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How to Succeed in Dark Wizardry (Without Really Trying)

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YEAR TWO: CHAPTER 5

 

The mandrakes will, thankfully, be ready before the end of the school year—that’s the good news. That the school year is going to end as usual in June is, well…. Less good news.

 

Harry is convinced that once folks start waking up, they’ll be able to identify their attacker. Ron’s, you know, less convinced, but whatever—Harry was kinda bullheaded about a lot of things, and it looked like this was going to be one of those things.

 

Ginny sits next to Ron, at lunch, one day in early April.

 

“Ron, I—I have something to tell you.” She’s steadfastly ignoring Harry, who’s sitting across from them. Ginny’s already gone absolutely scarlet, so Ron’s not going to call attention to it. Even ignoring Harry, rather than running from the room or collapsing in a dead faint, is kind of a step up. “It’s about—you know, what’s been, uh—“

 

“Are you doing alright?” Ron asks, because his sister is clearly going through it, whatever ‘it’ is, and he’s kinda bad about letting that sort of thing lie. “For real, you can tell me.”

 

“I’m fine.” She bites out. “It’s just that—you know, with the chamber, and everything—“ She looks at the door to the Great Hall, and freezes. “Look, I’ll tell you later, alright?”

 

Without another word, she dashes off.

 

Like clockwork, a moment later, Percy shows up. “Did I just see Ginny here?”

 

Ron blinks up at him. “Have you apologized yet?”

 

“Well—No, I mean—“ Percy sighs. “I was just trying to corner her, but apparently, this whole fucking farce is completely out of my goddamn control right now, and I’d really fucking like—“

 

“I think she went back to Gryffindor Tower?” Ron cuts in, before Percy can work himself up to yelling obscenities at the entire universe, rather than just muttering them darkly.

 

Percy nodded. “Thanks.”

 

As Percy ran off, no doubt in the direction of the Gryffindor dorms, Ron gently rested his head on a clear spot of table, and sighed.

 

“You doing alright there, mate?” Harry asked, bemused.

 

“Just peachy.”

 

--

 

So, the thing is, right, that Hermione’s got some page from a book in her hand, and apparently, no one in the hospital wing either noticed, or bothered to check.

 

Luckily, that page is also the only lead they’ve gotten so far into the mystery of what’s terrorizing the student body. Less luckily, it turns out it’s a bloody basilisk.

 

Basilisks are, according to the handy piece of paper that Hermione saved, utterly bananas. A deadly stare, venom that could put down a few dragons with a single bite, and, apparently, natural spider repellent. Also, they were deathly allergic to the noise of a rooster, which seemed a bit random, but Ron just kinda accepted it.

 

The more important thing was that they were apparently well-nigh impossible to kill, and one of them was in the fucking pipes.

 

The only reason that no one had actually died yet is that, for all of them, their vision was obscured—or, at least, partially obscured, whether it was through glass or reflected off of water or, for Justin ‘I nearly went to Eton’ Finch-Fletchley, through a ghost.

 

--

 

Harry figured that the entrance to the chamber—the entrance to the basilisk’s lair, is through the haunted girls’ bathroom.

 

“Mate,” Ron said, leaning against one of the sinks, water from a puddle slowly sinking in to his shoes, “I think we might have to chalk this one up as a loss.”

 

“You aren’t bloody helping!” Harry glared at him, from where he was hissing at a toilet.

 

“We should tell somebody, I reckon,” Ron said, ignoring him. Of course he wasn’t helping, it’s not like he could whisper sweet nothings to bathroom fixtures and find magic snakes—that was very much more Harry’s thing. “So they know, and all.”

 

“When have the teachers ever done anything to help us?”

 

“Um,” Ron said, because truth be told Harry had a bit of a point there, but also he rather liked the teachers, for the most part.

 

“And Dumbledore is gone, and—and he’s the only one who could do anything!” Harry was now artfully draped on the door of a stall, his breath heaving.

 

“I don’t thing that he’s the only one…”

 

Harry snapped. “You’re right! Lockhart can help! He’s probably slayed loads of basilisks!”

