PART II: Miles from Where You Are

I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from A to where you'd B
It's only finger-lengths that I see
I touch the place where I'd find your face
My fingers in creases of distant dark places

The first time Ron came home smelling like him Harry started in again on making excuses to work late. The first time his voice echoed from Ron's bedroom, Harry warded his room and didn't come down for breakfast until he heard the 'pop' of apparation. It sometimes meant not seeing Ron, but he couldn't handle facing Ron with another person, holding another person, when he so desperately wanted Ron to hold him.

Even though he knew Ron didn't come home the night before, Harry still woke up early with the intention of getting a head start at work. He tried to ignore the pull from his nightstand as he showered, shaved, and put on his Auror robes. However, by the time he was ready for breakfast, he was so alone and so desperate that he couldn't swallow back the urge anymore. He pulled out his Marauder's map and looked for Ron's name.

It hurt when he finally found Ron's little name nestled comfortably beside Clark's in his chambers. Harry watched as Ron apparently woke, got ready, and walked down to the floo. Harry watched Ron's name linger next to Clark's for a moment before leaving, and he closed his eyes to imagine his own goodbye kiss in the morning. He quickly shook his head, silently berating himself for behaving with such delusional before he made his way to work. He didn't want to meet Ron in case he had to stop home to get anything.

Harry wanted to see Ron, to sit next to him and laugh with him like they used to, but he ruined that on that night in the hospital. He could never have Ron back fully and he could never fully have Ron the way he wanted. As he folded up the map carefully, Harry decided to do his best to repair his friendship with Ron. He needed something, even if he never got to touch Ron the way he wanted to.

8888888888

Ron woke up holding tightly to Clark. He smelled strongly of the cedar wood he liked to stoke his hearth with and curse burns from his rigorous class schedule. Ron longed for the smell of musk and sweetness that routinely wafted off of Harry, but he swallowed that notion down, hating himself and feeling like he was betraying Clark just for letting those thoughts show up. He wanted to make him happy…he wanted to make someone happy.

Ron got his uniform on and went to work straight from Hogwarts. Luckily there was a floo the professors used that is connected to the Ministry network. The moment he arrived at work, he was sent to investigate an illegal potions ring. He didn't even have time to see Harry in his office before he was out the front door. He hadn't gotten to see much of Harry, even in their shared flat. His heart sank a little, as seeing Harry in the morning was still the highlight of his day, even if he had spent his night somewhere else.

(((((((((((())))))))))))))))

He barely noticed his surroundings as he flooed into work. Harry walked into Kingsley's office, expecting another day's long undercover mission of some sorts. He still didn't understand how the most conspicuous member of the Auror Squad were always doing the undercover work, but Kingsley had said that Harry had experience in methods of stealth that few Aurors ever develop. He couldn't argue with that logic. He sat down in the warm mahogany chair and waited for Kingsley to come back from his lunch with the Ministry Council.

"I would like you to learn magical fission," Kingsley said without preamble.

At first, Harry was puzzled, and then he remembered the way Seamus had liquefied his curses to penetrate the Death Eater magic in Holland and he understood. "Down with the Unspeakables?"

Kingsley nodded. "The tactic Unspeakable Finnegan employed when he was trying to stop the stripping curse had success, and we think if the Death Eater numbers can be reduced even farther down than they were on your last mission, we may have a shot at ending their run all together. However, as you saw, the spell can be draining and potentially harmful when being held by only one person. We need a few more people trained as a precaution."

Harry made his way to the Department of Mysteries with a transfer folder and a mission docket. He had one day to learn this new technique, and then it was to the Siberian Plains to follow the lead on Scabior and his men. He looked for Ron before making his way to the lower floors, in hopes that he could at least explain himself this time, but to no avail. He sighed and called out his destination to the lifts.

The lift cage rattled slightly, and rocky debris began to fall from the ceiling. Harry had an uneasy feeling that this wasn't a maintenance issue. He commanded the lift to go back to the main floor as the two other inhabitants of the elevator gripped the metal bars nervously. While the lift made its journey back, the shaking became more powerful and Harry could hear the faint echo of screams through the chamber.

He drew his wand just as the lights went out and the screaming got more pronounced. As he stepped out of the gate and onto the polished marble floor, people kept running into him in a panic and he had to place a shield charm around him just to get through the throng. The lights of curses from wand tips shone through the black room like bolts of lightning against thunderclouds. A group of wizards dressed in white Muggle winter gear that looked like it came from the 19th century were standing back to back in a corner of the large hall. Harry saw immediately what they were going for.

Someone must have tipped them off to the new spell techniques the Unspeakables were conducting, because they were desperately trying to break through the entryway to the Department of Mysteries. Harry was certain that they saw the threat to their efforts to strip magic and they were trying to put an end to it before it began. He ran over to join the others fighting them off. As he got close, he realized the Death Eaters were encased in a powerfully warded dome.

"We can't get to 'em!" Harry recognized Seamus' voice shouting next to him. "There are only two wizards on the other side right now to hold them off!"

Harry's heart leapt into his throat. The Department of Mysteries held all sorts of dangerous knowledge, even if the goal was specific; any piece of information in there could mean disaster in the wrong hands. The flashing spell lights illuminated the imposing figure of Minister Shackelbolt himself rushing into the fray and flanked by curse breakers. Harry thought he saw a flash of Ron's red hair before he realized that he was looking at Bill Weasley's long mane.

The cursebreakers and Kingsley formed a semi circle around the invaders and began to chant. The Death Eaters never lost focus, even as their wards began to flicker. Harry began to search for others that needed help in the darkness, but couldn't see a thing, so he continued to keep his drawn wand aimed at the corner in case of trouble.

With a deafening and terrifying 'boom' the wards broke and the powerful magic of the assembled curse breakers soaked the Death Eaters with light. They were felled where they stood, and easily tied up by the by standing Aurors. Harry ran up to take a look at them. He didn't want to admit it to his professional self, but if he saw Scabior, he wouldn't hesitate to throw in an extra curse on Ron's behalf.

The walls around the large space began to shake and tremble. A man to Harry's right shouted "There was too much power, the integrity has been compromised," and everyone began to cast shield charms over their heads. The uninjured witches and wizards lifted their wands to try to support the cracking ceiling, but large hunks of rock and wall became missiles falling down on the straining shields of everyone in the room. Kingsley screamed for everyone to evacuate, and Harry followed the flow of the crowd. He turned his head to make sure no one was left behind, constantly on the lookout for his two best friends. A new wave of terror came over Harry as he realized Ron and Hermione were both supposed to be at work.

I hang my coat up in the first bar
There is no peace that I've felt so far
The laughter penetrates my silence
As drunken men find flaws in science

Illegal potions dealing cases are simple and slightly entertaining. On this particular assignment, Ron walked into the shop with a team full of Aurors (the biggest ones at his disposal) and charged into the rickety old apothecary. The thin, worn old man behind the counter buckled immediately, not even bothering to draw his wand. As the Auror squad broke into the hidden room in the basement of the shop, Ron stood back and admired his work. He loved a big, showy, quick raid first thing in the morning. The tone for his whole day felt like it was going to be great.

As he walked down Knockturn Alley and turned back on to Diagon Alley, an owl landed on his shoulder.

"Well hello there Briggs!" Ron said cheerfully, greeting Clark's owl and taking the proffered note. "I don't have a treat on me, but I promise double next time." The owl just met his eyes for a moment and flew off.

Ron,

I don't have any students this afternoon, and I was feeling a bit stir crazy. I thought you might like to join me for an early lunch at the pub across from the Ministry. I'll be there at ten.

Love,

Clark

Ron blushed at the closing. He wasn't ready to love anyone…else. Clark was very involved and attentive, and sometimes Ron felt awkward at all of the attention. An impromptu lunch sounded nice, but he was suspicious when the letter was signed with love. Clark wasn't the sort of man to do anything impromptu, and Ron was certain there was something more on his mind.

Still, his stomach was growling, and he wanted to revel in his victory, so he made his way over to the pub. Clark was seated at a table in the far corner, and when he saw Ron, he lit up so brightly that Ron almost wanted to run the other way. He really wasn't ready for this. He stopped and ordered a drink before making his way to Clark.

"Hey, gorgeous! You look good enough to eat," Clark said, planting a kiss directly on Ron's lips. Ron didn't think it was possible, but his face turned even redder. He loved affection, he could readily admit that, but this much public affection was just too much too soon.

