AUTHOR'S NOTES: I can't believe I gotta say this, again... Don't attack other people for their reviews, please. Just because someone says something you don't agree with doesn't give you the right to jump down their throats. And if you give criticism, don't be discouraged if people don't agree with it. Just don't fight in my reviews like a bunch of children. You can make your differences known without insulting each other, or, groups of people that you have a personal gripe with (Calling all feminists narcissists is just pathetic, and it has no bloody relevance to the story). FATE is rated M for a reason, so act accordingly.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter, and I do not intend to make any money off of this. Harry Potter is the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling , and I take no credit of it whatsoever.
I was also inspired by Demon Eyes Laharl's: THE RED KNIGHT! and also from Random-Fruitcake04's: CHOICES! I hope you check them out as well because they are genuinely very good stories.
There's also a few more Ron fics out there that are on point! They're called 'There and Back Again' by Chuchi Otaku, 'Still Standing' by Windschild8178, and 'Cooking Like a Bachelor' by Avatar Vader. Please, go check 'em out! You won't regret it, spread the Ron love, people!
P.S: Starway Man is a chad! (I'm never removing this)
Chapter 154 – Control
Ronald Weasley's POV
Monday 26th April, 1994 (Pomfrey's Office – After Classes)
"Fine, I might have taken things a little too far," Ron shrugged, and Madam Pomfrey gave him a dull look. "But why should I hold back, and risk losing, just because other people aren't on my level? If I had taken it easy on them, I'd have to put in so much more effort. I'd have to be so much more careful and attentive, because one errant Spell is all it takes to get your lights turned off. Plus, you were right there, weren't you? You put them back together easily enough. I didn't do any lasting damage to any of them."
"You are wilfully ignoring my question," Madam Pomfrey said, jotting down some notes. "I'm asking you if you feel any guilt over hospitalizing three of your schoolmates, one of them being your own brother. I'm not asking you to justify yourself to me."
"What do you want me to say?" Ron groaned, slouching. "That I'm sorry? That'd be pointless, because I'm not sorry. I don't feel any guilt because they're perfectly fine, now." It's not like I tore their guts out, or, left permanents scars all over their bodies. They're fine.
"So, just because I've Healed them, their pain is irrelevant?"
"Um… Yes," Ron answered, somewhat confused by her line of questioning. "Do you bring in every Beater who sends another player to the Hospital Wing for a chat? Asking them if they feel guilty?"
"No, because every Beater I've seen so far was just playing their role," Madam Pomfrey replied, leaning forward. "You weren't playing any role yesterday, Ron. I saw you. You came to the tournament with the intent to hurt people, and perhaps, with the intent to get hurt yourself. Goading Cedric like that… You were hungry for violence, and I find that most concerning. I'm worried that these sessions aren't working the way they should, because you refuse to fully open up to me."
"What are you saying? You're going to abandon me too?" Ron asked, steeling himself. Figures… I can't really blame her, but still-…
"I did not say that I was, but it's interesting that you immediately assume I would," Madam Pomfrey scribbled down more notes, before looking him in the eyes. "I want to help you, I truly do, but I can only do so much when you refuse to cooperate." She then let out a sigh, shaking her head to herself. "We'll come back to this after you've had time to think about my words. For now, let's move onto another topic." Brilliant! "Why did you choose to go behind Charlie's back, instead of being there for him when he left for his new apartment?" Fuck! "Why not support him by being there for him in the way he wanted? Why did you choose to ignore his wishes, instead?" Ignore his wishes? I got him his dream job! I'm bloody paying for it, even!
"I don't know… I just didn't want to be there when he left," Ron scratched the back of his neck, this session was feeling more and more like an interrogation. "And I didn't ignore his wishes… I know he wanted that job, but just because I was giving it to him, he kept refusing it. He was being stubborn-"
"He was making his own decisions without your input, you mean," Madam Pomfrey interrupted. "Ron, when other people make decisions on your behalf, you despise it. I know this because you've told me so yourself, and yet, you see nothing wrong with constantly interfering with other people's lives-"
"Constantly interfering?! I'm helping him!" Ron couldn't believe this, offended. "All I do is help people-!"
"You help them in a way that feeds your compulsion," she corrected, her gaze intensifying. Compulsion? "And, frankly, I'm starting to believe that you care more about controlling every tiny detail around you than you do about 'helping' people. We've spoken about this many times before, and just recently, I explained to you that you could only truly control your own behaviour, but you deliberately perverted my advice in a way that suited your need to control the behaviour of others. You came to the conclusion that if they don't realize you're influencing them, then you're not going face as much resistance. Instead of giving him the job out-right, you formed an elaborate scheme which gets you what you want, leaving him none the wiser. This is very troubling behaviour, because, once again, I feel as though these sessions aren't helping you. You are using me to vent your frustrations, but you're not listening to what I have to say. You're only hearing what you want to hear."
"You're twisting things and making me sound like some control-freak," Ron frowned deeply, feeling his temper flare. "I don't 'control' people, I help them. I make decisions that they're either too stupid, or, too incompetent to make. Charlie will be infinitely safer at the Dragon Reserve than in some dingy bar. I want to see my brother succeed in life, not clean fucking tables. I've kissed the right arses so that he doesn't have to. You think if he approached Lady Longbottom himself, she'd even let him speak? No, she'd toss his arse out into the cold without hesitation. Bloody hell, I'm her 'Eternal Friend', but she's still making me pay his salary! Even after I explained to her that I wanted her to look after him for me! You think I would've done that to her if she had come to me for help-!"
"You are veering off topic, Ron," Madam Pomfrey pointed out, and he drew in a sharp breath. "Right now, we are discussing your continued meddling in the affairs of others without giving any thought to what they might want. As always, you are fixated on other people's lives instead of your own. You are fixated on feeding your compulsion, your need for control, rather than managing it. If you want control over your life, real control, as you say you do, then it has to start with you. You have to look inwards, not outwards. Charlie working at the Dragon Reserve won't change anything for you, because like always, you will find another person to fixate on. The cycle will just keep repeating itself."
"He'll be safer than before, and that matters-" Ron tried to explain.
"To you? Or, to him?" she asked, making him blink.
"Ron, have you even considered what will happen if he finds out what you did? How hurt he will be? How your scheme might damage his confidence in himself going forward?" Madam Pomfrey asked, and he knew he hadn't. "This isn't about you making the right, or, wrong decision, this is about you not respecting your brother's wishes. And he's not the only one you do this to. You refuse to tolerate your mother and father because they don't conform to your ideals and beliefs. You pushed Pandora away because she dared to question your change in personality. You don't even want to acknowledge Xenophilius because you think he's too 'soft' and 'foolish'. You speak of Sirius as though he is an invalid because he makes decisions that you would never make in his shoes. And just yesterday, I saw you lash out at Remus because he wanted you to take it easy on your competition. If anyone, regardless of how important they are to you, so much as questions you, you push them away and blame them for destroying your relationship. If anyone doesn't satisfy what you want out of them, you deem them stupid and incompetent. All the times you've come in here and vented your frustrations about the people in your life, never once have you acknowledged that they all get along with each other and accept each other, warts and all… All of them except for you." Madam Pomfrey then leaned forward, her expression becoming stern. "Most of the problems in your life, most of the arguments you find yourself embroiled in, stem from you being unable to understand that your obsession with control is damaging you. That you are perpetually stuck repeating a negative behaviour that is hurting more than just your psyche, it's hurting the people you claim to love. It is isolating you from everyone, because instead of being a part of people's lives, you are trying to run them. And, for the life of me, I don't understand why you keep doing this to yourself. I have tried to explain this concept to you repeatedly, and although you sit there and listen to me, you just keep repeating the pattern."
Ron found himself staring at her dumbly, feeling as though she'd kicked him in the head. Of all their sessions together, never before had she chewed him out like this. There were no subtle words to make him reflect on his actions, no asking him how he felt… She was just giving him a piece of her mind, and the worst part was that her words were making sense, even though he didn't want them to.
"Honestly, Ron, I don't know how to help you," Madam Pomfrey admitted tiredly. "Sometimes, I genuinely fear that you don't want my help. I fear that there is something very important that you're not sharing with me, something that would help me make sense of your actions. Why do you have to control everything and everyone around you? What has convinced you that this is what you need to do to be happy?" Ron averted his gaze, thinking of his duty to save as many innocent lives as possible. "And, once again, when we begin nearing the root of your problems, you shut down." What else am I supposed to do? Scar you like I scarred the High Mother? Like I scarred Emilia, Godrey, and Artyom? Like I scarred the Headmaster and Professor Snape? "These sessions are going nowhere… If you want to continue them, if you just want to vent and feel better in the short-term, then I will be here for you. However, if you want a long-term solution, if you truly want to stop feeling so powerless, then you need to let me in, first. I can't do right by you until you help me understand what's hurting you." Ron swallowed thickly, feeling cornered and increasingly more stressed. "Well? What will it be, Ron?"
"You just got up and left?" Dumbledore asked, and Ron let out a sigh.
"What else was I supposed to do?" he asked, feeling strangely guilty over his decision. "Merlin… I feel like I really let her down… She said that I could still keep seeing her, but I know that's only because she doesn't want to give up on me. She can't help me, but she can't give up on me, either. I've put her in a terrible position… And all because I-…" Because I can't keep my shit together. "I just hope she doesn't worry too much about me. I don't want her to think that she failed me in any way."
"You had your reasons for leaving, dear boy, and Poppy will just have to make her peace with your decision," Dumbledore smiled encouragingly. "And, although I don't have her training, you can always come to me. I've picked up a few nuggets of wisdom in my time, if I do say so myself." A few? There's no need to be modest with me-… Hold on… He has no issues with me discontinuing my sessions all of a sudden? He was all but telling me to attend them before.
"You don't want me to tell her the truth, do you?" Ron realized, and Dumbledore's smile turned apologetic. "You don't trust her."
"I trust her with my life, just not with the outcome of the war," Dumbledore explained, his voice softer than before. "Your visions, the knowledge they hold, must be protected. I am still convinced that you should not have shown your memories to the High Mother, nor Heitor Reyes and Jerimiah Wilkinson. If the enemy learns of your power, all of our lives will be in grave danger. Lord Voldemort is the most powerful Legilimens to have ever walked the Earth, which means that no mind is safe from him. Not even mine."
"I understand your reservations, but we can't ignore people like Reyes and Wilkinson," Ron countered, a hint of doubt seeping into his mind. "Especially now that we know they plan to continue their war against Blood Supremacy on our soil. We need them on our side, instead of them working against us and undermining our efforts."
"We could have convinced them another way, Ronald, without giving them knowledge that has, mostly likely, already corrupted their good intentions," Dumbledore said sagely, his simple smile never faltering. "If they were brutal before, now they will be positively murderous. They will take no prisoners, show no mercy, and that will only bring more suffering in their wake. I know you are of a similar mind to them, but you have not seen war as I have. As terrible as your visions have been, they pale in comparison to the reality of it all. The orphaned children, the dead friends, the missing kin… We must not only win this war, but we must also limit the damage as much as possible, and you have made the latter significantly more difficult." I know that we have to limit the damage, but not for our enemies. They don't deserve that, especially if they follow him. Being merciful to lunatics can also lead to more damage than necessary, in case that's slipped your mind.
"…Maybe…" Ron averted his gaze slightly, frowning to himself. "You're right about me not knowing as much as you, of course, you've been through two separate wars in your time, but the responsibility of this world's future is on my shoulders, not yours. Fate left me that memory for a reason, and I believe it's there to make my life a little easier."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore said thoughtfully, giving a short nod. "I cannot bring myself to speak of her intentions, for I doubt I could even comprehend them. However, what I can comprehend is that you made these decisions with anger and hatred in your heart, and seldom do such decisions bear sweet fruit." Don't get all poetic on me! You know I hate it! Speak like a normal person!
"And doing nothing bears an empty garden," Ron disputed, getting frustrated. "There… I can get all poetic myself. Doesn't feel too good, does it?"
Dumbledore chuckled, which only added fuel to Ron's growing ire. "What's done is done, I suppose. We will just have to face what comes next together. Tell me, how did the High Mother react to our shared future? You have yet to mention her response." She was… weird… about it.
"She wasn't angry like Reyes and Wilkinson," Ron replied, leaning back in his seat. "She was… sad… Yeah, that's the best way I can describe her reaction. Sad."
"Sad? She was not afraid?"
"Oh, she was afraid, I could see it in her eyes, and yet, she was mostly just sad," Ron clarified, her last few words to him still rattling about in his head. "She gave me a Portkey that would bring me straight to her chambers. She felt that I needed her, or, something… I don't know… I think, she mostly just felt sorry for me…" Foolish woman. She doesn't know what I am, and what I've done. Anyone with a hint of sense should be disgusted by me, not-…
"Ronald?" Dumbledore called, breaking him out of his thoughts. "You were saying that she felt sorry for you. Go on."
"Not much else to say, really," Ron shrugged, but Dumbledore didn't buy it.
"What did she say to you, exactly?" Dumbledore inquired, adorning a more serious expression. "I need to know, Ronald."
"She asked me if this world's 'saviour' needed to be cruel as well," Ron replied, and Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "It doesn't matter… She's just out to manipulate me, to play on my goodwill, like everyone else, but it's not going to work. I've learned my lesson, at last." Greengrass' final lesson to me. "As far as I'm concerned, she works for us, now, and if she ever forgets it, I'll go down to that mountain of hers and wipe it off the face of the Earth."
Dumbledore said nothing in response, his eyes simply searching Ron's, before he let out a sigh. "…I see. May I borrow this Portkey, my boy? I wish to speak to her myself."
"About what?" Ron was slightly taken aback by the request.
"About where she will fit into all of this," Dumbledore replied. "And if she knows that you're not alone, that you have my support, then she will think twice before trying to manipulate you. I underestimated her cunning once, and I don't plan to repeat that mistake."
Ron nodded in agreement, glad that, at least, there was one man he could always count on. "It's at the Burrow, in my room. I'll go and get it for you, Headmaster."
With that, Ron rose out of his chair, giving Dumbledore a parting nod before making his way over to the fireplace. He'll sort her out, I'm sure. And he can keep the Portkey after, because I won't be using it. 'Come to me whenever you need to'… Pfft… As if I'll fall for that shit!
"Ronald, before you leave…" Dumbledore called, stopping him just as he began preparing the floo. "What Poppy said to you… You should really think about her words, for they are not without merit." Not without merit?
"What? That I'm the problem?" Ron asked, frowning again. "That I don't bust my arse every day to help people, but rather, to control them? Like some bloody puppet-master?"
"Yes," Dumbledore answered without hesitation. "I know you mean well, dear boy, and I'm not saying that you don't help others, but when it comes to your own family, you are not helping them in the slightest. You are hurting them. You are pushing your expectations, your impossible standards, onto them. I know this because I recognize it. I used to do the same thing to my family, and like you, when they failed to live up to my ideals, my successes, I grew resentful of them. They made me feel alone in this cold world, so much so that I planned to run away right after graduating Hogwarts in order to find like-minded people to surround myself with. It took a great loss for me to realize how selfish I had become in my isolation, how self-absorbed, and for your sake, I hope you change your own ways before it's too late." Selfish? I have given everything I have for other people's sakes! I have nothing because of them! "I don't think I can endure watching you suffer any more than you already have."
"But you said that you agreed with me…" Ron muttered in disbelief, losing heart. "When I told you about me no longer respecting who they were, you said you understood me." I'm many things, but I'm not selfish… That accusation isn't fair… It isn't just!
"And I still do, however, that doesn't change you being unfair to them. They are not like you, just as my family was not like me. We must learn to accept others for who they are, Ronald, not who we want them to be. And we must never use our selflessness to justify our spite. Many great individuals have lost their way because of this simple mistake, and you cannot afford to be one of them. We need you… I need you."
"…I just want them to be safe, to be able to look after themselves, and each other, when I'm not around… Is that truly so selfish of me?"
"As I said, you mean well, but do they see your actions as you looking out for them?" Dumbledore countered, and Ron already knew the answer. No… They hate me… They wish I was someone else, someone I used to be… "I hope I have not upset you too greatly, my boy, but I felt that you needed to hear this." Right… So, basically, no matter what I do, or, how much I sacrifice, I'm always the bad guy, huh? Seems as fair as the rest of my life, I guess…
It was one thing to hear Madam Pomfrey brand his actions as selfish, but the old man too? The man Ron admired above all others? That cut too deeply.
"…I'll go get that Portkey…"
Daphne Greengrass' POV
Monday 26th April, 1994 (The Burrow – After Classes)
Daphne stood in front of the Weasley family's fireplace, trying to muster up the courage that had suddenly abandoned her the moment she had stepped into the Burrow. What's wrong with me? I came this far, didn't I? I even faced Professor Snape, despite him being in a terrible mood! I can do this! I've put this conversation off for too long!
Slapping her cheeks, Daphne drew in a sharp breath before forcing herself to move towards the kitchen. Upon entering it, she quickly spotted Molly Weasley by the sink, leaning against it as she watched her eldest son, Bill, working the stove. He's cooking, tonight? I didn't know he could cook.
"Daphne?" Molly spotted her, looking surprised for a moment, and then, beaming. "Daphne! What are you doing here, love? Shouldn't you be at Hogwarts?"
"Good evening, Mrs. Weasley," Daphne stepped further into the kitchen, smiling back. It smells lovely in here. I wonder what Bill is cooking? "Good evening, Bill. It's a pleasure to see you both, again."
"Still so proper with us," Molly chuckled, whereas Bill waved her over.
"Come try this," the handsome wizard smiled, and Daphne did as she was bid, tasting the foreign stew with a table spoon. Wow! What is that?! "So? What do you think? Not bad for a bloke, right?"
"It's delicious," Daphne smiled more widely, already losing the tension in her shoulders. "What is it? I've never had this before."
"Bamya," Bill answered, looking quite pleased with himself. "I'm just teaching mum not to underestimate me."
