Author's Note: Reviews are always appreciated.

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.



Chapter One: Homecoming

He wasn't there.

At that moment, Ginny Weasley felt her heart die inside of her. He hadn't said he would be there...but he hadn't said he wouldn't either. She had just assumed he would be standing there, right beside her mother and father, waiting.

That's what you get for expecting anything from the famous Harry Potter, Ginevra.

She used her own name as if it was an insult. She had to be realistic - the way he'd been when she'd left, the way his letters were short and apathetic, she couldn't expect him to be any different now. She stepped off the train, alone, though not as much as she would have liked. She could feel the eyes on her back. The familiar male eyes she had learned to ignore completely, and her friends' eyes didn't penetrate her sense of hollowness, but they were still there and she still felt surrounded by their owners. Ginny put on a smile for her parents, even though she knew they would see through her eventually. She could only buy herself time as her trunk was loaded into the back of Mr. Weasley's car and her parents drove her back home. She would be able to get away from them there.

The Burrow is rather empty, Ginny realized. She was used to having a load of brothers around to make things interesting - certainly Fred and George had been up to the task. But even though she knew there would be a welcome home party in her honor tomorrow (Ron and Hermione had an engagement that night), she wondered if it would ever be the same. It wasn't that she didn't notice her mother fussing over her, or her daddy taking in her trunk for her. No, it was something else. Something was gone. Her childhood had disappeared as fast as if she had banished it with her wand. She was a witch of age now, and there would be no more Hogwarts.

"Ginny...dear?"

"Oh...sorry mum." Ginny quickly snapped back from her thoughts. "What did you say?"

"What happened to that boy, Jared?" Mrs. Weasley's face looked very concerned. Her daughter hadn't said anything since the train station. For someone usually so full of energy, Ginny seemed dead.

"Oh...we broke up...it wasn't going to work." That seemed like ages ago, though it had only been a few short hours since she had turned down her boyfriend Jared Weaver's offer to come stay with him in America for an extended period over the summer. That had led into his break-up with her, after which Ginny had felt oddly relieved. He was a year younger than her, and she didn't want to wait for him to finish school anyway. Not like you waited for...

A clock shifted, bringing Ginny back from her thoughts into the real world as it made a loud clicking sound, her hand falling into place at "Home". Her hair flowed as her head shook softly. It certainly didn't feel like home.

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"Go away." A pale hand reached up and swatted at an even whiter owl. The motion earned a hard peck on the wrist. A resigned groan came from below the owl, earning the wrist another hard peck. A few moments later, a groggy voice come from below the arm. "Fine, you win."

Harry Potter, so to speak, rolled off of his mattress, never seeing the moonlight peering through the window. Hedwig stood on the dresser above his sprawled, thin form, preening her feathers as she waited on her master. Harry finally climbed up the side of his dresser and untied the letter, freeing the owl to go on her nighttime hunting. The almost nineteen-year-old boy unfurled the parchment, squinting to read it without his glasses, which lay broken and forgotten on the hard floor beside him.

Harry,

Ron and I are going to the Weasley's for lunch tomorrow, and I really wish you would join us. I know you don't want to, but it's really important to the both of us.

Almost as much as it is to Ginny.

Love,
Hermione

Harry silently cursed. She was the only one who insisted on seeing him regularly, the only person who consistently knew where he was these days.

And apparently she was also the only person who knew how to get to him. He wasn't disillusioned by that last line. She had put it in as a deliberate guilt trip, and it was working. Harry hadn't seen the youngest Weasley in almost a year, and their last parting had been bitter. Ron wouldn't speak to him for days after Ginny had left for Hogwarts, and the rest of the Weasley family had been uncharacteristically distant. He supposed he deserved it, but he didn't want to go back and apologize. He'd caused their family enough trouble already without bringing it all up again.

Another owl dropped in the window, causing Harry's irritation to rise. He recognized this one immediately as Pig. The tiny owl zipped around the room in a few circles before it dropped another piece of parchment on his lap and shooting back out the window. Hermione hadn't even bothered to fold or curl this one.

I'll drag you there if I have to.

Harry closed his eyes and held his head. Whatever he'd had last night (really the last morning, since he hadn't gone to bed until dawn), it was good. He'd slept for a solid fourteen hours and had a killer hangover as a reminder. His clothes were laid out under his sprawling body, having lost everything but his black underwear, though he had no idea how he'd gotten there. He couldn't even remember what had happened to start his drinking escapade. Oh...wait...that was it. He'd gotten a letter from Professor McGonagall that had washed up too many memories. That particular letter was still in the kitchen, where he'd taken the first firewhiskey. The rest was magic.

