The Pop Goes the Weasel Trilogy
by eleveninches


I. I Was a Death Eater and All I Got Was This Bloody T-Shirt

 

Prologue. Doom, Doom, Doom

(During Goblet of Fire:)

 

"Bloody hell," seethed Voldemort. He gingerly touched one cheek. "I'm hideous. Hideous!"

Peter Pettigrew, who was holding up the mirror before the Dark Lord with his shiny, new metal arm, cringed. "Oh no, Master. You're..." He groped for the right word, and came up with nothing. "No, you're right, you're disgusting."

Emitting a low hiss, the Dark Lord lunged at Pettigrew in fury, weakly slamming his fists on the portly man's chest. Pettigrew looked down at him. He was astonished by Voldemort's lack of strength; usually when Voldemort attacked him he actually felt it. Although lacking a body for quite some time would do that to someone, one would suppose.

"Master," he asked, "do you need some help?"

"I'm not sure how, but this has to be Potter's fault," Voldemort muttered bitterly, panting. "Where's Lucius when I need him?"

*

The Ministry of Magic was in an uproar. In the enormous, stone-walled hearing chamber, the numerous Ministry members screamed at each other from their benches, each voicing his or her own opinion on the situation at hand. Several heads of departments and higher-ups attempted to keep order.

"How can you deny Harry Potter's account?" demanded Arthur Weasley. He was standing, red-faced, shouting at the panel seated before them.

"You-Know-Who has returned!" wailed one wizard.

"Order, order!" cried Cornelius Fudge, loudly.

The loud yells faded into angry whispers. Arthur sat and nudged Percy. "This is why I never brought you to a session," he said. Percy nodded, pale and tight-lipped. His hands tightly gripped his Department of International Magical Cooperation documents. "It's become a war between the paranoid and the delusional."

Fudge stood, puffing out his chest. "We have no evidence to support You-Know-Who has returned."

"What about Harry Potter?" Arthur yelled.

Fudge had been foolishly denying every claim of Death Eater action. Even now, his cheeks flushed and he snapped, "You-Know-Who has not returned. The boy doesn't know what's he's talking about."

Outraged, the Ministry members' voices rose in the large chamber. Down the row of benches, the Dark Mark flared on Lucius Malfoy's forehead. A few witches and wizards stared and scooted away quickly. Percy gasped, clutching at Arthur's arm.

Fudge cleared his throat. The sound echoed loudly in the now-silent room. "Mr. Malfoy, you have a bit of evil on your forehead." He gestured.

Lucius pulled a small compact mirror from his robes. "Oh, yes," he drawled. "Pardon me, I must visit the loo." He stood.

"As I was saying," continued Fudge, "You-Know-Who has not returned."

Arthur and Percy exchanged glances. They were doomed.

*

One. I Looked Up and I Saw My Place

(7 years later)

 

Music thrumming in his veins, mixing with the sweetness of the marijuana in his blood. Bodies pressed against him. Sweat in the air. Heat trapped in the thin line of his hips. Ron Weasley closed his eyes, moving in time with the powerful beat of music. He was dizzy and he couldn't breathe, but he was loving every second of it.

They've stolen everything from me. There's nothing left, my heart is black and empty.

The feeling of lips against his ear caused his eyes to snap open. It was Al, his friend who had scored the tickets to Plastic Wizard Kings. "I told you this would be brilliant, Ronnie," he said, loudly. Jake, his other mate, nodded vigorously, taking a long puff of the joint they were passing between them. They were his only friends since he and Harry -- Britain's best Quiddich player and winner of the Biggest Ego Ever, not that Ron was jealous or anything, heavens no -- had fallen out of contact over a year ago. The fact that his mum hated Al and Jake made them especially special, in Ron's opinion. Always asking him why he never saw Harry anymore, why he never had a job, why he hung out with such losers. It made him sick.

"I'm never going to be able to repay you," Ron said. He refused to think about Harry Fat-Head Potter. They were so close to the stage he could touch it if he wanted, and he was there to party. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth, but his head was so light. He pushed his sweat-stained hair back from his face, adding, "I don't have a job, you know."

Don't you understand there's only one way to go?

Al flashed him a wide grin. "Things will work out." Had Ron had been more lucid, he probably would have wondered about that comment. But since he wasn't, he let it slide.

Ron looked back to the front, the earth rolling slowly as he moved his head. Plastic Wizard King's vocalist leaned over the stage, dry, throaty voice crooning into the microphone. The guitarists strummed once, twice, and the song ended sharply. Breathing hard, the vocalist shouted, "Are you ready to ROCK?"

"Yeah!" screamed Ron, throwing his fist in the air.

"Are you ready to PARTY?"

"Yeah!" screamed Ron.

"Are you ready to KILL SOME MUGGLES?"

"Erm," said Ron, hand frozen in place, as the crowd shouted, "Yeah!" Al and Jake whooped. Sudden clarity pierced Ron's hazy state, and he blinked wildly, looking at his friends. He grabbed Jake's robes and snapped, "What the fuck? Didn't you hear what he just said?"

"We're just having fun, chum," Al slurred. He waved a joint in Ron's face, the minty smell temporarily masking the stench of smoke and sweat. "What's your problem?"

Hey, hey, Muggle-born. Mudblood, you don't belong here.

"We thought you were into killing Muggles," Jake said seriously. "This is your favourite band. Your favourite song is, 'Run, Muggle, Run.' Don't you ever listen to the bloody lyrics?"

"No, I only listen to music when I'm stoned out of my mind," Ron said, shoving him away in disgust. "Why would you--?" A horrible thought struck him. "Don't tell me you're Death Eaters?"

"No," said Al. Ron sighed in relief. "That's why we're here, to get recruited. We thought you knew."

Hey, hey, where ya runnin, Mudblood? We're on your trail.

"YOU BROUGHT ME TO A DEATH EATER RALLY?" he screamed.

"Calm down, you're going to ruin the concert," Jake said, trying to pass him the joint.

"OH MY GOD, I AM AT A DEATH EATER RALLY," he went on. He clutched his head. "This is not happening to me."

"Everyone's staring."

"Doesn't matter," Ron spat, "the whole lot of them are Death Eaters. They can suck my cock."

And we're gonna BASH IN YOUR HEAD, BASH IN YOUR HEAD, BASH IN YOUR HEAD...

When Ron tore his eyes away to look onstage, what entered his vision knocked the breath out of him: A thin, reedy man, with a flashy, silver guitar wrapped in his slender hands and a cruel smirk on his pointed face. He looked different in a see-through black shirt and red pleather pants, but it was definitely him. Everything seemed to freeze round them, and Ron could hear his heart hammering between his ears.

"Sod's law," he shouted, without pulling his eyes away from the figure. His mates looked at him. "Shit, shit, shit, that's Draco Malfoy up there."

"Yeah, so?" Al asked.

Ron smacked his forehead. How could he have never noticed Malfoy in the line-up? "I am never smoking grass again," he muttered.

"Oh, you say that now," Jake said.

From above, Malfoy's grey eyes slid down to look directly at him, and Ron felt his chest tighten. Hey, hey, Mudblood, we're never going to let you get away. Malfoy's lips moved to shape, "Weasel," and then a haughty grin. Ron looked at that smirk and remembered all the horrible things Malfoy had done to his friends and him at Hogwarts, and anger curled his hands into fists. He pushed forward -- "Where are you going?" Al shouted. "Ronnie, don't do anything stupid!" -- until the tips of his toes touched the stage, and raised his arms in the air. Malfoy bent and clasped Ron's hand in his. His palms were hot and sweaty, and even though he was a good deal shorter than Ron, he managed to pull the redhead onstage. The crowd roared, their faces colourful blurs in the flashing lights, and the world slowed. Ron's head spun, legs weak as the bass thundered beneath the stage. The rest of the band continued screaming and leaping, enthralling the audience.

"Weasel," Malfoy repeated. It was burning hot on the stage. Malfoy's tight shirt shimmered with sweat; his messy, white-blond hair gleamed brightly in the stage lights. Ron suddenly remembered he was livid, stoned, and completely without a plan. Hey, hey, Mudblood. You don't belong here. Run, Mudblood, run. "I didn't know you were a fan."

The music swelled around them, nearing the end of the song. Malfoy dropped his hand to deliver a few cords on his guitar, body moving wildly with the thrashing of the music. Ron felt stupid standing there. The vocalist jumped, tucking his legs under himself, and sang, "Malfoy rocks!" The crowd erupted in shrieks and applause. Ron's jaw dropped, and Malfoy laughed: "I wrote all the songs myself."

*

"Are you a Death Eater?" Ron demanded.

He expected Malfoy to drawl, "Maaaaybe I am, maybe I'm not," but instead the blond looked at him as if something had sprouted on his face. "Let's think about that one. Rally. Band. Leather. Death Eaters. Yes, Weasel, I believe I am."

"Oh," said Ron. He paused, leaning against a wall. Even from backstage he could hear the screaming of the audience begging for an encore. He doubted one would come, as the band was packing up. Death Eaters were not very nice people, it seemed. "I thought rock 'n' roll was a Muggle thing?"

"Well, Death Eaters make exceptions for things we really like," Malfoy said, turning away. "Delusion, and all that good stuff. Works wonders."

Ron glared at Malfoy's back. When they were younger he had always mocked Ron and his friends for anything Muggle, yet now he said it was okay if it was "convenient." What rubbish. "Hypocrite," he muttered.

"Oh, big word," the blond shot back. "Don't strain yourself."

"This your friend, Malfoy?" Plastic Wizard King's vocalist, Freddie, asked, handing Ron a bottled water. The man was much shorter in real life, almost as short as Malfoy, and his throaty voice was somewhat unpleasant. Ron accepted the water with shaking hands, feeling drained. The effects of his last hit were fading fast. He took a long swing of it.

"Him?" Malfoy asked, just as Ron said, "I think you're brilliant." Freddie arched an eyebrow. "No," Malfoy continued, putting his guitar away in its case. "Just some bloke I went to school with."

"The only chap you ever talk about from school is Harry Potter, and last I checked, he wasn't a redhead," the bassist said, laughing. Malfoy sneered at him.

Ron asked, "You still talk about Harry? Good Lord, Malfoy, you're obsessed."

"Fuck you," Malfoy snapped.

Out on the stage, Ron could hear a new voice booming: "Attention! Those who want to join us for some Muggle-whacking fun, sign up for our month-long Death Eater training camp. The benefits of being a Death Eater are a pension plan, a set of ace robes, a nice staff in which to attack Muggles, and, if you're lucky, a full-time job within our organisation. The form is right here... Single file, please, no shoving."

The other band members finished putting things away and wiping off their makeup, all the while dodging roadies. "We're on the piss," Freddie said, face now clean and three-inch spike heels tossed in a bag. "You coming, Malfoy?"

Ron hoped he would say yes, so he could leave. "No," said Malfoy, "the Weasel and I have business to discuss." The band filed out, leaving them alone.

"I have nothing to say to you," Ron growled. "In fact, I'm getting the hell out of here."

"Wait." Malfoy held up a hand. He licked his lips. "I have a proposition for you."

Ron recognized that look. "No way, I'm not going to sleep with you."

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "The mere thought of banging you repulses me, Weasel. Besides, you're too fat."

"I am not."

"But we're not here to discuss your weight gain."

Ron pulled off one of Malfoy's sneers. "So we're not here to humiliate me? Pray tell, Malfoy, why did you pull me onstage anyway, or drag me back here?"

"For the same reason you came to the stage yourself: Because of a feeling you couldn't deny," Malfoy told him, placing a thin hand on Ron's chest. His grey eyes were serious. "When I saw you here, I knew I wasn't mistaken. I want you to join us. I think you'd make an excellent Death Eater."

"What?" Ron asked, disbelieving. "Last time I checked, we hated each other."

"Personal feelings have nothing to do with political alliances," Malfoy said coolly. He smirked. "I've been keeping tabs on all my old classmates -- just for kicks, you see; you never know when you'll have to blackmail someone -- and you have all the makings of a Death Eater. You're bitter, you're alone, and you're a pureblood. You have absolutely nothing tying you to your current life, which, quite frankly, sucks. And," he added, narrowing his eyes gleefully, "you hate Harry Potter."

"No," Ron protested, shaking his head. His mouth felt dry. "None of that is true. I have a life--"

"Weasel, you don't have a job, you live with your parents, and your friends are complete losers. What do you have to lose?" Malfoy asked.

"My dignity," Ron hissed.

"I repeat: you don't have a job, you live with your parents, and your friends are complete losers."

"Fuck you, Malfoy," he snarled. "I won't betray Harry like that. You don't know what you're talking about. I don't hate Harry for abandoning me, or for becoming Britain's pride and joy, or for being perfect, or for forgetting me. It's not his fault he's always had all the breaks and that everything has fallen into his lap. It's not his fault he's wonderful and perfect and..." Anger shot through him, but he realised with a growing horror that it wasn't directed at Malfoy; it was all towards Harry. His arms were shaking; he was clenching his fists tightly. He took several deep breaths and looked away from Malfoy's smirk. "Bugger."

"And you don't hate Potter?" Malfoy mocked.

"I don't hate Muggles though," Ron said hesitatingly. "I mean, sure, they're annoying and whatever, but I don't hate them."

"You don't have to kill any Muggles, that's just an old myth," said Malfoy. "We've got plenty of people who'll do that for us."

"My dad likes Muggles," he said.

"Your dad thinks you're a loser."

"Oh yeah," he muttered. "I forgot that part."

"Why not show him you can be something else?" Malfoy asked merrily. "Why not show everyone -- even Potter? Can you imagine the look on his face when he realises you're rich and important, and, best of all, it has absolutely nothing to do with him?" He stopped, eyes sparkling, and for the first time Ron knew why Malfoy had had his own fanclub back in school. "Or would you rather go back to your life of living at home and getting stoned all day?"

"Bugger," Ron repeated.

Malfoy's offer was disturbingly tempting. He didn't want his life. He didn't want to be a loser, a poor fool in someone else's shadow. Harry Potter's sidekick. Famous Harry. Rich Harry. Good Harry, kind Harry. Wonderful Harry. Harry who never had to lift a finger.

He wanted to be Harry.

