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He notices. Of course he notices.

He'd have to be entirely blind not to notice when it starts.

They spend most of the summer with a routine: Hermione, Ginny, and Luna go do their thing on Saturday nights, and the blokes all gather together at Harry's place, play cards and drink. Firewhiskey, wines, brandy, all sorts of liquor would produce itself between he, his brother George, Neville, Seamus, Harry, and...Malfoy.

The first time Ron arrives for the usual weekend entertainment and finds Draco Malfoy perched over Harry's sofa in 12 Grimmauld Place, wine glass in hand while he grumbles at Harry about the food spread, his ginger brows almost fly from his face.

He doesn't ask why Malfoy is suddenly included in the group. No one does, not when Harry acts strangely happier, perkier and even more fun at cards for alternately teaming with and against the Slytherin. And, even stranger, Malfoy seems to fit in without trying. It's awkward at first for the lot of them together, but after the bottles open and sandwich trays pass around, Malfoy settles down and enjoys himself, too—smiling, laughing, cracking jokes always at Harry's or Ron's expense.

And that's how an entire summer of Saturdays become spending time with the group of Gryffindors and one Slytherin, and that's how Ron also notices.

 

 

-----

 

 

The first time it happens, he's barely aware and trying to crawl up the stairs to the loo when he hears the pair speaking on the second set of stairs above him.

“Come on,” he hears Harry beg. “Don't leave. I like you here.”

“Potter, I'm just going to find a room and pass out, you idiot. I can...barely stand up.”

“Too much wine. I'll go with you.”

“Fuck off.”

“Draco, you're pissed. I want to be sure you won't smother yourself with some of the killer house robes and rugs.”

“I hate you,” Malfoy mumbles, but Ron nonetheless hears two sets of footsteps walk along the upper hall and disappear into a guest bedroom before the door quietly shuts.

He goes to the loo after that and washes his face, blue eyes wide as he stares into the mirror.

Ron almost forgets about the exchange, but the next morning when Neville rouses him out of his chosen, usual guestroom for breakfast and hangover cures downstairs, Ron passes one of the rooms and notices the door still shut.

He's not sure which room George had finally stumbled into late last night after letting a stink bomb off near the loo the last time Ron was inside it, and so he cracks the door open, fully prepared to throw his held slipper at his brother's head to wake him with vengeance.

But George doesn't have platinum blond hair, and George definitely doesn't have two torsos snuggled together in the dark of the drawn curtains.

Ron gapes, mouth wide open, and stares at the way his best mate holds Malfoy to him, one hand over that pale head with the fingers grasping in the fine hair gently and the other arm around Malfoy's back, securing the sleeping Slytherin to Harry's chest. As if Harry's afraid Malfoy will wriggle away, even in his own sleep.

Ron immediately shuts the door, slipper hanging from his fingers loosely while he stares down the empty hall in shock. For one, this is unprecedented for all sorts of reasons, and he has no clue what the fuck it means or how big it really is. For two, his mind quickly wonders if what he just saw...if Harry's grins all the night before at Malfoy were part of the reason his best mate and only sister had decided to stay friends instead of being more. Lost in thought, he slowly, quietly, shuffles his way to the stairs.

And as the rest eventually stumble into the kitchen for pancakes and eggs thanks to Neville's kindness, Ron waits, sipping juice, scared that he's going to just blurt something as soon as he sees Harry enter. Like, How'd you sleep? Alone? Yeah, me, too.

Harry enters, rubbing his eyes, and acts normal to the point that Ron decides to just drop it in case what he's seen is a random, meaningless thing. But he catches the subtle way Harry's green eyes warm when Malfoy grumbles his way into the kitchen not long after, blond hair sticking up in a several directions from Harry's fingers.

Malfoy sits next to Harry, pops the topper on some small potion, and downs it with a grimace.

At Ron's skeptical look, one entirely basking in curiosity of just what might have been said between the two blokes this morning upon waking, Malfoy grunts with obliviousness to his thoughts, “Grandfather's recipe. Atrocious taste, but it works.”

“Ah,” Ron replies, letting the assumption—and, for now, the whole matter itself—go.

 

 

----

 

 

Something similar occurs the next week.

This time Ron's gone for cakes in Diagon Alley, and upon his Flooing back into the kitchen, he overhears the pair whispering near the top of the kitchen stairs.

“You're annoying,” Malfoy says, no doubt with a scowl.

“I know,” Harry answers, unfazed.

“I don't need your help.”

“I know.”

“I hate you.”

“I know,” Harry says again, but to Ron's utter surprise, it's spoken wistfully. As if with a smile and a hidden laugh.

Even Malfoy must hear it, because he grunts out a sharp, “I mean it, Potter.”

“Yep,” Harry sighs happily, and the two voices fade out as their steps echo above.

Ron drops all the desserts upon the nearest table that time, shaking his head, hoping that maybe twice is just coincidence. That he just imagines things when he goes to bed that night and hears the two voices murmuring behind Harry's bedroom door, as if Malfoy's trying to claw his way out of the room and Harry isn't having it.

And yet again that next morning, the two appear slightly apart to breakfast, both rumpled, with Malfoy's bright hair all tousled again for George to tease him that surely his father would be aghast at his bedhead.

