Beta read by: Violet and AmethystPhoenix, Hijja, Daily Prophet Reporting.
The nights were always cold at that time of year. The chilly air didn't spare the people who dared to go out of their houses of its imperious slashes. Leaving the heat of one's bed and the simple sense of security that the deep blankets transmitted wasn't the ideal choice, of course. The temptation to let things go their own way was strong. After all, leaving and going to the meeting place could only bring sadness and melancholy to his heart.
However, he ought to know.
From his own experience.
Everybody had told him what the situation was, but he didn't want to trust them.
It couldn't have happened.
It was impossible, and he would be the one to be right.
At last, everything would be the same as before.
The warm female body he loved so much lay near him, her chest moving in the slow rhythm of sleep. He summoned forth all of his courage, as if he had to jump off a cliff, and he let his left foot come out from under his blankets and touch the floor. The cold made him aware that it wouldn't be easy for him to get out of his bed and face it, but he had endured worse things than the cold during his life.
Much scarier was what he had seen during those years and what weighed on his thirty-year-old shoulders.
He sat on the edge of his warm mattress, being careful not to let the sleeping woman catch cold as he moved the blankets. As he silently dressed in the heaviest robes he owned, he understood he had reached a point of no return. He would go out of his house, looking for his peace … or for his damnation.
Maybe even for his death.
Everything would be in the hands of the other.
He grabbed his wand and twirled it between his fingers. He had polished it before going to sleep, as usual. He was an Auror, and he couldn't allow himself not to take care of it.
Ollivander, who had been killed by one of his own creations just after the last Hogwarts year had started, had often told him, ‘Your wand must always be in perfect condition.'
He put the object into the pocket of the heavy cloak he wore and walked to the front door. When he passed the room of his children, Albus and Minerva, he sent them a silent kiss.
Maybe he would never be back.
He went downstairs and looked longingly at every room that he passed. He was starving for details to impress in his memory so much that he could almost see in the darkness, as if he was a cat. He became aware of many things that he never noticed before.
He raised his hood and let it cover his head, decisively grabbing his front door's handle.
He stayed still, a hand on the metallic knob. Then, sighing, he turned and his gaze met his wife's. She looked sleepy but also severe and decisive as she stared at him, resting her back on the archway that welcomed people into their foyer. The maroon dressing gown she wore wasn't hers. Of course, she had awoken suddenly, and not finding him at her side, she had looked for the first clothes she could find, putting them on, and going to look for him.
‘Go back to bed, Hermione. You mustn't get a cold, you know.'
She slowly drew near him, hampered by her large belly, in which the third of the Weasleys' children was getting ready to see the world.
‘If you go … to Grimmauld Place … you know well who you'll find there.'
He gently stroked her cheek.
‘Yes. Harry Potter.'
She briskly pulled away from his caress and yelled, ‘No! You won't find Harry! You know that … the person who will be there waiting for you is … You-Know-Who.'
Alarming. She, who had been the first to not fear saying that name. Now she was an Auror like him, and the days when Aurors wouldn't call Voldemort by his name were over. It was a way to declare that they were fighting the Dark Lord; it was almost a distinction. In their specific case, however, things were different. He didn't say that name and Hermione now didn't hide her fear to do it. His brother Percy, the new Minister for Magic, had asked all the Aurors to turn a blind eye to this since they were in a peculiar position. They weren't fired from their job, but the others looked at them disdainfully. The others didn't trust them; he knew well that he and Hermione weren't told many secrets and that everybody thought they would never fight the Dark Lord.
They were right, of course.
Hermione would never do that because she was too scared after what had happened to Neville Longbottom. He, Ron, would never do it either because….
Hermione began to sob, and Ron stared at her anxiously.
‘Honey, please calm down. In your condition, you shouldn't do that. You'll wake up our children.'
He forced her to sit down and she allowed him to do so but kept saying, ‘That would be better! So I can show them their father, leaving his house for the last time.'
He squeezed her hands and fell to his knees.
‘Don't say those things. I'll be back. I told Harry to come and he will, I know it.'
The column he had published in the Daily Prophet said, ‘To honour the memory of Sirius Black, on the night of January sixth, in front of our beloved one's house. So that we won't ever forget.' Harry wouldn't fail to notice it.
‘He won't disappoint me.'
Hermione grabbed the border of his cloak, desperately asking, ‘When will you give up? When will you open your eyes?' He turned back, but she held him tighter and forced him to meet her gaze.
‘Ron….' she pleaded.
‘It's not true.'
‘It is, you must understand it.' He tore his glance from hers and stood up, keeping some distance between them, but he couldn't avoid hearing her words when she continued by saying, ‘Harry Potter is dead.'
