Disclaimer: I neither own nor wish to own Harry Potter. I'm perfectly content to borrow him every now and then.

Summary: Ron and McGonagall play a game of chess. Ron loses his temper, Gryffindor loses points, and McGonagall loses a few comforting illusions.

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As Ron moved his rook two spaces to the right, he pondered the strange twist of events that had brought him here, sitting in McGonagall's private rooms and playing chess with her in an uncomfortable silence.

It all started with Harry, of course. Most things in Ron's life did, and he'd gradually come to appreciate that rather than resent it, as he had for a time in his fourth year. Sure, most things started with Harry- but Ron imagined that he himself had a similar effect on the Boy Who Lived. That was part of being best friends, especially best friends for as long as they'd been.

In every way that mattered, Harry's friendship had been the deciding factor in Ron's life. And yeah, Hermione was there too, and he liked her rather more than he figured he should, but Harry...well, it had been Harry in the beginning and it would be Harry in the end, for both him and Hermione. That's just how it was.

So it didn't surprise Ron that the reason he was here, on the third day of his sixth year, playing chess with McGonagall, was Harry.

A year ago, he wouldn't have come. But McGonagall had softened a bit towards the notorious Trio after Umbridge came along, and Ron had grown up somewhat, too. And he was beginning to realize that some things couldn't be made better with a chocolate frog and a smile, and that some cuts run too deep for tending.

Scars. Harry had plenty of those, and personally, Ron thought the least of them was the one on his forehead. The famous scar wasn't any of Harry's doing; it was luck, chance, fate, a mother's love.... It was the rest of the scars that mattered.

Take the scar on his hand, for instance. That scar was all Ron needed to hate Umbridge and Fudge for the rest of his life.

But Harry hadn't complained, not once, to a teacher. Ron had at first thought it was stupid pride- Harry could be like that- but when he'd asked, Harry had just shrugged and said, "What good would it do if I told Dumbledore? Umbridge would say I was slicing up my own hand to get attention, and it's not important anyway."

That was Harry all over- he never thought it was important if he was hurting. It was those damned muggles, Ron was certain of it. He knew more than most about Harry's childhood, and it made Ron's look like paradise.

Then there was the scar from the basilisk. That was a result of something Harry had actually done, a sign of his unbelievable bravery and his bloody-minded determination. He'd gotten that scar saving Ron's little sister from You-Know-Who- or at least You-Know-Who's memory- and that, that was something important. That scar came from Harry being Harry.

And then there was the scar from Wormtail, the one on the inside of his elbow. Harry should have died then, by all accounts, but he'd kept his wits and escaped, which was more than most fully trained aurors could have done.

Those were the important scars, the ones that counted- the ones that no one else ever seemed to care about or see. Those scars made Harry, Harry. The other scar...that one made Harry the Boy Who Lived, and if there was one thing Ron had come to understand over the years, it was that Harry hated being the stupid Boy Who Lived.

Sighing, he moved his knight to capture McGonagall's pawn. He could feel her sharp, somewhat beady gaze on him, waiting for him to break the silence.

Harry had been quiet, too quiet, over the summer. Not that he'd ever been much of a chatterbox, of course, but this wasn't natural. This new behavior was even more worrying than his explosive temper of the previous year. Ron could understand anger. He didn't understand this...resignation, he supposed it was. Harry wasn't resigned; he always fought, tenacious as a niffler searching for gold.

It was over the summer that Ron began to wonder what other scars Harry had, ones no one could see, the ones inside. The ones too deep for healing.

He didn't like the thought that Harry was somehow damaged. Harry was supposed to be strong; he was supposed to be the hero. He wasn't supposed to be nothing more than human. And Ron, of all people, wasn't supposed to be the one who saw his friend for what he was, rather than what he was supposed to be.

McGonagall took one of his bishops with a knight, and he retaliated by taking one of her rooks and putting her in check.

