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Chapter 3 : The Wages of War
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“Guilt is the source of sorrow, 'tis the fiend, Th' avenging fiend, that follows us behind, With whips and stings”
- Nicholas Rowe
The reception area at St. Mungo’s was extremely crowded when Harry stepped into it. On top of the normal day-to-day business, the hospital was still dealing with the fallout after the War. As people emerged from hiding or those who had been wrongfully imprisoned where released, more and more patients were turning up every day.
Harry walked through the room feeling very self-conscious, but at least here people were too caught up in their own problems to bother much about him. They stared, of course, but no one approached him, and he thankfully seemed to have lost the media circus that had been hounding him for days.
Counting his lucky stars, he stepped up to the witch at the Inquiries desk.
“I’m here to see Fred Weasley,” he said when she gave him a bored look.
“Are you family?” she asked in a cool voice.
“Yeah,” said Harry without hesitation. “Yeah, I am.”
Her eyes flicked upward, not to his scar, but to his black hair. She looked very much like she didn’t believe him, but after a moment she just shrugged and turned to scan her charts.
“Fourth floor, second corridor, room 432. Visiting hours end promptly at six o’clock.”
“Thanks,” said Harry, hurrying away before she could change her mind.
The lift was empty when he got in so he took the opportunity to loosen his collar and remove his tie. He was feeling hot and stuffy in his suit – a suit he’d worn way too much in the last few days.
The funerals had started on Tuesday and hadn’t let up since. Harry felt obligated to attend as many as he could, but some were definitely harder than others. They’d buried Remus and Tonks yesterday, and Harry still felt like a part of his heart had been left behind in the ground with them. Colin Creevey’s had been that afternoon and he’d come straight from the cemetery without changing. As the lift dinged and he stepped out onto the forth floor, he was just eternally gratefully that he wouldn’t be attending a funeral for Fred tomorrow.
The hall he stepped out into was quiet and deserted. He looked up and down it, searching for a sign or an arrow to tell him which way to go, but found nothing. He sighed. It was more than a week since the Battle had ended and Madam Pomfrey had whisked Fred away from his startled family to St Mungo’s, but Harry hadn’t been to see him yet. At first, it had been extremely touch-and-go as to whether he would even make it and Harry knew as much as he wanted to be there, he would just be in the way. Then, later, he’d been busy and people had needed his help, and he hadn’t wanted to intrude on the Weasleys in such a private time. In truth, he’d also been a bit nervous. What if Fred, or any of the others, blamed him for what happened? He certainly blamed himself, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to see that blame on the faces of the people he loved the most. He was also worried about actually seeing Fred like this. Fred Weasley was supposed to be vibrant and lively; Harry wasn’t sure he could handle seeing his friend gravely ill and in terrible pain.
Harry glanced up at his name to see Madam Pomfrey coming down the corridor.
“Injured yourself again, have you?” she asked with a disapproving frown.
“What?” he said, then he realized she must think he was in the hospital for himself. “Oh, no, Madam Pomfrey. I’m here to see Fred.”
Her eyes softened. “Ah,” she said, now sounding tired. “Poor boy. He’ll be glad of your visit.”
“How is he?” asked Harry quickly. The reports that had been filtering back to him had sounded grim.
“Well, the poor lad has a long way to go yet, but I can finally say that I’m sure he’ll make it.”
A weight that Harry hadn’t even known he’d been carrying lifted off his chest.
“Madam Pomfrey, may I ask you something?”
“How did he live? We saw him get hit, saw him die, so how were you able to save him?” Not that he wasn’t ecstatic that Fred had survived, but he’d been worried by it as well. A trick like that usually involved a lot of Dark Magic, and his little trip down Horcrux lane had made him paranoid.
“It was a one-in-a-million occurrence, Mr. Potter, I’ll tell you that.”
“What do you mean?”
“The castle wall was hit by a Killing Curse at the very instant it was blasted apart,” she explained. “As it fell on Mr. Weasley it spread the curse to him while at the same time the falling rubble did considerable physical damage. Either one alone would have killed him, but together they actually saved his life.”
