Ron was deathly pale. His skin was clammy. He felt a tightness in the chest and he was barely breathing. His eyes were unfocused as his mind span in rapid circles around the fact that his greatest shame was now emblazoned across the front page of the Daily Prophet.
His imagination jumped from picture to picture of first this group of friends and then that group, each turning away from him in disgust, calling him a fraud, dismissing him as a liar and despising him for betraying his closest friends. He imagined the reaction of each and every person and a sickening emptiness gripped him.
How could he ever show his face in public again? How could he ever look any man in the eye again?
It was unbearable.
He had to escape. But there was no escape. There was nowhere to escape to.
He was vaguely aware that those around him were trying to comfort him, but there was no comfort.
The buzz of conversation around him made no sense, but then slowly meaning emerged. Ron felt detached from the scene, an observer, and he eavesdropped the conversation.
“I’ll take the blame,” said Harry. “I’ll say that I was affected by the horcrux and ordered Ron to go. It’s not completely untrue.”
“It doesn’t work Harry,” said Bill. “It doesn’t explain why you invented a cover story. It doesn’t let Ron off the hook either. He didn’t just leave you, Harry, he also left Hermione. The story makes a big play on that. It even ties in the fact that they have recently had a split, which they know because of George’s stupid sign.”
George looked just a little remorseful. “We could just deny it,” he offered. “No one can prove otherwise. No one who knows otherwise will tell.”
“Someone already has,” said Ginny bitterly. She couldn’t think of a single person who knew, though, who would have done so. It horrified her that someone had.
It was clear they were all thinking the same thing.
“Maybe Hagrid got drunk and let it slip. He’s done that before,” said Molly.
“Hagrid wasn’t there at the briefing. He didn’t know,” replied Harry.
“Melanie Watts was,” said Percy. They had all forgotten. She was there to take notes for Kingsley so he could prepare the press statement. It all became clear.
“Then, whoever kidnapped Melanie is the source of this information,” summed up Ginny. She felt relieved that none of their closest friends had betrayed them.
“That’s great,” said George, “we can easily deny the whole thing. The culprits can’t prove otherwise without incriminating themselves.”
“I don’t know,” said Arthur, “When you start building lie on top of lie the end result can be far worse.”
“I don’t think it could get worse,” replied Harry. He was very worried for his friend. He knew the revelation could almost destroy Ron. “I think we should deny it. Only Hermione and I know the real truth first hand and she is not going to let Ron down. I’ll go and talk to Hermione. We’ll issue a joint press release denying the whole story.”
They had almost forgotten Ron was in the room. His emphatic no brought them all to silence.
“I don’t want Hermione to lie for me. I don’t want you to lie for me, Harry. The lies end today. I have to face this.”
“You sure about this Ron?” asked Harry dubiously.
As Ron had listened to Harry talk about Hermione, he had suddenly understood what he had to do, his path to salvation. It terrified him.
“No mate, but I have to do this any way.” Ron turned towards his brother. “George, could you ask Lee Jordan to organise a press conference for 11:00am?”
“Sure Ron, if that’s what you really want,” replied George softly.
“I’ll go and get Hermione,” said Harry. “We can work on a statement.”
“No, Harry,” said Ron sharply, “I don’t want Hermione involved.”
“I know you and she are at odds at the moment, Ron, but nothing could stop her supporting you in this,” said Harry emphatically.
“Hermione and I are fine, Harry, that’s not the issue.” Ron looked into the eyes of his best friend. “This is something that I have to find from within myself. I have to do this alone… Although, Harry, if you’d sit with me during the press conference I’d appreciate that very much.”
Ron had never been more afraid in his life.
Three hours later Ron was nervously shuffling a few sheets of parchment on top of a small table. He was facing large group of journalists and photographers that almost filled the small hall. The rest of the room was taken up by Ron’s family, all except Charlie who had returned to Romania. Seated beside Ron, Harry looked anxious.
Ron took a deep breath, then lifting his head from his notes he began to speak in a surprisingly clear firm voice. “This morning the Daily Prophet published an article accusing me of abandoning my friends Harry Potter and Hermione Granger during our campaign against Voldemort, leaving at the time they were most in peril. There are many factual errors in the report and the interpretation is almost entirely incorrect. However there is a core of truth to the article. It is my intention this morning to lay the bare facts before you and apologise for incorrect statements made in the past. Responsibility for those incorrect statements is entirely my own.”
