[personal profile] lrthunder82 posting in [community profile] hp_mhealthfest
Title: The Walls Fall Down
Author: To Be Revealed Later
Characters/Pairings: Harry Potter/Ron Weasley
Rating: R
Word Count: 7,546
Mental Health Issue: Anorexia
Prompt: Post-war. He isn't hungry. He just doesn't eat. He doesn't see it as a problem. Someone intervenes, though...and saves his life.
Warnings: Language, angst, depiction of past gang rape, permitted mind reading.
Summary: Harry knows that the truth will always out. It's just painful to watch Ron cope with that fact too.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: Very glad to be writing for this fest again. I wanted to write something which shows both sides of the difficulties a MH condition can bring in a relationship. I wanted to put it out there that nothing can easily be fixed, and that these illnesses can be destructive and cause irreparable damage to even the strongest of bonds. Thank you to my beta, S.

The Walls Fall Down

The music was up so high that Harry could barely hear himself think. He had to hand it to Seamus – he knew how to throw a party. He was pleasantly drunk but nowhere near as drunk as Ron, who was three sheets to the wind and that was obvious to anyone who knew him.

Sober Ronald Weasley did not dance. He didn't even really jig, when Harry thought about it. This Ron was inebriated enough not to care and the result was both turning Harry on and making him laugh.

“You keep getting away from me!” Ron huffed and pulled Harry close again.
“Oh, we're grinding now?” Harry laughed as Ron definitely tried to grind their crotches together. “Ron, your family are here.”

“I don't care!” Ron shouted. He looped his arms around Harry's waist and yanked so that they were body to body.

“Well, I care a bit,” Harry pointed out. “Perhaps we could just...”

Ron kissed him then and practically swallowed his protests instead of heeding them. Harry felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up and it seemed as though every single eye in the room was on them. They probably were – normally he and Ron were very private. It was just easier that way, they'd found. Fewer awkward questions and no red faces. This drunk Ron, however, seemed to have lost all inhibition. Harry knew he'd be mortified come the morning.

Even still, he chose not to stop it. He slid his hands down Ron's back, over the smooth navy blue dress shirt which brought out the beauty his best friend's eyes. He stopped when his fingers touched Ron's slim waist.

He was a six foot three bag of bones in Harry's arms. Something was desperately wrong and had been for some time, but in the midst of falling in love and trying to keep the peace, Harry hadn't known how to raise it. How to point out that he noticed that Ron never ate. That he found excuses to miss meals, to say he didn't want them or only eat a few mouthfuls when he had no choice but to do so. Their work schedules meant that they rarely actually got to eat together anyway. Harry knew from watchful eyes in their office that he didn't eat breakfast or lunch, either. If Ron ate at all, it was in private. He had to be using some kind of glamour, Harry reasoned, otherwise he would look like death warmed up. As it was he was painfully thin, but nobody but Harry ever got to see just how much the redhead's ribs and hipbones jutted out. How Ron looked at himself in the mirror and constantly wore a frown of disappointment.

After he did so, he would don his running gear and go for as long a run as his undernourished body would allow for and a few miles on top, meaning that when he got home he was nearly incoherent.

Harry had watched it all, growing deeply afraid but unsure of what to do. When he asked if Ron wanted food he usually got his head bitten off.

“I love you, Harry,” Ron whispered hotly into his ear. “You know that, don't you?”
“I love you too,” Harry murmured back, giving Ron a soft kiss on the cheek.

In fact, Harry thought, as Ron resumed his grinding, it was the most life he'd seen in his boyfriend for several weeks.

“I want to take you home and fuck you,” Ron muttered. “Hard. As soon as we get through the door, up against the wall. I want to come into your tight little arse and suck your neck where it makes you scream until you lose your mind.”

Harry swallowed as blood rushed south. Even if Ron was keeping his anorexia – and that was what Harry was sure it was – a secret, he was still the sexy, fuckable torment that he'd fallen in love with.

Always been in love with... His brain reminded him unhelpfully.

Harry dipped his fingers past the waistband of Ron's jeans, which were dark and slim-fitting to the point of indecency, and squeezed.

Ron's response was to start a kiss which was neither dignified nor family-friendly. At the rate they were going they were going to end up in a loo somewhere rutting like teenagers. They were only twenty-two, but it felt like they should be past that.

“Let's go home,” Harry gasped, snatching a moment when Ron paused for breath. “I want to go home.”

