CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR – LET THE GAMES BEGIN
DISCLAIMER: Do I even need to say it anymore?
A/N: Wow. Lots and lots of unhappy people. All I can say is that thee is a reason for why people are acting the way they are. Yes, it may seem OOC, but there is a method to my madness. Hope you will hang in there.
X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X
"So, little brother…."
"You and the great…"
"And wise. Don't forget wise."
"Ah, yes. Great and wise Harry Potter going to roll over for us?"
Ron looked back and forth between his older brothers trying to ignore the headache he felt starting whenever they completed sentences for each other. It was a trick that they'd learned early on, a way to make him dizzy and confused… especially whenever they were tormenting him and he tried to go running to Mum. He snorted at the memories, Molly Weasley finally catching a clue and punishing both of the twins rather than just one. It was one of the first things he taught Ginny after she'd been born: blame both.
"Why's it so important to you?" George smiled deviously, but Ron held his hand up forestalling any answer. "Just one of you, if you please."
George opened his mouth, but Fred touched him on the arm. Fred smiled. "First, how would it look to our many adoring fans if we lost to our little brother?"
Ron smiled. "You could blame it on Harry…"
"Oh, and we would." George piped in. "But think of how we'd look if we beat him, too."
"That's it?" He barked a laugh. "Forget it. I thought there might be something real you were doing, but…"
As Ron stood to leave from the small alcove that the three of them were currently sitting at, keeping any other classmates from drawing near. Dusting off the back of his pants, Ron ran his fingers across his chin. He had only made it a few paces away before both of his brothers called after him, asking him to come back.
"Why?" He called over his shoulder.
Fred hung his head. "We'll tell you everything."
Ron turned at that offer. "Everything?"
George grinned. "Well, about this anyway."
Ron looked up at the ceiling, his mind whirling as he considered the offer. It had been way too long since they'd included him into anything that they had planned. Slowly, he walked back to his seat and sat down, ignoring the pointedly evil looks plastered on their faces.
George leaned close, his voice barely above a whisper. "You know about Slytherin's wins yesterday?"
Ron felt his blood boil. Professor Shacklebolt had started the war games on time, much to the surprise and dismay of many students. It had been decided to not let the accident (as it was being called by the staff) near the Gryffindor tower interrupt the school classes or any of the extracurricular programs going on. Quidditch was still being practiced and the war games were not being cancelled.
His team, however, had been given a reprieve since both Harry and Neville were in the hospital wing and Hermione was staying with them. That left only Ron, and he wasn't about to walk up to face four opponents on his own.
So the schedule had been altered. Rather than two teams from each House starting yesterday, Gryffindor only had one and Slytherin had three. There were a lot of other teams that were to start today, but most of them were composed of intermixed students from more than one House.
Ron closed his eyes from thinking about the strange schedule and determination of which quad would face off against the other, and then on to fight in the next round against another team. Thirty teams. One hundred twenty students… and after yesterday, four teams had moved on and four had been eliminated. All three Slytherin teams had won. Ravenclaw won the next. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff teams had been defeated.
"Let me get this straight." He crossed his arms as he tried to keep the smirk off of his face. "You two want me to throw the war game match in favor of you?"
Both twins nodded together smiling. "Absolutely."
"We may not even face off." Ron sighed. "They don't have any of the teams in the same House going at each other until later on."
"We know." Fred answered. "But we wanted to get this out of the way first."
"What?" George asked.
"I want to know why. Why do you want me to help you win?" He ran his hand through his hair. "What is going on that you have to ask me to get my team to throw the match IF.. if we even have a go against you."
They looked at each other again. Ron waited patiently while they seemed to communicate telepathically or something. Finally, they turned and looked at him. "It's our chance to get back at Draco Malfoy."
Ron nodded. "Malfoy, huh? This a type of payback for making you look foolish about that who Wizard's Duel Challenge?"
Fred scrunched his face up in disgust. "That slimy snake needs to be taught a lesson for what he tried doing to Ginny…"
"What he's doing to Ginny." George sighed.
Ron grimaced at his brothers' words. "Do you guys know what's going on with Ginny and… Malfoy?"
Both shook their heads. "No." Fred finally answered. "One minute, she's a lively and vivacious Weasley on cloud nine with the great and wise Harry Potter… holding his hand under the table at Christmas…"
"And the next, she's a moody and morose shadow that hangs on the arm and every word of the blonde-haired little bully." George finished.
"And she's going to probably throw her match today."
Ron's head jerked at that bit of news. "What?"
