Actions

Work Header

How to Succeed in Dark Wizardry (Without Really Trying)

Chapter Text

 

YEAR ONE: CHAPTER 1

 

The Cannons are doing badly this year. Not that that’s really a change from how they normally are—there’s a reason they’ve been the joke of the British Quidditch League for literal decades—but, for once in his life, Ron Weasley doesn’t care.

 

(Okay. He cares. A lot. But, like, less than usual.)

 

Because somehow—somehow, right, he’s managed to make friends with the Boy Who Lived.

 

Or, uh, Harry, he guesses. Because he’s an actual person, and not just some kid who saved the world. Or at least, like, the British Isles. (To be completely honest, he’s not quite sure how Ireland fit into He Who Must Not Be Named’s plans, seems like a bit of an oversight not to get the messaging clear on that one).

 

Anyway.

 

Harry gets into Gryffindor, because apparently saving the world as a baby counts as super brave (not that Ron’s gonna dispute that, or anything, but jeez). The girl with the curly hair, what was her name again, Herm-something, goes too, even though he would have definitely pegged her as a Ravenclaw. The Malfoy gets into Slytherin, because he’s a Malfoy, and there’s this weird, generational blood feud between them that he doesn’t quite understand but—he was a Bad Kid, so he was in the Bad House.

 

(Ron later learns that that line of thinking is utter crap, but, well, he is only eleven.)

 

The hat barely touches his head before he’s in Gryffindor. Same was true for all his older siblings, and will probably be true for Ginny.

 

Thing is, though, he’s not super sure he wants to be there. He’s already pretty committed to being pals with Harry, but he’s not really brave, is he? Gryffindor was all valor and slaying dragons and all, but they were also the folks who ended up in the most scrapes, at least according to his parents’ stories. Not that he minded getting into scrapes, the problem was that getting out of scrapes tended to really be where he came up short.

 

Hufflepuff could be good. Like, okay, granted, Hufflepuff, but if he was completely honest with himself, there was no way he was getting into Ravenclaw, and he didn’t quite have the obvious aura of menace that was the prerequisite for Slytherin.

 

But it would cause a discussion if he was literally anywhere other than Gryffindor, the sort that left Mum saying things like ‘where did I go wrong’ under her breath, and writing strongly-worded letters to Dumbledore.

 

Let it be known that very few people in the history of the British empire could write a strongly-worded letter quite like Molly Weasley; the woman took to implied threat like a duck to water on account of the Prewitt family being rather rough and tumble by wizarding standards.

 

At any rate, definitely not something he was eager to meet the business end of. And, apparently, he’s brave or whatever, so it looks like he’s gonna be best friends with Harry bloody Potter of all people, and no doubt get caught up in whatever adventures drop into the other boy’s lap.

 

(of course there’ll be adventures, Ron’s not an idiot. A boy doesn’t accidentally save the world as an infant and then just lead a boring life, does he?)

 

Their beds are right next to each other, and their other dorm-mates seem to be alright, for the most part. He knew Neville a bit, at least, on account of their parents apparently knowing each other before, well, he moved in with his grandmother, but the Irish boy and the Muggleborn are complete strangers. They don’t seem like pricks, though, which is nice at least.

 

Granted, Ron doesn’t know many people in his year—the only ones he’s fairly certain are pricks are that Finch-Fletchley kid who took great pain to remind people that he was going to go to Eton, and Draco Malfoy, who just oozed git-ishness like some sort of slug.

 

Scabbers is taking to the change of scenery pretty well. Ron thought he must have been a magic rat, to live for almost twelve years with the Weasleys, who were not, in general, the gentlest of families. This was, in a sense, completely correct. Percy’d given him the rat so he wouldn’t feel so alone at school, and, well, that was nice of him and all, but it does kinda grate that even his bloody familiar is a hand-me-down.

