See Part I for full header and disclaimer
~~~~~ ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, Part II ~~~~~
“No offence, little bro, but your flying stunk today.” George smiled crookedly as he hefted his second ale and took a huge swallow. “Aside from that fantabulous Dilber’s Feint you pulled off near the end, that is. You must’ve been practising.“
George was right; his broom work had been far less than stellar, and he’d always had difficulty with that bloody Dilber Feint, usually losing control as he flew upside down. But today, he’d executed the manoeuvre flawlessly without even thinking about it.
“Just got lucky, I guess,” he answered blandly.
George snorted, his bright, brown eyes oddly distant. “Still, your game was off. Think you’re working too hard. And you look like shite. More than you usually do, I mean.”
Ron rolled his eyes, draining his own bottle of beer. “I love you too.”
George snorted, taking another swallow of beer.
George was again correct; he did feel like shite, and the dark smudges beneath both of his eyes were virtually impossible to conceal; he’d never been good with cosmetic glamours. He‘d also gotten used to the dull, numbing throb in his head, almost because he’d had to; even copious amounts of Tudbaum’s Heady Pain Powder had failed to provide any relief.
He and George had Apparated to Hogsmeade, as was their custom, having a late lunch at the Three Broomsticks before making their way to the Hogwarts grounds. The disused and somewhat run-down Quidditch pitch was still ideal for flying, despite the fact that the Castle remained unapproachable, as well as lethally dangerous due to the unremovable dark curses left there since the War.
There'd been a few other flyers in the air when they‘d arrived, and he and George had engaged in a rather rough and tumble pick-up game with a group of four rather young blokes from Staunton.
Ron had felt somewhat refreshed, the cool, sharp air as stimulating as ever. He’d found his mind wandering though, and there were more than a few times when George’s yelled curses had snapped him back to reality. He’d been unable to keep flashes of the previous night’s dream from his mind’s eye, and at one point he narrowly avoided a mid-air collision with the largest and most annoyed of the Staunton fellows.
Things had very nearly gotten out of hand once back on the ground, Ron’s new ’voice’ insisting on asserting itself at precisely the wrong moment. Fortunately, George could probably convince a skrewt it was a dragon, so actual fisticuffs had been narrowly averted. George had remained strangely silent as they’d walked back to Hogsmeade. Ron was impressed that his brother had managed to keep quiet for so long; George had indeed mellowed with age.
Ron toyed with his half-eaten plate of smoked kippers, feeling oddly uncomfortable under his brother’s gaze.
George signaled Tom for another round. “You’re an arse, Ronnie. Sorry to be so blunt, but that‘s how I see things.” He leaned across their small table, his shoulder length ginger hair framing his face. “And don’t try to bullshit me, little bro. Something’s up. I can smell it.”
Ron waved a hand, leaning back in his seat. “Right. You’ve been spending too much time in your lab. You couldn’t smell a poorly brewed potion if it were right under your nose.”
“That was a figure of speech,” George shot back.
“And another thing,” Ron continued, “I’m not at all sure you’d know the first thing about putting in an honest week’s work. Joke shop owner? Good one, that.”
George cocked his head to one side, his mouth slightly agape.
Ron snorted, downing his butterbeer. Anger suddenly rose up within him, and he found his tongue adopting a mind of its own…again. “Can’t think of a less stressful job than running a toy store. Oh yeah, kin just imagine the pressure involved with making sure there’s enough Puking Pastilles or Ton Tongue Toffees on the shelves.” He blew out a breath. “Less of a job and more of a game, innit? Terrible waste of seven years at Hogwarts…oh, wait…make that six and a half years. Never really finished, didja?”
George leaned forward, ready to launch a reply, but was interrupted as Tom shambled up with a pair of fresh beers.
“’Ere ya go, lads, two more soldiers.” Tom’s smile faded as he noted the strained expressions on the brother’s faces. “Erm, can I get ya anythin‘ else?”
George ignored Tom completely. “You’re out of line, little bro.” He nodded slightly, leaning back in his chair and draining his bottle. He held it out to Tom, who snatched it and shambled away without further comment. George cleared his throat. “So, don’t mince words, Ron. Really, speak your mind.”
Ron’s brain went blank. He knew his expression betrayed some of his confusion; he hadn’t at all intended to say the words that had tumbled from his mouth. It was disturbingly similar to when he’d lashed out at Charity in the cafeteria those days ago; although the snarky bint had deserved a dressing down, to be sure. Of course he'd entertained ideas previously at to how care-free and simple managing a joke shop must be, but he’d always realised how much work was involved, the end result of years of planning and dreams and long hours.
George busted his arse to keep the shop going, especially after Fred's murder.
So where had the sudden animosity come from? It wasn’t truly indicative of how he felt.
He shifted in his seat, adopting the most concilliatory expression possible. "Hey, sorry 'bout that, Georgie. Been a really rough week, and I think I've gotten a bit of the stomach flu or some such." He smiled widely, hoping it appeared at least partially genuine.
George simply stared, unmoving, his right fingers curled around his fresh bottle of Winchester's Burly Brown Ale.
Ron chuckled nervously, draining his nearly warm butterbeer and reaching for his new bottle of Winchester's.
"What's going on, Ronnie?" George finally said, his tone devoid of warmth.
George considered a moment before rubbing at his temple with his free hand. "I'm only going to ask one more time..."
"I'm fine!" Ron blurted out, slamming his bottle down with a sudden thwack. A small floe of light brown foam erupted from the mouth of the bottle, and a fair amount of Winchester's overflowed onto the marred table top. "I've told you. Stressed out and feelin' poorly, is all." He stared at the puddle of beer for a brief moment before muttering a banishing spell. "It's just...I miss Harry. And I’ve lots on my mind." He hefted his bottle and drank deeply. "Sorry, Georgie."
