The morning after walking Luna back to the magazine office, Ron awoke fully spared of that strange sensation that had plagued him the night before, although he still couldn’t pinpoint its source. The unnerving nature of it all still haunted him slightly, but he was fervently going with the theory that it was merely caused by one of Luna’s quirks. Nevertheless, he felt rather different as he let himself into the stillness of the joke shop - not yet open for business - and placed his things in the back room. He was early, another rarity. Maybe something in those earrings of Luna’s had affected his brain. And that was why he felt different. Yeah, that’s as good an explanation as any.
Ron crossed to the shop’s bay window and began to turn on all the little gadgets there, flicking his wand at the various spindles and knobs and watching as colorful smoke began to pour from numerous funnels and pipes connected to them. The amazing thing about these was that, although separate, they all looked interconnected – it was difficult to tell where one contraption ended and another began. These were his favorite part of the whole shop, these silvery gizmos. He could have watched them for hours.
His eyes fixed on one that was emitting triangle-shaped puffs of smoke which changed different colors, and was again reminded of the odd earrings that Luna had been wearing the night before, and how they too had changed colors. A slight smile crossed his face, completely unbeknownst to him, as he remembered her walking slightly ahead of him, talking about the games they’d played as children, and then bending to smell the lilacs in front of Flourish and Blotts. He’d forgotten all about those games until she’d mentioned them. How could he have done? It was all dancing about his brain now – playing as Ravenclaw and Gryffindor while making Ginny be Hufflepuff (which she’d always hated), and giving her the flowers. They’d been something close to best friends, in those days.
That funny, clenching feeling returned to his stomach quite suddenly. Why were all of his thoughts this morning reverting back to the walk last night? He hoped whatever had infected his brain would make its way out before too long; he’d have to have a talk with Luna soon about whatever she’d done.
The bell over the shop door tinkled suddenly, mixing with the whirring and clacking of the machinery. Ron glanced quickly over his shoulder in time to see George yawn widely and run a hand roughly through his thick red hair. Upon hearing the noise of the machines, the latter turned in bewilderment toward the window to see his younger brother standing there. Increased puzzlement knitted his brows together.
“Ron? Blimey – I don’t think you’ve ever come in to work before me,” he said, clearly not knowing whether to smile or not. And then a real smile did cross his face, and he asked, “So, how was walking Luna home last night?” The air of forced nonchalance he had assumed the night before in giving Ron the paper had returned to an even more annoying degree.
“Fine,” said Ron in a clipped tone, annoyed at his brother’s broad and yet, at the same time, vague hints. What was supposed to have gone on? He turned away from the tinkling objects and unlocked the door for the rest of the day’s customers, who could be expected any minute – somehow the joke shop remained packed from opening to closing, no matter the day. And today Ron thought he would be glad for the distraction, although for a different reason than normal.
Oh, yeah. He was supposed to still be internally moaning about Hermione and Viktor. And yet, he didn’t really feel like dwelling on love lost today, for the first time in nearly a year. Something was most definitely playing games with his brain. He ought to have that looked at, really.
A young boy, probably no older than ten, was already waiting to be let in. “Have you got anything new in?” he asked in a rush, eyes bright with excitement. This was Richie, the shop’s most faithful customer, especially in the summer months. His father worked in Gringotts and Richie had been running around Diagon Alley virtually unattended since he could walk. When the joke shop had opened up, he’d been one of the first inside. Not much had changed in the years since. Ron gave the boy what he hoped was a pleasant enough smile.
“Come on in, Richie,” he said, standing back and holding the door open so the boy could cross the threshold. Richie’s front teeth – large and protuberant over his bottom lip – fairly quivered with excitement. He went right over to the Extra-Sensory Patented Daydream Charms that Ron had stocked the night before and at once began poring eagerly over the description on the back of the brightly-colored box. Ron watched him with faint amusement.
He became aware suddenly of his brother’s presence behind him, immediately before a strong hand on his elbow steered him away and into the back room. “Let’s go unload those boxes,” George said a bit too loudly, and Ron knew that that was definitely not the reason for the pain in his arm.
“Hey – ow!” he said, as George all but shoved him behind the curtain and, turning to face him, crossed his arms smugly. “I sort of need that arm, George!”
The older Weasley said nothing but merely allowed a small smirk to play on his face; it was not an expression that was to be trusted. He tapped his index finger a few times on the crossed arm, and then asked for the second time that day, “How’d it really go last night?”
