It started out like any other day: Harry woke up.
The morning sun was slanting into his bedroom at the wrong angle, and Harry was halfway from his bed to the bathroom before he remembered that, in fact, today wasn't like any other day. Disorientated, he turned around.
He found the bathroom (right where he'd left it), and then went to the kitchen, where he made himself coffee and toast, and tried not to think about how different today actually was.
He sat at his brand-new kitchen table and sipped his coffee in silence.
It wasn't quite right.
The coffee, that is. The kitchen didn't feel quite right, either, but that was just because Harry wasn't used to it yet. The window was larger than in his old kitchen, and it faced north instead of east, changing the very texture of the morning.
The coffee, though, was the same as always. Or, at least, it should have been: the bag of beans in the cupboard was one of the few things that Harry had actually brought with him from the old flat. He could afford to stock his kitchen afresh, of course, but Ron didn't drink coffee, so it had seemed silly to leave it for him.
Harry looked down into his cup and wondered if the milk was off or if he'd bought the wrong kind of sugar, and didn't let himself wonder if maybe his morning coffee needed something else altogether, like the muffled sound of an overgrown redhead snoring down the hall, in the flat's second bedroom.
Harry winced as he swallowed a too-large sip, felt it burn bitterly down his throat, and told himself he'd better get used to it.
Because Harry's new flat didn't have a second bedroom, and Harry didn't have a flatmate, red-headed or otherwise.
Living alone was a lot quieter than he'd realised it would be.
So he decided to buy himself a wireless, as he took another sip of his coffee, because today wasn't like yesterday, or the day before that, but it was, Harry knew, a great deal like all the days to come.
It took over an hour, from the time Harry arrived at work, for him to realise just how different today actually was.
It came to him in pieces:
As he stumbled into the Atrium at eight o'clock on the nose, the Floo directly facing his also flared, producing Anthony Goldstein.
Harry smiled and offered a warm but subdued, "Morning, Goldstein."
Anthony's eyes went wide, and he stared at Harry for a long moment. Harry fought the urge to check his zip. "Good morning," Anthony finally said hesitantly, as he blinked his surprise.
Harry frowned. "All right?"
It was another moment before Anthony seemed to snap out of it, and he gave an embarrassed laugh. "Yes, of course. Sorry. Good morning," he said, more emphatically. He gave Harry a strangely put-on sort of smile, and stood there awkwardly, as though he couldn't remember where he had been going.
"Taking the lift?" Harry suggested, gesturing to his right.
Anthony nodded and fell awkwardly into step next to Harry as they made their way to the end of the Atrium.
"You always here this early?" Harry asked. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd arrived at the Ministry before eight-forty-five, preferring to wait and Floo in at the same time as Ron.
"Or earlier," Anthony said, nodding. "I like to get a jump start, while things are quiet."
"Yeah, seems nice," Harry said. "I may make a habit of it, as well."
Anthony nodded again and shifted his weight uncomfortably. Harry frowned and wondered when Goldstein had got so weird. They rode the lift in awkward silence, and Harry watched the numbers cycle as he thought about all the work he was likely to get done, now that he could come in as early as he liked.
An hour and a quarter later, Harry was reading the front page of the Prophet for the third time when a small, frazzled looking woman with dark hair and large glasses came buzzing into his office.
"Mr Potter, sir, I'm terribly, terribly sorry for my tardiness, sir, please know it won't happen again."
Harry blinked at her. "It's all right, Annie," he said, smiling as his eyes darted to the clock. "You're much less late than usual, anyway."
Annie blanched. "Terribly sorry, sir."
Harry frowned at his assistant, who hadn't been on time once in the four years she'd been working for him; she'd seen him through three and a half years as Deputy Head Auror, and the past six months since he'd been promoted to Head of the Department. "You know I don't mind, Annie. You do a good job, anyway. And I think I asked you to call me Harry some time ago."
Annie's pale face went red. "Thank you, sir. Harry, I mean. If you like."
There was an awkward silence.
"Do you need anything, then, sir?"
"Just the usual, please. I've not got anything on until the briefing at ten-thirty, have I?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no. That's the first thing, Mr Potter."
"All right. Thank you, Annie."
Harry looked back down at his paper, and Annie was half-way through the door when she stopped and turned back to look at him.
"I'm sorry, sir, but. What's the 'usual'?"
Harry's brow was decidedly furrowed as he exited the lift on Level Seven.
He walked into the Department of Magical Games and Sports with an easy smile and hello for the young woman at the front desk; her eyes went wide at the sight of him. Harry didn't recognise her, but Games and Sports had a new receptionist every few weeks, so that was hardly a surprise.
"Mate," he said, as he stepped into Ron's office without knocking, "it has been a bloody weird morning."
Ron looked up from his desk, meeting Harry's eye, and an echo of the loneliness Harry had worked so hard to ignore that morning suddenly hit him square in the chest, and he found he couldn't quite look back. So he turned his eyes to the floor and then the walls, and kept talking quickly, hoping to distract himself.
"I came in early this morning, and ran into Anthony Goldstein coming out of the Floo, and the whole thing was really strange."
Ron didn't respond.
"It was almost like he was lost, or something, or I'd caught him at something embarrassing, and he wouldn't really talk to me. Not that I think of him as a great mate, or anything, but you know. It was odd."
Harry examined the weathered Quidditch posters on Ron's office wall and continued, feeling Ron's eyes on his back.
"And Annie's completely out of sorts, too. She wouldn't stop apologising for being late, even though she was much earlier than usual, and she didn't bring me my cup of coffee."
Ron still hadn't said anything, so Harry looked at him, and Ron was staring at him with very wide eyes.
Harry blinked. "Which, I mean. Isn't a problem, really. I can get my own coffee, of course, but it's just. She's done the same thing every day, for ages, but. She didn't seem to remember, which is why I—just—why are you staring at me like that?"
Ron opened his mouth, blinked, closed his mouth, and Harry felt his heart begin a strange rat-a-tat against his chest.
They were trapped in silence for a long moment, Harry holding his breath and Ron staring at him, until Ron finally snapped to attention, took a gulping breath and launched himself up from his seat.
"Hello," he said, his voice squeaky. "I, uh. Hello, Mr Potter, sir."
Harry blinked before pulling a face at him. "Shut it," he said, rolling his eyes.
Ron's ears went pink, and his jaw flapped a bit as he grew visibly flustered.
"Just, sit down," Harry said. "You're not funny."
Ron sat, looking utterly confused. "M'sorry, sir."
"Stop it! I'm not in the mood for this, I came down here to talk to you."
Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "To me?"
"Of course to you, you prat, what the hell is wrong with you?" Harry stared at Ron, whose entire face had gone bright red. Ron wouldn't quite look at him, but when his gaze flitted up to Harry's, it was wide and nervous.
"Wait, what the hell is wrong with you?" Harry asked, suddenly not at all sure. "Are you all right?"
Ron looked even more confused before he gave a small nod. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you."
"Why are you acting like this?"
"Acting like—I'm sorry, this is just. Quite a surprise, Mr Potter."
"Ron. You're scaring me. If you're taking the piss right now, I swear—"
Ron's eyes were saucers. "Taking the—no! I—I wouldn't, I. That'd be a bit—even for me—I've only just met you."
Harry stared at him, waiting for the tell-tale smile, but it never came. "Who's done this to you, Ron? What's happened?"
Ron blinked. "Done what?"
"This!" Harry cried.
Ron swallowed, and his eyes darted around the room. "I don't know what you mean, sir."
"Really, really not funny."
Ron just stared up at him from his seat.
Harry pulled out his wand, and Ron's eyes went even wider. "I just want to do a reveal," Harry said, "to see if you're under the influence of something. Is that all right?"
"Um," Ron said, after a moment. "Sure, I suppose."
Harry cast the spell. "Well, you've not been Confunded," he said, "and I don't see any traces of Obliviate, though if that one's been cast cleanly enough, I wouldn't. You don't remember being hit with anything?"
Ron shook his head weakly.
"All right. I want to take you upstairs, see what our revealing specialists can turn up."
"To the Auror Office, yes."
Ron's eyebrows shot up. "The Aurors? I—um—"
"It's OK, Ron, I just need to figure out what's happened to you. I'll call Hermione to come up, too, if that would make you more comfortable. She'd want to know about this anyway."
Ron continued to sit and just stare at him. "Come on!" Harry snapped.
Ron jumped up, startled, and followed Harry from his office. They were halfway through Games and Sports when Ron finally spoke. "Did you... who else d'you say you're gonna call?"
"Hermione," Harry replied, walking very quickly.
"Hermione," Ron repeated. "Hermione Granger, sir?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "How many other Hermiones do you even know? Wait." He suddenly stopped in his tracks and whirled around to look at Ron, who nearly collided with him. "Do you know Hermione? Or have you forgotten her, too?"
Ron shook his head both 'yes' and 'no' simultaneously. "None, and, yes, I do know her, sir, I just didn't realise that you did."
"Stop calling me 'sir'," Harry said, wincing. "And of course I know her. She's only been one of my best mates since First Year."
"First year of what?" Ron asked.
Harry gaped. "Good lord, how much have you forgotten?"
"I guess you wouldn't know, would you?" Harry considered. "Do you remember Hogwarts?"
"'Course I do," Ron said, brow furrowed. Harry looked at him, hard, before whirling back around and hurrying them to his office.
Thirty minutes later, Harry's office was abuzz with activity, and Harry's jaw was getting sore from all the clenching it had been doing.
"You haven't found anything?" he snapped at the trio of revealing specialists standing around Ron's chair.
"There doesn't seem to be anything to find, sir," one of them replied, curtly.
"Try something else," Harry ordered.
"Sir," another one said, "we've already exhausted our—"
"I don't care. Think of something else, or go find someone who can."
The three Aurors exchanged glances. One of them, Garner, raised a questioning eyebrow at her partner and then left the room.
