Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots, and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my editor Athena Hope, as well as my other betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven, Regress, Thanos, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.
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This is a pretty dark story. It isn't especially graphic or anything of the sort, but I would say it has a rather depressing arc and feel. This is by design, but I am well aware it is not for everyone. If you want something light or with a happy ending, you should probably avoid this story.
With that disclaimer out there, away we go.
July 3, 1997
The war had ended three days ago, but the sights from that night still haunted Ron. Every time his eyes closed, his ears were assaulted by the terrible sounds of agonized screaming. For most of the past three days, he was unable to place whose screams he heard. Most of those whom he cared for had been lost far away from him. He had not been there to hear their screams. Ron had imagined their deaths hundreds of times, both in waking, and in sleep. He liked to imagine statues of what those people had once been, dead but defiant — unbroken, undefeated.
Three days ago, Ron had learned the truth.
Death was not noble. Lifeless eyes, cold skin, the way the damned appeared smaller somehow — more like children than warriors. There was nothing heroic about death; but if that was true, Ron shuddered at thinking what that meant for him.
If death was so horrible, what could be said of those who had caused it? Not the ones who struck the final blow, but the ones who stood by and did nothing. Not the ones on the front lines, but the ones in shadow striking unwillingly, their cowardice deadlier than any spell.
Ron feared those truths more than he had ever feared anything before.
The sky was clear and the air was dry; a soft summer breeze rustled tree branches and strands of vivid red hair blew across Ron's forehead. Once, Ron had enjoyed the feeling. It reminded him of flying — soaring through the skies in revolt against the winds and their order. He and his mother always argued over Ron's hair when he was a boy. She had always been…
Ron bit down hard on his lip, hardly noticing the appearance of a sharp, metallic taste as trickles of blood crept their way onto his tongue. Ron hardly noticed anything nowadays and that was the problem. It was not the memories he feared, nor even the pain. It was this — an empty void of apathy that swallowed him whole and was sucking meaning away from all things.
Ron let his lip protrude and watched the droplets fall. One by one they hit the ground; an array of shining rubies against the lush green lawn. A ringing sound filled Ron's ears as fist-sized rubies fell from far above, spraying crowds of students as the hourglasses shattered. That had been the final thing he'd seen before he had joined the fight further above to try and stop their march on the tower.
Ron grunted and shook his head. No matter what he did, memories attacked him. Was this how he paid for his sins? Ron would rather have given anything but this. Why could he not have filled Fred or George's place? Their pain must have been swift. One second the three brothers had stood together, reunited after years apart. The next, a wall had exploded and their corpses were as dead as Ginny, as Hermione, and as so many others who Ron could have saved.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione had conquered impossible things before. The three of them had brought down a troll, toppled the Heir of Slytherin, saved Sirius Black, and even vanquished the Dark Lord. When they worked as one, miracles happened.
All of that luck had run out the day Ron turned traitor.
Nothing miraculous had happened since that day. All that had followed was death, destruction, and pain, yet that first memory still haunted Ron the most. There was no blood, no defeat, no lifeless eyes — just emptiness. Once there had been a sickening pain in the pit of Ron's stomach like someone had stabbed him with a flaming dagger. Ron wished for that knife's return now. Maybe then he would feel something.
"Ugh!" Ron clasped his temples and felt the earth come up to slam against his knees. His shoulders shook as tears stung his eyes and bile choked him. Ron never heard it splash against the grass, nor did he smell its putrid stench. He tried to force his eyes closed, but even more images attacked him and he opened them quickly, suddenly realizing why the wind blew stronger now against his face.
Ron had fallen forward and was now on all fours, peering out over the edge of the cliff overlooking the Black Lake far below. That was where the sick had gone. It was where Ron himself had almost gone, and he found his eyes falling towards that dark water.
What else could he do? His friends? Dead. His family? Dead. The country? Fallen. Anyone who still lived was either an enemy or looked at Ron with open loathing.
If only they knew what he felt was so much worse.
Their faces came to him again. Ron did not fight them. They were inevitable. His demons were like shadows; they were with Ron always, following, watching, judging.
It was best to let them catch him. They would eventually, so why not now? One could not run forever, and Ron had run long enough. He was so sick of running, so hateful towards cowardice. He'd thought this before, yet he'd done nothing and now, Ron realized he had never known how badly he could hate.
Not until now — not until he let the weight of the last three years crash into him like the gusting wind as he forced himself to feel something again; blue eyes watching, but not seeing, the lake below and the dark forest far beyond.
November 3, 1994
Three days it had been since Harry's name emerged from the Goblet of Fire and everything had changed. Ron remembered the excited chatter, the awed breaths, the looks of open adoration. They had brought back other memories. The way his mother looked the day Charlie had won the Quidditch Cup, or the day Bill had graduated, or the day Percy had gotten his prefect's badge.
No one ever looked at Ron like that.
Harry knew it. Hadn't Harry been with him that night long ago when Ron had stared into an ancient mirror? Hadn't Harry been there the night they emerged from the chamber only for his mother to fawn over Ginny and for his father to thank Harry whilst Ron dwelled in a corner, ignored? Hadn't Harry been there that first morning at the Burrow when he had been a hero and Ron a villain?
Merlin, even his own parents chose Harry over him, yet still, the Boy-Who-Lived sought more? Was it because last year's adventure had gone largely unnoticed? No heaping pile of house points, no special trophy, no gleaming sword? Was that it, or was it something else? Did Harry even consider how it would make Ron feel? Did he think himself so much better that Ron warranted no consideration? Did he think himself capable of winning and Ron unworthy of even a chance?
Ron set his jaw as he stepped into the library. Harry had never done any of those things alone. The chess set would have killed him had it not been for Ron, and surely the flying Ford Anglia would not have come to Harry without him. Ron was just as valuable as him, whether Harry knew it or not. When he was ready to admit that, perhaps the two of them could…
Ron faltered at the sight that greeted him. Outside it was dark, but the library was lit well with flickering torches. Ron's eyes wandered involuntarily towards the place he, Harry, and Hermione had spent so much time in; the spot where they had pored over notes on Nicholas Flamel — the spot that was occupied even now.
Ron didn't know why it struck him so hard. Hermione had avoided him ever since his fight with Harry. A part of Ron had hoped she would stay neutral, but most of him knew better.
No one ever picked Ron.
Yet that small part of him had lingered and now it was gone in a burst of fire and pain that the Cruciatus Curse surely couldn't match. Seeing them together… the way Hermione smiled at Harry as he looked at her with that wide-eyed way of his.
Ron felt something inside him snap as his shoulders began to shake. Not just his shoulders — Ron found himself leaning against a bookshelf and breathing heavily, heat rising up his body from the place that fire had started, pooling in his face that now itched like mad as something else made itself known.
They were slow at first — just a subtle wetness at the corners of his eyes — but they slowly came faster, changing his vision from a veil of hazy red to shifty clouds that blurred and stung his eyes.
Ron had been sure he would explode seconds earlier, but now exploding felt beyond him. How was he to rage on legs that barely worked? How was he to explode when everything was folding inwards?
