Many thanks to hydraspit, who's beta readed this chapter for me and helped me to improve it. You rock!
Part Three: Ron and Ginny – Third Episode
The silence was tense. The air around them was charged with anxiety and, as time went by, fear. The only sound was Ginny's trainers against the wooden floor while she paced like a caged animal. Harry's eyes followed her until it made him dizzy and he had to look elsewhere.
Ron had sunken into a chair, pale under his freckles. His countenance was stoic, although Harry noted he was clutching Hermione's hand, his gaze lost in some point mid-air. Hermione looked concerned. Every now and then she caressed Ron's arm, murmuring soothing words of comfort to no avail. Ron remained imperturbable.
Harry closed his eyes. In his own, sad experience everytime things could go wrong, they went worse. This time had been no exception.
When Andrew commented in passing that he'd lost radio signal with the team that was handling the vampire nest, they hadn't paid him any attention. Andrew himself didn't look altogether surprised ('I keep telling Giles we need buy new transmitters, but does he listen?'), whereas Professor Rosemberg had merely shrugged. 'Giles was always a technophobe,' she'd said before turning to the four of them. 'You guys ready to go?'
Hermione, after casting a quick glance at the sullen Ron and Ginny, tentatively nodded.
'Well, then let's move if we want to get there before dark. Andrew, would you say goodbye to Faith for us?'
'And please thank her for all the help,' Lupín added. Andrew began some pompous speech about how it had been an honour to be of use for such a noble cause when a desperate cry rose over his voice:
'Help! C'mon, he's bleeding again!'
All of them rushed to the door and froze at the horrid sight before them. The girls that accompanied Percy and Faith to the raid all had several cuts and bruises, some that looked rather nasty. But none of them was in such bad shape as the man Vi and Faith were holding, entirely covered by blood and grey dust. Harry felt a knot of dread forming in the pit of his stomach. Could that possibly be...?
Ginny's frightened whisper was engulfed by Faith's commanding tone:
'Girls, go to the hospital wing at once; Andrew, get Wesley's supplies.' As everybody hastened to follow her orders, she looked up and Harry saw a cut that crossed her face. 'Willow, would you...?'
'Of course,' she'd replied but Lupin had already conjured a stretcher. With some difficulty, Vi and Faith placed Percy's body on it. Hermione gasped, a hand covering her mouth and Ron's face turned a pale shade of green. Even Harry felt his stomach twirl at the sight of Percy's misshapen form. Blood was all over his ragged clothes, his left arm was twisted in a strange angle and through his half-open lids they could see he was glassy-eyed.
'What happened to him?' Lupin asked. Vi shook her head.
'Dunno. I think a ton of bricks fell on him, but...'
'Not bricks. Concrete,' Faith corrected and Vi shuddered. Aghast, Harry looked at Percy's face, half of which was covered by bruises. Rosemberg bent over him, murmuring foreign words under her breath. She grimaced.
'Apart from the arm, he's got four broken ribs and there might be some inner injury. I need to take a closer look. Is there somewhere we could take him...?'
'The hospital wing. C'mon, it's this way.'
They followed her to the building's west wing, which had been left out of Chiara's tour. Now Harry could see why: although the rest of the school was cheerful and cozy, the hospital wing looked as grim and foreboding as all Harry had seen, with its endless lines of grey beds and its aesthetic smell.
Andrew approached them, his face contorted by worry.
'Faith, I've gotten all of it. Do you want me to call Oliver or Wesley?'
'No, Willow will handle it. The girls...?'
'I can take care of their injuries,' Lupin offered and Faith gave him a grateful, albeit tense, smile. Then she frowned. 'What're you doin' here?
Ginny put her hands on her hips, raising her chin. 'We want to see what's wrong with Percy...'
Faith stared at her for a moment, then she shouted over her shoulder:
'Girls, get 'em out of here. This ain't for civilians.'
'You've heard Faith.'
In the blink of an eye, two girls appeared out of nowhere. The one that had spoken was an Asian, sixteen-year-old girl. The other one, to Harry's shock, was none other but Chiara Valenti.
Ginny hissed through gritted teeth. 'I don't care a shit what she says...'
But Chiara no longer was the overenthusiastic teenaged girl they'd met. For the first time her face was blank, except for the dangerous glint in her eyes that matched Ginny's own. Before any of them could react, she grabbed Ginny by the arm and tossed her out.
She pushed Harry with the same ease she would have pushed a doll, and he fell flat on his back. He raised to his feet only to see the Asian girl drag a struggling Ron and a thunderstruck Hermione out of the hospital wing, right before she slammed the door on their faces.