George sat up straight, a lopsided grin creeping its way across his face. "All right, little bro. We all tend to forget that you've quite a load to deal with. Just know that Remus and I are there for you. Anytime, right?" He reached across the table, placing his hand over Ron's and squeezing it tightly. "You don't have to be such a stubborn git and go it alone, you know." He winked and pulled his hand away. "So, did you catch the Puddlemere Hollyhead match the other night? Good one, wasn't it?"
Ron chuckled, feeling slightly relieved as George went on about the Quidditch game, seemingly satisfied with his admittedly lame explanation as to his behaviour that day. He’d nearly lost his composure earlier, barely controlling the urge to crack his bottle of Winchester’s across George’s forehead.
It would have been perfect, the bottle shattering and ale flying everywhere...
Ron watched as George stumbled his way down the cobbled main street of Diagon Alley, the rather astounding number of ales his brother had imbibed having a predictable effect. Good thing George could navigate the area blindfolded, and that the flat he shared with Remus, which occupied the entire second floor of the Wheezes, was barely four blocks from the pub. Even though he was well into his cups himself, Ron had insisted on accompanying his brother most of the way. George finally reached the door to his flat, giving Ron a jerky little salute before disappearing inside.
Ron turned around and made his way back toward the Leaky Cauldron. The night was chilly and damp, threatening rain. A dense cloud of fog roiled and crept through the streets, contributing to an aura that reminded Ron of the sort of cheesy Muggle horror films that Harry liked so well.
He chuckled to himself as he approached the pub, the dedicated Apparation point completely deserted. He then found himself stopping, barely a few yards from it, his hands jammed in his denims pockets. He stared at the blank section of wet brick for what seemed like an eternity, the now heavy mist dampening his hair.
Even though he was more than a bit tired and aching for a lie down on his comfy sofa, he found himself whirling about and heading down a narrow side street, quickening his pace as he moved forward...
Ron made his way up the wide stone steps of Soleton Walk with practised ease, taking the uneven, slippery stairs two at a time. He’d never been in this section of Diagon Alley before, but he seemed to know his way about. He also knew he was very close to the unmarked boundary with Knockturn Alley; it lay just a few blocks ahead.
How he seemed to know all of this didn’t disturb him in the slightest. It was just the way that it was. His head was quite clear now, the hazy aftereffects of the rounds of Winchester’s suddenly gone.
He reached the top of the stairs, darting to the right and following another twisted, hilly street for perhaps one hundred yards. He stopped beside a street lamp, its feeble, flickering light barely penetrating the foggy gloom. He looked up, taking a few more steps until his was standing directly in front of a narrow, three story building. It was unremarkable, one of many of the sort to be found in the less desirable sections of Diagon.
This apartment block was unusually decrepit, the once sharp and detailed elements of it’s façade either long gone or in the process of falling away. The stucco was flaking from uneven, broken stonework; the once bright, blue paint on the trim and shutters was now chipping and peeling; many panes were broken and missing from the tall, slender windows, rough cut wood or plastic filling the gaps. Thick, rusty bars adorned every one of the heavily mullioned windows, even those above street level. A small, barely legible sign bolted to the top of the doorframe proclaimed the block’s address: Twelve Eislington Way.
Ron stood before the front door, looking quickly from side to side before reaching out and placing his right hand flat against the rough wood planking. He murmured an incantation, and there was a loud clunk; he depressed the latch, and the door creaked open. He stepped inside, the door closing and locking behind him.
A single lamp in a tarnished brass fixture, set high on the cracked plaster wall provided the only illumination in the hallway. Ron mounted the crooked, uneven staircase, once more taking the steps two at a time. His heart was pounding in his chest, his breath coming in raspy gasps, his mind now racing. He felt comfortable here, at home almost, and though he didn’t understand how or why it was the case, if felt good nonetheless. He bolted across the second floor landing, nearly falling flat on his face halfway up the next set of stairs.
The third floor landing was shrouded in darkness; he deftly yanked out his wand, casting a Lumos. Ron walked over to the window at the end of the hallway and wiped at the grimy windowpane. He looked down at Eislington Way, and then up, across the lower rooftops of the apartment blocks across the street. Rain splattered loudly against the window glass, and he could hear the telltale plink plink plink of water leaking from the ceiling and hitting the floorboards.
Turning about, he made his way to the opposite end of the hall, stopping before one of the four battered blue doors. He reached out and caressed the wood with his left hand, murmuring another incantation. The strange sounding words flowed from him effortlessly, their hissing sibilance oddly soothing. Ron felt the wards guarding the door drop, and a moment later, a soft click told him the lock had released. He turned the knob, stepping into flat number eleven.
Two wall lamps blazed to life as he closed the door behind him. He extinguished his wand, taking in the rather large, dingy room. Faded and stained floral wallpaper threatened to peel away from the bumpy walls; two narrow windows filled the wall to his right, facing the back of the building and Knockturn Alley. A pitted porcelain sink and a dingy commode, partly visible behind a rickety screen, filled the far corner. A tiny cold box squatted next to a rough hewn cabinet and countertop, an array of mismatched cups and china filling a long shelf above it.
There was also a small writing desk, a huge wardrobe, and a ratty, high-backed armchair that was losing the stuffing from its armrests. A stack of old newspapers sat next to the armchair, threatening to topple over at any time.
Ron walked over to the cold box, reaching inside and pulling out a bottle of Winchester’s. He popped the cap and ignited a small fire in the tiny fireplace set into the wall opposite the windows. He chuckled, taking note of the pile of empty Walmsley’s tins on the counter.
He ran his hands across the pitted metal of the huge brass bed that dominated the room, taking huge swallows of ale, his fingers toying with the frayed leather straps lashed to the headboard.
