The concept of the afterlife was rather lacking in the wizarding world. Unlike muggles, wizards did not have any form of religion. The closest thing to it that they had came in the form of traditions and cultural celebrations such as Yule or All Hallows’ Eve.
Magical beings had never needed faith because unlike muggles, they were perfectly capable of answering the questions that usually created religion, such as “What happens after death?”
So Ronald Weasley was quite surprised when, after dying due to a concealed Anti-Intruder jinx while investigating a suspected Dark Wizard’s house, he did not wake up to the faces of Fred Weasley and his long-dead ancestors. He did not even wake as a ghost, which would have been unexpected but still less surprising than what ended up happening.
He was sitting on a lone flimsy chair in the middle of a large room. Above his head hung an enormous crystal chandelier whose light illuminated the elevated desk in front of Ron, where three figures were sitting. Behind them stood a towering statue of Death with a scythe in his hands and a grim at its side.
Ron’s gaze trailed down the statue and fastened itself on the three figures looking down at him from behind their long desk.
On the left was a short, rotund man with red skin, horns protruding from his forehead and two comically small bat wings coming out of his back. On the right was a pale-skinned humanoid whose sex Ron could not determine, with golden hair, large white feathered wings and a halo of light around its head. Neither the figure on the right nor the one on the left were magical creatures that Ron recognized.
In the centre, between the two, was… was…
“You-Know-Who…” Ron whispered, his face bloodless.
The Dark Lord was in front of Ron, looking just as he had in life. Hairless, with unnaturally white skin and red eyes with pupils shaped like slits. The man was staring down at Ron with malevolent glee.
The horned man to You-Know-Who’s left was the first to speak:
“A magical being?” He readjusted his glasses, peering down at Ron. “This is a mistake. We only deal with ordinary souls.”
“It is not possible,” the being on the right agreed, frowning at Ron. “Mistakes cannot happen.”
“Then there must be a reason.” This time, it had been He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named who had spoken, voice high and cold. He hadn’t taken his eyes off Ron even for an instant.
Ron was paralyzed with fear, wishing desperately to escape that piercing gaze.
“It must be because I am the first wizard serving as a judge here,” Voldemort continued. “This soul must be here for me…”
“... to judge.”
Trying to not be obvious, Ron looked around the room, seeking the nearest exit.
There were none to be found.
The walls were made of wood and contained no doors. The floor was covered in a burgundy carpet and held no trap door leading downwards. As for the ceiling, the only thing of interest what the massive painting depicting a battle between monstrous figures from a place full of fire and winged people with halos of light around their heads and shining wings.
No matter how hard he looked, there was no way to escape.
His arm twitched. He could feel his wand holster, strapped to his upper arm. And inside the holster was his wand.
He had a choice. Either he fired a spell at the Dark Lord, or he Apparated to seek reinforcements.
The two creatures sitting on either side of You-Know-Who were complete unknowns, so fleeing was the safest option. Additionally, Ron couldn’t detect and Anti-Apparition Jinx on the area, which was a surprising oversight for someone as paranoid as the Dark Lord. It would be best to take advantage of that.
Ron took a deep breath once he had his wand in hand, shut his jaw tight to avoid biting his tongue off in case something went wrong, and then he Apparated.
He was aiming for a street right in front of his home, but it became rapidly obvious that wouldn’t work.
The Apparition had failed.
Luckily, Ron wasn’t spread across the room in bloody chunks, the usual result of a failed Apparition. Instead, he remained in his seat, as if he hadn’t tried to leave in the first place.
Somehow, even though he hadn’t made any obvious movements, You-Know-who and his companions had noticed and where now all staring at him. The Dark Lord didn’t seem particularly surprised, but the one with the fair hair was affronted.
“No one leaves the seat without being judged!” hissed the winged being.
Ron wasn’t impressed. Compared to Voldemort, the winged person wasn’t very intimidating.
“D’you have any idea who that is?!” Ron exclaimed, gesturing at You-Know-Who, incredulous that these creatures would follow a man with such a bad reputation. The Dark Lord had been dead for a decade, his movement was done and all of his followers had been hunted down by the Ministry. So how could he be alive and have allies Ron had never heard about?
“It’s...?” Ron continued, failing to find the right words. “How…? Why am I…?” There were too many questions in his mind, fighting to be asked.
