I must apologize for the length of time that has passed since I have updated, but I have many, many reasons for not continuing this within the last few weeks that I won't get into now. Reality became quite real for a while, and I didn't have the time to devote to this. I hope there are those of you out there still looking for the conclusion, and I hope you'll revisit me and my stories when I post a new one I've been thinking up recently. This has been a lot of fun, and a very incredible experience for me. Your kind words and encouragement have meant everything, and I hope this finds everyone happy and healthy as we enter the holiday season.
By the way, Goblet of Fire, the movie…what did you guys think? I liked it, but I didn't think they should have spent time on things that weren't in the book and cut out things that were. The ball was amazing, however, although the whole Harry checking Hermione out thing really bugged me out. The ending was pretty spot on with what I remember reading, and I was overall pretty impressed. The book is still a million times better, though. As they usually are.
Okay, enough of all that. On with the last part…
Chapter 11 – Keep A Light On
Ron wiped his face with the damp towel lying next to the sink in the bathroom, shaking from head to foot. It had always been like this for him. Every time he got sick, his whole body would uncontrollably shake until the waves of nausea passed. This time, however, the feeling wasn't passing. In fact, if anything, it was getting worse and worse by the second.
He leaned over the toilet again and vomited until he felt there couldn't possibly be anything left in his stomach. Pushing himself up on unsteady legs, he glanced at his reflection in the mirror. His hair was plastered to his sweating forehead, his face completely red with exertion. Pushing the towel against his face once more, he took a deep breath and willed his stomach to regain some sense of balance.
As soon as they'd gotten back from Grimmauld Place, the nauseous feeling had taken hold of him and he'd been unable to shake it. When his mother had entered the room, looking at the three of them with wide, concerned eyes, he hadn't been able to take it. He'd sped past her and locked himself in the bathroom, where he'd promptly discarded of about a week's worth of meals in a matter of seconds.
He knew he had to get himself together and tell his mother what they had planned. He also knew he had to start getting ready to go.
What he did, though, was sink onto the cold bathroom floor and close his eyes against the new wave of nausea that swept over him. In a way, it was appropriate. He was sick of himself, and the irony didn't escape him. Harry and Hermione weren't vomiting. Harry and Hermione weren't hiding away in the loo because it was a lot easier to put off reality.
He groaned at his own cowardice and banged the back of his head against the counter he was leaning against.
His father's voice carried through the door, snapping him out of his reverie. "Yeah, dad?" he called back, pushing up off the floor and running his hands through his hair to make himself appear halfway presentable.
"You alright, son?"
"Fine," he lied, wiping away the last of the moisture left on his pale face.
"I think it's time to have that talk with your mother now," his father said, causing the waves of nausea to roll within him once more. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply again, and by the time he opened them, some color had returned to his face.
"Okay," he called back. "Give me a minute?"
"I'll be in the kitchen with your mother," his father replied. Ron waited until he heard his footsteps disappear before filling the sink with very cold water and dunking his entire head in.
After brushing his teeth and quickly drying his hair, he made his way down to the kitchen. He didn't see Harry, Hermione or Ginny, and the absence of them all made him nervous.
When he entered the kitchen, he saw his mother cradling a cup of hot tea, although there was a strong smell of firewhiskey in the air as well. His father was standing against the counter, his eyes trained on the doorway.
"Ron, what is all of this about?" his mother asked him warily. Ron couldn't remember his mother ever looking quite this old before. There were lines around her mouth and dark circles under her eyes, which were focused on his intently from where she sat. "Your father says you need to speak to me, and with all that's been going on, I know it can't be good."
Ron sighed and sank into a chair across from his mother. For long seconds he simply sat there, not knowing where to begin or what he could possibly say that would keep her from losing it completely.
"Go on, son," his father said from his position against the counter. Ron looked at him quickly and saw the encouraging look cross his father's face. "It'll be alright."
Ron cleared his throat and faced his mother again. For the next five minutes, Ron set about explaining the situation surrounding his departure as best he could, saving the news that he was actually leaving for last. The entire time he talked, his mother's eyes grew wider and wider. When he finally came out and said that he, Harry and Hermione would be going off in search of the horcruxes, her face grew pale and she sat completely still in her chair.