'That bitch, she'll –'
Harry jumped to grab Ginny from behind.
'Harry, let me go right now!'
'No! C'mon, Ginny, Rosemberg will fix this, okay?'
She broke free from his grasp and gave him a deadly glare. Harry's insides twisted at the blazing fury in her eyes. He braced himself for the blow... that never fell. Instead, she turned on her heels and strolled away, fuming. For a moment, Harry felt utterly miserable, which gained him a sympathetic look from Hermione, but the moment soon passed: they became more concerned by Ron's blank face.
'Ron, he'll be okay,' Hermione said softly. Ron flinched, as though he'd just been pulled out of a reverie.
'I'm not concerned. Not like I care.'
Hermione started. She looked at Harry, desperation showing on her face. Harry merely shook his head. He knew his friend did not mean what he'd said.
He only hoped that Ron would realise it before it was too late.
Everything hurt. From the tip of his toes to his forehead, every inch of muscle throbbed in a constant, never ceasing ache. Perched on the edge of his bed, Andrew explained that Willow had managed to fix his broken bones (four ribs and an arm) and refilled his lost blood, but that the damage to his muscles would take longer to heal. Percy faintly asked if he couldn't have anything – given his state, he would have even accepted those horrid Muggle drugs – for the pain. Andrew's eyes widened in surprise.
'But Willow has given you three different potions!'
'Really? It does not feel like it.'
His friend tilted his head to one side, a sympathetic look in his eyes.
'You really scared us, you know. Vi reckons you were this close to... well, you know. Not tell the tale.'
Percy tried to smile, but he feared it came out more of a grimace.
'What can I say? I'm stubborn.'
Andrew forced a smile when they heard a commotion at the door. They exchanged a glance and Andrew turned his head towards the source of agitation. Percy would have liked to do the same, but he feared what might happen if he tried. He'd probably throw up.
'Look, just for a moment, okay?'
'He needs rest.' Vi's stern tone was the same she used on the new Slayers. 'He's lost a lot of blood.'
'And he's gonna need his strength, 'cause this ain't over yet.'
'You'll make him fight after what happened today?'
Percy could almost see Faith raising her eyebrows at Hermione's words.
'Brat, this is a war. Vampires don't wait for anyone.'
'We know what a war is like.' Percy doubted Faith would bat an eyelash at Harry's affronted tone. She would probably gave him an indifferent glance and bluntly ignore him.
'We just want to see him, and I think we have the right to –'
'We? Don't say we, you're the one who's dragging me – ouch!'
Percy cringed at Ron's words and avoided Andrew's eyes. He could not have beared to see pity in them.
Vi's tone became, if possibly, even more cutting. 'He needs to not be overexerted. And, if you ask me, I think he's had enough of your ways for one day, missy.'
Percy suspected the reason he'd always been fond of Vi was because of her resemblance to Ginny, both in looks and fiery temper. He'd always wondered what would happen if those two ever collided, never imagining he'd actually live to see it. Be careful what you wish for... Only Merlin knew what could happen with a temper such as theirs.
Despite feeling grateful at Vi for defending him, he realised this would not do.
'Let them come in.'
'What'd you say?'
Percy's whisper was so faint that Andrew had to bent over to hear him.
'If... if they want to, let them come in. Tell Vi and Faith that.'
Andrew hesitated, then stood up and approached the group at the door. Percy could not make out what they were saying, but after a moment of hurried whispering, he could hear Vi's voice raising over the others.
'Fine. But just for a moment, and if you upset him...'
'They won't,' Faith cut in, her tone deadly. This time, there was no reply. Few were bold enough to contradict Faith when she spoke in that tone, no matter how many Dark wizards they might or might not have faced. 'Now, get in there. And make it quick.'
At first, there was an awkward silence as Ron and Ginny regarded him. Percy guessed he looked like crap, because a horrified expression crossed his sister's face, whereas Ron's cool facade wavered, his face blanching. Percy tried to smile reassuringly, failing miserably.
'Don't worry, I've seen worse.'
They merely stared and the silence became even more awkward. At last, Ginny let out a sigh.
'Oh, Percy.' It was remarkable the amount of emotion she managed to imprint those three syllables: concern, anxiety, resignation and a healthy dose of exasperation. 'You're a mess.'
That was by far the understatement of the year, although Percy did not think it wise to point that out. Soon the thought was wiped off his mind when, right before their eyes, Ginny suffered a sudden and terrifying transformation.
'Here, let me clean those for you.'
