Ron was ready to die.
This was it.
It must be.
His stomach was in knots and he no longer even knew whether he was the right way up or not. He clung on desperately to the plush-toy falcon as they span relentlessly in mid-air.
“I think we’re here,” he heard Hermione muster out before they were both violently hurtled to the ground.
It took Ron a few moments to recognize that the ground they had landed on was actually a thick, soft carpet and not a hard, concrete floor.
He pulled himself to his feet slowly and tried to take in his new surroundings, but he was instantly hit with an intense dizziness that caused him to crash straight back down in a heap.
Ron could feel his stomach rupturing on the inside.
He tried to hold down whatever it was that was coming back up, possibly the steak and kidney pudding that he’d had for lunch, but despite his best efforts he could only ensure that it didn’t escape his mouth.
The taste of his mouth filling with vomit then caused him to throw up all over the cream-coloured Kashmir carpet anyway.
He reluctantly looked towards Hermione, embarrassed to have made such an idiot of himself in front of her and humiliated that she would have to see him in such a state, but he was relieved to see that she too had just vomited.
There was an expression of upmost disgust and dejection on her face, as Ron saw some runny, dark coloured sick dribble down her chin. She gasped slightly when their eyes met.
“You’ve got sick on your chin… did you know?” Ron joked in a fairly hoarse voice, as Hermione laughed softly and cleared herself up after retrieving her wand.
Ron had just began vanishing the vomit he’d left on the carpet himself, when the brown door to the big function room swung open – and a tall, dark haired woman who looked like she was in her mid-forties strolled in.
“First time using a long-distance intercontinental portkey?” she asked in a knowing voice, as Ron and Hermione both nodded awkwardly. She had a slight accent, but not one that suggested she’d spent her entire life living in Australia.
“I remember my first time going from London to Sydney… nothing could prepare you for it. Trust me though I’ve been in charge of this portkey docking room for years and I’ve seen people chunder far worse than that. Some people even faint or pass out completely. Where is the port-
The woman stopped in her tracks as she saw the falcon in the middle of the floor.
“A bloody falcon! I suppose that’s Kingsley’s idea of a good gag. I’m a Wasps fan myself… I used to dread going into the Great Hall on a Monday morning when they’d beaten us at the weekend. Kingsley and his brother would always be the first to gloat… ah, those were simpler times… I’m Olivia by the way. Olivia Burke. You must be Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. It’s a great privilege to meet you both.”
Ron felt a small amount of embarrassment, but also great pride that someone from the Australian ministry would consider it such an honour to meet them both. He noticed a slight frown appear on her face as she studied the two of their faces in greater detail.
“I always knew you were all quite young… but to see how young you are in person…” Burke began, before a lump in her throat caused her to stop briefly. “Oh I’m sorry. I’m sorry… you’re here to get away from all of that.... Kingsley has made sure that you’ll have a good time and enjoy your stay in Australia. I can assure you that he spared absolutely no expense on this little trip for you both.”
“Oh but Oliv- Mrs Burke…” Hermione began before hesitating. Ron thought Olivia seemed to look a bit uncomfortable at being addressed as Mrs Burke.
“…there must be some kind of mistake. We’ve only come for a short visit whilst I find my parents,” Hermione said, as Ron gave her shoe a very slight kick. She caught his gaze for the slightest of seconds with an indignant look on her face. “We have a tent with us and we’re quite happy to pitch up wherever-
“Oh, Miss Granger!” Olivia interrupted. “Rest assured as soon as we have managed to locate and make contact with your parents we will contact you immediately. But whilst you wait your Minister has ensured that you both will be treated to the best in entertainment and culture that Wizarding Australia has to offer, whilst staying in the most lavish and luxurious accommodation that galleons can buy.”
Ron wasn’t one to readily accept any kind of hand-out or charity, but after all they’d been through in the last few years he rather liked the sound of that.
“But…” Hermione began, before Burke waved away her protests.
