Disclaimer: This story, like all others written by fruit17 (me), is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
"Fine, Ron, fine! Be that way!" Hermione shrieked at him. "It doesn't matter what I want, after all!"
"That's not what I meant!" Ron yelled in frustration.
"Well, you know what? I don't care! I don't give a damn about what you meant! Get out!"
Ron stared at her in shock.
"Get – out."
"I don't care. Get out of this house. And don't come back until you've really thought this through." Her face was set.
"But, Hermione!" he tried. "It's eleven thirty at night!"
"Get out," was all she said. Without another word, he swept into the hall. He grabbed his coat and slammed the front door as she burst into tears behind him.
He was angry. How typical of a woman! Always take everything the wrong way! But after pacing the street outside his house for half an hour in the snow, his anger began to cool. The rest of him was freezing. In his anger, he'd grabbed Hermione's loose summer coat from the closet by mistake. He couldn't stay out all night, hoping his wife would take him back. He didn't have any money, so he couldn't go to the Leaky Cauldron. And nothing could have induced him to go home to the Burrow and tell them Hermione had chucked him out, after just six months of married life. There was only one thing for it: Harry's.
Ever since Hogwarts, Harry had been living in a small apartment in muggle London. Hermione and Ron had wanted him to come and live with them. In a weird twist of fate, he'd been even more of a wreck since Voldemort's defeat. But he'd turned them down, quite politely, and they were grateful he had when they finally started dating. And Harry had gradually pulled himself together and was now a top Auror with the Ministry. The only thing Ron and Hermione worried about nowadays was his lack of a steady girlfriend. They'd tried repeatedly to talk to him about it, especially since their own wedding, but he'd always blown them off, saying that until he got himself together, he wasn't in a fit state to commit himself to someone else.
So Ron had no worries about disturbing Harry's privacy. He or Hermione had often apparated to Harry's apartment at all hours of the day or night just to talk, whenever the two of them argued. And that was often.
Ron apparated to just outside the building.
"Alohomara!" he muttered, and the glass doors swung open. Ron tutted to himself. Harry really needed to update his door locking charms. There were hundreds of unaccounted for Death Eaters still roaming around. Ron clambered up the steps to 1A, right at the top of the block. His anger was spent and he was beginning to feel tired. He smiled at the thought of Harry's old, worn couch. The three of them had spent many hours talking, lounging and planning on that couch since they'd left Hogwarts. But now, he just wanted to sleep on it. He was exhausted. Hermione had that effect on him, as did Harry's excessive number of stairs.
He reached the door to 1A and knocked lightly, careful not to wake the other residents. He waited. There was no answer. Harry must be asleep, Ron thought. He looked at his watch. It was after twelve. Any decent human would be in bed, he thought with a rueful smile.
He bent down and felt under the mat for the spare key, again tutting to himself at Harry's carelessness. Opening the door, he was surprised to see the hall light was still on.
"Harry?" he called softly. No answer. Odd.
Ron wandered through into the kitchen. There was a bottle of wine on the counter-top. Even stranger. Harry almost never drank. And there were two empty glasses. Ron would later give Hermione-induced stress and fatigue as his excuses, because he absolutely failed to put two and two together. But as he would afterwards assert: why on earth would he think that Harry might have had someone, let alone that person, there? Harry's track record hardly indicated towards it.
Shaking his head in confusion, Ron filled one of the glasses and had a drink himself. Merlin, he needed it! Fights with Hermione were draining. He walked through into the sitting room, intending to curl up on the couch and talk to Harry in the morning.
Unfortunately, the couch was already occupied.
Harry Potter was there, doing some rather noisy kissing with someone, or something, who was lying back on the couch. Ron stared and dropped his drink.
Harry and the Other Being started. Harry fell off the couch and hit the ground with a thud, managing to simultaneously whip his wand out of his pocket.
"Stupef – Ron!" he caught himself.
Ron just stared in shock. Harry was still fully clothed. Ron thanked Merlin for small mercies.
"Ron, what are you doing here?" Harry demanded, his cheeks beginning to blush a telling deep crimson.
"Hermione kicked me out," Ron answered, without thinking. He was still trying to process what he'd seen: his best friend on a couch with someone. He just hoped it wasn't his sister.