"Clark, hey, listen…"

"First, I have something to say," Clark said, lifting up his hand. Ron couldn't help the surge of anger at being interrupted, but the earnest look in Clark's eyes quelled that very swiftly.

"I'm in love with you. I've been in love since the first time I saw you. Of course I knew who you were, but to see you up close, well a bloke can't help himself sometimes. I don't want to spend any more days waking up alone. I'd like us to get a flat together outside of Hogwarts," Clark started, barely containing his excitement. He already had brochures for many wizarding buildings in the area. Before Ron could blink, he was looking down at floor plans for a two bedroom flat.

Clark continued to speak excitedly, but Ron's mouth just went dry. This was his first relationship with a man, and two months into it, they were almost literally picking out china patterns. As Clark's warm fingertips brushed his own, Ron considered the prospect of a forever with Clark. He was kind, loving, and Ron figured the sex would get better as time wore on. But Clark still felt…well…he just didn't feel right.

Clark was missing a fire, a seething spark that Ron didn't realize he needed so much. Sure, Ron knew that a calm and cool demeanor was a good compliment to his own personality, but what little he knew about love told him it wasn't all about who fit together perfectly. Love was about who you needed, who you couldn't live without. Ron imagined life without Clark, and while he would be bereft to let such a good companion go, he could easily be happy.

"Clark, I can't move in with you," Ron blurted out before he was completely ready. He immediately put his head into his hands.

"Course you can, we have enough money. Things may be a bit tight, but we'll have a nice flat," He said absently, chewing on his toast.

Ron had no idea why everyone always assumed they knew what was best for him…what he wanted. Everyone figured he and Hermione were supposed to be together. Everyone assumed he would go right for the Aurors and not help out George for a year like he did. Clark was assuming that Ron was going to move in with him without even asking him.

And Harry assumed Ron didn't want him, that he wouldn't be happy loving his best mate.

"I don't love you!" Ron shouted, bursting with frustration. Luckily, the pub either didn't care or didn't notice, and the lunch rush kept right on with its buzzing noise. Clark stood frozen on the spot, a pained expression on his face. Ron reached out to touch him, but he flinched away.

"I just mean…it's moving too fast. I can't do this right now. It's too much," Ron said, trying to be as gentle as possible.

"You just don't want to move out of Harry's house, do you?" Clark said, poking his finger sharply against Ron's chest. When Ron flinched, Clark appeared to automatically assume his guilt. "You're holding a torch for the hero, aren't you?"

"That's not…" Ron croaked, but Clark didn't let up.

"You probably wank to thoughts of him all the time while he's fucking everybody but you!" Clark shouted. Now, the pub was quiet. "He doesn't want you. After all these years, don't you think your little loverboy would have had you already?"

Ron's face burned, but this time with seething anger. Talking about Ron's shortcomings was one thing, but bringing Harry into this fight was quite another. He clenched his fists and tried to breathe through his nose. "You don't know what you're talking about, Clark. Why don't you and I go somewhere else and talk?"

"Oh you'd like to avoid the embarrassment of your foolish little crush. You don't think I see the way you look at him? I just figured you weren't nearly so delusional. But then again, you are a gormless little sod aren't you?" Clark straightened his jacket and began to walk out of the pub. Ron was slightly relieved it was over, even if the pains in his chest were beginning to be overwhelming.

Clark paused halfway across the room and Ron braced himself for the final blow. "He'd rather fuck anyone but you. You know the hero probably gets all the lovers he wants. He fucked your sister, and he's probably fucked all of your brothers. He just won't fuck you, and now you're going to waste away waiting for a few crumbs from our great-"

Clark wasn't able to finish his diatribe. Ron rushed forward, headfirst into Clark's chest and toppled him over, taking one of the old, wooden pub tables with him. When Ron had Clark pinned on the ground, the blond wizard managed to reach up and hit him hard across the jaw. Clark hit Ron again with equal force, causing the side of Ron's face to go numb. He was faintly aware of a trickle of blood going down his chin as he raised his fists for another blow. He wanted to destroy something, anything, in that moment. The frustration of months of uncertainty and heartbreak was bursting forth and Ron felt like he was going to be consumed by his own anger and pain. His hand never made it to its destination, however, as a shield was put up between them and Ron was torn off of his former lover.

Ron was dragged off of the offending body and immediately pulled into the crushing weight of apparation. He did not fight it for fear of being splinched.

When he landed firmly on the ground, Ron spun, ready to fight off his attacker, only to be met with Dean Thomas' wide, dark eyes. Ron dropped his wand and sighed out heavily. He took a moment to look around the large, open room. It was filled with paintings, some covered in sheets and some sitting out in the frigid open air. There was paint splattered on the wall and the floors, and various supplies and potions scattering the old wooden tables.

"This is my art studio," Dean said unnecessarily.

"Nice," Ron said, temporarily distracted from what just happened.

"I come here and paint before or after work. Sometimes I manage to slip away during work," Dean said, winking. "So…"

"Listen, what you heard…it's completely barmy." Ron blushed and shoved his sore knuckles into his pocket.

"No it's not, Ron." Dean said softly. Ron tried to avoid Dean's stare. "I know we're not best mates or anything, but I'm not blind. The professor had a point."

"He doesn't want me…that's the point," Ron said, clenching his aching fists in his pockets.

"Yes he does," Dean whispered. Ron closed his eyes until he felt a cold breeze and heard a whoosh of fabric. He looked up to see a magnificent Muggle style painting presented right in front of him.

Ron couldn't help but gasp and bite his lip. He was looking at a life size depiction of Harry, lying on stark white sheets, his body naked, except for a sheet strategically placed, and glistening with sweat. He was looking toward a source of light Ron assumed was a window, and the light was glinting off of his unkempt hair and giving him the appearance of a glow. Ron almost reached out and touched the tan shapely arms presented before him.

"I did that not too long ago," Dean said, his voice still quiet to match the mood of the room.

"This only proves how badly I want him," Ron said, too hurt to bother hiding his emotions in that moment.

"I was asking him who he wanted, who he loved, and who he carried with him," Dean explained, putting a hand on Ron's shoulder.

"What the fuck are you trying to do to me, Thomas!" Ron shouted.

"That's the same look Harry always got on his face when watching you tell a story in the common room, or make a save at a quidditch match, or even the way he looks at you while we're all getting drinks at the pub. That look on his face is just for you, Ron." Dean explained, walking to stand in front of Ron and meet his eyes.

Ron closed his eyes and imagined looking back at Harry when that expression ghosted over the other wizard's face. His heart began to swell. With that feeling came determination. He would not allow Harry to run away from what could be any longer. If Harry wanted him at all, if what Dean was saying was true, than Ron was going to find out.

"Before you go pounding on the walls of churches, why don't I clean up your face a little?" Dean said, breaking Ron out of his trance. Ron followed Dean over to the utility sink in the corner. "Kinda strange though, isn't it? Neville seems to be the only one in our dorm that turned out straight!"

Just as Ron was about the laugh at the absurdity, a massive 'boom' was heard outside of Dean's window, followed by panicked screams. Ron and Dean grabbed their wands and headed down the stairs to the crowded, chaotic street.

Ron's heart fell into his stomach as he saw people running away from the Ministry in a cloud of dust and debris. He could hear Dean's heavy footfalls right beside them if they fought the wave of witches and wizards running through Muggle London and tried to get to the main entrance of the Ministry in time. When they saw the Ministry collapsing around some fading shield charms, Dean yelled out Seamus' name and practically dove into the mess of debris and chaos. Ron followed him, heading toward the collapsing roof and already trying to figure out how he would get to the other floors to find Harry, Hermione, his father, and Percy before the entire underground structure collapsed.

He spun around in a circle, his panic rising at the piles of debris blocking the lifts. If the ceiling in the atrium had collapsed, there was no telling what was happening in the other departments. He began thrusting his wand in the direction of one of the many atrium fire places, trying to see if he could get to a floo to go directly to Harry and Hermione's offices. Nothing would free up though, as the structure of most of the large hearths had collapsed as well.

"Is there any fucking way to get to the other departments?" Ron suddenly shouted, gripping his hair tightly.

"Son!" Ron heard his father's voice rise from somewhere near his left and he began searching the crowd. Arthur Weasley was struggling to get to Ron. When they finally met, Arthur wrapped his arms around Ron tightly, sighing in relief. "I thought…oh God, Ron!"

"Harry, Hermione…bloody hell, Percy! I can't get to any of them! I can't find anyone!" Ron cried.

