“Yeah?” he answered blearily, trying to remember where he was. Slowly, his mind pictured the battle, dying, the interview with Dumbledore, coming back to life, killing Voldemort, and crawling into bed what seemed like centuries ago. He wondered if this was what Sleeping Beauty had felt like, because he’d never pictured her as downright cranky.
“Are you awake?” Ron’s voice said through what seemed to be a bullhorn to Harry’s tired ears, making him flinch.
“No, Ron, I’m talking in my sleep,” Harry said with a sigh as he tried to burrow back into his pillow. He didn’t want to think about the world yet, about everything that had changed, the people they’d lost. He just wanted to keep sleeping until… well, until he wasn’t sure when.
“Oh,” came Ron’s response with a distinct tinge of disappointment. “Right then.”
Only one thing could possibly have cut through Harry’s desire to run from the world for a few more hours, and that was the realization that came with the sickening thud in his stomach when he remembered Fred was gone and Ron actually needed him. Harry managed to sit up and put on his glasses before Ron left the room completely.
“No, really, I’m up,” Harry called out, stopping him. “Sorry, you know I’m just not much good in the mornings… or is it afternoon?”
“It’s way past midnight,” Ron said, sitting at the end of his canopied bed. “You’ve been out for ages, mate. I wouldn’t have woke you, but I was starting to get a bit worried.”
Harry glanced out the window at the starry sky, still feeling a bit disoriented. Somehow he’d expected the sun to be up, and the darkness pressing against the mullioned glass felt discordant.
“How’s your mum?” Harry asked, noting Ron’s silence.
“Not good,” Ron said, looking at the floor. “Dad took her home hours ago.”
Harry had no idea what to say, so he stayed silent, waiting. For his part, Ron was still engrossed in looking at the rug, but his hands were fisted tightly into the blankets.
“Wasn’t it supposed to be better once this was done? After he was dead and everyone was free again and we could go home?” Ron said suddenly, looking up at him with angry eyes. “Wasn’t that the whole point of this?”
“Yeah,” Harry said quietly. “That’s what I thought too.”
“So when does Fred get to go home?” he asked, clenching his jaw. “Or Lupin or Tonks? Or Colin bloody Creevy, for Merlin’s sake?”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said, not sure what else to say.
“You?” Ron said, and the anger drained out of him as Harry watched. “What have you got to be sorry for?”
“I didn’t save them,” Harry said, a hot stab of regret hitting his heart. “Maybe if I’d figured things out faster they wouldn’t have died.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Ron said, looking almost panicked. “I’m not blaming you.”
“Why not? I’m sure Skeeter will find a way to do it tomorrow,” Harry said, suddenly feeling exhausted again.
“No she won’t,” Ron said automatically, then stopped, tipping his head. “Well, actually, yeah, she probably will, but that’s just Rita Skeeter. She might be an evil harpy with the moral compass of Bellatrix on a bad hair day, but at least she’s consistent.”
Harry couldn’t help snorting in laughter at that. To his surprise, Ron started to snicker as well, and suddenly, inexplicably, they were laughing. Harry knew on some level that it was more about the emotional roller coaster ride they’d been on in the past few days than anything Ron had said, but once they started, neither of them seemed to be able to stop. It was at least a full minute before they caught their breath again, and Ron sighed deeply. He had a look Harry had come to know well after living with him for seven years, one he got when he wanted to say something and couldn’t come up with the words.
“I kissed Hermione,” he finally said, the words seeming completely incongruous to the situation.
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Harry said, fighting down a mild annoyance. “So did half the school as I recall. You weren’t exactly being coy about it what with your hand on her arse.”
“Um, yeah, about that,” Ron said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “Have you ever done something and then immediately realized you shouldn’t have?”
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Ron!” Harry cried, rolling his eyes. “You two have been dancing around each other for nigh on seven years! What, are you afraid you still haven’t come to a realization of your real and true feelings yet or something?”
Ron paused, biting his lip.
“Actually, something like that, yeah,” Ron said finally, suddenly becoming engrossed in the pattern on the coverlet. “See, I figured we might be about to die or summat, and I knew Hermione felt that way, and I thought, well, I might as well make her happy once before we all wind up with Dementors sucking our souls out or being eaten by Nagini or what all. But that didn’t happen.”
“Your great master romantic plan involved one or both of you getting eaten by a snake?” Harry said, staring at his best friend.
“No, not exactly, just, I really didn’t expect to survive the battle, and I figured it’d give Hermione a nice memory to have of me, something to balance out the whole leaving thing,” Ron said, looking at Harry.
“You honestly thought you were going to die?” Harry said, and any trace of joking was gone from his voice.
“Yeah,” Ron said. “Not so hard to believe, is it? I mean, I’d done my bit, served my purpose, and I do have something of a habit of winding up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Harry was stunned by this. He’d always pictured himself as the one most likely not to come home again, not Ron or Hermione, and things had very nearly worked out exactly that way. He’d had no idea that anyone else thought the same thing, and he wondered if Hermione and felt precisely the same way. Maybe each of them had privately thought they wouldn’t survive. It was an odd revelation, the idea that all of them had suffered the identical fear alone even though they were together.
