It wasn't until the day after the second task in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, some three and a half years after Ron befriended Harry, that he wondered if maybe there was something about his infamous best mate that he was missing. Something important, definitely, but hard to pin-point, like an itch in some odd place behind your knee that keeps moving as you scratch.
He'd thought of asking Hermione, but quickly ruled that out. Firstly, whatever this something was, he was more than certain that it was a something Hermione was better left out of. For all her knowledge and wisdom, she was a bit too frank and intruding for a delicate situation like this. Secondly, Ron was still nursing a bit of a crush on her, and he had a feeling that whatever he was unsure of about Harry would be most embarrassing to discuss with the likes of Hermione. Thirdly - and most bloody important of them all, mind - was that he could simply not tolerate the sickening thought of her, yet again, giving him one of those "don't you ever pay attention?" looks and saying that, of course, she'd known the truth all along.
He'd then thought of perhaps asking Hagrid if he'd noticed how different Harry was - the whole Boy Who Lived bollocks aside, that is - but he decided that would be just as embarrassing as discussing it with Hermione, if not more so. Mainly because Hagrid was a bloke.
His brothers were out of the question (they'd laugh), as were his parents (they'd worry) or any of the teachers (they'd scoff or refuse to talk about it). With Dumbledore, he might have considered bringing the whole thing up, but he highly doubted the Headmaster had time for a spot of tea and boy-to-man talk about Harry Potter's sexuality.
Because that's really what all this roundabout thinking was on the fringe of. A tiny thought, planted quite unpleasantly, and now swelling with every burning sense of nagging something - whatever the fuck it was, Ron would like to know - whenever he thought of it.
In any normal circumstance, Ron would turn to Harry if he needed someone to talk to. Harry was always his willing ear when Hermione was too much of a know-it-all or Ginny too young or Fred and George too insensitive or Percy too serious or Hagrid too rough or... bloody hell, Ron had to go to Harry with everything. Wasn't that a thought? Odd, that.
He'd turn to Harry, that was the point. Harry was calm, usually rational, but still on his side. Biased when Ron wanted him to be, objective when he really needed a foot up the ass. He needed one now, more than ever, but the problem was Harry, and that made things quite difficult, borderlining on impossible.
Stop, then. Think it through. Hermione was always telling him to think through things properly before running to her with Potions or Transfiguration help. She probably wouldn't see this any different. Slow down and think. From the beginning, if possible.
There were plenty of things, looking back on it now, that he could see as relating to this; lots of woven little bits of peculiar memories that didn't click as something else until reflection revealed the flaws. But the first moment that had truly set off Ron's internal alarm that something wasn't quite as it seemed with Harry had been that second task.
Ron and Hermione had spent the days leading up to it holed up in that dusty, tense library, scouring book after tome after novel after volume with Harry, searching for a way to get him through his underwater task without floating to the top belly up. They were, of course, having no luck whatsoever. Then Fred and George had shown up and dragged Ron and Hermione to Professor McGonagall's office, where they were certain detentions awaited them for helping the fourth champion do his research.
Instead, the task had been explained to them, and Ron had found out that he, of everything and everyone, was the thing Harry would miss most. He'd been flattered naturally, but incredibly bemused. Cho to Cedric made sense. Hermione to Krum made sense (no matter how little he liked it). Even Gabrielle to Fleur made sense... sisterly love and all that. But Ron to Harry?
But when he'd thought of it and rationalized it enough, he decided it was very much like Gabrielle and Fleur... a love like that between two siblings. Of course Harry loved him, and would miss him if he was gone. He loved Harry as well, as much as his brothers and sisters (maybe more, considering how much closer he was to Harry).
And that had been a very convenient out. He hadn't even given himself a proper chance to think that the choice of himself as the most precious part of Harry's life was anything more than face value. Friends. Very easy to work that out.
