Recipient: Algernon Hyde
Pairing: Ron/Draco (more preslash than slash)
Summary: Ron bites off more than he can chew when he agrees to help Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini open an Italian restaurant. Can anything make it worth the headaches?
When Ron returned to the pizzeria, however, Malfoy was gone, and neither Dennis nor Blaise knew where to find him. "Said he needed to see some people about some things," Blaise said, actually turning down the music so they could talk at a normal volume. "Why is he going to prison?"
"He isn't," Ron said. "Did he say when he'd be back?"
"No," Blaise said, "and I don't appreciate you two keeping me in the dark about things. This is my restaurant, too, you know."
"Yeah, well, that makes three of us," Ron snapped, and kept looking.
A search of the cellar didn't immediately yield any information, until he broke the lock on the tunnel door and found a row of filing cabinets at track level. They were labeled in tiny scribbles and vaguely obscene runes, but Ron still managed to find the business license on his third guess, and yes, there was his signature in the box labeled Proprietors. He'd been so eager to get done with Malfoy and get home that he hadn't even paid attention to what he'd been signing.
He owned the pizzeria. One-third, in fact, of the pizzeria. Malfoy had given him part of the pizzeria, without telling him, and let him go on thinking he was just helping and he could walk away any time. Malfoy would've let him walk away...except, no, that wasn't true, Malfoy had tried to keep him around, had even mopped floors and fried garlic in order to keep Ron coming in. But he hadn't told Ron the truth, and he must've known Ron didn't know it, and what would he have done if Ron had announced he was never coming back?
"Blaise?" Ron called. "Can we talk for a minute?"
"Depends," Blaise called. "Can you talk and slice olives at the same time?"
Archie had come in for the dinner shift, and Tiffer was running out every few minutes to make certain he hadn't dozed off. Ron took up a knife and started chopping without really paying attention. "Why didn't you tell me I owned part of the pizzeria?"
Blaise accidentally spat a partially-chewed piece of garlic into a vat of alfredo sauce. "You what?"
"I own part of the pizzeria," Ron repeated, fishing the garlic out for him. "Because I signed the business license."
"Who told you that?"
"What's Granger know about business licensing, anyway?"
"Enough," Ron said. "So you didn't know about it?"
"Absolutely not!" Blaise's brows furrowed. "Draco said it was just a formality to have you sign."
"Nope." Ron looked at the pile of olives he'd sliced, and tossed them into the sauce. Blaise scowled at him but started ladling the sauce into a crust anyway. "I own a third of the business."
"I sort of fancy the dining area, actually."
Blaise piled the crusts up with shredded chicken and spinach, and after a few moments asked, "If you own the dining area, why doesn't Draco pay you?"
"I'm pretty sure it's because he's an ass," Ron said.
Blaise shrugged, and started sprinkling pine nuts from a skillet onto the pizza.
"Just to be clear," Ron said, "you're not actually annoyed about this?"
"Not really," Blaise said. "Though Draco might want the dining area, in which case I suppose you'd have to settle for the cellar. Though if he does go to prison, I suppose this means the place has a chance of staying open."
"He's not going to prison," Ron insisted, but didn't have the energy to explain.
Draco was gone well into the dinner rush, and between keeping Archie awake and keeping the food moving, they didn't have a lot of time to discuss their recently-discovered business partnership. Ron was so busy that he didn't have time to think about the pizzeria, or what he was going to do about it, because he obviously couldn't keep it (and yes, he knew he was treating it like a small dog that had followed him home, because in retrospect that was exactly what had happenedexcept instead of a dog, it had been Malfoy, and it hadn't been so much following as stalking, but the principle was similar enough). Ron was busy, and thus he was completely unprepared for Draco to Apparate into the middle of the kitchen and start screaming. "How dare you?" he said, waving a fistful of bright green parchment. "How dare you?"
"I don't know," Ron said. "What've I done?"
Malfoy chucked the crumpled parchment at Ron's head. "Meddling in my affairs! Invading my privacy!"
"Oh, that." Ron carefully set aside a tray of pizza. "I actually thought I was doing you a favor."
"A favor." Malfoy snorted. "A favor. You call that a favor?"
Ron picked up the parchment and smoothed it out against a cabinet door. It had Hermione's signature on the bottom, and a couple of phrases jumped out at him. New evidence...reconsider their decision...no longer obligated to appear at the hearing scheduled for 8th September... "Sorry," he said, "explain to me again why you're angry about this?"
"I was taking care of it!" Malfoy spat. "I had the situation entirely under control!"
"You were lying on the floor moaning about prison!"
