Title: For Crying Out Loud Rating: NC-17 Pairing(s): Harry/Ron, Ron/OF&MCs Disclaimer: All characters, except for the OCs, which are totally insignificant and my creation, are the property of J.K. Rowling. There are no profits made and the story is for entertainment purposes only. Summary: Ron has found a new set of friends and Harry feels left behind. Warnings: None Author's notes: Thank you to my wonderful Brit picker and beta.
Harry wiped a bread crumb from the corner of his mouth and glanced sideways at Ron, who was playing with his food - some chicken dish with a fancy French name that Hermione had suggested he order. The way that Ron was frowning at the mushroom on the end of his fork gave Harry the feeling that this had been a horrible idea.
Hermione finally broke the awkward silence that had begun once they no longer had the menu to talk about. "Ron, how are things at the joke shop?"
Ron shrugged and stabbed at a piece of chicken.
"Ginny tells me that Neville wants to have a word with you," she said. Ron looked up from his plate, his eyebrows raised curiously. "About your self-erasing ink," she added.
Ron chuckled low in his throat.
"He owled George," she continued, "and George wrote back explaining that it was one of your brilliant ideas."
"Did he really say brilliant?" Ron asked.
"What are you two talking about?" Harry interrupted.
"Ron invented self-erasing ink. You –"
"It's vanishing ink," Ron said. "It takes about three hours to disappear."
Harry thought about it for a moment, wondering what use anyone would have for...
"Oh!" He turned to Ron, laughing. "That's brilliant, mate. I wish we'd had that back at school. Can you imagine what Malfoy's face would've looked like when he handed in a potions essay that was blank?"
"It's not funny, Harry," Hermione scolded. "Someone swapped out an entire class's ink bottles during exams. When Neville went to grade them they were all blank."
"I think it's brilliant," Harry said defiantly.
Hermione tried unsuccessfully to hide her smile. "Well, Neville thought it was funny too. He just wanted to know if there was something he could use to make it reappear. Ginny said that he tried a Revealer, but it didn't work."
"Wait," Ron said and turned to Hermione. "Are Ginny and Neville...?"
"No," she said, shaking her head. "Neville's dating Hannah Abbott. Ginny's dating –"
"Hermione," Ron hissed.
"It's okay, Ron," Harry said. "It's been long enough."
"That's very mature of you, Harry," Hermione said. "Now, what about the two of you? You should really start to date."
Ron's fork clanged onto his plate and he started to cough. Harry handed him a glass of water and thumped him on the back. People at nearby tables turned to stare, looking morbidly hopeful that something exciting was about to happen. They went back to eating once Ron waved his hand, silently gesturing that he was fine.
"I don't think this topic is appropriate," Harry said, glaring across the table at Hermione, who stared back with a phoney look of innocence.
"I think it's entirely appropriate, Harry. It's time to move on."
Ron tapped on the table with his index finger. "Move on? Have you moved on, Hermione?"
Harry recognised the bitterness in Ron's tone as a clear warning sign of a temper flare and he now understood why Hermione had suggested that they meet at a crowded restaurant.
She replied in a much gentler tone, "Ron, you didn't expect me to –"
"Of course, I didn't," Ron snapped and pushed his plate away.
Harry shoved his away as well, in solidarity. He didn't like French food anyway.
:: :: ::
"Why didn't you tell me about the self-erasing ink?" Harry asked as he handed Ron cans to put away on the top shelf of the cupboard.
"It was no big deal. It was an accident, actually. I was trying to improve standard invisible ink so that any old Revealer wouldn't expose it and I mucked it up."
"Obviously not too bad, though, if it's selling."
Ron shrugged. "Who d'you think it is – that, you know, she...?"
"Some boring swot, I reckon," Harry said, handing Ron a can of soup.
Ron read the label on the can. His intense look relaxed and his boyish, devilish smile appeared. "Cock-a-leekie soup, eh, Harry?"
"Shut it." Laughing, he slammed the last can into Ron's palm before moving to the refrigerator to put away the milk and juice.
"You know, she's right, though," Ron said. "We should get out more. All we do is stay home watching the telly or listening to the wireless. I can't remember the last time we had a spot of fun."
Harry frowned as he slid a jar of pickled onions out of the way to make room for the milk. He thought those things were fun. In fact, since Ron had started working with George, and Harry had entered Auror training, he looked forward to those nights alone with Ron with an abnormal eagerness and longing.
Ron shut the cupboard. "Craig told George and me –"
"The new stock boy who George hired. He told us about these Muggle girls that he knows who are just looking for some fun. Craig reckons that George needs to get out more."
"Uh-huh. Oh, your mum left some treacle tart. I could heat it up – if you're hungry?" Harry showed Ron the dish hoping to steer Ron's attention from his bruised ego to his stomach before he took this idea of Muggle women any further.
"Looks good. But wha'd'ya think?"
"The Muggle girls! Want me to tell Craig that we'll meet them this weekend?"
"Oh..." Harry pushed his glasses up higher on his nose and managed a smile despite the feeling of dread festering in his stomach. "Yeah. Okay."
:: :: ::
"Blimey, Harry, does she have a tattoo?" Ron whispered in his ear, the puff of Ron's warm breath sending shivers from his neck to the base of his spine.
