never will. The minute she steps foot in here, her head would explode. Can't you hear it now? But Charlie, dear, it's far too small! But Charlie, dear, it's far too messy! But Charlie, dear, you still haven't cut your hair! But Charlie, dear, wouldn't you feel better living at home for a few months? Ugh."
Harry forced a smile. "You're probably right. It's better if she doesn't see it."
"Come and have a look at the bedroom."
"How big is it?" Harry asked skeptically, moving to the other side of the room.
Charlie opened the door and gestured for Harry to step inside. Harry eyed Charlie for a moment before walking into the smaller room.
"Exactly what kind of bed are you going to put in here?" he asked, thinking that there would be no floor space once a bed was set up.
Charlie shrugged. "I did say it was small. And temporary. It really doesn't bother me."
"Well, then I guess I can't say anything bad about it."
"How kind," Charlie teased.
Harry rolled his eyes and walked back out into the slightly larger room. "I do hope Ron and I manage to find something a bit bigger."
"I'm sure it won't be a problem. You'll both be working by then. I'm not getting paid right now, so my budget's about as big as the loo."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Just how big is the loo?"
"You don't want to know," Charlie said darkly.
"I'm so sorry," Andromeda said when Harry stepped out of her fireplace. "There's an emergency at work. I almost never get called in. I couldn't reach the sitter. I'm so sorry."
Stray black and gray hairs were falling out of her hastily-made bun and she was rushing around haphazardly in the living room, grabbing items off shelves and practically yelling at Harry.
"Dromeda," Harry said soothingly, handing her the keys she had just dropped on the floor. "It's not a problem. You know you can always ask me. It's no bother at all."
Andromeda stood up straight and stared into Harry's eyes. He saw her frantic, apologetic expression turn into one of sadness. He smiled brightly at her, determined to not let her think about why she would even have to ask him to come over in the first place.
"In his room," Andromeda said, snapping out of her distraction. "He's reading, I think. I – I have no idea when I'll be home. Last time they called me in... I don't even want to think about it. His dinner's on the counter. Feel free to eat anything you like. I really must go. I'm so sorry again. Hopefully it won't take long."
Harry waved feebly as she Disapparated, surprised when she didn't splinch herself. He waited for a minute to make sure she wasn't going to come back having forgotten something. When he was satisfied that she was gone and at St. Mungos, doing whatever emergency procedures they called in expert and mostly retired Healers for, he headed upstairs in search of his godson.
"Teddy?" he called out, sticking his head in Teddy's room and looking around for the boy.
"HARRY!" Teddy flung himself at the back of Harry's legs and Harry stumbled forward, landing clumsily on Teddy's bed.
"Ouch. Hey, warn me next time," Harry muttered, rolling onto his back and looking at the small, blue-haired boy lying next to him. "Where were you?"
"I was, I was in Gran's room, um, trying to find her gold!"
Harry stared, nonplussed, at Teddy's eager face. "Is this a new game you've made up?"
"Yeah, yeah! Do you wanna play?"
Harry sat up. "How about we play a game that doesn't involve looking though your gran's things, all right?"
Teddy flung his legs up and over his head. They slid off the other side of the bed and Teddy was flipped onto his stomach. He giggled wildly, then scrambled up Harry's back, wrapping his arms tightly around Harry's neck.
"Are you hungry?" Harry choked out, trying to loosen Teddy's grip.
"No!" Teddy released Harry's neck, crawled off the bed, and ran to his bookshelf. He heaved an ancient-looking children's book off the bottom shelf and pushed it along the floor until it reached Harry's feet. "Will you read it to me, Harry?"
"Only if you eat first," Harry said, putting the heavy book onto the bed as he stood. He grabbed Teddy by the waist, hoisted the boy into his arms, and carried Teddy downstairs. Teddy shrieked in delight and flung out his arms, tilting them from side to side and making airplane noises all the way through the house.
Charlie was standing in the kitchen, looking around at the freshly painted walls at Grimmauld Place. "You've done a lot in the past two weeks," he said, sounding impressed.
Harry shrugged. "We cleaned it a lot when we were staying here last year. Really, all we've done so far this time is paint the kitchen and a few of the upstairs rooms."
"Well, it definitely looks a lot nicer than the last time I saw it. This was a good colour."
Harry smiled. "Thanks. I'm just trying to make it look a bit cheerier before I try to sell it."
"You're definitely going to do it, then?" Charlie asked, not making eye contact with Harry. "I mean, if it looks so much nicer after you finish painting everything... why not just keep it? You could remodel everything, make it exactly how you want it. Then you wouldn't have to pay rent on some dingy apartment, like me."
Harry looked up as Ron came into the kitchen, adjusting his thin, black tie. "How do I look?"
"Like you're trying way too hard," Charlie said immediately. "Lose the tie."
"I like the tie," Harry said before Ron could pull it off. The long tie made Ron look even taller and skinnier than he actually was, but in a good way. He looked extremely dapper, even handsome.
Charlie shrugged. "You've met her parents before, haven't you?"
"Yeah," Ron muttered, still trying to loosen the tie slightly. "But now I'm dating their daughter."
"How fancy is the restaurant? You look like you're going to a wedding."
Ron pouted and let go of the tie. "Is it really that bad?"
Charlie shrugged again. "It's your choice. The tie's a bit too formal for me, but Harry can't keep his eyes off you, so maybe you should keep it."
"What?" Harry demanded, his gaze moving from a slightly baffled Ron to an amused Charlie. He could feel himself blushing but he tried to pretend that it wasn't happening. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what I said. You were practically drooling." Charlie turned back to Ron. "Keep the tie. And don't be late."
Ron checked his watch, swore, and dashed out of the kitchen without saying goodbye.
"You should keep the house," Charlie said suddenly, moving back into their previous conversation. "That way, if I wanted to come back and visit, I wouldn't have to sleep on the dingy sofa in your dingy apartment."
Harry blinked, unsure how to respond to anything Charlie had said in the last two minutes.
"Would you look at me that way if I wore a tie?"
Harry snapped out of his confusion and pulled out his wand to hex Charlie.
"Something tells me this isn't going to be productive," Ron said dryly as he watched Harry trying to put a Disillusionment charm on their wands.
"Why do you even think you'll need a wand this weekend? All we're going to be doing is drinking and eating. The most you'll have to do is chop some vegetables. I'm sure we can survive 48 hours without magic. We did it all the time before we turned 17."
"It makes me uncomfortable," Harry admitted. "Especially around your brothers. They'll see it as a weakness, not having wands. They're going to try to do something stupid."
Ron rolled his eyes. "You're paranoid. Bill's going to be too busy keeping Victoire entertained, Charlie's going to be too busy keeping it in his pants, Percy's going to be too busy critiquing everyone else, George is going to be too busy drinking himself into a stupor, and I'm going to be too busy watching everyone else complain about my mother."
"You've got this whole thing planned out, huh?" Harry asked, giving up on the Disillusionment charm and tossing Ron back his wand. "Did I tell you I saw George on Monday? Something's up with him."
"That's new," Ron said sarcastically.
"He wouldn't tell me where he'd been on Friday when we missed him at the pub," Harry explained. "And he described his weekend as 'sexy,' but wouldn't tell me what he meant by it."
Ron shrugged. "He was probably drunk."
"He was definitely drunk. But that's no reason to keep secrets."
"Maybe he's got a new lady friend," Ron said dismissively. He checked his watch. "Where the shite is Hermione? She's not usually this late–"
There was a soft popping sound behind them and they turned to see Hermione Apparate into her and Ron's flat.
"She's right there," Harry said, pointing at her.
Ron batted Harry's hand away as he stood up from the sofa to greet his girlfriend. "Where've you been?" he asked after kissing her gently on the lips.
"Trying to convince George that it wouldn't be wise to slaughter your mother."
Ron glanced at Harry. "How drunk was he?"
"Not at all," Hermione said, putting down her bag and taking off her coat. "He was completely sober. He was just angry."
"Angry at our mum?"
"He asked if he could bring someone to the Burrow this weekend, but apparently she said it's for family members only."
"Does that mean I don't have to go?" Harry asked, getting to his feet and walking around the sofa to join them.
"No," Hermione said, smiling sympathetically. "We're both family. You know that."
"Who did he want to bring?" Ron asked.
Hermione shrugged. "He wouldn't say."
"Wait, where did you even see him?" Harry asked.
