See Part I for full header and disclaimer
~~~~~ ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, Part III ~~~~~
Ron drifted in and out, sometimes feeling like himself, other times like a prisoner in his own body. He'd heard and understood nearly all of what Remus had said. At least he now knew what had been happening during the past few weeks.
He could feel the intruding personality fade away and lie quiet for long periods. He'd chat with Charlie or George during those times, while Remus pored over his books and parchments.
Then, almost without warning, he'd feel himself pushed back, sublimated, restrained. He knew he was speaking and responding, but he felt like an observer, an ingnored third party. It was the most terrible sensation in the world. He had long since stopped struggling against the invading entity. Whenever he tried, the thing retaliated by attempting to harm Ron's body or one of his brothers. So he simply withdrew and waited for the thing to tire and allow him to regain control of himself once again.
He'd been somewhat surprised when Remus hadn't elaborated on the horrible things he'd most likely done while under the influence of the invading entity. It was probably best that his brothers didn't know the full story, at least not yet. As Remus had said, first things first. Deep down, Ron was terrified to learn the truth. The very idea the he might have murdered an innocent person, in cold blood...
The fact that he hadn’t been in control of himself at the time seemed to be of very little comfort.
He should have been able to maintain control. He should have been stronger. What would Harry think? How could he justify all this?
He'd been lucid when George and Charlie had finally reached Percy at home via firecall. His incredibly pompous brother hadn't appeared to have changed one iota. It was only when Remus stepped up to the hearth that Percy quieted down and listened to what they'd had to say. Remus had then sent George and Charlie out of the sitting room while he negotiated with Percy one on one. Ron had desperatedly strained to hear what was being said, but both Remus and Percy spoke in such hushed tones that it was virtually impossible.
After a time, Percy's head had faded into the flames and Remus turned about, smiling.
Now, they were simply waiting. George and Charlie were engaged in what had to be their tenth game of Wizard's Chess. Remus dozed fitfully on the sofa, and Ron was having difficulty staying awake. He knew that several hours had passed, and it had to have been late morning on Monday, at least. But the quality of light filtering through the windows indicated that it was dark outside. It was increasingly difficult to maintain an accurate perception of time...
A sharp rapping on the flat's door caused everyone to jump. Remus sat up, rubbing at his eyes and then straightening his cardigan. George looked over at Ron as Charlie answered the door.
A tall, dark-skinned wizard whom Ron didn't recognise stepped just inside the flat. Remus shook the bloke's hand, and the two then engaged in a hushed conversation. When Remus turned around a few minutes later, he nodded to Charlie.
Charlie picked up a syringe from next to the chessboard and approached Ron, his expression oddly blank.
"It's time, kiddo," he said softly. "I'm sorry, but Remus says it's best if you're out for this whole thing." He removed the protective tip from the end of the needle and gently pressed the plunger to expel any air bubbles.
"Do me a favour?"
"If I don't make it..."
Charlie sniffed and wiped at his nose with his free hand. "Oh, Ronnie, don't. Remus says..."
"Something could happen, go wrong, yeah?"
Charlie nodded and looked away.
"If something happens, and I'm not here, if I'm not me anymore, or worse, tell Harry that I'm sorry for whatever I've done. Tell him...tell him I love him. Always. Please, Charlie?"
Charlie looked up, nodding slightly, tears welling up in his eyes. He reached over, a large calloused hand gently caressing Ron's cheek. "I won't have to tell him, 'cause you're going to be able to do that yourself, you hear? You're not going anywhere, you big clumsy git." He leaned in, leaving a soft kiss on Ron's forehead. "Never lose you," he murmured.
George walked up to stand behind him as Charlie found a vein in the crook of Ron's right arm. He thumped at his chosen spot a few times, bringing up the vein and murmuring a sterilising charm. Without a word he sank the needle into Ron's arm, depressing the plunger smoothly. A second later, he removed the needle and murmured a low grade pressure charm on the wound to stem the trickle of blood.
George squeezed Charlie's broad shoulders as tears finally trailed down Charlie's cheeks.
Ron's vision gradually blurred, about the edges first, then progressing until he felt as though he were looking through a long pipe. A warm, comfortable fuzziness enveloped him, and the last thing he saw clearly was Charlie standing up and George hugging him tightly.
