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the last son

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The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches,
born to a family who has thrice defied him,
born as the third month dawns.
And the Dark Lord will mark him as an equal
but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not.
And either must die at the hand of the other
for neither can live while the other survives.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord
will be born as the third month dawns... 

Ronald Weasley was born, sixth of seven children, on March 1 1980. His little sister, Ginevra, was born in August of the next year. He had never known his uncles, Gideon and Fabian Prewett, who had died opposing the rising tide of pureblood fanatics while a young Molly had still been in school. 

Ron's eldest brother, William, called Bill, started Hogwarts in September 1981 under the shadow of war. While Bill ate pumpkin pasties in the Great Hall that Halloween, Tom Riddle, called Voldemort, murdered Arthur and Molly Weasley in their own home. He failed to hurt their youngest son, except for the lightning scar that Ron would carry for the rest of his life. Molly and Arthur left behind seven children. 

In this world, James and Lily Potter did not die on October 31st in Godric's Hollow under the broken safety of a friend's betrayal. They were rarely at home, in those months before the war ended. Harry spent his first year of life in Order bases, babysat by those not out on mission-- Arabella Figg, squib; Mad-Eye Moody, nursing a broken leg; Remus Lupin resting between stints undercover. 

James and Lily did not go into hiding. Peter Pettigrew did not betray their confidences and lead the Dark Lord to their home, but he did whisper secrets and strategies. The Death Eaters ambushed a recon party Peter had compromised and, trying to get the rest of his team out, James took an Avada Kedavra to the chest. 

James lived a few weeks less than he would have, if he had died instead on Halloween on the floor of his own home. But Lily limped home from that battle, her arm around Sirius's shoulders, his around hers, both of them holding each other up. When they reached the Order headquarters, she pushed past condolences and shock and strategic meetings, all the way to where Harry was napping in a back room under Mrs. Figg's anxious eye. Sirius went to tell Remus, and Lily sat at the foot of Harry's bed and cried. 

After the war, after the Weasleys had been buried, and the champagne had been drunk, and the newspapers had announced the end of their terror, Lily took her son and went back to her closed-up home in Godric's Hollow. She unboarded the windows and swept the floors. Sirius changed the dusty sheets on every bed and they both bullied Remus into napping on the couch with Harry while the two of them did the work. 

Lily slept in her bed alone, except for nights when Harry had bad dreams. Charms had been one of her best subjects in school, and she had used and used it in the long days of the war. Curses and hexes came easy to her tongue. She practiced conjuring butterfly lights for Harry, who reached after them on wobbly legs. When the Ministry reached out to Order veterans, she signed up for the Auror program, Sirius on her heels. 

The six youngest Weasley children were bundled up and sent to the nearest relative, a Prewett cousin with a wife and two small children of his own. Charlie, ten, saw the pinched panic around their eyes as the six redheads walked, wobbled, or were carried through the front door into their three-bedroom house. He made sure to linger when Mrs. Prewett changed Ginny's diapers and helped Ron with potty training, so he would know how when they sent them away. Fred and George, four years old, taught their cousins the swear words Mother had always tried not to say in front of them. 

The first set of Prewett cousins lasted until Bill came home for the summer. Ginny was bigger now, waving grasping hands and saying sparse words and cackling whenever Fred and George did anything clever. They passed them on to another house of Prewetts, with a damningly and temporarily white couch and a library they weren't supposed to go into. Charlie taught Bill how to do diapers. Fred and George made goofily horrified faces to convince Ron and Ginny to swallow down their broccoli. 

They bounced from home to home-- always Molly's family, never Arthur's, whose mother had been disowned for marrying a blood traitor. Charlie went to school next, and Percy stepped into the responsibilities he and Bill had left behind them. Ginny got into scuffles with cousins who tugged her hair and called her missy. Ron got his first chess lesson from a great-uncle they lived with for three quiet weeks. 

When Charlie and Bill could get Professor McGonagall's permission, they Flooed home on the weekends to teach their brothers and sister to fly in the yard behind the clean little house with its pristine couch, in the weedy one behind their great-uncle's cramped little home in magical Oxford, or in the acres of rolling pasture behind their spinster aunt's home out in the country. 

For the year and a half they lived with their squib accountant cousin and his Muggle wife out in Chesterford, they had to sneak far out afield to find someplace safe to fly. 

Fred and George got very into Sunday morning Muggle cartoons. Bill stood beside the couch, watching figures move on screen, and thought about how much his dad would have loved that. Bill didn't say anything, though, because Charlie was old enough to remember himself, and Ron was staring happily at the screen like he didn't know he'd once had a father who had wondered about the telephones and televisions and microwaves they all knew now how to use. 

Percy went to Hogwarts next. He gave shrill, stern, panicked instructions to Fred and George for the weeks before he and Bill and Charlie left. He cornered them one last time on Platform 9 3/4, the train whistles shrieking in the background. 

Bill and Charlie were jogging around with Ron and Ginny on their respective shoulders, playing Spot-the-Wizards-Among-the-Muggles. "There, an owl!" shouted Ginny. "Found one!" 

"Look at that one's hat," Ron said, but Charlie said, "Nah, kiddo, I think that's just fashion. Remember Aunt Jenny's shawl?" 

Looming over the twins narrowly, Percy continued, "And Ginny won't eat--"

"Her greens," said Fred. "We know." 

"So you gotta hide them places," said George.

"Or make funny faces," said Fred. "But it's so hard for you, Perce, you already look funny just as you are." 

"You need to take this seriously," Percy squeaked, hugging his folded set of hand-me-down robes to his chest. 

Charlie came over, swinging Ginny down to the ground, where Fred took her small hand absently. "You just keep an eye on them, okay? It's gonna be fine. Cousin Stew seems nice enough." Cousin Stew was, but he only lasted four months. Cousin Agnes, who came after, was nice enough, even if she did insist on table manners for everyone.  

Percy sent anxious letters home full of questions and checkups. Charlie got some extra pocket money, working for Hagrid on the grounds, and sent home every sweet he could buy from Hogsmeade. 

When Bill was seventeen he graduated from his last year at Hogwarts and then he took his siblings back to the Burrow. Ron was seven years old, and Ginny six. 

They unboarded the windows and swept out the dust, scoured the rusted pots back to shining. (Well, not quite shining.) Bill and Charlie were the only ones who could vaguely remember whose room had been whose, but they just let the others run up and down stairs and claim the ones they liked best, and then they ironed out the squabbles that resulted. 

Ginny took the room at the top of the house, right below the lonely old ghoul in the attics. Ron chose a ground floor bedroom whose windows were nearly swallowed by vines and flowers. Charlie fried up eggs in their mother's kitchen for their first breakfast. 

Fred and George were discovering all the interesting corners of the house and Bill was having a hard time swallowing his eggs, because his little brothers were discovering, but when he had walked through these creaky old doors it had felt like coming home. He ate as many mouthfuls of egg as he could handle, and then he dragged them all out to the broomshed to see what had survived. 

The other shed outside the Burrow had been their father's, filled with Muggle junk or treasures. Boarded up like the rest of the house, it had been left there for years. Mice had gotten to some of their father's notebooks, and mold to a few secondhand Muggle textbooks, but the old Ford Anglia had been hidden under a tarp and a dozen stasis spells. 

Ginny liked to hide out there. She'd open one of the car doors and climb inside, going through the papers abandoned in its glove compartment, the years-old hard candies there. The bulky owner's manual was there, too, but it would be years before she would do more than just doodle on its pages. 

In a couple years, Fred and George would head off to Hogwarts, too, and Ron would run after the train, waving, while Bill held Ginny (who was getting too big for this) up on his shoulders so she could see. They were waiting, impatient, these two last Weasleys, to go to Hogwarts, too. Bill reached out for Ron's hand, and then they all headed home.

In this world, there was another little boy waiting impatiently for a Hogwarts letter to come. Harry knew there was magic in his world. He would never live in a cupboard under any stairs.

