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It was all very strange, to Walda’s way of thinking.

People knew what her Grandfather was- she’d known that since she was a little girl.

“Oh gods, Frey has another one,” they’d say, snickering, as another sad young woman was sent down the aisle to pay some form of debt. They’d mutter to themselves about how he went through wives as they watched her worn away.

The Whitecloaks, the stronger policing bodies among the mages, they knew-without-proving what he was doing.

Draining the life from people he didn’t need, creating an anchor to this world from blood and bone.

It wasn’t a perfect spell, the cooler heads knew- Walda, maybe-Auntie Beth, a few others. Walder Frey, Sorcerer of House Frey, was not a hale and healthy man. But he was willing to share- partially- in the magic with his favorites, cutting it off if they displeased him.

(She was trying to remember how long it has been since Uncle Stevron was allowed a wife.)

Walda didn’t want that for herself, but she knew better than to speak on it. She left her voice to her mother, who snapped and snarled with Old Aerys’ favor in her veins and guarded her younger girl as she could. Her father… she was supposed to obey her father, but how to obey a man who could not remember his commands a moment after giving them?

And it wasn’t as if her life was the never ending slew of misery and dispair that everyone seemed to think life at the Twins was. Yes, there were people whose actions made Walda want to superglue felt donkey ears to their heads. But given the… kind of cult-like thing her grandfather wanted, there was also a ton of very different aunts, cousins, and so on, more normal the farther you got from the central curse.

Ami rebelled by living in the moment, saying that since her life was to be short, since she was to make so few choices, why not seize what she could?

Walda had seen Roose Bolton during her first year of university- Mum’s family was paying what she couldn’t, and working with kids was seen as practical, so it wasn’t something that could be objected to. He was a lawyer dealing with contract law, who stopped at the coffeeshop she worked at.

She was objectively terrible at flirting.

Thankfully, Roose Bolton was a strange enough human being to find her endearing.

Of course, they both knew it wouldn’t go beyond the coffee shop unless her grandfather got involved. Because magic.

She’d learned, though, from watching, and she had a plan. Grandfather was always saying horrible things about needing to support all of his family, and needing new blood. A chance remark to Ami, safely engaged to a Lannister boy she would eat alive, sent her plan in motion. Ami joked about him paying to take relatives away, considering the reputation he cultivated. And it was true, that it was harder for the Freys to get better marriages.

At least, that was how Walda got it, along with the sympathetic looks from Aunt Arwen and Marianne Vance. Because her grandfather had offered the bride’s weight in silver to any mage who would take her.

Roose was naturally reserved, but he carefully tilted his hands when he checked for lingering spellwork, a delicate touch under her chin and at the bottom of her spine.

(She was allowed to coo. Walda Frey was a silly, loud creature, after all.)

She wondered, a bit, how long it took for them to realize that Walda had played them, that the spells placed during the ceremony never took- a potion never drank, a glass pane broken and wrongly repaired, little pebbles, really.

And she settled into the school. Most people thought of her as bright and bubbly, with nothing deeper, and the coworkers who met Roose were deeply startled. (It was a bit funny, really, to watch them. Brienne’s Renly had been especially unsubtle.)

Not everyone- the delicate little seer with her paints and her very, very pointed remarks about how the sort of magic that Walda was good at should not be done near the school, and that the Targaryen would take it amiss if she did.

(Walda… hadn’t originally been planning on using dark magic near the school, though sometimes things happened. But the too-clever eyes and the rumors of what her brother got himself into were enough to make sure that both she and Roose stayed quiet.

Ramsey… well, she had decided after long thought, though it might pain her husband, and though it pained her to disagree so fundamentally so soon after their marriage, she would leave Ramsey to fend for himself. He was a grown man, a danger to any children she might have, and a liability.

The Twins bred a ruthless sort of practicality into a woman.)

But she settled, and if she never truly had the art teacher’s trust, that kept her on the road to dignity, of a sorts, unlike the half-life so many Freys chased.

And there was so much a subtle woman could do, with the right partner…