Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 12 of 45

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Ron had made a point to avoid reading the Prophet the past several days. Most of it was plastered with Harry's picture, photos of the Hogwarts ruins, or articles about the Battle that he had no interest in reliving. Today the front page promised the start of a new daily column titled "Profiles of the Fallen", in which one of the fifty-four fallen warriors from the Battle of Hogwarts would be profiled each day. Today Nymphadora Tonks' face graced the front page in a photo that looked like it had been taken sometime between Bill's wedding and the day Teddy had been born. Her face almost seemed to glow and her hair looked lighter than he could ever remember.

Her smiling face was the first thing Ron saw as he lumbered down the stairs with Hermione. Ginny and Harry were both seated on the sofa in the sitting room. They appeared to have already read the paper and were looking through the same old photo albums that Harry had been looking at that morning. Ginny, no doubt, was regaling Harry with embarrassing stories about Ron and glossing over anything about herself.

"It's a good picture of her, isn't it?" she lifted her eyes from the album as she noted Ron looking at the front page. "They've already sent an owl asking for pictures of Fred." Ron winced, not at the mention of his brother's name, but at the thought that the Prophet was going to run an article about him. "Harry and I are trying to help mum pick one out. Want to help?"

"I'll pass," Ron remarked dryly, thinking he'd much prefer spending an hour locked in the broomshed with a Blast-Ended Skrewt. "Do you want a sandwich?" He looked to Hermione in question then and reached into the breadbox. She looked thoroughly surprised by the offer, but nodded her head. Ginny looked to find the question entirely too amusing.

"How come you never offer to make ME a sandwich, Ron?" she teased.

"Because I don't like you," Ron smirked.

"I've never seen him offer to make food for anybody else in my entire life," Ginny laughed. Ron wanted nothing more than to tell his sister in rather colourful language what she could go do to herself, but he bit his tongue, remembering how he'd just blown up at Hermione upstairs. "Anyway, go turn to page three," Ginny informed, once she saw he was not going to engage her in their usual verbal sparring.

"Whuss on 'age 'ee?" Ron asked from behind a giant loaf of bread, which he now had clutched between his jaws. He was also trying to balance a jar of pickle, a brick of cheese, and a bag of crisps to his chest. Ginny gave Hermione a pitiable gaze as she looked between her brother and her boyfriend. She patted Harry playfully on the head, as if grateful he wasn't attempting to carry an entire loaf of bread in his mouth too. Summoning a bread knife from across the room, Ron began slicing the bread into four pieces for the two sandwiches he was set to prepare.

"You expect me to eat that bread now?" Hermione frowned. "After it's been in your mouth?"

"What? Like you haven't been in my mouth?" He rolled his eyes. Hermione's hand moved so quickly to slap him upside the head Ron hardly knew what hit him. "Hey! Gerroff me!" he protested. Hermione just looked over to Harry and Ginny in utter humiliation, her cheeks a deep crimson. The two thankfully seemed to pretend they hadn't heard the comment or seen the ensuing attack, though Ron could clearly see Harry sniggering behind the photo album. "What? It's not like they don't know." He rolled his eyes at her modesty then continued his quest for lunch ingredients. "Has mum got anything but corned beef?"

"Well, the Diggorys brought a ham over this morning while you two were…occupied, but mum wants to save it for Saturday," Ginny informed and then again directed them to turn to page three. Ron grumbled about the ham being unavailable and began to slice the brick of cheese. Hermione chuckled at him as he seemed to eat a piece of cheese for each one he sliced.

"You want to have a cheese toasty?" Ron proposed suddenly.

"Can you make a cheese toasty, Ron?" Ginny inquired before Hermione could even reply. She may as well have asked if Ron could fly to the moon on his Cleansweep, the tone of surprise in her voice was so evident.

"Do you want one?" Ron ignored his sister's incredulous comment, but couldn't help notice that Hermione looked to be in as much disbelief as Ginny. "What?" He puffed his chest out a bit. "I can make stuff."

"You never helped with the cooking this year!" Hermione scoffed. Ron heard Harry mutter something under his breath that sounded very much like an agreement.

"A cheese toasty isn't cooking," Ron remarked. "Do you want one or not?"

"I'm fine," Hermione declined, much to Ron's dismay. Though Hermione seemed to have forgiven him, he still felt guilty about getting so cross with her upstairs when she'd asked him to come downstairs. He doubted he could make it up to her with a cheese sandwich, but he figured it was a start.

"Oh, someone sent over a case of butterbeer as well," Ginny added suddenly and Ron's eye lit up until she added that their mum wanted to save that, too. "Go to page three!" she all but shouted now.

"In a minute," Ron muttered irritably and continued his methodical preparation of the two lunch plates. He was, much to Hermione's apparent amusement, now slicing the sandwiches into neat triangles and pouring some crisps out onto each plate. Finally obliging Ginny, Hermione picked up the Prophet and turned from Tonk's picture to page three. A tiny gasp escaped her lips when she did and when Ron looked up to see what had caused the cry of disbelief, the knife he was holding clattered loudly to the floor.

"I told you," Ginny sighed from the sitting room.

There across the top half of the page was a photo of him and Hermione taken the night the Great Hall had broken into applause for them. Harry was in the picture as well, but the photo was very clearly focused on the two of them. It looked very much like the candid type of photo Colin loved to snap, but then Ron remembered sadly Colin couldn't have taken the picture. He couldn't even recall seeing camera flashes that night. Had there been people from the Prophet there? He was so intent on trying to figure out who could possibly have taken the photo that he hardly took the time to read the headline beneath it. There in big block letters was the bold headline "DUMBLEDORE'S SECRET TASK FORCE".