 

Everything of his is a hand-me-down. They’d gotten his wand at the little secondhand wand place in Knockturn Alley, for knuts on the galleon. Unlike Harry, who, it had turned out, went to Olivander’s and got a real boutique service, Mum had taken him over to the shop, looked at the discounted wands in the bin—the kind with weird grips and scratches from being dropped and odd stains—and said, ‘just stick your hand in there and take what feels right, go on, give it a flick, it won’t be perfect, but it’ll suit just fine’.

 

And, you know, it wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough.

 

--

 

Classes go decently. Hermione helps him in Charms, which was nice, but was condescending about it, which was less nice. He has to reach deep for his magic because of the wand, and he almost feels like his Dad’s Ford Anglia when it won’t start on the first turn of the key. So, much like his dad, he waits a second or two, and tries again, and it usually works out just fine.

 

It does not work out just fine for Transfiguration. McGonagall does the cat transformation, which is wicked, but then when it gets to the actual practical part of the lesson, he is utter pants at turning his match into a needle. There’s an equation on the board, and there’s been multiple demonstrations, but it just isn’t working.

 

He swishes. He flicks. He even bloody well stabs, and nothing happens. He’s graduated from saying the incantation to muttering it, and eventually settled on just kind of snarling at the thing on his desk.

 

“Mister Weasley.” McGonagall says, as she’s coming around the room to check on progress, “Do you need any help?”

 

He does. “I’m fine, professor.” He is, emphatically, not fine. He’s actually incredibly frustrated. Only a few people in class have managed the full match-to-needle, but loads have gotten at least a little progress. There are some very shiny matches at many desks around the room.

 

She gives him a look, and much like his mother, manages to convey how transparent he’s being with just an eyebrow raise. “If you’re sure.”

 

She moves on, and Ron gives a few more increasingly angry jabs at his match. He grits his teeth and takes a deep breath, and then another.

 

Needle, he thinks, noncommittally pointing his wand at the offending object. He needs a bloody needle, just to prove that he can do a little bloody magic. He makes a sharp cutting gesture with his hand towards the match. NEEDLE, he thinks, even more emphatically.

 

The match, yet again, does not turn into a needle.

 

Instead, his desk falls apart into several thousand of them.

 

He does not say some of the words he’s picked up from Bill and Charlie (and his mother when she thinks no one can hear her), but he’s sorely tempted to.

 

McGonagall, along with the entire bloody class, looks over at him. Before she schools her face, she looks a bit impressed. “Mister Weasley.”

 

“Yes, professor?” He can feel himself turning bright red.

 

She waves her wand, and the needles disappear all at once. “See me after your classes today.”

 

He nods, not quite trusting himself to speak. The rest of the class manages to mostly resist saying some variation of ‘oooh, Weasley’s in trouble’, though he hears a few. He kind of wants to throw his dumb stupid new old wand at the wall, but he settles for staring down at his feet.

 

“However,” McGonagall says, and Ron looks up, meeting her eyes. She’s stern, but she’s got a bit of amusement playing around her mouth—Ron recognizes it because his father wears the same look fairly often when dealing with Fred and George. “It’s been quite a while since a student has managed to start the year off with such flair. Ten points to Gryffindor.”

 

He spends the rest of the lesson, all ten minutes of it, awkwardly hovering next to where Harry is haphazardly pointing his wand at some shiny matchsticks with holes on one end.

 

All-in-all, it could have gone worse.

 

Herbology, after lunch, is awful. Not through the fault of the class. Other than McGonagall, who kind of has to be his favorite teacher on account of being his head of house, Sprout is probably his favorite so far. He’s not as taken with her as Neville is—clearly the kid loves plants the way Charlie loves dragons—but she clearly knows her stuff, and can actually teach. But the actual class was terrible—mostly because it was directly after lunch, and the greenhouses were incredibly hot and humid so the plants could flourish.

 

Luckily, it’s one of the least wand-y classes so far, so Ron actually takes to it fairly well. Not so easily as Neville does—as much as he is a creature of instinct, Ron has to think things through every so often, whereas the other boy seems to immediately and easily be very good at it—but Ron knows his was around a garden well enough from helping his mum with it and growing at least a bit of food for the family that it’s more meditative than stressful.

