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How to Succeed in Dark Wizardry (Without Really Trying)

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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.

 

Chapter Text

 

YEAR ONE: CHAPTER 2

 

Bloody hell, but Ron thought that the whole thing where he got dragged into unfortunate situations because he just happened to be best friends with the Boy-Who-Lived would at least wait a few years before it started happening. Ron’s all for daring adventures, or whatever, but he’d like to have them when he has a better chance of surviving.

 

The whole thing with the troll is maybe-kinda-actually Ron’s fault, though. Not that he’ll admit it to anyone other than himself. It’s just—Hermione has this thing, and he should be used to it by now, where she’s insufferable and condescending when she gets something and anyone else (but, these days, especially Ron) doesn’t.

 

It’s like—Okay. Ron’s never had any preconceptions about his skill with academics. He’s pants at most things in a classroom setting, and he knows it, thanks, but he’s not dumb. And occasionally, Hermione will say something and it’ll just make him feel really, really stupid.

 

And he’ll cut back. And he was a little too harsh on Halloween, if he’s being honest, but it’s a bit too bloody late for that now, because Hermione is trapped on her own against a troll, and it’s essentially his fault.

 

Merlin, he could have handled that better.

 

He’s really stuck his foot in it now.

 

Anyway, Ron decides that the best way to remedy this is to jump onto the troll and attempt to lobotomize it with his wand, because it honestly seems like the best course of action at a time—turning the troll into a towering troll-inferno is probably not the best course of action, seeing as how his control is a little more theoretical than he’d like, and there’s a limit to how useful it’d be to use lumos (other than as, maybe, a distraction), let alone alohomora.

 

So, lacking any other course of action than a physical assault—and he’s pretty sure he can’t noogie the troll into submission like it’s his younger sister—he decides to climb it and try and stick his wand up its nose, because at the very least, that’ll be nice and distracting.

 

Hermione ends up floating the trolls own club up and knocking it out, which still makes Ron feel a bit dim, but she did save his life, and all, so he’s willing to cop to that one.

 

So, they’re friends now, or whatever. She seems alright, he guesses. For a girl. Not that he really knows any girls, other than his sister and her friends. And then they lose a ridiculous amount of house points together, which seems fair, he supposes, so now they’re bonded for life or whatever.

 

At least, that’s how it always works in stories.

 

--

 

Ron goes to Harry’s first Quidditch match, obviously, because they’re mates. And, also, because he loves Quidditch—don’t get him wrong, if Harry was on the house Gobstones team, he’d come out and support him, too, but it’s a lot easier when it’s something he actually likes.

 

Hermione is there too, and Ron’s warming up to her, a bit. She’s a muggleborn, she’s got poofy hair, and she’s a know-it-all, but they’re friends.

 

Plus, when Harry’s broom starts acting up, and Snape is obviously being incredibly suspicious, Hermione goes from zero to “let’s set him on fire” really fast, and, frankly, Ron respects that.

 

(Okay, she might not have been looking at the bigger picture, and just trying to distract him, but still. She could have just done a tickling hex, or something, is what he’s saying, but she immediately went for arson.)

 

Harry manages to somehow catch the snitch in his mouth, and win the game for Gryffindor, which Ron thinks is absolutely wicked.

 

--

 

The next potions class, Snape is just constantly glaring at everyone. This is a change from his usual demeanor, because normally, when he isn’t lecturing, he’s either sneering at Harry, or catching up on grading by staring down at his essays in muted despair.

 

He still shares a table with Theo Nott. They haven’t exactly spoken, really, but he seems alright. Partners are permanent for the entire school year, so Hermione and Blaise have seemingly grown to loathe each other even more, which is honestly a bit of an accomplishment for the two of them.

 

(Seamus and Millicent proceed get on like a house quite literally on fire, which Ron and Dean Thomas find amusing, and literally no one else does. Dean was mostly just happy to see his best friend so jazzed up; Ron mostly just has a skewed perspective on what constitutes a safe amount of explosions from growing up with Fred and George, and figures that if no one is permanently scarred, it’s all in good fun, and at least the two get along well.)

 

The week after the Quidditch game, though, he manages to melt his cauldron in potions.

 

“Oh, bloody hell. I’m sorry,” Is the first thing out of Ron’s mouth, as he turns to Theo, and their failure of an herbicide leaks out on the ground beside him. “Merlin, that’s just—“ Ron cuts himself off with an aggrieved sigh.

 

Theo looks at him, looks at the cauldron that is rapidly approaching scrap metal, and looks back at him. “Damn.” He says, softly. “That was yours, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Snape strides over, long, quick strides making sharp noises against the stone floor of their dungeon classroom. “What,” He says, “Is the meaning of this, Mister Weasley?”

 

“I dunno, Professor,” Ron says, “Pretty sure this cauldron was just ancient.”

 

“I think you’ll find, Mister Weasley, that magically forged cast-iron does not simply weaken with age.” Snape waves his wand sharply, and vanishes the potion from the floor. “You should count yourself lucky that this was one of the least dangerous things we will brew during your time at Hogwarts.”

 

Seamus and Millicent’s potion catches fire briefly, a bright pink flame that surges tall for an instant and disappears. Snape ignores it, staring intently down his large nose at Ron. “Detention, Monday evening, after dinner.” He glances at the flaky remains of the cauldron, the bottom torn apart and misshapen like a shed snakeskin. “Perhaps you can find a replacement cauldron by then.”

 

There’s no way Ron can find a replacement, and he’s pretty sure that Snape knows it, but he manages to hold his tongue. While Snape doesn’t exactly like him, he’s not taking the opportunity to be a complete prick about this, which is a bit surprising, honestly. Ron figures that compared to Fred and George, and Percy’s… well, Percy-ness, he’s probably the easiest to deal with Weasley that’s sat in his class since Bill.

 

(Charlie was loud and friendly and utter crap at potions. Not for lack of trying—he certainly put the effort in—but something about the art just fundamentally disagreed with him. It wasn’t that he kept melting cauldrons, or anything, but he just mostly ended up making nasty soups rather than anything with a tangible effect. He dropped the subject after barely scraping through with an Acceptable on his OWLs, much to the relief of everyone involved.)

 

“Yes sir,” Ron says, and Snape turns away, striding towards where Neville has managed to create something that strongly resembles quicklime.

 

Ron looks down at the remains of his cauldron, and strongly considers braining himself on the jagged metal, for a second.

 

“That could’ve gone worse,” Theo says, and Ron nearly jumps out of his skin. He’d forgotten that the other boy was there. “He didn’t even take points.”

 

Now that Theo mentioned it, that was odd. “And he didn’t even schedule detention for tonight. Huh.”

 

“Yeah.” Theo looks at the ancient clock on the wall, protected from splatters and fumes by a large glass dome. “Do you reckon we have enough time left to restart?”

 

They had about fifteen minutes left. The potion had to simmer for ten, plus they’d have to re-slice all their ingredients. “Think that might be cutting it a little close, but if you want to try…?”

 

Theo looked at their table. Specifically, he looked at the lionfish spines they’d have to deal with, and how they glistened with venom. “Ah, you’re right, probably a bad call.”

 

Ron spends the rest of the period pretending to read his textbook. Theo pulls out that day’s issue of the Prophet and starts working on the crossword.

 

(Seamus and Millicent’s cauldron flares up again, a bright, cobalt blue this time, and the potion inside makes some worrying noises for a moment or two.)

 

(Other than Hermione and Blaise, they have the highest score at the end of the class, to everyone’s confusion, especially Snape’s.)

 

--

 

The next day is Saturday, so Ron does his weekly routine of getting up before everyone else in the tower, grabbing a bite to eat from the Great Hall, and breaking in to the Ghoul Studies room to practice some dark magic. He hauls the remains of his cauldron along, too—he’s pretty much gotten the hang of turning things into (and, albeit less so, out of) fire, and this could be a good second project.

 

He sets the remains of the cauldron on the top of the (now fairly scorched) desk with a clatter, grabs a seat, and takes out An Introduktyn to Praktises Sekret And Eville, going straight to the index. Being forced into a few study sessions with Hermione was boring, but at least now he knew how to mine books for information, at least a little.

 

The cauldron section is full of topics related to either potion making, trapping a curse into it, or “seasoning” it, whatever that means, so Ron goes straight to the little header for “Repairing”.

 

Reparing

            Cursed Objects (p. 26)

            General (p. 24)

            Healing (p. 376)

            Metalworks (p. 129)

            Obliviations (p. 413)

            Organics (p. 362)

            Tools (p. 23)

            Wands (p. 274)

 

It seemed straightforward enough. Ron turned to page 129. Tools were all well and good, he figured, and a cauldron was a tool, but this was looking a bit more like a heavy duty job. This wasn’t one of his dad’s circuit boards—a few spots of solder wouldn’t fix this, it basically needed to be re-forged. So, metalworking.

 

(Also, to be completely honest, Ron really wants to try and put a weird medieval spell on it, or something. That’d be pretty wicked, he thinks, make it so his cauldron can only be used by the righteous and pure of heart, or whatever. That was a thing old timey wizards did, right? That and chuck swords into lakes.)

 

If thou wouldst like to repair thine arms, the text reads, ensure that, first, thou aren’t near a smithee, for, prithee, that may be the better option.

 

Ron takes a moment to untangle that sentence in his head, and sighs. There’s probably a blacksmith in Hogsmeade, and there’s a good chance he can get Percy to swing by and get the cauldron repaired, but it would be this whole thing, and it would be so expensive—and, yeah, there was a school allowance for students who were hard up for cash, but before Bill had started Hogwarts, Dad had reckoned that being in debt to the most powerful wizard in Britain was a bad idea, and Mum had wholeheartedly confirmed, so…

 

Yeah. Not a tough call, trying to repair it himself, essentially.

 

(Point of fact, Dad’s words had been “I’d rather our family not owe Albus Dumbledore anything. As much as we agree on things, the man has a habit of collecting.”

 

Mum’s response had been a bit more blunt. “Have you seen the way that man treats his blood? I’m not letting him have any control over me or mine.” She always was a bit more old fashioned about everything than Dad. “We may be hard up, but we aren’t that hard up, thanks.”)

 

Anyway. Ron keeps reading.

 

A simple “Repariert” is not enough for most arms; nay, while it may work for healing thineself when no other options are presented, it is not a spell that would serve well for smithing, for it may leave weak spots that reveal themselves at unfortunate times.

 

Ron’s never heard of “Repariert”, but judging by the name, it’s probably some version of Reparo. He writes it down, to look up later, and keeps reading.

 

There’s a bit of waffling on about smithing and forging and lots of stuff that he frankly doesn’t care about, but a few pages later, they actually start explaining the spells that could work. He immediately discards the pages about spot-fixes and chips in swords, because the bottom of the cauldron has basically melted off the rest, into a sheet of curly slag.

 

When thou wouldst a critical repair make, and are bereft of other options, thou must place a bit of yourself into the working. A few drops of blood would suit, as hair tends to not provide a close enough bond. Then, thou shouldst lay thine hands upon the object and chant the following words, after which thou may preform the working.

 

Well, Ron wasn’t wild about jumping straight into blood magic, but, you know, as far as blood magic went, this seemed fairly tame. And hey, everybody had to start somewhere, right?

 

(For most wizards, “somewhere”, with regard to blood magic, was “never”, followed up with “why would you ask me that” and “isn’t that illegal, anyway”. Most dark wizards waiting until they were at least in their twenties to complete their first blood rituals, because “this isn’t the bloody middle ages, we’re civilized” and “I’d rather not call upon the gods at all, if I can avoid it!”.

 

What Ron is doing now is what could be rather diplomatically termed as “having the possibility of unfortunate consequences”. If one were being honest, it could accurately be described as “incredibly bloody stupid.”)

 

Ron pulled his wand out, and practiced the movement a little bit, just to get the feel for it. Hold vertical-circle-circle-slash-jab. It seemed easy. A little too easy, really, but then again, according to Bill, these older spells tended to be more direct and intuitive, because magical experimentation didn’t really become a thing until the Renaissance.

 

The incantation was also fairly simple. It was vaguely Germanic, and flattened out in his mouth weirdly, bubbling up from the back of his throat and settling. Ron thought, briefly, that this sort of stuff was supposed to be difficult, wasn’t it—was everybody else just bad at it, or what?

 

Well, Ron thought, better get this over with.

 

Casting a quick scourgify, he cleaned up the jagged edge of his cauldron, before pressing the meat of his thumb to it, breaking the skin. He hissed a bit, at the pain. It wasn’t anything, you know, life ruining, but it did sting.

 

Ron squeezed a few drops of blood onto the remains of the cauldron. Well, he intended to just squeeze a few, anyway—it ended up being less discrete drops, and more a small puddle, but he figured that if he was committed to the whole blood magic thing at this point, he may as well go all-bloody-in.

 

So anyway, Ron did the ceremonial bloodletting, the laying-on of hands, and began, as one does, entreating to an elder god to please fix his cauldron. The chant itself was in the ye-olde style English that filled the rest of An Introduktyn to Praktises Sekret And Eville.

 

“O great mystical creatures beyond the veil,” Ron began, not really committing to the enthusiasm and rhythm parts of the ritual chant, “I call upon you to, uh, fix this which is stain’d with my lifeblood, for my situation is dire and my heart is clear. Give unto me this, uh, boon, and I will use it to further my practice of the arts most hated and profane.”

 

Ron grabbed his wand, getting a bit of blood on it in the process, and waved it, completing the motion by jabbing towards the cauldron and saying the incantation.

 

For a brief moment, nothing happened.

 

Then the pieces of cauldron started floating of it’s own volition.

 

Ron stopped pointing his wand at it, but that didn’t seem to matter. Things were already in progress, and it was solidly out of his hands at this point.

 

Bloody hell, he thought, much too late for it to do him any good, this might have been a fucking mistake.

 

The pieces of cauldron floated together and interlocked, just as they were when they were whole, unbending and meshing together. They began, faintly, to glow along the seam, metal melting into liquid and filling together in a process that looked altogether too unsafe to be carried out in a place full of wooden furniture. A blob of slag dripped off, landed on the top of the desk, and immediately scorched the wood around it.

 

Ron, to be perfectly honest, had a sudden urge to poke the molten metal with his bare hands. It looked a bit like caramel, and he distantly wondered how it would taste.

 

The air smelled of ozone.

 

All of a sudden, the glowing snuffed out, and the cauldron fell back onto the desk with an almighty clatter, now whole. A note, on a piece of parchment, fell with it.

 

Many centuries have passed since one as youthful as you has entreated us for aid, the note read, in a language that was definitely not English, yet, somehow, fully comprehensible to Ron in that moment. We are intrigued by your progress, Ronald Billius Weasley, the first of his name. Fewer still would call upon us for a trifling matter such as this. We look forward to your future endeavors, for it seems that, in this field, you show no small amount of talent.

 

Ron bites back his first response, which would have been a long string of profanity, and settles for gritting his teeth and kicking the nearest stone wall a few times. He rereads the note, folds it up and sticks it in his pocket.

 

To be fair, of all the possible communiqués with elder gods beyond the veil, this was, at least, vaguely friendly. And it’s not like he entered into a covenant with them to only do works both, ah, “Sekret and Eville”, so, really, this was probably the best possible outcome.

 

It’s fine! Everything’s fine.

 

Nothing to see here.

 

The cauldron has a seam in it now. It doesn’t stand out from the surface, but there’s definitely a jagged line that marks out where the two segments were. It’s not obvious-obvious, but if you knew it was there, it’s impossible not to see.

 

But, still. Overall, Ron’s chalking this one up as a success.

 

--

 

In Charms on Monday, Hermione casts a perfect softening Charm, and Ron’s actually happy for her, as she lets her hand sink into her thick History of Magic textbook like it was made of custard.

 

Ron manages to make his bounce off the floor and his Dean in the shoulder, which isn’t ideal, but is still progress from where he was last week, when he overdid it a bit and the quaffle he was practicing on started melting through the table.

 

Transfiguration is fairly relaxed. Like, he’s still not anywhere approaching good at it, but now that they’ve moved on to trying to turn mice into snuffboxes, he’s honestly a little heartened to see that his work is mostly just slow-going, rather than the unfortunate first few attempts that some of the Ravenclaws in class had, that weren’t so much mice or snuffboxes as they were very angry, fur-covered rectangles with legs and very sharp teeth.

 

Herbology passes quickly—mostly lecture in the greenhouse this time, so no chance for small talk with the guys at his table, and then it’s time for supper.

 

And then, you know, detention.

 

--

 

Ron’s honestly not expecting much out of detention. Percy had taken him aside before dinner and told him that it’d probably be writing lines or scrubbing equipment—nothing too severe, on account of Ron being just a first year, and not actively acting out.

 

Ron brings his repaired cauldron anyway, just in case.

 

(Also, he kinda wants to show off that he fixed it.)

 

Snape is, of course, having none of it when he enters.

 

Why is it, Mister Weasley, that you feel compelled to show me a piece of cast iron at seven thirty on a Monday evening?”

 

“Why, for detention, sir.” Ron’s pretty sure he’s got this one figured out. “You had mentioned it in class, so I thought I’d show that I fixed it.”

 

Snape’s cool gaze sharpens at that. “I highly doubt you’d’ve had time to get it repaired in the village, and Reparo would not—“ He lets out an aggrieved sigh. “Give it here, let me have a look.”

 

Ron, obligingly, passes him the cauldron. “Should be good as new, I reckon.”

 

Snape gives it a few testing thwacks, listening to the sound reverberate through the metal clearly, before looking confused, and doing it again. “…What did you use to repair this?”

 

“Uh,” Ron says, thinking that he can’t just tell his professor that he’s been practicing dark magic and just completed his first blood ritual and is actually fairly proud of the result, “I don’t—What?”

 

Snape looks him directly in the eyes. “What. Spell.”

 

“Just something I picked up from one of Neville’s books, professor.” This has the advantage of being true, while also telling him precisely nothing. And considering the potions’ master’s opinion of Neville, Ron reckons that it could throw him off the scent a little bit.

 

Snape hands the cauldron back. “Astounding. There appears to be a Weasley who has a bit of cunning.” He smirks, a little. Ron’s not entirely comfortable with Snape not being a complete prick, and that expression—it’s not that he’s feeling skeevy, so much as he’s starting to understand why the Slytherins have this cult-like admiration for the man.

 

“Oh, you should meet my sister. She’s much worse.” Ron says, without thinking. Snape’s clearly cottoned on to something, but he doesn’t know how much.

 

“Bloody hell,” Snape mutters, then quickly composes himself. “While this conversation has certainly been… diverting… you have a detention to serve.”

 

“Ah, yeah,” Ron says, still knocked a bit off kilter. It seems that they both are, and that’s frankly a weird position for him to be in with regards to an authority figure. “Percy said something about scrubbing tools, or writing lines?”

 

“Ah, yes, because the one thing that works for the majority of your family is rote memorization.” Snape shuffles some papers around his desk. “No, you get to do something much more boring.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Snape waved his wand, and a pile of large roots appeared on one of the tables next to him, along with a small, sharp knife, and a cutting board. “Peel and mince these. You may leave after two hours, or if you finish. Not before.”

 

“Goody.”

 

“Mind your cheek, Mister Weasley.” Snape looked back down at the essays that he was grading. He seemed to be both in a state of supreme despair, but also relishing in covering the parchment with as much red ink as possible. “Or would you rather I make you scrub out the traps under the sinks?”

 

Ron, knowing upon which side his bread was buttered, elected to shut up and get to slicing.

 

By the end of two hours, even though he has a fairly large pile of minced roots off to his side, he’s barely through more than half of the original pile. “Ah, Professor?”

 

They’d worked in silence up to this point, so he’s not altogether surprised when Snape twitches at the noise. “Ah, Mister Weasley.” He stands up from his desk and strides over to the table where Ron is working, his knee giving a mighty crack that they both elect to ignore. He looks down at the sizeable pile on the cutting board. “Hm… Acceptable.”

 

Coming from Snape, this is, Ron will learn, tantamount to singing his praises from the rooftops. “Oh?”

 

“You’re free to go, Mister Weasley.” Snape waves his wand, muttering, and the minced roots begin to portion themselves into small, glass jars.

 

Ron gets out of that room as fast as possible. Not because he’s like, scared of Snape, or anything—really, he’s not—but because the whole situation was so deeply weird that he just can’t quite wrap his head around it.

 

He knew that Harry and Hermione were convinced that Snape had been the one to curse Harry’s broom (which was fair, because he was being incredibly suspicious about the whole thing), but something about that just didn’t quite line up for Ron. It seemed like he was missing a step or two—going directly from point A to point F, with no stops in between. And it’s not like Ron thinks that his teacher is as innocent and pure as the driven snow, it’s just that, well, things are lining up a little too well.

 

But maybe he was just thinking too much.

 

Probably that.

 

Ron barely makes it back to Gryffindor tower before the start of curfew.

 

--

 

Defense against the Dark Arts is still the most boring class that Ron’s ever taken. Moreso than History of Magic, which is honestly a little bloody impressive, now that he thinks on it. And it’s not just because he’s technically, you know, a dark wizard, and constantly being told lies about dark arts, dark magic, and dark creatures.

 

(Though that is a part of it, he’s not gonna lie.)

 

It’s more that Quirrell is a terrible teacher, when it comes down to brass tacks. If it was just misinformation, then Ron could deal. But this isn’t—for there to be misinformation, it kinda requires some level of information being conveyed in the first place. And Quirrell’s lessons are essentially “dark magic is bad because I said so,” and “in rare circumstances, you may be required to use the knockback jinx,” like flipendo was one of the bloody unforgivable.

 

Draco Malfoy rolls his eyes a lot in class. Ron tries not to, mostly because Mum told him to be a bit under the radar with the whole thing, but sometimes it slips out, regardless.

 

Quirrell is mentioning how werewolves are some of the “m-most dark and t-t-tortured of creatures”, but that their bites can be cured with “the t-timely aplica-tion of a qu-quicksilver solution”.

 

Ron’s reminded of how Bill said that muggles believed that the best way to deal with jellyfish stings is to piss on them, but all that got you was covered in piss. Ron figures this is something similar, only, you know, with a higher chance of heavy metal poisoning. He can’t help himself from rolling his eyes.

 

Draco rolls his as well, and, for a brief moment, they look at each other. ‘Can you get a load of this bollocks?’ the look seems to say, passing back and forth for a moment before they remember themselves.

 

Crud, Ron thinks. He hates agreeing with Malfoy about anything, but especially this sort of stuff. Morgana forbid they be of the same mind when it came to bloody quidditch, it had to be the bloody Dark Arts.

 

(Malfoy, it would later turn out, bloody loved quidditch. Like, ‘owned a quaffle signed by all the Hollyhead Harpies during their championship year’ loved quidditch.)

 

After class, Malfoy grabs his arm and bodily hauls him into a nearby abandoned classroom. “What the bloody hell was that, Weasel?”

 

Oh, Morgana, he’s really in it now. “What was what?”

 

“That look.” Malfoy’s eyes could cut glass. His fingers dig in to where he’s grabbing Ron’s upper arm, and he can feel the little pinpricks of fingernails, even through his robe. “Something’s up with you, Weasley. And I’m going to find out what.”

 

“You utter prick,” Ron says, forgetting himself, briefly. “You couldn’t figure your way out of a wet paper bag without a house elf to do all the bloody thinking for you.”

 

Something lights up in Draco’s eyes. Ron isn’t sure if it’s competition or anger or what, but it’s definitely something. “And you think your little mudblood girlfriend will ever—“

 

Draco stops talking, then, because he’s too busy being punched in the face.

 

(Ron’s not gonna say that he’s an expert in physical violence, or anything, but he does have five older brothers, and they’re a very physical family, so he knows how to throw a punch. And all those days lifting potting soil for Mum did, in fact, pay dividends with regards to general strength. So while he isn’t, like, strong, he can get a good bit of force behind, say, a punch.)

 

“I’m sorry,” Ron says, rubbing his knuckles where they’ve split open. “What was that?”

 

“What the bloody—My father will hear about this!” Malfoy’s voice has gotten a bit shrill, and he already has a shiner forming around his eye.

 

“Oh, you deserved it and you know it,” Ron rolls his shoulders. “You can’t even eat breakfast without writing a letter to your Dad complaining about the cooking, Merlin forbid that you have to do something on your own.”

 

Draco responds to this by kneeing Ron in the groin. He doesn’t fall, but he certainly comes close, and he grinds his teeth together to prevent making too much of a noise.

 

“I’ll show you exactly what I can do on my own, Weasley.” Draco says, lowly, looking him right in the eyes. “I’ll figure out your dirty little secret, and you won’t be able to stop me from telling the whole school.”

 

Malfoy stalks off in a swirl of robes, and Ron takes the opportunity to actually make the noise he was holding in.

 

Bloody hell.

 

That might have been a bad idea.

 

“What was that all about?” Harry asks, as they make their way to flying class. “Is Malfoy giving you trouble?” He probably noticed that Ron was walking funny on account of being nailed in the bollocks by Malfoy’s bony knee.

 

“No more’n usual,” Ron lies “He’s just a prick like that, y’know?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Harry said, “I’ve known since I met him and he insulted Hagrid before learning my name.”

 

That does sound like something Malfoy would do. “Urgh.”

 

“Did you—Is there something on his face?” Malfoy is looking very pale, standing over his broom in the sunlight, and it’s making the emerging bruise around his eye stand out.

 

“Oh,” Ron says a bit too quickly, “I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

 

Harry cuts him a look. “Sure.”

 

“But Harry,” Ron says, “that would be wrong.”

 

“… Are you gonna tell me what this is about, or not? He’s not going after your family again, is he?”

 

“Nothing like that,” Ron says, because, for once it actually isn’t. Quite.

 

“Well?”

 

Ron is very tempted to tell Harry everything. He doesn’t. “There’s just some family stuff between us. I don’t really want to get into it, y’know?”

 

“Sure. Okay.” Harry lets the subject drop, but he looks none too pleased to do it. “Did you finish that essay for History of Magic?”

 

What. What? “We had an essay in History of Magic?

 

--

 

The holidays are just around the corner.

 

Well, to be more accurate, the holidays are just around the corner, and Ron’s staying at school for the duration. So are Fred and George, for that matter, but Percy returned home to Mum and Dad and Ginny.

 

Not that Christmas was really a big deal for their family. Some wizards took it super super seriously. But those were usually the weirdoes who liked dancing naked at Stonehenge during Samhain, or whatever, the kind who got really into Yule celebrations and wore goat heads and that sorts of shit, and while Ron has nothing against it on principle, he’s spend enough time around Xenophilius Lovegood (read: more than a minute or two) to know exactly what most of the folks who get really into the old-timey super-folksy magic can be like.

 

Where was he going with this?

 

Yeah.

 

The Weasleys aren’t very big on Christmas.

 

Sure, Percy was returning to the Burrow, but it wasn’t like anyone else was going to. Charlie would stay in Romania with the dragons, and Bill would probably work through the holiday, but give Mum and Dad a fire-call at some point. Everyone exchanged gifts for Yule, and Mum put on the Celestina Warbeck program on the wireless, and they’d have some sort of nice dinner, but it wasn’t like they’d do anything outrageous.

 

He’d mentioned Harry in his letters to Mum, in between stories about fighting a troll and (heavily edited) stories about his, uh, extracurricular learning activities, so he’s not surprised when Harry gets a Weasley sweater and some homemade fudge on Christmas Day.

 

His sweater is maroon. It’s always maroon. He should maybe see about trading it with somebody—there’s this Ravenclaw named Roger Davies who has a few great cable-knit sweaters, and Ron could probably convince him to go for one with his initial on it, just for some variety.

 

Ron also gets some fudge from Mum, a book from Percy, some bits of Romanian tourist tat from Charlie, and some very suspect candies from Fred and George.

 

Harry gets a photo album, a few coins from his terrible relatives, a wooden flute, and a bloody invisibility cloak.

 

Ron’s….

 

Ron’s actually jealous, alright? Not that he’s going to do anything about it. But. He’s happy for Harry—really and truly, because from what he’s heard this is, like, the first time that the other boy has ever really gotten a Christmas gift, but…

 

The thing is, Ron looks at the invisibility cloak, after the first time, and he can’t help but see how much that thing bloody well costs. He’s never known anyone who’s family was the right combination of old and rich and lucky enough to have one of those.

 

Like, it’s not something he’s constantly thinking about, or anything, but, you know, it’s not something he just doesn’t notice.

 

--

 

Ron wakes up one night to find Harry sneaking out of the dorm. Not that he has to do much sneaking—it’s just them two in the room, and the vast majority of the school is at their parents’ houses for the holidays, but Harry’s getting out of the room and slipping on the invisibility cloak like he’s done it before, which is honestly a little worrying. What possibly could there be for him to do that’s only available at night, and is so intensely private he feels the need to hide it?

 

From Ron, even?

 

Like, Ron’s not wanting to jump the gun, or anything, but he’s pretty sure that him and Harry are best friends at this point, so it’s honestly kinda confusing.

 

(Yes, he gets that there’s a ridiculous level of hypocrisy in that sentiment, but c’mon. Harry Potter is not going to be dabbling in the bloody dark arts. And not just because you-know-who killed his parents, but, like, the whole thing just seemed contrary to everything about Harry.

 

Mostly because Ron figured that Harry had a little more in the way of self-preservation instincts than that.

 

For example, Harry wouldn’t go out and make himself known to the creatures beyond the veil on a bloody whim. )

 

“Harry?” Ron asks, the second time he wakes up to Harry sneaking out of the dorm, “Where are you going?”

 

“Er, well,” Harry says, “There’s this mirror, and… I don’t know if I can explain it right, you’d better come along.”

 

--

 

So, there’s definitely something up with this mirror. Something major.

 

For one, it’s just… standing alone, unguarded, in an empty room, very far away from any bathrooms or dormitories, which is a bit of a red flag. A mysterious mirror that absolutely reeks of magic, alone, in a place where a mirror has absolutely no business being?

 

Dad would have some thoughts about this, is all he’s saying. Something is undeniably hinky about it.

 

Harry says he sees his parents—his whole family, and Ron looks, because this is, honestly, fairly exciting.

 

He does not see Harry’s family.

 

Instead, he sees himself surrounded by friends, a prefect, and, above him, mysterious, fleshy creatures undulate in the dark sky.

 

“D’you see them, Ron?” Harry asks, terribly excited.

 

“Ah, no,” Ron says, honestly a little disappointed about the whole thing. “No, I see something else. Tell me about them.”

 

Harry does. He talks about the way his parents hug him, and about how he’s quidditch captain, and the absolute scores of friends and family that surround him. It’s great. Ron’s really pleased to see him so happy.

 

“What do you see, Ron?”

 

“I’m head boy,” Ron says, embellishing a bit for effect, “and my family is all around me. We’ve won the house cup, and everyone’s just so happy.” He decides not to mention the lurking creatures from beyond the veil. Probably a bad call.

 

“Huh,” Harry says. “Wonder what that’s about?”

 

“I dunno. But, I think this might be a little dangerous, you know? This is… this is a little weird, right?” The future it’s showing him is a little too perfect. There’s no bloody way he could make head boy, for instance, if only because there are at least three different Ravenclaws who already have their hearts set on that position and are, apparently, actively working towards it. And his whole family? Sure, maybe his Dad’s side, but Mum’s family was complicated, to say the least. Something was a little too nice. A little too much what he wanted, what he had never told anybody. “Look, let’s just… let’s just get back to the tower, and get some sleep, alright?”

 

“… Just give me a few more minutes…”

 

Oh, that was probably a bad idea. “C’mon, it’s—it’ll still be here tomorrow night, alright, Harry?”

