Hand-Me-Downs

by Robbie Fischer

Such is life in a large, not-very-well-off family. Ron Weasley is the sixth of seven children, and everything he owns is worn-out, second-hand stuff. Hand-me-downs. Second-hand stuff. Or at best, hand-knitted by Mum.

The most infamous hand-me-down in Ron’s life is Scabbers the rat, or rather, Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew, an Animagus who hid and waited and listened in the Weasley home for twelve long years. Most of that time, evidently, he was Percy’s rat – until Percy earned an owl of his own by becoming prefect in his fifth year. So for three years, Scabbers was on’s beloved, but mostly useless rat.

One wonders what Scabbers/Wormtail got up to during the nine years he belonged to Percy. I wonder, at least. I wonder if the effort of being a rat diminished as the years went by, along with the memory of being a human being. I wonder if Wormtail ever stole a few moments in human form, perhaps to rifle through the papers in Arthur Weasley’s briefcase. Did Percy’s ambitious nature suit Wormtail, who was willing to sell out his nearest and dearest for a little power? Or did he prefer the companionable inertia of Ron, who apart from a little rankling discontent and jealousy, is basically a slovenly sluggard? Did he perhaps influence his two boys?

I also wonder how Percy really got Scabbers. Did the rat worm his way into a cut-rate pet shop? Did the family buy it for one of the older boys to compensate for not having his own owl, and did he come down to Percy the same way he later came down to Ron?

So Scabbers came to Ron from Percy. From Charlie, we learn in Chamber of Secrets, Ron got his first wand. Evidently Charlie moved up to better things, perhaps getting a new wand as his own gift for becoming a prefect. (We know he was one, since all the Weasleys except the twins have been, according to Mrs. Weasley – which reminds me, will Ginny be a prefect next year?) Now, what did Charlie do to that wand to wear it out so much? Is that typical? Or did it come down to Charlie the same way, from an elder cousin or uncle or aunt, or perhaps one of his parents? We did hear Mr. Ollivander mention, once, how Harry’s mother had come to him for her “first wand.” Are first wands like baby teeth, soon to be discarded and replaced? Do changes, discoveries, in a witch or wizard’s style of doing magic, cause their needs to shift from one type of wand to another? How likely is it that Harry’s first wand – the brother of Voldemort’s – be his destined wand for life? Could a particular wand really choose more than one wizard, one after another? Or are they like used cars: the more miles lie behind them, the fewer lie ahead?

I was really inspired to write this article because of something that Ron inherited from Bill. He mentions it in CoS. It’s the story of the chamber itself, a secret chamber at Hogwarts. Why is it significant that Ron thinks he heard it from Bill? Could it be because Bill is a charm breaker for Gringotts? Could it be that Bill’s specialty is penetrating secret chambers and disenchanting them? Is this just a fleeting bit of character detail, or is Ms. Rowling foreshadowing something here? Perhaps Bill’s inbred curiosity about locked rooms and dangerous tombs is going to lead him into peril. Or perhaps it is another thing Bill passed down to Ron, a fascination with the forbidden that keeps drawing the boy (in spite of his own reluctance) into forbidden forests, secret chambers, and mysterious laboratories?

I don’t know of much that the twins have handed down to Ron, except for a lot of piss-taking and, since they made the big time, new dress robes and tons of chocolate frogs. They didn’t even give Ron their map of the school, which rankled the younger Weasley when Harry told him about it. And it is sad to see how desperately Ron chases the glories his brothers earned before him, trying to prove himself by their standard. He doesn’t believe he can be happy without being a prefect, head boy, Quidditch captain, and all the rest. It makes you wonder whether he truly deserves the one thing that truly distinguishes him, the one thing no one had before him: being Harry’s best friend.

A lot of the things that were handed down to Ron (and probably, to his older brothers before him) ended up having a sinister significance before Ron finished with them. The rat, obviously. The wand too, once Ron’s irresponsible use of the flying car (not so much a hand-me-down as a reach-up-and-grab) damaged it beyond repair. It was jointly responsible for erasing Gilderoy Lockhart’s memory, after all, though the old blowhard brought it mostly on himself. And who knows whether the streak of curiosity that Ron shares with Bill will yet prove fatal to one or both of them. Perhaps Ron will learn to value most what he makes for himself, and to put his friendship with Harry (which is his and his alone) ahead of fame, power, success, or academic distinction. Perhaps he really is on the way there already, thanks to the great crisis in their friendship in Goblet of Fire.

But there are some things Ron shouldn’t accept as givens, as if they were hand-me-downs. One, I think, is his blithe assumption that his kid sister and his best mate will end up together. Another, perhaps, is his possession of Hermione, who seems to possess herself quite nicely, thank you. Not that Ron is dumb. It takes insight and strategic cleverness to be the chess champion Ron is. But he is blind to a lot of things, such as the evil of elf slavery and the complexity of Snape’s moral position. Not to mention the feelings behind the behavior of girls. He needs to use more of that insight and cleverness, and less of the slovenly, sluggardly, frankly ratty mental laziness that yawns at intellectual challenges and refuses to make an effort to understand things.

Ron could be a good friend, and a good supporting hero. But he has to come out from the shadow of the things his family hands down to him-or rather, the crummy things they become when he uses them with bitterness and discontent. Otherwise, like the rat and the wand, his end will be sinister. Books 6 and 7, I hope, will show Ron learning to become his own person, and to take his own place in the world.

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