Disclaimer: I do not own any recognizable characters in this work of fiction, they belong to JK Rowling, et al. No profit, monetary or otherwise, is being made through the writing of this.

A/N: AU, wrote without a specific timeline in mind; could be in either the third, or fourth year. Not the Malcolm in the books.

Warning: involves male rape, non-graphic, and dealing with the aftermath. Also involves a male/male relationship, though that is off-screen, and not with the main characters of this one-shot.


Ron had a hard time remembering when he'd ever been this sick before. Not only did his head and throat hurt, but, if he was hard-pressed to say anything – and he prayed, Merlin, he wouldn't be – he'd have sworn that even the tips of his eyelashes hurt. It was ridiculous.

"Mr. Weasley," Professor Snape was glaring at him, and Ron resisted the urge to moan. He plastered a smile on his face, and hoped that the professor wouldn't be able to see through that to the pain that lie beneath the false façade. "Five points from Gryffindor, for not paying attention in class. Detention at seven tonight."

Ron groaned, and let his head fall to the table, accidentally sending beetle wings fluttering to the floor.

"Honestly, Ronald," Hermione hissed at him, prodding his shoulder.

Reluctantly, he raised his head, closing his eyes as the room began to spin. When the dizziness didn't seem to want to dissipate, Ron let his head fall into his hands, careful not to disturb any of the potions ingredients that Hermione had painstakingly prepared.

"Ronald," Hermione's voice was no longer petulant, but concerned, and that was the last thing that Ron needed.

"I'm fine," Ron said, forcing his eyes open, in spite of the spinning, and turning his head to glare, as well as he could, at his friend.

Hermione was watching him closely, a concerned frown on her face, but when Professor Snape announced that there was only fifteen minutes left of class, and their potions needed to be finished by then, she bustled about, putting the final ingredients into their shared potion, working around Ron. Ron wanted to help, but just the thought of moving seemed to increase the pounding in his head, so he watched Hermione work, silently thanking her for taking up the slack, and wondering how on earth he was going to make it to his next class.

Knew I shouldn't have drank an entire bottle of fire whiskey, Ron thought dismally. At the time, it had seemed a rather sensible, even desirable, thing to do. It had, at least, kept the memories and the nightmares at bay, though his sleep hadn't exactly been the most restful – waking to pee what felt like every hour, on the hour, had been unpleasant, especially as he'd practically careened off the walls each time he'd made his way to the bathroom.

"What is wrong?" Hermione hissed into his ear, just as the bell rang.

Ron opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it, firmly, and swallowed the acidic bile that had wormed its way up the back of his throat, and was threatening to spill over past his lips. It tasted bitter and burned even more than the fire whiskey had burned when he'd taken the first couple of tentative sips of the fiery liquid.

The fire whiskey had been a gift from their father, to Charlie, and hadn't been hard for Ron to lift from his brother's unattended trunk while Charlie had been pre-occupied with family hugs. Charlie's summer visit had been brief – just three weeks – and, aside from certain events that Ron was trying hard to forget, his brother's visit had been uneventful.

Ron didn't miss his big brother, or Charlie's friend, Malcolm, when they left. Charlie had brought Malcolm with him, because the boy had no family, and, well, apparently Charlie and he were an 'item', something which Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had 'discussed,' at length, with Charlie, and Malcolm, when the others were, presumably, in bed, sleeping.

At first, Ron had been impressed with his older brother's friend, and he didn't have a problem with the fact that Charlie and Malcolm were dating, that they'd fallen in love. He'd written Hermione about it, and she'd practically swooned over how romantic the story of their meeting was, and subsequent, 'falling for each other,' was. Ron thought that Malcolm saving his brother's hide from being scorched by an angry dragon, and then nursing him back to health, wasn't so much romantic as it was practical. They both worked with dragons, after all. It stood to reason that there would be risks that they'd have to take, and that a rescue, or maybe several hundred, would occur over the course of a year.

