"It's so hot, you could cook a Hippogriff out there," Ron said, loosening his tie and rolling up his sleeves. "Well, you could," he protested, seeing the look on Harry and Hermione's faces.
"Not that, you know, I'd want to, or anything..."
"Right," Harry said, smirking. He could see Ron fidgeting with anxiety again. Harry elbowed Ron in the side and muttered, "Just tell her already."
Ron's eyes widened, and he vigorously shook his head, but stopped when Hermione looked over.
"What?" she asked.
"Er-nothing," Ron said, with a furtive glance to Harry.
"Ron has something he wants to tell you," Harry said quickly. He looked to Ron, who was giving him the death glare again, but Harry didn't care. At least now there wouldn't be awkward moments that caused everyone serious discomfort, and no more stupid arguments made in an attempt to hide the truth.
"Yeah...Hermione, can we talk?" Ron asked, not looking at her.
"I told you, Ron, I'm not letting you copy the notes for the final in..."
"It's not about that."
"Oh. All right then." He led her to an empty corner of the common room, casting one last hateful look toward Harry for forcing him to do this.
"So, what is it?" she asked as he sat down next to her.
"Er-well, I...I wanted to tell you..." Ron's heart was pounding quickly in his chest, threatening to burst at any moment.
"Wanted to tell me..."
"I had a really nice time at Hogsmeade last weekend. With you," he blurted out.
Hermione's face flushed at the memory. "Me too."
"You looked really nice--"
"--You did too--"
"--Sorry 'bout your dress--"
"--Had a really good time--"
"--Too bad it's the last weekend this year--"
Silence fell, both deep in thought. Hermione knew she should have told him, should have confessed how she really felt about him. But instead...
"Well, I'll just, see you later then," she said, and quickly got up and left him sitting alone, cursing herself for not telling him how she felt.
A small tear leaked from Hermione's eye as she shook her head, dismissing the memory. There was no way to change it now...
Harry remembered those lasting moments with Ron like they were yesterday, even though long months had passed. The sudden appearance of Peter Pettigrew at the lake and the gleam in those beady eyes were only two of the memories that constantly entered his mind. Harry remembered the struggle for the wand, the blow he suffered as he smashed into the Whomping Willow. He remembered his blurred vision of Ron suddenly jumping to block Pettigrew, Hermione's scream as Ron was hit with the spell...
But Ron would never remember any of this.
Neither Harry nor Hermione had such a luxury of erasing the memories. Hermione wavered between pain, denial and heartache. She was unpredictable these days; if he expected to find her quietly doing her summer homework, Harry found her to be sobbing or screaming at a quill as it stroked her angry words onto a piece of parchment.
Harry had refused to believe it at first, choosing to act as though Ron were on vacation and would come stumbling through the door at any moment, freckly and grinning. But Hermione's constant tears and the emptiness he felt without his best friend had hit Harry with the sad and lonely truth: Ron was gone.
The end of term was an awkward one. Most people kept clear of Hermione, who was prone to sporadic bouts of anger. This meant that they avoided Harry as well, since he rarely left Hermione's side. During meal times, an empty spot at the end of the table was always left for Harry and Hermione, seats away from everyone else...not that they ate much anyway. They were too busy watching the seat where Ron would be sitting, hoping that he would suddenly Apparate and explain the joke, yet knowing in their heart of hearts that he wouldn't.
It wasn't only the Gryffindors that avoided them-it was everyone in the school, it seemed. Malfoy and his gang seemed to have conveniently taken to bullying a few second year Hufflepuffs instead, and Harry wondered if Malfoy had actually grown a heart, or if it had been the interference of a teacher. Either way, he was glad to have any excuse not to deal with him.
The teachers kept their eyes on "Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger," two names uttered most frequently in the staff room between classes. It was no longer "Potter, Weasley and Granger are at it again." Those days were gone, and it had come to only two now. Harry was aware of the side-glances he received from all the teachers, and he knew Dumbledore was watching him closely as well. No words of sympathy were uttered, for no one knew quite what to say. Harry had begun to slack on his homework, as Hermione also had, but besides casual reminders, none of the teachers said much about it.