“No buts Miss Granger! You are both going to relax and enjoy yourselves and that is an order! Now if you’ll follow me I’ll be taking you to my colleague Brad, who will apparate you on to where you’ll be staying. I would take you myself, but well… I should have finished my night shift over an hour ago and I am absolutely shattered,” Olivia said, as Ron noticed the bags under her eyes.
“We’re awfully sorry to have imposed on you like-
“Nonsense, Miss Granger!” Olivia replied softly as she led them out of the office and through a long, bright yellow corridor. “You must forgive me if I sounded like I was complaining. It was a favour for an old friend to stay late to meet you both… and it is not every day even as the Head of Magical Transportation that you get to meet such decorated war heroes.”
Ron suddenly felt a bit self-conscious that the Head of Magical Transportation for Australia had seen his vomit.
“So if you’re just finishing a nightshift… what’s the time here, then?” Ron asked.
“Just past seven o’clock in the morning, Mister Weasley,” she answered.
“Bloody hell! So we were spinning in that portkey for nine hours?! No wonder we both chucked up!” he exclaimed.
“Not quite,” Olivia replied. “Australia is just on a different time-zone to England. It is nine hours ahead. You were only using that portkey for around two minutes and thirty seconds… which I can agree does still feel like a very long time, especially on your first go… but it really is nothing to how long it would a take a muggle to get from one pond to the other… they’d be looking at closer to twenty four hours of travel to get from London to Sydney.”
“Oh,” he mumbled. “But wait… that means we’ve travelled in time… to the future…I always wanted to have a go using one of those time turners!” he added happily, still kind of confused, but excited by what they had just done.
It had been Friday night when they’d set off, but now it was Saturday morning - what a mind-fuck, Ron thought.
Olivia and Hermione seemed to exchange a knowing glance, which went right over Ron’s head as he still tried to come to terms with the strangeness of it all.
“Ah. Here is Brad now,” Olivia noted, as they saw a short, fairly old looking wizard in the distance. He jumped up excitedly when he saw them and rushed over immediately.
“Brad… meet our esteemed guests and friends of Harry Potter… Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.”
“How ya’ garn?” he blurted out. “I’m Brad, but me mates call me Bradd-o!”
They exchanged pleasantries, before Burke excused herself and presumably sauntered off home to her bed after she had reminded Brad that there was to be no dilly dallying.
Brad ushered them to latch onto his arms as he readied his wand, but Ron’s stomach still felt a little bit wobbly and he hesitated.
“I kno’ ya must ‘av ‘ad one heck of a trip on ya’ portkey... but trust me I’m an experienced apparatah… ya won’t even feel it, Mister Weasley, sir!”
“Just Ron is fine,” added, feeling a bit embarrassed at being called sir.
“Come on then, Ronn-o! Miss Burke told me no piss fartin’ around,” he replied as he indicated once again for Ron to grasp on. Ron relented and instantly felt the horrible lurch of apparation as they left the Australian Ministry of Magic.
They came to an abrupt halt and from the salty air and feel of the wind Ron could tell that they were now outside.
“Right-o here we are,” Brad said as Ron took in their surroundings.
It looked somewhat like a suburban muggle park, with lots of vibrant, green grass and giant trees, many of which Ron did not recognize. These trees were a lot more exotic than the ones he’d encountered at Hogwarts or the various forests they’d pitched up in whilst on the run in the countryside.
“Where exactly is it we are, if you don’t mind us asking?” Hermione enquired politely.
“Oh don’t worry, we ain’t stuck you up out in the bush. Ya’ still in Sydney. This is Woollahra an’ trust me, Miss Burke’s made sure ya’ gonna have an absolute ripper of a trip. Ya’ stayin’ at the brand new hotel they’ve built next to Australia Magizoo!”
“Australia Magizoo?” Ron asked curiously.
