That a student of Hogwarts was prowling the corridors of the castle in the wee hours of the morning was not uncommon.
The fact that this student belonged to Gryffindor House was even less so.
That such a student had hair that was red as hellfire could almost be considered normal.
The fact that this particular student was mumbling curses and oaths about a certain frizzy-haired which, it had been part of the regular school scene for more than 4 years.
But for such a student, at the height of Dolores Umbridge's reign of terror, to wander aimlessly, alone, under a disillusioning spell, with the marauder's map in hand and risking exemplary punishment or even expulsion from school, was decidedly atypical.
"A fucking wart? Mmm-hmm. A fucking wart and a fucking teaspoon?..." He mumbled as he took long strides through the corridors, almost oblivious to everything else. "My arse!"
Everything had started after the DA meeting. Cho Chang had accosted Harry in room of requirement while the rest of the group had dispersed. Hermione and he had gone to Gryffindor common room at and were having a relaxed conversation until she insisted that he complete his task while she wrote a letter. Hermione's parchment was already over the edge of the table and hanging dangerously close to the floor, when Harry came through the hole behind the portrait.
It had been perfectly obvious that something had happened. While one could not say that Harry had arrived with a completely dumb face, it was no less true that he was the closest thing to the face of someone who had been struck by a stunning spell.
With Harry's apparent inability to explain what had happened, Hermione had taken the initiative in the conversation until he blew up the cauldron:
"Have you kissed?"
Wait... What? Harry would have kissed Cho or maybe it was Cho who kissed Harry? After the initial surprise, he was enthusiastic about his friend and wished he did it.
Of course! He'd been aware of Hurry's crush on Cho since last year. One would have to be blind not to see him with that deer's eyes accompanied by a slight drooling every time Cho entered the scene! But following the usual pattern of shitty luck in Harry Potter's life that was the time when the bird was dating Cedric Diggory.
The memory of the partner killed by Peter Pettigrew overshadowed Ron's memories. Cedric was a good guy and his end had been unexpected, unjust and one more to add to the long list of Wormtail's coward crimes. Top of them, the betrayal of Harry's parents: Lily and James Potter.
"You filthy rat!" he swore. "If I had known, I personally would have left you alone with Crookshanks in a nice little room without a single hole in its walls and an undisturbed spell on the door.
The point was that Harry was still attached to Cho, if not more so, and it seemed that she had begun to notice Harry. There was no doubt that he had turned out to be a brilliant teacher in the DA meetings, added to his perpetual challenge to the pink toad and the legendary fight at the quidditch pitch had contributed enormously, to increase his sex appeal according to some whispered comments that he had heard between the women of the DA and some boys.
Ron wished with all his heart that, "For once!", Harry's bad luck changed and like any normal teenager, he could live a normal life enjoying the intimate affection of a hot girl who she like him, although in his opinion ...a Tornado fan was not good enough for Harry. . . One flash of a long red hair burst into his mind making him shake his head to free himself from such disturbing vision.
But as usual, Harry hadn't had any luck with it either.
Instead of the first-time nervous or inexperienced teenager's kiss, it had resulted in little more than a disaster that had trapped Harry in the pit of insecurity in his ability to kiss properly a girl and later, with Hermione's invaluable assistance and her detailed talk about Cho Chang's state of emotional turmoil, he guessed in Harry, the doubt about the appropriateness of attempting any kind of relationship with such an emotionally damaged girl and, knowing Harry's legendary hero complex, he would be able to give up the girl if he thought it was sparing him any further pain. A massive Dragon's dung in Ron's opinion, so he had used his best weapon to pull Harry out of his stupefaction and keep him from falling into his usual melancholy self-isolation; a joke:
"No one can feel so many things at once. It would explode!"
Ron doubted that anyone could explode because of it. If himself hadn't exploded with everything that's happened in the last year, it would be strange if someone else did. "Okay. Maybe Neville would go into a coma or pass out, but I don't think so. Dealing with Mrs. Longbottom for so many years had given him much more courage than many would give him credit for."
In any case, Hermione's words had unleashed an emotional storm inside Ron, and the problem was that he saw no way to refute the logical sequence of events that had been linked together and seemed to form the links of a chain that wrapped around his neck.