Harry stared at her in disbelief, an expression she obviously saw because the Healer hurried to continue. “Because the curse hit the wall first it was greatly dissipated before it reached Mr. Weasley, essentially spreading to him through the stone. Instead of killing him, it Petrified him – rather like the victims of the Basilisk who were fortunate enough to only see a reflection of its eyes. Mr. Weasley was struck with a weakened spell instead of the whole blast. This Petrification also happened at the exact moment the rubble crushed him, in essence freezing his injuries before they could kill him.”
“Wow,” breathed Harry, stunned by the news and the incredible odds that had saved Fred’s life. “So, if the Killing Curse hadn’t hit him, the explosion would have killed him, and if the rubble hasn’t been there, the curse would have?” he said with awe.
“Exactly,” said Madam Pomfrey, looking pleased he understood. “As I said, a one-in-a-million chance. Mr. Weasley is one lucky young man.”
“He’ll be okay now, though, won’t he?”
“I won’t lie to you. He’s still very ill. I’ve had to literally put him back together again on the inside. It’s too soon to know the extent of any lasting complications, but I expect he won’t come out of this without some permanent damage. There’s just too much that we still don’t know yet, but he’s alive and amazingly in good humor, so we shouldn’t complain.”
“Sounds like Fred,” said Harry with a grin. “Thank you,” he added fervently to the Healer. “He’d be dead if it weren’t for you.”
“Well, believe it or not, Mr. Potter, I do not take the health of my students lightly,” she eyed him carefully, as if scanning him from head to toes, “even after they leave school.”
“I believe you,” he said quickly, fidgeting a little under her gaze. He was quite sure she was seeing everything from the enormous and painful bruise on his chest left from Voldemort’s curse to the fact that he’d forgotten to brush his teeth that morning. “Um, can you tell me where his room is?” he asked, suddenly very anxious to escape her knowing eyes.
“Straight down this hall and around the corner, first door on the left.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled again and hurried off. He could feel her eyes following him all the way until he mercifully turned the corner.
He found room 432 easily now he had directions. He knocked quietly before opening the door a crack and poking his head in. It was a private room, one of those reserved for the most gravely injured patients.
“Harry!” someone whispered. He glanced toward the closest corner and found Charlie sitting in a chair, a copy of Quidditch International in his lap. “Come in!” he said in the same stage whisper. “Come in!”
Harry slipped inside and closed the door quietly behind him, then walked hesitantly to the foot of the bed that took up most of the small room. His throat tightened at the sight that met his eyes.
Fred lay on his back on the bed, arms at his sides, creamy bandages wrapped around his left hand and wrist. His chest was bare and incased in some sort of shimmering Shield charm, but Harry could still see the horrible purple bruising that covered his whole torso and shoulders and disappeared under the blanket pulled up to his waist. His head was also wrapped in bandages that extended down over his eyes, and a complicated sort of Bubble charm complete with floating, miniature bellows covered his nose and mouth.
Harry stared at him in horror, thinking he looked worse now than he had when he’d been dead!
“You can talk to him,” whispered Charlie again. “He’s awake. I was just reading to him when you came.”
“Hey, Fred,” said Harry quietly, still not over the shock of seeing the twin like this.
Fred lifted his right hand and gave a little wave, and behind the Bubble Harry thought he saw him smile.
“He can’t talk right now because of the Breathing Charm,” Charlie explained, setting the magazine aside and using his wand to draw up another chair. “His ribs and lungs were badly crushed and the Healers say it will be at least another week before he can breathe on his own.”
Harry raised his eyebrows as he sat down. “Two weeks without talking? Ouch, mate,” he whispered sympathetically. He’d never known Fred Weasley to last more than a few minutes without speaking.
Fred made a gesture with his right hand that more than eloquently described his thoughts on the matter.
“Oh, I don’t know, he seems to be doing just fine,” said Charlie with a chuckle that Harry shared. “Just don’t let Mum catch you doing that.”
Fred sent a second gesture toward his brother.
