Alert and Alone

It was a miserable decision for both of them, but she wanted more of him than he had to spare, than he could ever hope to offer her, so this was their final goodbye.

He used the pads of his thick fingers to create a memory of her face—the silky, sable eyebrows...long, damp lashes...a few tears resting on her cheekbones, like raindrops on the statues where he'd first found her, in Rome's wizard community.

She fisted his cardinal-red hair, wanting to give him one more chance. "Ronaldo," she said on a plea.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, brushing her tears away and cupping the side of her face, as he lowered his to meet it.

They shared a last kiss, full of passion, regret, memories...everything but love, and the beauteous Amoretta disappeared with a sigh.

Ron dropped the arms that had cradled her and returned to his bed. From his pile of pillows, he could make out objects, shadowy and ghostlike, in the still-dark room.

In the far left corner in front of a window was a leather chair and ottoman. Cissy had sat in the chair one night while he'd given her his first pedicure. He'd perched on the ottoman with her feet in his lap and she'd rubbed his head and back, offering him praise, while he painstakingly painted and they'd had a rare conversation about nothing and everything.

On the wall across from the bed was his large dresser, where Hermione had kept her clothes. He'd watch her dress, amused that she was shy to be naked in front of someone whom she'd seen almost every day since they were eleven. Or maybe that was why she'd been so timid. Was she like that now with Malfoy?

He looked toward his bathroom on the right sidor burne of his suite and smiled, recalling her ginger step as she'd approached the bed, then flung off her towel when she'd jumped into his arms. At the sound of her giggle, he turned his head.

Just to the left of his bed was the window where Cissy had stood, her skin absorbing moonlight like a sponge, until she seemed to glow a silvery shade, like the sun bringing a tan to lesser mortals, like himself.

The window panes had gone from black to a matte grey color, as the sun teased its debut, preparing to overtake the sky.

Ron huffed in irritation. He hated being alert and alone at this time of night/day. He was aware of the creaking sounds of the old house, as if it was stretching and yawning after a good night's sleep.

He rolled with a moan and bunched the pillows in arms that needed and wanted something else. Hermione had never given him back his heart and Cissy held a similar claim on his body. He'd give up a limb to be with either of them.

"Damn the Malfoy men," he muttered, clenching his eyes tight and putting a pillow over his head like earmuffs to dampen the outside noise of animals and cars beginning the day.

He had a day off, with nothing to do and no one to see, except for family and friends who all thought he was fine.

And he was fine, most of the time, except for hours like this, when women's ghosts walked across his room and through his mind, tiptoeing with a self-conscious smile, or proud and lithe in nudity.

The barking of dogs announced the sun's rise, like the cock did at the Burrow.

Ron automatically answered their yips with his own, thinking he might join them for a while. His registered Animagus was a floppy-eared hound dog, seen once or twice prowling around Hogwarts.

He groaned at the thought of that day when he'd spotted a large brown and black owl, crouched on a secluded area of the grounds, stroking a wing over a rainbow-streaked, coppery snake. He remembered his revulsion as the creatures had morphed into Hermione and Malfoy. How was he an owl and not a ferret? He'd noted that Malfoy wasn't as considerate of her trying to study as he'd always been, then left them alone, his tail drooping. As he'd come out on an area of the grounds filled with students, a boy, probably fourth year, wearing a Ravenclaw tie, had kicked him in the ribs. Ron had given chase, barking and snapping and venting his renewed outrage on the careless bully.

Another day he'd gone to Wiltshire. Cissy had said, after all, that she assumed he'd keep an eye on her, and she'd been right. He had to ensure her safety, as well as Hermione's. He'd found her in her rose garden, surrounded by blooms and perfume. Malfoy Senior had joined her while Ron watched, and she'd smiled, tossing her sunny blond hair with what looked like happiness, until her husband had gripped her arms and kissed her neck. Ron saw her wince.

He'd snarled. Did the long-haired louse not know or care that her right arm was sensitive, a result of a curse placed by her big sister Bellatrix when they were little girls? He'd never done more than graze that spot or tenderly kiss it.

He imagined doing so now, with the sun beaming disdainful rays in his windows, urging him to stop trying to hide from the world and dwelling in his discontent on things he no longer had.

Stubbornly, he ignored it, as Hermione whimpered from lack of attention on his other side, and he turned to her, gathering both women into his arms momentarily, until his self-preservation instincts snapped him back to reality.

Ron jumped from the bed, as if there were a troll in it, and flew through his morning calisthenics, stretching, breathing hard and burning off some of the tension he'd created in his body. He summoned a mug of the coffee from downstairs when he smelled it brewing, the aroma of reason.

As he showered, dressed and shook himself out of his malaise, Ron knew he should find a dinner/after dinner date for tonight.

He wasn't going to have another morning like this, not if he could help it. He left his room and slammed his door with resentment and a final unpleasant thought: "Damn the Malfoy men."

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