The Weasleys stayed silent. Hermione stared at her silent and still husband. She stood from her chair, trying not to cry, putting a hand on his shoulder.
He turned suddenly, and the tears she saw in his eyes kept Hermione from holding hers any longer.
‘You know him well, exactly like I do. How can you think he finished that way? How dare you? Even when we finished Hogwarts, our bond didn't break. We were a team! We were friends!' She shook her head and he continued, trying to convince her. ‘D'you really believe that Harry Potter, the wizarding world's hope, The-Boy-Who-Lived, Voldemort's nemesis … would fall like that?' He wouldn't have even noticed having said that name if Hermione hadn'tt paled at it. He hugged her, exhausted, and murmured, ‘D'you really believe that our friend Harry would go out that way?'
The living being inside Hermione's belly moved, as if it wanted to tell its father not to disturb him, and Ron moved slightly. Hermione looked at him and whispered, ‘We still haven't decided his name.'
Ron smiled and said, ‘Maybe after tonight … we'll want to call him Harry again.' Then, as if he wanted to run away from his wife, he quickly opened the door and went out into the night.
His freezing feet, which his boots hardly covered from the sharp cold of the night, were sinking deep in the snow as he walked to Grimmauld Place. He could have just Apparated there, but it so rarely snowed in London that he had decided to walk. He needed to clear his mind, after all. The wind accomplished this by giving him trouble and slapping his face heavily, but he didn't feel it. He walked blankly, as if something was dragging him against his free will. In truth, the fear was filling his heart with every step he took.
What if Hermione's right? What if I'm going straight into Voldemort's arms?
Yet again, that name. It was as if he didn't care about saying it or not anymore.
Silly. Now I'm a full Auror again.
He hoped that this didn't mean that his soul was preparing to face the Dark Lord.
Two years. So many things had happened in such a small time frame. Everything was passing in front of him. What he had seen in front of his very eyes, what others told him of the events he didn't witness, all of this was following him in his nocturnal walk.
Minerva McGonagall, the Hogwarts Headmistress after Albus Dumbledore's death, died in mysterious circumstances when serpents got into her room. God only knew how and from where. The new Hogwarts Headmaster, Severus Snape, had repeatedly asked for an inquiry about it, but the Minister for Magic hadn't wanted to listen.
Ron had met Snape again a few days ago. His former Potions teacher was now almost unrecognisable with his white beard, which still wasn't as long as Dumbledore's but still won respect. Snape had called him to Hogwarts to talk with him about Longbottom's death.
‘Now the Minister for Magic finally understands that the Death Eaters are back. You Aurors are looking for the Dark Lord, but you started too late. Minerva's death should have warned you enough. I said that a long time ago.'
Snape deeply resented the Ministry of Magic because of what had happened.
‘Weasley, I'm warning you. You must give up your hopes of seeing Harry Potter again. If you keep looking for him, you'll find yourself facing the Dark Lord, who eventually won against Potter. It won't be easy for you. Do you understand what I'm telling you?'
Ron had become angry and had slammed the door of the Headmaster's office, roaring, ‘You've always hated Harry. You really would be pleased if things went that way, wouldn't you?'
Outside the school, he had met Hagrid. Even his thick beard had turned white and his and Madame Maxime's younger son had been attending Hogwarts for five years. Like Ron, even Hagrid didn't want to believe what everybody said. Their gazes had met, and they both had nodded.
He had decided to publish that column. It was his last hope to demonstrate to everybody that Harry was still alive, that Harry himself would come out of his shelter and slam the truth in everybody's face.
As he walked through the snow, Ron silently prayed, Harry … don't disappoint me.
Grimmauld Place was deserted. The starry sky surrounded a dingy, dark street and observed with amusement the small maroon spot that stayed still, waiting for who knew what.
Ron lifted his cloak's collar and walked around to warm himself. God only knew who would come in a minute. Would it be Harry? Would it be Voldemort? Would it be nobody? Or, maybe, would it be both Harry and Voldemort?
Ron's hand was squeezing his wand in his pocket, looking for comfort.
He thought about Neville and his heart sank. Good old Neville had opened a shop in Diagon Alley. He had been great at making infusions, and his knowledge in Herbology helped him to find a cure for most illnesses and to help everyone recover their strength. He, Ron and Harry had kept in touch after having got their N.E.W.T.s, and everything went well at first. Then McGonagall died, Harry disappeared, and awhile after, Neville died. The Aurors found him; a victim of the curse that nobody thought would ever be uttered again.