 

Ron, who had been thinking more along the lines of calling Snape and McGonagall down to rain holy hell on whatever lied in the chamber, elected to stay silent. “I dunno, Harry, he seems—he just seems fishy to me, is all.”

 

“… You just don’t trust him because of Hermione, do you.” It wasn’t a question, but Harry looked at him, sharply. “Just because you have a crush on her—“

 

What?” Ron was taken aback. “I don’t—what gave you the idea that I have a crush on Hermione?”

 

(Not that, it should be noted, Ron didn’t have a crush on Hermione—he did, a bit, just not really anything worth acting on: he mostly just liked being around her and listening to what she had to say; the whole thing felt a lot like a slightly different version of friendship, really.)

 

“You’re just around her all the time, and you’re always talking about stuff, and you don’t always let me—“ Harry sighed, aggravated. “It’s like you’re ignoring me sometimes, I guess.”

 

“… I haven’t meant to. It’s not like—I don’t—“ Ron leaned back against the sink and tried to figure out how to phrase what he wanted to say. “It’s not that I have a crush on her, and more that she’s easier to talk to some times, you know?”

 

Harry blinked at him, from where he was half-heartedly hissing at some tiles. “… I’m not sure I follow?”

 

“I’m bad at, like, talking, I guess.” Ron said. “She’s, uh, better at figuring out what I’m trying to say. ‘S easier, is all.”

 

“… Easier?”

 

“It’s not—I’m not saying that talking to you is hard, I’m just—“ Ron felt like his brain was slowly turning into mush, so he decided to change the subject. “Let’s find a teacher, I guess. We should let them know.”

 

Harry nodded. “Alright.”

 

--

 

Ginny’s missing. He hasn’t seen her since lunch, when she had something to tell him, and then rabbited once Percy showed up.

 

More specifically, Ginny’s missing, and there’s another message written on the wall in blood.

 

HER SKELETON WILL LIE IN THE CHAMBER FOREVER’

 

Which is, you know, concerning.

 

--

 

Lockhart’s no bloody help, of course. Shock of shocks, but the man is an absolute fraud.

 

More specifically, all of Lockhart’s books are lies, that he’s cribbed by just talking to the people who did them, and then memory charming them until they don’t know their own name.

 

So, anyway, Harry brings him along regardless (Ron really can’t see the logic in that, to be honest), and they all march onto the haunted girls’ bathroom. Shock of shocks, but the damn room has managed to flood, again.

 

Harry managed to hiss at the right piece of porcelain, finally. A couple of sibilant sounds, and all of a sudden the sinks are parting, revealing a gaping hole into the darkness beneath the school. Harry jumps in first.

 

Ron smirks to himself and shoves Lockhart down after his friend. He’s gotta say, seeing the look on that prick’s face as he’s thrown into danger by a tween is really something else.

 

He puts the schadenfreude aside, and slides down after, joining Harry and Lockhart in an incredibly gross landing, covered in the remains of what he’s guessing are rats. (That probably explained Scabbers being so damn terrified). Stretched out in front of them, trailing endlessly into the depths of the tunnel beyond, is a large snakeskin, the little ridges of the scales glinting in the faint light of their wands.

 

Well, the faint light of Harry’s wand. Lockhart’s is shoved in his pocket. Ron’s, on the other hand…

 

Ron’s is, unfortunately, in Lockhart’s hand. He can tell, can feel where Lockhart’s fingers, completely devoid of any kind of callus, are wrapped gently around the shaft.

 

He raises Ron’s want slowly, the tip tasting the cool, humid air of the tunnels, and looks at the two of them, sharply.

 

“You know too much.” Lockhart says, suddenly, darkly. “I’d say I was sorry, but, well, I’m not.” He grins, and it’s a picture-perfect match to the smiles that graced the walls of his office. Just dead-eyed enough to be truly unsettling, if you knew what to look for.

 

He raised Ron’s wand, and waved it. “Obliviate.

 

Luckily for Ron, his wand was feeling particularly ornery, and the spell didn’t take.

 

Lockhart tried again a little more forcefully. “Obliviate!”