"Okay, we'll have to keep searching and keep trying. I can't think of anything else to do. I'll go this way, you go back that way," Arthur said, hugging his son one more time before separating, wand drawn and ready to blast walls if he had to.

He walked down a corridor that where injured people were still hobbling out of it and began to comb the area for any sight of bushy brown hair, messy black hair, or curly red. He saw the faintest little wisp of a brown curl flutter from the side of a large rock slab pressed against the wall. He immediately drew his wand to blast the stone away. After the first rock shattered, he realized he could hurt Hermione, or whoever was trapped behind that rock, and began to levitate the stones away slowly.

As the last Rock was removed, Ron saw Hermione, her face screwed up in pain. She was holding her leg, tears streaming down her face. When Ron called her name, she looked up, a small flicker of relief on her face in between the sobs of pain. Ron knelt down in front of her to examine her wounds.

"Can you move?" He asked, swallowing down a lump at the site of the bruises and gashes on her face and arms. She nodded, turning her head side to side, twisting her back, and lifting her arms. When she attempted to lift her leg, she shrieked in pain. Ron noticed the blood blossoming on her trousers when she moved and he cradled her ankle gently on his lap to have a closer look.

He removed her brown pumps carefully and lowered her sock. He cringed as she flinched and whimpered. He rolled up her pant leg and began to see a horrible swelling and bruising starting just at the hem. As he moved her pants up, the deep wound that cut into her leg made his stomach churn. The rock which had pinned her had landed on her in such a way that it didn't break her bone, but still cut extensively into her flesh. She had already lost a lot of blood. Ron raised his wand, using it to cut a strip of his sleeve, and tied the piece of cloth tightly just below her knee.

He stood up and cleared a path back to the main atrium. Ron leaned over and scooped Hermione easily into his long arms, pulling her against his chest to keep her from being jostled by the rushing, panicked crowd. The situation had calmed, but there was still so much fear and urgency that magic practically pulsated on the walls. Ron kept his eyes open, shooting around desperately for Harry, but when he looked down and saw that Hermione had fainted, he decided that he had to get her to St. Mungo's.

As he exited the Ministry, he caught sight of a flicker of light reflecting off of a glass surface and cutting through the dusty air. Ron looked over and saw Harry, running into the Ministry, with his wand drawn and a look of panic mixed with determination on his face. Ron called out to him, but realized there was no way Harry would have been able to hear him over the commotion.

Suddenly, Harry's sharp, wide green eyes met Ron's and they stayed locked on each other as Harry ran toward him.

Their words mostly noises
Ghosts with just voices
Your words in my memory
Are like music to me

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"Will she be okay then?" Harry asked, switching his weight from foot to foot. Besides the incident with Mr. Weasley, Harry had never spent much time in a hospital and they made him even more nervous than he already was.

"She's lost a lot of blood, and it's a very serious wound, but we've managed to replace her blood with some potions and after some treatments with dittany and physical therapy, the leg should be good as new within the next few months!

After the pain medication had finally put Hermione to sleep, the healer administered the bone sealing and blood replenishing potions and slipped silently out the door. Ron let go of Hermione's hand and made it over to the adjoining loo, mumbling something about washing his face. He moved as though his body ached from the strain and panic of a tumultuous day. He sighed and began to splash water on his face before spelling away the remaining dirt and moisture.

"Wow," Harry said from behind him, causing Ron to jump. "You got put through the ringer too." Harry paused next to him, meeting his eyes in the mirror and feeling the color drain from his face at the memory of the past few hours. "Where were you? I couldn't find you."

"I wasn't in the building. I was at a pub getting lunch and then I was at Dean's." Ron answered, avoiding Harry's gaze.

"Who goes to a pub in the middle of the day?" Harry asked, trying to sound casual, but silently hoping Ron hadn't seen that painting of him.

"I was meeting Clark for lunch," Ron said into his towel, turning his back. He suddenly hissed in pain and Harry walked around him to see what was wrong. The cut above Ron's eye had opened and was dripping blood down his face. Harry quickly grabbed the towel and wet it with warm water before reaching up and running it gently over Ron's cut. He winced along with Ron as the cloth ghosted over the bruise.

"I can heal these for you," Harry whispered, trying to ignore the feeling of Ron's warm body so close to his. He wanted so badly to grip Ron firmly by the shoulders and pull him in for a crushing kiss.

"That would be great," Ron said, his voice gravelly and strained.

Harry raised his wand and healed Ron's cut and black eye. A small trickle of blood was still left below Ron's eye, and Harry reached out a shaky hand to wipe it away. His hand lingered on the side of Ron's jaw; his fingertips just brushing Ron's hair, and Ron turned in and pressed his cheek more firmly against Harry's palm. Harry closed his eyes and tried to memorize the feeling of Ron's stubble beneath his touch.

"Who roughed you up then? Football hooligans?" Harry said, attempting levity and failing miserably at the confused look on Ron's face. "Want me to kick their arse?" Harry smiled, but couldn't deny the bitter disclaimer, "Unless of course that's Clark's job."

Ron got a bitter, resigned look on his face, but Harry had no time to press the issue further as he heard two men shouting Ron's name down the corridors of St. Mungo's.

Harry followed Ron out the door to see Mr. Weasley and Percy frantically searching in each room and calling out Ron's name. "Dad!" Ron said, and Mr. Weasley and Percy both perked their heads up and ran toward him. Before Ron could even form a question on his lips, he was enfolded into a huge, four armed embrace.

"Everything alright?" Harry asked after he was pulled into the hug as well, sandwiched between the two elder Weasleys in the bunch.

"We just couldn't find you two! I had seen Ron on his way to look for you, but then we lost track. When someone said they saw you lot heading toward St. Mungo's, I thought the worst," Mr. Weasley explained, looking like a weight had just been lifted off of his shoulders. Percy still looked pale and fearful.

"Ron, Harry…I'm so sorry!" Percy exclaimed, his face twisted."I looked everywhere for Hermione, but I couldn't find her. The whole thing finally collapsed, and no one could get in or out. I couldn't go back in for her!" he cried, looking tragic and lost.

"Percy, son," Mr. Weasley whispered. He put a calming hand on Percy's shoulder and pointed up to where Hermione's name and patient information was written in floating golden letters just above the room number on the door. Percy let out a cry of relief and reached up to touch her name, though the letters just separated like smoke rings. Harry thought his eyebrows couldn't go any higher toward his hairline. He heard Ron gasp and reach for Percy's arm.

"Perce…what is wrong with your hands?" Ron's concerned voice drew Harry's attention down to the lacerated, bloody hands peeking out from under the tattered Ministry robes.

"There were so many rocks. They just tumbled down. I had to get her out. I couldn't lose her too…not that way…not again," Percy said, his voice shaking. Mr. Weasley looked taken back for a moment before he finally took a deep breath and walked over to Percy. He placed a gentle hand on Percy's shoulders and let him into Hermione's room.

"Let's get your hands fixed up," he whispered to his middle son, his voice croaking.

Harry chanced a look in Ron's direction, knowing he's find the same pained expression he wore for weeks after the final battle. Fred's loss was still a newly-healed wound, and what Percy said likely opened it just a little. Ron's jaw was clenched, his eyes were closed, and he had his arms wrapped around his middle. Harry leaned against him and put a hand lightly on his back.

"Thanks, mate," Ron sighed, leaning against Harry's body. "It's been a rough day."

"Ron, why did you and Clark fight? Is everything okay?" Harry asked, keeping a firm hand on Ron's back.

"No it bloody well isn't!" Ron shouted. "And it's all your fault! I can't think straight with you standing there…you're so close. You're always so close!"

With those cryptic, infuriating, and hurtful words, Ron stormed out of St. Mungo's leaving Harry bewildered and alone outside of Hermione's room.

Harry was distracted from Ron's outburst by screams coming from Hermione's room. Harry rushed in to find her throwing everything near her bed she could get her hands on at Lawrence. He was huddled against the wall with flowers in his hands, attempting to get her to stop long enough for him to explain.

"Get out of my room you bloody coward!" Hermione screamed, grabbing a vase full of daisies from her bedside table and flinging it at Lawrence's head. He managed to duck just in time.

"Hermione, please," He said, ducking again as a glass of water was thrust at him.

Hermione had tears streaming down her face and her hands were shaking. Harry was caught off guard completely by her extreme reaction, but in the next breath, he was worried that Lawrence had done something horrible to her. He clenched his fists as he glanced around the room. Mr. Weasley was standing at a safe distance looking quizzically at Hermione, but Percy had his chest puffed out and a look of pure rage on his face.