'She' leaned over George's lap to grab her drink, and her shirt shifted, showing Harry that she did indeed have a tattoo of black intricate vines across her lower back.
"Yep," Harry said, and took a few healthy swigs of his beer, emptying the bottle, which was soon replaced with another one from the waitress.
The blonde girl sitting across from Ron stood and started to dance next to their table. Ron gawked at her hips as they swayed to the beat.
"I want to dance," she whined, breaking Ron from his trance.
She locked her eyes on Ron, who got a 'who me?' look on his face. Tilting her head, she smiled and giggled. "Dance with me, George's little brother."
Ron leaned over and whispered to Harry, "Do you reckon George is having fun?"
Harry looked at George. The girl with the tattoo was sitting in his lap, whispering something in his good ear that had George grinning like a mad pixie. "Looks that way."
"I'm ready!" Ron said, standing up. The girl smiled and took his hand. Harry watched them move to the dance floor, finding a spot near Craig and his girl.
A petite brunette with breasts that Harry was certain took up half of her total body weight slid into Ron's empty seat. Instinctively, Harry leaned away from her.
"Hi," she said. "Harry, right?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm Harry."
Harry stared at the label on his bottle, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. She sipped her pink drink and tapped her foot in time with the music.
"Fancy dancing?" she asked.
"I, uh, I don't – no."
"Okay," she said dejectedly. She chewed the side of her bottom lip as she stared at him. Harry looked away towards the dance floor. He'd expected to see an awkward and embarrassed Ron; instead he looked quite comfortable moving his hips to the same rhythm as the girl's. Harry suspected that if Ron's hands weren't planted firmly on her arse, he would've looked much more ungainly trying to dance with his arms flailing about.
"You're making a mess," Lucy said, pointing at the pieces of the label scattered on the table that he had picked off the bottle.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"I was joking," she said.
"So you're friends with George and his little brother?"
"Ron. George and Ron. And yes."
"How'd you meet them?"
"Did you know George or Ron first?"
"Ron. He was the first person I met on the train on the way to school."
"Awwww, that's sweet!"
Harry shrugged. Silence fall between them. He ignored her and turned to look at the dance floor. He chewed the corner of his thumbnail as he watched Ron dancing. The song had changed and the new song's beat was sexy and raw - one that dripped lust and throbbed its way into your groin, demanding that you act on your desires. Obviously under its spell, Ron made his move, wrapping his hand in her hair and pulling her flush against him. Just as their lips touched, Harry turned back to his task of completely freeing the bottle from its label.
"You're not very talkative," she said.
"Sorry. It's so loud in here. I can't hear myself think!"
She moved her chair closer to him and Harry stifled the impulse to slide his chair further away and smiled at her politely. She leaned in closer, her breast brushing his arm.
"If you want to talk, we can go back to my flat...it's much quieter there."
"I... er..." Harry picked up his bottle of beer and when he found it empty, he grabbed Ron's and gulped it down until it too was empty. "I don't think I should leave Ron...and George."
"I thought so." She laughed and patted his hand. "It's okay. I understand. I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable."
"It's okay. I can tell. My boss is gay. Oh! He's really cute and rich too. I could introduce you."
"What? I'm not – you think I'm..." He snorted a half-laugh. "I'm not."
"Oh. Really? Sorry, I just assumed."
"Because I'm not interested in you?" Harry asked, annoyed that she doubted his sexuality before her own attractiveness.
"No," she said, winking. "Because of the way you look at your mate. But really it's okay. That bloke standing at the corner of the bar tried to pull me earlier." Behind her Harry saw a shady looking guy standing by the bar and leering at a woman walking by. She stood up and adjusted her shirt to reveal more of her cleavage. "See you around, Harry."
George was looking at him curiously. He heard Ron laughing and turned to see Ron and the blonde approaching, clinging to each other and giggling.
"Wait!" Harry called out. He jumped to his feet so fast that he banged the table with his knee. "Shite!"
Lucy turned around, and Harry wobbled over to her.
"You're wrong," he said. "I'm not – you're dead wrong."
She looked at him sceptically, but with hope. "So you want to go back to my flat?"
"No." He forced himself to smile and ignored the knot of tension in his stomach. "Mine."
:: :: ::
Ron groaned and swore as he rolled his neck and stretched his arms out in front of him. "I hate Christmas! The shop was mobbed today. George's a bloody paranoid tyrant. Won't let Craig near the till, so I have to do it. This is the first chance I’ve had to sit down all day."
Harry grunted in agreement and flopped down on the sofa, still wearing his heavy cloak and scarf. He put both of his feet on Ron's lap. "I'll give you a Galleon if you take off my boots."
"Lazy git," Ron said, but he unlaced both boots, yanked them off, and threw them on the floor. "Your laces are too tight. That's why your feet hurt."
"My feet hurt because I spent all day tracking a black-market dragon trader in the North Lake District with Kingsley."
"Really?" Ron twisted in his seat to face Harry. "You're actually hunting Dark wizards?"
"No, sorry. It was just a training exercise. The black-market dragon trader was Dawlish."
"Oh," Ron said. "I reckon it was still more exciting than working the till."
"That's debatable. At least you were warm." Harry grabbed a pillow and propped it under his head. "It's times like these that I seriously regret giving Kreacher that sock."
"Don't let Hermione hear you talk like that, mate."