He sat on the lumpy mattress, gazing at the stack of books stacked haphazardly on the rickety bedside stand. His thumb trailed down the pile of musty spines, his curiosity peaked as to the certainly dark and disturbing information contained within them. He selected the topmost tome, entitled “Torture and Sacrifice Through the Ages: The Rarest Dark Curses and Spells.” He leafed through the volume, sipping his Winchester’s as the storm increased in intensity, rain thrumming on the roof of the block and pinging angrily against the windows.
Ron read a few of the pages, finally draining his Winchester’s. He closed the book, returning it to its place at the top of the pile. Lightning flashed beyond the windows, and as thunder grumbled, rattling the panes, he set his bottle down, his fingers trailing over the intricately carved hilt of a large, curved dagger that had been plunged into the wood of the bed stand.
Ron pulled the dagger free, turning the blade so as to catch the flicker of light from the oil lamps. He smiled, straining to make out his reflection in the blade’s highly polished surface. He gasped as a series of sharp pains shot through his head, swaying forward and nearly falling from the bed. The knife fell to the floor with a clatter, and Ron blinked repeatedly, struggling to focus on the dark, slender shapes writhing out from under the bed. A moment later, he could hear the snakes’ soft hisses as they languidly wound themselves around his boots, a few coiling about his calves and working their way upward.
“Naasssh ssshelaasssh waanesssh sssilaassshaasss,” Ron murmured, and the snakes responded immediately.
He leaned down, straining to hear. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the sound of their voices…he could almost make out what they were saying to him. He reached down, suddenly wanting to feel them, to caress them, and his eyes snapped open as his questing fingers felt nothing but slightly damp denim.
“Wow,” he said to himself, disappointed to find that the snakes had disappeared. No matter. They’d be back soon enough.
He retrieved the dagger from the threadbare carpet, shrinking it down and sliding it into the front pocket of his denims. He stood up, banishing the empty ale bottle and extinguishing the lamps and hearth, locking and warding the door as he made his way down the stairs and into the night.
The Lusty Lass would be quite busy by now...
He hovers in the shadows, leaning against a fake Greek column meant to provide a visual break between the dance floor and the darker, more secluded areas of the pub. He sips at his Bitter Banshee, the tart, green liquor going down rather nicely. The musical pensieve is set to a nearly deafening volume; the thump thump thump of the Muggle dance music literally pounding right through him. A mass of rather inebriated wizards twirl and gyrate beneath the flashing strobe lights, thrusting and grinding and pulling on each other as though of a similar, hive mind.
Desire and lust hang heavy in the smoke-filled air, nearly palpable, as if one could simply reach out and grab a handful of it. He chuckles to himself at the thought; he’ll have his hands full soon enough.
The Lusty Lass is filled to capacity. It is a Saturday night, after all, and even though it’s on the wrong side of town, so to speak, it’s still one of the places to be if you‘re a young, queer wizard, to see and be seen. He’s never been to the pub on such a night. The sheer number of gorgeous, sweat-slicked blokes before him is nearly overwhelming. So many to choose from. So many delectable possibilities.
He reaches down, pulling at the front of his tight denims. The music, the lights, the smoke, the dancing mass…he’s quickly losing his composure. He must make a move, and quickly. His confidence never wavers, though. He’s never had any trouble snagging a bloke. He knows that his above average height and sizable musculature conspire to create a rather desirable package.
In a effort to tip the scales even further in his favour, he downs the remainder of his Bitter Banshee, banishing the empty bottle. He pulls his t-shirt over his head, shrinking it down and pushing it into his pocket. He heads out of the shadows and toward the dance floor, and he grins widely at the appreciative stares thrown his way. He hooks one thumb into the waistband of his tight denims while the fingers of his other hand absently toy with one of his nipples.
More than a few probing, eager hands reach out and caress him as he passes by, the sensation of their hungry fingers on his broad, furred chest, his stomach, his arse incredibly stimulating.
He pauses every now and then as he slowly threads his way through the press of lovely, delectably tight bodies. He knows it’s impossible that every single bloke in the pub is so perfect; there’s no shortage of glamours in use. Easy to spot, though, after a fashion.
He moves to the edge of the dance floor, and a slim, shirtless blond stops and lingers before him. He looks up and nods. The bloke is tall, very tall, taller even than he is. The blond ghosts the fingers of a very large hand across the crotch of his strained denims. He allows the grope to continue for a moment before shaking his head and gently pushing the blond’s hand away. The blond shrugs and moves off, and he begins his search of the dance floor anew.
It doesn’t take him very long to spot what he’s after: dark, shoulder length hair, short, slightly stocky body, not too muscled, nicely furred chest and stomach. He smiles and intensifies his gaze, and in response, the brunette dancer looks over and smiles, a deep, knowing smile.
The brunette leans in to yell something to his dance partner, his friend, obviously, before threading his way to the edge of the dance floor. The short fellow smiles widely, green eyes ablaze, one hand trailing across his bare, sweat-slicked torso. He then pulls his t-shirt from the waistband of his denims to mop at his brow. He smiles again. “I’m Colin,” he yells above the din, taking a step forward. “And you are?” he finishes, slinging his shirt over one shoulder.
It takes him more than a moment to respond, as if he can’t even recall his own name. The haze lifts, and he smiles widely, reaching out to run the backs of his fingers over Colin’s nicely toned chest. Nope, no glamour here.
Ron rose up from the dark depths slowly and rolled over, not at all ready to wake up.
He cracked open an eye, somewhat confused to see hideous floral wallpaper and an owl tapping its beak against the pane of a very tall, very narrow, very grimy window.
He sat up, his head immediately swimming and his stomach lurching about his insides as if completely unattached. He felt the bile rise in his throat, and clamping a hand to his mouth, he stumbled madly for the sink in the corner. He’d barely reached it before retching up the contents of his traitorous stomach. Three times he hacked and coughed out foul liquid, finally heaving a few more times for good measure.