"Molly, dear," his father said, having moved behind her while Ron talked, "are you alright?" His hands were resting on his wife's shoulders, but she didn't appear to realize they were there. She simply stared back at Ron, eyes shining with unshed tears.
"Mum?" he said, reaching out to touch her arm.
As soon as his fingertips touched her arm, she seemed to snap back to herself. Her tears were falling freely now.
"You leave tomorrow, and you're telling me now?" she asked, her voice the most deadly calm that Ron had ever heard it. If she'd started yelling at him, he'd know how to deal with it. But this…this was sheer torture. He felt as if he'd ripped her heart out and stomped on it right before her eyes.
"Yes," he said, chagrined.
"He wanted to wait until after the wedding, dear, and to be fair they just found out they're leaving tomorrow," his father said, patting her shoulders reassuringly.
His mother stiffened and suddenly bolted up out of her chair, throwing her husband's hands off her. "You knew about this for all this time and you didn't tell me?" she snarled, facing him with a cold gaze. "You knew our son was going off to fight You-Know-Who and instead of letting me get adjusted to the idea the two of you decide to spring it on me now and expect me to be fine with it!"
"Molly," his father began, taking a step toward her.
"No, don't you speak to me right now," she said in the same cold, chilling voice. She turned to Ron and for a moment he thought she would crumble and take him in her arms. Her tears were still falling onto her cheeks, but she didn't make a sound as her shoulders dropped and she pushed past him and ran out of the room as quickly as she could.
Ron felt everything inside him shut down and he let his head fall onto the table in front of him. He didn't think that he'd ever be able to get his mother's face just then out of his mind.
"I'll talk to her in a bit," his father said in a low, shaking voice. "She just needs to deal with this on her own first."
Ron heard his father leave the kitchen, but he couldn't bring himself to raise his head. He suddenly felt extremely weak and very, very tired. If this is how this whole thing was starting off, how in the world would he have enough strength to carry on when it would mean the difference between life and death?
He didn't know how long he sat there, but suddenly he heard footsteps on the stairs just outside the kitchen.
His head came up at his sister's voice, and he could tell by her blotchy face that she'd been crying.
"Hey," he said, his voice sounding almost dead to his own ears. "Where've you been?"
"My room," she said. She moved past him and opened the refrigerator, taking out a pitcher of pumpkin juice and pouring herself a glass. Ron watched her, realizing this would be the last time, for a long, long while, that he'd be able to watch her do anything so trivial and commonplace. His gut twisted painfully and he found it hard to breathe.
"Ginny, I just want you to know –"
"Don't," she interrupted, turning to face him so quickly she spilled juice all over the floor. "I don't want to do this. Not with you."
"You aren't going to let me say goodbye?" he asked incredulously. "First mum, now you."
"Mum didn't take it well, I gather?" she asked, her irritated tone falling away. She sat next to him and pushed what remained of her juice toward him.
"She didn't even speak to me," he said dejectedly. "I don't think I've ever wanted to hear her scream her head off more than I do right now."
Ginny contemplated his words for a minute, then shook her head. "You can't expect her to understand with so little warning. She'll come around soon enough."
"Sooner than tomorrow?" he asked, then flinched at Ginny's wounded look. "Sorry," he said, running a hand across his face. "I'm not quite sure I know how to do this."
"None of us do," Ginny reasoned sadly. "How do you say goodbye when it could very well be…"
She cut off abruptly, giving herself a violent shake. "Nevermind. I promised myself I wouldn't get all dramatic and everything over this. That's the last thing any of you need right now."
"So you're not going to say goodbye to Hermione? Or Harry?" he asked, surprised. "You're just going to let us all leave without a word?"
Ginny's gaze snapped up to his. "What is it you want from me, Ron? Do you want me to start sobbing on your shoulder, begging you not to go?" She pounded her fist down on the table so hard that the goblet of juice toppled over and the remainder of the liquid pooled in the middle of the table. "Because I can do that. In fact, I want to do that, but I don't see the bloody point! You will all leave anyway!"
Silence overtook both of them after her outburst, and in it Ron tried to think of all the things he wanted to say to his sister. None of them seemed like the kind of things she wanted to hear right now, so he kept his mouth shut.