Only Ron sees the grumpy look Draco aims at Harry behind George's back, and only Ron catches the shit-eating grin on his best mate's lips in return.

 

 

----

 

 

Ron quickly gives up trying to make any sense of it, though, because it keeps happening. Saturdays pass over the next two months, and with each one he's able to time the moment Malfoy slips off, no doubt wanting far away from George, who continually threatens him with sly smirks and words about drawing knobs on the posh snake's face while he's sleeping. Within moments of Malfoy slinking away to nod off, Harry will also disappear, and Ron can climb the stairs fast enough to hear the single door shut, hear Malfoy grumble almost routinely at this point, and hear Harry's soft, happy, buggered sigh.

It doesn't take him long to start believing that Harry's gone entirely mad, even if he doesn't get it. Because not only is Harry still coming down to Sunday breakfasts followed by a squinting Malfoy with crazy hair, but Harry is also risking little stares at the snake over cards or bottles, sometimes even sitting closely with him on the sofa.

During one break while everyone stacks plates with food, Ron catches Harry and Malfoy sitting together on the sofa alone. He can't hear the quiet conversation, but he sees Draco roll his eyes and drop his brow to Harry's shoulder. And then, fast as that bolt of lightning on his forehead, Harry bends and kisses Malfoy's temple before shuffling off for the kitchen, leaving Draco behind him appearing as stunned as Ron himself hidden in the hall.

 

 

----

 

 

Each Saturday Seamus is too caught up competing with George over who can outdo the other in nightly pranks, cheating at cards, and such to notice. And Neville's far too kind, even if he is more observant than the rest think, and so often looks away when Harry and Draco agitate each other in what is quickly becoming barely disguised flirting.

But Ron notices.

He notices his best mate smiling more through the week when they're working in their new Ministry jobs, notices Harry glancing to the clock often through the day and notices him disappear at set times, claiming to use the loo.

Ron follows him one time because he has to. He just wants to be sure Harry's all right, that Harry's not roping himself into something terrible or setting himself up for some very strange kind of heartbreak that Ron can only see being inevitable with someone like Draco Malfoy.

He carefully positions himself near the loo he knows Harry pretends to use, and he listens with a charm the Aurors have taught him for eavesdropping during hidden jobs.

“I hate your stupid soft hair, and I hate your green eyes,” he hears Malfoy hiss behind the door, and Ron blinks, frowning...because it doesn't sound like Malfoy really means it.

“I know,” Harry just replies, sounding like he's smiling again.

“And I hate how you follow me. I hate how you snuggle me every fucking weekend, you clingy creep.”

“I'm awful, it's true.”

“I hate your lips when you kiss my face then, too.”

“Uh-huh,” Harry hums softly. “Well, guess I could stop doing all those things. You know, since you hate them so much.”

“No.”

“No?”

No.

“I could stop coming in here, too.”

“But you won't.”

“Think I might,” Harry drawls, and Ron can almost see the challenging smirk he knows is on his mate's face right now.

“Potter,” Malfoy grunts.

There's a rustle, then a slam as a body is shoved against the other side of the locked door.

“You know that new bloke Ron and I work with? Lockley? He asked me out. First bloke to try. Bless him, that's brave.”

“And I'm a coward, is that it?” Malfoy snaps.

“No, Draco. Just saying. Anyways, I need to get back before someone gets suspicious.”

“I hate you,” Malfoy mumbles near the door.

But there's a soft sound, then another, and two mutual moans.

And Ron scrambles away for the corner, peeking as the door unlocks and Harry steps out first, lips rosy and smiling from Malfoy's hidden kisses.

 

 

----

 

 

Ron sits through their boring meeting with an elderly, bumbling fashion disaster wizard of a supervisor, while Harry tries to hide his yawn next to him. Lockley pays attention across the room not only to the wizard with the ridiculous bright orange robes but also to Harry.

And Ron understands then how Harry actually wasn't just baiting Malfoy. That there is a bloke interested in his best mate, and that Lockley isn't even shy about it, smiling at Harry when Harry's green eyes happen to cast that direction about the room for the clock.

He doesn't know much about Lockley, only that he's slightly younger than Percy.

A mental note is made, though, and Ron keeps his ear to the ground. It isn't that he necessarily hates Malfoy still, but he hopes that if Harry does want a bloke that his best mate will look outside of someone so troubled and still so fucking mouthy.

 

 

----

 

 

Ron employs his latest Auror training to trail Lockley, choosing to ignore the fact that Harry is still disappearing through the week to meet Malfoy in the one loo.

The tall brunet seems kind enough, talking to people he passes in the hall with acceptable greetings, and Ron pushes to be near him in the cafeteria within the Ministry.

“You're Potter's friend, right?” Lockley immediately asks upon recalling his face.

Ron nods, watching closely. “Yeah. His best mate.”

A charming smile beneath dark blue eyes. “Ah. You're often quiet in training still unless you're talking with him.”

“Don't like anyone else enough to chat,” Ron admits. “Why aren't you fully fledged already?”

“Didn't make the cut before. Practiced more charm work and defensive spells, then passed.”

Ron pretends to supportively hum, but inside he's squinting. In the last days of his new personal assignment, he's watched Lockley cast perfect Patronuses and maintain complex charms with barely a thought.

