Oh look at that, an update! Sorry about the wait, I'll do my best to get the next chapter up faster and get this story wrapped up.
As recompense, I've gone back and added an extra 1000 or so words to the beginning of chapter 9... just a little bit extra I left out initially, but that I decided was worth popping in. It doesn't change the plot in any way but if you want to go back and read a little bit of Harry/Hermione angst then feel free.
Ginny had been right; it was a good thing that he had Hermione on his side.
Simply developing an incantation had been hard enough. Hermione had lamented at length the fact that she had failed to study and learn Latin, and when Ron had pointed out that had she done so she undoubtedly would have been crushed under the weight of her own studies, she had snapped back that she could have of course simply stopped looking over his essays for him, and freed up time that way. Ron had been very quiet after that.
Eventually though, after much study of the language and its complexities, the trio had nutted out a phrase that they believed would, when imbued with the power of the Words, allow them to extract their own remorse and give it to a Dementor, thereby allowing them to free Leo's soul.
But their troubles were far from over.
The process of actually giving the words any magical power turned out to be a little more complex than Ginny had made it seem. Through the examination of many ancient tomes, Hermione managed to pinpoint many snags which may have crippled the incantation they were trying to produce, rendering it unserviceable.
Possibly the most frustrating part had been trying to find an appropriate material to carve the incantation into. Magical elements were stupendously rare at best, and since Hermione had decided that the best material to use would be one that was as purely magical as possible, the task had been made even more difficult.
Many types of ordinary ores and minerals had been manipulated and imbued with magic over the centuries, but they were simply vassals of magical essence, and Hermione had decided that such a thing simply would not do for what they were attempting. No, what they needed was something created, not by man, but completely naturally through the force of magic, without any outside influences. In short, they were looking for a needle in a haystack. Nay, a needle in a field of haystacks.
Eventually, there was only one place left to look. Having plumbed the depths of the Hogwarts library, as well as many other promising locations, Harry put forth the idea of exploring the place which itself explored the very building blocks of magic: the Department of Mysteries.
Hermione had groaned and hit her head against her palm at his suggestion, berating herself for not thinking of it in the first place. Together, they agreed that of all the places they could try, it was the most promising.
And so, two months after Harry had awoken from his meeting with Ginny, he, Ron and Hermione found themselves standing in front of the very same whispering veil through which Sirius had fallen on that fateful night so many years ago.
The crumbling stone archway appeared for all intents and purposes to be in exactly the same condition as it had been when they had last seen it, but now they examined it with a newfound wonder and interest.
Harry was the first to discover something odd. As he ran his fingers over the ancient stone, he felt a patch that seemed different to the rest. Igniting his wand tip, he examined the stone closer, and suddenly he was aware of what he was looking at.
Writing! There, ever so faintly visible in the stone were words, unmistakably Latin. Harry's heart leapt. Here at last was evidence that someone, at some point, had attempted to use the stone archway in the same manner that they themselves now wished to.
Spell creation. For all intents and purposes, the archway appeared to be made of nothing more than ordinary, grey granite. But if the carved words were anything to go by, then it must in actuality be made of a strange magical material. In other words, it was suitable to use as their base for carving the incantation.
Harry called the other two over to his discovery. Hermione exclaimed in excitement and congratulated Harry on the find, hope and relief basking her face in a warm glow. But it was Ron whom Harry studied hardest. The older boy was silent for a moment, his facial muscles working furiously, as though he were striving to say something difficult, painful even. In a moment though it had passed, and Ron enthused at length, just as Hermione had done. Hermione immediately pulled the piece of paper upon which they had written their proposed incantation, and prepared to begin carving it into the archway.
After so many months of agony, they were finally ready to begin putting things to rights.
It was a surprise then, when Ron's gaze suddenly steeled, and he grasped Hermione's arm, a grim expression on his face.
"Stop." The single word cut through the silence of the room, and broke Harry and Hermione from their excited state. Ron looked intently into Harry's eyes, steeling himself for what he had to say. He took a deep breath, and began.
"You can't." he said.
Harry stared at his friend, completely thrown by the statement. "Why?" he managed to choke out, his face already beginning to tinge with colour.
Ron sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I've been meaning to bring this up for a while now, but you guys have just been so… excited about everything that was going on, I just couldn't bring myself to do it." He paused and took a steadying breath. "Harry, when you first explained everything, you told us how we would have to feel remorse for what had happened in order to reverse it, right?"
Harry nodded his head, understanding dawning in his mind. "You don't regret it, do you?" he asked Ron, unable to keep the note of accusation out of his voice. His face was inscrutable, but internally he was cursing himself. He had known, hadn't he, of Ron's hesitance to feel remorse over the incident? He had talked with Ginny about it, Hermione had argued with Ron over it. How had he forgotten?
Ron shook his head in answer to Harry's question, causing the other boy's gut to clench. Without Ron, without his contribution to the spell, what had been done could never be reversed. It was unthinkable, infuriating! Harry felt sick. He felt angry and he felt a desperate, feral need to make, to force Ron to understand.
