Harry flopped on the couch, totally drained. Ron, who was sitting at his desk, woke suddenly with a piece of paper stuck to his cheek. “Wha-” He started and glowered at the piece of paper. Harry smiled weakly at his friend as Ron tossed the paper aside.
“You got another owl from Neville. Not sure what he wants but-” Ron said in lieu of a greeting as he handed Harry a piece of paper. Harry took the letter and set it down on the end table without opening it, the brief moment of joy gone.
“When I saw him a few months ago, he mentioned something about a teaching position opening up at Hogwarts.”
“Oh?” Ron asked. “Are you thinking about taking it?”
Harry looked around at their messy flat. At least if we’re at Hogwarts, the house elves would be able to pick up after us, he thought to himself and tried to not imagine Hermione’s face if she heard him say that.
“Is there tea?” He asked, ignoring the question. Ron moved some papers aside.
“Let me warm it,” Ron said searching for his wand as he lifted the lid on the porcelain teapot. “Bloody hell! That is disgusting.” He grabbed his wand and stuck it in the pot. “Scourgify!” He said and the teapot shattered. “Fuck!” Ron yelled as he scrambled to save his papers from the moldy tea.
“How long has that been in there?” Harry asked as he jumped to his feet to help clean up.
“Uh, when did you leave?”
“Over a week ago,” Harry said softly as he pulled out his own wand. “You’re not trying to tell me that this has been in here since before I left, are you?” Ron’s ears turned pink. “I thought Luna and Ginny came to check up on you.”
“They did!” Ron insisted. “We just would meet at the Leaky Cauldron…” Harry sighed as he dabbed at some of the papers, glancing at them curiously.
“What is this?” He asked.
“Oh, I’m just helping Ginny transcribe some reports,” Ron said.
“Why is Ginny transcribing these old arse reports?” Harry flicked through some of the papers, all of them seemed very dull.
“It’s for the Library. She and Hermione are working hard to restore it.”
“That’s mighty big of you,” Harry said dropping the papers down by his knees. Ron laughed a little.
“They are paying me good money to help,” he explained as he took the papers from Harry so he could clean the desk. Harry waved his wand and the mess disappeared. Ron set the papers back down. Harry bit his lip and ran his fingers through his messy hair.
“I told you, you don’t have to worry about money,” he said softly and Ron’s ears turned pink again.
“I like working,” Ron lied. Harry didn’t know how to tell him it wasn’t about charity. Ron was family. And they had both been through so much, they deserved a break. Harry tried to ignore the total hypocrisy in the statement. The Ministry needed him.
“Is there any food?” Harry asked, knowing a losing argument when he saw one.
“I think just some bread and cheese,” Ron said pointing towards the kitchen. Harry groaned inwardly. He’d only been gone about ten days, and things in the apartment had deteriorated so quickly. He went in the kitchen, ignored the pile of dishes in the sink, and found the food.
The cheese was so moldy it was growing new cheese, and the bread thunked hollowly on the counter.
“When was the last time you ate?” Harry called as he threw out the bread and cheese. Ron shrugged as he came around the corner.
“Where’s the-” But Harry cut him off with a look.
“That wasn’t food anymore. Hadn’t been for a long time.”
“I’ve been getting a lot of takeaway,” Ron admitted. Harry just sighed, nodding a little. He wondered, not for the first time, if getting a flat in muggle London was the best idea, even though it meant more privacy.
“Well, come on,” Harry said checking his watch. “We still have some time.” He went back to the front room. They gathered their muggle coats and went out the front door. They were in a second story flat above a small used book shop. They walked down the steps pulling their collars closer as the cold wind blasted on their faces. They went to a nearby restaurant where they got some hamburgers. Harry briefly thought about trying to make Ron get a salad, but laughed the thought away a little. They ate in silence, both of them too exhausted to talk. After they ate, Harry insisted they stop at a shop for more tea, bread, butter, bacon, and eggs.
“We can get more later,” he said as they paid for their items. Ron just nodded silently as he picked up the bags. Once home, they put the groceries away and plopped on the couch to watch some muggle TV. Harry stretched out and put his head in Ron’s lap as he put his glasses and wand on the coffee table. Ron didn’t say anything, just gently rubbed Harry’s back. Harry sighed as he felt some of the tightness in his chest dissipate.
He was home. He was safe.
“Dreams bad again?” Ron asked before Harry could drop off to sleep.
“Always,” Harry whispered as he put his hand on Ron’s knee, rubbing his thumb over his leg. Ron squeezed Harry’s shoulder. After a few minutes, Harry fell asleep.
The next thing he knew, he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. He felt crushed and helpless.
“Harry, Harry, wake up!” Ron called. Someone started shaking Harry, and it took him several long, agonizing moments to realize it was just Ron trying to wake him up. Harry opened his eyes and looked blearly around, stomach churning. “You’re alright, Harry. It was just a dream. I’ve got you.” Harry didn’t have time to warn Ron and just puked all over Ron’s bare feet. “Eurgh,” Ron groaned but kept patting Harry’s back. When Harry was done, Ron cleaned them up, and went to get Harry some water.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said shakily as Ron handed him the cup.
“It’s alright,” Ron said. Harry drank some of the water trying to get the taste of vomit out of his mouth. That burger had been really good the first time around, and he was sad it had to be tainted. Ron just ran his fingers through Harry’s hair.
“I’m really sorry,” Harry said as he reached for his glasses.
“Don’t worry,” Ron said. “I’m gonna go get some sleep. Are you going to be ok?” Harry blinked and then nodded, yes. “Let me know if I can do anything.” Ron walked away muttering under his breath about his pants. Harry turned off the TV and went to the kitchen to make some tea. An owl tapped on the window and for one brief moment, he thought Hedwig had come home, but then he saw the owl and remembered. It had been two years since Hedwig had died, three since the battle of Hogwarts. A year after that, Harry and Ron rented the small flat they were in now. Harry had said he wanted the privacy, but really he didn’t want to be reminded of all those he couldn’t help.