He groaned, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He straightened up too quickly, his brain once again slopping about in his skull, his vision blurring. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been so hung over; and where in Godric’s name was he? If this was some sort of inn, it was in dire need of redecorating, not to mention a thorough sandblasting. He twirled the rusty taps, slightly brownish water spitting from the pitted faucet and washing his mess down the drain.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you, you blasted bird,” he croaked, shambling toward the window and the incredibly persistent delivery owl. He glanced about the shabby one room flat as he went, noting the he was the only one there. What in blue blazes was going on?
He flipped the catch and raised the sash, and the owl immediately flew inside, angrily chittering away and snapping its beak. It landed on the back of a grotesquely filthy highbacked chair and flapped its wings menacingly.
“What the hell do you want?” Ron asked warily, suddenly aware that he was wearing only a pair of boxer briefs. The last thing he needed was to be accosted by a demented post owl while nearly nude.
The owl clicked its beak and lowered its head repeatedly, clearly indicating a small leather pouch lashed about its middle.
Ron took a few steps closer, straining to make out the lettering on the pouch: TDP.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he muttered as he realized the bird was merely delivering the latest copy of The Daily Prophet. “I don’t live here,” he offered lamely, not at all sure why that would make a difference.
It didn’t, and the owl opened its wings and hissed.
“Fine, fine,” Ron replied, hesitantly reaching out and removing one of the tiny, rolled newspapers from the owl’s pouch.
The bird hooted softly and took off, soaring out of the flat through the open window.
“Bloody psychotic bird,” he muttered, hurrying over to close the window and stop the flow of chilly air. He engorged the paper to its correct size, setting it on the back of the armchair. He then ignited a fire in the tiny hearth as he bent down to retrieve his balled-up denims from the floor. He shook them out and pulled them on, wincing as the herd of hippogriffs prancing about inside his skull kicked things up a notch.
He looked about the flat, eyeing the small set of cabinets. He yanked open a drawer, not at all surprised to find a nearly full tin of Madame Ciara’s Patented Hangover Powder.
A moment later the powder bubbled and fizzed away in a chipped glass, and Ron downed it on one gulp. His head felt better immediately, the hippogriffs all vacating, save one.
“Shite,” he said aloud, hands on hips. “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
He looked about the flat some more, locating his socks and boots by the door. His jumper had been flung over the screen hiding a manky looking commode; he didn’t immediately see his t-shirt. He circled around the huge, tarnished brass bed, wondering at the nasty looking straps lashed to the head and foot rails.
Someone liked it kinky, that was for certain. But who, and where the devil were they?
“Ah, there you are,” he said with a satisfied smile. He bent down to pick up his balled-up t-shirt, which was partly hidden under the bed. He stared, tossing his shirt onto the bed and picking up another pair of denims. He got down on his knees, looking under the bed and extracting a pair of gaudy black and silver trainers and a slinky, black sleeveless shirt.
Ron sat on his haunches, studying first the shiny shirt, and then the small pair of black denims.
Did these belong to the flat’s owner? Possibly, but the clothes didn’t seem to match the décor. The looked like some club kid’s outfit, trendy and stylish. Like the stuff some of the younger blokes at St. Mungo’s wore when they’d go out for dinner and drinks on occasion.
A sharp pain shot through Ron’s head, and he gasped, clutching at his sides as he doubled over. He squeezed his eyes closed, flashes of a crowded dance floor streaking past his mind’s eye. He groaned and fell against the bed, and he could see flashes of some young, shirtless fellow, all dark hair and smiles. He shuddered as the images progressed like some sort of disjointed, jumpy film, each scene separated by a painful flash.
He saw the young bloke, now wearing the silky shirt, leading him out of some pub and into a darkened street…then, an alleyway, groping hands, lifting shirts, crashing lips…a peeling, blue door opening, and the young bloke pulling him inside…shaky hands sliding a shimmery black shirt upward, revealing a gorgeous, sweaty chest…the young bloke now naked, flat on his back on the bed, arms and legs tied with straps and pulled tight…a knife tip pressed to the smooth skin of the bloke‘s neck, the first drops of blood staining the quilt…
“No!” Ron screamed, opening his eyes, his forehead buried against the mattress, gulping in air, his chest heaving. “Sweet Merlin,” he whimpered, crumpling to the floor and blinking back tears.
He lay there for some time until the sobs subsided, finally standing on unsteady legs. He glanced absently at the tattered quilt covering the bed; he could make out definite blotches of blood spattered across its surface. He picked up his own t-shirt, unable to stifle the nervous sniggers as he noted the small drops of blood spattered on it.
Under normal circumstances, finding himself in a strange flat with blood-stained quilts and clothing would have been extremely distressing. At this point, it was now almost old hat...
He flung his t-shirt onto the bed and trudged over to the armchair, grabbing the newspaper and plopping down heavily into it. Despite its appearance, the disgusting thing was ridiculously comfortable.
“What have you been up to, ickle Ronniekins?” he grunted. “First sign of losing it, talking to yourself,” he finished with a nervous laugh.
There was just no avoiding the fact that he’d been up to some nasty business. The last clear memory he had was of watching George stumble the final few steps to his flat. Then, well, what? He’d awakened in this horrid room, the post owl, and then the hallucinations.
“Just fucking brilliant,” he mumbled.
They weren’t hallucinations, as much as he‘d hoped they were. He’d obviously made his way into some queer pub and picked up a bloke, as disturbing as that in of itself was. It just didn’t make any sense. He was completely devoted to Harry, and while he did stare at the occasional finely toned body or nice, denim-clad arse, who didn’t? He was handfasted, not dead.
He’d never once even thought about stepping out behind Harry‘s back.
Harry was his best mate, his partner, his love. They’d been bound together since they were eleven, sharing nearly every moment of their lives since then, through the darkest and most evil of times. They’d both survived it all, and were finally beginning to enjoy the life they’d both worked and fought so hard for. No, whatever was going on, it had everything to do with the blackouts and odd visions.
