Hey peeps, it's been a while. This one needs a dedication. So it's dedicated to Mello, cos I was talking to you when I started it. I miss chatting to you, Mello. Speak soon.

This fits another of our prompts: 50. Mute.

Title based on the following quote, "Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend." ~ Albert Camus (also attributed to Maimonidies)

Please review, it makes me happy.

Walk With Me

It's breakfast as usual at Grimmauld Place.

Draco isn't a morning person. He is sitting at the table, slowly sipping his tea (lemon, a teaspoon and a half of honey) and half-heartedly eating toast (half-fat butter, marmalade).

Ron is pouring himself his second cup of coffee (black) and checking on his own toast (full-fat butter on one, Nutella on the other – so far). Claims he isn't human before his morning coffee.

Hermione, already dressed, groomed and breakfasted, leaves as Harry walks in, feet shuffling along as if of their own accord while he stretches and yawns.

The post arrives and Draco is always reminded of breakfast at Hogwarts, and the flurry of feathers at the Slytherin table.

The Daily Prophet lands in front of him because Hermione's gone. It's a Tuesday, so she's off to Bath to talk to a branch of... some committee or other. It's too early to think of which one.

Draco divides the paper into three sections – weather, sports and entertainment for Ron, health, education and the local news for Harry, business, international, events and the table of contents for himself.

Ron is slow in the morning, but always cheerful. After his second cup of coffee, of course. He sits down at the table to read the paper and always reads the Quidditch scores out to them. He and Harry sometimes debate over the merit of a particular win, but the discussions don't last long.

As Harry puts his tea in to steep, he reaches for the paper, nodding and mumbling towards Draco.

Draco has learnt that is the only form of gratitude he will receive from anyone but Hermione at this hour.

Hermione tends to come down the stairs each morning with a smile, a cheerful disposition, a new notebook to write down her findings and a case-file of what she is up to on the day. He finds her joy to greet each day quite disconcerting, even considering his own love of books.

Harry takes his tea (milk, two sugars) and steals one of Ron's pieces of toast (still nothing on it) and starts to nibble on a corner while balancing his breakfast and the paper in his arms.

When they're all sat down at the table, Ron grumbling about having to make more toast – as usual – and Harry wiping crumbs off his T-shirt, Draco opens the "Events" section of the Prophet.

He tells Ron that he might have a chance with that Harpies' chaser as she was seen at the latest Ministry dinner without a date. Oh, no, her date was in hospital with a broken shoulder – Bludger.

They all go back to their own papers and Draco takes a moment to listen to the silence. It isn't uncomfortable, it isn't tense and it took what feels like years to reach this point, but he enjoys it. He enjoys the fact that no matter how silent this house becomes it is never actually completely silent.

He can hear Harry murmuring the name of someone he recognises, can hear Ron chuckle at the comic strips, can hear their breathing. He can hear Hermione coming down the stairs, she bounces, and the creak as she steps onto the last one. He can hear the kettle, not yet at boiling point, can hear the hiss of the toaster and the creak of the kitchen door as Hermione comes in to say goodbye.

She will be back by supper time, and Harry mustn't forget it's his turn to cook.

Harry groans, Hermione grins, and Ron promises to go food shopping. Ron is better at cooking than Harry. He and Harry swap tasks in the rota quite often, because of this. And Harry doesn't mind hoovering, really.

Draco quite enjoys all of the tasks, though he doesn't say so. It makes him feel normal, wanted, and it is something that his childhood didn't have. He can get dirty, appreciate a job well done, and receive compliments that are both sincere and completely innocent. There is no further thinking behind it. It's simple. Draco has come to appreciate simple things.

He nods at Hermione, wishes her luck, and goes back to the paper. He skims over the rest of the section, eyes flicking towards the obituary to see if anyone he used to be acquainted with popped their clogs.

He stops and frowns at a familiar name. An old associate of his father's, perhaps? No matter. He probably deserved it.

He hums and is distracted by the smell of burnt toast and the scrape of Ron's chair as he tries to retrieve it before it turns black.

Ron makes a weak joke about Harry liking grilled foods and Harry shakes his head in mocking disbelief, commenting that 'grilled' and 'charcoaled' are not the same.