"I want to be important," Ron said, swallowing. He couldn't believe he was agreeing to this. The whole situation seemed surreal. "I want to be The Boy Who Got Everything."

*

"Young Malfoy," Voldemort wheezed, "I hate rock music, and I really don't like the idea of it being used to lure young recruits. These daft kids with their hair and their music." His dry, red eyes narrowed suspiciously. Draco would have offered eyedrops, had he not feared for his life so. "I bet it's just a plot for you to get laid. You will cancel your tour immediately, dismember the other players--"

"By dismember, you mean break-up the band, right?" Draco asked hopefully.

"DISMEMBER the other players, and make yourself useful to us."

Lucius smacked Draco upside the head. "I told you you sucked."

"I should have been a model," Draco grumbled.

*

Ron slid his headphones on, cranking up the Plastic Wizard King's CD. Embarrassingly, this was the first time he had listened to it without the influence of pot. "Christ," he said, "all the songs end with 'Malfoy rocks.' I'm so laying off the weed."

*

Two. I Looked In and I Felt No Hate

 

Ron looked slightly down into narrowed, grey eyes. The man's thin lips were pursed haughtily. Black robes and slicked-back hair gave him a regal air. Even in the crowded atmosphere of the tavern with a wine glass in hand, he managed to make Ron feel as if he was about five years old. He just hoped he didn't do anything embarrassing, like be himself.

Lucius Malfoy poked Ron in the chest with one long, slender finger. He was reminded of when Draco Malfoy had told him he was the perfect candidate for being on the bad side. "I don't believe for one second you're really evil," Lucius drawled. "In fact, I'm certain this is a ploy by that dim-witted headmaster of Hogwarts. When I finish my drink I'm going to--"

"Oh no," Ron said, "I'm very evil. Tell him how bitter and vengeful I am, Malfoy."

From his position in the wooden chair next to his father, Malfoy already appeared bored with the entire situation. He cradled a teacup in his bony hands. "The Weasel's been stoned for the past two years, Father," he drawled in a perfect imitation of Lucius. "He doesn't have enough brain cells left to be good."

Lucius looked coolly surprised. "So that's what happened to you."

"What the fuck is that suppose to mean?" Ron asked angrily.

"I suppose you need to have an initiation of some sort," Lucius said, narrowing his eyes and lacing his long fingers together. "See that family over there?" He nodded to a position over his son's shoulder. Said family looked like the picture-perfect Wizard family, with a mother, father, and two quiet, well-behaved children. The whole lot of them was wearing identical blue robes and had matching blond hair.

"Yeah," Ron said.

"They disgust me," said Lucius. "Kill them."

Ron's mouth opened. Closed. Opened again. "I-- Last week I was rolling in my own filth, and now you want me to murder? I need a transitional period."

"I want you to think big, Weasley," the Death Eater said.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Father, you're asking too much."

"Shut it," Ron snarled, fumbling under his robe for his wand. He was using magic on someone he didn't know. No big deal. He would just pretend it wasn't completely illegal. Closing his eyes, he tried to remember one of the twin's old prank spells; he certainly wasn't going to kill anybody, not even to get into a very evil, private organisation. Pointing his wand, he whispered, "Flavesco acredulat!"

A large pop sounded. When he opened his eyes, Ron saw each member of the family had become a person-sized, fluffy, yellow bird. They goggled in a confused manner before letting out tweets of shock. All activity in the tavern stopped as everyone stared in surprise at the source of the cacophony. Malfoy clamped one hand over his mouth, shaking with laughter, and promptly fell out of his chair.

"Uh-oh," Ron muttered. He had expected them to turn into little birds, not freakishly giant ones. He glanced quickly at Lucius, who was watching the scene with a rather pinched look. Ron's dream of a career as a Death Eater sputtered and died.

Lucius finally shifted to look at Ron, blinking. "That is the most fekking hilarious thing I've ever seen."

"W-what?"

Malfoy climbed his way back up the table, wiping his eyes. "Did you see that, Father?" he asked, breathless. "Birds. Birds! Big, fluffy, worm-eating birds."

"Yes, Draco, I saw the birds," Lucius said, as if speaking to a child. "We all saw the birds."

"So I guess I'm out then," said Ron, resigned. "And I had really wanted to spite Harry, too."

"Actually, Weasley, don't be too sure. Death is so passé." Lucius waved a vague hand. "That's all those twats in the organisation know how to do. Hate someone, kill him. Need to get rid of someone, kill him. Get bored one Friday night, kill him. Really, it's so..." He paused. "Lame."

Both Ron and Malfoy gaped.

"We need more creative people like you as a Death Eater."

"You hear that, Weasel?" Malfoy leered. His smile was sharp. "After all your shit in Hogwarts, you ended up exactly as you should be: Working for me."

*

"Secretary," Malfoy muttered, dazed.

"Secretary," Ron echoed gleefully.

"Well," Lucius told Ron with a slight shrug, "I had to do something to raise Draco's self-esteem. He doesn't really do much. Short of being a professor--"

"Eep," Malfoy said.

"--He is good at with academics, isn't he; got very high OWLS and NEWTS, even if he didn't beat that Granger girl -- he really can't do anything else."

"There is no god," Malfoy moaned. "I'm going to murder you in your sleep, Weasel. I hope you sleep with one eye open."

"Secretary," Ron repeated.

Lucius looked almost sad. "I always wanted him to be a solicitor, and look how he turned out. I blame Narcissa for the faulty genes."

Malfoy rolled his head back to gaze at the ceiling. "I really, really should have been a model."

*

Ron surveyed his kingdom with a grin. His office was large and plush, with modern, stainless steel furniture. He had a glass-top desk, upon which sat several thick stacks of paperwork and magical tomes. An expansive window on the northern side offered a lovely view of London. It was much nicer than hanging out in his parents' basement, which he had been doing for the last three years. He bet even Hermione, with her fancy Ministry job, didn't have an office as nice as his.

He pushed the button for the intercom. "Malfoy," he said, "I'm hungry. Go get me a ham sandwich."

"Get your own bloody sandwich," came the reply. "I can't be arsed."

"I know what you're doing: filing your nails and being a waste of space. Now get me my sandwich before I personally tell the Dark Lord my wonderful secretary needs to be replaced."

"Ham," Malfoy said. "Gotcha."

Although Ron wasn't particularly ambitious, he did enjoy money and fame, which seemed to suit the rest of the Death Eaters just fine. There was a significant portion of the organisation that wanted him dead, but he just figured one couldn't have everything. Many had warmed up after Lucius Malfoy had passed around the bird story.

It was common knowledge that Ron took more orders from Lucius than Lord Voldemort. The situation was fine with him; the crazy, old bastard kind of creeped him out. Besides, he felt better working for the second-highest evil in the world than for the first. All he really had to do was amuse Lucius and he didn't have to kill anyone. Lucius also understood that what Ron wanted was admiration, not control over plebes like the rest of the bunch. And so he was respected, he was loved, and he was able to boss Draco Malfoy around. It was better than being Harry.

"Your father's surprisingly nice, you know, for an evil killing machine bent on destroying a large portion of the population," he had told Malfoy once. "Makes me wonder how you came from the same stock."

"Malfoy's are only nice if they want something," Malfoy had scoffed. "One day he'll be through with you, and we'll see how high and mighty you are then, your royal Weaselness."

Ron straightened his desk, waiting for his lunch. He checked his To Do list that Malfoy prepared for him each morning. "Paperwork, check," he muttered, reading off the blond's elegant scroll. "Plan next Death Eater seminar on how to kill in interesting manners, check. Kill Harry Potter." He stared at the entry. He would have to talk to Malfoy about that one.

Half an hour later, Malfoy burst through the door, his black robes billowing menacingly behind him, and slammed a paper bag on Ron's desk. "Here's your bloody sandwich," he sneered.

"Here's your bloody sandwich, what?" Ron asked, smirking.

Malfoy's lip curled in disgust. "Here's your bloody sandwich, you hunk of man-meat, you. You're such a wanker."

"Who's your daddy?"

"You are," Malfoy choked out. His pale eyes narrowed dangerously. "I hate you. I'm going to sue for sexual harassment."

"I'm sure that will go down well, suing a fellow Death Eater for sexual harassment. The courts will love that one. Besides, you know you like it." Ron unwrapped his sandwich with one hand and pushed the To Do list forward with the other. "What's this here?"

Malfoy adjusted his thin, silver-framed glasses. He didn't exactly need vision correction, but he had told Ron they complimented his attire. "Father owled," he drawled. "The Dark Lord wants a duel with Potter; he believes himself strong enough to take on the prat. Which is hilarious, if you ask me. The old fool is completely crippled. But I suppose lacking a body for a couple of decades will do that to you."

"Why is it on my To Do list?" Ron demanded. He took a bite of his lunch. "Malfoy, what the fuck is this? You know I only eat from the deli on King William. This is from Frenchurch, you clot."

"It's a bleeding ham sandwich," Malfoy snapped. "I'm not walking to King William. Deal."

Ron took his half-eaten sandwich and smacked Malfoy across the face with it, hard. Malfoy's mouth fell open. "Y-you just bitch-slapped me with ham."

"I did," he said.

"I'm telling my father," said Malfoy, viciously.

"Your father finds me charming." Ron leaned forward. "Deal."

Malfoy sputtered.

"Now," Ron said, tapping the To Do list, "what are we going to do about this?" As much as he resented Harry, he really didn't like the idea of being responsible for his death. He needed to speak with Lucius immediately.

"How about you, I don't know, kill him?" Malfoy said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Go owl your father and tell him I need to see him as soon as he's free," Ron told him.

*

"I can't kill Harry," Ron said.

He, Lucius, Draco, and, surprisingly, Voldemort sat round a small, polished table in the Malfoy estate, drinking tea. Voldemort didn't appear to be one hundred per cent there, spending most of his time stirring his tea and staring blankly out of the large, eastern window of the Malfoy's drawing room. While Ron and Lucius remained calm, Malfoy nervously tugged on his lacy napkin, because, as he told Ron, he figured the Dark Lord would punish him for insubordination as well when he found out Ron's "betrayal."

Lucius arched one pale eyebrow. "Pardon?"

"You want me to kill Harry," Ron said. "I can't. I do have a conscience, you know."

"You do not," Malfoy admonished. Ron kicked him in the shins.

Calmly folding his hands in front of him, Lucius said, "Well, the problem is that I do not wish Potter dead. He wishes Potter dead." He nodded at Voldemort.

"Erm, my Lord," Ron said, unsure of how to phrase this in a way that wouldn't get him killed, "please ask someone else to help you defeat Potter."

"What?" asked Voldemort loudly, cupping a hand around his ear. "My hearing aid broke, I can't hear."

"HE SAID--" Malfoy started to shout. Lucius smacked him. "Ow!"

"We never raise our voices in front of the Dark Lord," Lucius said coldly.

"What?" asked Voldemort.

"You're not the one killing him," Lucius continued. "The Dark Lord is. All we need you to do is lure Potter to a certain location so the Dark Lord can defeat him in a final duel."

Ron looked at Voldemort. The Dark Lord was staring at a hummingbird outside the window.

"Right, final duel," said Ron, weakly.

Lucius leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. "I know what you're thinking: Our Master will not survive a duel with Potter. I believe you're right." His grey eyes glittered. "But who am I to argue with the Dark Lord?"

The implication dawned on Ron. "Oh," was all he could say.

Lucius waved his wand and a map fluttered to the table. "We need you to escort Potter here," he said, pointing to Hyde Park. "The Dark Lord will be waiting for him behind a grove of trees in the centre of it." He paused. "Potter is to keep his wand and anything else he may have on him, and is to be completely uninjured. The Master wants a fair duel, after all."

"Of course," Ron said. His breath quickened; he was helping to plan the death of Voldemort, something not even Harry had accomplished. Score.

"My, my," Malfoy said, "you don't have any loyalties at all, do you, Weasel?"

*

Ron stared at the telephone. He hadn't used one in years, since Harry was in his third year and he had placed that ridiculous call to the Dursley's. Trust Harry to be the only Wizard in London who had a telephone. Maybe he often ordered take-away. "I can't just ring Harry up after all this time and say, 'Hey, old mate, let's hop by a chip shop for a bit of a chat, you up?'" he protested.

"Why not?" Malfoy asked.

"I just can't. It's awkward. Besides, he was the one who broke off contact, that twat. Always thought he was better than me." Malfoy rolled his eyes and picked up the receiver. Ron reached out. "What are you doing, you don't know how to--"

With one finger, Malfoy dialed a number. After a pause, he said in a high-pitched falsetto, "Hallo, Mister Potter? Please hold for Mister Ronald Weasley."

He held the phone out to Ron. Light breathing came from the other end of the line. Ron stared at it, then back at Malfoy. "What did you do?" he whispered angrily.

A timid, but familiar, voice on the phone said, "Ron?" When Ron didn't respond, Harry's voice continued, "Wait one bloody second, I recognise that squeak. Is this Malfoy? You'd better stop calling here, I'm not in the mood for another one of your obscene phone calls. If you call me again I'm dialling the police."

A panicked look fluttered over Malfoy's pointed face. He quickly hung up. The office was silent.

"There's a really funny explanation for that," he said finally.

*

Ron sat on the terrace of a cafe in downtown London, nibbling on a scone and watching the world pass by. The irony of meeting Harry at a Muggle establishment was not lost on him. Lucius had laughed when he had heard. Both Voldemort and Lucius strongly believed Harry would come merrily with Ron to wherever he wanted, walking right into their trap. Ron wished he could have felt that way; his Gryffindor courage felt strained. It seemed the only ones taking this thing seriously were Ron and Malfoy. Even Malfoy's level of caution back at the office had surprised him.

"Take this," Malfoy had said, displaying a flesh-coloured lump, "and put it in your ear. That way I'll be able to see and hear everything around you, in case he decides to attack. It's highly unlikely, seeing as how this is goody-goody Potter, but one can never be too careful." He had handed Ron the earpiece. "And take your wand."

Ron patted his wand, which was hidden in an inner pocket of his leather jacket. He doubted Harry would use magic on him, but Harry had made plenty of rash decisions when they were younger. He figured Harry would straight on attack him with his fists before using his wand. Actually, Ron hoped he wouldn't get angry enough and attack Harry.