Before he could protest, she'd pulled out a napkin, drenched it in the metallic jar on his bedside table and proceeded to clean up his wounds, with a gentle touch that was eeriely familiar, not to mention rather uncharacteristic of the fiery-tempered girl. Surprises did not end there: not only did she take care of his wounds, but she also insisted on making him drink some water, rearranged the sheets around him and was busy puffing up his pillow when she asked, in a tone that tried to sound off-handed but not quite:
'So, do you often get in these sort of situations?'
Percy gaped at her, wondering when the hell had she turned into their mother. He exchanged a quick glance with Ron, who merely shrugged as he perched on the bed next to his.
'Well, usually it's not this bad, although there was this time when...well...' As his younger siblings' eyes fixed on him, for once paying him their full attention, Percy found himself torn between the need to put them at ease and the immature urge to show off. Sadly, the latter won. 'Let's say that a Berzen's tentacles leave ugly scars...'
'I got caught by brain tentacles once' Ron commented. 'Here, look' He pulled up his sleeves and Percy could see the nasty marks on his arms. His eyes widened. 'How did you get those, again?'
'By summoning some brains in a tank' Ginny intervened. 'A rather stupid thing to do, if you ask me...'
'Hey, a hex had hit my head! Try to think coherently when a Death Eater hexes you!'
Percy's jaw fell open. 'A Death Eater hexed you?'
'Yeah, at the Ministry last June. Blimey, don't you read the Prophet?'
Percy did read the Prophet, which had emphasized The Chosen One's role and barely mentioned his friends' intervention in the whole thing. It had made all sound grand and spectacular, just like Rita Skeeter's articles. In short, he knew nothing.
Ginny and Ron exchanged one unfathomable glance. After a moment, Ginny described to him their encounter with You-Know-Who's minions. As the tale progressed, Percy found himself torn once more, this time between admiration at his siblings' courage and resourcefulness, his anger at the uselessness of the Ministry's staff – which sadly included himself – and dread at the thought of his little brother and his baby sister facing such horrors. And, of course, the guilt. You once said you'd take care of me, remember?
'And you faced all that on your own? Where the hell was the Order? Where the hell were the damned Ministry's safety measures?'
'In case you don't remember, your dear Ministry was in denial over the whole "You-Know-Who's back" thing... which included you.'
Percy winced, stung by his brother's cold tone.
'Ron, back off,' hissed Ginny. Percy gave her a grateful glance, feeling a warmth inside he hadn't felt all day. After all what had happened between them, she still defended him.
She still cared.
He nearly smiled.
Smile that would have been wiped off his face by Ron's grim expression. Apparently, not everybody was so forgiving And perhaps, he thought idly, his brother had no reason to be so. You said you cared, but you abandoned us.
'He's right, Ginny,' he whispered, his throat constricting at another wave of overwhelming guilt. 'I should have known better, I shouldn't have been so foolish, I shouldn't have believed all that nonsense, I... I should have been there for you.'
Percy felt his eyes tingling and blinked – he would not cry. Percy Weasley did not cry. His eyes might water and his throat hurt with the effort of suppressing a sob, but he did not cry.
He closed his eyes, a soft whisper of foosteps approaching him. He felt the light weight of Ginny's small hand on his shoulder. When he opened his eyes, he saw his sister's face bent over his, showing a warmth and a concern which he'd only seen radiate from his mother's eyes.
'Percy, it's all past. You're here now. That's what matters.'
A sudden realisation hit Percy with the strength of a speeding train: this was no longer his baby sister whom he'd vowed to protect, but a mature young woman, not only capable of taking care of herself but also of forgiving the follies of others. He realised then that she was no longer somebody he should protect, but somebody he could lean on.
'Thank you, Ginny' he replied, his voice hoarse. She smiled – a sweet, caring smile that made her look beautiful. A sudden movement he saw by the corner of his eye made him break eye-contact to glance at Ron, who was shifting uncomfortably. Ginny glanced at him as well, rolled her eyes and looked once more at Percy.
'I'll go to get some more water. Whatever it is... sort it out.'
She squeezed his shoulder gently, picked up the jar and left. Percy's gaze followed her until she disappeared amidst the endless sea of grey beds. He turned his head slowly to avoid further pain and faced Ron who has looking at him intently, as though he were trying to decipher a puzzling enigma.
'So,' Percy said.
'So,' Ron replied in the same colourless tone. 'What happens now?'
'What happens now, Ron? You've got to tell me.'
Ron shifted once more, this time avoiding his gaze. 'I... I don't know,' he said at last. 'I don't know where we're standing anymore.'
'Neither do I,' he admitted. Another silence followed, heavy with unspoken feelings and unvoiced thoughts.