Another several minutes passed as Harry paced the room, asking Ron questions and barking orders at anyone within earshot. "Annie," he snapped, when the number of people in the room who looked openly convinced that Harry had lost his mind started to get too high, "did you talk to Hermione yet? Where is she?"
"Out of the office, sir," she said, shakily. "At a client site until at least eleven, according to her assistant."
"Well someone needs to fetch her—this is an emergency!" he barked. No one moved. "You!" he said to Garner, who had returned without Harry noticing. "Go find her!"
"That won't be necessary, Auror Garner," came the startling, deep voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Harry whirled around to find the Minister for Magic frowning at him.
"But—" Harry cried.
"Fetching your friend is not her job, Auror Potter," Kingsley continued. "I'm taking over this investigation, effective immediately."
Harry balked, and it was a good long moment before he could speak. "You're taking over? But, you're not—and I'm—"
"You're in no condition to handle this case, for whatever reason."
"But you're not even an Auror anymore!"
"Of course I am," Kingsley said, his frown growing harder. "Now, are you going to tell me what's going on, or continue to put your job in jeopardy by arguing with me?"
Harry fought down his anger and thought it better to comply. "He's had his memory altered, sir. Whatever's caused it is more complex than any Obliviate or memory potion I've ever seen."
"It's altered large sections of his memory, as far back as his childhood."
"Hmm," Kingsley said, eyeing Ron, who was leaning against Harry's desk, looking troubled and intimidated by the Minister's presence. "And what is it that he's forgotten?" Kingsley asked, turning back to Harry.
"Well," Harry said, "uh. Me, sir."
"He doesn't know who you are?"
"Well, he knows who I am, but. That's not—what I mean is. Well, sir, you know that he and I have been close friends for many years—were flatmates for the past ten—and he just. Doesn't remember any of it. When I walked into his office this morning, he thought it was the first time we'd ever met."
"Did you see him this morning, at your shared flat?"
"No," Harry answered. "I just moved out, actually."
"I see," Kingsley said, in a way Harry didn't like very much. "All right. Would you please give me a few minutes with Mr Weasley?"
"But, sir, I—"
"Take a walk, Auror Potter. We'll be here when you get back."
Harry clenched his jaw and felt his face heat under the several awkward gazes directed at him. He looked at Ron, who was looking back at him with a concerned, confused expression. Harry held his gaze, silently pleading with him to suddenly snap out of it, until Ron looked away. Avoiding Kingsley's stern look, Harry gave a curt nod and left.
He didn't go far. He thought about going after Hermione himself, or at least down to see her assistant, but thought better of it. He had no idea how long that would take, and he didn't want to leave Ron, no matter how much he would have liked at least one friendly face in all of this.
When he had stayed away for as long as he could stand, Harry returned to find a stream of Aurors leaving his office, the buzz of activity having died down and been replaced with a mood that felt decidedly grim, which set Harry's nerves on edge afresh.
"What's going on?" Harry asked Kingsley, when he got inside. He looked at Ron, who met his gaze briefly and regretfully.
"I've sent them back to work," Kingsley answered. "There is nothing more for them to do here."
"Did you find something?"
"No, but a specialist from St Mungo's is on the way over for a consultation. Can I trust you, Auror Potter, to wait here for her without continuing this inappropriateness?"
Harry stiffened, annoyed. "Of course, sir."
"All right." Kingsley turned to Ron. "Now, Mr Weasley, if you have work you need to get back to in the meantime, you're welcome to return to your office. I only ask that you don't leave the premises between now and then."
Harry startled. "Sir, do you really think—"
"It's all right," Ron interrupted, "I'll wait here with him—with Auror Potter, sir."
"Are you sure?" Kingsley asked.
Ron glanced at Harry embarrassedly. "Yeah," he said. "It's all right."
Kingsley eyed them both uncertainly for a moment, then nodded. "I'll be in my office, if you need me."
Harry and Ron sat in awkward silence for a long time, once Kingsley pulled the door shut behind himself. Harry wanted to ask more questions, wanted to shake Ron back to reality, but suddenly found himself at a loss for words.
"So—we were flatmates?" Ron asked, after a while.
Harry nodded. "Ever since the war. We decided not to go back to Hogwarts, and took the Calvert Street flat together." Ron blinked, but said nothing. "You were fine last night—you helped me finish moving—so whoever did this must have been waiting until I left. Are you sure nothing strange has happened to you since then?"
"What, like some bloke I've never met turning up in my office, claiming to be my best mate? That the sort of thing you mean?" Ron asked, the corner of his mouth twitching up into a smile.
"God, I must have scared the shit out of you," Harry said, with an involuntary laugh.
Ron grinned. "A bit."
"Are you still scared?"
"I'm still here, aren't I?" Ron said with a shrug.
Harry grinned, then shifted his gaze about the room in embarrassment. "Seriously, though, whatever you do remember from yesterday evening is actually quite important. D'you mind going over it one more time?"
Ron's grin faltered a bit, and he eyed Harry a moment before replying. "Nothing much. It was just a Sunday; I lazed about, listened to some Quidditch, my sister came over for dinner, and I went to bed."
Harry rubbed at his face. Ginny had met Ron for dinner the night before, he knew. She was there when Harry Floo'd back over, having forgotten the box with his towels and pyjamas.
Ron didn't remember Harry stopping over, nor the hours he'd spent helping Harry pack up and move—never mind the fact that Harry had lived there at all.
"Why d'you think you can remember that?" Harry asked. "Ginny, Hogwarts, Hermione, you remember everyone, apart from me."
Ron sighed, and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, I just. I don't know what to say."
Harry sagged back into his chair, trying to ignore the heavy, sick feeling in his stomach. "If you don't remember me being at school with you, who was your mate? Who'd you spend all your time with? Just Hermione?"
Ron shook his head and shrugged. "The other Gryffindor blokes, I guess. No one in particular, really. Hermione and I were friendly, but we didn't spend that much time together. I asked for help with homework rather a lot, but I guess she didn't mind too much—we actually dated for a couple of years after school."
"Yeah, I know. You were practically engaged."
"Um. No, we—it wasn't ever that serious."
"Ron, I helped you pick out the ring you never gave her."
Ron looked startled. "You really are serious about this, aren't you?" he asked, frowning. "You honestly remember us being mates?"
Harry met Ron's eye and found that he couldn't speak, so he nodded.
Ron was quiet for a moment, and Harry shifted in his seat. "You only moved out yesterday?" Ron asked.
"Why'd you move out?"
Harry blinked. "You don't believe me anyway, what difference does it make?"
Ron shrugged. "Dunno. Humour me."
Harry looked at Ron a moment, then looked away. "It was just time to grow up a bit. Can't live the bachelor life forever."
"You got a girl, then?" Ron asked, smiling.
"Oh." He eyed Harry a moment, until, "What's it like, us being mates?"
Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"
Ron shrugged. "What do we do? I can't really imagine having Harry Potter as my best mate."
"It's a lot more trouble than it's worth, I figure."
"I doubt that," Ron said.
Harry looked at him, surprised. Their gazes met and held for a long moment before Harry looked away with a shrug. "I dunno, we do... the same things as everyone else. We go to the pub, and we moan about work, and... we talk about Quidditch, and I take the piss 'cause the worse the Cannons are losing, the louder you cheer, and... I dunno. We've been accused of being a bit boring."
"How'd you know I'm a Cannons supporter?" Ron asked, his face lit up.
Harry just looked at him, shrugging helplessly. "You were the one who taught me about Quidditch, Ron."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, more or less. Along with just about everything else. I'm not Muggleborn, but I may as well have been. Don't think I would've made it through without you there, to explain things to me."
Ron blinked at him, as colour rose in his cheeks. "Oh, I dunno," he said uncomfortably. "The Muggleborns seem to do all right, don't they?"
"Sure they do, but most of them are willing to do a lot more reading than I was."
Ron laughed. "Cheers to that, mate," he said, and Harry's heart suddenly felt a little bit lighter.
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," Harry called. The door opened, and Kingsley entered, followed by two Aurors and a woman Harry didn't know.
"Auror Potter, this is Healer Godfrey," Kingsley said.
"Excellent, thank you for coming," Harry replied.
"We'd like to keep this contained to your office, if possible," Kingsley continued, "as it's in everyone's best interests that the public not know anything."
"I—yes, all right," Harry said.
"So you agree to cooperate? To submit to Healer Godfrey's examination without protest?"
Harry blinked. Ron shifted uncomfortably next to him.
"Wait," Harry said, turning panicked eyes to Kingsley. "No, no, wait, you've got this all wrong. Kingsley, you know Ron and I are friends—you've found him in my office hundreds of times."
Kingsley's face was unreadable. "I remember no such thing," he replied, "nor whatever familiarity you seem to think allows you to address me so informally."
Harry gaped at him. "But, sir, we—" Harry's mouth snapped shut. His earlier conversations with Anthony Goldstein and Annie came flooding back, and it suddenly occurred to him that he was missing something big.
"Ron," he said, turning to him desperately. "Please. Tell them. We were just talking, and—tell them I'm not crazy."
Ron looked back at Harry for a long moment. "I wish I could, mate," he said regretfully.
"Auror Potter," the Healer said, taking a step closer to Harry. "If you'll just stay calm, we can have you sorted in no time."
"No," Harry said. "I've got to go, I've got to figure this out. I need—" Hermione. Hermione would know. Harry bounded to the door, only to find it locked. "Have you locked me in?" he cried, jiggling the handle.
"Please calm down, Auror Potter," Kingsley said. "You're only making this harder for yourself."
One of the Aurors Kingsley had brought back stepped towards Harry, and Harry's hand went reflexively to his wand. On a good day, he would have been able to mount a respectable defence against Kingsley and two other Aurors, but with the state he was in, it took them only a moment to disarm and stun him.
Harry woke in the dark. He blinked and squinted into the large, foreign space around him. It smelt funny, and though it seemed quiet at first, he soon registered the sound of people nearby, doors opening and closing, footsteps echoing down a nearby hallway.
