Harry had looked quite distracted during supper that night, absentmindedly running his fingers over the pink scars reading I must not tell lies. As the gloomy ghosts of grey clouds drifted overhead in the enchanted ceiling, his gaze never settled on any one person. Ron and Hermione tried to engage him in conversation,, they really did, but Harry only answered in muffled single syllable noises. Ron knew it was a lost cause when he asked "Malfoy's looking real good, isn't he, Harry?" and he'd responded with a hum.
Ron had been spearing his fork with roasted potatoes and interrogating Hermione about Tonk's morphing abilities when Harry abruptly stood up, almost knocking over a pitcher of pumpkin juice.
"And where do you think you're going?" Inquired a slightly alarmed Hermione.
"I- practice occlumency, with Snape." Harry took advantage of the absence of everyones least favorite potions master.
"Now? In the middle of dinner?"
"He's Snape, Ron." said Harry, as if it were the most obvious reason in the world.
"Right. Give him my love." Ron told him sarcastically, turning back to his plate. Harry surveyed his friends for an everlasting second, then made his retreat out of the Great Hall.
The moment he left, Hermione turned to Ron and spoke in a low voice, "Somethings off with him."
"What's new?" mumbled Ron, stuffing his mouth with the freshly conjured chocolate pudding.
"I'm being serious, Ron." she wrinkled her nose at Ron's incessant eating, but plowed on, "Harry's been... well, down this entire year, which he absolutely has a right to be, but these past couple of days, he's been fine. Distracted, but fine."
"And that's a bad thing?"
Hermione pursed her lips and gazed at her fellow classmates, carelessly chatting and eating. After a moment of consideration, "It's just not right."
X X X
Ron ambled back to the dormitories stuffed and fully sated, Hermione claiming a seat by the window and settling in for her homework. He had transfiguration homework to finish, but he was confident in his abilities to do so ten minutes before class.
Coming upon his dormitory door, Ron stopped short. From inside he heard heavy breathing, murmurs and whispers. It had to be Harry, as he had passed Seamus and Dean playing a game of exploding snaps in the common room as Neville looked on. Funnily enough, Neville had somehow gotten worse blows than either of the players.
Ron froze, wondering if Harry was having another one of those vision-dreams. His stomach was suddenly in knots, as the last time this happened Ron's father had almost died. Intrigued, Ron glued himself to the door, straining to hear any hint of a word or phrase. Maybe "It'll be better." What would be better?
Wait. This wasn't right. This wasn't healthy. These dreams had to stop, thats the reason he was taking those occlumency lessons with Snape in the first place. All these dreams did were torture Harry, and Ron could not condone that. He pressed the door forward, intending to wake Harry up from his sleep- but was instead met with a scene he was completely unprepared for.
Harry's bed was neat, made, and Harry himself was centered on top of the comforter cross-legged. Eyes closed and apparently lost in thought, Harry hadn't even heard Ron come in. Most concerning of all, both hands were clutched around the phoenix wand, the tip of which pressed into Harrys forehead.
Ron froze once again to process the situation. His hand pressed into his robe where his own wand was stowed.
Harry swallowed once. Opened his mouth. "Avada ke-"
"EXPELLIARMUS!" roared Ron, his wand vibrating with such abrupt powerful magic. Harrys wand flung out of his hand and smacked the window behind him. Harrys gaze followed the path of his disarmed wand, then he whipped around to see who had cast the spell.
Ron felt rage and pride swell within him, pumping through his veins and pushing him to stalk towards a shocked Harry. The latter began to stutter through a string of "I- Ron- It's not what it looks- I didn't-" He shut up as Ron grabbed his wrists, pulling Harry close.
Ron did not have a plan. He didn't know what he would do- but he felt an intense need to hold Harry securely, not trusting any space between them. His eyes were alight with purpose as he gazed deeply, intently into Harrys eyes. "Harry- Don't you dare-" He gulped. "Harry, why would you do this, please help me to understand. please Harry..."
Harry looked like a deer in the headlights, still stunned by the chain of events. "I didn't- I didn't even know if it would work-"
But the logic of the curse wasn't what was concerning Ron at the moment. "Let me in Harry. You're my best friend." He pulled Harrys hands closer to him and looked at the boy trembling in front of him.
Harrys eyes were beginning to glaze over with unshed tears. "It's everything. He's back and now the whole world is against me- and everything I do and everywhere I go all I can think about is how they're out there and they're coming for anyone near me- God, Ron, he could be coming for you or Hermione, or your family, and he's in my mind- what if I hurt you, Ron?" Harry was now gasping for breath, tears leaking from him eyes and his hands trembled worse than ever-
"And in the graveyard- oh god, Ron- he tortured me, and Cedric- it should have been me, he should have never been there-" Harry collapsed forward into Ron's chest and Ron held him tighter, his chin settling above the scruffy top of Harrys head. He gasped and tried with all his power to stifle the sobs that were battling to get out, which only made his gasping worse.
"I know Harry, but you need to breathe. It's okay. I'm not gonna judge you, Harry. You can tell me anything- you know that, right?" Harry shuddered beneath him. "It's okay to be vulnerable, mate. And if anyone has a right to cry- Merlin's beard, Harry, it's you."
Finally, Harry was able to properly sob, wetting Ron's shirt, but Ron didn't care in the slightest. This did allow his breathing to even out a bit; at least Ron didn't have to worry about Harry passing out. A small voice- "It all- it all seems so hopeless."
Ron's heart panged. "I know. But Harry, we will get through this. Together. We're not children, we have the right to fight for whatever we want and we want to fight for you. With you, against You-Know-Who with everything we've got. And hey- the good guys always win, right?
Ron pulled him even closer. "And don't you ever, ever- do, that again. We need you. And even if we didn't, blimey Harry, we love you. Me, Hermione, my whole family, Sirius and Hagrid, Lupin-" Ron lowered his voice on his final proclamation. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
For awhile they stayed like that, Harry's breathe evening out as he calmed down, Ron gently ruffling his hair. It must've been a strange scene if someone were to walk in, but to Harry and Ron it didn't feel wrong in the slightest.
Ron guided them up to the head of the bed and found a comfortable spot; it looked as if they might just drift off to sleep right here.
"Ron," Harry mumbled. "I'm sorry."
Ron was astounded by the boy in his arms. The life he had suffered through, the horrors he's seen, and somehow he remained so stubbornly, so irrevocably good. Rom couldn't think less of him if he tried. In fact, he considered him braver than ever. He felt a fresh wave of seething hatred for Umbridge. "It's okay, mate. Everything's gonna be fine."
Harry was asleep. Ron took off his glasses and placed them on the nightstand. He pulled the hangings around them- he didn't need any judgments or snickering when the others came up.
In the morning, Ron would tell Hermione as Harry ashamedly stood next to him- to which Hermione would launch into his arms and give him a stern talking to. They would head down to a late and nearly empty breakfast, rain pattering lazily above. They would have a long talk in the common room, gleefully interrupted by another showcase of a new Weasley prank invention. They would go to bed early in the morning, dead tired but maybe believing Ron's words. Everything would be okay.