Ron nodded but as he stopped swaying and stood up straight, Harry saw a change in his expression. His eyes - which had been drunkenly unfocussed beforehand - suddenly shuttered behind blinking eyelids and then, with a lurch of Harry's stomach, rolled up into Ron's head as he collapsed with a nasty thud on the floor.

***
“What do you mean, underweight?”

Harry winced as he heard Molly's voice crack through the door like a whip.

He sat by a St Mungo's bedside once again, shattered beyond all belief but unwilling to leave. Once the Healers had got their hands on Ron they'd seen the problem within minutes. Tests had revealed Ron was also severely dehydrated – which the alcohol had worsened – and the second he'd passed out, all of his carefully chosen glamours had disappeared.

Harry realised that at home even on days when he didn't go out, Ron had been using spells to hide how awful he looked. To hide just how gaunt his cheeks had become.

“And you did that because you didn't want me to see.” Harry stroked his thumb over the back of Ron's hand gently. “Why? Why didn't you just bloody talk to me, Ron?”

He felt responsible. He was sure it wasn't just his usual tendency to blame himself for everything: he had seen Ron decline and done absolutely nothing about it.

He'd even tried to stop them from carting Ron to hospital when they'd been unable to rouse him. He could already see the look on the redhead's face when he realised where he was and why he was there and what had been learned.

Ron had been his accomplice plenty of times since they were eleven, but Harry had never felt as implicated in something in Ron's life before. He felt completely and utterly guilty, and that he had severely let Ron down.

Molly's din was continuing to rise outside the door, and he was surprised that Arthur wasn't trying to calm her down. He heard no interjection from the Weasley patriarch but Harry wondered if perhaps the look on Arthur's wife's face was a little too frightening to meddle with at that moment.

Harry certainly wasn't going to be the one to stick his head out and tell her to shut the hell up.
He sighed and leant forward, reaching up to stroke Ron's hair.

“Stay asleep,” he whispered.

***
“Just a little bit more?” Harry wheedled, holding up the bowl.

Ron refused all food unless it was forced into him by the hospital or, occasionally, hand-fed by Harry himself. It felt bizarre to sit there and do it but Harry was happy to if it got him taking in some calories.

When the redhead had finally woken up after a fraught and lonely twenty-four hours, he'd simply accepted the news of his discovery with a nod and nothing more. Ron hadn't spoken a word since waking, not to his family, not to Hermione, and not to Harry. He'd been diagnosed with exhaustion and malnourishment and was being kept in for a few days to try and stabilise the situation, and proving Harry right, they had indicated Anorexia as the underlying problem.

Ron accepted one more tiny mouthful and then visibly recoiled. Harry put the bowl on the waiting tray and watched it zoom away.

“You did great,” he said softly, flashing Ron a smile. “And you've got some colour back in your cheeks.”

As per what had become the norm, Ron didn't respond verbally but he did reach for Harry's hand and squeeze it. Harry welcomed the touch and was glad that at least Ron wasn't shying away from physical affection with him – because he was with everyone else.

Molly especially had found that difficult to cope with, and Ron in turn had found it equally hard to cope with her reaction. His family's presence just seemed to upset him further, so the hospital had recommended they keep their distance for a few days. Harry's ears were still ringing from Molly's rage.

The only person that Ron could bear to see, it seemed, was Harry.

That sent a sickeningly delighted sensation deep into his gut but at the same time, he was terrified. For the first time since the start of their friendship, it felt as if their roles had been reversed. Harry had always drawn strength from Ron, needed him and his special brand of friendship to make things right again. Now Ron needed him for more than just friendship – it was obvious the redhead desperately needed love and nurturing. It caused Harry even more guilt to seriously ponder whether he was ready for such responsibility.

He and Ron had been messing around for months, enjoying the first thrills of sexual attraction together. They worked together, lived together and played together. They knew and regularly said that they loved one another. Merlin only knew that Ron had been by his side through some of the most painful moments of his life and he was grateful to his very back teeth.

But this is... this is... illness. Severe illness. He starves himself, and I let him.

“Do you...” He started and then hesitated. Ron stared at him blankly. “D'you blame me for this, Ron? Because I didn't pick it up sooner? Make you go somewhere sooner?”

Ron immediately shook his head; his tired eyes had widened significantly.

Harry waited for some words to follow but when none did, he groaned and tipped his face into his fingers.

“It just kind of feels like it happened under my watch and that... I might not be the best thing for you right now.”

