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For What It's Worth.

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Being on the outs with your best mate isn’t exactly something that Ron recommends.

Oh, sure, it’s his own bloody fault. His own bloody fault for being so stubborn, so quick to judge and decide and condemn, his own bloody fault for being so merlin-be-damned hot-headed.

He’s heard it from Hermione countless times, and even if he pretends not to listen or gets red-eared and a little too foul-mouthed for her tastes (her upper class, Wilmslow, private school tastes, or so she’s – well, really Harry’s – told him. It must be a muggle thing-) about it when she brings it up, he’s not that stupid, alright, he knows he buggered up big time.

The thing is – they’d talked about it. Fantasied, really, about winning, what they’d do, y’know, how things’d go. Never really thought about the fact that they both wouldn’t be champions, because, well, it’s a fantasy, ain’t it? Not s’posed to be realistic.

And then Harry’s name goes and comes out of the goblet. And Ron hadn’t acted rationally, alright, he’d been a right git about it.

It’s just – Ron knows, really, that Harry wouldn’t want the glory. Blimey, he already gets flustered about Creevey’s hero worship, the extra ‘eternal glory’ wouldn’t be something he’d handle very well.

But it’s just – they’d talked about it. Shared ways they thought might work about getting past the age line. And Ron knows, alright, he knows that Harry wouldn’t try without him (or Hermione or both of them) there, yeah, he knows that.

But, well, Ron’s fourteen, and that’s got to be taken into account, too, he reckons. That’s what his mum said, anyway, about them all. Teenage years are the most frustrating, for both the teenager and the parent. Mood-swings and poor decision making and all that.

Ron was kind of – well, he was always jealous, a little, of Harry. Maybe not jealous – envious, perhaps – definitely, really. A little of his fame, a little of his money, a little of how everyone at least appeared – their second year proved how fickle that appearance truly was - to like him.

A little incredulous, sometimes. Harry had all this money, Ron knows for a fact that he has it, and he still walks around in those castoffs that are, at best, three sizes too big (from a cousin many years younger), glasses with spellotape around the bridge that he’d never removed even after Hermione fixed them (twice), and never buys anything for himself, ever, not really. Even if he wants it, he’ll stare at it, guiltily, and move on.

Ron wishes he could have money to hoard like that. Money to save up and fix their house and get wards on the twins’ bedroom so that their experiments don’t threaten to break the house into little pieces every five minutes. Then, maybe, he’d get himself a new broom, and Ginny could finally redecorate from that bright, glaring pink she’s had since she was four, and they could extend the farm and get some more stuff so they didn’t have to rely on sometimes-maybe confunding the farmer’s market down in the muggle village to get enough fresh food to last if their crop yield is bad, since you can’t transfigure food.

The chickens are always good, though. They… eat a lot of eggs.

But anyway, back to the main point.

Being on the outs with your best mate isn’t fun. Ron doesn’t recommend it.

Ron sighed and stared up at his canopy. Seamus was snoring, as always, and Neville was doing the same. Dean was either sleeping or drawing or scrambling to finish homework – as Ron couldn’t hear snores from his bed, but then, the boy didn’t snore anyway, so it was generally pretty hard to tell what he was doing.

And Harry wasn’t in bed. Ron knew this because Harry had been in the common room, in the corner, sitting on the armchair next to the fire last he saw him.

Nobody had been on the couch, or the other armchair. They all gave Harry a wide berth. Hermione sent disapproving glances in all directions, but her expression was tinged with guilt, and Ron felt uncomfortable if he looked at her face for too long when she was like that.

After all, he was the reason for it. He felt guilty for feeling almost glad that she wanted to hang around him still, after how he’s dealt with things so far, but maybe she’s just there because – Ron doesn’t know.

He kind of hopes – nevermind.

Ron sighed, stared up at his canopy. Harry wasn’t in bed, and Ron had it on good authority – that of being the boy-who-lived’s best mate, even if that title was in dubious standing right now – the other young teenager wouldn’t come up at all if someone didn’t do something.

And Hermione wouldn’t know. Knowing Harry, he’d have lied to give her peace of mind.

Ron sighed, again. He grunted, annoyed, and got out of bed, walked downstairs. This had happened just last week, and Ron was pretty sure he’d interrupted a chat between Harry and Sirius, and honestly, he feels pretty bad about that, but there wasn’t really much that could be done.

He was still angry, though. Ron isn’t going down to make up. That would mean admitting he was wrong.

No way.

Angry’s the wrong word. Maybe not. Ron know’s he’s got a temper. Maybe he’s a little angry at himself, too.

Ron exits the staircase, and Harry’s there, just as Ron had thought he’d be. He’s sitting on that same armchair, and really, it dwarfs him, though that’s not too hard in the first place.

It just – it kind of emphasises how alone he looks.

Ron’s not worried. Nope.

“You’re still up then,” Ron says, and it comes out gruffer than – but that was good, because they were arguing, and Ron wasn’t about to apologise.

This tournament killed people. Hermione had said it enough times for it to be seared into his brain. This tournament killed people.

Harry was in it.

Ron was not, at all, he was vehemently not worried.

Ron was not very good at dealing with being worried. Harry could die in this tournament, and Ron couldn’t be there like in first year, third year, couldn’t even be as useless as he’d been in second.

It was frustrating. Ron was frustrated, and he didn’t really like the feeling. Why would you, after all, really?

Harry was on the armchair, and he hadn’t responded yet. He was sitting there, in pyjama bottoms and that old-ish Weasley jumper Ron’s mum had made for him because Ron had sent home a letter about the fact that he doesn’t get any presents at Christmas he never gets them, mum, what do I do two days before the event itself –

“Evidently,” Harry said, tone dry.

They aren’t friends right now. Ron should just go back upstairs, but that would look – ugh.

Ron wishes things could be more simple than this. He’s really not used to feeling so conflicted and he doesn’t know what to do, but he’s not eleven anymore. He can’t just write home about it, because that would be embarrassing, first off, and because he can deal with this, alright, and Ron knows he’s shown no signs of having any fucking clue about how to deal with this, but maybe Hermione might let something slip that he can use to do… something.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

Not hopefully. They aren’t friends right now, let alone best mates.

Ron should really just go upstairs again. Run away with his tail between his legs, like the coward he really is, deep down.

Right now, Harry and this whole situation might as well be a large group of spiders. Ron really does not want to confront that, thanks.