What was this place? Was it the world of the dead? If so, why was it not what he had been told to expect? Why was You-Know-Who here? If this was not the Underworld, did it mean Voldemort was alive despite being killed at the Battle of Hogwarts? And if this place was the realm of the dead, then why was Ron faced with the Dark Lord and two unknown creatures instead of his loved ones? And why couldn’t he leave this room despite there being no Anti-Apparition Jinx in place? And why did the mere thought of standing from his seat leave him exhausted, as if a spell was sapping his strength to flee? Who were the two figures at You-Know-Who’s side? And what did the one on the right mean by saying Ron had to be judged? What—
“It might be best if I handle this one alone,” the Dark Lord told his companions, smiling unctuously.
Ron gagged. “He’s You-Know-Who!” he exclaimed, hoping the two unnamed people would… what, save him? Explain what was happening? “What is he doing here?! Why—”
“Quiet!” the red-skinned man ordered, waving his hand at Ron.
The gesture must have been part of some wandless spell, because it made Ron's mouth disappear, leaving a blank stretch of skin where his lips should be.
Ron tried opening his mouth and felt the skin stretch as his jaws moved. Making sound was possible, but it was muffled.
Meanwhile, the person with white wings addressed Voldemort:
"All souls must be judged by at least one demon and one angel. We cannot leave the decision to you alone."
Ron scratched at the skin where his mouth should be, trying to windlessly annul the spell silencing him. At the same time, he kept an ear out, listening to the conversation happening in front of him. He was still utterly confused, but more importantly, terrified to be faced with the nightmarish man responsible for the civil war that had killed so many witches and wizards.
He needed to know what was going on. He needed to know why You-Know-Who was there. He needed to know because he was confused and he hated it.
"That rule only applies to non-magical souls," Voldemort responded without a hint of hesitation. "I was never judged by both an angel and a demon."
That was the second time the terms 'angel' and 'demon' had been mentioned. It was most likely the species name of the two creatures by You-Know-Who's side. Ron had vague memories of Hermione once comparing someone to an angel in a complimentary tone, but that was the extent of his knowledge.
As for the talk of souls, that had him convinced that he had indeed died. So either the wizarding population had been completely wrong about the world of the dead or something had gone very wrong when Ron had died. He was inclined to believe the latter, mostly because the words of the three people in front of him gave the impression that they usually dealt with muggle souls and not wizarding ones. Ron wasn't sure if muggles shared an afterlife with wizards and witches, but if they did not... then it appeared that Ron was sitting on a chair meant for muggle souls only.
Ron was... dead.
The thought was sobering. His wife would be devastated by his loss. They'd been together for a decade and loved one another deeply. Hermione would have to put her career on hold to take care of Rose, though hopefully she wouldn't suffer financially with him gone. Ron's parents would be even worse, having dealt very poorly with Fred's death during the war. Losing another child might be too much for them to bear.
Ron's siblings would handle it well. They were strong and would be able to push past the pain.
But Harry... he'd probably have more trouble. He was Ron's best friend, and the bond they shared was strong. After all the people Harry had lost due to Voldemort's actions, after all the nightmares of death and suffering, Harry might not handle this well, though luckily he'd have plenty of friends and family to support him.
Ron's train of thought was interrupted by Voldemort, who was still talking to the creature with white wings:
"Which means you don't need to judge this one," You-Know-Who continued.
Ron was disturbed to notice how soft the man's expression became. Even worse, the fair-haired creature to You-Know-Who's right seemed to believe the charade.
"You've worked hard today," the Dark Lord went on, "so how about you take a break and let me deal with this one?"
"Say no more." This time, the speaker was the horned man with scarlet skin. He rose from his seat, shutting the folder on the desk and stuffing it in a small black bag. "I'll be back for the next legitimate soul." And with those words, he left in a puff of dark smoke.
With him gone, the spell silencing Ron disappeared. The moment his mouth came back, he opened it widely, frantically touching his lips to ensure whatever transfiguration had been used had not left a mark.
The one to Voldemort's right, with the pale hair and feathered wings, visibly hesitated and looked at Ron.
As for Ron, he tried his best to non-verbally communicate how little he wished to be left alone with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Unfortunately, his pleading expression had little effect; the winged humanoid gave Voldemort one last look and disappeared in a flash of light.
The ensuing silence was heavy.
Voldemort's polite façade had vanished the moment the last witness left. His head turned towards Ron, lips twisted in a cruel smirk.
"Now what have we here...?"
The way the Dark Lord pronounced those words, the tone of gleeful victory, made Ron's heart sink with the certainty that he was about to become acquainted with the depths of Voldemort's cruelty.
