Dedication: To Steve Kloves, who should read this and get a clue.
(A/N) Wild as it may seem, they really do inflict butter on helpless ham-and-cheese sandwiches in the UK. Salad cream is a sort of taste cousin to Miracle Whip.
The two lines of first-years finally put up their wands and blinked at Ron.
He pushed his hands through his hair. He was meant to be teaching them the full Body-Bind, but the lot of them couldn't have been more flexible if he'd been teaching them Jelly-Legs instead. "Listen--" he said. "Watch your pronunciation. You're not getting anything. Do I really have to go over the Wizard Baruffio again?"
"Nooo . . ."
"Right then. Petrificus Totalus. Repeat it."
"Petrificus Totalus," they said in ragged, syncopated chorus.
"Totalus. First syllable."
"Maybe if Harry Potter showed us," said a small blond boy.
Ron felt like socking the little snot square in the mouth. Harry showing it to him wouldn't make him any less a brainless twit. But sometimes, it really did seem to help . . . Ron was sure he wasn't doing anything differently from Harry. Same spells, same words practically. But they really seemed to understand, just because the person showing them had a lightning scar.
Harry the hero, he thought bitterly, then winced. Don't be like that, he told himself as his stomach growled. Hunger. That was it. He was just crabby because supper was several hours behind him. Actually, supper was several hours behind all of them.
Some house-elves would still be up, wouldn't they? Enough to put together a platter of sandwiches. They could take a break. Maybe food would make his first-years a bit cleverer, although in a few cases, a total brain switch might be the only thing that would do that.
He went over the pronunciation until they'd meandered into something like the neighborhood of correct. Then he announced, "I'll be back in a bit. Don't kill each other. Go to Harry if you need help."
He went over to the next group, who were practicing under his best friend's guidance. They were wobbling around, too, but since Harry actually was teaching them Jelly-Legs, this didn't make Ron feel any better. "Harry, I'm borrowing your Invisibility Cloak. Can you have a look at my lot every once in awhile, make sure they're all still alive? They're practicing the Body-Bind."
"Sure. Where--" Harry broke off to yell, "That's good, Duncan, good! Do it again, just like that. Where are you going?" he called after Ron.
"Food," Ron said over his shoulder as he left, pulling the Invisibility Cloak over his head.
He mooched along the corridor, mired in gloom. His first years might as well have had cottage cheese for brains, for all the success he was having. Why was it everyone else seemed to be so good at it? Hermione's lot were throwing each other across the room with vengeful glee. Neville's group had been Tarantallegra-ing around like clock-work soldiers. Hell, even Luna had managed to impart the mystery of the Shield Charm, although her first-years probably thought it had originated in the lost colony of Atlantis.
Was it just him?
Seemed like it.
No surprise there. Nobody expected stupid bumbling Ron Weasley to be any good at this either. Next to Harry's successes, he was always trailing so far behind that he was lost to sight.
But there were lots of people who weren't The Boy Who Lived, or the prize Seeker, or the leader of Dumbledore's Army. It wasn't just Harry's reputation that overshadowed him. There was Hermione, the cleverest witch in all of Hogwarts. He bet the cleverest witch in all of the U.K. Nice for her, but it was awfully lowering studying next to that all of the time. No matter what marks he got, she'd made better on her worst days.
He wasn't whining, he assured himself quickly. He wasn't. He was proud of Harry and Hermione's accomplishments, and proud that they were his friends. They'd done tremendous things together. Thing was, he always felt sort of as if he were along for the ride.
Wasn't there anything about himself he could be proud of? What was he special for?
Seamus could get just about any girl he wanted. (It was a sure sign of mental illness that he wanted Lavender Brown, but that wasn't the point.) Dean was the best artist in the school. Ron couldn't get a girl with a lasso, and he had a hard time drawing a conclusion. And he knew he never could have survived having two parents in St. Mungo's because they'd gone out of their minds from torture. He was even inferior to Neville.
And his brothers! What he wouldn't give to be a bloody orphan some days. Seemed like he could hardly sit through a day without hearing something about Percy or the twins, and not a week went by when some teacher mentioned the oldest two. McGonagall had actually sat him down and bored him half out of his skull the other day telling him how Charlie had made a complete turnaround in the last few weeks of his fifth year. Ron had nearly bitten his tongue through, when he wasn't nodding off.
Even his little sister overshadowed him--how backwards was that? Not only had she survived that perishing diary and the Chamber of Secrets--Ron scowled ferociously at the memory--but she'd excelled at two positions in Quidditch. If Harry hadn't come back to the team, Angelina had told him, she would have taken Ginny as Seeker in a heartbeat.
And what was he?
Big fat zippo.