He didn't think Ron had the strength to grab him as forcefully as he did then, but it was nice to feel him again. Though his usual scent was marred by the hospital, he was still essentially Ron – all warmth and heart. Harry took a much-needed moment to tuck his face into Ron's throat and hide.

One of Ron's large hands came up and cupped the base of his skull, with long fingers sliding through his hair to brush over his scalp. He could have purred.

“Love you, Ron.”

A small humming noise came from the back of Ron's throat and Harry was amazed that the soft sound lifted his heart.

“Do you... I know that they said you'd talk when you're ready, but... are you ready to tell me anything yet?”

That time, Ron didn't answer, he just remained perfectly still.

“It's okay,” Harry said immediately. “Whenever you're ready.”

He found that really, he just wanted to hear Ron's voice.

***
Not since the war had Harry felt so frazzled. He was existing solely between home, work and the hospital, and his diet seemed to consist only of strong coffee and chocolate. Molly had sent food but he found he didn't have the appetite for it – or the time.

The Weasleys had slowly been reintroduced to Ron's hospital room, one at a time, but Harry couldn't say that the tension had dissipated at all. Molly was clearly quietly furious with the pair of them, but by some miracle was managing to hold her tongue in their presence. Harry assumed she was angry with him for not raising the alarm, and with Ron for ever getting ill in the first place. Whether her anger was justified or not, Harry didn't feel he had the mental capacity to judge.

He'd found a peaceful ally in George, who seemed to remember how, in that first year after the Battle, Ron had been the one by his bedside, gently coaxing him to eat and drink, and prompting him to live when he seemed happy enough to give up. Having George made it easier, because that meant Harry didn't have to spend every waking hour that he wasn't at work in the hospital. He could sleep and shower and have a few moments to himself.

When he was alone, however, he just missed Ron. Not in the way that he had in the times they'd fought at school, but more like the hollow emptiness which had followed Ron's departure from the Horcrux hunt. The kind which seemed to echo it's wrongness throughout his bones.

He was late. A meeting had overrun and he had raced through the Ministry and half the hospital to try and get there in time, but he was still fifteen minutes late for the appointment with Ron's healer. Ron had indicated that he wanted him there, which Harry still couldn't quite believe.
Ron had never been the best at expressing his emotions – the thought of the private things the Healers might divulge and that Ron wanted Harry to hear them was humbling.

He knocked once on the door of an office a secretary had directed him to and then slipped inside.

“Ah, Mr Potter. There you are. Ron was beginning to worry.”
“I'm so sorry,” Harry said, dropping down into the chair next to Ron's. “You know what those case review meetings are like. Go on for bloody hours.” He reached out and squeezed Ron's knee. “You okay?”

Ron nodded and seemed to shrink into the hoodie he was wearing a little more. Harry looked at him for a few more seconds before turning to the Healer.

“As we were just saying, we've managed to restore Ron's health to normal levels for his age and height. His weight will obviously take longer to correct and it's not as simple. There's a great deal of psychological healing to be done here.”

Harry nodded.

“We don't think there's much more point to Ron staying here in the hospital, other than to ensure that he eats. But we are a hospital, not a specialised unit in eating disorders, and I can't recommend a patient stay here just to eat. I propose a transfer to Benjy the Befuddled's Home for Magical Mental Maladies, where he can get the treatment and care he needs.”

“No.” Ron's protest was hoarse and low. “I'm not going there.”

“I'm afraid we don't have much option-”
“I'm going home,” Ron insisted. “And they can make sure I eat there.”
By 'they', Harry assumed that Ron meant him. His pulse kicked up a notch and he grew hot.
“Forgive me, Ron, but that's not what's best.”
“I'll say what's best for me, thanks,” Ron said icily. “I want to go back to my room now.”

The Healer sighed and sat back in his chair, but didn't argue. Ron got to his feet and left the room quickly. Harry glanced between his departing back and the Healer and jumped up to follow. He jogged a few steps to catch Ron up and when he did, slipped an arm around the redhead's waist.

“Ron-”
“Not here,” Ron snapped.

They walked in silence back to the ward and didn't bother to talk to any of the staff as they passed through it to get to the private room that Ron's status as an Auror afforded him.
Harry gently closed the door. When he turned around, Ron was sat on the edge of the bed with his face in his hands.

“It's nice to hear your voice,” Harry said awkwardly. “I've missed it.”

Ron didn't reply and Harry reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. After a few deep breaths he went to sit in the chair opposite Ron's bed.

