Harry's blood money is a godsend for the twins, and it's also the source of what comes between them that summer. They hide it really well at first - around the house it still seems as if it's nothing but FrednGeorge against the world. Bangs and noises nonstop in their makeshift lab of a bedroom all day long, and then loud yelling that echoes down stairwells until Molly stomps past to clatter her pots and pans in anger, leading to a dinner that tastes good but leaves a burning sensation on all their tongues.
Ginny is unbearably clumsy this summer, more so than ever; dropping her cutlery so often that Ron is sick of her bobbing head. Finally, he can't stand it anymore, dives for her knife one night when he sees it slipping out of her fingers, her mouth moving into an automatic 'o' of distress. Slithering down his seat to the tangle of legs below, and Ron's eyes catch movement to one side while he's under the solid wood table: a matched set of hands clasped together, one set of fingers sliding over the other in a grip that turns skin red, and white. He comes up silent and hands the knife to Ginny, forgetting to say anything about her bad habit as he had been meaning to. Ron keeps his eyes trained on the surface of the table for the rest of the meal. She doesn't let anything else fall from her hands the whole night. He wonders.
But. The money. Weasleys that finally have money and a lot of it to boot - they have plans to use the whole lot to set up shop, and they have no idea what to with it at all. Ron only knows this apparent contradiction because he passed by their bedroom late one night and discovered the door no longer latched tightly. He meant to go down to the kitchen for a new candle so he could continue reading the surprisingly interesting text set by Professor McGonagall over the holidays, but their arguing voices stopped him in his tracks. He doesn't think he's ever heard the twins disagree before, so he stays, quietly, out of curiosity.
It's freaky, at first; their voices hold similar timbre in his ears - he's never been too good at telling them apart by sound - so it sounds like one person fighting with themselves.
"I thought you wanted this too, that's why I've been making plans, it's not that you haven't been discussing this with me all last year!"
"We weren't making plans, we were daydreaming…"
"And now we have the means of making them come true!"
The first speaker has an angry intensity in their voice, and when they break off abruptly, having made their point, there's a creak of floorboards that comes closer to Ron still by the door. He tenses, ready with an excuse or to give in to the impulse to flee, but then they stop pacing and a softer voice, the second one, pleads, "Please, Fred, don't be like this, not to me."
Now that Ron knows vaguely of what is going on, who is who, he leans as close as he dares and strains to listen, but all that's left is soft rustling and murmurs. Ron thinks, quickly in succession, they must have made up, maybe they're thinking of ideas for their shop, new products. He walks away slowly, thinking that maybe he should be more wary about where he walks and what he takes from the twins in the days ahead. He hopes that things are back to normal.
A few days later, a letter arrives attached to a wonderfully bright parrot that soared away as a dot of colour after its delivery. Lucky Hermione on another overseas trip, Ron thinks with a pang as he rips open the envelope. That night, sucking on a sugar quill trying to think of something interesting to write back, he hears hissed whispers from the twins' room again, the same few seconds of confusion of argumentative tone of two in one voice. He doesn't go and eavesdrop this time, turns back to the empty parchment in front of him and writes painstakingly about everything else. But at breakfast the next morning, one of the twins lifts his head from nibbling at his toast to look at him, and says brightly, "Hey Ron, it's a nice day, you want to go flying?"
Ron thinks it's nice of George to ask - well, at least he think it's George. He sneaks a sideways look just under the right of the collar of the t-shirt the twin has on, to the cluster of freckles, and he remembers the family joke that George stole his fair share from Fred. Ron think again that it's nice, except that it's obvious the twins aren't talking to each other and can't wait to get away from each other. He jumps at the offer anyway. Mum doesn't let any of them fly alone, no matter how good Ron's getting and she only yells at him when he tries to prove it to her by turning lazy loops over her head. It doesn't work, she doesn't budge. There's no one else to support his arguments either - Ginny hates flying, would rather stay inside, and the twins have never had to worry about this rule before.
George grabs Fred's broomstick roughly from its place in the shed and hands it to Ron, who begins to say that they haven't asked permission, but George silences him with a defiant look. Not that Ron would really complain, because otherwise he'd have to use Charlie's old Comet, and that's about two models older than the twins' which means it's about forty times slower than any current broomsticks on the market. Ron know this because he spent a whole day last week exchanging owls with Harry, dreaming about owning a broom from the Quidditch magazine Sirius sent for Harry's 15th birthday, until Hedwig came back with a forlorn scrap of note that said the Dursleys had threatened to shoot Hedwig if she didn't stop flying from their house in broad daylight, in front of all the neighbours.
It's actually a really fun day. George gives him some tips, patiently watches Ron fly laps of the meadow so he can work out how to correct the strange left lean that threatens to dump the younger boy from the broom at times. Once Ron's grip fails and he's falling through the air, too scared to scream. George zooms over in a moment and supports him deftly until Ron is back on, shaken. George bosses him like the older brother they usually both forget he is, makes Ron come back down to earth until his breathing slows to normal; but Ron likes him all the more for letting him get back on as soon as Ron thinks he's ready to fly again.