It had been the first time in months that Ron had mentioned Hermione during casual conversation. Harry didn't want to make a big deal out of it, so he quickly kept the conversation moving. "We can order take-away. If we yell real loud, we won't have to get up and the delivery bloke will bring it in to us."
"We have to get up anyway to get changed. We can't go to the pub in our robes."
Ron lifted Harry's feet and stood up. "Yeah."
"But I thought you were tired."
"Nothing that a few pints can't fix. So, are you coming?"
"Another Muggle place?"
"I don't think so. I –"
"Oh!" Ron waggled his eyebrows. "Are you seeing Lucy?"
"Lucy! The bird who made us breakfast last Sunday."
"Oh." Harry sat up. "No – not Lucy."
"I don't blame you, mate. She was fit, but why limit yourself to just one? That's what I say."
"Is that why you want to go out – to pull another girl?"
"Nah. Just want to relax and have some fun."
"I had fun last week," Harry said, ripping off his scarf and throwing it on top of his boots.
"Didn't know you had a monthly limit on fun."
"I don't... I'm tired. Auror training is hard."
"Right. Auror training."
"Come on, Ron, you're tired too. We can relax, eat that chocolate cake your mum baked, and watch a movie."
"I've got to get changed. George and Craig are waiting for me."
Harry followed Ron down the hall, leaving him when he stepped into his bedroom and slammed the door with an unexplainable anger. An anger that grew to something unmanageable when five hours and fourteen minutes later, Ron brought home an unseen, but definitely not unheard, woman. Harry listened to them stumbling down the hallway, their drunken whispers louder than normal tones.
"Sssshhhh," Ron hissed. "You'll wake Harry."
"My best mate. He doesn't feel good."
"Mmmm...you feel good though."
Harry rolled over on his side and used the extra pillow on his bed to cover his ears from the sounds of sex coming from Ron's bedroom. Ron was very vocal and loud, praising her and God for everything that she did, so that Harry knew exactly what was going on.
In the morning, Harry waited in his room until he was certain that the girl had gone. He walked into the kitchen, planning to tell Ron off for being so inconsiderate, especially when he wasn’t feeling well, ignoring the fact that he had actually been faking it. But he froze, all of his thoughts disappearing, when he saw Ron standing there, wearing only his boxers.
Ron walked forward, holding out a mug of coffee for Harry to take, and a salty tangy smell filled Harry's nose and shocked to life something primitive in his groin.
Harry hadn't realised that he had been staring at a love bite just above the curve where Ron's neck met his shoulder, until Ron spoke. "Are you all right?"
"Silencing Charm!" Harry blurted out before he ran back to his room.
:: :: ::
Harry slammed his glass of water on the table, some of it sloshing over the side and splotching the white tablecloth. "Hermione, I can't believe that you're condoning this behaviour!"
"I'm not condoning it," she argued. "But is he forcing these women into his bed? Confunding them? Using a dodgy potion?"
"No! Of course not! He'd never...." Harry paused and glared at the waiter who had approached them. The waiter placed the bill in the middle of the table and hurried off.
"Then there's nothing wrong with what he's doing," Hermione continued. "I'm not pleased that he's so sexually promiscuous, but it's not abnormal for a man his age. If it upsets you, why don't you talk to him about it?"
"Right. When?" Harry murmured under his breath.
"What was that?"
"When? I hardly ever see him anymore!"
"Well, I know that it's difficult, but this is what happens. We're adults now. People start to drift apart."
Harry glared at her. "Ron and I are not drifting apart."
She sighed and looked at him with such sympathy that made him even angrier. "Harry, I think you need to get your...you need to make new friends – date."
"I'm dating," Harry snapped before she could continue. "I'm just not fucking every Muggle woman in London. I just don't understand him. What about love? What about a relationship? He just...fucks them!"
Hermione laughed. "Harry, do you hear yourself?"
He did hear himself and he knew how desperate and silly he sounded. He knew that he was a bloke and that he should be slapping Ron on the back and congratulating him rather than pouting and snitching on him to Hermione.
She tilted her head and looked at him with her penetrating stare that had the ability to worm its way deep inside him. He knew that if he followed, it would take him somewhere he wasn't ready to go.
"I have a date tomorrow night," he said, redirecting the conversation. "Catherine from International Cooperation."
"You do have a type," she said simply.
"What does that mean?"
"You don't see the resemblance?"
"You think because she has ginger hair that she reminds me of Ginny?"
"Well, she reminds me of Ginny. Harry, maybe you...oh, never mind."
"I said that I wasn't going to get involved, but...but maybe you ended it too soon with Ginny. I really don't understand why the two of you broke-up. You weren't fighting or anything. I thought that you were happy."
Harry stared down at the water stain on the table. It had bled wider into the cloth. He traced it with his finger trying to remember what he had felt in those days leading up to his break-up with Ginny. He only remembered that he'd worried about Ron being alone.
"Weren't you happy, Harry?"
"I wasn't actually unhappy."
:: :: ::
"This is nice, Harry," Ginny said as he poured tea into her mug. "Things have been so awkward."
He sat down on the sofa, leaving a comfortable space between them. "Yeah, I reckon they have," he said. "I didn't mean for them to be."
She patted his hand. "I missed you. You promised that we would still be friends."
