“So it was all a...an act?”
He’d been expecting her for some time. It
had been in her face as she looked from Harry to him to Voldemort; questions
transmuting to certainties in an instant. Hope and horror and relief and anger
had flickered across her face like pale butterflies of emotion sweeping through
the air between them, before she focused her formidable mind on the matter at
He had known the storm was coming. Both he
and Harry had known that she’d want to know why. Both he and Harry had known
that the answers they had for her were vastly inadequate to explain the
yearlong limbo in which they’d left her.
Had there been another option? Maybe. But Dumbledore had insisted that the game play out
this way, for reasons that Ron still couldn’t believe.
This checkmate of wizardry was nothing but
one more game, albeit one with higher stakes.
However, even in games, there were
casualties. Some things could not be taken back, some wrongs could not be
righted, and some actions were unforgivable and always would be.
Ron closed the clasps on his old, battered
suitcase, pulling his wand and setting a Locking Charm on it before he turned
to look at her. She was standing in the old pose; hands on her hips, her hair
as brown and bushy as ever, eyes flashing with anger and hurt.
“Yes,” he said, firmly. “It was all an
“The fight in the Great
“All that yelling, night
“And the sulking?”
“Yes.” He could see the betrayal in her
eyes, a liquid salt that shimmered over the edges of her lashes, threatening to spill down over her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Her fists clenched by her sides,
and he was suddenly reminded of her slapping Malfoy in their third year. Would
she slap him? He wondered. If it would make her feel better, then he’d let her
take her best shot. “You think that ‘sorry’ is going to...” Her voice cracked,
and the tears dripped down her cheeks, trailing glassy brightness even in the
light of the boys’ dorm fire. “For the last six months, I’ve...I’ve cried
nearly every night because of you-- because you and Harry-- And you - neither
of you - told me! You didn’t think you could trust me--”
The words spilled from him without thought.
“You’re one to talk about trust.” Then he bit his lip and turned away.
Between them, the air froze, and he could
feel her eyes upon him. “What exactly does that mean?”
Anger was good - better than tears, anyway.
If he could keep her angry at him...
“I spent six months worming my way into
V...Vold...”He forced himself to say the word: mere syllables. “Voldemort.” It was a triumph he had no time to savour. “Voldemort’s good graces. Six months where the only people
who would talk to me were Harry and Dumbledore - neither of them in public. And
d’you know why?” He turned to face the mingled anger
and horror in her eyes with his own anguish. “Because not one of the
people I trusted to know me actually did.”
It had hurt. Merlin’s beard, it had hurt.
There were nights when he couldn’t sleep for the knowledge that everyone he’d
cared about, everyone he loved, thought he was a traitor for the words he and
As if seven years meant nothing.
As if he wasn’t worth anything.
Ron laughed, and heard his own bitter ache
in the sound. “Let me tell you about trust, Hermione. I trusted a friend
to know that I wouldn’t give up on my best mate so easily. I trusted this
friend to know me better after six years. I thought I could trust her to see
what was going on.” He snorted. “Guess what? I was wrong.”
The horror dawning on her face was almost
comical, but satisfying in some small way. “But you couldn’t just expect
me to know!”
“Why not?” He demanded. “You know everything else.” He waved a hand at the
walls around them. “Spells and curses and facts and figures, people and...and what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling! You’re a
bloody know-it-all, Hermione! Tell me why I shouldn’t expect you to know
She’d gone red in the face, the otherwise
pretty features convulsing into frustration. “Because I don’t
know everything!” Her voice was a screech, her anger was a brand, but
Ron’s own frustration with everything that had been and gone was equal to hers.
“Because I didn’t know what to think! Harry needed
me!” It was a plea for understanding, for his acceptance that she hadn’t looked
beyond Harry because, hey, Harry was the hero, after all. “Harry needed me
there when you’d gone--”
Ron’s hands clenched by
his side. It was always Harry. It would always be
Harry. And something in him would always accept that, helpless and hopeless; and
something in him would always reject that, raging against being ‘just’ the
But all he gave her was a bitter smile.
“Yes. Harry needed you there. That explains everything.” He turned back to his
suitcase, and pulled out his wand, casting the Feather-Light charm on the
“He had to defeat Voldemort! There was
nobody else who could!”
“Yes,” Ron said. “He did. And he did defeat
the D... Voldemort.” Dumbledore said the habits he had
learned in the last six months would have to be unlearned, painstakingly and
slowly. It would take time, the old wizard said, and it would not be without
pain; but Ron would get through it.
He turned back to the girl - young woman,
now - who faced him, fierce as his mum could be. He’d loved her as much as his
adolescent heart could, and tried to give her what clumsy affection he was
capable of giving. Yet he’d misjudged her belief in him so badly it shook him.
“Dumbledore once told Harry that it was our
choices that made us who we are,” he said. “I made my choice, Hermione, just as
you made yours.” The shrug hurt in its nonchalance, but he had to walk away
from her now or risk always being the sidekick.
Besides, Harry needed him.
And that was the crux of it, wasn’t it?
Harry needed Ron in one way and Hermione in another and their loyalties ran to
him first before they ever touched the other.
Chess was a game for two,
and two only. There was no room for a third party.
What was love but another kind of chess?
Heart against heart, with every move watched and the hidden secrets of the
other player only decipherable when many moves had been made and the pattern
Ah, but in love, it should be that both
players were winners. In chess, there was only the one winner.
Ron Weasley looked at Hermione Granger and
wished he could reach out to her. All it would take was one step; one small
step and so much would vanish between them. But he couldn’t afford that step.