“Where is your mum?” whispered Harry, noticing how empty of Weasleys the little room was.
“Ginny and Fleur took her back to the Burrow to force her to get some rest. And Dad, Bill, and Percy went into the Ministry today. The Government’s in a shambles right now and even though he’d never ask at a time like this, Kingsley could really use their help. Fred’s doing well enough they felt they could leave for a while.”
Harry felt a stab of guilt and dropped his head, shoulders sagging. He should have been there, too, helping put the world back together instead of hiding out at Hogwarts lifting rocks. The Weasleys had a son and brother in hospital, barely having escaped death and not out of the woods yet, and they managed to show up to help, yet he, Harry, who was only suffering a boatload of bad memories, couldn’t make it?
In typically Weasley fashion, Charlie seemed to read his mind. “Harry, no one’s blaming you for not being there. You’re allowed to take a little time for yourself, you know.”
Harry sniffed, unconvinced, but decided to let the subject drop. “If Fred’s awake, why are we whispering?”
Charlie nodded toward the far corner where Harry noticed a low pallet he hadn’t seen before. George lay on it, curled in a ball and completely zonked.
“I think it’s the first time he’s slept in days,” said Charlie, face softening as he gazed at his little brother. George did look particularly haggard. There were deep, dark circles around his closed eyes and stubble covered his cheeks and chin. He lay on his right side, leaving the gaping hole where his left ear had once been exposed, which didn’t help the sad picture. “No one can get him to leave, not even Mum. Finally, the Healers gave up and just brought the cot in. He and Fred had some sort of furious, one-sided conversation about an hour ago and he finally collapsed.”
“Maybe you should bribe the Healers to slip him a Sleeping Potion while he’s out. Looks like he could use it,” Harry suggested, thinking George looked completely worn out.
“Devious,” chuckled Charlie with approval. “I like the way you think, Mr. Potter. Always knew you were part Weasley.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Harry with a grin. “The witch at the desk didn’t reckon so. Almost didn’t let me come up; she seemed to think my hair was the wrong color.”
Behind the breathing bubble, Harry saw Fred smile slightly again and he could almost hear the wise retort he knew the twin must be aching to give. He relaxed a bit more, glad no one seemed inclined to rake him over the coals for not coming to visit earlier.
“How was the funeral?” asked Charlie.
“Fine,” said Harry shortly. It was a funeral, after all, and for someone who’d only been sixteen. “Ron gave your family’s condolences to his parents. And Fred,” he added, turning back to his friend, “Colin’s mum said to tell you they wish you the best.”
Fred gave another little wave, showing he’d heard.
“So, Ron and Hermione get on their way, then?” continued Charlie.
“Yeah. They left right after the service. International Apparation is still being restricted so they took the ferry to the Continent and then they’ll Apparate to Australia from there. I think, now that everything’s over, Hermione’s really anxious and worried about seeing her parents again.”
“Very noble of Ron to volunteer to go with her then.” Charlie’s eyes twinkled.
Harry let out a snort. “Noble has nothing to do with it,” he said, rolling his eyes as he shucked off his suit coat and undid another button on his shirt, making himself more comfortable. “I don’t think he’s let go of her hand since the Battle ended.”
At this, Fred waggled his fingers, asking for something that Harry didn’t understand but Charlie obviously did. The older brother reached down and drew two things from under his chair: a bit of parchment and a self-inking quill. He spread the parchment on the bed at Fred’s side, placed the quill in his brother’s fingers, and then guided his hand so the tip rested on the blank page.
Realizing now what Fred wanted to do, Harry scooted his chair closer where he could see what his friend wrote.
He’s making up for lost time. The words and letters were large and sloppy, looping drunkenly here and overlapping each other there, but Harry could read them. Considering Fred was flat on his back, eyes wrapped in bandages and writing completely by touch, Harry was impressed.
“Yeah, he’s always been a bit thick when it comes to Hermione, hasn’t he?” he laughed.
Charlie touched the parchment with his wand and the ink siphoned off, leaving it clean for his brother to write on again.
