F&B: Anthony, in the first couple of weeks after the war ended, when most of the heroes of Hogwarts were doing a kind of triumphal tour of Britain, Ron was rather conspicuously absent. Do you know what happened to him?
AG:Ron was on an extended visit to the Galapagos Islands.
F&B: I didn’t know he had an interest in marine biology.
AG:Oh no, he hasn’t the slightest interest in that.
F&B: Some particular magical resources in that area?
AG: No, it happens to be one of the most magic-free regions in the world.
F&B: Don’t make me Accio it out of you now...
AG:Okay, but remember, this is the story as Fred and George tell it, so some of it may contain some... embellishment. Though in this case Ginny and Bill also corroborate the basic plot, so to speak. To start with, you have to understand about the pumpkins.
F&B: The pumpkins.
AG:Right. Have you ever wondered how we fed ourselves during the siege? Well, the ideal food for that situation is something that grows very rapidly, has high caloric content, and contains most of the crucial vitamins. One crop which meets those criteria almost perfectly is the pumpkin, or at least the magically-enhanced variety which we had. So our basic staple food was pumpkins. More specifically, Hagrid’s pumpkins. Still more specifically, as Ron used to describe them, “Hagrid’s bloody, sodding, blank-blank-blank, etcetera, pumpkins.”
F&B: And what was so expletive-worthy about these particular pumpkins?
AG:Hagrid had developed this variant himself, and as you probably know, Hagrid has something of a sweet tooth. So he started with a special strain of pumpkin seed, the kind they use for the pumpkins that end up in “Peter Sweeter” children’s pumpkin juice...
F&B: They advertise on WWN, as a matter of fact...
AG:Right, the one with the house elves singing – I can’t really imitate it because I can’t make my voice go that high – “Peter Sweeter, you can’t beat ‘er, nothing neater” – over and over and over until you start feeling the toothache pain go right through your gums and lodge itself in the front of your skull...
F&B: It’s a fine ad for a fine product, go on with the story...
AG:Hagrid loved that ad too, and he loved the super-sweetened pumpkins, but he thought by Merlin, he could beat ‘er, he could make it even neater and sweeter. And he did. I don’t know what charm he used, but he created this...monster, this Manischewitz of pumpkins. Every bite you took out of one, you could almost hear the house elves start singing [falsetto] “Sweeter, Sweeter.” [end falsetto] But this was what we had, so we ate it. Day after day. Week after week. Death Eaters and dragons came and went, but Hagrid’s pumpkins were always with us. And from the start, Ron was the loudest and most consistent complainer about them.
F&B: Couldn’t you do anything about the taste, either conventionally or magically?
AG:Neville tried botanic methods, Terry tried potions, and Hermione.... Ron was very devious, very Slytherin about this. He knew if he went whining to her about these pumpkins she would just tell him to grow up and get his priorities in order, so he played on her weakness: he made it a challenge. He said Hagrid had obviously performed some extraordinary feat of magic which was beyond anybody’s ability to dispell. He knew Hermione wouldn’t take that lying down.
I want to stress Ron’s tactical genius here for a moment, because by the end of this story you’re going to be very strongly tempted to think Ron must have suffered brain damage somewhere along the way, and I want to assure everybody that he hasn’t. Ron isn’t stupid. It’s just that his train of thought sometimes takes these... leaps, over the regular line of track. There are these gaps, these lacunae, in his enthymemes—
F&B: —Hermione and the pumpkins?
AG:Right, Hermione and the pumpkins. Well, there’s actually not much to tell, except another series of failures. Here was the witch who had created an early warning system against Death Eater attack, who had fashioned a method of permanently destroying Dementors, who was in the habit of doing ten impossible things before breakfast, and she was as helpless as a Squib against these pumpkins. And Ron was starting to regret his clever plan, because, who do you think became the taste tester for each new attempt to... decloy them?
F&B: I presume that would be Ron.
AG:Of course. So Ron ended up eating even more pumpkin than ever, and every bite started with hope that Hermione had found the antidote, but every bite ended up with [falsetto singing] “Sweeter, Sweeter” [end falsetto]. Finally when he saw Hermione fiddling with some combination of pepper, oregano and Bubotuber pus, he said he wasn’t going to be part of the project any more. Though come to think of it, that was most likely Hermione being a little Slytherin herself; she lets Ron see her with that stuff, so it’s Ron who calls it off and Hermione avoids having to concede she’s been beaten by Hagrid’s pumpkins.
F&B: I’m afraid we’re still no closer to understanding what led Ron to the Galapagos Islands.
AG:Okay, let’s jump ahead to soon after the end of the war. All the Weasleys are happily reunited at the Burrow, Molly is fussing over them delightedly, and as she’s talking to Ron they come upon a topic dear to each, in his or her own way: food. Molly mentions that Ron looks a little thin...
F&B: Sorry, but do you happen to be aware of any occasion over the last twenty-odd years in which any Weasley did not look a little thin to Molly?
AG:The male Weasleys, no. I think Ginny may once or twice have been given hints in the opposite direction... But, to continue: Molly asked the natural questions: did you have enough to eat this past year, under these terrible conditions, what did you have?
