Don't Let's Start

Don't don't don't let's start,
I've got a weak heart,
and I don't get around, like you get around.

~ Don't Let's Start, They Might be Giants

Draco was highly disgruntled and he glowered across the aisle at his companion, making sure the redhead knew it as well.

Honestly, he didn't need a stupid escort, least of all a Weasley one. It wasn't as though he was going to go completely nutters and try to escape, with most likely five dozen undercover Aurors stationed about the train, just waiting for him to make a wrong move.

Apparently, ex-suspected-Death Eaters weren't allowed to live peaceably in Muggle London. There must have been some sort of law that he wasn't aware of. One that was bent on making sure Draco was miserable until the end of time.

He let out an exaggeratedly annoyed huff and glared some more at Ron Weasley. "I want my lawyer present," he stated stiffly for the third time since they'd left the station.

"Fuck, Malfoy, stop being so bloody paranoid. You're not under arrest. I could care less what evil activities you're up to, all right? Kingsley asked me to fetch you and I've fetched you." Draco opened his mouth, but Ron cut him off. "I don't know why he suggested Muggle transport and, no, there aren't any poorly disguised Aurors hidden on the train. It's just you and me, okay?" Ron shoved a hand through his hair. "Merlin, you're annoying."

"I don't do evil anymore," Draco muttered petulantly.

"Whatever, Malfoy." He couldn't wait to get Draco out of his hair. Kingsley owed him big time; not only for babysitting Draco, but also for all the work he'd missed trekking into the Ministry. He'd finally been making some headway with Geoffrey.

They fell silent and Ron leant his head back, closing his eyes with a pained sigh, while Draco resolutely stared out the window at the passing scenery.

He hated Ron. Hated, hated, hated the hotheaded git. That he'd apparently grown into his height nicely over the years only served to feed his ire. Ron's ginger hair was cropped short, a look that suited him far better than his long-fringed shag from school. His skin was a shade darker, as if he'd spent years in the sun, although he still sported those horrid freckles across the bridge of his nose. The Muggle clothing he was wearing hugged his broad frame to perfection, and Draco couldn't help but acknowledge that while his own clothes were more stylish, they tended to drape elegantly across his slight body, emphasizing his lack of bulk.

Draco was somewhat bitter that he was still the same stature he'd been at Hogwarts, the same slim build and pointed, delicate features. He was pretty. Disgustingly pretty; which did have its advantages, of course, and at least he wasn't hideously deformed, like Scarhead Potter, but he was far too fragile looking than he cared to be.

Draco was also somewhat cranky, obviously, since the Weasel had shown up at his door before he'd been able to consume his second cup of coffee… and before he'd brushed his hair and changed, thus affording Ron a rare glimpse at a disheveled Malfoy, complete with fluttering snitch and broom pajamas.

Recalling his complete embarrassment that morning, Draco pressed his lips together in defiant silence as they finally disembarked at the station, and made their way to the Ministry via the Leaky Cauldron, although Ron didn't seem to care. He merely shrugged and greeted Tom affably, then strolled casually through Diagon Alley as if it was perfectly normal to stroll casually with Draco Malfoy; as if it was utterly natural for the man to walk about with a pretty blond at his heels. The thought nearly caused Draco to gnash his teeth.

Ron, however, was secretly enjoying Draco's speechless snit, since he tended to forget how gorgeous Draco was when he didn't open his fat mouth. Never let it be said that Ron couldn't appreciate beauty for beauty's sake. It wasn't Draco's fault that his personality didn't match his hair.

He smiled a very small smile, thinking that the sleepy-eyed, mussed Malfoy he'd stumbled upon that morning had been the most appealing thing he'd seen in years. Which was, when he came right down to it, a truly horrifying thought. Ron really needed to get out more.

At the Ministry, a dreadfully sour-faced witch checked over their wands and let them into the building with minimal fuss. Draco noted that Ron seemed to have been right; they weren't treating him differently than any other visitor, and he relaxed minutely. He hadn't realized before how tense he'd been; being held for questioning at the Ministry was never a fun thing.

"This way," Ron said, finally breaking the silence and leading him to the lifts.

Draco followed dutifully, trying to lengthen his strides to keep up with Ron, scowling daggers at his back. An abnormal amount of people seemed to have decided to head towards the same lift and he was jostled aboard, pressed uncomfortably against Ron's side. Well, not entirely uncomfortably, but it was unsettling just the same. He realized he was at eye level with the Ron's mouth and once again cursed his slim figure.

He breathed an inaudible sigh of relief when the doors opened and Ron pushed his way out of the crush, Draco making good use of his wake and rushing after him.

The plaque by the door at the end of the hall read "Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tenth Division Auror," with a scrap of parchment stuck in between his name and position that had the words "Sexy Bastard" scrawled on it in bright red sparkly letters.

Ron knocked sharply and was rewarded by a snappy, "Come in."

"Ah, the reclusive Mr. Weasley," Shacklebolt greeted them as they stepped into his office. "And I see you've brought Mr. Malfoy. Excellent."

"What's going on?" Draco demanded immediately, ignoring the man's gesture for him to sit.

Kingsley tapped his fingertips on his desk. "It's come to our attention, Mr. Malfoy," he said, voice grave, "that your father may be trying to kill you."

"My father's dead," Draco said stiffly.

"Well, the thing of it is… he's not."

"I really hate to ask what I'm doing here," Ron murmured apprehensively, dropping into a seat in front of Kingsley's desk.

"What do you mean he's not dead?" Draco shouted shrilly. "Of course he's dead!"

Ron winced. "Calm down, Malfoy."

Draco hated the way his heart sped up and the way his palms and upper lip broke out in a cold sweat. His father was dead. He'd had proof of it, hadn't he? Although… "Crabbe's an idiot," he ranted, tugging at the ends of his hair. "I gave him one job, one job to do, and that was to make sure Father was dead. And of course he fucked it up. It's Vincent Crabbe, King of All Fuck-ups."

Ron's lips quirked up. "I suppose I've been dethroned, then?"

"What? What are you talking about?" Draco asked, pacing the office nervously. "You, Weasley… you're not a fuck-up. You've got a damn Merlin First Order—" He paused and clamped his mouth shut, suddenly aware of what he'd been saying. He'd been complimenting a Weasley. That just wouldn't do.

"Nice to know I'm appreciated," Ron said, enjoying watching Draco squirm.

Draco felt his face heat up and he narrowed his eyes at Ron, scowling to cover his discomfiture. "What the hell are you here for? Are you going to go hunt him down?"

Ron's face shuttered, all amusement leeching from his blue eyes, and he said flatly, "I don't do that anymore." He turned to Shacklebolt. "What's this really about?"

The Auror shifted uneasily in his seat and cleared his throat. "I can't spare any men at the moment, Weasley, and your place would really be ideal…" He trailed off, looking hopeful.

Ron cursed and dropped his head into his hands. "Come on, Kingsley, no one else? I've got the twins coming next week."

Kingsley grimaced. "With luck it'll all be wrapped up by then. We've some leads, and Potter and Creevey have gathered an excellent team."

Ron slanted a glance at Draco, who'd been strangely quiet up until the mention of Harry, which had warranted a soft snort. The man had his back to them, his hands clasped behind him, but there wasn't any doubt in Ron's mind that he'd been listening closely. "What do you think, Malfoy?" he asked, resigned.

Draco's shoulders tensed and he shifted around to glare at him. "Oh, so I'm allowed to voice an opinion about this fiasco?"

"For what good it'll do," Ron muttered.

"I propose that I go back to my flat and carry on as usual."

"Not an option," Kingsley said, frowning. "I'm afraid if Weasley won't take you we'll have to arrange for another safe house."

"If Weasley won't take me? What am I, a bloody stray?"

Ron chuckled and Draco sent him an icy glare. "Sorry," he said, grinning widely at Draco. "It's just that, I'm sort of in the business of taking in strays."

"So you'll do it?"

Ron hadn't actually agreed, but there really wasn't much of an option. He was qualified, he was available, and if Draco kept his mouth shut and stayed out of his way, he'd have something pretty to stare at for a few days. Plus he had a feeling this whole situation would piss Draco off. Ron nodded and sent Draco what he hoped was an evil smirk.

"Well, that's just fine, then. Just fine." Kingsley leaned forward to shake Ron's hand as they both rose from their seats. "I'll send a team by to double your wards."

"No need," Ron said, hands in his pockets. "I'll do it myself."

"Of course, of course," Kingsley said, nodding happily. "Well… I suppose you should be off. I'll have someone check in with you in a few days, give you a heads up on the investigation."

"By the way, Kingsley," Ron smirked as he followed Draco out the door. "Congratulations on your promotion. Sexy Bastard."

Kingsley grinned at him. "Step up from last time you were here, eh?" The nameplate tampering was a running gag in the Tenth Division; which Kingsley, good-natured as he was, always took in stride.

The ex-Auror shook his head and chuckled, exiting the office to find Draco pouting in the hall, scuffing his shoes on the carpet. "You look about twelve when you do that," he commented, unwittingly digging at Draco's sore spot.

Draco scowled darkly at him. "I'll need to go home and pack."


"Oh, for the love of…" Draco let out a growl and stalked over to the slim, young maple that grew to the right of his apartment building's front stoop.

Ron watched, bemused, as Draco reached for a branch and swung himself into the tree, black trousers pulling taut across his arse as he wrapped his legs about it and maneuvered into a sitting position. Walking closer, he gazed up into the leafy branches at Draco, who was coaxing, in a surprisingly soft voice, a black and white cat towards him.

"Erm… Malfoy?"

"What?" he hissed, arm stretched out as far as it would go as the cat mewed piteously at him.

Ron didn't bother asking why Draco was rescuing the small cat from the tree - who knew why the man really did anything? – but he was curious about his methods. "Why don't you just use your wand?"

Draco practically crowed in triumph as he wrapped his hands around the recalcitrant feline. "Because, Weasley," he explained impatiently, "we're in a Muggle district, and right now, Mrs. Corbet across the street is busy ringing Mrs. Tynsdale two houses down, gossiping about how that dear Mr. Malfoy was playing knight errant to a kitten's damsel in distress."

Ron's brows rose. "'That dear Mr. Malfoy'?"

"Believe it or not, most people find me charming," he snapped. "Now, are you going to help me here?" Draco swung his legs back and forth.

Ron gazed up at him blankly.

"Take the cat, Weasley," Draco said, rolling his eyes.

With an odd half-smile, Ron reached up and grabbed the cat, which'd started yowling indignantly, watching as Draco hopped down to the ground with a soft ‘ oof.'

The cat struggled in Ron's arms, clearly upset, and Draco cooed a bit to calm her down, lifting her gently back out of Ron's arms before sweeping up the steps and into the building.

Ron followed curiously, openly admiring Draco's bum again as he crouched down in front of a door marked ‘A1.'

Flipping the welcome mat back, Draco recovered a key, muttering, "Crazy old bat," as he let himself into the flat, although there wasn't any rancor in his tone. "Miss Laura?" Draco called, dropping the cat unceremoniously onto the couch. Spotting an open window, he slammed it shut and shouted louder, "Miss Laura!"

"Maybe she's not here?" Ron offered , grinning as Draco sent him a glare.

Draco knew very well that there wasn't much that would drag his elderly neighbor, who spent the bulk of her time penning scathing letters to various newspapers, out of her flat. A small knot of worry settled in his stomach as he reached her bedroom. What if something had happened to the old bird? "Miss Laura!"

"I hear you, boy, no need to shout." The old woman, short white hair flat on one side of her head and housedress rumpled, came ambling out of her study, ink stained fingers rubbing at her eyes. "Must've drifted off for a minute."

"You left your window open again," Draco chided.

"Cherry got out, eh? Well, at least you got her back."

Draco rolled his eyes. "You can't just leave it open without a screen, Miss Laura."

The woman waved a hand dismissively. "She never goes far, does she?"

"Sooner or later she'll figure out how to get down out of that tree," he pointed out.

Miss Laura chuckled and patted Draco's shoulder. "You worry too much," she said, then spotted Ron standing just inside the door, hands stuffed into his pockets. "And who's this nice looking young man?" She grinned widely and shuffled towards him, hand extended.

"Ron Weasley," Ron said politely. "Nice to meet you, madam."

"Laura Anne Burr," she said, glancing him over, eyes narrowed shrewdly. "But everyone calls me Miss Laura. You're a bit different than the other blokes Draco brings by."

Ron's eyes widened and he shifted to look at Draco, who was sporting a pained expression, fingers pressed just above his left eye. "Yeah?"

"Pansy boys, the lot of ‘em." She squeezed his bicep and winked. "You'll do, though." She leaned in close and whispered dangerously, "You hurt him and I'll rip your lungs out."

Ron would have felt slightly embarrassed if he hadn't noticed that Draco was clearly mortified, looking anywhere but at him. "Don't worry," he replied easily, "I'll take good care of him." It wasn't exactly a lie, after all, since that was basically what Kingsley had asked him to do. On impulse, he added, "I'm taking Draco away for a few days. Would you mind watching his flat?" Ron ignored the choking noise coming from Draco and smiled winningly at Miss Laura.

"That's just fine," she said, walking back to Draco and patting him lightly on the cheek. "Be good, boy."

"I hate you," Draco snapped as they stepped out of Miss Laura's flat. "Hate you with a fiery passio…um…"

"Hellooo, Draco dear!" A plump, smiling woman waved down the corridor at them. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

"You're absolutely right, Mrs. Finn," Draco greeted her, nodding his head. "I hope you enjoy it."

"Malfoy," Ron leaned down to whisper, "do you realize you're surrounded by old ladies?"

Draco sneered at him, walking across the hall to his own apartment. "I live here, don't I?"

"I don't know why…"

"It's pleasant, it's calm, it's peaceful. I'd think you of all people would appreciate that."

"I don't have to live among the elderly to feel peaceful," Ron commented.

Draco gritted his teeth and headed for the bedroom. "I had an appalling childhood."


"I don't know why I'm telling you this," he snapped, yanking his trunk of the closet, "but I find them comforting. As if they were my grandmothers; although my real grandmother was a complete and total cow." Neatly, he started folding his clothes inside the luggage. "She always smelt of rum, too, and smeared lipstick on her teeth. I suspect she didn't have a full grasp on reality."

"Or your father drove her to drink."

"Shut it, Weasley."

Ron rubbed his chin. "Couldn't have been much better than you as a child."

"Weasley," Draco growled a warning without pausing his packing.

"Heard your grandfather was no peach either."

Draco gave an inarticulate snarl.

"So you can't really blame her. It was a matter of circumstance."

"I'm not talking about my family with you, Weasley."

"Hey," Ron said, palms lifted defensively, "you brought it up. I was simply exploring possible reasons for your grandmother to be a drunkard."

Draco stood and stalked towards him. "Well if we're going to talk about dysfunctional families, Weasel, then yours takes the cake."

"Don't," Ron bit out, blue eyes narrowing dangerously, "say one word about my family."

"Oh, but you should be so proud," Draco went on unheeded, mocking grin wide. "I heard it took five Aurors to take Percy down. Quite the feat."

Ron lashed out and fisted a hand over Draco's shirt collar, twisting the fabric and lifting him neatly to his eyelevel, leaving Draco scrambling for purchase with his toes. "What part of don't say a word did you not understand?"

Draco made a pained wheezing sound in response and wrapped his hands around Ron's wrist. "Weas…"

Realizing he was well on the way to strangling Draco to death, Ron abruptly released his hold. Draco collapsed in a heap on the rug, panting and glaring up at him. Ron shrugged. "You should know better than to piss me off, Malfoy."

"That's asking a little much, and you know it. I piss you off by breathing."

Ron just gave him a steady glower.

"Right," Draco said, resigned. "Family off limits. Got it." He rose to his feet as gracefully as he could manage, ignoring the hand Ron held out for him, and studiously went back to packing his things. As he snapped the lid shut, he heard Ron chuckle and turned to see Ron holding his pajamas from that morning.

"You forgot these," he said, tossing them onto the trunk.

Draco swept the garments off his luggage and muttered, "I'm not taking them."

"Aw, but you looked so sweet in them," Ron needled, smiling grandly.

Draco's face heated up and he ducked his head, fiddling with the latches and snatching his wand up to perform a hasty locking charm on them.

"Are you blushing, Malfoy?"

"Shut it," he growled. He shrunk the trunk small enough to fit in his hand, then closed his palm around it, letting the edges dig into his skin. "I'm ready," he said stiffly.

The tops of Draco's cheeks were still red, and Ron couldn't help it; with a teasing grin, he commented, "You're a pretty little thing, aren't you?"

Draco's fist tightened around the miniature trunk. "Fuck you, Weasley."

Ron shook his head and clucked his tongue. "Language, Malfoy. You'll have to learn to hold your tongue at my place. Gina'll kick your arse."

"Girlfriend?" he sneered.

"I've sworn off women, Malfoy. Nothing but trouble." He grinned wickedly. "She's a coworker of sorts. Reminds me of Hermione, so I know you'll just love her."

Draco scowled at him. "Are we going, or are we just going to stand here and chat all night?"


"Don't tell me you live on a farm, Weasley."

Ron growled, rubbing the back of his neck and rolling his shoulders. They'd traveled to Ottery St. Catchpole the Muggle way, taking Shacklebolt's cue and avoiding using any sort of magical transport that could be traced, and had to walk the two mile dirt path that led to his house. Draco, naturally, complained the entire time, and Ron was just about ready to tear his hair out.

"I don't live on a farm," Ron said between his teeth. "It's a refuge."

"A refuge?"

"A magical wildlife refuge," he elaborated.

"You're joking," Draco bit out, horrified.

"' Fraid not."

"And Shacklebolt thought I'd be safe here, where all manner of beasts could attack and eat me?"

Despite himself, Ron chuckled. "They're not running wild, Malfoy. And at the moment I've mostly only got class four creatures."

"Mostly?" Draco asked with suspicion.

"Well, yes, there is Geoffrey."

"Who happens to be…?" Draco prompted.

"A baby Welsh Green," he replied nonchalantly, "illegally hatched in captivity."

"A dragon? Oh Merlin, you've brought me here to die, haven't you?" Draco cried.

Ron gave him an odd look. "Just stay out of the barn and you'll be fine. He couldn't kill you, anyway, but maiming is always an option."

As they drew closer to the house, Draco noticed the scattered pens and enclosures and shuddered. Dark shadows moved back and forth behind barbed wire fences, and he could hear various nefarious sounds, squawking as well as growling and an occasional roar. If his body didn't ache so much he would've turned right back around and gone home.

At least the main dwelling wasn't a shack, thank Merlin, and seemed to be a reasonable size; two stories with a wrap around porch. Unfortunately, it was still a ways down the road, and Draco realized he hadn't pestered Ron about his unhappiness in over five minutes. "My feet hurt."

"I don't care."

"I think I have a blister."

"Poor baby," Ron said dryly.

"If I let it rub it'll poison my blood."

"There are worse ways to die."

"I knew it," Draco exclaimed, pointing accusingly at Ron. "You are trying to kill me."

Ron stopped in the middle of the path and turned to Draco, head cocked to the side. "At what point in time did you lose your mind, Malfoy? Is this a recent development?"

Draco snorted. "Try to deny it, Weasel. You hate me and you're going to make my life miserable."

"Making your life miserable is a far cry from killing you," Ron pointed out.

"Ron!" a voice called and both men looked up to see a dark-haired figure move onto the porch, hand raised in greeting.

Ron smiled and waved back.

"Gina?" Draco asked.

Ron nodded. "Gina."

Draco scowled up at the porch as they approached. Ron had neglected to tell him that Gina was petite and darkly beautiful, not to mention Blaise Zabini's annoying younger sister.

Her black eyes widened as the two men drew closer and she launched herself off the porch steps. "Draco!" she yelped, running at him full tilt and near bowling him over as she jumped into his arms.

Draco groaned, catching her about the waist. "You've grown a bit, Regina."

Ron looked on with a bemused smile. "You two know each other, I guess?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "How amazingly astute of you, Weasley. You didn't say it was Gina Zabini," he admonished, dropping the girl so they could move forward.

She placed a smacking kiss on his cheek before letting go of him. "Actually, it's Potter now."

"You've got to be…" He drifted off, suddenly recalling the bolded headline of a Daily Prophet flashing ‘Boy-Who-Lived Gets Married' with a small mention of the Zabini's. He hadn't read it, of course, tossing it into the wastebasket without a second glance. "And why wasn't I invited to the wedding?" he asked, mouth in a disapproving line.

"Like you'd have wanted to watch me become Mrs. Harry Potter," she scoffed with a soft snort. "Besides, I wanted a nice, quiet reception without any brawls. It was either you or Harry and, well…" She shrugged. "What are you doing here anyway?" She shifted her gaze to Ron, who beamed down at her.

"He's hiding out," Ron said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Should be loads of fun." Whistling an off-key tune, he strolled ahead of them and up the short stoop onto the porch.