Ron took a sip of water. He took another deep breath, and then plunged on. “In late November last year the world seemed a dark place. We were at out lowest ebb. We had made no progress on our mission for some time. We were constantly on the run, moving every few days. We were cold, hungry and living with constant fear. Worse, we had not yet found a way to destroy the locket Horcrux we had obtained on our raid of the Ministry. Much of this is on the public record. What is not on the record is how the presence of the horcrux affected us. Its evil seeped into our souls. It accentuated our disappointments and resentments and sucked the savour out of any small joy we could find.”
Ron hesitated. This was the moment of truth. His voice faltered for a moment but then, with increasing determination he continued. “It is in this context that Harry and I had an almighty argument. We became furious with each other. Very ugly things were said. I stormed out. Hermione begged me to stay, but I was angry with her too and I left.”
“I regretted leaving almost the moment I left. Unfortunately, I ran into some Snatchers and had to disapparate again. After that, the nature of our magical protections made it almost impossible to return. I wasn’t able to do so until just after Christmas. During that time Harry and Hermione were almost killed.” Ron’s voice broke as he spoke these last few words. It took all his resolve to regather his composure and continue.
“Leaving Harry and Hermione is, I believe, the worst thing I have ever done. Not our low ebb, not the horcrux nor the blazing row is sufficient excuse for it. The stakes were too high. We were engaged in a desperate and deadly struggle with a monstrous evil. I had made a commitment to Harry and Hermione to stick with it no matter what. I failed them.”
“Harry and Hermione have long since forgiven me for what I did. It has taken me a lot longer to come to terms with it myself. Out of loyalty to me Harry and Hermione agreed to go along with the cover story that was put out. I apologise to you all for the deception.”
Ron put down the notes he had barely consulted. “I am ready to take your questions. Harry is not here to take questions. This is my mess. He is here to give a friend moral support. Hermione Granger is not here at my insistence. I have put her through enough and she doesn’t need to go through it again. Questions?”
“Aneurin Laugharne, the Welsh Dragon. As one red head to another, don’t you think you are giving yourself too much of a hard time over a momentary lapse?”
Chuckles rippled through the room and Ron smiled. “I wish I could agree with you, Aneurin. We were in a situation where a momentary lapse could be fatal. The absolute commitment we three had made to each other had to be the one thing we could rely on completely. I cannot in any way regard my failure as minor.”
Several questions followed on what Ron did during the time he was separated which he answered comfortably. The next question was from Douglas Douglas of the Glasgow Gleaner.
“You said it took you a long time to come to terms with what you did. How did you finally do that and how long did it take?”
Ron felt his chest constrict. Here was the heart of the matter, the opportunity to say what he most needed to say.
“I’ll answer the last part of your question first,” replied Ron. “I don’t think it was till this morning, after reading the article in today’s paper that I finally came to terms with it. But that was just the end of a long process. It took time, but I came to understand that I am not just my failures, or just my successes for that matter. I am both those and far more besides. I had to decide whether, on the whole, warts and all, I was someone I could like, even respect. I came to believe that I am, you may conclude differently. That is how I came to terms with it. I am what I am, failures and all and I don’t have to hide anymore.”
Ron’s sincerity and candour got through the hardened carapace of many of the journalists assembled there. Some nodded their heads. One had tears in her eyes. It didn’t last long.
Cantilena Misslethorpe jumped to her feet. “Cantilena Misslethorpe, Witch Weekly. There have been reports that you and Hermione Granger have broken up. Is the real reason she is not here today that she is far too ashamed of you to be seen with you in public?”
Ron was angry. He decided to calm himself first before firing off his bullets. He breathed in slowly.
“That is a lie!” Hermione stepped from behind a pillar. She marched steadily towards the front of the hall, heads swivelling to watch her progress. She turned to face the journalists. “I have never been prouder of anyone in my life.” She conjured a chair, sat next to Ron and gave him a big kiss. “We haven’t broken up either!” she announced unnecessarily.
Lee Jordan thought this would be an excellent time to end the press conference and brought it swiftly to a close.