It's not long before Harry enters the large room, returning from one of his visits to Malfoy. Harry veers right for him, stepping into his spot behind Ron at the end of the line. Ron gives him a quick smile of assurance, noting the exact moment Lockley glances over his shoulder and stares at Harry with the same intensity he has each time Ron's caught him doing it.

Harry tries not to notice, flicking his eyes and adjusting his glasses as he mutters with reddened, no doubt kissed lips, “Please tell me the tarts are out today. They're far better than the puddings.”

“They are,” Ron answers, narrowing his gaze as he catches Lockley marking his own mental note.

 

 

----

 

 

As if swearing some oath to a secret society, they all agree to continue the summer tradition through the fall. Perhaps it's George not wanting to admit he feels lonely, or that Seamus still struggles sometimes with nightmares. Maybe it's that Neville doesn't get out much from the herbalist shop where he works in Diagon Alley.

Harry immediately votes to continue, laughing, “My vote counts most. It's my house.”

Ron agrees, nodding his vote as well.

They all turn to where Draco Malfoy sits in a high-backed chair snagged from a bedroom, cushy at the opposite end of the table.

George smirks. “You in, Snake?”

“Maybe he's finally had enough of us,” Seamus laughs.

Neville frowns at Seamus next to him. “I think Draco has fun, Seamus.”

Ron ignores them, instead noticing the stare down happening between his best mate and Draco across the table. Harry's eyes silently plead. Draco's brow cocks up.

When Malfoy quietly votes to continue as well without hesitation, no snark in the agreement at all, Ron notices George count it and start talking over the rest...with none but Ron conscious of the curious gratitude in Harry's eyes aimed Draco's way and the nervousness in Draco's looking back.

 

 

----

 

 

Ron leaves his preferred loo, one in which he knows Harry doesn't visit Malfoy, and he steps back out into the hall, surprised to see Harry talking with Lockley. Lockley's back is to him, but Harry's face is not, and Ron instantly sees the hot blush on Harry's cheeks.

Harry strides over when Lockley leaves, continuing the forward direction up the hall.

“What did he want?” Ron asks, wondering if Harry will be honest with him.

“Oh, nothing. Just asked if you and I were firm on...um, partnering for work.”

Ron crosses his robed arms. “We are, aren't we?”

Harry stares at him funny. “Uh, yeah. Unless you changed your mind.”

“Haven't,” he says, frowning at his friend. “Harry...is everything all right? You looked a bit...uncomfortable over there.”

Harry's redness deepens. “Fine, Ron. Nothing to worry about. He's just, you know...a bit friendly.”

“Uh huh,” Ron replies, following Harry's lead toward their designated office with his blue eyes squarely trained on the back of Harry's head.

 

 

----

 

 

“These are delicious, Harry,” Neville manages to say around his second tart over cards. “Where'd you get them?”

Ron's blue eyes pop when Harry glances once to Draco, then back to Neville and murmurs, “Bloke at work brought them. Named Lockley. Says his gran makes them, and he thought I'd enjoy them because I eat them often for dessert at lunch.”

Neville smiles kindly. “Tell him thanks. They're great.”

The miniature tart that had been halfway to Malfoy's lips falls back to Draco's plate as if by accident, and Ron sees the silent Slytherin in the room pick his cards back up and pretend not to care that Harry's brows have risen at the action.

And later, when it's the only one left, Seamus asks if he can eat it.

“You've not touched yours, Malfoy. Don't want it?” Seamus asks, hopeful.

Draco shoves the entire plate to the Gryffindor's spot at the table, muttering, “I fucking hate tarts,” before he gets up and heads to the loo.

Ron holds his breath as Harry's face tightens.

He counts the seconds that turn into a handful of minutes until finally Harry gets up, claiming to be going for the loo up the next flight of stairs.

And as the rest decide to jump on the break, George reshuffling the cards with a spell for added laziness, Ron sneaks to the stairwell fast enough to see Malfoy open the door to the toilet; Draco freezes at Harry standing quietly on the other side, and after a moment of tense silence, steps back into the small room with Harry shutting the door behind them.

 

 

----

 

 

Training intensifies with simulated scenarios and actual miniature spell fights from higher ranking Aurors testing them on what they've been learning.

Ron uses appropriate counter-curses with quick timing, grateful for the extra bit of time Hermione has lent him on the weeknights to both teach him better wand control and snog the life out of him.

Harry's back is to his as they endure a test of their partnership, and Ron knows already that theirs is the strongest out of all the groups because they've lived it. Ron keeps the left flank clear, remembering stupid silly rhymes of acronyms Hermione drilled into his head for smart charm protection order, and Harry is Harry, using grand sweeps of his wand and harsh points, far more aggressive in his defense.

They pass their testing with high marks, and Harry mumbles about needing to use the loo. Ron checks the clock, noting it's ten minutes past his usual meeting time with Malfoy, and he wonders if Draco is still there waiting furiously or has given up and gone back to his department.

“I'll walk you. I need to go, too,” Lockley smiles, stepping to Harry's side during the changing of testers.

Ron takes in the look of panic in his best mate's eyes. He sighs inwardly. And he decides to help his mad friend by taking Lockley by the shoulder and murmuring, “Ever use the one on the third floor down? Really nice. I'll show you.”

Lockley, caught between surprise and trying to be polite, attempts to be thankful and excuse himself, but Ron steers him firmly away, noticing Harry is already gone.