Draco gives a small smile. He's used to their playful arguing, it's their way to start the day off with a smile. Burnt toast is almost tradition.

Harry brings the Nutella to the table while Ron attempts to find more bread.

Draco takes a bite out of his toast and licks the marmalade off his finger and almost decides to skip over the obituary when he looks at his paper again, but something catches his eye.

This name doesn't make sense. He knows he should ask Harry why he thinks he knows it, but the letters are blurring and the name can't be correct and the toast doesn't taste right and he thinks he should probably close his eyes to help the nausea subside. But he doesn't.

He swallows with difficulty and stands up, excusing himself from the table.

He stops in front of the stairs. He can hear Harry and Ron talking quickly. They're wondering what's wrong. He takes a breath when he hears the rustling that means they've picked up the newspaper and walks up the stairs, across the landing and into his room.

The name wasn't printed right, it's not possible, he would know, he would know.

Wouldn't he?

He hears the front door open, Hermione's forgotten her umbrella, and the voices from downstairs grow almost urgent as Ron tells her what happened.

Hermione will know if it's true. He should go down and talk to her. Her voice is louder than the boys', she's confused, and he suddenly doesn't want to know.

Draco shuts them out, closes the door and leans back onto it.

He closes his eyes and breathes in and out, making this small, everyday part of life a conscious decision. In. Out.

He opens his eyes. In. Out.

He climbs into bed and gets under the covers. In. Out.

He closes his eyes again. In. Out.

He hopes that keeping his breathing regular will help him go back to sleep and forget.

But it doesn't.

Slowly, the morning routine goes back to normal. Hermione goes away, he hears the front door banging shut. Harry and Ron finish breakfast, do the dishes, water gurgles, they go upstairs, the stairs creak. The water starts running as Harry has a shower, and the plumbing in the room next to his squeaks when Ron wants to brush his teeth. Harry pads from the bathroom to his bedroom. Ron closes his door as he gets dressed. They open their doors within seconds of each other and exchange a few sentences in low tones, too low for Draco to hear, but low enough for him to understand they're talking about him.

They both walk downstairs, the stairs groan at the weight of both of them, and the front door slams shut again.

Draco squeezes his eyes shut even further and starts counting the bursts of colour on the back of his eyelids.

Two hours later, he wakes up. He's been dozing, never fully asleep, but never really awake. His covers have been kicked off and his pillow has marks from where his fingers were gripping it.

He is slightly confused and a little groggy, but he blinks his eyes and clears his head and remembers why he went back to bed.

He listens carefully for sounds of life and doesn't hear any.

He thinks he's alone in the house.

That's why allows himself to get off his comfortable bed and walk over to the wall next to the window. The window doesn't actually face anything except the back of the building behind Grimmauld Place, but someone has spelled it to show a view of the Thames and Canary Wharf.

It doesn't matter.

Draco runs his hands across the window sill. The wood is old and has never been painted. Tiny splinters work their way into his palm, but he doesn't feel them.

His fingers run up the side of the window pane and then follow the pattern of the wallpaper until a spot of damp interrupts the design.

Draco frowns, irritated. Why don't things follow the design set out for them?

He grimaces and punches the wall. Hard.

His knuckles are probably bruised, but that felt good. He does it again. And again, and again, until all he can feel is the burn in his fists, until all he can hear is the roaring in his ears that almost covers the thud of both of his hands colliding with the wall.

When he can't see the wall through the tears in his eyes, he knows it's time to stop.

He leans his forehead against the spot of damp that started it.

He hits the wall once more, for good measure, then slides down it, collapsing into a heap on the floor, sobs finally making their way out.

Why does life hate him? Is it his fault? Maybe he's meant to be alone.

Something slides into place next to him and arms snake round him. He stiffens and looks up as sobs turn into hiccups, all he can see is red hair and he doesn't know when Ron came in and there's something wrong with this, but Ron is offering comfort and it's something Draco needs.

So Draco buries himself in Ron's arms. Ron rocks gently back and forth, making shushing sounds that would usually have annoyed Draco even more, but now only make him cry harder, and he's hiccuping into Ron's shirt, trying to keep quiet and not managing it.

