Characters: Ron, obviously, but Molly, Percy, Fred, George, and Ginny, too.
Warnings: Not unless you've a problem with Mum-perspective gushing.
Length: 1,685 words.
Summary: Ron has the dragon pox.
Author Notes: First off, I'd like to issue an enormous thanks to sister_dear for the beta. You're comments were indeed quite helpful. Any ensuing mistakes are thus my own.
Second off, this turned out to be a surprising challenge, indeed. I thought my prompt of "family" would be quite easy to get through, but as it turns out I went through at least eight drafts and ideas before I ended up with this piece. I had to draw a lot from my own experiences as a child, for this one, which was emotionally draining in the extreme.
I'm still unsure about my feelings of Ron in this; he's the star, especially for me, but a lot of this fic is about nuance, about being the youngest (or second to youngest, but youngest boy) in a family with large personalities. Sometimes children get a bit lost, I think. I wanted to show Ron in conjunction with his family, through the eyes of his mother, but as a bit of an enigma, still, because he's a boy who's not done growing and who hasn't established or asserted his full individuality yet. I dunno if I succeeded, but I sure did try.
The first thought that crossed Molly's mind when Ron tumbled into the house, his face contorted and blisters blooming on his palms, was that he'd been in the pond. She'd warned him away from itas she had all of her children, the good it did herbut Ron was the most stubborn and it was hot. It wouldn't surprise her one bit if the boy had gone for a skinny dip in the pond, despite her best warnings.
They never listened to her best warnings, it seemed.
"Don't drip water on my floor," she sighed, barely sparing Ron another glance as she went back to her knitting.
"Mum," Ron whined softly. Molly huffed, glancing back up.
"It's not my fault if you've been trampling in places you ought'nt and..."
Molly dropped her knitting needles and gave Ron a good look over. What she'd assumed was just a Gnome rash (the back garden was absolutely invested and the little buggers seemed to think the pond was their own personal lavatory) on Ron's palms looked a lot less so now that she looked closely. In fact, the "rash" seemed to be taking over his face, as well.
"What have you been doing?" Molly pulled Ron toward her gently by the wrists in order to inspect him.
“It itches,” Ron complained and Molly could feel the headache coming on.
"Dragon pox," the mediwizard confirmed. Molly rubbed her palms against her forehead. "Been goin' 'round. Third case this morning."
"Fantastic," Molly sighed.
The mediwizard spared her a quick glance and then looked back down at his clipboard. His eye brows rose up ever so slightly. He smirked faintly.
"Shouldn' hafta tell you the rules, then, should I? Been here before, no doubt."
Molly looked away from her hands and narrowed her eyes. "Once or twice."
"Still, better safe than sorry," the mediwizard continued, his smirk dropping off at Molly's glare. "Don't let 'im scratch, it'll scar..."
Molly glanced compulsively to where Ron sat on the hospital table, oven mitts over his hands, to prevent just that.
"Keep 'im 'way from those who've not 'ad it. Keep 'im hydrated. The flames take a lot outta the system and this heat lately won't be helpin'. Oatmeal baths'll do wonders, for the itchin', too. 'Nuffin else much we can do."
By the time they were released from St. Mungo's, the tale-tell rash of dragon pox was spreading across Ginny's cheeks and the twins were doing an awful job of hiding their scratching. Percy, locked up in his room as usual, seemed to be the only one safe.
Supper that night was a nightmare.
Arthur, who'd never had the pox himself, was staying away from the house, Percy refused to come out of his room, and the little flaming pustules littering her four youngest childrens’ bodies were working at Molly's nerves. The constant scratching wasn't helping.
"George, knock it off!"
"Well, Fred, knock it off!"
"But it itches," the boy moaned.
Molly gave up. If he scarred, he scarred. At this point, she no longer cared.
Fred and George were handling the pox in the manner she'd suspected: awfully. Ginny was being uncharacteristically good; slurping slowly and quietly at her cold soup. Ron hadn't said a word since they'd gotten back from Mungo's.
"Eat your soup," Molly insisted when she noticed Ron hadn't made a move to eat his supper. He had his head resting on the kitchen table, his face turned away from her. She understood he was miserable, but honestly. "Ronald," she said again, "eat your soup."
Ron made no move toward his bowl.
"Mum..." George whispered, his hand leaving his face (where it'd been scratching) to tap at Ron's upturned hand.
"Ron," Molly said, louder.
"Mum, I don't think..." George moved to tap at Ron's shoulder, and then to rub a bit at his head, still eliciting no response.
In a beat, Molly was pulling Ron back from the table. His head lolled backward against her chest, a low moan sounding from deep within his throat. His eyes looked to be glued shut with a thin layer of yellow puss, the flames engulfing the lids.
Molly felt her heart stop, for the briefest of moments.
"Allergic reaction," the mediwitch said.
