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Warnings: Putting these up front in bold so ya'll will read them. This is ***SLASH*** people. For those that *don't* know, that means this story deals with a romantic relationship between two people of the same sex. Yes, there are men kissing men, and boys kissing boys. If you don't like this type of story, you have the power not read it. I repeat, you have all the power here, if this squicks you, don't continue. That said, if you feel the desire to flame me, go for it. I am not such a delicate flower. However, be aware your flames will be graded for proper spelling and grammar.

Pairing: Primarily Harry/Ron, with a cameo appearance by Percy/Oliver and hints (okay, blatant talk) of Sirius/Remus
Summary: Harry has a confession, and Ron has some things to figure out…
Rating: PG-13 for m/m kissing and fairly tame cussing
Disclaimer: Not mine. All characters belong to JK Rowling et al. I just took them out to play with them for a while… And the song lyrics are from "Only Love" from The Scarlet Pimpernel (Wildhorn/Knighton).

Notes:
I had the idea for this but purposely ignored the possibility. Sure I thought about this pair… But not seriously. Then Rhysenn came right out and asked for it. Or at least, strongly suggested she would like to see this. So here it is. This is a continuation of sorts where "Unsuspecting Hearts" left off. I mean *right* when it left off. About two hours later… For those that haven't read that this will still make sense as long as you know Oliver and Percy are together, and Ron has just found out. And like "Evermore and Always" this is just one possibility- and for the purposes of this let's assume "Evermore and Always" isn't… And as one alert and observant reviewer of "Unsuspecting Hearts" pointed out- Oliver plays (in canon) for Puddlemere United and not the Tutshill Tornados, well, mea culpa- but he isn't changing teams now, he looks too damn sexy in the Tornado colours (thanks, anyway, nosilla!)! And yes, I realize that for their fifth year Harry and Co. would be fifteen, not sixteen, but I made them sixteen. So sue me.

So firstly this is for Rhysenn, who asked for it. Mostly, as always, for my bestest, who *hates* this pairing- and told me repeatedly and insistently *not* to do it- not to go there… that I would regret it. And then beta-ed it for me anyway (thanks, love)! She also spent quite a bit of time mocking me when I got frustrated during the writing of this, to which I say, "and the rest of ABJ is where, exactly?" Well, anyway, I did it. I went there. I don't regret it. And while I know she is not sold on it, perhaps she sees the possibilities clearer now… (Sidenote to Gwen… Yes, I do realize that if I stretched out the timing and replaced the names in Oliver's speech I *would* have what my Sirius might say about your Remus… lol!)

Take the Chance
A'jes' Blue, May-June, 2001

________________

I see you try to turn away.
I hear the words you want to say.
I feel how much you need to hide
What's happening inside you tonight.

Come meet my eyes one moment more
Our eyes are different than before.
This night, so beautiful and strange,
This night begins to change who we are.

Don't turn away- it's only love,
Quietly coming to you,
Whispering through you.
Take my hand- it's only love.
Let it come through you slowly.
Don't be afraid- it's only love.

_________________

"Are you all right, Ron?" Harry Potter's voice was soft in the absolute blackness of the room. Ron Weasley shifted uncomfortable under his blankets. "Ron? I know you're awake."

"Yeah." How could he say this without sounding like a prat? "I just can't…" Silence stretched between them.

"What?"

Frustration welled up in Ron. He shouldn't be conflicted. He really shouldn't. What Percy did or didn't do has nothing to do with him. Nothing whatsoever. Just don't think about it… About them… Together… Ron moaned and pulled the covers up over his head, blushing furiously.

Ron had been confronted with the reality of his uptight older brother's relationship with Oliver Wood- one time Gryffindor Quidditch captain and now professional Quidditch player. It was all the more uncomfortable for Ron because none of his siblings seemed particularly upset- or even surprised. Was he always the *last* one to find anything out? Even Ginny seemed to know. And Harry… Well Harry had been surprised, but not shocked. And it didn't seem to really matter to him. But then, Percy wasn't *Harry's* brother.

"Ron?" Great. Now Harry sounded worried. "Ron?" Ron was concentrating so hard on trying to find the words to respond to his friend's worried questions he totally missed the small sounds of Harry getting up from his cot and finding his way- in complete darkness- to the edge of Ron's bed. He did not miss, however, the way his bed dipped and groaned under Harry's added weight. Or the fumbling at the blankets as Harry searched for him in the tangle of bedclothes. "Ron- please- talk to me. I know there is something bothering you. Is it Percy? Percy and Oliver? What we saw at the game- or through the window? What *is* it?"

"Yes. No. All of the above. None of the above."

"You're not coherent." Ron could hear the smile in his friend's voice.

"They're… Percy and Oliver are…"

"I think the words you're looking for are 'disgustingly, happily in love'." Harry was grinning. Ron just knew it- could hear it.

"Yes. That." His face felt so hot he thought he must glow in the dark.

"Does that bother you?" The smile fell off Harry's voice. He sounded… almost apprehensive.

"…Yes." He admitted, a little reluctantly. God! He could *not* be having this conversation with *Harry* of all people!

"Oh…" They sat in silence and Ron could feel the distance open between them. Then, tentatively, "You know, Ron, there's nothing wrong with…"

"Harry!" Ron's voice was louder than he intended, and he burrowed further into his tangled sheets, pulling them up and over his head again. Then, muffled, "I don't want to discuss it!"

Harry was silent for a long time before he pulled himself to his feet. "Okay, Ron. Okay." Harry sounded sad. Ron listened as Harry went back to his cot and settled down. Time went by slowly as Ron tensely waited for Harry to fall asleep.

It *was* Percy and Oliver being… being in love. It wasn't that he never thought Percy deserved to be happy, to be loved, to be *in* love… It was that it was *Oliver*. Ron was confused. He shouldn't be confused, really. So Percy and Oliver decided to love each other. So what? Nothing wrong there. But shouldn't there be? Wasn't it supposed to go girl-boy, not boy-boy? Maybe it was the lack of feeling the wrongness in it… And he hated feeling that way. Feeling these weird, squirmy, uncomfortable emotions whenever he thought of them together- kissing, touching… Gah! He felt worse as time went by. And Harry wasn't asleep. He could tell by the silence that filled the room. Ron lay stock still in his bed, afraid to move, afraid Harry would want to talk some more.

Harry stared into the darkness. He had been surprised that Oliver had fallen for Percy, but upon reflection it seemed to him they suited each other very well. He only wished Ron had taken it better. It would have made things so much easier. He sighed silently, knowing Ron was still awake. It was foolish, really. They were lying in the absolute darkness, both wide awake, and stuck in their own little worlds. Harry knew that love was precious. It was foolish to turn away from it, and he was really happy Percy was able to set aside his fears and accept the obvious love Oliver felt for him. The last few years had taught him that more clearly than anything else. Life was not a guarantee. *Living* was not guaranteed. But love made living worth something. And he loved. Harry had very few people he could honestly say he loved- and that they loved him in return. Hagrid. Sirius. Hermione. And Ron.

Ron. His first, and best friend. And *only* your friend, he reminded himself. Harry couldn't remember when his feelings for Ron started to shift- from friendship to something deeper. At first he thought his emotional attachment was brotherly- like what he felt for Hermione. Any emotional attachment was strange and new for Harry, so it took him a long time to figure out it wasn't brotherly. He figured it out when he noticed the way his eyes followed the bright hair of his best friend. How he admired how Ron's tall form grew from the gangly, awkward boy-body, to the graceful, lanky, gorgeous man he was turning into. Harry could imagine him fully grown and filled out- and Harry thought he was beautiful now, at sixteen- but once he reached his full height and breadth- he would be heartbreaking. He found himself wanting to reach out and touch Ron's thick, unruly hair- tousle it- run his fingers through it- muss it up. He stopped himself from wanting to touch the silky-smooth skin of Ron's pale neck. He found himself wanting to taste his skin- see if the freckles that dusted his body really were cinnamon sweet and spicy as he imagined them. He paid closer attention to Ron's sleep patterns, what he ate, how he nibbled on the end of his quill when perplexed, how he always gave himself away just before he was about to pull a devious strategy and win at chess. How he huffed, annoyed whenever Pigwidgeon tried to deliver a letter and fail, only to try again and succeed. He may put on an act of disliking the small owl, but Harry knew he loved Pig- howsoever much he grumbled about how insufficient Pig was as a Post owl, Ron would never *not* use Pig. He loved the way Ron was loyal- sometimes to his own detriment. Loyal to the Chudley Cannons- who lost so consistently it was a standing joke that Hell would have sno-cones before they won again. Loyal to Pig so he wouldn't even use Hedwig if Harry offered. And Harry had offered. So loyal to Harry that he had been injured on several occasions just because he was Harry's friend. That is what hurt Harry the most over the years. Seeing those he loved injured or hurting because they were close to him. He was forever grateful they didn't blame him for all the danger he seemed to unwittingly put them in year in and year out. And then there was Cedric…

Pushing away the depressing thoughts, it occurred to Harry- not for the first time- that he had fallen for his best friend. And fallen hard. Once he left behind the strange crush he had on Cho, who had seemed unbearably exotic to Harry, he had gone and done the most clichéd thing. He'd fallen in love with his best friend. He felt foolish for it, and he defended the change in his longing by finding Ron exotic in his own way. And it was also incredibly clear that after the crush Ron had on Hermione faded he hadn't turned his attention elsewhere. It didn't look like any of the other girls in school caught Ron's fancy. None of the boys, either. And Harry had paid attention. He also devoutly hoped his own crush was not obvious, because if Ron reacted like this to Percy loving Oliver, Harry could only imagine what Ron would say about the thoughts Harry was having about Ron.

