He lay down on the dirt, his knapsack pillowing his head. He had been wandering for days trying to find them, and he regretted leaving now more than ever. He'd regretted it the moment he'd done it, but it had been too late by the time he had Disapparated. He had searched for them for hours on end before he finally gave up, failure and guilt gnawing at his stomach as he Disapparated for Bill and Fleur's.
Even the Deluminator wasn't helping anymore. Sure, it had shown him the way at first, but now it was just leading him in circles. Although, he thought, as he clicked it on and off, it could just mean that Hermione's invisibility charms were working. As he lay there, he couldn't help but feel a small swell of pride at his friend's brilliance. Then his heart sank and he felt a pang of guilt and remorse. He had left her and Harry. He had broken his promise, the one that meant the most to him right then.
He couldn't ever forget the day he made her that promise. He wouldn't ever be able to forget the tears in her eyes, nor the helplessness that she exuded right then. She'd been like that all week, now that he thought about it. She had known what they were going to do, known that they were leaving her.
No, he sighed, he would never be able to forget the day he had made that promise, a day that had begun blessedly carefree. His mum had made him help in the wedding preparations, though she didn't really need any help at all, of course. He closed his eyes, and wished almost painfully to relive that day once more, wished to relive the happiness and normalcy that surrounded The Burrow – as normal as it could get, anyway.
"No, Ron! Not there, just a few inches to the right – no, no! Your other right, honestly!" Molly Weasley's voice rang through the garden of The Burrow ferociously.
"MUM! That was my right – "
"Don't you take that tone with me, young man!" She looked critically at the arch he was placing on the dais that had been set up for the wedding ceremony. "Still a bit more to the right, Ron. Just a bit more – no, no that's too much, now move it back!"
"Mum!" He all but whined in the sweltering heat of the midday sun. "Why don't you just use a bl –" a stern look from his mother stopped him from saying anything punishable, "Why can't we just use magic to move it? I am of age, you know!"
"Didn't I say not to use that tone with me? Now move over and let me do this myself," she stated, batting him off of the dais, as she took out her wand.
Ron flopped down on the grass beside the dais as he watched his mum move the arch to the exact spot he had set it a few moments ago.
"There, that's perfect." Molly said with a satisfied smile, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. "I'm a bit thirsty, would you mind telling Ginny to bring out the pumpkin juice, Ron?"
Ron grudgingly stood up, and began muttering savagely under his breath about women who didn't know what they were talking about as he walked back to The Burrow. When he entered the cool shade of his home, he saw Ginny already walking towards him, tray in hand, and a small smirk on her face.
"Poor Ronnie, can't do anything right today."
He made a face as Ginny walked past him to the door, handing him a cool glass of pumpkin juice. "If you need more, Mum's put a Replenishing Charm on the jug," she pointed to the pitcher sitting on the table, then left him to slump in a chair letting the heat seep from his body after each gulp of the drink.
It was like a furnace outside, Ron mused as he downed the rest of his juice in a gulp and reached for more. He didn't understand why they had to fix everythingin the garden. The wedding was going to take place in the tent, not around it. The sun was just going to end up burning them all if they stayed outside and fixed the garden to the exact way the barmy women wanted it. She should have just done it herself, as far as he was concerned, not that she liked anything of his doing anyway. He sighed contentedly as he finished off the last of his juice, and got up, intending to go upstairs and plan on how he was going to get out of there with Harry and Hermione after the wedding.
"Ron, where are you going?" A voice asked from behind him.
He cursed silently as he stood stock still by the staircase, thinking hurriedly of an excuse. He knew he should've gone up without that second glass of pumpkin juice. He sighed regretfully as he turned around, ready to face his little sister's smirk telling him Mum was calling him back in the garden to move the bloody arch back where it had been before.
"All right, what does she want me to move this time?" he asked, pulling out his wand. This time, he would do it with magic, whether she wanted him to, or not.
But as he stood there, waiting for a snarky response that never came, he saw a wariness in her eyes that was so unlike the expression he was expecting, that his retorts faded away, and he finally took notice of the way she was looking, really looking at him.
She had been crying, and that on its own was unnerving to discover. Ginny rarely cried, and when she did, it made his heart ache, never mind the fact that she was an annoying little thing, always ready to tattle on him when he did something wrong, always running to Bill, her favorite, when Ron had wanted to play chess with her instead, always comparing the Harpies to the Cannons, even though everyone knew that the Cannons were the best. Ron was her older brother, her closest one, though she would never say it; he was supposed to make sure she never cried.
"What's wrong, Ginny?"
"Please, Ron, just answer me. Where are you going?" she asked, the faint desperation apparent under her calm façade. "When are you leaving?"
He looked at her again, wary of her actions, her appearance. "I don't know what you're talking about, Ginny," he said finally, gauging her reaction.
She slumped a little against the door. She had obviously expected this, and yet hadn't wanted to confront it. She was fearful that her suspicions would become facts, that the answers to her questions were glaringly obvious.