“What's going through your head?” he asked softly.

“I want to go home,” Ron answered dully. “I'm sick of being here and being force fed.”
“And you think if you go home that we'll just all go back to letting you starve yourself?” Harry frowned. “Come on, Ron. I might have been okay being complicit when this was all hidden, when nobody knew – but now? No way. You're slowly killing yourself and I won't let that happen.”

“So let me come home and force feed me there,” Ron muttered. “Then you know I'm eating.”
“Don't you want to be well?” Harry questioned. “You know that this isn't right, yeah? That people need food to survive?”

Ron shrugged. “I've survived this long without it.”
“And you passed out and ended up in hospital.”
“I'm still alive though, aren't I?”

“Are you seriously saying you don't see the problem with what you've been doing, Ron?”
“I'm not an idiot, Harry, I know that it's not... but... I just don't have the energy to change. I can't.”

“Yes you can. But Ron... asking me to be your keeper at home. I'm not sure that I've... that I've got the energy, as you put it, either. I love you but I can't be responsible for that – I've let you down enough as it is.”

“What?” Ron asked jerkily.
“I knew, and I didn't do anything. That it got so bad was my fault. I didn't know what to say or what to do, and you could've ended up... I should have just made the move for you. Should have known that you'd never ask for help.”

Silence stretched between them. Harry suddenly felt emotional and embarrassed.

“It's okay, Harry.” Ron put one leg out so that his foot covered Harry's. “I... understand.”
“No, you don't,” Harry moaned. “You can't understand what it's like to watch someone you love hell bent on destruction.”

“Oh, so you walking off to snuff it in the forest was a walk in the park, was it? Watching them bring your fucking dead body back like a ragdoll – barrel of laughs, eh?”

Ron had him there. Harry felt his cheeks colour and he looked down at his lap.

Even though he knew he shouldn't ask it, a question was burgeoning on his tongue. “Why, Ron? Why do you do this to yourself?”

He wasn't really expecting an answer, or even acknowledgement from Ron. Therefore it was a surprise when the wizard spoke.

“I can't tell you,” he said quietly. “But I can show you... if you want?”
“Show me how?” Harry asked.
“That spell from work. Where you can sift through the memories in the absence of a Pensieve.”
“Are you sure you want me to go that far into your head? I mean... that's some pretty deep shit, Ron.”

“I trust you more than anyone. I love you more than anyone. If anything, you should be asking yourself if you can bear to see this. Because it's pretty brutal, Harry.”

Stomach churning, Harry knew that his hesitance wasn't going to stop him from finding out the truth.

“Well... I kind of feel, after everything, I owe it to you to go through the same pain as you. You've done it for me so many times. Show me.”

Ron nodded and swung his legs back up onto the bed, shifting back up to the headboard. He patted the space in front of him and Harry followed, awkwardly folding into a cross-legged position opposite him.

“You'll have to use my wand,” Harry pointed out. “Seeing as they took yours on admission.”

Ron nodded and accepted the wooden stick. Harry rubbed his hands together and then set one a piece on Ron's temples – the second that their skin touched Ron seemed to physically relax. Harry stroked a little with his thumbs and managed a small smile.

“Alohamora,” Ron whispered. “No interruptions. Not for this. Ready?”
“When you are,” Harry said, even though his stomach was practically somersaulting in his gut.
Ron closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He then whispered the spell they'd learnt as Aurors – a way of finding out the truth from people who were coherent enough to give consent but too traumatised to actually talk about what had happened to them. Harry had never thought they'd be using it on one another.

His mind burst to life with memories and perspective which were not his own. Oddly enough, Ron was showing him the end of the fight in the tent. The one which would lead to Ron leaving them. He could feel rage, fear and terrible hurt. He saw Ron storm from the tent – his eyes brimming with tears – and then flew with him as he Apparated away from their location.

He saw Ron land on all fours and heard the gut-wrenching sob which tore out of his mouth. He was trembling all over, his head hanging down towards the ground, which was covered in leaves and broken twigs.

“What's this?” The voice made both of them jump. Harry looked wildly around whilst Ron leapt to his feet and gripped his wand tightly in his fingers. “The missing Ronald Weasley. What on earth are you doing here?”

Ron started to back away, his eyes darting all over the place with fear.

“Where d'you think you're going, beautiful?”