“It’s the biggest Magizoo in the world,” Hermione replied. “It only opened in 1990… Newt Scamander said in the foreword for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them that it has the greatest collection of magical creatures ever assembled.”
“Sheila certainly knows her stuff!” Brad added.
Ron didn’t remember anything in his copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them about a giant Magizoo in Australia. He thought that he would’ve surely remembered something like that, but then he recalled that he’d had Bill’s old copy of the book, which would’ve been published well before it was even built. Hermione’s parents would’ve no doubt bought her the newest edition available.
“Now ya’ hotel ain’t far from here, but before we head off I best teach ya’ both the most important spell ya’ gonna need for ya’ time in Australia,” Brad said, as he retrieved his wand from his pocket.
“This’ll keep the mozzies and all the other little buggers from bitin’ ya,” he assured, before pointing his wand at himself and waving it quite aggressively. “Impedio Insectum,” Brad cast, as a very feint, almost invisible trail of liquid smoke engulfed him, before he waved his wand in their direction and two new smoke clouds appeared and submerged Ron and Hermione.
The smoke smelt vaguely chemically, before it softy absorbed itself into Ron’s skin, briefly making his skin quite moist, before it then faded away as though it had never been there at all.
“That will keep them off ya’ until the next time ya’ have a wash!” Brad announced triumphantly, as they offered their thanks to him.
“Ya’ shouldn’t need the spell to protect ya’ skin from the sun that we all use in the summa’, doubt it will get hot enough for ya’ to worry about that,” he added, as he started walking north and ushered for them to follow him.
“Why’s that?” Ron questioned as they started following their guide. “I thought Australia was supposed to be really hot?”
“Not when we’re comin’ up ta winter Ronn-o, mate!” Brad chortled.
Ron gave Hermione a confused look.
“It’s the same as the time being on the other side of the spectrum, Ron,” she said. “Australians have their summer months during our winter months, so where it’s almost June here it must be approaching their winter… although it’s still not too cold I suppose.”
“Ah nah… won’t ever get as cold as you Brits have it!” Brad exclaimed from ahead of them, as he lead them through the park.
They soon reached a turning and saw what looked like a huge palace in the distance, which appeared to have several armed guards stationed outside it. The guards were all wearing a funny sort of big, black bushy hat – their outfits were finished off with a bright red jacket and dark black trousers. Ron couldn’t quite make out the big object they were all holding aloft in their right arm.
“Are they beef-eaters?” a flabbergasted Hermione asked.
“Huh?” Brad mumbled. “Oh ya’ mean the guards! Look bloody stupid don’t they! Ya wouldn’t catch me dead in one of those. But don’t ya’ worry, Miss Granger. They ain’t real muggoes!”
“Muggoes?” Ron and Hermione asked in unison.
“Or Muggles as you Brits like ta’ call ‘em. Muggoes. Muggles. Same difference,” Brad said as he shrugged.
“But why are there people dressed up as muggles outside?” Ron asked as they drew closer to the impressive castle, which was a real contrast to the only castle Ron had ever been in previously. It had far more in common with the pictures he’d seen of the glamorous looking Beauxbatons Academy than the gothic-inspired ancient Hogwarts architecture.
“Beats me Ronn-o, mate. Muggo culture’s meant to be all the rage right nah ya kno? Wizard tourism industry is boomin’ over ‘ere and up in Asia and The States,” Brad said, before pausing and hesitating slightly. “‘specially now nobody’s been wantin’ a go to Britain the last few years,” he added nervously.
“But why would witches or wizards ever need to stay in a hotel when travelling abroad?” Hermione inquired.
“You have all the space you ever need in a good tent. Just need somewhere to pitch. Even the richest guests were pitched up in the same place as us when we went to Cairo… they just had bigger tents that’s all” Ron added, as he noticed one of the guards slowly leaving his post to meet them.