Day after day, The Daily Prophet started to report deaths that could have easily been traced back to the worst of the Unforgivable Curses—deaths of Muggles and Muggle-borns. The Muggles chased after some non-existent terrorists; they thought these people possessed a biological weapon of mass destruction, able to kill without leaving any trace. The Aurors were running after the new Death Eaters, who had suddenly come back stronger than ever. Terror ruled worldwide. Ron had heard of huge quarrels between the Muggle Prime Minister and the Minister for Magic.
Poor Percy. He had thought it would be easy to be the Minister for Magic after the events that happened in my seventh year.
He shrugged some snow from his cloak and thought more deeply.
We all believed that it was the end of him … and instead he came back. Somehow, his followers must have resurrected him. There's no other explanation.
Suddenly, his instinct warned him of a presence that had stayed hidden until now. Ron abruptly turned and took his wand out of his pocket, pointing it at the dark figure that had approached him and that now seemed to be overcoming him.
Abruptly as well, the newcomer took his wand out and pointed it at Ron.
The red-haired man stared at the one who faced him, his heart racing in his chest. The person's black hair was a bit longer than what Ron remembered, but more noticeable was the fact that the person's cold smile and blank eyes, no longer hidden behind thick glasses, didn't look at all similar to those of Harry Potter.
Ron's jaw dropped, but he was still able to whisper, ‘Harry….'
Harry stayed still, his wand ready and a voluntarily amused expression on his face. Only when Ron lowered his wand did Harry put his away, making it vanish into the folds of his long, black cloak.
The snow stopped falling all of sudden.
There was still no reply. The expression on his old friend's face was an enigma for Ron.
‘Is it really you, Harry?'
‘Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answer, Weasley?'
Low and alarming, like when he spoke in Parseltongue, Harry's voice stroked Ron's soul as if it were death itself.
‘Harry … you're alive….'
‘It depends on what you mean, Weasley.'
His dream was breaking in front of his very eyes. Harry Potter's image was fading away in a black cloud with terrible semblances.
The new Lord Voldemort.
Ron stayed silent for a while, hearing in his mind the words everybody had been repeating to him for months.
Harry Potter took the name of Lord Voldemort and is butchering Muggles and Muggle-borns with his fellow Death Eaters.
‘It was true, then … you're the new Lord Voldemort.'
The Dark Lord took a hold of his wand again, and Ron put himself on guard. But the figure before him raised his hands in a sign of peace and smiled. He pointed his wand at a point away from Ron and waved it in an expert gesture.
‘You're pale, Weasley. It's better if….' a bench materialised on the street, appearing in the middle of a hissing puff of blackness, ‘… you sit down.'
He put his wand away and stared at Ron. However, he must have noticed that the red-haired man was still diffident, for he gently beckoned for him to sit down, saying, ‘Please do.'
Ron moved to the bench and sat, resting his elbows on his knees, his stare fixed on the white pavement. Voldemort approached and stood in front of him, his arms crossed over his chest. When Ron looked up at him, the dark figure seemed to crush him under his terrible power.
‘Why, Harry? Everything was going so well. Why?'
Voldemort sat next to him and rested his back on the bench, crossing his arms under his head and observing the sky.
‘Nice idea, the column in the newspaper. You have a good imagination.'
Ron didn't utter a reply. He was too shocked by what he was witnessing to dare speak.
‘How is my dear Hermione?'
Ron froze and stared at the man before him, trying to figure out if his wife was in danger, but he then understood that Voldemort was only trying to make a little conversation.
The other man smiled and asked, ‘She already knew it, didn't she?'
Ron lowered his eyes and nodded.
‘Hermione Granger-Weasley … it's almost unbelievable that she has Muggle blood in her veins.'
He had avoided using the word Mudblood, but Ron found this courtesy too cunning to appreciate it. The new Lord Voldemort was possibly stronger than the former one. He didn't fear anybody and didn't have weaknesses. At last, Ron saw what the others had seen. At last, he could give the right meaning to the events.
The Dursleys were the first ones.
‘You did all this to get rid of your aunt and uncle, Harry?'
The Dark Lord allowed himself a chortling hiss.
‘I must admit it, Weasley. It started that way, as a personal vendetta against those filthy Muggles.'
The amused grin that appeared on his face as he described how the life of Petunia and Vernon Dursley had ended hurt Ron, even more than the fact his friend was still addressing him by his surname.
‘They sat one in front of the other in that pathetic, normal living room of theirs, between their normal objects, awaiting the end of their normal lives. I decided to shorten their wait. When I went into that room, the same one where that house-elf — what was his name? Oh, Dobby — played that unpleasant trick on me with the cake … they almost died from the shock. I would have been sad had I not enjoyed a little talk with them. My way, of course. The agreement for the conversation was that I spoke and drank the tea they had prepared for themselves as they listened to my questions and answered by screaming. I engraved into my mind every moment of their slow agony. I took care to remember every single scream they uttered under the Cruciatus Curse. I had a vision at that moment, Weasley. I saw what that place really was, the true identity that its owners had just revealed.' Voldemort stared at Ron with eyes shining with ardent pleasure.