Malcolm was tall, and lean, and had a wicked-looking scar that ran from his left temple to his jaw. While the Weasleys had red hair, blue eyes, and fair skin peppered with freckles, Malcolm had dark hair, brown, smoldering eyes, and skin that was an olive brown. He wasn't an overly handsome young man, but then again, neither was Charlie. They were, in Ron's mind, suited to each other, and, if his parents' warmer attitudes toward the slightly older man were anything to go by, their midnight talks with the young men had quelled some of their worries, and they'd been won over by Malcolm.

Where Charlie was light-hearted and jovial – a joke, or a funny story ready on his lips – Malcolm was serious and intense, wending passionate tales of near-misses, and earning the Weasley parents' fast approval. They seemed happy, and relieved, knowing that Charlie had someone like Malcolm to watch out for their sometimes foolhardy (in their eyes) son.

Malcolm's eyes were the most intense thing about the young man, and, judging by the way that he looked at Charlie, even when Charlie was otherwise occupied, Ron could see that Malcolm loved his brother, or, at least that the man was passionate about him. It wasn't until the second week of their visit, after the Weasleys had, as one, accepted Malcolm that things started to get strange. At least that's how Ron had started thinking of it.

It was the fifth week of Ron's summer break, the start of the second week of Charlie and Malcolm's visit to the Burrow, and, for once, Charlie and Malcolm weren't joined at the hip. Charlie had joined their father at work, and their mother had taken Ginny out shopping, leaving Ron in the care of the twins, who'd told him not to get killed, and to stay out of their hair while they worked on some new joke to add to their growing collection.

Malcolm, a guest, had no real responsibilities. Percy and Bill were due for a visit later that week, to meet Malcolm, so, that left Ron relatively alone. He'd attempted to start on his homework, but couldn't get his mind on the work. It was a hot day, and his room was stuffy, the slight breeze that made his curtains flutter, didn't do much to cool him down.

Giving up on his homework, for the time being, Ron slammed his potions books shut, determined that he would do the essay, before the night he was due to go on the train bound for Hogwarts. This year he'd vowed that he would spend at least a week on his homework, though, so far he'd only spent an hour, and that was just debating on which assignment he'd start working on first. In the end, he'd decided that he'd best start on his potions' essay, because that would undoubtedly be the most difficult one to write, and Snape was a right bastard when it came to grading papers, particularly those of Gryffindors.

In the end, Ron's homework hadn't really mattered, though, he had gotten it done, shortly after Charlie and Malcolm had said their goodbyes and left to return to their work. Snape had even given him a decent mark on the essay.

Ron had needed the distraction of doing his homework, and holding a bitter, sarcastic, if wholly imagined, one-sided conversation with the professor he hated the most, as he wrote his essay, had been a very good distraction. As a matter-of-fact, Ron had carried on the one-sided conversation, playing Snape's bits in his mind, throughout the rest of his summer, as he did his assignments, affecting the professor's drawling voice, and acerbic remarks quite skillfully, and, in effect, writing the best essays he'd ever written, though they were still not up to Hermione's standards.

When they'd left, Charlie had looked so happy, and Malcolm seemed to have eyes for only the elder Weasley boy. Ron had felt sick, and twisted, and he'd said nothing, just slipped the bottle of fire whiskey from his brother's trunk, and stuffed it in his own.

And, when the nightmares and the memories of that second week of Charlie and Malcolm's visit became too much for him, Ron drank some of the fire whiskey, let it slide and burn down his throat. It set his stomach on fire, and made his toes curl up with the heat. It didn't take the memories away, though. Instead, it twisted them, and, when he slept, Ron felt trapped by them. Wrapped up in the memories of Malcolm.

"Mr. Weasley," Snape's voice was decidedly angry, even though it was quiet, and it sounded far too close, like the man's mouth was right next to Ron's ear, and if he moved, even just a smidgen, the professor's lips would brush against Ron's earlobe. It was a thought that made Ron shudder, and he flinched, trying to move away from the mouth as he remembered through the sick and pain and ache of the fire whiskey he'd tried to drown himself in when he realized that a single glass would not do enough to remove the memories.

Malcolm.

Malcolm's lopsided smile, the fire and coldness in his eyes, the feel of his fingers digging into Ron's flesh, bruising him, making him hurt in ways that Ron had never dreamed were possible.

