D/C: I don't own Harry Potter.

Well, this is another entry I wrote for a challenge. It didn't win anything, but it's still a dear favourite of mine. It takes place before OotP. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

A Floo Mishap

Ron loved evenings like this at the Burrow. He liked seeing all his family gathered together, laughing and chatting happily amongst each other like there wasn't anything wrong with the world. Even the presence of Percy wasn't too sore on the eyes. He liked seeing Harry, sitting there and feeling like he was part of the family. Most of all, he liked the fact that Hermione was there. In fact, she was sitting on the sofa next to him, and so close was she that their arms kept brushing every few moments.

He was finding it difficult to stop him self from staring at her. One would've thought that being caught ogling at a girl by said girl herself several times was enough reason to shove your eyeballs back in their proper place, but Ron couldn't help it. He yearned to envelop her between his arms and tell her how deeply he felt for her, but fear always caught him out. He worried that his confession might not be answered, thus destroying the friendship the two of them possessed. The thought of losing this girl was more terrifying than anything else. It beat his arachnophobia by far.

Ron tore his eyes away from Hermione long enough to see Fred demonstrating the latest prank they'd pulled on Filch. He laughed along with the others, if only to pretend that he had been listening all along and wasn't stealing glances at Hermione every few seconds.

He found it remarkable how quickly situations were able to change. The laughter was soon replaced by panicked cries as something exploded within the fireplace. While those without wands scrambled around for cover and armed ones drew out their wands like swords, Ron dove for Hermione, covering her with his body to keep her out of harm's reach. He didn't bother about who had come through their grate. He'd protect Hermione even if it was You-Know-Who himself.

"Ron, look!" Hermione squeaked from beneath him. "Children!"

Children? Ron didn't release Hermione from his arms, but he turned his head just a little so he could see what was happening behind him. His jaw nearly dropped from the shock. Amid the rubble that used to be the living room's fireplace sat two children. They looked about the same age, and Ron estimated that they were either six or seven. The boy had messy black hair and brown eyes, and the girl had the traditional Weasley hair and bright green eyes. They looked rather dishevelled and were covered in dust. It was safe to say that they also looked fairly bewildered.

Nevertheless, no one lowered their wands. Those two could easily be Death Eaters in disguise, and the Weasleys weren't going to take their chances. Arthur Weasley in particular looked rather livid. He was angry that the safety of his own home and family had been breached, and he wasn't planning to be forgiving.

"Identify your selves," he said sharply.

The little boy got up on wobbly knees and he looked uncertainly at the room. "This is the Burrow, right?" he whispered, sounding terrified.

"You have not answered my question," Arthur stated, not fazed at all by the boy's antics. "Who are you and what are you doing in my living room?"

Ginny and Harry now rose from behind the sofa they had been forced into its cover by Mrs. Weasley to get a better look at the children. Ron noticed that the children got a good look at the pair as well, because now the girl was jumping up to her feet. Ron was about to call out for them to be careful when...

"Mum?" the girl said.

There was a definite pause in the room. Ron wondered at the girl: had she just called Ginny mum? He studied her face and didn't think there was anything but sincerity in it...sincerity that slowly started to dissolve with doubt. No one moved as the girl took a tentative step forward. She was in level with the boy now and she clutched at the sleeve of his shirt.

The boy looked rather uncertain as well. "Dad?" he questioned. Ron followed his gaze and saw that he was looking directly at Harry. Needless to say, Harry looked flummoxed. And so did Ginny.

Mrs. Weasley slowly lowered her wand. "My dears, are you lost?" she asked warmly. "Where you supposed to come out somewhere else?"

The boy shook his head vigorously. "No, grandma, we were intending to come to the Burrow!" he insisted and Molly took a sharp intake of breath. The boy gestured frantically at the tumbledown grate. "We're sorry about this; we shouldn't have tried to go through the Floo Network two at a time. Dad should be coming...I mean, he's already here...how are you already here?"

"Erm...I've been here since the start of summer?" Harry said, sounding baffled.

The girl looked close to tears, and she tugged impatiently at the boy's sleeve. "James, they look like mum and dad..." she whispered.

"Lily, they are mum and dad," he replied. "Look, there's grandma and grandpa, and Uncles Fred and George. That's Uncle Percy, Uncle Bill and Uncle Charlie. That is Auntie Hermione, and he is..."