He was in St Mungo's. Panic rose in his chest, bursting forth as a desperate laugh. He made to sit up, but the lasting effects of whatever they'd given him were still strong, and he found himself dizzy and falling back against his pillow before he was anywhere near upright.
His breaths came as pants as he closed his eyes and waited for the room to stop spinning.
When he opened them, he noticed a slip of parchment and a small package on the gleaming metal table next to his bed. He reached for his glasses and switched on the lamp, and recognised the scratchy handwriting on the parchment before he even picked it up.
I think I would have liked being your mate, the note said. When you get to feeling better, if you'd fancy a pint, come say hello. Anytime. –Ron Weasley
Not knowing what else to do, Harry tore open the small package—a chocolate frog—and blinked at his own likeness on the card inside.
His fingers wrapped around the wriggling sweet, smearing chocolate footprints over his palm as he summoned the courage to turn the card over.
He had argued with the publishers of his chocolate frog card for months, several years ago, to make sure that his card said plainly that his defeat of Voldemort was only made possible by the help of Ron and Hermione, and so many others.
But how could it say that, in a world where Ron left Harry notes saying he wished they had been friends?
Saviour of the Wizarding World
Currently Head of the Auror Department
The Boy Who Lived, only known survivor of the Avada Kedavra
curse and conqueror of Lord Voldemort, also known as Tom Riddle.
A mysterious and reclusive individual, very little is known about
Potter's training, rise to power, or, indeed, Potter himself.
Harry stared at it. He read it three times, then flipped it over in search of more, and watched himself slink out of the portrait, mysteriously and reclusively.
His breath came strangely calmly as his mind whirred in fits and starts, attempting to understand. The enormity of how strange this situation was had only just started to dawn on him when the card disappeared from his fingers.
Harry opened his hand, looked down to see if he'd dropped it into his lap. The sheet covering his legs was suddenly a dark red, instead of white, and for a moment he thought he was bleeding, but when he went to set down the chocolate frog, it was gone, too. There was no trace of its footprints on his palm.
He blinked and slowly recognised the colour of the sheet as not a blood stain, but as the deep red of the new linens he'd bought just yesterday, for his new flat.
He looked around in disbelief. He wasn't in St Mungo's at all, but sitting in his own bed, in his own flat, blinking into the darkness. He swallowed several times as he looked around the room, afraid to close his eyes in case it should disappear, too.
It didn't, though, and Harry suddenly barked a relieved laugh as it hit him: a dream.
Just a dream.
He collapsed back against his mattress, and once his heart had calmed down, he sunk into a deep sleep within moments.
It started out like any other day: Harry woke up. A bit later than usual, perhaps, but nothing too out of the ordinary.
He drank his coffee in silence, Floo'd to the Ministry at eight-thirty, and didn't encounter anyone on the way to his office. He had a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something, but no amount of frowning to himself proved sufficient to call it up, so he stopped trying, figuring that if it was important, it would come back to him in time.
At nine-fifteen, he was scanning the day's headlines with a curious sense of déjà vu when the door to his office burst open, and Annie came clamouring in, full of earnest apologies and unnecessary formality, and without Harry's customary mid-morning cup of coffee.
Harry frowned at her. "It's all right, Annie. You can calm down, it's fine."
"Thank you, Mr Potter, sir."
"Annie, please, call me Ha—" He stopped, and frowned.
"Is everything all right, sir?" Annie asked after a moment.
"I'm—not sure." He looked around his office in confusion. "Have we done this before? Recently?"
Annie looked at him blankly.
"I'm going to take a walk," he said, after a moment. "My schedule's open until ten-thirty, right?"
"Yes, sir," Annie said, nodding. "The briefing's your first thing."
It was the look on Ron's face when Harry entered his office that brought it all back. "Oh," Harry said, feeling the wind knocked right out of him.
Ron's wide eyes blinked. Harry sucked in a breath and after a moment, Ron jumped up from his seat. "Hello," he said, his voice squeaky. "I, uh. Hello, Mr Potter, sir."
"Right," Harry muttered. "Still asleep, then."
Ron stared at him with his mouth open, and his eyes darted to the side and back.
"Sorry, um," Ron said, trailing Harry out through the Games and Sports office, "who'd you say we're going to see?"
"Hermione," Harry replied.
"Hermione," Ron repeated. "Hermione Granger, sir?"
"Yes," Harry said, grinning. "I know her. Are you shocked?"
"Um," Ron said. "Is there any—particular reason we're going to see her?"
Harry shrugged. "I took you to the Auror Office last time, and that turned out complete rubbish, so. Let's find out what Hermione thinks."
"This," Harry answered, helpfully.
"Right," Ron said, helplessly.
Hermione was standing outside her office talking to her assistant as they approached, hair pulled into a loose knot at the nape of her neck and bag slung over her shoulder. She did a quick double-take at the sight of them, her eyes going wide.
"Oh my," she said. "Mr Potter. I—hello. This is a surprise. Hermione Granger." She extended her hand, then faltered. "Although I suppose you may already know that, as you've come to my office."
"I did already know that, thanks," Harry said. "And hello to you, too."
"Hello, Ron," Hermione said after a confused moment.
"Hi, Hermione," Ron answered uneasily.
"Is there something I can do for you, sir?" Hermione asked.
"Yes. Ron and I need to speak with you."
Hermione's eyes darted between the two of them. "All right," she said, slowly. To her assistant, "Tom, could you please reschedule my nine-thirty? Would you like a coffee, or anything?" she asked them, as they followed her into her office and settled into the chairs opposite her desk.
"Nope," Harry answered. "Just a chat."
She nodded, and looked at him expectantly.
"So," Harry said, and then drummed his hands on his knee, because he didn't actually know what to say. "You two don't remember me. Neither does anyone else. And I'm, um. Wondering what you think about that."
Hermione blinked. She cast a glance at Ron, who was staring at Harry. "Don't remember you?" she repeated. "On the contrary, Mr Potter, I think you'll find—"
"Please call me Harry."
"Oh, all right. Harry. I'm certain that all of us, as individuals and as a—collective, remember what you did for us, and remain profoundly grateful."
Harry rolled his eyes. "That is not what I mean."
Hermione came up short. "I'm sorry. OK. What, uh—what do you mean?"
"I mean that you don't remember that we're friends. Best mates, the three of us."
There was a heavy silence. "We're friends?" Hermione asked, eyes wide. "Ron and I? We're your best friends?"
"Yes," Harry said. "Since first year."
"First year of what?" she asked.
Ron's jaw had fallen open a bit. Hermione's mouth opened and closed before she said, "Mr Pot—Harry, um. We weren't at Hogwarts together."
"Oh?" Harry replied.
"In fact, I wasn't aware that you went to Hogwarts, at all. They say you didn't."
"Who? Who's they?"
Hermione blinked. "Well, everyone. Or the people who write the history books, at least."
"What are you talking about, Hermione?"
"They don't—I mean, there's no mention of you attending—"
"Are you kidding? Remember when you got me a copy of the first post-war edition of Hogwarts: A History? You highlighted all the parts they'd added about me? And then scolded me every few months for three years, because I never did read it?"
Hermione just stared at him.
"Fine," Harry continued, "so what do the history books say, if they've omitted my going to Hogwarts?"
"Well," Hermione said, haltingly, "not very much, of course." She cast another questioning glance at Ron, who just shrugged. "There was the prophesy, and you survived Voldemort's Killing Curse, and your Muggle family raised you until you were eleven, and then you disappeared. Until the day you killed Voldemort in the Great Hall."
Harry stared at her. "I disappeared. You all got to go to Hogwarts, but I just—disappeared." He looked at Ron, who averted his eyes. "You both remember being there?"
"You just don't remember me being there with you? Living in your dorm, attending all the same classes? Playing Quidditch? You don't remember leaving with me before seventh year, to go Horcrux hunting so that I could kill Voldemort?"
"What's a Horcrux?" Ron asked, after a moment.
Hermione's eyes were wide. "He made a Horcrux?"
Harry smirked. "Seven of them."
"Only six on purpose, but, yeah. And then we," Harry gestured to all three of them, "spent months in a tent, combing every corner of the country for them. You honestly don't remember any of this?"
Neither Hermione nor Ron spoke, and Harry's head fell back as he laughed loudly. "Oh this is just too weird," he said to himself. "What on earth did I eat before bed last night?"
Hermione's mouth went tight. "Mr Potter—"
"—I don't know what it is that you're doing right now, but Ron and I have jobs to do, and—Saviour of the Wizarding World or not—I certainly don't appreciate you marching in here, disrupting our workday so that you can have a laugh at our expense."
"Don't worry, Hermione," Harry said, "you're not missing anything. We're inside my dream right now, so that meeting you just had rescheduled wasn't real to begin with."
Hermione blinked, and tilted her head to the side. "Inside your dream," she repeated.
Harry nodded. "Exactly. And now, of course, you think I'm mental, so I think I'll leave you be before you decide to call someone from St Mungo's, since that's what happened yesterday, and once was more than enough of that, thanks." He stood up, Hermione's and Ron's wide gazes fixed on him. "See you later, I suppose. Probably in the morning."
He left them in startled silence, and was halfway down the corridor when long footsteps caught up with him.
"What are you, um—" Ron said, falling into step next to him. "Where are you going?"
Harry shrugged. "Dunno. Haven't had my second coffee yet, maybe I'll go the canteen." Ron eyed him sidelong. "D'you wanna come with me?"
"S'all right if you need to get back to work. I know this seems real to you."
Ron considered, for the space of a few steps. Then he shrugged. "Eh, I've not got anything pressing this morning. I could go for a tea."
"No, no, no—the only way Puddlemere has got any chance at all this afternoon is if they run up the score and fast. Ballycastle's Seeker might not be the greatest, but Hammersby's a joke. I can't believe Puddlemere's kept him on this long."
Harry finished his coffee with a grin. "Well, I suppose you're the expert."
"Are you going to the match?"