'You fight vampires now.'
Percy raised his eyebrows. 'I do,' he replied, although it hadn't been a question.
Ron nodded absent-mindedly. 'I never saw that coming. I mean, you weren't exactly... Well, you always seemed to prefer boring paperwork and protocol. Never pictured you doing anything risky or daring. Always the one to play it safe.' Ron regarded him, again that intent look on his face. 'You've changed.'
'I guess so.' Percy was having a very hard time reading Ron's expression. He was used either to cheerful or moody Ron, and this new version of his brother, who looked thoughtful and analytical, puzzled him. 'Is there something wrong with that?'
Ron took his time to answer.
'I don't know. It's just... You're no longer the Percy I knew. You don't look like him, you don't sound like him... You just don't remind me of my big brother anymore.'
Ouch, that hurt. However, Ron's tone wasn't hurtful nor angered. It was just the stating of a fact. On second thought, he had to admit Ron was right: he was no longer the pompous boy with whom Ron had grown up. After all the stuff he'd gone through, he'd transformed into a whole new person. Whether it was for the better or not remained to be seen.
'Then maybe we could start over,' he suggested. 'Turn the page and make a clean start.'
'Maybe,' Ron replied softly. It wasn't a hell of an encouragement, but at this point of his life he was willing to take whatever was thrown his way.
Silence fell upon them once more, but this one felt lighter, easier. They were not yet quite on the same page but, at some point they seemed to have reached some common ground. For now, it seemed to be good enough.
Ron stretched his legs, which made Percy see for the first time how long his brother had gotten. He must be as tall as I am now. It wasn't such a surprising fact as he and Ron had always shared the same build, but for some reason it shocked him. Last time he'd seen him, Percy had been able to look down at him... both literally and figuratively speaking. Now, though, their eyes were at the same level... and maybe, just maybe, they might be at the same level for the first time.
'You've changed, too.'
Ron started. 'Me? Nah, I'm still little Ronniekins.' He grimaced and then shrugged.
'No, you're not. You've grown up.'
'Yay for me,' Ron replied, doing a mocking gesture of triumph. 'About time, huh?'
Percy shook his head. 'I didn't mean it like that. It's just... I used to see a little of me in you, you know?'
This time, Ron truly started.
'Geez, Ron' Percy said, inadvertently imitating Vi's accent, 'try not to look so insulted, please.' He inhaled, trying to organize his ideas. 'It's not like we were alike, nor in temper nor in personality traits... it's just that you stood in the same position I did.'
Ron frowned, confused. 'What do you mean?'
'Well, you were in our shadow... you had to make an extra effort to stand out...'
Ron frowned, shaking his head 'What are you talking about? Mum and Dad were always "Percy said this and Percy said that". You never had to make an effort to stand out. You had the top grades, the Head Boy badge...'
Percy let out a chuckle at his brother's naïvety. 'Of course I had the top grades and the badge: both things that Bill had had before me, just like everything else. Ron, don't you see? The only reason I became so obsessed with my marks was the need to get some of the spotlight for myself. Bill was handsome, cool (,) and an awesome student; Charlie was the legendary Quidditch player, Fred and George were the trouble-makers, you and Ginny were the babies... I was as much in the shadow as you were, if not even more.'
Ron tilted his head to one side, pensive. 'I never saw it like that.'
Percy smiled. 'Of course not. By the time you entered Hogwarts, I'd already gotten my own place whereas you still had to deal with the shadow of five older brothers.' His smile broadened. 'But you overcame that. Look at you: now you're a Prefect and in the Quidditch team...'
'Yeah, 'cause I'm so good at that,' Ron cut in, darkly. 'And it doesn't make much of a difference anyway because you all did it first.'
For a freakish moment, Percy could hear his own voice in Ron's bitter tone. Guess we're even more alike than I thought. To Ron, it wasn't enough just to make an accomplishment: he had to do something, anything, that his brothers hadn't mastered first. Just like me, he couldn't help thinking.
He didn't point that out as they weren't yet okay enough with each other for Ron to accept such comparison. Instead, he pondered about what he could say to his brother to make him realise his own worth – and then it hit him.
'Maybe Bill and I were Prefects first, and maybe Charlie and the twins played Quidditch first' he began ' but there're some things we've never accomplished.'
Ron's head jerked up. 'What would those be?'
Percy put on a serious expression on his face.
'Well, let me see. For starters, facing a bunch of Death Eaters in your fifth year. Or winning an award for Special Services to the School. Or beating McGonagall's giant chess set. Or defeating a troll in your first year. Well, you get the idea. Silly things like that.'