 

 

----

 

 

That Sunday morning, waking to use the loo at the crack of dawn, Ron sleepily walks past Harry's bedroom door and stops dead in his tracks. His hands come up to cover his mouth as he hears a drowsy Slytherin mutter, “Potter, that had best be a broom against my bum.”

“Well, it's definitely a kind of wood,” Harry says, quite matter-of-fact.

“Ugh,” Draco sighs dramatically behind the door.

“Maybe you could go for a fly on it, Draco. You know...sometime, if you...um, want to?”

“Maybe you could fly on it by yourself, Potter.”

“Fair. You know, I'm pretty sure Lockley wants to go for a fly on it. I've turned down two dates.”

“Maybe you want him to,” Malfoy counters, accusatory. “Merlin, I hate you.”

Harry grunts. “Maybe you don't hate me. Maybe you're unsure. But also maybe you want me to want him to because you're unsure. So just say it, Draco. Tell me to say yes the next time he asks, and I will. Tell me you don't want me to meet you in that stall anymore at work, and I won't.”

Ron waits as Harry goes immediately silent.

At first he thinks maybe Malfoy hit Harry into silence.

The shuffling of positions, loud masculine groan, and pleasured gasp of “Fuck, yes, Draco!” followed by a hissed, sensual guttural Malfoy snap of “Charm the door, you idiot!” have Ron staring at said door when a Muffliato suddenly hits it, mercifully muting the sounds of Harry's subsequent moaning. Ron shakes his head in continued disbelief before quietly stepping onwards to the loo, hoping to get the sounds out of his bloody mind before he falls back to sleep.

 

 

----

 

 

It's not his business, he tells himself.

If Harry won't confide in him about any of it, then he shouldn't stick his nose where it doesn't belong, even if he wants to support his ridiculous friend.

Ron repeats this until it becomes a mantra in his head through September, mutters it under his breath each Saturday that Harry sneaks off after Malfoy to sleep, and closes his eyes while he thinks it to the count of ten every time Harry's gone to the loo at work or awkwardly avoiding Lockley's attempts at conversation.

He knows Harry's not the greatest at asking for help. Never has been. Where Harry helps and gives and has for years, Harry struggles still, even without Dursleys in his life, to understand that he can request it when he needs it, not just when things seem extremely serious.

Even so, despite each utterance of that almost incantation he's grown to adopt, Ron finds himself still checking each Sunday morning for signs that Harry's happy with his smiles at Malfoy's continued ruffled bedhead. And each time he can, he intervenes with Lockley by being present at Harry's side as much as possible to give the other bloke less chances.

It's strange, too. Because by October's first week, Ron has gotten so used to Harry and Malfoy's little routines together that Lockley's interest starts to bother him more as well. It's not that Lockley isn't polite or charming, at least, especially in comparison to Malfoy's grunts or sneers all the time. And it's not just the point that Ron wonders constantly what the fuck Harry sees in Draco to make him feel the way he does for the Slytherin.

It's simply that, for now, Harry is happy around Draco.

And, well...sometimes the irritable, snarky posh prat one knows is better than the person possibly hiding in wait behind a smiling mask.

 

 

----

 

 

His gut's skepticism of Lockley finally makes itself understood mid-October when he's gathering things to leave for Hermione's at the end of a work day and sees Lockley walking casually by. Curious, Ron follows carefully, charming his shoes to make less sound and hoping it sticks.

Ron's stomach drops the second he hears the muffled voices in the loo Harry and Malfoy use.

And he sees Lockley's eyes narrow, then widen with some sort of jealous anger the second both blokes emerge. Harry's naturally wild hair is flipped about with even more flair as he straightens his glasses, and Malfoy's grey eyes are brighter than they usually are on Saturday nights. On Draco's neck, just above his collar, sits a reddened mark that is clearly a love bite.

Ron tries to make himself smaller about the corner until only one eye is peering around it. Lockley hides in a similar fashion diagonally from him, not paying him any attention at all.

Harry glances about quickly, then hooks his fingers loosely in Draco's. “Come on. Dinner. Just us.”

“Potter, this is risk enough,” Draco retorts, his own glance flicking around and missing the two Aurors watching.

“I know, but....” Harry sighs and lets go, turning to walk away. “It was fun to hide when it wasn't...this. When it wasn't, you know...real yet. But I don't want to hide it anymore.”

Draco grimaces, standing still in his spot, looking regal in all black with a stiff expression awfully reminiscent of their last excuse of a year at Hogwarts before the War fully hit. “You know why. I told you, if you can recall with that Gryffindor head of yours, that I had terms. Not my fault you agreed to them and want more.”

Ron's eyes are wide as fuck when he recoils a second to catch his breath that he's not taken in almost a minute. Lockley hasn't blinked across from him, though the once Hufflepuff looks devastated and frustrated.

Movement snags his hearing, and Ron risks another peek, finding Harry starting to walk away with his head hanging awkwardly. “Fine, Draco. See you Saturday, if you show.”

Harry gets three steps away before Malfoy suddenly moves, taking one large step with his longer legs. Ron's jaw softly falls open as he finally sees the slightest bit of what Harry apparently has for a while: Draco sharply looks about, then slides his arms around Harry's middle from behind, his proud brow bending to rest against the crown of Harry's head.