Fred nodded. "They're up against Draco's team… and with the way he'd been strutting around, not to mention that supposed Life Debt crap…"
George sighed. "You'd be protecting your money to not bet on Ginny and Cedric's quad to progress to the next round."
Ron sighed as he considered what to do about his sister. "And what do I get out of this if I can convince Harry and the others to throw the fight?"
Fred looked at George for a moment before arching an eyebrow at him. "You'll do it? Throw the match?"
Ron shrugged his shoulders. "Let me talk to some people…"
X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X
Ignoring the pointed looks and angry glares, Ron pushed his way through the crowd of students that had already filled the area surrounding the Quidditch pitch, all hoping to catch a good seat for today's matches. Quietly counting to ten, he tried not to dwell too much on his brothers' prediction regarding how the teams were doing, but so far, they'd been dead on.
The first day had been all Slytherin… and so had the second. Over the two days of contests so far, it looked like the snakes were going to take all of the top spots… the only teams that looked to have any chance against them were Cedric's and his… and from the worry the twins were giving regarding Ginny, Cedric's team might not be too far in the running either. The only other possibility was if Fred and George's quad could keep everything together.
Fighting through the press of students and other spectators, he could a quick glimpse of Luna Lovegood sitting in a particularly good area with several empty seats beside her. Ron considered why people might be avoiding her… the weighing of her quirky personality against being able to clearly watch any of the games close up when he spotted something sticky sitting on the benches next to her. Possibly sensing his gaze, even through all of the people around and in between them both, the blonde girl raised her eyes and met his.
She really is quite attractive, Ron smirked to himself. Unbidden, memories of the pretty girl spending summers at The Burrow with his sister…the three of them playing down by the lake, chasing each other through the surrounding woods and trees along their property. Shaking his head, Ron could remember how in innocent fun they'd played.
Ron let his face continue the smile as he drew closer to her. I could have fallen for her… all but for that last summer.
"Hello, Ronald." Her voice carried beautifully to his ear. "Did you want to sit?"
Ron tried to hide his questioning gaze at such a silly question, especially as upon a much closer view now, he could tell that some type of tree sap or other substance had been spread all over the seats immediately surrounding hers. "Uhm… I would, but…"
Luna smiled brightly up at him, her pale blue eyes dancing with secrets. "Does the illusion scare you, too?"
She nodded. "Of course. I might be considered a bit daft, but even I am not going to chance ruining my dress to sit in something as disgusting as whatever this stuff is supposed to be."
Ron considered the… whatever… again before finally taking a chance and sitting down next to her. He ignored the shocked looks and snickers that came from around him, everyone thinking that he'd gone completely mental. Is this what she puts up with every day? Ron shook his head and turned to look at her.
"Why the illusion, then?"
"Harry wanted good seats."
"Ah." Ron couldn't help but trail his eyes along Luna's outfit… her dress, he supposed. He couldn't help a light snort as he realized upon inspection that her dress was a fitted sheet wrapped around her like a toga. The overall effect, while strange, would have been kind of nice but that the sheet had not been one color, but looked more like several coloring charms had been let loose on it.
"Do you like my dress?"
Ron wanted to tell her the truth… and normally he would have, but something held him back. "It's very… you, Luna. Very you."
He watched as her whole face lit up at his words, like he'd compared her to a goddess. Shaking his head, he glanced around to see who else he could see, but none of his immediate friends were around. Sighing, he looked at the pitch, wondering how today's battles were going to go down.
"Have you talked with Ginny?"
Ron shook his head. "I tried, but she called me a jerk… just because I wanted to know what was going on. Ya know?"
Luna frowned but agreed with him. "After everything that the wind told me, for her to just throw it aside like that." The wind? "She yelled at me."
Ron almost hadn't heard her last words; they'd been spoken so softly. "What!" He rounded to face her, his skin suddenly feeling hot. He knew others were now looking at them, but he didn't care. "What do you mean she yelled at you? What happened?"
Luna shrugged her shoulders. "After everything that happened, I had to see her and know that she was okay… and she was… in a way, at first. Harry was out, but she was there waiting like she was supposed to. Then Draco came and Ginny went with him."
Ron leaned closer to her, the scent of wild flowers suddenly surrounding him. "What do you think happened?"
"I don't know." Ron was surprised to see tears starting to fall down her cheeks. "My best friend in the whole world and she raised her voice because I wanted to know why she was with Draco when she was supposed to be kissing Harry."
"She kissed him?" He had to force himself to stay calm.