 

Almost begrudgingly, Harry pries himself away from the mirror. Ron can’t help but take the whole situation as some sort of omen.

 

Not that he’s naturally suspicious, or anything, but…. This feels important, somehow.

 

And not in a good way, if he’s being honest.

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE: CHAPTER 3

 

In the second term of first year, they have astronomy on Friday nights. It’s actually very relaxing; or, at least, it would be, if he didn’t have this class with literally the entirety of the first years.

 

Hermione is a little distrustful of it.

 

“What I don’t get,” She whispers to him, as they’re huddled around their shared telescope, “Is how staring at the stars is supposed to help us with magic?”

 

“It’s, y’know, for rituals, and stuff,” Ron says, which isn’t strictly accurate, but he’s not quite sure how to explain it. “Some high-level magic only works if the stars or planets are in the right place, I guess.” Ron’s not going to get into the divination side of things—Hermione seems a bit too straight-laced for divination.

 

“But—“ Hermione sighs, aggrieved. “What good would that do us as first years?”

 

“Er,” Ron says, because it seems like Hermione’s looking for a response, but he’s not sure what he can actually add.

 

“Look, in the normal world, we have these huge telescopes that can see further and in more detail than these ever could,” Hermione says. “It just seems a bit pointless, to me, is all.”

 

In the normal world? This was the normal world! It was the muggles who—

 

Okay.

 

Ron stops that train of thought before it can build up anymore steam. That was the sort of talk that people like Malfoy and his friends used to justify saying horrible things. It was the normal world for Hermione, and that was just how it was.

 

“Huh,” Ron says, something occurring to him. “I think you might be trying to logic your way through this.”

 

She scoffs. “Obviously.”

 

“But, the thing is, I’m pretty sure that they’re completely different things, is all.”

 

“But that doesn’t make any sense!”

 

“Yeah,” Ron says, not completely buying her line of thinking. He understands it, of course, but… magic was magic, and it followed its own rules. As far as he knew, whenever a person from the muggle world tried to analyze it scientifically, things just always turned up confused.

 

People had been trying to puzzle out how Winguardium Leviosa worked for years, and had managed to find precisely nothing other than ‘it makes stuff float’. It didn’t make sense, but it followed its own rules.

 

Or maybe he’s completely on the wrong track. There’s lot of stuff he doesn’t know about muggle technology, either. Like the satellites they keep seeing through the telescope—how the bloody hell did they get up there, anyway?

 

--

 

Hermione is convinced that the Gringott’s break-in and the three-headed dog have something in common. It makes sense—surely, a Cerberus isn’t a regular feature at Hogwarts, and for one to just show up, clearly guarding something, after a break-in at the next safest place in all of Britain? It’s suspicious.

 

They go to talk to Hagrid about it, and it turns out that they’ve got the bloody Philosopher’s Stone in the school, which Harry only puzzles out through a chocolate frog card and long, long hours at the library, courtesy of Hermione.

 

It’s weird to think about, that they’ve got the solution to death just… in a room somewhere, guarded by a very large dog named Fluffy, and undoubtedly a series of other obstacles.

 

--

 

Ron continues his Saturday morning dark magic studies. Sneaking out of the dorm room has become a bit of a ritual at this point—the added step of carefully checking Harry’s bed a necessary addition after the holidays, with his gift of an invisibility cloak.

 

He hasn’t called upon The Creatures That Lurk Beyond The Veil again, because, really, he hasn’t had a reason to. And also, he’ll admit, the last time he did that, it was utterly terrifying. But Dad always said that the best way to get over a fear was to confront it head on, and Ron was in Gryffindor (famous for, well, bravery), so it made sense that he, obviously, had to poke the otherworldly, mystical bear that existed beyond human comprehension.

 

Really.

 

At least, that’s what he tells himself.

 

The thing is, right, ever since that night with the mirror, he just can’t stop thinking about it.

 

Harry had told him about a week later, after a few more solo jaunts so see the mirror, (and Ron’s not sore about that. Really. It totally doesn’t bug him.), that he had run into Dumbledore, who explained how it worked. Allegedly, it showed you your deepest and most secret desires. Apparently, the headmaster’s most deepest and secret desires included socks. Harry’s were for family, and love.

 

Ron’s were for acknowledgement, and command of dark magic. Which was honestly a little worrying. Those two wants are what gets you down the path of becoming the next Dark Lord, after all.

 

So, anyway, once again, Ron finds himself alone in the Ghoul Studies room on a Saturday morning, after a light breakfast of scrambled eggs and some sausage. The room itself has become—Ron’s gonna be as diplomatic as possible about it—increasingly charred, since he started using it in September. His main work desk, the large one, at the front, that would usually belong to the professor, has the worst of it. The surface is almost completely black, now, with little drops of metal caked onto it from when he repaired his cauldron. As a whole, he’s pretty sure it’s only still standing because of the antique spellwork holding it together in a vaguely desk-like shape, regardless of physical structural integrity.

 

He flips open Sekret And Eville randomly, looking for something interesting. It’s not that he’s, getting bored of turning things into fire, or anything, it’s just that—well, he’s pretty sure he’s got the hang of it now. And he can actually do the counter-spell fairly reliably, which was really the sticking point of his last month or so of morning practice. And he kinda wants to branch out, is all.

 

The weird blood ritual with the cauldron was, in addition to being fairly terrifying, really fun, on some sort of base level, and Ron kinda… It’s not that he’s chasing it, or anything, it’s more that he wants to explore it.

 

(Yes, he also knows that that’s the other big reason why Dark Lords become Dark Lords—messing with a power Great and Terrible and Unknowable, all capital letters intended, in the pursuit of knowledge.)

 

(But the thing is, Ron doesn’t really want to get knowledge. That’s way more Hermione’s bag, and she would never, as Quirrell put it, “fall p-prey to the e-eevils of dark magic-s”. There was kinda a stigma among muggleborns about the whole thing—floating feathers and making healing potions was all well and good, but once you started talking about blood rituals and Rending the Veil, they usually started to get a bit squirmy.

 

Plus there was how most-everyone who openly believed that Dark Magic wasn’t inherently evil thought that she was lesser because of her blood status, which he figured could also turn a girl off the whole enterprise.)

 

At any rate, he’s searching for something new. Something fun. Something, at the very least, useful.

 

He lands on a page with some truly wicked looking drawings of curse scars. They’re gnarled off the skin, twisted ropes of flesh, stark against the smooth flesh that otherwise fills the frame. That may be something for a later time, though—after a few moments of staring, Ron flips a bit, and finds himself smack-dab in the middle of the section on warding.

 

Specifically, a section on how to ward yourself.

 

He looks at the instructions. It seems simple enough, albeit a... questionable idea.

 

Prithee, heed this warning before proceeding: warding on one’s own personage may make one disinclined towards that magic most Light. Know thee well that these effects, though small, are cumulative—thus, while a single ward may affect thee not, scores may well inoculate thee against the Purest of Workings.

 

It then went on to list a few basic wards—minor protection, notice-me-not, that sort of thing. Ron settled on one that would alert him if he got poisoned, because that seemed like it was the most broadly useful of the lot.

 

(Plus, given what Fred and George pulled on a near weekly basis, it seemed lit it would get a fair amount of use)

 

He looks at the instructions. They don’t seem too difficult, all-told—wave your wand at the part of you where you don’t mind the small warding-mark showing up, say the incantation, and then wave it at the area you want it to apply pressure to when you’re, you know, being poisoned.

 

Bloody hell, Ron thinks, he’s going to have a tattoo in a few minutes. Mum would go absolutely spare if she knew. It’s rather exciting.

 

Scratch that, it’s incredibly exciting.

 

Sure, it might be a bad idea in the long run, but, well, right now it seemed like a great one. And it was something else to do—it wasn’t like anything they’d covered in class so far, and it was just so different than what he’d done before, and—

 

And, really, something about it just… speaks to him, in a way. Not in a ‘he’s being possessed’ way, but, you know… Ron’s finally found something that he’s good at. Not reasonably at, not better than his brothers, at least at, but fuil-tilt, no qualifiers, good at. It’s exhilarating, frankly. It might be a dirty little secret that could, you know, get him sent to Azkaban for the foreseeable future, but… Bloody hell, it’s his, and it’s his alone.

 

It’s an old spell. A very old spell. The sort that had been used by dynasties all over the world for thousands of years, he reckoned, since those rich aristos were the ones who were likely to poison each other.

 

(Bill had once told him, on the rare occasion when all the Weasleys saw each other outside of a veritable family emergency (the last of those being the time Percy got appendicitis), that old spells—truly old ones, not the kind that dated back to the Renaissance—were always the strongest and the simplest. Apparently, he had to use a fair few as a curse-breaker—when something’s been left untouched for sixteen-hundred years, and something is very clearly mucking things about in a bad way, your best bets are apparently ludicrously old counter-curses. Bill had said something about them being fermented in the natural magic for long enough to become part of them—Ron’s not sure he buys that, really, but he figured that, well Bill would know.)

 

The incantation itself is very simple. Like, simpler than most of what they’ve learned in school. It sounds vaguely Arabic, when he tries it out for the first time—something about the rhythm and the cadence as the words fall from his lips. The gesturing is incredibly basic, as well: nary a swish or a flick in sight, just a poke and a poke.

 

Well, Ron thinks, best get it over with.

 

Ron pokes his wand at his own hip, and says the incantation, before poking the wand at the pinky finger of his other hand. That seems like as good a spot as any, he thinks.

 

Quick as a flash, once the gesture is done, his left hip sears with heat as the ward carves itself into his flesh. It doesn’t bleed—at least, not so he feels the fabric of his shirt clinging to a wet spot—but by Morgana, it burns. Just for a few seconds, but those few seconds seem to last hours.

 

After a moment to catch his breath, Ron pulls at his shirt to check out what it looks like. It’s a small thing, no bigger than his thumbnail, but unmistakable for a birthmark. A perfectly round set of small concentric circles now sits at his flank, stark black against his pale, freckled skin.

 

Huh, Ron thinks. He would have expected, like, runes or something.

 

He goes back to the dorm and sleeps half the day.

 

--

 

So, Hagrid has a dragon. A small one, but still. Those things didn’t tend to stay small for very long.

 

Ron writes Charlie about it during History of Magic the next day, because Merlin knew he wasn’t listening to the lecture.

 

(He’s not in the minority there, by a long shot. Hermione is finishing up a Transfiguration essay, Harry is fully asleep, with his head on the desk. The Patil twin who’s in Ravenclaw—Ron hasn’t caught either of their first names yet, because the Gryffindor one tends to partner with Lavender Brown in class, and they don’t have many classes with the Ravenclaws—is carefully marking passages in her Herbology textbook for future review; Gregory Goyle is carefully filling an entire page of his textbook with a thick, unbroken coat of ink, presumably just to have something to do.)

 

Dear Charlie, Ron writes. Thank you for the Christmas gifts. I don’t know quite what I’m going to do with a muscle-shirt that says ‘Hot Flesh, Between My Thighs, Makes Me Feel Alive’ with a picture of a dragon rider, but I appreciate the thought. Anyway, Hagrid has somehow gotten himself a dragon and is trying to raise it in his hut? I’m pretty sure that this is a bad idea, but, you know, you’re the expert. Thanks, Ron.

 

Short and to the point. Worked well. Maybe a bit too blunt, but whatever, he wasn’t Percy.

 

(Of his siblings, he tends to be closest to Ginny. Not just because they’re the closest in age, but more because while she is, in Dad’s words, “a little ball of fire”, she’s also the most relatable of the whole bunch, and way more likely than any of the others to actually listen when he talks.

 

Plus, Ginny’s like, really, really smart sometimes, but doesn’t lord it over everyone the way Percy can. She’s like Bill that way, only with way less chill.)

 

He gets a reply the next day, which is a bit unusual, because Percy’s owl tends to be a bit slow.

 

Ron, the letter reads, what the fuck. Your second favorite brother, Charlie.

 

Well, no one had ever accused Charlie of dancing around a subject.

 

Charlie—

 

Hagrid has a Norweigian Ridgeback in his hut. It’s just a baby. Please Advise.

 

That missive also gets a timely response.

 

Ron, I’ll bring some blokes over to the tower on Saturday night at about one. Bring the dragon, we’ll take it. Charlie.

 

Alrighty then, that’s sorted, Ron thinks.

 

Now they just have to convince Hagrid to part with an adorable bloodthirsty creature, which seems easier said then done.

 

--

 

They convince Hagrid on Friday. It’s not too difficult, since Norbert is trying his best to set the hut on fire, and as enamored as Hagrid is by dangerous creatures, actually having a house is more important to the man.

 

Saturday morning, Ron gets up early as usual, heads to the Ghoul Studies room, and looks up curses that could be useful against dragons.

 

Other than one that allegedly turns any object into a side of beef (‘for thine use in baiting, and for thine assistance during famine’, the book says, followed up with ‘make thee known, however, that thine body cannot live on this alone, for the risk of scurvy, consumption, and nutritional deficits resulting from imbalance in the humors—‘), there isn’t much there, really. A couple of charms for strengthening leather armor, which he hasn’t got, and one for enchanting a sword to ‘cleave cleanly through the most rigid of hides’—that one involves chanting under the light of a full moon, and anointing it with blood, so he rules it out due to logistical problems, because they’ve got maybe eighteen hours, and it was nowhere near a full moon.

 

(Ron turns a nearby candle into a very sad looking beef rib, just to prove that he can. He vanishes it out of existence, though, because what in Morgana’s name was he going to do with a raw rib at nine-thirty in the morning in an abandoned classroom?

 

It’s nice to be able to do it, though. It feels concrete in a way that the fire didn’t. Plus, being technically a curse, and not a transfiguration, there was no way to undo it, which felt nice and permanent and dangerous in a way that he really enjoyed. )

 

--

 

They hand the dragon off, which goes pretty well.

 

It’s the getting back part that goes a bit sideways.

 

Gryffindor loses 150 points because Harry left his priceless invisibility cloak upstairs by accident. Ron’s not too upset about the points, to be fair—everyone in the family but Dad, Percy, and Bill tended to be a magnet for that sort of trouble, and they were mostly excluded because they were subtler (Dad, Bill), or very good at looking innocent no matter the situation (Percy).

 

So. Ron’s not all that fussed about the points. Winning the house cup would be nice and all, but there isn’t really anything tangible that he can gain from that, so he’s not really too upset about the whole thing.

 

Detention, on the other hand…

 

He’s not crazy about that. Because this doesn’t look to be the ‘chopping roots for Snape and having weird moments of connection’ type of detention. With how their consequences are looking, its seeming like it’s going to be the ‘doing something profoundly unpleasant and also Malfoy is there’ type of detention, because of course Malfoy is there, because he’s the one who ratted them out.

 

To be more specific, they’re all going out to the Forbidden Forest to put down a bloody unicorn.

 

So.

 

That’s bound to be profoundly unpleasant.

 

(They’re not actually going to put down the unicorn, it’s just that something’s been, well, killing unicorns. And now there’s a blood trail, so there’s an injured unicorn out there somewhere, and now they have to, uh, deal with it.

 

And, you know, generally, when you’re dealing with very injured livestock, ‘deal with it’ tends to not involve calling a vet, especially with the more, for lack of a better word, horsey types of animals.)

 

Harry and Malfoy get paired together, they go with Hagrid. Hermione and Neville are stuck with Fang, and they’re all going to comb the forest.

 

Ron, being the odd one out, is stuck with the rest of the Unicorn herd, in case the other one wanders back, or something.

 

This turns out to be a bad idea for several reasons.

 

  • Unicorns were sensitive beings. And something about Ron (probably the dark magic, though apparently they weren’t too fond of boys, either) made them uneasy. Jumpy, like a krupp during a thunderstorm.
  • Unicorns were huge, and strong. They scared easily and were very, very stupid. Much like horses, only with a sword strapped to their heads.
  • Ron’s never had a deft hand for magical creatures. Sure, he has Scabbers, but Scabbers is basically just a weird rat who lives in his nightstand. He could de-gnome a garden with the best of them, but that’s essentially where his skills started and ended. None of this ‘calming spooked animals’ stuff, thanks. That was Charlie’s wheelhouse.
  • Something, and this is the important bit, was in the forest, killing the unicorns. And they knew it.

 

So here Ron is, reeking of dark magic, trapped in a pen with some very jumpy, very sensitive, very large animals, with no skills to speak of, because he’s eleven, and there’s a monster out in the dark.

 

They start off fairly restless. Like, not enough to where Hagrid mentions it, or anything, but there’s something about the way they’re moving that’s just a little too off-putting to be normal.

 

It takes—well, Ron’s best estimate is 15 minutes, but it’s not like he brought a clock out to the random paddock at the edge of the forest—at any rate, it takes a bit for them to get properly agitated, but boy, do they. It’s a slow burn, but one minute they’re docile if leery, another they’re making some distressed neighs and clustering together, and a few minutes later they’ve started to really start stamping their feet and swinging their horns.

 

It’s a this point that Ron figures out that the unicorn paddock is a Very Bad place for him to be.

 

He takes a step back, and his foot lands in unicorn shit. It doesn’t matter. He’s not going to take his eyes off the animals.

 

When Charlie had gotten the job at the reserve in Romania, he’d mentioned how a good two-thirds of his co-workers were covered in burns and bite-marks, how some of them were missing limbs.

 

“Never,” He had said, gravely, but in a tone that belied how far he’d gotten into the firewhiskey, “take your eyes off of an animal bigger than a medium-sized dog. They get—whazzat word—opporn—oppos—“ Charlie hiccupped a bit. “They get ideas, and chances are they can run faster than you.”

 

Ron hadn’t quite gotten the point at the time—like, intellectually, he got it, but it wasn’t like he was going to have to deal with anything ridiculous in his spare time.

 

Stared down by a herd of unicorns who were crossing the line between scared and angry, Ron thought that Charlie, no matter how drunk he was at the time, had the right of it.

 

He takes another step back, and another. He’s locked eyes with one of the beasts now, staring deeply into the coal-black pupils that stand out starkly against their milky, almost pearlescent skin.

 

Slowly, Ron takes his wand out, and without breaking eye-contact, does the meat curse on a large pile of unicorn dung, some ways away from him. He figures that if the meat doesn’t distract them, the dark magic will.

 

Unfortunately, Ron figures wrong. The unicorns ignore the large pile of top-round steaks that plop into existence, and seem to get even angrier.

 

This, Ron thinks, was probably not the best way to figure out how Unicorns detect magic.

 

A few of them begin sniffing and snorting at the air, others begin pawing at the ground. He honestly wants to turn and run, but…. The minute he turns away, he knows that they’ll be after him, horns first. And they’re bound to be way faster than he is, so its…

 

Ron’s not gonna say that it’s certain death if he turns and runs, but it’s not, y’know, unlikely. He takes another step back, and another. He’s got to be near the fence of the paddock, now, and he’s almost tempted to look, but… that’s probably not a good idea at the moment.

 

Another step back. Another. He tries for a third, and his foot goes down a hole. Heel first, to add insult to literal injury. He tries not to let his surprise show on his face, but the unicorns must notice something.

 

His ankle is twisted, at the very least.

 

Ron shifts his weight so he can lift his foot out of the hole without turning. He feels around with his toe, searching for the edges. Thankfully it’s not that large, Ron thinks, in the split seconds before everything goes to shit. Probably a rabbit warren, or something.

 

Ron tries for another step back, and bloody hell, maybe he has broken his foot, because this is god awful. He can’t keep it from his face, this time, and he can’t keep himself from shrieking a little.

 

Things start happening very quickly, then.

 

First, the unicorns notice. There’s more braying and scuffing of hooves, and Ron realizes, very suddenly, how big they are. Because they’re huge, actually, Morgana, how does Charlie work with bloody dragons when unicorns were this bloody terrifying.

 

Second, his leg screams at him.

 

It’s now or never, Ron thinks. Harry and them had been in the forest for a while, and it’s not looking like they’ll be coming out anytime soon.

 

So, it might be a bad idea, but it doesn’t take more than an instant of thinking before Ron turns on his bum foot and runs like hell.

 

His ankle feels like it’s on fire, but he doesn’t even notice because of the blood rushing in his ears. It’s only a few meters to the fence, and Ron books it. There’s clopping behind him, coming closer, and Ron ignores it. He doesn’t have time to think about that right now, let alone turn and look.

 

One meter. Half. Ron manages to pace it so he puts his non-injured foot on the fence and uses his momentum to throw the rest of his body over top.

 

This results in him landing on the other side in an ungainly heap, wrenching his bad foot in yet another painful direction, but he’s out of the paddock. That’s the important bit. The wooden fence is spelled, apparently, to keep the unicorns in—Ron’s guessing several strengthening charms on the wood, and compulsions on the animals not to jump it—so as long as he’s out, he’s safe.

 

A unicorn rams the fence, and Ron can feel the way the enchantment strains around the blow, thrumming in the air like a thunderclap. Hooves dash against the fence posts, shaking them.

 

Ron crawls away, setting his back to a nearby tree, and takes stock of himself.

 

He’s still got his wand, that’s good. And it’s intact, which is even better. He’s absolutely covered in mud (and, if he’s being actually honest, a non-insignificant amount of unicorn shit), but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a few charms, or, failing that, a long soak in cool water and a bit of time with a sewing kit. His angle, though…

 

Look, Ron’s not a mediwizard, or anything, but he’s pretty sure that ankles aren’t supposed to work at that sort of angle. It hurts—grinds—under his skin.

 

Bloody fucking—what was that spell that Mum always used for quidditch scrapes? He can’t think of it. Damn it!

 

Unfortunately, there’s just one spell that Ron’s pretty sure he can pull off right now, one spell that might fix his ankle.

 

“Morgana,” He mutters to himself, “This is a bad idea.”

 

Ron pulls out his wand, takes a deep breath, and casts.

 

Reparo.”

 

Fortunately, because the Forbidden Forest is filled with deadly creatures, Ron manages to pass out from the pain that comes from his ankle crunching back into the correct position before he can scream.

 

 

--

 

Ron wakes up in the Hospital Wing. The sheets are scratchy, and the room is all sorts of echoy, but it isn’t so bad.

 

He opens his eyes, and stares at the stone ceiling above him for a few moments, before mustering up the energy to prop himself into a position that could vaguely be considered sitting.

 

“Oh,” Says a voice to his left, and a sense of dread wells up in him suddenly, dragging his heart down like an anchor. “You’re awake.”

 

He looks over. It’s McGonagall, which he really should have noticed before. He has class with her multiple times a week, and she’s his head of house—he should be better at recognizing her voice by now.

 

“Er,” He says, “Yeah?”

 

“Goody.” She looks at him directly. “Do you mind telling me why you were found passed-out outside of the unicorn paddock, alone, at three in the bloody morning, having done something profoundly stupid?”

 

Bloody hell, she gets herself rolling just as fast as his mum does. “I’d, uh—what?”

 

She looks at him sharply. “Explain, mister Weasley.”

 

“Well,” Ron says, “You know how you gave us those detentions because we stole Hagrid’s dragon and shipped it to Romania?”

 

What?” She’s gotten all shrill, now.

 

“I mean we were out for a reason that night, bloody hell.”

 

“Language,” she says, but not too sharply. “So there was a dragon?

 

“Yeah,” Ron says, because while he is kinda in the habit of lying, there’s no real need to do so right now. Plus, he can just, like, leave some stuff out. “Hagrid won it in a bar in town, or something?”

 

“Ah. Of course. Sure.”

 

“So I wrote Charlie a letter, since he works with dragons in Romania, he got some mates together, they flew out on brooms, and Harry left his bloody invisibility cloak up in the tower because he’s an idiot—

 

“Tsk, I’d thought that was his. You’d think he’d keep better stock of his things.”

 

I know, right?” Ron says. “Anyway, Hagrid didn’t cop to it, so he was in charge of our detention, and he took all of us, and Neville, what was up with that, to the Forbidden Forest because something’s been killing the unicorns.”

 

McGonagall waves her wand and conjures a cup of water, and what Ron’s guessing is some sort of antacid. “It’s too bloody early for this bollocks,” She says, darkly, before remembering herself, and wincing. “Er,…. Continue.”

 

“So Harry and Malfoy got stuck with Hagrid, and Neville and Hermione were stuck following around his dog, and I guess I was the odd one out, because I was stuck in with the unicorn herd.”

 

McGonagall sips her drink. “That sounds,” she says, slowly, “Like a profoundly ill-thought-out idea.”

 

“Long story short,” Ron says, because he’s not crazy about lying to her, so he’s just gonna gloss over as much as possible, “They got angry, I backed up as much as possible, they got angrier, I backed up but hit a hole and I’m pretty sure I broke my ankle, they noticed, I turned and ran.”

 

“Oh-kay,” She says, stretching the word out to two syllables like his mum does when she’s thinking real hard during a conversation. “And then?”

 

“Well, I got out, and something was really wrong with my foot, so I, y’know, tried to heal it.”

 

“…With what?”

 

“You’re gonna hate this,” Ron warns.

 

“Mister Weasley, I’ve dealt with five of your brothers. I can handle a little—“

 

“I used reparo.” Ron says, cutting her off.

 

Her mouth drops open. “What.”

 

“I, uh, used reparo?

 

Of all the bloody—“ McGonagall downs her water glass, discolored and fizzy from the antacid, like a shot. “Do you know how dangerous that was?”

 

“Well,” Ron says, “I remember how much it hurt, so that’s not too surprising.”

 

“I should write your mother.”

 

Oh bloody hell, that would be awful. “Please don’t.”

 

“But,” She continued, “as much as I love Molly—“and oh bloody hell, he’s not crazy about his teacher being on such a casual basis with his mum, “—so long as you learn your lesson, and face consequences, I don’t think that has to be necessary.”

 

“Oh, thank Morgana,” Ron says, all in a rush.

 

McGonagall starts for a moment at that, though Ron’s not quite sure why. “Well,” she says, slowly, “I was going to handle your detentions myself, but I have a feeling that some time with Severus will do you some good.”

 

“How long?”

 

“Three weeks,” She says, which is a lot, considering it’s already after Easter. They’ve only got a month and change left in the term. “Every night, after supper. I’m sure you two are already well-acquainted.”

 

“Oh,” Ron says, under his breath. “Goody.”

 

 

--

 

 

When Ron gets back to the dorm, Hermione corners him.

 

“Where were you?”

 

“Well,” Ron says, “the Hospital wing.”

 

“Did something happen? Did you run into that Dark Wizard that Harry and Malfoy saw?”

 

“I, er—what?”

 

“His knees were backwards, and he was drinking unicorn blood!” Ron thinks she’s a little too into this whole thing, intellectually, because that sounds utterly terrifying, and she sounds like Ginny talking about a new Harpies’ strategy.

 

Morgana,” He says, softly, “That’s… yikes, ‘Mione.”

 

“And then there were centaurs—“

 

“Yeah,” Ron interrupts, a little more rudely than he really intends, “That sounds wicked. I broke my ankle and ended up passed out in mud for a few hours.”

 

That seems to knock Hermione thoroughly off her previous train of thought. “What?”

 

“It’s okay,” Ron says, even though it isn’t, and he knows it, feels it deeply in his gut. “You were busy. Things were happening. I get it.”

 

(He does get it, but he has five older brothers. This getting lost in the shuffle stuff, this whoops forgot about Ron stuff—it got old years before he went to Hogwarts. Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean that he has to like it. Doesn’t mean that he’s, y’know, okay with it.

 

But he’s gotten better at faking it over the years, so.

 

It’s fine, really.

 

Really.

 

It’s fine. )

 

“Did you get your Herbology essay done?” Hermione asks, after an exceedingly awkward beat.

 

“We had an essay?” Whoops.

 

Honestly, Ronald, do you not pay attention in class? It’s supposed to be twenty inches about—“

 

(Bloody hell, but he wishes he was doing something more pleasant now, like slicing up roots in stony silence while Snape glared at essays in lieu of grading them.)

 

(He settles in one of the comfier chairs near the windows, and gets to work on his paper. It’s not going to be good, but it is going to be finished. Or, at the very least, started.)

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE: CHAPTER 4

 

Anthony mentions it in Herbology, the next Monday. Apparently the adventures in the Forbidden Forest have somehow made the rounds among their year.

 

(Personally, if he were to put money down on it, Ron would bet on Malfoy talking to Pansy, who talked to what’s-his-face, that prick of a Hufflepuff who kept going on about Eton and who was the biggest gossip in their year.)

 

“So, uh, you saw a dark wizard in the Forbidden Forest?” He starts, while they’re working on weeding the small flower beds where they’ve started growing their Valerian. He’s not just asking Ron, because Neville was there too, and he’s already finished with his section.

 

“I mean,” Ron says, “I broke my foot in the unicorn paddock and cursed some things to be steaks, so I really missed out on the action.”

 

Neville nods. “Yeah, I was just stuck alone in the forest with Hermione. We found these great mushrooms, they’re bioluminescent—“ Neville sounds out the word carefully, so as not to trip over all of the vowels and s-sounds, “And they’ve got so many uses—I took some, right, I’m going to try and start up a few in the dorm.”

 

“…Well,” Dean says, “You’re telling me that Harry is the only one who saw anything?”

 

“And Malfoy,” Anthony pipes up.

 

“…And Malfoy, sure.” He sighs, and visibly contemplates burying his head in their shared pile of pulled weeds. “Is this going to be, like, a thing?”

 

“Probably,” Neville says. “He is the chosen one, or whatever.”

 

“I’m sorry?” Anthony says, sounding actually confused. “Are you saying that some eleven-year-old is wizard Jesus?”

 

“… Who’s Jesus?” Neville asks, thankfully meaning that Ron doesn’t have to. “Is he like some sort of muggle wireless star?”

 

“Um.” Anthony says, after a moment of trading looks with Dean, “My family’s Jewish, so you can take this one, Dean.”

 

“Well,” Dean says, evenly. “I think that’s really a question for Hermione, don’t you?”

 

(Hermione nearly laughs in his bloody face when Neville finally musters up the courage to ask her, at dinner. They talk quietly for about five minutes over shepherd’s pie, and the subject is never brought up again.)

 

--

 

Detention is… well, there’s no way getting around it. Detention is actually approaching downright pleasant, and Ron kind of hates the fact that he likes Snape’s company so much, considering the teacher is absolutely bloody awful to Harry and Hermione.

 

Ron walks into the potions classroom after dinner, to find Snape hunched over his desk, angrily hand-cutting quills in such a way that Ron’s legitimately surprised the man hasn’t lost a finger.

 

“Couldn’t you just use a pen or something, professor?” Ron asks, without thinking.

 

Snape starts, and accidentally breaks the feather he’s holding in half. He snarls at it, briefly, before answering. “Apparently,” He says, “It’s unprofessional.” He sets his things down and cracks his knuckles, all at once, the noise echoing throughout the relatively small, stone room. “I understand that you have detention with me again?”

 

“Three weeks worth.”

 

Snape looks a bit poleaxed. “What the f- What on earth have you done to get that? On top of your little jaunt to the Astronomy tower after hours?”

 

“McGonagall thinks it’s character building.”

 

Snape sighs. “Of course she does.”

 

“On account of me using reparo on my own broken ankle.” Ron finishes.

 

Snape blinks at him. “I understand that you’re a first year, but as your teacher, I’m legitimately surprised that you’d do something that stupid.”

 

“You sound like my mum,” Ron says, without thinking.

 

Snape pulls a face on that remark, but only for a fraction of a second. “… Your task for this evening,” he says, trying to salvage the remains of his dignity, which has been seriously fraying since the beginning of their conversation, “Is to set up some fermentations for me.” He pulls out his wand and waves it sharply, causing a set of glass jars, a few valves, and a detailed list of ratios to appear on one of the larger tables.