'How could Charlie like this?' Ron had wondered, almost absentmindedly, trying to be anywhere but where he was, while Malcolm was…while Malcolm was…while Malcolm was…

Ron's thoughts stopped, got stuck on rewind, and the memory kept playing over and over again in his mind. Malcolm's slick, cruel words, the feel and taste of his tongue, and the man's fingers, the rough calluses on his hands that felt like they were rubbing Ron's skin raw every time they scraped over his bare skin, the feel and smell of the grass beneath him, the tree roots that dug into Ron's back, bruising him.

"Mr. Weasley, class is over, or do you need…" Snape's voice was hard, close, and yet not cruel, and the professor's voice trailed off into a soft curse when Ron simply stopped trying to hold himself together.

Ron would have fallen from the stool had it not been for Snape catching him. For a split second Ron thought that it was Malcolm's arms wrapped around his chest and waist, and he fought back, harder than he'd fought when his brother's boyfriend had taken him by surprise at the edge of the family property, far away from the house, and the twins who were supposed to be watching him.

"Fuck." The softly spoken oath shook Ron from the memories that the fire whiskey was supposed to burn up, and, for the first time since the term had begun, Ron could finally see something other than Malcolm's scarred face, the twisted grimace of pleasure that had marred the man's features as he'd raped Ron.

"Pro's'r?" Ron's tongue felt almost as thick as his head. Snape's voice lacked the harsh quality that it had while Ron was busily doing his summer homework, under the professor's hard, watchful eyes – no less real even though they'd been just a figment of Ron's imagination, the only thing keeping him sane, and keeping the memories of Malcolm away.

Snape works better than fire whiskey, Ron decided, when he turned his head so that he could look at his professor. He couldn't even feel Malcolm's fingers, or hear the man's grunts when he looked into Snape's dark, almost black eyes.

Ron smiled, and reached a hand out to touch Snape's cheek, trying to communicate his thanks to the man for making the bad memories go away. The man flinched, and his mouth turned downward in a scowl, but he didn't drop Ron, and Ron sighed in relief.

"Mr. Weasley?" Snape's voice was low and concerned, and Ron couldn't help but look into his professor's eyes, even though it made him shiver.

The minute Ron looked into Snape's eyes, if felt as though he was being pulled into a terrible storm, and suddenly, Malcolm was there, front and center, boring down on Ron, tearing him apart from the inside out. There was a scream, and pain, and when next Ron became aware of his surroundings, it was dark, and there was something cool and soothing lying on his forehead and Malcolm was gone.

"You're quite certain, Severus?" a voice, Dumbledore's, Ron belatedly realized, whispered.

"Yes, Headmaster," Snape's voice sounded tired and wary, as though he'd been saying the same thing over and over, just like Ron had been experiencing what had happened to him that summer over and over. "I'm certain. Mr. Weasley's memories were raw and powerful. They had not been tampered with."

"It's a shame," Dumbledore's voice was sad, and Ron felt cold and lost.

Snape snorted, and Ron could imagine just what the professor wanted to say, but wouldn't, because, even the professor couldn't say something like that to the Headmaster. Ron had heard the professor's words often enough in his head over the summer, after Malcolm and Charlie were gone, he knew how Snape thought, what the professor might be inclined to say, were it not the Headmaster he was about to curse out.

Instead, Snape said, "No one should have to suffer the indignity that Mr. Weasley has."

"I wish…"

"No amount of wishing will fix this, or undo it, or help Mr. Weasley," Snape's curt words cut over whatever wistful words the Headmaster had been about to impart.

"Yes, perhaps you are right, Severus, only time…"

"Time will do nothing," Snape practically spat the words out, once again cutting Dumbledore off. "If Mr. Weasley is left to endure these memories alone, time will only make this worse. It will eat away at him until there's nothing left."

"What do you suggest then, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, sounding far older than Ron had ever heard him sound before.

"He will need counseling, at the very least," Snape said. "And, his parents will need to be told, and this…monster…will need to be brought to justice."