“Potter...Harry, you know how I...what I.... I can't help my father. I can't stop the rest of the world from hating me, even when you killed that monster with my wand. I handle their shit on my own, but I won't...I won't give any of those fucking idiots a single reason to doubt you because of me—because of friendship with me, or...or....”

“Or us,” Harry murmurs, looking sad as he pats Draco's arms.

Ron's emotions twist as he considers the Slytherin he's always kept at a distance, even with all these Saturdays under their belts now. For once he doesn't just think that Harry's completely mad for whatever's been going on between the rivals. For once he wonders, truly wonders, about everything in Draco Malfoy that he's never seen before.

“I understand,” Harry sighs and slips out of Malfoy's arms. “Just wish you'd see I'd deal with any crap people think they need to throw at me just to not have to hide how I feel for you...or how you have always felt for me. If you hadn't finally...given me the one sign you did, I still wouldn't know. I want this, I want you, and I like my privacy, but you're no secret I'm ashamed of. But maybe, Draco...maybe I am yours.”

Before Draco can speak, Harry is leaving, striding away in a manner that Ron easily places in memories of stress and anger, in times of Harry holding back emotions as much as possible to ram his head through the obstacle in his path until he lets himself finally breathe.

Ron keeps still until Harry passes down the main corridor. Lockley slips off down the hall he's cornered around, aiming for an elevator with a heavier walk than his original one he'd sneaked to the spot with earlier.

But Ron has to know. It's not his business, but he has to notice because damn it, Harry's his best mate, and he's gotten used to Malfoy over the past months, too. Ron has to know if what Harry just said is true, if all those years of arguing and fighting was really Malfoy fancying him without ever being able to just say so.

He looks one more time, feeling so twisted over what he's just heard and seen, intuition confirming Harry's words as truth: For Malfoy still stands where Harry left him—regal in black and stiff as a board...with clenched eyes and wet tears rolling down his tight jaw.

  

 

----

 

 

Malfoy doesn't show that Saturday.

Ron isn't entirely surprised, but he is shocked to feel genuinely sad and concerned about it.

George asks after Malfoy's location when Harry enters, looking hollow and reserved, and Harry murmurs, “Probably had plans with Parkinson or family.”

“Never did before,” Seamus mutters, seeming actually ruffled without Malfoy to mock him for the way he downs his snacks and almost lights things on fire with his wand when he's two drinks into cards.

George observes Harry in a way Ron's rarely seen his brother do—with curious worry for Harry and with more knowledge than Ron had honestly figured his brother to probably have about the situation. The lone twin pauses as Harry slumps down upon the sofa in his usual spot, seeming void without a grumbling Draco close to him upon it, and George claps his hand over Harry's shoulder, patting it silently before saying he'll grab some dice and change things up a bit for the night if Harry's okay with it.

Neville and Ron silently nod and head for the kitchen, whipping up anything they know Harry likes most to eat. Ron even tries to make his own version of tarts by slipping chocolates on top of biscuits and melting them a little in lieu of any jams or fruits.

And when the pair emerge again and surprise Harry with them, Harry finally smiles and laughs and thanks them.

And only Ron, like before, really notices the way Harry leaves for bed, the footsteps heavy up the stairs without their usual partner.

 

 

----

 

 

Harry doesn't use the loo like normal the next week. Ron, unnerved by this change somehow, almost goes in his stead, choosing to head for the toilet while Harry stays at his desk, pretending to be engrossed in parchments.

Each time Ron goes near the location Harry had met Malfoy, he finds the same thing: For two or three minutes, nothing happens and no one goes near it, and then, suddenly, he'll hear the familiar steps he used to catch on Harry's stairs. Malfoy inevitably appears and looks around, steps inside and checks the doors, and then he exits, looking depressed and angry and arguing with himself under his breath for even trying yet again.

He wants to tell Harry, even if it really is none of Ron's business. He wants to grab his best mate by his robe's collar and drag his arse with him each time he goes and finds Malfoy looking more despondent until finally, by that Friday, Malfoy stops coming to check.

Ron grits his teeth when ten minutes pass and no one appears near the toilets.

And his blue eyes flare when he returns back to their designated office and finds Lockley sitting in his desk, chatting up Harry sympathetically and asking him to dinner.

 

 

----

 

 

It definitely doesn't surprise him when Draco is gone the next day for games.

The rest get uncomfortable, actually demanding answers from Harry when Harry stumbles down the stairs looking half-depressed, himself.

“Where's Snake?” George asks, his glossy eyes sharp. “I haven't gotten to draw knobs on him yet.”

“Dunno,” Harry replies, nonchalantly as possible, passing them for the kitchen.

Neville, Seamus, and George eye on another.

“Something's wrong,” Neville speaks first, sounding worried. “They're not getting along again. It was nice when they were.”

Seamus shakes his head. “Wondered if this would happen. Had hoped after awhile that maybe Malfoy wasn't as bad as we thought, but he's broken agreement without a fucking word. If he doesn't like us or never really wanted to be here in the first place, why'd he always show, huh?”

George doesn't say a word at first, but his gaze settles upon Ron with something that makes Ron's spine steel itself. “Something tells me little brother here knows a thing or two.”

