In the three months since Ron had last taken a drink of firewhisky, he had somehow managed to forget how nasty the effects were when one was waking up the morning after. He was instantly greeted with a searing headache, a dry mouth, and a leaden feeling in his insides – although that last was a new feeling, to the best of his memories. The sunlight seemed to slice right into his skull, and he pressed a pillow to his face, trying to block out the world once more. Sleep had been so welcoming compared to this - in dreams you didn't have to face reality unless you wanted to.
As he slowly returned to a very painful sort of consciousness, brief snippets of last night began to return to him. The weight in his stomach increased as he remembered the bottle now sitting on his nightstand, and how quickly that same bottle had been emptied.
Doesn’t matter, he told himself roughly. It’s for the best that you spared yourself the hurt before it had the chance to come at you again.
He rolled from bed, pressing his fingers to his eyes to stem the flow of light cutting into them. He knew he’d made the right decision – hadn’t he? Surely he couldn’t be faulted for wanting to avoid the inevitable. Luna would understand. In time, he’d explain it to her and they’d both have a good laugh over it.
He staggered into the minuscule bathroom that adjoined his bedroom and splashed water from the sink onto his face. He wasn’t looking forward to work today, that was certain; both the hangover and the questions he would receive from his brother would serve to make the day nearly unbearable. He scrubbed his face vigorously, as though it might cause the pounding to leave his head.
Diagon Alley was quiet in the early hours of the morning, and never before had Ron been so grateful for this. The side street lined with tenement houses, where Ron’s flat was located, hung almost in a sort of balance as everyone still slept behind their doors and windows. A slight mist, almost entirely faded, but not quite, still lingered chest-high. Ron closed the front door of his building behind him and set off on a slow walk toward the joke shop, taking careful steps so as to not jar his head too much.
As he walked, he continued to try and justify his actions from the night before, although his excuses only looked weaker and more flimsy now that he had emerged into daylight. The thoughts wouldn’t go away from him – he kept remembering the expression Luna had worn when he’d asked her to dinner, brought back into sharp relief now the firewhisky had cleared away any blurs. She deserved better than him, someone as tormented as he was. Someone so weak that he drank away his troubles, and looked every day for the mention of a love lost in the newspaper. He was not the right one for her.
An old Squib walked past him, whistling jauntily, a large broom swung up onto his shoulder. He nodded to Ron as the two passed each other in the street, and Ron made a sort of motion back, hoping it was enough. Interacting with other people was going to be tough today if he couldn’t even greet the street sweeper.
Presently he reached the main road, which emerged near Gringotts and wound out of sight to the Leaky Cauldron at the other end. Here it was a bit noisier, due to shopkeepers preparing for the day’s sales. Signs were placed out front, doors thrown wide, merchandise neatly arranged in bins that would be mussed before the day was out. A wizard was laying out a blanket full of odd-looking trinkets for sale, and among them Ron spotted, for some odd reason, a Gurdyroot. A slight pang hit his chest; it reminded him of Luna. What wasn’t going to remind him of Luna today?
You did the right thing, he repeated as a kind of mantra, steeling himself and continuing on his way.
George was already there when Ron let himself into the shop, straightening some of the products on the long shelves near the back. He turned when he heard the door open – evidently he had been waiting for it – and fairly leaped across to his brother, anticipation etched all over his freckled face.
“How’d it go?” he asked, smirking slightly, wiping his hands on the legs of his trousers. Ron winced at George’s voice, which seemed that much louder as a result of the hangover.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he mumbled, heading to the back room to make himself a cup of tea – he had the feeling he’d need a lot of tea today. Unfortunately, George followed him.
“Was it that bad?” he asked, cracking a wicked grin. “What’d you do – spill a butterbeer on her? Set her hair on fire? Try and wow her with all your Chudley Cannons trivia?” He leaned against the doorframe almost exactly as he had twenty-four hours earlier, waiting for information.
“I said, I don’t want to talk about it,” Ron snapped, pointing his wand moodily at the kettle on the small camping stove kept in the back room. It began to whistle immediately, and Ron sloshed a bit of the water into a chipped mug and plunked in a teabag. His already-shaky assurances to himself that morning were quaking even more under his brother’s questioning – and George didn’t even know the full story yet.
“Come on. I’ll bet you tripped walking her home. That’s not that bad, I’ve done that befo-“
“I didn’t go, all right?” Ron said waspishly, although a sick sense of dread and wrongdoing had crept inside him at the words. He dumped an unwieldy amount of sugar into his mug and stirred vigorously, avoiding his brother’s look; he could feel George’s eyes on the back of his head. The long silence unnerved him.
Finally, he glanced over his shoulder. His older brother was wearing an expression that Ron had never seen there before – a mixture of pity and incredulity, and something else that he couldn’t find a name for. Finally, George shook his head once, very slowly, and said, “I knew it.”