"She has asked you to leave. If you do not, I will have to force you," Percy said, with a quiet ferocity that shocked Harry.

He was ready to throw his hat into the ring and make Lawrence leave, when the other wizard turned on his heels to exit. Harry moved to the side to let him pass, a dark suspicious look on his face, when Lawrence turned back and rounded on Hermione. He walked up to her, as closely as he could before Percy made a step forward.

"You may think me a coward, but you are the delusional little bint who expects too much of the men in your life!" He shouted, and just as the last word left his mouth and Harry began to lunge for Lawrence, Percy's fist connected to the offending wizard's jaw with a sickening crack. Lawrence rushed out of the room without another word.

There was a heavy silence that descended on the small hospital room for what felt like an eternity before finally Mr. Weasley cleared his throat and Harry found his words.

"Hermione, what-"

"I just want to go home, Harry." Hermione sighed resignedly.

"You can't go home in your condition!" Harry said, suddenly worried that Hermione would shut herself off like she did after her parents came back from Australia. "Why don't you stay with Ron and I for a few days?"

Hermione seemed to ponder for a moment. "You know, I could use some friendly company right now."

"It's settled. I'll go talk to the healer," Harry said leaving the room. He wondered where Ron was, but the thought of Ron only brought a tight knot to his stomach.

Within an hour, Hermione was being led up the front steps of Grimmauld Place carefully. As Harry and Percy guided Hermione into the sitting room, a pile of blankets on the chair began to shift. Ron's distinctive orange head popped up from under the knitted afghan, with red eyes and a slack expression. When he saw Hermione he leapt up, faltered a little on his feet, and lumbered toward her to help get her to the sofa. Harry bent over to cover Hermione up, and he could smell the firewhisky on Ron's breath.

Ron shot Harry a confused look and took a seat on the other side of Hermione, taking her hand and asking if everything was okay. They talked for a while about what happened at The Ministry, and while Ron did ask after Lawrence, Hermione would just shake her lead and clench her jaw. Harry could see Ron getting agitated and worried, his fists clenching. He knew Ron was planning Lawrence's death even before he knew what happened. When Hermione started silently weeping and pushed Ron and Harry out of the room, Harry dragged Ron into the kitchen in the hopes of finding him a sobering potion.

"I'm not bleedin' drunk!" Ron exclaimed, throwing up his hands and walking away from Harry. Harry grabbed a towel and followed Ron.

"Actually you are drunk and bleeding," Harry said softly. "I can smell it on you."

"You can smell blood? Blimey!" Ron said sarcastically.

"Ron, what's going on? What happened?"

"What d'you mean? The Ministry collapsed if you hadn't noticed!" Ron said, looking away. The tips of his ears began to turn red.

"Well I'd love to meet the debris that can make such a perfect round bruise directly over your eye," Harry said, and Ron just looked back at him blankly. "And I know you love to drink, but never in the middle of the day."

"I'm just worried about Hermione," Ron answered, trying to leave the kitchen. Harry blocked the doorway.

"At least let me heal that lip," Harry whispered. Ron nodded and didn't move. Harry summoned a flannel and soaked it in some hot water from the faucet. He reached up and gently wiped the blood from Ron's mouth. He tried not to shudder when Ron licked his lips afterwards. Harry cast a mild healing spell.

"Thanks, mate."

"What really happened?" Ron shook his head. "We used to be able to say anything to each other."

"Yeah. We haven't had a good long talk since…oh I don't know…New Year's Eve?" Ron said bitingly. Harry curled his fists and closed his eyes, willing himself to keep his cool and feeling himself losing.

"Ron…I…"

"Do you want to know what happened? Clark did this! Clark! He wanted to move to the next step, I wasn't ready, he got literally and emotionally pissed, and we had a row." Ron said, stomping toward the cupboard and pulling the bottle of Ogden's back down.

"He hit you?" Harry said, not even bothering to contain his anger and thinking of all the ways he could gut Clark.

"Yeah, he hit first, but I hit last," Ron said darkly.

With that, Ron crashed through the kitchen door and into the sitting room. Harry was ready to rush after him before he heard Ron shout "What the fuck?" at the top of his lungs.

()()()()()()(*)*()

Ron couldn't even comprehend what he was looking at. There was Percy, sitting on the sofa, with his hands on Hermione's face and not a centimeter of space between them. Hermione lifted her hands up and wrapped them around Percy's wrist. She smiled at him for a moment before turning slowly and looking at Ron. Ron's mind was buzzing and his vision was slightly blurred with anger, confusion, and he'd hate to admit it, but tears from his encounter with Harry.

As if on cue, Harry's strong hand circled around his upper arm and he pulled Ron back slightly. Ron closed his eyes for a moment and focused on Harry before opening them again and looking back at his brother and Hermione. She was looking at him, speaking carefully and gently, and he was red faced and panic stricken. Ron immediately felt like an asshole.

"It's alright," Ron started, trying to regain the foothold on his emotions. "I'm sorry I yelled." Ron shuddered slightly when he felt Harry's hand leave his arm and caress lightly up his back before resting on his shoulder.

"Of course it's alright, Ron. Why wouldn't it be? And I don't need your permission to do anything with anyone," Hermione said, though her lip was quivering.

"It's okay Ms. Gr-I mean, Hermione," Percy said. He was looking at her with a mixture of worry and adoration. To say Ron was shocked would have been an understatement.

"What happened to Lawrence?" Ron asked, remembering the way he was screamed out of the hospital room.

"I'm going to kill him," Percy muttered. Ron let out a cough at hearing his normally controlled brother be so open with his rage. Hermione just pursed her lips at him and turned to Ron.

"He had come to the Ministry to take me to lunch when the chaos started to happen. We were walking along the corridor toward the cafeteria when the building started to shake," Hermione started to tremble and Percy moved a little closer to her side. "When the first rock fell, he ran ahead. He left me there to fend for myself. Now I'm not saying I can't take care of myself…but he just…he was gone."

Hermione was openly crying, and Ron and Harry moved to the sofa to crowd around her and offer her comfort and the opinion that they never liked Lawrence anyway. After some more firewhisky was dispersed, Hermione fell asleep, Percy tucked her in and took up a chair next to her, and Ron and Harry were left in the kitchen gently sipping away at their drinks.

"Ron, I'm so sorry that Clark…" Harry started. Ron was about ready to lift his hand and tell him it was okay when Harry slammed his glass down on the table. "Fuck that. I'm sorry he hit you but I'm not sorry you two broke up."

"Harry?" Ron said, his stomach beginning to churn nervously. While Harry did swear, it wasn't very often, and the intensity in his eyes stirred something deep inside of Ron and made his cheeks flame. He hoped Harry hadn't caught on to why he and Clark had broken up. Ron was still struggling to think of an explanation to his outburst in the hospital that could save him the humiliation of Harry coming to the conclusion himself.

"Ron, I've been so fucking-"Harry was interrupted by a large dark brown barn owl that began slamming against the kitchen window.

"No!" Harry shouted in frustration.

Ron got up and let the owl in. He took the letter from the talons, gave him a treat, and sat down right next to Harry. He placed the Official Ministry Document in front of Harry and then put his hand over the dark-haired wizard's, squeezing tightly.

"I'll be here when you get back. Someone's gotta keep an eye on those two barmy little rabbits in the sitting room," Ron smiled gently, swallowing his disappointment for the sake of Harry's mission.

Harry opened the letter, frowned gravely, and then rose up to get his Auror gear on. Ron just sat back and watched him, not daring to hope that anything would happen when Harry got back, but letting his imagination flicker slightly at the sight of Harry in his work robes. Harry made his way quickly to the back door, indicating that he didn't want to wake Hermione. Ron just nodded and gave him a slight wave.

Suddenly, the door slammed and Harry was rushing back across the kitchen. Ron didn't even freeze, he moved toward Harry and their bodies collided with the force of two steel structures falling into each other. Ron crashed his lips to Harry's without even bothering to catch his breath. The kiss was quick, hard, and full of so many unspoken things that Ron wouldn't have been able to breathe if he tried. And just like that Harry was gone and Ron was left alone, focusing on the expansion and contraction of his lungs.

(((((((((((((((()_)_)_)_)_)_

I'm miles from where you are
I lay down on the cold ground
I pray that something picks me up
And sets me down in your warm arms

It was bloody freezing in Siberia, even with all the warming charms and layers of fur that Harry could heap on him. He tried not to focus on the warm fire that was likely crackling back at Grimmauld Place, nor of the even more consuming warmth that Ron's body always let off even on the coldest days. Harry huddled behind a tree, got Seamus and Giles in his sights and settled in against the tree line by yet another ruddy, run down pub. They had been scouring the countryside for three weeks with no way to contact home and nothing more comfortable than run down shacks to sleep in. They had finally gotten a tip from observing a little pub 50 kilometers west.