"Yes, yes," Molly rolled her eyes, still beaming. "When you cook for my daughter-in-law, that's when I'll be impressed. You still have work to do on that front, don't you?" Daphne giggled when Bill let out a long sigh, shaking his head. "You need to settle down, now, Bill. You've got a good job, you're still young, and once you get rid of that horrible earing, people will start taking you more seriously. You don't want to miss out on the good ones, do you? Oh, what about Nymphadora?! Andromeda's daughter? She'd be perfect for you!"
"She's not my type, mum," Bill said with a smirk, as if trying to wind her up. "She's more like a… little brother… to me."
"Little brother?" Molly immediately lost her mirth, smacking Bill's arm. "None of that, William! She's a lovely young woman, and she's an Auror! That's a respectable career if there ever was one! Daphne, you agree with me on this, don't you? That Bill ought to settle down and get married soon?" Uh-oh.
"Before you answer, I want you to know that you won't get any of this if you agree with her," Bill said promptly, pointing at the stew.
"I don't think it's my place to step between mother and son," Daphne answered, deciding to take no one's side. "This is clearly a family discussion, and-"
"Nonsense," Molly huffed. "You're a part of this family, so I won't have any of that. Well? Who do you agree with?" Oh, no… "Well?!"
"Mum, you're scaring her," Bill laughed, moving slightly in order to give Daphne some cover. "Don't mind her, Daphne. She's just growing impatient in her old age." He did not just say that!
"Old age?" Molly narrowed her eyes, whereas Daphne fought the urge to giggle, again. "I'll have you know that I don't have a single white hair, yet! Even after raising seven hellions!"
"Six," Bill corrected. "Percy was always an arse kisser-" Molly smacked his arm, again. "Ow!"
"Percy is a respectful, intelligent boy," Molly said, wagging her finger. "But, when he was little, he was also quite difficult. All those fights he used to have with the twins? Who do you think cleaned up after them? It was certainly not your father." I love how lively their childhoods were. I mean, Astoria and I had it better than most, but the manor always felt a little too large. A little too empty. I wish we had grown up in a place like this, all of us close together-… "Now, Daphne, what brings you here? If you're here to see Ronald, he's not home." Ronald? Not Ron? Or, Ronnie?
"Thank Merlin," Bill sounded genuinely glad, earning himself a frown from his mother. What was that? "Oh, come on, mum. If he were here, none of us would be laughing and joking around. He'd see to that personally." Excuse me?
Daphne stopped herself from scowling, choosing to ignore Bill's comments. "Do you know where he is, Mrs. Weasley? Or, when he'll be home?"
"I don't know," she simply answered, looking a lot less happy all of a sudden. "He comes and goes as he pleases, and rarely does he share what he's up to with us. He might make an appearance after the sun has set, so you're more than welcome to wait with us." So, things have not improved between him and his family, after all. Even though he's seeing Madam Pomfrey, again. Damn it, Ron… When are you going to stop pushing everyone away? It's getting tiresome, now, even for me. Why are you so eager to end up alone?
"I'll wait," Daphne decided, not really wanting to return to Slytherin, anyway. Pansy's gloating has become obnoxious already, and both Blaise and Theo are just moping around. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but Malfoy is better company than those three right now. "Bill, can I help you? I don't feel right just standing around doing nothing."
"You can help me set the table, love," Molly said approvingly, smiling a little. "You remember where the plates are, don't you?" Dinner? This early? "I know what you're thinking, but Arthur rushed out early for work this morning. Poor man hasn't eaten all day, most likely. Now, come along. The sooner we start, the quicker we'll finish."
"Yes, Mrs. Weasley-"
"It's Molly, dear."
Daphne gave a nod, despite having no desire to address an adult by their first name. Setting up the table took a little longer than expected, mostly due to them doing it by hand rather than Magic, and as they finished up, they heard the floo roar to life in the living room.
"That must be Arthur," Molly noted, vanishing a stain on the table with a flick of her wand.
Daphne swiftly prepared herself to greet the Weasley patriarch with the respect he was due, but to her surprise, it was Ron who walked into the kitchen in place of his father. Seeing him immediately brought back Daphne's nerves, mostly because she knew they were going to argue once she told him the purpose of her visit. Still, I'd rather he hears it from me directly, rather than someone else.
"Oh, it's just you, Ronald," Molly said, sounding somewhat disappointed.
"Yes, just me…" Ron said softly, already staring at Daphne. "I'm surprised to see you here, Daph. Pleasantly surprised, of course. Is everything all right?" You mean in Slytherin? It is. Everyone is very satisfied because of the outcomes of the Ranked Tournaments, especially the winners.
"I just wanted to talk to you," Daphne said, smiling. "I've missed our little chats." You don't even write to me, but that's a problem we can discuss another day.
Ron smiled back a little, though she could tell he was only doing so for her sake. "Let's go to my room. We can have some privacy there."
"Dinner will be on soon," Molly told her youngest son, but he was already halfway up the stairs. "Bill made something he used to enjoy in Egypt."
"I'm not hungry… Have it without me."
Molly frowned and shook her head in defeat, while Daphne lingered in her spot awkwardly. Poor timing, again, Daphne. Brilliant… I hate catching him in one of his moods.
"Sorry about him-" Daphne started, but Molly stopped her short by raising her hand.
"Don't apologize for him, dear," Molly said tiredly, heading back towards an annoyed Bill. "It's not your fault he turned out so-… So bloody rotten…" What? That's-… Wow…
"Nor is it yours, mum," Bill added, though Molly didn't look quite as convinced. "I don't know what you need to say to him, Daphne, but just get it over with quickly and come back downstairs. He's-… Bloody hell, I hate myself for even thinking this, but… He's not worth your time and effort. He sucks the life out of everyone around him, like a bloody Dementor-"
"Bill, enough of that," Molly stopped her eldest, looking deeply bothered. "Just focus on that stew, will you? Before you end up burning it."
"Sure, mum…" Bill let out a sigh, before giving Daphne an encouraging look. "Don't take too long."
Daphne didn't know what to say, feeling a small pit form at the base of her stomach. What has been happening in this house? I've never seen them so against him before. Merlin, Ron… What have you been up to, exactly? Lost for words, Daphne made her way up the stairs, jumping a little when she turned the corner and saw Ron waiting for her. He was just waiting here the whole time?! Wait… He didn't hear them, did he? It was hard to tell because of his controlled expression, but she had seen him hurt enough times to be able to see it in his eyes. This-… This is dreadful…
The pit in her stomach grew larger, and they both just stood there, staring at each other. I should say something, shouldn't I? But what? I don't even know what's going on here-…
"Let's go," Ron whispered suddenly, turning and continuing up the stairs. Okay…
It took three flights of stairs for her to find the strength to speak up, the Burrow seemed so much colder up here. "Ron… What was that? They were acting like their usual selves, until…" she trailed off.
"Until I showed up?" Ron finished for her, sounding unconcerned. "What can I say? I seem to have this effect on people, and it was only a matter of time before my own family joined in."
"I thought things were getting better," Daphne said, watching his back intently. "I thought you were seeing Madam Pomfrey, again."
"Yeah, well… I fucked that up too," Ron muttered, scratching the back of his neck.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that she doesn't think our sessions are working," Ron clarified, much to her surprise. "It's my fault, honestly… She tried her best, she really did, but I'm beyond her help." Beyond her help?! That doesn't make any sense! She's the best there is, isn't she?! Isn't that why she's the Head Matron of Hogwarts?! "Enough about me, though… What brings you here? Are you lot in some sort of trouble in Slytherin?"
"No, nothing like that," Daphne replied absentmindedly, still curious about what was going on in the Burrow. "Where's Charlie? And Kirsten?"
"Oh, they moved away to an apartment together," Ron replied, and Daphne nodded slowly. "They moved away, and I wasn't here to send them off. And if that wasn't bad enough, I 'manhandled' Percy yesterday at the Duels… Oh, and I'm the reason why Pandora and Xenophilius won't visit, anymore. Same thing with your parents. No matter what happens, I'm always the root of the problem in their eyes. I am sucking the joy out of their lives because I'm 'sick in the head'." Ron let out a tired breath, shaking his head to himself. Sick in the head? Did one of them actually say that to you? "Sorry… You didn't come down here to hear me whine… I just-… I have a lot on my mind… C'mon, we're almost there."
Ron opened the door to his room, letting her enter first before closing it behind them. Daphne couldn't help but notice that the room was far too clean and organised, as if no one actually lived inside it and it was all for show. Not a single thing out of place… I don't know why, but I don't like it.
"Mind if I sit on your bed?" she asked, while he Silenced the room.
"You don't have to ask permission, Daph," he answered, shooting her a weak smile. "We're a bit past that, aren't we?"
"Just trying to be polite," she said, making her way over to the bed and sitting on its edge. "Was it always so clean in here?"
"I don't want to give mum a reason to be in here," Ron shrugged, taking a seat at his study desk. That's normal behaviour… "Now, what is it? If not Slytherin, then what is bothering you?"
"Why does something have to be bothering me to pay you a visit?" Daphne asked, feeling even more nervous than before. Stop stalling, Daphne. What are you doing?
"I can tell that something is off with you," Ron pointed out, leaning back in his chair. "Don't make me pry, please. You can talk to me about anything." Right… He's right… I should just come out and say it.
"…Father told me about the Centaurs, Ron," Daphne all but whispered, taking him by surprise. "I know why you two are at odds all of a sudden. I know everything."
Ron stared at her, blinking repeatedly as he processed her words.
"He-… He really told you?" Ron eventually asked, looking quite mystified, now. "Maybe he's not such a coward, after all." Oi!
"Don't call my father a coward, Ron-"
"What happened? How did you find out?" Ron cut her off, his eyes hardening as his jaw clenched. "He just pulled you aside and confessed his crimes, did he? I very much doubt that." I knew he was going to become like this!
"I overheard him in his study," Daphne explained, sitting up straighter and adorning a sterner expression. "He was upset, and quite drunk, but he told me everything. My father is not a coward, and I won't let you insult him to my face. We can, and should, be civil about this."
"Did he really tell you everything?" Ron scoffed; it was rather difficult to match his cold gaze. "Because if he did, then how can you defend him? Only a coward would murder children, Daphne! And for what? Gold? Some land? Pride?"
Daphne cringed internally; it was hard to argue against that. "He was suffering, Ron. He was not in his right mind after the war. I'm not saying that what he did was right, or, even justifiable, but he's not that person, anymore. He feels dreadful over his actions, and he wants to make amends."
"With the Centaurs?" Ron asked, not moved by her words in the slightest.
"Them, and you," she replied, earning herself another scoff. "People make mistakes, okay? Everyone makes mistakes. You make mistakes. He is trying-"
"He didn't make a mistake, all right?" Ron stopped her short. "He chose to poison those crops. A mistake is made either through ignorance, or, through misunderstanding. Your father had a dozen other options at his disposal, but he chose the one that resulted in dead children. That's not a mistake, that's a fucking choice. Just because he regrets it now doesn't mean a damn thing to me! I don't forgive murderers! I don't care about his reasons, nor do I care about how much he suffered in the Great War! I don't care! Once you cross that line, there is no coming back from it! I will not allow it!" What the fuck is wrong with you?! Who are you to decide this for everyone?! And why are you getting so riled up?!
"So, you don't believe in redemption?" Daphne asked, unable to hide her disgust with his mindset. "You don't believe in second chances?"
"Those children won't get a second chance," Ron replied icily, leaning forward. "While he's been living in comfort, sipping his fucking Apple Brandy, that tribe has been out in the cold this entire time. Never once did he give them a passing thought, not until he lied to me about them and got caught-"
"What are you talking about?" Daphne blinked, and Ron 'smiled' at her. "What did he lie about?"
"He didn't tell you the part where he lied to me and convinced me that he had helped them?" Ron asked, visibly enjoying her confusion. "Yeah… He sat me down, showed me some fabricated ledger, and explained to me that he was losing gold every year due to his charitable works. That he was helping Centaurs and Merpeople relocate to safer living spaces out of his own damn pocket. And me being an idiot, I believed every word. I mean, I wanted to… I loved him, didn't I? So why wouldn't I want to believe in him? In his better nature? I felt so proud of him, Daphne… So damn proud. But, as it turns out, he was just protecting his family's interests. He must have figured that I'd find out the truth eventually, so he decided to create his own truth… The sort he knew I'd want to believe in." Ron then shot out of his seat, pacing. "Your father is not who you think he is. He will say anything, do anything, to secure his family's future. I thought I was a part of that family, but the truth is that I was only a golden ticket for him. So, no, Daphne, I will not forgive him, if that's what you're after, nor will I let you sit there and act like you know what you're talking about. You still have the mind of a sheltered, privileged girl, all right? You can pretend to be more than that all you like, but you haven't seen the shit I've seen. You haven't seen how fucked up it is out there, so don't even bother trying to defend him."
Daphne looked down at her feet, a terrible mixture of anger and regret bubbling within her. On the one hand, she wanted to kick Ron in his bollocks for talking down to her, but on the other, she wanted to smack herself silly for not getting the full story out of her father. Don't just sit there, Daphne. Don't just stay quiet when someone is talking down to you. You're better than that, aren't you? You were going to start standing up for yourself, weren't you?
"You're right…" Daphne started, standing up and looking Ron dead in his eyes. "I haven't seen as much as you have, but you know what, Ron? I think you've seen too much, and it's twisted you into someone I barely even recognize, anymore." He stopped pacing at that, standing perfectly still. "There was a time when we would've had this discussion without you looking down on me. Without you making me feel stupid, or, lesser than you. All I wanted was to see if I could stop you two from fighting, because I care about you both deeply, but now, I think it's best that you stay away from each other. Not only because my father wronged you terribly, but also because you are a heartless, unforgiving, and bitter person." He shrunk before her gaze, and she knew that her words had had their intended effect. What? You can throw out hurtful comments, but I can't? "Am I 'misinformed' about who you are? Or, am I right? If everyone is telling you that you're the problem, Ron, then maybe you really are. Have you thought about that?" With that, she stormed towards the door, stopping just as she reached it to give him her final thoughts. "You don't have the answers to everything like you think you do. Not everyone has to do things your way. You are not some messiah, nor are you better than the rest of us. My father committed a terrible crime, but he's trying to become a better man. Can you claim the same? Or, are you more interested in dragging everyone down to be just as miserable as you are?"
Albus Dumbledore's POV
Monday 26th April, 1994 (The Headmaster's Office – Late Evening)
The fireplace roared to life, and when Albus looked up from his work, he saw Ronald marching towards him. I wonder what took him so long.
"Are you all right, my boy?" Albus asked, noticing the redness around the teenager's eyes. Has he been crying? Was it because of what I said-?
Ronald slammed a handkerchief onto the table, making the entire thing shake. "Here's the Portkey. Sorry it took so long."
And just like that, he turned around and marched away, preparing the floo and vanishing through it. Albus stared at the fireplace, wondering if he had made the wrong decision by giving the redhead his honest thoughts. No, I did the right thing. He is still young, and very passionate about his beliefs, which is why it is sometimes difficult for him to see the whole picture. He must be better than that. He must be wiser than-…
Fawkes suddenly shrieked, and when Albus turned to face him, he saw that the Phoenix looked terribly displeased with him. "I had to, my friend. Ronald must understand that he is free to act as he chooses, but so are those in his life." Fawkes shrieked, again. "Mincing my words won't work on him. He is not like other children, nor does he wish to be treated as such. I must teach him patience and acceptance while I still can, not only for those who he deems deserving, but also those he does not. If I don't, then I fear he will threaten the freedom of not only those around him, but of the entire world. History is filled with men and women who changed the world on their lonesome, for better or worse, and I wish for Ronald to change this world for the better."
"Playing chess, again, are you?" the Sorting Hat grumbled from atop its shelf, snorting. "Perhaps, instead of planting your ideas into his head, you should see things from his eyes. He isn't a piece of clay for you to mould, Dumbledore. He is a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders."
"I have seen the world through his eyes, and it was terrible," Albus rose from his chair, opening up the black handkerchief and revealing the Portkey within. A nail? "People are complicated beings; however, Ronald does not wish them to be so. He wishes for a world where the guilty are always punished, and the innocent always prosper, but this is the dream of an eight-year-old boy. Reality is seldom so kind, so reasonable. I know how much it hurts him to see good people suffer, how much it hurts him to see the weak waste their potential, but he is turning that pain into a rage that is suffocating even him. Tell me, wise Sorting Hat… What happens when that rage turns towards the world? What happens when good people rise against him?"
The Hat said nothing in response, but Albus had his answer. He will become what he hates most, and that is a fate far worse than death. I would rather he despise me for the rest of my days than see him fall so low.
"I will be back shortly," Albus said to Fawkes, who turned away from him haughtily.
Albus smiled softly, glad that a Phoenix such as Fawkes had become so fond of Ronald. Watch over him if I fall, won't you? Please, don't leave him alone in the dark. And Severus too. Watch over them both.
Drawing in a deep breath, Albus grabbed the nail directly, and immediately, the world turned in on itself. Bright lights fired all around him, and when they suddenly stopped, Albus found himself standing within a large, lavish room. A golden, crystal chandelier hung above him, and to his right was a bed large enough for a family to sleep in. She truly gave Ronald access to her personal chambers, then. How strange… To leave herself so vulnerable. Perhaps, she really does have good intentions-…
"You are not the wizard I was hoping that Portkey brought to my chambers," a familiar voice hummed from behind him, and when he turned around, he saw the High Mother sitting in front of a majestic dressing table, combing her long, white-gold hair. "Nevertheless, it pleases me greatly to see you, again, Albus Dumbledore."
"High Mother, it has been far too long," Albus greeted happily, glad that she wasn't planning to trick Ronald with the Portkey. Now that I've made sure it's safe to use, let's talk. "I hope I haven't caught you at an inconvenient time."