"Ron?" a voice asked, and Ron turned his head to see Harry standing at the side of the table, wearing a thick coat and his old Gryffindor scarf.

"Harry!"

They embraced, and Ron plastered a fake smile on his face. But when he got a good look at Harry it wavered. "Harry," he said, "you're... rugged."

Indeed, Harry was now something of a dish, looking quite different from when they had last met. His thick, black hair was now chin-length. He had gotten rid of his glasses, either through contacts or a spell, Ron was unable to tell which; he was dressed very smartly, too, his clothing even nicer than Malfoy's. The five 'o' clock shadow on his face was a nice detail. Now Harry really did have everything: Money, fame, and looks. Ron clenched his jaw and smiled tightly.

"Oh?" Harry asked, looking down, as if unsure Ron was speaking of him. "I suppose I am."

"Oh, baby," Malfoy's voice said in his ear. He whistled. "It should be illegal for someone to look that good."

"Shut up," Ron hissed. Harry looked confused. "Ha, ha, just kidding."

Harry started to pull out a chair, but Ron grabbed his arm. "No, I thought we could go for a walk in the park. There's one nearby."

"Okay," Harry said, looking surprised. Ron noticed he was eyeing the bit of weight Ron had put on round his waist. Bastard.

They both took off towards Hyde Park. Ron put his hands in his pockets to stay warm. The crisp, London autumn air bit at his face, seeping in through his clothes. Harry hummed under his breath, seeming ridiculously happy. Surprisingly, their silence was anything but awkward; it felt almost like the older days, when they would walk in Hogwarts' courtyard. Except Ron hadn't been a Death Eater taking Harry to duel with You-Know-Who. He grimaced.

"Say something," Malfoy whispered.

"I see you finally got a job," Harry said, before Ron could even open his mouth.

"Yes," Ron said between clenched teeth. Malfoy sniggered. "I have a very good job. Make loads of money."

"Do you still live at the Burrow?"

"No, I live in London now," he replied.

Harry's eyebrows shot up. "Really? I never knew! We could have seen each other a lot more easily then."

"If you had put any effort into it," Ron said under his breath.

"What?" Harry asked.

Ron smiled thinly. "I was just thinking the same thing. Sad how we've fallen out of contact over the years, eh?"

They crossed the entrance of the park. It was a nice place in the pale, grey light, the thick, skeletal trees' arms were already bare, red and brown foliage scattered on the ground. The grass was still green in most places. Harry pointed at the Muggles on soapboxes at the Speaker's Corner, smiling in a silly, whimsical way. "Muggle lives are so simple." Ron recognised a grove of trees on the right as the one he was suppose to take Harry to, and, thankfully, not many Muggles were drifting towards it.

"I'm proud of you, Ron," Harry said. "All this time I thought you were... Well, as you had been."

"As I had been?" Ron asked bitterly. "How had I been, then? Eh?"

If Harry noticed the sarcasm in Ron's tone, he didn't react to it. "Oh, you know, living at home, no job. Hanging round with all those losers."

"Losers," Ron muttered. On the other side of the earpiece, Malfoy howled with laughter. "Yes, such a loser, wasn't I?"

Harry laughed. They were right outside the grove when Harry said, "Ron, you were such a loser."

Ron felt his eye twitch as something inside him snapped. "Oh, loser, am I?" he bellowed. "Would a loser have gotten as far as I have? I've had TEA AND SCONES with the bloody DARK LORD HIMSELF, thank you very much."

"Ron?" Harry blinked. "What are you on about?"

"Harry, listen to me," Ron said, stopping the walk. "I am a Death Eater. In fact, I'm secretary of the entire organisation. Even Malfoy works for me. I am a. Very. Important. Person."

A loud squeak erupted in his ear. "What are you doing, you idiot?" Malfoy shrieked. Ron took out the earphone and tossed it to the ground, crunching it beneath his Prada shoes.

Harry stared at him. "Why not head of the Death Eaters?"

"Are you kidding?" Ron asked. "That's a load of work, and I'm much too lazy to be in charge. I'm a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin."

"Right," Harry said. He seemed thoughtful. "So a Death Eater, huh? May I ask why?"

"Remember when you last heard from me? I had no job, no money, and I lived with my parents. Malfoy offered me something else: A life. And," he added, "I have years of repressed anger and jealousy to work with."

"Anger and jealousy?" Harry echoed, brow furrowing. "That's rubbish! You and Hermione were the only ones I could count on who thought I was human, that I was more than the bloody Boy Who Lived." He put a hand on Ron's shoulder, voice softening. "Ron, you've always been my best friend. I'm sorry if I made you feel like you were unimportant."

Ron looked at the hand on his shoulder, and then at the sincere green eyes before him. Harry's expression turned hopeful, and Ron knew he was waiting for Ron to say he was sorry.

"Oh, boo-hoo," Ron said. "I'm crying on the inside, Harry."

Harry's face crumpled.

By all accounts, he should have felt bad; he should have been giving Harry a big hug, telling him how much he had missed him and begging for forgiveness for the error of his ways. Perhaps he had been around Lucius too long, or perhaps he really didn't hate Harry, because all he felt was a strange emptiness. He had at least wanted to be able to do a Malfoy cackle.

"I hadn't even heard reports of Death Eaters in London," Harry told him, eyes narrowing. He seemed to be getting over Ron's guilt very quickly. Slimy bastard, Ron thought.

"We're in the old Coca-Cola office building in the City," he confessed. "It's a nice cover-up, don't you think?"

"But I love Coke," Harry said, horrified. "I drink a product of evil!"

"Shut up," said Ron, "you sound like a loon. And now that I've told you everything I wanted, you have to defeat Voldemort."

"What?" Harry asked.

Ron shoved him into the grove. He leaned against a tree, listening. A few passing Muggles sent him questing looks, but he ignored them; they weren't daft enough to approach him anyway.

"Voldemort!" Harry gasped.

"We're going to have one final duel," Voldemort wheezed, "and this time, you will die."

"I'll defeat you," Harry announced boldly, "because I am THE BOY WHO LIVED!"

"Oh, get off your high horse," Voldemort said.

Ron shoved his hands back in his pockets and took off back towards the park entrance, humming the Hogwarts school anthem. He was a safe distance away when shots of magic began shooting round the tree grove.

*

Three. Where Do I Put the Love?

 

An hour later, Ron returned to the park. The sun was setting, turning the sky pink and violet. Silence came from within the grove, and when he stepped into it he wasn't quite sure what to expect. Both Harry and Voldemort's bodies lay on the cold ground. Harry was perfectly fine, but unconscious; Voldemort was looking like something Malfoy had attempted to cook, and very, very dead.

Ron stood over Harry, watching the rise and fall of the dark-haired man's chest. Revenge didn't feel as sweet as he thought it would; instead of feeling happy and evil, he simply felt uninterested in the whole thing. He slipped a blade out from the same pocket he had his wand, positioning it over Harry's body.

He was about to do some permanent damage when several robe-clad Wizards entered the grove. One shouted, "Stop, Aurors' here! We were informed there was dark magic being used here."

Ron froze. "I was pulling this out of him," he said, gesturing to the knife. "Really."

"This is Harry Potter!" one Auror exclaimed loudly. "We need to get him to St. Mungo's immediately."

"That's You-Know-Who," Ron said, pointing. A collective gasp rose. "Harry killed him." Another series of gasps.

"Who're you?" an Auror demanded.

He looked them each straight in the eye, then proudly declared, "I am Ronald Weasley, Harry Potter's best friend, and I came here to save him from certain death. Make sure you put that in your files."

*

Ron and Hermione sat in the family room of St. Mungo's, both sitting on cheap, lumpy chairs. The silence between them was nerve-wracking. Ron twiddled his thumbs. He missed his Relax O'Matic desk chair from his office. Hermione spent several minutes crossing and uncrossing her legs.

"You always thought you were better than me," Ron said, breaking the stillness.

"Ron," said Hermione, exasperated, "I am better than you."

*

Harry Potter leisurely took note of his cream-coloured hospital room, pretending his friends weren't staring at him as if was mad. "I'm really tired of passing out and waking up days later in hospital," he said. "It ceases to be fun after the third or fourth time."

"Did you hear what I said?" Hermione asked.

He combed his fingers through his hair, squinting at Ron and Hermione. "Unfortunately, yes. Tell me again: Whom did I kill?"

"Voldemort," they both supplied.

"I see." He paused. "And I accomplished this how?"

"No-one's really sure," Ron said. "The Ministry's covered it up, you see."

"You really don't remember what happened?" Hermione asked.

"The last thing I remember is Snape yelling at me. 'Watch what you're doing, Potter. Careful with that, Potter. You were an accident, Potter.' And suddenly I'm here." He stopped when he realised his friends were looking at him with something akin to horror. "What?"

Hermione covered her mouth with one hand. Ron's eyes narrowed darkly, and a strange feeling twisted Harry's gut. As if there was something he should remember, but couldn't. "Tell me," he demanded.

"Harry, we haven't been at Hogwarts for three years," said Hermione, slowly.

"Well," Harry said. He leaned back into his pillows, grimacing. "Seems I've missed quite a bit, then."

"You have no idea," Ron said, smiling thinly.

*

A house-elf carefully poured tea into the Malfoy family's porcelain teacups. Lucius batted it away when he felt he had enough, then added exactly half a spoonful of sugar and five drops of milk. He stirred lazily. Draco added exactly four spoonfuls of sugar and poured enough milk to turn the dark liquid into a creamy brown. Lucius cuffed Draco's fingers with his spoon.

"We need to keep Weasley close," Lucius drawled.

"I thought you said we could kill him." Draco frowned.

"There's no telling how far he'll go for his own gains." He tapped a copy the Daily Prophet, the front page entitled, 'You-Know-Who Defeated, Weasley Saves the Day.'

"Of course, Father," agreed Draco, sipping his tea. "Although I'd fancied him dead."

Lucius scribbled something on a notepad next to his teacup. "Now that I am in charge of the organisation, there will have to be changes," he announced. "For one thing, no silly duels with Potter. Those are a complete waste of time."

"Father, can I have an important job this time round?" Draco asked. "Weasley bitch-slapped me with ham, and--"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, certainly," Lucius said, distracted. "I know what you can do. Go get me a sandwich from the King William's deli."

Draco screamed.


II. I Was a Lucius Lover and All I Got Was This Black Eye

 

Four. I Know You're Not the Truth

(1 week later)

 

Ron Weasley was exceedingly bitter.

Standing in the bedroom of The Boy Who Conveniently Forgot, Harry Potter ran a hand down the duvet that rested upon his ridiculously large bed. This was the first time Ron had taken him to his flat since he was released from St. Mungo's. Coincidentally, this was also the first time Ron had seen Harry's apartment, them being estranged and all. "I have a really nice apartment," Harry had said when they first entered, spreading his arms wide in the drawing room that could have held more than half the Burrow. He had seemed awed by his own things, particularly the 'Harry Potter of the Chudley Cannons' posters stuffed in the back of the coat closet. Ron had felt pissy; Harry had had this grand place all to himself, while he had been living in his parent's basement. And he had wasted a confession on a man who didn't even remember. Sometimes life was so fucking unfair.

"This place is bloody huge," Harry exclaimed.

"Yeah," Ron answered honestly.

Ron, as it so happened, didn't know if he was relieved Harry had forgotten he was evil. Not because he wanted to be Harry's friend; it was just the opposite, really. Even if Harry couldn't remember being a snotty egomaniac, Ron recalled every bit of the last three years, and it had felt good to tell Harry how powerful he had become. He wanted Harry to know how his Potter-free life was going.

"So I was-- am, I mean, a Quidditch player?"

"Yeah," said Ron.

"Watch Potter," Lucius had warned. "We don't know what the Dark Lord did to him; his memory could come back at any time. Don't forget, you did reveal everything to him in a fit of rage."

Harry picked up a photo of Sirius in Snuffles form off the nightstand, next to a snitch labelled, 'Class of 1998.' There were also old pictures from Hogwarts in the drawing room, Ron knew, but Ron had placed those face-down when he had walked in.

"Was I a good Seeker?"

"No," Ron said.

Harry's smile faltered. He gingerly set down the photo. "I wish I could remember everything," he said softly.

"Kill him if he gives even a hint at remembering," Lucius had ordered. A sardonic smirk had appeared in his pointed face. "Potter always fucks over everything."

"Yeah," replied Ron, placing a heavy hand on Harry's shoulder, "me too."

"Ron." Harry squirmed. "You're hurting me."

*

"Whenever I look at Harry, I can't decide if I want to laugh or cry," Ron murmured. "Then I decide I just want to bash his perfect head in with his broom."

"Bitter much?" Malfoy sniggered, heaping sugar into his tea.

"Why are we having this conversation?" asked Lucius.

He and the Malfoys took their lunch in their favourite pub in Knockturn Alley, the Evil Eye ("Oh, that's not blatant," Ron had said the first time he had been there), which was filled with black roses and a poster of Voldemort that said, 'Lord Voldemort, R.I.P. May His Sadistic Horror Be With Us Always.'

"His flat is enormous," Ron said. He drowned the rest of his lager and set the empty bottle down loudly. "All that time he was telling me to move out of the Burrow, and he could've offered me a place with him. Selfish wanker, probably afraid I was going to make him look bad."

"Did you steal anything?" Malfoy asked. "I would've stolen something."

"Yeah," Ron said sarcastically, "I grabbed a handful of his underwear as I left. I plan on wearing it around the house."

Lucius set down his drink in disgust. "Moving along, I think the organisation need a new name, since the Dark Lord has expired." Ron and Malfoy both turned their attention towards him. He laced his thin fingers together atop the smooth, wooden table. "I've been considering this for quite some time, actually. We're no longer Death Eaters; from now on, we shall now be referred to as Lucius Lovers."

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Let's name it the Malfoy Maniacs." Lucius just looked at him until he lowered his head shamefully. "Sorry, Father."

"Er, I'm a bit uncomfortable calling myself a Lucius Lover," Ron said.

"Then it's settled," Lucius drawled. "Draco, send out a memo."

"Shouldn't I get some credit?" whispered Ron, moving forward intimately. "I did help get rid of Voldemort."

