Disclaimer:The characters contained herein are not mine. No money is being made from this fiction, which is presented for entertainment purposes only.
Ron's Really Bad Idea
Ron's Really Bad Idea
"George, can I ask your opinion on something?" Ron asked, staring woefully into his empty glass.
"Only if you pour me another one first, Ronniekins."
Ron grunted and reached for the bottle between them, sloppily filling George's glass and then his own.
"George," he said again, setting the bottle back down heavily, "we're brothers, right?"
"So our mother would have us believe, yes."
"No, I mean, we're brothers, right?"
"How much Firewhiskey've you had, Ron?"
"Shut up. I wanna ask you something philosophical."
"That's what brothers do, is it?"
"Sometimes, yes. Maybe. I dunno. Shut up and listen to me. Blimey, can't even ask a simple question, can I? After living here and working like a bloody house elf downstairs for what, three years now?"
George downed his glass in one and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. "Alright, alright, stop being such a bloody woman. I'm listening."
Ron scowled at him and looked down to his drink as his cheeks began to flush red.
"Well, let's have it, then."
"Forget it, ya prat."
"No, you're absolutely right, Ron. If my favourite ickle brother and apprentice," Ron rolled his eyes, "wants to talk about something deep, I'm all ear."
Ron swirled his glass, and stared at the amber liquid a moment before bringing his appraising, if somewhat unfocused, gaze up to George's.
"Alright," he said, "what do you think about love potions?"
George felt his eyebrows ascend. "Love potions?"
"Yeah." Ron emptied his glass and set it down in front of him. "Are they always horrible and manipulative? Or d'you think you can use them in a way that's not so bad?"
"Why do you want to use a love potion?"
"I don't want to use one. Philosophy, remember? We sell the bloody things, don't we?"
George held Ron's gaze for a moment, licking his lips and wondering just how remiss in his big brotherly duties he'd let himself become that Ron would willingly begin a conversation like this.
He realised, with a bit of a shock, that he couldn't actually remember the last time he'd properly taken the piss out of Ron.
He felt his lips begin to quirk as a flood of possible quips flowed through his mind, each begging to be laid upon the silver platter Ron had just set before him.
Ron flushed and looked away, reaching for the Firewhiskey. "Just forget I said anything. Bloody tosser."
As he watched Ron fidget and fill his glass, looking angry and embarrassed and altogether sixteen instead of twenty-one, George felt something spark to life inside him.
Something that nudged at him and whispered wordlessly up his spine, breathing silent conspiracy into his ears as Ron refused to meet his eye.
"Well," George said evenly, "what do you mean by 'horrible and manipulative', precisely?"
Ron pressed his lips together and looked at George. With a long breath in through his nose, he answered, "Well, love potions are used to addle a person's mind, to … distort what they think they want, so that the person who gave it to them can take advantage, yeah?"
George shrugged and nodded. "Yeah."
"Pretty horrible and manipulative, wouldn't you say?"
"Dunno if I'd say it, but I won't disagree with you."
"Well, what if … what if the person who gave the potion didn't actually have any intention of taking advantage? If he just thought, maybe, the other person might … have feelings for him already, but he's just too … you know, he's just crap with it all and doesn't have the courage to ask?"
"So he gives her the potion, then he knows she'll say she loves him when he asks?"
Ron opened his mouth to answer, but seemed to think better of it and said nothing.
"Even without the taking advantage, he still doesn't know the truth, does he? So what's the point?"
Ron swallowed and licked his lips thoughtfully before answering. "Well, maybe he doesn't want to ask so much as just have the courage to tell the truth. It's easier if you know you won't be rejected, yeah?"
"Yeah, alright. So he tells her, risk-free. And then?"
"After he's said what he needs to say, then he can set things back to right with the antidote and then, well…"
"Stand by while she hexes his bollocks off?"
Another wave of red washed over Ron's face. "Maybe, yeah. Probably. Unless the effect of the potion hadn't been very strong because those feelings were already there, a little, and the potion just sort of … brought them into focus, you know? So, maybe there's less bollocks-hexing and more…"
Ron chuckled despite himself. "Well, yeah," he said helplessly. "Maybe."
"That's not a half-bad theory, actually," George said after a moment. "Might just work. And I'd have to say that using a love potion for that purpose would be not altogether horrible and only mildly manipulative. And I'm even willing to provide you with the potion you need, provided you promise not to give it to Harry, of course."
Ron blanched and blinked rather a lot of times. "What?" he managed.
"I'm serious, Ron. I think this idea of yours has great potential from a marketing perspective, so I'm willing to bear the cost of the research."
Ron stared at him. "I … what … Harry?"
George frowned. "Ron, please. It's one thing for me to help you win Granger back this way, but allowing Harry to try it out on Ginny is something else entirely."
Ron's blinking sped up and slowed down in time with a ragged sigh.
"Harry can bloody well just tell Ginny the truth on his own," George said. "And he'd better get on with it, too. Before she gives up on him."
Ron frowned. "No, he shouldn't. They're just fine how they are."
"Why are you so against them reconciling?"
"'M not against it. Much. I'd just … rather they not."
"Ron, if your own best mate isn't good enough for your sister, who is?"
Ron shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't think he's not good enough. It's not that at all. It's just … well, they tried, didn't they? And it didn't work. Not meant to be, clearly. Shouldn't mess with fate."
George cocked an eyebrow. "You and Hermione tried, and it was a disaster of cataclysmic proportion. But here you are, plotting to win her back."
Ron stared a moment before rolling his eyes. "Was hardly cataclysmic," he muttered.
George smirked. "Besides, I'm worried Lee's got his eye on Gin these days. He's been spending an awful lot of time with her since the Network assigned him to the Harpies' broadcasts and I just … well, I'd feel better about it if Harry would just take up with her again."
Ron cocked an eyebrow mockingly. "George, if your own best mate isn't good enough for your sister, who is?"
George rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid, Ron. That's not it at all."
Ron raised his other eyebrow as George met his gaze, holding it for an oddly thick moment.
"Why are we talking about Harry, anyway?" George said irritably, looking away and reaching for the Ogden's.
"You said 'Harry', not me," Ron said quickly.
"Yeah, alright. Back to the matter at hand, just be sure you take precise notes on dosage and the time elapsed between ingestion of potion and antidote. And her response, in detail."
Ron shifted uncomfortably. "I was really just talking hypothetically."
"Shut it, you were not. And what have you got to lose? If you're right and she loves you? No harm, no foul. Maybe you'll even win her back. And if you're wrong, about either her feelings or the not-hexing-your-bollocks-off part, well, you can simply blame the whole thing on me. Say I put you up to it for purposes of market research."