"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about, Ron," she said, her voice stronger, preparing to row if she had to, "Hermione told me that you were all going to look for him. For Tom. I know you're going."
Her stance was strong now, as well. Her hands upon her waist, her eyes almost narrow, calculating his own expressions; ready to catch any sign of him confirming or denying her misgivings.
But he neither made a move, nor a sound, and she waited in silence to see what he would do next. Should he confront her with the truth? Hadn't she already said that she knew what they were going to do? Did she already know about the Horcruxes, too?
"Ginny," he began, "you know I can't tell you anything. You know that Harry doesn't want anyone else to know." He shifted uncomfortably. "She shouldn't have told you."
"Well, it wasn't like anyone else was going to! At least she's brave enough to tell me you're even leaving! Were you planning on leaving without saying anything to Mum and Dad?" She paused, her lower lip trembling. "Without saying anything to me?"
"You think I would do that, Ginny?" Angry at her for thinking so low of him. "I was going to tell you all tomorrow, after dinner."
He walked up to her, not knowing what to do. He never did well with crying girls, knowing Hermione for six years proved it. He practically ran in the opposite direction when girls and tears were involved in the same sentence.
She sniffled now, and looked away, tears in her brown eyes, so unlike his own. He patted her head awkwardly, feeling as though he should have done more, but not knowing exactly what. She sniffled and giggled, altogether resulting in an unpleasant sound, because she felt Ron's uncertainty. Then, she looked straight into his eyes again, and he knew what was coming before she said it.
"I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not, Ginny."
Her eyes flashed angrily. She hated being told what to do, but there was no way Ron was letting her put herself in danger for this. It was enough that he had to leave the family, if she left with him – he couldn't stand to think what he would do if anything happened to her, what his family would do without her. She was the still the baby in the family, never mind her age, and although he definitely didn't act like it, he cared for her more than he let on.
"Why can't I?!" she exclaimed, outraged, swatting his hands away. "Is it because I'm a girl? Well Hermione's a girl, and she's going!"
"It's different –"
"It's not different!" She protested, stomping her foot with frustration. "It's only because I'm your little sister – because you probably think I'm not good enough! Well, I'll let you know that my bat-bogey hex can take out any Death Eater, no problem!" She began to pull out her wand. "I want to come, Ron! You can't make me stay!"
Ron eyed her wand warily, knowing that if he mucked this up, he might well just end up with bat-bogeys on the wedding day. He shook his head as fast as he could to let her know that those weren't the reasons at all. "Ginny, I'm not asking you to stay because of any of that! I'm asking you to stay because we need to think about our family –"
"Bollocks! If you were thinking about anything like that, you wouldn't leave in the first place!" Ginny interrupted, her voice shook as it rose in volume.
"Ginny, you have to listen to me." His voice now strong and low, no longer panicked, nor forceful. She paused, his voice had got her attention and she began to lower her wand. "You know why Harry broke it off. It's too dangerous – no, Ginny, listen – it is. You haven't even started your sixth year at school yet. It's bad enough that I'll be going off, Mum's already going to have a fit. If you come too…" He trailed off, looking out of the window above Ginny's head. His mum was threatening the gnomes that were gathered around the dais upon which she was standing. They looked quite scared, even though they greatly outnumbered her.
A lump suddenly rose in Ron's throat. How was he going to leave this? How could he leave the people who loved him the most, the people who would always be there for him, no matter what?
He looked down at Ginny, fresh tears shining in her eyes. They were so different, her eyes from his; a brown so deep and pure, and his own a shining blue without a hint of brown in them. A tear leaked out of his eye, and two out of hers as she gazed up at him, unconcerned at showing this particular emotion that she had always hidden.
She lurched at him, unable to stay without hugging him one last time before they could pretend that everything was alright. He clung to her, wishing he wouldn't have to let go. Letting go of her would mean letting go of his family, letting go of this life, this home that he suddenly found was worth much more than he knew.
She heaved a great sob and his own barely managed to stay silent.
"Don't let anything happen to him," she whispered fiercely, "Keep him safe." Her voice broke as she said the words. Then she looked at him, her blazing eyes looking into his piercing ones, as he answered.
"I won't – I can't – let anything happen to him."
"Promise me." Her tone was fierce, but her eyes were begging him to tell her what she wanted to hear.
She held tight to him again, as though wishing that what they were saying wasn't true, that it wasn't real. That he would go back to being her older brother who teased her about winning their latest chess match.
She pulled away from him again as another tear made its way down her freckled cheek. "You stay safe, too," she said clearly, strongly, as if saying this ensured his safety. "Come back with both of them. I can't – I can't live without any of you."
He sighed heavily. After that, she had given him one last hug and kissed his cheek before wiping her eyes. Then, she looked at him one last time before going into the garden to help her mum, her eyes sadly lingering on his face as she walked through the door, trying to memorize his every feature. He had promised her. How had he broken it? That was what really strengthened his resolve to come back and find his friends. The promise he had made to Ginny meant so much to him. In promising her that nothing would happen to either of them, he had promised to stay with them, protect them.