The sky was beginning to lighten when Harry fell asleep. Ron, lying tensely in his bed, could not sleep, and once he was certain Harry had finally drifted off, he quietly crept out of his room and downstairs to the kitchen. He poured himself some pumpkin juice before rummaging around for something to eat. He grabbed a fork, and prepared to eat the leftovers straight from their container. Sitting dejectedly at the table he tried to figure out exactly what was bothering him. They would be going back to school in a couple of days, and for the first time Ron was thankful. Before yesterday, he had been dreading the return to Hogwarts. The holiday at home had been perfect. Being part of Harry's first Christmas with a real family had been wonderful. Harry had seemed happy surrounded by the loud and loving Weasleys. Harry had relaxed, and only once Ron caught him with a heart-hungry expression on his face. Probably no one but Ron noticed it- after all there was enough chaos in the house that Harry's momentary lapse of holiday cheer went unnoticed. Unless you looked for it. Ron had caught it from the corner of his eye- he supposed it had something to do with his godfather, Sirius Black, still being a wanted fugitive. Other than that everything had been perfect. Until Percy had invited them to the game.

It was a mistake to go. Ron knew that now. If they hadn't gone to the match, they wouldn't have seen Percy embraced by Oliver. Ron could have happily lived not knowing Percy and Oliver were… were… *lovers*. Oh, so you think that it would have been different if you'd found out some other way? I mean, come on Weasley! Percy is your *brother* for god's sake! Do you honestly expect to know nothing of his life- ever? Ron snorted. It seemed even Fred and George knew about Percy's love life. Okaaaay… Not the mental picture I was going for. Ron blushed again.

He was still sitting there forty-five minutes later when Percy came downstairs for breakfast. Ron was so absorbed by his own glum thoughts he didn't notice Percy enter the kitchen. Percy was habitually quiet in the mornings, and was not expecting to find any of the household awake just after dawn.

"Ron?"

Ron's head snapped up, his brown eyes wide with suppressed fear. "P-Percy. You startled me."

"I'm sorry." Typically, Percy didn't sound at all repentant. "What are you doing awake? Did you sleep at all?"

"No." Ron blushed and rested his eyes on anything that *wasn't* his older brother.

"Is there a reason you are sitting down here alone rather than asleep upstairs?"

"No." Ron lied, dropping his gaze to the tabletop.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"NO!" Ron could feel his blush deepen, his ears prickling with uncomfortable heat. He was so embarrassed he wished he could just melt through the floor.

"All right," Percy sounded mildly surprised at the vehemence in Ron's tone. "No need to get huffy. I'll just have breakfast, shall I?"

"Fine." Ron mumbled.

"Oliver seemed to enjoy dinner last night." Percy's tone was calm and reasonable. "I could invite him more often. Dad seemed to like talking to him."

Ron murmured a response that Percy seemed to not notice.

"The Tornados played really well yesterday. I don't usually have time to go to the games. Perhaps I should make more of an effort."

Again, a sound like a strangled moan emerged from Ron.

Percy regarded his younger brother across the table. Something was 'off'. And Percy had a pretty good idea it had something to do with Oliver. More specifically, his relationship with Oliver. "Does it bother you?"

"What?" Ron's tone was wary.

"That I'm with Oliver. That we're… together." Ron raised his eyes to Percy's face and noticed first that Percy was not wearing his glasses. The second thing he noticed was that Percy was staring at him with emotion filled eyes. His eyes were pleading… and a little scared. Ron's response died on his lips as he gazed back at Percy.

His mouth worked for a moment before he found the words. "I… I don't know… I'm so confused." Again Ron felt his skin flush. Damn his pale skin, anyway. Any emotion played itself out clearly against his freckles.

"Why?" Percy's blue eyes were still staring levelly at him.

"Why?" Ron was incredulous. "Why? Because it's Oliver- and you- You- and Oliver… You. Oliver." Ron was sputtering now.

"Yes, I think we've established that." Amusement lurked at the corners of Percy's mouth. "Does it really bother you that much that I love him?"

"Love… you… love…" Ron lost his voice. He took a deep breath. "N… no. Not really. It doesn't. But shouldn't it?" Ron considered what he'd said. It was a revelation. It *didn't* bother him? Hmmmm…

"Why?" Percy looked really interested, as if this was a puzzle he had to figure out. He had gone into full 'scholar' mode- Ron could almost see the wheels turning behind his eyes. "Why *should* it bother you?"

"I mean… It's not exactly normal, is it?" Percy actually laughed. Ron watched, surprised and fascinated as the laugh started in his eyes, and spread- his cheeks pinked and his mouth quirked until a soft chuckle escaped, and he pressed his hand to his mouth to cover the sound of his laugh. Ron tried to remember the last time he'd seen Percy laugh… and he couldn't. He couldn't remember Percy ever laughing in joy. He couldn't remember Percy ever *happy*. "What happened to you?" He asked, bewildered.

As quickly as the laughter came, Percy's eyes filled with tears that he wouldn't let fall. "I once was lost… but now am found… was blind but now…" He quoted the words to the prayer-song so softly Ron had to strain to hear him. When his gaze focused back on Ron he smiled a little sadly. "I met a child named Tris," he said enigmatically, and stood. "I really must go. My desk will be full after my day of play yesterday. I'll see you tonight, okay, Ron?" Ron nodded as Percy picked up his briefcase from the counter and Apparated to work.

Ron sat for another few minutes, contemplating the surreal conversation he'd had with his stuffy older brother before the exhaustion of being up all night sank in to his weary brain. Slowly he pulled himself out of the chair, dumped the empty container and fork in the sink, and climbed up to his room, slipping silently into bed. Ron didn't notice Harry's green eyes follow his progress across the room and into bed. He didn't notice the worried expression on Harry's face as he watched Ron settle down and finally- finally fall asleep.

Harry woke up as Ron was leaving the room, and lay there tense and anxious for over an hour until Ron came back. He didn't know where Ron had gone, or why, and that worried him. There had to be something more to it. Something besides being uncomfortable about Percy and Oliver. He thought that if he was patient, maybe Ron would confide in him.

Both boys drifted into exhausted slumber until several hours later when Fred and George decided they had slept enough.

*****

The day before Fred, George, Ginny, Ron and Harry returned to Hogwarts, Harry disappeared. Ron had been avoiding Harry since the confrontation in his room, and didn't notice for quite a while. He thought Harry was off with the twins, but they returned to the Burrow without him. Surprised, he questioned Fred and George.

"Where's Harry?"

"Dunno…"

"… He said he had someone he needed to talk to."

"He went off early with Percy."

"He did what?"

"Went. With Percy." The twins shrugged and left Ron standing openmouthed in the kitchen. When Harry returned hours later he would not tell Ron where he had been, or who he had seen. Ron didn't question him too closely for fear that Harry would want to talk some more about the odd way he had been acting.

Harry could tell Ron was avoiding him, so he did the only thing he could think to do, especially since Sirius was off on Order business and he might not get an owl back from him for days. He paid a visit to Oliver. He left before Ron got up and asked Percy to take him to Oliver's flat. Oliver was surprised to see him, but happy to take him along to practice, and to talk with him after. Harry was so wrapped up in his own problems he couldn't concentrate on the Quidditch practice, and answered questions put to him by the team politely, but a bit distractedly. Apparently realizing he had more on his mind than Quidditch, Oliver's teammates left him alone.

On the way back to Oliver's flat they spoke of nothing important, school, the team, Quidditch. Then Oliver sighed, as Harry gave another vague answer to another vague question. Once they were sitting comfortably in Oliver's small living room, he broke the silence that had grown between them.

"Harry."

"Uh-huh." Harry knew that tone of voice. It was Oliver's 'getting down to business, this may not be pretty' voice.