Draco watched him move across to the front door, his strides long and purposeful, the muscles of his broad back just visible underneath the thin, worn t-shirt, long legs encased in dark, soft denim. The screen door swung shut behind him with a slight bang, and he was startled to find Gina gazing at him speculatively. "What?"

"What was that look?"

"What look?" he shot back.

"You were looking at Ron," she pointed out patiently.

"Oh. That." He darted his eyes to the house and back again, finally spitting out, "Um… it was a look of intense hatred and disgust," which would have been a perfect answer, if it hadn't sounded so much like a question.

Gina arched a fine black brow and patted his cheek. "This should be interesting," she murmured.


The next morning, as the purple fingers of dawn crept into the sky, Draco stumbled into the kitchen, hastily donned shirt riding up his stomach, pajama bottoms nearly hanging off his hips, revealing a thick strip of pale abdomen. It was a beautiful sight, Ron decided, to start the morning with.

That is, until Draco yawned loudly and groused, "What the fuck is that sound, Weasley?"

Ron took a sip of his coffee and lifted the morning paper back up in front of his face. "A rooster, Malfoy. Surely you've heard of them."

"How's a bloke supposed to sleep with that racket?" he whined, dropping down into the seat next to Ron and staring longingly at his coffee cup.

"That's the point," he said dryly. "Although, if you wait a bit, Butter'll quiet down."

"Butter?" Draco's face was screwed up comically. "Who would name a rooster Butter?"

"My son," Ron replied off-handedly. "He's got a strange obsession with naming things after food. We're hoping it's just a phase."

"You've reproduced, Weasley? Horrifying and predictable, of course." Before Ron could comment, he went on scathingly, "And it doesn't matter if the thing does shut up, I'm already awake now. There's no going back."

"And I'm assuming your wonderful good spirits will simply improve as the day goes on?" Ron asked wryly, obligingly pushing the coffee carafe towards the other man. "Mugs are in the third cabinet from the left."

Draco grumbled something unintelligible and rose to get a cup, shirt lifting even higher as he reached up to the top shelf, giving Ron a glimpse of the curve of his spine as it tapered into his tailbone.

Note to self , Ron thought, move all of Malfoy's favorite things to the highest shelves. "Need a footstool there, Malfoy?" he goaded.

Draco grabbed a mug and whirled around to face him, eyes glinting dangerously. "I'm not a child," he growled.

No, indeed he wasn't. Ron grinned wickedly at him, not the least chagrined.

"And I'd appreciate it," Draco bit out, "if you wouldn't…" What? Tease me? He trailed off, suddenly at a loss. He wasn't about to plead mercy with the man; they were natural born enemies.

"Wouldn't what?" Ron prompted, still grinning.

"Nothing," he snarled, taking his seat again and filling his mug to the brim with dark, heavenly smelling coffee. He inhaled deeply, letting his breath out on a small sigh, and took a reverential sip.

Ron watched as Draco's eyes slid closed, then followed the line of his throat as he swallowed, fascinated by the look of utter contentment on the man's face. "Good?"

"Hmmm… yes."

"Now I know how to tame a dragon," Ron murmured bemusedly. "I'll have to try this with Geoffrey."

Feeling decidedly mellow with the steaming hot brew under his nose, Draco merely flicked him a half-irritated glance. "Quips about my name are not appreciated."

"And yet, I still find it amusing."

Ignoring Ron's infuriatingly good humor – who could be that cheerful so early in the morning? – Draco asked, "What's there to do in this place? What will I do all day?"

"Anything you want, Malfoy. I don't care." Ron shrugged. "There're a few books in the den or you can explore the grounds. You can use magic as long as you're within two hundred yards of the house… the wards I added last night will block your imprint from becoming visible, so no one should be able to track you for the time being."

"Sounds boring," he complained.

Ron folded the Daily Prophet and pushed back from the table, taking his now-empty coffee cup to the sink. "Sorry, Malfoy, I'm not here to entertain you."

"Will Regina be here today?" Draco asked hopefully.

He shook his head. "Won't be back ‘til Monday."

Draco's eyes followed Ron as he rinsed the mug and placed it on the edge of the counter. "Then what will you be doing?"

"Working. Starting right now, in fact." He strode to the doorway, just barely restraining himself from ruffling Draco's hair. "Help yourself to whatever food you want. If you need me I'll be down in the barn for most of the morning," he added, an evil sparkle in his eye, knowing damn well Draco wouldn't set one foot near any of the animal pens, especially not Geoffrey's barn.

Draco sunk down into his seat and scowled at the tabletop. "Fine," he muttered petulantly. Then sighed when he realized Ron had already left.

It wasn't that Draco thought he'd be bored… he was, in actuality, quite used to entertaining himself. Besides his neighbors, and the odd boyfriend now and then, he maintained very little contact with people, especially those from his somewhat sordid past. But when finally faced with company – forced company – he found the spaces apart from Ron were more pronounced and lonely, even after just one day.

It was little more than pathetic.

Silently berating himself, he got to his feet and took his coffee into the den, lighting a few candles and settling down in one of the comfortable armchairs with a paperback book.


Ron swiped the back of his hand across his sweaty brow, sighing in frustration as he stepped out into the hot sunlight. Everything was sliding backwards… the dragon, if possible, was becoming wilder with the more human contact he got. Why Charlie wanted him to attempt to tame Geoffrey anyway was beyond him, and he was almost willing to give up completely. Except he rarely quit at anything, especially when things got tough.

His stomach let out a loud rumble and he pressed a hand to it, tipping his head back to the sky, judging from the position of the sun that it was past noon. He wondered idly what Draco was up to.

The kitchen was empty when Ron entered, and there were no signs that his temporary housemate had made himself anything for lunch. Making a sandwich, he munched absently as he toured the rooms, somehow refraining from calling Draco's name. He wasn't worried, exactly. He knew Draco wasn't stupid enough to get caught outside the wards. But still… he'd feel better if he could pinpoint the man before heading back to work with the rest of the animals.

Stepping outside the backdoor, Ron scanned the large expanse of lawn, his eyes pausing on a flash of blue amid the restless leaves of a gnarled old oak. He strode across the grass, a half-smile gracing his face as he spotted Draco lounging like a jungle cat on a sturdy, low growing limb, one bare foot dangling towards the ground, belly to the rough bark, arms pillowed under his chin as his eyes, half-hooded with sleepiness, roved over a levitated book.

"Have you eaten?" Ron asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he looked up at him.

Draco blinked at him and yawned. "No."

"Come on, then. I'll make you something." He motioned for Draco to climb down out of the tree.

"I'm really not hungry, Weasley," he said, scowling at him. "And you're ruining my perfectly lazy afternoon. Kindly leave me to read in peace."

Ron cocked his head to the side. "What are you reading?"

Draco let out a huff of breath and rolled his eyes. "Considering you have shelves stuffed with volumes about all manner of magical creatures, take a guess."

"Knowing you, you'd pick up the only book that looked remotely like a novel." Ron grinned when Draco narrowed his eyes at him, and he imagined he'd guessed right.

Draco reached out with one hand and turned the cover back towards him, sneering at the title, The Immense Journey. "I can only half understand it," he admitted, surprising Ron with his candor. "He seems to go on and on about inconsequential crap. Birds and flowers and whatnot."

"He's a naturalist, Malfoy. It's not a pleasure read, unless you happen to like Eiseley's work… which I do."

"Figures," Draco snorted derisively.

"I'll ask Gina to bring something over on Monday for you," Ron offered.

Draco sighed and stretched out on the branch, arching his back slightly and pulling his foot up to hook his ankle over the other one. "Won't I be gone by then?"

"Not with the way my luck's been holding," Ron said mockingly, running a hand over his short locks. "Sure you don't want lunch?"

Draco gazed at him thoughtfully for a few moments, gray eyes unusually warm. "Play me at chess instead?"

"Just wait ‘til Mum gets a hold of you," Ron commented, a hint of teasing in his tone. "You'll wish you never skipped a meal in your life."

"Is that a yes?"

Ron nodded. "One game. Then I have to get back to work."


Hermione read through the Owl with a slight smile playing about her lips, then glanced up to see if Blaise had decided to grace the Great Hall with his presence that Sunday morning. He was notorious for sleeping in during the weekends and often skipped breakfast completely, preferring to snatch a meal out of the kitchens if he managed to stumble out of bed before noon.

She was in luck, though, and spotted the dark-haired Defense professor as he sauntered into the Hall, his black robes parted over rumpled pajama bottoms and a t-shirt sporting the phrase ‘Animagi do it naked.' He never was one to conform to grown-up rules.

He yawned loudly as he sat down across from her at the staff table, and she waved the note in front of his face.

"Guess what?" she asked, her amber eyes dancing.

"How can you be so damn chipper, Granger?" Blaise groused, gripping his coffee cup in both hands, taking a long, slow sip, and then giving a low hum of pleasure as the hot liquid burned a path down his throat.

Hermione cocked her head to the side and shook the slip of parchment again. "Aren't you the least bit curious about this?"

"If it's not smothered in ketchup, then no," he replied, then reached for the scrambled eggs and crunched hungrily into a crisp slice of bacon. She glared at him reprovingly and he finally set his fork down and gave a long-suffering sigh. "Fine, what's in the note?"

Her face lit up again. "It's from Ron," she stated happily. "He's taken in Malfoy."

"He's… what?"

"The Ministry asked him to let Malfoy use his refuge as a safe house. Apparently, his father's on a psychotic mission to kill him," she elaborated, then read from the missive, "'Kingsley didn't give me much choice in the matter, but I couldn't let the pretty git die, now could I? It isn't so entirely bad either, since he slept most of yesterday away in a tree, and is tolerable at chess. Last night was weird, though…'" Hermione trailed off and bit her lip. "Well, maybe I shouldn't read you that part."

Blaise leaned forward onto his elbows. "Why not?" he asked eagerly.

Hermione arched a brow, but cleared her throat and continued, "'Last night was weird, though. He was reading in the den, and I was catching up on some paperwork, both of us being pretty quiet. And just when I let out a yawn and was getting up to head off to bed, he blurted out – yes, blurted - something about a rematch. At chess. He was a bit jumpy about it. I mean, has Malfoy ever seemed clingy to you? Maybe clingy isn't the right word. Lonely, perhaps. I know, I'm being stupid—‘"

Blaise snorted, and when Hermione paused to glare at him he waved for her to read on.

"'But I can't help but feel like he didn't want me to leave; like he didn't want to be left alone. Which is crazy, you're right. Completely. And can you picture him climbing a tree? I've seen him do it twice now. Twice! I think he's got some repressed childhood issues. Quite a pleasant view, though, I must admit. He's got this wonderful little dip at the base of his spine, and his trousers ride so low when he swings himself up that I swear he can't be wearing anything underneath, and… and now I'm rambling, which means I need to sign off before I incriminate myself—‘"

"Incriminate," Blaise muttered with slight amusement. "Big word for the Weasel."

"Stuff it, Zabini. Do you want me to read you this or not?"

"Oh, definitely read me the rest," he grinned wickedly at her. "Does he say if they shagged?"

Hermione pressed her lips together in a grim impression of McGonagall and narrowed her eyes dangerously.

"What?" he asked, drumming his fingertips on the tabletop impatiently. "Come on, Granger, you just read that and the thought of them shagging never crossed your mind?"

She gave a soft harrumph but didn't bother trying to deny it. Instead, she said, "Well, there's only a little bit left, and it's the part that concerns you, anyway. ‘We're off to Mum's for dinner tonight. That is, if I can convince the Ferret to go. He eats less than a bloody bird, so Mum'll have a field day. By the by, you're invited as well. It'll be a zoo, I'm sure, but at least the twins are still with Gabby. Bring Zabini, too; he's always good for a laugh. See if you can get him to wear his leather trousers.'"

Blaise nearly choked out a laugh at Ron's parting remark. "One time, one time I wore those bloody things…"

"You did look rather nice in them," Hermione commented, color staining the tops of her cheeks.

He gave her a speculative glance, before focusing his energy back on his morning meal. The two of them held a healthy respect for each other, accompanied by bouts of playful flirting, but it had never amounted to much more than that.

And if Blaise occasionally used his Animagus form to spy on the appealing ex-Gryffindor in her chambers, well, he had been raised a Slytherin… no one ever said he was a saint.

"Are you coming with me, then?" Hermione asked, looking at him expectantly.

Blaise shrugged. "Why not… sounds like it should be entertaining. Draco and Weasley." His light irises turned cloudy with thought. "I bet their fights will be spectacular. Make up sex," he stated, focusing his eyes back on Hermione and pointing his fork at her, "is the best kind of sex."

She gazed at him, eyes wide and incredulous. "You're just a bit perverted, aren't you, Zabini?"

He pushed his black hair back off his forehead and chuckled. "You're just figuring this out now, Granger?"


For Draco and Ron, Sunday went much the same as the day before.

Draco spent his morning in the oak out back, half-reading, half-napping, the atmosphere almost incredibly soothing. He'd never before spent any length of time in the heart of nature, as it were, and he found himself strangely fascinated by a bluebird that had roosted three branches up from his. It had a pretty song, and often darted down to cock its head at him quizzically, Draco's near immobile state dulling its instinctual fear of humans.

Ron found him soon after midday and they lingered over a second game of chess, sprawled out on the warm grass like carefree boys. Draco was on his stomach, chin propped up in his palms, wispy silver strands falling over his eyes as he gazed at the black and white checked board. Ron was relaxing on his back, hands clasped across his taut abdomen, eyes squinting up at the blue, blue sky.

"Your move, Weasley," Draco yawned, kicking a heel up and lazily rolling his ankle. When Ron didn't answer, Draco palmed a discarded knight and pegged it lightly at his chest.

It bounced off harmlessly, spouting indignant curses at being treated so callously, and Ron turned his head, a disgruntled look on his face. "What?"

"Your move," he reiterated, fingers playing idly with a few blades of onion grass.

Ron sighed and moved easily into a sitting position, bending his legs, elbows on his knees, and shoving his fingers into his hair. "I need to get back to work."

"You work too much," Draco pouted.

"And you're starting to talk to birds." He quirked a brow at Draco. "Don't think I didn't notice."

Draco felt the blasted heat rise to his cheeks and ducked his head, muttering under his breath.

"What was that?" Ron needled.

"I said it was just one," Draco spat out petulantly.

Ron chuckled and shook his head. "Mum's invited us for dinner tonight," he explained, "so I've got to finish my afternoon rounds earlier than normal."

Draco swallowed hard. " Your Mum?"

"Yep," Ron affirmed, getting to his feet and brushing off the back of his worn jeans.

"And at your Mum's," Draco started tentatively, "will there be… other Weasleys?"

Ron gave him an odd look. "What do you think, Malfoy?"

Draco groaned and rolled onto his back, an arm flung over his face. "I think I'm doomed."

Chuckling, Ron hunkered down next to him and clutched his wrist, uncovering Draco's slate-gray eyes. "Aw, it won't be that bad. I've asked Hermione to bring Zabini, so he can protect you from all the evil ex-Gryffindors."

"Really?" Draco furrowed his brows, skeptical.

"Actually," Ron grinned, "I was hoping to catch a glimpse of his leather-clad arse. The protection's just a side benefit for you."

Draco sneered and twisted his hand out of the other man's grip, pushing himself up to rest on his forearms. Which was clearly a mistake, as it brought his face only inches away from Ron's.

Scathing reply forgotten, he stared, stunned, into Ron's blue eyes, watching as the amusement sparkling in them gradually melted into something darker. His stomach tightened and his heart paused, then skittered into a frantic beat. He flicked a glance at the slightly parted pink lips, hearing Ron's breath hitch.

Then Ron suddenly jerked back and shook his head, rubbing a hand over his face. "We are not going there, Malfoy," he muttered. Looking was one thing. Touching was another matter entirely.

Unable to come up with a witty retort and unwillingly to let Ron know he'd felt a pang of hurt at his words, Draco merely snorted softly, and started packing away the chess set. They settled into an awkward silence, and Draco glanced up to see Ron staring at him curiously. "What?"

After a moment, he replied, "Nothing."

"Then stop staring, Weasel." Draco got to his feet, fists clenched in irritation.

One side of Ron's mouth quirked up. "Sorry," he said, not sounding the least bit apologetic. He inclined his head towards the oak. "Going back up into your tree for the afternoon?"

"Maybe," Draco bit out, somewhat defensively.

Ron nodded absently, then bent down to pick up the chess board. "You know," he offered, "you could always join me on my rounds." At Draco's horrified countenance, he hastened to add, "You wouldn't have to go near anything dangerous."

"That's quite all right, Weasley," he replied stiffly, feeling the slightest bit ashamed that he was wary of the animals Ron kept on the refuge, but not really willing to overcome his fear and go anywhere near them yet.

"Suit yourself." Ron shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets and wandering off towards the front of the house.

Draco let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding, gazing pensively after Ron. He could admit to himself that he held a strange attraction for the man.

Well, not completely strange, as he couldn't deny Ron had his fine points. Specifically, the strong set of his shoulders and his confident stride as he walked away from him, the curve of his arse clearly visible beneath the threadbare denim. He'd never before felt anything but derision for Ron, and now he was fantasizing about his backside!

Draco had a niggling feeling, though, that the attraction went beyond his physical attributes. Which was a disturbing thought, to say the very least.



Draco near jumped out of his skin at the sound of Ron's voice. He'd been sitting on the couch in the den, fidgeting – which he rarely ever did – and dreading his visit to the Weasley family home. Not really, no, he thought, but merely nodded up at Ron.

"Good," Ron smiled, then held out his palm. "Hand over your wand."

"What?" Draco blurted out, astounded. "No."

Ron wiggled his fingers. "Come on, Malfoy. Give me your wand and we can go."

"B-but…" Draco stuttered, then gritted his teeth and glared at him, insulted. "I'm not going to hex your family, Weasley. I can't believe you'd think that…" He trailed off, aware that it wasn't too far beyond the realm of possibilities.

"I don't think that, Malfoy, but I'm not letting you off the refuge grounds with your wand," he explained impatiently, hand still outstretched. "Can't risk you using it without thinking… If anyone," he stressed, obviously referring to Lucius, "was tracking your magic, they'd be able to pinpoint you at the Burrow."

Reluctantly, Draco drew his wand out of his pocket and stared at it, a frown creasing his brow.

"It'll be fine, trust me," Ron insisted.

Thrown into a pit of Weasleys without a wand? That was pretty much Draco's worst nightmare. Beyond the whole getting murdered by his own father bit, of course. With a sigh, Draco flipped the slender length of wood and extended it handle first towards the other man.

Aware of how hard it was for Draco to relinquish his wand, Ron accepted it without comment and carefully placed it on the mantel next to the jar of Floo powder. "Here we go," Ron said, prying off the lid and holding it out to Draco. "Just say, ‘the Burrow.'"

Apprehensively, Draco grabbed a fistful of powder and stepped into the hearth.


The very first thing Draco noticed, as he stumbled out of the hearth at the Burrow – beyond the odd mismatch of furniture spread about the den - was that the children far outnumbered the adults. Which was, when he thought about it, perfectly fitting for the Weasley family.

Before he could even brush the ash off his clothes, three almost identical little girls - the slight difference in their heights suggesting that they were merely sisters, not triplets – launched themselves at his legs and dove around him. They were laughing and yelping, using Draco's body as a shield against a spindly young man who was mock-growling at them, his fingers curled into menacing looking claws.

He lunged forward and Draco stood stock-still, bewildered, while the girls let out high-pitched squeals and took off for the kitchen, the boy in hot pursuit.

Ron chuckled from behind him. "That was Sorin, Charlie's oldest," he explained, then laughed harder when he heard his mum's voice shouting, "Sori, not in the house! Elizabeth Minerva Finnigan, put that spoon down now, young lady."

"The girls were—"

"Don't bother, Weasley," Draco cut in almost absently. "I'll never be able to tell any of them apart."

"Ah, look, George, it's our darling little brother and Malfoy-the-younger."

"Together at last."

"Aren't they precious?"

Draco scowled at the Weasley twins as they made their way into the room. The years hadn't changed them much, both physically and mentally. They were still identical, down to the slight laugh crinkles at the edges of their eyes, and they still had that annoyingly grating sense of humor.

Fred rocked back on his heals, grinning madly. "What's the pout for, Malfoy?"

"Ronnie not keeping you satisfied?"

"Bugger off," Ron growled good-naturedly, shoving George's shoulder. "Just ignore them, Malfoy."

"It's impossible to ignore us," George protested.

Fred nodded. "We're incorrigible, which makes us endearing as well."

"And loveable, don't forget loveable."

"And a hit at parties. Tell your friends."

"Now, Fred, this is Malfoy remember. He isn't likely to have many friends, is he?"

Draco growled threateningly, and Ron placed a hand on the back of his neck, curling his fingers around his nape.

"Don't let them get to you," Ron said, glaring at his brothers. Without thinking, he slid his hand down and pressed into the small of Draco's back. "Come on," he nudged, "let's say hello to Mum." He added in a dangerous whisper, leaning down close to his ear, "If you say anything at all to upset her, Malfoy, I swear I'll…"

Draco glanced over at him and arched a pale brow, trying to ignore the warm hand resting just above his arse. "You'll what? Strangle me to death?"

