"Well, obviously he's extremely malnourished and dehydrated. We're dealing with that easily enough. There's going to be a specialist coming him to look at his arms. There's extensive damage internally and we can only do so much as far as that goes. His wrists, the fractures, and most of the general injuries we've healed completely but he's had an awful mess made of his shoulders. There was some partial healing but we'll get somebody in from Nepal to administer the charms needed to repair the muscle and tendon damage. Our man from Nepal really is the best in the world and will be here this evening.

"He's suffered under the Cruciatus curse. That we can fix with a potion as there's just some residual nerve damage. Now, he was struck down by something rather nasty, a duelling curse. This, too, has partially healed during his captivity but if left unattended it will grow worse as he gets older. We have counter curses and potions for that and he'll be receiving treatment for it four times a day while he's with us.

"Head injuries…well, we've got a lot to sort out-–old and new. Superficially, he's fine but there's some swelling from the most recent beating to reduce. There are two skull fractures, one about three weeks old and a fresher one in almost exactly the same place. Both seem to have occurred from falling on a solid surface without having his arms free to break the fall.

"Hairline fractures on the back of the head and retina damage have been healed with no problems at all. Headaches are likely but nothing to worry about.

"Now to the main problems. He has several trophic ulcers and a peptic ulcer, trench foot, several nasty diseases caught from…well from unsanitary conditions. He was living in his own and other's faeces, I understand. That obviously led to him contracting several unpleasant things and we're dealing with them all. Due to vomiting and diarrhoea, we're not going to see much weight gain for several days I'd say.

"Whatever we do, Ronald is going to need a lot of attention over the coming months. I have no idea how long the psychological effects of this are going to manifest. He may never lose the speech impediment he's developed. It might come and go. It may get worse during times of stress or anxiety or perhaps it will just become a constant problem, we can't know that now. He could be susceptible to seizures due to the brain injuries he suffered but there are so many factors I can't even begin to list them now.

"We couldn't carry out a full physical examination because of the nature of the abuse he suffered in that place. There's no internal damage in that area but we also can't get a proper examination done while Ronald is conscious. He has been sexually assaulted and I don't know how far this assault went. I'm guessing that any number of physical conditions could come into play due to the stress and anxiety."

"I am he-here y'know?" Ron said from his bed in St Mungo's.

"Just ignore 'em Ron," Tonks said as she rubbed her hand up and down his arm reassuringly. "Keep putting the memories into the Pensieve and pay no attention to them."

Hermione left the Wizengamot to get to St Mungo's and see Ron before his family descended on him.

He and the other three survivors were testifying against the Death Eaters via Pensieve memories projected onto the back wall. After each day's proceedings, the families would rush to the special ward to see the quartet. It was as if they needed reassurance that they were really still there, free, alive.

The things Hermione had seen so far, projected onto the back wall, were becoming too much to bear. Ron had asked his family not to go but they all needed to know what had happened to him. It made Molly weep, it made Charlie livid and intolerable and it caused the twins to march up to Lee's bed every day and give him a bracing hug that was agony on his healing back and whisper thanks into his ear.

Hermione saw the Ron she had always known. The brave, selfless, funny young wizard she had fallen in love with. She saw the Ron she always knew he could be, the leader, the tower of strength, a force to be reckoned with. She also saw him chained to the wall and screaming under the Cruciatus curse. She saw him drinking water from other people's mouths to stay alive. She saw him lick the shoe of a sadist and had never respected him more.

"Is he awake?" Hermione smiled as she asked the same old question to the Auror on duty.

"I dunno. They're quiet," the burly blonde man shrugged with a grin. He looked like a bear but he was as gentle as a teddy. "I did look in a couple of hours ago and saw 'em on the floor again."

Hermione rolled her eyes and smiled before heading towards the door and muttering the password. Ron, Tommy and Fergus had taken to sleeping on the floor at the side of Lee's bed. It was a concern at first but soon everybody thought it was best to allow them to work through their sleeping issues themselves.

