Title: Evening Shadows
Author: kaly (razrbkr@juno.com)
Homepage: the shadowland - kalynn's fan fiction:
XFiles, Profiler, Star Wars: TPM, Hercules, Young Hercules, Harry Potter, Xmen. http://www.geocities.com/kalyw
Rating: PG
Archive: none.
Classification: short story, angst
Warnings: angst
Spoilers: HP1
Timeframe: fifth year
Summary: Harry has a nightmare about what happened on McGonagall's giant chess-set during first year.

Feedback: please

Disclaimer: I'm not JKR, and she likes it that way I'm sure.


Evening Shadows


It was dark. That was the first thing he noticed. The second were the stone figures that towered over him. Not just him. Them. He looked around, the world bending and warping slowly as he did so. It felt as if he were underwater. Hermione was to his right. Turning again, he found Ron standing to his left. He blinked, trying to focus on surroundings that kept blurring and distorting.

He heard his own voice, mixed with Hermione's cry out: "NO!" It was as if he was watching from a distance, but yet painfully close to what was happening.

Suddenly he knew where he was. When he was. His chest felt tight, he couldn't breathe. It was McGonagall's chess set. In a few minutes he would face Quirrell. And Voldemort. But before that... His attention snapped back to Ron.

He heard the other boy ask, "Ready?"

Time slowed then. It gave him the chance to see the freckles standing out against Ron's pale cheeks, the willingness to do what had to be done. Harry shook his head, knowing what was coming and wanting to deny it. Opening his mouth, he tried to yell, but nothing came out.

"Don't hang around once you've won." Determination all but poured off of Ron.

No. No, no, no. The mantra repeated in his head. Not again. Please not again.

He tried to move, but couldn't. Rooted to his square on the board, Harry watched helplessly as Ron stepped forward and the white queen advanced. The last thing he saw was his closest friend being hit across the face and flying off the board. All of the air rushed out of his chest, he felt his whole body shaking with fear.

The red-haired boy lay still, deathly still. Cold dread settled in Harry's stomach like a stone. Something was wrong. Something was different -- changed. He couldn't blink, couldn't catch his breath.

Everything in him was drawn to one thing, one breath in time. That was it. Breath. Ron wasn't breathing. "Ron..." he whispered, not able to tear his eyes from the bloodied face.

"No, no, no, no." Shaking his head from side to side, Harry felt as if the room was shrinking in on him. The stone chessmen were gone. Hermione was no longer at his side. The only thing that remained was the body of his best friend, and an accusing crimson stain spreading beneath him.

"No!" He yelled, more a hoarse cry than anything. Fighting invisible hands that pressed against his shoulders, he struggled to reach his fallen friend. However, no matter how hard he battled against the unseen force, he was kept in place. Kept away from Ron.

He had to get to Ron, had to. Thrashing against whatever held him, he couldn't tear his gaze from his friend. In the meantime, Ron had become even paler. Harry's breath came in shuddering sobs, tears slipping free slowly, tracing down his cheeks almost unnoticed.

"Ron!" He cried into the darkness, but received only the echo of his own cry in reply.

Eventually his legs gave out and he sunk to his knees on the floor. It was his fault. If it wasn't for him, none of them would have ever tried to find the Sorcerer's stone in the first place. Ron wouldn't have been forced to sacrifice himself. He wouldn't have fallen. More tears prickled his eyes. He wouldn't be dead...

"Harry?"

The voice cut through the silence, questioning and familiar. He froze, Ron hadn't moved. Rather, he lay in the increasing pool of red. How could he hear him? Harry pressed his eyes closed and rubbed at them with balled hands. What was going on?

The sensation of someone shaking him followed the voice. "Harry. Wake up."

With a gasp, he opened his eyes. It wasn't the cold, dark chessboard that he saw. He sat up quickly in his bed. His bed. The dormitory. Ron. Ghosting images flickered across the backs of his eyelids as he struggled to catch his breath.

Harry's eyes quickly searched the person who had woken him. He didn't need his glasses to recognize who it was. Ron. It was Ron. He was okay. Not hurt. Not dead. He was okay.

The chess set was years past, not quite four years previous to be exact. But knowing that didn't make the images any less real, any less frightening. Suddenly overwhelmed with relief, he was unable to tear his gaze from Ron's face. Ron looked worried. Again. Like he had almost every time Harry did something particularly dense.

Like he had the first time they were alone in the infirmary after that final encounter with Quirrell.

