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An Ordinary Grey Rat by Athene Goodstrength
Chapter 2 : Chapter 2.
 
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Anything you recognize belongs to the magnificent J.K. Rowling. Anything else is either mine, or you haven’t read Rowling’s books recently. Why not? Go read them again! But read this first…

Chapter 2






Ron awoke early the next morning, feeling exhausted. Butterflies stirred in his stomach as he remembered that this was the big day.

Seeing the state of his bedroom, Ron pulled himself out of bed and started throwing items into his half-packed trunk; shoes, scarves, quills and Chudley Cannon posters all jumbled roughly into the trunk together. Suddenly, his grip fumbled, and through bleary eyes he saw a small jar of black ink falling to the floor. He braced himself, but it didn't smash; instead, the cork popped out and ink flowed freely onto the wooden floorboards.

Employing some of Charlie's favourite swear words, he grabbed an old towel from a hook on the back of the bedroom door. Pressing it firmly into the stained floorboards, Ron hoped desperately that his mother wouldn't choose that moment to come and wake him up.

With the ink satisfactorily soaked up, Ron bundled up the towel and stuffed it into the bin under his desk, taking care to arrange an old magazine and some sweet wrappers over it. By the time his mother discovered the evidence of Ron's clumsiness, he'd be away at Hogwarts, and she would hopefully have forgotten all about it by the time he returned for Christmas.

With a sigh, Ron slumped onto his bed and rubbed a weary hand across his face, leaving a small smudge of black ink on his nose.






He’d been to Kings Cross station many times before. Every time Ron had waved goodbye to his brothers he’d felt a slight stab of envy that he’d tried to hide; his sister was much more demonstrative in her frustration at being left behind and Ron hadn’t wanted to act like a girl. It was much harder to ignore his envy when it came time to welcome his brothers home again; at the start of each holiday, they all – even Percy, at times - arrived with trunks full of dirty Quidditch strips, pockets full of crumpled notes from their friends, and heads full of stories, most of which they would tell the family over dinner that evening, some of which they would only tell whilst their mother was putting Ginny to bed, and a select few that would probably only ever be accessible through Legilimency.

As he pushed his laden trolley into the station, Ron felt almost as if he were walking on air; here he was, finally! It was his turn. He wondered briefly what stories he might have to tell at Christmas time. Who knows, he thought happily, I might be having too much of a good time to come home for Christmas. The thought of missing out on his mother’s roast Christmas turkey gave him a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he shook it off; Fred and George had stayed at Hogwarts for most of the holidays last year, and they’d had a great time – if the angry letters from the Deputy Head that had arrived regularly were anything to go by.

‘Ginny dear, hold my hand.’ Ron looked around to see his mother reaching towards Ginny, who was gazing, wide-eyed, at a young Muggle man who seemed to have two black pieces of string coming from his ears. They were attached to a small black box, clipped to the waistband of his jeans, and emblazoned with the word WALKMAN.

‘Do you think it reminds him to walk?’ whispered Ginny as she passed Ron. He shrugged; who knew what strange things Muggles got up to? Apart from Dad of course, thought Ron, who – along with the rest of the family- thought of his father’s obsession with Muggle technology as an amiable, slightly embarrassing eccentricity.

‘You must keep hold of my hand, Ginny; it would only take a moment to lose you in here. Honestly,’ tutted Mrs Weasley, ‘it’s the busiest day of the year at Kings Cross; you’d think they’d come up with some sort of system to calm it all down a bit… wizarding families carting owls and trunks around everywhere, and the place is packed with Muggles, of course – it’s a wonder we get away with it every year.’

Ron’s eye was caught by a flash of white; in front of him stood a scrawny sort of boy with a shock of black hair – he might not have noticed him at all, were it not for the owl sitting placidly in the cage on the boy’s trolley. It was the most beautiful snowy owl Ron had ever seen, and he tuned out Ginny’s whining about being left at home as he admired the bird. He considered going over to say hello, but thought suddenly of Scabbers, curled up in his pocket, and felt a tinge of shame. No boy with an owl that expensive or beautiful would want anything to do with someone like Ron, he thought. Then again, the dark-haired boy seemed to be alone; maybe he’d be glad of someone to talk to. Ron was just making up his mind when a large crowd of tourists came thundering past, obscuring his view of the boy and the magnificent owl. He realised that Percy had already made his way onto Platform 9 3/4 and his stomach gave a little lurch; it was time to go.

Ron watched as the twins charged after Percy, feeling the butterflies dance; he’d always enjoyed running through the barrier to the steamy platform on the other side. This year, the knowledge that he would be staying on that side increased both his excitement and nerves. Suddenly, he felt overwhelmed by the certainty that this would be the time he ran for the barrier and tripped over his own feet.  Ron took a steadying breath, and realised that the boy with the beautiful owl had approached his mother.