"Seems to me you are putting me up to this."
"Well, maybe I am. If it works, we could potentially open up love potion sales to an entirely new demographic. It's hard to reach people who aren't keen on being horrible and manipulative."
Ron stared at his once again empty glass and ran his finger along its rim. "You'd take the blame for all of it? For anything that might go wrong?"
George smiled at the bidding of a silent whisper. "I'd consider it a business expense, little bro."
The bell over the door chimed as Harry entered the empty shop.
"Oi, Ron? You here? George?" He walked back toward the storeroom and workshop, where he found the door half-open. Ron was standing with his back to the door, intently handling something on the table in the middle of the room.
Trying not to startle him, Harry knocked softly on the door as he entered. "Morning, Ron."
Ron whirled around. "Harry! Hi. Um," he stammered, and looked over his shoulder at the table. He moved a few inches to his left. "What're you doing here, don't you have work? Is something wrong?"
"No," Harry chuckled, "everything's fine. I was just over in Knockturn Alley checking up on a couple of characters the Department's got its eye on, so I was nearby. Got your owl this morning, and I figured I'd stop in and pick up whatever it is you're gonna bring by, save you the trip."
"Oh … great. That's, um … Yeah, thanks, mate, that's really great."
"Well, I figured you'd be busy, what with April Fool's only a week away."
"Oh, yeah, definitely. Right thoughtful of you, mate. Thanks."
"No problem," Harry said, creasing his brow a bit as he smiled. "You OK?"
"'Course, yeah. I'm great."
"Good." Harry looked around the room quickly, then back to Ron, who was looking at him nervously and gripping the table behind him. "So … what is it you have for us?"
"Oh! Right! Sorry. It's, uh, it's these," Ron said, stepping to the side and pointing at two vacuum flasks behind him. He hastily gathered a few papers and spare bits of trash from the table, and tossed them into the bin at the end of it. "Sorry it's such a mess in here."
"What is it, then?" Harry asked. "Did your mum make too much soup again?"
"Not this time, no," Ron said, "though that'd've been brilliant, eh? It is from Mum, though, she wanted me to be sure you and Hermione both got some. It's something new she's cooked up – an immunity tonic? You know, for that nasty bug that's been going around."
"Oh! Oh, that's great, actually. Almost half the Department's missed work with that already this month."
"Yeah, she's really worried about you. Both. And, well, everyone. She's Mum, after all. Anyway, she said to be very sure that you have the one on the left here, um, in the blue mug. And that Hermione has the green."
"They're not the same?"
"No, they're not. They're, um … yours is … well, Hermione's is different. She's, um, allergic, I guess, to something in the original recipe, so Mum brewed her something special. That's why I was gonna bring them by myself, to make sure they didn't get mixed up."
"Really?" Harry said, surprised. "What's Hermione allergic to?"
"You know, I don't remember now. Something obscure … but I guess she mentioned it to Mum once. Luckily."
"Huh. Yeah, good thing your mum remembers stuff like that. So hers is the one on the right, the green one?"
"Yup. Green. Hermione. Yes."
"Alright, got it."
"Yeah, great. Great. Thanks for coming by, that frees up my day a lot."
"Ron," Harry said, eyeing him, "are you sure you're alright? You seem a bit wound up."
"Yeah, sorry, I'm fine. Just, we've, um, fallen behind on some things around here, and George has taken some big orders that I'm not sure how we're gonna fill. And, you know, holiday next week, and all. But, we'll figure it out. It's fine, don't worry. Listen, are we still on for tonight?"
"Yeah, definitely. I'll be home right after work, so come on by whenever you're done here. And let me know if there's anything I can help with, OK? You seem to have a lot going on."
"Thanks, mate, thanks. It's fine. I'll see you tonight, 'round six-thirty, OK?"
"Great. Bye, then." Harry picked up the two flasks and headed back through the shop, pulling the door open after he'd tucked the blue flask under one arm. His eyes darted upwards at the sound of the chime, and he paused to watch the banner hanging above the door, where animated characters were advertising the latest incarnation of the Patented Daydream Charms.
The maiden had just been saved from whatever evil had befallen her, and Harry watched as the two knights approached her. He wondered, briefly, if they would engage in hand-to-hand combat for her affections as they came very close, and then he blinked in surprise as they engaged in hand-to-hand something else entirely.
A heavy trundling down the stairs tore his attention to the back of the store once more, and he saw George running down from the flat above.
Harry opened his mouth to call hello, but George sped into the storeroom too quickly.
"Are you done, Ron?" Harry overheard George say. "I just heard the door chime, I need you out on the floor."
"That was only Harry leaving," Ron answered.
"Harry was here?" George asked, sounding startled. "Just now?"
"Yeah. He was nearby, and I'd told him I was gonna stop by the Ministry this afternoon, so he came in to save me the trip."
"Did you give it to him?"
"You told him to be careful which was which?"
"Yeah, blimey, George."
"D'you think they'll even drink it? It smelt revolting, I dunno what's got into Mum."
"Yeah, it's fine. Harry loves anything that comes from Mum."
"Well, sure, but what about Hermione?"
"Oh, she's … a sport. It'll be fine."
"Maybe you should've told him, so he could make sure she takes it."
"Are you joking? He'd hate the whole idea of it. Probably make me pour it out. And besides, I don't want him to know about it just yet. Not 'til we see what happens."
"Can't say I blame ya there, Ronniekins. I wouldn't tell any of my mates I was trying to win a bird back, either. 'Specially with a love potion."
Harry stood frozen, still holding the shop door open and trying to make sense of what he'd just overheard.
A woman and her daughter startled him as they came in, mistaking his immobility for chivalry as he held the door. He smiled furtively and ducked through it before it closed behind them.
By the time Harry arrived back at the Ministry, most of his moral indignation had subsided.
At first, he had panicked, though he knew that was irrational.
He hated bloody love potions. He would never be able to think of them without thinking of Ron, collapsing and convulsing in Slughorn's office. It didn't matter that it hadn't actually been the love potion's fault. It had been one of the worst moments of Harry's life, and he didn't like thinking about it, irrational or not.
But his panic was quickly replaced by anger.
Ron had lied to him. Lied to his face, inventing allergies and orders he couldn't fill to hide a secret plot he'd cooked up behind Harry's back.
A plot that didn't make any fucking sense.
What was Ron thinking? Giving Hermione a love potion in a pathetic attempt to win her back? How would that even work?
Harry cringed, thinking of how insufferable the pair would become when Hermione learned of this. It had been bad enough putting up with them during the unravelling of their relationship. Harry was just pleased they were back on speaking terms.