Then, all faded to darkness...
“Remus! He’s waking up! Charlie, fetch Violet!”
Ron tried to opened his eyes, but couldn’t. “Whappen? My eyes...” He felt a damp cloth wipe gently at his forehead, then across his closed eyes.
“S’okay, mate,” George said. “Don’t force it. You’ve had a rough ride.”
“Am I...did it work?”
“You’re going to be fine, little bro.”
Ron shifted about on the mattress, but his limbs felt as lead. “Can’t move.”
“You’re still pretty doped up,” Charlie said. “Just relax.”
Ron felt the mattress sink as someone sat down. “Charlie? Where’s Harry? I want to see Harry.”
“Stay calm,” Violet said.
Ron struggled to force his eyelids to comply; he managed to crack them open, seeing only dark, fuzzy shapes against a bright background. He heard Violet murmuring the incantations for some basic scans. She also gently picked up his wrist to gauge his pulse.
“Hey, Vi. What’s up?” He attempted to sit up, actually lifting his shoulders a few inches from the mattress before giving up and flopping back down with an exasperated groan. “Bloody hell, what’s wrong with me?”
“Why is it that healers always make the worst patients?” Violet mused aloud.
“This one’s always been the stubborn sort,” Charlie said as George chuckled in agreement.
“Fuck off,” Ron replied with as much rancor as he could muster.
“Vulgar, too,” George commented.
It was Charlie’s turn to snigger, and Ron shifted about once more, ready to launch another retort, but Violet would have none of it.
“I hate to interrupt this most interesting study of brotherly relations, but Ron needs a bit of peace and quiet for just a bit longer. So no monkey business, and let‘s keep it quiet, okay?”
“Sorry,” George and Charlie replied in unison.
“About time someone put ‘em in their place...” Ron began, once again trying to sit up. He felt someone push him back into the mattress. And none too gently, at that.
“Rest, Ron, and yeah, I was referring to you too, in case you didn’t catch that,” Violet said tersely.
“Is he all right?”
Ron heard Remus’ voice as creaky floorboards announced his arrival.
“Oh, most likely,” Violet replied, releasing his wrist and lowering it carefully to the bedspread. “I’d say it’s just the tranquilisers wearing off. A bit early, but these things tend to vary from patient to patient.”
“Well then,” Remus said cheerfully, “I suggest we leave Ron to it.”
Ron blinked furiously in an effort to focus his eyes; the blurred shapes had sharpened somewhat. “Remus? Have anyone managed to reach Harry?” The mattress jiggled as Charlie must have stood up.
“We’ve received a response to the, um, the message we dispatched to America last night.”
“An eye-mail,” George chimed in.
“Yes, quite,” Remus said. “Harry booked the earliest Muggle flight out of Pittsburgh that he could. He should arrive at Heathrow sometime early tommorrow morning.”
“Brilliant,” Ron murmured, sinking down into the soft pillows. He closed his eyes, sleep claiming him once more.
“All right, Remus, out with it,” Ron said, sinking down into Harry’s favourite armchair.
He’d slept another few hours, and had awakened with a clear head. After a quick shower, he’d felt better than he had in weeks. Charlie had forced him to eat a sandwich, while George had slipped him a butterbeer, much to Remus’ dismay. They were now all assembled in his sitting room, Violet having just left the flat for her shift at St. Mungo‘s.
George and Charlie were exchanging worried expressions while Remus leaned on the mantle, a tumbler of Oban in hand.
“So, did it work? It feels like it has,” Ron said.
“Yes, the procedure was a success. The secondary signature has been removed, and it migrated back to its point of origin without incident.”
“You had no trouble identifying the proper brain?”
Remus shook his head. “No, not at all. A simple matter of matching up the ambric signatures.”
“So now this brain will have a pair of signatures?”
“Not for very long. As in your case, the two signatures will merge and eventually become one.”
“So there were some changes, then? It won’t exactly be the same, um, brain it was before?”
George chuckled and Charlie elbowed him.
Remus took a sip of his scotch. “Quite astute, Ron. You’d harboured that second signature for so long that it had altered in myriad ways, adopting many of your own ambric signature’s qualities.”