He punched a wall, and screamed. "Bugger, bugger, bloody buggering bugger!" he swore, cradling his aching hand. The Inivisibility Cloak, dislodged, slid off his head and halfway to the floor before he caught it. "Can't even bloody stinking do that right."
His eternal fate, Ron thought bitterly. The useless good-for-nothing overlooked one. The sixth son, who never got noticed because whatever he did, a brother had done it first. The one in the trio who was neither famous nor brilliant, but just there. The one saying stupid things and being wrong about everything. The one who'd been worse than useless in the Ministry of Magic last year, so addled by the brains that the others'd had to look out for him while they battled Death Eaters.
Was it too much to ask, to get something right for once? To be the one they cheered for?
There was Quidditch, last year, he thought, and smiled. That had been nice, even if it had taken him the whole season to get it together. And then Harry and Hermione had been chasing around the Forbidden Forest, and they'd missed it completely--
His shoulders sagged again.
"Accept it," he said to a painting of a pompous-looking wizard. "You're nothing."
"I beg your pardon," the wizard said haughtily. "I'll have you know I'm a Caravati."
"I don't even sodding know that!"
The next painting along, a smug-looking boy with a stack of books, began in a helpful fashion, "A somewhat minor sixteenth century wizard portraitist--"
"I didn't say I wanted to know," Ron snapped.
"Minor, is it?" said the pompous wizard to the helpful boy. "I'll show you minor--"
"Oi! Stop that! Help!"
Leaving the scuffling portraits behind him, Ron trudged down stairs and through corridors until he reached the picture of the fruit bowl. He was so glum he didn't even smile when it giggled, a sound that normally cheered him up no end because it meant food was forthcoming.
"H'lo?" he called, holding his lit wand up to illuminate the kitchens.
A petrified squeak answered him, and he remembered that he was apparently a floating head. "Sorry," he said hurriedly, yanking the Invisibility Cloak off his shoulders. "Just a student, I promise."
"Oh!" Dobby sank to a bench, clutching his chest. "You is giving me a turn, sir, but you is only Harry Potter's Wheezy, after all."
Ron forced a smile. "Yeah, that's me. Just Wheezy."
"You is wanting a snack?" Dobby jumped up and hurried toward a door.
"Uh--a lot of snacks. The DA is practicing upstairs. Some sandwiches'd go down a treat."
"Of course!" Dobby detoured toward one of the long tables and dove underneath. "Up!" came his muffled voice. "Up! Master Wheezy is needing snacks for the warriors."
Ron blinked at the table. Warriors? It was hard to imagine his cloth-headed first years as warriors, but whatever the house-elves wanted to call them . . .
Elves emerged, rubbing their saucer eyes and yawning. Good job Hermione hadn't come along. She would've had fits trying to send them all back to bed. That, or trying to get little knitted nightshirts on them before they knew what she was about.
Before long, fixings for every possible sandwich combination in the world were spread out along the tables, and an efficient assembly line had been set up. Dobby looked up at him with a big smile. "Is you wanting some minty lamb, Master Wheezy?"
"Sure," Ron said, taking the sandwich. Then, thinking of Hermione's face if she ever saw this scene, he mumbled, "Er--you don't all have to stay up."
"Oh, no, Master Wheezy! We is proud to help."
He frowned at the industrious little hands. It was the kind of crazy thing that house-elves said. Maybe it was Hermione's influence, but suddenly, he wondered-- "Why?"
"Why what, Master Wheezy?" Dobby heaved a ham onto the counter with a thud.
"Why is--uh--are you proud?" Ron shoved a vat of ketchup at an elf assembling a chicken and lettuce sandwich.
Dobby blinked at him. "Because we is supporting your spirits in this darkness, Master Wheezy. Humans is feeling better and happier when they is clean and fed, and they is fighting better and stronger with their spirits up."
Ron swallowed the last of his minty lamb. "It's not--it's not really--very important, is it?"
"Maybe nobody is giving medals for a midnight snack. But it is important," Dobby said, filling a plate with thick slices of ham.
Ron found an empty place and slapped one of the slices of ham together with two kinds of cheese. "Wait, I don't want butter for this one. You got salad cream?" he asked, and was rewarded with his choice of three pots. "I only need one!" He looked at Dobby again. "Don't you ever want to be . . . something else? Someone else? Don't you ever get tired of being what you are?"
Dobby blinked at him. "What else would I be? I is working, Master Wheezy, and I is--" he lowered his voice, because some of the older-looking house-elves were glaring at him, "I is getting paid. I is not needing anything else. This is what house-elves is made to be."
Ron sighed, putting the ham and cheese sandwich on a handy platter. Some people were made to be heros, that was all, he decided. His stupid rotten luck that he was in the rest of the world.