It would have stayed that simple if it hadn't been for the talk bouncing around the hallways afterward. Talk of queers and unnatural relationships and the worst of it was not Malfoy shouting "Oi, Potter, there's a closet over there if you and Weasley need cuddle-time" but that fact that everyone had the balls to suggest that, tight as their friendship was, Harry would be a poofter and not tell his best mate. That stinging thought hurt the most when Ron finally started to wonder if maybe the rumors were true this time around. That was the one that kept him up at night.
Could Ron have been trusting Harry all this time... trusting Harry with everything, practically... only for Harry to have kept something from him? Something that was likely a huge part of who he was?
Then there was the issue of it being him. Ron. Oddly enough, that part of the twisted map of ideas skittering across his head seemed to bother him the least. He hadn't had many friends before Harry - real friends that didn't have red hair or give him their old clothes when they'd grown out of them - but he knew well enough what friendship should be; Harry was Harry, gay, straight or otherwise, and that was no grounds to stop caring for him. Even if the romantic feelings were pointed at him. The breech was not in what Harry was or felt, but what he was keeping from Ron.
Awkward, though. It could make things awkward if... fuck, he wasn't really contemplating whether Harry fancied him, was he? It was surreal and stupid, and he was only fairly sure that it was true. Fairly sure.
All right, he was positive.
There's so many things you don't know, don't see. Ron knew he was never the most observant person to be met, but it downright appalled him to suddenly see all the signs he must have been missing for at least a year or more.
Harry was attentive and animated and concerned and exasperated and overly patient and... Harry was. Harry was all these things for Ron. He put up with the stupid jealousy, the pathetic bouts of self-doubt, the sometimes ill-advised, snarky comments, and the hot temper. He never threw his hands up and gave up on Ron like Hermione sometimes did. And the only time he'd ever let their friendship falter was when Ron had made it seem, before the first task, that that was what he'd wanted.
The edges fit. The smiles. The patience. And ultimately, the proof that Harry simply could not be without Ron, now that he had come to depend on him. Ron had no idea that his relationship with Harry really ran that deep until it was strained.
The thing he would miss most. It was daunting. How could Ron possibly live up to all he seemed to be to Harry?
But that was silly. Harry had seen Ron at his worst, his most annoying, his most unattractive. He didn't have Ron on a pedestal. He just loved him. Everyday Ron.
... That thought needed to be dwelled on a bit.
"Snape is the most vile, wretched, stinking--"
"--wank we've ever known," Harry finished without so much as looking up from his Potions homework. "I agree. But if we don't finish this now..."
"Hermione will have our heads when we need to copy." Ron conceded, but sunk lower into his seat, flexing cramped fingers. "Especially when she managed to finish it in a matter of an hour. Will never understand how she breezes through this shite."
Harry tutted, perfectly impersonating Hermione whenever Ron swore, and Ron laughed, knocking knuckles with his over the table. "Oi, one Hermione's enough."
Grunting, Harry brushed his hopelessly wayward hair out of his eyes. Briefly, his stare flicked up from his school books and parchment to smile warmly at Ron - Ron's throat tightened almost painfully - before his head ducked back down and his foot grazed Ron's shin good-naturedly. "Just do it, Ron, and it'll be over."
Interesting choice of words.
"All right, all right."
And then there was quiet while Harry contemplated how much powered dragon tooth one should add to a Sinking draft and Ron contemplated the contours of Harry's face.
Gay or not, Ron knew Harry was a good-looking bloke. Maybe not the best looking - Cedric was a stunner compared to the both of them - but he had a kind, endearingly weary smile and eyes that could make anyone feel like he was seeing through their outside and right on in. And a Seeker's build. Ron had definitely noticed that lately, even though there wasn't any Quidditch for Harry to turn in wet, tired and muddy from every night.
"Aren't you worried, Harry?" Ron asked softly, putting down his quill and studying him very closely, as closely as Hermione must have studied Hogwarts, A History.
"What for?" Harry's brow knit together, and he looked as though he had a headache he wasn't willing to own up to.
Ron chewed his lip a moment. "The third task. Aren't you scared?"