“Well?” Harry asked. “You just going to stand there?”

Ron scowled, felt his ears redden and felt annoyance at the betrayal. Stupid, annoying, unhelpful reactions to frustrating, confusing, awkward emotions.

Ron settled for sullen, as he’d been doing so often, lately. It wasn’t exactly gaining him many friends, but that was fine. He sort of had Hermione, and Dean and Seamus didn’t mind if he talked to them (when Harry was around, in a rather petty way of trying to show that he wasn’t affected by this, and his own decision had actually been a good one, which it wasn’t, but that was fine, Ron wasn’t telling anyone else that) so whatever.

Still. Ron was attempting to at least be fit for the title of Gryffindor, if nothing else, so he lifted his head and walked over to the couch and sat down.

Great,” Harry said, and he sounded just as sullen. He’s got that worn old copy of Quidditch Throughout the Ages Hermione borrowed from the library back in first year and leant to him that Harry never gave back, or returned, and Pince is probably out for his blood about that, but really, Ron knows Harry couldn’t care much less about that, because, well, he likes the book. And it’s not really stealing, just… extended borrowing.

It’s a library, after all, right?

“Well, I couldn’t sleep,” Ron said, and he felt angry at the fact he had to explain himself, but whatever, who cares. It’s his own damn fault. “And how was I to know you were still down here?” He demanded.

It wasn’t the right thing to say, of course. Not even remotely what he wanted to say, either, but Ron had never been good at either of those two things and he likely never will be.

It’s a flaw.

Ron is not working on that, he’s just… kind of aware of it.

“Well, the fact that I hadn’t come up to the dorm at any point should have tipped you off,” Harry said, “Though I guess, I mean, I guess that expects you to be more observant than you actually are.” He’s being snarky like Harry is to people like Malfoy and Snape and those muggles of his.

Ron clenched one of his hands into a fist – the one Harry (hopefully) couldn’t see.

It’s not nice to be lumped in with that lot. But, well, Hermione’s voiced her opinion on that, and Ron kind of figures – given what she’s said, and all – that he… deserves it. A bit.

“Well,” Harry says, and he’s pursing his lips and his eyes are narrowed, and Ron – isn’t a fan of being on the receiving end of that expression. It’s not exactly what he’s used to, is all, but Ron figures he should get used to it.

They’re not friends right now, after all. Ron made sure of that.

“I’m reading,” Harry said. “And if I remember correctly, that bores you to death. So how about you go back upstairs and leave me alone, yeah?”

Ron doesn’t have anything to say to that.

He doesn’t leave, though. He just leans back in the couch, unclenches his hand, and stares at the fire some more.

“Fine,” Harry says. His free hand is tugging at the end of his slightly-too-big still jumper (his Mum always makes them bigger than is really needed… plus, Harry’s a scrawny git – well, not a git, but you know what... never mind - ) and Ron knows that’s from feelings he won’t voice.  “Stay. Whatever.”

He reopens his book.

They’re as stubborn as each other, really. Ron kind of figures he’ll crack first, if only because he knows he’s the one in the wrong (ha, take two letters away and you get his name, fancy that) and what have you, but that’s not tonight.

Not by a long shot.

Ron leans forward and sets up the chess set that’s on the low table – coffee table, Hermione calls it – and starts playing a game against the sentient pieces of the other side.

“Really?” Harry says.

“Yeah.” Ron returns, short. “What of it?”

“Nothing.” Harry bites out, turns a page in his book. Ron’s pretty sure he isn’t actually reading it, and when Ron loses two pawns in quick succession, he knows he’s not concentrating and that this might be a match he’s actually going to lose.

Fuck. He’s not losing to a bunch of sentient chess pieces because he and Harry aren’t really, y’know, friendly right now, Merlin’s beard.

Neither of them says anything about it, of course. That would acknowledge the fact that they’re not paying attention to their own things but rather warily eying each other, and isn’t that just sad, really.

Ron returns his lax attention to the chess game, as much as he can. The most he can manage is a stalemate, and he feels distinctly off-kilter.

Harry’s the first to get up. He doesn’t say anything, he just leaves the room, goes upstairs. Ron plays another game, gives the other time, and then goes upstairs himself.

Harry’s in bed, curtains drawn. Dean’s getting back into bed (likely from a late-night trip to the loo) and he catches Ron’s eye.

“Made up yet?” Dean asks. Ron glowers at him for an answer, gets back into his own bed and – as much as you can – slams his curtains shut himself.

“Guess not,” Dean mutters to himself, but Ron can hear it loud and clear over Seamus and Dean’s snores.

Harry probably can, too.


 

They’d made up after the dragon, sort of. In the tent. Ron tried apologising but Harry just grinned at him and okay, Ron can work with that, that’s much preferred to talking things through, being all sappy and shit.

Hermione had done her usual eye roll and accompanying ‘boys’, which was whatever, really. If she wanted to do that, that was fine, it was just kind of annoying that she berated him if he did similarly regarding girls – more bewilderment, truthfully, than (what coming from her seems like) exasperation - but whatever.

Over the last four years, Ron assumed Dean and Seamus and Neville had gotten used to Hermione barging in. At least, she’d never managed to barge in when they were changing, thank Merlin.

So when she barged in, yammering at Harry about a book she’d found that could help with the egg, and Ron sat up, rubbed at his eyes blearily and caught Harry’s tired gaze, rolled his eyes, and Harry grinned slightly, shrugging, Ron was pretty sure he heard a ‘finally’ coming from somewhere, but he didn’t really care to look.

“Merlin, woman,” Seamus complained. He always did that, likely because he slept in his boxers and had to hide away under the canopy until she left. “Must you at this time?”

“You’ll be late for breakfast,” Hermione said, snappishly, as she always did, “It’s half seven.”

“Really?” Dean groaned into his pillow, sighed, and sat up. Dean didn’t wear a t-shirt to bead, but he wore everything else (pyjama bottoms, socks) so he didn’t have to worry too much.

Hermione muttered a spell and Dean’s shirt flung itself at him. “Honestly,” she sighed. “Can none of you keep to alarms?”

“Nope,” Harry said, and he seemed a lot more cheerful now than he had for a while.

“Funny you say that since you’re the exception,” Seamus groused. “Blimey, mate, you’ve gotten up at six am automatically since forever.”

“Ingrained,” Hermione said, under her breath, and there was that guilty, disapproving frown again. Ron’s stomach churned, and he grimaced. “Now, get dressed,” She glowered at them all in turn – especially the two she was actually here for; Ron and Harry. Harry and Ron.

