Harry Potter quite obviously belongs to JK Rowling and her publishers. I should also point out that the structure of this fic is inspired by, "The Five People You Meet In Heaven" by Mitch Album. Which also doesn't belong to me.
This is a story about a wizard called Ronald Bilius Weasley, (Order of Merlin, First Class, Chief Warlock, Honorary President of the Chudley Cannons, and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) and it begins at the end. That is to say, our story starts as another one ends.
The last few hours of Ron's life were spent preparing his school for the upcoming year. He had been doing the job for so many years that he hardly had to think about it, and as such it never crossed his mind that everything he did that day might be for the last time. It would not have surprised him, however, to find that the cause of his death, nor that fact that a Malfoy had a hand in it, made the front page of the Daily Prophet, before his body had even been transferred back to the school.
At the time of his death Ron was a tired looking wizard of one hundred and twenty two years of age. His hair had long since lost the vivid red of his youth, and had been replaced by greying locks that had spent the best part of the last few decades slowly falling out; it was only by the daily application of some complicated charm work that the rate had been slowed. Depending on the weather, his long gait of a walk was hampered by a pronounced limp. Yes, it could definitely be said that the years had taken their toll.
Ron had somewhat reluctantly taken over the role of headmaster from his wife Hermione, when she became too ill to undertake the role effectively, although she had still been able to "instruct" him for the first couple of years until she passed away, leaving him alone. The school then became his life; it never ceased to amaze him just how much work was involved in simply keeping the school in a good enough state of repair so that it was a suitable place in which to learn and work.
Looking up from his desk up to the large clock on the wall opposite, he saw that one of its many arms was sending out small sparks to attract his attention. Knowing that this meant that the Hogwarts Express was just leaving platform 9 3/4's at Kings Cross, he placed his orange phoenix feather quill on top of the pile of forms on his desk and, deciding that they could wait until later, stood up and left his office for the final time.
Five hours left...
After checking everything was okay with the house-elves, and that the evening meal would be ready on time, ...which of course it always was... one of the older elves slipped him a cream cake, even these days when he was the headmaster of the school, sneaking into the kitchens for a treat still held the same pleasure it always had. Letting the portrait close behind him he set off to find his caretaker Julius Fletcher, who, just like his Great Uncle Mundungus, wasn't completely trustworthy but he was certainly a handy bloke to have around. Even the students seemed to like him, though that probably had something to do with the complete lack of a banned-items list, and as long as the school was still standing at the end of each term, this didn't bother Ron in the slightest.
Finding his caretaker was never an easy task however, and it took him the best part of half an hour to find him in one of the lower dungeons. He was speaking to a house-elf he didn't recognise.
"Afternoon, Julius," he called out, startling his colleague.
"Oh, er, hello Headmaster, what can I do for you?" replied Fletcher as he tried to stand in front of the unknown house-elf.
"Just checking everything's ready for the next lot of little buggers about to descend on us Julius. Now, you wouldn't be trading on the school premises again, would you? You know how the school board feels about that?" Ron's smile gave away the fact he wasn't overly bothered what the school board thought about it.
"As if I would, Headmaster," replied Fletcher, "and as for the school board, they probably like me about as much as they like you referring to your students as little buggers, I would imagine."
Laughing wheezily, Ron replied, "You're probably right, but just make sure you finish your chat in time to get everything ready for them arriving, whatever I choose to call them."
"Have I ever let you down, Headmaster?"
"Hmmmm." Ron replied non-committally, as the dungeon door closed behind him.
Three hours left...
It was a chilly September day when Ron stepped outside, and almost immediately he felt his left knee stiffen. He knew from the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest that rain was due in the next few days, and that it would stay for most of the week. Come Friday, even potions would not keep the pain way.
"Bugger," he cursed as he conjured a staff for some support and gingerly made his way around the grounds.
He rounded the corner of the castle and almost walked into what appeared to be a rather large plant with legs sticking out of the bottom, which in fact turned out to be Professor Atropa, making her way over to the greenhouses.
"Need a hand, Bella?" he enquired, hoping that the answer was going to be no as his knee was informing him that he had to sit down, and soon.
"No, thank you Headmaster," replied his Herbology Professor's soft voice, a voice that caught many a new student out each year. Professor Atropa had the appearance of weakness, which wasn't dispelled by her reedy voice, and most students fell in to the trap of thinking she was an easy touch. However, all the staff and existing students knew not to cross her, and Ron often thought with a wicked grin, what would have happened if Professor Snape had ever taught alongside her.
"If you're sure, Bella," Ron replied. Indicating the Quidditch stands, he continued, "I'm just going to catch a few minutes peace and quiet, before the Express arrives."
"Do try not to join in, won't you, Headmaster; you know what the nurse told you at the end of last year," she replied. "Now if you don't mind, I need to get these inside before they get too cold." As if the plant had heard her, the plant's leaves quivered as if it was shivering, as it and the professor disappeared round the corner.
Striding his way over to the Quidditch stands, all thoughts about the pain in his knee had gone. Ron cast a charm to levitate himself into the top box and sat back to watch those students who had arrived early from Hogsmeade village, just so they could get in a quick game of Quidditch before the rest of their friends arrived from London.
