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Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts
by marymqc
 

Warning:  M/M situations
Rating:  NC-17
Disclaimer:  All characters within belong to J. K. Rowling.  I'm just borrowing them for the moment (but please don't tell her!  If she knew what I was doing, she'd take them back!).

Author's Note:  Oh dear, I'm dreadfully afraid that this is prime flaming material.  But since comments and criticisms will be welcomed with open arms, please review!  This is my first time writing a Harry Potter fic, so please report any grievous errors or non-canon mistakes.   Other than that, enjoy the show.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"His neighbor told him that it was the worst meatloaf she's ever tasted!  Poor Sirius!  He said he'll stay away from whipping up chocolate desserts next time."

Ron laughed out loud alongside his two best friends, Harry and Hermione.  Harry had just finished telling a very amusing anecdote his godfather, Sirius Black, had written him about his new home and ventures into cooking.  The grin on Ron's face refused to leave even after the giggles faded away, but Ron did not mind.  It has been a long time since he has felt this happy and content.  Conflicting schedules kept the three of them from being with each other very often, and Ron relished every chance they had.

This year, their classes had become smaller and more specific, resulting in different schedules for the three of them.  In addition, Harry spent much of his time at Quidditch practices, and being the new captain of the team pushed him even harder.  Hermione was busy herself with her duty as Prefect as well studying even more (which Ron didn't think was possible) for her advanced classes.  On the other hand, Ron had not achieved either a Quidditch or Prefect position, leaving him with vast amounts of time.  He tried to spend his free time productively, but he found himself staring gloomily out the Common Room window more often than not, just waiting for either Hermione or Harry to show.

It did not help matters any, in Ron's case, that Harry was now dating Hermione.  Their relationship stood stagnant at it's can't-get-enough, can't-stop-necking stage, and he did not blame them for wanting to spend a large part of their free time alone.  But just because he did not blame them, did not mean he did not feel jealous, because he certainly did.  Jealousy had always been Ron's vice.

Harry and Hermione did try to include Ron in their activities as much as possible, though, for which Ron was extremely grateful.  Now, for instance, they invited him along to the library so Hermione could look up a few books for a report.  Not the best place to socialize, but Ron grabbed every opportunity.

Ron, Harry, and Hermione walked down the corridor towards the school's library as their chuckles from Harry's story died down.  Harry held Hermione's hand, but since Ron was walking on Harry's other side, he did not have to see it.

"Hey, I haven't told you about the twins' new invention for their joke shop!" Ron began, grinning.  "It's a-"

"Oops, sorry, we're here," Hermione interrupted.  She gave Ron an apologetic smile, and winked.  "You'll have to tell us as soon as we leave.  I wouldn't want to upset Madam Pince with our laughing."

"Okay then," Ron nodded, his grin drooping a little but not disappearing.  Harry patted him on the shoulder.

Hermione found her books quickly in the library, knowing exactly where they were located.  They picked a table in the farthest, secluded corner where Hermione began to jot down the information she needed.   Ron and Harry looked at each for a few moments, and Harry made an exaggerated impatient face over Hermione's head.  Both of them laughed.

"Well," Ron whispered, standing up, "I guess I should check out that book for my Muggle Studies essay.  Even though it's not due for another two weeks."

Hermione's head shot up, horrified.  "Just two weeks?!  It'll take that long just to write a rough draft!"

Ron flashed her a grin and Harry shook his head at Hermione's neurotic behavior.  "You are so cute," he told his girlfriend, kissing her on the cheek.   Ron took that moment to look for his book.

Not having Hermione's experienced knowledge of the library, it took him ten minutes to find the thick book.  The dust on the cover made him sneeze as soon as he pulled it off the shelf.  "Yuck."  Book now in hand, he walked back towards the table.

Harry and Hermione were now making out quite heavily.  Hermione's lip were very much plastered to Harry's lips, and Harry's arm was wound tightly around Hermione's back.  Ron blushed in embarrassment and cleared his throat.  He then stood waiting for a few minutes, but when neither of them had yet to notice his presence, he decided to leave them alone.  He sighed as he treaded out of the library.

Since he really had no place he had to be, he began wandering around the halls.  He wondered when, or even if, he would meet up with his friends again.   He reckoned they would be finished with their - well, would be finished in less than half an hour.

Other students were milling about the hallways, some heading to or out of class, others just gathered in small bunches talking.  Ron waved at Neville as he scurried past, and Dean and Seamus exchanged "Hello" with him.

Ron strayed into a darker, more empty corridor.  Taking his time, he looked at the paintings hanging on the wall.  A particularly curious one showed a tall, skinny lady, a former teacher decades ago, holding an umbrella over her head, even though it was not raining, and some sort of wooden paddle with a rubber ball attached to it with an elastic string.  She bounced the paddle up and down, causing the ball to smack against the wood and then fly up into the air and zoom back down again.  "I stole these from a first-year mudblood," she told Ron.  He managed a weak grin at her sneer, afraid she would turn her weapon on him (though what harm a rubber ball could do, he was unsure).

I must be getting closer to the Slytherin tower, Ron mused as he continued peering into the pictures.  Suddenly something loud banged into the floor behind him and skidded beside him.  Ron looked down to see a book slide to a rest at his feet.  Bending down, he picked the book up and turned to give it to the person who dropped it.

He just barely noticed that it was the book he used in his potions class when a hand grabbed it from him.  Ron looked up and saw Draco Malfoy, standing for once without his henchmen, a slick smile painted on his face.  "Why, Weasley, thank you very much for picking up my book," he said with a false sweetness.

Ron glared at him.  "I wouldn't if I knew it was yours."

"Just the same," Draco remarked as he flipped something shiny over to Ron.   Ron automatically caught it with his hand.  It was a knut.

"What is this?" Ron demanded, confused.

"I suppose I shouldn't expect a Weasley to know what a knut looks like.  That's money, poor boy," Draco sneered.

Ron's ears burned.  "I know that!  But just what are you trying to pull, rat?"

Draco shrugged nonchalantly.  "Malfoys always pay the help."  He had already turned to leave when Ron chucked the coin at him.  To his dismay, the knut bounced harmlessly of Draco's shoulder and landed on the floor with a tiny clatter.

"I don't want your money.  I was doing a good deed."  Then he added, "though I suppose I shouldn't expect a Malfoy to know what a good deed is."

 Draco snorted, ignoring the knut on the ground and not turning around to face Ron.  "It's your money now.  If you decide to leave it on the ground, it's your waste.  Is it a wonder your family's so poor?"  And with that, he disappeared down the hallway.

Ron glared at his retreating back, his entire face burning red by now.  That Malfoy always knew what buttons to push.  Then his eyes slid to the knut shining in the low light of the corridor.  He hated accepting charity, but he figured anything from Malfoy could hardly be considered charity.  Besides, he couldn't just leave perfectly good money lying on the ground.  Right?  Even if it came from Draco?

After a moment of hesitation, Ron scooped up the coin and shoved it into his pocket.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Ron finally met up with his two friends at dinner that night.  He took the empty seat across the table from Harry and Hermione who at first were too caught up in discussion to notice him.

"I hear there's even a Tunnel of Love there," Harry was saying to Hermione with a grin on his face.

"Oh yes!  I heard all about that," Hermione replied, excitement in her voice.  "Apparently the longer you're inside the tunnel, the longer your relationship is supposed to last.  I think it sounds absolutely romantic!"

"Hey fellas," Ron greeted, dumping a large scoop of mashed potatoes onto his plate.  "Gee, Hermi, when did you become such a girl?"

"Ron!" Harry cried, turning to him.   "Hey, we're really sorry-"

"-About the library today!" Hermione continued.  "Where did you go?  We didn't even see you leave."

Ron waved them off.  "Nah, don't worry about it.  No big deal.  What's going on?"

"We're just talking about Merlin's Faire," said Harry.  "It's traveling to right outside Hogsmeade this year."

"Have you ever been to it?" Hermione asked Ron.  "We haven't, but we've heard nothing but amazing things about it."  She looked at Harry.  "I've always loved faires!  Especially ones where everyone dressed in fancy, beautiful clothing and the girls wear flowers in their hair...aww, it all just sounds so lovely!"

It had been hard to miss the eager chatter among his schoolmates, and growing up in a wizard family, Ron had heard of the faire plenty of times even before.  But his family could never afford admission for nine people.  When Hermione turned towards him again, Ron merely replied, "I've never been there either."

"You'll come with us then, right?" Harry grinned.

Ron stalled as he mentally calculated the money he had stored.  "When is it?"

"This weekend," Hermione replied.

"Oh no, this weekend?" Ron didn't have to fake the disappointment, but he still hoped they wouldn't detect his lie.  "I've already got so much to do..."

Harry looked at him skeptically.  "Like what?  C'mon, I'm sure you'll have enough time to finish."

"But, well, uh-" Ron fairly stammered.

Just then, a girl sat down in the chair next to Ron's.  "Hello, guys!" Ginny greeted cheerfully.

Ron looked at her with the utmost gratitude.  "Ginny!  Hi, how are you!" he rushed in an almost shout.

Ginny laughed.  "I'm fine.  How are you, Ron?"

"Super."

"Are you two 'super' as well?" Ginny asked Harry and Hermione.

"We are," replied Hermione.

"So are you all going to the faire this weekend?"

"That's what we were just talking about, actually," Harry said.  "'Mione and I are, but your brother's bailing on us."

Ginny looked at Ron.  "What for?"

"Too much work," he muttered.

