Disclaimer:Surely no one is silly enough to believe that I own these characters, or this world? JK Rowling does and I'm only playing with them. I promise they'll be happy when I put them back.
REPOSTED BROKEN INTO SMALLER CHUNKS WITH THE DIVIDERS IN I hope
Author's notes:This series is supposed to cover the last two years of school for Harry and Ron. It discusses child abuse, underage consensual sex between two people who love each other, and will eventually cover MPREG as well. If any of these topics offend you please turn back now. In addition, I have tried to follow cannon as best as I can, but you know how it goes…I'll have messed something up somewhere along the way. I know their birthdays are wrong, but lets just allow for artistic licence and no one will get hexed.
Further warning:this piece in particular starts off quite dark, but things get better as they go along.
Sympathetic Magic: Part One - the Summer Holidays
Harry lay in the small, hot, stuffy room and stared blankly at the wall. Hedwig's cage sat empty by the window. She was off at the Burrow, sending his daily report - something that ran along the lines of 'still here, still alive, nothing to report', although sometimes he changed the order of the words around for a bit of variety.
Alastor Moody's words to Uncle Vernon had made the long weeks following Sirius' death an unrelenting course in hell. The moment they stepped into the house his Uncle had turned and slapped Harry - hard. This was something that had rarely ever happened to Harry before - verbal slaps and jabs, yes, but the Dursley's had never actually touched him if they could help it; to the point that Harry had learned to take care of his own grazed knees and elbows at the age of three.
The slap had been followed with a shove that sent him to the floor and Dudley had landed on Harry's chest with all of his not inconsiderable bulk, winding him thoroughly. Though his cousin had been inflicting quite a bit of pain on Harry at the time, instead of the malicious enjoyment that Harry had expected to see in those piggy little eyes, there had only been a sort of sick fear. Dudley was afraid of Harry, to the point of terror. The knowledge had not been comforting.
Uncle Vernon had then proceeded to tell Harry very clinically that if he breathed one word of protest to his Wizarding friends, then Vernon Dursley would kill his nephew himself. Harry would be locked in his room unless working on the chores that they set him, and any chore not finished to their standards would result in no food for that day. Uncle Vernon had then kicked Harry in the side and while he was attempting once again to recover his breath and deal with the pain, his Uncle had rummaged through Harry's pockets until he'd come up with Harry's wand.
Dudley had leapt off Harry and Uncle Vernon had ordered him to his room. Aunt Petunia, who had been standing by the door for the entire encounter, ignored Harry's desperate glance and instructed her son to lock up Harry's things - although Hedwig would be placed in Harry's room. Every morning Uncle Vernon appeared with a pen and piece of paper, stood over Harry until he'd written a note that passed approval, then watch his nephew send Hedwig on her way.
Harry found it hard to care. He was still grieving over Sirius and the disastrous attempt to thwart Voldemort that he'd led at the cost of his friends. The fact that his godfather had been killed coming to Harry's defence, coupled with the knowledge that he should have listened to Hermione and Ron, and mastered the Occlumency lessons no matter what he thought of Snape and his hatred, only added to the burden of despair Harry carried with him. Ron and Hermione had paid a terrible price for their support of him, and though he'd have been devastated if Hermione had died, if Ron had been killed Harry would have followed him without second thought. Thankfully both his friends had survived and Harry had made a pact with himself that he would keep them safe with whatever means possible. If that meant dissolving his friendship with them and distancing himself from everyone then so be it.
His cousin unlocked the door, and Harry dragged himself automatically to his feet, his gaze remaining fixed blankly on the walls. This was another part of the daily routine at Privet Drive, one that Dudley himself had instigated. Now that Harry's wand was safely locked somewhere in the house, Dudley had overcome some of his fear and reverted to their childhood pattern of beating the living daylights out of Harry whenever he felt sure his parents wouldn't notice. Harry had tried to defend himself a few times, but Dudley had evidently gained some knowledge of boxing at Smeltings - disproving Harry's initial theory that he was on the team because his layers of fat cushioned his opponents blows and when they'd tired of hitting them, Dudley could then take a big swing.
When the door clicked shut behind his cousin once more Harry dragged himself to the bed and lay down. He knew that in the morning the worst of the bruises would have faded, and the sharp pains he carried in his body would have retreated to a dull ache. His Aunt and Uncle ignored the faded traces of the beatings, and Harry knew better than to complain. As long as he could complete the list of chores and maintenance that they left on the table for him, there would be no move to curtail Dudley's pleasure.
The only positive thing that Harry could find in the situation - and it was more a 'laughing so I don't cry' attitude at that - was that the mental distance created by the physical pain and sheer grief had allowed him to master the skill of Occlumency pretty quickly. Voldemort would have an easier time getting into Gringotts, or Hogwarts for that matter, than he would getting into Harry's mind once more.
Harry's gaze shifted a little, falling on the calendar that Dudley had received last Christmas and discarded. Harry had been surprised to see it pinned to the wall of Dudley's second bedroom until he remembered that Dudley's Great Aunt Drucilla had sent it, and she was expected to give her nephew a sizeable inheritance when she died. Aunt Petunia probably didn't want to run the risk of upsetting her as Dudley's marks were as low as ever and it looked like he wouldn't be fit for much of anything when he finished school.
With a jolt, Harry realised that it was Ron's birthday today. His friend was turning sixteen, which meant that the present that Dobby the house-elf was keeping for Harry would be delivered today too. Harry had found it hard to hide the present - and the act of purchasing it - from his friend, what with them living in the same dorm room and all, but Dobby had presented him with a unique opportunity to keep his gift hidden and Harry had happily taken it.
Though his friend hadn't shown it, his stint as the Gryffindor House Quidditch Keeper had stiffened his hands and wrists considerably. Woods old robes and protective gear had fit well enough to play in, but the protective gear had, by reason of much use and practice, been moulded to fit their former Keeper. Ron would have grown into the robes by the time school started next year, but Harry had bought him a complete set of new protective pads from Quality Quidditch Supplies.
He'd had them delivered to Hermione and Dobby had then hidden them, along with a card from Harry. One of the school owls would deliver the package today and Harry spent a few moments singing 'Happy Birthday' to his friend silently. Wizards came of age at sixteen in the Wizarding community, and his friend would be allowed to learn to Apparate as well as use magic outside of school term - provided he wasn't doing it in front of Muggles. There would probably be a party at the Burrow tonight but, as it was only the second week of the summer holidays, Harry would not be able to leave the protection of Privet Drive.