Ginny's lower lip began trembling, giving away her true feelings. "Besides, I've said my own goodbyes to Hermione, and she understands that I can't say more."
"What about Harry?" Ron asked. Ginny blinked rapidly, turning away from him.
"Harry knows how I feel about him. There isn't anything more to say that we haven't already said to each other," she said quietly.
"That's not true."
Ron and Ginny turned to the doorway. Harry was standing there, his eyes trained on Ginny.
"Harry, I just told Ron I don't want to do all of this," Ginny said, her voice stern and much stronger than Ron knew she felt.
"Well, that's too bad, because I have some things I need to say to you before we go," Harry said, taking a step into the room. Ron heard more footsteps on the stairs, and moments later, Hermione appeared behind Harry.
"I can't do this, Harry!" Ginny yelled, causing Hermione to grab Harry's arm before he could take another step into the room. Ron looked back and forth between his sister and Harry, and the intensity between them was almost a living, breathing thing.
Harry shrugged off Hermione's hand. "Can we go somewhere?" he asked Ginny, pinning her with his gaze.
"No," she snapped quickly, glaring back at him.
"Fine," said Harry. "Then I'll just tell you I love you in front of your brother and your best friend."
In Ron's surprised opinion, Harry had never looked so at ease with himself, so sure. Usually Harry avoided emotional confrontations at all costs, but it appeared as if being faced with imminent uncertainty was enough to bring it out in him.
The look of hostility fled from Ginny's face, and although she didn't look exactly happy at Harry's confession, Ron could tell by her eyes that she was taking in every last word.
"I've never been happier in my life than when I'm with you," Harry continued, completely oblivious to the fact that Ron was sitting right next to Ginny and that Hermione was hovering close behind him. "I just want you to know that the best, easiest, most natural thing I've ever done has been loving you."
Ginny pushed out of her seat so fast that it flew behind her. Ron was reminded strongly of his mother and he moved so he wouldn't be in the line of fire between the two of them.
"I told you, I don't want to talk about it!" shouted Ginny, her face getting red.
"I do," said Harry calmly, walking toward her. She backed away from him until she was up against the refrigerator, and she put her hands up to ward him off.
"Stop being so selfish!" she bellowed at his encroaching form. "Don't you care what this is doing to me at all?"
"I care about everything that happens to you, but this needed to be said," he reasoned.
Ginny glared at him for another moment, before pushing him squarely in the chest. "Fine!" she yelled hotly. "Fine, if that's the way you want it! I love you too, you great prat!" Ginny started crying then, looking as if she wasn't going to stop for a few hundred years.
Ron felt Hermione's hand slide into his and before he knew it, they were walking toward the living room. She sank onto the couch in front of the fireplace, pulling him down with her. "I didn't think Harry had it in him," she said quietly, settling against the back of the couch wearily. "Then again, goodbyes are often bittersweet and emotional."
"I wouldn't know. Both my mum and Ginny won't let me say my goodbyes," he said, focusing on the burning embers of the fire. Hermione's hand tightened in his and he sighed heavily. "When we got back today, I got so sick that I had to lock myself in the bathroom."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to crawl under the couch and hide. How in the world had that actually come out just now? And why? It was bad enough he was a huge chicken, but to have her think that of him as well would be absolute torture. His face grew red and he kept his eyes carefully trained on the fire.
"I've felt sick all day, too," she said, sliding closer to him on the couch.
"Yeah? But you didn't vomit because you're so scared you can't even see straight," he said before he could think. When he realized what he'd just said, he felt the incredible urge to sprint up to his room and never come down again. Hermione and Harry would be much better off without a huge chicken following them around everywhere anyway. He couldn't figure out why all of these embarrassing truths were pouring forth now, in front of her…the one person he wanted to impress the most. The one person he wanted to think of him as a strong, brave, capable man.
He was just thinking that someone could have spiked one of his drinks with Veritaserum when Hermione's arm linked through his and her body pressed up against his side.
"I'm scared, too," she said. "In fact, when I was saying goodbye to my parents earlier, I started crying so hard I hyperventilated."
Ron turned his attention away from the fire and looked at her. "Was it that awful?"