They were friends again. Best mates, and all that.

As sappy as it sounds... it was nice.

“Alright, alright,” Ron says, and Hermione smiles at him, at them; her friends, nods and turns on her heel, strides out of the room.

Harry’s expression is peculiar when Ron glances at him, but it changes easily and quickly into a sort-of smile, the genuine kind, and Ron shrugs in response, gets up, and goes to the bathroom.

This could have gone a lot worse, all things considered. Ron knows it probably should have, that it would if Harry wasn’t as – Ron’s not sure of the word. Lenient, maybe, when it comes to his friends and their mistakes.

Yeah. Lenient. That fit. Ron didn’t quite deserve it, he figured, but he was glad nonetheless.

It was nice, having his best friend back, is all. Ron wasn’t going to say that out loud, of course, and neither was Harry.

‘boys’, Hermione had said, yet again, with that always-accompanying eye-roll, last night during the celebration, and Ron figured she had as much trouble understanding them as he did her, or really girls in general. And when she didn’t understand something, she really didn’t like it, and she shoved that under a fair bit of disdain; like with Divination and flying. She was much better than Ron or Harry about the whole ‘feelings’ thing, but, Ron could tell, not really by that much. It just seemed like a lot because they were both so crap at it.

Well, whatever. Ron was most definitely going to try harder this year, he was.


 

And… He ballsed it up again.

Ron didn’t know what he expected of himself, really. When the Yule Ball had first been mentioned, he’d had this vague pit of dread form in the bottom of his stomach somewhere, and that was tenfold now it was so close, especially because he didn’t actually have a date.

Maybe he’d expected that he’d at least be able to ask Hermione without making an arse of himself, but apparently not.

Harry had, though silently, attempted to stop him. And, yeah, Ron could probably smack himself for what he’d said – there goes his usual lack of tact – but, well, he wasn’t going to.

She didn’t have a date. She was lying; why else would she hide who it was from them? They were her best friends, really if he’s honest her only friends, so it’s not like they don’t know other stuff that’s probably more embarrassing or incriminating or what have you. Who her date to the Yule Ball pales in comparison to brewing illegal Polyjuice potion in the girl’s lavatory in second-year, after all.

Ron tries not to think about it. Tries not to think about how he would have actually kind of liked going with Hermione. After breakfast, Harry pats him on the shoulder and gets up, Ron mentally sighs, and they leave for their first lesson.

Hermione pointedly sits with Neville – not that she doesn’t do this a lot; the desks are in pairs, after all, and Neville’s kind of the odd-one-out of their yeargroup, so when Harry and Hermione pair up Ron has to go with him, and when Hermione and Ron pair up it’s Harry’s turn, and what have you – but it’s kind of frustrating, and Ron’s ears redden, he can feel that tell-tale burn and he blames it on anger.

It’s easier than what it might actually be because Ron really doesn’t deal with embarrassment well.


 

Harry somehow manages to pull off a miracle, and they have dates to the Yule Ball. It’s the Patil girls; Parvati and Padma, and for the life of him Ron can’t quite remember which one’s his date until they’re standing right in front of each other and she’s eying his robes with obvious disdain.

Oh, great. So she was snobbish about that, was she? Wonderful. It wasn’t like Ron already felt awful walking around in these things that smell like his great aunt, old and musty and kind of perfumed in a really, really bad way, but whatever.

“Well, come on then.” She said, after McGonagall showed up and told them to go inside already (not her words exactly, but the sentiment of them) and Ron sort-of gestured goodbye to Harry – who did similarly but with an accompanying acknowledging noise as he stared apprehensively at the doors to the Great Hall and Parvati stared at him with a mix of admiration and wariness – and then Padma linked arms with Ron rather forcefully and strode into the hall, found them good seats so they could see the procession of the champions and their dates.

Maybe Ron could find Hermione after, apologise, in the way she’d told him to regarding Harry but that Harry hadn’t apparently wanted. Merlin, this sort of thing was confusing. Ron didn’t really want to apologise, but he knew it was his own fault.

Again. 


 

Hermione came with Viktor Krum and didn’t tell them.

Ron felt an irrational anger focused on both participants. He knew now they were probably unofficially dating, and whatever. She was happy, and Ron had to go and ruin it – but he was right! Krum was seventeen and she was fifteen, he was way too old for her, and though laws about that in the wizarding world weren’t exactly taught, you kind of just knew fifteen-year-olds shouldn’t date seventeen-year-olds. Even just given how they look, there’s so much difference in maturity.

Merlin knows Ron’s a mess, really. He can’t imagine being this age’s much easier for Hermione, given that she’s a girl.

(Y’know… well, his mum sat them all down –  separately - at various points to teach them about this stuff. She’d told Ron about that stuff partially because he had a sister, partially because she didn’t want him to freak out too much when he had a girlfriend, and partially because his second best mate was, well, female. Point is, Ron knows way more than he’d ever want to. About that.)

Still, though. Viktor Krum? Couldn’t it have been anyone else? Ron idolised the guy, and now he was dating his second-best-friend, and Ron doesn’t really know what to think about that.

Fucking hell, he had an action figure, he supported Bulgaria in the World Kup, he had one old-ish, worn poster in his room on the left wall of that very team with Krum fucking front and centre, he had copies of Quidditch Weekly – free from the store with any purchase of anything, they got them with food and drink they couldn’t farm - that had his ugly mug plastered across the cover in bright technicolour, moving and scowling and occasionally smiling ever so slightly, and Ron didn’t really know what to do. He didn’t want to burn them, but he didn’t want to have them, though really, he wanted to keep them and forget about this whole debacle, but that wasn’t happening.

Great.

Ron defaced his action figure at the first possible chance and regretted it immediately. He’d paid for that, for one. And – well, he liked having it. It was cool. He shoved that feeling down, threw it across the room, and – once again – attempted to slam his canopy curtains shut.

He sits on his bed, arms resting on his knees. Ron had been reading the quidditch weekly they’d been sent that Ginny had read last week; it was old news, but it was interesting, and the Cannons’ chances were looking up.

Probably. Maybe. In all likelihood, no, but a guy can dream.

Anyway, there Krum’s face was, yet again, plastered across the cover in tacky tabloid fashion. It wasn’t a tacky tabloid, though, it was a sports newspaper, it just liked the muggle way of doing things that ended up looking a bit trashy, is all.

