Ron Weasley and the Order of the Chocolate Frog

Summary:

In a family of overachievers, one sibling outshines them all. Ronald Bilius Weasley leapfrogs over mere curse breakers and dragon tamers to take his place alongside Merlin, Circe, and Dumbledore as one of wizardkind’s all-time greats, worthy of a Chocolate Frog card. At the 2014 Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Conference, Tolonda Henderson posed the question: Why does no one write about Ron? Through studying his characteristic responses to poverty, oppression, envy, and his own privilege, we can see that Ron’s lack of leading-man status is actually one of the indicators of his greatest gift: a genius for the power of partnership.

Notes:

Delivered at the Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill College, October 16, 2015.

In a family of overachievers, one sibling outshines them all.  Ronald Bilius Weasley leapfrogs over mere curse breakers and dragon tamers to take his place alongside Merlin, Circe, and Dumbledore as one of magic’s all-time greats, worthy of a Chocolate Frog card.

If you were at last year’s conference, perhaps you heard librarian Tolonda Henderson’s presentation, “Glad of Your Absence, or, Why No One Writes About Ron.”  She talked about finding scholarship on Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore, Neville…but very little starring Ron alone.  Clearly, it’s time to rectify this oversight.

Here’s a question from a 2007 interview with JK Rowling:

Lecanard: Will we see Harry and his friends having their own history on chocolate frogs cards?
J.K. Rowling: Definitely, and Ron will describe this as his finest hour.

As well he should.  To have a place in children’s folklore makes you a legend.  No wonder Dumbledore says he doesn’t care if they strip all his titles “as long as they don’t take him off the Chocolate Frog cards.”

But does Ron Weasley deserve a card all to himself?  This slightly above average kid with the smudge of dirt on his nose?  The books emphasize his ordinariness — even showcase it as his defining trait.  We see his acceptable report card and Quidditch tryouts; Slughorn ignores him; when Dumbledore bequeaths him a treasure, even the Minister of Magic knows it wasn’t because Ron and Dumbledore were close.  He is almost never anyone’s first choice.

His Horcrux visions addressed exactly these fears:  “Second best, always, eternally overshadowed…”

In fact, I can only think of four instances this character was somebody’s first choice.  Lavender and Hermione are both in love with him.  He is always Harry’s first choice for friend.  And at Azkatraz, a Harry Potter convention in 2009, therapist Nancee Lee-Allen talked about using dolls of Harry Potter characters in her work with children.  When the kids choose one to hold and  confide in, she said, they always choose Ron.

When Ron is 11, he looks into the Mirror of Erised and reports in ecstasy, “I’m Head Boy – I’m wearing the badge like Bill used to – and I’m holding the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup – I’m Quidditch captain, too!”

His Horcrux visions, though, show that as a man of 18, he no longer cares about status or prizes.  His greatest fears are that Harry doesn’t need him, Hermione doesn’t want him, and his mother loves him least.  The Horcrux says nothing about anything else.  This is a man who lives in relationship; that sheds some light on both his choices and his fear of being overshadowed.

One of his Horcrux fears was that he was “Least loved, always, by the mother who craved a daughter…” It’s an understandable, though painful, fear about any family that has several children all of one gender except for the youngest.  One can see why Ron might worry; why would anyone crave a sixth child after Fred and George as toddlers?  Yet he is generous with his one asset, limited as it is.  He never begrudges Harry his family’s attention – and that is impressive.  Everything about Ron is like that:  whatever he’s got, he’ll share.

The series highlights Ron’s ordinariness when Dumbledore chooses Ron, not Harry, to be a prefect.

“Ron?” said Hermione, her jaw dropping.  “But…are you sure?”  George agrees that it’s unexpected and she says, “No, no, it’s not… Ron’s done loads of… he’s really…”

Harry congratulates Ron in a “horrible hearty voice that did not belong to him.”  Anxiously, he works through his envy until affection and maturity restore his feelings:

“Was he, Harry, Ron’s best friend in the world, going to sulk because he didn’t have a badge, laugh with the twins behind Ron’s back, ruin this for Ron when, for the first time, he had beaten Harry at something?”