"I did. I'm sorry that I haven't, but...I..." He paused and took a deep breath. "Gin, did you ever wonder if we – I dunno – gave up too soon?"
She looked at him, the shock of the unexpected question apparent on her face. "You're talking about us?"
He nodded and there was a pause that went on for so long that he began to fidget with the small pillow that matched the sofa, twirling it around on his lap.
"You're unbelievable, Harry Potter!" she yelled finally, making Harry flinch and clutch the pillow to his chest. "Of course, I have! But not in months because I wasn't going to sit around waiting!"
"I'm sorry – I –"
She stood up and towered over him. "We! We didn't give up on anything too soon! You gave up and I'm not here for you to use me whenever you're feeling lonely!"
"Lonely? I'm not. I'm –"
"Oh, shut it! We have the same friends, Harry. I know how you just sit at home alone all the time." Harry didn’t know why, but her face softened and she sighed. "I don't want to fight with you. I don't know what's going on in that thick skull of yours, but nothing's changed between us. You know that."
He buried his face in his hands. "I know..."
She sat down next to him, closer this time, and pulled his hands away from his face. "What's going on? You look like shite. Have you been sleeping?"
"No – yes – I mean...Auror training's a lot tougher than I expected."
"I didn't realise. I thought they'd go easy on you."
"I told Kingsley not to. I should be treated like the rest of the trainees."
She shook her head, smiling fondly at him. He blushed because that part had been true. "Maybe Ron's got the right idea. Maybe you need to relax – have some fun. George's been doing so much better since he started going out with Ron." She peered past him down the hall. "Where is Ron?"
"It's a bit early for him to be out on his day off."
A vision of himself sitting alone last night waiting for Ron to come home flashed through his mind. "He hasn't been home since last night."
She stared at him for a moment, looking as if she was in shock before she briskly stood up and grabbed her cloak. Her gloves fell to the floor, and she hastily picked them up and shoved them into her pocket, never looking at Harry. "I have to go."
Harry just sat there, completely confused by the sudden change. She appeared to be angry with him. He couldn't think of what he could've done. He had only mentioned that Ron wasn't home. Had she somehow read his mind or had his face revealed how he felt when he talked about Ron? Did she understand better than him what it meant?
"Ginny, what –"
"You'd better start getting more sleep, Harry. Like I said, you look like shite. I'll have Mum owl you some Calming Draught."
After she had gone, Harry went into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror attempting to recreate what he had exposed to Ginny. He thought about Ron being out all night, what he was doing, and who he might have been with. He didn't gain any insight into what had rattled Ginny, but it did confirm that she was right - he did look like shite.
:: :: ::
By Ron's terms, Harry and Catherine's date had been successful. He woke up when the sun shone through the laces hanging on the window next to her bed. He attempted to dress without waking her, failing horribly when he lost his balance putting on his trainer and slammed his palm against the wall to stop himself from falling. She rolled over, gave him a tiny polite smile, and offered him breakfast. She looked relieved when he declined. He couldn't blame her for wanting to get rid of him. He was certain that his clumsy performance in bed hadn't lived up to her expectations on how the famous Harry Potter should shag.
He stepped out of the Floo into his and Ron's flat. It was Sunday. The shop was closed and he was certain that Ron's customary overnight guest would still be there. Harry walked down the hallway lightly and as he approached Ron's door, he noticed that it was open. Harry looked in. He sucked in a deep breath, and held it as if it would make time stop and allow him the luxury, without the fear of being discovered, to take in the sight of Ron lying on the bed face down, naked. He had seen Ron naked many times, but never like this. And though Ron was uncovered, he looked warm and inviting.
Harry stood there for a few moments, alien emotions stirring inside him as he imagined slipping into Ron's bed, wrapping his arm around his best friend, and burying his face in Ron's bedraggled fiery hair.
Down the hall, the toilet flushed and Harry jumped. He had to pass the loo on the way to his bedroom, so he walked quickly, hoping that he could make it there before the pretty girl stepped out and he'd have to make small talk.
'Fuck' he cursed silently when the door opened. He turned prepared to deliver a polite hello and continue on to his room, but a pretty girl never came out. A tall strapping shirtless bloke, yawning and rubbing his shaved head, emerged. He looked at Harry sleepily, nodded a greeting, and headed down the hallway, while scratching his arse through his briefs.
Harry could only stare after the stranger as he disappeared into Ron's bedroom.
"Oi, morning," a deep voice said from Ron's bedroom. "You didn't tell me your mate was fit."
"Who – what – Harry?"
Ron's voice startled Harry out of his shocked daze and he hurried into his bedroom, where he sat for hours. The emotion he felt was unmistakable. He was jealous – spitting, biting mad, want-to-blast-that-bald-bastard-shagging-his-best-friend-through-a-wall jealous.
He had never thought about Ron that way. Or had he? He had once, he admitted to himself. The night that Ron had saved him by the lake he had dreamed that the hug had turned into a kiss and then something else that best mates weren't supposed to do. In the morning, he had convinced himself that it was just a dream and that he had been meant for Ginny the same way that Ron had been meant for Hermione.
"Things didn't quite work out that way though, did they?" He laughed madly and smacked his forehead. "Great. Now I'm talking to myself."
:: :: ::
"Harry, are you here?"
Ron's voice was just outside Harry's bedroom door. Harry shoved the magazine he'd been holding under the blanket and, just as Ron opened the door, grabbed a book off the bedside table and held it on his lap.
