Close Enough
by Helen

1. a little bit fantastic

"Fuck," Ron said quietly, fumbling with the water glass as it slipped wetly through his fingers and shattered against the heavy slate of the sink. Outside his kitchen window, the moon swooped unsteadily in the sky, and Ron wrapped his hand over the edge of the sink and closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. He had not meant to get so beastly drunk, but Harry had announced his intention to drink himself insensate at eleven, as the concluding item of their biweekly tactical meeting, and it had seemed wrong to allow him to do so on his own.

Threfall's Basin, they all called it, although by this time, nearly five years later, a committee had managed to give it a much longer name, as well as an official poem, which likened Harry to an apocalypse and a newly formed bud in spring in the space of six lines, and which only Draco was capable of remembering in its entirety. He had to be fairly drunk to get more than ten mocking lines into it, but he could always be counted on to recite it at least twice on the anniversary of Threfall's Basin—

"For you, Potter," he'd said that evening, hefting a tankard in one unsteady hand, "on the eve of your glorious victory—"

"Oh, no," Harry said.

"against the Dark Lord, and also, mistakenly, against me, the most gloriously misinformed spy of the revolution—"

"We did owl you," Hermione shouted, leaning over and taking a sip of Neville's pint, her face pink.

"Right, yes," Draco said, "again, we gather to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the battle in which Harry Potter helpfully replaced a rather nice section of verdant English hills with a large hole, and I learned the value of checking one's owl."

"And—" Ron said.

"Oh, all right," Draco said, "and in which Ron Weasley helped. A little bit."

"Hey, now," Neville said. Except for his disheveled hair, and the fact that the hand he had tucked around Hermione's shoulder had gotten tangled in her cardigan, he looked the most sober of all of them.

"And in which Neville Longbottom showed up in the nick of time and hit Harry Potter over the head with something and prevented us all from being barbecued."

"Hear, hear," Ginny said, waving the small umbrella from her cocktail.

"And then somehow I got stuck working with all you tossers for what's beginning to seem like all time," Draco said, his thin cheeks flushed. "It's only for the money, mind you—"

"Why do you get to do this every year?" Harry muttered.

"Because I'm that thing—thingy," Draco said, pointing his finger at Hermione and snapping.

"Eloquent," she said.

Ron opened his eyes and stared at the glass in his sink in dismay for several long minutes before it occurred to him that he ought to fix it. He dried his hands on his shirt and walked back though the kitchen to the living room, half-tripped over an ottoman, and fumbled through the pockets of the robe he'd flung off carelessly onto the couch when came through the fireplace. His wand wasn't there, and it wasn't until he'd searched his pockets again and checked his holster and the space between the couch cushions that he realized that the last time he'd seen his wand was sometime after they had arrived at the bar.

"Fuck," he mumbled, slumping back against the couch for a moment, before hauling himself to his feet and flooing back through.

They had forced Harry to choose the bar, so it was quiet and had half-price appetizers if you bought drinks, and no Threfall's Basin decorations. It seemed to have grown quieter, darker, since Ron had left, even though he could not have been gone for more than twenty minutes. Three witches sat at a table in a corner, laughing and talking in low voices, and a few couples sat at the bar, their heads bent close together.

Ron had been one of the last of their party to leave—Ginny, first, yawning a bit, and then Draco, who had clapped Neville on the shoulder and pressed a rough kiss against Harry's temple, and whispered something in his ear that Ron hadn't caught. Draco tended to become sentimental in February. Hermione and Neville had left perhaps a half hour later, Neville's broad hand wrapped around her waist as they stepped into the fireplace.

"Another year," Harry had said, watching the fire flare in their wake, and then ordered another round for the two of them.

"Another year," Ron agreed, tipping his head against Harry's shoulder, briefly. "do you suppose we could convince Neville to hit Malfoy over the head with something?"

"I'd like that," Harry said. His smile was a little pinched around the edges, but genuine enough. Threfall's Basin was never easy for him, although Ron thought that this year, in particular, the burden seemed to have lessened. In the aftermath of the war, there had been dozens of strange little pockets of rebellion; stamping out the more rash and foolhardy had taken the better part of six months, and by then it was obvious that England, especially in the hundred mile radius around the area where Voldemort had been vaporized, was experiencing a sharp surge in unregistered occult activity. Packs of undomesticated crups swarmed through the forests and mated with boars. Unfortunately, the prevalence of adorable and affectionate pig-dogs rather paled next to a resurgence in dragons, demons, goblins, trolls, fiends, wendigos and crocodiles. This, along with a period of social unrest that led to the disincorporation ["the emancipation," Hermione always said, loudly] of the house elves, followed shortly by the ugly spectacle of rampant house elf unemployment, meant that by the first anniversary of the war, the Ministry had created an under-funded and semi-covert branch called the Department of Irregularities.

"You mean we do the job we've been doing all along, but with a badge," Malfoy had said when the letters came, borne by officious owls.

"And slightly worse food," Ginny said, but she hadn't turned down the job; none of them had.


"Anyone turned in a wand?" Ron asked, leaning across the bar. The barmaid smiled up at him, drying a glass with a towel.

"Sorry," she said, shaking her head. "You should check where you were sitting."

"I will, thanks," Ron said.

"Wait," she said, setting down the glass. "You're that, uh—you're Ron Weasley, no?" She was pretty, pale swoop of hair, tight black top.

"That's me," Ron said.

"My little sister's hung your photographs on her wall," she said.

"Oh?" Ron said

"She's eleven."

"That's a bit young for me, actually."

"Anita Barnes," she said, extending one hand.

"Hello," Ron said, taking her hand.

"You could owl me sometime," she said lightly, arching one eyebrow, as he turned away, "if you find your wand, that is."

"Maybe I will," Ron said.

It took him a few minutes to find the wand, which had fallen down between the heavy seat cushions. He checked the tip, which was beginning to look a bit worn, and had just decided that he was probably sober enough to apparate home when he heard Harry's voice, the fall of his laugh. He was too far away to actually hear anything, but he found himself hesitating, overtaken by curiosity: Harry did not, to his knowledge, date. There had been Hermione, of course, during school, and then a number of confused liaisons during the war; and while Ron was well aware that Harry slept with people, on occasion, he had never once seen him go home with anyone. Cautiously, he peered over the low divider, which afforded a clear view of Harry, seated sideways at the bar. Ron's gaze lingered oddly; Harry's face was bright, intent, and he was obviously nowhere near as drunk as he ought to have been. Then he smiled, and Ron felt his heart twist: Harry looked happy.

Harry smiled all the time, Ron told himself, quashing a vague pang of guilt, so there was no reason for this to be different, and yet he found himself sliding further along the bench, eager to catch a glimpse of Harry's companion. It was a man, but that was hardly unexpected; what caught Ron's eye was the man's hair—close-cropped, pale red; the shade his own hair had been as a child before it had darkened to fiercely carroty auburn. Ron licked his lower lip and watched as Harry leaned forward across the bar and wrapped his hand around the man's pale, narrow wrist, knuckles edging beneath the sleeve of his robe, which was flung casually open over his shirt and trousers. It was winter-weight wool, heather-green, spell-treated against rain and mud, and with several convenient magic pockets which only appeared when the wearer required them. Ron knew this information because he owned the same robe; Harry had admired the pockets two days before.

He apparated home so quickly that he stumbled when he landed, and banged his knee badly on his coffee table. His hands were shaking—overreacting, he thought. He had had a brief, raw crush on Harry in the hopeless middle months of the war. Harry had been sleeping two or three hours a night, if that, and had been gaunt, grief-stricken, painful in his anger. Ron had, now and again, felt his stomach tighten in response, in love, and then forgot when Millicent Bulstrode was assigned to their camp. Ron had seen enough by then that his jaw didn't drop, but she raised one oddly fine eyebrow, anyhow.

"Parents were mudbloods, didn't you know?" she had said, and Ron hadn't bothered to explain that he'd really been studying the deep, nearly dangerous curve of her hips. In their half-starved camp, she had cut an impressive figure: some inches over six feet—some few inches taller than Ron, in fact, her austere face balanced by curves that might have been lush on a smaller woman, but were, on Millicent, powerful, nearly architectural.

After Ron had seen her slam Rabastan Lestrange's head back against the ground and bloody his nose with a brutal flick of her wrist, and slept a few blissful nights with his nose buried in her cleavage, the idea that Harry might be something more than his closest friend, his brother, his commander, had seemed like a temporary delusion.

It had not occurred to him, even in the intervening years since the war, that Harry might have entertained such thoughts about himself—not Harry, who might have had anyone at all, but who, nonetheless, stubbornly topped out M's list of most eligible—and available—bachelors every year.

He pulled open the French doors that led off the living room and leaned against the cool stone doorway of his tiny balcony, a few sickly tendrils from the hanging plant Hermione had given him when he had moved in fluttering in the breeze. He thought, suddenly, of Draco, in the cool, slightly dank Ministry locker room, nearly a year ago now, pulling on his shirt.

"Bet it's easy for you," he'd said, grinning, buttoning his cuffs.

"Right," Harry had said, sitting down on the narrow wooden bench to pull on his shoes. "And you're having such a difficult time with your 'I'm Draco Malfoy, master of espionage, redeemed from the dark' thing."

"Hm, yes," Draco had said, brightly. "That does work well. Still, 'hello ladies, I'm Harry Potter' works better."

"How would you know?" Ron had said, knotting his tie.

Draco had only grinned, and arched one eyebrow while adjusting the leather strap of his wand holster beneath his arm.

"It's got to be a little bit fantastic, though," Ron had said, later, when he and Harry were crouched in some bracken, waiting for nightfall. "With girls, um, and things," he'd added hastily, since he had been fairly certain by that point that Harry preferred men.

"I wouldn't know," Harry had said.

"Right," Ron had said. "You don't have to tell me anything—"

"I use a memory charm," Harry had mumbled, lifting one shoulder slightly in what Ron had come to understand was embarrassment. "a watered-down camouflage-booster Hermione helped me develop in the war."

"You're using war-tech to get laid?"

"I just—" Harry's face had twisted in helpless chagrin. "You'd be surprised how many people not only think I shagged Voldemort, but also that I'd like to relive it, in vivid and exciting Technicolor."

The bracken had rustled and shaken with Ron's attempts not to laugh, and Harry had blushed, dull red color in his cheeks.

"I'm sorry," Ron had said finally. "I'm sure it's dreadful."

Harry hesitated. "It's not—it's not unethical, and no one who knows me is affected. It's only that it makes people rather forget that I'm—"

"The Savior of the Free world, Smiter of darkness, and so on," Ron had said.

"Exactly," Harry had said, just as a pack of wyverns thundered up over the hill, and they'd both stepped from the bracken, Harry quick and sure next to him.


2. carelessly

Overreacting, Ron told himself again, the next morning, when Harry pushed his hair out of his eyes, and said,

"What?"

"What?"

"Is there something on my face?" Harry said. He was not handsome, no matter what M and Witching Hour had to say on the issue. He was whipcord thin, and not especially tall, and his clothes never fit him properly. His nose was very slightly too large, and his eyes, even after years to grow accustomed to them, were still rather unsettling. Ron had never bothered to wonder exactly how well Harry did, trying to pick up, if no one knew he was Harry Potter. Not handsome, he thought, staring as Harry scrubbed the back of his hand across his mouth, and yet he couldn't imagine that Harry had a difficult time finding someone to come home with him.

"I slept badly last night," he said. It was not a lie. "I should have stayed out with you—would have been like old times."

"I didn't stay," Harry said.

"I thought—" Ron said.

Harry shook his head, eyes clear and friendly. "I was tired," he said. "I went home and slept."

"Right," Ron said, and even he could hear that his voice sounded hoarse and strange.

Harry touched him nine times that week—three times, their fingers brushed as Harry handed him a file, and Harry clapped him on the shoulder twice. Harry brushed by him narrowly on his broom during the pickup quidditch game against Covert Operations, and threw himself over a low stone wall and slammed Ron to the ground just before a sheet of fire roared over their heads. One Wednesday, their knees touched under the table at the pub where they had lunch, and on Friday, Harry slashed a knife across his hand and reached across a tomb and grasped Ron's already bleeding hand, squeezing their mingled blood onto ancient, lichen covered stone, and Ron waited, looked for some answering spark in Harry's glance, in his touch, and saw nothing beyond friendship.

At night, sitting in his flat, he tried to believe that it was not disappointment that had taken up residence in a hard, raw space below his solar plexus. He remembered, rather suddenly, the night less than six months ago, that he had gotten rather frisky with Clementine Cornish from Muggle Relations. The Ministry Halloween Gala had kicked off at four o'clock sharp in the long stone great hall, the open bar stocked to the gills, and the cathedral-ceiling lit with glowing tapers. By ten, everyone who hadn't left already had been desperately pissed, and although Ron was later unclear on exactly how such a thing had happened, as his prior relations with Clem had been limited to being blisteringly admonished for flagrant violations of muggle contact, by eleven, they had been sliding languorously against each other, Clem on his lap in an easy chair, pressing a giggling line of kisses up his neck. He remembered being very very drunk, and not much else, except that at one point, he had looked up and seen Harry staring at him from across the room, holding a beer bottle loosely in his fingers, his face carefully blank. At the time, slipping his hand ever further up Clem's shapely thigh, he had thought nothing of it; Harry had lifted the bottle in salute and turned away, and Clem had curled her tongue around his ear, and he had forgotten about Harry entirely.