He was so caught up in the game, one of the few times in the year that house rivalry did not show itself, that when he did look at his watch he realised how late it was. Cursing the fact that one still couldn't Apparate on school grounds, he set off to meet the new students off the train.
He vividly remembered getting off the train in his first year with Harry, and being taken across the Great Lake by Hagrid. Even though he had heard all about Hogwarts from his brothers, the memory of that first sight of the castle could still take his breath away even all these years later.
After Hagrid's death during the final battle, Remus Lupin, who had returned to teach during Ron's seventh year, took over the task of meeting the first years off the train. The look of shock on the first years' faces as they saw who was there to meet them was something that Remus and, in later years, Hermione and himself had all found hard to resist. There had only been a handful of years over the last few decades when one of them had not been able to make it.
Thirty minutes to go...
Ron arrived in Hogsmeade, limping badly and out of breath. He slowed down to give himself the chance to arrive somewhat in the manner a wizard of his stature should do. Ron really didn't care, but he knew others would get upset that a pillar of the community would arrive looking like a scruffy first year himself, rather than the head of one of the oldest Wizarding Schools in existence.
A crowd of people waiting to go though the barrier blocked the entrance to the station and as he approached, he could see why. At the front of the queue was Maximus Malfoy, none other than the grandson of Draco and someone who had definitely inherited all the Malfoy arrogance.
"DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" Maximus bellowed at the ageing wizard managing the barrier.
"Yes, Master Malfoy, but even the head of Magical Law Enforcement doesn't get through this barrier without a ticket, and from past experience sir, you should know that," replied the attendant.
"Problems, Riley?" enquired Ron, as he approached, careful to keep a bland expression on his face.
With a thankful expression on his face, Riley replied, "Ah, no headmaster, just some people think that a title excludes them from the rules." And just to make sure everyone knew whom he meant he poked his finger on Malfoy's cloak.
"Don't touch what you can't afford old man! Now, are you going to let me through or are am I going to have your job before the day is out?" sneered Malfoy in reply. Ron spotting that the throng was getting impatient, decided to intervene.
"Now, Maximus, you know full well what the rules are, and that Riley is only following the Ministry's own regulations. Why don't you go and buy another ticket and let these good people though before my students arrive and take over the station," Ron, said before adding, "I've no doubt the Ministry will be glad to reimburse you if you are having problems with money."
"You should watch yourself, Weasley, it wouldn't take much to convince the board of governors that a change of leadership is required at Hogwarts."
"Idle threats Mr Malfoy, idle threats, now be on your way." Ron's tone brooked no argument, and there was a crackle of power from the end of Ron's wand to reinforce the suggestion as Malfoy slipped away, ignoring the snickers of amusement from the crowd of witches and wizards now making their way onto the station platform.
Ron finally made it onto the platform just as the tell tale plume of smoke of the Hogwarts Express could be seen in the distance. It was always amazing to watch the station suddenly leap into life as luggage trolleys magically made their own way down the platform and parked themselves in neat rows, ready to take their loads up to the school.
He knew without checking that his Care of Magical Creatures professor would be already outside with the carriages and Thestrals, so that the returning students could be transported to the school and settled in the Great Hall in time for the sorting of the new intake.
Two minutes to go...
It was amongst this throng of activity that it happened. Stomping though the ticket barrier, and not looking where he was going, came Maximus Malfoy. Time seemed to slow down for Ron as he saw the train start to pull into the station; he glanced over very quickly, just in time to see Malfoy push past an elderly witch.
"Get out of the way, Hag!" Without looking back to see her stumble across the platform and fall onto the train line, Malfoy headed into the station bar.
With a speed Ron forgot he possessed, he Apparated on to the track and, taking the witch in his arms, crossed his fingers and attempted to Apparate them both back to the platform.
At the same time, the driver of the train spotted the old witch tumble on to the track, and even though he knew it was too late, slammed on the brakes and called on Merlin's good will that he had done enough.
The students on the train were totally unaware of what was happening on the track just ahead; they were good naturedly jostling for position by the exits so they could get off first and get the prime carriages to the school as the driver slammed on the brakes. The first set of students lost their balance and crashed into their friends and pressed them against the walls and floors. Amongst the screams and shouts, the train came to a halt, and those who escaped unhurt started to help the less fortunate to their feet. It was clear to all that it was the hospital wing, and not the Great Hall, that was going to be the first port of call. It was probably best that they were unaware of what was going on in the station waiting room, as they were herded by shocked looking teachers up to the school.
Ron looked round him as he landed hard on the stone floor of what looked like the station waiting room, instantly feeling more tired than he ever had. A double Apparition was something that even the most powerful wizard at the height of their powers would think twice before attempting, but for a one hundred and twenty two years old who was already feeling the affects of the cold day, and the last minute rush to the station, he soon realised what the pain in his chest meant. He just had time to notice the unconscious witch lying next to him, before the pain and the darkness overtook him.
A/N: Many thanks to Cara (BringAndFly) and AllieKiwi for the respective Pre-Beta and Beta work on this chapter. Calling the returning student's "Little Buggers" is completely Cara's doing. :D