Ron Weasley -- bored, pissed off, and feeling rather sorry for himself -- is in his bed no later than eight-thirty the last night at school before Christmas holidays. It is, more relevantly, also the night of the exclusive “Slug Club” Christmas party, which is the reason for both Ron’s boredom and his self-pity. It seems to be his lot in life that he is deemed unworthy of anything cool, exciting, or remotely worth having or attending, he muses.
Of course, he does have a girlfriend now, and he could theoretically spend the evening very publicly snogging in the Common Room, but that’s really only theoretically a possibility: Lavender spent most of supper -- an affair at which the lower-than-usual attendance was conspicuous -- bemoaning the length of their Christmas separation. Ron made the hasty but tactically wise decision to invent a bullocks story about having left an “important” but non-specific book in a non-specific classroom and fled the scene before he had a chance to do something completely stupid, such as invite her to visit the Burrow for New Years Eve (which seemed to be what she was angling for).
Having successfully evaded Lavender, though, he is now trapped in Gryffindor tower; she and Parvati have surely returned to the Common Room, so there’s no escape by that route. Ron sighs theatrically, yanks off his tie, and hurls it in the general direction of his trunk. He misses, of course, and it nearly lands in the circular stone fireplace in the center of the room -- wouldn’t that be just perfect? Starting off the holidays with his mother scolding him for destroying another uniform?
As he stands to retrieve the tie, the door to the sixth year boys’ room bangs open. “Your girlfriend’s looking for you,” Seamus Finnigan calls out as he heads to the center of the room to collapse on one of the squashy pillows by the fire, where he and Dean earlier hung their soaking wet cloaks to dry. They were having some sort of snowball-fight-cum-shoving-match on the way back from Herbology that wound up with them both in a snowdrift, laughing, while Harry glared at Dean and Ron pretended not to know why.
“If you’re headed back down,” Ron instructs Seamus, “you haven’t seen me.”
Seamus laughs. “More trouble than they’re worth sometimes, eh?”
“What, girls?” Ron asks. “No joke, mate.”
“Particularly Lavender,” Seamus offers sympathetically.
“Oh, that’s right,” Ron says, understanding dawning. “You two went out for a bit, didn’t you?” He collapses on a pillow next to Seamus.
“Hardly,” Seamus says, rolling his eyes. “I took her to the Yule Ball and then spent the rest of the Christmas holidays dodging her before she finally got the message.”
Ron privately agrees about Lavender’s inability to take a hint, but voicing said agreement seems disloyal, so he merely grunts.
“Harry and Hermione at Slughorn’s party, then?” Seamus asks.
Ron grunts again, glaring into the fire. “They’ve taken Luna bloody Lovegood and fucking Cormac McLaggen.”
This elicits a laugh from Seamus. “They’ve both gone mental, then,” he says. “Dean’s there, too, with --” Seamus cuts himself off, but Ron already knows what he was about to say.
“With my bloody sister, who is suddenly the most social girl in all of Gryffindor,” Ron supplies.
“At least she’s not with McLaggen,” Seamus says.
“True,” Ron agrees glumly. “At least Dean’s…” he casts about for a word that appropriately expresses probably not shagging my little sister and settles on “gentlemanly.”
Seamus laughs in a way that sounds strangely unhappy.
“What?” Ron prods.
Seamus shrugs, so Ron balls up a sock from the screen in front of the fire -- still damp -- and throws it at his head. “What was that laugh about?”
Seamus shrugs again. “Just, he’s had quite a few girlfriends.”
“What?” Ron squawks indignantly, mentally reviewing every girl he’s ever seen Dean talk to and coming up short -- he’s only really ever seen Dean spend time with Seamus. He clearly should have been paying more attention to the scoundrel in their midst. “Who has he bloody dated?”
“No one you know,” Seamus says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Muggle girls. He seems to acquire a girlfriend or two every holiday, since… before fourth year I guess.”
“What?” Ron says again, outraged. “Why did you not tell me this when he and Ginny first started going out?”
“I shouldn’t have told you now,” Seamus says. “He’s going to be right pissed at me.”
Something about that itches at the back of Ron’s mind, but he can’t quite bring himself to pay attention to it when he’s overwhelmed by a host of new and urgent questions about exactly what his sister might be getting up to at this party.