The blood was a bit more problematic, however. But then again, he was well aware that some blokes liked it rough, going so far as to enjoy having their skin cut and blood drawn. How he’d gotten involved with a bloke like that--okay, apparently three blokes, so far--was part of the mystery.
Still more inconsistencies, and Ron was more certain than ever that he was suffering from PTSD. He’d show his scans to Plimpton first thing Monday morning, and that would be that. Hell, he may have fooled about with strangers, and he hated that he couldn’t recall any of it, but Harry was sure to understand. He obviously hadn’t been in command of his faculties at the time.
“Bugger,” he snorted, unrolling the Daily Prophet.
George would undoubtedly have a field day with this. No matter. He could handle his brother.
Ron absently unrolled the Prophet, thinking that it might not be a bad idea to hang around the flat in the hopes that his partner from the previous evening might return soon. It wouldn’t hurt at all to speak to the bloke; any information as to what his behaviors had been the previous evening would be most helpful.
Ron snapped the paper open and stared at the front page, his blood running cold as he read the huge block letters: Another Mutilated Corpse Found in Diagon, the headline screamed; Third victim in as many weeks; Authorities Baffled read the smaller print below it. Underneath that, a huge photo displayed the latest victim, a smiling Colin Tuffnel, aged 24, of Glenheath.
Ron suddenly couldn’t breathe.
The paper slipped from his fingers, fluttering to the floor.
His stomach lurched to his throat, and he dashed to the sink, dry heaving for several minutes. His head throbbed and the flat tilted precariously. He fell to his knees, his brain spinning. Images of Colin at the pub interspersed with those of his naked body drenched in blood flashed through his mind. He pounded on his forehead with closed fists in a vain attempt to stop the never ending stream of horrific images. He became aware of a pitiful mewling wail, finally realising that he was the source. Ron held his breath and simply gave up, retreating into the dark, beckoning recesses of his addled brain...
After some time, he rose up from the floor, casting a series of quick cleansing charms and a shaver. He stared at his reflection in the small, cracked mirror over the sink and smiled. He sat down on the bed, summoning his boots, socks, and jumper. He scourgified his t-shirt and the quilt as best he could.
He dressed as if in a daze, the voice cooing and purring softly too him. Remain calm, remain calm, it chanted. No one will ever know. No one needs to know. It’s none of their concern.
Ron sighed as he tied his boots. There was no point in waiting in the flat.
Colin wasn’t coming back.
Ron wandered aimlessly through the winding, narrow streets of West Diagon. He had no idea how long he‘d been walking or even what time of day it was. Well past noon, as far as he could tell. Not that it mattered, really. He continued along, hands shoved deeply into his denim’s pockets.
He’d dressed and left Colin’s flat as quickly as he could, somewhat perplexed as to why the authorities hadn’t already arrived there. He knew that he should be intensely disturbed at Colin’s obvious murder, at his possible role in it, and that he should be heading directly to the authorities and reporting the incident.
It couldn’t be possible, he chanted to himself, not possible, not possible. He couldn’t have actually murdered someone. Could he? But then again, how did he know? He didn’t remember all that had happened the night before. He could have said or done anything, considering recent events.
But mutilation? Murder?
His head throbbed sharply again, and his stomach twisted into knots. He stumbled, reaching out blindly for the nearby wall of a storefront. He stood there for a moment until the pain subsided. Shaking his head, he continued to walk along, oblivious to the odd looks and grumbled complaints from the other pedestrians he blustered past.
He stumbled along for some time before his head snapped up. Without even realising it, he’d navigated the serpentine streets and alleys of West Diagon without fail, somehow finding his way to Diagon’s main street. He glanced to his right, noting that the Wheezes’ was just two blocks away.
He briefly toyed with the idea of banging on George and Remus’ door and spilling his guts to them, about everything. He’d have to tell someone at some point, but at that instant the new voice in his addled mind reared up, advocating that patience was again called for.
“Best to wait, see how things fall,” he murmured aloud.
“What was that?” and old witch asked as she stopped to stare at him.
“None o’ yer business, so bugger off!” Ron snarled in response.
The witch pulled a face and shambled away, muttering.
“Bint!” Ron called after her, spitting into the cobblestones. He whirled about, striding confidently toward the Cauldron’s dedicated Apparation point.
He appeared in the alleyway beside his apartment block, quickly mounting the front stairs and unwarding the double front doors. Once inside, he raced up the staircase; their flat was on the second floor, and a moment later, Ron stood in front of their door, slightly winded, ready to murmur the incantation that would drop their security wards and unlock the door.
Before he could utter a sound, the door flew open.
“’Bout time,” Charlie said with a smile. “I was just starting to worry.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Ron huffed as he pushed past his older brother and into the flat.
“Glad to see you, too,” Charlie replied, the cheerfulness of his tone seeping away.
Ron stood motionless in the middle of his sitting room as Charlie closed and locked the door. Any other time, Ron would’ve been ecstatic to see his older brother. There wasn’t another sibling that he was closer to; he and Charlie shared a bond that went beyond brotherhood, and to say that he was Ron’s favourite was quite an understatement. Still, Ron felt nothing but intense annoyance that Charlie was there, invading his space, his privacy. With a monumental effort, he schooled his features and fought to maintain an even tone. “Why is it my wards are so easy to dismantle?” he said, turning around and smiling.
Charlie shrugged. “Dunno, little bro. I suppose I just know you too well.” He put out his arms. “C’mere, you big git.”
Ron hesitated barely a second before throwing himself at Charlie and hugging him tightly. He could hear the new voice screaming for him to get rid of his brother, to make him leave, to get him out of the way at any cost. Ron fought to ignore it, and the harder he hugged Charlie, the easier it became to do so. “Charlie,” he murmured, leaning down and burying his head against the side of Charlie’s neck. “So glad you’re here.”