“Beats me, kidd-o! But people don’t wanna stay in tents no more. They wanna have an experience,” Brad replied, raising his eyes dubiously as he said the last word and chuckled lightly. “Load o’ old bollocks if you ask me. Can’t beat a nice trip in a tent out woop-woop.”
Ron laughed awkwardly in agreement, but if he was honest he had absolutely no idea what or where in the hell a woop-woop was.
“They wanna live like the muggoes do,” Brad continued. “They want real muggo waiters and chefs in the restaurants… they want real muggo barbers to cut their hair…they want real muggo everything, mate!”
Ron couldn’t quite picture the appeal and thought that it was quite odd, but then he casted a joyous image in his mind of his Dad turning up like a little kid at Christmas, absolutely revelling in a muggle-themed hotel.
“G’day Bradd-o ya daft cunt,” greeted one of the black hatted fake muggle guards in a thick Australian accent.
“Alright Tezza, mate? Lookin’ sharp in that sack o’ shit you call a uniform. How’s Noreen and the kids doin’ these days, they good?” Brad replied.
“Sound-o, mate. Who have we got here then?” the guard asked, as he smiled at Ron and Hermione.
“Ron Weasley,” Ron said as he shook the man’s hand.
“And I’m Hermione Granger,” Hermione added politely.
“Bloody hell, Bradd-o! What’s a daft old bludger like you doing with our VIP guests?!” Tezza asked in disbelief.
“I told you, Tezza, mate. I’m a big deal down at the Ministry,” Brad coolly replied.
Tezza laughed loudly before patting Brad on the shoulder. “Ah I have missed ya, mate!” he remarked, as Ron noticed Hermione yawn, which in turn caused him to do the same thing.
Tezza and Brad exchanged a nervous look upon noticing this.
“I best get yous two off to check-in,” Tezza said. “I could get in some real shit if the boss finds out I kept ya’ waitin’ talkin’ to this dick-‘ead,” he added, throwing a wink at Brad.
“Cya later Tezza, mate,” Brad said, as he raised his middle-finger to his friend, who raised his in return.
“Well it was sure nice meeting ya’ both,” Brad remarked as he turned to face them.
“A pleasure to meet you too,” Hermione quickly responded.
“Thanks for showing us around,” Ron added.
“No worries Ronn-o, mate!” Brad quipped. “Should see the overtime I’m getting for doing the morning shift today. Anyway I best be off… should be able to sneak a smoke-o before anyone notices I’ve been gone too long.”
Ron watched Brad skip along back through the Woollahra wilderness.
“Miss Granger, would ya’ like me to carry ya bag for ya’?” Tezza asked as he guided them towards the extravagant gate of the hotel.
“Oh no… it’s quite alright… it’s enchanted you see,” Hermione said.
“Ah thank Merlin you’re not one of those VIP guests,” Tezza replied excitedly. “Some of them are dead keen on this muggo thing. They ask ya’ to carry their bags like ya’ would if ya’ was a real porter in a propa’ muggo hotel… but most the guests are so rich the bags are enchanted and light as a featha anyway!” he said in an incredulous tone as he adjusted his hat.
Ron laughed slightly at the thought of it.
“Now me boss made us all promise that we wouldn’t ask ya’ any sensitive questions, like. But me little boy would nevva forgive me if I didn’t ask ya’ just one.”
Ron gave Hermione an uneasy look, but she smiled slightly and nodded.
“Go ahead,” she said.
“Okay,” Tezza began, as he cleared his throat and eyed up Ron and Hermione with a gravely serious face.
Ron wondered what question the man would consider so important to ask that he would risk getting in trouble with his boss for.
It had to be about something massive.
Something really hard-hitting.
“Is it true what they say, like? Did You Know Who really not have a schnozza?”
A cold breeze blew against Ron’s cloak as he explored the Woollahra wilderness.
The Sydney sun had set and it was both cold and dark outside, with only the odd flood-light and a few fireflies preventing the forest from being encased in darkness.