And if Ron thought that Harry was going to be a party to this kind of manipulation … Harry felt a surge of indignation on Hermione's behalf in his chest before he stopped abruptly in the Atrium.
Ron didn't think Harry would be a party to it, did he? He'd said so himself.
Right after he'd lied to Harry's face about what he was doing.
Hell, Harry hadn't even known Ron wanted Hermione back. He'd thought Ron had moved on.
He walked slowly into a lift, wondering what else Ron hadn't told him and feeling oddly hollow.
He stared at the green flask, which moments before he'd all but decided to pour down the sink, and wondered if he wasn't being horribly selfish.
Was he such a dreadful best mate that Ron couldn't confide in him?
Harry swallowed and wondered if Ron knew. If he knew that what really frightened Harry wasn't the prospect of Ron and Hermione fighting all the time again, but the possibility that Ron's plan might work.
Harry closed his eyes and berated himself, fighting the sinking, empty feeling that settled into his gut.
He couldn't do that. He couldn't let his own selfish hope that Ron and Hermione never reconciled get in their way.
Ron would never want him, anyway. Harry knew that.
He took a resolute breath as he stepped out of the lift at Level Four, two floors earlier than he'd been planning to, and headed down the hall to Hermione's office.
If Ron and Hermione still wanted each other, then it was Harry's duty to help them, wasn't it? He glanced down at the green flask and tried to work out whether helping meant giving Hermione the potion or throwing it away.
Her door was open, and he had to smile as he saw her hunched over a very long piece of parchment, editing someone else's work.
"Harry!" she said, looking up.
"Hi, Hermione," he said, returning her smile. "Working hard?"
"Never," she said with a laugh. "What've you got there?"
"A little something from Ron's mum," he said, and realised he didn't know if even that much was true. "An immunity tonic, or something."
"Oh," she said disappointedly. "Not that naturalist tonic I heard Luna telling Molly about at Ron's birthday party? It's just made from weeds or something, it's not magical or even medicinal by Muggle standards."
"I … have no idea what it is, actually. Which reminds me, Hermione, are you allergic to anything?"
Hermione frowned in surprise. "Nothing I've met yet. Why do you ask?"
Harry shrugged and shook his head. "Long story. Can I ask you something else, though?"
"Of course," she said, confused.
"Do you ever think about getting back together with Ron?"
Her eyebrows rose. "What's brought this on, Harry?"
"Sorry," he said, and felt himself blush. "Not the best time for this sort of discussion, but I just need to know. Do you ever think about it? When you imagine being … you know, grown up. And happy. Is Ron there?"
Hermione looked at him carefully for several moments before leaning back into her chair with a sigh. "Of course he's there, Harry. You both are. But not in the way that you mean, no. I don't want him there like that." She sighed. "Please, Harry, don't fret about us. We're fine. We'll be fine."
"Sorry," he said, smiling sheepishly. "It's just…"
She smiled back. "Well, try not to worry about this, at least." She looked back to her desk, piled high with books and parchment, and checked the clock. "Harry, it's nearly eleven. Isn't your meeting with Kingsley and the Senior Aurors about to start?"
"Oh, fuck!" Harry said, shaking himself back into his workday. "I've got to get upstairs. Did you want this, then, or no?" he asked, extending the blue flask towards her.
She scrunched her nose up at him. "Thanks, but no thanks. I wash my hands regularly and get plenty of vitamin C. I'll take my chances."
Harry didn't have time to feel relieved that his decision not to give Hermione the potion-laden tonic had been moot in the end, since she wouldn't have drunk it anyway.
He rushed up two flights of stairs, trying to remember where in his messy office he'd left all his notes for the meeting.
He rushed into his office, set the two flasks down on a clear patch of desk and began searching through large piles, cursing himself for not being more organised. His eyes darted up to the clock, and he tried to search faster.
"Lost the Snitch there, Seeker?" came a friendly voice from his open door.
Harry threw a quick glance over his shoulder as he continued lifting books and parchment up in turn. "Hey, Lee, good to see you. How are you?"
"Alright. D'you need a hand?"
"Thanks, no. One of them's got to be just … here," he said, pulling the corner of a piece of parchment out from the middle of a pile. "Sorry, Lee, I can't chat now. Will you be around in an hour or so?"
"No, I'm headed out. Just had a quick meeting down on Seven, they've extended my contract."
"Yeah, it seems they like me up in Harpies territory, so I'll be with them indefinitely."
"That's really excellent, Lee," Harry said, scanning his office for the rest of what he needed.
"Thanks. Listen, can we plan to have a chat sometime soon? I was hoping to get your help with something."
"Of course, what do you need?"
"Well, I'm thinking of organising a little something for the … um, for George's birthday next week."
Harry paused his flurry of activity to look at Lee, still leaning against the door frame, and nodded.
Lee smiled. "But with my new schedule, I'm not going to be in town for more than a couple hours at a time until the thirty-first."
"I'll help however I can, happy to. Just owl me what you need, or Floo."
"Great. Thanks, Harry."
"Not at all, mate." Harry looked down to the pile of parchment in his hands, flipping through it to see if anything important was missing.
"Hey, those are Mrs Weasley's flasks, aren't they?" Lee asked, looking to Harry's desk. "What's she sent?"
"Oh," Harry said distractedly, "it's, uh … an immunity tonic or something? Hermione said she got it from Luna."
"Lovegood? Oh, Harry, that stuff's supposed to be fantastic. A lot of the Harpies players swear by it. She's got a whole line of really fantastic products to keep a player healthy through the winter."
Harry looked up, surprised. "Really? Well, you're welcome to Hermione's if you want it. She turned her nose up at it. It's the, uh, the one on the left there."
Lee laughed and walked to the desk. "Thanks, Harry. I've got a bit of a tickle in my throat that this might help. Can't hurt, can it?"
"Don't see how it can," Harry muttered, grabbing a quill.
"Thanks, Harry," Lee said. "I'll be in touch."
"Great," Harry replied, before stopping mid-stride in the door. He looked quickly back at the lone, blue flask still on his desk.
"OK, Harry? Forget something?"
"Um, yeah," he said quickly. "Sorry, Lee, you can't have that one." He grabbed the blue flask from the desk. "Have this," he urged. "Don't ask," he said as Lee blinked at him and made the exchange.
Running down the hall, Harry made a quick stop in the loo where he dumped the contents of Hermione's green flask down the sink before racing off to his meeting.
An hour later, Harry trudged down the hall back to his office, rubbing the back of his neck, feeling exhausted but productive. It was always difficult to get the Senior Aurors to pay attention to the underlings, but sometimes carrying around the name Harry Potter and its assorted epithets was good for something, Junior Auror though he may be.