 

His wand was hot, burning, full, and pushing out something. Ron wasn’t sure if it was magic or what—he was a bit busy being absolutely fucking terrified. Sliding, bursting, and then—

 

What the FUCK?” Lockhart screamed, his voice echoing against the damp, stone walls of the tunnel. He held the wand in front of his face, uncomprehending.

 

Because, of course, it had begun to bleed again. Which Ron had maybe not told anyone about. Only this time, it was anything but sluggish.

 

Blood spurted from the wand, sliding down Lockhart’s fingers and wrists in time with his heartbeat. The professor paled, swallowing.

 

“This is—“ Lockhart’s hands were covered in blood now, and it was beginning to trail all the way to his biceps, dripping down his shirtfront. “Weasley, what the fuck?”

 

“Guess it just doesn’t like you, professor.” Ron could see Lockhart swallow.. And for safe measure, swallow again. The man was cold—his fingers, especially, freezing against the blazing heat of Ron’s wand. “It’s picky that way.”

 

“This is—You’re a monster.” He breathed, half-collapsing into the tunnel wall. He was looking less ‘pale’, and more ‘corpse-like’.

 

“Might be.” Ron said, staring at Lockhart in disgusted fascination. “Can I have my wand back now?”

 

“You can pry your wand—“ Lockhart gritted out,”—out of my cold, dead hands.”

 

Ron held back a remark that that possibility was looking rather likely at this point. “Just—please?”

 

“Fuck…. You,” Lockhart said, right before his eyes rolled back in a dead faint.

 

Huh, Ron thought, that was easy. He walked the few steps over to where Lockhart’s body lay, and pried his wand out of the older man’s hands. It stopped oozing blood immediately, the connection, apparently, severed.

 

“Ron,” Harry said, and yikes, Ron had totally forgotten that he was there, “What was that?”

 

Time to play dumb. “What was what?”

 

“The—The blood!” Harry sounded a little shrill, but it was honestly come by. “What was up with your wand bleeding?”

 

“I dunno,” Ron said, “It just does that sometimes.”

 

That was technically true, at least. He didn’t want to get into the whole practicing dark magic thing with Harry—not right now, they had to rescue his sister, for crying out loud! And, possibly, kill a basilisk, though Ron had his doubts about the possibility of that one.

 

“Can we please talk—“

 

“Let’s rescue Ginny first, okay?”

 

Harry nodded. “If you’re—If you’re actually going to talk to me about it.”

 

Ron nodded, which only had the benefit of not being a lie solely because he didn’t actually make any sort of promise either way.

 

The two boys made their way down the damp, stone tunnel.

 

--

 

After Harry does a little more hissing (this time, at a wall a ways down the tunnel), they find the actual chamber.

 

Ron’s eyes light onto Ginny first, lying at the far end, in front of a large statue of a man, his mouth open in a silent scream. Heedless of anything else, he runs.

 

“Ron—“ Harry shrieks.” Ron, the basilisk!”

 

“Sod the basilisk!” Ron calls back, “That’s my sister!”

 

“Ron!” Harry starts chasing him, but Ron doesn’t really notice. He’s a little over halfway there, feet making harsh sounds against the damp black marble floor. Snake statues frame the walkway, mouths open and fangs dripping.

 

Ginny’s body is less than fifty meters away now, and Ron hopes against all odds that his third-hand shoes don’t fail him now. He can’t even begin to think of anything other than Ginny being alive. That’s not—it’s just not a possibility, really. His baby sister has to be alive, otherwise all of reality is broken.

 

Twenty meters. Ten. His shoes make squelching noises on the black marble, threaded with quartz, the wet squeaks echoing throughout the cavernous chamber.

 

Ginny lies in front of him, perfectly unharmed in a way that’s immediately suspicious. When he finally reaches her, he slams two fingers onto the side of her neck and hopes to feel a pulse.

 

It’s there, thankfully, but weak, thready. She’s breathing, too, he notices, now that he’s nice and close, but shallowly—weakly, like something is pressing down on her from just under her skin. Her hands are covered in blood, bright red, and there are little whisps of feathers slinging onto her robes.

 

“Oh fuck,” Ron says, gears finally meshing in his mind. “Oh, fuck,”

 

Ron!” Harry shrieks, scandalized. He’s caught up, now, seeing as how he elected not to take several meters of wet marble floor at a dead sprint. “Language!”