Ron rolled his eyes. "Just watch your mouth, all right?" Moving past Draco, he strode into the kitchen, taking in his mum's disheveled appearance with a fond smile.

"Oh, Ron, you're a godsend." She hurried up to him and took his chin in a hand, bringing his face down for a kiss hello. "Here, take Fane, would you?" she asked, transferring his sturdy one-year-old nephew from her arms to his, and then turned to Draco, her eyes narrowed. "Draco, dear, let me get you something to snack on before dinner. It might be a while."

Ron couldn't help but laugh at the grimace on Draco's face, obviously trying to come up with a polite way to decline her offer. There was no excuse on earth that could possibly work, though, once Molly Weasley got it in her head that you needed to eat.

The three girls, who were now clinging to Sorin's arms and legs as he dragged them across the kitchen floor, piped in, "We want cookies, Grams!" and one little boy, who'd been sitting quietly at the long kitchen table, a large picture book spread out in front of him, admonished, "You can't have cookies now, brats, you'll ruin your dinner. Grams, they can't have cookies, can they?" His tone suggested that if they could have cookies, then he'd like some as well.

"No one's having cookies," she replied with a stern eye. "Now will you all please go outside? Merlin," she grumbled, "a beautiful day, and they all want to clutter up my kitchen. Out!" she yelled louder when none of the children seemed inclined to vacate the room. "Outside, all of you! Oh, not you, Draco, you're fine right here." She placed a hand on his arm to stay him. "Ronald, would you fetch Ginny for me? She's up in your room settling David."

Adjusting a sleepy-eyed Fane on his hip, he said, "Sure, Mum," then hissed, "Behave," to Draco as he stepped around him and into the stairwell.

Draco shifted nervously from foot to foot, staring at Mrs. Weasley, who was staring pensively back at him, her hands on her generous hips.

"You've grown up handsome," she said finally.

Eyes widening slightly, he replied with a choked, "Thanks."

Her face softened, a sad smile gracing her lips. "I was sorry to hear about your mother. I knew her from school, you know. She was always…" she seemed to be searching for an appropriate word, "lovely."

Draco hadn't thought about his mother in years, and he bit the inside of his cheek, poleaxed by the sudden mention of her. "Yes," he agreed, somewhat awkwardly, "she was lovely." Feeling an unexpected urge to return the favor, he blurted out, "I'm sorry about…" then paused, the name Percy on the edge of his tongue, remembering Ron's warning. "Everything," he concluded lamely.

Sadness flickered briefly in her eyes, but she forced a grin. "Everything covers a lot of ground."

"I know," he replied.

"Good." She took a deep breath, then grabbed an apple off the counter and pushed it into his hands. "Go on out back, now."

Bemused, Draco did as he was told and wandered out into the backyard, somehow feeling a little bit lighter. Mrs. Weasley wasn't all that bad.


"I can't believe you, Ron," Ginny ranted in a hushed voice, rubbing circles on the back of her five-month-old son, soothing him into sleep. "I can't believe you'd bring him here. I can't believe you'd let him stay at your house. What about the twins?"

Ron gazed at her blankly. "What about them?"

"He'll be a terrible influence on them."

Ron blinked, then grinned widely. "The boys aren't exactly angels, Gin. I doubt there's much he could do to corrupt them."

"This isn't funny, Ron," she hissed.

"Oh, I disagree. It's fucking hilarious."

"Watch what you say in front of the children," she admonished.

Brows furrowed, he glanced from Fane, who was busy drooling on his shoulder, to David, lying sprawled on his stomach in a portable crib. "They're both knocked out, Ginny. Calm down."

"I am calm," she huffed out on an annoyed breath.

"Sure you are," he said wryly, shaking his head. "Look Gin, I'm not going to be trite and say that Malfoy's a changed man. Honestly, most of the time he still bugs the shit out of me." He shrugged. "But he has his moments, and right now he needs my help… so I'd appreciate it if you could accept this and move on."

"Accept this?" she grumbled. "Sounds like you're bloody asking my bless— " She broke off, chocolate eyes widening in horror. "Good Merlin, Ron, you're not dating him, are you?"

"No, but so what if I was?" he demanded, getting a little pissed off by her attitude. "What I do with Malfoy is none of your business."

Her jaw dropped open. "What you do with…" She trailed off with a groan and closed her eyes, fingers pinching the top of her nose. "Bad place," she murmured, "very bad place."

And then, to Ron's everlasting surprise, she giggled. Then she snorted and clapped a hand over her mouth, dancing eyes gazing up into his.

"I thought this wasn't funny, Gin," he mocked.

Her laughter muffled against her hand, she leaned into the wall and wrapped an arm around her stomach, shoulders shaking with the effort to contain her mirth.

"Have you gone nutters? What's wrong with you?" Ron queried, finally placing the sleeping Fane on his old bed and straightening to stare warily at his sister.

"I just," she wheezed, hand traveling up to cover her eyes, "I just s-started picturing you… and Malfoy… a-and Malfoy's so… and you're s-so…"

Ron cocked his head to the side. "What? You're not making much sense, Gin."

"He's such a… proper little ferret," she explained, finally getting a hold of herself. "And you're well… you. You live on a farm."

"It's not a farm," he muttered indignantly.

Ginny ignored his protests and went on, "With animals and dirt and Merlin, Ron, you're out in the middle of nowhere! I bet he cries himself to sleep every night." She seemed particularly tickled by that prospect.

Ron scowled and crossed his arms over his chest.

"This is the perfect punishment for him, you're right," she crowed, patting his shoulder, completely oblivious to his disgruntlement.

"Hang on, I never said—"

"He'll have chores, won't he? Make him clean up after Geoffrey," she chuckled evilly.

"But he's afraid…" Ron trailed off and grimaced. He probably shouldn't have mentioned that.

"He's afraid?" she exclaimed. "Afraid? Oh, this is priceless."

"Gin, you're being unnecessarily mean."

"It's warranted, Ron," she said tightly. "He made our lives hell for years."

"Actually," Ron pointed out, "he made mine, Harry's, and Hermione's lives hell. You, I don't think he much bothered with. And so if I'm willing to overlook that for the time being, I don't see why you can't as well."

Ginny bowed her head and clasped her hands behind her back, then gave a loud sigh. "All right," she said wearily. "I'll reserve judgment. But if he says one horrible thing to my girls…"

"If that happens I doubt he'll make it out of here alive," Ron joked, thankful that she had relented. ‘Reserving judgment' was a big step for Ginny, who held grudges longer than anyone he'd ever known. She still refused to acknowledge she'd ever had an older brother named Percy.

"Fine, then. As long as he's civil, I'll try to be polite."


The late afternoon sun beat down onto the packed table of friends and family, the children subdued for the moment at the sight and smell of food. It was a lovely spread, and Hermione was greatly enjoying herself. Blaise, however, was glowering down the length of the table at Ron.

Hermione nudged him with an elbow. "Why are you scowling?"

"He isn't cooperating," he snapped, viciously cutting into his roast beef. Damn bloody Weasel. "If I have to put up with this pack of Weasleys, the least he could do is provide some entertainment."

"What are you muttering on about?" Hermione asked. "Entertainment?"

"They're practically ignoring each other," he exclaimed, handsome face screwed up in frustration. " Where's the fantastic rows? The sultry, heated glances? The barely restrained lust?"

Hermione merely stared silently at Blaise for a moment, then cleared her throat. "All right, I'm going to pretend that you aren't a perverted little voyeur," she said primly, then reached forward to grab a bowl of potato salad.

"Pretend all you want, Granger; it isn't going to make me any happier," he groused. "And there's nothing little about me, which, if you'd had any sense at all, you'd already know by now."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded, straightening in her seat and narrowing her eyes at him.

His irises glinted wickedly. "Exactly what you think it means."

Making a slight ‘hmmm' noise, she took a sip of water, then gazed over at Draco, who was squished between Fred and George and looking as if he'd bit into a lemon. Ron, who was clear on the opposite side of the table than Draco, was giving an inordinate amount of attention to his glass of pumpkin juice. "They're not ignoring each other at all," she finally said.

"Ah, avoidance," Blaise commented knowingly with a slight nod. "Your favorite form of defense."

She sent him a quelling glare, then continued, "If you watch closely, Malfoy is trying desperately not to look at Ron and… See, he's turning pink every time he happens to glance down towards the other end of the table."

"I'm well acquainted with Draco's blush, Granger. I didn't come here for girlish flirting," he complained. "Although I must say Mrs. Weasley's cooking is unparalleled. Too bad you can't cook, Granger. I'd have wrestled you into bed well before tonight if that was the case."

"Before…?" Hermione clenched her jaw, her fingers curling around her fork in a white-knuckled grip. "You aren't coming anywhere near me tonight, you prat."

"Finally," Blaise grinned, "a straight answer! And, of course, I intend to prove you wrong. I shall take great delight in it, too."

"Zabini…" she growled a warning.

"But that isn't the matter at hand," he went on matter-of-factly, tapping his knife impatiently against the flat slice of meat. "Right now, I'm in dire need of one of those famous Weasley-Malfoy screaming matches… and perhaps some rolling about on the ground, followed-up by a passionate kiss."

"You're sickening, Blaise," Hermione hissed. "And there are children about!"

He blinked over at her, a slow, smug smile spreading onto his face. "You called me Blaise."

Hermione groaned and dropped her head into her hands.


"What're you doin'?"

Draco glanced up at the miniature version of Ginny Weasley and scowled. "None of your business."

The little girl ignored his disgruntled tone and plopped down on the ground next to him. "Uncle Ron said you're hiding," she commented, her tone conspiratorial.

"Your Uncle Ron's an idiot," he snapped. Although he was right. Draco was hiding. Specifically from Fred and George, as they had tortured him ruthlessly throughout dinner and seemed disinclined to leave off at the close of the meal.

If he'd had any idea in which direction Ron's place was, he'd start walking. Or perhaps he'd sneak into the den and use the Floo if he could manage to scrounge up the name of the refuge. He knew he really wouldn't do either, though, even if given the opportunity, since that would be beyond rude. While he had little qualms about being impolite to his peers – or inferiors, of course – he was loathe to brass off Mrs. Weasley.

Stretching out an arm, the little girl, who couldn't have been much more than six or seven, said, "I'm Mel Finnigan," and as he politely took her small hand in his, she added, "My mum hates you."

"How delightful," he murmured dryly.

"I don't, though," she said, gazing at him solemnly.

He sighed and dropped his head back onto the rough bark of the large tree he was currently sitting behind.

"Do you want to know why?" she prodded, poking him in the side with a forefinger.

"I have a feeling you're going to tell me whether I want to know or not," he drawled, staring up at the thick canopy of leaves

She tugged on his sleeve. "Mr. Malfoy?"

"Yes, yes," he said impatiently, turning to look down at her, "go ahead and tell me."

Smiling grandly at him, she said in a torrent, as if she'd been politely restraining from baring her soul - or in this case, talking his ear off – until she had his full attention, "I don't hate you ‘cause I heard Uncle Fred say you're Uncle Ron's now, and Uncle Ron is my favortist Uncle, and did you know that Uncle Ron doesn't like girls?" She sounded slightly puzzled, her brow wrinkled. "I'm not supposed to think that's wrong and I don't think I do so long as Aunt Gabby still bakes me cookies on my birthday ‘cause she bakes the best cookies and so long as Jem and Beans don't care ‘cause they're my best friends and they let me play Quidditch with them even though I can't hardly fly straight and Dad has to fly next to me so I don't fall..."

Draco stared at her, speechless, mouth opening and closing dumbly. At some point in her monologue, Mel had casually repositioned herself so that she was lounging across his lap, fingers digging in the grass at his knees.

She plucked a buttercup and held it under his chin, then grinned into his eyes when the skin obviously took on a yellowish tint. "You like butter, too, and so do I, and so does Uncle Ron and Mum and Dad and Sorin and Uncle Charlie and Ellie and Aunt Sasha," she went on. "So I can't see why Mum would hate you when Uncle Ron doesn't--"

"I don't hate Mr. Malfoy, Melissa."

Draco jerked his head up and watched warily as Ginny approached, her lips pursed but her eyes not entirely unfriendly.

She shifted her gaze from Draco to her daughter. "Sweetheart, you know how strong a word hate is, don't you? Hate implies something very bad, and you wouldn't wish anything bad on anyone, right, Mel?"

Mel shook her head. "No, Mum."

"Now, to say that I dislike Mr. Malfoy," she continued, a grin tugging at the corner of her lips as she watched Mel absently tuck the bedraggled buttercup behind Draco's ear, "would be more to the point."

Draco knew the explanation was more for his benefit than for Mel's, and offered Ginny a small nod of acknowledgement. "Mrs. Finnigan," he said, by way of belated greeting.

She eyed him speculatively. "That sounds rather odd coming out of your mouth, Malfoy. I'd offer for you to call me Ginny, but the thought of returning the favor doesn't sit well with me either."

"I could always revert to calling you Weaslette," he replied in a slightly teasing manner that caught Ginny off-guard for a moment.

"What can I call you?" Mel piped in, stuffing another flower into Draco's hair.

He splayed a hand over her deep auburn tresses. "Whatever you like, Muffin."

Ginny choked on her breath and had a small coughing fit. "Did you just call my daughter Muffin?"

"Ah," Draco felt his cheeks burn in embarrassment, "no?"

Watching Draco flush, Ginny said, "You're an odd creature, Malfoy."

Draco cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I'm sure you'd like your daughter back now, so…" His voice was slightly pained as Mel pulled a clump of green weeds out of the grass and started shredding them over his trousers.

"Oh, no," Ginny rocked back on her heels, giving him a mischievous look reminiscent of the Weasley twins, "she looks just fine where she is. I'm sure you'll take great care of her."


Hermione cornered Ron outside the bathroom. "Just answer me this, Ron. Do you fancy Malfoy?"

His brows furrowed. "I thought that was fairly obvious by my letter."

"Then can you please just… snog him or something? Preferably in front of Zabini?" She sounded desperate, her fingers twisting into the front of her shirt.

After a lengthy silence, Ron said, "I'm going to assume you haven't lost your mind, Hermione, and that you were simply asking me about Mum's new recipe for creamy pesto sauce. You're going to have to ask her directly, by the way, since I'm less than passable at cooking Italian dishes."

"Ron," she said in an exasperated voice, "I'm serious. Zabini is driving me crazy."

Ron patted her arm sympathetically. "Zabini has always been your problem, Hermione. I'm afraid there isn't much I can do."

"At least talk to Malfoy," she suggested. "Interact with him. Hold his hand for a while and parade around the yard in front of everyone."

"There's nothing going on between Malfoy and me," Ron pointed out calmly, and thought it admirable that he hadn't lost his temper. Hold hands with Malfoy? He hadn't even decided if he wanted to give in and kiss him. Holding hands seemed a step further than he was willing to go at the moment.

"On second thought," Hermione said, seeming uncharacteristically unsettled, "maybe that's a bad idea. I mean, I can handle his complaining, right?"

Ron nodded mutely, not following Hermione's train of thought at all.

"And any display by you two might incite him to actually follow through with his… threat," she murmured, almost to herself, her index finger pressed into her bottom lip. "Yes, yes, you're right. It's better that you have absolutely no contact whatsoever with Malfoy in front of Zabini."

Ron wisely stifled a chuckle. Blaise really had Hermione running scared. It was about time one of those two took the initiative, though, as they'd been blatantly panting after each other since they'd both taken up their teaching positions at Hogwarts.

And it was fairly common knowledge that Blaise used his Animagus form to spy on her whenever he could.

"Well," Ron said, placing an arm around Hermione and guiding her back down the steps and into the den. "I suppose I should go find Malfoy anyway. He's hiding from Fred and George, I'm sure of it. Why don't you go make sure Zabini doesn't see us together?"

Hermione nodded and wandered off, muttering under her breath and still clearly off-kilter.

Shaking his head bemusedly, Ron strode out the back door and circled around the house, searching for any sign of Draco. Naturally, his eyes were drawn to the leafy branches of the myriad trees growing about the grounds, but when he did find Draco, at the base of a rather fat oak, he was stunned into momentary silence.

His silver hair laced with grass and bits of yellow flowers, Draco was calmly listening to his second eldest niece prattle. His eyes, to his credit, were only slightly glazed - Mel often took some getting used to.

Glancing up, the little girl paused in her one-sided chatter and shouted, "Uncle Ron!" She scrambled to her feet and rushed towards him, throwing her arms about his legs.

"You just saw me about a half hour ago, Mel," he said, chuckling as she merely tightened her grip. "Are you torturing Mr. Malfoy?"

"No," she replied, voice muffled by his trousers.


"She wasn't bothering me, Weasley," Draco said, brushing the greenery from his head, unknowingly causing a few strands to stick out.

"Just the same, why don't you go pester your Grams?" Ron suggested, giving the girl a squeeze.

"D'you think she has cookies?" she asked hopefully, tipping her head back to look up at him.

"Only one way to find out," he said, nudging her towards the house.

After she rushed off, Ron moved forward and lowered himself to sit beside Draco, who was, of course, glowering at him. The effect was dimmed, however, by the mussed hair and bits of grass coating his shoulders. "Sorry about Mel," he said. "She's inherited Seamus' hyperactivity I'm afraid."

"I said she wasn't bothering me. I meant it, she was fine," Draco insisted sharply. "You didn't have to send her off."

Ron was taken aback by Draco's vehemence. "Sorry, Malfoy. I just wanted to talk to you."

"About what?" he snapped.

"Er…" Ron shifted on his bum and brought his knees up, resting his elbows on top of them. "How are you holding up?"

"How do you think, Weasley?"

Ron risked a small smile. "Fred and George are harmless for the most part."

Draco snorted and leaned back against the tree, letting his eyes fall close. "How much longer do we have to stay?"

"Another hour or so." Ron shrugged. "Although I suppose you can leave anytime you want. Floo's safe enough for you to maneuver by yourself." When Draco remained silent, Ron suspected that his previous suspicions of Draco's loneliness were close to the truth. He sighed and got to his feet, brushing off his jeans. "Come on, Malfoy," he said, holding out a hand to help him up.

After a slight hesitation, Draco slid his hand into Ron's, curling his fingers around his palm. A tingling heat shot up Ron's arm as he pulled Draco to his feet, and he had to fight the strong urge to lace their fingers together and draw him closer. Damn Hermione for putting ideas into his head.

Unthinkingly, Ron reached out and smoothed Draco's ruffled hair.

"Weasley, what…?"

"Sorry," Ron murmured, dropping Draco's hand and stuffing his into his pockets. "And thanks."

Draco cocked his head. "For what?"

"For being nice to Mel." He gave him a lopsided smile. "Putting up with the rest of the family. Mum thinks you're adorable."

"She does not," Draco said, affronted. "She said I was handsome."

"All right," Ron relented, enjoying Draco's indignant sputtering. "I think you're adorable, then." It was so incredibly easy to rile Draco up. And entertaining. Despite the pale skin, Ron never remembered Draco blushing quite so much when they were in Hogwarts.

"Would you stop it?"

"Stop what?"

"Being a condescending prick," he replied stiffly. "I'm not here for your amusement, Weasley. I'm here because my father is trying to kill me. You're just as bad as your bloody brothers."

Ron took a step backwards. "I was just teasing."

"Teasing implies some sort of camaraderie," Draco spat. "And you clearly don't even respect me."

"Look, Malfoy—"

"No, you look, Weasley! This is hard enough as it is," he snarled, clenching his hands into fists. "Believe it or not, I truly appreciate your help with this matter, but you can take your patronizing attitude and shove it up your arse." He looked as if he wanted to shout more, much more, but he merely spun on his heel and stalked off towards the backyard, leaving Ron in a state just below shock.

Who was Draco to talk about respect and condescension? The arrogant bastard. He deserved everything Ron could dish out.


Dawn was a murky gray, and a drizzling rain pattered on the roof of the front porch as Draco stood in the doorway, scowling at the dark, ominous clouds. He didn't hate the rain so much as he hated what it meant - he'd have to spend the day inside.

With a grunt, Ron pushed past him, a bright yellow slicker covering his head and upper body. They weren't speaking, of course, since Draco was clearly still pissed off at Ron and Ron was equally pissed off by Draco's accusations the day before. It had made for a lovely night at home.

Home. Draco shook his head and grimaced. It wasn't his home. The refuge was merely a temporary stop, and once Potter caught his father, he'd be back to his Muggle flat, with his Muggle neighbors, in his Muggle neighborhood, and… Merlin, he was sick of Muggles. Miss Laura aside, he honestly didn't think he would miss any of them if he moved away.

Perhaps, when the danger had passed and he no longer had to suffer for his father's vengeful delusions – really, what sort of man wanted to murder his own son? – he'd settle down in a nice rural Wizarding village. He'd grown rather fond of birds and trees.