When the two children turned to look at him with slight wonder, Ron thought he knew what was going on here. It was the way they both seemed unable to believe what they were seeing. He'd already formed a theory about who those children were, and if his assumption was true, then that meant...

"What's wrong?" Ron said cheerfully, and gave the pair a discrete wink. "Didn't expect your Uncle Ron to be quite handsome as a teen, did you?"

He didn't know whether they caught on or not, but the children both shook their heads. Thankfully, no one else seemed to take notice of their hesitation. Hermione cleared her throat and he realised he was still holding her. He let her go immediately. "Sorry," he murmured, a faint blush creeping up his face.

Hermione got up from the sofa and walked over to the children. She bent down so she could peer into their small faces. "Do you know what year we are in?" she asked quietly.

James looked confused by her question, but answered it nonetheless. "I looked at the calendar today. It read the 2nd of August, the year 2010," he informed her.

There was another frozen pause in the room. Ron felt his chest constrict...so it was as he had thought; those children were indeed from the future. He could tell right away from the way they seemed to recognize everything, but still found everything strange at the same time. Also, their likeness to Ginny and Harry was quite remarkable. They were obviously Ginny and Harry's kids from the future. There was no doubt about it. However, that also meant, judging from the looks the two had given him, that he wasn't...

"Oh, Lord," Mrs. Weasley said faintly. She was clutching at her chest and her cheeks seemed flushed. "Oh, my goodness. Arthur, those children are...Arthur, lower your wand! You, too, Percy, Bill, Charlie; those are your niece and nephew!"

"Molly, we aren't so sure of that," Arthur argued.

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Weasley cried out, her maternal instincts taking over. "Arthur, they look just like Harry and Ginny! They've got their hair and their eyes, too. It's impossible not to see the resemblance."

"It could be a really clever guise!" Arthur persisted.

"For God's sake, Arthur, they don't even appear to have a wand on them! Do you, my dears?" she added warmly and they instantly shook their heads. She then looked around at Ginny and Harry, who unconsciously took a step back. "Oh, you two..."

Ron couldn't decide who looked more embarrassed when Mrs. Weasley pulled them in a rib-cracking hug. They looked rather red in the face, whether of humiliation or suffocation Ron didn't know, and they had the distinctive look of two people wanting to disappear off the surface of the Earth.

"Mum..." Ginny mumbled.

"Mrs. Weasley, please calm down..." Harry said, his voice a little more than a squeak.

While Molly fawned over the pair, the rest of the family gathered around the children. There was a general buzz of excitement around the room, and even Arthur seemed to accept that these two were his future grandchildren. The children themselves seemed to have gotten an idea about what had happened, and they relaxed a bit. They even seemed to think that the situation was funny.

"We travelled through time!" James exclaimed. "Cool!"

Ron stood aside from everyone else, observing quietly. He had an overwhelming desire to cry, but he fought it back; he didn't want to make anyone aware of what was wrong. Also, Hermione had just turned to look at him. Beaming, she returned to his side. "This is wonderful, isn't it?" she said breathlessly. Her face was flushed with excitement and her eyes were bright. Ron smiled at her.

"Yes, it's amazing," he agreed.

"The Floo Network must've malfunctioned somehow because they tried to take it two at a time, but..." she rambled. She suddenly giggled and clutched his arm for support. She looked delirious with happiness and Ron worried that her head might've gotten affected when the grate exploded. "You do know what this means, don't you?"

"Erm..."

"Harry survives! He defeats You-Know-Who!!" she squealed. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "Everything will be okay!"

Ron patted her back awkwardly. Even though he had been yearning to hold Hermione, he couldn't put much feeling into this hug. He looked over the top of her head at the crowd assembled in the centre of the room. They were now roaring with laughter at a comment the boy made on Arthur's future lack of hair. Arthur looked quite disconcerted. Ron, however, couldn't bring himself to laugh along with them; he imagined it would be quite painful to laugh.

Molly was then dusting them off and saying that they should go to bed because it was getting late and there was time for chitchat in the morning. "How about your mum and dad tuck you in?" she suggested.

Harry and Ginny turned scarlet. "Mum! Mrs. Weasley!" they protested.

The children shook their heads. "No," they intoned, much to everyone's surprise. "We want...Uncle Ron to tuck us in."

The momentary silence that followed was only broken by Fred. "Wow, Uncle Ronnie is quite popular with children!" he teased him.

