Chapter 1 : Check
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A/N: JKR owns Harry Potter. This is an AU fic involving an alternate ending to the scene in HBP when Ron is poisoned; no copyright infringement on HBP is intended.
The words in bold italics throughout the fic are chess terms. "En prise" is a French phrase that, as it relates to chess, means a piece is exposed to capture.
Per the rules of Staff Challenge #4, I had to kill my favorite character by poisoning. If anyone needs me, I'll be curled up in a fetal position, mourning and crying and eating large quantities of chocolate ice cream.
The liquid is sweet and earthy on his tongue, the honeyed drink infused with spices – cinnamon and something else – but with a disappointing lack of hops. It’s why he’ll always prefer a good ale over anything. But Ron Weasley isn’t one to turn up his nose at a free drink on the most significant birthday of his life, especially not after this morning’s total embarrassment. Romilda Vane, honestly! Ron scoffs into his drink, well on his way to draining the entire glass in one go…
And then, without a clue as to how or why, he finds himself in a heap on the floor – as if his legs have suddenly decided to go on holiday. The glass lays a short distance away, the golden liquid seeping into the ornate emerald rug. His head aches where it’s just been smacked against the floor. This is shaping up to be the best birthday ever.
Bewildered, but apparently unharmed, Ron tries to push himself off the floor – only his arms don’t work. He can’t feel them; they don’t respond. He senses no pain, no discomfort, but it feels as if his limbs have been disconnected from his body. He breathes steadily, thinking there must be a perfectly good reason for this – he has, after all, ingested a love potion, an antidote, and a glass of mead, all within the span of an hour.
Hey, Harry, come help me, will you? The words are in his head, but they don’t escape his mouth. He tells his lips to move, and they disobey; he tries to force the sound from his lungs, but it catches in his throat.
Now he panics.
“Ron! Ron, are you okay?” Harry rolls him onto his back, and Ron feels his friend’s hands, as real and true as daylight, on his arms, but he can’t so much as wiggle his own fingertips. His body ignores his commands, and he can do nothing but stare.
“What’s wrong with him?!” Harry demands, his eyes wide and frantic. “Ron, can you – can you hear me? Blink if you can hear me!”
Ron’s eyelids are no more use than the rest of his body – indeed, he can’t even move his eyes back and forth. He can do nothing but stare straight ahead at Harry’s stricken face and the ridiculously opulent chandelier hung from Slughorn’s ceiling.
Harry lays his head against Ron’s chest. “He’s breathing! What’s wrong with him?” he demands again.
“I – I don’t know…it’s just mead, it’s just…” Slughorn’s voice is full of quiet shock. Even in the midst of his own terror, Ron can’t help but think that a Potions Professor should be able to work out what the hell is wrong with him.
“We have to get Professor Dumbledore!”
And so Ron lies, mute and immobile, waiting.
It’s a poison. That’s what he learns, as Dumbledore, Slughorn, and Snape perform some kind of test on the mead and discuss their findings. Ron can’t see what they’re doing; he only sees Harry kneeling beside him and the wax dripping steadily down the side of a candle in the golden chandelier above him.
He lies there, paralyzed but not numb. His nose itches, but of course he can’t do anything about it. His head is still throbbing from the impact of his fall. Harry grips his shoulder, his hand squeezing tighter and tighter as they both register the Professors’ words.
It kills in twenty-four hours. The victim is kept conscious, but paralyzed. They say it’s unknown whether the victim can hear or see anything during those twenty-four hours – obviously, Ron can, but nobody knows that.
“How is that possible?” Harry finally shouts, his voice breaking. “How did that potion get into that bottle?”
“My boy, I don’t know,” Slughorn replies in a whisper. “It…it was a gift…”
“You can make an antidote! What are you all standing around for?” Harry gives voice to the horror that is building silently in Ron’s chest.
“Harry…it takes a fortnight to brew it.”
An agonizing silence. “But, then, you have to have some already made!”
“It’s…it’s not…you have to understand, there are hundreds of potions and poisons in existence, it would be impossible – not to mention impractical – to keep a stock of every single antidote conceivable. This potion isn’t very common anymore. It was rather popular several decades ago, but…”
Harry is on his feet, out of Ron’s line of vision, and all Ron can hear is the frantic opening and slamming of cupboard doors, the rattling and clanking of various boxes and jars.
“Potter, what are you looking for?” drawls Snape.
“A bezoar – I know there’s one here, I found it just the other – ”
“It doesn’t work on this poison.”
The blood drains from Ron’s face, and his skin crawls, and he hears Harry swear in defeat.
“Why would – ” Harry stops himself, and Ron hears him choke back a sob before continuing, “What’s the point of a poison like that?”
Slughorn’s response is hesitant. “It was…it was quite popular among Dark wizards, because it was believed that the victim could still feel pain…could be tortured, and not do anything about it, until he finally died.”
Ron’s stomach turns inside out, twisting itself into knots. Nausea overwhelms him.
Hours seem to pass as chilly silence blankets the room once more. He can’t mark the exact passage of time; he’s too busy willing himself not to be sick.
“You’re having me on!” Harry is once again on his knees, and his voice wavers angrily, indignantly, at the three Professors as he clutches his friend’s shirt in both hands. “You can’t – he isn’t – ” And then Harry ducks his head, almost as if he senses Ron can see him. His sobs are dry and constricted, the result of his futile attempt to hide them.
