A/N A very long one-shot for all my readers who take the time to review my fics. Happy Halloween!
A Bad Egg
'Whatever married man did not repent of his marriage, or quarrel in a year and a day after it, should go to his Priory and demand the promised flitch of bacon, on his swearing to the truth, kneeling on two stones in the church yard.'
Harry, Ron and Hermione stood before the site of the Dunmow Priory in Essex and read from the thirteenth-century stone tablet with bemused expressions on their faces. Harry shrugged; Muggle relics were sometimes stranger than magical ones. Hermione rolled her eyes and turned away to see if there was anything more relevant to their search nearby. Ron scrunched up his face and read again.
"That's a hell of a lot to go through just for a bacon sarnie, ain't it?" he said as he crouched before the stone.
"Well I know a year and a day of happy marriage without a single cross word must strike you as an impossibility, Ronald," Hermione scoffed, "but some couples do actually manage to treat each other with reverence and respect."
Ron turned his head and looked up at Hermione as if she'd just proposed smearing ice cream on a turd for a tasty snack and arched his eyebrow sceptically.
"Reverence and respect," Ron snorted, "for a whole year?"
"Ah Ron," Harry said with a chuckle as he gave his best mate a shove in the back, "some people like to sail on calm seas, we're not all white-water rafters like you, y'know?"
Ron looked at Harry as if he'd just spoken another language and Hermione laughed before grabbing Ron around his freckled and scarred forearm and hauling him up to his feet.
"Y'know I wonder why I bother with you two sometimes?" Ron muttered before squinting around from the crumbling walls that surrounded the stone tablet to the distant hills on the horizon and letting out a huff. "I'm not seeing anything remotely Death-Eater-y here, are you?"
"Nope," Harry said, sounding slightly bored as he plunged his hand into his pocket, removing something that looked like a spinning top and balancing it on the palm of his hand. "Do you know what, my esteemed colleagues? I think we may very well have captured all of them."
Hermione made a derisive sound through her nose and sent off a Patronus to patrol the area just in case. Harry stared at the clear spinning top as it lay still in the palm of his hand. Ron lowered his head to examine the object and furrowed his brow before glancing up into Harry's face with amusement.
"That's never the same Sneakoscope I got you from Egypt, is it?"
Harry gave the idle Dark-Detector a prod with the tip of his wand and then shoved it into his Auror robes once again.
"Yeah," he said with a shrug, "why buy a new one when there's nothing wrong with the one I have? It knew Wormtail was in our dormitory with us after all, didn't it?"
"Yeah, but Harry, mate," Ron said, seeming to be battling a blush as he stood up straight once again, "it's just a cheap bit of tourist crap I got when I was a kid. It's not Auror standard. I had no idea you were still using the thing after all this time."
Harry shrugged and the corner of his mouth curled up into a half-smile.
"Well it was a present, wasn't it, and you don't replace a present, do you?"
"Oh come on, Harry!" Ron blurted out a short laugh before slapping him on the back, "If that was the done thing I'd still be wearing the Weasley jumper mum made for me when I was eighteen months old."
Hermione sounded as if she was giggling and she peered over her shoulder and looked Ron up and down quickly before turning back to keep watch for the return of her otter Patronus.
"I'd like to see you try," she muttered under her breath.
Ron's ears pinked up and he looked back to Harry and pointed at his robes.
"Let me get you a better one, I'm earning decent money at last, it'll be nice to get you a present that isn't crap."
"You've never given me a crap present in your life, you dozy git!" Harry shoved Ron with a tut and Ron staggered backwards onto the stone tablet.
At that moment Harry hissed in pain as something seemed to be drilling into his nipple, Hermione's Patronus charged at Ron, and Ron waved his arms around wildly as if they were on fire.
"Ow, what the fuck...?" Ron yelped as he fell backwards onto the overgrown grass surrounding the stone tablet, rubbing his arms ferociously.
Harry was ripping his robes off and throwing them to the ground, stamping up and down on something that was making a high-pitched noise until a crunching sound brought peace back to the abandoned Priory. Harry rubbed his nipple and winced.
"Bloody Sneakoscope tried to drill a hole through me!" He grumbled.
Hermione had followed her Patronus, running at both of them, before the silvery otter dove into Ron and seemed to cause him to fall over onto the ground. She cast an anxious glance at Harry, who seemed to be more grumpy than wounded, and dropped to her knees before Ron with wide eyes.
"What is it? What happened? Are you hurt?" Hermione blurted as she held her wand at the ready to administer healing spells.
Ron was still wincing and rubbing at his arms. Harry noticed that the silver scars that snaked up Ron's arms from wrist to collarbone were almost crimson.
"Merlin," Ron gasped before moving his hands away from his arms to take in the sight of his blazing flesh, "feels like someone just threw boiling oil over me. What the hell happened? What's up with my scars?"
"We'll get you back to HQ and have you looked at," Hermione said as she gingerly gripped one of Ron's inflamed arms and set about helping him to his feet, "I'm not hurting you am I?"
Ron looked as if he had just hugged a Blast-Ended Skrewt and was being asked to do it again, but he shook his head and tried to smile at Hermione.
"No I'm fine. 'S just an allergy or something, must be, I've felt 'em sting at graveyards before but never as bad as this."
Harry snatched up his robe from the ground and shook out the broken bits of Sneakoscope while glaring at Ron.
"You've been having trouble with your scars and you never bothered to tell us?" he snapped, accusingly.
Ron seemed to have shaken off the burning sensation and the scars were now fading into a tender-looking shade of pink. He shook his sleeves down, self-consciously it seemed, and failed to meet Harry's eyes.
"Well there's been nothing to tell, has there?" he murmured, almost as if he didn't want Harry to actually hear what he was saying. "I could always feel them from day one. I just felt them more at graveyards and...well...here."
Harry saw Hermione staring into Ron's face. She was cross, there was no doubt about that, but her concern seemed to force her angry outburst deep down inside her and she curled her arm around Ron's waist to guide him instead of gripping his arm as she had been doing.
"How on earth did you manage to hide this from the Auror health screening?" She said, straining not to sound overly harsh.
"I didn't," Ron shrugged, finally looking up at Harry at long last and almost cringing, "it's no secret, everybody knows 'cept you."
"What?" Harry and Hermione exclaimed furiously.
Ron sighed deeply and looked to the heavens with a shake of the head.
"You're lucky you're dead, y'know that?" Ron grumbled to the grey clouds above him before returning his gaze to his worried friends, "Dumbledore said it was fine, nothing to worry about, just that I wasn't to touch dead people." Ron tried to smile and shrugged, "Fine with me, who wants to touch dead people, eh?"
Harry folded his arms across his chest and glared at Ron. Ron's attempt to lighten the mood drained away and he shook his head while rolling his eyes.
"Dumbledore's funeral, they hurt a bit, went a bit purple and then they went back to normal. Voldemort...well I was pretty messed up generally when he kicked it, wasn't I?"
Harry frowned and nodded once. Ron and Hermione had both been seriously hurt before Harry had finally defeated the megalomaniacal sociopath. Who was going to notice inflamed scars when Ron was so broken and bloodied?
"Oh," Hermione said suddenly, her hand clamped over her mouth, "the Inferi."
Ron looked down at his feet and cleared his throat.
"Yeah, well, that's why I always knew they were coming when we were after the Horcruxes," Ron conceded.
"And why you were always so ill afterwards?" Harry said, fiercely.
Again, Ron nodded.
"So why did Dumbledore tell you to keep this from me?" Harry yelled, "What was it about this that my fragile little brain couldn't handle, eh?"
"Harry, don't," Hermione began, grabbing a handful of Ron's robes protectively and trying to tug him a little closer to her.
"No, Hermione, you were kept in the dark this time too, weren't you? Doesn't feel good, does it?"
Hermione looked genuinely hurt and Ron folded his arms across his chest with a wince before shifting his guilty eyes between Harry and Hermione, unable to maintain eye contact with either one of them, it seemed.
"Why couldn't I have known about this then?" Harry demanded, stepping closer to Ron confrontationally. "If I'd have known I could have helped, steered you away from places that made your scars hurt. Bloody hell, Ron, if anybody knows about painful scars it's me. How could you keep this from me?"
"Because you never bloody stop!" Ron snapped back at him, a desperate look on his face.
Harry was stunned into silence. He blinked as Ron ran a hand over his shaggy red hair, the raw-looking scars around his wrist showing as the sleeve of his robe slipped up a little, and waited for an explanation.