Ron drew in a deep, shuddering breath, forgetting that he'd been trying not to draw attention to himself, that he'd meant to pretend to still be sleeping so that the adults wouldn't be able to focus on him. He realized, even before he felt dark shadows fall across him, that Snape and Dumbledore were well aware that he was awake.

"Ronald?" Dumbledore's voice was soft, concerned, too much so, and Ron turned away from it.

"Mr. Weasley, open your eyes," Snape's voice wasn't as sharp as it normally was, nor was it kind.

Ron opened his eyes, and blinked in the dim lighting of the hospital wing – his head didn't hurt so much, and the memories that he'd tried to drink away didn't feel quite as overwhelmingly present. Snape and Dumbledore were standing on either side of him, but it was Snape that Ron turned his head toward. Snape that he sought comfort from, even though the wizard was scowling at him.

"What possessed you to drink almost an entire bottle of fire whiskey?" Snape's words were cutting, and Ron could feel the professor's anger behind them, though from the way that Snape paled, and backed away from the bed, just a little, Ron wondered if he'd meant to put that much force behind the words, or if he'd meant to say them at all.

Ron swallowed, tears suddenly pricking at his eyes. He fidgeted with the edge of the blanket that had been draped over him, and looked away.

"I just wanted them to stop," Ron whispered, shivering. "Every time I close my eyes, even when I open them, all I can see…" he shook his head, that wasn't right, not now. "All I could see, until I looked into your eyes," he shot a look at Snape, "all I could see was him and what he'd done to me. Over and over again. I thought… I'd heard that fire whiskey could, you know… I just wanted it to stop…" Ron's voice cracked, and he looked at the blanket covering him. It was light blue, and the texture was soft, soothing.

"I just wanted the memories to go away. I wanted him to go away," Ron whispered, the words making his throat feel sore and tight. "You know he, and, he and Charlie are supposed to come for the winter holidays?" He looked at Snape then, and the professor's dark eyes swirled with something like anger.

"That won't be happening, Mr. Weasley," Snape said curtly, his nostrils flaring, and the knuckles of his hands going white from where he held onto the edge of Ron's hospital bed. "That man will not touch you, again. Rest assured of that. He will be brought to trial, and will spend the rest of his minserable days in Azkaban, provided that he isn't given the Dementor's kiss."

Snape sounded so sure of it, and Dumbledore's nod confirmed the professor's words, but Ron shook his head, and pulled the blanket up to his chin. He would have pulled it up over his head, to hide away from the wrath that seemed to wrap itself around the professor's shoulders. A quick look at Dumbledore proved that the man was equally adamant and angry about what had happened to Ron. His normally sparkling blue eyes were sparking with anger that Ron could practically feel.

Ron swallowed, and worked up the nerve to say what he had to say, to protect Charlie, and his family. "I…it…" he swallowed, ignoring the hot stinging tears that threatened to fall and betray him, forced himself to meet Snape's eyes, knowing that if he looked into Dumbledore's, he'd falter. "I wanted it. I…I was, that is, I…Charlie wasn't home, he was with my, he was with Dad, Mum was with, she was, she was with Ginny. It was just me and M-M-Malcolm. And, I, I, I…"

Snape blinked at him, and his nostrils flared, his eyes grew dark and glittered with something that made the hairs on the back of Ron's neck stand on end. The fire in the sconces flickered and the windows shook, and the metal railing of the hospital bed creaked beneath Snape's grip.

"That is enough, Mr. Weasley," Snape's words were little louder than a whisper, and yet it felt like they'd burnt Ron down to his very soul. "You will not protect that sorry excuse for a wizard, nor will you protect your dolt of a brother. Do not lie to me about what happened."

Dumbledore laid a hand on Snape's shoulder, but the professor shook it off, and Snape leaned down until his nose was almost touching Ron's. "Do not lie to yourself about what happened, Mr. Weasley."

With a sharp intake of breath, the professor stood and stalked away from the bed, making it roll a little in his wake. For a full minute, Snape paced in a small circle, incanting things that Ron could not hear.

The windows continued to rattle, and it felt like wind was howling inside of the small, curtained off cubicle that he'd been placed in. Ron wondered, hoped, prayed to Merlin, that a silencing spell had been erected, that others had not been privy to anything that had been said. Dumbledore watched Snape, a hand on his wand, but made no move to intervene.