The door to his office stood ajar, and he heard someone inside muttering as he approached.
"Lee, you're still here?" Harry asked, finding Lee sitting in his desk chair, fidgeting and wringing his hands.
"HARRY!" Lee cried, jumping from the chair. "Oh, thank Merlin you're back. I couldn't wait another minute. I need your help, mate. I really need help, and you're the only one I could think of."
Panic rose instantly in Harry's chest.
"What's the matter? What's happened?"
"Oh, Harry, I can't stand it. You're the only person I can talk to, the only one who can help, I know it."
"Alright, alright. I'll do whatever I can, of course. But what is it?"
"I can't stop thinking about him, Harry. I've tried, honestly I have. But I can't. I don't know what to do. I think … I think I love him, Harry."
"Oh, buggering fuck," Harry moaned, as he exhaled.
He was going to kill Ron.
Not just a liar, then, but an absent-minded one.
Mortification and terror flooded Harry as he realised what would have happened, had he drunk that flask.
Just what he bloody needed, to accidentally take a love potion and then make a total arse of himself, declaring his love for Ron in a simpering fit.
He was really going to kill Ron.
"Harry? Harry! Are you listening? I need your help!"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm listening, Lee."
"So what should I do? Your best mate … What would you do? He's got to know, right? But oh, what if he's angry?"
"Um, well, I … I'd, um…"
"Oh, Harry," Lee sighed, stopping his pacing and leaning dramatically against the wall. "Have you seen him? His hair? It's like fire. I've always wondered if it's hot to the touch, you know? And his freckles! I want to find them all, Harry. Study them, one by one. Give each one its own bank holiday. Funny things, freckles. Do you think he's got them everywhere, Harry?"
"No, he hasn't," Harry snapped, more fiercely than he'd meant to.
He swallowed, willing away his urge to punch Lee full in the stomach for talking about Ron's freckles like that.
"Only because, um, freckles come from the sun, Lee. So, no, he won't have them quite everywhere. At least not in large numbers." Harry wondered how much he'd just revealed about the time he'd spent pondering the spread of Ron's freckles.
"Oh," Lee said disappointedly. "Well, I'll have to work on that, won't I? Get some of those spots into the sun a bit more often, yeah?" He winked at Harry suggestively.
Harry had to physically restrain himself from wiping the mischievous smile from Lee's face.
"Lee," he said, willing himself to remember that Lee was not only a good friend, but also under the influence of a potent mind-altering substance that Harry himself had given him, "I think you should tell him straightaway."
"Yeah?" Lee said, eagerly lifting himself from the wall.
"Yeah. And I'll go get him. Right now."
"But, Harry, what if he's angry?"
"He won't be."
"I am. I'll go right now and Floo the shop and get him here as quickly as possible. OK?"
"I'll come, too."
"No. The Floo's for Aurors only. Sorry."
Lee gave a powerful, nervous sigh.
"I need you to stay right here. Stay in my office, just sit right there in my chair until I – until we get back, alright? Don't go anywhere. We wouldn't want to waste any time looking for you."
"Right. I'll be right here, you'll know just where." Lee sat resolutely down in Harry's chair.
"Good man. Alright, I'll be right back."
Harry raced down the stairs, his blood boiling.
His anger, which had already doubled at his discovery of Ron's mixing up the flasks, now threatened to overtake him after listening to Lee talk about Ron like that. Hearing Lee say aloud all the things that Harry'd been thinking for years was nearly too much to bear.
He was really, really going to kill Ron.
He burst into the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, startling the weary receptionist. Her irritated expression vanished, and she sat up straight in her chair when she recognised him.
"Hello," he said, attempting a smile, "does the Reversal Squad keep antidote ingredients on site?"
"We do have a few staples on the premises, yes. What sort of antidote are you looking for, Mr Potter?"
"For a love potion."
A look of amused surprise appeared on the woman's face. "A love potion, sir?"
"Yes," he snapped, "and as quickly as possible."
She blinked and stood, becoming flustered at his shortness. "Well, I'm not sure if we have that, Mr Potter, but I'll certainly see what I can do. Please wait here for a moment."
"Thanks," he muttered as she disappeared into the department.
She was gone for an inordinately long time, and Harry drummed his fingers on her desk, rolling his eyes each time he tried to make sense of Ron's behaviour.
Finally, she returned. "Lucky, Mr Potter, we had it, and just enough." She extended her hand toward him, offering a small phial filled with clear liquid. "This should clean your mess right up, sir," she said, smiling.
"It's not my bloody mess," Harry snapped, reddening. "I'm just the one stuck dealing with it."
"Oh, of course, sir," the woman stammered, her smile gone and face redder than Harry's. "I didn't mean to imply … of course not, sir. I'm sorry."
"Thanks for this," he said, taking the phial and hurrying away. "You can bill it to the Auror budget if you need to."
"That's fine, Mr Potter, thank you. Good luck," she called weakly after him.
"Bloody lovely," Harry muttered to himself as he hurtled back up the stairs to his office. "Just what I need. Rumours I'm using love potions now. Rita Skeeter'll love that, won't she? Thanks, Ron, thanks a lot."
He tightened his grip around the phial before coming to an abrupt halt in the hall.
Why was he stuck dealing with this mess all alone?
Ron had been the one to take such a stupid risk, let him deal with the disaster.
Or, at the very least, let him endure Lee Jordan professing his burning desire to explore and properly memorialise Ron's nether freckles.
Harry rolled the small phial in his palm, stepping out of the way and apologising as a large group of Junior Aurors returning from lunch came down the hall.
It would be small and spiteful of him to humiliate Ron like that, Harry knew.
But it might also be illuminating.
Harry knew he could never ask Ron outright what he thought about gay blokes, or, even worse, what he'd think about a gay bloke wanting him.
Not that it really mattered. Harry wasn't gay or straight for anyone but Ron, who was as straight as his fourteen inch wand. So there would be no dramatic coming out in Harry's future, anyway.
But he still wondered a bit. What would Ron think of a bloke coming on to him?
Harry looked at the clear liquid in the phial, half wishing the answer would appear within it like a crystal ball, before coming to a decision.
Depositing the phial into the deep pocket of his robes, he strode confidently back to his office.
"Harry!" Lee cried, bounding up from the seat as Harry entered. "Where is he?!"
Harry put his hands to Lee's chest as he frantically looked over Harry's shoulder, and tried to push past him into the hall.
"He couldn't come just yet, Lee. Really busy at the shop right now. Line a mile long at the till."
"Should I go over there? I've got to see him, Harry."
"No, no, Lee, hold on," Harry said, struggling to keep him from bolting. "He said not to. He can't talk now."