He thought, often, dozens of times that week, of mentioning it, casually, over lunch or going over case files in the tiny room where they kept their archives, their hips brushing by accident again and again as they took turns reasoning with the filing pixie. Surely, Ron thought, it could only be a coincidence, and he was not such an egotist as to believe that any redhead Harry might sleep with was something to do with him, and yet—yet. Something stopped him every time he opened his mouth, eager to get it over with, to laugh over his shock and consternation.

Coincidence, he told himself, Friday night, touching the bloodstain on his shirt cuff, their mingled blood from sealing a zombie's tomb. Harry had taken a stack of case files home with him and extracted Ron's reluctant promise to take care of the other half before Monday. Ron touched the bloodstain again, ate half a ham sandwich he found in his refrigerator, did a desultory cleaning spell or two, did fifty pushups, leaned in his balcony door and watched the sun sink below the horizon, and then, feeling his stomach turn over with guilt and anticipation, pressed his fingers against the stain and used a simple tracking spell.

He landed in an alleyway and slipped badly on ice, slamming his shoulder into brickwork and uttering a stifled curse. It was the alley behind a the block of flats where Harry lived, and Ron swallowed, and felt bitterly guilty for a long moment, until he realized that he was, in fact, nowhere near Harry's flat, and less than a hundred yards away from a poorly lit doorway. There were people clustered further down, smoking cigarettes and exchanging cheerful greetings, and Harry, of course, Ron thought, touching the stain on his shirt reflexively, cutting down through the alley as though he were entirely alone, the crowd moving apart for him without seeming to notice him whatsoever, a chilly puddle of silence around him.

People stared at Harry, always, but Ron rarely noticed anymore; the time before people had been staring past him to Harry was dim in his mind, unfocused. It was decidedly foreign to see Harry brush past a man, sidle past a woman, ignored, fumble through his pockets for the cover charge where he was usually waved past, without comment. Ron himself hadn't paid a cover charge in months, that he could remember. Harry passed into the club, unremarked.

Spells to conceal or alter one's appearance numbered in the hundreds—more, if the list included potions and more permanent fixes—but all of them were more or less easily detected, and Harry was particularly adept, so Ron didn't bother with a spell. The club was dark and loud and the drinks were expensive, and even if Harry had been looking for Ron slipping down the long alley and into the club behind him, he would not have seen him. Ron bought a drink and slid into a seat at the bar, finding Harry easily, eyes grown accustomed to finding Harry no matter where he might be hidden.

He watched, and Harry touched, first, a fair-haired girl's arm, above the elbow, bought a drink for a short, dark man, touched his cheek. It was nothing, Ron thought, nothing at all, and felt something like relief crumble painfully in his stomach. He finished his drink, tipping his head back and then spinning the glass across the counter, and was halfway towards the doorway when he saw—the girl was gone, and her two friends, the man on the dance floor with someone else, and Harry was leaning in close to another man.

From the back, it might have been Bill or George—the flickering sweep of colored lights of the dance floor illuminating a tousled sweep of red hair, a long length of freckled forearm where his shirt was shoved above his elbow. Someone asked him to dance, and Ron refused, blindly, circling, slowly, until he could see the man's face. It was difficult to look when he could also see Harry sliding two fingers over his knuckles, across the back of his hand, and he didn't want to look, but a small, terrible part of him insisted.

It was not his face; not his mouth catching Harry lightly on the jaw, not his cheek that Harry touched, once with his hand, once with his mouth, but it could have been his brother, his cousin, some long lost Weasley relation who slid one thumb across Harry's open mouth, close enough to watch his eyes slide closed; it could have been him.

He didn't go home. The night was cool and damp, the cobblestones outside the club covered with a thin layer of wet snow, but Ron felt fiercely hot, at first, and he had walked perhaps a mile before he began to shiver and apparated to the Ministry. Friday evening, late, the great entrance hall was empty but for a dozing house elf manning the desk, who nodded companionably at him as he passed. So late at night, his footsteps echoed in the narrow hallways, and the light that came from spluttering lanterns that hung on the walls of their offices did not reach the spandrelled ceilings. He made cocoa and then drank half of it in the kitchen that adjoined their offices, procrastinating, but eventually he sat down at the enormous double desk he shared with Harry and pulled the newest stack of case files toward him, beginning with the ones Harry had made him promise to finish.

The cocoa had gone sticky and cold in the bottom of the mug when he finished making notes on the last one and pushed the stack that required further attention across to Harry's desk. An elf appeared and began to mop the floor, quietly, and Ron scrubbed at his eyes and yawned.

"Late night," the elf said, swirling the mop expertly across the floor.

He slept, finally, on the sprung-coiled, overstuffed couch they had shoved up under the windows, waking up dry-mouthed to find Harry crouching next to him, touching his shoulder.

"Late night?" he said, his eyes glittering in the morning sunlight.

"Paperwork," Ron muttered, sitting up on the couch and rubbing at his face. Harry sat down next to him, putting his feet upon the scratched coffee table that Ginny had donated, and handed Ron a paper cup of coffee. "You?"

Harry lifted one shoulder. "Not especially."

He had never thought of Harry as being a good liar before.

In the next six weeks, they investigated a series of fire demon attacks across most of suburban London, helped Neville plan Hermione's surprise birthday party, played a few games of pickup Quidditch with the Interministry League [dirty play encouraged, which meant that Draco had proven invaluable], drank too much with Neville and prank owled Snape four times in a single evening, and endured career day at Hogwarts, which was made bearable only by the fact that Hermione had dared Ginny to hug Snape. It was altogether like his normal life, except that even when he saw Ginny lean up against Draco Malfoy, of all people, and press a kiss against the bottom of his jaw, jammed into the tiny London flat Neville had inherited from his gran, watching Harry singing Happy Birthday, Ron couldn't bring himself to care, because in that six weeks, Harry had fucked three men who looked like him. He wanted to believe he was making it up, that there was some pathetic misshapen part of him that had manufactured the whole thing just to torture himself, but the third time he saw Harry slide his hand into dark red hair, half smile, he thought his heart might explode with confusion and shame, and knew that he could not have made this up—Harry lifting the sleeve of a Chudley Cannons t-shirt with one playful finger—not ever, not in a hundred lifetimes.

Ron had sex with women, and made lists in his head, of people he'd fucked, and whether they'd had black hair, or green eyes, or both, of whether they'd worn short-sleeved oxfords or glasses, whether they'd been kind or loyal or able to finish his sentences, whether they had saved his life, or kissed his cheek, carelessly, twice a year, Christmas and birthdays, and whether they'd been utterly fucking secretly insane.


3. just for a moment

"Regarding Draco," Hermione said, sitting down next to Ron in the conference room, which had once been a sun porch, leaded glass windows curling back over their heads to join the building.

"After all this time," Ron said, looking up from the routine-damage report he was in the process of completing, "you can't honestly believe that I'd dredge up ancient history—"

"You got in a fistfight six months ago," Hermione said comfortably, swinging her feet onto the table.

"Eight," Ron said.

"He's mad for her," Hermione said.

"I know," Ron said, quietly. Hermione smiled crookedly and waggled her feet a little. Ron noticed that she had three small strawberry-pale hickeys describing an arc across the tendons of her throat. He clutched his quill a little too tightly and finished the sentence, which described the circumstances under which he had destroyed a vegetable garden, three muggle tricycles, a ceremonial chalice, and a rather upscale troll-hovel.

"Why didn't we sleep together, you think?" he said, when he had folded the report and nudged it into gentle flight, watched it loop out of the room.

"I—" Hermione looked away.

"Not—I meant, before," Ron said.

"Ah," she said. "Before."

He had seen Hermione and Neville once, when they were all riding north with Harry to lock down a vampire cult based just outside of Edinburgh. Harry had pulled his robes securely around him, propped his feet on the seat opposite him and fallen soundly into sleep, but Ron had been restless, and wandered down past the dim corridor to Hermione's compartment, and nearly knocked before seeing that the curtains were slightly askew. Neville was on his knees before Hermione, the stack of background reports on the seats next to her pushed roughly aside, a book wilting out of one of her hands, her other fisted tightly in Neville's shirt as he hooked one hand behind her knee, intent, leaned up between her thighs to kiss her mouth, her cheek. It was nothing like what he'd thought it must have been between them.

It made him, for some reason, remember the way Neville had looked at Threfall's Basin, screaming—it seemed as though they had all been screaming—throwing himself across the final few yards of churned, muddy earth, bleeding, wandless. Ron remembered looking up, Hermione's hand crushed in his as she vomited, endlessly, her throat erupting in stigmata, remembered that he had known his arm was broken in Harry's grasp, remembered that he had known they would die. In official reports, Neville had put his hand on Harry's shoulder, spoken to him, but Ron had watched while Neville drew back his arm and punched Harry in the head with all his strength, watched Harry crumple to the ground next him, and he had turned away for a moment—just a moment, to see that Harry was still alive, to touch the pulse in his throat—and when he had turned back, Neville was wiping Hermione's mouth with his sleeve, one arm gentle beneath her shoulders.

In the corridor, Ron had pressed his cheek against the glass, seen Neville peel Hermione's cardigan down her arm, one hand beneath her skirt, face buried in her throat, seen her arch towards him, draw in a joyous breath, and felt—not sadness, and not jealousy—but as though a door he had not known he was keeping open had clicked quietly shut.

"During the war," Hermione said. "We did, almost, didn't we—"

"No," Ron said.

"We did, almost," she said, again, firmly.

"I see."

She hesitated, and then said, "You're not—"

"No," Ron said. "No, of course not. I just wanted to know."

"Mm," she said. They sat in silence for a moment, fingers almost touching on the table.

"Harry—" Hermione began.

"Can't we have just one conversation, once, that doesn't involve Harry?" Ron said. "Do you think that's possible?"

"As a matter of fact, asshole," Hermione said acidly, "I don't."

"Sorry," Ron mumbled.

Hermione sighed, and lifted one shoulder. "I heard you were great in the sack," she said. An apology.

"What—where—from whom?"

"Around," Hermione said. "That is what happens when you shag loads of women you barely know—"

"It isn't exactly loads."

"Oh?"

"Yes, it's—it's some," Ron said. "One or two. A few. ish. Whom I respect very much in every way."

"Oh, I don't care," she said, waving her hand vaguely.

"Oh."

"You know I love you," she said, after a moment, "And frankly, you seem awfully happy sleeping with whomever will have you, and watching pornography and eating takeaway Chinese with Harry."

"We don't watch pornography," Ron said, a little too loudly.

"Oh," Hermione said, blinking. "I thought you did."

"No, we don't—we—why did you think that?" he demanded. "Why do you think I would do that with Harry?"

"I didn't say you did," Hermione said. "I just meant the Chinese."

"Right."

Hermione rested her chin in her hand, and squinted at him, a little.

"Did you sleep with Harry?" she asked, quietly.

"What? no!"

"You don't—" She bit her lip. "during the war, I thought—"

"Oh, during the war," Ron said. "the war. During the—no."

"Why not?" she said, leaning forward, and Ron had to look away.

"Why didn't you fuck Victor Krum?"

"I did," Hermione said.

"You did not."

"Yes, I did."

"Also, I never watch pornography," Ron said.


Ron piled his groceries for the week on the checkout counter and tried to ignore the luridly colored photograph of Harry on the front page of The Divinator, a slow-fluttering headline proclaiming The Boy Who Lived - Boy No Longer!! The Sexxxy Photos the Ministry Doesn't Want You to See!, while Harry scowled and turned his back, his cloak catching against his legs in the high wind, his hair swept off his forehead. Ron bit his lip and put a copy on top of the packet of sausages.

On the fourth page, sandwiched between an ad for commemorative plates from the first Voldemort War and a story about magical girdles that had backfired and resulted in disfiguring injuries, there were three small, grainy photographs of Harry engaged in subduing a belligerent demon outside a busy department store. In the first photograph, Harry's shirt slid up over his the small of his back, the demon's claw arcing through the air towards his chest, and in the second and third his shirt was in shreds, the long lines of his back twisting with exertion as he grappled with the demon. As Ron watched, an admiring crowd assembled, and one small rotund witch even tipped him a wink. He scrubbed his palms down his trousers and flipped the paper closed.


"Drink?" Ginny said, sauntering through the narrow arched doorway at half-six on Friday. "On me, even, since I have destroyed many evil things this week."

"Not the evil pendant," Ron said.

"True," Ginny said. "But I'm working on it. Soon it will be nothing more than a rather impolite pile of ash. In the meantime, drinks! Harry—"

"Can't," Harry said.