When Snape stopped his pacing and walked back to the bed, he looked like he'd been through a battle, and Ron watched him warily. Dumbledore gave Ron a quick, reassuring wink when he glanced at him.

"Mr. Weasley, do not lie to me," Snape repeated, his voice sounding harsh and raw. "You do not need to protect that fiend, and surely you wouldn't want your brother bound to him in marriage?"

Ron trembled and the tears that he'd been so good at blocking came in full force. He looked away, tried to hide himself beneath the blankets, when he felt arms around him, lifting him up into a sitting position. Ron buried his face into a warm, solid chest, wrapped his arms around his comforter, and wept until there were no more tears left, and he felt hollow, and dry, his head much too light and dizzy.

When Ron finally stopped crying, the memories of what Malcolm had done to him bleeding out of him along with the tears, he peeked past the shoulder of the wizard that had held him, and found that Dumbledore was no longer standing. He was sitting in what looked like a plush armchair, his chin propped up on a fisted hand, as though deep in thought. Though he appeared to be looking at Ron and Snape, his eyes were not focused, and Ron wondered if the Headmaster was seeing something beyond them.

Dumbledore shook himself from whatever it was that he'd been seeing or thinking and he gave Ron a sad, half-smile. Snape tried to pull away from Ron, now that he'd stopped crying, but, unthinking, Ron clung to him, and sighing, the professor sank down on the edge of the bed, the rail having been lowered at some point in time.

"Madame Pomfrey will be coming by to check on you shortly, Ronald," Dumbledore said. "She will be administering a sleeping draught. Ministry officials will be by tomorrow afternoon to take your statement," Dumbledore held a hand up to forestall Ron's protest when Ron opened his mouth. Snape's arms tightened around Ron, making him feel safe.

Ron ignored Dumbledore. "I don't want to talk to them." He buried his face against Snape's robes.

"Ronald, I know that it's hard to talk about what happened, but…"

"Mr. Weasley, you are sorely mistaken if you think that you will have to face the Ministry officials, or your parents, alone," Snape broke into the conversation, his hand rubbing soothing circles into Ron's back.

Ron stiffened and started to shake his head, feeling a fresh onslaught of tears scratching at the back of his throat. The hand on his back stilled, and Snape pulled back a little, forcing Ron to look him in the eyes, which weren't hard and angry, but hard and understanding.

"If you want, Professor Dumbledore, or, if you want, your Head of House, Professor…" Snape's cheeks were flushed, and he was speaking rapidly, no longer really meeting Ron's eyes.

"I want you," Ron said. "Will you be here, with me?"

Snape closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, and then he nodded. Ron buried his face against Snape's chest again, taking comfort in the warmth, the solid, immoveable muscles, and the way that the man's fingers sifted through his hair. Snape's heartbeat was steady, and Ron felt himself lulled into an easy sleep, he scrabbled at the professor's robes when he felt himself being lowered to the bed, heard a grumbled curse, but was not bereft of his hold on the professor – his safety net.

Ron felt and heard, but did not pay much heed to Madame Pomfrey's ministrations. She tutted and fussed over him, and he felt a liquid warming his belly, but he never opened his eyes, and he didn't let go of Snape's robes.

When he woke, Snape was asleep beside him, his head resting on the hospital bed beside Ron's, and he was seated, awkwardly in a purple armchair –no doubt something that Dumbledore had conjured. There was a bit of spittle at the corner of his lips, and Ron felt a mad urge to giggle, but he held it in, not wanting to wake the professor. It was hard, getting his fingers to cooperate again, and letting go of the hold that he had on Snape, but he managed it, and when he was finished, he found the man's dark, glittering eyes focused on him.

"I trust that you are feeling a little better, after a good night's rest, Mr. Weasley?" Snape raised an eyebrow, and surreptitiously wiped the spittle out of the corners of his mouth, Ron pretended not to notice as he nodded.

Ron opened his mouth to speak, but had to clear his throat, and then take a sip of water that the professor offered him. He could feel himself blushing, and he had to look away when he finally got his voice to cooperate.