"Out with it. You didn't come all the way down here to chat about nothing. Something is bothering you."

"Oliver…" Harry groped for the words, pushing his glasses up his nose. "How did you and Percy get together?" Harry wouldn't face him.

"What?" Oliver's eyebrows rose. Harry is curious about me and Percy?

"You heard me. How did you… *know*… that he was it?" Oliver watched as a rosy flush stained Harry's cheeks.

Oh ho, it's like that then, is it? Finally figured it out, did you? Oliver smiled slightly as he sighed again. "I didn't. It happened while I wasn't paying attention. I fell for him long before we got together. He was in so much pain- and he turned to me… To *me*, can you believe it? He trusted me… And I listened. That's all. It was weeks before I told him I wanted him… as a lover… and more weeks before we did anything but kiss. He is so brave, Harry. And so beautiful. I look into his eyes and I see the strongest person I have ever known- someone who needs me to protect his space and his silences, and who will protect me and mine… to the death if need be. And that is so… So amazing. And powerful. But mostly? I just love him. Who he is- just… Percy. That's all. And that's kind of everything."

Harry was staring down at his hands as he listened to Oliver talk about Percy and his heart constricted in his chest. He knew those feelings and emotions. He wished he could share them with Ron. "Thanks, Oliver. Thanks a lot."

"It didn't help, did it?"

"What do you mean?"

"With your situation. My story didn't help you figure it out."

"I… I… Honestly? No."

"Tell him how you feel, Harry. Give him the truth. You owe him that much."

Harry's mouth quirked, his eyes bright behind his glasses. "Am I that obvious?"

Oliver laughed. "No. But I've been there… am there still. I *watched* you, Harry. You keep tabs on Ron like I do on Percy. My eyes still track his bright hair wherever we happen to be. He makes me forget the rules to Quidditch- and *that* should tell you what he does to me! And for what it's worth- I don't think Ron has figured out what he wants."

"What if I tell him and…" Harry stared unhappily down at his hands, unable to complete the thought.

"Then at the very least you won't have any regrets about never letting him know. Gods, Harry, you of all people know what the wizarding world is facing. If what I hear whispers about is really happening I don't know that there will *be* a Quidditch League this time next year. Grab your chances where you can. You're sixteen… But you've never really been a kid. Tell him how you feel. Tell him there are no strings. But you've got to let him know. If You-Know-Who is returning, there are dark days ahead. We've got to try for all the joy we can. Even Ron, thick as he is, can appreciate that."

"Hey!" Harry's eyes sparked with indignation at the slur on Ron.

"Peace, Harry. I wasn't putting him down… Just pointing out that he isn't the brightest crayon in the box when it comes to basic personal and interpersonal relations- however brilliant a strategist he is."

"I guess."

"Besides- if you two do… well, then, I will have done my elder brotherly duty, won't I?" Oliver sounded pleased.

Harry's head snapped up at this and his eyes prickled with unexpected tears. If he and Ron did… He'd have a huge extended family. Percy and Oliver, Fred, George, Bill, Charlie, Ginny… Parents… Family. He hadn't considered that. He was so wrapped up in his feelings for Ron he forgot the rest of the Weasleys were a package deal. It was almost too good to be true.

Oliver had given him a lot to think about, and when Percy collected him on his way home he went silently. He missed the look that passed between the lovers. He even missed the low, loving words they exchanged. He did not miss the kisses, but his own longing made him turn away, give them a little privacy.

"What's going on?" Percy's eyes held worry as he glanced at Harry, who seemed wholly preoccupied. He and Oliver were standing close together, arms around each other, and Oliver played unconsciously with Percy's hair.

"He's in love." Oliver's voice was soft and intimate, for Percy's ears only.

"What?" Percy's eyes went wide.

"With Ron."

"Oh. Oh, poor Harry." Percy couldn't help but wince in sympathy. Ron was the least mature, the youngest, emotionally, of all his siblings. Harry would have a difficult time.

"Yes, love. Poor Harry indeed." Oliver leaned in and captured Percy's lips with his own. "Mmmm. Too bad you can't stay." He pressed closer and breathed in Percy's scent.

"You're traveling tomorrow. And I have to go to King's Cross tomorrow with… everybody." Percy squirmed a little as Oliver's tongue found his earlobe.

"I know. Love you." Oliver kissed him again.

"When you get back." Percy promised, his eyes filled with heat and glowing with love. Then, as he pulled away, a mischievous expression flashed across his face and he leaned in close. "I've been shopping at the bookstore… We'll have some new things to try when you return."

Oliver groaned at this admission, and captured Percy again in the circle of his strong arms and kissing him deeply before releasing him, flushed and slightly breathless, to take Harry home with him to the Burrow. "Harry?" Harry turned back to Oliver as he followed Percy out of the flat. "It's worth it." Oliver smiled kindly at Harry, light shining in his eyes. Harry did not notice the delighted smile Percy gave Oliver from over his head.

*****

Ron only gave him a hurt look when he returned, but thankfully did not question him much. They packed in silence. Harry, because he was still mulling over the revelations from Oliver, and Ron because he didn't want to seem like he was checking up on Harry. It was a long time before either one of them slept that night, and the gulf of non-communication opened wider between them.

They were both thankful when they arrived back at Hogwarts and had Hermione to distract them from the confused silence that held them away from each other. If Hermione noticed anything amiss, she didn't say anything to either Harry or Ron. She did, however, find time to speak with Ginny.

"What happened over break?"

"What do you mean, Hermione?"

"Ron and Harry are hardly talking. What happened?"

"I'm not sure. They both seemed great until the day Percy took us to the Quidditch match."

"Percy took you to a Quidditch match?" Hermione's eyebrows rose. It seemed unlikely the dedicated, driven Percy she knew would bother with such foolishness- however much he liked the game.

"Yes. The Tornados and the Cannons. Oliver Wood was playing, and since he and Percy are lovers, naturally Percy wanted to see him play."

Hermione sat and absorbed that fascinating recitation for a few minutes before she focused back to Ginny's calm face. "Percy… and Oliver?"

Ginny smiled slightly. It was rare to see Hermione nearly speechless. It was kind of… fun. Hermione was always so self-possessed. "Uh huh. It came as rather a shock to Ron, I'm afraid. That's when he started acting all strange. And after witnessing a rather… passionate kiss between them… well, I don't think Ron took it well at all." Ginny pinked a bit at the memory. That kiss was the first of its kind she had ever seen, passion filled and burning hot- all consuming- as if the entire world was comprised solely of Percy and Oliver. If Oliver hadn't already confessed his love for Percy to her she would have had no doubts that the two of them were joined at the soul- it went that deep.

Hermione's eyes unfocused as she thought about it, what she knew of Ron and how he would react confronted with his older brother's choice of lover. He'd be embarrassed and confused, and maybe a little disgusted- but then again, maybe not. When she turned her attention to how *Harry* would react, her eyes widened. "Ginny?"

"Hmmm?"

"How did Harry take it?" She was right… Had to be. She could smack herself it was so obvious. It had been sitting under her nose for so long… She just needed Ginny to confirm.

"Harry? I don't know. He didn't seem too surprised. But then he never does. He was fine, I guess. Happy for them, maybe. Why?"

"I don't know yet. I'll tell you when I do." With that Hermione left Ginny alone. Ginny was a little confused, but let it slide- turning her attention back to the revising she was working on for her History of Magic class. It was only hours later while sitting in the common room studying she caught the expression on Harry's face when he glanced up at something Ron said to Seamus and Neville working at the same table. It was then she thought she knew why Hermione had asked about Harry's reaction. Harry was in love with Ron- or at least had a deep crush, and her brother was completely oblivious. Ginny smiled. Fred and George had nothing on Ginny when it came to finding things out. The difference was Ginny could keep her mouth shut. Humming slightly under her breath, she continued studying.

*****

Three days later Harry and Ron still weren't talking. They were perfectly cordial to each other, and they were constantly in each other's presence, but they weren't *talking*. They were driving Hermione crazy. She confronted Harry first.

"What's wrong with the two of you?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

"Stop it, Harry. You've been avoiding Ron."

Harry sighed. "Actually Hermione, Ron's been avoiding me."

"Does he know?"

"Know what?"

"How you feel about him." Hermione would have laughed at the expression on Harry's face if it wasn't so serious. "Honestly, Harry, I'm not stupid. I do have eyes. When Ginny told me about Percy and Oliver and then about how Ron reacted- and you… You *didn't* react, and you keep watching him with this *expression* on your face- sort of… avid. Well, I can put two and two together, you know."

"Ginny knows?" Harry sat down heavily, shocked. "Oliver. You. Ginny. How… how is it that Percy being with Oliver turned *my* life upside down?"