Harry and Bill had tried to push the beds together but Fergus was unable to sleep on a soft surface and as soon as he got down onto the floor, Ron and Tommy were down there, too. Occasionally, they'd nap in the afternoon, on the floor, and then sleep in their beds for most of the night. It was progress at least, Hermione thought.

She pushed open the door and stepped through quietly, not wanting to disturb them if they were asleep.

"…so shall I read it then?" Tommy asked in a reluctant voice.

"If you want to," Lee answered, his voice was also very low.

Hermione guessed they must be huddled very close together.

"It's just," Tommy said. Hermione moved around to see the group all slouching on Lee's bed and frowning. "I'm not all that much of a public speaker y'know?"

"Yeah, well I can't feckin' do it, can I?" Fergus huffed.

"I don't see why not!" Tommy said as he tossed a piece of parchment at the sandy-haired wizard.

"Oh yeah, it's what they all need at a memorial service isn't it? My accent butchering a bleedin' poem!"

Ron laughed and gave Fergus a dig in the ribs with his elbow."I-I'd do it but we haven't go-got all day!"

"I dunno," Tommy smiled, "I think you sound great!"

Hermione pressed her lips together to hold in the whimper of gratitude she felt towards Tommy at that moment. Ron snorted while Lee winced, sitting himself up against the cushioning charms on his back.

"There ya go then," Fergus said with a satisfied nod, "it's decided. Ron's doin' it!"

"Don't be out of order, Mr Funny," Lee said ruefully before casting a protective look Ron's way.

"I'm not takin' the piss, Jordan," Fergus protested. "Why shouldn't he speak in front of people?"

Ron's eyes widened and he tried to scoff at the idea but couldn't quite manage it."D-Don-Don't you t-t-tr… Don't try t-t-…"

"Woah there, calm down," Lee said uneasily as he sat forward and gripped Ron's shoulder tightly.

Ron shook his head and laughed before closing his eyes and muttering to himself without a single stammer. "Keten ze vast. Sla hem in elkaar. Hould hem in bedwag. Ik zal je krijgen…"

"Stop it!" Lee demanded fiercely, his eyes wide.

"Lee don't worry. He's just clearing a blockage," Tommy said as he tried to pacify the worried wizard while Fergus patted Ron on the back.

"I don't like it!" Lee huffed as he shook Ron by the shoulder until he opened his eyes.

"'M back. Got stuck," Ron smiled.

"Don't do that anymore," Lee said roughly as he let his hand fall from Ron's shoulder. "I really don't like you talking like that."

"Oh, be fair Jordan! The language ain't evil!" Fergus said.

"It just resets me when I g-get jammed," Ron grinned cheerfully.

"Yeah, Lee, no harm in it is there?"

"What were you sayin'?" Lee said sternly.

Ron's cheery grin faded and he looked away."Doesn't matter," he mumbled as he picked at the bed sheets.

"What did you say?" Lee demanded again.

"Just… stuff, chain 'em up, beat 'em up…just stuff they used to say. Stuff I know in D-Dutch."

Fergus looked at Ron and drew in a deep breath. "Ya need teh learn some other phrases Ron."

"Yeah like," Tommy looked to the ceiling thoughtfully, "'Excuse me, I believe there is a ping pong event happening on this street. Could you direct me to it?'"

Ron and Lee looked up at Tommy and sniggered. Fergus almost fell off the bed laughing. Hermione didn't get the joke but smiled all the same. She liked to see them in their lighter moments. They came with more frequency every day.

"Look, okay then," Tommy said as he waved his hands in front of him to beckon for silence. "I'll do the reading."

They stopped laughing but remained smiling at each other.

"Cheers, Tom," Fergus said as he punched Tommy in the arm lightly.

"Sor-Sorry," Ron said as he looked at Lee with those bright puppy dog eyes of his.

"Nah, I'm sorry," Lee shrugged. "I overreacted. You say what you want if it irons out the creases in your English."