To be honest, he hadn't wanted to - the chance that he would attract Voldemort's attention once again and thereby put the whole Weasley family at risk had pretty much dampened any desire he had to go to Ron's birthday party, and he hadn't been invited anyway. Hedwig sometimes returned with a letter from Ron, or Mrs Weasley, which Harry would be forced to show Uncle Vernon. On those occasions the daily reply would include some reference to their letter, albeit very carefully worded.
Unable to get comfortable with the new set of pains and bruises, Harry closed his eyes and fled into sleep. At least when he slept there was a chance he would dream of his friends, seeing them happy and safe.
"Congratulations, Mr Weasley, you've passed your test," the voice of the Witch in front of him was bored, but Ron couldn't care less. The moment he'd gotten home from Hogwarts, Ron had a mission. He was going to study and practice for his Apparate test and pass it the day after his sixteenth birthday. His mother had been a little taken aback when he'd stated his intentions the first evening home, but his father's eyes had gleamed with understanding.
"An excellent plan, Ron," Arthur Weasley had spoken before his wife could, "Young Harry will appreciate the company, I'm sure."
Ron grinned in memory. His father may have been a quiet man, but he was not dull. He often saw to the heart of his children's actions before their mother did, and would offer his opinions quietly, in a way that always held their attention, no matter what he said.
"Thank you," Ron remembered his manners and took the official certification she was holding out to him. He signed where indicated - pledging not to abuse his licence and to follow the guidelines laid down by the Ministry for anyone who Apparated - and then took his copies back into the corridor where his mother was waiting for him.
"I passed!" he told her, and yelped when she wrapped him in a fervent hug, "Mum!"
If there was anything more embarrassing than being hugged by a dewy eyed mother in the middle of the Ministry for Magic, Ron couldn't think of it.
"Oh congratulations, dear!" Molly let him go and straightened his robes automatically, "And on your first try too! Come on, your father will want to know!"
Ron followed along happily, unable to wipe the grin from his face. This was a freedom he'd wanted desperately for some time - and not just because it meant that travelling would be easier. He'd long argued against the exile that Harry was placed in each summer, though Professor Dumbeldore had stated time and again that Harry had to stay with his only blood relatives until his birthday. That meant that Harry had missed the comfort of being surrounded by friends for most of the summer holidays.
That didn't mean Harry forgot him - he'd managed to send a birthday present each year - often tucking it into Ron's trunk before they left school. They'd only exchanged cards for the most part, but this year his friend had sent him the perfect gift. His family had also done a bit extra - the sixteenth birthday was important to Wizards - but it had been Harry's gift that gave him the most pleasure. Not because the protective gear had been new and of excellent quality, but because Ron hadn't said anything about having to use ill-fitting gear, which meant that Harry had been watching him. The thought that his best friend had at least been concerned for his comfort gave Ron a very warm glow in the pit of his stomach - one that he tried not to indulge too often.
"Ron! How did you go?"
Ron looked up, startled. While he'd been mooning over his gift from Harry, his mother had ushered him down several floors and into his father's office without him even noticing.
"I passed, Dad," Ron grinned, and showed his father his licence. Arthur clapped his son on the shoulder and grinned at his wife. Their youngest son was growing in leaps and bounds, and gaining his independence fast.
"So, Mum, are you ready to go to Privet Drive with me?" Ron handed the licence over to his mother, who stowed it safely in her handbag. After all, the daily visits to Harry were the only reason Ron had worked so hard. If left to his own devices, he probably wouldn't have started studying the theory or the practice until well after his birthday. Once he'd let the reason for his eagerness be known he'd pestered his mother every day to agree that they would go straight to Harry the moment Ron passed his test.
"Yes, dear," Molly scolded affectionately, "As you've asked me every day since you've gotten home, we'll go to see Harry now."
"Give him my regards," Arthur held his wife's eye significantly. It hadn't taken Ron much effort to persuade them that he should be allowed to visit every day - it would allow the Weasley's to keep a closer watch on the teen that their son had befriended almost six years ago. Harry's letters were very … uncommunicative. Molly had been worried about the orphaned Wizard for some time. Which was why she hadn't objected too loudly when her son woke her up early this morning, eager to get the test done with so he would have more time with his friend.
No one could Apparate directly into or out of the Ministry, and since Voldemort's attack the security had been tripled. Molly Weasley ushered her son very firmly into one of the supervised Apparate zones in the lobby - guarded by senior Aurors, and a slew of protective spells - and ensured he knew exactly where he was going before Apparating herself. She would go first to ensure that the Muggles Harry lived with didn't panic and attack them. Ron counted to ten and followed, a grin on his face in anticipation of seeing his friend again.
Harry closed the door to the bathroom softly - he'd lost a days meals when Uncle Vernon accused him of slamming the doors - and headed back into his room. The Dursley's insisted he bathe every morning before appearing downstairs, and as it was his chore to cook their breakfasts Harry got up early to ensure that he was ready for whenever they decided to appear at the table. Late breakfast equalled no food, and Harry thought he might actually be losing weight as he'd had to tighten his belt another notch around Dudley's hand me down jeans.
He hung his towel in his perfectly neat room - the bed was made to Aunt Petunia's perfecting standards already as she liked to inspect the room on her way to breakfast and any item that was out of place earned him punishment - and walked as quietly down the stairs as possible. Uncle Vernon had docked him a days meals for walking too loudly. Harry had fast come to realise that any sound he made was punishable, unless of course he didn't answer his relatives quickly and politely enough. That, naturally, was punishable too.
He slipped silently into the kitchen and started pulling out the ingredients for the Dursley's usual late Saturday morning breakfast. He set the table, opened the blinds to allow the exact amount of light in that Aunt Petunia had decreed and waited until he heard his Aunt and Uncle stirring before getting the first round of cereal and toast ready. He heard Aunt Petunia go into his room and hoped that he hadn't forgotten anything today, as he hadn't eaten yesterday after Dudley accused him of sneaking food while he cooked it the previous night.