Ron shook his head. "No, we're on a rota, me and the other analysts. I actually was supposed to go today, but I swapped for Thursday's Cannon's match."
"D'you want to?"
"Go. Let's get our own tickets and take the afternoon off."
Ron blinked. "Um. I'm not sure I can just—"
"Neither can I, usually. At least, not if I don't want fifteen very powerful people completely hacked off with me. But today's different," Harry said, grinning.
Ron looked at him. "That it is," he said. After a moment, "So you really believe we're mates, eh?"
Harry nodded. "Since we were kids. We were flatmates, up until yesterday."
"What happened yesterday?"
"I moved out."
Harry held his gaze for a long moment before looking away. "Everyone's gotta grow up sometime."
"Suppose," Ron agreed, looking down at his hands. "Speaking of, I should probably get back to work."
"Could we do it another time?" Ron asked. "Go to a match, I mean."
"Absolutely," Harry said, smiling.
Ron stood, and paused before stepping away from the table. "Look, mate, are you—are you OK? I mean, all joking aside, are you—d'you want me to call someone, or—" He trailed off.
"Yeah," Harry said, feeling his face flush, "I'm all right. I'm just—having a weird day."
Ron gave a small laugh. "Well, tomorrow's a new one, yeah? Maybe it'll be better."
"Can only hope," Harry said, chuckling, then watched Ron leave.
When Harry woke up, the slant of the sun through his bedroom window felt less strange and more real than it had the previous two mornings, which he took as a good sign. In the kitchen, the coffee beans and slices of bread he'd used to make breakfast the day before were back, as though replenished, and Harry smiled, relieved to finally be awake. He didn't particularly want to live through Monday a third time, but he supposed the first two didn't count.
It was a few minutes after eight when Harry tumbled through the Floo and into the Atrium, large and quiet before the morning rush, and echoing with the soft sounds of a single person's footsteps. Harry turned and watched Anthony Goldstein enter a lift, press his button and then look up, waiting.
He recognised Harry only a moment before the lift doors closed between them, and his startled, wide-eyed expression set something uncomfortable burning in Harry's gut.
An hour later, as Harry stared at the front page of the Prophet with a deep frown, Annie burst frantically into his office.
"Mr Potter, sir, I'm terribly, terribly sorry for my tardiness, sir, please know it won't happen again."
Something a lot like panic flared in Harry's chest, and he stood up from his desk quickly, sending his chair rolling roughly backwards, into the wall.
"Is everything all right, sir?" Annie asked, after a startled moment.
"I, um. I don't know. I mean—yes." Harry suddenly had a strong urge to go check on Ron. "I, um. I need to go. I'll just be in Ron's office if anything comes up."
"Yes," Harry said. "Ron Weasley, in Games and Sp—actually, never mind. If anything comes up, I'm not here. Just tell them you don't know where to find me."
Harry brushed past her and out the door before she could respond.
Ron stared at him, eyes wide and afraid. "What?" he said.
"Slam the door," Harry repeated, gripping his fingers more tightly to the door jamb and swallowing.
"I know. I need to wake up."
Ron opened his mouth, and then closed it.
Harry landed in St Mungo's fairly quickly, that day.
"Stop calling me 'sir'!" Harry snapped.
Hermione blinked. "I'm sorry, Mr Potter, I—"
"Harry! Call me Harry, for fuck's sake!"
Hermione looked aghast, and Ron blinked nervously. "All right," Hermione said. "Harry. What's upsetting you?"
"Why don't you know me?" Harry yelled, looking back and forth between them.
Hermione glanced at Ron. "We—we do know you, Mr—Harry. Of course we do. Everyone does."
"That's not what I mean! You know who I am, but that's not—We're friends. All three of us, we're best friends. And you're acting as though you've never seen me before."
Hermione and Ron were silent.
"Fuck," Harry said, sagging against the wall. "What is this?"
"Susan," Harry said, pushing himself up off the wall he'd been leaning against, lying in wait. "Good morning."
Susan Bones startled, then gaped at him. "Um—good morning."
"Do you remember me?" Harry asked.
Susan frowned and went red. "Of—of course, sir. You're Harry Potter."
"No, I mean, do you remember me? Do you remember being at school with me? Do you remember the DA?"
Susan blinked. "The what, sir?"
"I don't understand," Harry said, loudly, as he entered Hermione's office.
Hermione whirled around. "God lord, you startled me!" she said, before her eyes went predictably wide. "Harry Potter?"
"None of this makes any sense, Hermione. I've just spent two straight days doing nothing but thinking about it, and I don't understand how it is that you all can go along with this—it doesn't make any sense."
Hermione blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"My whole life, everyone's known more about me than I did—and now, suddenly, no one remembers. And it doesn't seem to bother anyone that there's no explanation. Ron doesn't remember ever being my flatmate, but he still lives in the flat that I picked out for us. I didn't go to Hogwarts, you say, but I just showed up one day with the skills I needed to defeat Voldemort. How does that make sense? How do you think I learnt it?"
Hermione's mouth opened a few times, but nothing came out. "Your flatmate? Ron—Weasley?"
"It's like I've just been… erased, and nobody else can see the gaping holes! Do you know, I came into work three hours late this morning, and my assistant was a right frenzy trying to work out where I was, making excuses for me missing meetings."
"It wasn't very considerate of you not to call her and let her know you would be late," Hermione said.
"It's all right, she'll have forgotten it in the morning. I was doing an experiment—when I asked her why she didn’t Floo me at home, to see if I was coming in, do you know what she said?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
"She said that she'd wanted to, but that no one at the Ministry could remember where I lived, or how to get in touch with me."
Hermione blinked. "That seems very odd," she said, after a long moment.
"Exactly!" Harry cried. "How is it possible that my employer—my employer for the past ten years—just doesn't have my contact information?"
"Mr Potter," Hermione said, "I'm afraid I don't really know what to tell you, though it does sound like you could use a bit more clerical support in the Auror Office."
"Hermione, you're the smartest person I know—" Hermione blinked and blushed "—surely you see how this collective… ignorance of my past—at the very least of my education, which was highly publicised—makes absolutely no sense!"
Hermione stiffened. "I hadn't really thought about it, if I'm honest," she said.
"Of course not, you only forgot the truth a few hours ago. You've never had to think about it."
Hermione stared at him for a long moment. "Well, Mr Potter—"
"Please call me Harry."
"Harry," she said, nodding carefully. "I would imagine that your education was conducted by private tutors, likely coordinated by those who knew about the prophesy you were to fulfil."
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"Perhaps, since you remember it, you were physically at Hogwarts, but hidden from us all. Probably for your own safety. There's any number of secret rooms and corridors, I've even read myths about a huge cave underneath the school—"
"Yes, the Chamber of Secrets, that's where I fought the Basilisk, remember? And destroyed the first Horcrux, though I didn't know it at the time."
Hermione's expression tilted towards worry. "I would imagine it was very lonely for you, and very hard, as you were groomed for your encounter with Voldemort. It's perfectly understandable that you took to hiding from the world as you did, afterwards. And here you are, Head of the Auror Department at such a young age; have you ever taken time for yourself? Because I think maybe you should consider—"
"No!" Harry cried. "I'm not crazy, Hermione. And I wasn't lonely at school, I had you. I had Ron, and I had you, and you kept me sane, you two are the reason I'm still here at all. And I know I sound crazy right now, I know I do, but you've got to believe me—something has happened. Something has—someone, maybe—has taken it all, and I don't know what to do."
Hermione's eyes were wide and bright, full of pity, and Harry very nearly hated her in that moment. "Mr—Harry," she said. "Please. Let me get you some help. I've got a friend at St Mungo's, he can—"
"No thanks," Harry said, and he was on his feet and out the door in mere moments, barrelling down the corridor and willing away the tears he could feel behind his eyes.
Harry woke up, and it was Monday.
Harry woke up, and it was Monday.
Harry woke up, and it was Monday. He stayed home for the third day in a row.
No one called to see if he was all right.
"Oi!" Ron shouted, his voice hard and dangerous.
Harry whirled around, and instantly regretted moving so quickly. He managed to grab hold of the kitchen counter before he fell over. "Ron," he said, and he felt his eyes go wide at the sight of Ron in the kitchen doorway, pointing his wand menacingly at Harry's head.
Ron blinked, and his wand hand faltered. "What—are you—Harry Potter?"
A more sober Harry might not have heaved a frustrated sigh and dramatically rolled his eyes at the angry wizard pointing a wand at his head, but this Harry did just that. "Ron, enough, honestly."
"It's me, Ron. Harry. Your mate. Your best fucking mate, so stop acting like you don't know me."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I know you don't."
"All right, you're drunk, and—"
"And you're a genius."
"—and I don't know why you're in my flat, but is there someone I can call to come get you?"
"Yeah. Call the real Ron Weasley. He'll come get me."
"And I'm so sorry I'm in your flat," Harry continued, "but I couldn't help it—I only moved out a few days ago, or maybe just yesterday, still, I'm actually not sure about that—and I was out, you know, because I didn't go to work today, see, I decided to go out and have some fun, instead, and then I decided it was time to go home, and I just wasn't really thinking, and then I was here, and then I remembered that I don't live here, anymore, but I couldn't really remember where my new flat is, exactly, or how to get there, and plus, I really had to pee, so I just thought I'd come in for a little bit, and just be really quiet, so I wouldn't wake you up, but then I was really thirsty, so I had to get a glass of water, and the glasses make a lot of noise in the cupboard, when you knock them all over, so, sorry about that, too."
Ron stared at him. Harry swayed and gripped the counter. "You gonna be sick?" Ron asked.
Harry thought about it. "No."
"All right. Why don't you come lie down on the sofa, for a bit?"
Harry nodded. "OK, thanks."
Ron slid his wand into the waistband of his pyjamas and helped Harry into the lounge, his large hands warm and strong against Harry's arm.
"So, tell me again," Ron said, "how is it you ended up at my flat?"
Harry shrugged. "Just habit, you know? You call a place home for ten years, takes more than a few days to get used to something else."
