A/N This is the follow-up fic to Within These Walls. You don't have to have read that fic to understand this one but I must warn you this fic will be full of spoilers so if you plan to read WTW then avoid reading this one first.
Much love and hugs to my beta Deena and my therapy and trauma consultant Amy (see the title I gave you? Don't you sound important?) and , as ever, eternal gratitude to my Dutch language beta Maaike - if it weren't for her I'd have Ron talking about soapy water (automated on-line translators suck!)
Strange and Beautiful
Just watching Pig fly around the bedroom was fascinating.
The way the windows seemed huge and they opened wide enough to climb through was something he'd never noticed before. His bedroom door had a handle that was never locked. He could stare at his hands all day and they looked just the same as they always had. He still had those long fingers that fumbled the Quaffle so many times and curled around it in an important save. His fingernails were still stumpy from his lifetime habit of biting them. His skin was tough from a raucous childhood.
Those hands could be washed but they could never be clean.
Ron looked up and blinked at Harry who was sitting up in the bed across from him.
"Are you all right?" Harry put on his glasses and squinted across the garishly orange bedroom at his best friend.
Ron turned to glance at the clock on his bedside table. It was ten minutes to four in the morning.
"Shit, sorry, did I wake you?" Ron muttered with a slight cringe.
"I was sleeping and then I wasn't," Harry shrugged, pulling back the bedcovers and turning to face Ron full on. "I can't say if it had anything to do with you being awake or not. Now answer my question. Are you all right?"
Ron smiled and nodded simply.
"Is something wrong with your hands?" Harry asked softly, concern present, as ever, in his voice.
Ron realised he was still holding his hands before him as if they were foreign objects and quickly set them down on the covers and laughed self consciously.
"Nah, they're fine, I'm just trying to make myself bored enough to go back to sleep."
Ron shifted beneath the covers and turned on his side, his back to Harry, and willed his best friend to let it go for now.
"You can talk to me, y'know?" Harry called across the room as loud as he could do at such an early hour. "I want to...I don't want you feel like you can't..."
Every five minutes felt like fifty.
He kept on telling himself he had hours before he could reasonably show up at the Weasleys' place without looking like an obsessive nutter. Ron's mum would always be up at around six in the morning, fussing, tidying, cooking and she didn't seem to mind when Lee stumbled out of the fireplace to casually ask if Ron was up yet.
Of course, he wasn't up yet. He would sleep late every day since he got out of the hospital. Lee guessed it was because Ron didn't sleep well at night to begin with. It was too early to get up, too early to Floo to The Burrow, too early to send an owl anywhere...
Lee felt as if he was living in a different time zone than everybody else in the world.
He almost willed Fergus' mother to call again, apologising profusely and hands shaking, as she asked him if he'd seen her son recently. Lee was beginning to wonder if Fergus had the right idea. Maybe they should all just drink themselves silly and make it all go away. People expected it, they were bound to excuse it–-they did for Fergus after all.
He sat up in his bed and drew his knees up under his chin.
"I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air..." he began to half sing, half hum to himself while he willed the dawn to break. "They fly so high, nearly reach the sky..."
His mother had a theory.
"And like my dreams they fade and die."
She had told him he was an addict. He was addicted to sport and followed it obsessively until it was all he could think about, all he could talk about, and then he became addicted to mischief and fun. He got hooked on the twins and their company. He loved the buzz he got from coming up with ways to solve unsolvable problems and ways to cause unsolvable problems with a cocky flair.
"Fortune's always hiding..."
His mother had held him to her late one night after she'd forced him to down some Dreamless Sleeping Draught and they were waiting for the veil of sleep to fall over him. While the two of them rocked from side to side she sighed and told him he had a new obsession and he couldn't keep it up and remain healthy.
"...I looked everywhere..."
She told him he was addicted to taking care of Ron. She said he was addicted to Ron himself. Lee couldn't deny it; he would look for him whenever he woke; he would reach for him in his sleep and wake in a panic on not finding him nearby.
"I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air."
He missed his brother.
He couldn't stand gin. Gin was fucking awful. He'd rather lick the inside of a tramp's ear than drink neat gin.
Fergus poured himself a generous helping from his mother's bottle of Blue Sapphire and grimaced. The only alcohol left in the house was his Ma's and she thought he didn't know about her secret gin stash.
He always knew where to find it but never once broke the seal on the bottle because, as had always been the case, he thought gin was to booze what bathwater was to soup. The landlords and ladies of the local pubs had all been warned off serving him by his interfering Ma. He didn't get it; it wasn't as if he was out of control or anything. The way his Ma went on at him made it sound as if he couldn't handle his drink.
Well, mothers were meant to fuss, weren't they?