“So… you regret kissing her?” Harry asked, trying to push himself back to the present.
“Yes and no,” Ron said. “I mean, I don’t regret what I was trying to do, but I regret that I’ve got to put her straight on the truth. I don’t want to hurt her, but as much as I tried, I just don’t feel that way. Do you know what I mean?”
Ron looked up at him, his gaze searching out Harry, desperate for something Harry couldn’t quite name. It seemed like a spark jumped between the two of them in that moment.
“I know,” Harry said, not even sure himself what he meant by it.
“Thought you might,” Ron said, giving a little half smile before chewing his lip again as though he was considering whether or not to say something more. “You didn’t go to Ginny after it was over. You just came up here. Why?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said, surprised as he realized for the first time that he hadn’t gone to her in spite of months of fantasies all over the English countryside and the near certainty that she would have finished giving him that birthday present that had been interrupted last July if he’d only said the word. Weirdly, it hadn’t even occurred to him to seek her out. “She was upset, and I guess I thought she was better off with some time alone with your family. I figured I’d have time later, I suppose.”
“We don’t all get that time later, you know,” Ron said, moving just a little closer to him. “Sometimes the only time you get is now.”
Harry looked at him, a hitch in his breath, not quite sure what Ron was going for.
“I made myself a promise back in the Room of Requirement,” Ron said. “I swore that if I got through all of this, I was going to be honest about everything—Hermione, Lavender, you, everything. It was a lot easier to think I was going to keep it when I didn’t think I was going to be around to keep it, though.”
“Ron, please tell me you’re not taking up with Lavender Brown again,” Harry said, a note of desperation in his voice.
“No, not that, though she is a nice girl if you get to know her,” Ron said. “Bit dim though. Still, a promise is a promise.”
“So… what’s there to be honest about then?” Harry asked.
He noticed Ron was pale. Between lack of sleep, grief over his brother, and ravages of the battle, he had plenty of reason to be, but this looked far more like nervousness than anything else. The sheer whiteness of his skin made his freckles stand out more than ever, and his hair seemed to flicker like flame in the light. Harry noticed for the first time it was the same shade as Ginny’s, the color he’d dreamed of for months ,and it had been right in front of him all the time. It was a strange thought, and he didn’t know why it made his heart beat a bit faster or why his fingers suddenly itched to touch it.
And then he was.
He never saw Ron move, and he wondered later if there had even been a spell involved, but his friend was all at once close to him, much closer than he’d ever been, and without another word between them Ron was kissing him, gentle and sweet, his hand cupping Harry’s cheek. Harry didn’t know what made him lift his hands up to the back of Ron’s head and thread his fingers into his hair, and he never questioned why he didn’t draw back in shock or surprise or pure panic. Maybe facing death, Voldemort, and his mother’s first lover all in one day had been enough to kill panic in him forever. Whatever it was, he let himself be kissed, let himself give in and simply not fight anything anymore, not fate or doom or anything else, but just surrender unconditionally to what made sense.
It wasn’t a long kiss, and Ron drew back hopefully, expectantly, watching Harry through half-closed eyes.
“How long?” Harry finally asked.
“Since I knew I was gay or since I sussed out I’m in love with my best friend?” Ron asked.
“Either. Both. You choose,” Harry said.
“I kept trying to prove something with Lavender,” Ron said, “and eventually I realized I wouldn’t have anything to prove if there wasn’t something I was trying to prove, which meant I hadn’t proved anything at all.”
Harry tried to work that sentence out in his head, but he figured he had the general gist of it.
“As for you,” Ron said, ducking his head in embarrassment, “I don’t know. Always, maybe. It just took me a long time to admit it to myself.”
“Oh,” Harry said, not sure what else to say.
“Oh?” Ron asked. “Is that a that’s-the-daftest-thing-I’ve-ever-heard oh or an I’m-mostly-okay-with-this oh or some other kind of oh?”
“I think… I think I’m okay with this,” Harry said. “More than a little surprised, but… Merlin, Ron, this isn’t what I was expecting, but it feels… it feels right, somehow.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Ron said, grinning absurdly, then pausing to sigh. “Ginny’s going to kill me.”
“Nah, you don’t need to worry about that,” Harry said, laughing as he put his hand lightly on Ron’s. “My money’s on Hermione beating her to it.”
Ron laughed again, but a weight seemed to have lifted from his shoulders, something that Harry realized must have been there for a long time as he felt an equal weight slip from his own. This time, it was Harry who kissed him, a sweet, slow moving of lips on lips that made it feel like the earth was spinning in a completely different direction. Neither of them noticed the two ghosts hovering in the corner, giving them a fond look.
“I tell you, Moony, it’s something about that bed,” Sirius said, throwing his arm around Remus. “Had precisely the same effect on me in seventh year.”
Remus smiled up at him, and without another word, they dissolved slowly into ether, leaving the two young men alone to discover together the world they had helped to save.