He couldn't tell if Ginny understood the look he shot her or not, but thankfully she didn't pry.  "I'm going too!  Can you believe Neville asked me?"  She giggled happily.  "I'm so excited."

"You'll definitely have to spend part of the time with us," Hermione invited.

Ginny nodded with a smile.  "That would be great!  All of my friends are going too, but they've already decided that Neville and I need to be alone and are refusing to even talk to us there.  I mean, honestly!"

"They decided what?" Ron exclaimed, his eyes wide.  He turned to Harry and Hermione and said very seriously, "You two must take my place as 'older brother' when you're there.  Make sure Neville keeps his hands to himself."

"Ron!" cried Ginny, slapping him on the arm.

"No Make-Out Tunnel for you, missy."

"It's Tunnel of Love," Hermione corrected.

"No Tunnel of Love either."

Ginny rolled her eyes.  "Oh, honestly!  We're just friends."

Ron looked at Harry and Hermione.  "I expect a full report on Longbottom's behavior, cadets."

"Aye aye, sir!" they both responded, saluting.

"I'd beat you up if you weren't so tall," Ginny threatened her brother, flicking a spoonful of peas at him.

Ron merely grinned at her before shoving a forkful of ham into his mouth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After dinner, Harry and Hermione excused themselves to work on schoolwork.  Ron didn't know if they really meant to do schoolwork or not, but he didn't care to think about it.  He told them that he wasn't in the mood for work and opted instead to visit Hagrid, their friend and school groundskeeper.

"'Ello, Ron!  Good t'see yeh!" the half-giant greeted him when Ron knocked at his shack door.   Ron grinned as he was let inside the hut.  Hagrid always had time for him.  "How are yeh doin'?"

"I'm fine.  How's Muffins?  Giving you much trouble?"  Ron said, looking around the shack for signs of Hagrid's pet, a newly acquired saber-tooth tiger.  Ron had always thought those cats were extinct, but Hagrid informed him that they were very much around in some parts of the world, if you knew where to look.

"No, no, no' a'tall!"  Hagrid said proudly.   "She's a good li'l kitty.  Right now she's playin' with Fang ou' back.  They're jus' like brother and sister, those two. "  As if on cue, Ron heard loud barking followed by an earsplitting screech.  "So how's Harry and Hermione?  I haven' seen 'em in a while.  I don' even think they've met Muffins."

Ron explained to Hagrid how busy their two friends were.  Then Hagrid offered him some biscuits, which Ron politely but hurriedly declined, before taking him to watch the two very large creatures, Fang and Muffins, "play".

After his visit with Hagrid, Ron wandered to the lake and sat on the grassy embankment.  By now, the sun was starting to set, a site Ron never tired of seeing.  He would have to rush inside before the sun completely sank beneath the horizon, lest he be caught and scolded, but for the next few minutes, he was content to just watch the pink and orange colors spread across the sky.

"Weasel enjoying his natural habitat in the wild?"

Ron jerked his head up.  "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

Draco, not accompanied by Crabbe and Goyle this time either, dropped a black, lumpy bag next to the sitting Ron.  "Looking for you.  All my shoes need shined."

Ron jumped to his feet.  "What?!"

Draco continued, his voice a smooth drawl.  "The next break is still a long way off, and none of the house elves here will do it.  You're the next best thing."

"If you don't watch it, I'm going to pound your face in," Ron snarled.

"It's true," Draco continued smugly.  "Ever since Potter hooked up with that mudblood, you've practically been drowning in free time.  Besides, I know you Weasleys need every knut, sickle and galleon you can get your dirt poor hands on.  You can't deny that.  Isn't that why you're not going to the faire with your dear old friends?"

Ron tried to shove the sleeves of his robes up, but they kept falling back down.  Nevertheless, Ron advanced towards Draco, armed with a menacing look and two balled up fists.  "I've had enough!  Your goons aren't here to protect you, Malfoy, so you'd better start running."

"You wouldn't beat me up now, Ronnie, would you?  Not with your sister watching."

Ron whirled around and saw that his sister was in fact coming towards them.  "Next time, you dirty snake, I will pound you."

"Ooooo..." Draco shivered before looking smugly at Ron.  "Well, I'll just leave these here then.  You can drop my shoes off in front of the Slytherin common room."  Next to the lumpy black bag, which Ron assumed held his shoes, Draco let several silver sickles drop from his hand unto the grass below.  He then simply walked away, Ron fuming behind him.

Ginny came up to his side.  "Was he giving you trouble again?" Ginny asked with a huff.

"Yeah, but don't worry about him.  What are you doing out here anyway?"

Ginny's face immediately turned pink.  "Well, I saw you through the window out here by yourself and I wanted to ask you something.  Um.  You see," she took a deep breath and suddenly began talking very quickly. "Well, I'm one sickle short to get into the faire, and I was wondering if you had one I could borrow.  I'll pay you back as soon as I can, I swear!  It's just that I've already borrowed from other people so many times, and I'd really hate to ask again.  I mean, I've already paid them back, I just don't want to be constantly asking for money, you know?  And I really understand if you don't want to give me a sickle or if you don't have any, and I really hate asking from you but I want to go to the faire so bad and I figured you know just as much as I do how horrible it is to borrow from everyone and- "

As soon as Ron could digest what his younger sister was saying, he cut her off.  "Hey, hey, okay, I get it, you can stop babbling now."  A sheepish grin spread across Ginny's face, and Ron continued.  "And yeah, I can lend you a sickle, don't worry.  I've got some money in my room."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Ginny cried, jumping up and down.  "I'll pay you back, I swear!"

"What about food and souvenirs?  Won't you need money for that?"

Ginny dismissed that thought with a wave of her hand.  "Nah, I'm fine.  I'll just have a really big breakfast at the castle and we'll probably be back by dinnertime, I'm sure.   And souvenirs are unnecessary."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes!  And thanks so much, Ron.  You're the best!"

"I'll give you the money at breakfast tomorrow."

"Okay," Ginny nodded and then looked at the dangerously low sun.  "Well, we better get back to the castle."

"Yeah, you're right.  But you go on ahead, I'll meet you there."  Ginny seemed a little baffled, but agreed anyway.   She gave him a wave and jogged towards the castle's entrance.

Once she was far enough away, Ron knelt to the ground next to the bag Draco had left.  He had by all means intended to leave Draco's belonging laying in the grass, hoping they would be ruined by the time Draco was forced to retrieve them.  But Ginny's conversation ran through his head as the sickles glittered, just as the knut had earlier that day, in the dying light of the sun.

Ron clenched his jaw.  He could easily just take the silver coins (five in total) - after all, it was Draco's decision to drop them for him to take - but at the same time he knew he couldn't.  It would go against all his principles, whether it would be considered stealing or accepting charity.  In any case, a Weasley earns his or her money honestly.

On the other hand, did even earning money from a Malfoy go against his principles?  Hatred for the sniveling, slimy boy ran through every fiber of his being.  That last thing in the world he wanted was to get money from Draco.  He didn't think he could ever enjoy whatever he spent that money on, knowing where it came from.

But then again, Ginny could enjoy it, since she wouldn't know it had belonged to Malfoy.   Ron hated to suffer the indignity of it all (in fact, his insides recoiled at the thought), but could he do it for family?

The sun had almost completely disappeared by now.  Ron had to get back to the castle.  He finally settled on taking Draco's shoes and money back to his room.  After all, if he ultimately decided not to do it, he could always bring the shoes back outside.   Maybe even throw them into the lake.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Ron handed his sister five sickles and left Draco's bag of shoes out by the lake.  In one shoe, Ron had spit a loogie onto the sole.

But every single pair had been polished.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

That Saturday morning, Ron took a break from his pretend-reading, keeping his "place" in the schoolbook with one hand while waving at his departing friends with the other.  Harry and Hermione had stopped by the common room to say good-bye before they left for the faire (hand in hand, of course) and to promise to bring back a souvenir for him.  Ginny came in to the room almost as soon as his friends left, and she thanked him again for being so generous, kissing him on the cheek as she left with Neville.

Almost the entire Gryffindor tower had left for the faire, and Ron imagined the whole castle was almost empty as well.  With any luck, that meant Draco was gone for the day.  Ron regretted going through with the shoe polishing ever since Draco first threw him that smug look of his later that day, and his regret grew with each smug look that followed.

But the grateful kiss on the cheek from his beaming sister made him feel incredibly special.

Once he was sure everyone was gone, Ron shut his book and stretched.  He had a whole day to waste, and he had no idea on how to spend it.  With all of his friends gone, there did not seem to be much that he could do that he hadn't already done a million time before.

Still, it wasn't every day that the castle was almost completely empty.  He knew he just had to take advantage of that, even if he didn't know how.  After almost a half hour of racking his brain for ideas, he finally decided just to walk around the halls (again) and see if anything would come to mind then.

Ron found a girl and boy he recognized from Ginny's class making out in a deserted classroom.  Ron shook his head with mild irritation.  Anyone from that class was too young to be kissing like that, including his sister.  Sure, his logical side said they were at a normal age, but Ron hardly ever listened to his logical side.

Am I the only one who doesn't have somebody to kiss?  Ron scuffed his feet against the floor as he walked away.

Ron continued with his tour of Hogwarts.  He lost count of the number of empty classrooms and empty hallways he passed, but he did keep track of the number of people he saw: four.   As he walked down one corridor, he experienced an odd sense of deja vu.

thump-thump-thump-thump

Pivoting to his right, Ron saw the tall, thin lady with the paddle and ball.  Her umbrella was laying on the ground this time, but she was still bouncing the tied rubber ball up and down.  "Oh, no..." Ron breathed.  She took no notice of him and he quietly turned around.