Ron took a deep breath. “And the same applies to me, then.”
Remus nodded. “Yes, I should think so. But I must stress that although altered, the changes to your ambric signature are subtle, minute in the extreme.”
“But you can’t be sure of that. It’s still been changed. I’ve taken on some of that brain’s qualities. I’m not the same person I was,” Ron said. He locked gazes with Remus, who looked away.
“In the strictest terms, no. But I must reiterate…”
Ron held up a hand. “That’s fine. I understand.”
“I’m confident a full ambric scan will support my theory that any changes to your signature are negligible, Ron. Negligible,“ Remus repeated for emphasis. “Violet’s already scheduled you into the lab for a scan tomorrow afternoon.”
“Good idea,” Ron agreed. He looked over at his brothers; George was studying his beer bottle intently, and Charlie had leaned forward, cradling his face in both hands.
“Right. So, now that the second signature’s been removed, we can focus on what I might have done while under its influence. Where shall we start?”
Charlie lifted his head up, and Ron could easily tell that his older brother had been crying. He then looked to George, whose eyes were similarly bloodshot. “Oh, well, obviously you’re all way ahead of me. Okay, let’s have it.”
Charlie leaned back into the sofa, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Go on, Remus. I don’t think I can say the words.”
Ron looked to Remus, who was staring into the fire.
“I hurt people, didn’t I?” Ron stated. “Killed them.”
“Ron,” Remus began, “please understand that whatever we‘ve uncovered is purely circumstantial in nature, and needs to be verified by the proper authorities.”
“Yeah, fine,” Ron snorted. “I have vivid memories of waking up and being covered in blood. Not sure what verification that sort of thing requires.”
“You weren’t yourself!” Charlie blurted out. “You couldn’t help it! There’s not a jury in the world that would send you to Azkaban for any of it!”
“Charlie,” George said, reaching out and grabbing his brother by the shoulders. “This isn’t helping.”
Charlie blew out a deep breath and flopped back into the squishy cushions. George looked to Remus, who’d drained his tumbler of Oban.
Ron nodded. “I think I could use a drink.”
Charlie waved a hand, and a moment later, a bottle of Winchester’s flew into the room and hovered next to Ron’s head.
Ron snatched it out of the air, twisting off the cap and taking a deep swallow. He glanced to Remus, who was now staring at him. “Tell me what you know, then.”
“Understand, Ron, that I wholly agree with Charlie. You were clearly under the influence of an invading entity…”
“Yeah, got it. Let’s skip to the end, okay?”
Remus nodded. “Of course.” He took a few steps forward, setting his tumbler on the coffee table. He gestured to the stack of Daily Prophets scattered about. “It would appear that you may have been responsible…”
Ron interrupted him. “May have been?”
Remus drew himself up to his full height, his golden eyes blazing. “I repeat, it would appear that you may be responsible for a series of murders that have occurred over the last few days in West Diagon. Based on information from Violet, George and yourself, it seems highly probable that, while under the influence of this entity, you stalked, tortured, and murdered at least three individuals, dumping their nude bodies in various rubbish containers about the area.”
“Fuck,” George murmured while Charlie, his eyes closed, shook his head back and forth.
Ron took a huge swallow of his butterbeer. “And this Colin fellow…”
“Colin Tuffnel,” Remus said.
“Yeah, so he was the third…my third victim?”
Remus nodded. “As far as we can tell, yes, Colin was the final victim.”
“And the others?”
“Aurelius Darkwood and Simon Beckwith.”
“They were queer blokes as well?”
Remus nodded. “It seems that you met Mr. Darkwood Thursday evening, Mr. Beckwith on Friday, and then Mr. Tuffnel Saturday.”
“I certainly was busy,” Ron snorted.
“No! Not you!” Charlie snarled. “That…that fucking thing!”
“Hey, Charlie, calm down,” George said, grasping Charlie by the shoulder once more.
“Charlie,” Ron said softly. “Please?”
Charlie nodded, slumping against George, who hugged him tightly.
Ron drained his beer, plunking the empty bottle down on the coffee table. “Ill met by moonlight,” he murmured.
