Just like when he was angry, Ron's ears also reddened when he had a good laugh. Enjoying a drink after work with some other aurors at the local pub, they took on the appearance of chili peppers, as he and his cohorts howled at Harry's expense.

"So not only did he have to escort Malfoy all over the building and watch him in the shower," Lee Jordan said, "but when the bugger finally left, he had to go to the infirmary. Malfoy cracked his ribs when he beat him in Quidditch."

A chorus of hoots and guffaws answered that last piece of information.

Ron chuckled, contributing to the hilarity, "And there's nobody who hates Skele-Gro more or who's had to take it more than Harry. I can't wait to "rib" him about that tonight."

The group replenished their mirth and drinks and moved on to other topics.

Ron took a sip from his glass, anticipating his evening, not only for having a go at Harry, but also Cissy was coming to see him.

He shifted in his chair as he thought about the still svelte and exciting older woman. They teased each other about the age difference and her being "Malfoy's mum" but didn't allow those things to affect them during their vigorous and playful copulations.

He was in the kitchen at Harry's house, eating a sandwich, when he heard the front door slam and Harry bellow, "Ron!"

"What's got you in a knot, mate?" he asked, strolling casually into the game room and dropping crumbs from his enormous hero sandwich. "I heard about your day with Malfoy," he said with a snicker. "Is he going to be a regular fixture at the Ministry?"

Harry stood with his fists clenched, his torrential green eyes looking up into Ron's happy blue ones.

"Maybe he wouldn't be there so much," Harry sputtered in his ire, "if you weren't banging his wife."

Ron's smile dropped. He sat down in one of the two wingback chairs facing the cold fireplace. "What are you going on about?"

Harry stalked around the large, brightly lit room with all the accoutrement to keep the young, modern wizard entertained. He snatched up a beater's club from the Quidditch game and looked in his friend's direction, then carefully set it back in place.

Ron continued to eat his sandwich and drink his butterbeer with an air of nonchalance that amplified Harry's exasperation.

"Don't try to deny it, Weasley," he finally said, walking back to where Ron sat. "Where do you think I've been this evening? Reviewing Floo Network logs. I found that you went to Malfoy Manor the night after the reception at the Ministry."

"So what of it?" Ron said with a shrug. "The woman had just been blasted by an attempted Avada that I diverted, remember? I thought I should see that she was all right."

"That would've been very conscientious and considerate of you, Ron," Harry said snidely, taking the twin chair that was angled from Ron's, "except that you didn't leave by Floo until 2 am."

Ron created a licking fire with no heat so that he could concentrate on the flames. "It's none of your business," he said in a deep, slow voice.

Harry's eyes went wide with disbelief at the tacit confirmation. "Are you mental?" he demanded of his roommate, who still stared impassively at the counterfeit flames. "Malfoy's mum? In my house?" he added with near revulsion.

"She's a woman," Ron answered in the same flat, cavernous tone.

"There are a lot of women, Ron," Harry pointed out. "Witches and Muggles. Why do you feel the need for the wife and mother of two of the biggest bastards in either world?"

"Maybe that's why," Ron said with another shrug of his shoulders, still not returning Harry's stare. "Maybe she likes me because I'm not like them. And did you say anything like this to Hermione when she took up with the ferret?"

Harry opened his mouth to respond, then closed it. No, he hadn't said anything to Hermione when she first confessed her feelings for their old enemy right after Christmas. Nor had he told Ron about it, leaving him to find out publicly for himself on Valentine's Day. Harry stood and walked around the room which he and Ron had had so much fun putting together, banishing all the heavy Black family furniture to attics, various friends in need of a statement piece, even something Hermione had called a "tag sale." They'd made a couple hundred quid from that.

Ron had been typically good-natured about incorporating the Muggle elements, such as the giant television and vintage pinball machines, that Harry had always wanted. He's really a good friend, Harry said to himself with a twinge of guilt.