The next thing Harry Potter remembered was Hedwig sinking her talons into his shoulder. He was still sprawled on the floor, and very unhappy about being woken up again. He must have passed out again at some point, because the first rays of dawn were peaking through the window. Maybe the headache had been too much for his weakened body to take.

"Stop it! I'm up already!" He cursed under his breath again and waved his arm to get the bird off. The snowy owl hooted softly then flew back up to her cage, presumably to sleep. Harry supposed that had been Hermione's doing too. Harry had a sneaky suspicion that she and Hedwig had a conspiracy against him. His watch, which he had to blindly fumble around for in his dresser, told him it was 6.30am.

What's Hermione playing at? I don't need THAT long to get ready.

He briefly considered going back to sleep, but he also had a suspicion Hedwig wouldn't allow it. That owl was becoming more and more like Mrs. Weasley, and for that matter, Hermione, every day.

"Stop hanging around Hermione so much." Harry grumbled as he sat up against the bed he'd fallen off of five hours ago. Hedwig gave a soft hoot of smug satisfaction. How Harry could tell she was smug was beyond him, but he knew it. Maybe he was spending too much time with her in his room.

As it turned out, Hermione was more right than Harry would admit. He took an hour and a half in the shower, nearly drowning himself, then it took him another whole hour just to make himself presentable. It would be the first time he'd seen any of the Weasleys (besides Hermione) in over a month. Even his nights with Hermione were growing farther and farther apart. It used to be twice a week that they'd have dinner together, maybe go see a muggle movie, but now it was lucky if they met twice in two, or even three weeks.

"Reparo." Harry repaired his glasses in an instant; his magical ability was as strong as ever, unfortunately. Some days he wished he was a muggle, and others he wasn't conscious or coherent long enough to formulate the thought.

The glasses seemed to complete the look - Harry Potter was The-Boy-Who-Lived again. His hair was longer and sloppier, his skin was pale white, but the green eyes and lightning scar (when his hair was brushed back) were unmistakable. He hadn't read the Daily Prophet in ages, but he could imagine what hero names they were calling him now. Not that it really mattered; Harry Potter was so last year.

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"Do I have to?"

Hermione Granger smiled softly as she applied a light layer of lip gloss to her lower lip. She looked in the mirror, only able to see that fiery orange hair sticking out from under the blankets. She took a moment to bask in warmth before chiding him.

"Ronald Weasley, your sister just graduated Hogwarts. What do you think?" Her tone was playful, but Ron could feel the force behind her words. He threw the blankets back, standing up and squinting around his and Hermione's flat. Without waiting for his eyes adjust to all the lights she had on, he stumbled into the bathroom and wrapped his arms around his lover.

"I look fine like this."

Hermione set her lip gloss down, leaning back into his tall, lanky form and rolling her eyes. If Ron thought something odd about her using lip gloss, he didn't say anything. Even he knew this was going to be an important day. "I better not see you outside in that."

"Only if I need to advertise." He laid a quick kiss on her lips before she could retort. "Is the git going to be there?" He had caught her writing to Harry the previous night and developed a rather irritable mood before she had come to bed and calmed him down.

She sighed. "I hope so."

Ron shook his head. It was no use. She wouldn't give up and leave him be. In Ron's opinion, Harry had made it very clear he didn't want to be bothered.

"Ron, give him time. He's just lost."

He shook his head again. "Time is one thing he's running out of, Hermione."

Hermione bit her lip as Ron retreated to the shower. As much as she didn't want to admit it, Ron was right. It was becoming hard for even her to justify trying anymore. Maybe today would be the day. Maybe today he'd be different. Maybe he'd make an effort.

She'd been telling herself that for the past year.

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Ginny cleared the dishes after brunch, feeling the depression starting to sink its teeth into her again. Hermione said she had asked Harry to come, but he hadn't shown up all through the meal. She shook her head, determined to stay happy, at least until everyone left. Maybe she'd allow herself to cry when she was alone.

"Need some help?" Bill Weasley asked, handing a dish to her.

Ginny shook her head. "I can handle it, thanks."

Bill helped her clear the table anyway, mostly silently. He only spoke as the brother and sister pulled the last glasses off the breakfast table. "What's on your mind, little sis?"

"Nothing...just a little strange, being home again. That's all."

Her brother raised an eyebrow, clearly not believing her, but he knew better than to try to force anything from a Weasley, and Ginny especially. "I'm here if you want to talk about anything."