Harry was diligent, brilliant, and handsome, he was not. Harry would have deserved to be prefect of Gryffindor, he didn't. Harry was extraordinary in Quidditch, he wasn't. . . "But Victor fucking pumpkin head Krum is too. So rich. Could be richer as Harry even and. . . . and I'm sure he's experienced enough to know how to kiss a woman properly and. . . Oh God! How does Hermione know Harry is a good kisser and who has she been able to compare him to. . . ?"
He couldn't help it. His mind was filled with the slow motion image of Hermione kissing Krum torridly, trapping his ridiculously short hair between her thin fingers and taking his lips as if from them she extracted the air she needed to breathe, while one of his hands remained on her delicate waist and the other slowly ascended from her hip to caress her entire chest, provoking a lustful moan in her.
Ron felt the periphery of his vision turn red and his fists instinctively clenched so tightly that he felt his own nails sink into his flesh. He felt the need to rip the bastard's head off and when he looked up to face him, his mind was filled with Harry's gaze as he kissed Hermione passionately.
A familiar black claw wrapped around Ron's heart and squeezed it empty until it was breathless. He had never felt such pain or such overwhelming despair. Without being able to avoid it, from the depths of his being, a cry of impotence burst out, which ascended through his throat and escaped from him like the roar of the mortally wounded lion that intends to take his killer away with his last breath. . .
"Who's there? Don't try to escape. Inquisitorial Squad, with me!"
Ron cursed himself. He was so overwhelmed by the pain his own mind had generated that he had forgotten about bloody Umbridge and its band of mangy snakes patrolling the school corridors. Without thinking too much, he rushed to the double-leafed doors in front of him and entered.
"Professor Umbridge. Here!"
Blood seemed to be boiling in Ronald Weasley's veins. He'd recognize that voice anywhere. It was like the Malfoy and Weasley families had some sort of bond in destiny that would inevitably lead them to confront each other. The bloody bouncing ferret was on the other side of the door blocking the exit and calling for the great inquisitor to fall on him. Ron could hardly have imagined the satisfaction it would cause the flathead to discover that the student who violated the curfew was a Weasley and, among them, Harry Potter's best friend, no less! Nothing would make him happier than to witness another humiliation by Ronald Weasley. He was in these thoughts when another, much more disturbing, one made its way into his mind.
Umbridge! This would be like an early Christmas present for her. She would take advantage of the fact that it was him to provoke Harry and that would give her the perfect excuse to expel him.
Shit! You bloody fool couldn't have held back yourself, he thought to himself. No wonder Hermione can't see you as anything but a good-for-nothing. . . Hermione! Oh my God! If neither Harry or I are here, the ferret and the fucking toad are going to torment her to death. They're going to beat her and provoke her mercilessly until she quits or explodes and they can finally expel her. This would kill her. Shit, shit, shit, I'm the biggest asshole on the face of the earth. . .
"Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge here". The voice of the disgusting toad was heard on the other side of the door. "I order you to leave that room."
Ron, not breathing, stood three feet from the door waiting for the fatal decay.
"There's nothing to be afraid of"; he said with false sweetness. "All of us here are friends and we care about the safety of the students at the school. The Ministry only wants the best for all the magical children in the UK..." Ron thought that sounded suspiciously similar to a certain muggle story Hermione had once told him about a witch, one stupid girl and a poisoned apple...
"I'm absolutely sure is not your fault"; and this time there seemed to be some poison in her voice. "No doubt you'd be following the horrible example of Mr. Potter and his friends about how much fun it is to walk around the castle at this hour, but they don't have the good breeding of those born into completely magical families". She said scornfully, "And they can't understand how dangerous it can be to prowl around the castle at these hours, without the supervision of someone fully versed in the ins and outs of true magic society". Ron swore he heard a chuckle from the silver ferret. "I'm begging you to come out. I promise that you will only receive one warning and we will accompany you to your common room so that you can rest until tomorrow's class".