Lee stopped struggling. "What did he say? What did you say?"
"I told him you had something very important to discuss with him, and he said he's very keen to talk to you, as well, but that business is business and he won't be free until this evening."
"Not til this evening?!"
"He wanted me to ask you if you have time a bit later. Have you got to get to Holyhead tonight?"
"Um, yeah. Got an eight o'clock Portkey."
"Oh, that's great, then," Harry said, ignoring his wriggling conscience. "He wants you to meet him at my flat at seven o'clock. Bring the Portkey with you, that's plenty of time."
"He's going to be at your flat tonight?" Lee asked, his brow creased.
"Yes, at seven."
"But, oh, Harry, that's ages from now. How am I going to make it though the rest of the day?"
"Well, you've got a lot to do, haven't you? You've got to be ready to travel straight from my flat. So you should go home, have a shower, get all your things packed, collect your Portkey, and, most important, work out what you're going to say."
Lee's eyes widened. "Blimey, you're right, Harry. What am I going to say?"
"You'll think of something, Lee. Be glad you've got so much time. Just stay put at your flat until it's time to come to mine, alright? Stay focused, you've got a lot to work out."
"You're right. You're right! I'll stay there and work it all out, and then come to your place at seven," Lee stammered nervously. "Do you think I should cancel my trip?"
"No, definitely not, he wouldn't want that."
"Maybe he'll come with me."
"Yeah, um, maybe. See you at seven," Harry said, ushering Lee out the door. "Go straight home now."
Lee nodded earnestly, and Harry brought a hand to his pocket, making certain the antidote was still safe within it.
Ron climbed the last few steps to the landing outside Harry's flat very slowly. He lingered a moment in the isolated space, wallowing in the protection of its wards and wondering if he shouldn't just Apparate back to Diagon Alley immediately.
It didn't seem possible that he was actually about to do this.
Merlin, was he honestly about to do this?
Harry was going to kill him.
Ron brought a hand to his pocket, making certain the antidote was still safe within it.
He took a deep, resolute breath and tried to imagine what was waiting for him through the door.
A Harry, who was, at least for the moment, desperately in love with Ron.
And who was about to find out that Ron was desperately in love with him.
Whatever happened after this, however angry Harry became, however quickly he might reject him, Ron was going to remember every moment of what was about to happen. He'd tuck it away, and remember it at night, when he could close his eyes and dream of it as though it had been real.
With a deep breath, he raised a hand to the door and rapped on it.
"'S open," he heard Harry call from inside.
"Hey, mate," he called as he pulled the door closed behind him. "I stopped at the curry takeaway place down the street, hope that's alright."
"Yeah, great," came Harry's oddly flat voice. "Beer?"
"You … want to eat right away, then?" Ron asked, blinking at this less than inspiring welcome.
"Oh, we'd better eat right away, hadn't we?" Harry spat. "Since you've decided to grace me with your presence after all tonight. I don't want to keep you."
Ron blinked and swallowed. "Sorry? Am I late?"
"No, but we both know you've got somewhere else you'd rather be right now. You're a bit early, in fact. Want to get this visit over with, eh? Well, have a seat, let's eat."
Ron opened his mouth to protest, but found he needed a moment, so he complied with Harry's instruction.
This was not what he had been expecting. Not that he had really expected a Harry who'd just throw himself at him as soon as he walked through the door, but … well, actually, that's exactly what he'd been expecting.
He'd certainly not been prepared for this snarling, fridge-door-slamming Harry to show up in his place.
"Harry," he said as Harry sat down next to him on the sofa and shoved a butterbeer in front of him, "do you not want me here?"
"Don't be stupid, of course I want you here," Harry snapped. "Just eat."
"Look, if you're bloody well gonna start calling me names, I think I've got a right to know why," Ron responded, beginning to feel angry.
"Oh, have you? Well, I apparently don't have a right to know bloody anything, so how about I just keep quiet, too, and we call it even?"
"Harry, what the hell's going on?"
"I should ask you the same thing, shouldn't I?"
"You don't have to play dumb, Ron. I know all about your little plan."
Something very heavy dropped into Ron's gut.
Harry knew, and he was really, really angry.
"Oh," Ron managed, weakly.
A heavy silence hovered over them for a long minute.
"Why didn't you tell me, Ron?" Harry asked more calmly, sounding hurt.
"I wanted to, Harry, honestly I did, for so long now. I just … I felt like I couldn't."
Harry frowned and looked at Ron with a funny, searching expression.
"Are you shocked?" Ron asked.
Harry's frown deepened with a small start. "No," he said with an almost-laugh.
Ron stared at Harry and opened his mouth several times before he was finally able to speak.
"Have I been so obvious?"
"Actually, no," Harry said, shrugging. "You haven't been obvious about it at all. Was a bit of a surprise. But not a shock, no."
"Oh," Ron said, uncertainly. "Well. That's good, then. Surprise is … is better than shock, I'd say."
"Before we get into this properly, though, there's something you need to know."
Ron swallowed and met Harry's eye briefly before nodding.
"It didn't work."
Ron blinked. "Um, sorry? What didn't work?"
"This whole … plan. The love potion didn't exactly reach its intended target."
"Worked that one out for myself, thanks."
"Did you? Well, you could've let me know when you realised you'd mixed them up. That was a disaster waiting to happen."
"Mixed them up? Mixed what up?"
"Those blasted flasks you gave me this morning. You said the green one was hers, and so I threw it away after I found out what you were up to. But I held on to the–"
"You threw it out?"
"Of course I did, Ron."
"The green one?"
"Yes, you were right when you said I wouldn't approve, I didn't. And I don't."
"The green one didn't have the potion, Harry."
"Yes, I know that. But you told me this morning that it did, which is why–"
"No, I told you it was for Hermione."
"I know you did, that's why–" Harry stopped suddenly without being interrupted.
Ron stared at the coffee table, and their forgotten takeaway containers, watching Harry stare at him in his peripheral vision.
Harry hadn't known, not at all.
Anxiety and fear washed over Ron as the silence between them stretched on impossibly.
He chanced a glance at Harry, who was blinking and swallowing and blushing and casting furtive glances back at him.
"Look, Harry, I'm sorry, OK? It was a completely horrible, stupid, manipulative idea, and I'm sorry. I didn't want to do it, but … Oh, Merlin. I know you're angry, and rightly so, but I just … I didn't know how to tell you. I wasn't trying to take advantage or manipulate you like that, I promise, I have the antidote right here, was going to give it to you straightaway."
He looked at Harry, who was staring at him still, wearing a completely indecipherable expression.