“What?” Ron said defensively.
“What are you so afraid of?” George asked abruptly. “Are you afraid of trying? Afraid of failing? I really want to know. You’ve just thrown away the best opportunity you’ve been given in a year, and I would really like to know why.” He took a deep breath, his cheeks tingeing pink. “Here comes a girl, interested in you enough to agree to go on a date with you – and you stand her up. Did you even stop to consider her feelings, or are you that thick?”
“Of course I considered her feelings!” Ron said quickly. “That’s why I didn’t go, George! I – she deserves better.” The atmosphere in the room suddenly grew much more tense and uncomfortable; he ran a finger around his shirt collar, which had suddenly become uncomfortably tight around his throat. He could feel the judgment and scrutiny from where he stood.
“At least you’re honest,” said George quietly, although his voice sounded odd, as though the sentence was forced. Ron darted a look at him; the strange expression was still on his face. He heaved a great sigh, knowing pretending was no longer an option.
“Okay. I was scared,” he admitted after a slight pause. He didn’t know why he’d made the impromptu decision to share the contents of his inner mind – it was a practice he was not accustomed to by any means. “I just… I can’t feel like I’m deserving of another chance, you know? After I messed up so bad with – with Hermione.”
It was one of the first times he had actually talked directly about Hermione since their relationship had ended – and it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as he had expected. Ron looked up from the patch of floor he’d been staring at to find George looking at him intently, as though not wanting to miss a word. He shrugged, a bit abashed now.
“Did you tell any of this to Luna?” the older Weasley asked finally.
“Are you mad?” Ron said, giving a mirthless laugh. “She would have thought I was off my rocker-“
“That’s not fair,” said George firmly. “You really are thick if that’s the way you’re thinking. I mean – no offense, but this is Luna Lovegood we’re talking about.” Ron allowed a corner of his mouth to lift in a half-hearted smile at that comment. He suddenly found himself without any further excuses, although if he was to be honest, he hadn’t started out with any, either.
“So… what do I do?” he asked finally. There it was. Pride on the table, as it were. George considered the question carefully, tipping his head to the side as always, and Ron watched him, feeling apprehensive and relieved at the same time.
“I think that’s for you to decide,” said the former. Ron groaned; he didn’t know he’d actually have to think it through.
“No bloody help at all, you.”
So evening found him, once more, pacing the floor of his bedroom, plucking up the courage to see Luna in an entirely different atmosphere. He recognized how ironic it was that, had he not been a coward in the first place, he wouldn’t have to be repeating the act now. But tonight he was determined to bring about a different outcome, and for this reason, all the firewhisky in the house had been promptly dumped down the sink before he’d had the chance to think too long about it.
This was going to be infinitely harder than going on that date ever would have been; at least there he’d known, in some respects, what to expect. He had no clue now if Luna would even open the door for him, much less talk to him. Ron had to marvel at how royally he had messed things up.
He looked at himself in the narrow mirror on the inside of his wardrobe, ran a self-conscious hand through his hair, and fiddled with the hem of his shirt. He couldn’t put it off any longer – now was the time. With a heavy tread and even heavier heart, he moved through into the sitting room and outside his flat, down the stairs, and onto the street.
He had missed the busiest part of the day, and the streets were quiet again now, this time bathed in a kind of velvety darkness spotted with lights from windows and streetlamps. His shoes echoed loudly on the cobbles – he was unconsciously counting his steps – as he made his way slowly toward the main road of Diagon Alley. An occasional shout or voice punctuated the stillness, always startling him. Ron preferred solitude over the intrusions of the outside world. That was what had gotten him into this mess.
He let his thoughts wander along with his feet, this time thinking about to two nights ago (had it really only been that long?), when he’d walked Luna home in just this same kind of night. And then he thought back even further, to something she had brought up then. He thought back to when they were small, and had played together for days at a time, totally caught up in their fantasies. Ron had forgotten all about that; he was quite glad that she had brought it up when she had. And then, quite suddenly, as he was thinking about it, he was able to recall vivid scenes of their make-believe, scenes he didn’t even know were still stored away in his head.
He remembered playing the brave Gryffindor to Luna’s wise Ravenclaw (ironic, now he thought about it properly), facing all sorts of dangers to rescue her from whatever evildoers had captured her that day. His mother always got mad when she found Luna up a tree with Ron slashing at her flowers, and never seemed to understand when he explained he was fighting the “monsters” to reach Luna in her “tower”. And he’d always saved a handful of the flowers for her.
They had a lot of memories, more than just their days together at Hogwarts. Throughout everything, she had always been there – someone he hadn’t even noticed until she had the potential to vanish from his life forever.
And I don't want to lose her.