"I stopped at Diagon Alley on my way home to pick out a present for Molly."
"Presents," Ron muttered, closing his eyes. "Damn."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I got one from you. Don't worry. And from you, Harry."
"You do too much for me," Harry said flatly, knowing it was pointless to protest.
"No, I just like for everyone to be prepared."
"I don't think there's any way we could be prepared for this weekend," Ron said darkly.
Harry leaned back in his chair and frowned down at the chess board that sat between him and Charlie. Charlie was a much better chess player than he let on; he complained that Bill and Ron were the best players in the family, but, as far as Harry could tell, Charlie wasn't far behind. Harry reached his hand out, paused with it hovering in mid-air, and then retracted it.
"You're screwed," Charlie teased.
"I'm not screwed," Harry said, though he knew it was true. There were few moves left on the board, and he couldn't see any that would lead him to victory.
"Loser has to suck the winner's dick."
"Har har," Harry said without looking up from the board. He didn't want to know if Charlie was joking or not. There had been far too many jokes about Harry being gay lately; his new strategy was to ignore them all and hope Charlie got bored. He was clearly not gay, but there wasn't anything he could say to Charlie to prove otherwise. Charlie was arguably the most stubborn Weasley brother.
"You can't win. Just admit it. You're screwed."
Harry sighed and leaned forward slightly to scan the board again. "Fine," he said after a moment, slumping back in his chair. "You win."
"You know what that means," Charlie said, waggling his eyebrows.
"It means that you're better than me at chess. Terribly surprising news."
"Nope." Charlie grinned. "It means you have to suck my dick!"
Harry sighed and decided to play along for once, hoping it would catch Charlie off guard and end the teasing. "What, no foreplay? Not even a nice dinner to butter me up first?"
"You can take me out to dinner," Charlie said smugly.
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but then his stomach growled with interest. Charlie grinned wider. "Fine. Let's go to dinner."
"But you're paying, right?" Charlie asked, his eyes twinkling almost maliciously. "This is a date?"
"Yes." Harry rolled his eyes. "This is a date."
"In that case," Charlie said, standing up and stretching, "I'll go home and change. Where should we meet?"
Harry watched, slightly dumfounded, as Charlie put his shoes back on and got ready to leave. "You know I was kidding, right?" he asked quietly. "This isn't a date."
"You're so easy to torture," Charlie responded flippantly. "Do you want to meet at that new cafe by my flat? Make it an hour. I need a smoke and a chance to wash off the smell of victory with a nice, long shower."
Harry looked up from the chess board and met Charlie's cheerful gaze. "Yes?"
"You're way too uptight, mate."
Harry frowned. "I'm not uptight. I'll meet you there in an hour."
"Good. Don't be late. Dress to impress." Winking at an unamused Harry, Charlie spun and Disapparated.
"Who's the lucky lady?" Harry asked, leaning over the counter of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
George ignored this question and helped the next customer in line, a fake smile plastered across his tired face.
"Seriously. Is it someone I know? Is she from Hogwarts?"
George remained silent as he handed the customer some change. The next person stepped up to the counter and he tallied up the prices of all the items, still pretending not to see or hear Harry.
"Why won't your mum let you take her to the Burrow? Is she questionable?"
"Mind your own, Harry," George said in a low voice as yet another customer approached him with full arms.
"I'll do no such thing."
"Then be prepared for a very long and boring day. I'm not answering any of your questions. I'm surprised you think I would, especially in the middle of my shop!"
"I'm on my lunch break," Harry explained, shrugging. "I didn't have anything better to do."
Much to Harry's dismay, though he had known it would be coming, Charlie was wearing a long, thin black tie when they met at the cafe an hour later. Harry was pretty sure it was the same tie that Ron had worn, but instead of using it to accessorize a suit, Charlie was using it to spice up a button-down shirt and jeans. He looked fancier, and a lot more attractive, than he should have, and Harry resented him for it. It was obvious that he had done it on purpose to get to Harry, but Harry wasn't going to play along this time.
"You look good," Charlie said as they sat, a hint of badly suppressed surprise in his voice.
Harry frowned slightly. "What, you didn't think I could clean up well?"
"You haven't shaved all summer," Charlie pointed out. "Merlin, you look seventeen again."
Harry rubbed his freshly shaven cheeks self-consciously. "What did I look like before?"
"Older. Facial hair makes anyone look older. Now you look your age. Blimey, I forget how young you are sometimes."
Harry glared across the table at Charlie as they were offered menus. "I'm not that young," he protested when they waiter was out of earshot. "I'm the same age as Ron, aren't I?"
"You forget that Ron's my youngest brother. The only person on the planet younger than Ron is Ginny. And as far as I'm concerned, Ginny's still nine years old."
"That's a bit creepy," Harry noted.
"No, it's not. She's my baby sister. That's just how it works." Charlie perused the menu for a few minutes before speaking again. "What happened between you two, by the way?"
Harry looked up from his own menu, confused. "What?"
"You and Ginny," Charlie explained, flipping the menu over and looking at the drink and desert options on the back. "What happened?"
"I don't know," Harry muttered, looking back down at his laminated list of foods. He suddenly felt very warm. "It didn't work out. You know."
"I know," Charlie said quietly, staring hard at Harry as the waiter came back over to take their orders.
Harry quickly changed the subject while they waited for their food. He brought up Charlie's work with dragons, Charlie's days as a Seeker, his own days as a Seeker, the Auror Department he hoped to join soon, and the possibilities of Ron and Hermione's new relationship.
"They'll get married," Charlie said offhandedly. "It won't be a surprise."
"I'd be surprised," Harry said honestly. "I think they'll wait a few years first. They're pretty reasonable, level-headed people."
"That doesn't have anything to do with it. Wizards marry young, Harry. Or haven't you noticed?"
Harry noted the bitterness in Charlie's tone as the waiter came back with their food. He dropped the topic and began eating his sandwich. Charlie had been in a weird mood ever since they'd discussed Harry's failed relationship with Ginny. He'd started giving short, sarcastic responses to everything Harry said. It made Harry uncomfortable; this wasn't a part of Charlie he'd been exposed to before.
"I have a question," Charlie said after a few minutes of silence. They were both already almost done their meals.
"All right," Harry said, glad for any conversation.
"Are you completely straight?"
Harry's mouth fell open and he stared avidly down at his plate, unable to take Charlie's intense expression when he was already blushing this hard.
"You don't have to answer," Charlie added quietly. "I'm just trying to figure you out. You're still a mystery to me. When I saw you looking at Ron the other week, it just seemed like... more than a best-mates sort of thing. But I know Ron's straight. I know he's not cheating on Hermione with anyone, least of all a bloke. But you..." He trailed off to take another bite of food and drink his milkshake. "You're a whole different story. You're not with Ginny anymore and you don't have much of a reason for it. You look at Ron when you think no one's watching you. You look at me when you think I'm not watching you. Do you have a thing for gingers, Harry?" he asked, eyebrows waggling.
Harry sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes under his glasses. He didn't want to be having this conversation with Charlie in public. He didn't want to be having this conversation with anyone, anywhere.
"I don't know," he finally said when the silence was too much for him.
Charlie nodded, accepting Harry's obvious discomfort, and changed the subject again.
"I am not ready for this," Harry muttered, watching as Hermione wrapped some wine for him.
"Honestly, the way you and Ron talk about this weekend. You're both overreacting. A weekend at the Burrow without wands isn't any different than a weekend at the Burrow with wands. What would you even want a wand for? What is it you're so upset about not being able to do?"
"I just don't like not having my wand," Harry tried to explain. "It's a security thing. Plus, you know, with everyone there... the Burrow doesn't have much privacy. Sometimes it's nice to be able to use magic to get a few minutes of peace."
Hermione finished wrapping the two wine bottles and set them into a gift bag, taking care to arrange the festive tissue paper just so.
"I'm sure you'll find a way to survive."
Harry sighed and thanked her for wrapping Molly's gift for him. He set the gift bag down next to the sofa and put his feet up on the coffee table.
"I'm thinking about selling the house."
"Again?" Hermione asked.
Harry shrugged. He had remained at Grimmauld Place for years, mostly because he was too lazy to make up his mind about selling it. What he really wanted to do was sell his godfather's house and buy his parents' old house in Godric's Hollow, but he didn't know if he would be allowed to re-build it. He had never asked anyone; he didn't even know who to ask about such a thing.