"Didn't have the courage to just say it," Harry whispered.
"No, I didn't," Ron responded miserably. "Right lousy Gryffindor, I know. I thought this would help, thought it might get the ball rolling, you know? And guess it's sort of worked, huh?"
Another impossibly silent moment swelled between them.
"No, I meant me," Harry finally said.
Ron frowned and met Harry's eye, beginning to wonder how many misunderstandings could fit into one short conversation.
Inexplicably, the smallest beginning of a smile was playing on Harry's lips as he looked at Ron.
"What, uh," Harry said, "what ball, precisely, is it that you want to start rolling?"
Ron's brain was still a few steps behind, and so it took it a moment to register the fact that his eyes had been drawn directly to the balls he wanted, and he was now staring at Harry's crotch.
Really obviously staring at Harry's crotch.
How bloody long had he been doing that?
The skin on his face felt liable to burst into flame as he tore his eyes from Harry's zipper and looked back to the coffee table.
His brain seemed to have short circuited, and he couldn't pin down a single coherent thought in the unendurable silence that passed.
And then Harry laughed.
And Ron's heart swelled at the sound of it. Not because it fixed anything, but because the sound of Harry's laugh always had that effect.
Until his brain kicked back to life and he realised that Harry had been driven to hysteria by the shock of discovering that his best mate, who was secretly in love with him, had not only unsuccessfully plotted to administer a love potion on him that morning, but apparently also had uncontrollable urges to stare at his crotch.
Or he was taking the piss.
Either way, Ron didn't particularly want to be around much longer, and he jumped up from the sofa.
He'd moved quickly, and would have escaped almost anyone else, but Harry's Seeker fingers were wrapped around Ron's wrist before he was fully upright.
"Those the balls you want, then?"
"'M sorry, OK?"
Harry laughed again, and Ron refused to believe the part of him that was sure it wasn't a sarcastic or hysterical laugh, until Harry's fingers squeezed his wrist.
His sheepish gaze met startlingly green eyes, and he swallowed as his heart quickened its beat.
"So you're not angry, then?"
"No," Harry said, "although I probably should be. Honestly, ya prat, a love potion?" Ron blushed and Harry squeezed his wrist again. "I'm just really relieved that you weren't secretly pining for Hermione."
"Yeah," Harry said.
Ron felt Harry tug on his wrist as he sat forward on the couch, reaching his face up to him. Harry seemed to have grown very tall when Ron realised that he had bent down to meet him, and then their mouths came together.
It was the most physically awkward kiss Ron could have imagined, with his long body nearly doubled over and Harry straining up on his arse's tip-toes.
But Ron took no notice of it, his awareness of the world narrowed down to the small patch of skin on his lips.
When their lips parted, Ron found himself staring into impossibly green eyes. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Yeah," Harry said, nodding and bumping Ron's nose. "Ron, if it'd been up to me, we'd've been shagging each other senseless for years."
Ron's mouth was on Harry's again as he stepped forward and lifted his knees to the sofa, kneeling astride Harry's lap. He brought his hands to Harry's face, and threaded his fingers into black hair.
Lost in the feeling of Harry's mouth and tongue, it took a moment for Ron to register the feel of Harry's growing erection against his thigh.
His eyes went wide, and he pulled back from Harry's mouth abruptly. He opened his mouth to speak, but whatever he'd meant to say flew out of his mind at the sight beneath him.
Harry was flushed and panting, his lips were red and already a bit swollen, and his eyes were dark and focused on Ron intensely.
"Really shagging?" Ron finally managed.
Harry gave a lopsided smile. "Day and night, mate."
Ron blinked and felt his mouth curl into a stupid smile. Harry beamed at him and grabbed his shirt, pulling on it while he pushed on Ron's shoulder. After a flurry of movement Ron found himself flat on his back on the couch, with Harry sprawled atop him, one knee between his legs, the attached thigh pressing against his groin.
When Ron regained awareness, he had no idea what time it was. But he was naked and sprawled out on the couch with an equally naked Harry, so the thought that he should care what time it was was laughable.
Pulling Harry close, Ron rolled onto his back, and they rearranged themselves until they were comfortably situated with their bodies intertwined.
Ron had just begun to drift off when he felt Harry's shoulders begin to shake.
"Harry?" he whispered, pressing his hand to the small of Harry's back.
"Did you actually forget that spell?" Harry responded, laughing.
"Shut it," Ron said. "I was … distracted."
Harry chuckled and pressed a kiss to Ron's collarbone. "Ron, you've probably performed that spell more times than any other."
"Harry, I've probably performed that spell more times than all the others, combined." His hand began stroking Harry's back.
Harry lifted his head and placed more kisses along Ron's shoulder. "I must've been doing something right, then."
Ron chuckled. "I'd say you were, yeah."
Harry lifted his head higher, so he could look down at Ron.
There were about a million things Ron wanted to say as he held Harry's gaze, but he only managed one.
"Sorry I tried to give you a love potion."
Harry smiled. "All things considered," he said, as he leaned down and placed a gentle kiss to the corner of Ron's mouth, "I forgive you. So long as you promise you'll never do it again."
"You have my word," Ron said, and opened his mouth to invite Harry into a deeper kiss.
He had just elicited a delicious moan from Harry by sucking on his tongue when there was a heavy knock on the door.
Ron turned his head to the door, startled, before groaning softly. "Let's be really quiet and maybe they'll go away."
"Brilliant," Harry said, nuzzling Ron's cheek.
The knocking continued, growing more insistent, and suddenly Harry's head popped up. "Oh shit," he said, and jumped off of Ron without warning.
"What?" Ron asked as Harry frantically collected his clothes. "What is it?"
"I forgot. That'll be Lee. Get dressed, now."
"Harry, c'mon," Ron said without moving, "just ignore him and tell him later that something … came up."
"I can't, Ron, he's taken the bloody potion and I have to get him the antidote before he does something rash. Get up!" Harry's jeans were back on, and he tossed Ron's trousers at him before unfurling and pulling on his t-shirt.
"What? What potion?"
"Your blasted love potion!"
"You gave it to Lee? Why in the bloody hell would you–"
"Not on purpose, you prat! He came by my office this afternoon and got all excited about Luna's wretched tonic or whatever that shit was, and Merlin knows I wasn't about to drink it so I let him have one. The one I thought was clean."
Ron caught his t-shirt as Harry threw it at him, desperately trying to keep up with this new information. "Oh, buggering fuck," he finally managed, weakly.
"Ron! At least get off the damn couch and go hide in the bedroom. It'll be easier to get him the antidote if you're not here to distract him."
"Why did you invite him here?"
"To give him the antidote!"