A prickle of extra fear set off down Harry's spine. The scene blurred a little and every movement sped up. When the view settled a little, Harry choked on his own breath. There were four snatchers, three of them were restraining Ron whilst the fourth was right in the redhead's face. Harry saw with horror that the man's filthy hand was massaging Ron's crotch through his jeans. Ron struggled against those holding him, but they only held on tighter.

“So dangerous for a pretty little thing like you to be wandering the woods alone. We're going to take you in, of course, and then naturally they'll torture you for information before they kill you... but why waste such a delicious morsel?”

Ron fought harder as the man wrestled his jeans down to his ankles, and then his pants.
Harry felt sick.

“He smells delicious,” the Snatcher breathed, bending down to inhale from Ron's pubic hair. He licked a line over Ron's flaccid cock. “Tastes it too. Turn him round, lads, so I can see how good he feels.”

Ron started pleading, but it did no good. They manhandled him around so that he was bending forward, held in place by the three of them, with his backside exposed. Harry watched as the older wizard started manipulating his best friend turned lover's entrance and then had to close his eyes.


“Ron... fuck...” he whispered.

He heard it when the man breached his best friend. Heard the agony in Ron's rough cry, the grunt of pleasure from the Snatcher enjoying his prey. Heard the laughs of the others as Ron begged repeatedly for it to end, and they told him it couldn't, because he was Harry Potter's lapdog and a blood traitor, and for that he had to be punished.

It didn't end. It seemed to go on forever, and when the first man was finished, they swapped places and it continued until Ron's protests were mere devastated snivels of misery and all four of the men were sated. The stream of thoughts that Harry could hear consisted of 'please stop, please stop hurting me, please let it be over, oh god'. Harry saw Ron retch and vomit all over the ground in front of him. Someone yanked his head back by hold of his hair and shoved their cock, already inflated again, into his mouth. They went so deep that Ron started to gag, with strings of saliva dangling from his lips. The man continued to brutally fuck his mouth, whilst another reached down and took Ron's own penis into his hand.

That touch seemed to awaken Ron's instincts. Harry saw his magic ripple through the air almost like a pulse, and all four men went careening backwards into the darkness. One of them hit a tree with a nasty crack and slid down the bark, clearly unconscious.

Ron yanked up his jeans and reached out for his wand, but the pain made him double up and scream. Harry saw him sob for a moment, before gritting his teeth and forcing himself upright. Then he summoned his wand and Apparated away from the scene.


Harry wanted to throw up. He'd never dreamt that the cause of it all could be anything like this. Ron had simply said he'd stumbled into a group of Snatchers and managed to get away.

His vision swam. Next he saw Ron standing at the door to Shell Cottage, his face a mess of bruises from the manhandling and tears. When Fleur opened the door she let out a cry of fear and Ron staggered against the door frame, unable to support his own weight. Harry saw Bill alone with Ron in one of the rooms they'd stayed in just weeks later. Begging Ron to let him see the damage done and try to heal it. Ron shaking uncontrollably with his face stuffed in a pillow as Bill tried hard to fix his broken naked body with just his own healing knowledge and limited medical supplies. Ron howling with despair and misery in Bill's arms, his words not about what he had just been through, but over and over repeating “I can't believe I left them.”

Harry felt as though something large and heavy was crushing his chest. Breathing was nearly impossible, seeing the ramifications of what his silly little argument had caused. If they'd never fought, Ron would never have been raped.

Next he saw Ron sitting somewhere he didn't recognise, a grotty room with an uncomfortable looking bed. The look in the redhead's eyes was deadened. In front of him was a selection of food which looked like it had been grabbed from the nearest shop he could find. None of it was open and Ron was looking at it with revulsion. The view changed again, to after the Battle; a montage of memories of Ron choosing not to eat his food. The thoughts Harry heard changed subtly from 'I don't want to eat' to 'I can't eat' to 'I don't deserve to eat'.

The spell fizzled away to nothing until he realised he was looking at the real Ron, who was sat crying his eyes out in silence.

Harry held his breath and started to wipe away the tears, but more simply fell in their place.

“I felt so out of control, Harry. After what they did... they took away everything away from me. My dignity, my virginity, the little pride and confidence I managed to have. I had nothing. I was so lost. But then I realised I had control over what I ate or didn't eat. It helped. It made me feel better. And it just spiralled from there.”

Harry hardly knew what to think, let alone say. His mind was swimming with everything he'd just seen and the reality of Ron sitting distraught across from him. What could he possibly say at that moment that was appropriate?

“Does Bill know that this is all because of that night?”

