Chapter 1 : Unexpected
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Being a man, he preferred to burden himself with distractions rather than face the true roots of his problems. He wanted to tackle them head on, mainly by talking to those who cared for him, but there was something supremely comforting about being able to spend time on his own, finally having the maturity and confidence to reflect on the current state of his life without doubting every single decision he made. He wanted to decide his next course of action by himself, hoping against hope that Hermione would be willing to accompany him. Suspecting himself of being selfish, he vowed he would always think of her first when life-changing thoughts purloined his brain.
The day was cold, and the mid-December air bit at the back of his throat as he inhaled its coolly refreshing caress, feeling the cleanliness of the countryside flood into his lungs, the slight tang of salt alerting his senses. The sea was not far away, and there was a gentle background hushing sound that gave Ron a constant company, without actually having to be within his sight. He also didn’t have to talk to the sea, the sea would only whisper to him, and for once he felt not obliged to reply. He felt no compulsion to react, to defend or to attack; three emotional strategies that he had eventually noticed bore him no favours. There were times when it was just nice to stay in silence.
Walking across a deserted green field, a muddy track ahead guiding him through knee high grass that wetness had clung to in beads, like glistening orbs that reflected a curved and distorted view of their surroundings, much like crystal balls foreseeing the future, they didn’t have much clarity. Ron felt nothing as his feet brushed these tiny water droplets off their grassy spindles, sending them crashing to the ground, taking their glassy views with them. The unique images they carried were lost forever, but still Ron walked on.
Plunging his hands deeper into his jacket pockets he glanced up at the greying sky. Like a sheet of iron it should’ve given the impression of an impenetrable fortress, blocking the heavens above from the scuttling humans below it, but as Ron looked up it reminded him more of a mirror. He saw himself reflected back in the dull sky, and realised how dull his life had been rendered following the recent mayhem and battles that had taken over the majority of his seventeenth year of life. He’d seen things he’d rather not have, and had to endure his first true personal blow: the death of his brother. When he compared his losses to the ones that had riddled the life of his best friend Harry’s, they paled in comparison and he felt nothing but guilt and shame as he realised that his sufferings were nothing, nothing…
Now he stood, as an eighteen year old, facing the first Christmas without the presence of someone that he had always taken for granted. He had always assumed that Fred would be there. Irritating, infuriating, non-sprout peeling certainly, but always solidly and irreversibly present. There had been far too much life in Fred for it to simply have just dissipated. The sparkling electric life that could charge a whole room of people couldn’t have vanished. How could something so youthful be snatched away? It was too sudden, too soon… and worse of all, it wasn’t fair.
Immediately stopping as though he’d been confronted with a brick wall, an image with sickening clarity sprung into his mind… of his mother crying over the corpse of her dead son – my brother… he always forgot that part.
The funeral had been a nightmare. Having to support George as his knees gave way to an onslaught of restrained tears (held back for far too long) had been one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do. Not only was George quite heavy, it was something that nobody in the entire world had ever seen George do. The sounds that had come howling out of his mouth were so foreign they were almost indecent. And instead of being able to turn his face away from this disturbing scene, he was the one who had to prop it up for all to see. He had longed to lower George to the ground but he had clung on so tight as the first sprinklings of mud had been scattered over his twin’s coffin, that Ron had no choice but to hold him up. Looking back, Ron saw that the main reason he had held on was that he wanted to hold on too. Letting go would’ve been the worst thing either of them could’ve done.
Recollections like this sometimes came to Ron in a haze, smudgy and disjointed. When they were like this he could quickly push them away, and easily convince himself they were nothing to do with him. But when they played like film, it was like being forced to watch someone being tortured whilst being physically restrained. It was excruciating, having to watch the pain of your entire family and friends and be absolutely powerless to do anything about it. For whilst you are standing in the present, you can’t do anything about events of the past.
“I wonder what Hermione did with that Time turner?” Ron wondered ruefully, almost managing a small smile.
He walked on, reaching the edge of his field and stepping over the stile at the end. His long legs meant that he had no need to go through the whole rigmarole of stepping on, over, and on once more. He could just step over the whole thing. The only problem with this was that he tripped over, and ended up with a mouthful of dirt that tasted simultaneously mouldy and of salad. Pushing himself up on his hands he gingerly got up, and brushed the black mud and dirt off of his clothes and hands, and persevered on.