“And exactly what has he been getting up to with these Muggle girls?” he presses.
“Mate,” Seamus says, “you need to relax.”
Ron is not feeling relaxed.
“Oi!” Seamus says suddenly, grinning a maniacal grin which, on Seamus, usually signals an imminent explosion. “I know what you need, mate. What we need.” He crosses over to his trunk, sheds his robes, and returns holding an oddly shaped bottle full of brown liquid which he passes to Ron.”
“Flynn’s Fiercest Firewhisky,” Ron reads. “Is this like Ogden’s, then?”
“Stronger,” Seamus says conspiratorially. “It’s Irish. Dean and I were saving it, but seeing as he’s off at a fancy party and we’re sat here knitting like two old maids...”
“Well,” Ron says, “what the hell.” If it’s going to piss off Dean, he’s game.
“Excellent,” Seamus says, still grinning alarmingly, and he mutters the incantation they learned in Charms this week -- Flitwick’s idea of holiday festivity -- to conjure two goblets. Ron notes that Seamus’s goblets are wooden, with an odd Celtic-knot-looking pattern around them. In class, Hermione’s were clear crystal with etchings around them -- rather like the “special occasions” glasses in the breakfront in Hermione’s parents’ dining room in Oxfordshire that were apparently inherited from a great-grandmother. Ron had thought it was pretty impressive that she could conjure pure crystal out of thin air, but someone from Ravenclaw had said something about them being Muggle goblets and Ron had rather wished he wasn’t in a fight with Hermione so he could tell them off.
His memory is interrupted by Seamus shoving a goblet into his hand, already filled with firewhiskey. “Cheers, mate,” Ron says, knocking his goblet against Seamus’s.
Seamus responds with something that sounds like “slawn-cha,” and Ron chokes a bit on the burn of the whiskey. It’s not his first time drinking -- the twins smuggled him out the One-Eyed Witch passage the weekend of his sixteenth birthday last year and made him drink a firewhiskey in the Hog’s Head -- but Seamus wasn’t kidding: the Irish stuff is stronger.
“What’s that you said?” Ron asks hoarsely.
“What?” Seamus says. “Sláinte? It’s like ‘cheers.’ Means health.”
“Ah,” Ron says. “Slawn-cha, then!” They both take another large gulp and they both -- Seamus included -- cough.
“Er, what are you two doing?” says a familiar voice above them. Neville has apparently returned to the dorm, carrying his robes and with soil on his arms up to his elbows, just below his rolled up sleeves. His face is a mixture of disapprobation and anxiety.
Seamus laughs loudly -- he can’t possibly be drunk yet, can he? Ron wonders. He does weigh about twenty ounces… but he’s Irish! Mum says they practically drink from birth.
“Just in time to join us, Neville!” Seamus exclaims.
“Drinking isn’t allowed in the dorms,” Neville says, shifting his weight between his legs awkwardly. “Or on school grounds at all. By the students. Presumably Hagrid’s allowed.”
Seamus laughs again into his goblet.
“Neville,” Ron says, “it’s high time you broke a school rule.” He grabs Neville’s dirty hand and drags him down to the cushion beside him, which isn’t difficult -- between his seemingly ongoing growth spurt of the last three years and his Quidditch training, he is now much stronger than Neville. With a flourish of his wand, he calls out the charm for conjuring a goblet. It pops into existence in front of Neville, large, pewter, and, to Ron’s mortification, with a large Weasley family crest on the front, weasels and all. Oh well -- at least it has a stem this time. In class, he was so distracted by the Ravenclaws teasing Hermione that he’d only managed a lopsided pewter mug. Seamus obligingly fills Neville’s goblet with firewhiskey.
“This is peer pressure,” Neville says, voice breaking. “This is what Professor McGonagall was talking about in the Upper Years’ Wellbeing Meeting two weeks ago.” Mandatory weekly Wellbeing Meetings are the steep price Sixth and Seventh Years pay for their free periods. Led by the Head of House, they range from the dreadfully dull (Home Economics) to the absolutely mortifying (Sex and Contraception).
“Is that what she was on about?” Seamus asks, taking another sip. “Dean and I were playing Muggle cards in the back row.”