"What are you doing home so early?" Harry asked. Ron opened the door wider and Harry was surprised to see that he was wearing a dark blue robe.
Ron stayed in the doorway, his fingers still circled around the doorknob. "George forgot to mention that we were going to the Leaky Cauldron tonight and not a Muggle club. I came home to put on my robe."
"The Leaky, really?"
"Yeah. George fancies one of the waitresses, Colleen. So d'you want to –"
"No," Harry said, shaking his head and smiling. After all of these months, Ron still invited him.
Ron clutched his robe at his hips and while sighing, rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as if in prayer. "I hope Colleen fancies George too. These are much more comfortable than Muggle clothes and I can use the Floo to get there."
"Those...er, you look nice."
Ron smiled, pink blooming on his cheeks. "Thanks...well, you know where we'll be."
The Floo rattled a few minutes later, shaking their tiny flat. Wanting to be sure that Ron had gone, Harry rushed to the door, opened it, and called out Ron's name. When there was no response, he went back to the bed, pulled the magazine out of its hiding spot, and flipped to the page he had been previously engrossed in.
Two naked wizards, their skin glistening with sweat, stared back at him, looking rather put out that they had to take a break and wait for him to return.
"Well, carry on," he said as he gestured impatiently at the pair of them with one hand and shoved the other into his pyjama bottoms, wrapping his fingers around the erection that hadn't wilted at all during the interruption.
:: :: ::
Harry stepped out of the fireplace into the Leaky Cauldron and brushed off his robe while he scanned the dense crowd for Ron's conspicuous hair. He didn't know why after all of these months he had finally worked up the courage to see if maybe he could be the one that spent the night in Ron's bedroom. Perhaps it was because the judgmental blokes in his magazine were starting to look at him with less seduction and more pity, or maybe it was because he had had a few shots of Firewhisky, but either way, he was there now and he refused to be a coward any longer.
He spotted Ron talking to George and Lee by the windows that faced Charing Cross Road. It was difficult to move through the crowd. Harry turned sideways and kept chanting, "Excuse me." He heard voices talking about him as he passed the bar. "That's Harry Potter!" "He looks different in person." "That's not Harry Potter, you daft cow, he's much taller than that bloke!" "Harry! Oi, Harry!"
The last voice he recognised, and he turned to see Wayne Hopkins waving at him. Standing near Wayne were several other of the Auror trainees.
"Bugger," Harry muttered under his breath, but he put on a polite smile and approached the group.
"We never thought you'd join us," said Lisa Turpin, grinning.
"Oh, you lot come here often?" asked Harry.
"Every weekend," Kevin Entwhistle responded. He thrust a pint of lager in Harry's hand. "This one's on me, mate."
Harry groaned inwardly. It would be rude to turn down the drink. He knew that he'd been distant to the other trainees and Kingsley had been pressuring him to bond with them.
He looked over to where Ron was and decided that he wasn't going anywhere. He'd have one drink, buy everyone a round, and slip away quietly.
But Lisa bought the next round before Harry could get to his money. The crowd was beginning to thin out and Harry was getting impatient, though the alcohol was actually making him feel more courageous.
"I've got the next round," he declared forcefully when Wayne thrust a fresh pint in his hand.
"Having fun are we?"
Harry spun around to see Ron standing there looking very angry.
"Ron!" Harry said happily. "I was just going to buy a round and then come over to see you."
"Really? You've been here over an hour."
"You knew I was here?"
"Of course I did! You're Harry Potter! The whole place was talking about you being here."
"Why didn't you –"
"I didn't want to disturb you and your Auror mates."
Ron's bitter tone shocked him. Harry stared at him, unsure of what to say, but it didn't matter because Ron had turned and stalked back to the corner.
Harry grabbed money out of his pocket and threw it on the bar. "Here, buy yourself a round. I have to talk to Ron."
When Ron saw him approaching, he turned his back and began talking to a witch that Harry didn't recognise.
"Ron!" Harry called out.
"Harry Potter!" George came up next to him and slung a companionable arm around his shoulder. "Are my eyes deceiving me?"
"Hi, George," Harry said. "How are you?"
"Bloody fucking brilliant!" George exclaimed. "Colleen! Colleen!"
"Oi, Weasley, keep your shirt on!" A pretty girl with honey coloured hair pulled into a long plait came over and smacked George on the arm playfully. "What?"
"Harry, this is Colleen," George said proudly. "Colleen this is the world renowned Harry Potter."
Harry rolled his eyes and smiled at Colleen. "Very pleased to meet you."
"You too," she said and glanced at his scar. He didn't fault her for it. Everyone did it.
"Will you get us another round and one for Harry?"
She nodded and before she could walk away, George bent down and kissed her on the cheek.
The night went on, with more rounds, more people wanting to be introduced to Harry, and Ron still ignoring him. Harry hadn't even realised how drunk he was until Ron put his hand on his elbow and started to push him through the crowd.
"Wha' – what are you –?"
"You're pissed," Ron hissed in his ear. "We're going home. People are staring. Now go quietly, so no one notices."
"I don't care!" Harry said, trying to shake Ron's hand off, but it just gripped tighter.
"You will when there's a picture of you pissed up on the front of the Prophet tomorrow. I overheard people muttering about a camera."
