A/N: I'm not really at all happy with this but it was written as a birthday gift for one of my LJ friends. Rated M to be on the safe side - some adult themes, but nothing particularly graphic. For the record, I'm not particularly a fan of this pairing (excepting when written by startstruck1986, the LJ friend this was written for), so I have VERY mixed feelings. It's also been my first attempt at writing Ron as a main character. I'm posting it anyway on the grounds that it's the only thing I've written in ages that's tame enough for FF net not to have a fit over.

Inspired by the song 'White Balloons' by Sick Puppies.

SLASH WARNING: That means it's gay, alright? Two guys doing, or wanting to do, inappropriate things to one another. Don't like it, don't read it, okay?

Standard Disclaimers Apply.

White Balloons

He could count the times he'd seen Severus Snape since the Battle of Hogwarts on one hand. The first had been dragging his miraculously breathing 'corpse' out of the Shrieking Shack at four thirty in the morning with Harry the day after their not-so-glorious victory. Far too many people had died for it to ever be 'glorious'. Only children ever thought of battles as glorious, anyway, and at eighteen, Ronald Weasley could no longer pretend to be a child. The second time, Snape had been comatose and wan. He couldn't count how many nights he sat up with Harry, who took it as a personal failure that the man who'd spent half his life protecting him couldn't be protected from the cold, hard reality that life was not interminable. Harry so often seemed to think magic could solve anything – came from being raised by muggles, Ron figured. A book of spells was always the first place Hermione looked to solve a problem too. It was probably at least half the reason they weren't together now. The other half, well, that was definitely not something magic could fix.

Ron stared at a wonky bit of garland that refused to hang right and put his hands on his hips in disdain. He just didn't have the proper delicacy for decorating. He wanted nothing more than to beat the rogue fluff of silver into submission, but he knew that would only send the whole string toppling down and he'd been trying to fasten it up properly for half an hour. He felt rather put off that all he had to show for his efforts was a fluffy curly-cue pointing towards the Great Hall's enchanted ceiling and a dusting of glitter in his hair and across the bridge of his nose. The stuff was like a disease – it refused to come off and he was sure that every time he touched it it had little glittery babies that made him look poofier than he'd ever dared to poof. George had been thrilled to tell him so, too. It was nice, Ron supposed, that George had managed to find something worth laughing about, even if that something happened to be his late-blooming sexuality and the second reason his engagement with Hermione had been over almost before it had started. The third reason, for the record, was Oliver Wood's incredibly toned arse in a pair of leathers and entirely too much booze spiraling Ron on the fast track toward a very personal epiphany and a limp to match his hangover the next morning.

Ron rubbed his glitter-crusted hands on his jeans before glowering down at the glitter babies the act had apparently created. He was certain someone must have charmed the damn batch, and as George had been in understandably dismal mood all week, Ron's money was on Charlie.

Anyway, what had he been thinking about? Right. Snape. He didn't know why he was thinking about Snape, but figured sometimes a line of thought just gets stuck in your head and you have to see it through to the end or it'll drive you batty. 'Heh. Batty Snape.' The third time he saw Batty ol' Severus Snape had been right after the Wood debacle and the vicious death of his engagement and his hopes of ever having children, which, to be honest, he still wasn't sure whether or not he wanted. He'd gone along with Harry to visit St. Mungo's at lunch break the day they got word that Severus had woken up. When they walked in the nurse was giving him hell. He was standing by the window looking accosted as she lectured him about being too weak to be out of bed, let along walking about. Ron snickered to himself as he remembered the way Snape had said "Unhand me, witch! I am injured, not a toddler." He passed out almost immediately afterward and Ron and Harry had been recruited to get him back into bed. Resting Snape's head on the pillow was when Ron had realized he rather had a fancy for blokes with long hair – the way it fell out all inky black against the starch white pillowcase, how surprisingly soft it had felt sliding across the back of his hand... Yes, he definitely fancied long-haired blokes – not Snape, of course not! That would be mental! ...but, you know, in general.

Now Snape was finally let out of the hospital. He'd spent the past quarter of a year resting at home – wherever home was, Ron had never asked – and undergoing rigorous physical therapy to get his body and his magic back up to snuff. Neither was quite where it should be, but Ron turned to find the man – hair tied back into a loose knot at the nape of his neck with a few strands spilling out across his jaw as he spelled white balloons full of hot air – looking more peaceful than he could ever remember seeing him. 'Rather sad, that, considering the way he's frowning as if the damned balloons have insulted his honor,' Ron thought.