"You'd just lost Sirius and we were hurt," Ron gestured between Harry and Hermione as he spoke, "you were off on another one of your moody 'this is all my fault' kicks and me and Dumbledore... well, we figured it was one less thing you could crucify yourself with."
Harry set his jaw fiercely.
"But I got better, I got a grip, and you still didn't say anything."
"What would have been the point?" Ron blurted. "What good would it do? 'Oh hey, Harry, when I'm around graveyards my scars prickle a bit and it's not dangerous or anything.' We don't hang out at graveyards a hell of a lot, mate, I suffer more from hay fever than I do this, and you don't fret about taking me into the countryside when the pollen count's high, do ya?"
Hermione seemed to be fighting the urge to laugh at this.
"You have hay fever too?" She said, gazing up into Ron's face, her eyebrows crinkling together.
Ron threw both arms up into the air at this.
"Oh you are joking aren't you?" He cried out in exasperation, "You can't seriously be pissed off at me for not telling you I have hay fever?"
Hermione did laugh this time, just a little but it seemed to calm Ron's temper a bit, and she took his hand in hers.
"I just like that I'm still learning new things about you after all this time," she said with a smile.
Ron's tense shoulders seemed to loosen up a bit and his mouth twitched into a half-smile before he looked back at Harry with great caution.
"Look I'm sorry, okay, but this was never a real problem, just like being seasick or having a pollen allergy isn't a real problem."
"Okay then," Harry nodded, coolly accepting his best friend's reasons for lying to him, pointing down at the stone tablet, "so what was that then?"
Ron winced, rubbing his arm instinctively, and looked down at the moss-covered stone with a thoughtful frown.
"I dunno; that was new, that really burned."
"So we'll all take you to an Auror Healer to find out what happened together then, yeah?" Harry said, making it very clear that there was only one answer he was willing to accept to that question.
Ron looked from the stone to Harry and nodded.
"Well," Auror Healer Agawal said as she stepped away from the two Unspeakables to address Ron, Harry, Hermione and their head of division, a newly promoted Tonks, "the scene of your episode has been thoroughly investigated and anti-jinxes of all kinds sent into that stone tablet."
"And?" Harry said as he rose from his chair beside Ron, refusing to get his hopes up so soon.
"Harry, I ask the questions now, remember?" Tonks said as she stared him back down into his seat.
"Thank you, Auror Tonks," Healer Agawal smiled and nodded before pulling up a chair of her own to sit opposite the three anxious friends, "well you say you have no ill effects when in the presence of ghosts, Auror Weasley?"
"None." Ron shook his head adamantly.
"And you only really feel aggravation in your scars when you are around dead bodies or places associated with dead bodies?"
"That's right, yeah," Ron nodded.
Harry noticed that Hermione had taken Ron's hand in hers and given it a squeeze. Ron glanced at Hermione and gave her a brief, tense smile before looking back at the Healer.
"There were no human remains at the site you were struck down today. No remains at all, human or otherwise."
Tonks bit her lip and scrunched up her face in deep concentration.
"So might it have something to do with the location and not the whole dead people side of things?" she asked, releasing her lip from between her teeth and starting as it flapped like a flipper in front of her face.
Apologising, Tonks transformed her face back to normal. It had become like a nervous tic for the Metamorphmagus in recent years. When most people would bite their nails or worry their hands, Tonks would pull her face about as if it was soft clay. Harry had once seen her tugging at her ear during a full moon and by the time Remus Lupin had emerged from the secure room in his house at dawn, her earlobe was swinging about her waist.
"Indeed, Auror Tonks, my thoughts exactly," the Healer nodded, "I consulted with the Unspeakables to see if they could trace which of the brains in the Department of Mysteries it was that attacked Auror Weasley when he was a boy, but they don't think it's possible."
"Do they have any idea who any of the brains came from?" Hermione frowned.
"If they do, they aren't telling me," Healer Agawal said stiffly. "But I get the feeling that is one of the mysteries they have yet to crack for themselves, let alone consider sharing with the rest of us."
"So this was just one of those things, was it?" Ron asked with a hopeful shrug of the shoulders.
"Well we can't say that exactly, Auror Weasley," the Healer said as if she knew the type of patient Ron could be and wanted to be sure she'd never have to spend excessive time having to treat him, "Your colleagues here tell me you were in a considerable amount of pain and that a Sneakoscope went off at the same moment you found your scars burning so intensely."
"That thing is a piece of tourist junk, I'm telling you!" Ron huffed.
"Hermione's Patronus ran at you to get you away from that stone," Harry said, his voice and his expression not inviting any argument from his stubborn best friend.
"Oh, she's running at me all the time!" Ron scoffed dismissively before Hermione's eyes widened and Ron suddenly paled, "I mean...I didn't mean…"
"Well done, Ronald!" Hermione scolded him before looking directly at the Healer and nobody else, her cheeks reddening slightly. "Ron and I, well, our Patronuses are very affectionate towards each other and... they are also quite affectionate towards each of us and, well..."
"My dog loves her otter," Ron grunted; ears scarlet and eyes turned to the floor.
Tonks clamped her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh and the Healer blinked and sat back in her chair.
"Your Patronuses are enamoured with one another?" The Healer clarified.
Both Ron and Hermione nodded silently. The Healer seemed to struggle not to smile.
"So the two of you are...?"
"Can we not get into this right now?" Ron pleaded the Auror Healer.
"Very well, that information is not essential to your treatment Auror Weasley...it's just extremely sweet." the woman broke into a smirk and Harry relaxed into his seat as Tonks and the woman chuckled and Ron and Hermione cringed and hid their faces in their hands.
Ron had been given three days leave to settle his scars and to make sure that he was suffering no ill-effects from the episode at Dunmow Priory.
Harry and Hermione were with him at the Burrow, teasing him as Molly fussed and fiddled with the cooling balm that was to be applied to his arms until the scars returned to their usual silvery trails, and soon enough there was a full house for dinner.
"So," Fred said with a mischievous smirk, "not content to just have freckles like the rest of us, eh?"
"Not our Ickle Ronniekins," George grinned as he stabbed a potato with his fork, "I want scars, he says, but not ordinary scars like ordinary people."
"No, I want multicoloured ones!" Fred said with a grin and a shake of the head before spooning peas onto his plate.
"I didn't bloody ask for them!" Ron complained, grabbing a steaming dish of Toad-In-The-Hole and serving himself up a hefty portion.
"Ron, language at the dinner table!" his mother scolded.
"Yes Ronnie," George teased, waggling a sausage at Ron as if it was a finger, "mind your manners!"
"You too, George," Molly huffed, "playing with your food, I thought I'd raised you to know better."
Ron threw a smug grin across the table at George and both the twins made an obscene gesture with their sausages while their mother wasn't looking.
Harry served himself a generous portion of Shepherd's Pie while Hermione seemed to be deciding between the mackerel and the ham. Bill and Fleur were filling each other's plates and Mr Weasley was chewing on a mouthful of red cabbage when his wife finally sat down to make a start on her own dinner.
That was when Ron's seat scraped away from the table and he doubled up, hand clamped over his mouth.
"Ron?" Harry said as he reached for his stricken friend right away, fearing he was going to fall out of his chair.
"Ronnie?" Molly was on her feet again and rubbing Ron's back roughly.
"What is it, son?" Arthur said, after forcing his mouthful down his throat before he was really ready to. "Do you feel sick?"
Ron's head nodded frantically and before anybody could do anything further to assist him he ran out into the back yard and vomited all over the daffodils.
"Harry, call Healer Agawal, I'll see to him." Hermione said as she ran outside to be with Ron.
Harry was already reaching for the Floo powder as she spoke and hurled the handful into the flames while Fred and George's highly amused laughter faded into the sound of their own chairs scraping on the kitchen floor and worried voices.
Healer Agawal was sitting on the edge of Ron's bed at the Burrow and feeling his forehead, her brow furrowed deeply, while Molly was going mad with worry a little way away. Arthur was doing his best to calm her down, but she had declared that nobody was to eat a single thing she had prepared that day, as it was all poison.
Harry's Shepherd's Pie didn't taste like poison to him, it had been wonderful, and as soon as he thought about his abandoned dinner his stomach growled.
"I know how you feel, mate," Ron said hoarsely, slumped against his pillows, his skin an odd shade of grey, "I'm bloody starving!"
"You feel you could eat again, Ronald?" Healer Agawal asked him, looking a little less anxious at this news.