“As if,” Ron covers, wondering if Harry will ever know the extent of all he's done for him with this situation. “Maybe he got tired of you threatening him, George.”

His brother scoffs and throws an entire pack of joke cards at him that make a snap transformation into rainbow strings that almost smother him. “He knows it's a joke. Malfoy might be a lot of crap, but he isn't stupid.”

Harry comes back into the room with a bottle of beer, and they all shut up.

He sits down at the head of the table and looks them over. “Who's dealing?”

“I will,” Ron replies and sits next to his mate, giving him a soft smile.

“Should we wait in case?” Neville wonders as he takes his seat.

“No,” Harry responds, taking a swig of beer and leaning in his chair. “Just us, like before. Deal, Ron.”

 

 

----

 

 

It's none of his business. Yeah, he fucking knows it.

But he doesn't give a shit anymore.

He can barely handle Harry's spiral of quiet depression and Lockley's continued flirting with his mate at work, and he's actually sick of how empty Saturdays fucking feel without Draco Malfoy present at the table picking on them.

Ron investigates during his lunch break a couple weeks later after broken hopes that Malfoy would grow a pair and just show the hell up to 12 Grimmauld Place with confidence he's always seemed to carry. He looks the Slytherin up in the registry, finds his name in Court records, likely working under lawyers as a way to prove himself since the War.

He gives Harry some excuse about meeting with Hermione in her office for lunch, unhappy about leaving Harry alone with Lockley in the cafeteria, but having no choice now. He takes the elevator down a few levels and walks the corridors, following the path he'd repeated under his breath in the elevator ride.

Finally he finds Malfoy's office, and it genuinely bothers him on Draco's behalf.

The proud, honestly seriously intelligent and clever Slytherin is barely making do inside of what was once likely a maid's closet, a desk taking up most of the space and tons of parchments and giant books stacked all over the place as carefully as possible to maintain some level of order. He's been shoved out of sight and mind, yet obviously needed to a ridiculous degree, and Ron can't help but feel the location is personal.

Draco sits behind the desk, hunched in his black robes, looking paler than usual with circles under his eyes as he tries to copy notes from a book open in front of him.

Ron's mouth tightens because he's had enough, and it is now his fucking business as he cares too fucking much for Harry's happiness and apparently Draco Malfoy's as well.

“Malfoy,” he grunts at the doorway.

Draco's head snaps up in shock, and before he can gather himself, Ron sees the embarrassment Draco feels of the small room, the indignity he's suffering probably as a form of hazing him and his intentions with the job. It's not something suiting a Malfoy's disposition at all.

Ron sees Draco recover, though, sneer in place as if it hadn't been missing. “The bloody hell do you want, Weasel? I'm busy.”

“What'cha got there?” Ron asks instead, stepping further inside as he gestures at the book.

Malfoy glances down tiredly as he debates answering. He gives in. “Part of my internship...sometimes the fuckers I work for think they can get away with me writing their entire case work for them, even their arguments to win the stupid things, and I've little to defend myself with against it when I get absolutely no credit.”

“Bullshit,” Ron calls, setting off those grey eyes against him. “You can say exactly what you think and call them on overstepping the terms, Malfoy. Nothing would ever stop you before from being a prat for less of a reason.”

Draco scowls at him. “Sure, Weasley, and lose my fucking chance at a job that gets me out of the fucking Manor and away from my paranoid father sitting at home because of his plea deal.”

Ron crosses his arms. “So why are you doing it, then? For him or for you?”

“None of your fucking business. Why are you even here?”

“Answer the question.”

“Fine, you ginger arsehole, I'm doing it because much of our assets were seized to repay the fines against my family. I'm doing this because I can prove to all you judgmental pricks that I can pull my own weight, that I have a fucking brain, and that I'm not a fucking teenager anymore!” Draco shouts, chest heaving as he pushes to stand behind the desk. “I'm in this tiny room for hours a day like a bloody slave because it's the only thing that will clear me enough for anyone to let me be near Har—”

Malfoy stops speaking, his face panicked at the almost slip.

Ron's face softens. “For?”

“Nothing,” Draco mutters, turning away. “You've had your fun harassing me, now get the fuck out.”

“Why'd you stop coming?” Ron asks instead. “Why aren't you coming over anymore?”

The Slytherin across from him slowly collapses back into his chair. His grey eyes focus upon the open book. “Doesn't matter. Doubt any of you honestly wanted me there, anyway.”

“Shut up,” Ron replies, shocking Draco slightly. “We did. You know we did. They all want to know what's wrong, and Harry won't talk about it.”

“What makes you think he'd know why I stopped showing up?”

Ron takes the two steps between he and the desk and slams his palms upon it, leans over it right into Draco's face as Malfoy recoils instinctively in a moment of fear. Ron inhales harshly, blue eyes hot, and states slowly, “Because I fucking know. I know what you were like. I know you two were...something. And I know you're not talking anymore.”

Horror enters Draco's gaze as his mouth falls open.

Ron goes to speak again, but Malfoy interrupts him. “No, no, I don't know what you're talking about Weasley. Now get out of my face before I hex yours.”

“You know what I'm talking about—you and Harry. I know you were together or whatever. I accidentally saw and heard some things over the past months, and I don't even care. I just want him happy, and...I guess you, too, you selfish bastard,” Ron hisses at him angrily. “So get up, march into the Aurors' offices, and demand to see him. Don't be a coward, Malfoy, for once.”