He jumped slightly as he saw a little spider run past his shoe, but then he noticed a whole horde of them scattering away to the east.
Ron’s eyes shifted to follow where they were all going and he saw that they were all converging on a rose bush at the start of a clearing. His arachnophobia caused him to hesitate, but his curious nature soon overcame his fear and he trudged over to investigate.
A closer look at the rose bush did not give away the reasoning for the spider’s strange behaviour, but then he heard a hideous hissing sound approaching behind him.
Ron reached for his wand and his heart skipped a beat when it was not there, where he always kept it.
How could that be?
He never left the house without his wand.
It would be akin to going out without any clothes on.
He wasn’t that careless or reckless.
Or maybe he was.
He had after all just followed a trail of spiders, which hadn’t exactly ended well the last time he’d been roped into doing that.
Why was it always spiders?!
But as the hissing grew louder Ron realised that it might not be an army of Aragog’s extended family that would be his biggest problem this time. He braved a look behind him and was horrified to find a giant snake staring down at him.
The snake hissed viciously at him as if it was trying to communicate with him. Ron wondered if Harry would still be able to communicate with it if he were here.
And where was Hermione?
At least Hermione wouldn’t have forgotten to come outside without a wand on her.
The snake suddenly shifted its appearance in vicious fashion and Ron was greeted by an even worse sight.
“You….you’re….you’re dead. Harry killed you!” Ron fumbled out at what appeared to be a reincarnated Lord Voldemort.
Voldemort hissed at him in what Ron presumed must be parsel-tongue.
How had he survived again?
How was he back?
“You…” the Dark Lord whispered. “You are no parsel-tongue… that my ancestor’s language was used in such fashion to bring about my destruction… you will pay dearly for that, blood-traitor!”
Ron floundered around but could not find the words or the courage to engage in conversation. He expected to see a flash of green light any moment now… he was unarmed… defenceless… it was only a matter of time.
“You fear I will kill you?” Voldemort smirked. “I can’t kill you here. If I were to strike you down now all that I would achieve would be waking you up from this nightmare.”
It made sense now.
It was just a dream.
That was why he didn’t have his wand on him.
“How the hell are you in my dreams?” Ron demanded, as his fear evaded ever so slightly with the knowledge that this wasn’t real.
“How should I know?” Voldemort snapped back. “It’s your mind, not mine. The great mind of Ron Weasley… I must say, even with my limited expectations I am disappointed.”
“Disappointed in what?” Ron clamoured, but Voldemort began speaking again as if Ron had not spoken at all.
“But I suppose that’s your speciality, isn’t it? Disappointment. What would you say was your biggest achievement in your pitiful little life?” he spat.
“I… I… err…”
Ron thought hard, but Voldemort had interrupted him before he had the chance to answer.
“I’ll tell you what your biggest achievement was, blood-traitor. On that transfigured chessboard in your first year… you used the power of your mind and your courage to recklessly sacrifice yourself for the greater good… the sign of a sharp, strategic mind… cunning skill… expertly applied under such pressure… that night was the first chapter in Harry Potter’s road to destroying the greatest dark wizard who ever lived… and when books are one day written of his conquest, even the most naive of readers may be duped into thinking that based on your actions that night... that you might well have played a crucial role in helping him destroy the great Lord Voldemort…”
“…BUT THEY WOULD BE WRONG!” Voldemort suddenly screamed after his calmly whispered monologue.
“You contributed nothing!” he raged. “You showed the signs of a sharp, calculating mind… but to what ends did you cultivate that potential? Did you master the art of Occlumency? Did you learn Legilimency? Did you scrutinise the history books documenting the downfalls of history’s greatest Dark wizards, so that you could conjure up a master battle-plan to defeat me… with as few of your foolish friends and family finding their way to an early grave as possible?”
Voldemort’s verbal onslaught had Ron lost for words.
He didn’t know what to say, but he could never have mastered Occulemency or learned how to be a Legilimens. He wasn’t smart enough to come up with battle plans to defeat the Death Eaters.