“It’s when you feel obligated to behave in a way you know is wrong because your friends are exerting pressure on you,” Neville informs him.
“Consider yourself officially pressured, Longbottom,” Ron says, lifting Neville’s goblet to his lips and forcing a tiny sip into his mouth.
Neville immediately makes a face and coughs convulsively. “Eurgh, that’s disgusting!” he splutters, and he rises from his cushion to rush to his trunk. He pulls out something dark red in a bottle and takes a swig. “Merlin’s beard,” he says in apparent relief.
“Oi!” Seamus exclaims. “We ought to play a drinking game. Do you two know ‘Never have I ever?’”
Neville shakes his head vigorously, while Ron nods.
“Well, you go around the circle and say something you’ve never done, but that you think someone might have. If you’ve done it, you need to take a drink. If no one in the game has done it, the person that came up with the ‘Never have I ever’ has to drink.”
“That’s stupid,” Neville says. “What’s to stop all of us from just lying?”
A grin spreads slowly across Ron’s face. “Hang on, I’ve got a fix for that,” he says. He crosses the room to Harry’s trunk and digs around the mess of school robes, quills, and Dudley’s hand-me-downs until he feels a familiar cool, round shape. “Ha!” he says, drawing out the pocket Sneakoscope, and he brings it back to the cushions by the fire.
“That thing doesn’t work,” Seamus points out. “Remember it was howling all third year and Harry had to stuff it in a bunch of socks so we could sleep?”
“It works just fine,” Ron says. “It was shrieking third year because we were sharing a dormitory with Peter Pettigrew, who was pretending to be my pet bloody rat.”
“Oh,” says Neville, “I hadn’t quite put that one together.”
“Alright, then!” Seamus says. “Let’s do this.”
Neville sighs in defeat. “Fine. I’ll cave to your peer pressure.”
“Hear, hear!” Seamus and Ron call out in nearly-perfect unison, crashing their wooden goblets together and taking another drink.
“But,” Neville objects, “then you can only drink the whiskey in the game, and you’ve got to eat something too.” Ron remembers that Common Sense When Drinking was covered in the most recent Wellbeing Meeting, presumably also in honor of Christmas. Neville carries the bottle of mysterious red liquid back to the fire along with a baked goods tin. “Raspberry lambic,” he says. “We make it at home. It’s not strong. And chocolate hazelnut cream puffs.”
“Shite, Longbottom,” says Seamus. “You’ve been holding out on us.” He and Ron both eagerly grab a cream puff. Before taking his own, Neville attempts a “Scourgify” on his hands. It has little effect, so Ron takes pity and does it for him.
“I’ll start us off,” Seamus announces. “Never have I ever snogged anyone publicly in the middle of the Gryffindor Common Room.”
“That was weak, Finnigan,” Ron says, but he’s not really bothered, and he gamely takes a swig of his firewhiskey. His goblet is half-empty, now, and he’s starting to feel the effects. Everything is sort of warm and hazy, and the coordination in the hand holding his goblet is a bit off.
“Your go, then,” Seamus says nudging Ron with his foot.
Ron takes a bite of his cream puff, considering. It’s very good, and, though he’s only met the elder Mrs. Longbottom a few times on Platform 9 ¾, she doesn’t strike him as the sort to inhabit a kitchen the way his own mother does. “Never have I ever had a house elf,” he says.
Neville gapes at him, then reluctantly swallows another gulp of firewhiskey and shudders, quickly chasing it with the raspberry lambic to cover the taste. “How the hell did you know?” he asks.
Ron shrugs. “Lucky guess.”
“Christ,” Seamus says. “Dean’s right about you, isn’t he?”
Despite the pleasant firewhiskey haze, at the mention of Dean Thomas Ron’s hackles instantly rise. “Right about what?” he says defensively.
Seamus, who Ron suspects to be already more inebriated than he is, shrugs. “He says you’re dangerous because you pretend to be stupider than you really are.”
Neville laughs loudly. Something about the word dangerous tickles at the back of Ron’s mind again, but he’s too buzzed to really follow the thought. “Neville,” he says, “you have to tell us about your house elf now. It’s part of the rules.”