"Again?" Ron said, with a weary laugh, "I didn't get to eat at all, didn't even swallow my first mouthful."
Everybody in the room froze and Molly pulled away from her husband to take a step closer to her ailing son.
"You didn't get sick from eating the Toad-In-The-Hole?" She asked nervously.
"I barely got done chewing it, mum," Ron smiled, "It wasn't the food, I promise."
"So what do you think it was, then?" the Healer pressed firmly but kindly, "What made you come over so queasy so very suddenly?"
Ron took a deep breath in and let it out again with a shake of the head.
"No idea, I felt fine, I was really hungry. I still am!"
"Mrs Weasley," the Healer turned to Ron's mother brightly, "do you think you could bring Ronald something other than Toad-In-The-Hole to try to eat?"
"Of course," Molly said with a nod and shoved her husband aside and hurried along the landing and down the stairs.
Harry stepped forward and smiled to himself as Hermione settled beside Ron and cautiously ran her finger along one of Ron's ever so slightly pink scars.
"Is everything else all right, Ron? Do you feel fine otherwise?"
Ron's eyes darted over to the twins, both looking greatly amused at Hermione's tender caress of Ron's skin, before returning to Hermione and clearing his throat in a manly fashion.
"Yeah fine, no problem, just a bit of gut-ache y'know?" he patted himself on the stomach heartily and rolled his shoulder a little to try and shrug Hermione's touch off.
Hermione looked hurt for a brief second before looking over at the twins and glaring at them as they sniggered. When she looked back at Ron it was with a kind of grumpy sympathy.
"Well just do as you're told, alright?" She leaned forward to whisper into his hair, "And ignore them both."
As Hermione leaned backwards again, Ron smiled at her and squeezed her hand. Healer Agawal sighed airily, her discreet attempt to draw attention back to herself, and straightened out her robes before looking up at Harry and Hermione primly.
"Well I'm sure the two of you wouldn't like to wait outside in the hallway while I do a full exam, so why don't you do yourselves a favour and nip over to Auror HQ and fill out the work-related illness forms? You're going to have to now that I have been called out after hours to treat Auror Weasley, so it's best to get it over with now, isn't it?"
Harry and Hermione nodded and rose to their feet to leave. Arthur gave the twins a forceful but fatherly shove out of the room before following them; just as Hermione was leaning to close the door Molly returned with an armful of food, Ginny scurrying behind with her own hands full.
"Excuse me dears," Molly puffed, "need to feed my boy, let me through."
Ginny rolled her eyes and followed her mother inside. Soon enough the two red-haired witches were back outside and Ginny was closing the door.
"Honestly!" Molly was huffing, her cheeks reddening. "Excluding me from being with my own son in my own house as if I was nothing but an onlooker blackening my nose."
"Mum, he's having a physical exam," Ginny tried to explain, he voice betraying her exasperation.
"And I've seen him just as naked as I've seen all of you!" Molly barked.
"Well, obviously not you and Hermione." Molly said with a wave of the hand.
"You certainly haven't seen me naked since I was shorter than Harry here," Fred said as he clapped Harry on the back, "and I'll bet you've not clapped eyes on certain parts of your beloved Ickle Ronnie since they dropped, mother!"
"Yeah, mum," George chortled, "give the bloke a break."
"Well I never heard anything like...Who raised the two of you to...Arthur, say something!" Molly blustered.
"So shall we go and make some tea?" Ginny said with a look in her eyes that screamed 'get me out of here'.
"Ah, sorry, Ginny," Harry lowered his head and winced apologetically, "we've got to go back to HQ and fill out some paperwork about Ron getting sick on the job. You're on your own, I'm afraid."
Ginny looked almost annoyed enough to kick Harry in the shin, but chose to spin around on the spot and punch Fred in the arm.
"Oi, what was that for?" her brother cried out.
Harry and Hermione set off down the stairs and towards the fireplace.
"For never knowing when to keep your mouth shut, you prat!" Ginny hissed furiously.
Just as they reached the bottom of the stairs and headed for the fireplace in the kitchen, Harry and Hermione cringed at the muffled sounds of Ron being violently sick upstairs.
"Oh poor Ron," Hermione sighed, "I do hope Healer Agawal can do something to settle his stomach."
"Yeah," Harry nodded, "there's something about Ron not being able to eat that's just wrong. It's like grass being blue or something."
Hermione managed a slight smile before gathering up a handful of Floo powder and stepping towards the fireplace.
"Hermione," Harry frowned at her as he spoke, "why don't you and Ron just come out as 'you and Ron'?"
"Coming out of the heterosexual-lifelong-friends-who-bicker-but-harbour-secret-feelings-of-love closet is a very big deal, Harry." Hermione smiled before throwing the Floo powder at her feet, "The Hive!"
When the flames from Harry's own transportation died down, he dusted himself down, stepped out of the fireplace at Auror HQ and saw Hermione nodding frantically and listening to Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt.
"They called the two of you in for work-related accident paperwork?" Harry blinked incredulously.
"Potter, I asked Agawal to send you back without worrying Weasley or his family," Kingsley Shacklebolt said as he nodded towards an open door at his side, "the Unspeakables have been doing some extensive work on their tank of brains and we think we may have a link."
"A tenuous link, Kingsley," Tonks said with an elegantly arched eyebrow.
"Well that's true but it's something to look into all the same." Kingsley conceded.
"What did you find out from the Unspeakables?" Hermione demanded, unusually forcefully considering the company she was in.
"Come in, you two. Sit down and tell me about that Priory you found today."
Harry had carried a deeply sleeping Ginny to bed and planted a soft kiss on her forehead before tiptoeing back up to Ron's room. He held his breath as he saw Hermione lying by Ron's side and weaving her fingers through his dark copper hair.
She was whispering something into Ron's sleeping face that Harry couldn't make out. He thought about what Molly and Arthur had told him before they had trudged wearily to bed. Ron had managed to eat certain things but then others emptied his body all over again. There didn't seem to be any method to it. In the end Ginny had fetched Ron an apple and he had eaten it to the core and fallen asleep.
It was good to know that Ron had something inside him at last, but it wasn't going to be enough. Nobody could live on apples alone.
Just as Harry shifted uncomfortably at the sight of Hermione brushing her lips against Ron's and he fumbled for the door handle to give his friends a little more alone time, Ron's eyelids fluttered open and he grunted with surprise at seeing Hermione so 'in his face'.
"What'cha doin' 'ere?" Ron mumbled as he sat himself up in bed and Hermione shifted up the bed to sit, nestled into his side, with her arms around him.
"Hey there, Ron." Harry called across the candlelit bedroom softly.
"Hi, mate," Ron smiled sleepily, rubbing his eyes.
"We've got to go off on a little job tonight," Harry began to explain, "but we wanted to see you before we left. I wanted to make sure you were feeling better, that you'd had something to eat, y'know?"
"Well, I had an apple," Ron said with a slightly dopey cheerfulness - Harry suspected that Ron had been given something by his healer to keep him in bed - "after throwing up some other stuff."
Hermione hugged Ron a little tighter and he turned his head to look into her face but it was scrunched up tightly.
"Hey, what's up? Agawal said it was a food allergy or something. She's gonna find out what's messing with me tomorrow. It'll be okay."
"Your arms feel warm," she said sadly, fingering the long sleeve of Ron's sweatshirt.
"Well I was all snuggled up wasn't I?" Ron grinned as he hugged into Hermione's side and settled his head into the side of her neck.
"Affectionate little thing, isn't he?" Harry said with an amused smile.
"Indeed," Hermione laughed a little as she kissed the top of Ron's sleepy head, "I think I should keep him doped-up permanently. What do you think, Harry?"
Harry smiled and nodded while walking to Ron's bedside and forcing one of his sleeves up to feel Ron's feverish skin.
"You're right, his scars are burning," Harry glanced at Hermione, whose look of contented amusement faded as she pushed Ron's long fringe out of his face and spoke slowly and clearly to him.
"Do they sting all the time now or was it only when you were being sick?"
"Hot," Ron muttered into Hermione's neck, "got all hot and dizzy when I tried to swallow some stuff."
"Are they hurting you now?" Harry asked, tenderly.
"Nuh." Ron said, eyes closing.
"Listen Harry," Hermione began as she gently set Ron back down onto his pillow, "we're not going to get anything out of him and he's not with us enough to explain our investigation to. I know you wanted to talk to him about it, to talk about what happened at Dunmow, but we're going to have to work this out without him."