“What was that?” George asked.
“Nothing,” Ron replied with a wave of his hand. “And this pub…”
“The Lusty Lass, in West Diagon,” Remus said. “Are you familiar with it?”
Ron nodded. “Yeah. Seamus took us there once near the end of seventh year. He’d wanted Harry and me to actually see that there were more than a few queer wizards out and about.”
Remus took in a deep breath and nodded.
“Why?” Ron asked. “Is that important?”
“Might as well get it over with,” George muttered.
“Hell’s Harpies on a broomstick,” Charlie huffed, launching himself from the sofa to storm into the kitchen.
Ron leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Remus, I don’t quite understand. Somehow my subconscious led me back to that pub for the first time in years. For some reason, I fell in with these blokes, and by the sound of it, they were rather unsavoury characters. From the looks of this Tuffnel fellow’s flat, and judging by the general state of things and the straps lashed to his bed, he was one scary customer. I even recall the address: flat eleven, number twelve Eislington Way.”
Remus cleared his throat. “Yes, well, about that.” He bent down and tossed a copy of the Prophet to Ron. “You’ll note Mr. Tuffnel’s published address, there.”
Ron scanned the front page of the paper. “Glenheath. So? He had a second flat. His own personal little smut palace.”
Remus shook his head. “Aside from providing us with access to the Department of Mysteries, your brother Percy was adamant that a record of events be created. He ensured that a level ten Legilimens was available, to properly document everything.”
“You mean to cover his own arse,” George chimed in.
“Indeed,” Remus agreed. “But it was also vital the we had some sort of documentation that you had indeed been compromised by this second ambric signature. The Legilimens satisfied both Percy’s needs, and ours.”
Ron grunted. “You withdrew memories from me.”
“It was necessary, Ron,” Remus said. “Most of what was extracted belonged to the entity. But, as you might imagine, so many of your recent memories were hopelessly entangled with those of the invading entity’s that it wasn’t possible to separate them. I’ve seen a few of them. While they’re extremely graphic and most difficult to watch, they very clearly prove your innocence.”
“You’re not a barrister,” Ron sneered.
“No, I’m not,” Remus admitted. “But the facts are clear. We’ve been able to amass a huge amount of evidence in a very short time.”
“Well, we’ve discovered that it was you that rented the flat on Eislington Way. Over six months ago. The landlord recognised your photo immediately.” Remus paused, allowing the information to sink in. “It would appear that you’ve been experiencing lost time and blackouts far longer than you’d initially realised.”
“My photo? The Ministry’s already been to Eislington?”
Remus shook his head. “Not as yet. But Charlie and George did a bit of unofficial reconnaissance earlier this morning.”
“We were bored,” George offered sheepishly.
“We wanted to help,” Charlie added.
“Six months!” Ron flopped back into the chair. “Good gods…that means…who knows what other horrible things I‘ve done.”
Remus held up a hand. “Wait. According to police records, there are only four unsolved murders in the last year in West Diagon.”
“Four?” Ron rasped. “Shite!”
“And, if you’d let me finish, I’d tell you that the fourth, or oldest murder, a young lady named Lisbeth Hawkins, occurred while you and Harry were on Holiday in Australia. You couldn’t have been responsible.”
“That’s something,” Ron sighed. “But I could have done so many other, horrible things--”
Remus interrupted him. “Now don’t go off half-cocked, Ron. We’ve every reason to believe that the progression of this affliction of yours was exponential in nature. The influence that this second signature had over you months ago was surely minimal, amounting to nothing more than amorphous needs and desires. You most likely experienced the lost time as odd daydreams or something similar. It surely wasn’t strong enough to gain control of your body, as it had been able to over the last few days.”
“You don’t know that,” Ron said, shaking his head. “You can’t be certain.”
Remus shrugged. “I must admit the possibility that you’re correct. But I do reserve the right to disagree, if it’s all the same to you.”
Ron grunted, taking a huge swallow of beer. “Fine. Whatever. But whomever this brain belonged to must’ve been one homophobic arsehole.” He looked up at Remus for some sign of confirmation, but received none. “Well, that has to be the case, right? If I was under the influence of this…this person’s signature, their personality, then they must have despised queers.”