Ron couldn’t exactly deface this either because he needed to give it to the twins next week and he really needed to finish reading that segment about the new manager for the Cannons, but Ron wasn’t really in the mood. An interview with Krum was on the page after, and Ron wouldn’t be able to think about anything else, because the guy was dating Hermione, and he couldn’t even say her name properly!

And it wasn’t that hard. Her-my-on-e. if Ron can manage, a seventeen-year-old accomplished wizard, seeker for Bulgaria and Triwizard Champion shouldn’t have much trouble, especially since Ron was pretty sure it wasn’t even an English name in the first place, and the guy could speak pretty good English for someone who wasn’t a native speaker, so figuring out how to say some foreign name shouldn’t be that hard.

And he was seventeen! An adult. Hermione was not an adult. That can’t be good.

She was fifteen, sure. Ron knew that. A year older than the rest of them. Birthday in September. But still!

Ron scowled at nothing and opened the magazine-newspaper-whatever to the right page, ignored the small picture of Krum in the corner, and read. He wasn’t going to let it bother him, he wasn’t, Ron just really didn’t like Krum, and he really was not happy with Hermione.

She could have told them. If she was worried about fame or whatever, well, her best friend was Harry Potter. If she thought they’d tell or something, she was bonkers.


 

Ron kind of figured out he was jealous on his own, thanks, but Harry told him anyway, sat across from him cross-legged at the end of Ron’s bed. They had the egg sitting there innocuously between them, and Harry had been glaring at it for a solid minute after they lapsed into silence, after they’d exhausted all the possibilities they could think of and the silencios they’d cast over the bed so as not to wake the others broke.

Harry cast it again. “Silencio,” he said, quietly, with wand movements close enough to right that it didn’t matter they were a little stiff, a little off, with enough power behind it that Ron could sort-of feel the buzzing nature of a silencing spell forced into a sort-of ward shape settle over his skin.

“You’re jealous., Harry said. Ron blinked at the non sequitur, then registered what he’d meant by it.

“No, I’m not,” Ron denied, tone sullen. Harry's lips twitched, and Ron granted it was probably warranted.

“Alright,” Harry said, easily. He was like that – let things slide if it was obvious the other person wasn’t comfortable. Unless he didn’t like them, like with Snape or Malfoy, in which case he tended to push his luck a little, but Harry seemed to have a good head on his shoulders about when to stop before he went too far and got into too much trouble. “But you aren’t happy that Hermione’s dating Krum, yeah?”

“Well, no,” Ron grumbled. “He’s seventeen. It’s not right.”

Harry pursed his lips. “Seventeen’s the age you’re an adult here, isn’t it?” Harry asked.

“Yeah,” Ron said. “It’s not right.”

“Maybe not,” Harry said. “But eighteen’s the age in the muggle world. Hermione still works on that scale. I mean, I do too.”

Ron shrugged, helplessly. Harry inclined his head.

“I want you to think about it,” Harry said. “If you’re jealous.” Harry looked like he wanted to say more, maybe, but changed his mind.

“Well, I won’t be able to sleep,” Harry said. “If you can’t either, we could play a game of chess or something.”

Ron checked how tired he felt and shrugged. Not really tired.

“Alright,” Ron said, and Harry nodded, cancelled the spell.

Ron found the action figure again, once it had all blown over or thereabouts, once him and Hermione were mostly back on good terms and he’d found out about the hate mail and the nasty articles and wanted to punch something, screw magic, wanted to do something about the people hurting her because of who she chose to be with romantically.

Ron didn’t exactly approve, still, but his opinion on it didn’t rightly matter. Maybe his mum’s did, but it wasn’t as bad as it’d been back in Easter, when she’d thought Hermione was stringing Harry along due to one of Skeeter’s articles and Ron hadn’t been more ashamed of anything his mother had done until then, really, and Ron could quite easily tell most of his siblings felt the same.

She was just a bit old-fashioned, is all. At least, that’s what Ron had figured – he hadn’t figured she’d be suckered in so easily, but then, he probably should have, given her infatuation with Lockhart.

It’s just – she was his mum. And she’d acted worse than he did on a regular basis, and that’s saying something.

Really, she’d been petty and childish, according to Ginny, and Ron couldn’t exactly say she was wrong.

But that wasn’t right now, anyway.

Right now, he was staring at an action figure on the bedside table in complete confusion. He didn’t want it, why would someone have gone to lengths to fix it up?

He didn’t want it. He didn’t.

Ron picked it up and squinted at the note attached, scowled, grabbed his wand and cast a spell his mum had taught him years ago. The writing looked more legible after that, though it was still bad script, and it took a bit for Ron to figure out what it said.

It was in muggle pencil, Ron could tell. The lines were faint and thin, and that really didn’t help, but whatever.

Hermione asked if I could fix this up for you. Don’t break it again, Weasley, it was a pain to mess with the spells.

Seriously, get over yourself.

Dean.

Right. Well, whatever. Ron shoved the figure to the bottom of his trunk.

Ron used that spell Hermione used when correcting her mistakes, the one that wiped away ink, and it kind of worked. Enough so that Ron could scribble thanks without a signature. Ron dropped it on Dean’s table, and figured he’d probably know, Ron didn’t have to do anything embarrassing like thank him in person.

In public.

The twins were supposed to give the magazine to Percy, but Ron suspected they never actually did. Regardless, he saw Harry with it, and it had been weeks since then, so honestly, it didn’t rightly matter.

“You checked that, right?” Ron said.

“The twins didn’t jinx it,” Harry said. “Weird that they gave it to me, but I’m not complaining.”

“Probably because we’re friends and I can send it home.” Ron said. “They usually forget. Or, well, don’t bother.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Alright, yeah, makes sense.”

Ron nodded, dropped down into the free chair opposite.

“Have you had any – I don’t know, whatever, about the egg?” Ron asked.

“Epiphanies,” Harry said, and yeah, that was the word he’d been looking for. “And no.”

Harry pursed his lips and stared down blankly at the page. Ron didn’t scowl at the fake Krum on the cover, he stared at the wall instead.

“Maybe Hermione’ll find something soon,” Ron said, but Harry didn’t look too optimistic. Ron didn’t feel it, either. “Maybe,” Harry said anyway, and Ron left it at that.

“Which part are you on?” Ron asked, gesturing to the Quidditch Weekly in his hands.

