Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters contained within this wonderful book series.

Ron

I knock back another shot and slam the empty glass onto the bar as the hard liquor burns hot and sour at the back of my throat. It's a bloody awful sensation, but the alcohol goes to work fast, clearing out the anxiety that had been creeping back into my head.

I thought being at the party would make this easier. In the lonely hours before, I deluded myself into believing that the loud music, the flashing lights, and the carefree atmosphere would be exactly what I needed to stay relaxed. I told myself he would probably be feeling more like himself tonight, and I wouldn't have to worry about how easily he lied to me this afternoon. Everything would be just like it was before.

The second I walked into the Room of Requirement, though—the second I saw the crowd of celebrating Gryffindors, heard the music rumbling through the stone walls, and felt the pace of my heartbeat double—all of the false hope evaporated. Somehow I managed to wade through the sea of gyrating bodies, even greeting teammates and classmates and friends, all the while, choking on the feeling that they were all just witnesses to my impending humiliation.

Now, almost an hour later, I'm gripping the bar for support, thinking about how badly I need another drink. The house elf behind the bar seems to sense this and magics another "Fortem Fortibus" my way. This time, I don't wait for it to touch down. I snatch it out of the air and toss the toxic-looking yellow liquid into my mouth, adding the glass to the line of empties forming in front of me. This one doesn't have as much bite as the last one. I guess strengthening part of the potion is finally starting to kick in.

I take a deep, shaky breath as the current song dies and Weird Sisters' screeching fills the room.

"Harry," I recite, fighting the weight of my tongue. "I know things haven't been easy since everything that happened at the Ministry, but I want you to know that I'm still here for you and I'll always be because I love you."

I can't actually hear the words coming out of my mouth, but practicing them, focusing on them keeps me from noticing little things like how long I've been sitting here, and from asking myself if I really think he's going to even show up.

Suddenly, applause breaks out from somewhere by the door and my heart skips a beat. Time's up.

The music stops abruptly and everyone turns to look. I see Seamus Finnigan pushing his way to the circular stone platform in the center of the room, a bottle in his hand and his wand pointed at his throat.

"Ladies and gents gather round," his magically magnified voice booms as he steps up, a little unsteady on his feet. "Our guest of honor has arrived!"

He sweeps an arm toward the door and, as if on cue, the crowd parts along the line to reveal Harry standing among a group of latecomers that I don't recognize, looking happier than I've seen him in months.

Has he been here the whole time? Why didn't he come find me?

Don't think about it. Not now.

"Harry Potter, you magnificent bastard!" Seamus says. He's shouting even with the Sonorous charm, which means the ale he's holding is hardly his first.

A rumble of laughter travels across the room. Harry smiles and I feel myself relax for the first time today. It's him, the real him—not the stranger who's been taking him over since he came back for sixth year with no explanation for where he'd been all summer.

"You've led Gryffindor House to some spectacular victories," Seamus goes on, "but this season, you've truly outdone yourself! Three matches! Three victories! A spot in the Quidditch Cup Final! And not—a—single—point—scored—against us!"

The cheers and applause at Seamus's words are deafening. The stone walls rumble with the frenzy, still fresh from today's win and it's like we're all back on the pitch, watching Harry emerge from a snowy pit holding the snitch high over his head. Even I have to pull myself out of my anxiety for a moment to appreciate how impressive this season's been.

Seamus raises his hand for silence after a minute.

"My fellow Gryffindors," he calls, "let's all raise a glass to the man who couldn't stop at saving us from certain doom. He's the best captain and seeker Hogwarts has ever had, and he's well on his way to making our final Quidditch season the most impressive that Hogwarts has ever seen." He raises his bottle in Harry's direction. The rest of the partygoers follow suit, lifting their drinks in honor of their hero.

"To Harry," Seamus says.

"To Harry," the crowd murmurs in return. And they all drink.

My eyes flick to Harry but he's not Harry anymore. He's tense and uncomfortable. His smile is forced and his nod to Seamus is stiff. As the music starts back up, someone from his group puts a hand on his shoulder to congratulate him. He shakes it off and beelines to the bar.

I send him a smile but he either doesn't see me or doesn't want to acknowledge me.

"Hey," I shout to him over The Hobgoblins' newest single.

"Hey," he shouts back, flagging down the bartender instead of looking at me. The house elf takes one look at Harry and twirls a long, knobby finger in his direction. A short glass, half filled with clear purple liquid appears on the bar in front of him. Harry drains it in one swig and signals for another.

"This is a great party!" I say.

He doesn't reply.

"Seamus's best, so far, I think." I continue, fighting to keep the desperation out of my voice. He still doesn't answer. I watch him down the second drink and order a third, and I can't keep my concern to myself anymore. "Maybe you should slow down, mate!"

He ignores me and knocks the drink back. This time, it hits him hard. The glass falls out of his hand and he leans against the bar, eyes shut tight, hands balled into fists as the effect of the magical liquor runs its course.

Do it now, my gut tells me. Tell him now!

My mouth hangs open, the words I've practiced so many times circling just beyond reach. When he finally turns around he doesn't even notice. His eyes are trained on the crowd, scanning their faces with the same look he gets when he's in the air, hunting for the snitch. I don't have to guess who he's looking for.

We find him at the same time, skulking in a corner on the opposite side of the room, his silver-blond hair catching one of the dancing lights every so often. Harry starts forward into the crowd. I follow and try to stop him, grabbing at his shirt, his arm, his shoulder.

"Harry wait—"

"I've gotta go."

"I need to tell you—"

"We'll talk later."

"I love you!" He stops abruptly and I nearly run into him. He wheels around. With the full force of his green eyed stare suddenly on me, my breath catches in my throat. I don't know what to say so I repeat myself. "Harry, I—"

"Don't!" he cuts me off, and he throws my hand off of his arm.

A mix of emotions passes over his face, but more than anything, he looks...upset. He steps toward me, mouth open as if he's going to say something, but he stops short. It happens second time. He takes a step, a breath, opens his mouth and I hope to god he says something—anything—but I get nothing. Then, he's gone.

I stand, frozen in the spot where he's left me with his nothing. I crane my neck over the heads of the crowd, watching him weave in and out of the dancers until he emerges on the other side, at Malfoy's back. He taps Malfoy on the shoulder and starts to speak. Without hesitation, Malfoy is on him, pulling him in, kissing him, groping wildly at him and Harry, over his initial shock, is responding in kind. Malfoy pushes him against the wall. His hands are everywhere—in Harry's hair, on his face, on his chest, down the front of his jeans...

This should hurt, shouldn't it? I should feel sick or betrayed, at least. Anything but this nothingness, this gaping hole where my breaking heart should be. Or maybe this is just what heartbreak feels like.

A door appears on the wall behind them. It swings backward and they disappear into the darkness beyond. As the door closes and fades away, I realize it isn't heartbreak I'm feeling. It's confirmation. All this time, I've been fighting to hold on to what little of Harry I could and now I know that, all this time, I've had exactly what I have now: nothing.

AN: Not my strongest first chapter, but I've been out of the game for almost a decade so bear with me. Hopefully, practice makes perfect, or better, at least. Next chap will be up tomorrow. Don't forget to review!