As the journalists filed out, Hermione turned to Ron. “I really meant that you know. I have never been prouder of anyone in my life.”
Harry concurred. “Yeah mate, That was a gutsy performance. I think it worked too.”
“It worked for me,” said Ron quietly, “That’s what’s important.”
“Why didn’t you tell me what had happened Ron or about the press conference?” Hermione asked, just a little miffed. “I would have rushed right over.”
“I know. It’s what you said the other day, Hermione. This had to come from within. I had to find a way to do this myself. I had to find a way to believe in me as you and Harry do.”
Hermione crushed him in a big hug. By now the rest of the family arrived and congratulated Ron.
“Way to go, little brother,” said George with a big smile.
Ron replied. “You better get that sack of potatoes out, George; I’m taking the rest of the day off.” He turned to Hermione. “Are you coming to the Burrow for lunch?”
Hermione nodded. Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Molly returned to the Burrow while the rest of the family and Harry headed to work.
Oliver Grantham entered the lift on the way to a meeting in the ministry. He was surprised to see his sister in law Melanie already in the lift.
She spat in his face. “I can’t prove it Oliver, but I know you did it. I would prefer if you do not visit my home again in the future.” She exited the lift leaving a shocked Oliver behind with spit in his face.”
Ron and Hermione were sitting on their bed at the Burrow. They had been talking about this morning’s press conference.
“How did you know about the press conference, Hermione?”
“A journalist tracked me down to get my reaction to the Prophet article. I almost collapsed when I read it. Anyway, she didn’t get anything from me but I got all the details from her. I went to the Burrow immediately but you had already left. I got to the press conference just as you started. I didn’t want to throw you off so I hid down the back.”
Hermione got up off the bed and took out her beaded bag. She started pulling out her clothes, still all neatly hanging on clothes hangers and putting them away in the cupboard.
“You’re moving back?” asked Ron.
“If you’ll have me, I may have been a little hard on you Ron, I’m sorry. You weren’t the only one in the wrong.”
“mm, do you want to expand on this?”
“Do I have to,” asked Hermione.
“Think of it as a growth opportunity.” Ron smirked.
Hermione frowned. “I should have talked to you before about how deeply I felt about helping other muggle born. We never seemed to be able to get past Grantham so I didn’t. Also I didn’t really have to make you wait to Wednesday before we talked. I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted. You can continue putting away your clothes. Then you can hurry back here. I have something for you.” Ron patted the bed beside him.
Hermione did as she was told, but instead of getting the kiss she expected, Ron reached under the bed and pulled out a package. “This is for you.”
It was a small flat package, neatly wrapped in silver paper.
Hermione was curious. She opened it eagerly to reveal small flat leather case about 2 inches by one. It was trimmed with gold.
“Press that little seal there, with the otter image,” instructed Ron.
Hermione did so. The case expanded into a full size attaché case. It had a plush fully lined interior with the well organised space divided into various compartments and holders.
“You can organise all your files and reports in it and then shrink it down and pop it in your purse, all ready for your first board meeting,” said Ron nonchalantly.
Hermione gave him a big hug. “Oh Ron, it’s brilliant.”
“The colour is periwinkle, the same colour as the dress you wore to the Yule ball. When I look at it, it will remind me how useless and destructive jealousy is.”
Hermione looked at Ron with tears in her eyes. She looked at the case again and then she began to laugh.
“You know, Ron, some people would call this colour lavender.”
Ron blushed. “No, Ron,” said Hermione, “that’s a good thing. If I had been open with you and told you my feelings the whole Lavender episode would never have happened. I can look at this case and be reminded of the dangers of not sharing my feelings.”
Hermione leaned back on the bed. “I haven’t decided yet whether to take the board position. Maybe we should sit down and go through all the pros and cons.”
“Yeah, that would be good. But first I think we need a little distraction.”
“What kind of distraction, Mr Weasley?”
“Well, it doesn’t involve Quidditch.”
Oliver Grantham was sitting in an overstuffed leather lounge chair in the richly decorated Galen club. Portraits of important healers from antiquity filled the walls. In one corner a very old wizard was reading a scroll held inches from his eyes. He was loudly sucking smoke that had been filtered through a bubbling purple potion.