Draco heaved a sigh and shoved a hand through his hair. The day matched his mood, at any rate, as he'd quickly realized that it wasn't much fun being mad at Ron when the stupid man wasn't talking to him. And, honestly, Ron didn't have much to be angry about, did he? Draco was the one who'd been wronged. Treated with such careless disregard. Abused.

It was no use scowling out in the rain about it, though, so Draco pivoted on his heel and stalked back into the den to sprawl on the sofa, cracking open a slim volume entitled Dirt Dwellers and the Common Flobberworm. No doubt a riveting read.

He'd only gotten to the second page when the hearth flared to life and Hermione Granger tumbled out, dusty ash billowing everywhere, her hair wild and clothes askew.


"Where's Ron?" she asked breathlessly, staring at him with wide brown eyes just this side of frantic.

Draco raked his gaze over her body. "Your shirt's on inside out," he commented lightly. "And Weasley's outside."

"Is Gina here?" she went on, pacing in front of the fire and twisting her fingers together.

Draco shrugged. "Haven't seen her. You do realize you're wearing the same thing you wore yesterday, right?"

Hermione dropped heavily into an armchair and thrust her hands into her ratty curls. "Shove off, Malfoy," she said tiredly.

He watched her silently for a few minutes, then clapped his book shut and straightened into a sitting position. "All right, what's wrong?" he asked.

"What?" She whipped her head up, blinking at him incredulously.

Scowling at her, he snapped, "I'm not going to repeat myself, Granger. Explain or leave."

"I…" Hermione couldn't believe she was about to spill all to Draco Malfoy, of all people, but… "I spent the night with Zabini."

Draco looked at her blankly.

"Slept with him. Had sex. Made mad passionate love," she continued in a pained voice, covering her eyes with a hand and rubbing her furrowed brow with her fingertips, "with Zabini."

"Hmmm," Draco leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Shouldn't you be calling him Blaise, then?"

Hermione groaned. "How could I have been so incredibly stupid?"

"Why would you say that?" he asked, genuinely curious. "Surely Blaise is a step up from other blokes you've been with. He is a pureblood with an impeccable lineage. Why he'd want to muck about with you, however, is questionable."

"Exactly," she agreed morosely, staring out the small den window, watching the rain snake patterns down the pane of glass.

Draco's eyes widened. He'd at least expected some sort of hot retort to his deliberate insult. And it really wasn't any fun baiting the woman if she wasn't going to bite.

"Why would Blaise want me?" Hermione asked, face bleak.

"You're asking the wrong person, Granger," Draco pointed out. "I haven't talked to Blaise for years, and women hold little to no appeal for me. Frankly, I can't give you any reasons at all for Blaise to want you."

He wasn't trying to be mean, just honest, and Hermione seemed to realize that. She merely shook her head sadly and swiped her palms across her cheeks, trying to blink back tears.

"I mean, you've got… nice breasts, I suppose, although I'm not really one to judge that. But you're not overly ugly. Or fat." He tapped a finger to his lips, narrowing his eyes at her. "In fact, in this light you're… somewhat pretty."

Hermione choked out a watery laugh. "Are you complimenting me, Malfoy?"

"I'm stating facts," he said imperiously. "You can take them as you will." Noting her still dejected appearance, Draco had his doubts that he'd get rid of Hermione anytime soon, so he got to his feet and rubbed his palms together. "Tea?" he asked cheerfully. Company was company, after all, and he really wasn't all that interested in Flobberworms.

She sniffed. "I'll help."

Just as they were settling down at the kitchen table, tea and a plateful of biscuits in front of them, Gina's voice drifted down the hall. "You'll never guess what I just—Hermione!" she exclaimed, pausing in the doorway. "Blaise is looking all over for you."

Hermione's head hit the wooden table with a thunk.

Draco took a sip of tea. "Granger isn't exactly happy about that," he helpfully translated for her.

Gina made a face, then grabbed a mug and sank down across from Hermione. "You know I love you, Hermione, but if you plan on hurting my brother…" She trailed off, her gaze vaguely threatening.

"Me hurt him?" Hermione spat out. "He's…" She bandied about for a word to properly describe him.

"Perfect?" the black-haired woman supplied.

Hermione snorted.

"Amazingly attractive?"

Hermione's mouth twitched.

"He's got a nice arse," Draco stated matter-of-factly.

A chuckle slipped past her lips. "You and Ron," she said, shaking her head.

Draco straightened in his chair. "What about us?"

Gina patted his hand. "I heard you've met the family. Now all you need to face are his sons."

"Sons?" Draco swallowed thickly. "As in more than one? I suppose that would make Mel's babble slightly more comprehensible," he murmured absently, finger tracing the faded black lettering on his mug. Only Ron would have the gall to own crockery that proclaimed, ‘I kicked Voldemort's arse.' Except maybe Potter, the glory hound.

Gina nodded, then turned to Hermione. "Did you get a terribly rambling Owl from Ron, too?"

Hermione smiled fondly. "He's so sweet when he's infatuated."

Draco's ears pricked and a knot of warmth settled in his chest. Ron was infatuated with him? "What?"

"Harry almost had kittens. By the way, Draco, he's planning on stopping by today." Gina gave him a slight smirk. "Just thought I'd warn you."

Draco sneered. "Great. Exactly what I need. Potter."

Gina pressed her lips together. "And while we're on the subject of warnings—"

"We're past that," Draco protested.

She shook her head and went on in a stern voice, "If you break Ron's heart I'm going to have to kill you."

Draco rolled his eyes and, despite his sudden rapid pulse, managed to say quite calmly, "I doubt there's any danger of that," just before a deep voice drawled, "There you are."

Three heads swiveled to the entryway where Blaise stood, one eyebrow crooked rakishly at Hermione.

"Come along, now," he said, striding forward and wrapping an arm about her waist, hoisting her out of her chair. "I've been everywhere looking for you," he admonished. "Don't think you won't pay for that."


"Oh, good, we're still on Blaise. Perhaps I'll go slightly easy on you." His grin was decidedly wolfish. "Although I doubt you'd want me to."

"Blaise," Hermione hissed, red tinting the tops of her cheeks, trying to squirm out of his hold. His arm merely tightened.

"No need for embarrassment, pet. Gina," he nodded to his sister, "Draco. If you'll excuse us…" With one fluid movement, he tossed Hermione over his shoulder and stalked from the room, the girl herself too stunned to even squeak.

Before she knew it, she was back in Blaise's bedchamber.

"You've got this on wrong, you know," he commented, fingering her shirt as he placed her back on her feet. He yanked on the hem and tugged it above her breasts. "And we've got time before class," he leered.

She slapped his hands away. "I wasn't thinking straight last night," she snarled.

"You weren't drunk," he said, abandoning efforts to remove the shirt with his hands in favor of using his wand, "if that's what you mean."

"I know I wasn't drunk," she snapped, grabbing hold of her shirt to stop it from levitating over her head.

"Fine." He tossed his wand aside. "Ripping it is."

Hermione stamped her foot in irritation. "Would you be serious for just one moment?"

"I am serious," he said, advancing on her. "Deadly." Snatching her wrists, he pulled her flush against his body and bent down to cover her mouth with his. Flicking his tongue out to run along her lower lip, he whispered, "You can't resist me, Hermione," and released her wrists to glide his hands underneath her shirt, pressing his thumbs into her hipbones.

She shuddered. Damn it. "I know."


When Gina hadn't shown up at the barn, Ron stalked back to the house in a foul mood. Or a fouler mood, really, since the mere thought of Draco's words the day before made his blood hot.

It didn't help matters much when he walked into the kitchen to find Gina drinking tea with Draco. "Mind helping me sometime today?" he bit out.

Gina waved a hand. "Oh, calm down, Ron. You just missed a delicious scene between Hermione and Blaise." She squirmed in her seat, a slight frown curving her lips. "Although the fact that Blaise is my brother does put a damper on the sexiness of it. Really makes it rather disgusting. Bleh ." Pushing back from the table, she rose to her feet and stretched.

"Ready to work now?" Ron asked dryly.

"Just about." She glanced at Draco, who was scowling into his tea. "Well, you two are just little rays of sunshine today, aren't you? Lover's spat?"

Ron snorted. "I'll be down at the barn," he said gruffly, stuffing his hands in his pockets and turning to leave the room. "Get me before you do anything with that injured Thestral."

As Ron walked out, Gina spied a fleeting spark of hurt pass over Draco's eyes before he schooled his features carefully blank. "Want to explain what that was about?" she asked softly.

"Not particularly, no."

"Suppose I'll have to wheedle it out of Ron, then," she said, looking at him expectantly.

He shrugged, not meeting her eyes. "You do that."

With a frustrated sigh, she left Draco alone, not in the least convinced she'd be able to get anything out of Ron, either. The man could be incredibly stubborn. When she tracked him down in his small office at the back of the barn, however, he actually cut her off before she could say anything at all about the matter.

"Whatever he's told you is a lie."

Gina blinked. "Pardon?"

"Whatever that prat's told you is a damn lie," he reiterated, then muttered, "Fucking spoiled brat."

She bit her lip and kept quiet, hoping Ron would elaborate.

"He had the nerve to tell me off for teasing him," he exclaimed, then glared out into the rain. "Looks like it's going to bloody thunder and lightning, and that'll just cap my day, won't it? Respect, my arse."

"Uh, Ron?" Gina ventured tentatively.

"Does he respect me? That's what I'd like to know," he ranted, slamming a fist onto his desktop.

"Ron!" she shouted, shoving a hand into his short hair and yanking.

"Ow! Damn it, that hurt." He pushed her hand away and rubbed his scalp, eyeing her warily. "What was that about?"

She leaned down close, noses nearly touching, and said, "Draco didn't tell me a thing."

"He didn't?" Ron asked, bewildered. Draco had passed over an opportunity to badmouth him? It really didn't seem likely.

"In fact," Gina continued, "he told me to ask you about it. Seemed rather… heartbroken." A slight stretch of the truth, but then, manipulation had been her strong suit at Hogwarts. She hadn't followed in her brother's Slytherin footsteps purely because of the family name.

Ron's eyes narrowed skeptically. "Heartbroken? Malfoy?" Those words seemed grossly incongruous.

"Yes, so why don't you fill me in on all the little details, eh?"

"I, ah…" He rubbed the back of his neck. "I made some comments."

"Comments?" she prompted, crossing her arms under her breasts.

"Just harmless little comments." He gave her a sheepish grin. "He doesn't much like being called adorable. I'm going to hazard a guess and say he's not fond of pretty or little, either."

Gina dropped down into the seat across from him, relieved. "I was expecting something much worse than that. So you teased him a bit and he blew up. Doesn't seem that bad."

Ron scowled down at his desk. "He seems to think it doesn't qualify as friendly teasing since I hate his guts."

"Do you?"

"Do I what?"

Gina rolled her eyes. "Hate him?"

Ron furrowed his brow. He hadn't thought of it in those terms before. He was clearly attracted to Draco, but… that didn't mean he no longer hated him, did it? "I'm not sure," he said finally. "I suppose."

"You suppose you hate him?" She huffed derisively. "Perhaps he warrants a bit more thought, Ron," she said sternly, getting to her feet. "Let's take a look at that Thestral."


Draco was deep in a decent read when his solitude was once again interrupted by the sudden flare of the den fireplace. He glanced up to see Harry Potter staring at him with narrowed eyes, suspicion writ in the tenseness of his stance.

"Malfoy," he greeted curtly.

Draco glowered at him. "Save your lecture, Potter. I don't want to hear it."

"Strangely enough," Harry drawled, "I don't care one wit what you want." He didn't go on, however, merely slouched into a chair and glared over at him.

After a few moments of staring silently at each other, Draco finally snapped, "Get on with it, Potter."

The black-haired man snorted, then dropped his gaze to the book held loosely in Draco's hands. "Is that…? That's my book, you arse!"

Draco glanced down at the novel, Seeking Death, the fifth in a series of Quidditch-based murder mysteries by Dieter Dim – entertaining, but terribly predictable – and cocked his head to the side. "That's a presumptuous conclusion, Potter. This may very well be my book," he commented, tapping the cover with a pale forefinger. "We simply could have the same taste in literature." Draco pulled a face. "Ugh, I've suddenly lost the desire to finish this," he said, pitching the book aside.

Harry scowled. "So it's yours, then?"

"No. Gina brought it for me. I can't very well read about fauna all day, can I? Now, if you aren't going to shout at me about Weasley, why don't you just fill me in on what you've found out about my father, hmm? I assume he's still on the lam?"

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Harry cleared his throat and said, "Yes, um… your house in Greece was quite nice."

"Was?" Draco asked suspiciously.

Harry grimaced. "We hinted around that you were hiding out there. Diversionary tactic of sorts," he explained, then chided, "You never changed your wards to keep out Lucius."

"Because he was dead," Draco spat out, exasperated. "Now what the hell happened?"

"Well," he started, folding his hands on his lap, "we're pretty sure it was a Muggle explosive."

"He blew up my house?" Draco shouted, storming to his feet.

Harry winced. "Er… basically."

"I loved that house!" he wailed, pacing to the fire. "The white marble portico! The fat brass Buddha in the foyer! The golden cherubs frolicking on the balustrade! Uncle Clarmont's antique red pine hat stand!" Jabbing a finger at Harry, he accused, "How could you let this happen, Potter?"

The other man cocked an eyebrow. "You're being overly-dramatic on purpose, aren't you?"

Draco blinked. "Well, yes. I'm horribly impressed you picked up on that, Potter. The house was far too ostentatious for my taste. A Buddha in the foyer? Please. Father did me a favor by getting rid of that monstrosity."

Harry coughed to hide his amusement.

"Do you have anything else to divulge? No signs found flashing ‘ Lucius went that way, check under this rock'?"

"We still have a few more leads to follow through on," Harry replied, getting to his feet. "Ron's outside with Gina, I suppose?"

"I'm not his keeper," Draco snapped, then inwardly berated himself for the pathetic petulance that had been laced through his voice.

"Thank Merlin for that," Harry muttered under his breath, then said louder, "Just let him know what I told you, will you? You're bound to be here at least all of this week."

"Excellent," Draco cracked. Just what he wanted to hear.


It wasn't until after dinner that it started storming in earnest, and the den candles flickered as a gust of wind seeped past the thin window pane to snake about the small room.

Ron clutched his logbook in a white-knuckled hand, his other digging into the sofa arm.

If Draco didn't know better, he'd say the man was afraid. But Draco had made it a point to learn all of Ron's fears and weaknesses when they'd been students at Hogwarts, and he never recalled thunderstorms as being anywhere near the list. In fact, Ron had always seemed particularly cheerful on the mornings when lightning cracked across the Great Hall.


Ron jerked his head towards him, eyes blinking rapidly. "What?"

Draco gazed intently at him, noting the way the pulse at the base of his neck jumped every time a boom of thunder echoed around the room. For the second time that day, Draco found himself asking a question of concern towards an ex-Gryffindor. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," Ron answered tersely. "I think I'll just go to bed." Setting the logbook on the low table in front of him, he got to his feet, fingers clenched tightly into fists to stem their tremors. Keeping his eyes averted, he left the room before he could make a fool of himself, knowing that Draco would most likely revel in exploiting his discomposure. He wasn't afraid of storms, really. Just the memories they brought with them.

Only three people, including Harry and Kingsley, had been there that storm-ridden night to watch him kill his brother.

Only those three people knew it had been him who'd brandished his wand, the Killing Curse at his lips, towards a wild-eyed Percy, their other brother Bill, the fifth Auror assigned to help bring in the rogue Weasley, crumpled in a lifeless heap at his feet.

Flashes of lightning had given Percy an unearthly glow, his manic, gleeful expression testament to a grossly deteriorated mind. The rain had done little to block the hate that emanated thickly off of him, and the rage that had surged through Ron, chased swiftly by debilitating pain, had been enough to crack his composure. Enough to goad him into using Avada Kedavra on his own kin, making him little better than Percy himself.

He'd tendered his resignation later that very night.

Doing his best to shake off the bleak memories, Ron stripped to his boxers and climbed under his covers, pulling the blankets up over his head.


Draco didn't know why he was creeping. It wasn't as if he had to be careful not to wake anyone. That was the entire purpose of his visit to Ron's room.

He'd gone to the kitchen for a glass of water when he'd spotted it… a figure on the lawn, illuminated by a fleeting bolt of lightning. He could have been seeing things. In fact, it was more than likely. He'd never been prone to hallucinations before, but it was still pouring rather hard out and it was completely possible that no one had been there at all. Just a trick of the wind and lashing rain and swaying trees. But he'd felt an immediate compulsion to wake Ron so he wouldn't be the only one sitting up all night fretting about assassins and homicidal fathers.

The door creaked only slightly when he pushed it open, and he padded to the bedside, pausing a moment to stare at Ron, a faint light from the window falling across his well-toned naked chest, curving a dark shadow under his chin that ran down the side of his ribcage. Draco's fingers itched to trail down the pale length of his sternum, but instead he prodded the man's shoulder and hissed his name.

Ron didn't even shift.

"Weasley?" Draco leaned down and tilted his head, straining to hear him breathe. He slept like a rock. Shoving him harshly, Draco said louder, "Wake up! Weasley, would you wake the fuck up?"

" Mmmphf?" Ron's slit eyes gleamed in the dim light. "What?" He yawned, then lazily reached out and grabbed the hand that was clutching his shoulder and rolled over.

Draco tumbled onto the bed, his curse muffled by Ron's pillow. "Weasley," he growled, trying to pull out of his grip.

"Sleep," Ron groaned, releasing Draco's wrist in favor of wrapping an arm about his bare waist, resting a palm on the base of his spine and nestling closer, insinuating a leg between Draco's thighs.

Draco gasped and held himself perfectly still. "Weasley, get off."

He mumbled something which sounded suspiciously like, "Don't wanna," and burrowed his head into the crook of Draco's neck, lightly biting the juncture at his shoulder.

Draco almost started panicking.

And then he felt something wet and warm slick over the abused skin and he nearly melted into the mattress. Ron had licked him. "Stop that," he rasped, lifting a hand to push the other man off of him, but succeeding only in curling his fingers around Ron's bicep. He waited tensely, steeling his body for whatever assault Ron was devising, but then Ron let out a deep sigh, and his body relaxed into steady, even breaths.

Ron was sound asleep.

He tested his hold, trying to squirm out of his arms, but Ron just murmured something unintelligible and pulled Draco tighter against him. Draco hated snuggling. Damn.


The cock crowed, and Ron blinked awake slowly, smoothing a palm over the warm flesh pressed against him, nuzzling his nose into the hollow just under a tempting earlobe. It'd been a while since he'd awoken with someone ensconced in his bed with him, and his lips curled up in a small, contented smile as he languidly stretched his body, taking blatant advantage of the other's close proximity as he rocked his groin against him.

And then he realized that he'd gone to bed quite alone the night before.

With a yelp, Ron jumped backwards, tumbling off the bed to land in a tangled heap of blankets, one foot caught in the tuck of sheets at the corner of the mattress.

A messy-haired blond peeked over the edge, eyes blurry with sleep. "What are you doing on the floor, Weasley?"

"What the fuck are you doing in my bed?" Ron shouted back.

"It's too early to yell," Draco groused, rolling over and shoving his head under a pillow. Then Butter heralded the dawn again and his head shot back up. "You better tell that damn bird to watch his back."

Struggling into a sitting position, Ron rested his chin on the edge of the bed, taking deep, calming breaths. "Did you just threaten my rooster, Malfoy?"

"One night," Draco drawled, a lazy smirk at his lips, "I'll have to make dinner."

"If you dare…" Ron started with a growl, then trailed off, wondering why the hell they were arguing about Butter when he still had no idea why Draco was in his bed. Placing his hands flat on the mattress, he boosted himself up, shaking off the covers, and crawled towards Draco, who turned gratifyingly pale at his approach. "Malfoy," he said in a low voice, kneeling over him.

Draco eyed him warily, noting the unreadable gleam in Ron's blue irises. "What?"

Determined to unnerve Draco even more, Ron's gaze slid from his face to trail down the slim column of his throat, then frowned, distracted by a silver, four-inch scar arcing from his collarbone to just above his heart. "What's this from," he asked softly, running his thumb along the slightly puckered mark.

Grimacing, Draco knocked Ron's hand aside and rubbed his palm into his chest. "Let's just say this isn't my father's first attempt at ridding the world of me."

Ron's eyes flew back up to his face. "Knife?"

"Just leave it, Weasley," he snapped, not in any sort of mood to discuss his life and death experiences. "Don't you have work to do?"

He nodded his head, still staring intently at him. "First order of business for the day is finding out why you've obviously spent the night in my bed."

"Ah, yes, well…" In the light of day, his worries from the night before seemed rather… stupid. Draco licked his lips, then lightly bit the bottom one, unwittingly drawing Ron's attention to his mouth.

"You're trying my patience," Ron said, fighting off the desire to nip that same lip himself.


