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You'd Always Want to Come Back

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He was drowning. It was so cold and he was drowning. The locket was choking him and he was drowning. Arms were closing around his chest but he was still drowning.

Then he was coughing and spluttering and he was not drowning. Harry was lying prone on the frozen ground, drawing rattling breaths of crisp, cold air and he was alive.

He could hear someone else staggering around heavily. Then they were yelling at him.

“Are--you--mental?”

The sound of his voice was all Harry needed to find the strength to get to his feet again. Ron was holding the sword of Gryffindor in one hand and the locket in the other. He was soaked and his clothes were beginning to stiffen in the frigid air.  

“Why the hell didn’t you take the damn thing off before diving in?”

Harry was too cold and shocked to answer. He just stumbled forward towards Ron numbly. Ron dropped the sword and locket and bent to pick up Harry’s discarded clothes. By the time Harry was close enough to reach out to him Ron had stretched open the neck of his first sweater and was shoving it over his head. Ron tried to pull it the rest of the way on but Harry’s hands were clinging to the front of Ron’s jacket. Harry was leaning very close to his face and squinting at him.

“It’s you?”

Ron immediately realized the problem and bent to find Harry’s glasses. He placed them carefully on Harry’s face and smiled at him cautiously. “It’s me.”

Harry was beginning to shiver violently. “H-how are y-you here?” He asked with his hands still clutching at Ron’s jacket.

“I came back.” Ron wouldn’t meet his eyes now. “I’ll tell you about it later. Right now we need to get your clothes on or you’re going to freeze to death.”

Harry nodded numbly. He relaxed his grip on Ron’s jacket and Ron immediately seized the opportunity to start stuffing his arms into the sweater. Harry continued to shiver and tremble as Ron helped him with his two other sweaters and his jeans. He then grabbed Harry’s hands and started breathing on them. They were so cold that Harry couldn’t feel the difference but he was sure it would help. When Ron finally stopped Harry drew his hands up into the sleeves of his sweaters and crossed his arms over his chest. He glanced at the locket lying on the ground near Ron’s feet. It’s malign presence couldn’t be ignored for long. Ron bent to pick up the sword and held it out to Harry. Harry shook his head and drew his arms closer to his body.

“I think you should do it.”

Ron stared at him. “Why?”

Harry looked away. He didn’t know how to say it without it sounding awful and accusatory. He shrugged.

Ron was still holding the sword out to Harry. Harry took a step back and Ron stepped forward. “I can’t do it, Harry.” He thrust the sword towards Harry. “Please, Harry, you don’t understand. I can’t do it.”

Harry bent to pick up the locket and placed it on a flat rock. “You can.”

Ron was shaking his head now and backing away from the locket. “No! I can’t! That thing is bad for me, Harry. I can’t handle it. It makes me think things! Stuff I was thinking anyway but it makes it worse. I’m not trying to make excuses for how I acted, Harry, but that thing made me lose control. I left you.”

Harry reached for Ron’s left hand, the one not holding the sword now hanging limply at his side. He held Ron’s hand in both of his and spoke to the side of his face while Ron watched the locket fearfully.

“That’s why it has to be you. You can do it, Ron. I know you can. It doesn’t control you anymore. Don’t let it.”

Harry let go of his hand and backed away slowly, still watching Ron’s face. “Okay?” Ron nodded. “It’s going to put up a fight.”

Ron nodded again, not looking away from the locket. His grip on the sword tightened and he lifted it in front of him, grabbing it with his left hand as well.

“I’m going to open it, okay?”

“Okay.” Ron’s voice was rough but steady.

Harry finally looked away from Ron towards the locket. “Open.”

Ron tensed at the sibilant sound and the locket opened with a tiny click. There was an eye behind each of the two glass windows in the locket. Tom Riddle’s eyes. Ron raised the sword to strike but hesitated as the locket began to speak to him.

“I have seen your heart, and it is mine.”

Harry’s jaw clenched but he held his ground. “Don’t listen to it.”

“I have seen your dreams, Ronald Weasley, and I have seen your fears.  All you desire is possible, but all that you dread is also possible....”

Harry didn’t speak this time. He had no doubt that Ron could handle this.

“Least loved, always, by the mother who craved a daughter… Least loved, now, by the boy who prefers your sister... Second best, always, eternally overshadowed…”

Harry felt nauseous, his throat dry. “Ron-”

Before Harry could say anything else something began to emerge from the windows of the locket. A grotesquely distorted image of Harry’s head rose and rose followed by his body until only his feet remained in the locket. It spoke and the voice was that of Voldemort himself. Harry trembled at the image, one of his worst fears come to life.

“Why return? I was better without you, happier without you, glad of your absence.... I laughed at your stupidity, your cowardice, your presumption. How could I look at you next to Ginny? So much smarter, so much more beautiful than you. What could you be to the Boy Who Lived?”

Harry was watching Ron now. Ron’s face was drained of color and the tip of the sword was shaking violently.

“Your mother has said she would have preferred me as a son. And I prefer your sister. What is to stop me from taking your place? It’s only a matter of time before Ginny and I are married. And it would be so much better if you were out of the picture completely.”

Harry had stopped breathing at some point during his doppelganger's tirade. He couldn’t move, couldn’t run to Ron’s side to support him, to tell him it’s not true.

“You are nothing, nothing, nothing to me.”

Ron howled in anguish and raised the sword high before plunging it down into the locket. A scream tore through the air as locket-Harry vanished. Ron stood before the destroyed locket for a long moment before dropping to his knees. At this, Harry was finally spurred into action. He rushed forward and fell to his knees beside Ron. He put a hand on Ron’s shoulder and said his name softly. Ron only looked away from him. Harry dropped his hand away and turned to pick up the locket. It was nothing but a scorched and twisted piece of metal now. He placed it in his pocket and turned back to Ron to take the sword from him but Ron did not seem inclined to give it up just yet. Harry didn’t try to force it from him and instead focused on getting Ron to stand up.