"What do you care? Won't even talk to me."
"Bloody hell," Ron muttered, shoving his hand into his pocket. Suddenly, all of the lights went out and Harry felt darkness suck him in.
"What the hell, Harry? Does everything always have to be so fucking dramatic with you?"
Harry opened his eyes and found himself standing in their flat.
"What's your problem, Ron?"
"Go to bed, Harry."
"What's got your knickers in a twist?"
"Is that supposed to be a joke because I shag blokes? What, I'm a girl now?"
In frustration, Harry put his face in his hands and shouted, "No!" He looked up at Ron. "It's just a saying!"
"You're lying! I see the way you look at me since you found out. You can't even look me in the eye."
"I'm looking you in the eye now," Harry said softly, pleading for Ron to see in them what he couldn't say.
"You're drunk. Go to bed!"
"I'm not that drunk and I asked you a question."
"What do you care? You've got your Auror friends, you don't need me anymore."
This time, because Harry was so stunned, Ron made it across the room. When what Ron had said finally sunk in, Harry acted on instinct and flew at Ron, grabbing his shoulders, spinning him around, and pinning him back into the wall.
"You daft git!" Harry shouted.
"Oh, now you're telling me that I'm stupid. Yeah, that's me – stupid, girly Ron Weasley!"
"Shut up!" Harry bellowed. He grabbed a fistful of Ron's robe and yanked him forward, intending to kiss him, but Ron's closed lips just crashed against his open mouth.
Ron swore and wrenched himself free, his hand covering his mouth.
"O'god, Ron, I'm so s'ry." Harry fixed his glasses that had been knocked askew in his awkward attempt to kiss Ron. "Le'me see! Is it bleeding?"
Ron pulled his hand away from his mouth and looked at it. "No, it's fine." Gingerly, he felt it with his fingertips. "It's starting to swell. What's fucking wrong with you, mate? Have you gone completely mental?"
"No – no, I was trying to kiss you! I wanted – want – want to kiss you."
Ron's jaw dropped and he stared at Harry, not blinking, not moving. Finally he shook his head and laughed. "You're more pissed than I thought you were."
"I'm not...okay, a little, but that's not why I want to...I went to the Leaky looking for you, I wanted to tell you that."
"No, you don't."
"You don't! Ginny told me, Harry. It's okay. I understand."
"Understand what exactly?"
"You're just lonely. She told me that you tried to get back with her."
In his mind, he cursed Ginny and her big mouth. Ron had it all wrong and he had to do something quick. This time he went to Ron. "I want you," he whispered, and leaned forward, kissing Ron gently on his bruised bottom lip. Ron startled, but he didn't move away, so Harry took it further, sliding his tongue along Ron's lips.
"Harry..." Ron's voice was raw, wounded. It broke Harry's heart and he wrapped his arms around Ron's waist and buried his face in the crook of Ron's neck, wanting to comfort him.
"Ron..." Harry whispered in Ron's ear and Ron shuddered in his arms. "I want you."
Ron went rigid. "Stop."
Harry felt anger that had simmered inside him for months finally boil to a breaking point. He pushed off Ron, screaming, "Fuck you, Ron! I can't believe you! You're so needy and desperate that you'll stick your dick in anyone that smiles at you, but you won't fuck me?"
Ron stepped back as if he'd been slapped.
"Ron, I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean that! I was hurt! Please... I just want – "
Ron stormed passed him down the hall to his bedroom as he shouted, "I'm not Ginny, Harry. I'm not – I can't be another substitute!"
:: :: ::
Harry, who had been awake but too hung-over to get out of bed, opened his eyes. He fumbled for his glasses and put them on. Ron was standing in the doorway holding a glass filled with an unappetizing looking green liquid.
Ron walked to the edge of his bed and held out the glass.
Harry sniffed it. It smelled like stagnant water and toothpaste. "What's this?"
"The headache and the queasy stomach?"
"Both. Drink it all."
It tasted like mint and not very pleasing, but Harry trusted Ron and drained the glass. He handed the empty glass back and smiled. "Thanks."
"Ron, shouldn't we talk about –"
"No," Ron said sharply. "Don't make a big deal out of it. You were pissed as a newt."
Harry nodded sadly and let his head fall back onto the pillow. He got it. Ron didn't want him and this was his way of trying not to hurt him.
Ron walked out of the room without another word, leaving Harry lying there with embarrassing memories from the night before, a pain in his heart, and a horrid chalky taste in his mouth.
:: :: ::
"I'm hungry, Mum," Ron whined. "When are we eating?"
"Not until everyone is here. We have to wait for George and Colleen."
"George and Colleen are here," Bill said. "They've been snogging in the garden for fifteen minutes."
"And you just sat there and watched them?" Mrs Weasley asked. "Go get them, Arthur!"
The entire family, sans Mrs Weasley, made rude kissing noises when Mr Weasley escorted the couple into the house. Harry was surprised to see that George was blushing. He looked at Ron, who leaned in close and whispered, "I told you he was in love."
After they were all stuffed to the brim with Mrs Weasley's cooking, Arthur took Harry and Colleen, who was a Muggle-born, out to his shed to show them his new additions to his collection of Muggle gadgets.
"And look at this!" he exclaimed, beaming proudly and holding up a mobile phone. "Someone just threw this away! It's brilliant." He looked back and forth between Harry and Colleen. "What does it do?"