F&B: And the response was?
AG:Ron made a terrible grimace and said, “Please Mum, don’t bring that up, I don’t want to talk about what they made me eat, I don’t even want to think about it.” [Pause] Well, imagine yourself in Molly’s position. She knows her son has been inside a besieged stronghold for months on end, she does not know that there was a way of growing sufficient food for everyone inside, she’s an educated woman who knows what tends to happen under conditions like that, and she hears her son speak in an apparently agonized voice about how his meals were the stuff of nightmares. Ninety nine people out of a hundred in Molly’s position are going to have the same thought: cannibalism. I don’t know what the hundredth person will think, but it almost certainly does not involve pumpkins.
So Molly immediately enters full “protective mother” mode, assuring Ron that it’s all right, he doesn’t have to talk about it, she understands how horrible it must have been, it’s over now, he did what he had to do to stay alive.... and Ron is basking so much in all this sympathy, it seems so natural and justified to him, like “At last, somebody appreciates how much I suffered from those bloody pumpkins” that it simply never occurs to him how out of character it would be for his mother to expend so many tears of pity on his being made, literally, to eat his vegetables.
F&B: Technically, are they vegetables? Aren’t they legumes?
AG:Legumes? No, no, no; pumpkins are in the gourd family, climbing plants....
F&B: Pumpkins can climb?
AG:The vines climb, then after the flower is pollinated the fruit grows out of the vine and weighs it down so it stays on the ground...
F&B: So pumpkins are actually fruits, not vegetables, aren’t they?
AG:That’s a false dichotomy, all the things we call ‘fruits’ are the fruits of vegetable species....
F&B: Maybe we should get back to Ron and Molly now...
AG:Well I didn’t start...
F&B: I know, I know. Sorry. Please.
AG:Okay. Well, for the rest of this conversation – and this is just one of the peculiarities of the way the human brain works, not just Ron’s brain – even though Ron never lets the word “pumpkin” pass his lips, he somehow has gotten the ‘fact’ settled firmly in his mind that he and Molly both know that the central topic is pumpkins. Of course from Molly’s point of view, they both know they’re talking about Ron’s being compelled to devour his dead classmates.
F&B: You know, I think I’m beginning to see why, at the end of this episode, Ron is going to feel the need to travel to a remote rocky island.
AG:I thought you might. The conversation resumes. Molly wondered, “Just tell me, darling, it wasn’t just you? All of the students had to eat... to eat... the same thing?” “Oh, of course, Mom. But I probably had more than most. Especially because Hermione and I were part of this project to improve the taste.” Molly’s hand goes up to her mouth in shock, but then she starts saying to herself, ‘think rationally, think rationally, it sounds horrible and grotesque but they had to do it, they had to eat, and once you concede the necessity of eating you might as well concede the desirability of making it as palatable as possible.” So Molly sets her jaw firmly and says “It wasn’t your fault, Ron. Don’t blame yourself” and Ron, who naturally never for a moment considered blaming himself for the pumpkins, readily agrees “I know, Mom, I don’t blame myself, there’s no reason to blame myself.” “That’s good dear, you have to keep telling yourself that, because you know the day may come – even though when you think of it rationally, you know it wasn’t your fault, that might not stop you from feeling guilty about it.” This is something of a puzzler for Ron, who sees himself very firmly in the role of the pumpkins’ victim, and can’t imagine any circumstance in which he would feel like the wrongdoer. But before he can figure out the puzzle, Molly continues. “It was You Know Who’s fault. He’s the one who put you in that position.” Ron is ready enough to blame Voldemort, but the Dark Lord isn’t the only villain in Ron’s mind. “Maybe, Mom, but I still can’t help blaming Hagrid too.” Now it’s Molly’s turn to be bewildered. “What did Hagrid do, darling?” “Well, he’s the one who prepared them, and he’s the one who made the taste so revolting.” This is news to Molly, who wasn’t even aware that Hagrid was at Hogwarts during the siege...
F&B: And of course in fact he wasn’t.
AG:He wasn’t. And Ron continues, “Yeah, he just had to make it all to his own taste. Believe me, Mom, I could do better than that, and I don’t even know anything about...” at which point Molly hastily interrupts “Don’t you start thinking about that, Ron Weasley. You will never have to deal with that again, you won’t ever come within a mile of that kind of foulness” – and she instantly regrets talking of this as “foulness,” because that’s just the kind of talk that could trigger terrible guilt feelings in her son. Ron himself just thinks that “foulness” is a perfectly appropriate word to describe the taste of those pumpkins. But Molly braces herself, once more, to go against all her visceral loathing of the idea of cannibalism, in order to reassure her son that what he went through did not morally ruin him. “Listen, dear,” she says, “listen carefully. In the end, you did nothing wrong. They were already dead when you ate them.”