“Come on,” Harry coaxed. “I can take you back to the tent.”

Ron responded by slowly getting to his feet. He seemed quite shaky though so Harry wrapped his arm around his waist for support. Harry could see now that Ron’s face was wet and that at least some of his shakiness was from repressed sobs. Harry pretended not to notice for Ron’s sake.

The trek through the woods back to camp was silent except for the crunching of their feet on the frozen ground and the occasional sniffle from Ron. Harry was still supporting Ron as much as he could, but Ron was much bigger than he was so it was slow going. Harry thought that the sun might be beginning to rise when they arrived at the tent, but the faint light in the sky could have been his imagination. Either way he was sure Hermione was still asleep and he thought that for now he would like to keep it that way, so he held a finger to his lips before helping Ron into the tent. Ron nodded in understanding. They both knew he wasn’t in any condition for a confrontation with their other friend just yet.

Harry led Ron to the cot he had slept on before he left. Ron sat on the edge of it while Harry went to get him some warm clothes. The ones he was wearing were stiff and frozen from saving Harry in the pond. Harry realized that Ron would probably need help getting them off in this situation. He swallowed dryly and steadied himself before returning to Ron’s bed.

Ron was hunched over and staring at the floor. Harry squatted in front of him and whispered, “I’m going to help you get some fresh clothes on. Is that alright?” Ron just nodded at him, still avoiding his eyes.

Harry started by peeling off Ron’s jacket. It was so stiff he was surprised Ron had been able to move at all. His sweater was easier to remove but his jeans were nearly as difficult as the jacket. He had to have Ron lay back on his bunk so he could pull them off from the ankles. He picked up the frozen articles of clothing and gave Ron a hand back up to sitting.

“Can you manage the rest?”

“Yeah,” Ron said softly. “Thanks.”

Harry nodded and squeezed Ron’s shoulder before taking the clothes over to the wood stove. He hung them carefully and slowly on the drying rack. With any luck, they would be dry and warm by the time they packed up again. He dawdled a little longer than necessary to give Ron time to finish getting dressed.

Harry grabbed an extra blanket on his way back. Ron was already lying down with his back to Harry but he rolled onto his back when Harry placed the blanket over him.

Ron pulled the blanket up to his chin and thanked him quietly.

He was finally looking at Harry. Ron was lying down. Harry was standing. Ron was in the more vulnerable position but somehow Harry was still afraid. He was afraid to say it but he knew it had to be said.

“It’s not true.” He forced himself to keep looking at Ron as he said it.

Ron seemed to relax a little. “I know.”

They watched each other for a bit longer and it wasn’t uncomfortable. Ron eventually rolled back over onto his side facing away from Harry. Harry stood there for a while, a bit worried that if he stopped looking and went to sleep, Ron wouldn’t be there when he woke up.

But Harry was still stiff and cold himself and it was time to wake up Hermione for her watch so he could get some sleep. When he woke her he was careful to make sure she wouldn’t catch sight of Ron’s sleeping form. When she was safely outside he allowed himself to relax and collapse onto his bunk without even changing. He rolled onto his side facing Ron and watched the other boy’s steady breathing for a long while before falling asleep himself.

-

Harry was rudely awakened before he wished to be by Hermione’s screeching accompanied by violent thumps and pained grunts. He jumped out of his bunk, quickly realizing what was going on.

“Hermione! Get off him!” Hermione was thumping a cowering Ron with a pillow. She ignored Harry’s plea and continued to rant at Ron.

“You come back here after weeks - weeks - and all you can say is ‘sorry’? Harry has been worried sick! Some state you left him in! But you don’t care about that, do you! Do you!”

Harry decided it was time to physically intervene. He dashed forward and grabbed Hermione’s right arm which he could see was reaching for her wand. “Hermione, please, let him explain-”

“Don’t tell me what to do Harry Potter!” She wrenched her arm away from him and pulled out her wand. Harry jumped in front of Ron with his hands held up to her. “Harry, move !”

“Hermione, stop! Ron just saved my life!” Hermione didn’t lower her wand but she was listening now.

“What? When? How?”

“Last night. It’s a long story. Would you like to hear it proper?”

Hermione pursed her lips. She lowered her wand but kept glaring at Ron.

“Fine. Go on then.”

Harry let out a breath of relief. “Okay, let’s sit down. I don’t even know the whole story yet and I’d like to be comfortable when I hear it.”

As he said this Harry sat down on Ron’s bed. He gestured for Ron to do the same and Ron accio ’d a chair for Hermione to sit on in front of them.

“So,” Harry said. “Ron, I think you should start since even I don’t know your side of the story yet.”

Ron agreed and began telling them what happened to him after he disapparated that night. He had a run in Snatchers, people rounding up Muggleborns and blood traitors to bring to the Ministry for a reward. There had been a scuffle and Ron had managed to escape with his wand and one of their own. But by the time he got back to where he had left Harry and Hermione, they were gone. He had no idea how to find them again so he ended up going to stay with Bill and Fleur at their new home.

“How did you find us in the end?” Harry asked when he reached this part of the story.

Strangely, Ron blushed at the question.

“Er, with this.” He pulled something out of his pocket, and Hermione leaned forward with interest, apparently too curious to remain angry.

“The Deluminator?” Hermione asked.

“It doesn't just turn the lights on and off,” said Ron. “I don't know how it works or why it happened then and not any other time because I've been wanting to come back ever since I left. But I was listening to the radio really early on Christmas morning and I heard ... I heard you.”

He was looking at Harry now.

“You… heard me on the radio?” Harry asked, confused.

“No, I heard you coming out of my pocket. Your voice,” he held up the Deluminator again, “came out of this.”

“What was I saying?”

“You said my name. And something to do with a wand…”

Harry swallowed. It was the first time he had said Ron’s name since he left. Hermione had been telling him about his broken wand after leaving Godric’s Hollow, apologizing and telling him she would find a way to repair it. He had said ‘Ron’s wand never the same again after he broke it. He had to get a new one.’ He had been too upset to bring Ron up before then.