"Harry?" Hermione's voice was timid, almost unsure.
"Are you excited to see Charlie again?"
Harry took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes tiredly, and replaced them. "I don't know," he said honestly. "It's been a very long time. And..."
"And?" Hermione prompted.
"It's stupid, really. It's nothing. I'm just being a bit pathetic."
"What is it?"
"I don't know," Harry mumbled, fingering the handles on the gift bag. "I'm nervous about him seeing me... seeing that I still live here, seeing that I'm still single..."
"But you haven't been single the whole time he's been gone," Hermione reasoned. "He knows about your relationships, doesn't he?"
Harry shrugged. "If someone else told him. I haven't talked to him in a long time. I stopped owling him years ago."
"I'm sure he'll just be happy to see you again. I don't imagine he'd judge you for keeping the house. Or for being single at the moment. He's probably single, too. I mean, he's Charlie... he's always single."
"Not always," Harry muttered under his breath. He cleared his throat. "He wanted me to keep the house in the first place. He'll be happy about it."
"So... why are you worried about that?"
"I don't know," Harry said tiredly. "I'm not. I don't know. These things just come out of my mouth and I don't listen to what I'm saying. I have no reason to be nervous about seeing him. I'm just being dramatic." He checked his watch. "Should we head over?"
"If you're ready," Hermione said kindly.
"I'm ready." Harry stood and grabbed the suitcase he had packed the previous night and the gift bag full of wine he was hoping to drink as soon as Molly opened her presents. "Please don't tell Ron anything I just said."
Hermione rolled her eyes and went over to the fireplace to grab some Floo powder.
"You're so fucking young," Charlie moaned, staring up at the ceiling.
Harry, who was sitting next to him on the small sofa, kicked his leg.
"And you're so fucking old."
It was the night before Harry's eighteenth birthday, and the two of them were trying pointlessly to sober up in Charlie's flat after a night of drinking in every pub within a fifteen block radius.
"Don't remind me. Balls, I'm drunk."
Harry snorted and rolled slightly onto his side as he laughed, pressing his forehead into Charlie's shoulder. "Balls."
"Balls," Charlie repeated mournfully.
Harry sat up slightly, though still leaning on Charlie, and looked seriously at the heavily freckled, flushed face in front of him. "I'm really not that young."
"You are," Charlie whispered, staring back at Harry. "You don't even know how young you are. You don't even know who you are, yet. Or what you want. Or who you want."
"I know who I want," Harry said firmly, shifting to face Charlie completely. "I know who I want," he repeated drunkenly.
"You don't," Charlie insisted, his expression frozen in confused panic. "You're too young. You keep telling me you don't know. I've asked half a dozen times–"
"You talk too much," Harry said bluntly. "You ask too many questions. It's my birthday, for fuck's sake. Just kiss me, already."
Charlie spluttered. "You – what? I'm not – that's ridiculous. What a stupid present to ask for."
"I'm not asking you," Harry said, moving closer to Charlie's apparently paralyzed body. "I'm telling you. Kiss me. It's my birthday. That's what I want."
"But I bought you drinks," Charlie protested weakly.
"You talk too much," Harry said again.
"Please don't do this."
Harry leaned back slightly. "You're really going to sit there and pretend like you don't want this? You – you've been flirting with me for weeks!" He shifted up, hovering awkwardly as he tried to decide if he wanted to stand or not. "Every other sentence out of your mouth is how I should suck your dick! You've been asking me non-stop about whether or not I'm gay!"
"Harry, you're drunk, sit down," Charlie tried to reason.
"You're drunk!" Harry retorted, sitting down and crossing his arms.
Charlie took a deep breath and turned to face a pouting Harry. "I fucking want you," he said roughly. Harry uncrossed his arms as a shiver ran down his spine. "I'm trying really hard to be a good friend by not hitting on you or taking things too fast. You're so young, and you're so confused. I don't want to be the bloke who made you do things you didn't want to do because you felt like you had to. I'm older and I'm your best mate's brother. I practically turned you queer and you're sitting there like this fucking innocent little boy and you're asking me to kiss you."
Harry stared at Charlie for a long moment, his eyes unfocused as he tried to take in Charlie's speech. Then, before Charlie could continue on or move away, he flung himself forward and kissed Charlie hard on the lips.
"It's my birthday," he muttered against Charlie's cheek as he adjusted himself on the sofa until he was straddling Charlie's muscular thighs. "I want you to fucking kiss me. Stop. Talking."
"Just for the record," Harry said as he, Ron, and Hermione stood just outside the Burrow, "I think this is a bad idea."
The door opened and Molly Weasley shouted happily and embraced them all as they filed into the house.
"How are you dear?" she asked, closing the door behind Harry. "We haven't seen you here in a while. How's Teddy?"
"He's great," Harry said, holding out the gift bag full of wine. "Happy Birthday, Molly."
"Oh! You shouldn't have."
"You never actually mean that, though," Ron protested, handing over his own present. "What would you have done if we'd shown up empty-handed?"
"Taken your wands a lot faster," Molly said matter-of-factly. "Any last minute magic?"
Harry exchanged looks with Ron and Hermione before handing over his wand. He felt far too vulnerable. He wondered if Charlie was at the Burrow yet, and if so, where.
"Out of curiosity," Ron asked, "is there any particular reason why you're insisting that we all hand over our wands?"
"I don't want any distractions," Molly said shortly. "This is a weekend for family. Magic is dangerous when people are tipsy or frustrated. Let's all just be humans for once, instead of witches and wizards."
Ron's mouth dropped open slightly. "Oh... okay..."
"Come along," Molly said brightly, turning away from Ron's shocked face. "Everyone's just through here," she said, leading the way out of the kitchen.
Harry followed and, in the living room, received a loud welcome from the rest of the Weasley family. Mr. Weasley was sitting in his usual chair, his granddaughter sitting proudly on his lap. Her parents, Bill and Fleur, were chatting with Percy by the window. Next to the fireplace, Harry saw with a jolt in his stomach, were Charlie and George. Ginny had already grabbed Hermione and the two girls were sitting on the sofa talking in whispered tones.
Harry nodded and waved in response to all the shouts of "hello" and "how are you?" He already wanted to leave. He was too tired to deal with the entire Weasley family for an entire weekend, especially in this cramped house, especially when it was Molly's birthday and everybody felt the pressure to keep the weekend as pleasant as possible, and especially when Charlie was wearing a damn skinny tie.
"Happy Birthday," Ron said cheerily when he came down into the kitchen at Grimmauld Place.
"Thanks," Harry said, not looking up from his cup of tea.
Ron sat down across from Harry at the table. "How were the celebrations with Charlie? I didn't hear you come in. Did you get back late?"
"I only just got back," Harry explained quietly.
"Did you pass out on his sofa?" Ron asked, chuckling. "Were you really that drunk?"
Harry shrugged one shoulder, still looking into his tea cup.
"Well... what happened?" Ron asked, concern now mixing with the curiosity in his voice.
"I kissed him," Harry said dazedly. He nodded slightly and looked up at Ron's shocked face. "I kissed him," he said more firmly.
"Uh," Ron said stupidly.
Harry kept nodding, admitting the awkwardness and surprise of this news. "I kissed him and he kissed me back and we... we kissed. For a long time. Hours, maybe. Maybe not. I don't know, I was drunk. I'm still a bit drunk."
"Are... are you gay, then?" Ron asked, not even attempting to mask his confusion.
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "Maybe. Maybe I'm – yeah. I don't know. No idea."
"You didn't talk about it with him?"
Harry shook his head. "No. No, we just... kissed. A lot. Until... until we were sleeping instead of kissing. And then I left before he woke up."
"You didn't sleep with him, did you?" Ron asked, sounding a bit disgusted.
"No. Only kissing," Harry said quietly.
Ron nodded and took a deep breath. "Well! I'm – I'm happy for you, I guess. If there's stuff to be happy about, I mean. Otherwise, um... good job on the snogging?"
Harry snorted. "That's really all you have to say about it?" he asked, feeling slightly panicky.
Ron shrugged. "I don't care if you're gay. I've never cared about Charlie being gay. It's fine with me, if that's what you're asking. And if... you know, if you want to keep snogging all my siblings, I should warn you right now, the rest of my brothers are straight. And Bill's married. And Percy's a prude."
