The End of the Beginning

Chapter 22

Content had never been a word to describe Ron's existence.

There had always been older brothers to live up to, a romantic interest that always did better at nearly everything, not to mention being friends with the guy who was the savior of the wizarding world. Twice.

But now? None of that bothered him anymore. He had been through too much and lost too much in the past year to let simple things bother him anymore.

Besides, he was just starting to realize just how good he really had it.

Poor Harry had been inundated with thank you cards and gifts the moment he had returned to England. He refused to go in public anymore unless it was necessary because he couldn't go anywhere without a crowd forming around him. The boy had never been comfortable with fame of any kind and found his new status more cumbersome and embarrassing than anything. Even Ron, who had used to yearn for the sort of spotlight Harry always had, didn't envy him.

Hermione's parents, while they had been more than happy to have their memories and their daughter back, had decided for the time being to stay in Australia. They corresponded frequently, but he could tell by the look that crossed Hermione's face when she read their letters that there were still some tensions in the Granger family.

"Ron? Could you help me slice the potatoes for supper?" his mother's voice called from the kitchen.

"Coming."

Ron made his way to the kitchen and successfully bewitched a knife to slice the freshly peeled potatoes. The slices weren't exactly even, but he was still getting the hang of some of the more domestic charms.

There was also the small matter of the way the Harry and Hermione acted around each other. To the untrained eye, nothing had changed. Harry and Hermione were still Harry and Hermione, the best of friends. However, Ron noticed that there was something new about them.

It was little things: Harry taking Hermione's dishes with his and Ginny's at the end of meals, Hermione's eyes lingering a bit longer on Harry when he left the room, Hermione ruffling Harry's hair, or Harry actually paying attention when Hermione went on her long diatribes.

Finishing the potatoes and moving now to the sink to wash some vegetables, he had to try three times before he got the hang of the simple wand flick to make them move and wash themselves.

Unfortunately, he didn't think he was the only one to notice this new level of friendship between Harry and Hermione. Ginny had been upset when he told her about his and Hermione's relationship ending, but he thought it suspicious that she could still be upset about that now. He caught Ginny throwing Hermione dirty looks when she had her back turned and there definitely seemed to be a rift between the former friends.

No, Ron couldn't be more grateful to avoid the problems his two closest friends were dealing with. He was more than happy to enjoy his friends and family now that the pallor of Fred's death had finally seemed to lift from the house. It wasn't that the pain was gone, but it no longer seemed to be sucking the life out of them.

His father and Percy had both returned to work and Ginny had returned from her stay at the Lovegood's with Luna in tow. Even George smiled from time to time, though he still hadn't returned to the joke shop. Angelina was managing things at the moment with occasional help from Ron, but she came over at least once a week to ask George to come back. Every time George maintained that he would return, but that it just wasn't time yet. Nobody begrudged him taking his time.

Finishing his work in the kitchen, Ron decided t take a stroll through the woods. He followed the little river where he and Hermione had once chased each other before settling down in the shade a tree was providing over a large, flat rock at the river's edge.

To top off his good fortune, he was even returning to Hogwarts. He had been ambivalent when Hermione had first brought it up, but the closer he came to the first of September, the happier he was to be returning for his real final year.

It seemed too good to be true that he would finally have a normal year, where he could enjoy the simple pleasures of school life without having to worry about nefarious plots and evil sorcerers. Sure the schoolwork was a pain, but he missed quidditch games, Hagrid, Hogsmeade weekends, and the easy companionship of life in Gryffindor tower. Besides, he was sure he and Harry were going to find plenty of ways to make their seventh year a memorable one. They still had the cloak after all….

"Hey mate, mind if I join you?"

He had never heard Harry coming. The guy had developed into quite the sneak.

"Of course."

Harry plopped down beside him, skipping a stone that had caught underneath his leg across the slow moving water.

"Seems unreal to be heading back."

"Unreal? Yes. Brilliant though." He replied. "You and Ginny alright?"

"Yeah." Harry frowned. It made him look older and much more like the careworn Harry of the past three years than the younger, happier Harry. Ron and Hermione had talked in private about how much they wished to see that Harry again.

"Hey, at least now you'll get to have class with her too. It'll be strange, being a year behind."