 

“Oh.” Ron says. “Goody.”

 

That level of cheek is, apparently, a bridge too far. “Would you prefer,” Snape says, voice suddenly very icy, “That I set you writing lines, or perhaps mincing shrivelfigs? I’m sure the class sinks need their traps cleaned, would you like to do that?”

 

That honestly sounds a bit horrifying. “No, er, sir. I’ll be just fine doing the, doing the fermentation stuff.”

 

And so, Ron’s detention passes in relative silence, though it’s only slightly uncomfortable. Ron’s not gonna mention it, because, well—the thing is, he doesn’t hate Snape. Hermione does, which seems reasonable, considering how he treats her (though, Ron privately thinks that she could stand to take the hint and let other people talk in class, but, well, she’s his friend, so he’s kinda automatically on her side in these things). Harry definitely hates Snape, but that’s mostly because Snape hates him.

 

(and they’re both sure that he’s after the Philosopher’s Stone, which Ron is…. Less than convinced of, but, well, Hermione’s the smartest person in their year, and Harry’s the bloody boy-who-lived, lifelong slayer of dark wizards—Ron’s just a boy who’s been lying to his friends all year, really.)

 

“Uh, Professor?” Ron says, once he’s finished setting up the jars for fermentation, and has stowed them in a likely looking dark corner in the storeroom, “You aren’t really going after the Philosopher’s Stone, are you?”

 

Snape drops his quill, sending a large splat of bright green ink onto the essay he was grading. “What?”

 

“Well,” Ron says, thinking that this is a very sensible way to go about things, “the stone’s at the school, innit? And Harry and Hermione think—“

 

“In what world,” Snape interrupts, lowly, “Do I give a damn about what two eleven year olds think of me?”

 

Oh shit, Ron thinks. He’s gone and pissed him off, now. “Ah, well—“ Ron takes a deep breath, steadying himself. “I’d reckon that maybe you should, since they’re convinced you walk backwards and have mind powers and want the stone, sir, and apparently—“

 

Ron cuts himself off there, not wanting to reveal too much.

 

Snape still looks angry, but a tinge more intrigued. “Oh?” He asks, “And apparently what, Mister Weasley? Please, finish your sentence.”

 

“Apparently,” Ron begins, haltingly. It’s just occurred to him that if Harry and Hermione are correct, this is a terrible idea. He keeps going, anyway. “Apparently, you’re some kind of Dark Lord mastermind, killing unicorns for their blood, and all, and making Harry’s scar hurt with your mind and trying to become immortal, sir.”

 

Snape groans in frustration, and nearly avoids snapping his quill in half. “They bloody well would, wouldn’t they.”

 

“It might be because you hate them,” Ron offers, helpfully.

 

“Because I—what?” Snape actually looks a bit taken aback at that. “I don’t hate them, they’re eleven. “

 

Well, Ron thought, that’s gotta be news to them. “I mean—in class, you are a bit,” He sighed. “You’re a bit of a prat, professor, especially to them.”

 

Perhaps he should have been a bit more tactful, but, well, Ron wasn’t exactly known for his social graces.

 

“… Get out of my office, Mister Weasley.” Snape says. Ron hears the implied ‘and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out’, but he takes the win, regardless.

 

--

 

The thing about provoking Snape is that it’d work much better if he didn’t have to see the man every night for detention. The following night passes in a silence that is decidedly stony, and Ron’s stuck cleaning out the traps below the classroom sinks. The next night, he’s stuck processing rat livers, which is somehow even less pleasant than it sounded originally.

 

The next night is Thursday, and Ron honestly cannot fathom going through double potions on Friday like this (plus, it wouldn’t be fair to Theo, who seems alright, if Ron’s being honest), so he decides to take matters into his own hands.

 

Well, namely, talks to Anthony during Herbology, and manages to get a few gel pens off of him. Unfortunately, the only green-colored ones were the sparkly kind, but Ron made sure to pick up a few black ones too.

 

(“What do you need these for, anyway?” Anthony asked, “Don’t you have quills?”

 

“Well,” Ron said, “I need to bribe a teacher, and also quills are awful, and I wish we didn’t have to use them.”

 

“I mean they are but—did you just say you have to bribe someone?”

 

Ron tucked the pens into his robe pocket. “Yep.”

 

“…Well,” Anthony said, “You do you, I guess.”)

 

Ron dumps the lot of them unceremoniously on Snape’s desk at the beginning of his detention.

 

“And what,” Snape asks, slightly more caustic than usual, “Is this about?”

 

“I’m not apologizing,” Ron says, because he wants to make that clear from the start. Also, because he’s not sorry, and if they’re on the same page with this, it’s probably for the best. “But this is—this is a peace offering, alright?”

 

Oh?” Snape drums his long, bony fingers on his desk.

 

“Look,” Ron says, “You can’t get mad at me because I told you the truth, that’s not fair. And I know that you aren’t fair, or whatever, but I don’t hate our detentions most of the time, and I don’t think you do either.”

 

“Pens,” Snape said, “Are not good enough, especially if you aren’t actually sorry, Mister Weasley.”

 

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Because he’s not sorry, and something about his dynamic with Snape just makes him want to be honest, which is kinda new. “Well, what can I do, then?”

 

“Apologize like an adult.”

 

“I’m not going to tell you something I don’t mean, professor. I do that enough already, and—“ Ron cuts himself off, because he let his mouth run a little too long, there.

 

“… Perhaps you’d wish to elaborate on that?” It’s phrased as a question, but Ron gets the feeling that it’s more of a command.

 

“Rather not, thanks.”

 

Snape looks down at the pens, and then back up at Ron. “If you tell me what you did to your cauldron,” He begins, “Then maybe—“

 

“I’ll tell you what,” Ron says, eyeing a pile of broken quills on Snape’s desk, “Because there’s no way I’m doing that—why don’t I show you something else?”

 

“If you pull out your rat, Weasley, I swear to god—“

 

And Ron takes that moment to turn the pile of quills into a roughly analogous pile of ground beef—fresh and bright pink, oozing onto the desk, suddenly.

 

Snape doesn’t shriek, but it’s a close thing. “What?”

 

“Are we square now?”

 

“What have you done?

 

Ron looks at the pile of meat, then back at Snape. “I think it’s pretty bloody clear what I did, professor.”

 

“That’s not possi—you aren’t doing anything stupid, are you, Weasley?”

 

Ron, who is, at any and all times, in the process of doing several stupid things, says, “Nah, professor, c’mon, you know me, would I ever—“

 

Snape stands up, and looks him straight in the eyes. Ron has to lean his head back, a bit, because Snape’s properly tall, and could teach university courses in looming. “That may work on your mother, but it will not on me. Dismissed.”

 

“It doesn’t work on her either,” Ron says, turning to go.

 

Dismissed, Weasley.”

 

--

 

(Snape ends up staring at the pile of warm, bloody meat sitting on his desk for a long while. He attempts to sit down and grade some essays, but… in between, he maybe casts a few identification spells, and some to undo transfiguration or switching.

 

Much to his bafflement, it’s… just a pile of meat. Sitting there.

 

Which is, you know, impossible.

 

Snape ends up drinking a non-insignificant amount of firewhiskey that night.)

 

--

 

The next day, Friday, potions is… good, almost. Like, Ron would go so far as to say ‘actually pleasant’—Harry and Hermione are full-on off kilter, but Snape is—it’s weird, right, because he’s being less of an overt prick to the both of them. Oh, he’s not calling on them in class, or anything, but ignoring them is rather a step up from insulting them at any opportunity, so Ron’s gonna take the win.

 

(“He’s up to something!” Hermione says, emphatically, after they leave the classroom. “He wouldn’t just—just stop!”

 

“I dunno,” Ron said, trying to navigate this conversation in a way that doesn’t make him look guilty in any number of ways, “Maybe he just, I dunno, got therapy, or something?”

 

Honestly,” Hermione said, “He’s obviously trying to knock us off the scent!”

 

Harry made a noise of agreement from around the extra brioche roll he’d snagged at breakfast for afternoon snacking.

 

“I think we’d’ve noticed if his knees were backwards all year, just saying.”

 

“Maybe he’s double-jointed.” She scoffed loudly, and hustled ahead of them. “Boys.”)

 

Him and Theo have still not had any sort of actual conversation, but they work well together. They’re making a Wiggenweld potion today, it was apparently good for minor healing—cuts and shallow bruises, that sort of thing—and they’ve managed to be fairly quick and neat about all the cutting and mixing this time.

 

“D’you know what’s up with that?” Theo asks, jerking his head towards where Snape is completely avoiding Ron’s best friends.

 

“Well, you know how I have detention with him?”

 

Theo nodded. At this point, thanks to Malfoy, most of Hogwarts, let alone their year, knew that Ron had a standing appointment after dinner in the dungeons.

 

“We talked, a bit. Told him that he was being a prick.”

 

Theo mock-gasped. “And you’re still alive?”

 

“I, uh,” Ron feels the tips of his ears heating up. He’s always blushed easily—comes with the pale skin and red hair. “I distracted him with a pile of raw meat.”

 

“…You know, Ron? I don’t get you.” It wasn’t said meanly, though. “There’s only about a month left in first year, right?”

 

Ron thought about it, a little shocked. “…Huh, guess so. Felt like it went really fast.”

 

“Do you—“ Theo paused, and took a deep breath, not looking up from where he was slicing up some strange pickled slug. “Do you maybe want to be potions partners again next year?”

 

Huh.

 

Ron… hadn’t thought that far ahead.

 

Well, he’s not against it. And since Theo seems to be actually good at potions, and a decent sort of bloke, the answer’s easy. “Sure. Be happy to.”

 

A small smile crawls across Theo’s face, and Ron feels his ears heat up even more. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were literally smoking.

 

Blimey.

 

Unbidden, he grins hard enough that he’s pretty sure all his teeth are showing, even the back ones. He doesn’t say anything, but… it’s just nice, is all. To be liked for who he is, not just who his family is, or who his friends are.

 

(Seamus and Millicent melt their cauldron. Like, fully melt it, turn it into a squishy, spongy, metallic (yet still vaguely drinkable) puddle. Somehow, it’s the most effective Wiggenweld potion in the entire class. Both Blaise and Hermione look mortally offended by this, but Snape just looks incredibly confused for the rest of the class period, as everyone tidies up their workstations.)

 

--

 

So, Harry decides that they need to make a run on the stone.

 

Harry decides they need to make a run on the stone because Snape’s being super suspicious, right, he’s lulling them into a false sense of security, apparently, by not being completely and utterly rude to them at any opportunity. And that whole thing with the unicorn blood and the guy with the backwards knees, but the way Harry and Hermione frame it, that’s kinda the secondary concern.

 

(Bloody hell, he knew that having friends didn’t mean he’d be surrounded by yes-men, or anything, but he’d rather thought that they’d listen to him, or something. Hear him out, even if they didn’t always agree.

 

Well, he’s learned his lesson now, hasn’t he?)

 

They get past Fluffy, which isn’t too difficult, since the big girl is already asleep, each of her three enormous heads snoring loudly, legs occasionally kicking out in her dreams. She’s a good girl, he thinks to himself, and he hopes she’s having good dreams of chasing nifflers through meadows, or something.

 

She lets out a tremendous snort in her sleep as they go down through the trap door. What a good dog.

 

Then there’s the Devil’s Snare, where Hermione forgets she’s a witch for a bit before saving them all, and the room with all the keys, where Harry can show off how good he is on a broom.

 

And then there’s the room with the chess set. Now, Ron’s not gonna say he’s fantastic at chess, or anything, but… he doesn’t lose very often, anymore, is the thing. And barely anyone in Gryffindor will play him, because he tends to win, and most of the upper years don’t like losing to a first year.

 

(The only one of his siblings who’ll play him anymore is Percy, who’s actually rather pants at chess, but in a way that tends to lead to long, drawn-out games. Sure, he’s a bit stuck up, but he’s his brother, and easily at least his 3rd favorite. The rankings are fairly fluid, after all.)

 

So, they’re some of the chess pieces, because the chess set is bloody massive, and someone’s been through before them. Like, Ron’s not sure if Harry or Hermione noticed, but the dog being asleep, the wings on the one correct key being horribly bent, and now some of the key chess-pieces smashed, probably in a sacrifice gambit to get through as soon as possible?

 

It’s suspicious, is all.

 

To make a long story short, Ron wins, and Harry and Hermione travel to the next room, where there’s undoubtedly some other sort of test or riddle or whatever. Ron doesn’t go to the next room, because he’s busy lying on the ground in agony after being bludgeoned by some vaguely sentient stone chess-pieces.

 

Well, Ron thinks, lying on the ground, bleeding, and abandoned by his friends (yes, they had more important things to do, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a bit bitter about the whole thing), he’s toast.

 

Ron thinks back, tries to figure out if there’s any spell he can do to heal himself. Any spell that isn’t reparo, anyway—if it hurt so severely on his ankle, there’s no way he’s casting it anywhere near his vital organs.

 

His shirt’s wet. He figures it’s probably his own blood. Huh, Ron thinks, that’s probably a really bad sign, isn’t it.

 

It is here that Ron Weasley makes a choice. It’s not a particularly well thought out one, but he’s currently running fairly low on options.

 

Bill had told him once, when he was younger, that sometimes you need to think around a problem to solve it. Move sideways, attack it from a different angle, or just cut through the Gordian knot rather than trying to unravel it.

 

At the time, Ron was confused. Who was this guy Gordon? Why was he so attached to a knot, anyway?

 

Either way, Ron had managed to internalize that lesson, and, like most lessons that Ron had internalized, it tended to make itself known at the most inconvenient of times.

 

Which is why, instead of signaling for help, or trying to elevate his injury, Ron thinks back to how he fixed the cauldron.

 

It had required a little blood, and, well, Ron’s literally got a fair amount of that stuff lying around right now, and, well… He’s getting cold in a way that has nothing at all to do with the temperature of the stone floor. His fingers are tingly. This seems like a bad sign.

 

“O great mystical creatures beyond the veil,” Ron wheezed out, pressing his hand onto his gut where most of the blood seemed to be coming from, “I call upon you to fix this which is stain’d with my lifeblood, for my situation is dire and my heart is clear. Give unto me this boon,” He took a moment, here, to cough. It hurt, the muscles in his stomach screaming. “—and I will use it to further my practice of the arts most hated and profane.”

 

For a brief moment, nothing happened.

 

Ron looked up at the ceiling, and tried not to cry. He failed.

 

Suddenly, there was a light. Warm and moist and wrapping around him and oh shit, it worked.

 

Blood welled up between Ron’s fingers, but it didn’t hurt, anymore. His back wasn’t cold, either, and he quickly realized it was because he was floating, slightly, above the stone floor.

 

Y̸̞̘̍O̴͎̔Ū̵̫̰ ̵͖̈́̀ H̶̢̫͌A̷͍̐͗͜V̷̳͈̽E̷͙̠̓ ̸̤̞͋Î̷̘M̵̘͍̉́P̴̦̺̌R̵͖̮͂Ě̸̬̐͜S̵̡̛͜Ṡ̴̲È̴̼D̵̻̈́̈ ̶͙̮̊Ũ̶̩Ŝ̶̰,̴͈̅͝ ̴̫͈͒̂S̶̱͒̅O̴̠̫̒N̶̥̽̃ ̵͖̆ O̵̖̝͆F̵̰̌͐ͅ ̸̬̜̋͝M̵̱͔͐͝Ō̵͎̙R̷̙̎D̵̠̖̀Ř̶̗̍E̶̪̱̿̏D̴͔͍̏.̷̧̖̀̋ A voice seemed to say, directly in his mind. It wasn’t English, but it he seemed to understand it, perfectly.

 

Ÿ̵͚̳́̒Ờ̷̝͔U̵̬͓̔R̴̟͠ ̴̬̓Ṕ̷̱R̸̗̬͝O̸̻͑G̷̨̫̕R̴͕͈͌Ẹ̵̈́S̴̢͍̈́͝S̶̯̙̈́̀ ̶̟̫̍͠I̴͔̋̚Š̴̢ ̴̨̅S̴̠͓͊P̷̖͊͋Ĕ̸̙̙È̸̪D̴͇̏Y̷̭̱͊ ̷̹̹̈̚ D̸͕̰͠O̸̺̰͒̈W̸̬̩̃͆N̷̦̩̄̿ ̵̪́͜T̸̞̐̏H̷̹́̇Ḛ̸̖̅ ̷͙́̃ B̵̹̤͆̎L̷̠̓A̸͖͒C̸̖͖͠K̷̭̯̅͝ ̵̡̖̂͝P̴͇̻̈Ȧ̶̞̪T̵̛̕ͅH̴̢́̉. It said, seemingly projected directly into his brain.

 

Morgana, but this felt weird.

 

Or, well… It felt weird in that it didn’t feel weird at all. And when one was personally communing with, well, The Creatures Beyond The Veil, that was probably not a great sign.

 

W̴̱̫̄̽Ì̷̪̮T̴̨̈̅H̷̜́ ̷͈̠͆͆ T̴̳̖̕H̴͖́I̶̥͗͆S̶̘͊̓ ̸̳́̈́Ẃ̸͔O̴̤̗͘R̸͇̘̾K̴̰̦̎I̶̠̩̾̌N̷͚͓̚G̴̢̹͋,̸̯͓̆ ̵̖͒̇ Y̷̡̱̔Ỏ̷̹̩͛U̶̢̔́ ̸̖̀̅͜Ǎ̴̗͙̀R̷̭̜̂E̶͕̦͒̓ ̶͓̖̊͘ F̵̣̈O̴͓̊Ŗ̴̰̈́̾Ȅ̸͙̬͘V̸̟͠Ė̶̫Ȑ̴̭͍̚ ̴͍̭̋̓ M̸͕̿A̷̱͆R̸̺̒Ḱ̴̖͎'̴̑̄͜D̵̼͐͊ͅ ̵͍͚̍̃Ḁ̵̀̌Š̴ͅ ̶̦͛͋ O̴͕͆U̴̙̼͝R̴̘͝S̵͚͂.̶̫̓̾. They whispered, directly into his ear, and Ron felt something sear across his abdomen, burning the wound shut. It didn’t hurt, but it was definitely there.

 

He felt himself lowered down, gently, settling back into the puddle of his own blood. Just, y’know, less mortally wounded.

 

B̴̥̃͜Ẹ̶̙̉́W̶͓̌͝Ä̶̖̰́R̴̢̪͐̌E̶̦̘̿ ̸͕̋͜ T̷̲̤͒͛H̸̨̚E̶̡̽̈ ̴̨͗̅ͅ F̶̭̅R̴̳͍̆Ą̸̽͘C̴̙̆Ṱ̷̃͗Ṳ̵͎͂̎Ŕ̸͍̘E̷̯̪̐̀D̵͈̘̀̓ ̶̥̙͛͒ O̵̟͙̽͝N̷̠̎͝Ẹ̶̝̾̐,̵͕̊ The voice said, fading out,K̶̹̰͌N̴͈̎̓Õ̶̜̝͂Ẇ̶̃ͅ ̴̡͐ Ẅ̸̖̠́̎E̷͍̫̅̾L̶̻̠̂L̶̤̙͋ ̷̧̈́ T̵͈̞̎̾H̵͘͜A̵̠̤͆͑T̶͇͋̇ͅ ̷̛̟̭͗Ḋ̸͙E̶̼̦͘A̷͙͆Ṫ̶̺̗H̵͈͝ ̸̘̐ͅĨ̵̥̾S̵͚̓ ̵͈͚̓͋ P̷̪̊A̴̖͑S̷͔̪͆͆S̷͇̐̿I̴̘͂N̸̻͊̓G̵͎̦͒̐,̸̧̝̂͝ ̴͗͜͜A̸̧̿Ṇ̷̹͑D̸̨̫̓̽,̵̲̞̉͛ ̶̭̓ L̸͉͙̀̈́Ḯ̶̬͍K̴̮͝Ḙ̸̭͐ ̵̬̀ T̴̪͔̃̑H̸͕̖̐͘Ẹ̷̐ ̸̦̽́ T̶̲͍͌̈I̴̠̩̊Ḑ̸͉̌͝E̴̮̻̚,̷̫̿͗ ̵̢̲͆H̷̠̋Ẻ̶͕ ̷͍̜̄́ S̵͓̅̓H̷̦̀͠Ả̶̖̩͘Ḷ̸̤̍͗L̸̩̽ ̵̜̇͆ A̴̦̔L̶͉͌Ŵ̸̫̳̈́Ả̶̱͗ͅỶ̶̡̭S̶̥̤̅̉ ̴̯̓͆ R̵̘̅̀E̶̳̔͊T̶̛̩̑Ȗ̴͍̤̋R̶̘̣̓͑N̸̹̊.̴͎̘͘.

 

The voice faded, and so did Ron’s consciousness.

 

--

 

(YOU HAVE IMPRESSED US, SON OF MORDRED) whispered something, deep in his core, as if it was wired directly to his brain. (YOUR PROGRESS IS SPEEDY DOWN THE BLACK PATH)

 

Something was crawling under Ron’s skin. Something alive. Something alien. Something from the space between spaces.

 

(WITH THIS WORKING, YOU ARE FOREVER MARKED AS OURS) Something crawled out of his gut, beaching itself on the skin of his stomach.

 

(BEWARE THE FRACTURED ONE. KNOW WELL THAT DEATH IS PASSING, AND, LIKE THE TIDE, HE SHALL ALWAYS RETURN) His joints felt like stone-on-stone, his chest rattling in the cold sea air. A wave crashed over him, pushing him down harder onto the rocky coast, and then—

 

--

 

Ron Weasley woke up in the hospital wing. Yet again, McGonagall was sitting at his bedside, only this time, she was joined by an incredibly annoyed looking Snape.

 

“Mister Weasley,” McGonagall began, “We have a few questions for you.”

 

Snape hmmed in agreement, menagingly. Despite being lankily spread out in a hospital chair, the man was fully capable of looming menagincly.

 

“Okay?” Ron asked,

 

“What the bloody hell did you do to yourself?” Snape asks, sharply.

 

“Well,” Ron said, thinking of the shoreline and the crashing and the marking, “I got really hurt, and then I, you know, got better.”

 

This is the problem, right? Because here he is, confronted by the two people he likes lying to the least, and they both have different parts of the story.

 

McGonagall sighed, and pulled a flask out of her robes. “I’m afraid, mister Weasley, that that isn’t good enough.” As she unscrewed the cap, she continued. “Because while Harry was rather understandably injured, and Hermione was safe but frightened, you were discovered completely healthy, passed out in a pool of your own blood.”

 

She took a sip from the flask, and, after a moment of thought, offered it to Snape, who looked profoundly confused for a moment before following suit.

 

“I mean,” Ron said, “There is a story there, but I’m pretty sure I can’t actually tell you.”

 

“… Because?”

 

Snape grasps it before she does. “…You didn’t.”

 

“Well,” Ron says, “Funny story, actually, because I’m pretty sure I did.”

 

“You utter—“ He sighs, heavily, and throws back some more of whatever’s in the flask. “You absolute buffoon. You couldn’t just be a normal Weasley, you had to have a fucking deathwish, didn’t you?”

 

McGonagall thwacks him, hard. “Language, Severus,” She says, sharply. “Find some bloody decency in those pretentious robes of yours and tell me what you’re talking about.”

 

“Weasley,” Snape begins, haltingly, “Has apparently adopted some of the Old Ways. Alone. Without telling anyone.”

 

McGonagall twitched. “You little gobshite,” She said, resigned, “That’s a bad idea.”

 

Well, Ron thinks, a bit manic, it’s a bit late for that now, isn’t it? “I’m pretty sure it saved my life, so…” Ron pulls up his shirt to look at his stomach. A large, angry scar cuts across it, jagged and not-quite-right. “There were—I was kinda out of options, professor.”

 

McGonagall grabs her flask back form Snape, and slugs down a little more liquor. “Albus,” she said, darkly, “has a lot to answer for, keeping that rock at the school instead of destroying it.” She sighs, and tucks her flask away, again. “You’ll be happy to hear that I won’t be calling the aurors on you.”

 

Ron is happy to hear it, but… “Why?”

 

“Because I think, and I’d wager that Severus is in agreement, that giving yourself medical treatment is not a good enough reason to send a first year to Azkaban.

 

Oh. Right.

 

That’s what was on the table if he got caught doing dark magic.

 

“Uh,” Ron says, “Thanks.”

 

“I do have to write your mum, though.”

 

Bollocks.

 

Well, that made sense, He did almost die, kinda.

 

And it’s not like mum didn’t know that he was doing dark magic.

 

--

 

Ron’s out of the Hospital Wing fairly quickly, after that. Mum sends him a letter, which says, essentially, that once he gets back to the Burrow, they’re going to have a Conversation.

 

He still has detention with Snape. It’s less awkward than before, but still fairly silent.

 

Slytherin is in first place for house points. Ron doesn’t really care, but Harry and Hermione are practically spitting tacks about the whole thing.

 

“We saved the school,” Harry says, more than once. “Quirrell was the dark wizard, and we stopped him!”

 

Well, apparently Harry accidentally melted the guy, or something, but whatever. Ron’s pretty sure that Harry hasn’t entirely put the pieces together about accidentally killing a man, and he’s not going to be the one to break that news.

 

Detentions continue.

 

Mum writes him a few more times. Ron skirts around the whole ‘marked by The Things that Lurk Beyond The Veil’ thing, but he sorta lays out what happened. Much like McGonagall and Snape, he tries to give the impression that he just did some sort of spell, not some blood ritual while he was actively dying. He’s about 60/40 that she believes him, but Mum had always been a bit hard to figure out over letters.

 

He does alright on his finals. During transfiguration, in their solo talk with McGonagall, Ron curses a very ugly snuffbox into a filet mignon, just to show off. She finds it a bit less amusing than he does, but keeps shooting spells at the cut of meat regardless, looking increasingly baffled before sending him on his way.

 

The end-of-term feast goes well. Dumbledore gives enough points in the eleventh hour to send Gryffindor to first place, and somehow, Neville wins them the cup.

 

Ron pulls Neville aside as they leave the great hall to pack up their dorms. “Thanks, by the way. For the book.”

 

“It’s—It’s fine, really.” Neville looks around a bit, before continuing. “I do need it back before we get to the train, though. It’s my Gran’s, and… you know how she is.”

 

Ron nodded. He did indeed know how Neville’s Gran was, and he figured that making her angry was a very bad idea for all parties involved. “Sure.” He clapped Neville on the shoulder. “That book saved my life, y’know?”

 

Neville twitched. Hard. Not from the blow, mind, but from the statement. “…That’s probably not a great thing, Ron. There’s always an exchange, with this sort of stuff.”

 

“You need anything,” Ron said, choosing to ignore Neville’s statement, “You let me know, alright?”

 

--

 

Harry’s glum the whole train ride back. Ron had figured that his relatives were total prats—like, they hadn’t talked about it, but Harry’d say some things and think they were normal, when they really weren’t—but this was a lot more concrete than that had ever been.

 

“If you want to stay with us for the summer,” Ron offers, “I’m sure mum would be more than happy.”

 

“Nah, it’s fine,” Harry said, clearly not meaning it in the slightest. “It’s not that bad.”

 

Even Hermione reacted to that. She opened her mouth as if to respond, but Ron elbowed her in the ribs, fast. She turned to glare at him, briefly. Harry didn’t notice.

 

They go their separate ways at the platform. Hermione with her dentist parents, Harry with his unpleasant-looking relatives, and Ron with the rest of the Weasley horde.

 

Something inside of Ron knows that this year, with its excitement and near-death experiences, is by no means a one-off.

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE: SUMMER

 

It takes a while, for mum to corner him alone.

 

Part of the reason it takes a while is because Dad keeps getting mysteriously reminded of projects around the house. One day, Ron’s working with him on the Anglia, changing the oil and the air filters. Another, and it’s repainting the porch rails, and then it’s tidying out the shed and chasing a nest of doxies out of the attic.

 

Mum catches on fairly quickly, because she’s, well, mum, but she lets him have a few days to settle in at home before cornering him one day after lunch, and essentially pulling him out of the house by the ear because, oh, she told everyone that they were going to the market today! It’s not her fault if they didn’t listen, blimey, the things she has to put up with as a mother—you know, her mum would never let a family full of boys ride herd over her house! You could eat off the floors, but nooo—

 

She keeps up the patter until they’re well out of the house, and fully apparated to behind the nice muggle grocery store.

 

(Mum preferred them. She rather thought that the whole thing of sell-by-dates was dead useful, and it was hard to beat canned stuff. And the variety! )

 

(also, it’s hard to beat the exchange rate when muggle money isn’t charmed against duplication, but Ron’s not supposed to know that.)

 

(to be honest, he’s not sure dad knows that, but since it technically falls under his job at the ministry, if he doesn’t, he puts an awful lot of work in the not knowing, if you catch his drift.)

 

Anyway, they’re looking over the available vegetables when she brings it up.

 

Mum turns a bunch of celery around in her hands, checking for spots, when she casually says, “You know, Ronald, I really thought better of you.”

 

Ron stares at the displayed vegetables in front of him, resolutely not saying anything. Huh, the swiss chard was on sale. That stuff pretty, but it tasted kinda weird.

 

“I understand,” She said, placing the bunch of celery in her basket and grabbing a sack full of carrots, “That you were in a tough situation, but dear—“ She sighed, suddenly. “I do not appreciate having to wait and see if my twelve year old son is going to prison for life.”

 

“…Oh.” He hadn’t—he hadn’t quite thought of it, in those terms. Especially from her side. “Bloody hell, mum, I’m sorry.”

 

She whacked him with a convenient leek. “Language.”

 

“Sorry—Sorry, mum, really.” Ron looked down at his hands. “Things are just—with school, and all, it’s…”

 

“…Are you having trouble with your studies?” She ventures, leading him towards the meat area at the back of the store.

 

“Nah, mum.” Well—kinda, but only in Defense, and she’d picked up on that before he even got on the train, so he figured that she’d puzzled that out, already. “It’s just—sometimes it feels like I’m way closer to my friends than they are to me, y’know?”

 

He hadn’t mentioned it before, hadn’t dared to name those nebulous feelings that had been twisting in his gut all year. But mum had a way of dragging this sort of stuff out of him, making him think about things.

 

“Oh, honey,” Mum said, and wrapped an arm around him as they stared at big, bone-in pork shoulders. They were on sale, and if you did them right in a stew, with a double batch, you could easily eat for a week. “D’you want me to track down this Hermione girl, give her what-for?”

 

“It’s not really Hermione,” Ron said, haltingly, hating that every little bit of this had to be carefully pried out of him like they were diffusing a bomb. “Like, Hermione’s, you know, not helping, but…”

 

Mum grabbed an enormous cut of pork, and placed it in her basket. The thing had to be quite heavy by now, but she wasn’t showing any sign of it hurting her fingers. “Dear, I’m sure they were just being thoughtless.”

 

That was fair, but… “Mum, while they were being thoughtless, I was actively dying, and they just left. I don’t—that doesn’t square up for me, is all.”

 

After a moment of just standing there, they moved along to the canned goods. Mum grabbed a couple cream-of-mushroom soups, and some tomato paste, taking them off the shelf with a kind of aggressive stillness.

 

“Ronald,” She said, quietly. “I’m not going to threaten the savior of the wizarding world, but rest assured that if that piddly little upstart does anything like that again—“ She cut herself off, muttering.

 

Well, gee, it did kinda sound like she was threatening his best friend. That probably shouldn’t have made him feel as good as it did.