“So I took it out,” Ron went on, looking at the Deluminator, “and it didn't seem different or anything, but I was sure I'd heard you. So I clicked it. And the light went out in my room, but another light appeared right outside the window.”

Ron raised his empty hand and pointed in front of him, his eyes focused on something neither Harry or Hermione could see.

“It was a ball of light, kind of pulsing, and bluish, like that light you get around a Portkey, you know?”

“Yeah,” Harry and Hermione said in unison.

“I knew this was it,” said Ron. "I grabbed my stuff and packed it, then I put on my rucksack and went out into the garden. The little ball of light was hovering there, waiting for me, and when I came out it bobbed along a bit and I followed it behind the shed and then it ... well, it went inside me.”

“Sorry?” said Hermione. Harry was too captivated by Ron’s story to ask any questions.

“It sort of floated toward me,” said Ron, illustrating the movement with his free index finger, “right to my chest, and then -- it just went straight through. It was here.” He touched a point close to his heart. “I could feel it. It was hot. And once it was inside me, I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew it would take me where I needed to go. So I Disapparated and came out on the side of a hill. There was snow everywhere....”

“We were there,” said Hermione. “We spent two nights there, and the second night I kept thinking I could hear someone moving around in the dark and calling out.”  

“Yeah, well, that would've been me,” said Ron. “Your protective spells work, anyway, because I couldn't see you and I couldn't hear you. I was sure you were around, though, so in the end I got in my sleeping bag and waited for one of you to appear. I thought you'd have to show yourselves when you packed up the tent.”

“No, actually,” said Hermione. “We've been Disapparating under the Invisibility Cloak as an extra precaution. And we left really early because as I said, we'd heard somebody blundering around.”

“Well, I stayed on that hill all day,” said Ron. “I kept hoping you'd appear. But when it started to get dark I knew I must have missed you, so I clicked the Deluminator again, the blue light came out and went inside me, and I Disapparated and arrived here in these woods. I still couldn't see you, so I just had to hope one of you would show yourselves in the end and --Harry did. Well, I saw the doe first, obviously.”

“You saw the what?” said Hermione sharply.

It was here that Harry found his voice again and took over the storytelling. He left out everything that the locket had said to Ron though. That was… personal.

When he was finished and Hermione was done asking questions and had moved on to making breakfast, he asked Ron about the wand he had acquired from the Snatchers. Ron handed it to him, commiserating when Harry told him about his own being broken. Harry shrugged it off. Somehow it didn’t seem so bad now that he had Ron back, and he told Ron as much.

Ron blushed furiously. “Shut it!” he said, but he looked rather pleased which made Harry smile.

“I missed you,” said Harry, and he immediately wished he hadn’t. Ron’s face fell and he looked ashamed again.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I left, mate.”

Harry was glad they were sitting together on Ron’s bed because it made it easy to lean forward and embrace Ron. Harry hugged him around the waist with his face smushed against his chest.

“I forgive you. I’m glad you’re back.”

It was a moment more before Ron found the courage to wrap his arms around Harry’s shoulders, and a moment after that before he laid his cheek on top of Harry’s head. Harry hoped that when he did, it felt as nice for Ron as it did for him. Ron felt so warm and familiar and… big. Harry decided he probably could have stayed like that forever.

But of course, all moments must come to an end, and theirs ended abruptly when Hermione called them to the kitchen for breakfast.

Chapter Text

After speaking with Xenophilius Lovegood, Harry thought he would have lost himself in thoughts of the Deathly Hallows if it hadn’t been for Ron’s guiding presence. They were so tempting, and with the realization that he already possessed two of them and the discovery that Voldemort was searching for the Elder Wand, it was difficult to think about anything else.

Or, it would have been difficult to think about anything else, if Ron hadn’t taken to occupying his every waking thought, both intentionally and indirectly. Harry was already thinking about Ron in a new light after the incident with the locket, but Ron himself was also eager to keep Harry from brooding. He talked to Harry about anything and everything. He told Harry everything he had heard while staying with Bill and Fleur. He told Harry about the underground radio station, Potterwatch, and tried to tune in nightly to no avail. He talked about plans to find the remaining Horcruxes, also to no avail, but his enthusiasm was refreshing and endearing. The only subject he hadn’t yet breached was ironically the only one Harry really wanted to talk about. But his reluctance was understandable and Harry was not inclined to make him uncomfortable by bringing it up.

Harry wasn’t above steering the conversation in that direction though, and finally, his efforts led to a small success.

They were speculating about who could have cast the doe Patronus in the woods that night when Ron suggested Dumbledore. Harry shot this down at once. Dumbledore was definitely dead. He had seen it with his own eyes. Harry further challenged this theory. Why wouldn’t Dumbledore have just shown himself and handed them the sword if it was him?

Ron shrugged.

“Same reason he didn’t give it to you while he was alive? Same reason he left Hermione a book of kids’ stories?”

“Which is what?” asked Harry.

“I dunno,” said Ron. “Sometimes I’ve thought, when I’ve been a bit hacked off, he was having a laugh or—or he just wanted to make it more difficult. But I don’t think so, not anymore. He knew what he was doing when he gave me the Deluminator, didn’t he? He—well,” Ron’s ears turned bright red and he became engrossed in a tuft of grass at his feet, which he prodded with his toe, “he must’ve known I’d run out on you.”

It pained Harry to know that Ron was still beating himself up over leaving. He reached out and grabbed Ron’s hand.

“No,” Harry corrected him. “He must’ve known you’d always want to come back.”

He knew it was the right thing to say. Ron looked up at him and his eyes were bright and his blush had spread from his ears to the rest of his face and down his neck.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes. Harry waited for Ron to speak first, not wanting to ruin the moment.

Finally, Ron pulled his hand back and looked away.