 

And then, well, he’s done for the day. It feels a bit weird, to be honest—for one, just being school, but for another, with how not busy it is. He knows that third years get electives—and that, as the years go on, there are more and more of them—but it just seems like he has way too much free time. The curly-haired girl, Hermione, is already going on about studying, and Harry spends most of his time being awed by magic, but Ron’s… There’s not really a great way to put this, but Ron’s mostly a bit bored.

 

Yes, it’s the fancy magic school, where he’s going to learn magic, but seeing as how Hogwarts was all his brothers could talk about when they were home for breaks, it’s not like it’s particularly surprising.

 

--

 

Ron manages to slip away to talk to McGonagall before dinner. He’s sure that most of the house knows where he’s going, if not exactly why—and considering that they shared Transfiguration with the Hufflepuffs, chances are that a majority of the school knows that he’s seeing her—but he doesn’t want to advertise it. Luckily, her office isn’t too far from the common room, because she’s the Gryffindor Head of House, so he doesn’t have to nonchalantly sneak very far.

 

“Ah, Mister Weasley,” She says, as he comes in after knocking, “I expected you a bit earlier.”

 

“I got caught up talking to Harry in the common room, Professor. “ This excuse has the added benefit of being true, luckily. Granted, he might have intentionally caught Harry in conversation, just to procrastinate speaking with her, but that’s neither here nor there.

 

“Well,” She says, “There are certainly worse excuses.” She holds out a dish with an array of biscuits and sweets on it, artfully arranged. “Would you like a ginger snap? Or perhaps a chocolate?”

 

Well, Ron’s not in the habit of turning down food, so he grabs one of each. “Thank you, Professor.” He immediately pops the piece of chocolate in his mouth. It’s the dark kind, with little flakes of sea salt on top. It’s actually quite tasty. “Blimey!

 

McGonagall chuckles a bit, and eats one herself. “Now, Mister Weasley, I believe that we should talk about what happened in class today.”

 

“Oh?” Ron says, primarily because it’s the minimum response he can get away with, and this conversation has suddenly gotten fairly uncomfortable.

 

“Never,” She says, “In my forty years of teaching, have I had a student do that on the first day of class.”

 

“…Ah.”

 

“And I say this not because you are in trouble,” She takes a sip from her teacup, “But because what you’ve done is, in actuality, very high-level magic.”

 

What?” That made zero sense. “I just—I just got really frustrated with the whole bloody—with the assignment, and it just kind of happened.”

 

“You got frustrated,” She begins slowly, and all of a sudden Ron really doesn’t like where this is going, “And you somehow, non-verbally, and with the wrong wand movement, managed to transform your desk into over twenty-thousand individual needles. On accident.”

 

Well, when laid out plainly, it did sound pretty bad. “Uh, yeah, Professor looks like it.”

 

“Any idea what could have caused that?”

 

“Not, uh, not really?”

 

“And nothing else has happened with your magic that’s odd?”

 

Ron jams his ginger snap into his mouth to avoid answering. McGonagall, having apparently not been born yesterday, immediately catches on, but she allows him time to think.

 

“Well,” He settles on, “It might have something to do with my wand?”

 

“And why would that be?” She’s been looking less and less amused as the conversation progresses, but things have definitely shifted to being dead serious.

 

Ah, hell. How’s he going to say this? He takes a stab at it. “Um, Professor, you know how my family is kind of…” He searches for a word, but, being eleven and a half and not particularly studious, doesn’t find it. He settles on phrasing that’s, at the very least, not particularly blunt. “… not rich?”

 

She nods. “I had gathered.”

 

“And—Ollivander’s is really expensive, so—there’s this second-hand shop in Knockturn, so…”

 

At least she has the manners not to look horrified. After all, there’s a limited number of ways a wizard can lose their wand, and have it fit for resale; the wand chooses the wizard, so it’s not like many except a few of the super-rich buy multiple ones in accordance with their personal style.