"Really?" a familiar cold drawl murmured, and Ron felt the first tinglings of dread trickle down his spine.
"Can't say I blame her," the voice continued. "Imagine waking up to your ugly mug each morning! That'd be enough to drive anyone off their rocker, not that Granger was ever entirely on hers. But still…"
"Malfoy, that's enough!" Harry said firmly.
Ron stared at his best friend confusedly, steadfastly refusing to see the truth.
"Harry?" he asked uncertainly. "Who is that?"
Harry just looked at him, not saying anything, and that in itself was an admission of guilt.
"You don't remember me?" the cold voice continued. The being sat up. Platinum blonde hair peeped over the couch. White skin. Grey eyes. A cold, yet handsome face. Draco Malfoy.
"Oh, Jesus." Harry's voice seemed to come from far away as the world began to spin. There was the most curious sensation of falling. And everything was black.
"What are we going to do with him?" Ron heard someone's voice murmur as his eyes flickered. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Strange. He was sure he'd been standing only moments before.
"Hermione?" he asked. Harry's face was immediately above his own.
"It's all right," Harry muttered. "You're okay. You're at my place, that's all."
"Harry?" Ron asked, confused.
"Why don't you just roll over so I can take a look at that nasty little bump on your head, okay?" Harry's voice was oddly soothing, and Ron didn't mind that he was being talked to like a two year old. He rolled over obligingly and felt a sharp pang of pain in his head.
"Oooh! Nasty gash you've got there."
"Urgh!" Ron muttered.
"Malfoy?" Harry's voice called softly. "Can you do something about this?"
"He's your friend," a cold, obviously irritated voice said from across the room.
"You're the professional Healer," Harry said, sounding a bit irate.
"Fine," the voice grumbled. Footsteps padded across the room. "Hold still, Weasley. Sengus Reparo!" The back of his head felt curiously light and warm for a moment, then the pain was gone.
"Thanks," he muttered shamefacedly. He sat up. Too quickly. His head began to spin.
"Did I just… that is… did I…"
"Faint? Well done, Weasley. It's nice to see that the elementary powers of deduction are still there."
Ron scowled. "So I really didn't dream all of this?"
"If you did, I'd have to wonder about your dreams, Weasley."
"I feel sick," was all Ron said. Normally he had a good head for alcohol, but that sip earlier hadn't sat too well. Hardly a surprise, he thought, considering what he'd just seen. Harry sighed.
"Come on, Ron." And he hauled him into the bathroom just in time for Ron to throw up.
"Potter?" Malfoy's voice called. Ron retched again. Harry looked at him concernedly, but left the bathroom and Ron slumped himself against the wall. Harry had shut the door and Ron couldn't hear what they were saying, but a moment later he heard the front door slam.
Harry came back.
"Feeling better?" he asked. He suddenly looked very tired.
"I think so," Ron croaked.
"Come on, then." And yet again, Harry hauled him up and back into the living room.
"Sit," he ordered. Ron did so, still in a daze. He heard, rather than saw, Harry clear up the mess with the broken wine glass. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, feeling overwhelmed. Hermione…Harry…Malfoy. It was just all too much. He felt the couch sag beside him.
"Hey." Harry leaned back against the couch and sighed.
"God, I'm exhausted."
"You look it."
Harry sighed again. Ron opened his eyes and twisted to face his friend. Harry was sprawled across the couch, his eyes closed. He looked even more tired and bothered than Ron felt.
"So, where's Malfoy?" Ron asked, keeping his voice and face deliberately neutral. He couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw Harry stiffen a little.
"He's gone home," Harry said with no expression.
"Oh." If it had been anyone else, Ron would have apologised for interrupting. But it was Malfoy! Ron couldn't summon up the energy to be angry or apologetic or betrayed or anything other than confused.
"So…" Ron started. He paused, not quite sure how to phrase this. "Are you two…involved?"
A faint smile quirked across Harry's face at Ron's carefully neutral question, then he sighed.
"I'll say," Ron muttered. Harry ignored him.
"This wasn't a one-off, if that's what you're wondering."
"I don't just wander around cheap nightclubs picking up renegade Death Eaters."
"But we're not…dating, as such."
"I can't really explain," Harry said helplessly.
"You're still on last name basis," Ron observed.
"Yeah, well, we don't exactly have deep and meaningful conversations."