If there was one thing Ron understood, it was chess. And wasn't life just a big, complicated game of chess?

Harry was the king- the one that mattered, the one that needed to be protected. But none of the other pieces were doing their jobs, and Harry got put in check so many times it was a wonder he was still breathing.

It wasn't right. All Ron's life, he'd been told that adults were there to help, to guide, to keep him safe. Well, where were Harry's adults, huh? Where were the people who were supposed to keep Harry safe? For people who claimed to care about his best friend, they certainly did a lousy job of protecting him. Not a one of them had noticed the scar from Umbridge's detentions! Harry might be more grown up than the other sixth years, but he was still just a teenager, and there was only so much a person could take before giving up.

Ron didn't want Harry to give up. Harry never gave up, and Ron couldn't help but feel that if he did, he'd somehow cease to be Harry.

Finally, the silence was broken.

"Why are you here, Mister Weasley?" McGonagall asked, trying to sound stern but ending up sounding concerned. "Is something wrong?"

And suddenly, all of Ron's anger, all of his helplessness, came bubbling up inside, and he heard himself say, "Funny you should ask that now."

He looked up from the chess board, which for once didn't seem to matter at all- he was tired of trying to prove himself, when the people that mattered already knew his worth.

McGonagall looked taken aback by his tone, and a little angry. "And what does that mean, Mister Weasley?" she asked sharply.

"I mean," Ron said in a harsh, biting voice worthy of Snape, "where were you last year, when we- when Harry- needed you? Where was Dumbledore or Lupin, or even Sirius?" He was getting louder, but he didn't care. He needed to make someone see what was happening to Harry. "Where were you when Harry was being tortured by that bitch Umbridge? Where were you when the dementors were after him? All of you- you're all so bloody blind it's a wonder you can get dressed in the morning!"

"That is enough, Weasley!" McGonagall snapped, and Ron had never seen her look so severe. But he wasn't afraid anymore, not of her or of what she could do to him. He'd seen worse, and he'd grown up a bit, and he understood, now, that adults were just like everyone else deep down where it mattered, just more so. "You will show me respect!"

"No," he said fiercely, in a hard tone he'd rarely employed before, "it's not enough. I've been Harry's mate for years, now, and if there's one thing I've learned from him, it's that no one automatically deserves respect. You've got to earn it, and let me tell you, you and the rest of the faculty have been doing piss-poor jobs."

He'd never seen a basilisk, though he'd come fairly close, but he imagined McGonagall's glare was enough to petrify just about anyone. But Ron was a Weasley, and Weasleys were made of sterner stuff than most. And being brave wasn't about being courageous, but about doing what needs to be done even if it scares you shitless.

That was another thing he'd learned from Harry.

"You will hold your tongue, Ronald Weasley! Twenty points from Gryffindor."

The anger he'd felt before was nothing compared to the fury he felt now. He stood so abruptly that his chair was knocked over and the chess board upset. The chess pieces themselves were unusually quiet.

"Fine," he snapped, wanting to rip something apart. "Take your bloody points, I don't give a bloody damn. And here I thought you might actually care about Harry. But you're just like everyone else, aren't you?" To his utter horror, he felt tears prickling at the corners of his eyes- but then the shame fled, because what did it matter if he cried? Someone had to cry for Harry, and it seemed like he and Hermione were the only ones up for the job.

"Explain yourself, Weasley. Now." Her voice was like steel, and her eyes hard as anything.

"All of you," he said, his voice catching and coming out a croak, "all of you treat Harry like he's invincible, and you don't even realize it. You're so sure that he'll just bounce back like always- but he doesn't bounce back, you see?" His voice cracked again, in helplessness and anger and grief. "He never has bounced back, he just pretends because he thinks anything else would make him look weak. And it seems like no one- just me and Hermione, and maybe a few of the DA- looks at Harry and sees anything other than what they expect to see."