 

And those types of folks aren’t really the kind to give to second-hand shops. Especially the sketchy ones down Knockturn Alley.

 

“Mister Weasley,” She begins, “Do you have any idea what the core of your wand is?”

 

He hasn’t got a bloody clue, and, frankly, doesn’t really care. Only pretentious twats cared about the symbolism in wandcraft—that unicorn hair meant you were pure of heart, or whatever—as far as he was concerned, (and, really, most of his family in general, except maybe that Aunt of his Mum’s who married into the Prewitts from the Blacks), if it worked, that was bloody well good enough. “I haven’t got a clue, Professor.”

 

“Can I see it for a moment?” She holds out her hand, expectantly.

 

“…Sure.” Ron’s not crazy about the idea, but hands it over.

 

McGonagall mutters an incantation, something that sounds distinctively not-Latin, so probably not something they’re likely to learn in class any time soon. The wand glows, briefly, and lifts itself up like a quill, tip pointed directly on what seems to be one of the Professor’s lesson plans. It begins to write, in blocky script, what seems to be a list of its characteristics. After a few moments, and several lines of text, it tips over, and clatters onto the wood of her desk.

 

She hands it back to him.

 

“Well?” He asks. He probably shouldn’t be this informal with a professor, even if she is his head of house, but Ron’s never done too well with explicit authority figures.

 

“This is—Hmmm.” McGonagall closes her mouth tightly, and rereads the text that has been printed in front of her. “This is, frankly, something that I think we can keep just between us.”

 

Well.

 

That can’t be good, can it?

 

“What you have, Mister Weasley,” She says, “Is potentially incredibly illegal.” She looked at the list of wand properties again, and looked back up, staring him straight in the eyes. “There are certain combinations of cores and woods that are… discouraged. If this were simply a matter of that, we would not be having this conversation. However, you’ve managed to find a wand with a wood that is legally regarded as too volatile to be in public use, and a core that’s been taboo since the crusades.”

 

Unfortunately, Ron is in the habit of saying what is on the forefront of his mind, so rather than something suitably deferential, he says the same thing his father would in this situation. “Bugger.”

 

McGonagall cuts him a look. “Indeed.”

 

“Are you going to report it?” That’s the important part. His family can’t really afford to get him a new wand, and with Ginny needing to get her school supplies at some point in the next year, the budgeting is going to be even tighter than normal.

 

She thinks for a moment, visibly weighing her options. “I think that you could do some very interesting things with your wand,” She said, slowly, “And, frankly, so long as you keep quiet about it, nobody has to know.”

 

That was, ultimately, the statement that would irreparably change the wizarding world. Eventually.

 

(Cut him some slack, Ron is only eleven. There’s plenty of time for things to change.)

 

“Oh, thank Merlin.” His wand might be weird and illegal, but that was kind of cool, to be honest. Sure, he couldn’t tell people, but it was still nice to have something unique for once. “What’s it made out of, anyway?”

 

“Red Oak, grown in America—very rare, apparently, at least in Britain, and it tends to go a bit strange—“ She looked at her notes again, “And Threstral tail hair.”

 

It comes out before he can stop it. “Wasn’t the Elder Wa—“

 

“Yes. Allegedly. But it wasn’t quite so rare as the stories would have you believe, just phased out over the years for being incredibly reactive to the caster.” What she doesn’t mention, and Ron only finds out several years later while doing homework for care of magical creatures, is that it tends to be incredibly temperamental, and almost have a mind of it’s own—something to do with Thestrals being harbingers of death and straddling the veil. In retrospect, that explains a few things.

 

What he also learns, then, is that Threstral tail hair is one of the strongest conduits for dark magic out there. Which also explains a few things, if he’s being honest.

 

Wicked.

 

McGonagall looks amused, and holds out the plate of cookies again. Somehow, little squares of Millionaire’s Shortbread have appeared without him noticing, and he grabs a couple, before excusing himself back to Gryffindor Tower.

 

Does he fill up on cookies before dinner? Yes.

 

Does he regret it? No way.