The gentle leafy canopy above his head was not so dense that it blocked out the sky. The papery birch leaves above acted as filters to the grey light that channelled through, making tiny little patterns of light on the leaf mould and black dirt of the wood floor. Sparsely gathered trees meant that Ron had little trouble weaving his way through them, though bramble snags and dry twiggy plants grabbed at his jeans, desperate to slow him down. He beat them down, determined to sit down on a wizened stump up ahead, sat in a circular clearing that was clear of other trees or plants. It looked like a nice place to sit, and under no circumstances was Ron going to let these half dead plants prevent him from reaching his goal.
Breaking through the snappy plants – having just rescued his ankle from a dead blackberry thorn – he looked back and saw a criss-cross of black shadows, created by the skinny birch trees, bony brambles, and angular random twiggy plants that Ron couldn’t discern. It was a sinister sight, and Ron was pleased to have battled through it, despite feeling a trickle of blood from a cut leak into his sock.
Feeling irrationally tired he sat down on the stump and looked up at the unobstructed patch of sky above him, fancying he could see a face with red hair and freckles grinning down at him mockingly, as though trying to warn him that he’d just sat on a Snargaluff.
“ARRGGHHH!” cried Ron as a large thorny tentacle jabbed up his behind.
The sudden yell of his voice sent a flock of crows flying away from the trees around him. Flapping noises and echoes of his voice crying back to him shattered the deathly quiet that had filled the place. His heart was beating very quickly as he recovered from his shock, and to his horror, tears had sprung to his eyes, born no doubt of his abrupt shock. Abrupt shocks were not good things to happen to people trying to think about deep emotional issues like family loss. They tended to make things worse and make horrible realisations crash down on you like a cascade of knives. The tiniest things were magnified into humungous mountains that were impossible to shift unless you showed the tenacity of a rampaging Hippogriff.
Ron was too tired to show the tenacity of a rampaging Hippogriff. He felt alone and scared, stuck in this dead wood with nothing but a Snargaluff for company… and not only that, a Snargaluff that had done its best to make sure that he could never have children. The black crows had flown back into their dead trees, and sat there silently like black specks, watching Ron steadily grow into a panic.
Fred’s face was still in the sky… and Ron had no way to get home. The dead wood was all around him, and there was no way he was going through that again. He wouldn’t walk through that dead wood, not by himself –
“Ron!” came a voice that made his heart swell with relief, a sudden wash of warm calm flooded through his blood.
“Hermione,” his voice cracked with the joy of seeing her, and he walked forwards to pull her free of the same nasty bramble that had entrapped him. He took her hand and hastily led her into the clearing, where he had deemed it safer… save for the unpleasant Snargaluff that had been so innocently disguised as a friendly tree stump.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked him, chuckling with disbelief at the fine sheen of sweat that had blossomed on his forehead and the wideness of his eyes.
“Nothing… nothing, I’m just – glad you’re here.”
“I was coming to follow you…” she said, looking at him, “You always vanish on these walks for hours… and I wanted to see where you go.”
“I have no idea where I go,” Ron’s voice burst out and he found himself sitting on the ground, “I only know that I never want to come here again.”
“You’re right, it’s not a nice place… there are better places to walk, Ron,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder as he gently shook on the ground, wanting nothing more than to leave but not being able to muster the strength to walk between the dead wood again.
“I’m not walking through there again,” he said standing up, and pointing into the woods around him, gesturing to Hermione just so that he could absolutely establish his point clearly, “Not by myself.”
“You won’t be by yourself. I’m here.”
He looked down at Hermione, and saw her properly for what seemed like the first time in months. How delicately beautiful she was, how her face wasn’t one that would bowl you over the first time you saw it, but one that was just so wholesome and intelligent that it could weave its way into your skin and heart until you found yourself thinking of little else… or so Ron found anyway. Her hair looked as though she’d been in an accident involving one of his father’s Muggle contraptions but Ron liked it that way. It was vibrant, and it was lively. And if this year had taught him anything, it was that life was important, because each person only had one. And once it was lost, that was it. So it was important to be lively. Ron could only congratulate Hermione’s hair for realising this… but then she’d always realised things that he hadn’t.
“You’ll hold my hand?”
“I’ll hold your hand.”
She took his hand in hers and gently led the way through the dead wood, which when Ron looked back at it, didn’t look quite so dead anymore.