All he could do was turn and flee, leaving the library before either Harry or Hermione noticed him. If Harry thought himself above Ron, then fine, but the last thing Ron was going to do was let the prat see him like this. He would show Harry nothing to prove him right.
February 24, 1995
The Black Lake
Ron's ears rang with the roaring of the crowd — a tumultuous sound like the tumbling of a hundred thunderbolts. The blood in Ron's ears pumped nearly as loudly when he saw the boy coming out of the lake. It wasn't enough for the famous Harry Potter to step onto the shore with the prettiest girl in their year. No, only saving two hostages that included an adolescent veela whose hair shone almost as brightly as the pearly-white snow all around them would do.
Ron's expression twisted into something foul as scarlet-clad figures flew from the stands like streaks of fire to meet Harry as he crested the river's bank. Then there was the older veela fussing over both of them, her face a messy canvas of relief and gratitude.
Ron had been doing a better job of ignoring Harry and the pain he brought ever since the first task. Seeing the school change their views so fast all because Harry out-flew a dragon was ridiculous. It changed nothing — Harry had cheated to claim more fame, and then he completed the first task in the flashiest fashion imaginable.
Ron had sworn that, henceforth, Harry would hold no power over him. His thoughts would be free of him and that would be that. If there was any time for Harry to apologize, that would have been it.
Then the Yule Ball came. Seeing Parvati hanging off that bastard's arm had been difficult to stomach after Ron had failed to secure a date of his own. What hadn't helped was the memory of re-entering the common room one night to see Harry, Hermione, and Ginny laughing at his failed attempt to ask Fleur Delacour to accompany him.
Since the ball, Ron had done well to rid himself of those thoughts but here — looking down at him through the blowing snow hanging in the air like pale, shimmering fog — Ron saw Harry for what he was once more and knew that by this tournament's end, his habits would only worsen.
No tears came this time — but something worse; something hollow and numb. That was when Ron realized he had given up. Any last shreds of hope he'd held for repairing his first true friendship had shattered and Ron was left with only thoughts of what had been and what could have come.
No, he mused, it wouldn't have been good. Nothing good comes from people who don't care.
Ron stood and began climbing down from the bleachers — not to approach his former friend, but to head back up towards the snow-covered castle. The judges would award Harry with some ludicrously high score for playing the hero despite the fact he was the last champion to arrive. It was their way, everyone always chose Harry.
July 15, 1995
Number 12, Grimmauld Place
The world had descended into chaos following the Triwizard Tournament and the alleged return of You-Know-Who. For the second time in a year, Ron's life had been uprooted because of Harry and his claims.
This time, Ron knew not what to think. The Harry he'd known would never have claimed You-Know-Who was back unless he really was. Even at his worst, Harry had cared about fighting that monster and would never have used his name to garner himself any attention. Fail to mention how integral his friends had been in his own conquests, yes, but make them up completely? That seemed a bit too far for even Ron to believe, but Percy was having none of it.
"You all plan to risk your lives over the word of a teenager?" Percy asked their father, eyes narrowed and cheeks flushed red.
Arthur Weasley stood face to face with Percy, grinding his teeth together so hard they must soon crunch under the pressure. Ron was unsure he had ever seen his father so angry.
"Has spent weeks trying to find evidence and has found nothing. Honestly, Father, the entire ministry thinks the old man's lost it."
"Percy, when has Dumbledore ever been wrong about something like this?"
Percy refused to give an inch. "When has he been opposed by the vast majority of a country's population and its entire governing body?"
"Not its entire governing body," their father said softly.
"My mistake, the entire governing body minus the man's sycophants who will believe anything he says without a single shred of evidence."
"And what of all the men Lucius Malfoy has bought? Do you think their word counts for more than mine?"
Ron took a step back. He had never heard his father speak in that low rumble of a voice. There was something dangerous there — something so hard and cold that it would crack stone and freeze fire.
Percy's glare was just as intense. "How many do you think Malfoy's bought, Father? A fifth? A fourth? Let's say a third — which is frankly ridiculous — that still leaves an overwhelming number of people who think Potter and Dumbledore are off their rockers!"
"What's your point, Percy?"
"My point is that the whole thing is just so unbelievable."
"How many of them do you think would believe that your sister opened the Chamber of Secrets?"
The air thickened. Ron's mother had fled the room some time ago, but he saw his brothers' posture stiffen at the reminder of their second year while Ginny's face paled. Sirius sat in the corner, fists clenched so tightly on the arms of his chair that his knuckles were white. Remus sat beside him with a hand on his shoulder, trying to keep him out of the fight like Ron's father had requested. Ron hoped he succeeded. The look in Sirius's eyes was like that first night in the Shrieking Shack when he had broken Ron's leg and sought to kill Pettigrew.
"We have more than one eyewitness," Percy said tersely.
"And one of our eyewitnesses is the same boy who claims he's back," their father spat back. "Honestly, Percy, I don't see what's gotten into you."
"Children change, Father. He was twelve then. Twelve-year-olds usually aren't capable of lies like this. Now he's had two more years. Have you not paid attention this last year? Entering himself in the tournament, pulling the veela girl from the lake — Merlin, have you seen the things Skeeter's uncovered about the boy?"
Arthur's expression hardened. "I have. What about them?"
Percy sighed and exhaled a deep breath as he fussed his hair. "Father, you're willing to take the word of a potentially deranged child against all of his rational detractors?"
Percy stomped his foot. "When are you going to wake up! Merlin, Dad, usually when everyone in the damned country thinks something, there's some truth to it! Open your eyes!" His father just stood there, looking down at Percy with that stone-like expression. "Fine, drag yourself down with him if you want. It's no wonder why this family is in such shambles with your foolishness."
Ron actually jumped. It was the first time he could ever remember his father yelling like that. Percy looked just as surprised, his eyes wide for a moment before they narrowed once more.
"You won't have any problems there," he said, jutting up his chin as he turned to leave. "Anyone else among you lot with any sense can come with me."
Ron's leg twitched, but he hesitated. This was his family. Could he really leave them?
Ron remembered Ginny's laughing face that night in the common room after he'd asked Fleur Delacour to the Yule Ball. He remembered the twins glowering at him for leaving the stands early during the second task. He remembered the sound of his mother's screaming when the twins told her about what had happened this past year.
All of them had chosen Harry — all of them but Percy.
Ron stepped forward without words, ignoring the gasps and hateful stares behind him as he stepped up beside Percy, eyes cast downward, posture stiff.
Ron did not look back towards his father — he just walked alongside Percy until they had cleared the room and the hallway beyond, stepping out into hot summer air and leaving their old lives behind them.
September 1, 1995
The Gryffindor Common Room
Ron's heart raced as he neared the Gryffindor common room. This would be the first time seeing Ginny and the twins since the night he'd fled from Grimmauld Place alongside Percy. His feelings were conflicted. How did Ron feel about his family? It was a question he had been asking himself for the better part of two months, yet still, he had no answer.
It seemed like Ron was unsure of just about everyone nowadays. Percy had heaped Dolores Umbridge with praise, but Ron thought she seemed unpleasant. Perhaps he was just misreading her and Percy was right. Only time would tell, but there was a creeping feeling in the pit of his stomach that Ron disliked any time she spoke in that sweetly simpering voice of hers.