"You're no fun, whatsoever," Ginny said. "but at least I can rely upon Ron, because Weasleys always—"

"I can't," Ron said absently.

Ginny shrugged. "Neville?"

"I—"

"I suppose it's just Draco, then," Ginny said, clapping her hands briskly together. "Toodles!"

Neville always apparated with a forced pop, and Hermione evaporated soundlessly, but Ginny flashed out of sight, leaving behind a momentary after-image, like an over-exposed photograph.

"What are you doing tonight?" Ron said.

"Work," Harry said, grimacing a little. "I have to meet up with a contact."

"Anyone I know?"

"No," Harry said.


4. so much like me

Harry was at the first club Ron tried, leaning against the bar and drinking alone. It should not have been so easy to find Harry in the rabbit-warren of clubs and bars throughout London that accepted wizarding currency, but Ron never seemed to have to look very hard.

It was not the sort of place that Harry usually went, and certainly not the type of place that he would ever go with Ron: all sleek chrome and blue light, with a long curved metal bar that seemed to glow, slightly, and a sunken dance floor where the light faded into velvety darkness. The crowd was perhaps a third muggles, and almost no one was wearing robes. As Ron watched, two girls he half-recognized from seeing them in line in the Ministry cafeteria apparated into the small reserved area in front of the club and transfigured their work robes into mini-dresses before sashaying across to the bar. Ron shrank his robe and stuck it in his pocket, and, after some thought, his jumper, and then untucked his shirt, a grey button-down gone soft with washing.

The bar was inundated with people, laughing and shouting and drinking brightly-colored cocktails, but with a little effort, Ron secured a seat at the far end of the bar from Harry. He ordered a scotch, and then another. Harry had changed his shirt and tie for a threadbare t-shirt that lay close along his spine. He drank steadily, and didn't speak to anyone, and if Ron had not known him very very well, he would not have understood how drunk Harry was—Harry never got loud, or sloppy, or silly; he slowed, a fraction, and the naked tension leeched out of his shoulders. He never drank on the job. Ron ordered another drink, and watched; Harry was very drunk—too drunk to be meeting a contact, too drunk to be doing anything but smiling at a tall man across the room, lifting his glass in lazy salute. Ron inhaled slowly and nodded when the bartender came around again.

The room tilted slightly to the left and then righted itself when he stood, but it was probably just the slow-quick flash of lights across the dance floor. While he had been drinking, the club had filled, people squeezing up to the bar to order drinks and then carrying them back to their friends, couples crushed against each other on the sunken dance-floor. The lights dimmed, the music swelled beneath them, and Harry finished his last drink in one swallow and slammed the glass back on the bar before threading his way into the crowd, his face illuminated in greens and reds and blues, and then shadowed. He should have been easy to lose amongst all those waving arms, jostling shoulders, girls swirling their hips, couples twined against each intimately, but Ron's eyes never left him, and it was easy, too easy, to step down into the mass of people, to shake his head at the girl who touched his hip, eyes gleaming with invitation, and slide, finally, finally, up behind Harry, slip a thumb between the hem of his shirt and his trousers.

Harry stilled, slightly, and Ron bent down and brushed his lips against his neck, pushed forward, and then Harry moved back against him, gently; they were neither of them dancers, and the floor was crowded enough that they could barely move, pressed together, hip to knee. Ron palmed Harry's hip for the space of a song, the skin hot beneath his hand, and when he tipped his head forward enough that he knew Harry would be able to see his hair out of the corner of his eye, Harry's hand slid around, and ran in a slow line up his thigh. Again, he touched Harry's neck with his lips, carefully; Harry smelled like alcohol and ink, like the magicked carbon paper they used to file reports, and faintly of wet wool, and when Ron let his mouth form a kiss, beneath Harry's ear, Harry lurched back against him, the hand on his hip tightening.

Harry moved his hand down Ron's thigh and then back up, slowly, his languid, deliberate pace utterly at odds with the driving music. Ron swallowed, shoving the collar of Harry's t-shirt aside to press a clumsy, rough kiss at the base of Harry's neck. Harry twisted up against him and pulled Ron's hand from his hip across the front of his trousers, their fingers wrapped together. He was hard. Ron felt himself blush, painfully, heat roaring from his chest to his forehead, but Harry was in his hands and against his lips and he didn't want to let go. The music accelerated, and Ron's heart rate clambered higher with it; when Harry started forward across the dance floor, he found himself stumbling in his wake.

Harry tried to pull him towards the bar, but he didn't resist when Ron pushed him through the crowd and into the darkened corridor that led to the emergency exits. Harry's face was illuminated in momentary strobe flashes: the back of his neck, his hair falling askew over a slice of cheekbone, his hips beneath Ron's hands. The music pulsed and heaved around them and Ron shoved his hand into Harry's hair and felt rather than heard the way Harry gasped against his lips.

They kissed, and Ron banged Harry awkwardly back against the wall; he registered dimly that he was too drunk, that Harry's mouth was sliding softly along his jaw, that one of Harry's hands was beneath Ron's shirt, tracing a rough pattern along his stomach that made him shake with want. Slowly, Harry's mouth reached his ear, and he slid his lips along Ron's earlobe before saying,

"My flat?"

"Mine," Ron said, boosting Harry up against the wall slightly and pressing his mouth into the hollow of his collarbone.

He apparated them into the dark flat, kissing still, stumbling together until the backs of Ron's knees hit his couch and he sprawled back, pulling Harry down on top of him. After the noise of the club, the echoing silence in his flat magnified every sound, every ragged breath, the slur of Harry's fingers down the front of his shirt.

Harry panted against his mouth, lips brushing his, and flipped the lowermost button of his shirt open, fingers dipping beneath the waistband of Ron's trousers and then tracing over his stomach before pausing, uncertain, on the scar on his hip. He stilled, in the darkness, and Ron felt his thumb stroke once over the rough border that had been left when Harry had cut the curse off him with a knife the week after he had turned nineteen, his eyes wide and grim with shock. They all had scars; Neville had an intricate network of them that fanned out over his shoulder blades, and Hermione's fingers were rough and slightly crooked from having been broken, twice. Draco's left forearm was smooth and pale, but the scars on his chest were deep and uneven and already white. Except for the scar on his forehead, Harry didn't have any marks on his body, but Ron had seen the way he had memorized each of their scars, as though he counted them as belonging to him; he would never have mistaken Ron's old scar for anything else. His fingers traced across it once more.

"Lumos," he said, in a strained, rough voice. There was a long pause while the lights lazily responded, every lamp in Ron's flat flickering on; dimly, he could hear the snap and hum of the electric novelty night light that Hermione had given him for his birthday and helped him install in the bathroom.

"Hi," he said, when he could see Harry's face, finally.

Harry let out an incredulous breath, his tongue sliding nervously across his lower lip, and then pushed himself up, half fell off the couch. His shirt was rumpled, and the air around him crackled so restlessly that it was uncomfortable to look at him. Ron didn't look away.

"Is this—" Harry shook his head. "Is this some kind of joke?"

Until tonight, until a half an hour ago, Ron had been certain that he was only worried, only curious. It couldn't be good for Harry, what he was doing, whatever it was. Staring at the dull shock in Harry's eyes, it occurred to Ron that he was angry, so angry that he hadn't understood what the emotion was, and now it surged up his throat and made him shudder.

"I don't know," he said flatly. "It depends on whether we're going to fuck or not."

Harry laughed, a sharp mirthless bark, and then sobered instantly.

"Ron—"

"You really didn't recognize me," Ron said in disbelief, shoving himself to his feet. Harry took a step back. "How could you not know—"

"You were behind me—"

"I'd know you anywhere," Ron said. "I'd know you, and your—you, and I'd sure as fuck at least look someone once in the face before letting them—"

"Oh, fuck you," Harry said, his eyebrow arching infuriatingly, a shadow of goddamn Malfoy at thirteen, "you're not interested, you're concerned about me, that's why you're rubbing your cock up against my ass in clubs—"

"You would have let me fuck you on the dance floor—"

"—didn't know you'd been taking sanctimonious asshole lessons from Percy—"

"—not the one copping off with complete strangers—"

"—as if banging half the pureblood sluts in London makes you the moral authority—"

"—fucking sick, twisted shit I've ever seen, so don't try to make this about me," Ron shouted, his heart hammering. "but wait—it's too late for that, isn't it?"

"You should leave," Harry said, his lips white.

"It's my flat," Ron said viciously.

"I'll leave, then." Harry was halfway to the door when Ron caught his wrist and flung him around.

"No, you fucking won't," he said. Harry shivered, and Ron was reminded suddenly, forcefully, that Harry could incinerate him, if he wanted to—could probably incinerate his entire block with a single thought, but when Harry opened his eyes they were apologetic, clear green.

"I'm sorry," he said, lifting one hand, and then clearly thinking better of it, and lowering it. "I, um. I didn't mean to, but you were so—"

"So much like me," Ron said coldly. "Isn't that what you meant?"

Silence, again, Harry's fists clenching spasmodically.

"What do you want?" he said.

"What you came for," Ron said, turning and flinging himself back on the couch.

"I can't just—"

"Why not?" He remembered a time when anger had choked him, rendered him inarticulate, when he had simmered in his grudges for months, but he wasn't certain that this was better, this rage burning his skin, shoving his blood roughly through his veins.

"You want to—for all I know you've wanted to since we were kids, fucked Hermione thinking about me—"

"Shut up," Harry said. He came across the floor quickly, and Ron braced himself to be punched, but Harry only shoved at his shoulders, once, clumsily, and fell forward onto his knees, one hand scraping over Ron's thigh, scrabbling at his trousers. "Shut up," he said softly, once more. He did not look up.

Ron slid down slowly, bonelessly, one arm flung out along the back of the couch, almost afraid to watch as Harry drew his zipper down and his eyes slid closed, briefly, one bare hesitation, and then he slid his mouth over Ron's cock, settling lower on the floor, one hand still on Ron's thigh. He didn't show off, or make noise, and he choked several times before starting to use his hand more, but his mouth was lewd, urgent, and when Ron looked up and saw himself reflected in one of the long narrow windows that looked out over the city, the triumphant, reckless heat in his eyes startled him.

He put one hand in Harry's hair, thumb slipping down over his forehead, carefully avoiding the scar, and Harry bent lower, took a short, sharp breath.

"I want to fuck," Ron said.

"Here?" Harry said, pulling back. He wiped his mouth with the heel of his hand, still kneeling, eyes dazed and dark.

"Bedroom," Ron said hoarsely.

Harry kissed him when they tumbled across the threshold, and again when Ron was working at the fastenings of his trousers, desperate against his mouth, crying out harshly when Ron pushed him onto the bed and kissed him back. The lamps went out, and then came back on, and then there was a strange bang and rattle and they were in the dark, the streetlights painting them in shadow.

Something in the way Harry moved against him, something in the way he slid one leg around Ron's hip and urged him forward, made it almost too easy.

"You've done this a lot," Ron said, pinning one of Harry's wrists down as Harry arched towards him.

"right, I'm a slut," Harry said mockingly. He lunged up and bit Ron directly beneath his collarbone, igniting strange sparks of feeling that scuttled down his spine.

"How long?" Ron said, using his full weight to hold Harry against the bed, sliding one thumb into the vulnerable hollow of his throat.

"Doesn't matter," Harry said, arching back against the mattress, their cocks rubbing together, Harry's foot sliding restlessly over Ron's calf. "Fuck me."

"How long?" He tightened his fingers, just little, and Harry's eyes went wide, wild.

"Why?" he spat. "Because you loved me all along, you wanted—"

"You—"

"You were too busy fucking girls who get off on the war to notice," Harry said. Ron tightened his fingers until his hand was biting into Harry's throat, held tight, thumb pressing deeply against the soft hollows between tendons. Harry let out a single strangled breath, but his gaze didn't waver, even when Ron bent down over him, close enough to feel Harry's breath against his mouth, and said,

"I hate you for this." He kissed Harry once, on the mouth, hard and chaste, and Harry lifted his hand and scratched a livid line down his back, and no one said anything after that.

It was easier when Harry was on his stomach, one knee tucked awkwardly up underneath him, when Ron had one hand folded into the crease of his hip, and one hand on the mattress, a few inches from Harry's hands, which shook, and scrabbled across the sheets. In the past weeks, Ron had thought, often, of fucking Harry; it was worse when he tried to stop, but even with his dick in his hand, hard, twisted exhaustedly in his bedclothes, he had only been able to remember the way Harry had been with Hermione, in the six weeks they had been together in the spring of their seventh year. He had been gentle with her, almost diffident. They had slept together three times, and Harry told him later, hunched in a dark alley, waiting—so much of the war was waiting—icy rain dripping down their necks, that he had been a virgin, before. Hermione had been beautiful that spring, too thin, almost ethereal, and when Ron saw her for the first time since they'd left school, some months later, he had been taken aback by the difference in her—stronger, perhaps even taller, and—awake, he thought later, but didn't try to explain it to Harry. He had thought about how it must have been between them, when his life was overwhelmed by the ugliness of the war, thought about how Harry must have kissed her, soft, clean, undone the ties on the red dress she wore on the weekends, of how they must have moved together, learned each other, thought of it for so long that his mind stuttered and slipped confusedly now that he was confronted with reality, with Harry's back coiling and arching viciously beneath him, his hairline dark with sweat, the guttural noises issuing from his throat every time Ron slid deeper inside.