Only to come face to face with Draco Malfoy, who stood only inches away.  "Fancy meeting you here," said the silver-haired boy.

"What are you doing here?" Ron growled.

"Funny, I could ask you the same thing."

"I'm here by mistake, and I'm leaving right now," replied Ron angrily, his eyes narrow.  He turned around without waiting for a reply.

Draco gave him one anyway.  "Excellent job polishing my shoes, dear boy, simply marvelous.  Though I did have to throw one away, but I won't miss one less pair.  I must request your services again."

Ron whirled around.  "You have another job for me, Malfoy?  Because I would love to shove your laundry down your throat, or shove a mop up your a-"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Draco abruptly cut him off.  "I'd like a kiss."

"Ss..." Ron trailed off, his mouth hanging open.  "A...a what?"

"Close that hole of yours.  It's very unbecoming.  A kiss, you prat."

Glaring, Ron clamped his mouth shut but then opened it again to yell.  "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"

Draco took a step forward, and Ron unconsciously took a step back.  "A kiss is where two people - in this case you and I - press their lips against each other's.  It may involve licking, or biting, or in many cases, the sticking of tongue down the other person's throat."  He took another step forward, and Ron took a step back.

"I know what a kiss is, you twit.  But what are you getting at?"

"I want a kiss."

"With me?"

"With you."  Ron just stared at him, taking anther step back when Draco advanced one.  "Three sickles."

"You...You'll pay three sickles for me to kiss you?"

"No, for me to kiss you."

"Well, whatever," Ron said offhandedly.  Draco stepped forward once more, but when Ron took a step back, he met a wall.  "But...why?"

Ignoring him, Draco leaned closer, pressing a fist against the wall to the side of Ron's head.  Ron stared at him wide-eyed.  "Wait.  No," he mumbled as Draco traced a finger down his cheek with his other hand.  "No!  I..."

"Shh," Draco commanded.   His gray eyes bore into Ron's gaze, and Ron was unable to look away, to even blink.  He just watched as Draco's head came closer to his own, but when he felt something warm and wet touch his lips, his eyes finally slipped shut.

Draco grabbed Ron's chin with his hand, holding his head in place as he first brushed the boy's lips with his own and then pressed down, mashing his lips against Ron's mouth.  At first, Ron refused to return the kiss, resistant to Draco's demanding mouth.  The hand Draco had braced against the wall slid all the way down Ron's arm, leaving goosebumps in its path, until it reached Ron's hand.   Draco grabbed it and shoved something hard into his palm.  Ron's fingers automatically closed around it and in the back of his mind, he recognized the shape of three sickles.  At that exact moment, Ron's mouth slipped open and Draco slid his tongue past parted lips.  Draco released his grip on the red-head's chin only to slide his hand around to cup the back of Ron's head.  With that hand, he pressed Ron against his lips, drilling into his mouth.

Ron thought that maybe he was drowning.  He thought that maybe Draco was sucking the soul out of him.  He thought that this kiss was more intense than he ever could imagine.  He flailed for a bit and eventually raised an arm to touch Draco's shoulder.  Draco, however, swatted his hand away.  "I touch you," was growled into Ron's ear before his lips were once again recaptured.  Ron felt a moan in the back of his throat, and he desperately hoped Draco hadn't heard.

After a few seconds, minutes, lifetimes, Draco pulled away, leaving Ron breathless against the wall.  "Pretty good, though I'll have to teach you some techniques," Draco remarked casually.  "Perhaps next time we'll do more."

Ron wanted to retort, but he could do little more than pant as Draco strolled away.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Ron was laying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling when he heard his fellow Gryffindors return from the faire.  Even though he had been there for over two straight hours, not a single comprehensible thought had run through his head since the kiss.

Suddenly, the curtain surrounding his bed was pulled open as Harry stuck his head through.  Harry laughed at his prone friend.  "I see you're working hard on your homework."

"I had to take a break," Ron explained.

Harry nodded sympathetically.  "I'm really sorry you couldn't make it.  Next time, though!"  He then jerked his head towards the door.  "Let's go to the common room.  Hermione's waiting."

Ron swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself up.  Harry waited for him and they both walked to where Hermione was sitting on a couch.  Harry plopped down beside her while Ron took a chair across from them.

"So, tell me all about it," Ron told them, trying desperately to sound enthused.

Hermione began gushing.  "It was absolutely wonderful!  We went to every single booth and ride and show.  Just amazing!  There was one performer who set himself on fire and then..."

Ron nodded as Hermione told him every detail, although he only half-listened.  He watched as Harry sat partially sideways so he could stare at his girlfriend as she talked.  Harry lifted a hand and began to fiddle with the crown of flowers perched atop Hermione's brown hair.

"Harry bought this for me," she told Ron as she touched the crown herself.  "Isn't it beautiful?"

Ron agreed.  "So how long were you two inside that Tunnel of Love thing?"

Harry and Hermione glanced at each other with half-smiles before turning to Ron.  "The sign for the ride said the record time spent in there was 27 hours, accomplished by a witch and wizard who stayed married for 94 years.  They only came out because the wizard had a craving for some pumpkin pasties," Hermione explained.  "We were in there for twelve minutes."

"Twelve minutes?" Ron echoed.

Harry nodded.  "Yeah, it was nothing like we thought it would be.  There's a never-ending maze inside, filled with challenges and tricks.  Each one is designed to drive the couple apart, so the more you're able to overcome, the stronger your love is, and the whole deal.  You can leave at any point just by saying 'exito'...and well, I really needed to go."

Hermione rolled her eyes.  "Yeah, after twelve minutes he was in dire need of a restroom.  The silly git didn't go before we went in."

"You two didn't try again?"

"No," Hermione shrugged.  "It seemed like a bunch of rubbish anyway.  But we bought you something!"  She reached into a bag resting against the sofa and pulled out a chain with a clear, blue crystal hanging on it.  "It's a Love Detector.  You're supposed to wear it around your neck, and it turns red whenever it detects love.  I think it's adorably cheesy-"

"-And I'd bet my broom that it doesn't work," Harry finished.

Hermione nodded.  "Yeah, I'm fairly positive it doesn't.  I haven't seen anything of this sort in any of the books I've read.  But it looks awfully neat, don't you think?"  She handed it over to Ron.

"Well, did you try it out?" Ron asked.

Harry shrugged.  "Yes, and it may have turned a light shade of pink."

"It looked orange to me," Hermione added.  "Even though it's only supposed to turn red."

Ron dangled the crystal in front of his eyes.  "At least it's a pretty nice shade of blue."  He smiled at his two friends.  "Thank you.  I'll let you know if it glows," he said with a wink as he clasped the chain around his neck.

"I don't even know if it does that," remarked Harry.

Just then, Hermione gave him one of her spontaneous kisses that always took Harry (and Ron) by surprise.  Ron knew what came next, and when Harry sent him an apologetic but pleading look, Ron took the cue to leave.
 

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 
Four days passed before Ron ran into Draco alone again, this time in the hallway outside of the library.  Draco pulled Ron into a hidden passage that was almost never used (since it did lead right into a stone wall), pressed him against the wall, and attacked his mouth.

This kiss lasted longer than the first, and Ron never resisted.  His mind screamed at him to push the smaller boy back, to jerk his head away, to do anything, he didn't need the five sickles pressed into his palm.  But his mouth sought Draco's soft, demanding lips and his mouth sucked in Draco's warm, slick tongue and his mouth refused to pull away.

Draco ground his hips into Ron's, driving their groins together.  This time, Ron knew that Draco heard his moan, for the other boy bit down on his lip hard, and thrust even harder against him.  As much as Ron tried to fight it, he felt heat and swelling in his groin.  Ron began to press back, needing more, aching for more contact, aching for release.

Like last time, Draco abruptly pulled away.  He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he watched the redhead once again left panting.

"You kiss like a slut, Weasley."

Ron froze, feeling his stomach clench as if punched.  He felt his ears burn with shame, which only added to his humiliation, and soon his entire face was hot.

"I love seeing you turn pink."  Ron could only glower at him.  Draco leaned his head closer to Ron's, causing the other boy to cringe against the wall.  Draco began to whisper in his ear, his breath hot against Ron's skin.

"I'll give you thirty galleons if you spend the night with me."

Ron narrowed his eyes at the blonde boy.  "Never."

Draco slowly pulled away, shaking his head slightly.  "Well," he drawled, "what would you do with thirty galleons anyway?  After all, I'm sure sending your mother a neat-looking twig or rock for her birthday brings a large smile to her face.  Or do you give her some string you've found?  And did I tell you that Ginny looks quite smashing in her robe that has become two sizes too small?  The amount of leg she shows is thoroughly daring."

Ron lunged at the other boy, his face twisted with rage and indignation.  "You take that back, you worthless, heartless piece of scum!"

A fist slammed against Draco's mouth, snapping his head back and instantly splitting his lip.  Quickly regaining his calm posture, Draco merely looked at Ron as he licked the blood away.   He said quite calmly,  "You know where to find me when you change your mind."

As Ron angrily watched Draco leave, he licked his own lips and was surprised to taste copper.  Draco had drawn blood when he bit him during the kiss.  Ron furiously wiped the blood away with his hand as tears stung his eyes.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

The next weekend found the trio, Ron, Harry, and Hermione, spending the day at Hogsmeade along with most of the other students at Hogwarts.  However, Ron had been moody for the past several days, and after a couple of hours of his sullen attitude this day, Ron insisted on being alone, and the three of them decided to split for awhile.  Harry and Hermione made him promise to meet them at the Celestial Cafe later that afternoon.