"I was waiting for inspiration!"
Ron folded his arms. "Look, I didn't do anything but tell the truth, and now you're off the hook. No more hearing. Yay?"
"The truth," Malfoy sneered, "yes, I'm certain you and Granger had a grand time telling truths about me. Had a grand laugh at my expense, did you?"
"You are the most paranoid little piece of"
"It's not paranoia, since you obviously are out to get me!"
"I was helping you, Malfoy, not planning your assassination!"
"I didn't need your help!" he shouted back, practically trembling with emotion. "I didn't want your help! I was in the middle of making my own arrangements when I received that charming missive, because you'd been skulking around behind my back sharing secrets with your little friends and turning all my efforts into wasted time!"
"You know, I was expecting just a little gratitude here"
"Gratitude? For what? I didn't ask you to do anything!"
"You wanted to hire a hero," Ron snapped. "Well, here I am, saving your arse from your imaginary prison term. You're welcome."
Malfoy's lip curled up. "Yes, Weasley, I imagine you were so very heroic. Did you do Granger right there on her desk, or get a room?"
"Gelaro!" Ron was only half-aware of his own wand swinging in front of him, but for his own sake Malfoy was lucky enough to dodge the curse; a cloud of icicles blossomed from the wall where he'd just been standing. "You take that back this instant, you miserable little cunt!"
"Oh, please," Malfoy said, though he was hiding behind the rubbish bin, "I saw you two during the war. I know how it is. I just thought, since she's so damn clever, she'd have given up on you by now."
"That's none of your fucking business!" Ron snapped.
"And my business is none of hers!" Malfoy said. "First you let Potter into my restaurant, now this"
"Actually," Ron said, "isn't it my restaurant too?"
Malfoy seemed phased only for a moment. "You didn't want it!" he shot back. "You never wanted it! You'd have walked away weeks ago if your precious Gryffindor sensibilities didn't keep you coming back to help us, so you could keep playing hero!"
"You nodded me!" Ron shouted. "And you lied to me!"
"It was a creative omission of the facts!"
Blaise suddenly pounded on the bottom of a stockpot with a metal ladle. "BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP AND STOP TRAUMATIZING THE CUSTOMERS!"
Ron covered his ears, but Blaise stopped almost immediately, and silence reigned. Absolute silence, in fact. Malfoy wasn't screaming, Blaise wasn't talking, and the voices that should've been coming from the dining area were conspicuously absent. Ron could hear the saucepots bubbling, the icicles cracking, and somewhere, Tiffer sniffling pathetically.
"Out of my restaurant," Malfoy said suddenly, popping up from behind the bin. "You're fired."
"You never hired me in the first place"
"Then quit already, like you keep threatening to do!"
Ron rolled his eyes. "I thought you liked it when I threatened you?"
"I don't need to hear this," Blaise said, and raised the ladle over the pot again. "So either go off somewhere and have make-up sex or...or just go. Away."
Malfoy grimaced, but Ron was suddenly, inexplicably tired. "Fine," he said. "Sorry to make a mess of your restaurant, Blaise. Malfoy..." He couldn't even find words for his anger, so he just Disapparated, and never heard Malfoy's reply.
Ron didn't go back to the restaurant the next day, though he had a whole list of reasonsto tell Malfoy off for his paranoia, to break Malfoy's nose for the dig at Hermione, to demand Malfoy take Ron's name off the business license, to demand his share of the profits, or to ask Blaise, once and for all, why the hell he apparently thought Ron and Malfoy were fucking. Ron didn't go back the day after that, or any of the following days, either. It was clear now that he'd made a tremendous mistake by ever setting foot in the place. Business license or not, he promised himself he'd have nothing more to do with the pizzeria or with Draco fucking Malfoy.
Instead, he threw himself into the list marked JOBS in the Burrow's kitchen. Errol had moved in with the chickens at some point, and treacherously joined in the defense of the old henhouse, but by the end of the week Ron had torn it down and rebuilt a bigger, better one. He'd also cleaned the house from top to bottom, changing bed linens for no good reason and scrubbing things with an old toothbrush. He weeded and de-gnomed the garden, restocked the pantry, and by Thursday afternoon was reduced to sitting in the kitchen in his underwear, eating cold fish casserole and catching up on all the WWN serials he'd missed out on. He also carefully selected which pieces of post he openedanything from Ginny, Fred or George was categorically ignored (and occasionally locked in the cellar for safety) because he wasn't quite sure he could stand yet to admit that they were right about the badness of the whole pizzeria idea.