That process helped Harry respect what Ron does internally, just as Ron had done the previous year when Harry was a Triwizard champion.  Albus Dumbledore, who learned to respect his illiterate brother Aberforth, might have wanted to spotlight the admirable qualities of an often overlooked kid.

Ron is not a leading man.  He doesn’t get a career to call his own:  as Rowling told fans in a live chat, he serves as an Auror with Harry, he helps out George in the joke shop, and he’s married to a brilliant politician.  What he’s got instead is a signature skill:  partnering. It’s his nature to go where his heart is.  That makes his departure from the tent all the more devastating.

Do you remember the horror and the pity of reading that fight for the first time?  Ron blaming Harry for not finding more Horcruxes?

“Just add it to the list of stuff you don’t know.”

I don’t know?”

At this point, for Ron, it’s still Harry’s fight; he’s just assisting.  He hasn’t yet claimed it as his own, and we know, from Mundungus Fletcher in the flight of the seven Harrys, what happens when we expect folks to fight other people’s battles.

“I thought you knew what you’d signed up for,” said Harry.

“We thought you knew what you were doing! … We thought Dumbledore had told you what to do, we thought you had a real plan!”

Then there’s the assumption revealed in that “we,” with Hermione crying out, “I didn’t say it like that – Harry, I didn’t!”  There’s some level on which it hasn’t hit him yet that Hermione is almost as hunted as Harry and that as a  Muggle-born, she’s dreaded the day her half-blood and pureblood friends might abandon her.

Here’s the crux of it:

“It’s all right for you two, isn’t it, with your parents safely out of the way –“

“My parents are dead!”

“And mine could be going the same way!”

“Then GO!  …Go back to them, pretend you’ve got over your spattergroit and Mummy’ll be able to feed you up….”

Harry felt a corrosive hatred toward Ron:  Something had broken between them.

That something was the bridge between Ron’s level of privilege and Harry’s.  It had taken them as far as it could go.

Ron’s response shows his intact emotional state, his recoiling from war as any healthy person might do.  This is what it looks like when a child hasn’t been traumatized by violence and bigotry.  It is just as understandable that Harry and Hermione would lash out in return.  Yes, it is bitter beyond words that Ron has never gone hungry and is complaining about it now.  That he’s only now going through the death of innocence that Harry and Hermione finished with years ago, that realization of “the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high,” and that conversion takes him away from them at this inconvenient time.  The magnitude of this inequality, a secure childhood versus a childhood marked by murder or death threats, is abysmal; when Voldemort truly faced it, the pain of it nearly killed him.

But Ron is absolutely in his rights.  We each deserve to come to terms with evil in our own time and nobody else’s; that’s the way it works, anyway, whether we deserve it or not.  Ron knows he’s on a different timeline from his friends.

Dumbledore foresaw this and left Ron the Deluminator.  He knew the threat to Ron’s family would paralyze him.  That’s the way love magic works.  The paralyzing worry came from the exact same source as the empathy and generosity that made Ron a priceless friend.  The Deluminator was Dumbledore knowing to provide support for the role of the psychologically intact friend, the kind Dumbledore could have used at that age.

After Ron came back to the tent, remember Hermione striking every part of him she could reach with her fists?  People don’t always get to do this. Snape would have presented himself to Lily for pummeling if he could, Dumbledore to his parents.  Knowing that it would require more than a person might be able to give to stick with Harry that final year, Dumbledore gave Ron something to remind him:  You go back because somebody loves you and misses you, and those things are important to you.  No matter how ashamed you feel, when they miss you, it’s okay to go back and ask for a second chance.
To undervalue Ron as a character is to give insufficient credit to the importance of support.  Ron got the prefect badge as an earned prize for that work, I think.  Treasure the nurturer, and don’t overlook the real grief of his loss of innocence just because it’s not fair that he gets to experience it in adulthood and not infancy.  After all, this is something people want for children:  protection from tragedy until they’re old enough to withstand it.  His intact emotions enable his support.

