He goes to bed a man and awakens a boy.
Ron Weasley is thirty years old. He has fought a war and survived it, too; he’s loved and lost and loved again, he’s buried one brother and sired two children and he’s—lived. The evidence of this is all around him, in the ache of his bones and the premature gray streaking his hair. It’s in the tired smiles he and Hermione will share on the days that still—still, even now, even years later—rest heavy on their souls with loss.
When he slips underneath the covers it’s with the warm weight of his wife by his side and the knowledge his children are just a room over. He shuts off the lights with a weary wave of his wand and closes his eyes with a soft sigh. Hermione grabs his hand beneath the sheets and her fingers are warm. She squeezes his hand. He smiles, soft, and squeezes back. He falls asleep with her hand in his.
Ron awakens from his sleep a child of eleven years, with gangly limbs and unscarred skin and no body lying beside him. He wakes up alone, young, and scared—falls straight out of bed into a heap on the floor, threadbare blankets twisted around him, his brothers snoring across the room. His hands are smooth and soft, free of calluses. The hair on his head is thick and a brilliant red, no gray in sight. His bones do not ache. His eyesight is as strong as it ever was.
Ron awakens into a world he outgrew years and years ago—and screams.
At first he is inconsolable, and no whispered words of comfort from his mother can calm him. She is too young and he is too small, and the sight of her starts the angry helpless tears anew, grief clogging his throat.
At first Ron mourns, mourns the loss of the future they all bled to create. He mourns his wife, his children. His friends. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but Ron has lived too long not to listen to instinct, and he knows—he won’t be going home. He won’t be going back. He’s lost them all.
That’s when the sorrow turns to rage.
Ron is old. Old at thirty, true, but hasn’t he earned the right? Haven’t they all? He’s betrayed and been betrayed, he’s bled a thousand times and lost so much—friends, family, innocence. His childhood was a warzone and he’s spent the last twenty years making sure his children never grew up the same way. His life wasn’t always happy but it is better, it’s bright. It’s his.
So how dare they, whoever they are, whoever is responsible—how dare they take that from him. He fought for that happy ending, his brother died for it, and the rest of them nearly followed. How dare they dishonor that sacrifice. How dare they take Ron from a time of peace and place him right back into the bloodbath.
How dare they.
He spends nearly a week in this state, caught between rage and sorrow, tottering back and forth between the two. His family has noticed, and he can tell by their worried glances that he’s starting to freak them out. Even the twins are acting…. Far nicer than Ron remembers them to be, but that certainly doesn’t help—Ron can’t look Fred or George in the eye, and every time Percy places a hand on his shoulder he flinches.
He’s a mess. He knows it, they know it. One week back in the past and he’s already screwed up.
In the end, it is his mother’s desperate tactic of using his upcoming year at Hogwarts to try and cheer him up that snaps him out of his stupor. Hogwarts. Harry, Hermione, Luna, Neville. War and blood and friendship and –
Ron has three weeks until he boards the train, three weeks until the year that changes everything is kick-started into motion.
Ron thinks of war and blood and brothers who died too early. He thinks of Harry, tired and old even at seventeen, blood crusted on his cheek. Hermione, eyes flinty, shoulders set back as she prepares to fight for her life. He thinks of Luna caged in the Malfoy cellar and Neville as he slayed the snake, and he thinks—
No. He knows.
They earned their happy ending, once upon a time. But that future is gone, now, so maybe—maybe this time—
Maybe Ron can find it for them.
Maybe this time, no one has to die.
Ron has three weeks before Hogwarts. Three weeks before the train. Three weeks to save the world.
And Ron may not be the hero, or the chosen one—but he has always, always, been good at strategy.
When he steps on the train it’s with fear in his heart and excitement lodged in his throat. The bag looped around his shoulders is filled with roast-beef sandwiches Ron has never liked (but Harry will eat them and so he doesn’t mind), used books, and a hand-me-down wand. But there are also journals, made invisible with illegal spells Hermione slaved over years ago, journals filled with diagrams and plots and important things Ron cannot afford to forget.
(He hopes, just a little bit, to perhaps buy a pensive. One day. It’s a stupid idea, but—is it so wrong for Ron to want to see his children again, even if only in his memories?)
Ron steps onto the platform and it’s like stepping into Hogwarts the first time—it’s bustling and loud and alien, almost menacing in its confusion. He sees faces of future enemies and future friends alike—Draco Malfoy, sharp features soft with baby fat, sneer ill-fitting on his sallow face; Neville Longbottom, shoulders hunched near his ears and toad clenched in shaking hands, no confidence to be found; Lavender Brown, her pretty face glowing, small hoops dangling in her ears, no blood beneath her perfectly manicured nails.
It shakes him to the core, and though Ron is young, now, young and small and as gangly as the rest of them, he fancies himself a stranger. They are so young, all of them, young in body and eyes and soul. It hits Ron right then and there that though he may try, he’ll never see those brothers- and sisters-in-blood in these children. They’re here before him but they’ll never be as he remembers them to be, once upon a future.
He nearly flees onto the train, but the twins are close behind, their eyes watchful and worried. Still, he cannot meet their eyes.
“Gotta go,” Ron tells them, before they can comment, and then he dashes up the steps and into the corridor. He waves out the open door with half-hearted enthusiasm when his family looks back, uncertain. He smiles to put them at ease, and maybe he even means it. It makes him feel better, being on the train: the only way to go now is forward.
His mother beams at him, waving wildly, Ginny bouncing on her heels beside her. For the first time their young faces do not fill Ron with grief. Instead, as he waves wildly back, something warmer rises in his chest. Something like hope.
There’s a whole future before him, and Ron is ready. All the pieces in place. Voldemort best be ready, because Ron has been playing this game his whole life. He’s not planning on losing now.
Ron wanders the train, careful not to sit down. He’ll have to wait until the train is about to leave to find Harry, and as he glides past the youthful faces of his year-mates he finds himself settling. He sees Hermione and smiles at her as bright as he can—it hurts to see her, but the small smile she gives back leaves him giddy for the rest of the trip.
A whistle blows. Ron wanders forward, already knowing where to go.
Harry is at the back, as he always is, leaning against the widow with his eyes half-lidded as he watches. Ron watches him, too. Sees the shadows under his eyes and the quiet slump of his bony shoulders and marvels, again, at how young they all are.
He thinks too of Dumbledore, and Snape, and children named after heroes and villains alike. Harry had forgiven them, but that was years ago, and Ron has never been the hero. Never been all that good at forgiving.
They’re young, all of them. Just children, and that fact is clearer to him now. They are all just children.
He’ll have a life beyond your game of chess, Ron thinks—promises. This time, he’ll be better. He won’t let himself be blinded by jealousy or necklaces that whisper in the night. He’ll save them all, be the friend he tried to be and this time succeed at it—and this time when Harry looks back at these years, he’ll have more happy memories than bad ones.
For the future Ron lost, for the future he could yet have again—Ron will make sure of it.
He slides back the door and smiles when bottle-green eyes glance back. A whistle blows loud and piercing. Beneath his feet, the train begins to move.
“Hi,” Ron says. “Can I sit here? Everywhere else is full.”
Harry nods, slow and careful. Ron smiles his brightest smile, and for the first time, feels no grief, no fear, no worry.
It’s a new day, a new game, and Ron is ready to play.