Hermione sat down next to him. If she'd had any doubts they were gone now. "Really, Harry," she sniffed. "You're being melodramatic." She paused. "But you should let him know."

"Yeah." Harry laughed humourlessly. "That's what Oliver said."

"You saw Oliver?"

Harry blushed. "Yeah. I wanted to know. He really loves Percy, you know. I mean in that soul-wrenching, gut deep way. Percy's really lucky."

"Hmph. I think Oliver is the lucky one."

Harry chuckled a little, giving Hermione a genuine smile. "I think he'd agree with you."

"Talk to him. I mean it. I will not be the go-between. Not again!" With that Hermione left Harry to brood.

*****

Hermione cornered Ron that afternoon while Harry was at Quidditch practice.

"Ron. Why are you avoiding Harry?" She said with her customary frankness.

"What? I am not."

"You are too!"

"He won't talk to me."

"You won't talk to him."

"Okay. So neither one of is talking. It seems to me *you* more than make up the difference." Ron almost snarled, sounding a bit harsher than he intended.

"Oh, that's nice. Do you always have to do that? Turn the conversation back on me in the meanest way possible? You are such a prat, Ronald Weasley. I don't know why I bother. I don't know why Harry bothers. What the hell does he see in you, anyway?" Hermione dashed the tears off her cheeks and ran off with a very bewildered Ron staring after her.

What did I say? Did Hermione just swear at me? Ron groaned to himself. Great. Just great. Now both of your best friends are not speaking to you. You are worthless. Waste-of-space-Weasley, that's you.

Ron was quiet at dinner that night, sitting glumly next to Harry. Hermione pointedly ignored him. The only one who would talk to him at all was his little sister.

"Are you okay, Ron?"

"No, Ginny. I am most decidedly *not* okay."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Not really."

"Maybe you should talk to him."

"What? Who?"

"Harry, silly." She smiled indulgently at him. "He's the only person in your life that makes you act like this." She paused. Then, almost accusingly, "you were mean to Hermione. You purposely ticked her off so she couldn't question you about Harry." At his indifferent grunt, her brow wrinkled up a bit with worry. "You didn't fight with him, did you? He looks at you like he wishes you'd say something to him. Say anything to him."

Ron grunted again in response. Ginny gazed at him sympathetically for a moment before she left him alone. Poor Ron. He doesn't know what he wants.

*****

Two weekends later was a Hogsmeade Saturday for the students. After breakfast all the third-year-and-above students were in their dorm rooms getting ready to go to the wizarding village. As they were about to exit the Gryffindor common room, Harry put his hand out, stopping Ron from following their classmates out.

"Can I talk to you? Just… for a while?"

Ron stared at Harry surprised, but nodded and stepped back into the common room. Hermione and Ginny shared a triumphant look and left together. Harry was shifting subtly from foot to foot. Only those who knew him well could tell he was nervous.

"Come back to the dorm. It's more… private." Harry could feel his ears grow hot, and hoped Ron wouldn't notice the blush. He turned abruptly and walked back up the stairs to their room. Neville, Seamus, and Dean had already left for Hogsmeade. Harry had made sure they wouldn't be back until late. The tension between Ron and Harry had become readily apparent to their roommates, and they were relieved that Harry seemed to be taking the first step to get back to normal.

Harry hadn't thought this through. He had no idea what he was going to say once they made it back to the dorm. He only knew he missed his friend. He had very few people in his life who knew him- just Harry- not Harry Potter; The Boy Who Lived. And this was worse than the few weeks last year when Ron refused to speak to him at all. They technically *were* talking to each other, but Ron wasn't *there*. He was polite, distant, and driving Harry to distraction. They hadn't played chess since the before the holidays ended, and they hadn't really laughed together since then, either. They hadn't talked. Worse, every time Hermione looked at him she had a sympathetic, supportive expression on her face that made Harry want to scream.

Once the door to their room closed behind them, Harry tensed. Ron was waiting, a little bewildered. "Ron. You know there are very few people I can rely on for anything."

"Harry…"

"No. Let me talk. If I don't… I may not be able to say everything I have to say."

"Okay." Ron said with trepidation. This didn't sound good.

"Sirius. Hermione. And you." Harry counted them off on his fingers. "I know I can count on the three of you more than anyone else. I have to have you there. It's all I have, sometimes. I didn't ask to be a target, or a symbol, or the savior of the wizarding world, but sometimes it seems like I am. I've been cast as this person who… it's like they can throw as much evil at me as they like and I'll survive because I just refuse to die, maybe. I hate it. I never wanted it. And the only way I've survived the last few years is with you, and Hermione, and Sirius. I… I love you all so much. You're my family. My only family."

Harry paused. Through the whole recitation he hadn't looked at Ron once. Now he raised his emerald eyes to gaze steadily into Ron's brown ones. "But you've become more than that to me, Ron. You are my symbol, my strength… my home. I need you. I need you, because when it comes right down to it, sometimes the thought of you is the only thing that keeps me going." Harry paused, considering his next words carefully. "They were right, last year, when they chose you as the thing I'd miss the most. The thing I wouldn't be able to go on without. I don't think anyone else can really fully understand the horror of what we've gone through. It seems like we are the ones on the front lines, facing Voldemort and the Death Eaters. You and me- and Hermione. I just need you to know… how I feel." This came out in a rush. Then, almost apologetically, Harry continued. "And I'll understand if I can't be the same to you as you are to me. You have so many more people in your life that love you- that you love. You have a whole huge family that supports you in whatever you do. But I needed you to know… that I… I love you. Even if… even if we are just friends for the rest of my life, I wanted you to know. I love you." He paused, before repeating it again, slowly, so there could be no mistake. "I love you." Harry fell silent.

Ron stood shocked, unable to speak. Harry watched as Ron just stared at him, mouth open a little in surprise. He looked rather like he was expecting someone to jump out and shout 'Fooled ya!' in his face. Harry sighed a little to himself, not really expecting Ron to declare his undying love, but a reaction would have been nice. Any reaction that showed Ron had heard and understood. Instead Ron was statue-still, brown eyes wide, staring. Harry knew it wasn't honorable- that he was taking advantage, but he wanted to *just once* know what it would be like. He crossed quickly to Ron and pressed his lips gently but briefly to Ron's before throwing open the door and exiting the room. He heard nothing but his heartbeat roaring in his ears, tasting the lingering warm sweetness of Ron on his lips. He continued through the portrait hole, through the castle and school grounds and out into Hogsmeade.

Ron hadn't even had time to close his eyes when Harry kissed him. His mind replayed the kiss several times before he could move. He sat heavily on his bed and stared out the empty doorway. Harry had declared his love, kissed him, and left. What was he supposed to do now? His best friend just told him he loved him. And then kissed him- on the mouth. What did it mean? Groaning, Ron decided he didn't really want to go into Hogsmeade at all today. He didn't feel like seeing any of his classmates at the moment. At the same time he *really* didn't want to be in this room. Slowly, he got to his feet and wandered through the hallways of the castle. All day he wandered aimlessly, finding himself out on the grounds, walking around the lake, visiting the Quidditch field. Tea time, and he found himself outside of Hagrid's hut. Hagrid let him in and he sat drinking tea and avoiding the rather noxious looking cakes Hagrid served him. If Hagrid noticed his shell-shocked attitude, he made no reference to it, instead rambling on pleasantly and enthusiastically about the fascinating new creature he found in the Forbidden Forest (and to Ron it seemed like a rather horrible beast, but he couldn't tell Hagrid that). It was late before he left Hagrid's, and he knew all the students would be back from Hogsmeade.

Dinnertime came and he sat in his customary seat next to Harry. Other than a few questioning glances from his roommates he said nothing. Harry acted as if nothing had happened. He acted like the conversation and kiss never took place. It threw Ron for a moment- maybe he had imagined the whole thing. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe he was completely bonkers. Then for the first time since the kiss he met Harry's eyes, and saw that for all he was acting normally, Harry's eyes were worried, agitated. He smiled a little sickly at Harry, who smiled tentatively back. Sensing that Ron was unable to offer anything but the small smile, Harry turned back to Hermione. Hermione was looking at Ron with a disapproving frown on her face, but she didn't say anything to him.

'What the hell does he see in you, anyway…' Hermione's fierce words came back to him in a flash of illumination. Hermione knew. She *knew*. All of the numbed confusion crashed down and Ron's vision sparked with red and black. Rage boiled and thrummed along his nerve endings. It was irrational, he knew. It was foolish. It was unreasonable. But he was so hurt and *angry* that Harry had discussed this with Hermione. Dropping his flatware with a crash he rose to his feet and stalked out of the Great Hall.