They had returned home for the summer, neither willing to say good-bye. Leaving the school seemed like admitting that Ron was gone, and Harry was sure he wasn't ready for it. They took a compartment to themselves, but there were no games of Exploding Snap or eating sweets off of the trolley. Hermione sat beside Harry, stroking Crookshanks and holding Harry's arm tightly, as if fearing she would lose him too.
When they reached King's Cross, Harry embraced Hermione. He couldn't bear to have her cry, but he knew she had every right. Their lives had been forever changed that year, and it was the approaching unknown that frightened them, even more than death.
Mrs. Weasley hugged them tightly, trying hard not to cry. She invited them to stay for the summer. "You're always welcome at home. The rest of the family would love to have you, and he would also..."
Uncle Vernon had suspected that something had happened over the year, something more than a typical year at school-well, typical for Harry anyway. Seeing the image of Harry crying with a bushy haired girl and a plump redheaded woman had been enough of a signal. Harry's reticence and generosity in handing over most of his food to Dudley at meals had had an astounding affect of conveying his sadness. As if on cue, an owl flew through the window one evening, dropping a letter before Aunt Petunia, her name scrawled in green ink. Uncle Vernon's eyes flashed as she opened it-was it pity Harry saw in her eyes as she glanced at him?
Harry heard her speaking quietly with Uncle Vernon later that evening. The next morning, when Dudley tripped Harry in the living room, Uncle Vernon shot a warning glance-this time, it was targeted at Dudley, not Harry. The rest of the time with the Dursleys was quiet-Harry was left alone, and he found a plate of the meal he missed waiting on the counter for him when he was hungry.
Then finally came the time when he could return to the Burrow.
It was the loss of Ron, the Weasley who had found himself the least significant, that made the house seem gloomy. The clock in the hallway with the hands labeled with Weasley family members had Ron's constantly pointed to "lost." Fred and George refused to openly express their distress and turned their attention to the joke shop, keeping mostly to themselves. Bill and Charlie had come home, taking the duty of coaxing, and when appropriate, forcing, Ginny to come out of her room and eat. Mrs. Weasley had run out of tears, and left Ron's room only to freakishly tidy the house, perform tedious chores or when Mr. Weasley came home from work-which was not often.
Hermione remained determined through it all. Only her eyes revealed the sadness and emptiness that she felt; otherwise she appeared alert, calm and always ready for action.
Harry took the stairs all the way to the top. He could hear Mrs. Weasley downstairs, puttering around in the kitchen as he opened the door with a creak. He hesitated a moment before entering Ron's room.
Hermione was speaking quietly in the corner. Harry watched her for a few moments, her hands moving as she spoke. At the sight of Harry, her face brightened immensely. "Hi, Harry!"
"Hey, Hermione." Harry grinned at her, then turned to a pair of blue eyes staring at him. "Hi, Ron."
"Ron, do you remember who this is?" Hermione asked encouragingly.
He rose from his place on the bed and crossed the room until he was inches away from Harry. Harry watched as Ron's eyes traveled from his oversized shirt to his glasses, and then to the scar on his forehead. He raised a finger and traced the lightening bolt. After a few moments, Ron moved to the bureau and prodded Pig in the owl cage.
Harry heard Hermione sigh as she hugged him. He knew that sigh, for Harry was sure he was feeling something close to what Hermione was. "How's Ron doing?" he asked.
"All right, I suppose. He doesn't say much, but he's starting to recognize me, I know it. I can see it in his eyes." Hermione's eyes never left Ron, even as she spoke to Harry. Finally she turned to him and tried to smile.
Harry nodded, unsure of what to think. The healers at St. Mungo's were unwilling to say it straight out, but Harry could read their eyes as well-they had almost no hope toward Ron's recovery. Memory charms were typically not reversible, and they had no reason to suspect that Ron would be any different.
But Harry admired Hermione's persistence and determination, just the same. He knew she was trying, and what other choice did they have anyway? Hermione's glance returned to Ron once more, and he knew she was aching just as much as he was with the realization that this was not Ron-it was Ronald Weasley, nothing more than a name, an empty shell of who their best friend used to be.
"What about you, Hermione?" Harry asked. "How are you holding up?"
"Oh, you know..."
But exactly what Harry knew, he never found out. Ron cried in pain at that moment, causing Harry and Hermione to jump.