Maybe Ron was just in a poor mood. All of his old bitterness from last year had returned the second he saw Harry with that damned prefect's badge shining on his chest. It had hit Ron like a well-placed Bludgeoning Curse, but he wondered why. Of course Harry was going to be made a prefect — Harry was always chosen, always given the luxuries those around him lacked.
Ron found himself nervous when the Fat Lady's portrait swung inwards and admitted him access to the Gryffindor common room. It was just like Ron remembered, yet so unmistakably different. The walls still rose high and were lined by torches, though their circular nature left much of the room's centre in shadow but for the fire already blazing in its hearth. It all looked the same, but the air was different. Tension hung there like never before; an unspoken divide separating Harry and his followers from the rest of the house.
Of course the bastard was there, his new prefect's badge gleaming in the light of the fire — the same light that made his eyes glow like fine cut emeralds.
Ron wanted to walk past him and up the stairs that led to his dormitory, but he never got there. Two figures stepped in front of him to block his way. Both were shorter than Ron now, but they were stocky and leered up at him, twisted looks of fury and betrayal marring their identical faces.
"You bastard!" hissed Fred. "Mum's been crying about you all summer!"
"We defended you!" spat George. "Then you just stroll into the common room and walk past us like we're just dung or rubbish?"
Ron could feel his heart beat harder as a vein pulsed in his neck and his face flushed with heat. "You know it's not like that!"
"Do we?" asked Fred, glaring. "We thought we knew you. We thought we knew you were better, but then you stabbed us all in the back."
Ron's eyes flashed. "I didn't—"
"Then shut your mouth!"
"Or what, Ron?" asked Fred, crossing his arms. "You might be as big a bitch as Pettigrew, but you don't have some secret—"
Ron lunged for him, unsure what exactly had set him off.
It must have been something to do with being compared to Pettigrew. The mention of his name painted Ron's vision red and he was suddenly slamming against a wall of flesh as he and Fred tumbled, rolling and punching as screams erupted all around them. Ron found himself pinned beneath his heavier brother as Fred slammed a hard fist against Ron's nose. Something shifted under his knuckles and Ron cried out with pain, instinctually reaching up and clawing at Fred's eyes. He too let out a howl and rolled off of Ron as the younger boy surged forward, but a well-placed kick in the ribs from George sent him sprawling, gasping for air as suddenly, his lungs felt flatter than parchment.
That voice brought Ron up short as emotions slammed into him like the wall of an oncoming storm. His face twisted into a sneer he thought Malfoy would have envied as he looked up towards his former friend, who peered down at him and the twins with an odd expression. Ron thought he looked like someone who'd just been punched hard in the gut.
The twins both shouted at the same time just as Ron wiped a thin stream of blood away from his nose with the back of his hand. "He—"
"I don't care what he's done." There was no anger in Harry's voice. Ron couldn't explain it, but the tone reminded him of watching the second task and realizing that he no longer cared. That thought sent something icy cold slithering through Ron's stomach, though he was unsure why.
"I don't care," Harry said in that same, lifeless voice, "you two started it. Now, shove off."
The twins scampered off with curses and hateful glares. Ron just continued lying there, looking up at Harry, who still watched him with an unreadable expression.
"Fuck off!" Ron snarled, scrambling to his feet and spitting a glob of blood-streaked saliva at Harry's feet. "Don't try to be the hero now. That doesn't work on me anymore."
Ron turned and stormed off towards the dorms, but not before he saw the look in Harry's eyes. A shocked look — Ron thought it even looked pained. Why would Harry care now? Why would he be surprised when the Prophet had been pointing out his attitude for months? It was like he really wondered what had happened to their friendship. It made Ron wonder…
No! Harry had spent the better part of a year pleading for attention. That sort of campaign never went well without the ability to act. Yes, it was something Harry must have worked on and it had almost fooled him. Ron scowled, slamming open his dormitory's door and stepping inside. Now he was too angry to sleep. Add that to the list of things Harry had complicated in the last ten months.
October 25, 1995
The Hog's Head
Ron's brothers had told him stories about the Hog's Head, but this was Ron's first time inside. It was as dingy as they said. Grime coated the window so thickly that it appeared stained and obstructed outside light. There were more shadows inside than light, with a scarce few lanterns glowing softly on spindly tables dotted around the room. They looked as bright as sunbursts in here and made Ron blink spots from his eyes any time he looked at them. The room smelled no better than it looked. The scent of alcohol clung to most of its surfaces and cigar smoke had long-since seeped into the building's flimsy walls. Even the furniture creaked as a group of Hogwarts students stood and left, leaving a conflicted Ron alone under his hood with the old barman and his other mysterious patrons.
Ron flicked more dust from his bottle before taking a deep pull of butterbeer, eyes still watching out the grimy windows despite the fact they saw almost nothing.
It appeared that Harry really was going to teach a bunch of students Defence Against the Dark Arts. He had stood there in front of them, speaking passionately about the night he'd supposedly duelled You-Know-Who. Ron had scowled at first, but the longer Harry spoke, the more insistently Ron's chest ached with an odd sensation that had started in the pit of his stomach.
It had taken Ron a moment to realize it was dread — dread at the mere idea that Harry may be right after all. This still screamed like a plea for attention, but Umbridge continued to press him and Harry never wavered. Now this. Why would Harry take nights upon nights out of his life to teach herds of students he'd never known?
Ron's hand trembled badly enough that a slosh of butterbeer spilled, running down his chin and trickling under the collar of his robes, small streams making his skin tingle wherever they touched him.
Ron would have to send a letter to Percy. If anyone could put together the pieces Ron was missing, surely it would be Percy. This could not be — You-Know-Who could not possibly have returned. Ron had seen Harry duel before. He wasn't bad, but there was no way he could have survived that night, no matter what his wand had done.
February 23, 1996
The Great Hall
Whispers spread through the Great Hall like hissing wildfires. Ron had been ignorant at first, but now he knew. It had not taken long to find someone clutching the morning's edition of the Quibbler. The publication usually led to laughter or derision but this morning, the air about the hall was much more serious.
Ron felt numb as he read it. Harry had taken his story public. Not only had he told of duelling You-Know-Who, but he had named prominent members of society as Death Eaters.
This was bold — Ron had never seen Harry take such action before.
Was the irregularity a sign that this was just him changing? That his selfishness had gone too far?
Somehow, Ron didn't think so. There was a line Harry would not cross. Speaking of You-Know-Who's return at all was dangerously close to that line, but this — this was well beyond it.
Several droplets of sweat tumbled from clammy skin. Ron's breathing had become shallow as his eyes went wide. Had he been wrong all this time? No. Not all of it. Wrong about the return of You-Know-Who, but not wrong about fourth year. That was still a heinously selfish act Ron would have a difficult time forgiving. Given Harry's betrayal, it was natural that Ron had been skeptical, but Merlin, this was bad. This was the assumption that had led Ron away from his family, and now, he was being forced to confront the fact he had probably been mistaken.