“Harry.” He sounded so small and hesitant, almost like he wouldn’t continue, but he did. “I’m sorry you had to hear all that business with the locket. I don’t really think that. About you and Ginny. I mean, it’s a thought I’ve had but- I don’t really believe it. And I- I’m not angry or- or bitter, you know? You’re my best friend. I just… I just want you to be happy.”

Harry knew all of this of course, but he didn’t say so. He didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what to say. The discussion he had been wanting to have was open before him and now he was lost for words. Ron looked at him to see if he had been listening and Harry just nodded. This seemed to satisfy Ron and he stood up.

“I’m gonna go check on Hermione, all right mate?”

Harry nodded again and watched him go, wondering if he would ever be as brave as his friend had been in that moment.

-

Harry knew of course that he was just prolonging the inevitable, but he was scared. So instead of talking to Ron about it, Harry began expressing himself a bit more subtly.

Then again, subtlety was never his forté.

Having Ron back during such dark and hopeless times was like curling up in front of a wood stove in the dead of winter, a comparison not made lightly, as Harry was experiencing both at that moment.

Harry had gathered all the loose cushions he could find from all corners of the tent and piled them in front of the stove. Hermione had been rather violently startled from her reading when he tapped her on the shoulder and suggested she bring her book to the large nest he had made by the stove, but she had warmly agreed and settled down into the warm cushions easily.

Ron had been fiddling with the radio again when Harry approached him. Harry had asked if Ron wanted to join Harry and Hermione by the stove and had even told Ron he could bring the radio if he wanted, knowing that it was important to him. But Ron had just shut off the radio and smiled at up at him. That had made Harry blush and he hastily grabbed Ron’s hand and pulled him over to his nest and pulled Ron down beside him.

Hermione smiled at them as they sat down and went back to her reading. Harry didn’t want to disturb her by talking with Ron too loudly, but he wasn’t really in the mood to talk anyway. He just…

He just wanted to be close to his friends right now. He wanted to be close enough that he could reach out and touch either of them at any moment if he wanted to. He especially wanted to be close to Ron.

They were close now. Sitting beside each other, staring into the red heat of the wood stove. But Harry wanted to be closer. He also didn’t want to sit when he could be lying down.

Ron was sitting with one leg pulled up, his arm resting on his knee and the other leg out in front of him, toes close to the fire. Harry’s heart jumped when he thought about what he was going to do. But he wasn’t scared.

Harry adjusted himself, pulling his knees up as he leaned towards Ron. He slowly laid down until his head came to rest on Ron’s lap at the top of his outstretched leg. From this vantage point, Harry could see only the length of Ron’s leg and the wood stove beyond his toes. He saw the way Ron’s foot flexed when Harry’s head landed on his lap and he knew that the rest of Ron’s body had stiffened as well. Harry hoped that wouldn’t last long and his prayers were met. Ron wiggled his toes a bit and his foot relaxed once more. Harry smiled.

They stayed like that only for a few minutes before Ron moved the leg Harry was lying on enough to dislodge him. Harry’s heart sank and he began to sit up but Ron’s hand caught his shoulder and guided him back down until his head was in Ron’s lap again.

It was different now. Ron had crossed his legs and was now able to lean forward over Harry. This was… a lot nicer actually. Ron didn’t have to keep leaning back on his hand to stay upright and he kept his hand on Harry’s shoulder. His hand was so big and warm and comforting. Harry let his eyes close.

It was only a short time later that Ron’s other hand rested on Harry’s head. Harry’s eyes flew open. He wondered if Hermione was paying any attention to them and then decided that she probably wouldn’t care and he didn’t really care if she did. He rolled onto his back so he could look up at Ron and was almost surprised to find Ron looking back down at him.

Harry grinned up at him and nudged his head back into Ron’s hand like a puppy looking for a scratch. Ron grinned back shyly and began carding his fingers through Harry’s hair. Harry closed his eyes again and savored it. Ron’s fingers were so gentle and his hands were so big. Harry felt small under their ministrations, but a good kind of small. Protected. Occasionally Ron’s fingers would stray to Harry’s scar. The first time he had seemed hesitant as if waiting for a cue from Harry that it was okay to touch him there. Harry had simply smiled without opening his eyes. It was strange. He had almost expected it to hurt, but it didn’t. It felt… Good. Like Ron was cooling and remedying a hurt that he hadn’t even noticed until it was gone. This couldn’t be true though. Harry hadn’t been experiencing any physical pain from his scar that night. He figured that maybe it was an emotional wound, centered around the physical manifestation of his connection to Voldemort. Whatever the reason, Harry was grateful when Ron continued to touch it periodically.

They stayed like that for a long time. The three of them, relaxed and warm and content for the first time in a long time. The silence was comfortable and companionable. It was broken gently by a quiet yawn from Hermione. She stood up a few moments later and stretched. She tiptoed through the sea of cushions and bent down to place a kiss on the top of Ron’s head and rub Harry’s shoulder.

“Good night,” she whispered. “I’m heading to bed. Don’t stay up too late.”

Harry felt a lump form in his throat and nodded up at her with Ron. He knew she would understand. Hermione knew everything. She understood everything. As she walked away Harry put an arm over his face to hide the tears of affection gathering in his eyes. His heart felt light and as soon as he was able to control his emotional reaction, he lifted his head off of Ron’s lap. Harry sat up enough to turn around to face Ron and physically drag him down to lay next to him. He grabbed the nearest blanket as they went and pulled it over them. The nest was comfortable and Harry didn’t want to leave to sleep in his bunk. He didn’t want Ron to leave either.

Ron lay down easily next to him, watching Harry the whole time, but didn’t reach out to him. Harry didn’t expect him to. Harry was the one making the moves here. He had to be. Ron didn’t know how Harry felt. Ron didn’t want to make Harry uncomfortable. So if Harry wanted to… cuddle… he was going to have to be the one to make it happen.