"I'm not a eunuch, Malfoy," he elaborated impatiently, "so if you don't want to spend the morning doing much more than sleeping, I suggest you get on with your explanation."

Draco's stomach flip-flopped. While he definitely wasn't adverse to the idea, he would've liked to have been one hundred percent sure of Ron's motives. Ron hated him, didn't he? "I thought I saw someone out the kitchen window," he blurted out quickly.

Ron's lips parted in surprise. "You…" Slumping down onto the bed, he buried his head into his arms, shoulders shaking with mirth.

"Stop laughing, you git," Draco grumbled indignantly, shoving him.

Ron snorted and lifted his head. "You crawled into bed with me because you were scared?"

"Of course not," he scoffed. "I was merely concerned, and made the effort to wake you up. Or I tried to."

"You tried to wake me?" Ron asked skeptically, shifting slightly to lean on his elbows.

"Yes." Draco scowled at him. "And you accosted me and forced me into your bed."

Ron arched a brow. "Really?"

"You do realize you sleep like the dead, don't you? I had little chance of escaping your clutches."

A wicked grin spread across Ron's face. "Clutches, eh? I—"

Suddenly, the door burst open and two little boys came careening into the room, taking a running leap onto Ron amid squeals and laughter. Just behind them strode a slim, cool blonde wrapped in immaculate ice-blue robes, absently paging through a thick leather file folder. "I brought Das as well…" She glanced up, eyes widening. "Good Merlin, Ron, you knew I was dropping off the boys this morning," she cried, dismayed at the sight of the two bare-chested men lounging in a nest of rumpled bed sheets.

Ron rolled his eyes and tucked a boy under each of his arms, rising from the bed. "Calm down, Gabrielle. Nothing's going on."

"Dad, who's that?" Jem asked, dangling upside down and pointing at Draco.

Draco curled his legs beneath him and gazed at the boys in fascination. They certainly had Ron's look about them, but the twins' heads were crowned with mops of corn-silk blond hair.

"That's Mr. Malfoy, boys. He's staying with us for a while."

Gabrielle arched a perfectly manicured brow and cleared her throat. "Do you think that's wise, Ron?"

"We're not arguing about this," Ron said tiredly, dropping the giggling boys onto an overstuffed armchair in the corner of the room and reaching for a pair of worn jeans. "I'm giving the Ministry a hand and letting Malfoy use the refuge as a safe house."

"I thought we agreed that our personal lives wouldn't affect the twins," she chided, tapping her foot irritably.

"This isn't going to affect the boys, Gabby, and nothing about this is personal. You have no say in my life anymore." He stalked out of the room and started down the steps, Gabrielle at his heels.

"When it involves them," she said shrilly, "I have every right to say something!"

"This has nothing to do with the twins! I'm doing a favor for Kingsley," he insisted, exasperated.

"That's certainly a euphemism for sex I haven't heard before," she quipped derisively.

"Gods, Gabby," Ron thrust a hand through his hair, "were you this much of a prude while we were married? I've honestly blocked out that entire nightmare." It was a low blow, and not completely true. When she wasn't behaving like a total shrew, he was quite fond of the woman.

"They're six now, and very impressionable," she admonished, ignoring his gibes and following him into the kitchen.

Starting the coffee, Ron turned around and leaned back against the counter, cocking his head at his irate ex-wife. "What exactly are you objecting to here, Gabs; the fact that there's someone in my bed, or the fact that it's a man?"

"I…" Gabrielle paused, suddenly realizing how irrational she was being, and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Ron," she said diplomatically. "I didn't mean for that to come out that way. I just…" She felt a lump lodge in her throat. "I just saw you two and panicked." Although their marriage hadn't been ideal, she'd loved Ron in her own way, and the bitterness and hurt of rejection had never entirely faded in the year they'd been apart.

She was a Delacour first and foremost, though, so she lifted her chin, a slight smile at her lips. "I see you haven't outgrown your penchant for blondes."

A relieved grin cracked Ron's face. "None could ever be as gorgeous as you, Gabs."

"Of course not," she sniffed daintily. "And don't call me Gabs."


Draco shifted nervously under the piercing gaze of the two boys. Their blue eyes were wide and curious, peering over the side of the mattress, their pale hair wild and the freckles speckling their snub noses labeling them firmly as Weasleys, despite the distinct lack of red.

He really hadn't ever spent much time with children, although it was more from lack of opportunity than conscious choice. Mel had been an adventure the day before, but she'd thankfully entertained herself – all that had been required was his presence, and a few well-placed nods and ‘ hmmms.' He was somewhat at a loss of what to do with the twins, who were staring at him with an expectant air.

"Hullo," one finally said, clambering up to sit beside him, "my name's Jem. What're you doin' in dad's bed?"

"Ah…" What to say, what to say? "Nothing."

This seemed to appease the little Weasley, since he didn't question further, and the other boy gripped his brother's shirt and wiggled himself up, moving to the middle of the mattress, smile wide and mischievous, grubby trainers streaking dirt on the covers. "Hi. Are you naked?"

Draco choked on his breath. "No," he stressed, suppressing the desire to glare at the nosy little boys. "And you are…?"

"I'm Beans," he answered, causing Draco's brows to rise comically.

Beans? What kind of name was Beans?

Jostling for a better position on the bed, the boy shot out his lower lip and whined, "Move over, git," towards his brother.

Jem shoved his shoulder. "Don't say git, stupid. Mum'll box your ears."

"Don't push me," the other hissed. "I'll tell Dad."

"Go ahead, tattletale." He shoved Beans again and stuck out his tongue. "Stupid baby."

Draco watched the exchange silently, and then stifled a smirk as they launched themselves at each other with brotherly insults, wrestling playfully until Beans slipped off the bed, landing with a thunk on the floor.

"Ow," he said softly, blinking up at them.

"Are you all right?" Draco asked politely.

Nodding, Beans scrambled back up onto the bed. "Mr. Malfoy…" he started tentatively, shooting his brother a speaking glance.

Jem pursed his lips. "Did you an' Dad really have a Wizard's duel?"

Draco was mentally taken aback. Ron had been telling his sons tales about him? "Once or twice," he conceded warily.

The pair gazed at him with something akin to awe. "Dad says you almost killed him," Beans said, voice hushed.

Starting to become uncomfortable with their intense scrutiny, Draco coughed and said, "Yes, well…" It was true, of course; he had almost killed Ron. Although it had been completely by accident. Well, he admitted to himself, not completely, even though he'd had no idea the curse would act the way it had.

"Boys!" a shout came from the stairwell. "Come say goodbye to your mum!"

With twin shouts of "Mum!" they scurried off the bed, pushing each other out of the way as they rushed the door. Feet skidding on the hardwood floors, they ran past their father at the top of the steps, ignoring his admonishment to slow down.

"Sorry about that," Ron said as he moved into the doorway, leaning a hip against the jamb. He hadn't donned a shirt yet, and had failed to completely fasten all the buttons on his jeans. The barest hint of a farmer's tan was visible on his biceps, his neck just a shade darker then the fine planes of his chest, nearly smooth with a faint trail of ginger hair disappearing into the waistband of his boxers.

Draco swallowed hard and shrugged with forced casualness. "What time is it?" he asked, dipping his gaze to the covers and picking at it lightly with his fingertips.

"Just after seven," Ron replied, moving to his closet and scooping up a ratty work t-shirt, pulling it over his head. "The rain's stopped at least, so you can spend your day outside." He eyed Draco, sitting in the middle of the bed speculatively, the white sheets pooled in his lap, his hands loosely draped over his knees. Silver hair fell just below his ears, a few strands curving across his left eye, and he looked… disturbingly fetching. Honestly, there were worse things to wake up to than a half-naked blond. "The boys will probably pester you to death."

"About your sons, Weasley," Draco gave him an odd glance. "Who exactly named them? Jem and Beans?"

Ron laughed and shook his head. "James and Eric, actually. James being the one who likes to—"

"Name things after food, yes, I see," he finished for him, arching an amused brow. "Beans."

He shrugged. "Gabby's the only one who really calls him Eric anymore. Mum's even made him a jumper with a ‘B' on it." Ron sat heavily on the edge of the bed and sighed, reaching for his scuffed boots.

"So…" Draco started. "You married a Delacour?"

Ron gave him a lop-sided smile. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Never knew you went for babies, Weasley," he smirked. "How old was she when you married? Fifteen?"

"Funny, Malfoy," Ron said dryly. "And here I was going to offer you coffee in bed." He chuckled at the sudden longing on Draco's face. "Too late now, Blondie."

Draco sneered, then snapped, "Fine, Red."

Ron cocked his head to the side. "Doesn't have the same derogatory connotation, does it?" he quipped.

"Elaborate vocabulary for a Weasley," Draco shot back, eyes narrowed. "Finally save up enough for a dictionary?"

The tips of Ron's ears reddened.

Ignoring the rather obvious signs of Ron's growing anger, Draco went on, "Although I suppose Gabrielle brought a fair amount of Delacour money into the marriage bed with her. Tell me, Weasel, are you taking alimony? A monthly stipend?" His smile was sweetly vicious.

"You should really learn to keep your gob shut, Malfoy," Ron bit out, fingers gripping the bed sheets tightly.

"What, Weasley? Can't take a little playful teasing? Friendly ribbing?" he asked with mock-innocence, gray eyes wide.

Ron stared into the silently challenging irises, then finally said stiffly, "Point taken, Malfoy. We're not friends. We'll never be friends. So let's just try to be civil and not piss each other off, eh?" Rising from the bed, he stalked to the door, giving Draco one last glare before retreating down the hall.


Hermione was spitting mad. Furious. In a heated rage.

"I don't see what the big deal is, Hermione," Blaise said, trailing after her as she hustled down the corridor to the Great Hall, fists clenched at her sides.

"You don't see…?" She paused, turning to glare at him incredulously. "You don't see what the big deal is? Zabini, you've been spying on me! For ages!"

The dark-haired professor shrugged. "So? Water under the bridge now. I've seen you naked by your conscious choice," he pointed out calmly. "Let's keep the past firmly in the past, shall we?"

Gaping at him, she really couldn't believe his gall. She'd actually been starting to think that things might work out between them. He was attractive, after all, and amusing when he wasn't being a total bastard to her. And then he went and told her he'd been spying on her. As a bloody mongoose! "It's creepy, Blaise, and very disturbing," she said, her voice a low hiss. Students were starting to stare.

"You should be flattered I made the effort."

"Flattered? That you invaded my privacy?" Not only was she angry, she was mortified. The things he could have seen! She regarded her rooms in the castle as a retreat. A place where she could relax, melt away stress. Act extremely un-Hermione-like, if she so chose.

He grinned winningly at her. "You do a charming rendition of… what was it…?" He hummed a few bars of I Feel Pretty from West Side Story.

That he even knew the melody of something so entirely Muggle betrayed just how often he'd caught her singing it to herself. "You're not helping your case, Zabini," she said through clenched teeth, her cheeks alarmingly warm. Pivoting on her heel, she sent the lingering, curious students a glare and stalked past them into the Great Hall.

Blaise followed close behind, persistent as always, and took his regular seat across from her at the staff table. He arched a brow, his lips quirked. "You're going to have to forgive me, Hermione."

"I don't have to do anything," she bit out, shoving a piece of fluffy pancake into her mouth and chewing viciously.

Leaning forward onto the table with his elbows, he rested his chin on top of his clasped hands and fixed her with a steady gaze. "Let me outline this little scenario for you: You, being stubborn and unnecessarily embarrassed, will start avoiding me like a Hufflepuff, skipping meals and slinking around corridors, retiring early and getting entirely too much sleep, creating a mean glint in your eyes that will no doubt make all the students terrified of you. Or more so.

"I, being highly sexed, not to mention wily and determined, will eventually hunt you down, most likely in your classroom, filled with impressionable little fourth-years, and trap you against your desk, or chalkboard, or, better still, a student's desk, and proceed to hike up your robes until my starving, itching palms come in contact with your—"

"Enough!" Hermione cried out, eyes wide, face red and breathing just a bit erratic.

He smirked. "Ready to forgive and forget?"

"I never should've gotten involved with you in the first place," she muttered, scowling at her lunch. The man was infuriating. And manipulating. And, she realized, there was no way in hell he was ever going to let her get away from him.

The thought was oddly comforting.

With a flurry of flapping wings, a few late mail owls soared into the Great Hall, and a small brown owl perched on Hermione's shoulder, nipping playfully at her ear. She untied the parchment attached to Ham's leg and gave the owl a piece of biscuit, sighing as it hooted happily and hopped up onto her head. The small bird was much more subdued than its sire, Pig, but had many of the same annoying habits.

"Another note from Weasley?" Blaise asked , eyeing the runty bird with amusement as it settled down into Hermione's mass of hair.

"From Malfoy, actually," she said absently, scanning the missive. She gave a snort of laughter. "'Dear Granger, tea was lovely the other day. I found your presence marginally helpful, if grossly uncomfortable at times. I bear no ill will towards you for departing without a proper goodbye. Blaise's forcefulness is to be admired, along with his nicely shaped bum.'" Hermione glanced up at the black-haired man with a grin. "He has a way with words, doesn't he?"

Blaise shook his head. "Does the letter have a point?"

"Other than to beg me to visit? No." She frowned. "He really must be bored out of his skull over there."

"Nothing else?" Blaise sank down in to his seat, disappointed. "I think I prefer Weasley's letters. Much more juicy."

"Well, he does say that he needs my advice. ‘Weasley's in a snit, which is entirely not my fault; however, I'm afraid that he might be under the impression that it is. Although, I stress, it is clearly not. Even so, I'd prefer that he not be angry, as he is my only companionship – besides two boys and a dog – and I am anxious to chat about things that do not involve a) dirt, b) slobbering beasts, c) how far Beans can stick his finger up his nose, d) bugs that look suspiciously like dirt, or e) wet dirt, i.e. mud.' He's crossed out an entire line here." She held the paper up to the light. "Looks like, ‘I'd greatly appreciate your help with this matter.'"

"What'd he write instead?"

Her lips curled up in wry amusement. "'I expect your help forthwith, or I shall take great joy in exposing the insecurities you entrusted me with yesterday.'"

"Forthwith? Who uses forthwith? Was Draco always this odd?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I guess I should visit, then," she sighed. "Don't suppose you'd want to go with me?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he said, grin wide.


"Are you sure about this?" Beans looked doubtfully up at him, hand cupped over his eyes.

Draco swung his legs back and forth, the thick limb underneath him swaying slightly with his movements. "Just get your foot in the crook of the tree, there," he said, "and I'll grab your hand."

Teaching Ron's kids how to climb a tree had not been on the agenda for the day, but they'd been following him around like puppies ever since he'd stepped outside. Jem was already in the branches above him, making clucking chicken noises at his brother.

Beans scowled at the wordless insult and resolutely lifted his foot, pulling himself up and digging his stubby fingers into the rough bark, scrambling slightly as he started to lose balance.

Jem laughed, and Draco leaned down to reach out a hand, catching the boy's wrist before he could topple backwards onto the ground.

"Easy, Beans. Just lean into the tree. All right?"

The boy nodded and Draco guided him higher, keeping a firm hold on him as he climbed onto the limb next to him. "I did it," he beamed, breathing hard.

A natural in the thick maple, Jem dropped down beside him, wrapping an arm around his brother's neck and digging a knuckle into his scalp, causing a slight tussle that Draco eyed with apprehension. They were only about ten or so feet off the ground, but Ron would likely kill him if they fell out of the tree.

Over the course of the day, Draco had noted several small differences between the two boys, the bulk of it personality wise. Beans reminded him a little of Ron, hesitant and defensive and quick to temper, while Jem, confident and outspoken, was perfectly capable of needling his brother relentlessly, evidence of a slight malicious streak that he could only assume originated from his mother. Neither boy was particularly difficult, though. And, for the most part, Draco found them amusing, if a bit tiring.

Dastardly, the boys' Newfoundland – which they had assured him was a dog, but looked suspiciously like the result of some mad union between a grim and a bear – gazed up at them adoringly from the ground below, his furry maw wide, tongue lolling in a pant, muzzle flecked with strings of drool. He was easily the size of Draco and the boys put together, and Draco had taken an instant dislike of him. Which, of course, meant that the beast greatly desired to be attached to his hip. At all times. He'd taken to the tree in desperation, and the dog was waiting patiently for him to climb down.

"No rough play in the tree," Draco finally admonished, surprising himself with how adult he sounded.

Apparently, though, the twins didn't quite agree with that assessment, as they completely ignored his warning. Jem's fingers dug into his brother's side, causing Beans to erupt into harsh giggles. In retaliation, Beans grabbed one of Jem's legs, yanking upward, and Draco watched in horror as they teetered on the limb, their bodies locked together.

One hand automatically going for his wand, the other reaching out to the boys, Draco managed to fist the back of Beans' t-shirt. But the worn material gave way under his fast grip, and the twins' startled cries filled the air as they toppled off the branch. It all happened far too quickly for Draco to even palm his wand, but he didn't think that excuse would appease Ron when faced with his injured sons.

Dropping out of the tree, Draco briefly pondered fleeing, but reasoned that death by an irate Ron's hands would be marginally better than death by Lucius'. Probably.


They weren't moving.

They weren't moving, and for a brief instant, Draco actually thought they were dead. Which was absurd, of course. They'd only fallen ten feet. Still, he started mentally rifling through all the places he could possibly hide that didn't require him leaving Ron's wards and getting himself killed.

But then he heard a few hitched breaths and a whimper and both boys blinked up at him with large, watery eyes.

Relief flooded through him, and he held up a finger. "No. No crying," he said hastily. Ron hadn't seen this whole fiasco happen and, as far as he was concerned, the important thing was that Ron would never find out about it. "You're fine," he insisted, even though he really had no idea if that was true. They could have internal injuries, couldn't they? "All right?"

The boys nodded jerkily, sniffling, and Draco helped them sit up, running his hands over their arms and legs, surreptitiously checking for broken bones and blood. All seemed intact.

"Now," he said matter-of-factly to the still mute boys, "here's what we're going to do. We're going to go inside and clean up a bit, get some cookies," the twins brightened perceptively at the word ‘cookies' and Draco grinned, "and we're not going to mention this little incident to your father. Ever. Okay?"

"Okay," they chorused.

Excellent. Ron wouldn't suspect a thing. Except Beans' knee was a bit scraped up, and Jem was limping noticeably, but if they kept their little maws shut about this, those injuries could be attributed to any number of little boy shenanigans. All of which would have nothing to do with Draco.

Unfortunately, Ron was in the kitchen making the boys a late lunch when they entered, and he took one look at them and asked sternly, "What happened?"

"We fell out of a tree, Dad," Jem cried excitedly.

Draco groaned and smacked a palm against his forehead.

"Did you?" Ron asked, his voice low and surprisingly calm.

"Look!" Beans lifted his arm and revealed a bloody elbow.

Making as little sound as possible, Draco started backing out of the room.

"Hang on a minute, Malfoy," Ron said without looking up, eyes examining the proudly displayed shredded elbow and skinned knee. He wasn't too worried about the boys. After all, they'd gotten into far worse scrapes before – an incident with a duck, Das and his parents' pond came to mind - and he didn't doubt for a minute that it was the twins' own faults that they'd managed to tumble out of a tree.

A glance at Draco, though, showed the pale man even paler, on the verge of flight, one hand clutching the doorjamb.

"I found them," Draco lied hastily, then cursed at how utterly stupid that sounded, not to mention the fact that it wasn't even a decent lie. Somehow, in the years spent on his own, he'd managed to misplace his glib tongue.

Jem tugged on his father's shirt. "Mr. Malfoy showed me how to climb, and then Beans didn't want to, ‘cause he was scared and I thought he was going to cry, but he didn't and then Mr. Malfoy pulled him up and then--" He stopped abruptly, clearly having recalled that they'd been fighting on the branch, and rightly assumed that his dad would most likely blame him for starting it. "Beans pushed me," he said finally, pointing accusingly at his brother.

Ron looked skeptical, and Beans shouted, "Did not!"

"Did too," Jem countered, a stubborn tilt to his chin.

"Did not!"

"Did too."


"Oh, for the love of Merlin," Draco exclaimed, his head hurting from the inane arguing. He turned to Ron and crossed his arms over his chest, daring Ron to get angry at him. He couldn't do anything rash, after all, with the boys watching them intently. "Beans didn't push Jem. They were fighting."

"Is this true, boys?" Ron asked them, knowing full well that it was. It was only all too typical of the constantly squabbling twins. He never remembered Fred and George having this same sort of sibling rivalry.

The tops of Jem's cheeks pinked. "No."

"Are you saying Mr. Malfoy's a liar, then?" he asked softly, aware that his son couldn't look him in the eyes. That, coupled with the blush, told him all he needed to know.

But still, Jem responded with a short nod of his head, and Beans, in a rare display of brotherly solidarity, fell stubbornly silent, refusing to either dispute or agree with Jem's account, despite his earlier protests.