In this world, Sirius would never call Harry 'James.'  Sirius changed his diapers. When Lily took Harry to 'bring your kid to work' day Sirius let him tumble into the giant fountain and soak himself to his gleeful bones. 

Sirius listened patiently through six year old Harry's obsession with broom manufacturing, and his seven year old obsession with dinosaurs. Lily and Remus bought Harry Muggle books on stegosauruses and pterodactyls. Sirius read them with him on the ugly, garish rug he had bought James and Lily once as a joke, and which they had kept just to torment him.

James had hated cornflakes, and Harry loved them, especially if he could drown them in chocolate milk. Harry's hair was always messy, not because he mussed it for show, but because as a child he'd fallen into the habit of tugging on it while he was thinking. He loved to fly just as much as his father had, and Sirius taught him how in the big yard behind the Godric's Hollow house.

Sirius called Harry 'kiddo,' 'little monster,' 'sauerkraut,' 'boppet.' He called him 'Harry.' He never called him 'James.' 

Lily brought her work home, boxes and papers and scrying spells all spread out over the old Potter heirloom of a dining room table. Most nights she brought her Auror partner, too, and Sirius bounced Harry on his knee while they poured over open case files and complained about coworkers. 

They had started with filing broom speeding tickets and other people's paperwork, before they had gotten their first robbery, their first curse, their first murder, their first Dark wizard to hunt down and capture. 

Now, between arson investigations and tracking down the Lestranges, they dug up the cold case of Peter Pettigrew, terrorist, fugitive, and read through it in their off-hours like a bedtime story.

The Ministry didn't like werewolves, but that didn't make this any less Remus's fight. He slunk through Lily's back door, bones stark under his exhausted skin, and told his friends what he had found. They made him drink hot tea and eat vegetables and get some sleep in a soft, safe bed, but they didn't stop Remus when he went out again. 

Lily didn't believe in hiding things from the children. Harry grew up knowing his father had died scared, and brave, and well. "Lily," James had said. "Take the others and go. I'll try to hold them off." Harry knew that sometimes his uncles sat with carrot soup and whiskey and talked about Peter until late in the night. 

Harry grew up knowing that sometimes the people who love you betray you, and that sometimes they stick around and teach your kid how to brush his teeth and how to tie his shoes and how to fly. 

Neither Harry nor Ron had to ask anyone where Platform 9 3/4 was, when it finally became their year to go. Hermione didn't, either, because she came two hours early with several explanatory theories in mind and then watched the area between platforms 9 and 10 with a cat-eyed intensity that made Professor McGonagall, elsewhere, suddenly and confusedly brim full of pride. 

Harry suffered a hug from Remus, a hair ruffle from Sirius, and a "don't do anything I wouldn't do" from his mother, and then he ran for the platform wall, cart rattling before him. The snowy owl they'd gotten him hooted softly in protest. Harry had named her Ororo after the Muggle comic books his mother had introduced him to. Lily took Harry to the comic store every time he sat through a whole visit with his aunt, uncle, and cousin and didn't kick anybody unless they kicked him first. 

Bill tried to wipe some dirt off a dodging Ron's nose. Ginny complained loudly about being left behind. Fred and George ran off to see Lee Jordan's spider. People watched the Weasleys from all directions--they were hard to miss--and Ron's shoulders slowly rose up and up to his reddening ears. He missed the big empty orchards behind the Burrow already. 

Ron was one of the last people on the train. He slid past staring eyes and finally stepped himself into an almost unoccupied compartment-- there was just one small boy tucked in there. He had messy dark hair, slightly askew round glasses, and a comic book held up in front of his nose. 

"Is it okay if I sit here?" said Ron. "Everywhere else is full." 

Ron had a skinny little lightning-shaped scar he kept hidden under longish red bangs. Harry still caught sight of it, but people had all his life stopped his mother in grocery stores and bookshops to ask about his father. Lily was beautiful, striking, a good Auror and a war hero and a widow. They asked about that last thing and his mother went so so still. 

"You ever heard of the X-Men?" Harry asked instead and Ron put his bag down uncertainly. 

"My family stayed with a squib cousin of ours for awhile," said Ron. "He does money things for Muggles. You ever seen a cartoon? They say Muggles don't have moving pictures, but they do." 

"At my cousin's sometimes," said Harry, patting the seat next to him. "But the cartoons really aren't worth the company." 

"Wow," said Ron. "Your cousin must be terrible." 

"You have no idea," said Harry. 

"Corned beef," said Ron sadly, once they had read through Harry's comic together and agreed on their mutual undying love for Rogue. He put his unwrapped sandwich in his lap. "It's--fine. There's a lot of us. But Bill always forgets I hate corned beef." 

"Want to share?" said Harry. His uncle Sirius wasn't here to disapprove, so he'd come back from the trolley cart with his hands overflowing with sweets. "Hey, do you collect Chocolate Frogs?" 

The Weasleys had been living off other peoples' generosities and Ron's Dark-Wizard-killing bounty for years. When Ginny went off to Hogwarts the next year, Bill would start looking for a job more regular than the occasional freelancing writing assignments he'd do for the Prophet or the Quibbler. Maybe archival work at Gringotts, or accounting at the Owl Emporium-- Bill'd scored high in Arithmancy. Charlie had graduated, but he was looking into staying on as assistant Gamekeeper and unofficial TA for Care of Magical Creatures. 

When Draco Malfoy glanced over Ron on the Hogwarts staircase, he still sniffed, "Red hair, handmedown clothes, freckles. You must be a Weasley." 

Harry pushed the hair off his unblemished forehead and said, "Oh, yeah, Malfoy? But do you know which one?"

"He's in books!" Hermione piped up from behind them, and Ron, bright crimson, shushed everyone. 

He was the sixth of the Weasleys to be Sorted Gryffindor. The Great Hall had gone hushed just a little for each of his brothers' last names called out, but for Ron it was like a breeze had blown all the noise out of Hall and then shoved it back in little whirls and eddies of whispered murmurs. "The Boy Who Lived!" "I didn't know he was in this year." The Muggleborns looked around, flabbergasted, until someone explained why everyone was staring at the lanky ginger kid who slunk over to a crowd of redheads at the Gryffindor table. 

When Draco Malfoy stole Neville's Rememberall, Ron's new friend Harry jumped on a broom. When they overheard that Hermione was crying in the bathrooms and didn't know about the troll, Harry went off after her and Ron followed. They were eleven years old and already he could tell this friendship was going to be lifelong, illuminating, and exhausting.

They called Ron 'the Boy Who Lived' and he thought that covered it, rather-- he had survived, once. He hadn't done anything but not die. Charlie was taking over Care of Magical Creatures and taming random wild creatures in the Forest. There was Bill--Head Boy, freelance writer, tamer of tantrums, legal guardian of six; and Percy, who followed all the rules; and Fred and George and Ginny, who excelled at breaking them-- and then there was Ron. 

Ron, who hadn't died, once upon a time. Yippee, him. His parents had died in front of him, and he couldn't even remember his mother's voice. He could play a mean game of chess, and reach things on high shelves. Harry got on the school Quidditch team, the youngest Seeker in his century, and Lily bought him a Nimbus 2000. 

Bill took up knitting, full of idle hands now that he only had Ginny to look after. (The trick with Ginny was to give her a broom; you'd get hours and hours free to scrub floors and do laundry and nap under the apple trees, except for the constant nagging fear that she'd fall off the thing and die.) Between Bill's commissions and Charlie's wages, they managed to scrape together enough to give each kid their favorite candies and a few comic books, all packed together with the lumpy socks Bill had been able to create. 

By Easter Bill was on to sweaters-- he liked knitting. It reminded him some of the careful patternwork of spellbreaking he'd started learning in his last year at Hogwarts. There was a program with the Ministry, meant for curse breaking and tomb investigations. One of Bill's favorite classmates, who'd gone on to do the program, sent him postcards from Egypt and Bill pinned them up in the kitchen. He tried to figure out how to do designs on the sweaters, rather than just one solid color. 