Tap, tap, tap! Harry shook his head, opened the window, and the owl hopped on his arm. He was Ginny and Luna’s smallish owl, Dee. Harry patted his head before taking the letter and giving the animal an owl treat. The bird ate, nipped affectionately at Harry, and waited. Harry groaned and opened the letter. One of them clearly wanted an answer right away.
Dear Harry and Ron,
Ginny and I are having a small family dinner tomorrow night at seven. I know it’s really last minute, but Ron hasn’t been answering out letters for the past few days, and you were off doing that thing for the Ministry. Please, please forgive us, and just come? If it wasn’t important, I would put it off, but it can’t wait. Send word back with Dee.
Harry sighed, found a spare quill, and wrote back:
Just got in. We’ll be there. Miss you. -Harry
He tied the note to Dee’s leg, patted her head, and sent her off. He looked at the dishes, rolled his sleeves up, and started the water.
Half an hour later, Harry fixed himself some tea, and went to his bedroom.
He woke up a few hours later still fully dressed, soaked in sweat, mouth dry. He got up, feeling around for his glasses before putting them on. He checked his watch. Three in the morning. Ugh. He went downstairs, made more tea, and plopped on the couch, flipping idly through channels wishing he could just sleep for more than a few hours.
He dozed on and off until Ron came down for breakfast. Harry sat up, glasses crooked on his nose. Getting up, he righted them and followed Ron into the kitchen to help with breakfast.
“Did you get any sleep?” Ron asked, yawning widely.
“I got a few hours,” Harry said as he put the kettle on.
“No offense, Harry, but when was the last time you had a bath?” Harry thought for a moment. “That’s what I thought. Go and have a bath, I’ll bring your food in when it’s ready.” Harry opened his mouth to argue but Ron just yelled, “No, no! Go!”
“Fine,” Harry grumbled. “Oh and we have to go to your sister’s tonight, they have some big news.”
“Ughh!” Ron yelled but Harry ignored him as he walked up the stairs, tugging his shirt off as he walked in the bathroom. He started the water and stripped without bothering to close the door. He couldn’t honestly remember the last time they had closed the door unless they were pooping, and he wondered what the women would think about that. The hot water felt good on his abused skin and muscles, so he just sat for a few minutes before finally dunking his head under the water. When he came back up, Ron was sitting on the closed toilet lid, nibbling on his toast.
“Thanks,” Harry said taking the food. Ron stayed, drinking tea and eating toast off his napkin. When Harry was done, Ron took his plate, got up, and hesitated in the doorway.
“I’m glad you’re home, Harry. I missed you.”
“It’s good to be home. I missed you, too. Very much.” He yawned, rubbed his face, and shook his head. “I think I’m going to have to take a nap.” Ron nodded and left, leaving Harry to finish his bath and get in some clean pjs. He wandered down the hall, and found Ron stretched out on the couch with a blanket. Harry started to sit at the end of the couch opposite Ron, but Ron kicked at him, lifting the blanket up.
“We don’t fit like that,” Harry grumbled but took off his glasses and sunk into Ron’s arms. The couch seemed to have grown. Or maybe I’ve lost more weight, he thought guiltily to himself.
He opened his mouth to ask, but Ron cleared his throat. “Enlarging charm. Like with the cars in Third Year.” He pulled Harry closer, pressing his forehead into the nape of Harry’s neck. Harry took a deep breath and squeezed one of Ron’s arms.
“You doing ok?” Harry asked.
“Missed you,” he mumbled as he kissed Harry’s shoulder blade before drifting off to sleep. Harry took another deep breath and let it out slowly as he tried to figure out how they’d gotten here, and what it could possibly mean. Cuddling wasn’t something that came easily to either of them, but there they lay.
Ron makes casual touching so easy, Harry thought to himself. He wondered what it had been like between him and Hermione, if he’d held her like this. Harry bit his lip wondering, thinking about all the drunken nights that had ended like this, both before and after Ron and Hermione broke up.
Harry let it all go, letting himself relax into the moment, relax into Ron.
He woke up a few hours later, chest tight, but for once the tightness was real.
“No,” Ron moaned. “No, please-” He squeezed Harry tighter. “You can’t- Harry!” He woke with a start before Harry could say anything. “Harry!” Ron said, his voice full of relief.
“Seems like I’m not the only one having nightmares,” Harry said rubbing his thumb across Ron’s wrist. Harry didn’t have to see him to know that his ears had just gone pink. “What time is it?” Ron picked up Harry’s wrist and brought it close to his face despite Harry’s protests.
“It’s a little after one,” Ron said letting Harry’s hand drop. Harry stretched, rolled onto his back, and searched for the remote.
“What do you want to do today?” Harry asked as Ron pulled Harry’s arm around his shoulder and settled on Harry’s chest. He thought for a moment.
“Not a damn thing,” he said stealing the remote. They dozed on and off, getting up only to pee and make toast. At around 5:30, Ron got up to shower. They were both ready at 6:15. They flopped back on the couch to watch more TV. Harry thought Ron was an amazing wizard. He had accepted TV so easily. The one time Mr. Weasley had come to the flat, he’d turned the TV on and sat mesmerized for about 30 seconds, and then began asking Harry questions he probably wouldn’t have been able to answer even if they weren’t coming at him in rapid fire.
At 6:50, Harry turned the TV off.
“Time to go,” he said and Ron nodded. They got up and disapparated with two loud pops and appeared moments later in front of Ginny and Luna’s. Ron bumped into Harry as he leaned in to ring the bell. They heard Ginny yell something from the kitchen and then Luna opened the door, smiling widely.