"My mother couldn't say a word to me the whole time. I guess if she'd started talking, she was afraid she'd fall apart or something. My dad wouldn't let me go, and finally my mother had to pry me out of his arms," she said, her eyes welling up at the memory. Ron's arm went about her and she leaned into him. "I don't think this is easy for anyone, so don't think that a little nausea is something to be ashamed of."
"No, Hermione, it is," Ron said, shaking his head. "Harry would never get sick at the thought of what he was about to go off and do. He understands why he needs to go, and if it makes him scared, he pushes it away so he can keep a clear head. He faces his fears head on, and I face mine by shoving my head in a toilet."
Hermione shifted in his arms so she was looking up at him, and her face was set with a blazing look.
"You're being entirely unfair to yourself," she demanded hotly. "Harry does what he has to do because he feels it's his destiny…his responsibility. He has taken this on and understands that he needs to see it through, so he has no choice but to be brave."
She paused and pushed herself up and away from him so she was looking straight into his face. Her hands came up to rest against his chest and as always, Ron grew calm under her touch.
"You, on the other hand, are doing this because you love your friends and it's unthinkable to you to let him do this alone. You don't have to go, but you can't not go. It's the bravest thing I've ever seen, and I won't allow you to think otherwise," she finished resolutely, her gaze still holding his.
Ron's entire body reacted to her words. How had he ever seen her as anything less than the love of his life? She had the amazing ability to see to the heart of him and tell him what he needed to hear every single time. She made him feel invincible…as if he was the best person she'd ever known. His chest constricted tightly under her hands and he was overcome with such a surge of respect and love for her that it almost winded him.
"What?" she asked, when he remained silently staring at her for a bit too long. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Do you know how unbelievable you are?" he asked, lowering his gaze to the floor. "I've never known anyone like you, and I don't know what I did to deserve having you in my life."
When she didn't say anything in return, he looked back up and found her staring into the fire with an odd expression on her face.
"Hermione?" he said softly, trying to break into her reverie. "What are you thinking?"
She shook her head, and he could see a stray tear work its way out of the corner of her eye. "Ron, did you ever think that we'd be here, like this, when you first met me on the train to school?"
"Honestly? Never," he said, chuckling a bit at the remembrance of their first meeting.
"Me neither," she said, her voice sounding funny. "But now, doesn't it seem as if we've been leading to this since that moment all along?"
Ron fell silent, considering her words. He thought back over all their fights, squabbles, struggles…every little moment they spent together, laughing, bickering, studying, watching out for each other…
"Do you mean could I have seen this turning out any other way?" he asked. She nodded, and he smiled at her profile. "You know something? No. I think that somewhere along the way I knew that there wouldn't be anyone else for me."
"There couldn't be anyone else for me, either," she said softly, still not meeting his eyes. "Even when we were just friends, I knew that it was you all along."
"Hey," he said, putting his hand out to gently turn her face to his. Their eyes met, and he held her gaze intently.
"I'm not good with all of the mushy stuff, and I'm sorry for that," he said, tracing her jawline with his thumb. "I saw how you looked when Harry told Ginny he loved her, like you were wishing you'd heard those words from me." When she made a motion to interrupt him, he shook his head and continued on quickly. "No, let me finish. I do, you know. I guess I didn't say anything because to me, they are such small words compared to how I feel. I mean, I've loved you for years, as my best friend. You were always the one person I could count on to keep me in line, to make me a better person than I could be on my own because you believed I could be. I began falling for you years ago, but I was too young and stupid to know what it all meant. Last year was the first year I understood what it meant to love you like you deserved to be loved, but only after I'd hurt you so badly. It was more than I deserved to get another chance at showing you how I felt about you. So I guess what I'm trying to say here…very badly…is that telling you I love you seems like it's almost not enough."
Hermione's eyes drifted closed momentarily as she allowed his words to penetrate. When she opened them again, she had a look of utter serenity on her face.
"I understand completely," she said softly.
He pulled her closer, needing to feel her against him – the contact that had become as vital to him as air. "I know you do," he said in a low voice. "Which is exactly why I love you so bloody much."