Remus sighed and sat down on the coffee table. “Ron, I need you to listen, very, very carefully. What’s happened to you is most unfortunate. You’ve been violated and abused in one of the most despicable ways possible. There’s no way you could have known about this second ambric signature, and once it began to assert itself, there was no way that you alone could have fought it.” He looked over his shoulder to George, who was nodding in agreement. “I’ve already had some preliminary conversations with a solicitor as to the legal precedents in such cases, and though rather old, they tend to support the defendant’s position, without fail. Innocent lives have been lost, and even though your body was the instrument, you yourself were not at all responsible. You’ll recall from your studies how individuals under the influence of an Imperious, for example, are not held liable for their actions at the time. Your situation is completely analogous. True, there may well be civil suits brought by the victim‘s families, and they will be horrible to deal with, but again, the law is on your side.”
Ron snorted, folding his arms across hid broad chest. “You didn’t answer my question, Remus.”
“Tell him, love,” George sighed.
Charlie shuffled back into the room from the kitchen to stand behind the sofa, pulling heavily on a butterbeer.
Remus nodded, hoisting himself from the coffee table with a grunt and moving over to face the hearth. “The fellow’s name isn’t important,” he began. “His body has been dust for nearly a century by now. But his brain, like the others at the Department of Mysteries, was preserved in a effort to study it’s structure, in the hopes that something might be learned from it. That some sort of treatment might be divined in order to help with future, similar occurrences.”
“Okay, fine,” Ron prodded, his patience wearing thin. “What did the sick bastard do, then?”
“This person was of some standing in the London wizarding community. Respected, well-liked. In charge of one of the largest orphanages of the time.”
“Oh, hell,” Ron whispered.
“This person was responsible for dozens of rapes, mutilations, and murders over a span of twenty years. Even now, we’re unsure of the true scope of his activities. We may never know how many children suffered and were murdered by his hands. This person most likely destroyed or altered enough records to make any such accurate determination impossible. Suffice to say, a tragedy in the extreme.”
“Children,” Ron murmured. “Little kids?”
Remus took a deep breath. “I’m not entirely certain we need to…”
“I’ll hear it all soon enough,” Ron shot back. “Now’s as good a time as any.”
“Very well,” Remus said. “This person preyed upon young girls, between the ages of ten and thirteen.”
Ron felt ill and dizzy. “Sweet Merlin, and I had that sick, fucking thing inside me? For years?” He stood quickly, nearly falling over as he stumbled across the room to stare out of a rain spattered window. “What was his name?”
“I’ve already said I don’t…” Remus began.
Ron spun around, his cheeks flushed. “What…was…HIS…NAME!!” he bellowed, his hands clenching into fists.
“Ron, please, try to stay calm,” Charlie called out.
Remus licked his lips and stared at Ron for a long moment. “Harmon Lillywhite,” he said in a low, measured voice. “So, there it is. Satisfied now?“ A thread of warning had woven itself into Remus’ tone, but Ron ignored it.
“Yeah, thanks,” Ron shot back, throwing both hands up and turning toward the window once again. “I’ve a right to know everything, after all I’ve been through.” He could feel the flush of his patented Weasley temper flowing through him. He’d long ago learned to master it quite easily, but now, here, it simply felt too good to try to keep it in check. It was comforting in an odd way, familiar and safe. It felt right, wholly and completely his own, and not a manifestation of some disgusting invading entity. “I’ve a right to know,” he repeated almost to himself.
Ron heard footsteps from behind him, and a moment later, a pair of big, calloused hands wrapped about his waist.
“We’ll figure everything out in good time, Ronnie,” Charlie whispered against the back of his neck. “None of it changes a thing. It’s gone, it’s out of you for good, and you’re going to be fine, just fine.”
Ron gazed out over the rooftops of wizarding London, the skies a leaden, featureless grey. Lightning flashed in a far off cloudbank, and a second later, thunder rumbled menacingly, rattling the window panes.
“But I didn’t prey on little children, did I, Remus? I went after queer blokes.” He turned his head slightly, just enough to see Remus approaching from out of the corner of his eye. “And I’d wager that these three poor bastards that were unlucky enough to cross my path were of a kind, weren’t they?”