"I know," Harry sighed sadly.
The two of them looked down at Ron before Hermione pulled the covers over him and trailed one of her fingers along one of the marshmallow-pink scars on his arm. Harry was creeping softly over to the door when he heard Ron shudder and Hermione gasp. He spun around to see the scars glowing fuchsia and Hermione pulling her hand away as if it had been scalded.
"Bacon!" Ron said as he thrashed in his bed, "My father will give you bacon if your vow is true."
Hermione was sucking on her burnt fingers as she rushed across the room to Harry and looked back at Ron as he panted heavily before rolling over onto his side and slipping back into a still, heavy sleep.
"Bacon?" Harry repeated in astonishment, "Is it bacon that's making him ill, d'you think?"
"There wasn't bacon on the table, Harry," Hermione said thoughtfully, "but that stone tablet that set Ron off today, that promised bacon, didn't it? A flitch of bacon to the happily married man who swore on the stones of the churchyard of the priory that he had never quarrelled with his wife."
Harry gaped at Hermione in awe.
"How do you remember this stuff?"
Hermione straightened herself up and lifted her chin.
"I didn't remember the carving in the stone. I remember Ron's declaration that it was bit of a to-do just for a bit of bacon and I happen to believe he's right. It's unreasonable to expect a newly married couple never to bicker during their first year of marriage. It's impossible to think of any couple worth their salt who agree on everything."
Harry looked at Hermione and then looked over at Ron. He had to agree with her on that.
Harry reread the stone tablet by the light of his wand tip and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Ron had said that his dad would be the one to award bacon. Harry felt pretty damn sure that the Weasleys weren't lords of the manor in Dunmow.
There was a crack and Hermione Apparated with an armful of old-looking papers.
"Well, the Dunmow records office is in serious need of re-organisation. They give more attention to planning applications for the building of conservatories and the demolition of old folks' homes than they do to their own fascinating history."
"Thus endeth the party political broadcast from the SPEW party." Harry found himself saying with a wicked grin curling his lips.
Hermione stared at him in shock before huffing, rolling her eyes and dumping her load onto the stone tablet.
"So Ron's channelling a child of Lord Dunmow and you're channelling Ron...who do I get, Moaning Myrtle?" She scoffed.
Harry laughed before frowning.
"Wait! Ron's channelling some dead guy from the thirteenth century?"
Hermione drew in a deep breath and looked very serious all of a sudden.
"Well I wouldn't say channelling exactly, and I definitely wouldn't say it was a dead 'guy'."
"Huh?" Harry blinked.
"Well, here's what I found," Hermione scanned over the papers before picking up a very old aged piece of parchment as delicately as she could. Harry illuminated it with his wand while she read aloud. "An ancient tradition, still practiced, albeit rarely, dates back to the thirteenth century and was instituted by Lord Robert Fitzwalter. The prize was known as the Dunmow Flitch, the Priory in question being Dunmow Priory, situated in the Essex town of that name."
"This is all wonderful, Hermione, but wha-" Harry began as Hermione dropped the old parchment again and snatched up a photocopy of a page from a book.
"My father will give you bacon, Harry," Hermione said as if Harry was being deliberately dense. "Ron said his father was the one giving out the bacon. Ron was talking about Lord Robert Dunmow, the same man who probably laid this stone."
"So Ron's been possessed by one of Dunmow's kids?" Harry said, feeling very uneasy about this idea.
"No, didn't you listen to what the Unspeakables told Shacklebolt?" Hermione huffed, "one of the brains is from the thirteenth century, the wizarding world came to own it in the year 1212."
Harry did a double take from Hermione to the stone tablet before almost glaring at the photocopy in Hermione's hands.
"You're not telling me that the brain that attacked Ron in the Department of Mysteries is from one of this Dunmow bloke's children and is now messing with Ron's scars and turning his stomach?"
"Oh come on, Harry, it makes sense." Hermione said with determination, "he's got a brain, looking for its body, stowing away in the scars it burned into his arms and every time he's around dead bodies this scars burn. The spirit is waking up to take a look and see if it's finally found its final resting place and then the...I don't know, the soul I suppose, goes dormant again until it senses another possible resting place."
"But Tonks said this place was combed, there are no bodies buried here." Harry recalled as he cast his wand light over the other papers and saw nothing but old-fashioned engravings and almost illegible writing with 'F's where 'S's should be and words that were foreign to him.
"Indeed," Hermione said with a single nod of the head, "but Ron wasn't affected until he physically stood on top of the stone tablet, was he? Something about that dragged his stowaway into awakening and the soul or whatever it is recognised the place. That's why it's not gone back into its shell, or Ron's scars rather."
"It recognised its home?" Harry asked, wanting confirmation that he understood this correctly.
"That's my guess, as is this: I think that the brain that attacked Ron was Lord Dunmow's daughter Maud."
Harry's eyes widened.
"How did you figure that out from this lot?" Harry said, gesturing to all the varied papers.
"Well the brain knows about Lord Dunmow's plans for rewarding happily married couples in his Priory, and that would mean the child had to still be alive in the early 1200s. Lord Dunmow forfeited all his estates to the Crown in 1212 and fled to France for some reason. The person had to have died in the first part of the thirteenth century."
"The brain came to the Unspeakables in 1212, didn't it?"
"Exactly, the same year Lord Robert Dunmow's daughter was kidnapped and murdered by the King of England."
"What?" Harry exclaimed, "I did pretty well in History at my Muggle school, Hermione, and I think I'd remember if a King of England kidnapped and murdered somebody's daughter."
"Oh, not when you've got Kings declaring 'Won't somebody rid me of this turbulent priest?' and Richard the third being framed for the murder of his nephews by the Tudors."
"But Richard the Third did murder his nephews in th-"
"Oh, you're so naïve, Harry!" Hermione snapped. "The Princes weren't the only innocents to be murdered in the Tower of London, you know? What about poor Jane Grey, set up by her relatives and executed for trying to take the throne when she never even wanted it in the first place?"
"Hermione?" Harry said, cautiously, "We're talking about Ron, remember?"
Hermione shook her head as if trying to clear her thoughts and flicked the paper in her hand like the newsreaders Harry used to see on television, back when he actually paid attention to the Muggle news.
"Well, you did distract me," she said haughtily before reading from the paper. "So King John, despite being married to Queen Isabella of Angouleme, was insane with lust for Lord Dunmow's daughter Matilda the Fair."
Harry tried to keep track of all these names and gave a confused nod after a couple of seconds.
"Right, so where does Maud come into it all?"
"Maud and Matilda the Fair are the same person, Harry. She wasn't called Matilda the Fair by her own father, was she?" Hermione tutted as she cast aside the photocopy and spread the papers some more until she spotted another transcription of an old document. "His Majesty the King of England made many advances on young Maud, all spurned by the young woman and, in the year 1212, the monarch had her kidnapped from the family home in Dunmow and brought to the Tower of London. She was imprisoned there in the round turret of the White Tower."
Harry spotted another photocopy from a history book and began to read aloud.
"This says that when Sir Robert Dunmow discovered his daughter's kidnapping he sought to raise other barons in a revolt against the King but he failed and had to flee to France."
Harry looked up from the page in his hand and narrowed his eyes.
"So nobody would help him get his daughter back and he lost everything, his land, his assets, his fair Matilda," Hermione said as she stared down at an etching of Lord Dunmow sadly.
"But she died that year and her brain found its way into the hands of wizards and then, centuries later, Ron was unfortunate enough to absorb part of her."
"And Ron found his way here, back home," Hermione said, swallowing. "He brought her home, Harry, and she just wants to be with her daddy again."
"What happened to her father," Harry said strongly, shuffling through the remaining papers before him, "what happened to Maud? How did she die? How and where did her father die? What is she doing to make Ron so sick and why is she doing it?"
Hermione gathered everything up and got to her feet shakily.
"Let's get back to the Burrow. I want to be close by in case Ron needs m...anything."
Harry took some of the papers from her and shared a smile of reassurance with his worried-looking friend.
"I'm sure he's fine. He'll just have been sleeping."
Hermione nodded and they Disapparated back to the Burrow.
He shifted uncomfortably and felt a small cold pool of something wet against his cheek.
Harry blinked and lifted his head, his neck aching, and saw that he had been drooling on the kitchen table at the Burrow. He heard a snigger and jumped at the sight of Ron sitting across from him, wrapped in a blanket and not looking any better than when Harry had seen him last.
