Out of the Shadows and Into the Night (Chapter 3: Ankle Deep)

September 1st was rapidly approaching and Ron was starting to feel very nervous.  Wormtail had been at the castle for a few weeks, following Snape at the end of the professor’s summer holidays.  Not that he needs to get the feel of the castle, Ron thought.

What was really bugging him was the fact that he would have to face Harry and Hermione again.  Being a death-eater was fine away from the castle, but once he was back, it would be a lot more work to keep up the façade in front of the two people that knew him best.  He started to make a mental checklist of things that he couldn’t do around his two friends.  1: no pulling up my sleeve, I need to keep long sleeves on at all times.  2: avoid the shower when it is full.  3: avoid talking about the Dark Lord.  4: Avoid trouble so that I don’t get sent to Dumbledore’s office.

When he was satisfied that he had a thorough list, he stood up and started packing his things.  Maybe the year would be fun after all.

*                    *                    *

Once he was on the Hogwarts Express, Ron breathed a sigh of relief.  It had taken all of his will not to walk around and find Harry and Hermione.  He knew where they would be: the prefect and head student compartments at the front of the train.  For that reason, he chose a compartment towards the back that was mercifully empty.  Hopefully Harry and Hermione would be too involved in their snogging to notice that he hadn’t seen them.  If they did walk in, he had an excuse prepared: He wasn’t a prefect or head boy, so he wasn’t allowed in their compartment.  Satisfied that they would believe his excuse, he conjured a pillow and blanket, stretched out on the bench, and drifted off to sleep.

Several hours later, he was rudely awakened by the force of the door slamming open.  In an instant, his wand was in his hand, and a hex on his lips.  It was only Malfoy.

“What do you want, Malfoy?”  He asked irritably.  At the same time, he waved his wand to clear away his comfortable bedding.

“We need to talk, Weasley,” Malfoy said in his typical drawling, snobby voice.  “The Dark Lord may approve of you and your plans, but you are a Gryffindor, and I don’t trust you.  I don’t care what Voldemort thinks.” He spat the word ‘Gryffindor’ with his characteristic hatred.

“If that’s all you wanted to say, then I suggest you leave.  Unless you want a repeat of the incident from three years ago.”  Ron snarled.  Once again, his voice surprised him.  Maybe it wasn’t just from the curse.

“Fine.  Just remember, I don’t trust you farther than I can spit.”  With those final words, he left, slamming the door a second time.

Ron conjured the pillows and blankets again; hoping that this time, whoever woke him would be nicer about it.

He was right about the kindness of the second, but it was Harry, the one person he wasn’t ready to face.  He quickly looked down to check that his arm was covered, and was immensely relieved to see that it was.

“Ron! Where have you been!  Hermione’s been worried sick that you missed the train, or something.  Why didn’t you find us when you got on?” Harry asked.  His expression was a mixture of relief and puzzlement.

“I … I didn’t think that I would be able to be in your compartment.  It’s reserved for prefects and heads, isn’t it?”  Despite his well-prepared excuse, he stuttered a little bit, feeling guilty about lying to Harry.

“You know that you are welcome anytime, don’t you?  I mean even if we are the head students, you are still our best friend.”  Harry said.

“Sorry, but I did need to catch up on some sleep.  I haven’t been sleeping well for a while.” He wasn’t lying this time.  Voldemort often called in the dead of night, but Ron had been excluded from most of the meetings.  But once he was awakened because of the burning in the mark, he often found it hard to return to sleep.  Half of him was angry that Voldemort wasn’t calling him, and the other half carried twinges of guilt about betraying his friends, family, professors, and Dumbledore.  He always managed to brush away those feelings, and it was mostly the anger that kept him up at night.

“Well, wake up, we’re almost there.  I’ll let you get changed on your own.”  For the first time, Ron noticed that Harry was in his school uniform, complete with the Head Boy badge, still shiny from the countless times Percy had polished it, and the Quidditch captain pin, covered in dirt, reminiscent of Oliver Wood.