Ron went into every store on the block.  He could feel his money jiggling in his pockets, and he knew he could actually afford to purchase something.  Something small, of course, but still something.  But each time his eyes lit on an object he knew he had wanted before, this time it didn't seem worth it.

Ron hung his head.  His hand was shoved into his pocket and his fingers clasped themselves around the pile of change.  He shook his hand lightly, as if feeling the weight of the money.  He strolled down the sides of the street, glancing up every now and then.   Suddenly, he realized which store he was currently passing.

Almost against his will, Ron found himself stopping in front of the store-front window.  There, just as he knew it would be, lay the latest designer broom, the Rouge Comet, in all of its shiny, streamlined glory.  The broom was displayed on a deep purple velvet pillow, which accented the silver flames that raced along the wooden handle.  From the many articles and advertisements he had read, Ron knew the silver flames had actually been hand-painted, not magically placed, with the finest silver, and the wood was made from specially grown cherry trees, "and not a knot or hole can be found!".

Ron stared through the window, his hands placed on either side of his head against the glass.   The Rouge Comet was completely and absolutely beautiful.

The Rouge Comet also cost more money than Ron had ever possessed.  Although, if he had thirty galleons, that would definitely be a nice start.

Ron was grinding his teeth so hard he didn't even notice his sister approaching from behind him.  "Dreaming about that Rouge Comet broom?" Ginny asked him with a smile.

Ron turned to his sister as she looked through the glass beside him.  She didn't see his attempt at a casual shrug, so he replied, "Just looking, is all."

"It'd be nice to have, though, wouldn't it?  Why, I'd give my right arm to get that gorgeous red dress robe over at Fairyways, if I could find someone to sell my arm to."  Ginny glanced at him to see if he was listening.   He seemed to be gazing pretty intently at her for some reason, so she continued.  "Have you seen it?"  Ron shook his head, and Ginny looked back at the broom, although her mind was picturing the robe.  "Oh, it's so pretty!  They call the color 'cranberry', and it has silver thread woven into it so carefully that in candlelight it glitters in the same pattern as the stars in the sky.   And it flares out just right - I feel like a princess in it!"  She giggled sheepishly as she explained.  "I had to try it on, just to see."

Ron swallowed.  "There are more important things in life than fast brooms and pretty clothing.  We don't need fancy, expensive things to be happy."  He paused.  "Right?"

Ginny whirled to face him, her eyes wide.  "Oh, Ron, I'm being silly, aren't I?  Of course we don't need those things.  I'm grateful for what we have, really I am.  Sometimes though, it's just nice to dream.  You know?"

"Yeah," Ron said unhappily.

His sister flashed him a grin.  "Well, even though you don't need it, when I become rich and famous, I'll buy you the latest, most expensive broom - or anything else you desire - and you won't have to dream anymore."

Ron managed a small smile in return and tried to joke.  "Hey, you might not be the only one to get rich.  Who knows, maybe your ol' brother Ron will make a name for himself as well!"

Ginny giggled again.  "You're an amazing guy, so of course you will.  I'm just waiting until the day I can start bragging that Ronald Weasley is my older brother."  She then winked, "Besides, it can't hurt being best friends with Harry Potter!"

Ron laughed.  "When they crown him King of the Wizarding World, he'll have to appoint me to some cushy job, won't he?"

"Of course, you are his bestest friend after all.  Where is Harry, anyway?  Or Hermione, if she isn't with him."

"Nah, she's still glued to his side as always.  They're sharing lunch at that new Celestial Cafe."

"Aw, really?  Flora told me they bewitched the place so that it always looks like nighttime, even on the brightest of days.  They even have their own moon, which goes through the phases and everything!"  Ginny clasped her hands together.  "How romantic!"

Ron wanted to quickly change the subject.  "Why aren't you with Flora right now?"

"Oh, she had to check out the latest styles at Elegant Witchery.  I went in with her, but I couldn't stand the look the store manager kept giving me."  Ginny's face grew hard.  "You'd think I was carrying some contagious disease.  Cripes, I'm just as clean as anyone else!  Just because my clothes are a little worn...So anyway, I told Flora I needed to run to the bookstore."

Ron clenched his fists tightly.  "I oughta run down to that wretched place and-"

"No, no, it's ok," she cut him off, waving her hand.  "I mean, sure I was a little angry at first, but you know as well as I do how rude and idiotic people can be."
 
Suddenly Ron found the ground very interesting.  "Yeah, and I'm really sorry you have to deal with that crap."

"Oh come on now!" Ginny exclaimed in a cheerful voice.  "You're acting like we're some tragic figures.  I mean, really.  I wouldn't trade my family for anything."

"But it'd be nice to have some money as well," Ron pointed out.

"Well yes, and I'd also like to ride a unicorn or travel to Australia," she replied.  "And you know what else?  I'd really like to eat a rich, creamy piece of chocolate pie, and that I can do.  It's the Celestial Cafe's special of the day."   She grabbed Ron's wrist and dragged him towards the restaurant.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

As soon as they got back to Hogwarts, Hermione led Harry away to some secret passage or another, both waving bye to Ron while looking at each other.  Ron mutely watched their retreating backs before letting himself fall into a chair in the empty common room.  The window drew his gaze but not his thoughts.

His two friends had everything he wanted.  Success.  Fame.  Love.  Money.

His two friends were not the only ones to reach success.  Every single one of his brothers had achieved it as well.  But not Ron.  Ron failed to accomplish any amount of successfulness, through neither school marks nor Quidditch nor even  brilliant, creative ideas in some field such as practical jokes.  Fame for him was minimal at best, and he only had that because of his family before him and because his best friend happened to be the Boy Who Lived.  As for love, Ron barely let his mind even touch on that.  Love was just as far from reach as it has ever been, and certainly no where in the near future.

But money.  Money was in his grasp - if he was willing to pay the price.  Ron tried to rationalize it out, as if he were making a business transaction.  All the possible consequences filtered through his mind.  He knew it'd cost him his dignity and pride, but at the moment, neither one seemed very important to him.   Furthermore, he would lose it to Draco only.  After all, he could not imagine Draco bragging about how he paid Ron Weasley to sleep with him, and even if he did, Ron had the power of denial.

Jumping to his mind was an image of Ginny's face, a mixture of anger and hurt, at the Elegant Witchery as she caught sight of the disgusted, suspicious look the anonymous shopkeeper would have shot her way.  Even though he hadn't been there, Ron could picture it all the same.  He's seen it before.

Making his decision, Ron slipped the crystal Hermione and Harry had given him over his head.  He also took off the stockings his mother knitted for him.  He couldn't bear to soil either gift by taking it with him.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

As Ron strode down the hallway where the painting of the thin lady with an umbrella hung, he realized that he had never gone past the end.  He didn't know how to get to Draco's dormitory.  And even if he did, he didn't know the password.

Ron's pace immediately slowed and then stopped.  Sighing in frustration,  He ran a hand angrily through his red hair.  What was he doing anyway?  He was an idiot.   Ron kicked the wall and felt a satisfying jolt of pain in his foot, which he both relished and grew irritated with.  Turning around so that his back leaned against the wall, Ron slowly slid to the floor.

The cold from the floor and wall seeped through his clothes at first, but Ron remained there, drawing his knees to his chest and burying his face in his arms.  Sitting there on the hard ground, Ron could do nothing more than think.  He thought about how he was always in somebody's shadow, and how cold it got there.  He thought of everything his brothers had accomplished and his friends had accomplished but he had not.  He thought of how Harry and Hermione looked at each other.  He thought how only last year he would have been sitting in the common room right now, laughing with his two best, and only close, friends, and not here in this cold corridor leading somewhere in the direction of the Slytherins.  Towards Draco.

Draco!  Of all people!  "Just kill me now," Ron muttered.

"Not until I've had my fun first," a silky voice responded.

"Malfoy!" More startled than anything else, Ron picked himself up off the floor.  He stared evenly at Draco, waiting for him to make the first move.  Draco did.

"Did you sell your sense of direction, Weasel?  You're on the wrong side of the castle."

Ron almost backed out right then.  But he didn't.  "Does the offer still stand?"

"What offer?" Draco asked innocently.

"You know what offer."

"No, I don't believe I do.  Why don't you tell me?" Draco said smoothly.

Ron detected the underlying command in his tone and replied in a very flustered voice, "The offer to pay me thirty galleons if-" he gulped "-I sleep with you."

In reply, Draco shook his head.  "My dear, foolish boy, you must be mistaken.  I would never offer that."

All color drained from Ron's face.  "But...but..."  Unable to come up with a intelligent retort, he clamped his mouth shut and spun weakly around to leave.  On its own his hand went up to the wall to keep him steady as he took a step towards the way he had come.  He'd never experienced humiliation this deep.

Then Draco shot an arm out in front of him, boxing him in   His face drifted close to Ron's, increasing the panic rising in the red-haired boy at being trapped.  Ron wanted nothing more than to flee.

Once again, warm breath tickled Ron's ear.  "I will pay thirty galleons so I can fuck you."  Draco's polished voice caressed the raw word smoothly, and Ron could only think of silk.

Dirty silk, he amended.

"Are you coming to my bed tonight, then?"

Because Ron's mouth was impossibly dry, he could do no more than nod mutely.

"In that case, follow me," Draco commanded.  Without looking back, he led Ron down to the Slytherin tower.