"Don't be silly, Weasley," Lucius replied. "That's like asking me if Draco's ever going to amount to anything. We both know it's a load of rubbish."

"What?" Malfoy asked.

Ron frowned. "Yeah, I guess. But... Just remember, you need to careful of Harry. He's not stupid. He always figures these things out."

"Don't worry about Potter," Lucius said smoothly. "I have spies watching him at every moment."

*

"You have spies?" Draco asked once Ron had departed.

"Not really," Lucius admitted. "But it sounded better than, 'I'm sending my son to play Peeping Tom on the Potter boy.'"

Draco blinked. "You're sending who to do what?"

"I want you to keep an eye on Potter," Lucius told him.

"I'm experiencing a keen sense of déja vu," Draco murmured. "I don't want to spy on Potter. He's hideously boring."

"You can dress up and pretend you're stealing state secrets," Lucius pointed out. "That's fun."

"No, it's not," replied Draco.

Lucius sighed. "You can break into his house and go through his things."

Draco thought about it. "I can still dress up, right?"

"Whatever floats your boat."

*

The Ministry office in central Wizarding London was terribly crowded for a Friday afternoon. Harry stood surrounded by all sorts of people in various robe colours, each scurrying to a specific location, while he was feeling somewhat lost. Certainly he had been here before -- if only he could remember. He looked at the nameplates on each door, furiously hoping to see 'Granger, Hermione' on one. With a somewhat guilty feeling, he realised he probably should have asked Ron to come with him, because Ron would surely know where Hermione's office was. But there was something about Ron that creeped him out. He had felt it as soon as he had awoken in hospital, with Ron looking down at him with a cross between anger and apprehension, as if maybe Harry shouldn't have been there at all.

"Harry!" He turned. Hermione, her simple brown robes billowing behind her in a frightening fashion, was rushing down the corridor towards him. He felt instant relief. "I'm surprised to see you. What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to see if you could let me into the records so I can see if there's any information on my life," he said.

Hermione seemed dubious. "I suppose... As long as you promise not to mess anything up. Countless hours have gone into those files."

Harry was glad some things hadn't changed. He smiled to himself as Hermione took his arm and steered him through the corridor, past a long series of offices and heaps of busy-looking Wizards and Witches, some who stopped and looked at him in awe. He and Hermione were about the same height; it was nice to talk to someone without craning his neck.

"Your hair's not as bushy," he noted, looking at her out of the corners of his eyes.

She touched her chin-length hair, which fell against her face in thick curls. "Yes, it's been layered. It takes the weight off the roots, making it less frizzy."

"Of course," Harry said lamely.

When they came to a door labelled 'Recording Department,' Hermione led him in. The room was filled with papers, and several Wizards were scribbling furiously onto parchment. At the sound of the door one man raised his head, his eyes flashing angrily behind his thick glasses.

"Miss Granger--"

"This is Harry Potter," she said coolly. "He wants to look up some history." The man backed down, grumbling. "Now, Harry, 'P' is over here" -- She opened a large, metal cabinet. -- "and if you want to look up the Weasleys, 'W' is over there. I'm sure you can find the rest."

"Hermione?" He paused. "Am I a poor Quidditch player?"

"I wouldn't know," she admitted. "I don't follow sports."

Harry thanked her as she left. He went immediately to the cabinet with his records. First he read his parents', discovering a few new facts about them, including his father's many run-ins with the law for drugs. It had been the '70s, after all. But when he read his own file, there wasn't anything he hadn't already been told by Ron and Hermione. Except for one thing: according to his track record, he wasn't a poor Seeker. Ron had lied to his face.

He studied the outside of the 'W' drawer until his curiosity got the better of him.

He flipped through Ron's records. 'Current status, 2001,' he read. 'Secondary School: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, England. Num. of OWLS: 3. Num. of NEWTS: 4. Robe Measurements...' "My God, Ron's gained a lot of weight." He turned a few pages, until something caught his eye. 'Employment: Unemployed. Living Arrangements: With parents Molly McKinsey and Arthur Weasley. Yearly Income: N/A.' He closed the folder.

Ron wasn't unemployed. If he was, then he wouldn't have been able to afford those nice clothes, and hadn't he treated Harry to dinner the other night? Nor did he live at the Burrow; he lived right off Diagon Alley, near a series of good pubs and shops. "I have a very good job. Make loads of money." Harry frowned, trying to recall when he had heard those words.

"I'm a. Very. Important. Person."

Ron wasn't good at playing a sneak. Harry shut the metal cabinet with an audible bang.

*

'Dear Father, Today Potter went into the Ministry offices. After a round-about discussion with several clerical workers who had extremely poor grooming skills, I discovered he, along with the Mudblood Granger, went to the Recording Department. Their purpose is unknown. Sincerely, Draco.'

'Draco, I think it's time to go weasel hunting. Yours, The Highly-Esteemed Lucius Malfoy.'

*

Five. But Can You Save Me From Myself?

 

Back at the Malfoy estate, Draco waited for his father to finish his paperwork. The large, mahogany desk was covered in papers, folders, and quills. Lucius scrolled leisurely. Draco hummed under his breath and tapped one foot against the stone flooring, looking around at the moving portraits of past family members. Auntie Malfoy was making obscene gestures at him.

"So this weasel hunting you mentioned," Draco cut in. Lucius cringed as the tip of his quill broke off. "Is this literal or metaphorical? Because I can get my hands on one of those Muggle rifles--"

"Figurative," Lucius said without looking up. He tossed the broken quill over his shoulder. A house-elf scurried and picked it up.

"Bollocks," Draco muttered.

"Point one," Lucius went on, ignoring Draco, "Weasley's not intelligent at all. Therefore, he's also poor at hiding anything. He doesn't possess the craftiness one associates with Slytherin. Two, being Potter's pretend best friend, he spends a lot of time with the boy. If he's not careful, Potter will figure everything out. For all we know, he already has. Three, Weasley's beginning to annoy me. I think he's filled my sarcasm quota for the rest of my life." Draco sniggered. "Don't laugh, I'm dead serious."

"What's the plan?" Draco asked. "I'm assuming there's a plan."

"I want Weasley dead," Lucius responded. He finished his last file and set it aside.

"I thought you were going to let him live," Draco said.

"I'm allowed to change my mind. So, we knock off Weasley." Lucius frowned. "But there's still Potter about."

"What do you want with Potter?" Draco asked.

Lucius smacked him upside the head. "Fekking think about it for three seconds. Now, first we deal with Weasley, then we knock off Potter."

"And then, the world," Draco stated boldly.

"No, Draco," Lucius scolded. "Don't be so dramatic."

"So where do I fit in with this?" Draco asked.

Lucius sighed. "I suppose you want to help me kill off Weasley."

Draco smirked. "Father," he said sweetly, "you know me so well."

*

Panting, Ron jogged up to the front of Harry's red brick apartment building in Diagon Alley, trying to catch up with the brunette. The frigid evening air stung his face and throat, and it was even colder beneath the trees that lined the street. He decided he needed to lose weight, and soon, if he couldn't keep up to Harry, who was decidedly shorter than he was. Harry shifted his heavy shopping bag in one hand and tapped an impatient foot. He flashed Ron a crooked grin.

"Beat you," he gloated. Ron resisted the urge to give Harry the bird.

"Looks like you won," Ron gasped, breathless.

Harry nodded absently. "Of course."

Ron gritted his teeth. Harry set the bag down and sat on the brick steps, and looked up at Ron as if he expected Ron to do the same. He sat beside Harry, coughing to cover up that he was still breathing deeply. They fell silent as they relaxed on the stoop. Ron squinted against the sun setting behind the high buildings across the road. He could see the grocers from here, and a smattering of bespoke shops and restaurants.

"I'm rich," Ron said suddenly.

"Uh-huh," Harry murmured. He was silent for a few long seconds. "I wonder what happened to Neville."

"And important," he added.

"I always liked Neville," Harry mused.

"I have a good job."

"I think I should owl him later."

Ron's eye twitched.

Harry let out a deep sigh and ran his fingers through his black hair. "Ron, can you answer something for me?"

"Yeah," said Ron, stiffly.

"Hermione took me to see the records--"

"So you and Hermione are ganging up on me again?" Ron demanded. "Well, what'd you happen upon?"

Harry's face darkened. He scooted away from Ron, widening the space between them. "Just that according to your file, you're a fat, balding loser," he said lightly. "Care to explain?"

"First off, I'm not balding, and for another thing, you really like that word, don't you," Ron stated harshly. "I'm such a loser. Look at Ron, your loser mate, always in someone else's shadow. Not at all like perfect, wonderful Harry Potter. He's always been everyone's favourite."

"What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"I'm not your friend, Harry," Ron said, feeling his anger build. Suddenly he wasn't looking at the modern Harry, with his handsome, glasses-free face, but instead the school boy he had attended Hogwarts with. The same boy who had forgotten him a year ago. "I reckon you don't remember any of it, but you've been a complete arsehole for the last three years. It's like-- like the Harry I always knew you really were decided to show his true colours. I hate you, Harry, I hate The Boy Who Got Everything, and I can barely stand to look at you. If there's one thing you need to know, it's that I'm the only one who can see through your little perfection act."

Harry turned away from him, frowning bitterly. "I'm sorry, I didn't know--" He stopped and his head snapped back so quickly, Ron thought it must've hurt. "Wait one bloody minute, 'the Harry I always knew you really were'? Is that what this is about? You're jealous?"

"For God's sake, haven't you been paying attention?" Ron shouted.

"I don't understand, why did you even keep in contact if you don't like me?"

"Personal feelings have nothing to do with politics," Ron replied. Hadn't Malfoy said that, backstage at the Plastic Wizard King's concert? Great, now he was quoting the ferret. Harry's eyes narrowed dangerously. Ron stood, sticking his hands in the pocket of his coat.

"Wait," Harry said, "we just can't end it like this." When Ron paused, Harry glared up at him like he was the lowest form of life on Earth, and proudly declared, "I hope you rot in hell, you stupid, fat bastard."

*

When Ron stomped off, Harry just sat on the steps, watching the sun sink behind the cityscape. He felt like crap, there was just no other way to describe it. Putting his face in his hands, he groaned.

A bush about three metres away began shaking. Harry raised his head and stared at it. It shuddered again.

He pointed his wand. "Movere frutem," he whispered.

Draco Malfoy fell out from behind the shrubbery, wearing, of all things, black jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt. His hair was even pulled back into a short, tight ponytail. Had Harry ran across him on the streets, he doubted he would have recognised the blond. Malfoy quickly got to his feet and dusted himself off. "Potter," he sneered, displaying the haughty air Harry remembered.

His best friend hated him, his memory was erased, his Quidditch skills sucked, and his worst enemy -- that was still living -- had just fallen out of a bush. Moving quickly, Harry grabbed Malfoy by the front of his hoodie ('I heart the Malfoys,' it stated in gold glitter), pulling the thin face up towards his.

"Why are you following me?" he demanded.

Malfoy's grey eyes darted around nervously. "I, er..." Harry shook him, hard. "Aaaah! Okay, fine, I'll tell you the truth." He paused dramatically. "I'm madly in love with you."

Harry dropped him. "Come again?"

"We've been carrying on a secret relationship for the last three years," Malfoy confessed. Shocked, Harry didn't notice Malfoy's hands moving down to his sweatshirt's pockets. "It's terribly scandalous."

"Oh, well, Malfoy... Hey! No, we haven't!"

Swiftly, Malfoy clunked him in the back of the head with his wand. Harry gasped and fell forward, and Malfoy took off down the road before he had a chance to use his own wand. He clapped his hand to the back of his neck, feeling a lump forming. "Shit!"

Grimacing, he watched the black figure until it disappeared. Why the hell would Malfoy be following him? Voldemort was dead, after all. "I hadn't even heard reports of Death Eaters in London." Harry frowned. When had he said that? "We're in the old Coca-Cola office building in the City." Ron's voice this time, but Harry couldn't bring the conversation to mind. "It's a nice cover-up, don't you think?"

Ron. Malfoy. Coke. Something was rotten in the state of Wizarding Britain.

"Well, never let it be said Harry Potter didn't enjoy a good conspiracy," Harry muttered to himself, taking out his wand. "Ron, my mate, we're going to find out exactly what you've been doing."

He Apparated to an empty alley in the City. A stray cat hissed loudly at him and scampered off to the road, towards traffic. Harry followed its path, coming out across the street from the Coca-Cola offices, which was a high, ominous building. Muggle pedestrians littered the pavement, walking at a brisk pace to get to their destinations, and Harry slid into the crowd. He was about to cross the road when a flash of white and silver caught his eye, and he turned for a second before throwing himself behind a parked automobile. Lucius Malfoy was walking out of the building, dressed in a sleek black suit, his white-blond hair slicked back modestly, every inch of him screaming, "Muggle at work." It was unbelievable. Harry's chest tightened as he realised what he was seeing: the building was a clever entrance to Lucius' hiding place.

And Ron worked there.

"Ron," he whispered, watching Lucius climb into a luxurious, Muggle sports car, "you are so dead."

*

The next morning, Ron left his apartment early to go for a jog. He didn't like jogging, really; he would have preferred Quidditch, but he didn't know anyone to play with, other than Malfoy, an idea which was less than desirable. He knew Malfoy picked up a game at least once a week with some chaps from the Evil Eye, but Ron would rather have a clean, fair game.

He was starting to stretch when a person-shaped shadow fell over him. When he looked up, he saw Harry's angry face.

"Oh, great, you're here, too," said Ron.

Harry was silent a few seconds, just staring at him. Finally, Harry asked, "Ron, are you a Death Eater?"

"Uh, no?" Ron said.

The expression on Harry's face tightened. He looked like a cross between infuriated and physically ill. "I know you're a Death Eater."

"Bugger." He could dodge Harry if he could make it around that corner--

"You're a filthy liar," Harry growled. He reached into his robe and removed his wand, which he held clenched in one fist. His hand trembled slightly, but from rage rather than anxiety. "I can't believe I thought you were my friend."

"Harry," Ron said nervously, "put the wand down."

Harry pointed the wand directly at Ron's chest, his green eyes narrowing menacingly. "You said I was bad at Quidditch."