“Harry! Ron! So good to see you both!” She said pulling them both close, wrapping her arms around their necks, kissing them both on their cheeks in turn. “Come in, come in!” She moved out of the way, ushering them in. They followed and Ginny called out a greeting from the kitchen.
“Hey, Gin,” Ron said leaving Harry and Luna alone. Harry cocked his head at Luna.
“Everything alright?” He asked, and Luna smiled widely.
“Yes, everything is so wonderful.” She led him into the kitchen where Ginny stood cooking dinner. Hermione sat at the table, reading. She closed her book after a moment and got up to greet them.
“Neville and George will be here soon,” Hermione said as she hugged Harry. “Then they will tell us whatever news they have.” Ron hugged Hermione stiffly. They’d broken up nearly two years before, and still there were sore feelings. Ron had ended things so abruptly, and Hermione couldn’t figure out why. Even Harry didn’t know, but he would never let that on.
“Can I help you with anything?” Harry asked.
“No, go ahead and just sit,” Luna said as she slid her arm around her girlfriend’s waste. Harry went and sat with Hermione while Ron stood with his sister.
“How have you been?” Harry asked Hermione as she opened her book.
“Good. The library is coming along well,” she said and Harry nodded a little. “You?”
Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Honestly?” Hermione looked up and nodded. Harry took another deep breath. “Tired. I’m so tired of the Ministry, honestly I don’t even know why I still work for them,” Harry said rubbing his eyes, shoving his glasses up his face.
“Why don’t you come join us at Hogwarts?” Hermione asked and Harry looked at her, glasses still on his forehead so she was just a blur. “After everything they’ve done to you, after everything you’ve been through, you deserve to do something you actually like.”
“What would I do there? I don’t want to work in the library.”
“Minerva is looking for a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,” Hermione said without looking at him. “You did so good with the DA.” Harry opened his mouth to say something, closed it, and opened it again.
“I can’t do that,” he said finally.
Hermione looked up from her book, closing it on her finger so she wouldn’t lose her place. “And why not?”
“Because-” He looked over at Ron. Hermione followed his gaze and huffed.
“You know the only thing he has going on for him right now is you and helping restore the library. He would be able to do so much more transcribing those old texts if you both were at Hogwarts,” she said and Harry sighed.
“It’s not just Ron. I can’t- I can’t stand how everyone thinks I’m a hero, and I did this great thing,” he explained.
“But you are a hero, and you did do a great thing,” Hermione countered.
“But- but it was all an accident, it was all luck! I-” Harry started but stopped as the doorbell rang.
“It’s ok, Harry,” Hermione said. “We’ll talk more later.” She patted his hand and got up to go greet Neville and George. Harry took a deep breath, rubbed his eyes again, and then got up, putting on his best smile.
“Hey,” Neville said kissing the women hello and slapping Ron and Harry’s shoulders. He had an armful of sunflowers which Luna took as she summoned a vase and filled it with water before putting the flowers in it. George came in behind Neville, quieter, but seemed happy enough to see his family. He hugged and kissed everyone before joining Hermione at the kitchen table where he sat in silence.
“Thank you so much, they are lovely,” Luna said and Neville smiled at her.
“They were George’s idea,” Neville said and Luna beamed at George, who just smiled tiredly and waved his hand at them.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“Food’s almost ready,” Ginny said. “Mind helping set the table?” She asked handing Harry a stack of plates topped with cutlery and napkins.
“Not at all,” he said taking the dishes back to the table. Hermione put her book on a side counter and helped him in silence.
“Things at Hogwarts are great,” Neville said to Ron. “We’re still having trouble finding a Defense teacher, but we’ve been having a lot of guest lecturers.” Harry kept his eyes down, refusing to look up even when Hermione pointedly stepped on his toe.
“Well if there is anything we can do, let us know,” Ginny said. Harry shook his head when he looked up to find her staring at him. Since they’d dated, he’d never been able to hide anything from her, and he could read her thoughts even now. He shook his head, no, and went to get some butterbeer. Everyone settled quickly and then turned towards Luna and Ginny expectantly. Ginny looked at Luna and giggled a little nervously.
“Do you want to tell them, or should I?” Luna asked. Ginny laughed a little, shrugging.
“Well, someone say it!” Ron groused. The food is getting cold.”
“Oh, Ronald!” Hermione sighed. “Does your stomach really need to ruin everything?” Ron made a face at her but Ginny and Luna didn’t seem to mind his comment.
“Let’s tell them together, shall we?” Luna asked and took Ginny’s hand in her own.
“Ok,” Ginny said. “On the count of three?” Luna nodded.
“One, two, three,” they said in unison. “We’re getting married!” Hermione yelled in excitement and knocked her bench backwards. Harry beamed at Ron, Neville, and George who all smiled widely back. Ron and George got up next followed quickly by Harry, then Neville. When they were finally settled again, Hermione turned towards the two other women.
“So! Tell us!” Hermione said as she began dishing casserole onto everyone’s plates. “How-”
“You have told mum and dad, haven’t you?” Ron interrupted and Harry suddenly imagined Mrs. Weasley telling them all off because she hadn’t shared this moment with her family.
“They know because they were there,” Luna said lightly.
“If you returned any of my owls, you would have been there too,” Ginny grumbled and Luna squeezed her hand.
“I thought the proposal was quite wonderful. I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” Luna said and kissed Ginny’s cheek.
“Ew!”Ron teased as he winked at Harry. Hermione smacked him sharply on the back of his head with her book.
“Oi!” He yelled in shock.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you, Ronald,” Hermione chided. “Besides, we are in their home. And if I remember correctly-”
“Oh, shove off, Hermione,” George said. “He was only kidding.”
“You would take his side,” Hermione said darkly as she set the book back on the counter.
“He was just playing around,” Neville agreed and Hermione turned to yell at him.