Molly nodded, but her eyes were trained on Ron, ignoring, for a moment, her other children, who surrounded him like worried pups. He was pale, almost white, against his sheets. His freckles and the flaming pustules made him look all the more ghostly.
"It's rare, a one in a hundred sort of thing."
"He'll be happy to hear that," Molly laughed hollowly, quietly. The hallway she stood in was bustling with people, but there was something surreal in the air. "He's always competing for first against his brothers."
The mediwitch leaned over Molly's shoulder, peering into the same crack Molly was looking through.
"They all seem so close, though," she commented, adjusting her glasses, and slowly moving away from the door.
It was true, her children fought tooth and nail, as children often did. It was usually Ron against the twins, Ron against Ginny, Ron against Percy, sometimes Ron against her...
Ron seemed so often to be fighting some invisible force that only he saw, railing against injustices only he understood, on the losing side of a long ago lost battle. Competition was in his blood, but it was so often dulled by self-consciousness that it erupted in bouts of immature petulance.
For all their fighting, though, her children loved one another. Ron, sometimes, seemed to love the most; taking a beating and offering solace, normalcy, strength in the same moment.
She had feared a little, by the time Ron was born, that she wouldn't have enough love to go around. Sometimes she still wondered. Did she neglect one over another? Was that why Ron so often felt the need to fight his siblings? Was he fighting for her attention? Fighting against it?
Of all her sons, Ron was the most like her: stubborn, but loyal, quick to a temper, slow to forgive, an impossible child with impossible dreams.
Ron was stirring and she held her breath. He moved just a bit, nudging down at Ginny with his blistered palms. Molly took a deep, calming gulp of air. She had been so scared...
"'S'all right," Ron whispered, his scratchy voice barely reaching Molly in the doorway. "'M'fine," he insisted. "Gin, let go."
Ginny had refused to leave Ron’s side once she was let in to see him. She was laid out fast asleep next to him with her head pillowed on his stomach and arms wrapped tight around his chest, tears dried on her cheeks. The mediwitches and wizards just hadn't had the heart to make her move.
Fred and George had joined Ron and Ginny up on the bed at some point. They hadn't been there when Molly'd gone to floo Arthur, but now they were sitting at the foot, knee to knee, scratching here and there occasionally but being uncharacteristically quiet.
Percy had given up on trying to avoid catching the pox and sat in a chair beside the hospital bed, back ramrod straight and face absolutely miserable, his own newly formed pox obviously painful and uncomfortable. He had a book in one hand, though it didn't seem to be holding his attention very well. His other hand had snaked underneath Ron's bed sheet to grip Ron’s hand. The gesture was a little too desperate to be entirely casual.
Now, as Ron struggled to push his sister away from him, he was met with Ginny's most stubborn face as she awoke. She wasn't hearing anything Ron was saying about letting go and her eyes were starting to well up with tears again, big fat drops. Ron, in a move that made her catch her breath, looked up and out at Molly, who only he seemed to notice was standing in the doorway. His face was so utterly confused that she had to wonder if he would fight this too, for lack of a better response.
"You're in 'ospital," Ginny hiccupped, her grip tightening.
"Oi!" Fred whispered, nudging Ron's socked feet roughly. "Don't make Gin cry."
"She only wants a hug," George nodded, pushing Fred's nudging foot away from Ron.
"And her ickle brother can give her that, after all," Fred said, face a frown as he pushed back at George.
"Better'n dress up, innit?" George teased, removing his hands from Fred and making a move to scratch behind his ear, instead.
"Besides," Fred whispered, his own hands falling into his lap, "we're family, aren't we?"
Percy's head peeped over his book, Ginny squeezed Ron harder still, and George placed a hand, nails downward, on Fred's shoulder. Then, as casual as could be, George dragged the hand down Fred's back.
"You scratch our back," he smirked, and Fredmischievous grin back in placeturned with his hands outstretched toward Ron, whose eyes widened, just a bit.
"We scratch yours," he nodded.
"Hey," Percy insisted, dropping the pretense of reading, face a disapproving frown. "You're going to scar!"
"Bugger off," Fred snickered and Ron's eyes moved once more to Molly's.
Over the bickering of his brothers, he smiled, ever so faintly, and raised the hand that wasn't being gripped by Percy in a small, private wave.
"Yes," she said, aloud this time. "Yes, close."
Ron let his grin shine for a moment longer, then turned away from Molly toward Ginny, who was tugging at his hospital gown.
Molly felt her heart squeeze, yet again, this time out of relief. Frighteningly sick, lying in a hospital bed, and Ron was still making an effort to give. More than that, so much more importantly, he was taking.
Her boy was a fighter, a prideful child who demanded the world see him, kicking and screaming the house down if the situation warranted it. Occasionally he still managed to surprise her, though, with his willingness to simply accept what was on offer. Ron was very much like her, yes, but at moments like this he showed her he was his own person, too.
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