“How did what go?” Ron asked irritably, but he couldn’t stop his face from flushing an extremely telltale shade of maroon. “You’ve already asked about that. I had nothing to say. What are you expecting me to do? Get down on my knees and profess my undying love for Luna Lovegood?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Nothing like going and planting ideas in George’s head – and by the wicked way his brown eyes lit up, he’d done just that. The seed of mischief had been sown.
“About time you finally got over Hermione, anyway,” George said with a dismissive tone, waving his hand as though his statement was indisputable. Ron felt his ears tingle with heat. “I knew you’d get there in the end, even if you did look every day in the Prophet for a mention of her-“
“Shut up,” Ron muttered, feeling his face flush deeper still and wishing more than anything that he could find an excuse to leave the back room. He could hear Richie puttering about out front and half-wished the boy would break something just so he could go clean it up.
“Are you going to see her again?” George asked abruptly, leaning over slightly to catch Ron’s eye again.
“I didn’t see her a first time!” Ron spluttered indignantly. But there he caught himself, because a vision of Luna as she had been last night – skipping ahead of him, bending to smell the flowers on the lilac bush in front of Flourish and Blotts – had entered rather suddenly into his mind. He had to admit, it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant vision.
George was watching Ron’s brain process this, one eyebrow quirked knowingly; the latter hastily pretended that his elbow itched. Without another word, but with another I’ve-got-you-right-where-I-want-you look in his brother’s direction, he pushed aside the curtain and returned to the main shop. Ron blew out a heavy breath through pursed lips. He leaned heavily on the doorjamb and stuffed his fists into the pockets of his jeans.
How much did George know that he, Ron, didn’t? Could it be that he was actually right – that Ron might possibly be falling for Loony Lovegood? But George had only ever had one girlfriend, and now he was married to her. Ron had been through a lot more female troubles; certainly he was wiser in that aspect. He’d know if he were falling for someone.
Ah, but you’ve only had one girlfriend, too, said a very annoying voice in his head. And it didn’t end out quite so well for you as it did for your brother.
“You hush,” Ron muttered, turning his eyes upward to stare at his hairline and the conscience that lurked somewhere in the vicinity. At that moment, Verity entered through the back room’s curtain to begin work for the day, and upon hearing Ron talking to himself stopped short. A hand was still hovering over a lock of blonde hair that had fallen over her eye.
“Pardon?” she asked hesitantly; she’d never seemed to like Ron too much, acting as though he might lash out and hex her if provoked. Ron shook his head fiercely, not wanting to look her in the eye, and followed his brother back out of the storeroom.
It was one of the longest days at the joke shop that Ron could remember working in quite a long time. He was very relieved to exit into the bright sunshine and bustling of the crowd to take his lunch break; a bit of fresh air was just what he needed. He felt like a fish swimming upstream as he dodged hems of cloaks and lumpy parcels, trying to make his way down to the Leaky Cauldron for a bit of shepherd’s pie and a butterbeer.
The dingy bar was packed to capacity, other witches and wizards apparently having the same thoughts that Ron was. He squeezed onto an end barstool at the counter next to a wizard who smelled strongly of pipe tobacco. Giving the man a courteous nod, he leaned forward to Tom the barman, who had just walked over, clutching a bottle of firewhisky.
“The usual, please,” Ron called over the loud talk of the people behind and around him. Tom cupped a hand to his ear, which sported a great amount of gray hair. Ron repeated the order in a shout, and the barman grinned toothily.
“Of course, Mr. Weasley, of course. I’ll have it right out for you!” the man said with a slight wheeze. He turned to vanish into the passage that ran behind the bar and under the stairs. Ron shook his head with slight incredulity, wondering when the old man might finally snuff it; it seemed like he’d been working there forever. He expressed this thought to the man next to him.
The wizard looked down at him, a slight sneer lifting the corner of his mouth. “I beg your pardon?” he asked in a tone that told Ron that the man couldn’t have cared less what he said. Ron shook his head again, and the man picked up his long pipe – which was expelling a foul sort of liver-colored smoke – and joined another throng of people across the way.
“Git,” Ron muttered, as Tom returned with a tall glass of butterbeer and a lukewarm shepherd’s pie. It was the best that could be expected during the pub’s lunch rush, and so Ron picked up his fork, scraping the potatoes on top onto his fork halfheartedly.
Suddenly, he saw someone enter through the door he himself had come through not ten minutes earlier – it was as though he’d been waiting for her to come, he spotted her so quickly. Her hair veritably glowed in the dim interior, as though lit from within. He paused, fork halfway to mouth, staring stupidly, as Luna Lovegood crossed to the other end of the long bar, unaware he was sitting there.