He couldn’t, because his journey had only just started and he had a long road
down which to go.
“And that’s it?” Her voice became shrill.
“That’s it? You just walk away and...and...that’s all?”
“What did you expect, then?” Ron demanded,
angrily, exasperated with her stubbornness. “What do you think happens next?”
He waved a hand at the stones of the tower around them. “Do you think it ends
with a happily ever after? That I forgive and forget those six months when
everyone I knew didn’t know me? Pretend that I can look at anyone I used to
know and wonder when they’ll desert me again?”
“I thought you’d at least have enough
courage to keep fighting!” Hermione snapped, cheeks flushing with anger. “Not
run away with your tail between your legs!”
He narrowed his eyes at her, “Who says I’m
He ignored her pointed glance at the suitcase,
and waited for her retort. The days when he would answer her unspoken questions
were gone. “It looks like that’s what you’re doing.”
In answer, he rolled up his sleeve,
revealing the ignominy of the Dark Mark that Voldemort had inscribed into his
flesh. Voldemort’s creature, branded like the way they branded cattle. “In case
you haven’t noticed,” he said, his voice as cold as
winter ice, “appearances have deceived you before.”
She paled at the proof of his service, and
he squashed the anger and shame at her expression and turned to cast another
Feather-Light charm on the suitcase. Then he picked it up, his fingers gripping
the handle with a force so hard it hurt, and brushed past her on his way to the
There was nothing more to be said or done
The tears in her voice stopped him in his
tracks, froze him where he stood as nothing else she had said this evening had.
But he did no more than that, afraid she might see the
tears in his own eyes.
“What?” He was curt with her because he had
to be. Where he was going, in what he was going to do, he could not afford what
he felt for her. But he wanted-- He wanted--
“I missed you.”
He wasn’t sure he would have turned for
The suitcase dropped from his fingers as
his arms were suddenly full of crying Hermione Granger. She was warm and close
and her hair smelled of cinnamon. Ron tightened his arms around her,
involuntarily, only half-hearing the words she sobbed into his shoulder.
For once, he knew why she was crying -
she’d always cried for the weirdest reasons - but he had a feeling that if he’d
been the crying type, he might have been crying, too.
He had no idea how long they stood there in
the late afternoon, but the shadows had lengthened when she lifted her head
from his shoulder.
“I missed you, too,” he said quietly,
brushing back a damp strand of hair from her face. He’d never been good with
all the romantic stuff - and she understood that much at least, because she
smiled at his words, even through her tears.
“But you’re still going.”
“I have to.”
Ron shrugged, wishing he could tell her -
wishing he knew himself. “I just have to.” She wasn’t going to move out of his
way, he could see that, and he tried to move past her, but she stepped into his
“Where are you going?”
It was a measure of how much had changed
that she didn’t tell him all the reasons why he shouldn’t, she didn’t try to
talk him out of it.
Hurt flared in her eyes. “You can’t tell
“I can’t,” Ron repeated. “I don’t know
He saw the moment her eyes changed - her
goal changed. “Let me come with you.” It was more like a demand than a request.
“Look, you did...you did...that - those last six months - alone,” she
said in the tone of voice that meant she was trying to be reasonable - for her.
“You’re in no condition to go out into the world by yourself.” She paused. “You
haven’t even finished school!”
He couldn’t help the snort. It was almost
reassuring to know that if Hermione had learned when not to try to argue a
person into submission, she was still in the habit of organising other people’s
It was also heartbreaking to know that, as
much as he wanted to take her with him, he couldn’t. She didn’t belong in the
world he now inhabited. She might want to go where he was going, but she’d
never be able to keep up.
This wasn’t her fight, it was Ron’s. And he
had to do it alone.
So he used a weapon he knew would work. The
one person that stood between them and always would - not in love, but in
“You said it yourself earlier,” he said.
His words fell quietly into her desperate eagerness. “Harry needs you here.”
Harry needed someone to be his right-hand,
to organise what he led. That someone would be Hermione.
He hated to do this to her, hated the
bitterness that fell over her face as she realised what their friend had cost
them - and always would. Harry needed them, and his need was such that they
would never have enough for each other - a painful knowledge and one that Ron
had struggled with until acceptance finally came.
She was caught, trapped in the same way as
he, stalemated through no fault and no desire of their own.
Growing up was far more difficult than
anyone had ever said it would be.
He had to go. Now, or he never would.
But there was one more thing he had to do
now, or he never would.
Ron kissed her. Once.
Just once. He took her face between his hands and
didn’t ask her permission, just brushed his lips across hers. There was a
moment when surprise stiffened her body, and then she kissed him back, her
fingers digging into his arms, forbidding him retreat.
She was cinnamon and lemon sherbet,
tingling on his tongue. She was quiet evenings by the fire and the blustering
wind in his face as he flew through the air, the pleasure of friendship’s
experiences and the anger of friendship’s trials. She was the calm cool of
intellect and the intense ardour of emotion, and he would have been more than
happy to stand here before the door of his bedroom in Hogwarts forever, holding
her, kissing her.
But no piece in chess could be allowed to
remain still. The pieces had to move forward, had to advance, or they were of
no use to the player.
He had to go. Much as he hated it, he had
He broke away from her, eluding her, and
grabbed for his suitcase, determined to leave before she gave him any reason to
“Ron--” She caught at his arm. “Please--”
There were tears in her eyes - he saw that
much before his own sight blurred helplessly. His fingers briefly caressed her
cheek, loving and tender, then he turned and took his
bags and clattered down the stairs and out of Hogwarts.
- fin -