Characters: Ron Weasley, Charlie Weasley, George Weasley, Remus Lupin, Harry Potter
Genre: General, Angst, Drama, Mystery
Warnings: Angst, Dark, Adult Language, Mature Themes, Violence, Torture, Implied Character Deaths
Word Count: 23,278 total, part One of Three
Summary: Ron has been experiencing blackouts, odd dreams, and strange visions. And they're becoming more frequent, as well as disturbing. Post Hogwarts/War.
DISCLAIMER: Everything recognizable belongs to JKR and her corporate minions. All of the other stuff belongs to me. No monies made here, nor offence intended.
Written for the 2007 Triatha-Ron, Team Gen, and the prompt was 'food.'
Beta work by thrihyrne & evilauntiesnape
~~~~~ ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT ~~~~~
"Are you right?"
Ron blinked, stepping backward slightly, the soft glow about his wand tip shimmering and fading out with a soft crackle.
"Healer Weasley?" Agnes Dalrymple furrowed her brow disapprovingly, her tired grey eyes filled with annoyance. "Don't tell me we've got to start over," she harrumphed, rolling her eyes and fussing with her skimpy examination gown. "Healer Wormwood would've been done by now, that's for certain."
"Mrs. Dalrymple," Ron began.
"Damned hospital administration," Agnes grumbled, "automatically re-assigning me a new Healer without even bothering to solicit my opinion. Not proper at all, I'm telling you."
Ron sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose firmly. "Agnes, we've been through this. Healer Wormwood retired. Six months ago. If you're not satisfied with my performance..."
Agnes cut him off with a wave of her gnarled hand. "Now, don't go gettin' all defensive, sonny. I've a full schedule today, and no time for nonsense. I can't be late for my monthly meeting of the Leamington Witches' Bridge Club."
"My apologies," Ron replied, feeling suddenly faint and the slightest bit queasy. "I'll have you out of here straight away," he murmured, smiling crookedly and attempting to regain his composure. This was the second time today he'd almost blanked out; fortunately, he'd been sitting at his desk slogging through his month's end reports the first time it had happened.
Agnes shook her head and snorted. "You'd better fetch a Healer for the pup, here," she said derisively, gesturing vaguely at Ron's nurse
"I don't believe that'll be necessary," Ron shot back a bit more harshly than he'd intended. "I'm fine." He glanced over at his assistant, whose expression was one of amusement threaded with definite concern.
"Are you sure about that?" Violet Marsh asked, taking a step closer to Ron, her auto-quill hovering patiently over Agnes' chart.
"I'm fine," Ron repeated, arching an eyebrow.
"Of course, Healer," Violet replied, pursing her lips and cocking her head to one side.
"Right," Agnes muttered.
Ron cleared his throat and took a deep breath, placing his wand over the centre of Agnes' ample chest. "Well, once more for Hogwarts, yeah?"
Violet sniggered softly as Ron spoke the incantation; his wand tip glowed orange once more, and he proceeded with the aureliac, calling out readings to Violet while Agnes scowled most impressively and did her best to appear put out in the extreme.
"Just remember," Violet said, "do no harm."
Ron snorted as he scribbled away at Agnes' chart. "Whomever cooked up that little cliché deserves to have their bollocks served up to them on a platter."
"Now, now, that's not the proper attitude, Healer," Violet answered, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "And who's to say the person in question had bollocks anyway? Rather sexist thinking, really."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Good Godric, Violet, you know I'm..."
Violet giggled wickedly, waving a hand. "Yes, yes, I know you're not like that. Just having my own go at you. In vogue today, it seems."
"Too right," Ron replied with a snort. "I'm pleased to have the additional patients," he continued, signing his name to the parchment and rolling it up. "But why was I saddled with all of Wormwood's cranky old biddies?"
Violet laughed. "Worse luck, I suppose." She laid a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Seriously, though, you really faded out there. I'm becoming rather concerned."
Ron placed Agnes' chart in the outbound tray. "Just a bit tired. Ten hour days and all that." He smiled, hoping it would satisfy his plucky assistant. It didn't.
Violet lowered her gaze. "Balls," she replied firmly. "Something's off, and you damn well know it. Whatever's going on, it's getting worse."
"I really don't think..."
Violet shook her head. "Maybe it is just stress. But perhaps it's not. When's the last time you've had a thorough physical? Or an aureliac?"
Ron threw up his hands. "Bloody hell, I don't know."
Violet pointed a finger at Ron's chest. "Exactly. You know it's entirely possible that you may be suffering from Post Traumatic Spell Disorder. You're a War veteran, and I know for a fact that you probably absorbed more residual dark magic than most. Healer, heal thyself!"
"Thanks, Healer Marsh," Ron replied wryly. As much as he hated to admit it, Violet had a point. It was entirely possible that the odd black-outs might be related to his experiences during the War. They'd documented dozens of cases of PTSD recently, some rather serious. Still, until now, he'd attributed the fainting spells and blackouts to his grueling schedule. "I'll have myself checked out. Promise." He grinned widely, and Violet nodded.