What about you, and Ginny? Fred wrote next.
Harry blushed and looked down at his hands. “Um…I haven’t spoken to her yet, actually. Not -” he held up a hand to stall the comment he could practically see forming on Charlie’s tongue " - that I don’t want to. I just…well…I needed some time to…”
“Time to sort yourself out first,” finished Charlie knowingly.
Harry nodded, grateful he understood.
“Well, no offence, mate, but a head case like yours? Might take a while and she’s not gonna wait forever…”
Harry looked over to find George sitting cross-legged on the pallet, blinking owlishly and running a hand over his worn face.
Harry snorted and shook his head. “You’re supposed to get some sleep.”
“With you three yakking away?” he asked, leaning back against the wall.
Fred scratched something on his parchment.
“Fred says you’re a bloody git,” Charlie read out loud.
“Yeah, well, takes one to know one,” quipped George wearily.
Harry laughed. Trust the twins to be normal even in such insane circumstances as this.
“So, Harry, you finally decided to grace us with your presence, huh?” said George.
“Something like that,” Harry laughed again.
“Good, ‘cause Fred and I were about ready to draw straws and see who had the pleasure of finding your scrawny bum and dragging it here, after a good thrashing for stupidity, of course.”
Harry’s eyebrows climbed his forehead again and he looked back and forth between the twins – one stuck in a hospital bed more dead than alive and the other looking like he was auditioning for a role as a zombie.
“Yeah, mate, that’s a right scary threat, that is.” Beside him, Charlie snorted with laughter. “So how long are you in here for, Fred?” asked Harry, turning the conversation back to the injured twin.
Fred just shook his hand in a noncommittal way.
“We’re not sure,” Charlie interpreted. “Healers aren’t giving us a date yet, but they’ve all said there’s no way it’ll be less than a month.”
Harry winced, not just from the fact he knew how happy Fred had to be at the prospect of a month long hospital stay, but because he knew all of it was going to wrack up a pretty penny in medical bills the Weasleys would be hard-pressed to pay. He ran his fingers distractedly around the collar of his shirt – it was the only dress-shirt he had and it didn’t fit very well considering it was purchased four days ago in a Muggle secondhand shop – wondering if there was anyway he could convince them to let him help out with the expenses. If Gringotts ever unfroze his accounts and pulled him off their black list, that is.
“Harry, what’s that?”
Harry looked up at George’s question. “What’s what?”
“That,” the twin pointed at his chest. Harry glanced down to see the edge of the dark purple bruise showing in the opening of his shirt. He’d exposed it when he’d been playing with his collar.
“Oh, nothing,” he tried to shrug it off.
“Harry,” Charlie jumped in the conversation, having seen it as well. “It’s not nothing. Let us see.”
With a sigh, Harry unbuttoned his shirt and pulled the sides apart slightly. George gave a low whistle as he stared at the deep bruise. “Darn, Harry! You sure you don’t want us to book you a bed next to Fred? That looks nasty!”
“How’d you get that?” asked Charlie, eyeing him with concern.
“In the Forest,” said Harry shortly, not wanting to discuss it. He watched both their eyes widen in comprehension, mouth’s turning down in very similar frowns. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to anyone, Ron and your mum especially,” he added as he redid his shirt back up, closing all but the collar button this time. After a moment’s hesitation, George and Charlie both nodded.
In the silence, Fred’s quill scratched the parchment again.
What’s Harry got? And what happened in the Forest? Harry read. Apparently, Fred wasn’t completely up-to-date on everything that had taken place on the night of the Battle.
“Just a bruise, Fred,” he said, standing and gathering up his jacket and tie. “And have George fill you in on the rest.” He looked at George, who nodded again. “I’d better run. Visiting hours are almost over. You keep getting better, though,” he told his friend warmly. “My Weasley products are running a little low – I’m gonna need to restock soon.”
Fred smiled again and just waved goodbye instead of writing. Harry thought he looked tired and in pain so it was probably good that he was leaving.