They were lying on their sides, facing each other with Harry’s back to the wood stove. The stove cast a warm glow over Ron’s features in the dark. Ron looked down, avoiding Harry’s eyes. He looked so shy in that moment.

“Ron,” said Harry, softly. Ron looked up at him and Harry smiled. Harry wiggled closer to Ron until his forehead touched Ron’s chest. He bit his lip and suppressed a giggle when he heard and felt Ron’s breath catch. Harry’s arms were tucked between their bodies, his hands beneath his cheek. He breathed deeply and waited. It was Ron’s turn.

Harry was nearly asleep when Ron finally wrapped his arm around him. Harry was alert immediately. He turned over, grabbing Ron’s hand as he went so Ron wouldn’t pull away. Harry pressed his back into Ron’s chest, snuggling close. He hugged Ron’s arm to his own chest and continued to hold Ron’s hand with both of his. Ron didn’t seem as hesitant with Harry facing away from him and pressed his nose into the back of Harry’s head.

Yes… that was nice. Ron was curled up so close behind him. His arm over Harry’s waist felt protective and comforting. His breath on the back of Harry’s head felt warm and intimate. Ron’s height was an advantage in this position. He could curl up around Harry so easily, make him feel so small.

It was no time at all before Harry fell asleep again.

-

Harry woke the next morning to find Ron clinging to his side. Harry was lying on his back among the pillows and cushions with one of Ron’s arms wrapped tightly around his waist and one of his legs hopelessly tangled with both of Ron’s. Ron was curled up on what would have been his side if he hadn’t been leaning towards Harry. As it was he was closer to lying on his stomach. His other arm was sprawled out beside his head. Ron’s face was smushed against Harry’s shoulder and a wet patch of drool had formed on Harry’s shirt. Rather than disgusting him, the drool endeared Ron to him. Ron’s mouth partly open, his cheek squished, his hair all mussed. Harry felt something light bubbling up inside of him and it came out as a slow, gentle kiss placed on the top of Ron’s head. Harry lifted his hand to card through Ron’s bed-head.

It was a little strange. Harry had been so content last night, feeling small and protected in Ron’s embrace. He had felt taken care of. He had liked it immensely. He hadn’t considered what it might feel like to be the protector. With the war going on, he had been forced into the role of leader and protector. Logically Harry thought that he shouldn’t enjoy that role with Ron. But it was different somehow. It wasn’t forced. Ron hadn’t asked or told Harry to take care of him. He hadn’t forced the responsibility onto Harry. Harry had simply woken to find Ron in a vulnerable position and had felt the protectiveness surge up in him.

Harry was perfectly happy to lie there until Ron woke up. In fact, there was no way in hell he was going to move before Ron woke up. Harry placed another kiss to Ron’s forehead and settled back in, hand still stroking Ron’s hair absently. Harry closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, and Ron’s breathing, and the sound of Hermione waking up and going to make breakfast. Ron was sure to wake up to the smell of coffee that would fill the tent in the next few minutes.

Sure enough, five minutes later, Ron began to stir. Very slowly at first, then more quickly as his nose began to perk up. Then he abruptly stiffened.

Harry was prepared for this and patted Ron’s shoulder in the friendliest manner he could muster.

“Morning. Hermione’s up, making breakfast. Did you sleep well?”

Ron relaxed slightly and pulled his arm back to himself. He rolled away from Harry and onto his back before speaking.

“Er, yeah.”

Harry looked over at him and was amused to see that Ron was bright red from neckline to hairline.

“Really well,” Ron elaborated. Ron seemed to get redder if that was possible. “Er, you?”

“Fantastic. Best sleep I’ve had in months.” And it really had been. He hadn’t had a single nightmare. He couldn’t remember having even a dream. Perfect, undisturbed sleep, from the moment he lay down next to Ron to the moment he woke up with Ron’s arm across his torso. Harry grinned at Ron. He thought Ron’s head might explode if he blushed any harder. Ron managed to grin back though.

Harry stretched as he stood up and offered a hand to Ron. Ron accepted and Harry made a show of struggling to help Ron to his feet.

“Lay off the foraged mushrooms mate! You’re putting it on!”

Ron grimaced. “Never mention mushrooms again or I’ll be sick on your shoes.”

Harry laughed and pulled Ron towards the kitchen, tripping over cushions as they went.

“Not to worry, Hermione is making snow soup for breakfast.”

Ron chuckled. “At least we have coffee. The only reason I haven’t offed myself yet on this little camping trip,” he said as they entered the kitchen.

Hermione stood by the stove with her hands on her hips.

“Are you boys criticizing my cooking again? I could let you go hungry you know.”

Ron grinned. “You wouldn’t.”

Hermione's mouth twitched in an aborted smile as crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t test me, Ronald Weasley!”

“But you love tests!” Ron pointed out.

Harry covered his mouth and began to giggle helplessly. Ron looked rather too pleased with himself at that. Hermione rolled her eyes at them exaggeratedly and turned back to the stove with a “hmph!”

Harry and Ron sat down at the small table to wait for breakfast. Harry was still giggling and couldn’t seem to reign it in. Ron smirked at him bemusedly until the giggling slowed down.

“You’re in a good mood.”

Harry shrugged and placed his chin on his hand. “Good company,” he said with a smile.

Ron blushed a little again.

“I don’t know what you mean. Hermione’s a right pain in the-”

“Don’t finish that sentence unless you’d like me to give your share of eggs to Harry. He could do with a bit more meat on his bones.”

Ron perked up. “Eggs?”

“A delicacy I know,” said Hermione dryly as she set a plate in front of Harry. She withheld Ron’s. “What do you say?”

“Please?” Ron said hopefully.

“And?” Hermione waved the plate under his nose.

“Thank you?”

Hermione snorted and placed the plate in front of Ron. “Close enough. Though what I was looking for was more along the lines of ‘Hermione, what would I do without you and your wonderful cooking?’”

“Hermione, what would I do without you and your wonderful cooking?” Ron said around a mouthful of eggs.