"Mum's already ordered about fifteen copies," Ginny announced.

"Is it a…good article?" Hermione inquired cautiously. Ron knew she was hesitant when it came to the press. They all were. The Prophet, after all, hadn't exactly been a bastion of truth and honesty the past few years. Their eyes both scanned the multi-paragraph article briefly before Hermione picked up the paper and began reading aloud.

"The unsung heroes of the wizarding world may be unfamiliar faces today, but their names are likely to be known the world around once the full account of their tale is made public. Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, both 18, are believed to have been assigned a secret mission by deceased Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. "

"Who talked?" Ron cried, but Hermione just continued.

"The two, along with longtime friend and classmate Harry Potter, had been at large since August undertaking a still unknown but highly dangerous assignment. Though the specific nature of the assignment will likely remain classified, it is believed the three were tasked with helping to defeat the dark wizard Voldemort. Many believe they were searching for and destroying magical objects, which led to his eventual defeat by Potter. Weasley and Granger are no strangers to such assignments, having battled Death Eaters in the Ministry of Magic break-in in 1996 and again at Hogwarts Castle in the spring of 1997. Weasley, whose father is a Ministry of Magic employee and whose brother…" Hermione paused momentarily, swallowed a lump that seemed to form in her throat and continued on. "-whose brother, Fred, was killed in Saturday's battle, was sorted into Gryffindor House in 1991 and was a two-year member of the Quidditch team. "We always tried to teach him right from wrong," Arthur Weasley said of his youngest son. "He knew the path he chose to take wouldn't be easy, but we are so proud of him for taking it."

"When did dad talk to the newspapers?" Ron blushed furiously and looked to his sister, who just shrugged.

Granger, whose parents are dentists in the Muggle world, was also sorted into Gryffindor House in 1991 and is held in very high regard by both classmates and professors. Professor Filius Flitwick stated she is the "most perceptive witch" and the "sharpest mind" he has ever taught in 34 years at Hogwarts. Ms. Granger's parents could not be reached for comment."

Her voice trailed off at the last line and she appeared to lose herself for a moment as she set the paper back on the counter. Ron snaked an arm around her waist supportively and stared at the photo of them. The article was the kind he would have done anything for when he was back at Hogwarts. A bit of notoriety, a photo where he was featured and Harry just an afterthought, but he found the feeling of his name appearing in print at long last a bit hollow. It was like the ovation in the Great Hall. There were so many other people who deserved praise. The article didn't mention Dobby or any of those who had launched their own battle of resistance back at Hogwarts.

"I reckon someone from the DA must have said something about what we were trying to find," Harry grumbled, visibly annoyed at how much the article stated about their quest. "Maybe Neville."

"He did have a lot of firewhiskey that first night," Ron scratched his head as he looked over the article, rereading the phrase about 'magical objects' carefully. "Least they don't mention the Horcruxes outright, right?" he murmured, realizing Ginny was there too late. "I mean, the uh – the hor…the hor - "

"It's okay, she knows," Harry informed, cutting off Ron's stammering. Ron looked relieved only for a moment. He was still afraid of his family finding out he'd abandoned Harry and Hermione. Hewondered how much Harry had told her. His sister laid into him for every little mistake he made. He knew if she ever found out he had left them, she wouldn't ever let him live it down.

"Well, I mean, at least they're kind of vague about it," he tried to come up with a silver lining. 'I mean, 'magical objects that led to his defeat' could be anything."

"I don't like it." Harry simply sighed in exasperation. "Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted people guessing about what we were doing and what Riddle had done. It's why we weren't supposed to tell anyone."

"But you told her," Ron blurted out suddenly, nodding toward Ginny. He recalled their talk only days ago up in Gryffindor Tower and how put out she had been about the secrets they all held.

"It's Ginny," Harry stated simply, as if that was all the explanation needed. Ron wanted to remind Harry that his sister wasn't exactly the world's best secret keeper, but he kept quiet. "Anyway, your dad said Kingsley wanted to come by today or tomorrow to talk to us."

"What? When did he say that?"

"This morning at the orchard when we were playing Quidditch," Harry informed. Ron knew he hadn't meant it as a barb, but the comment stung. Harry knew more about his family right now and talked to his dad more than he did.

Ron knew it was only a matter of time before the Ministry came asking questions. Truthfully, he'd expected to be hounded sooner, but he reckoned Kingsley had shown restraint out of respect to his family.

"He said he heard at work you might all be recommended for Order of Merlin."

"I don't care if they want to put us on a bunch of bloody Chocolate Frog cards," Ron grumbled, suddenly in a foul mood. The thought of sitting down and talking to the press about everything they'd been through made his stomach twist into knots. "I don't want to talk to anyone."

"They have to know what's happened," Hermione spoke plainly. "Otherwise, the papers will just speculate." She motioned to the paper in front of them. "You know they will."

"Let them speculate all they want," Ron dismissed. "They'll never figure out they were Horcruxes. Look how long it took Dumbledore!"

"They'll put it together though. They can talk to people who saw us," Hermione reasoned. "Harry and I were talking and they already know we broke into the Ministry and into Gringotts. They must know we were looking for something that's guarded."

"When were you and Harry talking?" Ron suddenly felt like it was last fall again.

