Disclaimer - fill in the blanks, usual waffle, yadda yadda yadda badda bing badda boom!

Warnings - Harry Ron Pairing. I'd like to apologise to the people I squicked by not warning about the implied pairing (trio fic) in Hatred. Also I'd like to urge you to read the entire first bit before writing to me to complain about what I've done. (I can't say more than that without giving the whole game away). A character has died, but not whom you might think.

Part 1 - Memorial Day

Ron lay on his back in the spring grass, staring up at the clouds that scudded across the sky and trying to spot shapes in them. Hermione had started this game once in sixth year, after a nasty blow to the head. Harry had caught on pretty quickly which had calmed her long enough to get her out of the tree, and once she was in her right mind the game continued on and off. The three of them had used it to fill the awkward silences that had started to occur, caused by Harry's seemingly inexplicable unease. Ron did it now out of a sort of melancholy nostalgia, missing the people that had played the game so innocently that year.

Today was Memorial Day. The anniversary of Harry's ghastly triumph over Voldemort. Every year there was some sort of celebration of the event, where high-level employees in the Ministry stood around and told everyone how they had helped the Boy Who Lived reach his full potential. Ron had managed to avoid it so far, the annual celebrations grating on him too much to even consider attending. Fudge had started them and there was no way that Ron was going to allow the man to use him, his grief and his losses to boost his failing political career. Hermione had gone that one time, on the first anniversary of Harry's final battle against Voldemort, but had been so upset that she hadn't attended another.

They both preferred to spend the day with family now, and Ron spent the time thinking about his sixth year at Hogwarts and all the terrible changes that had occurred. His mum called it brooding, but Ron had a lot to brood about. He'd failed the best friend he'd ever had in the most fundamental of ways, letting Harry face his destiny alone rather than supporting him with everything he had. He'd known that Harry needed him, and he'd managed to come through in superficial ways, like playing chess with him and backing him up against the Slytherin's. Unfortunately when it really mattered, Ron hadn't been there, starting with the summer that Sirius died.

Harry had been rescued from the Dursley's on his sixteenth birthday, after a month at Privet Drive. He'd written a letter every three days to Dumbledore, stating that his relatives were treating him well and he needed nothing. As their first glimpse of him proved, that was clearly not true. He'd lost more weight than was strictly healthy, become even paler than Snape, and was withdrawn from everything. He spoke when asked a direct question, but didn't offer information willingly and would sit motionless for hours on end, watching everyone around him closely. He was uncomfortable with being touched, which upset Ron's mum. She was a hands on type of mother, and the fact that her adopted son flinched when she hugged him had nearly broken her heart.

Ron and Hermione had come to an unspoken yet mutual decision that they would spend their time solely with Harry, reading, playing Wizarding games and talking about whatever came to mind. They agreed not to pressure him to join in and to always bracket him so that other people couldn't come close. Harry seemed to appreciate this, because whenever they were alone together he would relax, even close his eyes and listen to them with a small smile. After a solid week in their company, Harry would interject one-word comments into their conversations, and could be persuaded to join them in exploding snap or gob stones. He refused to speak about the attack at the Ministry, or about Sirius death. The fact that he'd reached out at all made Ron feel a lot better, something that he felt guilty for now.

Then one night, a week before school was due to start, Ron woke him from a nightmare and the coal haired teen sobbed in his arms like a little child. Ron had held him and rocked, knowing that when Harry recovered he would be mortified by his actions, but at the time his only concern was to give Harry the comfort he was so desperately seeking. They'd spent a day sitting in Harry's bed, holding each other companionably and getting comfort from giving it. Ron had whispered nonsense in Harry's ear when the other teen became fretful, soothing him back to serenity. Harry had clung to him; leaning into each touch Ron gave him and watching Ron's face intently. Whatever he was looking for he must have found, because eventually Harry allowed himself to fall asleep.

After that day Harry talked, walked and acted as usual. He was still a little subdued, but he seemed to once more join the land of the living. He preferred Ron's company at night to all others, and it was such a simple thing to ask that Ron was glad to give it. They went back to the school, started their sixth year, and if his friend spent a little more time reading than he had before, Ron dismissed it. With hindsight he wished he hadn't.

Lessons continued on as usual, and for Christmas, the Weasley's Potter's and Granger's stayed at school. Second term was ushered in with a rather spectacular match between Ravenclaw and Slytherin, and the upcoming Quidditch season was a hot topic of debate. It seemed somehow ironic that Voldemort attacked the students during a Gryffindor versus Slytherin Quidditch match just before the Easter holidays. His Death Eaters and Dementors had descended on the stands like a foul black cloud, and the players had been forced to the ground. Voldemort himself apparated into the middle of the pitch, and Ron was not ashamed to admit to the gut wrenching terror he'd felt as Harry dropped his broom carelessly to the ground and then strode out to meet his nemesis.

Once it was all over, Dumbledore admitted that he'd known what Harry was doing and had actually put the books that Harry had used to learn the spells in the following duel where the desperate teen could find them. Ron had always known that Harry was still having bad dreams, but preferred to go for a walk around the castle at night rather than wake him or the rest of the dorm. At least that was what Ron had thought his friend was doing.

