Title: The Morning After
Rating: Mild. PG13-ish? Pure fluff, really.
Challenge: At Hogwarts, No. 13. The Gryffindor boys have a circle jerk every now and then; Fifth year Harry and Ron get a little caught up in the moment. (No penetration.) How awkward are things the next morning? Both have girlfriends, and the other boys know something has happened.
Summary: The challenge pretty much says it all, though the circle jerk is only a mention in passing - I just couldn't see it happening, what with all the 5th Year going ons...
Notes: Thanks to cantabulous for volunteering to give this a last minute beta for me. Anything that's still wrong with it is down to me. Constructive criticism and typo-spotting welcome.
Disclaimer - I own nothing.
Written for Wave Three hprwfqf
Ron cautiously pried open an eyelid, then quickly closed it again. His head was pounding, and his mouth felt as though someone had sneaked in during the night and stuffed it full of sweaty socks.
"God, my head."
Ron's eyes flew open and his head jerked back in shock. He grimaced as both his stomach and head objected violently to the sudden movement.
"Harry? What..." he croaked as he peered at the mop of black hair inches from his face. He swallowed hard and tried again. "What are you doing in my bed?"
Harry slowly rolled onto his back, and winced as he opened his eyes.
"Please don't shout. My head is killing me and I think I'm going to throw up," he whispered. "Hangover remedy. 's on cabinet."
Ron gingerly propped himself up on one elbow, pulled the bed curtain aside and stared at where his bedside cabinet should have been. "Someone's pinched my cabinet," he said, staring at the empty space. He turned back to Harry and saw that he was reaching through the curtains on his side of the bed. And that's when it dawned on him; this wasn't his bed. It was Harry's. And there was something about why he was in bed with Harry that was niggling away at him, something that made him feel very uneasy, but another wave of nausea hit and he stopped trying to tease out the memory. He had more important things to worry about right now. Like trying not to vomit all over his best friend. And trying to stop his head from exploding.
"Oh, that's better. Here you go, mate," Harry said. Ron took the proffered bottle and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of the minty potion. He gave a sigh of relief as the potion immediately began to ease the pain in his head. He passed the bottle back to Harry and carefully lay down again.
"Sirius said to lie still for a few minutes to let it work."
"Fair enough." Ron could do that. In fact, lying still sounded like the best idea he'd ever heard. The bed dipped as Harry lay down next to him again. Ron closed his eyes and tried to relax. He was definitely feeling less nauseous already, and the pounding in his head was almost gone. A soft snoring started up next to him, and Ron turned his head to look at Harry for a moment. He looked so peaceful, lying there. God knows he got little enough peaceful sleep these days. Ron lay back and closed his eyes again.
Thoughts of Harry brought that niggling, uneasy feeling back full force. There was something he needed to remember. Something had happened last night, but the harder he tried, the more elusive the memory seemed to be become. Ron didn't really feel sleepy any more, and his headache and nausea were pretty much gone, so he decided to take a methodical approach to the problem. He'd start with his earliest recollections of last night, and see if he could piece together what had happened after that in an attempt to shake the memory loose.
Ron was going to be 16 on Monday. Seamus had said that they should celebrate it somehow - apparently turning 16 had some significance in the Muggle world. Ron had privately thought that his birthday was just a convenient excuse for everyone to get pissed, but he really didn't mind. Seamus had been a complete arse to Harry over all the rubbish The Prophet had published, and now that everyone was finally admitting that Harry was right about Him being back, Seamus was falling over himself to apologise. He'd even offered to provide the booze, as he apparently had two bottles of firewhisky that he'd had hidden in his trunk since Christmas. Everyone had immediately agreed. Truth be told, they'd all missed their occasional Saturday night get-togethers.
By the time they'd eaten most of the food, and had several drinks each, the talk had turned, as usual, to sex. Seamus had been sharing his porn collection with them since early in third year, and it was nothing unusual for them to all sit around and snigger over the pictures and the various tidbits they'd picked up from older brothers and cousins. Harry and Neville tended to listen avidly to these, and it was one of the few times that Ron was glad he had older brothers.
But they'd never had that much alcohol before. Butterbeer and the odd half-full bottle of Muggle booze that Dean or Seamus had pinched from home was as much experience as they'd had with drinking. As the level in the bottles had dropped, so had their inhibitions - and common sense, too, apparently. Because when Seamus started telling them about something called a 'circle jerk', Ron had thought it was a terrific idea, as had Dean. Harry had flushed a dark crimson and mumbled something non-committal, and Neville was simply confused. As Seamus began explaining to Neville, in a somewhat rambling way, exactly what he was talking about, Neville had looked horrified.
"Why? We've all heard each other wanking at night, and we've all seen each other in the nuddy. It's just a laugh, that's all."