He was close, now, his legs shaking from exertion, Harry lunging back against him, graceless, violent. He twisted his neck, and before Ron thought better of it he stretched down along his back and shoved his mouth awkwardly across Harry's, clipping his lip on Harry's teeth. He came with blood on his tongue, and pulled out even when Harry made a despairing noise and tried to move with him.

He knelt back, panting, still, feeling none of the usual pleasant lassitude of orgasm, and Harry rolled over and stared up at him, hand skating down his chest and closing over his cock. His thighs fell open as he moved his hand, knees wide. Ron watched, transfixed. Harry's mouth shaped words, but there was no sound except for the bed's rhythmic creaking. Ron thought about touching him, his knee, perhaps, sliding a hand down his sweat-sheened stomach, but before he could, Harry came with a final shuddering anticlimactic sigh.

"I should go," Harry said, a few minutes later.

"You don't have to."

"No," Harry said, rolling off the bed, and pulling on his trousers, slowly, a little painfully.

"Harry, I—"

"Don't," Harry said shortly.

"Oh, it's my fault now," Ron said, getting up and pulling on his dressing gown, not bothering to tie it closed.

"I didn't say that," Harry said.

"So that's it," Ron said, "You got what you came for."

"Is that what you think?" Harry said, and wavered slightly, like a guttering candle, as he apparated.


5. new and unexpected skills

Ron was at his desk early, pretending to work. He had fallen into an exhausted sleep on his couch just as the sun began to edge through his windows, and awakened with an insistent headache trembling in his temples. As he brushed his teeth, he stared dully at the assortment of angry cuts and bruises on his chest in the mirror, but didn't bother to heal them; he had never been good at healing spells, and he was, in addition, fairly certain that he was still drunk.

He put on clothes hurriedly, and gulped a glass of water, found his shoes next to the couch, and left for work an hour early because he could no longer bear to be in his flat: the books they'd knocked from the coffee table as they'd kissed, Harry's t-shirt on the threshold of his bedroom, and his bed, the sheets scraped back off one corner of the mattress, hanging haphazardly off the edge tangled with the comforter his mother had made for him two Christmas ago.

There was a cluster of memos waiting for him, and they swooped happily around his head before settling into an orderly queue, but when Neville came through the door, Ron was still staring at the fourth one, which was a report that had been returned to them with a curt suggestion that underwritten reports were not acceptable.

"Harry again," Neville said, looking over his shoulder, where the mission report section said 'Found demons (2). Killed them.' in Harry's careless script.

"It's accurate," Ron said.

"Bastards," Neville said, without rancor, summoning himself a cup of coffee and then beginning to plough through his own queue of memos.

Ron rewrote the report and then went downstairs to question a series of house elves who had been witnesses to some kind of dark attack.

"Fucked if I know," Draco said sourly, as they walked down the long hallway towards the holding area. "None of them will say anything to me."

"What a surprise," Ron muttered.

"You should lay off the booze, Weasley," Draco said, not unkindly. "You look like absolute shit."

"Right," Ron said, and spent the rest of the morning offering handkerchiefs to crying house elves, and letting them sob against his shirt front, steadfastly avoiding Draco's eyes.

It was past noon by the time he got back to the office. Neville was eating a ham sandwich and flipping through a thick report, but Harry's desk was still undisturbed, and his memos had evidently grown tired and were taking a rest on his blotter.

"Is Harry out today?" Ron said, his stomach lurching sickly for a moment.

Neville looked up. "I think there was a call this morning," he said vaguely, his finger holding his place in the report.

"I see," Ron said. Harry was not an early riser, and tended to stay late to make up for it, but he was never this late unless he was ill. Things between them had been rough, last night—inexcusable, Ron thought, having escaped to the lavatory, rinsing his face in the cold tap water—but he hadn't been under any illusions that he could truly harm Harry. His brain helpfully conjured vivid portraits of the half-a-dozen—more, even—times he had seen Harry badly injured, a broken leg, a severed hand, once, any number of bloody noses and painful hexes, and then, finally, last night, the wild pain in Harry's eyes, the confusion of new bruises on both of them. Ron bit his lip, and turned the tap off, firmly.

Harry was in the office when he pushed the door back open, leaning against his desk and eating the other half of Neville's sandwich.

"—rough deal about the neck, there," Neville was saying.

Harry shrugged. "Got a little rough," he said.

Ron's heart went cold for a moment, but the expression on Neville's face didn't change, beyond a small, almost humorous lift of his eyebrow.

"If they've been underground for more than six months, Death Eaters are always looking for a bit of a fight, I've found."

Harry laughed, and turned back to his desk, his memos jostling eagerly into line. His collar was open, no tie, and Ron could see the bruises, one broad thumbprint darkened plum across the hollow of Harry's throat, one on the edge of his jaw, shadows that might have been fingers marching down his neck, from the side.

"Ron," Harry said, his voice easy. "Thanks for taking care of that report."

"It's—" Ron's voice faded out on him, and he had to make another attempt. "You're welcome," he said. Just above the collar of Harry's shirt, there was a soft edge of what might have been a love bite.


Harry lived on the top floor of an elderly and out-of the-way block of flats at the end of a cobblestoned blind alley. It was neither large nor very well-maintained, the dark, narrow vestibule giving way to a small, sunken living room and yet smaller bedroom, tangerine bathroom fixtures, and a bleak view out over a muggle parking lot, but Harry had never seemed to mind. It was sparsely furnished with shabby, comfortable armchairs, some hulking, battered armoires from Grimmauld Place, and Hermione's fat, green velvet couch, which she had insisted on giving to Harry when she had moved into Neville's flat. Hung over the mantelpiece was Harry's old Firebolt, which seemed, now, touchingly out-of-date, and just beneath, there was an untidy cluster of photographs on the mantle; Snape and Lupin in the last days of the war, assorted Weasleys, Sirius, alone, and Harry's parents at perhaps seventeen. There was one of Ron hoisting Hermione in his arms from seventh year, and one of all of them, grinning broadly, on the first day in their new offices at the Ministry. On Harry's 26th birthday, Ron had tacked the July pinup from Warlock on the back of the kitchen door—Honoria Battersea stripped down to a tiny pair of pale ivory lace pants, reclining on a crimson chaise-longe, skin gleaming—and Harry had never bothered to take it down. It had grown a bit tattered around the edges, but Honoria still winked and shimmied at Ron whenever she saw him, although Ron was fairly certain she took off her pants when it was just Harry.

Ron lingered in the dim hallway, straightening his shirt, halfway contemplating summoning the ancient crank-motion lift again. Harry's door was not heavily warded, and what there was was spelled in a syntax which Ron could hardly decipher. These old buildings took badly to newer spells; it was, in general, considered a good idea to keep warding spells to within a decade of the building's erection. Ron slid one thumb along the curve of a barely visible, gleaming character hovering over the doorframe, and hoped, fervently, for a moment, that Harry was not home, but he had barely lifted his hand to knock when Harry opened the door.

The war had given them all new and unexpected skills: Neville had learned how to break a man's arm in three places, and Draco had learned kindness, and Ron, himself, had learned not to take unconsidered action. Almost.

"Let me come in," he said.

"No," Harry said, but his hands were already twisted in Ron's shirt, pulling him inside. Their lips met, softly this time, and then Harry's hand was on his belt, tugging it open.

"Can we—" Ron said, stumbling over the pile of shoes Harry kept in his vestibule, both of them kissing a little gingerly, as though their lips hurt. Ron sucked in a sharp breath when Harry touched his back, and Harry cursed, and muttered an apology, and, in the same breath, yanked his t-shirt over his head.

There were bruises on his chest, but also a long series of scuddering burns, partly healed.

"From this morning," Harry said, when they fell back into his narrow bed. Harry kissed him once, softly, and when Harry tucked his face into the curve of Ron's neck, Ron felt his stomach twist with lust.

Harry winced every time Ron touched his chest, but he still slammed his palm against the bed, back arching off the mattress, when Ron pushed into him, his fingers groping for purchase against the bedclothes.

"Don't stop," he said, when Ron paused, uncertain, his hands slipping over Harry's hips. "Don't stop," he whispered, his voice alien. They fucked, slowly, for a long time, the springs on Harry's bed creaking faintly, and Ron had time to catalogue, to take notice of things that had seemed a strange blur that first time, the pulse throb in Harry's throat as he turned his face away, the way the lights dimmed almost imperceptibly when he came, Ron's hand wrapped around his cock. Lying stickily on top of Harry, some minutes later, gasping for breath, Ron wondered how far that went, and if people in Edinburgh, in Calais, perhaps, were just now turning to each other and asking if the lights had just flickered or if their eyes were playing tricks on them.

"The lights," he said.

"I'm working on it."

"Do they always?"

Harry seemed to consider for a moment, sitting up, swinging his legs slowly over the side of the bed. "No."

There was a bruise just over Harry's right kidney; Ron wondered if it was his fault.

"I've some left over take-away curry," Harry said, finally. "I could heat it."

They ate in the kitchen, standing. The curry burnt the roof of Ron's mouth, the back of his throat, his lips, but he ate anyway, shoveling the food into his mouth as they leaned against the high aquamarine tile counters in Harry's somewhat cramped kitchen.

"You staying?" Harry said, after, when the sponge was sulkily washing the dishes.

"You want me to?"

Harry shrugged, and then yawned. "Go, if you want."

"I'm staying," Ron said, tightly.

In the morning, Harry kissed him, lingering, slightly, his hand wrapped around the back of Ron's neck, but at work, he leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingers once on the conference table before saying,

"Absolutely not."

"What's wrong with it?" Ron said.

"Did you even bother to read the file?" Harry said.

"I read it," Ron said quietly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Neville look sideways at Draco. Ginny ran one hand through her hair. Hermione squinted at the page and made a note.

"If you had, you'd know—"

"Fine, then," Ron said. "I don't know why you, of all people, always make a—"

"You know why," Harry said coldly. "If it's become a problem, fucking find a new job."

Ron opened his mouth to say something cutting, and saw Hermione across the table, arms crossed, face quiet, and closed it again.

"Right, then," Draco said, flipping open the next folder casually.


"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Ron said, catching up with Harry in the long subterranean tunnel that linked the ancient original earthworks of the ministry with the new underground complex that housed the infirmary and PR, a habitually deserted meeting area with overstuffed couches and horrible coffee, Personnel, Ministry Police, and the cafeteria.

"I didn't think your suggestion was a good one," Harry said, walking briskly. The corridor was cylindrical, brilliantly lit, a solid quarter mile in length. They almost never bothered to eat onsite, especially since the ministry had allocated 500,000 galleons for "fucking institutional bangers and mash," Hermione said, and refused to fix the radiators in their offices, which rattled and clattered miserably all winter, and never seemed to properly heat anything.

"What I want to know—" Ron said.

"Just because you fucked me last night," Harry said, turning, "you shouldn't think—"

"This has nothing to do with that," Ron said. Harry stopped, folded his arms; the corridor was empty this late in the day,

"I think it does," he said.

"Harry—"

"What do you want?"

"I want you to stop acting like a fucking girl," Ron said, furious, confused. Harry's shirt was untucked, unbuttoned at the throat, crumpled, rolled up to his elbows, and Ron could see the tattoo on the crest of his forearm, the scarlet triangular symbol that Hermione had pointed to in the shop, unerringly, the first time they had all met up in London, not even halfway through the war. Ron's was on his chest, splayed across his ribs on his right side, and Hermione's was on the inside of her thigh, high, high up, and Ron had wondered, more than once, what Neville must think of it, but now it was only a reminder that he had spent half of his life with Harry, in one way or another, and never managed to notice the tensile strength of his body, the strange, striking curve of his jaw, his mouth, the forehead he never tried to hide anymore, in any kind of useful way.

"How do you mean?" Harry said, coolly.

"I just—I thought you wanted to sleep with me," Ron said, choking a little over the words. "Just say the word, and I—"

"I didn't say I didn't want to sleep with you." There were small groups coming out of the cafeteria and down the tunnel, past them, laughing and talking, and Ron lowered his voice and stepped closer.

"There is fucking nothing I wouldn't do for you," he said. "In this world or the next. I'm trying to make you happy, I—"

"I'm happy," Harry said, quickly.

"Right," Ron said. His throat hurt.

"Don't—you're not going to tell Hermione, are you?" Harry said. Ron hesitated, and Harry said, "Don't tell Hermione."


6. up in London, all alone

Ron woke up to Ginny hammering on his front door; the sun was newly risen, and he stumbled over a footstool in the grey light before yanking open the door, wearing only his dressing gown.