 

“I daresay the boy is justified,” A third voice says, almost distorted. It makes Ron’s blood run cold. “She is his sister, after all, and things aren’t all sunshine and roses in the Weasley clan.”

 

Ginny is solidly knocked out, but also solidly alive, so Ron chances a look up.

 

There’s a man, maybe seventeen, maybe eighteen, leaning against the large stone statue casually. He’s distorted on the edges, and has a bit of a blue-ish green-ish tinge—ethereal, Hermione would say, probably, because she liked those sorts of big, fancy words—and a smirk stretches inhumanly far across his face.

 

His shoes are professional, his shirt is the fancy kind that buttons up and has a lot of small, razor-thin pleats; his hair is curly, but gelled down, save for a few stray locks at his temples. He looks, for lack of a better word, “old-timey”.

 

The vibes coming of this—this half-there guy are absolutely rancid.

 

“Are you some kinda gho—“

 

Riddle.” Harry says, cutting off what was, admittedly, a very dumb question. “I should have known that you were involved in this.”

 

This ‘Riddle’ prick cocks an eyebrow. “Oh really?”

 

“With—with the diary, and all.” Harry sighs, looking to the side, a little sheepish. “Are you a ghost? Or what?”

 

Riddle rolls his eyes. “A memory, preserved in a diary for fifty bloody years. “

 

Oh shit, Ron thinks, they need to leave. Badly. There’s nothing in this situation that won’t be made better by getting out of this damn cave.

 

“Can you help us?” Harry asks, hopefully. “Since you’re, you know, a memory, and all, and Ginny was writing to you for months?”

 

Riddle said nothing, apparently lost in thought.

 

“Okay,” Harry says to himself. “Ron, can you get her arms? I can get her legs, and then—“

 

“You’re mistaken if you think I’m letting either one of you brats out of this room alive,” Riddle says, casually, bending down to pick up Harry’s wand from where it had fallen out of his pocket during the run. “You’re making a decent effort for two twelve year olds with half a brain between the two of you, but I think it’s time to cut this charade short.”

 

Harry drops Ginny’s feet in shock, like an asshole. “But—But the diary! You said that it was Hagrid!”

 

“I lied, you stupid child.” Riddle huffs, sending a little puff of spectral smoke into the cold, damp air of the chamber. “You and the girl were far too free with me. I know all about you, and her vapid little crush, and her twit of an older brother, and her favorite quidditch stars. I know about all her little friends, and I know that she hasn’t written a letter to her parents since she first woke up in a corridor with blood all over her hands.”

 

Riddle looks down on them, looming. “I know all her innermost thoughts, and I fed on them.” Something sparks behind his eyes. “I took all that she gave me and grew, draining her into a husk. A shell. A perfect little puppet.”

 

Ron’s pretty sure he’s honor-bound to kill this guy who’s actually a ghost inside a book, but he’s not quite sure how to do it other than setting it on fire and scattering the ashes. He snarls, wordlessly, and tries to heft the rest of Ginny’s dead weight (not dead, never dead, not yet).

 

It fails, because he’s twelve and lanky and not accustomed to lifting things roughly the size and shape of his baby sister.

 

“And when the little quim threw the book away, who found it but you, Harry Potter.” Death’s too good for this ghost-prick, Ron thinks. He grinds his teeth so hard that he can hear them creak against each other. Riddle’s ghostly form seems to swell, to grow, to take up even more space. “Gaining your trust was simple—all I had to do was talk back, and show you the half-giant, and you let me into your mind.”

 

“You—You framed Hagrid!” Harry shrieked, like it all made sense. Ron figured that he’d missed the memo on at least a few particular aspects of the story. “Back then, you—“

 

“He was an abomination, only useful to care for creatures with even less intelligence then him. It’s not my fault that he never learned to respect his betters.” Riddle scoffed. “Did you think that it was an accident, Potter? I released her on purpose, and I left the diary behind so that sometime down the road, I could do it again. A cull—a purge, of the unworthy from this school.”