"Yeah, but, I don't know about letting someone else -"
"What? No! We do it ourselves. But together. Yeah." Seamus was frowning, as though trying to work out a difficult problem. Then he quickly shook his head. "But it wouldn't matter anyway, would it? I mean, it's just a hand. It's no different to a girl jerking you off."
"Right. Like you know what that's like," Dean had scoffed.
"Yeah, 'course I do! You lot telling me that not one of you has ever had a hand job?"
Ron huffed in amusement as he remembered Seamus' expression. He'd looked totally gobsmacked when everyone else had shaken their heads. He'd called them all a sad bunch of tossers, poured everyone another drink, and then pulled out a couple of extremely graphic magazines that he'd never shared before, saying they were obviously all in dire need of some practical pointers. And it was very educational, Ron had to give him that. Seamus either had a hell of a lot more experience with girls than even Dean had suspected, or else he had a really vivid imagination.
Ron had no trouble remembering up that point. It all got a bit hazy after that, though. He vaguely remembered Seamus making some tactless comment about Harry's fame and how he could get any girl he wanted, and Dean wincing and quickly changing the subject while pouring everyone yet another drink. Instead of blowing up at Seamus, Harry had just shaken his head and sat staring into his glass. That wasn't like Harry at all, so Ron had asked him if he was okay and then -
Ron's eyes flew open and he gasped. Oh bloody hell, no. But now that he'd started to remember, he couldn't stop the memory playing out in his head.
"Yeah, everyone wants The Boy Who Lived. He's right. No one's interested in just Harry, though."
"But Cho -"
"Isn't really interested in me, Ron. She wants a trophy, or a replacement for Cedric or something. And she's always crying. I'd just like to kiss someone who wasn't crying, and wanted me, not someone famous, you know? Just once. Is that so much to ask?"
Harry had looked so sad, and something inside Ron hurt to see his best friend looking so miserable. So Ron had leaned in and kissed him. It had seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do, at the time. He winced as he remembered the catcalls and lewd comments as they slowly broke the kiss. Seamus yelled something crude about starting the circle jerk without him, and... And that's when Neville had let out an explosive snore and slowly keeled over. For some reason this had seemed to strike everyone as hilarious, and Ron clearly remembered lying on the floor gasping and holding his sides, blinking away tears of laughter.
Ron furrowed his brow. Things got even hazier after that. He remembered helping Dean hoist Nev into bed, and then insisting that he had to help Harry. Had Harry fallen asleep, too? Ron couldn't remember. But he must have done, right? That would explain it. He'd fallen asleep just like Neville had, Ron had manhandled him into bed, and then simply passed out before he could get into his own bed.
A slight movement next to him pulled Ron from his introspection. Harry yawned and shifted around a bit. Ron turned his head to see Harry looking at him, the oddest expression on his face.
"Are you wearing anything?"
Ron gave an experimental wiggle. "No..." And that odd feeling of unease was back full force. They'd had pyjamas on last night. And if Ron had passed out, then why...
Harry gave a small cough. "There's probably a really good reason why we're in bed together, naked, right?"
"'course," Ron said automatically. But even as he spoke, the niggling little worry at the back of his mind finally broke through. He gasped in horror as he began to remember what else had happened last night. He needed to talk to Harry before he -
"Harry, I -"
"Oh fuck," Harry said again, louder this time. He stumbled out of bed, pulled on a pair of boxers, fumbled around until he found his glasses and put them on. "I, er, bathroom." He grabbed his stuff and shot out of the dorm, not once looking at Ron.
At least Harry hadn't yelled at him. Not that that meant anything, of course; he probably hadn't remembered everything yet. Not that Ron had, either. But if what he'd remembered so far was anything to go by, Harry'd have plenty to shout about. Or maybe he'd go all silent and broody again. Ron sighed. Harry was like one of Gred and Forge's more dubious experiments these days. He'd been a right moody sod since the beginning of fifth year, and Ron was never certain how he'd react to anything, not any more. But he was still the best friend that Ron had ever had, and he had the awful feeling that he might have wrecked that.
Ron sighed again and deliberately turned his attention to the present. He found his pyjamas in a tangled heap at the end of the bed, grabbed them, and peered out through the bed curtains. There was no one else in the room. All the beds had their curtains open and were in varying states of disarray except one. His was the only one that had obviously not been slept in. He cursed himself for not closing his curtains last night. Things were bad enough without everyone else in the dorm knowing too. Well, it was too late to worry about that now. He had more important things to worry about. Ron slipped his pyjamas on and made his way back to his own bed on somewhat unsteady legs. He needed a shower, but following Harry was probably not a great idea at the moment. He felt suddenly bone weary, so he lay down and gratefully closed his eyes. He desperately wanted to go back to sleep. Maybe he'd wake up again and find out that this had just been some horrible dream. What the hell had he been thinking? Well, he hadn't been thinking, obviously, and that was the problem.