Ron's cheek is against the top of his head, nose hidden in Draco's hair, and his lips move slightly, like a series of kisses, but more likely whispers of nonsense to soothe him.

The shushing is replaced by the humming of a tune that Draco doesn't know, but calms him down.

Slowly Draco's hiccups stop, he breathes deeply and he notices the patch of wet on Ron's shoulder, but when he whispers an apology, though he's not sure for what, Ron just hugs him tighter.

It's silent again, and Draco contemplates the differences to the silence in the kitchen.

There are no machines here. The plumbing is quiet. Here he can only hear his own breathing slowly returning to normal, Ron's soft humming and the steady beat of his heart in the background. Draco takes his ear off Ron's shoulder, to see if he can hear it even without obviously listening for it.

He can't, but his own is loud in his ears.

Ron takes this as a sign that Draco wants to let go and releases him.

Draco blinks at him and removes his hands from behind Ron's back.

Ron apologises for intruding and starts to stand up, but Draco's hand is suddenly on his arm again.

Draco's brow creases. He didn't do that.

Ron sits back down. Draco's hand is still on his arm. Draco is confused as to why it won't let go.

Ron's head moves, and Draco looks up. Ron looks undecided, but his voice is strong.

"Would you like another hug?"

Draco doesn't think about it, just nods.

The hesitation in Ron's face melts away, leaving something that Draco doesn't recognise. It's not pity or sympathy, which would be logical. Once Ron's arms are around him again, he decides it doesn't matter.

Ron is warm. He almost smiles at that. His hair is orange, like fire, his temper is red-hot, his disposition is warm and sunny and his body is warm.

Draco shifts a bit and Ron lets go again. This time, Draco makes his arm obey him. It stays where it's supposed to be.

Ron turns to sit with his back against the wall, but his eyes are always on Draco.

"I'm sorry."

Draco's right hand clenches. He nods.

"You shouldn't have had to find out this way."

Draco leans his head back against the wall. Ron stops talking.

There is a moment where Draco can't hear anything, nothing moves, they don't make noise, but then Ron takes Draco's hand and squeezes, and just like that it's as if a burden has been lifted from his shoulders.

They stay that way for what feels like a long time, until Ron squeezes again, lets go and stands up.

He offers Draco a hand.

"Come on. You never finished your cup of tea."

Draco looks at the hand as though he's never seen it before, then looks at Ron as if to say he should know better.

"I took the paper away from the kitchen. But we're going into my room."

Draco lets himself be pulled up.

Ron's room is exactly how Draco had imagined it. Except he'd imagined accents in Gryffindor red, while Ron has a green that is too light to be described as Slytherin.

Ron sits him on the bed and leaves, returning a few minutes later with a cup of tea with just enough honey and a little less lemon than he likes.

"I wasn't sure how much you put in."

He shrugs, handing the warm mug to Draco and sits next to him, pulling his feet up onto the bed.

Draco does the same.

Ron's hands are fiddling with a rather large hole on his jeans, and Draco wonders why he doesn't just throw them away. Then Ron looks at him.

Draco isn't sure where this is leading.

"I didn't really know her."

Now he knows. He's not sure he wants to.

"But I do know what it's like to lose a family member."

Draco grips his mug tightly with both hands.

"It's not easy."

Draco almost snorts. He sips his tea, asking himself why on Earth he's here, in Ron's room.

His earlier outburst had been logical but Ron's reaction is not.

He tries to tell him this, but the words won't come, so he locks his fingers around the mug and drinks some more.

Ron edges closer and then his hand is on Draco's upper arm, rubbing in a soothing motion.

"But it does get easier."

Draco stares at Ron's hand again. It's strange that such a small gesture, combined with Ron's presence, could actually comfort him.

Ron sighs, and Draco looks up. Ron's head is tilted, and he's looking at Draco with confusion.

He blinks. Draco blinks back.

Ron moves round and takes the mug from his hands. Draco doesn't stop him, though he wonders why. He was drinking that.

Ron takes one of his hands and inspects it. Draco looks down at them too.

They're bleeding, he notices. They start stinging. Funny how they didn't hurt until he noticed them. He flexes his other hand, the one that Ron isn't holding, and blood comes to the surface of the wound. He wonders absently about the state of his wall.