*

Six. What I Knew Was Wrong Was You

 

He and Malfoy had an odd habit of eating lunch together, Ron reckoned, even though they hated each other passionately. In fact, they spent an awful lot of time together during the week. It was like Ron had a little brother, an annoying, snitty brother who ran off to tell on him whenever he did anything bad. It was then Ron understood why his older brothers hated him.

"Pass the sugar, please."

"Yeah," Ron said distractedly. He really needed some friends.

"I think you should go pick up the supplies for the next killing ritual," Malfoy said. He tapped a bony finger against his teacup impatiently.

"I just ordered coffee," Ron said, absently rubbing his chest. He was still painfully sore from the beating Harry had given him just a few days before. He had given Harry a good beating, too, so at least his aching wasn't in vain. Although it hadn't been fun staying in a Muggle jail cell overnight for "disturbing the public."

Malfoy made a point of looking at his watch. "I really think you should go, Weasel. Like, now."

"Lay off," Ron snapped. "I'm not leaving until I have my coffee. Why're you in such a rush? We just sat down a few minutes ago."

Malfoy didn't respond, but his thin mouth flexed slightly. The waiter returned, carrying a large mug of steaming hot coffee, placing it in front of Ron. The waiter's eyes met Malfoy's, and Malfoy nodded briefly. As the man backed off, Ron raised his eyebrows, wondering what the hell that was about. He brought his coffee mug to his lips--

His cheap Muggle Reliant Robin, parked parallel to the pavement, exploded in a ball of flame.

"Well," said Ron, staring at the blackened scrap of metal, "that was subtle."

Malfoy was leaning forward, an odd expression on his pointed face. Ron looked at his coffee mug, poised at his lips, then back at the blond, who gave him a wide, white-toothed smile. His car had just exploded. And a suspicious man had just placed a drink in front of him.

"Malfoy, take a sip of this."

Malfoy's expression froze. "No, thank you, I already have tea."

Ron pushed the coffee towards him. "Drink."

"I-I'd rather not."

"Why is that?" Ron asked.

"Because it's poisoned," Malfoy muttered.

"This is fucking wonderful," Ron said bitterly. "Looks like I'm signed up to be the next hit. I don't get it, I thought Lucius liked me." He pushed the coffee to the side.

"Of course," said Draco, adding more sugar to his tea, "he adores you so much he wants to kill you. Didn't I warn you? When you're no longer useful to my father, he's going to get rid of you. You should have listened to me."

Ron's anger peaked. He slammed his coffee mug on the table and started to push his way through the cafe crowd. Malfoy swore, tossed a few Muggle pounds on the table, and started to follow him.

"Hey!" Malfoy shouted, his nasal tone cutting through the buzz of the other voices. "Don't do anything rash."

He stopped. Malfoy walked right into his back. "Don't do anything rash?" Ron repeated angrily. "Oh, I won't. I'm just going to murder your father."

"Yes, that-- that would be rash."

Ron growled under his breath and continued moving. So Lucius was planning on killing him, was he? After all he had done for him, he was just going to toss Ron away. Ron heard Malfoy calling his name as he slipped through the rush of Muggle pedestrians, heading towards the entrance of the tube. "Very sorry," Malfoy was saying. "Excuse me. Sorry. Pardon me." Ron was going to--

"Weasel!" Malfoy's voice was right behind him. "You don't even have a plan. You just can't storm in there and demand he spare your life. Don't be stupid."

Malfoy was right. Ron cringed; he wasn't the type of man to plan things. When he stopped in his tracks, Malfoy slammed into him again. "Oof." Grabbing Malfoy's arm, he dragged him into a side street. They stood alone between the two brick tenament buildings.

"I want you to kill Lucius," Ron said, voice low.

Malfoy looked at him like he was insane. "Kill my father?" he asked, aghast. "Did the lard cut off a blood vessel to your brain?"

Ron grabbed Malfoy's robes and slammed him against the brick wall. Malfoy gasped, hands reaching up to claw at Ron's tight grip. "You're my secretary!" he shouted. "You kill people when I tell you to!"

"No," Malfoy snarled, pushing him away with some difficulty, "I make you sandwiches and answer your phone. And occasionally write your name on your underwear. I don't do murder."

"Fine, but you're going to help me," Ron snapped.

"Why the hell would I do something like that?"

"You're going to help me, because otherwise I'm going directly to the Ministry and telling them everything. I don't care if I get sent to Azkaban; I'm going to take the whole lot of you down with me. Especially" -- He poked Malfoy in the chest. -- "daddy dearest."

Malfoy drew in a sharp breath through his nostrils. There was a long silence as he contemplated Ron's words. "Father's resourceful," he said finally, each word drawn slowly. "Any plan of his is bound to be extensive. I can't help you."

"Fuck," Ron muttered.

Malfoy ran his fingers through his blond fringe, expression sliding from grave to sardonic. "You know who can help you--"

"No," Ron protested.

"It's the only way."

Ron shook his head vehemently. "No, I won't go to him."

"This is so funny," said Malfoy, gleefully. "Did you ever imagine, Weasel, that Potter would be recruited to save Death Eater Ron Weasley's fat arse?"

*

The door to apartment 137 opened a crack. Ron could make out a single green eye peering at him from the darkness of the flat, and it flashed angrily at the sight of Ron. "Harry," he said, pushing forward. "I need-- I know I've been, well, evil, but--"

The door slammed shut.

"Well, can't say we didn't try," said Malfoy, sticking his hands in the pockets of his robe. "Looks like you'll have to die after all." He started to turn away. Ron grabbed his sleeve and roughly pulled him back to the door, ignoring the blond's squeaking protests.

"You try," he growled.

Malfoy straightened his robes, sniffing delicately. "Fine." He knocked loudly, calling, "Potter, this is Draco Malfoy. From Hogwarts."

"Oh, really?" Harry asked sarcastically.

"No need to get snitty," Malfoy shot back. "Listen, I know you hate me, I hate you, blah, blah, blah, but the Weasel here's going to be offed by the Death Eaters unless you help him. And I know you; you're not the type to let anyone die, even if he's a stupid git who doesn't understand the concept of discretion."

"Must you?" Ron asked.

"Yes."

The door opened slightly. "Let me guess, you and Ron work together?"

"Unfortunately," replied Malfoy. "But don't take it personally."

There was a deep sigh from within, and the door opened wide enough to allow both Malfoy and Ron to enter. When it shut behind them, Ron pushed Malfoy into Harry's drawing room, who 'hmph'-ed and looked around in approval. Harry stood next to the hallway opening, arms crossed over his chest, looking everywhere but them. The rage coming from him was almost tangible.

"So what do you want me to do?" he asked coolly.

"He needs a place to hide," Malfoy replied. "Father will--"

"No," Ron interrupted. Malfoy looked at him curiously. "Harry, I need to speak to you in private."

"The hell you will," Malfoy snapped. "I'm not going to let you conspire behind my back. What you need to do is get out of the country immediately, not attempt to widdle your way out of a death warrant. Nothing you come up with can possibly match my father's plans."

"Did you just say 'widdle'?" Ron asked.

"Yes. Widdle. Widdle, widdle, widdle."

"Oh my God," Harry said. "You two are barking mad."

Ron angrily took Harry's arm and steered him out of the drawing room and into the bedroom. Malfoy called back at him loudly as he slammed and locked the door -- "Don't even think you can plan against me, Weasel!" -- just as Harry wrestled out of his grasp. "Get off," the dark-haired man snarled. Something rammed against the door, followed by a barely audible, "Ouch." Ron wrenched the curtains shut violently before leaning against the darkened wall, away from the window. Harry stood off to the side, breathing hard, and something flitted across his face that could have easily been mistaken for pain.

"This has to be between us," Ron said. "This is a no-ferret zone," he added, raising his voice loud enough for Malfoy to hear. A series of sputtered curses erupted on the other side of the door.

"What is it?" Harry asked.

Ron dropped his voice to a whisper. "I know how to stop Lucius Malfoy, but I need your help. We can't let Mal-- Draco, whatever, know the details, or else the entire operation is over, and my head's on a silver platter."

"I'm sorry, are you plotting?" Harry asked. "I reckon Evil Ron has more talents than Good Guy Ron, eh?"

"Your mom," was the only thing he could manage.

"Do you want me to help you or not?" Harry took out his wand and sent a silencing spell round the room. He pointed the wand at Ron then, and a glint of moonlight reflected off his front teeth. "Just to let you know, I'm only doing this because I'm a good person."

"Harry," Ron said, "you're a fucking saint."

*

The next morning at the old Coca-Cola building, Ron pushed into Lucius' spacious office. The blond man looked up in surprise as Ron dropped a stack of paperwork on his desk.

"Hallo, Lucius," Ron said cheerfully. Lucius' face tightened momentarily -- although Ron would have missed it if he wasn't looking -- before breaking out into a polite smile. "I've got that information on the Department of Muggle Relations you asked for."

"Of course." Lucius seemed to have recovered well. His grey eyes narrowed slightly. "Where's Draco?"

"Haven't seen him," Ron lied. "Prolly out playing Quidditch."

"He always fancied a game over real work," Lucius huffed. He smoothed out his parchment and continued writing. "That's why he's a bloody secretary and not, well, you."

"Yeah, you know Draco and work," Ron agreed. "He's never done anything right." There must have been something in his tone, because Lucius paused in his writing and raised his eyes to meet Ron's. They narrowed even further. Ron smiled thinly to hide the knot forming in his stomach, and quipped, "Well, then. Got loads of work to do."

"Right," Lucius drawled.

Ron left the room, trying to appear casual. But as soon as the door shut, he let out a breath and muttered, "Blimey, I am so, so going to die."

*

Malfoy turned down the lights in Harry's kitchen as he, Ron, and Harry pieced together the plan.

"What're you doing?" Harry asked.

"Atmosphere," Malfoy replied.

It wasn't a particularly good plot, but it would hopefully work. Ron had never been good at planning; he was more of the acting type. Actually, he was somewhat disappointed Harry hadn't offered any better ideas.

Ron rubbed his Dark Mark with the sleeve of his robes. Once he got rid of Lucius and ran off to Scotland with the handful of expensive trinkets stolen from the Malfoy manor, the mark would hopefully fade. It had already begun to lighten since Voldemort's death. Harry looked at him, horrified. Ron dropped his hand.

"Okay, so here's what we do," he said. "Malfoy." The blond raised his head from off the kitchen table, looking bored. "You take your father to this delightfully abandoned warehouse by the docks. Then Harry comes in and kills him."

"Kill?" Malfoy asked sharply. He got to his feet.

"Did I say kill?" Ron asked. "I mean, hurt him very, very badly."

"I thought you were killing him, Ron," said Harry. "I don't want to kill anyone."

"You've killed people before," Ron snapped. "Get over it."

"Never intentionally," Harry muttered.

"Go back to the part about killing my father," Malfoy demanded coldly. "You said we were trading Potter for your life."

"You what?" asked Harry. "You told me you were going to kill the entire Malfoy family."

"Mummy," Malfoy gasped.

"Uh," said Ron.

"Stop dicking with us, Ron," Harry growled. Both he and Malfoy took out their wands furiously. "Tell us the truth, what were you really planning on doing?"

Ron took a step back. Malfoy jabbed his wand under Ron's chin, pressing the wood against his adam's apple. "You sneaky rodent," Malfoy hissed. "I can tell you what he was planning, Potter: he was going to get you to kill my father, then he was going to get rid of both of us. Too bad you're too stupid to actually carry it out, Weasel."

"No," he protested. "Harry, I was going to get rid of the Malfoys, but not you. Don't you agree they deserve it? All the horrible things they've done to people..." Harry looked sceptical. "For God's sakes, Harry, what the hell was I suppose to do, sit around and let him kill me? You can't tell me you wouldn't do the same thing."

"Actually, I wouldn't," Harry said dryly. "Seeing as how I would never be a Death Eater." Malfoy sniggered. Harry looked at him. "Well, I guess it is kind of a good plan."

"I don't believe this," Malfoy snapped. "Does no-one care that my father's life is at stake?" No-one replied. "Ugh. You people."

Ron asked, "What're you--"

Malfoy Disapparated.

*

Seven. My God, I Would Be Damned

 

As soon as he and Harry Apparated to the office building, Ron ran faster than he ever remembered running before. The lifts were out of commission, so he hurried up the stairs to get to the organisation's floors. His heart pounded in his chest, and his limbs ached, but he moved on. Harry made it to the fifth story before him and when Ron caught the look on his ex-friend's face, his heart lurched. But he knew what he would find before he even made it to the door:

The floor was completely empty. Not even an owl feather was left behind.

He placed a hand against the metal door frame, gasping for air. A patch of his right torso was tightened painfully. "Shit," he wheezed. "Shit. They whole lot of them have taken off."

"Malfoy was faster than we imagined," Harry said.

Ron thought back to the look Lucius had given him earlier that day. "No," he said, "I think Lucius figured it out even before Malfoy did." He threw the door shut, kicking it in sudden fury. "Mother fucking--"

"There's a note," Harry cut in, taking down a sheet of parchment that was pinned to the back of the door. "It's addressed to you."

'Dearest Weasel,' it read in Malfoy's curly writing, 'You suck goat's balls.' Immediately beneath it, in a less-than-familiar scroll: 'Weasley, I'm not impressed with your attempts at a coup. You should have just let me kill you; I'm sure it would have saved you the years of pain and rejection to come. At any rate, the organisation has blatantly taken off for less-charted grounds, but you can be sure that when the revolution arrives you'll be the first we'll come for. Ta-ta for now, the Highly-Esteemed Lucius Malfoy.'

He crumpled the note in his hands. The Malfoys were gone, his luxurious job was ruined, and he was in an empty building with the person he hated most. Ron was cheesed off. "And here I thought he liked me."

"Yeah," Harry said bitterly, "people are like that."

"Oh, get off your high horse," Ron snapped. "No-one wants to hear it."

Harry startled, the expression on his face seeming to freeze. "W-what did you say? I've heard that before..."

Ron muttered, "Bugger." Voldemort had said that right before he and Harry had dueled, hadn't he? Wonderful. Harry pressed one hand against his forehead and bent over at the waist. "Harry, this really isn't the place to be having a flashback."

Harry straightened suddenly. A determined glare formed on his face, much like the look he got during Quidditch, or when fighting evil overlords. "I remember everything," he said softly.