‘A pigsty, Weasley. Those Muggles were only fat pigs and their house was a mere pigsty.'
That evening, Lord Voldemort had left behind him a burning house and two carbonised bodies.
‘It was elating to violate Privet Drive's normality. Of course, Dudley got the same treatment too.' He assumed an attentive air as he thought of his cousin. ‘He had become a low-level boxer. When I saw his crushed face I merely thought to let him live with that image of himself … maybe it would have been a fair punishment. However, I shall say that my curiosity to know whether or not he would scream like his parents had won me over.' Ron was disgusted and stood up as Voldemort continued, ‘Actually, he did a good thing in his life. He chose a wife good enough for him. An enormous cask that gave birth to a barrel as big as his father.'
All were dead and their house had burned in the flames.
‘Shut up!' Ron said.
Voldemort stayed still and resumed his composure after the excitement brought by this memory.
‘I thought I'd stop after having visited Dudley. But Weasley….' His eyes resumed burning as he stood up and walked to approach Ron. ‘Once you've tasted power, you can't live without it. The Ancients talked about the Gods' food, the ambrosia. I think that this food was nothing more than power. The power to bring death, to menace, to do to people what you want. To be the strongest is food for your soul, Weasley, and makes you immortal.'
Ron stared in disbelief at those eyes, now lit up by an evil light, and then said scornfully, ‘D'you think you're immortal?'
The Dark Lord stared at him carefully; he then left his eyes ajar and said, ‘Before, you thought I was too noble to be the new Voldemort. Now you think I'm crazy. Do you know of shades of grey, redhead?'
‘I know Good and Evil. It's enough.'
Voldemort nodded and said, ‘Interesting reply, although trivial. Worthy of an Auror. Maybe it would have been the same one I would give if I was one. I know I'm not immortal, Weasley. I know that power is founded on fear. However, sometimes fear can also give birth to the strength to start a rebellion. I know I have strong enemies. I don't underestimate the Aurors, and I'm aware that someday, I might be killed. Thus, when I understood that only by starting the mechanism of fear could I quench my thirst for power, I took care in purging my potential dangers. Dumbledore gave me great pleasure by choosing to get out of my way himself; I personally set up McGonagall, although maybe I took too many risks there. Then I thought about Neville. I wasn't sure if he represented a danger for me. But, you know … he could have been The-Boy-Who-Lived instead of me, and I preferred not to take any risks. I worked hard to look for Riddle's Death Eaters, and I went to bring back the Dementors from the desolate lands where they were exiled.'
Once again, Ron noticed that theatrically thoughtful expression forming on his interlocutor's face.
‘They really were angry,' Voldemort added.
‘You know that you'll be stopped, don't you? You'll make a mistake, sooner or later.'
Voldemort waved his hand.
‘I have already made mistakes, if that's what you mean. If you don't count the risks I took in killing McGonagall, I shall say that, as I looked for followers, I had the bad idea of trying to win over Severus Snape.'
Ron paled. That's what the Hogwarts Headmaster had meant. He knew perfectly well that Harry was the new Lord Voldemort, and he knew even better that Ron would go look for him and find himself disappointed, and maybe killed.
‘I went to meet Snape, in that odd office that once was Dumbledore's. I thought he would make it darker, but I was surprised to see that everything was as Dumbledore had left it.'
‘Snape is a good person. He's more than what he looks like.'
‘Er … he was intelligent enough not to have gone back to that loser, Riddle, but he wasn't intelligent enough to follow the true Master. I arrived at his office without problems. Hogwarts' defences must have become old. When I came in, he was waiting for me. I was surprised and thought it a trap, to tell the truth. All the old Headmasters, even the more sluggish ones, were awake. They were staring at me from their pictures. Snape purposely put the ones of McGonagall and Dumbledore on the desk. All three stayed there, staring at me.'
Ron saw a trace of a real concern passing through Voldemort's eyes as he thought of that episode. He must have been very touched by the way the Headmaster caught him off balance.
‘I greeted Snape, nodded to Dumbledore and bowed in front of McGonagall, begging her pardon at having had to … let's say … to make her the object of attention from my hissing friends. Dumbledore stared at me desolately. I think he considers me another of his mistakes.'
Ron thought with nostalgia about his former headmaster. Professor Dumbledore was a great person; he surely was the main author of Tom Riddle's destruction. Of course, he made mistakes, which were certainly weighing on his soul, but Ron was sure that Dumbledore must have suffered a lot after finding out Harry's destiny, since he had indeed loved the boy.