Charlie wrapped his big arms about Ron’s waist. “S’okay, Ronnie. S’okay. I’m here now. Whatever’s going on, I want to help.” He started rocking back and forth ever so slightly, his hands moving upward and making small circles across Ron’s broad back. “It’s going to be fine, Ronnie.”
The lumps rose instantly in Ron’s throat, and he found he didn’t care. He gripped Charlie fiercely as the tears flowed again, followed by deep, raspy sobs.
“Let it all out, love, let it all out,” Charlie said softly. “I’ve got ya.”
For the first time in days, Ron felt safe, secure. Charlie had always been there for him, for as long as he could remember. While their parents had had their hands full simply trying to make ends meet, the elder Weasley boys had been charged with watching over their younger siblings. Bill had dealt with the twins, while Charlie had taken care of Percy and Ron. There was just no doubt in Ron’s mind that he was Charlie’s favourite, and vice versa. He lost himself in Charlie’s embrace for many long minutes until his sobs slowly faded away. He lifted his head and straightened up, looking down at his brother’s smiling face. He chuckled, still not used to towering over Charlie, even after all these years. “How?” he said thickly. “How’d you know to come?”
Charlie released him and stepped back. “Marliena was a bit concerned after your firecall the other day.”
Ron nodded. “I see.”
“At first she simply thought that you were just tired out, as you’d said. Then, your nurse, Violet, firecalled less than an hour later.”
Ron’s eyes went wide and Charlie shrugged.
“She was quite concerned for you health, Ron, and while she didn’t go into any details, it gave Marilena pause, so she Apparated into town to find me.”
“Charlie, I’m sorry,” Ron began, turning about and walking toward the hearth.
“No worries. Anyway, Mari filled me in, and I immediately started making plans to come to London. I was having difficulty locating someone to watch over the hatchlings, though. Touchy little nippers.”
“You found someone then,” Ron said, placing both hands on the mantel and leaning forward, hanging his head. He winced slightly as a sharp jolt of pain shot through his brain. He held onto the wood tightly, his knuckles turning white. He knew Charlie was moving toward him, the creaky floorboards announcing his every step.
“Well, no, I didn’t. Mari and Shiv are keeping an eye on the hatchlings. Between the two of them, they should be able to handle things. I couldn’t wait to find someone, though, not after what George told me.”
“George called you, too?” Ron said, tensing his entire body. “I’m quite the topic of conversation of late.” He could tell Charlie was standing right behind him.
“He’s worried about you, little bro. We all are. Especially after your behaviour yesterday. On the pitch, and at the Cauldron.”
“I was tired, still am,” Ron replied flatly. “I’ll be fine.” He felt Charlie’s hand squeeze his right shoulder. He had to fight to not wrench himself away. His brother had overstayed his welcome, and Ron’s patience with his meddling was close to expiring.
“Don’t think so, kiddo,” Charlie said, squeezing his shoulder more firmly. “A minute ago you were crying like a baby. Now, you look ready to jump right out of your skin.”
Ron felt Charlie’s other arm wrap about his waist.
“I’m here to help. I’m not leaving until you tell me--”
Before Charlie could finish his sentence, Ron pushed away from the mantle with all his might. He could tell Charlie had lost his balance, most likely falling backward. Charlie grunted and Ron heard the anticipated cracking of wood as his brother must have landed on and shattered the coffee table. Ron lunged forward, grabbing Harry’s bronze Seeker of the Year trophy. He whirled about and laughed out loud at the sight of a dazed Charlie picking himself up from the floor. Ron brandished the statue menacingly. “Get the fuck out of here, now!” he bellowed.
“No,” Charlie replied, taking deep breaths. “Put that down. I don’t want to hurt you, Ron. And I‘m not going anywhere.”
Ron paused a moment, allowing the arm holding the brass statue to drop slightly.
“That’s a boy,” Charlie said, taking a step forward. “Here, give it to me, okay?” He smiled and put out his left hand.
Ron hesitated only a moment more before lunging at Charlie. He howled in rage, swinging the heavy statuette with full force.
Charlie was quick in ducking away, but not quite quick enough. The statue struck a glancing blow to Charlie’s left temple; he yelped in pain, taking advantage of Ron being slightly off balance after the roundhouse swing. He lowered his head and jumped at Ron, catching his younger brother about the middle. He butted his head into Ron’s stomach pushing with all his might.
Ron roared like a wounded animal, flailing about wildly, the Quidditch trophy slipping from his grasp. His fists pounded away at Charlie's broad back mercilessly, his brother driving him backwards toward the fireplace.
Ron crashed through the fire screen, his head impacting the edge of the wooden mantle. "I'm a gonna kill you!" he screamed, seeing stars and losing his balance.
Charlie wrenched Ron sideways and away from the hearth, the pair tumbling to the floor. Ron thrashed viciously as Charlie sat up, struggling to keep his younger brother under control. Ron was indeed a good head taller, and rather formidable, but Charlie was broader and thicker, having a good forty pounds of muscle on Ron. He managed to pin one of Ron's arms with a knee, and he struggled to capture the other.
"Git the hell offa me, ya ruddy bastard!" Ron yelled, nearly bucking Charlie off. He managed to land a fairly firm punch to Charlie's chin.
Charlie groaned and shook his head to clear it. "Sorry, bro, I hate to do this, but..." He drew his arm back, pausing a moment before crashing his fist into the side of Ron's head.
Ron ceased his struggles only for a moment before resuming them with increased fervour.
"Damn it, Ronnie!" Charlie cried out, landing three more punches to Ron's face in quick succession.
Ron moaned loudly, his vision blurring, everything fading slowly away. Strong arms slid under him and he was lifted up and then dropped onto the nearby sofa. The world tilted sideways, and the last thing he saw before losing consciousness was Charlie's face looming over him...
"What the hell'd you do to him, Charlie?"