He breathed in deeply and looked up when he felt someone staring. It was him. Harry's gaze was unwavering, his bright eyes unnerving. The entire time he stared at Ron, he did not blink. Ron held his gaze for only a moment before his eyes fell towards the table. His plate clattered softly when his hand twitched so violently it bumped against its edge.
Ron stood from his place at the table on wobbly legs. The entire room around him turned and contorted; not truly spinning but moving underneath his feet and making a task as simple as walking more difficult than it ought to have been.
Remarkably, he made it out of the Great Hall and to the nearest bathroom before his legs gave out. Ron gritted his teeth when pain lanced through his knees following their collision with the floor. He crawled towards the toilet but never made it. The bile rose too fast and he was too unsteady to stop it. He heaved then more than he had ever heaved before, hoping beyond hope that it would expunge the sickening feelings inside him.
March 8, 1996
The First Floor
Ron's heart thumped inside his chest as he caught sight of that familiar mop of messy black hair up ahead. Ron had spent the past two weeks in constant conflict with himself and today, he sought resolution. Many times, he had tried to convince himself that he had been right all along. Ron had looked for ways to disprove his rising fears about You-Know-Who's return, but he had found nothing. No matter what he thought about Harry or his selfishness last year, Ron could no longer convince himself that Harry was lying about the fast-approaching war. If the Azkaban breakouts hadn't proven that, then his boldness with the Quibbler certainly had.
His strides were longer than Harry's, so the distance between them was closing fast; much too fast for Ron's liking. For all the time he had spent thinking about this confrontation, he still found himself entirely at a loss for what to say. All he knew was that something drove him forward. There was a part of Ron that rebelled against the thought of not doing this. His legs moved almost of their own accord and before he knew it, he was side by side with Harry, who glanced over his shoulder and tensed.
"I… uh, wanted to talk to you." Ron watched Harry's sharp eyes sweep over the corridor before nodding, marching forward and cutting a path straight through the crowd. Ron blinked but followed, quickly realizing that Harry was leading him towards a nearby abandoned classroom.
"Whatever this is about," Harry said when they were inside, "I figured it probably shouldn't be heard by anyone outside." Why did Ron feel as though Harry had some sort of high ground? The Boy-Who-Lived had to tilt his chin upwards to meet Ron's eyes and it had been Harry who set all of this into motion with his selfish disregard. He had no high ground, moral or physical, so why did Ron feel so wrong?
Ron swallowed hard when he suddenly realized Harry was waiting for him to say something. "I believe you about You-Know-Who."
Harry raised an eyebrow, expression unchanged. "Why? You didn't seem so keen last summer."
Ron rubbed furiously at his temples. "Stuff started adding up," he muttered.
"Like, you know… everything you've said. You've kept saying it no matter what's happened." Ron looked away. "Then, there was the Azkaban breakout and the article in the Quibbler."
"And you know that Sirius isn't behind Azkaban like the ministry says and you don't think I'd go as far as lying to the whole country if it wasn't all real?" Ron nodded, still looking anywhere but at Harry. "So what?"
Ron's head snapped back around, finding those emerald eyes — Merlin, Harry had a way of staring people down. "Huh?"
"So what?" Harry asked again. "What does that actually mean?"
Ron blinked. "Uh… that I believe you."
"I got that part, but so what? Does it make a difference?"
Ron flushed as anger surged up within him. This little… "You want people to believe you, right?"
"It isn't about believing me. You walked out on your family over this, didn't you?" Ron suddenly found his anger gone and that looking at Harry had become difficult again. "Does this change that?" Harry asked. "Will you go back?"
"I don't know." Ron was unsure what made him say it, but some part of him couldn't hold his tongue.
"You should." Harry spoke so quietly that Ron almost missed it. "They miss you, Ron. I thought, earlier this year, when your father…" Harry cut off.
"I did see him," Ron said softly, shutting his eyes. "It… was awkward."
"You can still fix that."
Ron felt the muscles at the back of his throat begin to constrict. Ron would not lose control — not in front of the boy who had caused him so much pain. "How?"
"By admitting you were wrong."
"You could do the same, you know." The words had tumbled from Ron's lips before he'd had time to consider.
He expected Harry to rage, but instead, he only tilted his head and peered towards Ron with a strained expression. "I could do what?"
"Admit that you were wrong, leaving me out of however you got into the tournament last year."
"Oh, for the love of… I did not enter that blasted tournament!"
Ron came up short. Rarely had he ever heard Harry curse so ferociously. "Why'd you pull that Delacour girl out of the lake then? If you didn't enter your name for attention—"
"Attention? When the hell has attention ever done me any good? Remember the attention I got in second year?" Ron remembered very well, but he said nothing. "Hell, even last year. What kind of attention did I get? Everyone just thought I was a raving lunatic by the end of it."
"Why'd you do it, then? Why pull the other girl out of the lake?"
"Because Delacour was nowhere to be seen and I thought she'd drown." Harry scowled. "It was stupid. I should have known that song was nonsense."
"That's stupid! Why would you—"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Ron! How many bloody people have I gone around saving? Hermione with you in first year, Ginny in second, Sirius in third," Harry's eyes darkened, "even Pettigrew — I saved Pettigrew from Sirius and Remus and that's why the bastard's free now. Is it really so hard for you to believe that I was just doing what I always do and being a hopeless moron with a hero complex?"
Ron opened his mouth to shout something back but was struck by a terrifying realization.
He had nothing to retort with.
Was that really so hard to believe? Everything Harry said was true, so why did Ron still feel so cold and bitter?
June 7, 1996
The Great Hall
Ron lurched at the sound of screaming. His brain had practically melted due to boredom and heat during the History of Magic exam, but that scream had gotten him onto his feet. It had come from Harry, who appeared to be having some kind of fit.
Yet he looked at him now, fear pounding in his chest. He had been told of Harry's vision the night his father had almost died. Harry had also seen things the summer before last year — things that had heralded the return of You-Know-Who.
Harry having a fit whilst clutching at his scar was worrisome, and Ron could not help but wonder what it meant this time. He glanced down at his own exam paper as Harry was led from the room. Bollocks! There were still so many questions he had left to answer, but his heart was pounding and he had a sinking feeling in his gut that only worsened when he saw how pale Hermione was and how tightly she clutched at her quill.
Ron made a split-second decision right there and then, scribbling 'C' under all of the remaining questions and climbing to his feet. "Done!" he called, drawing a raised eyebrow from his examiner, who stooped down, looked at his exam, and nodded curtly before collecting it.
Ron rushed from the hall and followed Harry, who was shaking off the ancient examiner who was prattling on about how the stress must have gotten to him or some other such nonsense. Ron knew the truth — knew it as certainly as he had ever known anything before. Harry spotted him out of the corner of his eye and for a terrifying heartbeat, Ron thought Harry would slip away, but he didn't. He waited for Ron once the examiner moved back towards the Great Hall, allowing him to fall in step beside the shorter boy.