Hermione gave a frustrated noise in the back of her throat. "Ron!" she exclaimed. "How can you not see that what we did was so terrible? How can you not see that we need to do everything we can to take it back?"
Ron's ears went a little pink. "You heard what Harry's said about what Ginny told him! I'm not special! I don't care that it was wrong! All I care about is that we got rid of a filthy bit of scum, a filthy bit of scum that is the reason my sister is DEAD!" he bellowed.
Hermione looked at Ron desperately, trying to get him to understand. "Ron… please… you have to see! You have to understand that we can't just appoint ourselves judge, jury and executioner!"
Ron shook his head. "I can see that perfectly well, thank you. I know that what we did was wrong, but in my own heart, in my own head, I don't regret it. I know that it wasn't morally justifiable and all that rot, but I don't need it to be! I'm still glad I did it because I was doing it for revenge at the time, and my feelings haven't changed! I don't understand why yours have!" he yelled.
He had finally gone too far. Harry got to his feet slowly, a slightly sick look on his face as he looked down on his friend. When he spoke, it was with cold malice. "You think we don't feel as strongly about Ginny dying as we did? As you do? Is that it?" he asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Ron looked back defiantly. "Well how can you! You did something brutal and spontaneous because you were devastated. But now you want to take it back because it doesn't stand up to your oh-so-high moral standards! You're lying to yourself about what you really think!"
Harry was becoming angry. No, that was the wrong word; livid; that probably described it better. After months of hope and of slowly pulling himself out of the funk that had enveloped him, Ron was bringing everything crashing down. The memories and emotions of the past few months assaulted him, and his eyes darkened with a terrible anger that he hadn't felt since that night with the Dementor.
Harry's baser side was coming out.
Hermione was yelling at Ron, telling him that he was foolish, that he didn't understand. Ron was yelling back, and together they made a cacophony of half-formed arguments and hurtful truths that had so characterized their arguments in the past. This time however, was worse, as the very survival of their mental state relied on the actions of the next few minutes.
Harry's fury was growing. Slowly, he raised his hand, bringing his wand to bear pointing directly at Ron's chest. Ron and Hermione stopped arguing abruptly, and for the first time, fear was evident on Ron's face.
"Harry!" Hermione cried, her face tear-stained. Harry glanced at her. She was bedraggled, and he saw that she was struggling to understand just how wrong things had managed to go in such a short amount of time. He understood. After all, he was wondering the same thing himself. She was looking at him with a desperate plea, and Harry knew what she was thinking. She had forgiven him, that day in her parent's living room, promising to follow him one last time, but now here he was pointing a wand at his best friend, threatening to bring his words of a fresh start and redemption to naught. He couldn't face the look in her eyes. He turned back to Ron, and spoke. The others flinched away from his harsh, acerbic voice.
"If you still don't understand, then I'll just have to make you." he said, raising his wand.
Several things happened at once at this point. Hermione leapt towards him with a cry of "No!", Ron tried to dive out of the way of Harry's wand and Harry, anger coursing through his veins and torment ripping at his mind, let forth a spell.
Black as midnight, streaked with glints of ivory and crimson, the spell flew towards Ron with a terrible certainty, and the gangly boy was too slow to avoid it. It caught him as he fell, and his figure stiffened as though in pain. For a while he was still, eyes wide and staring, mouth hanging open as the bizarre, unfamiliar magic poured into him.
Then he screamed. His body remained as still as ever, but from his open mouth poured a long, high note of anguish. Another cry joined his, and through the haze that had fallen in front of his eyes, Harry realized that it was Hermione's voice. He turned his head ever so slightly towards her, just in time to see as she came hurtling towards him. The leap that she had begun just before the spell started, which had been paused as the horror of what was happening had hit her, resumed.
Harry braced himself for impact, but instead if running into him, Hermione made to continue past him, towards were Ron stood still and screaming. Harry threw out an arm just as she passed him, and with seemingly no effort on his part was able to drag her back and into his chest.
For a while she beat on his chest and tried to stamp on his feet, desperate to get away from him and help Ron, but then Harry spoke, and she ceased her actions.
"Stop!" he cried, and the desperation was evident in his voice. "Hermione, if you've ever trusted me, just stop!"
She looked at him, and he removed his gaze and concentration from the scene before him to focus on her face. The conviction was all too clear in his eyes, and Hermione knew, instinctively, that she could trust him. She stopped struggling, and together they watched the spell as it did its mysterious work on Ron. She, still and tense with fear and trepidation. He, grim and determined, Ginny's words echoing in his mind.
You're going to need to force Ron to feel regret.
Force. It had seemed a strange word for her to use, at the time. How was he to force Ron to regret his actions? He could appeal to his better nature, sure. He could describe his own remorse and he could explain in the plainest words just why Ron had to understand why what they had done was unforgivable. But he couldn't force him to feel regret. Not when he wasn't capable of comprehending the mind-numbing, terrible force of remorse that Harry and Hermione felt. Ron was a simple man, and his emotions were his own, not to be altered or changed with mere words.