It wasn’t his fault that some of his friends and family had died.
Or was it?
“You forget that I am an accomplished Legilimens myself! You think that I can’t see what you are thinking?! You blame your failings and underachievement on not being clever enough for true greatness… but you are not stupid. Stupid people don’t have the self-awareness to know that they are stupid... they blame other people for their mistakes and misgivings. You are not as stupid as you might look Ron Weasley… no… you are just lazy.”
Ron saw You Know Who reach for his wand and he was almost glad.
Glad that this nightmare would be over.
But it was not over.
Voldemort waved his wand and conjured up a moving image projected on a cloud of smoke. Ron was greeted with an animated picture of his Mother’s face filled with tears, yet they were not tears of mourning… but tears of joy.
“You so seek your Mother’s approval… look at her, so happy that she is reduced to tears as she watches your oldest brother on his wedding day… what a pity that she will never get the chance to shed tears of joy at a wedding for her youngest son.”
The wand swayed in the moonlight and the image of Ron’s Mother disappeared.
“I will get married someday… you’ll see!” Ron retorted.
A small grin found its way onto Voldemort’s face.
“But who would want to marry you… you can’t mean the mud-blood?”
“Don’t call her that!” Ron spat back.
“Defensive of your girlfriend? Oh, how noble,” Voldemort laughed. “Do you know what was really noble? Harry Potter letting you have her.”
“He didn’t… she loves me not Harry-
“She’s only with you because Harry Potter didn’t want her… or maybe he did, but he felt so sorry for his best friend that he was willing to let him have that one small victory… your relationship is doomed to fail regardless.”
“You’re wrong! You don’t know anything-
“I KNOW ENOUGH!” Voldemort shouted. “I know that she will forever overshadow and out-earn you… and let’s be honest she’s already got quite a head-start in the finance department. You’ve wallowed in self-pity and jealously in Harry Potter’s shadow since you were a boy of 11… can you really handle spending the rest of your life in the shadow of your partner?”
“You’re weak. You’re lazy. You’re a quitter. The mudblood is everything that you are not… imagine what she and Harry Potter could achieve together… they could revolutionise the Wizarding world… not for the better of course… but still… the most powerful wizard and witch of their generation… together as one… imagine what children they could create together.”
The thought of that caused Ron to snap.
He ran at Voldemort full pelt and threw his fists towards his face, whilst screaming in an uncontrollable rage.
Voldemort apparated before Ron could punch him.
He looked to his left and there The Dark Lord was.
“Gilderoy Lockhart could’ve wiped your memory in that Chamber and put you in St Mungo’s next to the Longbottom’s for the rest of your life… and it would have had no impact on whether I lived or died.”
“You’re just like that horcrux… you’re just trying to make me-
“You were more of a hindrance than a help! You unwittingly protected the man who betrayed your best friend’s parents to me… when Harry Potter had most of the school turn against him you didn’t stand by him like the mudblood… you turned against him too.”
“That was a mistake! I didn’t- I was-
“At the height of the war… when Harry needed all the help that he could get… when he needed that sharp, strategic mind… you didn’t take control… you didn’t hatch a cunning plan… you didn’t jump on a knight and sacrifice yourself… you bottled it! You ran away! You quit! Because that’s what you are Ron Weasley… and that’s what you will always be…
Voldemort raised his wand and cast the spell so quickly that Ron barely even heard the words before the green light blinded his eyes and took him.
Ron bolted up in bed.
He felt his heart breathing at a million miles per hour and sweat covered his body, which was completely bare save for a pair of underwear.
His heavy breathing caused a startled Hermione to awaken next to him.
She strained to open her eye-lids and her brown eyes briefly stared deep into his soul, as they adjusted from mild curiosity to grave concern.
“Are you… are you alright, Ron?” she asked anxiously.
“I’m fine,” Ron lied.
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