He'd kissed his best friend. Not a peck on the cheek, but a full on, groping, with tongues, snog. And then, if his scattered memories were anything to go by, he'd got into bed with him, undressed them both and... Ron pushed himself upright and climbed quickly out of bed. He didn't want to think about it, and ignored the odd, fluttering feeling in his chest as he grabbed his stuff and headed to the bathroom.
There was no sign of Harry, and Ron was starting to wish that Harry had shouted at him. At least then he'd have had a chance to explain, or apologise, or something. He wasn't sure what he'd do if Harry started to avoid him. He turned the shower on and stepped under the spray, sighing in relief as the hot water soothed his aching muscles. He soaped himself leisurely, and was surprised that his cock sprang to full attention with just a couple of strokes of his soapy hand. He hadn't intended to do anything more than have a quick shower.
"It's all your fault, you know," he muttered, glaring down at his groin. "A couple of drinks and you don't care how you get off, do you? Traitor." His cock twitched at the words 'get off', and Ron snorted. "I'm going nuts, talking to my sodding prick."
His hand seemed to be moving of its own volition, and Ron bit back a moan as he swiped his thumb over the head. He braced himself against the wall as his hand tightened around his swollen cock. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sensation of skin sliding slickly against skin. Various images from Seamus' porn mags flitted through his head, but Ron dismissed them, deliberately calling up an image of his girlfriend. Giving his libido free reign over his imagination, his hand became Sarah's as she stood in front of him. He tried to imagine what she'd look like, all naked and wet. He was kissing her, her body tight against his as he rutted against her. He moved over her, pinning her to the bed and it was hot and hard and the kisses grew more desperate, and he tangled his fingers in the messy hair and pulled back a moment to catch his breath but Harry reached up and - Ron groaned as he came.
Ron slumped against the wall, panting. He couldn't believe what he'd just done. He closed his eyes and shook his head against the memories that his orgasm had triggered, but the floodgates were open now. He remembered falling onto the bed with Harry; both of them giggling like maniacs. Ron had felt suddenly overheated, and dragged off his pyjama jacket. Harry had complained that he was hot, too, and tried to pull his jacket off over his head, but he'd got tangled up in it and almost strangled himself. Ron had ended up straddling Harry's hips as he tried to free him. A final tug had the jacket off, and Harry had slumped back against the pillows, dragging Ron with him. Ron had found himself lying on top of his best friend, nose to nose, Harry's warm breath against his lips and Ron couldn't remember ever being so hard in his life. Harry's eyes had widened in surprise as he stared up at Ron, and then fluttered closed as their lips met...
Ron pushed himself away from the wall. He was shaking, his heart pounding at the pure want that surged through him. Had it always been there, this need for his best friend? From the moment he'd met him, Harry had always held Ron's attention; had always seemed to be at the centre of his world, somehow. Even when they'd fought, Ron could never keep away, could never stop himself from watching him. Had he always wanted him? Ron took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm himself. He rinsed away the evidence of what he'd done as thoroughly as he could before turning off the water and roughly drying himself off.
He dressed slowly, and then stood in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at his reflection. He didn't look any different. He didn't look like someone whose whole world had just been turned upside down. He looked the same as he always did. Not bad looking, he supposed. Not as cool as Bill, though, or as well built as Charlie. Nothing like Percy, thank God. He wasn't anything like the twins. Which was a shame, 'cause Harry really likes them. He was just sort of average, really. Nothing special. He snorted, and glared at his reflection in disgust. What the hell did he think he was doing? Why on earth was he trying to work out if Harry would fancy him? They'd both been pissed last night, that's all it was. It didn't mean anything. Harry wasn't like that. Hell, Ron wasn't like that either, if it came down to it. They both had girlfriends, after all. So Ron totally ignored the treacherous little voice that reminded him that Sarah had never turned him on the way Harry had, grabbed his things and headed back to the dorm to see if he could salvage his friendship with his best mate.
He pushed the door open and his heart sank as he saw his roommates sitting on Dean's bed, talking softly. He glanced at Harry's bed. It was empty, though his dressing gown was lying in a heap on the floor next to his bed, so he'd obviously returned and left again.
"You're alive, then," Seamus said. Ron nodded absently as he put his stuff away. He was a bit annoyed that Harry wasn't here to face the music with him, but took a deep breath, walked over and sat on the edge of Dean's bed, facing the trio.