Harry smiled across the table. "So, really, it just leaves you and George."
"George is in mourning and I'm shagging Hermione."
Harry paused, distracted by this admission, "Wait, you're sleeping with Hermione? Since when?"
"Since last night," Ron admitted, blushing. "She's upstairs in the shower."
"I guess we both got lucky for your birthday."
Harry nodded slightly. "I guess so."
It was too cold to eat dinner outside, but there were far too many people to eat comfortably inside. Long tables were lined up from the kitchen out into the living room; there were awkward walls and corners in the way that prevented normal flow of conversation. Harry was sitting in the kitchen with Ron, Hermione, and George. Around the corner from them were Charlie, Percy, Molly, and Fleur, and on the other side of the living room were Arthur, Bill, Ginny, and Victoire.
Charlie was within eyesight and earshot of Harry, though Harry preferred to pretend that this wasn't the case. He attempted a few chats with Molly and Fleur, who were both inconveniently and significantly more out of the way, all while avoiding Charlie's gaze. Eventually he resigned himself to speaking with the people at his own table. He hadn't really wanted to talk to anyone else anyway, and the bizarre table set up allowed him to be anti-social without regret.
"So, are you ever going to tell us who it was you wanted to invite?" Ron asked George.
George responded by taking another sip of the wine Harry had brought.
"Maybe we shouldn't be asking him about it so close to your mum," Hermione suggested quietly.
Ron shrugged. "Why not? We could use a row to lighten up the evening."
"Well, then, maybe you should respect that George doesn't want to talk about it."
"Of course George wants to talk about it," Ron insisted. "George loves gossip."
George snorted and stuffed his mouth with turkey.
Harry watched George with a mild curiosity. "It is a bit odd that you won't even give us a name."
"What d'you need a name for?" George asked through his food.
"So we can get her committed. She's obviously gone mad if she's fallen for you."
George glanced briefly at Harry, so briefly that Harry thought he might have imagined it, before glaring at Ron. Harry's mouth dropped open as he realized why George was so quiet about his sudden love life.
"Ron," Hermione chastised his rudeness.
"Let's just drop it," Harry suggested, trying to keep his tone casual. "I, for one, would like to avoid a major row at your mum's birthday dinner, no matter how entertaining it would be."
Ron grumbled and went back to eating his turkey. George avoided meeting Harry's gaze for the rest of dinner.
"Long time no see," Harry said when Charlie stepped out of the fireplace at Grimmauld Place late on his birthday.
Charlie crossed his arms and leaned back against the mantle, staring hard at Harry. Harry shifted uncomfortably.
"I was just... making some tea. Do you want some?"
"You left this morning," Charlie said, his tone accusatory and hurt. "Without saying anything."
"I didn't know what to say," Harry said defensively. "I didn't think there was anything to say."
"So it was just a kiss, then?" Charlie asked, sounding skeptical. "Just a birthday wish?"
"Well..." Harry moved away from the kitchen counter and sat down at the table. Charlie followed suit. "I don't know what it was. I – I wanted to kiss you. And you wanted to kiss me. So... we kissed."
"I was there."
"Oh. Right." Harry scratched the back of his neck nervously. "Are you very angry with me?"
Charlie's stern expression softened immediately. "What? No. Why would I be angry with you?"
"You just seem very angry, is all."
"I'm not angry," Charlie said softly. "I'm... I'm concerned that we did something you regret and that it's going to affect things between us. You're pretty much the only friend I have in London and I don't want to fuck that up just because I couldn't keep it in my pants for one night."
"But... you did keep it in your pants," Harry said, blushing slightly.
"You know what I mean."
Harry nodded. "I know what you mean." He sighed and glanced around at the kettle he had left on the counter. "I don't regret it," he said, speaking to the kettle. "And I also hope it doesn't affect things between us. You're... you're the only gay wizard I've ever met. And I don't really know what I'm doing."
Charlie sighed heavily. "Harry. You shouldn't want to be with me just because I'm the only gay wizard you know. I know plenty. I'll introduce you. You should have options."
"That's not what I meant," Harry said quickly, turning back around to face Charlie. "That's not what I meant at all. I want to be with you because – because you're you! You're Charlie and you're... well, you're gorgeous and you're interesting and you don't always want to talk about the war or all the people who just died. I like spending time with you because you're my friend, not just because you're the only gay wizard I know."
Charlie bit his lower lip in a failed attempt to keep himself from smiling. "So, you fancy me a bit?" he asked, teasing slightly.
"I – yeah. I fancy you a bit." Harry grinned stupidly. "And you fancy me a bit."
"I do," Charlie admitted, nodding.
"Well..." Harry leaned across the table, smirking. "What should we do about that?"
"I don't know," Charlie answered, leaning forward and kissing Harry's soft lips. "We could try this part of it again."
"Or we could move on to more... exciting parts."
"We could do that, too."
Charlie laughed and stood up from the table. Harry did the same, but before Charlie could walk around to meet him, Harry had crawled over the top of the table and was pinning Charlie to the wall. They kissed energetically, pushing each other's hands out of the way and pulling on each other's hair.
"Harry," Charlie gasped, managing to pull away for a moment.
"Hm," Harry answered by kissing along a vein in Charlie's neck.
Charlie swallowed heavily and pulled Harry's head back up for another kiss. "Happy Birthday."
Dessert, for Harry, was torture. George was getting drunker every second, Charlie was sitting alone on the couch, and Harry couldn't find anyone to engage in conversation with for longer than a few minutes. Ron and Hermione were talking with Bill and Fleur about couple-type things, Percy was trying to explain his new job at the Ministry to Ginny and Arthur, and Molly was playing with Victoire.
Harry wished there was an easy escape, but there simply wasn't. He stood awkwardly by the door to the kitchen and ate his pumpkin pie, feeling very out of place. Hermione and Ron weren't married, but they were as good as. He was the only person there who wasn't family or attached to a family member. Once upon a time, he had been Charlie's boyfriend. For one glorious month, they had been a couple like Ron and Hermione, or Bill and Fleur. They had attended Weasley events together, and Harry had felt, more than ever before, that he had a real place (and reason to have a place) in the Weasley family.
Now, years later, Harry and Charlie were on opposite ends of the room, both equally alone. The only person who seemed willing to acknowledge this was George, who was sitting in his father's chair with a bottle of wine and looking back and forth between the ex-boyfriends.
Finally, when Victoire fell asleep on the floor and all of the many pumpkin pies were consumed, people began filtering upstairs. Bill and Fleur went first, Bill carrying his long-haired, sleeping daughter in his arms. Charlie followed quickly, and then George. Harry volunteered to stay downstairs and wash the dessert dishes, by hand, with Percy.
"Oh, God," Harry whined, covering his face with his hands and panting as Charlie pulled out of him and collapsed onto the bed. "Did you kill me? I think you killed me."
"You certainly sounded like you were mid-death," Charlie teased, rolling onto his side and kissing Harry on the cheek.
Harry grinned and turned to face Charlie, hooking a leg around Charlie's waist. "I love having sex with you," he said quietly.
"I should hope so," Charlie laughed. "Otherwise, what the hell have we been doing for the past week?"
Harry shrugged and buried his sweaty face in the pillow. "Your sheets really need to be washed," he said, his voice muffled. "They can only handle so much sex."
There was a long moment of silence before Charlie put a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Don't say it," Harry pleaded. "Let's just not talk about it."
"My Portkey's in eight days, Harry. We can't not talk about it."
"We can," Harry moaned into the pillow. "We should."
Charlie sighed and rolled onto his back, pushing Harry's leg away. "We knew it was coming."
"We always knew," Harry said dully, his voice still muffled. "We were always prepared. So, let's just not talk about it. There's nothing to say."
"There are a lot of things to say," Charlie whispered at the ceiling.
"There's nothing to say," Harry repeated.
"You've been avoiding me."
Harry jumped slightly in surprise, then turned to see Charlie coming out to join him in the garden.
"I haven't been avoiding you," Harry lied cooly. "You've got a big family. It's hard to get a chance to talk to everyone."
"You've been avoiding me," Charlie repeated. He moved next to Harry and the two of them leaned on the fence and stared out at the surrounding fields. "How've you been?"
"Busy," Harry said after a moment. "Very busy."