While Bill cleaned up scrapes on Ginny's knobbly nine-year-old knees, Ron, Hermione, and Harry held court in the Gryffindor Common Room. Harry squirmed in his comfy armchair and said, "If Voldemort is making a try for the Stone--" 

"Call him You-Know-Who," Ron interrupted. 

Lily's son was about the spout the same "fear of a name" speeches he'd heard around the breakfast table all his life, but Ron was pale, his freckles standing out as stark as the scar that peeked from behind his bangs. Harry had lost a father to a war that had haunted his childhood, but Ron had nightmares about flashes of green and high cackles. 

"Okay," said Harry. "But if He's making a try--"

"Then I guess we stop him," Ron said, and scrubbed his hands through his hair. 

"We need a plan," said Hermione. 

Hermione got them through the Devil's Snare, with some shouted help from Ron. Harry grabbed the broom in the keys room. When they faced McGonagall's giant chessmen, Ron used a trick his great-uncle had taught him, but that ended up with Harry having to be the one who went down to earn the checkmate. 

Harry stood on a stained white tile, sweat beading on his temples, fists balled. "Do it," he said. "Then you go, and you stop him. C'mon Ron." He was thinking of his father. Ron was thinking about how he wasn't sure which room had been his, as a baby, and so he wasn't sure where in the house his parents had died, trying to save him. 

Hermione got Ron through the potions riddle, and then he stepped through the fire. The Mirror showed him flashes of Head Boy badges, of red hair, faces from the photos Bill put up on the walls, of Harry strong and smiling and not left crumpled on the chessboard floor, of Ron left crumpled on the chessboard floor-- but Ron was a strategist. He could decide what he desired. He could want what he needed more than what he wanted. 

The Stone thunked quietly down in his pocket. Quirrell reached out and Molly's love reached up and out and killed him. 

Ron woke in the infirmary, to tables filled with sweets, a toilet seat from Fred and George, and Dumbledore's little crescent moon glasses. He was sore and so tired. He had wanted to come to Hogwarts so badly, and here he was. 

But then they let Harry, bandaged and beaming, and Hermione, flushed and frizzy-haired, into the infirmary. Ron scooted himself up. He had candy to share with his friends, and things were alright, even if it did look like Hermione had brought him a few armfuls of missed homework and class notes to go over. 

When they went to pick up books at Flourish and Blotts that next year, Bill almost got into a fistfight with Lucius Malfoy in the stacks. Bill was twenty-two and he had held Ginny's hand all the way down the bright, bustling street. 

In the muffled warmth of that book shop, Bill snapped things about elitist pricks. Charlie reminded Lucius that his lot had lost the war, and to someone whose butt Charlie had grown up wiping. Ron pulled away from the conflict to go look at spellbooks on the other side of the store. Lucius got away with a bruised cheek and one small, battered diary slipped inside Ginny's Transfiguration textbook. 

Away from the Burrow's sheltering shed and cramped halls, Ginny grew quiet and easily startled. Charlie gave her candy and Percy made sure she wore her sweaters. Bill had made her a big, bright blue one for her to grow into. Its sleeves cascaded over her hands and it had an uneven G on its chest in cheerful yellow. 

After the Dueling Club disaster, Fred and George tried to get Ron to teach them curse words in Parseltongue. Ron slowly walked them through how to hiss out "I am a buttface," and they went around gleefully repeating it for weeks. 

The brothers worried about Ginny, but then the students started getting petrified. Ron started hearing hissing voices. Their youngest was quiet, paling beneath her freckles, but there were bigger things here to pay attention to than Ginny's new shynesses. 

There were whispers in the pipes and in the halls and Ron tried to ignore them all. He wanted to steal some earmuffs from Professor Sprout's mandrake garden and read Quidditch Through The Ages again. 

But then Hermione got petrified, and Ron found the scrap of paper clenched in her frozen fist. Writing went up red on the walls-- Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever. When Tom Riddle had realized he had snatched up Ron Weasley's little sister, he had laughed himself silly and gleeful in those binding pages. 

Harry and Ron got Lockhart. They found the passage in Myrtle's bathroom. They went down, down, down. When the rockfall happened, during the scuffle with Gilderoy, Ron found Harry was walled behind stones when the dust settled. Ron went on into the Chamber alone, his broken wand left somewhere in the clutter of stone and snakeskin. 

Ginny was sprawled on the cold Chamber floor, moldy water sinking into her robes. The wavery shape of Riddle was standing over her and all Ron could think about was the faceless queen standing over Harry on that chessboard. All he could do was wonder what his mother had looked like, sprawled before his cradle, Lord Voldemort standing thin and faceless and cold above her. 

When Riddle spoke, Ron shivered and shivered. There was no wand to steal, but Riddle called the basilisk and Fawkes came for Ron. He pulled the sword from the Hat and, in the shaking speed of the moment, didn't have time to wonder what he'd done to deserve that hilt in his hand. 

He wondered, after, when Ginny was warm and dry, when Dumbledore was reopening the school. The House of the brave? He did not feel brave, but he wasn't kind, he wasn't clever, he wasn't driven, so maybe this was just the best the Hat could do. 

But the Great Hall was warm, the plates on the table overflowing. Hermione woke up and as she worried about their canceled exams she pulled at her hair the same way Harry did when he worried about the Harpies' Quidditch scores. 

Ron spent most of the summer in the apple orchard behind the Burrow, reading the comics Harry had lent him. Ginny went out to their father's old shed. She spent the first few days curled up in the Ford Anglia, doors shut and windows rolled down just a little for air and only because she had to. 

Ginny paged through the car's user manual, wrinkling her nose over words she didn't know, and then she pulled Arthur's notebooks down from the shelves, the textbooks, and guides, and scribbled-on napkins. She opened up the car hood, tied back her hair, and tried to match the schematics to the cold, grease-stained metal that was laid out under her two small hands. 

In their third year, Ron and Harry signed up for Muggle Studies instead of Divination-- with Ron's cousin and Harry's mom, they both figured it for an easy class. They did their final projects on comics (Harry) and Sunday morning cartoons (Ron). Hermione did hers on basic circuit board design. 

Sirius had registered himself as an Animagus years ago, and registered Peter's rat form, too. The only big shaggy black dog Ron knew didn't lurk emaciated in forests-- he had napped out on Lily's back porch during sunny afternoons when Ron had come to visit in the summer. Hermione, who was in Divination as well, muttered contemptuously to Ron and Harry over their desks in Muggle Studies about Trewlawney predicting long dark buried periods in Dean Thomas's life. 

If Ron had been in Divination that year, Trelawney wouldn't have warned the Chosen One about the Grim. She would have warned the Grim. While Ron, with Bill's signature on his permission form, joined Harry and Hermione in sampling the delights of Honeydukes in Hogsmeade, the Aurors Sirius Black and Lily Potter finally found the trail of the fugitive Peter Pettigrew. 

While Hermione poured over notes on Buckbeak's appeal, Lily and Sirius tracked Peter to Albania, then Lithuania, then Wales. While Harry, Hermione, and each of the Weasleys unwrapped the Christmas packages Remus had packed and mailed on Lily's behalf, Sirius filed the needed forms in Brussels while Lily argued protocol with international wizarding peacekeepers. Hermione walked out of Divination sometime around Easter. Harry caught the Snitch in the match against Hufflepuff, and his mother and uncle poured over annotated maps in a seedy motel room. "We're close," said Lily. 

There were no dementors in Hogwarts that year. The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was a bookish lady named Agatha Warrington, who would take ill and retire at the end of the year. The Potions teacher, Professor Greene, was a friendly fellow who liked to organize Quidditch scrimmages for the students on weekend. Remus investigated shadier circles, parallel to Lily and Sirius, sending them what he could find and checking on the Godric's Hollow house now and then. 

"Killing me won't bring James back," Peter squeaked when they found him. It was the same squeak, though more than a decade older, that Peter had used when they teased him about his crush on Professor McGonagall, or when Remus had surprised him with a cupcake on his birthday, or when he'd forgotten to do his reading and got called on in Potions class. 

"It won't," said Lily. "And James wouldn't want you dead, especially not at our hands. But we're not here for James," she said, and it was as much of a truth as she could make it after twelve years of missing her husband. "By the authority of the Department of Magical Justice, you're under arrest." 