He flopped down on the large, leather sofa, creating a cacophony of creaks from the material and his own grunts, as he lay down, turned, took off his shoes and tried to get comfortable. "Why her?" he finally asked when he and the sofa had achieved an accord, and he rested with an arm pressed on his forehead.

"What, isn't she hot enough for you?" Ron asked with a little life coming back into his voice.

Harry exhaled. "No, Ron, I remember the dorm room talk when all of us lads agreed that Malfoy had the best-looking mum in the school. I also remember that we said none of us would ever want to touch her because she was the mother of the worst prat in school."

"I'm not in school anymore," Ron said, taking mental inventory of the yellows, oranges and more subtle colors in his fire. It kept him calm and prevented him from lashing out at his best mate. "I don't care what anyone thinks about what I do," or who, he added under his breath.

"Do you think you love her?" Harry asked from the sofa, trying to understand.

Ron rolled his eyes. "I didn't say that. I like how I feel with her, how she..." He sighed and rubbed his forehead with his crumb-coated fingers. "What do you know about rejection?" he sneered. "My sister's been loopy about you since you rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets. I could never impress Hermione that way, but I did save Cissy."

"Oh, hell, Ron, being a hero is good for a while, but that fades. Before long, you forget a birthday, or talk with your mouth full, or you're too tired to give her what she wants." He puffed the air from his lungs. "I don't...get...what it is between you, but I know it has to stop."

"Why?" Ron asked defensively.

Harry sat up. "Because I think her husband knows or at least suspects."

There was a flash of red as Ron jerked his head around toward the source of that statement. "What makes you think that?"

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "Something he said today about how you were more attentive than protective, and I should make sure you're not at the Ministry tomorrow when she's there for a meeting."

Ron bounded from his chair. "He knows? Harry, she could be in danger!"

Harry shook his head. "We know from our training on the Death Eaters that they wouldn't have been monogamous. They set the pattern for their marriage years ago."

"But you said—"

"You have to end it, Ron," Harry concluded, rising from the sofa. "You have to before someone gets hurt. Because one thing you can be damn sure of—it won't be Malfoy."

With his innate sense of the dramatic, Harry exited the room with that statement, leaving a reflective Ron standing with head down, his back to the cool fire.

"He's right; we do need to stop," Cissy said when in Ron's room later that night. She was nude, standing at one of the two windows on the far wall. The bed was situated between them and the room was dark, except for a few candles and the moonlight through the windows. Her pale skin seemed to absorb all the faint light, giving her a spectral, untouchable look, even after just having shared a shag with her ginger host.

"But we're not ready to stop," Ron protested from the bed, his eye glued to her.

She turned toward him with a little smile. "No, we're not. But we have no choice. Our hand has been forced."

"Cissy," he said, rising to stand next to her, "What if he..."

She put her arms around his waist and rubbed her head over his lightly-freckled chest. "Lucius won't hurt me," she assured him. "We understand each other, especially since he's no longer drinking and is more like his old self."

Ron cupped one side of her face with a gentle hand. "But he made you..."

Cissy returned to the bed with a small, tinkly laugh. "Don't be naïve, young man," she said huskily. "It wasn't always unpleasant."

Ron sighed in resignation and moved back to the bed, softly rubbing her arm. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to be a wife and mother," she said with a shrug of her moon-lit shoulders.

"How will I know if you're all right?" he asked her.

Cissy smiled. "I would expect you to make it your business to know, my gendarme," she said, "sneakily, of course."

She leaned back in his arms. "I'm more worried about what you're going to do."

"What do you mean?" he asked, squeezing her tight and burying his face in the perfume of her hair.

Malfoy's mum sighed, knowing this was the last time she'd be with the strong, sweet young man who made her feel both safe and desirable. "You're ready for a new phase, Ronald." She bent her head back so that they could smile at each other in unhappy acceptance, before giving him the same advice she would to her son, "I don't just want you to have a lover; I want you to have a life."

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