‘I talked to Snape. I described the world I want to build to him, a world where the Muggles will be under the control of the wizards, and where those infamous crossbreeds will be banned, but….'
‘INFAMOUS CROSSBREEDS?' Ron roared. His thoughts ran to Hermione, of course, and he found that this term Voldemort had adopted was even worse than the one he was escaping using: Mudblood. ‘Is that what my wife is? An aberration? Butchering flesh?'
He was going to put his wand out, but Voldemort faced him instantly and held his wrist tightly. The Dark Lord's face was a few inches from his now.
‘You do know that you have no chance against me, Weasley.' Twisting his arm, Voldemort forced Ron to let go of his wand, which fell to the snow, and then released him.
‘Do you want to know why I did come?'
‘If you want to do to me what you did to Neville, what are you waiting for?'
‘Fool! I never forgot Hermione and you. Why do you think she's still alive?'
‘You mean that you're forgiving her for being an aberration? Oh, what a noble master you are.'
Voldemort's eyes became small slits on his face.
‘I'm somehow grateful to Hermione for having saved me from so much trouble, and I didn't forget our adventures together. She's what she is, but I may allow her to leave this world when her time comes, and not before.'
Ron smirked. He didn't fear mocking Voldemort. The person who he was facing was nothing more than a lunatic. Riddle wasn't completely healthy in his mind, but Harry Potter had turned himself into a monster. In his mind, he had identified himself with his mortal enemy, so much so he had taken Voldemort's name and increased his own evilness.
‘I should thank you, I suppose,' Ron said.
They stayed quiet for a while. Ron, on his knees, was holding his sore arm; Voldemort, with a long face, was staring at him.
‘Come with me, Ron.'
The man with red hair looked up. Voldemort had called him by his name.
‘Snape didn't want to come and will be punished when I decide. But you….' He kneeled down to Ron's height and held him by his shoulders as he continued, ‘Don't make the same mistake.'
Ron was incredulous. Voldemort was insane. How could he possibly think that…?
‘You and Hermione can escape the strength that will demolish the world. I'm giving you the chance!'
Ron's jaws dropped as he shook his head in disbelief. This was a hallucination.
‘You were always with me. Why don't you follow me in this adventure? It's just that, Ron! A new adventure together! This time we'll be the strongest!'
Ron forced Voldemort to let go of him.
‘If we were the weakest, how could we defeat Tom Riddle?'
The Dark Lord stood. Nothing but darkness gleamed in his eyes.
‘I don't think you've realized, Weasley.'
He turned towards the obscurity and beckoned to somebody. Three figures emerged suddenly. Two big men were dragging a slim and shorter one who opposed them with the smallest of resistance.
‘Riddle was nothing more than a precursor. A Baptist born only to clean the way to the true Messiah.'
Ron easily recognized that Crabbe and Goyle were the two big, clumsy, and rude men. But he couldn't believe his eyes when he made out just who their prisoner was—Draco Malfoy. The silver-blond hair of Lucius Malfoy's son, the son of one of Riddle's most faithful followers, was all messed up. The snow that had covered it had melted the multitude of gel he used to put it in order, which had drained onto his face. Crabbe and Goyle threw him rudely to the bare ground, and Voldemort turned his back to them, turning to Ron.
‘This filthy little traitor tried to play the same trick on me that Snape did on Riddle. He thought he could be a spy, our little Draco. What a rascal.' Ron shuddered when Voldemort held his wand. ‘I will show you what power is, Weasley. But first….'
He pointed his wand at Draco and muttered, ‘Silencio.' Draco's jaw dropped when the black tentacle-like spell came out Harry's wand and flew at him, slinking into his throat, but he couldn't make a sound.
Voldemort mocked him. ‘Don't want to wake up those Muggles you were trying to protect, do you? Who would have expected this from you, Malfoy … a Death Eater's son … becoming a Muggle lover.'
Once again, he raised his wand and pointed it at the blond man, who was crawling away, trying to escape.
Suddenly Malfoy crashed to the ground and started writhing, opening his mouth wide but not uttering a word. He rolled on the snow and violently arched his back, as if he had been thrown on a fire.
‘HARRY, ENOUGH!' Ron yelled, but the Dark Lord's wand kept inexorably following Malfoy, who struggled in pain. Ron fell to the ground to pick up his wand and said, ‘Stupefy!'
The red light that came out of the thin wood darted in the direction of Voldemort, who rotated cat-like on himself, wrapped into his flapping black cloak. He put poor Goyle in between himself and Ron so that Ron's spell hit Goyle, who was hurled away. In a gesture worthy of a dancer, Voldemort avoided the big man and pointed his wand at Ron, yelling, ‘Expelliarmus!'