Peter went to Azkaban. Lily and Sirius went home. Remus made sure to have hot soup waiting, and alcohol for after that, and the last of the Marauders stayed up late into the night toasting the memory of friends lost. 

That next summer, Lily and Sirius got tickets to the Quidditch World Cup through the Ministry. They supplemented with a few more tickets bought out of pocket, and then they invited the whole Weasley clan to come along. Sirius was very excited about Ireland, so Remus and Lily made sure to wear scarves and face-paint in Bulgarian black and red and grin at his glower over the breakfast table. 

The Weasleys had camped out in the Godric's Hollow house's living room and spare bedrooms. Hermione and Ginny had taken the little loft at the top of the house where Harry had used to play-pretend he was a spaceman, as a child. Bill asked the Potter family about their favorite colors for sweaters. Percy did all their dishes and Charlie burned toast for breakfast. 

When Death Eaters came to march at the Cup, Remus, Bill, and Charlie rounded up the kids while Sirius and Lily drew their wands and went out to do their jobs. Harry watched them go, swallowing hard. Two more cloaks were lost in the chaos of fear and running feet. 

Harry's mother had sat him down once, when he was young, and told him that she loved her job because it meant she could help people, but that it also meant that one day she might not come home. "And if I ever don't come home," she had told him. "I want you to be proud of me, the way we're proud of your father. And I want you to never, ever doubt that I love you." 

And Harry had promised, and so he followed Remus through the crowd, back to the Portkey, and went home. When his mother and Sirius got back hours later, Harry was waiting up with hot cocoa warm on the stove. 

Harry wondered sometimes if Ron was proud of his parents, or if he just missed them. Harry was proud of his father, but he also couldn't remember him. His uncles told stories about James, and Lily told stories about James, and Harry listened and listened. 

Beauxbatons and Durmstrang came to Hogwarts, and so did the Triwizard Cup. Ron did not put his name in the Goblet of Fire, but it came out of it anyway, fluttering down int Dumbledore's hand. Ron stayed seated at the table until Professor McGonagall came over to sternly collect him. "But I didn't put my name in," he said. "This is nonsense. I haven't even finished my pudding, c'mon." 

"I didn't put my name in," Ron told Dumbledore, in the room with the other champions. "I didn't put my name in," he told Harry and Hermione when he got back to the Common Room. 

"Duh," said Harry. "This whole thing sounds exhausting. Why would anyone?" 

After that, Ron mostly ignored the comments. The people who he needed to believe him did. And Fred and George were jealous, and that was kind of fun. 

Hagrid told Madame Maxine about the dragons, and she told Fleur. Karkaroff told Krum. Charlie told Ron, and Ron did not pass it on to Cedric. He practiced spells with Hermione and Harry in empty classroom and woke up from nervous dreams three times the night before the task. 

"It's just a game," he told himself. "You can play games." 

Unprepared, Cedric scored low on the first trial. When Ron hopped on his Summoned broom, he got a glimpse of Bill and Charlie cheering in the audience. 

Before the second task, Krum pulled Ron aside in the Great Hall to tell him to open the golden egg under water. "You are the only one who does not know," Krum said, frowning so hard his eyebrows met in the middle. "The game must be--fair." 

Ron stomped through the Common Room later that night, heading up to the dorms and only pausing to stop by Hermione's cushy armchair and hiss, "I don't need your boyfriend's pity." 

She turned bright red, but did her best to gaze at him stonily over her textbook. "Are you sure?" 

Using Krum's advice, Ron figured out he'd have something precious stolen into the Lake, but that didn't help him much with the whole breathing underwater thing. With some nudges from Mad-Eye, Neville came to the rescue with his hands full of gillyweed. 

Percy had taken time off from the Ministry, and Bill from his archiving, and Charlie had walked over from the castle. Bill and Charlie watched the water while Percy scolded the twins for taking bets. 

When the first champion, Fleur, had to be pulled from the race for her safety, Bill moved closer to the water. Fleur, drenched and still inhumanly beautiful, didn't spare him a glance from where she was pressed up against the railing, knuckles white. 

"My little seester's down there," she said. 

"So's my little brother," said Bill and sometime during that long wait they found they were holding hands. 

Ron surfaced with a spluttering Harry, to be immediately smothered by Charlie, Percy, and a pile of dry towels. Bill kept holding Fleur's hand until the merpeople escorted Gabrielle Delacour to the surface and then, sopping, into her sister's arms. 

For the third task, Krum and Ron were tied for first and entered the maze together. Ron got past the sphinx's riddle, the turning paths, the curses. At the end, it was those two again, within sprinting distance of the Cup. Ron was thinking about Hermione in the stands, about Krum with his frowning eyebrows and careful accent telling him about the egg. 

"Together?" said Krum. 

"It's only fair," said Ron, and they both reached for the Cup. 

But it was not fair. They reached together. They both thudded down in the graveyard together. They spat confused curses in two different languages, and then Lucius Malfoy killed the spare. (Wormtail was in prison, and Quirrell dead, so Voldemort had turned to another of his old friends.) 

Ron crashed down on the overgrown Quidditch pitch, his hands twisted in Krum's robes, gravedirt on the soles of his shoes. "He's back," he said. "He's back." And no one listened. 

The Weasleys spent an uncertain few months in their Burrow, and Ron spent most of it out in the orchard, or holed up in the greenish light of his room. The vines over his window had grown and grown. Bill and Charlie went out, and if it was out on Order business, no one told Ron. Percy was at the Ministry, day and night, stiff when he came back for the rare supper. 

The orchard was over a rise, a stone's throw from the Burrow's highest windows. Ron practiced with his broom, sometimes with his siblings and sometimes alone. He was out there with just Ginny the day the dementors came for him. 

Ron went down. His hands and knees let go of the broom shaft. The apple trees vanished. The blue sky flickered out. 

"Molly!" said a voice. The voice was Harry's uncle Sirius's age. It was male, and breathless, and certain. "Molly, take the kids and go. He's coming. He's here. I'll hold him off as long as I can." 

Ron woke up to blazing silver light. He woke reluctantly. The sky was blue, though it paled in comparison to the silver boar that streamed from Bill's wand and the formless silver that came from Percy's. Ginny was sweat-soaked, clutching the broom she'd used to fetch their oldest brother. 

"This was nonsense, keeping him out here," Charlie was saying in the kitchen when they made it back inside. Ron's legs were jelly, and Ginny's weren't much better, and maybe even worse. 

Bill sat down heavily at the kitchen table. "We'll go stay with the Order," he said. "I don't care what Dumbledore says about keeping him out of it."

"Safety first," Charlie said grimly. 

Percy sagged down at the table next to Bill. He had dropped by to grab a few changes of clothes and heard Ginny shouting when Bill did. "It's real, isn't it?" he said. "There was a dementor in our orchard." 

"You noticed?" said Fred. 

"Perce! What a feat!" said George. 

"He's back?" said Percy. "How can He be back?" He put his face in his hands. 

 

 

 

The Order headquarters was in Godric's Hollow, hidden by a Fidelus Charm they put Remus in charge of. Nymphadora Tonks, who Lily had been mentoring as a junior Auror, napped on their couch and Mad-Eye Moody refused to eat any food he hadn't prepared himself. The Weasleys showed up at their door en masse the next day. 

"I won't be in your hair much," said Percy. "The floor under my desk at work is very comfortable, with a spell or two." 

"And I've got to head back to Hogwarts, anyway," said Charlie. 

"Why don't you all come in?" said Lily. "We've been setting up tents in the backyard to deal with overflow."

Hermione had not written back and forth with Viktor Krum all summer, as she might have in a different world. She had written Viktor's mother and father, and told them she had had the very great honor of getting to know their child. She had wished them well and she had told them sorry. 

Ron found her crying in the little room at the top of the Godric's Hollow house. "I wasn't going to marry him or anything," Hermione told him. "You know, he wasn't exactly my type. But he was nice. I've never known anyone before who died."

