Ron knew he must be awake; there had been a split-second that made the difference between comfortable nothing and the pain and fear that now tore through his body. His head felt too heavy to move, much less lift, and he was almost afraid to open his eyes. He knew quite clearly where he had been and what he had done until the blow that sent him reeling. After that, there was nothing. Why were there bandanges on his arms?
A woman spoke, and it sounded miles away. Then his brain seemed to be registering things again because the voice now seemed to be within a few feet of him. It took a minute longer for him to realize that the speaker was Madam Pomfrey, though he could still only comprehend snatches of what she was saying.
"...horrible blow to the head... internal damage... don't know how he... both unconscious..."
I'm okay, he realized. I'm back at Hogwarts, and I'm safe. But what about the others? What about Harry and Hermione? Ginny? His mother would flay him alive if anything happened to Ginny. And what about Luna and Neville? The prophecy or the weapon or whatever it was? And Sirius? Had Harry found Sirius and saved him? He wanted to believe that they were all okay, but he didn't know how they could be. He didn't even know what day it was.
He mumbled something, hoping his voice was audible and forcing his eyes open. Fortunately, the lights were off - or maybe it was night?
"Oh, Mr. Weasley!" exclaimed Madam Pomfrey's voice. In a second, he saw her standing over him, fussing with his bandages. "You're awake. I was just telling Professor Dumbledore how you--"
"Good afternoon, Ron." Dumbledore's voice was quiet as he came nearer. "You had us all very worried."
But Ron didn't care about that. He knew he was okay. "Where... Professor..." He trailed off, hoping that Dumbledore knew what he wanted so badly to hear.
"Will you excuse us, please, Poppy?"
"Just one more thing," she said briskly. Ron watched from the corner of his eye as Madam Pomfrey took a small bottle from her pocket, poured a few drops into the glass by his bed, then left them alone.
Dumbledore drew up a chair and sat down heavily at his side. "Ron, Harry is fine. Miss Granger is still unconscious, but she will make a full recovery. Your sister had a broken ankle, but it has been mended, and Mr. Longbottom and Miss Lovegood have already been released from Madam Pomfrey's care."
"Sir, we..." Ron swallowed, trying to command his voice and mind to work together. "We had to save Sirius." There was a long silence, and Ron felt something hollow and horrible settle in his stomach. "Pr-Professor?"
"Ron," said Dumbledore wearily, "Sirius is dead."
No. No, that couldn't be right. Dumbledore had to be mistaken because they had gone to save Sirius, and Sirius wasn't there. It had to be a mistake because Sirius was locked up in Azkaban for twelve years, and now he was free. He had to be proven innocent, and then he could be happy. It had to be a mistake because Sirius wouldn't have left Harry. Harry had no parents. He couldn't have lost Sirius because things didn't happen that way. They weren't supposed to, and they didn't.
"No," he said. "That can't be right."
"It isn't right," Dumbledore replied. He laid a hand lightly on Ron's forehead, a gesture that would have made Ron squirm at any time but now. "But it's true."
"We were too late," Ron mumbled. Where was Harry? He wanted to see Harry, even though there was nothing he could say. Harry could not have lost Sirius.
"No, Ron," said Dumbledore. "You were not too late. Sirius was never at the Department of Mysteries."
"But Harry... it was a dream, and he saw... We got there and he wasn't where Harry saw him, but we were looking for him."
"Harry's dream was a trick. A clever trick to lure him there."
None of this made sense. If Sirius wasn't there, how could Dumbledore think he was dead? "Then Sirius can't be dead," he said, his voice growing stronger.
"Members of the Order arrived at the Ministry to save all of you," Dumbledore explained patiently. "Sirius was with them, and Bellatrix--"
"No." Ignoring the heaviness and ache of his body, Ron pushed himself into a sitting positon. "NO, that's not true! You know it can't be true, because Sirius was innocent and... twelve years... and Harry was going to live with him soon, after they proved he was innocent. It isn't true!" Suddenly aware that his limbs still worked, he swung his legs to the side of the bed and tried to stand. He had to find Harry.
Dumbledore stopped him with a surprisingly strong hand. "Lie down, Ron." He paused. "Harry is sleeping upstairs, and there's nothing you can do for him right now."
Ron obeyed him numbly. Something uncomfortably like tears was stinging his eyes, but he disregarded it. Dumbledore relaxed once more in his chair - or maybe he was slumped. "But Professor," said Ron, blinking and looking up at the ceiling. "Harry..." He didn't know what else to say.