"What?" he said, still groggy.

"You can't have forgotten that we're expected at home in an hour," Ginny said, leaning in the doorway, holding her broom.

"What? No," Ron said, wiping at his face with the back of his hand.

"Are you drunk?" Ginny said, shaking her head as though she really didn't want to know the answer, and stepped across the threshold. "Lumos."

"I'm fine," Ron said, wincing in the strong light. Ginny shrugged and pushed past him, and after moment he could hear her clattering around his kitchen. He went back to the bedroom and dug around in his dresser for some clothes

"Isn't that Harry's shirt?" Ginny said, when he walked into the kitchen, sliding a cup of tea and a plate of toast across the table, crunching busily on her own piece of toast.

"No," Ron said, shortly. He had had it for two years, since Harry had stayed with him for a week while his flat was fumigated, a white shirt celebrating a muggle rock band Ron had never heard of, worn thin. It reminded him of seventh year, always, and he had not bothered to try to give it back.

Ginny beckoned the sugar bowl, which trotted across the table eagerly, on ungainly little feet, and Ron took a sip of tea.

"Why do you have your broom?"

Ginny dumped three spoonfuls of sugar in her tea, tasted it, made a face, added another spoonful, and then said "Draco's flat doesn't have a fireplace."

At home, his mum said, "You really ought to have brought Harry. Poor dear, no family to speak of. I do worry about you boys, up in London, all alone."

"Ginny's dating Draco Malfoy," Ron said. Ginny kicked him under the table.


Harry flooed in at half seven the following week, holding a large bag that proved to be doner kebabs and a sixer of lager.

"What?" Ron said. He was lying on his couch, desultorily eating a bag of crisps. Harry was wearing a thin long-sleeved jumper and old trousers, stretched with wear and sliding low across his hips, and Ron was suddenly acutely aware that he had crisp crumbs dribbled all over his front.

"Tuesday," Harry said. On Tuesdays, Harry and Ron watched television. Six months ago, with the enthusiastic help of Mr. Weasley, and the actually useful help of Hermione, Ron had purchased a large flat plasma screen television. He had given Draco his old television, mostly because he was tired of having to explain Law and Order in great detail on Wednesdays. Draco had immediately configured the remote to work magically, but Ron liked the thing in its pristine state, and it had proven to be enormously helpful for suggesting to a likely girl that perhaps she'd like to go back to his flat to see his strange muggle television-machine. He and Harry watched football games and television movies, American crime shows and cricket and Prime Suspect, and Harry always came over because he was too cheap to own a telly.

"Right," Ron said. He brushed off his shirt the best he could, and fetched some plates from the kitchen. Harry was silent, but not uncharacteristically so, and they watched part of a news broadcast, and part of a show about decorating, before Ron finally found a Law and Order re-run, and they settled in for the better part of an hour, Harry's feet on his coffee table, his bottle of lager cradled loosely in his hand.

After, when he couldn't stand it any longer, he put one hand on the couch, fingers just brushing Harry's thigh, low, near his kneecap. Harry tipped his head sideways and nodded, and Ron slid to his knees, shoving the coffee table out of the way. Harry sighed, a little, and let Ron open the button on his trousers. They kissed, Ron's heart hammering precipitously in his chest. He should be getting used to it by now, he thought, when Harry shoved his hand into his trousers, thumbed open the top button, but he wasn't.

"Holy fucking Christ," Harry mumbled, and wrapped one arm tightly across Ron's shoulders before apparating them into the bedroom, tumbling them across the bed. Ron had always thought the way Harry cursed was quaint and oddly adorable. Post-war, it had become somewhat fashionable to use muggle curses, but no one who wasn't muggle-born ever really got the hang of it properly.

"Let me fuck you," Harry said, mouth smudging breathlessly over his temple.

"Yes."

"Sure?" Harry said, his face unreadable. The lights didn't flicker; nothing broke.

"Yes," Ron said. He'd lost his virginity at sixteen, over Christmas hols, with Devlin Anderson, dark eyes, quick smile. They'd fucked in the long open boys' dormitory in Ravenclaw Tower, and when Harry asked where he'd been, he'd lied. There were others, later. In the aftermath of the war, there were girls everywhere, and Ron had never developed Harry's ability to just ignore a girl who was trying to sleep with him.

Harry kissed him once, lower lip slipping into his mouth, and then slid up behind him, Harry's hand tipping him face down on the bed, Harry's knee shoving between his thighs.

"Harry," Ron said, once, when Harry was fucking him, hard, and Harry stilled for a moment before starting again, and it was good, good to have Harry on top of him, Harry's fingers in his mouth.


Ron woke up alone, the bedclothes crumpled around his thighs. Except for the two plates on the coffee table, the empty bottles, there was no sign that Harry had been there.

"You and me, Weasley," Draco said, swinging his feet down from Ron's desk. "There's a hydra problem at Kew Gardens."

"Harry's my partner," Ron said.

"Right, well, he took Neville," Draco said.

"Shouldn't you be off with Hermione and Ginny anyhow?" Ron said, following Draco through the door and down a curved stone staircase.

"They're infiltrating a coven in Wales," Draco said. "All girls; fond of killing men, and all."

By the time they arrived, the hydra was up to 48 heads, and Neville and Harry were taking a breather behind a large sycamore tree.

"You know," Draco said informatively, "when you cut off a hydra's head, he grows two more in its place."

"Fuck you," Harry said.

"Good morning to you, too," Ron said.

"It used to have 114 heads," Neville said. He was leaning back against the tree, holding a sword that had flames licking quietly around the edge, and the sleeve of his jacket was torn open, stained with blood.

"You should go back," Harry said, "get that taken care of. Draco can—"

"We're using a fucking magical sword?" Draco said. "Are you fucking crazy?"

"You want to flush out the kits?" Harry said.

"Give me the damn sword," Draco said, holding out his hand. "I'll have you know I could be in the countryside right now, taking photographs of Ginny and Hermione pretending to be lesbians," he added disconsolately, as he swung the sword in several practiced figure-eights.

Harry watched for a few minutes as Draco sliced methodically, and with excellent form, at the monster, sword burning in his hand, robe curling up into the wind and streaming out behind him, and then gestured for Ron to follow him, and they climbed down a crumbling embankment and slogged through an icy stream.

"You should have woken me," Ron said, not bothering to spell his socks dry. "Neville's rotten with monsters, anyhow."

"I left at midnight," Harry said.

"Oh," Ron said. They reached the mouth of the cave, and Harry stopped for a moment, eyes narrowing as he searched the dark. Hydra kits could spit flame and brimstone, and were capable of incredible speeds when under stress.

"You could—" Ron said.

"I think we should keep it out of work," Harry said, mouth a terse line.

"I was going to say," Ron said, after an uncomfortable pause in which he moved his wand from his right hand to his left, and then back again, and thought of something else to say, "that we could set the cave on fire and flush them out that way."

"All right, yeah," Harry said. Ron bit the inside of his cheek.

It was nearly noon before Ron had run down the last kit and managed to bludgeon it with a rock. He was soaking wet from having been set on fire and tumbled into a stream by the runt of the litter, and even Harry was looking a little ragged around the edges by the time they clambered back up the embankment and found Draco lying in the shade of the sycamore, the grassy field before him littered with hydra heads of varying sizes.

"I contacted cleanup," Draco said, sitting up, and flipping the sword back to Harry, who caught it, one-handed.

"I fell in the river," Ron said.

"I wasn't going to ask," Draco said.

Harry kissed him first, two days later, pressing his mouth against Ron's before they were decently out of the non-apparation zone around the Ministry. He might have also made them invisible, or merely unremarkable to the passersby, or perhaps he hadn't bothered, and Ron never figured it out, because one minute Harry's lower lip was sliding between his, and the next they were in Harry's living room, tugging at each others' robes.

"You—" Harry said, but didn't say anything else, not even when they were sliding against each other on the couch, robes open, trousers open, shirts shoved up over their chests. Harry's hand slid into the small of his back, fingers scrabbling clumsily beneath his waistband, and Ron pressed his face into the crook of Harry's neck and bit his lip with the effort of being silent.

After, Harry pulled himself out from under Ron and walked slowly to the kitchen, tugging off his shirt as he went, his trousers sagging precariously around his hips. After a moment, Ron followed, and found Harry filling a glass of water from the tap.

"Might've conjured it," he said. Harry shrugged, and drank half the glass off in one long swallow. Ron looked at the clean line of Harry's torso, his rumpled trousers, and thought of the way Harry looked at him across the long meeting table, these days. He turned, slightly, abruptly glad that he was still wearing all his clothes, if a little undone and disheveled. His robe was still in the living room, tossed carelessly on the floor.

"Stay," Harry said, putting the glass down with an awkward clatter. "Stay, and we can, again."

Ron didn't move from the doorway, but he didn't turn further, either, and he didn't protest when Harry pressed him back against the kitchen wall and gave him a long, smutty kiss, one of Harry's narrows hands splayed next to his head as though he were a girl at a cotillion, being leant up against a gazebo under the stars, a girl being given her first kiss. Then he lifted one hand to tug Harry's clothes open further, his thumb sliding over fabric and then the furrow of Harry's hip, smooth, slightly damp with sweat, and it wasn't a first kiss or anything involving stars; it wasn't anything other than what it was.


7. close enough

Ron woke up in Harry's bed, shaking with the knowledge that dawn was hard at hand, and crept into the living room to get his shoes and robe before apparating, careful not to awaken Harry, but at six, Harry was waiting for him by the fireplace in the great hall, and kissed him before they were decently flooed through, his mouth tasting of ash, and the following Saturday afternoon he and Harry fucked after the Interministry Quidditch Game against Wormholes and Alternate Dimensions, and then Ron met for drinks with Neville and Ginny, after, because it was Hermione's book club night.

"Where's Draco?" Ron said, as Neville set down their pints, carefully.

"Where's Harry?" Ginny said, sucking the foam carefully off the top of her pint.

"What do you mean by that?" Ron said, too quickly. He had asked Harry to come along, but Harry shrugged, straightening his robes, and Ron had not pressed.

"He's on a date," Neville said. Ron put down his pint.

"Harry dates?" Ginny said.

"Yes," Ron said, surprised at how calm he sounded.

"There was Hermione," Neville said.

"They didn't date," Ron said, fishing out his wallet and slapping four sickles on the table. "I have to go."

"You just got here," Neville said.

"Right, right, but I—" Ron stood, and pulled on his robe. "I forgot about—a thing."

"Can I have your pint?" Ginny said.

The wards on Harry's flat were open, still, and Ron closed his eyes, briefly, before pushing open the door, walking down the hallway. Harry was kissing a girl, on his couch, one arm curled around her waist. He looked good, Ron thought—shirt open at the neck, hair falling forward, one hand toying gently with the hem of her skirt.

"Hi," he said. Harry lifted his mouth, slowly, unsurprised, but the girl shrieked a little. Ron smiled, kindly, professionally,

"I'm sorry," he said. "but—"

"Ministry business," Harry said smoothly.

"Oh," she said. Harry smiled at her, and ushered her down the hall, and Ron heard them murmuring together, heard her laugh, and then Harry was coming back through the doorway.

"I didn't think you'd mind."

Ron opened his mouth, and then closed it, and turned away. He walked through to Harry's kitchen and flipped on the tap, shoving his hands into the cold water and then pressing them to his face. His skin felt hot beneath his hands.

"Ron," Harry said.

"You should, uh. you should do whatever you want," Ron said, finding a towel and drying his face.

"I didn't think you'd find out," Harry said.

"Neville saw you with her."

"Oh."

There was a long silence. Ron considered looking in the refrigerator to see if Harry had any food; he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, which had been the last of the liverwurst on toast and an apple.

"Say something," Harry said.

"I didn't know you liked girls," Ron said.

"I've dated—"

"I didn't know you liked girls," Ron said, again. Harry pressed his lips together.

"I don't."

Every word Ron said felt slow, as though he were writing out the conversation, long hand, and couldn't remember how to spell the words.

"Did you use the spell—the camouflage spell?"

"No," Harry said.

"So you just wanted—wanted someone to get off on you being Harry Potter, that it?"

"No," Harry said, horrified.

"I get off on it," Ron said, lying. He wanted to say something further, something about having Harry Potter suck your cock, but the thought of it made him feel slightly ill. It was early evening, barely dusk, and Ron looked out the window, at the empty parking lot, and Harry waited, patient, one arm folded across his chest, in the doorway.

"Can I stay?" Ron said, finally. Harry nodded.

They undressed in silence, first Harry's hands sliding under his t-shirt, tugging it higher, then Ron's hands opening the buttons on Harry's shirt, flipping the button of his jeans open one-handed. Ron had a long bludger burn on his thigh that ached, faintly, when he knelt between Harry's legs, when he slid his mouth over Harry's cock and Harry surged up beneath him, cried out, his hands loose at his sides.

Harry, Ron thought, and then tried not to think any more.