Ron threw his hands in the air. "Brilliant!"

"You know what I'm really glad to remember, Ron?" he asked. "That I'm so much better than you, you pathetic, fat bastard. I can't believe I wanted to be your friend again."

"That it!" Ron snarled. "I'm not fat!"

He dropped the crumpled note and leapt at Harry. They fell in a heap on the hard floor, Harry yelling, "Ron! Ron!" and Ron exclaiming, "I'll show you a fat loser!" But when he finally wrapped his hands around Harry's much-smaller neck, the doors on all sides burst open, and a wave of black-clad Aurors came running in. "Stop, Death Eater! Auror's here!" Harry's fist smashed into Ron's jaw, throwing him off, and about five Aurors jumped on Ron at once. Smothered beneath black robes and heavy bodies, Ron could only clutch at the end of Harry's pants leg.

"I'm not resisting!" he shouted. "Get off!"

Harry kicked him in the face, and everything went dark. The last thing he heard before he passed out was an Auror say, "Oh, I guess he really wasn't resisting."

*

Draco picked himself off the ground, rubbing at his scratched elbows. He looked around at the unfamiliar rolling hills, squinting. Was that a cathedral in the distance?

"Oh, bugger," he said. "Are we in France?"

"Oui," Lucius replied, using his wand to clear the dust from his robes. He smirked.

"But, Father, I don't speak French," Draco protested.

Lucius just looked at him, clearly annoyed. "Good. More reason for you to shut up."

*

A few hours later, Ron awoke to the feeling of someone poking his arm. In particular, the arm which held the Dark Mark. Skittish, he drew it away. Professor Dumbledore leaned over him and gave him a friendly smile.

"It's you," Ron breathed, relieved. "It's good to see you, Professor."

He sat up gingerly, holding a cool hand to his bruised cheek. It was then he realised he was in some sort of holding cell, one probably meant for keeping enemies of the Ministry like himself. His grin faded as he remembered what had transpired in the office building. He was going to Azkaban, if he was lucky; otherwise, it was the Dementor's kiss for him.

"Harry informed me of your... allegiance," Dumbledore said, still smiling. "I know you're a good boy at heart, Ron. You've just strayed."

"Yeah," Ron agreed. "I'm just bitter and vengeful, that's all."

"Exactly," said Dumbledore. "A deal with the Ministry has been made to set you free. However, I'm afraid it calls for the eternal enslavement of your soul."

"But it's better than Azkaban, right?" Ron asked.

Dumbledore looked at him very seriously. "It depends on how you look at it. Tell me, how do you feel about children?"

*

"And now," said Dumbledore loudly, the Great Hall amplifying his voice, "I present to you the new Herbology teacher: Ronald Weasley."

Ron quickly put out his fag and smiled thinly at the students, who were looking at him in curiosity. "Hallo."

The first day of the Hogwarts' school year in the autumn of 2001 wasn't very different from when it had been in Ron's time, three years previous. The Sorting Hat still did a new song every year, placing the students in their appropriate houses; the older students snickered and attempted to play pranks; the teachers sat in the front of the Great Hall in a table that reached from one side to the other. Severus Snape glared daggers at Ron as the redhead took a seat beside him. Ron pointed to the place where the Dark Mark was hidden beneath his sleeve, and Snape's black eyes widened. Ron grinned and helped himself to the chicken.

"He's also the new Hufflepuff house leader," Dumbledore added.

Ron cringed. "Professor Snape, do you believe in karma?"

Snape just looked at him, one eye twitching slightly. "Every day I wish I was dead," he muttered darkly.

"Right on," Ron said between bites of a drumstick.


III: I Was a Professor and All I Got Was This Fungal Growth

 

Eight. I'm So Far Below It

(2 months later)

 

It was precisely three days, twelve hours, and forty-seven minutes before the end of the world.

But Harry Potter didn't know that. He only had two things on his mind, neither of which dealt with destruction: he was hungry, and he was unemployed. Harry had been kicked off the Chudley Cannons for not showing up to practice four times in a row. He had figured thwarting the Lucius Lovers and beating the shit out of Ron Weasley would have been a good excuse, but the captain of the team had seemed to think otherwise. "I was out defeating evil," he had told them. The next day, Harry was replaced; he had found his broom in a nearby rubbish bin.

Currently, he was in a local Muggle grocery right off Elephant and Castle, busy picking up items for a light dinner. Deep in thought, Harry didn't notice that another hand was reaching for the same pear he was. He met with a bony, pale hand, and when he lifted his head, he saw that Draco Malfoy stood on the other side. Malfoy's face seemed to twitch, and he gave Harry a strained smile.

"Nice cucumber," he leered.

Harry's eyes narrowed.

Draco's smile turned into a smirk. "You never saw me, Potter."

"Yes, I did," Harry replied coldly.

There was a silence. Malfoy slowly drew his hand back. In one swift motion, Harry took out his wand, pulled the blond forward, and pressed the wooden tip against Malfoy's side. The fallen pear rolled awkwardly around his feet. "If you go for your wand, I'll hex you before you even know what's happening," he warned quietly.

"Got it," Malfoy said tightly.

With one hand clenched in Malfoy's Muggle-style shirt, he took the man over to the checkout counter.

"'Lo," he muttered to the cashier, who looked at them in disdain, her bump of a nose turning up. When Malfoy noticed the cashier's gaze, he smirked and pressed himself full against Harry. "Shove off," Harry hissed in Malfoy's ear. He smiled thinly at the cashier, who all but sneered at him.

"Bloody queers," she muttered, just loud enough for them to hear, "can't go anywhere nowadays without seeing them."

Harry snatched his bag with his free hand and pulled Malfoy out of the store.

"Imagine that," Malfoy said. "A bitch, that one. I have a mind to walk right back into there and--" Harry shoved him through the smattering of pedestrians. He pushed his white-blond hair out of his eyes and glared fiercely at Harry over his shoulder. "There has to be a good reason why we keep coincidentally running into each other, Potter. With the rate we're going, you would think the gods wanted us to be together."

"Shut up," Harry whispered to the back of Malfoy's head. Malfoy smelled like soap, probably from whatever he had used to wash his clothes. He wasn't wearing the hoodie and jeans from the last time they had met, but the man's modern Muggle outfit was surprisingly un-Malfoyish. "It was really stupid of you to come back to London, especially in a place so close to the Leaky Cauldron. You should have known you'd be caught eventually."

"I didn't expect to run into you at a Muggle shop," sneered Malfoy. "Aren't there plenty of places near you? Or did you get kicked out of that fancy flat?"

"I wanted some fruit. Wizard grocers don't carry anything good, God knows why."

Malfoy said something under his breath that sounded like, "Damn my love for Muggle chewing gum." Louder: "Where are you taking me?"

"The Ministry," Harry replied. "I don't normally allow evil to go walking the streets. They'll put you in a nice holding cell until your trial." Even from behind, Harry could see Malfoy's jaw clench. He began struggling to free himself from Harry's gasp. Harry pressed the wand harder into the small of Malfoy's back. "I'll turn you into a ferret, so help me."

"Wait!" Malfoy turned quickly, facing Harry, who was forced to stop in his tracks. Someone bumped into Harry from behind, muttering, "Arsehole." "You can't do this," Malfoy breathed. "I'm on a mission to save humanity from the Weasel!"

"From Ron?" he asked, incredulous. "You must be joking. Besides, what idiot would send you to save the world?"

"My father--"

"Oh." Harry took him by the arm and spun him again. "Keep walking."

"Potter, listen to me-- Ow, ow, I don't think the human body can naturally bend that way. Listen, if you don't let me go the Weasel may accidentally blow up the entire universe. Do you want that on your conscience? The destruction of the entire universe?"

Harry faltered. Malfoy's voice sounded sincere -- well, as sincere as a Malfoy could get, anyway. However, he couldn't let Malfoy just roam the streets, knowing exactly where the blond had placed his loyalties.

"No, I suppose not," he admitted slowly.

"Having a moral dilemma?" Malfoy asked gleefully. "What is it, can't decide if you should trust a big, bad Malfoy to save the world? Do you let me go and risk losing me forever, or do you take me to the Ministry and possibly kill us all?" Malfoy knowing him so well made Harry feel uncomfortable. The other man's voice had taken on a strange, dreamy tone, and Harry contemplated whether or not punching the bastard would make him any less of a good guy. "Are you torn up about it, Potter?"

"You're a complete sicko," he said. Malfoy "hmm"-ed merrily. Harry knew he only had one choice; he just hoped it wasn't the wrong one. He pulled Malfoy out of the flowing traffic of people and closer to the windows of a record shop, keeping his wand out of sight. "I'm listening. Talk."

Malfoy began, "When Weasley and I planned on saving his life--"

"By giving me to your father," said Harry, coolly. "Yes, I remember that part."

Malfoy wrinkled his nose. "The Weasel stole a heap of relics from my family's grounds; he must have planned on selling it for money to get out of the country. Unfortunately, one of the things he snatched was a Dark Arts artefact. One that could, if used incorrectly, end life as we know it. I've been sent by the Lucius Lovers to get that artefact back so we don't all die."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why would someone create an object that could destroy the universe?"

"Don't get technical, Potter."

"Let me see if I can get this straight: your father owned something that could end the world," he said, frowning thoughtfully. "Ron stole it. And now Lucius wants it back so as to possibly cause even greater destruction."

"Something along those lines, yes."

"Ron's not responsible," he mused. "He would probably use such a device for evil. Or if he was really, really bored."

Something like a smile curved Draco's mouth, and he looked at Harry in elation. "Exactly. But if the Weasel was caught with it..."

"He'd be in a lot of trouble," he finished.

He had never been a particularly vengeful person, but the sting of Ron's betrayal was deep; the one person Harry had trusted above anyone else had sold himself to their enemy. Ron had walked away clean for it, too.

Harry licked his lips. "I think I need to pay Ron a visit," he stated, feeling a jolt of excitement. But Harry Potter didn't do bad things, although sometimes he did the right thing for the wrong reason. The Ministry would be interested in this relic, certainly; if Ron happened to get in trouble for it, well, it was just an added bonus. He looked back at Malfoy, whose eyes were sparkling, probably sure he had fooled Harry into his plan. Harry smirked. "But first, I'm going to take you to the Ministry."

Malfoy protested shrilly all the way to the Leaky Cauldron.

*

In the teachers' lounge in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Ron Weasley stood at an open window and puffed on his fag. He could see part of the courtyard through the grey wisps of smoke, and over into the treetops of the Forbidden Forest. Glancing at the clock, he saw he only had at least half an hour before he had to get to the greenhouse for class.

Class. He blew out a long stream of smoke. Ron didn't particularly like his job. He wasn't fond of screaming, bratty children; he didn't particularly like teaching. Being the secretary of the Death Eaters/Lucius Lovers had been so much more interesting, even if he hadn't agreed with all their ideas, such as killing Muggles. Even more annoying was the fact Harry could easily gloat over Ron's failure, and his debt to Dumbledore. "You're a fool," Hermione had told him briefly after his trial, "a stupid, self-destructive fool. After all we've been through together, you throw it away for a bit of power."

But it had been for more than just "a bit of power." He had had a nice place to live, he had eaten nice food every day, and he had had more money than he had known what to do with. He had been something of a hero to them, Harry Potter's turncoat best friend, even without doing much work. Now he didn't even have a future.

Ron had tacked up the recent article on Harry -- his being thrown off the Chudley Cannons -- on the wall next to his desk, where he could gaze at it every day. He was falling back into his old habits, too; it had taken all he was worth to refuse Snape's offer of drugs when he had first arrived. Now he went through a pack and a half of browns a day, which killed most of his appetite, and Snape's sinister smirk was becoming tempting.

Grimacing, he put out his fag on the windowsill. "Bloody Harry," he muttered to himself.

"Speak of the devil," came a voice. Ron stiffened. "What's wrong, mate, can't an old friend drop by?"

"Harry," Ron said snidely. "Damn, I was hoping you'd be too humiliated to show your face round... well, anywhere public, after what happened."

The Boy Who Lived's footsteps approached, loud in the now-silent lounge. He leaned against the windowsill. A gust of wind blew his dark hair away from his face, and when finally Harry looked at Ron, his green eyes were glittering with an unidentifiable emotion. His face was oddly naked without the thick spectacles. Ron winced and reached for another fag.

"Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you," Harry said lightly.

"What do you want?" Ron growled. He drew the cigarette to his mouth. "Came to make me feel bad, did you?"

"Not quite." Harry straightened. "You stole something from the Malfoys. I need it back."

"I didn't steal anything," Ron lied. He had, in fact, every trinket still in his office. A reminder of what had happened. But he wasn't going to let Harry get his filthy hands on any of it; Ron had stolen it fair and square.

"I..." Harry's eyes searched his face for a long pause. "Don't believe you."

"Who died and made you the boss of me?" Ron demanded. "I don't believe for an instant that the Ministry picked you up in the week since the Cannons kicked you off. Get the fuck out of here before I owl the Ministry and tell them you've been harassing someone the Council judged innocent."

"Fine. I'll go check out your office myself."

That said, Harry left the lounge.

Shocked, it took Ron a few seconds before he bolted after the man, calling, "You think just because you're the hero you can do whatever you want! If you touch my things I'm going to... I don't know what I'll do, but I reckon it'll be bloody awful!" He chased Harry through the corridors until Harry used magic to open Ron's office door. When Ron entered the room, Harry was pushing papers off his desk. Furious, Ron snatched them back up. "You've got a lot of nerve." He grabbed Harry's shoulder as the dark-haired man opened the drawers, checking inside each, and Ron resisted the urge to pull Harry's hair. Harry passed over some of the things he had stolen from the Manor -- a gold mirror, a fine glass -- without a pause.

"You're so immature, Ron," Harry scoffed, sorting through a selection of liquor in Ron's bottom drawer.

"You're the one tearing my room apart," Ron retorted. He pulled out his wand, ready to shout, "Stupify," but Harry stopped, having searched the desk thoroughly.

Ron wrenched Harry's arm back, bringing him to his knees, and Ron was delighted when he saw Harry grimace. But Harry's eyes still swept over the room. His face seemed to tighten.