“Hey! I’m the bride!” Ginny yelled and they all turned to look at her. “Bloody hell, can’t you two get along for just. Five. Minutes?” Ginny asked. “Seriously, Harry, have they always been like this.
“Always,” Harry said. Hermione and Ron both opened their mouths to defend themeselves, but stopped when they saw the look on Harry’s face.
“How on Earth did you survive?” Ginny asked.
“You learn to tune them out after a while,” Neville said and George snorted into his butterbeer. Ron’s ears turned pink and Hermione roughly shoved Neville’s food at him. Silence fell over the group as they began to eat.
After a few minutes, Hermione cleared her throat and looked at the newly engaged couple. “So, are you going to tell us what happened?” Luna swallowed, nodding.
“It was so cute,” she said smiling at Ginny who still had a mouthful of food. “She planned for weeks to ask me in Diagon Alley right in front of Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour where we’d first met with all her friends and family. Unfortunately, only Molly, Arthur, my father, and Percy made it.” Ron and George exchanged guilty looks, but said nothing. Harry was surprised neither of them had received howlers.
“As soon as I knelt down, she just starts laughing like the loon she is, and I just thought to myself, ‘Ginny, you’ve committed to this. Even if she breaks your heart, your mum is here.’ And then she pulls a ring out of her bag!” Ginny laughed loudly.
“And then we just started screaming at each other, and Percy kept asking if we were fighting or celebrating,” Luna said.
“And then Luna jumped into my arms and we kissed for what later turned out to be an uncomfortable amount of time, but-” Ginny said, laughing still.
“We’re engaged!” Luna and everyone congratulated them again.
Ginny pulled out the firewhiskey. “Anyone up for some celebratory drinks?”
She poured them all rather large glasses, and Harry downed his in one go before anyone could make a toast. Everyone, except Ron who knew exactly how much Harry could drink, stared at him until George held up his own glass and tipped it towards Harry.
“Bottoms up,” he said and slammed down his own drink. Ron nodded towards Harry and gulped his down, wincing a little.
After they finished eating, Luna and Ginny just piled the dishes into the sink and pulled everyone into the living room where they kept drinking and talking.
“The library is coming together quite nicely,” Hermione told George loudly around one. “Madam Pince was convinced we wouldn’t be able to save as much as we have, and there is still so much to do.”
“You lot are doing a great job,” Neville put in, saving his boyfriend from having to respond. “It almost looks right again. How many books do you reckon you’ve managed to save even when everyone said it couldn’t be done?”
“Oh, loads and loads,” Hermione said as George escaped and walked over to Harry who was sitting slightly apart from the other group. The others were talking about all of the cringey ideas Mrs. Weasley had already had for the wedding, and ways to get out of them.
“How have you been doing, Harry?” George asked and Harry took another swallow of his drink.
“No, I’m fine, everything is great, nothing wrong here,” Harry said and George patted his shoulder.
“Yeah, me too,” George said, nodding. “I wondered why mum was sending owls every day, but I just didn’t have the energy. It is hard enough at the shop…” Harry bit his lip. He could only imagine what George went to every time he went to work.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said finally, and George cocked his head. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.”
“Save him?” George asked angrily. Harry looked at his hands. “You did everything you could, you prat! It’s not your fault! It’s Voldemort! It’s Bellatrix! You- you did everything you could.”
“Yeah, but I don’t understand why I’m still alive.”
George studied him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was for real. Harry wondered if he was going to cry and just finished off his drink. “Harry, you- you deserve to be alive. If- if anyone deserves a second chance, Harry-” Harry grabbed the whiskey bottle from him and poured it messily into his glass. “Harry, I don’t have the words. I am sad that Fred is dead, I’m not angry that he is dead and you’re not. You’re family, Harry. We need you. We wouldn’t be better if you weren’t alive.” Harry took another large swallow of the whiskey. “Harry, damnit, put the cup down!” He knocked the cup out of Harry’s hand, and the others turned to look at them. George smiled, waved, and they went back to their conversations, but Ron and Neville watched them out of the corner of their eyes. “We need you, Harry. And you deserve a chance to be happy.”
“No, Harry! This is not up for debate!” George got up and went back to Hermione and Neville. Harry took another sip of the whiskey straight from the bottle, not even giving a damn anymore. Ron came over a few minutes later.
“You doing ok, Harry?” Ron asked sitting on the arm of the chair next to his best friend. Harry shrugged, went to take another drink from the bottle, but Ron took it from him. Harry sighed and rested his head against Ron’s side.
“No, no I’m not. And I haven’t been for a long time,” he said taking another sip. Ron squeezed his shoulder gently.
“I know, Harry. Me neither,” Ron said.
“Are we ever going to be ok?” Harry asked and Ron sighed.
“I hope so, I really hope so, Harry,” he said and kissed the top of Harry’s head. “I think we’d better get home.” Harry nodded and let Ron lift him up. He leaned heavily on his friend as they went over to Ginny and Luna.
“Sorry to cut the festivities short, but Harry hit the bottle a little too hard, if you know what I mean,” Ron said.
“No thanks to you,” Ginny said glaring at George who just shrugged.
“‘M fine,” Harry mumbled, waving the bottle. “Life of the party.” George took the bottle.
“It’s quite alright,” Luna said getting up to hug him. Once everyone got a chance to hug Harry and Ron, they vanished with a loud pop.
When they got back to their flat, Harry flopped on the couch draping himself in a thick blanket.
“Come on,” Ron said. “You’ll feel better in your own room.” Harry groaned. There was so much stuff on his bed, there was no way he’d be comfortable.
“I’m fine here,” Harry slurred and Ron just scoffed.
“Come on,” Ron said kneeling next to Harry. He picked up Harry’s foot and began to untie his laces.
“Will you sleep with me?” Harry murmured and Ron froze.
“Tonight. Will you sleep with me?”