Maybe if I’m really, really quiet, she won’t notice I’m here.
Why was he so afraid to talk to her after last night? He’d never been scared of her before – and he wasn’t now, of course. It was just a stomach bug that made his insides twist like that, or maybe a cold. He’d grab some Pepperup Potion later.
Gulping down his now-cold bite of potatoes, he watched furtively as she spoke to Tom, smiling widely. She always looked so happy, Ron noticed with a slight sense of – was that pride? She climbed delicately aboard the barstool and clasped her hands in front of her, gazing at the wooden beams ahead with an open and curious expression. It was one he knew well.
Her eyes drifted from the ceiling and directly to him.
He choked a bit, cursing himself and blushing furiously. Trying to regain some small measure of composure, he lifted a hand in greeting, but only succeeding in upsetting the tin his pie was in. She raised her eyebrows; a smile twitched at the corner of her mouth.
He hastily picked up the tin, setting it gingerly back on the bar, and swallowed his own pride, along with the rest of the potato. Now he had to go and say hello – it was the polite thing to do, of course, nothing more. She’d seen him, after all. He seemed to be counting his steps as he wove among and dodged people to reach her side.
“Hi,” he said, a bit breathlessly, as Luna finally appeared in his sights again.
“Hi,” she said brightly. “Your skin’s a funny color, Ron – did I embarrass you?”
“What? No!” Ron protested, knowing that as he did so the color in his cheeks was deepening. “It’s just, the pie – well, you know.” He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, willing himself to get a grip.
Luna reached forward and took a drink of the butterbeer that had been placed before her while talking to Ron. He stood there awkwardly, feeling like he should say something and yet not being able to think of a single intelligent piece of conversation. He searched desperately about for something to say – the weather, work, anything – but all he was drawing up was a blank. And so he said the first stupid thing he could grasp.
“Want to have dinner tonight?”
It was awkward, it was sudden, and he had no idea where the hell it had come from. Worse, Luna didn’t appear to know either; she just looked at him for a long while, occasionally blinking her large eyes. His breath was coming in short, odd bursts, not unlike it had the night before. He wondered if perhaps he might be about to faint from panic.
The answer took him off guard – Ron had been prepared to make a mad dash for the exit and not stop running until he reached the safety of the joke shop. It was his turn to stare, shock and incredulity making themselves plain on his face. “Sorry?” he said finally, now finding his mouth had gone dry.
Luna smiled, and Ron’s intestines grew that much more constricted. “I’ll meet you here, then?” He nodded dumbly, suddenly finding that his tongue must have cut off all abilities to both breathe and speak.
“Seven o’ clock?” he finally managed, sounding in his mind not unlike a drowning troll. Luna thought about it for a moment, and then nodded, beaming. He tried his best to smile back, but instead just bolted from the pub, quite forgetting the rest of his meal left abandoned on the bar.
He felt as though he was running both towards and away from something, but he didn’t know what either of those things were. He was glad he had done it – he wasn’t going to lie to himself, he’d done that too much in the past twenty-four hours – but he didn’t know where the thought had come from, and that was a bit terrifying. It was as though his subconscious was taking over his waking thoughts, as well.
George looked up as Ron reentered the shop, panting slightly, and quirked an inquisitive eyebrow. Ron looked at his brother with wide and disbelieving eyes, not wanting to have to tell him what he’d just done. He knew what the reaction would be.
“I think I just asked Luna Lovegood out on a date.”
George let out a roar of a laugh. He bent over the counter, mirth lighting up his features as Ron had seen nothing else do in so long. He was half-pleased and half-embarrassed that he had caused the reaction. He attempted to hide this by playing the part of the injured person.
“It’s not funny!” he snapped, running his hands over his face. “You’ve got to help me now! What do I do?”
George stopped laughing, although a chuckle still escaped him every so often. “Do?” he said, in the same puzzled tone. “What do you mean, what do you do? You go on the date.”
“But I can’t!” Ron moaned, screwing his hands up and pressing them into his eyes, causing little stars to burst into his vision. “I don’t even know if I meant to ask her out in the first place! It just sort of… slipped out!”
George seemed to consider this for a moment, tilting his head to one side – a habit he’d had for as long as Ron could remember. Ron felt a bit uncomfortable under his brother’s close scrutiny; the look he now wore was a look Ron had seen often since Hermione had ended their relationship. He squirmed slightly under the gaze.