"See that you do. Don't force me to bring Upton in on this."
Ron literally growled in response. "You wouldn't dare..." Shrewsbury Upton was the Chief Administrator of St. Mungo's, and not at all known for his people skills. On top of that, the short, stout wizard was disturbingly similar to Snape in demeanor.
Violet shrugged. "Now what sort of assistant would I be if I failed at such an elementary task as keeping you healthy?" She noted Ron's silent agreement and continued. "Not that I want to deal with the wrinkled old arsehole, anyway."
Ron chuckled as a large gull swooped into the room and grabbed the rolled parchment in its beak. Amidst a sharp fluttering of wings, the gull flew back into the corridor.
"You're too good to me, truly."
"Now you're just being patronising," Violet huffed, shuffling through her sheaf of parchments. "So, when's Harry due back?"
"Ahh, two weeks, I think," Ron replied. "They're more than half-way through their American tour."
"Heard from him lately?"
Ron shook his head. "Not for a few days. Isn't much of a Floo network in the States since the War."
"Wouldn't think there'd be many Quidditch fans there, either," Violet said, banishing the used instruments and summoning sterile ones.
"The sport's up and coming over there. They've almost as many teams as we do. Harry says that they can't play for shite, but the Yanks more than make up for it with their enthusiasm."
Violet snorted. "Sounds like my boyfriend."
Ron pulled a face. "I'm not touching that one with a ten foot broomstick. Who's next?"
Violet giggled again.
At that moment, a hunched over, totally bedraggled wizard hobbled into the exam room, his cane plunking against the marble flooring. His shoulder length, white hair stuck up in all directions, and his one good eye went wide while the other seemed to stare at the ceiling.
Ron blew out a breath. "Ahh, Mr. Lungwort. How are we today?"
Lungwort waved his free hand as he plopped down on the examination table. "Bloodcurdle!" he snarled menacingly, jabbing his cane at Ron's chest. "I've got the Bloodcurdle, no doubt about it!"
"Well, we'll see..." Ron began.
"Don't lip me, boy!" Lungwort coughed. "Wormwood'd never speak to me like that."
Ron glanced over at Violet, whose back was to him. She was shaking noticeably, and he could tell she had one hand over her mouth.
"Miss Marsh?" he said as sweetly as he could. "Please prep Mr. Lungwort for a nice, intensive colonic."
Violet spun about, her eyes bulging. "What?"
"Great idea," Lungwort said, nodding enthusiastically. "Just the ticket!"
Ron grinned as Violet glared. "Carry on, nurse," Ron said, waving his hand vaguely. "Run the usual basic scans, take a blood sample, and owl the results to me. I'll be in my office, trying to sort out the monthly reports." He winked to Violet, who scowled in response.
"Yes, sir," she replied flatly, pulling on a pair of charmed exam gloves.
"See you after lunch," Ron said cheerfully as he picked up his sheaf of files and strode across the examination room.
"Yes sir," Violet answered, pulling on a second pair of gloves with a loud snapping. "You've a rather heavy afternoon schedule. Mrs. Gwinthorne, I believe, is due at one sharp." She waggled her bushy eyebrows, smiling wickedly.
Ron paused in the doorway, looking over his shoulder and wincing. "Thank you, nurse." He headed into the corridor, already dreading his weekly session with Mrs. Gwinthorne...
Ron still felt the slightest bit off when he reached his tiny office on the third floor of St. Mungo's. He sat heavily in his chair, summoning some water and a packet of Shingleby's Headache powder. While the medicine dissolved in the glass, the liquid turning the trademark Shingleby blue and emitting the familiar shower of golden sparks, he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. His stomach was now grumbling, and he was more than a bit peckish. He found he was craving some spicy chicken curry, which was rather strange, as he'd never really cared for it. He opened his eyes, and noting that the draught had achieved full potency, he downed it in one gulp.
Thankfully, he had an office to himself, not that there was room for another desk anyway. Ron was certain the cubbyhole had once been a broom closet; Harry never failed to find that fact amusing, though Ron couldn't figure out why. Well, perhaps Ron knew, but he still found it odd. Then again, if making light of the cramped, claustrophobic spaces helped Harry sort through his issues, who was he to say otherwise?
He took a deep breath, warily eyeing the huge stack of parchments before him. "Pixie's piss," me muttered, summoning a quill and reaching for the first heavy scroll.
Indeed, the stresses of Internship were formidable, but Ron had to admit, even to himself, that he'd done rather well. He'd flown through the accelerated training program at St. Mungo's in record time. His innate healing skills had come to the fore during the War, and Ron found that he enjoyed helping people immensely. Well, most of the time. General Practise was one phase of the learning curve that all Healers had to go through.