 

--

 

The next day starts out bright and early with defense. Harry’s twitchy around the man in the turban (reasonable! It’s incredibly not head-shaped!), but, for Ron, it’s mostly pretty boring.

 

Mum had taken him aside, a bit before he got on the Hogwarts Express, and told him outright, “Defense is never going to be a good class for you.”

 

Jeez, she never pulled any punches, did she. “I don’t—what?

 

“Defense,” She said, slowly, “The way it’s taught in Hogwarts, is never going to work for you. I didn’t have to give this warning to your brothers, but… you take after me a bit more than your father, when it comes to this.”

 

“Mum, what?

 

“The problem is, Ronald, that playing defense is rarely useful when you’re set on a goal. What happens in chess if you only play defense?”

 

“You lose.” He saw where this was going, now. But surely his mother wasn’t advocating him becoming a dark wizard?

 

She nodded. “There is a reason Aunt Lucretia married in to the family, and it wasn’t solely because of blood.”

 

Okay, maybe she was advocating he become a dark wizard. Wild. “Mum, can you just say what you mean?

 

She leaned in a bit closer. “What I’m saying is, Ron, that you will be stuck in a class, reading a lot of books on theory, and never learning anything other than basic protection charms and how to spot magical creatures, because Morgana forbid that Albus Dumbledore let anything stain his hands.” She scoffed. “Keep your eyes open, but don’t do anything obvious, okay dear?”

 

(Unfortunately for Albus Dumbledore, this was another statement that would fundamentally change the wizarding world, eventually.)

 

Honestly, Ron wasn’t altogether sure what the conversation was about, at the time.

 

Sitting in his first defense class, unfortunately, things become much clearer.

 

Mum was right.

 

Defense was never going to be his class. Not that he’s a dark wizard, or anything.

 

(Yet.)

 

But Merlin, if he was going to have to sit through seven years of being told that “dark magic is bad because it’s bad, I fought some vampires once, trust me”, Ron’s liable to become a bloody dark lord just to be contrary about the whole thing. Find a cottage out in the middle of nowhere, put up some blood wards, raise basilisks, unionize the goblins against the ministry, that sort of thing.

 

Honestly, he thinks, as he’s blankly staring at Quirrell going on about how the Dark Arts are unforgivable and strange and the tools of wicked, cowardly men, giving up on life and becoming a back-country basilisk farmer sounds pretty great, now that he’s thinking about it.

 

Does Quirrell tell the class what the Dark Arts are? No, but he does make sure to say that they’re all, unequivocally, the same amount of bad. But not to worry, they’ll learn how to combat them, without sullying their precious minds by learning any bloody details.

 

They share class with the Slytherins, and at that remark, Draco Malfoy rolls his eyes hard enough that Ron’s legitimately surprised that they don’t make a sound. Frankly, he shares the sentiment, at least a bit, although probably for different reasons.

 

It just doesn’t make any bloody sense to him, that blood wards would be as bad as murder.

 

Ron doesn’t fall asleep, but he almost wishes he did. Class only gets more irritating, the longer it goes on, and by the end of it, he’s covered his sheet, that was ostensibly for notes, with little drawings of the Chudley Cannons’ logo, and a few broomsticks.

 

--

 

Flying class is boring, up till Neville falls.

 

Draco is good on his broom, but an utter prat, which wasn’t very surprising; Harry’s really good on his broom, which is, a bit, seeing as how he was raised by muggles.

 

Harry gets sent to McGonagall, and Ron goes to History of Magic. Ron comes out of class with a headache from the small print in his textbook, and Harry comes out of the Deputy Headmistress’s office with a position on the Quidditch team, because apparently he’s a prodigy of a Seeker.

 

They reconnect at dinner.

 

“What did McGonagall want to talk to you about, anyway?” Harry asks, tearing into his stew with singleminded abandon, “Are you in trouble, or something?”

 

“It was nothing,” Ron says, taking a sip of his pumpkin juice, “Just wanted to talk to me about class.” Strictly speaking, it’s not technically a lie.

