Boy, now everyone knows why I don't usually write ultra-long stories. Because it takes me -forever-.
Anyway, here goes another chapter.
Normally the professors of Hogwarts do not creep about the castle. Their profession demanded them to show a certain amount of dignity and poise, even superiority on occasion. The fragile lives of hundreds of students were held within the clasp of their hands, and one slip could not only be fatal to a student, but to others as well. Magic could be a dangerous business and every teacher at Hogwarts had seen that firsthand, at one time or another.
If any person in Hogwarts knew the near-fatal quality magic could possess it was Harry Potter, and he taught his students with care, balancing friendliness and reserve as best he could, knowing that he couldn’t afford to wrap himself up in the intimate personal details of each of his students. He knew the rules.
And yet, Harry Potter had never been a great follower of rules.
Which was why he was skulking outside the doors of the Great Hall, trying to peer inside enough to see if Ron had arrived for breakfast, and yet not so far that Ron might be able to see him looking. It was a pity that Dumbledore had put the High Table so far from the doorway…
Harry jumped, nearly tripping over the hem of his robe and he whirled around to see one of his students watching him curiously. So much for dignity, he sighed mentally.
“Yes, Miss. Erlanger?” he asked, clearing his throat.
“Are you…all right, sir?” Miss. Erlanger asked hesitantly, apparently having heard about the incident in his class the day before. Probably waiting to see if Harry would collapse and start moaning nonsense as well.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Harry waved her off impatiently, and then changed his mind as inspiration stuck. “No, wait,” he called, and she walked back, warily. “Be a dear and peek into the hall for me. Just see if Mr. Weasley is there, won’t you?” He gave her his most winning smile, deciding that if professional dignity was already lost, he might as well try a bit of charm instead.
Erlanger smiled back, shyly, and Harry winced mentally as the horrifying thought of having a love struck second year in his class for the next several months came to him. Ah, well, better to deal with the matter at hand and worry about that when and if it happened.
Opening the door, Erlanger peeked inside for a moment before pulling back to whisper, “Yes, sir, Professor, sir. He’s sitting at the end of the table.”
“Thank you, dear,” he said absently, steeling himself for the battle ahead. He and Ron were going to have a talk, even if it killed one of them…and given both their temperaments as of late, it was probably a distinct possibility. Just as well that Madame Pomfrey usually took her breakfast in the Great Hall.
Squaring his shoulders, Harry strolled in as nonchalantly as he could, walking quickly to the High Table before Ron could see him and vanish.
It seemed that all his precautions were hardly necessary. Ron was slumped in his chair looking distinctly pale, and for a moment worry over his friend overshadowed his determination. His day off didn’t seem to have done Ron much good.
Still, the more ruthless part of Harry conscious argued, if he was ill then getting any answers from him would probably be easier, and if he waited much longer Ron might get ill enough to leave, considering that an ill Auror was hardly a very good one…shoving his guilt aside, Harry walked up to the table and stood next to Ron. “Is this seat taken?” he asked, politely.
Ron startled, glancing up at Harry for a moment before his eyes skittered away. He looked next to him as if startled to see there were chairs. “Snape usually sits there,” Ron offered, slowly.
“Well, I don’t see his name written on it.” Harry tapped it lightly with his wand and the words ‘Harry Potter’ gleamed brightly on the back of it. Ron rolled his eyes, and resumed what seemed to be an effort to mangle what might once have been toast.
Harry made a great show of filling his plate with food, watching discreetly as Ron nibbled on his maybe-toast. Harry had had perhaps dozens of ideas of how to begin this conversation, stemming from the most discreet to the positively ridiculous. He’d finally decided to bring the topic up gently and considering Ron’s pallor, perhaps gentle would be the best route to take.
In the end, however, as Harry found himself staring at Ron’s lips, the only spot of color in his otherwise white face, and remembering how soft they had been, how cold in contrast to the burning heat of his mouth, the conversation started itself, perfectly without Harry’s permission as his mouth chose that moment to ask, softly, “Why did you kiss me?”
Ron nearly choked, coughing painfully on his last bite of toast, and Professor Flitwick patted him on the back helpfully, the effort nearly tumbling the tiny man out of his chair.
Ron gave Flitwick a tightlipped smile and shook him off as politely as he could before taking a drink from his glass. “Harry, I don’t think this is the best place to discuss this,” Ron muttered into his water.
“Well, unless you wanted to talk about it in front of one of my classes, this will have to do,” Harry retorted. “I can’t seem to corner you anywhere else.”
Ron sighed wearily. “Why do we even need to talk about it at all? You’re a teacher, Harry, I’d have guessed you’d be able to puzzle your way through this on your own.”
“I can’t seem to puzzle my way through anything about you.”
“What do you want to hear, Harry? That I haven’t had a good shag in over a year now?” Ron hissed, turning his toast to crumbs as he twisted it agitatedly between his fingers.
“So, what? You kissed me because you’re horny?”
Flitwick was staring at his plate and chewing so determinedly that Harry was certain he was going to chip a tooth and Harry suddenly realized that most of the table was eating in much the same fashion, with the exclusion of Professor Dumbledore who was instead peering down the table, one eyebrow raised in question. Harry smiled at him weakly.
“Maybe we should talk about this somewhere else,” Harry muttered, feeling his cheeks redden.
“You always had the best ideas,” Ron replied dryly, wiping his hands on his napkin with distaste. Ron dropped his napkin on his plate, pushed away from the table, and Harry followed, determined not to let his chance escape him now.
Ron didn’t seem to be making any attempts at escaping; instead he just walked slowly through the hallways, Harry following him in silent puzzlement. Up the stairs to the Gryffindor tower, then past, wandering with seemingly aimless purpose until Harry dared to ask softly, “Ron?”
Ron stopped abruptly in the middle of the hallway and Harry nearly ran into him. Rubbing his temples with one hand, Ron turned away, facing the wall away from Harry as he spoke with startling calm.
“I kissed you because I love you.”
Harry reeled backwards, finding the wall suddenly solid behind his shoulders as he stared at the man who had once been his closest friend, hardly able to breath in the sudden silence of Ron’s announcement. He could feel the cold bricks of the wall beneath his fingertips, rough stone catching at his skin, the muted colors of the rugs at their feet dazzled in his eyes, the thousand tiny details of this one hallway swamping him, and Harry swallowed hard, trying to force his suddenly reluctant vocal cords to form words, any words to chase away this awful silence.
Yet it was Ron who spoke first sounding all the worse in the face of Harry’s silence. “Would you rather I’d just lied about it?” he asked, with great weariness. “You want me to leave? Fine. You win. I’ll go.”
Word finally tore free from Harry’s reluctant throat, tiny and lost. “I don’t want you to go.”
“Then what do you want, Harry?” Ron blew out his breath in frustration, finally turning to face him and this Ron didn’t look different to him so much as simply old, exhaustion lining his face with years that didn’t exist. “You want me to sit here and confess all my sins? You keep asking me questions that you don’t want to know the answer to. Just tell me what you want.” Ron held his hands out in a gesture of helplessness. “Please.”
Harry stepped forward without a thought, past the hands and through the arms, and kissed him, clumsily, hands rendered dumb and powerless as they clutched at Ron’s coat. And Ron responded; rescuing him like Ron had always tried to so many times before, gentling Harry’s touch as their mouths met in a sweet, longing kiss that left Harry aching more in his heart than his body. And then Ron pushed him away, one hand cupping Harry’s cheek.
“No,” Ron said gently. “That’s what I want.”
And he walked away.
end chapter 11