"You had a vision, didn't you?" Ron asked as they moved deeper into the castle, fleeing from the rays of sunlight coming through open windows and pooling in bright spotlights that warmed the floor beneath their feet. Harry only nodded, still pale as any of the ghosts. "Was it about my dad again? Or Bill, or—"
Ron's step faltered not at the name, but at the sound of Harry's voice. Ron had never heard Harry speak so grimly before, never heard his voice hiss and crack like crumbling bits of volcanic rock.
"What's happened to him?"
"Voldemort has him at the ministry. He's trapped in some room and being tortured. I'm getting my Firebolt and going after him."
The words were like a dagger thrust that pierced Ron's stomach, the guilt crashing through him like the blood out the wound left behind by the knife. It was almost comical to think how badly he'd misjudged Harry. He really did have a nasty hero complex that was going to get him into trouble. This time though, Ron understood. Having almost lost his father months earlier, he could relate to Harry's pain when the closest thing he'd ever had to a father was threatened by his mortal foe.
Ron opened his mouth to say something consoling, but the words caught in his throat. It was like the blood from that thrust had risen into his throat and coated it so thickly that words would not escape him. Any time he tried to speak, his throat seized up.
It didn't take Ron long to understand why. For over a year he had silently ridiculed Harry and now, just when he faced pain the likes of which he may never have known, Ron planned to console him with empty words? Words as empty as that excuse of an apology had been months earlier — words as empty as the falsehoods that Ron had shouted to himself over and over again ever since the start of the blasted tournament.
"I'll go with you."
The words had tumbled from his lips before his mind had time to consider them. What had Ron just agreed to? He hadn't even taken part in Harry's Defence Against the Dark Arts group and they had learned nothing since the year's beginning. Ron was just an average bloke and here he was, volunteering to accompany a fifteen-year-old boy to face the most feared wizard Britain had ever known.
"No," said a voice that could not possibly belong to Harry, "stay here."
Ron felt as though he had been hit in the solar plexus by a speeding bludger. "But—"
"I can't bring you." Harry's face was screwed up in an expression of pain unlike any Ron had ever seen him wear before.
"I want to help!"
Harry looked back at him and Ron recoiled. He wished Harry just would have yelled at him or called him a traitor. That dead, uncaring look in those emerald green eyes was a thousand times more painful than any outburst could have been.
"Where were you the last year and a half?" Ron just looked down at the floor; both of them knew he had no answer. "I'm going alone," Harry went on, "but if I wasn't, I would be taking people I knew I could trust — people who have stuck with me and people who have learned." Ron felt Harry's gaze leave him and looked up. The Boy-Who-Lived had looked down at the floor, but only for a moment. His eyes refocused on Ron as his face set in a hard line of determination. "Sorry, Ron, but you're none of those things. Times have changed."
He turned from Ron and walked away down the corridor, his footsteps echoing in Ron's ears louder than earth-shaking explosions. Ron wanted to yell, to rage, to chase after him, to do so many things, but he knew they would all be for naught. Harry had made his decision and made it for good reason — there would be nothing Ron could do to change his mind and why should there be? Ron deserved this. He hated it, but he deserved it.
June 8, 1996
The Black Lake
Ron hardly noticed where his feet carried him. He had lost track after leaving the castle. He knew where to go and he trusted his feet to carry him there; trusted in the sound of grass rustling under his feet, in the gentle sloping sensation of the ground he walked upon. All Ron worried about was falling. His legs felt numb beneath him. They were moving, but they felt detached from him. It felt like he was floating along and observing, not the one moving with well-practiced steps.
The day had begun with an impossibility. Ron had known something was wrong when Professor Flitwick himself woke him that morning, but never could Ron have imagined how wrong things were.
His sister was dead, as was his former best friend.
All Flitwick told Ron was that they had died at the Ministry of Magic. That was all he needed to tell Ron. The rest was easily pieced together — they had run off with Harry and gotten themselves killed chasing after Sirius Black; a man they hardly knew.
Ron would have expected burning rage had he known this day would come. Storming up to Harry and punching a hole through the git's face would have been apt, but Ron had felt no urge to lash out when Flitwick had broken the news earlier that day.
Ron had just felt numb. It was like sitting on the bleachers and watching Harry pull himself from the Black Lake all over again, shaking streams of icy water from his jet-black hair as the crowd flanked around him acted like that dripping water was molten gold.
The feelings were the same, but Ron knew the reasons were different. Back then, he had been resigned. Months had passed during which he'd grown accustomed to how he felt — that morning had only been the day Ron realized he had grown out of the quiet loathing and no longer cared about the boy he had once called his best friend. This was different. No matter what had happened in the last year and a half, Ron knew he cared about Ginny. That had never been in question. What he hadn't known was how deeply he still cared for Hermione, but he knew it now.
No, the numbness was not born from any sense of uncaring, but from a suffocating sense of disbelief that was too heavy for Ron to shake. It fought his every attempt like the rushing winds forming a wall against his oncoming surge as his broom carried him through the skies.
His sister could not possibly be dead; it just made no sense. Not even Tom Riddle had been able to kill her. Why would that have changed now? And Hermione? The brilliant muggleborn who had survived mountain trolls, cursed chess sets, the stare of a basilisk, and even leaps back through time. How was it that something as simple as a stray spell during a magical conflict could be what felled her?
Deep inside, Ron thought he knew, but he shoved that truth away. It was the only thing he thought capable of puncturing the detached air around him. This feeling terrified Ron, but not as much as how he would feel if he pondered that truth. No, there had to be other answers — better ones that caused him less pain.
Ron took in a long breath and it was like a blurry haze cleared before his eyes to reveal where his feet had carried him. Not that there had been any doubt. The Black Lake loomed ahead. Its still surface had been painted crimson as it reflected the blood-streaked sky, its colouring broken only by the lone isle of light that remained as the sun tumbled from the heavens.
A lone figure stood on the river's bank just like Ron knew he would. This had been a favourite brooding place of his long ago and Ron had correctly guessed that the habit remained unbroken. The figure looked somehow otherworldly painted against that crimson sky and setting sun, his black robes billowing as a soft breeze blew off the water's surface.
"How did they die?"
Ron watched the figure stiffen and could imagine his heartbeat quicken, imagine the pain that washed over him at the question. Ron was unsure he would have the courage to turn if he was in this boy's place, but Ron had never claimed this boy lacked courage.
Harry turned and met his gaze. Was it just Ron's imagination, or did those usually bright eyes of his appear dimmer? "At the ministry."
There was a tension with which Harry spoke that boiled Ron's blood. He wasn't sure why, but something about this felt very wrong. "I know that; Flitwick told me."
"Then why are you asking me?" Strained was the only way Ron could describe that expression. It was blank, but not like the still water. It was impassive like the side of a mountain right before an avalanche. Ron could see the strain in every muscle and he knew the explosion was coming.
Yet still, he did not back away. "That's just where they died. I want to know how. You owe me that much!"
Ron had not planned for his voice to rise, but it had and now, he expected Harry to reject him — to turn him away or lash out and throw Ron's betrayal back in his face.
Harry did no such thing. Ron supposed enough had been kept from him in his life that he knew how that felt. It appeared that there was still a shred of respect for Ron there — enough to not leave him stumbling in agony through the darkness.