"Just this morning before you woke up," Hermione dismissed.

"But my parents were up, and Percy - "

"We were both up before them," Harry shrugged.

"Ron, if we talk to Kingsley then he can give an official Ministry response. Then you don't have to talk to the press," Hermione reasoned, seeming to sense his discomfort.

"That doesn't mean they still won't come knocking after we talk to Kingsley!" Ron argued.

"Who's to say they won't come knocking if you don't?" Hermione reasoned. "We can't hide forever, Ron," she turned to him and the way she looked at him made Ron wonder if she was referring to more than just the interview. "Besides, the more you hide from the press…the worse it'll be in the long run." Ron suddenly wondered what else Harry and Hermione had talked about this morning and whether her attempt to draw him out of his bedroom had been the result of their conversation. The thought of reliving the past year was such an unpleasant thought Ron thought he might lose his appetite. He had the sudden urge to disappear to Australia right now.

"I don't like it, believe me. But I think we need to have an ally in the Ministry," Harry sighed, sounding resigned to the fact. "We can't let anybody outside of Kingsley know about the Horcruxes or the Elder Wand."

"I get that, but - " Ron began to mount another argument, but it was Hermione's own protest that cut him off.

"But you already mentioned the Horcruxes when you were facing Riddle, Harry," Hermione frowned suddenly and her voice trailed away. "You told him they were all destroyed."

"I know," Harry groaned loudly and ran his hands through his messy black hair. He looked thoroughly frustrated with himself in a way that was all familiar to Ron, but bizarre to see on Harry. Ginny stroked his arm tenderly. Ron tried to ignore the tender action and how much it reminded him of the same thing Hermione did to him.

"I didn't hear you say anything about it," he offered suddenly, recalling the dramatic duel between Harry and Voldemort.

"You didn't hear anything he said?" Hermione looked incredulously to him.

"Well, I did. I mean, bits here and there, about Snape and all, but bloody hell, it was Voldemort! Mostly, I was watching his wand and waiting for him to have a go at Harry," Ron shrugged. He looked to his best friend then and actually managed to laugh. "Honestly, Harry, I was waiting for you to shut up and get on with it. I didn't pay much attention to what you were saying! I reckon Hermione was hanging on every word because, well, she's Hermione, but I was watching you more than I was actually listening."

"I guess we just hope everyone else was like you," Harry looked slightly cheered by his friend's honesty.

"I can't believe you weren't listening," Hermione scolded.

"Bloody hell, it's not like I wasn't paying attention! I was watching his wand!" Ron fired.

"And you can't watch and listen at the same time?"

"I caught the important stuff!" Ron puffed his chest out and the two began engaging in the familiar banter that had dominated their relationship the past seven years. Ron found it to be strangely comforting. Harry and Ginny just laughed and returned to the photo album.

"Where is everyone anyway?" he inquired, changing the subject abruptly.

"Up past the orchard," Ginny spoke quietly after a long pause. "Trying to decide where the family plot should be."

"Family…" Ron started to ask, but the word died in his throat. They were picking out the spot where Fred was to be buried and where this whole generation of Weasleys would one day be interred. Mum, Dad, Bill, Charlie, himself, the image was too morbid to think about. "Has George been down at all today?"

"No more than you two have," Ginny remarked. Ron ignored the pointed comment and looked down to the sandwich he had yet to touch. Then he thought of his brother locked upstairs in his room. He hadn't spoken to his brother at all since arriving at the Burrow.

"Has he eaten anything?" Ron frowned.

"Mum tried to get him to come down," Ginny remarked sadly.

"I think I'm going to bring him a plate," Ron announced then, picking up the sandwich he had made for himself and marching suddenly toward the stairs.

They creaked loudly beneath him as he moved hesitantly up toward his brother's room, sandwich in hand. His eyes took in the letters and stickers the twins had applied to their door with sticking charms over the years. Some of them were of their own brilliant design. He remembered how furious his mum had been when she'd discovered those were affixed permanently to the door. They'd even gone so far as to make a charm so any attempt to remove the DO NOT ENTER sign resulted in a string of vulgar insults to the person who tried to remove it, which had of course set mum ablaze. He gave a tentative knock and called George's name through the door.

"Hey. It's me, Ron," he offered lamely, as if his own brother didn't know his voice. "I just – I thought you might want a sandwich. It's erm – it's cheese and pickle 'cause mum won't let us have the ham." They were hardly the first words he expected to speak to his brother after four days, but he reckoned George would appreciate the food. He felt strangely uncomfortable talking to him and he pressed his ear against the door to listen for any kind of response. "It's probably lousy 'cause I made it, but there's a bit of crisps too. Mustard, I think," he looked down to the plate. "I know, not my favourite either," he commented, as if George had actually answered him. "Anyway, it's just us downstairs, see. Hermione, Harry and me. I thought you might want to come. Everybody else is out." He rambled on, but could hear nothing through the door. George was either asleep or ignoring him. Ron wouldn't blame him for either, not with people knocking on his door every bleeding hour asking how he was. "I'll just leave it here then." He placed the plate on the floor outside his door. "I made it so…yeah, it's probably rubbish. Sorry."

He moved away from the door and slowly dragged his feet down the stairs, wondering when he would see his brother againGeorge seemed to have chosen the same manner of coping that he had, which was escaping to his room away from everyone else and all the reminders of Fred. Except, Ron realised sadly, he didn't have anyone to distract him like he had Hermione. He had to sit in the room he had shared with his brother for seventeen years, the room that probably still smelled like Fred and still had his dirty underpants lying in a corner.