Harry had enlisted Snape as part of the 'First Anniversary Battle of Hogwarts Memorial Celebration Decorating Committee'. Ron had tried to get his mind around the acronym for that, but after 'FAB' his brain simply refused to compute the rest. In any case, Harry claimed it would do Snape good to see other people, maybe look at something other than the paint peeling, and get some fresh air. Snape had apparently been surprisingly agreeable, or at the very least, he didn't disagree, which was more or less the same thing. Ron couldn't even begin to understand why someone as distinguished as Severus Snape would waste his Saturday afternoon casting inflation charms on bubbles of white latex, but he was sure the reason was something that Snape would find blatantly obvious and anyone else would think blatantly retarded. He got the feeling Snape was that kind of guy – high moral fiber and what not. Ron liked to think he had some moral fiber too, of course, but he didn't think being a decent guy and being a glutton for punishment were the same thing. If the way Snape's hand was shaking was any sign, it was an opinion the dark-haired man wasn't all that likely to share with him.

'Please Ron?' Harry had said. 'Just keep an eye on him for a bit? He'll over-exert himself if someone isn't there to tell him when enough's enough.'

Ron's answer had been a frank, 'I'd really rather that someone were you. He won't kill you...' He'd been joking. Mostly. But he didn't think just going up to Snape and saying 'hey stop that before you faint' was going to get him very far. It might get him a good Snape-certified 'Glare of Doom', and while being on the receiving end of one of Snape's glares might be a bit nostalgic, he doubted it would get the man to put his wand aside.

He watched for a moment as the older man pursed his lips, murmured the incantation, and the balloon inflated, then the string was spelled out and the gap sealed in one smooth move, excepting a little wobble at the end where Snape's hand quivered. The quivering was notably worse when he leaned forward to fasten the string to the trolly. He'd nearly lost it twice while trying to tie the knot and Ron got the impression he was hoping that nobody noticed.

'Tea!' Ron thought. 'Right, that's brilliant! When all else fails, make tea. Mum says tea will solve just about any problem, and he'll have to put something down to hold the bloody cup. A tea break it is, then.'

When he held the cup out towards Snape with what he hoped was a very well-intentioned and not overdone smile, the older man looked from the tea to the glitter-dusted young redhead offering it and quirked a brow, tilting his head marginally in inquiry. "What did you do to it, Weasley?"

Ron said what he usually said when accused of something – the first thing that came to mind. "Aprodisiac, because you're just sooo hot I have to have you." His tone was flat and dry, and he regretted the words as soon as he'd said them, but Snape's famous temper didn't rise to the challenge.

'Fine, I get the point,' Severus thought. 'A face not even a mother could love. I am well aware of it, Ronald Weasley, without being reminded.' He tucked his wand away, in no mood for verbal sparring in his current, weakened state, and accepted the spell-warmed cup, slumping back a bit into his chair. Even so, Ron's words did require some kind of witty reply. "I imagine Miss Granger would be rather put out to find you on the wrong team."

Ron very nearly missed his seat as the image of the look on Hermione's face when she walked in on him getting it off in the bathroom with an enchanted dildo and a gay porno mag. He never thought he'd live through anything more mortifying than the robes he'd had to wear to the Yule Ball in his fourth year, but he'd been very, very wrong. That really wasn't how she should have found out. He was looking for the right time to tell her properly, call off the engagement and what-not...but her bladder and his hormones had apparently had other plans. They'd...talked about it (or more like around it, never mentioning specifics), but all they seemed to agree on was that it was a subject that should never, ever be breached again...well, that and the fact that they would most definitely not be getting married.

It was a small miracle that he managed to land in the seat without spilling tea all over himself. "Er, well, yeah, I think 'put out' is a rather nice way to describe it, actually," Ron admitted awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck.

Snape gave pause, and Ron found his embarrassment overcome by the startled expression that crossed the normally stoic older man's features. 'So even you can give me that look, huh?'

But Snape recovered quickly. "Well, good for you then, finally freed yourself from the dregs of mediocrity, have you?"

Ron frowned, putting his tea aside. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Severus sighed at him. "Relax, Weasley. I wasn't insulting you." At least he hadn't said that with the sole and explicit intent of insulting him. "I just meant that it is heartening to know you've finally decided to take your life into your own hands, rather than living it yapping at Potter's heels."

Ron wanted to be insulted, but he had to admit that Snape was right. He had spent the bulk of his life doing things because Harry wanted to do them, doing them because Hermione wanted to do them...convincing himself that he wanted to do those things too, but being Auror was shite work that he knew he'd never have taken on if it wasn't what Harry wanted to do, and he was obviously not up to the task of marrying and making babies, either. "I guess you've got me there," he admitted reluctantly. "I just wanted to make sure the three of us would always be together, so I guess I convinced myself into thinking I wanted all the things that they wanted."

"Except that you didn't."

"Except that I didn't," Ron confirmed a little sadly. 'Except that I'm still doing all that shite and I don't want any of it. I just want...'

"Something quiet," Snape said.

'Exactly. Something quiet. Wait. What?' "What?"

"I was just thinking aloud. Never mind it."

"No, it was about me, so bloody tell me," Ron insisted.