Hermione made a disgusted noise. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Ron grunted and continued shoveling eggs into his mouth.

Harry finished his mouthful before speaking to avoid Hermione’s wrath. “Thank you, Hermione. This is really delicious.”

Hermione flushed with pride. “You’re welcome.”

Harry was only halfway done with his breakfast when Ron finished. Ron immediately stood up and went over to Hermione who was standing to eat her own eggs by the stove. Harry watched him hug Hermione and thank her quietly. Hermione patted his back and said, “Oh hush.”

“Let me know when you guys are finished. I’ll do the dishes,” said Ron with a small smile and then he left the kitchen.

Harry grinned at Hermione. She looked a little flustered by the exchange. She picked up her plate and came to sit by Harry at the table.

She picked at her eggs for a few minutes before speaking.

“You’re good for him,” she said without looking up.

Harry was finished with his breakfast now but pretended to pick at it a bit more. “He’s good for me.”

“Yes.” She continued to frown at her eggs.

“Er… is that a bad thing?” Harry asked.

She looked up in surprise.

“Oh! No of course not! I’m sorry, I’m just… trying to figure this out. Can you explain it to me, Harry? It’s just, the last I knew you were still with Ginny…”

Harry’s stomach dropped. “Oh.”

Hermione stared at him, waiting patiently for an explanation.

“Er, me and Ginny, we’re… not really together anymore.”

“Not really?”

Harry looked down at his plate. He did not want to have this discussion. But he knew he had to. And better with Hermione than Ron.

“We broke it off. During the summer, when we were preparing to leave. We did break up. We’re not together anymore. But I think there was that assumption that we would get back together when this is all over.”

He could feel Hermione’s eyes burning into the side of his head.

“But you don’t want to? Get back together that is?”

“No. Obviously not. But it’s not like I can explain that to her. I can’t see her or send her a letter. I feel so guilty about it. But Hermione,” he looked up at her, “I want to move on. How can I move on without telling her? But at the same time, I don’t even know when I’ll see her next. It’s not fair to her for me to move on, but it’s not fair to me to feel like I can’t. Is it?”

Hermione puzzled over this for a minute.

“Honestly, you seem to have a clear understanding of the situation and I don’t think there’s much I can do to help. I think you’re right though. Either way, it’s not fair. Whichever you choose, one of you is going to suffer a bit. And Harry, I know you don’t want to hurt her, but sometimes you just need to do what’s best for yourself.”

Harry nodded. He hadn’t really thought of that.

“But that’s not all,” said Harry. “I’m afraid of how Ron will react. If I decide to wait, Ron would probably be okay with it. But by then… I don’t know. I may have waited too long and Ron won’t…” he trailed off. Hermione waited for him to continue.

“But if I decide to move on now, Ron might be angry with me for dropping Ginny. For the pain it will cause her in the future when she finds out. And then it would be for nothing. My reason for moving on would be gone and I’ll have ruined everything for nothing.”

Hermione looked upset now. “Ah… yes, that does make it more complicated.” She nibbled at her bottom lip. “I’m going to think about it and see if I can help, okay? Just… give me a while. I’ll let you know when I think of something.”

Harry sighed. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Go. Tell Ron to get in here and clean up.”

-

Harry had put away his nest of cushions after breakfast that morning. He didn’t really want to, but he knew they couldn’t do that every night. Well. They could. But he was sure Ron and Hermione wouldn’t want to.

So it was that he climbed into his bunk that night with a heavy heart. No Ron to snuggle up to tonight. He would manage.

He thought he could manage.

The nightmares were back. No Voldemort in his head tonight. Just the horrors of his past, back to haunt him. He cried, thrashed, yelled out names. He couldn’t stop it. He could never stop it.

Then it stopped.

Harry woke suddenly to Ron shaking his shoulder and saying his name urgently. Harry felt the tension from the nightmares drain out of his body. He was drenched in cold sweat and was starting to shiver. Ron didn’t hesitate to lift his blanket and slide into the bed next to him. Harry rolled onto his side and pressed his face into Ron’s chest. Ron wrapped his arms around Harry’s back and pulled him in closer. Harry kept his hands tucked between them until he stopped shivering, then he pulled one arm out to place his hand on Ron’s side, fingers clutching at his shirt.

“Thank you,” Harry mumbled into Ron’s chest, words muffled.

Ron responded by stroking his back and he didn’t stop until Harry had fallen back into a mercifully dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

In the following months, Ron and Harry curled up together at night more often than not. They didn’t talk about it during the day but they also didn’t act like it didn’t happen. More than once Harry thought Ron was going to say something, but the moment would always pass in silence or turn towards the war. Harry wished Ron would say what was on his mind, but Harry was following Ron’s lead now, and as long as Ron kept quiet, so would he.

It was late March and Harry was beginning to get impatient for Ron to just spit it out when Ron finally spat it out. They had left Hermione to her studyi ng in the tent and gone for a short walk along the small cliffs they were camped out on that day. They were sitting down on the edge with their feet dangling in open air when Ron spoke.

“Remember the morning after the first time we slept in front of the wood stove?” Ron asked.

The sudden question took Harry by surprise and it took him a minute to answer. “Yeah.”

“Hermione made eggs for breakfast. I offered to clean up. I left you two to finish eating.”

Harry nodded, unsure of where this was going.

“Well I- I didn’t really completely leave. I sort of eavesdropped. I didn’t mean to but I just heard Ginny’s name and I couldn’t stop listening.”

Harry swallowed heavily. This was not what he was expecting. He had expected Ron to just… say something about all the cuddling. Or something. Not this. Harry wasn’t ready for this. He couldn’t find his voice.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I didn’t really know how I felt at first. Because Ginny’s my sister. And I don’t want her to be hurt. But… you’re my best mate. I don’t want you to get hurt either. I know it’s a crap situation, and there’s really no right way to get through it. So what I’m trying to say is that I think you should do what you need to do. What’s best for you.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly. He felt relieved but also slightly disappointed. He thought Ron was going to talk about them .