"You lived in this building?"
"I lived in this flat."
"You didn't, I've lived in this flat for the past ten years."
"I know you have. We both did, together."
Ron stared for a long moment, and then chuckled. "Mate, you really shouldn't drink this much. Bloke like you, who the papers are always after? You're gonna land yourself in some serious trouble."
"I'm not—unh." Harry let his head fall back against the sofa cushion with a sigh. After a moment, "Thank you for not calling the papers."
Ron rolled his eyes and waved him off. "Please. We all owe you enough, without needing to piss all over what little bit of fun you get to have."
"Had more fun when you and I were still friends."
Ron's amused expression faltered. "You're not joking, are you? You honestly believe that we're mates? That you used to live here?"
"Ron, if I never lived here, why is my wand keyed to your front door?"
"What d'you mean? S'that how you came in?"
Harry nodded. "Simple Alohomora. Either your wards are complete rubbish, or you didn't remove my signature when I moved out—which you told me you weren't going to do."
Ron stared at him, then glanced at the front door to the flat, startled. "No one but me and my brother George are keyed to that lock."
Harry shrugged. "Beg to differ, mate."
Ron looked unsettled. "Well if you're as powerful as they say you are, maybe you can just unlock any door you want to."
Ron didn't seem to know what to say to that, and they sat in silence for a few minutes, Harry's drunken stupor giving way to drowsiness. He'd just started to drift off when Ron startled him back into consciousness.
"Listen, mate, you gonna be all right on the couch? S'almost midnight, and I've got work in the morning."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll just... sleep. Thanks, Ron."
Ron stood, and hesitated.
"Hey," Harry asked, after a moment. "How'd Puddlemere end up doing?"
"I keep missing the match—did they lose as spectacularly as you thought they would?"
"Um, no—they won, actually."
Harry smirked up at him. "Scoring? Or d'Hammersby prove you wrong and get the Snitch?"
"He caught it," Ron said, frowning. "But, how'd you—I've never written anything about Hammersby."
"You told me over coffee a few days ago."
Ron's frown deepened.
"But never mind—I know you think I'm crazy. I'll just go to sleep now, thanks."
Ron eyed him carefully. "Can I ask you something?"
"If we're such good mates, why'd you have to move out? You move in with a girl or something?"
"No, it was just," Harry opened his eyes and met Ron's gaze, and meant to say time to grow up, but, inexplicably, actually said, "too hard."
Ron's eyebrows contracted. "What was? Living with me?"
"Yeah," Harry said.
Ron chuckled embarrassedly. "Sorry. Reckon I am a slob, though."
"S'OK. So am I."
"So… why, then?" Ron asked, and Harry felt the truth bubbling up, buoyed by liquor and exhaustion and loneliness, and his lips were curving around the words, his tongue was pressing them out, and—
—he was stone cold sober, lying in his bed, in his new flat, alone. Ron was gone, Harry's heart was racing, and he started to genuinely wonder if he'd lost his mind.
The seventeenth time Harry walked into Ron's office and was met with a gasp and a stammer and a blushing, disbelieving introduction, it was too much. It hurt, it physically fucking hurt, and Harry was exhausted and desperate and angry, and his fist had connected with Ron's jaw before he even knew he was going to throw a punch.
He didn't do any damage beyond a split lip, thankfully, but it didn't do anything but make him feel worse, and the look on Ron's face kept him from going back to Ron's office for nearly a week, never mind that he knew Ron didn't remember it happening.
It got him to thinking, though. About people he actually did want to punch in the face. Not that he was a punch-someone-in-the-face kind of person, generally, but if there were ever an opportunity to try on a new personality, he figured this was it.
He could only spend so many of his days thinking and fretting and worrying and running around in circles, so he started finding ways to entertain himself.
He tracked down Dolores Umbridge, told her she looked like a toad and stomped on her foot. He found Rita Skeeter, and spelled the three-inch heel off of one of her shoes. He visited several individual contributors to the Prophet's gossip column and told them exactly what they could do with their latest exclusive footage of Harry buying toilet paper.
And when he didn't particularly feel like telling someone off, he convinced the captain of the Chudley Cannons to give him a trial, and made the team. He did that one twice—the second time he managed to convince Ron to come with him. Ron not remembering that one was particularly hard, and Harry decided they'd have to do it again, just as soon as the whole time loop thing was sorted.
The morning he found himself on Privet Drive in Little Winging, he was surprised at how long it had taken him to decide to come. Number Four was still neat as a pin, preserved like a museum, a bizarre homage-in-wax to his childhood.
He knocked on the front door and didn't actually know what he wanted to say to whomever should answer, but it didn't matter—he could always come back tomorrow, if he thought of something better.
"Yes?" Vernon spat, as he pulled open the door, and then his eyes went comically wide. Harry lifted his chin and summoned all the vitriol he could find, but only got so far as, "Hello, Uncle Vernon," before Vernon's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"You," he said in disgust, and it was such a pathetic relief to be personally recognised—even with utter contempt—that Harry felt all the wind sucked from his sails.
"Do you remember me?" he said, suddenly realising that the only way Vernon could know who he was is if he actually remembered him. So far as Harry knew, the legend of Harry Potter had yet to reach the Muggle world.
Vernon scowled. "Of course I remember you," he bit out. "Though not for a lack of trying to forget, let me assure you."
"Why'd you look so surprised when you opened the door? You looked liked you'd seen a ghost."
"Well I haven't seen you since you were small, have I?" Vernon snapped. "Thought for a moment you were your no-good father."
Harry's heart was pounding. "What do you remember?" he asked, and he didn't care that he sounded desperate. "What do you—what—when was the last time I was here? How old was I?"
Vernon stared at him a moment, taken aback by Harry's demeanour, then frowned, as he seemed to think it over. He looked momentarily confused, and then annoyed, as though his thoughts wouldn't cooperate.
"You know as well as I do," he snapped.
"Humour me," Harry said.
Vernon pursed his lips, sourly. "You were," he held he hand out next to his ample waist, then raised it up another inch or so, "about there, I suppose."
"The summer I was eleven?"
"I... suppose so, yes."
"And where did I go, when I left?"
Vernon knit his brow. "How should I know? We dropped you off at the train and washed our hands of you."
"And you never saw me again? I didn't come back? Not even for the summers?"
Vernon blinked and his brow creased and uncreased. He winced, a little. "You... no. No, I don't think you did." Harry stared at him as he blinked again, holding his eyes closed for a long moment, then looked at Harry suspiciously. "Are you messing about with my mind right now?"
Harry could only shake his head 'no' as his stomach dropped.
"You are," Vernon hissed. "You are! Get out of here, now!"
"No—no!" Harry managed. "I'm not! What is it—what do you mean, messing about? Have your memories only just changed?"
"What are you talking about, boy? I said go! I'll call the authorities, if I have to! You're not our responsibility anymore, you ungrateful brat!"
The door slammed shut in Harry's face, and he couldn't quite breathe.
It was only after he had knocked on Hermione's office door, and she had nearly fallen off her chair at the sight of him, that Harry realised he might have been better off just going to the Ministry library and trying to research this himself.
"Sorry," he said, shrugging sheepishly. "Old habits, you know?"
She frowned at him, because of course she had no idea what old habits he might be talking about.
"You've got quite a reputation around here," he said, in the hopes that flattery would keep her from asking too many questions, "for knowing virtually everything."
"I don't think I know everything, sir," she said, bristling.
"I'm not teasing," he said. "It's just my understanding that if I need the correct answer to something, you're the woman to ask."
Hermione blinked, momentarily taken-aback, before a flush appeared on her cheeks, and Harry knew that he'd made the right choice. If there was one thing Hermione liked more than knowing the correct answer, after all, it was telling it to people.
"What information is it you need, Mr Potter?"
"Please call me Harry."
"Oh, um. All right. Harry."
"I'm wondering if you've ever heard of something that works essentially like a memory charm, but instead of altering the memory of the person who's hit with it, it erases everyone else's memories of that person?"
Hermione frowned. "No. A spell can only affect the person it hits."
"Well, right, except the only other explanation is that every single person who's ever known me—this person, I mean, everyone who's ever known this person has been hit with a very powerful and very specific Obliviate, and that just doesn't make sense."
Hermione's frown grew deeper. "You feel like you've been forgotten?"
"No," Harry said, knowing the pretence was stupid, "I have been forgotten."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that every personal interaction I've ever had has just been erased from everyone else's memory. No one remembers ever having seen or talked to me since I was eleven years old, and left my aunt and uncle's house for Hogwarts."
"But you didn't go to Hogwarts."
Harry sighed and dropped his head into his hands. "I did, Hermione. I did go to Hogwarts, and it was the first good thing that ever happened to me. Everything good about my life started at Hogwarts. I promise you I was there."
Hermione stared at him, her face gone soft with surprise.
"You knew me," he said.
She blinked at him, and her expression changed, taking on the now all-too-familiar slant that let Harry know he'd ventured too near the borderline, and that anything more would likely land him another evening in St Mungo's.
"Sorry," he said. "I know this sounds mental, I'm just not really sure how to describe it. I'll go now. Just, let me know if you think of anything, yeah?"
"Oh, um. All right," Hermione said, her brows high, and Harry left before she could say anything else.
Harry spent that evening debating whether he'd be better off going to the library, or concocting a better cover story to take to Hermione the next day.
At five to midnight, he lay in bed, turning his thoughts over, when there was a scratch at his bedroom window. He looked up and recognised Hermione's owl, Aristoclea, and something a lot like hope thrilled through him.
"Hey there, Clea," he said, smiling as he opened the window. "You still know where to find me, do you?" The owl nipped at him affectionately as he untied the note from her leg. There was no time to waste, but Harry couldn't stop himself giving her a treat and stroking her feathers, feeling pitifully happy to recognised by someone, even if she couldn't speak.