Ron shrugged. “He might have guessed. But I told him if he ever said a word to anybody I'd kill him. Meant it too.” He heaved a sniff and dragged his arm over his face. “Because I didn't want anybody to ever know.”
“Not even me?”

Ron shook his head vehemently. “No. Because I didn't want you to question our relationship. After that night everything changed. I looked at you and I found you attractive, and you have no idea how fucked up it is to suddenly find men attractive after you've just been gang raped by four of them in the middle of nowhere! I didn't want you to think that this was just... a result of some fucked up perversion in my head. As if I enjoyed it so much I sought it out.”

“Nobody could watch what I just watched and say you enjoyed it, Ron,” Harry said softly. “I've... I've wanted to kill a few people in my time, but right now I would happily murder them all without a second thought. I...” He clenched his fingers into fists. “Fuck.”

“Three of them are already dead. The fourth's in Azkaban. Arrested for the murder and rape of a Muggle family. He's never getting out.” Ron looked down at his crossed legs and closed his eyes.
Harry searched his brain for something to say.
“Would you ever have told me that if this hadn't all come to light?” He asked, and then cursed himself because it was hardly a suitable question.
“I never planned on.”
“Right.”

Harry reached out and took Ron's hands in his own.

“I'm not sure I can do it, Harry,” Ron whispered.
“Do what?”
“Get better. I'm addicted to the control. The fact that they're making me eat is driving me insane. I want to claw my own skin off. I feel so... fat.” He practically spat the last word out.
“You could go at least three stone up and still be nowhere near fat, Ron.”

Ron's mouth twisted with disgust, as if the very thought made him want to be sick.

“You've always loved food,” Harry said helplessly. “The first time we met, we built a friendship around sweets and pumpkin pasties and the fact you hate corned beef sandwiches.”
“Can we stop talking about food, please?” Ron asked, his voice full of tension.

Harry didn't want to pander to his illness. But he was not a qualified health professional and didn't feel he could make that call or not. He needed advice.

“I don't think it's a good idea for you to come home,” he said finally, sitting up straight.

Ron looked like he'd been kicked in the stomach.

“What you need... I'm not strong enough to give it to you.”

All at once, Harry had no idea what he was saying but every idea of the ramifications of the words he was speaking. He was telling Ron that he was not strong enough to look after him at home. To be his carer. To deal with the horror of what the redhead had been through.
He felt nauseous with guilt.

“I think you should go to this place they said about. Get your head on right. Work on it. Then when you're ready come home.”
“And what about us?” Ron asked, his voice tight. “Our relationship?”
“I'm not going anywhere, Ron. I'll be here, I'll be there if you want me to be. Just... you need to get this sorted properly. Not half-arsed at home with me becoming your nanny.”

“Harry, why can't you just do this?” Ron asked, growing paler by the second. “I'm asking you to support me in this. I need you to help me. I've helped you so many fucking times and now I need you, you won't do it?”
“I've never asked you to be my psychiatrist!” Harry cried frustratedly.

He leapt up and started to pace up and down at the end of Ron's bed.

“No, but I put my life on the line for you, more than once.”
“I never asked you to do that!”
“You never told me not to.”
“That's horse shit and you know it,” Harry swore. “I gave you every opportunity to turn back and even when you did, you still came back. I didn't ask you to do that!”

“I came back because I loved you both!” Ron threw back, growing even more visibly distressed. “If you love someone, you don't abandon them no matter how hard it is, how tough the cost is going to be on you! You do it because that's what you do for people you love!”

His words rang between them and Harry could hardly miss the point that Ron was making.

“So you think that if I don't let you come home, I don't love you?” Harry asked incredulously. “Merlin's balls, Ron. Come off it. This is completely different.”
“I don't think it is.” Ron shook his head. “I think you should go, Harry.”
“I'm not leaving things like this-”

“I want you to go,” Ron reiterated, nodding pointedly at the door. “I've just showed you the most painful and humiliating experience of my entire fucking life. And what's your response? To absolve yourself of any of the responsibility of helping me heal from it! Fuck you, Harry. Get out!”
“Ron, come on, don't be like this.”
“Like what? Broken? Desperate for help?”

“If you're desperate for help you can get it from the right people!” Harry insisted. “That's not me!”
Ron stared at him, his face a mask of hatred and disgust. “I'm not mad, Harry. I don't need to go to some loony bin in the fucking country!”