He wasn't drinking to get drunk. He wasn't drinking to forget. He wasn't drinking to knock himself out. He was drinking because it passed the time in a more enjoyable way than sitting around and trying to figure out if he wanted to see the other lads or not.
Seamus would take him out most nights and match him drink for drink--he had to deal with losing Dean after all, and Fergus loved that his cousin didn't judge him for how he chose to deal with life on the outside. The thing was Fergus chose to deal with comments about his life on the inside as if he and the others were being judged for surviving at all.
When things looked to be getting volatile, Seamus would forcibly remove Fergus from the pub and get him home. That was why Fergus was now sitting in the living room and staring at a bottle of gin as if it was a crystal ball, about to reveal the point to everything.
Why did Tommy get sick?
Why did Ron get singled out for abuse?
Why did Lee lose all the skin off his back?
Why did Colin have to go back?
Why didn't Krum make it?
Why couldn't he look anybody in the eye without wondering if they were thinking of Danny Prang?
He unscrewed the cap and swigged straight from the bottle.
"Jaysis that's foul!"
The alarm went off as usual. He got up and padded to the bathroom, bleary-eyed, to wash his face roughly and have his morning pee. He heard his mother getting up while he stopped brushing his teeth for a moment to yawn and knew that he was in for another day just like the one before and the one before that.
It's funny living through a nightmare when you were asleep for most of it.
Everybody was scarred for life and Tommy was simply the one who needed the blanks filled in for all the hours, days he spent unconscious. He didn't sleep on the floor. He didn't have to fight off the sexual advances of a perverted control freak. He didn't get tortured to spare the lives of others. He did barely anything other than be a burden, a bargaining tool, 'Don't hurt Tommy, take it out on me instead'.
He was so brave, so strong, so admirable for living through such a harrowing experience.
So what was he for sleeping through such a harrowing experience?
Fergus hadn't really spoken much when he'd gone to his house to chat or met up with him at the Ministry. Fergus was kind of elusive. None of the others saw much of him since they left the hospital and all the memorials and funerals were over with. Lee didn't seem to want to be on his own, not ever, if he wasn't at Ron's house he was Flooing into Tommy's living room for a chat or a walk or to help his mother fuss over him despite the fact he was fit and healthy now.
Then there was Ron. What on earth could you say to Ron?
It almost made Tommy angry when people showed him sympathy or compassion for his so-called ordeal and muttered under their breath about the things Ron had done to keep his own name way down on the execution list. Some people could make something as simple as a change of tone as they spoke Ron's name mean so much and it made Tommy's stomach squirm.
Ron didn't prostitute himself to the Puppet Master. He didn't offer himself up to stay alive. For days on end, Ron had to fight off a sadistic rapist and for what? For owls from strangers demanding Ron be locked up on St Mungo's secure ward for the criminally insane because his sexual assaults had driven him mad and that was why he mutilated the corpse of the Death Eater he had to kill to get away.
What went on within those walls hadn't been made public knowledge but rumour was always alive and subject to speculation and the vicious members of society decided that Ron Weasley had sunk to the lowest depths in order to stay alive.
Fortunately, most people had nothing but sympathy for the survivors of the ambush of the Ministry safe house in Venlo but then again, sympathy wasn't what was needed, either. Tommy didn't know how to fix anything, if anything could be fixed, or if he was going to be able to be the one to fix it but he knew that the only people who could help were the four of them themselves.
What good was Tommy to them? He didn't know, but he was going to be there for them now.
He was going to make up for not being there while hell was breaking loose. He had to have lived through all that for a reason. Ron, Lee and Fergus--they were his reason for being now.
He would pay them all back.
They were holding him down, pressing him flat against the table, and wrestling his clothes loose. A hand, a huge familiar hand, was touching his face and he tried to turn away from it but his whole face was muffled against something. He yelped in panic, they were suffocating him.
He thrashed his arms free and threw off one of his assailants. That sickening caress cupped his face in both hands now and he tried to shake it off while squirming his body free from the others who were determined to hold him in place for their master.
"Ron, calm down!"
He frowned before feeling suddenly naked and lashing out with his arms and cracking something hard with his knuckles.
"Shit!" a familiar disgruntled voice hissed before Ron felt himself hauled into a sitting position and forcibly hugged tightly, almost lovingly. "It's okay, it's me, please wake up, Ron."
"Ger'off me!" Ron tried to contort his body away from the person's tight grip.
He saw the face of the person drawing nearer, into sharp focus, and froze in terror at the haughty look, the eyes burning with lust and the sneering curl of the mouth.
"No!" Ron pushed and kicked against the chest that was pressed firmly against his and soon the image of the Puppet Master and the sensation of touch fell away.