Only his Auror training helped Ron keep his wand; he quickly flattened himself against the ground. He was attempting a new attack when Voldemort's voice resounded again in the empty street.
Ron's body froze. His Auror's heart was racing madly in his chest—not only was he in the Dark Lord's hands, but the man who had been Harry Potter, his best friend, had used an Unforgivable Curse on him. Immediately after that, he lost control of his mind, losing himself in the darkness.
‘Throw that wand away, Weasley!'
Promptly, Ron's arm threw the wand away; Voldemort approached him with large strides, stepping without pity on Draco's back. Malfoy was still curled in on himself.
‘What did you think you were doing?' Voldemort's hands clenched against Ron's neck. ‘You really thought you could face me? Did you go insane or what?' He shook Ron harshly. ‘Did I want a fool with me?'
Voldemort turned towards Malfoy, who, his dignity lost, was trying to drag himself away.
‘Now I'll show who you want to fight against, Weasley. Look and keep it in mind.'
Ron's head sprang to the side, and his eyes followed Draco's miserable figure, which was trying to escape his destiny.
Draco fell straight away. In the half-consciousness due to Voldemort's control, Ron saw Malfoy's widened mouth filling with snow as his life's flame extinguished in the twinkle of an eye. Voldemort beckoned Crabbe, who pointed his wand toward his companion and muttered roughly, ‘Ennervate.'
Still a little stunned, Goyle stood and helped Crabbe drag Malfoy's body away.
A few seconds later, Ron felt able to move and think on his own again. The Dark Lord turned slowly in his direction and said, ‘This is my last offer, Weasley. I won't ask again. Do you want to follow me?'
Ron stared at him, definitely aware of what Hermione had told him.
Harry Potter is dead.
He closed his eyes and thought of his wife, of his children, of the one who was still on the way and who he would have wanted so badly to call Harry because that would have meant that, yet again, lies had been said about his best friend.
When Hermione had told him that she was pregnant again, she had joked about calling the child Viktor, and Ron had pretended to take offence at it. He remembered how much Hermione had cuddled him to have him forgive her silly joke. He thought of Albus' excited speeches about how many days were left before he went back to Hogwarts and of Minerva drawing the school and looking forward to starting there next year.
He thought about their time at Hogwarts, about the Ford Anglia, about the Quidditch matches and about the tasty food they ate during the welcome and goodbye feasts every year.
Harry was always in those memories.
Harry arriving late with him on their first day of school.
Harry slinking out of Hogwarts to go to Hogsmeade.
Harry cheating with him and making up the predictions for Professor Trelawney.
Harry, the best man at his wedding with Hermione.
Those images of Harry Potter faded away, replaced by the Dark Lord's gloomy face.
‘You won't have anything more than this from me, Voldemort!' Amazingly quickly, Ron hit his opponent with a strong punch to the face, and then he hurled himself over Harry, trying to hit him again. Harry reacted, kneeing him in the stomach, but Ron was too angry to feel it. That monster, that horrible monster whose name was Voldemort, had come back from the past and killed his best friend.
Tears veiled his eyes, which burned as he hit the person before him with all his strength.
Then he heard a scream from his opponent, which he couldn't understand because he was too angry, and he felt a pang of fear growing from his stomach. A cold shiver ran all over his spine and tensed his muscles.
From the darkness, he caught the terrible glimpse of the Dementors appearing and approaching him.
Ron rolled over the body of Voldemort -- who was rubbing his face, which was spotted with blood that had come from his obviously broken nose -- and tried to escape, but realised he was trapped. Instinctively, he put a hand in his pocket but didn't find his wand, which he himself had thrown away a moment before. Terrorized, still shocked by Draco's recent death and by the words and actions the shadow of his best friend had performed, he brought his hands to his temples and screamed, ‘Expecto Patronum!'
The Dementors drew away for a moment but suddenly understood that their victim wasn't holding a wand and resumed their glide towards him. Then Ron saw the horrid skeleton-like fingers of one of them come out of its cloak; he fell on his knees and yelled again, almost pleading, ‘Expecto Patronum!'
A Dementor grabbed him and pulled him to it with no effort. Ron lost himself in the grip of that horrid being as everything around him was losing colour.
Ron fell to the ground as the Dementor that had grabbed him was thrown away by a bolt of lightning, which ran into all the other Dementors as well, pushing them away in all directions.
Ron stayed on the ground, desperately gasping for air as he felt his heart wanting to break through his chest.
Merlin! That was the materialization … of Harry's anger? I've never seen such dreadful strength….
‘Imbeciles!' Voldemort's angry voice came to Ron's exhausted ears. ‘Idiots! How dare you? Who told you to Kiss him? I told you to hold him and stop!'
