Charlie had been looking forward to summer vacation with even more desperation than usual; he'd done surprisingly well on his O.W.L.s, but the long hours spent preparing for them--in addition to his regular schoolwork and daily Quidditch practices--had been an exhausting, interminable nightmare. He'd even begged off when his father suggested a rare visit to the ice cream parlor. Percy could have the treat of an outing all to himself; Charlie just wanted to go home and sleep.
Naturally, then, the first thing he saw when he walked in the door was Fred, sitting on the stairs and looking miserable. Charlie heaved a silent sigh and went to sit beside him. He nudged Fred's side with his elbow. "What's wrong with you?"
Fred leaned against him, and Charlie wrapped a comforting arm around his younger brother. "George's sick."
"It's not bad, is it?" he asked, not really worried. If there were something very wrong, then Dad would have told him and Percy about it already.
He felt Fred shake his head against his shoulder. "But Mum says I can't stay in the room with him while he's contagious."
"Well, that's not such a bad thing," Charlie said reasonably. "You don't want to be ill, too."
"But we share everything together!"
"What, even diseases?"
Fred's only response was a quiet sniffle, and when Charlie glanced at him, there were slow tears trickling down his face. "Shht, none of that," he said, and leaned down to kiss Fred's forehead.
The skin was hot and dry against his lips, and Charlie wasn't at all surprised. Ten year old boys did have their dignity, after all. It had been years since he'd last seen Fred cry.
He petted Fred's hair comfortingly. "There's no need to fuss about it. Lucky you, I think you are sick, after all."
Fred just nodded, the gentle sarcasm going straight over his head.
"Come on," Charlie continued. "Let's get you to bed." He stood up and helped Fred to his feet, Fred's gangly, overly warm weight pressed unsteadily against him as they made their way up the stairs.
"You!" Molly said accusatorily when they entered the twins' room. "Honestly, am I going to have to spell the door against you just to keep you from coming back?"
"It's all right, Mum," Charlie said. "Fred's sick, too."
The annoyance on her face dissolved into concern and pity, and she hurried over to place a hand on Fred's forehead. "Oh, Fred. I am sorry about what I said. I'll just go and fetch you some tea, all right?"
She bustled out of the room before either of them could reply, and Charlie helped Fred across to his bed. "D'you need help with your pyjamas?"
"He doesn't wear pyjamas any more," George rasped from the next bed. "Just his drawers."
"Oh, well, do you need help getting out of your robes?"
Fred shrugged, which Charlie took to mean 'yes.' He set to work on the buttons while Fred sat quietly on the edge of the bed, and then eased the robes off his shoulders. Fred was wearing a shirt and trousers underneath, as well, but no socks or shoes--the soles of the twins' feet were tough as leather from May through September--and Charlie carefully pulled the remaining clothes off feverish limbs.
Fred was shivering by then, and Charlie quickly got him under the covers. There was a spare quilt at the foot of the bed, and he spread that overtop of Fred, too. "That better?"
Fred nodded, his eyes already slipping shut. "Ta, Charlie."
"Don't mention it." Charlie leaned down to kiss his forehead again--still hot, but beginning to dampen with sweat; that was a good sign--and then pressed a kiss to Fred's cheek for good measure. As he straightened, he noticed George blinking solemnly at the two of them.
They stared at each other for a long moment, before Charlie shook himself lightly. "Get well soon. Both of you."
"We will," Fred said in a sleepy voice, and it was with a guilty sense of relief that Charlie saw George smile and add, "Thanks."