Ron barely ducks back before the fist misses his face. Draco shoves up out of the chair, almost looking like he might climb across the desk in his fury.

“I am not a fucking coward! You don't know me! You know nothing about me, you piece of poor filth,” Draco shouts, temper blasting on high. “And maybe you should be telling him this same fucking lecture, Weasley, because he's the one who didn't try again when I did, and he's the one who walked away!”

Ron takes each verbal blow against an emotional shield he's had for years in dealing with Malfoy. He takes them because he knows better. He knows that Draco isn't a complete waste of breath, and that Malfoy has a fucking heart that seriously cares for his best mate.

“You done?” Ron asks, setting Draco's eyes on fire. “Good. Blimey, you're all dragon smoke. Now listen to me. If Harry walked, then it's because you gave him a reason to do it—maybe he felt he was pressuring you or maybe he did because you didn't show up the first time. Maybe it takes more than just going to the loo and waiting and hoping for him to be there to fix it, you idiot. You need to communicate.”

Draco's anger flushed cheeks wash out instantly. “You...were you...watching me, Weasel?”

Ron nods. “At first when I wanted to know what Harry was up to and I was worried. Checked back after you weren't there the first Saturday you missed. I'd noticed he hadn't left like usual, and wondered if maybe you were hoping he had and could talk or something.”

Malfoy stares at him, bared to the bone and hateful. And then the usually graceful man falls inward, crumples into himself, elbows on his desk, face in his hands.

Draco doesn't speak. He shakes in silence.

And Ron, feeling a little bad for the tough camaraderie, leans across to rest a hand on his bony shoulder in the black robes. “Talk to him, Draco. Before it's too late. Before he finally gives into Lockley sniffing at him.”

At the other Auror's name, Draco's head jerks up. The fury is back, even in the wetter eyes. “He's talking to him?” he demands, voice dripping venomously.

Ron nods.

Draco reaches for a key in his pocket, unlocks a drawer in his desk, and yanks out a file of papers. He sneers and shoves them at Ron. “Everything I've dug up on the bastard. He's obsessed with Harry. Dropped out of prior training when he heard Harry would be part of the next group accepted and tried again. He's rubbish, and he just wants Harry for Harry's name and fame—he's a whore's fuck from being dangerous.”

Ron's stomach rolls as his gut reminds him of his own suspicions once more.

And Draco shakes his head, disgusted. “I may be lots of things, Weasel, but I was never...that. What's between Potter and I isn't that way and never has been on my end of it. Harry's a person, a flattering idiot at the best of times. I resented him for his special treatment, and I didn't want to attach myself to his coattails to bask in it like this fuck. I don't trust Lockley, and regardless of what you may think of me, Weasley, you shouldn't either. Not if you're really Potter's best mate.”

“I don't,” Ron admits, glancing over some of the notes in Draco's handwriting. Clips from newspapers, too. “What's this?”

“Broke a few laws obtaining it, but something about him bothered me enough. Found out he'd been arrested as a minor after his Hogwarts graduation because he'd gotten fixated on another Hufflepuff, and the bloke's family intervened. Charges were later broken down through his father's insistence, and he was let off for it to be hushed enough that he could apply twice for Auror work and still make their terms.”

Ron's face sours. “He makes Harry uncomfortable. I know he does. And Harry's too fucking nice to tell him off.”

“As I said, Potter's an idiot at the best of times.”

“You still love him though, don't you?” Ron asks, shutting Draco's snark right off. Malfoy glares at him hotly, and Ron leans closer one last time over the file. “So do something about it, Draco. It's not supposed to always be my place to be in Harry's personal business. I want to be because I care—he's my best mate! But this? This is your problem, mate. You want him, you're afraid, and you're leaving him to deal with Lockley. I intervene as much as I can at work, like divert the attention and whatnot, but I can't do it all the time. So snap out of your self-pity and do the right thing. Go talk to Harry and win him back, and then show the fuck up on Saturday and prove to me you're not scared.”

Draco looks like he might swing again, not even caring to reach for the wand upon the desk in his anger.

Ron risks the hit anyway, murmuring, “C'mon, Malfoy. Prove Harry wrong. Show him that he isn't a secret you're ashamed of.”

Draco's jaw drops. His eyes well and then tighten in rage at the understanding that he'd been overheard. And before he can even grab for his wand or hit Ron, Ron's already out the door, slamming it shut and running for the elevator, grateful for each stretch he makes where he doesn't hear the steps coming after him.

 

 

----

 

 

Two days later, Ron continues to grind his teeth waiting for Malfoy to fucking do something.

And two days later, Ron passes someone heading to the Floo most often used for St. Mungo's.

He sees the lone bloke look up, sees the poor bastard holding his broken nose. Instantly knows it's Lockley bleeding profusely and cursing under his breath with hateful eyes that are no longer polite when they glance Ron's way, catching his awful grin.

Ron runs back to his office, laughing to himself softly as he pauses outside the mostly closed door and sees Harry Potter admonishing Draco Malfoy at his desk while nursing the Slytherin's swelling, bloody knuckles.

“I can't believe you hit him.”

“I can't believe he thought he could obsess over you more than I do. At least my reasons are pure in their way.”