Harry watched him go with unhappy eyes. He'd ruined it. He'd made it worse. Sighing, he rose and followed Ron out. Ginny and Hermione exchanged worried glances before turning their attention back to their dinners. Fred and George were not oblivious to Ron's mood, and both wandered down to where Ginny was sitting with Hermione.

"What's going on…"

"… with Ron?"

"Dunno." Ginny answered completely truthfully. Harry had found them in Hogsmeade but refused to talk to either one. He had been withdrawn all day, and when they returned to Hogwarts, Ron was nowhere to be found. Ginny noticed that Harry had relaxed immediately upon seeing Ron coming into the hall for dinner. Ron had seemed bewildered but okay. And then something set him off. Ginny couldn't figure it out. It seemed like all of a sudden he went mad.

"He's acting like a two year old!" Hermione all but snapped, startling both Ginny and the twins. "Boys. Honestly." She got up from the table and moved swiftly toward the door. George looked confused, but Fred stood staring after Hermione for a long moment before George pushed him back toward their chairs. Something was going on. Fred could almost taste it. But the thought that teased his brain was quickly supplanted by his brother's insistence they plan out the proper proportions for the Wheeze they were working on. He turned to George and let Harry and Hermione worry about whatever was bothering Ron.

*****

Harry caught up to Ron as he was slamming into their room. He reached out and touched Ron's shoulder. Ron whirled around and started yelling, face flushed and twisted into a snarl.

"How could you?"

"What?" Harry stepped back in surprise.

"You told Hermione! How could you do that? You two got all cozy and talked about me?"

"Ron-"

"No! I know! You talked to her about this!"

"Ron it wasn't like that!"

"What did you tell her? Ask her how to go about it? Pick her brain on the best way to put it?"

"Ron- Listen to me…"

"Did she have a good chuckle over this?"

"RON! Stop it!"

Ron panted with anger and rage. His cheeks had two spots of color, but the skin around his mouth was white. His brown eyes sparked with a fury and betrayal Harry had never seen before, but at least he was listening now.

"I didn't tell anyone." Harry hurried on when it looked like Ron would interrupt him. "Ron, I wouldn't do that! She figured it out. Listen! This is *Hermione* we're talking about here! She figured it out."

"You didn't tell her?" Ron sank down onto his bed, all the anger draining away.

"No. I was still trying to work up the nerve to tell you." Harry sat next to him. He sighed heavily. "I can't say she's the only one who knows, though."

"What? Who else?"

Harry thought for a moment, not wanting to lose the closeness of the moment. Reluctantly he said, "I'm pretty sure Ginny figured it out, she knows more about everything then she lets on. Oliver did, too- so it's a safe bet Percy knows by now. I don't think anyone else… Although Neville's given me some pretty sympathetic looks over the past couple of days so maybe he knows too."

"Oliver and Percy?" Ron was pale, but he didn't look as sick as Harry thought he would. More questioning than anything else.

"I went to see Oliver. I wanted to talk to him. Of anyone I could think of besides Sirius, he's the only one I know who might have been able to give me advice on this."

"That day you disappeared." Ron said in a monotone.

"Yeah. I spent the day with Oliver. They're really happy, Ron. Oliver is totally in love. That's kind of rare, to see the connection they have. I could almost feel it, it's so strong."

Ron's eyes narrowed at the wistful tone in Harry's voice. "Is that what you feel for me?"

Harry paused, knowing he had to be entirely truthful. "I think so, yeah." Harry stared at Ron speculatively for a moment. "Are you okay with that? I mean, I understand if you don't love me back like that. I didn't want to freak you out. I want to be friends- always. I need that more."

Ron was silent so long Harry thought he'd lost his best friend. "Yeah. I'm okay with that. But Harry, this comes as a shock. I mean a really *big* shock. And I… I need some time."

Harry's heart leapt with these words. "Of course." He blushed. "And I mean… I'm not really ready for… You know… all that stuff… I mean, we're only sixteen." Ron watched in fascination as Harry stuttered and the blush deepened. "It's just that after last year and Cedric- you never know when it's going to be too late… I didn't want to regret not sharing this with you. And Oliver told me I should let you know how I felt. So did Hermione, for that matter."

"I… I guess I'm glad you did." Ron offered a tentative grin, that Harry, looking happier than he had since the holidays, gratefully returned.

As they were leaving the room Ron turned to Harry, puzzled. "Wait. You said you went to Oliver because you couldn't go to Sirius. What did you mean?"

"Oh, that." Harry smiled, looking embarrassed. "Well Sirius and Professor Lupin…"

"What?" Oh… *way* too much information… Ron choked back a moan.

"Yeah. Sirius told me last summer. It's difficult for them, always being apart, but it's better now that Remus knows the truth about what happened, you know, that night. That Sirius is innocent. He was in pretty bad shape for a long time. And now they can write letters- even see each other occasionally if they're really careful."

"Remus?" Ron quirked an eyebrow. "You call him Remus?"

Harry's eyes glowed with mischief. "Well, he's practically my uncle. Or maybe Godfather Two? Godmother?"

Ron started to snicker, and soon they were laughing together as if the last few awkward weeks hadn't happened. "Godmother… My fairy godmother is a werewolf…" They started to giggle again at the ridiculousness of it until they couldn't hold back and they laughed themselves breathless.

*****

Ron was grateful that their friendship returned to what it had been. Other than a few pointed glances from Hermione, everything seemed normal. Like it had before their conversation- and The Kiss. That's how he thought of it now. In capital letters like it was an event. Or maybe it was just to distance himself from the memory. As the days went by, it became more and more distant. Harry didn't moon over him at all. Which was just what he wanted, right? For everything to stay exactly as it was? Ron did notice after the revealing conversation about Sirius and Professor Lupin that his roommates relaxed for the first time since the holiday break. Doubtless they were thankful that Ron and Harry seemed to have ironed out their differences. Although Dean and Seamus seemed to take Neville off with them more and more and leave Harry and Ron alone, which struck Ron as rather… odd. Until he figured out that they must be aware of Harry's feelings for him and were simply giving them privacy. Which made Ron uncomfortable enough he blushed the next few times his three other roommates left them alone. Then he relaxed because nothing happened. Whatdja think? Harry's going to jump you just because Seamus, Dean and Neville leave the room? Stupid prat! And then Ron had to figure out why he was slightly disappointed when nothing *did* happen.

*****

Several nights after this, Ron, on his way to the common room to meet Harry and Hermione, overheard them talking on the stairs. Pausing in the curve of the staircase so they couldn't see him, he listened. Only because it sounded like they were discussing him. Or rather, Hermione was discussing him. He got the distinct impression Harry would rather be anywhere else.

"And that's it? You just left it there?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Hermione…"

"No. Harry, listen. Ron has done some really foolish things, but this has got to top the list."

"Hermione…"

"How can you live like that?"

"Hunh? What do you mean?"

"Doesn't it just kill you that you have all this *feeling* for him and he just rejected it?"

"Hermione," Harry sighed patiently. "He didn't reject it. It… Well, he just doesn't feel the same way. I respect that. I didn't expect to fall in love with him. I can't expect him to feel as I do. But I need him. I need him as my friend, first. I don't care about the other stuff."

"What? Why not?"

There was a pause. Then, slowly, sounding resigned that Hermione would *not* let this alone, Harry began to speak. "You know what the Dursleys are like. Ron's even met them. For my whole life I just had these… people. And they hate me, they *despise* me. For ten years I was just the kid they shoved into the cupboard under the stairs. I was never good enough. Never measured up to their twisted standards of 'normal'." Ron could imagine the serious expression on Harry's face as he described the abuse. It was something he never talked about, and Ron leaned in to listen more closely. "They locked me up. Didn't feed me. Then, the most amazing thing happened. I found out who my parents were. And I… I suppose I miss them. But I don't remember them. Not the way they were before they died. I guess I never will. I won't ever remember what it's like to have a real family. Parents. A mum that loves me." Harry's voice dropped to an almost-whisper. "*You* guys are my family, Hermione. You, Ron, and Sirius… and Hagrid. The Dursleys… well, they hate me more every time I see them because I am what I am. But I can handle it because I have you."

"Harry… That's sort of… pathetic." Her tone of voice dripped with sympathy and worry. Harry laughed a little uncomfortably.

"I know. That's how I can go on and *not* care whether he ever loves me that way." Harry paused before continuing more fiercely, "I can't lose him as my best friend. I won't survive that, Hermione. I really won't. Last year… Last year showed me that well enough." Harry stopped again. Then, more gently, "but you and Oliver were right, you know. I'm glad I won't ever do the 'if only, what if' questioning."

"So that's it?"

"That's it. If Ron ever does feel that way about me… at least he knows where I stand on the issue."