"They died fighting. Dolohov got Hermione in the chest with some kind of purple spell I've never seen before." Harry scowled down towards the lake like it was what had killed her. "We couldn't get her help in time." He hesitated. "I didn't see Ginny die. We… got separated."
The numbness persisted, grounding him like thick iron chains, but something fought against it. It writhed and lashed against the chains; they creaked and wavered, but did not break. "You got him out though, right?"
Harry's eyes had fallen towards the ground at his feet, but they snapped up to meet Ron's again. "What?"
"You told me that Sirius was at the ministry, being tortured by You-Know-Who. That was why you all rushed off, wasn't it?" Something about Harry's expression made beads of sweat form on Ron's forehead as an itchy flush touched his cheeks. If it was unpleasant for Ron, it must have been doubly so for Harry, who looked like he'd just had a Hungarian Horntail dropped on his toe.
"Sirius wasn't there. Voldemort tricked me; he sent me a false vision to lure me out of the castle."
A tremor ran up Ron's spine. No, he thought, calm… calm! "So… what? What were you fighting for?"
"To escape, but also to keep something from the Death Eaters. They were after a prophecy about Voldemort and I. That was why he lured me there — so they could steal it and hear what it said."
"And they didn't hear it, did they?" Harry shook his head. "But you did, right? You and Dumbledore? You know how to beat You-Know-Who now, don't you? That's what they died for, right?"
If Harry's expression had looked torn earlier, now his face must be ready to split in two. It was like every fibre of his being was struggling against its brothers and sisters in a wild bid for freedom. Every blink of his eye looked agonizing, every shift of his shoulders unimaginably painful.
"We didn't, no. It was… destroyed."
Destroyed — just like Ginny and Hermione. Just like Ron himself a year and a half earlier. Harry hadn't cared then — not enough to come to Ron and make him see the truth. And not enough now — not enough to have convinced Ginny and Hermione not to accompany him on that Merlin-forsaken suicide mission. Ginny had only been a fourth year — a bloody fourth year!
Four things destroyed by Harry's ambivalence — their friendship, the prophecy, and two innocent lives.
The tremors returned, but this time, they were more insistent. Ron tried to fight them, but it was to no avail. His shoulders were shaking and he'd clenched his fists so tightly that he felt his nails pierce the skin of his palms. His breaths came in great, heaving rasps and as he looked up towards his former friend, Ron could utter only three words as he fled.
"I hate you."
June 18, 1996
The Forbidden Forest
Ron felt weightless for the first time in weeks while soaring through the sky, but that euphoria ended when he landed in a clearing situated somewhere in the midst of the Forbidden Forest. What exactly compelled him to come here, Ron didn't know. Privacy, he supposed; the idea of being around people still somehow made him nauseous.
Yet people were exactly what he needed to think about. Ron had made a choice last summer as to which people he would support and keep near him. Over the past months, Ron had watched the reasons that choice was made crumble away like weathered stone. Every pebble that splintered took a piece of Ron with it. Now, he wondered who he was. Certainly not the boy he had been at the year's beginning and by Merlin, Ron doubted he would recognize the version of himself who had attended the Quidditch World Cup with Harry and Hermione.
Oh, Merlin, Hermione…
Could Ron have saved her if he was there? What all would have changed? Would it be him who was dead in her place? Once, that thought would have filled Ron to the brim with a cold sort of terror that pulled tightly at the muscles of his throat, but now, he felt only wonder. Would he have preferred that? Did he wish it had been him in Hermione's place? The people around him must. So much less pain and one fewer reminder of the depths their species could sink to.
No! None of this was what he had come here to ponder.
Almost a year ago, Ron had chosen to side with Percy and walk out on the rest of his family. Now he knew that everything he had believed when making that decision had been untrue and was faced with a dilemma.
The right thing to do was to return home. Percy was a man of logic and reasoning; he, of all people, would understand Ron's sudden change of heart if he took the time to explain.
But Percy was not the one Ron worried about.
Ron dreaded that meeting — dreaded the look in his father's eyes, the words from his mother's lips, the resentment seeping from the twins' every pore.
Ron shut his eyes tight and breathed out. Could he face it? Long ago, he had stood tall against chess pieces made from marble and been prepared to face down the Heir of Slytherin and his vaunted monster. Years ago, Ron would have followed his friends into battle against You-Know-Who himself, but this was not then and Ron was not the person he had once been.
Ron felt the tears building behind his eyes and ground his jaw with such force his teeth scraped together. This had happened far too often these past few weeks, but he couldn't stop it. Ron really had changed — if there had been any doubt of that, it was gone now — for he suddenly realized with a horrible stab of guilt and a wave of self-loathing that he could not, in fact, face his estranged family. Ron no longer had the strength for such things — lately, Ron was beginning to wonder exactly what he did have the strength for.
August 1, 1996
Percy Weasley's Flat
"Light shopping list this year," Percy mused, scanning over Ron's Hogwarts letter.
Ron flushed. "I didn't take many classes," he said, refusing to look up and meet his brother's eyes.
"Didn't you once want to be an auror?" Percy asked. "I can remember you asking Father for stories about Moody when you were a kid."
"I'm not good enough," Ron muttered, stabbing viciously at a piece of bacon. "Besides, I needed an O in Potions because Snape's a git."
He saw Percy's lips thin from the corner of his eye, but the older Weasley made no comment. "I've heard rumours that Snape isn't going to be teaching Potions this year."
Ron looked up, hope fluttering inside his chest for the first time in weeks; hope that perhaps, after so long, he and the rest of Hogwarts may be free of the black-robed tyrant. "Really?"
"That's what people are saying. Dumbledore still hasn't spoken with the new minister directly, so Merlin only knows if it's true." He shrugged. "If it is, maybe you won't need an O to continue with Potions. I always thought that was an outrageous expectation. And then the ministry wonders why we have so few auror recruits…" Percy trailed off, shaking his head. "You should go for it."
Ron blinked. "Go for what?"
"The standard one needs to become an auror. The way this war is shaping up, they may take them whether they achieve spectacularly in Potions or not. Those sorts of classes provide integral skills that will put you far above the average witch or wizard."
Far above the average witch or wizard… oh, if Percy only knew what Ron had done. If he only knew the things his actions had caused. Ron supposed he did know, but he doubted Percy thought the same way Ron did, doubted he saw everything in such a dim yet clear light. The idea of Ron standing above anyone was so ludicrous, he might have laughed. The only people Ron stood above were Hermione and Ginny — who he may well have cast down with the help of Harry and his recklessness.
Percy was looking at him expectantly and Ron realized he must have missed something. "Uh, sorry, Perce, can you say that again?"
"I asked what you thought," Percy said with a frown. "Are you up for it?"
The answer was no. How could Ron achieve such lofty standards with everything else on his mind? He opened his mouth to say as much, but paused. There was a glimmer of hope in Percy's eyes. Ron's brother was far from blind — he had seen what was going on this past year and what it had done to Ron. At that moment, Ron realized Percy wanted him to accept. He thought it was a second chance of sorts and Ron could do little more than nod, watching the grin alight on Percy's face. He had failed enough people already; he could at least try to do right by the one who had stuck with him through thick and thin.