Pig was twittering madly in his cage, so violently that the cage was teetering toward the edge of the bureau. Ron clutched his hand, watching blood pour down his finger.
"Ron," Hermione said as she went to him. "Remember what we told you about the owl? Remember?"
Ron shook his head, tears forming in his eyes.
"We said be nice. Be nice to Pig, okay?" Hermione reached for her wand and healed the small cut on his finger as Ron nodded.
After a few moments, Ron went back to the cage. Pig had calmed down and hooted softly, as if he had done nothing wrong. Slowly, Ron's glance went from Pig to Harry, and a grin spread across his face upon seeing Harry. To Harry's surprise, Ron rolled his eyes and nodded toward Pig. "Stupid owl."
Ron busied himself by watching the posters of the Chudley Cannons, with players waving from flying broomsticks. Hermione felt frozen, and by the looks of Harry, he was stunned as well. Did she just hear what she thought she heard? Had it been her imagination, a hallucination caused by lack of sleep? Or did Ron just call Pig stupid?
It was a moment of triumph and rejoicing, and she couldn't help but smile. In those few moments, Ron had returned, with his goofy grin and annoyed remark. Perhaps there was hope, after all.
"Okay, Ron, who's this?" Hermione asked, holding up a photo of the Weasleys in Egypt, her finger pointed to Bill.
Ron sat beside her, cross-legged under the tree. His face was twisted in deep thought as he stared at the picture, trying to remember.
"I'll give you hint. He works at Gringotts."
"The bank?" Hermione nodded. "Er-Charlie?"
"Percy? No, he's the one with the big head..."
"That's what Fred said," Ron replied, smiling. "Hermione, I can't remember. My brain hurts."
"Yes, I suppose we've exhausted that one for the day."
Ron flopped onto his back and stared up at the tree. "Hermione?"
"Hmm?" she said, putting the photos back into her bag.
"What was I like? Before...it happened?"
"Ron, you've asked me this before."
"I know, but it helps to know that I was someone once. Someone who remembered things...and people..." Hermione looked to him, detecting sadness in his voice, the same sadness that lingered when he couldn't remember something.
"Well, you were-"
Ron sat up and laughed. "Shut up, Harry."
"Well, you were," Harry said, sitting down beside Hermione, grinning. "Carrying around a rat for years..."
"But Hermione said it wasn't really a rat..."
"Anyway," Hermione interrupted. "You were-funny. You made jokes all the time, even with things that weren't even that funny..."
"Like the time Harry blew up his aunt?" Ron said, lying back down in the grass.
"How did you know about that?" Hermione asked.
"Harry told me."
"Oh. Well, yeah, things like that. You and Harry always got into loads of trouble..."
"And you didn't?!" Harry cried.
"Not before I met you two! And at least I did my homework. You and Harry hated homework. You never wanted to study..."
"I can see that," Ron said.
"...And argumentative. About everything."
"Don't even start that. You two were ALWAYS at each other's throats. Couldn't stand it." Harry looked to Hermione, who rolled her eyes, but Harry knew it was just because it was true.
"Hermione, were you and Harry...?" Ron started, somewhat awkwardly.
"Were we what?" she asked.
"Were you...you know, together?"
"No," Harry and Hermione answered together.
"Were we...together?" Ron asked, hesitating again.
The question caught Hermione off guard. She chanced a glance to Harry, who merely shrugged uncomfortably. After a moment of thought, she looked away and answered distantly. "No. We weren't."
She heard Harry sigh beside her as he looked toward the sky. Hermione couldn't bear to face Ron and the lie she had fed him. "Listen, I've still got homework to do. I'll see you later." She rose, taking the bag of photos with her and headed to the house.
Once in Ginny's room, Hermione angrily cast the bag of photos to the floor, watching as they scattered. She covered her face with her hands, but no tears fell. She was beyond that.
Ron's voice echoed in her thoughts. "Were we...together?" She felt a pang of guilt, sorry that she had lied to him. It wasn't really a lie, but it wasn't the truth. They hadn't been "together," no, but she had almost told him.