Now Ron is desperately confused, both because he doesn’t understand what she’s reassuring him about, and – more immediately – because he simply has never been in the habit of thinking about pumpkins as being either alive or dead, let alone recognizing the stage in their preparation and consumption in which they passed from one state to the other. And – let’s be fair to Ron, now – very very few of us have. But Ron knows this “living/dead” business is important to his mother, so he considers the point. Unfortunately, the result is that when Molly declares “they were already dead when you ate them,” Ron’s response is a puzzled frown and a long “Wellllllll....”
So. Molly is now suddenly confronted with a thought so hideous she doesn’t know how to deal with it. Ron can see the wave of horror going over his mother’s face, and he’s in a panic about what to say that might stop it. But all he knows is that, for some unfathomable reason, it’s important to her to think of the pumpkins as being dead. So Ron puts on a cheery face, and assures her: “Mum, listen, it’s alright; they were certainly dead by the time we finished with them, I’m sure about that.”
F&B: [Long pause. Finally gives up and buries his face in his hands.]
AG:The next sound everybody in the Burrow hears is Ron screaming “Help!! Mum’s fainted, Mum’s fainted.” Arthur, Ginny, Charlie and Percy levitate her into bed and look her over, while Fred, George and Bill stay with Ron and try to discover what happened. And, after Ron tells them the story, they explain the set of amusing misapprehensions both parties were acting under. And then they try to impress on him, in a sensitive and brotherly way, what a bloody moron he is. But, again, I have to insist, Ron is not a moron. He’s a champion strategist, both on the chessboard and on the battlefield, and he can see very quickly what the right and necessary move is in a given situation. And in this situation, he sees very quickly that the right and necessary move for him is to get as far out of Apparation range of his mother as is wizardly possible, as fast as possible. So after Arthur and the others assure him that Molly will be alright, and they sort out how they’re going to break the good news to her that Ron isn’t a cannibal after all—
F&B: —And Ron suspects ‘relief’ isn’t the only emotion she’ll feel on hearing this—
AG:—and Ron knows bloody well that ten seconds of relief are going to be closely followed by the ten plagues of Egypt, up to and maybe including the slaughter of the sixth-born son.
F&B: I don’t recall the tenth plague quite that way in my book.
AG: Well, Ron isn’t at all certain that Molly’s going to be held back by that sort of niggling literalism. So he sets out to find someplace where he can be safe from facing her for at least for a couple of weeks until she can cool off. Arthur ended up pulling a lot of strings to get the Portkey permit for Galapagos, precisely because it’s someplace that’s not only very difficult to reach, it’s a fragile ecosystem so you pretty much don’t get allowed in there without some legitimate purpose.
So now you know why, while the rest of us were waving to cheering crowds, Ron was having staring contests with the iguanas.
F&B: He and his mother did make up eventually, though?
AG:Oh, of course; that’s the Weasley way. They’re a very forgiving bunch. But not a forgetful bunch. And if any of them sense that Ron is in some danger of forgetting this story, they’ll be sure to remind him of it. They’ll consider it not just a duty but a pleasure. Ginny, for example, told me that when Ron got back she had a talk with him, and the gist of it was, “Ron, I’m your sister and I love you, but there’s something that’s been worrying me... You know Harry and I are hoping to get married and have children in the future, and some day those children are going to look up at us and ask ‘Mummy, Daddy, why is Uncle Ron the way he is? Did the bad men do something to his head?’ What do you want us to say to them?”
F&B: And his reply was?
AG:According to Ginny, Ron just grumbled “Tell them it’s Grandmum’s fault for giving me too much pumpkin juice when I was a kid.”
F&B: Alright, now the big question: just how much of this whole cock and bull story do you expect us to believe?
AG:Look at it this way – I’ve seen Ron’s Galapagos Portkey permit, and it says he’s there to do, quote, “research on finch morphology,” close quote. Which explanation for his presence there do you find more credible?
F&B: Why put that down as the purpose?
AG: Because that’s the sort of thing people actually do on Galapagos, you have scientists doing this incredibly painstaking and detailed observation of finches and other fauna and flora in order to understand the nature and pace of evolutionary change. And, as you know, the Portkey permit is a magically binding contract, which means that Ron would have had to fulfill it in at least some perfunctory manner, so I’m sure Arthur picked a ‘task’ which – you know, Ron takes a notebook, looks at some finches, scribbles down “short one, tall one, thin one, fat one...” and, voila, he’s done research in finch morphology. Not exactly O level research, perhaps, but...
F&B: What happens if he makes no attempt to fulfill the terms; he would have been held there?
AG: At the least.
F&B: If your story is true, he might not have thought that such a bad result, considering...
AG: Yes, Ron must have been performing a running calculation, where he balanced the prospects of what Molly might do to him against the loss of utility from imprisonment on Galapagos, and when he figured Molly had cooled down enough that the probability sums of the latter fate were heavier than the former, he did his ‘research’ and departed. Ron is very good at this sort of utility calculus, which goes to show, again, that he is not an idiot.
F&B: Have you ever considered a career in law, Anthony? Because if Ron is listening to this program, I’m sure he’s overflowing with gratitude at the way you’re defending his case.
AG: Well... possibly not. In fact, it might be time for me to start looking into some nice remote vacation spots myself.