“Discussion about the world cup,” Harry said. “Collection of letters that were sent in and some writings by journalists.” Harry shrugged. “A lot of them are praising Bulgaria for what they managed, a lot more are talking about how good Ireland were, a bunch are mainly waxing lyrical about Krum.” Harry’s lips twisted in amusement. Ron figured there was also a kind of envy there, too, that he didn’t want to think about – after all, Krum had fame, but he had fame that didn’t change on the whims of the country he lived in. People didn’t suddenly hate him for no real reason without any proof, didn’t suddenly cry their support at the slightest thing. Weren’t temperamental arseholes, in short.

After all, he’s dating a minor and nobody bats an eyelid except to send her hate-mail. Ron’s kind of surprised Harry’s never gotten any mail about the whole boy-who-lived thing, but maybe that’s a good thing. No pus in envelopes for you if you don’t get said envelopes in the first place.

And Ron’s not stupid. Harry probably has a lot of enemies he’s never even heard of, let alone met in person. There are people out there way more dangerous than Malfoy or Snape. Hell, even You-Know-Who only wants to kill him. There – there are worse things.

Ron tries not to worry too much until they’re in the thick of it. At that point, there’s no backing out anyway.

Even if you’re in the middle of the forest following spiders towards a huge den of Acromantula that very much want to eat you. Ron does not have nightmares about that, by the way. No, he doesn’t.

“Right,” Ron said in response. “Cannons’ management transfer should be on the next page,” He said, avoiding having to acknowledge Krum at all.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “And then there’s the interview with Krum, and the interview with the Irish team, and then there’s a bunch of pages of speculation, and the last half of the last page is dedicated to the attack.”

Harry pursed his lips, again. “They did a full feature in the issue before that one,” Ron said, and Harry nodded, relaxed his expression. “Alright,” Harry said, and that was that dealt with.

Couldn’t things be that easy all the time? Ron really wished they would be. It’d be so much less complicated.

“D’you read the interview?” Harry asked.

“With the Irish team?” Ron feigned ignorance. Harry’s tone was light, unaffected, but there was that gleam in his eyes Ron had gotten used to looking for. “Yeah, read it through.”

“Looks like you skipped one, then,” Harry said, tone still light, and Ron attempted to supress the automatic scowl, but he couldn’t stop his ears from burning a bright red like they always did.

Gah. The betrayal.

“No,” Ron said. “Don’t think I did.”

Harry hummed and turned the page, started reading Krum’s interview.

“Why don’t – why aren’t you angry?” Ron asked. “He’s an adult, and she’s not. It’s – wrong.”

“He’s not an adult, though.” Harry said. “He’s seventeen. He’s a teenager. I’ll give you that it’s a noticeable gap now, the two years between fifteen and seventeen, but there are people who are married that are over a decade apart in age, and they’re muggles,” Harry said, “A decade is a fair chunk of their lifespans.”

Muggles did live less long than Wizards did. It was kind of weird, Ron thought, people not living beyond one-hundred on a regular basis. Muriel was at least one-twenty, after all. And that’s because she was the younger sister to his grandad, who had died in the last war, and had his kids young enough. At the start of his twenties. Ron’s dad was the youngest. None of the rest were still around; some in other countries, one dead, one a squib and living in Russia. For some reason.

“I guess,” Ron said.

“Just… calm down a little about it,” Harry said. “And, well, calm down about him in general. You still get a little starstruck, and you don’t even like him anymore.” Harry carefully wasn’t looking at him, and Ron didn’t try not to scowl this time.

“Shove it,” Ron grumbled, and Harry laughed a little, and whatever.

“I’m just saying,” Harry said. “Fame’s not fun, really. Try and treat him like a normal human being who’s dating your friend, not Viktor Krum, star seeker, and what have you.”

Ron can’t exactly do that. But – well, he will leave Hermione alone about it from now on.

Hermione was invited to go to Bulgaria by Krum for a two-week break in the holidays. She’d sent him a letter, due to their unspoken promise of not lying about this sort of thing anymore, and it was short and concise and to the point like Hermione’s letters never were.

She was going for the first two weeks. She’d been encouraged to bring her family along. As they were muggles, they’d be staying somewhere muggle-friendly, of course. Krum’s family were ‘rather nice’, as she’d put it, and didn’t treat Hermione’s family like incompetent children, which was always a plus.

Hermione said she’d probably write less in these weeks, so Ron should make sure he keeps in contact with Harry, so he doesn’t feel too lonely.

After what happened… she’d wrote, and there was the the tell-tale signs of her erasing spell left on the page. She hadn’t bothered with clean-up, in her hurry, which was unlike her.

Hermione probably wanted the break that Krum had offered. Getting out of the country where you-know-who was back and a real threat. Getting her parents out, too, come to think of it.

Two weeks wasn’t long, but if there was an attack on the muggle area she lived in, well, it might just save her life and the lives of her parents. After, Hermione had written, she’d be back for the summer, at which point – if he wanted, which, of course, he did – she could come to visit.

Ron couldn’t tell her she’d end up staying at Grimmauld Place for the rest of the summer if she did, given Mad-Eye’s paranoia, but, well, hopefully, she’d figure out he wasn’t home.

Anyway, Ron finished up his own letter in response, which told her as much as he could without knowing strong enough privacy spells – most of which were Dark, anyway, so Ron didn’t really want to know them, because they involved blood authentication, and that was the easiest magic to mess up if messed with and plus, it was Dark – and hoped it was enough.

Ron hadn’t gotten a letter from Harry yet, but that was probably because the Dursleys overworked him every summer. He probably hadn’t had a chance to, yet, so Ron decided taking Hermione’s advice about keeping up regular contact wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Except, well, he couldn’t keep up regular contact. He was allowed one letter each week – until Mad-Eye got paranoid again and forbid them on the same day, at which point it was kind of random but you had to wait at least seven days between letters sent out – as were the rest of them, and it was frustrating. Ron didn’t even know why they were here, yet, really. There hadn’t been any important ‘Order’ meetings yet, they’d mostly just been talking about what very little they knew about you-know-who’s current forces.

And something else. But there were serious and semi-dangerous anti-eavesdropping spells put in place when they talked about that, so they hadn’t had a chance, yet. To figure out what it was. And besides, it’s not been that long.


 

Harry,

Looks like Hermione’s of to Bulgaria for a couple weeks. I guess it’s good she’s getting out of the country, what with what’s happened.