Ron cleared his throat, and shook his head a little.
“I don’t want to be alone.”
Ron let out a small breath. “Sure, Harry. Come on though, let’s get you undressed.” Harry giggled a little but let Ron take off his shoes anyway. “Yours or mine?” Ron asked as he stood up and held a hand out to help Harry up.
“Your bed is bigger,” Harry muttered as Ron helped pull him up. Ron pulled Harry close, draping Harry’s arm over his shoulder, as Ron held him tight, fingers crushing into his ribcage.
They went up the stairs slowly but surely, and Ron leaned Harry up against the door frame. “Wait here,” he said as he turned on his light and began clearing some space on his bed for Harry. Honestly, Ron’s room wasn’t as messy as he’d remembered it being, and it certainly wasn’t half as messy as the rest of the apartment, that they really should clean at some point. Harry leaned his head against the doorframe, eyes closed trying to make the room stop spinning. Ron came over and took Harry’s arm after a moment. Harry didn’t open his eyes, just let Ron lead him over to the bed. Before gently pushing Harry onto the bed, Ron took his glasses and put them on the bedside table. Ron tugged him out of his pants before leaving him be, and Harry curled up on his side and passed out before Ron could even get his pants off.
At first, Harry’s dreams seemed normal enough. He was back at Hogwarts, nothing was wrong, and everyone seemed happy enough.
But then he heard the voice.
Harry knew that voice well enough, but there was no way it could be real. After all, Harry had killed the basilisk in Second Year.
But what if there was a next no one knew about? An evil voice hissed. What if one baby survived? Harry shuddered as he went to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, wishing there was some other way. She whooshed happily out of her toilet when she realized he was there.
She might have said something, but he ignored her as he stared at the sink. I have to do it, he thought and wished Ron was there with him. He opened the passageway, only half aware that he was hissing and not speaking English.
The dark, gaping hole was so much scarier than he remembered.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped in and made his way deep below the school. He got to the empty Chamber of Secrets quickly.
Then he heard the whispers.
He wasn’t alone.
As he walked towards the head of the Chamber, he saw Voldemort, old and powerful. The world lost color for a moment and then Harry took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
“Harry. So glad you could join us,” Voldemort hissed.
“Us?” Harry asked and then he saw the bodies. All the Weasleys, Hermione, Neville, and Hagrid. “No,” Harry breathed. “No, it can’t-”
“He is too powerful, Harry,” Ron said. Harry turned and immediately tears filled his eyes. Ron was see through and milky white. Ron was a ghost. Ron was dead. “Come join us, Harry. Your family misses you; we need you,” Ron said holding out his hand.
Harry swallowed roughly, shaking his head, no. “This can’t- you- you’re not-” He couldn’t breathe, something was caught in his throat.
“It’s alright, Harry. I’m right here,” Ron said but Harry shook his head, no, backing away.
Harry fell off the bed with a loud thud. Opening his eyes slowly, he blinked at the blurry room, heart beating fast in his chest.
“Ron?” Harry called in a soft voice and Ron flopped his hand over the side of the bed. Harry started to reach up, but stopped. It was too much effort.
“I’m here,” he said. “You were having a bad dream.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. He sat up and Ron ran his fingers through Harry’s hair. Closing his eyes, Harry leaned into the touch.
“Want some tea?” Ron asked. After taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Harry opened his eyes and slowly got up, stretching.
“No,” he said eventually and crawled back in the bed next to Ron. “Could you just-” Harry stopped and Ron squeezed his shoulder. “I just need to be held.”
Squeezing his shoulder a little tighter, Ron pulled Harry close, crushing Harry tightly. Just when it started to get a little too tight, Ron relaxed, but held him close, nuzzling his face into Harry’s neck. “Do you want to talk about the dreams?” Ron asked as he played with the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck. Harry shivered a little. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s ok,” Harry said twisting his fingers into the back of Ron’s shirt. “The dream was the same as all of the others. Voldemort isn’t dead, but all of you are. Everyone he wasn’t able to take. This time your ghost tried to tell me to give up, to join my family.” Ron squeezed the back of Harry’s neck and cleared his throat.
“I would never do that, Harry,” Ron whispered. Harry nodded.
“I know.” Neither of them said anything, just lay there in the dark, staring at nothing until sleep finally took them over again.
Harry woke up with the sun and went down to their small kitchen to make some tea and read the paper on the couch with the TV turned on low. Silence made his skin crawl. Ron stumbled down a few hours later, and shoved his head into Harry’s lap.
“For all your hatred of Crookshanks, you are very cat like,” Harry said.
“Shut up,” Ron said and turned the TV up before changing the channel. They spent most of the day like that, just enjoying a workless day with no emergencies.
Neither of them could remember the last time they’d had a day this good. That night, when Ron pulled out the firewhiskey, Harry almost said no, but he shrugged those thoughts away and held up their now empty teacups. Ron poured them both generous portions and they just sat close to each other, thighs bumping together every so often as they watched shitty TV.
“How long has it been since you kissed someone?” Ron asked making Harry jump.
“You mean romantically?” Harry asked. Ron nodded, his leg bumping up against Harry’s again. “The day Ginny and I broke up.”
“There hasn’t been anyone since?” Ron asked and Harry shook his head, no.
“What about you?” Harry asked as he took another sip of the firewhiskey. Heart thumping in his chest, he wondered where the hell Ron was going with this.
“It’s been a while,” Ron said carefully avoiding looking at Harry.
“Why?” Harry asked after several long moments. Ron shrugged taking another sip of his whiskey. They fell silent again, and just as Harry was starting to get back into the movie, Ron cleared his throat and their legs bumped close again.
“Hey, Harry?” Ron whispered.
“Have you ever kissed a guy?” Ron asked, and Harry glanced at him, his heart skipping a beat.