Well, partially right. Ron decided this one night after determining experimentally just how much butterbeer a wizard had to drink, and how fast, in order to achieve a buzz. Harry and the others had been partially right about the pizzeria, or at least in the broad outlines. At least they'd been right about Malfoy, who Ron had sworn to never even think about again and thus naturally kept obsessing over like a loose tooth. Malfoy wasn't worth helping. Malfoy wasn't worth dealing with at all. Malfoy was paranoid, petty, arrogant, bad with people, ungrateful, dishonest, insane, and a few other choice adjectives Ron would've come up with if it hadn't reminded him a bit too much of Malfoy's List. Malfoy had clearly just been manipulating Ron and Ron's better nature for his own inscrutable ends, or just for the unpaid labor, and Ron had been an idiot if he'd ever thought there had been more to it than that.
Which he hadn't, of course. That was ridiculous.
(Why did Zabini think they were shagging all the time?)
Ron was still lecturing himself on the Evils of Draco Malfoy (volume three: his stupid, pointy face) when his parents came back from Ibiza at the end of the week. They were both very sunburnt, and his dad appeared to have brought back his own weight in Muggle souvenirs, which he would've immediately started disassembling on the kitchen table if Mum hadn't ordered him upstairs to start unpacking the trunks. Once that was accomplished, she turned her sole attention on Ron. "Oh, dear, aren't you looking peaky? Have you been eating?"
"Yes, Mum," he said, and submitted to having his shirt untucked in the middle of the kitchen so she could poke his stomach. "I've been keeping busy, too."
"Oh, yes, the henhouse looks marvelousI never would've thought of the moat and turret." She finished with his stomach and started examining his face closely. "Honestly, Ronald, have you even looked at a razor recently?"
"Sounds like you had fun in Ibiza."
"Oh, yes, it was marvelously relaxing, and you took such good care of the house while we were gone..." She actually checked his teeth, fingered the ends of his hair, and finally stepped back with a nod and a frown. "What's wrong, dear?"
"Nothing, mum," he said. "Why d'you think something's wrong?"
"Oh, a mother knows, Ronald," she said. "Besides, your brothers and Ginny have been writing the most peculiar lettersthere's obviously something afoot, and it's something to do with you, but none of them are willing to come out and say anything about it."
Ron felt a brief and unfamiliar rush of filial affection, which flickered out when he realized that they weren't actually covering for himthey just wanted to drop the bomb in person, so that they could watch. "I'm fine, Mum," he insisted. "Really. Just...been busy lately. Took care of some things."
She pressed her lips together, because she'd been watching him try to lie for almost two decades, but before she could say anything Dad called down the stairs, "Oh, Molly, come look! I've figured out what that thing does, the one with all the bits, come see! Comeer, oh dear, maybe you'd better stay down there."
They showed Ron their last vacation photos, and he got a detailed summary of Lockhart's latest book before they all sat down to a late supper. Ron watched his mum knead up a loaf of bread for tomorrow's breakfast, and tried not to think about olive oil and basil and the feel of flour in the creases of his knuckles.
"Ron? Are you feeling all right?"
He realized his dad had been talking. "Er, yeah. Fine. Sorry, what?"
"I asked if you'd gotten around to reapplying at the Ministry," he said, scratching at one carefully-bandaged finger with another. "You'd said something about it before we left."
"Oh. Had I?"
He cleared his throat. "I, er, no, not yet. Waiting for you to get home."
"Oh, you didn't have to do that, dear," Mum said. "When we asked you to mind the house, we didn't mean you had to stay cooped up here all summer! It's not as if it's going to walk off without supervision!"
"Right," Dad said, "we took care of that problem years ago."
Ron sighed. "Yeah, look, I'll get on it, all right?"
There was a moment's pause, in which Mum put the bread to rise and Ron toyed with a new hole in his jeans rather than look at them. Then Dad cleared his throat and said, "You know, Ron, if you're still worried about yourerinjury...nobody would think less of you if you didn't reapply"
"Harry says I can do it," Ron muttered.
"Of course you can!" Mum said fiercely, and started making sandwiches. "Those exercise tests are absolutely absurd anyway. Alastor Moody was the best Auror in Britain for years after he lost that leg! It's not like you're out running and chasing and jumping on people like...like Muggles, after all..."
"I was arrested twice in Ibiza," Dad confided. "It was all terribly exciting."
Ron got up and started helping make the sandwiches. "I was thinking, though," he said slowly, "of maybe...looking somewhere else. Not the Ministry, I mean. Just to see what's there."
"And nobody will think less of you for it," Dad repeated firmly.