Harry snorts. “Can't believe you think he's that mad.”

Draco scowls as Harry uses his wand to heal Draco's fist. “Can't believe you're stupid enough to not know when someone's mentally ill and dangerous to you.”

“Maybe I just try to see the best in people, Draco. Like you.”

“And maybe you should have given me more of a bloody chance then, you bastard. I waited for a week, every day, in the fucking loo for you to show.”

Harry stops incanting the next healing spell, mouth open.

Draco glares up at him. “Exactly. Arsehole. So, naturally, I stopped going to your stupid Gryffindor Saturday crap because why wouldn't I, Potter?”

Harry's eyes soften behind his glasses, and Ron sighs quietly to himself. “Draco, I...I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd show, and I didn't want to...give myself false hopes anymore.”

Malfoy keeps his glare steady. But his expression softens more, and then he looks away to the floor below his legs off the side of the desk. “I'm not ashamed of you, Harry. Just...wanted to be finally seen as someone equal enough for you.”

Harry chokes, palm over his nose and mouth. “You are equal enough, Draco.”

Ron smiles to himself when Malfoy mutters, quickly covering his vulnerability, “I still hate you. No one else gets to hate you like I do.”

And Harry smiles as well, whispering, “Hate you, too,” before he bends and kisses Draco Malfoy right on the mouth.

 

 

----

 

 

Malfoy Floos into 12 Grimmauld Place the following Saturday as if nothing changed.

Seamus stares at him, shocked to see the Slytherin emerge with a flick of dust from his shoulders. Neville grins, relieved and happy as hell, greeting him verbally without hesitation. And Ron watches his brother saunter over, look Draco over once, and drawl quietly, “Broke the agreement. It was a solemn vow, you know. We take our liquor and fun seriously. So you're either in or you're out, Malfoy. Which is it?”

Draco inhales, stuck between trying to project arrogance and showing actual vulnerability and possibly the slightest hint of guilt. His grey eyes slide to Ron's blue ones, taking in his smile.

Malfoy rolls his eyes and holds his palm up ceremoniously before George. “I'm in, Weasley.”

“Good. Now, punishment means I get to draw one knob on your face while you're awake, and you wear it the entire night,” George grins, wand already out of his pocket and aiming. “Promise I'll make it nice and hairy.”

The play of sound with the last word strikes both Ron and Draco, and Malfoy's eyes widen as the truth hits—that Ron wasn't always the only one to notice.

But Harry comes into the room, grinning at seeing Draco there, and shoves George's wand arm down. “Fuck's sake, George, stop scaring him.”

“He doesn't scare me,” Malfoy grunts, glaring at Harry.

George grins. “Oh, fine. Go get all the food, Malfoy. You're serving.”

Draco rolls his eyes, but George finally lets him be, walking back over to where Seamus and Neville sit excited and invigorated for the evening with everyone back to normal.

Ron casually strolls into the hall, listening to the voices in the kitchen. Hears Draco grumble about plates and the absurd amounts of sweets, and Harry laugh.

“I'm glad you came,” Harry says, voice softly trailing up the kitchen stairs.

Draco scoffs. “Couldn't let Weasel think he won or anything.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.”

“Draco....”

“Nothing, Potter, don't mess your trousers without my hand in them.”

Ron rolls his eyes, but smiles when he hears the soft kiss, adjusting down the hall as the voices come closer.

“I don't really hate you,” Malfoy says suddenly.

“I know,” Harry replies, sounding happy.

They stop on the stairs, the scuff of their shoes echoing a moment.

Ron hears another kiss, and then Draco sighs. “I...you know.”

“Love me.”

“Shut up. Don't smile at me like that. Merlin, Potter.”

“What? I'm not the one who can't say three words,” Harry teases, resuming his steps. “I love you, Draco. See? That easy.”

Harry gasps when Ron hears the playful slap to his bum, and Ron barely covers his mouth in time to muffle his barking laugh.

The night goes wonderfully well. Together they all fall right back into routine, as if Malfoy hadn't had his brief stint away from them. Draco engages everyone as he normally does, even treats Harry the same, but when he eventually heads to bed, Harry waits like usual before moving to follow him.

Ron watches Malfoy stop at the doorway to the room they all still lounge within, sees Draco take a big breath and turn around enough to look back right at Harry's green eyes.

“You coming?” he asks, shocking Ron and Harry both.

“Fuckin' knew it,” George mutters, shoving another chocolate in his mouth with glee.

Harry rises up immediately, ignoring the questions in Seamus's eyes and the softness in Neville's. But when Harry notices Draco eyeball Ron with a territorial dare, he pauses, and Ron merely shrugs, impressed and glad.

Harry stares, his awareness of Ron's own awareness this whole time finally blooming clear.

“Go on,” Ron grunts at his best mate with a smirk. “Make him wake up with spikes this time.”

Harry blushes, but grins widely at him, relieved and happy and grateful for his understanding.

Ron watches Harry catch up to Draco, taking Malfoy's hand with the grin only deepening as they disappear around the corner for the stairs.

“So you do know some stuff, eh, little brother,” George infers, looking absolutely wicked.

Ron shrugs again, always protective of Harry and now Malfoy, too, as he mutters his mantra one last time to his brother's demanding smirk. “Not my fucking business, George. Pass the whiskey.”