"Yeah." Suddenly, Harry's face lit up in a genuine smile. "I nearly forgot to tell you, Neville's coming back!"

Ron grinned back. "Really? He finished though right?"

"Not exactly, they didn't really have any exams after the battle. Besides, he said he spent more time in detention or hiding from the Carrows than actually getting an education."

Ron chuckled. So they wouldn't be the only students making up a year. It would be nice to have a familiar face in class.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before a loud bell tolling came drifting through the trees.

"Time to eat!" Ron jumped up excitedly.

"Race you there." Harry had already took off.

"No fair!" Ron shouted and chased after him. Luckily his long legs made up for the late start and they reached the back door to the Burrow at the same time, huffing for breath.

"Tie." They said together.

Dinners at the Burrow had always been his favorite part of being a Weasley. They may not have had much, but Ron wouldn't trade the bustling chatter and clatter of silverware that accompanied the wonderful food his mother made for anything.

The chatter was particularly noisy tonight, as there was only three days left before Hogwarts term began. Hermione was chatting away with Arthur and Percy about N.E.W.T.'s. Harry, Ginny, and George were talking rapid fire about the Gryffindor quidditch team. Molly was politely listening to Luna talk about her travel plans for after graduation.

It was then that he caught it. He had turned to ask his father what his test scores had been when he noticed Hermione was not looking at Arthur anymore, but was looking across the table concernedly at Harry.

Harry, he was just now noticing, wasn't as invested in his conversation as he looked. His eyes had a faraway look to them and he was frowning. Sensing someone's eyes on him, Harry looked first at Ron, giving him a faint smile before turning to Hermione. His face relaxed and he gave her a genuine smile.

Hermione met his smile with a concerned look. Harry's smile faded and he nodded his head slightly. Hermione raised a single eyebrow to which Harry replied by shaking his head. He smiled again reassuringly and the smile widened when Hermione smiled back. Briefly, Ron saw a look of utter contentment flash across both his friends faces before both of them abruptly turned and rejoined their respective conversations.

I'll never quite understand those two.

They had literally just had an entire conversation without saying a word to one another, and no one other than him was any the wiser. It baffled him to no end the connection they seemed to have. He wondered briefly what it was they had been "talking" about.

Ron laughed to himself. He was sure whatever it was, they would fill him in later. They always did. Besides, nowadays it was sure not to involve the kinds of things those conversations used to mean. He was content to wait and see.

He spent the rest of the night gazing fondly around the table at the family and friends he loved so much. Yes, Ron Weasley was content. Very content indeed.

Ron woke the next morning to his door banging open and a high pitched squeal of delight. Before he could fully get his bearings, something light landed on his sheets and his view was obscured by Hermione's bushy hair.

"Our Hogwarts letter are here! Finally!" he heard her tear into hers and disappear behind the parchment. Opening his own, he was surprised to find two badges instead of one. The first was his prefect badge, and the second was in Gryffindor colors with a large "C" on it.

"What's…?"

Hermione laughed, beaming at him. "You're Quidditch Captain now Ron."

"But Harry…"

"Harry turned it down. The Headmistress wrote him to ask him if he wanted it a week ago and he declined. He didn't want it. He said you would make a better captain than him anyways."

She was still smiling at him while Ron processed this new information. Him, Quidditch Captain. It made his chest swell.

"Brilliant. I'll have to thank him." He looked over to see Harry's bed already empty. "Where's Harry?"

"He went to see Teddy today. He wanted to spend some time with him before we left for Hogwarts. He left early this morning."

He had nearly forgotten that Harry had a godson now. An orphan godson at that.

"Well remind me to check with you to book Harry for appointments." He grinned at Hermione. She scowled back at him.

"I'm not his secretary."

"No, you just happen to know what he's up to at all times and what his plans are."

"It's not my fault he…"

"Hermione I'm kidding." He patted her arm. She huffed out a breath before taking on a radiant smile. "What is it 'Mione?"

"I'm head girl!" she squealed, shoving a shiny badge with the letters "HG" on it in his face.

"Haha, funny how those are your initials. Congrats. No one deserves it more than you." She swooped down to give him a hug. "I wonder if that means…" he looked at the unopened letter in her hand. Hermione pulled it away from him.

"We're not opening Harry's letter. Your curiosity will have to wait." But Ron could hear the trepidation in her voice.