"Go on, Ronald," Molly said, ushering them towards him. "They want you to tuck them in. Take them to Ginny's room; her bed is big enough for the two of them."

Each kid slipped a hand through his and looked imploringly up at him. Ron sighed and murmured, "Let's go." He glanced back once at the room before leaving and saw that Hermione was beaming proudly at him and his heart skipped a beat. He left the room with more heart. The children were rather quiet as he took them up to his sister's bedroom. It was in the same fashion that they allowed him to help them out of their shoes and jackets, and then help them climb onto the bed.

"Do you want me to keep the lights on?" he asked, and they shook their heads. "Well, good night then."

He made to leave the room when Lily decided to speak up. "He looks like you," she whispered. Ron's breath caught up in his throat and he looked back. The girl was sitting up in bed and she nodded at him. "Your son looks exactly like you."

Ron swallowed. "But I thought..." he croaked. He was having trouble forming sentences and words. "You never met me before tonight, did you?"

"No," Lily admitted. "But Auntie Hermione always tells us about you. She tells us that you were brave and that you were always looking out for your friends. She told us that you fought bravely against the Dark Lord and that you sacrificed yourself to protect her and daddy."

Ron's eyes swam with tears, but he managed a wry smile. "I did that, huh? Blimey, I never thought I was made of hero material," he said hoarsely. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked inquiringly at them. "I have a son...?"

It was James who spoke up then. "His name is Ron, too!" he said eagerly. "Auntie Hermione says he was born seven months after you died, so she named him after you. He's eleven years old now, but he always plays with us. He's going to Hogwarts this year. He's very excited about it."

"And Hermione?" he asked, his voice trembling with the effort of trying not to cry. "Is she married now? Is she happy?"

"Auntie Hermione never got married after you died," Lily said carefully. "She said you're her only true love and she will never love anyone after you."

Ron crumbled then. Burying his face between his hands, he rested his elbows against his knees and wept. Different kinds of emotions were invading his mind: happiness because he and Hermione were going to get together and have a child, pride because he was going to protect his friends, and because his son was going to Hogwarts...and despair because he wasn't going to be there to witness any of it.

Thin arms wrapped around his neck. "We're happy to have met you, Uncle Ron," Lily murmured.

--

Ron wanted to stay and talk to the children for a while longer, but they both were quite tired and they dozed off right away. Tucking them in, he left the room and went downstairs. In the kitchen he came across Ginny and Harry standing in a corner, talking together in hushed tones. They fell silent when they saw him.

"Your kids are sleeping now," he told them, earning himself a couple of glares.

He left them to their own and went over to the living room. The merry atmosphere seemed to have been replaced by a serious one and for a moment Ron thought they'd found out about his future, but then he heard the word "Floo Network" and he felt a sense of relief.

"...I've never heard of a fireplace malfunctioning in this way," Hermione was saying.

"Me neither, Hermione, but you can't rule out possibilities," Mr. Weasley replied. "Maybe the fact that they tried to take it at the same time along with combination of both their voices saying they wanted to go to the Burrow resulted in this."

Ron seated himself between Hermione and Charlie, and they looked around at him. "They're asleep," he answered their unvoiced question.

Bill picked up a brick from the fallen fireplace. "Well, that's good and all," he said. "But how are we to return them to their time?"

"Do we have to return them right away?" George interjected. "I'd love to hear what else they've got to tell us about our future. I want to know if ickle Ronnie gets married!"

Ron flushed. "Shut it, George," he muttered.

"Ron!" Molly admonished him.

Ron didn't pay heed to her. Instead he addressed his father directly. "Dad, we must return them right away," he said firmly. "Their parents and everyone else will be worried sick about them if they don't turn up soon."

"You're right, Ron," Mr. Weasley agreed. "We'll take them down to the Ministry first thing in the morning. However, there's the question of how to get them there. The grate has been destroyed and we need someone from the Department of Magical Transportation to fix it before it can be used again. They're much too young for me to take them in Side-Along Apparition, and I don't wish to risk anyone seeing them by taking them via the Underground."

"Portkey?" Ron suggested desperately. He wanted the children back where they belonged before anyone learned of his future fate. There will be a time for mourning, but he didn't wish for it to start now. He especially didn't want to see Hermione getting upset over it.