“She’s not my house elf,” Neville objects. “She’s been at Longbottom Lodge for… more than two hundred years, I think. She’s not like the house elves here. When they get old and live alone, they sort of start to develop a personality.” Ron thinks of Kreacher and Dobby and snorts out a laugh. “She’s called Nod,” Neville says. “She’s very bossy. Won’t take any dinner requests -- she cooks what she feels like cooking and you’d better like it. Won’t let me leave vegetables on my plate or hang any posters in my room -- apparently if it was good enough for whatever Longbottom children grew up there in the eighteenth century, it’s good enough for me. And when I was a kid she used to chase me right out of the house as soon as I was done with my lessons even in the dead of winter because apparently growing boys need fresh air. That’s how I got so good at gardening, actually -- I didn’t have anyone to play with and we have all these walled gardens that had either died or gone wild, so I just sort of… fixed them up all day and then played there with my dog.” Neville stops suddenly, and looks down into his goblet, blushing as though he’s said more than he intended.
It is Seamus who gives voice to the suspicion Ron’s held since second year: “Neville… are you very rich?”
Neville shrugs apologetically. “I suppose,” he says.
“Must be nice,” Ron mutters wistfully, thinking of the useless hand-me-downs in his own trunk. He’s limited to Bill’s childhood cast-offs these days, since he’s now grown taller than Charlie and the twins, which means that in addition to being worn out, his clothes are now painfully out-of-date, since Bill is a million years older than him.
“Not really,” Neville says. “Our house is sort of… sad, I guess. We don’t have any nasty ghosts, but it’s just the two of us and Nod in this enormous place, so most of the rooms are closed off and covered in dust sheets. It could have been nice, I guess, if my parents were still… with us, and had more kids or whatever. But they didn’t, so it’s like everything is… waiting.”
There is a pregnant pause before Seamus breaks in with, “Right, let’s try to avoid depressing questions -- not the point of the game. Neville, your go. Remember, you want to say something that you haven’t done but you think both Ron and I might have.”
Neville considers for a moment, chewing on his cream puff. Then: “Never have I ever seen a Muggle -- what do they call it? The moving picture stories?” He’s looking at the half-Muggle Seamus, who rolls his eyes. “Films, Neville,” he says, and takes a drink. Ron follows suit.
“Ron!” Seamus exclaims in surprise. “When have you seen any films? You’re Pureblood.”
Ron feels his cheeks flush. “I, er, visit Hermione for a week in the summers,” he says, suddenly sympathizing with Neville’s embarrassment at sharing private details of his life.
“What, every summer?” Neville asks.
Ron shrugs awkwardly. “Last three summers, I guess,” he says. “We try to do loads of Muggle things, so we usually go to the cinema once or twice. Last summer we saw this cartoon about some hunchback in a French cathedral and this American action film about aliens invading Earth. It had some cool explosions -- not sure how the Muggles do that without magic. Hermione said it’s down to something called chemicals.” Ron’s never talked to anyone outside his family about his visits to Oxfordshire -- by tacit agreement, he and Hermione have avoided mentioning them to Harry, who would doubtless feel profoundly left out, but who is unavoidably under the Dursleys’ house arrest for all of July every year.
“What other Muggle things have you done, then?” Seamus asks.
“Er,” Ron says. “All sorts, I guess. Mostly we bicycle around Oxfordshire. Not as cool as riding a broom, but it’s fun in its own way. Go punting on the canals -- that’s when you push the boat with a pole that goes in the water, rather than steering with magic. Poke around Muggle shops, but she usually has to drag me out when I get too excited about electric things and make a scene. Last summer we went to this fair at her girls’ primary school and there were all these batty Muggle games. I won a goldfish, but Crookshanks ate it the same night. Dreadful beast.” Through the now-overwhelming warmth of the firewhiskey, he feels the weight of both Seamus and Neville’s attention on him, and cuts himself off. “Finnigan, it’s your go.”
Seamus refills both his and Ron’s empty goblets as he considers his next move. He slurs a bit as he says, “Never have I ever fancied a Gryffindor girl.”
Something about the way his voice lingers on the word girl niggles at Ron, but maybe it’s just his accent, the way the Irish say their R’s. The Sneakoscope bears out his truth anyway.
“I can’t believe that,” Neville groans taking another reluctant drink from first his whiskey and then the lambic. Ron drinks as well.