Mum put a slightly mustardy hand on his shoulder. "We just want you to be happy, dear."
That evening Ron sat at his desk, stared for five minutes, and forced himself to unroll the only scroll there. At the top it said in large curly letters, APPLICATION FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF MAGICAL LAW ENFORCEMENT, AUROR'S DIVISION. He dipped his quill, wrote out his name at the top, stared at it for</font> five more minutes, and then went to lie in bed but couldn't sleep.
Maybe he could limp his way through the fitness exam, bad buttock or not. It made sense for him to become an Aurorit was what Harry was doing, and following Harry had never steered him wrong before. So why couldn't he finish the bloody application?
What he needed was a sign, like Zabini had got. Then again, Zabini's omen hadn't turned out so wellhe was stuck running the pizzeria with bloody buggering Malfoy, who Ron wasn't going to think about, except perhaps to wonder what kind of disaster he was going to create in the absence of adult supervision. Perhaps he'd cause some kind of international incident while ordering more olive oil, or Hermione would find out about Tiffer and launch a full-scale investigation into the pizzeria's business practices...but none of that was Ron's business anymore. So why was he worried about it?
It was the business license, that's what it was. Knowing he technically owned the place created an illusion of responsibility, especially combined with Malfoy's obvious raging incompetence. What he should do is go over there tomorrow morning and force Malfoy to take his name off, no matter what, because he needed to cut ties to the place, he needed a clean slate so he could...
What? Stare at his Auror application some more?
But he had to do it, because otherwise it'd always be there in the back of his mind, lurking, nagging at him to check up on. And while Malfoy and Zabini could probably use some checking up on, it wasn't Ron's business to do it, even if he had helped make the place livable and learnt almost all the recipes and knew the trick to getting the hot water tap to shut off. He had to forget the smell of the herbs and the heat of the ovens and the thick gurgling of a sauce about to boil over, because...
"Bloody hell," he said to the ceiling. "I'm as mad as Zabini."
He couldn’t actually like the place, could he?
For the rest of the night, Ron tossed and turned, trying to list off all the reasons he hated the pizzeriaMalfoy's attitude, the long hours, the smell of garlic, Malfoy's whinging, standing at the register, Malfoy's screaming, the more deranged customers, Malfoy's...everything about Malfoy, really, particularly the overwhelming urge he created in Ron to throw him up against the wall and exact serious violence on his person. And it was ridiculous for a war hero to work in a pizzeria anyway, because how could he go from saving the world to selling pizza and calzones?
Except for how, you know, he had. But he hadn't meant to. It had just sort of...happened to him. And he'd enjoyed it. Mostly.
But that still didn't mean he could keep doing it...could he?
At six o'clock in the morning, Ron got up, peeked through the curtains, and then went to his desk. After five minutes, he crumpled the Auror application into a ball and threw it away.
Ron slept soundly the rest of the morning, and after a quick shower and a word to his mum he Apparated to Diagon Alley. He strolled through the shops, smiled at passers-by, and generally enjoyed the hell out of a damp, overcast, overall hideous day. He could get used to being mad, he decided, if it always felt this happy.
The pizzeria was jumping with the lunch rush, so it was simple enough to slip into the back without anyone noticing him. He leaned against the edge of the fireplace and watched the crowd move sluggishly through the line, inhaled the smells of the herbs and sauces, listened to the rumble of voices. He waited to get annoyed by the noise, the smells, or the prospect of taking over the register from Dennis for an unspecified number of hours. He didn't. He wasn't exactly enthused by them, either, especially the bit about the register, but they didn't make him want to jump off a bridge, either. Being an Auror probably had its downsides, too.
He was just settling into the unexpectedly warm and fuzzy feeling he got from being back when the Floo coughed open. Malfoy stepped out, took a look around, and spotted Ron. "You're back," he said, glancing Ron up and down.
"I'm back," Ron said.
Malfoy seized him by the elbow and started pulling him forward. "Come on. Tiffer's got a cold and I can't have pizzas full of elf snot, so you'll have to help Blaise in the kitchen, but first I need you to look at some prototype for the delivery boxes because I think they're all hideous but Archie seems attached to the round one."
"Hello," Ron said, "I didn't say I was back back."
"Weasley," he said, "if you didn't intend to come back here to work, you wouldn't have come back at all. You're much too stubborn."
"You're one to talk."
"Yes," Malfoy said, "I am stubborn and suspicious and short-sighted and several other words that start with s. I'm also busy, so do try to keep up."
Blaise waved at Ron as they passed with no sign of surprise. Tiffer sneezed from inside his cabinet. Malfoy lead the way down into the cellar, though Ron shook his hands off. "How d'you know I'm not just here to get my name removed from the business license?"