 

“Thanks, Mum.” Ron said. He looked at the jars of various kinds of pickles that stood tall on the other side of the aisle. “D’you—do you maybe want to try doing some pickling this summer?” He asked. “I had to do some in detention with Snape, and it wasn’t so bad.”

 

She looked at him, and at the large collection of strange glass jars filled with odd-colored vegetables, before looking back. “Sure, dear.” She smiled, a little sadly. “Go look at the spices, see if they’ve got anything interesting.”

 

--

 

Ron doesn’t spend all summer mad, because, frankly, he’s got better things to do.

 

Percy, who only knew about 20% of the story, suggested that, since they were all eleven, and therefore kind of stupid, Ron should maybe forgive and forget the whole thing.

 

Emotional intelligence was never Percy’s thing, so Ron doesn’t hold it against him. And, like, despite everything, Harry and Hermione are still his friends, so… He forgives them.

 

He decides that forgetting, however, is probably not a good call. Lessons were learned, and he’d rather not forget them.

 

(At least, Hermione is still his friend. Harry hasn’t been writing at all, and it seems like he’s gone radio-silent on her as well. Ron’s not sure if that’s an accident, or if his relatives are weird about owls—they were muggles, after all—or if Harry has just wised up and decided that he’d have better luck with, like, Cormac McLaggen or Terrance Boot.)

 

Gnomes move into the garden, but since they keep well-away from the actual food part, it’s easy enough to let them be.

 

And so, the summer passes relatively quietly.

 

--

 

It’s towards the end of summer when Dad mentions something at the dinner table that throws them all for a loop.

 

“Apparently, Ron’s friend got caught doing underage magic a few days ago,” He says, tucking into his pot roast. “What I hear around the office is that it might’a been some kinda rogue house elf, but you know how these things go.” He sighed. “Proximity based, and all that.”

 

“Ron has friends?” Ginny asks, because she likes being a smartass.

 

Ron snarls at her, briefly, before turning to look at his dad. “Which one?”

 

“Harry,” Dad says, and because he’s also a smartass, continues, “You know—black hair, glasses, might have a scar?”

 

Ron wants to slam his head down into his mashed potatoes. He settles for eating some of them, instead.

 

“Is he, you know…?” Ginny makes some kind of ambiguous gesture, that means either ‘guilty’ or ‘touched in the head’.

 

“I’d say a little of both, if I’m being honest,” Ron’s dad says. “His relatives probably have him well in-hand, though—can’t raise young boys without a little discipline!”

 

Ron is, suddenly, not hungry anymore. He sets down his spoon, and his stomach rolls. He’s not full-on nauseous yet, but… it’s a close thing.

 

He grits his teeth, but keeps quiet.

 

George nudges Fred, from where they’re sat across from him, and jerks his head. Fred looks at him, then back at George. George jerks his head again, a little more insistently, and Fred just stares at him for a second, before turning back.

 

(Pretty much the whole family hates when they do that. They aren’t, like, telepathic, or anything, but… Fred and George have always been very good at reading each other. They can have full conversations with their eyebrows alone, just to be annoying, if they’re set on it. )

 

Ron doesn’t say anything for the rest of dinner, because he has a feeling that if he starts talking, he’s going to end up ripping Dad and Ginny to shreds, and this, honestly, isn’t their fault. They don’t know about Harry’s relatives—Ron hasn’t told them. It’s not his to tell, really, and they’ve only met him in passing, anyway.

 

He moves his pot roast around his plate until he can safely throw it away without anyone else getting suspicious.

 

Fred and George corner him after dinner, as he’s going up to bed. They’ve started getting properly tall and lanky, so they block of the door to his bedroom and the path to the bathroom fairly easily with some well-placed shoulders.

 

“So,” Fred says, “We’re gonna go pick up Harry.”

 

“Wanna join?” George finishes, a grin threatening to split his face in two. “He lives in Surrey, right?”

 

“Pretty sure the Anglia can make the trip,” Fred continues, “If he lived on the continent, that’d be different, there’s only so far that ol’ girl can go—“

 

“—But,” George slides in, “it’s Surrey, so we’re pretty sure that—“

 

“—If we do it careful, mind—“

 

“—and we time it right—“

 

“—and we time it right, Thank You, George—We’re pretty sure that we can get there and back before anybody else in the house wakes up.”

 

“Are you two done?” Ron asks.

 

“For now,” They say, in unison. The joke stopped being actually funny about three hundred times ago, but they still do it.

 

Something occurs to Ron. “How do you know?”

 

“Ron—“

 

“—Ronnikins—“

 

“—Sweetheart—“

 

“—Apple of our fraternal eyes—“

 

“—easily our favorite younger brother—“

 

Ron winces. “Guys.

 

“Fine, fine,” Fred says, sighing. They could keep up the back and forth forever, but since this is actually important, they drop it. “The thing is, something’s clearly not right.”

 

“We figured,” George continues, but since they’ve decided to behave like actual people rather than bouncing off one another like the world’s most annoying version of verbal table tennis, Ron lets it slide. “That things weren’t right with his relatives, y’know, considering how he mentioned once that his cousin had two bedrooms, but he’d never gotten a gift over Christmas before.”

 

“But mostly,” Fred says, slowly, “It’s how you reacted at dinner, when Dad said that thing about discipline.”

 

“It’s not that you wear your heart on your sleeve, or anything,” George says, “and we know that something happened at the end of last year, but—“ He sighs, and Fred doesn’t take the built in opportunity to finish his thought. “—but we were pretty sure that you two had a fight, or something, and it must’a been bad, because he never wrote.”

 

Ron sighs. “I dunno.” He shrugs. “Things were… weird between us, after the stone thing, but I don’t—I don’t think he noticed things being weird, if that makes sense?”

 

“Hmm.” Fred says.

 

Hmmm.” George continues.

 

“… Is he an idiot?” Fred asks.

 

“Probably,” George says, “He is eleven. All eleven year olds are at least kinda dumb.”

 

“…Mate,” Fred says, ”Ginny’s eleven.”

 

“One, no, that’s next month,” George replies, “And two, what, you want her taking your OWLs for you? Don’t think that’ll turn out too well, mate.”

 

Ron leaned back on the wall, and quietly started bouncing his head against it, in hopes that perhaps he’d give himself a concussion and miss out on the rest of this bloody conversation.

 

“Anyway,” Fred says, “You coming with, Ron? Or should we go alone, and tear him a few new assholes on the way back for being a prick to you?”

 

“… I’ll come with,” Ron says, quietly. “It’s fine, really.”

 

George looks at him sharply. “It’s not, and you know it.”

 

(Why the hell was he so perceptive? It’s not like he’s Ron’s favorite brother most of the time—him and Fred tended to feed off each other two snakes eating each others’ tails, and that got old very quickly—but damn, if he wasn’t the best at reading Ron.)

 

“… No,” Ron concedes, after a beat “It’s not.” He sighs. “When were we going to sneak out?”

 

Fred looks at George, looks back at Ron. “… You’re sure?”

 

“Sure as I’m going to get,” Ron says, because he’s not just gonna leave Harry.

 

“Alright.” He says. “Be ready at midnight.”

 

--

 

Stealing Dad’s car is pretty easy, all told, and they’re in the air and well on their way to Surrey before half-past.

 

“So,” Fred says, not looking away from the windshield, even though there is literally nothing they could hit, “What happened with you two, anyway?”

 

“Fred,” George says, warningly.

 

“I mean, it can’t have been that—“

 

Fred.” George says, a fair bit sharper than before. “If Ron doesn’t want to talk about it, he shouldn’t have to.”

 

“George—“

 

“Look,” George sighs. “You gotta—you’ve got to stop prying, alright? Whatever happened was a big deal, and he should talk about it or not on his own time, alright?”

 

“Damn,” Fred tapped his long, bony fingers on the steering wheel. “What’d you do to be the smart one?”

 

“Traded my good looks to you.”

 

“… Mate, we’re identical.”

 

“Not technically,” George said, which was true.

 

(They’d been fraternal twins, first, but then, well, some things happened, and George started taking his daily potions, and by the time Hogwarts rolled around, they were close enough in looks to pass as identical. And with Dad working at the ministry, adjusting the birth certificate was an easy fix.

 

Ron doesn’t remember much of it, because he was seven at the time.)

 

Bro…” Fred said, emotionally, trailing off after a moment, “We’re, like, two halves of the same brain.”

 

“What, like, by weight?”

 

They continue on like this for a while, shooting things back and forth as Ron tries and fails to fall asleep in the back seat. It’s not that they’re annoying, or anything—Ron got used to their bickering long ago, and has been able to tune it out for years—but he’s just… keyed up, is all. Twitchy.

 

Y’know, ready to claw all his skin off at any time just to do it.

 

It feels like it takes three hours to get to Surrey. It doesn’t, but time moves like molasses in winter.

 

--

 

So, it turns out that Harry’s relatives are keeping him in an actual jail cell, complete with bars.

 

They manage to get those off the window because Dad had a winch in the car, for some bloody reason, and after that things go much easier. The car loads up nice and quick, and, even though they’ve kinda ripped the side off of Harry’s relatives’ house, get back on the road (on the…. sky road? Ron’s not sure how that would translate idiomatically) nice and fast.

 

“Ron, I’m so sorry,” Harry says, all in a rush. “I thought you didn’t write, but then this weird thing, I think he said he was a house elf, showed up during a dinner, and he had a ton of letters from you and Hermione, and then Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia got all angry and locked me in my room, and I got a citation from the ministry, and—I’m just really sorry.”

 

Well, damn. Like, Ron wanted an apology, kinda, but not for that. Not for something that Harry literally couldn’t control.

 

“It’s cool, Harry, I get it.” Ron says.

 

“Yeah,” George pipes up, from the front seat, “You don’t have to apologize for that.”

 

That was pointed as all get out, but Harry didn’t seem to notice. He’d had a long summer, especially the last bit of it. Plus, well… he wasn’t that great with picking that sort of thing up, Ron noticed.

 

“So,” Harry said, after a beat that was fairly awkward for literally everyone in the car other than him, including the owl, “Where are we going?”

 

“Home.” Fred said, softly. “We’re going home.”

 

--

 

Mum was waiting up for them, because of-bloody-course she was. Let alone that it was half past four in the morning.

 

“…Mind telling me what you’ve been doing out so late?” She asked, too calmly to be anything but actually upset. “Imagine—I come out to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and what do I see?” She gestured to the clock-face that showed the locations of all the Weasley clan, “I see that you three have wandered off.”

 

“Well,” Ron says, “The thing is—“

 

“Harry’s relatives had him in a literal jail cell, mum,” Fred says, cutting him off. “We broke him out.”

 

“They what?” Mum says, shrill, but quiet about it. It was four thirty in the morning, after all.

 

“They had bars on his window, mum,” Ron says, quietly. “He’s out in the car now, getting some nightclothes from his trunk, but… it was bad. “

 

Mum sighs. “… Can’t be too mad at you three for that. You all run off to bed, now, but don’t think we won’t be talking about this in the morning with your father.” Harry ducked in, quietly, holding his pajamas in his arms like they were a shield. “You’re with Ron tonight, Harry,” Mum said, all trace of former aggression out of her tone in an instant. “We’ll sort you out another bed in the morning, okay deary? But right now, try to get some sleep.”

 

--

 

After a few moments of marveling at all the Canon’s merch in Ron’s bedroom (and, Ron will admit, a fair bit of it is quite hideous, but he loves it regardless), they reach the elephant in the room. The bed.

 

“No, really,” Harry is insisting, like Ron will somehow be moveable on this, “You can take it for tonight.”

 

Ron’s not going to make his best friend, who he just broke out of house-jail, sleep on the fucking floor. He’s just not. Like, he may be going through some friend-related feelings, at the moment, but nothing to that extent! “No, really,” Ron parrots back, having learned parroting back from the masters themselves, his older brothers, “You take it.”

 

“I couldn’t put you out,” Harry continues, and Morgana, they’re starting to sound like his grandmother and his great aunt arguing over who is paying the bill at a restaurant.

 

“You aren’t putting me bloody out,” Ron says, slowly, “Is my bed not good enough for you?”

 

“No!” Harry whisper yells, anxiously, and it occurs to Ron that maybe that kind of reversal wasn’t great for a kid who comes from an abusive family, “I just—“

 

“Look,” Ron says, gutting him off before this ends with them both having panic attacks, “It’s a small bed, but I’m sure we can share for tonight. That way, neither of us is on the floor, okay?”

 

“… Okay.” Harry says, quietly. They weren’t, like, super touchy at school, so this is new territory for the both of them.

 

They end up carefully lying on their sides, facing away from each other. Ron takes the side with the wall, because Harry’s the one more likely to feel boxed in at a new place anyway, and Ron doesn’t want to compound the whole thing.

 

They end up waking up, sprawled on top of each other like cats, a bit before lunch. It’s way less awkward than it could have been.

 

--

 

The garden doesn’t need de-gnoming, but they do it anyway.

 

“Consider it a punishment,” Mum says, “For sneaking out.”

 

Harry mostly just stands around looking confused for a bit, before following Ron’s example, grabbing a gnome, and trying to sling it over the fence. He doesn’t quite get the distance Ron does, but he hasn’t had the practice. Plus, just judging by what his room looked like back at that awful house, there’s no way his relatives were feeding him well.

 

Not that he expects Harry’s little arms to snap like twigs, or anything, but clearly, the amount of non-Hogwarts-provided hot meals the kid has had is probably low enough that if he thinks about it any more Ron’s going to be too angry to function for the rest of the afternoon.

 

Anyway, the de-gnoming goes fairly easily, since there’s two of them and the gnomes aren’t particularly dug in to anything, so after they finish, him and Harry mostly just… hang out in the shade.

 

Ginny comes out to the porch once, sees Harry, turns bright scarlet, and leaves, fast. Ron’s definitely going to rib her about that for a while (why would she have a crush on Harry? Harry’s a dork! She could do better, in Ron’s opinion.).

 

Dad comes home from the ministry after a while, sees Harry, and is mostly just confused.

 

“Wha—Why are you here?” He asks, blankly.

 

“Oh, his relatives turned his room into a jail cell,” Ron says, trying not to relish how fast his dad changes color and remembers what he spoke like over dinner the previous night. “Me and the twins busted him out last night, it was bad. You can talk to them about it, if you’d like?”

 

“Y-yeah.” Dad says, going into the house. “I might just, uh, do that.”

 

Harry waits a beat, for Dad’s footsteps to fade into the house, before turning and glaring at Ron, looking a bit betrayed.

 

“Why’d you tell him?” Harry asks, more than a little indignant. “He didn’t have to know!”

 

“Well,” Ron says, slowly, trying to stall for time and form an argument that isn’t just ‘out of spite, mostly’. “You know what they were doing to you is illegal, right? Not, like, traffic violation illegal, but, like, the sort of illegal that gets you several years in prison.”

 

“I was fine.

 

“No, you weren’t.” Ron pauses, and leans in. “And you shouldn’t have to be, okay?”

 

“…Sorry?”

 

Ron is actually tempted to steal Dad’s car again, drive to Surrey, and burn that sodding house to the ground. He could do it, he thinks—wouldn’t even need magic, just a roll of paper towels and a gas stove, and Bob’s your uncle.

 

“Don’t apologize, Harry, bloody hell.” Ron sighs, trying to get back on track. “I know I overstepped, but Dad—Dad cares, alright? He’d want to know, he doesn’t just look away when he sees something bad happening, okay?”

 

(Of course, Dad had his own moral compass in that regard, but Ron’s pretty sure there’s no ambiguity in fucking child abuse.)

 

“I didn’t want to bother him!” Harry says, “Now I’ve gone and made him upset.”

 

That was, frankly, a lot for Ron to unpack. He decides to leave that can of worms unopened, for the moment. “He’d want to be bothered by this,” Ron goes with, because it’s true, and it’s the best way he can think of to sketch out how wrong Harry is in that regard. “You didn’t bother him, your situation did. Those’re different things.”

 

“If you say so,” Harry says, clearly not believing a word Ron is saying. “Anyway,” Harry begins, jumping onto a new conversation topic like it’s going to magically make Ron forget, “D’you think we could get him to make me a bed in your room? Not that I minded sharing last night, mind.”

 

Ron hauls himself up, and makes his way inside. “I’ll ask him.”

 

--

 

The rest of the summer passes fairly quickly, all told.

 

Harry helps out around the house, which is nice of him, and Ron writes Hermione about what happened, which is less than pleasant for all parties involved, but needed to be done.

 

Harry turns twelve. Huh, Ron thinks, in passing, he’s near-on six months older. That’s, like… a lot. Or at least, more than he was expecting.

 

The whole family (and Harry) get their lists of school supplies at once. Excepting Ginny, obviously, because that’s attached to the Hogwarts letter she gets on her birthday, a few weeks later.

 

(Why yes, she’s still avoiding Harry like the plague, and whenever she bumps into him on accident in a doorway, she turns bright red. It’s kinda cute, though Ron still wishes she had better taste.)

 

Their summer homework goes relatively fast, and before long, it’s time to go to Diagon Alley.

Chapter Text

YEAR 2: CHAPTER 1

 

Harry’s never flooed before.

 

It makes sense, after all—he was raised by muggles, and his muggle relatives are the sort of people that’d lock their inconvenient nephew up for, assumedly, magic reasons; not that the floo network was any more baffling than, say, an underground train that connected all of London.

 

Anyway, because the fireplace at the Burrow is pretty small, they all have to go through separately. And, well… Harry trips over his words. Because he’s, you know, half-in a chimney, surrounded by fire, and new to this sort of stuff.

 

He doesn’t trip up too badly, so he’s probably still in the area of Diagon, at least that’s what Ron tells himself. He allows himself a brief moment to rather uncharitably think that, frankly, he won’t be upset in the slightest if Harry gets himself lost in the slightly seedy part of wizarding London, because Harry left him to die at school, and didn’t even have the manners to do it intentionally.

 

So yeah, Ron figures that a few minutes of vague unpleasantness is the least of what he deserves.

 

--

 

Only a few minutes later, when they meet up with Harry while on the way back from Ginny buying her wand, it turns out that Harry overheard something, and is now, for lack of a better phrase, back on his bullshit.

 

(Ginny, it turned out, got to go to the same shady second-hand wand-dealer that he did, though hers is a bit nicer-looking. Yew, the clerk had said, solid. Sproingy, rather than springy, because apparently there was some distinction. Meteorite core, manufactured in Asia, perfectly legal, although not very traditional.)

 

(But still, Ginny got it at an utter steal, because, for one, it seemed like a decent match—threw sparks and everything when she picked it up, looked right in her hand, all that nonsense—and for another, well, turns out the second hand wand shop was in a bit of legal trouble, needed to get rid of product quickly, and was only taking cash transactions. It didn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to figure out why.)

 

Anyways, on their way out of Knockturn, they run into Harry. Literally. The kid’s a little confused, a little overwhelmed, and he just accidentally walks directly into Ginny without noticing. It’s a wonder she doesn’t spontaneously combust, by how fast her face heats up.

 

“You would not believe who I ran into,” Harry says, after saying hi again and folding back into the group.

 

“Uh, I dunno, Snape?” Ron ventures, not taking the question too seriously. His friend is clearly itching to go on a tear, and far be it from Ron to stop him.

 

Malfoy.” Harry says, like it’s some sort of revelation that Malfoy would be shopping for his bloody school supplies at the same time as them. “And his father.”

 

“Really?”

 

“I ended up in this shop, right? Borgin and Burkes, I think it was? And they were selling something.”

 

Ron bites down on his first response, which was something along the lines of ‘wow, who could imagine, selling things in a pawn shop’, and decides to go for his second response. “Huh, that’s weird.”

 

It’s not weird, he knows for a fact that Mum has gotten rid of some of the, uh, questionable family heirlooms at that very same shop, but it’s clear that Harry’s looking for someone to validate him. And, like, he’s Ron’s best friend, and he’s had a rough summer, and he did technically kill a man a few months ago, which is bound to mess a guy up a little.

 

“And the shop was just—it was so clearly Dark, you know?” Harry even says the word like it’s almost a curse, and Ron can hear the capitalization.

 

“Huh,” Ron says, thoughtfully, because clearly this conversation is happening regardless of his participation, and because of that he’s going to put in the bare minimum of effort.

 

“He’s up to something.” Harry says, because Morgana forbid they get through a bloody school year without some sort of dark magic conspiracy. “I can tell.”

 

Now, Ron may well think that Draco Malfoy is a prick, and a racist little twat who couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map unless he had a house elf he could delegate the task to, but it kind of seems like Harry’s basing this off of nothing. Again.

 

“Guess we’ll just have to see,” Ron says, as they approach the bookstore.

 

The very ridiculously crowded bookstore.

 

Because there’s an author there, doing a book signing.

 

In addition to the pre-Hogwarts crowd. Who, judging by the sign, are required to buy, like, seven of his books each.

 

(It was quietly decided, during a family meeting that Harry was not party to, that no, they’d be getting one set to share among the five of them. Ginny looked a bit put out, because she’d rather gotten used to having her own stuff, considering she was the only girl in the family, but then Dad had calmly pulled out a sheet of paper, and started doing math on it, and showing her exactly how much that would cost in addition to all her other school supplies.

 

The matter was fairly quickly dropped after that.)

 

In all honesty, if the man didn’t just ooze smarm like some sort of smug slug, Ron would appreciate the hustle, a little bit. But, well—ok. The thing is, Mum read a lot of Witch Weekly, because she didn’t really have much to do with all the kids over the age of, like, eight. (They’d attempted to get a cable hookup, because about half of mum’s knitting circle was hooked on Eastenders, but that was very much a work in progress.) And even if Mum didn’t really ‘go in for that sort of rubbish’, she kinda had this thing, where she tended to just glom onto the latest gossip, the hottest trends, because she just needed something to keep busy.

 

And so, it followed that she had read all of this Lockhart bloke’s books, took them all at face value, and was close to downright swooning at the man as he signed the communal copy of his books.

 

Unfortunately, the prick just brushed her off.

 

In front of the vast majority of her family.

 

“Let’s kill him.” Fred whispered, earnestly. “The defense position is cursed anyway, he’s already doomed. We’d just be tagging him out a bit early.”

 

“We’re in public, Fred.” Percy said, lightly cuffing him on the shoulder. “We’d get caught immediately.”

 

The thing that Ron loved (like, absolutely loved) about Percy was that, when properly motivated, he was just as bad as the rest of them.

 

“Aw, Perce,” George said, wrapping an arm around his older brother’s shoulders, and effectively bracketing him between both of the twins in the crowded bookshop, “We never said it had to be immediate.”

 

“Yeah,” Fred said, “Might have a little accident coming back from Hogsmeade. Or on the stairs. Who knows?”

 

“Might not learn his lesson, then,” Percy hisses back, trying not to be overhead in the too-crowded bookshop. “Ruining him, that seems the better option.”

 

“You know Perce?” Fred asks, “I daresay—“

 

“And my dear brother,” George butts in, “I must concur—“

 

“—that you might just be on to something, there.”

 

It’s a few minutes before Lockhart catches sight of Harry, though, and that’s when things really get uncomfortable.

 

Like, he’s got his issues, but when it comes down to it, Harry is still his best friend. And really uncomfortable with being famous. So when it somehow morphs into a photo shoot and autograph session, Harry looks like he’s about to curl up and die.

 

It passes quickly enough, mostly due to Harry looking incredibly uncomfortable with the whole thing and therefore ruining a good portion of the photos, probably, but still. It’s… too much. What a smarmy prick, Ron thinks, and he’s going to be teaching defense next year, which is just bloody lovely.

 

(His grades for first year had arrived in the middle of the summer, and though they weren’t bad, per se, there was… room for improvement. Mostly in DADA, which made sense, seeing how Quirrell couldn’t teach fish to swim, let alone keep a class of eleven year olds engaged; History of Magic was also a bit of a wash, but since Hermione was legitimately the only student in their year who bothered paying attention during class, that one stung less.)

 

At any rate, eventually they get Harry untangled from Lockhart, and leave the bookstore when Lucius Malfoy shows up, apparently just to be a prick of the highest order.

 

Ron had never met the man before, but he’d heard stories. And, knowing Draco, it wasn’t hard to draw a line towards what his father could be like.

 

There were the standard remarks about how poor they were, which were starting to cut less deep than they had before simply by virtue of becoming rather worn territory (and, if Ron was being completely honest with himself, because they weren’t exactly wrong.). But then he had the utter gall to start in on Ginny.

 

Dad get’s ready to throw a punch, and he gets about halfway there before Percy wraps his arms around their father’s middle and hauls him back, feet planted firmly. He whispers something sharp in Dad’s ear, which doesn’t make him immediately calm down, or anything, but drains some of the fight out of his body.

 

“Ah, yes,” Lucius says, staring down his nose at them, head tilted slightly back so it’s properly dramatic posing with his long, blonde hair. “Wouldn’t want you getting in trouble with your superiors, Weasley. You could stand to teach your spawn the same courtesy.”

 

And Ron had thought Draco was bad. Yeesh.

 

“Oh,” Dad said, soft and sharp, “I’ve taught them well enough. You aren’t going to find them on the wrong end of a felony charge—remind me, how many of those do you have?”

 

(Generally, people considered Arthur Weasley to be ‘the nice one’.

 

Generally, people were wrong.

 

Mum tended to let things flare up and burn out. Dad was more the type to let that sort of thing simmer, constantly, let it fester like a wound. Mum didn’t hold grudges, she got even immediately. Dad tended to think about them, and go about his life until he found an opportunity to really capitalize on them.)

 

“None, I think you’ll find.” Lucius bared his teeth into a poor facsimile of a smile. “I got off, or didn’t you hear?”

 

Arthur looked at Draco for a beat, then looked back, the twist to his mouth turning suddenly sharper. “Just the once, so I’ve been told.”

 

Father—“ Draco began, looking incredibly affronted. To be fair, Ron also felt a little off-kilter at that, but he managed to school his face.

 

Draco.” Lucius said sharply, throwing the book he’d been leafing through back into Ginny’s cauldron. “This is not your fight.”

 

“But you can’t just—“

 

“I think you’ll find that I can.” Lucius sighed, irritably. “This isn’t about you, for Merlin’s sake! Just—urgh.” He grabbed Draco by the shoulder, and began to turn away.

 

(“What was all that about?” Draco asked later, as they were enjoying a lunch out at a small restaurant. He took a sip of his water, and fiddled with his napkin a bit. He was about half-way through a very tasty sandwich. “With Weasley’s Dad back there?”

 

Lucius took a sip of his scotch. It was a little early, true, but with that excitement on top of having to deal with Gilderoy BLOODY Lockhart, and his bookstore packed with squealing tweenage fans, he figured that he’d bloody well earned it. “I meant what I said. It’s not between you two.”

 

“But he—“

 

“Yes, he insulted your parentage.” Lucius stared sourly down at his salad, before drizzling a little of the provided vinaigrette over top. “Hardly the first time someone has done so, and far, far from the last.”

 

“But Father—“

 

“Draco.” He sighed. “Arthur Weasley and I have been circling each other like wounded sharks since before the Dark Lord came to power. It isn’t your fight, it’s ours, and we’ve been at it long enough to know where the boundaries are.”

 

“So that thing with the book?” Draco asked, “What was that about.”

 

“That,” Lucius said, “is… something else. Clearing up a debt, maybe.”

 

“So you owe him—“

 

“No.” Lucius said, solidly. “I don’t. We’re done talking about this.”)

 

“Arthur,” Mum said, after a moment, once the Malfoys had thoroughly made themselves scarce, “If you could please not drag the children into your pissing contest with Malfoy, that’d be lovely.”

 

He sighed. “… Yes, dear.”

 

Ron nudged Percy, who ignored him.

 

Ron nudged a bit harder, and was, similarly, summarily ignored.

 

Bollocks to this, he thought, and wrapped his hand around his brother’s upper arm and tugged, sharply.

 

Percy didn’t quite fall off his feet, but he certainly bent.

 

“What the bloody hell was that?” Ron hissed.

 

Percy looked at him, assessing. “That was Dad and Lucius Malfoy. They’re just—“ he gestured, vaguely, “They’re just like that, I suppose. Get under each other’s skin, ‘n all.”

 

“That’s not a—“

 

Percy twisted out of Ron’s hold. He knew he should have gone for a headlock, or something a little harder to escape. “That’s it, alright? It’s just how they are.”

 

That was way less informative than Ron thought it would be.

 

As he and the family made their way back to the communal floo, he felt knocked off balance. Like he’d been whacked upside the head with a plank. This didn’t make sense—there had to be a reason for it.

 

It just…

 

It didn’t sit right.

 

--

 

Something else that didn’t sit right: Not getting through the bloody barrier at the platform to get on the Hogwarts Express. Surely—surely!—him and Harry weren’t the only folks trapped on the muggle side.

 

Ron just about starts punching the bloody brick wall, just to do something.

 

“Hey, Ron,” Harry says, after a moment of staring blankly at the wall, “Your Da’s car is still in the carpark, right?”

 

“Unless someone’s stolen it,” Ron said, the beginnings of a plan beginning to percolate in the back of his mind, “He’s not great about locking it, because of the enchantments, but some muggles are stubborn enough—doesn’t matter.” Ron took a deep breath. “What’s the plan?”

 

“I figure,” Harry said, “That with the car flying, and all, and Hogwarts in Scotland, if we just, I dunno, fly north—“

 

“Mate,” Ron blinked at him. “Scotland’s a big place, and the castle’s unplottable, so it’s not like we can use a map—

 

Harry grabbed Ron by the shoulders and shook him a few times. “I’m saying,” Harry bit out, patiently, “That we can follow the train.”

 

“Ah,” Ron said. “Right.”

 

--

 

So, naturally, it all ends badly.

 

Not like, they all die, ends badly, but there’s a limit to how well something can end when it’s predicated on two 12-year-olds driving a car well.

 

They find the train, which is good, and they’re able to follow it, which is better. It winds north, across the border and into Scotland, before Ron thinks to check the gas gauge. They’re about half-full, which is, he thinks, quietly to himself, very lucky.

 

The train pulls into the station at Hogsmeade, and the car just… keeps going. Which is unfortunate.

 

Ron slams on the brakes, he wrenches the wheel, and all that does is send them careening into the Whomping Willow.

 

The tree seems to approach in slow-motion, drawn towards them like some sort of inevitable magnetism. There’s nothing that Ron can really do to stop it—the brakes aren’t working, the wheel is jammed up because Dad never got around to topping up the power-steering fluid over the summer. They’re just, well, crashing.

 

In a sudden moment of clarity, before the car hits, Ron realizes two things, one much more serious than the other.

 

  1. Dad was going to be pissed, no two ways about it.
  2. The car was too old to have airbags, and he and Harry weren’t wearing their seatbelts.

 

They crash. Hard.

 

--

 

He wakes up in the hospital wing. Again.

 

“This is becoming a bit of a pattern, Weasley.” Bloody hell, Snape’s the one waiting by his bedside, this time. “I’m fairly sure you’ve broken a record by this point.”

 

“Uh,” Ron manages to say, because he’s just woken up and his mind isn’t quite starting correctly.

 

“Minerva is dealing with the sorting ceremony, if you’re wondering why she isn’t here.”

 

It actually hadn’t even occurred to Ron to wonder. “Uh-huh.”

 

“You’ll be pleased to know that Potter is essentially unscathed,” Well, that was an upside, “He’d already half-climbed out when the car hit, so he was thrown from it.”

 

Oh, so it was like that, was it. “Not again,” Ron mutters, almost automatically. “Morgana, this is the second time.”

 

“Care to elaborate?”

 

“… Not particularly.”