“Don’t be a stranger, Harry, or I really will hunt you down,” threatened George.
“I won’t,” Harry assured him. Then he turned to the older Weasley brother. “Charlie, could I talk to you for a minute?” he asked, nodding his head toward the door.
“Yeah, sure,” Charlie stood and followed him into the hall, closing the door behind him. “What is it, Harry?”
“Fred. Is he really going to be okay?” It had unnerved him to no end to see the normally active and cheerful twin so still and injured.
Charlie sighed. “He’ll live. And heal, if that’s what you’re asking. Healer’s aren’t yet sure if there will be lasting problems from this.”
Harry frowned. That’s what he’d been worried about. Magic that powerful didn’t normally just let you walk away unscathed. “Is he in a lot of pain?”
Charlie eyed Harry for a moment, then nodded, his expression clouding. “Yeah. He tries to hide it but we can all tell.”
Harry was grateful Charlie told him the truth, not the sugar-coated answer most people would have given.
“What’s wrong with his eyes?”
“Dunno,” said Charlie darkly. “The Healers haven’t figured it out. They’ve said there’s swelling in his brain, along with the highest concentration of spell residue. There might also be damage to the eyes themselves.” He shrugged dejectedly. “Honestly, no one’s saying much that’s helpful yet.”
Harry sighed and turned his face away, upset by the news.
“Look, Charlie,” he started after a moment, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning to face the redheaded man. “Right now my Gringotts accounts have been frozen, but – ”
“Wait,” interrupted Charlie with a worried frown. “Your accounts have been frozen? Why?”
“Something about breaking and entering, grand theft, excessive damages…” He shrugged, fighting the urge to smile as Charlie’s eyes grew wide. “I’m sure it will all be straightened out soon, and anyway, that’s not my point. Charlie, I’d like to help with all this.” He gestured at the hospital room behind them.
Harry knew Charlie understood instantly what he was offering as his lips drew into a thin line. “Harry, you know we can’t let you do that. We’ll be all right.”
“Really? A month or more stay in the hospital; potions and spells and lasting complications? No offense, please, because I admire and respect your parents more than any other adults I know, but can you honestly tell me they can afford all this? Fred needs the best care available, but I don’t want your family to loose everything in the process!”
Charlie closed his eyes briefly and ran a hand through his hair. “Harry…I know you’re feeling loads of guilt right now, but – ”
Anger flared in Harry and he road over Charlie’s words.
“Guilt?” he cried loudly, attracting the attention of an orderly on duty at the station just down the hall. She glared at them and Harry lowered his voice. “You think that’s why I’m offering? Heck yeah I feel guilty! I’ve dragged my friends away from their families, from school, made them kip out in the cold and rain, go hungry… I’ve attended twelve funerals in the last four days of people who died in a fight for me. I’ve got a godson who’s going to grow up without parents because of me! And to top it all off, I just sat in that room for an hour with one of my best friends in more pain than I can imagine because he willing volunteered for that fight I started. So, yeah, I’ve got the market cornered on guilt at the moment, Charlie. But that has nothing to do with my offer.”
He paused, feeling emotionally and physically drained as the last week caught up with him once more. Charlie mercifully stayed silent, giving him time.
“I’ve offered because…Ron…Fred…well, all of you are my…my family. You’re all I’ve got left, Charlie, and...” He shrugged. “Isn’t that what families do? Help each other if they can? I have the money, I want to help.”
Charlie stared at him for a while, a plethora of emotions darting across his tanned and weathered face. Finally, he sighed and nodded. “All right, I’ll speak to Dad. It would be nice to see him less worried, but don’t be surprised if he says exactly what I did, Harry.”
It was the best he was likely to get and Harry knew it. “Thanks,” he said, sticking out his hand. Charlie grabbed it in a firm grip with his calloused one and then, much to Harry’s surprise, proceeded to pull him into a tight brotherly embrace.
“Oof,” gasped Harry, shocked and winded. Charlie’s arms and torso were strong and muscled. It was rather like being hugged by a small boulder, and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do. Awkwardly, he returned the hug as Charlie thumped him on the back.