"You want a towel, mate?" Ron said, his voice rough and low.
Harry wiped his chin and examined Ron's features closely.
"I have no idea," Ron said, his face almost blank, turning to watch Hermione sleeping with a book on her lap on a soft chair she must have transfigured after Harry had dozed off. "You've been up all night researching, then?"
Harry shoved the papers that were spread all over the table away from him before reaching over and grabbing Ron's arm. Ron looked a little taken aback by this, but didn't pull away as Harry pushed Ron's sleeve up and pressed his hand to Ron's silvery scars. They didn't feel especially warm, not any warmer than the rest of Ron's skin, in any case.
"You don't still feel them burning?" Harry asked, still not letting Ron's arm go.
Ron shook his head.
"No, it's passed now, I reckon."
"So you want to try and eat then?" Harry raised his eyebrows optimistically.
In response Ron's stomach growled and Ron laughed with a slight moan.
"I want to eat so badly it isn't even funny."
"Let me make you something for breakfast then, Ronnie dear," Molly said as she moved from her stealthy eavesdropping spot in the doorway and over to the stove.
"Cheers, mum," Ron smiled before rubbing his stomach and stifling a slight moan.
Harry made sure Ron saw that he'd noticed this and the pale freckled face smiled at him. Ron shook his head, letting him know not to worry.
"It just needs filling up, Harry. S'not natural for my stomach to be empty is it?"
Soon enough Ron's father had joined them at the kitchen table and the noise of the food preparation had woken Hermione. By the time Ginny came yawning into the kitchen, Ron's mother had loaded up his plate with an omelette and some grilled mushrooms and tomatoes.
"Bacon, dear?" Molly smiled as she held out the pan to Ron.
Harry found himself holding his breath and saw that Hermione was doing the same. Ron didn't seem to react to the word bacon at all, other than to hold out his plate eagerly and smile at his mother as the delighted witch set about serving the rest of them. Harry knew there was nothing Molly Weasley hated more than the idea of one of her children going hungry. If she wasn't declaring Harry was thin enough to die right there and then, she was fretting over how little meat Ron had on his bones. Ron's metabolism was abnormally fast and he didn't seem to actually process fat and sugar like everybody else. He just ate and ate and ate and remained as wiry as ever.
Harry watched as Ron ate some tomato and cut into a piece of the bacon rasher on his plate, scooping up some of the omelette while listening to Hermione chattering about British history to Arthur. Harry knew she had a certain period of history in her mind specifically.
"So Henry the Sixth was murdered by a wizard?" Hermione gasped as she buttered her piece of toast.
"Indeed," Arthur nodded, "and my word, was that covered up ever so poorly. The Muggle report said that the King died of pure displeasure and melancholy."
Hermione almost choked on her toast.
"Well, I assume Avada Kedavra would displease you to some extent, dear," Molly smiled, seemingly delighted that her son appeared to be on the road to recovery and not minding talk of regicide in the least.
"'Died of melancholy', though," Hermione said scornfully, "how on earth did anybody believe that?"
"Well of course they didn't, did they?" Arthur chortled as he took a sip of his tea and continued over a slight cough from Ron. "So many conspiracy theories surround that death that I think that was the intention of the murderer all along."
Ron seemed to cough again and Arthur put his hand gently on his son's back while frowning.
"Ron, are you okay?" Harry said through a mouthful of food and a panic-stricken face.
"Son, can you swallow for me?" Arthur said as he began to lightly pat Ron on the back.
Ron retched and shook his head before spitting the mouthful of egg and bacon onto his plate and running from the table to the nearest bathroom.
"Oh Ronnie," Molly began to set off after her nauseated son but Hermione was already sprinting for the door after him.
"It's alright Mrs Weasley, I'll see to him, don't worry."
Harry knew instantly that Hermione was incredibly worried though. He glanced at Ginny anxiously and she leaned across the table and whispered to Harry.
"Should I call for Agawal?"
"Yeah," Harry nodded as he pushed himself away from the table, "please, Ginny. I'm gonna go and see how..."
"Go." Ginny said before striding to the fireplace to Floo the Auror HQ for Ron's Healer once again.
Harry ran up the stairs to the bathroom two at a time and found Hermione crouched beside Ron, rubbing his back as he threw up the mushroom and tomato he had managed to swallow. Hermione's tear-streaked face looked up at Harry and she squeaked out fearfully.
"His arms are burning up. I don't know what to do. I can't think why she's doing this to him. What does it achieve?"
Ron's back arched and he choked out two more dry retches before spitting into the toilet bowl and gasping into the porcelain before him.
"Who're ya talkin' 'bout?" Ron wheezed. "D'some bitch hex me?"
"Shush Ron, don't worry, nobody's out to get you." Hermione said soothingly as she rubbed small circles on his hunched back.
Ron seemed to growl into the toilet and Hermione pulled him backwards out of it and held him to her pityingly.
"What's wrong with me?" he said desperately, looking up at Harry with wide eyes.
"You're...you've woken somebody up, somebody who's been sleeping for a long time." Harry struggled to explain without freaking Ron out. "And me and Hermione are working on a way to send them home again."
"Woken somebody up? But why won't they let me eat?" Ron said, pausing to have a mini-convulsion and lean over the toilet bowl again.
"We don't know, but we'll fix it, I promise you, Ron," Hermione said as she wiped a tear from her cheek. "We're going to find out what's wrong, why this thing thinks you shouldn't be eating and we'll show her. We'll set her free or send her back into her dormant state. We'll do whatever it takes."
"We won't let you starve, Ron," Harry said with fierce determination before his eyes fell upon the livid red scars on Ron's inflamed arms, "she's trying to leave you and we'll help her on her way and get you back to normal. Don't you worry, you'll be eating dinner with us again soon."
Harry felt somebody physically moving him aside and watched as Healer Agawal examined Ron's burning arms and then hit him with a charm to cool his skin but all that happened was that Ron's scars steamed and the redhead cried out and tried to shove the woman away.
"Oh please don't hurt him Madam Agawal," Molly whimpered from the bathroom doorway, her husband gripping her shoulders tightly.
"She's trying to help him mum, leave her be." Ginny said softly before reaching towards Harry and taking his hand.
"Auror Weasley...Ronald, can you hear me?" the Healer said clearly and calmly.
Ron was panting and sweating as he nodded his head furiously.
"Fetch my bag, he needs a calming potion and something to keep his body temperature down. These scars are searing hot now," the Healer ordered Hermione.
Hermione reluctantly let go of Ron and got to her feet. Ginny squeezed Harry's hand before letting go and said she would get the bag. Hermione stepped towards Harry with her hand shakily clamped to her mouth and her eyes red with unshed tears.
"It'll be alright," Harry whispered to her as he grabbed her and pulled her into a hug.
When Healer Agawal drew her wand, a spark shot from the tip to the handle and caused her to drop it and blow on her hand in alarm. It was as if the wand had given her an electric shock. Molly screamed at this sight and Arthur clung to her even tighter. Ginny was back with the bag and pushed her way through the crowd to hand Madam Agawal her potions and treatments.
The Healer pulled out a small bottle with a grey liquid inside it and pulled out the stopper. She seemed to hold Ron in a kind of headlock as he tipped his head back and lifted the bottle to his lips to pour it down his throat.
That was when it happened.
Ron's jaw clamped itself shut and couldn't be opened again.
His bright blue eyes were wide and fearful and he shook his head to every plea from every person to open his mouth and take the potion.
"Ronald, can you open your mouth even if you wanted to?" The Healer asked urgently.
Ron shook his head once more.
"Oh no," Molly whimpered and buried her face into Arthur's shoulder, "it can't be. Not without a wand, it can't be, not my Ronnie."
"We will never speak of what I am about to do, understand?" Healer Agawal shouted over the panic.
Every head nodded and Harry held his breath yet again. The Healer pointed her wand at Ron and ignored another spark that seemed to burn her hand.
"Imperio!" she yelled. Ron's face and body went slack, his jaw remained tightly shut, "Ron, open your mouth."
"Ronald Weasley, break the curse and open your mouth for me now!" The Healer said sharply before huffing and lifting the curse.
Ron was shaking all over now and Hermione had started to cry.
"This isn't what it looks like, is it, Madam Agawal?" Arthur asked the Healer nervously.
"I'm afraid it is, Arthur," the Healer said sombrely, "and it's been done from the inside. Something inside him has just performed the Obacerate curse."