 

“Tough shit, Weasley.” Snape ran a hand through his hair. It had gotten a bit longer over the summer, though was no-less greasy. “Tell me, or I’m taking this to Minerva.”

 

Well, that wasn’t the end of the world, but she reminded him a bit too much of his mum, most of the time. And, well, Harry was the savior of the wizarding world, she’d automatically side with him, right?

 

So much as Harry had a side.

 

It would almost be better if he had.

 

“It’s just…. It’s fine.” Ron said, softly. “I mean, he left me to die last year, too, and didn’t even think about it. I’d just thought, well—I’d just thought that it’d be a one-off, is all. “ He laughed, darkly. “Guess it’s not.”

 

“Christ, Weasley, that’s depressing.” Snape sighed, and brushed his hair away from his face with his hand. “You need better friends.”

 

“Eh,” Ron said, “I get by alright.”

 

Snape raised an eyebrow.

 

“It’s fine, really.”

 

Snape, thankfully, let the subject drop. “Well, between Minerva and I, Gryffindor has already lost over a hundred house points.”

 

Ron didn’t even blink. “Okay,” He said, “Seems fair.”

 

“And detention, for two weeks, for the both of you.”

 

Ron wasn’t too mad at that. “Together or separate?”

 

“Together.” A smirk crept across Snape’s face. “With Lockhart, at least for the first few nights.”

 

Bollocks.

 

--

 

 

They get settled into the dorm fairly quickly. Ron doesn’t even have to spend the night in the Hospital Wing, though apparently he managed to get very, very lucky and just wind up with a shoulder wrenched out of socket and a case of whiplash, rather than a full-blown concussion.

 

(“So,” Dean says, as they’re getting ready for bed, “you can drive?

 

“… I’m pretty sure we have solid proof I can’t, now.” Ron smiles, a little wan, “It was brilliant, though.”

 

“What, a flying car? Yeah, I’d bloody well hope so.”)

 

Hermione is in good spirits, at least. Granted, she’s a little peeved about having to ride the train alone, but she’s not, well, going completely spare over rule breaking, like she would have last year.

 

Honestly,” She said, to the both of them, once she managed to corner them before breakfast the next day, “You didn’t think to just wait? Parents have to leave the platform, too, you know—someone would have noticed.”

 

“Well,” Harry has the decency to look a little sheepish, “Then we wouldn’t have gotten to use the flying car, would we?”

 

Regardless,” She breezes past conceding the point, “You could have been seriously hurt.”

 

Ron, who had been seriously hurt, stays quiet, and tucks into his scrambled eggs a little more forcefully.

 

“We were fine,” Harry says, “Really, it was nothing to worry about.”

 

Ron cuts his sausage up into little pieces, just to do something. Just so he doesn’t have to talk. He should have just skipped breakfast. Pretended he lost a book during the crash and hid out in the library until their first class started. But no, he had to be all friendly, didn’t he.

 

“—and how was your summer, Ron?” She asks. Her and Harry have clearly continued the conversation while he was off in his own little world.

 

“It was alright,” Ron says, trying not to offer up too much information. “Pretty low-key, other than picking up Harry from his relatives.”

 

“Oh, right.” Ron had written her after the whole thing with Harry and his awful family. Not, like, in detail, but just so she was kinda looped in on the whole thing. Because Harry had been ignoring—or, to be accurate, not receiving—her letters all summer as well. “Well, did you two get your class schedules last night?”

 

Ron is emphatically grateful for the change in subject. “No, uh, I made it back to the common room pretty late.”

 

“Where were you, anyway?” Harry asks. “Because I ran into Lockhart, and he thought it was all some sort of stunt—“

 

Oh Morgana, Ron thinks, why is he best friends with such an idiot. “What sort of stunt would that be?”

 

Hermione cuts him a look. He ignores her—if she wants to shake him down, she can do it when they’re alone.

 

“He thinks I want to be famous,” Harry says, “Like I’m, I dunno, trying to get on the front page of the newspaper, or something.”

 

“Huh,” Ron says, because it sounds like Harry’s looking for input, and shoves a large fork-full of scrambled egg into his mouth to avoid actually formulating a response.

 

--

 

Hermione pulls him aside as they’re walking to History of Magic, which, for some reason, they have first thing on Monday morning, which is some special kind of torture. “You aren’t telling me something.”

 

“I mean,” Ron says, “Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t tell you.”

 

She huffs at that. “You’re entitled to your secrets, or whatever, but it seems like something’s eating you about last night.”

 

Ron allows himself a brief moment of actually being as petty as he wants to be. “Didn’t you hear Harry? Everyone’s fine. No one was hurt, right?”

 

“Oh,” She says, “Oh no, Ron—“

 

“It’s—don’t worry about it, really. It’s not that big a deal, and if he didn’t notice, he didn’t notice, alright?”

 

“Ron, really—“ She sighs, aggrieved. “We’re going to be late for class, but this conversation isn’t over!”

 

“It’s just History of Magic, it’s not like we’ll miss anything.”

 

“The first day of class is vital to setting out the roadmap for the rest of the year! And we’ll go over the summer reading—“

 

Ah, Ron knew he had forgotten something. “We had summer reading?”

 

Augh!” Hermione threw her hands up in exasperation. “Don’t you pay attention?”

 

--

 

So, after History of Magic, which is just as dull as it’s ever been, there’s a quick detour to Charms. Where they spend the whole period reviewing Windgardium Leviosa, which manages to be nearly as boring as the hour and a half long lecture from Binns.

 

Ron’s wand is, thankfully, intact, after the car wreck—it’s certainly dinged up a bit, but it works about as well as it had previously, despite the long gouge that runs halfway down from right next to the tip. It takes a little more effort to get the magic to actually work, but he chalks that up to spending three months not doing any.

 

Then lunch, where he manages to avoid the looming conversation with Hermione by eating with Ginny. They missed each other last night, he says, she’s probably lonely, he says, I wouldn’t want Mum to worry, he says.

 

Ginny looks up from her sandwich as he sits down. Luckily, her seat is pretty far away from Harry and Hermione. “Didn’t know you were that much of a liar,” She says, taking a sip of her water, “Is there something up with you and them?”

 

“Yeah, well,” Ron looks down at his plate. He knows he should eat, but… he’s just not hungry. “Harry’s being a bit stupid, is all. Doesn’t realize it.”

 

“Huh,” She says, “That sucks.”

 

“Yeah.” Ron grabs an apple from the nearest fruit bowl, and takes a large bite out of it with a momentous crunch. “So, how are you settling in?”

 

Ginny, thankfully, snatches on the opportunity of a subject change like it’s a life preserver. “My roommates are alright. Mariposa—she’s the one with the really short, curly hair—she’s got this really pretty cat, it’s one of those hairless ones?”

 

“What does that even feel like? To pet, I mean?”

 

“You know how the skin of your elbow is all wrinkly and soft? Like that, but all over. In a good way, I mean.”

 

“Huh,” Ron can’t really picture it, so he tries to feel his own elbow. “Weird.”

 

I know, right?” Ginny tucks into her potato salad. “The other girls were kinda grossed out by it, but I thought it was nice.”

 

“… How many girls are in your year, anyway?”

 

Ginny shrugs. “Like, four, maybe? Five, including me. It’s not like Percy’s year, where it’s just him and that quidditch bloke sharing a room, but it’s not like how there are, like, eight first year Ravenclaw boys, either.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“I’ve got them in Transfiguration and Potions, and they cannot shut up.” Ginny smirks. “McGonagall took, like, thirty points. Snape took almost fifty.”

 

Nice.” Ron doesn’t really care about house points, if he’s being honest, but still—that’s a lot for just talking in class.

 

“Have you had Defense yet?”

 

“Nah,” Ron says, “That’s tomorrow, after lunch, I think? Got detention with him tonight, though.”

 

Alre—oh, right, the car thing.” She takes another bite of potato salad. “Mum’s gonna be pissed.” She chews for a moment, swallows, and then continues. “Anyway, Lockhart is just—“ She sighs, dreamily. “Gosh.”

 

“That’s not really—what?” Ron grimaces. “Do you like him, or something?”

 

She blushes. “He’s just… really pretty, is all. Seems like a crap teacher, but Merlin, his eyes.”

 

“Um,” Ron says, “He’s, like, thirty, Gin.”

 

She leans across the table and swats him on the arm, still blushing. “He’s just—you ever look at someone and your brain turns off, a little bit? Like that, that’s all.”

 

“Uh,” Ron felt his cheeks color, a little. “If you say so.” He looked down at his plate, and tried to change the subject. “What, ah—what other class did you have this morning?”

 

She grinned, sharply. “Potions.”

 

“Who’s Snape got you partnered with?”

 

“We’re with the Ravenclaws, and I’m paired with Alastair Rosbrush.” She grimaced.

 

“What’s he like, then?”

 

“Well, I don’t really know him, but…” She sighed. “His handwriting is terrible, his ears are pierced, and he spilled my ink all over our table.”

 

“Give him a chance, Gin,” Ron said, “It’s good to have friends that aren’t Gryffindors. For, like, perspective, and all that crap.”

 

--

 

They have Transfiguration after lunch. He manages to handily avoid conversation with Harry and Hermione by talking with Ginny until they leave—they’re his friends and all, but he just doesn’t have the energy to deal with them at the moment. He’s the last person in his seat in class, but it’s the first day, so he figures it’s probably going to be review of the summer homework.

 

McGonagall looks at him reproachfully, but since he’s not technically late, there’s nothing that she can really do. Ron thinks he’s in the clear, until five minutes later, when Hermione jabs him with the sharp end of her quill, and slides a piece of paper towards him.

 

What is wrong? Her slightly spidery handwriting spells out, letters connecting in ways that Ron’s pretty sure aren’t how they’re actually supposed to.

 

nothing . He writes back, trying not to engage.

 

Tell me.

 

He shakes his head. It’s just something he has to get past, is all.

 

She underlines the last sentence emphatically. Tell me.

 

Ron dips his quill into his ink, and, grimacing, answers. Fine. After class.

 

--

 

Ronald,” She starts on the tear almost immediately once they get into the hallway. “What on earth—“

 

“Do you need something from the library?” Ron asks, “I need something from the library. Let’s walk and talk.”

 

She growls at him, but they break ranks with the pack of Gryffindors heading to the common room, regardless. She doesn’t talk again until they’ve gone the full length of the corridor. “Tell. Me.”

 

“It’s—urgh.” He tries to sort the words out in his head. “Mostly, it’s because Harry’s stupid about some things. And I just thought—well, I dunno, I thought that maybe he wouldn’t be. That they were, like, baked-in as things that people do, is all.”

 

“Is this about you and—“

 

“Look,” He says, looking her in the eye there in the middle of the corridor, “I don’t want to talk about it.” His voice goes a little softer. “Please, stop asking, things’ll work out on their own.”

 

“I should hope so,” She says, “Because even though I don’t know anything about this, I think I might be on your side, and Harry has, like, no other friends.”

 

I know, right?” Ron says, a little surprised that she gets it, “Like, I bet you’ve got some Ravenclaw friends, or something—“

 

Hermione nods. “Yeah, yeah, Lucinda Druthorne is ace at Charms, and Elia Moreno is fantastic at—“ She cuts herself off. “You get it.”

 

Ron nods. “It’s just weird, is all.” He sighs. “Lotsa stuff is just weird right now, I guess.”

 

“So,” She says, after a beat, “What did you need from the library?”

 

“That was just an excus—“

 

“Because we should be revising for Defense tomorrow. Apparently there’s a quiz, first thing.”

 

“… Great.”

 

--

 

The first thing that Ron’s confronted with, after dinner, when he arrives at Lockhart’s office for detention, is the sheer number of photos the man has of himself. There’s loads. They’re all… smiling.

 

Well, okay, Ron hesitates to call it a smile, but the physical affect is at least something similar to a smile. There’s something off about the eyes, in the pictures, though. He’s got, like…. Ron isn’t sure how to think of it, but there’s a disconnect, for sure. What makes it really creepy, though, is that they’re all pictures of him. No other people in any of the frames.

 

Eurgh.

 

Well, the man must have some kind of redeeming factor, if Ginny’s got a crush on him and Mum insists on buying all of his books.

 

“Oh, Ronald!” Lockhart says, making Ron jump a little. The professor must have entered when Ron was busy gawking. “I understand you and Harry have detention with me?”

 

“Uh,” Ron says, taking in the office. With all the pictures, the lit candles, and the stacks of his own books strewn around, it’s remarkably like Lockhart has made a shrine to himself. “Yeah. Because of the car, and all.”

 

“Ah, yes m’boy, thought you’d make the news with that, didn’t you?”

 

“That’s not what it—“

 

“You don’t have to lie to me, Ronald,” Lockhart winks at him, which makes him feel all sorts of slimy. “I know what a boy will do for fame.”

 

There’s a knock at the door, saving Ron from responding to that, and Harry enters.

 

“Um, hi,” He says, “I’m here for detention?”

 

Lockhart smiles. It’s an exact copy of the ones in the photos behind him, like he’s practiced it. And, just like the ones behind him, it doesn’t reach his eyes in the slightest. “Great!”

 

Lockhart moves to his desk, and pulls out a large stack of paper.

 

“Do you know what this is?” He asks, gesturing to the papers like they’re the eighth wonder of the world. “This, Ronald and Harry, is the rough draft of my new manuscript, Claimed by the Cockatrice.

 

“Okay…?” Ron says.

 

“Think the title could maybe use a little revision, sir,” Harry says, after a beat.

 

“Nonsense, the title is clearly the best part,” Lockhart waves the criticism away. “The rest of the book, though—well, there’s a reason I requested you two here tonight!”

 

Morgana, this isn’t what he thinks it is, is it?

 

“You see, my boys, I’m in dire need of a copy editor to spruce things up a bit. Fix my punctuation. So I thought—“ Lockhart leans in. “—that I should call upon the best minds at Hogwarts to take a crack at it!”

 

“But we aren’t even the best minds in our year!” Harry says.

 

“Nonsense, m’boy, stop being so humble, it’ll get you nowhere in life.” Lockhart pulls another stack of papers out of his desk. “Lucky for you two, I copied it out so that both of you can have your own copy to work from!”

 

“Great.” Ron says, staring down at the stacks of paper and wishing he could set them on fire with his mind. “Love that, thank you.”

 

“That’s the proper feudal spirit, Ronald!” Lockhart claps him on the shoulder, hard. “See here, Harry? You could stand to learn a few lessons from your friend.”

 

Harry grabs one of the manuscripts, and settles down into a nearby chair. “Best get to it, then.”

 

Ron picks up his own, and sits down next to Harry, beginning to read.

 

Claimed by the Cockatrice,” The front page reads, “The true story of Gilderoy Lockhart’s daring battle against the foulest of beasts, and his quest to understand what really makes us human.”

 

Bloody hell, Ron thinks, so it’s one of those books, then, isn’t it?

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR 2: CHAPTER 2

 

Claimed by the Cockatrice is, as Ron had suspected, a real slog.

 

Her hair danced in the soft wind, and the moonlight reflected off her ample bosom as we approached the creature’s lair,” The section Ron’s reading states, “But the power of love in it’s most tangible of forms was not enough for me, not now, not with victory so close at hand. The croons of the creature were barely audible above the blood rushing in his veins, his pulse pumping, that turgid organ deep inside his chest screaming at him to kill—“

 

“Uh, professor,” Harry said, suddenly, thankfully saving Ron from reading any more of that bloody paragraph, “I think we’ve run out of time, for tonight.”

 

Lockhart looked up at the clock on his wall, an ornate affair that was all gold and chrome and was actually absolutely hideous. “Have we?”

 

If Ron had to read another bloody sentence that was about seven lines long and was written like someone was in the process of being murdered by a bloody thesaurus, he was going to tear his eyes out. “Reckon so.”

 

“Well, lads, I certainly hate to see you leave,” Lockhart smiled. It was precisely as sincere as the identical smile in the pictures that decorated the entire room, which is to say not in the slightest. “Did you enjoy it?”

 

“You’re certainly one of a kind,” Ron lied. He almost wished Lockhart’s writing was bad in a unique way, rather than just boring and too horny. And it kept switching to third-person, which was weird.

 

“… My aunt would love it,” Harry said after a moment, for lack of anything else to add. “The voice you use is just… profound.”

 

“It still needs some work,” Lockhart looked almost hopeful, and actually sincere for the first time this evening, and oh, all of a sudden Ginny’s crush on him suddenly made way more sense. “But I really think it’s something.”

 

“…Y-Yeah.” Ron said, shaking himself slightly. “Look, we’d better be getting back to the tower because of, ah,--“

 

“Curfew!” Harry cut in, sounding way too joyous about it to be subtle. “We have curfew, so we’d better go.”

 

“I’m sure a pair of strapping young lads like you break curfew all the time!” Lockhart tried.

 

“… It’s only the first week, professor,” Harry said, “That’s a bit early to be up to no good.”

 

“Well,” Lockhart said, “If you insist. See you tomorrow!”

 

The door slammed shut in their faces, and they turned back to the dorms.

 

It was a few corridors later, once they were definitely out of earshot, when Ron spoke.

 

“Well, that was crap, wasn’t it?”

 

Harry laughed, loudly, the sound echoing through the stone corridor. “It was—oh bloody hell, did you get to the part where he makes friends with a wolf that guides him to the village?”

 

Yes!” Ron said. “Morgana, he’s a terrible writer!”

 

“He seems harmless enough, though,” Harry said. “You know, ignoring that.”

 

Ron very much liked to know where the bloody hell Harry had gotten that impression, but didn’t remark on it. “I dunno, mate,” He said, “He seems a little squirrelly to me. Somethin’ about him—I dunno.”

 

“Huh,” Harry said, “You might be right.”

 

--

 

The next day starts off bright and early with Herbology. There’s something nice about being in the greenhouses so early—not just because in first year they had it immediately after lunch twice a week, which was incredibly unpleasant. But starting the day early by just shoving his hands in some smelly, smelly dirt as the early morning light dapples through the rippled glass panes of the greenhouse’s ceiling? It’s incredibly relaxing.

 

“Hey, Neville,” Ron says, as they’re sharing a workstation again this year, “Do you think I could borrow your book again?”

 

The second year Ravenclaw across from them twitches in interest. “Oh,” She asks, a gleam in her big, brown eyes, “Which book?”

 

Neville looks at Ron. Ron nods.

 

“Uh,” Neville says, “Well, it’s mostly just an old reference book from my Gran, you see—“

 

Oh?” She asks, leaning forward slightly and digging her hands a little deeper into the dirt. “Which one?”

 

“I don’t really—“

 

“It’s a book of the Old Ways,” Ron cuts in, feeling pretty sure that if he lets the conversation go on, she’ll end up weaseling the info out regardless. It’s not strictly accurate, but there was a lot of crossover between the Dark Arts and the Old Ways, mostly because the whole ‘dividing magic into categories’ thing sprung up during the Renaissance, anyway. “Don’t think I caught your name?”

 

She extended a dirt-covered hand. “Maggie Owens,” she said, after he grasped it. “Maggie if we’re friends, Mags if you’re feelin’ dangerous, and Margaret if you want me to stab you.”

 

Are we friends?” Ron asked.

 

She looked at him and Neville for a beat, considering. “Eh, could do worse.” She extended her hand to him, as well. “So,” She said, still addressing Ron, “You messin’ around with some dangerous stuff, then?”

 

“Could be,” Ron said, and this was beginning to feel like some sort of black market deal, “don’t think I could read you in, though,”

 

She sighed, looking commiserating at Neville. “I figured. You English folk are just too stingy with info.” She scratched at her cheek, leaving a little smear of dirt, dark against her tan complexion. “Ilvermorny may have its problems, but at least they bother teaching the fun stuff.”

 

“… Are you American?” Neville asked, honestly curious.

 

“Couldn’t tell by my accent?”

 

“I try not to judge.”

 

“Yeah,” She said, digging a hole in the dirt with her trowel, “My dad’s brother apparently knows a guy who knows a guy, you know? And it was this or Ilv, and all my siblings went there, and sure, it’s fine, and all, but I kinda wanted to branch out, you know?”

 

Ron nodded, like he did know, like going to a different school was remotely an option for him.

 

Neville looked down at his hands, carefully packing dirt around the herbs they were replanting. He already missed the table set-up from last year. Since they were paired with Ravenclaw this time, the numbers didn’t quite match up, so it was just the three of them in their little section. “So, uh,” He ventured, after a beat of incredibly awkward silence, “Are you in any clubs?”

 

--

 

Ron knew, before going in, that Defense was going to be a shitshow. Even before detention, he had an inkling—for all that Ginny thought Lockhart’s eyes were dreamy, or whatever, she’d been very clear on him being utter pants at teaching—but class really solidified how bad it all was.

 

They started with a test, which Ron believed was already awful, but especially so because he was a new teacher, so there was no telling what was on it.

 

It was actually a test about Lockhart himself, which made things worse. On one hand, it was better than being utterly bored to death, like he was in Quirrell’s class, but on the other, it was utterly atrocious and filled with minutia there’s no way anyone could be able to recall.

 

(Excepting, of course, Hermione, who had a mind like a steel trap for what she cared to notice, and she certainly cared to notice things about Lockhart.)

 

For real though, how was Ron supposed to remember Lockhart’s favorite color? Not that he did any of the summer reading, or cracked open any of the (several) books that were required, but still—it just didn’t seem particularly relevant, is all.

 

They all exchange tests with the person behind them for grading (‘wouldn’t want you giving your friends better grades’ Lockhart says with a wink), and Ron’s stuck with Lavender Brown’s. She’s filled out every answer in that loopy handwriting that two-thirds of the girls in their year have, and her ink is charmed so it’s purple. She somehow got nearly full marks, which is a bit annoying.

 

Not that he has anything against Lavender—he doesn’t really know her, though Hermione isn’t her biggest fan—and he’d probably be annoyed at any quiz he was grading that did remotely well, it’s just… the first thing he wants to do when he tallies up her results is set them on fire and then jump out the window. The second is tear his hair out and beat himself unconscious against his desk.

 

He settles for option 3, not reacting and handing the quiz back.

 

He ends up with a whopping 15% on his own quiz, which is frankly better than he thought he’d do.

 

Morgana, but he really hates Defense class.

 

--

 

“So,” Hermione says, when they finally sit down for lunch in the great hall, “How was detention?”

 

Ron looks at Harry. Harry looks at Ron.

 

“You aren’t just asking this because you have a crush on Lockhart, right?” Harry teases.

 

“I do not—“ Hermione flushes, her entire face going bright red all at once. “Just because his eyes are like starlight does not mean that I like him!”

“I mean, ‘Mione,” Ron says, not unkindly, “Saying someone’s eyes are like starlight is exactly the sort of thing you’d only say about someone you like.”

 

“Like, I wouldn’t go up to Ron and say, ‘your eyes are looking especially starlighty today, mate’,” Harry adds.

 

“Oi, Harry, your eyes are like the most precious of emeralds, buried deep in the earth, uncorrupted by man.” Ron can’t help but add.

 

“Ron, my friend, you’ve got the bone structure of a Greek statue, and a face hewn from marble itself.”

 

Oh bollocks, that one wasn’t half bad. “Harry, your hair is akin to a raven’s wings, and your smile to, ah, the…” Ron thought for a moment. “… to the moon?”

 

“… You both are awful.” Hermione says, slicing her sandwich into four neat little triangles. She doesn’t say it with any sort of malice, though. “So what if I like him? So does half the school.”

 

“…His eyes are kinda starlighty,” Ron admits, because the thought hadn’t not occurred to him, “I-I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

 

Harry cuts him a look. “Mate, you need better taste.”

 

Ron shoves almost his entire sandwich in his mouth so he can avoid responding to that, because it’s not like he’s wrong.

 

--

 

Potions is after lunch, and it’s… actually fairly relaxing. Like, sure, Snape is still about seventeen different kinds of awful, but compared to the beginning of first year, he’s definitely toned it down a fair bit. They have class with the Slytherins again, so Ron goes to sit by Theo without much thought.

 

(Seamus and Millicent also immediately pair up, because their weird kinship hasn’t dimmed in the slightest, and Dean sits next to a rough-looking Slytherin girl named Zendra Thistledown, presumably because he’d like to avoid being potions partners with Neville again, and if Ron remembers right she was stuck with Crabbe the year before—or was it Goyle? The one not partnered with Malfoy last year. Excepting that, the parings are pretty much the same; even Hermione and Blaise are stuck together in mutual loathing, if only to show the other up.)

 

“How was your summer?” Theo says, setting out his supplies.

 

“It was alright. Harry stayed with us for the last bit, that was weird.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Not my thing to talk about.” Ron shrugged, apologetic. “Anyway, how was yours?”

 

“I understand.” Theo winced. “Father and I spent some time at his cousin’s holiday home in the alps.”

 

Oh jeez. Ron knew that Theo’s family had money—they were purebloods, after all, and the Weasleys were rather the exception to that rule—but he hadn’t figured that they had ‘summering’ money, like old timey royalty. “Huh. Get up to any skiing?”

 

“I mostly ate cheese inside and read.”

 

After that, class kicked up into gear fairly quickly. It was a review lesson from the year before—the Wiggenweld potion—but given that the most potions-like thing Ron had done recently was help his mum in the kitchen over the summer, it was well-needed.

 

Ron manages to get some time with Snape after class, by cleverly spilling his entire bottle of ink on the table ‘on accident’.

 

“Perhaps,” Snape says, once the classroom is truly empty, “if you try that again, it would be more believable if you actually got some of Nott’s supplies in the crossfire.”

 

“It doesn’t need to be believable, sir, it needs to be an excuse.” Ron shrugged. “Call it coincidence, I guess.”

 

“Is there a particular reason you wanted to see me, without your little entourage?”

 

Ron nodded. “Yeah.” He steadied himself. “I’d like it if you changed my detention to not be with Lockhart anymore, please?”

 

“Are you getting tired of, what, answering his fanmail? This is a punishment, after all.” Snape ran a hand through his greasy hair. “Is this because of whatever lover’s spat that’s going on between you and Potter?”

 

Lover’s spat? What? No. Ron shook himself, trying to get back on topic. “He had us read part of his new book.”

 

“Ah.” Snape crossed his arms. “Is it any good?”

 

“I dunno,” Ron said, without thinking, “Do you care about Lockhart’s ‘turgid organs’?”

 

“…Ah.” Snape blinked. “You’re stuck with him for tonight, I’m afraid, but I can talk to Minerva tomorrow to see about getting it changed.” He scoffed. “Would that Albus had any other people remotely interested in teaching the class who were not otherwise engaged…” Trailing off, he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dismissed, Weasley.”

 

“…. Sure thing, professor.”

 

--

 

Detention that night was another long period of copy-editing Lockhart’s softcore porn. And there was no two ways about it—for every scene that Claimed by the Cockatrice spent, well, on cockatrice-related storytelling, there were at least two describing a heaving chest under a tight bodice, pressed against him for ‘’warmth’’, or some other thin conceit about there only being one bed at the inn, or hands caressing across planes of shoulders.

 

At any rate, that night is a damn near carbon-copy of the first, with Ron actively talking himself out of setting a couple of the photographs on fire, and Lockhart being that unfortunate combo of smarmy and condescending that got right under his skin.

 

It’s not that Harry doesn’t notice it, but Ron’s pretty sure it doesn’t bother him as much. Or perhaps Harry just doesn’t pick up the absolutely rancid vibes that Lockhart projects unendingly.

 

(Ron’s leaning towards the latter, because, at least in his experience, Harry isn’t exactly what you’d call observant.)

 

Ron finishes the book. Shock of shocks, but Lockhart manages to slay the cockatrice in the eleventh hour, aided by his ‘nubile lover, clad only in her enchanted silks’.

 

Ron re-reads the fight scene, and then looks at Lockhart, studying. He looks back at the scene, then back at Lockhart. It’s really phenomenally hard to picture this utter fop wielding a silver greatsword and doing complicated evasive gymnastics. Like sure, folks have hidden depths, or whatever, but Ron’s pretty sure that Lockhart couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag, let alone a multi-ton venomous dragon-y bird-y monster.

 

Anyway, once they finally get back to Gryffindor tower, Ron cracks open Sekret and Eville for the first time in months. Hidden by hind the curtains of his four-poster bed, he finally gets around to doing what he’d never done last year—starting the book at the actual beginning, rather than flipping randomly.

 

Contained herein is a baysic primer on those Arts moste Dark and Sekret,” The introduction reads. “Know thee well that, as of this tome’s publikatyn on Lughnasadh, fifteen-hundred and forty seven, it is akurate, but only an introduktyn.”

 

Oh bloody hell, Ron thinks, this is some kind of family heirloom for Neville, isn’t it. There’s no publication date that he can find, so Ron can only assume that it’s held up through the centuries due to frequent application of some powerful conservation charms.

 

He keeps reading, eventually lighting his wand with lumos once everyone else has gone to bed, and the lights in their shared room wink out, automatically. He doesn’t intend to read all night, but something in the book just pulls him in, grabs him. By the time he’s actually exhausted, he’s four chapters in. After a quick tempus, he learns that it’s well after two in the morning.

 

But he’s learned a lot, at least. It’s mostly theory, the kinda stuff that’d have him falling asleep in charms class, but it’s... interesting isn’t the right word. Useful, maybe.

 

Ron goes to sleep and dreams of being beached, pecked apart by carrion.

 

--

 

The next day, Harry has quidditch practice after class.

 

Or, to put it more accurately, the next day, Harry has quidditch practice after class, they’re all set to visit Hagrid afterwards, and Draco Malfoy, having bought his way onto the Slytherin team, calls Hermione a mudblood.

 

Ron moves before he even thinks about it, crossing the little courtyard and slugging Draco right across the face before he can put two thoughts together. He doesn’t even pull out his wand. “You wanna say that again?”

 

Ron!” Hermione screeches, “Why would you—“

 

Draco grins, his white teeth streaked with blood. “Yes, Ron, do what your little mudblood girlfriend says. Walk away.”

 

Ron, now that he’s in close, takes the opportunity to grab Malfoy by the back of the head, pull him in, and headbutt him as hard as he can. It hurts, for sure, but the look of utter shock on his face is worth it. “You prick.”

 

The Slytherin captain clears his throat from behind Malfoy and Ron suddenly realizes that, damn it, he’s been punching Malfoy in front of multiple people, and Malfoy hasn’t been fighting back. It feels like a set up. It probably was a set up.

 

“You’d better not have fucked up his head, Weasley,” Marcus Flint says, staring at the two of them. “He needs that, if he’s gonna play seeker.”

 

“But Flint—“ Draco starts, beseechingly.

 

Flint cuts him off, immediately. “I do not give a single fuck, Malfoy. Walk it off.” He looks at Ron, then. “Don’t fuckin’ punch him in front of authority figures, you dumbass.”

 

Ron feels a stream of blood trickle down his face. “He did deserve it, though,” Ron says, letting the other boy go, finally. “I’m not sorry.”

 

“Which is why I’m not reporting this. God, are all Gryffindors this fuckin’ dumb?” Flint drags a hand down his face. “Make yourselves scarce, go get dinner and a fuckin’ ice pack.”

 

--

 

(Once the Gryffindor posse leaves, Flint turns to Draco. “You do that sorta shit again in front of me, you’re off the team. I don’t give a fuck how much your daddy paid for the brooms.”

 

“But she’s—“

 

“Sounds like somebody wants to run laps for twenty minutes.”

 

“There isn’t even running in quid—“

 

“You’re right, Draco, forty is better, isn’t it? Gotta train up your endurance if you’re gonna seek.” Flint claps him on the shoulder, hard enough that it’s definitely not a friendly gesture. “Good talk.”)