Mr Potter, Harry read, a minute later. I'm very sorry to bother you so late, but I've just had a thought about the question you brought to me this morning. Forgive me if this sounds ridiculous, but if I'm right, I am about to forget that we had that conversation at all. Please come back tomorrow and ask me about the Latebra Infinita experiment. I can't explain now, as I suspect that you need to receive this letter before midnight, or you mightn't receive it at all. Sincerely, Hermione Granger
Harry had only a moment to reread the name of the thing and commit it to memory before the note disappeared from between his fingers, and he was left sitting in bed, reeling with relief and hope and, most of all, affection for Hermione that threatened to knock him right over.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me," Harry said, as he sat down opposite Hermione's desk the next afternoon. "I wasn't sure you would."
Hermione looked at him. "Well, I did wonder if I should be a bit less quick to believe you," she said, "but if what you say is true, you would have no way to prove it to me, so. I don't see what choice I have but to give you the benefit of the doubt."
"You have no idea how good that is to hear," Harry said, and Hermione smiled at him carefully. "Anyway, I tried to look it up, after I saw you this morning, but I couldn't find anything. Latebra Infinita, you said, right?" Hermione nodded. "I've got higher security clearance than anyone, save the Minister, and there's just no record of it."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Honestly, it's ridiculous, how committed the Ministry is to hiding its darker history from even itself—perhaps especially from itself."
"How do you know about it?"
"I like to read old books. There are references here and there."
"So what is it?"
"It's a policing tool, invented in the mid eighteenth century as a way to simplify law enforcement across the Empire. The thought was that we could use magic, on its own, to catch and incarcerate criminals, lowering the need for actual people to do the job."
Harry frowned. "That's—idiotic."
"How does it work?"
"It detects a guilty mind, and when it finds one, it drops that person into a time loop—a magical prison, effectively, but also designed to drive the person into confessing, by removing everything of value from their life. It's a form of torture, really. And only confession can break the spell."
"So how do you break the spell, if you've not got anything to confess? I haven't committed any crime."
Hermione looked at him. "Well, that's one of the reasons this experiment was deemed a failure, and fell out of use. The magic isn't able to distinguish between a mind guilty of a crime and a mind only guilty of keeping a secret."
"Even a perfectly legal one. If it weighs on you, the Latebra Infinita will prey on you."
Harry stared at her a moment. "That's ridiculous. Everyone has secrets."
"Well, yes. But some secrets are bigger than others, aren't they?"
She raised an eyebrow at him and Harry had to look away, swallowing. Ron's voice echoed about in his head.
"You don't have to tell me," Hermione said, after a moment. "But you will have to confess to someone."
"Can't I just tell myself? I am in law enforcement, after all."
Hermione gave a small laugh. "If you were confessing a crime, that might be good enough. I suspect, however, that you'll need to confess to whomever is most affected by this secret."
Harry nodded, and stared at his hands.
"For what it's worth," she added, gently, "the other reason the spell fell out of use was because it often simply didn't work: the person receiving confession often couldn't remember it, once the time loop was broken. Which defeated the whole purpose."
After a long silence, Harry said, "Why has this happened to me now, if no one's known about this spell for centuries?"
"That's the part that bothers me the most," Hermione answered. "The spell was cast via enchanted objects—like Portkeys, in a way—but by all accounts, every last Latebra Infinita enchanted object the Ministry distributed was found and disenchanted by the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century. I suspect, however, that if any such object were to have escaped disenchantment, a very likely place for it to have spent the last two hundred years is in your office."
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"The primary champion of the Latebra Infinita was Minister Renwick, before he was Minister. He spent a good several years as Head of the Aurors, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he'd squirreled something away in the very office you now occupy."
Harry frowned. "Oh god," he groaned, after a moment. "Probably the sort of thing that you'd find shoved to the back of the top shelf in the magic-suppression cupboard, eh?"
Hermione looked at him.
"It was just a vase. I did a scan and nothing came up, so I assumed it was in there by accident. Or that whatever magic it had had worn off."
"Did you scan it before or after you touched it?"
Harry groaned again. "After, obviously. I didn't have anything to decorate my new flat with yet, and I thought it would look nice over the fireplace. Which it does, by the way."
Hermione rolled her eyes, and Harry let his head fall heavily against the surface of her desk. "Two hundred years," she said, "and no one thought to scan and label everything in your magic-suppression cupboard? Honestly, you really ought to think about getting a bit more clerical support in the Auror Office, Mr Potter."
"So you keep saying," Harry muttered, into the wood.
Nearly four more Mondays passed before Harry found the courage to go see Ron.
"Hi," he said, at almost five-thirty on the fourth day, after Ron bolted upright and stammered for a while. "Would you like to get a pint with me?"
Ron stared at him. "Sorry?"
"I know this must be a bit—unexpected, as you've never met me—I'm Harry, by the way—but I'd really like to go to the pub with you."
Ron said nothing.
"If that's all right."
"Um, I—yes. Sure. OK."
The walk to the lift was awkward. "Have you had a nice day?" Harry asked, and frowned at himself.
"Um, yeah," Ron replied, and shrugged. "Uneventful, 'til now. You?"
"Oh, you know. Monday," Harry said.
The lift was crowded, and they had to stand uncomfortably close to one another. Harry could smell Ron's aftershave. "The Puddlemere match over yet?" he asked, trying not to examine Ron's chin for five-o'clock shadow.
"Still going. Forty to one-twenty, Ballycastle," Ron replied. "And Puddlemere's Seeker is crap, so I think it's as good as over."
"Oh, I dunno," Harry said. "Hammersby could pull it out yet."
Ron grinned at him. "You follow Quidditch, then?" he asked.
"'Course," Harry replied. "Who doesn't?"
"Well, it's just that I've never seen you at a match, and I go to a lot of them. Bloke like you causes a stir, yeah?" Ron went a bit pink, his eyes darting around the crowded lift.
Harry shrugged. "I have my ways."
Across the street and a handful of beers later, Ron turned wide, disbelieving eyes on Harry. "Impressive, mate," he said, wholeheartedly. "Impressive."
Harry just grinned at him, and signalled the barman for another round.
"What," Ron continued, "what tipped you off about Hammersby? Analysing these things is my job, and I certainly didn't think he could do it."
Harry shrugged. "Was just a feeling. Thought he was due to surprise us."
Ron looked at him. "You get feelings like that often?"
Harry looked away. "Not really. Every once in a while, maybe. But they're not usually right."
Ron snorted disbelievingly. Harry took a self-conscious sip of his beer.
A few more beers apiece and dinner later, they were having a great time, and Harry still hadn't the faintest idea how he was going to confess anything. It was just so fun, getting Ron to smile at him and laugh with him, and Harry didn't want ruin it, even if Ron not knowing that they'd been doing this almost their entire lives tainted it a bit.
"Well," Ron said, amiably, when they found themselves in the night air outside the pub. "Thanks, mate. This was... unexpected, but really great."
"D'you wanna do something else?" Harry said in a rush.
Ron blinked. "Oh, um," he said. "Sure, if you do."
"Um," Harry said. "Fancy some chess?"
Ron's eyebrows went up. "Seriously?"
"Yeah," Harry said, shrugging. "I mean, if you like chess, that is."
Ron smiled and gave a small, bemused laugh. "I do, as a matter of fact."
Harry grinned. "I'd invite you to mine, but I moved recently, and I haven't got my own set yet, 'cause I always just used my flatmate's."
Ron grinned disbelievingly. "You had a flatmate? I thought you were swimming in money."
"I liked the company," Harry said, shrugging.
Ron's grin settled into something a bit more gentle. "Well if it's not too weird, you're certainly welcome to come to mine. I have a set we can use."
"Is it weird?" Harry asked.
"Well, I mean," Ron said, going pink, "you're the celebrity. Don't reckon you often go home with some random, what with all the crazies out there."
"You're not a random," Harry said, perhaps a touch too earnestly. "And besides, it was my idea."
Another two hours and several more beers later, Ron gave Harry a suspicious, if slightly unfocussed, look. "D'you enchant my chess set while I wasn't looking?" he asked.
"No!" Harry exclaimed, laughing. "Don't you think I'd be winning, if I had done?"
"Then why are they being so nice to you? They're usually right prats to people they've never met before."
"Well, I'm a very likable person, clearly they see that."
Ron snorted but held Harry's gaze, his expression going weirdly soft around the edges after a moment. Harry's heart skipped to life.
"Ron," Harry said, without quite meaning to, and without knowing quite what he meant.
Ron just looked at him, and Harry's heart was in his throat, and Ron's gaze snapped down to the table. "D'you need another beer?" he asked, ears going red.
"Um, sure," Harry said. "Just one more."
Ron nodded and went to the kitchen. Harry swallowed and stared at the chessboard. The clock on the wall gave a chime, and it was eleven o'clock.
"Shit," Harry said. He could just let it lie, for tonight, enjoy the next hour and try again tomorrow, but.
Harry took a steadying breath and pushed himself up to standing. He found Ron in the kitchen, staring confusedly at the two unopened beer bottles he'd retrieved from the fridge, seemingly deep in thought.
"I've got a mate who can open those with his teeth," Harry said, "but I've never been brave enough to try."
Ron looked up, a bit startled. "So've I," he said. "Seamus, he's called."
"Look," Ron said, after a moment, "I don't normally do this. Or ever, actually."
"I know," Harry said. "Me neither."
Ron stared at him, and Harry could see the moment his pride faltered, the alcohol winning out. "Why are you here?" he asked. "You could have—anyone. I've probably got this wrong, but you seem interested and I can't—figure out why, I mean. I'm nobody, and we've never met but you just—walked into my office and—asked me out, and I don't—"
"You're not," Harry said. "You're not nobody."
Ron frowned. "What does that mean?"
Harry closed his eyes, and put a hand on the kitchen counter to stop himself swaying. "It means—Ron, it means—" Harry opened his eyes. Without letting himself think too much, he stumbled across the room, fisted his fingers into Ron's shirt, and pulled him down for a kiss.