"Okay." Hermione backed down, but she didn't sound happy about it.

At this point Ron sneaked up to the top of the stairs, slammed their dorm room door and clattered back down the stairs to meet Harry and Hermione, making enough noise so they would be able to stop talking about him by the time he got to the bottom.

*****

As the days melted into weeks Ron grew increasingly restless. His attention span, never very good unless he was playing chess or watching Quidditch, shrunk to practically nothing. He couldn't pay attention in class, and Hermione was despairing that Ron would pass his O.W.L.s at the end of the year. His sleep was restless and broken. He would wake up several times a night, and sometimes not be able to sleep at all, and he stopped eating as well. The insomnia and stress were beginning to be noticed. Ron's irrepressible spirit seemed to wilt a little as his mind raced around in circles.

Since that illuminating overheard conversation between his best friends, Ron really believed Harry loved him. Was in love with him. It hadn't really sunk in before what that meant. And he had never really thought about the Muggles Harry stayed with. Sure, he had cordially hated them for the few things he had witnessed them do to Harry, but he had never before contemplated what it meant for Harry to have grown up in that poisoned environment. Harry had been criminally abused and neglected for most of his life. That thought gave Ron nightmares. It hurt to think of Harry scared and alone and afraid. So he was coming to the realization that Harry needed him. Harry *needed* him? Ron was shocked. How could Harry need Ron? Ron knew he was nothing special. His family didn't have anything. No money, no prestige, nothing.

But then he did something he'd never done before. He contemplated what was important in *Harry's* mind, and realized his family was rich in the only way that mattered to the heart-hungry teen. Ron's family was rich in love. Harry had even said it. 'you have so many more people that love you…' It was illuminating, and it made Ron squirm with embarrassment for all the envy he had felt over Harry's parents' money. Could it be true that Harry only had four people who truly loved him? Surely not! He was Harry Potter. Everyone loved him. But… maybe not. Everyone loved "The Boy Who Lived". How many of those people really knew Harry Potter- just Harry? And how many of those people could Harry count on? Only four. So Ron was one of a select, privileged few. So maybe he was special to Harry. Special to *Harry*!?! It excited Ron. And then it made him scared, which twisted him up inside even worse. Someday, Harry would come to the realization that Ron really was nothing special, and when that day came Ron would have nothing. And what was driving him even crazier was that Harry made no more overtures of any kind.

Other than tossing a few anxious glances Ron's way, Harry's attitude didn't change at all. More and more Ron wished for someone to talk to about it. For anything else he would have gone to Harry for advice. He thought about his family and mentally discounted each one. Not his father. Perish the thought! Not his older brothers… Bill and Charlie were away working, and both of them were decidedly and firmly oriented on girls- he was pretty sure… Fred and George? No way. No way, no how. He was *not* going to ask advice from them. Perhaps if Harry had been a girl it would be different... But since Harry was, well, Harry, he could just imagine the lengths they'd go to, to tease him… Percy? He groaned inwardly. No. Too… weird. Ron couldn't go to Percy about this, although his fussy older brother was the one who would understand the most. So who? Then he thought about Sirius and Professor Lupin. First, he thought about Professor Lupin… But he was a former professor, which was rather off-putting. Ron didn't think he could honestly ask for love advice from Professor Lupin without being totally humiliated (and he tried to convince himself that Professor Lupin being a werewolf had nothing to do with his reluctance). That left Sirius. He could send an owl to Sirius and ask some general advice. He could do that. As long as he kept it vague he should be all right.

Quickly, before he had a chance to think too closely about what he was doing, Ron sat and wrote a letter and, with a pale face and shaking hands went to ask if he could borrow Hedwig. It hurt Ron that he didn't dare trust this task to Pig. Other than looking at him rather curiously when he explained he had an important letter that had to reach its destination on the first try, Harry said yes.

The minute Hedwig left the owlery he wanted to recall the letter. He regretted ever sending it. He called himself every name for stupid he could think of. He snapped at everyone at dinner until they all got the point and left him alone. This thing with Harry was driving him mad. Late that night, lying awake for the zillionth night in a row, he accepted the fact that he couldn't retrieve the letter. What would come would come, and there wasn't anything he could do about it. With this revelation he found a measure of peace as he waited, somewhat nervously, for Sirius' reply.

*****

Sirius Black was abroad on business for the Order of the Phoenix when Hedwig caught up to him. At the owl's cry, he transformed from dog into a man. He crooned at the bird as it landed on his outstretched arm. Deftly plucking the note from the snowy owl's leg he was surprised to see it was neither Harry's bold scrawl, nor Hermione's neat penmanship. Instead the note was addressed to "Snuffles" in a messy, uneven hand Sirius wasn't familiar with. Opening it with growing trepidation he glanced at the signature, and stood staring at the shaky "Ron Weasley" printed there. Sighing, he read:

Dear Sir- Snuffles,

Harry's fine. Hermione's fine. Everything's fine. Nothing too horrible happening here besides Potions with Professor Snape, which is horrible but we're used to it. I really don't want to bother you with this if you're really busy, but I need to ask your advice. I know you probably think I could go to my father for advice easier than hunting you up, but trust me, my father would be hopeless. I can't ask him this stuff. Likewise my brothers- I mean, Percy would understand, but I can't ask him. I just can't. Don't ask. And Harry told me about… Well, about you and Professor Lupin. I hope you don't mind. I assume that Harry wouldn't have said anything if it wasn't okay to tell me- and anyway he only told me because… Well. Never mind. So on to the questions.

1. How do you know when you are in love (I guess this is the big one)?

2. When you think you're in love what do you do then?

3. What does it feel like?

4. Does it hurt (Okay… Not what I really mean. Do you know what I mean?)?

Please answer at your earliest convenience. Thank you.

Ron Weasley

PS- please don't tell anyone I wrote this to you.

Sirius read the whole letter through twice before it made any sense. Reading between the lines it looked as if young Weasley was in love and didn't know what to do about it. Mentally Sirius ran through the students he knew or had heard of through Harry. Immediately he discounted any of the girls. If Ron was in love with a girl he would go to his father- or his brothers. Since he discounted all of them it had to be a boy that caught his attention. And if Harry told Ron about Remus… Well, perhaps the object of Ron's affection was Harry. Or maybe it was the other way around, and Ron was the object of *Harry's* affection and was questioning his own feelings. That fit better, somehow. So maybe little Harry Potter was in love.

Sirius grinned at the thought, and once again he wished James was here to share this. And he also chastised himself for thinking of Harry as "little"- Harry was now sixteen, and had seen more in the war against Voldemort and the Dark Arts wizards than anyone in recent memory, and had come back alive from impossible situations. So perhaps Ron needed a push in order to realize his own feelings. Well, Sirius remembered well that he had needed a push to acknowledge his feelings for Remus so many years ago. James had provided the much needed shove in the right direction. To ensure the happiness of James' son, Sirius would gladly return the favour.

Whistling lightly, Sirius sat down to write a response to Ron's letter. He also planned to pen a letter to Remus to let him know that Harry had told Ron about their relationship, but that he was fairly certain it would go no farther, and why he thought so. Ah, he'd almost forgotten the little dramas surrounding growing up.

*****

Ron noticed the return of Hedwig with something akin to dread. Luckily, Harry and Hermione were off looking something up in the library when Hedwig found him, or they would have demanded to know why he was receiving a letter from Sirius. Quickly stuffing the letter deep into his pocket, already late meeting Harry and Hermione, he sent Hedwig back to the owlery. Later, when he had more time to concentrate on it, he would read Sirius' response.

It was hours before he could find a quiet corner without his two best friends. Hermione was back in the library (if she'd ever left) and Harry was working with the Gryffindor students who wanted to be beaters next year. Ron was holding out for a chaser position so he didn't go to the special practice for hopeful beaters. Fred, George and Alicia were there with Harry, to see what the would-be beaters were made of. Sighing his relief of being alone at last, he pulled the slightly crumpled letter from the depths of one of his pockets and opened it with trembling fingers.

Dear Ron,

I am glad everyone is fine. And I am sorry Snape is giving you a hard time. I did wonder when Hedwig arrived and I did not recognize the handwriting. I will try to answer your questions as best I can, although my advice may seem vague- you did not tell me the specifics, so I can only draw from my own experiences. I can't say I've ever been asked advice on this particular subject before (although I have been the reluctant recipient of such advice), but I shall do my best.

When you think you may be in love the first thing you must do is talk to the person you have those feelings for. I can't stress this enough. Talk. I know it goes against anything you've seen of men and relationships, but believe me, communication is the key to happiness. If you are not sure it's love… This is more difficult. Does the thought of the person make you feel warm inside? Do you trust them enough to let them know how you feel? If the answer is 'no,' perhaps it is only physical attraction you're caught up in and not love. If the answer is 'yes'- you, my friend, are in love! Don't wait around for the "right time"- Trust me, there is no right or wrong time. Talk now!