 

--

 

“We need to go see Hagrid. He’s probably got some ice.” Hermione says, immediately, once they get out of the courtyard. “Ronald, what was that about?”

 

“Um,” Harry says, “Yeah, I don’t really understand why...?”

 

Ron growls a little, under his breath. “It’s a—look, alright, I’ll tell you in private, alright? It’s not really, uh, public conversation.”

 

There’s still blood dripping down Ron’s face, but he doesn’t really feel ashamed about it, or anything. Draco Malfoy was, as ever, a racist little prick, and it felt really, really good to pop him in the face in public for it. Like, Ron tends to be pretty avoidant of confrontation, but—well, some things just can’t stand to be left alone, is all, especially when they’re attacking one of his best friends.

 

(also, privately, Ron is of the opinion that if he hits Malfoy every time he’s a horrible bigot in front of him, he’ll probably do it less. But that’s more a secondary effect to actually breaking the prick’s nose.)

 

Hagrid takes one look at them—Harry and Hermione frazzled, Ron looking self-satisfied and awkward and bleeding—and lets them in immediately without comment. Almost instantly, they’re sat down at the table with hot cups of ridiculously strong tea, and scones that could crack teeth.

 

“You, eh,” Hagrid ventures, “You want some ice, Ron?”

 

His head doesn’t really hurt, but judging by Flint’s, well, everything, Ron’s pretty sure the guy’s well acquainted with minor head injuries. “Okay. That’d be—uh, that’d be nice.”

 

RONALD,” Hermione says, once he’s broken the silence, “Why would you punch Malfoy?”

 

“I know he’s the worst,” Harry says, and oh boy, that sentiment rings very false coming from him, “But I don’t see why him saying that would make you hit him? Twice?

 

Hagrid handed him a cloth wrapped around some large ice cubes. “Guess it depends on what was said, doesn’t it?”

 

Hermione speaks, a little less sure of herself, “He called me a… I think he said mudblood?” She looked confused. “But I don’t know what that means!”

 

“Yeah,” Ron says, not wanting to talk around the issue any longer, “because it’s a slur against muggleborns.”

 

Hermione drops her scone to the table with a loud thump. “But—that’s—“She sighed, collecting herself. “How offensive is it? What he said?”

 

Ron thinks, wondering how to explain it. It’s not easy, right, and it’s not like he has that many points of reference for muggle society, but—“You know Dean Thomas, he’s in our year?”

 

Hermione nods, as does Harry.

 

“This is sort of like if Malfoy walked up to him and said, well, the n-word. Like, it’s not exactly the same, but, you know, it’s a good, I dunno, I’m not explaining this right.” Ron looked into his teacup, frowning at it. “Let me put it like this. If my dad said it at work, he’d be sacked on the spot, no questions asked. And no one would argue with that.”

 

“… Oh.” Hermione said. “That’s, uh, okay. Thank you for telling me, I guess.”

 

They sit there in silence for a moment, Harry trying and failing to nibble on his scone before abandoning the enterprise and dunking it in his tea for a bit to soften it up.

 

“So anyway,” Ron says, breaking the silence that’s fallen over them, “I’m not sorry, and I’d do it again.”

 

“Didn’t know you could punch,” Harry says, which seems weird, in retrospect. Like, this definitely seems like the kind of thing that would have come up earlier, but since things have been weird between the two of them for a while, Ron’s not going to question it.

 

“I mean,” Ron looks at him, a little wry, “I do have five older brothers.”

 

--

 

That night, following detention (boring, and actually answering fanmail this time, which means that Ron read a lot of letters from otherwise intelligent, and utterly besotted, people.), Ron reads a chapter in Sekret and Eville entitled “Blood Wards and You!”.

 

Apparently, since blood wards were some of the oldest and funkiest kinds of magic, all it really took was, well, blood, and some sort of vague intention. While it was very easy to set blood wards on accident—it was very hard to set specific ones, full-stop. Apparently a lot of it was in the incantation, which was, as with most ancient spells from before writing was a thing, just what felt Right and Powerful at the moment of casting.

 

You know what’d be wicked? Ron thought, staring at his wand. If he could manage to stabilize his wand a little bit. Connect it better to him, that sort of thing. It was second-hand, after all, and while most of that talk about ‘the wand choosing the wizard’ was absolute bunk, it was true to a certain extent, and while him and his wand clicked decently, it could always be better.

 

This was a terrible idea, Ron thought, picking at the scab on his forehead. Just awful. No way it could end well.

 

His nails were rough, but after a moment he managed to worm his way under, and it started bleeding again.

 

Wow, Ron thought, drawing his bloody finger across the length of the wand, paying extra attention to the gouge that ran from the tip about half-way down, this has got to be one of the dumbest things he’s ever done.

 

 

“O great mystical creatures beyond the veil,” Ron says, because that phrase has been burned into his mind after the thing with the chess set last year when he almost died, and it feels right in the moment. “I ask you to better connect me to this object, and, uh, make it so it can’t be used against me.”

 

There isn’t a flash of light, or anything. Which is probably a good thing, since the rest of his roommates are asleep.

 

But something clicks into place in his head.

 

And then, something starts seeping out of the wand.

 

At first he thinks he’s managed to melt the core, but since the core is Threstral hair, he figures that there would be some kinda smell to go along with that. The liquid reaches his still-lit wand tip, and the inside of his room is suddenly lit with dark red.

 

Blood.

 

His wand is bleeding. He can feel it, the way the blood is welling up inside the wooden shaft, even though he isn’t touching it.

 

Shit!” He whispers to himself, picking it up. He’s got to—he’s got to stop the bleeding, right? That seems—well, since he can feel the blood coming from inside the wand, it seems like a good first step.

 

Ron leans out of bed, and grabs a stray sock from next to his nightstand. He’s pretty sure it’s his—Harry isn’t in the habit of leaving socks lying around. He wraps it around the wand, tightly, and something inside his chest eases. His hands are covered in blood. His forehead is still bleeding.

 

But, if he’s really being fully honest with himself?

 

It does kinda feel good.

 

He can feel his heartbeat thrumming through the wand, so he opens up the nightstand and grabs his box of adhesive bandages, the kind soaked in healing potions, and wraps a few around his wand as quickly as possible, making sure the little gauze pad is over the gouge.

 

It looks a right mess.

 

He, undoubtedly, looks an absolute nightmare.

 

A grin worms its way across his face, unbidden.

 

This feels right. Like the sort of thing he’s supposed to be doing.

 

(Ron thinks that idea should probably be a lot more concerning than it is.)

 

--

 

Ron wakes up the next morning covered in dried blood, which isn’t great, but since he’s the first person up in the room, at least it isn’t too inconvenient.

 

The bandages have managed to stay on his wand all night, and it doesn’t seem to be leaking blood anymore (categorically a Good Thing, Ron thinks), but he doesn’t dare try and scrape them off yet. Best to be sure about these things.

 

At any rate, he casts a few cleaning charms on his sheets to try and get them a little less bloody, and settles about his morning routine, taking a nice, hot shower and getting dressed for breakfast.

 

His wand still works, is the important thing. It might even work a little better, but Ron’s not exactly gonna say anything for certain with that for a while. Best to let things settle in.

 

Something’s off about this whole year, Ron thinks, vaguely. He’s not sure what, and it’s not like he has a lot of experience at Hogwarts, but…

 

Maybe he’s just being paranoid. Jumping at shadows.

 

Just because last year the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher secretly had a second face in the back of his head, and that face was actually a dark wizard who'd died ten years previous, didn’t mean that Something Was Afoot, but, well… Ron’s not gonna lie, but something doesn’t feel right.

 

Something in his gut is telling him that this year is going to be just as bad, if not worse.

 

--

 

(Beneath Hogwarts, scales shift. Stone grinds together. And eyes, sightless for so long, open, slitted pupils in a sea of toxic yellow.

 

The beast wraps itself further around the core of the magical well of the school, taking in the heat.

 

It is not time yet, but soon. Soon, it will prowl the halls again, silent as a whisper.

 

Soon, the puppet will be strung up, all her strings in the hands of the speaker, in the hands of the heir to the master’s title.

 

This is not the first time that it has awakened from its centuries-long hibernation. It is not the second. It is not even, by its reckoning, the tenth.

 

It will not be the last.

 

Many have tried and many have died, but it persists here, in this sacred cavern under the bedrock of the school, surviving where others would starve.

 

The puppet is close, now.

 

The heir draws near.

 

It is only a matter of time before the beast is free again. Only a matter of time until once again it is called to hunt, to kill.

 

Only a matter of time until it is cast back into the cavern, only to be awoken by another seeking vengeance. )

Chapter Text

YEAR 2: CHAPTER 3

 

Time rolls on.

 

Ron keeps the adhesive bandages wrapped around his wand for a while, enchanted little quaffles and snitches whizzing around a colorful little background. People notice, sure, but it’s not a big thing. Every year, there’s folks holding together their wands with spell-o-tape until they can get it to a repair shop without disrupting their studies—Ron’s just looks like a variation on that. Even, after a few days pass, and the gouge on his wand scabs over, like it’s actual skin rather than wood, it’s unremarked upon.

 

Ron’s very tempted to pick at it. He almost does, but… he can feel the wand throb in time with his heartbeat, can feel it scratching against the rough wool of his robe when it’s in his pocket. It’s still tetchy as all hell in class, and it feels like he has to fight for every spell he casts, especially in Charms, but—not in a bad way, anymore.

 

His wand is just… better, at some things, than others. Better at processing them, he means. It, well… It likes doing a lot of things way more than it likes transfiguring owls into opera glasses, or casting switching spells, or conjuring up water.

 

(It was a part of him, now, more than it wasn’t. A literal extension of the self—when most people talked about that, is was as magic being the manifestation of will, more than anything else; Ron, looking at his wand that had grown literal scabs after bleeding, figured that, well, the blood-ritual had technically worked. You know, in a way.

 

He was certainly more connected to the wand, if it bled his blood and he could feel things through it.)

 

Anyway, time passes. In dribs and drabs at first, then all at once, once he’s finally settled into a routine. He eats lunch with Ginny a few times a week, he goes to class and at least makes an attempt to pay attention, most of the time; detention with Lockhart turned into detention cleaning the trophy room (much more pleasant all around), and then turned into writing lines, because they still had a few days left over and, since it was the beginning of term, had run out of things to clean.

 

He still makes his way to the Ghoul Studies room on Saturday mornings, and is almost relieved to see that it hadn’t been repaired over the summer. It feels homier, that way—covered in scorch marks, out of use for decades.

 

He doesn’t do anything especially interesting, though. Not yet, anyway, not with his wand being all weird and bleed-y.

 

Before he knows it, it’s Halloween, and it’s Nearly-Headless Nick’s Deathday party.

 

(Does he want to go? No, not particularly. Does it mean a lot to Harry for some reason? Yes. Is Hermione incredibly intrigued by the whole thing? Also yes. Is he going to leave them alone, surrounded by ghosts they don’t know, in a room full of rotting food? No, he’s not that much of a prick.)

 

So anyway, that goes about as awkwardly as he expected (for the record: very) and they’re coming back up the stairs to the Halloween feast, when right outside the great hall is an enormous message, written in blood, with Mrs. Norris, Filch’s cat, strung up beside it, deathly still.

 

“We need to get out of here,” Is the first thing Ron says, because this is in no way something he wants any part in. Also, since it’s still there, it’s probably very new, which means that if people come out and see all of them there—

 

“Did you hear that?” Harry cuts off his train of thought. “That-that voice?”

 

“Harry, it’s dead silent,” Hermione says, softly. “It’s not—there’s no voice.”

 

“I could have sworn—“

 

Ron cuts him off. “We. Are. Leaving. Now.” He grabs Harry by the arm, and begins bodily hauling him away from the scene, when the large, double doors to the great hall open.

 

He was too late.

 

Bollocks.

 

A first-year screams, which sets off the whole hall into hysterics.

 

Things go down hill from there.

 

--

 

The cat’s alive, which is good.

 

Unfortunately, the cat’s petrified, which is wayyy more confusing than if it was simply dead. Thing is, killing something is relatively easy—other than the killing curse, there were loads of ways that something can die.

 

Petrification, on the other hand? That was harder work. Much harder work. Other than the Draught of Living Death (which petrified as a technicality, and, if you made it right, only for a limited amount of time), it was very much the realm of your very, very dark curses, and your very, very dangerous magical creatures.

 

(Point of fact, as Ron learned from Claimed by the Cockatrice, cockatrices could spit poison that could induce petrification. It was a widely sought after potions ingredient, mostly in poisons, or in a medical setting.)

 

Essentially, what it boiled down to was this: something had happened, and nobody was sure what, only that it had been incredibly dangerous, and happened right under everyone’s noses.

 

Also, most people were sure that Harry was involved, because he had all sorts of spooky powers, and killed you-know-who, apparently. None of the three had any sort of alibi, but since Harry was the famous one, it was fairly widely assumed that he did it.

 

The entire school is on edge. And, for Hermione, that meant diving head-first into research.

 

Apparently, something similar had happened 50 years ago. A girl died. No one knew what had gone down, only that it had happened, and then it stopped.

 

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR… BEWARE.” The message, scrawled in blood, had read, letters fresh enough they were still dripping down the walls.

 

Hermione dug deep into looking for information on the ‘chamber of secrets’, and thus far had found nothing, really. Legends, of course, and some murmurings about Salazar Slytherin—but nothing solid, nothing provable.

 

But, the thing is, nothing happens.

 

Everyone’s on edge, sure, but it had to have been some sort of misguided Halloween prank, right? Spooking everyone about this thing that happened 50 years ago, getting everyone twitchy—it was cruel, sure, but it wasn’t sinister.

 

Had to be.

 

In effect, all that changed was that in Herbology, they prioritized working with the Mandrakes, and in Defense, Lockhart prattled on about, shock of shocks, defeating a cockatrice.

 

(But the important thing was, Hermione wasn’t nearly so cowed. She wanted to investigate.

 

This was the sort of clue that Ron tended to forget, when someone was telling a story, only for it to crop up later when it was sorely needed.)

 

--

 

Harry looks really weird without the bones in his arm.

 

Like, it’s still attached, he can move it, but it’s just so… floppy.

 

Precisely how the fuck Lockhart managed to vanish just the bones is a mystery; not that Ron was, like a connoisseur of vanishing charms, or whatever, but it seemed to him that vanishing bones without damaging anything else in the arm, like arteries or muscles or even breaking the skin, wasn’t something that could easily be done on accident.

 

But Lockhart’s a hard guy to read. Ron’s pretty sure he’s just as self absorbed as he makes himself out to be, but something about him screams that he isn’t nearly as stupid as he lets on. Ron’s pretty sure he could beat him at chess, but Ron’s pretty sure he can beat most people at chess on a good day. Lockhart, with his perfect hair and his wide-eyed naiveté, manages to make himself look entirely harmless.

 

(Ron doesn’t trust things that look entirely harmless, as a rule. Even the prettiest of flowers can hide a hornet, and the runt of the litter will still bite if it thinks it’s cornered.

 

“If something doesn’t have any drawbacks,” Dad had said, once, when they were nominally working in the shed, “Then it either isn’t worth much, or someone’s lying to you.”

 

“… What does that have to do with car-bur-etors?” Ron sounded out the word, looking on as Dad tinkered with something that possessed altogether to many valves to be remotely comprehensible.

 

“Not much,” Dad set the object down, not wanting to get into talking about his thoughts on the switch to fuel injection with his, at the time, nine year old son. “Anyway, I mean it—someone’s going to try to trick you, eventually. You have to be able to tell.”

 

“How will I know?” Ron asked.

 

“I dunno, kid.” Dad ruffled his hair, affectionately. “You’ll click into it, don’t worry.”

 

No child of Arthur Weasley’s was going to leave home without a solid set of critical thinking skills and a healthy disrespect for authority figures, after all.)

 

Anyway, Harry’s flopping on the ground, missing all the bones in his arm (and, yes, only his arm, which is also very, very strange, from a logic perspective), everyone’s screaming, and, clearly, one of the bludgers is really out for blood, in a weirder way than normal.

 

Harry’s stuck in the hospital wing over night, on account of having to grow new bones. Ron passes out on one of the loveseats in the Gryffindor common room, in an ungainly sprawl on his stomach, with one of his legs haphazardly slung over the back. He’s just tired, all of a sudden.

 

Or, well, tired isn’t right.

 

But something about it seems much more comfortable than his bed, which is only up a few flights of stairs, even though practically all his limbs are bent at odd angles, and he doesn’t have any sort of pillow.

 

It’s the best sleep he’s had in months, probably.

 

--

 

Harry gets out of the hospital, and apparently Malfoy’s house-elf has been harassing him for what seems to be no good reason. Not that Malfoy setting his house-elf on Harry would be a good reason, but, like—it would still be a reason.

 

But no, apparently Doffy, or whatever his name is, decided out of the goodness of his heart to just make Harry’s life as difficult as possible.

 

“So you’re telling me,” Hermione says, at lunch the next day, after Harry’s been released from the hospital wing, “That people just own their servants here?”

 

Ron looks down at his sandwich, because he can’t quite tell where this line of questioning is going, just that it’s headed nowhere good. “Um, well,” He scratches at the side of his head. “Most of the stuff they do is really stuff that you could do with spells, but—yeah?”

 

“That’s not—you do know that’s slavery, right?”

 

“It’s really more of a class—“

 

“I think,” Harry cuts in, “That maybe if you’re trying to justify slavery, you’re on the wrong side, Ron.”

 

To be fair, he’s never owned one. His family never has—always too poor, on his Dad’s side, and on mum’s… well, he had heard the word ‘parasite’ used, which was telling in many different ways. “… I know, it’s just—“ Ron sighed. “I don’t really—we’re told that they like it, that they’d die without it, and…” He trailed off. “I don’t know where I’m going with this.”

 

“….So, like,” Hermione says, seemingly changing the subject, “Is there no school required before Hogwarts at all?”

 

Ron mulls that over, grateful for the subject change. “…Not really? Like, you have to be able to read English, and do math enough for Potions, but other than that… I dunno, some of the rich purebloods get tutors and stuff, but that’s basically just for magic.” Ron looks up at her, confused. “Why do you ask?”

 

Hermione gave a little hmpf. “… No reason, just thinking through some stuff.” Ron’s pretty sure that’s a lie, but whatever. “Just—just thinking out loud. Figuring some stuff out.”

 

She’d figure out a way to talk about it eventually, Ron figures. Hermione liked to let things percolate in her head for a while, sort them out. Distill her ideas into something really, really convincing.

 

(It was why she always started her essays weeks before they were due.

 

Ron had a habit of doing them the night before, if not the day-of.)

 

 

--

 

So, some first-year is hurt, which is bad. Specifically, it’s Colin Creevey, the little twerp who lurked around Harry like some sort of human lamprey. Ron doesn’t hate the kid or anything, but he was awfully annoying sometimes.

 

Apparently, he showed up at the hospital wing as Harry was staying over night. Petrified, they learn later.

 

(In Herbology, Professor Sprout quietly moves up the timeline for the mandrakes. Neville notices, first, because they’ve changed fertilizers, going from a mild potion in the soil to alchemically-fortified dragon dung, which was some of the foulest smelling stuff that Ron had ever come into contact with in his entire life.)

 

He gets lunch with Ginny the next day, partly to avoid Harry talking about how weird his floppy arm felt, and partly because, well, she seemed kinda out of it.

 

“You alright?” Ron asks, sitting across from her.

 

Ginny looks up from her diary, embarrassed. Ron’s not quite sure where she got it—she’s never been a diary person before—but he doesn’t really care. Ginny writes a diary now, that’s fair enough. When he got to Hogwarts he took up the much more dangerous hobby of blood magic, so he’s got no real room to judge. “Huh?”

 

“How are you doing?”

 

“I’m—“ She sighs, and closes her diary. “I’m fine, really.”

 

She doesn’t fucking look it, if Ron’s being honest, but he’s not gonna just say that. She’s got dark circles under her eyes, and something about her just seems kinda… toned down. “Alright,” He says, instead. “Is it okay if I eat with you? Because if I have to hear Harry talk about his floppy arm again—“

 

She laughs. “Yes! I was talking to Alastair—you know, my potions partner—“

 

“—The one who spilled ink all over your stuff the first day, right?”

 

“Yeah, him. Anyway, he’s already tired of the floppy arm stuff, and he’s a Ravenclaw!”

 

“Morgana,” Ron says, “He’s my best friend and all, but if I have to hear that story one more time—“ He cuts himself off, before he says something actually unkind. “Anyway, how’s stuff as a first year?”

 

Ginny’s lips twist into a smirk. “Really? That’s the best you can do?”

 

Ron looks down at his small bowl of tomato soup, a little embarrassed. “Okay, Gin, please distract me with stories about your friends, please?”

 

“Better.” She grabs a thick-cut fry from her plate, dragging it through a frankly obscene lake of ketchup and then crunching down. “So I told you about Mariposa’s cat, right?”

 

Ron nods. “The one without any hair, yeah?”

 

“That one. Well, it got into Samara’s makeup a few nights ago!”

 

No,” Ron can see where this story is going.

 

Yes!” Ginny grins. It’s not quite as bright as usual, but maybe Ron’s remembering wrong.

 

--

 

Hermione keeps doing something in the girl’s bathroom on the 3rd floor. The one that no one goes into, because it floods constantly and is also haunted. Myrtle, he thinks the ghost is—he’s only met her the once, and she’s such a drama queen. Like, okay, it’s actually awful that she got killed while being a student at the school, but also—she could tone it down a bit, is all.

 

Hermione and Harry are convinced that Malfoy is behind the petrifications. Which is nuts, right? Malfoy might be a racist and a prick of the highest order, but he’s also all of twelve, so Ron has his doubts.

 

(Ron, privately, thinks that the best bet is some kinda spooky Voldemort ghost, like last year. He knows that, realistically speaking, that’s pretty unlikely, but…. He’s got a hunch, he can feel it in his gut. )

 

(Turns out, as Ron will later learn, doing the monumentally stupid thing of connecting himself to the Creatures Beyond the Veil directly does have some upsides.)

 

Of course, it’s not helped by Malfoy actually bragging that he had a hand in the whole thing. Malfoy’s a power-hungry, bloodthirsty little twerp, so that’s not surprising, but apparently, a lot of people are taking him at his word.

 

Or, at least, they take him at his word until it comes out that Harry can talk to bloody snakes, which is, apparently, the clearest sign of the Dark Arts there is, after all.

 

--

 

It’s not that Ron’s pissed about the ‘Harry being a parselmouth’ thing. He’s not. He’s not even pissed about the not telling him thing, because Harry doesn’t know shit about magic, and thus didn’t know that it was a Big Deal.

 

Ron should clarify, start this from the beginning.

 

Lockhart, in all his infinite wisdom, had decided that a dueling club was just what the school needed. And, well, Ron’s not gonna lie, he was kinda into it. Like, not the idea of Lockhart heading it up—despite what his books claimed, Ron was pretty sure the man had precisely no skill at all when it came to violence, just by the way he reacted that time he ‘accidentally’ unleashed the Cornish Pixies in class—but the overall idea of learning to fight seemed pretty enticing.

 

Snape is the other club supervisor, thankfully. He also kicks Lockhart’s ass up and down the dueling ring, which is incredibly satisfying to watch.

 

(Ron has fully come around on Snape, privately. Like, Harry and Hermione still hate the guy—very understandably—but after waking up to Snape sitting by his bed in the hospital wing a few times and chewing him out like a weird, awkward version of his mom, it’s kinda impossible for Ron to keep that sort of thing up.

 

Yeah, Snape’s a loser prick with a short fuse, and, for the most part, bad at the whole teaching thing, but he was also very bad at pretending to be otherwise and—okay, for Ron, it’s mostly that despite all that, he pays attention and gives a shit, which somehow makes up for a lot.)

 

Malfoy and Harry duel next, and Malfoy summons this snake, and Harry, well, talks to it, which is truly unsettling in the best way. Harry starts hissing, and the entire room goes suddenly silent.

 

“Bloody hell,” Ron mutters, after Harry talks the snake down from biting him.

 

Duelling club breaks early, after that, and Ron bodily hauls Harry away from the throng of people accusing him of killing Colin Creevey (a boy who, Ron cannot stress this enough, is still very much alive) and being the heir of Slytherin (which, Ron doesn’t know about Harry’s family history, or whatever, but that seems pretty bloody unlikely, since his mum was a muggleborn).

 

He finds a handy abandoned classroom pretty quickly, and yeah, they’re in danger of breaking curfew, or whatever, but Ron really can’t bring himself to give a damn.

 

“So,” Ron says, “You’re a parselmouth.”

 

“A what?”

 

“A parselmouth.” Ron gestures, vaguely. “Means you can talk to snakes. In snake language.” Ron paused.

 

“So,” Harry said, after a moment of staring into the middle distance and contemplating his life, “What does it mean that I can speak snanguage?”

 

Ron snorts. “For one, it’s called parseltongue—“ Though, privately, he does think ‘snanguage’ really flows together better, “—and, uh, well…” Ron pauses, trying to figure out a better way to say ‘it means that people will think you’re the next Dark Lord and that you’re petrifying people’. It doesn’t come. “It’s, like, usually a Dark skill, y’know? So it means that folks’ll think that you’re the next Dark Lord, and that you’re the person going around and petrifying people.”

 

“Huh.” Harry runs a hand through his already-messy hair. “That sucks.”

 

“I mean,” Ron sighs, “yeah.”

 

“So, what did it, uh… What did it sound like?”

 

“I dunno, like hissing?” It’s kinda hard to describe. “Like, you know how that one first-year girl calls her cat? The one without any hair? And she just goes pspspspsps?” Ron makes an attempt to copy the sound. It’s not a very successful one. “Like that, kind of, but, you know, snakier.”

 

--

 

So anyway, people think Harry’s the second coming of the Dark Lord, now, which is ridiculous. For one, you-know-who was already trying to be the second Grindlewald, so ‘second coming’ is probably wrong. For two, Harry is all of twelve and literally couldn’t do dark magic if he tried.

 

Like, for real, his heart’s so pure or whatever that he melted Quirrell last year—Morgana knows he couldn’t be doing heavy-duty stuff like petrifications for the fun of it.

 

It makes classes awkward. There’s a slowly-growing contingent of Hufflepuffs (and Ravenclaws, though they’re much subtler and slower about it) who truly and honestly believe that he’s the Heir of Slytherin. And with Malfoy swanning about, talking responsibility for the whole thing (which Ron doesn’t believe, and wishes was even vaguely surprising), it’s just muddying the waters even more.

 

“So, your pal Harry,” Maggie says, wrist deep in fortified dragon dung during Herbology, “Is he actually going around killing folks, or…?”

 

Him and Neville have gotten used to her, a bit, but she’s just so bloody American. Always straight to the point.

 

“Don’t think so,” Ron says, after a moment. “Pretty sure I’d notice, he’s not the most subtle of people.”

 

“But what if he’s doing it on accident?” She asks, “Like, in his sleep?”

 

Ron resists throwing a clod of dragon shit at her. “He’s—Look, alright, Harry is absolute pants at anything approaching Dark, okay?”

 

Neville nods. “I had Gran check the family histories, just to make sure,” He carefully packs his fertilizer around his mandrake. “The Potters moved to the British Isles in the 1850s, no way he’s related to Slytherin.”

 

“Huh,” Ron says, not having though of that. Then again, his Dad didn’t put much stock in the whole wizard genealogy—something about ‘making the Habsburgs look better in comparison’—and Mum thought that the whole bloodline thing was all a bit esoteric, and only kept track enough to make sure that nobody was romantically attached to a relative. “That’s good to know, I guess.”

 

“You know,” Maggie says after a moment, looking thoughtful, “He could always lean into it. Really play up that he’s dangerous, you know.”

 

Ron considered smothering himself in the pile of dragon shit that lay in front of him. He was getting used to the smell, and the idea seemed more and more attractive with every passing second. “Thing is, though, he’s not dangerous, so that’s probably a bad call.”

 

“No, really!” She said, “My dad works in MACUSA, right, and that’s what they did against the Soviets—“

 

“… Let’s not.” Neville said, looking even more uncomfortable with the conversation than Ron was. “Anyway, Madge, have you finished your Potions essay?”

 

Ron’s brain stuttered to a stop. “We had a Potions essay?”

 

--

 

A few days later that prick of a Hufflepuff (Finch-Fletchly, the one who kept talking about how he almost went to Eton, no really. He certainly carried himself like a damn aristo, and took notes with a handmade fountain pen, so nobody really doubted him) turned up petrified. So did Nearly-Headless Nick, but what with him being a ghost and all, it was less of a big deal.

 

(It later came out that Finch-Fletchly’s dad was some kinda big-time MP, and was close with Thatcher. So, in retrospect, things getting very serious, very fast made a lot of sense—some no-name muggleborn gets sent into a coma, and it’s a one off, can be swept under a rug. But once the rich folks with titles started getting involved, it was suddenly an urgent situation.)

 

Folks are even more skittish around Harry.

 

Malfoy brags about being the heir of Slytherin, and, unfortunately, Harry and Hermione believe him.

 

Which is why, when Hermione drags him and Harry into that abandoned girls’ bathroom on the 3rd floor, and shows them what she’s been working on, he can’t bring himself to be surprised.

 

“—it’s called the Polyjuice Potion,” She says, all in a rush. “I’ve been working on it for a while—it takes over a month to brew, you see—and I had this idea that we could maybe use it to disguise ourselves and sneak into the Slytherin common room?”

 

It’s a terrible idea.

 

“When will it be ready?” Harry asks, ten different kinds of eager.

 

“About a week,” She says, looking a little embarrassed. “I was going to wait, but with everything happening, I thought… I thought I should probably let you know what was happening.”

 

It’s at that point Ron realizes that wow, yep, he doesn’t have a choice in this. The decision has been made for him, and he’s just gonna have to go along with it.

 

“—I’d be Millicent Bullstrode, of course,” Hermione says, “And you two should be Crabbe and Goyle, maybe? It’s just, I don’t think we could corner Blaize, and being Malfoy kinda defeats the purpose.”

 

Morgana, Ron thinks, this is really going to happen, isn’t it.

 

“I think,” Ron says, “That maybe we should—someone should stay out of it, you know? Just to make sure it works right, I mean.”

 

That doesn’t go over well.

 

Ron,” Hermione says, “Do you think I didn’t make it right, or something? Because I followed the directions perfectly.”

 

“Yeah,” Harry adds, “Hermione’s aces at Potions.” Hermione was aces at everything, but whatever. “Are you scared?”

 

That’s the thing, he wasn’t scared. He did dangerous, stupid shit all the time, actually. It just—and he knows he’s being a huge hypocrite, but—it just seemed like a really bad idea.

 

“I’m not scared,” Ron says, instead, “I just think that we should have a lookout, is all. Someone to, uh, stay who they are, just in case things start to go sideways.” Also, some tiny, visceral part of him really doesn’t want to use it. Just—Ron doesn’t quite know, but when he listens to his gut, it tends to be right.

 

“… Fine.” Hermione says, after a moment. “Might be a good idea, anyway.”

 

--

 

Turns out it was a sodding great idea, because a few days later, when they try it, Hermione accidentally turns herself into a fucking cat-human hybrid, and, as Harry morphs into Crabbe in front of his eyes, Ron makes an executive decision. “Plan’s off.”

 

“What?” Hermione shrieks. And it is actual shrieking—her teeth are longer, and there’s something up with her throat making everything all high-pitched and raspy.