Percy beamed. "That's excellent, Ron! I bet I can arrange for you to meet with an auror. Perhaps even attend him on a scouting expedition when you go and fetch your school things. Yes, that should be possible with the amount of them deployed there nowadays."
Ron just sat back and let Percy ramble. He was one of the smartest people Ron knew, but he was foolish if he thought Ron could do this.
But… if that was true, why did Ron feel something like excitement stir restlessly in the pit of his stomach? He fought against a grimace and tried to force it down. It was so much easier not to feel, so much easier to pretend that nothing mattered anymore.
Yet the feeling persisted and Ron wondered with mounting dread what he would ruin this year.
October 12, 1996
Ron grimaced when he heard a familiar voice nearby. Harry was walking with Dean and Seamus somewhere close behind him. Ron had made a concerted effort to avoid Harry so far this year. Any time he looked at him… it was just painful. Ron had never been subjected to the Cruciatus Curse, but he could scarcely imagine it being worse than the feelings that arose any time he looked at Harry. All of the memories rushing back in a single flood, all of the pain crashing into him despite his best efforts to keep it at bay. When looking at Harry, even Ron's renewed drive to succeed in impressing Percy and becoming an auror faded to the background…
Stupid! He couldn't think about Harry — why was he thinking about Harry? That had never landed him anywhere positive in the past and it wouldn't now. Ron just had to keep his eyes forward, and then…
His feet left the ground as a terrible scream tore through the wall of wind like a knife through butter. Ron's ears rang as he moved, hardly thinking about what he was doing as he ran up to Katie Bell — who was screaming whilst suspended, crucified in the air with terror in her eyes. Others had taken hold of her, too, and only when whatever curse she was under appeared to fade did she fall.
Ron couldn't look at her. His heart raced. Was that the sound Ginny had made right before dying? Or Hermione?
No! No more thinking about them!
Ron returned his attention to the present and saw something shining on the ground. It looked incredibly bright against the otherwise bleak backdrop and Ron's hand was reaching for it when someone else grabbed his wrist.
Ron jerked his head around and met shining green eyes with a painful jolt. "Don't touch it," said Harry. "That might be what cursed her."
Ron nodded and stepped slowly back, allowing Harry to scoop up the necklace in a pouch of fabric.
Wait! That necklace!
Ron's eyes bulged as he turned towards Harry and opened his mouth, but the Boy-Who-Lived was already sprinting away and calling for help, leaving Ron behind, the recollection of a memory dying on his lips.
October 18, 1996
The Potions Classroom
That was how long it had taken Ron to work up the courage to confront Harry about what he had seen over the summer, and even that was a half-truth. That pain was just too much to bear. Ron knew it would plunge him back into that uncaring pit — a dark, inescapable void he vowed never to sink into again.
But there was another way. He hadn't forgotten about Hermione's stunt to steal ingredients in second year, and no matter how much his twin brothers must despise him, they were still all too willing to sell him their magic fireworks.
One loud bang and a smoking cauldron later, Ron crept up behind Harry and placed a single sheet of parchment inside his book, frowning as he did so. It appeared Harry had decided to actually take notes this year and use the book to do it. Elsewise it had been like that when he'd gotten it, for some reason. Both of them had second-hand textbooks, but there was no writing in Ron's.
Ron shook himself as he moved back to his desk. None of it mattered. Nothing Harry did or didn't do mattered unless it pertained to the war and getting revenge on those who had taken Ginny and Hermione. If Harry really was the Chosen One, he would need the information Ron knew. Harry and Dumbledore, for neither of them had been shadowing an auror when Draco Malfoy inquired about mysterious items at a notorious shop that displayed the very necklace responsible for Katie Bell's accident.
June 30, 1997
The Entrance Hall
With almost a year of hindsight under his belt, Ron could confidently say that Percy had saved his life. There had been nothing inside him that morning Percy had urged him to become an auror. Ron dreaded that emptiness now — the thought of it terrified him more than anything else.
Ron had been reluctant at first. He could remember the horrible sense of dread; the sense that, no matter what he did, it was going to lead to someone's ruin. That was all the past two years of his life had been. Dark, dreary thoughts punctuated every now and then by a major loss and psychological ruin.
This year had mercifully been different.
It had taken some time, but Ron had eventually cleared his thoughts and fallen head-first into his pursuit of excellence. Never would he achieve Hermione's standards of brilliance, but for the first time in more than two years, he could finally look in the mirror and… well, certainly not like what he saw, but avoid falling into a treacherous spiral. Perhaps his fortune had finally turned around. It had been more than a year since the loss of his little sister and former friend. Maybe whatever curse Ron had borne had been broken or else ran its course.
That voice still filled him with dread, especially now. It had been the start of all of this — the loss, the pain, the curse, the change. None of it would have happened without the owner of that voice. Ron still tried not to think about Harry. He didn't hate him, not really. It had taken months for Ron to realize that it was himself he hated, but there was still a bitter sense of resentment there and the dread… Merlin, the dread was something fierce, like rolling storm clouds that boomed louder and flashed brighter the closer they drew.
"What?" He hadn't meant for his voice to come out so… empty.
No! No going back there — grow up!
"I'm leaving the castle with Dumbledore."
Ron blinked. This was the sort of thing Harry might have told him whilst the trio was still intact, but now? "Uh… okay?"
His former friend flicked his wand. If anything happened, Ron couldn't tell. Still, the boy glanced from side to side before leaning in close and speaking in a hurried whisper. "I think something's going to happen tonight while we're gone. Dumbledore's confident about his security, but… I have a bad feeling. The feeling that something is awful and no one realizes it."
A chill crept its way up Ron's spine, but he did his best to fight it down. The last time Harry had a feeling like this had been the night Quirrell had tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone. Hell, hadn't last year been similar in a way? Oh, Merlin, if this was anything like last year…
No! It won't be! Not this time! It's at Hogwarts — you're at Hogwarts!
Harry was already moving away, but Ron reached out and snatched his wrist. Hairs stood up on the back of his neck at the touch. It was like his body had grown reproachful of the mere concept of Harry. "Why are you telling me this?"
Harry's steps faltered and he paused, looking back over his shoulder with a look in his eyes that was impossible to place. "I owe you that much," was all he said before sliding from Ron's grip and moving away.
Ron watched him with that same feeling of dread building in the pit of his stomach. Before, this had always led him to destruction. It had ruled Ron and brought with it that empty pit of nothingness and despair.
Ron could not allow that — would not allow that. Whatever happened tonight, Ron would be here to face it and this time, that dread would not rule him, no matter what came with it.
Ron had never imagined what would follow that dread. He ought to have — he had even reminisced about the damned Dark Lord trying to gain power again the last time Harry had felt like he had tonight — but this was worse than Ron had ever imagined.
Death Eaters had broken into Hogwarts and were overrunning the castle, whose best defence was the unprepared professors, a group of teenagers tutored by Harry, and… whatever the hell Ron was.
He had promised himself dread would not rule him. It had always led to inaction, which had led to things far worse even than that. Tonight would be different. Ron had sworn that before the sound of Harry's footsteps had faded, but now, he wondered whether his actions might get him killed as he ducked another jet of bright green light.