Hermione wasn't selfish in thinking that she was the only one suffering. She had spent too many days at the Burrow, watching Mr. and Mrs. Weasley longing to find their lost son again. Hermione felt for them every time they watched Ron struggle with the names of a family member at the dinner table. Poor Ginny often retreated to the attic, despite the ghoul, because she couldn't stand to not have Ron recognize her in a way a brother should. Lately, Fred and George had become more irritating, if not unbearable. They found it entertaining to convince Ron of untrue things, telling him that a pack of wolves in the nearby forest raised Percy, or that Ginny was a vampire. Ron didn't know any better, and often believed the twins, until word slipped to someone else, and the truth was revealed. Hermione knew it was Fred and George's way of coping with the drastic change in "Ickleronniekins," a change that left an empty rift in the family. The twins were too proud, too tough to admit this, but their comedic front didn't fool Hermione.
Hermione looked to the floor at the scattered photos and studied a familiar one. She could see herself, wedged between Ron and Harry on a fallen log, waving and smiling in the picture. It had been taken the previous summer. Another caught her eye. It was one taken by Colin at Hogsmeade, of herself and Ron, just months before. There was a stain on her dress, from when Ron had clumsily split his drink on her when he got up from the table. They were laughing in the picture, having a good time.
But gone were the days like those. Never again would they be the same. Hermione knew she wasn't being fair, that things had improved significantly since the beginning of summer. She knew Ron was trying as hard as he could. But it still wasn't the same, and everyone knew that. Besides, she thought, since when was life fair?
Hermione swore sometimes that Ron had returned, exactly the way he had been before he lost his memory. It was the small things - a comment, a smirk, the way he looked at her - hat made her think that he was coming back to them, at last. But she always dismissed it, knowing that she only thought that because she wanted to believe that's how it was. But reality was, it wasn't. While Ron surprised even the most intelligent experts at St. Mungo's with his progress and determination to recall his past, he would never be the same. Never again would Ron fondly recall past Christmases, trivial arguments that now meant nothing or adventures they had shared in the past six years. Harry, Ron and Hermione were tied together by friendship and love, yes, but also by everything they had been through together - everything Ron had forgotten.
Out under the tree, Harry and Ron had sat in silence, watching Hermione until she went inside the house.
"She's not telling the truth, is she Harry?" Ron asked. "We were together once, weren't we?"
Harry said nothing, but stared up toward the tree.
"That's what I thought," Ron said, sadly.
"Well, you weren't really...together, but I always told you that you fancied her," Harry said. "How'd you know?"
"Just do," Ron said. "Did she like me?"
"Dunno...Hey, how'd you know about me blowing up my aunt? You told Hermione I told you, but I didn't."
Ron looked up at Harry for the first time since Hermione left. "Just do," he said again. "I don't know how, but I do."
"You mean, you remember?" Harry asked, getting excited.
"I don't know...maybe. I know things that I don't remember you telling me. It's strange, but I can see it in my mind sometimes. Like the train...or a car...it was flying..."
"Ron, you've got to tell your parents. Hermione would be..."
"Disappointed, Harry. I get frustrated when I can't remember things, and I know it hurts her. It hurts everyone. I wish I could, but I just can't. It's like trying to remember a book you never read." Ron was silent for a few moments. "Don't tell them, not yet at least. They'll take me back to the hospital, and I can't bear to watch them get all sad again when the man says my memory's not back."
Harry nodded, understanding what Ron meant. "Look, you want to go and ask Fred and George if they're up for a game of Quidditch? It's this great game, where you..."
"Nah," Ron said, cutting him off. "My broom's not nearly fast enough to keep up with yours." Ron looked at Harry thoughtfully before asking another question. "You and I were best friends, right, Harry? We told each other stuff?"
"Yeah, we told each other stuff," Harry said, smiling.
"Well...then I guess I can tell you. That, well, Hermione..."
"I know," Harry said, trying not to laugh. "You like her."
"No...no, I wasn't going to say that..." Ron mumbled, suddenly unable to face Harry. Slowly, the familiar grin spread across his face. "Shut up, Harry."
"Now just stir it slowly."
Harry found Ron in the kitchen with Mrs. Weasley. He was sitting at the table, amazed by the swirling orange liquid in the pitcher that was being stirred with an enchanted spoon.
"Did you two get all your books for school?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Yes," Harry answered. "All but one. The shipment hasn't arrived yet. We'll have to go back again in a few weeks, right before start of term."