Ron wrapped an arm awkwardly around her shoulders and she leaned into it, sniffling. "He was nice," he offered haltingly. "He, y'know, told me about the egg, in the second task." 

"I didn't ask him to," she said. "I know you thought I did. But he just cared about good sportsmanship." She sniffled, harder, and he pat at the bush of her hair. 

Harry and Hermione got prefect badges in the mail that year, and Ron glowered at his thin envelope. "You break way more rules than me," he told Harry and Harry, uncertain, apologized. 

When Hermione dragged them all out to the Hog's Head to start the DA, she talked about everything the Boy Who Lived had done and survived. "Ron will be our teacher," she said, but when they were in the Room of Requirement it was Harry who stepped up to correct people's Stupefy. 

Spells came easily to Ron, more or less, and he found them hard to explain-- so he demonstrated, but Harry gave inspiring speeches and adjusted the Patil twins' wand grips. Hermione explained the theory and intent while Anthony Goldstein took careful notes and Cho leaned on Cedric's shoulder. 

Fred and George pulled their Map out to help check the corridors for lurkers before leaving the Room. Harry caught sight of it and almost laughed aloud. "So that's where that got to! Uncle Remus and Uncle Sirius said they'd lost that thing at school." 

"Wait, what," said Fred. 

"Are you saying," said George. 

"Your uncles are the Marauders?" Fred squeezed the Map to his chest. "The creators of the Map? The troublemakers whose footsteps we trek behind? The massless mentors who have shaped us into the mischief makers we are today?" 

"My dad was Prongs," said Harry, leaning over to peer at Map. "And Remus is Moony, and Sirius is Padfoot, and Wormtail's, uh, in Azkaban, but." 

"We've eaten breakfast with Mr.'s Moony and Padfoot," Fred said. "George, you told Padfoot his hair was weird." 

"Can we send them a fruit basket?" said George. 

"Can we marry them?" said Fred. 

"They're sort of already taken," said Harry apologetically. "But they like fruit baskets." 

Arthur Weasley was not around to be guarding the Department of Mysteries, but the Boy Who Lived still dreamed of a giant snake tearing into a father figure not his own. Ron woke in a cold sweat and the first thing he did was wake Harry. "I think something's happened to Sirius. We've got to get McGonagall, come on." 

They waited in the hospital halls-- Lily and Remus holding hands, Hermione and Harry and Ron standing close, Charlie fetching everyone terrible hot tea in dinky little paper cups. Harry fell asleep with his head in his mother's lap. 

They held Christmas that year at Godric's Hollow, which was still under the Fidelus Charm held safe in Remus's hands. All seven Weasleys came, and Hermione, and those in the Order who had nowhere else to go. Harry got up early to help make the sticky rolls his mother and uncles made in this little kitchen every Christmas morning. They had to make a few more batches, this time around. 

When Remus rolled Sirius into the house on a wheelchair, pale but healing, the room rose up with a cheer. Once the well-wishing had died down a little, Fred and George tiptoed over to try to get him and Remus to sign the Map. Remus blinked and Lily giggled herself silly. 

"You, too," said Fred. "Right there. Just sign Mrs. Prongs, yeah, perfect." 

Back at school, things got worse. Umbridge dropped more and more rules on their heads. She banned Harry, George, and Fred from the Quidditch team. She fired Trelawney and Charlie, too. The second eldest Weasley retired to Godric's Hollow to help with the Order instead. The Inquisitor's Squad stalked the halls, smirking. When Marietta betrayed them, Cho cried herself quiet in Cedric's arms. Hermione's hair grew more and more frazzled, as did Harry's, both of them sitting at the Gryffindor table and tugging it through their twisting fingers. 

Ron had known Fred and George were planning something. They had a way about them, always had. When the glances between them earned a certain smug, excited quality, their siblings had always known to start keeping a closer eye on their belongings. These warning sign had preceded such adventures as the apple trees in the orchard sprouting purple, jasmine-scented fruit for a year, Ginny's dolls performing impromptu Shakespeare all over the kitchen table, or every piece of furniture in Percy's room shrinking down to mouse-size. 

When the first firework went off inside the stone walls, Ginny threw her head back, red hair cascading down her back, and grinned up at her brothers' sparking, whirling work. Fireworks shot or spiraled or cartwheeled through the rooms and halls and children spilled out of the classrooms. 

When Fred and George streaked away on their re-appropriated brooms, the whole castle rose up with a cheer. Before they vanished, the twins paused in thin air, eye-to-eye with a grinning, bobbing Peeves. George squared up his shoulders and Fred raised his chin, both looking solemn among the sparkling explosions and whistling noises. 

"Give her hell for us," said Fred. 

The fireworks lasted for weeks. Smiling vaguely, McGonagall called Dolores Umbridge in to handle every sparking device that rolled into her room as though she couldn't disable them herself with just a wordless flick of her wand. Ron had never before seen her quite so proud of her House. 

Ron's bad dreams kept coming. Some were bad memories, or good ones twisted. Some were snippets and sights through Voldemort's ugly eyes, and he shivered and shook upon waking. 

He woke up sweat-soaked from a dream that had dragged him through halls he thought he recognized-- from visiting Harry's mom at work and passing by the Department of Mysteries. "They're kind of weird, in there," Lily had confided, rolling her eyes with an Auror's superiority. 

Like there were hooks in his gut, like there were cold hands around his wrists, the dream had dragged him from those halls further in-- to darkness and turning halls, to shelved rows of glimmering, shimmering, whispering globes. And there, in the milky half-light, Voldemort had been standing with his wand out, Crucio on his lips, and there, in the dark puddle of the floor--

"Fred," Ron gasped, shaking Harry awake. "He's got Fred." 

They made it past Umbridge, the centaurs; to the thestrals and across the skies-- Harry and Hermione and Ron; Ginny and Neville and Luna. They made it into the Ministry, into the Mysteries, and down to the stretch of floor Ron had seen. It was empty, ringed by shadows. Fred wasn't there. 

And then the shadows started to fill-- Lucius Malfoy,the Azkaban escapees Bellatrix Black and Severus Snape. Death Eater robes whispered along the floor. The kids ran. They snapped Stupefys and shielding spells behind them. Ginny twisted an ankle. Luna took a laceration across her arm. Harry took a Confunding Hex to the back and Ron dragged him along. 

They made it to the room with the archway, the veils whispering in its maw. The Order came to their rescue-- Sirius and Remus, Lily and Tonks, Bill and Charlie and Percy, Fred and George. 

Fred died laughing, because if you couldn't find a way to laugh in the middle of war, what was the point? When Fred and George had first started talking about the joke shop, Sirius and Remus had grinned and lent them seed money. "We'll need that, more than ever, in times like what's coming," Remus had said.

Fred died laughing. Percy had snarled something clever and vicious in the wake of a curse, and Fred had laughed, and Bellatrix had hit him with an Avada Kedavra in the back. Fred died smiling. He died laughing. Remus held George back and the Death Eaters vanished. 

Lily and Remus had been campaigning all year for the Ministry to accept Voldemort's return. Now, with blood in their own halls, they believed them. 

There was no body to bury, because the veils had taken Fred. Ron spent the summer in the apple orchard again. Sometimes he flew, or read, but mostly he sat. Ginny hid out in the shed and took the car apart piece by piece. 

Bill scrubbed the kitchen floor, the counters, the pots and pans. At work, Percy turned in reports full of typos and clumsy inaccuracies and blinked vaguely through the scoldings. Charlie headed back to Hogwarts early and got to work tearing up the hedges and planting new ones. 

George went back to the joke shop on Diagon Alley. Its windows were papered over and its walls half-painted. The first thing they'd done was set up their lab on the second floor. There was so much more room there than there ever had been in the little lab bench they had squashed into their bedroom at home. They had been so excited about the things they would make. 

The summer passed by slowly, but it passed. The days grew shorter, and colder. Ron and Ginny boarded the train back to school. 