As to what it feels like… Well, I figure that is pretty much an individual response. For me, when I am with my lover I feel like everything is right. Finally everything makes sense. He completes me. We have a trust, a bond.

As to whether or not it hurts. Yes. And no. Ron, everything hurts us. Sometimes the pain is good pain, it shows us we are alive and able to feel. Other pain is not good- and I trust you can figure out the difference. Yes, love hurts. And yes it is worth every bit of pain that it causes. Look at me. We spent twelve years apart because of my idiocy, and yet, we are stronger now than we have ever been. If anything he loves me more- which has been a very great gift. I have so many regrets, so much I am not proud of, and yet he loves me more. We are stronger together than apart.

Love is a risk, Ron. But make that wager. Take that gamble, because the payoff is more joy then you have ever wished for.

In closing, let me just say that none of us knows how long we have to love. Take your chances where you find them. The Dark Arts are rising, and we need to grab for whatever happiness we can find. Trust me on this. You should never have to live with the regret of withholding your love because of fear. We never know when it is too late.

I certainly hope this helps a little with your difficulty. I've never given advice on love before. I don't know if anything I've said is worth the parchment it's written on. Good luck!

Sirius

Ron's eyes were bright as he finished the letter for the second time. Sirius had been through so much, and yet still trusted in love. A nameless longing swept through him as he refolded the letter and pushed it back into the pocket of his robe. As he was stowing the letter away a commotion near the entrance tunnel caught his attention. Fred and George were at the rear of the group clustered there. Wondering what they were doing back so early, Ron edged closer.

"And that is how…"

"… We've played it!"

"That move… so amazing!"

"Fred how did you…?"

"George can you show me that again?"

Ron shouldered his way through the throng, surprised to see Seamus Finnigan as part of the little group.

"You think he'll be all right?"

"Oh yeah. Madam Pomfrey will have him up and about in no time. No worries."

This last bit caught Ron's attention and his blood went cold in his veins. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears, and felt extremely dizzy for a moment. Grabbing one of his brothers, too rattled to pay attention to which one, he rasped. "Where's Harry? Why are you back so early? What happened?"

"Harry's in the hospital wing," Ron did not wait for him to complete the sentence before he was off, through the portrait hole and down the stairs. Had he waited a few more moments he would have heard Fred complete the thought. "He'll be fine. Blocked a bludger with his body before it could do real damage to young MacDonald here." As he watched Ron run off, Fred considered the pale face and worried eyes Ron had turned on him before taking off so abruptly. Hunh. There is something going on here… Seamus asked another question and Fred was distracted before he could focus on his thought.

Ron exited the Gryffindor common room in single-minded pursuit to get to Harry as quickly as possible. He almost ran through Hermione as she returned from the library. Hermione caught one look at his face and realized he hadn't seen her at all. When she entered the common room Fred told her Harry was in the hospital wing being treated for a minor Quidditch injury.

Maybe Ron has finally realized Harry is precious to him… "It's about damned time!" She muttered, smiling to herself as she settled down to work.

Fred watched the calculating expression come over Hermione's face, and then the self-satisfied smile when he grumbled about Ron tearing out of the room to get to Harry. Then he overheard the murmured phrase that escaped Hermione almost without her conscious knowledge. Suddenly putting it all together, Fred almost smacked himself on the forehead. Weasley, you are just the slowest person in the world. Your little brother went and fell in love while you weren't paying attention! He must have made a noise because Hermione was staring up at him with that 'assessing' look she had perfected over the last few years and he flashed his most charming smile at her. Her eyebrows rose and she grinned back. She knew he'd figured it out.

"Shhh…" She held her finger to her lips, "They need it, but they haven't…" Hermione paused, bit her lip and leaned in close to Fred. "Ron's being a prat." She finished lamely, as if that explained it all. And perhaps it did. Fred nodded, but grinned at the thought of what he could do with this information. Hmmmm… Bears thinking about… The twins hadn't gotten any mileage out of Percy's secret affair, perhaps Ron would be more accommodating…

*****

Ron ran through the halls and up and down staircases until he got to the hospital wing, adrenalin racing through him. Out of breath and in a cold sweat, fear staid his hand for a moment before he swung the door open. He stood remembering all the times he sat with Harry or Hermione here over the last few years. All the times they'd seen him, injured, in pain. His mind flashed back to last time Harry lay here after the events surrounding the last task of the Triwizard Tournament, after Cedric Diggory's death. Paralyzed with the fear of what he'd find on the other side of the door, the worst-case scenarios playing themselves out in his mind's eye, he heard voices and steps approaching from the other side. It swung open as Harry, on the other side, turned to say something to someone- Madam Pomfrey, Ron supposed.

Blood rushing in his ears Ron squeaked "Harry!" before seeing black motes dance in his vision as he groped for the wall.

Harry took one startled look at Ron's bloodless pallor before darting through the doorway to his side to hold him up. "Ron? What are you doing here? Ron? Are you all right? Ron can you hear me?" Slowly helping his tall friend to sit on the stone floor of the hallway, Harry grabbed his hands and was surprised to find that they were freezing cold and damp.

Ron was concentrating on staying conscious. The stress of the past few days and weeks, coupled with the sleepless nights, and the fear Harry was hurt- without ever knowing how Ron felt, caught up with him abruptly. He could dimly hear Harry's worried voice through the buzzing in his ears. He came back to himself with the crazy realization his backside was getting chilled. His head was bowed and his knees were pressed to his chest. Harry was clutching his hands. "Harry…" It was then he realized there were tears dripping off his cheeks, wetting his knees.

"Ron. It's okay, Ron. Everything is okay. What happened?" Ron's composure snapped at this and he started to laugh, but it wasn't a happy laugh. It was half crazy, and it worried Harry. Ron did not sound at all sane. Harry tried to pull away. "I'll just get Madam Pomfrey…" Ron's hands clutched his painfully and he shook his head violently.

"Don't!" Ron's voice grated at him, desperate. Harry paused, wanting to argue. Something in Ron's face stopped him and he nodded a little in acquiescence. Ron relaxed imperceptibly, on the edge of hysteria. Harry glanced around to make sure they weren't seen or overheard before shushing him.

"Shhh, Ron! Someone will find us here if you keep on like that." Harry sat back on his heels. Ron had ruled out the infirmary, and he couldn't take Ron back to the dorm like this. They would be questioned. He needed someplace quiet and private. Pulling one hand away, he adjusted his glasses and then snapped his fingers. There was one place only Lee Jordan and the twins knew about. The caved in tunnel to Hogsmeade. Harry went there occasionally to be alone, to escape. Fred and George didn't mind as long as he didn't disturb the stuff they temporarily stored there. They had even fixed it up a bit, added someplace to sit. It was dark, but then Harry was a wizard, and had a wand. Full of misgivings, perhaps Ron would do better with Madam Pomfrey to look after him, Harry rocked back onto his heels until he was crouching awkwardly. "Come on." Tugging Ron to his feet he led him though the twisty corridors of the school until he was standing in front of the mirror on the fourth floor. He muttered under his breath and tapped it with his wand before stepping through the mirror, pulling Ron along with him.

"What?!?" Ron was surprised enough to stop giggling insanely and pull away. "We just went what… through the looking glass?" He failed at suppressing the laugh that threatened to overtake him again.

Harry took hold of Ron's shoulders and shook him gently. "What is wrong? Ron, snap out of it, please…"

"You… You're okay. Oh, Harry!" Harry was startled when Ron suddenly enfolded him in a tight embrace. He was even more startled to feel Ron's body shaking against his. Whatever had happened was big. Whatever had changed affected Ron in ways Harry couldn't understand. "I was so scared. I thought I'd lost you before… before… I don't want my life to be what ifs and if onlys either, Harry, and I'm so scared. Please. I can't… I can't…"

"Shhhhh, Ron." Harry didn't know what to say to stop Ron from babbling. "It's okay. We'll figure it out together." He continued to croon helpless things in Ron's ear, rocking them slightly. Drawing Ron deeper into the hidden corridor, Harry found by instinct and sense-memory the dilapidated, drooping, listing-to-the-left couch that the twins had carted in here. They appropriated furniture no one would ever miss. Sitting down, and guiding Ron to sit next to him, he continued to pet Ron's hair- so soft… can anything be that soft and be real?- and whisper soothing things. Even scared, not knowing what was wrong with him, Harry's heart thrilled to have Ron nestled in his arms.