When they reached the portrait guarding the Slytherin common room, Draco whispered the password so Ron would not hear.  The portrait swung open, revealing a common room that looked much like the Gryffindors' but turned out to be more chilly.  Shrinking as much as possible, Ron tried desperately to draw as little attention to himself as possible.  Fortunately, there were very few students in the common room, and they all had an air of disinterest, not bothering to look up.

Draco strode to what Ron assumed was his room.  Inside, it was empty except for Crabbe and Goyle.

"Go somewhere else," Draco told them, "and make sure no one comes in here."  This must not have been anything unusual because the two large boys left without hesitation.

As soon as the door was shut, Draco turned to Ron, who nervously asked, "Couldn't you look the door?"

Draco shook his head.  "This makes it much more exciting, don't you think?"  Ron looked mortified for a moment before Draco continued.  "Don't get your panties in a bunch.  Those two thugs will guard the door."

This made Ron relax only slightly, but he didn't have much time to worry before Draco backed him into a bed.  Even though Ron was taller, he fell easily onto the mattress when Draco gave him a small nudge.  Just as Draco was about to push him into a lying position, Ron held up a hand.  "Wait, how do I know you'll pay me?"

"Don't fidget over that.  You'll never get to experience this luxury, but I'm so rich that I don't need to cheat someone out of their money.  Just look," Draco said, taking thirty galleons from a bag.  He set them on the top of his trunk.  "There's your money."

Ron felt a little bit easier knowing the money was right there.  From his seated position, he looked up at the standing boy.  "So, uh, what do I need to do?"

"Undress," was the smooth reply.

Ears and cheeks immediately turned red.  As odd as it was, Ron had never actually realized that Draco would be seeing him naked.  He just never let himself think of what having sex with Draco would actually involve.

Ron wanted to dim the lights, but he had left his wand behind and his nerves were to frayed for him to perform any kind of magic freehand.  "Could you dim the lights first, at least?"

Draco looked at him and said, "Luminos Maximus."  The lights instantly flared, becoming more bright and harsh.

Now Ron would be able to hid nothing from him.  Swallowing nervously, he slipped out of his robes and hastily folded and sat his clothing on the floor.  Then, with shaky fingers, he lifted his hips and slid his underwear off.  Now sitting naked in front of a fully clothed Draco, Ron folded his hands across his lap, uncomfortable.  "Okay, now what?"

Draco pushed him backwards so that he was lying down and then crawled onto the bed.  He crouched over the naked boy.  "I'm not paying you to talk."

Ron looked up at him, desperately wanting this to end.  He furiously asked himself why he had ever agreed to this deal in the first place and wondered if there was any way to back out now.  Thirty galleons was not worth it.  Ron was all too aware of Draco's robe brushing his bare skin as Draco braced himself over him.  He shivered against his will.

But before he could mouth any form of protest, Draco's mouth suddenly tried to devour his.  Ron let out a muffled yelp of surprise at the feel of warm, demanding lips.  His mouth automatically opened, and soon it was filled with an invading tongue which slithered around his teeth and own tongue.

After a few moments of intense kissing, Draco pulled slightly away.  He looked down at Ron, and Ron was unable to make out any emotion in his gaze.  Then his head lowered again, but this time, his lips met with Ron's neck.

The soft, warm feel of Draco's lips, alternating between light fluttering to firm pressing, drove Ron crazy.  He tilted his head, offering his neck to the insistent boy.  "Oh God," Ron breathed, squirming as Draco bit his skin gently.  His focus was entirely on the mass of lips, tongue, and teeth that toyed with skin Ron never knew could be so sensitive.

So intense was the feeling on his neck that Ron barely registered the hand sliding down his chest and abdomen.   His stomach clenched as fingers trailed over a particularly ticklish spot, and it ripped Ron's attention to the exploring hand which was quickly inching closer to his groin.  The next thing he knew, the warm hand wrapped itself around him, causing Ron to jump.  Draco gave his neck another bite as he slowly began to pump.

"I knew you'd be this responsive," Draco purred.  He picked himself back up so that he could lean over Ron once more, looking down at the other boy's face.  The languid strokes from Draco's hand continued.  "Do your friends know you're here, Ron?"

Ron tried to keep from squirming, but he couldn't prevent his hips from pressing forward into Draco's palm.  He drew in a ragged breath.  "N-no."

"You didn't tell them where you were going?" Draco asked.

 Ron bit his lip as Draco's hand cupped him below.  "No-ooo..."

"Weren't they curious when you left?"

"They- they didn't see...me leave."

"So you snuck out then."

"Not really...They were - they were just busy," Ron panted.  His eyes darted to the side, trying to avoid Draco's intent stare.

Draco leaned back onto his hunches, his gaze still boring into Ron's face.  The hand left, forcing Ron to bite back a moan of disappointment.  Then, suddenly, it was back, but this time it pressed into his rear end, between his cheeks.  Ron felt the fingers, which were now strangely slick, find a certain spot.  One of the fingers began to massage the sensitive area around Ron's entrance, and then, suddenly, it slipped inside him.  Ron arched his back, gasping.  He dimly heard Draco continue his questioning above him.  "Too busy to know the their best friend is about to get fucked by Draco Malfoy?"

Another finger wormed its way inside, and they both begin to wiggle inside of him, stretching him.  Ron squeezed his eyes shut.  Then, all at once, they were gone and Ron was empty.  "I wonder if I can make you cry..."  Ron's eyes popped open at Draco's musing, and the next thing he knew, his legs were pushed apart and something larger nudged at his hole.

"Are you a virgin, Ron Weasley?"  Ron reluctantly nodded, bracing himself.  "How charming."

Two hands slid under Ron's hips and Draco lifted him up slightly as he slowly began to press inside of the red-haired boy.  Ron saw that the other boy was still clothed, with his robes simply pushed up and away.  With the clothed boy looming over him between his spread legs, Ron had never felt more naked and vulnerable in his life.
 
The pain in his anus was almost unbearable as Draco slowly slid inward.  As he pressed into Ron, he also leaned his body forward so that he was once again face-to-face with Ron.  Again Ron squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth as he was stretched farther than he thought was possible.  He felt his eyes welling and a few tears leaked out from beneath his eyelids.  Draco had to have been tearing him apart.
Then, Draco's hardness brushed against an extremely sensitive spot inside, causing Ron to jerk.  "Oh God," he gasped.  Leering down at him, Draco pressed into that spot, watching as Ron writhed below him.  Draco reached down and wrapped a hand around Ron's swollen member and began to pump again, this time more firmly.

Inside him, Draco slowly pulled out until only the head remained.  "Open your eyes," he commanded, and after a few moments, Ron did.  Then, as Draco stared into Ron's eyes, he slammed forward, driving himself to the hilt in one swift motions.

Ron cried out, his eyes wide open.  Draco remained thrust fully inside him and continued to pump Ron's hardness as he let Ron grow accustomed to his size.  The mixture of pain and pleasure was unbearable, and Ron tried to simultaneously pull away from Draco's thickness and push into his hand.

"You're such a slut," Draco hissed, though not angrily.

And then he began to thrust in and out ferociously and Ron couldn't tell if his body rocked from its own will or from Draco's strong thrusts.  Instead of searing agony, the pain had lessened to a throb which, coupled with the warm, slick hand surrounding his erection, did not feel all that bad.

Yet at the same time, it felt worse.  Ron willed his arousal away, deeply ashamed of his reaction, but he could not stop the electricity coursing through his body.  It was all he could to keep from exploding.

A shaky arm reached up and wrapped itself around Draco's back, providing Ron an anchor, but Draco shook him off roughly.  He growled down at Ron, ordering, "You do not touch me."  Abashed, Ron immediately dropped his arm, feeling much like a scolded child.

But the feelings, the carnal desires, rushing through him were not childlike at all.  By now, Ron knew he was bucking his hips on his own as Draco brushed that spot inside him with each lunge.  His breath came out harsh and ragged, and he felt like he was drowning.  He was so close...so close...on the verge of bursting as Draco rammed in and out of him, relentless.

"You're my whore now," Draco murmured lowly.

Then he gave one particularly hard thrust while at the same time his thumb brushed the tip of Ron's erection.  That's when it happened.  Ron tensed up as he erupted, crying out.  Hot drops splattered all over his stomach, but he was too busy trying to catch his breath to notice.  Tremors racked through his body as his mouth gulped in air.  He felt Draco's own erection shrink and slip out, knowing the other boy had orgasmed inside of him.  Ron was relieved, not sure if he could have taken anymore.

As his body wound down, Ron suddenly felt exhausted, no desire to move whatsoever.  Death would have been eagerly welcomed at that moment.  Ron closed his eyes as he drew in deep breaths, and before he even realized that he was falling asleep, he dozed off.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Ron opened his eyes again, a slight sense of disorientation muddled his thoughts.  Then he heard breathing from behind his back, and the memories rushed back.  Ron jerked up, panicked, and turned to look at the bed he was sitting on.  Draco lay asleep still, his back turned to him.

Ron realized he was still naked, and remnants from the night dried and caked on his stomach.  He had never felt so dirty before, not even when his family and friends erupted into a mud war after a particularly rainy day a few years ago.  Ron suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of despair settle over him, freezing him to the spot.  How could he go back to his family and friends after what he just did?

Finally, not wanting to remain where he was a minute longer, Ron stood up and hastily pulled on his clothes.  Then, right before he left Draco's dormitory, he grabbed the gold pieces and shoved him into his pocket.