 

Ron mutters to himself, a wordless sound, but something high pitched and disgusted. He wraps his hands under Ginny’s armpits, since Harry has been fully distracted from helping, and attempts to start dragging her away from the psycho ghost-book freak who’d been possessing her the entire year. It’s not the most dignified of enterprises, but he manages to get almost a meter away when—

 

“Don’t think that just because you’re quiet I’ve been ignoring you, Ronald,” Riddle says, looking suddenly deep into his eyes. “You’ve got your fingers in all sorts of pies, don’t you, you little void-touched gremlin.”

 

“Ginny wrote about that?” It’s probably not the most important part of that whole statement, but it’s the thing that comes tumbling out of Ron’s mouth first.

 

“You absolute mouth-breathing buffoon, you’ve been shattered and reforged, you dumb twit. Just because the signs aren’t visible doesn’t mean I can’t see them.” Riddle huffs, slightly. “Good show on pretending, though, you’ve got everyone fooled.”

 

For lack of anything better to respond to that with, Ron elected on hissing at Riddle like a feral cat, the sound churning up the back of this throat.

 

“Ah, but Harry,” Riddle says, attention shifting back to clearly more important matters (and people, Ron studiously does not think), “You are, by far, the greater curiosity. A mere babe, cold and alone, surrounded by death, defeating the strongest wizard of the age? You must explain that to me.”

 

Riddle looked more than a little rictus, more than a little too angular all of a sudden, like someone was very gently pulling all of the skin back against his skull. Carved, and carved badly out of the sort of stone that liked to sheer.

 

“Why do you care?” Harry snarls, glaring.

 

Riddle rolls his eyes. “You haven’t figured it out yet, have you? Too wrapped up in your own little drama to do some bloody math, to think, for all of two seconds.” He raises Harry’s wand, and wordlessly swishes it, whispy white letters spewing from the tip in front of him. “It’s not even like I made it particularly subtle.”

 

‘TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE’, the letters spell out, in somewhat shaky block capitals. He waves the wand again, and they begin to rearrange.

 

Into the sentence, “I AM LORD VOLDEMORT”.

 

“Wait,” Ron says, because this has suddenly gotten over to the stupid side of absurd, “You made your name into a sentence? Why not just choose a different alias? Or, like, don’t make it an anagram?”

 

Riddle--Voldemort hisses at him like a cat, or like Ginny does when she’s feeling particularly pissy. “It means flight from death in French, you utter imbecile.”

 

That wasn’t an answer, but alright. Whatever. “But then why would you pronounce the ‘T’ at the end?”

 

“Merlin save us from dumb veil-breachers,” Voldemort mutters. He continues, a bit louder, “It’s nuance, you twit!”

 

“Guess what?” Harry laughs mercilessly, thankfully diverting attention away from Ron, who takes the opportunity to drag Ginny a few inches closer to the cave entrance, even though it’s probably over a hundred meters away. “ I don’t know how I killed you when I was a baby. No one knows. You just got unlucky.”

 

Well, at least Ron’s not the only person goading a man who’s actually a ghost book who’s actually the Dark Lord.

 

A bird cries in the distance. Ron ignores it, because if any more weird shit happens today, he’s going to be really, really upset, and that’s not really practical at the moment, what with them being trapped in a cave with a madman.

 

“Fawkes!” Harry says, like that means anything.

 

The bird cries again, closer this time, and more melodic, swooping down over their heads.

 

“Oh, is that what your precious Dumbledore gave you?” Riddle asks, mockingly, “A bird and a hat? How generous.”

 

“Phoenixes can carry heavy loads,” Harry bites back, testily, as the hat is unceremoniously dropped on top of his head. It’s the sorting hat, specifically, though it doesn’t look to be in a fairly talkative mood, thankfully.

 

“Mate,” Ron says, because Voldemort kind of actually has a point here, and Ron hates that they agree on this, “It really does look like he just gave you a hat, though.”

 

“You know the reason I think that you couldn’t kill me?” Harry says cuttingly, ignoring the both of them, “It’s because my mum sacrificed her life for me, a muggle-born died to save me, and you couldn’t stop that for all your talk about blood purity.”