Ron was falling, too. He was falling backwards and his stomach was lurching. His eyes flung themselves open and brilliant morning sunlight stung his retinas as he toppled backwards off the bed. He saw a rapid blur amongst so much orange it made him feel as if he was trapped in a blazing fire and then something black caught him with a grunt. His fall was halted and the shaking arms around his body eased him down the last couple of inches to the bedroom floor before cradling him and panting heavily.
"'S okay Ron, I got you. It's Harry, it's only me…you're okay now."
Ron drew in a breath while pulling his long legs free from the bed sheet where they had become entangled and shrugged Harry off before crawling away from him and getting unsteadily to his feet.
"I know," Ron panted. "I'm fine. It's just a stupid dream…stop panicking will you?"
Harry remained on the floor beside Ron's bed and stared up at him, looking worried and hurt, but he didn't say anything. Ron quickly ran his hands over his body while scanning himself with his squinting eyes. He had a pair of boxers on and nothing else. As he moved toward the door with heavy footsteps, he grabbed a nearby t- shirt he'd thrown aside lazily the night before and pulled in on inside out.
"You were falling out of bed, Ron," Harry said as he began to rub at his cheekbone as if somebody had recently hit him. "That's the only reason I grabbed you. I'm really sorry."
"Stop it!" Ron hissed as he pulled the bedroom door open and looked back down at his best friend in a heap of bedclothes on the floor, "D-Don-Do-D..." he forced his eyes closed and punched at the door in frustration before taking a deep breath and trying again, this time looking at the door instead of Harry, "M-my fault, bad mo-morning an'I jus' n-n-need to..."
"You don't have to explain, Ron," Harry said, his voice sounding strained. "I'm not angry with you. Calm yourself down and I'll tidy up here and wait for you. We won't speak of it, I promise."
Ron tried to smile but it came out more of a wince and he nodded before rushing for the bathroom and shouldering the temperamentally jammed door open just as Charlie emerged from his bedroom, yawning deeply, and seeing is little brother disappearing into the tiny bathroom and slamming the door behind him.
"Morning, Ron," Charlie had blinked.
Charlie frowned at Ron's odd response before turning to look at Harry standing in the bedroom doorway.
"S'my fault," Harry said glumly. "I touched him."
Lee sputtered as he stumbled out of the Floo into the kitchen at The Burrow. Molly wasn't the least bit surprised to see him; in fact, she had made him tea and toast.
"Good morning dear…there's jam, marmalade and honey, whichever takes your fanc," Molly said as she busied herself stirring some porridge on the stove and then wandering away from the spoon, leaving it to stir by itself.
"Thanks, Mrs Weasley." Lee sat down at the table. "Y'know my mum's starting to get insulted? She thinks I come over here all the time because you're a better cook than she is."
"Oh nonsense." Molly blushed. "I expect she just misses you around the place, Lee."
The boy lowered his head to focus intently on buttering his slice of toast as if it required the utmost level of concentration.
"Sick of me more like," he tried to joke. "Most people my age would have moved out and got their own place by now."
"Well, I don't care what age my children were, if they wanted to stay here with me they could," Molly puffed out her chest proudly, "and I know Floella feels the same about you, dear."
Lee peeped back at the witch through his dreadlocks and was about to open his mouth to say something when plodding footfalls on the stairs distracted the both of them and they stared at the open kitchen door expectantly. Harry stepped through, a tad self-conscious at being stared at, and muttered as he took a seat at the table.
"He's in the bathroom--coming down in a bit."
"Oh marvellous," Molly beamed strenuously, knowing that for her Ronnie to be up at such an early hour he must have had quite a nasty nightmare. "The porridge is almost ready. Do help yourself to toast, Harry, dear."
Ginny trudged into the kitchen, yawning, and bumped into a clumsy hug with her mother before throwing herself down into a vacant seat across from Harry.
"Owls been yet?" she asked sleepily.
"No," Molly replied darkly. "There were less of them yesterday, so I think it's calming down a bit now."
"About bloody time," Harry muttered under his breath.
"Fine, thanks Harry. How did you sleep?" Ginny said as she kicked her boyfriend in the shin beneath the table and reached for the blackberry jam.
"Sorry, Gin," Harry scowled at her playfully, "woke up a couple of times in the night and then got punched in the face this morning. Not bad, really."
Lee sat up in his seat and inclined his head toward Harry.
"Rough night?" he asked.
"Nah," Harry shook his head and smiled at Lee confidently, "He just fell out of bed this morning and objected to me diving and catching him before he knocked his front teeth out on the floor."
"Was he sleeping when you woke up in the night?" Lee probed further, unconvinced by Harry's bravado.
"Well, no, but he was fine, just sitting up and trying to count sheep, y'know how it is?" Harry became slightly defensive and it broke Molly's heart.