Rowling tells us Ron’s greatest strength in the first book, when he plays the role of a knight:  chivalry, based on the Latin for “horseman,” the most difficult Gryffindor trait to understand.

“Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

Set Gryffindors apart.”

What is chivalry, exactly?  It’s living by the belief that knights trained in battle and mounted on a horse should help those in need, such as defenseless victims of assault.  To put it another way, it’s choosing to help others who have less power and privilege when you don’t have to, even if it puts you in serious or mortal peril.

Let’s look at Ron’s chivalry during that chess game.

“[I]t’s the only way…  I’ve got to be taken.  …  That’s chess! … You’ve got to make some sacrifices!”

He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced.  She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor – Hermione screamed but stayed on her square – the white queen dragged Ron to one side.  He looked as if he’d been knocked out.

He knew what was coming.  He did it anyway.  He was twelve.

Years later, he showed such chivalry in his conscious choice to return, and to save Harry in the icy pond, that he was able to take and use the Sword of Gryffindor.

His response when Bellatrix singled out Hermione for torture was chivalry:  “No!  You can have me, keep me!”

What makes these things chivalry and not simply helping loved ones?  Ron had privilege the other two did not.  In the quest for the Stone, he wasn’t the one who’d been orphaned by Voldemort.  In the pond, he wasn’t the one hampered by the Horcrux.  In Malfoy Manor, he wasn’t the Muggle-born.  He could have walked away.  He chose to endanger himself to assist friends who didn’t have the same choice about joining the fight.

And I believe it was this choice that enabled him to use Parseltongue.

Some readers criticize Rowling for having Ron open the Chamber during the final battle because they find it implausible that mere mimicry could work.

But what if it was more than that?

Harry is a Parselmouth only because he contains some of Voldemort’s soul; this gift is not innate. He can only speak Parseltongue when faced with a snake – or, as he and Ron discovered, when he can recreate that feeling.  The boys actually developed an original nonverbal spell as second-years – magic that could be reproduced at will with the correct procedure — to activate his latent Parseltongue during the attempt to get into the Chamber of Secrets.

“Harry,” said Ron.  “Say something.  Something in Parseltongue.”

“Open up,” he said.

He looked at Ron, who shook his head.

“English,” he said.

Harry looked back at the snake, willing himself to believe it was alive.  If he moved his head, the candlelight made it look as though it were moving.

“Open up,” he said.

Except that the words weren’t what he heard; a strange hissing had escaped him….

After Ron destroys the locket, he, too, knows what it’s like to have a piece of Voldemort’s soul in him; Harry saw “a trace of scarlet” in Ron’s eyes during his Horcrux visions, Rowling’s sign of possession by Voldemort.  Would that be enough to make Parseltongue work?

“It’s what you did to open the locket,” he told Harry apologetically.  “I had to have a few goes to get it right, but,” he shrugged modestly, “we got there in the end.”

Harry had to have “a few goes,” too, originally, while he figured out the theory behind the spell.  My guess is that Ron did the same.  I’m not sure he was hissing randomly in a bathroom while Death Eaters were attacking.  I think he might have been testing out magic with life-or-death urgency, invoking memories:  Being possessed by the locket.  Opening the Chamber in the past.  The cup’s history of mindless greed.  The false riches in the vault.  Their own trapped, burnt flesh, and how it felt to be rid of a Horcrux.

To think that only the Chosen One could open the Chamber would be to discount the things that Ron and Hermione came to know in fighting alongside Harry.  It was the right step for Ron to dare the same magic and to do it without Harry:  his final qualifying test to become an Auror.

Most of all, I think his chivalry helped him.  The cardinal rule for mysteries in this universe is that you can attain great power if you desire it humbly, only to prevent harm to others, not for personal gain:  chivalry.  Ron had Hermione with him.  He knew if he could open the Chamber, it would get Hermione to the solo battle and triumph she deserved, the empowerment he had known ever since he destroyed a part of Voldemort.