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Ron looked down at his plate for a moment. “So, you’re on the team now?”

 

“I guess so,” Harry said, “I talked to Wood, and I’m going to practice with them later?”

 

Wicked.”

 

--

 

The next day is Charms, Transfiguration, and Herbology again, which goes fairly well. Ron manages to stumble into progress in his match-to-needle transformation, which is nice. It takes a while, and a bit of poking and prodding with his wand, but he ends up with a very sharp match at the end of class.

 

Hermione, of course, has already managed hers, and won’t let anyone forget it. Harry’s fairly close with his. One of the Ravenclaws that they share class with has managed theirs, and can actually turn the needle back into the match.

 

Ron’s not the last in class—that dubious honor belongs to a Ravenclaw who has managed to break her bloody wand on the third day of classes—but he’s fairly close.

 

He sits next to Neville for Herbology. Harry’s stuck at a table with Hermione, Lavender Brown, and a gaggle of Hufflepuffs that include that one prick who bragged about getting into Eton, and Susan Bones, who seems decent. He’s pretty sure her Mum works at the ministry.

 

Also, since Neville is generally pleasant company, and actually very, very good at Herbology, it works out quite well. They’re stuck at a table with Dean Thomas and Anthony Goldstein, who are both muggleborn, and talking about football—apparently, they grew up a few neighborhoods apart in London.

 

“Hey, Neville,” Ron says, trying to be casual and almost succeeding, as they’re working on replanting some Dittany, “Did your Gran send you here with any books?”

 

Neville, not being an idiot, cuts him a look. “She may have. Why?”

 

“I’m just interested in, uh, branchin’ out, is all.”

 

“… Is this about how you were in Defense?” Neville is, apparently, much sharper than he appears on first blush. Or at least, he’s got a bit of a grounding in the Old Ways, what with his Gran being so desperately antiquated.

 

“Might be.” Ron is looking at how he’s packing the dirt around the roots of the Dittany. It’s not work that requires an exceptional amount of focus, but he can’t quite muster up the nerve to look Neville fully in the face and ask if he has any books about dark magic in the middle of class.

 

“This seems like a bad idea.”

 

“Seems like, yeah.” Ron’s not gonna just disagree with that, because trying to teach himself dark magic while living in a school surrounded by light wizards with a weird wand that may or may not be incredibly illegal sounds like an absolutely terrible idea.

 

But, hey, it could be fun. Maybe just a little, just to see what it’s like. And if it gives him some seriously bad vibes, he’ll close the book on it.

 

Ron looks up, and sees that Neville is looking at him, intently. He doesn’t even try to look innocent.

 

Neville sighs. “I might have something. See me after dinner, alright?”

 

“Alright.”

 

(Dean Thomas elbows Anthony Goldstein a bit, and jerks his head toward the pair. “Is it just me, or…?”

 

“Oh no,” Anthony says, “There’s definitely something going on right now.”

 

“Anything to worry about, d’you think?”

 

“Eh, can’t be anything too bad.” Anthony wipes his hair out of his face, and consequently gives himself a big streak of dirt, right across his forehead. “So, what do you think about Manchester’s chances this year?”)

 

--

 

“So,” Neville says, after they’ve both snuck out of dinner early, and are alone in the dorm, “We weren’t talking about two different things earlier, were we?”

 

“Um,” Ron says, “If I was saying ‘do you have any books about dark magic’, what would your answer be?”

 

“Thank Merlin.” Neville opens his trunk, and digs around for a bit. “Gran’s hellbent on me picking up the family traditions, but… It just—What with Mum and Da, it just—“

 

Ouch. Ron can see why Neville isn’t leaping headfirst into the dark arts, considering, you know, what they did to his parents. “Yeah.”

 

“The plants and creatures side of it I can deal with, but… I just can’t with the curses.”

 

“I get that.”

 

“What made you even want to—“

 

“Mum brought it up, thought it’d suit. You know how she is.”