"Well, you're just in time for a snack. Ron, can you pour them something to drink? I think that's enough stirring." The spoon stopped midair, and Ron reached for the glasses on the counter.
"Thanks. Did you tell her yet?" Harry said, feeling as if he'd asked the question some time before. Mrs. Weasley put her wand on the counter and left the kitchen.
"No. I can't, Harry. I already told you why." Ron looked up suddenly. "'Lo Hermione."
"Hey, Ron. Harry, I put your robes on your bed."
"Want something to drink?" Ron asked.
"How do you take your pumpkin juice?" he asked.
"Sweetened, not stirred," Harry answered.
"I wasn't talking to you," Ron said. "You've already got a glass."
"But it's empty." Ron rolled his eyes, before filling a glass with sugar and pouring pumpkin juice in it. The result was a large lump of orange mush.
"Here," he said. "Hermione?"
"Ron, this is disgusting."
"You ordered it," Ron laughed. "Hermione?"
The three sat down at the table with their drinks. Harry noticed that Ron was fidgeting again, and he knew it was because Ron was thinking of how to say something. Finally Ron mumbled something that sounded like it could have been a sentence.
"I-I want to go back to school with you, back to Hogwarts," he said.
Harry had known this was coming, ever since they had received their annual letters from Dumbledore and the book list. He hadn't missed the way that Ron had looked on longingly at his own letter, disappointed when his parents had said no.
"Ron," Hermione started slowly, "You know we want you to come, but..."
"But what?" he asked anxiously.
"But, well-six years of magic isn't easy to recall in three weeks."
"I could do it," Ron said, but as the words escaped him, he somehow knew she was right.
"Ron, what's going to happen? You can't remember what you've already learned, you'll be behind in your studies..."
"I'll remember just fine! I can already remember loads! Like-like...I can't think of anything right now, but...but Harry! He knows. Tell, her, Harry!"
Harry had been forgotten in the argument, but he had been quite content to be left out of it. He looked from Ron to Hermione and back again, hating being caught in the middle.
Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah. Ron talked about Aunt Marge, even when I didn't mention her...and he knew about my Firebolt and how to play Quidditch before we got the chance to teach him."
"Harry, that doesn't mean anything. Anyone could have told him about Quidditch..." Hermione started.
"But just this morning, he was talking to me about Hogsmeade and you, Hermione. I didn't tell him, because I wasn't there. Unless you told him about that," Harry protested. Hermione opened her mouth, but stopped. The only other person that saw them there that she remembered was Colin Creevey, and it wasn't as if Ron could pick up the telephone and call him.
"Ron, why didn't you say anything?" Hermione said.
"Ah, relief from the heat!" Ginny said, bursting through the back door and grabbing the glass of orange mush. "That's disgusting!" she cried, looking up and finally taking notice of everyone else. "What's going on?"
"Everyone's deciding my life for me, that's what!" Ron cried angrily, standing up.
"No we're not!" Hermione yelled, just as loudly. "We're only trying to help!"
"I don't remember asking for any!" Immediately after the words left his mouth, he regretted saying them. Hermione had been patient with him all summer, teaching him the names of people erased from his memory, retelling events that he had forgotten and helping him remember who he had been, once before. He didn't know where the anger had come from. It was more frustration with himself, he knew, for not being able to be the person everyone expected him to be.
"Ron, that's not fair," Ginny said quietly.
"Since when has anything been fair, Ginny?" he spat bitterly.
"Arguing isn't helping anyone," Harry interjected. "Just forget it guys, all right?"
"That won't be hard for me," Ron said. "At least I'm good at something."
Ron sighed angrily, hating that he was horrible at everything and wishing it wasn't so. It was hard enough living up to perfect Percy and the rest of the lot, but now he had to live up to the old Ron Weasley, which wasn't that hard, from what he'd heard. Being poor, losing Quidditch games, cast in the shadow of Fred and George's success at Weasley Wizard Wheezes, his older brothers who had all been Head Boy...
"HB, for Humongous Bighead..."
Ron shook his head. Where had he heard that...?
A fuzzy image appeared in his mind, like one on a broken Muggle television. It wasn't clear, but he could hear voices, see himself seated at a table with his family. It was loud, everyone was talking...Tom was there...