“You know, kiddo, in all this mess I doubt anyone’s taken the time to tell you thanks. You’re a good kid, Harry,” said Charlie solemnly. “We care about you as much as you care about us, y’know.”
Charlie released him and stepped back, leaving Harry rather red-faced and embarrassed.
“Now get on home to the Burrow and let Mum fuss over you. She’s been waiting for days,” he gave Harry a conspiratorial wink.
Harry grinned sheepishly. “’K, but I’m serious, Charlie. Talk to your dad,” he said as he started backwards down the hall.
Charlie nodded. “Oh, and Harry,” he called. Harry stopped. “Get Bill on the Gringotts problem. He’ll help you straighten it all out.”
Harry laughed. Bill! He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of that himself. He waved his understanding and thanks to Charlie, then turned away. Already thinking of how he might enlist the eldest Weasley brother’s help, Harry made his way back to the lift, down through the lobby, and out to the Apparation point. With a deep breath, knowing it was high time, he closed his eyes and Apparated to the Burrow.
George slumped in the chair watching his twin sleep with bleary eyes, savoring every detail. He knew he should feel awful, knowing how badly Fred was hurting, and he really did, but he also couldn’t help feeling extremely happy. For one heart-wrenching night, George had known how life without Fred would be, had experienced the loss in his very core. Now, a miracle had brought his twin back to him and thankfully made that night only a memory, but it was a memory he would never forget. Nothing could be as bad as Fred being dead. Yes, Fred was very ill and might never be completely healthy again, but he was alive and everything else was just fluff they could work out later.
The door opened and Charlie walked back in, breaking George out of his thoughts.
“So, he beating himself up as badly as we thought?” he asked his brother, his voice gravelly from exhaustion.
“Worse,” replied Charlie sadly, taking the chair Harry had vacated. “He’s trying to take responsibility for the whole War.”
“Stupid prat,” muttered George. “You send him home to the Burrow?”
“Think he actually went?”
“Probably. Where else is he going to go?”
George sniffed sadly and nodded. With such a huge family, both immediate and extended, it was almost unfathomable to him to think of not having anywhere to call home. He felt bad for his friend, struck again with the realization of how much he’d missed out on in life, and how much that life had unfairly demanded of him in return. He really had drawn a very short straw.
“Mum’ll knock some sense into him,” said Charlie firmly.
“Only if Ginny doesn’t get to him first,” replied George.
Charlie gave a little laugh. “We did just send the unsuspecting bloke right into the clutches of all three Weasley women, didn’t we?”
“Poor sod,” said George not sounding sorry at all.
“And, speaking of poor sods, I believe you are supposed to be sleeping?” Charlie arched his eyebrows and nodded toward the pallet.
“I slept,” argued George, not moving. He didn’t want to leave Fred’s side. He was still too terrified he’d wake up and find Fred was dead and this had all been a dream.
“George,” said Charlie sternly, sounding more like Bill than the carefree older brother he was used to, “you look like crap. You haven’t slept for more than a few hours since the Battle ended. You haven’t even gone home yet. The last thing Fred or any of us needs is for you to make yourself sick and end up in a hospital bed of your own.”
George stared icily at his brother. “I’m not a little kid, Charlie.”
“So stop acting like one and I’ll stop treating you like one,” replied Charlie, unflinchingly. He pointed to the low cot in the corner. “Sleep,” he ordered.
George glared a moment longer then sagged in defeat. “You’ll wake me up if anything happens or changes?”
“He’s your twin, George. I won’t have to wake you and you know it.”
He smiled wearily at that, knowing how true it was. He and Fred had always had that little extra connection, something their other brothers had learned to just shrug and accept. “Fine,” he finally conceded, standing. When the room spun around him and he had to grab the back of the chair for a moment to steady himself, George was forced to admit that maybe Charlie had a point. A little sleep might not be such a bad idea. Carefully, he made his way to the cot in the corner and let himself fall onto it.
He was asleep almost instantly.
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