Ginny paused, as if thinking. "Thanks Bill, I appreciate it. I really do." She smiled the same convincing smile she'd used time and again on one Jared Weaver last year, when he would ask her what was bothering her. She didn't confide in anyone anymore.

Bill still didn't quite believe her, but he made his way ahead of her into the living room, where Ron had told everyone Hermione and he had a surprise.

Ron watched Bill and Ginny come into the room, his nervousness increasing tenfold upon their entrance. It had been a lot easier when it was her family, and there had only been two parents to tell, not the six redheads and a silver haired veela sitting in the audience at the moment. Despite what he'd told Hermione, he wished a certain black-haired friend was listening too, but he couldn't have everything. He was glad that Hermione had offered to talk - he wasn't sure he could have moved his mouth properly.

"Well, as you know, Ron and I have been seeing each other for over two years now." Even the twins seemed to grasp now wasn't the time for joking. The Weasleys knew what was coming, and smiles radiated from their faces. Hermione raised her hand to show off the new addition to her ring finger. "So we've finally..."

A soft knock come on the door, causing Hermione to falter. The whole room was dead silent - not even Pig was present to make a racket. After a few long moments, Mrs. Weasley stood and walked over to the door, gasping as she saw through the window who it was. As she opened the wooden entryway, Harry Potter stood there, his hands in his jeans and looking every bit as scared as the first day they'd met at the train station, long ago.

"Harry dear, it's so good to see you!" She immediately reached out and hugged him tightly, clearly surprising the dark-haired young man, who returned the embrace after the shock wore off.

"Did I come at a bad time?" He hadn't failed to notice the other eight faces in the room staring at him shamelessly.

"No no, come in, please." Mrs. Weasley said quickly, pulling him in and closing the door behind him. "How have you been?"

Harry laughed, though it sounded as if it was coming through a tunnel. "Not terrible...looks like you and the family are doing quite well." He gestured toward the living room, where the Weasleys and Hermione were just starting to rise to come over.

"Hey Harry." Ron said awkwardly. He hadn't seen his best mate in over a month...and the last time had only been a quick visit. Ron held out his hand, which Harry shook.

"Hey Ron." Harry looked desperately for something to say without sounding like an idiot, which was easier said than done with seven people staring at him. Fleur didn't quite get what was going on - she hadn't been a part of the family when they took Harry in like one of their own.

"Er...I hope I didn't interrupt anything..." His speech fell off as the last of his nerve vanished on the spot. Hermione must have noticed, because she came over and hugged him.

"We've missed you."

Harry looked down, embarrassed and ashamed. He was only now feeling how much he'd missed all of the red hair, splashed with a tinge of brown.

"I've missed you too. All of you." He tried to smile, only coming close to succeeding, but a lot of tension bled out of the room all the same. He was soon surrounded by welcoming arms and even an offer of candy from Fred and George, which he politely declined. Bill had to explain to his wife Fleur that Harry had once been a part of the Weasley family. The veela surmised correctly that it was like the return of a lost son. Some of the Weasleys hadn't even seen Harry since the end of the war.

It wasn't lost on Harry that Ginny had conspicuously disappeared, but he hadn't really expected her to talk to him, well, ever. The only reason Harry had come was Hermione. She had sounded so defeated the last time they visited that he felt it was time to explain to the Weasleys what was going on in his life and why he could never be around. At least, that had been his plan before knocking on the door.

Now that he was here, he knew he couldn't leave them again. They were so open and caring; he couldn't bring himself to cause any more pain than he already had. It was so easy to ignore the pain that he caused in his absence because he wasn't around to see it, but now it was the elephant in the room. They were all happy to see him except Ginny, but then again, Harry wasn't sure if he wanted to see Ginny. It wasn't until Hermione cleared her throat to gather everyone's attention again that Harry realized he had, in fact, interrupted something important. He already knew what she was going to say, though he returned to the living room and listened politely with everyone else. He'd known since Hermione had practically apparated on top of him, scared out of her mind the night Ron popped the question.

"...and well, Ron and I are getting married."

The room exploded with cheers. Harry couldn't help but smile, glad for something happy to cover the shock of his arrival. Ron was furiously red by this point, embarrassed by all the attention and congratulations. After every Weasley and Fleur had hugged both Ron and Hermione, Harry stood and shook his best friend's hand.

"Well done mate. Take care of her, or I'll come jinx you in your sleep."

Ron seized his hand and pulled him into a one-armed embrace. "Just so long as you're around to do it, I'll be happy."