Tom, from the Leaky Cauldron , silly said a voice in his head. Leaky Cauldron...
That was in London, at Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley . That's where Harry and Hermione had gotten their books today...
Harry and Hermione.
They had been in his dream. Ron's head hurt now, with all the flashing images going through his mind, but he was determined to remember. They had been in his dream. It was dark and they were running, near a tree. Why were they running? A rat...
"But Hermione said it wasn't really a rat..." Ron remembered himself saying, that one day under the tree.
The tree. The tree that hit people...the willow...
But the tree hadn't hit him, Ron remembered. It was something else, something...
"Ron, are you all right?"
Hermione's voice brought Ron back, the pictures quickly fading in his mind. He tried to hold them, to keep them there, but they dissolved.
Harry, Hermione and Ginny were all staring at him. "Er-yeah, fine. Just thinking..." His head was aching now, tired from thought, he supposed. He searched for something to soothe the aching, ice perhaps...
And then his eyes fell on something on the counter. It looked like a stick, a small twig. No, it was his mother's wand.
The tree hadn't hit him; it was the wand...the image appeared in his mind again, more clearly this time. The wand was pointed at Harry, trying to hurt him. He couldn't let Harry get hurt, not Harry...He had to save him...
But Harry was fine. He was in the kitchen, right now. He had already been saved...
Ron had saved him.
The images went quickly, like someone had sped them up in a hurry. Sparks burst from the wand, Ron jumped, Hermione screamed...
"I remember..." Ron heard himself say.
"The lake...Pettigrew...he made me forget..." Ron was frustrated now. He couldn't get the words out fast enough.
But they seemed to understand. Ginny was running, calling their parents. Harry kept asking him "What?" over and over again, as if he couldn't believe his ears. Fred had turned up, somewhere in the chaos, his dad was shouting at the fireplace to someone at St. Mungo's.
The next day continued as a blur. A trip to St. Mungo's, tests run over and over, only to stupefy everyone on the floor with the return of Ron's memory. They asked him to recall memories, hundreds from when he was a child to the time when his memory was modified. He never grew bored of answering them, more than happy to be the one telling his life story again.
He hardly got a chance to speak to Harry or Hermione the whole time. His mother wouldn't let up on the tears, despite Mr. Weasley's attempts to calm her, and Fred and George were having the time of their lives, laughing at all the times they were able to convince that Percy was indeed an alien.
So he was relieved when things had finally calmed down and he found Hermione, sitting alone outside under a tree.
"You remembered me," she joked.
"I couldn't forget you," Ron said, sitting beside her. "After everything you did for me this summer."
"It's what friends do," she said simply. "You'd do it for me."
"Actually..." he cast a smirk to her. "Only joking."
Ron let a few minutes pass in silence, thinking.
"Thanks, Hermione. I mean it. I know it must have been hard on you and Harry, to have me constantly asking you who you were and all. I don't know what I would have done if you or Harry couldn't remember who I was."
"I appreciate that, Ron."
More minutes of silence passed, and Ron was beginning to wonder if she was up for talking, or if maybe he should leave her alone. But he had to say something.
"What is it?"
Ron felt his ears burn red, and suddenly he felt he couldn't talk. Once the lump in his throat subsided, he asked, "You remember that day...in the common room? When I said I wanted to talk to you?"
Hermione nodded, remembering it well.
"I didn't finish talking to you, you know, before you got up and walked away."
"You were just sitting there, Ron. You didn't have anything to say."
"I just needed a minute," Ron protested.
"Well, what did you want to say?
Ron felt that familiar beating in his chest, as if his heart were going to burst. It was now or never.
"I wanted to tell you...that I..." Ron swallowed hard, knowing this was it. "I really like you, Hermione."
Ron looked away quickly, feeling his face heat up and his ears burn. He couldn't believe he just blurted it out like that. She was going to hit him, just like she did Malfoy...or get up and walk away, or never speak to him again...
But as he chanced a glance toward her, he saw her smile. "I really like you too, Ron."
When he realized he had heard her right, Ron grinned widely, not knowing what to say. Slowly, he reached for her hand and held it gently, knowing he would remember this summer forever.