He kicked some snow on a Dementor, which stood up hissing and tried to face him. Voldemort pointed his wand at it and snapped, ‘Look at what you're doing.'
The Dementor stayed with its hands stretched out towards its master but then drew back and faded away into the night, followed by its bedraggled companions.
Ron lifted his eyes and tried to stand up, not succeeding. Voldemort cleared his face of the blood and stared at him.
‘As you wish, then.'
He put his wand back into his pocket and shrugged on his cloak. He then turned his back on Ron and said, ‘I'll let you live, this time, but this is the last favour I will do for you. Next time we meet, I'll kill you.'
Ron felt hoarse, his tongue freezing from the snow he had eaten before, but he replied anyway, ‘As you wish, Lord Voldemort.'
The man in the black cloak stopped and turned his head slightly towards him, as if he wanted to say something in reply. But then he changed his mind and went away, leaving Ron lying in the snow.
As the snowflakes started to fall again, the red-haired man felt his strength coming back slowly. When he could stand up, he waited a moment to be sure he could stay on his feet and looked around for his wand. He saw it resting near the wall of the house. Luckily, the snow hadn't covered it.
He went back home and thought slowly about what had just happened.
Harry Potter was dead.
It was true. His past was smothering him. He was insane. Completely and utterly insane.
By now, Ron knew that his task would be trying to stop him, saving anyone else from experiencing what Neville, Minerva McGonagall … or even the Dursleys had been forced to bear. He needed to fight to prevent other people from dying as victims of the Dark Lord's madness. Poor Neville was the most impressive example of what now disturbed his former friend's mind.
Longbottom had been no danger to him. He would have never been. All that blabbing over a possible menace was only an excuse. An excuse to kill him.
There was no ideal in the new Voldemort's massacres. His recycling Tom Riddle's ideas was only a mere excuse as he wanted to keep on performing the other man's crimes and getting away with them. Excuses to hide his own will—that of a murderer—behind a veil.
He killed for the pleasure of doing it.
He killed to taste the power and enjoy other people's pain.
He killed to satisfy his thirst of blood, the thirst of a slayer.
When Ron opened the door of his house, the sky was already showing the first grey of dawn. He found Hermione sitting on the same chair where he had left her. From how swollen her eyes were, Ron understood that she must have cried a lot. When she saw him entering the house, she moved as quickly as her condition allowed her and hugged him.
‘You're alive! God, you're alive!'
‘I'm fine, darling. Please, don't distress yourself; it's not healthy for you.' He tried to tear away from her, but she didn't let him.
‘Did he come?' she asked. Ron gently stroked her hair.
‘You were right. As you always are.' They met each other's gazes for an endless moment, and then he added, ‘Harry Potter is dead. He really is.'
Only at that moment did Hermione seem to notice the sad condition of her husband. She dragged him to the first floor and ordered him to go to sleep. When she closed the door and went out into the corridor, Ron heard her telling their children -- who he had awoken because of the noise he had made going upstairs -- to leave their father alone. That he needed to sleep.
‘What happened to Dad? Did he catch a cold?'
Albus was an intelligent and serious boy. Calm and reflexive in any situation, he looked older than his young age. Hermione was happy to see how much he loved to read and to learn. They talked a lot, she and her first-born son, and the boy seemed destined for a great school career.
‘Come on! Dad is an Auror, he won't let a simple cold turn him down!' snapped Hermione softly.
Minerva was more impulsive and lively than Albus; she loved to run through the house and sing, filling the house with the tricks her uncles Fred and George always gave her as a present when they went to Diagon Alley. They had different temperaments, but the two children had always got on well together. Albus was very protective toward his sister, and she returned his attention by saving him from the worst jokes her uncles gave her and taking care to put her brother's books in order. Albus was diligent, in fact, but he wasn't very neat and tidy. The unruly Minerva instead was so maniacal in keeping things in order that she often scolded her parents if they left something lying around.
‘Children, be quiet! Your dad needs his sleep.'
‘You should rest too, Mum. You mustn't wake up so early, not at a time like this, right?'
‘I told you, I'll make breakfast for you until after our brother's born,' Albus and Minerva said at the same time.
Hermione grinned at the attention her children were giving her. They were excited about the imminent birth of their new brother. But a shadow veiled that grin.
A shadow that also had a name.
‘Let's go downstairs, children. Let's talk….'
The children followed Hermione downstairs and sat down next to her on the sofa. Before she started to talk, she hugged them tightly. She noticed that they were anxious and understood that the new Voldemort's shadow was falling slowly even on their house, and even they couldn't be immune to it. It was impossible not to perceive that dark cape that was weighing on them, as over all the world.
‘You remember when you were small, and I told you stories about how the Wizarding world had been freed from an evil man?'