"You have not," she assured him, smiling fondly at him through the reflection. "I have just now finished dealing with my court of fools, so I could use the company of a man such as yourself. An intelligent man. A wise man. A powerful man."
"You give me far too much credit," Albus chuckled heartily. "I am but an old fool myself, I fear."
"You are many things, but an old fool?" the High Mother tutted, amused. "No, you are anything but that, so let us drop the charade, shall we? What brings you to me? Why do you hold the gift I gave to my dearest Ronald?" Something dangerous suddenly flashed behind her eyes, and Albus felt the room fill up with errant Magic. "Did you steal it from him?"
"He gave it to me willingly, I promise," Albus replied, unfazed by her threatening presence. "Ronald is not the sort of person you want to steal from, as I'm sure you're aware."
"So, you too have seen what awaits us, then," she correctly figured, turning to face him. "And you know who can stop it." Albus gave a nod. "How long have you known? When did he first come to you?"
"Almost a year ago from today," Albus replied, thinking of Ronald's terrified confession. "And since then, I have been working alongside him to stop the end of the world. He is quite brilliant, is he not? To carry such a burden for us all?"
"Almost a year ago from today," she whispered coldly, surprising Albus when she rose from her seat with an ever-darkening frown. "You despicable, vile man. How dare you? How dare you turn a child into your little soldier?"
"I ought to have you fed to my Nundu," the High Mother walked over to him, her piercing gaze digging into his eyes. "Do you have no shame in you? No mercy? He comes to you, a broken boy, and you turn him into your weapon? Instead of sheltering him, you place him in your vanguard?"
Albus couldn't help but feel a little ashamed of himself, for these very thoughts had plagued him since the beginning of his partnership with Ronald. "The only way I could stop him from doing so would be to lock him away in a tower. But, even then, I doubt he'd remain in captivity for long. He has a tendency to never give up, you see? Even when the whole world beats him down, he just stands right back up. I could not hope to change that about him even if I wanted to, so I've made my peace with it, as should you. However, it does gladden me to know that you do care for him. Perhaps, I misjudged you, after all."
"All children deserve to be loved unconditionally," the High Mother simply said, taking a step back and smiling once again. "You judged me right, however, Dumbledore. I am indeed a despot, just as you said during our last conversation. I do not tolerate disobedience from my subjects. I do not tolerate inflated ambitions. I do not tolerate chaos. During my long rule, I have ushered in a peace the likes of which Veela-Kind have never enjoyed, but it did cost me my own soul."
"Blood and bones should never be the foundation of an empire," Albus said, but she merely laughed as if he were a child.
"Did you read that in one of your books, boy?" the High Mother questioned, reaching forward and pinching his cheek. "Tell me, what do you know of empires? Which empire do you preside over from that lonely tower of yours?"
"I learned long ago that I was not born to rule," Albus gently removed her hand from his face, unblinking. "I could, if I desired it, but no… If I had your ambitions, High Mother, you would all be in the gravest of danger."
"I imagine so," she agreed, her smile widening. "The Grand Sorcerer. The Phoenix King. Merlin Reborn. Yes, we could do little to stop you. And yet, you would still know nothing about what it takes to rule, and to rule well. You lack the will needed for it, Dumbledore, that is the truth. I see it in your eyes, and I see it in your self-imposed isolation from the Wizarding World. It is not that you do not wish to rule, but rather, you are afraid to. You fear power, because, deep down, you know it controls you. It has always controlled you. Am I wrong?" Merlin's Beard… She has either done extensive research into my past, or, she really is as good at reading people as they say.
"No… You are not wrong."
"He should have never come to you," the High Mother sighed in an exaggerated manner, returning to her dressing table. "Under your guidance, he will forever be held back. Under your guidance, he will continue to despise himself. Under your guidance, he will die a martyr for your beliefs. Under your guidance, we are all doomed."
"And what will become of him under your guidance?" Albus asked, curious.
"He would learn to live," she answered immediately, looking him up and down. "He would learn to rule."
"Yes, rule. He is not like you, Dumbledore, and he will not turn out like you no matter how hard you try. Ronald has the will, the hunger, to rule, and unlike you, power does not frighten him. He is stronger than you, and you fear him for it, don't you? You fear what he will do to your precious Wizarding World, and so, you hold him back at every turn. You fill his head with your idealistic chatter, no doubt, which only serves to tear him apart every time he has to make an unsavoury decision, and someday soon, that chatter will get him killed." Albus averted his gaze, unable to hide the fact that her words greatly bothered him. "He is not like you, and so, you are not fit to guide him. You are only fit to serve him." Serve him? Just what is she planning to turn Ronald into? I must not let her get to me. I must keep her away from him-… "Are you thinking about 'protecting' him from me? Without even considering that I might be right?"
"And what if I am?" Albus asked, his eyes hardening.
"I have no need to threaten you, because he will seek me out himself," she assured him, as if she had already seen the future. "When he grows tired of you holding him back, he will come to me, and I will be awaiting his arrival most eagerly." She then returned to combing her hair, turning away from him. "You may leave, now. You got what you wanted from me, didn't you? Return the Portkey to its rightful owner. It was a gift given out of kindness and concern. You have no right to it. If you wish to see me, again, come through front door like everyone else." Ronald should have never shown her the future… Another dangerous piece has now crawled onto the board, and this particular piece is going to change the entire game, I fear.
Ronald Weasley's POV
Wednesday 28th April, 1994 (The Burrow – Early Morning)
Ron washed his face with cold water, taking extra care when scrubbing around his agitated eyes. Merlin, he was such a pathetic bastard… Every moment he was alone, Daphne's voice would return to spit upon his character, and every time, he would get teary eyed. Heartless, unforgiving, and bitter… That's how she sees me? After all this time? She can defend her father, a fucking Death-Eater, but I'm too far gone? Is that how they all see me? Even the Headmaster? I know I shouldn't care so much about it, but what the fuck?
"If everyone is telling you that you're the problem, Ron, then maybe you really are," Daphne's voice returned, venomous.
His lips trembled as he sniffled, his fingers digging into the sides of the sink. Everyone fucking hates me… I'm always the problem…
"Still weeping, are you?" Ravenclaw Ron's voice came from the mirror, and when Ron looked up, he saw his crazed, grinning doppelganger in place of his own reflection. Fuck me… "Merlin's Beard, mate. Why do you even care so much about what she thinks? What anyone thinks? Ignore them, and just get on with it."
"I can't…" Ron croaked, washing his face, again. "It's the fucking Calming Draughts, I think… Madam Pomfrey mentioned that there would be consequences for abusing them… I feel like I can't control myself, and I fucking hate it…" It's so bloody pathetic, even for me.
"No, it's definitely more than that," Ravenclaw Ron tutted, smiling mischievously. "You still like her, don't you? Guess the Dryad didn't help you move on before getting herself killed. What a damn shame-"
"I'm not trying to torment you," Ravenclaw Ron raised his hands, his smile growing. "Okay, maybe a little bit, but that's just friendly banter. Honestly, I think you should put Greengrass' words out of your mind. This seems to be a pattern with her, you know?" What?
"You haven't noticed it?" Ravenclaw Ron asked, pulling a face. "Mate, every time you two get into a fight, she says some vicious shit to you and runs off. Then, she eventually feels guilty about it, and as soon as she apologises, you forgive her in a heartbeat. Have some self-respect, will you? Next time she mouths off to you, just fucking hit her. Slap her as hard as you can, and I promise you, she'll learn to keep that mouth of hers-"
"I will not hit her," Ron growled, his temper flaring. "You're a sick fuck."
"Takes one to know one," Ravenclaw Ron sang, winking. "You know you want to do it. Bloody hell… I want to do it. She needs a good slapping around-"
"Shut up!" Ron barked, smacking the glass. "Shut your fucking mouth!" Evil bastard!
"Touchy, touchy," Ravenclaw Ron burst into giggles, whereas Ron's eyes flashed red. "At least, you're not sad, anymore. So, my work here is done."
Ron blinked. "…What?"
"C'mon, mate," Ravenclaw Ron suddenly stopped giggling, adorning a more serious expression. "You can't let other people get inside your head like this. That's my job, all right? Dumbledore, Pomfrey, Greengrass… Even our 'beloved and loyal' family. They don't understand you, nor do they understand how much you sacrifice for them. Fuck them for mistaking politeness with goodness. You have no obligation to pander to their understanding of right and wrong. I thought you understood this, already."
"…I do," Ron muttered, averting his gaze. "But… It just gets tiring… I feel like I'm the only one doing anything worth a damn, but instead of being appreciated, everyone fucking hates me…"
"Well, I did warn you, didn't I?" Ravenclaw Ron started. "'They'll all leave you behind because they don't love you the way you love them. They don't want to be miserable for the sake of you.' Those were my exact words, weren't they?"
"Are you more interested in dragging everyone down to be just as miserable as you are?" Daphne's contemptuous voice demanded, making him shrink.
"I should've just listened to you back then," Ron admitted, feeling utterly alone. "…You were right about them all."
"The road to greatness is a lonely one," Ravenclaw Ron said. "Those who don't walk it will never understand those who do. Mum, dad, Bill, Charlie, Greengrass, everyone you know… They're all average, at best. They'll never understand you, not like I do. Instead, they will despise you for being different, even as you pull them out of the fire time and time again." His features then softened. "You don't deserve their contempt, Ron. You deserve their respect and admiration. You deserve to be loved."
"That's never going to happen…" Ron swallowed thickly, unable to ignore how much that simple fact hurt.
"No, it won't, which is why it's time to grow up," Ravenclaw Ron urged, making him look back up. Grow up? "Only a starving toddler, or, a stray dog, keeps searching for love where he's never going to find it. They don't know any better, after all, but you do. Grow up. There are people out there who would die for you, mate. There are people out there who respect you because of all you've accomplished in such a short amount of time. They're the ones you should focus on."
"Like my alliance?" Ron muttered, and his past-self gave a nod. "I'm supposed to meet them, tonight."
"You can't go there looking like this," Ravenclaw Ron advised, and Ron agreed completely. "Your alliance, Emilia Travers, the American Aurors, your Quibbler, the Werewolves, the Death's Hand, Madame Maxime, the poor souls of Knockturn Alley, even Abadie and the High Mother… You're not alone, anymore. You just feel alone because the people you surround yourself with are nothing like you. Move on, all right? Don't become an unwanted guest in your own story."
"My own story…?"
"Yes, your story," Ravenclaw Ron smiled fondly, it looked so odd on him. "People will be talking about you a thousand years from now! Dumbledore, Voldemort, Grindelwald… No one will even remember these pricks in just a few centuries, but you? You'll be remembered, Ron. Always."
Ron nodded weakly; he couldn't deny that those words soothed him greatly. "…Thanks…"
"Go out there and conquer this planet!" Ravenclaw Ron grinned. "Build the world you want, and if people get in your way, then go through them! Don't let anyone hold you back!"
"I won't," Ron drew in a sharp breath, putting on his Basilisk-skin glove. Madam Pomfrey was right too, after all. I spend too much time fixating on other people's lives. I spend too much time caring about their futures, instead of my own. No more. I'm going to focus more on what I want from now on, and I want to be happy. I want to be content. I want to be proud of myself. I want to be accepted.
Ron exited the bathroom, feeling a lot more centred and in control of his turbulent emotions. I can do this! I know I can do this-…!
"Who were you talking to in there?" came Bill's voice from his right, his eldest brother was leaning against the wall with a disturbed look on his face. He was out here this entire time?! Fuck! "Ron? Who were you talking to?" Lie!
"Myself," Ron replied, which, in a weird way, was actually true. "I was giving myself a pep-talk, that's all."
"A pep-talk?" Bill frowned, not buying it. "It sounded like a proper conversation to me, so don't bother lying. Who were you talking to?" Bloody hell, he's being really shitty towards me, especially since Daphne stormed out of the Burrow after our fight. Even mum has been outright pissy with me since. They just automatically blame me without even knowing what happened-… "Ron, I'm not going to ask you, again. Stop ignoring me."
"I don't like his tone very much," Ravenclaw Ron groaned, walking on the ceiling. "Who does this poof think he is? He's wearing a fucking earring, and he thinks he can talk to you in that tone? Fuck him up right now." I'm not going to do that, you lunatic. Bill's too weak to survive a beating from me.
Ron drew in a deep breath, keeping his emotions in check. "I was giving myself a pep-talk, and that's the truth. I have to encourage myself often, because I don't have anyone else." It's me against the world, and I'm still going to win. Just you wait.
"And whose fault is that? You having no one to encourage your vile behaviour?" Bill shook his head, sighing. "I have to get ready for work… Move out of the way."
Ron did as he was bid, heading for the stairs without trying to get the last word in. I can't be happy here. I can't be content here. These people don't respect me, nor do they appreciate me. They all think they know better than me, despite me proving them wrong a hundred times over. Enough is enough. I'm tired of this old song and dance.
"You really just ignored that attitude of his?" Ravenclaw Ron complained, floating behind him. "Why? What happened to growing up?"
"You think grown-ups just attack anyone who's rude to them?" Ron asked, focusing on his breathing. "No… I'm not going to let them get under my skin so easily, anymore, not if I can help it. I want to control my anger, my happiness, and that won't happen if I keep giving into my worst instincts. You're right about a lot of things, I won't keep denying that, but you're also a twisted prick who loves hurting others." And I'm not going to ignore that. Not for anything.
"Eh, guilty as charged," Ravenclaw Ron giggled, not bothered in the slightest. "I would've clocked him in your shoes, if I'm being honest. No bloke wearing a fucking earring is fit to talk down to me!" What's your problem with earrings? What a loon…
"Well, I have a code, and Bill doesn't fit it," Ron said, nearing the kitchen. "My family doesn't respect me, but that doesn't make them evil. It just makes them not worth my attention." I can't believe it took me so long to realize this. I can't believe it took so much pain…
As he entered the kitchen, he spotted his mother preparing breakfast. She looked back at him, and immediately, she frowned, as if hoping that he'd spend another day wallowing in his room. She didn't love me when I was born, and she doesn't love me, now. I will never be what she wants me to be, and she will never be what I want her to be. Same thing with dad. Well, I'm not going to hate them for having expectations of me, because I too had expectations of them. They didn't live up to mine, and they couldn't care less, so why should I care about not living up to theirs? Why put myself through that? Instead, I ought to be smart and find those who do meet my expectations-…
"What is it, Ronald?" Molly asked, turning around fully with a huff. "Why are you staring at me like that? What did I do wrong this time? Whatever it is, save it! I don't want to deal with you first thing in the morning!" I didn't even say anything.
"Fucking cow," Ravenclaw Ron sneered, looking downright murderous. "Put her face on the stove! Do it!" Merlin's Beard… No, I'm not doing that.
"Goodbye, mum," Ron bid her farewell, deciding to move on with his life. Enjoy what your 'freedom' buys you. Let's see how long you lot last without my direct interventions.
He made his way towards the living room without another word, preparing the floo to Prosperity Farm. I'm going to get Marty to move my things for me. Time to find a new place to live, surrounded by those who actually appreciate me for who I am.
Wednesday 28th April, 1994 (Prosperity Farm – Morning)
"Are you sure no one wants this place?" Ron asked Thaddeus, feeling a little guilty. "I mean, it's right by the lake… And it's large enough to house a family. You don't have to offer me such a nice cottage, Thaddeus, I can make do with a smaller one-"
"I insist!" Thaddeus stopped him, laughing. "We all would, actually! I won't take no for an answer, Ronald! I just won't!"
Ron looked around the cottage, it was mostly empty, and yet, it had a sense of homeliness and modesty that he really adored. I can really have this? That's too kind of him… Just way too kind.
"I… Thank you," Ron said gratefully, smiling properly for the first time in days. "And thank you for doing this privately. It means everything to me."
"Anything for you, Ronald," Thaddeus smiled back, his old eyes filled with affection. "I still want to know what's going on, though, if that's all right with you. Why are you asking to stay here? With us? Are you unhappy at home with your parents?" Unhappy. Unappreciated. Disrespected. Alone.
"I don't fit in with them," Ron admitted, and Thaddeus' smile turned apologetic. "I never have, actually. I feel as though they keep finding reasons to be unhappy with me, and I'm tired of it. I don't want to keep feeling as though I turned out wrong, so here I am."
"That's a shame," he whispered, placing a hand on Ron's shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "I've seen many your age leave home behind, and it's always tough, but sometimes, a man has to find his own place in the world. If there's anything we can do to help, please don't hesitate. As a matter of fact… Why don't you have dinner with me, tonight? I'd love to have you!"
"I'd like that," Ron agreed, much to Thaddeus' delight.
"You're not allergic to anything in particular, are you?"
"No, I tend to eat whatever I can get my hands on."
"Good man," Thaddeus laughed, patting his arm before heading for the door. "I'm going to let Tabatha and Bjorn know that you're here. They'll bring over some food and fresh linens for you."
"Thank you, again," Ron waved the man off, letting out a long sigh once he was alone. Well, it's done… I'm on my own, now. I just hope I can make the best of it.
"It's all right to be nervous," Ravenclaw Ron chimed in, already walking on the walls of the living room. "Just don't go back on this decision, mate. This will be good for you, and it'll be good for them. Let them live their own lives as they see fit, while you focus on your own. You're not their keeper, anymore."
Ron nodded, drawing in a deep breath. "Marty!"
Within a heartbeat, his most loyal companion was at his side. "Master summoned Marty?!"
"Hello," Ron smiled down at the Elf, who was cuddling Custard close to his chest. "And hello, Custard. Is he treating you well?"
The Puffskein stuck her long tongue out, licking Marty's chin. I'll take that as a yes.
"Marty would die for Custard," the Elf beamed, pressing her close to his face. "Custard is the most loving of Puffskeins! Marty's nose has never been so free of bogeys!" Ew…
Both Ron and Ravenclaw Ron grimaced, but Ron promptly forced on a smile before Marty could notice. "…That's great. I'm glad." Grossed out, but glad.