 

Neville had met Molly Weasley a few times, mostly at social gatherings that his Gran organized, and knew indeed how she was. “… Ah.”

 

Ron’s speaking again before he can stop himself. “Plus, my wand’s weird, so—“

 

“Wait, what?” Neville pauses in his excavation of his trunk, and looks at him.

 

“ ‘S Just weird. I dunno,”

 

“Can I see it real fast?” Neville held his hand out.

 

“Sure.” Ron passed the wand over, and immediately, once it had settled into to Neville’s hand, it began to spit sparks. Not in the traditional way, where they shoot out the tip, but in a way that suggested it was about to start spewing fire.

 

Morgana!” Neville dropped the wand, and the sparks died out. “That is just…”

 

“Yep. It’s a bit touchy.” Ron secured his wand again, and slid it into his pocket. “So, what’s this book your Gran gave you, anyway?”

 

Neville hoisted something out of his trunk. It was heavy, leather-bound, and decidedly book-shaped. It also looked to be a few centuries old. He passed it to Ron. “Here you go.”

 

An Introduktyn to Praktises Sekret And Eville stared up at him from the cover of the book. “Bloody hell.” Ron cracked it open, and looked at the table of contents. Titles like ‘Circle Basics’ and ‘Wards and Their Uses’ didn’t seem particularly secret and evil (or, rather “Sekret And Eville”), but ‘Blood Rituals’ and ‘Sentient Modification’ sure bloody well did.

 

--

 

On Friday, they have double Potions with the Slytherins. It is, for lack of a better word, positively awful.

 

Well. That’s the thing.

 

It’s absolutely terrible for Harry and Hermione, and Neville looks about two sharp words away from passing clean out at the drop of a hat.

 

It’s not awful for Ron.

 

It’s like cooking, a bit. All the measuring and chopping and stirring makes sense, plus there’s not much that his wand can mess up too easily. And sure, Snape may be a bit of a prick, but Ron’s spent his whole life around Fred and George, who are, at the best of times, endearing pricks, and Percy, who’s got a stick lodged so far up his ass it’s occasionally a wonder he doesn’t cough out sawdust—Snape being mean just for the sake of it once a week doesn’t really register for him the same way it does for everyone else.

 

(And there was that thing where he may or may not have been a Death Eater, but Mum seemed to think he was on the right side of history when it came down to the wire, and even though she was a bit, y’know, Mum about the whole thing, she tended to be right.)

 

He’s stuck sharing a table with Theo Nott, which isn’t that bad, all told. He’s quiet, but not especially shy. They don’t end up trying to blow each other up, which is a marked improvement from the other inter-house pairs in the class. Of the two others, Hermione and Blaise Zabini have settled into a sort of quiet, mutual loathing, where they do everything perfectly but the air between them could boil metal, whereas Seamus and Millicent Bullstrode have managed to melt a cauldron and set their table on fire, but they seem to be getting along okay.

 

Theo’s alright, he supposes. Quiet, which is a nice change of pace, seeing as how all his friends, and most of his family, are either loud, talkative, or both.

 

(except if they’re Percy, but he can go on a real tear if he’s properly inspired.)

 

Overall, Potions is alright. Malfoy is a bit of a prick, and a bit smug, but he’s also stuck being Crabbe’s partner, which is distracting enough that he doesn’t try to hex anyone or sabotage their potions.

 

All-in-all, a good class, really.

 

At least for him.

 

Harry and Hermione look absolutely miserable.

 

--

 

That Saturday, he wakes up, eats some breakfast in the great hall, grabs an apple for a snack later, and then goes to an abandoned classroom on the sixth floor to start teaching himself some dark magic. According to the sign on the door, it was once used for Ghoul Studies, but Ron’s pretty sure that hasn’t been an available elective for at least half a century.

 

He locks the door behind him, sets his bag down, and cracks An Introduktyn to Praktises Sekret And Eville open randomly. He’s immediately confronted with helpful diagrams of how to spot gangrene if one has substandard equipment for a blood ritual. Gross. Probably very useful, but still.

