Ron Weasley leaves his house quietly. His eyes scan the garden behind The Burrow searching through the twilight for any sign of movement, any sign of messy hair.
He feels glad that the war is over now. By some miracle, Ron still has his whole family. Though in all honesty he knows none of them will ever be truly whole again.
War takes things out of a person that can never be replaced with anything else, can never be put back exactly as they were. It takes things out of friendships and relationships. They had fought a war and won – but it had made Horcruxes out of them all. Ron has decided to get back some of the things that the war had taken from his friendship with Harry.
So he searches the garden intently. Following his instincts, he makes his way to the orchard that had served as a Quidditch pitch in his youth. His youth, which seems as if it ended a decade ago, and he’s only twenty one.
Ron shakes off the thoughts of what life was like before the war and continues his search. The grass is too long; the flowers are wilting in the humid summer climate. His mother has no energy for gardening. He fears it will be some time before his mother has energy much for anything.
Ron ignores the panic in his heart at the thought, and he tries to remember the vitality his mother had had before his family had even heard of the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. He finds the memory, grasps on to it and smiles, his eyes constantly scanning the yard as he approaches the orchard.
Dry leaves crunch underneath his feet, and he knows that if Harry truly wanted to hide, he’d be far away from Ron already. War hones instincts to a point that they are almost animal in their clarity. Before the thought is even finished, Ron is sniffing the air, his ears tuned in for any unnatural, human-like sounds that he can walk towards.
A twig snaps. Behind him, a whine sounds and Ron is reminded of a dog that has been kicked, of a child experiencing the worst kind of nightmare. It is a sound that is both animal and human, the sound of a broken soul. It is Harry.
Ron’s eyes focus, adjusting to the fading light as he catches sight of a figure sitting limply against an apple tree. Harry’s head is bent, as though he tries to ward off the world, and everything it has put him through.
Ron makes his way as silently as he can towards the tree, not wanting to startle his friend or cause him to flee. His heart pounds loudly in his chest as he approaches, taking a spot against another side of the same tree, wondering where he should start the conversation.
The Chocolate Frogs weigh heavily in his pocket and Ron hasn’t yet decided if the offering would be appropriate or not. He knows that Harry would rather be left alone in his misery – in his guilt, his despair. Ron knows, too, what his best friend needs is someone he can finally lean on. Someone who will help shake the burden he was born with.
Ron knows that that someone can only be him. He knows that while it is a dirty job, it has to be him. Imagining Harry needing anyone else to do this was like a punch in the gut – as is imagining the havoc caused if Harry turned to someone like Fred or George. It’s almost enough to make him shudder.
He knows, too, that he’s up to the task. He just needs to find a way to get started, knowing that Harry would rather be finished than beginning. His voice is soft, tentative and a little afraid, as he asks Harry if he remembers the day they met on the train. The figure beside Ron stiffens, not saying a word or making a sound as Ron recounts the tale of a bushy-haired know-it-all informing him bossily of a spot of dirt resting on the side of his nose.
The same know-it-all who was waiting for him to return to the house, who had looked at Ron knowingly as he snuck out and rushed over to give him a good-luck kiss. The same bushy-haired girl who is now his.
“Fred and George tried to be all cool around you, remember? I bet they squirmed back then, knowing I was sitting with the Great Harry Potter. And then the way you handled Malfoy – I’ll never forget how I felt then, mate. Not if someone Obliviated me a hundred times.”
Ron’s voice rings soundly through the night, telling story after story. He thinks that perhaps he should write a book and send it to Harry, instead of wearing his voice thin talking to a shadow of the person his best friend used to be.
He knows deep inside himself that the Harry of old is still there, refuses to believe that the boy he had grown up with, faced the world with – won the war with – has disappeared forever and left behind a breathing, walking lump.
He knows, also, that Ginny’s persistence wasn’t just Ginny’s at all. Ron knows that he could be just as stubborn and pig-headed if it was worth the cause. Harry is worth the cause. Harry is the second half of Ron’s Everything.
Ron feels his throat tighten at the thought, and can’t push it to the back of his mind as he’s swamped with emotion. He has to stop talking, which causes Harry to shift a little and move his head to the side, as if trying to listen to Ron’s thoughts. It’s unlike anything Ron’s ever felt before. It’s on a different level to when he tells Hermione that he loves her and she whispers the words back to him shyly, as if she – like him – still can’t believe it’s real.
Ron loves Harry. And it goes deeper than the love he holds for his brothers, it goes all the way to an unbreakable bond formed silently by two eleven-year-olds on a rattling old steam train ten years ago.
Ron is completely blindsided with the realisation and wishes that the Chocolate Frog swamp now oozing in his pocket was a case of Firewhiskey. He thinks of how he’s always known that his friendship with Harry is deep and true, but he’d never thought of Harry in terms of love. He thinks of how blokes just don’t do that sort of thing. Of how his brothers would surely laugh and call him derogatory names if he voiced his feelings to anyone else.
It is a different love for the one Ron holds for Hermione, but it is just as important. He is not someone divided into two to share with his girlfriend, he is one person divided into three to share with his best friends. All three of them are. There is nothing like it.
Choking back words that he doesn’t know how to say, Ron pulls a rumpled package from his pocket and silently passes it to Harry. He waits patiently as his best friend stares at the mess with deadened eyes, before his pale hand reaches out and grasps on to the very squashed, rather disgusting, former Chocolate Frog.
“Here, mate. Chocolate Frogs have cards in them, you know, to collect – Famous Witches and Wizards.” Ron says slowly, unable to distinguish himself from the child he used to be. “I’ve got about five hundred, but I still haven’t got Agrippa or Ptolemy.”
He feels Harry’s gaze latch on to his, sees a fire light behind the dead emerald-green of his eyes and a responding flame of hope leaps up in Ron’s chest. He watches Harry’s lips twitch at the corner, as if they’re trying to remember how to smile and Ron’s mouth tries to answer in kind.
Before Ron can do anything, Harry lets out a barking half-laugh, a harsh sound deep from his throat that startles Ron. The noise is almost foreign to Ron now, it has been far too long since he heard it. Ron laughs in surprise, which Harry returns in kind.
Ron and Harry work each other up to laugh hysterically in the orchard of The Burrow, a sense of relief accompanies the sound. They laugh to relieve themselves of everything. It is not long before their laughter turns to tears, and their relief turns to grief.
They move instinctively towards each other, find comfort and humanity in a brotherly embrace, and Ron knows that, whatever it takes, Harry will come back to them all one day. And Ron will make sure he stands for him, as Harry has done for him – and the world – since one fateful trip on the Hogwarts Express a lifetime ago.
A/N: Thank you to Antonia_East who loves Ron the way I write him and has mad pre-beta skillz. Thank you, too, as always to Tari who is always eager to read something I write and always there with a very gentle, accurate pink (not red) pen. Thanks, Angels.