“Uh, no,” Harry said, adjusting his glasses and finishing his whiskey. He poured himself a new glass, and topped up Ron’s cup. “Have you?”
“Yes,” Ron said wiping his palms on his jeans.
This is a dream, Harry thought to himself. A dream I thought I was over.
“What was it like?” Harry asked and Ron smiled a little, looking down at his knees and then back up at his friend.
“It was nice.”
“Like kissing a girl?”
“Better,” Ron said. Harry bit his lip.
“So you’re going to do it again,” Harry said and then cringed. What am I even saying?
“I hope so,” Ron said looking up at Harry with a hunger Harry wasn’t sure anyone had ever directed at him.
“Oh.” Harry bit the inside of his lip. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it. That he hadn’t wondered from time to time what it would be like to kiss Ron when they were pressed together so tightly in bed or on the couch. Nothing felt like home quite like when he curled up next to Ron on the couch, in a bed, on the train. Ron was home. Ron is home.
Ron licked his lips, staring at his knees. Harry watched him for a long moment. Canned laughter poured from the TV.
“I’ve been lying for a long time. Years even. Even before Hermione and I broke up,” Ron said. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “After I came back during the hunt, something shifted. She was a lot more cautious, not as open. We tried to make it work, but we didn’t talk for almost two weeks when we were living together, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Why didn’t you tell her any of this?” Harry asked.
“You know me,” Ron said. “I have the emotional range of a teaspoon.” Harry smiled a little, shaking his head and purposefully pushing his leg against Ron’s. “I wish things could have been different, between me and Hermione, between me and you. It took me too long to realize that while I very much did love and care for Hermione, I had the same feelings for you. I had a dream about you, the night before I left Hermione. We were back at school, in the Common Room doing homework, just me and you. I woke up missing you so much I could hardly breathe. I tried to tell myself it was normal, that all friends felt like this at some point, but I never could catch my breath. That night I packed a bag and left. Hermione asked me where I was going and when I would be back. All I said was I wouldn’t. It had been so long since she’d talked to me, I’d almost forgotten what her voice sounded like. She begged me not to go, but I had to. I couldn’t do it anymore.” Ron swallowed hard. “Eventually she just apologized and kissed me gently on the cheek.”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Harry put his hand on Ron’s back and gently rubbed it, heart thumping so loudly in his chest.
Ron sat up and pulled away a little to look at Harry. “Harry-”
“You are my home, Ron,” Harry interrupted. It doesn’t matter where we are so long as you are with me.” Ron put his face in his hands, shaking a little. “Ron. Ron, I love you, so much.” Ron let out a sob, and Harry pulled him close, wrapping his fists into the back of Ron’s shirt. “You’re my best friend, and I couldn’t imagine my life without you.” Harry kissed the top of Ron’s head. “Ron, look at me.” Ron looked up and Harry took Ron’s face so gently in his hands, and kissed him. Ron whimpered and put his hands over Harry’s rubbing his thumbs along the back of Harry’s hands. Ron leaned forward and kissed Harry deeply.
It was like coming home.
Ron pulled back after several long moments and looked at Harry.
“You really want this. You really want me,” Ron breathed.
“Yes,” Harry said. He took Ron’s hand and put it between his legs. “I want this. I think I’ve wanted this for a lot longer than I’ve been able to admit even to myself.” Ron kissed Harry again, pushing him down. They kept kissing as they shifted so Harry was laying flat on the couch, Ron on top of him. After taking off Harry’s glasses, he put them on the coffee table, and looked down at the other man.
“I love you so much,” Ron said. He tugged off his shirt, and Harry tugged out of his own.
“I know,” Harry murmured. “I love you, too.” Ron draped himself back on top of Harry, kissing him as Harry reached up and dragged his fingernails across Ron’s back. Ron moaned into their kiss, so Harry did it again, and Ron ground his hips into Harry’s.
He started peppering kisses across Harry’s cheek, down his chin, his neck, and scraped his teeth across Harry’s pec. Harry grunted and clutched at the back of Ron’s neck. Ron looked up at him smiling so widely it nearly broke Harry’s heart. He couldn’t remember the last time Ron looked so happy.
“This isn’t going to be some sort of whiskey fever dream, is it?” Harry asked.
“I hope not,” Ron whispered back as he kissed Harry’s chest. Harry sighed and gave into the moment, the soft kisses, the nips and nibbles; the feel of Ron’s hand around his cock. And then his mouth.
The next morning Harry woke up naked on the couch, Ron next to him wearing nothing but his underwear and draped in a large blanket, eating toast. Harry sighed, rubbing his face as he rolled over, remembering the night before. He looked down at the dark hickeys on his chest, on Ron’s shoulder, and smiled. Ron glanced at him when Harry started to sit up.
“Hey, babe,” Ron said thought a mouthful of toast. “Hungry?” He held his plate.
“Thank you,” Harry said munching on it as he pulled part of Ron’s blanket around his shoulders. Ron got up a few minutes later and made them tea.
After setting the tray down and taking a sip of his own tea, Ron crawled into Harry’s space, pushing him back so they were both lying down and covered by the blanket so they could watch TV.
“You’ve trapped my toast,” Harry said and Ron snorted.
“Sounds like a you problem,” he said and took Harry’s toast, freed Harry’s arm, and shoved the bread back into Harry’s face.
“Ron-” Harry started and bit down, gagging a little. “Ron, you’re getting butter all over my face,” Harry complained around his mouthful, laughing.
“Yum, butter,” Ron said licking Harry’s chin and they both laughed.
“Sorry,” Ron said smiling widely as he handed over the toast. He leaned over, grabbed his wand, and summoned another blanket. He tugged the first blanket around and under Harry before pulling his own around his shoulders and settling on Harry’s stomach. “Just try to not get crumbs in my hair,” Ron said has he summoned the toast and handed the plate to Harry.
