Requiem For A Rat
"I think you should talk to Ron," Ginny said, with no preliminaries.
Percy looked up from his Potions notes, and immediately rolled up the scroll when he saw the look on Ginny's face. "Sit down, Ginny. What is it?"
"Scabbers. Oh, ever since Crookshanks... well, Hermione says it wasn't Crookshanks, but..." She sighed. "Of course it was Crookshanks. Everyone knows it. But Ron... he's really angry at Hermione and they aren't talking, and she's my friend and he's my brother, and they're both Harry's friends, and--"
"I've seen some of that. I think he'd rather talk to you, Ginny. You've always been his friend."
"You're the oldest here," she said simply. "And besides, you know how he feels."
"What do you mean?"
She smiled wanly. "Do you think I didn't catch you sniffling in Common Room before you came up here that night?"
Percy blushed. He'd thought he'd managed to duck up the stairs before anyone noticed, but of course, Ginny missed very little. "Right."
"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone."
He raised an eyebrow. "Where have I heard that before?"
She feigned an innocent smile. "I can't imagine what you mean."
"Let's see... at one end of the Hogwarts Express, the twins were going on about Exploding Snap. At the other, they were making kissing noises at Penny and me. I wonder what might have given them that idea."
An even more exaggerated innocent look.
Percy pinched her nose, which made her giggle. "All right," he said. "I'll talk to Ron. I don't think he really wants me to, but I will."
Ginny kissed his cheek. "Don't be dense, Perce."
"Where is he?"
"By the lake."
"Bit cold for it, isn't it?"
"Hermione's in the Common Room. Harry's... I don't know where Harry is. I don't know Harry's schedule anymore." She gave him a somewhat proud smile. "But Ron is definitely at the lake. I just saw him out the window."
"Well, then, the lake it is. I'll get my cloak."
Ginny smiled at him and left, and he got his cloak and scarf from the wardrobe. On second thought, he put a second scarf in his pocket; Ron tended to forget.
It was March, and winter was holding its last few weeks, but the lake was already starting to thaw from repeated warm spells. Ron was sitting on a large rock on the shore, tossing rocks out onto the remaining ice, watching them crack the surface and sink. Percy went to him and sat down on a neighboring rock.
Ron didn't look at him.
"Have a scarf, Ron," he said. "You'll catch a cold, and Mum will have my head."
Ron took the scarf and wound it around his neck. "What do you want?"
Percy chose not to answer him directly, instead picking up a stone and chucking it out onto the surface of the ice. He used a Charm to warm it, and watched it melt an increasingly large hole before it finally slid under.
"I found Scabbers in the garden," he said, and picked up another stone. He tossed from hand to hand. "He was foraging for potatoes, of all things. Didn't even run when he saw me coming."
Ron sighed. "I know the story, Perce. You were small and didn't know that rats in the garden weren't meant to be played with, and you petted him, and he started doing tricks for you."
"Dad thought it was the cutest thing," Percy said. "Mum didn't want a rat in the house, but Bill had a chicken that was especially his, and she'd let Charlie keep a tank full of lizards that he'd found alongside the road. I was four and a half. I still think that was a fairly logical argument."
"So we took him in and Mum got all the fleas off of him, and did something to make sure he wasn't carrying anything if he should bite. Charlie helped me make a little cage for him. I cut pictures out of Martin Miggs to make it cheerful for him."
Ron smiled this time. "You read Martin Miggs."
"Quite devotedly. Don't tell Penny."
"What, does she think it's offensive to Muggles or something? I swear, Hermione found one once and--"
"No, she just thinks I only read serious literature."
"--and she said it was insulting to think that Muggles behaved like that."
"Take Muggle studies. See their stories about witches and wizards. It's on both sides of the line." Percy shrugged. "Hermione's a bit overstressed this year."
Ron glared at him, but said nothing about it. Instead, he fiddled with the tassels on his scarf for a moment. "He's just been so ill this year. I hoped he would get better. I hate that the last thing he felt--other than that monster cat coming for him--was sick."
"You were taking good care of him, Ron. I'm sure the last thing he felt was well-cared-for and loved."
Ron flipped the end of the scarf over his shoulder with an annoyed twitch. "He was just a rat!" he said. "Just--"
"Just part of your life, Ron. Don't try to pretend he wasn't."
"He was part of your life, too. I've gone and got your pet killed. Or, well, Hermione has. But I'd reckon that monster wouldn't have gone after Scabbers if we hadn't been together all the time. Aren't you angry?"
"No. Ron, you were never careless with him. You looked after him well."
"Not well enough to keep that bloody cat away from him."
"What were you planning to do? Kill Crookshanks?"
Regretfully, he shook his head.
"And you couldn't have Scabbers in your pocket all day, every day."
Ron looked over at him, obviously quite miserable. "I always said he was useless and couldn't do anything. Do you reckon he knew what I meant?"
Percy laughed. "I doubt it. For a rat, he was bright enough. But I doubt he understood English. He understood rat tonic and food just fine, though. Animals understand what we do, not what we say."
"Except for hippogriffs. Ask Malfoy." Ron smirked.
"Right." Percy looked out across the lake. "The point is, Scabbers knew you did your best to keep him fed and healthy and comfortable. To a rat, that's love."
"I just wish I'd said more nice things. He was a good rat. He only ever bit Goyle, you know."
"I know. Mum was sure he'd bite you or Ginny when you were crawling around, but once when you were four you grabbed him by the tail and picked him up that way. He squeaked horridly, but he didn't bite you."
"I got my hand slapped, though," Ron said. "That, I remember. 'Ronald Bilius Weasley, we do not treat pets like that!'"
"Well, once he was in the family... you know Mum."
"You cried when she told you that you'd hurt Scabbers, and you just held on to him and petted him, and kept saying you were sorry. He finally fell asleep on your lap. I was actually jealous."
"Well, he was my pet at the time. And from then until I left for Hogwarts, he always spent more time with you. Utterly unfair, you know."
"He liked Ginny, too. She always gave him her sprouts when Mum wasn't looking."
"And you always gave him your beets. And I generally gave him carrots. We overfed him quite healthfully."
"It's probably why he lived so long. He ate all of our vegetables."
"And quite a lot of everything else we had," Percy said.
"Yeah... Mum said she was sure he was raiding the pantry at night."
Percy smiled. "That would have been Bill and Charlie."
"Or the ghoul."
"Or Dad's gnomes."
They laughed together, and the sound of it bounced off the surface of the ice.
Percy stood up and walked to the water's edge. "It's supposed to hurt, Ron," he said. "We're not meant to just lose a creature we care for and then go on as though nothing happened. Everyone knows it, but they only seem to remember it when it's their creature. Otherwise, they'll think, 'Oh, it was just a rat. He's being silly.'"
"That's what she thinks, anyway."
"Does she? I'm not sure. She seems quite upset."
"That's only because I want her to apologize for what her cat did!"
Percy turned to Ron, evaluated his face, and decided that it wasn't time to press this particular point. His anger at Hermione still seemed rational to him, and he would resist any attempt to take it away. "Well," he said, "that's for another day. I just wanted you to know... I know he wasn't just a rat. At least not to us."
"I feel stupid."
"Don't." Percy grabbed Ron by the knot of his scarft and gently pried him up from the rock. "Come on inside," he said. "It's freezing out here, and you'll catch something."
Without argument, Ron pulled his cloak shut, and followed Percy back into the castle.