Harry had never had to share Ron with anyone before, not in friendship or caretaking duties, and he really wasn't handling Lee's newfound bond with his best friend well at all. It was true that one might say Harry had shared Ron with Hermione all those years but Ron and Hermione were different. Ron would confide in them both unless it was about man things and then it would just be him and Harry. If either of them wanted to talk emotions they would go to Hermione. When fun was needed they were there for each other and in times of trouble they were there even faster.
Hermione was their female friend who had become Ron's girlfriend and Harry was Ron's best friend in the world. Harry was the loyal caretaker and joker and brother and he'd never had anything like that before in his life. He didn't know how to deal with it at first and then he didn't know how to cope with the threat of losing it. Now, it seemed to Molly anyway, Harry was at a loss to understand Lee's role in Ron's life and where it left him.
Was Harry being replaced as friend or honorary brother? Was he usurped as Ron's protector and guardian? Lee had been there for Ron for the worst time of his young life and Lee had saved him in ways that Harry hadn't been able to. It was obvious that Harry resented Lee while at the same time loathing himself for feeling that way at all.
He'd once cried on Molly's shoulder, back when Ron and the others were still recovering in St Mungo's, about how selfish he was to only want Ron to have one true and devoted friend in the world.
'I never had anything worth sharing in my whole life and I don't know if I can share at all, Mrs Weasley!'
"So Lee," Ginny said, yawning again and covering her mouth at Molly's glare, "why don't you bring your poor mum with you to breakfast? There's plenty to go around."
"Yeah," Harry chipped in, "she must feel lonely having breakfast on her own every day."
Lee appeared to deliberately take his time chewing his mouthful of toast while they waited for his response. Arthur bounded through and kissed Molly on the cheek before grabbing some toast and waving a hasty goodbye and setting off to work. Everybody was still watching Lee as he swallowed and wiped his mouth.
"Well, the thing is, see..." he began, squirming in his seat slightly.
"M-Morning," Ron stepped into the kitchen, arms folded across his chest and slightly bashful smile on his face and he smiled at the room full of friends and family.
"Good morning, Ronnie," Molly leaned in towards her son before forcing herself to stop and gripping the counter with the effort, "take a seat, breakfast is ready."
Ron unfolded his arms and stepped into his mother's side. He quickly curled his arms around her and gave a gentle squeeze before pecking her on the cheek and sitting in the vacant chair between Harry and Lee. Molly's heart fluttered and she turned to levitate the pot of porridge off the stove and set it down on the table.
Ron could very quickly cuddle his mother now, as long as she didn't grab him back, and every morning he forced himself to without fail. It was the highlight of her day, if she was honest with herself. She felt the tension easing every passing morning, too. She hoped it wouldn't be long before she could hold her boy back, and for a little longer than the brief second they had up until now.
She took her seat at the head of the table and watched as Ron smiled warmly to Lee before turning anxiously to Harry and lowering his head to examine his friend's face.
"I hi-hit you, didn't I?" he murmured under his breath.
"No," Harry smiled, tilting his face towards the light, "nothing, see?"
Ron threw Harry a sly look and chuckled softly before stealing a slice of Harry's toast and jam.
"Oi, get your own!" Harry grinned.
Lee visibly relaxed, too, and cleared his throat.
"Well, the thing is, Mrs Weasley," he said, causing Ron to turn with interest to his newly adopted brother, "I'm a selfish bast...er bugger," Ron and Ginny snorted their laughter into their slices of toast, "and I need to get away from her, my mother I mean, just for a bit."
"She still watching you like you're gonna topple over and shatter then?" Ron asked him before taking the rest of his slice of toast into his mouth in one go.
"Well, she hears stuff from Fergus' mum and I think she thinks it'll happen to me, too." Lee shrugged.
Ron looked at his mother pointedly.
"Mmmm, I seem to r-re-recall certain m-mutterings when Charlie poured me a shot of Firewhisky the other night."
"I didn't say anything, Ronnie," Molly lifted her chin defiantly.
"Ik kan je nu wel horen praten..." Ron mumbled into his chest and voice so low you could barely hear him speak at all.
"What was that?" Molly snapped, leaning over the table to hear her youngest son better.
Ron lifted his head and grinned at her.
"I didn't say anything, Mum, just like you didn't the other night!"
Ginny burst out laughing and Molly sat back in her chair with a huff of annoyance. Harry was chuckling as well. As much as Ron could be annoying when he was acting as if everything was fine and dandy, she did love to feel the tension at the table relax as it had.
"I notice you don't stutter when you are making a fool of your poor mother, Ronald!" Molly grumbled, trying not to break into a smile.
"Oh no, did I miss it?" Charlie tutted as he stepped into the kitchen, towelling his wet hair dry and leaning over Molly to kiss her on the cheek.
"Don't fret, Charlie, dear, I'm sure he'll do it again in a few minutes!"