As he passed the Slytherin common room, a glance out the window told Ron that it was early morning, with the sky barely showing the first signs of color and light.  He quickly climbed through the portrait hole and traveled quietly through the halls until he reached the Gryffindor's Fat Lady.  The early morning arrival confused her greatly, and Ron had to repeat the password three times before she realized that he wanted through.  "Ahh, good night," she told him drowsily as she let him through.  "I mean, good evening...No, er, morning."

Ron was worried someone would be up and waiting in the common room, but he breathed a sigh of relief when it was empty.  Instead of going straight to his bed, however, Ron headed straight for the showers.

The water was turned to its hottest setting, but still it was not hot enough for Ron.  He stood under the stinging spray, unable to stop shivering even as steam rose around him.  The water scorched his skin, turning Ron's entire body red within minutes, but Ron wanted more.

He began scrubbing all over with an enchanted self-foaming washcloth.  The cloth scoured his skin as Ron worked to clean every speck of dirt he felt clinging to himself.  Filth covered him.  It penetrated his pores, he could feel it deep in his chest and stomach.

The scalding spray of water drummed against his raw skin as Ron continued to scrub everywhere.  He started to choke and wheeze, but whether it was from steam that filled the air thickly or from the water, more salty than the shower, that leaked from his eyes and seemed to clog his throat, he didn't know.

Finally, he could take it no more, and threw down the washcloth in frustration.  Leaning over, he rested his forehead against the tile wall of the shower as he let the shower continue beating down over his back.  After a few minutes, he at last shut the water off.

He didn't bother drying himself and left the shower room dripping wet.  As he stepped out, a tidal wave of cooler air washed over his damp skin.  He padded, shivering, through the part of Gryffindor tower that led to his dormitory and went straight to his bed.  Reaching his goal, he fell onto the mattress face-forward and yanked the bed hangings around, completely concealing him from the other beds.

As he lay in his bed, soaking the sheets under him, he briefly waited for Harry, or any of their other schoolmates, to ask him where he had been.  But no one did, and he soon fell asleep.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ron slept very fitfully, tossing and turning, but when he woke up again, it was bright outside and everyone had already left for breakfast.  He put on clean clothes and even his mother's socks and his friends' gift necklace.  Everything would go back to normal, even if he had to force it.

Harry was sitting at the Gryffindor table when Ron arrived, but Hermione was conspicuously absent.  When Harry spotted him, he waved cheerfully.  "'Allo there!"

Ron hoped his smile wasn't as feeble as it felt. "Good morning, Harry," he greeted.  "Where's Hermione?"

"Well, uh, she didn't get as much work done last night as she would have liked, since we were - since I was with her, so she got up early this morning to study."

Ron nodded with understanding as he pulled out a chair.  Without realizing how odd it would look, he lowered himself gingerly onto the seat.  His backside still ached dully.

"Are you alright?" Harry asked, giving him a strange, concerned look.

"Y-yes!" Ron stammered.  "Why wouldn't I be?"

Harry shrugged.  "You're sitting awfully funny in that chair."

Ron's cheeks burned at that.  "Oh.  Right.  Yeah, I was over at Hagrid's last night, helping with Muffins, and I was knocked to the ground.  Landed hard on my rump," he told him with a wry smile.

"Muffins?  You were baking last night?"

"No, Muffins, his saber-tooth cat.  She's very playful."

"Oh.  Right.  I guess I haven't been over there in a while," Harry confessed, looking decently sheepish.

Hagrid had had Muffins for over two weeks.  Suddenly, Ron felt red hot anger surge within him.  "No, of course you haven't," he spat out.  "You've got more important things to do, isn't that right?  After all, the Great Harry Potter has very busy schedule. Why, after excelling at schoolwork, captaining the quidditch team, and fighting evil wizards, he's got very important make out sessions with his ruddy girlfriend!" Ron pounded the table with his fist.  "What time is there left for a close friend like Hagrid?"

Harry looked around nervously.  "Ron," he hissed.  "You're making a scene."

"Okay, fine!  Just dismiss it like that!  What does it matter anyway?"  Ron huffed, jumping to his feet.  "It's not like he needs you!"  He stormed away from the table.

Harry jumped up after him, calling out.  "No, Ron, wait!  I'm sorry!  Just wait up, okay?"  He rushed after Ron's departing back.  He didn't catch up with him until Ron had made it into the hallway.  Harry placed a hand on his shoulder.  "Let's talk, all right?"

Ron violently shook him off.  "No!" he roared.  "Stay away from me!"  Without looking at Harry, afraid he would see the tears, Ron took off running.

He half-hoped Harry would follow, but he only heard his own steps echoing in the hall.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Through that day and next, Ron avoided Harry, as well as Hermione.  Harry kept shooting him looks of dejection whenever Ron unwittingly passed him, and Hermione looked at him with pity.  There was no doubt that Harry had told her about his outburst at breakfast.  Ron didn't care.

Three days after the incident, Harry finally cornered Ron in the common room.  Glaring, Ron, with his arms crossed over his chest, waited for Harry to speak.  "I visited Hagrid yesterday," Harry told him.

"Oh, really?  That's smashing.  Really makes up for your neglect, it does," replied Ron with no little amount of scorn.

Harry ignored him.  "He says you were never there Saturday night."

Ron's eyes widened.  "What?!  You didn't trust me, and snuck behind my back?"  He was angry, but at the same time, inside he felt pleased that Harry even bothered asking about him.  Maybe he did care, after all.

"No," sighed Harry, frustrated.  "Hagrid was telling me all about Muffins' playful behavior, and I asked him if that still involved knocking people down, like when you were there.  He had no idea what I was talking about."

"Oh."

"So what's going on, Ron?" Harry asked.  "Is there a secret girlfriend you're hiding from us?  C'mon, why can't you tell us?"

Feeling his anger rise again, Ron ignored his questions.  "'Us'?  Who's 'us'?  There's only you and me here."

"Well, me and Hermione, of course."

"Right," Ron agreed bitterly.  "Even though she's not here, she's still your other half isn't she?  Inseparable."

"That's right," replied Harry, baffled.  "Wait, you're not jealous, are you?  Don't worry, you'll find the right girl someday, Ron."

Ron stood up.  "For your information, I already have someone!  Whether you care or not!"  He whirled around and stomped away.

"But I do care!" Harry insisted after him.  But Ron already left.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

It didn't escape Ron's attention that he was once again moving down a corridor by himself.  He found himself heading towards the Slytherins, and this time it was almost on purpose.  Since he couldn't actually enter the Slytherin chamber, he paced up and down the hallway with the thin lady portrait instead.

He was so mad at Harry.  Blowing up at Harry like that, twice in a row, wasn't planned, but it felt really good.  A tremendous weight had been lifted.

Only to be immediately replaced by another, perhaps even heavier one.  Now there existed a horrible strain on their friendship, and Ron didn't know how long it would be before he could face it.

"You're back."  Draco appeared.  "Waiting for me, are you?"

Ron wanted to deny it, but he couldn't.  "Well then," Draco continued.  "Eager for another go at it?  A roll in the hay, a romp in the sheets?"  Ron hesitated but eventually nodded.  "Same rates, I assume."

"Okay."

Like last time, Draco led him down the way to his room, which he emptied as before.  Turning to Ron, Draco commanded him to undress.

"Why are you doing this?" Ron asked curiously as he lifted the robe over his head.  He paused as he waited for an answer.

"Because I can," replied Draco.  "It's very entertaining, in more ways than one."

Satisfied enough, Ron shrugged and shucked off the rest of his clothing.  He then noticed the necklace circling around his neck, which he had forgotten to take off earlier.  He started to lift it off as well when he gasped.

"What?" Draco asked.

"It's red."

"Oh good, glad to hear you're not a color-blind Weasel," remarked Draco impatiently.  "Now let's get on with it."

"No, you don't understand," Ron muttered, staring at the necklace.  "It's a love detector."  As realization dawned on him, Ron looked up at him with wide eyes.  "You love me!"

"What?!" Draco exclaimed, looking disgusted.  "I most certainly do not!"

"Yes, you do!  That's why you're paying me to do this!"

"Of course it isn't, you bloody fool.  You're a poor, pathetic, delusional slut."

Ron continued.  "You love me!  It makes perfect sense-"

Suddenly, a hand slapped across his cheek, whipping Ron's head back.  Grabbing his injured cheek, Ron glared at him in surprise.  "If I loved you, would I have done that?"

Ron's mouth drifted open before snapping close.  His cheek throbbed.

"Now get on the bed before I decide to rape you," Draco commanded coldly.   He dropped thirty galleons on the trunk, and Ron reluctantly climbed onto the sheets.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

The second time did not hurt as bad, but Ron spent a half-hour longer in the shower than before.  He couldn't seem to get the scum off.

Of course Draco didn't love him.  What was he thinking?  The necklace was just a stupid little trinket.  No one loved him, least of all Draco.

Suddenly, a horrible thought crept up to him.  What if he loved Draco?  What if that were the reason the crystal turned red?  Ron sank to the floor of the shower, trying to think.

He disliked Draco fiercely.  Or was he just fooling himself?  After all, for the last two meetings, he had sought the boy out, not the other way around.  He had grown dependent on him, desperate for contact.

Did that mean Ron loved him?

I'm a pathetic mess, alright.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Unable to face Harry or Hermione, to meet their eyes, Ron continued his avoid them all week.  He was alone in his shame and torment and doubt.

Most of all, he was alone.