“Alright, lads, fess up,” Seamus commands, equal parts smug and drunk. “Ron, I assume yours is Lavender.”
“Cheers,” Ron says, raising the bottle of lambic and taking a sip.
“Just Lavender, though?” Neville presses shrewdly.
“Yes,” Ron says boldly.
The Sneakoscope objects with a shrill shriek, and Neville and Seamus descend into raucous laughter.
“Fuck it,” Ron says, now drunk enough that his embarrassment feels vaguely foreign. “Fine. Hermione, a bit, too.” The Sneakoscope quiets. “Dirty trick, Neville,” Ron accuses. “Your turn, now.”
“Ginny,” Neville says miserably. “Fourth year. Sorry, Ron.” Seamus cackles.
“For fuck’s sake,” Ron says. “Must everyone in this fucking dormitory fancy my sister?”
“I don’t, obviously,” Seamus says. “But Dean and Harry both do, mate.” Seamus’s face very suddenly loses the mirth of a moment ago, and that’s when it hits Ron, the pieces falling into place just like the moment in a game of chess when he sees his opponent’s next five moves. Seamus has never fancied a Gryffindor girl. Seamus seems just as irritated by Ginny and Dean’s relationship as Ron and Harry are. He feels dizzy with the sudden rearrangement of the chess board in his mind, a thousand tiny past moments suddenly falling into coherence -- Seamus bragging too loudly about having snogged that Muggle girl over last summer, Seamus avoiding Lavender after the Yule Ball, Seamus leaning into Dean’s shoulder in the Common Room, Seamus never saying no to anything Dean asks or suggests, not ever. Seamus fancies Dean. Ron’s heard about this sort of thing before, primarily in the context of the twins’ ruder jokes and aspersions about Percy, but he never really thought that he’d meet a… a gay person, that he already knew one.
He’s interrupted from his reverie by Neville slapping him on the shoulder. “Ron!” he’s saying loudly.
Ron shakes his head and tears his gaze away from Seamus, whose expression is slowly starting to resemble that of a garden gnome who’s just sensed Crookshanks behind a bush. “Sorry,” Ron says. “I’m getting sort of drunk.”
“No kidding,” Neville says, and Seamus laughs weakly. “It’s your turn.”
And for a moment it’s on the tip of Ron’s tongue: Never have I ever fancied another bloke. But… no. He won’t do that to Seamus. What’s the point to humiliating him when Ron already knows with such certainty that he’s right? He’ll just do what he always does: file the revelation away for later, for when the board has changed and it’s time for his strategy to follow suit.
“Er, never have I ever been in physical fight with my best friend,” he declares, thinking of his falling out with Harry during fourth year -- it had never come to blows.
Seamus drinks. “Fine,” he says. “Dean and I have fought a bunch of times. We had a big one last spring.” When he started dating Ginny? Ron wonders.
“Who won?” Neville asks.
“It was a draw,” Seamus says. The Sneakoscope squeals in protest. “Fine, fine! It wasn’t really a draw!” The Sneakoscope quiets. “Obviously, Dean could pound me any time he wanted to. He could probably knock me out with one good hit. But he’s never really clocked me. Mostly he just dodges or holds me down until I wear myself out.”
Neville laughs, but Ron doesn’t. He’s slotting this new piece of the Seamus-and-Dean game onto the board.
“Your go, Neville,” Seamus says.
“Er… never have I ever snooped through my best friend’s things without them knowing.”
Both Ron and Seamus groan and drink.
“Well, you’ve all just seen me go through Harry’s trunk to get that,” Ron says, gesturing at the Sneakoscope. “It’s hardly the first time.”
“But you’ve never snooped on Hermione?” Neville prods -- of the three of them, he remains the least drunk.
Ron considers denying it, but the Sneakoscope would have him out anyway. “Fine, fine, I have,” he concedes to the laughter of the group. “Nothing too bad, though! I’ve never opened any drawers, but the first time I went to her house I went around looking at everything she had out in her room, on her shelves and walls and dresser and stuff. I’m sure she did the same to me, when she first came to the Burrow.”
“Fair enough,” Neville says. “Seamus?”
“Ugh, this is pretty bad,” Seamus says. “But you know how Dean won’t let anyone look in his sketchbook?”