After the fiasco of the last undercover mission, and the one before that, the Aurors had decided to gather their intelligence through only spying and no covert work, and this meant there were various Aurors and Unspeakables gathered behind the trees waiting for information to waft into their various sensory devices. Harry's extendable ears were covered and now and hidden right in the doorway while Seamus and Giles had weird metal cones cupped over their right ears. Harry listened for even a whisper of Scabior, a Stripping Spell, or uprising.

After what felt like hours, Harry smelled something strange in the air. At first, he thought it was the ammonia laden smell of one of the many drunken patrons relieving himself in the snow, but when he chanced a look around, he saw no one. The smell became stronger, and Harry more alert. He lifted his wand to cast a shield charm so that he could get out his communicator without having to be too alert, but when he flicked his wand, nothing came out except one impotent little spark. Harry willed his heart not to race as he calmly leaned around his tree to see if he could get Seamus' attention.

He looked at Seamus just in time to hear someone behind them shout "Get down!" before curses were flying in all directions. Harry got up to defend his comrades before he realized his magic was gone. He crouched down and rushed over to where Seamus was sitting, dodging the crossfires that didn't seem to be aimed at him.

The flying curses over Harry's head were blurry, as though he was looking at them through thick glass. He tried casting a spell again, but his wand still did nothing. He grabbed a stick, jabbing at the air to find out if by some wild chance, he was encased in glass. The stick hit against something just under another flying curse, and then an electrical force seared through him with so much power that he was thrown back.

"Harry?" Giles said, his dark eyes squinting with a combination of cold wind and flashing lights.

"I'm fine," Harry murmured. "What was that?"

Giles didn't answer, but clenched his jaw and his fists. He looked up at the invisible force field and shook his head in disgust. Harry stood up to brush the snow off of the hides he was wearing, jumping when Seamus suddenly let out a string of expletives next to them.

"Seamus, don't," Giles said through clenched teeth, looking at Harry.

"If you two know what's going on, you better fucking tell me now before I go shoving more sticks in places I shouldn't!" Harry shouted in frustration. Even through the haze of his anger, Seamus guffawed.

"It's no harm to tell him, mate," Seamus said, looking at his partner. "He already knows more than most Aurors, and you know he's going be right in the thick of a huge debriefing."

"I swear to god I am never working with Unspeakables again!" Harry shouted, jumping as a bright curse flashed over top of him. He realized he would never be hit, as the invisible dome seemed to keep magic out as well as prevent it.

"They weren't working on stripping people of their magic like we initially thought," Seamus whispered darkly, as the ground began to quake.

The fight was drawing closer. In addition to the bright lights of spells and curses, Harry could see faint shadows. Scabior's group was coming from the direction of the pubs they had been staking out, and a horde of men, about 50 strong, were coming across the flat, ice plain directly toward them, still madly firing off defensive and offensive spells. Without getting a close enough look, Harry knew the Aurors had come.

"They've found a way to strip the magic out of a place," Harry whispered, overwhelmed. "If they can do that, there's no telling what they can do to the entire country!"

"You know what we have to do," Giles said gravely, taking Seamus' hand. Harry took Seamus' other hand as some of the other Unspeakables came out of their hiding spots.

"I don't understand how we can do this though, without magic," Harry said, worried that he was pointing out the obvious.

"The stripping spell actually works by stripping the magic out of the carrier through the wands. Based on the reaction that our wands are having to this FUCKING dome, we might be able to use wandless magic to try to counteract the spell," Giles said, his thin body already shaking with anticipation. "They aren't going to do this. They can't."

"Guys, you know what happens when you liquefy this spell," Seamus said, addressing his colleagues. They all nodded solemnly as Harry remembered the drain it took on all of Seamus' faculties to even stop one person from casting on one other person.

The small number of Unspeakables and Harry formed a circle with their backs to each other and their faces looking out across the vast, icy wilderness. The battle was coming closer to them, and as Harry tried to focus, he watched his friends and coworkers fight against the horde. Harry was prepared for 20 men, but there were upwards of 75 crowded on the Siberian plain. Despite his normally unyielding faith, he didn't think they were going to be able to end this spell. Harry shuddered to think what would happen if they lost the fight as well.

As he begin to focus his body, his mind, and what little magic he could still feel into the spell, he looked back out over the field. Running at the center of a pack of Aurors, slashing his wand as though it were a vicious sword, was Ron. Harry focused everything on his figure cutting through the melee like an animal and seething with power. He could feel his own power bubble up in response. Just as Harry was about to move his magic toward the offending spell, Ron looked over at him. Even through the distance, even through the darkness, he could see the white and blue of Ron's eyes. They locked for a singular moment, and Harry let out a primal yell.

)))))))))_))))))))))))))))

Ron paced Grimmauld Place, over and over. He was completely floored by his kiss with Harry, but at the same time, he wanted nothing more than to run off to wherever Harry was stationed and shag him senseless. His body was on fire, and he gripped his hair roughly to try and quell the multitude of emotions that kept welling up inside of him. On his fifth trip through the house, Percy cornered him in the hall.

"Listen, I can see that my burgeoning relationship with Miss Granger is bothering you," Percy started, lifted his hand up when Ron started to protest. "I can assure you I have only the purest of intentions with her. And to be frank, I absolutely adore her."

Percy looked at Ron, their similar heights allowing Ron to meet his brown eyes. Ron could see so much anxiety in Percy that he was taken back. His fastidious older brother seemed unflappable, even in the face of Fred and George's pranks, but the last 24 hours had shown Ron a whole new side of Percy. He couldn't help but reach out and clasp his brother on the shoulder.

"You hurt her, and I'll kill you. After I'm done, Harry will kill you," Percy nodded, a small smirk forming at the corner of his mouth. "And then I'll tell mum." Percy frowned.

"I can't imagine a situation in which I would hurt her," Percy said, his thin mouth forming a beatific smile. "So what's bothering you then, little brother?"

Ron debated saying anything about the encounter in the kitchen to Percy. He knew Percy saw that kiss on New Year's Eve, but Ron was still uncomfortable with the thought of everyone knowing how deeply his feelings ran. He clenched his fists and hoped his face didn't turn red. He was purposely avoiding Percy's eyes, but Percy just stood there patiently until Ron looked at him.

"Did you and Harry have a row?" Percy asked gently. Percy was never very intuitive about human emotion.

"Sort of the opposite actually, Perce," Ron stuffed his hands in his pockets sheepishly. "And then before I could even really wrap my head around it, he had to take off on another godforsaken mission!"

"There doesn't seem to be much to wrap your head around, Ron. You two obviously love each other."

Ron began to panic.

"Who said anything about love?" He said, his voice cracking like he was 14 again. Percy just lifted his eyebrows.

"Is there a place where Hermione can sleep?" Percy said, unaffected by the bright shade Ron was turning.

"I don't know when Harry will be back. It wouldn't hurt to put her in his bed. We don't have any of the other rooms open. Need help?" Ron asked, following Percy into the living room.

"Locomotor will work just fine," Percy said, looking down at Hermione with worry. Before Ron could reassure Percy that Hermione would be okay, Kingsley's lynx patronus descended through the ceiling.

"The Siberian mission is being ambushed. All Aurors report immediately for Portkey Transport."

The shining cat disappeared as quickly as it came, leaving Ron staring confusedly at the spot it left. "Siberian mission? There is no mission to-"

Suddenly, Ron's stomach fell into his chest and his heart began to race. "Harry," he whispered. He summoned his cloak, stepped into his boots by the back door, and apparated straight from the garden to the apparation point outside of The Ministry.

Ron burst through The Ministry doors. It was almost deserted at this time of night, especially with all of the repairs that were still ongoing. Most people left their work overnight, fearful of being in the unstable building along. The old Warlocks of the Wizengamot and their clerks were usually the only ones to be found past nine. Ron ran, his thick black boots clicking down the marble floors. When he made it to the third floor, he saw Kingsley pacing the hallway, talking to a patronus.

"Kingsley! Kingsley!" Ron shouted, breathless and in a full sprint. Kingsley's head spun in his direction and he dismissed the patronus. When Ron caught up to him, he was already brimming with fear and rage.