Ron wanted, and Harry always said yes. They had sex twice, three times a week, and sometimes more, but Harry began it half the time, catching up with Ron after they'd left work, letting himself into Ron's flat, late, which was why it was entirely unfair when Draco fixed him with a determined look while they were on a stakeout and said,

"You should take it a bit easier on him."

"Don't know what you're talking about," Ron muttered. He shifted in his seat a little and wished that the Ministry undercover muggle cars were more comfortable.

"I wouldn't care," Draco said, "about what you get up to, you understand, except I'm filled with hearts and flowers, of late, so I'm doing you a favor, and telling you that whatever you're doing to Potter is pretty fucking sick."

"Shut up."

"I've always liked you," Draco said, leaning forward as someone left the magic shop and then relaxing when it wasn't their subject.

"No you haven't."

"That's true, actually." Draco smiled, and his entire face lightened. He had been happy, lately, Ron thought, smiling quietly to himself when he thought no one was looking. Ron thought about punching him.

"Ginny," Ron said quietly.

"Hm?"

"If you hurt her, I'll—"

"I couldn't do to her whatever it is you're doing to Harry," Draco said. "I don't have the stomach for it."

"You were a death eater," Ron said. "You tortured people."

"And?"


Ron slammed Elgar Hardreth up against the fireplace just as Harry crashed through the steeply arched second-story window and rolled across the floor, splintered glass sliding off his shoulders.

He and Harry had been just finishing up a routine dark artifact call—in this case, a moth-eaten mail order box set of abridged dark magic classics, covered with lurid and inaccurate drawings, but not actually in any way dangerous. It was the sixth such set they had had to vet that month, and Ron had been explaining that no, the ministry really did not empower him to purchase such priceless artifacts, when Harry, who had been slouching near the window, let out a muffled exclamation and pelted out the door.

Elgar Hardreth was the most well-known of a small band of druids who were well-known not only because of their habit of abducting and sacrificing virgins every now and again, but because, in recent months, they had taken responsibility for a series of resurrected demon attacks across the whole of southern England.

"Amulet," Harry said. He was bleeding badly from a cut on his temple, but his voice was as calm as if he had asked to be passed the salt. Hardreth shouted a curse and Ron ducked, punched him in the face to keep him quiet, and ignore the skin splitting open on his knuckles to scrabble open his shirt and yank at the amulet. Hardreth twisted in his grasp; he was not a small man, and Ron shoved him back against the rough brickwork, shook his wand down his sleeve into his hand, and muttered the spell for breaking, loosening, the spell used to untie stubborn knots and unmoor ships, and the amulet came away in his hand, pulsing oddly. Hardreth turned green and lunged forward, and Ron tossed the amulet over his shoulder, knowing Harry would catch it.

Out of the corner of his eye, even as he ducked back from Hardreth's violently windmilling fists, he could see Harry gathering himself in a few short steps across the pitted floor, robes twisting and billowing behind him as he plummeted through the window, the amulet shining, emitting a strange beam of orange light from between his fingers.

Afterwards, sitting on the front stoop, waiting for backup, Harry smiled, and nudged him a little, and they shared a packet of pretzels they found in one of the cupboards.

"Filching the snacks of the dark," Ron said.

"D'you know at that last bust up in Yorkshire, grateful house elves sent Malfoy away with a bloody enormous picnic hamper?" Harry said, licking salt off his thumb.

"Figures," Ron said.

"He'd stop—with Ginny," Harry said, after a moment, "if I asked."

"No, he wouldn't," Ron said.

"No," Harry admitted. He tipped out the last of the pretzels into his hand.

"Thanks, though," Ron said.


He had been in love before, with Devlin, almost, who had said,

"Well, fuck you then, Weasley, if you can't bring yourself to enlighten Potter," and been curled up around a Hufflepuff girl in less than a week, eyes glittering when Ron swallowed and forced himself not to stare, and with Millicent, a little, who had gripped his hand preternaturally tightly, for all the wound that crossed her body, shoulder to thigh, and said,

"Stop crying, Weasley, and promise me you'll win this fucking war."

"I'm not crying," Ron had said, and tried to push her hair back off her forehead, but she had slapped his hand away, and said,

"Promise me," and he had, because he had loved her, and she had said

"Ron," softly, and then died, and he didn't remember much of the next month after that, except that it was Harry who had found her wand, some hundred yards away in a field, and pressed it into his hand, Harry who had said, "Bollocks," when Ron had said that he hadn't loved her enough.

"I didn't," Ron had said.

"Close enough," Harry had said, and torched her body, wandless. The heat had been obliterating, scorching—after months of rain, sodden bedclothes, moldy bread, it had had a disquieting, dangerous power.

"We're going to win," Ron had said, watching the black column of smoke arch up towards the sky, watching Harry's slumped shoulders.

"We'll win," Harry had said, when the fire had stopped burning, and then he wiped the ashes off Ron's face with the sleeve of his shirt.

There were silences between them now, new silences, sharp, dangerous, confused, and then there were the silences Ron waited for, waited to press his mouth to Harry's, for Harry to catch his wrist and lift it to his mouth. Now and again, he wondered if the silences were really as new as all that, but mostly he let himself lean in, lose himself a little, let himself be compensated for the startled, vacant expression he caught on Harry's face, occasionally, if he turned too quickly. Harry sought him out, spent more than one Tuesday half-asleep on Ron's shoulder, the television murmuring quietly, took the extra scone Ron brought in for him when he stopped at the bakery in the mornings gratefully, with a fleeting smile. It ought to have been enough, but when Ron watched Hermione lean up over Neville's shoulder and touch the back of his hand, before asking a question about his report, his mouth went acrid with want.

Harry never touched him at work.

Once, he woke up as Harry was lacing up his boots. In the half-light of dawn, Ron could only see sharp slope of his jaw, the uneven set of his collarbone where it had been badly healed. He was a stranger, Ron thought, and then Harry turned his head.

"Didn't mean to wake you," he said, and Ron felt his heart stutter in tenderness. Harry touched his hand, once, and then apparated.


"Is Harry having sex with someone?" Hermione said, finally, squinting after Harry as he left the conference room.

"Hm," Ron said, clutching his cup of tea tightly. His thighs ached from fucking Harry across his kitchen table last night, from sliding up beside him after and knocking his hands away from his cock, finishing him off.

"Odd," Hermione said, rotating the map on the wall with her wand, and zooming slowly in on the Pyrenees Mountains. "I never thought Harry was very, um, interested in sex."

"Oh," Ron said. He stared at the map. "But you and he—"

Hermione shrugged "We were the both of us so fucked up, I—" She took a sip of her tea. The map was zooming low, now, over snow and rocks. "He was cold with me." She looked up and saw Ron's expression, and added, "I don't mean he was cruel, or nasty, but. He never really—" she hesitated. "well. I thought it was probably just me, but then he never really—never brings anyone around, does he?"

"Suppose not," Ron said.

Maybe, Ron thought, but didn't allow himself to think further. Harry bought him dinner, once, when they were working late, and fell asleep, once, after they'd had sex, and slept until dawn in Ron's bed, one arm draped casually across Ron's hip. They did not fight on the job, and if the brittle silences between them did not disappear entirely, they lessened, until Ron could see that it was almost as it had been. One of Charlie's dragontamer friends whom Ron had gotten to know some years prior flew into London and showed up at his flat, unannounced, as he often did, and raised one eyebrow when Ron stepped sideways from the friendly hand under his shirt.

"So, you've got—" he said, watching Ron make up the couch for him.

"Something like," Ron admitted. He knew Harry's body, now, more than he had ever known anyone's, the hollows of his hips, his slightly unbalanced shoulders from broom flight, the way he shivered and turned his face away when Ron kissed the palms of his hands. He looked at Harry when they changed clothes in the locker room, and Harry caught his eyes, more than once, his eyes quiet. Ron had always been good at hope.


8. Unwilling

"I want to stop," Harry said. He was already fully dressed, buckling his wand holster around his thigh casually, one-handed. He didn't bother to look up.

"Stop what?" Ron said, rummaging through his chest of drawers to find a new shirt.

"Stop doing this—" Harry said. "Stop fucking around."

"What?" Ron said slowly. Harry's face hardened a little, and Ron didn't want to say anything further, but the words came anyhow. "But I don't. Why?"

Harry pulled in a long breath, and then said, "I can't believe you're really enjoying this."

"I don't understand—"

"I just don't want to, anymore," Harry said, his voice tight. "I thought you were—better than this, I—"

"Better than—"

"What, are you so hard up for a fuck that you'll just—"

"You started this," Ron said. "You fucking wanted it, and I asked—"

"I was minding my own business," Harry said. He turned abruptly and left Ron's bedroom, getting almost all the way across the living room before Ron lifted his voice to say,

"Are you implying that I forced you?"

"You spied on me," Harry said. He did not turn, his profile austere in the half-light.

"You were fucking men who looked like me," Ron said. "Was I just supposed to ignore it?"

"That might have been better."

"No," Ron said.

"I would have told you," Harry said, "if I'd wanted you to know."

"Fuck you," Ron said bitterly. "I'm not going to beg you to stay."

"I never asked you to do anything at all," Harry said. He lifted his robe off the back of the armchair where he'd flung it when he arrived, where he'd bent over and slid his lips down Ron's cheek, into the hollow of his throat. "It's always—I never asked Hermione, either, and she just—"

"I'm not Hermione," Ron said, shaken. "I'm not—fucking Hermione—"

"But she—"

"Don't pretend she's what's between us," Ron said. "Don't pretend she has anything to do with it—"

"She has everything to do with it—"

"She has fuck-all to do with it," Ron said. "At least admit to that."

"What do you know about it?"

"She left us," Ron said furiously. "We didn't want her and she left us years ago; she's happier for it. And considering that you've turned into a top flight motherfucking psychopath, I can't say I blame her."

Harry lifted his head and stared at him, and Ron noticed that the skin beneath his eyes was smudged and grey. He looked worn out, exhausted, his lips and eyes almost colorless.

"Okay," Harry said. He pulled the robe up his arms, and it dragged against his shirt, rumpled at the collar; he didn't seem to notice.

"Why were you with all those other blokes?" Ron demanded, "Why, if you didn't want—if you don't want—"

"I don't fucking want this," Harry said. "Fuck off."

"It wasn't real with them," Ron said.

"It's not real with you," Harry said.

"Why?" Ron said nastily. "Because I'm not Hermione?"

"You come around," Harry said, his voice shaky, desperate, "and you never stop, and I don't want. I don't want that."

"Oh."

"And it's so; it's difficult, at work."

"You started that," Ron said.

"I don't care," Harry said. "I don't—with the others, at least I didn't have to guess at what they wanted, I didn't have to walk around all day looking at them and wondering why they'd even bother—"

"If it made you so fucking miserable, you didn't have to come around; you didn't have to let me touch you," Ron said loudly. "You've been a fucking asshole to me for weeks—did you ever even like me, or was this just some sick power trip?"

"I liked you," Harry said uneasily.

"I loved you," Ron shouted. His voice trembled and dropped, and his heartbeat roared in his ears, but Harry's face was implacable, and he knew he'd already lost. "I loved you, but you're too fucked up to know what that's like—I used to think you'd outgrown whatever those Muggles did to you, but they really fucked you up beyond repair, didn't they?"

"I'll leave," Harry said.

"Good," Ron said. "Good," he said, again, when Harry was gone.


Work ought to have been different, after that, but it wasn't. Harry had cut his hair brutally short over the weekend.

"It looks you used nail scissors," Draco said, tilting his head sideways consideringly, at the Monday morning catch-all meeting. Harry grinned. Ron stared at his scar, and later, at the nape of his neck; Harry had always let his hair grow until it fell over his collar, and then cut it himself with kitchen shears, or, now and again, asked Ginny to do it for him, after work, dragging a chair through the huge windows of the office and sitting on the wide, flat, slate roof, letting the hair sift away in the wind. His hair looked bristly, uncomfortable, and it was more difficult to ignore the thin whorl of grey already mixed in with the black. It was, for some reason, hard to see the back of his neck.

Harry spoke to him, smiled, tossed a sandwich on his desk when Ron had spent the morning and half the afternoon in Containment, with Neville, disarming a black box that had been responsible for half a dozen possessions and fourteen lost fingers before someone thought to bring it in.

"Thanks," Ron said, pulling the wax paper off the sandwich. Harry nodded, and turned back to his report; the first bite of sandwich slid painfully down Ron's throat. The week passed. On Thursday, Ron met up with Harry by accident as he was leaving for the day, slipping out the back way, unwilling to meet anyone. Harry was standing in the low stone tunnel, the sunset bursting brilliantly through on the other side. He straightened when Ron pushed the heavy door open.

"It wouldn't have worked, ever, with Hermione," Ron blurted out. Harry was backlit by orange light, and Ron could barely see his expression, but when Harry spoke, he sounded nonplussed.

"I know," he said.

"I just—"

"I never thought so," Harry said, quickly, unwillingly. Then he left.

The next day, Harry threw a thick stack of papers on the conference desk and said,

"Analysis?"

"Faked," Hermione said.