Colleen smiled. "It's a mobile, Mr Weasley. A telephone, but you can use it anywhere."
"Really? Well, that's –"
"Why can't you get it through your thick skull, you tosspot?"
Harry recognised the angry booming voice immediately as George's. He followed Mr Weasley out of the shed and saw George and Ron standing inches away from each other, both looking furious.
"You ungrateful bastard!" Ron yelled, poking George in the chest.
"I don't want you there getting in the way anymore! Colleen's much better at keeping track of the stock and she doesn't ask daft questions all the time."
The sight of Ron's face twisted by the agony of his worst insecurity - that he wasn't wanted - coming true was a horrifying sight for Harry. Seething, he stepped forward, unable to believe that George would really mean all those horrible things he was saying to Ron after all that he had done for the shop.
Mr Weasley grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him back. "Don't, Harry. It's okay."
"What d'you mean, it's okay? George is out of line!"
Mr Weasley smiled. "It's his way of letting Ron off the hook. He doesn't need Ron looking after him anymore."
"Looking after him?" Harry asked.
"It's true," Colleen said. "George is so grateful for everything that Ron's done for him. He tried telling Ron subtly that he can leave, but Ron just doesn't know how to stop worrying about him."
"Get you own life, Ron!" George screamed.
Harry winched. He didn't care what Mr Weasley said. They didn't know the sort of things that went through Ron's mind. They weren't there when Ron had to face the Horcrux.
"Fuck you!" Ron shouted, his face purple with rage. Harry saw him reaching for his wand and opened his mouth to call out to Ron, but it was too late. Ron had disappeared with a pop.
"What are you playing at, George?" Harry stood in Ron's spot now, facing George every bit as angry. "You know how Ron is!"
George had the audacity to look ashamed. "I...Harry, I tried to tell him. I kept hinting that he should talk to Kingsley about, you know, his offer."
"Kingsley offered him what?"
"He didn't tell you, Harry?" Mr Weasley had come up next to them.
"Tell me what?"
"Kingsley was kind enough to offer Ron a spot with the Aurors whenever he wanted it," Mr Weasley explained.
"Yeah," George said, nodding fervently. "The shop doesn't need Ron anymore. He can do what he wants."
"Dammit, George!" Harry couldn't believe someone could be so thick. "To Ron that means that you don't need him anymore!" Suddenly Harry realised that he had been the thickest of them all. What Ron had said about being a substitute all made sense now. "Fuck. Oh... sorry, Mr Weasley. I have to go. Tell Mrs Weasley that I said thanks."
Harry Apparated directly into the flat and searched for Ron, but it was empty. He figured that Ron was somewhere blowing off steam. He checked the Leaky Cauldron and the Muggle pub they had gone to that first night with George and Craig, but Ron wasn't any of those places. He returned home, certain that Ron would be waiting for him. He woke up the next morning, certain that he'd find Ron in his bed. He went to the joke shop the next morning, certain that Ron would be there. He owled Hermione, Craig, Seamus, Luna, and every single one of Ron's friends asking if they'd seen him; he was certain one of them had.
He was so desperate that he started ripping apart Ron's room looking for the Deluminator; certain that it would work for him like it did for Ron, not thinking that Ron would actually have to say his name, when he heard the front door open.
"Ron, is that you?" He ran through the hall and saw Ron standing at the door soaking wet and looking dreadful. The fear that had gripped his heart for a day turned into a blinding seething anger and Harry stormed across the room. "You fucking idiot! I was worried about you!"
"S'ry," Ron mumbled.
"Shut the fuck up, Ron! I've had enough of this shite!" Harry pointed down the hallway. "Get into warm clothes and get some sleep! I have to Floo George, your mum, and everyone else who is worried to death about you."
"You're a git! A wonderfully loyal, but really annoying git, who's thick as a goddamn brick! Your brother, who closed the shop today to look for you, was trying to let you move on, so that you can have your own life. He loves you and –"
"'S'got a funny way of showing it, that one does."
"I said shut it! For crying out loud, Ron, I'm trying to tell you that I fucking love you. I meant every fucking word that I said to you. I want you. You are not a substitute. Now get your arse into bed before you catch pneumonia and die, and then I'll really have to kill you!"
Stunned into submission, Ron obeyed and shuffled down the hall, leaving a trail of water behind him. Harry stood in the doorway, arms folded belligerently across his chest, watching Ron until he dried himself off, undressed, slipped on a warm pair of pyjamas, and slid into bed.
Ron pulled the covers up to his neck and his lips curled up into an embarrassed smile. Harry smiled back in spite of himself and closed the door, hoping that some of his words had finally sunk into Ron's thick skull.
:: :: ::
Harry woke up when the bed dipped. "Ron," he murmured. He attempted to roll over, but a strong warm body pressed against his back, and an arm with pale scars twisting through freckles draped across his waist.
A feeling of contentment washed over Harry. He sighed and melted into the embrace certain that this was all too surreal to be anything but a dream.
"I am a git," Ron whispered in his ear.
"You are," Harry agreed.
Ron chuckled and began peppering his shoulder with feathery light kisses, making Harry's pulse quicken.
"Thick as a goddamn brick too, I hear."