 

“I’m sure that dying for you was the only thing that the mudblood whore who called herself your mother was good for.”

 

Harry made a noise that was halfway between a snarl and a sob, his face crumpled and unreadable.

 

“Don’t worry,” Voldemort continues, face twisting into what on anybody else would be considered a grin. It lands somewhere between a leer and a “I’m sure you’ll see her soon enough.”

 

Harry twitches violently, “What—“

 

“Salazar’s pet should make short work of the both of you. The girl might live, though—it’d be a shame to waste a pureblood broodmare.”

 

Ron had assumed that ‘seeing red’ was more of a figurative expression than a literal one. As it is, Voldemort’s teenage book-ghost is the only thing he can focus on over the ringing in his ears. Everything else falls away—Harry’s sobbing, the cries of the phoenix, Ginny’s limp weight in his arms—and he looks at Voldemort with only the desire to rip him from the plane of existence by any means necessary.

 

His vision becomes a little dark at the edges, the colors a little brighter, and time seems to turn to molasses as Riddle hisses loudly, the carefully strung together noises echoing around the room, bouncing off of the polished black marble of the floor and the cavernous roof above.

 

Oh shit, Ron thinks, they’d forgotten about the fucking snake.

 

He heaves Ginny a little more (and she’s gonna have some weird bruises after this all shakes out, Ron’s sure of it), but he can already see the snake out of the corner of his eye, uncoiling itself inside the large, open mouth of the statue. He tries not to look at it, focusing anywhere else, eyes darting from Harry to Ginny to that spectre of the teenage Dark Lord. They need to run, need to get out, but something tells him that moving is a bad idea.

 

(When Ron was a little kid, maybe six or seven, they found an adder on the property. A small one, to be sure, but Mum had told him that it didn’t mean that they were less venomous.

 

“Stay still,” Mum had said, slowly winding an arm around him and pivoting her feet so she was facing more towards the house. Her eyes didn’t leave the snake. “Just because they aren’t usually aggressive doesn’t mean they can’t bite.”

 

The snake stuck out its forked tongue, tasting the air. All curled up, it was maybe the size of a cricket ball.

 

His eyes met the snake’s. The snake’s eyes met his, slitted and yellow and small, and it felt like something.

 

“Ron,” Mum had said, deadly serious, “In about ten seconds, I’m going to grab you and run. It will all be very fast. If I get bit, keep running, and call an ambulance.”

 

“But we don’t have—“

 

“Run to the neighbors up the way. It’s just three nines, and then they’ll ask where you are, and they’ll come, alright?”

 

Ron gulped. “Alright.”

 

“Thank you dearie.” Mum took a deep, slow breath, and then another, and ran, hefting Ron in front of her like a sack of potatoes.

 

He hadn’t ended up having to call an ambulance, thankfully, but he never forgot that.)

 

Harry, apparently, had never met a snake sociably before, and immediately turned tail and ran.

 

And, natural as any predator, the basilisk followed, surging out of its den quickly, as if it had been poised to strike beforehand. Ron figured that it probably was.

 

He closes his eyes and holds Ginny close as the head goes past him, but once it’s well-committed to following Harry, he chances a look.

 

It’s a beautiful creature, really. Scales, fresh from a shed, the size of shoe-prints glittering in the torchlight.

 

Harry hisses something loudly. The basilisk hisses back, broken and sibilant, its tongue stretching out to taste the air. It’s mouth is open, fangs literally dripping with poison, and—

 

And the phoenix dives.

 

The snake manages to avoid the first one, jerking and rearing back suddenly, but bird comes back around for another go of it, diving at one of the eyes.

 

Harry’s still running, but slower now, carefully looking at the reflections on the polished stone rather than anything happening behind him. After all, vision was how it got you—looking at the reflection meant petrification rather than death.

 

The phoenix dives again, going for the other eye, and the serpent rears back and snaps at it, catching a wing between its sharp, dripping fangs.

 

The phoenix cries out, a high pitched, broken warble, and rips itself away, pumping its wings in a way that looks to Ron, even far away as he is, like something is deeply, deeply wrong. The next cry the bird gives is more akin to a scream, something sounding deeply human.