“You starve yourself to feel in control!” Harry half-yelled back. “That's not right, and the fact you can't see it's not right is just further proof that you're not making the best decisions for yourself any more.”
“Please don't let them lock me up, Harry.”
“Nobody's locking you up. If you go willingly it won't be half as bad.”

Ron got up and wandered to the window. Harry stared at his profile and saw his shoulders shaking.

“This is why I didn't tell anyone,” Ron said, sounding so helpless and vulnerable that Harry's skin started to crawl.

Ron was usually his pillar of strength and to see him brought so low was unsettling. Despite their crossed words, he had to go to him. He touched his hands to the forcedly slender waist and then locked his arms around it. Ron jumped a little but didn't break away.

“I'm sorry for shouting,” Harry offered, feeling it was rather lame.

Ron didn't respond.

Harry kissed his back. “I love you.”

The redhead didn't answer that, either.

***
“Sorry I'm late,” Bill apologised, shrugging out of his cloak. “Last minute emergency at work.”

Harry shrugged in acceptance and picked a crumb off the corner of the cake he'd bought but didn't really want. Bill settled opposite him and gratefully picked up the coffee Harry had ordered for him and took a sip.

“So, what's up?” asked Bill expectantly, after savouring a couple of mouthfuls.

Harry sucked in a deep breath but didn't find it particularly helped. Since Ron had begrudgingly followed the advice of his Healers and gone to Benjy the Befuddled's, things between them had completely soured. He had visited at first out of care, but they'd soon become hours of duty, and Ron had finally said after the last one that he needn't bother any more, because it was just making both of them miserable.

“I don't know what to do,” Harry breathed finally. “I don't think he's ever going to forgive me for saying that I couldn't look after him at home and that he should go.”

“He doesn't really know what he's feeling at the minute, I think. He's not exactly been normal with any of us.”
“I know. But it feels like he really hates me. And I can't cope with that. We were... we were in love.”
“You're still in love, this is just a blip,” Bill advised calmly. “That's all. You've been through a lot together and this is just another 'thing'. He'll heal, he'll come out, and you'll pick up where you left off.”

Harry fiddled with his cake a little more and kept his eyes on his own untouched coffee. He felt ashamed to be considering the words burgeoning on his tongue, which had been filling his mind since Ron had told him not to bother visiting again.

“Oh, Harry.” Bill's voice wasn't judgemental, or even disappointed, but it still made Harry feel like the worst person in the world.

“It's not just that this is so hard... it... it's because of what caused it. I can't forgive myself so how'll he ever get there? How will he ever forgive that all of this was my fault?”
“How was it your fault?” Bill asked, frowning slightly.
“He'll kill me if I tell you.”
“To be honest, Harry, I think I already know. What happened that night during the war. Before he came back to you?”

Harry nodded glumly and sniffed deeply.

“It's not surprising. Not once you know. I've been waiting for the fall out from that for years and... like you... I saw how thin he was. Noticed he never ate. And like you, Harry, I didn't know what to do with that information. So if you feel like you let him down, like you're responsible for the state he ended up in... you don't share that burden alone, mate. I'm right there with you, I promise.”

Throat suddenly tight, all Harry could do was nod. Bill's words were comforting but not enough.

“When he turned up on my doorstep, he was in such a state, Harry. Huge black eyes, blood coming from his mouth. Holding himself like everything inside was broken and barely able to keep upright. I had to heal the physical damage that they caused but there was no chance of healing what they'd done to his soul. Or mine, after he'd sat there and just lost control in my lap, like he was three again and Fred had pushed him down the stairs. Do you know, Harry, how it feels to have someone shatter to pieces in your arms?”

Harry shook his head and sniffed again. “Well. Only myself, I guess.”

Bill hummed slightly and drank some more coffee.

“Why don't you take some time? Don't make decisions right now when everything hurts so much. He's not going anywhere and they're taking good care of him. I saw him yesterday and he actually managed half a smile for me. It was beautiful. He almost looked like his old self again, but... maybe he'll never be the same.”

“And that, right there. If he's so changed... will he be...”

“The grumpy yet hilarious clown you fell in love with?” Bill guessed shrewdly. “He will, Harry. In time. And he's going to have more baggage but fuck, don't we all? I do. I know you do. So let's just... give him time. All he needs is time.”

“I feel like I'm betraying him by even considering that I can't handle this,” Harry admitted, finally picking up his half-cold drink and lifting it to his lips. “Like I'm letting him down.”
“Some people would say you are.”