Shrugging, Luna wiped absently at her face. "It's almost like… almost like when she and Harry would try to hide at first. Remember?" At his nod, she continued. "But when it was with Harry, the aura was pleasant and sweet. Loving. With Draco it's dark and painful. I don't understand."
"Is he hurting her?" He tried to keep the threat out of his voice, his hands curling into fists.
"I don't know, Ronald." She openly cried now. "She says all the right things and hangs all over him, but I don't think its right."
Luna and Ron both looked up to see Neville and Hermione leading Harry towards them. Ron caught Luna wiping at her face several more times before the other three could get any closer. Ron immediately tried to buy her a little more time. Standing, he offered his arm to Harry, who quickly too it as he moved to sit down next to Luna.
Ron ducked his head as he smiled. "Any time."
"Do you mind if I sit here?" Ron looked up to see Hermione. Wrinkling his brow, he nodded quickly as he realized that Hermione wanted to sit next to Harry.
"Thanks." She shot him a grateful smile. Before she sat, Ron watched as she quickly scanned the crown, her whole posture one of a mother lion protecting her cub. He shook his head that someone as powerful as Harry had shown himself to be might want some slip of a girl watching over him.
"Here, sit down, Ronald." Luna patted the other side of the seat. "If you stand, I won't be able to see and then I'll make you announce like Lee does during Quidditch, but you'll have to use the loud voice like he does and also tell everyone how you liked my dress and…."
Staring at her as she continued talking, Ron knew his ears were growing warm at the sudden interest everyone else had in alternating their looks between Luna and himself. Neville and Harry both looked shocked, but Hermione's eyes seemed like she was trying to work out a puzzle. In the hopes of getting the blonde to quiet down, he quickly moved to the other side of where everyone was sitting and sat next to Luna, who immediately stopped talking and smiled beautifully at him.
Trying hard not to roll his eyes, Ron leaned forward so he could see everyone else. "Hey. Where's Kenya?"
Hermione shrugged. "Said something about homework…"
"And you're not involved?" Ron regretted saying it the moment it left his mouth.
The bushy haired girl turned, her eyes flashing. "For your information, I have already done all of my homework so that I could not feel guilty about participating in this little group. Can you say the same?"
Ron shook his head and apologized, though she seemed barely modified. Sighing, he decided to try and change the subject and looked at the dark haired boy sitting next to her. "Harry. How are you holding up? Think you'll be ready tomorrow?"
Harry laughed as he moved better into Ron's view. "Tomorrow? Ron, didn't Professor McGonagall tell you? We're the last match today."
Ron felt like sputtering. "T-t-today?" Both Hermione and Neville were nodding. "B-but you're… and we… how do they… why would we…"
"Very eloquent, Ron." Hermione sniffed.
He ignored her, his eyes riveted on Harry. "Can you do this?"
It was Luna that leaned into him, her shoulder playfully bumping into his. "Of course he can."
"But you're all…"
"Helping him?" Neville asked, grinning.
"Making sure he doesn't all down?" Hermione winked conspiratorially.
"Bringing me breakfast in bed?" Harry added cheekily.
Ron watched as Hermione blushed. "Harry! I did no such thing. How can you say something like that… what will people think?"
Ron watched as Harry and Hermione started in on each other, their playful banter making him slightly dizzy. Did he ever like my sister?
"It's a show."
Ron looked at Luna, Neville bobbing his head in agreement behind her. "What?"
Luna jerked her head towards Harry and Hermione who were still talking quietly. "Those two. It's an act, just like Harry being in worse shape than he really is. Not to give away what's really going on."
He narrowed his eyes as he considered the blonde-haired girl's words. Ron watched Harry laugh at something Hermione said, his face at ease… but the laughter never reached his eyes. His eyes look heartbroken. "So…" He started, his voice low. "Harry and Hermione don't like each other like that?"
Luna tilted her head, her hair cascading across her shoulder. "They do, actually. Both of them… but Harry wants Ginny and Hermione wants Harry and Ginny together, so… that's all there will be until one of them decides to want something different and neither wants that."
She pushed her hair behind her ear as she looked at him. "Ginny won't talk with Harry. He tried, but something always gets in the way… so Hermione is trying to protect Harry."
"Protect him." Ron repeated softly.
She smiled indulgently at him, her voice holding laughter. "They want to be friends to each other. Love is tricky when dealing with Harry Potter and the destiny he has to fulfill. He belongs with Ginny, just as she with him"
Ron brushed the hair away from his eyes as he looked disbelieving at Luna. "Destiny?"