"Where is Master?" Marty looked around, blinking. "Marty does not recognize this place."
"I'm in a cottage at the Werewolf Sanctuary," Ron explained, kneeling down. "I've… left home, Marty. This is where I'll be from now on."
"Why has Master left home?"
"To find myself," Ron answered, further confusing Marty. "Don't worry about it, mate. I actually called you here for a favour, if you have the time."
"Marty always has time for Master," the Elf chuckled, baffled that Ron would even question this. "What does Master require of Marty?"
"I need you to go to my old room, and grab everything there," Ron started, absentmindedly scratching Custard's head. "Helios and his cage, the trunks, the suits, everything in my drawers. I want there to be no evidence left of me ever living there by the time you're done. Can you do that for me without getting caught?"
"Marty can and will, Master," Marty bowed deeply, before Apparating away. Now, let's explore this place, eh?
Ron gave himself another tour of the cosy cottage; travelling from the intimate living room to the rustic kitchen, then to the humble bathroom, and then to the comfortable master bedroom, feeling more and more at home with each step. It's beautiful, this place. Once I sort out the lack of furniture, and get the fireplace going, it'll be even more perfect! There's even a spare room that I can turn into my personal study, fill it up with Magical tomes and powerful artifacts, and an attic where I can safely keep my documents on my targets! This is going to become my haven from the world! A tiny bit of land to call my own!
"It is true, then," Artyom was waiting for him in the living room when he returned, alongside London. "You are here."
"It's true," Ron gave a nod, smiling at London. "Hello, London. Nice day, init?"
"Beautiful," she agreed, grinning. "We're going to be neighbours, now, are we?"
"Just want to keep a closer eye on my investment," Ron chuckled, noticing something strange from the corner of his eyes. What is that?
He focused on the window, realizing that some small children were spying on him and the others. When he walked over, they all squeeled and bolted, laughing and screaming as they fled the scene. What was that? What were they up to?
"You're going to need curtains," Artyom stated, watching him intently. "Thick, black ones."
"Black curtains?! In such a lovely place?!" London looked appalled, before scoffing. "Are you mental, captain?! That sounds hideous!"
"But safe," Artyom said icily. "Safe is more important."
"Don't listen to this madman, boss," London urged, while Ron continued to stare out of the window. I can still see those kids. They're hiding behind the trees. Cute. "Boss? Are you there?"
"Sorry," Ron turned around with a smile, amused. "What were you two saying?"
"Nothing," London jumped in before Artyom could, a big smile on her face. "I was just volunteering to furnish this place for you, that's all. I mean, no offence, boss, but you don't strike me as a man who knows much about interior design. The captain agrees with me, don't you, captain?"
"…Yes…" Artyom eventually grumbled, giving her a dull look.
"You don't have to go through the trouble for me-" Ron started, but London shushed him.
"Nonsense! I'll have this place as secure as Gringotts by the time I'm done, but twice as pretty-!"
"Why are you here?" Artyom cut in. "Have you left home, now? Run away from your family?"
"…Captain…" London sighed out, shaking her head in disapproval. "What happened to not bringing it up?" Word is certainly spreading quickly. Oh, well, it's to be expected.
"I need to make a change in my life, Artyom," Ron answered, ignoring the man's growing frown. "I need a break from my overbearing parents, and quite frankly, I don't need to explain myself to you. You work for me, not the other way around."
"He fits your code," Ravenclaw Ron hummed. "Crack his skull! Teach him some respect!" Why are you so bloodthirsty, today? Are you really that bored up there? Go torture the Entity, then, instead of asking me to hurt good people for you.
Artyom said nothing in response, eventually giving an understanding nod. Good. I don't want this brought up, again.
"Awkward…" London broke the silence, earning a dark look from Artyom. "What? It is! I told you not to bring it up!" She then looked to Ron, winking. "We're happy to have you here, boss, even if the captain won't show it! It'll be good for morale to have you so close! All of us have been talking about you teaching those brats a lesson at Hogwarts!" Really? "They never stood a bloody chance!" No, they didn't, did they?
"I hope I can still join you at your drills," Ron said hopefully, and she gave a firm nod. "Brilliant! Cheers for this!"
"You can come tonight, even."
"Oh… Actually, I have a meeting today," Ron told them.
"With who?" Artyom asked.
"My alliance," Ron replied. "Something has to be done about the state of Knockturn Alley. I need to pressure the Minister into making a decision. She's been approached by the Americans, but she still hasn't accepted their help-"
"The Americans?" London interrupted, looking troubled. "That's not good, boss. Those foul gits are fucking barbarians compared to us, especially their Aurors."
"We know," Ron assured her, exchanging a glance with Artyom. "Fill her in when you get the chance, will you? About our trip to the States, that is."
"He is playing dangerous game," Artyom said, sounding rather menacing. "And in my absence, you will watch over him. If you fail, leave before I return. Death will be mercy when I am done with you." Yeesh… Strange way to say that you love me, mate.
"Um… Okay… Seriously, though, what have you two been up to, exactly?" London asked, and Ron grinned innocently.
"Just trying to make this world a better place, that's all."
Amelia Bones' POV
Wednesday 28th April, 1994 (The Ministry of Magic – Afternoon)
"There was another attack in the camps this morning," Alastor reported, a dark frown plastered on his face. "And this one… It was worse than any before it."
"What do you mean?" Amelia asked, exchanging a glance with Crouch. Worse than a woman eating rats? Or, children going missing? Or, people taking cleavers to each other?
"A man cut his own stomach open, and was walking around offering people his organs," Alastor elaborated, causing both Amelia and Crouch to go wide-eyed. What…? "People are terrified, Amelia. Terrified. Whoever this killer is, my Aurors are not equipped to deal with such a monster. We can't even figure out where to start looking-"
"Perhaps, the fault lies with their commander?" Crouch cut in, glaring at Alastor. "You have your least trained Aurors patrolling the camps, rather than utilizing those with experience worth a damn!"
"I don't have the manpower to cover the camps, to scour the bloody countryside for the missing Dementors, and to hunt down the Loyalists," Alastor glared back, before turning his focus towards Amelia. "Take the American President's offer, before the streets turn into a bloodbath! And let me speed up the Auror program so we can have more recruits! We're drowning out there, for Merlin's sake!"
Amelia removed her monocle and sighed deeply, feeling her head throb. "You can speed up the program, Mad-Eye… I'll trust you to mastermind whatever changes you need to implement to make this work. As for Harper… I don't trust him. I don't trust the Americans. They are using this chaos as an excuse to send their forces into our country." And, to be perfectly frank, I find Harper bothersome. He is as insane as they all say, and I don't want him setting his sights on my country.
"You're right to mistrust them," Crouch agreed, looking between them. "However, five million Galleons could go a long way in re-establishing order, and therefore, cementing your Ministership. Bones, this is not the time to be proud. I don't like the Americans any more than you do, but without their help, our Ministry will collapse. The polls are in… Never, in the history of this Ministry, have our people become so dissatisfied with us. I mean, have you gone out there and heard what the people are saying?"
"I have…" They want us all replaced, especially me.
"Then, you know what needs to be done," Crouch implored, she had never seen him look so defeated. "We will deal with the Americans when the time comes, but for now, we have to secure this country. We have to show our people that we're not completely hopeless without the Purebloods funding us."
"Have you heard anything from that boy?" Alastor asked, limping forward. "Weasley, I mean. Has that band of elitist bastards he's brought together made any offers?"
"None," Amelia replied, and she preferred it this way. "And even if he did, I'd refuse him. Our Ministry has spent far too much time appeasing the Purebloods, and if we open that door for them, they will happily walk through it a second time. No… We can't turn to them, because if we do, we'll end up right where we started."
"Then, we have to increase our taxes," Crouch suggested, and Amelia gave a nod. "We should start with the Goblins-"
"Are you both mad?" Alastor growled. "You raise those taxes, and you might as well sign our death warrants!" Damn it all to hell… Fudge has destroyed us all with his greed and incompetence. This mess cannot be fixed by me alone. It will take over a dozen Ministers, at this rate. "Accept the President's offer, rebuild Knockturn Alley, prioritize funding the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and invest the rest into creating more jobs! Get those sorry bastards in the camps working, again, so they can stop sharpening their pitchforks!"
"Don't forget about Azkaban," Crouch added. "The prison is in a sorry state, and after the break-in, many are questioning it's necessity. This is a good opportunity to build a better, more defensible facility."
"I imagine you still want to keep the Dementors, though," Amelia said coldly, and Crouch gave a firm nod. "I plan to alter the purpose of Azkaban in my term-"
"Alter?" Crouch blinked, frowning already.
"Yes, alter," Amelia doubled down. "The old prison did nothing to reform its prisoners, it only served to drive them mad-"
"Reform the prisoners?" even Alastor sounded doubtful, now. "You think the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange can be reformed?!"
"No, but the vast majority of Azkaban's inhabitants were nothing like her," Amelia put her foot down, looking between the two wizards. "This is not up for debate. Azkaban will change, as will a great deal of other age-old practises. The Wizarding World needs to start moving beyond the Middle Ages, and it starts here. In Magical Britain. In the heart of the Wizarding World." And, unlike the Americans, we won't use bloodshed to propel ourselves forward.
"This will earn you no favours within the Wizengamot-" Crouch started, but stopped when Amelia raised her hand.
"I will find something else to appease them with, but on this, I will not budge," Amelia promised them. And, I know for a fact that Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, will take my side. He is an idealist, and this will be bait he cannot ignore. "And, Crouch… I am sorry about this, but this morning, I finished the paperwork transferring you to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. You will run the Department-"
"What?!" Crouch fumed.
"I need a man with your expertise in that position," Amelia told him, her voice unwavering. "I can't keep playing Minister and keep acting as the Head of the Department that oversees the Aurors. I will be labelled a tyrant and cast out of Office; do you understand?"
"I told you that I am overseeing the Triwizard Tournament's return-"
"Pius Thicknesse will be taking over those responsibilities as the new Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation," Amelia informed him, ignoring the visible rage dancing across his face. "Thicknesse is a Ministry man, Crouch, through and through, and he's well-respected by everyone who's worked with him. He has skill as a diplomat, and he knows how to keep a Department running smoothly. He will do an exceptional job, I am sure. You, on the other hand, aren't much for diplomacy. You never have been." Crouch's frown deepened. "Fudge kept you in that position because he wanted you to fail, because he felt threatened by you. I don't. I know you're the man for this job. Can I count on you? Or, not?"
Crouch looked to Alastor, narrowing his eyes. "Did you know about this, Mad-Eye?"
"No, but she's damn right," Alastor grumbled, leaning on his staff. "As you said, this isn't the time to be proud. Fudge is gone, Crouch… Man up and fucking vanished like a fart in the wind. You're not proving anything to anyone by running that Department. It's time to come home."
Crouch leaned back in his chair, glowering. "You should have discussed this with me, Bones-"
"It's Minister," she corrected him, stopping him short. "And no, I don't need to discuss anything with you. You work for the Ministry, and the Ministry needs you doing what you do best… Putting its Aurors to work."
Crouch stared at her, but eventually, his frown turned into a soft smirk, giving her a short nod as he stood up. "Very well, then, Minister. If you will excuse me, I need to go break the news to my former Department, and hand over my documents to Pius in person."
With that, Crouch left her office, leaving her alone with Alastor. "This is the right move, Amelia-"
"Don't get cocky, not with me," Alastor growled, frowning a little. "If you're expecting me to bow every time you enter a room, think again." And he wonders why he no one missed him when he retired.
"If my own people don't show me respect, Alastor, then why should my enemies?" Amelia questioned, and Alastor grumbled under his breath as he shrugged. "Fine… I didn't exactly hire you for your manners." Amelia then looked towards the closed door, drawing in a sharp breath. "We need to let Crouch know about the Dark Lord. The sooner, the better."
"I agree," Alastor gave a strong nod. "Not sure Albus will, though-"
"I don't need his permission," Amelia reminded the Head-Auror. "Dumbledore has a habit of thinking he knows better than everyone else, especially when it comes to him. Well, I don't think he does. I think, he's playing a game of chess with the vilest wizard who's ever walked the Earth, and if we keep acting as his pawns, people are going to die. My people." And I won't let that happen. This time around, the Order will serve its Ministry, instead of running around and doing as it pleases.
"If you've already made a decision, then why even ask me?" Alastor scoffed, shaking his head.
"Because, I need to know which side you're on, Alastor," Amelia replied, leaning forward. "Are you an Auror? Or, are you a vigilante? You can't be both. You can't work for the Ministry, and yet, serve as Dumbledore's man."
"We're all on the same side-"
"I am not arguing that," Amelia interrupted. "I know Dumbledore has good intentions, but I also know that he has a record of undermining Ministers. He does as he pleases, never giving any thought to the damage he does to his 'allies'. He is a loose cannon, and I don't want him pointed at my Ministership. I need to know if I can trust the people working under me. I need to know if I can trust you." Alastor looked down at his wooden leg, his expression hardening. "I'm not going to demand your loyalty, but I won't tolerate you running off to Dumbledore with our intel, either. Let me know where you stand soon, before I start searching for another Head-Auror."
Alastor gave a curt nod, before limping towards the exit. "Will you accept the President's help?"
"I will decide after the gala being held in Magical Bulgaria," Amelia replied, ignoring Alastor's groaning. "If I can secure aid from my fellow European Ministers, it will put an end to whatever scheme the Americans are cooking up. Just make sure you wash up before we attend, all right? The Wizarding World has its eyes set on us, and we can't afford to disappoint."
Alastor left without another word, and Amelia leaned back in her chair, her headache persisting. I despise being so powerless… However, it is only temporary. One way, or, another, this Ministry will be back in working order after the gala. I just hope to Merlin I don't have to rely on that lunatic's help for anything. His insanity hides a shrewd and dangerous mind, and I worry that he knows far more than he lets on about everything. Hmm… What if he knows about the Dark Lord as well? Is that why he's so eager to send his Aurors here? What game are you playing, Harper? What're you hoping to achieve? Are you really here to save us as you claim? Or, is it conquest that drives you?
Pansy Parkinson's POV
Wednesday 28th April, 1994 (The Slytherin Girls' Dorms– Evening)
"What do you think?" Pansy struck a pose, smirking when Daphne looked up from a letter and immediately went wide-eyed. This is it! That's the expression I want to see on all their faces, tonight!
"Um… You look…" Daphne trailed off, struggling to think of anything flattering to say. "Pansy… What are you wearing?"
"It's 'Goth'," Pansy winked, her smirk growing. "I read about it in Witch-"
"…Weekly," Daphne finished, looking her up and down. "I should have figured as much… Well, you'll certainly stand out…"
"You don't like it?" Pansy asked innocently, knowing that Daphne was too proper for such a bold sense of fashion.
"It suits you, I suppose," Daphne offered, making Pansy giggle. She's so cute when she's flustered.
Turning towards her large mirror, Pansy twirled and struck another pose. I should become a Witch Weekly model! Dressed in a black, high-collar, long-sleeve velvet coat, with a black, embroidered, fishtail velvet skirt, Pansy had managed to combine the fashions of both men and women of high-society, which was her own personal way of flipping off the expectations of said society. Just one final touch left!
As Pansy applied her most crimson shade of lipstick, Daphne moved off of her bed. "Are you sure about this, Pans? Ron's alliance is mostly filled with old-fashioned Lords and Ladies. They won't be happy seeing you dressed like this."
"And I should care about their happiness?" Pansy blew a kiss to her reflection, her ensemble complete. "They're old, Daph! Their time is done! It's time for us to stop pandering to their wants, and do whatever we want! The future is ours for the taking!" I'm not going back to being told what to say, or, how to dress. Never! I'm going to be myself, and if people have a problem with that, then they can sod off!
"Mother is going to regret inviting you, isn't she?" Daphne chuckled, shaking her head. "Well, you do look very pretty, even if you're dressed as a Dementor." OW! That stings! "Good luck, tonight. I know you'll blow them away."
"Really?" Pansy turned around, smiling more sincerely.
"Really." Grinning, Pansy slid over to Daphne's side, pulling her in and planting a kiss on her cheek. "Pansy! You got lipstick on my face!"
"Scandalous, right?" Pansy winked, laughing. "Don't take it off when you go to dinner. Give the boys something to think about."
"You're incorrigible," Daphne snorted, pinching her side and making her jump back. "You should probably head out, now. You're travelling there with Selwyn, aren't you? I don't think she's the sort to wait around on other people." I wonder what she's wearing, tonight. Merlin, she has the longest legs-… "Pansy?"
"You're probably right," Pansy cleared her throat, pushing her baser thoughts out of her head. "Have you and Malfoy convinced the first years to join us? We're running out of time here, Daphne."
"One mention of Ron from Malfoy, and they agreed immediately," Daphne replied, and Pansy swiftly sensed that something was wrong. "Even my sister… Just one bloody mention…" She's been acting very odd since visiting him. Reserved. Sad, even.
"You two didn't have another fight, did you?" Pansy asked. "Because, if you did, and he's in a foul mood, you need to tell me." I don't want him throwing a fit at me, tonight.
"He won't take it out on you, I promise." Damn, so they really did fight, then.
"Nothing… He insulted my father, I insulted him, and then, I ran off before he could retaliate… I don't know how to talk to him, anymore. He's just so angry all the bloody time, and he always thinks he's right about everything. Ugh… Please, don't mention him to me, again. He's a complete prat…" she trailed off.
"But I shouldn't have said what I said," Daphne sighed out, deflating. "Not only did I stoop to his level, but I said something that I was certain would hurt him… Something that I don't even believe is necessarily true. I lost my composure in front of him, again."
"What did you say to him?" Pansy asked slowly, not entirely certain that she wanted to know.
"I called him heartless, unforgiving, and bitter…" Daphne confessed, and Pansy blinked. Woah… "And I accused him of wanting to make everyone just as miserable as he is…" Merlin's Beard, I'm glad I wasn't there to see that. "I'm awful, aren't I?"