Uncle Vernon came down the stairs and went to fetch the morning paper from the front doorstep - Harry was forbidden to step out into the front yard at all, otherwise that would be his job too - while Aunt Petunia whisked into the kitchen and regarded him with a face that looked as if she'd been sucking the sourest lemon in England.
"Your towel is on the floor," she snapped and Harry contained a sigh. It must have slipped off the end of the bed after he left. That was it for today's meals then. Resigned, Harry bowed his head and recited the apology that he seemed to utter ten times a day.
"I'm sorry for my lazy habits Aunt Petunia. Please may I tidy it up?"
His Aunt jerked her head and he walked past her, hurrying along the hall to avoid his Uncle's return from wherever the paper had been lying. There was a new paperboy on their street and he seemed to delight in tossing the papers into the hardest to reach places he could find. Ordinarily, the whole thing would have amused him, but Harry knew it was only a matter of time before he was blamed for this too.
He was heading back down the stairs when a familiar heavy tread sounded behind him. Harry gripped the banister tightly, hoping desperately that Dudley would just thump him on the way past and not linger for any further 'pleasantries'.
"Hello Potter," Dudley growled in his ear, pinning him to the banister, "I'll be going out today, so we'll just have our little chat now…"
That was all the warning Harry got before one of Dudley's fists buried itself in his kidney. Pain exploded through his body, and Harry grunted, biting his lip desperately to keep any further noises to himself.
What happened next appeared to occur in slow motion. There were two very loud cracks in the kitchen and Aunt Petunia screamed. The front door opened to admit Uncle Dursley with the Saturday paper clutched in his hand, and Dudley's fist drove into his body again, actually lifting his feet from the floor. The pain was so great that for a second, Harry didn't realise he was toppling forward. Dudley hit him again and as Aunt Petunia burst out of the kitchen Harry went headfirst over the banister. His hand was still clutching it - in fact his grip had tightened from the pain, and for a sickening moment his body did a complete roll in the air before his grip broke and he came crashing feet first into the hall, in front of his Aunt and Uncles astonished gaze.
Harry felt both legs snap upon impact and couldn't contain the scream as he crumpled into an agonised heap on the floor, his glasses smashing beside him. Before any of the Dursley's could move, either towards or away from Harry, the kitchen door swung open behind Aunt Petunia again and Ron and Mrs Weasley burst into the hall.
"Harry!" Ron shouted, his eyes wide in horror as he shoved past Aunt Petunia to kneel at his best friends side. Harry's ears were ringing and the hall was ballooning in and out of focus, so it took him a moment to register Ron's presence.
"Ron," the whisper was pained and Ron gulped as tears ran unheeded down the pale face on the ugly carpet. He took Harry's hand gingerly and nodded.
"It's ok Harry, we'll get you to St Mungo's in no time, right Mum?"
"Oh Harry dear," Molly sounded near to tears, "Ron, we can't move him ourselves. I'll go to St Mungo's and get them to come here…"
"Mum…" Ron protested, but fell silent when she glared at him. Her hands were touching Harry very lightly, and there was a red glow at the end of her wand.
"Ron, he's hurt too badly for us to move… do you want to kill him? Don't argue with me! Just stay with him and make sure the Muggles don't touch him!" Molly was at her fiercest and Ron nodded. She stood up and took a few hurried steps away from the broken body on the floor before Disapparating. Harry flinched at the sound and then moaned.
Through a haze of pain, he watched as Ron looked at the three Muggles left behind. He was glaring fiercely at Dudley, who paled and disappeared up the stairs quickly. Uncle Vernon was red faced and trembling, but he stepped forward, his beady eyes fixed fiercely on Ron's face. When he spoke it was in a fierce sort of hissing snarl.
"Get out! We don't want your kind here! Bad enough we have to tolerate him without having more of you in the house! We're decent, normal people and we'll have…"
"Decent!" Ron shouted, his voice rather shrill, brandishing his wand. It shot golden sparks at Uncle Vernon, who leapt back and batted at them with his newspaper, "Decent! Look what you've done! You've killed him!"
"Ron," Harry squeezed the fingers wrapped around his weakly, trying to calm his friend before someone got hurt. Ron had inherited his mothers temper, "Don't."
"Shh, Harry. Save your strength. We're getting you out of here. Do you have your wand?"
Harry shook his head a little and closed his eyes as another wave of fierce pain flowed through his battered body. He felt Ron rub their fingers together gently, an oddly comforting touch. Uncle Vernon was yelling that Harry's wand was locked up and they'd never get it, but Ron didn't bother trying to argue with the man to Harry's great relief.
There was a pause, and then a series of smashing noises that had Aunt Petunia squeaking in panic. When he managed to force his eyes open again Ron was holding his wand in his hand. He managed a faint smile, relieved that it wasn't going to be left with the Dursley's. There was a rattle upstairs and then Hedwig hooted, announcing her return from Ron's house. Harry panicked, clawing at Ron a little and his friend looked down at him eyes wide. Comprehension crossed his face and he tilted his head up to the ceiling. Hedwig should not be left unprotected in this house.
"Hedwig!" Ron shouted, "Go to the Burrow! Go back!"
Hedwig screeched and they heard her depart. Harry slumped back again, gasping for breath. Ron was starting to look really worried and he crouched over his friend, his hands waving aimlessly in distress. There were multiple cracks and Ron whirled to point both the wands - they were still clutched in his hand - at the door. Aunt Petunia shrieked and pressed her already thin self flat to the wall.
Molly Weasley led a team of Healers into the hallway and Ron sighed in relief, turning back to his friend.
"It's ok, Harry, they're here," he smiled. Harry couldn't answer - he had finally blacked out.
Ron was forced to sit in the waiting room with his mother while the Healers whisked off Harry. The three Wizards looked very grim, and Ron had not been comforted when Molly had rushed off to contact Professor Dumbledore, it seemed to him that his mother was trying to get their Headmaster to the hospital before something terrible happened - like Harry's death. The waiting room was crowded with a variety of Witches and Wizards with various spell and magical creature related complaints and the noise levels were uncomfortably loud. Several of the waiting patients were floating around the ceiling, anchored in place by anxious relatives or a spare tentacle.
Ron chose a seat near the door that Harry had been whisked through and stuck his wand back inside his robe. He kept Harry's in his hand, choosing to polish it on the faded blue summer weight robe he was wearing over the Muggle clothes that he often wore in the holidays. A few blue sparks shot out of the tip and he sighed, tucking it in next to his own wand and leaning back in the chair.
"Mum! Is he coming?" Ron waved when his mother appeared and called to her as she crossed the room, avoiding the Witch with a variety of snakes for hair.
"Yes, I got hold of him and he's on the way. I also sent a message to your father," Molly sat down, a very worried look on her face. Ron leaned into her side a little, very glad that his mother was here with him.
"How could they do it?" Ron choked, his words pouring over the top of each other; "You saw the bruises…they've been hurting him for the last fortnight. And you should have heard what his Uncle said! He said that they were decent people and shouldn't have to put up with the likes of us! Decent! We've never…"
Molly put her arm around his shoulders and held him tightly, her kindly face troubled. Ron hid his face in her shoulder for a moment, his whole body shaking with anger and shock.
"Hush, Ron dear. It's going to be all right. Your father and I will ask Professor Dumbledore if we can have him for the rest of the holidays," she soothed, patting his arm. Ron sat up and glared at her, wholly unappeased.
"And what about next year?" he growled, "I'm telling you mum, he goes back to those … those … Muggles over my dead body!"
"Calm down, Mr Weasley," Professor Dumbledore's voice was oddly soothing. Ron shot him a mutinous look, but subsided, mumbling under his breath. Neither mother or son was surprised by his sudden arrival - Dumbledore was famous for turning up out of the blue.
"Have you any news, Molly?" Dumbledore asked and she shook her head.
"Nothing yet, Albus," she sighed, her eyes on the doors at the end of the room. Dumbledore sat down opposite them and leaned forward. He looked very grim, and Ron was struck by the tension in his Headmaster's hands.
"Then perhaps you can tell me exactly what you saw?"
Ron and Molly took turns to report what had happened, and Ron made sure that the Headmaster knew that Harry's wand had been locked away, and his friend covered in bruises. He also related word for word Vernon Dursley's little rant. The Headmaster didn't move, and if it weren't for the cold angry glimmer of his blue eyes behind his half moon glasses, Ron would have thought him a statue.
"Professor Dumbledore," a voice called and all three of them stood up. The Healer who had called them was dressed in the usual green smock and wore her blonde hair back in a tight plait. She had a small medallion pinned to the front of her robes beneath the sigils for St Mungo's. When he got closer Ron could see it marked her rank as a Senior Healer. As she was quite young looking that meant she was one of the best and a part of him relaxed a little. Harry was indeed getting the best care.
"Ah, Healer Goodsby," Dumbledore smiled as they reached her side, "I take it you've seen our Mr Potter?"
"I have," she sounded grim, "Come with me."
She led them into a small office just through the doors that led into the emergency treatment area and waved them to a seat.
"Healer Goodsby was one of our most promising students…" Dumbledore said very quietly to Molly as they all chose seats. Ron perched on the edge of his, tension returning in a wave.
"I take it you'll want to speak to Mr Potter?" she asked Dumbledore, who nodded solemnly. His face was tense beneath his beard and Molly was fairly quivering.
"Hmm, well I can allow a short interview. We had to do a lot of work to repair his injuries, including several tricky potions for the internal damage… and you'll have to be very careful about the way you couch your questions, Professor. The combined effect of those potions can be a bit like Veritaserum, and he'll probably tell you things that he would normally keep to himself."
"What were his injuries?" Molly beat Ron to the question by only a second, and Goodsby looked even grimmer, if possible.
"He badly broke both of his legs and dislocated his shoulder too…probably when he grabbed the banister in the fall. He'd been hit repeatedly in the kidneys for quite some time; he was underweight and dehydrated as well. The fall caused further internal damage, and of course a nasty concussion. He'd also broken several ribs. We've put it all to rights, though he'll need to stay here for a few days of observation and carefully monitored diet. If you want to speak to him, Professor, you'll have to do it now…he'll go to sleep soon and likely not wake until tomorrow evening."
Dumbledore nodded and followed the Healer out, leaving Molly and Ron in stunned silence. Ron stared at the floor fiercely, his fists bunched inside his robe. He was aware that his mother was dabbing at her eyes and sniffing, but didn't look over at her, his own eyes and throat burning too badly.
Ginny was waiting for them at home, along with a very agitated Hedwig. Ron had insisted on seeing his friend before they left, and they'd sat with Harry until he succumbed to the sleep the Healers insisted he needed. By the time they left St Mungo's it was getting on for teatime, and Molly had decided they'd go straight home.
"What happened to Harry?" Ginny demanded the moment they stepped into the kitchen, but she was drowned out by Hedwig's agitated screeches. Ron managed to coax her onto his arm and took her up to his room, leaving his mother to deal with Ginny.
Dumbledore had left St Mungo's after questioning Harry, presumably to go and see the Dursley's. Ron wanted desperately to go see them himself, but knew that if he did he'd hex them into oblivion and probably end up in Azkaban Prison. Once the door to his room was shut, Ron sat on the small bookcase under his window and petted Hedwig's feathers until she calmed down. He spoke to her gently, the way he'd heard his friend do so often, and was relieved when she responded, settling her feathers back into place and fixing him with a very intent look. Ron's owl Pigwidgeon was hooting at her very softly from his cage.
"You'll be able to see Harry soon, I promise," Ron reassured her, "He'll have to spend some time at the hospital, but then we'll have him back. You're not to go back to the Dursley's, understand?"
Hedwig hooted once and blinked at him. Ron smiled and placed her on top of Pigwidgeon's cage for the time being, before sorting out some water and owl treats for her. There was a knock on his door just as he finished settling her in, and he sighed, closing his eyes. Ron didn't feel up to dealing with his rather excitable family at the moment - his mother would be all maternal concern and smothering, and Ginny would be furiously indignant.
"Come in," the words slipped from his mouth very reluctantly, and Ron was very glad to see his father step into his cramped room. Arthur Weasley was known for his calm temperament, and patience. Of course once his patience ran out he was just as much of a firecracker as his wife. None of his children tried him that far more than once.
"Dad," Ron offered a small smile, "I was just settling Hedwig down."
His father looked over at the now serene white owl and nodded before sitting on Ron's rather rumpled bed. He patted the blanket in invitation and Ron joined him readily.
"How are you, Ron?" Arthur's voice was very gentle and Ron felt his eyes sting in reply. He clenched his fist and took a rather shaky breath, determined not to cry - after all, it wasn't him in St Mungo's. It wasn't him who'd been nearly beaten to death by the people who were supposed to protect him.
"Me?" the tone was very bitter, and startled Ron as much as anyone, "I'm fine!"
Arthur put his arm around his youngest son and squeezed his shoulders gently. Ron had as much right as anyone to be upset, though the boy would deny any such thing. His second youngest had always maintained a very gruff and strong front, but he felt things deeply.
"It must have been quite a shock this morning, to find Harry in such condition."
"I knew that he hated the Dursley's," Ron's voice was strained, "And I knew that they locked him up that one time… but Dad, they're his family… All my life I've known that you and Mum loved me, and did what you thought best for me. If I got into trouble I knew that you'd back me up as long as I owned up to it and took my punishment. You never yelled at me for no reason, and you never just belted me. And even when Mum gave us a smack…"
"There, there son," Arthur rubbed the shoulder his hand was clutching and rocked them both a little, as he had when Ron was a baby, ignoring the tears and shaking, "Harry will recover, and then we'll have him with us."
"How much more is he supposed to take? His parents are dead, and so is Sirius, and then they… I hate them!" Ron choked the words out passionately and Arthur didn't say anything more. Truth was he was just as angry as his son - and his imagination took him a lot further. From the very first visit that Harry had made to the Burrow, he and Molly had noticed several disturbing little behaviours that spoke of an unhappy and insecure childhood. Harry always took part in whatever chores were going, despite their assurances that he didn't need to. He knew his way around a kitchen, although he cooked without magic, and his cleaning skills were even more exacting than Molly's. Whenever they were in a family group he would fade into the background, trying not to be noticed - and when he was noticed, there was always that look that said he expected to be sent away. He also seemed to stiffen when someone touched him, and it was obvious to them both that hugs and pats had been very rare. The one time he'd injured himself, tripping over Fred's broom and skinning both hands thoroughly, he'd simply disappeared into the bathroom to clean and tend to the cuts himself, and Molly had to fish him out so she could do it. Harry hadn't known quite what to do with himself.
Ron had calmed down, and was wiping his face defiantly. Arthur squeezed him one more time and then loosened his hold, withdrawing his grim stare from the wall to offer his son a rather washed out smile. As much as he'd like to storm the Dursley's home and demand explanations, he knew that they'd have to be content with making Harry feel as welcome and safe as they could.
"We can't change the past, son," he said firmly, "But we can make sure that Harry is welcomed to our home, and that he feels he is a part of the family. Your mother and I have always tried to make him feel welcome, and I know that you and Ginny have too. We'll just have to show him that he has a family here who wants him very much. Wash your face and hands before you come downstairs for tea."
"Will we be seeing Professor Dumbledore tonight?" Ron asked, getting up obediently. Arthur was proud of his youngest son - he had a good heart and was growing into a fine man.
"I would say he'll be here for tea," his father nodded and left the room quietly, with Ron trailing behind. He went into the bathroom while his father continued down the stairs and washed his face and hands thoroughly, before staring in the mirror and trying to flatten his rather rumpled hair.
"You need a comb, young man," the mirror informed him and Ron sighed, leaving the bathroom and heading down the stairs. Ginny was already setting the table while Molly got the last of their tea ready and his father spoke to Dumbledore.
"Hello, Professor," Ron said quietly, and his Headmaster looked over at him, his red, green and yellow robes rather uncharacteristically rumpled.
"Good evening Mr Weasley," Dumbledore replied, "I understand young Harry was sleeping peacefully when you left him?"
"Yes sir," Ron nodded and went to help Ginny. She was looking rather subdued, and Ron saw that she'd set a place for the Professor. He walked back and forth from the kitchen with the food his mother had prepared while Ginny fetched drinks for them all. The adults joined them at the table and for a few minutes the conversation concerned itself with requests such as 'pass the salad please'.
"Professor, what happens now?" Ron asked when they had all been served, "Did the Dursley's…"
"The information that Harry gave me was most complete," Dumbledore said heavily, "They were unable to deny the truth. I have removed his belongings from their house, and he will be spending the summer elsewhere."
"Not here?" Ginny looked up from her plate, and glanced at her mother, "But I thought…"
"Unfortunately the protective charm that the Dursley's reinforced each year by housing Harry over the summer has been irrevocably broken. I am afraid that it is only a matter of time before the Daily Prophet discovers Harry's presence at St Mungo's, and makes their report, though I will do my best to prevent that. Lord Voldemort will undoubtedly know what this means and the first place he will seek Mr Potter is here. For his safety and your own, it would be better that Harry does not reside here for the summer."
"But Albus! You can't send him to Grimmauld Place! The memories alone…" Molly protested, and Arthur nodded his agreement. Harry would be just as unhappy in his godfathers' house as he was with the Muggles. He put his fork down and added his support to his wife's argument.
"We'll increase the security on the house and do whatever else you think best, but Molly and I both want Harry here, Dumbledore. We'll send Ginny to her Aunt's for the holiday's and Ron…"
"No way! I'm with Harry. No matter where he goes this summer," Ron vetoed that idea in a flash, and braced himself for the argument he knew would follow. Harry would not spend any more time alone, and if anyone wanted to say otherwise they'd have the fight of their lives on their hands. He was sixteen now, and while he would obey his parents rules whilst under their roof, a man had to take a stand sometime. Molly was glaring at him, but Dumbledore spoke first.
"That would solve a problem for me," his voice silenced Molly before she could rebuke Ron's bad manners, "I was going to house Harry at Hogwarts for the summer. If young Mr Weasley here is willing to stay with his friend, that would relieve my mind considerably."
"Hogwarts?" Molly asked, and Ron bit back a groan. They'd be stuck with Filch and Mrs Norris he was sure, though on the bright side maybe they could spend some of their time with Hagrid.
"There are always several of the teachers in residence over the holidays, as they prepare for the new school year, and it is much more secure than Grimmauld place. With the death of Sirius, the house will eventually belong to Harry - until his twenty-first birthday it is held in trust for him. However, I quite agree with Molly that Harry should not be made to spend his summer there when his loss is so fresh in his mind. There is also the problem of Kreacher - the house elf has disappeared, presumably to go to Narcissa Malfoy - the next closest relative of the Black family. He will undoubtedly spill as many of the Order's secrets as he can. His dislike of us all was plain from the start."
"So, when is Harry going to Hogwarts?" Ron asked, "Should I send Hedwig there now?"
"He will spend another three days in St Mungo's, and I will arrange a port key to take him to the school from there. It would be best if you travelled with him Ron, and send your trunks on by Floo network. You should send both owls on then," Dumbledore replied, "Provided of course, that your parents agree."
"Of course we do," Arthur said firmly, holding his wife's gaze, "We don't want Harry to be alone for another summer."
There was a slight pause, then Molly nodded her agreement, looking unhappy. She had wanted Harry with them to give him the care and attention he had never received - a bit of spoiling to give him happier memories of family than the ones he'd grown up with.
"Is Harry ever going to have go back to the Dursley's?" Ginny asked, and Dumbledore shook his head.
"I have filed for an order of Separation for him with the Ministry. Next summer we will have to consider very carefully where he will reside. But there is time enough for that later," Dumbledore put his knife and fork down across his empty plate and beamed at Molly, complimenting her cooking. Ron got up to help clear away while his mother got the pudding ready.
"Professor, will we be able to go to Diagon Alley? I don't have my school supplies yet," Ron frowned in thought, "In fact, we don't even have our OWL results either, so we won't know what to get."
"Your letters will find you at Hogwarts. As soon as the OWL results have arrived one of the Professors will take you to Diagon Alley for your supplies - we hope to put the Death Eaters off your scents by sending you much earlier than anyone can expect," Dumbledore replied firmly, "Also, there is the small problem of Harry's clothes. I am no longer inclined to allow him to wear his cousins cast offs, though there was nothing we could do about it before."
"I can get him some clothes before he leaves St Mungo's," Molly spoke up determinedly, and Dumbledore nodded, holding up a hand.
"Only one or two changes, please Molly. I feel that Harry should be given the opportunity to buy something of his own," he informed her, "Professor McGonagal is at the school at this very moment, and she will be instructing Harry for Apparate Licence. Once he has passed I thought he might like to spend some time in Muggle London. Ron will of course accompany him, and no Death Eater would think to search him out there."
Ron hid a small grin of excitement. He'd inherited his father's fascination with Muggles, and spending the day in their world - even shopping for clothes, which he usually hated - would be something of a treat. And for once, Harry would be able to show off his knowledge of the Muggle world, rather than relying on Ron for help deciphering the Wizard one.
Two very large hands reached out and steadied Harry as the portkey released him. Harry leaned into the grip gratefully, still rather unsteady on his feet, and not all that keen to fall over onto the hard stone flags outside the Great Hall. He looked up into concerned dark eyes and summoned a smile for the half-giant.
"Hello Hagrid," he reached out and patted the other man's chest lightly. He'd only been out of bed for a few hours, and desperately wanted to get back into it. Ron had been acting rather strangely during his visits to Harry in St Mungo's, and Harry was worried that their friendship was forever ruined now that Ron knew how the Dursley's had been treating him. After all, if they thought he wasn't good enough for them to want to keep around, why would Ron? He'd been horrified when Ron had told him that he was coming to Hogwarts to keep Harry company over the summer. His friend had put himself back into the line of fire - Harry knew that the Daily Prophet had been sniffing around the recent events, which meant that Voldemort would be able to figure out exactly what had happened and come after him again. Ron would just have to be persuaded to leave Harry and go home.
He was brought back to the present when Hagrid pulled him into a very careful hug, patting his back very lightly. He was treating Harry as if he was made of the finest bone china, a rather rare thing for Hagrid, who chose to express his affection in rougher touches.
"Hello Harry," even his greeting was subdued, "I'm so sorry lad…"
"Not your fault," Harry's voice was rather muffled, but he returned the hug as hard as he could and then let go, waiting for Hagrid to release him as well. The groundskeeper did so with a final, careful pat and turned to greet Ron. Harry looked around, grateful that Hagrid had been the only one waiting to greet them, then tuned back into the conversation when Ron tugged on his elbow.
"Come on, we'll go up to the Gryffindor dorms. Hagrid was saying that Hedwig is already here in the owlry; she'll want to see you."
Harry waved goodbye to Hagrid and started trudging up the stairs. Though he only felt the slightest of twinges in his body, he was still quite tired as sleeping in St Mungo's had been very difficult. Healers and Nurses kept coming in to check on him, disturbing his sleep, and there had been a lot of strange noises at night.
He felt Ron reach out and cup his elbow a little hesitantly, but knew that if he jerked away from the support he'd likely fall over again. It was the little gestures like this that Harry knew he would miss the most. Ron was not the most demonstrative person, but since he'd found Harry in the Dursley's front hall he'd been reaching out and touching more often. Harry had rarely experienced friendly touch, and each one warmed him in a most indescribable manner.
"Sorry," Harry muttered as they reached the floor that their dorm was on and Ron had to take even more of his weight. Harry was puffing pretty hard and it felt like he'd just run a few laps around the castle wearing lead boots.
"Yeah, well, you just spent three days in bed. You'll get your energy back," Ron sympathised, "We'll have plenty of time to get back into training for Quidditch too. I've decided to try out for Keeper again this year."
They walked slowly along the corridor towards the Fat Lady. She was watching them rather sympathetically and Ron seemed to realise that neither of them knew the correct password just as they reached her portrait. He really didn't want to drag an already exhausted Harry around the castle looking for a teacher, nor did he want to leave Harry sitting alone in the corridor while he went searching alone. Luckily the Fat Lady solved this dilemma for them.
"The password is 'friendship' dears," she told them, and Ron controlled the urge to gape at her in astonishment. She swung forward before they could reply and he helped his friend through the portrait hole. Harry pulled free once they were inside and headed for an armchair by the empty fireplace. It was time to put his plan into action.
"Look, Ron," he said once he'd managed to sit down, "I've been thinking."
"Yeah?" Ron flopped down onto the couch nearby and raised his eyebrows at him. Harry had to control a surge of affection for his friend, sprawled in a ratty blue robe and worn jeans, utterly comfortable and comforting. Utterly loveable.
"Yeah," Harry swallowed, "I'd really rather you didn't stay here this summer."
Ron stared at him in astonishment, the back of his neck flushing just a little bit pink.
"Yeah," Harry continued doggedly, "I just want to be alone, alright?"
"Harry, last summer you complained that you were left alone and out of the loop," Ron pointed out, a hurt look on his face, "I thought…"
"You thought wrong," Harry interrupted, "Look, I just don't want you here. You know that Dumbledore is worried that Voldemort… stop flinching!… will have another go at me! I'll be stuck in the castle all summer and there's no point in you staying here. I don't want you to. Go home."
The look on Ron's face was heartbreaking, and Harry immediately felt guilty that he'd caused it, but he stuck to his guns. If Ron was killed, Harry wouldn't survive it; and he didn't want to see Ron hurt either. Ron was the most important person in Harry's world, always had been to some extent, and he couldn't risk losing him to the most evil Wizard alive.
"No," Ron replied after a moment, "You're not staying here alone. If this is about the Dursley's…"
"It's not!" Harry swallowed hard at the name, "I just don't want you here!"
"Tough," Ron's face hardened and he got up from the couch, folding his arms as he started to pace, "I'm not leaving you alone all summer."
"You'll be in danger!" Harry was losing it, he knew. Bellowing at Ron would not persuade his friend to leave, and Harry couldn't bear to take the next step of destroying their friendship. He wasn't strong enough and he hated himself for it.
"So will you!" Ron snapped back, "And two of us stand a better chance than one, you know that!"
"Why won't you just leave me!" Harry cried in frustration and Ron swung around with a wild look on his face.
"Because I love you, you idiot!"
Silence like a scream fell on the common room and the two teens stared at each other, one horrified, the other barely daring to breathe lest the words be taken back. Before Harry could even blink, Ron turned green and bolted for the nearest toilet, slamming the door behind him and locking it. Harry could hear his friend throwing up violently, and bit back a sob.
Despite his best intentions he had ruined any chance of friendship with Ron, let alone something he'd never named yet yearned for with all his being. His desire to see his friend safe and happy had backfired horribly. The look on Ron's face as he ran from the room confirmed that.
The silence in the common room was unbroken, even by sounds from the toilet where Ron was currently hiding. Harry stared at the armchair opposite him, his mind whirling. After a very long while he stirred in his chair and pulled his wand out of the pocket of his borrowed robe. He used a summoning charm to fetch parchment, quill and ink, too unsteady to stand and get them himself. Leaning forward dizzily he picked up the quill and started writing, hoping that he could salvage something of their friendship.
Once the ink was dry Harry folded the letter carefully and staggered to his feet. He weaved his way rather drunkenly to the toilet and thumped down onto his knees outside the door. Carefully he pushed the parchment under the door and then crawled over to lean on the opposite wall. Harry drew his knees up to his chest and waited patiently for some kind of sign from Ron.
Ron thumped his fist onto the edge of the toilet as his breakfast and dinner left him behind. His mind was shouting 'stupid, stupid, stupid' at him in an endless litany and he heaved a few more times before sitting back. Why had he said that? Why had he shouted those words at his best friend?
That they were true was not something that Ron could deny, or even take back. He loved Harry with all his heart and soul, but he'd never meant to tell the man! Harry liked girls, hell, he'd dated Cho Chang last year, on and off. Ron thought girls were all right, but it was boys he noticed more, and Harry he'd noticed the most. Reaching up with a shaky hand, Ron flushed the toilet and wiped his mouth absently with his hand. Once he was sure he wouldn't throw up again he staggered upright and went to wash his face and mouth properly. He turned off the tap and stared gloomily into the mirror above the sink.
A rather pale, red-haired and freckled teen stared back at him. Ron examined his face carefully and sighed. He was the first to admit that he wasn't the most attractive boy on the planet - though he wasn't ugly either. He was thin, gawky and going through one of those growth spurts that left him awkward and feeling rather ungainly. Harry on the other hand was quite handsome. He had the sort of careless grace and unconscious good looks that would have been insufferable if he'd acted like he knew about them. Ron was convinced that Harry didn't know how good looking he was, and had often wished he could tell him. Part of that ignorance, Ron now knew, was the Dursley's fault. They'd never made an effort to find anything positive about their nephew, and had made sure he knew it.
Ron turned away from the mirror and leaned back on the sink, staring down at his scuffed trainers. The problem wasn't how attractive and … well, loveable… he found Harry, the problem was that Harry didn't feel the same way about him. Now that his friend knew, would he be able to stay Ron's friend, or would he break all ties and turn his back on him? Ron bit his lip and brooded over the question, unable to come up with an answer at all. He knew exactly what it was he liked about Harry, but he'd never really figured out why Harry seemed to like him.
Ron came back to himself with a start and realised that quite a bit of time had passed while he brooded in the toilet. Resolving to worry about it later and go see what could be salvaged from their friendship now, Ron pushed off from the basin and crossed to the door. As he was reaching to open it he spotted the parchment that had been slid inside with his name on it. He bent to pick it up, marvelling he hadn't noticed it before. Leaning against the door, Ron unfolded the parchment and began to read. Harry's writing was rather shaky, but Ron was very familiar with the peculiarities of his friends' penmanship and had no trouble deciphering it.
You were the first friend I ever had in my life, and I'm really hoping right now that you still are my friend, despite what I'm about to tell you.
This is really hard… you know how bad I am at speeches, and writing it doesn't make it any easier.
I wanted to tell you why I want you to leave me alone here, but I was so afraid that you would be angry with me. You were angry anyway, but Ron, I had to see you safely away from Voldemort's biggest target. You see, I've lost so many people in my life - pathetic as it sounds - and if I lost you too I would never recover from it. Everyone expects me to be the Boy Who Lived, and just bear up under everything, like a good little boy, but almost losing you to those brains really opened my eyes.
I've always felt sick when you get hurt, even in our first year at Hogwarts when McGonagal's chess set nearly killed you. I wanted to chuck it all in then, and probably would have if Hermione hadn't been there to take care of you. Each year you've gone into danger with me and each year it gets harder and harder for me to see you hurt. You see if you died it would kill me.
I mean it, Ron. I'd die with you. You are all I have in the world, especially now that Sirius is gone. I could barely stand to see the bandages on your arms last term. I felt like I should have begged your forgiveness - I nearly did, except I knew it would embarrass you.
You're my best friend, the first one I ever made in my whole life, and I need your friendship more than I can ever say. There's only one problem. Sometimes I want more, more than I thought you could ever give me. I know I don't deserve you, but anything you can give me I'll be grateful for. You see, the people that love me keep leaving me behind, and the ones that were supposed to love me threw me away.
Please don't take it back.
Please don't throw me away.
I love you too.
Ron wiped his face absently and dried his hand on his robe. As love letters went this was nigh on perfect, and he knew that Harry would probably never write him another one. They just weren't those sort of people. He refolded the note and placed it securely in his robes before unlocking and opening the door.
Harry was crouched on the floor opposite, trembling, his face white, and when Ron reached him, ice cold. Tearful eyes found Ron's face and bloodless lips parted, trying to speak. Ron shushed him, wrapping his arms around his friend and rocking them back and forth, like his father had him only a few days ago.
"Shh, Harry," Ron crooned, "It's ok mate. We're ok. I'm not leaving you and we're still friends I promise. We'll work it all out."
Freezing hands knotted in Ron's robe and Harry made a croaking noise that Ron shushed absently. After a long moment he pulled Harry to his feet and practically carried him upstairs to the dorm. Someone had laid out pyjamas and Ron started stripping his best friend matter-of-factly, rubbing his arms briskly to warm him up before helping him into the pyjamas and tucking him into bed. Harry had a pretty good grip on Ron's fingers and the red head settled against the headboard, rubbing his thumb over his friends' knuckles until the grip loosened and Harry went to sleep.
Dobby woke them with breakfast. At some time during the night Ron had slipped down on the bed to lie with an arm over Harry's waist. They were cuddled together, though the room was warm, and their fingers were tangled together.
"Master Harry sir!" Dobby squeaked happily, "Dobby has your breakfast! Dobby has yours too, Master Wheezy."
"Good morning," Ron grinned at the confused expression on Harry's face, "Time to face the day. You must be starved - you missed tea last night."
"So did you," Harry pointed out tentatively and Ron's stomach growled in reply. The two laughed and sat up, Dobby beaming at them all the while. Once they had settled side by side on Harry's bed - Ron still fully dressed and sitting on top of the blankets - Dobby levitated the magically expanded tray onto their laps.
"Kippers! Thanks Dobby!" Ron exclaimed, lifting the cover off the plate in front of him. Harry still seemed a little stunned and Ron took the cover off his plate for him. Harry's favourite breakfast of chipolatas and scrambled eggs was revealed and he roused himself to thank the house elf for his kindness.
"It is Dobby's pleasure, sirs," Dobby nodded emphatically, "Dobby has been given an enormous honour by Professor Dumbledore! Dobby is to be Master Harry and Master Wheezy's elf for the summer!"
Ron reflected that Dumbledore had probably done this to avoid trouble with the other house elves. Dobby was as devoted to Harry as ever - and would devote as much time to him as he could, despite his other chores. Better to be given official permission by his employer than cause the elf to feel that he needed to punish himself for the divided loyalties. Of course, if Hermione ever found out, she'd have a fit. She was still trying to free the house elves.
"That's really great news, Dobby," Harry took a deep breath, seeming to wake up properly. He picked up his fork and sampled the eggs, while Ron took a couple of pieces of toast from the rack. He buttered them both and put one on Harry's plate with a rather pointed look. His mother had issued Ron with strict instructions to ensure his friend ate well and rested. Ron wasn't about to defy her.
"Yeah, Dobby. Harry needs a bit of care at the moment, and having you in charge of his meals will be a real help," Ron added his two Knuts worth. Instead of smiling in pleasure, Dobby's eyes filled with big tears.
"Dobby!" Harry exclaimed as the elf burst into noisy sobs. Ron wondered what he had said to make the elf so upset. He'd thought he was paying the elf a compliment.
"Oh sir! Dobby has heard of the treachery Master Harry suffered! Dobby remembers the trouble he got Master Harry into when Dobby was still a slave! This is all Dobby's fault!"
"No it's not, Dobby," Harry gave Ron a rather desperate look and Ron wriggled out from under the tray, swallowing his mouthful hastily and crouching down in front of the sobbing elf. He patted Dobby's shoulder gingerly and fished around for a tissue to offer so the elf could dry his tears.
"Dobby, the Muggles Harry lived with treated him the way they did because of who they were, not because of anything Harry, or you or I did. It's not your fault. It's theirs," Ron said rather awkwardly. Dobby hiccupped several times and wiped his eyes timidly.
"Master Wheezy is sure?" he asked rather pathetically, and Ron nodded emphatically.
"I am," he said in his best Prefect voice. Dobby looked over at Harry, who nodded as well and the elf straightened up, blowing his nose and tucking the tissue into the bright green bike shorts he was wearing. They were on the baggy side and clashed rather violently with the neon blue singlet he had found. He was also wearing the usual mismatched socks, one covered in flying brooms, and the other the rather lumpy black sock that Harry had given him as a Christmas present years ago.
"Master Wheezy's breakfast will get cold," he patted the hand that Ron still had on his shoulder, and Ron took that as his cue to get back on the bed and finish his kippers, "Dobby will be back for the tray, sirs, and to tidy the room. Professor McGonagal has also asked Dobby to pass on a message. Professor McGonagal would like to see Master Harry and Master Wheezy in her study at ten o'clock."
"We'll be there, thanks Dobby," Harry nodded and the elf offered him a rather wan smile before leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. Ron wriggled back under the tray and addressed himself to his breakfast again. After a few minutes he became aware of Harry's sidelong glances, and turned to look at his friend. Ron was pretty sure Harry was wondering if they still had a friendship at all, and put his friend's mind at rest the best way he knew how. Taking out the note and holding it up so Harry could see it, Ron took his friend's hand and smiled.
"You could never want more than I can give, and I'm never throwing you away. You're stuck with me now, Potter."
"Good," Harry whispered, "Couldn't think of anyone I'd rather be stuck with."
Ron chuckled, stowed the note away carefully again and went back to his breakfast. They'd have to hurry if they were going to be on time for McGonagal and they both needed showers at the very least.