"Dark attacks extortion scheme," Ginny said, disgusted. "What a fucking racket."

"I'll take intimidating would-be blackmailers over actual dark activity any day of the week, however," Draco said. "Also, I call Spain. And Ginny."

"Milk run," Ginny sniffed, but she looked rather pleased, all the same.

"How is this in our jurisdiction?" Ron said.

"Irregularity," Neville said.

"International shunted it to us last week," Harry said, coolly. "Where were you?"

"Right where I always was," Ron said, forcing himself to sit very still.

Harry made a motion to push his hair back off his forehead, and then stopped, as though he had just remembered that he no longer had any hair to speak of. "Hermione," he said.

"Done," she said. "We can discuss—"

"No need," he said. "I trust you."

"Right," Hermione said, "Tomorrow, then."

"Spain," Draco said, somewhat insistently "Ginny."

"Yes, Spain," Hermione said. "Neville and I will take Italy, naturally, which leaves France for Harry and Ron."

"Won't that be fun," Ron said quietly, but Ginny was already standing up, talking to Hermione about the weather in Barcelona, and Neville and Draco had picked up an earlier discussion about the Quidditch cup. Harry was shoving the papers back into the folder, head bent, and did not seem to have heard.


"Professional," Harry said, the next morning, when Neville strolled in at half-nine wearing a cambric shirt, open at the throat, with Hermione on his arm in a green, floating sundress.

"I can't imagine what you're talking about," Hermione said, just as Ginny arrived in a linen pantsuit and an extremely floppy hat.

"We're in disguise," Neville said.

"Are we standing around all day," Draco said, transfiguring a quill into a pair of sunglasses, "or are we going to Barcelona?"

There was standard gear for any mission: translation patches, false identification papers, and, in Ron and Harry's case, 600 French cochons, fat French coins worth approximately a thirteenth of a galleon at current exchange rates. Ron shoved up his sleeve, and let Hermione, affix six knut-sized indicators to his inner arm. They flared orange and then settled to blue, and Hermione grinned and said,

"What do you know, we're all safe," and then held out her arm for Ron.

It usually took nearly an hour to finish preliminary preparations, but this time, Ginny said,

"Done," and put her hand on Draco's arm, just as Neville twined one hand in Hermione's and apparated out, leaving Ron staring at Harry on the opposite side of the table, alone.

"There are two locations," Harry said, after a moment, taking a cursory look at his papers before shoving them in his back pocket, straightening his cuffs. "We'll split up."

"No backup," Ron said.

"Unnecessary," Harry said curtly. "These are a public nuisance, nothing more. Even you shouldn't have a problem convincing people that a cottage industry in faking dark attacks is a poor idea."

"You always have to tell me what a shit wizard I am," Ron said, "whenever you're angry at me."

"I'm not angry," Harry said.

"I'll never be as powerful as you are," Ron said. "I don't regret it."

"You're a good wizard," Harry said, after a moment. "I'm sorry, I—we'll go together."

"Forget it," Ron said.

"No, I—"

"Oh, but now I need help," Ron said. "Help from the great Harry Potter, right, I understand."

"Don't start with that," Harry said.

"Why shouldn't I?"

"You never felt like that," Harry said.

"What happened to you?" Ron said, "What the fuck—I only ever did what you wanted, and you just—"

"You'd do anything to keep me happy, then bugger off," Harry said furiously. "I don't need your pity."

"You don't have it," Ron snapped, "but by all means tell me again what a nuisance it was for me to always be hanging around and trying to fuck you."

Harry flushed. "I'm going to Lyon," he said, "and you—"

"Have fun," Ron said, "and do try to find someone who looks like me to fuck—"

"—you can go to hell for all I care," Harry said, and apparated.


9. given a chance

The six indicators on his inner forearm had faded from blue to orange to palest green, indicating that everyone else had already successfully completed their missions, before Ron, sweating and exhausted, had ridden a rickety train 150 miles into the French countryside and then walked, uphill, for another five. He spent most of the time thinking up brilliantly awful things to say to Harry once he got back, and also wishing he had paid more attention the last time they'd fucked; it had happened too fast, that last afternoon, Harry kissing him and sliding up against him, knees open around his hips, pulling Ron down on top of him by the collar of his shirt. He was still thinking about the way Harry had kissed him, his careful, nearly inaudible sigh when Ron pressed his mouth against his collarbone, when he reached the last small rise before the valley where Hermione had planned for him to meet his contact, and thus he was entirely unprepared for the fact that his contact had been slaughtered by a coven of dark wizards, who figured out that he was enforcement in under a quarter of an hour.

It would have been charitable to call it a bloodbath; he lived only out of bare luck, and because he knew more than probably any wizard in Europe about spelling with a broken wand. He had not used Avada Kedavra since the war, or had it used against him, but his body still remembered how to dodge, turn, still remembered the nights Harry had dragged him out of bed their final year to practice. He killed five, and wounded perhaps another six, and by the time he came back to himself enough to stop running, he was lost in spreading farmland, with a long, raw wound on his ribs that he did not remember receiving, and a pounding, rattling headache.

In the dark, he knelt in the wet rutted dirt, freshly ploughed, and tried every communication spell he could think of, without success. Harry could have probably apparated home from here, he thought, apparated home and conjured a full tea service simultaneously, but when Ron tried to apparate, he promptly blacked out and woke up twenty-five yards from his original position.

It wasn't, however, until they found him, at daybreak, that he understood that he might not live.

"You English and your equipment," the first one sneered, when he was gasping, kneeling on the ground. "You stink of magic, you know." They dislocated his shoulder, and sliced open his robes, and then ripped the translation patch off his shoulder.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" the other one asked, twirling it in his fingers.

"I don't speak fucking French, you bastard," Ron said. It was beautiful country: low rolling hills and cows, great rolled bales of hay, and the clear, shallow, mountain-fed stream where they drowned him, scraping his face along the sharp rocks on the bottom.

He waited for Harry, but Harry did not come. Not when they resuscitated him, and not when they sat back and laughed as he rolled to his knees and coughed up thin, cloudy water, but Ron thought of him, all the same, the curve of his mouth, the occasional darkness in his eyes, and what a fine thing it had been to believe for a moment, for a matter of weeks, that Harry was coming to care for him.

In seventh year, they had practiced, endlessly, he and Hermione. Even then, it had been obvious that they would never catch Harry again, and that it did not matter that his transfigurations were sloppy, next to Ron's, that his pronunciation was weak, that he got two NEWTS to Ron's five and Hermione's six, because he'd done almost none of the work and, towards the end, had barely bothered to show up for class.

Together, terrified of being left behind, worried at what Harry would become, they'd devised tests for each other. It was nothing, at first, small, planned exercises, a game, almost, and then one day Hermione had swept all her books off the desk and made Ron use Cruciatus on her.

"Twenty seconds," she had said, her mouth set, and when he protested, "ten."

"Hermione—"

"This is stupid—useless," she'd said. "No one's going to warn us; they're going to kill every fucking person we know, and Harry's as good as dead—" and then she had screamed, because Ron had closed his eyes and shoved his wand forward and whispered

"Crucio," past the lump in his throat.

After that, there had no plans, no set meetings, no excuses; they'd laid ever more elaborate traps for each other, and for every time Ron saw Hermione slip her hand into Harry's, kiss his cheek, she knocked him unconscious, or cursed him blind. The week after Hermione first slept with Harry, Ron had waited for her in an upper corridor, tripping her when she came around the corner, and not bothering to be surprised when she elbowed him in the chest, rolled to her feet and threw herself forward towards him. He had been bigger than Hermione, and stronger, and it had not been a fair fight, but he'd known better than to hold back.

"You're getting better," he'd said, after, fishing his handkerchief out of his pocket for her lip.

"Thanks," she'd said, touching the already swelling edge of her eye gingerly. "I think you cracked my rib again."

And when the war had started in earnest, it had seemed like a stupid game, anyhow, as though they had been foolish to even try, but the third time he came up for air, Ron thought of the night he'd half-drowned Hermione in the shallows of the lake, her long wet hair twining around his wrists, and the moment when she'd twisted, slippery, in his arms, and shoved her fist into his teeth, thought of all the secrets he'd kept from Harry, over the years, such small things they'd seemed at the time, so easy to hold inside himself. As he twisted up underneath the wizard who held him, dragged him under the water, bit the hand holding his face under water hard enough to feel tendons separating, scrabbled a wand out of someone's hand and screamed out the spell to make a heart stop beating, he thought that there were things he ought to have said to Harry, long ago; things he'd like to say, given a chance.

After that, there was a lot of walking. He did not bother to take back the money or his identification papers, picked the mission indicators off his arm, and, after a moment's thought, his jumper; he had used magic to mend a hole in the elbow. He used the wand once, to cover his tracks, and then left it with the bodies; he would not likely survive being found again. He walked at night and slept when he could, drank from streams and stole from kitchen gardens, carrots and raw potatoes, sugar beets and radishes; the war had been rigorous training in living rough, but it had been years since Ron had had to go without meals and cover miles along deep rutted country roads, and he had always had Harry with him, before.

Somehow, his shoulder had twisted mostly back into the socket, but it ached, and his arm wouldn't work properly, and although he couldn't see anything except the edge of the wound on his ribs, he could feel that it was hot and raised, growing infected. When he slept, he dreamt of Harry, always, dreamt of drowning, watched Harry slide beneath the water without him, dreamt that he had forgotten how to swim, and woke up with his lungs burning, involuntary tears sliding down his cheeks.

It took him another week to reach Calais, his money long since gone, and another two days to find a fishing boat which would carry him across the channel, although not without the barter of his watch. He managed a lukewarm shower below decks, and one taciturn fisherman grunted over his ribs and bound them with a long strip of gauze, and handed him a bowl of thick chowder, but by the time he stepped off the boat onto the London docks, bone-deep exhaustion had set in, and seemed to take him a long time to negotiate the hundred yards to the street, where the Knight Bus waited, idling gently.

Ron collapsed into the first seat, closing his eyes for just a second, only to be jolted awake by the bus shuddering to a halt just outside his block of flats.

"Sorry," he said, pulling himself to his feet

"S'nothing, lad," the conductor said. He stood, his eyes creased in concern, and when Ron pitched slowly forward, stepped in an caught him. "I've been to France myself, once or twice," he said. He wrapped one matter-of-fact arm around Ron's shoulders, helping him slowly off the bus. "Don't think I had quite as much fun as you, though," he said, when Ron stumbled badly on the first flight of stairs.

"It wasn't fun," Ron mumbled. "I fell in love."

"Had that happen once or twice, too," the conductor said, and waited until Ron had found his key before leaving.

It seemed an age until he was in the bedroom, fumbling with his clothes, the ties on his shoes momentarily defeating his tired fingers, and then he collapsed into bed without bothering to remove the rest of his clothes. He did not dream.

He slept until noon and awakened in unreasonably good spirits, especially considering the only thing to eat in his flat was a loaf of moldy bread and some very elderly cheese. He took his time dressing, cleaning the wound on his ribs carefully, and buying a spinach and cheese stuffed croissant at the bakery on the corner before flooing to work.

Ginny was wearing a faded, stretched-out Slytherin t-shirt, and trousers that were too big for her and Hermione's eyes looked strained around the edges, that was what he noticed first. And then Draco spilled a cup of tea down his front and Ginny stumbled forward and wrapped her arms around him.

"Ronnie," she said, quietly, against his chest, her pet name for him before he turned six and pinched her every time she used it.

"What—" he said, wincing a little as Ginny tightened her arms around him.

"We thought you were dead," Harry said, from the doorway. Hermione had raced forward and hugged him, around Ginny, and Neville had come forward and clasped one hand, and even Draco clapped him on the shoulder a bit, between dabbing at his shirt, but Harry stood in the doorway for a moment, and then came forward and sat down on the edge of Neville's desk.

"I ran into some problems," Ron said.

"Why didn't you contact us?"

"My wand broke," Ron said. "Why didn't you trace me?"

"We tried," Ginny said. "Harry—we couldn't find you."

"Those wizards, by the way," Ron said, "were not—"

"We found them," Hermione said. "I'm so sorry, Ron, I—we did look for you, but you just. You weren't anywhere."

"I—they were tracking me," Ron said. "I covered—"

"I thought you might have," Harry said.

"I did," Ron said, and Harry's eyes met his, calmly.

"Right," he said, ignoring the fact that everyone was still clustered around Ron. "We'll debrief tomorrow. Perhaps you want to owl the Burrow?"

"Of course," Ron said. Harry nodded, and stepped forward, and everyone fell away a little, it seemed. Ron felt himself still. After a bare hesitation, Harry clasped his hand tightly. "It's good," he said, "to have you back."

"Thank you," Ron said.

Ginny went with him to the Owlery, one arm looped through his, and then Neville and Draco sat in the curtained-off area of the infirmary with him and waited, scrawling through reports.

"What'd I miss?" Ron asked.

"Not much," Neville said. "Mostly, we looked for you."