That year, Lavender asked Ron to be her Won-Won, but he was spending half his nights getting terrifying, unclear Horcrux bedtime stories from Dumbledore, and the other half out at Charlie's cabin with Ginny, and sometimes Harry and Hermione, too. Ginny had borrowed loads of Harry's comics over the summer, read them at night after she washed the grease off her hands, and now she and Harry were locked in a fierce battle over the ethics of Professor X and Magneto. 

Slughorn invited Ron to Slug Club parties, but he invited Harry and Hermione too-- Lily Potter's son was flying through Potions with a textbook-aided ingenuity that baffled. Hermione was the brightest witch of her age, and Slughorn knew it. 

Lily giggled when they told her over Christmas. "Oh, yes, the old Slug," she said. "Well, the free food is excellent, so enjoy that." 

They might never have figured out who the Half Blood Prince was, except Harry noticed the dates on the textbook, took it home for that holiday break, and asked his mother. 

Lily was too young, by Harry's reckoning, to have grey hairs but they streaked the red at her temples. When they visited her sister, Aunt Petunia always sniffed, "Doesn't your kind have--ways--to cover that sort of thing up, Lily?" 

Lily opened the potions textbook, brushing her fingers over the bold title scrawled in the name plate and the scribbled notes that marked the pages. "We figured this one out together," she said, stopping on the page for a shrinking potion. "Three counterclockwise turns... And they add the legumes far too late in the process..." 

"Mum? You knew the Prince?"

"I'd forgotten about that silly nickname," she said. "Yes, I knew him. Or I thought I did. Or... yes, I knew him. When we were young, Severus was my best friend." 

Her voice was soft and tired. Harry shifted in his seat, uncertain. "What happened?" 

"A Death Eater killed him," she said finally. "Someone petty, and jealous, and hurting so bad. He killed my friend. Or something like that." She passed a hand over her face and then smiled at him. "Have I showed you Star Wars, yet? No? Oh, come on then, son of mine. Let's wrangle up your uncles. This is part of your heritage." 

When Harry asked Ginny out to Hogsmeade for a butterbeer, it wasn't Ron who first made protective noises. Bill sent a warning letter with a welcoming new Weasley sweater. Charlie took him on a friendly, meandering walk through the Forbidden Forest, commenting on all the places where silly boys might get lost and die. George mailed Ginny a box of the joke shop's scarier merchandise with a note that read 'just in case.' Percy was about to take a half day off to come have a stern lunch with Harry when Ginny penned a firm Howler to each of them. 

FIRST, it began, IT WAS JUST A BUTTERBEER. SECOND, BACK OFF. THIRD, IF YOU THINK I NEED OTHER PEOPLE TO FRIGHTEN MY BOYFRIENDS, MAY I REMIND YOU--

Percy did not come down. Bill sent her an apology scarf. 

At the end of that year, Dumbledore took the Chosen One out with him to find the locket Horcrux, or what Dumbledore thought would be the locket. Ron followed, asking dubious questions the whole way that never got satisfactorily answered. 

Ron wasn't sure how he was supposed to fight a war without all the information. He wondered, later, if this was meant as a demonstration-- to show the Boy Who Lived that sometimes the best thing you can do is die. 

Draco's hand shook and shook on his wand, in the cold heights of that Astronomy Tower. There was no one to save him from the promises he had made. There was no one to step in and get the blood on their hands that Draco had sworn he would spill. He shook and shook-- sixteen and scared, more friendless than he had ever realized. 

There was a promise boiling in his blood. He thought of his mother and the threats that hung over her life. Dumbledore smiled at him calmly and told him it was alright. "Avada kedavra," said Draco, trying so hard to hate this smiling man and his crescent moon spectacles, his politics and his Mudblood sympathies. Draco's wand sparked weakly. 

The Death Eaters gathered jeered and taunted. Dumbledore was an old proud figure in the dark there, one hand blackened, smile kind. Ron was trapped below, frozen, furious. "It doesn't have to be me you hate," said Dumbledore. 

Draco thought about his mother. He thought about his home, overtaken, and his father's pale, proud face. He thought about Voldemort's smirk, lounging at the head of the dining table in Malfoy Manor. 

Draco had built forts hung with good bedsheets under that table. He had gone on eight-year-old epic explorations in the basement under the manor, and this Christmas he'd heard such blood-curdling noises rising up from those old haunts. He had heard his mother crying in her dressing room, even if she looked perfect when she came down to the breakfast table to kiss him on the cheek. 

"Avada kedavra," he said and with a flash of terrible green Albus Dumbledore was dead.

Ron did not chase after Draco, full of rage and grief. He was a strategist. He had a war to fight. He was a brother, and Charlie was in those halls, conjuring protective shields. Ginny was in those halls, slinging curses. He drew his wand and joined the fight until every Death Eater had run for the boundary and Apparated away. 

They buried Dumbledore. Hermione cried into Ron's shoulder, and that flabbergasted him still. She was the scariest girl he knew, and had been since she was eleven years old, conjuring flames on evil professors without a blink. She was the strongest person he'd ever met, including Bill, including Harry, including even Professor McGonagall, and he didn't know how she did it-- how Hermione felt so much and just kept going. 

She scared him and she worried him and she amazed him and she made him feel safe. Ron tightened an arm around her shoulders and pressed his face into her hair. If Hermione could cry and still be brave, maybe he could, too. 

Fleur was already showing at the wedding that summer. On her, pregnancy looked like the finest fashion choice. She was luminescent and Bill beamed wide enough that, between them, they lit up the whole space. 

They got married amid the stirring beginnings of a war. Bill became a father during the heights and darknesses of that struggle, and it did not feel odd to him, to mix that joy with that fear and that sorrow. He had been making sweaters for years in the warm, worn chairs of a house that kept losing and loving and living and moving on. 

Fleur and Bill named their baby Arthur, and called him Art or Arty. He had a full head of red hair and he spent the first few months of his life out in Shell Cottage, away from the war. Fleur babbled at him in French, and Bill told him the stories about tombs in Egypt and Tunisia and the Yucatan Peninsula that he'd gathered through years of postcards. 

Ron had to face down every one of his brothers before he and Harry and Hermione left to chase Horcruxes. Percy went shrill and stern. Charlie and Bill, before he left for the honeymoon, teamed up, despite the fact that Charlie was out on Order missions himself more often than not. 

George was the worst. "Not you, too," he said and Ron grit his teeth and tried to care more about what he needed to do than what he wanted to do, which was to wrap his arms around his closest brother's shoulders. 

"I've got to," Ron said. "Are you really going to sit this out? How can you expect me to?" 

George sighed. "At least Ginny's going back to school," he said, and Ron didn't tell him about the strategies and contingencies plans she had been making with the rest of the DA, by owl, all summer long. She had holed up in the car shed with the Marauder's Map she'd lifted from George's desk. 

Before they left, Harry sat his mother and uncles all down at the Godric's Hollow kitchen table and told them he was going. 

"How much older were you in the last war?" Harry demanded over their overlapping protests. "I know what I'm doing, as much as you did, or more-- because you raised me. All of you. I understand what this can mean."

"It's dangerous," said Remus, but Lily was quiet and Harry knew he was winning. 

"Mum," Harry said softly. "How much older was dad, when he died?" 

"But we don't want you to die," Sirius snapped. 

Lily reached out her hands and Harry took them. She tugged him into a hug and buried her nose in his messy hair, so much like his father's. "You be as safe as you can. You do your best to come home." She pulled back and cupped his cheeks in her hands, looking in his face. People always told her that her son had her eyes, but they were so obviously his own. "But if you can't come home, know that I love you and that I am so proud of you." 

"You, too," he said, and hugged his mother close. 

"Wait here," she said, and when she came back her arms were full of sinuous cloth. She handed the Cloak to Harry and said, "Use it well." 

While Ginny and the DA laid into an interior siege at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione got the locket from Umbridge, then the cup from Gringotts. Dumbledore had already killed the ring, and Ron had buried a fang into the diary, once. They shook Polyjuice Potions from the veins and cold bank vault air from their lungs and kept searching. 