Harry seemed to consider Ron a long time, and, belatedly, Ron realized that was probably a very personal question. Almost as personal as "so, Harry, are you queer?"
Then Harry sighed and put down his quill, meeting Ron's eyes, unafraid with his voice steady. "Terrified. I reckon we all are."
"Don't be terrified, Harry."
A little smile tried to sneak its way onto Harry's face, and he only just fought it off. "Not something I can control, really."
"I know, but..." But what? What is there to say when your friend is the youngest Champion not just in a century, but ever? "But you don't have to be. We're here for you. We'll help. I'll help."
And there it was, across his face. No, though. Not even then. Completely unreadable.
"Yeah. I know, Ron."
It could well be argued, at this point, that it was a consideration of timing. Ron didn't fancy distracting Harry with uncomfortable questions or odd confessions when Harry was about to face God knows what in the third task.
But there were thoughts of the loneliness months before when Ron and Harry hadn't been speaking. Hermione hadn't said too much about it, mostly because she was still angry at both of them for it, but also out of what Ron assumed was loyalty to Harry. From what little she had said, though, it sounded like Harry had been miserable without Ron to talk to or hang around.
Which was good, because Ron had been going fucking nutters without Harry. A mutual feeling they could agree to, then.
Well, someday, anyway.
And whatever happened in the task, or the end of the school year, or... well, Ron was as bad as Harry, wasn't he? If he knew what Harry was and didn't confront it when Harry wouldn't?
There was something he wanted to remember... right. Right. Harry loved Ron. Or had a crush on him, at least. Maybe. Definitely. And Harry had been there for everything Hogwarts had brought on Ron, and vice versa. Harry, who had forgiven Ron for being a selfish, inconsiderate prat jealous of a fame Harry had never even wanted, loved him. Harry, who had dealt with the constant snide banter and arguments between himself and Hermione, loved him. Harry, who had seen Ron puking up slugs for fuck's sake, loved him.
That could only mean one thing. Although it had taken Ron a good few days of thinking to touch on what was lurking under the surface of that truth.
Harry's love/crush/infatuation/insanity had been bred from friendship. One of those slow progression dealies you sometimes heard about, or read in cheesy novels. Only in real life it was scary and alarming and confusing and world-churning, not romantic and obvious and full of lusty, smutty, impractical endings.
Intricate puzzle, all this. He was putting the pieces together as quickly as he could, but it was frustrating. Some bits, namely the ones dealing with himself and not so much Harry, didn't seem to fit. Funny shaped pieces, or the wrong image on the surface of it.
How did he feel about all this anyway?
He ran down the list again. Harry, best mates, sharing, Tri-Wizard, fight, first task, reconciliation, second task, odd revelation. Rumors, trust, love, brothers, friends, queer, need, dependency. Harry was Harry, no matter who he fancied. Harry was still Ron's best mate, even if he fancied Ron. Ron didn't mind that Harry might be (was) a shirtlifter. Ron didn't mind that Harry might(did) want/love him. The only thing Ron minded was betrayal, secrets, lack of trust.
Trust. That word didn't seem to leave his mind. Mid-sentence, the word "trust" would ring through his head. Mid-action, "trust" would flash in his vision. Mid-everything. Trust.
All this on his own. Not Hermione, not Hagrid, not Mum, not Dumbledore.
He didn't trust himself. Why should Harry trust him, then?
So that was it.
Ron found Hermione, of course, in the library.
"Mmm?" She slipped a book about the size of her torso off the rack and hefted the dust-filmed thing to the nearest empty table.
"Do you think--" Ron stopped abruptly as Madam Pince walked by with a scathing look saying clearly "how dare you talk in here." He waited patiently for her to move on, and made a point of lowering his voice. "Do you think it's better to tell the truth, even if you risk losing what's most important to you?"
Hermione's eyebrows threatened to disappear into her hairline, and she squinted at him closely a moment before frowning. "It's hard to say. I suppose it depends on what you're risking. What's this about?"
"How would it depend?"