Harry set the plate on Ron’s back and kept eating the toast as he stroked Ron’s hair with his free hand.
A piece of half eaten toast nearly fell from his hand when he jerked awake because of a sharp rapping on the window broke the quietness of the morning. Harry could tell it was a Ministry owl without even getting up.
“It’s work,” Harry said quietly, just barely missing the plate as Ron got up sleepily, spilling toast and crumbs everywhere.
“Fuck,” Ron muttered as Harry got up and went to the window leaving Ron to pick up the mess. Harry took the letter, offered the owl some water, which it drank gratefully before flying off again.
“I don’t want you to go,” Ron said putting the dishes in the sink.
“We don’t even know how bad it will be,” Harry said trying to ignore the look on Ron’s face.
“It’s going to be bad,” Ron said jumping up on the counter and pulling Harry close, draping himself over his back, sighing. “Where are you going now?”
Harry stiffened. “They want me to go to South America. For a year,” Harry said and Ron just put his forehead on the back of Harry’s neck, sighing.
“Two weeks.” He dropped the letter on the counter, shaking his head and laughing. “They just want to take everything. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said as he turned and buried his face in Ron’s chest.
“Then don’t,” Ron said simply, rubbing Harry’s back. Harry sighed. “You don’t need to work.” Harry half laughed again.
“I have to do something,” Harry said.
“You don’t though. You have done enough. You have enough money, you have nothing to worry about.” Harry pulled back.
“I don’t work for the money,” Harry said. “I want to make a difference in the world.” Ron looked at Harry like he’d sprouted horns before pulling him close and kissed Harry’s forehead.
“You still think you haven’t given enough?” Ron rubbed his eyes roughly, taking a deep breath. “You have given everything, friends, family, your childhood, your education to defeat the evilest wizard of an age. You have given enough,” he said pulling Harry tight against him, and Harry clung back just as hard.
“I can’t do nothing, Ron. I just can’t.”
“Then teach! Or write a book about it! Or do anything, literally anything but work for the Ministry,” Ron said.
“Ron,” Harry tried but Ron just kissed him roughly before pushing him back and hopping off the counter.
“Figure it out,” Ron called over his shoulder as he walked away. Harry pulled his blanket closer around him as he looked down at the letter.
“Fuck,” he muttered and went to find his clothes.
A few hours later, Harry apparated outside the Shrieking Shack. Hogsmeade in the pissing rain. Couldn’t get much better than this. He looked up at the old house that had once played prison and playhouse to his father and his father’s friends. He looked around, sighing. The village was quiet and it felt weird until he remembered it wasn’t a Hogsmeade weekend. He walked over to the Three Broomsticks, ordered two butterbeers, and sat at a table trying not to think of how many people had died here.
Because of me, a nagging voice said.
The door opened and Neville came in shaking out his cloak. “Can you believe this rain?” Neville asked the new barkeep as he walked over to Harry. “Hello, Harry. How are you doing this afternoon?”
“Hey, Neville,” Harry said handing him his drink. They clinked bottles and took large swigs. “Thanks for meeting me on such short notice.”
“Any time for you, Harry,” Neville said. Harry smiled a little desperately. “Are you alright?” Harry sighed, rubbed his eye with his thumb, and took another sip of his butterbeer.
“I was wondering about that teaching position,” Harry said. “I wondered if we could do some sort of trial run?”
Neville blinked. “Are you serious?” He asked, and Harry nodded. “Did something happen with the Ministry?” Harry shook his head, no.
“I’m just tired of always being on the road, of being away from my family, from Ron,” Harry admitted. Neville took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I mean, we’ve been cycling through substitutes, so I’m sure Minerva would agree. Do you want me to set up a meeting?” Neville asked.
Harry stared at his bottle, frowning.
“Do you want to tell me why you’re so hesitant?” Neville asked. “Is this something you really want to do, or something you think you should do?”
Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I can see them,” he whispered. Neville didn’t have to ask who.
“I see them, too,” Neville admitted and Harry looked up sharply.
“How can you stand it?” Harry asked.
“Because they died for a chance at peace, for a better future for themselves, those they loved, and strangers they knew they would never meet,” Neville explained. “Because they want me to live.” Harry studied his friend for a moment, unsure of what to say. “George told me about the other night, about your feeling guilty.” Neville rubbed his face with both his hands. “Harry, take your time. I know I’ve pushed, but really. Take your time.” Harry emptied his butterbeer, and Neville followed suit. “I’m sorry to cut this short, but they really do need me back at the castle. Do you want to come see the repairs?” Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Maybe next time,” Harry said. Neville didn’t get up, just kept studying Harry.
“Are you going to be alright?” Neville asked eventually, and Harry shrugged. Shaking his head, Neville got up and took a step towards the door. “Take some time for yourself. You deserve a break,” Neville said squeezing Harry’s shoulder as he walked past. Harry nodded and licked his lips.
“See ya, Neville,” Harry said.
“Bye,” Neville called. Harry let his head drop to the table before getting up and leaving too.
When Harry got home that afternoon, Ron was working so Harry left him alone and sat down on the couch to try and figure out what the hell he was supposed to do.
Well, he knew what he had to do, he just didn’t want to do it.
He got up and went to Ron’s desk.
“Yeah?” He said without looking up, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips.
“Do you have a spare quill and some parchment?” Ron pointed to the edge of his desk.
“Help yourself,” he said. Harry walked up behind him and hesitated, wanting to touch him, but not sure if he wanted to be touched. Ron pulled Harry down into an awkward hug.
“I’m not sorry about what I said this morning,” Ron said. “But I am sorry about how I said it.”
Harry shook his head, no. “Everyone has been telling me the same damn thing for months. I think I’m ready to listen.” Ron looked back up at him.
“You’re not going to take the job?” Ron asked, sounding hopeful.