In fact, Harry had been sneaking down to the Chamber of Secrets once more, and once there he'd practiced every advanced defence and attack spell he could find. He'd taken books from the library and hidden them in the Chamber, and Dumbledore had needed Fawkes to retrieve them when it was all over. The books were very old and rare, and contained versions of spells that were no longer in use. Modern spells had replaced them, for better or worse, and the old spells had faded from most memories.

It was a measure of Harry's power that he not only managed to teach himself this advanced magic, but also that he managed not to fall into the trap his nemesis had. Harry didn't assume that just because he was capable of performing spells that would far outstrip the normal Wizard that he should. Ron sighed and wriggled on the grass, drawing his cloak closer about himself as the cold breeze plucked at it. Harry had been all alone, despite the fact that Ron and Hermione had spent all their waking hours with him.

In one of the books that Dumbledore had planted for Harry to find, there had been a spell that was known as 'return to state'. Basically it returned the thing it was cast upon back to its original state. McGonagall in Transfiguration, and the Magical Accident Reversal Squad used a version of this. However the version that Harry learned was designed to combat the earliest version of the Cruciatus curse. The oldest version of that particular curse didn't stop when the caster pointed his wand away. The curse continued until the person under it died, their hearts bursting under the strain. With the counter curse, the victim could survive, though usually they were insane at the end.

Voldemort had undergone so many Dark Rites and Rituals in order to prolong his life that his original state was not something that could survive without the support of the dark rites he had endured. When Harry cast that spell with all his strength, he managed to hold it long enough to undo each rite or ritual that Voldemort had participated in, even undoing the bond of their blood. Harry's power had driven off the Dementors, and frightened the Death Eaters into retreat or capture by the very students they were supposed to be subduing. The sheer magical force that Harry had put forth had buffeted the Quidditch players on the ground, knocking even the adult Death Eaters to their knees. Ron had struggled against it, wanting to be there for his friend, and managed to get close enough to catch Harry when he finally fell.

Voldemort was long dead. Harry had held the spell until the Dark Lord was reduced to the most basic of elements, something that not even Tom's magic could survive. Harry had sighed, a long soft susurration of air, his wand falling from numb fingers as his legs gave out. Ron had leapt forward, catching his friend and sinking to the ground beneath the slight weight. For a moment Harry had gazed up at him and Ron had rocked and whispered reassurance. Then the green eyes had slowly dulled and closed.

Harry had lain in his coma for only three weeks. Ron visited every day, and for half the night, defying his teachers instructions to rest and not worry. His mother took a room in Hogsmede so that she could visit every day, and his father joined her there each night. Dumbledore had revealed his betrayal of Harry, and Ron had never managed to forgive the old man. All the awe and respect Ron had for the Headmaster had died in the light of his machinations. He was supposed to be Harry's mentor, and yet he'd used Ron's best friend as if he was a disposable tool.

When Harry woke on the eve of third term, Ron had been there, holding his hand and smiling gentle encouragement. The green-eyed teen had rasped his name, and all Ron's pent up relief came boiling out in a boisterous kiss, right on Harry's lax lips. The surprise on his friends face had been like a shock of cold water, and Ron was glad of the excuse to leave, presented in the form of a demand by the school Matron, who rounded the privacy screens a moment later.

His cowardice - and that was what Ron saw it as - had led to him being gone when Harry was given the worst news imaginable. It had prevented him from stopping Harry making the biggest mistake of his life. Madam Pomfrey had the terrible task of informing Harry of the effects his defeat of Voldemort had wreaked on him, and the Headmaster had completed his betrayal of the Boy Who Lived by sending him into exile for the rest of his life.

Harry was almost seventeen when he became a Muggle, his magic drained away as surely as a glass of water that had been tipped over. He had chosen to go and live in the Muggle world, taking only Hedwig, his photo album and his boxed up wand with him. The Goblins at Gringotts and Dumbledore had seen to it that he had the identity papers and funds he needed, and even the Ministry had been pressured into paying a regular pension to the cast off teen.

"Ron!" his mums voice broke into his brooding thoughts and Ron got up, waving to say that he'd heard and headed down the hill towards the Burrow. Harry had disappeared into the Muggle world, and Pigwidgeon had been unable to find him. Hedwig never came to them, and Harry made no attempts to contact them at all. Ron had been heartbroken, and Hermione was inconsolable for months.

They'd become Aurors of course, and worked hard for the Wizarding world. Ron had once heard someone mutter about how they were 'carrying on for the Boy Who Lived'. The notion was appealing. Harry was a protector; his simple presence in a room had always made Ron feel better. When he'd burst into the Shrieking Shack after Ron and the newly escaped Sirius, Ron had known that things were looking up, even as he worried that Harry had just walked into a trap.

All of that had happened ten years ago today, and Ron sighed as he headed into the Burrows garden. He was twenty-seven now, as was Hermione and Harry, and every day he wondered how Harry was faring, if he was safe and happy. He'd never know, because Harry hadn't tried to contact them, and even though Ron had looked as best he could, not even Hermione could break the charms that surrounded the information that would reveal his friends location.

Tonight the Weasley's would have a special dinner, with Harry's favourite foods, and talk over their memories of the missing man. Not their memories of the Boy Who Lived: that had only been a small part of Harry and his charm. His dad would raise a toast to his missing son, and Ron would spend the night in his old room looking at the stars and wondering if things would have been different if he'd stayed instead of running from the hospital wing after that disastrously perfect kiss.