"Where'd you get one?"
"Department of Magical Accidents."
"So you could have given it to him straightaway."
Harry stopped and looked at Ron. "Could have, yeah. But I was angry. I … I wanted to humiliate you little before I gave it to him. So I invited him over, knowing you'd be here. I'm sorry."
Ron started at him a moment. "Reckon I deserved it."
"Yes, well. Beside the point now, isn't it? Just … please just go hide in the bedroom, and I'll get rid of him as quickly as I can." He picked up Ron's socks and shoes, handing them to him as Ron rose and scurried into the bedroom, pulling the door shut behind him.
Ron could hear the pounding on the front door grow louder, even through the closed door.
"Alright, alright, hang on!" Harry called. Ron heard him mumble an Alohomora and the apartment was suddenly filled with an angry voice Ron certainly wasn't expecting to hear.
"Where is he, Harry? Is he here?"
"Hermione," Harry replied, sounding surprised, "hello. Hi, George."
"Hiya, Harry," Ron heard his brother say.
"Is who here, Hermione?" Harry asked.
Ron could almost hear the pointed look Hermione gave Harry. "Who do you think, Harry? Where is he?"
"I dunno," Harry said. "Not here. Did you need something?"
"Merlin, Harry, it smells like–" she stopped herself. "Do you have someone here, Harry?"
"No," Harry said quickly.
"Why d'you have takeaway for two?"
There was a pause. "One's for … from yesterday." Ron cringed.
"Alright," Hermione said, clearly disbelieving. "Well, I'm looking for Ron."
"So I gathered."
"It seems he attempted, with the aid of this one, to give me a love potion this afternoon."
"Oi!" George cried. "None of this was my idea, I'll have you know."
Hermione snorted. "Right, George, of course not. Honestly, Harry, you won't believe–"
"I already know, Hermione," Harry interrupted.
"You knew about it, too?! Oh, in the name of–"
"I just learned of the plan this morning, Hermione. And I intercepted the potion."
"That tonic from Luna?"
"Harry," George complained, "why'd you go and do that?"
"George Weasley, if you have any idea what is good for you, you will stop talking right now."
Ron smirked as he heard George huff.
"Thank you, Harry, I'm glad you've got more sense than these two, this could have been quite ugly. Honestly, I will never understand why…" Hermione's rant trailed off rather ominously. "Harry?"
"Um, yeah, Hermione?" Harry asked, with trepidation.
"What did you do with the potion, once you'd intercepted it?"
"I, uh, I threw it away."
"Uh huh. Would you mind telling me, then, what you're doing with that phial of antidote on the kitchen table?"
Ron stifled a groan as he closed his eyes and narrowly stopped himself from banging his head against the door.
"I, uh … well, you know … one can't be too careful these days. With all these love potions floating around. Always be prepared."
"Did you put it in that glass?"
"This? Oh, no, no," Harry said, and Ron heard something be set down on the coffee table. "That's just a drink that I was … drinking. Just now."
"Who did you think was at the door just now?"
"Mate," George piped up, "resistance is futile, believe me." Ron winced, wondering what she'd beaten out of George, and mentally berating his brother for whatever course of events brought him into Hermione's range in the first place.
"Well," Harry said haltingly, "see, when I say I threw the potion away, what I mean is I … well, I thought I threw it away. But it seems I may have been a bit … confused about, um, which was which."
"And?" Hermione said tensely.
"And, well, I gave away what I believed to be the potion-free tonic. And, uh, and now I've asked him to come over so I can give him the antidote."
"Him who?" George asked quickly.
"Um … Lee, actually," Harry said, rather apologetically.
"Lee Jordan?" George said, sounding alarmed.
"That'd be the one, yeah," Harry replied.
Hermione laughed. "He's coming here? Now?"
Harry must have nodded, because Hermione laughed again, and George groaned.
"You alright, George?" Hermione asked pointedly.
"Yup, no problem here, Hermione. I've just remembered an important appointment I'm late for. Night, all."
"George," Hermione said, and for a moment Ron thought his mum had just showed up, her voice was so commanding. "Why exactly did you come looking for me tonight?"
"Just following up on the research Ron set out to do, Hermione. Wanted to make sure you were alright."
"You honestly expect me to believe this idiotic idea was part of your research? It's completely desperate and pathetic."
Ron made a face and opened his mouth to retort, but remembered he was hiding.
George gave an exasperated sigh. "Alright, Hermione. Truth is, I was hoping to see Ron be humiliated."
Ron felt his jaw clench.
"And you came looking for me," Hermione said, "thinking how funny it'd be to see me desperately in love with Ron."
"And to watch you hex his bollocks off once you got better, yeah."
"But you have no interest in witnessing exactly the same thing now that it's Lee? I'd've thought you'd find that even more entertaining."
The accusatory, calculating tone of Hermione's voice hung in the air.
"That's different, Hermione," George said. "Lee's my best mate, I can't watch him be humiliated like that."
"George," Hermione warned, "what's going on?"
Whatever George's next placation was going to be, he was interrupted by a heavy knocking on the front door.
"Harry?" came Lee's muffled voice. "Harry, are you here?"
There were quick footsteps.
"George, where are you–" A door, which Ron thought belonged to the bathroom, slammed before he heard the front door open.
"Harry!" Lee cried. "Where is he? Is he here? You promised he'd be here, Harry!"
"Hello, Lee," Hermione said sweetly.
"Yeah, hi, Granger. Harry, you said he'd be here."
"I know, Lee, and uh, he's just had to step out. But he asked me–"
"You said he'd be here now, Harry?" Hermione asked, her tone making Ron distinctly uncomfortable.
Harry paused, but seemed to decide to ignore her.
"Lee," he said pointedly, "he'll be back in just a minute. But he asked me to give you this in the meantime."
"Yup, Ron's made it just for you."
"What?" Lee became even more impatient. "I don't want anything from Ron, Harry, stop arsing around! Where is he?"
"I … Where is who, Lee?"
"George, of course!" Lee cried and Hermione said in unison.
The silence that followed allowed plenty of room for the indignation that rose in Ron's chest.
"Harry?" Lee urged. "Harry, is George here or not? What's going on? I haven't time for these games, Potter. My Portkey's in an hour, and I need to see George now."
Hermione's infuriatingly smug voice came through the door, "Accio Weasleys!"
He felt it immediately, the pull behind his navel that he usually associated with a Portkey, and he was glad that the latch on the bedroom door was a weak one, opening easily under the weight of his body pushing into it.
He flew into the lounge, landing on his rear at Hermione's feet. He looked up into the faces of a mortified Harry, an exasperated Lee, and an nauseatingly self-satisfied Hermione.
