The Wrong Ron
Standing in the Hospital Wing with Lucius Malfoy dead before him, Harry turned to face Professor Dumbledore with a look of utter confusion on his face.
‘I’m sorry Professor, what was that?’ he asked, wanting to make sure he had actually heard Dumbledore correctly.
‘Voldemort has assumed the form of Ron Weasley in order to gain access to Hogwarts,’ replied the Headmaster solemnly.
‘But how?’ asked Harry, still trying to catch up with everything that was going on.
‘The Dark Lord is very powerful, as you well know, and he is highly skilled in many forms of magic that we do not teach here at Hogwarts for various reasons.’
‘So he’s transfigured himself to look like Ron?’
‘Something along those lines, yes, but transfiguring an object or small animal is nothing like transfiguring a fully-grown human, that is much harder. The effects of the spell he has cast are similar to those of the Polyjuice Potion, except for the fact that Voldemort used a spell advanced enough to not need Polyjuice, which if you remember from your lessons takes a full month to brew.’
‘I see,’ said Harry, as he looked from Dumbledore to the corpse of the former Lucius Malfoy before bowing his head gloomily.
‘However,’ said Dumbledore, sensing Harry’s anxiety that his best friend might be dead. ‘We can take some small crumb of comfort from the fact that the spell Voldemort has used requires that Ron remain alive for the illusion to stay complete.’ At this Harry looked up and there were tears clearly welling up in his eyes. Dumbledore smiled and placed a reassuring hand on Harry’s shoulder before continuing. ‘Which is just another reason why we must defeat him, Ron is safe as far as his life is concerned as long as Voldemort continues to impersonate him, but we must act fast. Tom Riddle is many things but a fool he is not, he will no doubt be aware that I am familiar with the type of magic he has used and therefore he will at least suspect that I know he is not Ron, but what we know cannot leave this room.’
‘What about Hermione?’ said Harry. ‘She and Ron…’
‘No one must know,’ said Dumbledore sternly. ‘The more people that know about this the more potential danger there will be. Voldemort is a powerful Legimens and if someone not skilled in the art of Occlumency were to find out that the Ron Weasley currently roaming the corridors of Hogwarts was in fact The Dark Lord he would be able to read it in them in a heartbeat.’
‘Concerning Draco, Headmaster,’ ventured Professor Snape.
‘We tell him nothing,’ said Dumbledore after a moments thought. ‘As I understand it, young Draco has had no contact whatsoever with his father since Lucius escaped from Azkaban and better the boy go on believing his father is in hiding somewhere than dead. Lucius was loyal to The Dark Lord to the end but Voldemort sacrificed him so casually that telling Draco could put the boy’s life in danger.’
‘So we just go about pretending like this Ron isn’t Voldemort and the real Ron isn’t missing?’ asked Harry, a hint of defiance in his voice.
‘I am afraid we have no choice,’ said Dumbledore, knowing full well how hard the situation must have been for Harry. ‘We do not yet know the full extent of Voldemort’s plans and if his cover is blown things could go horribly wrong very quickly. As hard as it may be for the time being we have to at least make it look like we are none the wiser. It won’t be easy but this will be a true test of your skills as a Legimens, Harry.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘As I said, Voldemort is a powerful Legimens and he is going to be searching people’s minds for information that could prove useful to him, but it is imperative that you keep your mind closed to him. If he manages to gain access to your mind he will undoubtedly find out that you know he is not Ron and I cannot imagine the outcome of that being any good whatsoever.’
‘But I’m not sure if I’m ready,’ protested Harry.
‘You have come along very well in your training and while you may not be a fully fledged Legimens I have every confidence that you will at least be able to keep Voldemort out of your head until he can be dealt with.’
‘How long will that be?’ asked Harry, worried that he did not have what it took to keep his mind off limits.
‘That I cannot answer, but you should be constantly on your guard for attempts to intrude on your mind.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ said Harry, squaring his shoulders.
‘Good, and the same goes for you, Severus,’ said Dumbledore, turning his attention to the Potions Master. ‘I am sure I do not need to stress the importance of Voldemort not discovering your involvement with the Order of The Phoenix.’
‘Yes, Headmaster,’ said Snape.
‘We can only hope that Voldemort can be defeated before he can execute his plans, whatever they may be.’
‘I just hope Ron’s okay,’ said Harry quietly.
‘As do I, Harry. As do I. Now, it is my sad duty to make the final arrangements for Lucius.’
