A/N This is the fic commissioned by Eckles in exchange foor his donation to the Teenage Cancer Trust. He requested a sequel to my fic, Losing Ron.
This is a tough one because I never intended to carry it on, but it's for Rupert's chariity and my dear friend Wayne, so here goes...
He carried his oversized travelling bag on one shoulder and his long, thin body was curved into an archer's bow shape from the weight of it.
He bumped the gate open with his foot and swayed down the little path, pausing to kick a gnome aside, before knocking on the back door of the Burrow with the toecap of his boot.
He shrugged out from under the strap cutting into his shoulder and let the heavy bag drop to his feet. He could hear movement inside the kitchen and braced himself for the inevitable.
The door swung open. His mother stood before him with a dusting of flour all the way up to her elbows and dough under her fingernails. She stared at him for a fraction of a second and then screamed his name as if she hadn't seen him in years and never expected to ever again.
"Hi mu-" Ron began before doughy hands grabbed him by the front of his t-shirt and he was slammed into his mother's chest.
"Welcome back! How was France? Were the Delacours all fancy? Did they like my jam? Oh your hair's so light and your skin's so golden, you hardly look like a Weasley!"
"I burnt a few times but Gabrielle's mum is really fair and she had some spells and ointments that let me tan," Ron chuckled as his mother let him go, only as far as arm's length, and looked him up and down with admiration. "I've never had a tan before!"
"You look so well," she beamed, "did you like the food?" her face had already changed into her expression of concern that Ron was too skinny for a healthy young man.
"Yeah, the food's brilliant, lots of cream and cheese and butter and chocolate..."
Molly pulled him across the threshold and forced him to sit down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table before flicking her wand to levitate his bag inside. She turned and stroked his hair with a shake of the head.
"I've never seen it so light."
"Still not blonde, that's all that matters eh?" Ron grinned. "It was really sunny down there and we spent a lot of time outside."
Molly kissed him on the cheek and then turned to set about making a pot of tea.
"So where is Gabrielle?"
"Gone to Bill and Fleur's," Ron said before yawning and rubbing his face with both hands.
"You're tired? You should go and lie down dear."
"Nah, just the travelling, it knackers me out a bit." He smiled his 'winning mum over' smile at her and she chuckled.
"Oh I have missed you this summer," she said as she noticed the dough she'd been kneading before he arrived and scored it across the top before dropping it onto a baking tray and sliding it into the oven.
"Nah, bet you and dad loved having me out from under your feet," he said with a laugh in his voice.
"Honestly Ronnie, it's been too quiet. Nobody's at home any more and it's so nice to have you back after so long."
"Mum, it was only the summer," Ron said, rolling his eyes.
"It was more than one summer."
He stared at her and than rose from his chair to cross the room and hug her tightly. She crushed him in return and sniffed.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have gone away all summer. You only just got me back," he said, feeling guilty...no, feeling like an utter shit.
"Don't be silly, you weren't gone from your point of view, it's just that..." Molly cupped his face and paused long enough to sigh, "...I'd like to spend some time with you, sunshine."
Ron pulled out the chair beside his and patted the seat with a smile.
"Park yourself here then," Molly sat down and Ron held her hand. "I was feeling funny about asking you this before, 'cause all of us have left home and grown up and...Ginny's married and older than me and you and dad are older too."
"Ask me what?" Molly put a stop to his ramble as she leaned forward and gave a smile of encouragement.
"Well," he began before looking her in the eye, "you finally have an empty house and grown up children and I'm only eighteen and just left school and don't have a job set up or anything and I was hoping that you wouldn't mind me still living here for a bit."
"Ronnie," Molly was beaming, "you don't have to ask for permission to live in your own home. Of course we want you here. Of course we wouldn't mind. I kept your room the way it was because I always wanted you back in it."
Ron grinned and they leaned forward and hugged, tightly.
The family converged upon the Burrow for dinner and Harry had practically peed on Ron to reclaim him.
They had sat together, talked to everybody together, guessed Ron's exam results together and now, while Ron was wolfing down his third helping of dessert, Harry was planning how to get Ron into the department and working with him as a partner despite coming straight out of school.