"Sure." Luna stated brightly. "To save the world, silly."
"Come on, you two." Ron looked over to find Neville gesturing at them. "The next war game is about to start… stop playing kissy-face and lets watch Slytherin get their arses handed to them."
"Yeah…" Harry's voice carried darkly. "Let's hope so.
X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X
Ron grimaced as he continued bending and straightening his leg, hoping that the tightness in his leg would go away before a trip to the infirmary became necessary. Gritting his teeth, he pushed his hands hard against the swelling along the outer edge of his leg, knowing that there was no way he was going to be able to put any weight onto it without some type of assistance.
Glancing over at the other end of the pitch, Ron watched as Harry gently helped Hermione off of the ground, their movements leading Ron back to the earlier conversation with Luna regarding their not being in any type of relationship.
As if summoned at his thoughts of her, Luna was suddenly there, her eyes full of concern. "Are you okay?"
Ron felt like shouting. Of course he wasn't okay! Did he look okay! Sighing, he bravely smiled up at the blonde standing over him, "In a minute… how is Neville?"
At the name, Luna pulled her blue eyes away from looking at him and her gaze shot off somewhere behind him. Looking over his shoulder in the general direction of where Luna was looking, Ron watched as Neville was vainly wiping at the dirt and mud off of his pants. To his side, Susan bones was asking him questions… questions that were causing the brown-haired boy to blush furiously.
Have to remember to ask him about that. Ron rolled his shoulders as he returned his attention to Luna who was still watching Neville and Susan. Was she jealous? Of Susan? "Do you need to go check on Neville?"
A small part of him was happy to see the momentary flicker of hurt and surprise on Luna's face at his question, before the normal mask of insanity seemed to slide back down into place. He watched as she recomposed herself in less time than he could even consider it, her smile radiating out towards him. "Neville? Oh, no. But thank you for thinking of it. I was just wondering at where the strands would fall."
"Strands?" Does this girl ever talk in the Queen's English?
She nodded as she knelt down, helping Ron to look at her instead of having to crane his neck. "Nothing. Just how fate throws the weave together… sometimes with a purpose easily seen, most others without."
"Right." Ron licked at his teeth, wondering what in the world she was talking about. "Well… that was fun, wasn't it?"
Luna smiled, oblivious to his sarcasm. "Absolutely. Too bad it couldn't last longer."
Ron groaned at her words. Last longer? It lasted too bloody long to begin with! Absently chewing on his lip, Ron considered the first match that he'd been a part of… fervently hoping that they were just having an off day, but knowing that as long as Ginny Weasley (the little traitor!) was hanging out with Draco Malfoy, things were not going to go easy… not at all.
Thinking back, Ron decided that he knew things weren't going to go well as he had been checking his wand in the wrist holder. Trying not to think about the previous matches they had witnessed, he remembered how Neville Longbottom had approached him, his hands twirling nervously.
"Have you seen Ginny?"
He'd nodded at the question, refusing to look over his shoulder where Draco and his cronies had been sitting, Ginny Weasley right next to him, her hand on his knee while the little prat had his arm draped around her shoulder.
"What do we do about Harry?" Neville's eyes had flickered over to where Harry had been sitting next to Hermione, both of them checking the other to make sure that their dragonhide armor was correctly strapped in. They'd been lucky about the armor. Professor Shacklebolt and Professor Dumbledore both had realized the need when two students had been sent to the infirmary after the first match.
"He'll be fine… he's focused." Ron had replied, though he had known then that if seeing his little sister on the arm of the school's biggest prick was making him this angry, he couldn't imagine how it must feel towards someone that had chosen to be with her.
The chance for conversation had ended then as the large, intimidating black auror had stepped up and announced that the last match of the day was ready to begin.
Standing as straight and as tall as possible, Ron had joined the other three and met in the middle of the large circle that had been drawn in the middle of the playing field. He'd tried to dismiss the sick feeling he had in his stomach as nerves, but the truth was that he was nervous… facing off against a team made up of two Slytherin (Cork Warrington and Adrian Pucey), Michael Corner from Ravenclaw and some other kid Ron couldn't remember from Hufflepuff.
It hadn't been the opponents. Ron was sure that they were the stronger team… in most cases. No. It had been how that Warrington git had smiled at Harry and casually stated that Harry should be honored that Ginny and Draco had taken the time away from all of the shagging they'd been doing lately to watch him lose and that maybe Ginny''d give him a ride once he personally embarrassed her ex-boyfriend.