But back at the Burrows, things are still miserable. The twins are awkward around each other for the first time in forever, and they cope with it badly. They snipe badly over the crumpets at breakfast, argue over which channel to tune the wireless too even though they both want to hear the same thing but won't admit it, tease Ginny mercilessly at different times until she runs to Molly in reluctant tears. Frazzled, she forces a truce then, separates them for hours on end as much as she can with chores at opposite ends of the house, and she takes their wands so it has to be all done manually. Ron knows there's a carton of joke wands that would allow for at least some reprieve from the hard work, but neither of them will relent and use them.
In an unspoken agreement, Ron and Ginny each pick a twin to cheer up or at least distract. Ginny spends her days reading by Fred's side, telling him silly jokes in a shy voice but he laughs all the same, even though it doesn't hold the same boisterous warmth as she's used to. Meanwhile, Ron asks George to go flying with him four days in a row "to improve his chances of getting on the Quidditch team at school", until George goes straight from the breakfast table one morning to the shed and is waiting for Ron with the matching broom, shoving the last of his toast into his mouth around an awkward grin. They settle into a comfortable routine, and George seems more cheerful again, and this time his laughter is just for Ron - out on the fields when the colander they've magicked to stand in for the quaffle collects one confused magpie, or under the grove of trees where they rest after being tired out from another rough and tumble game of chase up in the skies, eating the sandwiches Molly makes without comment, without fail, every night.
Ron knows George isn't entirely happy with this arrangement, even though he seems to enjoy these days together. He doesn't know how to fix things, as if it's up to him anyway, but George solves it for him over lunch one day. Staring up at the heavy canopy of leaves, he rolls over on the grass suddenly until he's leaning over Ron, one arm braced by his side, then kisses Ron without warning. Hard press of his slightly rough lips and Ron can't breathe, or else he would reach up and push his brother away in disgust, he would. But he can't help but note that George smells like a good game of Quidditch, nothing left of the soap clean he imagines girls to be like, and tastes of the chocolate they just shared deep in the corners of his mouth. It was a block from a successful experiment a month ago, the twins elated at casting an enchantment that allowed the eater to change the chocolate to the flavour they liked best, just for the moments it lasted in their mouths before melting to plain cocoa in the back of their throats. George likes peppermint in his, Ron knows now.
Without words, George takes encouragement from Ron's nervous kisses in return and gently folds him to his knees, placing Ron's large shaking hands on his own hips and guiding Ron's faltering mouth across the fabric of his trousers. He leaves his hands knotted in the red that matches his own, just short of tight. Ron jerks away when George comes, a dribble of white in the corner of his mouth that George kisses away along with the dazed shock.
They fly home silently as the light fades, their brooms never more than a metre apart; but Ron lands first, heavy on the neat lawn, and runs in through the back door only to meet Molly ready to rouse on them for being late home. She makes a noise of frustration as her eyes rake over Ron, and he follows her annoyed gaze down, to the mud on his shoes, the patchy grass stains on his knees. Before she can launch into a full force talking-to, Ron blurts out the first excuse in his mind.
"I fell from the broom, mum, that's all. George was there, he made sure I was OK, I'm alright."
It's not a real lie if it's happened before. Molly looks torn between worried and an inappropriate smugness for a moment, before settling for taking the ruined trousers from him and saying with a rather righteous air, "See, I've told you as much. Imagine the trouble you would have been if you'd been alone!" Ron doesn't answer but runs up the flights of stairs to his room, blushing all the way with her last remark in his ears. As he rounds the last corner, he almost runs into Fred, tousled head peering from around his door. Ron halts abruptly, inches away from Fred's seemingly amused interest, and mumbles hi before continuing on his way. Fred doesn't reply.
Ron hides out in his room for the next few days. It's quite easy to do - he only has to mention the O.W.L.s and hold a book in front of his face like he's used seeing Hermione do, and the family knows to stay out of his way. Only Ginny comes up to see him once, a mug of hot tea in her little hands. She sits on his unmade bedspread and watches the players zoom from one poster to the next on his walls, following them across the ceiling and around until she looks nauseous and falls asleep. Ron catches up with the work he's behind in, the assignments he thought he'd never attempt until a day or two before school started again. It's an entirely boring existence. He wonders how his mum is keeping the twins occupied without the help of him or Ginny, but not for long; he finally finds a use for the theory of an universal antidote because the long twisting sentences of the potions text keeps him from really thinking about what, who, he is trying to avoid.