“Ron,” Remus said quietly.
“Weren’t they!?!” Ron yelled again, causing Charlie to hug him even tighter. “I’ll bet all three of them were on the short side, with dark hair, yeah?”
Remus nodded. “Yes, it appears that they were.”
“Fuck!” Ron exclaimed. “Seems like I was a bit more into it than you’re letting on!”
“That’s shite!” George yelled, sitting up on the sofa, his cheeks reddening. “You‘d never…you wouldn’t…”
“So not only has my ambric signature commingled with this Lillywhite fuck’s, for years it seems, but I’ve also apparently absorbed some of his energies in the process. You said yourself that both of our signatures were slowly becoming more alike, and given time, would’ve become one. So he’s a part of me now, isn’t he?” He wrenched himself away from Charlie, whirling about and taking a couple of steps toward Remus. “Tell me I’m wrong!”
George had leapt from the sofa to stand beside Remus. Charlie stepped next to Ron, slinging an arm about his younger brother’s waist.
“I would appreciate it if you’d kindly not raise your voice, Ron,” Remus said steadily. “Please restrain yourself. We’ve all been through something of an ordeal of late, and all of us are quite tired and more than a bit out of sorts.” He stepped forward until he was a scant few inches from Ron. “I apologise for my short temper, but the full moon is less than a week away. I can appreciate the stress and trauma that you’ve suffered, but, I will not tolerate any further emotional outbursts or verbal abuse on your part.” He drew himself up to his full height, which was rather impressive, as he was the only other in the room whose stature matched Ron’s own. “Do I make myself clear?” The last sentence was nearly growled.
Ron nodded. “Perfectly. Sorry.”
Remus raised a hand. “Apology accepted.” He backed up a few steps, taking a deep breath and plunging both hands into his pockets. “You will have to bear this burden for the rest of you life, Ron. You may either allow it to define you, or rise above it. The choice is yours.”
“You make it sound so simple,” Ron replied.
“We’ll be here for you, bro,” George said.
“Count on it,” Charlie added.
“You must come to terms with this,” Remus said. “The press will have a field day, and you must prepare yourself for the onslaught. It’s entirely possible that your career at St. Mungo’s will be forfeit.”
“Remus!” George cried. “Not helping!”
Ron snorted derisively. “He’s right, Georgie. It could happen.” He turned around and took a few steps, once again gazing out the window. “Remus, do you know…was this psychopath…was he a parseltongue?”
“I’m not certain,” Remus replied. “I haven’t had that much time to study his history in depth. I do know that he was in Slytherin House during his Hogwarts years, although that in of itself doesn’t indicate that he spoke parseltongue.”
“So you don’t know if he might have had something do to with snakes, then? Perhaps breeding them or keeping them as pets?”
“I’m sorry, Ron, I can’t say for certain. Why do you ask?”
Ron reached out, placing his right palm flat against the cool, rippled glass of the window pane. He turned his head slightly, just able to make out a shadowed reflection of his face and a blurry image of Remus behind him. More lightning streaked through the clouds, trailed by loud thumps of thunder.
“Ron?” Charlie said hesitantly.
“I saw snakes,” Ron said, splaying his fingers wide against the glass. “Visions of all sorts of snakes. They’d slither about and coil themselves all around me.”
“Merlin,” George murmured.
“And I’d speak, not knowing the words. It was parseltongue, I’m sure of it now.” He removed his hand from the window. “My scars, the ones from the Department of Mysteries, have been bothering me for months now. And there was this recurring pain, a burning sensation that I’d feel on my left forearm, almost as if…just where a Dark Mark would be.” He turned around to face the others. “How much does any of that have to do with Lillywhite? What does it all mean?”
Remus merely sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ron. We simply do not have all the answers as yet.”
Charlie pulled away to walk over to the hearth. “I know I’m not the only one thinking this,” he began, “but aside from the four of us in this room, no one really knows about Ron’s complicity in the murders.”
Remus shook his head and George made a rude noise.
“Nice one, that, Charlie! No one save us, and that sodding level ten Legilimens from the Ministry!”
“Just sayin’,” Charlie offered with a shrug.