They moved together seamlessly, naturally, as if they were made to fit together as perfectly as they did. Their lips met as they always did, with tentative softness at first, growing into a fervor for each other that couldn't be denied.
When his mother didn't show up for dinner, Ron's spirits plummeted. He really figured that all she needed was a bit of time to vent and blow off steam and she'd be cooking them up a lavish going-away dinner with more food than they'd be able to eat in a month.
As it was, Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny made a few sandwiches late into the night and retired to their rooms shortly after to begin packing for the journey. Harry was helping Ron pick out the things he thought Ron would need, waving his wand at a stack of books on the corner of his desk.
"Your mum will come around," Harry said in a quiet voice. More so than anyone, Harry had felt her absence. He kept saying that it was all his fault and that she probably hated Harry for taking her son away from her and ruining her daughter's life.
"We leave tomorrow morning," Ron said, equally as quiet. He didn't know if he'd be able to leave, knowing that his mother was so disappointed in him that she couldn't even say goodbye to him. It caused his chest to hurt just thinking about it.
"Well, you're almost finished," Harry said, surveying the trunk loaded with clothes and various odds-and-ends Fred and George had given them 'just in case'.
Ron shrank the trunk down and packed away the extra things he wouldn't be taking. He stood in the middle of his orange room and looked around at the faded posters and ratty curtains.
"Feels kind of strange being in this room now," he said out loud. "I begged my mother to let me paint it orange when I was ten. I practically sold my soul to Fred and George to get the Cannons posters, and now I feel like I've outgrown it all. This stuff used to be so important to me, and now it's just stuff."
"You mean the putrid paint and the posters of a team that is consistently rubbish?" asked Harry, snapping Ron out of his maudlin musings. Ron saw the wry grin on Harry's face and chucked a wadded up shirt at his head.
"I'm trying to be sentimental about my childhood here," said Ron in mock outrage. "A little compassion, please, Harry."
They got into bed and Ron doused the light. "Last night at the Burrow," he said aloud.
"Yeah," replied Harry through the darkness.
"Well, at least until all of this is over and we can come back," said Ron, putting as much hope into his voice as he could.
"Yeah," said Harry again, although his voice didn't sound full of hope at all.
"Harry, we're going to be fine, and you want to know how I know?" Ron said, rolling over so he was facing the wall where Harry's cot rested.
"I'm sure you're going to tell me anyway," said Harry, trying to be flippant, but failing miserably.
"We have too much to come back to. Ginny, my parents, my brothers, our friends…"
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Harry said, his voice sounding stronger this time.
"Of course I'm right. Besides, with the three of us together, Voldemort doesn't stand a chance."
"You're not going to burst out into song or anything, are you?"
A pillow flew across the room and muffled Harry's snigger. Pig hooted softly in his cage as if agreeing with his master's statement, no matter how corny it may have sounded to his best friend.
The next morning, as Ron, and Hermione were bringing their things downstairs to be ready for when they left, the back door banged open and the silence of the house was broken by a bunch of voices talking over each other.
"I hope you didn't think you lot would leave without saying a proper goodbye," Ron heard Charlie say as he entered the room, followed closely by Percy, Fred, George, Bill and Fleur.
"What are you two doing here?" Ron asked Bill. "Aren't you guys supposed to be on your honeymoon?"
"Mum owled us last night and told us we needed to come back home," he said, crossing the room to stand in front of Ron. "I figure she thought I'd be able to talk you out of it."
"You can't," Ron said, meeting his oldest brother's gaze evenly.
"I know that," Bill said, nodding in understanding. "I wasn't even going to try. I just wanted to…well, you know…I wanted to have a chance to say –"
Fleur rushed forward then and enveloped Ron in a hug. "What my husband is trying to say is that we love you, and we're very proud of you."
Ron looked over Fleur's shoulder at Bill, who was staring at Ron with his jaw set firmly. "Yeah, that's about right," he said, averting his eyes quickly as Fleur released Ron. "Just keep us in the know, okay? I mean it. Letters and maybe even a visit or two if you can manage it." He came forward then and grabbed Ron roughly in a quick embrace. "Take care of yourself, little brother."
"I will," Ron said, not trusting himself to talk much more than that. In fact, as Charlie came up next to hug him, Ron was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to say another word until he left the house.