"No, Daph…" Pansy sighed out, wondering if things were ever going to return to normal. "He's been acting like a tosser for a while now, so I don't think you're awful. However… You really shouldn't make things worse for him. He's still sick, you know? Not just in his health, but also in his mind. Honestly, if you want my opinion, I say that you just move on from him…"
"Yes, move on," Pansy nodded, giving Daphne a sorry smile. "You're not his girlfriend, anymore. You don't have to chase after him and constantly worry about him. It's not good for you, and it sounds like it's not good for him, either. If he's so eager to push everyone away, then it's his loss."
"He wouldn't give up on us," Daphne deflated, averting her gaze.
"He gave up on Millie, didn't he?" Pansy countered, and Daphne said nothing in response. "I think, Ron loves his principles and schemes more than he loves anything else… Even you." Daphne deflated even more so, making Pansy feel wretched. "Sorry… I'm just telling you what I think…"
"No, thanks for being honest," Daphne drew in a sharp breath, shooting her a weak smile. "And, yes, I think you're right… I'm going to try and move on. I'm going to focus more on myself, and figure out who I'm supposed to be." Daphne then fixed up Pansy's coat, smiling more fully. "I might not agree with your sense of fashion, but you know what you want, and I really admire that." You do? "Thank you, Pansy, you're brilliant." I am?!
Feeling her face flush, Pansy could do little but smile dumbly at the blonde. She really admires me? Even though she's always telling me off for being too 'unladylike'? That-… Wow, that feels amazing… She admires me for being me…
"Talk more when I come back?" Pansy asked, and Daphne gave a nod. "I'll fill you in on what happens, tonight."
"Good luck, Pans. They won't know what hit them." I hope so, this outfit took ages to put together!
Thirty Minutes Later
"You didn't wait long, did you?" Selwyn asked, leading the way.
"No, not really," Pansy replied, despite her feelings. Thirty minutes of Professor Snape glaring at me… I ought to Hex you!
"I like what you're wearing," Selwyn shot a half-smile back. "A little unorthodox, but it caught the eyes of everyone in Slytherin, which, I imagine, was your intent." It was. Merlin, they were all staring, weren't they? I felt like a Veela! "It's such a shame, then, that the people we're meeting tonight will be far less impressed. A young woman acting so bold… No, they will be quite offended, I'm afraid."
"Is that why you're wearing a dress with no back?" Pansy pointed out the older witch's hypocrisy. "That's not bold, Lady Selwyn?"
"I am a woman of age, Lady Parkinson, and will be treated as such," Selwyn responded, while Pansy's eyes lingered a little too long on her swaying bum. "You, on the other hand, will be seen as… impudent. Disrespectful. Arrogant."
"That hardly seems fair-" Pansy started, but stopped when Selwyn suddenly turned to face her. Woah… What's with that look?
"The world isn't fair to women, Pansy," Selwyn said gravely, making the younger witch blink. "You will have to work twice as hard to earn half the respect when compared to any man, and this… This attitude you're carrying yourself with. Be careful. It isn't just old men who will judge you, tonight, but the old women too. Their respect is not earned by breaking the status quo, but rather, by adhering to it."
"If that's how they feel, then I don't want their respect," Pansy frowned, steeling her resolve.
"Then, you are just a girl playing at being a grown-up, and they will see through you by the end of the night," Selwyn turned back around, continuing onwards.
"My mother… was a horrid bitch," Pansy started, and Selwyn stopped mid-step. "Ever since I was old enough to think, she filled my head with her ideas. She belittled me, she mocked me, she abused me… She disrespected me. I will not be held back by the likes of her ever again. I will let my actions speak for me, rather than how I choose to dress and carry myself. I am not wearing this outfit simply because I wish to upset these old fools, but also, because I like it. I like how I feel when I get to express myself. I like how I feel when I get to be honest with who I am inside." With that, Pansy marched forward, overtaking Selwyn. "If that earns me their ire, then they're not worthy of my respect, either."
Navigating Longbottom Manor herself, with Selwyn now following her, Pansy eventually heard a pair of familiar voices, following them until she came upon Lady Greengrass and Lord Black. There she is! I would be wise to sit beside her, tonight, seeing as she's the one who invited me.
"…it's getting out of control," Lord Black was saying, while Lady Greengrass shook her head in disbelief. "Something has to be done, now! The Ministry is fucking useless-!" he stopped abruptly, turning to face Pansy and Selwyn. "Pansy? Is that you?"
"Lord Black," Pansy curtsied, offering the handsome wizard her hand. "It's always a pleasure to see you."
"Pansy, what are you wearing?" Lady Greengrass gawked, scanning her. "You-… In a place like this-… Sweet Circe, this will not do! Not one bit!"
Lord Black looked between them, and then, he burst into laughter, surprising them all. "This is going to be great! I can't wait until Augusta sees her! Oh, and Muriel! They're going to burst a blood vessel!"
"Sirius, this is not funny," Lady Greengrass hissed, before frowning at Pansy. "I did not invite you here to embarrass me, Pansy. This is no way for a young Lady to dress." Says who? You? Or, the old men who conditioned you to think this way?
"Times are changing, Lady Greengrass," Pansy feigned innocence, even if the older witch's reaction bothered her. "I believe it should be women who determine what's acceptable for us to wear, and not the men."
"No Lady would ever approve of this, I promise you," Lady Greengrass assured her, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Merlin… What were you thinking, Pansy? How are you going to make a good first impression if no one can take you seriously?" Wow… She sounds just like my mother right now.
"I will figure it out," Pansy replied, before looking to Lord Black. "My Lord, it's poor form to keep a Lady waiting."
Lord Black let out another laugh, taking her hand in his and kissing her knuckles. "I like your spirit, lass! You remind me of the kid!" The kid? Oh, he must mean Ron. Well, I'll take that as a compliment, I suppose. Despite his issues, no one here would dare question what he wears. "Can you do me a favour and sit next to Augusta, please-?"
"Sirius, you are not helping matters," Lady Greengrass chastised, making him snigger mischievously. "Pansy… I'm glad you're so sure of yourself, however, how you present yourself tonight affects me as well. I invited you, remember? And you have been trained in our culture, have you not? In our traditions?" …She's not wrong… "Just don't make me regret my decision to help you. I thought you were smarter than this. I really did."
"You're being too harsh on her, Mary," Lord Black jumped in, sounding more serious, now. "Kids like to keep up with the latest fashion, it's just how it is. Don't take this so seriously." Kids? How did he manage to defend me and insult me at the same time?
Pansy shot a look back at Selwyn, who was just staring at her knowingly. Ugh… Stuck-up bitch… She must feel so good about herself right now.
"It is an honour to meet you, again, Lady Greengrass," Selwyn stepped forward, bowing her head slightly. "You may not remember me, but-"
"I remember you, Samantha," Lady Greengrass turned her attention towards the older Slytherin, smiling approvingly. "My… You've grown evermore beautiful with age. I am sorry about the loss of your parents-"
"Loss?" Lord Black cut in, no longer amused. "They were Death-Eaters, Mary, and they died defiling innocent people for a laugh." Oh, we're bringing that up, are we? Well, my father died doing the same… He was even worse than I thought. And mother… Only Merlin knows where she is, if she's even alive.
"Regardless of their crimes, they were still her parents," Lady Greengrass said, her tone not losing its kindness. "You will find a friend in me, Lady Selwyn, even if my peers are quick to judge a daughter for the sins of her parents."
Lord Black grumbled under his breath, looking to Pansy. "Come along, lass. It's best we get inside before Augusta comes out with her cane." Cane? How old do you think she is?
Twenty Minutes Later
Ron was late, and not fashionably so. Everyone invited was now here, all of them save for the person who had brought them together. Pansy, however, had bigger concerns, as her presence at the round table was evidently not a welcome one. Lady Longbottom, the shrivelled Gnome, was outright glaring at her, when she wasn't glaring at Selwyn, that is. Even as both Slytherins sat on either side of Lady Greengrass, none had spoken to them. I'm the one who has to change that. They won't acknowledge me until I make myself known to them. I have to remember to be confident in myself, and to speak with gravitas and purpose.
"Where is he?" Tiberius Ogden spoke up, his deep voice silencing the table. "Lady Longbottom? You called us here under his command, did you not?"
"I did," Lady Longbottom looked to the man, her expression cold. "Do you have somewhere else to be, Tiberius?"
"I don't like to be kept waiting," Ogden answered curtly, looking around the table. "And neither do these fine Lords and Ladies, I'm sure. Time is money, after all, and he is costing us both in large quantities as of late."
"Mr. Ogden speaks true," Lord Abbott agreed, as his wife gave a nod. "The camps have become a burden on all our finances. I was told that our actions would buy us goodwill, but so far, all we've done is lose gold."
"And, now, there are talks of a murderer prowling the streets," Lady Macmillan added. A murderer? Is it the same person who was kidnapping children? "My husband and I are happy to continue our patronage, unlike Mr. Ogden and the Abbotts, however, this murderer gives us pause-"
"You do not speak for us, Apolline," Lady Abbott interjected, her expression sweet whilst her tone short. "My husband and I are also happy to continue our patronage, as we have more than enough to give to the needy. And yet, the needy are giving us nothing in return. This is not what we were promised." Ron's alliance isn't as friendly as I first thought. Merlin, they sound no different than my own parents, hiding venomous fangs behind false smiles.
"We can throw all the money we like at the camps, it won't make a difference," Lord Fawley told them, and Lord Black snapped his fingers. "We need to rebuild Knockturn Alley, for that is the heart of the issue. We need to put these people in homes, and then, put them back to work."
"And who will pay to rebuild an entire district?" Ogden demanded. "Us? What do we get in return? The gratitude of petty thieves and spent whores?"
"There are good people in the camps, Mr. Ogden," Lady Greengrass said, smiling. "Many did not choose such unworthy lives, but with our help, they can-"
"Where is your Lord Husband?" Ogden cut in, leaning forward. "You bring these two children with you, but not the richest man in Wizarding Europe?" Wow, someone sounds jealous. Jealous, and rude.
"My husband is currently working on a personal project," Lady Greengrass explained, not fazed in the slightest by his boorish questioning. "There are many Centaur Tribes that require aid throughout Magical Britain, and he has vowed to provide it. No matter the cost."
"Really? Seb's doing that?" Lord Black asked, looking pleased. Seb?! "Did the kid put him up to it?"
"No, but he was definitely inspired by Ron," Lady Greengrass answered, while the others exchanged strange looks. He's doing more than they are, which means they'll see his actions as a threat to their standing within this alliance. With Ron. I think, it's safe to assume that only a small minority are here to actually help others, and not just themselves.
"Sebastian Greengrass is helping Centaur Tribes?" Ogden broke the silence. "How strange…"
"What's so strange about it, Mr. Ogden?" Lady Greengrass asked, but he merely smiled in response. He must know something we don't. "My husband is a changed man, and he will prove it once and for all."
"No one is doubting him, Mary," Lord Black said, looking puzzled. "We're all friends here, after all." He's not very good at this, is he? Too friendly. Too trusting. He's here because he wants to do good things, and that's his only concern. I like that. It's honest.
"Yes, we are," Lady Fawley agreed, smiling at the handsome wizard. "Lord Black speaks from his heart, and we would all be wise to follow his example-"
"Sorry, I'm late, you lot!" came Ron's voice, and they all looked to see him sauntering towards them. "Actually, I'm not sorry at all. I just didn't want to wait for you-" he stopped, spotting Pansy. "Who is that?" Um… What? It's me! What's wrong with you?! "No… That couldn't be my friend Pansy, could it? This girl is far too beautiful!" Pansy's lips moved upwards on their own accord; she always did love the mischief behind his eyes. "Circe show mercy, it is! Love the coat! It suits you!" Finally! Someone with taste! "And Lady Selwyn is here too! Welcome, both of you! Welcome!" He then walked over to the table, eyeing it with an ever-growing grin. "It's round… It's a very round table!"
"Your powers of observation awe us all, Great-Nephew," Lady Prewett finally broke her long silence, rolling her eyes. "Perhaps, you can apply these powers to a watch next time?"
"I can't sit at the head of a table that's round… This one implies that we're all equals," Ron clicked his tongue, making everyone exchange looks. Did he just…? Wow… And Lady Greengrass thought I was out of line. "Disappointing, but I'll live."
"I hope that was a jest, Mr. Weasley," Ogden chuckled, his demeanour changing entirely from before.
"No, it wasn't," Ron assured the man, taking a seat between Lady Prewett and Lord Black. "Sirius! Good to see you, as always! Nice robes! Very stylish!"
"Cheers, kid," Lord Black sniggered, clearly enjoying the show.
"Now, what were you all talking about?" Ron asked, his eyes lingering on Pansy. He didn't know that I was coming, but he's taking it well. Good. I'm glad I'm not going to pay for Daphne's fight with him. "Something about not getting your money's worth, right?"
"You were listening?" Lady Longbottom cocked an eyebrow, not amused.
"I'm always listening, me," Ron shrugged, relaxing into his seat. "And I understand your reservations, all of you. But first, I think it's important that our new arrivals introduce themselves. Lady Greengrass, will you do the honours?"
"Certainly," Lady Greengrass rose from her chair, as did Pansy and Selwyn. "My friends, these are Ladies Parkinson and Selwyn-"
"We know who they are," Lady Longbottom frowned at Pansy in particular. "And we know which foul loins they were spit out of." Ew! That was gross! Ugly, and gross! Poor Neville! "What are you wearing, girl? Did your mother not teach you any decency?" Neville seems to enjoy my lack of it, so what's your problem?
Pansy shot a subtle look towards Ron, but he was just watching her with a smile on his face. This bastard… He's testing me, isn't he?! That's why he's put me on display!
"She didn't have the time, my Lady, I'm sorry to say," Pansy started, smiling pleasantly at the old witch. "She was too busy sleeping with my father's friends in secret, after all. Not the best role model for decency, my mother. And, I don't wish to be rude, but your grandson certainly enjoys how I dress. It's why we're together." For now, at least. If he doesn't grow a spine soon, I'll be moving on from him.
Lady Prewett smirked, Ogden nodded in approval, Lord and Lady Fawley were quick to hide their mirth, the Macmillans and the Abbotts exchanged glances, while both Lord Black and Ron threw their heads back and laughed without a care. Lady Greengrass simply stared at Lady Longbottom, their eyes locked against each other's.
"Children are not their parents, Augusta," Lady Greengrass eventually said, there was a strength in her voice that Pansy hadn't heard before. "If they were, then Lord Black has no place at this table. Nor do I. Nor does Ron himself, whose family turned their backs on the Old Ways long ago. We are building something new here, and these two exemplary young women deserve to be a part of it."
"It is an honour to be among such esteemed company, Lady Longbottom," Selwyn took over, her eyes calmly studying the Head of the Longbottom family. "I know of my family's crimes, just as I know of your family's valour. I will not question your mistrust of me and Lady Parkinson, but I will ask you to give us a fair chance to prove our worth. It is all we are asking for. A fair chance."
"I think, we are all in agreement with Lady Greengrass," Lord Fawley said, and everyone but Lady Longbottom and Lady Prewett nodded. "Children should not be made to suffer for their parents' crimes. I say we give them a fair chance, as Lady Selwyn put it."
"Thank you, Lord Fawley," Selwyn bowed her head, and Pansy quickly followed.
"We will not disappoint our new friends," Pansy added.
"We'll see about that," Lady Longbottom said disdainfully, while the three witches sat back down. I'm so going to tell Neville about this! No wonder he's so skittish! Living with this Hag!
"On the topic of giving chances," Ron spoke up, looking to Ogden. "May I promote your product in my Quibbler, Mr. Ogden? Free of charge, of course. My sales are growing larger and larger, and my Logistics Officer is hounding me about placing more ads in our magazine."
"You want to promote my product for free?" Ogden questioned, sounding very eager all of a sudden. "I don't understand how you benefit from this whatsoever." He doesn't care about gold like you do, that's why. "Even the Daily Prophet charges me a small fortune, and you're still trying to catch up to them in sales."
"As I said, I understand your reservations about what we are doing here," Ron explained, his eyes moving from person to person. "I know you are all sacrificing a great deal, and I know you expect returns. However, given the sorry state of the camps, those returns have been less than meagre so far. As such, I'm willing to promote all of your businesses in my magazine, which will catch up to the Daily Prophet in time, as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. Lady Longbottom can confirm that my promotions pay off."
"They do," she gave a nod, and even Pansy's eyes glinted at the prospect. My parents' poor reputations have definitely hurt our businesses according to Carbey. This could be a great way to start fixing the damage. Ron is Magical Britain's golden child, his fame is beginning to reach even Potter's, so showing the world that I'm one of his closest friends is a good way to earn a lot of goodwill from the masses.
"Now, imagine if we rebuild Knockturn Alley, and Ron reports on it," Lady Greengrass said, looking towards Ogden. "You would go from a very successful businessman to a 'hero of the people' overnight."
Ogden leaned back in his chair, gears clearly turning in his head. "Forgive me for my doubts, all of you. The truth is that my own sales did not meet my expectations last quarter. However, with Mr. Weasley's help, I believe this can be remedied. I graciously accept your offer, young man."
"Just one condition, though," Ron smiled, and Ogden raised an eyebrow. "Don't go to the Daily Prophet for promotions. They are vermin, and I plan to put them down accordingly. I can't have my own friends helping them, now, can I?" His smile then suddenly vanished. "No… That would be an act of betrayal, in my eyes." Uh-oh. I know that look.
"You wish to starve the competition?" Lady Prewett asked, and Ron gave a nod. "If you agree to promote our businesses on a rotation, without charge, then I am willing to play along with this condition."
"As are we," Lord Abbott added, while the Fawleys nodded along. "We just opened a new boutique in the Upper District, but traffic has been low. This is exactly what we need."
"My family has invested a lot of gold into the Daily Prophet," Lord Macmillan admitted, speaking directly to Ron. "They have been good friends to us."