 

Ron flips randomly again, and sees something that’s arguably much more useful. A grin stretches across his face, and it feels a little feral.

 

Fire Transfiguration.

 

(That is, transfiguring something to be made out of fire, and burn, rather than a) setting it on fire, or b) making and shaping cold fire, which was actually on the OWLs, and something that Mum did every year around Christmas.)

 

The wand-movement seems pretty simple, just right left right up around and cut down the middle, and the incantation is something Greek that rolls around the front of his mouth when he says it.

 

He practices each a couple of times, just the movement and then just the speaking, getting his body and his mouth used to it, and then he takes a piece of parchment out of his bag, balls it up really tightly, and sets it on the table in front of him.

 

Ron takes a steadying breath, and then another. It’s not even ten in the morning yet, on the first Saturday after the term has started, so there’s not much happening around the castle, since anyone not practicing highly illegal dark magic unsupervised is probably sleeping in, or eating a leisurely breakfast.

 

Ron readied his wand, and started casting. The pull on his magic was evident from the first syllable, tugging at him like an easy morning stretch. The words seemed to just fall off his tongue with the correct pronunciation, the wand movements seemed practiced and second nature almost immediately.

 

And the ball of paper in front of him burst into flame. Every wrinkle and overlap clearly visible in the dancing heat, and a singe starting to form on the wooden desk under it. “Wicked.”

 

Ron quickly upended half of his water bottle over it, extinguishing the flames. Probably not a good idea to let that burn too long, if he didn’t know how to stop the fire from spreading.

 

But still, though.

 

That was way easier than it had any right to be.

 

“This is a weird time in your life, “ Dad had said, before he got on the train. “You’ll learn things about yourself. It’ll be fun!”

 

Ron’s pretty sure his Dad was talking about puberty, but, well, it turned out that it also applied to practicing dark magic. Who knew.

 

--

 

Things start going fast after that. Harry tries to duel Malfoy at midnight, and they bring Neville along. On the weekends, Ron turns progressively larger and more complicated things into fire before it gets to a point where he can no longer empty a glass of water onto them but has to actually learn how to undo the spell.

 

(This process results in him burning off all the hairs on his arm a few times, and leaving large scorch marks on the walls and floor of the Ghoul Studies room. Luckily, since no body uses it other than him, it shouldn’t be noticed for a while.)

 

Him and Neville are elbow deep in potting soil the next time they talk. It’s a couple of weeks before Halloween, so they’re tending to some gourds that are both vaguely autumnal and good ingredients for thickening both potions and stews.

 

“So,” Neville says, “How are you liking the, uh, book?”

 

“It’s going pretty well,” Ron says, grinning. “I managed not to set myself on fire last week.”

 

Dean Thomas looks at him, sharply, as does Anthony Goldstein. “Is there…” Dean sighs. “Is this just not my business, or are you doing something stupid?”

 

Before Ron can answer, Neville says, “Both, actually.”

 

Christ.” Dean looks down at his potting soil like he’s actively considering burying his head into it. “You being safe about it?”

 

“Eh,” Ron says, “Reasonably.”

 

“Cool.” Dean looks back at Anthony. “You said you had a Nintendo? What games?”

 

(“Oh! Uh,” Anthony says, allowing himself to get pulled back into their previous conversation, “I was playing a lot of Final Fantasy IV this Summer?”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah! I hadn’t played any of the others, but it seems like this one stands alone? It’s weird, because apparently, like, two and three haven’t even been released in English—“)

 

“And?” Neville asks, quieter than before. Anthony and Dean are very consciously not paying attention, but still.

 

“Well,” Ron says, “I’m getting really good at turning things into fire.”

 

Morgana, Ron, that’s—“ Neville throws a small clod of dirt at him, in lieu of finishing that thought. “You’re gonna be terrifying one day, you know that?”

 

“Huh.” Ron says, quite liking the sound of that, “There are worse things.”

 

--

 

Anyway, a few weeks later a troll breaks into school and all hell breaks loose.