"Maybe it could be an apprenticeship thing and Aurors who've done, say five years, take on a trainee and work with them and train them up one on one to be their partner."
"Five years eh?" Ginny's eyebrows were almost overtaking her hairline. "That would, rather conveniently, bring him to be trained by you or somebody who joined when you did."
"Well of course I mean me!" Harry scoffed and rolled his eyes.
Ron laughed around his mouthful of clotted cream.
"So what do you say? One on one training with me, we can spend all day together just like old times."
"Or last year, even," Ron reminded Harry that he'd simply missed Harry for a year in school and not for the last five years.
"Hermione said your transfiguration was up to Auror standards and you said you didn't bottle any of your exams didn't you?"
"There is a difference between bottling it and succeeding, y'know?" Ron said after swallowing.
"And you didn't even ask him if he wanted to be an Auror," Hermione said as she appeared behind Ron, dusting Floo powder off her shoulders and smiling at her friends.
"Hey!" Ron exclaimed and turned to hug her.
She laughed and hugged him back before stiffening slightly and clearing her throat.
"Good to see you both again."
Ron glanced over his shoulder and saw Gabrielle standing in the doorway holding a cup of tea.
"Good to 'ave proper tea again!" Gabrielle said with a smile as she raised her teacup to Hermione.
"So have either of you got your results yet?" Hermione asked as she took off her cloak.
"Nah, I thought the owls might come to France with them but still nothing." Ron said with a shrug. "I'd have thought you'd know exactly when we'd hear."
"I know nothing," Hermione said, dramatically.
Ron and Ginny laughed and Harry began to explain to Hermione about his amazing apprentice plan for Ron. Gabrielle looked at Ron as he started and tilted her head to one side, questioningly.
"It's just an idea," Ron said as he squeezed between Harry and his sister to explain to her, "and it's not as if I have anything else to do right now do I?"
"But a Saturday job will earn you enough to keep 'aving fun. If you work all the time you won't 'ave any time to spend your money!" Gabrielle laughed.
"Well, yeah, but I can't just think about how much money I need. I'm an adult now. I should pay mum and dad something like all the others had to once they left school."
Gabrielle looked, wide-eyed, at Ron and then turned to gape at his parents in the living room where they were talking to Percy and Kingsley.
"They make you pay to live 'ere?"
"No, they don't make anybody pay their keep, it's just the done thing isn't it? Once you're an adult you pay your way."
"My parents would never think to charge me or Fleur for living with them!"
"So," Ron began to frown, "you're not going to give Bill any money out of your wages for living in his house?"
"He will expect me to?"
"He wouldn't ask for it but," Ron paused as Gabrielle looked relieved, "I would expect you to. If you were working and they were putting you up then..."
"Oh! That will be fine then. I won't work and then he won't feel bad that I don't give him anything."
Ron stood and stared at her for a moment. She looked back at him with an open expression that slowly became a wicked smile.
"Oh you're such a nightmare!" Ron said as he shoved her.
"You are just gullible," she said through her laughter. "though we really don't do that in our family. Thank you for telling me otherwise I would 'ave looked awful."
"Not possible," Ron said as he gave her a peck on the lips and then quickly turned his attention back onto Harry when he noticed Fred and George sniggering and making gagging noises in their direction.
"So er, don't you have to clear this idea with Kingsley or something?" Ron said as he and Gabrielle rejoined the small group.
"The Aurors will want you, mate, don't you worry about that." Harry assured him.
"But not full time," Gabrielle interjected, linking her arm with his.
"I'm not working part time, Gabs," Ron said before noticing that Hermione was stepping away to join the others in the living room.
"But you don't 'ave to, not yet. You can pay your keeps and still 'ave some time for fun."
"Paying my keep isn't the only reason I want full time work. If I want to be an Auror I can't do it half arsed. Death Eaters aren't part-time are they?"
Harry physically swelled with pride at this and threw his arm around Ron's shoulders, making himself look a little ridiculous as he had to stretch up on his tiptoes and practically hang from around Ron's neck, and began to gloat.
"See, I told you he was perfect Auror material!"