“No,” Harry said and Ron grinned, pulling Harry into his lap, kissing his neck. “I don’t think either of us would have survived even before last night.” Harry’s fingers trailed across a dark hickey on Ron’s neck, and Ron blushed, shivering a little.
“I’m glad you’re not going,” Ron said. “You deserve a fucking break.” Harry kissed Ron before getting up.
“I’ve got to write them back,” Harry said and Ron nodded.
“Let me know if you need help telling the Ministry to suck it,” Ron called after him, and Harry laughed.
“Will do,” he said and went back to the couch.
He stared at the paper for a long time before picking up his quill. Two hours later, and after several false starts, Harry leaned back, the letter finally finished.
Got your owl yesterday. It shouldn’t shock me that the Ministry expect me to drop everything in my life to do what is needed. It has been hard enough on my family for me to be gone months at a time, but now. But now you want me to leave for a year. I am not sorry to say that I find that absolutely unacceptable.
I am sure you will want me to come in to discuss this, to try and tell me I have to, or it’s my duty to the Ministry, but honestly, I feel, and my friends agree, I have given enough.
Consider this my notice. I am more than happy to continue helping during the transition, but it’s time for me to move to other projects.
Thank you, Harry.
He folded up the letter and went to find out what Ron was up to and laughed when he found the other man doodling on a piece of paper.
“Break time?” Harry asked and Ron jerked, his quill skidding across the parchment.
“Harry! You scared me!” Ron clutched at his chest, and they both laughed.
“Do you think you can break from your very important work to go to Diagon Alley with me so I can mail this off and get some food? I really want some pumpkin juice,” Harry said.
“Why not use Pig, and we’ll order takeaway?” Ron suggested.
“Pump-kin juice!” Harry said and Ron groaned.
“Fine,” he said. “Let me take a quick shower.” Ron threw down his quill and got up. He kissed Harry on his way past to the bathroom.
Harry sat on the couch and flicked on the TV while he waited. He got up after a moment and went to find more parchment.
One one paper he wrote:
Thanks for talking to me the other night. You’re right. It is absolutely time for a change. Can I come visit you sometime soon? Something came up that you should hear from me first, but it’s… too complicated to tell you in a letter.
With love, Harry
On the other:
Dear Neville and George,
You both were right. Taking sometime off. Thank you both.
He folded the letters as Ron bounced down the stairs with damp hair and a large smile plastered across his face.
“You ready?” He asked summoning their cloaks.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Harry said. They tugged their cloaks on and apparated.
Everyone swarmed them when they got to the Leaky Cauldron, and Harry regretted not bringing his invisibility cloak, even though all they wanted to do was thank the boy who lived. Twice. Eventually the crowd dispersed, they ordered some dinner, and Harry got his damn pumpkin juice.
After dinner they walked out into the alley. Sighing, Harry leaned over and took Ron’s hand as they walked to the Post Office.
“Do you want to get some ice cream while we’re here?” Ron asked once the letters had been sent.
“Sure,” Harry said. As they turned down the alley, Ron suddenly pulled away. Harry turned to see where he was looking and saw George and Neville talking animatedly, but not looking at them. “Oh,” Harry said softly. He started walking towards the ice cream shop quickly, leaving Ron behind.
“Harry,” Ron said catching up. “Hey, wait.” He grabbed Harry’s shoulder, but Harry tugged away.
“I get it. You want us to be on the down low,” Harry spat under his breath and Ron groaned.
“You are such a freaking drama queen,” Ron growled. “This is so new, I don’t want to jinx it. But if you want to go back and tell them I’m your- your-” Harry stared at him. “See, even you don’t know what we are!” Ron yelled crossing his arms over his chest. Harry pulled him close even though Ron didn’t relax at all.
“Partners,” Harry said. “We’re partners. We have been for a long time, we just didn’t know it.” Ron took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Also, I don’t know how we’re going to tell Hermione,” Ron said.
“I’m going to,” Harry announced. “Without you. I think it will be easier.”
“Oh,” Ron said.
“One of those letters I sent off was to her, telling her about my break with the Ministry and that we should talk.” Ron groaned.
“You couldn’t wait twenty-four hours?” He asked and Harry smiled softly.
“Wait for what? To tell the world that I’m in love with my best friend? Pretty sure they already knew that,” Harry said and stood up to kiss the tip of Ron’s nose. Ron laughed and ruffled Harry’s hair.
“Come on, you weirdo,” Ron said dragging him away. “Let’s go get some ice cream.” He took Harry’s hand again.
“Are you sure?” Harry asked. Ron nodded.
“You’re my whole world, Harry,” Ron said. “Today, tomorrow, I don’t care when people find out. All I care about is that you’re by my side to share my life with, to share your life with.” He kissed Harry’s forehead.
“Get a room!” George yelled. Ron jumped and turned pink. “What are you two doing here anyway?”
“Uh,” Harry said as he suddenly realized there was a very dark hickey just under Ron’s chin.
“We’re on a date, thanks for crashing it,” Ron said and Neville snorted.
“That’ll be ten Galleons, Weasley,” Neville said. Ron opened his mouth to say something, but George just put his hand in his pocket and produced some money.
“You know your money is my money, and that’s our grocery money, so this is really a moot point,” George said. Neville just rolled his eyes.
“Where you lot off to?” He asked.
“Fortescue’s,” Ron said.
“Well, let’s get going. I suddenly have a little extra money-” Neville started as George threw an arm around his boyfriend’s neck.
“Oi! What did I just say about that money?” He asked as Neville just laughed under him.
Harry smirked up at Ron, took his hand, and they walked to the ice cream shop. He knew that Hermione would not take the news half as well, but he also knew that she would eventually come to terms with it. At least now she would have some sort of closure. He couldn’t imagine the other Weasleys would have a much different reaction than George. He already was one of the family after all.