Harry tried to keep the guilt off his face as Hermione came over to hug him again.

"You two are perfect for each other," Harry said softly to her. "Just don't let a book get between you."

She slapped him on the shoulder as Ron sniggered, but she knew what Harry was thinking. He'd had a long talk with her the night she'd nearly crushed him - that was the last time they really spent time together.

"Thanks Harry. You being here means a lot."

She was going to drill that into his head if it was the last thing she did, Harry decided. He shifted uncomfortably on his feet, but Hermione rested a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry about it, everything will be fine."

Harry let her go, refraining from mentioning Ginny. Soon it was just Ron again, like it had been as the train had first left Platform Nine and Three Quarters almost eight years ago.

"How's life been?" Harry asked, mostly to break the ice.

"I feel like a bloody muggle."

Even Harry had to crack a smile at that. "That boring, huh? I guess I should have stuck around. I've always been a lightning rod for trouble." He winced as he said it, a reminder to all of the trouble he'd brought to Ron's family. The deep feelings of guilt refused to leave him.

"That's what happens when you live with Hermione. Routine, work, books. It was nice after...everything...but I'm starting to get restless again."

Harry nodded. Though he'd never admit it, he was experiencing the same type of thing as Ron. "You ever think about playing Quidditch?"

Ron shook his head. "Nope. I'm not good enough. Haven't got any teams looking for an inconsistent keeper."

The final battle with Voldemort had changed them all. Harry would have stared at Ron in disbelief if he'd said that two years ago, but now it was just a sign of his growing maturity.

"You can have one of mine; I have offers from most of the league."

Ron shook his head and laughed. "I don't see why you don't play. You love the game."

Harry sighed. "Quidditch doesn't appeal to me much anymore."

Ron gaped. Certainly his friend hadn't changed that much? "You still follow the league...?" he said, leading Harry to say something that would bring reality back into focus.

"I stopped reading the Prophet after they published that series of 'Where is he now?' articles."

Ron grimaced. "Yeah, they hassled Hermione and I to no end about that. You were lucky we had no idea where you were, or we'd have told them just to get them off our backs."

"Good thing you didn't...they would have had a field day with me.

Ron raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but said nothing. He wasn't sure if he wanted to hear about the year Harry took off from life.

"I thought Ginny would be here," Harry mused, changing the subject. It wasn't really a question.

"She was. I think she disappeared when you knocked on the door." Ron gave him a helpless look. Harry nodded in understanding - it wasn't hard for him to imagine how hard it would have been for her to see him. Harry didn't have any illusions about Ron either. He probably didn't want Harry within 100 feet of his sister anymore.

Ron must have seen the glazed over look in his eyes, because he stood and found his way over to his bride-to-be, wrapping her in a warm embrace from behind as she spoke to Mrs. Weasley of the wedding.

"So how's it feel to be the most powerful wizard in the world, Mr. Potter?" One of the twins waggled his eyebrows at Harry, he couldn't tell which. A fake smile accompanied his reply.

"Not much different, really. Unless you want to call me Lord Potter."

The twins sniggered at that. "Still got the sense of humor, I see." Both of them seemed to be exceedingly well dressed - something Harry had grown to expect of the best pranksters on the planet. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had to be the deepest gold mine in Britain.

"The shop is going well, I take it?"

"Splendid." Fred beamed.

"Absolutely spiffing." George chimed.

"All thanks to Lord Potter." The twins said together, bowing to him.

Harry could have done without that, shaking his head in slight embarrassment. "Don't mention it, you two did all the work."

Fred - Harry thought he could make out the difference now - clapped him on the back. "Now now, no modesty from our financial backers. You know we couldn't have done it without you."

Harry wondered if that was Fred and George's way of speaking about the family without having to come out with it. Either way, he smiled, slightly, but it was genuine.

"Thanks Fred. Let me know if you need anymore, Gringotts is only a bit of Floo away." He winked as Fred and George burst out laughing again.

"Will do mate." George clapped him on the back again before shuffling off to make some more food disappear, taking Fred with him.

Harry sat in silence, thinking about what the twins had said. It was true - he couldn't ignore what he had done for the Weasley's. He'd saved Ginny, Ron, and Arthur from death on three separate occasions, and he'd given the twins a thousand galleons to start their business up on. He knew Mrs. Weasley saw him as another son, but he couldn't bring himself to face all of the pain he'd brought upon them. Half of the trouble they'd been in was his fault.

