written for HP Emofest on livejournal...

Radio Bye Bye

The Scotch was expensive; Ron could tell that even as it ran down his throat and warmed his insides. He was on his third glass, and his cheeks felt gloriously flushed against the cool winter night. His nose and lips were starting to feel numb and his head was swimming. He was just drunk enough to feel truly content and happy, and Ron reveled in it.

Hermione had brought the drink over to celebrate her promotion at The Ministry, and he and George immediately joined her impromptu party. The three were seated at Ron and Harry's kitchen table in the remodeled Grimmauld Place, tipping back drinks and generally sharing a good time. An ice cube hit Ron's nose and he sputtered in frustration.

"Learn to drink, Ronniekins!" George shouted, tossing a hand towel at him to wipe off the cold drip on the end of his nose.

George was grinning, really grinning. His smiles were so infrequent that Ron felt a surge of joy just at seeing him momentarily happy. The happiness could have been seen as hollow thanks to the alcohol, but Ron remembered how George's drinking used to make him attempt to take his own life. He never wanted to have to pull his brother away from the ledge again. It hurt too much.

"I can drink you under the table!" Ron said, refilling his glass and swallowing it quickly. He nearly fell out of his chair as the liquor swirled through him. George began howling with laughter.

It had been a year and a half since they buried Fred. There was never a question of what Ron would do, and he immediately took up running the shop with Lee Jordan and Angelina Johnson until George could get back on his feet. For a while it felt like George never would, but he was coming back to his family in pieces and moments, slowly making himself into a whole person again. Ron wouldn't trade what he was doing for anything else in the world. He needed to do whatever he could to keep his family together. After the war…well…it was all that mattered for a while.

After Ron came out of the debilitating mourning that struck his entire family, he and Hermione gave it a go, and they were a happy couple for months. He loved her, he loved sleeping with her, and he thought there was nothing better for him than that. But, after a while, Hermione just felt like his best friend, his comfort, and though he hadn't much experience with passion, something was fizzling out. When Hermione brought it to his attention, they parted in a surprisingly amicable fashion. To this day, she can still bring a smile to his face just by being around.

Suddenly, Hermione spit out a mouthful of Scotch and started laughing uncontrollably, her body contorting in heaves.

"What the fuck has gotten into you, Granger?" George asked, snapping out of his own chuckles to stare at her like she had grown another head.

"I just realized. My father gave me this…sc…skitch…boooooooze and now I'm as drunk as a…a…a skunk!" She howled in laughter.

"Oh Hermione, your being reduckuliss. You don't have a white stripe on your back, I've seen you naked!" Ron said, making her just laugh harder.

"It's a sim…sim…a metaphor, Ron!"

"You both are barmy!" George shouted. Suddenly, all three of them erupted in laughter, and Ron's vision was swimming in between gulps of air.

It felt good to laugh. Ron was doing far too little of that lately. Almost immediately after the war, Harry went into Auror Training, and now he was a fully fledged Auror. After his training had finished, Harry started to come home almost every night with bruises and injuries. Ron had to pick him up at St. Mungo's once a week. He had never ending tales of dangerous situations and seemed to enjoy recapping all of the times he had brushed death. Ron was certain Harry had some sort of death wish.

At first Ron thought Harry was just mending heartbreak. He and Ginny broke up after a good year, and neither of them ever discussed why or gave the slightest hint of either hurt or happiness. However, when Harry assured Ron he was more than fine about Ginny, and Ginny convinced Ron that she couldn't be his reason with an odd look on her face; Ron began to look for other explanations for Harry's newfound penchant for danger. No longer a reluctant hero doing what needed to be done, Harry was now diving into the flames head first.

To make matters worse, Harry hounded Ron constantly about joining up as well. However, Ron needed to be sure George could stand on his own before he even considered leaving the shop. But more than that, he didn't think he could handle watching Harry nearly die on a regular basis. It was bad enough hearing about it. So he continually gave excuses for not joining the Aurors, and Harry pestered him and niggled despite all of his best lies.

For a while Ron's stories held Harry's pleas at bay, but he could tell that Harry was becoming suspicious. He was sure that to Harry, Ron looked like he wasn't moving forward at all. However, Ron was constantly moving forward, just not in any direction he would have expected. Being in love with your best mate will do that to you.

Six months ago, only a few weeks after he and Harry finished remodeling Grimmauld Place and moved in, Ron started to feel awkward whenever Harry got too close. His face would turn bright red at a casual hug or pat on the back, and when he started having dreams about Harry coming into his room at night, he knew he was done for. After that, every time Harry came home covered in bruises, all Ron wanted to do was wrap his arms around him and beg him not to go back out. It was ripping him apart inside, and there was nothing Ron could do to stop it.

Ron's glass clinked to the floor before he realized he had lost much of the control he had over his body. For some reason, his drunken mind found this hilarious, and soon he was on the floor next to Hermione and George, cackling with laughter. Hermione was leaning against him, gripping his shirt and gasping in between laughs. It may have been slightly artificial, but the happiness felt good.

"Bloody hell! It's two in the morning! What in the name of Merlin is so funny?" Harry's voice echoed in the kitchen, and it took a while for Ron to figure out where it came from.

"The Scotch, Harry! The scotch is hilarious!" Hermione squealed, shakily rising to her knees sliding the bottle across the table.

Ron peaked over the edge of the table to see Harry standing there. His face had streaks of dried blood, and his eye was swollen and already purpling. His clothes were in tatters and there was a large, bloody hole in his jacket. He wanted to run to Harry and pull him to his chest, and he saw no reason why he shouldn't. Ron leapt up to quickly, and immediately lost his balance. He could tell by the smell of dirt and sweat that it was Harry's arms that caught him.

"Whoa! Cool it down a bit, mate," Harry said in his ear. Ron closed his eyes and let the warmth of Harry's breath on his neck linger a little.

"Harry," Ron groaned. "Why are you so hurt?"

"Blimey! I think I've gotta get home! Hermione, we're both not in any state to apparate, shall I escort you by floo?" George asked. She nodded immediately, and they stumbled to the fireplace.

"Chatsworth Arms!" Hermione shouted, and she and George vanished through the flames.

"You're always so…ruined," Ron said, feeling his words slurring across his tongue. "Why do you do it?"

"I'm not sure you're making any sense." Harry whispered as he wrapped his arms more tightly around Ron. He sighed and leaned in to the embrace.

"Let's get you to bed," Harry said, and as Ron's body began to float up the stairs, he slipped into a calm sleep.

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We're throwing all caution to the wind.
It's better to think about what's ahead, then behind them.

Harry had to swallow down a stab of jealousy when he saw Hermione in Ron's arms, laughing on their kitchen floor. They were his best mates, and they were perfect for each other. Harry knew they would get back together eventually. It still hurt though, to think that he was still alone, and would always be alone instead of admitting the truth to himself or anyone. It was the thought that haunted Harry when he wasn't sufficiently distracted.

After he floated Ron into his bed and took his shoes off, Harry took a quick shower to wash off the dried blood of another reckless fight. He knew he didn't need to invite the fights the way he did, and if he just followed procedure he'd avoid injury, but the pain made him distracted, made him feel like his life wasn't moving into some sort of stasis. He ran the flannel over his body, and tried to forget Kingsley's warning that if he continued to disregard their rules, he'd be gone.

It wasn't that Harry had a death wish. He certainly wanted to live, and to live a life free from running and uncertainty. He just didn't feel like he was doing anything like he should, and when he was fighting and taking down criminals, he was acting like he was supposed to. After defeating Voldemort, Harry had expected to relax, settle down, spend his life with Ginny, and start a family in the world he helped to save. The reality was that without the specter of a Dark Lord with murderous intent hanging over his head, his mind began to wander.

Harry's relationship with Ginny was never what it was meant to be, and when she broke up with him, convinced he could never love her, his life went into a spiral of confusion. Without Ginny to hold him, guide him, and really define who he was, Harry had no clue. He had no notion of self beyond the hero everyone saw but that he could never seem to find. Being in the Aurors gave him that sense of self, and he did whatever he could to fight as hard as he could to hang on to that shred.

It wasn't until he and Ron started remodeling Grimmauld Place and moved in together that things became clearer. Being around Ron every day, seeing him smile, smelling him after he showers, and watching a blush creep up his neck made Harry feel like he was truly home. When he began to seek out Ron's touch, Harry knew he was done for. He knew he was in love with his best mate, and with that clarity came dread. The only way Harry could kill the dark feelings of realization was to throw himself even further into his work.

Harry turned off the shower, spelled the steam from the mirror, and studied his recent injuries. Thanks to the department's healers, the deeper wounds were just scars, and the bruises were fading. Healer Westwick had insisted that he go to the hospital to get them fixed up better, but Harry wanted to get home…to get to Ron. He sighed heavily at the thought, and trod dejectedly back to his bedroom to put on his shorts and go to sleep.

They were in the dungeon at Malfoy Manor. Hermione's screams were becoming overwhelming, and Ron struggled endlessly next to Harry. Harry needed to get them out. He was trying to find a way to keep all of his friends safe when the lights from Ron's deluminator had vanished, plunging him into darkness.

He heard Ron scream next to him, and then the warmth of his body was gone.

"Ron?" There was no sound, just an echoing wind. "Luna? Dean?" Harry was shouting now, worried that some of the darkness had swallowed them up.

When the lights came on, they all shone at his friends, hanging by their necks from chains descending from the ceiling. Dobby lay on the floor, the knife in his stomach glinting in the bright lights of the ceiling as he struggled to breathe. Hermione's head was hanging from her neck limply, and Dean and Luna were perfectly still, but Ron was still digging at the robe around his neck and wheezing.

"Harry…" Ron said, his voice croaking painfully.

Harry tried to rush forward and pull him down, but the chains holding his wrists began to snake around his entire body. The metal dug into him and constricted until he couldn't even breathe in. He looked up at Ron, whose face had gone purple and his eyes were bulging. With the last breath in his lungs, Harry yelled out his name, screaming for him in the hopes that he would hold on a little longer.

"Ron!"

A pair of strong hands were grasping his shoulders tightly, and Harry leapt back in fear. He realized a second later that he was in his own bed, and Ron was staring at him wide-eyed from the other end of the bed. Harry leapt forward and ran his hands around Ron's neck, just to make sure he was really there, and really alive. He put both of his hands on Ron's face and dug his fingers into the back of his head.

"You're…it's…" Harry started, his heart finally slowing down.

"I'm alright, mate. It was just a nightmare."

Harry let out a deep breath and put his head on Ron's shoulder. He was so relieved that he momentarily forgot about that line he had drawn between his friendship and his desires. Ron's arms wrapped around him, and Harry allowed himself a little bit of time to revel in the warmth before he pulled away. He needed to.

"You gonna be okay?" Ron asked as he stood up. Harry ignored the stab of pain at seeing Ron so eager to leave. It was entirely possible Hermione was in his room with him.

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The next morning, Ron was staring blankly at his cereal when Harry made his way downstairs. He looked so crestfallen that his earlier assumption about Ron's guest was likely untrue. He couldn't take seeing Ron languish like this, especially when he was so obviously unhappy. Harry resolved to do something about it before the end of the day.

He went into work and got Kingsley's assurance that Ron could start the next batch of Auror training coming through immediately. Harry filled out what he could of his entrance paperwork, and put the rest in a sack for Ron to look over when he was more open to the idea. Harry spent the entire day imagining what it would be like to see Ron surging with power again, to see him fighting with the vigor and strength Harry remembered.

After leaving the ministry, Harry headed to the shop to see George. He knew Ron was in the back doing inventory, he always was on Fridays, and so he had George's ear without interruption. He sat down and told George that he thought Ron was unhappy. He said that Ron had been working at the shop for some time and things were going good. When George prompted him to continue, Harry finally confessed that he felt like Ron might need to move on with his life and leave the shop.

For a moment, George looked as though he agreed. However, he then tilted his head to the side and squinted his eyes.

"No, Harry, I don't think that's it at all," George said quietly but firmly.

"But he wants to be an Auror, I know he does!"

"There's a lot of things we think we know until the alternative sneaks up on us one day," George said, his eyes looking lighter than they had for ages as he gazed at Angelina working in the prank wands section.

"Well, just think about talking to Ron," Harry said, furrowing his brow. George just smiled sadly and nodded.

Despite the confusing reaction George had to Harry's statements, Harry was feeling confident and excited for Ron to start a new chapter in his life. He sat back in his favorite chair, put his feet up, and was about to fall asleep when he heard the front door slam shut.

"You rotten fucking bastard!" Ron shouted as he stomped into the room. Harry leapt from his chair at the anger flashing on Ron's face.

"Ron…what…"

"You had no fucking right to talk to George! I have told you over and over again I don't want to leave the shop-"

"But you look so unhappy, I thought…"

"No you didn't! You didn't fucking think!" Ron's voice had quieted, but his jaw was clenched firmly and his fists were light tight stones at his sides.

"Ron, I'm sorry if I stepped over a line, but you needed a bit of a push to move on with your life," Harry said, pleading with Ron to understand.

"You have no idea what I need, Harry, and that's the problem. I can't do this anymore," Ron left the room and bounded up the stairs. When Harry caught up to him, Ron's wand was drawn and he was shrinking his things and putting them into a trunk.

"Don't leave. I was just trying to help you get out of this rut!" Harry said, walking up to Ron.

Ron spun around and the fire in his eyes was overwhelming. Harry was struck momentarily breathless by the passion he could see practically ripping through Ron's body until he realized Ron was about to walk away. "You will never really know me, Harry, not the way I want you to. I can't live like this anymore."

With that, Ron grabbed his trunk and apparated away. Harry was frozen where he stood, confusion swimming through his head. He couldn't make sense of anything Ron had said. He stayed still, lost in thought for what felt like forever, until he made his way over to Ron's bed. He lay down on top of Ron's messed up blankets and sheets and rested his head on Ron's pillow. Harry let his scent waft through his nostrils until he couldn't hold it in anymore and he began to cry softly.

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Only I have a better chance at failure.
But my mind has a clever way of turning all the worst to right, I've found.
Oh, no. So tell them like you did it. No maybes.

Harry woke up at 3 am, still in Ron's bed. His head pounded as he managed to pull his body into an upright position. He walked down to the kitchen and fixed himself up a cup of coffee and some eggs. He barely tasted the food, and after he had eaten and cleaned up, he decided to go for an early morning walk. He spent two hours wandering around London before finally arriving at the Ministry. He figured he could get some paperwork done before the day started.

"If you follow me to the right, we can get the written exam out of the way to see who can move on to the Auror training program," One of the witches who managed the auror training was guiding a group of young men and women toward the classroom across from Harry's office.

His breath caught in his throat when he saw Ron there, standing in the middle of the small group, shifting nervously from foot to foot. Harry swelled with pride, accomplishment and excitement. He called Ron's name, but Ron just looked at him out of the corner of his eye and shook his head. All of the anger from last night was still there, flashing dangerously across his face.

Harry waited at his desk anxiously for Ron to get out. He wanted to beg forgiveness and was dying to see if Ron went well. Sure, he probably shouldn't have gone to George, but obviously this was the push Ron needed to move on with his life. Harry would do it all over again if it meant Ron would finally look happy.

Ron walked out first with the trainer and absent of the rest of the group. She patted his back, and he nodded, his face unreadable. Harry jogged up to him, ignoring Ron's warning look in all of his excitement.

"I can't believe you're actually here, after your training-"

"I failed the test, Harry. Now maybe you'll just shut up about all of this and leave me alone," Ron said, his voice quiet and cold. He jogged off toward the lifts, leaving Harry standing there stunned.

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We'll leave it on the radio, we're calling all cowards.
Now boy, that you made it so,
Why are you afraid of what you've done?

Ron managed to make it to the Burrow without flying into a fit of rage, which he thought was an enormous credit to his self control. When he got there, he slammed the front door, and immediately flinched as he waited for his mother to start yelling. Ginny was the only one to appear, however, stomping down the stairs and giving him a quizzical look.

Ron couldn't say anything; he just shook his head and clenched his fists tighter. He made his way outside, but Ginny put a firm hand on his shoulder before he could make it to a safe apparation point. He didn't want to talk to anyone right now, and he was desperate to be alone. He had no idea why he went to The Burrow, but now he wanted nothing more than to leave.

"Ron…is this about you moving out of Harry's?" Ginny asked.

"How did you know that already?" Ron asked incredulously.

"George."

"Oh. Yeah it's about Harry. I just got tired of him constantly trying to get me to join the Aurors. So I took the test and I failed it…on purpose," Ron said, looking out over the orchard and squinting at the sun, high in the afternoon sky.

"George said Harry came to him and told him you weren't happy," Ginny said, sitting on the grass and patting a spot next to her.

"Can't anyone have a secret in this bloody family?" Ron said, plopping down next to her.

"Nope." Ginny said, picking up blades of grass and smashing them between her fingers. Ron could smell the odor of each destroyed blade mix with the smell of falling leaves. "You are unhappy though."

"That's really no one's business. I'm stuck, and there's nothing I can do to get out of it, so I just need to live my life as best as I can. Right now, that means staying with George and not watching Harry try to kill himself every day," Ron said, swallowing hard.

He wanted to tell Ginny…to tell someone that he was in love with Harry. He wanted a little company for his misery. But saying it out loud would just feel too real, it would make everything that much more impossible. Ginny would likely hate him for trying to move in on her ex, and Harry would never let him come back to Grimmauld Place. Ron resolved long ago that his secret was easier to bear than being alienated from the people he loved.

"It must be hard watching someone you love jump into so many dangerous situations that he doesn't really need to be in," Ginny said gently.

"Yeah, it is. I mean I get that he's an auror, but he seems to have some sort of death wish! He's been this way ever since the war ended…just seeking out something bigger and more extreme to scratch his itch," Ron said. He threw a pebble across the field angrily. Suddenly, he realized that Ginny had referred to Harry as someone he loved and he froze. What did she really mean by that?

"Ron…you can talk to me about this you know. Harry and I, it was never going to happen after the war. Too much had changed. We changed. It just never got started the way we had always dreamed it would," Ginny said, wrapping her arms around her knees.

Ron didn't know what to say. He'd been keeping it pent up for so long that it felt like his feelings weren't even real or noticeable. Apparently Ginny had caught on. Ron silently hoped that Hermione hadn't. They may have separated, and they may still be friends, but the hurt was still there. He could see it in her eyes. She didn't want to be with him anymore, he knew that, but they were so close for so long…you don't just let go of something like that.

"George knows, we've talked about it. I'm pretty sure Hermione knows, but she keeps it to herself," Ginny said, as though she was reading his mind. Ron let out an audible groan.

"Ron, keeping this all bottled up is eating you alive. I know you. You need to say what's on your mind, even if that is calling me a…what was the term? Scarlet Woman?" She laughed and Ron felt a relieving smile begin to form. "I've never known you to just sit on the sidelines and shut up. This isn't you and it's tearing you apart. The bags under your eyes and the slope in your shoulders look almost painful."

"What am I supposed to do, though? He's not…he could never….I can't lose him, Ginny," Ron said, dropping his head in his hands.

"Didn't you ever wonder why we never explained our breakup in much detail?" Ginny said, resting her chin on his arm.

"Of course I did, but I didn't want to push it. Merlin knows what I would have found out. I didn't want to hold anything against either of you. And…well…I was too relieved he wasn't with you," Ron said, his face turning red. He was ashamed to be jealous of his sister at all.

Ron's tensioned eased slightly when Ginny put an arm around his shoulders. "It'll be alright, you know. Harry…Harry thinks that he can't love anyone. He thinks it's not in him to be with somebody. He thinks he's damaged somehow. That's what he said when we broke up. I told him that he just didn't love me."

Ron was struck by the hopelessness of Harry's declaration. Everything about Harry's recent penchant for danger became clearer in the wake of his sister's revelations. Ron wished with every fiber of his being that he could show Harry how much love he had in him. Before Ron could turn and thank Ginny, a Ostrich patronus descended from the sky.

"Ronald Weasley, you are listed as Harry Potter's emergency contact. He has been injured. Please go to St. Mungo's for more details," the Ostrich said before disappearing.

Ron leapt up, panic and adrenaline coursing through his veins. Ginny was standing next to him, looking ready to run or fight. He made to apparate, lifting his wand. He reached out and touched Ginny's shoulder. "Get Hermione and meet me there."

He barely felt the pull and sweep of apparation as his mind went over what could have possibly happened to Harry.

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Return to the dirt with this cursed affair.
A lever to pull upon and the buried we'll leave there.
Only how will they ever find their way, to the road, to a better place where the memories,
they don't live to fade away.

Harry's leg was throbbing painfully, and it felt like someone was stabbing him in the chest every time he took a breath. He tried to open his eyes, but his body didn't want to cooperate with the messages his head was sending. After a few moments of painful struggle, he finally managed to move his body slightly.

A large, warm hand immediately closed around his forearm, and warm breath brushed over his face. "Harry? Mate? Are you waking up? Are you in pain? Oh bloody hell, should I call the mediwitch?" Ron asked, his voice quiet but urgent.

"Ron?" Harry said, his throat so sore that it burned to talk.

"Shhhhh. Try not to talk. You've been through a lot. I'm going to put some water to your mouth; do you think you could drink?" Ron asked as Harry tried desperately to open his eyes. He nodded carefully, the movement causing pain to spark in his head.

The water was cool and felt amazing against his parched lips. After he swallowed a few times, his mouth and his body felt much better. He reached up and gripped Ron's wrists as they held the cup. His eyes finally opened, and Ron's bright orange hair shone blurry against the light of the room.

"There you are! You gave us quite a scare," Ron said, pulling away from Harry. Harry felt bereft at the loss of contact, but Ron had simply set down the cup and took one of Harry's hands in his.

"What happened?" Harry croaked.

"You were outnumbered. Some nasty blokes you guys were chasing after turned up in Wales and you went in without backup. There were seven of them, Harry!" Ron was nearly shouting now, holding Harry's hand tightly.

"How long have I been out?" Harry asked, suddenly struck with the memory of that dark, seaside shack and those potions dealers' menacing smiles.

"About two days. What were you thinking? You could have been killed!" Ron's voice had started to break a little as he spoke.

"I don't know," Harry said, turning his head to avoid Ron's watery blue gaze. He did know. These missions made him feel alive, in a world where Harry was convinced he was dead in so many ways.

"Yes you do," Ron said fiercely, his lips brushing against Harry's ear. Harry had to struggle not to lean into the contact. "Please, just let me in."

"Oh, Mr. Potter, you're awake!" A tall, thin woman in white robes and a white cap skittered into the room.

Ron pulled away and sat in a chair next to Harry's bed. The healer gave Harry a rundown of his injures: Three broken ribs, a reducto curse that nicked a main artery on his right leg, and a pretty severe concussion. The wound on his leg was healing, but slowly due to the curse. His ribs and his head were on their way to being fully healed. The healer postulated that he could go home tomorrow night as soon as they were sure his leg would have no lasting damage.

"Now, I'm going to give you a pain potion and a sleeping draught so you can get some rest. Mr. Weasley has been here the entire time, and I'm sure he'll be here when you wake up," The healer said, winking and handing him the two vials and making sure he drank them.

Harry drifted off to sleep before the healer had even left the room.

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"I'm so sorry," Ron groaned as Harry began to wake.

He opened his eyes and turned his head to see Hermione holding Ron's head against her chest. She was standing next to his chair and he remained seated. His hands were wrapped around her small waist. Harry felt a sharp pain in his chest that had nothing to do with his injuries. He knew that Ron and Hermione would eventually get back together, but it still hurt to see it coming to fruition.

He lay back against his bed and feigned sleep a little longer, to give them privacy, but they pulled away and nothing further happened. He stirred and pretended to be just waking, and Hermione rushed to his side with water, her eyes red and puffy.

"How are you feeling?" Hermione asked urgently.

"Like shit. Despondent. Heartbroken," Harry thought. "Much better, Hermione. I'm anxious to get home."

"I've got your stuff together. I brought you some pajamas, so you can change out of the hospital robes. The healer said you have to rest tonight and you can't go back to work for a couple of days," Ron said, smiling warmly, his own eyes a little red.

Harry changed into his clothes. Hermione said her goodbyes, claiming to be meeting an associate for dinner. Harry and Ron went to the hospitals apparation point, and Harry couldn't help himself, he leaned into Ron's embrace as they apparated back home. Despite being in recovery, he barely slept that night.

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We'll leave it on the radio, we're calling all cowards.
Now boy, that you made it so,
Why are you afraid of what you've done?

Ron moved back in with Harry after he was hurt. Despite Harry hinting at it, Ron never mentioned the Auror test and obviously didn't want to talk about it. They went on with their days, and Harry was sure that with Hermione back in his life, Ron would begin to smile again. However, he seemed as defeated as ever. One day at breakfast, Harry couldn't hold his tongue any longer.

"You know, if you want to have Hermione stay the night, that's okay. This is your house too," Harry said in between bites, trying to be as casual as he could. Ron's fork clanged down to the table and he looked up at Harry wide-eyed with shock.

"Why would I want Hermione to stay the night?" Ron said incredulously.

"Well you two are back together aren't you? I mean…at the hospital…" Harry said, fumbling through his words.

"Oh, ummm, yeah. Well, we're taking it slow," Ron said, not meeting Harry's eyes.

"That's alright. As long as you're happy," Harry said tentatively. Ron simply shrugged.

"Well, you know, I can talk to Kingsley about letting you retake the test," Harry said, hoping to see Ron's eyes brighten at least a little.

Ron got up from the table abruptly, causing his chair to clatter to the floor. "I have to go to work, Harry. Why don't you just drop it?"

Before Harry could answer, Ron grabbed some floo powder and shouted "Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes!"

Harry cleaned up the breakfast mess and apparated to The Ministry, though he didn't feel much like working.

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By lunch, Harry was ready to confront Hermione. He was too agitated. He had no idea what was going on with his best friends and he really felt like he was missing something. He was worried that Ron would find he crossed a line again, but when it came to Ron, Harry couldn't help it. They used to share everything, and now it felt like Ron had built up a fortress around every part of him.

Hermione was seated at her desk in her impressive new office pouring over what might have been the largest book he had ever seen.

"Hey!" Harry said, knocking on her door jam.

"Harry!" Hermione said, brightening when she saw him. "I was waiting for you to come to my new office. What do you think?"

"I think that you are unstoppable."

Hermione beamed with pride.

"Did you want to grab a bite?" Hermione said, carefully marking her place in the large book with an oversized ribbon.

"Can we talk first?" Harry asked tentatively. Hermione frowned slightly and gestured for him to sit. Instead of sitting behind her desk, she sat at the chair next to him and leaned in close.

"What's up?"

"How are things going between you and Ron?" Harry asked, blushing slightly. Even though he had witnessed the entire evolution of his best friends' relationship, he had never really talked about it with them in depth.

"Really well," Hermione smiled warmly. "I feel like we're finally getting to a good place and getting used to being just friends."

"Wait…what?" Harry said, blown away by her unconscious revelation.

"What's wrong, Harry?"

"You lot aren't back together?" He asked, blushing even more fiercely. He's worried he stumbled across a secret he wasn't party to.

"Harry, what's this about?" Hermione said, pulling away from him and sitting up tensely in her chair.

Harry took a deep breath and decided to let it all out.

"Well I saw you two, at the hospital, and I thought you were back together. I'm really happy for you. I was hoping that it might pull Ron out of this darkness that's been surrounding him, but he seems to be unchanged. I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong. I just want to see if everything is okay," Harry said, thankful he didn't trip over his words.

When he looked up at Hermione her head was in her hands and her shoulders were shaking. All of the blood drained from his face. Harry was horrified that he had definitely crossed a line where he was not wanted. He clenched jaw to keep from yelling out in frustration and managed to reach out a hand to place on Hermione's shoulder. She immediately flinched away.

"Don't touch me right now, Harry. Just don't touch me," Hermione said through her fingers.

"What…"

"No! I'm not doing this anymore! I'm not playing this bloody game with you two!" Hermione shouted. Harry actually flinched to hear her swear.

She jumped up from her seat and walked over to the other end of her office. He watched her pace for a moment before she turned abruptly at him, the fire in her eyes nearly burning Harry with its intensity. Harry expected her to shout again, but instead she just crumpled in tears. He ran to her. Despite her angry words, he needed to go to her…she's his best friend.

"Ron and I are not back together, Harry. We never will be. We're just trying to work out what "us" means now," Hermione said through tears.

"Do you want to be with him?" Harry said, running a hand over her back.

"No. It wouldn't be good for either of us. He's…there's just somewhere else he needs to be," Hermione said quietly.

"Like with the Aurors?" Harry asked with understanding.

"Oh open your eyes and let go of this Auror thing."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, completely lost.

"Harry, Ron…he's…he's…No! No I'm not doing this. You two are so stupid. I can't do this for you both. It still hurts!" Hermione cried. She rose to her feet, grabbed her cloak, and was out of her office before Harry could ask what she meant. He heard her shout "I'm going home sick!" to her secretary as her heels clicked along the marble floor.

When Harry tried to follow her, he lost her around a corner, and was quelled by an angry look from the witch at the front desk.

(((((((((()))))))))

Oh no. So tell them like you did it.
Oh, no. So tell them like you knew.
Ditto. So tell them like you knew. No maybes.

Ron was doing his weekly inventory when Hermione came stomping through the back room. Her eyes were red and her face was streaked with tears. He jumped up to ask her what was wrong, but she just walked past him and right toward George and Angelina.

"Harry was just in my office…I need to talk." Angelina nodded at Hermione and put her arm around her shoulders. Hermione looked back and Ron and said "Not here."

George and Angelina both looked back at Ron in suspicion and led Hermione up the stairs to George's flat. Ron was rendered speechless and confused. Shortly, though, he began to get angry. He headed back to Grimmauld Place to find out what Harry had done to Hermione.

He made it home to find Harry pacing his bedroom. He was pale and confused-looking. Ron couldn't help himself. Even in his anger, he needed to pause and admire the fluid way Harry's body moved, the muscles in his shoulders tensing and releasing with each swift turn on his heels. Ron wanted to run his hands over Harry's body so badly, it almost shadowed the real reason he came home.

"What did you do to Hermione?" Ron said gruffly. Harry jumped at the sound of his voice. "She showed up at the shop, said something about you, started crying, and then took off with George and Angelina."

"What did I do? What did you do? I went to see her, asked her how things were going with you two, and she went off her gob!" Harry exclaimed, raising his hands in exasperation.

"Bloody fucking hell," Ron said. He felt a little faint and had to sit on the bed.

"Hermione says you two aren't together," Harry said more softly, walking up to Ron. "Why did you lie?"

Ron couldn't tell him. He couldn't explain. His body was shaking and his nerves were on end. He just wanted Harry to drop everything and go back to the way they were. He knew that he was seconds away from losing his best mate, and he couldn't tame the panic.

"Ron? Are you…are you shaking?" Harry asked, sitting next to him on the bed.

"Why did you have to talk to her, Harry?" Ron moaned, arching his head back and staring at the ceiling.

"I just want to know what is going on with you. It's been a long time since I've seen you truly happy. You're not talking to me…not about anything. I feel like I'm losing you. I was desperate!" Harry said, grabbing Ron's hands firmly. "Ron, what's wrong. Please…please don't pull away from me."

Suddenly, something surged inside of him. He looked at Harry's hands over his, and then met Harry's shocking green eyes. He saw something there, something in that look that almost gave Ron a spark of hope. He had to let it go, and he to let it all out. Any longer, and Ron would collapse in on himself.

Ron grabbed Harry's face and pressed his lips to his as gently as he could with all of the desire pulsing through him. Harry didn't even pause…he didn't even freeze. To Ron's shock, Harry's hands immediately fisted in his hair, and his tongue began tracing Ron's lips. Ron let out a moan and kissed Harry back with equal fervor.

Harry's hands were roaming over Ron's back, and it sent chills through his body. He didn't understand it, not at all. Harry had never seemed…he had never let on…But then Harry's hands were up the back of Ron's shirt and tracing over his bare skin, and Ron lost all rational thought. He groaned and pressed Harry back against the bed.

Harry's lips traced along Ron's face and down his neck, causing him to buck his hips against Harry's. When Harry cried out and echoed his movements, Ron's entire body began to burn with need. He wanted to touch every part of Harry. He licked up the side of his face and around the shell of Harry's ear, causing him to rhythmically move against Ron. Harry tugged the shirt over Ron's head. Ron echoed his movements and they both moaned as their bare skin came in contact.

Ron wanted to run his hands slowly over Harry, to get to know every part of him, but he was too desperate. Through Harry's heavy breathing and his moans, Ron just wanted to go farther, to elicit more of those delicious sounds. Ron found the clasp to Harry's trousers and undid them with startling deftness.

When his hand wrapped around Harry's thick cock, they both cried out. Ron moaned Harry's name, pumping his hand up and down. Harry's hips kept bucking up into Ron, and soon Ron could feel his climax building just from the slight friction. He opened his eyes and looked down at Harry: his head was thrown back and every muscle in his neck was pulled taught.

"Harry," Ron moaned. Harry opened his eyes, and met Ron's as he came…hot liquid spilling over Ron's fist.

"Ron…" Harry groaned as he rode out his orgasm. Hearing Harry moan his name was enough, and Ron came in his jeans.

When the fog had cleared, Ron looked down at Harry. Harry was wearing a shocked expression. Reality slowly came back to him, and Ron jumped back, trying to hide his embarrassment.

"Harry, I'm sorry. I got carried away. I…"

"Ron, I wouldn't have…"

Ron couldn't handle the questions, the need, and the pain he knew would come. He didn't want to face any of it. He grabbed a shirt and disapparated immediately.

(((((((((((((())))))))))))

Harry knew where he would find Ron the moment he vanished. He vacillated for a moment, wondering if Ron even wanted to be found. Harry was sure that Ron had leaned in and kissed him, but after they had pulled away from each other, something tense hung over them. Harry gripped his unruly hair tightly, trying to will himself to stay calm and not panic over the prospect of losing Ron forever.

Finally, Harry decided that he was tired of letting Ron shut him out. He had done some desperate and barmy things in the last few days to try to get inside of Ron's head, and he wasn't about to let him fall back inside of himself. Harry lifted his wand and apparated to the beach outside of Shell Cottage.

He saw Ron sitting in the sand. Harry shuddered as he realized they were on a beach in the middle of winter and neither of them had a cloak. He cast a warming charm on himself, and hoped Ron had done the same.

He walked up to Ron, unsure if Ron was ignoring him, or if he genuinely hadn't heard him over the waves. Harry reached out, wanting to touch Ron's broad shoulders, but he shied away. The tension that rippled through his body was making Ron look foreboding, like the clouds and waves that danced over the sea in front of them. Harry shuddered again despite his warming charm.

Ron had always filled him with warmth, and Harry shook his head to erase his fears. He needed to get his best mate back…and make him more than that if he could.

"You know the first time I realized I was in love with you?" Harry said tentatively. He watched Ron flinch, and his body tense even more. "It was when we were remodeling Grimmauld Place. I kept thinking…'Ron would love it if I did this!' and 'I can't wait until I show Ron'. It hit me then: It's always been about you in some way…for you."

Harry sat down next to him, far enough away to let Ron move away if he wanted to.

"Harry," Ron whispered.

Harry met his eyes and saw pure desperation. He understood. He had been feeling the same way for ages. Harry reached out and put a hand on the side of Ron's face. He turned his head and pressed his lips to Harry's palm, sighing deeply.

"I can't lose you, Harry," Ron said, reaching up and wrapping his long fingers around Harry's wrist.

"You won't. You never could. You never will," Harry whispered, turning Ron's head back to him and kissing him fully on the lips. After a moment, Ron pulled away and buried his face in Harry's neck. Harry wrapped his arms around Ron, feeling him shiver in his thin shirt.

"You're warm," Ron whispered, his cold lips kissing up and down Harry's neck. Harry arched, spreading his knees in the sand so that Ron could pull him closer. He kissed Harry hungrily, his tongue licking Harry's teeth and sliding over the inside of his mouth. Harry moaned and straddled Ron's lap, pressing his throbbing erection against the bulge in Ron's jeans.

"Fuck, Ron…" Harry groaned, hearing his voice echo even over the crashing waves. His knees were wet and Ron was cold, but he just couldn't stop. He couldn't let go.

"Harry?" Ron said, putting his icy hands on Harry's face and fixing his deep blue eyes on Harry's in such a way that Harry had to fight the urge to turn his head away from the intensity. "You mean this?"

"More than anything," Harry said, thrusting against Ron again. "Why don't we go home and get you warmed up?"

"Or we could stay here. You obviously do a fair warming charm," Ron said, kissing Harry again. They both got pulled into the feel of lips, teeth and tongue, distracted by each other until the sunlight started to fade in the sky.

"You're going to start turning blue soon," Harry mumbled.

"Something is."

"Obviously the cold has affected your thinking ability. Let's get home," Harry said, smiling.

Ron winked at him.

For the first time in ages, Harry truly felt like he was going home. He was going to a place where someone loved him, wanted him, and worried about him. And he could finally bask in that feeling, instead of trying to hide it. There was still so much more to work out, and so many more hurdles to jump, but all the problems seemed to fade as Ron looked down at him with his clear, blue eyes.