His entire family had arrived back at the house in the brief time he was upstairs talking through the door. They appeared very red faced and out of breath as if they'd just climbed Stoatshead Hill. He wondered just how far off they were setting the family plot.

"Ah! Ron, Hermione! Was wondering when we might see you again," Mr. Weasley smiled at the sight of the two of them as he pulled off his cloak. Ginny snorted at the unintentionally pointed comment and Hermione just blushed faintly.

"Can we have any of the ham, mum?" Ron inquired, doing his best to pretend like he hadn't heard the comment.

"No, dear, the Diggorys brought it for the funeral."

"I told you," Ginny sighed.

"What about the bacon?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Blimey, mum, what can we eat?" Ron spoke sharply.

"There's corned beef," Mrs. Weasley remarked and Ron saw everyone in the room just bite their tongues. He didn't even bother correcting her. He just ground his teeth together and set about making a corned beef sandwich, having passed off his two best efforts at lunch to Hermione and his brother. His big brothers buzzed around him, practically snatching the cutlery and condiments right out of his hand as he attempted to prepare his sandwich. They were chattering on about the funeral while they did, about the decision to move it up to Thursday, about who would be there and how long it would last. Hermione seemed to sense Ron's agitation because she reached out and touched his arm softly.

"Why don't you go upstairs with Harry and Ginny?" she offered then. "I can make you a sandwich and bring it up."

"Got her making your meals for you already, eh?" Charlie teased and Ron felt his face grow hot at the inference that he and Hermione were already like husband and wife.

"Well, he's already made me one," Hermione murmured, appearing equally embarrassed as she pointed to the sandwich Ron had sliced neatly into triangles, "so it only seems fair."

Her words quieted Charlie, though he was still grinning wildly at Ron. It was his mum's expression that Ron noted however. He thought for a moment that she was going to give him a hard time like Ginny had when he'd offered to make the sandwich for Hermione. She said nothing as she stared intently at the sandwich though, just fixed her gaze on it like she was looking for some kind of clue. She looked back at Ron then and he didn't know what to make of her expression. She cocked her head to the side, looking almost proud. It was similar almost to the way she'd looked on him three days ago in the Great Hall. Like she was seeing him differently somehow. Ron looked to the plate, wondering what the big deal was about a sandwich.

"I made one for George too," he mumbled uncomfortably.

"Oh." His mum seemed able to only utter one syllable in reply. "I'm sure he appreciated it." She dabbed at her eyes and Ron knew she was well aware George hadn't even come to the door.

Every one of the Weasleys looked like they were thinking about George then. Ron suddenly felt like running back upstairs to attach a note to his sandwich in warning that said "stay upstairs". If he were George, he wouldn't want to face this somber bunch either. Their expressions alone looked like they were talking about a doomed man, somebody gravely ill or about to die. He'd choose solitary confinement over being surrounded by that too.

"Go on." Hermione nudged Ron toward the stairs. "I'll join you in just a minute."

His instinct was to wait for her, but it felt like the mere mention of George and his reclusive tendencies had caused a dark cloud to descend on the first floor. So he left Hermione behind and trudged back up the stairs to his sister's room. Harry and his sister settled down on the floor so Ron did the same, wondering what exactly they were planning on doing. He couldn't help but think it reminded him of the way he, Harry, and Hermione had always sat down to plot out their plans.

Ron felt a strange pit in his stomach as he realised he, Harry, and Hermione, hadn't really spent any time together since that morning in the Gryffindor common room. In the three days since Harry had taken down Riddle, Ron realized they'd gone from being a trio to two duos. His sister hugged her knees to her chest and looked to him uncomfortably, seeming to be thinking the same thing.

"So you and Hermione seem pretty intense," she commented with a knowing smile. "Catching up for lost time quickly it seems." Again, Ron just grunted in reply so she continued. "You know, Harry and I were thinking we might come with you to Australia."

"What?" The statement caught his attention.

"Yeah, with you and Hermione!" she replied brightly. "That way mum won't be so weird about it. You have to know she still hates that you're going."

"What?" Ron practically shouted the word this time.

"We talked to dad and he said he can get Kingsley to clear us to go too."

"What?" His voice grew increasingly louder at the thought of Harry and Ginny accompanying them.

"Ginny - " Harry piped in.

"You're not coming with us!" Ron fired.

"Ginny," Harry interjected again.

"Oh, it'll be fun! The four of us, traveling all together!" Ginny looked unnaturally cheery and it was then that Ron realised Harry was grinning slightly.

"You're taking the piss, aren't you?" Ron was un-amused by the prank.

"Like Harry and I would want to spend four days watching you get off!"

"Fuck you," Ron grumbled, feeling foolish at having fallen for her stupid prank. Honestly, sometimes his sister acted so much like a bloke he wondered how Harry could put up with her.

"I'd say the same to you, but I think Hermione's already got that -" she continued to tease, but halted as Hermione suddenly entered the room with a plate of sandwiches. Ron felt his ears burn. Even Ginny looked slightly embarrassed at having said the crude comment, even though Hermione hadn't seemed to hear. Either that or she was really good at being oblivious.

"I hope this is all right." She set the plate of sandwiches down as she settled onto the ground beside him. Ron saw she'd cut the sandwich the same way he had and had even added a side of mustard crisps too. He lifted up the top piece of bread to inspect the sandwich. He noticed that she sliced the cheese thicker than he did and wasn't as liberal with the pickle, but it still looked delicious.