I really do want to tell you more about what’s going on, but, well, we’re under oath. I can’t, and I mean that. Sorry, mate.

I can say we aren’t at the burrow, and I can say where we’re staying is a right mess, a fairly dangerous one, and that you aren’t missing out on much except being frustrated and angry all the time (it’s the house, there’s something about it, nobody here’s in a really good mood, Moony said it ‘exemplifies negative emotions and character flaws’, whatever that means) and that Snuffles is here, and that you should be able to come here really soon.

At least before the summer’s half gone. I don’t know why they’ve stuck you in Privet Drive, with those muggles of yours, after everything, and we’ve been complaining about it. They should let up soon, I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, how’s the HOM essay going? Hermione asked me to ask you, by the way. I haven’t even started mine, and I don’t plan to. It’s summer, not school. It can wait a bit longer.

We can’t write letters often. Never-Our-Actual-Professor is paranoid as all hell. Dumbledore said if he can’t find anyone, he will actually be our professor next year, which will hopefully be good. Fred and George overheard it, so I don’t know how much truth is in that, but whatever.

Well, that’s it. We should be able to send you some food, soon. The Dursleys never give you enough anyway, and Mum’s a right scary woman when she wants to be.

Hermione said you should ‘sign’ letters. So, I guess – whatever. Speak to you soon. Sort of.

Ron. 


 

When Harry shows up, he’s different.

Ron knows it’s not the house – blimey, he knows, he can feel when that insidious, slimy black magic creeps up his spine and makes the hairs stand up on the back of his neck and makes him angry, frustrated, volatile, makes him more quick to jealousy and judgment and all the other shit – insecurity, fear, what have you. There was a tiny, tiny spider – what Hermione calls a ‘money spider’ in his room the other day, and he literally couldn’t move. Ron usually reacted with flight when it came to spiders, he’d admit that, but when they were that small he felt safe enough to react with fight and squash them – but Ron had felt it, that creeping cold, that gross, slimy, dirty dark magic, and he couldn’t move.

The trace didn’t work in here, thank Merlin. Otherwise, the sheer amount of bat-bogey hexes Ginny casts when she’s in that similar dark magic-induced mood would have got he shut away in Azkaban without so much as a by-your-leave. Or a trial.

Speaking of trials.

Harry was back, because he’d ‘performed the Patronus charm in front of a muggle’. Nevermind the muggle was his cousin, nevermind the muggle was fully aware of magic. Never mind that said cousin certainly treated Harry much, much worse than Harry had ever treated him, and the wizarding world didn’t give any single fucks about it, or at least, that’s how it seemed.

Hermione was back now, of course. The both of them honestly wanted to be there, witnesses to Harry’s character – Ginny had near hexed their mum when she’d said she couldn’t go with them, and honestly, Ron had been in one of those dark-moods again, and he’d very nearly done that very thing, but caught himself just in time.

Hermione had had a row with Molly, though. A genuine, proper, angry debate. Hermione had apparently started reading up on wizarding law and legal defence – because of course she had – and she knew a lot more than his Mum, but his Mum was the adult here, so she won by default.

It wasn’t fair. Harry – no matter his current disposition, which Ron was fairly sure wasn’t to do with the house, though it certainly wasn’t helping – shouldn’t have to go alone. Even Dumbledore isn’t saying much of anything on the matter. The man hasn’t been around much since Harry showed up, and Ron’s got an inkling that’s entirely why, and Ron doesn’t understand.

Oh. And there it is again. That creeping cold, crawling up his spine, burrowing it’s way into his brain and settling there, hollow. This is the worst kind. It sneaks up when he’s confused, upset, irrationally jealous, and it makes him think about things. How much smarter everyone else is, how being good at chess means nothing in reality and it’s just another show of his uselessness, how emotionally capable Hermione is because ever since she’s been here, the only signs of the house’s magic affecting her have been the lines between her eyebrows she gets on occasion, how quiet she gets every now and again.

The way the house affects Harry is more obvious. And not in the way you think. It’s affecting him when he gets subdued, beaten down, tired, sad, when he lies awake all night in the bed next to Ron’s own, and Ron can’t fall asleep to the uneven breathing because it’s wrong and it’s too quiet and Harry’s hurt, he’s hurting, but there’s nothing any of them can really do about it.

At least when Harry’s yelling at them he looks alive.

“He’s got PTSD,” Hermione said to him, quiet, one night, after Harry had gone up while Ron was in the middle of a chess game that was, once again, against the other side’s sentient pieces.

“What’s that?” Ron asked.

“Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder,” Hermione said. “It’s obvious if you know the symptoms, and I do. I looked them up.”

Ron nodded, moved his bishop. The pawn he hadn’t really noticed took it, and Ron sighed. He wasn’t paying attention, not really. He hadn’t all summer; Percy had beat him, and Ron had hexed him, and the Twins didn’t even comment once, and that somehow made it worse. He felt volatile, ready to explode, ready to do something drastic. And then it had been gone, and Ron had done more than hex his brother with something like flippendo, he’d actually hurt him, and Ron had been sent to his room in this house that wasn’t theirs and got in his head and in everyone’s head, and Ron sat there, staring at the wall for four hours, and didn’t go down for tea.

“This house isn’t good for him,” Hermione said, tugging at the bottom of her cardigan and worrying at her lip. “No shit,” Ron grumbled, and Hermione didn’t even lightly smack him on the arm, didn’t reprimand him in any way at all, and that was so out-of-character that Ron paused before he moved his night, looked up at her and felt that same churning in his stomach he got whenever she looked like she felt guilty about something.

“I have the choice to just leave,” She said. “And he doesn’t. I – I mean, I never really thought about that before. What it’s like to not have family in your corner if something happens.

“I never really got racist comments,” Hermione said, quietly. She’d explained that to him, once, a while ago. What racism was, and it sounded so much like blood purist rhetoric it made his blood boil. “I guess I just look tanned to most people. And my hair can be explained by my dad, too, as well as my mum.” Hermione shrugged. Much more affected than she looked, obviously, but Hermione was good at that. “But mum is black, and dad is Jewish, and I got flack for the latter once, and he got expelled,” Something flashed across her vision at that, and Ron distinctly had the impression that the two weren’t linked but that the boy had somehow done something worse to someone, at some point. Ron genuinely didn’t understand how people could be like that.

“Yet,” Hermione sighed. “Harry suffered through so much. And nobody ever did anything. They still don’t.”