"Harry will need you even more than before. But right now, your injuries need to heal, and both of you need rest."
Ron fidgeted uncomfortably with a loose thread. "It isn't fair," he mumbled. He felt like a whiny child when he said it, but everything about Sirius' death came down to that. What other way was there to say it?
"The truth isn't always what we want to hear," said Dumbledore quietly. "Nor is it always right, or fair. We've spent all year trying to convince people that something terrible was true." Dumbledore rose and touched Ron's shoulder. "There is no way that any of you could have saved Sirius, in the end. And there is no way in which you could have been a better friend to Harry... Not just last night, but all year." Dumbledore was silent for a moment, as if he wanted to make sure that Ron understood him. "Try to rest now, and get some sleep." Dumbledore tapped the glass by his bed. "I will allow Harry to visit in the morning."
Ron's head felt even heavier than before as he allowed it to sink down into his pillow. He kept his eyes on the ceiling even after he heard the door shut softly behind Dumbledore. Everything had been for nothing. Sirius had died for nothing. No... they had gone to save Sirius. Even if he wasn't there, it hadn't been for nothing. And instead, Sirius died to save them. That hadn't been for nothing.
But it was needless - all of it.
He started when he heard a small sound to his left. Turning his head slightly and wincing with the pain, he realized that Hermione was lying in the bed next to his. She lay on her side with her back to him, but Ron could tell that she was finally awake because her body shook slightly with restrained sobs.
"Hermione?" he whispered. If she was crying, then she must have heard everything, or most of it. "Hermione?"
"Ron..." Her voice was weak and shaky, and she did not turn to face him. "Ron, I don't want it to be true. I'll find a Time-Turner or something in a book... because Sirius should be alive."
"In second year, when we were studying for one of our Potions exams, I remember reading about something. Maybe--maybe we can find it again, and..." She trailed off, and Ron heard another sob.
Ron turned in his bed and stretched out his long arm, his fingertips just touching Hermione's back. "Turn around, Hermione."
For a minute, she didn't move, and Ron wondered if she had fallen asleep or lapsed back into unconsciousness. Then she rolled onto her back and clutched her side with one hand.
"How were you hurt?" he asked.
She turned her head and looked at him. Her eyes were swollen, her face tear-stained. "I don't know," she said. "But it feels like everything inside me is broken." She looked away again. "Literally and figuratively," she added. "What happened to you?"
"Someone hit me," he replied, speaking slowly as he tried to remember. "He hit me in the face, and then I fell onto something, then onto the floor. And after that, it's blank. Then I had a dream about floating in space, and a brain..." In spite of himself, he gave a mirthless laugh. "I don't know what happened to my arms."
"I'm glad you're ok," she said. She turned carefully onto her side, facing him this time, laying her hands under her cheek.
"How long have you been awake?" he asked.
"Madam Pomfrey woke me up, and then I just lay quietly, listening to Dumbledore... to everything about Sirius..." She bit her lip. "I wish we could see Harry. He's all alone, and I don't even want to imagine how he feels."
Ron reached over again and fumbled for one of the hands under her cheek. He didn't care if she thought he was silly. His mum used to hold them when they were sick or upset, and this seemed like a good alternative. She put her hand in his, and he was surprised at how small it felt.
"At least everyone will know the truth now," she sighed. "I don't think I want to know it anymore. It's only going to get worse, you know. And who will be next? Dumbledore? Professor Lupin? Harry?" She paused. "You?"
"I'm not going anywhere," he said resolutely. "Neither is Harry. And neither are you. No one we --"
"No one we know or care about?" she finished. "Harry lost Sirius. You almost lost your father... you might even have lost Ginny. Ron, people are going to die, and some of them will be our friends or our family." More tears slipped down her cheeks. "This isn't over..."
Ron released her hand and turned in his bed to get the glass of water on his table. He knew what Madam Pomfrey had added to it. "Here, drink this," he said to Hermione, holding the glass out to her.
"Thanks," Hermione said with a sniffle. She took a few sips, then offered to return the glass.
"Just finish it," said Ron, forcing a grin. "You think I want to drink after you?"
"Honestly," she said, but he saw that she smiled before she emptied the glass. She gave it back to him, then settled her head back down into her pillow. "Honestly, Ron, sometimes you..." She trailed off, then her eyelids drifted closed. Seconds later, her deep, steady breathing told him that Madam Pomfrey's sleeping draught had done its job.
Ron set the glass back on his table and lay on his back, staring at the ceiling for what seemed like hours.