That's not what you've been saying publicly so far, you bloody cow. Always promising magic world perfectly safe thanks to the ministry and your "beloved" Fudge, old hag, he thought, trembling with anger. SHE knows more about the magic world, its traditions and its miseries than you will ever know in your entire fucking life. In an ideal world, you wouldn't even be worthy of breathing the same air that she breathes. Instinctively, his magic channelled all his anger into his own hand that seemed to sizzle, longing to meet the wand that waited expectantly in his back pocket.
"Very well", this time Umbridge's voice was definitely loaded with contempt. "I understand that if you are unable to understand the delicate complexities of the magical world and my desire to ensure your safety is because you have not had the proper education in your born-home. Nothing that a proper punishment can't solve, so, you´ll understand your place".
This did it. Ron took three steps behind leaving its good fifteen feet with the door.
This sadist thinks it's not pureblood who is here and she's going to take advantage of it to make an example of it. His hand finally met his wand that seemed to emit a buzz of satisfaction to his contact. She will be stunned when she sees that the marauder is one of the "twenty-eight sacred". He thought this one with really loathe, like if bitter gall touched his lips at the memory. If I were anyone else I might be able to escape from this by sounding sorry, but being who I am, she's going to take advantage of it to go against both of them and if she doesn't go against Hermione, Draco will. For a moment a smile escaped his lips as he thought of what Hermione would do to Draco if he openly fought against her while remembering the superb punch the ferret had received in third year. But Malfoy will never attack her openly. He would seek a moment of solitude and would be accompanied by his two gorillas and possibly some Slytherin Deatheater apprentice and, God knows! What they would be capable of doing to her.
As his last smile died on his face, his wand was raised in his arm in a duelling position. Ron knew his fate was already decided. He knew that with him expelled, he would no longer be able to protect Harry and Hermione within the walls of Hogwarts, but nothing would stop him from defending them outside or making a last stand inside. When he confronted Umbridge and her henchmen, he would make his argument clear by giving them a hell of a wand, to make them understand that, just in the moment any of them tried to harm any of their friends, there would be no place under the sun where they could hide from him. So that miserable crew on the other side of the door would get the message and refrain from really drastic actions against his two friends.
Being Ron under age, he would not end up in Azkaban, and the fact that this stinking band knew that he would be free to show up at Hogsmeade from time to time would help reinforce the message. That would give Dumbledore and McGonagall time to regain control of the school and protect both of them. The image of a knight being taken by the queen on a gigantic chessboard gave him a crooked smile meanwhile he faced, wand in hand, his fate. Checkmate, pal.
Alohowhat? What in the h. . .; Ron didn't have time to complete the question that popped into his mind while his frown frowned in shock when he heard the spell on the other side of the door. But, if the door's not locked, why are they. . . ? For the second time, the idea died in his mind as he watched as the doorknob seemed to turn repeatedly in the attempt of someone trying to open the door, apparently in vain.
"ALOHOMORA!" It was heard again from the other side." What's wrong with the damn door?" Again the voice of Umbridge was heard, this time in an unmistakable tone of irritation, as the doorknob was shaken more and more violently without the door giving way by a single millimetre.
-Get out of the way! This time there was real rage in the voice of the great inquisitor. On the other side of the door, Ron heard her to perform, one after the other, no less than 10 different spells trying to unlock the door and the paroxysmal movement of the doorknob had also given way to the incensed knocking of the door, as if in a primary resource and having failed magic, brute force was being used to force entry. It was then that he realized that his wand seemed to be emitting a dull buzzing sound that made her hand tremble.
"That's enough! I'm sure this is a joke of that brazen poltergeist". Ron smiled. The toad's voice sounded more like a big walrus's breathing down from too much exercise. "Sure. He must have let out the scream and bewitched the door so that it could not be opened"; she continued, between gasping and panting.
"But professor", Ron shuddered again at the sound of Malfoy's voice and to realize that his wand was shaking more intensely. "We've known Peeves since the first year, and that's certainly not his voice, nor is this the style of his jokes. He tends to be cruder and coarser by throwing stink bombs or buckets of ice water on the backs of the students. . ." The ferret's peroration was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a slap on the back of his neck particularly hard.