Ron turned to look at him with a small smile. “That’s not even the hardest part for me to say, mate. Give me a minute. I’m not done.”

Ron turned away again and Harry waited. And waited. It seemed like an eternity of silence before Ron spoke again.

“This is hard for me to say even though I know that you know. Or maybe because I know you know. And because I’m not sure how you feel, even though it seems obvious. But what if I’m wrong, you know? This isn’t something I can just take back. Once it’s out there, it’s there forever. And no matter what happens, everything will change. And as much as I want it to change, I also don’t. I want us to still be us. Best mates. Forever. Fuck I’m rambling. Fuck. Sorry.”

Harry’s heart was pounding. He reached out and held Ron’s hand to support him. Harry knew how hard this was for Ron. Harry recalled the locket and Ron’s fears. He squeezed Ron’s hand to encourage him.

“I don’t even know how to say it without it sounding silly,” Ron said with a snort.

“It won’t sound silly to me, however you say it,” Harry assured him.

Ron took a deep breath.

“I like it when we’re close. You know, like we have been since that morning. At night, sleeping in each other’s beds.” Ron’s face nearly matched his hair, and Harry was sure his would too if he had Ron’s complexion. “I love to hold you, and stroke your hair, and,” he nearly choked, “kiss your head.”

Harry thought he might burst. “Anything else?” he whispered.

Ron nodded shakily. “I like to hold your hand,” he said, glancing down at where their hands were clasped. He adjusted his grip so their fingers were interlaced.

“What do you want?” Harry asked.

“I want to take care of you. I want to be on your side. I want to be with you forever.” He leaned closer to Harry’s face. “I want…”

Harry made a soft questioning noise.

“I want to kiss you.” Harry could hear Ron’s breath quickening. “Can I?”

Harry nodded. “Please.”

Ron didn’t get any closer. “I’m scared.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m not ready.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

Harry leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Ron. He rested his chin on Ron’s shoulder as Ron’s arms wrapped around him. “It’s okay.”

“I love you.”

Harry felt hot tears gathering in his eyes. It was so like Ron, to be able to say that, but not be able to kiss him. It was so genuine and wonderful and-

“I love you too.”

They sat there for a while longer, each savoring the other’s words and embrace.

Ron broke the silence with, “So, can I sleep with you tonight?”

Harry laughed. “Of course.”

-

It wasn’t two days after that talk that they slipped up and were captured by snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor. It was then that everything seemed to speed up. Dobby helped them escape Malfoy Manor with Ollivander, Griphook, Dean, and Luna to Bill and Fleur’s house, but not before Bellatrix Lestrange killed him. Harry dug a grave for the elf with Ron’s help and did not hide his tears.

It was at Bill and Fleur’s place, Shell Cottage, that they started planning to break into Gringotts to steal a Horcrux from Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault. After two weeks of meticulous planning with help from the goblin, Griphook, they were ready.

The break-in was nearly disastrous, what with losing the Sword of Gryffindor to Griphook, but they managed to escape on the back of a blind old guard dragon. They flew for hours and hours. When the dragon finally began to descend, they jumped off into a lake. They swam to the nearest shore through thick reeds and mud. When they finally caught their breath, Hermione spoke.

“What’ll happen to it, do you think?” she asked, staring after the retreating dragon. “Will it be alright?”

“You sound like Hagrid,” said Ron. “It’s a dragon, Hermione, it can look after itself. It’s us we need to worry about.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well I don’t know how to break this to you,” said Ron, “but I think they might have noticed we broke into Gringotts.”

There must have been something in the water because once they began laughing they couldn’t stop for a long while. They clung to each other and wiped tears of mirth from their eyes.

It was a lovely carefree moment among dark days, but it couldn’t last.  Abruptly Harry’s scar seared with pain and he immediately found himself trapped in Voldemort’s head. He was angrier than Harry could ever remember him being before, raging and killing anyone who dared to speak to him. But under the outward rage, Harry could feel the panic and fear that Voldemort was feeling. He knew. He knew that they knew about the Horcruxes and that they were already well on their way to disposing all of them. Voldemort ran through the list of Horcruxes. Harry focused intensely. Hogwarts. The last one was at Hogwarts according to Voldemort’s fear-addled mind. As Voldemort left to check on the other Horcruxes, one by one, Harry forced himself back into his own body.

Harry opened his eyes to find Ron and Hermione bending over him, eyes wild and fearful. As soon as they saw he was awake, Ron helped him sit up and kept an arm around his shoulders and Hermione demanded to know what Harry saw.

“He knows. He’s checking on the other Horcruxes now. We don’t have much time. The last one is at Hogwarts. We need to get there before he does. We need to go now .”

“B-but we don’t have a plan!” Hermione looked terrified. “How will we get into Hogwarts - “

“We’ll go to Hogsmeade and figure it out from there,” Ron said firmly, placing a comforting hand on Hermione’s shoulder. She nodded shakily and stood up.

Harry still felt a bit weak from the vision and Ron and Hermione gave him a hand up. Hermione pulled the invisibility cloak out of her handbag and put it over the three of them. They held hands and turned on the spot, disappearing from the lakeside.

-

Their re-appearance in Hogsmeade was eventful. They immediately triggered an alarm, alerting Death Eaters to their presence. They slowly made their way to an alley beside the Hog’s Head, sure to keep the invisibility cloak covering their toes. Soon after they felt the chill and despair of nearing Dementors. Knowing that casting a Patronus would give them away, they tried to disapparate. They were unable to. The Death Eaters must have warded the area against disapparition. Realizing they had no choice, Harry cast a Patronus. Of course, the Death Eaters immediately recognized it and began to approach the alley. At that moment a door opened in the alley and the old barman ushered them inside. The man convinced the Death Eaters that they were mistaken and that the Patronus they had seen was his and it was a goat for crying out loud, not a stag! The Death Eaters eventually relented and left the man alone.