"If you had a pet dog, and it was dying, would you prolong its suffering by keeping it alive?" Ron asked in response. What? Where's he going with this?
"I don't understand-"
"Because I would just kill the dog," Ron said, there was a coldness behind his eyes that greatly bothered Pansy. "And then, I'd get myself another one. Pull out your gold, and invest it in me. I might not have their numbers just yet, but I will. It's only a matter of time. Invest in me now, and you'll get a bigger piece of the pie before more investors come knocking at my door." That's a decent offer. I'd take it. Wait… I should take it! What am I doing?!
"I'll invest in you, Ron," Pansy spoke up, every eye darting towards her. "I take it that the offer is extended to all of us."
"Of course," Ron grinned, his eyes becoming warm, again. "What's mine is yours, Pansy. Always." I like that! I have to say, he seems to be in a really good mood where I'm concerned. Is it because I won D-Rank? Probably. Definitely.
"My wife and I will need to discuss the details, but we're interested," Lord Macmillan gave a nod. "And, no, Mr. Weasley, I would not keep prolonging my pet's suffering."
"I'm glad that this is all sorted, but what about Knockturn Alley itself?" Lord Black asked. "Can we stop exchanging favours and focus on the real issue, now? There was a murder this morning within the camps. A man was bewitched to parade himself around the markets, and get this, he cut open his own stomach and started handing out his bloody organs." What. The. Fuck?! That can't be real!
"Gods be good…" Lady Fawley paled, drawing in a shaky breath.
"What…?" Ron muttered, before frowning deeply. "What are the Aurors doing about this? First, the kidnappings, and now, this?!"
"The Aurors are spread too thin," Lord Black replied. "At least, that's what Tonks tells me. They don't have the numbers to put out so many fires at once."
"Bloody hell…" Ron sighed out, pinching the bridge of his nose. "We have to act, now. This whole mess should've been solved long ago."
"How will the new Minister react to us beginning construction without her express permission?" Selwyn asked, looking to those who sat on the Wizengamot.
"She won't be pleased," Lady Prewett answered. "She does not hold our ilk in high esteem. Never has. Never will. We'd be better off without her." Wait… She's not suggesting that we get rid of a bloody Minister, is she?! That's mental!
"The Ministry can't afford to lose another Minister so quickly after Fudge," Lord Abbott countered. "And, in my experience, she might be the only honest politician we have left in Magical Britain."
"I agree with Lord Abbott on this," Ron added. "She's a good person, even if she values her Ministry too highly. I don't want us moving against her as if she's our enemy. However, she's still in our way, and that can't be allowed, either."
"We can pressure her in the Wizengamot," Lady Longbottom suggested. "Her lack of a solution to this crisis already has the Wizengamot bothered. It won't take much for them to force her to act."
"That's good. Do that."
"What about us?" Lady Greengrass asked. "Those without seats on the Wizengamot?"
"We start preparing," Lord Black answered. "We look into contractors. Supplies. Architects. We get everything sorted while we wait for Bones to make up her bloody mind."
"You can be in charge of that, Sirius," Ron said, patting the man's back. "You've got enough passion for this to put the rest of us to shame."
"What of the Goblins?" Lady Prewett asked. "If we begin building a new district, they'll want a piece of it. They always do."
"Negotiating with them would make things easier on us," Ogden suggested, but was met with scoffs. "I know of their reputation, and yet, their gold is just as valuable as ours. It would not hurt to have them in our corner-"
"I will not lift a finger to help if those monsters are involved," Lady Prewett warned, sneering. "I will not work with such filth." Such filth? Careful, Lady Prewett, your prejudice is showing.
"Neither will I," Lady Longbottom sided with her oldest friend. "We are doing this for the Wizarding World, not to give even more power to our enemies."
"So, we just turn them away? Out of spite?" Ogden asked, looking to Ron. "The future has no place for such bitter, old rivalries. They control our economy, and friends like that are worth having, despite what these Lords and Ladies will tell you. A good business does not rely on feelings, it relies on efficiency and expansion."
"And what of their expansion?" Lord Macmillan asked. "If they had their way with us, we'd all be destitute. It's bad enough that, as you just said, they control our economy, but now, you would have them own our streets as well? Where does it stop, Mr. Ogden? When we are all living in camps ourselves?"
"Whatever your beliefs, it will not stop them from approaching us," Ogden assured the man. "They will want a piece, and if we insult them, they will become a thorn in our side. Is it not better to offer them scraps than to have them toss the entire table?"
"You are being awfully quiet, Great-Nephew," Lady Prewett pointed out. "What say you on this matter?"
Ron looked to Pansy, both of them staring at each other. What? What is it? "I am willing to work with them, as long as they understand that crossing us means death."
The table went silent, while Pansy was left jarred to her bones. Death…? Is-… Is he serious? I know he can be cruel, sometimes, but is he really willing to kill people? Even if they're Goblins? No… This has to be an act-…
"Kid, don't you think that's going a little too far?" Lord Black broke the silence, his brow furrowed.
"No, I don't," Ron answered, his expression unreadable. "The Goblins we'll be dealing with, the rich and the powerful, they did not reach such lofty positions without stepping on the throats of others. They are, in essence, not so different from us. They've cut corners. They've cheated their partners. They've destroyed their enemies. They've been ruthless in their greed. Sirius, all the gold you're spending on good causes comes from your family's countless crimes throughout the centuries. It is blood money, plain and simple. These Goblins are no different, and I will not treat them any differently. If they choose to become my enemy, then their deaths will be their own fault."
"Hear, hear," Lady Prewett smacked the table, whereas Lady Longbottom nodded fervently. Um… Are these two deaf?! He's literally saying that he'll kill us if we ever go against him! Ron, what the fuck?!
"And if we become your enemies?" Lord Abbott asked. "Did you not hear him? He thinks we're the same as these Goblins." Wow… Is being compared to a Goblin worse than being threatened like this?!
"As I said, your deaths would be your own fault," Ron looked to the man, his gaze becoming as cold as the grave. "So, don't become my enemy, Lord Abbott. Remain my friend, and together, we will both prosper. We will have to deal with the Goblins, there is no other way. They will make sure of it, as Mr. Ogden says. So, let's remain united, and protect each other as best we can." Ron then put on a smile that sent a cold shiver up Pansy's spine. "Sirius will begin preparations immediately, and those not on the Wizengamot will help him, including Lady Selwyn and Lady Parkinson. Those on the Wizengamot will pressure Minister Bones to make a decision, preferably in our favour. We have little time to lose, because there are too many interested parties looking towards the camps."
Most of them nodded their heads, coming to an unspoken agreement.
"If there is no further business, then this meeting is adjourned," Lady Longbottom looked directly at each one of them, with the exception of Pansy.
"My people will be in touch with yours, Mr. Weasley," Ogden said, rising up and offering Ron his hand.
Ron stood up and shook it, before moving to each Lord and Lady in order to bid them farewell personally. "Pansy, stay by the fireplace. We will talk."
"Sure…" Pansy agreed, rising from her chair. Did you really mean it? What you said about the Goblins and us? Would you really kill someone, Ron?
Twenty Minutes Later
"The kid was out of line…" Lord Black grumbled, shaking his head.
"Was he?" Lady Greengrass questioned, raising an eyebrow. "Make no mistake, both of you, none of us are friends. We are allies, yes, but we're all here to further our own goals. Ron understands this. My husband made sure of it-"
"What other nonsense has he been whispering in Ron's ear?" Lord Black frowned deeply. "And since when are we not friends, Mary? I'd take a Killing Curse for you without hesitation!"
"You mistake my meaning, Sirius," Lady Greengrass smiled, reaching forward and caressing his strong jaw. "We are friends, but Ogden? William Macmillan? Muriel and Augusta? Even the Fawleys? Do you truly believe that they would tolerate you moving against them? Do you truly believe that they value Ron as we do? No… Ron was right, we are all of us just as dangerous to each other as our enemies are. This alliance only works if someone is willing to enforce order, and Ron has been trained to do so by my husband. As a matter of fact, he is quite the natural at it." Lady Greengrass then looked to Pansy, smiling. "You spoke well today, Pansy. However, don't make a habit of insulting women such as Augusta Longbottom. She is not one to tolerate disrespect of any kind. Cross her, and there will be dire consequences." I understand.
"This meeting certainly didn't feel anything like how I imagined it would," Pansy admitted, though she kept her head held high. "I felt like I could barely get a word in with all of you plotting and scheming so easily." Slytherin politics are a bloody joke, aren't they? Just a bunch of kids playing at being grown-ups, including me and my friends. I never realized just how much Ron has surpassed us all, but now, I do-…
"It takes time, but you will become accustomed to it," Lady Greengrass promised, her kindly voice made Pansy feel safer than she ever had with her own mother.
"The kid's coming," Lord Black said, sniffing the air. "He's just around the corner."
Both Lady Greengrass and Pansy gave him quizzical looks, but he just smirked and winked at them. Are you a dog? Sniffing him out like that? Much to their surprise, Ron turned the corner and began approaching them, already beaming at Pansy.
"Trying to outdress me, are you?" Ron chuckled, and Pansy felt her shoulders relax a little due to his jolly tone. "Sorry for making you wait, but I had to talk to Lord Fawley about something, and once that man gets going, it's impossible to get away from him. He's chewing Lady Longbottom's ear off, now. Poor woman." Ron then drew in a deep breath, his very rare 'golden smile' gracing his face. "You did good in there, Pans. Standing up for yourself like that… I'm really proud of you."
Pansy felt her cheeks flush, and try as she might, she couldn't stop her lips from stretching into a smile. His current demeanour reminded her of how amazing things used to be, when he was always happy and full of kind words.
"Thanks, Ron," was all she could manage, deciding not to gloat to him about her victory in the D-Rank Tournament. No need to sour things for myself. Gloating would feel good, yes, but this is so much better. "I know you probably wanted to invite me yourself, but-"
"I understand," Ron stopped her, his eyes darting towards Lady Greengrass for a second. "It looks better if someone who isn't your friend invites you, and Lady Greengrass is well respected in the alliance." Lady Greengrass? Doesn't he usually call her Mary? Is he fighting with the Greengrasses right now? Is that why he insulted Daphne's father?
"Ron, do you a moment to talk?" Lady Greengrass asked. "With Sirius and I?"
"Talk about what?" Ron asked. "Whatever you want to say to me, you can say it in front of Pansy. She's one of us, now, isn't she?"
"I am," Pansy answered for them, much to Ron's delight. This is where I belong. This is where I want to belong.
"Very well, then," Lord Black started, exchanging a glance with Lady Greengrass. "Your mother thinks you've run off, kid. She said that you said 'goodbye' in a weird way, and then left the house without another word… What's going on?" Ron? Run away from his family? Never-…
"She's right," Ron admitted, making Pansy blink. "But don't say 'run off', please. It makes me sound like a coward." He left his family? Why?! He loves them to bits, doesn't he?! What did they do to him this time?!
"Ron, what happened?" Lady Greengrass asked, worried.
"I'm sick of the drama," Ron shrugged, sounding rather relaxed despite the topic. "The blatant neglect and favouritism, the hurtful letters, trying to re-sort me without even asking me how I felt, acting as though they know better than me, telling me who I'm supposed to be, never acknowledging my successes… I'm sick of it. All of it. I want to be happy, for a change. I want to be content with who I am. I can't do that in a house filled with people who don't think, or, act the way I do. Worse, I can't do it in a house filled with people who treat my strength as weakness. I am not mental, nor am I the villain they paint me as. I'm just different, and there's nothing wrong with that. Plus, after thinking about something Madam Pomfrey told me, I'm starting to realize that I'm not good for them, either." Ron then looked directly at Lady Greengrass. "I'm sorry that I've been cold towards you… I built up this expectation of you in my head as a kind, loving woman who could do no wrong, and when it was challenged by reality, I acted poorly… I am sorry."
"It's all right, Ron-"
"You are not your husband, but since you're willing to tolerate his actions, which go directly against my principles, I don't want you to be a part of my personal life, anymore," Ron finished, sounding too serious for Pansy's liking. "Daphne and Astoria will always be a part of my life, but not you and your husband. You don't deserve my love, nor my respect."
Pansy and Lord Black looked between the two, both of them feeling more than just awkward when Lady Greengrass looked as though she'd been slapped. And then, she simply gave an understanding nod, before turning around and departing without a word. What. Just. Happened?
"Ron, what the fuck did Sebastian do?" Lord Black inquired a second before Pansy could.
"You can ask him yourself," Ron replied, shooting Lord Black a sorry smile. "I also owe you an apology, Sirius."
"Oh, shit, am I getting the boot too-"
"No, you-…" Ron started, but stopped to think his words through. "You're a good man, Sirius. You have a strength in you that I've never acknowledged until now. Like me, you also felt out of place in your family. And like you, I've also 'run away' to find my place in the world. You persevered against all odds, and I hope, I can follow in your footsteps."
"But my family were a bunch of psychopaths-"
"I don't tolerate disrespect of any nature," Ron cut in. "They're good people, I'm not saying they're not. I just can't stand them, or, how they choose to settle for less every time. I want the world at my feet, Sirius. I want everything. They will never understand that, nor will they ever tolerate it. So, it's over… They can live their lives, and I will live mine."
"Don't just cut them out," Lord Black pleaded, looking to Pansy. "You're his friend, aren't you? Say something!"
Pansy looked between the two, and she found herself agreeing with Ron due to her own strained relationship with her mother and father. "He didn't choose them, Lord Black, he was just born to them. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, I mean. If getting away from them is what makes him happy, then that's what matters. My parents never loved me as Ron's parents love him, but it wasn't the lack of love that hurt me the most… It was how little they cared about what I wanted, about who I was. That's what hurt the most. And, to be honest, I've never been happier than I am now, finally being free of them, so I understand how he feels." She then gave Ron a nod. "You took me in when you didn't have to, which led to me finally finding people who accepted me. So, whatever happens, Ron, I will accept you too. Even when you're a complete prat…"
Ron's lips quirked upwards; his eyes warmer than before. "Thank you, Pansy. I love you too."
"Sirius, please, respect my decision," Ron raised his gloved hand. "I'm just trying to figure things out, and I want to do it on my own. You owe me that much, at least."
Lord Black let out a long sigh, massaging his forehead. "…Fine… You're right… You deserve that chance, but please, don't forget that you're not alone. You've got me. You've got your friends. And, despite how you feel, you still have your family. Don't start living inside your own head, all right?"
"I won't," Ron promised, offering Pansy his hand. "C'mon, let's get you back to Slytherin."
"Take care, Lord Black," Pansy bid the man farewell, giving a curtsy. "Please, owl me with any updates about the camps. I want to pull my own weight by helping as best I can."
"Sure… And don't call me Lord Black, all right? It's Sirius. Lord Black was my father, and he was a right twat."
"As you wish, Sirius," Pansy said, blushing a little when he grinned. Are all Blacks this handsome? Shame that he's the last of them, then.
"You are coming to my house for dinner once a week, kid," Sirius said as they left him behind. "If you don't, I'll be pissed!"
"Once a week, got it," Ron waved, coming to a stop in front of the fireplace. "Be a gentleman and prepare that, will you?"
"You prick," Pansy laughed, smacking his arm. "That's not funny!"
"Could've fooled me with that coat," Ron teased, looking far too pleased with his own sense of humour. "Professor Snape's Office, Hogwarts."
The fireplace roared to life, turning green, and both Slytherins stepped through it.
"The vampire returns," Professor Snape greeted them snidely from his desk, putting his quill aside. "And she's brought the troll with her." Hello to you too, Sir. What a prick.
Ron looked between them, and then, he grinned mischievously. "You two could be mistaken for twins, tonight!"
Both Pansy and Professor Snape frowned, equally offended. What an even bigger prick!
"Always a pleasure, Weasley," Professor Snape growled, leaning back in his chair. "Come back here when you're done playing butler. We need to talk." About what, I wonder. They have a really suspicious relationship, now that I think about it. I mean, no one can insult Professor Snape like that and just get away with it. So weird…
Ron gave a nod, escorting Pansy out of the office and into the dungeons. "No butler could afford such a suit… Man has no taste." It is a nice suit. Perfectly tailored. Have his shoulders gotten broader? Hm… "You're giving me a weird look, Pansy, and I'm all right with it."
"I'm sure you are," Pansy chuckled, tightening her hold on his arm. "I like this, Ron… You smiling, again. Making jokes. Being a lovable idiot." It suits you far better than being-…
"You mean not being heartless and bitter, don't you?" Ron stopped, looking down at her. Daphne…
"I didn't say that-"
"I've been a terrible friend to you, I know," Ron continued, his smile turning apologetic. "You, Daphne, Blaise, Theo, Draco, Tracey… Millie… Madam Pomfrey was right, I was pushing too hard, demanding too much, and, when I didn't get my way, I blamed you lot for it." Pansy didn't know what to say to that, so she just stared up at him. "I'm not saying that I won't make this mistake, again, but I'm going to try my best not to. I mean, you winning D-Rank proves me dead wrong, Pans." …What? "I honestly thought you couldn't, but you did. I thought I knew better, but you proved me wrong. Thank you for that… It was a sorely needed reminder that I don't know everything like I think I do… You're brilliant, and I should've never underestimated you." …Oh…
Pansy felt her stomach tighten into a knot; she hadn't realized how much it meant for Ron to see her succeed. Instead, she was under the assumption that he simply didn't think her capable of it. I wanted to gloat to him, to rub his face in, but… Fuck… I fucked up… He just wanted to see me succeed-…
"Pansy, what's wrong?" Ron asked, noticing that she had tensed up.
"…Nothing," she lied, averting her gaze. "I just-… It means a lot to hear you say that, that's all." No, no, no, no… What's going to happen when he finds out I cheated?! That I bribed McCumbers and stole the victory from Daphne?!