She bristled a little at his avoidance of her question, but shrugged slightly, heaving the front of the book open and trailing a finger down the index page. "Well, if what you stand to lose is worth more than what you stand to gain by the truth, it might not be best." She paused there, as if realizing what she said could excuse too many things. "But truth is generally the best policy, and I hope you're not planning to break any rules, Ron."
"Come off it. I just wanted an opinion."
"As I said. The truth is usually best," she said, eyeing him again. "Now what is--"
"See you at dinner," he said quickly, and walked out of the library, hands in his robe pockets and eyes averting the cold stare of Madam Pince.
Hermione tutted, flipping the pages in her book.
"Harry, are you busy?"
Harry was half hanging out of his school trunk at the foot of his bed, obviously searching for something, and his voice was muffled as he tossed one of his uncle's nasty socks - why did he keep those, anyway? - behind him, narrowly missing Ron. "No, hold on a bit."
"Oi, watch it."
"Sorry," Harry huffed, pulled out of the trunk and slid with a thump to the floor. "I can't find my copy of Which Broomstick... I wonder if Seamus nicked it again without asking."
"Harry, sit still and listen a second."
Again, Harry's brow furrowed, but he nodded a little, moving only briefly to right himself and sit on the bed. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing wrong... I don't think. But we need to talk." He winced at how ominous that sounded, and shrugged as indifferently as he could manage. "Really talk, you know?"
Obviously not understanding what Ron meant, he agreed just the same. "Sure."
If what you stand to lose is worth more than what you stand to gain, the truth isn't worth it. Sound advice, he had to admit. But it was really quite clear, considering that. Harry as a friend or Harry as more than that. He knew what he wanted now. And he knew which would make him happier.
Ron hadn't pondered it for too long.
"Look, I..." He should have thought out what to say, though. Somewhere safe to start would be good. "I wanted you to know that... you've got our support on all of this. Well, mine. My support."
"... On what? The task?"
"Yeah, that too."
There was a silence. Biting, almost.
"What else are you supporting me on, then?" He sounded like he knew already.
Even so, Ron hesitated, staring at the floor, considering the dust bunnies peeking out from under Neville's bed, eyeing the spots of dried mud Dean had dragged in yesterday. Then he sat down on the bed next to Harry, hands fidgeting in his lap and eyes not quite making it to Harry's face.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
No verbal answer, but Ron could feel every muscle in Harry's body tense up.
"I wouldn't have cared, you know. I wouldn't have... I might have understood."
"Harry, did you honestly think I'd give two shites that you're a--"
Silence once again. This wasn't as easy as he'd hoped it would be. He should have just said it and left. That would have been easier than tip-toeing around the truth, knowing damn well what they're talking about, but not being able to just say it. Gryffindors, known for their bravery. Right.
"If you're... oh, hell. I fancy you as well, okay?"
"If I'm wrong--"
"No," Harry interrupted, face carefully blank. "You're not. But... I mean, I don't think..."
"I'm not full of bollocks, so please don't say I am. I've thought about this way too much as it is to be wrong."
"You have." A statement, not a question.
Ron took a deep breath, feeling twisted, tense, but relieved. He was right about something. Alone in it, and he was right.
"I don't expect you to trust me. I didn't even trust myself enough to... let myself see what I've been really effin' blind to, and I'm sorry about that, Harry, more than I can tell you. If I were really a good friend, I'd have picked up sooner..."
"You're a fine friend, Ron. That's not--"
Something passed across Harry's face then, as if the honesty of it all came full circle, and he smiled at Ron. "You fancy me?"
"Fucking git. Of course I do."
Laughter then, and all the twisting in Ron's insides shook a little and stilled, leaving behind a ringing buzz that made his fingers tingle. The reaction was automatic for both of them - a hug - and then shared, embarrassed smiles that faded on lips but not in eyes when Ron kissed the corner of Harry's mouth.
"Wait," Harry said suddenly, eyes intent on his face.
Ron swallowed. "What?"
"Doesn't fancying a git make you a git by default?"
"Harry, shut up."