"I was just wondering what you would have done with yourself if not for Potter's influence. I rather think it would have been something notably more quiet." Deducing that Ron actually wanted him to continue his analysis, Snape thoughtfully added. "You're most like the second of your red-haired troupe, if I must compare, so I think perhaps you would have enjoyed working with your hands, not Care of Magical Creatures, certainly, after learning under that oaf, Hagrid."

Ron opened his mouth to defend Hagrid, but remembered the blast-ended screwts and winced before he could come up with an adequate reply.

"Perhaps..." But Snape shook his head and trailed off.

"No, tell me," Ron said, honestly curious now. He hated to admit it, but so far Snape had him pegged.

"...I can imagine you as a broom maker." It felt stupid now that Severus had said it, but Ron suddenly laughed a rather warm laugh that made the stupidity of it all falter a bit.

"That sounds like it might have been fun," Ron admitted. It would have been quiet work, not a lot of contact with the outside world, but he'd have been able to make his own hours. There would be excursions, picking out the right wood and such, not sticking behind a desk all day, but not chasing down dark wizards and trying not to die before dinner, either. "I could have had a small, independent shop off the beaten path somewhere, done custom jobs," he joked, stretching out his long legs. "And I'd be so bloody brilliant at it, I'd get tickets to all the best Quidditch matches as a special thank you gift." He laughed at the ridiculousness of the little fantasy. He wouldn't trade Harry and Hermione for the world, but he had to admit that his life would have been massively different if he hadn't spent so much time risking it while he was at Hogwarts, just being a normal kid with normal dreams. What would that have been like? "But you know, there's one thing missing from that daydream."


"A bloke," Ron said with a smirk. "Someone to give that second ticket to."

"Charming and handsome, I'm sure," Severus answered blandly, setting the empty teacup aside and picking up his wand again. There were still quite a few balloons to finish.

Ron shrugged. "I'm not a flashy sort of guy," he said. "I don't need Mr. Perfect. I'd be perfectly happy with someone, you know, sort of ordinary, I guess, but who's good to me. Maybe we'd fight sometimes, and he probably wouldn't be the sort of guy who'd make girls swoon, or whatever, but..."

"He would be real," Snape blanketed as if he understood perfectly the phrase that Ron was struggling for.

"Yeah, that's it exactly. Someone real. That's the most important part of any fantasy."

'That's the most important part of any life,' Severus thought, finding he understood Ronald Weasley much, much better than he'd ever thought possible now that he'd taken a moment to actually listen to him speak. He very nearly opened his mouth to imply that Ron was young yet and there was plenty of time to find that someone, but just as he was thinking of the uncharacteristic kindness, Ron spoke again.

"Of course, in my fantasy, Mr. Real also happens to be Mr. Really Equipped," Ron joked. "It's a fantasy after all, right?"

Snape was glad he was no longer drinking tea. He would have choked on it. As it was, the balloon he was inflating shot clear across the room and beaned Bill in the back of the head. Ron started laughing his peculiarly melodious laugh before waving his hand and saying something that Snape was certain he must have misheard.

'Did he just say 'fill me up, I'll take it?' "What?" Severus asked.

"I said, you fill 'em up, I'll take 'em. You know, tie 'em to the trolly."

"Oh." He passed the next white balloon over.

"What about you?"

"What about me?" Severus replied flatly.

"Well, you can hardly get on me about being rather like a puppy yapping at Harry's heels if you answer his every beck and call."

"That's different," Severus replied tightly. "It would appear to be my fate to owe life debts to Potters. You know as well as I that if he had not dragged you back to the Shrieking Shack for my corpse, I would not be alive today. As such, if the insufferable brat wants me to inflate balloons all Saturday afternoon, then I will inflate balloons. As we are not currently at war, this is the only way I can begin to repay him."

Ron got the distinct feeling that Severus Snape would rather spy on ten Voldemorts than sit here inflating party decorations but let the subject slide. The conversation thus far hadn't only been civil, it had very nearly been friendly, and Ron found himself hesitant to ruin that. He got the impression without the war and all the secret keeping and what not, Snape might actually be a decent bloke who just really needed a chance. Harry was all for giving second and third and fourteenth chances (so long as your name didn't happen to be Malfoy), but Ron had never been quite so gullible – forgiving, he corrected the bitter, sarcastic little voice in his head that often reminded him how much drama came with the title of 'Harry Potter's best friend', even now. Only about half of it had to do with the press. The other half, Ron thought, might have a little something to do with the fact that he'd really rather had it up to here with the bossy and bossier routine Harry and Hermione often dragged him through. Now that the immediate drama of his canceled engagement had passed, he had one saying there was 'really nothing wrong with acting a bit gay' and the other suggesting he 'tone it down' very firmly when they found the tee he slept in was a lovely shade of 'forgot to separate the washing pink'. He slept in the damn thing! They could just bugger off. Well, maybe the occasional bit of bossy was good for him, or he went on these ridiculous mental tirades, but for the moment he just wanted to take things at his own pace for once.

