After a few more drinks and jokes, the twins went with Lee to meet his friends at the next table. Harry watched his two best friends smiling at each other as he took a swallow of his mead. He sat facing the bar, with the fireplace directly behind him. The light from the fire flickered and danced across the faces of the two people who had always been there for him. Through pain and fear, and his bad moods, they had remained with him. He knew he would not be where he was without them. The faith they placed in Harry, the hope that they had for the world, is what made him believe that everything would turn out okay. It kept him in the fight. The happiness they shared seemed to lessen his own burdens, allowed him to imagine that maybe he would have it too someday. Perhaps he could return to her, but not yet. In some ways each of their lives resembled a fairy tale. An odd thought really, but it was true.
As Hermione whispered something to Ron, Harry sank deeper into his thoughts. Stories like Ron and Hermione's always ended well. The proverbial fairy tale ending. Most of the time it held some moral, something that gave the story a meaning, other than just a pleasant idea. He smiled at the thought of what the moral of their story would be. But it was a dark smile, as it begged the question of what the lesson of his own tale was, and what kind of ending it would have.
With his back to the fire, his face was somewhat hidden from the light. Shadows followed him wherever he went these days. Often, Harry wished that he could just hide away in the darkness, to let it surround him like a veil. A veil, he thought morosely. Since the night that Sirius had fallen he had pushed himself on, choosing to face life – rather than dwell on death – even after the death of Dumbledore. It was not an easy task, the harder he struggled to stay afloat, the more life seemed to push him down. Still, he never gave up, accepting the misfortune of his past but using it as his power.
Harry closed his eyes, wondering how long it would be till he was feeling her comfort. When would it be over? How much longer would he have to fight? Could he keep fighting?
“Is everything all right, Harry?” Hermione’s voice penetrated his thoughts.
“Yeah. I’m going for another shot, do either of you need anything?” he replied as he rose from his seat and went to the bar, not really listening for their reply. Ron and Hermione shared an anxious glance.
Ron spoke first as they turned their eyes on Harry’s retreating back. “He’s been through too much already. I hardly know what to say to help him anymore. Even when we’re with him he seems to be alone.”
“That’s because he is alone, Ron. No matter how much support we give him, in the end he will have to face this by himself, and he knows it,” Hermione spoke softly.
Ron shook his head vehemently. “No, I won’t let him do it. Not by himself. He’s stood for so long on his own, he needs us to lean on. No matter what, I’m going to be with him at the end. For good or bad, it’s always been the three of us, and I won’t allow that to change.”
“Don’t you get it? He’s worried that we will be there, that he’ll lose us too. Harry is strong, but he doesn’t have much left to hold onto. Imagine what it would do to him if he lost either of us.” Hermione paused for a moment. The cheery lights of the Leaky Cauldron couldn’t ward off these dark thoughts. “I’m sure he doesn’t want us to see him fail, either. Not that I think he will,” she raised her hand quickly to suppress Ron’s reaction. “I know he needs us, too. I’m just saying that when we go with him, and we will, he won’t like it. We need to recognize that now, so it won’t come as a surprise when it happens.”
“But, Hermione, how much more can he take, especially alone? He just suffers too much, and what’s worse is half of it is brought on by himself. I understand that it’s his responsibility now, but he is already grieving for friends and family, the one he never knew, and then members of the Order. You’ve seen the wall in his room though, he blames himself for each and every attack that happens, every death, all those clippings from the Prophet. It’s not healthy is all, and I know I can’t help him.”
“You’re right, Ron, but think about it. He's always tried to do what had to be done. Now he knows it's his responsibility. It only makes sense that he would feel guilt for all of the things that are happening. With Dumbledore gone he doesn’t have someone to catch him if he falls. And that’s not even to mention how much he misses Ginny.”
Ron nodded, “Yeah, not that he’d say anything about it….”
The rest of their conversation was cut short, as Harry and the twins returned to the table. Fred and George were sporting suspicious grins when they took their seats, and Harry handed out another round of drinks. He had changed from a moment before, his eyes were alight, and he was smiling.
“I think a toast is in order. Umm, actually I don’t really know what we should drink to, any ideas?” Harry said, almost giggling. Ron stared at his best friend dubiously, wondering at the sudden change. Hermione, however, had her eyes locked on George and Fred, who were cagily avoiding her glare. She knew something was up, and that they were responsible.
Fred spoke up quickly, trying draw her focus away from whatever she was thinking, “Maybe we can drink to that fine old fellow who has given us so much inspiration.”
“A man whose example has given us hope for the future. Here’s to Won Won!” George finished.
A few jeers followed their toast. “Seriously, guys, that was uncalled for.” Ron retorted mockingly. He then raised his glass and spoke as he watched the candle on their table. “How about: To Friends, may we find strength in each other.”
Fred and George both raised there glasses and said, “Hear, hear,” in unison. Harry and Hermione followed suit, and they all knocked back their drinks.
“Wow, Ron, that was,” Harry started as he tried to balance himself, “really, really well said. I - I think, that was the nicest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Maybe it‘s because….” Harry continued grinning like an idiot, which brought Hermione’s thoughts directly back to the twins.
She didn’t need to listen to Harry chuckle as he told Ron that he said nice things because of Hermione’s influence, or that Ron was one lucky wizard, to know that something was wrong. It had been some time since Harry had smiled like that.
Fred and George had all they could manage to not fall over with laughter. They made a quick escape to the bar as Harry persisted with his rant, though completely unaware that anything was out of sorts.
“… And by the way, have I told you two what a great couple you make?” he said waving his hands about. Ron, all the while, was looking at Harry halfway between confused and amused. His best friend's current state was a great improvement, Harry really needed to loosen up sometimes, but even Ron knew that something wasn’t quite right.
Author's Note: I would like to say thanks to Katieay for the time she has put in to beta this story. She's done a fantastic job getting these chapters up to the standard of this site, and her work is appreciated.