Finally, Ron's trembling stopped, although he did not let Harry go. Ron had curled his tall, gangly form into the smallest possible ball and lay half on top of Harry, his head resting right above Harry's heart. His eyes shut tight, he listened to the steady thump of the heart so close to his ear and rejoiced. Harry was fine. Not hurt. Fine, and right here. Ron breathed deeply and Harry's scent, musky with sweat mingled a little with grass and blood, as cool and fresh as the wind outside, and something indefinable and uniquely *Harry*- sweet and sharp and tangy- filled his senses.

"Ron? Are you okay? Can we talk now?" Harry stopped rubbing comforting circles on Ron's back before he lifted his wand again and muttered "Lumos." They both blinked in the sudden light. Harry reached up and set the wand down on what looked like a pile of boxes next to the couch.

Ron pulled himself upright with difficulty. He didn't want to let Harry go, but knew there were things he needed to say, and some he needed to hear. This time he would really listen to what Harry said, and believe it. "Yeah. We should talk."

"What happened?" Harry was staring at him with a calm, if slightly worried expression.

"I don't know. They said you were in the hospital wing. I… I just remember what that usually means." Ron blinked and looked away.

"Oh." Harry was silent for a moment. "Yeah. Well, it wasn't bad. Just a bruise and a graze, really. Bled a lot, though." Harry's cheerful tone did nothing to make Ron feel better. "Hey. Ron." Harry waited until Ron was looking at him and *seeing* him, before continuing. "I'm okay. Really. See?" Harry held his arms out, inviting Ron to check for himself. He watched Ron's eyes sweep down his body and back before he met Harry's gaze again. Oh. Oh wow. Harry shivered in the heat of Ron's expression. Wow. That was… That was wild. I could *feel* that. Ron… Ron is looking at me like he loves me. Can he love me? Harry swallowed and shivered again at his unexpected arousal. Just the way he's looking at me. Please… Do that again…

Ron dropped his eyes and stiffly pulled a slightly crushed parchment from his pocket. Silently, he handed it to Harry. Harry shot him a questioning glance before unfolding the note and seeing Sirius' handwriting. Eyes widening, he read the letter through before he carefully folded it and handed it back.

"You asked Sirius about love." There was no censure in Harry's voice, and he reached over to take Ron's hands again. Ron wouldn't have admitted it, but he was unaccountably grateful for the contact. "That was the important letter you wanted Hedwig for." It was not a question but Ron answered it anyway.

"Yes. I… I've been so confused. I never really thought about… I had never questioned who I was before, I guess. I mean. I mean, I never really thought about sex before. I mean specifics." Harry watched, amused, as Ron flushed a rather pretty shade of crimson.

"Ron? You're sixteen. You're a boy. You are allowed to think about sex. It's almost mandatory." There was a gentle humour to Harry's tone of voice.

"I… It's… I just never thought about who… Who I liked that way." Ron squirmed, flustered, and his face went darker, almost glowing.

"You mean boys or girls?" Harry was idly wondering if there was any blood left in the rest of Ron's body, his face was so red.

"Yeah. I guess. I always thought it would be Hermione. And then I didn't so much. I mean, I like her and all, but not like that. But I was too busy being caught up in the drama of life around here to really think about… sex. And then Percy…"

"And then Percy and Oliver made you question the way you look at the world, and the numberless possibilities." Harry was smiling now, but almost seriously.

Ron squinted a little with a self-mocking, wry smile. "That's a little more coherent than it was, but I guess that describes it as well as anything."

"And then I…" Harry's eyes narrowed a bit behind his glasses as he realized what *atrocious* timing he had confessing his love for Ron when Ron was already tied up in knots questioning every belief about himself he held. That had to have confused him even more. "Oh- Ron I'm *sorry*!" He breathed.

"What?" Ron's eyes went wide with confusion as he cocked his head. "Why are you sorry? I'm… glad you told me. Really. It made some of this easier. Some more difficult, but mostly easier. And there is really no one I would like more… To discover stuff with." Ron stared at his knees, noticing their hands were still linked together, and that he was gripping Harry's fingers almost painfully. Slowly, he loosened his grip and watched his bone-white fingers pink a bit with blood returning to the cramped and cold digits. "I… I think… I love you, too." Ron's voice was low, and if not for the fact Harry had watched his lips move he couldn't be sure if he'd heard Ron speak at all.

Harry was so quiet Ron started to fidget. Slowly, Harry reached out and raised Ron's chin. "Are you sure?" He whispered, and even in the low light Ron could see Harry's bright eyes were wet. Ron only nodded. "Would… Would you mind if I kissed you?" He barely had time to shake his head slightly before Harry moved toward him and pressed his lips to Ron's. It was as different from The Kiss as it could be. This time Harry didn't pull away, and Ron had time to close his eyes and feel the warmth of his lips. Long moments to feel the gentle, warm gust of breath from Harry's nose. Harry's glasses were in the way, and Ron reached up and eased them off his friend's face. Meanwhile, Harry had been stroking the skin of Ron's neck, tracing the curve of his ear, tangling his fingers in his hair. When Ron opened his mouth slightly to lick at Harry's, Harry's lips parted with a soft sigh and their tongue's met for the first time.

Shivering slightly, Ron wrapped his arms around Harry and pulled him closer. Soon, Harry was sitting in Ron's lap as they kissed and tasted and let their hands wander freely. They were still there some long minutes later when there was a muffled curse from the direction of the mirror. Harry and Ron separated a bit and froze, arms locked around each other, eyes opened and meeting in panic, as Fred and George came toward them with a large box balanced between them. Harry smiled at Ron and bit his lip, resignation staining his features. Ron dropped his head down on Harry's shoulder, trembling and wishing himself invisible. Where's Harry's invisibility cloak when you *need* it? Then, Harry was trying to stifle a laugh by kissing the pale skin of Ron's neck.

"Oy! There's light. Harry, you in here?" Fred squinted into the dim light, half turning to see better and promptly dropped his end of the box when he caught sight of them. Oh… Um… Hermione will be pleased… Fred thought foolishly. George cursed and began berating Fred before Fred finished his turn toward the couch and cut him off. "George. I think we need to go."

"What? *Why*?" George peeked around Fred's shoulder and stared at Harry, who was blushing and looking decidedly rumpled. And he was sitting on someone's lap. Someone who was cringing and trying (unsuccessfully) to look as small as possible, face buried in Harry's robes. The only person with that colour hair was a Weasley. It was Ron. Ron with a lapful of Harry Potter. Harry was sitting on Ron's lap. George couldn't seem to stop his shocked brain from assimilating that information. Oh, holy shit! Not *again*!

"Er… Hullo, Fred. Hullo, George." Harry smiled up at his friends. His face was flushed, and his eyes sparkled, and he wasn't wearing his glasses. And he looked thoroughly kissed.

"I don't want to know!" George proclaimed loudly. "I just don't!"

Fred grinned. "So you finally figured it out, eh, Ronniekins?" Ron moaned a little. "'Bout time, little brother. C'mon George." With that he left the box where it had fallen and pulled George back through the mirror, leaving Harry and Ron alone.

Ron moaned in despair. "I am in such trouble."

Harry grinned and lifted Ron's face, cupping it gently in his palms, meeting his eyes. "*We* are in such trouble. And if it means I can be with you, I can take it! I can face anything with you." With this Harry leaned into Ron to kiss him again. I've come home…

Fred and George tumbled back into the Gryffindor common room shortly after they had left. "Really, Fred. I don't want to know. I've gone blind. Just… Don't make me see anything else tonight!" George said and stalked up to their dorm grumbling under his breath all the while about 'inconsiderate, amorous brothers- first Percy and then Ron- it is enough to drive me insane'. Fred had a smile on his face and sought out Hermione in the crowd. He grinned at her and lifted his fist, thumb extended upward. Her eyes widened as she got the message. Grinning back at him delightedly, she glanced to Ginny who was watching. Mouthing "Finally!" at Ginny, she dropped her eyes back to her book. Ginny lifted one eyebrow, smiling to herself. Humming, she turned back to her work.

__________

We touch, the dark begins to stir.
We can't go back to where we were.
Don't be afraid to make it real.
Don't be afraid to feel tonight.

Don't turn away- it's only love.
Only a touch that frees you.
Let it release you.
Take the chance- it's only love.
Open your heart and show me.
Don't be afraid- it's only love.

Don't close your eyes.
Don't hold it in.
Reach out to me!
Let it all begin!

Don't be afraid- it's only love!
Only a touch that frees you.
Let it release you!
Take the chance- it's only love.
Let it come through you slowly.
Open your heart and show me.
Don't be afraid. It's only love.

-"Only Love" from The Scarlet Pimpernel (Wildhorn/Knighton)

Fin.