Grantham was the guest of Hypon Gallant who had invited him to the club for a “quiet word.” Hypon had just finished regaling Oliver with some of the political intrigues on the board of St Mungo’s. It was now time to get down to business.
“I hear there was a very interesting press conference this morning. Apparently the three young stars of our age managed to turn a negative story into a positive and come up smelling of roses again. Very impressive trio I have to say,” began Hypon.
“Yes, I heard,” responded Oliver wondering where this was going. He had a few ideas.
Hypon stroked his patrician visage. He had all the august bearing of the ancient healers whose eyes looked down upon them from their portraits. “They are obviously destined for great things in the fullness of time. Still, they are very young. There are those that think that it would be unfortunate should our young friends find themselves members of the Wizengamot before they had time to properly mature.”
“Ah,” thought Grantham. It had long ceased to amaze him that supposedly confidential committees leaked like rotten wine casks. “I can’t say I would be particularly pleased to see them in the Wizengamot, Hypon. They are dangerous enough outside it.”
“Good, good. I am glad to hear you say that. One hears curious things from time to time. I try not to put much stock in them.” Gallant settled back in his chair.
Grantham said nothing. He waited for Gallant to continue. Eventually he did.
“Sound judgement, that’s what one looks for in people in high positions. It’s possible that certain arrangements would have to be changed if, in a fit of youthful idealism or a misguided sense of propriety, someone were to display a less than sound grasp of the realities of the situation.”
“It’s always preferable to see things as they truly are,” replied Grantham.
“I am glad you understand,” replied Gallant.
The message couldn’t be clearer. If Grantham supported the award of first class Merlins to the trio, they would find another candidate for Minister of Magic. Well, he reminded himself, he didn’t particularly like the idea of the awards.
The Burrow was bustling with activity on Sunday morning. It was Ginny’s seventeenth birthday the next day, but they had decided to celebrate it on Sunday so everyone could attend a family lunch. In addition to the family, Neville and Luna were coming as were several of Ginny’s classmates. Aunt Muriel would also be there along with Andromeda Tonks and little Teddy, Harry’s godson.
Harry and Ginny had become regular visitors to Andromeda’s and had come to like her. They simply adored Teddy.
Ginny had been excused helping with the preparations for the party so she was wandering around the house making a nuisance of herself. She scanned the newspaper that lay on the kitchen table.
“Hey, it’s my birthday,” complained Ginny. “How come Ron’s photo is on the front cover of the Prophet?” Ron’s photo was accompanied by an editorial entitled ‘Honour, Integrity and Courage’.
“You’ve had more than your fair share of publicity, Ginevra,” her mother scolded light heartedly. “I would hate to think you were becoming, vain. I hope you don’t say something like that in front of Aunt Muriel today. She’ll spread it around that the Weasleys are now putting on airs.”
“Why did you have to ask her anyway, Mom? She doesn’t like me,” whined Ginny.
“I don’t think she likes anyone, Dear, but she is your oldest female relative and she also provided the family with a safe haven when we had to go on the run. It’s only proper to invite her.” Molly hadn’t lost a beat as she wielded her wand like a maestro’s baton, conducting an orchestra of knives, graters and spoons as they sliced, chopped, grated and stirred in harmony.
“Where’s Fleur?” asked Ginny. In recent months, Fleur had become an indispensable support for Molly at large gatherings.
“Bill sent word she was feeling sick this morning. He’s hopeful she’ll be well enough to come to the party.”
Ginny’s eyes opened wide. “How long has that been going on?” she asked. Molly just shrugged causing a knife to go scampering after a carrot that had suddenly leapt from the chopping board.
By noon, the lounge room of the Burrow was crowded with guests. Pumpkin juice and savouries circulated through the room. Little Teddy was a hit as he was handed around, his hair colour changing to match each new holder. Muriel clearly disapproved, but as she was handed Teddy she softened slightly. What happened next surprised everyone. Teddy gave Muriel a big smile and then his hair colour changed, but not to Muriel’s grey. It turned a deep, rich auburn, the exact shade of Muriel’s hair when she was a young girl. Muriel’s eye’s filled with tears and she hugged Teddy, but then she quickly passed him on and fought to regain her stiff composure.