"Thank you," Ron said, his voice whisper soft. "Thank you for…"

"Mr. Weasley, I am a professor at this school, I am duty bound to…"

"No, you're not, Snape," Ron said, feeling heat rise to his cheeks as he tore his gaze away from the thread that he'd been trying to work loose on the blue blanket. "You're not duty bound to deal with..." the words got caught in his throat, and Ron's breath seemed to leave him, his chest getting tight. "You're not duty bound to deal with this," Ron said, casting a pointed look at his professor. "Thank you."

Looking taken aback, Snape frowned and then nodded, his fingers grasping Ron's and squeezing. "You're welcome," Snape said, and then he cleared his throat, and looked away. "But…"

"Just take the thanks, Snape," Ron said, rolling his eyes, and not letting Snape withdraw his fingers. "I don't…without you…did you know that it was you, er…" Ron felt his ears grow hot when Snape's eyes rose to meet his, and the professor watched him with a raised eyebrow, as though to encourage him to elaborate. It was embarrassing, but, Ron figured that, after what had happened, and what his professor already knew about him – how weak he'd been, and what Malcolm had done to shame him, and his family – that admitting to what he'd done over the summer to make it through, afterward, wouldn't be as embarrassing as he feared.

"That is…I uh," Ron studied that loose thread he'd been working loose, and let out the breath that he'd been holding. His insides felt jumbled up, and he wasn't sure if he should continue talking, but Snape squeezes his fingers, and Ron took a deep breath, fortifying himself.

"I kind of…" Ron picked at the thread, and felt the heat rising to his cheeks again. No doubt his face was as red as his hair. "I…"

"Mr. Weasley," Snape's voice was dry, and Ron chanced a look at his professor, and had to tamp down on the urge to laugh at the sour, long-suffering look that was on the wizard's face. "Sometime before the next century, please."

Ron shrugged, and with a shy smile, he watched Snape through the fringe of his bangs, glad that his mother had not succeeded in her attempt at trimming his hair before she'd sent him off to Hogwarts. That had been a long battle, and he was grateful that his father had been on his side with that argument, though he confided in Ron that he hadn't understood it. Malcolm had commented on Ron's eyes, how blue they were…Ron shook himself from thinking about Malcolm. He'd have to talk with the Ministry officials about the man later.

"I'm not getting any younger, Mr. Weasley," Snape prompted again, and this time Ron did laugh. He'd never heard Snape tell a joke, and it was rather refreshing. Snape merely raised his eyebrow a little higher, and Ron was lost in laughter that brought on tears. Snape patiently waited him out, and when the laughter and the tears subsided, he prodded Ron to talk.

"I pretended that…" Ron felt foolish, but he plowed on, no longer looking at Snape, for fear that the professor would be outraged."I pretended that, well, that I was you. You know, this summer, when I was doing my homework. I…" Ron took a deep breath, and chanced a look at Snape. The man had a curious, almost funny look, on his face that Ron couldn't quite identify – a cross between horror and humor, and something else that Ron wasn't sure he had a word for.

"I…you know…" Ron picked at the loose thread, smiling when he'd worked it free, and then he started on another one. "'Mr. Weasley,'" Ron sneered, imitating his professor, unaware of the way that Snape's breath hitched at his student's imitation of him. "'Pathetic. You have really lived up to the Weasley reputation for patented laziness…'" sensing the shift in the air around him, Ron broke off his imitation, and felt his heart clench in his chest when he saw a shadow of regret cross Snape's face.

"It's what helped me through the summer…" Ron hastily explained, gripping Snape's cold fingers tightly. "Pretending to be you, you know, after, after…" Ron couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence, and he looked away, suddenly feeling like he'd made an even worse fool of himself, and that he'd somehow hurt Snape, though he hadn't meant to. Without playing his little game, Ron knew that he'd have gone mad, or maybe even killed himself over the summer.

"I see," Snape said, swallowing, and he made to move his fingers from Ron's grip, but Ron refused to let go.

"No, Snape, no," Ron said, frantically trying to get the professor to understand. "It's the only thing. You're the only thing that kept me sane."