"Stupid". Umbridge's voice sounded particularly annoying. "Do you dare to discuss a teacher's judgment? I tell you that all this is the work of that nasty spirit and, if all of you had been properly versed in the magical arts, you would have realized it right away as well". Ron could not help but have a panting laugh. The toad had just beaten the insufferable presumptuous, frustrated by her inability to open the door and, trying to avoid looking bad in front of her acolytes, she had diverted attention and blame onto the asshole. My word. He would have gladly paid two months' pay for being able to see the ferret's face.
"This only proves the ministry right. The quality of teaching in this place has tragically declined and it is imperative that the ministry take control of it in order to instruct the young wizards and witches in the mastery of their skills. "With me!" It was heard like a whimper and then, the unmistakable tapping of a few steps away.
Ron stood waiting for an invisible trap to fall on him; meanwhile, his wand continued vibrating in his hand, though ever more faintly, until it stopped completely. He remained motionless and almost breathless for a few more minutes, hoping to believe in his good fortune and that he really had escaped from a more than complicated situation. Finally, he decided it was time to take a chance and averted his eyes from the door and consulted the marauder's map. He couldn't believe it! On the map it could clearly read "Ronald Weasley", but on the other side of the door the map did not reflect the presence of anyone. Even in his surroundings there doesn't seem to be a soul.
Now or never, pal; he said to himself in encouragement and then, he set about turning the doorknob which. As before, it pivoted on its axis smoothly and pulled it, the door to stay locked.
"Shit", he mumbled, but refrained from further attempts. In a sad irony, it seemed that the same mystery that had saved his freckled arse was keeping him prisoner of the room. "Well", he closed his eyes and as he concentrated he muttered. "Whatever it is, I really appreciate you helping me out, but I'd really like to get out, get to my room and forget about tonight. I swear I've learned the fucking lesson not to wander around the castle after curfew, or at least, not to be such an asshole as to scream in the hallway after curfew". He looked at the door again and tried to open it, and again this one remained unmoved.
"Bloody hell!" This time the tone of his voice was noticeably louder. He turned in frustration on himself and looking up at the ceiling dropped himself over the door and, leaned on the back of his head as it tapped repeatedly against the wood in an attempt to alleviate his disappointment.
"Okay! It's all right. If the price I have to pay for escaping the damn pink toad is to spend the night in this room, I'll gladly take it. Tomorrow someone will come, open the door, cast the disillusioning spell on me, sneak out and I'll manage to find a way to justify my. . .
He jumped upright as he opened his eyes wide, realizing that he had no idea where he was! It had all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that all he could remember was walking through the door that was closest to him at the time. Once the surprise was over, he began to inspect the room, hoping to recognize it.
"I should've known better". The sad whisper escaped his lips as if it were the sigh of a condemned man whose last chance for freedom is slipping away.
The shelves followed one another in countless rows . . . "Well, surely not countless. I'll bet Hermione knows "exactly"; the number of them, as well as the number of every damn book inside each and every one of them"; he moaned.
Still, he had to admit. Empty of students, under the twilight of the moonlight filtering through the large windows, the Hogwarts Library was magnificent. Magnificent and intimidating.
"As always, she is able to see things at first sight, which takes the rest of us years"; he sighed. "No wonder I am not even able to keep up with her thoughts when that adorable head of her gets going". And that was precisely what was bothering him most at this time and had led him to wander aimlessly through the school corridors. That with all her brilliance, all her knowledge, all her fucking logic, she wouldn't have been able to see everything that was bubbling up inside him. . .
Ron had not been aware at first, but gradually he became aware of the presence of candlelight behind some library shelves. Initially he feared that it might be because of the presence of another person in the library, whether it was a student, a teacher or, at worst, Filch and his mangy cat. So he remained quiet, but since the light seemed to be steady, no noise was heard, and the memory that the marauder's map had shown no one in the vicinity, he ventured quietly behind the bookshelf to find out what it was.
It didn't take him long to discover that it was one of the candlesticks that supplied light to the library users, but what was really curious was that it was the only candlestick that seemed to burn in the whole library. He approached it with the aim of extinguishing the candles when they went out by themselves while at the other end of the shelf the candles of another candleholder began to burn expontaneously.