‘Hullo, dear,’ Mrs Weasley said kindly. ‘First time at Hogwarts? Ron’s new, too.’

The boy glanced towards Ron, his nerves playing openly across his bespectacled face. He admitted that he didn’t know how to get onto the platform, and Ron listened to his mum’s advice; the main thing was, you had to fully believe that you could get through the barrier. Ron had no problem with that, having passed through the barrier many times before. The skinny boy didn’t look convinced though, and as Ron followed him at a run towards the barrier, he worried momentarily that the boy might come to an abrupt halt, and that he would crash into him. However, the boy kept running and disappeared through the barrier, and Ron took a second to admire his courage before tucking his head down and charging through the barrier and onto Platform 9 ¾.






Hours later, Ron found himself sitting in a small boat, which was gliding through the still, black waters of a vast lake. He, like his fellow passengers, was silent. A thousand thoughts rushed through his head at once, his heart thudded at the thought of the Sorting that lay ahead, and his mind reeled at his memories of the day thus far.

Just that morning, he'd been in his bed at home. He'd had breakfast with Ginny at the kitchen table, he'd half-listened to the crackling radio, and he’d had a good hug with his mum as she’d fussed over his messy hair. He’d remembered his father’s story about Bill as they’d arrived at the station, and drawn himself up, deciding that today would be a good day. And it had been, although he felt as if he were a million miles away from the life he’d left behind. Now, he thought, he was about to arrive at Hogwarts, and he was sitting in a boat under a starry sky with a his new friend, the skinny boy from the train. Furthermore, that friend was Harry Potter. The Harry Potter; the one he'd grown up hearing about. He'd never met anyone famous before, unless he counted Tobias Nash, the Chudley Cannons beater, whom he'd once spotted in Diagon Alley. As Nash had recently been suspended from the team for apparently mistaking a referee’s head for a bludger, Ron decided not to include him in his count of celebrities he'd met. That left his new friend, Harry Potter.

Ron's great aunt Muriel had been the first to tell him the tale of The Boy Who Lived. Ron had listened, open-mouthed as he heard for the first time of killing curses, of orphaned babies, and of You-Know-Who. Ron actually didn't know Who until much later, because his mother had overheard and, teary-eyed, stopped Aunt Muriel from elaborating on the deaths of the Potters; the old woman had a taste for the macabre, and Molly could see her five year old son looking increasingly horror-stricken as the story went on. Since then, Ron had heard the story a thousand times; Harry Potter had become a legend amongst magical folk.

He glanced at the skinny figure next to him. The Boy Who Lived was currently looking pale and nervous; moonlight reflected from his glasses as he stared dead ahead. In the dim lamplight of the boat, Ron could not see the jagged scar on Harry's forehead. On the train, where they'd had a compartment to themselves, he hadn't been able to resist asking to see it, despite his mother's warning not to bother 'the poor dear'. Harry, however, had seemed quite happy to pull back his fringe of black hair and show Ron the scar, shaped, as the myth had said, like a lightning bolt. Ron had stared at it for a moment before his mother’s warning had echoed in his mind, and he’d looked away quickly.

Ron had been amazed to find that Harry knew practically nothing of the wizarding world, and had felt somewhat flattered by his keen interest in Ron's own life. It seemed that the boy had not met many wizards, and found Ron just as interesting as Ron found him. They'd chatted easily, almost as if they'd always known each other. They'd discussed quidditch, Muggles, Professor Dumbledore, and Ron had even repeated his attempt at turning Scabbers bright yellow. The spell once again failed to have any effect, and Ron privately vowed revenge on his brothers.

Up-close, Harry’s snowy owl was even more beautiful; she certainly wasn't a hand-me-down, Ron had thought somewhat enviously. He had experienced another stab of envy as Harry had pulled coin after gleaming coin from his pockets to buy what seemed like half the stock of the food trolley. For a moment, he'd begun to worry that his new friend was a bit of a flash git, and had almost convinced himself that he could eat the awful lunch his mum had packed when Harry had enthusiastically insisted that Ron should eat as many of the pasties, pies and sweeties as he fancied. Ron stole another glance at the boy sitting next to him in the boat. With his knobbly knees and thin shoulders, Harry didn't look like he'd ever had much to eat. That he'd share his chocolate frogs with a relative stranger showed a kind of openness and generosity that Ron reckoned he'd value in a friend. He just hoped that they'd be Sorted into the same house.

A quiet sniffing sound made Ron turn around on the wooden bench to look at the two other occupants of the boat. Behind him and Harry sat a slightly tearful-looking boy and a girl who'd introduced herself on the train as Hesper, or something. They each wore matching expressions of nausea and anxiety. The boy, Neville, sniffed again.

'Alright?' Ron asked quietly.