Snape blinked, and his mouth twisted in something like pain and anger, and Ron gripped his professor's hand tighter. Snape shook his head, and laughed humorlessly.

"It wasn't like that," Ron said, thinking that he'd hurt Snape's feelings, which, up until last night, he'd have doubted that the man actually had feelings to hurt. "I…" Ron sighed, willing Snape to understand him. "I needed a distraction…"

"And," Snape's voice was dry, tight, "I was it? The greasy bat of the dungeons?"

Squaring his shoulders, and his jaw, Ron nodded. "Yes, you were it. You were my distraction."

This time when Snape pulled his fingers away, Ron let him. He wrapped his arms around himself, and glared at his professor.

"You were my savior, at the Burrow, prodding me on to do my studies, to forget about…to stop thinking about what…what he'd done. And," Ron's breath hitched, and he brushed away an angry tear, ignoring the way that Snape was watching him, with shock and denial. "And here, Snape. You were my savior here, too."

"Mr. Weasley, I don't…" Snape started to get up, but Ron reached out for him, and the man stilled.

Ron shook his head and shrugged, wiping the tears from his cheeks. He wondered if he'd ever stop crying. "I don't understand it, Snape, I don't. But, it wasn't Hermione's or Harry's voice I heard when I most needed help, it was yours."

Ron wanted to beg Snape not to leave him, wanted to throw himself at the wizard, but he didn't. He watched Snape stand, and pace toward the edge of the curtains. His heart fell, and he buried his face into his hands, his shoulders shaking. Feeling more alone than he'd felt even when Malcolm had been hurting him.

A warm hand on his shoulder shook him, and Ron shrunk away from it at first, but then he was pulled into a hug, and being shushed. The scent of cloves and cinnamon, and the earth calmed him, as well as the gentle rocking, and the quiet hum of Snape's voice, the fingers, sure and long, running through his hair, eased some of the tightness in Ron's chest.

When Ron's tears ceased again, Snape eased himself off the hospital bed, and back into the armchair. He gave Ron a searching look, and then nodded.

"I can't pretend to understand what happened, Mr. Weasley," Snape said, holding up a finger when Ron opened his mouth. Ron let his mouth snap shut, and leaned back on his pillows. He was tired, and knew that the day would be long. He shivered as he thought about having to talk to the Ministry officials, and then his parents, about what had happened.

"I don't understand it, but I will be with you, as I promised."

Ron swallowed, and chanced a look at Snape. The professor's face was unguarded, and there was a small, incredulous smile playing about his lips.

"Mr. Weasley, you will not have to face this on your own," Snape promised him.

"Thank you, professor," Ron said thickly. He brushed angrily at another tear, and huffed out an annoyed air. He hated crying, and didn't want to break down, so soon again, in front of Snape.

"Tears are to be expected," Snape said softly. "They will stop, in time."

"I'm tired of them already," Ron complained, laying an arm over his eyes.

"Just remember, Mr. Weasley, you're not alone," Snape said, and Ron felt the man stand, panic stabbed at his heart, and he reached for the professor who pried his fingers loose. "Mr. Weasley, I need to freshen up. I promise…"

Ron dragged his arm off his eyes, and chanced a look at his professor. Snape looked sincere enough.

"I promise that I will be back down before Madame Pomfrey serves you breakfast. You will not have to face any of this alone, and this time, you won't have to play my part," Snape said with a devilish twinkle in his eye.

Ron flushed and gave Snape a watery smile; he let his arm fall across his eyes again. It felt like a burden had been lifted, and he listened to the professor leave, trusting that the man would return, as he'd said he would. For the first time, in a long time, Ron felt safe, and he knew that, although this afternoon, and many after it, would be hard, he wouldn't have to face any of it alone. Professor Snape had promised him that, and the wizard, if nothing else, kept his promises. Albeit, some of them dark and foreboding, and more threat than promise.

Smiling around a yawn, Ron felt his eyelids grow heavy, and he fell into a comfortable sleep, knowing that, when he next woke, it would be to find Snape sitting beside him, no doubt grading papers, or giving him a withering look.


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