"You couldn't have really thought I was dead," Ron said. "Harry wouldn't've—"

"Oh, we thought you were dead," Draco said, matter-of-factly.

"Did you think we were just letting you walk home for fun?" Neville said.

"I guess I wasn't thinking about it too closely, given the evil wizards and the attempted murder."

"Point," Neville said.

"But no one else got evil wizards?" Ron said. "It was just me. The rest of you had lovely holiday weekends, and I got evil wizards."

"We didn't get the whole weekend," Neville said.

"Not the whole—"

"Harry called us back as ass o'clock in the morning," Draco said. "Really, until you've squelched through twenty miles of be-shitted French farmland with a pack of crups, and the Boy Who Lived bitching on about faulty intelligence gathering, you haven't been on a real minibreak."

"Well, thank you for looking," Ron said sardonically

"But I was sorry you were dead," Draco said, and although his tone was flip, there was a quiet in his eyes.

"I'd be sorry if you were dead, too," Ron said. Draco smiled.


10. selfless

Harry's office was huge, with marble floors and an ornately carven marble fireplace, highly polished bookcases lining one wall, mother of pearl detailing on dark wood moldings, a panoramic view of London from floor to ceiling, across two of the walls, and a thick gold plaque on the door that said,

Harry Potter
Order of Merlin
Commander, 2nd Voldemort War
[the] Boy Who Lived


Harry had never used it; the bookcases were empty, the hearth swept clean. It was easy to forget that it was there, just down the hall from their offices, but as Ron left that evening, he saw a thin sliver of light underneath the door, and stopped. He had waited in his office for nearly an hour after everyone had left, but Harry had not appeared, despite the fact that his robe was still hung over the back of his chair, a report, half done, smudged across with ink on his desk.

There was no sound from the office, and Ron stood before the door for several minutes before trying the doorknob, which turned easily under his fingers, the heavy door swinging open, silently, on well-oiled hinges.

The room was shrouded in shadow, illuminated only by the city lights below, and it took him a moment to see Harry, leaning against a far window, shoulders hunched.

"Hi," Ron said. Harry started violently, whirling around and drawing in so much air that he began to cough, a shaky terrible rasp. Even in the dark, Ron could see that his color was dangerous and sallow. Harry wiped roughly at his mouth with the back of his hand, and his jaw worked silently for a moment; the sound that finally escaped him was raw and ugly, as though he'd had the wind knocked out of him.

"Are you—Harry," Ron said. He stepped further inside and closed the door, and Harry clapped his hand over his mouth and turned away, shoulders shaking.

"Harry," Ron said again.

"I thought you were dead," Harry said. "Because of me, because I—"

"No—""

"They said you were dead; the last two we found alive, they said they'd killed you. They—" his voice broke and roughened, a little, "and then we found your wand, your cloak. There was a lot of blood—" He turned back, arms still clasped across his body. "We traced you, but. you were gone."

"It's a good spell," Ron said. Harry pulled in a sharp breath, and then almost smiled.

"I should learn that one," he said.

"Probably so," Ron said, nodding a little too much.

"I looked for you," Harry said. "I want you to—I looked everywhere for you."

"I—"

"And I wanted to apologize for—"

"Don't, you don't have to," Ron said, starting forward, "it wasn't your fault—"

"I shouldn't have brought that girl home," Harry said, "while I was sleeping with you."

There was a silence while Ron stared at Harry, and then he said, slowly, "That's what you're apologizing for."

"I—I was just going to go home, but she was there, and she asked, and I was so tired," Harry said, his mouth twisting in remorse. "I was so tired."

"You were tired," Ron said, feeling an incongruous desire to laugh, "so you had to fuck a girl."

"I fucked up," Harry said, a thin high flush crawling up his cheeks "I'm a fuckup, you have to have figured this out by now."

"I didn't mean," Ron said. "I know what I said, but I—"

"All right," Harry said, straightening. The hectic color in his face had faded, slightly, but there was still a faint tremor in his hands. "Good. I'm glad you're back. I'll, uh—" He moved to slide sideways around Ron, but Ron caught him in his arms, wrapped one arm around him and pulled Harry tight against his chest. Harry resisted for a few seconds and then collapsed forward, and Ron could feel the uneven hitch of his breath against his collarbone.

Harry's arm tightened around his waist, slowly. Ron looked out over Harry's shoulder, at London, darkening, at the points of light beyond the periphery, and felt something loosen deep within him, felt gratitude tremble in his chest, and then he felt the secret press of his lips against his throat.

"Harry—"

"Sorry, I'm sorry," Harry mumbled, and lifted his head, and Ron kissed him then. He wanted it to be rough; it felt rough, stumbling back until they ran into Harry's desk, slapping one hand down on the finely polished surface, Harry's shaken half-sob against his mouth, but it was soft all the same, soft, Harry's old jumper, his warm mouth, his hands sliding tentatively up Ron's back, the unexpected heat of the skin at the nape of his neck.

"I have to, um—" Ron said hoarsely, tipping his head against Harry's forehead, shivering a little when Harry cupped one hand around his cheek. "I have to go to the Burrow, tonight."

"I know."

"Tomorrow," Ron said.

Harry nodded.

"Do you want—are you going home?"

"I have to—they stopped your pay already, actually," Harry said, managing a shaky smile. "Having a member of your team return from the dead creates a lot of paperwork, so I'm going to stay and clear it up."

"Tomorrow, though," Ron said.

"Tomorrow," Harry said.

The Burrow was noisy and convivial; George and Percy had come down from London, and Charlie sent an owl with his love, and Draco sat on the couch next to Ginny, and held her hand.

The next day was paperwork, and more paperwork, a physical, a rather long session with a seer, a discussion about the possibility of refurbishing his wand, and finally a hearing.

"It's entirely informal, Mr. Weasley, I assure you," the wizened magistrate said, but he was peering down across a long table made from a single massive, unpolished piece of granite, and Ron's chair was uncomfortable.

"I understand," Ron said, but he didn't relax until Harry brushed in the door wearing a t-shirt and a pair of trousers with a hole in the knee, and his Order of Merlin medal on a heavy flat gold link chain around his neck; Ron had never even seen it out of its box, before.

"Walter," Harry said curtly, and put a thick file on the table before him.

"This is an informal hearing," Walter said. He had not told Ron his name, but the plaque before him read The Honorable W. L. Thaddeus Kedren.

"Right," Harry said, somehow managing to indicate his clothing without actually doing anything of the sort. "But I think you'll find everything is in order."

"Mr. Weasley used Avada Kedavra in excess of six times," Walter said, shifting. "On international territory, and—"

"Walt," Harry said, easily. "These blokes were the real thing. They'd sacrificed so many goats to Mokkarean that there was a local hot sandwich shortage. I think you'll find that Mr. Weasley used justifiable force in a difficult situation, at great personal risk to himself."

"Be that as it may—"

"Walt," Harry said, once more. Within ten minutes, they were standing in the empty corridor outside, and Ron had been congratulated with what he could only assume counted as enthusiasm for Walter, on his bravery and general common sense.

"Thanks," Ron said. They were in the dungeons, rivulets of water trickling down the walls and collecting in small puddles in the cracked stones beneath their feet.

"Forget it," Harry said. He pulled the medal off his neck and threw it in his satchel, carelessly. "Did you get something to eat?" he said.

"Ginny took me to lunch," Ron said.

"Good," Harry said. He stared at Ron, smiled crookedly. He looked—nervous, Ron realized. "There's a chocolate bar in my desk, if you want it," he said. "I have to—I have some things—I'm late, as a matter of fact."

"That's all right."

"All right," Harry said. He started to turn away and head down the hall, and turned and came back.

"I should say, I—about Hermione."

"Harry, don't."

"No, I. I tried not to want you more," Harry said.

"Oh."

"I wasn't very good at it."

"I see."

"Or I should," Harry bit his lip, and then said. "I meant, I tried not to love you more."

"Oh," Ron said weakly, and Harry nodded hastily and said, "So I should—" and then he was gone.


Hermione brought over Chinese takeout that evening, and kicked off her shoes and stole half his egg roll.

"Do you remember," Ron said, "When we used to—seventh year."

She stopped rooting through the carton for a moment, holding her chopsticks loosely in her fingers, and nodded.

"Did I hurt you?"

"It's not—"

"Tell me."

"That was the point, wasn't it?" she said. "but you needed me, you both—I."

"You did that with Harry?"

"I slept with Harry," she said. "And with you, I did—what we did, and it wasn't enough. I wasn't enough."

"Hermione," Ron said.

"I never wish things had turned out differently, though," she said, taking a thoughtful bite of lo mein. "Do you?"

"No," Ron said, after a moment.

"Although," she said seriously, "I do wish you'd give me the rest of that egg roll."

She stayed late, curled up in the corner of his couch, talking a little, drinking a cup of cocoa, and so it was nearly midnight by the time Ron climbed the stairs to Harry's flat; the lift was out of order, and when Ron reached Harry's floor, he saw that the heavy iron bars that gated the lift were bent wildly out of shape, half melted, with several long scorch marks on the carpet.

Even in the dark of the flat, he could see the clutter, the unwashed dishes in the sink, half of the photographs on the mantelpiece face down or fallen to the ground, robes slung over the back of the couch. Harry was in bed, asleep, one arm flung out across the bed. Looking at him, Ron felt exhaustion creeping over him. He had meant to wake Harry up, to talk to him, but instead he dropped his robe and pulled off his trousers and crowded into bed beside Harry, who grumbled faintly but moved aside. The back of Harry's neck smelled like deep, good sleep, and that was the last thought Ron had until he woke up to find Harry watching him, face grave, pillow marks on his cheek. He was wearing a thin, rumpled undershirt, and Ron reached out and ran one finger along the inside of the collar, against Harry's heated skin. Harry's lips parted, but he said nothing.

"How long?" Ron said.

"Long time."

"Me too," Ron admitted

"You couldn't tell?" Harry said.

"You couldn't?"

"No, I—" Harry broke off and mumbled a quiet lumos; the fat candle on his bedside table burst into flame. "I thought you were doing it for me, because I wanted—I wanted," he finished, unwillingly.

"I'm not that selfless," Ron said. Harry studied him, candlelight making his eyes unreadable.

"I missed you," he said.

"I would have picked you up a souvenir," Ron began lightly, "but—"

"No," Harry said. "I thought maybe we weren't friends anymore, that we were just having a few meaningless fucks, and I missed you.

"Oh," Ron said. "I thought we were fucking with—with meaning."

"I was."

"With meaning?" Ron said.

"Right," Harry said. "With, um—" He was thinner than he had been, his face a little gaunt, and Ron pulled him forward and kissed him properly, gratefully, mouth and tongue, twisted one hand into Harry's waistband while Harry sighed and yanked at his hair appreciatively and pressed him back against the pillow.

"With," he muttered, three fingers sliding across Ron's aching ribs, mending them, a little.

"I, oh," Ron said, when Harry lifted his head. "But you could have said something."

"I fucked men who looked like you," Harry said.

"But in secret," Ron said.

"You took a NEWT in divination," Harry mumbled.

"That was Neville," Ron said. "Please don't tell me that hoping I'd find out in the worst way possible was honestly your strategy."

"I didn't think you'd find out at all," Harry said. "It was only once in a while, and I was—" he hesitated.

"tired," Ron supplied helpfully.

"I was," Harry said.

"Exhausted," Ron said, sliding down a little next to Harry, and Harry made a soft sound in agreement and leaned forward, traced the edge of Ron's mouth with his thumb.

"I made a list," he said, after a moment. "While you were dead, I kept thinking of things I ought to have said—"

"Don't," Ron said, "I was a fucking asshole, and I kept—"

"That's on the list," Harry said. He eased Ron back against the bed and kissed him again, thoughtfully, slid the heel of his hand against Ron's hip, and pressed one long open-mouthed kiss against his throat.

"This isn't just because I was dead," Ron said, and when Harry faltered a little, added. "Although that would be all right."

"No, I—" Harry smiled, a little crookedly. "I was going to apologize. I waited for you, after, and I was going to take you out to dinner and—"

"Someplace nice—"

"Right—"

"Fucking liar," Ron said, cheerfully, as Harry brushed a careful kiss against his jaw. "You were going to cheap out and take me for fish and chips—"

"No, I wasn't," Harry protested, and then his eyes met Ron's and he laughed, a little shamefacedly. "I'm uh. I know it's not how you would have wanted it to be. I'm not exactly—"

"No," Ron said. "You are. It is. It's just right."

Harry was watching him intently, half smiling, and Ron felt his throat tighten a little, wished he could say something that would let Harry know the secret, strange, unfathomable contents of his heart, but in the end he could only touch Harry's face with one hand and repeat, "It's just right."


with thanks to Julad, who said 'more fights!', and Resonant, who prevented me from making several very embarrassing mistakes, and Dale, who chortled. note: I did not take all of their very good advice. Also, extra good and special thanks to Schuyler, without whom this would never have happened. Or at least not the bits with sweaters or ties or couches.


[stories] [front] [e-mail]