"I don't say it enough, do I?" Ron sounded even more sorry, which only made her feel worse. "Well, I'll say it, again, then. I'm really proud of you, and you're a brilliant witch. You're all brilliant, and I won't forget it a second time-"
Pansy hugged him tightly, mostly as a means to stop him from going on before she broke into tears. He shifted in his spot a little, before hugging her back just as tightly. I fucked up so badly… He's going to hate my guts when he finds out what I did… I have to find a way to make sure he never find out anything!
Ronald Weasley's POV
Wednesday 28th April, 1994 (Hogwarts Dungeons– Nearly Curfew)
Ron watched Pansy leave, and once she was out of sight, he dropped the mask and let out a long sigh. That was hard… Making peace is infinitely more difficult than breaking it, that's for sure.
"How much of that tripe did you actually mean?" Ravenclaw Ron chuckled, stepping up beside him.
"All of it… Every single word," Ron admitted, feeling even more at peace now than he did in his new home. "None of them will ever accept me for who I truly am. I get that, now. I saw the look on her face when I said that I'd kill those Goblins… As calculating as they were raised to be, not even my friends are capable of imagining the lengths I'll go to in order to win." She wasn't just shocked, she was appalled. "Still, it helps no one if I act like a prick, right? Especially when I'm wrong. Better to make peace and go about my business in secret."
"You're still too soft, you know that, don't you?"
"I want to protect them, so yeah… I'm soft," Ron felt no shame in that. "I could be like you, if I wanted to be. It would be a lot easier than being me, I assure you. So much easier… But no, there's no point to a kingdom devoid of subjects. If I'm going to build my own world, then I want it filled with people who matter to me. I've spent too long thinking about those I want removed, and that was my mistake… From now on, I'll think about both, and then, act accordingly."
"Dumbledore is not going to like this," Ravenclaw Ron said, frowning at merely saying the old man's name. "You building a kingdom, I mean. He thinks he knows better than you, and so, he'll keep trying to persuade you off course. He'll get in your way."
"He does know better than me," Ron assured his past self. "And yet, what's he done with all his knowledge and wisdom? What has he really changed? Nothing… He wasted his life, hiding from the world and its problems. He kept waiting for people to be their best selves, but did nothing to show them a better way. He was only half-right, as people do have to make that choice for themselves, but if no one shows them that the choice is there to begin with, then how are they supposed to choose it? They can't, right? And so, they'll just keep living in the shit world they've always known." Ron then drew in a deep breath. "C'mon, let's go see what Snape wants. I don't want to be spotted talking to myself by a Slytherin."
Making his way back to Snape's office, Ron knocked on the door before entering. I wonder if he's still blaming me for Harry's victory. Not to mention what I said to him after.
"Close the door," Snape ordered, not looking up from his work.
Ron did as he was told, before walking over and taking a seat. "You wanted to see me, Sir?"
Snape put down his quill and stood up, limping over to one of his cabinets. Brandishing his wand, he tapped on the cabinet's surface and muttered something under his breath. Ron cocked an eyebrow, watching silently as Snape pulled out a bottle of wine and a pair of goblets from the Enchanted cabinet. Oh, no!
"I'm not a fan of wine-"
"Be quiet," Snape ordered, placing the goblets on the table and pouring wine into both. "Here." Fuck… Don't you have juice in there, or, something?
"Just one," Ron accepted the offer as to not be rude. "I have a dinner to go to after this."
"With who?" Snape asked icily, sitting back down.
"Thaddeus," Ron replied, and Snape waited for him to elaborate. "A Werewolf from the-"
"You're dining with a wolf, tonight?" Snape sneered, not hiding his disgust.
"I'm dining with a good man who's suffered his whole life," Ron corrected, frowning a little. "If you're going to act like this, then I'm going to leave. I'm not in the mood to fling chairs at you, tonight." But I will, if you continue to disrespect someone I admire.
Snape scoffed, taking a sip from his goblet. "Drink."
Ron followed Snape's example, unable to hide his reaction to the wine. "…That's a bit strong, isn't it?"
"Albus' favourite," Snape shrugged, leaning back in his chair. "…I was wrong to blame you for Potter's unearned victory…" Snape then took another sip, staring at Ron until he did the same. "…The boy has not wronged-…" he stopped, looking down at his desk. "…Did I ever tell you about his father?"
"Poor, little Snape was bullied," Ravenclaw Ron pretended to cry, before frowning darkly. "Pathetic weakling. Don't feel sorry for him, all right? He's just as bad as your Lord Greengrass, if not worse."
"No, Sir, you're not one to share details about your past," Ron said, ignoring his counterpart. "Tell me about Harry's father."
Snape took another sip, and once again, he waited for Ron to do the same. This shit is foul! Why is he torturing me like this? "I was a stupid boy… A naïve boy. I believed for the longest time that, if I just worked hard enough, I'd earn respect and admiration. I'd earn love…" Snape then took a long drink, and Ron followed suit. "It was James Potter who proved to me that life didn't work like that. It was James Potter who proved to me that life was cruel… That it favoured some men, while casting others into the abyss."
"What did he do to you?" Ron asked, and Snape sneered at nothing in particular. "Sir?"
"He made a mockery of me at every turn," Snape all but whispered, as if he were confessing some terrible crime. "I spent my years at Hogwarts afraid of turning every corner… Whenever I let my guard down, whenever I thought I was safe, that's when Potter and his goons would strike. Pettigrew. Lupin. Black… He was the worst of the lot by far, because every time I defended myself, he convinced his 'mates' to come at me twice as hard the next time." This doesn't sound like Sirius, or, Remus, or, even the James Potter who gave his life for his son. "And, one day, Black decided that my life held no meaning, so he masterminded a plan to get me killed."
"What?" Ron blinked.
"I grew suspicious of Lupin, as I had caught him sneaking about with Pomfrey before every full-moon, and Black used that against me," Snape continued, finishing his goblet and refilling it. "He sent me to the Shrieking Shack, fully aware that his 'mate' was a fucking Werewolf… I could've died that night, if it hadn't been for James Potter, my worst enemy, pulling me out in time…" Fucking hell, Sirius. How stupid can you be? "Can you even imagine the shame, boy? Imagine owing a life debt to the person you hate most in this world…" I'd rather not, if that's all right.
"Was he punished?" Ron asked, taking another sip. "Sirius, I mean."
"No…" Snape replied, his face twisting with contempt. "I was ordered to secrecy by Albus, and that was the end of the matter. Black served a handful of detentions, nothing more. No one spoke of that night ever again."
"That's why you hate Sirius so much? Because he's the reason why you owed Harry's father a life debt?"
"It's the main reason, yes," Snape answered. "Potter was the sort of bully you'd love to meet, but in my time, no one like you existed, and if they did, they cared nothing for me. I watched that man fly through life, far above the rest of us, and no matter what happened, he always came out unscathed. I hated him for that…" Snape took another big gulp. "…I envied him for that…" Snape then deflated, casting his eye down. "I watched the girl I loved, my greatest and only friend, fall madly for him, even as I begged and pleaded for her forgiveness over an insult I foolishly sent her way in a moment of rage and embarrassment brought on by Potter himself… He-… No, they taught me that forgiveness is only reserved for a select few…"
"I'm going to go torture the World-Eater," Ravenclaw Ron groaned, fading. "This is boring!"
"What does any of this have to do with Harry?" Ron had to ask, finishing up his goblet.
"Every time I see that boy, I see James staring back at me through Lily's eyes…" Snape replied, frowning to himself. "Pathetic, aren't I? To blame a boy who never even knew them? And yet, try as I might, just the sight of him makes me feel so…" he trailed off.
"Powerless," Ron figured, and Snape chugged down his goblet. "I'm sorry, Sir. Your childhood sounds dreadful the more I hear about it, but… It doesn't justify your hatred of an innocent boy. Not in my eyes, at least."
"I know…" Snape whispered. "Your nobility is my least favourite trait of yours." Thanks, I guess… "Potter didn't deserve to win C-Rank, nor did he deserve the credit for finding the Basilisk. Just like his father, life is ready and waiting to serve him whatever he desires."
"If that were the case, I think his parents would still be alive," Ron pointed out. "As for James Potter… Well, he's dead, isn't he? Life clearly didn't favour him as much as you think it did." Ron then leaned forward, thinking about his own current situation. "Maybe, life only favours those who try their best to be better people? Those who take responsibility for their own happiness, and the happiness of those around them?" Snape raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to go on. "Professor Lupin is one of the kindest men I know, full of compassion despite living a life devoid of it. Sirius suffered through Azkaban for a decade, and yet, he doesn't blame those who left him to rot without a fair trial. And, in defence of James Potter, he sacrificed his life for a cause greater than himself. Three out of four of your childhood bullies became better men, either by choice, or, by circumstance. They changed for the better, they grew up, but you, Sir? You're just stuck in the past… You don't even want to change, I think, because you feel as though you don't deserve it-"
"And this is Harry's fault?" Ron asked. "Is that really fair? For him to be the lightning rod of your self-contempt? I don't think so, and neither would anyone with a hint of compassion in their soul. If you don't want to change, then that's fine… It's your life, Sir, and you get to choose where it leads you. However, blaming others, blaming a teenager… That's not worthy of a man like you."
"A man like me?" Snape asked, his voice low.
"A man who's saved my life more than once, my friend's life, and the lives of everyone in the States," Ron reminded him. "A man who never asks for credit, or, reward. A man who doesn't seek redemption for his past mistakes, but rather, atones for them in silence. A man I admire and respect… A man I even love." Snape blinked, visibly taken aback. "Sometimes. When he's not being an utter cunt."
Snape frowned immediately, and Ron grinned. "Disrespectful brat-"
"I'm not jumping to Harry's defence because he's my best mate, or, anything," Ron stood up, putting his empty goblet down. "I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do, and, because I don't like seeing my friend, you, in pain. You can both atone and be a better man for it. No one is stopping you but yourself." With that, Ron bowed his head respectfully before turning to leave. "Goodnight, Sir."
"Wait…" Snape called, and Ron turned back around. "A letter came this afternoon."
"From Yahontov," Snape clarified, sounding distracted. "It contained a Portkey within. You're to take it to Travers and your Russian."
"Finally," Ron smiled at the thought of giving chase to the Dark Lord and his Loyalists. "I was beginning to doubt this Yahontov fellow."
"If a man like him is being cautious, then it would be wise of us to do the same," Snape said, pushing a sealed envelope towards Ron. "Tell Travers and your Russian to be wary of him, Ron. He is dangerous, and bloodthirsty." And both Emilia and Artyom aren't?
"I'll let them know. Goodnight, Sir."
Emilia Travers' POV
Thursday 29th April, 1994 (Travers Manor – Midday)
"Are you sure that's all you need?" Ron asked, exchanging a glance with Artyom. "One trunk? You could be gone for a while, Emilia."
"He only has one trunk," Emilia pointed out, cocking an eyebrow.
"I don't give a shit about him," Ron scoffed, earning a deadpan look from Artyom.
"I will not miss your terrible jokes," Artyom said blandly. I will.
"Still, you two should've packed more," Ron sighed out, worrying over nothing.
"This is all I need, Ron," Emilia smirked, tapping the hilt of her Oni-Blade. "As long as it is by my side, I have need of nothing else."
"If you say so," Ron relented, before smiling fondly. "I'm going to miss you. Both of you. Be safe, and watch each other's backs. Don't leave me behind in this shit world, eh? We still have a lot of Death-Eaters to kill."
Artyom said nothing, whereas Emilia smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder. "We will meet, again, my friend. Either in this life, or, the next."
"Godrey would recommend this life, Mistress," her Head-Elf said, making his presence known. "Godrey has given Mistress' men their instructions as commanded." Good. If anything happens to me, they will find Ron and follow him into the very gates of Hell.
"What instructions?" Ron asked, not one to enjoy being left out of the loop.
"They are to watch over those closest to my heart in my absence," Emilia replied, which wasn't strictly a lie. "Come, Artyom. Let us not waste any more time."
The muscled wizard moved over to her side, producing a sealed envelope from his coat. "Take care, and stay away from potions. London will be watching. She has permission to strike you."
"Yes, mum," Ron rolled his eyes, smirking. "Seriously, don't die. If you do, I'll burn Magical Russia to cinders." I believe you.
"I'm ready," Emilia said, taking her trunk in one hand and Artyom's arm in the other.
After grabbing his own trunk, Artyom opened the envelope with his teeth, reaching into it with his fingers and grabbing the Portkey within. The world turned in on itself, and after a show of bright lights, they both found themselves standing within a dingy living room. Where are we, I wonder.
"Welcome," a thick voice came from behind them, and they turned to see a wizard stoking the fireplace. "Dumbledore sent you, da?"
"I am Emilia Travers, and this is Artyom," Emilia stepped forward, while the wizard stood up and turned to face them.
He was gruff in features, his black hair wild and his scruffy beard unkempt. He looked like a wild beast in that fur coat of his, though his eyes held an intelligence that felt quite out of place. Is this the legendary Luka Yahontov?
"Andrey Sergeyevich Tigrov," the man gave them a curt nod, his eyes scanning them. "That sword… A Ronin?" Emilia returned his curt nod. "And you? Artyom, was it? You are Russian also, da?" Artyom said nothing in response. "Definitely Russian. A mercenary, no doubt. Which company do you serve?"
"Death's Hand," Artyom broke his silence, and Tigrov's eyes widened a little. "I am captain."
"A captain of the Death's Hand, and a Ronin," Tigrov smiled, nodding in approval. "Dumbledore does not play games. Good. Luka will be pleased."
"He is not here?" Emilia asked, raising an eyebrow. "Where is he, then?"
"Gathering information," Tigrov answered, gesturing them towards a beat-up couch. "We found the boy, but things are complicated. He will not be easy to extract. There will be fighting ahead." I like the sound of that. "Luka will return in two days' time with the others. We make our move then." Two days?!
"We are in Lord Volkov's territory," Tigrov told them, and Emilia quickly recognized the name. "You know of him, da?"
"I've heard rumours," Emilia replied, frowning a little. "Some say he fed his own wife to his pet Manticore for bearing him a Squib. Others say he himself devoured her. However, what everyone agrees on, is that he's the most powerful man in Magical Russia. And the most ruthless by far."
"Why are we in his territory?" Artyom asked, not sounding very impressed.
"Because he has the boy," Tigrov explained, and both Emilia and Artyom exchanged looks. "The Minister hid him with her friend, but Volkov stole him away. He now has the Minister's son, and as such, her loyalty."
"She can't move against him?" Emilia asked. "Send in her Aurors to take him back?"
"To move against one of The Five is to court death," Tigrov shook his head. The Five? "Lady Dolohov, Lady Agapov, Lord Sokolov, Lord Morozov, and Lord Volkov… The Five, who truly run this country." He then drew in a sharp breath. "This is not all… Rumours say that Lord Volkov is housing a foreign guest at his estate. A dark-haired man of ill-repute."
"Who?" Emilia asked.
Emilia and Artyom frowned deeply, and she felt her hand find the hilt of her Oni-Blade of its own accord. The Dark Lord is truly here, then, which means that my 'dear' uncle is as well. It is time to avenge father, at long last!
"Get settled in," Tigrov turned back to the fire. "We wait until my brothers and sisters arrive."
Ronald Weasley's POV
Thursday 29th April, 1994 (Prosperity Farm – After Sunset)
The drills were not what he had expected, not at all. He had assumed that he would be training in martial Magic with his mercenaries, learning Spells and techniques crafted solely for the act of murder, instead of running around like a headless chicken through obstacles built to crush his spirit. I have to finish the course… I have to! They expect me to fail, I saw it in their eyes! Well, I won't! I'll prove them wrong!
Throwing himself onto his belly, Ron began crawling through the mud, minding the barbed wire right above his head. His clothes were drenched in sweat, mud, and icy water, producing a smell that could only be described as the love-child of shit and vinegar. His eyes and nostrils burned from it, while his body ached and begged for rest. Can't stop now! Almost there! He kept crawling, grunting and groaning like a wounded boar. For one hundred meters, he crawled, even when his mind began turning numb from the repetition, until finally, he reached the end of the obstacle.
"…Fuck…" Ron grit his teeth, rising to his feet and breaking into a jog towards the final obstacle. "…Why is this so hard…? Fuck…"
A couple of his mercenaries overtook him, patting him on the back and encouraging him to keep moving as they went. Ron ignored them, unable to focus on anything but the pain running rampant throughout his body. All those laps around the Black Lake meant nothing right now, because it felt as though all of his senses were being attacked all at once. There wasn't a single part of him that wasn't hurting, and even his attempts at Occlumency were not enough to divert his focus from his fatigue.
Reaching the final obstacle, which was a twenty-five-foot wall, Ron began climbing up, not even bothering to hide his frustrations, now. There were jagged surfaces placed strategically over the entire length of the wall, but they were slippery and covered in mud from prior use, making his job all the harder. And yet, he persevered, one careful step at a time, never once looking back to see how far he'd climbed. Don't look back… You're not going that way… Just keep moving, you fuckstain!
Now at the top of the wall, Ron let out a shaky breath, nearly falling off as his vision blurred. Shaking his head clear, Ron checked the other side of the wall, but to his horror, there were no jagged surfaces to climb down with. The other side of the wall was as flat as a board. What?! Am I supposed to jump off?! What the fuck?! Looking ahead, Ron spotted a large, make-shift pool of water, its surface entirely covered with ice-cubes. Oh, fuck me…
He knew what he had to do, now, and he hated it. I'm going to have to jump into that pool if I want to finish this, but if I miss, I'm going to break my fucking legs… Brilliant… Just bloody brilliant… Swallowing thickly, Ron positioned himself to jump on shaky legs, his heart beating in his ears. Fear is for the weak! Fear is for the weak! Fear is for the weak!
"Fuck you, Entity!" Ron roared his battle-cry, leaping off of the wall.