"Thanks." He glanced to her appreciatively, knowing full well why she'd encouraged him upstairs. He wondered what his family had discussed and if he'd missed learning any other important information like the funeral being pushed up to Thursday.

"So what are we talking about?" she inquired, placing her hand on his thigh as she folded her legs beneath her and settled onto the floor. It was an intimate gesture, one he could see was not lost on Ginny. She kept her teasing comments to herself though as Ron knew she'd never say such rude things in front of Hermione. She simply raised her eyebrows in surprise. Though pleased by the possessive action, he was even a bit surprised by it. Holding hands was one thing, but this indicated a kind of familiarity with each other's bodies that she wasn't at all bashful about showing.

"What we're going to tell Kingsley," Harry informed, clearing his throat loudly, as if to take the focus off Hermione's hand they all now seemed to be looking out, save Hermione. "I was thinking Ginny could play the part of the interviewer. That way, you know, we'll have an idea of what kind of questions to prepare for."

"It makes sense," Hermione agreed and reached down to take a bite of the sandwich Ron had prepared. "So let's begin."

What did they eat? How did they procure food? Where did they camp? Ron doubted Kingsley would really want to know the mundane details Ginny was inquiring about and he got increasingly agitated the more she pried.

"Do you really think he'll want to know every single step we took all year?" Ron sounded dubiously to his sister's line of questioning.

"No, but I still think we need to tell him everything," Harry shrugged.

"If we give the complete story once then we can trust Kingsley to put out an official Ministry version. He wouldn't betray us," Hermione argued.

"Right, he won't want copycats anymore than Dumbledore did. He's the Minister of Magic now," Ginny piped in. Ron felt suddenly like he was being ganged up on.

"Fine," he shrugged his shoulders and relented. "I just don't think telling him where we camped every night is particularly important to the overall picture."

"All right, so what next then? After Ron got splinched?" Ginny carried on her interrogation.

"We just searched for the next Horcrux," Harry shrugged casually.

Ron had to laugh at how simple Harry's words made the task seem. He knew even if they were to explain how those long hopeless months had gone, the hunger pains, the anxiety, the mounting anger and frustration, Ginny still couldn't even begin to understand what they'd all been through.

"So you destroyed the first one?"

"Yeah, Ron did eventually," Harry replied.

"Ron destroyed it?" His sister looked even more astounded than when he'd offered to make Hermione a cheese toasty.

"That such a surprise?" Ron grumbled.

"I just…I didn't know." Ginny looked to him incredulously. "How did you destroy it?"

"We got the sword of Gryffindor. Ron used the sword to kill it." Ginny raised her eyebrows and looked to her brother.

"What was it like? I mean, it's a piece of Voldemort, right?"

"Do you really think Kingsley would ask that?" Ron was eager to steer the conversation away from destroying the horcrux.

"He was a dark wizard catcher before he was Minister of Magic. Horcruxes are dark magic, right?" Ginny reasoned. "I mean does it try to fight back?"

"I guess," Ron shrugged uncomfortably. "In its own way."

"What do you mean?"

"It just makes you…see stuff," Ron mumbled, his words nearly incomprehensible. It was the first he'd ever really spoken about destroying the Horcrux in front of Hermione. He truly didn't want to have to talk about it in front of his sister as well.

"What kind of stuff?" she pressed. Ron saw Harry look to him, he could see his friend trying to come up with some way to circumvent the issue. He knew Harry was well aware he didn't want the world knowing Voldemort had seen his heart and what it had nearly gotten him to do.

"Just…it just shows…" Ron stumbled over syllables and words, trying to figure out what to say. What could he say? Somehow he doubted simply saying it talks to you would suffice. The Horcrux had known his soul, his innermost desires, all his misgivings.

"It shows your worst fears." Hermione surprised Ron by interjecting. He suddenly recalled the pained look on Hermione's face as the water had swirled around both of them in the Chamber of Secrets. She had looked like she was about to cry, like she was being tortured. "It makes you see your worst fears and it's not something that's…particularly fun to relive." The way she spoke the words caused Ron to wonder what exactly it had shown her. He'd never asked her because he didn't want her to turn the tables on him, but suddenly he was curious.

"Sorry." Ginny looked embarrassed at Hermione's sharp, almost scolding, words. "So erm…after you destroyed that where did you go?"

"Xenophilius Lovegood's."

"Luna's dad? Why?"

"To ask about the Hallows. But no, that doesn't work if we don't want to talk about the other Hallows," Hermione sighed.

"I bet Luna's dad wouldn't be keen to have the world know he tried to turn Harry in," Ron suggested then. "I bet he'd be just fine with us just leaving that bit out. Besides, you Confunded him so he wouldn't remember talking about them, remember?"

"That's true," Hermione looked like she was turning the notion around in her brain. "It still leaves a gap in our story though."

"We just kept looking for Horcruxes and then we ran into the Snatchers," Ron shrugged.

"That's what Kingsley'll want to hear about most," Harry reminded them. "Who they were, what they looked like, what they did."

"I can tell 'em the one roughed me up clear enough. I remember the smell of him as much as anything else," Ron muttered. That's where it had all started, his inability to protect her. He'd tried to defend her and the Snatchers had punched him twice in the face and wrestled him to the ground. Ron felt his fist curl protectively at the mere recollection of the way the werewolf had breathed down Hermione's neck and how he'd been able to do nothing but watch.