“Gentlemen,” Remus interjected, “I don’t believe…”
“No,” Ron said loudly. “No cover-ups. No hiding.” He strode across the room to stand next to Charlie. “We can’t keep this a secret, Charlie.”
“Yeah, I suppose not,” Charlie agreed. “I just hate to think of what you’re going to go through…”
Ron clapped his brother on the back. “As long as you’ve my back, then I’ve no worries.” he smiled broadly and hugged Charlie.
“If I may be so bold,” Remus said, “I’d like to suggest that we all try to get some rest. The next days and weeks will be…”
He was interrupted by frenzied thumping on the flat’s door.
Ron released Charlie as George moved to the window and looked down to the street below.
“Hell’s Harpies! It’s Rita Skeeter!”
“That didn’t take very long,” Charlie commented sardonically.
Remus sighed. “Well, so much for the calm before the storm.”
Ron took a deep breath and smoothed out his t-shirt. “Well? How do I look? Good enough for the front page of The Prophet?”
Remus actually chuckled and gestured to the door. “George, if you’d be so kind.”
George nodded and moved toward the flat’s front door. He dropped the wards and locks, flinging the door open to a chorus of shouts and popping flashbulbs…
“Make way! Coming through!”
Kingsley Shacklebolt waded through the crowd packing the wide Ministry corridor, his deep, booming voice easily rising above the din. Ron followed directly behind, with Charlie and Remus bringing up the rear. The quartet ploughed through the throng, slowly and surely, finally breaking through and arriving at the security checkpoint set up just outside of the Wizengamot’s chambers.
Aurors frisked and scanned Ron, Charlie and Remus, while reporters and journalists from across the globe clamoured away continuously. Bright lights from the new-fangled moving picture cameras flooded the usually dim hallway, while a nearly constant series of flashes from still cameras popped away.
Kingsley led them several yards further down the corridor, stopping before the huge mahogany doors that led to the Wizengamot. Ron and Charlie sat down on one of the marble benches that flanked the doorway. Remus chatted with Kingsley as Ron sighed.
“What time is it?”
“Dunno,” Charlie said. “I think it’s still Monday.” He glanced down the corridor to the milling throng of media madness. “Sure feels like a Monday.”
“How’s Mari doing with the hatchlings?”
Charlie shrugged. “Fine. She’s a bit scorched, but that’s to be expected. Barely had two minutes of floo time to speak to her, though.” He laid his hand on Ron’s knee. “She’dve been here if she could, you know that.”
Ron nodded. “Sure, I know.” He held up his shackled wrists. “She’ll be able to get caught up rather easily, I should think. Coming soon to a video shop near you, yeah?”
Charlie laughed. “Too right, that.”
They both leaned forward to stare at the mass of reporters.
“They never give up, do they?” Ron observed.
Ron still couldn’t fathom the events that had transpired since the special team of Assault Aurors had stormed his flat. The day had been a blur of shouting media types, mug shots, fingerprints, hasty interrogations, and one preliminary hearing after another. The authorities had allowed Remus and Charlie to remain at his side throughout, in no small part due to his brother Percy’s express personal orders.
His solicitor, a one Horatio Tudbuckle, was unequivocally positive that he’d be found innocent of all charges. Mr. Tudbuckle had also graciously offered to act on Ron’s behalf should any civil charges be filed against him.
Ron supposed that he really must make amends with Percy, as he was certain that his brother, the Minister, had been solely responsible for calling the Wizengamot into session during their normal spring recess.
“You okay?” Charlie asked, jolting Ron from his reverie.
“Yeah, yeah, just thinking.”
“Knut for ‘em.”
“I’m worried, Charlie.”
Charlie nodded, making an expansive gesture. “To be expected, little bro.”
Ron shook his head. “No, I don’t mean all this.” He would have mimicked his brother’s gesture almost perfectly if it hadn‘t been for the shackles. “I feel pretty good about Remus’ assessment that I’ll be acquitted. And even though old Tudbuckle doesn’t look like much, he sure as shite knows his stuff.”
“So what is it then?”
Ron snorted. “I was craving fish today, Charlie.”