Percy extended his hand, as if he was unsure if Ron was willing yet to accept an embrace from him. Ron realized how petty he had been regarding Percy in that one moment, and even though he still felt as if Percy had behaved like a world-class git, he was still his brother, and he loved him. He pulled Percy in for a quick hug, seeing over his shoulder that Harry and Hermione were now being surrounded by the others. It made him feel good that his brothers all thought of them as part of the family.
"Well, Ron…" Fred said as he and George stepped up to have their turn at a goodbye. Ron waited for the quips they would surely fire off, saying goodbye in their own unique way.
They never came, however. Fred pulled him in for a fierce hug, and as soon as he was released, George stepped forward and did the same. This, more than anything else, drove home the point that he would be missed terribly. His throat closed up, and he extracted himself quickly from George so he could turn away and collect himself.
Too late, he realized he'd turned right into Ginny, who was shaking with the effort she was putting out to keep herself from crying. Their eyes met, and with a muffled sob, she threw herself into his arms and clung to him as tightly as she could.
"I'm going to miss you so much," she said in a broken voice. "Please be careful, and watch out for them."
"I will. I love you, Gin," he said, releasing her and wiping the tears off her cheeks. "I promise I'll get him back to you."
Ginny took a steadying breath at his words and forced her tears to stop. Ron was amazed by the strength of his sister, and drew his own strength from it. She kissed his cheek before moving off to hug Hermione, which Ron watched with sad eyes. He knew how important the two of them had become to each other, and as the girls clung to each other, neither letting a single tear fall, he realized how fated all of this had been. He had met Harry and Hermione for a reason, and this was it. They needed to become a part of his family.
After all of the goodbyes had been said, Ron looked around anxiously for any sign of his parents. He hated to think that his mother was so heartbroken that she couldn't even come down to see him off.
His father came in just then, alone, and after he'd talked with Harry and Hermione, and hugged them both as if they were his own, he crossed the room to Ron.
"Where's mum?" Ron asked, afraid that his father would say what he'd just been fearing.
"She's outside in the garden. She wanted to see the three of you alone before you apparate," his father explained. Ron nodded, and his father clasped his shoulders.
"I couldn't be any prouder of you than I am right now, Ron. I'm going to miss you terribly, and worry about you constantly, but I do understand. I love you, son," he said in a low voice, gripping Ron's arms even tighter as he spoke.
Ron swallowed past the lump in his throat. "I love you too, dad. I'll send word when we get settled."
There was nothing else to do, nothing more to say. Harry let his hand fall from Ginny's as the three of them made their way out the back door. Ron saw that he refused to turn and look back at her, and he understood. He couldn't look back at any of them right now. It would have broken him.
His mother was waiting for them by the back gate, right alongside the designated apparating area. She was holding herself very still and as they approached, Ron could see the hundreds of emotions fighting for control in her eyes.
Before any of them could say a word, his mother stepped forward and commanded their attention. "I have something to say, and you'll each listen to me."
Ron looked to Harry, then to Hermione, who were both wearing identical expressions. They appeared half afraid, half overwhelmed by their feelings for the formidable woman standing in front of them.
"Arthur explained why you were going, and it is admirable. You are doing the right thing, and I know that. It is logical, and it makes sense. You three have always had something about you that could get you through anything, and I truly believe that you will do what needs to be done," she said, her tone indicating that their failure was neither an option nor a possibility. She turned her attention to Harry, zeroing in on him with now shining eyes.
"You became friends with my son for a reason. You needed a family, and you found one, with us. I couldn't love you any more than if you were one of my own." Harry looked down at his feet, but she didn't let him do so for long. She lifted his chin up with one hand. "If it was up to me, you wouldn't have to do this at all. You would be able to live a normal life and enjoy being young. But you were meant to do this, just as much as you were meant to be a part of this family."
She turned to Hermione then, who was now openly crying. His mother took up her hands and held them tenderly. "I've watched you grow from a bossy little thing into the unbelievably beautiful and courageous woman you've become. It isn't hard to see why my son loves you so much."