"Listen to him!" Ron said as he pointed to Lee and looked at Tommy and Fergus with amusement. "He's the poet, I think he sh-should do it."

"Sod off!" Lee grumbled.

"Nah, Tommy's dulcet tones are gonna do them justice," Fergus said as he picked up the piece of yellowing parchment and tossed it into Tommy's lap. "G'wan, give us yer best."

Tommy looked slightly reluctant but picked up the parchment anyway and cleared his throat.

"'They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.'"

Hermione drew in a painful breath through her tight throat and clutched her hand to her chest. Ron, Lee and Fergus all sat on the bed and stared at Tommy as he folded the parchment and put it back down on the bed.

"That's perfect, Tom," Lee said, barely audible.

"Yeah, mate tha-tha…" Ron took a breath and let it out before continuing. "That's spot on."

"Good on yeh Ma fer finding that, mate. That's just the right…it's just right y'know?" Fergus added, his voice choking up a bit.

Hermione straightened herself up and knocked on the door. She saw all the boys jump and fix the 'Look how fine we are' grins on their faces.

"Hello, everyone. What's been going on while I've been stuck in that stuffy old Ministry?"

"W-Well," Ron smiled proudly, "I ate three Chocolate Frogs."

"Without even chewin'" Fergus muttered mischievously to Tommy.

Hermione smiled and took Ron's hand in hers.

"Isn't that an accomplishment, eh?" Hermione said with a smile.

"Indeed, yer a lucky girl Miss Granger!" Fergus said, waggling his eyebrows.

Ron cuffed him across the back of the head and Fergus looked enormously disgruntled.

"Why is everybody always cloutin' me about the head? You get a cuddle from yeh Ma." He pointed at Lee. "You get a cuddle from yeh Ma," he said waving his hand at Ron. "Tommy lad, what did yer Ma do when you came back to her?"

"I don't know," Tommy blinked. "I was unconscious."

"Well, I bet she didn't bleedin' hit yeh!" Fergus exclaimed while Lee and Tommy guffawed and Ron led Hermione away to a secluded area of the private ward and pulled a curtain across for privacy.

Ron was still chuckling as he turned to face Hermione. His eyes shifted uncomfortably for a moment down to her hands and then back to her face with a nervous smile. It was one of the hardest things about this for her; she couldn't just fling herself at him the way she so desperately wanted to. Ron had almost kicked Ginny in the face for stroking his hair in his sleep and then had been violently sick. The family had all agreed amongst themselves that nobody was to touch Ron without asking him first.

She bit her bottom lip and held her hand out to him gently. Ron's cheek twitched a little as his smile grew wider and he took her hand with his own and stroked her skin with his thumb.

"So w-what did you see today?" he asked, his voice soft and his eyes staring down at their hands.

Hermione took a small step towards Ron and lifted his hand, setting it on her waist gently. She wanted nothing more than to take his face in her hands but she resisted and waited for him to relax a little more.

"I saw you," she said as she stared up into his deep blue eyes. "I saw my Ron."

Ron swallowed and drew a shuddering breath before leaning in toward Hermione a little, not stepping any closer though, and gliding his hand up her arm from wrist to just below her shoulder. He rubbed her upper arm softly before nodding. Hermione smiled and placed her hand upon Ron's cheek.

"So it wasn't a bad day today?" Ron asked her as he shuffled forward just a fraction.

"Nothing's bad as long as I know I have you to come back to," Hermione sighed as she slid her fingers around behind Ron's ear to play with his hair.

Ron closed his eyes and leaned into her hand. "Keep talking and you can m-move closer," he said, visibly bracing himself for close physical contact.

Ron and Hermione had a little trust routine they had to enact just so they could hug. It wasn't that Ron didn't trust Hermione, not at all; it was that he was determined not to think of that vile Puppet Master whenever they were together.

Ron was prone to flashbacks when anybody other than Lee, Tommy or Fergus touched him. His back was always a sensitive issue; he had several nasty flashbacks brought on by something as simple as a hand sliding down his back. Lee had taken Ron's parents aside and explained something to them. Back at The Burrow the 'rules' had been created.

No touching Ron without invitation.

No sneaking up behind him.

Avoid touching his back, his lower back in particular.

Try not to breathe in his face or on his neck.

And Hermione was asked, very sensitively of course, not to try to kiss him.

Ron had attempted it once, tilting his head and leaning in close, a couple of days ago, but he had suddenly been seized with anxiety and began to shake. He had apologised to Hermione and sprinted off to the bathroom.

Soon enough, the day would come when the horror of Ron's attempted rape would be played out on the wall of the Wizengamot and they would all know exactly what he had to endure. At the moment, all they had was what Ron and Lee had told them. Ron hadn't been subjected to the full horror of a sexual assault but he had been touched in ways that had been psychologically damaging. The fact that Ron wouldn't even let the Healers examine him below the waist or above the thigh spoke volumes.

Hermione stepped closer to Ron and kept on talking as she lightly rested her head upon his chest."Five things I have seen and five things I have never seen," Hermione spoke softly and calmly as Ron let his arms slide around her and hold her loosely to him.

"Go for it," Ron said into the top of her head.

"I have seen and not seen a Thestral. That's a two for one!" she chuckled weakly into Ron's jumper.

"Ch-Cheat!" Ron chuckled breathlessly.

Hermione's instinct was to rub Ron's back to calm him down but she stopped herself and just clung on to him and rocked slightly from side to side.

"I've seen you earn the respect of hardened Aurors and I've never seen you stop fighting no matter how hopeless things get." Hermione felt her eyes burning with tears as Ron's hands found their way into her bushy hair and looked up at him as licked his lips."I've seen you keep a promise to a dying man," Hermione whispered as she recalled the visit Chiara made to the survivors and Ron's struggle to deliver Auror Maccario's message to his fiancée despite his stutter, "and I have never seen you look at me the way you're looking at me now before."

Ron tried to smile but his nerves seemed to prevent that action. All of Ron's concentration was focused on him leaning down towards Hermione's face.

"I've seen you at Harry's side through thick and thin and I've never seen you think about leaving him for a second." Hermione struggled to continue as Ron parted his lips and his hands started to tremble. "I've seen you naked and I've never seen you as exposed as you are right now," Hermione sniffed as her hands gripped Ron's jumper in tight fists.

Ron brushed against Hermione's lips with his own as a fat tear fell down her cheek and she whispered into his mouth. "I don't want you to force this, Ron. Please don't do this before you're ready."

Ron gulped and moved away a fraction, blinking and staring into Hermione's eyes with his intense blue ones. "I have to," he said sadly before brushing a stray hair off her face.

"You don't have to do anything," Hermione said, moving to kiss him on the cheek, "don't you dare force yourself just because you think it's what I want from you. I just want you to feel comfortable again."

Ron pressed his lips together and shook his head hopelessly before cupping her face with both hands and holding her mouth before him gently. "I c-can't feel comfortable again while he was the last person to kiss m-m-me."

Hermione's face shattered into an expression of pain and sympathy for her Ron. "Oh no, you poor… my poor Ron!" she sobbed as she curled her arms around his neck and squeezed him tightly while Ron held her and burrowed his face into her hair.

"Please kiss me," he said, muffled against the bushy brown mass. "I'm n-not ready but I never will be while I st-st-still…"

Hermione pulled back and pushed her closed lips to Ron's mouth. Ron gave a shuddering sigh before nudging her lips apart with his own and easing into a tentative kiss with her. Their tongues touched briefly and Ron's muscles tensed. Hermione pulled away and forced him to look at her.

"It's me, look. It's Hermione kissing you. It's your girlfriend, your Hermione…"

Ron nodded. "M-My girl."

Hermione felt more tears grow as her smile widened and Ron took her lips back once again. She hummed softly into the kiss to reassure Ron it was still her. He stroked her tongue with his and opened his mouth a little wider, pushing forward a little firmer. They were both trembling now.

"It's just me," Hermione whispered before sinking into another brief kiss. "It's always going to be me," she sighed again before pushing her tongue deep inside Ron's mouth and drawing it back slowly. "It will only ever be me from now on."

Ron rested his forehead against Hermione's and shuddered. "You promise?"

"I promise."

Ron stroked against Hermione's lips with his once again and she opened up to welcome him inside. As he pushed his tongue inside her mouth and she sucked upon it, Hermione could feel the tension still present in Ron's body. He still wasn't ready but he needed to get rid of the last lingering touch and taste of that awful Death Eater.

This would be their last real kiss for some time but it was more than enough for Hermione. She could wait. She could wait forever as long as Ron was safe and well beside her.

The final kiss ended and they stood, bodies flush against each other, rocking from side to side and arms tightly wrapped around each other. Maybe now she could at least hold Ron properly. Maybe they had broken down one barrier between the two of them.

"There's still one m-more," Ron stammered into the side of her head.

"Sorry?" Hermione said with a frown.

"One more thing you ha-have and haven't seen to g-go. First one didn't count."

Hermione smiled and pressed a kiss into Ron's chest.

"I never saw you at Kings Cross station for our first date," she whispered, "and I've seen you make up for standing me up just a second ago."

Ron's chest rose and fell with a deep sigh and he squeezed her a little tighter. "I d-didn't forget y'know?" he said, with what sounded like a smile on his lips.

"I know you didn't." Hermione smiled.

They stood in silence for some time. There were voices on the other side of the curtain as the families returned from the Ministry. There were mumbles from the Weasleys and Harry asking after Ron. Still they didn't move.

"I l-l…" Ron began before huffing with frustration at his speech impediment. "I lo-love you."

"I love you, too."

"I wish I could s-say it properly."

"You said it beautifully, Ron."

The twins stood on either side of Lee with George standing between him and Ron, not knowing which of them he should be smiling at supportively. Harry caught George's eye and nodded to him to concentrate on his friend. George looked away and Harry cleared his throat to get Ron's attention to let him know that he was putting his hand on his shoulder.

Ron gave him a sad smile before looking back up at the elderly wizard who was delivering the speech about fallen comrades whose sacrifice gave the world their freedom. Tommy had recited a Muggle poem of remembrance and Ron, Fergus and Lee had spoken to the choir about what song would be appropriate. There was some kind of problem getting the choir to co-operate but Fergus asked his cousin to bring Dean Thomas' family in on the discussion and the chief chorister agreed immediately, causing everybody returned to their seats, satisfied with the decision.

The McLaggens were sitting apart from each other, the Belby's together and holding hands. Delitia Macmillan sat with the Creeveys. Dennis had opened the service with a reading and displayed some of Colin's photographs on the walls.

There had been talk of candles or doves to accompany the closing song of the service but Ron and the others had also had a hand in deciding that final detail.

Hermione stood in front of Ron, his arms curled around her waist and his chin settled on top of her head. Harry watched his best friend and marvelled at how strong he was, how strong everybody knew him to be now. Ron had always had it in him to be a great wizard. He never had an exceptional gift for magic or his studies. He wasn't a living legend at the age of one. Ron Weasley hadn't even been the stand out member of his own family.

That was all different now, though.

In the Ministry lobby, an elderly witch grabbed Harry's arm and stared up at him with awestruck eyes. "Are you Harry Potter?" That question was nothing new. He got that a lot…more than a lot, but when Harry had nodded in reply, the woman had pulled Harry down so his ear was in front of her mouth and whispered, "You take care of that boy. Death Eaters tormented my Alfie like that during the first war…he never recovered. You look after your friend dear. It's when nobody's looking that the cracks start to show."

The witch had let Harry go and dabbed at her eyes with a grey hanky before hurrying away into the crowd of Ministers leaving en masse at the end of the day. That encounter had shaken Harry so badly that he had been watching Ron with the same intensity he would watch a Snitch during a vital Quidditch match.

Ron had noticed obviously, but he didn't think much of it. Everybody watched Ron these days. Everybody was hovering around him as if ready to catch him when he finally crumbled into pieces. It wasn't just fear of what the old witch had said to him that made Harry follow his friend with his eyes everywhere he went, it was admiration.

Ron had survived against all the odds. Ron was alive because he was incredible. Nobody rescued Ron. He wasn't saved, and there was nobody to owe his life to other than Ron himself. Ron had saved himself.

Harry always knew he had it in him.

Ron and Lee had kept Tommy alive. Ron had sat up all night after the double execution of Jimmy Peakes and Rodger Davies and saved Fergus' sanity. Ron had given Lee a reason to keep fighting. He'd degraded himself to get them water. He'd allowed himself to be humiliated and defiled to get them food.

Harry squeezed Ron's shoulder as the remembrance service concluded and magical bubbles began to float skywards.

Ron shifted his eyes to meet Harry's and smiled.

"Dean came so cl-close," Ron said hoarsely as his eyes shone brightly.

Harry nodded and swallowed down his emotion to stay strong for Ron. The band began to play and the choir begun to sing while Demelza Robbins burst into tears and ran outside, followed by her mother.

"I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air…"

When Ron woke in the night, he would be in a state about one of the hostages or the other. Harry would be out of bed and by his side with the same speed Ron was always there for him at school. Last night it had been Dean's turn.

"They fly so high, nearly reach the sky…"

Ron had been shaking and short of breath as he babbled in English and Dutch, with and without his stammer, before looking Harry in the eye and telling him that Dean didn't ask for help when the Puppet Master got hold of him. Dean didn't think of himself as the knife went into his back at all. Dean had told Ron to run.

"…then like my dreams they fade and die."

The bubbles floated upwards, shimmering and changing colours, and most of the people in the congregation cried. Several people smiled though. Carol and Darren Thomas got some relief from this moment at last. Seamus, too, was smiling for the first time in ages. The Painters and Mrs Jordan were with the rest of the Weasleys. The Prangs chose to sit at the back; none of the survivors had it in them to look them in the eye yet. Harry heard Hermione sniff and Ron must have, too, because he leaned forward, into her hair, and began to sing to her.

"Fortune's always hiding, I've looked everywhere…"

Ron could sing perfectly…not a stammer to be heard. Hermione pulled Ron's arms tightly around her and laughed softly. Lee exhaled deeply, letting go of something deep inside him in the process. The twins felt it, too, and both began to sing even louder, out of tune and not caring a bit.

"I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air!"

Everybody was going to be okay.


A/N The poem Tommy reads from is 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon.

Eternal hugs and love to my beta team (Ha! I have a team don't ya know?) Nutnatz, Deenas and maaike fluffy who are all wonderful people and smack my wrist for not using commas enough.

As has become the tradition with my long fics, could those of you who take the time to review please give me an overview of what you think of the story as a whole? Now it's over I'd like you to tell me where things might not have worked. I'd also appreciate it if you could let me know if it went on too long as this is now my longest fic, took the longest to write and is the most reviewed.

As for that…you amaze me! Over a thousand reviews on ff dot net, The Quidditch Pitch and on Live Journal. Because of this it will be impossible to do my usual shout outs to everybody for which I apologise. I will, however, reply to everybody who reviews this last instalment as long as I have a means to do so.

I know a lot of you have come and said hello to me on Live Journal. You're more than welcome to chat over there. I will be posting 12 Christmas smutlets on the LJ community ronsexuals from the 26th December to the 6th January. One smutlet per day, based on a different prompt my flist have nominated, and a different ship for every one (some will be slash but you will be told that up front if you are squicked and want to avoid it).

I'll be back in the New Year with Mute!Ron goodness and yes, demand was high enough…there will be a recovery fic for WTW.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah. Lol Sinterklaas. Well, generally…a wonderful festive period to you all.

Chocolate covered Rons for everyone!