Rating: R for brief sexual encounters
Warnings: Um ... angst? Nothing else, really.
Length: 8170 words (How I managed that, I have no idea....)
Summary: Ron finally gets what he really wants - but for how long?
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made
and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. The quoted poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, was written by Robert Frost.
Author's Notes: A big thank you to kaalee and alissomora for their initial input, assuring me this didn't totally suck, and to alissomora again, as well as cynthia_black for outstanding and speedy beta/Britpicking services.
"All right, I think I've got the numbers worked out for the major summer holiday travel dates," I told my boss, handing him a stack of parchment. "Let me know what you think."
He flipped through the documents, then rolled them up. "Looks good, Ron." He headed for the door, but turned back to add, "A bunch of us are headed down to the Leaky Cauldron for some grub and a pint or two – care to join us?"
I shook my head. "Not tonight, thanks. Maybe another time."
"Whoever's got your time is a lucky witch," he replied, waving away my attempt at protest. "I've never seen anyone so clearly eager to see someone else at the end of the day." He gave a good-natured smile. "I assume it's not a commentary on me."
I flushed a little. "No, sir. You're always a pleasure to work for."
He waved his hand again. "I'm not looking for groveling. Just thought you'd like a night out with the blokes. As you said – maybe another time." And then he was gone.
Another day's work done at the Department of Magical Transportation, where I'd been for the past three years. Not what I'd really envisioned for myself, if I'd envisioned anything at all, but not a bad job, either. Seems all that chess strategising was good for something after all – the Prophet had been reporting serious Floo traffic jams, people Porkeying into each other, that sort of thing, particularly during big events or major holidays. Even Ginny had once nearly collided with a warlock going the other way when she stepped out of the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron. When Dad mentioned the job opening - the previous bloke was fired, apparently - I figured I might as well do it. As I said, it's not like I had anything else in mind, and at least I didn't have to work under Percy's meticulous four eyes over at the Department of Magical Cooperation. I never did have the marks or subjects to become an Auror but, in the end, I decided it was just as well. I got exposed to quite enough trouble as it was just being with Harry, not to mention being part of the Order.
And speaking of Harry – time to pack up and head home. He and I shared a flat in Swiss Cottage. Didn't really surprise anyone when we decided to stay roommates, even after we left Hogwarts. Well, we'd been with my family at first, but, much as I love them, it got to be rather much - for me, anyway - having Mum breathing down our necks all the time. We'd invited Hermione to join us, too, but she decided she'd rather have some privacy and a chance to 'prove herself' by living on her own. Her flat wasn't too far, though, and Apparation and Floo meant she could be next door or across town and it wouldn't make much difference. So, anyway, it was just Harry and me. We shared a one-bedroom flat because I couldn't afford a two-bedroom – or rather, I couldn't afford a two-bedroom and to eat and go out for a few pints now and then. Ministry salaries never were that great. Harry knew enough not to offer to pay what I couldn't, so he just set about finding the best one-bedroom we could manage. It was tough still sharing a room with him, given how I felt – couldn't even have a private wank at night without special charms, and even then I wondered if he still knew; it's not like we had those big red curtains round our beds anymore. But better to share a bedroom with him than to still live at the Burrow or, worse, live separately. At least this way I got to see him whenever I liked, even if I couldn't do more than slap him on the back now and then. Eventually my stupid crush would go away – I hoped – and then everything would be normal again.
I'd thrown my cloak on the sofa and was poking around in the kitchen, trying to find something edible for dinner, when Harry came in. He looked tired and his hair was sticking up worse than usual. "Bad day, mate?" I asked, pulling out a bag of shriveled lettuce.
"Giselle and I broke up," he said wearily.
I looked up at that. She and Harry had been an item for a few weeks, and it looked like she might actually like him for him, not for his fame. As with all his girlfriends, I tried not to hate her. Now, at least, I safely could. I glanced at the pathetic green stuff in my hand and threw it back in the fridge. "C'mon, I'm taking you out for a drink."
"You don't have to buy me a drink just because--"
"I know I don't have to. I want to. Besides, we have nothing to eat here and the Double Dragon's got a great chicken and ham pie."
He rolled his eyes, grinning. "And here I thought you wanted to comfort a friend in need, when it was only about your stomach."
"It's about both." I dared to sling an arm over his shoulders – I think I'd mostly got over my face turning uncomfortable shades of red whenever we touched. Damned Weasley genes. "Come on, let's get toasted."
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
We didn't really get that drunk, in the end – even I had the sense not to get completely smashed on a weekday, especially knowing we were out of Sober-Up Solution at home. But we didn't completely refrain, either. Harry seemed more troubled than usual, despite my efforts to cheer him, so a few drinks were definitely in order. For both of us.