There is a sharp twinge from the hand Ron is examining, and Draco is surprised to see Ron's wand out and pointed at his knuckles. Ron gently turns his hand over, frowns, repeats the spell, puts his hand down, takes the other one, does the same.

He then starts delicately wiping the blood off with the bottom of his T-shirt.

Draco makes a noise in protest.

"It's a clean shirt, if that's what you're worried about."

Draco gives him a look that clearly says Ron must be insane.

"I've had worse stains than this on my shirts. It'll be fine."

Draco supposes he has.

Ron looks at him again and hands him his mug again, but then leaves.

Draco considers going back to his own room, if only to look at the wall, but Ron comes back almost immediately, holding a wet flannel.

Draco gives him another look.

Ron looks at the flannel a moment before staring at his feet.

"I didn't mean to imply anything..."

Draco sips his tea.

"It's just... I know how much you dislike being anything less than perfect, so I thought you could use this."

Draco slowly puts his tea down.

He doesn't look at the flannel, but at Ron, who still looks almost apologetic.

Draco knows what Ron is trying to do and appreciates it, but it just...

Actually, he can't think of anything, other than that his father would have thought his breakdown had been a sign of weakness, whereas Draco is almost sure this will make his friendship with Ron that much stronger.

He takes the flannel and washes his face with it, then wipes it over his hands, just to get the remaining blood off.

He stands up to take it back to the bathroom himself and comes back to the bedroom to find Ron sitting cross-legged on the bed, picking at a loose thread in the duvet, grinning that great grin of his, the one that always makes Draco smile back.

He sits back down facing Ron and lets his practical mind take over.

He should call the office, let them know he won't be in today. Or tomorrow. Ron should call his department as well, to justify his own absence.

Ron's stomach growls. Ron should eat too. He hasn't eaten anything since breakfast, and Draco can't actually tell how much time has passed.

Ron's fingers are now twirling the thread between his fingers, he pulled it right out of the fabric. Draco is hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion. He wasn't this tired a moment ago, he's sure, but now his eyelids are drooping.

"Are you alright?"

Ron is right there, staring into his eyes.

Draco blinks sleepily.

"You don't have a temperature, do you?"

Ron sounds concerned, Draco can't see why, and he puts his hand on Draco's forehead.

Draco pushes it away and lies down. He needs another nap, that's all it is. He'll call the office later.

Ron seems to understand, and gets off the bed. He moves around Draco, only telling him to get up for a moment when he tries to get the duvet out from under him and can't manage it.


Ron walks to the door and Draco is suddenly very much awake. He knows he'll be alone if Ron goes and he doesn't want to be alone, if he's alone who knows who else will go and he likes Ron, he doesn't want Ron to die, he needs to know that Ron is here, that Ron is ok, Ron can't go, Ron has to stay.

He sits up and opens his mouth, but his throat is dry despite the tea he drank.

Ron's at the door and he's almost gone, so Draco hurriedly gets out of bed to stop him.

It takes him four long steps to reach Ron, to take his hand and pull.

Ron has that confused look on his face again. Draco doesn't know what to tell him – how do you tell someone you're afraid they're going to die if you go to sleep? – so he tugs him over to the bed instead.

He makes Ron lie down, then settles back under the covers next to him.

Ron isn't the brightest person in the world, but Draco trusts him to know what he needs and Ron doesn't disappoint.

Draco has one arm curled against his body under the duvet and the other on top, still holding Ron's hand.

Ron inches closer, holding onto Draco's hand tightly, and soon Draco can feel him through the blanket. He gets as close as he can.

Draco puts his head on Ron's shoulder and almost wants to laugh when his cheek comes into contact with the still damp fabric.

Ron free arm slides under Draco's neck, it's comfortable and he starts stroking Draco's hair.

Draco listens to Ron's breathing. In. Out.

Ron's heartbeat is steady. In. Out.

Draco's heart beats only a half-second after Ron's. In. Out.

Ron presses a kiss to Draco's temple and keeps on stroking. In. Out.

"It's alright. I've got you."

Draco falls asleep.