“Present time,” announced Arthur with glee. Very soon Ginny was surrounded by a treasure trove. Neville had given her a perpetually flowering rose pot plant. “It’s beautiful, but has thorns for the unwary, just like you, Ginny” he said in a rare moment of poetry.
Hermione had given Ginny one of her magical homework and study planners and a beautiful stationery set – for all those long letters to Harry she would be writing.
“Your turn Harry,” announced Arthur. Harry got up and gave Ginny a small round parcel.
It was the wrong shape for a jewellery box, and too soft. She shook it but learnt nothing. Eagerly she ripped of the wrapping only to reveal Hermione’s beaded bag.
“You can’t keep the bag,” laughed Hermione. Your present is inside. Ginny reached inside the bag and felt something hard, wrapped in paper. She started pulling. It took a while for the entire package to emerge, but when it did the shape was unmistakeable. Ginny attacked the last barrier to her present and soon held a Firebolt Mk2 in her hands. Ginny was unable to move, let alone speak.
“It’s probably the finest broomstick in the world,” breathed Ron in awe. He would have been speechless himself if he hadn’t already known what was coming.
Harry knelt down beside Ginny who still hadn’t spoken. She looked into his eyes. “Harry, this is too much. It’s not right.”
Harry took her hands in his. He spoke softly so only she could hear. “Nothing is too much for the most beautiful chaser in the world. Besides,” he said, now speaking more loudly, “I see this as a business investment. I expect 10% of your match earnings when you turn professional.”
“Hah, 5% tops,” replied Ginny.
“Mm 5% and a kiss after each match,”
“Done,” laughed Ginny and leapt into Harry’s embrace.
Arthur now got to his feet. “Before Molly and I give Ginny our present, I’d like to say a few short words. Today is a transformational event for our family in many ways. The last of our children comes of age and enters adult life. The horrors of our recent past meant that Ginny had to take on some of the heaviest burdens of adulthood long before it was her time and I am so proud of how she rose to that responsibility. This too is the first major family occasion where are marvellous son Fred is not with us. Later I will ask you all to toast his memory. What Molly and I are truly hoping is that today will mark a new beginning for our family. A new era, not the same as the old, but where joy and happiness can once again flourish. I look across the room to my beautiful, wonderful daughter in law, Fleur the first addition to our adult family. I look around the room and I do not believe it will be too many years before our family begins to grow again, in more ways than one.”
“Well it is Ginny’s birthday, so I better get back to talking about her before she hexes me,” joked Arthur to much laughter. “Ginny has six elder brothers. She is the first girl to be born in the Weasley clan for several generations. So you can see Ginny has never been a conformist. She always likes to swim against the stream and challenge tradition. Your mother and I, though, do appreciate certain traditions and one of them is to present your daughter, on coming of age, with a special piece of jewellery. We both love you so very much dearest Ginevra.” Arthur was beaming at his daughter.
Molly stepped forward and handed an unwrapped box to Ginny. She opened it gingerly. Her jaw dropped. Inside was an exquisite pendant, a single large sapphire surrounded by a ring of brilliant diamonds. It was threaded on a delicate silver chain. “It’s so beautiful,” she breathed. She hugged her mother then gave her father an extra big hug.
It was a marvellous day. In so many ways it truly did mark a new beginning for the Weasley family. For George it was something of a turning point. He lead the toast to his brother. It was poignant, beautiful and though it was full of emotion he was able to do it without breaking down. He had asked Angelina Johnson along “as a friend”. Percy, too, had chanced asking Audrey again, hoping this time no great drama would mar the day. He got his wish. Although they didn’t know it at the time, it was the first family occasion where all the future spouses of the Weasley children were present. Only Fleur and Bill knew that the first of the next generation of Weasleys was there as well and had begun her long climb to first breath.
It was 1:00 am. The household had long since retired after a long and joyful day. The door to Harry’s room opened and there stood Ginny, bathed in the soft light from the landing. She had never looked more beautiful or more sensual. She had abandoned her usual summer night-time uniform of pyjama shorts and t-shirt. She was wearing a very feminine nightie, her birthday present to herself, Harry realised, and to him.
There was no doubting Ginny’s intentions nor the response of his body. Harry knew that if they started there would be no holding back for either of them. Slowly he pulled back the covers and invited Ginny into his bed.
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