"The tower!" someone screamed. "They're trying to get to the tower!"
Ron raised his wand and fired a curse towards the blond brute of a man who appeared to be causing the most damage. He batted it away easily. Ron expected him to flee with his fellows towards the tower, but instead, he turned to face Ron.
Ron stood his ground, surprised at the lack of fear. There was something different burning in his chest. A dull resolve that flowed out from him in waves so powerful that even his assailant seemed to feel it.
For a split-second, the man hesitated and Ron lunged forward, snarling with two years' worth of pent-up fury as he unleashed every spell he knew against his hulking opponent, who scrambled back. Ron thought for a fleeting moment that he had him. His large feet stumbled over a fallen corpse and Ron's Cutting Curse took him near the chest, spraying a thin stream of blood out from where his clothing had torn. The Death Eater's eyes grew wide as Ron pressed his advantage, wand raised with the faces of Ginny and Hermione burning behind his eyes with the force of a thousand suns.
It was like the spell plucked Ron from mid-air. He'd had time only to hear the incantation shouted behind him before it hit him.
Pain — horrible pain, unimaginable pain, pain worse than anything Ron had ever… no, that was wrong.
Ron had felt pain worse than this before! This was nothing compared to the emptiness that had almost ruined him, nothing against the loss of his sister and his friends.
Ron's knees trembled and his head spun but slowly, he forced his way to his feet, rasping breaths ripping free from his lungs as he did. His vision blurred as the room spun around him, but he thought he saw three faces under black hoods pale as figures moved backwards, holding their wands out wardingly towards Ron, who was rising like a once-banished god with vengeance in his eyes.
Ron reached for his wand with a trembling hand and forced his arm to rise, twitching and convulsing, muscles rippling beneath the skin like restless maggots wriggling free of something rotten, but still the spell lit his wand, taking the shocked man Ron had been duelling in the chest and causing him to collapse. The other two turned and ran. Ron tried to aim, but his knees gave out again and slammed against the stone floor beneath them. The curse had been lifted but so too had the unearthly strength that had filled him as he fought against magic so heinous it was deemed unforgivable.
Ron could hear footsteps coming towards him from both sides. He tried to summon that strength again, but couldn't. It had fled him, just like he'd fled his family. Just like him, he thought it was unlikely ever to return. How ironic it was that he'd fought off three Death Eaters and an unforgivable curse, only to be killed whilst broken and defenceless.
"Ron! Oh, Merlin, don't be dead. Please don't be dead!"
Ron recognized that voice, but its presence made no sense. That voice should be at the ministry or lounging in a modest flat just west of London.
Ron heard not one, but three relieved exhales. "Thank Merlin," Percy said, crouching before Ron, whose eyes had barely opened before going wide with shock.
Percy knelt before him, as he'd known from the voice, but two figures lurked behind him. Two identical figures with ashen faces but relieved expressions.
"Fred? George? What are you doing here?"
"Fighting," said Fred, face hardening.
"Mind you," said George, wiping at his eyes for some reason and fighting down a flush of something else. Ron had seen it before in his mother the day Bill had graduated from Hogwarts, the day Percy had gotten his prefect's badge… Merlin! That flush was pride! "If you plan to keep fighting like that, I'm not sure we'll be needed."
Every muscle in Ron's body screamed, but somehow, he stood to his feet, forcing down the pain the same way he'd driven back the empty void all those months ago. "How?" he asked, voice hoarse.
"How what?" Fred asked, expression oddly strained.
"How can you still talk to me after I… I…"
"Oh, can it!" Fred stepped forward and pulled Ron into a hug so tight he thought his aching muscles would fold. Somehow, Ron found the pain absent. Something else swelled to take its place — something he had not felt in a very long time.
"Forget all of that," said George, stepping forward and adding his own body to the embrace. "None of that bullshit matters now. We're here and fighting! That's all that matt—"
Weightlessness gripped Ron as a horrible ringing sensation filled his ears. Something warm and sticky made pulling his face away from the floor difficult. It was blood, but it was… dry? The sound of fighting too sounded more distant, like it had moved far away and like there were fewer combatants now. But how was that possible? Ron had been fighting. He had been tortured, then… somehow fought it before his family — yes, his family — had come to save him!
Ron forced himself up onto his knees with incredible difficulty. Everything raced around him like the blurring shapes he saw whilst travelling via portkey, but Ron blinked several times and willed his vision to still.
He wished he hadn't.
The fighting had moved on from this corridor, but not before leaving destruction in its wake. One of the walls had been torn apart by what must have been some kind of explosion. Bits of rubble were strewn here and there, broken just like the three contorted bodies lying motionless in the corridor's centre.
Two of them were face up and missing an arm each. The explosion must have torn the limbs free whilst still stuck in an embrace. Their eyes were lifeless and their skin was pale — Ron must have been unconscious for some time.
Ron thought he had known pain before, but it was nothing to this. White-hot, burning so furiously that the walls of his stomach must be melting. Soon it would spill forth and torch the castle, scorch the very earth and purge it of those who had wrought such horrors.
It all died when Ron saw the third body — impaled through the chest by a blood-soaked slab of stone that had been painted red as effectively as the Black Lake the night Ron confessed false hatred for Harry.
A moment earlier, Ron would have given up the pain for anything. Now he wanted it back. As he looked down at the broken body of the one who had saved him from the void before, Ron felt himself tumbling downwards with terrible speed as an animalistic cry left his lips and he let himself slump back to the floor.
Back in the present…
Ron screamed again as the memories crashed against him, but not because of the pain or hate. He had tried to seize that last emotion, but it was gone faster than that embrace he had shared with his now-lost brothers. Gone like any good thing Ron had ever had, gone like the renewed hope he had revelled in these past eleven months.
He stood on legs that no longer shook as something inside him finally snapped. Or perhaps that was not the right word. Perhaps it righted itself as now, looking over that still water far below, Ron felt at ease for the first time in three days. He knew it wouldn't last long.
It never lasted long and there was only one way to change that.
With a last deep breath and with the faces of Ginny, Hermione, the twins, and Percy alight behind his eyes, Ron stepped out into open air, feeling that fire reignite one last time as he fell.
This one-shot really sprung up from reviews on one of my other stories — Harry Potter and the Perversion of Purity. Many people on this site are very fond of pointing out every flaw they believe Ron has and how he could never be anyone of importance any time an author tries to shine a positive light upon him. This happened to me often early in that story because I'm fairly kind to Ron — mostly because I really don't believe in bashing.
Those reviews did get me thinking, though. I always try to understand as many different perspectives about a character as I can because I think it only helps the writing process. Somewhere in that process, I began contemplating what exactly a realistic story that paints Ron in such a harsh light would look like. Note the word realistic. I wasn't about to make him a total caricature of himself, nor was I going to completely twist events in a way that shattered any suspension of disbelief. I really began to wonder if a story like this could work, and from that, Raging Fire was born.
Before I sign off, I would like to thank my editor, Athena Hope. This was one of the more difficult things I've written and without her assistance, I'm not sure it would ever have been finished.
Please read and review.