This is a well-established fact of their dormitory. “You didn’t!” Neville exclaims, sounding scandalized. Perhaps he’s drunker than Ron previously thought.
Seamus shrugs guiltily, his face now thoroughly flushed. “Used to do it quite a lot, actually, but he’s spelled it now so only he can open it, the gobshite.”
“Good for him,” Ron says.
They play through a few more rounds, their laughter becoming increasingly loud and their voices more and more slurred. Ron learns that Seamus has shoplifted “constantly” from a Muggle grocery near his home in Ireland; Neville once shoplifted sweets in Diagon Alley but broke down crying fifteen minutes later and confessed to his gran, who made him return them.
Seamus has driven his father’s truck and motorized fishing boat loads of times, while Ron, of course, has driven the magically modified Ford Anglia. Neville's never driven a vehicle of any kind.
Only Neville and Ron have ridden an animal -- the thestrals at the end of last year. Neville is the only one who can see them: he saw his grandfather die when he was young.
Both Ron and Seamus have had surprise parties thrown for them -- Seamus by his family when he was little and Ron by the twins his first year at Hogwarts and first birthday away from home. Neville’s gran apparently observes his birthday with a minimum of fanfare.
Seamus has never traveled outside of Great Britain and Ireland; Ron, of course, went to Egypt once; Neville has been to dozens of different countries -- apparently he and his Gran go on a trip every spring. This holiday, they’re going to Istanbul.
Ron has “dined and dashed” with his older brothers before, and Seamus has with Dean, but Neville never has.
By the time the bottle of firewhiskey is empty, Neville has stumbled back to his four-poster and buried himself beneath his blankets. Ron and Seamus cannot manage to rouse the energy to do the same, and when Ron passes out, sprawled before the fire on several cushions, Seamus has curled himself into a tight ball and fallen deeply asleep.
Some indeterminate amount of time later, Ron is roused from his uncomfortable slumber by an East London accent exclaiming, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Seamus.” He cracks an eye to see Dean, standing before them by the fire in his dress robes, looking down at Seamus with poorly masked amusement. (Dean has a dreadful poker face, because even when he affects a scowl, if he’s really pleased, his dimples still show. Ron has used this knowledge to thrash him at Exploding Snap several times.)
As Ron watches, Dean bends down, scoops Seamus up, and carries him like a child over to his four poster bed. It doesn’t look difficult -- Seamus has yet to achieve anything resembling a growth spurt, while Dean is the tallest Sixth Year in any House and, in fact, possibly taller than all the Seventh Years as well. He lays Seamus gently atop the coverlet, carefully removes his tie and shoes, and then grabs his own West Ham football blanket from his trunk to cover him.
Ron has a sudden flash of memory. Last year, in the hellish month before O.W.L.s, he fell asleep in the Common Room revising and was half-woken when he felt someone tug an unfinished essay from under his elbow. Then there was the tell-tale scratching sound of a quill by his head, and he opened one eye just enough to see that Hermione was finishing the last few sentences of his Transfiguration essay’s concluding paragraph for him. Not wanting to discourage her, he continued to feign sleep, and, just before she disappeared, she brushed her fingers through his overgrown fringe, pushing it back away from his closed eyes. Her hand lingered there in his hair for what seemed like a really long time, and he got this feeling in his stomach sort of like he’d run to the top of a staircase only to have the stairs change their mind about where they wanted to be and lurch him away from the landing and into the open air.
“You’re making it worse for him, you know,” he mumbles. “Doing things like that.” He regrets the remark as soon as it’s passed his lips, and he’s not even all that drunk anymore, so he really has no excuse.
Dean freezes beside Seamus’s sleeping form and throws Ron an uncharacteristically sharp look.
And suddenly Ron is wide awake. Dean knows. He already knows.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, mate,” Dean says slowly. (But he does!) “But shut the hell up.” He yanks the curtains of Seamus’s four-poster closed with a vicious swish of his wand, as if to shield Seamus from Ron’s knowing gaze.
“Right,” Ron breathes quietly. As Dean grabs his toilet kit and stomps off to the Upper Years boys’ bathroom, Ron is left to contemplate the surprising revelation that he doesn’t, in fact, have the most complicated or frustrating social problems of any sixth year boy.