"What?" Molly said from the doorway.
They all turned to look at her as she stood frozen, empty glasses in each hand, face pale.
"Harry said he might be able to get me a-"
"No, it's too dangerous." Molly shook her head. "You're too young."
"I'm an adult, mum," Ron said, as kindly as he could, "I might not be as old as I should be but I'm still of age by over a year now."
"But you just came back."
"He doesn't have to move out to do it," Harry said, encouragingly.
"She doesn't mean that," Ron said before smiling at her, sadly. "I didn't lead that much of a sheltered life before I went away did I? I'm older and wiser now then I was when I was doing much more dangerous things. This time I'll be with people like Kingsley, it'll be organised, I'll be trained."
"We'd be happy to have you, Ron," Kingsley said before squeezing Molly's shoulder. "Thank you for inviting me, Molly. Goodnight."
Hermione took Kingsley's place and hugged Molly.
"You said you'd still have me, there's no changing your mind now," Ron warned her with a teasing smile.
"Of course I'm not changing my mind," Molly said as she sniffed and then huffed, "you'll make my hair white, Ronald Weasley, I swear it."
"Never happen," Fred said from the living room.
"We'd have caused it to all fall out like dad's before that!" George chipped in.
"I think it's best we start you off on familiar territory," Kingsley said as he studied a year planner that appeared to write itself as he spoke aloud. It wouldn't have surprised Ron to find out that Hermione had something to do with creating it. There was something a little too similar to her homework planners in the way it arranged time management.
"Still with me, Weasley?" Kingsley was lowering his head to catch Ron, thoughtful, downward gaze.
"Huh? Absolutely!" Ron said, brightly.
"So you will join the Tornadoes team to rig the Quidditch championship this year and finally relegate the Cannons, lovely. I'd have thought you'd need more persuading."
Ron felt as if he'd just agreed to drink Hagrid's sweat for the duration of the summer.
"Uh..." Ron began to stammer.
"Or maybe we can discuss you doing four days a week at Hogwarts on general security duties, like the other Aurors you saw patrolling while you were there. I think this will be the last year we do it to be honest."
"Oh right, guard duty, yeah. That sounds...fun." Ron was relieved that he wasn't being asked to destroy his one true love, the Cannons, but also a little deflated at the lack of excitement in his new job."
"For one day in every five you'll be trained by Harry, on the job, with top secret clearance." Kingsley said with a grin.
"Oh cool!" Ron beamed.
"But you have to pay your dues like Harry did when he was a newcomer, and that's Hogwarts patrol duty, all right?"
"Yeah," Ron nodded, enthusiastically, "anything you want."
"I'd be careful about making that offer, Ron, there are some who'd use it to play jokes on the new boy."
Ron's happiness faded on hearing this. His first thought was that he didn't think he could take being the butt of a practical joke from Harry. Harry knew him too well and could really...
"Harry will do his best to warn them off but it's just one of those rites of passage I'm afraid.," Kingsley explained.
Ron expelled some air and nodded, relieved to hear that Harry wouldn't be teasing him along with the others.
He was given instructions to Apparate to Hogsmeade and meet up with Hagrid, who would open the gates for him and show him to his sleeping quarters.
"I get sleeping quarters?"
"Well, most of the time you share a large tent divided into rooms with twin bunks but on this occasion Hagrid has invited you to sleep on his settee."
Ron felt a strange sense of foreboding about having to sleep in Hagrid's hut.
"And what will be done with my remains in the morning?" He kept a straight face as he was only partially joking.
Kingsley boomed with laughter and slapped Ron on the back.
"He's assured me the only creature in the hut with you will be Fang, don't worry."
Fang, great, so a morning slobber shower every day then.
"So yer comin' te dinner in the Great Hall then, Ron?"
"I'm guarding dinner in the Great Hall," Ron said with a roll of the eyes.
Hagrid found this immensely funny.
"Ron Weasley, protector of food."
"Well all those sharp knives and forks could lead too some kind of student uprising. You still let the hat sort people into Slytherin, ergo you still have a bunch of bastards you can't trust sitting down to dinner." Ron said, cockily.