When he realized Snape was holding out another balloon, watching the thought parade dance across his features with a bemused sort of expression sparkling in his dark eyes he blushed and came up with the first possible thing to say so he didn't have to account for his strange behavior. "I guess you'll be going to the party, then?"

"I don't imagine Potter will let me get out of it," Snape answered.

"Not much of a people person, are you?"

"Not as a general rule," Severus answered blandly. "Though I'll admit to having met a few exceptions."

"A few?" Snape had fancied Harry's mum, but Ron had to admit to being curious about the others.

"A few," Severus answered tightly, implying Ron should drop it.

"A few friends? Or a few friends?" Ron asked, chiding himself for how interested he was in just what sort of person registered as one of Snape's 'exceptions'. It was really none of his business.

"That is rather none of your business," Snape replied.

"Obviously," Ron answered. "If it was, it wouldn't be nearly as fun."

Severus didn't know why he was humoring the young man. 'It's the red hair. I've always been weak against redheads. Damn the lot of them.' "Sometimes both, more often neither," he replied, "and I am under no obligation to say anything further."

Ron made a face at him like he was ruining all of his fun. Severus answered with a sigh. "I refuse to humor your petulant sense of humor without getting anything in return, Ronald."

Ron suddenly guffawed. "Ronald? Oh Merlin, please don't call me that. Only my Mum calls me that, and usually only when she's right peeved at me about something."

Severus didn't even know why he'd used the young man's first name. He presumed it had something to do with the fact that there were so many damned Weasleys about he felt he ought to be more specific. "Weasley..." he corrected flatly.

"Ron," Ron replied firmly. "It's only one syllable. I know you've got something against saying any word that has less than ten letters in it, but give it a try, huh? You might like it."

"I am fully capable of..." Ron was already grinning impishly at him before he finished the unnecessarily verbose sentence. "...Ron," he amended quickly as if the very taste of the abbreviation in his mouth had somehow insulted his intelligence.

"Don't give me that look," Ron complained. "I like my name. Short, simple, to the point...easy to cry out in the throes of passion." He grinned, not sure why he threw in the flirtatious comment at the end. "Yours, on the other hand..."

"It is my given name," Severus snipped. "I refuse to butcher it to suit someone's whims." Lily was the exception. She could have called him 'turnip' and he wouldn't have questioned it as long as she was calling him at all, but that was long, long ago. He doubted there would be anyone else he cared for enough in his life to butcher his name over.

Ron really didn't know what he was thinking when he stood up after the last balloon had been tied off and leaned over the older man with a wicked smirk. "Well then, Severus," the name melted on his tongue like butter and Snape found his insufferable body responding to the sensual tone. He managed to keep his mask of indifference in place – at least from the waist up – without undue effort. His thick robes would save him from the rest if Ron continued to tease him with that tone. "I wonder what I could possibly offer you in return for the chance to get inside your head, hm? What could I possibly give you that you'd want..." 'Why in the bloody hell are you flirting with Snape, Ron?! He'll kill you. He's definitely straight. Madly in love with Harry's mum n'all...and twice your age.' But there was just something about it all that was rather like being drunk. He knew he was going to regret it, but couldn't help indulging a bit. 'I can think of a few things I might like to offer, if there's any truth in that old wives' tale about guys with big noses being big...elsewhere.' He threw himself back to his seat before the joke could go too far and offered an impish grin that he hoped would inspire a 'no hard feelings' look in Severus. He didn't know what to make of the intense, inky gaze staring back at him.

"You've certainly gotten well over your lost engagement quickly," Snape said tightly. That was not the behavior of a man who had just broken off an engagement with his childhood sweetheart due to an unfortunate new found gayness. If Ron were normal, he would be more timid, more uncertain of himself. He certainly wouldn't be hovering over thirty-nine year old men with bedroom eyes. But Ron was Harry's best friend, and therefore had his own peculiarities.

Ron frowned a bit. "I wouldn't say I'm over it, exactly. I mean, more or less, I suppose. I owe that to you, actually."

"To me?"

"Yeah. Do you remember that day Harry and I came to poke in on you and you were arguing with the nurse about how you were 'fully capable of determining the state of your own health' before you passed out?"

"...not particularly," Severus lied. It had been humiliating to be proven wrong. But he would have been just fine if the woman hadn't agitated him so!

"Well, anyway," Ron replied, "I remember it pretty well. After we called it all off and when I was freaking out about being gay and what that meant to my life and everything...right when I was at my most pathetic, I kept thinking about you fighting tooth and nail just to be alive, and my problems seemed pretty worthless by comparison. I guess I started thinking 'if he can live through being mauled by a killer snake, then I can definitely survive this.' You were sort of like...my strength." Ron didn't know why he'd admitted that. It hadn't sounded nearly as stupid in his head.