Harry shifted his weight slightly, trying to move subtly away from Charlie. Charlie was still warm from being inside the house, and his body heat was covering Harry's skin with gooseflesh. At least, that's what Harry was telling himself.
"And how have you been?" Harry asked, surprised by the dull tone in his own voice. He didn't sound like himself.
"Also busy. Dragons... blokes... the usual."
Harry nodded vaguely. "I thought you were upstairs," he said, gesturing back at the Burrow. He had only come outside because he didn't think Charlie would see him leave.
"I was. I came out for this." Charlie pushed himself away from the fence, straightened himself out, and pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket. "Do you want one?"
Harry took a cigarette out of the pack and watched as Charlie lit one and inhaled deeply. "You still smoke, then?" he asked before sticking the cigarette between his lips and lighting it.
Harry raised an eyebrow and said nothing.
"Unsuccessfully," Charlie elaborated. "Several times, actually. I was doing pretty well until I got Mum's invitation for this. I think I was going on three months."
"Three months without smoking and a birthday invite from your mum broke you?"
Charlie shrugged. "It's hard to come back here," he admitted. "Families, histories... Romania's a different world. It's not easy to move between worlds."
Harry smoked his cigarette in silence, letting the still-familiar burn consume his lungs and the long-missed scent of Charlie's brand fill his nostrils.
"These make me nostalgic," he said a while later, putting the cigarette out on a fence post.
"These make my life bearable," Charlie said, imitating Harry and then tossing the butt onto the ground.
He and Harry watched as a gnome poked its head out and picked up the cigarette butt with a curious look on its face. It disappeared into the bush again, giggling suspiciously, and Charlie looked back up in time to see Harry reach out and grab the collar of his jacket. He stumbled forward slightly as Harry pulled him closer, and they kissed sloppily, their lips numb from the cigarettes and the October chill.
"You always have to make the first move, don't you," Charlie asked, panting slightly against Harry's lips when they finally broke apart.
"You always have to show up outside looking all pouty and breaking my heart, don't you?" Harry whispered before kissing Charlie's wet lips again. "You need a shave."
"You thought what?" Harry asked, pulling Charlie closer by his collar again.
"I thought if I showed up looking like I wasn't expecting you to kiss me, that would make it easier on everyone. Weasley stubble–"
"–is famously rough," Harry finished for him. "Lucky for you, I find you just irresistible enough to ignore it."
"I could go shave," Charlie offered, putting his hands tentatively on Harry's waist.
"That would look a bit suspicious," Harry pointed out.
"Is this a secret, then?" Charlie asked, his eyes twinkling.
"I don't know what this is," Harry said frankly.
Charlie opened his mouth to respond, but after a moment his features settled into a frown. "I'm going back on Monday."
"I figured," Harry said quietly. He considered Charlie's lips, still wet and swollen from their kissing, and still so close to his own, before letting go of Charlie's collar and stepping back. "Maybe that's all this should be."
"Fair enough," Charlie said blankly.
"I'll... see you inside?" Harry asked, backing slowly towards the Burrow.
Charlie nodded and crossed his arms against a cold wind that swept through the garden. "See you."
It was September 1st and Harry couldn't help but feel as though he should be on the Hogwarts platform. Ginny, Hermione, and Ron were all there, though only Ron would come back. The girls were going back for the seventh year. Harry and Ron's intensive three-year Ministry training was starting the next day; they were going to become Aurors together.
But Harry wasn't at Platform 9 ¾ and he wasn't preparing for the next day. He was hiding in his room, sitting on his bed with a cold cup of tea and a sandwich for which he had no appetite. Charlie's Portkey out of London was scheduled to leave from the Ministry in less than two hours and they hadn't even said goodbye.
Harry had slept over at Charlie's flat the night before, shooting down every attempt Charlie made to talk about the Portkey, and had left early in the morning, making sure he was as quiet as possible so Charlie wouldn't wake up and catch him trying to escape.
He didn't want Charlie to leave and he didn't know how to handle that. He had never been in this situation before. Usually he said goodbye to people he didn't care about at all (the Dursleys) or didn't ever have a chance to say goodbye to people he cared about because they died (everyone else). He didn't know how to say goodbye to someone like Charlie. So, instead of trying, he had fled.
The fireplace in the kitchen made a loud "whoooosh" and Harry checked his watch. It was too early for Ron to come back, which meant that it was Charlie.
Shame burned Harry's insides as he heard footsteps on the stairs and in the hall. There was a knock on his door and he turned away from it to look out the window. He felt utterly pathetic.
The door opened and there was a moment of silence before Charlie spoke in a quiet voice.
"When I said you were young, this is what I meant."
Harry sighed and closed his eyes, remaining turned away from Charlie.
"That was a mean thing to say," Charlie admitted a moment later. "I can't blame you for being young. You're more mature than most eighteen-year-olds. At least that's something."
Harry gathered his courage and looked over his shoulder. Charlie looked sad and tired, but somehow still had the familiar look of Weasley determination on his face.
"I'm sorry," Harry managed, standing up. "It really wasn't a mature thing to do. I know that."
"It doesn't matter. I just wanted to say goodbye. And... and I wanted to say I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?" Harry asked curiously.
"Sorry for seducing you," Charlie said with a hint of a smile, "and then leaving you."
"It's really not your fault," Harry insisted. "You didn't seduce me. I kissed you, remember? I knew all along that you were leaving at the end of the summer. You have nothing to be sorry for."
"I'm sorry that you're hurting, though."
Harry shrugged, blushing. "I'm fine."
"You're not fine," Charlie said roughly. "I'm not fine. You think I want to leave?"
"Don't you?" Harry asked, surprised.
"No! And if you'd let me talk to you about it at all, you would know how shitty I feel about going back to Romania when there's still so much going on here that needs to be done, and still so many people that need more help, and still... still you. You're still here and I don't want to leave you."
Harry sat back down on his bed and looked sadly up at Charlie. "Then why are you leaving?"
"Because it's my job," Charlie grumbled. "I have to. I don't have anywhere else to go. I – I love my job. I do, you know I do. It's just hard to transition between England and Romania. It always has been, but now... now it's just even more difficult. I'm not just leaving my family this time, I'm not even just leaving a post-war mess. I'm leaving you, too, and it just..."
"It sucks," Harry finished for him.
"It sucks," Charlie repeated. He looked at his watch. "Fuck."
Harry gulped. "When do you have to be there?"
"Where... where are all your bags?"
Harry nodded and stared down at his feet for a moment. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too. We should keep in touch. You should owl me. We can write letters. There's no need to let our friendship waste away just because of all this."
Harry nodded again and stood back up. "I guess you'd better go."
Harry paused, considering Charlie's lips and Charlie's hair and Charlie's abs and Charlie's thighs and Charlie's smile and Charlie's way of making him feel relaxed and giddy at the same time. Then, damning his own inability to let Charlie walk away, Harry stepped forward for one last kiss.
Charlie wrapped his arms tightly around Harry's thin frame as their lips moved against each other in a sad, yet familiar way.
"I have to go," Charlie said desperately after a long, breathless kiss. He stepped away so quickly that Harry almost fell over in a loss of balance. "I'm sorry."
Without waiting for Harry to respond, Charlie raced back down the stairs, grabbed his suitcase, and floo'd to the Ministry.
When Harry went back inside the Burrow, the only people he found in the living room were George and Percy. George was staring mournfully into the fireplace, which was roaring with flames, and Percy was sitting next to him on the couch, attempting to engage him in conversation.
"Try telling Harry about it," George said as Harry sat himself down in Arthur's chair. "Maybe he'll care enough to listen."
Percy frowned, glanced at Harry, and then stood. "I think I'll just go on to bed, actually. I'll see you two in the morning."
Harry watched as Percy retreated up the stairs and then turned his attention to George. "I thought you'd gone to bed already?"
George shrugged. "I wasn't tired, so I came back down. Big mistake, obviously," he said, nodding toward the stairs.
"What was he trying to talk to you about?" Harry asked.
"No idea." George hiccoughed quietly and then cleared his throat. "I should really go to bed, though," he said dully, sounding as though it was the last thing in the world he wanted to do.
"This person you wanted to bring for the weekend," Harry began, not caring if George was too tired or too drunk. "Is it serious?"
George was silent for a minute as he considered the question and continued to stare into the fire. "Is what serious?" he finally asked.
"Your relationship, if there is one. Is it serious?"
Again, George was silent for a long period of time before he responded with a small nod.