Ron is surprised one morning to be woken by a steady knocking at his bedroom door. Rubbing his eyes sleepily, he opens the door to one of the twins, and a wave of guilt washes over him again. But his brother seems unaffected; in a friendly voice, he asks if Ron's sick of the studying yet, if he wants to go flying again. Ron knows it's a bad idea. He grabs a shirt and changes out of his pyjama top on the way down to breakfast, eating too quickly and he feels a stabbing pain in his left side soon after. They leave the house barely fifteen minutes since Ron woke, landing just metres away from the spot where George kissed Ron for the first time, and Ron can't help but stare to see if anything seems different there now, any evidence.
"Ron." His brother is behind him suddenly, wrapping one arm across his chest and leaning warm on his back. He starts, but stays encircled in those strong arms covered in familiar tanned skin, which reach for him, turning him around so they can kiss hungrily. The flight to the field takes barely five minutes, and so early in the morning the weather is cool enough that neither of them have really broken a sweat. Ron slips under those wandering hands with a moan, pressing back even as he realises that it feels different this time. There's an inviting gap between his brother's shirt and skin near his neck, and Ron dips his nose to inhale against there, bussing his lips across the light ridge of bone, pushing the material aside. Clear clear skin, pale from being hidden from the sun all summer, and Ron glances upwards with a jolt of panic in his eyes.
Fred looks down calmly. He knows the game is up by the sudden reluctance in Ron's eyes, but he holds Ron in place with a strong grip on his shoulders, a quick shove so the younger boy is on his knees.
"Don't pretend you don't know what to do." Fred's voice is hoarse, and strange. Ron stares back, defiant, calves tensed to stand up again and walk away from this mess. But then Fred hisses, "I saw you with him last week," and Ron sits back on his heels in shock. He reaches up blindly with his hands to the clasp of Fred's belt. Ron smells the freshly cut grass, the imminence of rain in the air; shuddering as he swallows the bitterness gamely, Fred's hand still tight on his shoulder and fingers digging sharp into his back.
The rain comes and washes the rest of that week, pale and sickly, into the next; Ron sits in his room and mopes and tries to forget one twin and avoid thinking of the other, round and round until he could almost forget which one was first and which one felt better in his mouth. On the day the sun reappears, George dashes out in the last drops of the sunshower to retrieve both broomsticks from the shed. He asks and Ron says yes, knocking himself into the corner of the dinner table at the same time. Up the hill and down to the grove; it's still a cold day and Ron has an entirely miserable session of Quidditch skills practice and aimless flying. He hates being up in the air, something he's not felt before, and the realisation of it makes him sick to his stomach, churning and painful. Down on the ground, finally, and George is smiling at him, a block of chocolate in his outstretched palm. Ron opens his mouth to say no. He changes his mind and kisses George angrily instead, George kissing him back ferociously, until they drift into soft touches of cold hands under their jumpers and the dizzy feeling from their hot mouths licking into each other.
Crazy, I've gone crazy, Ron thinks and moves his hand below the waistband to cup George through his pants. In the gasp of his response, George says, "Oh!" and "I saw you with him last week." Ron freezes. He feels cold in the tips of his fingers, through his socks and where their bodies are still touching. It's crazy all right, crazy like déjà vu except it really did happen last week and it's happening now. He takes his hand out of George's trousers and presses them, palm down, into his own thigh.
"I'm sorry," Ron says, head bowed, not looking at his brother. It's such a stupid thing to say now, so now he's crazy and stupid, he thinks hysterically in his head.
"Don't be," George replies, a surprising answer in a surprisingly reasonable voice. "We've always wanted the same things, I guess." Ron can hear that George is sad about this in some way. He's also certain now that it's never going to be up to him to fix that. He holds out his arms anyway, and George hugs him gratefully, arms wrapped tightly around his middle and face buried in the side of his neck.
Ron never hears or sees the twins apologise and make up, but two mornings later the loud bangs and suspicious smells start up again from their room. Molly shakes her head and tuts loudly when they brush carelessly past her in the hallway, but she smiles after them and the first four times they trick her with one of their pranks she keeps her cool. The fifth, well, the twins' dinner that night is burnt to almost black ash, and they are set the task of washing up. They chatter and laugh all night in front of the sink despite the fact it is a punishment, soap suds around their elbows and cutlery whirring back into their places in the drawers after they've been dried. Wandering past their open door one sunny morning, Ron sees they've made more space by pushing their beds together. In one corner is a new piece of furniture, really a second hand bench they wheedled out of the elderly witch down the lane for five sickles less than her asking price. They talk in a second language of their own, excited conversations of where they can buy a shop, what they're going to stock, what preparation they'll need to do to market their own products.
There's a secret language too, the one they use when they're in bed. Ron sits by their door one night, slightly ajar and still not fixed, and listens to one voice rise and fall, reassuring the other that they belong together; a crooning satisfied song. Ron still can't tell which twin is which, but he feels his chest tighten. There's a taste of mint in the back of his throat, bitter and cool.