Harry gave him one last smile before walking out and gently closing the door behind him.  As soon as the door clicked into place, Ron breathed a sigh of relief.  One down, one to go.  Acting normal in front of Hermione would be harder, she was always so much more observant than Harry.  He would have to be very careful in front of her.  And Harry, for that matter, since he would probably be discussing everything with her.  He would just have to watch what he said and did carefully when he was around either of them.  While he was changing, he mentally ran through his checklist, and when he was fully clothed, he was confident that he could act normally in front of the rest of the house, and most likely in front of Harry and Hermione, but hopefully they would be too wrapped up in each other to notice any off behavior on his part.  Just remember Weasley, keep your arm covered.

He glanced once more at his arm, as though expecting the mark to show through the sleeve, when it didn’t, he took a deep breath and walked out of the compartment to try to find his fellow Gryffindors.

*                    *                    *


Ron looked around in the direction his name came from.  Great.  Just whom I wanted to see.  Harry and Hermione came running up the path from the front of the train.

“There you are!” Harry exclaimed, out of breath.  Ron scowled internally as he noticed his friends’ fingers intertwined between them.  He pretended to be happy, and smiled at them.  He hoped that they wouldn’t notice how forced it was.

Hermione dropped Harry’s hand, and gave Ron a quick hug.  Harry gave him a quick one before joining hands with Hermione again.  He noticed Hermione was also wearing the Head Girl badge, though it wasn’t as shiny as Harry’s.

“Well,” Ron started as a way to break the silence, “why are we standing around?  I believe that the feast is about to start.  I’m starving!”

“Always thinking of your stomach, eh Ron?”  Harry joked, giving Ron a playful punch in the shoulder.

Ron winced as Harry’s fist connected with him.  Even though it was through his clothes, Ron could feel the slight burn of Harry’s tough.  5: don’t touch Harry.   After committing the last item on his checklist to memory, he followed Harry and Hermione to the carriages, hoping that Harry wouldn’t see Wormtail during the feast.

*                    *                    *

The feast went better than he had hoped, and soon he found himself once again trailing Harry and Hermione up to Gryffindor Tower.  By the time they reached the fat lady, Ron had started to feel somewhat guilty.  He didn’t belong in Gryffindor anymore.  He belonged with Malfoy and Crabbe and Goyle in Slytherin.  But then he thought of the advantages he would be able to provide for his master.  A way into Harry Potter’s room and life.

For the rest of the night, he sat and stared into the fire while Harry and Hermione chatted.  To make them think that he was really paying attention, he interjected a few comments here and there, mostly about the looming war, and the attacks that had happened over the summer.  He could tell that Harry felt guilty about not being able to save the people that had died, but he saw that it was Hermione’s job to comfort him.

Finally, around 11pm, Harry and Hermione stood up to go to bed.  Instead of separating at the bottom of the separate boy’s and girl’s staircases, they went together to a tapestry between the two.  Harry muttered something under his breath, and a door appeared.  They disappeared inside, together.

Damn.  Master won’t be too pleased at this.  I can get someone into the common room, and locate their door, but I can’t get inside.  Maybe this is going to be harder than I thought.  He would just have to make sure that they still trusted him enough to give him their password.  It would take every bit of energy he had to convince them that he was still their friend, when he wanted nothing more than to stay away from them.

He sat staring into the fire for a few more hours before he realized that the common room was deserted.  He yawned, stretched, and headed to bed.  He almost screamed when he saw the rat curled up on his pillow.  He knew right away that it was Wormtail, but he welcomed the rat’s presence.  Maybe, just for one night, he could pretend that everything was the same as it used to be.  Harry asleep in the bed next to him (he noticed that there were only 4 beds in the dormitory this year), Hermione in her dormitory, and Scabbers asleep in his bed.  While he knew that the first two couldn’t possibly happen this year, Scabbers really was in his bed, and even though he knew what the rat really was, it was a comfort to have his old pet back.

*                    *                    *

The next morning was worse than he though.  Ron woke up to Harry’s persistent poking, and he knew that when he went to shower, there would be little fingerprint-sized burns on his skin.