When he'd announced his acceptance into the Internship Program, his mum was fit to burst from pride, as were Charlie and Bill. George, of course, while most likely equally proud, never said so outright. He could, of course, always be counted upon for an off-colour joke or anecdote concerning unsavoury bodily functions.
Though Ron still loved Quidditch, having captained the Gryffindor house team to a championship his seventh year, no one was more surprised than he was when he actually rejected a job offer from the Chudley Cannons. Harry didn't refuse his own offer, however, and was now the team's first string Seeker and Assistant Coach.
Ron had just attained the status of Junior Healer, First Class that very week. It had taken him barely two years to reach First Class; the next step would be that of bona-fide Healer, and then, specialised training in the field of his choice: Dark Curses. There was a shortage of skilled healers in that area, and the demand for them was quite high, especially considering the increasing volume of patients suffering delayed reactions, even now, five years after the conclusion of the War.
Violet was indeed correct that he'd seen more than his share of dark magic in action. He knew how insidious the various known curses could be, covertly insinuating themselves into one's ambric energies, laying dormant, biding their time. The field fascinated him. He had a knack for it, and even that old bastard Upton had grudgingly acknowledged that Ron's proficiency in diagnosing curse-related maladies was exceptional.
He set to the sizable stack of file folders and parchments, making a fair amount of headway. He'd nearly cleared his inbox when a large barn owl flapped in and dropped a huge, bound stack of parchments on his desk. He groaned as he examined the paperwork from Central Accounting: more queries as to operations and procedure coding.
"Bloody hell," he breathed, his head beginning to throb ever so slightly. It was nearly quarter to twelve, and as his stomach grumbled loudly, he decided it might be prudent to leave the latest parchments and deal with them after lunch.
The cafeteria at St. Mungo's was similar to most others that could be found in a wizarding institution: the large space was always charmed to resemble anything other than what it truly was. And no matter what it looked like, nothing could change the quality of the food.
Today, the cafeteria was glamoured into what was supposed to be some sort of quaint Parisian street filled with various and sundry cafes. House elves wearing striped shirts and red berets scurried about, carrying plates of food and clearing tables. The Paris glamour wasn't a favourite of Ron's; the simulated traffic sounds were far too loud, there were too many bloody pigeons, and the servers never failed to take advantage of the faux-French setting to adopt appropriately condescending mannerisms.
The tall, thin witch on the serving line actually groaned aloud when he ordered off the menu. She rolled her eyes, scribbling his order on a scrap of parchment, which promptly disappeared.
Ron put on his best smile, but the server—Charity, according to her crooked nametag—would have none of it. Granted, Ron couldn't imagine having such a thankless job, but there was still no excuse for her to be so bloody surly about it. Not like she'd have to prepare his order herself; the army of house elves in the vast basement kitchen would take care of that.
Charity glared at him menacingly while he waited. "You're order will be ready in a few moments, sir," she said with much more rancor than Ron could have imagined a plate of curry could inspire.
"I oughta wipe that stupid expression clear off'n that mug o' yours," Ron heard himself say.
"What?" Charity asked, more than a bit startled.
Ron's head jerked, and he felt a blush rising to his cheeks. He'd heard what he said, of course, but where had it come from? He hadn't been thinking any such thing; he'd been idly staring at a pan of what appeared to be incredibly dried out lasagna.
"Nothing," he replied hastily.
Charity snorted and folded her arms, muttering something under her breath.
A sharp pain shot through Ron's skull, and he saw stars. The huge room tilted, and he flailed blindly for the edge of the counter. Thankfully, he managed to grab it and hold on. The pain subsided as quickly as it had come on, and Ron lifted his head, taking deep breaths.
"You alright?" Charity asked, clearly more annoyed than concerned.
"Jes shut yer pie hole an' mind yer own bidness, ya miserable bint!" Ron snarled, shocked as his hands reached over the glass sneeze guard, almost as if he meant to strangle the surprised server.
Charity's eyes bulged and she took two steps backward, a thin hand clutching at her chest.
The next instant, his plate of curry materialised and Charity shoved it across the counter top.
"Enjoy your lunch," she quavered, quickly moving away to assist the next person in the line.
Ron reached for his plate, mumbling a perfunctory "Thanks." He made his way through the crowded cafeteria, thankful to find an empty table in a relatively secluded corner of one of the lesser populated cafes. He sat down heavily and stared at his curry, not at all certain why in the world he'd ordered it.
The low-grade heating charm on the plate kept his meal warm, faint, wispy tendrils of steam languidly rising upward. Ron found he couldn't tear his eyes away from his plate; the rest of the cafeteria melted away. He blinked repeatedly, not at all wanting to believe what he was seeing.
Snakes of all sizes and colours, writhing and roiling about in one, large mass. They wound their way around and out of his plate of curry, slithering across the tabletop. Ron stared, transfixed, as the creatures nosed their way into his robes. They slowly coiled about his ankles, and he could feel their cool, slick scales against his skin.