‘D'you mean Uncle Harry's story, Mum?'
‘I like that story very much. When Uncle Harry came here, he told it so nicely!'
Feeling her heart racing in her chest, Hermione gently stroked her daughter's hair as she replied, ‘I'm afraid … that story's not ended yet, Minerva. And I believe Uncle Harry … won't tell it anymore.'
They stayed silent. After having thought for awhile, Albus said, ‘It's just what I was afraid of, then.'
Hermione looked at him, frowning.
‘What do you mean?'
‘I liked to listen to Uncle Harry telling his story too. I liked the part where he fought Riddle in the chamber best. But … I asked him lots of questions, and Uncle Harry always replied. There was one question he never wanted to answer, though.'
Hermione suddenly understood that her son's doubt was the same one that had gripped her for all that time after the battle had ended.
‘His scar … it didn't fade away.'
Albus really was older than his age.
‘If a connection is made between two people and one of them happens to die … why does the link still exist?'
Minerva stared at her brother in disbelief and asked, ‘D'you mean Riddle killed Uncle Harry and took his place?'
Hermione burst in, ‘No. There's no doubt Riddle's dead. Your father and I witnessed the fight from under a magic wall he himself had built to face Harry alone. Tom Riddle was sucked into Uncle Harry's wand when Fawkes helped Harry to release the power of the Phoenix.'
‘But Mum … then what Albus says is …' argued Minerva, but Hermione interrupted her.
‘Albus, the link between two people can exist even beyond time. I believe Uncle Harry never got rid of the demons that filled his past. His childhood was difficult, the way he had to face responsibility at such a young age, the way he lost Sirius and the continuous, distressing feeling at being the centre of attention, both in the Muggle and wizarding worlds … all of it shocked him. His short life was filled with too much, concentrated in too few years. He saw things too scary for a young boy to bear in a moment that is critical for anyone. When everything was over, he finally had the time to think about everything with his mind's eyes. He saw everything again every time he told the story to you or to anybody else, anytime he was alone thinking. Eventually, he couldn't stand the memory of his own adventures anymore and reacted violently, unchaining all his emotions altogether.'
‘The mix of all the colours is black,' added Albus.
Hermione suddenly remembered something she had desperately tried to forget. The last time they spent the Christmas together, Harry had once again told the children the story of his fight against Tom Riddle. When he had finished the story and the children had run away to simulate the fight with their fake wands, she had sat next to Harry and noticed his eyes. Swollen and red like those of someone who hadn't slept in a long time. He had said that it was trouble at work, but she had seen through his lie. Those eyes were the lightning that announced the tempest.
‘Your uncle never wanted to detach himself from Voldemort's figure because, even if it was evil, it was an easy answer to his own unease.'
‘You mean that Uncle Harry wanted to become evil?'
Albus reflected a moment and then said, ‘It's easier to deal with the demons … when you are one of them. If you can't fight them, join them.'
Hermione hugged her children tightly and felt the thoughts she had tried to bury into her soul rising back, slowly but inexorably.
Harry won't spare those who will fight him. Maybe the only way to save ourselves is not to stand in his way. However….
Something in her awoke that night. The fact that she was a mother and her desire to protect her family had subdued her for a long time, but now … her boiling Gryffindor's blood was incapable of accepting such an injustice. No, it really wasn‘t. And it started to rebel.
We can't let Harry destroy everything for which so many people lost their lives. We just can't allow this to happen. I became an Auror with Harry and Ron because I understood that. During my seven Hogwarts years, I had desired to be able to destroy Tom Riddle more than anything else. And now … I must be an Auror to the end.
‘We don't fear Voldemort.' She hugged them tighter and continued, ‘Repeat it.'
‘We don't fear Voldemort,' Minerva said with a light but decisive voice.
Albus got the air of a fighter as he repeated, ‘We don't fear Voldemort'
The still unborn child said something too by giving a strong kick inside her belly.
Our task is to fight Voldemort. We'll probably die in the attempt, but children, we can't avoid this fight by denying ourselves. We'll all do what is in our power to stop him. If it's not enough, maybe one day you will be the ones to write the final word of Harry Potter's story.
Rest and wait to go back to fighting.
Ron was an Auror and knew what his duty was. He would face Voldemort again, he knew that. He also knew that he would never have a chance against him.
Next time we meet, I'll kill you.
He was aware of that too.
He wouldn't have any chance of winning that fight, for he knew that only exasperated emotions guided Voldemort's hand. The feelings the Dark Lord still felt for him and Hermione would strengthen his folly and enormously increase his power when they would fight. As sleep won against him, Ron wrapped himself with the warm blankets of his bed. He knew well what words would be the last words he'd hear in his life.