"You belong here, you know." Hermione had her typical I-told-you-so look on.

"Is that why you asked me to come? You know how I feel when I'm around them." And you, he didn't add.

Hermione sighed, sliding next to him on the couch in the Burrow's living room. "Harry, you don't see how much happier they are around you. Whenever anyone mentions you, it's like a dementor walked into the room. And..." she paused, breathing softly as she looked up at him. "...I want my brother back."

Harry made a mental note to get her back for that. She'd hit way below the belt, and hit hurt more than almost anything she could have said. "Hermione..." His voice was almost desperate, but he couldn't find anything to say.

"It's funny how you face death without blinking, but when it comes to people, you can't even accept their kindness and happiness that you're here."

Harry winced as she spoke. Hermione had a nasty habit of telling him the truths about himself that he didn't want to hear, and this was one of them.

"Don't even say they're happier without you. I've seen them. Ron especially, I live with him. I can't even mention you anymore. He gets all defensive and depressed." She didn't mention the times Ron had vented anger about Harry to her; that was something Ron could tell Harry if he wanted.

"I don't see how - they would have been so much safer without me."

She poked his side, hard. "So would I, but I never left you or even thought of it."

Why does she always have to be right? Harry had chosen to ignore her loyalty over the past year, to say it didn't matter. She'd never faltered, never let him get too far away, and never lost faith. He had noticed it, but never let himself accept it until now, when she was smearing it all over his nose. Maybe if he had known how painful it was to have hope in him, to constantly think that he'd come back, and to see no change at all he would have come around faster. Her smile penetrated into him, and he knew there was no way he could take it away from her.

"You knew this would happen, didn't you?" Harry gave her an accusing stare.

She smiled. "I had some idea. You love us as much as we love you, Harry, and I'm not going to let you forget that."

He didn't know how to respond. "Th-Thank you. I just..." he trailed off, but Hermione's brown eyes fixed on him, waiting. "...I feel too guilty to just come back and be happy-"

"Harry." Hermione cut him off. "You've suffered enough in your life. I know you feel like you should be punished, but don't do it to yourself. Your entire life has been about pain - you need to break the cycle."

He wondered briefly if she'd learned all this in a book. He might have said something, but Ron cut into his thoughts.

"Hey Potter, hands off my fiancée." Ron grinned at him from behind the couch.

Harry felt Hermione snuggle into him, which, although very confusing as to why she did, turned out to be what he needed to break the tension that Ron's comment had caused within himself.

"Can't blame a bloke for being lonely, can you?" Harry raised his eyebrows as if to challenge him.

"From what I hear, you can go be lonely with any witch in England."

Harry flushed a light pink. He tried to think, glancing at Hermione for help.

"He got you Harry," she said sympathetically. Ron grinned, walking away. Hermione sat up, taking one last look at her best friend. "Come on, let's go join everyone outside."

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"Harry was here earlier." Molly Weasley commented, after the house had become quiet again.

"I know," Ginny mumbled. Her mind was on that particular piece of information, but she didn't want to talk about it, especially with her mother. In fact, she was trying desperately to forget about anything to do with Harry Potter. Their few weeks together haunted her, constantly ripping her heart into a thousand pieces. She couldn't stop thinking about how those weeks had made her eight times happier than any part of her two years with Jared. But she knew she had to stop thinking about it. It was just like is used to be - the great Harry Potter would never be with a Weasley. Whatever he had felt for her in the last weeks of her fifth year, it wasn't what she felt for him.

"Ginny...are you okay?" Her mother looked at her with concern. She knew her daughter well enough to know the girl was deep in thought, and fighting with herself about something.

"Yeah. I'm fine Mum." She stood and walked back up the stairs, retreating to her room. She had thought she could keep her emotions in check enough to be in front of her family, she couldn't.

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Harry knew the bar well. He knew most of the bars in London well. He had been to most of them in the past year, and had been the one to suggest this particular place when Ron had mentioned the idea of a guys' night out. It was one of the nicer bars that Harry had frequented - Harry didn't want to drag a perfectly fine citizen into a slum - but it wasn't so nice as to feel fake. Regardless of how much Ron protested to the contrary, Hermione had made her lover into a respectable Englishman during the years of their relationship. Harry had noticed the change in him even before the war ended, but there was something to be said for dimly lit, slightly shifty places. They had their own sort of charm.

Harry was wondering when he would catch sight of his friend's characteristic splash of red when Ron grabbed a stool next to him.

"Can I buy you a drink or three?" It didn't slip beyond Harry's notice that he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He probably couldn't do things of this sort when Hermione was constantly around.