He shuddered and heard himself laugh; an odd, raspy laugh, not at all like his own.
He slumped in his chair, the snakes circling about his thighs, over his groin and waist. They slid their way up and under his jumper, their tongues jabbing at his flesh as they advanced. He heard himself moan, feeling strangely aroused instead of fearful. His hands slowly stroked the serpents, and he heard himself speaking, though he didn't recognise the words.
He bucked in his seat as deep, burning pain blossomed in his left forearm.
Ron jerked upright, nearly upsetting his small table. He glanced about frantically, his head suddenly clear, oddly terrified that someone had seen him.
Seen what, exactly? Snakes flying out of his chicken curry? Balls!
He rubbed at his temple, his head now aching profoundly. Shrugging out of his robes, he took several deep breaths as he scooted his chair toward his table. A few hastily murmured calming charms abated most of the pounding in his skull and restored his breathing to normal.
"What the fuck," he murmured, again glancing from side to side to confirm that no one had paid him any mind.
This was an entirely new development. He'd been experiencing some rather odd, if not marginally disturbing dreams of late, but never anything resembling the waking hallucination he'd just had. And snakes? He certainly wasn't fond of the reptiles, but he also wasn't terrified of them, as he was of spiders.
On top of everything else, his scars were more that a bit irritated. The remnants of his only visit to the Department of Mysteries flared up from time to time, and while this was nothing new, he cursed silently as he scratched at first one arm and then the other. He glanced down, pushing up a sleeve of his jumper; the thin, disturbingly delicate traceries that wound about each arm were indeed inflamed and reddened. He murmured a low grade analgesic charm, and the itching subsided but didn't disappear.
"Hell's bells," he whispered, grabbing his fork and plunging it into the curry, his food nearly to his mouth before he stopped himself, incredulous: he was holding the fork with his left hand. He quickly transferred the utensil to his proper hand and mechanically began to eat.
Violet was correct. Something was off. Terribly off.
And for the first time since the War, Ron was truly, completely frightened.
"So," Harry said tiredly, his head bobbing slowly in the hearth, "we're done here in Kansas City, and tomorrow we start a four game series in Cleveland."
Ron nodded, taking another sip of firewhiskey. "So, you'll be in, um, Kentucky, right?"
Harry chuckled, shaking his head. "No, no. Cleveland's in Ohio. Pretty large city, actually. I'm looking forward to checking out the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame there. They've got a Ramones retrospective going on that's supposed to be killer."
Ron smiled broadly. He actually knew who the Ramones were. One couldn't live with Harry for nearly a decade and not become intimately familiar with Harry's huge repertoire of favourite Muggle bands. "Get me a t-shirt, okay?"
"You got it, love." Harry paused a moment, cocking his head to one side. "You okay? Look more than a bit tired."
Ron waved a hand. "Bah. The usual." Ron put his glass to his lips, looking over the rim to Harry, who was clearly not satisfied with his response. "I'm fine, Harry, really. Long week is all."
Harry nodded slightly. "You sure? I've got plenty of time right now if you'd like to talk about anything."
"I'm fine," Ron repeated. He shifted about, suddenly uncomfortable. He did want to talk to Harry, to tell him everything about what had been happening lately. All the blanking out, the strange dreams, the visions, the odd sensations and bursts of speech. He desperately wanted to beg Harry to return to London. Immediately. But for some strange reason, Ron found himself smiling and chuckling warmly.
"No worries. A good night's sleep and I'll be right as rain." He winked at Harry, surprised at his own subterfuge.
Harry seemed to accept the facade. "Well, see to it then, Weasley. You'll want to be completely rested up when this tired, floo-lagged, under-appreciated assistant coach arrives home in two week's time," he said.
"Sure, sure," Ron replied, hefting his glass. "You know I seldom have a problem getting extra sleep."
Harry snorted. "Too right there. Well, you take care now, love. I'm not sure when I'll be able to firecall again...there're no working floo networks in Cleveland or Pittsburgh from what we're told."
"Yeah, well that, and the War," Harry replied. "Hard to believe that Riddle had so many followers, even on this side of the ocean, isn't it?"
Ron nodded. "I don't understand how the Muggles there didn't take notice of all that was going on. From what you've mentioned, it was almost as chaotic there as it was here."
"Too right," Harry replied. "But their Bureau of Magic has an unbelievable Obfuscation Division. They've conditioned the populace here amazingly well. Sorta scary, actually."
Ron chuckled and Harry grinned. Someone spoke in the background, and Harry's head turned to the side as he listened.
"Right, well, time's up," Harry said, turning back to face Ron. "Get some rest, you hear? And Ron..."
"Yeah," Ron said. "Miss you, too."
Harry grinned crookedly. "Love ya, mate. Bye."
"Bye." Ron watched as the image of Harry's head wavered and melted away into the flames.
"Hurry back," he murmured, downing the last of his whiskey.