It had taken both Neville and Hermione, as well as one of the professors that had approached to find out what the hold up was, to hold Ron back from pulling his wand and winning the match then and there… but it had been Harry that had set the tone for the match, confirming Ron's gut instinct.
Harry had flinched under the attack, but his eyes had hardened… possibly from having processed exactly what the Slytherin had said. Ron watched as Harry's eyes had become like living flame, emerald sparks dancing outwards from his face as he's lifted his hand and squeezed it into a fist. "Only if you live long enough."
All four boys had backpedaled at Harry's words… and it had been enough that even Ron stopped struggling against his teammates long enough for the DADA teacher to approach and lay out the rules for the war game match. Even now, Ron couldn't recall what the man had said… only that he'd known that it wasn't going to be a pretty fight, no matter how hard anyone tried to keep it.
Hermione had gone down first this time… the boys deciding to pick on the only girl in the match. Neville had defended her immediately, his wand creating a shield for the two of them.
While the opposing team was focused on Hermione and Neville, he and Harry had started picking them off one by one. Corner and the Hufflepuff both fell fairly quickly… and Warrington had eventually fallen, though he'd lasted a fem moments longer.
That had left Pucey.
Ron smiled as he remembered Harry's nod to him as the two of them started throwing hexes and curses at the poor boy. Things had seemed fine until Hermione's call of warning. Warrington tossed a curse at Harry from behind, one that Ron had quickly blocked but had ricocheted somehow at a off angle and hit Ron on the outer edge of his knee.
And that, as they say, had been the final strike. Harry had turned and suddenly the game was no longer a game. He outstretched both arms, one hand holding a wand and the other empty… and had blasted (no other word for it) both of them and ending the match.
Everyone had been silent at Harry's action, the cheering and catcalls all dropping away to quiet until both Fred and George, along with Lee and several of the other Gryffindors all stood up and cheered.
"At least you won, right?" Luna's smile had faltered. Ron admonished himself and nodded, watching as Luna's smile returned.
"Oh, yeah." He'd laughed, hoping ti didn't sound half as bad as it did to him. "If I'm going to get hurt, there better be a victory involved in it somehow for me."
"Mr. Weasley!" Ron suddenly felt a shadow fall over him. Looking up, Professor McGonagall standing over him, her lips in a straight line across her face. "Why haven't you reported that you were injured?"
Ron shrugged. "I saw that she was busy with the losing team," He jerked his thumb over to where their four opponents were still being looked at. "And I knew I could wait."
For just the briefest of moments, Ron was sure he saw something… admiration?... No way… flicker across the Transfiguration professor's face at his words. He waited for her to start yelling at him, but instead, he watched in amazement as the witch simply nodded.
"Make sure you see the school nurse before you leave this field, Mr. Weasley."
"Yes, ma'am." He replied quickly.
Luna kept alternating her gaze from him to the Head of his House. "I'll make sure he sees her, Professor."
Ron watched, as McGonagall seemed to take in everything all at once before she nodded curtly and then turned, her steps carrying her directly towards where Harry was standing.
Not really wanting to know but unable to stop, Ron turned his head towards the stands where there were still a lot of students hanging around, many of them possibly looking for a chance to talk to Shacklebolt or even Harry himself regarding the only positive win that Gryffindor had seen all day long. Even from his low vantage, Ron quickly caught a view of Ginny… her red hair an easy beacon.
She was standing in the midst of a group of Slytherins, Draco's arms holding her possessively, as the slimy snakes all were talking animatedly, several gestures and finger pointing towards where Harry, Hermione and Neville… and even himself… were.
"That won't be good." Luna stated.
Ron looked up at her to see that she was looking at the same thing he was. "How so?"
Luna shook her head, a movement he might have missed if he hadn't been this close to see it. "They're worried, all of them…"
"No. Not good." Luna's voice was foreboding. "Everyone is upset except Ginny."
"Are you saying…?"
Luna held up her hand, forestalling Ron's inquiry. "Listen to me. Everyone over there is feeling something… nervousness, fear, anger… something. Even Draco, though he seems amplified somehow. But Ginny… Ginny doesn't seem to feel anything at all. I think she's not even really there."
"How do you know any of this?" Ron asked, his eyes never leaving her face.
He watched as Luna tilted her head and tapped him lightly on the nose. "Know any of what?"
Ron wanted to scream in frustration. "About what they're all feeling or not feeling."
She frowned, her face suddenly serious. "Why do you not know?"