Here Malfoy hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. "Is that why you're here?" he asked quietly.
"No," Ron said.
"Well, then, quit talking nonsense and get over here." There were several different cardboard boxes on Malfoy's desk-of-crates, in different shapes and color patterns, but all were stamped with Zabini's Pizza on the top. "These are for the delivery service. Did I tell you about the delivery service?"
"No," Ron said.
"Well, we're starting a delivery service." He thrust a seven-sided red box and a five-sided green one into Ron's hands. "Now, which of these do you think looks appetizing?"
"Why are you starting a delivery service?" Ron asked. "Is this some new part of your grand plot?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Malfoy said. "The delivery service is a logical expansion of the business. Now, which box do you prefer?"
Ron thrust both boxes at him. "Your great big plan to right the name of Malfoy, remember? Revenge and lists and wild things?"
Malfoy took the boxes back, stacking them on top of something that looked like a flat, checkered hatbox. "Oh, that," he said with much too much casualness. "It's, er, currently on hold. Suspended, you might say, until further notice and re-evaluation."
"Well, I can't very well exact my revenge without my List, can I?" he said irritably, and started re-arranging boxes. "And the fact that I can't even reconstruct it from memory suggests that I was perhaps being a bit... enthusiastic."
"Really," Ron said.
"So that's currently up for re-evaluation," he said, "and in the meantime, I've a pizzeria to run, so pick a damn box."
Ron picked up another five-sided box, with different graphics, mostly because it reminded him of chocolate frogs. "Does this mean you're not angry that I helped you out of the hearing anymore?"
"Oh, I'm still angry about that," Malfoy said. "But Blaise says I should try being gracious about it."
Ron blinked at him. "You? Gracious?"
"It's entirely possible," Malfoy said. "After all, if you can be humble, anything's possible."
"Never mind," Malfoy said. "Box."
Ron set the box aside. "Malfoy, what d'you mean, humble?"
Malfoy sighed, and folded his arms. "What are you doing back here, Weasley? Humor me, if you will."
"I...well..." Ron poked the hatbox-looking box, which did have a certain charm to it. "I decided it was better to do what I enjoyed than what I felt obligated to do."
"Exactly," Malfoy said. "You got off your high bloody horse and decided to descend among the masses."
"I wasn't" Ron tried to protest, but Malfoy cut him off.
"Not that there's anything wrong with being above the masses," he said airily. "It's my preferred place of residence, after all. But honestly, all that pretension about being a war hero was getting on my bloody nerves."
"I am a war hero," Ron said. "I just...happen to make pizzas, too."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Whatever makes you happy, Weasley."
"Oh, fuck you."
"I wish you would."
Ron's head snapped up so quickly he was surprised it didn't make an audible snap. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me," Malfoy said, and if his face seemed a little pinker than normal, that might've just been the dingy cellar lighting. "I've only been flirting with you for weeks, you know, you could possibly try not to be dense about it."
"So that was deliberate!" Ron cried. "Er...why?"
"Don't go fishing for compliments, Weasley, it's rude."
"No, I'm seriouswhy? I though we were, you know, practically enemies."
Malfoy shrugged. "I suppose there's a certain novel charm in your persistance. Your arse is not entirely unpleasant. Also, I'm quite possibly insane."
"Join the club," Ron said weakly.
"So I supposed," he said doggedly, "that if we were all going to be seizing the day and all that, I might as well go for it. The worst you could do is scream and try to hex me, after all, and since you do that fairly regularly under normal circumstances I didn't see much of a risk."
Ron rubbed his eyes for a moment, but Malfoy was still shuffling boxes on the crate desk with a certain stiffness in his back that suggested another tiff was all but imminent. "So you're saying you want to have sex with me?" he asked. "Just for clarity's sake."
"Yes," he said. "Necessity apparently makes strange, and I hope rather frequent, bedfellows."
Ron looked Malfoy over, at his skinny, pointy face and the tailored dress robes that hugged his arse and shoulders in odd lines. He had slender hands, too, and soft hair when it wasn't full of flour and cream sauce. "Why the hell not?" Ron blurted. "Except, you know, for how we drive each other insane and I kind of want to punch you a lot."
"I'm sure you can restrain yourself," Malfoy said, and suddenly straightened up and kissed him. His mouth was wet and thin and he used his teeth far too much, but he was warm and solid against Ron's chest, and anyway, they both were mad. Ron pressed back, and decided that this was probably one of the better mistakes he'd ever made.