"Like Mary Poppins," Ron said when Hermione pulled yet one more oversized things from her magical purse, and she goggled. "Hey," he said. "I spent a goodly time with a Muggle cousin, remember? I didn't miss out on supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." 

"It's expialiDOcious," said Hermione and then giggled. 

But in between spurts of adventure there were a lot of cold nights-- a lot of not finding what they were looking for. They walked, and they slept, and they Apparated. Ron had never seen this much of the world, even this one small part of it, and he just wanted to go home. 

They used codenames, on Lee Jordan's radio. Some were funny, some posturing. "Call me Fred," George said over the wavery radio signal, and with that name in that voice Ron almost snapped the thing off. 

"You're clearly better at this without me," Ron said, months in and worn thin. Harry was always the hero, and Ron was always there to take the praise or blame in the aftermath. 

"Ron," Harry protested. Hermione wrung her hands, and Ron was seeing his parents' imagined bodies on the nursery floor (which room had it been? He kept wanting to ask Bill, and then chickening out). He was seeing Ginny on the Chamber floor, Riddle standing taunting above her. Harry discarded on the chessboard, hanging in the green waters of the Lake, looking dead. Krum in the graveyard, his ghost asking Ron to take his body home to his parents. 

Ron's voice couldn't decide between hissing it and shouting it and the words shook in his chest. "You're smarter and you're better and you're braver. I'm the Boy Who Lived, okay, whatever, that just means other people died for me. They die for me. You're the ones who are going to save this. You're the ones who don't have to be here and who are, anyway, and I'm-- I'm done. Okay? I'm done." 

He regretted it as soon as he'd caught his breath. He went back to where he'd left them, but they were gone. After a long week of searching, he sat down in a little village pub and laughed himself to tears over a very bad cheese sandwich. Of course he couldn't find them. As though anyone could find something Hermione was trying to keep hidden. Pride brimmed and brimmed in his chest and he wiped his face. 

It was a frozen night when he heard his name. Harry was trying to find a sword in a frozen lake and the Put-Outter was sparking in Ron's hand. They killed the locket, they found Hermione, and then they headed back to Hogwarts. 

The Death Eaters came to Hogwarts, too-- a shaking Draco and his exhausted, desperate parents; Bellatrix Black, her hair wild and her heart cruel; and Severus Snape, still gaunt even after years outside Azkaban's walls. 

Harry looked like his father, and after years of dementors leeching away every happy memory, Severus remembered James Potter's messy fall of dark hair well. 

Severus went after Harry in the Great Hall. But Lily was in that echoing space, too, and she heard Harry shout when an  Avada Kedavra  missed him by inches. 

"C'mon, little Potter," Severus said. "Let's see if you die as well as your father." 

Lily pushed through the crowd, hurling a hex at the cloaked shape looming over Harry. Severus turned around and he froze there, in that old familiar space. The Hogwarts ceiling glinted with the stars of the night sky above. Lily Evans strode toward him, her hair long and red, her eyes green and bright. She was angry, and she was living, and she was looking at him, moving closer--

"Not my son," Lily said and spat a curse. A flash of green light threw Severus to the ground. 

Lily had mourned Severus years ago. She put her back to Harry, and his to hers. Both wands raised, the Potters stepped back into the fight. 

Ron did not see Bill go down. He wasn't sure who did, or how it happened, or when-- while Harry was racing up the stairs to find the diadem? While Ron was hissing open the passage to the Chamber? While he was kissing Hermione in an ankle-deep puddle of slimy water and dropped basilisk fangs? 

Ron didn't see Bill go down, he just stepped into the Great Hall and found him there, laid out and peaceful. 

It had always been easy to pick his family out of a crowd-- the hair, the sort of volume that Fred and George and Ginny had always carried with them, Charlie's big friendly smile. It was easy to pick his family out of this crowd-- the hair, the hands grasping hands grasping shoulders grasping elbows, the way George cried quiet and hard and familiarly. 

Ron thought dully, At least this time we'll have something to bury.

He stepped forward, past rushing young soldiers and the tired teachers who watched their students go by, breathless, desperate. His family-- and there was Fleur, laid out beside Bill, their hands almost touching. Her hair was long and mussed from the fight, the fall. Her face was pale. Ron tried to take another step forward. 

Closer, and he could see them better. Closer, and he could ask how, and when, and why. Closer, and he could forget how to stand up at all. 

A hand on his elbow stopped him in tracks. It was easy. He wasn't sure he was touching the ground, except everything also felt so heavy, pulling his wrists down and down. He turned and Hermione was standing there. 

Fred was gone, and Bill was dead, and Fleur, and Hermione was standing there. Her hair was untamed, as it had been every day except for a ball once upon a time. She had put her wand away. 

She had put her wand away and she was crying, and he always forgot how brave that looked on her. Hermione was crying, nose snotty and cheeks shiny, and she was going to save the world, this girl. She already had, and she was going to keep on doing it-- waving petitions in peoples' faces, and pulling things out of her magic bag like Mary Poppins, and never giving up, not even when things were impossible, not even on him. 

When she reached out, Ron folded in, burying his face in her hair and crying until he stopped. Then he pulled back and scrubbed at dirty cheeks. He still had his wand fisted in his other hand. "We have work to do," he said. "C'mon, let's--" He scrubbed at his eyes with his fist again. "Let's find Harry." 

Voldemort had already given his ultimatum-- the Boy Who Lived, for all of you. Pansy had been all for it, and then Ron had let Hogwarts defend him. 

Ron remembered Ginny's dark robes and bright hair, lying on the Chamber floor, discarded like so much refuse. Tom Riddle had been young, translucent, and he had smirked over that barely breathing body, knowing exactly who would come for her. 

Bill had cleaned all the picture frames hanging around the Burrow. He had hung up new ones, from the years spent bouncing from house to house, but he had kept up all their old ones. Their parents had danced above the mantle, Molly in gingham, and Arthur in a tux that didn't fix him. They had held hands, beamed, and waved in the polaroid tacked up in the kitchen beside Bill's postcards. Ron had heard their last words, echoing in his skull, dredged up by nightmares. He couldn't even remember seeing the way they looked, fallen, the shape of their cooling bodies on the nursery room floor. 

Which room had been the nursery, even? Which-- Bill would know, but Bill was dead. Bill was another body strewn between Ron and the end of this. Charlie would know, or Percy, maybe, but Ron wasn't going to have a chance to ask them. 

George had stopped crying, mostly, talking quietly to Ginny. Charlie was laying wards down and down around the Hall with McGonagall. Harry and Hermione were with Neville, leaning over the Marauder's Map rolled out over a bench at the Hufflepuff table, making battle plans. Ron went out through a side door and headed toward the Forest. 

The trees were tall. The wind was cold. There were things that lived out here, spiders and nightmares, but he knew where he was going. If he was frightened, it didn't matter.

Ron turned the Stone three times in his hand. Harry had the Cloak, and Hermione had won rights to the Elder Wand, disarming Draco in a skirmish-- but Dumbledore had left Ron the Stone. He turned it three times and his ghosts stepped into view. 

"Ron," Molly Weasley said, squeezing insubstantial hands together, and Ron looked at her standing there. She was plump and short, with flushed cheeks and a wand shoved through her bunned-up hair. He had seen her in a dozen pictures, beaming and scolding and napping, and he wasn't sure if this felt worse because it was just another picture, or because it wasn't.

"Hi, Mum," he said. "I'm sorry." 

"What for?" Molly said hotly, like she was Percy in a temper, and Ron almost smiled. "You haven't got anything to be sorry for, sweetheart." 

Her hair-- Arthur's, Bill's, Fred's-- it should have been red, but it was a listless silver. He could see the trees through them, the drooping pine needles and whispering leaves. Ginny could always tell Fred and George apart, but Ron never could-- except that now Fred looked so young. George had been growing and growing, outliving him, and he would go on outgrowing him forever. 

"He's alright," said Fred. "Isn't he?" And Ron nodded, because he was bad at lying aloud. 

"Take care of Art," said Bill. The earring Fleur had talked him into getting glittered in his earlobe, the brightest thing in eyesight. "You will take care of him, won't you?" 