"Wheezy is worried," Dobby said wisely.
"Wheezy is hungry," Ron said, slathering mustard on a slice of ham, rolling it up, and sticking it in his mouth like a cigar. "This teaching thing, it's no joke, I tell you."
"Food will help," Dobby said, cutting a massive turkey into slabs.
"Usually does. Here, leave the mustard off that one. Is there any tomato?"
Ron shoved open the door and batted away a wisp of smoke. It looked like he was just in time. Seamus and Dean were hanging onto to a couple of fourth-years, who were glaring at each other. Dean was saying in a thoroughly exasperated fashion, to the one with a green nose, "Look, it's practice, it's not personal--"
Seamus spotted Ron and his entourage of food-bearing elves. "Is that corned beef?" He dropped his fourth year, who had purple hair, in order to dive for a platter.
The entire room seemed to realize at once that food was in the vicinity, and stampeded.
"Chicken tikka! Brilliant!"
"Hands off that turkey, it's mine!"
"Ooo, liverwurst and cream cheese!"
"You have problems."
"You're eating olive loaf, and I have problems?"
Before the hordes could snatch them, Ron grabbed three sandwiches off the platter he carried and fought his way through to the corner of the room still occupied by his friends. Harry lay flat on his back, his glasses resting on his stomach. Ron nudged him in the ribs. "Hey," he said. "Food."
Without opening his eyes, Harry said, "Just stick it in my mouth."
Ron took him at his word, crouching down to shove the sandwich between his teeth.
His voice muffled by bread and meat, Harry said, "Ham and cheese?"
"Don't worry, no butter."
"Cheers." He bit, and the sandwich flopped down over his face. He managed to lift one hand enough to knock it over onto his chest instead. "Oh, fantastic," he said, swallowing his bite and nudging the sandwich up enough to take another.
Hermione was poring over--what else?--a book. Ron squinted at the title across the top of the page. Teaching Techniques for the Terminally Stupid. Maybe he could borrow it later, without her noticing. "Food," he said.
"I'm sure there'll be some along soon," she mumbled.
He waved a sandwich under her nose. "No, stupid, it's here. Set that down and eat."
She blinked at the sandwich as if she'd never seen one. "Oh, Ron, is that turkey?"
"Uh-huh. And tomato."
She grabbed it and took a huge bite. "Mmm!" She gave him the biggest smile she could manage with her mouth closed. "And no mustard. My hero."
About to bite into his own sandwich, Ron stopped dead. "You mean that?"
"Absolutely," she said, taking another bite.
Harry, revived, managed to sit up. "You've saved a lot of lives here," he told Ron. "I was about to dump my entire class in the lake." He shoved the last bit of ham and cheese into his mouth. "Now I think maybe I'll just give them all spots."
"Oh, really," Hermione said.
"No, I mean it. They were driving me crazy."
Hermione's censorious frown wobbled, and she gave in to a laugh. "Mine too," she admitted.
"So it's not just me?" Ron asked around his roast beef.
"God, no," Ginny said, joining them. "Was I ever that dumb?"
Ron grinned. "That's a dangerous question to be asking me."
She giggled and gave him a hard hug, one-armed because she held a disintegrating chicken, lettuce, and ketchup sandwich in her other hand. "You're my favorite brother, you know that?"
"Hey, it's just a sandwich."
"Not when I was dying of starvation, it's not."
The other teachers joined them. Dobby brought another platter of sandwiches and eager hands snatched it clean before he could even set it on the floor. Laughter rolled as they started sharing stories of mishaps within their separate groups.
Dobby looked very pointedly at Ron before taking the platter away.
Ron looked around the little circle of the original DA members, now the spare-time self-defense teachers to an entire school. They all looked purely exhausted, worry and work carving shadows in their faces that shouldn't be there. But now they were laughing and talking, the cares lifted for a moment.
And . . . I did this, he realized. Something I thought of . . . I'm responsible for this little moment. Well, me and those house-elves.
It wouldn't last, he knew. They'd all be hard at work in a quarter of an hour. It had just been a sandwich break, nothing . . . important.
But maybe they'd work harder . . . or better. Or easier. Or something, all because of this unimportant break.
"Who thought of this?" Dean asked.
"Ron," Harry said right away. "Who else makes sure everybody's fed?"
"Let's hear it for Ron!" Seamus yelped, and got a cheer in return.
Hermione gave him a huge smile, and Ron felt a warm glow start in the pit of his stomach and reach all the way up to his mouth, which curved up into an answering smile.
Maybe they didn't give medals for it. But maybe a medal wasn't that important, really, when you knew what you'd done. Maybe . . . sometimes . . . heroism was as simple as a sandwich.