"Come on….I know you want to know if he's Head Boy." He needled, seeing the torn expressions on her face. "But okay, if you say so….we'll just wait all day until Harry comes back late tonight…"

He never finished because right then Hermione ripped open Harry's letter and let out a shriek of delight when a badge just like hers with the letters "HB" fell into her hand. She swooped down and crushed Ron in another hug.

"I knew it! I knew it! Oh, Harry! I wish he was here!"

Genuinely amused at her antics, Ron gently removed her and got up to get dressed. "Why don't you go grab Pig to write to your parents?"

"Oh, you're right! They'll be so excited! Thank you Ron!" She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before rushing out the door and down the stairs.

"As if it could have been anyone else." Ron chuckled to himself. He had a brief memory of seeing himself in the Mirror of Erised as Head Boy. Back then he had wanted so badly to one day wear the badge. Now he found he was quite happy to be content with his own badges.

He had found being a Prefect may have had its advantages, but he wasn't the biggest fan of the responsibility that came with it. Being Head Boy would have simply added on to it, especially if he was going to be Quidditch Captain as well.

He was already going over in his mind how he wanted the team to play and who would still be on the team. Most of Harry's team had been in lower years and so would be back, but they would be a year out of practice since quidditch had ceased during Snape's year as Headmaster. Open tryouts would probably be a good idea.

His mind still preoccupied on quidditch, he was ambushed in the kitchen by his mother who was over the moon about their collective achievements. He pieced together through her hyper speed chatter that Luna had been made a prefect to replace Benjamin Driggers who had died during the Battle of Hogwarts.

Knowing that his mother would be in full swing preparation mode for a big party that night, he slipped out of the kitchen to find somewhere to hide out for the next couple of hours. The joke shop seemed like a good idea. Angelina could always use the extra hands and he enjoyed the time he spent there. It hardly ever felt like work. His mind made up he walked past the apparition barriers, turned on the spot and was greeted by the noisy crowd outside of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes.

He pushed his way past the crowd to find a frazzled Angelina behind the counter.

"Ron! Thank God! The new guy never showed up! Stupid git. I could use some help!"

Ron chuckled to himself as he situated himself behind the other side of the counter. "No problem Angelina."

He turned to help a group of young kids who could have been first years at Hogwarts. Before he knew it he was neck deep in helping customers. The joke shop had always done well, even during the height of the war, but ever since the war had ended it had positively exploded. It seemed as if people were still in the celebratory mood they had been in all summer and business was booming.

He got a sense of satisfaction in knowing that these people were getting laughs and good times out of the things he sold them. He knew firsthand how much laughing helped with the healing and he was more than happy to think that this was his small way to make this new world a better one.

He had always thought about being an Auror. Following Harry into the department had always seemed like the logical choice for a career path and it still held a lot of appeal, but Ron was beginning to think that it wasn't the only career path he could see himself happy with after Hogwarts.

"Hello, Ron is it?" a soft voice pierced his daydreaming. It was a tall and willowy witch who he vaguely recognized.

"Yes, Mrs. Creevey right?" she shook her head solemnly. "What can I do for you?"

"Yes, well my little girl would like one of your Pygmy Puffs." She gave him a small smile.

"Of course and what is your name?" he bent down to be at eye level with the little girl. She was very young, maybe six years old with her brown hair in a long ponytail and bright green eyes.

"Melissa." She replied shyly. She was holding on to a pink Pygmy Puff. "Her name is Esmeralda." A bright smile came across her face as she gestured with the small animal.

"That's wonderful sweetie. Tell you what," he pointed to Angelina, "that young lady right there would love to help you get Esmeralda safely into her carrying case while I speak to your mum for a second. That okay?"

Melissa smiled and blushed. "Mmhmm. Thank you." And she bounced away to Angelina.

"That's the first time I've seen her smile like that in two months." Mrs. Creevey whispered.

"Mrs. Creevey, you take the Pygmy Puff home with your little girl on the house. Her smile is all the payment I needed."

Mrs. Creevey's eyes watered as she mouthed a silent "Thank you" Before walking over to retrieve little Melissa.

Ron felt warmth settle into his chest watching the smiling Melissa disappear into the crowd. If doing something so simple could put a smile on a sad little girl's face, then he could get very used to working here.

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