"Where did they take you?"

"To the Malfoy House." Harry looked to Hermione warily as he said the words. "Bellatrix was there. They took us prisoner and she wanted to know how we'd come by the sword."

"And we wouldn't tell them, but then Dobby Apparated us all out," Ron butted in quickly, purposefully glossing over Hermione's torture and many other details he knew would be important. The imprisonment of Ollivander, Dean, Griphook, and Luna, were all things he knew that they should mention.

"Dobby saved you?" Ginny's face was aglow at the mention of the little elf, but it fell quickly as she saw the morose look on all their faces. "What?"

"Bellatrix threw a knife at us as we were Disapparating," Harry spoke quietly. "We made it to Shell Cottage, but…she hit Dobby."

"No!" Ginny's eyes welled with tears suddenly. Ron found somehow it hurt more remembering the little elf now than it had at his funeral. Whoever said time heals all wounds was a liar. He felt worse about Dobby's death now, when he could see so clearly how much he owed to the little el, than he had at his burial. He'd been so worried about Hermione then, of course. She'd still been retching every hour and Fleur had carried out a basket of bloody bandages from her room that had worried him. "How did Dobby know?" Ginny's brow wrinkled suddenly. "How did know where to find you? How did he know to take you to Shell Cottage?"

"Ron told him to go to Shell Cottage," Harry shrugged.

"But how did you know? Bill and Fleur didn't move there until after you three had left," Ginny frowned.

Here it goes. Ron braced himself for the moment he'd desperately wanted to keep hidden. He'd have to tell it now. He'd have to explain why he'd left and the things he'd said to Harry. His sister would never forgive him. He'd never forgive himself.

"How did you know?" she pressed.

"Because I left them," he admitted meekly. "I left them and I went to Bill and Fleur's because - "

"Because we sent him out to scout safe houses!" Hermione blurted out quickly. Ron both looked to her in confusion, even Harry looked taken aback at the sudden lie. "And to get a survey of how things were going. We needed to know the state of things."

Ron could hardly believe her ability to make up such a convincing lie so quickly. Damn, but she was good at this. It did make sense. He had found a safe house for them while he was gone. He had taken the pulse of the Wizarding World. He'd learned about Snatchers and the Taboo. It made sense they would send him out. But it didn't make sense that Hermione would cover for him.

"And you went out there? All by yourself?" Ginny looked to her brother admiringly. Ron felt embarrassed by the sudden respect, which quite frankly he felt like was the last thing in the world he deserved.

"He did." Hermione was looking at Ron now with a forgiveness he didn't think he deserved either. Sure, his desertion had been months ago and it seemed water under the bridge now in light of all that had happened, but he still had never really explained himself and they hadn't talked about it. "For weeks he was all by himself and he found his way back to us on Christmas," Hermione spoke warmly, talking about him like he was some kind of hero.

"Talk about the best Christmas present ever," Ginny laughed.

"Yes, the best Christmas present ever." Hermione looked to Ron with assuring eyes.

"Then from Bill and Fleur's we planned our break into Gringotts, which was where we knew the Horcrux was," Harry carried the conversation away from Ron's desertion. Ron looked to his friend appreciatively. He wasn't any more comfortable with Hermione lying for him than he was with the truth and was glad for the change in conversation.

"How did you know it was in Gringotts?" Ginny fortunately jumped onto the next part of their quest. Her questions continued. How they had found the vault and located the Horcrux, how they escaped Gringotts, why they'd known to come to Hogwarts. Ron kept shifting positions on the floor, unable to get comfortable, even with Hermione's hand still resting on him. He felt like hours had passed by up in Ginny's room telling their stupid story. He couldn't imagine doing this again tomorrow.

"You know the rest now, eh?" Ron proposed as they finally got to the events at Hogwarts.

"Hardly!" Ginny scoffed. "You all disappeared. You kept me locked upstairs for most of it." She looked quite put out by the recollection and even shot Harry an accusing glare.

"That was for your own good," he maintained.

"Where did you two go that you got soaking wet? Why did you all smell like smoke? Why did you go to the forest? People are going to ask questions. They saw you lot running around. They'll want to know. They'll talk."

"Then let them talk," Ron sounded dismissively.

"You don't mean that." Hermione looked to him. "They'll come up with stories that aren't true then and then you'll get angry."

"I don't care."

"You do care," she insisted.

"Don't tell me what I care about," Ron spoke sharply from behind clinched jaws. Hermione's hand, which was still on his leg, stopped its gentle soothing movement at the brusque words. The words had flown from his mouth without even thinking and he quickly stumbled for an apology, feeling suddenly guilty. That was twice today he'd snapped at her. "I - I know what you meant, I just…" His words trailed away wearily. She meant he wouldn't like it if people started saying he did something in the Battle or was somewhere else than where he really was. The truth was he'd be upset no matter what they said, truth or not. He couldn't' tell Hermione that though, not when he seemed to be the only person so reluctant to talk about it. Harry seemed unfazed in his retelling of the events and Hermione spoke like she was recounting pages from Hogwarts: A History. Why was he the only one who seemed so reluctant to relive everything? "We went to the Chamber to destroy the Horcrux," he informed then, eager to prove if only to himself, that he could do this just like they could. "We stabbed it with a Basilisk fang and it tried to drown us. That's why we were wet."

"And the smoke?"