As it turned out, the barman was Aberforth Dumbledore. He had a great many secrets and pieces of information that explained many of the puzzling things they had encountered in the last few months. And as interesting as Aberforth’s criticisms of his brother were, they just didn’t have time for them at the moment. Harry asked Aberforth if he knew of a way they could get into the castle undetected. Aberforth was reluctant to help them but he spoke to the portrait of his sister above the fireplace and said: “You know what to do.”

The girl walked back into her portrait, along what seemed to be a long passage until a light appeared far at the other end. Then she began to walk back towards them, this time with someone else in tow.

It was Neville, looking worse for wear but delighted to see them.

“I knew you’d come! I knew it, Harry!”

-

Neville explained what they would find on the other end of the tunnel before they entered. That it was where the students were hiding to get away from the Carrows, the Room of Requirement.

Harry realized with a jolt that this meant he would be seeing Ginny very soon. Much sooner than he had cared to think about. He caught Ron’s eye as they stepped into the passage. Ron nodded.

“You guys go ahead. I have to talk to Harry real quick. We’ll catch up in a minute,” Ron said to Neville and Hermione.

Neville was reluctant, but with a small push from Hermione, he continued onward.

Ron sighed. “This is so not the time.”

“Will there ever be a time?”

Ron smiled bitterly. “No. And that’s why we need to do this now. Real quick though.” Ron gently took Harry’s hand. “Let’s walk and talk.”

They followed Neville and Hermione at a much slower pace.

“Ginny is going to be there,” Harry said quietly.

“I know, mate.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I honestly don’t know what you should do either. We’re not going to have time for a lover’s spat. And you won’t want to talk about it in front of all those other people anyway.”

“No. Definitely not,” Harry confirmed. “I need to tell her without actually telling her.”

“She’s smart. She’ll figure it out.”

“Yeah.”

They fell into silence. Ron began to gently swing their hands together as they walked. Harry could feel the heat rising in his cheeks. It was such a nice feeling, holding Ron’s hand. He only wished they could be walking by the lake on a Sunday afternoon, instead of walking a dark corridor with unknown horrors at the end.

Harry leaned into Ron’s side and Ron let go of his hand to wrap his arm around Harry’s shoulders. Harry’s own arms found their way around Ron’s waist as they continued to walk forward.

They continued in silence until they were close enough to the end to see that Hermione and Neville were patiently waiting for them. Then they stopped and turned toward each other.

Harry could see Hermione and Neville turn away out of the corner of his eye. He silently thanked them for their tact.

Harry still had his arms wrapped around Ron’s waist and Ron now had both of his wrapped around Harry’s shoulders. Harry leaned forward into Ron’s chest and breathed deeply. Ron raised a hand to stroke the back of Harry’s head.

“I love you,” Harry said, voice muffled against Ron’s shirt.

Ron kissed the top of his head. “I love you, too.”

Harry squeezed tighter. He didn’t want to let go. He didn’t want to go look for the next Horcrux. He wanted to pretend he had nothing to be afraid of. No Voldemort. Just Ron and Hermione, and everyone he loved. No danger. No death.

“Harry.”

Harry looked up at Ron at the sound of his name. He could see in Ron’s eyes that he was thinking along the same lines as Harry. He didn’t want to let go.

Ron leaned down and Harry instinctively rose up onto his toes to reach. Their lips met very softly, only for a few seconds, but it was so warm. Harry couldn’t recall ever feeling so light and warm. He didn’t realize he had started crying until Ron wiped away Harry’s tears with his sleeve. Ron smiled down at him and Harry could see that his eyes weren’t so dry either. Harry reached up and returned the favor.

Ron grabbed his hand again and said, “Ready?”

Harry nodded and they walked forward to meet Hermione and Neville. Harry tapped Hermione’s shoulder and said, “Ready.”

She turned quickly and pulled Ron and Harry into a crushing hug, which they returned in earnest.

Neville waited until they finished, said, “Brace yourselves,” with a smirk and then opened the portrait into the Room of Requirement.

-

Nothing could have prepared Harry for the cacophony of cheers and yells and whoops and hollers that came when they stepped out into the Room of Requirement. Especially not after such a quiet and emotional moment.

There were many yells of “Harry!” and “Potter!” and “Ron!” and “Hermione!”

It seemed as if almost the entire school with the exception of most Slytherins was present. Harry, Ron, and Hermione received claps on the back, handshakes, and hair ruffles. They were jostled around, from student to student, everyone wanting to take a turn to ask if the rumours were true. Sooner than Harry would have liked, he found himself jostled into Ginny. His mouth went dry.

“Hey.”

“Hello,” she replied cautiously.

Harry quickly made a decision. “It’s good to see you.”

Ginny nodded. Harry pulled her into a hug. He waited until she hugged him back to speak softly into her ear, so no one else would hear.

“Friends?” he whispered, before pulling away to look at her face. He wasn’t sure what he saw there but it seemed almost like relief. She smiled and nodded at him. She kissed his cheek before pulling away back into the crowd. Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and caught Ron’s eye from across the room. Ron looked at him questioningly and Harry grinned at him. Ron grinned back enthusiastically.

When the excitement finally died down a bit, Harry began explaining, in the vaguest of terms, why they were there. He explained that they were searching for an item in the castle that they were quite certain belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw, but they had no idea what the item actually was.

At this point Ginny approached him again, this time pulling Luna along behind her.

“Luna?” Harry asked. “I thought you were still at Shell Cottage…”

“I was for a while,” said Luna with a smile. “But I missed Ginny so I came back.”

Harry raised his eyebrows and looked back at Ginny who was red to the roots. She quickly gathered herself.

“Luna is a Ravenclaw and knows about all sorts of things like what you’re looking for. I thought maybe she could help,” Ginny said defiantly.

Luna perked up a bit.

“Have you heard of Ravenclaw’s lost diadem?”