"...Lupin," Snape said after a pregnant pause.

"Come again?"

"I found Lupin to be entirely tolerable, provided he wasn't surrounded by the rest of the troupe of idiots he kept as friends," he answered. "And if I must admit it, then I suppose Minerva has had moments in which I found her...outstandingly reliable." She also had her moments when Snape found her absolutely intolerable, but for the insight into Ron's psyche that had been so aptly tied to his own struggles, he answered the question.

"So those would be two for the 'neither' category, would they? Dare I ask for one from the 'both' side?" Ron didn't know why he was so curious. 'Maybe because even after all that's happened, this is the first time you're looking at him as a fellow member of the human race, Ron,' a little voice in his head that sounded disturbingly like his brother Bill quipped. Ron had long ago stopped wondering why his conscience always sounded like Bill. It was just one of those mysteries of psychology he thought he was probably way better off not knowing.

Snape fell quiet. Both, huh? There was one that fit the bill but...it was so very, very complicated. "....Black," he said at last, "the younger."

Ron's goofy grin was quick to evaporate. 'Black, the younger' – those three simple words gave far more information than Severus Snape was ever wont to give on anything. Ron felt it particularly apt that a man who loved ten points word managed to say so very much with hardly any words at all. Point one – two people Snape had been involved with had died horribly because of Voldemort. One he definitely loved, the other he was, at the very least, shagging. It also told Ron in no uncertain terms that Severus Snape wasn't as heterosexual as he'd believed. His mouth worked, but no sound came out through the shock. "I...sorry," he muttered awkwardly. "You didn't have to answer if it was...I mean..."

"It was a long time ago, Ron. It doesn't matter anymore."

"Did you love him?" Ron blurted out before his brain caught up with his mouth.

Again Severus gave pause as if finding the right way to answer. Eventually he said, "I was...fond of him, but it wasn't love."

'Because you already loved Lily. You're the kind of loyal guy who can only ever really love one person at a time, aren't you? But if Lily had lived, if Regulus had lived, if all the tragedy wasn't etched so deeply into you, you might have grown to love him. But now...what now, Severus? You survived, and you weren't planning to. What is there for you now?'

Severus quirked a brow. "If you would kindly stop trying to read my mind..." Severus stated blandly. "You look as though you're going to give yourself an aneurism."

Ron smiled sheepishly. "Are you, you know...out? I mean, I don't want to slip if it's like..."

"I am nothing in particular," Severus answered blandly, "As I have neither an abundance of offers or a desire to pursue them. I have had more than enough drama in my life."

"Now you just want some quiet time," Ron answered. "Well, fair warning then, if I get drunk enough at the party, I might ask you to dance."

"Perish the thought."

"Yeah, no kidding. I'm a piss poor dancer, step on toes and everything, and I'm a bloody clod when I'm drunk."

"I will make sure to slip out unnoticed after your second firewhiskey," Snape replied tersely.

Ron offered another stupid grin. "You ought to be safe until at least the third." In theory, anyway.

Once Charlie and George had finished relating to Harry how he'd 'all but climbed into Snape's lap', Ron knew it was time to put his tail between his legs and retreat. Anything he said would only make Harry's grin widen, anyway, and his bloody impish green eyes sparkle even more merrily. He grimaced at the 'older men' comment that chased him out of the Great Hall, and took the floo home to get his mind around the bizarre day.

The next afternoon when he was getting dressed (in new robes at last! Now that he had decent robes he thought it was actually nice to get all done up once in a while – he still had no intention of making a habit of it, though) the only conclusion he seemed to have come to with any degree of certainty was that Snape would probably be a damn good chess partner. He hadn't played a good game of chess in ages. Harry, as much as he tried, was just bloody awful.

Ron rubbed his hand over his face and sighed at his reflection. Whether or not Snape would be good at chess, he damn well knew was irrelevant. One conversation and suddenly Severus Snape was wickedly interesting, a man he'd like to get the chance to know better. But that just brought it all back to chess. Chess would be a chance for more conversations, and was seemingly innocent.

He fidgeted with a fly-away of hair that seemed to refuse to settle properly, much like the rogue garland that refused to behave the previous day. 'You're being a git. One conversation and, what? You suddenly want to date him, or something? You're not a puppy, Ron. You don't need to have someone to trail after just to feel whole, least of all someone who would no doubt make you feel like you have brain damage. Again.' Ron sighed. "I think I've got some weird nerd fetish..." he sulked at his reflection. Of all people to develop a sudden and inexplicable crush on, his battered heart just had to go and choose Snape? That was ridiculous! It would never work. Sure, the sex would probably be incredible – it's always the quiet ones, right? But what would they do after the sex? 'Well, duh. Chess,' his brain supplied before rhetorically asking him if he'd been listening to his own mental tirade.