"We smelled like smoke because Crabbe set the Room of Requirement on fire while we were trying to find the other Horcrux that was hidden there," he continued.

"And after that?" Ginny pressed.

Ron opened up his mouth to speak, but the words quickly fell away. After that, the Death Eaters had gotten in the castle. After that they'd run into Fred and Percy. After that the rest of the night became a blur.

"You know the rest," he replied shortly. "So that's enough, right? That's what we did all year. That's where we were." He got to his feet hastily and Hermione reached for his pant leg.

"Ron." She frowned at him as she spoke his name. The feel of her hand on his calf was strangely comforting and he looked down at her briefly before walking out the door. He wasn't trying to be rude again. He was just done.

She rushed out after him and he could hear her apologise to Harry and Ginny. He was ashamed of the juvenile outburst, so similar to the way he'd stormed from the lunch table the other day, but he didn't want to do it anymore. The past ten months, let alone the past ten days, had been difficult enough to endure the first time. Reliving them on the cold floor of Ginny's room wasn't something he cared to do any further.

"You don't have to retell the whole night." Her gentle words took him by surprise. How did she know? How did she always know? "Just enough to explain our whereabouts."

That was just it, Ron thought, but didn't dare say aloud. His whereabouts in his brother's final hours had been far away from him. Even his thoughts in his brother's final moments hadn't been for his safety, but for Hermione's.

"I don't…" Ron finally began to speak, but he had to take in another deep breath to finish the sentence. "I don't want to talk about the Battle." There. He had said it. "Not today and not tomorrow."

"Okay." Hermione reached out and touched his arm.

"And I don't want to talk about hunting Horcruxes or what it's like to kill one."


"Or – or getting beaten up by Snatchers or breaking into Gringotts or thinking every minute we were going to die. I just - I don't want to talk about it." His voice shook with an emotion that he could tell surprised Hermione immensely.

"Okay," she assured again, rubbing his forearm gently with her thumb.

"Can we just go back upstairs?" His query came out sounding more like a plea.

"So we can sit around and snog for the rest of the afternoon?" He saw her give a playful laugh, but he felt no such smile or laugh coming on.

"We don't have to snog," he admitted. "Just…sit."

"If you want." The words sounded from her lips, but their less than enthusiastic nature wasn't lost on Ron.

"When do you want to leave for Australia?" he asked suddenly.

"For Australia?" she said the word slowly, as if she had forgotten all about their plans to fetch her parents.

"Yeah, I think we should leave Sunday. If my dad has all the Portkeys setup and we get those portpasses from Kingsley."

"Passports," she corrected with a laugh.

"Yeah. Once we get those and the Portkeys are ready, I think we should go."

"You don't want to stay another week here with your family?" Hermione frowned.

"Another week?" Ron snorted in disbelief. "Are you kidding me? I'd leave right now if I could!"

"And miss Fred's funeral?" Hermione's frown grew bigger, but Ron just ignored her.

"Like I said, I'd leave right now if I could."

He began to wonder if the dreams would permanently ruin his love of flying. This time he was flying atop a sleek black Twigger 90. Dean was flying with Kreacher and Mr. Ollivander was flying on an old Silver Arrow with Madame Hooch and of course, Fred and George were looping and diving on their Cleansweeps. They were flying around a Quidditch Pitch that was for some reason in the middle of Muggle London. First Dean pitched to the right and Kreacher went tumbling down to the ground. Ron dipped down to try to save him and then both his brothers had collided on their broomsticks and tumbled to the earth as well. At least that's how he thought it had gone. After only a few minutes, upright and awake in bed, the details of everything in the dream, save for the model broomstick and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, began to fade.

Ron found he couldn't fall back asleep. His skin was cold and clammy and his throat felt hoarse when he awoke. He wondered if he'd been shouting again and if his parents had heard. He reached for the same old Cannons program from the other night, again leafing through familiar names and statistics. He reached for the homework planner. He reached for his old History of Magic textbook. Anything to distract him from the dream in which he'd lost not only one, but two brothers.

He glanced at the old clock, desperate for it to be morning already, then pulled a loose pair of flannel trousers on over his shorts, grabbed Pettigrew's wand and quietly crept down the stairs. He used to sneak out of bed all the time in the middle of the night to sneak biscuits so he remembered all the noisiest steps to avoid on his way to the kitchen.

He went for his mum's apple crumble first, the one he and Hermione had missed out on last night because they'd been too busy up in his room. There was hardly any left after they'd helped themselves to the remains tonight after dinner, but he carved himself a tiny slice he hoped nobody would notice.

"Ron?" The male voice sounded softly from the stairs. "Is that you?"

"Who is it?" Ron asked defensively.

"It's Harry." His friend suddenly emerged from the staircase. "I thought I heard someone coming down the steps. I thought it was you."

"Couldn't sleep either?" Ron asked hopefully. He knew he should feel badly if his friend wasn't sleeping well, but what was the old Muggle saying his dad used sometimes 'misery loves company'?

"Not really." Harry joined him at the counter.

"Nightmares?" Ron queried as he passed the cake pan to Harry who carved himself a piece of cake larger than the one Ron had cut for himself.

"No, I just can't fall asleep. It's like things are too quiet in my head, you know?" Harry laughed. "I feel like I should be doing something or figuring something out."

"Oh." Ron thought Harry's reason for not sleeping sounded much more sensible than silly dreams about falling off a broomstick.