"Yeah. Look, about last night -"
"Ron," Seamus interrupted. "It was your birthday we were celebrating, so you had a perfect right to get rat-arsed, do anything you wanted and pass out anywhere you liked. We all had too much to drink last night and made right idiots of ourselves, yeah?" He glanced quickly at Dean and Neville, and they both nodded eagerly. "That's what having a lads' night is all about." He made eye contact with Ron for the first time, and Ron nodded slowly. He continued, "None of us want the rest of Gryffindor tower knowing what we got up to, though. Or even worse, McGonagall finding out we were hitting the firewhisky and porn mags, so we were just saying that -"
"Loose lips sink ships," Dean pronounced, cutting Seamus off mid-sentence.
Seamus closed his eyes for a moment, then slowly turned to face Dean. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"'s what my Nan always says when someone starts gossiping. It's from the war." At the look of confusion on everyone's faces, he added, "The last Muggle war. World War Two. It means you never know when someone's listening, so if you don't want anyone finding stuff out, don't talk about it."
Neville nodded. "Yeah, that's what Seamus said. That we should keep it to ourselves. But I don't see what sinking ships have got to do with Ron sleeping with -"
"Nev, mate. Not now, eh?" Seamus said quickly, but Neville kept talking.
"- Harry. I mean, he probably didn't do it on purpose. Probably doesn't even remember going to bed at all. I know I don't. Could have ended up anywhere. At least you didn't fall asleep in the loo, Ron. My Uncle Algy did that once. I found him there, snoring his head off. Gran yelled for hours. But Seamus said that people spread nasty rumours about Harry all the time, and they might think it odd that you two were sleeping together. And because you kissed him, I suppose."
Ron felt the colour drain from his face. Seamus and Dean were staring at Neville in horror, but Neville was smiling innocently as he looked at Ron inquiringly.
"Actually, where is Harry?" Neville added, glancing around the room. Ron winced as his head began throbbing again. He cupped his face in his hands, and massaged his temples with his fingertips.
"Oh! Have you taken some of that Hangover potion that Sirius gave Harry yet?" Neville said. "You should. I thought I was dying when I woke up. Feel loads better now."
Ron was going to kill Neville if he didn't shut up. He opened his eyes as something nudged his hand, and looked up to see Neville holding the bottle of potion. He took it and took another swig, and then sighed as the throbbing once again eased.
"Thanks," he said, giving Neville a genuine smile. He felt a little guilty about wishing Neville dead a moment ago. He was a good mate, really; it wasn't his fault that he was so clueless, or that his chatter was giving Ron a headache. He always jabbered on like that.
"That's okay," Neville continued, "you probably just need something to eat. Speaking of which, it's nearly lunchtime."
"Oh! That's why we came to see if you two were awake yet," Dean added. "McGonagall won't have noticed you missing at breakfast, but she'll wonder why you're not at lunch and..."
"And we don't want her getting suspicious." Ron rubbed his face with his hands again and sighed.
"We'll, er, see you down there, right?"
Ron glanced up at Seamus and nodded. "Yeah. I'll be down in a minute. And, er, thanks, mate."
"No problem," Seamus said with a smile.
Seamus, Dean and Neville headed down to the Common Room, and Ron slowly walked over to his bed. He sat on the edge of the bed and stretched, wincing as his spine cracked. His muscles felt stiff and sore again. He wasn't surprised - stress always made him tense up, and the last ten minutes had been very stressful indeed. He sighed heavily. "Thanks a lot, Harry," he muttered.
Ron jumped in surprise, and glared at the seemingly empty bed in front of him. There was a shimmer and Harry appeared as he slipped off the invisibility cloak. Ron's immediate reaction was to shout at him for leaving Ron to cope with their roommates on his own. But he took a deep breath instead, and shrugged.
"It doesn't matter. All sorted out now."
Ron found himself staring at Harry, who was sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed, staring at his hands while nervously picking at his thumbnail.
Startled green eyes met Ron's gaze, and his thoughts scattered. He wanted to ask if they were okay. He wanted to ask Harry why he hadn't stopped him last night. And Ron suddenly wanted to kiss him again.
"Ron? You okay?"
Why hadn't he noticed how green Harry's eyes were before? The thought shocked him, and Ron mentally shook himself.
"Yeah! I mean, yeah, 'course I am." He cast about wildly for something to say, and for once his stomach actually came to the rescue. It rumbled loudly, and Ron gave a sigh of relief. "Starving, though."
"Yeah, me too." Harry climbed off the bed and stuffed his feet into his trainers. "C'mon, let's go down to the Common Room before Hermione sends out a search party. We said we'd meet her, remember?" Harry got as far as the door, and then turned to face Ron. "Er, we're um, we're okay, right?"