He clicked the Deluminator, wondering whether he was doing the right thing, following the instincts that it had given him. He didn't know whether he was even in the right place to begin with. He just Apparated after the ball of light had settled into his chest, and trusted that he would be transported to wherever Hermione was; it was her voice he had heard, after all, so he suspected it would lead him to her.
He clicked it again and started violently. A light had appeared in the forest, the brightness of it was slightly alarming. He hurried to his feet; all thought of Harry and Hermione flew from his mind as he threw his knapsack over his shoulder. Was someone there? Not the Snatchers again, surely? His heart was beating a hard tattoo in his chest. He was sure he would be found out.
Just as he was about to step forward to the source of light, wand hand raised straight ahead, a dark shape darted out from his right seemingly from thin air. He looked around and almost fell in shock. He was staring at the messy hair and slightly bulky frame of his best friend. But Harry hadn't seen him at all and was instead staring strangely at the light. Ron wanted to shout at him, tell him he was back and that he was so, so, sorry for having left, but before he could do anything, or even utter a sound, Harry strode away from him and towards the blinding light.
Ron followed without a second thought, his heart beating faster and harder as he attempted to stay quiet behind his friend and the light, not really wanting to be found out by either. He looked more closely at the light, and found that, instead of a shapeless brightness as he had thought, this light had taken the form of a doe; a harmless, beautiful, silver-white, doe.
It was obvious what it was, really, Ron thought as he walked silently along, a Patronus. Whose was it though? Had Harry's changed since he had been gone? Or was that Hermione's? Was she here? He looked around, half expecting to find her bushy head in the trees that surrounded them, even as he faintly recalled that her Patronus was an otter. But no, there was no Hermione, in fact, he couldn't see anyone anywhere except for himself, Harry, and the doe. A feeling of dread crept along his spine as he walked, and a moment later, found his ominous intuition confirmed. Just as abruptly the doe had appeared, it vanished. He stayed where he was, afraid that if he moved, he would be attacked.
He heard Harry light his wand; his voice was panicked, and his breath coming in short spurts, fogging the air in front of him. His hand shook as he directed the wand light all around him, attempting to catch the person who had created the Patronus, until the light glinted on something close by.
In the clearing was a small pond. Ron saw Harry approach it warily. He stood rigidly on the bank of the pond as he murmured words that Ron could not hear. Then, Ron saw his friend nod his head decisively, and before Ron could even begin speculating at what it was that Harry saw and what it was he was talking to, he saw his friend taking off sweater after sweater, and layers and layers of various other clothing until he stood there in his boxers. Blimey, he must be freezing, Ron thought as he stood there, watching with wide eyes as he realized what Harry was about to do.
Something on his chest caught the light from the wand, though, before he dived, and Ron realized with a horrible jolt that Harry was wearing the Horcrux. Expecting that to be laid with the pile of clothes as well, Ron gasped as he saw Harry set his wand down and jump into the pond feet first, the locket resting menacingly on his chest.
What was he doing?! Didn't Harry realize that thing was dangerous? It made Ron crazy when he wore it, he remembered the feeling all too well, and he shuddered as he recalled the emptiness and anger he felt when he wore it.
Ron waited a split-second before stepping hesitantly toward the pond, waiting for Harry to rise out of it. But something was wrong, Harry wasn't coming, and as Ron stepped closer he saw an image through the clear water that made his blood run cold. Harry was struggling, his legs beating wildly in the water, one hand holding a sword, and the other clutching his neck – the chain was strangling him!
Without thinking, without worrying about the consequences or his apologies, Ron ran toward the pond, throwing his knapsack away from him, as he dove into the freezing water. His hands found Harry quickly, and snapped the chain away from his neck as he tore the sword from his friend's hand. He held Harry tightly as he swam to the bank, one hand folded around his friend's middle and the other holding the sword and the locket, his legs kicking as hard as they could as he swam to the shore of the pond.
Finally, thankfully, he reached the bank, throwing everything unceremoniously from his hands as he spluttered, coughed and gasped for breath, hearing his friend do the same, one thought running clearly and strongly through his muddled mind.
I didn't break your promise, Ginny, I didn't.
A/N: Sometimes, I feel that Ron doesn't get enough credit for being who he is. The youngest boy in his family, the one who is always overlooked when he's next to Harry, not really all that bright (although he did show many strokes of brilliance throughout the series). But Ron's still Ron, and without him, the trio would not be the same trio we read about today, and so this story was a little tribute to who he has become in the course of the HP series, and to show how important he really is to all the people around him.
Also, I really, really want to thank my beta Arnel for making this story so much more in canon and so much more readable for that, and Sherylyn for going through the trouble of finding me a great beta, and guruvee, who I miss more than ever! Thanks, guys!!