"Where did you fucking send Harry?" Ron said, grabbing The Minister's robes. "Where did you send him without Auror backup? Without ME!"

Kingsley pulled Ron's fists from his robes carefully, and gave Ron an even stare until Ron's heavy breathing slowed. Ron's fists were still clenching and unclenching. He knew his anger was slightly misdirected, but at this point, he couldn't see past the fact that Harry was on a mission somewhere where Ron could not protect him, where they couldn't look out for each other. The helplessness was killing him.

"Harry was on a mission with the Unspeakables in Siberia. I do not have time to explain the spell he was researching, but they were following a band of new rebels who were employing these new magical tactics to what could have been terrorizing means," Kingsley explained as calmly as he could, though Ron could see his lips were tight as well. "It seems as though they were onto us the whole time. "

"Why the fuck didn't we have more men on it?" Ron said, trying not to shout. "Why weren't you there for them?"

"We didn't realize it would happen so quickly. As soon as I got the distress signal, I summoned all the aurors here. Not surprisingly you were the first to arrive." Kingsley answered, turning toward the entrance to the department to see two more Aurors filter through.

"Where's the Portkey?" Ron asked impatiently, thinking the other Aurors weren't moving nearly fast enough for the grave situation.

"Ron, you're not going until we have more backup."

As if on cue, five witches and wizards filtered in, heartening Ron slightly by looking ready for a fight. Kingsley looked around and nodded. "Let me brief you all and then we'll send the first group out."

"Alright people, listen up!" Kingsley addressed the gathering crowd and commanding a respect that eased Ron's panicked mind slightly. "Earlier today, we dispatched a group of Unspeakables and Mr. Potter to Siberia to do some reconnaissance work on a group of new criminals. These dangerous men sought to strip Muggleborns of their magic through a technique that was perfected within these very walls. They nearly succeeded a few weeks ago."

Ron's knees began to feel weak. He thought of Hermione, her brilliant eyes shining with accomplishment and magical skill. He remembered how she looked after Bellatrix was done with her. He couldn't even fathom her without magic. Harry was trying to protect her, to protect so many people. It had always been Harry to save the world, but Ron to save him. He gripped his wand tightly, itching to get to him.

"Something has cut off every single magical signature at their locations. We're barely getting flickers at the moment. This is most distressing. All we know is that they were scouting pubs and outbuildings, and then we got the signals. We need to get there and get our colleagues out. That is the first priority. Before engaging the rebels in a full offense, please ensure that all are accounted for and safe. Focus on defensive tactics only." Kingsley finished, looking gravely at the equally grave faces staring at him. Kingsley nodded at Ron.

"Right, I'll take the first group. We need a list of who we're looking for," Ron said, turning to Kingsley. Kingsley pulled one out of his pocket. "When we get there, let's go as stealthily as possible until we can see our friends and a way to pull them out. We have no idea what we're facing with this spell, or how far it can reach. If you feel at all like you're being affected, get out, or send out distress signals."

With that, they were heading toward the first Portkey to Russia, leaving behind safe and warm and readying themselves for the cold and fear that awaited them. One thought ate at Ron's mind like a gnawing, biting fire: Why can't they see Harry's magical signature? Ron didn't want to imagine Harry dead. There had been an excruciating period of time when Ron thought he was, and he knew he couldn't go through that again. And he certainly wasn't going to stand idly by while it happened.

He hit the ground running. He could already see the glowing of some form of magic nearly 500 meters away, and he led his team through the tundra toward the tree line. As they neared sight, they cast their disillusionment charms and began to crouch behind a tree. One Auror followed the rest of them, vanishing their tracks like they had never been there. Ron held his breath and peered around a vast, pine trunk toward the center of a dome of glowing, menacing magic.

Harry was on his knees, hands joined with others in a circle that was sending light beaming toward the outer ring of the dome. Ron could see even from his distance that they were all shaking with effort. As they approached, the Aurors were spotted, and Ron actively engaged in every defensive spell he could think of, Harry foremost in his mind. The battle seemed to go on for an agonizingly infinite amount of minutes.

Suddenly, when it seemed the light was poised to take over the hanging magic, a powerful spell was cast that shrouded the dome in darkness, and when it dissipated, all of the Unspeakables and Harry were lying face down in the snow. For a moment the cursing ceased on both sides as they stared in horror or triumph, and Ron took his chance to run even harder.

Ron's eyes only saw red with rage, which helped to keep his fear and despair swallowed down. He charged at the offenders just as thick sheets of snow fell from the sky and obscured their vision. Ron reached into his pocket for his goggles, as did the other Aurors, and thinking of Harry's glasses balancing unevenly on his nose, Ron cast an impervious charm. The other Aurors followed his lead as the remaining portkeys could be heard popping in behind their small group.

It turned out to be that harmless little charm that was the villain's downfall. They couldn't see in the snow. Their aims were so severely off that the Aurors were able to go against Kingsley's orders, and offensively cast. That none of them had thought of the eventuality of a snowstorm in Siberia would have been shocking to Ron if he had time to stop and think about it. The Aurors had most of them tied up and ready to ship to Azkaban within minutes. Only a few of the minor players escaped. Even Scabior was caught. Ron wanted to kick him hard in the side, but his eyes were focused on the place where Harry had lain. There were mounds in the snow that were becoming less and less visible with each second that passed.

Ron reached the small circle of bodies first, falling to his knees and digging in the snow. Every time he uncovered someone, his heart would constrict in fear that he would find Harry's lifeless form, but for the most part he found unfamiliar and alive strangers. He would set a signal of sparks above them and move on. He felt like he was getting nowhere.

"Harry!" Ron shouted desperately, his own hands growing numb even through his thick gloves. "Harry please!"

He was letting out frozen sobs in between heaving efforts to move snow, vanish snow, and get to the next person. Harry's name was repeated like a mantra over and over again, barely pausing on his lips before the words were released with each anguished and icy breath. It felt to Ron like every time he moved, Harry's death became more real.

Ron saw the mess of his hair spiking up through the snow and fell to his side. He rolled Harry over. His lips were blue, and there was ice caking his glasses. He seemed so still, and so cold, that Ron thought he'd break like the thin sheet of ice that would form across his family's pond in December. Regardless, he picked Harry up and pulled him close to his chest, ignoring the fact that Harry weighed nearly as much as he did. Ron was shaking so hard that he couldn't even send up sparks.

"Weasley," Roberta Marshall, one of the head Aurors called out from behind him. She was running a diagnostic spell. "He's alive. We need to get him to St. Mungo's now. We've got a medical Portkey ready to go."

Ron didn't let go of Harry. He couldn't. He just pulled Harry's limp body onto his lap and reached for the worn out old wallet that would hopefully save both of them.

&&&&&&&&&&&7

After I have travelled so far
We'd set the fire to the third bar
We'd share each other like an island
Until exhausted, close our eyelids

Harry woke up to the sounds of murmured voices near him. He was expecting intense pain, like what usually happens when he wakes up in the hospital, but instead he just felt very cold and very tired. He tried to turn his head to focus on the voices he heard, but he was having trouble moving. Instead, he just closed his eyes and concentrated on burrowing further beneath St. Mungo's notoriously thin linens.

He must have made a noise, because suddenly Ron's blurry figure was hovering over him, and even though he looked like some sort of black, peach, and orange blob, Harry could feel his anxiety. "I'm okay," he whispered.

It sounded like Ron was trying to speak, but no actual words ever came out. Instead, his large heat was smothering Harry, his upper body lying across Harry's chest and his hands gripping one of Harry's own. Harry closed his eyes for a moment and enjoyed being so thoroughly warm. He squeezed Ron back when the feeling started to return to his hands.

"Harry's up!" Seamus' excited voice echoed through the room, still loud even if it did sound a bit feeble. Harry was about to ask for his glasses when Ron put them clumsily on his head.

Without even considering where he was, the last few months of pain and awkwardness, or his audience, Harry reached out a weak arm and rested his hand against Ron's cheek. His face was red and raw with frostbite, but his eyes closed in relief.

"Harry…" Ron whispered. He reached up his hand and pressed his cheek firmly against Harry's palm. "Oh Gods, Harry."

"I'm alright, Ron," Harry's voice croaked.

"Damn right! And we got the bastards too!" Seamus exclaimed. Harry let out another sigh of relief.

"And it almost cost you your life, you barmy sod!" Dean's dark voice came from the chair beside Seamus' bed. "I was so close to losing you."

"You'll never lose me, mate," Seamus whispered, and when Dean leaned in to kiss the Irish patient, Ron and Harry looked hastily away.