"I see. Well, I suppose I'll have to punish him." He sent Draco a speaking glance, hoping he'd play along. "Because we don't tolerate lying in this house, do we boys?"

Several naughty things crossed Draco's mind at the thought of Ron punishing him… several inappropriate scenarios that he didn't think he'd mind at all. He understood the gist of what Ron was trying to do, though, so he kept silent and turned sad eyes on the twins, hoping to riddle them with guilt.

The little bastards just nodded solemnly.

Draco arched a questioning brow at Ron, wondering what he was planning to do now. He really hoped liars didn't get spanked. Or rather… well… He felt himself heat up a bit at the thought and coughed to clear his throat.

Ron smirked. "Well, Malfoy, what do you have to say for yourself?"

This was completely ridiculous. Draco scowled at the other man's patronizing tone. "Not a thing," he replied stiffly. What did he expect him to say?

Ron shifted his gaze between his boys, who were staring at their shoes, to Draco, who was glaring at him expectantly, and he sighed. "All right. Lunch will be ready in a few. Why don't you two go find Gina for me?"

Jem and Beans couldn't get out of the kitchen fast enough, pushing each other past Draco and through the doorway to race down the hall at full speed.

"Excellent parenting skills, Weasley," Draco bit out.

"Just wait," Ron said, turning back to finish making sandwiches. "Do you want ham or roast beef?"

"Roast beef. What do you mean, just wait? Wait for what?"

He waved a sharp knife nonchalantly. "The guilt will set in soon. Especially if they know you've been properly punished."

There was that word again, sending a sliver of heat down his spine. Punished. Gods, he never suspected he'd had a kinky bent before. He waited a beat, until he was sure his voice wouldn't break, then asked, "Properly punished?" There, that sounded normal. Didn't it?

"I think a day inside should be sufficient."

Draco bristled. "Look here, Weasley. You can't really make me do anything. Besides the fact that I didn't actually lie—"

"You did."


"You did lie."

"I did not," Draco stated, affronted.

Ron shot him a glance over his shoulder. "You said you'd found them, when you'd really been with them in the tree."

"I… ah…" He trailed off, well and truly caught. And now he'd have to spend the rest of the glorious day inside. Bugger. "Must I go to my room, or am I allowed to roam the house?" he asked petulantly.

Ron finished off the sandwiches and shoved a plate into Draco's hands. "Your room would be more effective, but I'm not going to make you."

And that's when Draco realized it. Realized that something was off. Ron was talking to him, yes, when he rather expected to be ignored after their words that morning, but the… the teasing, damn it, was gone. Once the twins had left the room, all emotion had leached from Ron's voice. It was disconcerting.

He wasn't about to comment on it, though, as it was what he'd wanted all along, so he nodded a curt thanks and strode from the room, intent on having a good, long sulk.


Ron could hear his boys just outside the den, whispering harshly to each other, and he smiled down at his book. It'd taken a little longer than he'd hoped – it was just after seven – but the empty space at the kitchen table at dinner seemed to have tipped the scale of guilt over the edge. To a Weasley, almost nothing was more important than food, and they'd caused Draco to miss an entire meal.

"What is it?" Ron called out, watching the doorway as the twins shuffled inside, hands deep in pockets, eyes wide and lips pouting.

"Daaad," Jem drew out, looking up at him through his messy fringe.

Oh, they were pulling out all the stops. Ron bit his lip to keep from smiling. "Yes?"

Tears threatened to spill down Beans cheeks as he took a shaky breath. Whether they were from guilt, fear or for show, Ron wasn't quite certain. Perhaps it was a little of all three. "Jem lied," he said softly.

His brother shot him a nasty look. "You did, too."

"Did not," Beans cried.

"Did too."

"Did not."

"Boys," Ron interrupted, a warning in his voice. "You both lied about Mr. Malfoy." When Beans opened his mouth to protest, he went on, "You didn't say anything, Beans, but sometimes, not speaking up for what you know is right is just as bad. Understand?"

"Yes," Beans answered sullenly.

"And so what are you going to do now?" he asked expectantly.

"' Pologize to Mr. Malfoy."

"And…?" he prompted.

Jem bit his lip. "You'll still love us?" he asked hopefully in a blatant attempt to avoid punishment.

Ron's mouth twitched, but he hid his amusement behind a cough. "That, too."

He really wasn't fond of disciplining the boys, Gabrielle was much more adept at it than him, but he followed them up the stairs, nudging them towards Draco's door when their steps lagged.

At the threshold, they squabbled a bit, shoving each other forwards, arguing in hushed voices about who should knock. Ron reached over and rapped loudly on the door, frowning down at them. He couldn't imagine how they could be so mean to each other, yet fiercely protective at the same time.

Draco had a funny little disgruntled tilt to his mouth when he opened the door, his clothes slightly wrinkled, as if he'd been sprawled in one position for hours – which Ron suspected he probably had. His feet were bare, and although Draco had spent much his time at the refuge barefoot, it suddenly hit Ron how sweet he looked, almost vulnerable, fully dressed and shifting impatiently on sock-less feet. Something about the pale, narrow appendages peeking out from under overlong jeans just caused an odd constriction in his chest.

"Yes?" he asked, one brow arched.

Ron cleared his throat meaningfully, and Jem kicked out a foot, thumping his trainer against the doorframe. "M'sorry," he mumbled.

"Louder," Ron admonished.

Jem rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry I called you a liar," he reiterated, if somewhat belligerently.

"I'm sorry, too," Beans piped in.

"Fine," Draco said shortly, then went to close the door in their faces.

Ron slapped a hand out, strong-arming the door open, while the boys looked on in open-mouthed silence. "Malfoy," he grit out, "don't you have something to say as well?"

Draco gave a long-suffering sigh. "Oh, all right. You're forgiven. Feel free to squeal with joy," he said dryly.

Apparently, being caged up all day tended to make Draco even more abrasive and ill-tempered than usual.

"You two," Ron said, looking sternly down at his sons, "off to bed."

The boys groaned, as it was a full two hours before their normal bedtime, but it was a relatively light punishment – certainly less than they would have received from their mum for a like offense – so they trudged down the hall to their bedroom with little grumbling.

Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he turned back to Draco. "Care to join me in the den? We could play a game of chess, if you like," he suggested, feeling slightly guilty that the man had been forced inside all afternoon, even though Ron hadn't really expected him to stay in his room the whole time.

Draco gave him a scathing glare, then said, "No," and slammed his door shut.

Ron blinked at the dark wood, then mentally shrugged. He'd tried his level best to remain neutral to Draco since that morning, speaking civilly and calmly, but it didn't seem to satisfy the prat. In fact, it only served to make him more surly and churlish.

Making his way back to the den, Ron sighed and sank low in the sofa. He just couldn't win.

He'd just cracked open his journal when the hearth sparked to life, and Hermione stepped into the room, followed closely by a grinning Blaise.

"Not that I'm complaining," Ron said, "but I think I've seen more of you two this week then I have in the past year."

"That's because you're practically a hermit," Blaise pointed out blithely, skirting his gaze around the room. "Where's Draco?"

"In his room."

Blaise's eyes lit up. "Do I detect a hint of disgruntlement in your tone?"

He arched a brow. "What of it?"

Hermione smacked Blaise's arm. "Stop it. Now."

"Come on," Blaise went on, ignoring Hermione, "we know you'd be in there with him if you had your druthers. No use pretending for us."

Ron gave the dark-haired man an incredulous look, then turned to Hermione. "What's he blathering about?"

She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Blaise is infatuated with you and Malfoy. Specifically, you and Malfoy shagging," she clarified.

"Each other?"

"No, me," she cracked, then narrowed her gaze at Blaise when she spotted a gleam of interest in his eyes. "Don't even think about it."

"What?" he asked mock-innocently, a wicked smile playing about his lips.

"Incorrigible git," Hermione muttered under her breath. Her scowl, though, didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Tea, anyone?" Ron said, getting to his feet, eager to change the subject.

Blaise shook his head. "Oh, no, Weasley, you're not getting off that easily."

"Didn't you want to talk to Malfoy, Zabini?"

"Coward," Blaise drawled.

"Pervert," Ron snapped back. "Now that we've gotten the name calling out of the way, why don't you trot upstairs and see Malfoy? Hermione, can I talk to you alone for a moment?"

Blaise waggled his brows suggestively, which didn't suit the man at all, and Hermione viciously pinched his side.

"Ah, retribution," Blaise purred dangerously. "We'll continue that later, my love."

"Blaise," Hermione hissed, blood rushing to her cheeks.

The man just winked and strode from the room, humming under his breath.

Ron rounded on her as soon as Blaise disappeared up the steps. "What did you tell Zabini?" he demanded.

She dropped down into an armchair by the hearth. "You said you fancied him, Ron. Blaise knowing seems a moot point, doesn't it?"

"Moot how, exactly? I said I fancied him," he ranted. "Doesn't mean I'm going to do anything about it. And now Zabini's going to tell—"

"Why not?" she interrupted sharply.

Ron blinked. "Why not, what?"

"Why aren't you going to do something about it? And if Blaise tells Malfoy, it's hardly going to be traumatizing news for the man." She gave him a smug smile. "I think he's fond of you as well."

Ron snorted and took the seat across from her, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. "I doubt it."


"I'm not arguing with you about this," he said firmly, blue eyes flashing. "He's made his opinion of me clear enough on several occasions." And if Blaise said anything remotely damning to Draco, he was going to kill him.

Hermione sighed, knowing a brick wall when she saw one. "I'll take that tea now."


"Knock, knock."

Draco yanked open his door to find Blaise standing there, hands in his pockets. "That's very annoying," he growled, stepping aside to let the man enter.

"What's got your knickers in a twist? Never mind," he said, a sly turn to his lips. "I know exactly what… or should I say who?"

Draco crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. "I asked for Granger, not you."

"We're a pair now," he said nonchalantly, bouncing slightly on the edge of the bed.

"You mean you're shagging her," Draco clarified.

Blaise shrugged. "Among other things. Now, I've got a list right here," he said, pulling out a piece of parchment and smoothing it open on the comforter.

"A list of what?" Draco asked, curious despite his knowledge of Blaise's often sordid predilections. Or perhaps because of just that.

"Ways for you to seduce Weasley."

"I don't want to seduce Weasley."

"Of course you want to seduce Weasley," Blaise countered.

"Look, Blaise, I don't know what kind of sick fantasy you've got stuck in your mind this time, but I do not want to seduce Weasley."

"You want him to do all the work, then?" he asked amiably. "I think we can come up with a plan for that."

"No one will be doing any work," Draco said, his voice tight. "No seducing will be going on whatsoever."

The black-haired man sighed. "I can understand Weasley's stubbornness," he started, "since he's always been a contrary arsehole. You, however, never used to have any qualms about doing whatever you pleased, no matter the consequences. So what's holding you back now?"

"I grew up," Draco quipped lightly, although his eyes belied his flippancy, "and realized that consequences can sting quite harshly."

Blaise stared at him a moment, his gaze searching. "You're afraid," he accused finally.

"No, not at all." It was a blatant lie, of course, and Blaise knew it.

"You're afraid," he laughed. "Of Weasley. Merlin, do you know how ridiculous that sounds?"

"I'm not afraid of Weasley! I don't want anything to do with Weasley!" he shouted, face rapidly blooming red. "He can go to hell for all I care."

"You might want to keep your voice down."

Draco spun around to face the doorway to see Ron standing there, a wide-eyed Hermione by his side. Ron's irises were cold, and Draco swallowed, unable to think of anything proper to say. "What?" he managed.

"I'd rather not have the boys hear you yelling about how much you hate me, Malfoy."

"I wasn't…" Draco trailed off, sending Blaise a helpless look.

"Your mouth has always been your downfall, Draco," Blaise said, shaking his head wryly. He started for the door, but pressed the small piece of parchment into Draco's hand as he passed. "Think about it."

Draco's fingers tightened involuntarily around the paper as Ron shot him an unreadable glance, then followed Blaise and Hermione down the hall. Shit. He'd just made a muck of things.

Not that having Ron think he hated him was a bad thing. It really didn't matter at all in the long run and…

And who the fuck was he kidding? He wanted the infuriating man, and he was terrified of that want. He was fairly sure Ron felt something akin to reluctant lust for him, and that just wasn't… well, it wasn't quite enough.

He had set up careful barriers around himself over the years, set limits on his friendships and lovers, having had enough trauma and heartache the first eighteen years of his life to choke a hippogriff, not the least at the hands of his own family. And as trite as it sounded, he feared Ron had the capability, and motivation, to break his heart.

With a choked sound of disgust, Draco sneered down at the crumpled bit of parchment. Break his heart? It was trite. And, after having the words rattling around in his head, utterly laughable. Ron didn't have, and would never have, that kind of hold over him. Blaise was right; being scared of Ron, being afraid of wanting the man, was beyond ridiculous.

His heart didn't have to enter the equation at all.


Ron was understandably suspicious when Draco flashed him a disarming smile the next morning, since he was for once cheerfully up at the crack of dawn, denim-clad and, strangely enough, shirtless. His silvery blond hair fell in a shining mass, almost artfully disarrayed, and his eyes were heavy-lidded and sleep-blurred.

"Hullo," Draco greeted him in a pleasant purr, then yawned and stretched, arms folding behind the back of his head.

Ron's eyes followed the lean lines of his body, watching the already low-riding jeans settle lower on his hipbones as Draco's stomach muscles contracted, affording Ron a stirring image of the smooth expanse of skin just above Draco's groin. Ron shifted in his seat and dropped his eyes to his coffee. "Morning," he mumbled.

"Twins aren't up?" Draco asked, turning to reach for a mug.

If Ron didn't know better, he'd think Draco was deliberately trying to entice him. "Not yet."

"Hmmm. Mind giving me a hand, Weasley?" He gestured towards the open cabinet. "Cup's a bit further back than I can reach."

Ron's brows shot up. He was asking for his help? Draco, who hated his height with a passion and would never, ever deliberately give Ron a chance to see him at a disadvantage, wanted his help? Something was definitely up with Draco.

" Weasley?"

"Uh… yeah," he said, shaking his head slightly and rising to his feet. "Sure."

Draco cocked a hip on the edge of the counter, not bothering to budge as Ron walked towards him, his mouth still in an amiable curve that he found somewhat creepy. As even a heated glare failed to cause Draco to move out of the way, Ron had to reach around him to stretch his arm up to the shelf, the side of his body brushing Draco's bare chest.

Ron's t-shirt was soft and worn thin from repeated washings, proving little protection against the heat of the other man's skin. He gritted his teeth and wrapped his fingers around a white mug, then slammed it down on the counter and turned away, resisting the urge to cage Draco up to the marble slab and press himself more firmly along him.

It didn't occur to him until after he'd sat back down that he could've avoided brushing against Draco altogether by using his wand. Cursing his stupidity, he refreshed his cup of coffee and stared blindly at that morning's Daily Prophet, pretending not to notice the swing of Draco's hips as he wandered slowly over to the table.

Draco was playing with fire.

He was actually enjoying it, too. Settling down next to Ron, he filled his mug with coffee and accidentally brushed his bare foot along the man's jean-encased calf, earning a glare and a slight shove from Ron, but also pinked-cheeks and a barely perceptible growl. Promising. Very promising.

"Are you blushing, Weasley?" Draco asked, one brow quirked in amusement.

Ron narrowed his eyes at him. "What game are you playing?" he demanded.

Ignoring the question, Draco smiled around the rim of his mug as he held it to his lips, and a soft moan drifted up from his throat as he took a sip. "Excellent."

"Are you trying to drive me crazy?" Ron burst out in sudden frustration.

"Why, no," he said, glancing over at him, eyes wide with overt innocence. Inside he was cackling evilly, and more than a little turned on by the way Ron was staring at his lips. Blaise was a genius.

He could annoy and seduce Ron at the same time. Of course, as Blaise had predicted, the two practically went hand in hand with Ron. The only way he was going to get anywhere with Ron was to frustrate him enough to snap his control, and hope that Ron would jump him instead of trying to rip out his throat. A bit of a risky gamble, but Draco figured the pay-off would be worth it.

Ron tightened his grip on his coffee mug, relishing the heat that burned through the porcelain. "I'm taking the boys to Diagon Alley this afternoon."

Draco straightened in his seat. "Can I—"

"No," Ron cut him off.



Narrowing his eyes, Draco scowled at him. "Why the hell not?"

"You honestly don't know?" Ron asked, incredulous. "Your father wants you dead, Malfoy, and you want to stroll about Wizarding London?"

"We went to visit your mum," Draco pointed out with a slight pout.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Who lives not a mile away in a heavily warded house. You're not going out in public, Malfoy. That's final."

Draco's previous high spirits dropped considerably. How was he supposed to test out his Blaise-inspired wiles if Ron wasn't even going to be around? "How long will you be gone?"

Ron shrugged. "A few hours. Might stay out for dinner." He arched a brow. "I'm sure you can scrounge up something for yourself if that happens."

"Of course," Draco stated imperiously. Which was true, of course, even though he really wasn't the best cook. But then, he was a wizard. Conjuring was quite possibly the best use of magic ever invented.

And then he remembered his lecherous intentions, and how whining wouldn't necessarily tempt Ron into ravishing him. Quickly, he twisted his pouted lips into a semi-pleasant smirk.

"What?" Ron asked warily.

Draco shrugged and glanced down at his coffee cup, swirling the contents absently. "Blaise has some odd notions, doesn't he?"

"Zabini is a sick bastard," Ron said emphatically, pushing back from the table and dumping his now chilled coffee into the sink.

"You think so?" Draco asked, jerking his head up in surprise. He hadn't actually thought that Blaise had approached Ron with his current desire to have the two of them shagging, but apparently he must have said something. And while Blaise's obsessive harping about it was somewhat disturbing, sick bastard wasn't exactly the first description that popped into Draco's head. Amazingly insightful, perhaps. Although Draco was well past being shocked by his own desire to bed the Weasel.

Ron obviously needed some convincing.

He gave him a narrowed look, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest. "I suppose you don't?"

Draco cocked his head quizzically. "Not particularly, no."

"Figures," Ron muttered.

Frowning, Draco opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by the twins skidding through the doorway, laughing and, as always, shoving each other as they fought their way to the lower cabinet that housed their cereal.

Ron ruffled their hair and got out milk, then stalked out of the kitchen to get ready for work.

Draco sank down lower in his seat, absently chewing on his lower lip, and watched him leave. With a sigh, he pulled Blaise's list out of his pocket and ran his fingers over the creased parchment. Rage, Blaise had written, is key. Use it to your advantage. The Weasley temper is a force that can be used for both good and evil. And by evil, I mean unleashed furious shagging. Weasley can't argue his way out of a bag, so it won't take much to get physical. This, of course, was absolutely true.

Use food, and use it well. The mention of food was unsurprising, knowing Ron's appetite, but the exact meaning of the suggestion was somewhat obscured by the fact that Blaise may or may not have had actually eating the food in mind. At least, not in the conventional way.

Exploit his Gryffindoric tendencies. Accidents happen. And a few tears wouldn't hurt either. Never underestimate the sympathy vote. Well, he certainly wasn't going to cry in front of the man, even if the tears were merely feigned. And what did Blaise expect him to do, jump into the dragon pen? Have Ron - in some sort of unoriginal fairly-tale maneuver - literally slay the menacing beast for him?

Draco snorted derisively, and then his mouth turned down in a scowl as he re-read the fourth item. You're pretty; flaunt it. Even more than usual. Weasley likes shiny things. How the hell did Blaise know about Ron's preferences?

In fact, when he thought about it, the whole list reeked of ex-lover. Draco's stomach roiled, and he suddenly felt inexplicably nauseous. Clenching his fingers, his thumbnail dug into the last item: And, if all else fails (Weasley is nothing if not stubborn):

His obliviousness is clearly voluntary. He only sees what he wants to see. Translation: bluntness works, and may be your only option. Bluntness works. Had Blaise had the opportunity to test that theory out? The confidently worded phrase seemed to suggest it, and Draco could hardly believe the emotion bubbling up inside of him.

He was jealous.

Draco had never been particularly jealous about anything in his entire life. Well, if he discounted the praise and attention the fucking Boy Wonder had gotten all through Hogwarts. He suspected, though, that stemmed directly from his hate and disgust for the Gyffindor, and his own issues with being dismissed out of hand.

But to feel this pure possessiveness over a man he was only marginally fond of, despite any attraction? That, he suddenly realized, was the root of his wariness over the entire situation. An unexplainable, deep-seated awareness that Ron was his. And he was back to being scared shitless; because he wasn't at all sure he had a firm handle on his emotions after all.

The chair next to him made a horrible screeching noise, and Draco jumped slightly, then turned to watch one of the boys scramble up onto it, cereal clutched in his hands.

"What're you reading?" he asked, neck craning to see the small scrap of parchment.

Draco crumpled it up in his fist. "Nothing."


The afternoon stretched out before him, empty and hot and heavy with humidity. He was deliberately not thinking about Ron. And about the list. And Blaise's delusions. And anything at all that had to do with sex in general. Consequently, he was slightly agitated and falling into a rapidly yawning chasm of boredom.