Somewhere deep in the Forbidden Forest, guarded by several Death Eaters, Ron Weasley sat in amongst the bracken, gagged and bound, but apart from some minor cuts and bruises remained unharmed, for now.
* * *
While Harry continued to worry for the safety of his best friend, the apparent death of Lord Voldemort was the talk of the school. Everywhere Harry went he caught snippets of conversations about how fantastic it was that The Dark Lord was defeated, and it got to him so much that sometimes he felt like screaming the truth from the top of his lungs. As if listening to his fellow students rejoice over the death of Lord Voldemort was not bad enough, having to pretend everything was okay in the presence of The Dark Lord, ably disguised as Ron Weasley, was sheer torture. He could not let on that he knew and the constant urge to hex the impostor Ron to Hell and back was almost too much to bear. Somehow though, he managed to keep a lid on his feelings and prevent the disgust that crept into his stomach whenever Ron was around from betraying him.
The very worst part was seeing Hermione treat The Dark Lord like her absent boyfriend. It had not taken long for the news that Ron and Hermione were an item to get around the school so Harry had to fight back the urge to wince every time Hermione greeted the fake Ron with a kiss or a hug.
Harry had not had much contact with Dumbledore since their revelation in the Hospital Wing, they had called a halt to their private tutorials, as Harry would not need to continue learning Occlumency if The Dark Lord were dead, and after declining his fifth invitation to a celebratory party one afternoon he bumped into Hermione near the library.
‘Oh Harry, hi,’ said Hermione, a small stack of books in her arms.
‘Hi,’ said Harry, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.
‘You busy?’ she asked, shifting the weight of her books to a more comfortable position.
‘Not really,’ shrugged Harry.
‘Fancy a walk?’
‘Great, just let me drop these off and I’ll be right with you.’
After Hermione had stowed her books in her room she and Harry made their way to the main entrance and down the lawn towards the lake. The weather straddled the line between cold and warm and a light breeze ruffled their hair.
‘Harry, is everything okay?’ asked Hermione after they had been walking in silence for a moment or two.
‘Hmm, what? Oh, yes, fine.’
‘It’s just that you’ve seemed a little withdrawn lately.’
‘It’s not me and Ron, is it?’
‘What?’ asked Harry, his attention catching at the mention of Ron. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, it’s just that we don’t want you to feel like a third wheel or anything,’ said Hermione shyly. ‘We still want to hang out with you and everything.’
‘Thanks, I appreciate that,’ said Harry, forcing a weak smile.
‘I just wanted to clear that up,’ said Hermione, smiling. ‘Ron and I are still the same people we’ve always been.’
I wouldn’t bet on it, thought Harry before he could stop himself. ‘I know, don’t worry about it,’ he said, cursing his thoughts.
‘Hey you guys, wait up!’ came the voice of Ron as Harry and Hermione were about to carry on walking.
‘Ron!’ squeaked Hermione happily, opening her arms for him to run into so she could hug him. Harry did his best not to look or feel too angry as the thing that looked every bit like Ron but was not Ron jogged across the grass and into an embrace with Hermione.
‘Trying to steal my girl, eh?’ said Ron light-heartedly, as he slid an arm around Hermione’s shoulder.
‘Oh Ron, behave,’ said Hermione jovially, as she reached up to hold the hand that was dangling over her shoulder. Harry just smiled.
‘So, what were you guys talking about?’ asked Ron, as they began to walk around the lake.
‘Oh, not much,’ said Harry quickly.
‘Sure is good news about Voldemort, eh?’ said Ron, looking at both Hermione and Harry.
‘That’s got to be the first time I’ve ever heard you use his name, Ron,’ said Hermione, giving his hand an affectionate squeeze.
‘Well he’s dead now, isn’t he?’ grinned Ron. ‘Nothing to worry about anymore.’
You lying toad, thought Harry in a flash of anger. ‘Except his Death Eaters,’ he said, checking Ron’s expression to see if his lapse had been noticed.
‘Yeah but they won’t do much with him dead, will they?’
‘I suppose,’ said Harry, almost to himself. Walking around the lake in the late afternoon with one of his best friends and his mortal enemy was a strange feeling. The anger and hatred towards the man who killed his parents collided violently with his desire to see the real Ron returned safely and it was all he could do to not pull his wand on the boy with his arm draped over Hermione’s shoulder.
* * *
Harry had faced Voldemort at least three times and encountered numerous dangers since starting at Hogwarts, but having The Dark Lord parade around as his best friend with nothing he could do about it was quite possibly the hardest thing Harry had ever had to do. The struggle to keep his thoughts and emotions from betraying him was a terrible strain and by the time he climbed into bed that night he was exhausted. He fell quickly to sleep and it was not long before the dreams came.