"Couldn't help it, bro. He was a wild man. Came at me with Harry's Quidditch trophy."
"I don't believe it."
"Believe it, Georgie. I didn't get these bruises from shaving, you know."
"I've seen how you shave."
"Prat. How is he, nurse?"
"Call me Violet, Please. And he'll be fine. A few bruises and a headache, but that's all. Now, as to the other problem..."
Ron opened his eyes and lifted his head. His brain felt fuzzy, murky, as if submerged under water. Violet stood before him, on the right. George was directly in front of him, with Charlie on the left. Charlie had a large bandage on his left temple and a split lip. All three were looking at him with abject concern. He attempted to stand, but found he couldn't. His lip itched fiercely, but again, when he tried to move his hand in order to scratch it, he was unable. "Whattha 'ell?" he mumbled, his tongue thick and heavy. "Whadidjadoo ta me?"
"How long with that tranquiliser last?" George asked.
"Two hours, perhaps three. I've left several more doses, as well as some clean syringes. You do know how to use a syringe, yes?"
George pulled a face and Charlie chuckled. "I'm used to using much larger needles, but I reckon I can manage."
"Don't worry, Charlie, I'll handle the injections." Remus stepped into Ron's field of vision. He looked as rumpled as usual in his threadbare cardigan and corduroy trousers, and he held a sizable sheaf of parchments in his hand. He nodded to Violet. "Thanks very much for these, Miss Marsh. I can't say how much we appreciate your assistance in all this as well as your discretion."
Violet nodded, wringing her hands. "My pleasure, Mr. Lupin. Ron's a good Healer. I just want to see him well again."
"We all do," George said.
"Yeah, and you have the Weasley family's gratitude as well," Charlie added. "Thanks, Violet."
Violet blushed and averted her gaze. "Right, well, I must be off. I'll be home later, if you need me. And I can floo in at a moment's notice, as well."
"Very good," Remus replied. "Hopefully we won't have to bother you, but just in case, that's good to know. Thank you."
"Yes, I don't know how we'll be able to repay you," George said as he walked Violet to the door.
"Just help him, please?" she answered. She pursed her lips and gazed at Ron.
"Stupid feckin' bint," Ron slurred, struggling against his bindings.
Violet took a deep breath and turned about, George ushering her toward the fireplace.
"What have you found out, Remus?" Charlie asked. peering at the parchments in the werewolf’s hands.
There was a whoosh and a green flash from behind them. George stepped beside his lover a moment later. "Yeah, what's up with Ronniekins?"
Remus took a deep breath and gestured toward Ron with the parchments. "From what I've been able to divine, your brother here is suffering from what basically amounts to Post Tramautic Spell Disorder."
George furrowed his brow as Charlie crossed his arms.
"This doesn't really resemble PTSD, at least not from what I've read," Charlie said.
"Quite right," Remus agreed. "I should say that the PTSD is what triggered Ron's condition. The delayed reaction of being infused with so much residual dark energy is well documented and completely applicable to your brother's condition. In almost all cases the effects to one's ambric energies is a general deterioration of same, manifested as a decrease in one or all areas of a sufferer's magical powers. There is a very well known and reliable method of treatment for such a disorder."
George nodded. "Right, right. Something about tracking down the particular dark curse responsible for the decline, as well as the person who cast it."
"Very good," Remus replied, smiling and slipping an arm about George's waist.
"So that's all we have to do with Ron, right?" Charlie said hopefully. "Figure out what and who, and then he'll be as right as rain."
Ron struggled once again, the sturdy wooden office chair creaking in protest. "There's nothing wrong with me," he said, his words finally clear. "You don't have to keep me tied to this chair."
"Sorry, little bro, but for now, we do," Charlie replied.
"I can help," Ron insisted.
Remus stepped forward, his expression grim. "Who are you?"
"What sort of ridiculous question is that?" Ron fairly spat.
Remus merely folded his arms.
"You know who I am," Ron replied.
"Where were you at two o'clock this morning?"
"None o' yer damn business!" Ron growled.
Charlie and George exchanged worried looks.
"Tell me about Aurelius Darkwood. Simon Beckwith. Colin Tuffnel."
"Hah!" Ron yelled. "They got wot dey deserved, they did! Afta I had me a bit 'o fun with 'em first!" He laughed evilly, once more pulling at his bindings. "You'll be wantin' to let me go, lycan, or else ya'll live ta regret it, Not very long, but ya will!"
Remus remained silent, only nodding slightly and stepping back to join Charlie and George. The only sounds in the flat were the low crackle of fire in the hearth and the patter or rain against the windows.
"Who were those people?" George asked, sparing a quick glance to Ron. "I don't recognize any of them."
"Yeah, who are they and what to they have to do with Ron? I know some aspects of PTSD seem to fit whatever's wrong with him, but if I didn't know better, I'd say he's exhibiting symptoms of a good old fashioned, demonic possession."
Remus snorted. "Not a demonic possession, but a possession of sorts all the same."
"I'm not following, love," George said.
"Let's just say that we're fighting a battle on two fronts here. There's what has happened to Ron, and what must be done to reverse it. Secondly, there is the matter of acts he may have committed while under the influence of whatever it is that's affecting him."
"Acts? What do you mean?' Charlie asked.
"I believe that we should focus on your brother's affliction and the curing of it first. We'll make that our top priority. Once accomplished, we can then deal with the, how shall we say, loose ends. Agreed?"
Both brothers nodded.
"Very good," Remus said, continuing. "Based on Violet's interpretations of Ron's medical scans here, I'd say that somehow, Ron's ambric signature is merging with another signature that's been lying dormant and unnoticed until now. This second signature is also altering itself to match Ron's; in essence, your brother is experiencing what amounts to a split personality. As the two ambric signatures slowly mutate, slowly alter themselves to become more like the other, Ron flips back and forth from one personality to the other. Eventually, the two disparate ambric signatures will combine, forming an entirely new signature, a composite of the two previous ones."