Ron gave a small, startled sound and went very still. Harry heard him drag in a sharp breath through his nose.
After a moment, Harry pulled back, and was only able to meet Ron's gaze out of sheer desperation. "Ron?" he asked, after too many heartbeats with no sign from Ron that anything had changed. Ron just stared at him.
"Fuck, Ron, please," Harry said, remember, and kissed him again, harder.
Ron gasped, and Harry kissed him, and then there were tentative hands on Harry's arms. Harry closed his eyes and kissed him, put everything he had into it, willing Ron to understand, to remember, and then Ron was kissing him back, moving his mouth against Harry's and letting him get closer, fit their mouths together better, and Harry did, stepping a foot between Ron's and pushing up onto the balls of his feet, lifting a hand to trail over Ron's jaw, pressing his tongue out to lick into Ron's mouth, and a small, hungry sound made its way out of the back of Ron's throat.
Both Harry's hands slid up into Ron's hair, as Ron reached around his back and pulled him closer, leaning against the counter and taking both of their weights when Harry went with it, let himself be pulled in tight, and Harry groaned disbelievingly when he felt Ron's erection pressing against him, and it was all he could do not to climb up Ron's body like the trunk of a tree, wrap his legs around his waist and rut until they both came right there next to the refrigerator.
"Ron," he breathed, "Ron," as long, hot fingers found their way under his shirt, slid over the small of his back. "Ron, I want—" His breath hitched. "I want—"
"OK," Ron said, sounding strangled, "OK, yeah, OK." He slid his hands round to Harry's sides, rubbed his thumbs over his ribs. "D'you wanna—"
"Yes," Harry said, and stepped back, tucking his fingers into Ron's belt and pulling him forwards, "c'mon." He led Ron out of the kitchen, through the lounge, and down the hall.
"S'the one on the left," Ron instructed, when they got to the bedroom doors. "One on the right's empty."
Harry blinked as his heart gave an uncomfortable stutter. "I—OK," he said, and walked them into Ron's bedroom.
"Ron," he said, hesitantly, and before he could think of what to say, Ron was pressed up against him, mouth covering his and fingers sliding up under his shirt. "I—Ron," Harry managed against his lips, but then Ron's tongue was in his mouth again.
Ron stepped them back towards the bed as he pulled Harry's shirt up and off, laved at Harry's throat as belts and buttons and zippers were unfastened, and Harry could barely breathe. His knees hit the bed and he sat down, hard, and Ron followed him, crawling over him as he lay back, and then they were stretched out together, trousers and pants shoved down, Ron's cock slipping against Harry's thigh, hard and a bit slick, and entirely perfect.
"Ron," Harry gasped, dragging his lips over the stubble on Ron's jaw as he shifted over top of him. Impossibly long fingers wrapped easily around Harry's cock, pulling it flush against Ron's and stroking them together, rubbing them against each other. "Fuck, Ron," Harry gritted out as he clung to him, fingers scrambling for purchase on the smooth expanse of his back, and then he buried his face in Ron's neck and sobbed as heat seared through him entirely too quickly, and everything went sharp and white-hot.
He must have dozed a little bit, because the next thing Harry knew, he was blinking awake and Ron was sitting on the edge of the bed, darting confused, unhappy glances him through the darkness.
"Ron?" Harry asked, hesitantly.
"I, um," Ron said, staring at the bed sheet. "I don't—" He met Harry's eye. "Look, I think maybe you should go."
"Ron, wait, no—"
"I'm sorry, I don't know why I—" he stopped, looking at Harry again and searching his face in confusion. "I don't do this."
"I know, and I'm sorry, I don't know why it didn't work—it was supposed to work." He looked at Ron imploringly. "You really don't remember?"
"Remember what?" Ron asked, his eyebrows drawing together.
Harry winced, the breath knocked out of him. "Me," he managed, after a moment.
Ron stared at him. He opened his mouth, closed it, and then he was gone.
Harry sat in his own bed and blinked into dark space where Ron had been.
"Hermione Granger," Hermione said, extending her hand as her cheeks went a bit pink. "Although, I suppose you already know that, seeing as you've come to my office."
Harry wanted to smile, but couldn't. "Hi, Hermione. Um, sorry to be blunt, but we're stuck inside my Latebra Infinita loop, because Minister Renwick was mental, and I'm an idiot. You and I are friends. You're helping me break out of it."
Hermione blinked. "All right," she said slowly.
"If you need time to let that sink in, I can come back."
"No," Hermione said, after a thoughtful silence. "It's OK, just. Hold on." She stood and went to her open door. "Tom," she said, "could you cancel my nine-thirty, please?"
Harry sighed with relief and managed a smile. "Thank you," he said, as she pulled her door shut, "for believing me."
"I'm not entirely sure why I do, except I can't begin to imagine why you'd make that up. OK, so, how much have I forgotten?" Hermione asked, and it was a moment before Harry could speak.
"All right," she replied, sometime later, "either what you confessed to Ron wasn't the secret that's causing this, or he didn't get the message."
"I think he got the message," Harry said, blushing. "And I don't know what else it could possibly be."
Hermione eyed him thoughtfully. "What did you tell him, exactly?"
Harry's face got hotter, and he rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. "I, um. I slept with him."
Hermione frowned. "You slept with him?"
"But what did you say?"
Harry shrugged. "There wasn't that much talking? I mean, there was, but not really about that. It sort of—spoke for itself."
Hermione just looked at him, her gaze going a bit pitying.
"We didn't, I mean—" Harry stammered, "we didn't do all that much, there's a lot we could've—do think that's the problem? That we didn't—go all the way?"
"No, Harry," Hermione said after a moment. "I don't think that's the problem at all."
Harry just looked at her.
"Harry, do you honestly think that you being physically attracted to Ron—wanting to have sex with him—is a big enough secret to get you incarcerated in a magical time loop?"
"Yes?" he replied, hopefully.
She sighed. "Harry, you have to tell him how you actually feel."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, paused, then sagged into his chair. "I can't." He rubbed at his forehead. "Especially now. You should've seen his face, Hermione. He didn't want—he'll hate me."
"But he was willing enough at first, yeah? Maybe he just over thought it, or—"
"Felt like he couldn't say no, because I'm Harry Fucking Potter?"
"I doubt that," Hermione said after a moment. "I sincerely doubt that."
Harry didn't reply.
"Either way, though, Harry—I'm afraid it looks like that's your only way out of this. You have to confess."
Harry closed his eyes. "He might not remember, right? That was one of the reasons they stopped using this damn spell?"
"More often than not, no one remembered a thing, yes."
Harry sighed, and wasn't particularly comforted by those odds.
Harry watched for yet another long moment as Ron blinked, gulped for breath, launched himself up from his seat, and issued a flustered, squeaky greeting. Harry breathed against the vicious twist in his stomach, and tried not to lean against the door frame for support.
"Hello, Ron," he said, as calmly as he could. "Do you have a minute?"
Ron's mouth fell a little further open before, "Sure! Yes, um. Sure. Please come in." He turned to the second chair in his office, piled high with a messy stack of Quidditch magazines, and hastily scooped them up. "Please sit, if you like."
"Thanks," Harry said, and did. Ron hovered, for a moment, just looking at him, before turning a full circle in search of a spot to put down the magazines.
When Ron finally settled himself back into his own chair, it was a moment before Harry could stop staring at the floor, and gather the courage to look him in the eye.
Ron looked terrified. "Is something wrong?" he asked. "Have I—"
"No," Harry said. "No, you're fine. I just have to tell you something. About me. It isn't going to make any sense to you right now, but—will you bear with me?"
Ron nodded, looking more confused.
"Ron, I know that for you, this feels like the first time we've ever met, but it's not. We actually know each other quite well."
Ron's eyebrows rose, and the all-too-familiar look of confusion edged with panic began to seep into his expression.
"I know I sound mental, but please just listen. We're best mates. Have been for—for nearly two decades, now." A million things Harry couldn't say bounced around inside his head. "But the truth, Ron, is that I want more. Have done, for a long time."
Ron stared at him.
"And the reason that I moved out of our flat is that it was killing me. To be so close to you, to have so much of you, but not—not everything I wanted, it just got—it finally got too hard."
Ron's expression was completely blank.
With a deep breath, Harry toed against the floor, rolling his chair until he was right in front of Ron, knees to knees. "I'm sorry if I'm scaring you right now, and I'm really, really sorry for what this might do to us, to our friendship, if this works, but I can't take it anymore." And then Harry leaned forwards, and kissed him.
Ron was stiff against him, surprised and shocked, and Harry kept his lips pressed to Ron's, willing him to understand. Ron didn't kiss him back, but didn't pull away or make any sign of protest.
Finally, feeling ridiculous, Harry pulled back, and forced himself to hold Ron's wide-eyed gaze.
Ron suddenly winced, and gave a small yelp of pain, his fingers flying to his forehead. Harry jumped in his seat and couldn't do anything but watch, as Ron's pain seemed to pass quickly, and then he was blinking rapidly and looking around the room.
He looked at Harry in complete, profound confusion.
"Ron?" Harry asked, breathless.
"That was… really weird," Ron said, after an impossibly long moment.
Harry stared at him.
"Was I asleep just now?" Ron asked. "I feel like I just woke up. And I was having a really weird dream."
"'bout what?" Harry managed, in a whisper.
Ron frowned. "Not sure, really. Was weird, though. Like everything was just… wrong." Ron shook his head and gave Harry a confused, but friendly look.
"Ron," Harry said, still not able to speak above a whisper. "Do you remember me?"
Ron looked at him with raised eyebrows. "From my dream? Kinda, yeah. I think you were there. Although. You weren't, too. Dunno, it was really weird, mate."
Harry's heart was a runaway train inside his chest. "No, I mean. Do you remember from… always. From school, and from—do you know that we're friends?" His voice was oddly high-pitched and he couldn't stop blinking. Ron looked at him like he was completely mental—an expression Harry had had quite enough of, lately—but this was different, somehow, and the edges of Harry's vision were blurring with unshed tears before he could get control of himself.