“As much as I understand that I wasn’t myself, that the essence of that sick bastard Lillywhite was having his way with me and my body, I just can’t shake the idea that there was something of me in there too, that I was an accomplice of sorts, going along with the whole thing.”
“That’s crap, and you know it.”
Ron took a deep breath and gazed into his brother’s eyes. “I truly wish I could be sure, Charlie. Why did I go to that pub? Why did I pursue gay blokes? Short blokes with dark hair? Lillywhite wasn’t queer, we know that now. He…he only murdered young girls. And the snakes--what about those?. Yeah, he was a Slytherin, but no records can be found that indicate that he had anything to do with reptiles or that he could speak parseltongue. So clearly, there‘s more to all this than Remus says. This was a merging of our personalities, Charlie. I‘m down in there, too. I‘m probably as complicit as Lillywhite is in all this.”
Charlie rubbed at his forehead. “Nope. Sorry, bro, but you’re reading far too much into it.”
Ron laughed. “Right. Tell that to the families of the men I murdered.” He held up his hands, the shackles clinking. “I’ll never get the blood off, Charlie. Never.”
“Good Godric, Ron,” Charlie sighed. “I hate it when you do this. As horrible as the last few days have been, it’s times like this when I’m worried most. When you give up hope. When you give up on yourself and ignore how fucking wonderful you truly are. Don’t do that, okay? I’ve never known anyone more loyal or steadfast or hardworking. You risked your life during the War countless times, and Merlin only knows how many innocent lives you saved in the process. Give yourself some credit for once, okay, kiddo?” He took a deep, shuddering breath and leaned his head on Ron’s shoulder. “There’s no way I could be prouder of you.”
“Charlie, I didn’t mean…I’m sorry,” Ron answered, his voice unsteady. “It’s all so fucked up. My head’s in a muddle. Not that there’s anything new about that.”
Charlie sat up and stared at Ron, actually growling. Without warning, he punched Ron in the shoulder.
“Yowch!” Ron yelped. “What the hell was that for?”
Charlie folded his arms and cocked his head to one side.
“Oh,” Ron said, nodding. “Right.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said, folding his arms across his chest. “Can’t believe you’ve forgotten about rule number four.”
“I thought it was number three,” Ron shot back, furrowing his brow. “You and Bill and all of your rules.”
“Spare the wand, spoil the child,” Charlie replied with a slight grin.
“And say something stupid, get a punch,” Charlie said. “It was four.”
Ron nodded. “Thanks for the reminder.”
“Anytime, little bro.”
Kingsley then patted Remus on the back and strode off, turning to give Ron a thumbs up before disappearing into the throng of media.
“That’s a very good sign,” Remus said, nodding.
“What’s that?” Charlie asked.
“Kingsley has been gracious enough to relate to me that he has it on very good authority that five of the twelve magistrates have already gone on record that after examining all of the evidence, they plan to acquit Ron of all charges.”
Charlie whooped loudly, reaching over to muss Ron’s hair. “There! See? Everything’s gonna be fine!”
Ron snorted. “I’ll feel better when that’s seven.”
“Too right,” Charlie said, chuckling.
A loud burst of cheering erupted from the throng of media, and Remus, Charlie and Ron all turned in unison toward the crowd. There was a wave of flashbulbs, and the two security Aurors converged on a lone figure emerging from the roiling mass of journalists.
A moment later the pair of Aurors parted, and the person very nearly ran down the corridor toward them.
Remus nodded and stepped away as Charlie stood up, lifting Ron to his feet. Charlie shoved his little brother forward, laughing out loud.
Harry skidded to a halt bare inches from Ron, his hair a disheveled mess, still wearing his rather wrinkled and decidedly muddy practice outfit. “Hey,” he said, clearly out of breath. “Sorry it took me so long. The flight was delayed and the bloody airline lost my bags. I really miss the trans-atlantic floo.” He smiled widely, taking a step toward Ron. “You okay, love?”
“Hey,” Ron said, lifting his shackled wrists.
Harry stepped forward, slipping under Ron’s arms, embracing him and burying his head into Ron’s chest.
Ron lowered his arms, hugging Harry tightly. “Yeah, I’m okay,” he said, closing his eyes. “Everything’s okay, now.”
~~~~ fin ~~~~
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