Ron nodded, quiet. Still don’t. That’s true, really, and it hurts a little, the bluntness of it, because Ron tries to help, but he doesn’t, really. Look at what he did last year, if you want an example.

Hermione narrows her eyes at him, slaps him lightly on the arm. “We do our best,” She says, as if trying to will away any thoughts he had about how little he did anything, either, but the coldness had taken hold again, and that hollow little space the house had carved for itself was back, and Ron didn’t want to hear it. The coldness, or her words, or anything. The cold insidious magic just made him angrier, as if he was trying to burn it out of him, as if the emotion could do anything at all.

She seemed to see it take hold, because she deliberately softened her expression and squeezed his arm lightly before moving back. The space was good, Ron didn’t want to do anything he’d regret.

She didn’t seem to either. When the magic took hold of her, she got a glint in her eyes that sent shivers down everyone’s spines, if they were being honest. She was good at hiding it, but it made her unnaturally quiet, as if she was attempting to hold herself back from something, anything, whatever the house wanted from her. She avoided him then, him and Harry and Ginny and the Twins – especially the twins – and holed herself up in the safe-ish parts of the library.

Ron didn’t really want to know what books the House led her to reading. All of the ones left in the room were grey at best, and that wasn’t always a good thing. Grey was neutral – but neutral had its awful side, too.

It’s called Dark, and everyone believes it’s dark, but the Killing Curse was originally a Grey spell. Invented to give animals a quick and painless death. Used in farming.

Then, of course, someone got the bright idea to use it on a person. The spell was never used again in such simple circumstances.

Ron tried for a smile, and it felt forced, but she returned it – probably just as falsely – and that was fine. Pretending was fine if everyone was doing it.

Ron made his next move, and the pieces put him in checkmate. Ron didn’t register it until he was standing with his wand out, but he blew up the set with an underpowered bombarda.

Oh. If he hadn’t underpowered it… that would have been bad.

Hermione simply repaired the set as much as she could. The pieces were meant to break, so they fixed themselves, but the board had a little crack in it Hermione couldn’t fix.

Bombarda was Grey, too. Dark magic leaves traces, scars, ugly sentient buildings like the one they’re in right now. Light magic leaves traces, and yes, even scars – and protective, sentient buildings. Like Hogwarts.

Grey magic didn’t leave traces. But it certainly left scars. It’s why Grey rituals are the only ritual magic still around. They don’t leave traces. They don’t affect the soul. It is simple magic, and simple incantation. It doesn’t take any real emotion, good or bad, and it doesn’t take anything more than what you deem it requires.

Light magic can mean well. Dark magic can mean the opposite. Both will and have done awful things. Both have done good things, too, because Ron’s not stupid. Harry’s scar is proof of some less-than-legal spellwork, and not that of You-Know-Who’s creation.

Sacrificial magic is Dark magic. But Lily Potter did it anyway. Ron figures the life of your one-year-old child is more important than a mark on your soul. And, she didn’t sacrifice anyone other than herself. That probably counts for something, but either way, that kind of magic isn’t light.

It’d be in those books, the ones upstairs, in the library. Ron wondered if Hermione had read anything about that yet. He forgot, sometimes, that things you knew from having a curse-breaker older brother, a dragon-keeper older brother, and a Dad that’s likely an expert on meddling with muggle artefacts – rather ironically, given his job – made someone like Ron seem smarter than he actually was.

It was just common knowledge, a lot of it. But some of it wasn’t, and Ron figured that meant something. Maybe.

“You should go up,” Hermione said, her voice drifting into his awareness. Ron pocketed his wand. He hadn’t realised he’d spaced out, and now that he thought about it, he really was very tired.

“You should too,” Ron said, a little gruffer than he’d meant. Awkward.

Hermione gave him a little half-smile, and it was more genuine than the last one. He’d take it.

Ron went upstairs, knocked on the door and when he didn’t get an answer, went in. Harry was on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, and he hadn’t changed into his normal clothes yet.

Today had been the trial. Ron dearly wishes he could have gone, maybe. Been there for something. Moral support, if nothing else.

“How’d it go?” Ron asked, because neither of them are asleep and honestly, pretending is more tiring.

“It went,” Harry said, dully. So the coldness had him too, then. It lasted longest, with Harry.

Ron was pretty sure Harry didn’t know about the House’s sentient magic. Nobody really talked about it. But he had to have noticed everyone’s (violent, dangerous, concerning, worrying, all manner of adjectives) mood-swings.

Once, early on, before Ron had built up a proper tolerance, the house had hit him with a wave of everything so quickly that he’d actually felt homicidal. It had been sickening, after, that feeling, that feeling of wanting somebody dead, wanting somebody well and truly as nothing more than ashes, thinking  - no, fantasising, about the ways it could be done.

Someone had stunned him. Ron was pretty sure it was Ginny. Regardless, everyone calmed down after a day or two, and things went back to normal, and that was before Harry’s arrival, and really, he didn’t need to know how weak Ron’s will really was. 


 

Ron was the one to find the locket, first. It didn’t have any enchantments on it, he could feel that. Oh, it was dark to be sure, but it was relatively safe to pick up. The clasp didn’t work and the front, with it’s emerald ‘S’, also proved what that tacky thing was all about.

“Slytherin,” Harry said, when he held it, frowning. His expression was strange, like he was hearing something they couldn’t, like in second-year with the basilisk in the pipes, except this time, there was no snake.

Harry traced the ‘S’ with a finger, and Ron figured Harry didn’t realise he was doing it.

It looked like a snake, to Ron. Slytherin made sense, but – well. Ron figured the man himself must have been very narcissistic, if this was one of those family heirlooms.

“Fits with the extravagance of the Chamber,” Harry said. Ron had never actually seen the chamber. He wasn’t about to ask to go see it.

“It was actually pretty cool,” Harry said, confiding. “If terrifying and gross and full of now-dead basilisk.”

Ron nodded. He took the locket from Harry, and it was heavier than it had any right to be, really.

Ron wondered what was inside.

“Maybe parseltounge would open it,” He said, at the same time Harry says “It feels familiar.”

Ron tightens his grip around the golden object, frowns at Harry in confusion.

“Familiar?” He asked.

“Like I…” Harry hesitated. “Know it. From somewhere.”

Harry frowned at it and absently massaged his scar. Ron turned the locket over, looked for some inscription or something, but there was nothing. It was a locket. One that couldn’t be opened.