"You named him after me?" said Arthur. "Oh goodness. Dear," he said, patting at Molly's hand. "We have a grandchild." 

"We'll take care of him," said Ron. "He's got so much family," he said and his voice broke. "They'll be there." 

"Chin up," said Fred, a little wetly. "You've got work to do, little brother." 

"We love you," said Bill. "It's going to be alright." 

But Ron knew how to care more about what he needed to do than what he wanted. He dropped the Stone, round and grey and anonymous, to the Forest floor and he moved on. 

When he reached the clearing, Ron did raise his wand. There was no old friend of his mother's to tell him about the Horcruxes, about the way Dumbledore had been raising and raising him to die. But Ron had walked out into the Forest to die for his friends, his family, and that was enough for the magic.  He raised his wand because if he could take out a few of them before he went, all the better. 

Ron shot out an Avada Kedavra with all he had in him, but Voldemort's hit first, and the Boy Who Lived fell down dead. 

When Ron opened his eyes, the clearing was empty. The trees, which had been towering and grasping and dark, were peaceful. The Death Eaters were gone, Hagrid, flushed and sobbing, was gone. Starlight dripped down through the leaves. The shadows of the Forest circled round and round him, calm, all-encompassing. There was something twisted and bloody, tucked in the curve of some old roots across the leaf-strewn ground. 

A Killing Curse must kill something, said a voice. But there were two lives in you. That is a piece of Tom Riddle's soul. 

Wind ran through the branches and it wasn't cold. "This is a weird dream," said Ron. "Am I dead?"

Not yet.

He blinked and he was standing in Ginny's shed. It was all spare parts and clutter.  The door of the Ford Anglia was unlatched, hanging open.

You do not have to stay, said the voice, and Ron thought about that. He thought about what he wanted. 

He closed his eyes and the white queen stood over Harry, crumpled on the cold chessboard, eleven years old. 

Ron opened his eyes and it was summer behind the Burrow. Ginny was balancing a box of tools on the edge of the Ford's open hood, looking inside. He was fifteen, a Triwizard champion. She was thirteen, bare years away from the cold sludgy water of the Chamber floor. She startled at the noise of his step behind her and the tool box fell, shining wrenches going bouncing and banging all over the dirty floor. 

He squeezed his eyes shut again. The sound reverberated through his skull, clashing and clinging, metal on metal on wood. His heart beat in his ears. 

Ron wanted to lie down and sleep forever. He was done losing brothers. He was done watching Hermione cry. He didn't want to see that ever again. Hermione looked so brave, even when she cried, especially when she cried, and he wanted to run away to some place where no one had to be brave. 

What did he want? Ginny was fierce and terrible, but she was so scared when there was no one looking, and so Ron didn't look. Harry had hung, bloated, in the cold water under the Lake, and it had been a game, just a game, Ron knew how to play games. George had cried out, Ron had reached out, when Fred fell softly backward through that archway into whispering veils. Ron had reached out, and now he could catch him, catch up to a fate he'd been chasing for years. 

You do not have to stay.

But Hermione was going to save the world.  Harry was going to tug at his already messy hair on late nights, studying to be an Auror like his mother, his uncle, and he was going to help people. George was going to torment a whole new generation of Hogwarts teachers with the trinkets and tricks he'd sell to the schoolchildren. Charlie would burn pot roasts for dinners, years and years of them, and Percy, muttering, would fix them all as best he could. 

Hermione was going to save the world, and Ron wanted to be there to see it. 

They were going to lose things they had wanted to keep. He never wanted to see Hermione cry again, but he would, because he wanted to hear her correct his spelling, and to see her roll her eyes and to call giant old tomes "some light bedtime reading." 

He wanted to hear about all of the hazings Lily would gleefully concoct for Harry when he joined the Aurors. He wanted to teach Bill's kid how to play wizard's chess, and to see Charlie go back to school, and to argue with Ginny about comics.  He wanted to know what Hermione looked like in the morning, sleep-mussed and soft, smiling. 

Ron opened his eyes. He was laying cheek-down in cold, rotting leaves in a clearing filled with Death Eaters. 

Voldemort sent his newest recruit to check that Ron was dead-- not Narcissa, but her son. Draco had killed Albus Dumbledore. He had lived in the back of Voldemort's entourage for months, laughing when he was meant to and never cringing. 

Draco had been a petty child, a bully and a menace, but he had realized during those long months that he had never been a hateful one. But he had watched Voldemort walk and talk and torture for months, and he knew now what hate felt like, sitting roiling in his gut. 

Draco walked out over leaf mulch to the body strewn on the ground-- the red hair, the hand-me-down clothes, the freckles stark on a pale face. 

Ron was lying there, breathing on the other end of yet another Killing Curse.

Draco squatted down next to him. He called, "He's dead," over his shoulder in the same bored tone he'd been carrying for months.  Ron stayed very still as Draco leaned a little closer in and whispered, "Give him hell, Weasley." 

Hagrid carried his still-warm body back to the castle. Ron toppled to his feet on Hogwarts stone, gripping his wand, and the castle rose up. Statues charged at the flick of McGonagall's wand. Cho and Cedric fought back to back. Neville pulled the sword form the hat and killed the snake. Ron killed Tom Riddle and then he lowered his wand. 

They did not go home immediately. The castle was torn up, stones ripped from the earth both by its defenders and not. They buried their dead. They healed their living. They chased off the Daily Prophet's reporters and broke into Dumbledore's hidden cache of scotch. 

Charlie offered to take Arty in, but George shook his head. "I've seen you eyeing those dragonology programs," he said. "Bill spent his whole life here when you know there was so much of the world he wanted to see. You go back to school, Charlie. You've changed enough diapers." 

"I'm still changing some diapers," said Charlie, as stern as he knew how. 

George smiled. "Yeah," he said. "But I've got everything I want right here, and a spare room for a nursery. Arty's going to grow up with a home-- a lot of uncles, a lot of places he can go, but one home. Don't you know? I'm the stable, responsible business owner in this family." 

There were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, when they baby-proofed the loft above the joke shop. Percy and George argued loudly over paint swatches while Ginny helped Hermione install the Muggle-style toddler gates at stairs and doorways. At Hermione's instruction, Ron and Harry crawled on their knees all over the loft, looking for trouble they might get into as a toddling child as opposed to the self-respecting almost-twenty-somethings they were. 

It was only weeks after the Battle at Hogwarts. They went back to the Burrow, after. The apple orchard spread out behind it and the house itself stood tall, crooked, and improbable in the easy sunlight. 

Ron, Harry, and Hermione retreated to Ron's room. The light filtered in through the vines over Ron's overgrown window, dim and green. "I left the Stone in the Forest," he said. 

Hermione nodded, leaning forward with her forearms on her knees. "I'm going to put the Wand someplace safe, and hidden. I already have a wand," she said, firm. Her chin was stubborn, certain, and Ron was smiling. She said, "I don't want that one. That's not what I have magic for." 

"Well," said Harry. "I'm keeping the Cloak."

Ron and Hermione were looking at each other like they were two kids who had just survived a war they didn't expect to, so Harry got up and let himself out. 

Charlie was knocking around the kitchen, tossing out moldy fruit and stale bread. Percy flicked his wand, gathering up dust and banishing it. Ginny was nowhere to be seen. 

"Hm," said Charlie, pulling his head out of the pantry. "I'm going to pop out to town. Who feels like pot roast?"

"I'm supervising," said Percy grimly. Harry walked out past the thick knit blankets on the couch, the dusty clock on the wall, the shoes piled by the door, into sunshine.

Harry found Ginny out in the shed, already elbows-deep in the car. She smiled when she saw him, but then she bent back over the engine.  She'd tied back her hair with a grimy bandana and red curls were escaping to tickle her nose.  "Give me a torque wrench?" she said. 

"What size?" said Harry, heading toward her open toolbox. 

"The smallest, thanks." Ginny wiped at her forehead, leaving a streak of grease. "I wonder," she said and Harry turned to her.  "I bet I can get this thing to fly."