"I'm bored," Draco stated, lazily pushing his foot off the wooden porch, causing the chair he was ensconced in to rock back with a protesting creak. "More bored than I've ever been in my entire life."

Beside him, Dastardly cocked his head, ears pricked and furry brows lifted in curiosity.

"Don't take it personally," Draco said to him, tipping a butterbeer to his mouth. "But you're just a dog, after all."

Das' tongue lolled out in what Draco surmised was doggy laughter. And it was at that exact moment that he decided he was minutely close to losing his mind. Malfoys didn't talk to dogs.

Although, according to his homicidal father, Malfoys didn't do a lot of things that Draco did on a daily basis. Fantasize about Ron Weasley, for one. Rescue cats and climb trees and ask Muggle-borns for advice and befriend bluebirds… Adding ‘talking to a dog' didn't seem so bad after that. There really wasn't anything, he thought, that could make Lucius hate him more.

"You're better than nothing, I suppose," Draco said resignedly.

The black dog growled.

"Fine, fine," Draco capitulated with a sigh, then said with forced cheerfulness, "You're the best possible companion for the current situation." This seemed to placate the beast, who wasn't at all adept at picking up on sarcasm.

The dog really was better than being truly alone, though, and soon Draco found himself on the back lawn, head resting on his hands, a few empty butterbeer bottles scattered around, with Dastardly sprawled similarly beside him. He was well into the third verse of Rum, Rum, the Night's Full o' Rum – a terribly catchy tune without much substance – when a shadow fell across him.

"What the hell are you doing, Malfoy?"

Draco sighed into the grass and propped his chin in his hands. "Singing."

"Yes, I heard," Harry said, crouching down next to him and palming a discarded bottle. "Are you drunk?"

"Actually no," Draco drawled, rolling onto his back and blinking up at him. "And I'm not at all surprised that you'd think butterbeer actually contains alcohol." His voice was dispassionate, with only a hint of dry wit. "I'm bored." Dastardly barked sharply, and Draco amended graciously, "We're bored."

Harry arched a brow, but held out a hand to him. "Come on, then. I'll save you."

Draco ignored the hand and clutched his chest, tossing his head back melodramatically. "You can't help me, Harry," he cried. "I'm too far gone for you and your enormous head to save." He sent Harry a disgusted sneer. "Your hero-complex is rapidly getting old, Potter."

"It was old ten years ago, Malfoy," Harry said wryly, hand still outstretched. "I would've thought you'd noticed."

Draco rolled his eyes and finally allowed Harry to help him to his feet. "Believe it or not, Potter, but I try to notice as little about you as I possibly can," he said, brushing off his trousers. "Now what?" he asked, somewhat petulantly.

"Now," Harry said, clapping his palms together, "we have a little chat."

"About…?" Draco arched a suspicious brow. He hoped to Merlin the man wasn't going to give him a belated stay-away-from-Ron speech.

"Your father." Harry jerked his head towards the back of the house, gesturing for Draco to follow him, and Draco noticed that someone was standing by the door, Auror robes parted and hands stuffed in pockets.

The man was almost as slight as him, with mousy brown hair and a wide smile, and he looked vaguely familiar, though Draco couldn't quite place him.

"Malfoy," Harry said as they drew closer, "you remember Colin Creevey, don't you?"

"Creevey?" Draco asked, lips quirked. "Living your dream, are you, following Potter around?"

Colin's smile didn't falter; in fact it widened some as he rocked back on his heels. "You could say that. Good to see you, Malfoy."

"A shame I can't return the sentiment."

"Careful, Malfoy," Harry admonished. "Colin here is an integral Auror on your case."

"It's not my case," Draco spat out. "My father's always been a crazy bastard, and I hardly think you want him caught merely because of my safety. I'd never believe that for a minute. I'm a fucking aside, Potter, and if you didn't want Lucius in custody for his past transgressions against the Order, you wouldn't care one wit about me."

"Lucky for you it all goes hand in hand, eh?" Harry tried for a sneer, but he'd never been very good at maliciousness, really, and his eyes shone with amusement more than anything else.

"What do you want to discuss, Potter?" Draco asked stiffly, crossing his arms over his chest.

Harry fidgeted a bit, his expression suddenly serious. "Ah, well… He's taken your mother."

Draco blinked at him. "What did you just say?" For a moment, it felt as if his heart had stopped.

"We got word this morning." Harry took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. "She's gone, Malfoy. I'm sorry."

Draco stared at him blankly. "My mother is dead, Potter."

Harry offered him a wan smile. "Your father isn't the sanest person at the moment, so I have my doubts he'd care."

"Are you telling me," Draco said tightly, a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth, "that Father's stolen her urn out of the family mausoleum?"

"That's the gist," Colin put in, nodding.

Draco pressed his fingers against his forehead. "And I suppose you have no good news to impart? Should I even bother being astounded by your incompetence?"

"He's a wily bastard," Colin said good-naturedly. "I'll give him that."

Draco's eyes rounded incredulously. "He's a half-witted crazy man lugging a vase of ashes around. I'd hardly call him wily." And then a deeply horrifying thought occurred to him. "Fuck. He wants to turn me into Mother, doesn't he?"

"I don't know how that's possible," Harry hedged, looking vaguely uncomfortable and shooting Colin sidelong glances.

Draco sighed and tilted his head back to stare at the gray clouds above. "You are complete rubbish at any sort of lies, Potter. Always have been. It's truly a wonder how you function properly as an Auror. Although," he jerked his gaze back to the dark-haired man, "I have my doubts that you actually do, considering the level of prowess you've been exhibiting chasing after my father."

Red stained Harry's cheeks, but Colin quickly defused his anger with a chuckle. "Harry doesn't need to lie," he said. "That's what I'm here for."

Draco gazed at Colin warily, for the first time noticing a tightness around the other man's eyes.

"We've got a trail on your father, Malfoy," Colin went on. "It's only a matter of time before he stumbles." With the unreadable hardness in his irises, his smile seemed a lot more feral than friendly. "Wish to Merlin Ron was with us though."

"You worked with Weasley?" Draco asked before he could stop himself.

"Partners." He cocked his head to the side. "Can I have a word alone with you?"

For some inexplicable reason, Draco sent a questioning look to Harry, but the Auror merely shrugged.

Taking his silence as compliance, Colin wrapped a hand around Draco's elbow and started walking towards the front of the house, his pace deliberately slow. "I hear things," Colin started, eyes locked on the expanse of lawn in front of them, fingers tightening almost imperceptibly on Draco's arm. "I hear things, and you know, Harry's not really the one you have to look out for."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Draco asked, genuinely confused.

"I know a hundred and seven ways to kill a man, Malfoy. Slowly." He slanted Draco a look. "And I've always been the protective sort. It's what makes me so good at my job."

"Are you threatening me, Creevey?" Draco demanded, pausing mid-stride.

"Merely stating a fact." Colin turned wide hazel eyes on Draco, letting his hand drop from Draco's arm. "I consider Ron family."

And that's when it hit him. He was getting the belated stay-away-from-Ron lecture from Colin Creevey. He would have laughed if the fierceness buried in Colin's eyes hadn't been so… fierce. "I'm not making you any promises," Draco bit out.

Colin clapped him companionably on the shoulder, face still deceivingly pleasant. "Not asking you to," he said. "Just wanted to make you aware of the consequences."

There was all this worry over Weasley, Draco thought petulantly, and no one seemed the least concerned about him. "So I'm aware. Why don't you and Potter bugger off now?"

"Sure, Malfoy," Colin laughed. "Sure."

He refused to see them off, instead stalking into the house, even more agitated than before. With only a passing thought, he grabbed a handful of Floo powder and stepped into the den hearth, shouting "the Burrow" into the ashy air.


The house was empty.

He prowled the shadowed rooms of the first floor restlessly, then stalked out into the backyard, eyes scanning the dark tree line for any sign of Draco. Dastardly came loping towards him, his deep, playful woofs echoing across the grounds as the murky twilight sky broke open and let loose a pounding, heavy rain. Draco was no where to be seen.

Following the boys up to their bedroom, he stopped and slowly pushed open Draco's half ajar door, heart pounding faster when he found the chamber empty as well, a shaft of lightning illuminating the neatly made bed. Draco wasn't stupid enough to leave the refuge, was he? Could someone have broken through the wards and taken him?

There wasn't any sign of forced entry onto the grounds though, no alarms had been tripped, and Ron cursed himself for not thinking to make the wards impregnable from the inside as well. Draco had clearly left.

Fear and anger compounded to make Ron break out into a cold sweat. Anything could have happened to him if he'd foolishly stepped off the refuge grounds, for any reason at all. Images of a broken and bloodied Draco flashed through his mind, Lucius' cold laughter mixing with the echoes of Percy's madness, and Ron swallowed down a panicky moan.

His hands were shaking, and he forced himself to take deep breaths through his nose. Checking to make sure the boys were all right, he ordered Dastardly to keep watch over them and Apparated directly to the Burrow. If he was going to go out on a manhunt, he'd have to ask his mum to stay with the twins.

He was immediately soaked to the bone as he landed on the dirt path, having forgotten in his haste that he'd armed his parents' home with anti-Apparition wards just the month before, and he hunched his shoulders protectively as he jogged down the short length of road that led to the Burrow.

Draco was wandering about the den, idly looking over the knickknacks and pictures that cluttered the room, when the door slammed open and a wet and bedraggled Ron stepped inside. He'd been admiring the photos, lined up neatly on the living room mantel, showcasing the shining faces of each of the Weasley offspring when they were younger, Ron's eight-year-old gap-toothed smile causing amusement to tug at Draco's lips. The mop of red hair, much more garish than its current shade, stuck up in all directions, and a plump hand reached into the frame every now and then, vainly trying to smooth it down. Dirt streaked along one side of his jaw, his eyes bright with laughter, and Draco couldn't recall a time, ever, that he'd seen Ron so happy.

But then, there really hadn't been any call for Ron to be that happy around him.

And, at the moment, Draco recognized with dread the icy pale visage Ron was currently sporting. Cold, hard fury. He couldn't think of what he'd done wrong, but he knew he was in deep shit.

Keeping his face expressionless, he tilted his chin up and said, "Weasley," his gaze raking over the sopping wet man.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Malfoy?" Ron demanded as he stalked towards him, his voice surprisingly low and controlled.

Draco forced himself to keep still and not retreat, when all he really wanted to do was run for the stairs and possibly lock himself in the bathroom. "I—"

"Do you have any idea," Ron continued with a growl, advancing until their toes nearly touched, "how scary it is to come home to an empty house," he ducked his head slightly, piercing blue irises glaring directly into the gray, "with no possible reason for it to be empty? Because why would a man, currently being hunted down by his own bloody father, want to leave the safe haven I've provided? Why would that ever happen? Care to enlighten me, Malfoy?"

Draco's mouth gaped open like a fish, words refusing to bubble to the surface in the wake of Ron's so obviously dangerous anger.

Ron's eyes narrowed. "I can only think of one, really," he said, tone deceptively conversational. "That perhaps the fucker had gotten to him… lured him out of the wards, tricked him, hogtied him, killed him and buried his body for Dastardly to dig up next week." Ron reached out and slipped a fist under Draco's jaw, clicking his mouth shut. "Do you have any idea how fucking frightening that is?"

Confusion clouded over Draco's eyes, trying to ferret out the exact reason for Ron's fury, Ron's last question barely a hiss past his clenched teeth and lips. And then Ron uncurled his hand, fingers brushing his throat and smoothing down to cradle the side of his neck, and a warm feeling unfurled from his belly. Ron had been worried about him. Terrified for him, if the level of anger was any indication.

"You…" Draco swallowed and closed his eyes briefly before looking back up at Ron through lowered lashes. Unwittingly, a coy smile pulled at his mouth. "Worried about me, Weasley?"

Pushed too far to think of backtracking, Ron's hand tightened on Draco's flesh. "What do you think?" he snarled.

Draco trailed his fingers up the center of Ron's damp shirt, flattening his palm over Ron's heart. "I think," he drawled, reveling in the rapid pulse under his hand, "that you're much fonder of me then you let on."

Ron grabbed Draco's wrist and slid his other hand from Draco's neck, wrapping a strong arm around his waist and stepping closer so they were flush against each other, chest to thigh. Draco's mouth parted in surprise, eyes widening as Ron bent so their noses were brushing, hot breath ghosting his skin. "Let's get one thing straight, Malfoy," Ron growled against his lips. "No matter your feelings for me, you don't get to play with mine."

"Draco, would you like—oh, Ron!"

Ron hastily dropped his hands and stepped away from Draco, turning to look at his mum, the tips of his ears burning bright red. She had a disturbing gleam in her eyes and a serving knife clutched in her fingers.

"You're just in time for dessert," she said, smiling wide and bouncing meaningful glances between him and Draco.

Suddenly bereft and cold, his now rain-damp clothes sticking uncomfortably to his body, Draco reached out in a bold move to grab Ron's arm and intoned pleasantly, "If you don't mind, Mrs. Weasley, we'd like to head back to the refuge."

"Of course," she beamed.

Ron tried to shake off Draco's grip, but the man clung to him like a limpet and he gave up with an exasperated sigh. "I'll Owl you tomorrow, Mum," Ron said tiredly, steering Draco towards the hearth.

"Dinner was lovely," Draco said over his shoulder as Ron shoved him into the fireplace, dropping a scoop of Floo powder into his hand. He called out for the refuge, and got to his feet just as Ron stepped out behind him, a bear-like scowl marring his face.

Draco himself was feeling just a bit giddy. Ron had, albeit in a backhanded way, just confessed to having feelings for him. "Did you mean it?"

Ron shrugged, but his scowl slipped. "Does it matter?" Ron felt suddenly exhausted, the fear and anger draining out of him, leaving him simply… empty.


"I don't want to hear it, Malfoy," Ron said wearily, holding up a hand.


"Save it," Ron snapped.

"Blaise was right," Draco huffed, lip curled in a sneer. "You are a contrary bastard. You don't want me to play with your feelings? How about owning up to them then? How about not fucking jerking me around?" He stepped up to him and poked a finger into his chest. "Why don't you tell me honestly what you feel?"

"I don't owe you any explanations," Ron said stonily, pushing his hand away.

Draco blinked at him, amazed by Ron's stubbornness. "No, no you don't. So we're going to try for bluntness here. I'm going to tell you what I want," he stated imperiously, "and you're either going to say yes or no. No questions asked and no reasons given. Understand?"

Ron nodded warily, wondering what the hell he was doing just standing there. He should leave. He should push past Draco and head up to his room because, honestly, he really didn't think he wanted to know what Draco wanted.

"I want you."

A jolt of lust shot through Ron's body to settle in his groin. "What?" he asked thickly.

"Sex, Weasley," Draco said, the bluntness coming easily to him now. "I want you in bed. Or on the floor, table, sofa." He ticked the places off lazily on his fingers, his stance deceptively relaxed as he watched for Ron's reaction to his words.

"Fuck, Malfoy," Ron groaned, clenching his eyes shut and digging his fingers into his forehead.

"That's the idea, yes." Although Draco wanted to step forward and wrap his arms around Ron, wanted to pull his head down and flick his tongue along those damp lips, smooth his palms over the small of his back to slide underneath the tough denim covering his arse, he forced himself to stay still, using only his heated gaze to caress the other man. "What's your answer, Weasley?"

Ron didn't want to say yes. Or rather he did want to say yes - too much – and thus he knew he should get as far away from Draco as possible, before Draco could shatter him into pieces.

"Well?" Draco prompted testily, growing slightly nervous at Ron's continued silence.

When it came right down to it, though, Ron didn't think he would survive either way. He might as well go down in flames. "Yes," he growled, grasping the back of Draco's neck with one hand, urging him forward. "Gods, yes."


Draco was all angles covered in soft skin and Ron decided he could live on the man's right hip. He nuzzled it sleepily, running a palm up the underside of his thigh to cup his arse.

"What're you doing?" Draco growled, barely awake.

Ron swiped his tongue along the hollow of his pelvis, chuckling when Draco's breath caught. "You've pretty hipbones," he answered, leaning back to take in his handy work, the reddening of Draco's skin from his teeth and lips and the slight stubble shading his jaw.

Rolling onto his stomach with a grunt, Draco grumbled, "Sleep," and burrowed his head into the pillows.

Undeterred, Ron's fingers ran over the small of Draco's back, following the trail of his tailbone down his arse, grinning almost stupidly when Draco let his legs fall open, allowing the digits to dip down and brush his balls. "Done playing?"

Draco groaned and arched his back, throwing an unreadable glance over his shoulder. "Aren't you the least bit tired?"

"Not in the most important parts." Shifting, Ron pressed his erection up against Draco's leg, and the other man dropped his head to the pillow again, bending his arms up under it and giving a low, " Mmmm."

The sound from Draco was somewhat agreeable, and Ron nibbled at his folded bicep, coaxing Draco onto his back again, smoothing his palm over his pale sternum and lean belly. His eyes were closed, but his lashes fluttered against his cheeks and a small, soundless gasp passed his lips when Ron wrapped a hand around his cock.

"You're being so good," Ron whispered harshly, and when Draco's eyes popped open, gleaming with indignation, Ron curled down and licked at his lips. "Ah, ah," he admonished. "No talking. You know what happens when you talk, Malfoy. You wouldn't want me to stop doing this," he jerked his hand slightly, "would you?"

Draco's head fell back, neck curving, and Ron made an approving hum in his throat. "Good boy," he said, and he knew Draco would make him pay for it later, but it was just too much fun having Draco under his thumb.

Afterwards, Ron draped himself bonelessly over him, melting almost immediately off into a dream-filled sleep, wide, lazy smile curving his lips, leaving Draco conversely wide awake. Fuck.

Thing was, Draco really didn't like cuddling. Didn't like the hot, sweaty stick of skin against skin, the weight of another body pressing on him, the wet puffs of air from steady, sleeping breaths. So when he found himself not minding all those things, or the large hand curled loosely around his wrist, he panicked a bit.

A quiet sort of panic, though, since he didn't want Ron to wake up. Didn't want Ron to pull away, either, and yeah. Whole different level of scary.

Sex was sex. Great sex was great. And sex with Ron was very nearly fantastic; not something he was sure he'd want to give up. Ever. So he made himself gently shake Ron's grip from his arms, slipping silently towards the edge of the bed, resolutely planting both feet on the soft, shorn carpet.

He hated romantic, fanciful intimacy, and he wasn't going to give up those truths for a Weasley who wouldn't admit anything past reluctantly coveting his body.

Ron made a soft chuffing noise, almost a protest, and rolled over, pulling a pillow half under his chest. Draco sighed and leant down to tug the sheet up and over the curve of his back, eyes wandering across the smooth skin he wouldn't let his fingers touch. In the near blackness, he couldn't see the splash of freckles that gathered close to his spine, dispersing into light brown-pink specks along his shoulders before darkening again on the skin of his arms, and he shook his head in self-disgust. He hadn't seen Ron naked enough to warrant remembering those details so vividly, and he really, really didn't like the way things were heading.

Ron would be ecstatic when Draco was out of his hair again, and Draco was horribly afraid he'd be miserable. Which was completely unacceptable. So he decided to do the first thing that popped into his mind; he'd fire-call Granger.

In the dark, he managed to find his boxers, and what was probably Ron's t-shirt, judging by the size of it. The door creaked when he opened it, but Ron didn't stir, and he padded quickly down the steps and through the hall to the den. Finding his trousers haphazardly tossed over the back of an armchair, he pulled them on and knelt in front of the hearth, then called out for Hermione's lodging at Hogwarts, sticking his head into the green flames.

"Granger," he said loudly, not caring the least bit that it was sometime after midnight. "Granger!"

A lump on the bed in front of him turned over, and Hermione blinked her eyes open, sleep-blurred and confused. "Malfoy?" she murmured, hefting herself up on an elbow and shoving back her mass of hair.

"Yes, yes, it's me. Now, get your arse out of bed and over here."

Sleepily, Hermione pulled on a robe as she walked towards her hearth, covering a yawn with one hand. "What? What's going on?" she asked in a low voice, throwing a look over her shoulder to where Blaise was sprawled out across the mattress. The man was sound asleep, though, and wasn't likely to wake up. She'd learned he could sleep through just about anything when Crookshanks had taken to yowling in her face at three each night, protesting another male presence in her bed.

"I slept with Weasley," Draco stated calmly. He was rather proud of his lack of inflection.

Hermione managed to pull off a somewhat impressive smirk. "Shouldn't you be calling him Ron, then?"

Draco narrowed his eyes and glared at her. "I made you tea," he whined.

"Oh, fine," she said, tightening the loop at her waist. "I'll be right over."


"You're a bit of a mess, Malfoy," Hermione said when she stepped into the room, shirt and trousers hastily donned and hair tied back with a thick, black ribbon.