"She didn't deserve you anyway, mate," I said consolingly as I took another swig of Alchemist's Amber Ale.
He gave a small smile. "You always say that."
"Well, it's true."
"I don't know." He swirled the contents of his glass around absently. "People have this inflated idea of me, how special they think I must be, or what they think I need. And then when we're together...." He sighed.
"You are special, though, Harry." If only he knew how much.
He shook his head. "I'm just an ordinary man, Ron. You know that."
I gave a small snort. "Well, I suppose by 'ordinary' you mean that you eat, drink and piss like everyone else, and it takes Hermione whacking you over the head with her wand to make you learn a new charm or hex really well."
"Thanks heaps." He gave a small snort. "But it's not just that."
"Then what else is it?"
But Harry only shook his head. "I ... I'm not sure. No one has been really right. Isn't a partner supposed to be there for everything? Just like a friend, but even more? And yet no one has been even half as fun or understanding or supportive as you."
Looking back, I know he meant it to be teasing. His mouth quirked in a half smile and he was shaking his head ruefully, but I was a little drunk and already selfishly revelling in having Harry back and away from that witch, and ... honestly, half the time I think I don't have any control over my mouth even under the best circumstances. Which this wasn't. The words were out before I knew it. "That's 'cos no one will ever love you as much as I do."
Oh, shit. If I'd had all the gold in Gringotts right that minute, I would've used it to get a Time-Turner so I could go back and keep my fucking mouth shut.
Unsurprisingly, Harry looked rather taken aback by my words. But then, good friend that he was, he didn't make a big deal of it. "You always were the thing I'd miss most," he said with a smile. And then, thankfully, changed the subject. We played a few rounds of (none-too-accurate) darts, then went home and got ready for bed without a single reference to our earlier conversation. Rather like pretending there wasn't a giant manticore in the room with us, but I was still grateful, and hoping that maybe by morning he'd forget about it.
The next thing I knew, I was awake and looking into the pitch black of night, wondering what had woken me and why I was up at that hour. Then I felt it again – a light touch to my arm. Harry was kneeling by the side of my bed, one hand gently caressing the part of my arm which had poked out from the blankets. "Harry?" I whispered, not fully awake yet. "What's wrong, mate?"
"This," he said, drawing a breath and, before I knew it, he was kissing me full on the lips. Better than I had ever imagined – and I'd imagined plenty, trust me. Warm, slightly chapped lips pushing fully against my mouth, tasting faintly of leftover ale and quite a bit like early morning, but I really didn't give a shit. It tasted like Harry, whatever that was, and I didn't stop to question it. One of my hands came up to cup the back of his head, kissing him back as strongly as he was leaning into me, until I felt him pull away. He was breathing hard; I was just hard, and still wondering what the hell was going on.
"Ron, what you said last night..."
I hit my head with the heel of my hand. "Harry, I'm really sorry, I should never have said—"
"No," he said forcefully, cutting off my apology. "No, that's just it. I ... you made me realise what it was I was missing with all those other – those other witches." He grasped my hands in his. "They're not you. All this time, I wanted someone like you." The hands gripped tighter. "I wanted you," he repeated softly.
"But I'm a bloke, and you've always wanted—"
"Women, yes, I know. But I think that's because I never stopped to think that I should – or could - want anything else." He gave a rueful shrug. "The Dursleys always insisted everything be so damn normal, and even the wizarding world.... Well, everyone's looked at me like I'm some stupid paragon, and what paragon would be gay?" His expression – what I could see in the dark, anyway - took on a slightly bitter tinge. "I think I knew it all along, and just didn't feel free to be ... me. That I had to live up to what everyone was expecting."
I gave him another kiss. "I only want you to be you," I murmured. "That's all you've ever been for me."
"I know," he murmured between kisses. "And that's why your words meant so much to me. I haven't slept a bloody wink, lying there thinking about how the person I really wanted ... was right here all along. I just didn't know how to tell you."
"I'd say you made it quite clear," I replied, grinning. Then I pulled him up on the bed. "Come up here – it's freezing out there, and you must be getting all stiff kneeling on the floor."
"You could say that," he whispered, getting up and rolling on top of me. I felt stiffness all right, pressing right into my groin. Oh, god. I still couldn't believe that years of fantasy were actually coming true. I'm never that lucky. But here he was, pulling open my pyjamas and slipping his hands inside, while his tongue slipped into my mouth. He faltered only briefly when his hands encountered me, wanting to know how he should best grip me, and laughing a bit nervously when he confessed that he'd never wanked another bloke. Which I pretty much knew already. Still, he was damn good at it, and it wasn't long before we were both a tangle of limbs and satisfaction.
I worried that Harry might regret what we'd done come morning, but all he did was give me a kiss and pull me into the shower with him, so I suppose not. It was new – and yet not. I never knew a relationship could be this easy, but then, it was Harry, and we were used to being together a lot anyway. Only, now we had an empty bed for guests.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
I got dragged into the public eye under Harry's shadow yet again when word got out that the Boy... er, Man Who Lived was dating another man. I dunno who tipped them off – neither one of us were into public displays or anything. I'd had my fill of that with Lavender. But we pretty much ignored it as best we could, and the Howlers trickled off after a few days. Ignoring Mum's disapproving stare was harder, but in the end, her love for Harry won her over. Hermione blinked once when she saw me give Harry a casual kiss goodbye, but didn't say anything at the time, only later telling me that, in hindsight, she wasn't too surprised. And no one else really seemed to give a shit – or they didn't have the balls to say so if they did - which suited us just fine.
Even though we were gearing up for what we hoped would be the final confrontation with You Know Who, I'd never been happier. I wasn't rolling in gold, but I didn't have to buy ratty, used robes anymore, either. My job wasn't too bad. And Harry loved me. He didn't have to do anything special – just being curled up in front of the fire together was awesome, and made me feel richer than any goblin. I had something no one else had – I only hoped he felt the same about me.
We fell into a routine over the next three months – breakfast (even oatmeal and toast seemed better now, knowing we'd been sharing the same bed ten minutes before), work, home, cobble together some dinner (Harry did most of this), and then Order meetings or, if we were lucky, a chance to stay home together and play chess or ... uh ... other games. I soon knew his body as well as my own, and learned what he liked and what he didn't.
During Order meetings it was pretty much all business, but sometimes he'd grasp my fingers under the table while I planned strategy, or just lean his head on my shoulder if he was tired. I liked knowing I was there for him, that I was making his life easier just by being there. Not that other people weren't helping, too. Hermione and Lupin helped us brush up on our curses and speed, Mad-Eye helped with our deflective spells, and Harry helped the various teams work together, so we'd all know how best to cover each other and keep things going while he destroyed the final Horcrux and made the crucial strike against You Know Who.
I tried not to think about it too much, but that big confrontation with You Know Who was scaring me. I worried Harry might not come back, and I tried to make every moment I had with him – sexual or not - be special, something for both of us to remember. I had waited so long to be with him, never really thinking it might happen, and now that it had, I didn't ever want it to end. I wished I could destroy You Know Who myself – to take the burden off Harry, and to blast the bastard for threatening what Harry and I had. But, yeah – I knew that task belonged, as always, to him.
On the night before it was all going to happen, there was a final Order meeting and then we were all sent home early for food and sleep, with the warning that we might not see much of either the next day. Harry and I picked up our favourite curry from the Muggle place down the street and brought it home, although, honestly, you could have fed me the Giant Squid and I probably wouldn't have noticed. Harry didn't eat a whole lot, himself, just stirring it around with his fork, mostly.
"Would it...?" He trailed off.
I swallowed my mouthful of curried ... whatever. "Would it what?"
He shook his head. "Never mind."
"No, go on."
"Can't be any stupider than some of the things I've said." I prodded him with my fork. "Go on, then."
He stirred the glop on his plate a bit more. "I'm scared, Ron," he whispered.
"Well, sure, who wouldn't be?" I said, trying to be supportive.
"No, I mean really scared." He turned those huge green eyes on me, and I could see the terror there, like I hadn't seen since he'd faced the dragon back in our fourth year. Maybe worse this time. "Everyone's depending on me, and I'm just one person. And what the prophecy said..."
"Forget the prophecy," I said. "This is the nutter who killed your parents, and screwed up a whole heap of other people, too."
He snorted. "'Screwed up'? That's putting it mildly."
"You know what I mean." I pushed my plate away and took his hands in mine. "But see? Isn't that someone you'd want to get rid of, anyway? I mean, you fought him a couple of times before you knew about any prophecy or what people expected or anything, just because you knew he was a total evil scumbag."
Harry smiled a little at my last words. "Yeah, I guess so."
"And in all the times you've fought him, even when you were a baby, who won?"
"But I had help then and..."
"You'll have help now, too, remember? What has all that drilling and teamwork been about, if not to help you? You do the actual killing, but we're all there for everything else, right?"
He leaned forward, pressing his forehead against mine. "You're right. I know you're right. It's just ... it's never been so big before."
I kissed him. "And it hopefully won't ever be again. But we'll be together, no matter what happens. You know I've got your back, right?"
"I know," he whispered, kissing me in return. "I wouldn't want anyone else by my side tomorrow." Then he sat up again. "Thanks, Ron."
"You'd do it for me," I said, shrugging, but inside I was feeling pretty damn happy. I might not ever get to be the hero, but helping the hero out felt pretty good, too. I stood up and extended my hand, grinning. "C'mon, let's go work out some of those pre-battle jitters."
He was already unbuttoning his shirt.
So much for getting a good night's sleep.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief;
I remember seeing Harry fall, a split second after You Know Who. Damn near got cursed in half by the Death Eaters I'd been fighting because I was too busy trying to get to his body to pay attention to anything else. It was Hermione who thrust herself in my way and aimed some well-placed hexes – saving my arse yet again. I shouldn't have left her to battle the hooded bastards by herself – not that she was entirely alone, Lupin and Charlie and – yeah, even Malfoy – were there, too. But all I could think of was getting Harry out of the way before someone else got him. I didn't even know if he was dead or alive, and I have no idea how I managed to carry him, Apparate, and successfully arrive at St Mungo's entrance without dropping anything or Splinching either of us. It must've been magic, honestly.
Healers converged on us the moment they saw who I was carrying, and whisked him off to the fourth floor before I could blink. Someone patched up my minor injuries in the clinic off the main waiting area, and then I was left to pace the corridor outside Spell Damage and wait for someone to tell me what the bloody hell was going on.
Hermione joined me sometime in the middle of the night. "I came as soon as we finished cleaning up the mess," she said tiredly. She had dirt smudged everywhere and her hair looked even more like a bird's nest than usual, but she was still beautiful to me. Not that I had feelings for her that way anymore, but she'd been my friend for so long and, frankly, had saved my arse so many times, she'd always be something special.
"Sorry I didn't stay," I mumbled. Hermione was usually cross if I wasn't one of the last Order members to leave a scene, making sure every teeny-weeny little detail was taken care of and secure. And since this was The Most Important Battle Ever.... But she only sighed and ran an absent hand through her hair.
"No, I understand. It's over now, that's all that matters." She turned her dark eyes on me. "How is he?"
My turn to rake a hand through my hair as my fears and frustration started to spill out. "I don't know! They've been in there for hours and no one will tell me anything."
She gazed at the same door that I'd been staring at fruitlessly for hours, then sighed again. "Well, then I suppose we'd best get comfortable."
"You'll stay with me?" I sounded like a little kid afraid of the dark, but I really wasn't keen on being alone at the moment.
"He's my friend, too, Ron," Hermione reminded me gently.
"Oh, right." Why didn't I think of that? I tried to smile. "Then I guess I'll stay with you."
Hermione gave me a smile that was probably just as contrived as mine, then deftly transfigured two of the corridor's hard utilitarian chairs into soft chaise lounges, or whatever the hell they're called. How she managed the energy and focus to do that, I have no idea. I couldn't have done the matchstick-to-needle transfiguration from first year at that moment, not even if you'd offered me a thousand Galleons on the spot.
We sank into the seats, but, tired as we were, neither one of us seemed inclined to sleep. I know I was worried I'd fall into such an exhausted stupor, the healers wouldn't be able to wake me and tell me if Harry died. Lived. Lived. We just sat staring at the door for a while, as if that would make someone come out any faster, but after a bit, I heard Hermione clear her throat. "Ron?"
"Yeah?" I was still staring at the door.
"I know it's not really any of my business, but ... would you tell me a bit about your life with Harry? The ... the parts we don't see. Are you happy, Ron?"
I finally tore my eyes away to look at her. Her eyes were large and sad, and even an idiot like me could remember they'd been as good friends as she and I had been, maybe even better. "Yeah," I said softly. "Yeah, I'm happy with him."
She looked sadder for a moment, then she took a breath and cleared her expression. "I'm glad, Ron. Truly." She put a hand on my shoulder. "Tell me about some good times? I could stand to hear something happy right now."
So I told her about the night Harry surprised me with the elegant dinner he'd cooked himself, even though the salmon came out burnt, and the nights we'd just curled up under a blanket by the fire, and even how we'd first got together, although I kind of glossed over the, uh, personal bits. The rest of my family showed up at some point, and contributed their own favourite stories about Harry. It was good to remember the good moments, instead of picturing his lifeless body.
Eventually most of my family went back to their own beds, all except Mum, who insisted that Harry would "need a mum around" when he woke. When a healer finally came out, I staggered to my feet immediately, Hermione and Mum one step behind. All the terror came flooding back, but when he said, "He's awake now but--" I didn't even wait for the end of the sentence or for permission to go in. I practically shoved the bloke aside and sprinted into the Spell Damage wing until I saw the door with his name outside.
He was lying flat on the bed, looking very pale and with bandages everywhere, including one round his dark head, but his eyes were open and he turned slightly as I opened the door. "Harry?" It sounds girly, but my throat closed up and I couldn't say anything else. I just collapsed into the chair by his bed, put my hand on an unbandaged section of his arm, and tried to take him all in at once. "Oh my god, Harry. I thought we'd lost you. I'm so glad..." My throat closed off again. "Just ... don't do that again, mate, okay?"
"Ron?" Harry's voice was raw, and he seemed to be having trouble focusing on me.
"Yes, yes, it's me. It's me and you're Harry and it's all going to be fine now." I knew I was babbling, but I couldn't seem to stop. Never was too suave with words, even at my best.
"Good ... good t'see you..." he mumbled, his lips curving in a faint smile, and then his eyes fell shut.
"Harry? Harry?" There was no response. I leapt to my feet and gestured frantically at the healer who was standing in the doorway. "Help, we need help!"
"If you'd let me explain before you sprinted off," he said in an infuriatingly calm voice, "you might've heard that he's going to be a bit woozy for awhile. We did all we could to stabilise things and heal him – and he will be all right eventually – but it might take some time for his body to catch up." He looked rather pointedly at me. "He needs rest now, Mr Weasley. It's best you go home to rest, too."
I glared back. "I'll leave when it bloody well suits me. He needs me." I looked desperately at Hermione, who had appeared in the doorway with Mum. "Tell him, Hermione."
She looked back and forth between us a moment, while I clung desperately to Harry's uninjured hand, cool and still beneath my fingers. "Well, Ron," she said hesitantly, "the rules do state..."
"Bugger the rules!" I shouted. Then I remembered Harry was sleeping. "Bugger them," I repeated more quietly. "I'm not leaving. I'll sleep on the floor if I have to, and I'll let him sleep as long as he needs. But I'm not leaving."
The healer sighed and threw up his hands. "All right. I trust I don't need to remind you to stay out of his bed. I don't care if the Boy Who Lived is a pansy, but we're not having any hanky-panky in our hospital, do you hear me? And," he continued, "only one visitor tonight."
"Yeah, sure," I said, ignoring the healer's snide remarks. I really didn't care if I had to perform levicorpus on myself to find a place to stretch out, as long as they didn't make me go. I couldn't stand the thought that something else might happen if I left. Mum looked like she was about to argue over who got to stay with Harry but, in the end, she just kissed his cheek, brushed some hair out of his eyes with her fingers, and stepped out into the corridor.
The healer gave me another measuring look, set a few monitoring charms on Harry, then finally left. I sat down again in the chair, but Hermione gently prodded me out of it again and thoughtfully repeated the chair transfiguration so I'd have somewhere comfortable to sleep without breaking any of the healer's stupid rules. She, too, gave Harry a quiet kiss on the cheek and then handed me a coin similar to the ones she'd used back in our school days. "Just tap it and say my name if there's any problems, okay?" When I nodded, she hugged me tight and whispered, "Take care of him," then left with Mum.
It was, thankfully, a quiet night – or day; I honestly have no idea which one, I was that tired. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw at once that Harry was awake again and, even better, sitting propped up against the pillows. He was watching me.
"Harry?" I sat up quickly. "Are you all right?"
He nodded. "Yeah."
"Do you hurt anywhere? Do you need anything? Something to eat?"
"I'm fine, Ron, really."
"Oh, god, Harry. You have no idea how relieved I am to have you sitting here and okay, well, besides the bandages, I mean." I tried to laugh. "At least no one tried to remove all your bones like Lockhart did."
Harry gave a small smile. "No, at least no one's done that." He looked around. "What day is it, do you know?"
I shook my head. "You were here less than a day before you were out of the woods, which would make it the twenty-third, but then I fell asleep here with you and..." I shrugged ruefully. "You know me and sleep. No idea how long it's been."
Harry gave another small smile. "It's all right. I was just curious."
I sat down on the edge of the bed and took his hand, warmer than it had been last time. "It's all over, Harry. It really is. You did it. You Know Who is dead." I shook my head again. "Like we ever had any doubt."
"I couldn't have done it without you."
"Hah. Like I was ever any real use." But I couldn't keep a genuine smile from spreading across my face as I said that. "Still, you've always been the 'golden boy', the 'Chosen One' and—"
"You know I'm not..."
I shrugged. "I know you hate being called that, but you've just proved everyone right, Harry. You achieved what no one else has been able to. And, besides," I added, scooting a bit higher up on the bed, "you'll always be my choice..." I leaned in to kiss him.
And Harry turned his head. Not a lot, but enough.
"Ron, I..." His voice suddenly sounded strained. "Please don't."
I sat up. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, it's just—"
I felt suddenly cold. "Do you ... you do remember me, right? Us?"
He paused for a moment, thinking. "Yes, I think I remember. You and me. That we're ... together." He frowned. "I'm not sure I remember killing Voldemort, though."
"You destroyed the last Horcrux – Hufflepuff's cup – right in front of him, then performed the Killing Curse before he could make any new Horcruxes." I looked down at the hand I was still holding. "But if you remember us, then why...?"
He looked away. "I just need a little space, okay?"
"Oh. Okay." I let go of his hand and sat back on the chaise lounge. "Is this all right, or should I leave?"
He shook his head. "No, you can stay. I didn't mean ... I don't know what I meant." He tried to smile. "I guess I'm just not up for kissing yet. Maybe after I heal up."
"All right." Not that it was really all right with me, but what could I say? The man had just saved the world – again – so it would've been pretty shitty of me to say I couldn't wait for him to recuperate a little before foisting my big clumsy body on him.
Harry recovered physically without any serious setbacks, and St Mungo's let him go after three days. Despite our best efforts, there was a mob scene when we left, reporters from all over Europe trying to get a few words – or at least a few good photos – of the Man Who Killed Voldemort. No one wanted me or Hermione, except to use us to get more dirt on Harry, and we were used to that by now; we just Disapparated with him between us as quickly as we could manage.
For once, I was grateful Hermione had insisted on rendering our flat Unplottable (a bloody nuisance most of the time – no chance for pizza or curry delivery), or there would've been another mob on the other end. But we got him inside, where he insisted he could make his "own damn tea, thanks" before Hermione got him to sit down again. Then she left (well, after picking up some food and bringing it over, herself, so I wouldn't have to leave Harry alone), and the two of us were finally back where we belonged: home. Home, with no battles to worry about, no work – I'd told them they could bloody well do without me for a few days so we could rest and be together. Harry's wounds were healed, although he had some new scars and a lingering stiffness in his right arm – it was just a matter of time before everything would be normal again.
Or not. I dunno what I was expecting. Harry'd had some rough times after some particularly nasty battles in the past, but never lasting more than a couple of days, and he'd usually talk to me about it by then - we'd get him all worked out, usually followed by some great sex. Pretty much like that last conversation we'd had before the battle. . But this time ... he just sat. Or walked round the flat and looked out the windows, picked stuff up and put it down again, but he didn't talk. I tried, honest, I did.
"Hey, mate, you all right?"
Shrug. Or, if I was lucky, Head shake.
I'd put a casual hand on his shoulder, or sit down next to him, or something – things that had usually worked in the past. "You want to talk about it?"
Shrug. Or, if I was unlucky, Head shake.
"Oh, well, you know where to find me if you need me, 'k?" Small laugh. "It's not like you'll have much trouble hunting me down in this flat."
Repeat at least once a day for what felt like ages. He'd talk to me if he had to – what to eat for dinner, or small talk about the latest ridiculous Quibbler (he wouldn't even look at the Prophet, even once most of the hoopla over his triumph had started to fade), asking me to budge over so he could reach his toothbrush, that sort of thing. But that was about it. And don't even ask about anything else. I tried a few more times to kiss him, tempt him into a shower with me, heck, even just to comfortingly spoon up behind him in bed. He submitted stiffly to a few kisses, and turned his head away for others. He declined the shower. The first time I spooned up to him at night, he leapt out of bed like he'd been stung by a Blast-Ended Skrewt, and damn near hexed me before he realised what was going on. The next time, I had enough brains to warn him I was going to do it, and he didn't turn me into a toadstool or anything, but he didn't really respond, either. He just lay there, stiff – and not in the good way – until I gave up and let go. I definitely never told him if I was stiff. Just as well I was taking solo showers, I suppose. Maybe I should have offered to sleep on the sofa, but he didn't come right out and ask for it, and I didn't want to voluntarily put even more space between us. It was bad enough, thanks.
Hermione told me I had to give Harry more time, but things never seemed to get any better. I ran out of compassionate leave and returned to work; if Harry wanted space, he now had plenty of it, five days a week. You'd think that would've made him more receptive for the times I was home, but if so, he hid it well. He always smiled and seemed happy enough to see me ... as long as I didn't get too close too often, and never brought up The Subject. On visits to the Burrow, he smiled politely and chatted amiably enough with everyone, but he never really seemed there. Or maybe I was the only one who noticed. I know my Mum, at least, felt Harry was completely normal as long as he ate at least two helpings of everything, which he did - sometimes.
One Wednesday was particularly rough at work. I'd been making some careless mistakes here and there, and my boss had taken me into his office for a stern talking-to. I'd spilled an ink bottle all over the report I was working on and, although I was able to clean up most of it, the part that had already been written on was smudged beyond repair – not sure even Hermione could've rescued it - and I had to start over again. And then I was too tired to properly swish or flick or whatever the hell it was I normally did without thinking, to undo the specialised locks on our flat. Finally had to pound on the door and yell for Harry.
I somehow made it through dinner; Harry had thankfully taken over the cooking again once he was physically recovered. (I never was too good at anything fancier than sandwiches, spaghetti or eggs.) But, anyway – after dinner, Harry retreated to his favourite spot on the sofa, and, without really thinking, I plopped down beside him and leaned against him. I just needed a bit of comfort, myself, after the day I'd had. "God, and I thought school was tough," I moaned.
Almost immediately, I felt Harry stiffen a bit beside me. "Yeah," he said, absently. But what I heard was, I wonder how long until I can get him off of me? As clear as if he'd spoken it aloud.
My cheeks got hot. "Look, Harry," I said, sitting up again and turning to look at him, "is it really so much to ask for a little reassurance after a tough day?"
He got that stubborn look in his eyes. "What? I acknowledged your comment."
"'Acknowledged your comment.'" I rolled my eyes. "Gee, thanks so much."
"What more do you want from me?" he demanded. "I know you'd probably rather I just fuck you right here to make everything all better, but I can't give you more right now."
"It's not about sex!" I shot back. "I mean, I like sex with you – love it, even. And yes, I miss it. But it's like you're not even here, or, worse, that you wish you weren't. You used to talk to me – why won't you talk now?"
"I'm just trying to get by, I--"
I cut him off. "It's not just about you, you know. What about me? What about Hermione and my family and anyone else who cares about you? We thought we'd lost you, Harry." My voice cracked. "I thought I'd lost you. Do you know how horrible that moment was for me?"
Harry had the grace to look slightly abashed. "Well, I was unconscious at the time," he said, attempting a small smile.
"You know what I mean."
The smile vanished and he sighed. "Yes, I see what you're getting at."
"Do you? Do you realise I need comfort too, sometimes? Reassurance that it will all be okay? I've tried hard to be there for you – but not too much. I try to listen, but you won't talk. We were best mates before we were, well, whatever we are now. Best mates help each other. I want to help you, like I did before – and I need to know you still love me." I'm not sure if I was about to pop him one, or break down crying. Could've gone either way at that point.
He sighed again. "It's not that easy, Ron. There are things you don't understand...."
Popping him one was looking better. "I've tried, dammit. How about now?"
But he only shook his head. "I ... I can't. I'm not sure I understand it all myself."
"We can try to understand together."
Again with the head shake. Then he ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair. "Look I ... I think I'm just going to go to bed." He turned to me and, to my shock, actually leaned over to kiss me. I was surprised enough that it took me a moment to respond, and by then he was already in the act of pulling away, leaving me torn between wanting to savour the moment, however brief, and disappointment that it was so brief. And then cursing myself for even wanting something so badly, knowing how much Harry was hurting. Except I was hurting too.
Maybe he could finally see how much I was hurting – for him, for myself, for us, the us we'd been, and where we were now. All I know is I didn't have too much time to wallow in disappointment or anything else because, after a moment's pause and a deep breath, he came back for another kiss, deeper this time. I tried not to be too eager about it, but it was damn difficult, after so long.
It wasn't until I felt fingers undoing my buttons that I realised where he was going. "Harry," I whispered, temporarily breaking the kiss, "are you sure you want to do this?"
"No." He was busy pushing my shirt off my shoulders. "But it's important."
"I don't want to do anything you..."
"Shut up," he murmured, kissing me again as he leaned back on the sofa cushions and pulled me on top of him. "It's important," he repeated.
I didn't argue again, but I did let him take the lead this time; normally we did a lot of give and take during sex, but given his reactions to my moves over the past few weeks, I figured it was safer to let him show me exactly what he felt up to. Which turned out to be plenty.
When it was over, I coaxed Harry out of our exhausted tangle so we could have a bit more room in our bed, rather than stay on the cramped narrow sofa. Once settled under the blankets, I placed my hand gently on his hip, wanting him to know I was still here, without making him edgy again. For a long time there was silence; I was about to start nodding off when he finally spoke.
"I'm not sure who I am anymore, Ron."
I turned to look at him, staring blankly at the ceiling. "You're Harry Potter, hero of the day and my... well ... and I love you."
He smiled a little at my last words, then turned serious again. "I always thought that would be enough. To have someone finally love me, I mean. Maybe I just never learned what to do with it."
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
An all-too-familiar shrug. But at least this time he spoke. "No one ever showed me any special attention until I was eleven years old, and even then it was for something I couldn't even remember. Pretty much all the other attention I got after that was always about Voldemort, too – the Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, seeing him come back ... and now this." He turned a little to look at me. "You were the first person to appreciate me for me – and you have no idea what that meant, honestly. But ... I'm not sure I've ever really known how to handle people's genuine feelings about me. I grew up being made to feel constantly unworthy of friendship or love and I thought I was over that but...." He trailed off.
He sighed. "I don't know who I am anymore. Now that Voldemort's gone, what do I do with my life? It's like ... like leprechaun gold – people think it's real and shiny and important, but then it vanishes and they realise they didn't have anything valuable after all. I expect all those people who put me up on a pedestal will soon realise that I'm just the same – nothing special, now that it's all over. And then what? I don't want to play everyone's hero anymore – I just want to live a regular life, but I don't know what that is, what I want." He put a hand atop the one I had on his hip. "Remember how long it took for me to recognise I wanted you, because I felt I had to be 'normal'?"
"This is a hundred times harder, because it's about me – and me alone. And I know you love me, and your family, and Hermione ... but it won't help me figure out who I am now. It'll only show me what you all think of me, or think I should be. Only I can do this, and I don't know how."
"Why didn't you say any of this before? I could've helped you--" I cut myself off when I realised I was only confirming what Harry had just said – that I would probably only push my own ideas of what he should do next, or be, rather than his own. I blew out a breath. "Sorry."
He smiled again. "'S'okay. But you see what I mean." His hand rubbed mine, briefly. "I'm sorry I hurt you by being so distant. But between my own problems, and ... some of the things I saw in Voldemort's mind at the end – did you know Occlumency could be used offensively?"
I shook my head.
"Well, it can, and ... it was ... I saw...."
I squeezed his hand. "Don't talk about it if you don't want to. I can believe it was bloody awful."
He snorted at my inadvertent choice of words, then yawned. "Sorry, I'm just...."
"Tired, yeah," I finished.
Harry's eyes were already starting to close, even as he mumbled a barely audible, "Love you," in my direction. His hand was still grasping mine so I left it there, and let myself drift off into a more restful sleep than I'd had in weeks.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
When I woke, the bed was empty. This wasn't so unusual, as Harry has always been a lighter sleeper than I am, and often was up earlier. This felt different somehow, though, and it only took a moment to realise my hand, which had been curled around Harry's last night, was now curled around a small bit of parchment. And I knew.
I knew he was gone.
I sat up, blinking the sleep from my eyes, and unrolled the parchment. A golden Galleon fell out onto the rumpled blankets.
Gryffindors are supposed to be brave, but I'm taking the coward's way out by leaving while you're asleep. You're still the thing I'll miss most, and I'm not sure I could bear to actually go if you were awake and watching me go. But I have to do this – I have to find out for myself who Harry is, and what his place is now – and maybe, just maybe – how to accept the love I know you and a few other genuine friends want to give me. The rest of the world will have to do without their hero.
You, more than anyone else, got to see the 'real' Harry, inasmuch as there ever was one. Not the shiny but insubstantial 'leprechaun gold' version everyone else imagined they knew. So – keep this Galleon to remember me. If I ever find the real Harry Potter, I'll send him back to you.
I love you,
I held the little coin up to the faint morning light, then clenched it tight in my palm. Maybe Harry wasn't the only one who needed some time to figure himself out. So much of my life had revolved around his; those rare parts that didn't, I seemed to sort of fall into for lack of something better to do. I closed my eyes against the lump I could feel building in my throat. But I didn't want to do this without Harry. I couldn't even begin to imagine doing things without Harry, whether it was discovering myself or going out for a pint.
Maybe it was time I learned.
I took a deep, shuddering breath and forced one leg over the side of the bed, then the other. I showered and dressed before tucking Harry's Galleon into my robes and charming the pocket securely closed so it would stay with me always. My hand curled around that hard, cold reality through the fabric, then reached for my wand. Time to go.
And maybe, by the time Harry came back, I would be just as real as he was.
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