"Hello, Ron," she said sweetly.
"Ron, Ron, Ron!" cried Lee. "Bloody hell, where's George?"
Hermione and Harry both looked to the closed bathroom door, which Ron now noticed was producing a rhythmical thumping noise.
"Blimey, Hermione," George called from inside it, "let me open the bloody door, would you? My shoulder's starting to bruise!"
"George!" Lee cried, and ran to open the door.
It took some effort, with the force of Hermione's summoning charm repeatedly slamming George against the door and holding it shut, but after a couple of tries, Lee managed to time it right and George came flying out of the bathroom, landing in a heap against Ron on the floor.
"Oof, watch it!" Ron cried as George knocked into him.
"Hardly my fault," George whinged, rubbing his shoulder. "Talk to your bloody girlfriend about it, would you?"
"George! Are you OK? Are you injured?" Lee shot an angry glare at Hermione.
"I'm fine, Lee," George said, turning red.
"Good, good. Look, George, I've got to talk to you. I've got something really important to tell you."
Hermione chuckled. "It is too bad that summoning charm wasn't strong enough to reach all your brothers, isn't it, George? Shall I Floo them?"
"Shut up, Hermione!" George, Ron and Lee said in unison.
Hermione merely grew more smug.
"George?" Lee said.
"George," Ron said tensely, "if he took my love potion, what in the bloody hell's going on?"
"George, I love you," Lee said very earnestly.
A very red-faced George smiled weakly at Lee. "What, Ron, you'd rather he were in love with you?"
"You bollixed up my love potion, you arse! You thought it was for Hermione. Trying to steal her from me, were you?"
"I'm hardly yours to be stolen, Ron," Hermione said indignantly.
"Don't be daft," George said. "Your dim-witted plan was never going to work, anyway. I just thought I'd spice it up a bit. You know, amplify the entertainment factor."
Ron glared at him.
"Don't be so self-righteous, Ron," Hermione said. "We all know you lied, too. It's patently obvious for whom you meant that potion."
Ron felt himself grow hot, and hoped he was already red enough that it wouldn't show. "Pfft," he said, as nonchalantly as he could.
"Ron. Harry threw away the tonic meant for me and gave the one meant for him to Lee."
"I think I did," Harry interjected.
"He got confused!" Ron said, nodding.
"It's OK, boys," she said, her voice softening, "you don't have to lie."
Ron looked at Harry, who met his eye, before they both looked at Hermione guardedly.
"Besides," she continued, "if that were true, I'd say Harry must be terribly confused right now, seeing as how I just summoned you from his bedroom, and you're wearing nothing but your pants."
Ron opened his mouth, but closed it when nothing came to him.
"And," she continued, "it smells suspiciously like –"
"Hermione!" Ron and Harry both cried.
"This is really … all … well and truly beside the point!" Ron stammered. "Which is that my blasted brother tampered with my bloody love potion!"
"Which you didn't need anyway!" Hermione and George cried together.
Ron quailed, scowling.
"George?" Lee said. "George, did you hear me? I love you, George."
"Yeah, Lee, I heard you," George said weakly. "I think you should drink what Harry's got there for you."
"OK," Lee said, looking nonplussed. "If you want me to."
"Yeah, I do," George said.
Lee looked to Harry expectantly and Harry handed him the glass with the antidote.
Ron watched him drink it, then watched his dim-witted grin disappear, replaced by confusion and finally, mortification.
Guilt settled heavily into Ron's chest.
"I'm sorry, Lee," he said weakly. "Harry, Hermione, I'm sorry. It was a completely stupid idea, but I didn't set out to manipulate anyone." He cast a furtive glance at Lee before turning his eyes to Hermione beseechingly. "Honest," he said, almost as a question. He looked at Harry. "Honest."
Harry gave him a weak smile.
"I just didn't know how…" He trailed off, turning his eyes shamefully to the floor.
"It's my fault, too," Harry suddenly said, and Ron looked up. "You should've known you didn't need it. You should've known you could be honest with me, and it's my fault you didn't. So I'm sorry, too."
Ron stared into earnest green eyes and felt something in his chest stumble. Harry gave him an apologetic smile and Ron felt his own mouth mirror it.
Harry's eyes were intoxicating and Ron didn't realise that the rest of the room seemed to have vanished until he heard Hermione clear her throat.
She appeared to be holding back a smile as she spoke. "Well, George, Lee, now that this has all been sorted out, I suppose we should leave these two alone."
Ron stood and watched an abashed George and Lee, neither of whom seemed able to make eye contact with anyone in the room, shuffle toward the front door.
"Thanks, Hermione," Ron muttered. "Sorry again."
"Oh, don't worry, Ron. I'm not done yet. You can expect my owl in the morning. Both of you."
"Brilliant," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "Bated breath, all that." George snorted as he opened the door, and Ron smiled.
The door closed behind the them, and Ron listened to three soft pops of Apparition from the secluded hallway.
He turned to Harry and felt a sudden surge of timidity wash over him.
A rather long moment passed.
"So…" Harry said, biting at his lip.
"So," Ron repeated. "That was a bit of a … rumpus."
Harry chortled. "Bit of one, yeah."
Ron met his eye. "Are you up for picking up where we left off?"
Harry's lips spread into a relieved smile. "Absolutely," he said, "if you are."
Ron chuckled and stepped towards him. "Let's get you out of all these clothes," he whispered, and he smiled as Harry's body melted into his.
In the end, George grudgingly conceded that Ron's completely terrible idea had actually been something a bit closer to brilliant.
The first rays of sunlight were wrestling their way into George's bedroom as something warm and mischievous tickled its way up his spine.
It nudged him into full consciousness, reminding him of work to be done. The shop was having a remarkable week.
He smiled when he remembered what day it was, and granted himself a few extra minutes' rest.
The sleeping body next to him stirred.
"Morning," George murmured as he began stroking a shapely biceps.
Lee sighed and burrowed further against George's shoulder. The warmth in his spine dropped back a bit, and delivered what could only be described as a congratulatory slap on the back.
Turned out, Ron had been right. The illusion of love could help a bloke out, in a pinch.
George admired the contrast of his freckled fingers against Lee's velvety arm, and couldn't help but feel grateful to his younger brother.
The warmth at his back rose into his chest and tapped indignantly on his sternum.
George bit back a smile. Weasleys did often work better in pairs, didn't they?
He gave a small start when Lee suddenly lifted his head from the pillow to look groggily at him.
Lee opened his mouth, but paused before speaking, as though trying to be sure about something.
"Happy Birthday," he finally said.
The warmth in his chest swelled and settled comfortably around his heart, and George smiled.