After the disturbing episode he'd experienced during lunch, the remainder of his afternoon at the hospital had gone comparatively well. From what he could tell, he'd had only one tiny blackout, which even Violet had seemed to miss cataloging. Whether she hadn't noticed it or had simply refrained from commenting, Ron wasn't sure.
It was still far too early for bed, so Ron decided that a quick lie down on their most comfy and squishy sofa would be just the thing. There would be an evening Quidditch match on the Wireless later: Puddlemere United vs. Hollyhead. He planned to slog through some reports he'd brought home while he took in the game. Ron nestled down into the cushions, reaching up and dragging down his most beloved and definitely threadbare Chudley Cannons throw from the sofa back.
He'd barely pulled the garish orange blanket to his chin before he was fast asleep.
...he makes his way down the narrow alleyway, the rough, damp brick walls rising up on either side of him. He throws up his hood, sliding his hands into the sleeves of his robes and hugging his arms tightly about his chest. He reaches the end of the alley, glancing briefly at the faded street sign mounted on the crooked building opposite him: Brompton Road.
Nodding, he darts to the right, moving quickly along and keeping to the narrow sidewalk. The few other pedestrians making their way through the misty gloom also do their best to melt into the shadows. This is not the best section of Diagon Alley.
After a few hundred yards, he grins and chuckles, his destination now in sight. He steps into a deep doorway and waits. The drizzle increases in intensity, thunder grumbling low and menacing in the distance. He steps forward and peers out of his doorway, chuckling again as lightning illuminates the huge, garishly painted sign swinging over the front door of the nearby pub: The Lusty Lass.
Ridiculous painting, too: a bust of a huge-chested woman, her breasts literally bursting from her low-cut, lace-trimmed dress, two giant, foaming mugs of beer flanking her chest. Not particularly good artwork, either.
He feels the welcome stirring in his groin as the anticipation of the night's activities finally begin to manifest themselves. The familiar pulse of desire courses through him, igniting a fire of barely controlled need. He shudders, one hand palming his groin, feeling as the hunter must, a heady, triumphant euphoria, instantly confident and ready to pounce on his un-knowing and completely helpless prey.
He watches as a pair of shadows exit the pub, embracing quickly before each heads off in a different direction. He draws back into his shadowy alcove, his left hand sliding into his robes, fingers curling about the hilt of his blade.
The shadow moves past his doorway, hunched over and oblivious to everything but the chilled downpour.
He slips out into the street, silently, easily, barely able to contain his moans and grunts of satisfaction. His quarry is clueless, completely unaware.
Even though he doesn't know his quarry, it doesn't matter; his type, his sort, they're all the same.
Anyone that frequents that pub is of a kind.
And this one is particularly perfect. Rather short and stocky. Dark hair. Nice arse.
Like any true predator, he enjoys toying with his prey. Playing with them. Forcing them to submit to his will. To beg for release.
Pleasure before business, as it were.
His victim moves quickly along the narrow, twisting streets, making a sharp right turn and disappearing down a narrow alley. He notes the dented, rusty sign hanging by one hook: Soleton Walk. He quickens his pace, rounding the corner and staring up a steep set of wide stairs. The robed form is half-way up the flight, standing on a large landing, apparently trying to light a cigarette.
He glides up the stone steps two at a time, his blade in one hand, his wand in the other.
His prey's back is to him; excellent.
He reaches the landing as his prize turns about, bright eyes going wide. He advances, as a flash of lightning reflects on his highly polished steel raised high, his wand tip pressing into a long, pale neck...
Ron jerked awake, quickly rising up to his elbows and blinking furiously to clear his vision. He'd obviously stumbled into the bedroom from the sofa, sprawling onto the corner of their huge bed without even removing his clothes.
He glanced down at his Muggle Doc Martens, unable to register why they'd be so muddy, let alone still on his feet.
The clock face materialized in front of him, bobbing lazily.
"Shite! Finite Incantatem!"
He was late.
Quite late, actually.
He launched off the bed and stumbled into the loo, murmuring hasty cleansing charms as the mirror over the sink clucked accusingly.
Ron threw off his damp shirt and pushed down his wrinkled trousers, summoning fresh clothes as he fumbled for his toothbrush.
"Yer late, laddie," the mirror stated haughtily.
"Piff off," Ron replied around a mouthful of brush and paste.
"Never get a promotion with that attitude. Harry, now...he's always on time. And polite."
Ron growled and cast a quick shaver, yanking up his clean trousers and splashing water on his face. He made to turn off the taps and froze, staring at the drops and drips of deep, dark crimson about the taps, faucet and back splash of the sink.
"Shouldn'ta been out so late on a worknight," the mirror sniffed. "Made a right good mess in here...of yer clothes, and yerself, too."
Ron touched one of the partially dried drops, then rubbed the substance between his thumb and forefinger.
"Sweet Merlin," he breathed.
"You look awful."
"Thanks, Vi," Ron answered. "You always know how to lift my spirits."