"Obacerate?" Harry frowned, feeling Hermione's body tense in his arms, "What curse is that? What does it do?"
"It's old magic, Harry." Arthur said darkly as he stared at his feverish son.
"It's," Hermione began before sniffing and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, "it's a charm to stop a person's mouth. Men used to use it on nagging wives to keep them from talking but it was also used to...to..."
"To starve people to death," the Healer said sadly before flicking her wand at Ron and sending another painful shock through herself, "Obdormio!"
Ron's body slumped in the Healer's arms. He was unconscious.
"Get your books and your wand and everything you think you might need, Hermione," Harry said resolutely. "We're going to the White Tower to find Maud's body."
Hermione had been nothing but trouble. Harry knew that it was risky trying to break into the Tower of London. He was well aware that the crown jewels were kept there and there were armed guards patrolling at all times. He didn't think for a second that his only obstacles were going to be doddery old Beefeaters armed with nothing but a fat raven.
"Despite the tourist side of the place, Harry, this is a military site, you know?"
"Hermione, I know, okay?" Harry snapped as he took her hand and dragged her along Tower Bridge a little way to a spot where they could drop directly down into the empty moat.
They were unable to Apparate or portkey within the walls of the Tower. Being a medieval fortress, it had been warded with ancient magic hundreds of years ago. The Towers didn't even have any fireplaces connected to the Floo network, according to the information the Aurors had, and the only option was walking in from the residents' quarters via the tennis courts inside the moat.
Harry had thought that had been a joke at first, tennis courts in a moat, but there they were, between Tower Bridge and the Casemates near the Salt Tower. There were so many different towers. Harry had figured that being called the Tower of London he'd just be seeing one big brick building, but he had no such luck. Hermione had been to the Tower with her Muggle School but the layout wasn't at all fresh in her mind. Harry had always been denied the luxury of going on school trips so this was his first time at a tourist attraction.
Harry draped the invisibility cloak over himself and Hermione and they climbed over the ornate handrail of the Gothic bridge and held hands, ready to jump.
"We'll cushion the fall about halfway down with our wands, okay?" Hermione whispered and Harry nodded.
"On three?" he asked her, nervously.
Despite the cushioning charm the fall was awkward and heavy. Harry was winded and Hermione seemed to be trying to hide the fact she had twisted her ankle. Still holding hands, they pulled the cloak tightly around them and hurried across the plush green grass that now grew where the stagnant, diseased water of the moat had once swirled and choked the surrounding air. They ran past the caged tennis court and around a corner. Harry saw the small wrought-iron staircase leading up to the private drawbridge.
"This way!" Harry hissed as he dragged Hermione behind him and helped her up the stairs.
"The doors are locked!" Hermione said as she got to the top of the stairs and walked with Harry, beneath the cloak, across the very modern-looking drawbridge.
"This is the service entrance. The Governor of the Tower is due back from a function any minute now and security will open this gate to let his car in."
"How does Shacklebolt know this for sure?" Hermione frowned at him, illuminated by the moonlight filtering through the silvery fabric of the invisibility cloak.
"Apparently even the highest-ranking residents of the Tower have to book in and out officially after ten o'clock at night, otherwise they're not allowed in."
"Even the Governor?" Hermione gasped.
"Even the Governor." Harry nodded as they ducked into a corner to wait for the huge reinforced oak doors to swing open.
Kingsley Shacklebolt had in fact told Harry a quite disturbing story about the previous Constable of the Tower's daughter being physically assaulted at the gates of the Tower and the guard just sat there and watched it happen because she wasn't booked out officially. He wasn't permitted to let her in, despite the fact that he knew she lived there and could see she was in distress. He had simply called for the police and kept the gates locked.
Harry shivered. Security over common sense made him feel ill. Something about that story made him think about Sirius, about how Harry had broken into an impenetrable magical fortress and compromised the security of the wizarding world because of a personal need to do the right thing for one individual who appeared to be in danger. The difference between Harry and that Tower guard was that the guard had done his duty despite knowing he was leaving an innocent girl to the mercy of an attacker. Harry had disregarded everybody's safety to get to Sirius...and it had all been a trap.
It had been that misjudgement that led to Ron being scarred by Maud's brain in the first place.
Everything was his fault.
"Harry, I see a car!" Hermione squeaked urgently.
Harry pressed himself flat against the wall as the car pulled up and waited for the barrier across the drawbridge to lift. As the mechanical barrier raised the large wooden door swung open and a uniformed man in a peaked cap waved the car through. Harry and Hermione hurried through the door and held their breaths as the guard closed and locked the door once again.
"Quick," Harry hissed as a second solid wooden door was opened to let the car pass through the inner walls of the Tower.
They dashed through the second door and flung themselves against a cannon just as an armed guard leaned in the car window and muttered something to the driver before letting them continue on their way.
If Harry ever needed to feel safe and unreachable at night he knew where to come, he thought.
"There it is!" Hermione pointed up at the tall square tower in the centre of the many walls and towers that surrounded the main courtyard, "The White Tower, and that must be the round turret."
Harry scanned the other three turrets, saw that they were square and nodded.
"How are we going to get up there?"
Hermione bit her lip and thought for a moment before flinging her bag to the ground and searching her books and papers for some idea.
"Anything?" Harry asked her impatiently.
"Wait, I'm reading...I've found an escape from the White Tower but...well maybe we could just do what he did in reverse."
"What did he do?" Harry frowned.
"Paid for two barrels of wine. Broke one open and offered to share with his jailers in exchange for them treating him favourably during his imprisonment, that kind of thing was commonplace with influential prisoners, and he got them drunk. The jailers passed out but there were still guards and Yeoman Warders patrolling the tower, so he cracked open the second barrel and pulled out a length of rope and lowered it out of the window."
"He just climbed out of the window? That's it?" Harry scoffed.
"Well he did break his leg falling from it, but he'd bribed somebody to let him out through the inner wall and then he re-used the rope to lower himself down the outer wall and into a waiting boat on the river. Not bad for an old, fat drunken man with a broken leg."
"Fair enough," Harry nodded, "So what good is that story to us?"
"Well, I can transfigure a rope easily enough and then we just have to levitate it up to the lowest window. We attach the rope, climb up and inside and take the spiral staircase all the way up to where Maud would have been kept to look for clues."
"That's gonna be tough with a cloak over us." Harry huffed before tapping himself and Hermione on the head and casting the Disillusionment charm on them, "C'mon, let's go."
They had been working non-stop for hours and still had no luck. Hermione had gone through all the historical records she could find about deaths in the White Tower. She'd placed a charm on the room they suspected Maud had been kept in but nothing had come of it other than some spectre throwing stones at them periodically.
Harry had been shaken by Hermione's attempt to commune with the spirits of the Tower: they had been inundated with so many ghosts and poltergeists that Harry couldn't see his hand before his face, the air was so thick with the silvery grey wisps of the various apparitions.
Hermione had attempted to banish the ghosts who were not in search of their bodies, but that still didn't help them to find Maud. A gentleman called Lord Lovatt remained and insisted he be allowed to lead them to his body. He knew where he belonged but no living soul did, the whereabouts of his corpse a long forgotten mystery.
Hermione apologised to the man and sent him away, his moans and cries chilling Harry to the bone.
A forlorn woman named Margaret Poll came to beg them to send her on to the next world. She had been beheaded but it was nothing like the botched execution of Nearly Headless Nick, the Hogwarts ghost. Mrs Poll had chunks missing from her shoulders, deep gouges in her back, and her neck was ragged and bloody. The cut hadn't been nearly as clean as Nick's.
Hermione had said something to the woman about her being executed in place of her son and being hacked to pieces by an inexperienced executioner at the bidding of King Henry the Eighth. The ghost seemed moved that her tragic tale was known. Reluctantly, Hermione banished the wailing woman from the round turret and slumped against the wall wearily.
Harry was about to speak when a stone bounced of the wall beside Hermione's head and he turned and snarled at the mischievous spectre to 'sod off'.
"We have to find out what's happening to Ron," Hermione said tiredly as she rubbed her eyes. "He hasn't eaten in almost thirty-five hours now, I don't think he was able to keep any liquid down either."
"He drank a bit," Harry said sadly before removing his glasses and rubbing his face roughly, "but it all came up when he was sick."
"Oh Harry, we have to do something quickly, we have to help him." Hermione's voice sounded broken.