He narrowly missed them at mealtime, but fortunately for his avoidance strategy, he never spent much time eating.  His stomach didn't feel like it could suffer through too much food.  In classes he shared with them, he always took a seat on the opposite side of the room, and if they tried to sit with him, he moved.  At night, he either shut himself off in his bed before Harry could catch him or waited until Harry was fast asleep before entering the room.

Over the course of the week, Ron made ninety more galleons.  Draco now only called him names like "slut" and "whore".
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

His sister was the only person Ron talked to long enough for an actual conversation.  She had no idea what was going, and he refused to tell her.

But she was perceptive.  "I just want you to know that I think it's horrid how Harry's been neglecting your friendship," she once told him.  "But try not to be too hard on him, okay?  I know you're hurt - if I were you, I would have chased after him with a sharpened stick, I'd be so mad - but please don't let this ruin your relationship with him and Hermione.  They're the kind of people you'd make lifelong friends out of."

Another day, while Ron was reading in the common room (which was half-filled with people whose names did not begin with "H"), Ginny came hopping through the entrance, followed by Neville, supporting her.

"Ginny, what's wrong?" Ron asked, rushing to her.  Her robes were torn and blood was dripping down one of her legs.  Dirt covered her clothing and skin.  "What happened?"

She limped to an empty chair, waving Neville off.  "It's all my fault," Neville moaned.  "I'm so sorry, Ginny!"

"It's nothing!" she replied.  She then turned to Ron and repeated herself.  "It really is nothing, Ron.  I scraped my knee, is all."

"I'll get a cloth to clean your cut," Neville offered anxiously, scampering off.  As he left, Ginny began explaining to Ron, who looked at her worriedly.

"We were walking along outside together, and he tripped over a tree root or something.  And as he lost his balance, his arm automatically grabbed my shoulder - as anyone would have done, Ron, you know how it is when you begin to fall," Ginny defended Neville.  "You don't have time to react logically.  So anyway, he grabs my shoulder and managed to steady himself.  But at the same time, it knocked me off balanced, and I fell.  And that's the story, in all of its unexciting glory."  She clucked as she examined her knee.  "Look, the scrape is dry already.  It just looks worse because it's so messy.  I feel like such a nitwit though, falling like that."

"But look at your robes," Ron said.  "They're ruined."

"They're not ruined," answered Ginny.  "I can patch these tears up.  Sure, it might look a little silly, but I think I can do a decent enough job."

Ron inspected the rips for a few seconds before standing up.  "Stay right here," he told her.

"Er, okay," said Ginny, a little perplexed.

Ron marched to his bed and dug through his growing collection of money he kept hidden.  He grabbed several galleons in his hand and went back to where his sister was waiting.

"Neville hasn't gotten back yet?" Ron asked.

"No, probably forgot where to find a cloth.  He'll be back though, don't..."  She trailed off as some things hit her lap.  "What's this?" she asked, picking the fallen objects up.  Her eyes widen when she saw.  "Ohh...Ron, where did you get this?!  You didn't steal it, did you?"

"No, I didn't steal it," he replied with playful irritation.  "I've been earning money on the side."

"But...how?"

"Well, that's my business.  Don't worry about that."

Ginny stared at the coins.  "But I can't take these.  I haven't even paid back the sickle from the faire."

"Forget about that.  I'm giving these to you.  Buy a new robe."

Ginny launched herself at him.  "Oh, Ron, thank you!" she cried, wrapping her arms around his neck.  "This is amazing!"

"Hey, sorry I took so long," puffed Neville Longbottom as he stumbled back into the room.

Ginny pulled away from her hug.  "No problem, Neville.  Thanks for getting a cloth for me."

Neville knelt down in front of her, and Ginny lifted her robes a little to reveal her leg.  Awkwardly, Neville began to pat her knee with the wet cloth.  He glanced nervously up at Ginny and then to her brother, gulping.  "Um, why don't you do it?  I don't want to hurt you."

Ginny giggled and took the cloth.  "Of course."  As she began wiping the blood off her leg, she looked up at her brother.  "Thank you again, Ron."

Ron grinned at her in return.  It was the first time in a long time that he had felt happy.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

The next time he ran into Draco, it was in the same hall as usual.  Ron was relieved.  He still couldn't tell if he loved the Slytherin boy or not, but all the free time Ron had on his hands, he spent looking through wizarding catalogues, and he needed more money.  His present for his mother's birthday was going to be special this year.   He wanted his mother to have the same look on her face that Ginny had when he gave her the money for a new robe.

And, as much as he tried to deny it, he craved contact with another person desperately.  Even if it was the cold, heartless attention Draco bestowed upon him.

Draco looked at him disdainfully.  "Sorry, whore, but I don't have time for you tonight."

Ron shrank back, crestfallen.  "You don't?  But..."

Glancing down the hall, Draco appeared to be considering something.  "Okay, how about this?  You can give me a blowjob."

"What?"  Ron's eyes widened in surprise.  He then grimaced as he forced himself to agree.  "Um, fine, okay."

"Of course, it'll have to be half the price.  Hookers never charge as much for blowjobs as they do for sex."

"Alright, fine.  Let's just go."

"No, no, slut.  Right here."

"What?!  What do you mean?"

"Blow me right here," was Draco's smooth reply.

"But I can't!  What if we get caught?"

Draco shook his head impatiently.  "Look, I'll perform a disguising spell.  Anyone who looks at us will just see two potted plants, okay?  It's not like anyone comes down this way anyway."  When Ron still hesitated, Draco snarled at him.  "Do it.  You know you can't refuse me.  I own you now, slut."

Slipping his eyes shut, Ron got to his knees in front of Draco.  Fifteen galleons, I'll get fifteen galleons for this, he kept repeating to himself.  "Did you do the spell?"

"Yes," came the impatient answer.

It took a moment for Ron to force his eyes open.  He found himself staring at Draco's fabric-covered crotch.  With shaky fingers, he tugged the zipper of Draco's trousers down and then pulled both the trousers and the underwear underneath down to Draco's knees.

Draco wasn't even hard yet.  Ron began to fondle it with his hand first, trying to produce an erection with only partial results.  "Lick it," Draco told him from above.  Ron felt he had no other choice but to do so.

As the erection grew, Ron gradually began to take it into his mouth.  It was a very strange sensation, feeling the smooth, hot hardness filling his mouth.  He gagged around the small drops of pre-cum, more from mental disgust than the actual taste.

Soon Draco gripped Ron's head and began to thrust in and out of Ron's mouth.  Ron tried different things, such as using his tongue and adding suction, frantically trying to get Draco off as soon as possible.  But Draco was slow was slow to arrive.

Suddenly, Ron froze as he heard footsteps approaching.  Draco, sensing this, reminded him about the spell.  Ron was still paralyzed with fear, so Draco tried a different approach.  "I'm starting to lose my erection," he told him, sounding bored.  "If you don't keep going now, it's going to take longer to make me cum.  And I'm not going to pay you unless I do."

This finally convinced Ron, and he took Draco into his mouth again.  They won't see us.  They won't.  Calm down and get this over with. He refused to see who was coming, knowing that it would only embarrass him further.  His head bobbed up and down along Draco's shaft, trying to milk the standing boy.  With his tongue, he pressed into the head of his erection.

"RON?!"

Ron jerked away, flailing to the floor.  The first thing he saw was Draco's smug smile.  Then he saw his best friend, Harry, staring down at him, a horrified expression on his face.

"H-Harry!  Harry!  What are you..."  Ron spun to Draco.  "You said!  You said that-"

"I lied," he shrugged.

Ron's face paled as he turned back to Harry.  "Oh no, Harry...I..."

Harry only stared at him, his green eyes wide behind the black spectacles.  Ron shoved himself to his feet.  For a split second, he looked at Harry.  Then he began running down the hallway, away from the site of his complete shame and humiliation.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

As hard as Ron tried to avoid Harry, it didn't make a bit of difference, for Harry was trying just as hard to avoid him.  Ron became even more sullen and moody, refusing to talk to anyone, even Ginny.  He also discontinued any visits to Draco, effective immediately.

Finally, Ron couldn't take it anymore.  When one day he walked into a secret passageway in hopes of avoiding Harry only to find that Harry had chosen the exact same passage for the same reason at the same time, Ron blurted out, "I'm sorry you had to see that."

"Sorry I had to see that?!" Harry flared at him.  "What, you planned on keeping that a secret from me forever?"

"Well..."

"I can't believe you!  Do you know how much that hurts?  How long has this been going on?  How long have you been dating...him?"

"I'm not dating him," Ron muttered, his head lowered.

"You're not dating him?  What, you're just performing sexual favors for him?" Harry said the last part sarcastically, but Ron miserably nodded.

"Shit!  With Malfoy!  Malfoy!  You think you know somebody," Harry's voice sounded harsh.  "I never knew you'd turn into a slut."

The wind rushed out of Ron, who flinched as if he had been slapped.  Since his breath left him, he couldn't form words to deny Harry's words.  But he would not have, anyway.  Coming from Harry, those words hurt Ron terribly, making his heart sink to the pits of his stomach.  Not only that, but Harry was right, as well.  He was a slut, a whore.

A sound of disgust burst from Harry as he stormed out of the passage.  Ron dropped to his knees behind Harry's departing back, his head hanging.  Harry had abandoned him, and Ron could only blame himself.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

"Ron, please, won't you talk to me?"

This time it was Hermione who had caught him in the common room.  He shook his head miserably at her.  "What's there to talk about?"

"I don't know what's going on.  Ron, if I did something to make you angry, please tell me!" Hermione pleaded.  "I'm sorry for whatever it is.  I want to know why I have one less friend."