With one last annoyed glower at his reflection he decided that he was just bloody well not going to think about it and disapparated. He tried to flatted his hair again outside the gates of Hogwarts, but gave up as the wind continued to kick it about.

Snape was standing at the front door in conversation with Professor Flitwick, and looking rather annoyed about whatever they were discussing. The year spent in a hospital bed had grown the dark hair longer, Ron noticed now that it wasn't tied back but fell freely about his shoulders, and it looked as if Severus had given it a bit of extra care for the occasion. His usual black robes were traded for...okay, a different set of black robes – simple but elegant, of a bit richer material than the ones he normally wore. There was a slight shimmer when the moonlight hit them just so that made Ron falter. He knew he was being ridiculous. Normal people didn't develop a crush after an hour long conversation. These things were supposed to take time. 'Fuck time. It's over-rated. Besides, after this, when will you see him again? The holidays? And only if Harry bullies him into it. Once he's in top shape again, he won't be so agreeable. He'll be able to make excuses about having more important things to do, and you won't be able to come up with any excuses to see him again just so you can check on whether or not you still want to get to know him better. Just bloody well head over there and say hello, you twat. He looks like he'd be grateful for the rescue.'

Ron made one last hopeless go at the rogue hair that just didn't want to lay quite like the others before striding a bit too purposefully towards the doorway. "Professor Flitwick," he greeted with a smile. It was a miracle the man didn't break his neck as far as he had to look up at everyone. "Professor Snape," he greeted.

"...Weasley," Severus greeted tightly. "A vast improvement on the last formal affair you attended, I must say."

Ron blushed a bit remembering the horrifying robes he'd had to wear in his fourth year. "Well, I dress myself these days. I've learned it's rather a good deal gentler on my masculine pride."

"I wasn't aware you had any," Snape replied. A sarcastic remark was always the best to offer when you didn't know what to say as far as he was concerned.

"Oh, a bit," Ron countered easily. "Buried under layers and layers of hand-me downs and bossy women. It's rather a bit crippled at this point, but present and accounted for, all the same." He struggled quickly for some possible route of escape he could offer Snape, and added a bit clumsily, "Have you seen Harry, Professor? He wanted to meet up before the main event for the photo-op. You know, before we're all hammered and look like shite."

Snape quirked a brow at what he thought was a rather obvious, if half-arsed, effort at a save. Flitwick didn't seem to notice. Or if he had, he was pretending not to for sake of his own diminutive pride as an engaging conversationalist. "If you are going to have your photograph taken, you may want to do something about your hair."

Ron couldn't help but blush. "Er, yeah, I..."

Snape reached out his hand and carefully turned the stray curl over to match the others. When he lowered it, taking care not to clock Professor Flitwick in the head, he noticed the diminutive Charms instructor had managed one of the disappearing acts he was so famous for. Not that he wanted to talk to the man anyway, but it was rather rude. He had a sinking feeling he was off to begin spreading strange rumors among the staff. "I believe he entered via the West Gate to avoid the crowd. I saw him fiddling with the portcullis approximately a quarter hour ago."

Ron couldn't help but smirk at the way he said 'fiddling with the portcullis' like Harry was still an annoying child who couldn't keep his hands to himself. Sometimes Ron thought Harry was still a bit of a child in at least that respect. He was always fiddling with things when he didn't know what to do with himself. "Oh." 'Smooth, Ron. Very smooth.'

"I imagine your sister must have dragged him to the Great Hall by now. We should head that way as well. I believe they are about to begin the speeches." He drawled the word 'speeches' as if nothing in the wizarding world could possibly be more boring. How had Ron never noticed those subtle intonations before? Had they always been there? He felt as if he'd spent the past seven years blind-folded, whereas the older man seemed to have him figured so concisely that nothing Ron said or did could possibly surprise him. Silly, really, but with best friends like Harry and Hermione, it was a pleasant surprise that someone had taken enough note of him to declare he should have been, of all things, a broom maker. Ron found the idea still tickled a little fantasy in the back of his mind even after a full night's sleep, but it was just a flight of fancy and didn't have any real meaning – like the way he'd dreamed of being Head Boy and Quidditch Captain when he was small. He hadn't really wanted either of those things. He just wanted to be someone worth noticing. Of all the people in the castle who might have paid him some mind, he never thought it would be Severus Snape.

"Right," Ron answered belatedly, falling into stride beside Severus. He found it unexpectedly comfortable. He'd always shortened his stride for Hermione and Harry, but Severus was just as tall as he was and he could walk at a comfortable pace beside him without making any extra effort. He'd only ever enjoyed that when alone with Bill before, and he and Bill didn't exactly spend much time taking long walks together. What would be the point? But long walks with Snape – maybe barefoot on the beach – sounded like they could be nice. 'And ridiculously sappy, Ron. Did coming out of the closet turn you into a girl, or something? Like he'd be interested in moonlit walks on the beach.'