Harry's insides went cold. “Do you think that?”

Bill slumped in his seat and ran a hand back through his long, loose hair. Though still undeniably handsome despite the best attempts of Fenrir Greyback, he suddenly looked much older than he was.

“I don't. I think you're a young bloke who's recently escaped the weight of the world on his shoulders, and that you're long overdue some happiness. But because he's my brother I have to admit I hope you'll make the right decision. That you'll stick by him. Because he stuck by you. And he's been punished enough for the time he didn't. You think he's fucked now. I think if you were to end it, then we'd lose him for real. But you... you've got to do what's best for you.”

Harry groaned and tipped his face into his hands. “So, do what you've got to do, but please don't in case you break him. Thanks, Bill. Good talk.”

“Harry. I don't know what you want me to say.” Bill turned his palms up. “He's my brother, you're as good as my brother. I want the best for both of you even if that might not be the same thing. If you wanted objectivity you should have gone to someone not in the family.”

“I know. You're right. I just didn't know who to go to. Because if I'd told someone else why this was weighing so heavily, it would have been even worse.”
“I understand.”

They both sipped at their drinks. Bill glanced at his watch.

“Go,” Harry said quietly. “Thanks for meeting with me. I appreciate it.”

Bill downed the last of his coffee and nodded before getting to his feet. He put his cloak back on and exhaled hard, looking out at the rain.

“Take care, Harry.”

Harry watched him go with a churning stomach. It hadn't helped.

He gulped down to the dregs of his coffee and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth.

Though he understood why Bill was encouraging him to take his time on a decision, to give Ron time to breathe, something inside was on fire. He needed something to hold on to.

-

“He's just with his Healer at the moment, but you're welcome to wait in his room, Mr Potter.”
“Thanks.” Harry swallowed. The hospital made him incredibly nervous.

He set off along the corridor, trying to keep as quiet as possible. He gratefully slipped through the door to Ron's room and let out a huge sigh of relief. He hated the place. Ron had left his bed unmade and his stuff everywhere.

“At least that side of you hasn't changed,” Harry muttered under his breath.

He picked his way over the mess to sit down on the bed. He smoothed one hand over the blanket Molly had clearly brought in and smiled. He reached out and lifted up Ron's pillow and saw, as expected, the infamous teddy bear that Fred turned into a spider. Ron seemed unable to give him up. Harry loved that. He pulled the bear close to his chest and hugged it, bending his head to sniff at the worn fur. It smelled of Ron so accurately that something in his chest started to ache.

He sat there for a good while, just steadily breathing in the scent of Ron and holding the bear tight. When the door opened, he honestly had no idea what he was going to say, or do. Whether he'd be saying goodbye or just insisting Ron came to him and sat with him.

By the time he heard footsteps outside, he was seriously doubting his resolve. He wanted to run.
He held his breath as the door opened and Ron crossed the threshold, looking delicious in an oversized hooded jumper and checked flannel bottoms, which were new and went all the way down to the floor. Harry had seen Ron in all manner of hand-me-down clothes over the years, so it was always a jolt to see him in clothes which properly fitted him.

His eyes were rimmed red and he was extremely pale. “What're you doing here?” he asked thickly.
“I missed you,” Harry answered softly, getting to his feet and setting the bear down on Ron's pillow. “And I know you told me not to come again but... I couldn't not.”

Ron's face was impassive for a good while, leaving Harry afraid of an earbashing or being tossed out into the corridor, but eventually he gave a loud sniff and closed the gap between them. When his arms came up around Harry, they were strong and warm; the kiss that followed was exactly the same.

Suddenly Harry felt exhausted, his eyelids and limbs too heavy to sustain his weight. Everything suddenly seemed to be bearing down on him and, he realised with a sick feeling in his gut, he'd forgotten what that physical weight felt like. Just how light he'd become since the end of the war.

Ron sensed his sudden lethargy and helped Harry over to the little two-seater under the window. They sat beside one another in silence. Ron put an arm around his shoulders.

Harry closed his eyes and leant his head against Ron. He had no idea where it was going, how either of them would end up.

“I'm so glad you came,” Ron said throatily. “I love you, Harry. I didn't mean it when I said I didn't want you to come here any more. My brain... it's just saying these things because it's hurting and it's making me lash out at all the wrong people. I'm sorry.”

Harry closed his eyes against the words and the weight, and held on to Ron with all the strength he could muster.

Ron let out a tiny whimper and clutched him in return.

-fin-
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