Violet closed the door to the exam room and leaned against it. "Something's wrong with you, Ron."
Ron snorted, signing their last patient's chart, rolling it up and tossing it into the outbound tray. Violet was a bang up nurse, and a fantastic assistant. She held his schedule together, and on top of all that, she was a decent friend.
And she never used his first name while on duty unless it was something serious.
"Not the first time someone's said that, ya know."
Violet scowled. "Don't get cheeky. Something happened last night, didn't it?"
"Why would you say that?" Ron replied, hoping his tone hadn't betrayed his nervousness.
"You were late this morning, you look as if you haven't slept a wink, and you're banged up as if you'd been wrestling with a horny, deranged blast-ended skrewt. That's why."
Violet never missed a thing, although one would've had to have been blind not to note that he was most definitely a bit on the ragged side this morning.
Once he'd noticed all of the blood splattered about his sink, he'd also taken a good long look at himself in the mirror. His right cheek had indeed been bruised and cut, and he also found numerous cuts and scratches on his neck, chest and forearms. His mirror wouldn't hear the end of it, and he'd finally had to cast a Silencio on the bloody thing to keep from losing what little was apparently left of his sanity.
After he'd cleaned up the mess in the loo, he'd also found copious amounts of dried blood on his shirt and trousers.
"Took a bit of a tumble in the kitchen last night," he began, but Violet put up her hand, silencing him.
"Bullshit," she said firmly.
"Out with it. You can tell me, or Upton. Choice is yours. This is getting out of hand, Ron. I can't take the chance that something'll happen here, and that you'll not only hurt yourself, but perhaps a patient."
Ron shifted from one foot to the other, finally leaning against the examination couch.
"I'm not sure what happened last night," he said, folding his arms. "I had a firecall from Harry, and the last thing I remember, I fell asleep on the sofa. Then..." He held up his hands.
Violet pursed her lips, her bushy eyebrows knitting together. "That's it? You don't remember anything else?"
Ron shook his head.
"And you just woke up, all bruised into next week?"
Ron nodded. Some small part of him wanted to add the bit about all the blood, but he remained silent. No point in adding fuel to the fire. At least, not yet.
Violet cleared her throat and nodded. "Right then." She gestured crisply. "Off with the lab coat and jumper. We're going to do a full scan on you. Here, now." She moved over to her supply cart, pulling on exam gloves with sharp snaps. She turned around, arching an eyebrow. "Well?"
"Fine," Ron sighed, shrugging out of his coat. "For all the good it'll do."
"I'm sorry, Ronald," Marilena said with a sad smile. "Charlie isn't here. Gone into Eisen for supplies for Shortsnout hatchlings. They've the Scale Fungus."
Ron nodded, unable to keep the disappointment from his features. He noted Charlie's fiancée's expression carefully. "I see. Hatchlings are always a handful, eh?"
"Yes, yes," Marilena replied brightly. "He should be back in few hours, I think. Can have him firecall you then, yes? Unless emergency, then I can Apparate into town..."
Ron waved his hands at the hearth. "No, no, no emergency, nothing like that," he replied, trying for all he was worth to not sound nervous. "Just realised that I haven't called in awhile, that's all."
Marilena nodded. "Is true, Ron. You and Harry are owing us visit too, I think. Charlie speaks of you often. Misses you very much. Very proud of you, he is."
"Oh, c'mon, Mari," Ron replied, blushing. "It's really too hectic at the hospital to get away right now. And I've got practical exams coming up in a few months as well."
"Look tired," Marilena observed. "Working very hard at Mungos." She waved a finger at him, her deep brown eyes filled with concern. "Take care of self, yes?"
"Fine, okay," Ron answered, wanting nothing more than to floo to Romania and spend time with Marilena until Charlie returned. If anyone might have a clue as to what was going on, it'd be Charlie. Or, if his brother couldn't find the answer, Charlie would know someone who would. He'd have loved to talk to Bill, but his eldest brother was off in the wilds of New Guinea and notoriously difficult to contact at any rate, even when he was in Britain.
"Um, give Charlie a hug for me, yeah?" He wiped at his nose with the back of his hand, doing his best to appear composed.
Marilena nodded. There was a long pause, and Ron shifted about as she stared back at him through the green flames. "Yes, yes, I will," she said finally, tilting her head to one side. "I have him call you soon as he arrives home. Love you, Ron."
"Love you too," Ron replied, averting his gaze as Marilena's face dissolved and the fire once again burned in cheery, orangey reds.
He refilled his tumbler with Oban, taking large swallows of the potent scotch.
Violet had been nearly ruthless in administering his physical. He was quite impressed with the ease at which she'd conducted even the most complex, intensive scans. She'd left nothing to chance, insisting on performing literally every test known to either of them. They'd cancelled the rest of Ron's appointments for the day, finishing with the scans and aureliacs at half-one.