"I'm guessing you didn't tell your mum it's a bloke?"
George tore his eyes from the fire and looked at Harry. "Who says it's a bloke?"
Harry shrugged. "Isn't it?"
George furrowed his brow at Harry for a few seconds and then turned back to the fire.
"I'm just trying to help," Harry said gently.
"And how is this going to help?"
"Talking about these things helps," Harry said sensibly. "I had Charlie to talk to, and Ron. I didn't hide it from people. It's a lot harder to deal with if you try to keep it all a secret."
"It's not a secret," George mumbled defensively. "And I have... we talk about it. We talk about a lot of things. I'm not the only one concerned about privacy."
"Privacy?" Harry asked, frowning. "What privacy? No one here is going to run and tell the Prophet about your love life, George. This is your family."
"I'm not the only one concerned about privacy," George repeated harshly.
Harry tilted his head slightly. "Who... who is it? Is he famous or something?"
George crossed his arms and said nothing.
Harry stood. "Fine. I can't force you to talk to me, even if I think it would help. If you ever do want to talk, maybe after this weekend, you're more than welcome to come and find me."
Harry began the long trek up to Ron's room, followed only by George's heavy silence. He stopped at an open door and glanced inside the room to see Charlie sitting on the edge of Fred's old bed.
"You're sleeping in here with George?" Harry asked awkwardly when Charlie looked up at him.
Charlie nodded. "Do you really think George is gay?"
Harry glanced back down the stairs. "I think..." He sighed, stepped inside the room, and closed the door behind him. He tried to ignore the immediate tension that filled the small room. "I think he's gay. He would say so if he wasn't. I don't know who it is he's dating or why he won't say who it is he's dating. But I'm pretty certain it's a bloke."
Charlie nodded again, frowning distractedly at the door. "It's just odd," he said quietly. "I came out so young and... he's waited a very long time. I just feel bad... and I'm bloody shocked. George is... I mean, he's always been flamboyant, but actually gay? It's just odd."
Harry shrugged and moved to sit on the edge of George's bed, facing Charlie. "It's odd, but it's honestly not the most shocking. It would explain a lot."
"Such as the heavy drinking and all the weird mysteries that cultivate around him. He has these mood swings that make no sense. One day he's thrilled to be alive and the next... and if he's really hiding something this big, I mean, hell, I would drink, too. I can't even blame him for it."
"I'd gotten used to being the odd one out," Charlie said after a moment. He winked at Harry. "I guess it'll be nice to have some company for once."
"George doesn't make for very good company these days. He'll probably mope downstairs for the rest of the night."
"I'm counting on it," Charlie said quietly.
"What?" Harry asked, thinking he must have heard wrong.
"I said I'm counting on him staying downstairs for a while," Charlie said a bit louder. His tone was casual but he was staring intensely at Harry. "I'd like to spend some time with you."
Harry swallowed heavily. His throat suddenly felt very dry, and his skin very tingly. "Did... did you wear that stupid tie on purpose?"
Charlie glanced down at the tie he was still wearing. "It's not stupid. And, yes. I wore it because I knew you'd like it."
Harry nodded. "So, really, the not-shaving thing was what? To distract other people? Because if you honestly didn't want me to kiss you, you wouldn't be wearing that tie."
Charlie winked again, his lips twitching in a smile. "You still read me like a book."
"You're still transparent as hell," Harry countered. "You haven't changed."
"You have," Charlie said quietly. "You've grown up."
"We all have. It's been a long time since the war."
Charlie nodded and glanced toward the door. "I, um... I guess you're up with Ron?"
"I guess," Harry whispered, staring blatantly at Charlie's lips. He couldn't decide what to do. He knew that he shouldn't get involved with Charlie again, not in the Burrow, not after so long of nothing between them, not when they only had the weekend. He also knew that Charlie looked illegally handsome in that tie and with that reddish stubble. It had always been difficult for Harry to resist Charlie, and tonight was no exception.
"It's too bad we don't have our wands," Charlie said suddenly.
Harry blinked and snapped out of his sleepy haze of thought. "Why's that?"
"It would be so much easier," Charlie explained softly. "I could shave more easily. We could put up silencing charms, privacy spells... something to keep George away."
"Oh." Harry found himself blushing. "Yeah, I guess wands would make all that easier."
"You don't have to do this if you don't want to. It's only an offer."
"That's not fair," Harry teased. "You know I never turned you down."
"That's what I was hoping for."
A long silence settled between them as they stared at each other, considering their options. Harry was already half-hard. The thought of sex with Charlie, again after so many years, was more exciting than he knew how to handle. He thought he had been in control of himself when he had arrived at the Burrow hours ago, but now, sitting across from his ex-boyfriend and getting aroused for no particular reason, he had to admit to himself that he'd never been in control of anything when it came to Charlie.
"You're going to have to make the first move again," Charlie whispered, breaking the silence. "I don't want you to do this just to please me."
"I want to," Harry said so quickly that he surprised himself. "I want you. I miss you like hell and there's nothing..." He stood up, crossed the short distance between the two beds, and sat down next to Charlie. "There's nothing I would rather be doing."
"We have to be really quiet," Charlie said, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder and then letting it slide slowly down until it reached Harry's own hand. He laced their fingers together. "Mum and Dad's room is just below this one."
"That's kind of disgusting," Harry breathed, his heart racing as Charlie's other hand traced his jawline. His erection was straining against his jeans and he didn't think he was going to last long, anyway. It had been too long since he'd been with Charlie; it had been too long since he'd been with anyone, really.
"Just don't think about them." Charlie's hand moved idly down Harry's neck, chest, and stomach until it came to rest lightly on the tent of Harry's jeans. "Just only think about me."
"You don't have to be so cheesy," Harry said gently, staring into Charlie's eyes as Charlie leaned closer to him.
"I like being cheesy."
"I know," Harry whispered, his lips already touching Charlie's as he spoke. He closed the distance between them in an instant, kissing Charlie with an urgency that Charlie matched and then quickly doubled.
Harry gripped Charlie's shaggy hair as they moved awkwardly on the bed, trying to shift themselves without breaking apart. Charlie's stubble was as prickly as needles against Harry's smoothly-shaven cheeks, but he loved the pain. He knew his face would burn in the morning, but he didn't care at all. Charlie was wide and strong and hard; Charlie was moaning and bucking and gasping beneath him; Charlie was touching him all over and his skin was absolutely on fire. Charlie was everywhere and Harry was drowning in him and loving it.
"For fuck's sake," Charlie groaned as Harry bit down on his neck. "Take off your fucking clothes."
"Have to," Harry licked over the bite marks he had just left, "lock the door."
"Fucking wands," Charlie muttered, pulling Harry closer to him as Harry tried to stand up. "No one's trying to get in here."
"Your parents are downstairs," Harry whispered harshly. "If we can't even cast Muffliato, the least we can do is lock the bloody door!"
Charlie grinned and let go of Harry. "Take some clothes off while you're up."
Harry locked the door, then pulled off his socks, jeans, and shirt as quickly as he could. "Your turn," he said, suddenly feeling self-conscious and vulnerable as he stood there half-naked, his erection more obvious than ever in his thin pants. Charlie's eyes raked over his body a few times and Harry smiled nervously. "Come on, then. Your turn."
Charlie sat up slowly and lifted his shirt off over his head. Harry gulped. Charlie's chest was broad, huge even, and just as covered in freckles as the rest of his body. Charlie's muscles were bulging, and Harry, who worked out and who had outgrown his scrawny appearance years ago, felt tiny in comparison. And yet, Charlie was staring at Harry's exposed form as a starving man stares at a buffet.
Harry went back over to the bed, pushed Charlie down, and climbed on top of him. He let his nervousness and uncertainty rise into lust; there was nothing but physical attraction between them now. There was no room for feelings or memories.
Charlie's hands were inside Harry's pants, squeezing Harry's bottom as they rocked their hips together, breathlessly. Harry was moving quickly towards climax, his senses overwhelmed by Charlie's rough, strong, demanding hands.
"Don't come yet," Charlie gasped when Harry's hips began jerking more quickly. Harry whined against Charlie's neck and Charlie huffed as his cock jerked.
"Why the fuck not?" Harry sat up, placed his hands on Charlie's chest to brace himself, and rolled his hips. Charlie bit his lips against a moan and Harry smiled. "I want to come," he said huskily. "I look at you and I want to come. You make me want to come."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "You're a real poet."