“Go away, Potter!” he said crankily.  Quickly, he realized what he said.  Luckily for him, Harry seemed to take it as his normal morning grumpiness.

“Ron, if you don’t hurry up, you’ll miss breakfast, then Hermione and I will have to listen to you complaining about your stomach all morning.  So get up!”

Ron groaned, and Harry took that as a yes.  At least, he left the room, and left Ron to his own devices.  Ron dressed quickly, and went downstairs to find Harry and Hermione engaged in a morning snog.  Without a word, he walked past them, and headed down to breakfast, his stomach growling in agreement.

When his friends showed up a few (15) minutes later, they acted as though they were surprised to see him there.

“We didn’t know you were already down here.  We waited for you for a while, but you never showed up,” Hermione commented, “I guess that’s because you left before us.”

Does snogging kill that may brain cells?  Before they were together, she wouldn’t have felt the need for such a useless comment.  Guess Harry’s obliviousness has been rubbing off on her.  Instead of voicing his thoughts, he gave them a quick smile, and placed the rest of his concentration of eating his breakfast.

When he was finished, he mumbled some excuse about having to go get his stuff up in the tower (which was true, he HAD left all of his books there), and quickly left the table, aware of the two pairs of eyes, one green and one brown, boring a hole into his back.

He looked at his schedule, which he had grabbed before leaving the table, to see what classes he had today.  Potions, damn it, paired with slytherin again.  Herbology, double with Hufflepuff.  Divination.  History of Magic.  When he reached is dorms, he grabbed all of his necessary books and his wand, and made his way down to potions early.

Even though he had left breakfast early, the trip to the tower took longer than he thought, and he had to make a mad dash to be on time for potions.  Even though Snape was on his side, he knew that to keep pretenses up, his tardiness would cost points.  He managed to make it into the room about two seconds before the bell rang, and the only seat left was the one his friends had saved for him, right next to them.

The period was torturous.  They had each been given individual assignments, and it seemed that Snape was trying to target all of their weaknesses.  His potion was a pain-reducing potion, Harry was making a power-inducing potion that was fairly complex, and Hermione was brewing a universal protection potion, which was strong enough to protect the drinker from Avada Kedavara, if brewed correctly.

He knew Snape was out for vengeance with that one, since no one had brewed it correctly for over five hundred years, according to the history books.  And from what he could see of Hermione’s concentration, she wouldn’t do it either.  Harry, on the other hand, seemed to be completely absorbed in his task.  Ron thought that he possibly had a chance to do it correctly.

Since Ron was completely wrapped up in thinking about his friend’s possible failures, he failed to notice that he had botched his own.  In an instant, his cauldron had melted Neville-style, and his potion was flowing through the dungeon.

“Weasley!  I thought that only Longbottom was capable of melting a cauldron with such a simple potion.  Thirty points from Gryffindor, and detention with me tonight.  Class dismissed.”

The rest of the day was as bad as potions had been.  He got tangled in a Devil’s snare in herbology, received a death prediction from Trelawney (he would die at Harry’s side, after they had defeated he-who-must-not-be-named (Ron laughed at the irony)), and was hit by a quiz in history of magic.

And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t avoid Harry and Hermione.  They insisted on tagging along after him no matter how much he told them to go and have some time to themselves.

“But Ron,” Harry protested, “we had time together all summer, and we missed you.”

“Really, Harry, just go and enjoy your time with Hermione,” her replied every time Harry hit him with the protest.  In the end, Harry caved, but soon Hermione started bugging him, too.  It was harder to lie to her.

About a hundred repetitions of his protest later, it was time for his detention.  He made a show of not wanting to go spend a few hours with Snape, and left quickly.  He was almost in the dungeon classroom when the mark started to burn.  He met Snape at the door, and was quickly pulled inside, the door locked, and the fireplace lit.

Snape didn’t say anything.  He just stepped into the fire and touched his mark.  Ron followed his example, and soon found himself in the somewhat familiar chambers of the Dark Lord.

“Welcome back, my faithful servants…”


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