 

The phoenix surged up, almost to the roof of the cave, and darted downwards in something that was more of a plummet than a dive. A last stand, aimed directly at the basilisk’s remaining eye, landing beak-first with an audible squelch.

 

“Harry!” Ron calls, the noise reverberating around the chamber, “The eyes! It’s blinded!”

 

And Harry falters. Slowing down and tripping over his own feet, going down hard on the stone.

 

Ron would really like to feel more contrite, guiltier, but his first thought is “whoops”. And then a sword falls out of the hat, and Harry picks it up, turns around, and starts facing the snake head-on, driving it back.

 

Ron doesn’t even try to move. He’s glued to the spot, Ginny crushed to him like if he lets up his grip at all she’ll drift away on the wind, and he watches.

 

Voldemort watches too but doesn’t intervene. Ron’s pretty sure that has something to do with the whole being a ghost book thing.

 

Ron looks at the book. It’s close enough that maybe—no, that’s a bad idea.

 

But, well, with Harry distracting the snake, and him not being able to reach the exit, and Ginny being incredibly knocked out, there’s a limit to what he can do.

 

Ron gently lowers Ginny to the ground, making sure she doesn’t jar her head or neck, and then, very quietly, takes one step, and then a second and a third, and picks up the diary.

 

He tears it in half, straight down the middle of the spine, before he can even form a thought, and Voldemort—Riddle—screams. It’s an old book, cheaply made fifty or so years abo and badly maintained, so it doesn’t take much strength to rip apart.

 

It’s then that he notices Harry arm-deep in the snake’s jaw, stabbing, the pointy end of the sword sticking out the back of its head gruesomely.

 

The important part, however is the fang that Harry rips out of his own arm.

 

Ron tries to remember how deadly basilisk venom is. It tended not to be studied, on account of basilisk’s being pretty thin on the ground, and the eyes being the bigger threat, but—

 

It’s not days or hours, he remembers, it’s minutes.

 

The phoenix manages one last fall from the ceiling of the cavern, and lands, pressing its head against Harry’s wound and crooning sadly.

 

Something happens, and Ron’s too far away to see, but after a moment the Phoenix bursts into flames, and Harry essentially walks the whole thing off.

 

Which is, you know, cool, but still incredibly concerning.

 

Ron’s tabling being worried about that in favor of being worried about, in order, Ginny, Voldemort, the haunted book that he’s holding, whether there’s another basilisk or something worse, Ginny (specifically, like, how she’s gonna recover from all this spooky complicated shit), Lockhart (it niggles at him in an ‘oh yeah, that also happened’ sort of way), what he’s gonna tell Harry once the dust settles, and how the fuck they’re gonna get out.

 

(Also kinda the phoenix but like, their thing is popping back up after they die, so he’s not too too fussed about the whole thing. Like, it’s sad, but it’s also, like, something that will fix itself, so he doesn’t let himself focus on that.)

 

Harry sort of halfway jogs over, because the actual threat has pretty much been eliminated. Riddle snarls, as he approaches, but doesn’t really do anything other than look menacing. He still has Harry’s wand, but since he hasn’t bothered to use it other than the letters thing, he’s pretty sure that kiddie-Voldemort is limited to just making anagrams and being a prick.

 

Harry’s also holding the fang he pulled out of his arm, which doesn’t seem entirely safe, but whatever. It seems like things are winding down.

 

“Hey Ron,” Harry says, “Can you pass me the book?”

 

“… you aren’t going to write in it are you?” He knows that it’s a stupid question, but Harry is kind of a dumbass sometimes, so he figured that he should double check.

 

“Wha—no?” Harry looks incredibly confused. “I was going to stab it? With the fang?”

 

That made sense. Basilisk venom killed shit, Riddle was nebulously alive and attached to the diary, therefore stabbing it should kill whatever alive bits were left. Ron passes the book over.

 

Ron hands it over.

 

Harry stacks the halves of the book together, takes a slow, aiming swing, and then unceremoniously stabs it.

 

Riddle vanishes, Harry’s wand clatters to the ground, and the book screams, begins fluttering and bleeding ink like it’s actually flesh and blood. Ron tries hard not to think about his wand’s habit of bleeding, and halfway succeeds.