"I guess you don't have what I'm looking for," Harry said slowly. He looked directly at a Muggle lamp on Ron's desk -- also stolen from the Malfoys -- and shook his head, as if it wasn't worth contemplating.

"I told you." Ron shoved Harry hard enough for the other man to fall over.

"Draco lied to me," Harry muttered, pushing himself to his feet. He massaged his arm.

"What about him?" Ron asked sharply. That was a name he hadn't heard in a while. He should have known Malfoy had had something to do with this; Malfoy would sell him out at any opportunity. It seems Harry had fallen for whatever the blond had planned for him.

Harry looked at him curiously. "I didn't realise you two were friends."

"We're not," Ron replied. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, uncomfortable. "We just used to spend a lot of time together, you know? Kind of like having an annoying brother you want to kill all the time."

"Oh, new best friend?" Harry asked.

"Don't start with the 'pity me' routine," Ron snapped. In his fury, he didn't hear someone approaching the open door. "Besides, you dumped me, remember?"

"I dumped you because you were a loser," Harry retorted. "You had no job, no ambitions, no home... Everyone else had moved on, and you were stuck in the past. I needed more than that."

They glared at each other, both breathing hard.

"Well," said Professor Snape from the office entrance, "I would have pegged you for the straight one, Weasley."

"Shut up!" they both shouted at him.

"Get out of my office," Ron snarled at Harry.

"With pleasure," Harry replied icily. "Till next time then, best friend."

He pushed his sleeves up dramatically. The seconds ticked by as he just stood there, staring at him. Ron and Snape exchanged glances, and Ron asked, "What the hell are you doing?"

Harry blinked owlishly. "Er, sorry. Forgot we can't Apparate here."

"Brilliant, Harry. Brilliant." Ron sniggered.

Harry's face reddened. He pushed past Snape and marched out of the office. Ron scooped up some of the loose parchments on the floor, willing his anger to go down. He rubbed at his arm with the pads of his fingertips, not noticing his hand was right above the Dark Mark.

*

Harry Apparated directly to the Ministry offices in London. He breezed into the holding cells, only stopping to give the guards a withering glance as he checked in his wand, each taking note of the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. He wasn't in the mood to negotiate over his rights to speak to Draco; after all, the Death Eater's son had lied to him about something as significant as the end of the world.

When Harry made it to the cell, Malfoy was laying on the stone floor behind the bars, legs and arms spread. He appeared to be asleep. His Muggle clothing had been exchanged for a set of simple, black robes.

Harry pulled out his wand and poked the blond's leg, hard. "Malfoy, you lying sack of shit, get up."

"Can't," he murmured. "I'm meditating."

"You know, Malfoy, I think you've only gotten weirder since school."

"Because you're the poster boy for being normal," came the sarcastic reply. "Lovely article on you in the Prophet, might I add."

"What?"

With one hand, Malfoy gestured to the wrinkled newspaper near the edge of his cell. Harry snatched it up, finding, 'The Boy Who Got Shot Out of the Cannons,' as the headliner. "They said you got kicked off for being slack," Malfoy added. "Although they phrased it nicer than that."

Actually, they hadn't. 'Potter was let go because of his inability to commit,' it stated. Harry cringed. Well, there went his dating life. 'His current whereabouts are unknown, but he was last seen with an old classmate of his, one Draco Malfoy...'

"I find it very difficult to believe no-one else realises you're a Death Eater. Erm, Lucius Lover."

"My father is known for contributing large amounts of money to various causes," he drawled haughtily. "When the Ministry is getting heaps of galleons from some of the Wizarding world's richest, they tend to overlook the little things."

"I suppose being one of Voldemort's followers is a 'little thing,'" said Harry, exasperated. He slid the newspaper back into the cell through the bars.

Malfoy got to his feet. "So you found what the Weasel was holding, then?"

Harry frowned. "Don't change the sub-- oh. No. It wasn't there."

"What do you mean, it wasn't there?" Malfoy demanded, eyes narrowing to grey slits.

"I didn't see anything evil at all," Harry replied. "Unless you count Ron slowly becoming Snape."

He let out a deep sigh. "Potter," he began with exaggerated patience, "when I say, 'evil object of immense destruction,' what comes to mind?"

"Big, evil disc of doom?" Harry asked.

Malfoy bristled. "Do you think my father would own something that would be so blatant?"

"Well, yes," he admitted.

Draco rocked back on his heels. He looked at Harry very seriously. "You need to take me to the Weasel."

"No way."

Malfoy reached through the bars and grabbed Harry's wrist tightly. "You have no choice. I'm the only one who can point out the artefact. For all we know, you looked directly at it and didn't even realise."

Harry shook his head. It would take a lot of bargaining for the Ministry to let Malfoy go, even if Harry was there to guard him. He would probably have to enlist Dumbledore's help. "If you're wrong--"

"If I'm wrong, you can throw me in Azkaban." His voice lowered. "Trust me, I'm absolutely sure about this."

He searched Malfoy's stern grey eyes. While Harry didn't trust Malfoy as far as he could throw him, he wasn't keen on accidentally letting the universe get destroyed by Ron. "Okay," he said, resigned, "I'll see what I can do."

*

Ron didn't have a lot of patience when it came to reading reports. Eventually, he had gotten a nice 'No marks' stamp that he used with red ink. "Patrick Lowell," he muttered, reading the name on the scroll. Zero. "Anna Kipping." Zero. "Howard Peters." The dark-haired boy's face, complete with frighteningly familiar black specs, floated in Ron's mind. Double zero. To Peters' best friend, the tow-headed Ryan Welshberg, Ron gave full marks.

There came a knock at his door -- the only ones who knocked were students and Dumbledore, and he wasn't particularly in the mood for either. He set his stamp down. "Yes?"

Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy glided into the room, both wearing dark robes and equally dark expressions. Ron sat up straight, mouth falling open. "The hell?" he sputtered.

"You look for it," Harry told Malfoy. "You'd better hope you find it."

"Oh, I'm trembling," Malfoy said sarcastically. He walked to the fireplace mantel and began checking out the various objects.

"What's going on?" Ron asked. "Why are both of you here? Hey, wait, Malfoy, didn't you take off somewhere with Lucius and the others?"

"Something like that," Malfoy murmured. Finished searching the mantel, he turned to face Ron. Ron felt an uncanny relief while gazing at Malfoy's pointed face. After all, it was difficult going from seeing one person constantly to not at all, especially when that person had fled the nation in an attempt to escape the government. The blond sneered at him, and Ron found he had even missed Malfoy's haughty expressions.

"Weasel. Good lord, what happened to you? Someone get this man a cake. Wait, it might put him back on the wagon."

"I hate you," Ron said.

Malfoy's eyes darted to Ron's desk. His back stiffened, and he grabbed Harry's sleeve, pulling the dark-haired man close. He whispered something into Harry's ear. Ron felt funny; Malfoy's lips were awfully close to Harry's skin.

"It's the lamp?" Harry asked a few seconds later, drawing back.

"What's the lamp?" Ron demanded. "What are you two doing?"

"But it's an ordinary Muggle lamp, although God knows why a former Death Eater uses a Muggle lamp for lighting," Harry said to Malfoy, ignoring Ron, who clenched his papers angrily and muttered, "Ha, ha." "Why would a Muggle lamp be the artefact?"

"It's glowing," Malfoy drawled. "Muggle lamps don't glow, especially not in such an evil manner."

Ron and Harry both looked at the lamp.

"So it is," Harry said. "I, er, suppose you're right. Ron, you stole an evil lamp."

"I didn't mean to," protested Ron.

"You didn't realise it was glowing?"

"It never crossed my mind."

"What about it EMITTING EVIL?" Malfoy asked.

"I didn't really think about it at the time," Ron snapped. "It's not like I go round picking up objects and saying, 'Oh, is that evil I see?' I just shoved it in my pocket and ran."

Harry sighed deeply. "Ron, you are so stupid. Only you would aim for the dark, glowing object when stealing."

"That's the most evil object in creation," Malfoy stated, pointing. "I'm afraid we have to compensate it."

There was a long silence as the three of them gazed at the black, glass Muggle lamp. It seemed terribly ominous now. Harry laughed awkwardly. "This is all pretty stupid, when you think about it. We have to save mankind from a lamp."

"Remind me of that when we're all interplanetary goo," Malfoy said.

"Most evil object in the world, eh?" Ron murmured, looking at the lamp thoughtfully.

Harry must have realised Ron was about to do something, because he reached out for the lamp. Ron knocked his hand away. He and Malfoy grabbed it at the same time, both trying to pull it towards himself. Malfoy was surprisingly strong for a little bloke.

"Give it up," Malfoy growled.

"It's mine," Ron grunted.

"It is not, you stole it from my house!"

Harry grasped it in the centre with one hand, tugging it towards himself. Ron's hands slipped off its glass surface, and both Draco and Harry stumbled backwards. The lamp fell out of Harry's hand and shattered on the floor.

A collective gasp rose. The three of them jumped back, each horrified.

"We're doomed!" Malfoy wailed. "Doomed!"

"Er, my fault, sorry," Harry said sheepishly.

"Great, Harry," Ron said, "you've killed us all."

"I said I was sorry," Harry retorted.

Ron stared at the glass pieces. "Nothing's happening yet," he whispered. "Maybe it'll be okay. Everyone just back up... slowly..."

*

The universe exploded. It was, needless to say, the worst day of Ron Weasley's life.

*

Nine. I Think I'm Gonna Bash His Head In

 

#1

When Draco opened his eyes, he was laying down, his cheek pressed to the cold, stone floor. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the high, unfamiliar ceiling. The first thing that occurred to him was that he wasn't dead; the second was that if he wasn't dead, then where was he?

"DRACO," his father's voice boomed.

He sat up quickly. About ten metres ahead of him was a throne of massive proportions, and perched on top of it was Lucius, wearing flowing robes and a golden crown. Lucius observed him from above, his grey eyes flaring.

"Why is the room purple?" Draco asked.

Lucius pointed at him. "SILENCE!"

Draco could have sworn the walls shook as his voice reverberated round the chamber. He recoiled. "So, er, where did you get the loud voice?"

"CAME WITH THE HOUSE," Lucius drawled. He spread his arms wide, and Draco had never been more afraid in his entire life. Lucius' voice reduced to its normal pitch. "Son, welcome to Great Luciusdom."

*

After the world had ended, Ron found himself on a comfortable mattress, his eyes squeezed shut. He clenched at the cotton sheets around him tightly. He really wasn't sure what happened when you died, but he was pretty sure it had nothing to do with beds. A hand on his shoulder jolted him to open his eyes: a curly-haired woman was shaking him gently.

"H-Hermione?" he asked.

"Are you all right?" She seemed concerned. "You seemed to be having a bad spell."

If you counted immense destruction "a bad spell." "I'm really, really confused right now," he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He finally took a good look at Hermione. Her hair flowed over her shoulders, and one thin strap of her nightgown had slipped off. His mouth went dry. "In more ways than one."

"I was reading this fascinating book on dreams the other day," she said, "and it discussed the feelings one has after a dream. Perhaps if we talked about it--"

"Hermione," he interrupted. "I reckon this is something a book can't fix."

She snorted. Ron was abruptly flooded with a sense of déja vu. He missed Hermione a lot; she didn't like evil Ron any more than Harry did.

Okay, so in this weird dream world he was sleeping with Hermione. He could live with that. Maybe it wouldn't be so weird after a while. He leaned over to kiss her, and his eyes traveled down her bare shoulders-- "Wait." He grasped her arms. A tattoo of a winking Lucius Malfoy stared at him from her shoulder. Lucius Lovers. Malfoy.

Ron sighed heavily. "This is the second worst day of my life."

*

Meanwhile, Harry was having his own problems. He found himself standing in a child's bedroom, a crib in the centre. The grey robes he wore were wrinkled, and when he touched his face he had a five 'o' clock shadow, neither of which were on him before they had broken the lamp.

He rubbed his eyes. "The afterlife is a child's nursery," he muttered to himself. "I feel cheated."

"Harry, are you in?" came an unexpected voice from the doorway. He jumped, caught off-guard. "You pulled a late night again, didn't you."

His mouth fell open when he gazed upon the woman at the door. "Mum?" he gasped.

Indeed, it was his mother. Her face was exactly like it had been in his photo album: she had a bright smile and warm eyes, and Harry felt his throat constrict. Lily spread her arms to embrace him. His eyes teared up as he hugged her tightly, pressing his face against her sweet-smelling hair. She pushed back his head and moved some of his fringe out his face.

"Hullo," he said softly, sniffing. Maybe this was the Heaven the Dursleys often told him he would never get to.

At that point Lily raised her face and kissed him on the lips. With tongue.

"Aaah!" Harry shoved her away, bringing a hand to his mouth. He stared at her, aghast.

"What's wrong?" Lily asked, putting a hand on his arm. He shuddered. "Harry, are you okay?"

"You kissed me!" he cried. "You're not suppose to do that!"

"I'm your wife--"

"My wife?" It was like the floor fell out from beneath him. He drew in a sharp breath. "Where am I?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Harry." She put a hand on his arm. "You're in your son's room."

Horrified, Harry leaned into the cradle and read the name painted in blue on the inside.

James Harry Potter.

"Goddamn it." He covered his eyes with one hand. He had married his mother and begotten his father, and he hadn't even gotten to be king. Harry had seen pretty weird things in his lifetime, but this beat them all. "What kind of sick joke is this?" he shouted.

Baby James stirred, his little pink face scrunching up, and he let out a fierce wail. "What's going on?" Lily asked, picking up James. "You're starting to scare me, honey."

"Mum," he said, "I mean, Lily, I mean-- I don't know what the hell I mean. I need to find Lucius Malfoy immediately." She opened her mouth. "I really can't explain now. But please realise it's very important that I see him."

"Harry, you and the Great Lucius work together. Why don't you just take a portkey?"

"'The Great Lucius'? I'm helping evil? No." He raised his hand hastily. "Don't answer that, I'm sure I don't want to know."

He slowly backed out of the room, entering a small corridor. He slammed the door shut quickly. There was a staircase to the right, and he went down into a comfortable-looking lounge, filled with soft colours and modest artwork. It screamed of a woman's touch. A playpin sat in a corner, near what Harry thought had to be the kitchen.