"Yeah," Harry whispered too busy concentrating on Ron's fingers that had pushed Harry's shirt up and were trailing gently through the line of hair on his stomach.
"I must be," Ron said as he rolled Harry over and cupped his jaw in his hand. "If I didn't know...." The light outside the bedroom window shown on Ron's face and Harry could see a tenderness there that made his heart ache.
Harry weaved his hand in the hair that covered Ron's neck and urged him down into a kiss. Ron's lips met his tentatively at first, kissing them tenderly. Harry knew that Ron was savouring it, still unsure that it was real. Harry opened his lips slightly and ran the tip of his tongue over Ron's bottom lip. Harry felt Ron's tongue touch his and he withdrew his tongue, luring Ron's into his mouth. Each time Ron shifted his head, sliding their warm, slippery tongues in a new direction, he filled Harry's mouth with soulful sighs. It felt like a dream, each breath, each gasp, each moan, were like reverent promises that had taken them forever to speak.
The craving for more – more friction, more skin, more Ron – had Harry nearly mad with desire.
Skilfully, barely breaking their embrace, Ron removed his and Harry's clothes, scattering them along the bed. Once naked, both still on their sides, they became a tangle of arms and legs, kissing as much bare skin as possible. Ron's hand held Harry's arse and he began to rock them together with a tranquil rhythm that pushed their cocks together and gave Harry just the right amount of friction to drive him wild, but not enough to push him over the edge. It was bliss, but as the tension mounted in Harry's groin, he became more passionate, more desperate. He was driven to the point of whimpering each time Ron's thigh brushed against his balls.
"Do you have any –"
"Drawer – next – to – bed."
Ron reached backwards, rolling Harry a bit on top of him. He rummaged through the drawer, throwing things on the floor until he made a noise of triumph and rolled them back. He separated them from the hips down and poured a line on Harry's cock, making Harry suck in his breath in anticipation of what was to come.
The lull in the action made Ron pause. He looked at Harry, lust etched into his face.
"What?" Harry asked, feeling a bit exposed and uncomfortable under the scrutiny.
Ron smiled wickedly and wrapped his fingers around Harry's cock, echoing Harry's sound of pleasure as if he had touched his own cock. "Want to watch you come," he replied in a thick husky voice.
Harry closed his eyes, a bit embarrassed that Ron was staring at him, but mostly because Ron's hand sliding along his cock from the head to the base felt fantastic. Ron seemed to know just how to bring him to the edge and back again, over and over, until he was gripping the bedrails with his hand and begging for harder, faster, more.
"Gonna...oh, fuck..." Ron's name stuck in his throat as Harry’s entire body exploded in pleasure.
He needed a moment, just a moment, he told himself, to get feeling back in his limbs before he could continue. Ron's kisses on his stomach revived him and he looked down to see Ron licking the come from his stomach.
"Wanted to taste you," Ron murmured against his skin.
"Oh god," Harry moaned, watching Ron's tongue swirling around his belly button. "You're going to make me hard again."
Ron pulled himself up and hovered over him. "And that's so dreadful, why?"
Harry shook his head. "Not dreadful at all. Ron... I...I'm ready," he said, and rolled onto his stomach, giving himself to Ron.
Offended, Harry propped himself up on his elbows and looked back at Ron. "What?"
Ron ran his hands over Harry's arse, looking at like it was covered in chocolate. It looked like it pained him to say it, but he continued, "It doesn't work like that, Harry."
"I'm quite sure that it does! The blokes in the magazine always –"
Harry groaned at his stupidity and let his face fall into the pillow. He pointed over the side of the bed. Ron leaned over and picked up the magazine that had been Harry's company for months.
Ron snickered. "Wizardz?"
"Shut it. It was research."
"Hermione'd be so proud." Ron threw the magazine back on the floor. "Only these blokes had had loads of practice. Honestly, Harry you're not ready. Trust me on this."
"I can't believe that you're saying no to this."
"I'm not saying no," Ron whispered in his ear, sending shivers down Harry's spine. "I'm saying later. Okay?"
"All right," Harry said glumly.
Ron chuckled and gave Harry a sharp slap on arse, causing him to let out a very unmanly yelp and spin back around on his back.
Ron sat back on his haunches and pointed to his cock. His impressive cock, Harry had to admit. "We still have this to take care of," he said, feigning annoyance.
"One more question," Harry said, taking the piss for a bit of payback for all his worrying. "I get that you were going out all the time to help George adjust to life without Fred, but how did shagging all those people help George?"
Ron frowned. "It didn't. I reckon you were right. I was desperate and needy because –"
"I said that I didn't mean that!"
"I know you didn't, but it doesn't mean that it's not true. I..." Even in the nearly dark room, Harry could see Ron's charming blush. "They were just substitutes..." He looked at Harry and the look was all that Harry needed to know what it was that Ron wanted to say.
Harry sat up, put his arms around Ron's neck, and pressed their foreheads together. "I want you to know that you're not a substitute for anyone. You, Ron Weasley, are an original. The one and only."
"The one and only 'wonderfully loyal, but really annoying git, who's thick as a goddamn brick' I believe were your exact words."
Harry sighed. "What am I going to have to do to make you forget that I said that?" he asked, knowing that he was playing right into Ron's plan.
And Ron took the bait, grabbing Harry's hand and leading it to his cock. "We can start with this."