Neville nodded, too nervous to speak. Hernia, or whatever her name was, just stared out at the water, her large teeth biting her lower lip anxiously.  As long as I'm not in the same house as those two no-hopers, thought Ron nastily as his own nerves about finally arriving at Hogwarts rose in his throat once again. He knew that whichever house he was Sorted into that evening was the house to which he would belong for the next seven years; he’d eat, work and live with the others in that house.

Never mind the next seven years, Charlie had once told him, They’ll want to know at job interviews whether you’ve got the brains of a Ravenclaw, or hold ambitions like a Slytherin. You’ll go to parties when you’re fifty and end up standing with the other Gryffindors. Charlie had chuckled at his own joke, but Ron now gulped at the memory of it. His whole family - and it was a large family – had been in Gryffindor, and Ron, despite his secret wish to distinguish himself, really wanted nothing more than to follow in their footsteps.

As the lights of the great castle ahead drew nearer, Ron patted Scabbers softly and tried to run through the list of houses and work out the probability of his being Sorted into each of them. He held nothing in particular against Ravenclaw, but knew that he was unlikely to be Sorted there; the only reading he ever did consisted of quidditch magazines and the muggle comic books his father kept by the downstairs toilet at home.  Despite what he’d told Harry on the train, Ron was not overly worried that he’d be Sorted into Slytherin. They were a nasty lot, from what he’d heard, and although their main traits were supposedly cunning and ambition, Ron didn’t think that standing in front of the mirror pretending to be Head Boy was really a very Slytherin thing to do. Of course, he really dreamed of being a Gryffindor, but they were supposed to be courageous. If he didn’t even have the guts to remind his mum that he hated corned beef sandwiches, what possible chance did he have of being sorted into brave Gryffindor? No - it was Hufflepuff for him, he was sure.

He’d heard that Hufflepuff was the house for students who didn’t really belong in any of the others, and that they would just accept anyone. Any ordinary grey rat, thought Ron, suddenly morose as he looked down at Scabbers. However, he’d also heard that Hufflepuffs were the warmest, friendliest and most welcoming of students, and he had to admit that those traits were rather appealing to the butterflies in his stomach. He thought suddenly of his mum. She was so kind and so caring; so much so that Ginny had privately nicknamed their mother ‘Mollycoddles’. He wondered why his mum hadn’t been a Hufflepuff. Although, he thought suddenly, cross her and she can become distinctly un-Hufflepuff-y. Ron remembered with a grim smile his mother’s reaction to Fred mistaking her for Percy that morning; Fred had leapt out at her from behind the woodshed and begun to pelt her with Stink Pellets before he even realised his mistake. Molly’s infuriated shrieks had been so ear-splitting that Errol, the Weasleys’ ancient owl, had swooped out into the garden, fearing that one of his own kind was being attacked.

All four occupants of the little boat jumped as the huge groundskeeper leading the way in his own boat unexpectedly called out.

‘Heads down!’

Ron, Harry, Neville, and the bossy girl all lowered their heads as they sailed through a long curtain of ivy which was covering a cold and seemingly endless tunnel in the cliff face. Ron was suddenly grateful for the pale glow of the boat’s lantern, as darkness surrounded the nervous passengers. Harry caught Ron’s eye and gave him a quick grin. The fact that Harry was clearly also nervous didn’t stop him from trying to lift Ron’s spirits; the skinny kid was once again being kind without really seeming to try.

Ron felt a little baffled by the day’s events. He’d found himself divulging secrets that he wouldn’t even have shared with his own family to this strange boy. He’d told of his fear that he might not measure up to his brothers, and he’d openly shown his shame at only having a second-hand rat and dry corned beef sandwiches. He’d even nearly got in a fight with that Malfoy idiot, and Harry Potter had stuck up for him. For some reason, Ron had felt an instant connection with the scrawny, bespectacled kid with whom he’d shared his first trip to Hogwarts. He hoped fervently that they might be Sorted into the same house; not that there was much chance of the Boy Who Lived being placed in Hufflepuff. Harry Potter had conquered death before he was even out of nappies. Ron Weasley was about to start at Hogwarts and he hadn’t even conquered his fear of the dark.

He closed his eyes tightly, and felt a warm breeze ruffle his hair. We must be getting close to the end of the tunnel, he thought, an unexpected sense of calmness settling over him. He decided that it was probably time to stop worrying, to be like Bill and just hope for the best. The small fleet of boats sailed slowly on towards a large open bay, bringing Ronald B. Weasley and his future classmates ever closer to the world that they would all soon call their own.

 




AN: ‘packed with Muggles, of course’

‘Hullo, dear,’ Mrs Weasley said kindly. ‘First time at Hogwarts? Ron’s new, too.’

'the poor dear'. –Pp. 69, 70 & 73 respectively, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, UK special edition 1999


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