There was a harsh gust that made them both shudder simultaneously and Harry pushed his glasses back onto his nose and raised his wand.
"Show yourself," Hermione called out, her own wand pointing into the darkness, shaking slightly, "Are you Maud? Matilda the Fair?"
There was a creaking sound. Harry directed his lit wand through an open door and saw a glass case swinging open. He bit his lip and glanced to Hermione before fixing his eyes back on an old book that floated out of the case and towards the two of them.
The book settled before Hermione and the chill in the air was gone.
"Thank you," Hermione whispered breathily.
Harry listened but there was no sound.
"Who are you?" Harry asked the space before him.
The icy chill was back again and the book flung itself open, pages fanned and then the cold faded away again just as the flipping pages settled upon a portrait of George Boleyn.
"This is you?" Hermione gasped.
Another page turned and Harry felt as if an icicle had been dropped down his back, his whole body juddered and his teeth clenched at the unpleasant sensation.
"He was charged with incest," Hermione read shakily, "sleeping with his sister Queen Anne Boleyn and testified against by his own wife. Beheaded on Tower Green, just outside the walls of the Tower of London."
Harry cringed at the idea of a brother and sister sleeping together. His mind instantly went to Ron and Ginny and he scrunched up his eyes and shook his head to clear the picture.
"Oh this is ridiculous," Hermione hissed as she read on, "There was only one charge and that was that he entered his sister's chamber one morning, conversing with her in the presence of her attendants, and rested his hand on her bed. That was considered incest?" she said with disgust.
"That's all very tragic, sir," Harry said, speaking to thin air but losing patience with this parade of ghosts wanting their stories to be told, "but we need to find an older ghost than you. We need to find Maud Fitzwalter, Matilda the Fair, Lord Dunmow's daughter."
"She was kidnapped by the king and held here in the year 1212." Hermione added.
"Is she here? Her spirit, I mean?" Harry asked.
"Does anything of Maud still linger in her old prison? Her bones, her essence, anything?"
The pages of the book fanned once more and stilled at a yellowing page with tiny intricate writing upon it. Hermione leaned forward and squinted. Harry lowered his illuminated wand tip to give her more light.
"Oh my, this is so difficult to make out," Hermione frowned before leaning closer and drawing a sharp breath, "Months of unwanted attention from King John, he forced courtiers to convey ardent praise and pleas for her to return his affection. Maud refused to speak to him or his messengers. Well good for her!" Hermione nodded fiercely, "You can't force feelings like that. That would be like somebody trying to crowbar...well, you and me together Harry."
"Excuse me?" Harry blinked, feeling as if he had been insulted somehow.
"Oh you know what I mean," Hermione waved a hand dismissively, "confusing affection for lust and friendship for love. This man obviously thought he could will an independently minded, headstrong young woman to just simper along with what the King wanted because he was the King."
"The chosen one, eh?" Harry raised an eyebrow sarcastically.
"Yes, well," Hermione's face flushed, "well all know how difficult they can be!"
Harry and Hermione shared a chuckle about this before Hermione brought her focus back onto the passage she had been reading.
"Eventually, determined that if he could not have her, no-one else should, he arranged that her food should include a poisoned egg and Maud, unsuspecting his murderous intent, ate it and died."
"Of course!" Harry said suddenly, "Toad-In-The-Hole is made with batter, batter's made with eggs, I should know. I had to cook for the Dursleys for long enough."
"And Ron managed to eat the tomato and the mushroom perfectly well, but when he tried to swallow the omelette he began to gag and vomit."
"She's trying to save him." Harry said in amazement. "She thinks she's saving him."
"She thinks the eggs are poisoned!" Hermione said, her eyes wide.
"But why has she sealed his mouth shut?" Harry said, his eyebrows knitting together tightly as he searched his mind for some possible reason.
"The potion. She mustn't trust the unfamiliar and that potion would have looked like a toxin to her. She wasn't a witch and yet she's in the body of a wizard."
"So when she willed for Ron not to let the potion pass his lips..."
"Ron's magic translated her will power into a non-verbal spell. That's why it's ancient magic, it's from back in the days when people had less control over their powers, like when you blew up your aunt, Harry."
"So it's Ron doing it?" Harry blinked.
"He doesn't know he's doing it, but he's doing it." Hermione nodded.
"So if Ron performed the counter-curse, he'd have to do it non-verbally," Harry shrugged as he went over the solution inside his own head, "but if he did it..."
"He'd be able to eat and drink again." Hermione smiled and nodded, "Oh Harry, this is it!"
"Does it say anymore?" Harry leaned over the book hopefully. "Anything to keep her from burning him up?"
"Um, well..."Hermione narrowed her eyes and skimmed over several paragraphs before hesitating and reading aloud once again, "News reached her father in France and he returned to find the barons a lot more willing to rise up against the King. Robert Fitzwalter placed himself at the head of the uprising and was instrumental in forcing the King to make his mark on the Magna Carta in Runnymede."
Hermione slumped and stared into space before blinking and shaking her head in amazement.
"What?" Harry asked anxiously.
"How did I never hear this story before? I learned all about the Magna Carta in my old school and this poor woman, this incredibly strong-willed young woman, was the thing that brought it all about and nobody ever bothers to mention her."
"You're not going to go all feminist on me, are you, Hermione?" Harry grimaced.
"Well, why not? It could be said that the Charter which gave us all our civic freedom originated with a poisoned egg eaten in the White Tower by Maud the Fair!"
"And now she's starving our best friend to death because she's terrified of being poisoned again," Harry said fiercely.
Hermione's eyes fell and so did her shoulders.
"I'm sure she doesn't mean to hurt him."
"I'm sure too," Harry said, rubbing Hermione's arm warmly, "but that doesn't change the fact that she's imprisoning Ron against his will in the same way the King imprisoned her. She's trapped him in his own scars, Hermione. Those scars are like a magical cage and we've got to let him out."
Hermione nodded urgently and skimmed more paragraphs before the icy chill caused them both to shiver again and the page flipped over. Hermione bit her bottom lip and shared a tense look with Harry before leaning over the book and reading carefully.
"On my goodness," she gasped after a minute of silent reading, "here, look Harry. Her body was taken back to Dunmow and interred in the family vault there. That was why she woke up so violently in Dunmow, not because she was standing on her father's stone tablet but because she was so close to her body."
"We have to take Ron back to Dunmow?" Harry confirmed.
She nodded. "We have to take Maud back home."
They gathered their things, returned the old book to its glass case and thanked the still air around them, the air that contained the tortured soul of George Boleyn, falsely accused of incest with the King's wife, and set about making their escape.
It had been late in the morning before Harry and Hermione had been able to get back to the Burrow. No sooner were they through the door then they were back out again.
Molly had informed them that Healer Agawal had taken Ron into the special Auror wing of St Mungo's for observation. There were hydration spells that could be performed to keep Ron from dying of thirst, but they could only sustain a body for so long. There was nothing that could be done about Ron's lack of food. Nobody knew exactly how long it had been now, but the guess from the Healer was that Ron had gone without any substantial food for between forty and fifty hours.
Harry had no idea how they were going to get Ron to break the spell with non-verbal magic and accompany them to Dunmow to release Maud if he was too weak to safely stay at home with his family. Harry had his arm around Hermione as they waited outside the Auror wing and listened to Molly and Arthur being updated on Ron's condition. Ginny was already inside with him. Fred and George had just left to go to work. There was something about the twins looking grim that hit Harry like a bludger to the stomach: it wasn't natural, it wasn't right.
Soon enough Ron's parents were cleared to go inside and be with their youngest children. Harry and Hermione stepped up, Hermione's body was trembling now and Harry gripped her a little tighter into his side.
"Aurors Potter and Granger," the wizard dealing with Ron's case nodded to them, "I've spoken with Kingsley and I'm up to speed as far as what went on inside the Tower of London last night. Do we have any news on this brain the Unspeakables have?"
Harry and Hermione took it in turns to fill in all the blanks they could. The Auror nodded intently and winced at the news that it would have to be Ron who lifted the curse on himself.
"And he has to physically go with you to the Dunmow family plot? You can't just tell this Maud to go home?"
"Well if it was as simple as that, I think she would have done it already, don't you?" Harry said, not even attempting to hide his sarcasm.
"Why is it such a great problem for Ron to leave the hospital for five minutes?" Hermione said, glancing in at the door, open a crack from when Ron's parents had slipped through.
"Well, Auror Weasley hasn't woken since Auror Healer Agawal put him to sleep last night." The man said with a weighty sigh.
Harry swallowed and felt Hermione's body slumping into his.
"But Agawal used Im-" Harry stopped himself from revealing that Ron's Healer had broken the law in her efforts to help him and began again, "But there's no way inside Ron while he's unconscious to tell him to lift his curse, is there, sir?"
"Nothing that I know of." The Auror shrugged.
Harry and Hermione were permitted to go inside and the body of his friend who had been clinging so tightly to him was gone in an instant. She ran to Ron's bedside and gave the prostrate redhead a desperate hug as she cried quietly to herself.
Ginny ran to Harry and he hugged her instead.
"There's nothing you can do?" Ginny said, muffled into Harry's robes, "The Healers and the Aurors were all depending on you and Hermione. If there's nothing you can do then...then he's...Oh Harry, this isn't fair!"
Harry did his best to comfort her. His mind wandered to another brother and sister who were torn apart for doing nothing more than showing sibling affection towards one another. George Boleyn was still wandering the White Tower after all these years. Maybe he was looking for his sister, for she had died within feet of the very same tower herself. Wizards harvested Maud's brain, possibly at the King's request; he sounded the type to want to posses her even after death. Now Ron was to waste away through no fault of his own.
"No," Harry said fiercely.
Ginny pulled away from him enough o look up into Harry's face.
"He's not leaving us," Harry said as he stared at Hermione stroking Ron's fiery fringe away from his face tenderly, "there has to be a way to shatter that curse without him knowing what he's doing. He put it on himself instinctively, he can take it off."
"But I don't understand?" Ginny said in mild confusion.
Harry suddenly realised that there was a way and called out to the back of Hermione's bushy head.
"It's like you said, Hermione," Harry was shocked at how calm he sounded, "you can't force headstrong people to do what you want. It would be like trying to crowbar two people together who were never meant to be."
Hermione looked over her shoulder, here eyes glistening with tears.
"What are you saying?" she asked him, her voice weak and almost aching with pain for Ron's plight.
"You and Ron are meant to be. He'd break a curse to be with you, I know it."
Hermione's shining eyes widened and she looked back down at Ron's face. Harry held Ginny to him once more and the two of them watched in hopeful silence, along with Ron's parents on the other side of the bed, as Hermione stroked Ron's freckled cheek with her thumb and leaned in close.
"Ron?" She whispered, "It's me, it's Hermione."
Harry held his breath as Hermione lowered her head and pressed her lips to Ron's. Ron's lips remained still and very much closed. Hermione broke the gentle kiss and stared down at Ron's face for a moment before trying again.
"Kiss me, Ron."
Hermione angled her head and pressed against Ron's lips again before pulling at Ron's bottom lip with both her own and then trying to push her top lip between the tiny parting.
"I love you," Hermione whispered into Ron's mouth before opening her mouth a little wider and stroking her tongue along the minute opening between Ron's lips.
Harry thought he was imagining it at first, but when he really focused he saw that it had happened: Ron had tilted his head a very little bit. Then there was an almost inaudible moan. Harry saw Hermione smiling and as her lips curved away from Ron's he could see clearly that Ron's mouth was opened a little more and reaching for her. Hermione took the whole of Ron's mouth as greedily as Ron would no doubt swallow a bar of chocolate at the moment.
"Oh, Arthur!" Molly gasped and Ginny let out a yelp of joy.
Harry kissed the top of Ginny's head and picked her up and spun her around in celebration. Ron's eyelids were fighting to open and Hermione was getting very vigorous with her kissing. Soon enough it became obvious that it was best for everybody else to leave the room while Hermione kissed Ron back to his senses.
Harry needed to find Ron's Healer anyway. He needed to clear it with her to transport Ron to the Fitzwalter family plot.
Harry and Hermione held on to either one of Ron's arms and felt the scars burning beneath the many layers he wore for warmth. They supported him as the three of them made their way slowly but steadily towards the final resting place of Maud Fitzwalter, Matilda the Fair herself, lying in wait for her spirit to rejoin her family and her loving father.
"Does it hurt?" Harry asked Ron, with a great deal of sympathy for all that his best friend had gone through since they had so cheerfully bantered with each other on their last visit to Dunmow.
"Mmm," Ron nodded. He looked incredibly uncomfortable.
"She's getting ready to leave, Ron," Hermione said with a confident smile, "Maud doesn't want to hurt you any more. She's going to go home, and then so can you."
Ron took in a deep shuddering breath and nodded again as they drew closer still to the modest stone monument.
"Oh Merlin!" Ron winced and Harry almost dropped him as the heat from his arms burned right through the sleeves of his jumper, thick Auror robe and cloak, "I'm on fire."
"No you're not," Hermione said, her voice sounding strong but her face looked desperately sad as she and Harry had to practically carry Ron the rest of the way to the tomb, "we won't let you burn, Ron. This is just the sting of Maud leaving you in peace. She's leaving you alone now, leaving you with me. It'll be you and me from now on, Ron."
Harry smiled at Hermione as she tried to comfort Ron while he tried to throw off his cloak and robe; the heat was obviously unbearable for him now. Harry knew Ron had to stay covered though; he would be cold when Maud left him for good. He would be hit with the same cold Harry had periodically felt from being in George Boleyn's presence and they had to make sure he was wrapped up well.
"You and me and Harry," Ron grunted through gritted teeth.
"In everything but the snogging, mate," Harry said with a smile.
Ron actually laughed at that.
"Hey I'm a good snogger I am!" He panted before swaying dizzily.
"He's right, Harry," Hermione seemed to be relaxing a little more now that she saw Ron coming back to himself despite the discomfort of his enflamed skin, "you don't know what you're missing."
"I'll pass, thanks." Harry chuckled as he braced himself to hold Ron's weight against the stone tomb. "Ron, we're here, mate, just rest your hands against the stone for me, okay?"
Ron looked really tired and was sweating as if he was standing on hot coals. Breathing heavily, he grinned at Harry wearily and swallowed.
"You send Maud home and I'll snog you silly alright? Just do it!" Harry huffed and rolled his eyes.
Hermione did her best to keep Ron on his feet as he lifted his arm from around her shoulders and Harry ducked his head so Ron's other arm slipped down easily. Ron braced himself and took in a deep breath as he pressed both his large palms against the stone.
Harry could feel the ground shaking and Ron's body coursing with energy as a soft dull pink glow within his fingers grew into an intense red, like the cherry lollypops in Honeydukes' sweet shop, and then a blazing orange...yellow...white.
It was a brilliant white and centuries of dust and dirt fell away from the tomb as the transfer went ahead. Harry fought the instinct to pull Ron away when he heard him cry out in pain just as the last of Maud's spirit tore itself away from his skin. Ron's whole body shuddered and he collapsed to his knees before Harry and Hermione hauled him up again.
Ron was drenched in sweat but shivering violently. His skin was ice cold and Hermione sent a drying spell and then a warming charm at him before Harry lifted Ron up into his arms as if he weighed nothing and watched as Hermione rolled up one of Ron's sleeves to look at his scars.
They were pale and white, just like normal scars for ordinary burns many years gone by, and they felt as cool to the touch as the rest of Ron's flesh. Hermione pulled the sleeve down and gave Ron a quick peck on the cheek.
"Let's get you something to eat and get you to bed, eh?" Harry said as he carried Ron to a suitable place for Apparition.
"Just lay me on some food and kill two birds with one stone." Ron murmured as he began to drift off to sleep.
Harry sniggered and looked at Hermione, who seemed greatly relieved that it was all over with, and she took one of Ron's hands where it swung at his side.
"I'll turn your pillow into a giant marshmallow if you want," she said as she smiled at Ron fondly. "Just you be sure to keep it away from Harry. He's a drooler."
A/N Everything that isn't JK Rowlings is true.
Maude was a real person and she was indeed murdered with a poisoned egg. George Boelyn was accused of incest on the basis of a hand on a bed. A Yeoman Warder's daughter was assaulted at the gates to the tower because the guard did his duty and wouldn't open the gates to somebody without permission to enter after hours. Margret Poll was hacked to death in place of her son. Jane Grey never wanted to be Queen of England but was beheadded for trying to take the throne whilw she was just a teenager. The escape via barrels of booze was a real-life escape.
All my history and geography of the Tower is accurate.
And Richard III...all eveidence suggests that he didn't murder anybody in the tower and the bones found in a stairway did not belong to the Princes at all.
Isn't history fun?