"Now then, all Slytherins aren't bastards," Hagrid said, sternly.
"No, some are born in wedlock, I grant you that," Ron said with a nod.
"I can have you at the table as my guest!" Hagrid said, beaming.
"But I'm on guard duty." Ron sighed, sure that Hagrid would never grasp the concept until he was signed off Hogwarts duty for good.
Ron pushed down on the tiny mattress on the floor and then rolled out his sleeping bag on top of it. He turned to ask Hagrid for a pillow when he saw the astonished expression on the half giant's face.
"What yer putting yer pillow on the floor fer, Ron?"
"Huh?" Ron looked back down at the little mattress on the floor and realised that it wasn't a slightly too small bed for him, but an utterly massive pillow.
"Oh, I thought..."
"I was gonna pull the footrest out 'ere, see?" Hagrid pulled out the footrest from his huge armchair and it lengthened it enough for the average sized wizard to recline on. "I know yer legs'll dangle a bit over the end but s'better than the floor ain't it?"
"Yeah, ta Hagrid, sorry to put you out like this though," Ron said as he heaved the pillow off the floor and dropped it onto the armchair.
"No trouble fer you," Hagrid said as he winded Ron with another affectionate slap on the back. "I've got some feedin' te do so you settle in an' I'll see yeh at dinner."
"I'll wave from outside," Ron said, reminding his host yet again that he was working and not socialising.
Hagrid tramped out, waving a hand over his shoulder, while Fang lumbered along behind him. The door closed and Ron heaved a great sigh as he flung himself backwards onto the armchair-cum-bed. A cloud of dust billowed up around him and he sputtered and waved his arms to fan the air clear.
Eventually he gave up and stumbled outside for a lungful of clean air. Coughing, hands on his knees, he saw a pair of shoes step into his line of blurred vision.
"Are you okay?"
He looked up just as Hermione started slapping him on the back.
"Was it Hagrid's cooking? Are you choking?"
Ron shook his head and stood upright, face red from his coughing fit.
"Dust cloud," he wheezed as he jabbed his thumb over his shoulder into the hut, "armchair needs a good beating."
"Oh," Hermione said with a nod of understanding. "Poor thing. I tried to tell him that you'd probably want to share sleeping quarters with the other Aurors to help you bond and fit in but he wouldn't hear of it."
Ron suddenly remembered Kingsley's words about possible trouble from the other Aurors towards the 'new boy' and worried that separating himself from the group would only encourage them to single him out for practical jokes, or even worse, bitter humiliation.
Hermione seemed to read his troubled expression and touched his arm to snap him out of it.
"I'm sure you'll still get on with everybody."
Ron forced a smile and nodded.
"Yeah, I know, Hagrid just wanted to give me a friendly face away from Harry."
"My face is friendly too," Hermione said as she tilted her head to one side and smiled at him.
Ron rubbed the end of his long nose, snuffling away the last of the dust, and smiled back.
"It's nice to have you around...as a friend again."
"I was always your friend," Hermione said, sounding hurt.
"Well, I mean, for the last year you were my teacher. Now we're mates again."
She looked at him for an uncomfortably long time and then lightly shoved him.
"It might not have felt like it for either of us but we were friends last year too."
Ron cleared his throat one more time and a grass dart buzzed through the air and snagged on the sleeve of his jumper. He frowned and pulled it free and at that moment a small roll of paper unfurled and curly handwriting delivered his first orders to him as a new Auror.
Stop arseing about and get over to the sleeping quarters for the briefing.
WE don't come to YOU, special boy.
Ron screwed the paper up and swallowed. He knew not being part of the team was a bad idea.
"What is it?" Hermione asked with concern.
"Just got to start work now. I'll catch up with you later," he smiled and set off at a jog towards the Auror camp.
He paused for a moment to call over his shoulder to her.
"Oh and if you could explain to Hagrid why can't sit at the head table with him it'd really help me out."
"Consider it done," she called back, somehow knowing that Ron's request not to get any special treatment was connected to whatever was in that little grass dart.
A/N I don't know how many parts this will end up but I thought it was about time I posted what I had of it. It's been giving me a lot of trouble!