“We need to take him to the hospital wing,” says Dumbledore’s gentle voice. “Horace, will you?”
And then Ron is scooped up into a pair of fleshy arms, his limbs dangling pointlessly – a marionette whose strings have been cut.
“I will notify his family at once,” continues the Headmaster.
Harry chokes out, “Hermione…”
“I will speak to Miss Granger personally and send her to the hospital wing immediately.”
Ronald Weasley is still alive. But with those words, he has already started dying.
It’s his vision that starts to go first. His unblinking eyes sting with dryness. He wonders whether the pain will persist until his death.
Everything is thrown out of focus, though he can make out shapes and colors. His other senses are sharp; he can feel the smooth cotton sheets beneath him, the soft blanket resting over him, Harry’s hand gripping his arm as though stuck there permanently. He can smell the sterile nothingness of the hospital wing; he can still taste the honey mead on his tongue; he can hear everything clear as a bell.
Clear as a broken, tortured bell, he hears her shriek as the door is thrown open, banging against the wall with such force that it might well have been ripped off its hinges.
“Move!” she shouts with a sob, and Harry is wrenched away from his bedside spot, replaced by a mass of brunette hair, whose owner flings herself across her dying friend’s body, crawling halfway into the bed next to him.
Ron can’t tell how long she lies there, stifling her sobs in the blanket, and yet he’s acutely aware of every single second that passes. Her small frame quivers with despair, and wayward curls tickle his face and neck, until his own feeble tears force themselves to the surface and carve tingling paths down his cheeks. Even if he could hold them back, he wouldn’t – what has he to lose? Not crying was something that mattered yesterday, and holds no importance today. The tears bring a fleeting respite to his parched eyes…and then the pain returns in full force when they run dry.
She smells of vanilla and ivy and various unrecognizable flowers. He remembers the exact day she started wearing perfume; it was in their fifth year, on September the twentieth, the day after her birthday. She asked him at lunch why he was staring at her oddly, and he brushed it off; he never told her he noticed. A year and a half later, he still hasn’t mentioned it.
Small fingers intertwine with his own; the first time Ron Weasley has ever held Hermione Granger’s hand.
She weeps more than anyone has ever wept before; she draws shuddering breaths and whimpers incoherent words. Harry, once again at Ron’s side, is deathly silent.
Hermione holds his hand to her cheek, and his arm is saturated with teardrops that run in desolate rivers over his skin.
Ron never realized. And now he can’t do anything about it.
He can barely see his family when they arrive. They hardly speak, mainly cry, and he wonders who are there. His parents, of course, and his sister, and certainly the twins. Perhaps Bill, and maybe Charlie will follow. He wonders if Percy will bother to show up.
His mother cradles him against her chest, and he feels guilty for every time he ever pushed her away. It’s really quite pleasant; her arms are warm, her skin is soft, and she smells of tea and cinnamon. He wonders whether she knows how much he loves her, and that he’s sorry he was such a screw-up.
Their sobs ring more prominently in his ears when he goes completely blind. Their grief makes him uncomfortable, and he considers the possibility that he’s a horrible person for it. He never did well with that kind of thing. It doesn’t mean he’s proud of it.
He wonders vaguely whether he’s worth making such a scene.
When his hearing fails, he feels a strange relief, for he no longer has to hear their cries, sharp and devastating on his ears. Their tears were only killing him faster.
But he is also frightened. He knows not how many hours have passed, nor how many remain. He floats in darkness and silence, tethered to life only by the fingers interlaced with his, the unrelenting pressure of a small, trembling hand.
The pain slowly creeps in, a steadily building pressure in his chest as his heart labors and his breath grows shallow. And then, just as slowly, it subsides, as numbness coats him inside and out. He can still feel their hands, if he tries very hard – or perhaps he only imagines it.
Everything fades, his mind grows foggy, and he finds himself drowning in nothingness. Were it not for the sluggish beating of his heart, he might think he was dead already.
It comes as no surprise to Ron Weasley, the boy defined only by the presence of a pulse.
He will not perish in a blaze of glory. He will not depart having made a difference in the world or having changed someone’s life. He will not die accomplished, somebody who made his family proud to call him their son.
He will fade away in a bed in the Hogwarts hospital wing, unable to move or speak, not even able to make his amends as a dying person should. He will die just as he lived: ineffectually. And so will end a life devoid of purpose…and the fault is nobody’s but his.
He was born a nobody, and he will die a nobody. He lived a disappointment, and he will die a disappointment.
What is he to the world, anyway? Just another mouth to feed. An annoying brother. An essay that always gets bad marks. The friend who has nothing to offer. The guy who’s always in the way.
He is the ninth pawn in a rank meant for eight. He is the third knight when there is only room for two.
And as he lies in darkness, silence ringing in his ears, the taste of honey long since gone from his thirsting mouth, wishing he could smell vanilla and ivy, barely able to feel the hands that are laid upon his body – as he lies there, not knowing whether he is yet dead, or whether he will die in a minute, or whether he should have already died the minute before, he is sorry.
Not just sorry for the fact that he never made his family proud. Not just sorry that he allowed himself to be consumed with jealousy towards the only person who ever treated him like he was fine the way he was. Not just sorry that he was a right prat to the only girl who ever meant a damn thing to him.
He is sorry for those things, yes.
But mainly, Ronald Weasley is sorry for being such a waste of space.