As Ron looked at her, he realized he really had no reason to be mad at her, other than pure jealousy.  "Didn't Harry tell you?" he asked sourly.

"The last thing I heard was the fight you two had at breakfast a while ago.  But things have gotten worse since then, haven't they?"

"Yeah.  It's complicated, Hermione."

Hermione sighed.  "Well, what is it?  What's wrong."  But Ron shook his head, refusing to answer.  "I thought you could tell me anything," said Hermione, deep hurt in her voice.

"Look, 'Mione, I'm really sorry.  You've been my best friend, you and Harry, for a long time.  But I've done something I'm really ashamed of, and I wouldn't be able to face you if you knew.  I can't even face you now, not really, not after what I've been doing."

"You're making this sound so terrible," Hermione sounded alarmed.  "You're not...killing anyone, are you?  I mean, of course you're not, you wouldn't do that...Right?"

Ron laughed, although hollowly.  "No, no, I haven't even hurt anyone."

"Then what could be so bad that you can't tell me?"

"You don't wanna know.  I don't want you to know."

Hermione sat back in her chair, surrendering.  "Alright, I respect your privacy.  But Ron, let me help you at least!  Look at you, you look horrible!"

"Gee, thanks," muttered Ron.

"No, really.  You've lost so much weight, and you obviously haven't been sleeping either."  Ron looked startled that she had noticed that, but he didn't argue.  "I don't want you to keep on destroying yourself like that."  As Hermione look at him with sadness, Ron hung his head.

"And please, Ron, try to fix your friendship with Harry.  He seems deeply hurt about something."  She then added, "You both do."

"I don't think he wants it fixed," Ron said dejectedly.

"What happened to us? The Three Musketeers, remember?"

"The third Musketeer became a third wheel, instead," Ron said lowly, almost hoping that Hermione didn't hear him although he knew she would.

Hermione sighed.  "Yes, I know.  I'm still really ashamed about that.  Love makes you blind, and all that crap.  But things can go back to normal now, especially since we broke up."

Ron jerked his head up, his voice incredulous.  "You broke up?"

"Yeah," she nodded.  "We'd only been going out together to relieve tension.  With all our work and stress, we turned to each other for physical release, thinking we needed each other and thus loved each other.  But then when the trouble between you and Harry began, everything became so tense that it wasn't working anymore.  We realized we'd only been fooling ourselves.  Our love was purely on a friendship level."

"Oh," Ron said, still reeling from the news.  "Well gosh, I'm sorry, Hermi.  I thought you two really had something going on there..."

"Yeah, so did we.  Poor Harry though.  He always falls so hard."  Ron remained silent, and after the two of them sat in contemplation for a few minutes, Hermione started talking to him again.  "So, are you sure there's nothing you want to get off your chest?  You know you can trust me, and I swear I won't think less of you.  I never could."

Ron sighed sadly.  "No, sorry, this is one thing you won't be able to help me with."  Without warning, his eyes began to water.  "It's just something I have to deal with on my own," he choked out, but his voice came out remarkably normal.  He quickly left though, before that changed and Hermione could notice his tears.
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

As Ron walked out of a classroom a few days later, he saw both Draco and Harry.  His face paled and stomach dropped.

"Whore," Draco greeted in passing, a leer on his face.

Then Harry walked past him, sneering.  "Looks like Draco and I agree on something."

Ron's throat closed up and he suddenly couldn't breathe.  Not caring about the strange looks he got, he ran down the corridors and stairways.  At first, he thought that he was dreaming, stuck in some horrible nightmare, but as he careened around a corner, he banged his shoulder against the wall, and the pain shooting up his arm told him he was awake.

Ron ran straight to his room.  Fortunately, it was empty, with everyone else going to class.   Ron threw himself onto the bed, face down, wrapping his arms around his head.  Then he let himself break down.

Tears gushed from his eyes and nose, coating him and the pillow.  He felt his shoulders shake violently as sobs wracked his body.  Crying sounds from his nose and mouth and whimpering sounds from his throat were muffled by his arms but otherwise flowed free as Ron didn't even try to stop them.

He ached all over.  Not from physical pain, but emotional hurt that ran through his entire body.  His heart kept clenching and he felt as through he would throw up at any minutes.  Ron wished he could die from his torment, because right then he wanted nothing else.

Breathing was hard, shaky and hitched.  He gasped, his mouth wide open against the pillow.  Hatred for himself burned strongly.

I want to die, I want to die, please just let me die, he pleaded.

He didn't know how long he laid there, sobbing.  All he was aware of were the tears that seeped from his eyes and the sobs that shook his whole body.  But gradually, even those slowed down and stopped.  He was left with nothing except a dull ache and exhaustion.  His eyes drifted close and he welcomed the oblivion of sleep.

 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

"Ron?"

Ron cracked an eye open and saw last person in the world wanted to see standing over him.  "Leave me alone, Harry."

"You're on my bed."

His eyes open now, Ron blinked and sat up.  "Oh, I guess I am."  Trying to cover up his embarrassment, he asked Harry why he wasn't in class.

"I came to get the Marauders' Map," he explained.

"Well, don't ask me where it is, I didn't take it," Ron grumbled as he climbed off of Harry's bed.

"I don't need it now."

Ron rubbed his eyes, too worn out to deal with Harry.  "Well then, I guess you came all the way back here for nothing."  He dropped onto his bed next to Harry's and fell to his back.  I wonder if the Whomping Willow or if falling off a broomstick would be the less painful death.

"No," Harry began.  "I was going to get it so I could find you."

Ron looked at him in surprise.  "Well, I'm right here.  Go ahead, Harry, I won't fight back."

Ignoring him, Harry sat on his own bed and felt his pillow with his hand.  What he discovered just seemed to confirm whatever he was thinking.  "You were crying," he remarked, and it sounded like a question and a statement at the same time.

Ron ducked his head.  "Sorry.  I just keep sinking lower and lower, don't I?"  Silence met his scornful remark, and Ron wished Harry would just storm out now instead of dragging this whole painful mess out.  His heart beat in his chest as he waited for Harry to do or say something.  There was actually a pinpoint of heat directly over his heart.

Finally, Harry began speaking.  "Ron, I wanted to find you so I could apologize.   I shouldn't have called you those rotten names, and I'm sorry.  I'm really sorry."

Ron blinked furiously at his lap.  "I-" he stopped, suddenly choked up.

When Ron didn't continue, Harry went on.  "I hate not being friends with you.  Remember fourth year?  I just can't take this, Ron."

"I hate this, too," Ron ventured through the lump in his throat.  It came out as a whisper.

"But we need to talk."

The prick of pain stabbed through Ron's chest.  No, no talking!  But he forced himself to agree.

"I just need to know...why-why were you...with Malfoy?  I mean, I guess I can accept that if you love him..."

"I don't love him," Ron interrupted dejectedly.  He knew that for sure, now.

"Are you attracted to him then?"  Ron's head shook.  "Then what?"

There was a moment of hesitation.  Then Ron moved to his trunk and dug around, pulling up a small, cloth bag.  Harry looked at him with curiosity and confusion as Ron overturned the bag.

A shower of gold galleons fell onto the mattress, the coins jingling and clinking against each other.  Harry's mouth dropped open.   "How did you get all of those?"

Instead of looking at him, Ron stared at the pile of money.  "Draco paid me."

"Draco paid you..."

"Yeah."  Ron clenched his jaw.  "I really am a whore."

"Oh, Ron..."

"OW!"  A hand flew to Ron's chest.

Harry jumped.  "What?!"

"It felt like something burned my skin..." Ron said, distracted as he rubbed his chest.  His hand stopped as it felt something through his robes.  Confused, Ron reached down and pulled out the crystal necklace Harry and Hermione bought him.  It was glowing bright red.  "Ow, it's hot!"  He quickly pulled it over his head and dropped it.

"Yikes," Harry remarked.  "We wouldn't have gotten you that if we knew it caused pain!  It must be defective."

"Yeah, it must..."  Ron stared at it.  Maybe it really didn't work, but a realization began to dawn on him.  He looked up at Harry in surprise.

"It hasn't done that before, has it?" Harry asked him.  Ron shook his head no.  "Has it turned red at all?"

"I don't know, I've been wearing it under my clothes...It was red one time I saw.  Not like this though."

"Hm, strange," said Harry.  Ron barely noticed.

My mind was on Harry that one time, wasn't it?  And now... A myriad of emotion rushed over Ron's face.  Oh God, I love Harry!

"Ron, are you okay?" Harry asked him.

Ron blinked and then nodded.  "Yeah," he replied hoarsely.

"Ron, look..." Harry began.  "I...Well, I've never been good at this, but I want you to know that I'm here.  And you're still my best friend, and always will be.  Nothing's changed between us...at least, as long as you forgive me for being such a prat."

"Nothing's changed..." Ron echoed below his breath.  Then, louder, "Of course I forgive you.  And I'm sorry for not telling you about...you know."

"I can understand why you didn't.  But I hope you won't keep anything from me from now on," Harry replied.  He then grinned.  "Now, would you think any less of me if I asked for a hug?"

Ron laughed, truly happy.  "Not at all!  Come 'ere!"  He wrapped his arms around the other boy, and the two of them squeezed each other.  Ron buried his head against Harry's shoulder, feeling more content than he thought possible.
 

~fin~
 

A/N:  Aaaaaah!  Was the ending too rushed?  I knew it was too rushed!  Oh no!

Whaddya think, sirs?