"How's Hermione?" Harry asked. The last he saw her, she was okay, but injured.

"She's doing well. Percy came by, said he was taking her home to take care of her," Ron said. His face screwed up in mock disgust and he rolled his eyes. "Better than just anyone, I guess."

Harry laughed out loud, and Ron answered him with such a bright and open smile that Harry could feel his icy fingertips begin to melt. Harry kept his eyes locked on Ron's until Ron turned and began to carefully kiss at Harry's palm. Harry was about to tell Ron everything- How sorry he was, how much he loved him, and how badly he wanted him- when a healer came lightly through the door.

"Well you gentlemen are free to go, so long as you promise to administer the medical potions and salves regularly, take a strengthening potion every morning, and take it easy for a few days," The healer said, looking up from her chart and smiling.

"Yes sir!" Seamus said, giggling and earning an eye roll from Dean.

"What's the medication regemin?" Ron said, walking over to the healer and looking at the chart. She calmly explained what Harry needed to take. When she got to the part about the salves meant to treat frostbite, Ron blushed wildly. Harry assumed Ron was planning on taking care of him, and the thought of Ron rubbing salve on his frostbitten areas may have made Ron blush, but it made everything on Harry's body heat up. She instructed Ron to apply the same potion to his hands and face. She gave a poignant look at Harry as if to say "Now you make sure he does it," and then handed them their discharge forms.

Harry reached out a pink, raw hand and went to fill out his forms, but Ron shook his head and sat down to concentrate on the paperwork. Harry looked over and saw Dean doing the same thing. Seamus was whispering in Dean's ear, and it must have been something terribly filthy, because Dean kept coughing, looking up at Harry and Ron, and then casting a spell on the paperwork and starting over. Seamus' face was completely gleeful, as though he hadn't almost died.

"Wanna go home, mate?" Ron asked softly, pulling Harry from his distractions. Harry nodded, taking the clothing Ron was handing to him and spelling them back on his body. The act of doing magic jarred him and made him feel faint again, so Ron helped him out of bed and walked him carefully to the apparition point. Harry tried not to shudder as Ron's strong arm circled his waist and his body pressed against Harry's before the familiar pull was taking them to Grimmauld Place.

Ron kept his arm around Harry has he led him to their sitting room in Grimmauld Place. Harry was thrilled to see their comfortable leather sofa, overstuffed and worn in all the right places, ready for him to relax in. Ron led him into the room and over to his favorite spot. Ron even helped Harry sit down, and Harry was thankful as the stinging pain in his feet and hands still flared. He tried to hide his wince at the movement.

"Blimey Harry, do you need some of those potions?" Ron said, his eyes wide with worry.

"I think I might," Harry answered, his words getting caught against his rough throat. "But first I need something warm to drink."

"Oh shit! I should have realized," Ron leapt up ran down to the kitchen. Harry could hear him rifling through their things. "We've got tea, some cocoa, or I could head up some of this spiced wine my Mum sent us last Christmas!"

"Cocoa sounds perfect!" Harry shouted, hurting his throat even further.

In no time at all, Ron was coming back up the steps, levitating two large and steaming mugs in front of him. He set one in front of Harry and the other at the other end of the table. Harry could see a mountain of marshmallows on Ron's and only three very small marshmallows floating in his cocoa. He looked over at Ron to see him smiling like he had just pulled a brilliant prank.

"Well I see that another near death experience hasn't caused you to treat me with any deference," Harry murmured.

"Oh bugger off! I brought them down. I just know you don't like things as sweet as I do, so I thought I'd let you put them in," Ron said, throwing the bag of small white morsels at Harry's head.

"Mhmmm, sure. So why are there only a few left in the bag?"

Ron just smiled at him and took a large swig of his drink, licking his lips free of the white foam the marshmallows left behind. Harry licked his own lips and bent nearer to his cup, trying to ignore the pain in his extremities and his shaking body. He kept his focus on Ron, and the fire he seemed to emit from his very pores.

"Everything okay?" Ron said, plopping some more marshmallows into his emptying cup.

"I just feel like I'll never feel warm again," Harry said, trying to pull his legs up closer to him but only hurting his injuries. He cried out in pain.

Once again, Ron was on his feet with his wand drawn. In ignited the fire in the grate so that the heat warmed the parts of Harry's legs that could have decent feeling. Then, he went over to his robes and pulled Harry's potions out of his pockets. He bit his lip in concentration, and Harry had to fight the urge to walk over to him and run his tongue along those warm, cocoa sweetened lips.

He laughed ruefully at himself. He and Ron had spent the years of their friendship moving from one hell, one risk to another. They had been fighting something that could be perfect, something that could make them happy for so long, Harry was positive they'd never have another shot. He resigned himself to having a best mate he would want from afar. The moment had passed and he had to let it go.

"Alright, the potions are supposed to be taken before bed or at lunch, so let's set those aside for a moment. Take off your shirt, mate." Ron said, his cheeks flaming.

"What?" Harry said, a little more excited than he really should have been.

"Oh, um, well you can keep your undershirt on. I just want to do up your hands and arms with the salve. You're in a lot of pain and I know you won't complain until you're ready to pass out from it," Ron said, rolling up his sleeves and shaking the bottle onto his palms.

He kneeled down in front of Harry and gently took his red, throbbing arm into his hands. He slid the salve up the worst, nearly purple spots of frost bite and Harry moaned in relief. Ron let out a breath too, and began to coat the rest of the skin on his arms in earnest concentration. Harry leaned back and let Ron's touch be the sole thought in his head.

Harry arched his neck as Ron's hands moved gently over his cheeks and down around his ears, soothing the raw skin there. He could feel Ron blowing lightly on each new application and it gave Harry goosebumps that had nothing to do with the latent hypothermia. Ron's hands lingered on his face, and Harry leaned into the touch, refusing to open his eyes for fear of what he would find when reality set in again.

"Ron?" Harry groaned.

"Yeah?" Ron whispered back.

Harry's hands went up to grip Ron's wrists. He needed Ron, all of Ron so desperately that he felt his tender skin would rip open. Harry's whole body was tense and his mind was spinning. He never thought he'd be able to get Ron that close again, and he couldn't pull away no matter how loudly his logical mind was protesting. He leaned his face forward, allowing himself to fall victim to the illusion if it meant he'd have a chance to feel Ron's lips on his again.

"You need to take it easy, Harry," Ron said, the words catching in his throat. When Harry opened his eyes, Ron was looking away as he gently removed hands from Harry's face. Harry gripped his own hair tightly. "Hey…"

Ron angled Harry's head up to meet his eyes, looking at him with so much concern that it just made Harry hate himself. "I'm fucking it up again. I always fuck it up! This time I've hurt more than just me…and I'm never going to get us back, am I?" Harry said, hating himself for sounding so dramatic, but quelling under the weight of defeated loathing in his chest.

"I just need you to mean it, Harry," Ron whispered, his voice shaking. The grip of his hands on Harry's shoulders was growing painful.

"Gods, Ron, I meant it the first time! I just…I just…"

Ron didn't let Harry finish, and he pulled Harry's body against him and pressed his lips firmly to Harry's wind burned ones. Harry gasped and immediately returned the kiss with as much fervor as Ron, trying to become a part of him, to take his soul over, with the kiss. Soon, however, snogging wasn't enough.

Ron's hands grabbed Harry's arse roughly, pulling him further into his lap. Harry groaned and Ron froze. "Are you...is your skin okay?"

"It would be better if you touched every inch of it!" Harry groaned, pressing his erection against Ron's and causing them both to moan.

"Harry!" Ron was practically growling as he ripped Harry's loose tee shirt off. Harry was shocked, but in the next breath knew he shouldn't be. Ron approached everything in life with a singular focus and a passion that burned through every inch of him. Harry shuddered, realized he was finally jumping into that fire, and threw his head back as Ron's hungry mouth moved up and down his neck and he surrendered to him.

Ron's hands really were all over Harry, his long fingers and wide palms gliding over every part they could reach. Harry thrust forward again when Ron's hands reached down his pants and held his bare flesh tightly in his hands. Ron and Harry rubbed their clothed erections together, breathing heavily and desperately trying to find more friction while their lips slid together messily. Harry finally mustered up the courage to put his hands up Ron's shirt, and dragged his fingers along Ron's long, searing torso. He was practically out of his mind with need as he pulled Ron's shirt over his messy red head.