Ron chuckled and Percy felt a wave of relief. This is going better.
'Don't you see, Ron? You have something that none of us has, something that will take further than any of us.'
'Really? 'Cause I've never noticed it before.'
For a moment, Percy was surprised at Ron's lack of confidence in himself. Naturally, Percy had been aware of what the success of older brothers could do to a boy's self-esteem, but he'd never suspected it had undermined Ron's to the extent of not being able to see how valuable he was. In a moment of clarity, Percy saw what his duty as Ron's older brother was.
'You've got courage... a courage none of us had when we were your age. And something else – your willingness to do the right thing, no matter what. So does Ginny, but... well, it's a different case.'
Ron nodded: they both knew that Ginny, as the first female Weasley in generations, would have stood out even in the unlikely case she turned into a dull, spiritless girl.
'What I'm trying to say, Ron, is that those things... Those things'll take you far, further than you think. Mark my words: you'll outshine us all.'
Ron's eyes widened at these words. He looked at his brother as if he saw him for the very first time. And perhaps it was so. It was the first time Percy praised Ron entirely on his own accord, without saying something terribly stupid as "I'm glad you're following in my footsteps" sort of thing. I guess I'm getting better at this... about damned time, by the way.
His words must have gotten to his brother to some level, because the moody look had finally disappeared from his eyes, replaced with something akin to... gratitude, dare he hope?
They sat in a silence that was no longer awkward. On the contrary, Percy felt like they had both finally reached some common ground, as a look of complete understanding – like they'd never shared before – was exchanged. Percy had at last overcame Ron's and his own walls and managed to reach his brother on some level. Finally.
The moment passed, though, and Ron looked uncomfortable once more.
'Look, Percy, I get that you've changed and you're no longer a git, and I get that everybody else's forgiven you but...' He sighed. 'I don't forgive that easily.' I kinda noted that. 'I'm not as mature about this sort of stuff as I wish I were, I'm too used to holding grudges. I... I don't think we can go back to like we used to be.'
At these words, Percy tried to sit up on the bed – which proved to be a bad idea. Letting out a hiss of pain, he fell back to the mattress. Ron stood up, a fleeting look of concern crossing his features.
'Are you OK?'
'Yes... just that I don't think I should be doing that anytime soon.' Ron sank again on the bed and Percy let out a sigh. 'Look, Ron, I don't pretend to go back in time – not only because we can't, but because I don't want to do so. You can't look at me like you used to, and I can't see you as the child that needs constant chastising and advice. We're both too grown up for that. I just thought...' His voice tailed off in mid-sentence. He closed his eyes, trying to gather his confused thoughts, and opened them again. 'I just thought, given we can't go back to our old relationship we could... I don't know, begin a new one. Maybe... maybe with both of us on the same level. What do you reckon?'
Shock, surprise and something akin to awe – or perhaps it was just perplexity – crossed Ron's face in an instant. Then an unreadable mask fell upon his features as he seemed to be pondering on his words. Percy held his breath. Their entire future relationship depended on what Ron said now. If he was willing to give it a try, all the better. If not... well, Percy wouldn't beg, no matter how much it might hurt him to lose his little brother.
At last, Ron let out a sigh.
'Why not? I... I don't promise you all be peachy between us at once but... eventually...'
Percy smiled, as a terrible burden was lifted off his shoulders.
'Eventually is more than good enough, Ron.'
When Ginny came back, she gave them a smile – she'd noticed the now-relaxed atmosphere and realised at once what it meant. She didn't comment on it, opting instead to give Percy some water to drink. While she was at it, she off-handledly inquired:
'So, how long this girl Naoise and you've been dating?'
'Who told you...? Wait' His eyes narrowed. 'It was Andrew, wasn't he?'
'Actually, it was Vi, but that Chiara girl had had a slip of the tongue before...'
Percy inwardly growled.
'So?' Ginny insisted, her hands on her hips. 'How did you meet her?'
'Well,' Percy smiled, 'that's quite an interesting story...'
The three of them immersed in a chat about Naoise, the band, Dean Thomas, the Quidditch season and Lavender Brown, with Percy chuckling at Ginny's caustic comments and Ron's furious blushing.
As his siblings roared with laughter at Percy's retelling of Fred and George's party he realised with a shock that, for once, he didn't feel like an outsider in his own family.
Next in this series (you'll have to wait, though, because I'm kinda busy right now but eventually it'll come):
Summary: There's a time to choose between what's right and what's easy, and that time comes for Percy, Andrew and Oliver when Lorne makes a revelation about their future. Xover with Atvs, part of my 'Percy' series.