Her gaze was unreadable, her face impassive. Well, he still had his Prefect badge, and that was more than he'd expected.

"Go on."

"Do you even know what the Dursleys are like?" he asked, his hands curling into fists. "They locked him in a cupboard until he was eleven. They insulted him and his parents every chance they got, and they starved him. They actually put bars on his window when he was twelve! And I didn't think much of it at the time- they weren't hitting him or anything, and Dumbledore thought it was best- but I see things a little better now. Things like that have an affect, and you've got to be barking if you think they don't.

"You want to know why he breaks rules? Because he's had to break rules to survive. The Dursleys had plenty of rules- don't ask questions, don't fight back, don't bloody breathe too loudly... And people wonder why he doesn't ask for help.

"D'you really think that facing death at least once a year doesn't hurt a kid? Something in him bends a little more each time, and he's coming close to breaking, I think. And what does the Order do? Send him back to the Dursleys, scold him for taking risks, pat him on the back and say it gets better with time. Well, it doesn't get better, it gets worse, and I'm sick of watching my best friend fade away."

Ron had seen McGonagall look shocked before- when they'd told her about the Philosopher's Stone back in their first year, for instance- but he'd never seen her look like this, as if her entire world was crumbling before her.

Ron swallowed. He wanted to stop, but there was still more left to say- things he could only say to her, because she was their Head of House, and it was her job to care. Because she was the only one he thought might listen, really listen, even if there was nothing she could do to help.

"Sirius...Sirius was a lousy godfather," Ron said, and had the dubious pleasure of seeing McGonagall shocked once more. "As bad as Snape, in a way, because both of them thought Harry's his father. I figured it would get better, but Hermione- well, Hermione's smart. She knew from the beginning that Sirius wasn't good for Harry. D'you know- d'you know he even asked Harry to sneak out to Hogsmeade to meet him? Harry said no, of course- didn't want to get Sirius in trouble. But Sirius just gave him this look, like Harry had let him down, and said that Harry wasn't as much like James as he'd thought. Hermione was spitting mad, let me tell you.

"But he was still the closest thing Harry had to family, and how pathetic is that? And Sirius knew that, and still got himself killed- and don't think I haven't heard all about it. Making fun of a Death Eater in a duel! I would've thought it was great, once, but...Merlin, even I know Sirius couldn't handle responsibility. He should've been thinking of Harry, but instead...maybe it was Azkaban, but he was a selfish bastard.

"And he's not the only one. Harry told us about the session he had with you, planning for the future. You were more concerned with showing Umbridge up than with Harry's decision. Did you ask him why he wanted to be an auror, like you did with me? Did you tell him other careers he could choose? Harry's been taking care of himself for years, and he doesn't need or want a parent...but Merlin, would it kill you to show a little care?"

He sighed, knowing his face was quite red and his eyes stinging with angry tears. He wasn't supposed to be the one taking care of Harry, but if no one else would, then he'd bloody well do his best.

"And that..." he swallowed, blinking back the moisture threatening to escape his eyes and unclenching his fists. "That's all I wanted to say."

He didn't give the stunned woman a chance to respond. He turned and left, because he had homework to do and friends to joke with and tease and assure that everything would be alright. He'd put McGonagall in check, stripped away her defenses.

What she did next was up to her.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Hermione met him when he got back to the Common Room. "Where've you been?" she demanded, then waved her hand dismissively when he started to answer. "Never mind, it doesn't matter. You know, the oddest thing happened. Just about a half hour ago, we lost twenty points, but ten minutes ago or so, we earned sixty." She shot him a piercing look. "Funnily enough, you're the only one out of the Tower so late."

Ron blinked. "...sixty points?"

"That's what I said," Hermione agreed steadily.

Slowly, Ron grinned. "Maybe she did listen, then," he murmured.

"Who?" Hermione asked, eyes narrowed.

He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Now, where's Harry? I feel like playing chess."