Ron stopped dead on the middle of the main street, which he had reached without even realizing it. A wizard behind him trod on Ron’s heels and backed off, turning about and muttering darkly under his breath, but Ron couldn’t have cared less. At that moment, while diving back into the reflections of his childhood, he knew exactly what to do. It might not work, but it was most definitely better than showing up with no sort of plan at all.
He was jogging a little now, hoping beyond hope that he wasn’t too late. He turned a gentle bend in the road, and Flourish and Blotts came into view, a small amount of light still shining dimly through its slightly fogged window panes. Ron quickened his step, pushing open the door roughly and ignoring the little tinkling bell.
A stooped and wizened wizard with wispy gray hair emerged from behind the counter, looking rather fierce. “We’re closed for the day, sir,” he said, his eyes stern behind largely magnified spectacles. “Whatever you’re in such a hurry to purchase, it’s going to have to wait until the morrow.”
“Please,” said Ron, leaning on the counter as though to convey the urgency of his request. “I don’t want to buy anything, only-“ He paused; he was really setting himself up to sound stupid. But this was important. “I was wondering if I could have some of those purple lilac flowers from the bush outside?”
The shopkeeper looked at him oddly, as though he might bite. “You’re mad,” he said warily. “What do you want a bunch of flowers for?”
“Long story,” he panted. “I just really need them to apologize to – to this girl. I really messed things up.” He flushed maroon, even though he knew the bookkeeper wouldn’t have an earthly clue who he was referring to. It seemed to work; the man’s features softened very subtly.
“And you really think flowers are going to solve your problems, lad?” he said, peering at Ron. He nodded firmly, for the first time in a long time absolutely sure of something. “Very well,” the man sighed. “But pluck ‘em from the back – less noticeable.”
“Thanks!” Ron said quickly, and hurried back out of the shop. He grabbed a handful of the lilacs from the bush, trying to choose the best ones but being in too much of a hurry to evaluate it closely. His stomach turning in nerves now more than ever, Ron set off back down the street.
Before he felt quite prepared, he had reached the door to the office where the Quibbler was housed and published. With a small tremor of mixed relief and anticipation, he noticed that the lights were on here as well, in the flat above the ground floor. Not knowing at all if what he was doing was wise, but not taking the time to think it through further, he raised a fist and knocked heavily on the door.
Did he imagine it, or did he see a shadow stirring on the floor above? There were no sounds from within; he knocked again, half-thinking it might be better to make a run for it and just leave the bunch of lilacs on her stoop. But no, he’d come this far and he was going to see it through. Being a coward was what had brought him here in the first place.
Finally – finally – the latch on the other side of the sturdy door clicked, and it swung inward to reveal the Quibbler’s press room, bathed in soft candlelight. Luna stood there, framed with the flames from behind. Ron had to remind himself to breathe.
“Hi,” he gasped, mildly out of breath still from dashing over here. Luna said nothing, only looked at him – not with welcome, nor with reproach, but simply a mild curiosity as to why he might be standing on her doorstep. He waited a few more seconds, and then, finding he had planned absolutely nothing to say, thrust the bouquet out in front of him.
Luna’s eyebrows raised slightly, and she took it gently, studying the small cross-shaped flowers. “I’m really, really sorry,” Ron burst out finally, still watching Luna, who had not looked up from the flowers. “I shouldn’t have stood you up last night – I didn’t mean to, really. But I was still a git and I know that.” He swallowed, not comfortable with expressing his feelings – he’d barely gotten to the point where he could admit them to himself – but it had to be done. He had to do this right.
“You mean a lot to me, and if I could I would erase last night completely from both our minds.” He swallowed again, his mouth suddenly quite dry. “I want another chance, if you’ll give it to me – to prove that I’m worthy of actually asking you out on dates.”
The words hung in the air, almost like a question; he had nothing left to say. After a long moment, Luna looked up from the flowers – and to Ron’s intense shock and euphoria, the glimmer of a smile had been traced on her face.
“I never lost hope in you,” she said. “Even when I came home, I knew you would eventually be back.” The smile appeared in full force on her face now, and she waved the flowers in a sort of gesture. “You did remember,” she finished.
He breathed out a long breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, and his knees went shaky with relief. Taking a step forward so that there was hardly any room between the two at all, Ron wrapped his arms around Luna in a hug. She hugged him back tightly, cheek to his chest. And he knew that he had been forgiven.
A/N: I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people - Gina, Jack, Annie, Gubby, Sarah, Lily, Ash, Hattie, Mary, Mel, Helena, Erica, Julia, Tanya, Celeste, and everyone I'm forgetting, but you know who you are - for helping with this story. Looking over awkward sentences, providing advice, and being willing to listen to such a crazy idea in the first place. This was such a fun story to write, and I am really glad I wrote it! Thanks for reading "Do You Remember?" and I hope you enjoyed it!