"I want to come," Harry repeated, a bit louder. "I want to come now and I want to come in your mouth. Do you have a problem with that?"
Charlie looked between Harry's face and Harry's boxers. "I want to come inside you."
Harry groaned, deep in his throat, and leaned back down to kiss Charlie. "I don't think I can last that long," he whispered.
Charlie smiled, grabbed Harry's hips roughly, and sat up, pushing Harry down in the process. He hovered over a surprised-looking Harry for a moment before shifting slightly and relieving Harry of his last piece of clothing.
"Then you get to come twice," he said before ducking his head down and licking up the entire length of Harry's angry red cock.
Harry clenched his jaw and sucked in his lips, trying desperately not to make a sound as Charlie set about sucking the orgasm right out of him.
"Bastard," Harry choked out when Charlie took a break to slide two spit-slicked fingers into his arse. "Ah!" he cried out when Charlie pushed against his prostate.
"Shush," Charlie reminded teasingly as he continued prodding Harry's prostate.
"Fuuuuck," Harry whined, covering his mouth with one hand and reaching down for his cock with the other.
Charlie swatted Harry's hand away and replaced his mouth on Harry's cock, sucking on the tip as his tongue tickled the underside. Harry's hips arched up off the bed and he moaned loudly into his own palm as he came in Charlie's mouth.
"You're not good at being quiet," Charlie said a minute later as he stroked Harry's softening cock idly. Harry was still shaking with aftershocks and gasping into his hand. His face was flushed and he was having trouble mustering the energy to open his eyes.
"You already knew this," he managed, letting his hand fall.
"I already knew this," Charlie agreed.
The bed shifted and Harry opened one eye to see Charlie standing next to the bed, removing the rest of his clothes. Harry sat up to take in the sight of a fully naked and aroused Charlie Weasley. It was still as gorgeous and sexy as it had been years before.
"I'm pretty, aren't I?" Charlie asked.
Harry said nothing, but turned on the bed, reached around for Charlie's buttocks, and pulled Charlie's cock into his mouth. Charlie inhaled sharply and moved his hands to Harry's hair, holding Harry's head in place as it bobbed along his cock.
Unlike Harry, Charlie was well-practised in the art of silent sex. He made no noise as Harry sucked and licked all the right places. He made no noise as Harry pulled roughly on his balls and fingered his perineum teasingly. He made no noise when Harry shifted up, pulled him in for a kiss, and dragged him back onto the bed.
"Are you going to fuck me or what?" Harry asked, finally breaking the silence.
"We don't have our wands," Charlie said, frowning slightly.
"Do you have a condom?"
Charlie sighed heavily. "Would you judge me very harshly if I said yes?"
"I wouldn't judge you at all," Harry said quickly. "Put the condom on and fuck me before I scream."
"Screaming would be bad."
"Screaming would be very bad. So maybe you should go ahead and do it."
Charlie nipped at Harry's earlobe before getting off the bed and digging through his suitcase. Harry watched as Charlie's backside wriggled around in the air. He was spent from his orgasm; he felt sated and tired and wouldn't have minded going to bed right then and there, but he was hard again and he wanted to have sex with Charlie. This time, though, it wasn't just about the lust. It wasn't about Charlie's porn-worthy abs, pecs, biceps, triceps, thighs, or hip bones. Actually, for Harry, it was always about Charlie's hip bones, but it was also about Charlie's eyes. It was about that odd shade of Charlie's eyes that was so light blue it was almost green. It was about the freckles behind Charlie's ears, the freckles beneath his lower lip, the freckles on the dimples of his lower back, the freckles on the back of his thighs. It was about that spot on his neck that made him hard in an instant. It was about the spot on his back where he switched from rough and muscular to ticklish and vulnerable. It was about that month they had had together, and all the weeks that led up to it. It was about the "I love you" Charlie had once whispered into the darkness when he'd thought Harry was sleeping. It was about everything they could have had or been if Charlie had stayed in London.
"It's been a long time..." Harry tried to warn as Charlie lay back down, two condoms tucked behind his ear.
"What, you don't date?" Charlie asked, taking Harry's cock in his hand and stroking it firmly.
"I date... usually I top, though. It's been... it's been well over a year since I did this."
Charlie put a hand on Harry's shoulder and rolled Harry onto his side, facing away. He moved up behind Harry, wrapped one leg tightly around Harry's thighs, and reached around with his hand to continue stroking Harry's already-leaking cock.
"Good," he whispered into Harry's ear. Harry twitched slightly as Charlie's warm breath blew over his neck. "You'll be nice and tight. And I'll go slow."
"Just do it," Harry said, rocking his hips with Charlie's hand and grinding back slightly on Charlie's cock. "Please."
Charlie pulled back from Harry and ripped open one of the packets from behind his ear. "Just try to be quieter this time," he teased.
"Are you putting both those on?" Harry asked, ignoring this chide.
Charlie reached around to show Harry the packet. Harry read the label and realized it was lubricant.
"Oh. Good," he said blankly.
"You know you're not actually supposed to wear two condoms at once, right?"
Harry glared over his shoulder. "I know that. That's why I was asking. I'm not – aah." He pressed his face into the pillow as three of Charlie's thick fingers began pushing lube into him.
"You're not what?" Charlie asked, gently sliding his fingers in and out of Harry and trying to stretch him. He kissed along Harry's shoulder.
"Stupid," Harry whimpered slightly. "Shit."
"You all right?" Charlie asked against Harry's neck.
"I told you," Harry said, leaning forward slightly and moving one of his legs to open himself more to Charlie's fingers, "it's been a long time."
"I don't think I can wait much longer," Charlie admitted, his voice low and tense with need.
"I don't think I want you to," Harry replied.
Charlie pulled his fingers out of Harry, ripped open the condom packet, and sheathed his cock with it.
"You still all right?" he asked.
Harry nodded and Charlie guided his cock to Harry's arse and pushed forward until he was completely inside the smaller, black-haired man lying in front of him. Harry was breathing deeply, focusing on the hand that had just wrapped around his cock. There was a sharp, stinging pain where he and Charlie were joined, but he knew that pleasure would soon take over.
Charlie snagged Harry's earlobe with his teeth and pulled, growling slightly as he built up speed with his hips.
"I thought you said you were going slow," Harry panted.
"Does it hurt?" Charlie asked, struggling to keep a calm, steady voice.
"No," Harry whispered. He pushed Charlie's hand off his cock and replaced it with his own. Charlie moved his hand to Harry's hip and began thrusting more quickly, moaning and grunting into Harry's neck and hair.
"Quieter," Harry warned after Charlie gave a particularly loud groan.
"Fuck quieter," Charlie growled, pounding his hips hard against Harry's. "You're too hot for quieter."
"That's sweet – ah!" Harry squeaked embarrassingly as Charlie shifted and brushed against his prostate. "That's – ugh – sweet, but your parents are still – still downstairs – and the bed is creaking!"
"Just come," Charlie commanded roughly.
Harry leaned his head back against Charlie's and began rocking his own hips faster. They built up a frantic speed, both biting back groans of pleasure as they spiraled together toward climax.
"Shit," Charlie breathed, his fingers digging into Harry's hip. "Shit."
Harry gasped loudly and came over his own hand and the sheets as Charlie's breath ghosted across his damp skin and the tightness in his balls finally released for the second time. He groaned wantonly into the pillow as Charlie's rhythm grew impossibly faster before jerking slowly to a stop. He could feel Charlie's cock pulsing inside of him, could feel Charlie's harsh breaths on his back as Charlie came silently inside him.
They remained still and quiet for what seemed like hours as they both caught their breath and came down from the high of their orgasms.
Finally, heaving a great sigh, Charlie pulled slowly out of Harry and sat up to take off the condom. When he lay back down, Harry turned onto his back and looked up at the ceiling.
"That was pretty quiet," he said. "I'm impressed."
Charlie put a hand on Harry's cheek and turned his head to bring him in for a kiss. Harry pulled back after a second and licked his lips, tasting blood. He looked at Charlie's swollen, bleeding lips, and then up into Charlie's light blue eyes.
Charlie smiled guiltily. "It was either that or screaming."
"And screaming would be bad," Harry whispered, tracing Charlie's lips with a fingertip.
"Screaming would be very bad."