"Good idea, Ron," Percy admitted. "I'm quite good at making Portkeys, and I know how to tamper with them so that they'll let you appear right in the middle of the Department of Magical Transportation. We'll take them there and explain the situation. I'm sure they'll be able to return them to their time right away."

"Alright, then. Percy and I will take them early in the morning. No, you can't all tag along because it would appear very suspicious then," Arthur added when everyone started to protest. "You'll just have to rise early to say goodbye to them. Everyone go to bed now."

Ron was more than willing to get up and go to bed. Sitting along with everyone else and pretending that all was good was proving to be quite difficult. He didn't know when he might just break down and start gathering everyone into a soppy hug. Most of all, he wanted to get Hermione out of his sight. He really didn't know how to act around her now. He thought that the knowledge the children had provided him with would encourage him to make a move, but he felt quite scared. He waited until everyone left before getting up himself. Harry and Ginny were no longer in the kitchen, and he assumed they'd gone off to find a more private place to talk.

He wondered what they were talking about. He knew for a fact that Ginny had had a crush on Harry ever since she got her first Harry Potter action figure when she was three, but he didn't think he could say the same for his best friend. He was pretty sure Harry fancied Cho Chang. But now it seemed as if the relationship was forced on the two of them, regardless of who each of them fancied. He wondered how one dealt with such a situation...but then again, how does one deal with the situation he was in?

Ron absent-mindedly changed into his nightwear. The ghoul in the attic was snoring loudly, but Ron found the sound oddly comforting. He also heard creaks all around the house as everyone got ready for bed. Somewhere around the house Hermione was just curling up under her duvet, blissfully unaware of what was going to befall him...

He jumped when someone knocked at the door. He didn't respond, and instead jumped into his bed and pretended to be asleep. The door creaked open. "Ron? Are you awake?" Hermione's soft voice broke the silence. Ron opened his mouth to say yes, but then clamped it shut again. He didn't want to talk to Hermione at the moment. He was sure he would break down completely if he were to talk to her. Hermione seemed to have taken the quiet as a no, and she closed the door with a murmur of, "Good night".

Ron waited until her footsteps died down the corridor before getting up from the bed again. He stood by the windowsill and looked out. Somewhere below he was able to distinguish a sort of smooching sound and soft moans. He snorted; that was probably Harry and Ginny down there. He was about to call out for them and tease them about it, but he thought better of it. Was he bitter because they were going to have a full life and he was going to die? He really didn't want to be that sort of person. He abandoned his post to give the pair some privacy and crawled back into bed.

He didn't know for how long he lay there awake in bed mulling things over in his head, but when he did drift into sleep, it was to one filled with troubled dreams.

--

Ron woke up frantically next morning. He glanced at the bed next to him and found it empty. He had this sinking feeling that the children had already left for the Ministry of Magic and he didn't get a chance to say goodbye to them. He stumbled as he got off the bed and made a wild dash for the staircase leading down to the lower levels of the Burrow. He slowed down when he heard voices from the living room.

"Don't give me and your mum too much trouble, alright?" Harry was now saying.

"We can't promise you anything, dad!" James cheerful voice sounded in reply.

They were breaking their hug as Ron stepped into the room. When James and Lily saw him come in, they rushed forward and hugged him. "You're going home now, eh? I'm going to miss you two," he murmured, and their grip around him tightened. "You take care of yourselves, alright?"

"Yes, Uncle Ronald," the chorused.

"And when you see your Auntie Hermione, could you tell her that I love her?" he whispered, and they both nodded. He kissed the top of their heads; this was probably the only time he would ever see his nephew and niece. "Run along now. You must go before your parents go crazy with worry."

Percy was holding out an old straw hat, which he asked the children to touch after they'd hugged each of the Weasleys in turn. And then, as suddenly as they had appeared, the twins disappeared along with Percy and Mr. Weasley. The family dispersed then, but everyone looked rather sullen. Harry and Ginny, in particular, looked rather depressed. They sat together on a sofa, whispering to each other.

Ron didn't realise he was still staring into the spot where the kids were a moment ago until he felt a tug at his sleeve. It was Hermione. "You were wonderful with those kids, Ron. They seemed to really like you," she said, smiling. "What did you tell them before they left?"

He put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulder gently. "You'll find out later."

--

A/N: So, what did you think? Ron is my favourite character, but it seemed just so right to kill him in that context. Ah, well, please review! I would appreciate your comments.

- S. N. B.