“It’s a Dark object,” Ron said, because he could feel it. In his bones. The magic was different to that of the creeping cold of Grimmauld Place, but it was no less insidious. It was harder to find, but living in this house has made it easier to tell his own magic from an intruding presence, and this one was dangerous in ways the Black House’s magic was simply irritating. It was actually downright terrifying, now that Ron was looking for it.

Harry looked pale, much paler than his usual tan. He must have realised the strength of this thing’s magic, he must have, but he wasn’t really looking at it.

He was listening to something, again. Ron couldn’t hear anything, the room was practically silent aside from the surprisingly docile doxies in the curtains (they left them alone if they didn’t go near, and Mum was going to go out for some more stuff you need to get rid of them with a couple escorts soon) and the two teen’s breathing.

“It’s hissing,” Harry said, suddenly. Ron felt they were moving into dangerous territory, here. He tightened his grip on the object and eyed his friend, wary. The creeping cold was tugging at his core, but the – insidious magic of the locket was stronger, and –

The creeping cold felt scared, almost. In a weird, twisted way, it almost felt worried.

Ron threw the locket over to the other side of the room. It smashed into the cabinet and Harry – with his ever fast reflexes – immediately cast a reparo, and the whole thing fixed itself.

They stared at it, then each other, and let out a collective breath they hadn’t realised they’d been holding.

“We should…” Harry gestured, but he was still staring at the Locket – returned to staring at the locket, but whatever.

“Yeah.” Ron agreed, but he found himself not moving. “We should.”

They were saved from doing anything stupid by the arrival of his Mum. She eyed the cabinet with obvious suspicion and the curtains with an equally obvious level of wariness, and then looked to the two of them.

“There was a crash,” She said, frowning at them in worry. “Are you two alright? Ron, Harry dear?”

“Yeah, mum.” Ron said. He glanced at Harry, who shrugged, and nodded.

Liars, the both of them. But – at least, at least Ron isn’t going to mess with the stuff in here without a whole room of people again.

Not happening. 


 

The Locket got thrown out, and Ron frowned at the relief he felt, because it’s not quite his.

The mood-swings lessen, though. From then on out. Ron was pretty sure the object wasn’t cursed to touch, because he didn’t really feel any different, but now it was gone, he wasn’t so sure it wasn’t cursed in general. The place felt lighter, somehow. 

Some people stopped having mood-swings all together. Others didn’t. The last few remaining that were still affected were Harry, Ron himself, Ginny, Hermione, Remus, and Sirius.

Hermione recovered next. Then Remus. Then Ron, then Sirius.

Ron found his sister staring at herself in one of the upper hallway mirrors, leaning on the side table.

“Ron,” She said, seeing him in the reflection. “Ginny,” He greeted.

Ginny looked pale. There were shadows under her eyes that proved she hadn’t been sleeping well. This house wasn’t good for her, either. Wasn’t good for any of them, really. Even if the house’s magic has drastically calmed down since the removal of the Locket.

They’d overheard Dumbledore talk about that in a meeting, actually. Apparently, he’d confiscated it. Whatever he’d done, the Locket wasn’t here any longer.

“I don’t feel like myself.” Ginny says, abrupt, surprising. She doesn’t really talk about things like this with anyone, let alone her emotionally-unaware youngest older brother.

Ron doesn’t say anything. That appears to be what she wanted, because Ginny carries on.

“There was something here.” Ginny said. “Something that felt familiar.”

“The Locket,” Ron said. It had felt familiar to Harry, too, and that can’t be a co-incidence.

“I heard him.” She said, quietly, and she sounded scared. Nothing like the sister he’d grown used to since her ordeal in her first year, nothing like the one he’d known before that whole horrible situation.

“Tom.” She added. Not Riddle, not Voldemort, even, though Ron mentally shivers at even thinking the name.

But Tom. Just Tom.

“Like he was here, still,” She gestured. “In my head. The house-” She shook her head. “I think it was trying to help. In it’s way.”

Trying to block out the noise. Ron hadn’t noticed at the time, but looking back – the house’s magic had burrowed so thoroughly into his self that the Locket had had no way in.

“It didn’t really help much,” Ron said, and Ginny snorted.

“Not even a little,” She agreed. “I nearly – Merlin, I nearly hexed Mum.”

“I hexed Percy,” Ron said, uncomfortable. Percy wasn’t around much, and Ron knew it was only time. Time before he left. Ron hadn’t – he’d noticed his brother reading the Prophet and agreeing, he’d noticed his insane work-hours.

Ron had noticed. Ron’s pretty sure everyone else has, too.

“Percy’s a git, though,” Ginny said.

“I cut his arm open,” Ron said. “Diffindo right down it. Vertically.”

“Oh.” Ginny said. Ron swallowed, uncomfortable.

“Nobody’s been right since we got here,” Ron said. “Harry more than most, though.”

“Me too.” Ginny said. “I’m just better at hiding it.”

She looked at him, through the mirror, and Ron didn’t break eye contact. “Not really,” Ron said. “I mean, I could tell.”

She looked a little relieved at that, and Ron ignored the sting because he knows he’s not that observant. If he can tell, so can everyone else.

“He was never really gone.” Ginny said. “Tom. A little voice in the back of my head, you know? Like people have. Voicing fears and shit.” She frowned at herself in the mirror. “Those little thoughts you might have on occasion which you’re immediately disgusted by.”

Ron nodded. He kind of had that too, except they weren’t young Dark Lords in the making. Harry and Hermione, really, sometimes his Mum, sometimes someone else. People who matter to him. People whose perceptions of him he cares about. People he doesn’t want to let down.

“But then he was back.” Ginny said. “Not as clever. More desperate. But he was there and I thought – I might –”

“You didn’t, though.” Ron said. “You nearly hexed Mum. You didn’t, though. You nearly punched Fred. You didn’t, though.”

That’s important, he figured. That she didn’t. The she held herself back, despite the voice and the magic and the insidious nature of it all, of Tom Riddle, of the dark, creeping cold.

“Yeah.” Ginny said, straightened up. “I didn’t.”

But I did, Ron thought, didn’t say. This – this is about Ginny. She’s gone through far more shit than he has.

“Thanks,” Ginny said, as she passed him by on her way back downstairs. She seems a little lighter, and if Ron felt a little heavier as he stared at himself in the mirror, well, whatever. Maybe it’s cursed, like everything else in this Morgana-be-damned house.