Draco looked down at himself and shrugged, knowing he probably looked disheveled and sweaty and completely fucked. He didn't have to make himself presentable for Granger. Although he probably could have done with a shower. He wrinkled his nose and ran a hand through his tangled hair. "Obviously," he said finally.

"I'm also not exactly sure what the problem is here," she went on, brushing past him and heading towards the kitchen.

"I slept with Weasley." Draco rolled his eyes. "Had sex."

Hermione cringed visibly, but forced out, "Good sex?"

Draco nodded. "Excellent."

"See…" She reached for the kettle, filling it and setting it on the lit stove before continuing. "I'm still not getting the problem."

"I." He paused, not really sure what he wanted to say, why he'd wanted Hermione there in the first place. He wasn't about to admit to his fear and insecurities. He didn't want her to know how fucking attached he'd become to Ron.

She seemed to read it all on his face anyhow, though, which was worrying, since he'd long ago perfected his cold, blank mask.

"This is Ron, Malfoy," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "He's got maybe… one malicious bone in his entire body, if that. And he's stubborn and possessive, and I seriously doubt you have anything to worry about."

"But this is me," Draco protested. "Occasionally I don't even like me." He frowned, placing a hand on a cocked hip. "All right, I suppose that isn't exactly true. But I'm well aware I've acquired a great deal of enemies over the years, as well as many Wizards and Witches who simply hate me on principle. Including Weasley."

"You're assuming an awful lot about Ron."

Draco shoved his hands in his hair, tugging on the ends in a rare display of visible frustration. "He said it. He said he hated me! And… well…" He pursed his lips, recalling Ron's anger and veiled allusions to feeling something, something perhaps that would completely contradict hate, though he'd refused to clarify anything, and… "I don't think he hates me," he ended quietly.

The kettle whistled and Hermione fixed their tea, steering Draco, who seemed a bit stunned and spacey, into a seat at the table. "There's some sort of squirrel in your head, isn't there, that doesn't let your brain rest?"

Draco snorted. "You're one to talk," he groused.

"You're over-thinking everything," she said, ignoring him. "Ron's possibly the simplest, most straightforward man in the world, and you're trying to analyze him like he's… well, you. Relax a little."

"I don't see where you get off giving that sort of advice," Draco grumbled into his cup, "after your breakdown a few days ago. And considering that my father's plotting my demise as we speak, relaxing isn't exactly on the agenda."

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Your father aside," she said tightly, "I really don't think Ron has it in for you. Emotionally, at least. I doubt you could combine your lives without the occasional blow to the head."

"So you're saying I shouldn't have left him passed out alone on his bed after two lovely rounds of enthusiastic shagging?"

"Yes," Hermione said, closing her eyes and pressing fingers to her forehead. "That's sort of what I'm saying, although I really didn't need to know that."

"Blaise would've wanted to know."

"Blaise would've wanted pictures, labeled diagrams, and perhaps a re-enactment," she said with amused disgust. "But I'm not Blaise, am I? Just because we're sha—sleeping together doesn't mean we're suddenly one entity."

Draco's brows rose. "Like he'd ever let you out of his sight now that he's got you."

"He's not here now, is he?" Hermione pointed out, draining her teacup and rising to place it in the sink.

"Only because a banshee isn't even likely to wake him up after sex," Draco commented lightly.

She shook her head and murmured, "Don't even want to know how you know that," then asked louder, "Are you over your crisis?"

"Somewhat," he conceded.

"All right, then." On impulse she bent down and pressed a kiss to his forehead, something she'd gotten into the habit of doing with Ron and Harry at Hogwarts, and although he wrinkled his brow and gave her a strange look, he didn't wipe it off. "Night, Malfoy."

Draco watched silently as Hermione disappeared down the hall, then sighed and got to his feet. Upstairs, he hesitated only a moment before pushing Ron's door open again, clicking it shut behind him. He lifted the t-shirt over his head as he walked towards the bed, shucking his boxers and trousers in one go, then easing under the covers with as much care as he'd slipped out of them.

He nudged Ron with a hip, urging him over, and shoved the pillow still wrapped in his arms up to the head of the mattress.

" Wha?" Ron slurred, eyes cracking open minutely.

"Nothing," Draco said, turning his back to him and squirming into Ron's chest, humming low when Ron obligingly draped an arm over his waist and pulled him closer. Spooning. Another act that Draco absolutely loathed. He drifted off to sleep rather quickly anyway.


Even with the harsh, ringing morning crow from Butter, Ron was slow to wake. He groaned a stretch, smiling with his eyes closed as the warm body lying next to him wriggled closer.

He was in a good mood. A really good mood, actually, and it was strange that it'd been brought about by Draco. Sex with Draco, specifically, but anything pleasant didn't exactly go hand and hand with Draco on a normal basis.

Ron felt the instant Draco woke up, the slight restless movements before his body stiffened completely against him. His lips curled into a wry grin against Draco's shoulder. "Morning."

"Weasley," Draco mumbled, and Ron failed to swallow a short laugh.

"Don't get weird on me now," Ron said, falling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling, watching the pink-gray dawn light flare weakly over the puckered texture. "You're the one who started this whole mess."

Draco twisted onto his stomach and wedged himself up on an elbow, glaring down at him. "Oh, so this is a mess, is it?" he snarled.

Ron grinned and smoothed a hand through Draco's fly-away hair, fingers trailing down to rub at a pillow crease just under his right eye. "I'd say you're a mess, yes."

"It's too early for this." Draco scowled, burrowing back down into the covers, mouth open against Ron's forearm. And then Butter crowed again and his breath fanned out in a deep sigh, burning a damp, spangling path across Ron's skin.

"Work," Ron groused, as if chastising himself. Then he thought, Fuck it. There were some definite advantages to working where you lived. With barely a warning growl, he rolled over, pressing Draco into the mattress, hands curling loosely around the base of his skull, fitting his mouth open against his. Draco pushed at his chest with his palms, and Ron reluctantly broke off, breathing hitched.

"Ugh, Weasley. Morning breath."

Ron gazed steadily at him, incredulous. "You can't be serious, Malfoy," he returned, then shifted more firmly between Draco's legs, one large hand moving to cup his hip, thrusting almost instinctively to every fourth beat of his heart.

Letting out a soft groan, Draco arched into him and bit out a harsh, "Fine," before his slim, grasping hands found their way to Ron's nape, pulling him down again.


When his panting finally slowed, Ron rasped, "Work," again, even more bitterly, then added, "Gina," for good measure. The nosy bint was more than likely to come looking for him if he wasn't out in the barn office by seven.

"Shower," Draco breathed, scratching his lower belly.

Ron graced him with a blinding grin. "Yeah."


Ron completely expected Gina to be perched at the kitchen table by the time they stumbled down the steps, but instead they found Harry, freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand and suspiciously twinkling smile directed towards them.

"Good news," he said cheerily.

Stomach churning, Ron knew from the bright, sated glow in Harry's eyes that he'd just figured out something monumental. Which meant that, at the worst possible moment, absolutely predictable for Harry…

"We've caught your father, Malfoy."

It just figured. They'd finally gotten around to sweaty, grappling, mind-stunning sex, and so of course Lucius had been found. Otherwise, there would've been more intensely satisfying shags, and wouldn't that just be tragic?

Ron couldn't help the grim quality of his return grin and nod. "That's great. Right, Malfoy?"

Draco shot him an unreadable glance before giving Harry a superior sneer. "About time, Potter. I was starting to rot away of boredom out here."

Narrowing his eyes, Ron viciously pinched Draco's arm, and Draco jumped away with a yelp.

"Now children," Harry chided light-heartedly.

Ron turned a dark scowl on the man. Really, Harry wasn't being the least bit helpful. "How did you finally get a hold of him?" he managed to ask levelly. Draco twitched away and went for the cupboard, and Ron's eyes followed him absently as he reached for a mug; always his favorite sight in the morning.

"Well," Harry drawled, rocking back on his heels, flicking a look between the two men and then giving Ron an amused half-smile. Ron pretty much suspected Harry'd guessed what had transpired the night before, and was doing his very best to taunt him as slyly as possible. Given that Harry hated Draco, Ron somewhat grudgingly had to thank Merlin for his restrained mirth; he could have easily gone in the entire opposite direction, and having Harry upset with him was never a fun thing for Ron. Though perhaps he needed to thank Gina for that instead.

"Yes?" Ron prompted testily.

"Well," Harry started again, "after he nicked his wife's ashes, we figured he'd need to gain access to the museums housing the bulk of the Malfoy's Dark Arts artifacts. Books and such."

Ron's brows rose. Draco hadn't said a word to him about his mum. "You set a trap at all of them?" There'd been a great many texts and items that had been confiscated from the Malfoy estate, and most of them were spread out around the world for Wizards and Witches to ‘ ooo' and ‘ahhh' at it. It had always seemed a bit gruesome to Ron, but the Ministry officials gleefully sold them off – with certain ‘restrictions,' of course - raking in coins for what they'd deemed the war deficit. Ron had yet to see any real rebuilding of battle-worn districts, though, and cynically suspected Fudge and those other yahoos were pocketing as much as they could.

Harry shrugged. "Just the one's with any reanimation spells and objects. Mainly Germany and a few southern US states, although we really didn't expect him to travel overseas."

"Günter's Guide to the Undead," Draco muttered, head bent to his cup as he poured the coffee.

"Yes, exactly," Harry said, nodding. "That's the one Colin was most worried about, though we actually caught him hunched over a signed copy of Evil Undead; Avoiding the Zombie Faux Pas."

"He always loved Mother best," Draco said, trying for flippancy, amending the statement slightly in his head. If his father had ever loved him at all, he'd eat Potter's wand. Pun intended.

"Point is, Malfoy," Harry went on, "you're free to go home."

Draco slid his gaze over to Ron, but Ron was staring morosely down at Harry, fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides. "Right," Draco said, watching Ron's face for any hint of a reaction. He really had no idea what he was doing, but knew that if Ron gave him any reason at all, he'd stay.

When Ron's eyes lifted to his, though, they were smiling slightly along with his mouth. A nice smile. Friendly, even, but nothing deeper, nothing promising, and it wasn't quite what he'd been looking for. Wasn't quite enough for him to throw caution to the wind. And perhaps he'd regret it – actually, he was fairly sure he would – but he let his lips flick into a small, quick smirk and echoed Harry's earlier remark. "Good news."


He'd left. The bastard had left. Strangely, Ron didn't have any trouble believing it, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow.

"You are in an incredibly bad mood," Gina pointed out unhelpfully, swiping her palms on her trousers and stepping back from the tiny, orphaned hippogriff that'd been brought in that morning.

"I'm in a perfectly fine mood," Ron grumbled.

She gave him a wry, disbelieving look. "You've been scowling for nearly two days straight. Ever since," she waggled her brows, "Draco went home."

"My mood has nothing to do with Malfoy."

"Didn't say it did," she stated mildly. "It's purely coincidental of course."

Ron glared at her. "None of my moods have anything to do with Malfoy."

Gina nodded, eyes wide with shining, mock innocence. "Oh, I know, Ron."

"Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"Looking at me like that," he growled. "I'm not going to do anything."

"Perfectly understandable," Gina agreed, starting off down the hill towards the barn.

"Seriously," Ron added, falling into step beside her. "Nothing at all."

She bobbed her head again. "You're right, Ron. I mean, he would have stayed if he'd really wanted to."

"Exactly," Ron said emphatically.

"He must've known you'd be okay with it. Great, even, what with you two being best mates and all. And you know he's always been able to read you like a book! It's not as if he's completely paranoid most of the time. Or has a nasty habit of getting meanly defensive when he's uncertain. He's the most together man I know. Not at all spazzy, prone to temper fits or delusions of occasionally mammoth proportions."

There was a lengthy, speaking silence, Gina's sarcasm hanging thickly in the air above them.

"I hate you," Ron spat out finally.

"No," Gina countered smoothly, "you adore me. And you especially worship me for giving you this kick in the arse, because you're terribly afraid Draco is your One True Love," she paused to clasp her hands together and bat her eyelashes annoyingly, "and that you'll lose him forever if you don't take immediate action."

Ron nearly gagged, because affection he may feel, but it wasn't anything at all resembling love. He wasn't going to quibble with her though, since she did have the right of it for the most part. Draco was very nearly socially retarded, and there was a healthy chance he'd had left simply because Ron hadn't begged him to stay. Not that Ron would ever beg anything of the man, of course. But he could have at least said something.

"So?" Gina nudged his arm, grinning slyly.

"Maybe," he conceded reluctantly.

"Maybe what?"

"Maybe I'll visit him. At some point in the vaguely near future. Or I could send him an Owl."

"You could," she said slowly, "but then I'd be forced to tell Harry that you were the one who replaced his broom polish with stick-ease at last year's annual Weasley Family Quidditch Bowl." Harry hadn't found that prank particularly funny, especially since it'd completely ruined the redesigned Firebolt 3000 he'd just purchased.

Ron shook his head. "Gina, you know that wasn't me."

"Well, yes, I know it was Seamus and you know it was Seamus…" She trailed off, one side of her bottom lip caught between her teeth, gaze gleaming and expectant.

"Bugger," Ron muttered under his breath. "You're a hard-hearted woman, Potter."

"I'm a romantic," Gina protested, then went on in an exaggerated gush, "I'm Cupid's little helper. I'm a gifted matchmaker, a soft touch, a Slytherin with a heart of gold. Just ask Harry."

Ron rolled his eyes. "You're all that and more," he said, knocking the side of her head with a palm before taking off at a run, laughing at her indignant sputtering.


For three days, Draco woke up with the sun. He knew he'd get over it soon, since he'd hardly been at Ron's long enough to spark a habitual rising, but that didn't much comfort him, sitting at his kitchen table alone at an ungodly hour in the morning.

It felt strange. Not just the waking up, but the whole day, stretched out before him with no promise of bickering arguments or quietly competitive games of chess. No slobbery black beast to knock him over or sticky fingers to tug at his hands. The most exciting part of his yesterday was helping Mrs. Ware with her groceries, and trouncing old Jeremy Fitzsimmons in Follow the Queen.

He sighed and stared glumly down at the cover of Dirt Dwellers, which he'd stolen from Ron in an idiotic fit of vengeance. Like Ron would ever notice the dry, slim book was missing. It had to be the most boring read ever – and Draco'd been through it twice.

His heart jumped into his throat when a sharp rap sounded at the door, visitors of any sort being a rare occurrence, especially so early in the day. He refused to acknowledge the disappointment that settled in his throat when he found Miss Laura looking up at him, an over-sized brown trench coat covering her house dress and thick-soled white trainers on her feet.

"Cherry's gone missing again," she said gruffly, head tipped back and fluffy white hair a mad mess of crimped curls. "Been out all night, and she's not in the tree. Already poked my head out and looked."

Draco scrubbed a hand over his forehead. "You need to—"

"Get a screen, yes I know. You've been saying that for years."

Had he really lived there that long? It seemed a little hard to believe, actually, but… he counted back swiftly in his head. Almost four years exactly.

"All right," he said resignedly. "Just let me change." He steered her back across the hall, urging her inside her flat. "You don't need to wander about as well."

She turned and smiled up at him. "You're not bad, boy," she praised, then gave him a short, assessing once-over. "Where's the redheaded lad? The brawny fellow with the big blue eyes." She sighed, her worn face acquiring a somewhat dreamy cast. "My Douglass used to have eyes that color; dark, rich denim."

"Ah," he hedged. "That didn't work out quite the way I'd planned." Which wasn't a complete lie. Closer to the truth, actually, than not.

She nodded her head, shuffling inside her apartment. "Hardly ever does, boy," she said, slowly pulling the door closed. "Hardly ever does."

Quickly, Draco slipped on a pair of loose trousers and a blue t-shirt proclaiming to all and sundry that he'd danced his way through Miss Kipping's School of Jazz – another temper-inspired nicking – and jogged down the steps into the night-chilled morning, shadows still long and dark despite the red-gold sun peeking just above the slanted rooftops.

Hoping that the leafy branches had obscured the tabby from Miss Laura's view, he cupped a hand over his eyes and scanned the young maple. Nothing. If Cherry had managed to maneuver her way out of the tree, there was no telling where she could be.

He spent a good thirty minutes scouring both sides of the street, walking behind the buildings to call down alleyways. What kind of cat, though, would respond to a common summons like a dog? An hour and three streets later, there still wasn't any sign of the feline, and Draco started back to the apartment building with his head bowed, filled with dread. The old woman loved the beast, and he couldn't imagine telling her she was gone. Possibly forever.

He'd become entirely too soft-hearted in his old age.

"I'd really hate to know what you're thinking about, Malfoy."

Draco's head snapped up, focusing immediately on Ron, leaning against the maple, hands stuffed deep in his jean pockets, the denim straining just below his hipbones, rumpled white tee hitched just high enough to show a sliver of skin in his relaxed pose.

"What?" Draco asked, cocking his head to the side.

Ron pushed off from the tree, straightening to shift just a bit nervously from foot to foot. "You looked just about ready to weep," he said, secretly hoping Draco's gloom had more than a little to do with him.

Draco lifted his shoulders in a brief shrug. "I can't seem to find Miss Laura's cat."

"You mean her?" he asked, pointing up into the tree.

Draco cursed under his breath. Stupid, fucking cat. Learning to climb down and then back up again. "Yeah, that one."

Ron nodded his head. "So--"

"What are you doing here, Weasley?" Draco interrupted.

"Well, I'm here, specifically," he said, gesturing at the ground, a half-sheepish smile on his face, "because Miss Laura said you were out, and that if I stepped one foot in the building she'd ring some bloke named Bunker Larry to, quote, ‘take care of me.'"

Draco flicked a dismissive hand. "Why are you here?"

"First of all," Ron took a step forward, sliding his gaze down Draco's torso, "I believe that shirt belongs to my ex-wife."

Draco crossed his arms over his chest defensively. He'd suspected it hadn't been Ron's, of course, since it fit him rather snugly. It was a pretty shade of blue, though, and nicely soft. And the fact that Draco had been wearing it for days had absolutely nothing to do with Ron at all.

Ron let out a long, slow breath, rubbing the back of his neck. "Look, Draco—"


He rolled his eyes. "I can't call you Malfoy when I'm asking you out, can I?"

"You…" Draco swallowed his immediate compulsion to smile, and tamped down on the arguably happy flutters welling in his stomach. Damn it, he was nauseous and completely disgusted by Ron on the whole. Except for the man's fine, fine arse. And the calloused pads of his fingers that felt so good on the inside of his thighs. Oh, and those six freckles that almost formed a perfect circle just under his collarbone—


Ron arched a knowing brow, mocking gaze lingering at Draco's crotch.

Draco clenched his jaw, willing away the hot burn on his cheeks, and then tipped his head back, eyes slightly squinted against the glaring morning sunshine. "You'll have to take me some place expensive," Draco said once he'd regained his voice, gaze dropping to Ron's, noting Ron's burgeoning annoyance with only a smidgen of trepidation, "with insulting, pretentious waiters." He cleared his throat and went on stronger, "We'll order wine by the bottle, and you won't say a word about my appetite, wardrobe, or height. You'll strike pretty, adorable and little from your vocabulary completely, and buy me dessert, even though I'll have no intention of eating it."

"Demanding bastard, aren't you?"

Draco tilted his chin up. "I'm simply selective with my company."

"Fine," Ron said tightly, hands balled into fists. "Fine, we'll do this your way."

Draco gave an imperious nod, turning slightly away from Ron to head for the front stoop. "Owl me when you've figured everything out, then."

"Not so fast," Ron growled, grabbing Draco's arm as he swept past. Without waiting for Draco's no doubt indignant reaction to being manhandled, Ron pulled him close, other arm banding around his waist, open palm settling at the small of his back. He grinned wolfishly at him, ire seeming to dissolve almost instantly. "The boys miss you."

"I've been reveling in the silence," Draco lied smoothly.

Bending down, Ron nuzzled the edge of his cheek, releasing Draco's arm to tighten his own in what felt suspiciously like an affectionate hug. "Das spent two hours howling after you left."

"Good." Involuntarily, Draco's hands clutched at Ron's sides, fingers stealing up under his shirt to press against warm, bare skin.

"Yeah," Ron breathed. "Good."

Hot breath tickling along his hairline, Draco finally relaxed against Ron, letting his head fall to his chest, and he thought that everything might be all right. "This doesn't mean anything, you know," he murmured, then inwardly grimaced. He had to have the biggest mouth on the planet.

But Ron just chuckled, knowing, finally, that Draco chronically stuck his foot in his maw for the express reason of being contrary, and said, "Shut up, Draco." And then he curled his hand around Draco's jaw, urging his head up to cover his lips with his own, just to make sure he did.

Simple, effective, and a tactic Ron suspected he'd have to use often to keep from killing the prat. He really didn't think he'd mind.

Draco wondered if any and all disparaging remarks would end up with the same results, and his mouth curved into a sly smile against Ron's. It would certainly prove worthwhile finding out.



~~~~~~~~ Back to Ron/Draco ~~~~~~~~



This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola