A/N: This oneshot was written as a very late birthday present for my wonderful shocolate! In the interest of being obsessively organized, I am posting it here with the rest of my rubbish, now that she's already seen it!

for shocolate

Ron slammed the door shut behind him, closing himself inside the second spare room at Shell Cottage. Alone, with Harry.

"Silencio," Ron said, flicking his wand absently over his shoulder.

The door vibrated almost imperceptibly before Ron took a breath to speak again, facing Harry as he pocketed his wand.

"Why'd you have to say his name? !" he shouted, firm and harsh as Harry stared back across the room at him.

"What?" Harry blinked, stunned and confused.

"In the sodding tent, the night we were captured! You said his name."

Harry's face morphed with realisation, and he moved several paces closer to Ron.

"Ron, I'm sorry. I didn't-"

"You didn't think it would matter?" Ron interrupted, sharp and angry. His coarse stubble was now days thick across his jaw and cheeks, excessive freckles over pale skin from so much time spent outside... and it made him look and feel somehow even more alarming than his low, almost growling voice was already making him...

"I didn't think, full stop," Harry said softly, and Ron saw the guilt in Harry's eyes. It was genuine, and frankly depressing, and Ron took a mental step back from attack mode to calm down and let out a long, shaky breath.

"It wasn't your fault," Ron finally admitted, stretching his toes inside of his trainers. "I just..."

But he couldn't put into words what it had taken out of him to hear her screaming above him, out of his reach... Or what it had felt like to be so completely powerless. And as Harry stood silently before him, Ron's heart was still shattered and he had only one idea, one way to calm his nerves enough to go on...

It started with a confession.

"Harry," Ron began, voice thick and raspy, "I love her. You know that, don't you?"

Harry's eyes widened a fraction before he swallowed.

"I thought you might, yeah..." he said, offering a tiny upward tug at the left corner of his mouth. Nothing like what a smile should be, but awfully close for today...

But Ron's stomach dropped anyway as he took a breath to speak again.

"It scares me when I think what I'd have done if she'd... died," and it did. So much so that it kept him up nights, cold sweats when he'd picture her in her own dreams above him. What still haunted her, even unconsciously, that he might not be able to repair? And he'd picture himself at the bottom of a freshly dug grave, and he'd find peace in knowing that he could have ended up there, so quickly, so easily... if she'd disappeared...

If she'd stopped giving him a reason to live.

"Then don't think about it," Harry demanded, fear held just barely away from the surface as he visibly considered Ron's words, and what they might mean. It was something Ron was sure Harry could not afford to think about. "We made it," Harry added, standing as tall as he could, still a good bit shorter than Ron. And yet, that difference was ever widening as Ron had surely grown another few inches over the past year...

"But what about tomorrow?" Ron asked, having still not quite arrived at his point... "And the day after that?"

Harry's eyes reflected such deep sadness, something Ron himself could feel but could hardly bring himself to show these days. He was getting marginally worse at outward emotions, these past few days especially. And he was certain there was something unhealthy buried there, something he'd have to restore one day...

"This isn't just stupid jealousy or sexual... whatever," Ron said, voice rough as if running through broken glass. "I think about when we're old and she's still correcting my spellwork and I've kissed her goodnight a million times."

Harry blinked a bit more rapidly than was normal as Ron pressed on...

"And then I think about when the war will finally be over... and... she's all I need to get there. Because when I imagine what I want, what we could have together, it's blinding. I'd fight for the rest of my life to be with her."

"God, Ron..." Harry breathed, squinting slightly behind his glasses.

"I need you to promise me something," Ron said, voice suddenly much stronger.

"Anything," Harry said immediately, still stricken by Ron's words.

"If it's me or her," Ron said firmly, "if you've got to choose, for any reason... save her."

Harry's eyes widened significantly this time.

"Ron, why would I have to-"

"Just promise me!" Ron shouted, eyebrows slanted and furrowed as he begged. "Harry, I can't sleep..."

Harry looked away from Ron and ran a hand across the back of his neck.

"Ron," he sighed heavily, as he turned back to face him again, overwhelmed, "you're... my best friend! And Hermione..."

He pointedly shot Ron a frustrated and helpless grimace.

"I love you both! How can I..." Harry trailed off, covering his mouth and jaw with his left palm, running it across his own dark stubble.

"Because I'm begging you," Ron said softly, "as your fucking brother."

Harry's squint gave way to tears, and he finally dropped his hand from his own face to close the distance between himself and Ron, pulling Ron into a tight embrace. Ron ducked his head over Harry's shoulder and held on just as tightly, one arm wrapped around Harry's lower back and the other extending up his spine, fingers flat and stretched up the back of Harry's neck. Harry turned his face inward, closing his eyes as his nose pressed up against Ron's jaw.

"We're going to make it," Harry said into Ron's neck.

Ron closed his eyes as well, gentle tears rolling silently down his cheeks. He relaxed somewhat at Harry's reassuring words, spoken so calmly and with so much hope.

"I know..." Ron said, because he did. In that moment, he really, truly did.

"Then... I promise," and Harry pulled back from Ron, far enough to look up into his tear-stained face.

They released each other completely, standing a foot apart as they breathed in sync.

"I love you, Harry," Ron said at last, a real smile finally breaking free as relief washed over him.

"See how easy that is?" Harry teased. "Just change the name. She's only across the hall..."

"Completely different," Ron chuckled, shaking his head.

"No, it isn't," Harry grinned, and Ron shot him a purposeful eye roll.

"Wanker," he said, still smiling.

But how many times had he really considered telling her? Far too many. And it was getting more and more difficult to come up with legitimate excuses...

"You know," Ron said, thoughtfully, "towards the end of last year, before we knew we wouldn't be going back to Hogwarts for seventh year, I thought I'd tell her the day she got her record-breaking number of N.E.W.T.S. Because that way, she'd still be happy about one thing, even if she was hacked off at me..."

Harry shook his head in disbelief.

"Fucksake, Ron," he said, "she'd probably shag you right now if you just said three bleeding words to her."

"Bloody hell, Harry," Ron shivered, "don't tempt me..."

"Don't see why I shouldn't!" Harry raised an eyebrow up at Ron.

"Cut it out..." Ron groaned.

"Do you realise how bizarre it is for me to know that you're going to sleep with... well, with my sister before the year is out?" Harry continued, intentionally adopting Ron's shiver for a moment.

"Okay!" and Ron backed towards the door. "I'm leaving. Nice chat!"

Harry laughed and watched fondly as Ron removed his silencing spell and opened the door, slipping halfway through. But at the last moment, he turned back, head tilted to the side.

"And for your information, Potter," he said, as if the words were costing him greatly to have to utter, "I know exactly what that's like. Or have you forgotten that I know you still love my sister?"

"You..." Harry began, eyes widening again. But Ron gave him a pointed look, and he collapsed beneath it. "Alright, fine," he sighed. "Does that make us even?"

"I don't know what it makes us," Ron concluded, shrugging. "But I do know that we both need to get our heads out of our arses and do the right thing. Think about it..." and he ducked back out of the room again, closing the door behind him.

He grinned to himself, but it slowly faded as he chewed his bottom lip, silent and still in the middle of the hall. He felt as if so much of the weight he'd been carrying had been left on the other side of that door. And he sensed a new direction, one that led him not only to the end of the fight, but towards the start of whatever would come afterwards.