Hermione sniffled and blinked furiously to keep the torrent of tears Ron knew she wanted to unleash at a minimum. His mother released one of her hands and brushed a strand of hair behind Hermione's ear. "If you weren't going with them, I wouldn't feel as comfortable. But I know my boys are going to be fine because they have you to look after them and keep them safe. You are the smartest person I've ever had the honor of knowing, and I've grown to love you very much."
Ron watched as his mother hugged Hermione gently to her, feeling so lucky that the person that he knew he'd share his life with was already a part of his family in so many ways. His chest constricted as his mother released Hermione and turned to him, her eyes growing bright for the first time since she'd begun speaking.
"Last night I had to leave because I simply couldn't get past the fact that my baby was a grown man who could make up his own mind. All I kept seeing as you talked to me was the little boy who would cling to my hand any time one of his brothers did anything mean to him." She took a step closer to him and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "To me, you'll always be my little boy, but I am so proud of the man you've become. You're loyal and brave, and it makes me feel like I've done something right when I see your capacity for loving others. You were too young to remember the first war and how hard your father and I fought to protect those we loved, but now it's your turn." Her voice broke and she pulled him into a tight embrace, rocking back and forth as she had when he was little and he'd gotten hurt. The only difference was this time, her head rested against his chest. "I love you, Ron. No mother could be prouder of her son than I am of you."
Ron closed his eyes and held his mother close. He knew how hard this was for her, and for her to let them leave with her blessings was a big step. "We'll send word when we're settled somewhere," he said, his voice sounding funny to his own ears. He felt his mother nod against him and he looked up to see Hermione standing very close to Harry, wiping the tears off her cheeks. Harry was looking off across the yard, a strange tightness around his features.
His mother released him, kissing him quickly and wiping at her own eyes. "Very well then. I've said my piece, and it's time you got going."
They picked up their bags and stood right outside the gate, not wanting to leave but finding it hard to stay any longer. His mother looked them all over one last time, then nodded and gave a smile. "Off you go then," she said softly. "Watch out for each other and write as often as you can."
"We will," Ron answered, grabbing Hermione's hand for support.
"Mrs. Weasley, thanks…well, for everything," Harry said, his eyes trying to convey all that he wanted to say but simply couldn't.
"No need to thank me, dear. It's what mothers do," she said, straightening up to her full height.
Harry nodded once and with a last look at her, he closed his eyes, turned once and disappeared on the spot.
"I love you, mum," Ron said as Hermione let go of his hand and followed Harry's lead.
"Be careful sweetheart," she replied, blowing him a kiss from the other side of the fence. Ron turned and felt the odd tug at the pit of his stomach. Just before he disappeared, he could hear his mother's voice calling out to him.
"I'll keep a light on for you."
Regulus was in the drawing room again, sitting behind the large oak desk with about a dozen books spread out before him. There was a map pinned to the wall next to him, and on closer inspection, there were several cities either circled or systematically tacked with colored pins.
"You are here earlier than I thought you'd be," he said by way of greeting. They joined him in the room and placed their bags in the corner.
"We said our goodbyes," Ron replied, looking over the desk to the volume that was open before him. "What's that?"
"A start," Regulus answered, tapping the pages with his finger. "I have traveled over the past few years and everywhere I went I kept my ears open for any little clue I could get my hands on. When I was in Norway last year, I heard of strange things happening in a little town right outside the capital. I figure it's as good a place to begin as anywhere."
Harry eyed the book and then turned his gaze to Regulus. "So we're off to Norway then?" When Regulus nodded, Harry sighed. "Okay. Just tell us what you need for us to do."
Regulus smiled quickly, closing the large book. "I need for you to be patient. Once we get there, we will have to find our way to the Lake of Omens. It is only reachable by boat, and will be a long journey."
"We'll be fine," Harry asserted, looking more closely at Regulus' face. "But what about you? You look like you didn't sleep at all last night."
Regulus tried to casually wave off Harry's comment, but then thought better of it. It seemed to Ron that he didn't want to start off this excursion by lying and covering up truths. "Too many memories in this house," Regulus said, shrugging helplessly. "A bit hard to ignore when it is dark and quiet."
Harry nodded, looking as though he was going to say something, then busied himself with moving paperweights on the desk.
"What is it, Harry?" Regulus asked. "Did you want to ask me something?"