“Go on the date,” he said finally. “Trust me.” With that cryptic quote uttered, he turned and walked towards the front window on the pretense of helping a young woman with her purchase. Ron stood looking after his brother, still stuck in a deep mire of confusion and thoughts that didn’t seem to connect anywhere. That conversation hadn’t helped in the slightest. His dilemma was no more solved than it had been when he’d fled the Leaky Cauldron.
Or was it? Maybe – just maybe – George was right. That thought that had been bugging him all day, maybe it was true, too. Maybe he had really fallen for Luna Lovegood. He let out a noise of pressure and frustration.
Couldn’t things ever just make sense?
Fifteen minutes until seven, and Ron was still pacing the length of the tiny bedroom in his flat, half-amazed he hadn’t worn deep holes in the carpet by now. He was all dressed to meet Luna for dinner – slacks and a shirt that actually looked like it had been washed within the past week. His hair was combed; he’d even put on cologne. But no matter how much he willed himself to, he simply could not find it within him to walk out his front door.
He still didn’t know what had possessed him to ask Luna out – but he wasn’t sorry. Or was he sorry, and just telling himself he wasn’t? Ron groaned aloud, sitting gingerly on the edge of his unmade bed and letting his head drop into his hands. He couldn’t get images of her out of his mind – it was like her face had been imprinted upon his brain. Although not unwelcome, it was a bit unnerving to see her smiling at him whenever he closed his eyes. Unbidden, the thought came to him that this had happened very early in his relationship with Hermione, too – a very long time ago, while the two of them had still been at Hogwarts.
But I’m not seeking out a relationship with Luna, he argued firmly with himself. He was sick of talking with his subconscious on this particular subject – it was like swatting a particularly annoying fly and never quite hitting it, having to live with it buzzing around your head.
He needed a drink.
Rising from the bed, a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach as he thought of what he was about to do, he crossed into the kitchen and removed a large bottle of firewhisky from the cupboard above the stove. He hadn’t touched the stuff in at least three months – after Hermione had broken up with him, he’d had issues with drinking, and had only just been able to cut himself off from it. He was loath to return, but told himself it was only one glass, and no more, to steel his nerves.
The amber liquid sloshed into the glass, staining the rim and running in slow drops down the sides. Ron barely looked at it before throwing it down his throat. He leaned heavily on the edge of the counter, feeling the whisky burn through him pleasantly. A bit of the tension in his stomach eased, and Luna’s image in his head grew a bit fuzzier.
Half of him knew he shouldn’t do this – he couldn’t do this to Luna, who had always been so nice to him. She didn’t deserve this. But he couldn’t stop himself. Not having to think was such a blessing. He poured another glass and gulped it down greedily.
You’re ruining your chances, said the little voice in his head.
“Not like I ever had a shot anyway,” Ron muttered aloud. Forgoing the glass this time, he raised the bottle to his lips, slugging the whisky straight from the spout. It burned like liquid fire, down through his throat and into the pit of his stomach. It was a feeling he’d missed.
His gaze, now slightly blurred, rested on the day’s Daily Prophet lying on the counter, still wrapped in string. A buzzing sensation was already beginning to sweep through him. Lurching slightly, he reached out and unwound the cord. Hermione and Krum had been awarded a small piece on the front page today. He blinked at the picture accompanying the article – at how happy Hermione looked.
Could he find that without her, as she had done without him? He didn’t see how. Luna would be better off without him, and what was more, he’d be better off without her. It would spare him the inevitable end that would follow, just as surely as it had done the first time.
Slowly he set down the paper. He didn’t need to look at it anymore tonight, or any night. It held nothing for him anymore, no promises of what might have been. He’s resigned himself to spending eternity alone, and if he could help Luna realize that right now by not keeping their date, then all the better.
He reached for the bottle and suddenly stopped, hand outstretched. A pinprick of light broke through the fog the whisky had caused. Should he be doing this? He knew that if he wrapped his fingers around that bottleneck, he was throwing away any hope he might have held, slim as it may have been, of seeing Luna again. And Merlin knew he wanted to – but no. She was too good for him. He didn’t deserve that chance.
Ron’s hand wrapped around the thick brown glass of the bottle decisively. He carried the firewhisky back to his bedroom and climbed under the wrinkled covers of his bed, pulling the thick quilt over his head in a fruitless attempt to drown out the world, and his failures. That was what he deserved.
A/N: So, this story took a rather depressing turn, if you didn't catch that. But - I promise, the ending is WAY less depressing. You sort of have to take me at my word, but this is definitely Ron's low point, if that makes you feel any better about that. So! With that said, don't forget to let me know what you think!