Ron knew he should say something. He was suddenly, utterly certain that if he didn't say anything, Harry would walk out the door and pretend last night had never happened. Ron knew he should go along with it. His dorm mates were happy to forget about last night. Chalk it all up to too much alcohol and a porn mag induced horniness. But he didn't want to, because it wasn't. It was more than that. Much, much more. It was new and scary and wonderful, and he knew they shouldn't have done it but he really, really wanted to do it again. But... But there was something in the way Harry was looking at him, a desperate plea, and Ron found himself nodding in agreement.
"Yeah, 'course we are."
Harry gave him a relieved smile. "Great. C'mon then."
It had been a right bastard of a week. Actually, every single one of the past six weeks had been right bastards, as far as Ron was concerned, but this week really topped them all. Dumbledore was gone. Sacked. Umbridge was now Headmistress, God help them all. And Harry, well, he was pretty much a basket case. It was his bloody girlfriend's mate who'd dobbed them all in, snitching on the DA to Umbridge, that had caused all this. Well, ex-girlfriend now after the blazing row they'd had. Probably. Hopefully. And something had happened during his last 'remedial potions' lesson with the greasy git. Ron didn't know exactly what, but it seemed to be the last straw as far as Harry was concerned.
It all came down to Harry, didn't it. As soon as Ron let his guard down, even for a moment, he found himself searching out Harry; watching him constantly. He didn't think anyone had noticed. He'd really tried to cover it up. He dreamed of Harry all the time, no matter how hard he tried not to. And he couldn't even wank anymore without images of bright green eyes and strong hands haunting him. Ron felt like he was losing it. Ever since that bloody stupid birthday booze up.
Ron shifted in his seat, turning slightly so that he could see the portrait hole. Harry was off meeting Cho. She'd come up to the Gryffindor table just as dinner was ending, looking all weepy and sad, and Harry'd agreed to talk to her. Ron huffed softly. He'd talk to her alone, but he was avoiding him. Well, not really avoiding him as such; avoiding being alone with him. Ron hadn't noticed at first. Harry was always off doing stuff; detentions, planning sessions with Hermione, you-know-what lessons with the greasy git, so it'd taken a while to register. And he'd had his own problems, too. If he lived to be 200, he'd never understand girls. Sarah hadn't seemed all that interested in keeping Ron as a boyfriend until it was obvious that he didn't really want to see her any more. Then suddenly she was all over him like a rash. They'd never had much in common, but Ron had quite enjoyed the snogging. Until he'd kissed his best mate, that is. He'd talked Sarah into going up to the Astronomy Tower with him a couple of days after that, but it had just felt - wrong. Somehow she'd known, and seemed to become clingier, and it had taken him nearly two weeks to finally convince her that he didn't want to see her any more. She'd cried, and Ron had felt like a complete git. He sighed and slumped further down into his chair.
Ron looked up in surprise to see Hermione glaring at him.
"I'm trying to study here, and it's very off-putting when you keep sighing and huffing and glaring at the portrait hole like it's offended you personally or something!"
"I wasn't! And anyway, why are you doing homework now? It's the last day of term; we've got a whole three weeks with no lessons. That's plenty of time, even for you."
"Not all of us leave our homework until the last second and then copy other people's work, you know. And we've got our OWLs coming up. You need to start studying if -"
"Bloody hell, Hermione, just give it a rest will you?"
"Fine!" Hermione slammed her book shut and started stuffing her things into her bag. "You can sit here and sulk on your own, Ronald. I'm going to the library."
The common room fell suddenly silent, and Ron noticed that people were staring at them.
"What are you lot looking at?" he snapped out, glaring around the room. As a low buzz of conversation started up again, Ron turned to Hermione. "I'm sorry. Really. I didn't mean to shout at you, I just..." He shrugged and smiled apologetically. He knew he wasn't being fair to her. She was a good friend and didn't deserve him taking out his frustrations on her. Hermione put her bag back on the floor and turned to face Ron. She regarded him steadily for a moment, glanced quickly around the common room and then shuffled a little closer to him on the couch.
"Look. You and Harry need to sort this out," she said softly. "You two have been acting oddly for weeks now, and I really don't appreciate being stuck in the middle. You're both using me to avoid talking to each other." Ron started to protest but Hermione quelled him with a look. "No, Ron. I've known you both too long. Harry's never been very forthcoming, but just lately he barely says a word, particularly when you're around. And you've been snapping and snarling at me over the stupidest things -"
"We've just got a lot on our minds -"
"- when it's not really me that you're angry with -"
"- what with Umbridge and -"
"- and you both stare at each other like sick sheep when you think no one is paying attention to you," Hermione finished with a glare.
"- the greasy git and... What?" He was surprised that Hermione had noticed him watching Harry. But then again, he really shouldn't have been; not much got past her. But Harry had been watching him, too? That was unexpected.