To destroy a Horcrux, you have to be near enough to evil to let it take you over.  You’re never innocent again.  It will damage you.  But that damage will enable you to fight Dark Magic in a way that innocent people cannot.  Ron would have wanted Hermione to earn the same power after being tortured almost to death by Dark Magic in her second year and her fifth year and her seventh year.

The choice to share the wearing of the locket Horcrux was one of the acts that enabled Ron and Hermione to destroy parts of Voldemort.  They cared so much about their friend that they accepted damage from Voldemort’s soul to reduce the harm to Harry.  It was Dumbledore who set them up to become self-Chosen Ones, if they saw fit.  We can pinpoint the moment.

In Chapter 10 of the Half-Blood Prince, Harry asks Dumbledore:

“Sir, am I allowed to tell Ron and Hermione everything you’ve told me?”

Dumbledore considered him for a moment, then said, “Yes, I think Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger have proved themselves trustworthy.”

That was the moment Dumbledore first accepted that Ron and Hermione are just as doomed as Harry and just as indispensable, worthy of secrets he would not entrust even to Snape, and adjusted his endgame to factor them in.

Right after that moment, Harry sees the ring with the Resurrection Stone in Dumbledore’s office.

Chapter 12 of Half-Blood Prince starts out, “Where was Dumbledore, and what was he doing?  … Harry was sure Hermione was right in thinking that he was leaving the school for days at a time.”

And at the end of Chapter 13:

“The ring’s gone,” said Harry, looking around.  “But I thought you might have the mouth organ or something.”

“Very astute, Harry, but the mouth organ was only ever a mouth organ.”

Ah.  He’d been settling his estate, spelling the Resurrection Stone into the Snitch, writing his will.  Mid-October of Ron’s sixth year.

With Ron, his individual potency gets subsumed.  His role as a team player tends to keep his gifts under the radar – a bit like Snape’s role as double agent required him to hide his ability to fly, or Molly Weasley’s career as homemaker obscured the power that killed Bellatrix Lestrange.  Like Dumbledore with the Elder Wand, they were fit to have these powers and not to boast of them.

Sometimes I wish Molly Weasley had a career outside the home.  Wouldn’t she make a phenomenal Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?  Is it truly her choice to make meatballs for the Order, or does sexism factor into that at all?  What would it look like if that choice were gendered differently?  What if we consider that Ron made it his life’s work to go where he could best emotionally support his loved ones, the same as he did as a child, with the attendant fear that this would not be considered flashy enough to impress the people he supported?  Even without the baggage of sexism, it’s not easy to give this choice proper credit.

Ron was afraid he couldn’t live up to his brothers’ successes, but his role model turned out to be his mother.  Do you think Molly realized the most decorated of her children learned these skills from her?

The Chocolate Frog card doesn’t necessarily reward individual glory, not like, say, an Order of Merlin.  No, Ron didn’t do any major fighting on his own, only in partnership; nor was he the brains of the operation, only the support; nor did he achieve anything that would single him out for notice.  But does he deserve his Chocolate Frog card?  That is a different matter entirely.  By every measure, he is essential to the legend of the defeat of Voldemort.  Was he part of the story?  How much of it?  Could you retell the story of Harry Potter without mentioning Ron?  Was this child’s personality, his sense of humor, his character, relevant to this legend, memorable for those who hold this story dear, worthy of being noted and packaged with magical candies meant for children?

A Chocolate Frog card is not about worldly prestige.  It’s a different genre.  It’s about legend but also character, personality, chamber music and ten-pin bowling.  It’s about stories that have developed around individuals and get passed down because those people and those stories resonate with the listeners enough to inspire retellings.

Ron Weasley didn’t have to fight Voldemort.  There were no prophecies about him.  He wasn’t the Chosen One – for anything.  He could have walked away; in fact, he did.  And in full knowledge, he returned.  As he pointed out, Hermione and Harry had no family to jeopardize, no pureblood privilege, and certainly little choice about fighting.  Ordinary Ron Weasley did.  He chose to fight a tyrant, and for this chivalry, he is a member of the Order of the Chocolate Frog.

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