He was barraged by the evening's cold winds as he fell, before suddenly being consumed by the icy water below. His breath hitched immediately, even as his mouth opened to scream his body's protests. Cold, cold, cold, fucking cold! Flailing like a madman, he swam for the surface, completely ignoring that the pool was Enchanted to be far deeper than it looked. His head finally out of the water, Ron made a series of shameful sounds as he swam for the nearest wall, climbing over it, despite the increased weight of his further drenched clothes, and flopping out of the pool like shit from arse. He landed on his back with a dull thud, shivering and shaking uncontrollably. Kill me… I actually want to die right now… This is worse than Hell…
He lay there for a while, struggling to regain his composure, and it was only when he heard one of his mercenaries flop out of the pool that Ron managed to find the strength to stand back up. He leaned against his knees, still shivering, before eventually restarting his run for the finish line. Keep going… Keep going… Almost there, old boy… It's almost over…
"The boss made it!" London was waiting for him, a massive grin on her face. "Un-fucking-believable!"
His mercenaries, most of whom were just as filthy as he was, stood behind her, cheering him on even as they laughed at his sorry state. The moment he cleared the finish line, Ron fell on his hands and knees unceremoniously, not even able to savour the taste of victory because of how cold and sore he was. London moved to his side promptly, wrapping him in a warm towel and slapping his back hard enough to make him cough. Why?! You bitch…
"Get warmed up, boss!" London laughed, ignoring his coughing fit. "Some of the lads want to go for seconds, and you're joining them!"
Ron felt his blood freeze in his veins, slowly looking up at her. "…Go through all those obstacles and running, again?"
"Why not? You looked like you were having fun, so I volunteered you," London sniggered, and Ron paled at the very thought of starting again. "You're really going to stop after finishing it just once?"
"You're fucking joking, right…?" Ron panted, his teeth clattering. "Please, tell me you're joking…" I feel like dying, and you bloody volunteered me to go again?! Why do you hate me?! I ought to stab you in the face-!
"I'm just yanking your leg, so please, don't give me that look," London grinned, taking him by the shoulders and helping him rise to his feet. Thank Merlin! "You should be damn proud, boss. Most grown wizards give up halfway, but you just kept going. Really fucking impressive! Never thought I'd see a kid your age reach the end of the captain's course in one piece!"
His other mercenaries chimed in with their own compliments, even as they traded pouches of clanking gold with one another. "…They were betting on me?"
"You just made me a richer woman," London laughed, squeezing him tightly. "Cheers for that!"
"Do I get any of that gold?" Ron managed a weak smile in return, mostly just grateful that his suffering was at an end.
"Well, technically, that is your gold we were betting," London helped him into a chair, pouring him a mug of hot chocolate. "Here, drink this and get warm. If you freeze to death, the captain will have my head."
Ron drank the hot chocolate down greedily, not caring as it spilled out of his mouth and onto his ruined training outfit. As soon as he was finished, London grabbed another towel in order to dry his hair and face. Once she was done, Ron slouched back and closed his eyes, hugging the towel around him more tightly to himself. Gods… That was intense… I've never felt so out of it, and I never even used a speck of Magic…
"You lot do this every night?" Ron asked, in awe of them all. "You bloody maniacs…"
"No, not every night," London replied, and Ron opened his eyes. "Just once a week, unless the captain is in a sour mood. Tonight was special, though, since you were joining us, so we decided to fuck with you a little."
"This is your idea of hazing, is it?" Ron chuckled, amused despite his pains.
"In our defence, we assumed that you wouldn't push yourself so far," London shrugged, smiling fondly. "I guess, you're just as mental as we are." I assure you, I'm far more mental than all of you, but cheers.
"Then, why bet on me finishing?" Ron asked, still shivering a little.
"Because, if I lost, I'd only lose a bit of gold," London explained. "But, if I won, then I'd win big! And, clearly, I made the right call, didn't I?"
"I'm glad I made the risk worth it," Ron sighed out, closing his eyes, again. "Are some of them really going for seconds?"
"The younger lads, yeah," London replied. Then, I need to catch up to them. I won't be outdone by my own employees. "You're not considering another run, are you?"
"I'll build up it," Ron replied. "Tonight, I just want some food and sleep."
"Need me to carry you back home?" London asked, and Ron shook his head. "Don't be a stubborn git, boss. I know I made it sound like an offer, but it wasn't. C'mon, give me your arm."
"I'm fine-" Ron started, but she took him by the arm and pulled him to his feet, making him hiss from the pain. "Okay… Just this once…"
"Lean on me, all right? It's fine," London put his arm around her shoulders, and they began making their way towards the shimmering lake.
"Sorry about your clothes, London," Ron apologized, but she merely smirked in response. "I take it that you'll be running the course once I'm safely delivered to my cottage?"
"Can't have the men thinking I'm lazy, now, can I?" London chuckled. "So…? Everything going all right for you?" Huh? "The wolves aren't giving you any trouble, are they?"
"No, of course not," Ron replied, raising an eyebrow. "Actually, quite the opposite… They've been leaving me gifts… Blankets, fruits, pies, clothes…"
"Why do you sound so ashamed about that?" London asked, surprised by his tone.
"I don't deserve it, that's why," Ron admitted, his eyes scanning the beautiful landscape. "This place… These people… I feel like I'm in some sort of dream. Everything here is so peaceful, which is more than enough for me. Coming home to find my porch covered in gifts… That's too much. I don't want them wasting their time on me like that."
"That's a bit self-absorbed of you, isn't it?" London pointed out, making him frown. "Don't be like that, boss. They just want to make you feel welcome. They're not stupid, you know? A kid your age suddenly moves into a cottage by himself? Don't forget that most, if not all, of these people left their own homes behind. They know how you feel, at least, to a degree. They just want to do good by you, just as you've done good by them. They're not wasting their time; they're trying to show you how much you mean to them." Damn… When you put it like that, I sound like an ungrateful arse… "You might not love yourself, but these people love you enough to make up for that. Accept their gifts, their kindness, and maybe, you won't keep seeing yourself as you do." Where did that come from?
"What makes you think I don't love myself?" Ron asked, not liking the fact that she could see through him. The things I've done… The things I plan to do… How can I love such a terrible person? A person who fits my code perfectly?
"Because I'm wise beyond my years," London joked, shooting him a wink. "Or, maybe, it's because I've been where you are now. The way the light goes out behind your eyes when you think no one is looking… Believing that any compassionate action taken towards you is a 'waste of time'… Wanting to cut yourself out of the world you've always known. Yeah, I've been there, and it was the worst part of my life." Damn…
"Sorry to hear that."
"It's all right," London didn't look too bothered, still smiling. "Just don't look down on other people's kindness, boss. That's the worst thing you can do to a person, the most dehumanizing. Be better than that, all right?"
"…Okay," Ron gave a nod, feeling a little ashamed due to only considering his own feelings regarding the gifts.
"Now, enough with the sappy stuff," London grinned, wagging her eyebrow. Um… What is it? "Any wolf girls caught your eye yet?" What?!
"I've been here for a day," Ron reminded her.
"You're telling me that people aren't looking through your windows, anymore? Spying on you from behind cover?"
"Some little kids are doing that, sure, but no one else."
"You're telling me that a well-groomed, well-dressed, relatively handsome lad moves in, and not a single girl pays him any attention? Fuck off with that, boss."
"Well… I guess, I did see some girls my age staring at me when I went to Thaddeus'… But I didn't stare back. No, that would be rude. I am a guest here." And they've suffered enough. They don't need a miserable twat like me in their life.
"So, if they muster up the courage to approach you… Nothing will come from it?" London asked, sounding disappointed in him. One look at my skin, and they'll run off screaming… That's what will come from it.
"I don't want to talk about this," Ron answered, feeling horribly uncomfortable all of a sudden. "I don't think that way, and I don't want to start. Move on, please."
London blinked, and then, she smiled a sorry smile. "…I was just teasing you, that's all. Sorry."
Ron said nothing in return, deciding to focus on the lake to his right. It shimmered under the moonlight most invitingly, and Ron couldn't help but wonder if going for a swim after midnight would be allowed. No one will mind, I'm sure, especially if I don't get caught. I already miss the ravine near the Burrow… Taking a dip after my morning runs, that was one of the best feelings ever.
They moved off the main path and veered into the woods, and within a couple of minutes, Ron's new home revealed itself, nestled between tall trees and colourful beds of flowers. And more gifts on my porch… No, London is right. I should be grateful for them, because they were given out of kindness, and not pity.
"Mind the steps, boss," London helped him onto the porch, smirking. "Where are you going to store all of this? Oh, is that a raspberry pie?! You lucky bastard!" …I am, aren't I?
Ron felt a smile creep onto his face, blushing. "…I wonder if they'll ever stop…"
"Not anytime soon, by the looks of it," London eyed the many baskets by the door. "Do you need help moving all of this inside?"
"No, I'll manage," Ron removed his arm from her shoulders, limping past the baskets and opening the door. "Just need a shower, first."
"I'll see you in the morning, then," London waved, making her way off the porch. "Don't forget about taking them inside! They've put a lot of effort in for you! Appreciate it!"
"I will!" Ron waved back, feeling a strange sense of warmth growing inside his chest. I'd best hurry with my shower. I don't want anything to spoil before I can place the Preservation Charm on it.
Making his way inside, Ron closed the door behind him and promptly removed his muddied top. Ah… Freedom! I could walk around naked, if wanted to, and no one would stop me! This is my house, after all! My very own haven! When he drew in a deep, satisfied breath, Ron promptly sniffed out the aroma of fresh cooking. Is someone in my kitchen?
His eyes flashed red, who would dare enter his home without his permission? A corpse in waiting. Brandishing his Aspen wand from his soaked trousers, Ron began moving through the cottage without making a sound, leaning against the wall before the kitchen. He could not Sense whoever was doing the cooking, but he could hear them moving about easily enough. Whoever is here, they're skilled at hiding their signature. Damn it… Can't have one fucking night off, can I?!
Drawing in a sharp breath, Ron turned the corner and aimed his wand at the intruder. "Are you shitting me?! Who let you in here?!"
"Ah, Ronald," Dumbledore turned to face him, wearing his ridiculous, bright-pink apron. "I wanted to make sure that you were eating right, nothing more. A young man such as yourself cannot afford to ignore proper nutrition." Dumbledore then picked up a piece of uncooked venison, popping it into Helios' eager mouth. "Why don't you clean up? I will set the table and get everything in order."
"Did-…? Did you-…?" Ron looked around, noticing the brand-new curtains and furniture around the kitchen. London's only fitted my bedroom, so far. "Are you getting my house in order? Without even telling me?"
"This is a beautiful cottage, but even still, it could use a feminine touch," Dumbledore chuckled, smiling innocently. A feminine touch?
Ron blinked, staring at the man as if he were insane. "…You know what? I'm too tired and sore to even think about what you just said. I'm going to go take that shower, instead."
"Don't be too long!" Fucking hell…
One Hour Later
"Your mother taught you well," Ron commended, leaning back in his chair. "That was delicious. Thank you."
"If I knew you were so hungry, I'd have made another pot," Dumbledore chuckled, his eyes twinkling. "There is something different about you since last we spoke."
"Is that so?"
"It is," Dumbledore gave a nod, scanning Ron's features. "You seem more at ease, more-"
"I like it here," Ron shrugged, smiling lightly. "It's nice and quiet, and most importantly, it's private. I don't have to worry about being myself in this little cottage."
"So, this is where your plans for world domination begin, hm?" Dumbledore joked, laughing.
"You know me a little too well, Sir," Ron sniggered, his smile widening. "Still, I'm curious… How did you find me? Did Thaddeus tell you?"
"He told Arthur, who told me," Dumbledore replied.
"Does it bother you? That your father knows where you are?" Dumbledore asked, and again, Ron shrugged.
"I figured Thaddeus would tell him," Ron started. "He's a good man, and although he's willing to help me, he also wouldn't want my parents to worry about me. I can't fault him for that, even if I don't appreciate people talking about me behind my back."
"Well, they are worried, despite Thaddeus' comforting words," Dumbledore told him. "I paid them a visit, and your mother was not her usual self. She was quiet, my boy. Very quiet." Why are you suddenly visiting my parents, huh? What are you after?
"And?" Ron asked. "Where are you going with this, exactly? Are you trying to guilt me into going back?"
"I would never do such a thing-"
"You would," Ron interjected. "I know you, Sir. You are not above manipulation, nor are you the sort to take action without purpose. You're here because you want something from me, so just come out and say it. Don't make me guess."
Dumbledore exhaled, nodding to himself. "Very well, then. I am worried that our last conversation did more to hurt you than help you. I wanted to check-in on you, but when I arrived at the Burrow, I learned that you had left your family without proper goodbyes." Dumbledore then leaned forward, smiling apologetically. "I feel guilty. That is the truth of it. I did not wish to offend you, dear boy, I only wished to help you better understand yourself."
"Better understand myself?" Ron repeated, fighting the urge to laugh. "You um… You think you know me better than I know myself, do you?"
"I did not say that-"
"Let's just make one thing clear," Ron continued, his temper flaring. "You and I are not the same, all right? You resented your family because you thought they were beneath you, and because you thought you deserved better than them. You never loved them the way I love my family, you never spared them a thought, not until you killed your own bloody sister." Dumbledore lost his smile. "That's not love, Sir… That's just regret. That's just you feeling sorry for yourself for nearly a century. I mean, your brother lives down in Hogsmeade, doesn't he? Aberforth Dumbledore, isn't it? I don't see you two being very brotherly, not one bit." Ron then leaned forward himself. "Now, me, on the other hand… I've grown to 'resent' my family because I'm worried that they're not taking the war seriously enough. I see them lazing about every day, acting like nothing is wrong, and that scares the shit out of me. So, I fight with them. I try to get them to change their ways before it's too late… Before they get hurt, or, worse, get killed. I am not being selfish to them; I am being reasonable in the face of their delusions. Do I think I know better than them? You're damn right I do! But that doesn't mean I think I'm better than them… Sure, a year ago, I felt as though I was superior, but not anymore. Now, all I want is for them to do better. Not for my sake, but for their own. If that's selfish, then fuck it… I'm selfish, but even then, I'm not like you. I don't tolerate excuses, I don't tolerate laziness, but this doesn't make me a bad person. If I tolerated these traits, there would be no Werewolf Sanctuary for me to 'run away' to." Bloody hell, that felt great! I've been meaning to let that out for days!
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, clearly thinking his words through. "Perhaps, I pushed my own feelings onto you without realizing…"
"Oh, you definitely did," Ron assured the man. "You weren't entirely wrong, but you weren't entirely right, either. I'm not saying that I don't have any fault in my poor relationship with my parents… I do. I know I do. I push them, and I push them, and I push them… I go against so much of what they taught me as a boy, and I know they hate that, but I keep doing it, regardless. This is why I left, Sir. I am not going to stop. I am never going to stop. If they can't accept me for not being like them, then I will not sit in their house and let the disrespect continue. My temper has limits, I know this, so it's best I leave before I lose my shit and put their heads through a wall."
Dumbledore nodded along, his eyes no longer twinkling. "Put their heads through a wall… I wish you weren't so wrathful, Ronald. So prone to violence and brutality."
"You and me both, Headmaster."
"Just owl them once in a while, at least," Dumbledore urged, and Ron gave a nod. "Good. Whatever your differences, they are still your kin, and that matters."
"I know," Ron agreed, drawing in a deep breath. "And sorry… I didn't want to throw your worst mistake in your face, but I felt that you 'needed to hear this'."
"Touché," Dumbledore said, looking to the many gifts filling Ron's living room. "There doesn't happen to be a bottle of good wine amongst your offerings, by any chance?"
"You're more than welcome to look," Ron gestured. "But, given my age, I doubt it."
"Shame… I always enjoy some wine after a filling dinner," Dumbledore lamented, his eyes twinkling, again. "I hope that not all of my words were meaningless to you."
"Nothing you ever say is meaningless to me, Sir," Ron promised, bringing another smile to the old man's face. "You are the greatest man I've ever met, and nothing is going to change that. Just don't treat me like your project… I don't appreciate it, not after all the shit Fate's put me through. I'm not like you, and as I said back in the States, I don't want to be like you. I want to be me… Ronald Weasley."
"I will respect that going forward, you have my word," Dumbledore said, though there was something about his voice and expression that didn't sit well with Ron. "Are you ready for tomorrow? The gala in Bulgaria?"
"Oh, I'm ready," Ron smirked, eager to meet his next victims. "There are so many happy families that I want to meet, so many faces that I want to memorise. The Aldershof family, the Ackermann family, the Waldvogel family, the Agapov family, the Sokolov family, the Jäger family, the Rask family… I've been dying to meet them all!"
"For what purpose, I wonder," Dumbledore gave him a knowing smile. "Just don't kill them in the middle of the gala, Ronald." The East will bleed unlike ever before! They have no idea what's coming for them! "Let's get to know our enemies, first, and then remove them off the board one at a time."
"Do you still have those files from the American Aurors?"
"Yeah, they're in my attic," Ron replied. "Why? Do you want to see them?"
"I do, in fact," Dumbledore rose up, before reaching into his robes and pulling out a black handkerchief. "The Portkey you lent me. The High Mother demanded that I return it to you."
Ron took the handkerchief carefully, placing it on the table. "What did you think about her?"
"She is incredibly dangerous," Dumbledore answered, and Ron gave a nod. "However, she meant what she said to you. She does care for you, and that could prove valuable to you someday."
"You don't think she's out to manipulate me?"
"Oh, she definitely is," Dumbledore chuckled, making Ron blink. "It won't work, however. She doesn't realize that you're not so easily controlled, and that may well be her undoing." Is that why you're giving it back? What are you up to, old man? "Either way, I leave it in your hands. Now, take me to those files, please. I want to know exactly who we'll be dining with tomorrow evening."
"A bunch of dead cunts, that's who."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: The next update might take a little longer, as I will be focusing on my exams, now. The Bulgarian Gala is going to be an event of sorts, as many characters that will become prominent later on will be introduced for the first time during it.
Until the next one!