But now Harry understood. As soon as the rage had grown within him as he beheld Ron, standing in the chamber of death, decrying him for feeling not strongly enough about Ginny, about Leo, and about revenge, he had known.
It was as Ginny said. There was a baser side to him. Animalistic. Animals were driven by instinct, and that was what guided Harry now, as the black force of the spell spewed in an uninterrupted flow from his wand. It was no spell he had ever studied. He had never read it, nor heard it uttered, but still it had risen from within him with the ease of long practice, no more difficult to call on than expelliarmus.
In it was his hate, his rage, his empathy and his longing for redemption. In it was the fabric of what drove him to hate his actions, to strive for a way back from darkness.
In it, was the essence of himself.
Finally it was done. The spell ended and Ron's scream petered out into nothingness, leaving in its place a deafening silence. Ron stood stock still for a while. His mouth was closed now, but his eyes were still wide, and tears now streamed from them. Slowly, he fell to his knees, his face registering nothing but numb shock. Before either Harry or Hermione could reach his side, he pitched forward and lay face down, still and unmoving.
Now, Hermione moved. She ran to the fallen boy's side, and managed to heave him onto his back. Ron's face was now chalk white, and his lips were moving feverishly in a frenzied chant of some kind, but no sound passed his lips.
When Harry reached them Hermione rounded on him, fire in her eyes. She may have trusted him far enough to let him do what he had, but she was scared by Ron's catatonic state, and she demanded an explanation.
Harry held up his hands as Hermione bombarded him with questions. In truth, he barely felt up to answering even the simplest of them. He was tired, and his gaze was haggard. Casting the spell had taken much out of him. Still, he did his best to explain.
"When I was unconscious." he began, "I was talking to Ginny, and I asked her whether or not the two of you would have to feel remorse as well, seeing as you were involved in what happened."
Hermione nodded, she knew this already, as Harry had said as much that day at her parent's.
Harry took a deep breath and continued, his voice ragged and dull. "She said yes, and she told me all that stuff about Ron being… not special. I didn't like hearing it, but I think, deep down, I knew it was true. She told me I would have to force Ron to feel the remorse that you and I did, that he wasn't capable of experiencing it otherwise."
At this point he stopped, looking up into Hermione curious scrutiny. "I didn't understand exactly what that meant, at the time. I figured that we would just have to explain why it was so wrong, to try and make him see why it was something we just had to try and put right. But it's not that simple.
"Ron's not an idiot, he knows perfectly well what we did was wrong; indefensible even. The problem is, he doesn't feel, in his heart, bad about what we did. Whether he did it directly or not, there's no denying that Leo was the catalyst for Ginny dying, and Ron… Ron can't accept that. He loved Ginny so incredibly deeply, too deeply to simply let her death go unpunished, no matter how wrong his actions might be.
"So we couldn't convince Ron to feel remorseful. We couldn't cajole him or appeal to his better nature. We had to do what Ginny said. We had to force him."
Hermione looked at him for a long while, digesting his words. She could see the truth in them, but she was still terribly confused.
"What was that, though? What did you do to him?" she asked.
Harry shook his head, averting his gaze. "I don't know."
"You don't know?" echoed Hermione, her voice tight with disbelief. "Harry, that was the most awe-inspiring piece of magic I've ever seen, how can you not know how you pulled it off?'
Harry shrugged, he was too tired to do anything more. His eyelids were heavy, and he wanted nothing more than to sleep. Then he returned his eyes to Hermione's, and the look on her face gave him the strength to continue, just a little longer. Just until she understood.
"Another thing Ginny told me, is that anything is possible with magic." He shook his head as Hermione made to interrupt him. "Don't Hermione." he said with a slightly rueful grin. "I've already debated the point with Ginny. The point is, anything is possible with magic, but wizards are fundamentally flawed in our understanding of it. What just happened, I can't explain. I did it because it felt right, because it came to me. I couldn't do it again for the life of me. I don't understand it, but still it was possible, and still I did it."
He stopped now, too fatigued to continue, and slumped to his knees. Hermione made to move to his side, but he waved her back. "I'm okay." he slurred. "Just a bit tired is all. Maybe we can just rest for a while?"
Hermione looked at him incredulously. "Harry, we're in the Ministry. The Department of Mysteries! We're in the goddamn death room! We can't just decide to take a snooze!" she exclaimed.
Harry smiled at her, reveling in the comfortingly normal display. "Stranger things have happened." he muttered. And with that, he rolled onto his side, out cold and snoring softly. Spell creation could wait. Saving Leo's soul could wait. Looking after Ron could wait.
Right now, Harry Potter wanted to sleep.
Hope this didn't let you down too badly. Just on a side note, I didn't get a single review for last chapter, which was a bit disheartening, as I really had no idea what any of you thought of it. Please take a little time to give me some feedback, because more than likely I'll take what you say on board.