Harry found himself wandering the corridors of Hogwarts, fully dressed as if he were moving from one lesson to another, but there was no one else around. Every classroom and every corridor that he found himself in was totally empty. Even the portrait frames were bereft of their usual occupants, and not a single ghost appeared through any wall or door, not even Peeves who could always be counted on to break any silence, Hogwarts was empty.
Walking the halls, Harry started to become aware of a feeling that he could not shake, he was not in fact alone. The more he walked the more intense this feeling became, until Harry was circling in the middle of a corridor looking for something, anything.
You know, don’t you?
The words came to him on the cusp of hearing, as light as a whisper but with them came a cold dread that filled his body like cold, dark ink. Staring this way and that, Harry looked wildly around for the owner of the voice but all he saw were shadows and the empty corridor in which he stood. Breathing rapidly, Harry nearly yelped the next time the voice sounded in his ears.
I know you know.
Spurred by fear, Harry started to run, he didn’t know where he was going but his instincts told him to get away from where he was, and as fast as possible. Passing endless classrooms and stairways, Harry ploughed through the corridors of Hogwarts before he collided full force with a solid object that he could swear should not be there. Sitting in a crumpled, sweaty heap on the floor, Harry adjusted his glasses and looked up to see what he had run into.
Fighting back the shock, Harry thought back to the conversations he had had with Dumbledore about Sirius’ recent presence in his dreams and how it was quite possibly his late godfather offering what little help he could in the fight against Voldemort.
‘Sirius, Voldemort’s here,’ said Harry, still somewhat out of breath from his impromptu sprint through Hogwarts. ‘He knows I know, I can hear him. What do I do?’ Sirius said nothing, but instead smiled warmly at Harry before his body started to shift, indicating that he was transforming into animal form. Harry had seen this numerous times in the past so it didn’t shock him, but instead of the shaggy black dog that Sirius usually changed into a unicorn stood where the man had been, its shimmering body almost too bright for Harry to look at.
‘Sirius?’ said Harry, cautiously, wondering whether this really was his godfather. The unicorn dipped its head in a gesture that seemed to confirm that it was indeed Sirius and before Harry knew what was happening the unicorn stopped low and slid its muscular neck in between Harry’s legs, lifting him easily onto its back. As soon as Harry was seated across the powerful creature it took off, hurtling through the castle at breakneck speed. Sparks flew from under its hooves as Harry clung for dear life on to the silvery mane of the mighty beast and in no time at all they were out of the castle and the unicorn had leaped the stairs and landed effortlessly on the grassy slope. With not even a second’s pause the animal was powering on, heading in the direction of Hagrid’s cabin. Harry hid his head in the smooth locks of the mane as the cabin became dangerously close, and when Harry was sure they would slam into the solid wood the unicorn reared up and kicked the door in as if it were nothing. Looking up Harry saw Ron and Hermione sitting on Hagrid’s massive bed and no words needed to be spoken when Harry saw the cruel and malicious grin crease Ron’s normally amiable face.
Harry awoke once again with his sheets in tangles and his dorm mates surrounding his bed, now looking more perturbed than concerned. Harry reached for his glasses with a shaking hand as Dean Thomas addressed him with an annoyed tone.
‘For God’s sake Harry, can’t we get one decent night’s sleep without you screaming the place down? Voldemort’s dead, give it a rest will you?’
‘No, he’s alive,’ said Harry, as he flung the sweat-drenched sheets off of his legs and started towards the door.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Dean, fighting back a yawn, but Harry did not answer. Instead he took off out of the room at a run, Hagrid’s cabin his destination. Sunlight streamed through the windows as he bolted down corridors and staircases, almost knocking several people over as he rocketed past. When he reached the entrance hall he saw Dumbledore striding purposefully towards the main doors, wand in hand.
‘Professor, it’s…’ began Harry.
‘I know, Harry,’ said Dumbledore, not even looking back at the boy. Running out into the mid-morning sunshine Harry blinked as he focused on Hagrid’s cabin, sitting at the far end of the lawn, just on the border of the Forbidden Forest. He had to jog to keep up with Dumbledore’s long strides as they approached the cabin and without a moment’s hesitation Dumbledore flung the door wide open to reveal Lord Voldemort sitting on Hagrid’s bed with a terrified Hermione sitting next to him.
‘And so it begins,’ hissed Voldemort.
- June 2005