Ron nodded. "Harry…this isn't an arrangement of some sort, is it?"
Harry shrugged. "I guess you could say that."
Ron stared, completely scandalized, and Harry laughed.
"It's complicated. I told you that."
Ron just stared.
"We go for months without seeing each other and then we'll meet up accidentally and…that's all it takes. We won't get out of bed for days."
Ron raised his eyebrows and Harry smiled.
"I'm not exaggerating. Once we literally didn't leave Draco's apartment for four days."
Ron looked, if possible, even more scandalized.
"But it's not just sex," Harry continued hurriedly. "At least, it is, but… We talk. Nothing particularly important, but it's civilised. We have breakfast together. Always, unless one of us has a really good excuse. And it's never awkward, afterwards. As if we don't know what to do with each other. I mean, sometimes we'll spend days in bed, but often we just spend the days together. We go out to lunch, to a movie, shop together, whatever. And that'll last for like a week, and then it's over. One of us has somewhere to be and we don't meet up again. For that time. And then we bump into each other somewhere and it starts again. It's like… I don't know what it's like. I don't have anything to compare it to."
"Harry, this isn't normal."
"How would I know what's normal?!" Harry exclaimed, in a rare fit of passion. "And why does it matter? Nothing about me is normal! Okay? This is just another part of who I am."
"Malfoy is another part of who you are?"
Harry shrugged. "You could say that."
"And it all relies on you bumping into each other accidentally?"
"Yeah. Pretty much. I mean, we know where the other lives, obviously. And there have been times when… Well, there have been times when we've just showed up at each other's places, and that's never been a problem. I trust him, you know."
"Harry, he was a Death Eater."
"He did switch sides, eventually."
"Only when he was sure he'd be picking the winning side!"
"Oh, Ron! What does it matter?"
"What does it matter? What does it matter?!! Only that he could be trying to kill you!"
"Ron, Malfoy looks out for his own interests, first and foremost. And let's face it, it's not in anyone's interests to kill the Boy Who Lived."
Ron stared for a moment, then shrugged.
"I guess. It's your life, after all."
Harry sat up a bit and looked at him curiously.
"You're taking this remarkably well. No yelling? No tirades? What's gotten into you, Ron?"
"Hermione," Ron answered succinctly and Harry groaned good-naturedly, dramatically throwing himself back down onto the couch.
"What was it this time, then?"
"Nothing, it's just… I'd rather not talk about it."
Harry sighed. "I'm not in the mood to coax it out of you, Ron. Either you tell me, or I hex you."
"Sounds fair enough," Ron murmured humorously. Harry growled. "Fine, fine, I'm talking. I just suggested that maybe we start thinking about the kids issue, and she blew up at me!"
"Mental, that woman is. I'm telling you, it's like she's in a continual stage of PMS."
"So she chucked me out."
"Chucked you out?"
"Yes. Completely. As in, she locked the door behind me and doesn't want me back."
"I s'pose. She just said I could come back when I'd thought things through."
"What are you asking me for?"
"Come on, Harry. You know us better than anyone."
"You'll have to tell me exactly what you said."
"I…I don't remember," Ron stammered and began to blush. Harry nodded wisely. "I thought so."
"I didn't…" Ron began. Harry just looked at him. Ron shut up.
"Hermione's a proud woman, you know Ron. And she's never shown all that much interest in children or housekeeping."
"I don't expect her to…!"
"I didn't say you did. I'm just reminding you that Hermione sees herself as Hermione Granger first, and Mrs. Ron Weasley a distant second. She loves you, but her individuality will always come first."
"I'm not asking her to sacrifice her individuality!"
"I know, Ron. But she's not your mother. Hermione will never be happy in the kitchen. She'll be going into the Ministry until the day she dies. And you can't change that. You have to love her the way she is, and make sure she knows that you do."
Ron sighed. "I know."
"She's a great girl, Ron."
"Way too good for me."
"Well, as your friend, I wouldn't like to say…" Harry said jokingly. Ron swotted him, but laughed softly. "But, like you said," Harry continued, "completely mental!" And Ron wasn't going to argue with that. Instead, he changed the topic.
"Harry, I don't mean to sound critical, but is this thing with Malfoy really what you want?"