"You having nightmares?" Harry sat down at the table and took a bite of cake. Ron suddenly recalled the way his best friend had used to thrash in his sleep, the victim of nightmares in which he'd actually been nearly possessed by Voldemort.


"About what?" he asked casually.

"I don't remember. Just stupid stuff."

"I don't remember you ever having nightmares before." Ron could see Harry frown in the moonlit kitchen.

"That's 'cause I haven't," Ron confessed. "It's…weird. I don't even remember now what they're about, but when I wake up it's like-" Ron hesitated and took in a deep breath, "it's like losing him all over again."

Ron was glad Harry didn't say anything for a while. They just sat there, silently eating their apple cake for a few minutes.

"I had dreams about Sirius," Harry finally spoke.

"Yeah?" Again, Ron felt guilty taking delight in Harry's story of grief, but it was oddly comforting.

"He was alive and then I'd wake up and realise it was a dream and it was…like you said, it was like losing him all over again every time I woke up." His friend's eyes had a faraway look and Ron felt bad for making him think about it.

"Did you ever think about bringing him back somehow?" Ron finally mumbled, recalling the Resurrection Stone whose existence was still buried in the back of his head.

"Sure," Harry admitted. "I even went to Nick to ask if he could come back as a ghost." The revelation that Harry actually had tried to bring his Godfather back comforted Ron tremendously, as did the mere thought of Fred returning as a ghost.

He grinned, first at the thought of Fred as a spectre haunting Hogwarts, and then more widely at the thought of having him back, being able to talk to him, see him every day if only in translucent form.

"Could you imagine what Fred would do as a ghost?"

"He and Peeves would drive old Filch mad," Harry chuckled.

"How do you come back as a ghost?" Ron pressed his friend then, "what did Nick say?"

"He said he was a ghost because he was afraid of death," Harry informed quietly. "That only wizards afraid to die become ghosts."

"Fred wasn't afraid of anything." Ron sighed then, his voice an odd combination of admiration and disappointment. "What about a portrait? Like how we could talk to Dumbledore the other day?"

Harry shrugged, looking slightly uncomfortable at Ron's evident desperation. "A portrait's only like an echo of a person. Some portraits don't even remember who they were. Remember the portrait of Mirabella Plunkey on the 1st floor landing? She couldn't even remember who she was married to or anything about her life."

It would still be Fred though, Ron couldn't help but wonder, though he didn't dare say it aloud.

"What about the Stone? You said it worked and they were real, your parents and Sirius and Remus," he continued to press.

"I dropped the Stone in the forest, Ron." Harry now appeared well aware what Ron was trying to do.

"I know, but we could get it," Ron tried to sound hopeful. "We could use it."

Harry was silent and looked to be increasingly uncomfortable, but Ron continued.

"I mean not forever, but just so I could say goodbye. I think if I could just say goodbye …it'd be better." Ron recalled how he had said nothing to the twins when he and Hermione had gone off to the Chamber of Secrets. He hadn't even hugged them when they'd arrived in the Room of Requirement. He didn't have to look at Harry's face to see the sympathy etched on his face.

"You wouldn't ever be able to say goodbye," Harry spoke softly. "I only used the Stone because I thought I was about to die too." Ron was surprised at how composed Harry was as he spoke about walking to his own death. "I thought I was about to join them all."

"But if you were with me when I used it, you could stay with me," Ron suggested. His eyes remained fix on the fork and plate and not at Harry. "You could make sure I only used it for a little while and then – and then - " Ron protested, knowing he was grasping.

"You wouldn't be able to."

"But if you - "

"I wouldn't be able to." The emphasis Harry put on himself surprised Ron. For a time they both said nothing. Ron was grateful Harry hadn't told him what a stupid idea it was or attacked him for his immaturity.

"I yelled at her up in my room," Ron confessed suddenly. "Hermione," he added, as if it needed clarification. "She was just trying to help." He recalled how he'd snapped at her up in his bedroom when she'd tried to get him to go downstairs.

"Did you apologise?" Harry inquired, thankfully saying nothing about his sudden change of subject. Ron said nothing. "They're not that effing hard, you know?" Harry teased, "apologies. That second syllable's a little tough, but - "

"Do you know how many things I'd have to start apologising to Hermione for if I started?" Ron laughed, but as he said the word aloud he no longer felt like eating the rest of his cake. Harry joined in his laughter, but thankfully didn't reply to the comment or say anything further about apologising. "I ought to try to get back to bed." Ron got up and set his plate in the sink. "Try to be somewhat rested for tomorrow with Kingsley."

"I told you, I can talk to him alone. As long as we've worked out what we want to say - "

"I don't mind." The words couldn't have sounded any more like a bald-faced lie coming if he'd tried. He knew Harry was thinking about his outburst in Ginny's room as much as he was.

"Spend the day packing. Get ready for Australia," Harry dismissed. "I can talk to Kingsley alone."

"And Hermione?"

"I honestly think it'd be better if I did it by myself. You know how Hermione is. She'd want to do all the talking and I think it needs to come from me."

"And you won't say anything…about me leaving, will you?" Ron asked uncomfortably.

"I'll use Hermione's story," Harry assured as he also placed his plate in the sink and started toward the staircase. "But she's forgiven you for that, mate, you know that, right?"

"How do you know?" Ron thought about the silly story Hermione had made up about sending him forward as a scout.

"Because she wouldn't be with you if she didn't," Harry stated simply, before disappearing up the stairs.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 12 of 45

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