Beside the door was a key rack labeled 'Portkeys.' "How discreet," he said under his breath. Making his way to it, Harry studied each object on the rack -- which ranged from a child's shoe to a set of Muggle car keys -- until he found a small, silver dragon. Attached to it was a sticky note that read, 'LM.'

"Harry?" Lily's voice came from upstairs.

He quickly picked up the dragon. Immediately he felt a familiar tug behind his navel.

*

Hermione hadn't exactly believed Ron's story about breaking the lamp, and she had believed even less about him betraying Harry, who seemed to still be his friend here, but she had helped him dig out a portkey that would take him to what she called Great Luciusdom. This so-called Great Luciusdom looked exactly like south London, Ron had asserted from the window of Hermione's bedroom, while she had gone on about alternate planes and black holes and whatnot.

As soon as he used the portkey, he found himself standing in a grand hall. "Hullo?" he called.

A loud clash erupted from the opposite side of a door. Harry stumbled out of what appeared to be a closet. Ron reckoned there was irony in that, somehow. Harry brushed his black hair out of his eyes.

"Ron?" he asked, surprised, "I hate to say this, but I'm actually glad to see you."

"Ditto," Ron said. "This is a pretty shitty afterlife."

Harry took a good look round the hall. "No, I don't think this is the afterlife at all. I think it's... something else. Like maybe a different plane altogether."

Now Harry was sounding vaguely like Hermione. Ron frowned; he knew bugger all about science or technology. He could barely work the Muggle microwave they had had at Lucius Lover's headquarters. "How could breaking a lamp send us into an alternate dimension?"

"I don't claim to understand it, all I know is I have to defeat it," Harry said, nodding grimly.

He rolled his eyes at Harry's bravado. "I guess that would explain why I seem to be involved with Hermione."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "So we're both in incestual relationships, then."

"What? What's that suppose to mean?"

The dark-haired man started walking down the corridor, calling over his shoulder, "We need to find Lucius. He may be our only way of getting out of this. I wonder why we remember everything but no-one else does?"

"Well," came a haughty voice from above, "you did break the universe."

Ron and Harry looked up. What Ron had originally assessed to be a block of stone in the centre of the hall was actually a high throne. Lucius was sitting on it, looking down his nose at them. It was amazing how they didn't see him before.

"Lucius Malfoy," Harry spat, "what did you do?"

"My dear boy, I didn't do anything," Lucius drawled. "If I remember correctly, you three were the ones who botched this up." Just as Ron muttered, "Three?" he waved his wand. "Accio Draco!"

A shrill "Aieeeee!" grew louder and louder. Draco fell from a hole in the ceiling and landed hard on his back. Ron and Harry gaped. "I think I broke something," Malfoy muttered. Harry, ever the brave hero, helped him up gently, letting the blond lean against him. "Father, you couldn't have just yelled for me?"

"A Malfoy doesn't yell," Lucius replied. "Besides, the booming voice ceased to be interesting about half an hour ago."

"Where are we?" Harry demanded.

Lucius studied them coldly. "You're in an alternate universe."

"A what?" Ron asked.

"One where I'm king," he continued. "I knew it would happen, of course; that's why I sent Draco in the first place."

Ron and Harry looked at Draco, both fuming. "I-I thought I was suppose to bring the evil artefact back to you," Draco said, pushing away from Harry. "That's what I was informed to do."

"I sent you knowing you would fail and the lamp would get knocked around, ending in the universe changing." His face settled back into the usual snotty Malfoy sneer. "I'm good like that."

"Then fucking send us back, you son of a bitch," Ron shouted. He wasn't in the mood for any of Lucius' games.

"I'm afraid I can't do that. You ended your universe when you broke the lamp." Both Ron and Draco glowered at Harry, who looked away in embarrassment. Lucius picked up a lamp from beside him. It was identical to the one they had destroyed in Ron's office back at Hogwarts. "Allow me to demonstrate how this works. When you insert a charmed lightbulb, you're sent to an alternate dimension. There's a different one for every bulb."

Harry pointed upwards to the lamp. "That is the most evil object ever. I'M MARRIED TO MY MOTHER!"

Ron sniggered. Draco said, "Disgusting, Potter."

"I didn't do it on purpose!" Harry snapped at them.

"Seeing as how the lamp is back in my possession, I'm afraid you're stuck here, lads," Lucius drawled. "You might as well get used to being my slaves, forever doomed to serve my evil purposes--"

"LUCIUS!" A woman's voice echoed throughout the chamber.

Lucius's back stiffened. "On second thought... Draco, your mother's back," he muttered darkly. "If she sees I've messed up the universe again, I am so dead."

"Again?" Harry repeated.

Draco tried to look around the massive throne. "Mummy?"

"Accio lightbulb!" A green-tinted lightbulb flew into Lucius' hand. He picked up the lamp with the other and smirked in a very frightening manner. "Hold onto your wands. Pun intended."

"What?" Ron asked.

*poof*

*

#2

The world came together with a maddening snap. Draco gasped. Once his eyes focused he made out that he was sitting in a cozy kitchen, a warm cup of tea before him. A red-headed woman sat across from him at the table.

"Who are you?" he demanded. She startled, but he continued before she had a chance to open her mouth: "Red hair," he said critically. "You look vaguely familiar... Don't tell me you're a Weasel? Oh my God, I did a Weasel! It wasn't even a male one!"

"Draco!" Ginny exclaimed. "What are you on about? We've been married for years."

He looked up at the ceiling. "Father, you sadistic bastard!" he yelled.

"I'm working on it," grunted a voice. Draco turned to see Lucius on a stool in the corner, viciously trying to insert a yellow lightbulb into the lamp. "Bloody Muggle inventions. Can't live with them, can't screw up the universe without them."

The bulb finally slid into place.

*poof*

*

#3

"I'm a chicken sandwich!"

*poof*

*

#4

Draco pulled the sheets back desperately. He growled, "If we keep ending up in these--" The person under the covers tugged the sheets back. "--stupid situations, I'm going to have to do a re-evaluation of my sexuality." He kicked the person on the other side of the bed, and the figure stilled. "Stop that! I'd at least like to see who I'm stuck with this time. You'd better not be a Weasel."

Harry popped his head out of the sheets, face flushed. Draco squeaked and nearly fell backwards off the bed. "I'm going to pretend this never happened," Harry said.

"Well." Draco's eyes flickered over Harry's bare chest, trying to peek below the sheet. "I suppose I could've done worse."

Harry bashed him in the face with a pillow.

*poof*

*

#5

It was dark. Ron could hear dripping in the distance. Whatever was against his back was soft yet firm, and he brought one hand up and pressed it to his forehead. He slowly cracked his eyes open, cringing in the harsh light.

He was in his dormitory at Hogwarts.

*

Ten. He's On His Back

 

He had waited in his dormitory for a several long hours, expecting to be sent into another plane, but that had yet to happen. By the time he managed to stumble his way to Dumbledore's office it was nightfall. There was a horrible aftertaste in Ron's mouth -- from what, he didn't know, but it was almost like chicken. His head throbbed, and it only served to make the dark, winding corridors from his office to the headmaster's seem even longer. Dumbledore would know what to do; he had taken care of Harry for all those years while they were students. Surely he would be able to tell Ron where he was this time.

The worst part was he couldn't find his cigarettes anywhere. He had torn apart his room, even going as far as searching behind the toilet, but there wasn't a pack in sight. He hadn't had a smoke in hours.

A lone figure lurking in shadows caught his attention as he neared the gargoyle. "Snape?" He pressed a hand to his temple, feeling heat rising from his skin. "Do you think I could have a potion--?"

Snape's lips curled in disdain. "Why are you speaking to me?"

"What?" Ron asked.

"As much as I do enjoy your utter lack of eloquence here, I must now return to a more productive business that requires you to be very far away from me, Weasley." Snape hissed. Then, drawing his cloak back menacingly, he stalked off down the corridor, leaving Ron to stare at his back. Obviously, in this universe, Ron wasn't evil enough to gain Snape's respect. This worried him.

"Mentos: fresh and full of life." At the sound of the password, the gargoyle moved, and the wall slid open. Ron traveled up the spiral staircase until he got to the oak door. He pushed in without even knocking, startling the headmaster, who sat at his desk reading a large tome. The phoenix squawked unhappily.

"Professor, I have to speak with you."

"About what, Ron?" Dumbledore asked innocently.

He sat in the seat across from the old man. "I-- I don't know how to say this, exactly..." Actually, he did know how to say it; he was more worried about Dumbledore's reaction than anything else. He took a deep breath and braved forward: "I was a Death Eater and I stole a lamp from Lucius Malfoy and it ended up being a Dark Arts artefact and Harry dropped it and we blew up the universe but then I woke up in a completely different universe and I was, uh, very close to Hermione, literally, and Lucius was king and he sent us to another place with a lightbulb and then I was a sandwich and then I woke up here."

He stopped in his rant, panting.

"That's a lot to take in," the headmaster said, smiling. There was a sparkle in the old man's eyes which left a lingering feeling in Ron that Dumbledore somehow knew.

"Um, yes," Ron said.

"You're not a Death Eater, Ron. At least, not here. You came to me after you left school and asked to work here, since you hadn't had any success in another field. You wanted to make something of your life."

"So I was never evil?" Ron asked numbly. "Are you telling me that after all I did, betraying Harry, becoming a Death Eater, I just ended up in the exact same situation?"

"You tell me. Are you?" When Ron didn't say anything, Dumbledore continued, "Lucius Malfoy hasn't been seen since Voldemort was struck down by a lorry after the end of your seventh year."

"Hit by a--?" He broke off. The Dark Lord killed in a hit-and-run? Ron thought he must be going mad. "Am I still the head of the Hufflepuff house?"

"Why, yes."

Ron groaned. "Dammit, that lamp can't get anything right."

*

Ron had quit his teaching position shortly afterwords. If he wasn't there because of a punishment granted for being evil, then he wasn't going to stay in a job he hated. Now might even be a chance for him to get a real job, since his name wasn't marred from his involvement with the Death Eaters and the Lucius Lovers. Maybe he could become The Boy Who Got Everything without anyone else's help. In this universe, he still had a shot at being better than Harry.

Less than a week later, Harry came through Ron's door. Ron knew Harry would come see him eventually; it wasn't like the man to just let things go. Harry stood before his desk and watched him drop tomes into a large box.

"I reckon we're going to be stuck here for a while," Harry said finally. "How's your universe going?"

Ron's hand wavered in mid-air. What did Harry expect him to say, that being in a completely new universe was great? "I hate myself, I hate the children, but most of all, I hate the plants."

As usual, Harry ignored his comments. "Mine's excellent, of course. Seems I'm still on the Cannons in this world." Ron's head snapped to where he had previously kept the Prophet article on Harry's unemployment. It was gone. Harry suddenly seemed shy, grinning stupidly. "You won't believe this, but Malfoy's on the team as well. He's been, er, almost-kinda-sorta decent lately. I think the trauma of being a chicken sandwich has affected him."

Ron rubbed his upper arm, sans Dark Mark. It still ached at times. Phantom pain, Dumbledore had told him. "So you're friends now?" he asked, voice low.

"No. You two hadn't become friends after working together, right? But..." Harry shrugged slightly. "This is an alternate universe, who knows what can still change."

It seemed he wasn't allowed to have anything to himself. Obviously, Harry wasn't satisfied besting Ron in every way. Now he had taken the only other person in Ron's life he had given a remote damn about in the last two years; Harry hadn't even liked Malfoy until they blew up the universe.

Things hadn't changed for Ron at all: he was still stuck here in Hogwarts, and Harry was moving forward in life, getting the lucky breaks. It seemed even Malfoy thought Harry was better than he was. Hot, boiling rage curled in his veins, and he longed for a fag.

Harry regarded him earnestly. "Too bad you're stuck here, eh?"

"I'm leaving, actually," Ron quipped. He smiled at Harry grimly. "You know what I decided when I found out that no matter where I am, I never accomplish anything? That I'm not going to let that stop me. I'm going to go out there, and by God, I'm going to be better than you." Harry blinked. "You might have your fame and your money and-- and Draco Malfoy, but I've got something you don't."

"Which would be?" Harry asked slowly.

"I don't know what it is," Ron retorted, "but trust me, it's something really good." He pushed open the door with one hand. "Now get the fuck out of my office and out of my life, Harry James Potter."

Harry had the same hurt/disgusted look about him from when he had confronted Ron about being a Death Eater. He walked to the door, but paused before leaving, and he moved so close that Ron could see specks of gold in those hard, green eyes. Ron's hands felt clammy. Harry whispered, "You always wanted to be me, Ron, but you never had the courage. You're going to end up exactly where you were before: a pathetic loser living with his parents. And I'm going to laugh really, really hard when you do."

The door shut. Ron clenched his shaking hands.

*

Later that night, a lone figure stood in the London Zoo, sweeping away elephant dung. He pushed his white-blond hair out of his eyes and brushed his dirty hands on his coverall-encased thighs. Another man, shorter but just as pale, approached.

"Father, it's me," Draco announced, stepping up beside Lucius. He observed Lucius' grey coveralls and blanched. "Good God, after all that..."

"Yes," Lucius said somewhat bitterly, "it seems the universe has a sense of humour after all." He paused. "This must be the dimension where Narcissa gets sick of my evil ways, then divorces me and takes me for every sickle I'm worth."

"My new stepfather is nice," Draco offered. Lucius looked sour. "Very, ah, non-evil. Not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just going to take some time to get used to."

His father took hold of the broom again. "Lovely. Draco, shut up."

"Why don't you just change the bulb?" he asked, although part of him was hoping Lucius wouldn't. This universe was shaping up to be pretty decent.

"I had to sell the lamp on E-bay to pay for my mortgage." Lucius sniggered. "Muggles will buy anything."

"We're poor?" Draco asked, aghast. "But what are Malfoys without money and prestige?" He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I'll have to start up my old rock band to spread the Malfoy name. The Plastic Wizard Kings are on a come-back!"

Lucius smacked him.


Mad props to Altricial for her fabulous beta job. She's the best Ron ever. The chicken sandwich and the Mentos were totally hers, and I shamelessly stole them. Without her help, most of this would suck.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

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