While they were waiting for the lab results, they'd had lunch in the cafeteria, which had been glamoured that day to resemble Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Ron nearly laughed out loud as Charity took one look at him and immediately turned and headed in the other direction.
Ron had ordered a spicy seafood jambalaya, and Violet had watched in awe as he'd devoured it as if he hadn't eaten in weeks.
He'd been somewhat shocked at her response after he'd asked her what was wrong.
"I didn't think you cared for fish."
She was right; he didn't. And neither did he like Walmsley's Very Turkey Jerky, but he'd found lately that he couldn't get enough of that, either.
After lunch they'd retrieved the results of Ron's scans, retreating to Ron's office to glean them for anything out of the ordinary. The intricate graphs and abstractions appeared to be mostly well within the ranges of normalcy, once having taken into account Ron's stress level and general lack of sleep.
Violet did manage to discern that his baseline ambric energies were slightly off nominal. The wavy, looped line that represented Ron's unique magical signature was indeed at a different level than his scan from over a year ago. There were other minor variances as well, mostly with mundane measures of his white cell counts, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Violet had insisted that they take the results to Anastasia Plimpton, the hospital's neurologist and ambric specialist, but Ron had feigned tiredness. He barely suppressed his pleasure as Violet grudgingly left the test results with him, along with a promise to present them to Healer Plimpton first thing Monday morning.
Ron sat down on his sofa, flipping open a folder and turning pages until he was once again looking at the graphic representation of his ambric signature. Fortunately Violet, while rather astute, was still a layman when it came to interpreting such data. To Ron's more experienced eyes, he saw much more than merely elevated ambric levels.
Clearly, there was another signature, albeit a faint one, super-imposed just beneath his own. His own signature had altered slightly: it now shared some characteristics with the new, second signature.
And he was certain that if he would have another aureliac in a week's time, the differences between the two patterns would be more pronounced. There were other nuances that Violet had missed as well, and Ron closed the folder, tossing it onto the coffee table.
It was PTSD, no doubt about it.
The infusions of dark magic that he'd absorbed during the War had indeed damaged his ambric signature, disturbing his magic at its very core. He'd seen the phenomenon a few times before, this doubling or blurring of one's signature, although not quite as pronounced as his symptoms appeared to be. Even though his scans didn't completely match the majority of documented cases, he was still certain of the base diagnosis nonetheless.
There was a treatment regimen, of course, involving intensive and not entirely pleasant deep tissue scans. Patients' War histories were exhaustively studied, and every bit of information available concerning every Death Eater involved in every magical altercation was intensely documented, examined, and archived. It was a crap shoot at best, and the chances of pinpointing the actual dark curses that were used were perhaps fifty-fifty.
The progression of the malady was impossible to predict, varying widely, based on the particular patient and the amount and types of dark magic involved. A slight percentage of victims had lost their magic entirely. While most retained at least some of their magical abilities, Ron wasn't aware of a single case like his where the patient had retained more than forty percent of their pre-War ambric energies.
At worst, he'd end up a Squib. At best, he might still be able to levitate a tea cup. With a wand.
"Lovely," he murmured to himself, filling his glass once again.
And then there was the blood. He'd had the presence of mind to collect and preserve samples of the blood, both from the loo and his clothes. The sanguinology lab had completed the usual range of tests on the samples, and Ron was unsurprised to find that most of what he'd collected was his own.
Type AB. Rather rare.
Most of it was his.
Some of it wasn't.
Type O. Common.
So not only was he most likely going to lose most of his magic, he'd almost certainly become involved in some altercation that he didn't remember. Some knock-down, drag out bar brawl, over Quidditch or some such.
Or so he hoped.
It just gets better and better, he mused.
He'd also had a handful of memory lapses throughout the day, as well as a few episodes of sharp head pains followed by the odd visions. At one point during lunch, Ron was certain that Violet's skin had turned a mottled grey green, and her long, auburn hair had morphed into snakes. He'd actually tried to ignore what he was seeing, carrying on his Quidditch chat with Violet as she picked at her Caesar salad, the mass of snakes covering her head writhing and hissing menacingly at him.
She'd noticed most of his episodes, but said little, apparently satisfied that Ron was committed to getting to the root of his affliction. He'd been incensed when he learned that she'd actually went ahead and tried to firecall Harry behind his back. Fortunately, she'd been unable to make a connection due to the expected lack of a working floo network in post-War Cleveland.
For some reason, which Ron didn't fully understand, it seemed vital that Harry didn't know about his disorder. Ron needed more time. More time to sort things through. He'd tell Harry when the time was right.
Ron stood, intending to head for the kitchen to probe around the back of the cold box for anything that looked remotely edible. He'd gone through two tins of Walmsley's Very Turkey Jerky already, and didn't at all feel like buzzing down to the shop for more. The nosy bitch of a clerk there asked far too many damn questions, anyway.
He made it half-way across the sitting room before he groaned, doubling over and dropping his tumbler to the floor.