Once they finished their photos (which Harry had dragged Severus into), Harry pulled Ron aside with a playful, encouraging grin. "So, you and Snape, huh?"

Ron turned three brand new shades of red he hadn't realized existed until exactly that moment. "Of course not! Don't be a bloody idiot. We were just headed the same way."

"You were grinning."

"It's a party."

"That you didn't really want to go to."

"I've decided that there will be booze, and that's worth looking forward to," Ron answered stubbornly.

"You fancy him," Harry blanketed. "Want some help?"

"Absolutely not! Harry, I swear, I'll never speak to you again," Ron hissed, his cheeks still a pleasantly rosy shade that told Harry he'd be forgiven for whatever he tried provided Ron had a few drinks in him first.

"Come on. Grab a balloon."

"You know how gay this idea is, right?" Ron replied as he held onto the white balloon that had been passed to him. The general idea had been to do something pretty in commemoration of all the people who'd died in the war. Ron wasn't sure who decided on white balloons charmed to pass through the roof and drift off into the sky, but he figured there had to be girls involved. No bloke would come up with such a fruity idea – not even a fruity bloke like him.

"Shush. Kingsley is going to start the speeches."

"Right," Ron said flatly. "The speeches." 'Joy.' He knew how important this was. Really he did. Fred had died in the battle. He damn well understood the need to turn something horrible into something worth remembering with a smile. That didn't mean he wanted to deal with any of it though. His mum had been crying all morning. He didn't think she'd stop until some time next week. George was managing (just barely) to keep a stiff upper lip … but his lower lip was rather wobbly. Percy had been pretending to have hay fever since Tuesday as an excuse for his bloodshot eyes. Ron couldn't bring himself to cry over it anymore. He'd just plain run out of tears. It sucked. That much was obvious, but crying about it couldn't bring them back, and Fred was such a goof, he could imagine how he'd get on them all for being so teary-eyed. He'd be pulling all kinds of pranks, trying to make everyone laugh. He didn't want to cry over Fred anymore, because Fred would hate it. Fred would be cracking jokes about his own death if he were here to do it. And when he was done with that, Ron knew, Fred would be cracking jokes about Ron's sudden and inexplicable fancy for Snape.

As his mind wandered, Kingsley finished what was apparently a rather touching speech. Ron was more than a little belated in releasing his balloon. He looked up, ready to watch them float through the ceiling and farther up toward the night sky and try to be far more moved than inflated white latex had any right making anyone feel. But as the first balloons slipped through the ceiling there was a sort of glittery silver explosion that released these tiny silver filaments that reminded him of the memories Severus had given to Harry in the way they seemed to move and shimmer with life of their own. As each balloon connected with the ceiling there was another soft explosion as it shifted through to the sky, releasing more silver filaments, until it seemed as if it was raining memories, tiny frozen teardrops, and bits of silver glitter that stuck to everything and made everyone in the hall sparkle madly. What had started as tears soon became laughter when George – hands covered in glitter – turned and gave Percy's bum a good grope just for the sake of leaving two silvery hand prints on the arse of his black dress robes.

Bill started laughing that warm, contagious laugh that they so rarely got to hear anymore, and suddenly, the whole room broke out into utter chaos – children running about trying to catch 'the pretty stars', teenagers smearing glittery streaks all over one another...and George, grinning from ear to ear for the first time in a year, dead smack in the middle of it all.

Ron chuckled, catching a handful of the glittery mess as it tumbled down, sticking to his navy robes and his red hair, and remembered how Snape's hands had been shaking as he repeatedly cast what turned out to be a much more intricate spell than the one he'd been assigned – a spell that had filled the Great Hall with a joy and laughter that so many of the attendees hadn't felt in far too long. "Heh. Showoff," Ron chuckled. He turned his gaze to meet Snape's, but found the man had disappeared from the spot against the far wall he'd taken once the photos were over and done with.

Ron took that as his cue to slip out of the Great Hall, determined to find the older man, and somehow just knew to head out towards the Black Lake. Sure enough, he found Snape sitting against the trunk of a tree, dark eyes cast upward at the balloons floating upward with the spring breeze. He crept through the foliage and edged around the tree, dumping his handful of glittery mess over the dark hair.

Severus jumped and spun about, glowering, but Ron had such a playful grin on his face that he found it impossible to be angry. The redhead held his hands in the air defensively. He was so covered in sparkles that Severus couldn't repress a slight smirk in spite of the fact his own head and shoulders were now dashed in the glittery mess.

"I just wanted to see what it would take to make you shine," Ron blurted, then laughed at his own idiotic joke.

It was such a warm, hearty laugh that Severus could only shake his head in exasperation. "I imagine a handful of glimmering charms would make nearly anyone shine, Ron."