"If you'd stopped talking long enough to actually listen to what I was saying, you'd have heard me. I said, you both -"
"Yeah, yeah, I heard you. I was listening, really. I was just - surprised."
"That he's been staring at you, too, you mean? Or that I noticed?" Hermione's expression softened and she looked almost wistful as she said, "Not all of us are totally oblivious to what's going on around us, you know. I haven't said anything before because I wasn't certain. But when Cho came up to Harry at dinner and asked to see him privately, the look on your face was... Well, let's just say that if looks could kill, she'd have been in a lot of trouble." Hermione paused, then took a deep breath and said, "You... you like him, don't you. Really like him, I mean."
Ron suddenly found it difficult to breathe. He didn't even try to pretend that he misunderstood her. She knew, and that suddenly made it all scarily real, somehow.
"You can't tell anyone," he said, glancing around to make sure that no one was in earshot.
"Oh, honestly, Ron! I'm the last person to spread to gossip about. But there's really nothing to be worried about, you know. Wizards don't seem to be quite as narrow-minded in general as muggles are about same-sex relationships. There'll always be bigoted idiots spouting nonsense, unfortunately, especially with Harry being who he is, but if you've got any sense you'll just ignore them and -"
"No!" Ron glared at the few Gryffindors who'd turned to look at them again. He waited for a few moments, lowered his voice and said, "No. You don't understand. He's not interested. That's why he's been avoiding me. And that's why you can't say anything. I need to try and convince him that it was just the firewhisky, and that I'm not like that. I don't want him to hate me, Hermione. I couldn't stand that."
"Wait. Just wait a minute. You were drinking? When? God, Ron, you'll be in so much trouble if Professor McGonagall finds out you've been drinking in the Tower. You're a Prefect for goodness sake! What were you thinking?"
Ron groaned and slumped further down into the couch. "Bloody hell, Hermione, just leave off will you? She's not going to find out. It was ages ago."
"It can't have been that long ago if... Of course, I should have seen it. The timing's right. The day before your birthday, you didn't come to breakfast. You never miss a meal. And you were both really awkward around each other..." Hermione seemed to be talking to herself, and she had that look on her face that she always got when she was working out a problem. She nodded slowly, and suddenly her bright, intelligent gaze was pinning Ron to the back of the couch.
"Something happened between you two, didn't it." It wasn't a question.
"I'm not going to talk about it," Ron said firmly.
Hermione huffed in exasperation. "Of course not, and that's the whole problem! Boys! Honestly, you're all hopeless. You need to talk about it. I'm more than happy to listen to you, but it's not me that you really need to talk to, now is it?" she said pointedly.
Ron stared at Hermione in horror. "I can't! Look, you just don't get it, do you? He doesn't want to talk to me. He was horrified at what we'd done. He shot out of bed like... Oh no."
Hermione was gaping at him. Ron couldn't believe he'd just said that.
"Ron! What on earth -"
"I am not talking about it!" Ron ground out through clenched teeth. Hermione stared at him for a moment, and then picked up her book bag and stood up.
"I need my notes back now, really, so I can finish this essay," she said loudly. "I'll come up and help you find them." She grabbed Ron's arm and tugged him off the couch. He sighed in defeat and followed Hermione up the stairs. She was obviously determined to get the whole story, and at least there was no chance of anyone overhearing them in the deserted dorm.
Hermione pushed open the door, looked around, and then pointed to Ron's bed.
"Sit." Ron kicked off his shoes and flung himself onto his bed. Hermione dropped her bag to the floor and sat down next to him. "Now you listen to me, Ron Weasley. You and Harry are my best friends. With everything else that's going on at the moment, we need to stick together. Harry needs us. You have to sort this out with him," she said firmly. "I don't know what happened, and I don't want to know," she added, "but I'm sure you weren't the only one who had too much to drink, and unless Harry was unconscious, he was just as responsible for what happened as you were. Now. You're obviously both embarrassed about it, but he's been looking at you just as much as you've been looking at him. You both obviously want to sort this out but are too scared to make the first move."
Ron snorted. "You're wrong. He's been avoiding me. Even you noticed that."
Hermione huffed in exasperation. "This is Harry Potter we're talking about here, Ron. He never wants to talk to anyone about anything even remotely personal. But that's just too bad, because he's going to have to. And you're going to make him."
"Easy for you to say," Ron muttered mutinously. Hermione simply glared at him. "Fine, I'll talk to him. But how am I going to get him on his own? He always seems to make sure someone else is around when I'm there."
"Well, that shouldn't be a problem now, should it?" Hermione swept her arm out, indicating the empty room. Ron nodded slowly. Of course. Once word had got out about the Headmaster almost being arrested and Umbridge taking over, more than half the school had received owls telling them to come home for Easter. Neville's gran and Seamus' mum had both insisted they come home, and Dean had been invited home with Seamus. That left Harry and Ron alone in their dorm for the Easter holidays.