Having grown up in the magic world, these kinds of situations were no surprise to him. They were fascinating, no doubt, but not at all a complete surprise.
He had long known that in one way or another, every wizard, every witch, had left the magical sight of his existence on the world. He knew many examples of them:
The essences of the four founders who died long ago, in the sorting hat. Those of his twin uncles Gideon and Fabian also killed in the first war against Voldemort, in the house clock. The Marauder's Map, with the essence of James Potter, and his friends. Even, according to Harry's story, who-you-know-who left part of him in the diary that possessed Ginny in her first year.
With more than a thousand years of existence, it was practically impossible to know how many wizards and witches walked, studied and lived among these old stones, and each one of them left his own mark. Some would leave a barely perceptible trace, but others performed such intense episodes of magic that the traces they left behind, seemed to have a will of their own.
The hat was left with the mission of continuing to sort the students by the time the founders were gone.
The house clock, to know the status of each family member and to be able to come to their aid if necessary.
The map conspired so that the big troublemakers could keep up their mischief at school and, the diary, somehow, tried to bring Voldemort back.
This last thought plunged her spirit back into sadness and melancholy bringing back the thoughts that had made her leaves the safety of the tower of Gryffindor:
Is that really all she thinks of me? Does she really think I don't know what Cho Chang is feeling?
Like answering that question, another group of candles went out to be immediately replaced.
I can't really blame her, can I? I've never been good at expressing myself, let alone how I feel, but then again, how could I? How do you tell the most wonderful woman in the world that you're crazy for her? That you regret terribly to be a clumsy, mindless, worthless lout. Which you know you don't deserve her. That you know that you shouldn't even notice me but that you can't help but love her more than my own family, more than Harry, more than the blood that runs through my veins, more than my life itself and that knowing and feeling all that is eating me up inside. How do you tell her you feel all this and more, 'only', because you love her?
Ron feels that dull pain in his chest again. A veil of tears struggles to leave his eyes as he rolls his shirt sleeve over them to prevent his vision from becoming blurred, and it is when he refocuses them that he sees it. The candlestick he approaches is no longer extinguished, but seems to beat as if prompting him to approach it, and as he does so, the booklet seems to slowly separate from the rest of his companions on the shelf, prompting him to pick it up.
When Ron takes it, he feels comforting warmth in his fingers, like if the worn book is meant to convey a feeling of friendship and comfort, like if it is telling him in a mute way that everything will be all right after all. A feeling that brings back memories of the day he got his wand. Not his brother's, but his real wand.
"What do you got for me, buddy?"
There's tenderness in Ron's whisper. Any of those familiar with Hogwarts' worst-kept secret would think that the redhead is pouring out in that act and onto an object so intrinsically linked to the image of his beloved, all the love and all the delicacy that he seems unable to show her as a victim of his own inferiority complex, while unwittingly moving towards Hermione's favourite place in the library.
It's part of the magic that resides in every corner of Hogwarts. It is the magic trace that perhaps a long time ago, someone left to help a heart desperate to find an answer to its silent prayer and, just like it should have been long ago, when the mortified Ronald Weasley opens the book, a magic wind stirs the pages of the book showing him one of them in particular, like the old friend who gives you good advice. That's why Ron reads. He reads with such intensity that his eyes devour the words written centuries ago and as he does so his gaze gets wet. Each line is like a balm on the wounds of his tormented heart while a bright smile appears on his face. Now, Ron knows.
And when he looks up, his heart is not only filled with love for the frizzy-haired know-it-all witch, but with infinite gratitude.
Gratitude for whoever put the book on the shelf at Muggle Studies. Gratitude for the wizard or witch whose essence left such a deep mark on the old magic of the school, that it reacted to his agony and gratitude to the one who wrote the words he has just read. Words that today give him the knowledge of knowing that he is not alone, that he has never been alone. That before him, millions of men and women, wizards and witches, magicians and muggles have experienced the same feelings, confusion and agony as him, with the fortune that some of them have been so daring, so privileged in their intelligence and endowed with the gift as to be able to express them in words, and guided simply by their instinct, Ron look for parchment and quill as he begins to copy furiously. . .