"No, I, uh…well, I guess I wanted to sort of tell you something," Harry said. "It's just that I know you think your brother hated you, and maybe he hated what he thought you were – but he was a good person and if he'd known that you were on his side all this time, he would have tried to find you. He would have wanted to be your brother."
Regulus sat so still that Ron thought someone had put a freezing charm on him. His face grew taut as a muscle worked in his jaw. His head swung forward then, his shaggy hair covering his eyes briefly, before he lifted it to them and Ron could see a smile cross his face.
"Thank you, Harry. I'd like to believe that would have been so," he said, pushing out of his chair and straightening his cloak needlessly.
"Is Lupin going to see us off?" Hermione asked, looking out into the hall for any sign of their old professor.
Regulus shook his head. "He wanted to honor your requests that your parents wouldn't here when you left, and I guess he knows you pretty well to understand that you'd show up early. He took them into town himself about a half hour ago, but he did leave you a letter." He opened a drawer and pulled out a long envelope. "Addressed to all of you."
Harry took it and opened it, standing awkwardly in the middle of the room for a minute. Regulus got the hint, grabbing up the sack he used to cover his face.
"I'll wait for you outside," he said, making sure his path was clear so he wouldn't bump into anything. "Take all the time you need."
After he'd left, Harry unfolded the letter, gave it to Hermione, who immediately began to read.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione,
I know a letter seems a bit impersonal, but I wanted to see to Hermione's parents personally. I understand why I am not going now, as there are many people you are leaving behind that need someone to keep them safe. I feel it is my great honor and privilege to be that person. I want you to know that no harm shall come to them as long as I am around.
I also want you to know how proud I am of you three. When you were at school, back in your third year, I had never seen a group of such misfits who could shine and stand out as you did. It reminded me of my own friends in so many ways, and it made my life seem complete for the first time in a very long time.
Because of you three, I was able to see Sirius again, and no matter how brief our time together was, it is something I can never repay you for. I also got to spend some time with James again, through you, Harry. I suppose you tire of hearing it, but you are your father's son in so many ways.
Please be safe, and remember all you have learned. You have your fair share of guardian angels on your side, and more than enough support from those who will remain behind. Regulus and I spoke at length last night, and I feel that your instincts about him are right. I do believe he will help you in more ways than I could on your journey.
I will be thinking of you often, and you carry with you all of my prayers for a quick and victorious return. Remember, I'm only ever an owl away if you should need me.
Take care of yourselves, and each other.
Hermione finished reading, folding the letter as she said Lupin's name. She took the envelope from the desk where she'd discarded it, placed the paper back in gingerly, and folded it to put into her pocket.
Harry looked at her, then at Ron. "Well, that about covers things, doesn't it?"
Hermione nodded, straightening her shoulders and taking a deep breath. Harry began to leave the room, then turned back to them. "Before things get crazy, I just want you two to know…" He trailed off, his voice failing him.
"We know, mate," Ron said, filling the silence that followed Harry's words.
Harry nodded, then straightened his own shoulders. "Alright then."
He walked out the door, and even his walk seemed more confident, more self-assured. Ron turned to Hermione and held out his hand to her.
"Shall we?" he asked, giving her a smile he hoped would convey to her that everything would be just fine. When she smiled back and took his hand, he knew that she, too, understood.
They followed Harry out into the hall and stood at his side. With one last deep breath, he opened the front door and they stepped into the sunlight together, leaving everything and everyone they knew behind.
Done! It isn't the way I had originally intended it, but stories have a weird way of changing themselves on me when I least expect it. In a way, I really felt this story was finished at the end of last chapter...but I do understand why some of you wanted more closure. I know it was fluffy and sappy, but I figured, they are leaving, with the possibility they might not return, so if there was ever a moment for fluff and sap, it was this chapter.
I had so much fun entertaining you all with this, and I really hope to carry you all over to my new story, which should be started within the next week or so. There are a few personal things that need some attention for a while, but since I find writing to be a healthy, relaxing retreat, I may be doing more of it soon. Once I kick this cold I have, I'll be posting. THANK YOU for all you have done for me, I appreciate it more than words can express.
Take care, and may this find you all in good health.