"I'd been hoping for that Longbottom brat, who killed my snake," said Voldemort in his high, cold voice, "or maybe Harry Potter himself. But I suppose you could be a good appetiser."
Those words were all the evidence Ron needed.
"You did this." Ron's eyes were hard and his mind was racing. His failed Apparition suggested that magic didn't work in this room, so while he had his hand on his wand, he was also ready for a physical fight if it came down to it. "You... You tore my soul from its rightful place and sent me to the muggle afterlife."
Voldemort smiled, and it was terrifying. "And here I thought your pet mudblood was the intellectual of your group."
"You call her that, but you're a halfblood yourself!" Ron straightened his back, made bold by the fact that You-Know-Who had yet to torture him, might not be able to use magic in this room either. "The truth of your heritage was leaked a few weeks after you died, you know. That killed the support of a lot of your remaining Death Eaters. I guess no one likes a lying git, right?"
The Dark Lord's face spasmed. He raised an arm and pointed a long, pale finger at Ron:
Whatever magic keeping him trapped in his seat continued to operate as his body jerked with violent convulsions. One sharp movement had his head hitting the back of his chair so hard that a loud bang was heard, though his helpless screams drowned it out.
He was shrieking like a mad animal. It was the kind of noise only heard in the most painful situations where agony made one forget to keep their voice down.
Every part of him was on fire and no matter how much he tried, he couldn't escape.
It was Voldemort's favourite method of torture.
After what felt like an eternity, the pain left. Ron slumped in his seat, face covered in sweat.
It seemed that even death and the lack of a physical body could not stop that spell from hurting.
Ron was too tired to do much. He remained in place, eyes fluttering as he panted for breath.
"You know nothing of me, foolish boy," said Voldemort, voice low and threatening. "I dedicated years to my cause. I made all of the most ancient bloodlines follow in my footsteps. I conquered death itself, and my shattered soul allowed me control over my destiny beyond my grave."
"I could have chosen to go to Paradise, you know? With my abilities, I'd be its ruler soon enough. But I chose to come here because I want to make every one of you brats pay for daring to oppose me." A laugh. "Pity Dumbledore died before me, or I would have had him at my mercy too."
Ron coughed. The sound was wet, and he could taste iron in his mouth.
"What did you do?" he asked, voice raspy from screaming.
There was a small pause. Ron mustered up the strength to shift his head enough to see the Dark Lord. The man had a look of such self-satisfaction on his face that Ron could feel his hopes fading with the knowledge that whatever plan for revenge Voldemort had, it had already succeeded.
He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named smirked at Ron.
"Every time one of my enemies dies, I will pull them from an afterlife surrounded by loved ones and place them in your seat. Then I will judge them and send them straight to Hell."
I'm not going to see Fred again, Ron realised, or Professor Lupin.
"H-Hell?" he repeated shakily.
Voldemort's expression turned patronizing.
"After death, muggle souls are judged. Paradise is a reward for the good and Hell is a punishment for the bad." His red eyes seemed to shine in the bright light of the room. "And you are the first of many that I am sending to Hell." Voldemort's smile widened. "You cannot imagine how eager I am for Harry Potter to die, for him to realize he'll never meet his parents. No matter how long he lives, he cannot escape his fate. My revenge is inevitable."
Ron's face was chalk white. Even the left-over stiffness of his body after the pain of the Crucio could not distract him.
Suddenly, the faces of Ron's family and friends were flitting through his mind. Every one of them.
Oh no! What about Rose?
His daughter was born after Voldemort's time, but Ron wouldn't put it past the man to take revenge on her too just because her father had opposed the Dark Lord's ideology and helped bring his reign to an end.
"Y-You can't!" Ron protested. His mind raced through possibilities, ways to stop You-Know-Who, but he couldn't think of anything. Panic had made him forget everything he learned during Auror training on how to handle criminals.
The only thing he could think about was his daughter. Dear, sweet Rose. His only child, though he'd talked with his wife about trying for another soon.
"I can't?" Voldemort repeated, amused. "We shall see."
He cleared his throat.
"I, judge of the Underworld, do sentence one Ronald Weasley to an eternity in Hell."
And with those words, the floor beneath Ron's feet disappeared. His chair moved on its own, tilting forward and sending him plunging into a hole with distant shades of blazing red at the bottom.
His body still weak from the after-effects of the Crucio, Ron could not hold on to the chair.
He fell, plummeting into the depths below.