Ron's stupid grin turned into a much softer smile. "You should have stayed. Everyone loves it. They're having a right good time with all the sparkles."

"I thought to avoid being covered in fairy dust." He dusted off his shoulder a bit, but the glitter only stuck to the back of his knuckles."You, apparently, had other plans."

Ron took an unexpected step forward, reaching up to pick a tiny crystal out of Snape's hair, but left three more behind for his efforts. "Nothing wrong with fairies," he answered, "...so long as they're the right kind." He dared to look up into the older man's dark eyes suggestively. He was entirely too sober to be flirting with a guy twice his age, but it was impossible not to when Severus was being so uncommonly open. He sucked in a breath and lightly dragged his fingers down a crease in the older man's robes, starting at the shoulder and trailing down his chest until he had what was more or less the equivalent of a lapel between his fingers.

Severus tried to read the young man, but what he was reading in Ron's guileless expression simply couldn't be right. And yet...as straightforward as Ron had always been with everything, the curiosity and desire in those blue eyes simply had to be real. He sighed. "What do you want from me, Ron?"

"Chess," Ron blurted. 'At least for a start.' "I got to thinking that you'd be mad good at chess, been ages since I've had a good game. You play?"

"...it has been a very long time since I've had anyone worth playing with."

Ron didn't quite repress the shiver that raced up his spine at the thought of Snape playing with him. The mental image his mind supplied didn't have much to do with chess, though. "Personally, I like to play with blokes. Always feel like I've got to go easy on girls."

Severus smirked a bit. Playing with blokes indeed. "And do you have any other preferences in your chess partners?" They both knew they were no longer discussing chess.

"Viciously smart," Ron answered. "I like a challenge." Severus Snape would definitely be a challenge, he damn well knew that. "...keeps me from getting too lazy. You?"

"Redheads," Severus answered, instinctively reaching out to brush a few red strands away from Ron's brow. "It's the temper. Unpredictable, passionate, full of surprises." At least all the redheads he'd known to date fit the stereotype perfectly. What he knew of Ron was no exception, and he was perfectly content with that. What he needed most in life was someone to fight passionately with...someone to be even more passionate with while making up. It was far too soon to determine whether or not Ron Weasley could be that someone, but he supposed he could allow himself to be open to the possibility if the young man was offering.

Ron smirked. It was heavy with the usual Gryffindor mischief, Severus thought. "Chess, then?" he offered again. "...unless you don't think you can rise to the challenge."

Severus' dark eyes penetrated Ron's blue in a way that went straight to the pit of the younger man's stomach where his lust began to coil. "The things I can rise to, Weasley, would make you wet yourself."

Ron licked his lips, throat suddenly rather dry. "Then maybe after chess, we can try strip poker," he replied.

Severus felt heat coiling in his abdomen in a way that he hadn't experienced in a good number of years at the suggestion. This conversation was heading towards dangerous ground that he knew his still recovering body was in no condition for just yet. Even so, he plowed recklessly forward. "Or perhaps, between two consenting adults, there is no need for games."

Ron found himself breathless and weak-kneed as he stared up into the older man's hypnotic black eyes. "...just the stripping then," he breathed roughly. 'Strip me here and now, if you want, and shag me until I can't feel my spine,' Ron thought. He knew that was impossible. Snape's fingers shook casting glimmer charms, so there was no way he was ready for rough and rowdy shags...yet. Ron didn't mind waiting, though.

"Just the stripping. Think you can handle that?" Severus replied. He was too old to be suggesting such things with an eighteen year old. He knew that, but while the magic of the night was with him, he planned to enjoy it.

Ron's tongue darted across his lips. "The things I can handle would amaze you," he rasped, finding his voice far more wanton than it ought to be just from talking.

"Good," Snape answered. "Being amazed, I think, would be a rather nice change of pace."

Ron dared to lean in for a kiss then, and found the older man's thin lips surprisingly firm and insistent. He was content to hand over control of the kiss and opened his mouth to the hot tongue, raking his fingers through the older man's dark hair.

When Severus pulled back, breathless and obviously dizzy, he pulled him down into the grass to rest. "Don't say it," Ron warned, sensing Snape's indignant rampage that something as simple as a kiss could so easily wear him out. "I can wait."

Snape's eyes widened marginally and he made a scoffing sound. "It seems that for the moment, we really will have to stick to chess." He sounded rather annoyed about it.

Ron laughed, amazed by how much could change in a year, how the site of so much bloodshed could, a mere twelve months later, leave him feeling so at peace with the world. Inside the castle, George was laughing, his mum and dad were dancing, Fred's spirit, wherever it was, was surely smiling...and he was here, laying in the grass with an unexpectedly enchanting man, talking about chess, holding hands, and watching seven years worth of sorrows and regrets drift into the stratosphere and vanish, carried away by white balloons.

~The End~