Without thinking, Harry lurched forward and wrapped his arms around his friend's waist. Burying his face in the crook of Ron's neck, he closed his eyes. He was shaking and knew Ron could feel it, but he didn't care. Without hesitation, the other boy wrapped his arms around Harry's shoulders, returning the embrace.

"It's okay. It was just a dream," Ron said after a moment of bewildered silence.

Harry nodded, but didn't release his hold. If anything he held on more tightly. The images -- feelings -- from his dream had begun to fade, but sparked with the contact. He shook his head in denial of what his mind continued to show him -- Ron, broken and bleeding.

His breathing almost under control, Harry managed a deep, shuddering breath. "I know."

Ron pulled back just far enough so that he could see the other boy's face. His hands were still tangled in Ron's pajama top, unwilling to let go of the connection. Even though most of him knew that Ron was fine, safe, another part of him needed the reassurance.

"Want to talk about it?"

Shaking his head, Harry refused to meet his friend's eyes. "No." The word was so light, that had there been any noise in the room other than the quite breathing of the other boys, Harry doubted Ron would have heard it.

"Are you sure? You're still shaking." Ron was quiet until Harry looked at him. It was far from the first night that he had woken his best friend with his nightmares. Harry knew that his friend hated knowing that he was suffering. He was sure of it, because he felt the same way about Ron.

Harry rested his forehead on Ron's shoulder, trying to force the images from his mind. For the moment it was enough that Ron was safe. "It's not the first time I've had this dream. It was just... different this time."

He sniffed, blinking away the moisture that was still in his eyes from before. After so long, he still didn't understand why that one moment haunted him. Even the memory of the merpeople and the tournament didn't bring such nightmares.

Clearing his throat, Harry shook his head. "I'll be okay. Go back to sleep." His actions didn't match his words, however, as he failed to let go of his friend.

"Please tell me." His voice was pleading, Ron didn't move. He remained kneeling next to Harry's bed. After Harry failed to reply, he asked the same question that he always did when Harry had a nightmare. "Was it You-Know-Who again?" Surprise showed on Ron's face when Harry shook his head silently. "Then what?"

"Who," was the near-silent reply. "Not what. Who."

Ron glanced up at the ceiling, Harry knew that he was confusing him. "Okay. If not him, then who?" He took a deep breath, but continued to hold his friend, who was still shaking. "Who else could upset you so bad?" When Harry began shaking harder, he heard Ron curse himself under his breath for only making it worse. "I'm sorry..."

"Don't be." Harry shook his head, which was still resting on Ron's shoulder. After a quiet moment, he sat up straight and met Ron's concerned gaze. The motion caused the other boy to gasp when their gazes finally met. Harry glanced away and focused on the far wall.

"It was you. You were d..." The image of Ron, dead right in front of his eyes... He couldn't force the words past the lump in his throat. It was as if saying it might somehow make it true.

The color drained from Ron's face and he pulled away quickly, almost stumbling over his own numb legs. "Me," he repeated in a rough whisper. He blinked, staring at a spot over Harry's left shoulder. Shaking his head in denial, the action was little more than jerky movements from side to side. "Me."

"Ron." Harry reached out his hand, needing him to understand -- needing to explain. But Ron wouldn't meet his gaze, and when he touched his arm, Ron pulled away. "It's not like that..." He had to make him understand. It wasn't like that.

Ron kept shaking his head -- still refusing to look at Harry. He stood, mumbling under his breath. "I'll go." Ron looked around the room, but Harry doubted he was really seeing anything. "Leave you alone."

Grabbing his glasses, Harry shoved them onto his face. Half standing he tried to grab Ron's hand, but missed. "Ron, no..."

But Ron wasn't listening. He turned, moving away from Harry's bed. Instead of returning to his own bed, or to Harry's, he walked out of the room. Struck motionless with surprise, Harry blinked, his eyes following Ron's back until it was out of sight. When he could no longer see him, he shook himself from his stupor and jumped out of bed to follow his friend.

He found Ron sitting in the common room. Curled up in a chair next to a large window, he had his knees pulled up to his chest. The moonlight streaming through the window made him look almost as pale as he had in the nightmare. Not wanting to startle him, Harry crept across the room silently.

He might as well not have bothered, for he wasn't even within two meters of the chair when Ron looked up at him and pulled back, as if to leave. Harry held out his hand. "Don't go." Sighing warily, he paused for a moment. "Please?"