"You're full 'o shite, lycan," Ron grumbled from his chair.
George pulled a face while Charlie walked away and into the kitchen.
"I knew something was off when Ron ordered those bloody kippers the other night. He always hated fish. Didn't think it had anything at all to do with a whacked out sort of possession, though. I mean really, how was I supposed to have guessed that?" He stopped talking as he felt Remus' gaze upon him. "What?"
"You're doing it again, love."
"I'm rambling?" George said.
"Yes, George, you're rambling."
"Not a problem."
"So what you're saying is," George said sheepishly, "that if we don't find a way to stop this, this merging of signatures, then Ron won't be Ron any longer. We'll lose him."
Remus nodded. "Essentially, yes. It's impossible to tell at this point how much of Ron's original persona would remain. There seems to be every indication that this new signature, this other personality, is very, very strong. It might overwhelm what's left of Ron's own personality completely." He took a deep breath. "There's just now way of knowing how it will progress."
"It won't," Charlie said from behind them. "We're going to stop it, get whatever's in there out, and that's all there is to it." He stepped next to Remus and handed a bottle of butterbeer to George, who took it gratefully. "Failure is not an option here, Remus."
"I'm with Charlie," George agreed. "We've got to act, and fast."
"Of course, of course," Remus said, nodding. "I suppose I should have mentioned that I have every confidence that this other ambric signature, this invading entity, as it were, can be wholly and completely removed. There are a few procedures that I’ve read about that appear applicable to Ron's situation."
"All right then, let's get to it!" George said, hefting his bottle up.
Charlie returned his brother's gesture. "So, the first thing we need to do is to try to identify whom this other signature belongs to, right?"
"I believe I may already have a good lead on that," Remus replied. "I've done a bit of research on this topic. It was years and years ago, and the appropriate volumes are at our flat. This sort of thing, the imprinting of a second ambric signature, is rather rare. It requires direct, physical contact for an extended period of time. From what I've read, it's a rather dynamic, traumatic experience. The recipient of the second signature is almost always marked in some way, and takes several days to recover from the transference."
"When could that have happened to Ron? I'm not aware of anything like that occurring during the War, are you Charlie?"
Charlie shook his head. "No. He was never captured or tortured, thank Merlin."
Remus stepped toward Ron. "If my theory is correct, this transference took place years before the War." He gestured to Ron's exposed forearms, and the fine traceries of scars entwined about them.
"Well I'll be a skrewt's bum," Charlie murmured, taking a huge swallow of butter beer.
"You don't mean," George began.
Remus nodded. "Ron's experience in the Department of Mysteries apparently left him with a bit more than some scars to boast of. One of those attacking brains managed to transfer its ambric signature to your brother. Normally, it might have lain dormant permanently, but now we'll never know. As it was, Ron absorbed huge amounts of dark energy during the War, which has manifested itself as a form of PTSD, awakening this intruder signature and calling it to action."
"You're cracked," Ron sneered. "A bigger load 'o shite I ain't ever heard." He blinked a few times before his eyes closed, his head slumping forward.
"We've got to get that bastard out of him, and now, Remus," George said, pointing to Ron.
"Yes, I believe I can to that, certainly," Remus replied carefully. "And we will, but..."
"But what?" Charlie asked.
"For the procedure to be successful, we'll need a receptacle for the intruder signature once it's removed. Other wise, it will simply transfer to another host, and the process will begin all over again."
"Can't we just destroy this thing once it's out of Ron?" George asked.
Remus shook his head. "No. Energy can never really be destroyed, it merely changes form. Even if we could somehow destroy this signature while still inside Ron, he'd most certainly die from the stress. And recall that direct physical contact is necessary to affect the transference."
"I don't get it," George said with a frown. "Who can we get to touch Ron and get this thing out of him? Who'd want to? How can we force someone do that?"
Charlie nodded. "Not a someone, Georgie. Some thing, right, Remus?"
"Correct." Remus stood over Ron, his golden eyes ablaze. "I'm afraid we have only one option if we're to save your brother. We must have the brain that attacked him all those years ago. We must return the intruding signature whence it came. We’ve quite a road ahead, but I‘m confident that if we can gain access to those brains and identify the proper one, we‘ll be able to remove the invading entity. My theory is that it will have a natural tendency to migrate back to its parent and be reintegrated." He reached out to push some stray locks of hair out of Ron's face. "And we must act quickly, before Ron's ambric signature is irrevocably altered."
George waved his hands, spilling butter beer all over the carpet. "Great. Just great. How in Circe's name are we going to get a sodding disembodied brain from the Department of Mysteries? Security's so tight since the War, you've almost got to be a blood relative of Merlin himself to get inside." He stopped waving his arms, his arms dropping to his sides. "Even then, how do we know exactly which brain is the one? I mean, they all look the same, don't they? Bugger!"
"Perhaps it'd be easier to get Ron in to the brains," Charlie suggested. "There's gotta be a way to breach those wards. I'll firecall Bill. If anyone can get us into The Ministry, it's Bill."
"Great idea, bro!" George said. "What’s the time in New Guinea right now?"
"Um, Fred? George?" Remus interjected quietly.
"What?" the Weasley brothers said in unison.
"If I may suggest another course of action? Involving a firecall, not to Bill, but to another Weasley."
George's face went slack and Charlie rolled his eyes.
"Oh, bloody hell, Remus. You can't be serious," Charlie said.
"He won't help. I can tell you that right now," George added. "Percy's still an arsehole, through and through."
"Arsehole Percy," Ron sniggered from his chair, once again awake.
"Perhaps, but he's also the Minister of Magic," Remus replied. "And I believe it's about time for me to call in a very old favour."
George stared at Charlie.
Remus grinned. "He'll help. Let's give him a firecall, shall we?"
...please continue to the Conclusion...