 

“So,” Ron says, a moment after the book stops screaming, “You want to get Ginny’s legs?”

 

--

 

The way it all shakes down is this:

 

  1. The phoenix rebirths itself (gets reborn? Reborns? Ron’s not solid on the verbiage that this entails. )
  2. After a bit, when it’s back to being grown, they grab the tail and fly out of there. Ron’s not sure how they did it with Ginny being knocked out and having to carry the sword, but he’s not going to question it.
  3. (They leave Lockhart down there. They can send a teacher or something, after they let everyone know that he’s a fraud.)
  4. They get back up to the bathroom, the Phoenix flies off, screaming, and Harry, apparently taking that as a personal cue, drops Ginny’s legs (again, what an asshole), runs into the hallway, and starts screaming himself.
  5. The closest person who doesn’t immediately clam up is that Hufflepuff prefect who plays seeker, who ends up princess-carrying Ginny to the hospital wing. Ron and Harry follow behind on foot.
  6. Pompfrey freaks out. McGonagall freaks out. At some point Mum and Dad show up, and freak out.
  7. Harry goes to talk to Dumbledore, and something happens with the diary and apparently Lucius Malfoy is there? Ron’s not really clear on what happened there.
  8. Ron slips away, tracks down Snape, and lets him know that not only is Lockhart an absolute fraud, but he’s also super trapped under the school. Snape sighs, longsuffering, and starts to floo someone as Ron leaves.
  9. Ron says to his Mum, “Remember that time we found an adder in the back garden?” Dad, overhearing, says, “You found a what?”

 

So anyway, Ron stays at the hospital wing overnight, mostly just to be with his sister. Harry stays overnight because he’s basically trying to walk off sepsis from the snakebite, and that’s really a bad idea. Ginny stays overnight because even though there’s nothing physically wrong with her, she still hasn’t woken up. Lockhart ends up wheeled in a few hours after midnight, then quietly floo’d to Saint Mungo’s while everyone else is asleep.

 

--

 

Ginny wakes up the next day, and is sent home for two weeks to recover, and given an auto-pass on her end of term exams (which were, like, over a month away, but whatever, that seemed like the least they could do).

 

Harry never asks him about the Lockhart thing. Either he's forgotten, or he assumes it's normal. Ron's not sure which he'd prefer.

 

A week before the end of term, they start waking people up. It’s slow going, at first, because the mandrake draught is the sort of thing that can’t be made in large quantities because of the risk of the fumes.

 

Harry and Hermione sign up for all the same third-year electives as him. Actually, Hermione signs up for all of them, but—well, same difference, really.

 

“…I don’t think you’d like Divination,” Ron tries, “It seems a little, uh, loose, I guess, for you, you know?”

 

“Come on, Ron,” Harry says, across from him, “It’ll be great—the three of us, in some dusty tower, hanging out and looking into crystal balls.”

 

“It’s just storytelling, Ronald.” Hermione scoffed. “I want to be as well-rounded as possible, even if something’s fake.”

 

It wasn’t fake, was the thing. Like, Ron’s not one of those people who believes what every lady wearing a silk turban who says her family comes from Delphi says, but—the idea that it was somehow less magic than, say, Charms was kinda baffling, honestly. “Well, if you say so,” He says, instead, “Anyway, what are your plans for the summer?”

 

Two days later “GILDEROY LOCKHART—MEMORIES, LIES, FARCE!” is the headline on the front page of the Prophet, with a picture of him in handcuffs being dragged into the ministry.

 

The train ride back to Kings Cross is quiet. Harry tries for a few stabs at small talk, but it’s almost painfully awkward. Ron gives up about halfway through, and changes compartments to sit with Ginny and her weird blonde Ravenclaw friend. They’re still pretty much silent—Ginny being asleep and whatshername reading a newspaper—but it’s way less awkward than back with Harry.

 

(Also, it feels really good to just be able to see his sister, after everything that went down.)

 

The minute Ron gets back to his room at home, he changes into pajamas and sleeps, face down, on top of the covers, too tired to even move under them.