A spasm shot through his body, seeming to end right in the middle of his forehead. His brain burned as though on fire, he saw stars, and the serpentine voices again rose up, cajoling him to join them...
...his latest quarry had almost been a disappointment. He'd followed the bloke per usual, his wand and blade at the ready inside his robes, when the prey had whirled around suddenly and actually propositioned him. It was a shock, to be sure, but not an unwelcome one.
Variety, as they say.
An unusual start, but the outcome is still certain to be the same.
He chuckles, unbuttoning his shirt and shrugging out of it, draping it over the foot of the bed. He stands next to the tarnished brass bed, his fingers caressing the hilt of his blade, which is, for now, patiently waiting in the front pocket of his denims.
His prey pulls at the bindings on his hands and feet, thrashing about in a futile frenzy. The prey's voice has gone hoarse from crying out; no sound can penetrate the silencing charm placed on the one-room flat.
The old landlady hasn't a clue what transpires in the drab, dingy little room. It's a convenient location, barely a handful of blocks off of Diagon Alley's main street. Completely non-descript, anonymous.
He moves around the foot of the bed, one hand palming the erection now straining the front of his denims. His quarry stops struggling a moment, his huge, blue eyes wide with terror.
They're beautiful, really. So deep. So bright...
He kneels on the bed, murmuring a charm that banishes his prey's denims and undershorts.
The prey doesn't care for that; it screams again and again, yanking on its magical bindings with renewed vigour.
He chuckles softly, pulling his blade from his pocket as he hovers over his prey. He drags the tip of his blade slowly down the centre of his toy's chest, lightly, gently, finally stopping at the riot of dark curls surrounding his prey's still flaccid penis. He's very careful not to mark or cut his toy's flesh...not yet, anyway.
He leans down, dragging his tongue along his prey's stomach and chest, bringing his blade up and pressing the point into his quarry's neck. He murmurs an incantation, his other hand ghosting down to feel his prey's steadily firming erection.
Now the fun can begin...
Ron sat up, a steady pounding slowly penetrating through the cottony folds of darkness that seemed all to reluctant to melt away. He groaned and opened his eyes, blinking repeatedly to clear his vision. He looked around, barely recognizing his own flat.
Realisation slowly dawned that he'd fallen asleep on the floor just outside the doorway to his bedroom.
But that didn't seem correct. He couldn't recall even feeling tired, let alone heading for the bedroom. The last thing he remembered was chatting with Marilena, and then...what?
He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. He'd had a dream...something about a young bloke tied to a bed, and a wicked looking knife...
More pounding jolted him from his reverie, and he could make out a muffled voice just beyond the door to the flat.
"Ron, I know you're in there! Open up, you lazy bastard!"
Ron's hand flew to his temple. What day was it?
"Dammit, Ron, don't make me dismantle your pitiful wards!"
"Shite," Ron muttered.
It was Saturday, of course, and he'd missed meeting George at the Leaky Cauldron for their bi-weekly lunch and afternoon of flying.
"Hang on mate," he called out, taking a few steps toward the door.
He stopped abruptly, his eyes going wide at the sight of bloody footsteps trialing across the carpet and hardwood flooring. His breath hitching in his chest, he stared at his heavily blood-stained hands and clothes.
"C'mon, you arse," George called from the hallway. "Just yank up your shorts and let me in. It's bloody chilly in this hallway."
Ron's brain lurched to a stop, and he stood there, his hands palm up before him, outstretched as in supplication.
The knife...the bloke...the blood...
"Accio wand!" he croaked out.
His wand flew into his right hand, and he instantly performed a blanket Scourgify on the entire sitting room. He took a few steps backward toward the bathroom.
"C'mon in, George," he called out. "Overslept a bit."
Ron dropped his wards and unlocked the flat's door, quickly stepping into the tiny bathroom and slamming the door. He leaned against it, listening as George opened the front door and closed it again.
"Circe's tits, little bro, do you know what time it is?"
"Sorry," Ron called out. "Bit of a nasty week at Mungo's. Be with you after a quick shower. Make yourself at home."
"Damn right I will," George yelled back.
Ron heard the door to the cold box open and close, and then the telltale sound of a butterbeer bottle being opened. He breathed a huge sigh of relief, plopping down heavily on the toilet, which protested loudly.
"Oh, dear, another mess," the mirror commented.
Ron snorted, placing his wand on the sink rim and proceeding to unbutton his sticky, blood-soaked shirt. He shrugged out of it, reaching over to the bathtub and twirling the hot water tap open.
As steam filled the small room, Ron undressed mechanically, his mind almost a complete blank. Part of him was almost screaming for him to wrench open the bathroom door and tell George everything.
But the other part, the now stronger, calmer portion, advocated silence and patience.
Ron took a deep breath and smiled.
"Yeah," he murmured, shoving down his denims and stepping into the tub.
"Patience," he said, chuckling, as he drew the translucent plastic curtain and flipped on the shower.
please continue to Part II...