Ron knit his brow. "'Course," he answered, slowly. He stared at Harry in confusion and concern for a long moment. Harry stared at the wall. "Everything OK?" Ron asked.
Harry drew a shaky breath and nodded, giving Ron a weak smile when he trusted himself to look back at him. "I think so, yeah," he said, and felt his smile grow stronger at the friendly, warm, not-at-all star-struck look on Ron's face.
Ron smiled, looking bemused. "So... did you need something, or is life in Auror office so dull that you came down here for entertainment barely an hour into the day?"
Harry laughed. "No, just. Just bored, yeah."
"Good job you were," Ron said. "Last thing I need it to get caught sleeping on the job."
Harry grinned, and suddenly noticed how close they were still sitting. He stood up quickly. "I'll let you get back to it," he said. "See you later, yeah?"
Ron nodded. "Speaking of, I know it's a bit early in the day yet, but I'm thinking kebabs tonight. Any objections to stopping at Beyti on the way home? Oh—sorry," he said, colouring a little. "Already forgot you don't live there anymore." Ron shot him an embarrassed glance, and Harry's heart twisted up inside his chest. "Gonna take some getting used to, eh?"
Harry nodded, and it was on the tip of his tongue to say he could come over for kebabs anyway, but he could still feel the press of Ron's lips against his, and what he needed was to get out of there before he did something stupid, and ruined what little leeway the universe seemed to be granting him.
"Hey, Harry," Hermione said, smiling at him easily, and it was all Harry could do not to pull her up into a bone-crushing hug.
"Hi," he said, smiling. "How's your day?"
"So far, so good," she replied. "Got out of the office a bit this morning, for a meeting at a client site, which was a nice change of pace. How about you?"
Harry shrugged. "Long," he said. "But improving."
She looked at him. "Anything I can do?"
Harry smiled. "No. I just came by to thank you, actually."
"For—just being you. Being wonderful."
Hermione blinked, and her cheeks pinked. "Well, you're welcome, I suppose."
Harry sat as his kitchen table and watched the sky outside darken. His fingers wrapped around an almost-full beer bottle that was no longer cold, and his flat was empty and quiet.
He took a breath and tried to feel pleased. Everyone knew him again, and he felt reasonably certain that when he woke up in the morning, it would be Tuesday. He should have been pleased. He should have been dancing a fucking jig around his flat, revelling in having his life back.
Instead, all he could think about was Ron. The press of his lips and the slide of his skin, the warmth of his long, naked body. The confused, upset look on his face afterwards, when he'd asked Harry to leave. Harry stared out the window and took a sip of his warm beer, and knew he could never tell Ron the truth, now.
The status quo hadn't used to hurt so much.
A knock came on Harry's door, which was odd, since the only people Harry had given this address to so far would probably have Floo'd. Harry had to move a few not-yet-unpacked boxes from the door before he could open it, expecting a Muggle neighbour.
Instead, he found Ron, looking unsettled.
"Ron?" Harry said, blinking. "What are you doing here?"
Ron frowned. "Don't you like visitors anymore?"
"No, I just—would've expected you to Floo, that's all."
Ron shrugged as Harry stepped back to let him in. "Wanted to walk for a bit. So this is your new place, eh?" he said, looking around.
"Yeah. Same as it was yesterday."
Ron looked at him.
"When you helped me finish moving," Harry clarified.
"Right, yeah," Ron said, chuckling uneasily. "Was that just yesterday?"
"Um, yeah. Yesterday afternoon."
"Weird," Ron said. "Feels like a lot longer."
"You have no idea," Harry muttered. "Beer?"
Ron nodded, and Harry fetched two cold ones before sitting back at the kitchen table. Ron hovered for a moment, before taking the seat next to his.
"Did you have a good rest of your day?" Harry asked, hesitantly.
Ron shrugged. "Fine," he said.
"Hit the kebab shop on the way home?"
Ron looked at him, shaking his head no after a moment, and Harry swallowed. "Wasn't hungry," Ron said.
Harry drew a couple of uneasy breaths before venturing, "Is something wrong, mate?"
Ron took a pull from his beer and furrowed his brow. "I'm not sure."
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"I—this is gonna sound mental," Ron said.
"I don't mind."
"It feels like I haven't seen you in ages, or something. I—it's like—you only moved out yesterday, and I saw you this morning, but it's like—"
"Like what?" Harry asked, barely able to breathe.
"Like you've been gone for a long time, and I've really missed you."
Harry stared at him.
"I dunno why, I told you, it's stupid," Ron said, turning his eyes down to his beer, his ears pink.
"It's not," Harry said, after a moment. "It's not stupid. I—I can't really explain it, but I know what you mean. And it—it feels like that for me, too."
Ron stared at him a moment, waiting for an explanation or maybe just a clue somewhere in Harry's face, before averting his eyes again. "It just feels like I'm forgetting something. Something important, and I—I just don't know."
He looked at Harry again, frown deepening. "Why did you move out, Harry?" Ron whispered.
Harry's breath caught, and he felt his eyes go wide. "I—you know why, Ron."
"I don't think I do."
"I told you, it was just time. We couldn't go on living like that forever, so we might as well start getting used to it."
"Why can't we?"
Harry gave a small laugh that wasn't really a laugh. "We've got to grow up sometime. I can't imagine your future wife would be very pleased if I insisted on living with you forever."
"What future wife?" Ron said.
"Yours!" Harry cried, helplessly. "She's out there somewhere, Ron. One day you'll find her."
"I'm not so sure," Ron said, giving Harry a decidedly funny gaze. "But I don't think that's why you moved out. That's not what you told me this morning, is it?"
Harry blinked and felt his stomach drop. "You—you remember that?"
Ron thought, for a moment. "I think so. You had to tell me in order to break the spell, didn't you?"
Harry gaped, and then nodded.
Ron looked away. "Did you—was it true?"
Harry stared at the side of his face, the curve of his throat. "Yes," he said, helplessly. Ron swallowed.
"And you preferred moving out—getting away—to me knowing the truth?"
"No. That's not what I preferred at all, I just—"
Ron looked at him.
"—I was afraid," Harry whispered.
"Of losing you."
Ron watched him for a moment, then darted his eyes around the apartment, expelling a breath in an almost-laugh. After a moment, "So what's the rent on this place like?" he asked, casually.
Harry blinked. "Um. It's not—um. Not too bad."
"You think I can afford half?"
Harry's heart all but stopped.
Ron turned to look at him, the pink in his ears spreading to his cheeks. "Or you could come back, and we could keep the second bedroom for guests."
"I don't—understand," Harry said, after a moment. "You don't—Ron, you don't want this."
Harry opened his mouth, closed it, and it was mortifying, but, "Ron, one of the days, I—one of the things I tried was—was kissing you and then we, well. But you didn't like it."
Ron frowned. He looked at Harry and away, and back again.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, wretchedly. "Whether you remember it or not, I'm sorry. But I had to try."
"I think—I think I do remember," Ron said, knitting his brow. "We played chess, didn't we? And then—" He drew breath, his eyes going a bit wide. Harry stared fixedly at the table. "Oh god," Ron breathed, "it all makes so much more sense now." He looked at Harry. "I did like it, Harry. A lot."
"I couldn't understand it. I thought I'd turned into one of those crazy people who fall desperately in love with celebrities they've never met."
Harry stared at him. "Desperately in what?" he managed.
Ron blinked and coloured, but shrugged. "So what do you say?" he asked, after a minute. "Here or there?" Harry opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The corner of Ron's mouth twitched. "You can say no. Or take some time to think about it, if you like."
Harry was shaking his head from side to side before Ron had finished speaking, and barely registered the way Ron was moving towards him, sliding closer. "No," Harry said. "I mean, yes. I—don't need to think. I—yes. Please. Yes, please. To either one, I don't care. If you're—if you're sure it's not too fast."
Ron chuckled. "We're a lot of things, Harry, but too fast is definitely not one of them."
Harry let out a helpless laugh, and then Ron kissed him, lips warm and rough and perfect, and the best part of all was the way he breathed Harry's name, like it meant something.
It started out like any other day: Harry woke up.
The morning light was weak and grey, and rain was battering the window. Harry bolted upright, because he hadn't seen rain in ages.
"OK, mate?" came a voice from somewhere next to him, sleep-rough and concerned. Harry turned to look at him, losing his breath at the sight of wide blue eyes blinking up at him, a bit shy and a bit worried, but full of recognition.
"What—what day is it?" Harry asked, helplessly.
Ron frowned. "Tuesday, I should think."
Harry just stared at him, and then breathed a sigh that came from his very bones, his eyes sliding shut. "Tuesday," he said.
A large, warm hand found Harry's hip under the blanket, and tentatively slid over it. Harry opened his eyes and the slow, sleepy smile that spread across Ron's face reached into his gut, warmed him from the inside out.
"Do you still remember?" Harry asked, rubbing his fingertips over the back of Ron's hand.
Ron's smile grew a little lopsided. "I think so."
"Tell me something."
"Doesn't matter. How we met, or something we did once, or—anything."
Ron watched him, a moment, and turned his hand so their fingers could tangle together. "When we were twelve, and you came to stay before school started, you and I spent almost an entire afternoon hiding in the garden shed, trying to work out how to spell Percy's broom so it'd buck him off every time he tried to fly."
Harry blinked, and then barked a laugh. "Oh god, I'd forgotten about that. We never did manage it, did we?"
"Nope," Ron said, shaking his head ruefully.
Harry grinned, and lay back down, rolling in close and throwing a leg over Ron's thigh. "Tell me something else," he said, and pressed a kiss to Ron's shoulder.
Ron brought his arm around to Harry's back, splaying his long fingers over the dip of his spine, and pulled him closer. Harry burrowed in, as close as he could. He watched his own fingers trail over Ron's stomach and chest, listened to the rumble of his voice and the rain outside, and decided that he wouldn't mind at all if every day were just like this one.