Uncertainty filled Ron's features, but he nodded. Then after a moment he shook his head. "Why?" Harry winced at the pain in his voice, but he didn't look away when Ron's heavy gaze searched his eyes for the answers he sought. "If I was your nightmare..." His low whisper trailed off into silence. He shivered visibly and he looked back out the window.

Pulling a stool over in front of Ron's chair, Harry sat down heavily. It tore at him to know that Ron was hurting because of him. "It wasn't you." The memories of before refusing to let go and he shivered as well. He kept seeing Ron lifeless, even when he was sitting right in front of him. "Not exactly."

"But you said..." Ron looked at Harry, more confused than ever. There was pain in his eyes equal to that in Harry's. "You said it was me. And I heard you yelling." He fidgeted in his seat, gesturing wildly with both arms. Harry knew he was trying to make him understand. "You kept saying no, over and over. What did I do?"

Shaking his head, Harry reached out and put his hand on Ron's arm, which fell to his side. He could feel the tremors that were running through Ron, and waited until he met his gaze to finish speaking. When Harry finally had his best friend's attention, he took a deep breath. Wanting nothing more than to push the haunting images to the back of his mind, Harry found he couldn't. "It was McGonagall's chess set."

Ron's eyes widened, realization making them bright. "From first year."

Harry nodded. Unable to meet the suddenly understanding eyes, he closed his own. "It was like before. Like when it happened. Like all the other dreams." Ron opened his mouth to speak, but Harry shook his head, a mute plea for the time to continue. "Only it changed this time."

"Changed how?" At the whisper soft question, the young wizard opened his eyes and looked up at Ron.

Moisture burned the backs of Harry's eyes and staring off into space, he blinked quickly to get rid of it. Clearing his throat, he opened his mouth, closed it and opened it again. When he finally replied, Ron almost missed the words. "You died."

Ron shook his head. "I'm right here." He paused, sliding from the chair to kneel in front of his friend. He placed his hand on top of Harry. "I'm okay." With a forced laugh, he managed a weak smile. "Being a selfish jerk as usual, running away like I did, but I'm here."

"You're not a jerk. And you're not selfish." The words were out of Harry's mouth before he even thought about them. Sighing, he returned his attention to the other when he realized Ron was about to argue. "You're not." His tone was serious, not wanting a debate. "You're my best friend."

The mental image of eleven-year-old Ron, dead on the cold floor made him pause. When he continued his voice was less certain. "In the dream, at first I knew it wasn't real. Then it changed and I didn't. Part of me thought it was happening. That you were gone. You were dead. I'd lost you. All because of some stupid need to be the one to do everything."

His rambling was halted when Ron shook his shoulder and called his name. Broken from his memories and confession, Harry blinked and tried to focus. He stared at Ron for a long moment before the other boy continued. "You didn't hurt me. I chose my move. I did what I had to so you could stop Quirrell."

Harry shook his head, not wanting to listen. "But you were hurt."

"So were you. Do you know how I felt, waiting to hear if you were going to be okay?" It was Ron who stared off into space at those words, looking as though he was lost in his own memories. Finally he shook his head. "We were full of big ideas. Both of us. Even Hermione was." He added the last with a small grin.

Blinking slowly, Harry studied Ron's face for a long moment. "I don't want to lose you."

The grin faded quickly from Ron's face, replaced by something akin to wonder. Again he shook his head, his voice quiet and completely serious. "You won't."

"How do you know?" The nightmare's hold on him -- the fear it brought -- refused to let go. "You can't know. No one can."

Ron shrugged. "I know, but what can we do?" He smiled then, his first real smile that night. "I don't know about you, but I'm not going anywhere without a fight."

Harry smiled in return, though it was much fainter than Ron's. "Promise?"

He leaned forward, so that they were almost nose-to-nose. "I promise." Smile gone, eyes somber, Ron whispered, "I don't want to lose you either."

A half-smile quirked at the corner of Harry's mouth. "You won't."

"Promise?" Ron asked, a glint of humor in his eyes.

The dream's shadows receding -- the fear fading -- Harry's heart felt light with relief. There was still tomorrow. But whatever it held, he wouldn't face it alone.

Harry grinned, not quite laughing. "Yeah, I promise. 'Cause I'm not leaving without a fight, either."

"I guess that means we're stuck with each other then." Ron's grin was lopsided, making his eyes seem to glow.

"Together." He liked the sound of that. He liked it a lot.

The End