"There's hardly anyone left in the Tower. In fact, Ginny's going to be staying in my room, as there's no one left in either of our dorms, and she said she'd be a bit lonely so -"
Hermione was interrupted by the door flying opening as Harry stormed in. He headed straight for his bed, climbed in and closed the curtains behind him, not even seeming to notice Ron and Hermione. Hermione leant forward and dropped a kiss on Ron's cheek.
"No time like the present, Ron," she whispered.
"Shouldn't I wait until he's calmed down a bit? He looked like he'd hex anyone who got near him," Ron protested as she picked up her bag and headed to the door.
"He's not going to hex you. At least I don't think he will. Now stop being a coward and go and talk to him, Ron."
"What am I going to say?"
"Well, obviously his meeting with Cho didn't go well. Why don't you ask if he's all right, and then take it from there. Good luck." Hermione closed the door softly behind her, leaving Ron staring at Harry's bed.
Ron took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, trying to calm his suddenly pounding heart. He slowly walked over to Harry's bed and stood staring at the curtains for a moment. He'd just reached out when they were suddenly wrenched open and a pair of shoes came flying out. Ron jumped back in alarm, narrowly avoiding the shoes which sailed past him and hit the floor with a loud thump.
"Bloody hell, you frightened the life out of me!"
Harry was just as surprised, judging by the look of shock on his face. Actually, he looked ready to bolt, so Ron quickly moved forward and climbed onto the bed next to him, saying, "Are you okay? How'd it go with Cho?"
Harry sighed heavily. "She wanted me to tell Hermione to remove the curse on Marietta. She said if I cared about her, I'd help her friend. I said that if she'd ever cared about me at all, she wouldn't have asked. It got a bit nasty after that."
"Oh. Sorry, mate."
Harry shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Er, anyway, I was just going to um, go to the bathroom, yeah." Harry was already shuffling his way past Ron, but Ron put a hand on his arm and Harry froze.
"I want to talk to you." For a moment, Ron thought that Harry was simply going to shake off his hand and bolt anyway, but then he sighed and nodded. Ron settled himself on the bed, facing Harry. They sat in silence, Ron staring at Harry, Harry staring at his hands as they moved restlessly in his lap, nervously picking at one thumbnail and then the other.
It occurred to Ron that he hadn't really thought this through. It was all very well for Hermione to tell him that he had to talk to Harry. It would have been a bit more useful if she'd actually given him a few hints on what to say. He had absolutely no idea, and the longer they sat there, the more tense the silence between them became. He desperately cast about for a way to start the conversation, until his mouth finally decided his brain wasn't up to the job and jumped in on its own.
"Why have you been avoiding me? We haven't been alone for ages." Shit shit shit! That wasn't what he was going to say. Harry's hands instantly stilled. He was still staring at them, avoiding Ron's gaze, but Ron could see the colour flood his face, staining his cheeks a blotchy red. "So I could talk to you, I mean, 'cause I missed my best mate, and we really haven't talked since..." Ron's mouth closed against his inane babbling with a snap. He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "Bloody hell."
"I haven't. I mean I wasn't. I've just been busy, that's all," Harry said.
Ron's head shot up at the softly spoken words. Harry was still looking at his hands, and had started picking at his fingernails nervously again.
"That's bollocks, and you know it." There was a pressure building in his chest and Ron felt as though he'd burst if he tried to keep quiet a moment longer. "Ever since that night when we all had too much to drink, you've been avoiding me. Even Hermione's noticed."
A look of panic crossed Harry's face and he stared at Ron in horror. "You told Hermione?"
"No! She brought it up. Said she was sick of being stuck in the middle of our argument, and that we needed to sort it out."
"Oh, I see." Harry's gaze returned to his hands. "Well, you can tell her you did what she said. That should get her off your back for a while."
Ron huffed in exasperation. "I'm not talking to you because she told me to! I've been trying to talk to you on your own for ages now, but you're always disappearing off somewhere, and I only ever see you when there's other people around."
"I really have been busy, Ron."
"Yeah, I know. But I also know that you've been going out of your way to make sure you're never alone with me. And I've had enough. So we're going to talk about this and sort it out."
Harry ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up even more than usual. "Look. There's really nothing to talk about. You're right. It's my fault. I've handled this really badly, and I'm sorry."
Ron shook his head. "I don't want you to apologise, mate. I want to clear the air."
"I really don't want to talk about -"
"Well I bloody well do! It happened. I was drunk, and I'm sorry! Sodding hell, Harry, what have I got to do to get you to trust me again? It's not like I'm going to jump you the minute there's no one else around."