"I don't drink in the company of muggles anymore," Harry almost whispered. It wouldn't do to have someone overhear him talking of muggles.

Ron raised an eyebrow. "Was that why you went nutters and nearly hexed half of London?"

Harry grimaced. Ron could have put it more lightly, but that was so Ron to put it that way. About a month after Ginny left on the train for her final year at Hogwarts, Harry had found himself in a filthy bar drinking past the point where he couldn't stand up anymore. He'd been trying to drown away...something. Even he couldn't remember what it was anymore. He'd started having hallucinations, seeing Death Eaters, dementors, and werewolves all around him. It had taken quite a few Aurors to even subdue him, and an entire Muggle city block had to be obliviated to keep the wizarding world a secret. The only reason he hadn't been punished was his name and Arthur Weasley had called in some favors. He'd made the front page of the Daily Prophet the next morning, and Witch Weekly still made quips about "pulling a Potter." He didn't know this of course - Harry was about as interested in the media as he was in kissing a dementor.

"Something like that."

Ron must have seen him stiffen, because he quickly changed the subject. "So what do you think of Hermione and I?"

Harry shrugged. "I've known you two were meant for each other. Ever since the Yule Ball in fourth year, I've known it."

"I guess you knew better than I did. I didn't know we'd ever get together until she said yes after I asked her."

Harry nodded. "Seems odd, really. You're complete opposites, but completely, obscenely in love."

Ron ignored his jab at their public affection. "I think Hermione explained it to me best. We may be different in how we show it, but we're both very passionate people and bring out the fire in each other."

Harry snorted. That sounded like it had come straight from Hermione's mouth all right. "You could have let me know on that one, mate. I wouldn't have pulled my hair out trying to get you two talking to each other again."

Ron's face rearranged into a sheepish expression. "We still row like that, you know. Making up is just a little more-"

"I don't want to know." Harry held up a hand. "I'm not so out of touch to not know what's happening between you and Hermione, even in your bedroom."

Ron looked at him questioningly and slightly alarmed. "What has she told you?"

Harry shook his head. "It's not what you think. It's just how she looks when she thinks of you. She can spend an entire half hour talking about you, and I don't even say a word."

Ron couldn't help but flush with embarrassment. "Does she really?"

Harry nodded. "Once upon a time I was able to read her emotions like the back of my hand." He sighed. "Not anymore."

Ron shifted uncomfortably. "Did you ever...er...fancy her?"

Harry hesitated a moment, then decided Ron deserved the truth. "I thought I did, but I found out after a while I was just jealous of you."

Whatever Ron had been expecting, it wasn't that. "You...jealous of me?"

Harry nodded. "You had someone who, if you hadn't been to thick to notice, had deep feelings for you. That's the one thing I never had."

The silence that followed was chilled. They both were thinking about the same thing - what he'd had with Ginny. Ron's pointed stare told him exactly what he was thinking - Ginny had felt that way about him, but he'd thrown it away. Harry wanted to tell him how he wanted to go back to her, how he was wrong for ever shutting her out, but he couldn't. Ron was her brother, and Harry didn't feel comfortable talking about how he'd hurt her. Or about the curt letters he'd sent back to her long, warm, loving ones.

"So...you think the Cannons have a shot at the Cup this year?" Ron asked with an artificially cheerful tone.

"Not a chance. They haven't even been in the running for decades. I think the Wasps have a better shot this year."

Ron scowled. Harry knew the Chudley Cannons were his favorite Quidditch team, but he couldn't bring himself to smile. The weight of Ginny was still crushing his heart.

"I think you need to start reading the sports section of the Prophet again," Ron said irritably, but his mood seemed to drop into one of seriousness. "Anyway, what I really wanted to talk to you about is..." He hesitated, making Harry wonder if he was going to like what he was about to hear, "...do you want to be my best man at the wedding?"

That caught Harry off guard. He hadn't really thought about the wedding since Hermione had told him of their engagement, but he realized that if Ron hadn't asked him, he would have been deeply hurt.

"Of course I do, mate." Harry replied quietly.

"Well...I just thought...you know..."

Harry waved him off. "Let's put that behind us." There was a dark look in his eyes, and if Hermione had been there, she would have called him out on it. But that was what Harry liked about Ron sometimes - he was not quite as sharp at picking up human emotion.

"Nothing like a good drink to help you forget, mate." Ron grinned as Harry took it.

Amen to that.

After all, Ron wouldn't let him do anything stupid.