Harry kissed him again, briefly. "We probably... I mean, I don't regret it, but it was... maybe not the best idea in the world."
Charlie shrugged. "Worse decisions have been made."
"I suppose this is true."
"I guess... it might be sort of awkward for the rest of this weekend."
"It might be," Harry agreed.
"Or," Charlie said softly, brushing his fingers over Harry's cheeks.
"Or it could be... it could be this. We could just let it be this."
"Let it be what? A night of sex?"
"A night of sex. Between two men who... who clearly have trouble moving on from each other."
"I've moved on from you," Harry defended himself pointlessly. "This wasn't anything other than sex."
Charlie closed his eyes. "Don't say that unless you mean it, Harry."
Harry sighed. "Sorry."
"I'm trying to tell you..." Charlie rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"Tell me what?" Harry prompted, placing a hand on Charlie's warm, broad chest. He felt Charlie's heartbeat and listened to Charlie's steady breathing for a minute, waiting for Charlie to tell him whatever news there was.
"I'm trying to tell you," Charlie began again, "that I'm moving back to London."
Harry sat up quickly and stared down at Charlie. "Excuse me?"
Charlie propped himself up slightly on his elbows. "I'm moving back to London. I had a job interview this afternoon and they sent an owl during dinner. I can start in November."
"What – next week?" Harry asked, completely disbelieving. Charlie nodded. "Well... well why didn't you say anything sooner?" Harry demanded, not caring that he was suddenly shouting.
Charlie reached out and pulled Harry down for a kiss to quiet him. "I wanted to know if you were honestly still attracted to me," Charlie admitted. "I wouldn't have wanted you to just fall back into being with me simply because you knew I would be here."
Harry sat up again. "You're so stupid sometimes," he said bluntly. "You're so paranoid that I only do things with you because I feel obligated somehow. I don't feel obligated, Charlie. I'm a grown man now and I can make my own decisions. Your age doesn't mean anything to me. I slept with you tonight because I wanted to. I wanted to be with you. All of you. You're..." he trailed off and adjusted himself on the bed until he was straddling Charlie's thighs. "You're completely irresistible to me. You always have been and you've always known that! Stop thinking there's some twisted reason for it. There's not. I'm attracted to you. I get on with you. How could I not be in love?"
Charlie raised his eyebrows skeptically. "You're in love?"
"Of course, I am." Harry grinned mischievously. "Don't pretend you're not."
"I'm..." Charlie started to protest, but came up with nothing.
"Exactly," Harry said triumphantly.
Charlie licked his lips. "If... if after this weekend I went back to Romania and then moved back in a few days..."
"Yes," Harry said emphatically. "Sounds good. Sounds perfect."
Charlie winked up at him. "But where could I find you?"
"Find me? Oh. Oh, I'm still... I still live at Grimmauld Place."
"Yeah?" Charlie asked, grinning.
"That's good. I'm really glad to hear you kept it."
Harry shrugged. "Yeah. Me, too, I guess. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with the place, but it's my home, now, so..."
Charlie nodded. "Makes sense. So, what should we do now?"
"We could... go to sleep, I guess."
Harry nodded and got off Charlie to stand up. "Should I go up to Ron's room, then?" he asked awkwardly.
Charlie shrugged. "Might as well. At least there's a bed up there for you. No sense in sharing this small one if we don't have to. It'd be weird, anyway. We should... you know. Maybe try to take things slow before we start telling everyone again."
Harry blinked tiredly down at Charlie. "You don't want people to know?"
"I want people to know," Charlie insisted. "I just don't think they should find out by seeing us in bed together. And I'm not convinced that telling them this weekend is a good idea. I mean... we're stuck here until Sunday night without any wands."
"Good point," Harry agreed. "We probably should take it slow, anyway. You know... do things right."
"You want me to woo you?" Charlie asked, sitting up and wiggling his eyebrows.
"Yes," Harry said, smiling. He leaned down to kiss Charlie one last time before putting his clothes back on. "I'll see you in the morning," he said as he unlocked the door.
"In the morning."
Harry went out onto the stairs, closed the door behind him, and looked up toward Ron's room. He was exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. He wanted sleep more than anything, but something was keeping him from walking up to the bed that was waiting for him.
Harry turned around to see George halfway up the stairs behind him.
"Oh, yeah. I was..."
"Fucking Charlie," George said, walking up to meet Harry on the landing outside his room.
"I – no – what..." Harry tried to protest, but knew it was pointless. He was blushing and he was sure he looked as debauched as he felt.
"I'm happy for you."
Harry was surprised to hear how genuine George sounded.
"Are you... are you sure you don't want to talk about whatever it is that's going on with you?"
George shrugged nonchalantly. "It's Oliver," he said casually, as though he hadn't been hiding it for days or weeks or months or possibly even longer.
Harry's mouth dropped open. "What? Oliver Wood? Oliver... Oliver's gay?"
George nodded solemnly. "Quite gay."
"Huh." Harry tried to remember details of his friendship with Oliver Wood at Hogwarts. He couldn't remember anything other than Oliver's frenzied passion about Quidditch. "That's... I mean, good for you. For him. I'm... I'm happy for you two. I want you to be happy. I just wish you'd share that with your family. You'd probably be a lot happier."
"Probably," George agreed, dully.
"So why don't you?"
"There's no reason," George admitted. "Olly's out to most people who care to know. He doesn't want the press to find out, but... but that's no reason not to share it with my parents."
"I'm not good at taking my own advice."
"Then take mine," Harry suggested. "Tell your mum tomorrow. Owl Oliver and get him over here. If he's a part of your life, then he's a part of this family, too. You know that just as well as I do. I'm here, Hermione's here, Fleur and Victoire are here. Oliver should be here, too."
George nodded tiredly. "I know. I think... I think I will. I'll try, at least. I'm really... I'm really sick of being drunk all the time just because I can't talk about him with anyone."
"You've done a marvelous job of hiding the relationship," Harry assured him. "But there's no need for it. You should tell Molly... for your own sake."
George nodded again and a sleepy silence fell between them. "Are you telling Mum about you and Charlie?" he asked finally.
"Not if I can help it," Harry explained. "Though, I guess that's a bit hypocritical."
George shrugged. "You're both out already. You were loud, anyway. Everyone's going to know."
Harry blushed again. "Fuck. We tried really hard to be quiet."
"Try harder next time."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Thanks for that. Anyway, I have to get to bed. I can barely keep my eyes open. I'll see you in the morning?" George nodded. "And Oliver in the afternoon?" George nodded again. "Good. Night, then."
Harry turned, then paused and looked back over his shoulder. "George?"
Harry turned around again. "Why did you even ask your mum if you could bring someone here if you didn't want to? What would you have done if she'd said yes?"
George shrugged, frowning. "I probably would have brought some random bird. I only asked because I swore to Oliver I would. He wants... he wants me to be out to my family... partially so he can be around them and partially because he thinks it'd be good for me."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Wise words, yet again."
"Yeah, well..." George shook his head. "I didn't want to, but he forced me, so I... I asked in a way I knew would piss off Mum. I told her I wanted to bring someone, and when she asked who it was, I just made up a bunch of shit. Something about a girl I'd met and... I made sure it was obvious it was someone more or less completely random. I knew she'd never agree to that, so... that's what I did. Then I told Oliver she'd said no. Family members only, you know."
"And he didn't suspect?"
"No, he did. He just didn't say anything about it."
Harry nodded. "But you're ready now?"
"No," George said honestly, and Harry could see the fear and anxiety in his eyes. "But I think it's gotten to a point where... he'll probably leave me if I don't... if I don't do something about this soon."
Harry melted slightly at George's sad expression. "Just tell your mum," he said quietly. "You already know she's not homophobic. I know you like your privacy, but you seem to like Oliver even more, so..."
George nodded, looking down at his hands. "Yeah. Yeah, I know. I – I will. I have to."
Harry put a hand on George's shoulder. "It'll be all right. You'll see. It's worth it."
George nodded again and gave Harry a small smile. "Thanks."
"Anytime," Harry said, dropping his hand and turning to go up the stairs again. "I mean that," he added just before sprinting up to the top floor.
He went into Ron's small room, quietly undressed, and flung himself down on the cot. Closing his eyes, Harry thought only of Charlie and what the next few weeks might hold for them. He was exhausted and happier than he had been in years, and sleep came over him quickly.