 

“Gotta get you to the hospital wing, make sure you aren’t half-cat forever.” He sighs. “Harry, you’re already Crabbe, you can go do the thing, but I reckon that she needs an actual bloody healer right now.”

 

“That seems like a bad idea,” Harry said, his glasses looking very weird perched on Crabbe’s absolute knife of a nose. “I don’t want to just—just abandon you two, you know?”

 

There was something about the way that Harry spoke, the way his face worked, that was so counter to how Crabbe’s did, it was almost comical. Harry’s wobbly little smile looked completely out of place on the sharp face he now wore—all angles and planes, almost like a theatrical mask. Plus, being Crabbe, he was also taller and broader and looked like he could dead-lift a fifth-year.

 

“Um,” Ron said, “That might—You’re gonna have to wait the potion off, regardless,” He settles on.

 

“But—“

 

“Look, Harry,” Hermione said, her voice catching on itself and scratching like Velcro. “It’ll be okay, you’ve just got to—hrrk—“ Hermione coughed, something catching in her throat. “just talk to Malfoy, alright? We’re depending on you.”

 

Harry nodded, resolute, and turned to go.

 

“And take off your glasses!” Ron reminded him, right before he left.

 

Thanks!” Harry called back.

 

--

 

Luckily, most of the other students have class at the moment, due to third-year electives, so it’s not that hard to get Hermione into the hospital wing unnoticed.

 

“What the bloody hell have you done this time, Weasley?” Madame Pompfrey asks, all business.

 

“Not me, actually—Hermione brewed a potion to turn into someone else, but I think she got the wrong kinda hair, or whatever so,” Ron gestured vaguely with the hand that wasn’t busy holding her up. There was something up with her hands and feet that he really didn’t want to examine too closely, and it looked like her ankles were working really weirdly. “I figured I should take her here, just to get it checked out.”

 

“Well,” Pompfrey said, “At least you’ve got a good head on your shoulders when it comes to other people.”

 

Together, they manage to get Hermione situated on one of the beds, and the curtain drawn around her.

 

“You said it was Polyjuice?” She asked, wordlessly casting a few diagnostic spells.

 

“…Yeah,” Like, Ron hadn’t said that, but he had heavily implied it, so… In for a penny, in for a pound, and all that. “It was supposed to be all of us, but I reckoned that maybe one of us shouldn’t, just to be on the safe side.”

 

“What on earth are you three doing that would need you to use this?” She asks.

 

Hermione gave another hacking cough. It sounded like something was moving in her throat.

 

“Uh,” Ron said, “Well, I, uh—I don’t think that’s a great idea to tell you, if I’m being honest.”

 

She cuts him a look. Healers were always the best at being incredibly tired of his shit. “Try again.”

 

Hermione looked at him, pleadingly. As the transformation wore on, she’d stopped trying to speak through her very, very suddenly pointy teeth.

 

“… Just a prank,” Ron settles on.

 

Pompfrey clearly doesn’t believe him, but lets it drop. Thankfully. “I’m going to have to call your head of house,” she says, lowly. “For one, because this was incredibly stupid and there should be consequences, and for two, she’s the nearest expert on animal transformations.”

 

“Oh,” Ron says, dumbly, “Because of the cat thing.” Percy had mentioned it, though apparently she usually reserved that lesson for third year.

 

“Yes,” Pompfrey bites out, “Because of the cat thing.

 

--

 

So, Hermione ends up with detention—her first ever, Ron thinks, and she looks utterly devastated by it. Which is ridiculous, she’s got detention with McGonagall, it’s probably just writing lines or having a serious conversation over a plate of sweets, but—whatever, Hermione’s allowed to feel how she feels.

 

Ron doesn’t end up with detention, which is a nice change, but he does end up costing Gryffindor 70 points himself for not leaking where Harry is, and for being involved in the whole mess. Hermione only loses 40, because, well, McGonagall figures she learned her lesson about making heavily restricted potions and trying them herself.

 

(Harry, due to mostly plausible deniability, loses none, but, well, that’s kinda why they split up.)

 

Thankfully, the potion isn’t permanent, and, like the regular Polyjuice, wears off in a little over an hour, much to everyone’s relief.

 

Ron gets off fairly easily when all Hermione does on the walk back is roll her eyes and say, “Honestly, you didn’t have to do that, Ron, I was fine.”

 

“I wasn’t gonna—Hermione, I wasn’t about to leave one of my best friends half-turned-into a cat?” Ron scrubs a hand down his face. “That’s—That’s ridiculous, alright? It’s not—I wasn’t gonna just abandon you.

 

“… I know,” She says. “Thanks”

 

--

 

Harry gets back to the Gryffindor common room soon after that.

 

Shocking everyone but Ron, Malfoy is, indeed, just blowing smoke.

 

Anyway, the next day, another student is petrified—Ginny’s potions partner, Alastair Rosbrush, clutching a remembrall in his hand.

 

There’s a pattern here, Ron thinks. He’s just not seeing it.

Chapter Text

 

YEAR 2: CHAPTER 4

 

Ginny’s—something’s up with her. Which is reasonable—she’s all of eleven and her school has a body-count, including one of her friends. Ron tries cornering her a few times at lunch, but all he gets are ‘I’m fine’s and a quick subject change, so he drops that fairly quickly.

 

He hunts down Percy about it, because, out of all the available Weasleys, he’s the one most likely to think things through before spouting a plan.

 

“I really don’t know what’s happening,” Percy obviously lies, running a hand through his hair. He only does that when he’s lying; specifically, he only does that when he’s lying and doesn’t want to be.

 

“You’re lying,” Ron says, figuring that getting straight to the point is probably the play here.

 

“Might be.” Percy looks at the ground, a little wistfully. “Look, alright, she saw something she shouldn’t have, and I maybe… didn’t handle it so well.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Promise you won’t tell?” Percy looks a little vulnerable. “Fred and George, I mean. Or really, anyone. It’s pretty new, is all, and I don’t want to jinx it.”

 

Things are becoming clearer. “… and what is it?”

 

“…There’s this girl,” Percy says, “And, well, we can’t—her parent’s aren’t…” He struggles to get the words, a little. Percy always thought before he spoke, but sometimes it took a while for those thoughts to actually make it out of his mouth. “Things are weird, right now. And new. And maybe spiraling out of control a little bit.”

 

“… And?”

 

“Ginny, er, discovered us in a rather, ah, compromising position, and—“ Percy took a deep breath. “Sod it, she found us in an abandoned classroom looking well and truly fucked, alright? So I went off on her.”

 

“…Perce,” Ron looks at his brother. Percy looks rather harangued, caged in, just desperate to go nuts and get out. “What did you say?”

 

“Some things that I regret.” He bites out. “And now I can’t get her alone to apologize.”

 

“…Percy.”

 

“It’s just—urgh.” Ron can tell that Percy’s actively stopping himself from kicking the nearest wall. Which is probably a good thing, seeing as how all of the walls at Hogwarts are made of stone, but probably a bad thing given Percy’s whole… repression thing. “I can’t fucking deal with it!”

 

Percy looks like he’s about to start climbing the walls. His hands are all stiff, only the first knuckle of each finger bent, each almost fully perpendicular to the rest of the digit. It looks like it hurts. Percy doesn’t seem to notice. “Perce, I think you might, uh,” There’s no way to put this kindly, is there. “I think you might need to stop bottling everything up all the time.”

 

“I’m fucking fine,” Percy says, looking him directly in the eyes. “There’s nothing to fix.”

 

“Uh, okay.” Ron says, looking for an exit to this conversation. “That’s, uh—do you want me to apologize to Ginny for you?”

 

“Yes.” Percy says stiffly, then adds, as an afterthought, “Please.”

 

So.

 

That didn’t go very well.

 

--

 

He passes it on to Ginny regardless, tracking her down in one of the cozier areas of the library as she reads the latest issue of Bludge-her!, a quidditch quarterly magazine about female beaters. The cover story is about one of the beaters on the Japanese national team; she’s missing a few teeth and covered in bruises and scrapes and grinning brightly, her broom slung over one of her shoulders. ‘Honda Goromi fights her way to the top!’ the headline reads.

 

Ron plops down across from her. “Talked to Percy today,” He says, in lieu of a greeting. “He said he’s sorry.”

 

Ginny sets her magazine down. “If he was sorry, he wouldn’t have said what he said just because I walked in on him and Penelope Clearwater half-undressed and going at it on a table.”

 

“…What did he say, anyways?”

 

“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” Ginny smiled darkly. “Of course not.”

 

“Gin,” Ron said, “He looked like he was about to tear all his skin off. I wasn’t gonna—you know how he gets.”

 

“I know how he gets.” She closed her magazine and set it on the table none-too-gently. “If he’s really feeling sorry, he can come and apologize himself.”

 

Ron chalked the whole thing up as a loss. “So, uh,” He began, changing the subject, “Honda Goromi, huh?”

 

Ginny seemed happy enough to go along with it. “She is,” She said, emphatically, “the coolest.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“So, she’s this beater from Japan, right? Only instead of using a bat, she’s got these arm-guard, gauntlet things—it’s ridiculous what that does to her technique!” Ginny grinned, and it seemed to light up the little nook that they shared. “She’s so tough, she breaks a bone, like, every game, and just plays through it—I know you love the Cannons, but Japanese quidditch is something else!”

 

--

 

A few days later, in Potions, Theo nudges him as he’s cutting up some shrivelfig root. Luckily, it’s timed right so Ron doesn’t cut his thumb off, but it’s still surprising.

 

“Why was Harry going around wearing Crabbe’s face last week?” Theo asks, all manners.

 

“Um,” Ron says, stalling for time to figure out how to answer that, “That’s a weird question.”

 

“And that’s a bad attempt at an answer.”

 

“It’s all about, you know, figuring out this whole chamber of secrets stuff.” Ron doesn’t look up from his cutting board, and talks lowly. “He and Hermione were convinced that Malfoy was the heir of Slytherin.”

 

“That’s ridiculous.”

 

“Kinda what I said, too.” Ron scooped up the diced shrivelfigs and added them to the potion all at once. “What clued you in?”

 

“You mean apart from Crabbe showing up without Goyle?” Theo shrugged. “When, about twenty minutes later, Crabbe suddenly left the common room, was ten centimeters shorter, and had a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.”

 

“Ah.” Ron said. “That’d do it.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Did, uh, did Malfoy—“

 

“Look,” Theo said, “I’m not—don’t get me involved in this, okay? I get that there’s, you know, a thing that’s happening, like last year, but—“ He sighed. “—Like, we’re friends, but please don’t ask me to get—you know.”

 

“… We’re friends?” It probably wasn’t the right response, but it was what Ron’s brain kept catching on.

 

“I—I mean, unless you don’t want to be?” Theo seemed kinda taken aback by that, like he’d been expecting another line of questioning.

 

“No, I want to be, I’m just—“ Ron flushed, and set his knife down on the table, lest he do something stupid like accidentally stab himself while having a semi-heartfelt conversation. “I’m just kinda bad at this stuff, you know?”

 

He chanced a glance at Theo, who was also blushing a little, thankfully. This would have been so much more awkward if Ron was the only one feeling a little embarrassed.

 

“That’s, uh—“ Theo huffed a little laugh, and went back to his mortar and pestle, where he was pulverizing lionfish spines. “I’d kinda figured.”

 

Ron smiled a little to himself, even though that kinda hurt. But, well, it’s not like Theo was wrong, he was just… every conversation was like picking over a battlefield. But in a good way, Ron figured.

 

“Er,” Ron said, after a few moments, “I won’t—I’m not gonna get you mixed up in all this.” He gestured vaguely with his knife. “It’s just—it feels like this stuff just keeps happening to me, you know?”

 

Theo shrugged. “I mean, I don’t know, but I get what you’re saying.” He pounded at the lionfish spines some more, thinking. “Maybe you’re just unlucky?”

 

“Yeah,” Ron said, mirthlessly, “Sure. Unlucky.

 

--

 

The holidays were coming up. First slowly, then suddenly unrelentingly, all at once. November slipped by in dribs and drabs, but December hit like an absolute typhoon, relentlessly crashing until it very suddenly wasn’t.

 

Harry got another Weasley sweater—in sort of a forest green, to match his eyes. Hermione got one as well, in a dark burgundy, with lots of fancy cabling on it. Ginny’s was a nice shade of lilac, and looked incredibly soft.

 

(Shocking no one, Ron got another bloody maroon one. In mid-January, he very quietly foisted it off on Dean, who was closest to his size. Dean, in turn, foisted it off on his Potions partner, Zendra Thistledown, because she was apparently cold all the time, and made no secret of it. Ron wasn’t sure what was going on there, but they seemed to get on well enough, and Seamus didn’t seem to hate her, so he figured that was a good sign.)

 

Mum had wanted them to come back to the house for Solstice, but that hadn’t really materialized. Percy wanted to stay at school with his girlfriend, Fred and George were mostly huddled together scheming, and Ginny just… didn’t want to, for some reason. Ron’s not entirely sure, to be honest—she was moody all the time now, and it was really starting to grate on him.

 

Mum said that it was probably just puberty, but Ron’s pretty sure that last year he didn’t go around huffing moodily and staring out windows like he was in a gothic novel, so, whatever. He doesn’t really buy it.

 

(Though given that the whole ‘being so embarrassed around Harry she’s completely unable to talk’ stuff has at least started to die down, he’s not not buying it, either, is the thing.

 

He figured that maybe she was getting over the crush, but given how she practically ran out of every room he was in, he kinda doubted it. Maybe just getting used to it, or something.)

 

Ron ends up spending most of the actual winter solstice swathed in a blanket in the Gryffindor common room, just kind of existing with Ginny’s roommate’s hairless cat. He’s had worse days.

 

--

 

So, there’s this thing that’s been gnawing at him. And it’s a small thing, but it’s just been there. Fermenting. Living rent-free in his head for months.

 

And that thing is this: he cannot get over that Malfoy has a cool snake-summoning spell.

 

It had kinda fallen on the backburner what with the whole plague of petrifications thing, but over the holidays, Ron spends at least five minutes each days thinking something along the lines of ‘bloody hell, I wish I could do that’.

 

One day, before the majority of students get back from their parents’ houses (assuming that they’re actually returning; some folks are rightfully skeptical about coming back to a school that has a body count), Ron scritches the hairless cat behind her ears, earning a contented purr in return, and heads up to the Ghoul Studies room.

 

He’s gone over the index of Sekret and Eville with a fine-toothed comb for information about snake summoning, and has found precisely jack shit. It’s frustrating, because he figured that a book full of dark magic would have all sorts of summoning spells for dark creatures—or at least, like, relatively spooky ones.

 

But no, to do it the right way, there’s a process. A contract, even, signed in blood.

 

(It seemed, Ron thought, that unless he was cursing things into various cuts of beef, all the dark magic he did involved blood. Blood was, in fact, becoming a bit of a running theme in his life.)

 

There were lesser summonings—you know, wave your wand, say something vaguely resembling the Latin word for what you’re trying to summon, and hope for the best—but they were inconsistent; for instance, if you used, say Serpensortia, you’d get a large-ish snake, but there was no telling what kind, or if it would be venomous, and that would change every time. If you had a contract, though, you’d get the same one, consistently. And it’d be a damn sight more useful than just looking menacing and hissing occasionally.

 

Ron’s tempted to throw Sekret and Eville across the room, but it’s like 500 years old, so he settles for throwing his wand, instead.

 

It hurts, when it hits the wall, which is something that Ron is resolutely Not Thinking About. That’s a problem for Future Ron. Future Ron is usually a really good sport about handling these things.

 

The tip of his wand is bleeding, sluggishly, a little trail of red almost indistinguishable against the dark brown finish. Ron’s pretty happy he hadn’t bothered to remove the adhesive bandages yet.

 

He stares at the little quaffles zooming around the strips, and tries to remember what the motion was that Malfoy did.

 

Unfortunately, it’s been more than a few months, and Ron’s not got the best memory in the first place, so all he can come up with is a sort of mid-air wiggle while slowly pushing the wand forward. It doesn’t quite feel right, but he figures that since snakes wiggle, the wand wiggling while summoning them makes sense.

 

He tests the motion again, just to feel it through his wrist and his arm. It’s wrong—he knows that—but it’s not wrong enough to be worrying. He gives it another go, before casting.

 

Serpensortia!” He cries, wiggling the wand.

 

An eel shoots out, long and slimy and black, holding in the air for a fraction of a second before falling to the ground in a long, wet line, and writhing, uncontrollably.

 

Fuck!” Ron says to himself, allowing for just an instant of utter freaking out. “Finite!”

 

The eel vanishes out of existence, the only trace being the large, wet marks on the floor from the brief seconds it had been there. The room smells a little weird now, the heaviness of the water weighing down the perpetual air of fire, a little bit.

 

--

 

That night, alone in the common room (save, of course, for Scabbers, who’s been awfully skittish as of late, and currently huddled in a nervous ball in the pocket of Ron’s housecoat), Ron cracks open Sekret and Eville again.

 

It feels like he’s made no headway, like he’s constantly one step away from actually getting anything done. Other than the wand thing—which he is resolutely Not Thinking About, thank you very much—he hasn’t actually done anything since that time with the huge chess set. It’s been near-on nine months; babies have been born since then, for Morgana’s sake! It just feels off.

 

Ron’s wand itches. He ignores it; that’s a little too big of a thing for him to deal with right now, if he’s being completely honest.

 

Should summoning strike thine fancy,” The book reads, “Know thee well that it is a long process, and that thine bond in blood is the only true way.”

 

Bloody hell, Ron thinks, more blood. Goody.

 

(Not that he isn’t warming up to blood magic, or anything—and that’s a trip to think about to be sure—but a little variety would be nice, is all.)

 

What it boiled down to was this: summoning was, at it’s core, an act of will, moreso than other magic; all he had to do was want something hard enough. And possibly bleed over it, just to make sure.

 

That felt like bollocks, all told, but whatever. He tables that idea and starts randomly flipping. That feels like a better use of his time, if he’s being honest.

 

There are a couple of gnarly curses, but not any he wants to try. Some weird mind-magic, too, but that mostly just seems incredibly dangerous, more than anything—and not in the fun way. He skips over the pages he finds about acromantulas, because it’s just a little too creepy. He ends up reading about soul magic.

 

Which is, by the way, arguably more dangerous than mind magic, but it’s… Ron doesn’t know. It’s less terrifying, somehow.

 

Splitting thine soul is delicate work,” A passage reads, and Ron hadn’t even know that that was a thing people could do. “for the caster must rend their core in twain, which is not easily done.”

 

Scabbers chitters nervously in his pocket. The rat has made himself scarce, ever since Ron got to Hogwarts—probably doesn’t like him, which is fine, because he doesn’t particularly like the rat all that much either—but recently, what with all the people getting petrified, he’s stuck fairly close. Or maybe he’s just wised up about Mariposa’s hairless cat; it was kind of a vicious little blighter, all told.

 

(Ron actually likes the cat. It spent several days of winter break sunning itself in the common room and purring ominously at things—Ron can relate to that.)

 

Let it be know, reader, that to split thine soul, you need only do a working (or, if timed closely, a series of workings) Darke enough to cleave open thine core and rend it asunder. Be it known that, if the circumstances are correct, this can be done on accident. We, the writers of this tome, advise you to exercise caution: once split, the soul can never be re-forged, and there are severe consequences.”

 

Wild, Ron thinks, that you could do something so monumental by accident. It seemed to him that hacking off part of your soul was something that should have a little more fanfare, a little more pizazz. It feels wrong that it could, under any circumstances, be a ‘whoopsie’.

 

Though the benefit of technical immortality is certainly a boon—“

 

Ron’s eyes cross. Technical immortality? By accident? That wasn’t—that countered quite a lot of what he knew about magic. That didn’t—something visceral in him told him that that wasn’t right.

 

Ron quickly flips to another section about wards, and reads a little bit. Morgana knows that he wasn’t about to be doing that any time soon. Too skeevy.

 

--

 

Ron’s on the beach again, splayed out under the overcast sky and lapped at by frozen waves, creatures squeezing his insides.

 

The sky rumbles at him, enormous tentacles dancing in the clouds, trailing down and writhing, slowly.

 

Some sea creature wraps itself around his leg. In the grand scheme of things, it feels fairly inconsequential.

 

YOU ARE STARVED FOR KNOWLEDGE, a voice says, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once, booming around in his ear drums and swelling with the crashing of the waves. WE HAVE NOT KNOWN ONE SUCH AS YOU IN MILLENNIA.

 

If Ron were even remotely capable of discrete thought at the moment, he’d appreciate the sentiment. As it is he just breathes deep, the breath pushing against his ribs and shaking his lungs all the way down.

 

SOON, CHILD, YOU WILL RECEIVE A BOON. The voice is closer now, on the wind blowing harshly at his damp, cold hair. THE DOOR THAT IS OPENED CAN NEVER BE TRULY CLOSED.

 

Closer, now, directly in his face. A wave crashes over his body.

 

FOUR SHALL FALL AND FIVE SHALL STAND. WITH FIRE AND VENOM AND BLOOD, ALL SHALL RUN CLEAR. THE PROTECTOR IS NOT THE SECRET.

 

Ron wakes up in his bed in the dorm in a cold sweat.

 

--

 

The holidays only last so long, and soon enough, the other students have returned to Hogwarts for the winter term. With the snow that came with the new year, the return of the students meant that the outdoor paths were covered in slush, the fireplaces in near-every classroom not quite doing enough to actually heat the stone castle, regardless of the magic that was built into the walls.

 

January is, as ever, slow. They have astronomy on Friday nights, and that’s really all that changes.

 

Ginny spends a fair amount of time cuddling her roommate’s hairless cat in the common room, which, in Ron’s opinion, is a step up from hiding alone with her diary. She still isn’t on speaking terms with Percy, but, to be fair, Percy is more neurotic than usual, on account of being on the outs with his girlfriend. Hermione’s crush on Lockhart seems to be fading, as well, which is also nice.

 

Harry is Harry. There’s not much change there. Not that he thinks Harry is dull, or anything—he’s not—but Harry is just… consistent. Unlucky and a bit unobservant and very suspicious of Slytherins, but that’s basically what he does. Doesn’t make him a bad friend, or anything.

 

--

 

The bathroom where they made the Polyjuice Potion floods, a few weeks after the start of term. Harry was determined to investigate.

 

“I don’t think,” Ron said, feet making squelching steps on the wet flagstones towards the abandoned bathroom, “That whatever is doing the, you know, petrifying, is gonna be camped out in the girl’s loo, mate.”

 

“It’s a clue!” Harry insisted. “That one girl who died the last time—fifty years ago? She’s the ghost here, alright?” He signed. “I’m just saying it’s connected, is all.”

 

Well, Ron couldn’t really refute that, now could he. “Alright,” He said, as they approached the actual entrance, “If you’re sure.”

 

There’s nothing in the bathroom. It flooded because somebody tried to flush a book. Which is confusing, right? Because books seem like they’d be way easier to burn than they would be to flush, on account of being made of paper and having corners.

 

Harry picks up the diary and pockets it. Personally, Ron thinks that’s pretty bloody gross, but whatever—it’s not like it’s going to hurt anyone, it’s a diary, for crying out loud. Going by the name on the inside cover, it belonged to a student, like, fifty years ago.

 

(But then, why was it blank?)

 

Harry takes it back to the room, presumably to write his innermost thoughts inside and while away the hours staring out the window mournfully, which is how Ginny spent most of her time when she was writing in her diary. Ron’s glad she’s sort of gotten past that.

 

--

 

Valentine’s day is awful.

 

Not because Ron doesn’t get any valentines—he doesn’t, but that’s neither here nor there—but because Lockhart has made it his personal mission to ensure that the holiday is properly celebrated. His exact words had been ‘the one true weapon against evil... is love’, which seemed like a load of bollocks, but it sure sounded like a nice sentiment, Ron supposed.

 

(Not that Ron’s exactly an expert on weapons, but he figures that actual weapons would probably be a bit more useful when facing down something truly evil than the power of love, but that’s just his opinion.)

 

So anyway, there’s this horde of dwarves that Lockhart hired to dress up as cupids and accost people in the halls with all sorts of romantic nothings. Ron’s actually very happy not to be at all popular or anybody’s secret crush—the people who are get absolutely humiliated by barely-dressed, singing folks screaming bad poetry.

 

Like Dean’s potion’s partner, Zendra, who gets an ode to her ‘cutting, fiery stare’, her ‘puffy, black hair’, and her ‘complete lack of care’; the whole thing comes off rather insulting, and she doesn’t let the rhyme get much further than that before grabbing her heaviest book and throwing it at the offending party.

 

Or Harry, who gets a valentine from some mysterious admirer who Ron’s pretty sure is Ginny. Like, he’s not saying that Ginny definitely sent it, but the entire rest of the school thinks Harry’s some kinda psychopath murderer, so it’s not exactly hard to puzzle out.

 

His bag tears, Malfoy gets the diary for a hot second, and something in Ron clicks. Like, he’s not sure what fit together, but something definitely did; it’s just going to take a little while to figure out what.

 

--

 

After class the next day, Harry bodily hauls him and Hermione into an abandoned classroom. It’s a bit of a nice change of pace, since Ron’s usually the person dragging people off into abandoned areas to have clandestine conversations.

 

“I think Hagrid did it.” It’s all sudden, like Ron and Hermione are supposed to have any kind of response to that.

 

“… Did what?” Hermione asks, since Ron’s brain feels like it’s shorting out between his ears.

 

“The chamber.” Harry says. “I think he did it.”

 

“… Why?” Ron manages to get out, feeling a bit like he’s just been knocked upside the head.

 

“The diary says—“

 

“I’m sorry,” Hermione asks, “What?”

 

“The diary,” Harry says, much more insistent, “showed me that last time, Hagrid is the one who did it.”

 

“Aren’t diaries books?” Ron asks, feeling rather dumb. “How could a book show you anything?”

 

Hermione looks at him, sharply. “Books can show you many perspectives, Ronald!” She hisses, then shakes herself, getting back on topic. “… But usually it’s a bit less literal.

 

“I wrote in the diary,” Harry says, as if him and Hermione are being intentionally dense, “The diary wrote back, I went in the diary, and it showed me things.”

 

“That’s bad,” Ron’s pretty sure that giving your mind to something that clearly has a will of its own is actually a terrible idea. And he knows from terrible ideas, on account of going through with them fairly often. “That’s really—why the bloody hell would you do that!”

 

“… Is that not how wizard diaries work?” Harry looks honestly confused, and so does Hermione. Bless them, but they’ve been raised by muggles and don’t know shit about magic, and occasionally Ron forgets that.

 

“Bloody hell, no, it’s not!” Not that Ron really knows about diaries, really, but like… he’s pretty sure that letting an outside force into your mind is something that you shouldn’t do randomly! “I don’t know how muggle diaries work, but you write in them, and that’s it!”

 

(Ron’s honestly just flying by the seat of his pants here, but it seems pretty damn likely that he’s correct, so he’s just gonna keep rolling with it. Fake it ‘til you make it, and all that jazz.)

 

“Oh.” Hermione says. “Oh!”

 

Uh,” Harry just looks a little confused. “Am I missing something, or…?”

 

“Harry,” Hermione looks him in the eyes, “How sure are you that the diary wasn’t lying?”

 

“Why would a diary lie to me?”

 

I dunno, Harry,” Ron cuts in, because he can’t help but be a little shit sometimes, “why would a diary talk to you in the first place?”

 

“It’s just—think about it, okay?” Hermione says, “Let’s not be too hasty.”

 

--

 

Two days later, Harry’s still hearing voices, and Hermione and Percy’s maybe-girlfriend end up petrified, so Ron decides that yeah, maybe it is time to be a little fucking hasty.

 

--

 

All Ron knows about Fudge are things he’s heard from his Dad. And like, not that his Dad has an axe to grind, but Ron had just assumed that maybe he was being a little biased. Or a lot biased.

 

“He’s a prick in a suit,” His dad had said.

 

“The man could tell me that the sky was blue and I’d have to go out and check,” His dad had said.

 

“Who knows, one of these days he could have an operation to remove the stick from his ass and put it where a spine would be if he were a regular human,” His dad had said.

 

“Let’s not talk like that at the dinner table,” Mum had said, “He puts me off my food.”

 

So anyway, Ron was pretty sure that Dad was, to some extent, blowing smoke.

 

When Fudge shows up at Hagrid’s hut, with Dumbledore, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that, if anything, Arthur Weasley was being a little kind when talking about the minister.

 

Then Lucius Malfoy shows up, and it just becomes a parade of men his father hates, because Morgana knew that Arthur Weasley didn’t have any love in his heart for Albus Dumbledore.

 

(Ron didn’t really understand why when he was 12. Ron didn’t really understand it when he was 16, and the man died. A few months after the dust settled, at the end, and Ron had a bit to think about everything, though—things stared to look more than a little fucked up. )

 

So anyway, Hagrid gets hauled off to Azkaban.

 

An him and Harry have to follow some bloody spiders, just as icing on the bloody cake.

 

It sucks. Everything sucks. Compared to now, last year was a bloody cakewalk.

 

--

 

Malfoy says something about muggleborns in potions. Ron’s honestly too pissed to remember what it was, later, but he’s too far away to actually punch the git.

 

Luckily, he doesn’t have to this time. Zendra, Dean’s partner, grabs her knife, the long one, that they use for herbs, and walks over calmly. Luckily, they’re doing lab, so it’s not like she’s interrupting a lecture to do it.

 

She smiles at Malfoy. It’s not a nice smile; every single one of her teeth are showing, even the back ones.

 

She stabs the table directly in front of him, sinking the knife a good few centimeters into the wood, enough so that it stays without her touching.

 

The entire classroom goes dead silent.

 

“Watch yourself,” She says, leaning down and in, barely leaving space between them. She’d already had the height advantage, and getting in close only made that more apparent, “Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen, now would we?”

 

She flicks the knife with a sharp twang and walks away.

 

Snape keeps her after class. Ron can tell by the look on her face that she isn’t sorry in the slightest.

 

--

 

It’s a few days before Harry figures out what follow the spiders means. It’s bloody annoying, is what it is, because they lead, shock of shocks, to the Forbidden Forest—you know, that place where Harry saw somebody drink unicorn blood, and Ron broke his ankle that one time.

 

(Before they investigate, they have defense. Lockhart manages to become even more of a prick by suggesting that Hagrid must be guilty because he was arrested. Which is utter crap, and something only a someone exactly like him—rich, pureblood, and white as the driven snow, namely—could believe.

 

Ron squeezes his quill so hard it shatters in his hand, covering his desk with little bits of shrapnel and almost invisible strings of feathers.)

 

So, to make a long story short, Ron and Harry end up squeezed together under the invisibility cloak and follow the damn spiders.

 

They find more spiders. And also his Dad’s car. And also-also, they find an acromantula.

 

Ron’s fucking terrified, he’ll admit it. Spiders make his blood run cold on the best of days—huge spiders, the size of elephants, that talk, make Ron feel like his heart is going to beat itself out of the front of his chest. He needs to move, needs to run, but his feet are almost glued to the forest floor.

 

Hagrid didn’t kill anybody, which was good to know, and Ron had already figured; it’s only after they learn that that things go tits up.

 

They end up being rescued by his Dad’s car, which is embarrassing, and after they escape it runs off, which is even more embarrassing.

 

What they learn is this:

 

  1. Hagrid didn’t do it.
  2. Neither did his Acromantula, Aragog.
  3. The monster that did it—and yes, they are very clear on it being a monster and not a person—is so terrifying that the spiders dare not speak its name.
  4. Spiders can speak, apparently.
  5. They also eat people.
  6. Those last two points are going to haunt Ron’s nightmares for years.
  7. The car doesn’t even like him, which is annoying. He’s been elbow deep in its guts with his dad before, that should count for something, shouldn’t it?

