He was still fully clothed as he lay on the bed. His dirty boots were catching on the sheets, his belt was fastened too tightly around his jeans, digging into him slightly, and he felt too warm under his thick jacket. But he didn’t care. It didn’t matter. He liked feeling uncomfortable, he ought to feel uncomfortable. If he allowed himself to adjust to the comforts of the bed he would probably stay there. He had already proven himself to be weak before.
Weak; yes, that was what he was. He closed his eyes as his mind repeated that wretched word. But every time the word formed in his mind over and over again, he saw Harry’s face too, twisted and contorted with rage as Ron said things he was ashamed to remember yet he couldn’t forget.
Rain fell from the skies and tapped an irritating and irregular beat on the window panes. So different from the sounds of it lashing off the tent that he had grown accustomed to. He twisted on to his side, his back to the window in the weak hope that maybe that would help him to ignore the sound. It didn’t. Still, the sound went on, dull and monotonous as if to mock the events that had only unfurled hours before, providing a stark contrast to the yells and heightened emotions that still rang in his ears.
Shell Cottage stood perfectly alone on a cliff, making its small and unimpressive demeanour seem suddenly grand and beautiful. The noises of the sea seemed to seep into every room of the house, the low whispers of the sea-shore making complete silence impossible. But this suited Ron just fine. He hoped that the external noises from outside would drown out the running commentary in his head.
He remembered when he had first entered the cottage. He was cold, hungry and dirty. His anger had ebbed away slowly as he had travelled meaning that when he arrived at Shell Cottage shame and guilt lingered in his eyes. Bill, as his brother, noticed it instantly but curiosity consumed him before sympathy could, and so he bombarded his brother with questions before Fleur had even finished making him a hot cup of tea.
“What have you been doing?” he had asked, leaning across the table, trying to catch Ron’s eye, to read his brothers familiar emotions.
But Ron kept his eyes fixed firmly on the wood of the table, his head hanging. “I can’t tell you,” he answered quietly.
“I could help!” Bill said urgently, his voice thick with the frustration of feeling left out. Like it was all some fun adventure, as if some gentle persuasion over a cup of tea would have Ron spilling the secrets he had kept for so long now.
Ron said nothing.
Bill sighed, running a hand through his long hair, “Well, where have you been?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why did you leave?”
Ron looked up at him then, “I can’t tell you.” That wasn’t strictly true but the shame in his eyes must have alerted Bill. That pleading look, begging him not to ask anymore, not to make him relive the final moments that had lead him into their midst.
Ron could see the disappointment in his brother’s eyes. Disappointment that Ron would keep secrets from his own family. Disappointment that he wouldn’t trust them to help. And disappointment because whatever he was doing with Harry and Hermione, he had deserted them. Deserted them when they needed him most. Ron felt the pain of those accusations as if Bill had shouted them at him, yet Bill had said nothing. He didn’t need to.
Fleur had placed the tea in front of Ron, ordering him to drink. He did so, just to be doing something. The warm liquid burned its way down his throat, easing the hoarseness of his voice from the yelling earlier. Again, the bubbling of shame began in the pits of his stomach.
The rain still tapped on the window as Ron lay in bed. The low whistle of the wind was joining it now, making the room feel a little colder despite the temperature never changing. Would they be cold outside? He pictured Harry clearly in his mind, his nose red, his dark hair soaked as it fell to his shoulders, stubble across his chin as he shivered outside the tent, wand in hand. But no, Hermione would have cast those lovely, blue flames that kept them warm.
He squeezed his eyes shut at the thought of Hermione; the look of pain on her face as he had thrown those accusations at her seemed to shatter his heart. Why did he have to behave like a petulant child?
But she had called his name into the forest, she had chased after him when Harry had remained in the tent. She had wanted him to stay, she needed him to stay. But the small inkling of hope he got from those thoughts vanished quickly. He had abandoned her; she would never forgive him now. Why should she?
He opened his eyes again to the dullness of the room, the grey skies throwing the whole room into the shadows. Now he had left her with Harry. They would probably manage just fine without him; in fact, they might even fare better now they don’t have any extra baggage to look after. She was brilliant, the brains of the outfit. And he was brave and daring. What was Ron? Comedic value? The tag-along, hoping to do something cool to be like Harry or to impress Hermione? No. He was the disappointment.
He stayed with Bill and Fleur for a while. Bill didn’t ask any more questions although he tried in other ways to get Ron to open up. But it didn’t work. Every day was just like the last until each day blended into the next and he lost track of time altogether. More news would come of those who were missing and Ron didn’t know which was worse; knowing who may have been captured, or guessing when he had been travelling with Hermione and Harry. And every day brought with it the pain of now having to worry about Harry and Hermione; if they were safe, if they had been caught yet or worse, killed. But he kept his eye on the Daily Prophet to see ludicrous headlines over photographs of Harry’s face, staring out at Ron almost every day. He knew that if Harry and Hermione had been caught, Ron would read of it.
Christmas morning appeared out of nowhere, bringing with it a glittering frost that swept over the grass in the garden and blurred the edges of the windows. The house was silent except for the whispers of the sea as Bill and Fleur slept. Ron lay awake, staring at the bedroom ceiling. It felt strange that he would have to celebrate Christmas this year. Yet, it felt even stranger that he didn’t want to. All he wanted was to see Harry and Hermione. He didn’t want any presents, he didn’t want any turkey. He didn’t even want Christmas pudding. All he wanted was a time-turner perhaps, to go back in time. Why did he have to leave?
It had been the Horcrux’s fault. That damned thing! Infecting him like a disease, like a cold hand that had reached into his chest and wrapped its fingers around his heart, the dirt from its fingernails penetrating his heart to turn it black, until he became something he barely recognised. It had become a heavy burden to carry; one he detested wearing when it was his shot and one he spent the remainder of the time dreading when it wasn’t his shot. He had become obsessed with avoiding it. It plagued his mind during the quieter moments and filled his dreams at night.
But then, maybe it wasn’t the Horcrux’s fault. Maybe it was his. Maybe it was because he was so weak. Harry and Hermione managed to wear it without storming home in a huff. But then, they had no home to go to. They had to stay.
Merlin, he had been so selfish. He could see it now. If only he could get back to them. If only there was some way. If there were, he would have his jacket on faster than he could say the word “sorry.”
If only he could see Hermione again at least. To apologise to her, to say he had been such an idiot, that he shouldn’t have ran away when she had called on him, that he should have turned straight back to her. He wanted to tell her that he would never abandon her again. He just wanted to hear her voice one last time.
He sat up suddenly.
Did he just hear her voice?
Surely, it was his imagination.
But no, there it was again. She said his name. “Ron.” He had heard it. He could still hear her voice, muffled slightly. He jumped from his bed and followed the source of the sounds, tip-toeing to stop the sounds of his feet padding across the wooden floors. It was coming from his jacket that was hanging from the door. Coming from his pocket.
He rummaged inside, her voice still speaking, until he pulled out something small and heavy. Her voice had ceased to sound as he looked at the deluminator in his hand. But he knew this had been the source of her voice, it had to be.
His mind was racing as his heart seemed to pound in his ears. He felt hope rising in his chest, a feeling that had become almost foreign to him, a feeling he had a moments difficulty in recognising. But it rose and rose, like a phoenix from the flames in his chest, filling him with golden hope.
With a deep breath, he held the deluminator aloft.
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