Harry shrugged. "It doesn't matter what I want, Ron. It's what I've got."
"Haven't you ever considered taking it further?"
"Further?" Harry raised his eyebrows and Ron looked away. Harry sighed. "He's engaged, you know."
Ron started. "But isn't he…"
"And are you…" Ron left the sentence hanging, no longer meeting Harry's eye.
"Bi. I think." Harry answered, blushing faintly. Ron looked just as flustered.
"So why, or who, is Malfoy's fiancé?"
"Name's Anna. I've met her, briefly. She's a leggy blonde just out of school with an IQ lower than her age."
"Realistic," Harry said, coldly, obviously put-out at the suggestion that he could be at all jealous over Malfoy. "It's entirely political. He doesn't love her, she doesn't love him. They've got a deal going, actually. He told me about it once – funniest conversation any engaged couple ever had, I dare say. They can both have whoever they want on the side, as long as they're discreet and don't have any illegitimate kids! Once she gives him an heir, that's it. Separate bedrooms, separate lives. They'll only talk at public functions. Same as his parents, actually."
"Does she know about you?"
"Yeah. That's how we met. She dropped by without warning once, and, well…you can imagine what she saw. A bit like you. Except she didn't faint or throw up," Harry teased. "Malfoy said they agreed to be entirely honest with each other, in order to keep the charade going. In a way, they're kind of chums. Except that he loathes her."
"So I s'pose she knows about Malfoy's other boyfriends?" Ron said, deceptively casual. Harry shot him a sharp look.
"I suppose so," was all he said, but their was something in his intonation that made Ron feel uncomfortable.
"Do you know if there've been any others, Harry?"
"No," Harry said shortly.
"Harry?" Ron asked gently.
"I've never asked. I don't want to know how serious he thinks we are. But…" he paused, looking very uncomfortable, then said unwillingly, "but I think I'm the only one. Malfoy has a reputation to uphold, you know. That's why he's getting married. Not that it'll change anything."
"Harry!" Ron sat up, scandalized. "You're not going to keep on seeing Malfoy after he's gotten married, are you?"
Harry shrugged. "Why not?"
"It's…it's indecent! That's adultery!"
"Only for him."
"But Harry, it's…"
"It's what, exactly?"
Ron sighed. "I just want you to be happy, you know."
"I know." Harry smiled at his friend. "But I can't be."
"Harry, don't say that! You Know Who is gone! Everything will gradually settle down! Things will get better. They're already ten times better than they were when you were back at school!"
"No. They're not," Harry said flatly.
"What? How can you say that? We don't wake up every morning wondering if you're going to survive the day! We don't have to deal with all those whispers and the staring and the lying newspaper articles! Things are better already, Harry, and they get better every day."
Ron wasn't sure Harry had even heard him.
"I thought that if I defeated Voldemort I could have a normal life." His voice was devoid of expression, but Ron thought he could detect a certain bitterness in his friend's eyes. "I foolishly thought that was the trade-off, that a normal life would be the reward or something. But it's only gotten worse. The newspapers, the gossip, all the functions I have to attend, people I have to meet, all of whom are only interested in my name and the status my presence brings to their function! But I can't get out of any of it. It's a full-time job, being the Boy Who Lived, and sometimes I just wish Voldemort had finished me off when he had the chance to!"
"Harry!" Ron gasped.
"It's true!" Harry insisted mulishly. "I'll never be able to be with someone I choose. You know that. I won't be able to come out about being bi, not unless I'm prepared to endure the rest of my life as The Boy Who Lived An Alternate Lifestyle. I'm a hero, Ron. The most unwilling hero ever, perhaps, but I still have to play that role, and I'll play it 'til I die, no matter what the price."
"But Harry, if you have to repress who you are, then surely the price is too high!"
"That's the thing: I don't get to choose."
"So…what will you do?"
"Wait. Go on. Keep fighting evil, seeing Malfoy. One day I s'pose I'll get married, have kids, send them to Hogwarts, die. And no one will ever know how much it costs to give up more of myself every day. No one but you, and Malfoy, and maybe Hermione one day."
"But Harry, that's…"
Ron didn't say anything. There wasn't anything to say.
"C'mon." Harry murmured after a long pause. "Let's go to bed."
Neither moved. They curled up together on the couch and closed their eyes. Neither slept.