When they pressed their bodies back against each other, the feeling of Ron's bare skin against his felt so good, so intense, that Harry's thighs tightened reflexively around Ron's legs and he ground his hips against Ron's erection quickly and desperately. Ron moaned loudly and threw his head back against the back of the couch, meeting Harry's movements. Harry couldn't take it a second longer, he needed to touch Ron. He opened Ron's jeans and wrapped his hand around the taller wizard's throbbing erection.

"I want you so bad Ron, please," Harry said, pumping his hand up and down Ron's shaft.

"Harry…gods…I" Ron answered. He held out his hand and his wand flew right to his outstretched fingers. Harry could almost feel the power radiate off of Ron as he cast a wandless, nonverbal spell.

"You're not the only one who can do fancy tricks," Ron growled, smirking as he flicked his wand and Harry's trousers and pants were gone, along with Ron's rough jeans and y-fronts. Harry dug his fingers into Ron's forearms and kissed him hard as an answer to the bevy of emotions welling up inside of him. If he would have died in that moment, it wouldn't have mattered, because he felt he truly had Ron for the first time. He felt safe.

Ron's fingers wrapped around one side of his cock, and Ron's own throbbing member pressed next to it. Harry didn't know if he could hold himself up once Ron began to move up and down and breathe heavily beneath him on that comfortable sofa. He latched his lips to Ron's pale, freckled neck when he threw his head back, and tried to focus on that instead of coming all over the both of them. When Ron began to groan with Harry's name on his lips, Harry could feel the pleasure all through his spine.

"Ron, please. Fuck me…please," Harry whispered, bringing his lips back up to meet Ron's. Ron pulled away and ducked his head slightly, thrusting up suddenly when Harry ran his thumb over the head of Ron's cock.

"Harry," Ron moaned, suddenly pulling Harry closer to him.

"I need you," Harry whispered, shaking with fear as he felt Ron starting to pull away.

"Will you stay this time?" Ron asked suddenly, looking up at Harry with deep vulnerability rippling through his blue eyes. Ron's face only stayed that way for a second before he tried to drop down a mask and press his lips together, breaking eye contact. He licked his lips slowly and took a deep breath while Harry's stomach fell.

He wanted to drop to his knees and promise Ron he wouldn't leave, to beg forgiveness for being such a prat, but he knew that it would just make Ron uncomfortable and a little guilty. So Harry once again brought his hands up to the side of Ron's face and looked him steadily in the eye. He kissed Ron softly, and spent a singular moment reveling in the small whimper Ron uttered when he pulled away.

"I am not going anywhere." Harry growled. "There's no way I can walk away from this…not ever again. Ron, I can't believe…" Ron cut him off with a kiss and thrust his erection back against Harry's. Harry slumped forward in ecstasy before lifting a shaking hand up and wandlessly summoning the lubricant from his nightstand. Ron smiled up at him and kissed his neck as he removed the vial from Harry's hand.

Harry couldn't help but freeze when Ron's finger moved along his entrance. Ron paused for a moment and looked up at Harry, but whatever he saw in Harry's eyes encouraged him to proceed and he carefully breached Harry's hole, not breaking eye contact. Harry winced and he felt Ron's nose move against his neck. Harry snaked his arms around Ron's shoulders and pressed down on his fingers, moaning at the sudden pleasurable feeling.

Ron soon moved a second finger next to the first and thrust gently in and out of Harry. "Harry, you're so tight, are you-"

"I need you, Ron," Harry said, his voice shaking.

He saw Ron swallow hard before he leaned in and kissed Harry as the head of his cock began to move past Harry's tight ring of muscle. Ron slowly slid in, pulling Harry's cheeks apart with his large hands, and Harry tried to focus on relaxing his body. Ron was hurting him, but he wanted Ron to keep going, because the feeling of having Ron inside of him was making him see stars at the same time. He let out a shuddering moan and let go until the bottom of his thighs hit the top of Ron's. Harry cried out in pain and surprise.

"Harry, I can stop," Ron said, even as his eyes were rolling back in his head in pleasure. "Bloody hell, I've never…this has never…"

"Don't stop! Just give me a minute," Harry whispered, resting his head on Ron's shoulder. Ron ran his hands soothingly up and down Harry's back, kissing him and whispering words of comfort in his ear. Soon, Harry began to move his body up and down on Ron's cock, and Ron threw his head back and gripped Harry's hips tightly.

"You feel so good, Harry. So perfect," Ron whispered, looking up to meet Harry's eyes. Something inside of Harry snapped and he could feel his orgasm building.

"I'm going to come Ron," Harry said, groaning and grinding his body up and down as Ron met his thrusts with hard, strong ones of his own.

"Yes, Harry! Let go," Ron groaned, his cock twitching inside of Harry's channel. Harry knew Ron was close, and when Ron's hand wrapped around his cock, Harry came instantly, whispering Ron's name and moving his body erratically over the ginger wizard's.

Ron's hands moved up to Harry's shoulders, pulling Harry's body close against his as he came, Holding Harry tightly with his entire body shuddering. Harry threw his head back and clenched hard on Ron's pulsing cock. He closed his eyes and slumped his body against Ron's as the last vestiges of his orgasm died down.

When Harry came back to his senses, Ron was still holding him tightly. The evidence of their coupling had been cleaned, and Ron's arms were wrapped around him, his body trembling slightly. Harry tried to pull back and look at Ron's face, but Ron's grip did not falter. He brought his hands lightly up and down Ron's forearms until he began to slowly relax.

"We've been walking this line for so long Harry. I almost lost you twice; I have had to face your death so much…too much. I love you, Harry. I'd die for you. But I feel like if I leave this place, that line will be drawn again, and we'll be on either side of it trying to plot our next move," Ron said, blushing with embarrassment at his own vulnerability.

Harry carefully extracted himself from Ron's grip and waved his wand until the sofa was a little wider and there were comfortable blankets draped across the back. He pulled on his faded pants and handed Ron his. There was a rustle of fabric and Ron stood, partially clothed in the middle of the floor. Harry walked swiftly over to Ron and pressed his forehead against Ron's chest, right at his heart. His hands wrapped tightly around Ron's abdomen and he breathed in deeply.

"That line is gone. I'm yours. I've loved you for so long, with every part of me. I was just scared. But now, Ron..now…I'm not going anywhere." Harry said, kissing up Ron's chest until he met the tall wizard's lips.

They walked over to the worn old sofa and Harry laid down with his back against Ron's chest. Ron wrapped his arms around Harry and Harry took Ron's hands in his own. Before he could even say goodnight, he heard Ron's snores begin to hum against the back of his neck. Harry sighed, too tired to complain about the noise, and too happy to care.

And dreaming, pick up from
The last place we left off
Your soft skin is weeping
A joy you can't keep in

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()(

Hermione tiptoed around the kitchen at Grimmauld place, trying to find somewhere to pin up her neatly and thoughtfully prepared list of Ron and Harry's potions treatment guidelines. She grinned as she put a permanent sticking charm over the cupboard where they kept the biscuits and brushed her hands together with accomplishment. It had been Percy's idea to write the list, and Hermione closed her eyes and shuddered over the image of Percy's ink-stained and careful fingers ghosting across her skin. Her evening had certainly been eye-opening.

Worrying that Ron and Harry might not have done things right on their first night away from St. Mungo's, Hermione decided to go up to their rooms and just peek in. She knew it was an invasion of privacy, but after all they had put her through in the past few days, she was entitled to a little protectiveness. She began to limp slightly across the foyer.

A steady hand gripped her arm, and Hermione looked up to find Percy smiling kindly down at her. All of the blood in her body seemed to rush to her face at the look in Percy's eyes. She had never seen someone behave so intense and passionately, but still reigned in, almost like trapping fireworks inside of a glass case. She had to fight not to bite her lip.

When they passed the sitting room, Percy gasped and tried to cover it with a cough. Ron and Harry were tangled in an old quilt, Ron's long pale legs draped over Harry and their torsos pressed so close that you couldn't fit a slip of parchment between them. They both had smiles on their faces that Hermione couldn't recall seeing in their sleep since they were all still at school. She felt a moment of jealousy before she felt Percy's warm body slide in next to her in the doorway.

"They'll see our note," Percy whispered, his composure threatening to burst at any moment.

"Of course," Hermione said, turning her back and walking carefully to the entrance.

"Hey," Percy said suddenly as they closed the front door behind them.

When Hermione looked up, he kissed her softly with his thumbs running over her cheeks and his hands cradling her jaw. They pulled away, but his hands stayed on her face. She felt a smile form across her lips that rivaled the grins Ron and Harry were currently wearing a room away.