 

So anyway, it’s not a total loss.

 

Just mostly one.

 

--

 

The next day, two more bodies are found. Maggie Owens, who he shares a table with in Herbology, was found holding a glass water-bottle outside of Ravenclaw tower. Samara, one of Ginny’s roommates, is found draped over a telescope in the Astronomy tower.

 

Whatever-it-is is speeding up, getting more adventurous.

Chapter Text

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

YEAR 2: SUMMER

 

Ginny spends most of the first week of summer alone in her room, only emerging for meals and bathroom breaks. When she eats, she almost mechanically shovels food in her mouth, silent, leaving behind a clean plate.

 

(Mum tried serving her least favorite foods to get a reaction. Peas didn’t work, so she busted out the liver, which also didn’t work, which prompted a quick trip to the market a few towns over to pick up some haggis. Ginny managed a grimace at that one.

 

Ron didn’t really see the big deal. Food was food, and haggis was basically just mutton meatloaf. Maybe it was a girl thing.)

 

This, Ron thinks, cannot stand. He knows that recovery is a process and all, but it’s almost like his baby sister is retreating further and further into herself, which is bad.

 

Which is almost after-the-fact justification for why Ron finds himself just barging in to her room in the second week of summer break, at like two in the afternoon. Late enough in the day that she’d be awake (because Morgana knows that her sleep schedule is incredibly weird these days, but Ron’s picking his battles on that one), but early enough that she won’t be majorly into anything, inasmuch as she did anything these days.

 

“Ron!” She shrieks, “Get out!”

 

Ron stands firm, and crosses his arms for good measure. “Gin, you need to get outside.”

 

“No I don’t! I’ll stay inside and turn pale and die and I’ll be fine!” She throws a pillow at him. “Get out!”

 

“C’mon, Gin, just once, alright? Help me de-gnome the garden, or whatever.”

 

Ginny threw another pillow. “No, Ron, I’m not going to—“

 

Ron crossed his arms. “Look—you’re getting all weird, and you’re not talking to anyone, and I really want to see how things are going, is all.”

 

Ginny, out of pillows to throw at him, grabbed a heavy book from her bedside table, and chucked it. It hit him in the arm, and really hurt, because she managed to catch him with the corner, and it was a hardback copy. “No.”

 

C’mon, Ginny, please?”

 

“Look,” She said, serious, wielding another hardback book like she was going to throw it at him again. It looked like a dictionary, and Ron knew how heavy those were. “I don’t—It’s going to get better, okay? Just—“ She sighed. “The thing with, you know, the book was that it controlled me, and I couldn’t say no. So I’m saying no right now.”

 

That made sense, Ron figured. At least she had a reason for acting like she was. “… Have you been talking about this with someone?”

 

“There’s this, uh—one of the folks on the board of directors at school apparently felt really guilty, I dunno, and managed to get Hogwarts to pay for this therapist in Diagon Alley? It’s not—It’s not fixing anything, but… I think it’s helping a bit.”

 

“Huh,” Ron said. “Well, okay. So long as you’re, like, talking to someone about all of it.”

 

Ginny nodded. “Now get out of my room, or I’m going to break your nose with this book.”

 

Ron, figuring he’d done what he came to do, left the room, and closed the door.

 

--

 

(What had actually happened, and what was, under no circumstances, known by anyone other than the two parties involved, was this:

 

Lucius Malfoy walked into a nondescript office in one corner of the Ministry of Magic one day, a week after the whole affair with the basilisk. Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, to be precise. He closed the door behind himself. Locked it. Looked at the man in front of him, sitting behind a small, cheap particleboard desk.

 

“I’m sorry,” He said, unprompted.

 

Arthur Weasley looked extremely un-amused. “For?”

 

“Your daughter.” He wouldn’t meet Arthur’s eyes, stared at the framed certificate on the wall behind his shoulder. “It was—I was told that the diary was to get to the school, not what it would do.”

 

Well,” Arthur said, more than a little murderous, “I suppose intentions are the important part, aren’t they? Not results.”

 

“… I know. It wasn’t—“ Lucius carded a hand through his hair, messing up the perfectly straight cut. “I was informed that there would be consequences. Not to me, but—‘Cissa and Draco aren’t really…”

 

“I understand,” Arthur said, because on some level, he did. “I don’t forgive you, and I won’t forget this, but I understand that you’re beholden to, uh, previous obligations.” Arthur snarled, though not at anyone in particular. “You and I both know exactly how over the whole thing isn’t.”

 

“This whole—“ Lucius gestured vaguely between the two, “Whatever this is, it’s between us, I’d never drag—“ He paused for a moment, tried to get control of himself. “I’d never drag anyone else into it.”

 

Arthur sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. He looked a bit as if he wanted to tear it out. “I know. It’s—I don’t know what to call it, either, but it looks like we’re, I dunno, cosmically stuck together, and—“ He stopped suddenly, changing gears. “I should kill you for that.”

 

“Probably.” They were at work, but… there were ways to hide it. Apparation, shrinking, careful scourgifying—and it would be like it never even happened, and Arthur would have a nice, tight alibi.

 

“Tell me why I shouldn’t.”

 

Lucius blinked. He’d been expecting a wand to a face and, at best, a long-term hospital stay, not a negotiation. So, naturally, he said the first thing that came to him, regardless of whether it made sense. “If I died, Abraxas would get my Wizengamot seat and my seat on the Hogwarts board of governors.”

 

“… And?”

 

In for a knut, in for a galleon. “Abraxas believes that Grindelwald didn’t go nearly far enough.”

 

“Ah.” Arthur nodded. “I was under the impression that he was dead?”

 

“Unfortunately,” Lucius said, darkly, “The old prick will outlive us all.” He looked down and stared at his hands, a moment. “Is there—is there anything that I can do?”

 

Arthur pursed his lips sourly. “Well, since you got Ginny into this mess, you can get her out of it.” He looked up at the other man’s confused expression. “By paying for therapy. We can’t afford it on our insurance, since, according to your colleagues at the Wizengamot, the NHS is solely for muggles.”

 

“… I can arrange that.”

 

And,” Arthur Weasley said, looking him directly in the eyes, “A favor, no questions asked, to be called in at any time.”

 

“That’s not—“

 

“Lucius.” Arthur said his first name, possibly for the first time in their long acquaintance. “You tried to kill my daughter. Be grateful I’m letting you out of this room.”

 

In the end, Molly never questioned why the school was suddenly paying for everything. ‘It was the right thing to do’, after all, ‘of course they would pay, no questions asked’. Arthur didn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.)

 

--

 

Lockhart managed to walk out of court with just a hefty fine, rather than actual jail time. One morning about a month into summer break, the lead story in the Sunday edition of The Daily Prophet, front page, above the fold, was accompanied by an image of him brandishing large scissors, cutting a ribbon in front of a new Apothecary in Diagon Alley. It was some sort of American chain, carried all sorts of foreign ingredients. The headline read “New Leaf for Valor Thief?”.

 

Dad scanned the page, scoffed, and quickly turned the page to the crossword. “They’ll print anything these days.”

 

Ron made an agreeing noise through his breakfast.

 

None of the other Weasleys were particularly early risers on the weekend, but Ron had gotten into habit due to sneaking off to dark magic practice on Saturday mornings, and Dad was of the opinion that if he was going to be waking up at six during the week, he might as well have some quiet time on weekend mornings to enjoy his tea and make himself a nice breakfast.

 

This particular morning, he’d made himself eggs benedict. Ron, instead, opted for toast and jam, because the whole affair with poaching eggs and making sauce seemed like kind of a production.

 

They sat in silence for a while, as Dad did the crossword. The faucet dripped, slightly, and the faint noises of people sleepily padding around on the upper floors trickled down the staircase.

 

His father slowly filled out the puzzle, and Ron ate his toast leisurely. Birds chirped outside, loud and right next to the window.

 

“Did you have any plans for the summer?” His dad asked, absentmindedly, writing the name of Celestina Warbeck’s writing partner in block capitals in the middle of the crossword.

 

“Not really.” Ron sighed. “I mostly want to take a nap at some point, but that’s it, really?”

 

“Good,” Arthur said, “Naps are important.” He paused for a moment, thinking, and wrote ‘ACONITE’ down one side of the puzzle. “I’ve entered us into a giveaway for a trip to Egypt.”

 

“Huh,” Ron said. “You think we’re going to win it?”

 

“Considering how many times I entered, there’s a pretty big possibility,” Arthur took a large sip of his tea. “The Prophet didn’t put an upper limit on submissions.”

 

Ron looked down at his toast. Egypt seemed fun, he guessed, in a sort of abstract way. It wasn’t like he could even begin to imagine what it was like, other than sandy and hot and maybe there were mummies.

 

Fred padded down the stairs, barely awake, and grabbed the milk out of the ice box, drinking directly from the carton. It took a moment, but he finally managed to focus his eyes enough to read the headline of the newspaper.

 

“That guy,” He said, pointing vaguely, “he’s… he’s gonna get what’s coming to him. George and Perce and me are working on it. ‘S gonna—“ He yawned, mouth stretching wide, “Gonna take a while, though, t’ make it really stick.”

 

Ron figured that was a little dubious, but whatever.

 

--

 

The next week Ginny slugs Percy, hard right across the jaw. Ron assumes it has something to do with whatever happened between the two of them. She manages to catch him by surprise, when he’s getting something from the lower cabinets and is nearly bent double—Percy ends up going down hard and coming within a hairsbreadth of breaking a tooth.

 

Mum damn near goes spare, but since Ginny wasn’t apologetic, and Percy maintained that he deserved it (a stance that Ron agreed with), nothing really comes of it.

 

Frankly, Ron figures that Percy got what was coming to him, and that since there was no way Ginny would do something like that just a few weeks ago, this therapy thing was really working.

 

--

 

So, they end up winning the trip to Egypt, shocking no one except Mum, who had been under the impression that it was a fantastic stroke of luck, rather than simply Dad making any other winner a mathematical impossibility due to simply number of submissions.

 

Bill manages to take off work—apparently not taking holidays the past few years led to a starling amount of paid vacation time—as does Charlie, though stretching his vacation time out to the full length of a trip apparently involved manufacturing a family emergency. (As far as Romania is concerned, Grandma Mildred, despite never having existed, is at death’s door).

 

Bill arrives the afternoon before they set out; Charlie literally rolls out of the floo at five in the morning the day they’re supposed to portkey over, because that’s just the kind of guy he is.

 

--

 

“So, Ron,” Bill says, one day as they’re eating lunch under the hot sun, in between exploring pyramids, “How’s my favorite younger brother doing?”

 

Ron’s not his favorite, he knows this—him and Bill have never been particularly close, due to the age difference and how Bill basically lived at work—but he appreciates the effort. “I’m doing alright,” He says, after a moment, “Same old, same old, really.”

 

The other Weasleys are out and about in magical Cairo—it was way bigger than Diagon Alley, and the exchange rate was actually pretty decent at the moment, so they had money to burn. Ron had mostly wanted lunch, and Bill had actually been before, so they didn’t join in, tucked under a large umbrella on the patio of a small café, eating a leisurely lunch.

 

Bill takes a long sip of his cold water. “A little birdie told me that you’re friends with Harry Potter,” He begins, solicitously, “What’s that like?”

 

Ron answers before he can stop himself. “He’s a bit dumb—wait, that sounds bad, I mean—well,” Ron stuffed a forkful of food into his mouth, to play for time. It was a fair bit spicier than he had been expecting, but not in a bad way. “He’s just—he’s just a regular guy, I guess. Likes quidditch, good at defense, pretty reliable most of the time, talks to snakes…” He let himself trail off. “I dunno, he’s not perfect, or anything, but he’s a good friend.”

 

Bill raised his hand as if to run it through his hair, and then thought better of it, turning that motion into slipping the elastic off his wrist and tying his long hair back into a ponytail, high at the back of his head. “I heard he’s some kind of dark wizard—not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he said, knowingly, “Just, you know, that he’d picked up being evil from the curse scar.”

 

Ron figured that Bill would know about curse scars. This was probably what the conversation was actually about—Bill was the sort who liked to talk around something for a while before getting to the actual point. “I don’t think I know what you mean?”

 

“It’s just—curse scars,” Bill said, looking a little pensive, “They tend to leave a bit of a connection, is all. And with that thing with you-know-who coming back as a head ghost, or a diary, or something, it’s, you know, worrying.”

 

“So you’re saying,” Ron looked at him, a little sharply, “That my best friend might be secretly evil and not even know it?”

 

“What? No.” Bill sighed, and dragged his spoon around his dish, collecting some of the spicy, colorful sauce. “I’m just saying that, you know, there are questions, is all. Jeez, Ronnie, lighten up a bit, huh? Not saying it’s a sure thing, not even saying it’s likely, just putting it out there, you know?”

 

Ron nodded, and tried to put it out of his mind. Bill’s job was asking questions, was looking for the extreme possible consequences of a situation and preparing so as not to die while breaking curses, but… he tended to think that everyone was just like him, and very few people actually were.

 

That, Ron figured, was possibly the most diplomatic way of saying he was, by necessity, a morbid, pessimistic little shit most of the time by necessity, despite that he was probably the chilliest member of the entire Weasley clan.

 

“Also, Ron?” Bill says, after a moment, “You really need to cleanse your aura.” He held his hands up a bit. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but you’re looking a little, well…” He trailed off.

 

“A little what?”

 

“… You haven’t been getting into any trouble, have you?” Bill kept it light, grinning knowingly, but there was an undercurrent of steel to his words. “You’re branded, so your aura’s getting all… fuc—funky.”

 

(Ron’d heard swear words before—hell, he’d said them recently, albeit under very extenuating circumstances—but Bill was the oldest of the bunch, and had left home a while back. It seemed like he thought of all of them as the ages that they were when he’d gone, rather than the ages that they were right now. )

 

“… I didn’t know that you could read auras?”

 

Bill shrugged. “Had to learn for a job a while back. There was this weird goblin-made box in the Vatican, and some of the cardinals were—ah, let’s not get into it. It came in handy, is the thing. Anyway,” Bill leaned forward a little bit, so he was properly looking Ron in the eyes. “You aren’t getting in over your head, or anything? Being pressured by mysterious outside forces?”

 

“Well, the mysterious outside forces seem pretty content to let me do things at my own—“ Ron cut himself off, but the damage was done. “I mean, no, I’m definitely not caught up in anything shady?”

 

Bill huffed a laugh and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket, fishing one out. It was the long, thin kind, without a filter. He held it towards the small candle in the middle of their lunch table, lighting it, and took a long drag.

 

“… You smoke?” Ron asked, dumbly.

 

“Well,” He said, after a moment, the smoke streaming out from between his lips not unlike a dragon, “It doesn’t seem fair that I know something secret about you, but you don’t know something secret about me.” His dangly earring glinted in the noonday sun, the small chain that connected the tiny, dangling dagger to the lobe catching the light. “And anyway, considering my job, this is probably the least dangerous of my hobbies.”

 

“Huh,” There wasn’t really any other way to respond to that.

 

“So, kid, you aren’t writing checks you can’t cash, are you? You know what you’re in for?” Bill looked almost serious, for the first time in the conversation.

 

“Uh,” Ron said, because he didn’t, actually, but didn’t want to lie to his brother. “I sorta do?”

 

“You aren’t splitting your soul or sacrificing animals, right?” He looked deep into Ron’s eyes, “Right?”

 

“Morgana, no, I’m just, I dunno,” Ron shrugged, and took a long sip of his ice water. It gave him time to figure out what to say, true, but it was also incredibly hot out, and they were eating spicy food outside. “I poked the veil, and something poked back, and apparently liked what it saw, so…”

 

“Well,” Bill said, “At least you’re being safe.” He slid down in his chair, and put on his sunglasses. They were amber-tinted, but not so much that Ron couldn’t see his eyes. “You are being safe, right?”

 

“I guess? Nothing too bad has happened so far.” Except for, you know, how his wand kept bleeding, but he really didn’t want to think about that, let alone get any outside attention.

 

“Good.” Bill said, decisively, taking a long drag off his cigarette. “Keep it that way.”

 

--

 

Later that afternoon, once the heat of the day had passed, it was time for another pyramid tour—this one for a pharaoh who favored Sekhmet, a warrior goddess with the head of a lion.

 

“As you can see, here the goddess is depicted with a solar disc above her head,” The tour guide said. Ron was supposed to be paying attention, but it was a little boring. He thought tombs were supposed to be more interesting, that there were supposed to be mummies and traps and gold, rather than basically a cave with a bunch of writing and a few statues. “This is because she’s often depicted as an aspect of Ra, the sun god.”

 

The man leading the tour clapped his hands suddenly, the noise echoing down the long, stone hallway. “Now, we’re about to go into the main chamber. I ask that you please not touch anything, because she was also the goddess of plague, and, well, the Egyptians tended to take things literally. Don’t touch anything, there’s a very good chance it’s poisoned—that’s one of the reasons this tomb has remained un-plundered for thousands of years.”

 

“Alright, folks, any questions before we go in?”

 

Fred raised his hand, and Ron knew he was just doing it to be an asshole, but frankly, the entire tour had been fairly boring so far. If it had been their first pyramid, rather than their third, maybe it would have been a bit more captivating. “Who’s Sobek?”

 

“I never—what?”

 

“The, uh, the crocodile-headed one. Who is he?” It sounded like Fred already knew, band was just being a shit, but the guide didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Well,” He said, “Sobek was the Egyptian god of fertility, and also crocodiles. They called him the ‘pointed of teeth’.”

 

“But, like, what did he do?”

 

“Well, he spread his seed through the Nile—“ The guide coughed. “Anyway, let’s go in, shall we?”

 

The main chamber of the tomb is actually, Ron will admit, really cool. There’s a lot of gold—like, Ron’s pretty sure they could plate everything in the house and still have enough left over to buy a few yachts. In the center of the room, on top of some sort of raised ceremonial dais, is the sarcophagus. It looks like it weighs a few tons, lying on it’s back like an oddly-shaped chest, the gold hands carefully crossed over the torso, carefully holding a striped crook ad a flail.

 

“Folks,” The tour guide said, a little long-suffering, “Please don’t touch this one, he can get a little uppity since he’s not used to robbers.”

 

“…What?” Arthur said, after a moment.

 

“The mummy.” He clarified. “He gets… restless. We think it’s one of the enchantments in the hieroglyphics over there, but since we’ve basically gotta reverse engineer ancient Egyptian magic from a dead language that’s been translated a few times to be remotely understandable, it’s fairly slow-going.”

 

Ron looked over at the hieroglyphics the guide had gestured to. The looked, well, pretty much like everything else that lined the walls of the tomb, but well, Ron wasn’t any sort of linguist or archaeologist—it probably meant something profound.

 

Against his will, his eyes travelled a little lower on the wall, and began to move on their own—began to read, almost, but that didn’t make any sort of sense, because it wasn’t English, and the only other language Ron knew was the dribs and drabs of things that looked like Latin from their brief looks at magical theory in Charms class.

 

But, nonetheless. His eyes danced over the text—because that’s what it was now, text, and not just pictures, and slowly, against his will, he began to understand.

 

L̷̫̆Ẹ̵̓T̸̬͛ ̷̛̜ T̷̮̅H̴̥̄Ẹ̴͗ ̶͙̚ R̶̰̄E̶͈͝Ā̸̜D̷̻͠E̵͙͐R̷͔͝ ̴̩̋ W̸͍̓H̵͚̅O̷̱̐ ̸͖͝ U̶͉͘Ǹ̷̙D̴̞̉Ê̵͍R̴̫͘S̵̘̾Ṯ̵͘A̸̜͘Ṉ̶͋D̴̥̓Š̶̺ ̸̺̆ T̷̲̎H̵̹́Ḯ̶̝Ś̷̟ ̸͓̓ B̵̡͋Ẽ̷͖ ̵̬̓ G̶̥̾R̸͍̆Ả̷̗N̷̳͐T̴̢̛E̶̦̿D̴͙͒ ̴̘̈ Ȇ̸̯Ň̸͚Ṫ̶̘R̷̠̓Y̵̹̕ ̶̟̃ T̶̼̄Ò̶͖ ̶̬͋ T̷͉̀H̷̠́Ê̶̪ ̶͖̀ S̴͒͜A̵̭͝C̵̗̎R̸̰͗Ẹ̷́D̶̩͆ ̶̱̏ Ă̶͉L̴͇̈́T̵̪͋A̵͎̕Ṛ̶̓

 

Ron understood it in a primal way, carved deep into his being, rather than any sort of learned way.

 

Unbidden, his hand crept forward, inching closer and closer to the wall. Something about the sentence called to him, craved his touch.

 

(Later on, after he was firmly tucked back into his bed at home, the thought would occur to him that this was really very dumb, and that there was obviously some sort of outside force acting on him.

 

He would not be strictly wrong, but, well, he was already a curious guy anyway, so it didn’t take that much outside prodding.)

 

His fingertips touched the wall, and one of them immediately scratched on a small, sharp blade, carefully hidden in the text. It was mostly cold—sharp enough that it took a while for the pain to really register, and by then he was bleeding, wet blood sinking into the dry, dusty stone in front of him. It almost seemed to sink into the rock, but—

 

That didn’t make sense? That wasn’t how stone worked, right?

 

Of course, that thought didn’t last long after the wall began sucking his arm in. First his fingers, then his hand, and before he had the wherewithal to scream he was elbow deep, and it just kept pulling.

 

Morgana, Ron thought, distantly, what a way to go out. Sucked into the wall of a tomb while his brother made dick jokes about an ancient deity, very likely surrounded by poison.

 

And, of course, he has to get eaten by a magic wall.

 

The wall sucked him up to his torso, now, the relentless pulling against his flesh settling into something that was more uncannily soothing than uncomfortable. He managed a choked off gasp before he stopped being able to vocalize, not even thinking to scream, when—

 

All of a sudden, as soon as it began, it stopped.

 

Ron was no longer in the main chamber of the tomb, but…. Somewhere else. Untouched for millennia.

 

He took a step forward, and another, and suddenly magenta fire erupted from torches on either side of the room with a muffled boom. A few more steps, and it happened again, only this time it wasn’t nearly so startling.

 

As the light began to bleed in, and he could make out shapes in the room, at the far end, he began to make out a large, stone altar.

 

A few more steps, and the light increased, revealing a large statue behind the altar, an animal-headed figure, looming, casting monstrous shadows in the firelight. As to what animal, Ron couldn’t really nail that down. Something… other. Some chimera, perhaps, or a long-dead desert creature. Large, blunt horns towered over a long, snout, two large locks of hair falling at either side of the head where it sat, perched on an otherwise human body.

 

Set, he immediately knew, without reference as to why. It felt baked into him, carved into the core of his being. Set, the kin-slayer, the desert, the storm. Set, the oppressor and the eye-stealer. The protector, the father of the moon; the oasis and the sand.

 

What the fuck, Ron thought, feeling almost removed from his body. This wasn’t—this was bad, right?

 

(It didn’t feel bad. It didn’t feel good, either—it merely was. It felt no different from walking the halls at Hogwarts, or padding downstairs to make himself breakfast at home, and that made it all the scarier.)

 

Unbidden his continued walking forwad, stepping up to the altar. The language carved into it wasn’t English, nor was it hieroglyphics, but something older, more visceral and raw than anything Ron had ever seen—just looking at it made something inside him want to curl up and die. Made him want to stay, trapped in the small, stone room, for all eternity, cut off from the outside world.

 

Ron shook himself. If he still wanted to become a hermit, he could do that after Hogwarts. It struck him as a bit rude to just disappear out of nowhere. He had to get back to his family, right?

 

RIGHT?

 

Bloody hell, Ron thought, he really can’t allow himself to slip up here. What was that his Mum said, every so often, as a joke that only made Dad laugh? Constant, uh, virile-ness, was it? Wait, no, had to be something else… what was it—

 

The point is, Ron thought, laying his hands on the stone altar, is that being paranoid about his own thoughts was probably a good call here.

 

“YOUNG ONE,” A voice boomed, directly into his mind, simultaneously the loudest and softest thing he’d ever heard, “MUCH TIME HAS PASSED SINCE A SOUL HAS CROSSED INTO MY HALL, LET ALONE ONE OF YOUR NATURE.”

 

Wait a second. It probably was a bad idea to talk back to magic voices in spooky rooms with sentient walls, or whatever, but Ron couldn’t resist. “One of my nature?”

 

“TIME AND AGAIN, YOUR FOREFATHERS HAVE RAIDED OUR SACRED SPACES, SCAVENGING. DESECRATING GRAVES OUT OF GREED, OUT OF HUNGER TO STAMP US OUT OF HISTORY.”

 

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Ron said. “I’m thirteen.”

 

“IT IS NOT EVEN A CENTURY PAST, CHILD. THE SINS OF THE FATHER DO NOT FALL TO THE SON, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT THAT HE IS AWARE OF THEM.” Morgana, of course he’s trapped in here by some ancient Egyptian deity who talks like Hermione.

 

“Huh,” Ron said, leaning forward. “I’ll, uh, keep that in mind.”

 

“SEE THAT YOU DO.” The eyes of the statue flashed briefly—long enough not to be a trick of the light, but gone in the next second. “AND NOW, TO BUSINESS.”

 

“R-right.”

 

“YOU HAVE STARTED ON THE PATH, CHILD,” The voice said, suddenly not nearly so hostile, “BUT YOU DO NOT SEE.”

 

Ron nodded, because he couldn’t think of anything else to do.

 

“ALREADY, YOU ARE CLAIMED, THOUGH MY AFFAIRS RARELY TOUCH THOSE BEYOND THE VEIL, AND THEIRS RARELY ME.” Ron felt a prickle in his hand. Not enough to look at, but enough that he really, really wanted to. Something told him that breaking eye-contact with the statue was probably a bad idea. “WOE BETIDE ONE WHO WOULD CROSS EITHER OF US; BOTH IS OUT OF THE QUESTION.”

 

This was starting to seem way more dangerous than that time he nearly died and Harry vaporized their defense teacher—at least that was, if nothing else, a situation he had knowingly put himself into. This was something new, something he hadn’t asked for.

 

(The conversation with Bill, earlier, at lunch, was beginning to seem pretty prophetic, almost.)

 

“… Do I get a choice in this?”

 

“CHILD, BE GRATEFUL THAT YOU WILL LEAVE THIS CHAMBER IN ONE PIECE. OTHERS HAVE NOT BEEN SO LUCKY.” The prickle in Ron’s hand moved up through his arm, over his shoulder, and settled in right at the base of his neck. Ron was actively not thinking about it now, not moving. Either it was magic, in which case he could do nothing, or it was an enormous bug, in which case touching it could make it infinitely worse.

 

“W-what happened to the others?”

 

“SOME OF THEM LIVED. A FEW OF THOSE LIVED WELL. AND, AS ALL HUMANS DO, THEY DIED. SOME FASTER THAN OTHERS.”

 

“And—And the ones that didn’t make it out in one piece?”

 

“THOSE WHO COULD, LEFT. THOSE WHO COULD NOT, DIED.”

 

“Gotcha.”

 

The tingling at the back of his neck was worse now, stinging—scratching at him. He didn’t move, didn’t flinch. He wasn’t quite sure what his face was doing, but at least it was doing it slowly.

 

He can’t take it anymore, he has to at least ask. “What are you—what are you doing to me?”

 

“STUPID CHILD, SO MUCH IN NEED OF GUIDANCE.” The fire to his left crackles, and it sounds almost entirely disconnected from whatever the voice is coming from. Like it’s on another plane of existence, almost. “YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN A VAGUE DESTINATION WITHOUT DIRECTION ON HOW TO PROCEED.”

 

Well, Ron thought, ruefully, that wasn’t wrong, now was it. And at least this being of untold power had the courtesy to answer his questions, let alone ask them. Those dreams on the beach were all well and good, if incredibly spooky, but they always left him with more questions than answers. “Yeah, you could say that.”

 

The shadows in the room seemed to shrink for a moment, the flames around him flaring all together, before evening out again. “YOU MUST SEE.”

 

Where there was tingling before, now there was a brief, stabbing pain, there and gone in an instant. Ron bit his lip, trying not to cry out—he’d managed only to let out a whimper, but the inside of his mouth was starting to taste of blood. It felt like it was leaking, sluggishly, onto his lower teeth.

 

“SOON, ALL SHALL BE CLEAR.”

 

“What does that even mean?”

 

“PATIENCE, CHILD. YOU HAVE MUCH TO LEARN.” The flames surrounding him began to shrink, to die out. “THE EYE IS MINE TO GIVE, BUT YOURS TO INTERPRET.”

 

“But that’s so vague, please just give me an ans—“

 

“OUR TIME IS ENDING, YOUNG ONE. REST ASSURED, OUR CONNECTION WILL ENDURE NOW THAT YOU HAVE BEEN MARKED. IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO REJOIN THE LAND FROM WHENCE YOU CAME.”

 

It wasn’t a flash of light, but Ron’s world seemed to fold in on itself, pulling him back and out and through something that felt like cold mud.

 

“—on, Ron!” Someone was patting his face gently, saying something. His name? Probably.

 

He managed a groan in response.

 

“Oh, thank Morgana.” It was mum. His vision was blurry, but he could tell by the hair. “Thought we might’ve needed to get you to the hospital.”

 

Ron blinked, hard, a few times. “M’m,” he said, because vowels weren’t really wanting to come out of his mouth at the moment, “ ‘m fine.”

 

“You most certainly are not fine, Ronald! You just—keeled over! In the middle of a tomb of someone who worshiped a god of plagues!”

 

“I’m—okay, really.” It was a lie, sure, but it wasn’t as much of one as he’d been expecting. He didn’t feel sick, or anything. His head hurt, a bit, but—as far as visions went, checking out and waking up with a headache wasn’t too bad. The back of his neck was sore, at the base, under his shirt, but that could wait a while. “Must’ve just locked my knees for too long, or something.”

 

Mum didn’t look like she quite believed him, but let it slide.

 

(The tour guide looked absolutely traumatized as he quickly led them out of the pyramid.)

 

--

 

When Ron got back to the hotel room, he quickly locked himself in the bathroom to get a good look at the back of his neck, because something was clearly up. It took a fair bit of contorting, but eventually he got a decent look—there was, indeed, a mark there.

 

No bigger than the thumb-side of his fist, a stylized eye was branded onto his skin, black and opaque like freshly-spilled ink. A long, flat tail came off one end, and an eyebrow arched over it; trailing down through where the lower lashes would be was a stylized triangle, and a small hook.

 

Ron blinked, and put his shirt back on.

 

Huh.

 

Weird.

 

Definitely something to think about once he had access to a decent library again.

 

It didn’t hurt anymore, at least.

 

Something to think about tomorrow, Ron decided.

 

Right now, he wanted to sleep.

 

--

 

Shocker, but Ron did not end up thinking about it the next day. Nor the following.

 

And then, by the time the family had returned from Egypt, it had pretty much slipped from his mind entirely.

 

Two weeks later, a mass-murderer who may or may not be actively targeting his friend escaped from prison, so he pretty much cast it from his mind entirely. There were bigger fish to fry, after all, and things would probably reveal themselves in time, anyway.

 

‘SIRIUS BLACK ESCAPES’ the front page of the Daily Prophet had read, in large, capital letters. Above the fold, obviously.

 

The story below the fold was a human-interest piece. ‘GILDED-BOY GILDEROY LAUNCHES FICTION-WRITING COURSE’. It was, according to the full-page ad later in the paper, ten galleons, or merely four easy payments of three galleons, five shillings, for a three lecture course.