Harry stared at Ron, a look of total confusion on his face. "Why would I think you'd do that?"
"Because of what happened when we got drunk. I mean, isn't that why you've been avoiding me?" Ron said bitterly.
Harry shook his head. "No. No, you've got it all wrong."
"It's not even as if I fancy blokes. It's just you. But you can't think much of me if you think I'd... Hang on, what do you mean I've got it all wrong?"
"I mean, you've got it all wrong, Ron. Why wouldn't I trust you? It wasn't your fault. You weren't the one who..." Harry stopped abruptly. He stared at Ron thoughfully for a moment before huffing softly and shaking his head. "I don't believe this," he muttered. He took a deep breath and said, "You're right. I was avoiding you. The first few days after we - well, afterwards, you seemed really uncomfortable around me. I thought it was because you knew that I..." Harry hesitated for a moment, then stared Ron in the eye and continued, "because you knew that I really liked you. So I thought it would be better to avoid you for a bit. But you didn't know, did you?"
Ron knew he was gaping at Harry, and snapped his jaw shut. He shook his head dumbly.
"Right. And you thought I was avoiding you because I was afraid you'd haul me into an empty classroom and have your evil way with me or something," Harry concluded. He tilted his head, and Ron knew he was expected to say something.
"Um, yeah, I suppose. Sounds pretty stupid when you put it like that, though."
Harry snorted and gave Ron a rueful grin. Ron chuckled, which seemed to start Harry off, and before he knew it they were laughing uproariously. It took them several minutes to calm down, as every time they looked at each other, they went off into gales of laughter again. Ron knew they were laughing over nothing; that it was really just a way of relieving the tension that they had both been feeling, but he didn't care. It just felt so good to be sitting and laughing with his best friend again.
"God, I've missed this," Harry said with a grin as they finally stopped giggling like maniacs.
"Yeah. Me too," Ron said. It felt so good to see Harry smiling again. "I've missed you."
The words slipped out without thought. Harry was looking at him with a suddenly intent expression on his face. He was worrying at his bottom lip, and looked very uncertain. Ron was just about to ask him what was wrong when Harry took a deep breath, and then slowly reached over and took his hand. Ron hesitated for a moment and then turned his hand so they could twine their fingers together.
"I'm sorry. It really was my fault. I should have listened to you. You wanted to talk, but I was scared." Harry was staring at their joined hands, and was speaking so softly that Ron had to strain to hear him. "You're the first real friend I ever had, and I was scared that you'd hate me. When I woke up and remembered what I'd done, dragging you into bed with me and... I didn't know what to do. I though that if I just pretended that nothing had happened, you'd chalk it up to the firewhisky, like Seamus did. And we could go back to just being mates again. But it didn't work. And then everything else started to go wrong. Dumbledore and Snape and Umbridge and Cho and... And it just seemed like one thing after the other, and I really needed my best mate. But I'd stuffed it up, and I didn't know how to fix it."
Ron had the sudden, overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around Harry and snarl at the rest of the world to sod off and leave him alone. He wasn't sure how much more pressure Harry could take. He gave Harry's hand a squeeze, but it wasn't enough. Harry'd made the first move by taking his hand, and now it was Ron's turn. Throwing caution to the wind he leaned forward and pulled his friend into a hug. Harry tensed up immediately, but Ron just hung on tightly.
"I could never hate you, mate," he whispered into Harry's ear. "I care about you too much. I'll always be there for you, I promise."
Harry gave a deep, shuddering sigh, and Ron felt him sag in his arms. They sat like that for a moment, but Ron's leg was squashed and starting to cramp and he knew he couldn't hold Harry like this for much longer. He really didn't want to let him go, though, so he shuffled round a bit so that he could lie down, still holding Harry, who'd finally wrapped his arms around Ron and had buried his face in the crook of Ron's neck.
"'s'all right, mate. I've got you," Ron said softly, "and I'm never letting you go."
"Good, don't want you to," Harry mumbled, and Ron chuckled. He dropped a kiss on Harry's head, and felt Harry nuzzle his neck.
They still had some talking to do, but there was no rush. And things weren't going to be easy for either of them. But they were together, like they were meant to be, and that was the only thing that mattered. Dark days were coming, Ron knew that. But Harry wouldn't be facing them alone. Ron would be by his side. Where he belonged. Harry gave a contented sigh as nestled closer, and Ron tightened his arms around him. Harry's breathing slowly evened out as he drifted off to sleep and Ron smiled softly to himself. Tomorrow was soon enough to face everything. Tonight he'd just enjoy having Harry in his arms. He fumbled for his wand, moving slowly so as not to wake Harry, and summoned a blanket. He draped it over them both, closed his eyes and settled down to sleep.